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Wanted: Stranger willing to forge an imaginary companionship

The online listing is… strange, to say the least. It catches Saitama’s eye, in between several "Work from home!" posts, which he already knows from experience are all time wasters or scams.

There are never many posts in his area. In fact, when he scrolls down, Saitama recognizes all of the old jobs that were listed last time he checked online. That had to have been a month ago now.

But that weird listing, it actually has a location instead of ‘online’ or ‘anywhere’. It’s only two days old, and posted in the next city over. That’s what makes him click on it. That and morbid curiosity.

The page loads, and Saitama finds himself staring at one of the strangest ads he’s ever seen.

Me: Socially inept

You: Willing to meet in person to create and memorize a shared backstory of how we met as well as several fond memories, play the role of my friend or date in a public setting (one-time event), and adhere to a strict non-disclosure agreement (mandatory).

More details available upon my acceptance of your application.

This job will require a large commitment of both time and discretion. You will be compensated an hourly fee for your time, plus a large sum for your continued confidentiality. Negotiable. Serious inquiries only.


There’s a short, blank application form at the bottom, which asks for things like his name, age, and availability. There’s also an email address for him to submit the ‘application’.

Saitama isn’t sure what to make of it at first. The post almost sounds like a legal contract, but at the same time there’s use of personalized language like ‘me’ and ‘we’. If someone was actually desperate enough for a friend that they would make a post like this…. Well, it would explain why they didn’t have friends in the first place.

A few horror stories come to mind. Could be some weirdo who wants to kidnap someone, or murder them. Could also just be a prank listing. But even if it is, it's interesting enough that Saitama wants to at least see what the person will say.

Saitama opens the link to send an email, and copies the blank ‘application’ form into it.

The cursor blinks on his screen, ready to type, and two questions settle into his mind.

What if this is a scam?

But also, what if this is real?

If it's a scam, well, Saitama isn't an idiot. But if it's real, what kind of job will this be? Could he pretend to be friends with some weird shut-in? Well... he's friends with King, he doesn't even get paid for that. Saitama snorts softly at the thought, and decides what the hell. At the worst, this will be an interesting encounter. But either way, he isn't filling out the stupid form. He deletes it, wiping the body of the email blank, and starts fresh.

My name is Saitama. I'm not going to give you my last name, in case this is some kind of scam, or you're a stalker. I'm 26 years old, and I live in the next city over. If this is a real job offer that will actually pay, then my availability is whatever you need it to be. Prove that you are a real person, and we can talk. If the next email asks me for my credit card info or bank account number, I'm blocking this email address and reporting the listing.


Maybe it's a little harsh, Saitama considers for a moment. But whoever posted the ad must understand that scams are a dime a dozen on this kind of site, and Saitama needs to be point blank about his tolerance towards any shady shit. If they won't respect that, then they're probably trying to pull one over on him.

Saitama sends the email, and then continues browsing online after that, checking other websites for any odd jobs. He's running out of ideas as of lately. Dog walking was fun while it lasted, but it took him a long time to build up a base of clients who trusted him, and well, they didn't anymore after the chihuahua incident.

He wasn't expecting a reply so soon, but only an hour later, Saitama notices that his inbox tab shows (1) unread message.

He opens it up, and sees that the mysterious poster has actually replied to him.

Hello Saitama,

Thank you for your email. I understand your mistrust about sharing too much information. Unfortunately, I cannot disclose any identifying information at this time, but I will share as much as I can to convince you that this is a real offer. I am 20 years old, and I live in City B. I'm tall and I have blonde hair. This is all I can say without your signature on a nondisclosure form. I will not need your bank account number. I can pay in cash or check, whichever you prefer.


Holy shit. The reply is still weird but Saitama knows now that the post is definitely real. Or a very elaborate prank.


Okay, you're definitely not a bot. So how will this work if you won't tell me your name or anything? Also, if you're so young, why are you posting online looking to hire a friend? Wouldn't it be a lot easier just to make a real one? Just wondering.


The reply comes back in ten minutes this time.


We will meet in person to discuss details, but I will need your signature on a nondisclosure first. This isn't an obligation for either party to follow through with the arrangement, but simply a legally binding agreement that you will not disclose my identity or the nature of our meeting, these emails, or the ad you saw posted, to anyone under any circumstances.

To answer your other questions, despite my young age, friendship has eluded me. I suppose I could blame that on my focus on work as much as my physical disfigurement. I am not looking for a ‘real’ friend. This only is a temporary arrangement. If I were capable of making friends, I believe I would have already.

I've attached the NDA to this email . Please reply with a signed copy attached.


Sure enough, there's a pdf file attached at the bottom of the email. Saitama opens it, and skims a short legal document that basically says he swears not to disclose who is contacting him or why, regardless of whether he accepts the job or not.


You're really serious about this,
Saitama writes back.

The response is almost immediate.


Please reply with a signed copy of the NDA, or consider this correspondence over.


There's another copy of the NDA attached, but Saitama still has the first one open. He reads over the emails they've exchanged, and then looks at the document again. It's pretty simple, but covers all of the bases and sounds like if he broke it, he'd be in some legal trouble for sure. Whoever this is, they really don't want their identity getting out. Or rather, they really don't want anyone to know that they had to hire a fake friend. He supposes that's kind of the whole point.

His anonymous contact seems pretty guarded, even kind of a jerk, but the words ‘physical disfigurement’ explain everything to Saitama. It must be pretty bad for someone so young and seemingly bright to end up convinced that friendship is only something they can buy.

He stares at the blank space for the signature for a long time, fingers rubbing over his own bare scalp.

What the hell.

It's not like King would’ve believed him anyway.

It takes him an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to print the pdf, sign it, and then somehow send it back without owning a scanner. He settles for taking a photo of it with his phone.

I hope this is okay, Saitama writes in reply.

Then he curses at his own stupidity for forgetting to attach the file, and has to send another email with apology.

He waits an hour and then two, but there's no answer. Maybe he blew it already. Or maybe the whole thing was some weird scam for his signature, or some elaborate prank after all, just to see what kind of desperate fools would respond. Saitama falls asleep overthinking the possibilities.

When he wakes up, there's another unread message in his inbox.

That will work. Please bring it with you. Thank you, Saitama.

The email includes an address, a time, and informs him that he will be paid 10,000 yen an hour for this initial ‘consultation’.

There's no way this is real.

Saitama checks his phone, and panics slightly. It's already 10am and his mystery employer wants to meet in two hours.

He searches the address on his phone, but all it tells him is that it's a building in an upscale part of City B. And that if he wants to make it on time, he'd better get dressed now.

On his way out of town, Saitama decides it might be prudent to at least let someone know where he's going, nondisclosure form be damned.

He texts King the address.

S: If my organs get stolen, tell the police to start their investigation here.

K: Aw, man. I told you no more shady jobs.

S: Tell that to my bank account.

K: Ok, well, you can live without one kidney. But get a good price for it upfront. And don't accept any drinks!

S: Yes, mom.


The address brings him to a part of the city that looks way too rich for his blood. It takes him a long time wandering between one pristine skyscraper and the next before he works up the nerve to ask someone for direction. They point him towards one of the dizzyingly tall buildings, all gleaming black glass on one side, all the way up. He nods, and enters the lobby, where he nervously tells the doorman which floor he's looking for, and is told he'll only be allowed up if the occupant buzzes him in.

He calls, and the line clicks on, but there's no greeting.

"Uh. This is Saitama," he says. "We're supposed to-"

The line cuts off, but a second later he's buzzed in. The doorman nods at him, and Saitama enters the elevator thinking, I'm about to be murdered by a very rich serial killer.

For a brief instance, Saitama is confused which room he'll have to try, but when the elevator stops at the right floor, he realizes there is only one option. The entire floor is one apartment.

That's not as intimidating as hell.

He knocks, and immediately hears, "It's unlocked."

Cautiously, Saitama enters. Inside, the apartment is some kind of crisp white design, modern and minimalist. It's so pristine, he'd sooner presume that nobody lived there, but the entire apartment is filled with the scent of something delicious and freshly cooked.

"One second. This is almost done," the stranger says, and Saitama had a hunch that his mystery employer was male, but he wasn't expecting such a deep voice. Saitama spots him in the kitchen to his left, and with his back turned, Saitama can confirm he is indeed very tall and blonde.

"Thank you for coming here. I'm sorry it was such short notice. I would have asked to meet in a public setting, like the cafe next door, but of course we'd have to come here anyway before we could discuss anything, and I didn't want to waste any time," the blonde says, babbling somewhat. He pulls something out of the oven - bare handed - and turns to set it on the counter to cool.

His hands and forearms are all metal, Saitama realizes. His eyes roam up, where the artificial limbs disappear under rolled up sleeves of a button-up shirt. The fabric is pulled ridiculously tight across the chest and shoulders, and the man's neck is some kind of black synthetic material. When he looks up at Saitama, his eyes are black as well, with gold-ringed pupils, like the colors have been inverted. It should probably look almost frightening but in truth, there's something about it that seems unnaturally beautiful. If this is the guy’s definition of ‘physical disfigurement’, then he wonders what ‘socially inept’ means.

"You didn't tell me you were-"

"I know."

"A cyborg," Saitama finishes. A really attractive cyborg, he adds, in his head.

The man looks a little bemused. "That would've been a dead giveaway to my identity."

"Maybe," Saitama hazards. "You do seem kind of familiar."

Saitama steps closer, his brain noting how plush the carpet is under his shoes, and then remembers that he's forgotten all his manners.

"Crap, sorry," he mumbles, taking off his shoes and leaving them at the entryway.

"It's alright," the blonde assures him, coming closer. "I'm sure now you understand why I wanted privacy, given that you know who I am."

"I do?" Saitama finds himself looking up into black eyes that suddenly look more confused than him.

"The top ranked hero?" the blonde prompts, but Saitama only blinks.

"Demon Cyborg?"

Saitama gives him a blank expression. "No, that doesn't seem right."

"You really don't know who I am?"

Saitama shrugs. "Sorry. If you're an actor or something, I don't really watch a lot of TV," Saitama explains. "But I do feel like I've seen you somewhere."

"During the winter, there was a Dragon level threat that I helped defeat," he says. "It was all across the news."

Saitama’s eyebrows raise. "No shit. You killed an actual dragon?"

"Not a dragon. Dragon level," he repeats, staring at Saitama. "You have seen monsters on the news before, right?"

Saitama perks with recognition. "Yeah, of course!"

"Alright then. Well, the Hero Association ranks monsters by threat assessment levels. Wolf, Tiger, Demon, and Dragon. Wolf being a monster that only looks like a threat, and Dragon being a monster capable of leveling entire cities. The only thing higher than a Dragon level threat is a God level threat, which endangers the entire human population."

"That's weird. I thought there were just a lot of tiger monsters running around."

"Technically speaking, yes. But not literal tigers."

"So you're a hero," Saitama says.

"Yes. I am the S-Class Rank 1 hero."

"...Is that good?"

"There aren't any higher rankings in the Hero Association. So, yes. Don't tell me you've never seen heroes on the news."

"I have, but I didn't know there was such thing as a ‘Hero Association’. So are you the president or something?"

"No." He tilts his head at Saitama. "I can't believe you don't know about any of this."

"Sorry," Saitama says again. "Does that disqualify me?"

"No, it's...kind of nice, actually. Most people only know me as Demon Cyborg. My real name is Genos."

"I'm Saitama...but you already know that," Saitama says awkwardly. "Nice to meet you, Genos."

"Nice to meet you, too," Genos says slowly. "Are you hungry? We should begin right away, and hunger is a distraction. Plus, it's polite to offer food, right? I wasn't sure what you would like, so I made several different options."

So he did, Saitama realizes, eyes widening when he walks into the kitchen. There are two types of sushi rolls, four different appetizers, and six different desserts, including the tart that Genos had just set on the counter to cool.

Genos explains the dishes in another babbling train of thought, but all Saitama can think about is that they all look like something from a gourmet cooking show, and they have been evenly divided on the counter space, between two little placards that read ‘vegan’ and ‘non-vegan’.

"Wow, you didn't have to go all out," Saitama says, interrupting the verbal avalanche coming out of Genos’ mouth. "Thank you." He samples several different morsels of food in rapid succession, and then fills an offered plate with at least one small portion of every dish. In the center of the kitchen, there is an island with a glossy black countertop, and two stools. Saitama sets his plate there, and sits.

"You're paying me and feeding me, so let's do this," Saitama says, all business now. Genos has been a generous, if strange, host, and he doesn't want to waste any more of the man's time. "Where do you want to start?"

"Your nondisclosure agreement," Genos says immediately.

Saitama pulls the slightly crumpled paper out of his pocket and hands it over.

"Thank you. I'll be right back," Genos says, disappearing abruptly into the next room.

A moment later, Genos returns with a binder, a notebook, and two pens. He sits down on the stool next to Saitama, opens the notebook in front of him, sets the binder above that, and places one pen on each side of the notebook.

It's very meticulous, Saitama thinks, and then realizes that a pair of black eyes are fixed on him.

"Did you want to ask me questions?" Saitama asks.

"Questions?"

"Yeah," Saitama says. "We should get to know each other better, right? You must have a list of questions for me."

"I have no idea what constitutes a friendship," Genos says.

"Well, try asking me questions," Saitama suggests.

Genos’ gaze flickers away briefly while he thinks. "What is the mathematic formula for the terminal velocity of a given object?"

Saitama feels his brain short out. "Uhm, no. Try again."

"Do you need the mass of the object?"

"No. Okay, how about we just back up for a second," Saitama decides. "Have you ever had someone that you considered a friend?"

"No."

"So why do you need one now?"

Genos had been nearly emotionless before, as if hiring a stranger to play the part of his friend were just some novel curiosity. But the question makes Genos’ mouth tighten into a straight line, the barest furrow appearing on his brow.

"There is… an event coming up in eight days," Genos says. "The Hero Association holds a Gala. I've been told it's the biggest social event of the year."

That makes sense. Saitama feels a twinge of sympathy for the guy. The biggest social event of the year, and he was being honest when he described himself as ‘socially inept’. He seems shy. "It's your first time and you don't want to go alone," Saitama guesses.

The slight distress on Genos’ face changes, and he lets out a small laugh. "I've been twice already," he says, with the same disbelief that echoes, I can't believe you don't know who I am. "But, yes. I always go alone. And somehow, that's always what everyone talks about. I'm just tired of it."

"I'm sure it's not like that," Saitama says. "But I'll go with you."

"You will?" Genos perks at that, his eyes widening fractionally.

"Yep. I just said so, didn't I?"

Genos opens the binder, and takes a packet of pages out of the inside pocket. "You need to sign this," he says, pushing it towards Saitama, along with a pen.

"What is this? Another nondisclosure agreement? Are you serious?" Saitama deadpans, but Genos doesn't look like he's ever met a joke. "Can we just do this the natural way? We'll get to know each other, and I'll be your plus one. No need for fake backstories."

"I'm the top ranking hero in the association," Genos reminds him, his voice a grumble. "Everyone will want to know who you are. If I bring a new friend, it only confirms the notion that I've never had one. And if they find out how we actually met, I will burn your house down."

"Gee, is that part of the fine print?" Saitama snorts, flipping over a couple pages. Skimming the document, it seems like a much more specific agreement, with the same gist. If he lets it slip about the arrangement, then he's in trouble.

"If you're not going to take this seriously, then just leave now," Genos says, but he sounds more miserable than angry.

Saitama clicks the pen and signs the document. "I'm doing this because someone needs to teach you about actual friendship," he says.

"I'm under no illusions," Genos mumbles, and Saitama isn't sure what he means by that, but the document is snatched away and quickly looked over. "You'll do it?"

"Yes. So we're friends now. Or I guess I should really say, we've been friends for years, right? We just reconnected a few months ago, and it was as if no time had passed."

Genos nods, and quickly puts the document back into his folder, his movements almost shaky as he hastily grabs a pen and jots that into his notebook.

"I was thinking we'd have some of our backstory drafted and ground rules agreed upon before you signed," Genos says.

"We can do that now. What kind of rules?"

"I'm not sure," Genos says, looking frustrated again.

Saitama lets out a breath. "Right. So when you said you have no idea what friendship is, would it be fair to take that literally?"

"Of course."

"Okay. Well, starting at zero is still a starting point," Saitama says, trying to look on the bright side. He reaches over and takes the notebook, sliding it towards himself.

"I think the first thing we need to cover is exactly what friendship is, what it's built on, that kind of thing. If we're going to make a whole shared history, it won't come off very convincingly if we don't know basic details. So, friends tell each other about their family, pets, favorite things, hobbies, work, daily life," Saitama says, jotting down a list of topics while Genos stares at the page. "They also bond over mutual interests and activities-" he's cut off by the scratch of a stool leg against the tile as Genos abruptly gets up and leaves the room.

For a long minute, Saitama sits in confusion, until Genos comes back with another identical notebook in his hand, and another pen. He sits, opens the notebook in front of him, and again arranges the pens on either side before picking up one to use.

Saitama opens his mouth to say something, and then shuts it again. "I was going to give it back," he says mildly, unsure if he should be apologizing.

"It's okay," Genos says. "We both have one now."

"Friends are supposed to share," Saitama offers. It's supposed to be just a lightly teasing thing, but Genos’ lips press into a thin line again. He looks stressed.

"I need it to be in my own handwriting," he says, hands fidgeting ever so slightly.

Genos’ handwriting is so precise compared to Saitama's lazy scrawl, he can't blame him. "Friends also respect each other's boundaries," Saitama adds, without missing a beat. "So I won’t take your notebook again. Thanks for letting me use this one."

"You’re welcome," Genos says quietly, already copying down Saitama’s outline.

"So, this is the point where we should ask each other questions," Saitama says. It’s almost funny, how long it took them to get back around to this point. This time, however, he takes the lead before Genos thinks of another math question. "What’s your favorite color?"

"Blue," Genos says, watching in bemusement as Saitama jots that information down.

"Now you ask me," Saitama prompts.

"The same question?"

"Yep."

"What is your favorite color?"

"Yellow," Saitama says. "But I’m also partial to red."

Genos writes down the response, and Saitama continues on with several more basic questions. By the end, they both have a list of information about the other. Favorite colors, favorite animal, favorite food, favorite type of music, favorite time of day, favorite time of year.

"We have something in common," Saitama says, putting a line under Genos’ last response.

"What is that?"

"We both love fall," Saitama says. "Why do you like it?"

"Hm. Everything is colder, but without the ice or slush that comes in winter. The leaves are as crisp as the air. It’s refreshing. What’s your favorite thing about it?"

"Watching the leaves change colors," Saitama says, feeling cliched. "In the summer, all the trees are green, but when fall comes, you see their real colors come through. I don’t know. That’s something I think about sometimes."

"Can I ask you something?" Saitama can feel the weight of Genos’ eyes on him.

"What’s that?"

Genos taps his pen against his notebook. "Do you think any of this will come up in conversation at the gala?"

"Probably not," Saitama admits. "But it’s a good starting point. Trust me."

"We have less than eight days to pretend we’ve known each other for years," Genos reminds him. He sounds doubtful.

Saitama leans his elbows against the counter and smirks at Genos.

"What?" Genos asks after a long moment.

"You always worry like this," Saitama says, letting a little grin spread on his face. "And it always works out, doesn’t it?"

Genos blinks at him. "It does not," he says flatly.

Saitama’s jaw drops. "Name one time when I told you everything would work out, and I was wrong."

Genos’ lips pinch together in a barely controlled smile and he turns away, put on the spot.

"Name one time!" Saitama wheedles him, laughing lightly.

"The time when… when you said… that we wouldn’t have to make dinner reservations, but the restaurant was booked," Genos stammers out, curled in on himself so far, his forehead is nearly resting on the countertop. It’s… cute, somehow.

"I remember that," Saitama says. "The wait time was over an hour. You said not to worry about it, but I didn’t want to let it slide."

"The head waiter wouldn’t accept your bribe," Genos adds, barely lifting his head to look at Saitama.

"Yeah," he laughs. "500 yen didn’t really impress him. But I wanted to impress you, so we came back to your place and I made you grilled cheese. It was awful."

"You burned it and set off the smoke alarm," Genos says.

"Oh, I did!" Saitama crows, while Genos laughs softly. "It took twenty minutes to clear the smoke out. The grilled cheese was burnt to crisp."

"I ate it anyway," Genos finishes, with a wry smile.

"You would," Saitama chuckles. Genos still seems a little uncomfortable, but he's less furled in on himself. "I bet you’ve never set off the smoke alarm."

"I have, actually. Lots." Genos picks up his pen and starts to write down the ridiculous scenario. "Sometimes, if something spills in the oven, it burns. But one time…" he trails off.

"One time what?" Saitama prompts.

"I forgot it was on," Genos confesses, like it’s the most embarrassing thing to admit.

"How irresponsible," Saitama scolds lightly.

"We have one shared memory," Genos announces, setting down his pen. "I feel like twelve would be a good number. Anecdotal evidence is more than convincing when it comes to personal relationships."

"Ae you sure you want to use that one?" Saitama asks, and Genos looks at him, perplexed.

"What’s wrong with it?"

"Nothing. It’s cute, it’s just… it sounds more like a date than a friends thing," Saitama says. "I’m sure you don’t want people to think we’re dating."

"I don’t mind either way," Genos says.

"Trust me. I think we should keep it simple," Saitama decides. "Instead of eating the sandwich, you threw it out and ordered takeout for us. To this day, you still give me hell over how stupid I was."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because I’m pretty stupid, so it’s true," Saitama says. But he can’t help but notice how bothered Genos looks. "It’s a friend thing. Sometimes friends insult each other, call each other stupid and stuff."

"Will you be calling me stupid too?" He’s definitely bothered, and Saitama realizes he’s messed up.

"No. You’re not stupid," Saitama says.

"I don’t think you’re stupid either."

But I must be, Saitama thinks to himself. "If I suggest something out of line, or something that you wouldn’t do, just tell me. I think that should be one of our first rules for this thing."

"I wouldn’t do that," Genos states, and Saitama nods.

Genos writes down the rule, while Saitama adds a note to himself.

Dislikes: insults.

"I feel like we should take a break for now," Saitama says.

"I agree. We should both think about ground rules tonight. We can’t go any further with this project until we can establish that. I’ll see you first thing in the morning?"

"Yeah," Saitama agrees, getting up.

"This is yours," Genos says, taking another packet of papers out of his binder. "A copy of the NDA."

"Thanks," Saitama mumbles, tucking it into his notebook.

"Wait," Genos interrupts, before he can go. He disappears once more, this time returning with a neat stack of bills. Saitama’s eyes boggles a little when he realizes just how much money it it. It’s more than the hourly fee that Genos had advertised. Way more.

"I can’t take this."

"Is it not enough?" Genos asks.

"No, it’s - it’s plenty. This is a lot of money," Saitama tells him.

"This will be a lot of work," Genos counters, sounding all too reasonable.

"I guess so. But I think we made a good start today."

"Yes. It went better than I’d hoped," Genos says. "Tomorrow we will need to cover a lot more ground, so come prepared."

"Okay," Saitama agrees. Suddenly this whole arrangement starts to feel real. They’re actually going to do this. He’s always been a down-for-whatever kind of guy, so he doesn't feel as awkward about the situation as maybe he should be. It's exciting, in a way. Hang out with a perfect stranger who's paying you to pretend to be their best friend? Sure.

"I’ll see you tomorrow, then."

As he walks home, Saitama gets a text on his phone, and realizes he's missed one from earlier.

3:15pm - King: How’d it go?
5:22pm - King: Are you alive???

Yeah, I’m good. Saitama texts back, before King decides to actually call the police.

K: So? What’s the new job?

Saitama hesitates. This was, without a doubt, one of the most interesting days he’s had, and he can’t tell a soul about it. But legal papers aside… he doesn't want to. He doesn't want to explain himself. Doesn't want to explain Genos. He's not sure he even could.

It was a bust, Saitama lies.

K: Sorry, man. Something good will come up. It always does.


Chapter Text

Saitama gets up early the next morning so he can stop at to the fish market before he meets Genos.

He was up half the night thinking of some basic rules they could both agree on, and had finally come up with a short list that he was proud of. He tucks the notebook under his arm when he heads out, but leaves his copy of the NDA at home, so nobody can accidentally see it. That might instantly break the whole deal.

“The tuna, please,” he says, trying not to faint at the price. Expensive fish isn't anything he would normally buy for himself, but Genos had fed him yesterday and paid him more than Saitama was really comfortable with, so he thinks it will make a good gift.

Saitama pays the vendor, thanks him, and starts walking again. This is the way he always comes when he’s going to the grocery store to see what’s on sale. He’s rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, glancing up at the signs on the shops, when he sees it.

Oh.

Holy shit.


--

Despite having buzzed Saitama in, Genos still isn’t prepared for the other man to burst into his apartment like he's summoned the Kool Aid man.

“I know you!” Saitama says excitedly. He lifts one foot, looks down at the carpet, and then quickly sets down his bag and almost falls over as he starts pulling off his shoes.

“Finally,” Genos rolls his eyes to himself.

Saitama finishes taking off his shoes, and points at Genos. “You’re the fish guy!”

Genos blinks at him, wondering if stroke is a possibility. “...No.”

“Yes! You are! I’ve seen you at the fish market. Oh, speaking of which, I brought this,” Saitama says, picking up his bag and bringing it into the kitchen, where he sets out the tuna for Genos’ approval.

“Because… you think I’m a fish,” Genos says, sounding less than pleased.

“No. I got this before I remembered where I saw you,” Saitama explains. “And you’re not a fish, but there’s a billboard near the fish market, and you’re on it.”

“That seems plausible,” Genos concedes, although his mind is fuzzy on exactly which ads he agreed to. A billboard near a market sounds like a probable place where his image would end up. He walks over to Saitama, turning over the tuna. “This is nice,” he says, sounding surprised. For a second, Saitama catches the barest hint of a smile tug at Genos’ mouth before the cyborg turns away, opening cupboards and grabbing spices and a pan.

“You don’t have to cook again,” Saitama protests weakly. “You did all that last time. I could make a grilled tuna.”

“I like cooking, and I don’t often have guests to try recipes on,” Genos says, in his usual dismissive tone, but there’s an almost pleading edge that Saitama picks up on. “But, I have to warn you, I don’t trust my taste buds entirely, so the seasoning-”

“Everything was perfect last time,” Saitama assures him, before Genos can ramble on.  “Since you’re cooking again, I’ll do the dishes. No arguing,” he adds, when Genos opens his mouth to object. “I'm not your guest, I'm your friend, so we're equals."

“Very well.” Now Genos does smile, ever so slightly, as he heats a pan on the stove.  “Did you think of rules?”

“I did,” Saitama says, feeling like a Very Responsible and Competent Adult.

Genos’ binder and notebook are already on the counter, so Saitama sits in the same seat as before and opens his notebook up to the page with his list of friendship rules.

“Let’s hear it,” Genos says, while he sprinkles fancy things into the pan. Saitama has no idea what any of it is, but he knows that it will taste like magic.

“Okay. Number one: No insulting each other. Number two: No making up embarrassing stories about each other. Number three: Don’t abandon the other person,” Genos has been nodding along in serious agreement, but Saitama pauses there to clarify, “Because, we’ll be at, um, this gala thing right? And I won’t know anybody and if you ditch me I’m leaving.”

“I have zero intentions of allowing myself to be left alone with those snakes,” Genos says.

“Good. So we’ll just be, like, glued to each other for the night. I’m holding you to that,” Saitama warns him, and then coughs awkwardly and continues.  “Rule four: Make sure the other person is having fun. And rule five: No being weird.”

Saitama waits to hear any feedback, but Genos is busy chopping vegetables now.

“Rule six?” Genos prompts after a long moment.

“That was it.”

“But… that’s only five,” Genos says. “There has to be six.”

This is the first time he’s heard of that, and Saitama furrows his brow at Genos’ tense back. “Why six?”

“Because I have six, so six and six together is twelve,” Genos says, as if it should be obvious, and he sounds strangely upset about it.

“You didn’t tell me that yesterday. Sorry, that’s all I came up with.”

“If we don’t have the rules, then we can’t go forward, and we don’t have a lot of time,” Genos complains, the words coming out all in one rush. He steps away from the stove to flip open his notebook and point at a neatly printed list. “I made six rules, so if you make up one more then we’ll be all set.”

“Do we really need twelve rules? I’m pretty sure eleven is a good number.”

Genos gives Saitama a glare that makes him wither. “Eleven is awful.”

“Eleven is… bad,” Saitama repeats slowly, watching Genos’ face. “Because… it’s… an odd number?”

Genos nods fractionally. “It’s the worst number,” he clarifies, still maintaining that scary eye contact.

“Okay. I will fix this,” Saitama says, taking Genos’ notebook so he can see it. Before Genos can even flinch, he lifts a hand, sternly waving Genos off. “Focus on the fish. Don’t even look until I’m done, okay?”

Genos turns away, but still protests, “My notebook-”

“I’m just looking,” Saitama interrupts him smoothly. “Rough draft is going into my notebook only, so yours can be the perfect copy.”

That seems to make Genos calm down.  “Thank you,” he mumbles.

Be nice,” Saitama reads out loud. “That’s similar to ‘no insults’, right?”

“No,” Genos says, after a moment of consideration. “Be nice is a general thing, but I like your ‘no insults’ rule. Those aren’t nice ever.”

“Gotcha." The next one is alarming. "Um… ‘No talking to the press unless it is a prepared statement.’ Am I going to have a prepared statement?”

“Unlikely,” Genos shakes his head slowly. “I’m just keeping it open as a possibility.”

“No pressure there.”  Saitama’s eyebrows raise at the next one. “‘Do not make friends with other heroes.’”

“Especially Amai Mask,” Genos cuts in immediately. “He’s a jerk.”

“Okay. Am I allowed to at least be nice to the other heroes while we’re there? I don't want to pick a fight.”

“Yes. But you’re my friend, not theirs,” Genos gripes. Ah, yep, there’s the jealousy that Saitama had suspected. It almost makes him smile. “But you’re not allowed to be friendly to Amai Mask.”

Saitama decides not to question it. “‘No excessive drinking,’” he reads. “That’s probably wise. ‘No answering personal questions on behalf of the other.’ Yeah, agreed.  ‘Check on each other to make sure they are having a good time.’ Hm. ...Okay, we’re good.”

“Yeah?” Genos asks, looking at Saitama hesitantly.

“Yep. I got it down to ten.”

Genos looks like Saitama just said he killed a puppy.  “Why ten?”

“Because...ten is an even number,” Saitama ventures, already knowing from the look on Genos’ face that he’s fucked up, but not sure why.

“Twelve is better,” Genos reminds him, his voice eerily soft.

“I get that now. Twelve is better. Two of them were the same, so, I combined them, but, I’m fixing it now,” Saitama says, stalling for time while he squeezes in a couple more rules. Bullshitting has always been something he somehow excelled at, and while this isn’t his finest work by any means, he manages to spit out two more rules in a matter of seconds. “There’s twelve now.”

A tension visibly drops from Genos’ shoulders. “Thanks,” he mumbles, turning his complete attention back to the tuna.

While he waits, Saitama starts rewriting the list and then adds numbered bullets beside each line. He knows Genos will copy it over anyway, but he tries to make it as neat as possible, just because.

In a matter of minutes, the aroma wafting through the air changes from simply good, to mouth watering. Just when he feels like he can hardly stand the wait, he realizes that Genos has already prepared a plate and is sliding it in front of him.

"I can already taste it just looking at it," Saitama whines, almost ready to sob because he can't grab his fork fast enough. He's never seen a meal that looked and smelled so heavenly before.

Genos sits beside him and starts copying down the finished list, while Saitama attempts to inhale the food and his taste buds weep with pleasure.

"Some of these rules are really similar-" Genos begins.

"Don't question it."

"But-"

"There's twelve there. It works. Don't worry about it," Saitama says. "This is the best meal I've ever eaten in my life."

The smile on Genos' face is pinched but genuine, as if he isn't sure if he should take the compliment. "If you like that, then you should see what I could do with a Wagyu ribeye."

Saitama stops eating and gives Genos the most intense stare.

"What?"

"I think we should get married."

Genos laughs nervously. "I don't think we need to go that far."

Saitama makes a sound of disappointment, but goes back to his plate while Genos leans over his notebook.

There's a long silence that slowly changes from companionable to something else. Even after he finishes writing, Genos sits with his chin on his hand, silently tapping the closed end of his pen against the table. Deep in his thoughts. Uncertain. Saitama gives him some time.

"Sorry I'm weird," Genos says softly.

Saitama pushes his food around on his plate, mostly colorful chunks of vegetables left now, drizzled in a light sauce that Genos probably whipped up himself. "When I was a kid, I wouldn't eat if my food was touching. I know that's not the same thing, but, I get it."

Genos makes a soft noise, straightening in his seat. "When I was a kid, I was obsessed with making sure I never stepped on any cracks, because of that saying."

Saitama smiles. "It's impossible to never step on cracks, though. And I bet your mother never broke her back for it."

"No, she died," Genos says, so bluntly that Saitama feels his heart stop.  "But I didn't step on a crack, ever, and it didn't make a difference. So it's not like I think this stuff really matters. I know it doesn't. But it still… it just bothers me."

"It's fine," Saitama assures him. "I'm just kind of curious though, why 12?"

"It's just… perfect somehow," Genos sits back in his chair, head tipping back as he thinks.  "There are 12 months in a year, and 24 hours in a day, which is 12 twice, and 60 seconds in a minute, which is 12 times five," Genos says, growing a little more excited as he speaks, "and 12 times 12 is 144 which is the 12th number in the Fibonacci sequence…" he trails off, not daring to look towards Saitama. "Sorry. I can get a little carried away."

"Don't human beings have 12 sets of ribs?"

Genos' head jerks up in surprise.  "Yeah. We do.”

“So I guess we’re all perfect. Except for Amai,” Saitama smirks. “I bet that guy has 11.”

"I bet he does," Genos agrees, so seriously that Saitama has to stifle a laugh.

"So, we have the rules now," Saitama says. "What's on the agenda?"

"Right. Today we should try to create more anecdotes about our friendship, and continue to work on building an amicable bond between us," Genos says. The big words slide right off Saitama's brain, and he simply makes a sound of agreement, not really paying attention until Genos squares himself up and then just stares at him, giving him a slightly pained smile.

Saitama stares back. Blinks.

Genos blinks.

"What are you doing?" Saitama asks, and Genos' already weak smile falters.

"Maintaining… eye contact?" Genos says, sounding uncertain.

"Yes. You are," Saitama agrees. "Why?"

Genos frowns and turns to open up his binder. He's printed out pages about how to make friends, and among them is an actual wikiHow article, of all things. "Make eye contact and smile. If you have an unfriendly countenance, people are less likely to be receptive to your friendship," he reads.

"You've definitely put a lot of effort into this," Saitama says, choosing his words carefully. "But I'm not sure that this article really…" he trails off, realizing that Genos is staring at him again, deep black gaze boring into his eyes, with a tiny, insincere smile that looks completely out of place on Genos's face.

"Okay, no," Saitama puts his hand over Genos' eyes, and the smile dissipates instantly.

"Saitama… I am trying to be a friendlier person," Genos says, almost a whine.

"I know. But it's creepy," Saitama tells him, still covering Genos' eyes. "I don't mean that in a bad way, I just mean that it's creepy when you smile. I mean, it's creepy when you smile like that. It's not natural."

"I am aware that I don't smile often enough," Genos sighs. "S-Class Rank 2 esper Tatsumaki says that I always look like I am eating sour grapes."

Saitama snickers a little at that, because he can picture it. "Why would you care what S-whatever says?"

"Because she says that's why I have no friends," Genos says.

Saitama finally takes his hand off of Genos' face. He looks like a neglected puppy. "Listen… it might be good to make little positive changes sometimes. But you can't change your entire personality. If your resting face is 'sour grapes' then you gotta make a friend who likes sour grapes. But I've never seen that. I've seen you smile more than once already, and it wasn't creepy at all. Just let it come naturally."

Genos is staring at him again, wide eyed, and Saitama is about to tell him to knock it off when Genos suddenly turns away, flipping to a new page in his notebook and rapidly writing down Saitama's words.

"So… How long have we known each other?" Saitama wonders aloud.  "Should we be childhood friends?"

"If we were, you would have known me before I looked… like this," Genos says.

"What do you mean?"

"I became a cyborg five years ago, when I was 15," Genos explains.

Saitama straightens up, hearing that. "Oh? What did you look like before?"

"I don't…"

Saitama waits a moment, but Genos seems to be struggling. "It's okay, you don't have to tell me."

"I don't really remember," Genos admits. "Most things from my childhood, my family, before- I don't remember most of it. I'm not sure that I want to. It's all gone anyway, so all I have left are hazy memories. Even the night when the Mad Cyborg destroyed my village feels like a bad dream."

"Sorry. I shouldn't have asked."

"It's okay. I've been interviewed about this, after I finally killed the Mad Cyborg. They asked me if I felt a sense of justice and closure for finally avenging my family. I told them at the time that I did, but… I thought it would feel different. I thought if I could become strong enough to kill him, it would resolve everything. But it didn't."

It sounds like a lofty goal for someone so young. If Genos was obsessed with his vengeance, it was little wonder to Saitama that he didn't find any happiness afterwards. Working towards that goal single-mindedly didn't exactly build healthy day-to-day routines. He could relate, in his own way.

Saitama wasn't so sure now if Genos wanted to prove to everyone else that he was happy and had friends, or if it was something he wanted to pretend to himself.

"We've been friends for two years," Saitama decides. When Genos starts to object, he adds, "I know you wanted something long term, but I'm older than you, so it'd be a little creepy if I knew you since you were younger. Besides, I don't want to be asked stuff about before- y'know- everything. If you don't even know, then I definitely shouldn't."

"That's probably for the best," Genos agrees. "The press would probably say that you stayed friends with me out of pity."

"If anyone says that, then they're shitty!" Saitama cries. "Seriously. Out of pity? You're rich and ridiculously good looking. If anything, they should say that I'm probably taking advantage of you. But I'm not," he adds. "Because we're good friends who have known each other for years and we enjoy each other's company."

"How did we meet?" Genos asks.  "They'll want to know."

"Hmm. Okay. You're a hero, right? So, we met when one day, two years ago, I was out walking some dogs, minding my own business, and this pink monster comes out of the sky and- and suddenly you were there and you were all cool and stuff but the monster was pretty strong and it had ripped a couple of your limbs off, so there you are, helpless, and then I stepped in and killed it with one punch."

"One punch," Genos repeats.

"Yeah! It was really cool, and you were so smitten by my heroic deed that we became best friends afterwards."

Genos laughs, his face lighting up with one of those genuine smiles that makes Saitama feel warm.

"Nobody's going to believe that you beat a monster at all, much less in just one punch," Genos tells him, somehow gentle and blunt at the same time. It still hurts.

"Oh."

"But maybe I saved you and your dogs and you wanted to thank me by buying me lunch," Genos offers.  "How many dogs do you have?"

"None. It was a job I used to do. Dog walking. I don't anymore," Saitama says, sadly.

"You won't have to for a long time," Genos promises, seeming pleased with himself. He takes Saitama's empty plate to the sink. Only when Saitama hears running water, does he remember that he'd called dibs on the dishes, and springs up to his feet.

"Hey! I said I was doing those."

"It's only a couple dishes," Genos begins, already uncapping a bottle of dish soap, but Saitama plows into his hip and grabs at the bottle.

"Nuh-uh. Nope, you're not doing it," Saitama says, trying to bully Genos out of the way, wrestling with Genos for control of the soap bottle, which immediately plops into the filling sink. They both grab onto it, soapy water splashing out of the sink and onto the floor.

"Saitama, let go."

"You let go!" Saitama counters, petulant.

"You're making a mess!" Genos growls in warning. "Saitama, I will set you on fire."

"Fight me, robo-boy," Saitama flashes him a grin, all teeth.

Genos lets go of the bottle of soap, and Saitama's victory whoop turns into an undignified squeak as Genos suddenly grabs him around the waist and hoists him up over his shoulder.

"Genos?" Saitama questions, digging his fingernails into Genos' damp shirt.

Genos carries him to the living room and throws him onto the couch, where Saitama lands on his back with a soft 'oof'.

When Saitama sits back up, Genos is already at the sink again, washing dishes. Saitama climbs over the back of the couch and goes back for round two.

"The floor is wet," Genos reminds him.

"Yeah, 'cuz I'm gonna mop the floor with you," Saitama grunts, locking an arm around Genos' neck in what would be a chokehold to anyone else, but Genos doesn't even budge. Saitama wraps another arm around Genos, and then lifts his feet and lets himself hang off of him, but his body weight isn't enough to even make Genos uncomfortable, much less buckle.

"Any second now?" Genos guesses, moving on to another pan.

Saitama tightens his arms and rests his face against Genos' neck. "Yep."

"Isn't this breaking rule twelve?"

"Only if you think it's weird."

"Oh no, definitely not."

"K. Just lemme know when you give up, and I'll let go," Saitama mumbles into the crook of Genos' neck.

"Will do."

Genos continues to wash the dishes and set them aside to dry. Then he drains the sink and rinses off the suds.

In the end, Saitama's arms get tired first, and he slides off of Genos and onto the floor.

Genos doesn't react, deliberately taking a long moment to fix the soap bottle and use a hand towel to dry off the counter.

"Oh," he finally says, stepping sideways to look at Saitama sitting on the floor. "Did you fall off? I didn't notice."

"You're such a shitty actor."

"Are you still going to fight me?" Genos asks.

"Yes. The dishes were mine," Saitama grumbles, grabbing onto Genos' ankle.

Genos slides his foot over, taking Saitama with him, and Saitama lets go immediately.

"Wet!"

"Yes, there's a small lake you made on my floor. What was that you said, about mopping the floor with me?"

"No. Nonono-"

Before Saitama can get up, Genos stoops down and grabs him by his ankles, dragging him across the wet floor on his back.

"Nooooo," Saitama wails, while Genos chuckles. He lets go of Saitama after that, but the other man just lies on the floor, both sobbing and laughing.

"Are you crying?" Genos asks him.

"No," Saitama lies, wiping his face not-so-discreetly. "I just have this thing where my eyes get really moist."

"Should I wring you out over the sink?" Genos asks, and Saitama starts sob-laughing again.

When his laughter finally subsides, his stomach aching from it, Saitama finally rolls over and struggles to his feet.

"Ahh. I'm too old to be on the floor," he gripes.

"Sorry," Genos says, back to a softer, serious tone. "Would you like a clean shirt?"

"That'd be kind of nice," Saitama concedes.

While he's waiting for Genos to choose a clean shirt out of his wardrobe, Saitama pokes around the kitchen, and finds a mop. Quickly, quietly, he runs it over the floor, soaking up any excess water and restoring the white tiles to their former glistening glory before Genos dragged his ass across the floor. He feels very sneaky and accomplished when Genos comes back out, none the wiser.

"Thanks," Saitama says, accepting the white button-up shirt. If Genos looks vaguely uncomfortable when Saitama unceremoniously strips off his soggy t-shirt and gets dressed right in front of him, well, Saitama doesn't notice it.

As soon as Genos turns his back to Saitama, the smaller man pounces on him again.

"Let go," Genos says, but Saitama has his arms locked around Genos' neck once again.

"Nuh."

"Okay. You asked for it," Genos warns him. He walks them both into the living room, each step a little heavy and slow with Saitama clinging to him like a koala. When he gets to the couch, he tries to pry Saitama off and dump him there again, but this time Saitama has his legs wrapped around Genos as well, and he won't let go. Genos bends back, trying to get Saitama to fall but he isn't going anywhere, and the extra weight fucks with his center of gravity, so he almost falls.

"Something wrong?" Saitama asks innocently.

"Nope."

"Just checking."

Genos starts trying to pry Saitama's fingers loose, but when he moves onto the next one, Saitama just tightens his grip again. Finally he lets out a sigh, and plops sideways onto the couch, smooshing Saitama behind him. He leans back, trying to get Saitama off of him if he crushes him a little, but the cushions are so soft, Saitama just ends up squashed snug between Genos and the couch.

"We taking a nap, bro?"

"Just laying down," Genos says, stubborn as ever. He lets himself relax, daring Saitama to make him move again, but Saitama only relaxes as well, easing his grip off of Genos' neck and keeping his arms around Genos' shoulders instead.

"This reminds me of the time when we went to the beach," Saitama mumbles, half smothered behind Genos' back.

"Which trip?" Genos asks, playing along.

"The one where you refused to even walk into the water, because you said it was infested with jellyfish. And then I got stung by a jellyfish."

Genos snorts. "You should have listened to me. What happened after that?"

"Hmm. You were very heroic. You gave me CPR to suck the poison out."

"I don't think any of what you just said is how those things work."

"Okay, hero. How did you save me?"

"Well… your foot was swollen up to the size of a balloon-"

"How?!" Saitama laughs.

"You're allergic to jellyfish."

"I don't know enough about jellyfish to know if that sounds right."

"Anyway, your foot was the size of a balloon so I had to carry you to the hospital."

"But I refused to go and made you take me back to my apartment instead."

"If your foot is swollen like that, you need to see a doctor!" Genos says, sounding genuinely outraged by Saitama's change of plot.

"It wasn't poisonous!"

Genos turns over, Saitama's arms loosening on him. "How would you know, you just said you don't know anything about jellyfish! I'm taking you to see a doctor!"

Saitama wriggles out from the couch cushions and ends up half on top of Genos, both glaring at each other in mutual disgust. "No way! I can't afford an emergency room fee over nothing!"

"I'll pay the damn bill," Genos says, his fingers digging into Saitama's waist almost painfully.

"No! I don't like owing anybody money. Just take me home and put ice on my foot. Benadryl will help the swelling go down."

Genos drops his head back onto the couch. "You're such an idiot."

"Yes, but I'm your idiot friend and you have to put up with me," Saitama says, feeling smug because he's won this argument.

Genos stares at Saitama's hips, and Saitama is suddenly uncomfortably aware that he is basically sitting on top of Genos.

"Does a rule still count if you keep breaking it?" Genos asks, referring once again to rule 12.

"Rules were meant to be broken," Saitama says, but he wiggles his other leg free from the depths of the couch cushions and then rolls off and Genos and drops onto the floor ungracefully. "Besides," he adds, as he gets up. "You broke rule 2. No insults."

Genos' brow scrunches in confusion, and then his mouth drops open when he remembers he just called Saitama an idiot, and he bolts upright.

"Sorry. I didn't mean that. I don't think you're stupid."

"Well, I am pretty stupid," Saitama says.

"Saitama," Genos looks displeased, and Saitama immediately knows why.

"Fine. No more insults and no more weird touching. Deal?"

Genos lets out a soft breath that doesn't sound anything like relief. "Deal."

They spend the rest of the evening working out some more stories, Genos copying them into his notebook to keep it updated.

After a few more hours, Saitama feels tapped out and Genos decides to call it a night.

"Do you want your shirt back?" Saitama asks.

"You can keep it," Genos tells him, and Saitama decides not to argue because he isn't sure if Genos has a thing about borrowed clothes. The guy could be be pretty particular, and his apartment is immaculate.

"Let me get your money," Genos says, before Saitama can leave, and Saitama feels his stomach sink. Right. All of this time was just being paid for.

"Could you… could you make out a check instead?"

"Yeah," Genos says quickly. "Yeah I can do that."

"Great," Saitama says, just barely, but Genos has already disappeared anyway. He puts his shoes on and waits by the elevator with his notebook in hand. When Genos comes back with a check, he folds the piece of paper and tucks it into his pocket.

"See you tomorrow at twelve," Genos says, when Saitama steps onto the elevator.

Saitama smiles at the reminder, a little piece of knowledge that maybe nobody else knows about.

"I was thinking of coming by early, actually," Saitama teases, the words rolling of his tongue spontaneously. "Like, maybe 11?"

Saitama can actually see Genos' eye twitch.

"No."

"K byeeee-" Saitama waves as the elevator doors shut, and chuckles to himself on the way down.

Tomorrow will be fun. He doesn't want to think about what will happen in a week.


--

Friendship Rules

  1. Be nice

  2. No insulting each other

  3. No making up embarrassing stories about the other

  4. No talking to the press unless it is a prepared statement

  5. Do not make friends with other heroes

  6. Do not be friendly to Amai Mask

  7. Don't abandon the other person

  8. No excessive drinking (1-2 drinks only)

  9. No answering personal questions on behalf of the other

  10. Make sure the other person is having a good time

  11. No being weird

  12. No weird touching



 

Chapter Text

Saitama barely tastes his breakfast when he gets up, scarfing down some eggs over rice, and then opens his notebook to add more notes about Genos.

Likes: cooking (amazing), hero work, cleanliness, the number 12

Dislikes: insults, Amai Mask (who is that?), talking about childhood, the number 11 (?)

It's not the first time Saitama has realized he's really out of the loop about things, but this is the first time he's cared enough to actually want to catch up with everyone else. If he'd just watched the same TV as everyone else, instead of the weather channel and old B movies, how much would he already know about Genos and other heroes?

Saitama decides to Google Amai Mask, just so he knows who to avoid. Several pictures pop up of a man with blue hair, from a professional photoshoot. His skin is so smooth, it kind of blurs together. Is that photoshopped?

"Class A, Rank 1," Saitama reads aloud from the snippet of a search result. "He definitely looks like a douchebag."

He's bored already, and types 'Genos' into the search engine instead, but only weird results come up. Right. Genos isn't his public name, Demon Cyborg is. He's tempted to try again, to really dig deep and see what's out there. YouTube probably has the interview that Genos mentioned, and more. There would probably be news clips, and articles, even fan sites. It would probably be a wise idea to finally look into this guy. And if it were anyone else, he would've, but instead Saitama shuts his laptop off.

He doesn't want to learn about Genos from any outside source. Whatever he found would just be a narrative from a single point of view, anyway. It wouldn't be a Genos who was devastatingly handsome, and full of dry sarcasm, and shy at making new friends, and embarrassingly bad at deliberate socialization, and depressingly stoic about a traumatic childhood, and an evil little shit who would drag him across a floor or threaten to set him on fire one minute and offer Saitama one of his shirts and sincere apologies the next. Any single one of those things by themselves wouldn't be Genos as a whole. Maybe it's better that he doesn't have any concept of how the media or the public see Genos. At least this way he gets to see Genos for himself.

After a moment of deep contemplation, Saitama adds 'arson' to the growing list of interests.


-


The fish market is much busier than yesterday, crowds of customers and tourists milling around the vendors. Saitama keeps out of the way of the buying and selling action, where the crowds are thicker, but plenty of people still stream around him. He's still trying to decide what he wants today. The tuna was amazing, and he's kind of curious what Genos could do with something like calamari. The check Genos wrote for him is still in his pocket, and he can feel it trying to burn a hole. He could buy anything he wanted with that kind of money.

"Look, it's Demon Cyborg!" a young woman's voice cries out, right next to him. She grabs onto her friend's arm, and puts a hand over her mouth to stifle an excited giggle.

Saitama recognizes Genos' hero name, and glances around, wondering for an instant if Genos is there, but then follows her gaze up to the billboard. Oh.

"Yui, you're so embarrassing," her friend complains.

"I don't care, don't you think he's cute?" Yui asks, still in half-giggles.

"No way, he looks so angry all the time," her friend says. "And he's more machine than human."

"That's the appeal! I could win him over and melt his cold heart," Yui says, obviously intending to be a little melodramatic, but hearing that rubs Saitama the wrong way.

"It's cold because it's made of metal, Yui, good luck melting that! I heard he's a total jerk to everyone. He doesn't smile ever and he ignores his fans."

"Ohh, come on, Maki. That's because he needs a wife to cook him good meals and show him how to love."

"Genos cooks his own meals," Saitama blurts out, unable to contain himself.

The girls have been close enough to practically plow him over without paying any attention to him, but now they suddenly look at him like he's a pervert for being so close to them and hearing their conversation.

"Did you say something to us?" Yui asks.

"Uhm. Demon Cyborg," Saitama tries again, using Genos' hero name instead. "I heard he's actually really talented at cooking. And he's a really sweet guy."

"If that were true, he'd be dating someone already," Yui sniffs.

"He is ," Saitama lies, mostly to defend the truth that Genos is a very skilled and considerate person. He feels a tiny bit of guilt and an illicit thrill to see her eyes go wide and mouth drop in shock.

"You're lying!" Yui says, her friend already pulling her away. "If he were dating someone, I'd know, because everyone would know!"

"Well you're all stupid, then!"

"What would some bald old man know?!"

"Ignore him, he's just a weirdo," Maki says, pulling Yui through the shifting streams of people. He can still hear them gossiping, even as they walk away. "You know, there's a lot of people on the forums who think that Demon Cyborg and Tornado of Terror are secretly in a relationship."

"She's just as cold as him!"

Saitama half considers following them, to tell them exactly what kind of person Genos really is, but there are already enough people staring at him as they walk by. Besides, he's probably said too much already, but hearing all of that stuff really made his blood boil. He wants to prove them wrong, but arguing with a couple of girls in the street just isn't going to do it.

-


"Genos! Let me in," Saitama says, pressing on the intercom for the seventh time. "Come on, I need to talk to you."

"Sir, I think perhaps he isn't home," the doorman suggests.

"He's home, he's just ignoring me," Saitama says, checking his phone again.

11:59

He sighs and tries to will himself to be patient, but he's been waiting over ten minutes already.

"If he doesn't wish to see you, then I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave."

Saitama doesn't say anything, just continues to stare at the time.

12:00

Without prompting, the buzzer goes off, permitting Saitama access to the elevator.

What a little jerk.

He goes up, and lets himself into the unlocked apartment. Genos is pretending to be busy cleaning a shelf in the living room, but even just seeing his back, he looks nervous.

"Genos."

The cyborg's shoulders go tense.

"I said no to 11 o'clock, and I meant it," Genos says.

Saitama tosses his notebook on the couch. "Genos, we have to get rid of rule 12."

That makes Genos whip around to face him in a confused panic. "What? No. Why?"

"Because we're boyfriends now."

"No!"

"We have to! You said you didn't care if I was your friend or your date."

"You said no to the fake dating! You said no weird touching!"

"And I changed my mind!"

"Well, you can't! You can't just change it now!"

Genos storms past him, looking slightly at a loss, as if searching for something. After stopping at a couple places, Genos ends up in the kitchen, where he opens a drawer full of utensils and starts organizing them, despite them already being organized.

Saitama stays in the living room, not wanting to pursue but unwilling to drop the issue just yet. "Genos, these girls at the market were saying mean stuff about you, about how you're cold and nobody will date you."

"They're not wrong," Genos says.

"Of course they're wrong! They don't know anything about you. But I do, and I want them to be able to see how nice and awesome you are."

Genos is silent for a long time, just the sound of kitchen utensils clinking together to convey his distress.

"Why… Why does anything need to change?" Genos finally asks.

Saitama lets out another sigh. "It doesn't."

"So don't change it," Genos snips back. "We need to keep rule 12. We're not getting rid of it."

"Okay. We're not getting rid of it," Saitama agrees, but he can't stop from feeling weirdly disappointed, even slightly frustrated by the flat refusal.

From his pocket, Saitama's phone chimes softly with a message. He takes his phone out to check it, seeing how Genos isn't exactly speaking to him at that moment.

King: hey I stopped by your place with a game. R u coming back soon?

Good question, Saitama thinks. He looks towards Genos, who has gone completely silent, not even organizing anymore. His hands just rest against the open drawer, trembling ever so slightly.

"Do you want me to leave?" Saitama asks.

"No," the word is barely audible, but Genos shakes his head to confirm his meaning. He looks stressed.

Saitama: Sorry I'll be out for a few hours at least. Don't know when I'll be back.

King: no problem I'll see you later

"Who are you texting?" Genos asks, without looking at him. His voice sounds dry.

"My friend, King." Saitama puts his phone back into his pocket. "He was wondering where I was."

"I bet you have a lot of friends."

"Not really. Just King," Saitama says. King was kind of weird, objectively, but overall he was easy enough to get along with. They'd bumped into each other a few times at a manga and video game shop they both visited. The two had exchanged a few words now and then, noticing the titles of books or games the other was buying. Then one day Saitama had gotten excited about a game King had, but he didn't own the right system to buy his own copy, so King invited him over to play. It was a little jarring to walk into King's place and see his collection of anime girls, but King wasn't a creepy guy - not really - and best of all, he didn't talk too much. Maybe a little bit of babbling about his latest anime obsession, but in that regard, Saitama supposed Genos wasn't any different, and-

Genos. There's black stuff leaking from his eyes.

"Are you crying?" Saitama asks, alarmed.

"No," Genos lies, turning away. "Sometimes my eyes just water for no reason."

"That doesn't look like water."

"Just go," Genos mumbles, but Saitama pretends not to hear and ventures a few steps closer instead, where he leans against the edge of the counter. Waits.

Spots of black drip onto the floor. Genos finally moves, grabbing a dishrag from the sink and wetting it so he can wipe his face. Then he kneels down, scrubbing the black spots from white tile. When he's done, however, he doesn't get back up. He rests his hands on his knees and keeps his face angled away from Saitama, but his fingers start digging in harder and harder, and then fresh black marks start dotting the floor.

"Genos…" Saitama has never been good at dealing with emotions, much less other people's emotions, but clearly something set Genos off and he's not getting over it easily. "Why are you crying?"

That question chokes Genos up, more tears spilling down his face and onto the floor before any words come out. "Because - you have King to be your friend, but I only have you-- and I fucked everything up."

Saitama is concerned, but also completely confused. He moves closer, squatting down so he is nearly on Genos' level. "Why do you think you fucked everything up?"

"You're mad at me," Genos croaks out, miserably.

"I'm not mad at you," Saitama says.

Genos lifts his head just enough to fix Saitama with a dark stare that says, 'don't lie to me.' If he didn't already know Genos, it'd be pretty chilling.

"I'm not," Saitama asserts.

"I ignored you for fifteen minutes and then I said no to changing the rules," Genos says.

"You… set boundaries and stood your ground," Saitama sighs. "I'm not mad at you for saying no. I'm just mad at those girls for being shitty."

"Why? I am cold and undateable," Genos says, matter of factly, even if his tone is still a little bitter. It seems like the crying spell has ended.

Saitama takes a slow, deep breath, trying to gather his thoughts as well as his resolve. He picks up the stained washcloth, and scrubs the black spots off the tile. "I'm not sure how you could call yourself cold, and get that upset because you thought I'd stop being your friend."

Genos doesn't say anything, but he isn't crying anymore. Saitama takes that as a win.

"Can I be really truthful for a second?" Saitama asks, and Genos looks up at him again. Sad Genos looks a lot like his billboard photo - brows drawn in, angry-looking.

"King and I have been friends for maybe a year. We don't talk much about anything besides games or manga. And the only shared memories we have of hanging out together are us playing video games. So that's why I'm not very good at this kind of thing."

"Do you not want to continue?"

"Are you kidding? We've had more fun in two days than I've had all year! I'm just telling you why I'm really bad at being a good friend!"

"I'm the one who's bad at being a good friend!" Genos counters, almost as if it were a competition, or if he were defending Saitama's good name.

"Well, then, we'll both have to be bad at it together!" Saitama declares. "Maybe that's why we get along well. Because our friendship will be whatever we decide it is."

Genos's eyes go alight at Saitama's last inspirational words. He rises to his feet, finds his notebook and starts writing furiously.

Saitama stands up, glad to be done with all of that uncomfortable stuff. He rinses and squeezes out the rag in the sink, but it will be stained forever now. Even after he sets the rag aside, Genos isn't done. He sure is writing a lot.

"Is all of this a memory now?" Saitama asks.

"Yes," Genos answers, oddly excited. "Our first fight."

"Hm. That was yesterday, when I bested you in physical combat," Saitama jokes, and Genos snorts a little too loudly at that.

After he finishes writing, Genos excuses himself to the bathroom, and returns with his face washed.

"We should work on more anecdotes," Genos says, settling down at the island counter and picking up a pen.

Something doesn't feel right anymore, Saitama thinks. Genos is still quiet and stiff, more so than usual. After that emotional mishap, Saitama kind of wants a change of scenery, and he thinks Genos might appreciate the same. Besides, he doesn't really have any more stories coming to mind.

"You know… I think that real life lends the most inspiration sometimes," Saitama says, trying to be clever.

Genos gives him a suspicious look. "What are you talking about?"

"Instead of sitting in here making up a bunch of stuff, we should actually go somewhere and do something," Saitama says.

Genos looks stricken by the idea. "We need a history," he objects.

"We have some already," Saitama persists. "We should make at least one real memory, spend some time together doing something. It'll be a story in itself and we can use it to build up more of these fake memories. Plus I think it'd be good for both of us to get some fresh air."

"What if someone sees us together?"

"Wouldn't that be a good thing?" Saitama counters. "Let them spot us. It'd be weirder if you suddenly brought me to the gala and nobody's even seen me before."

After a long moment, wherein Saitama can see Genos struggling with the idea, the cyborg sets his pen back down on the counter.

"You're not ready to talk to the press," Genos says. It sounds an awful lot like a yes, but Saitama isn't ready to call it a victory yet.

"Are we really going to get mobbed with paparazzi?"

Genos just shrugs.

"Well, if we do, I promise I'm not gonna say anything weird, or do anything weird," Saitama assures him. "That would kind of be against the rules."

The reminder of those twelve little binding agreements makes Genos take in a somewhat surprised breath, and then visibly relax on the exhale. "Yes it would."

Saitama smiles.  "Yes it woouuld… be nice to go somewhere with me?"

Genos has the same long-suffering look that King sometimes has. "Yes, it would be nice to go somewhere. Where are we going?" he asks immediately, sounding somewhat suspicious of what Saitama has in mind.

If only Genos knew the truth.

Saitama has nothing in mind whatsoever.

He quickly racks his brain, trying to think of something, and remembers what he'd forgotten when those lousy girls distracted him.

"Do you like fish?"


--


"This isn't what I expected," Genos says, staring at the building.

The path leading to the front entrance is surrounded by swirls of blue lights, like crashing waves. At the center of the path there is a fountain in the shape of a whale spewing water up into the air from its blowhole, with smaller jets of water surrounding it. The building itself is painted in bright primary colors, mostly blue, with a mural of fish swimming through seaweed and twisted pieces of coral.

"What were you expecting?" Saitama asks.

"A restaurant. 'Tabemono ga Takaidesu,'" Genos mumbles, and Saitama chokes on air.

"Ge-Genos," Saitama coughs. "The food there is so expensive."

"So?"

"So… you only go there if you're on a date," Saitama lies. Truthfully, he feels stressed just thinking about the bill from a place like that. "And since we're not dating, I guess we can't go."

"They let me in by myself before," Genos says, doubtfully.

"Well, obviously. But if we go together then they'll assume we're together-together."

"Won't they assume that here?"

Saitama coughs again. "No."

"Saitama, why are you coughing so much?"

"I swallowed a bug."

"Ew. On purpose?"

"No, not on purpose!" Saitama huffs and then points at the building. "This is the aquarium. It's cool and fun, and I promise you'll like it. Come on."

Genos follows Saitama almost reluctantly, looking around at the sea-themed decor and the dozen or so people milling around the main entrance.

"Are you sure we'll be allowed inside?" he questions, and when Saitama looks at him, he realizes that Genos is staring at the disproportionate number of middle and primary school children running amok.

"It's not for kids!" Saitama hisses under his breath as they enter. "Adults come here too. The aquarium is cool!"

Genos says nothing. Somewhere in the lobby, a group of children cheer, as if in agreement with Saitama. It doesn't help his argument.

Inside, Saitama pauses at the admission fees sign.

"Do you think we could pretend to be 15 years old?"

"You could probably get the Senior price," Genos says, and Saitama isn't sure whether or not it was meant to be taken as a joke.

A minute later, Saitama pays for their tickets and realizes that the girl behind the counter has indeed given him the senior price. Maybe she overheard them talking. He shoves his ticket into his pocket before anyone else can see it, and tries to remind himself that punching Genos as hard as he possibly can would be a very bad thing.

"Have you ever been to an aquarium before?" Saitama asks, walking alongside Genos as they start into the first area of the building. There are somewhat large tanks standing on either side of them, full of crabs, small fish, eels, and other things.

"Not that I can remember," Genos says, pausing to look at a tank full of little seahorses.

"I've been to this one once before," Saitama says. On a school trip, he doesn't say. "It's really amazing."

Genos doesn't seem that convinced, although he spends a while looking at the seahorses and various tanks of colorful fish.

After letting Genos get his fill reading the information plaques beside each tank, Saitama finally leads him onward into the next area, where the lights are dimmer and the massive floor to ceiling tanks are illuminated blue.

Genos' eyes go wider, a soft noise of astonishment slipping out of his mouth. In the tanks, various schools of fish swim through the coral, mingling with rays and massive crabs with spindly legs walking slowly across the sandy bottom.

There are a few other people in this area, a quiet family with their child, taking photos of the fish and pointing out the most interesting, colorful, and spotted ones. A school full of dozens, if not hundreds, of tiny silver fish come close, like a sentient cloud. When the child puts her hand against the glass, they all recoil simultaneously, like a shimmery piece of fabric being snatched away in the wind.

"You like it?" Saitama asks, inching along through the exhibit. Genos nods, distracted by the shifting display of marine life as he reluctantly follows Saitama along, until he realizes they are about to leave the tanks behind and hesitates.

"You haven't seen anything yet," Saitama assures him, tugging at Genos' sleeve to urge him along.

The next room is similar in design, with an enormous habitat full of sea turtles on one side, and another with jellyfish that glow under specially colored lights. Neon ghosts slowly drifting through a void of dark blue.

Genos puts his hand to the glass, his metal fingertips making a solid thunk in his excitement.

"Maybe don't do that," Saitama says, covering Genos' hand with his own to gently pull it away. "I'm sure the glass is really strong, but, um. You're really strong too. It might not be Genos-grade."

"Oh," Genos says, sounding a little disappointed, but he lets Saitama pull his hand away and drops it by his side again.

"Cool, isn't it?"

"It's beautiful," Genos says, watching the jellies pulse as they swim. After a moment, he turns to see Saitama watching him. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Nothing," Saitama shakes his head with a little smile. "Are you ready for the next room?"

"There's more?"

"Oh, there's way more than this," Saitama laughs. "But my favorite part is up next."

They exit the room through a dim doorway, down a short set of stairs. The next room is bright blue, and when they step inside, Genos realizes the entire room is an underwater tunnel. There are a lot more people here, crowding both sides of the glass and taking pictures. Massive fish swim by, including dolphins and dark creatures with light-colored spots striping their sides.

"What are those?" Genos asks quietly, sticking close to Saitama's side and away from the rest of the visitors.

"Whale sharks," Saitama says. He finds an empty stretch of glass where Genos can get a closer look without having to approach the groups of people.

"Cool, right?" Saitama says, almost close enough to bump shoulders with Genos. "They're called whale sharks because they eat whales. Each spot on their sides is from a whale they ate."

"That doesn't sound right. I don't think that's true," Genos says, but there's an amused grin pinching at his lips, which relaxes into an easy smile.

"I was testing you. You passed," Saitama says.

"Mm. I passed," Genos repeats. In the tunnel, all of the chatter from the other patrons echoes easily, and the noise has been steadily increasing until Saitama realizes that there are too-excited peals of giggles and shouts. The smile on Genos' face evaporates, and he turns back to look at the swimming creatures, brows drawn.

"Demon Cyborg, it's Demon Cyborg!"  Saitama hears someone saying. When he turns around to face them, he realizes a group of teenage students have already closed in on them.

"Hey, it's Demon Cyborg!"

"Demon-sama!"

"Can I have your autograph please? My friend will just die when I tell her I met you!"

"Demon Cyborg!"

It's a little chaotic, especially with every voice being slightly amplified and echoing in the tunnel as they talk over each other. Saitama turns back to Genos and sees that he's gone completely stiff. Only his fingers twitch anxiously at his sides, his fists curling and uncurling. To Saitama, he looks completely overwhelmed. However, his face is expressionless, like he's shut himself down, and the dead glaze in his eyes probably makes him look angry to anyone who wouldn't know any better.

"Guys, can you calm down?" Saitama asks, raising his hands to the group to try to gain control over the situation, but he's completely ignored. There's a sudden yelp of "Demon Cyborg!" and he catches a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of Genos walking away, going back up the steps as quickly as he can without just bolting.

Some people in the group nearly do bolt after him, but Saitama darts to the side, up the first step, and makes himself as big as possible to block anyone from going up the stairs after Genos.

"HEY!" he shouts, and it echoes sharply in the tunnel, quieting everyone down, except for a young toddler with her parents, who fusses at the other end of the tunnel.  "Sorry," he says to them, and then addresses the group of students, "You can't just start a commotion here. Do you want us all to get thrown out?"

"I just wanted Demon Cyborg to notice me," a girl says, almost in tears.

"He saved my city once, I wanted to thank him," a boy says.

"He hates his fans," another boy says. The worst part is, he isn't even mean about how he says it, like it's just a matter of fact. "Everyone knows that."

"He - he doesn't hate his fans," Saitama says, "It's just - he doesn't like to cause a scene. It stresses out the fish," he adds, realizing that whatever public image Genos had, it most likely didn't include social anxiety. Which was a shame, because if his fans understood, they'd probably approach him differently. He didn't like the idea of people having a negative opinion on Genos.

"Can we please talk to him? I want to apologize," the same girl says, and others start murmuring their agreement.

"I'll go see him. You all have to stay here, and you have to be quiet," Saitama adds, sternly. "Indoor voices. Respect the fish."

"We will," several of the students say. Some more excited whispering starts up, and as Saitama goes up the stairs to find Genos, he hears the girl call after him in a small voice, "Please tell him I'm sorry."

Past the glowing jellies and the sea turtles, past the schools of fish and corals and crabs, Saitama is starting to worry that he won't find Genos until he reaches the parking lot, but to his surprise, Genos is in the first room, staring at one of the plaques on the wall that Saitama knows he's already read.

The cyborg's face is perfectly blank, shoulders square. Saitama would think he was perfectly composed if he didn't know Genos so well and how uncomfortable he had to be.

"I'm ready to go," Genos states, before Saitama can say anything, but he doesn't move.

"Um. I know you're stressed out, but they didn't mean to upset you," Saitama says quietly, although there aren't many people around, and nobody takes notice of them. Probably the only reason why Genos is still in the building. "They're your fans, you know."

Genos turns his head towards Saitama slightly, and his brow furrows more, the only physical indication that he's listening. "I don't know what they want."

"They just want your attention," Saitama says. "They really admire you. Just say hi to them, listen to them, sign a few things, and thank them for their support. It'll only take a couple minutes, I promise."

"I don't know. I don't do that," Genos says, but the words come out more like a nervous babble, and he finally moves, even if it's to squirm nervously, and Saitama takes that as a good sign.

"Come on, Genos, they're your fans," Saitama smiles encouragingly at him. "If you can't handle a dozen school kids, how do you ever handle reporters?"

Genos glances at Saitama a couple times, and then finally looks at him. "I usually tell them to fuck off," he admits, with just a hint of humor.

"Let's not do that," Saitama laughs, earning a weak smile from Genos before it dissolves again. "Let's go say hi for just a minute, okay?"

"I don't know," Genos says again, but lets Saitama take him by the elbow.

"You weren't this nervous when we met," Saitama teases lightly, walking Genos back towards the waiting students.

"You weren't a group. You were you," Genos says.

"Still, you weren't nervous."

"I made twelve different dishes because I wasn't sure what you'd like."

"Holy shit, you did," Saitama says, remembering. "I liked all of them, though. They were perfect."

"Of course they were. I threw away three failed attempts that didn't come out right."

Saitama looks a little horrified. "You don't mean 36 dishes, do you?"

"No, just three dishes. I'm not that atrocious at cooking."

Saitama can hear the rolled eyes, and grins to know that Genos is feeling a little more relaxed and confident. "I guess a 75% success rate isn't so bad- oof!" he grunts and then laughs at the realization that Genos had just elbowed him.

Halfway through the jellyfish exhibit, Genos stops.

"Ready?" Saitama asks.

Genos nods, unconvincingly. "I'm good. I need to try this."

"Just think of things that come in twelves," Saitama says, slowly walking backwards away from Genos. "Roses, donuts, eggs, kittens…"

"Kittens?" Genos repeats, scrunching his nose with a little snort of laughter.

"A dozen kittens, each wearing a dozen bowties," Saitama says. "How many bowties is that?"

"144," Genos says, and then mumbles, "They'll suffocate…"

"No they won't," Saitama shoots back, just as he reaches the stairs.

He goes down, and is met with a dozen expectant faces, all waiting.

"Okay," Saitama says to them. "Genos only has a few minutes, so please keep it civil and don't talk over each other."

"Is Genos… Demon Cyborg's name?"

"Uh…" Crap. There's no point in denying it now. "Yeah."

"Can we call him Genos too?"

Saitama hesitates. That isn't his permission to give. But then he hears Genos on the stairs behind him.

"Yes, you can call me Genos."

An excited chatter bubbles up again, with 'Genos-sama' being repeated by the students, until Saitama quiets them down again. To his relief, one of the girls raises her hand, and then others follow suit. Saitama calls on them one at a time, and they start asking weirdly specific questions about monster battles and hero rankings.

"Where are your arms?" one girl asks, which is the weirdest question Saitama has heard yet.

"My battle arms are at home," Genos says. "I can attach them easily if there's a disaster."

"What if there was a disaster right now?"

"These arms still have firepower," Genos says. "I'd show you, but, my shirt would rip off." A few of the girls make sounds of approval, and Saitama hastens to call on someone else.

"Was it difficult to defeat the Mad Cyborg?" one of the boys asks.

"No," Genos says, oddly sad about it. "I spent so long focused on becoming strong enough to defeat him, by the time I found him again, it was almost too easy."

A couple of the students murmur to themselves how strong and awesome Demon Cyborg must be, but to Saitama it seems they missed the point. Genos doesn't elaborate, and Saitama finds someone else to call on.

"I'm sorry I don't have a question for you, Genos-sama. I just wanted to thank you for being a hero."

"Thank you, Genos-sama!"

"You saved my city from that fugu monster. You saved my sister's life, thank you Genos-sama."

"My friend is your biggest fan, can I have your autograph for her, please?"

"Can I have your autograph, too?"

"Please, Genos-sama?"

Saitama waves his hands again. "Okay, okay. If you want autographs, make a line. And who has a pen?"

One by one, Genos signed the aquarium maps that the students had, as well as the teachers accompanying them and a few visitors and employees who happened to be there. They all gave him their thanks, and Saitama was pretty pleased with how well everything had gone.

When the last person has their autograph, Genos tries to return the pen to the girl who loaned it out, but she refuses to take it back and insists that she wants Genos to keep it.

"Thank you," he finally says, feeling strange but also genuinely pleased with the unexpected gift. "Thank you all," he adds, remembering Saitama's advice to him, "for… your support. It means a lot to me. And it was nice to meet all of you."

Genos glances at Saitama, who takes it as his cue that Genos wants to leave now.

"Okay, thanks everybody. We'd better get a move on," Saitama says, pretending to drag Genos out of there, but really it's Genos who he can hardly keep up with as they exit the aquarium.

Outside is so much brighter and hotter. Genos isn't sure where to go or where he wants to go, and just picks an aimless direction to keep walking. To his relief, Saitama walks with him without question, only commenting on how well Genos handled himself and the kids, and then how beautiful the weather is, and the little shops in this area, and the beach this time of year. He keeps up the cheerful stream of conversation, nearly one-sidedly, until Genos realizes that rather than an aimless destination, Saitama has led them both to a little ice cream stand that is surprisingly quiet.

"Here we are," Saitama says, as if it were his plan all along. "Best ice cream in the city. Well, maybe. Only ice cream I've ever had in this city, but it's still good."

Saitama orders scoops for both of them, and then they find a shady bench to sit on. Genos carefully rolls his sleeves up, silver-colored forearms reflecting the colors of the foliage around them, and he catches Saitama staring. "What?"

"You have battle arms?"

Genos gives him his 'I can't believe you sometimes'look, which is becoming standard. "If you'd ever noticed me before, you would've known. When I was younger, I never took them off. I usually don't go anywhere without them. But when I'm at home, I have these slimmer models."

Looking at Genos' broad shoulders, and his too-expensive button up shirt that pulls tight every time Genos has the audacity to move, Saitama has Doubts, but he can't deny that Genos looks good.

"Don't take offense. I don't pay attention to anything. If I did, I definitely would've noticed you," Saitama says, but he doesn't know how to explain that he's glad he didn't. Demon Cyborg and Genos don't seem like the same person.

Saitama finishes half his ice cream, and then hears a quiet crunch beside him and turns to see Genos' cone shattered in his hand.

"Oh," Saitama says, a mixture of surprise and pity as chunks of the cone fall onto the ground. "All done, buddy?"

"Too strong…" Genos mumbles.

"Don't worry, that happens to me too," Saitama says, handing Genos his napkin.

He stands, and Genos follows after him while wiping his hands. Saitama finds a trash can for Genos to throw away the soiled napkin, and also throws away the rest of his cone. It only seems fair.

They walk onward, taking the nearest street with apparently no destination.

"So, Genos-sama…" Saitama teases.

"Don't call me that. We're friends."

"Okay. Genos-kun," Saitama says instead, and Genos briefly turns his head to the side in embarrassment. "You really have battle arms at home?"

"Yes."

"What do you do, keep them hanging up in the closet next to your shirts?"

"No, of course not. I keep them in a separate armory closet."

"What?! Why haven't I seen this?"

"Because it's in my bedroom."

"I wanna see," Saitama says, already decided.

"See… my closet, or see my weaponry in action?" Genos asks.

"The closet. But now that you mention that new option, definitely that too. I wanna see what you're capable of."

"Hopefully you won't ever have to," Genos says.

"I was just thinking a demonstration, not a full on monster fight. But I bet you'd look really cool either way."

"Monsters aren't anything to hope for."

"I know," Saitama says. After a long moment, he adds, "I wanted to be a hero once."

Genos' stride breaks for a moment, stuttering to a stop as he looks at Saitama in surprise, and then resumes walking to catch up with him again. "Really?"

"Yeah. I trained and everything."

"Why did you give up?" Genos asks.

Saitama's face pinches up at the question. "I guess I realized that I wanted to become a hero for the wrong reasons. A real hero should care more about just doing what's right, not whether or not anyone notices him for it."

"You're right about that," Genos says, after a moment of consideration. "That shouldn't make you give up on your goals, though."

Saitama just shrugs. "I have different goals now."

They don't talk for a little while after that, and when Saitama does start up conversation again, it's about nothing in particular - things they pass on the street, and so on.

A long last, Genos sees the aquarium building again, and realizes they've made a big loop right back to where the started.

"We paid for the day. There's one more thing I wanted you to see," Saitama explains. Then he adds, "Don't worry, those kids are gone by now."

They go through the lobby, but this time Saitama takes him in the opposite direction, past the aquarium's gift shop.

Saitama makes Genos stop at a fountain. "We have to wash our hands," he says, and Genos is too thankful to get the lingering stickiness of warm ice cream out of his joints to question why.

They enter the next room, and Saitama isn't sure if Genos looks amazed or horrified. There are several large, shallow tanks throughout the room, some filled with urchins and crabs. There are also several families in the room, with lots of young children.

"You said the kids would be gone."

"I said thosekids. And it's really not that busy, so don't worry about it. Come here."

Saitama practically has to drag Genos into the room, making a beeline for the most crowded tank in the room - the one that's filled with young skates and zebra sharks. Almost everyone there has their hands in the water, gently touching the skarks or skates as they swam by, and some parents have their children's hands in their own, both to help guide them and make sure they don't pat the fish too aggressively.

Saitama sticks his hand in as one of the zebra sharks swim up, trying to pet the strangely cute fish, but it swims away from him instantly. "Aw."

Genos looks on edge for a moment, but slowly realizes that these young kids are far more fascinated with the fish and sea creatures at their fingertips than they are with him, and the parents who do recognize him are more focused on their children.

"You can touch these ones, y'know," Saitama says, barely managing to brush against a skate.

"I won't hurt them?" Genos questions, sounding doubtful of himself.

"Just be gentle, and let them come to you," Saitama suggests.

Genos considers this, and takes a moment to roll his sleeves up securely. As one of the zebra sharks goes by, Genos reaches in with both hands and manages to touch the shark's sleek body before it lazily darts away.

"Don't worry, it'll come back," Saitama says, trying to reassure him. Before he can even finish his sentence, the same shark turns around and goes straight back to Genos, rubbing right against his open hands. It's followed by another shark, and then another, and Saitama realizes that all of the sharks and skates in the pool are coming towards Genos, brushing themselves against his hands again and again as they pass by, like aquatic cats in a catnip frenzy.

The children at the tank squeal and come crowding towards Genos as well, all of them eager to reach into the swarm of fish. Genos seems stunned by the turn of events at first, but he keeps his hands in the water while the little ones get their fill of petting the sleek creatures. When the last little girl gets her turn, with her mother's help, Genos pulls his hands out, wiping the salt water off on his jeans, and the sharks and skates slowly disperse out through the tank again. Saitama strokes one as it goes by, and then pulls his hands out of the water as well.

"Ready to go home?" Saitama asks, and Genos nods, still dumbfounded.


--


At Genos' place, Saitama makes them both tea and something to eat while Genos writes in his notebook faster than Saitama thought was physically possible.

Saitama sits beside him, sipping his tea while Genos finishes writing. When Genos sets the pen down, Saitama realizes it's the same one his fan had given to him.

"Thank you," Genos says, strangely formal. "For taking me out today."

"No problem. It was fun, right?"

"Yes. I really enjoyed it," Genos says.

"Good. Um, I was thinking about the fact that for all the info we exchanged, we never exchanged numbers," Saitama says. He opens his own notebook, borrows the pen from Genos to jot his number down, and then tears out the page. "You can text me whenever. Or not," he adds when Genos just stares at it. "But at least you'll have it in case. I should head home now."

"Wait," Genos stops him, getting out of his chair and disappearing into his room.

Another check, Saitama remembers, waiting reluctantly.

When Genos returns, sure enough he gives Saitama the check he'd earned for the day. But then he presses something else into his hand. A key.

"It will let you into the elevator," Genos says. "And, um, my apartment."

"Genos, you don't - you don't have to," Saitama protests weakly.

"I want you to have it," Genos insists.

Saitama lets out a breath, and then shoves his hand into his pocket and digs out his keys. Genos watches, bemused as Saitama tries to untangle a little giraffe keychain and free one of the keys from the ring.

"Here. Have this," Saitama says, pushing the key at Genos. "I don't have a fancy elevator, but it will let you in my apartment, too. It's only fair."

"Saitama-"

"If you won't accept it, then neither can I," Saitama says.

Genos blinks at him, and curls his fingers tightly around the key. "Thank you, Saitama. I will keep it safe."

Chapter Text

Saitama is woken up by the chime of a text message on his phone.

It's either late at night or very early in the morning, but the notification worries him a little. Nobody ever texts him at this hour. He fumbles in the dark for a moment before finding his phone and checks the message, squinting against the blindingly bright screen light.

Unknown Number:
Can't sleep

Saitama rubs his watery eyes, peers at the message again, and wills his brain to function.

Unknown? The only person who ever texts him is King, and he just gave Genos-

Right, he doesn't know Genos' number, so it wouldn't show up.

Genos?

A few seconds later, he gets a text back.

Yeah

Saitama rolls over, checking the time. 11:09pm.

What's wrong?

Nothing , Genos texts back, and then after a moment, Can't stop thinking.

About what?

There's no immediate reply. Saitama adds Genos into his very short list of contacts and watches the time change from 11:10 to 11:11. Make a wish, he thinks, but knows that Genos would be horrified if he ever said that to him.

After a couple more minutes, a new message pops up.

G: Fell asleep earlier but I had a bad dream.

S: Wanna talk about it?

G: No.

That wasn't the reply Saitama had expected, but fair enough. He starts typing back, 'Do you want to talk about something else?', when another text interrupts him.

G: I was at the aquarium again and I touched the glass and it shattered and the ocean came pouring inside.

Okay. That sounded a little intense.

S: Sorry. I didn't mean to give you nightmares.

G: It wasn't really a nightmare. But I broke the glass.

S: Are you scared of being underwater?

G: No. I wasn't scared at all. It was actually nice, in a weird way.

S: Dreams are weird like that.

There's another long pause and a couple minutes pass before Genos texts back.

G: I still broke the glass. I just wanted to touch it, but it broke.

Dreams aren't logical, Saitama wants to say. They amplify anxieties about things that would never happen in real life. Sometimes Saitama still has the occasional dream that he's back at school, naked, and can't find his clothes. Stuff like that doesn't make any sense, but only outside of the dream he can realize how ridiculous it really is. And he's had plenty of stress dreams about screwing everything up.

S: Did anyone get hurt in your dream?

G: No. I was alone.

S: Ok. So if nobody got hurt, maybe breaking the glass doesn't have to be a bad thing.

G: In real life it'd be really bad.

S: Dreams aren't real life. Maybe your subconscious just really wanted to pet one of those whale sharks.

G: Maybe.

Genos is quiet for a long time after that, and Saitama isn't sure what else to say, but he feels like he's dangerously close to drifting back to sleep.

S: For what it's worth, I don't think you could've accidentally broken the glass just by touching it. You would've had to punch it and really wanted it to break.

G: Are you sure?

S: Yeah. Sorry for stressing you out. I just wanted to hold your hand.

Saitama snorts softly to himself at that, and then waits for the reply.

He doesn't remember falling asleep until he wakes up the next morning.

Genos never texted him back. When he looks at the messages he realizes why. Text doesn't really convey the teasing, somewhat sarcastic tone he had intended in his head.

"Oh heck ," Saitama cusses, going a little pale in his haste to type a message.

That was supposed to be a joke.

Then he adds, Sorry. I was tired and fell asleep.

After a couple minutes there's no reply, so Saitama gets up, goes to the bathroom, and puts his futon away. He's trying to decide what to make for breakfast when his phone chimes.

Oh.

That's the only message that comes in. "...What the heck does ' oh ' mean?" Saitama wonders out loud, but he doesn't dare actually ask Genos. Maybe Genos hadn't even given it a second thought. He probably understood Saitama's weird sense of humor by now, or he just didn't care. Saitama was overthinking it.

He still leapt to grab his phone when it chimed again.

Hey will u be ready at 10?

For what? Saitama texts back in confusion. Genos seemed pretty fixated on their regular meetings at noon, and he doesn't remember them talking about anything different yesterday. Then he realizes that the text that just came in is from King, not Genos.

K: I thought we were going to play today. Are u busy again?

"Shit." Saitama rubs at his face and then texts back, No, I'm good. See u soon.

Saitama falters only for a second before hitting send. He already told King no once and he really doesn't want to cancel again. He switches over to his conversation with Genos.

S: Hey jsyk I'll be late today.

G: Why? Did something happen?
G: Are you okay?

That reply came quick.

S: I'm fine. King just wanted to hang out for a couple hours, and it takes a while to get to your place.

S: I'll be there after 2 if that's okay.

S: We could have dinner this time.

Every second waiting for a reply makes Saitama a little nervous that Genos will be upset again. But King got shot down yesterday and they hadn't hung out in a while. And Genos would just have to cope with Saitama showing up after 12-

G: Okay. Dinner.

The reply could just be straightforward, but Saitama can't help but wonder if Genos feels hurt. He knows that every day their deadline is getting closer, and they need all the time they can get.

S: Unless you wanted to come hang out with us.

G: King is your friend.

S: Friends don't really work like that. He could be your friend too.

There is no answer for a while, and Saitama senses that Genos will give him the silent treatment on that one. He still remembers Genos' spiel about how he didn't want to make real friends. If he didn't know Genos by now, he'd think that he was just stuck up. Now it felt more like Genos really didn't think he was capable of maintaining a friendship, or that anyone could actually like him, or maybe even that he didn't deserve to have friends.

S: How about you come here? We need to practice convincing other people we're friends.

G: I don't know about that.

Saitama wracks his brain, trying to think of how to get Genos to come hang out with them.

S: You said you want people to think we've been friends for years. King has been my friend for a while. If he doesn't meet you before this gala thing, I don't think he's gonna buy it. It'll blow our whole backstory.

G: King doesn't know everything about you.

S: No but aren't you really famous? I feel like he'd have to know.

It sounds more rational than he'd hoped, but Genos is silent. Well, there's one more tactic he can try.

S: If you're too scared we can't pull it off, it's okay. I'll see you at 2.

G: I'm not scared I just need your address.

Saitama isn't sure whether to feel smug or stupid, so he decides to split the difference. He texts Genos his address and then takes a second to bask in the fact that his only two friends will finally meet one another.

When he's done basking, Saitama remembers that Genos is going to see his apartment for the first time.

His apartment, which can be currently described as 'a fucking disaster'.

"Shit."

-

He'd intended to pick up just a little, but a little turned into a lot more effort than he realized.

Compared to the huge, immaculate apartment that Genos lives in, Saitama isn't sure if Genos will even step inside once he gets there. He keeps finding more and more things to pick up, sort, and wipe clean.

When King arrives, he taps at the door before letting himself in. He lets out a low whistle at the sight of Saitama's messy attempts at cleaning. "Hey, looks good. Am I interrupting?"

"No. I just wanted to straighten up but there's so much shit," Saitama says, actually a little stressed when he realizes how his apartment looks after an hour of cleaning. There's a huge trash bag in the middle of his floor full of old takeout containers, and he somehow overlooked the dirty dishes sitting on his table until that moment.

"Sorry," Saitama mumbles, grabbing as many dishes as he can at once and bringing them to the kitchen sink.

"Dude, I've seen worse," King says, sitting down on the floor and taking his gaming equipment out of his bag so he can start setting up.

"I know. But I really gotta clean up," Saitama says, going back to get the rest. He spots a spoon under his computer table, and grabs it in confusion and despair of how it ended up there. "I have someone else coming over later," he admits. "My friend Genos. I wanted you guys to meet each other."

"I only brought two controllers," King says, staring at the console for a second. He turns his head towards the kitchen when Saitama starts running the tap. "Do you want me to help you?"

"I'll just be a minute," Saitama says, scrubbing at his dishes as quickly as possible. He's so focused on the chore, he doesn't notice King has been picking up the rest of the trash and clutter in the living room for him until after he finishes.

"Where do you want this?" King asks. He's been sorting out a pile of manga books that Saitama was too lazy to put back on the shelf, but when he asks the question, Saitama realizes that King is holding the notebook that Genos gave him. His heart suddenly sticks in his throat.

He's beside King in the blink of an eye, and very casually rips the notebook out of his hands. Okay, it's not casual at all. Saitama grabs all the other books away from him for good measure.

"Dude, don't look at my porn," Saitama says, as if King were peeping at it. He shoves the notebook onto the shelf with everything else.

"I- I literally gave you half of that collection, and it's not porn," King sputters. Saitama can already hear the spiel about romance plots, and how just because a manga has beautiful, scantily-clad girls, it doesn't make it the same as something like hentai.

"I know, I was just being funny. Your ears are turning red," Saitama says.

"Can we play now?" King asks. It's a pitiful plea for his dignity, and Saitama almost feels bad.

"Yeah, I'm ready now," Saitama says, tying the trash bag up so he can run it outside. "Choose a character for me."

King picks a cute, tiny female character for Saitama.

"Perv," Saitama snorts softly when he comes back, and King's face stays pink for an hour.

-

Saitama keeps checking the time on his phone, but he knows Genos won't be there until noon. Sure enough, just as it hits twelve, there are three knocks at the door.

"That's Genos. Don't embarrass me," Saitama tells King, mostly as a joke. He pauses the game and trips getting to his feet, nearly going sideways into the wall.

"I don't think you need my help," King says, straight-faced.

Saitama gives him a glare and then mumbles, "No, I really don't."

He manages to get to the door without further near-death experiences.

Genos is waiting on the other side, looking conspicuously innocent.

"Were you waiting in the hallway this whole time?" Saitama asks him, keeping his voice at a whisper so King won't overhear.

"No...  because… that would be irrational… and stupid," Genos whispers back, not looking at him.

"So you didn't hear me telling King to go fuck himself like five minutes ago?"

"I definitely did not hear you yelling at King to fuck you sideways, with a chainsaw, because I only arrived right this minute," Genos says.

"...Okay I just wanted to make sure."

Saitama steps back to let Genos in. "King brought over a new first person shooter game," he says while Genos takes off his shoes at the door. "It's got zombies and stuff, but we've been playing against each other. He keeps killing me with headshots."

"Do you want me to make him stop?" Genos asks, in a tone so dark Saitama hopes it's a joke.

"It's not that serious," Saitama assures him, just in case. "Let me give you a tour of my apartment," he says, leading Genos the short distance through the hallway. "That's my kitchen, and there's the bathroom, and now we're in the living room. That's the end of the tour," he jokes.

"Where do you sleep?" Genos asks, bewildered.

"On the floor. I know. The apartment is small, but I do have a full size swimming pool and tennis court on the roof," Saitama says. Genos looks confused for several seconds too long, so Saitama takes pity on him. "That's a joke. I don't have anything fancy. But I have this TV, and King brought new games. Grab a seat anywhere. The entire floor is your oyster."

Saitama plops back down onto his futon, where he'd been sitting to play. King has his own pad to sit on, and he has his controller in his hands and he's been staring at Genos the entire time.

"Genos, this is my friend, King," Saitama says. "King, this is Genos."

"Hey," Genos says. It doesn't sound friendly at all. At least he tried, Saitama thinks.

King is still just staring at Genos. He looks horrified.

"Sai… You're…" King only gets a few words out. Saitama can hear his friend's heart pounding suddenly.

"Dude. Take a breath," Saitama says, his brows scrunching in concern. "You're doing that thing."

"Demon Cyborg," King says.

"Yeah. His name is Genos," Saitama says, trying to deflate the situation before King can get himself too worked up. "He's really chill."

"Yes. I am. Chill ," Genos says. Saitama squints at him. Genos squints back. Little shit.

"I need a minute," King blurts out, dropping the controller so hard that Saitama winces, and running to the bathroom.

Genos hovers near Saitama, still standing. Saitama looks around awkwardly and then starts picking lint off the bottom of his sock.

"You didn't tell him I was coming?" Genos guesses.

"I did. I did, but I keep forgetting 'Demon Cyborg' is a thing."

"You are the only one."

"Well, I guess I'm just special," Saitama grumbles, while Genos smiles to himself.

A short minute later, King comes back out. He still looks flustered, and Saitama can still hear his heart pounding loudly.

"I'm sorry."

"You good?" Saitama asks, sheepishly.

"I'm good. I'm fine," King says. "I'm meeting Demon Cyborg in person and I'm wearing one of my anime girl shirts. This is fine."

"I should have warned you," Saitama says, doing his best to look ashamed. "I keep forgetting he's famous or something."

" Or something? " King repeats, exasperated. "You're joking, right? ...No. You didn't even know who Tornado of Terror is, either." Then to Genos, King says, "I'm sorry for my friend. He doesn't know about anything."

"I noticed."

" Hey ," Saitama protests. "That's part of my charm."

King goes back to his spot on the floor, folding into himself as much as possible. Saitama is still vaguely wondering if his friend is going to pass out, but he seems to be taking it pretty well. "When did you two become friends?"

"I dunno, we met like two years ago," Saitama says, scratching at his ear.

"Two years?" King looks defeated. "You never mentioned this before."

"We mostly texted," Saitama says, starting to feel bad. "But we've been hanging out more recently."

King just stares at Saitama for a while, like there's something he wants to say, but doesn't. Then he glances at Genos, and turns back to the game.

"Do… do you play shooters, Genos?" King asks, shaky.

"I don't play anything," Genos answers.

"You could learn," Saitama says, tipping his head back to look up at Genos. "It's fun."

Genos peers down at him. "I'll just watch you play."

"Okay, but you have to sit down with us."

Genos sits down right beside him, settling on the same futon as Saitama so he has to budge over a little to make room. Even after giving Genos a couple inches of space, Genos sits as closely as possible, their sides pressed together. Saitama doesn't even give it another thought.

"Let me get going this time," Saitama says, picking up his controller and unpausing the game.

"Huh. Yeah," King croaks out, trying to focus on his character.

Genos shifts beside Saitama. Watches Saitama fire at a couple zombies. Listens to him whoop in victory when he finally kills them. Rests his chin on Saitama's shoulder.

Saitama goes still in surprise at the sudden weight, and Genos' close proximity. He turns his head slightly towards Genos, but not enough to shake him off or obstruct his view. "You good?"

"You're not conserving your ammunition," Genos says.

"Oh. King added an unlimited ammo cheat code."

"That's not realistic."

"Well, I'm shooting at zombies," Saitama says, "and my character is a sentient dog holding a gun in its mouth. Neither of those things are realistic."

"Saitama," Genos says.

"What?"

"Do you know that there are two heroes in the association called Zombie Man and Watchdog Man?"

"Haha, very funny," Saitama rolls his eyes. As if he'd fall for that.

When he realizes that King and Genos are both trying to contain laughter at his expense he adds, "It's not that funny."

After several minutes of running around the map, Saitama hears Genos whisper, "On your left."

He picks King's colors out in his scope. Fires.

King's half of the screen turns red, and then black. He groans.

"Yeah! I finally got you!" Saitama gloats.

"Good job. That makes it eight to one, right?" King asks.

"I got the most recent kill. That means I'm winning now," Saitama says.

"Just wait until I respawn," King grumbles.

Genos leans into Saitama. "Go that way," he says.

"Where?"

"Towards the pier," Genos points at the screen, somewhat unhelpfully. "Go in the water."

"I can't go in, that's out of bounds," Saitama says, but he makes his character run onto the pier anyway, so Genos can see the eerie expanse of the foggy ocean and its grey water.

"Cool, there's a health treat over here," Saitama says to himself. His character gains more points.

"Is that a shark?" Genos asks, perking up.

"What? Why would there-"

The pier suddenly explodes underneath Saitama's character in a burst of splintered wood, and the jaws of a massive great white fills the entirety of his half of the screen.

"What the fuck," King gapes at the game.

Genos is ecstatic. "It's a shark!"

"No shit! Why are you on top of me?!" Saitama cries, somewhat in a panic because his character is being eaten by a shark and Genos is pushing down on Saitama's shoulders as if he's trying to climb over him.

"Stop shooting at it!"

The shark's eyes are dead and clouded over and its skin looks half rotted away. "It's a zombie!" Saitama objects, stating the obvious.

"That's not his fault! He just wants to be petted," Genos protests.

"Well I don't have a button for 'pet the shark' I only have a button to shoot!"

The shark's jaws snap shut around Saitama's character once more, this time with a sickening finality, and his half of the screen goes red and then black.

"What happened?" Genos asks, still leaning on Saitama's shoulders.

"It ate my dog," Saitama mumbles, strangely quiet and almost shell shocked.

Genos sits back, his legs folded under him. He's studying the downward angle of Saitama's head and trying to figure out why he looks so sad about a game. "You'll respawn, right?"

"Yeah, but…" Saitama doesn't even try to finish his sentence, just staring at his hands in lap for a while. King is also strangely somber.

Genos suddenly feels like his throat is stuck. He did something wrong and he isn't sure what. "I'm sorry for leading you to the shark!" he blurts out. He doesn't know what else to do.

"It's not the shark, it's just… Can we play a game where my dog isn't eaten?" Saitama asks King.

"Yeah. I'm really sorry, I didn't know the game did that," King says, fumbling to remove the game. The TV goes blank while he puts the game back into its case.

"Why did it eat you?" Genos asks, still trying to figure out what just happened. "Because it was a zombie?"

"No. Well, yeah, but it could've eaten me anyway. That was a great white shark," Saitama says. "Have you ever seen the movie Jaws ?"

"No, what's the movie about?"

Saitama sighs and shakes his head fondly. "It's about a great white. They aren't as vicious as the movie makes them seem, but I still wouldn't want to run into one in the ocean. The whale sharks and zebra sharks you saw at the aquarium are pretty much harmless."

"Oh." Genos says, and then stays silent. He looks lost in thought.

Saitama doesn't like the lull in the mood, or the idea that Genos might withdraw into himself now. Time to change the topic.

"Trust fall!" Saitama shouts, falling straight back at Genos like a fainting goat.

Genos doesn't catch him so much as he breaks his fall with his entire body and then wraps his arms protectively around Saitama, startled.  "What are you doing?"

"Trusting you," Saitama says. He's feeling pretty content to stay where he is, locked in Genos' arms, while he waits for the next game. "You're supposed to catch me."

"Why?" Genos asks, still bewildered.

"That's what friends do," Saitama says, and then realizes that King is staring at them. Crap. He sticks his arms out towards King. "Trust fall?"

King doesn't move from his spot. He looks down, his hands clenching with nervousness.  

"...King?"

"You don't… you don't have to lie to me," King says.

Saitama's stomach drops. He tries to sit up, but Genos' tight hold on him stops him. "What are you talking about?"

"I know you're not actually friends," King says.

Genos lets go, and Saitama sits up awkwardly. He feels like his heart should be pounding as loudly as King's sometimes does. Of course King would see right through them. He never should have had Genos come over. But he wanted to. He thought it would work. Now if he's blown this whole thing, Genos won't want to see him again or go through with the rest of the plan. This whole thing would be for nothing. But maybe if King can keep quiet about it, he can convince Genos that everything will be fine. "King…"

"You could have just told me you're dating," King blurts out. "Did you think that it would bother me that much?"

"What? We're not-" Saitama starts to deny, with a shaky laugh, but catches a warning look on King's face, one that says he knows the 'truth' now and won't tolerate any more lies.

Saitama looks back at Genos, who has gone completely still.

He turns to face King again. "Okay. You're right. I should've known you'd figure out the truth," Saitama says, lowering his voice in mock seriousness.  "That Genos and I are desperately, hopelessly in love."

Behind him, Genos rises to his feet. Saitama's entire body floods with one powerful emotion which he can only describe as a mistake.

"Can I talk to you? Privately?"

Saitama gets up, feeling a little numb. He expects to go out into the hallway, but Genos drags him into the tiny bathroom instead and shuts the door behind them. Uh. "Why are we in here?" he asks.

"Emergency bathroom meeting," Genos mumbles.

"That's- that's not really a thing."

"King did it," Genos says. He looks beyond stressed, so Saitama doesn't argue. "Why did you have to say that?"

"I was just rolling with it. King plays a lot of dating games," Saitama tries to explain. "I should've known better."

"He thinks we're dating…"

"Is that such a terrible thing?" Saitama questions, as gently as possible. Genos is making some weird, distressed noise and he isn't entirely sure if it's a vocal sound, or the cyborg's mechanical body overheating.

"Your bathroom is too small," Genos complains.

"I know," Saitama says. He starts to push himself up onto the sink to give them both more space, but Genos is suddenly in front of him as if he had the same idea, lifting Saitama up and setting him on the sink, and it doesn't really resolve the space issue at all because Genos presses himself between Saitama's legs, not giving up an inch between them.

The anxiety pours off of Genos in waves. Saitama cautiously cards his fingers through Genos' hair, and the younger man closes his eyes and lowers his head to encourage the touch. "Look… I know you don't want people to think you're dating me," Saitama says. "I get that. I can probably convince King it was just a joke, if you want."

"I told you, I don't care if people think we're friends or we're dating," Genos says. "But we wrote all the rules down already and if we're going to be dating, you said we'll have to change them and you can't just take one of the rules away now."

"All you care about is that we keep twelve rules?"

"Obviously, Saitama," Genos says, sounding weary with himself. "I think it's kind of fucking obvious at this point."

"Oh my god," Saitama sighs, finally realizing what the real problem was all along. "You are so-"

"I'm so what ?" Genos questions, going tense, but Saitama puts both hands behind the cyborg's blonde head and pulls him down, pressing Genos' face against his chest and holding him there.

"Precious to me," Saitama says, stroking his hair without letting Genos up. "My sweet, naive baby boy. My little porcelain doll."

"Stop," Genos says into Saitama's left titty.

"Babe. Sweetie. Sugar bear. Pookie."

"Shut the fuck up," Genos mumbles, without any real anger.

"Did you really think I'd take away a rule without replacing it?"

"Why even get rid of it?"

"Because rule twelve is 'no weird touching' and what's the point of keeping a rule we're gonna keep breaking?"

"True," Genos says, a soft deadpan. "I can't keep my hands to myself."

Saitama laughs nervously at being called out and lightens his touch a little, but doesn't take his hands off of Genos' head. "Does it make you uncomfortable?"

"If I were actually uncomfortable with this, I could put you through a wall," Genos says, his voice a soft rumble of thunder, and Saitama can feel every word in his chest.

"I'd let you."

Genos shifts against him, his hands coming to rest on Saitama's hips, squeezing him ever so lightly. Saitama is suddenly hyper-aware of the size of Genos' body compared to his, the raw power lying dormant under his fingertips, docile just for him.

"What are we changing rule twelve to?" Genos asks.

"Right," Saitama lets out a shaky exhale. "Let's think it through for a second. If we're going to be boyfriends now, we'll have to act more like a couple."

"We'll have to kiss?"

"No. No," Saitama shakes his head immediately. "I refuse to do the cliche 'kiss each other to prove you're really dating' thing."

"Is that something that actually happens?"

"Maybe. I've seen it in the movies I think," Saitama says.

"What else do couples do?"

"I dunno. They always cuddle and use pet names for each other. But we are not going to be one of those gross cutesy couples," Saitama warns him immediately. "I don't care if you're an S-1 whatever rank hero - I'll kick your ass."

"Agreed."

"We're just going to be chill. Nothing needs to change. Just two dudes who happen to be romantically involved. There's nothing special about that," Saitama says, kneading his fingers through Genos' hair with gentle, thoughtless motions.

"Nothing will be different, but if people ask, we are dating."

"Right. Oh! We could hold hands. That's a boyfriends thing but it's not super gross."

"I think I can do that," Genos says, as if agreeing to a grave task. He lifts his head up and pulls Saitama forward, easing him off the sink and back onto his feet.

"Okay," Saitama says, letting his hands slip from Genos' head. "Rule twelve is 'no kissing' now."

"No kissing," Genos confirms, removing his hands from Saitama's hips.

"Come on," Saitama says quietly, slipping past him to the door. "If we stay in here any longer, King's gonna start writing fanfiction about us."

"What is fanfiction?"

Saitama looks pale. "You don't want to know, trust me."

King is playing a solo game when they return to the living room, almost pointedly fixated on the screen. He casts glances at Saitama as he comes closer, and then finally pauses the game.

Saitama sits down on his knees facing King, and waits until his friend finally meets his Very Serious stare.

"We didn't want anyone to know about this," Saitama says. "So you can't tell anyone . Okay?"

King's mouth opens slowly in surprise and then snaps shut. He nods, eyes wide with an equal mixture of fear and excitement, and then quickly tries to compose himself and go back to the game. "S-so, I, um, I started another game. This one is called Highway Road Warrior-Drivers 3: Boulevard of Broken Beemers. "

"Dude, I didn't know this came out already. I hope they fixed the glitch from Highway Road Warrior-Drivers 2: Wheels of Steel ."

"Did you know there's a way to exploit that glitch to do a speedrun of the game in 6 seconds?"

"No way. The map is huge."

"Yeah, the map is like 50,000 kilometers squared. Someone did the calculations and you end up going faster than the speed of light."

Genos laughs at that, and then finds both Saitama and King looking at him.

"What's funny?" Saitama asks.

"Whoever said that did their math wrong," Genos says, as if it should be obvious. "In six seconds you'd travel 1,798,752 kilometers. The earth itself only has a circumference of about 40,075 kilometers." Saitama and King both stare at him blankly. "The speed of light is 299,792 kilometers per second," he adds, as if that would clarify anything.

"Come here," Saitama says. He puts his hand on the futon behind him and pats the spot. "Sit right here behind me."

"Why?" Genos asks, already sitting down at the spot Saitama indicated.

"Because you're making my brain hurt again," Saitama says, lying back and resting his head on Genos' stomach. "Perfect."

"I thought we were talking about math," Genos says, unsure of where to put his hands and feeling a little overwhelmed to have Saitama reclined in his lap. He doesn't dare touch Saitama's smooth head, but finally settles his hands on the smaller man's shoulders instead, pressing very lightly with his fingertips so as not to hurt him.

"I know, babe. You're a math nerd," Saitama says. "It's okay."

Genos stays quiet during the game, but not in a bad way. He watches King and Saitama set up their cars to play, and then start racing over a seemingly endless stretch of road winding through rough terrain. More than once, Saitama or King end up hitting a bad curve and flipping over, having to regenerate at the last checkpoint, but somehow King maintains the lead.

They throw friendly insults at each other and threats, but overall Saitama doesn't seem to actually mind that he's losing. When King is really focused on racing, Saitama tilts his head to the side slowly, deliberately, and rubs his chin against Genos' hand, just the barest brush of contact, and then back to the game. Genos feels paralyzed. He moves his hand ever so slightly, until the side of his thumb is touching the side of Saitama's neck, and then strokes softly over the delicate skin. Feels Saitama take a deep breath.


-

 

After a good hour of watching Saitama and King play their game, Genos gets a message on his phone. He reads it, then puts it away and leans forward a bit, shifting Saitama in his lap.

"I need to go," Genos says.

Saitama sits up, letting Genos stand. "You're leaving?"

"Yeah. HA sent out a notice for a 4pm meeting. And I have a lot of notes to write down before then."

"Oh. You want me to come with you?"

"No, you should spend time with your friend," Genos says. There's almost no edge of jealousy at all, to Saitama's surprise. "See you tonight for dinner?"

"Okay. Yeah," Saitama says, feeling a little dumbfounded. "That sounds great."

The corner of Genos' lips quirks upward in a tiny smile, and then he leans down and presses a quick kiss right next to Saitama's mouth, like a thief.

"Be there at six, not five," Genos says, out of Saitama's reach before he can even process what just happened.

"Why six-not-five?" Saitama asks, latching onto that before Genos can disappear. He wants to understand these numbers, what they mean.

"Six is better," Genos says.

"Five is awful?"

"Yeah. Also I won't be home until six."

"Oh."

"Heh. Bye," Genos says, putting on his shoes.

"Bye… Sweetums."

"Shut up," Genos mumbles, and Saitama's chuckle follows him out the door.

A few seconds after he's gone, King explodes.

"You guys are really dating!" King exclaims, knocking Saitama's controller out of his hands as he shakes his friend by the shoulders.

"Yes. Stop shaking me," Saitama says, pushing him away firmly.

"Sorry. I'm just so excited! Demon Cyborg is the highest ranked hero in the entire association, and my friend is secretly dating him! Holy fuck. You're responsible for the aquarium photo, aren't you?"

Saitama feels nervous about the sound of that. "What photo?"

"THE. Aquarium. Photo," King repeats, with heavy emphasis. "Didn't you know? The entire internet has been blowing up about it. I'll show you," he says, rising to his feet and going to Saitama's laptop.

"I don't know if I want to know…" Saitama trails off, but follows King anyway. He watches him open up a forum that looks like a Hero Association fan club. At a glance, almost every thread title mentions Genos by his hero name, Demon Cyborg. King clicks on the thread at the top, which has over ten thousand comments on it.

The page loads, and it's just a single photo that someone had snapped of Genos, with his head turned to the side, holding a pen in his hand. The bright blue color of the tunnel around him makes for an interesting shot. From when he was signing things for the fans?

"Yeah," Saitama says. "I convinced him to talk to his fans for a minute. He's not mean or anything, he's just usually nervous about stuff like that, you know? But they were good kids. I think he enjoyed it."

"No," King says. "I mean, that's rare, but he's done autographs for fans before at official signings."

"Then what's the big deal about it?" Saitama asks.

"He's smiling," King says, pointing at the little hint of a smile on Genos' face.

"He smiles all the time," Saitama says. The awkward little smile is nothing compared to the warm, genuine grins that Saitama has seen flash across Genos' face, but it's there, regardless. Big deal.

"Saitama. He's never smiled in public before," King says, trying to make him understand. " Ever . This is the first photo anyone has taken of him actually smiling. And it's because he was there with you. Right?"

Saitama stares at the photo, trying to remember where he was standing at that moment. Was he the one Genos was looking at, somewhere just out of frame? Maybe. It looks like when Genos was giving him the please-can-I-leave-now look.

"I think so. But I mean, he smiles more than that all the time," Saitama says, still in disbelief.

"Yeah, I noticed. I thought I was going to die," King groans, closing the laptop. "Uggh, this completely sinks my Demon Tornado ship but I'm not even mad about it.  What is he like? I don't - I don't mean in a creepy way, but just how is he in person?"

"Dude, you just met him in person," Saitama reminds him.

"Yeah but I mean… how is he with you? Come on, Saitama, I'm such a big fan of his, you have no idea. Nobody knows much about him, he's so mysterious."

"He's… well, you know already. He's really smart, but he's bad with meeting new people," Saitama says, and King nods in solemn agreement. "He's great at cooking and he puts up with my weird sense of humor."

"And he's hot," King adds. "That's just an objective fact."

"Oh my god he's hot," Saitama sighs, almost collapsing in relief to finally say it.

"Saitama you could have told me you were gay," King says, taking a more serious tone again. "If - if I'd known, I wouldn't have given you so much manga about girls and het romance. I feel so bad now for pushing it on you."

"I'm not gay," Saitama says. "I like girls and boobs and stuff."

King looks mortified.  “Please, Saitama. You don't have to pretend."

"I’m not pretending anything! This is bi erasure."

"Oh," King says, and shuts up.

Saitama's phone chirps with a new message.

G: Sorry about the kiss. Hugging you goodbye felt like it would've been out of character.

It's cool, I didn't care, Saitama texts back.

"It's been literally two minutes, does he miss you already?" King asks.

"How do you know it's Genos?" Saitama counters, tilting his phone away from King.

"Because you're smiling like a lovesick idiot."

Saitama rolls his eyes at that. King is always seeing romantic tension everywhere. "He was just saying sorry he had to run out."

King stares at him for a moment, as if assessing all the information. Saitama hates when he gets that look. "You guys are sickeningly cute. I ship it."

"I do not know, nor do I want to know, what that means."

"It just means when the ship war comes, I'm on your side."

"Yeah, I don't… I'm not even gonna ask."

His phone chirps again in his hands.

G: I was thinking about it and if you're accelerating during those six seconds of travel then it is possible to be going faster than the speed of light at some point (assuming that's even possible at all in the first place) so please tell King I'm sorry for laughing.

Saitama makes a face, unsure if he wants to laugh or cry a little because he still has no idea what Genos is talking about.

S: Ok

"What'd he say?"

"He wanted to say sorry to you, for being weird," Saitama says. "And he's talking about math again. My boyfriend is such a nerd."

"Yeah but you love him for it," King says.

"Yeah but I do," Saitama agrees, putting his phone back into his pocket. "We gonna play the next game or what?"


-


"How did you two meet?" King asks, during a lull in the game.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. Saitama doesn't have any time to make up a different story.

"He uh… I… I was walking the dogs, y'know? And he saved me from a monster attack. I bought him coffee to say thank you and we started seeing each other."

"The Chihuahua Incident?" King sounds thoroughly confused. "But I thought…"

"He couldn't save all of us," Saitama jumps in, defensive. "It - it happened so fast. That wasn't his fault."

"I know. I'm sorry. I thought that happened pretty recently though."

Saitama wants to scream. This fake backstory doesn't fucking work with King asking, of all people!

"We… we talked before that," he lies. "He was cute, so I gave him my number… I didn't know he was famous. I don't know why he ever texted me."

That's such a lame story.

"I can't believe it."

" Yeah, but it's true ," Saitama wheezes.

"Only you could unknowingly slip your number to an S-Class hero," King says. "If I tried to do that to… If I did that, I'd combust from nerves."

"I'm pretty sure you have a heart condition," Saitama says, not for the first time.

"I just have anxiety attacks," King says.

"Your anxiety attacks give me anxiety attacks."


-


It's a relief when King finally goes home.

If that was just a taste of being interrogated about their fake relationship, Saitama isn't looking forward to an actual event with media and fans and other heroes. For the first time, he feels a little bit nervous about the whole thing.

S: King just left. Good news is, he totally believes we're dating. So that's a win.

There's no reply, but Genos is probably busy. The meeting he had to go to should be starting soon.

Saitama mulls around and makes himself something light to eat in the meantime, and then reads some of his manga to pass the time. When he puts it away, he remembers the notebook on his shelf and takes it down.

The checks are still tucked inside. He hasn't had the time to cash them yet. Saitama puts them underneath his piggybank of spare change, so they won't get lost. Then he grabs a pen and decides to add a few notes, while his mind is still fresh.

Likes:
- Arriving on time
- Sharks
- Math
- Breaking rules
Me

Saitama scribbles the last thing out. "It's a job," he reminds himself. He might be good at it, and they might get along, but at the end of the day, Genos was paying him for a service. It didn't mean anything.


-


Saitama lets himself up the elevator a few minutes before six. He waits in the hallway, checking his phone for the time, until it's exactly on the hour.

"I'm turning into him," Saitama mumbles, finally knocking at the door.

There's no answer.

He tries again, knocking louder and waiting.

Still nothing.

Maybe Genos hasn't come home yet. He waits another minute or two. It feels weird to use his key so soon, but it also feels weird standing in the hall. Genos won't mind. He wouldn't have given him a key to get in if he didn't expect Saitama to use it.

Saitama lets himself in, takes off his shoes, and calls out a couple times just in case, with no response.

It's weird being in Genos' huge apartment while he isn't there. The place is already so clean, as if nobody really lives in it, and without Genos there it feels sterile and lifeless.

6:30 comes and goes.

Saitama texts him again.

Hey, I'm waiting at your place whenever you get out. No rush.

No reply.

Saitama uses the bathroom, which is entirely too large, and then goes back to the living room. He tries to figure out how to turn the TV on, but there are three different remotes and he can't figure out any of them. After making the stereo system turn on and off and the TV screen change to a bizarre settings menu, he finally decides to stop touching them.

Past 7 and still no reply and no Genos.

Maybe he should cook something so when Genos comes home dinner will be ready. He checks the fridge, but none of the ingredients in the fridge seem to go together and there's a bunch of leafy green things he can't even identify.

Discouraged, Saitama shuts the fridge and tries to think of what he can do to pass the time until Genos comes back.

Then he remembers the armory closet that Genos had mentioned.

He shouldn't.

But he really wants to see it.

Genos' bedroom is opposite to the bathroom, and opening the door feels a little bit like breaking into a temple.

Genos wouldn't mind, Saitama tries to convince himself. But Genos had never actually given him an answer about whether he could see it or not, so he wasn't sure if he'd ever get this opportunity again.

Like the rest of the apartment, the bedroom is a little too big, considering how little personal effects Genos keeps around. The only thing out of place is a shirt thrown on the bed. The same shirt Genos was wearing when he came over earlier, Saitama notes to himself.

There's a normal walk-in closet full of clothes all neatly organized on one side, and then on the other side, an enormous metal wall. There should probably be a high-tech retina scanner, or at least a passcode, but there's only a latch. When Saitama opens it, the entire metal panel slides to one side, revealing an array of cybernetic arms on display.

"I'm dating Batman," Saitama jokes out loud, but he can't help but notice that there's one set missing from their spot, and on the counter underneath the displays, Genos' everyday arms are sitting there.

Saitama runs his finger over one of the cybernetic arms, tracing a seam from inner elbow to wrist. Somehow it isn't the same. The disconnected parts are just lifeless metal. They aren't Genos .

He pulls the heavy metal door back into place, and leaves the walk-in closet.

There's nothing to do, no point to anything until Genos returns.

Saitama sits down on the bed and then flops over, lying down on top of the covers. He thinks about Genos coming back and catching him, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and snorts to himself. "More like Baldylocks."

Genos' bed is soft, and kind of weird. It's a novelty to actually lie down on one, since he only has a futon at home. Genos' life is so different from his. It's weird to think all of this will be over in four more days. Genos needs to come back soon. They only have so much time left with each other.

Saitama curls up on his side and keeps checking his phone, to see if he missed any messages, but it's just the last message he sent out.  

No rush.

Genos doesn't come back.

Chapter Text

Saitama doesn't even remember falling asleep.

He wakes up, temporarily confused about where he is until he remembers he's at Genos' apartment, in Genos' bed.

There's morning sunlight coming through the blinds, and the lights are still on from last night, and the distinct and obvious lack of Genos makes him feel a little sick.

He grabs his phone from the bed, ready to send out another text, but there's one unread message waiting for him

7:50am - Genos: sorry. I'm awake now.

Awake? Saitama can hear his blood thrumming in his ears. What did that mean? As far as he can tell, Genos never came home last night, so where the hell did he sleep?

It's past nine now and Saitama rolls out of bed still feeling disoriented. Maybe Genos came home and decided to sleep on the couch. That seems like something he would do.

He walks out to the living room, but the apartment is empty.

Where are you? Saitama texts back. He stares at the screen until a message finally pops up a couple minutes later.

G: did you see the news already?

S: What news??

G: nvm. dragon level threat last night. group of us responded. I got wrecked. was worried you saw on news and no reply for hours.

I didn't see anything, Saitama texts back. Then after a minute, I was still worried.

G: sorry.

S: That's not your fault. Are you okay?

G: no.
G: I'm frustrated.
G: repairs still aren't done. doctor won't let me go home.

S: You gotta listen to your doc. You need to get your repairs done first. I can wait.

G: won't be home until tomorrow earliest

Oh. Crap.

S: Where are you? I'll come to you.

G: it's a long way to travel. I wouldn't ask you to do that

S: We only have a few days left to practice. I'm coming over. Don't make me have to hunt you down.

Besides, talking to Genos has only made him more worried than before. His texts are different, the sentences broken instead of overflowing. It's probably silly, but Saitama has the thought in his head that maybe Genos got a concussion in whatever fight went down.

The next text from Genos is just a string of numbers.

35.86933272979806,139.6429313616186

Saitama stares at it for a long time, trying to figure out what it means. There are no 12s in the sequence, and nothing to add or multiply to make 12. It's just nonsensical. Maybe a random math problem that Genos was thinking of? Or an answer to one, with no context included? Maybe Genos' brain processed things in mathematical codes and if he hit his head then he forgot to turn the numbers into words… wait, no. Genos isn't a computer, he still has a human brain.

Then Saitama remembers that coordinates are a thing. This is Genos giving him the address.

He copies and pastes the number into Google maps.

S: Are you in the park or the art museum?

G: what?

G: ignore that I got it wrong

Genos getting something wrong? Definitely a concussion.

The new set of coordinates are pretty close to him. At least, it isn't any further away than he already has to travel to see Genos in the first place.

S: K I'll be there.

-

Saitama was kind of expecting a hospital for some reason. Instead, the place he finds is basically a fortress.

An old man in a lab coat opens the front door, apparently waiting for him.

"You must be Saitama," he says.

"Yeah. Are you Genos' doctor?"

He nods a little. "Kuseno," he says, introducing himself. "Genos was asking for you as soon as he woke up."

The old man's eyes are hard as steel on him and Saitama's throat feels dry. "Was he?"

Kuseno doesn't reply, just steps aside and indicates for Saitama to come in.

Inside isn't much different than a hospital in some ways. It's sterile and impersonal, but instead of the scent of sanitizer and bland cafeteria food, it smells like oil and burning plastic.

It feels like forever before they finally come to a certain door, and Kuseno pushes it open. The room is full of massive machinery and creepy wires and thick tubes hanging from the ceiling like intestines. It's like stepping inside of a nightmare.

There's a bed at the center of the room, the kind that can be raised at an incline to let someone sit up. Genos is on the bed - at least, what's left of him. His left leg is missing at the hip, and his right leg is missing at the knee. Similarly, his left arm is completely gone, but his right arm has been replaced with a temporary model that is near skeletal.

Genos' head is tilted to the side, eyes dull and focused on some unknown point, but when he hears them enter the room he lifts his head and tries ineffectively to sit up.

"Saitama! You came," Genos says, and for some reason that happy tone of voice makes Saitama's heart start pounding. Maybe King's anxiety was contagious.

"I said I would," Saitama says, walking over to Genos. The bed isn't really a bed at all, he realizes. Just a metal table. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," Genos says, a little loudly, glaring in Kuseno's direction. "If someone would give me my new parts."

"If you want them to be stronger, you'll simply have to wait. They aren't finished yet," Kuseno says, a placid smile on his face. Saitama is pretty sure that the doctor, or scientist, or whatever he is, must be used to Genos' demands by now. "Enjoy your friend's company." With a little wave goodbye, he leaves them alone.

Genos sighs.

"Hey, I'm here, so there's no rush now, right?" Saitama says, trying to ease the tension. "We can work on stuff while your parts are being made."

"I'll pay - I'll pay you extra for travel," Genos babbles, trying to sit up.

"Dude, chill," Saitama says, pressing back on Genos' shoulder to stop him before he falls over or something. "You're paying me enough as it is, don't worry about it."

Genos drops his head back against the table, the crack of metal against metal making Saitama wince. "I worry about it. I worry about everything. The other heroes had to struggle without my assistance. You had to come all this way. It's all because of my carelessness..." Genos picks at his severed leg, thin metal fingers trying to pluck at a loose wire.

Saitama gently grabs his hand and pulls it away. There's almost no strength in this replacement arm, and no resistance. "Don't beat yourself up so much," he says. "It looks like somebody else already did that for you."

Genos pulls his hand away and drops his chin down, chastised. "Sorry. It's probably more disturbing than usual to see me like this."

"What do you mean, more than usual?"

"Because I'm a machine," Genos takes in a deep breath and exhales. "When I'm in one piece, sometimes it's almost possible for me to look past my disfigurement. But like this…"

"Genos… you're human. You know that, right?"

Genos looks so bewildered by that statement, Saitama can't help but think that it only further proves his point. But Genos scrunches his nose and shakes his head, stubborn as ever. "I'm… I'm a collection of replaceable parts attached to a brain."

"So am I," Saitama says. Genos doesn't look like he believes him. "If I lost my leg, I could get a prosthetic. If I needed a heart transplant, I could get that too. Would that make me worthless? Or less me?"

"No."

"Then why would you talk about yourself that way?"

"I don't know," Genos looks away. "Sometimes I wish I could replace my brain too. Then I'd finally be perfect."

"Don't. Don't say shit like that. I love your brain."

"But I… I have all these stupid things that bother me. And I know they're stupid but I can't turn it off."

"Who says they're stupid?"

"Everyone. Everyone who's ever noticed. That's why I try not to-- and they're right -- I'm just stupid, but I can't…"

"Hey. That's against the rules, mister. Number… something, I don't remember. No insults, right?"

"Number two," Genos mumbles.

"Right. I think that applies against ourselves, too. So, now you have to pay the penalty," Saitama says. He finds a chair with wheels on it and drags it over to Genos' side so he can sit down.

"Penalty?" Genos asks, unfurling from himself to look at Saitama.

"Yeah. You insulted yourself, so you have to think of five compliments."

"Five?! Why five?"

"Becauses insults hurt more than compliments help. Oh, wait. Yeah, five's not a good number. Six, then."

" Six ," Genos repeats, both pleased and frustrated by the correction.

"Take your time," Saitama says. "We're not working on anything until you say six compliments."

Genos glares at the wall for a long moment, and then suddenly softens. "You're nice," Genos says. "You're-"

"Nuh-uh! Cheater! It has to be compliments about yourself," Saitama interrupts.

"AAAGH! Can we just add more fake memories instead?"

"No. I don't feel comfortable continuing until you do this for me," Saitama says, looking as serious as possible.

Genos sucks in a breath and then huffs. He looks around the room, as if searching for answers, and then lifts his arm and curls his fingers. This model is almost primitive compared to the sophisticated joints on his usual arms, and just that movement is clearly slow and difficult to accomplish. Saitama can see why he's so frustrated.

"I have… a hand," Genos grits out. "Just the one. And I have no legs. Which is a good thing and not at all burdensome. I… am a hero. I'm great at destroying everything. That's a compliment," he adds, giving Saitama a sidelong look that says try me . "Most of my insides stayed inside of my body this time. So that's an improvement. And… I… am good at.... breathing."

Saitama waits patiently.

"That was six."

"Do you want me to help?" Saitama asks. Genos tightens his jaw, but says nothing. It's harder to fight off the oil threatening to spill from his eyes when Saitama puts a hand over his.

"I can't… I can't feel that," Genos says, moving his replacement hand down, towards his body instead.

"Okay," Saitama says, sliding his hand onto Genos' bare thigh instead and slowly stroking his thumb against the metal. "Is this good?"

Genos lets out a shaky breath and nods, barely.

"You're really smart," Saitama begins, his words matching the soft, warm touch of his hand. "The smartest person I've ever met. I don't understand what you're saying sometimes, but I like hearing you say it anyway." He pauses for a second, trying to think of how to say what he wants to. "You're really good at cooking. It's like… you can tell that you love doing that. You're hardworking and organized. You're generous. You have a really nice smile. And… I don't know how to phrase this like a compliment, but… I really like the way you get so enthusiastic about the stuff you like."

Genos tips his head back, but the tears spill over anyway.

"Why are you crying?!" Saitama blurts out, alarmed. "This is the opposite of what I wanted!"

"Sorry. I just. No one… no one likes any of those things about me," Genos says, trying to wipe the tears away, but his metal fingers are too thin and harsh to do anything but make dark lines.

"They don't know you," Saitama says, swiping away some of the tears with his thumb.

"When they get to know me, they dislike me more…"

"Then they didn't actually get to know you," Saitama asserts, stubborn in his conviction. He stands up and uses the corner of his shirt to wipe the oil from Genos' face.

"Your shirt," Genos objects, letting out a sad laugh that's more embarrassed disbelief than humor.

"Eh. Don't worry. I got this out of a dumpster behind a thrift store," Saitama says, trying to reassure him that it isn't an issue if it gets ruined.

Genos makes a strange noise.

"It's been washed," Saitama adds. "It's clean. It was, anyway."

Genos lets him finish and then carefully asks, "Do you get all of your clothes that way?"

"Don't worry about it," Saitama says, his face feeling hot. He doesn't really need Genos looking down on him, of all people. "It was just a joke. What do you want to work on?"

Genos pinches his mouth shut, thinking for a second.

"I can't take notes for myself right now," he says. "So will you write down everything today?"

"Yeah, of course," Saitama nods. "Um… I didn't bring my notebook, though. I think I left it in your apartment."

Genos reaches over, stretching so far that Saitama quickly puts a hand on him, worried he'll fall off the metal bed. He grabs his own notebook off of a small stand, and hands it over to Saitama. "Use this."

"Okay." Saitama opens the notebook and recognizes the neat, precise lines of handwriting. "Wait. This one is yours."

"I know," Genos says, settling back down.

"Won't that bug you? My handwriting isn't that great."

"It's okay," Genos says, taking a steadying breath, as if he's speaking more to himself than to Saitama. "I can take the page out later and rewrite it."

"As long as you're sure," Saitama says slowly, and Genos nods.

Saitama sits down and starts flipping through to find the end, taking care not to crease any of the pages, when a piece of writing catches his attention.

Everything was almost ruined when Saitama's friend King told us that he knew we weren't friends, but that we were actually dating. I didn't know how to deny his assertion, but fortunately Saitama has proved to be especially skilled at deception and creating new narratives on the spot. I didn't expect the change, and had to pull him aside for an emergency meeting. Dating would mean a mutual rearrangement of our contract, one which Saitama was also able to resolve quickly. Rule 12: "No weird touching" will now be Rule 12: "No kissing." As much as I hate changes, I have to admit I was grateful for the revision. He put his fingers through my hair. It was unexpectedly nice. Since touching is allowed and a common proof of dating, I think this should be a new gesture between us as a 'couple', but I don't think I could ask--

"Saitama?"

"Y-yeah," Saitama flips the page, turning to a blank one. He looks up to see Genos handing him a pen. "Thanks. What kind of… what kind of notes should I take?" He asks, as if he didn't just see part of Genos' most recent entry.

"Whatever you want," Genos says. "I'll rewrite it anyway. Maybe a bulleted outline of points so I remember everything later."

"Okay," Saitama nods, putting pen to paper. He knows it's only a temporary addition, but he tries to keep his handwriting as neat as possible… And still fucks up almost immediately. Whelp. He did try.

"Are you ready for the gala on Friday night?" Genos asks.

"There's a gala Friday night?" Saitama asks, with such a spot-on impression of pleasant surprise and ignorance that he actually sees the moment when horror fills Genos' eyes. "Heh. I'm messing with you. Yeah, I think I'm ready as I'll ever be."

Genos relaxes fractionally. "It's black tie preferred, but Amai takes it upon himself to strictly enforce the dress code."

"Amai can take a flying fuck," Saitama says.

"I would also prefer if we dressed nicely for the occasion," Genos says.

"Oh. Yeah. Of course, dude. I mean… cupcake ."

"Are you still intent on finding a pet name for me?" Genos asks, barely able to disguise his amusement.

"When I find the right one, it'll just make sense," Saitama says. "You'll see."

"It's a fake relationship," Genos reminds him. "They all feel forced."

"Nah, when it's the right one, it will sound natural. Don't worry about it, peaches."

"That was not the right one."

"I know, boogerbutt."

"Booger… butt," Genos repeats, appalled.

Saitama's eyes light up. "Wow. That one felt so right."

" No!"

"I'm writing it down."

"Noooo!"

"New pet name," Saitama says as he writes. "Booger. Butt."

"I hate you."

"Hates. Me," Saitama repeats, writing.

"No. Are you- are you really writing that?"

"I'm the dedicated note taker," Saitama says, all serious business.

"I didn't mean that," Genos says. He looks absolutely miserable again.

"Hey. It's not fair for you to look so down when we're just joking. You're allowed to joke too, you know?"

"It was mean," Genos mumbles, curling and uncurling the fingers on his replacement hand.

Saitama shuts the notebook, tucking the pen inside, and stands up. "Scooch over," he says, waving his hand at Genos, who glares at him. "Right, I'll scooch, then." He swings his leg over Genos, planting his knee onto the metal bed on the other side of him, and pushes himself up.

There's a moment when Saitama is straddling him, hands braced near his head, and Genos' eyes go wide. "What are you doing?" he asks, but then Saitama turns over and plops down on the opposite side of Genos, making himself comfortable.

"You think you're special or something? Tch. If you get to lay around the whole time, then I want in."

"I don't want to lay around. My legs are gone," Genos says.

"A convenient excuse," Saitama says, picking up the notebook again so he can settle in next to Genos.

Genos, however, isn't settled. Using his elbow, he pushes himself upright, slowly, and plants his hand on the table to support himself. He turns over, keeping his arm underneath him as he shuffles closer, then extends himself as far as he can and throws his arm over Saitama, flopping facedown on top of him.

"What the fuck was that?!" Saitama asks, bewildered by the ton of borg in his lap.

"Success," Genos says, against Saitama's shirt.

"I thought you couldn't move!"

"A clever ruse."

"Oh, yeah, that's a clever ruse.You ripped off your arms and legs and then waited for me to get close enough for you to fall on top of me."

"I lulled you into a false sense of security."

"You sure did!" Saitama agrees. He opens the notebook on top of Genos' back and starts writing down notes again.

Genos presses a smile into Saitama's stomach and then slowly feels it melt away again. There's a chill that he can't shake, and he buries his face into the solid warmth of Saitama as hard as he can, trying to escape it.

"Ow."

"Sorry," Genos mumbles, turning his head to the side and just resting there lightly. "I don't hate you," he says. He needs Saitama to know. "I couldn't hate you ever."

"I know, Mr. Fancypants, I don't take everything seriously all the time," Saitama says, reaching over to poke Genos in his side.

"Is that another pet name?" Genos asks.

"Yep."

"Okay. I was wondering, because I don't have any pants on right now. Or anything. You know that, right?"

"Yep, I - I noticed," Saitama nods, quickly writing again.

"Okay, I was just making sure. Does it bother you?"

"No, dude. I wasn't gonna say anything."

"That wasn't you saying something about it?"

"Nope."

A gold-colored eye peeks up at him from under the notebook.

"Your ears are turning red," Genos says.

"I know. I can feel them burning," Saitama mutters, while Genos chuckles, a breathy laugh that he can feel against his skin.

There's a quiet lull, with just the sound of pen on paper. Genos tries for a moment to see if he can feel the pen strokes against his back and guess what Saitama is writing, but he can't.

"Saitama?"

"Hm? Yeah, I'm listening," Saitama says.

Genos' hand is somewhere near Saitama's shoulder. He pokes at him lightly, not quite able to actually feel him with his fingertips. It's a poor contrast compared to the sensory input against his face, his chest, his thighs.

"Do you have any freckles?"

"Mm. No. Not really," Saitama says, considering for a moment.

"I used to. Have freckles. When I had skin," Genos explains.

Saitama sets the notebook aside and pushes himself up from underneath Genos to tug up at his shirt. "It's not really freckles, but-- I dunno what you'd call it, but I've got like, some birthmarks or something," he says, and Genos lifts himself up a little so Saitama can let him see. "There," he pokes his finger at his ribs, finding the little dark spot. "Oh, and one there."

"What's this?" Genos asks, leaning on his elbow so he can run his fingers over Saitama's skin, pointing out a spot much higher on his ribs.

"That's a nipple," Saitama says.

Genos sputters. "Oh my god. No . I know what a nipple is!" he chokes out between his laughter. "There's a scar underneath."

"Oh, that . I got attacked by a monster crab," Saitama says.

"A… crab monster?" Genos repeats, trying to trace the little wrinkled ridge of scar tissue. Not being able to feel is frustrating.

"No. A regular crab-crab. It tried to rip my nipple off," Saitama says.

He always jokes so seriously, Genos doesn't even dare to ask if that's true.

"How did a little crab do that much damage?"

" First of all, it wasn't that little. Secondly, I don't even know. I didn't want to just yank it off, but he was on there really good and just wouldn't let go, so finally I had to, y'know," Saitama makes a loud popping noise with his mouth that makes Genos gag with a sudden laugh. "Those things are scissors with legs! There was so much blood, I thought the damn crab snipped my nip. So I'm looking all over the beach for my nipple and this guy asks me what I was looking for -- why are you laughing, this was traumatic for me! -- he asks me what I'm looking for and I had to explain to him that I lost my nipple and he just points at my chest and goes 'that one?' Then he told me I had to leave because he thought I was drunk."

"I'm sorry," Genos says, crying with laughter.

"Why? It's not your job to protect my nipples," Saitama says, wriggling his shirt back down, and then trying to use it to wipe the oily streaks off of Genos' face again. "I don't even think you were a hero back then." After a moment, he gives up on trying to wipe Genos' face and just pulls him back down against his chest, patting him on the head. "It's fine, this shirt's already stained."

"Sorry," Genos says again, guiltier than before. When Saitama lifts his hand away only a second later so he can hold the notebook again, he feels cheated.

"Can-" Genos cuts himself off, pinching his lips together and wishing he could bury his face against Saitama's stomach without being so obvious.

"Yeah?" Saitama asks, thumbing through pages to find where he left off.

Genos shakes his head a little. "Nothing."

Saitama peers at him doubtfully, and folds the spiral notebook in half when he finds the last page. "What's up, dude?"

"It's… it will probably sound weird," Genos says, hesitant.

"Doubtful. I don't think anything could be weirder than crab nipples."

It's hard to argue against that logic.

"Will you… keep… petting my head?"

"You want me to pet you?" Saitama asks, quirking his lips. "Like a shark?"

"Yes! Like a shark!"

"Okay, shark boy! Calm down," Saitama laughs, surprised by Genos' sudden exuberance.

"Please do not make that my pet name," Genos says, as Saitama slides his fingers through his hair.

"I thought you loved sharks now."

"I do, but I… it needs to be a good name…" he trails off, completely unprepared for how it feels when Saitama starts petting him -- slow, deliberate circles that somehow make his entire body tingle and everything in his head go fuzzy. "Something that I like," he adds, hurrying to finish his thought before it disappears entirely.

"I know. Don't worry about it," Saitama says. "I'm just seeing what sticks."

"Okay," Genos mumbles, and lets himself sink under Saitama's touch. The repetitive movement is soothing, and Genos feels himself relax, a tension leaving him that he hadn't known he was carrying.

Saitama picks up the open notebook and sets it on top of Genos again, resuming his notes. The light pressure of the pen moving as he writes is almost as good as the fingers playing with his hair.

"Shark-butt boy."

"No," Genos says, but the snickering laugh muffled into Saitama's shirt does nothing to help him sound truly offended.

--

 

Saitama doesn't know how long they sit together like that, with Genos in his lap, blissfully at ease under his fingertips. Long enough for Saitama's hand to cramp from writing, forcing him to set the pen down and give his dominant hand a turn at petting instead. Long enough for him to keep wondering if Genos will fall asleep like this. He talks aloud as he adds notes, putting his ideas out for Genos to comment on, or react to. After a while, Genos' becomes more silent than not as he seemingly drifts off, and Saitama talks more softly to himself, surprised every time Genos still offers him an occasional reply.

When the lab door opens, it startles Saitama so badly that he snatches his hands away from Genos and accidentally drops the pen onto the floor. He'd forgotten about the doctor.

"Ah, I see you boys are cozy," Kuseno smiles at them knowingly, as if they'd been caught. Saitama certainly feels caught. "The new designs are finished. It's only a matter of time, now."

"When will I get my legs?" Genos asks, straining to push himself up, to glare at the older man. The harsh volume of his voice and sudden agitation are a jarring contrast from how relaxed he'd just been. Saitama wants to touch him again, to calm him down, but he knows he can't.

"In two hours. But your arms will take twice as long, I'm afraid," Kuseno says. Genos growls in annoyance, but Kuseno doesn't pay attention to it. "Saitama, would you walk with me for a moment? I'd like to teach you a little bit about how to care for Genos' cybernetic enhancements. Maybe he'll listen to you."

Saitama isn't really sure if he wants to be dragged into whatever is going on, but Genos is already pushing away from him so he can get up, and it seems like the earlier mood is dissolved. Instead of climbing over Genos again, Saitama stands up on the table and walks off the foot of the bed, dropping down onto the floor.

Kuseno smiles politely, ushering him into the hallway, and then he begins to walk, leading Saitama down to a secure room.

Inside, there are a dozen automated machines working in tandem with each other. Saitama stares at them as he vaguely follows behind Kuseno. Behind a thick pane of glass, there is what looks like a skeletal version of a leg, all metal. Robotic arms twist and turn the leg as other machines build onto it piece by piece, painstakingly crafting a new limb.

"Genos has been my patient for years," Kuseno says, drawing Saitama's attention towards him. Kuseno has a somewhat fond but otherwise unreadable expression on his face as he watches his machines at work. "Since the day his parents died, I've cared for him. I designed his body, as well as the additional sensory systems that enable him to function in his everyday life. Not just sight and sound, but other things we normally take for granted, like taste and touch. They weren't strictly necessary, but I wanted him to able to experience all of the little things that make life worth living. I wanted him to continue feeling as human as possible."

"That sounds like a lot of work," Saitama says, not sure of what else to say. Genos is incredibly well built. It's hard to believe that one man was responsible for so much.

"Let me show you something," Kuseno says, leading Saitama onward, to a glass display case. He unlocks it and lifts out a metal sphere covered in circular windows, which glows faintly blue in his hands.

"That looks cool. What does it do?"

"It keeps Genos alive," Kuseno says, bluntly. "At least, it used to. This one in particular is an older, outdated model of Genos' current core. It is everything that makes it possible for Genos to exist in this world."

He hands the core to Saitama, who accepts it nervously, unsure of where Kuseno intends to go with this talk.

"Genos has a reckless habit," Kuseno explains. "He always comes back to me in pieces. Every time he destroys himself, I have to rebuild from scratch. There are temporary replacements and older designs, of course, but he always wants to be better, stronger. I care for him, as a father does for a son. There is nothing in my power I would not do for him. But I don't know if I can continue making improvements to my design. Genos is the strongest hero. But as strong as he is, he still breaks so easily. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"You… want me to ask Genos to retire?"

Kuseno gives Saitama a look full of so much disdain that it makes him wither. He takes the core back from him, holding it firmly.

"This is Genos' heart. I created it with my own two hands. I designed it, I made it strong for him, and I kept him alive, even when he couldn't do that for himself." The stare Kuseno gives Saitama is piercing. "If you break his heart, I will destroy you."

Saitama wants to open his mouth to speak, to say something for himself. It would be easier if Kuseno knew the truth. Don't worry , he wants to say. Genos doesn't love me anyway. I couldn't break his heart if I wanted to. But he knows that he can't.

Kuseno places the core back into the display case, locks it, and walks out of the room. It takes a while for Saitama to realize he isn't coming back.

His face is burning, not from embarrassment, but something else he doesn't have a word for. Maybe a little bit sick from hearing how much effort was poured into keeping Genos in one piece. Maybe a little bit of anger from having Kuseno go off on him like that. He should probably feel proud of himself if their couple act was good enough to earn him a Dad-With-A-Shotgun reaction from Genos' father figure, but he just feels twisted up inside.

The threat still lingers in the air, ringing in his ears. If you break his heart.

But the first thought that had instantaneously come to Saitama's mind, and the one thing that he keeps thinking to himself, is, I would never do that to him.

--

It takes Saitama a minute to collect himself, and another minute to find his way back to Genos' room. Genos has that thousand-yard stare once again, but when he hears Saitama enter, he lifts his head, eyes bright.

"You're back," Genos says, somewhat happily. He puts his head back down against the table. "You should go home. You've been here all day already."

"I could wait a few more hours, if you want," Saitama says. "You'll get your legs back soon, at least."

"Even after the new parts are made, there will be tests to do," Genos tells him. He looks tired. "It takes a long time."

"Okay. I guess I could eat," Saitama says. He picks up Genos' notebook, closing it with care and setting it back onto the stand, and then fishes the pen from where it rolled under the bed.

"Thanks," Genos sighs.

"No problem. Just a pen," Saitama says, setting it next to Genos' notebook. It's askew, so he pushes it neatly into line with the notebook. Genos would probably like that better.

"For coming," Genos amends. "I'm sorry for my carelessness."

Saitama looks at Genos again, at the raw damage done. "Do you get wrecked often?" he asks.

"I used to, all the time, but not so much anymore," Genos says. He doesn't look at Saitama, his eyes focused on somewhere else. Maybe on a memory. "I have… kind of a philosophy about it now. The weak parts of me have to be destroyed so I can be stronger."

Saitama's voice is quiet, his eyes fixed on the ragged edge of a missing leg. "Is that so?"

"Yeah. That's why my entire body is gone. It had to be replaced."

The words, spoken so lightly and almost in earnest, leave Saitama's mouth tasting like dirt. He can picture it all too easily. Genos, younger, more brash, and completely reckless. Destroying himself over and over again. A doctor endlessly picking up the pieces and improving upon his designs, hoping that one day he wouldn't have to. Both of them convinced that someday, with the right parts, Genos would finally be strong enough.

Saitama has to resist the urge to just pull Genos into his arms instead, and keep him there. That would be stupid. It wouldn't do anything. Wouldn't help anything. He still wants to.

"I wish I was strong enough to keep you safe," Saitama says instead.

Genos makes a soft noise, a little smile pinching at his mouth, like affection for such a naive wish. "Nobody is that strong."

"No. I guess not."

The air feels heavy, but Genos doesn't seem to notice, suddenly coming out of his thoughts and fixing all of his attention on Saitama.

"I'll be stronger now, though. You'll see. Next time I won't break as easily."


x

Chapter Text

It's past midnight when Genos finally gets home from the lab.  

The tests and calibrations had taken hours before Kuseno was satisfied to let Genos leave. He'd recommended for him to keep the new battle arms on for a couple days, to get used to how it felt handling them, but Genos has no intention of doing so. He needs to transcribe Saitama's notes, and then he intends to go to bed, and neither of those things would be comfortable with bulky weapons attached to him.

Genos goes straight to his armory and struggles to get one of his new arms off. The latching mechanism at his shoulder almost seems different, but really he knows that it's because he isn't used to these new arms yet, and it makes everything harder to do. Finally, it pops free and he swaps it out for his slimmer everyday model. After that, it's easier to replace the second arm and change his clothes for the night.

When he steps out of the armory, Genos realizes that his bedspread is rumpled and the shirt from yesterday is still thrown across it. He can't remember leaving his sheets a mess, but then again he usually didn't leave his clothes out either, and he was in a rush. He puts the shirt into his hamper, and tugs at the bedsheets until they lay smooth and crisp once again.

Once he rewrites Saitama's notes, everything will be back to the way it should be. Neat, orderly. Exactly as he likes it.

Genos sits down at the counter in the kitchen, sets down a pen, and opens his notebook to find the last page.

It's… so much worse than he expected. Saitama's handwriting is neat, even if it isn't all that nice to look at, but for all the writing Genos thought Saitama was doing, the notes themselves are weak and instead the margins are full of little side notes and doodles.

 

Aug 9th,

- six compliments as penalty for insults
- smart, good at cooking, hardworking, generous, cute, enthusiasm
- "black tie" perferred preferred     (sorry)

New Pet Name: Handsome Boy     (haha I bet you thought I wrote Booger Butt)
Hates: having no legs -- and no head pats
Likes: Legs
being a brat  (I mean that affectionately but I am fully prepared to give you six more compliments)
pats

- Told Genos the Nip Snip story
- Ruined my shirt    (but totally worth it)
- Petted Genos    (like a shark!)
- No to shark-related pet names :(
- Surprisingly agile with one arm!!!
- Purrs when he sleeps? Nvm he's not sleeping
- My leg is falling asleep though
- We missed dinner but I have coupons for the grocery store near my house and they're having a sale tomorrow if you want
- If you want me to pet your hair again you don't have to ask... I don't mind. It doesn't bother me. We should practice anyway. But if you don't want to talk about it later that's cool too.
- Do you know you kind of purr when you sleep?
- I'm not sure you're sleeping, but you're definitely purring.

         (Like a cat.)
         (But I love cats.)

 

Genos stares at the notes for an overly long time. At the top of the page, there's a doodle of a sun with a smiley face drawn on it. In the left hand margin, there's a crab with its pinchers up and exaggerated angry eyebrows, with the caption "Evil". In the right hand margin, a small shark with pointy teeth and a little heart floating next to it, with the caption, "A good boy."

It's nothing like how Genos takes his notes, with paragraphs devoted to the stories they fabricated, every interaction between them another layer for him to remember about their fake relationship. He had feverishly filled page after page with notes after their fake friendship changed to fake dating. Detailed, factual, and heavy with descriptive language.

Saitama's writing is entirely different. He can see every place where Saitama got bored and started writing his notes differently. But he can't stop staring at the last few additions, where Saitama started writing directly to him instead. We missed dinner… You don't have to ask… You're definitely purring. Like a cat. But I love cats.

Something in Genos feels overheated. He rubs his hands over his face, and then peers through his fingers at the words. They're all still there, in Saitama's messy print.  

"Handsome Boy"

"Cute"

Genos flips the page over, and starts rewriting everything while he still remembers it. How Saitama offered to go to him when he was hurt. How he made Genos compliment himself, and laid down with him in bed, and put his fingers through his hair until everything else melted away. Saitama is the kind of boyfriend who soothes with affectionate humor and casual touches. He's the kind of boyfriend who can rile Genos up with jokes one minute, and then know exactly what to say to make everything better the next. He's the kind of boyfriend that Genos could see himself with for real.

Now that's a dangerous thought.

Genos stops writing, his pen hovering above the page, not even breathing until his lungs burn and finally he has to suck in air. He's paying Saitama, his rational brain reminds him. Of course Saitama would play the part of his doting boyfriend just as easily as he played his friend. That doesn't make it real. He can't let himself think otherwise.

After a few painful seconds, Genos starts writing again. He notes all of the pet names that Saitama had tested on him, the scar that he saw, the explanation Saitama gave him.

When he's finally done, Genos checks Saitama's notes again. Everything he remembers has been rewritten. He doesn't need it anymore. But he can't bring himself to tear out the page. The stupid little doodles in the margins. Saitama's notes written directly to him.

Genos shuts the notebook and goes to bed.

When he lays down, Genos knows something is definitely off.

He had spent most of the evening with his head on Saitama's chest, breathing in the scent of him, the detergent that Saitama used, his deodorant. The same smell is on his pillow. At first, Genos thinks he's going mad, but it's definitely there. It has to be. Then he remembers what Saitama had said, how he thought he'd forgotten his notebook at Genos' apartment.

Genos finds his phone, and scrolls back through his messages.

6:32pm - Saitama: Hey, I'm waiting at your place whenever you get out. No rush.

That was two days ago, now. Then the next reply the morning after: Where are you?

The note written to him: We missed dinner.

Saitama had been waiting for him the whole time. He must've fallen asleep in his bed. That's why the bedspread was rumpled. That's why Genos can definitely, unmistakably, smell Saitama on his sheets.

He'd waited for him to come home. Worried about him. He'd gone to see Genos when he didn't have to.

It doesn't mean anything.

Genos keeps scrolling down through his messages, towards the more recent ones. Saitama had started texting Genos again after he'd left the lab.

S: Hey. How's it going?

G: still waiting

S: That sucks.
S: Anything I can do?

G: no

Genos hadn't expected anything back, but Saitama had sent him a picture of a shark and a caption that read, "Does someone need a hug?"

G: ..maybe

There was another picture of a shark. This one had the caption, "Did you know? The ocean gets its saltiness from the tears of misunderstood sharks who just want to cuddle."

G: are you making these

S: No I googled shark memes

Saitama had sent him more photos after that. One with a startled-looking shark coming up out of the water and the caption, "AHHH OMG SOMETHING TOUCHED ME" and another with a cute expression that said, "As a shark, this surprises me."

The messages had made Genos smile at the time, even if he hadn't replied. Waiting for repairs put him in an awful mood, but every time his phone went off it was a little bit easier, like Saitama was still there with him, helping him pass the time with silly little things.

The last shark meme Saitama sent him read, "Steals your leg," at the top, and then at the bottom of the photo, "And your heart."

S: Too soon?

That was almost 4 hours ago. Saitama is most likely asleep now.

Genos opens the browser on his phone and searches for shark memes to find something to reply with. Most of them don't make sense, but then Genos finds one that makes him laugh. It's a picture of a dolphin with the caption, "I am a gay shark."

He sends the picture to Saitama, and then adds, Me .

Genos sets his phone aside and turns over. He presses his face into his pillow, gripping it tightly, and falls asleep breathing in Saitama's scent.

 

--

Genos wakes up to a text from Saitama.

S: Wow it's you.

S: Good morning, angelcakes

Genos snorts.

G: Good morning, crabcakes

S: Pff. Lol. What's on the itinnery for today?

G: Itinerary?

S: Yeah, that!

Genos smiles at his phone and then rolls out of bed, running a hand through sleep-rumbled hair. He paces his apartment for a little while, going from his kitchen to the window in the living room that overlooks the city. He already knows what he wants to do, but surely a whole day with Saitama would be too much to ask for. As it was, he was demanding half of Saitama's day, every day. He should only pick one half or the other.

Dinner, Genos texts back. Simple and direct. They missed it last time and he wants to make it up to him. Something special to show his appreciation. After this, he won't be able to see Saitama for a while, so he needs to make it count.

S: Again? I don't wanna jinx it but I feel like I should just come over at noon like usual.

G: Can't. I'll be out to see if any monsters need to die.

It's not even a lie. Even if its a little bit convenient.

S: Already? You just got repairs.

G: Need to keep my ranking up. Plus I have new upgrades to test.

S: And if you get wrecked again?

G: Then you'll know where to come kick my ass. But I won't.

S: Fine. Six-not-five?

G: Six-not-five is good.

S: Want me to pick up anything?

G: We're eating out. My treat. Just wear your best outfit and meet me there.

S: Okay. Be careful.

G: I will.

S: I mean it. No stupid stuff. If you lose so much as a finger I'm gonna… I'll sure do something. Unpleasant. You won't like it.

G: Mop the floor with me again? :)

S: I will give you a very unflattering pet name. Publicly.

G: You wouldn't dare.

S: Try me, poopsy. :)

G: Boogerbutt was better than that.

S: I know. Poopsy. :)

G: Okay consider me sufficiently threatened.

 

--

 

Everything is strangely quiet, despite spending several hours patrolling. Genos goes as far as the next city over, and still only catches a few low-level monsters, which are so easy to dispatch that it's incredibly dissatisfying. He almost misses the days when his body was weaker, when it took every shred of his stamina and tactical skill to take down a threat. Now one good punch could usually do the job. He never used to think it was possible to be too strong. Maybe these opponents are just too weak.

Genos runs into groups of fans more than once. Swarms of people fawning over him is still unsettling, but he tries to remember what Saitama said to him. They just want his attention for a moment. He tries to smile, but at best manages not to scowl before leaving. Anything more than that is just too much. He wants to find another monster. Wants to have a real fight. Wants the fluttering feeling in his stomach to stop. Wants time to move forward already so he can see Saitama again.

His self-proclaimed nemesis, Speed-of-Sound Sonic, launches himself at Genos in a surprise attack. Genos counters by launching the shitty ninja out into the bay. As fast as he is, even Sonic can't walk on water. But he does skip across the surface a couple times. It's amusing, at least, to see the splash and then watch him drag himself back to shore, angry as a wet cat.

The Hero Association calls him.

"Demon Cyborg, are you available? We've received eyewitness reports of a possible Demon level threat in your area."

"Send me the coordinates."

"Sending them now- ah. Wait. Negative."

"What do you mean, negative? Give me the coordinates."

"No need. Threat is now a confirmed kill."

"What? Whose?"

"Tornado of Terror is also in the area-"

Genos huffs in annoyance and hangs up. It's just like that little green goblin to poach in his territory. But gods forbid if he accidentally wanders into her turf, she'll introduce him to the nearest cement surface, face first. He'll never admit it out loud, but Tatsumaki is the only hero who is stronger than him. If she was even the least bit likable, she could easily usurp his spot as number one in the hero registry. It's fortunate that as awkward as Genos is, she's even worse at dealing with people.

On his way home, he runs into Class C Rank 1 hero Mumen Rider, who throws his bicycle at a small monster made of shoelaces and then stands between it and a child, his fists raised to fight and protect. Genos steps in. "Want a hand?" he asks, and Mumen nods, grinning in genuine relief. They make a good team, using their personal strengths to their advantage. The monster is too easy for him to incinerate while Mumen puts a bandaid on the young girl's knee, talking to her and making her giggle until her parents come running. The C-Class hero gives a thumbs up when he pedals away. Another job well done.

Nothing else crops up as Genos heads home. He gets back in time to shower, switch out his arms, and change into something nice. Saitama texts him while he's picking out a tie to go with the suit jacket.

S: Are we meeting at a restaurant or your place?

G: Restaurant.

S: Uh I forgot to ask for the address.

Genos texts back the street name and number for the restaurant.

S: What, no coordinates this time? Maybe a riddle?

G: Here's a riddle. What's metal and always 3rd in line?

S: ...I dunno, is it a spoon?

 

Genos sends him a picture of his middle finger.

 

S: WOW RUDE I'M OFFENDED

G: I'm just kidding.

S: I'M CALLING THE COPS

G: Saitama please you know I love you.

S: I'M BREAKING UP WITH U

G: If you aren't at the restaurant at six exactly I'm going to order for you, bring it to your apartment, and let King eat your food while you watch.

S: Now that's just cruel. :(

G: lol. See you at six.

S: :(

G: ♥

S: Don't ♥ at me

G: ♥♥♥♥♥♥

S: Ok ♥

 

--

 

The restaurant isn't too far away from Genos' apartment, so he walks there, enjoying the early evening air. He arrives a few minutes past six o' clock, and as he approaches he sees Saitama outside the door, caught in an argument with one of the restaurant staff.

"Why won't you let me in?"

"Sir, you need a reservation."

"Bullcrap, you let someone else in! I already told you, I'm meeting Genos and he's waiting for me inside!"

"There is no one here by that name, and you need to leave."

"Argh! Demon Cyborg ring a bell? We're dating."

The staff member has the audacity to laugh at him. "I highly doubt that. This is your final warning. If don't leave the premises immediately I am calling the police-"

Genos steps up behind Saitama, sliding his hand onto the shorter man's shoulder and fixing the staff member with a cold stare. He feels Saitama jump, and squeezes lightly to reassure him, but it's worth it to see the wide-eyed moment the staff member realizes he's fucked up.

"Is something wrong?" Genos asks, turning his head to address Saitama, not the staff member.

"I thought you were already inside," Saitama mumbles, embarrassed. "I said I was looking for you and this guy wouldn't let me in."

"Well I'm here now. So let's go in," Genos says, turning his gaze back to the man, a challenge.

The staff member presses his lips into a thin line and lifts his chin slightly, gathering his resolve. "I'm sorry, but this establishment adheres to a strict dress code. You may enter, but your guest must find a change of clothes."

"What? What's wrong with my clothes?!"

"They are not formal attire."

Saitama looks Genos over, and points at his legs. "He's wearing jeans."

"He's an S-Class hero and may wear whatever he likes. Your clothes are not appropriate. They are…" The man slowly runs a pointed look over Saitama's yellow 'Oppai' hoodie and cargo shorts. "Obscene."

Genos would actually agree with him, but the degrading attitude towards Saitama flips every bitch switch in his body.

"Did you just call my boyfriend… 'obscene'?" Genos asks, speaking slowly to let the words sink in.

"I… Of course not. His clothes, however, they - they simply aren't appropriate. We require a jacket-"

Genos rolls his eyes. "Babe, take off your hoodie."

"Why should I have to?" Saitama grumbles, already tugging the yellow hoodie off over his head. He has a plain white T-shirt on underneath.

"Just take it off," Genos says, unbuttoning and shrugging off his own jacket.

"Very good, sir," the staff member says while Genos puts his jacket onto Saitama. "We can certainly find a table for you both. If you'll--" he halts as Genos pulls the 'obscene' hoodie over his head. Even with his slimmer everyday arms, it's a little bit snug, but it fits just fine. "Sir? The- the hoodie isn't really-"

"You just said I can wear whatever I like. Unless your real issue is with my boyfriend?" Genos adds, tilting his head and smiling sweetly in a way that somehow only reads as threatening.

"Of course not," the man replies, his words clipped. He forces a smile. "I will show you to a table."

The restaurant is uncomfortably chic, with several crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, elegant, heavy chairs, and fine linen on the tables. There's classical music playing gently over a light din of mixed ambient noises -- casual chatter from other patrons, the clink of silverware, and the distant bustle from the kitchen.

They are, unsurprisingly, found a table that is as secluded from other patrons as possible. The man assures them that it is for their sake, to have privacy. Genos calmly picks up his menu, and in no uncertain terms, tells the man that he expects to be served by someone else from then on.

"Wow. That guy was super homophobic," Saitama whispers once the staff member leaves.

Genos doesn't even look up from the menu. "He's not homophobic, he's gay."

"What? Are you sure? He had such an issue with me!"

"I can hardly see why. It's not like they have a strict dress code here and you wore a hoodie that says 'tits' on it."

"That's not offensive. It's ironic!"

"I told you to wear your best clothes."

"These are my best clothes."

Genos looks up at him, genuinely concerned. "You don't own a suit?" As soon as he says it, he remembers what Saitama had said yesterday about getting his shirt out of the trash, and realizes that it's probably a stupid question. "Never mind. Don't you still have that shirt that I lent you? You could've worn that."

"Let me rephrase that. These are my favorite clothes. Besides, you didn't tell me we were going to Tabemono ga Takaidesu!"

"I'm buying you a suit," Genos says, resolved.

"I have a suit," Saitama sighs, picking up his menu. "Somewhere. I stored it away years ago."

"I'm buying you anew suit."

"I just said, I have one. I just need to find it and air it out."

"Saitama, you chose cargo shorts and a 'tits' hoodie to go to an upscale restaurant. I'm picking the fucking suit for you."

Saitama is quiet for a while, the tips of his ears turning red. "If I embarrass you so much, then why are you wearing the hoodie?"

"You don't embarrass me. I'm wearing it to prove a point about assholes with double standards. And because it's hilarious," Genos says, unable to contain a sly grin. He looks up to see Saitama looking at him. They both burst into low giggles, trying and failing to contain their laughter.

"You should've seen the look on his face when you put it on instead," Saitama says.

"I did," Genos says, pleased with himself. "But in all seriousness, I do want you to wear something nice for the gala."

Saitama notices a young couple seated across from them. The young lady is beautiful, wearing a simple but elegant dress. Her date looks nervous, in an ill-fitting suit. He probably had to save up for a long time, all for this one dinner. Saitama lowers his eyes. "Is it really that important?"

"Yes," Genos says simply. "It's a certain point of pride. That night, everyone's going to know that you're my boyfriend. I want them all to see how gorgeous you are."

"Yeah, I'm sure they'll be drooling," Saitama says softly, sarcastic.

"Good. As long as they remember you're mine. They can look but they can't touch."

Saitama raises both brows at that. "Possessive much?"

Genos smirks. "Extremely. By the way, you have to tattoo my name on your body. It was in the fine print."

"Ha. Ha. How about I get a tattoo of a shark?"

"That's a good idea, I love sharks," Genos says, as their waiter approaches the table.

"I know you do, you never shut up about sharks."

"Listen…" Genos begins, but trails off, looking up at their waiter.

"A wine for the table?"

"Yes, a white," Genos says, without much thought.

"Very good," the waiter uncorks a wine, fills two glasses and sets the bottle down. "Are you gentlemen ready to order?"

"Um… One second," Saitama says, trying to really focus on the menu and pick something out quickly. His face goes pale. "Genos… The cheapest thing on this menu is $140. Is the food served on gold bricks?"

"Don't look at the prices. Just order whatever you want," Genos says.

"I could make a suggestion," the waiter pipes up. "If you love shark, we have an authentic fukahire soup that is world renowned."

Saitama drops his menu and stares bug-eyed at the waiter and then Genos. "No. I don't think you want that. No, you definitely don't want that."

"What… What is that?" Genos asks, confused.

Saitama pushes away from the table. "Let's just go."

"What is it?"

"It is a gourmet soup prepared by our head chef, simmered with the finest local herbs-"

"It's soup made with shark fins," Saitama says, cutting off the spiel. "They catch sharks and cut off their fins while they're still alive, and then throw them back to die."

"What?" Genos narrows his eyes at the waiter. His entire body feels burning hot with anger. "Is that true?"

"Well, we aren't the ones catching the sharks," the waiter explains. "We just buy their fins."

" Oh ," Genos says loudly, the sarcastic tone of his voice warning Saitama that shit's about to get real. " You aren't the ones mutilating innocent sharks just to make a shitty bowl of soup, you just pay the people who mutilate the sharks for you. Right?"

The waiter's face goes stern. "I was warned by the maître d' that you were here to cause a scene-"

"Fuck this place, we're leaving," Genos says, getting up from his seat.

"Sir, you have to pay for-"

The entire table is consumed in a quick blast of flames from Genos' hands, shattering their wine glasses.

Saitama jumps back out of his seat just in time, and darts to Genos' side. "Let's go," he says again, jerking at Genos' hoodie to get him to move.

"Bill me," Genos says, his tone ice cold as he walks out.

Saitama snatches the bottle of wine off of the burning tablecloth and leaves it with the young couple they head towards the door. "Sorry. Good luck. Don't order the soup."

There's some general chaos -- startled customers leaving the building, and staff rushing for a fire extinguisher as a smoke alarm starts going off.

Outside, Genos is still fuming mad, but Saitama grabs his hand and pulls him along. The two of them run a few blocks until they can no longer hear the piercing wail of the alarm, and both of them stop against a building, panting for breath.

"Holy shit!" Saitama laughs in shock. "You can't just set a restaurant on fire!"

"They were killing and eating sharks!" Genos objects, tears threatening to run down his face.

"I know, and that's super shitty, but you're not an arsonist," Saitama says, more seriously. "Hey, hey. Don't cry. There are lots of sharks, and most places don't serve that soup anymore. It'll be okay."

"It's just - upsetting to think about. But I shouldn't have done that," Genos says, wiping his hand over his face. "Do you think I hurt someone?"

"Hurt? No. Just the tablecloth caught on fire. I bet they have it put out by now."

"Really?"

"Yeah. They probably had to clear the restaurant out, though."

"Ugh. I'm sorry."

"For what? They deserve to lose business, those guys are shark-killing pricks."

"I… I wanted to make it up to you. Last time I invited you over for dinner, I stood you up. Now tonight I blew it again. Maybe you were right. You should only come over at twelve, otherwise bad things happen."

"That's not your fault, dude," Saitama says, pushing lightly at Genos' shoulder to snap him out of that train of thought. "It has nothing to do with the time, don't think like that. And to be honest, I really hated that place. Even aside from the dress code and the soup. Fancy stuff just makes me really uncomfortable."

"The gala will be fancy," Genos reminds him.

"I know," Saitama looks away. "But that's the main event, right? I'll do it for you. Just dress me up however you want and tell me what to say."

"I want you to be you," Genos says. "But in a suit."

"Oh. I see." Saitama casts Genos a conspiring look. "It's a kink."

"N-no! I don't - I--" Genos splutters, unsure how to formulate a denial but also too embarrassed to admit he doesn't know exactly what that word means. He's pretty sure it's something risque, but before he can overthink it, Saitama is doubled over, cackling like a deranged hyena.

"Your face," Saitama wheezes, popping back up to giggle at Genos' flustered expression. His smile, tongue pressed against a line of white teeth, is too handsome for Genos to even be mad about it. "Dude-" Saitama steps forward, fanning at Genos' shoulders as steam rolls off of him. "Don't burn my hoodie."

"Sorry," Genos mumbles. "I can't control my body from venting excess heat, but it won't burn. Do you want it back?"

"No. I think I like this" Saitama says, stepping away, out of Genos' reach. He tugs at the sleeves of the jacket, making an exaggerated show of preening himself. "Unless it bothers you," he adds, on second thought.

"It doesn't bother me. They're just clothes," Genos says. It's a little too dismissive, but he doesn't know how to say that he likes seeing Saitama wear his clothes. The dark jacket settled across Saitama's shoulders is almost as good as being able to keep him tucked under his arm. Keep him safe.

"Whoa. Did you hear that?" Saitama asks, folding his arms and hunching up, as if he'd caught a chill.

"Hear what?"

"My stomach growled at me. We should get some food," Saitama says. "This time I get to pick."

"Okay," Genos says, and lets Saitama pull at his sleeve, leading him to some random destination. Their arms link as they walk, and then Saitama slides his fingers between Genos', twining them together. Genos glances down, surprised, and then squeezes Saitama's hand in his.

"Ow! Pinching!" Saitama complains, stumbling to a stop so he can ease his fingers free from too-tight metal joints.

"Sorry," Genos says. His throat feels choked just knowing that he accidentally hurt Saitama, but instead of pulling away completely, Saitama slides their fingers back together, loosely, their palms touching and the tips of their fingers crisscrossed.

He pulls Genos along again, eager to lead him to somewhere, anywhere. Genos follows just as eagerly, knowing that wherever they end up will be exactly where he wants to go.

 

--

 

They end up in a little karaoke bar overflowing with boisterous patrons and loud music. Saitama keeps a hold of Genos while they squeeze through the crowd to find a seat.

"I'll go order," Saitama shouts, leaving Genos at the table to make his way to the bar. When he comes back, he sits across from Genos, and soaks in the atmosphere. The high energy and crappy pop music makes Saitama light up, recognizing the chorus even if it's being sung off key by two very tipsy girls.

"I love this song!" Saitama tells Genos, and then tries to sing along. "Doo di doo, doo di doo! Doo di doo-" he trails off, realizing Genos isn't really listening. He looks curled up into himself, withdrawn. Saitama leans across the table so he doesn't have to yell. "You okay?"

Genos shakes his head but doesn't say anything.

"Too many people?' Saitama guesses. He usually isn't much for socializing, himself, but a place like this could be fun once in a while. Maybe not so fun for Genos, but with that yellow hoodie on, at least nobody seems to recognize him.

Genos doesn't say anything, but looks down at his lap, texting. Saitama watches, and then takes his phone out of his pocket. A message pops up.

G: Too many people. Too loud.

Saitama looks up at Genos, ready to say something, but the younger man looks completely overwhelmed. He decides to write back instead.

S: I can wait for our food if you want to go outside.

G: No it's okay.

No it's not, Saitama thinks, but he doesn't press the issue. Instead he googles facts about sharks and starts texting them to Genos, rapid fire.

S: Did you know? Sharks have skeletons made of cartilage instead of bone

S: Sharks are older than dinosaurs by 200 million years

S: Whale sharks can live to be over 70 years old

S: Baby sharks are called pups

S: "Sharks possess a sixth sense called electroreception, which allows them to detect the low electrical currents emitted by their prey." Huh. That's probably why sharks love you.

Genos smiles and texts back.

G: Knock knock

S: Who's there?

G: Why are there no sharks that are dentists?

S: … I don't know, why

G: Because sharks have multiple rows of teeth that they constantly lose and regrow all their lives.

G: Also sharks can't attend dental school.

S: You're a real fucking nerd did you know that?

G: Wow. You owe me six compliments.

S: Compliment: You're a nerd. Multiply that by six.

G: Did you know? Sharks can breathe underwater.

S: omfg

G: A shark's preferred diet consists largely of Goldfish, the snack that smiles back.

S: Sharks are mostly found in bodies of water, with the exception of land sharks, ghost sharks, and sharknados.

G: Sharknados?

S: Holy shit we're finding time to watch that.

The two keep swapping bullshit shark facts until a waitress brings over the food that Saitama ordered.

"Sorry, can I actually get this to go?" he asks her.

"Sure thing!"

It's a relief to them both when they leave the noisy little bar, stepping out into the relatively cooler and quieter summer night air.

"Where can we eat?" Saitama wonders. He's fully ready to sit down on the sidewalk, but isn't sure Genos would agree with that.

"There's a park this way," Genos says, grabbing Saitama's hand.

They run all the way there, urged faster and faster by Saitama's hungry stomach and Genos' relief to be away from the noise, both of them giddy from stupid texts and jokes and the mutual need to be together somewhere, alone, at peace.

The park is huge, and beautiful, and empty, and they probably aren't supposed to be there after dark. They run all the way to the center of it, and then Saitama collapses on the grass, dropping to his knees.

"Aaah, I'm so hungry," he groans, digging into their bag of takeaway boxes. He sets them out on the grass while Genos sits down -- an assorted feast of chicken and noodles and rice and kabobs. There's only one fork, so they have to share it between bites of noodles or rice. When Saitama is satiated he flops over on his back with a happy sigh.

Genos closes the boxes of leftovers, and then lays down beside Saitama in the opposite direction, their heads next to each other's stomachs. The grass is soft and slightly damp, and the light pollution is less here, letting hundreds of stars poke through the hazy sky.

"Sorry tonight was such a disaster," Genos says.

"A disaster? I wouldn't call it that."

"Everyone at that first restaurant was so rude," Genos says. "And I - I lost my temper, and behaved pretty badly. And we couldn't stay at the second place because of me."

"No way, that bar was super noisy," Saitama objects. "I could barely hear myself without having to scream. If we stayed I would've had a migraine or lost my voice. And I wouldn't be having dinner in the park with you. You should misbehave more often. I like this outcome."

Genos presses the back of his hand against his suddenly-too-hot face.

"I'm glad," he manages to say. "I wanted this last night to be special."

"Last?" Saitama tilts his head to look at Genos. "What do you mean?"

"We won't be able to see each other for a while. Just for a day," Genos adds, trying to reassure him. He had worded it badly, but he knows that a day will feel way too long.

Saitama puts his arm over Genos' legs, as if to physically stop him from going anywhere. "What are you talking about? We only have three more days until the gala. Why won't I see you? Are you going into the lab again?"

"Today is the tenth," Genos reminds Saitama.

It takes a while for that non-explanation to sink in. If today is the tenth, then tomorrow is the eleventh. Saitama knows vaguely of Genos' hatred towards that number. More specifically, he remembers how Genos had refused to let Saitama enter his apartment until it was 12 o' clock on the dot.

"You're kidding me," Saitama says, although he knows Genos isn't joking right now. "I can't come over tomorrow?"

"It's - no. You can't. It's a bad day, Saitama. Eleven is awful."

"If I was at your door, even at noon, you wouldn't let me in?"

"No. Do not come over, Saitama." Genos' voice firm and emphatic, but Saitama doesn't miss the way his breath has gone shaky with stress. "You can't come at eleven. Nothing good comes during elevens. You'll be waiting longer than fifteen minutes if you do, I'm serious. Just stay home."

"I'm just trying to understand," Saitama assures him. "What can I do? Can I call you, at least? Text?"

"I don't - I don't answer the phone," Genos says, thinking aloud. "But usually only the Hero Association calls me. I don't answer them, because they always call about monster attacks, and I can't . Nothing good comes during elevens. You have to stay put. Don't start anything new, anything important. If you called… I think that would be okay. We could talk. That'd be okay. But you can't come over. Please don't. Please."

"Could you come to me?" Saitama asks, pushing himself upright.

"No. No. Nobody comes or goes, until it stops being eleven. You have to stay home," Genos says, fixing Saitama with an intense, pleading glare, and then dropping his head back and squeezing his eyes shut, mentally cursing himself. "I know I can't keep you from going anywhere, I know this is in my head, but please… Just don't tell me about it. It's not safe."

"Okay. What if I don't go anywhere?" Saitama asks.

"That'd be better," Genos agrees immediately.

"What if I'm already with you?"

Genos blinks a few times. "What do you mean?"

"What if I'm at your apartment before midnight? And then I stay all day tomorrow," Saitama suggests. "If I'm already there while it's eleven, is it okay then?"

"You - you won't be able to leave," Genos says, his mouth dry. "I mean, you can, but-"

"But I won't," Saitama says. "Because coming or going would stress you out. But is it okay if I'm just... there?"

Genos takes in a breath, and then let's it out. "Yeah," he says, his voice breaking a little. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. We don't have a lot of time left, we can't lose a day," Saitama says, rationally. "Besides, it's a bad day for you. I don't want you to be alone."

"Thanks," Genos whispers, feeling a tear slip from the corner of his eye towards the ground. Saitama leans over him and catches it with his finger, wiping the oily drop into the grass.

"Don't stain my hoodie," Saitama says, putting his head down on top of Genos' chest.

"I won't," Genos promises. He feels Saitama sink against him, relaxing, and cautiously puts his hands on Saitama's back. He can feel the bumps of Saitama's spine, the side of his ribcage. Every breath in and out. His pulse fluttering against Genos, like a bird's wings. Genos has never wanted to hold onto anything so tightly in his life, while also being terrifyingly aware that he can't, because if he did he'd hurt the one thing that he loved.

Saitama's voice is soft. "Can I ask you kind of a serious question?"

Genos feels his core start going a little quicker in his chest. "Yeah."

"Does everyone already know that you're gay?"

"I don't really keep it a secret," Genos says. "Does it bother you? That I am?"

"No. I'm bisexual," Saitama says. "But I don't really like to talk about it. When people know, they either accuse me of just secretly being gay, or lying about it or something. Or that I'd fuck anything that moves. It's annoying. I don't care about gender but I wouldn't date just anybody, much less have sex with them."

"Sorry."

"Why should you be sorry?"

"Once people see us as a couple, they'll definitely say you're gay. It's going to stick with you."

Saitama is quiet for a moment, and then lets out a breath. "Whatever. I don't care about that. What about you?"

"What about me?" Genos echoes, confused.

Saitama shifts, pressing his face against Genos' chest. "What would you have done if the only person who answered your ad was female?"

Genos shrugs. "Then I guess my fans would think I was straight."

"That wouldn't bother you? Living a lie like that?"

"It's a lie no matter what," Genos says. His chest feels tight. "Nobody's ever gonna date me. If they were, you wouldn't be here right now."

Saitama is silent for a long time, barely even breathing. After along moment, he sits up again. "Yeah," he says, rubbing his face as he turns away. "I guess that's true. But I'm here," he adds, his words clipped. "What time is it?"

"It's - it's past eight," Genos says. It surprises him how little time has actually passed.

Saitama stands up, wiping tiny pieces of grass off of his shorts. "I should go home," he says.

Genos sits upright."You're not--?" he cuts himself off, realizing that Saitama has turned colder towards him. "Okay."

"To get a change of clothes," Saitama clarifies, kicking the turf in Genos' direction. "Don't think you're not still stuck with me."

The words are borderline teasing, but it's not the same kind of light humor that Saitama usually has. The edge underneath is a little too obvious.

"Are you mad at me?" Genos asks.

Saitama's shoulders slump. "No," he says, but it doesn't feel like the truth. "I'm just getting tired, and it's cold out here. I'll see you at your place."

"Okay," Genos mumbles, still trying to figure out where he went wrong.

Saitama sighs. "Genos, get up."

He doesn't want to, but he does. As soon as he's on his feet, Saitama surprises him by pulling him into a hug and squeezing him tightly. "I lied. I'm mad. But I promise I can't stay mad at you for long."

"What did I do?" Genos asks, at a loss.

"Nothing ," Saitama grumbles, but the annoyance is evident in his voice again. He pulls away, scowling lightly.  "I just hate when you say shit about yourself like that. Nobody would ever date you? You're dateable as fuck. The only reason why you're still single is because you won't let anybody get close to you." Saitama snaps his fingers and then splays his fingers, like an explosion. "Boom. Cold hard facts. Deal with it."

Genos isn't sure whether he should feel wounded or flattered. "Thank you?"

"Take these with you," Saitama says, putting the takeaway boxes into the bag and handing it to Genos. "I'll be by as soon as I can."

"Before eleven?" Genos asks.

"Way before. Promise."

 

--

 

Saitama's never packed a bag so fast in his life. He isn't exactly fussy, and only needs a few essentials. Clothes, toothbrush, deodorant. He finds a shopping bag with a gift he'd almost forgotten about and stuffs it into an old backpack with everything else, trying not to let himself pause to think. But he can only keep himself so preoccupied, and his mind keeps wandering, poking at sore subjects like a mental bruise.

On the way back it's harder to ignore, so he just gives in to the anger bubbling in his brain.

"'No one's ever gonna date me,'" he says aloud, echoing Genos' earlier statement in a derisive tone. "Then what the fuck am I doing?"

Your job, the rational side of his brain supplies, against his will. He groans and fumes for a while, letting the anger burn itself out.

Genos hired him. Saitama had signed a nondisclosure agreement and they'd plotted out the rules of their arrangement together. Genos had told him in no uncertain terms that he didn't actually want a friend or significant other - he just wanted to fool everyone else into thinking he did, so they'd stop asking.

Their relationship was based on a lie, but that didn't mean it had to be all bullshit. He'd give Genos something real, even if that wasn't what he'd asked for. He wanted Genos to know that he was worth more than just good looks and heavy firepower.

They could both be so much more.

Together.

It's still ten when Saitama gets to Genos' apartment. He knocks at the door, as a courtesy, and then lets himself inside. He leaves his shoes and bag next to the door, and finds Genos sitting in the living room.

"Made it," Saitama says softly.

Genos is sitting on the couch, feet planted on the floor in a broad stance, his elbows on his knees, forehead resting on his clasped hands. He doesn't move or say anything when Saitama approaches. The TV is on, news images flickering across the screen in muted silence. Saitama studies it for a second, and recognizes the outside of the restaurant, dramatically lit by the flashing lights of a fire truck and police car.

"For fuck's sake," Saitama sighs. There's no actual newsreel of a fire being fought, just exterior shots and different people talking to the camera. "Did somebody get hurt?"

"No," Genos says, his tone flat. "Minor fire damage."

"Told you. What are they saying, then?"

Genos moves one hand to reach for the remote, not even looking as he unmutes the TV.

"-scene caused here tonight has the owners of this restaurant furious over what they called 'belligerent guests', but not everyone is taking their side. Eyewitnesses reported that the fire set by top ranked hero, Demon Cyborg, was motivated by his outrage over the restaurant's role in the over-fishing of sharks and animal cruelty. Authentic shark fin soup is an expensive delicacy, one which is becoming harder to find due to its controversial nature. Demon Cyborg's fiery condemnation of the practice has generated backlash against the restaurant and others who still serve this dish, and sparked a massive online discussion about the demonization and cruelty towards sharks and other animals. Lawmakers and animal rights activists-"

Genos mutes the TV again and lets the remote drop onto the couch.  "It's been like that since I got home."

"Dude. You set a table on fire and started a shark's rights revolution," Saitama says. "You really are a prince. What does it take for you to get yourself in trouble?"

"I did get in trouble. The Hero Association called," Genos explains, lifting his head. "They said the owners won't press charges if I pay for damages. And the HA want me to do something for community service. Again."

"Again? How many restaurants have you set on fire?"

"Only a couple," Genos says, defensive. He gives Saitama a sideways glance, to see if he's buying it, and then laughs. "No. I got in trouble once for 'unnecessary damages' and another time for saving a woman's life."

"What? Why would you get in trouble for that?"

"In the lawsuit, she said she didn't want my help and never asked me to 'interfere'."

"Lawsuit? What the fuck. If she wants to die so badly, she should just-" Saitama stops himself and lets out a sigh. "I don't know. But she shouldn't blame you."

"Some people are like that. They don't like feeling vulnerable, so they blame someone else."

"l guess so," Saitama says. He glances at the TV, which is still silently showing the report, and then grabs the remote off the couch and hits the power button.

"Don't watch that anymore, okay?"

"I've already heard it all," Genos shrugs.

Saitama steps in front of Genos and gently takes his face in his hands, lifting his head up. The cyborg's face is unexpectedly soft and his cheeks squish between Saitama's fingers.

"You are a good person," Saitama says. "You care about people. You are not responsible for someone else's actions. You're only responsible for doing the best you can."

Genos is quiet, eyes wide and shiny black. He blinks a few times, slowly, and then closes his eyes to process the words. "Thank you," he says. Saitama's hands are still cradling his face. "I'm okay, really. You can let go of me."

"I don't want to," Saitama says.

Genos' gaze flits back up to him, his core thrumming faster. "Oh. What do you want to do?"

The tips of Saitama's fingers ever so lightly stroke over his cheeks. "I want to ask you a question."

Genos' mouth feels too dry. "Yeah. Anything."

"Can I use your shower?"

It takes a second for the words to reach his brain, and then Genos turns away with a laugh, grin splitting his face. "Yes."

"Thanks!" Saitama darts off, grabbing his backpack and disappearing into the bathroom.

Genos sits still until he hears the shower start running. Then he puts his own hands to his cheeks, still able to feel Saitama's fingers. It's not quite the same, but the steam comes off of him just the same as his core overheats. He groans and tips over onto the couch. "Why am I so gay," he laments quietly to himself, rubbing his hands across his face.

"Genos," he hears Saitama say, and goes still, wondering if he'd somehow overheard. But then its followed by a pitiful, "help."

He finds Saitama in the bathroom, in just his boxers, with steam pouring out of the shower.

"It's evil," Saitama says, his skin wet and pink from the scalding spray.

Genos rolls up his sleeves and fixes the shower knob, checking the water's temperature until its warm without being too hot. "Better?" he asks. He tries not to stare at Saitama, but neglects to get out of the way before the other man sticks his hand under the spray.

"Much better. That's nice," Saitama says. There's a similar sentiment echoed in Genos' head, seeing Saitama shirtless and up close. It's fortunate that the air is already hazy with steam, otherwise Genos would be fogging up the mirrors all by himself. He hadn't been prepared for so much bare skin and lithe muscle. The little line of scar tissue just under Saitama's pec catches his eye, slightly paler than the rest of his tanned skin. Genos starts to move away, but then stops, realizing that it's not the same scar he saw before, but a matching one on the opposite side. They're both neat, clean scars, well healed and perfectly symmetrical. Almost surgically precise.

"What?" Saitama's deep brown eyes study him, awaiting his reaction.

"Nothing," Genos says, but then considers that it's foolish to pretend he wasn't caught looking. "You don't have to explain anything."

"What don't I have to explain?" Saitama asks, his smile tight, as if expecting a reason to be mad.

"How the crab managed to get you twice," Genos says. "It happens. They're fast."

Saitama glances down at his chest. "What, this? This one was from a sea urchin, actually."

"A sea urchin. Of course."

"No, no, wait… I've got a better one. It was an octopus with a knife."

Genos manages not to laugh. "That sounds terrifying. I'm glad you survived."

"Thanks, get out," Saitama says, pushing Genos towards the door.

--

When he emerges from the shower later, Saitama is dressed in his pyjamas - a loose white shirt and lounge pants covered with cartoon cats and sushi. He finds Genos sitting on the couch again.

"I keep forgetting to give this to you," Saitama says, pulling the shopping bag out of his backpack. "Here." He throws it at Genos, and the bag hits him directly in the face before he can react. "Shit! I didn't mean to do that!"

Genos puts a hand to his face and then picks the bag up off the floor. "What is it?" he asks, pulling something soft and grey out of the bag. A shark.

"They're slippers," Saitama says coming over and taking the second one out of the bag. He pretends to make the shark swim through the air, complete with little chomping noises while Genos studies the one in his lap.

"You didn't have to buy me anything," Genos says, his voice tender.

"It's not a big deal. I found them real cheap on sale and thought of you," Saitama says. He notices the 'Aquarium Gift Shop' tag still on the tail fin of the slipper he's holding and discreetly rips it off while Genos isn't looking. "If you don't like slippers, I'll keep them," he adds, turning to keep his shark out of Genos' reach.

"No, I love them!" Genos blurts out, reaching for the shark in Saitama's hands. "I'll wear them every day!"

Laughing, Saitama lets Genos have the other shark slipper. "Go change," he says. "I'm ready for bed and you're still dressed, what is this crap?"

Genos makes a fussy noise at the heckling, but gets up to go change.

When he comes back out, Saitama is in the kitchen taking a sip of water after just having brushed his teeth. He nearly drops the glass of water when he sees Genos. The cyborg is practically nude, with just a pair of black boxer briefs on, and the plush shark slippers on his feet. Saitama doesn't know whether to laugh or just die on the spot.

He sets his glass of water down and narrows his eyes at Genos. "Is that what you usually wear to bed?"

"No."

"Then where are your jammies?"

"I don't own jammies."

"Of course you don't," Saitama grumbles to himself.

Genos takes a step towards the sink, slipper-sharks flopping against the floor, and Saitama jumps backwards and screams.

"AAAAAA!"

The startled and confused look on Genos' face is heartbreakingly funny. When he moves again, Saitama screams again and scrambles up onto the counter.

"What-"

"Genos, watch out for the sharks!"

"You got me these," Genos says, but Saitama screams again.

"Aaaa! Don't let them eat me!" Saitama says, trying not to break into laughter. It's difficult when Genos grabs him by the waist and picks him up off the counter and back onto the floor. "Noooo!" he squirms, trying to break away, but he's caged in by metal arms and legs holding him, and then a plush shark starts butting its head against his calf as Genos gently kicks him. "My leg," he sobs, laughing.

"You scared me for a second," Genos says, his breath warm against Saitama's shoulder. He still hasn't let go of Saitama, keeping him in his arms.

"Sorry," Saitama says, trying to stop chuckling. He pats Genos on the head.

"It's almost eleven," Genos says. "We should go to bed."

Something about the way he says it sounds ominous. Maybe it's just because Saitama knows how much Genos hates that number.

"Okay. Do you have spare blankets for the couch?" Saitama asks.

Genos steps back to give Saitama an amused look. "You're taking my bed, I'm going to sleep on the couch."

"No, it's your bed, so you take it. I'll be fine on the couch."

"You're my guest."

"And you're my host, so you deserve the bed."

"The couch is closer to the door," Genos says.

"So what?"

"So I'm going to sleep there!"

"Well, you can't, because I'll be sprawled all across the couch and there won't be any room for you," Saitama retorts. "So there."

"Is that so," Genos says, flatly.

"Yep. So you'd better- hhrp! " Saitama squeaks, the breath leaving him as Genos picks him up and puts him over his shoulder, carrying him off.  "Put me down!" he complains. Genos does - tossing Saitama onto his bed.

"Since you're already there, I guess I'm taking the couch."

"Shitty brat!"

"I'm gonna lock the door now," Genos says. "Good night."

"Good night," Saitama grumbles into the mattress. He waits for Genos to leave the bedroom and then gets up, grabbing one of Genos' pillows and the top covers off the bed and making his escape.

He doesn't quite sneak past Genos on his way to the living room.

"Saitama!"

Saitama climbs over the back of the couch and topples onto it.  "I'm already here," he says, putting the stolen pillow under his head and wriggling as he covers himself up so he takes up as much space as possible. "Guess you're taking the bed."

"Saitama," Genos says again, softer this time.

Saitama can hear him come closer, and squeezes his eyes shut.

"I'm sleeping," he says. "It's rude to wake up your guests."

Genos is silent, and Saitama keeps his eyes shut, hyper-aware of every breath he takes, every second dragging out. Finally, he hears Genos walk away and opens his eyes. He won. It doesn't feel very satisfying.

The living room lights turn off. And then back on. And then off again. Saitama ignores the anomaly, until the kitchen lights are also turned off, then back on, then off again. Each light goes off the same way -- the switch flipped three times -- until the entire apartment is dark except for the city lights glowing through the enormous window in the living room.

Saitama settles in, sinking against the couch cushions. It's soft and comfortable at least - maybe a little too soft, because the cushions threaten to swallow him up. He's slept in some terrible places, though, and Genos' apartment is one of the best by far. Everything is quiet and peaceful, even if it's way too big and empty for his liking.

The sound of Genos walking across the apartment wakes him up. Saitama tenses, half expecting Genos to drag him off the couch, but instead the footsteps go to the front door. He hears the door unlock, the door open, and then shut. He hears the lock flip three times, locked, unlocked, locked, and then Genos goes back to his room.

Saitama lies awake for a while, wondering if this is a normal nightly routine for Genos, or if he's extra stressed because of the time of night and the oncoming date. He drifts asleep again, only to be woken up by Genos climbing onto the couch with him.

"Wha-? Hey. What's going on?" Saitama asks, groggy.

"I can't sleep," Genos says, his limbs bumping into Saitama's as they both try to squish together on the couch. Saitama ends up sinking further into the back of the couch, feelings of deja vu coming to him. He sits up a little, peering over Genos and finding the time on the entertainment system. 11:11pm.

"Of course you can't," Saitama sighs, dropping back down. "Do you really want the couch this badly or is it something else? Do you want me to take the bed?"

Genos shifts, nearly covering Saitama with his entire body. "No. I don't - I don't know. I just need to keep you safe."

"Okay. Get up," Saitama says, pushing lightly at the cyborg's shoulder. Genos tenses and doesn't budge. "Get up. The couch is too small for this. We're going to bed. Both of us."

Genos lets Saitama up, watching him closely. In the low light, his eyes remind Saitama of a wild animal, wary and a little bit skittish. Saitama grabs the covers from the couch and pulls Genos by the hand back to his room, only letting go when he climbs into bed. He scoots over and settles on the opposite side, deliberately leaving Genos the side of the bed closest to the door.

"Come on," Saitama encourages, holding his hands out to Genos in a beckoning gesture to show him that it's okay. It's not entirely surprising when Genos not only joins him in bed but also sinks into his arms, tucking his head just under Saitama's chin.

"Okay," Saitama breathes, still not quite used to this. With Genos half covering him and their arms around each other, he isn't quite sure whether he's being protected, or offering comfort. Maybe both. Without thinking, he finds himself already stroking his fingers through Genos' soft blonde hair, and is so surprised that he almost stops. Almost. The touch makes Genos relax fractionally, and for some reason the bulky, powerful body draped on top of him reminds Saitama of a large cat, like a tiger or a panther.

The warm, heavy weight of Genos is actually comfortable. Saitama starts to drift off again, but then Genos shifts in his arms, pushing himself up.

"Did I lock the door?" Genos asks.

"Yes. You definitely did," Saitama assures him, but he can already tell that Genos isn't going to lie back down.

"I - I have to go check," Genos says, getting out of bed and taking all of the warmth with him.

"Okay," Saitama says, curling onto his side. "But hurry back. I'm getting cold."

Genos leaves, sets the lock again, and comes back a short while later. A little too long for just the door, but Saitama doesn't ask what else Genos felt compelled to check. This time, Genos presses against Saitama's back, but he doesn't relax. Only a few minutes pass before Genos gets up and does the same thing again. This time when he comes back, Saitama picks up Genos' arm and pulls it over him, sliding their fingers together.

"Do you ever sleep?" Saitama asks him, genuinely curious.

"Sometimes… eventually. I'm not usually like this," Genos babbles. "It's just..."

"I get it. It's okay. But I'm here," Saitama reminds him.

"I know. But…" Genos trails off, not finishing his thought.

"But what?"

Genos presses his face to the crook of Saitama's neck. "I don't want to say it. I don't want you to take it the wrong way and be angry."

"I won't take it the wrong way," Saitama promises. "What's on your mind?"

"I know - I know it should make it better to have you here, but at the same time it's worse," Genos whispers.

"Do you want me to leave?" Saitama asks. According to the clock on Genos' nightstand, it's not too late.

"No. No. No," Genos' arm tightens around Saitama. "You can't now. I want you here but at the same time it's worse. You're not like me. If something happens, I can't put you back together again. And this is… the worst time. Only bad stuff happens. So you can't go. You have to stay here, so I can keep you safe. I know that's irrational, but I can't… I can't-"

"I'm not going anywhere," Saitama soothes. "I'm gonna stay right here with you. Safe. And if you have to keep checking the locks, that's ok. But I hope you get some sleep."

"I will. I will. But not yet," Genos says. "Can I just… keep holding you?"

"You can do whatever you need to," Saitama tells him. "I don't mind."

They lay together quietly. Genos listening to Saitama breathing. Saitama waiting for the tension to leave Genos' muscles.

After what feels like forever, Saitama finally sees the hour change on the clock.

"It's midnight," Saitama says, hoping that Genos will finally calm down. "Twelve."

"That means it's the 11th now. For the next 24 hours."

"I guess that's true," Saitama says, realizing there's nothing he can really do. He squeezes Genos' hand a little, and with the other he starts tracing trails over each of Genos' fingers, excluding his thumb. One... two... three. One... two... three. One... two... three. One... two... three.

The last thing Saitama remembers is hearing Genos' core thrumming in his chest, like soft purring.

 

x

Chapter Text

The next morning, Saitama wakes up slowly, content to enjoy a few lingering moments in the fuzzy remnants of his sleep. It isn't often he's had the opportunity to sleep in an actual bed, and this one in particular is nice. Everything is soft and cosy and smells like Genos.

He rolls over and stretches, intending to doze off again for a while longer, but then he realizes that the rest of the bed is empty.

The warm, lazy feeling evaporates instantly.

Sleeping alone isn't something that's ever bothered Saitama. In fact, he prefers having his personal space, with Genos being the sole exception. But Genos is gone and today is… well. Awful.

He throws the covers off and springs to his feet, but he doesn't have to go far to find Genos. As soon as he opens the bedroom door and pokes his head out, he can hear and smell food being cooked. Taking a few steps forward, he spies Genos standing in front of the stove. He's already dressed, wearing one of his button-down shirts with the sleeves rolled up his arms as usual, and black jeans that probably cost more than Saitama's entire wardrobe. It seems like a weird choice since it's still morning and they obviously won't be going anywhere. But in addition to Genos' sharp clothes, he also has a pink apron tied around his waist and a couple of plush shark slippers on his feet. At least Saitama doesn't feel so out of place in his sushi cat pajamas.

The large quantity of breakfast food sitting on the counter is a little alarming, however. Among the cluttered assortment he sees rice and eggs and bacon and French toast and omelettes and fruit and coffee and orange juice and--

Saitama shakes his head to clear it, feeling a little overwhelmed by the assortment. If he didn't know Genos so well now, seeing a spread like this would feel like a dream come true. Instead, it twists a knot in his stomach.

"Hey," Saitama says softly, so as not to spook the other man. "Are you okay?"

Genos turns to him, just looking at Saitama for a few seconds. "Yes," he says, and then with the same soft concern, "Are you okay?"

Saitama presses his lips together into a tense smile. Despite the positive answer, he can already tell that Genos is a little off. There's something about him that seems cagey and fearful, despite the calm outward demeanor.

"Yeah, I'm good," Saitama assures him. "I just gotta go to the bathroom. Be right back."

He ducks into the next room and rubs his hand across his face as soon as the door shuts behind him.

This is only the start of what will be a very long day, Saitama realizes. Nervous, excessive cooking is just the beginning. He has no idea what the full scope of Genos' behavior will look like, or how the stress of the day will proceed to manifest, or what he should do to help and what he should avoid.

Saitama takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Panicking won't help. He knows Genos pretty well already. He just needs to think this through.

One thing he knows is that Genos is particularly worried about Saitama's safety. He'd made that clear yesterday when he begged Saitama to stay home during the 11th because it was dangerous. No coming or going allowed.

He'd told Saitama he wanted to sleep on the couch because it was closer to the door. In retrospect, Saitama feels like an ass for fighting him on that, but he hadn't picked up on why until later. Genos had locked the door multiple times. He'd told him explicitly that he felt he needed to keep Saitama safe, and that if anything happened to him, he couldn't be put back together again like Genos could. According to Genos, only bad things happen on elevens. All of those details paint a pretty clear picture for him. Something bad happened on this day. ...Or a day, he realizes. It wasn't necessarily this one. Just the 11th day of some month.

Maybe it was when his family died. That would make sense why Genos feels so stressed about keeping Saitama safe. And as much as he doesn't want to presume anything, Saitama also doesn't think today is the appropriate time to suddenly start asking about it. Whatever happened, it was enough to make Genos forever associate the number eleven itself with danger and try to avoid it at all costs.

Why is twelve Genos' favorite number, then? Is it like the calm that comes after a storm? The breaking dawn after a long night? Proof that time moves forward, that he's survived disaster and the worst is already behind him?

He could speculate forever. All that Saitama knows for sure is that he has to get Genos through the day.

Saitama does his business and then finds Genos again. The cyborg is still standing at the stove, now methodically starting to make a pile of crepes. His body is one long line of tension, and when Saitama approaches him, he somehow relaxes fractionally and seems twice as anxious at the same time.

"That's a lot of food. When you're done making those, will you be finished?" Saitama asks, eyeing a bowl full of batter.

"Well… I should do the dishes next," Genos says. It's small victory that Genos will be done cooking soon, but Saitama is suspicious that the clean-up will be just as intensive. There are a number of dirty dishes and he has a suspicion that if he lets Genos do them, he'll move onto another chore immediately after.

"The dishes can wait until after we eat," Saitama says.

"I'm not hungry. I made these for you," Genos says, a little too earnest as he adds another crepe to the finished pile.

Saitama balks at that. "Uhh, thanks but as much as I'd love to try, I can't eat this much food."

Genos pours more batter onto the hot frying pan, going through the motions. It's obvious that all of this is purely self-soothing rather than practical. "I don't expect you to. Just eat whatever you like."

"No."

The soft refusal makes Genos' hands skitter, spilling drops of batter across his near-perfect circle. For a second, Saitama wonders if that imperfection will distress him, but Genos already seems upset about him being stubborn.

"Why no?"

"I'm not going to eat unless you eat," Saitama says, perfectly logical. "You can't take care of me unless you take care of yourself too."

"That isn't fair," Genos huffs, but they both know it is. It's a little bit manipulative, but in a good way. Saitama hopes it's good, at least.

"So fight me about it," Saitama challenges, semi-seriously, but they both know full well that Genos won't.

"Can I finish these and then put the dishes in the sink to soak?" Genos asks. "And then we can eat?"

It seems like a fair compromise. "Alright. Is it okay if I touch you?"

Genos' shoulders go tense, but his head jerks with tiny, emphatic nods.

Saitama steps behind the other man and wraps both arms around his waist, squeezing gently but firmly. He feels Genos relax, the stiffness in his spine easing away. The blonde is a couple inches too tall for Saitama to rest his chin on his shoulder comfortably, so instead he presses his cheek against the cyborg's back and listens to the soft sound of his core humming in his chest.

"You know…" Saitama says slowly, while Genos finishes another crepe. "When you're sleeping, you kinda purr. Just like a cat."

"I don't," Genos denies, a little too quickly.

"Yeah, you do. Maybe you just never had anyone tell you before," Saitama says.

"I don't do that," Genos says again, with soft finality that Saitama decides not to challenge. When Genos reaches for the crepe batter again, Saitama lifts his head.

"Can I try? I wanna show you something cool."

"What?"

"You'll see," Saitama says. "Or not, if I suck at it. I've only seen other people do it online." He reaches around Genos and takes the spoon from the bowl, drizzling some of the batter onto the pan. He isn't nearly as artistically inclined as the people behind the viral videos, but he manages to make a simple shape and lets it cook for several seconds before tipping the bowl to cover it in more batter. When it's done cooking, he flips the entire thing over to reveal a little golden brown (almost blackened and definitely lopsided) heart surrounded by a perfectly toasted crepe.

"Tada," Saitama says, although it's hardly spectacular. "That's for you."

Genos says nothing, but the sound of his core changes, shifting a little lower in pitch and stuttering instead of humming smoothly.

"That!" Saitama hollers in his excitement. "That purring sound!"

"No," Genos denies again, turning away to rub a hand over his chest, as if that would stop his traitorous core. "You're wrong."

"Sure, kitten," Saitama says, easing his hands around Genos' waist again. He can feel the vibrations in Genos' stomach, faint and fluttery. "I was wrong. It's not when you're sleeping. It's when you're happy."

"Don't… Don't call me weird pet names," Genos protests weakly.

"Weird like what? Like... Snugglepuss? Is that weird?"

"Oh my god."

"Rumblestiltskin? Get it? Rumble like the noise you make."

"No."

"No that's not weird or no you don't get it?"

"Saitama, I'm gonna burn your heart," Genos says, raising his voice in warning as he tries to remove the overcooked crepe.

"Is that a threat? Or a promise?" Saitama quips. The smell of burnt hits him, and he remembers he's supposed to be helping Genos, not stressing him out. "Sorry," he mumbles into the crease between Genos' shoulder blades. "That's not your fault, that's mine. You don't have to eat it, just keep it framed on your wall until it gets all gross and moldy."

"Saitama."

He winces a little. "That's… a joke. You can throw it away."

"There's nothing wrong with it. It's just a little well done," Genos assures him.

"Funny way of saying burnt to a fucking crisp."

"I like the crunch."

After a few more crepes, the batter finally runs out. Saitama slides away from Genos and gets plates and utensils for the both of them.

Saitama fills his plate with a little bit of everything, and Genos tops the stupid, burnt, lopsided heart-shaped crepe with fresh strawberries and whipped cream and then sits down beside him and eats it almost reverently. Because of course he would, the nerd. Saitama puts his hand next to his face, a shield between his blood-reddened cheeks and the reason for said redness, but then realizes that's way too obvious and drops his arm. Instead, he pretends he's more interested in mixing his eggs and rice together, but in the corner of his vision he stills catches the moment when Genos licks cream off his thumb. It feels like a punch in the gut. Forcing Genos to eat with him was a mistake.

Saitama fumbles to take his phone out of his pocket and focus on that instead -- anything but the half ton of impending heartache next to him. He could check the weather or something. Maybe text King. But when he unlocks the screen, he sees that King already texted him a short while ago. Perfect.

K: U up for games today? Genos can come too

S: Thanks but I'm over at Genos' place right now. I'll be back tomorrow.

K: Oh wow ok
K: I'm really happy for u, Saitama

S: Thanks

Genos gets up, and Saitama glances towards him, wondering if he'll be offended again by Saitama texting during a day like today, but he just goes to the oven to turn if off. Saitama hadn't realized that they'd been careless enough to leave it on. The backside view of the cyborg doesn't really help, nor do his unnecessarily tight jeans. Oh no, he's hot, Saitama thinks. He forces himself to look down at those ridiculous shark slippers instead, hoping that the sight of Genos in slippers it will ease his pain. It doesn't. Oh no, he's cute.

Saitama turns back to his phone in despair.

S: I'm dying inside.

K: Why what's going on?

S: I'm gay.

K: I thought you were bi

S: Yeah but for Genos I'm gay

K: Lol. That reminds me one of my fics got a comment

S: Congrats dude. What'd they say?

K: They said 'I'm f***ing gay' but in all caps.

S: Oh. Is that good?

K: That's like the highest compliment u can get in fandom, so yeah, it's really good.

 

"Are you talking to your friend?" Genos questions as he returns to his seat, leaning towards Saitama's phone to see.

Saitama reflexively turns the screen away, hiding the conversation just in case. "Yeah."

Genos smiles. "About me?"

"No. Kinda. King wanted to invite us over, but I told him we're preoccupied," Saitama says. "I was sorely tempted to send him a photo of you wearing your new slippers, but I can't trust him not to post it on every fan site in existence. And then write a dozen fanfics about it."

The smile disappears. "I read a few of those stories after you told me about them," Genos says.

"Oh no. I told you not to," Saitama says, grimacing in anticipation. "What'd you think?"

The sour look on Genos' face says it all. "They think I'm in love with Tatsumaki. Or that she's in love with me. I don't think that rotten little bean could love anybody. And there was one story where I was a cow."

"A cow? Like, they gave you cow ears and a tail, that kinda thing?"

"No, like… a cow. But I was still an S-Class hero."

"Like… a fire-breathing cow with superpowers?"

Genos looks disturbed. "No. Just an actual cow. I don't know why."

"Fandom is weird. It's better not to think about it," Saitama advises him. "If anyone asks, you don't know anything about that stuff."

Genos nods in sage agreement, and then gets up again, going back to the stove. Saitama watches him touch every knob. The burners are clearly already in the off position, but Genos still touches every single one before he sits back down.

The abruptness of the interruption is what takes Saitama by surprise more than anything.

"You good?" Saitama asks.

Genos nods and digs into a heap of bacon and eggs, loading up his plate. Saitama tries to copy him, but quickly realizes that Genos' stomach must be a bottomless pit - his food disappears so much faster than Saitama's does, and he feels full pretty soon while Genos doesn't seem to be affected at all. It only keeps the cyborg occupied for a few minutes before he starts glancing anxiously at the stove again.

"It's off," Saitama reassures him, but Genos is already off his seat and headed back. Watching him check every knob over again is agonizing. Saitama takes a slow, deep breath and waits for Genos to finish the routine.

When the blonde turns back around, he stops, eyes on Saitama like he can tell the other man wants to say something.

"They're all off?" Saitama asks.

"They're off," Genos confirms, but he looks guarded.

"Good," Saitama offers in a soothing tone, as if placating a skittish animal. "Nobody's gonna touch them while we're sitting here, y'know? You don't have to keep checking them."

It's meant to be a comfort, but just from the way Genos tilts his head to the side, eyes narrowing fractionally, Saitama knows he misspoke.

"Wow. I never thought about it that way," Genos drawls, his tone a harsh, deadpan sarcasm that makes Saitama go cold instantly. "It's almost like obsessively worrying and checking things that I know I've already checked is not only disruptive to my life but completely illogical too. I should just stop doing that. Problem solved!"

The words feel like shrapnel tearing into him -- indiscriminate of who gets wounded by the blast, but effective nonetheless.

"I didn't mean it like that."

"No, you're right! I don't need to check it again. Logically, I know the burners are already off. They won't just somehow turn on again, or break, and I'd never be mistaken, right?" Genos sneers the words, his hands clenched in a futile attempt to stop them from shaking. "And logically, there's nothing about today's date that makes it worse than any other day of the month. It's just a number, so there's no reason why it should fill me with an overwhelming sense of impending disaster. But even if there were a reason, it's not like there's anything more that I could actually do to keep you or anyone else I loved safe. I should just get over the crippling feeling of helplessness without any stupid safeguards to trick my stupid brain. Wow, I'm fucking cured. Thanks, Saitama."

"I didn't say it was stupid," Saitama says, his throat feeling tight. "I just thought if-- I'll just shut up about things I know nothing about, because I'm not helping."

"No, you're not helping. I don't need you to tell me what to do. I told you not to come. You're the one that wanted to be here," Genos reminds him, the words increasingly harsh. "This isn't going to get any better! So if you're that annoyed with me already then you can just le--" Genos points towards the door, but then stops himself abruptly, wide eyes locked on Saitama. He looks horrified with himself, as if the unspoken words were akin to wishing Saitama were dead.

"I'm not going anywhere," Saitama assures him, staring back at his plate so he doesn't have to watch Genos wipe oil off of his face. "After, if you want me gone, then okay. But I promise I won't leave. Not today."

"I don't want you gone. I want you safe. And I want you to stop pissing me off," Genos says, something in his voice pleading, despite the obvious anger. "You think I don't know that I already checked? I can't stand you patronizing me, of all people. Fuck you."

"I'm sorry," Saitama winces. "You're right, it was patronizing. But I was trying to help. Don't put words into my mouth. I'd never call it stupid. I know what that feels like."

"Like what feels like?" Genos asks, still on edge.

"Assholes who say stuff like, 'Get over it, it's all in your head.' It’s like, 'No shit. That's the whole problem.' There's no instant cure and I get that. Believe me, I do. I just want to make it easier on you."

"You can't. It's an irrational fear, but it's just how my brain is wired. So to speak," he adds, with a little self-deprecating smile that doesn't reach his eyes at all. "If my brain were actually made of wires, Doctor Kuseno could fix it."

"You keep saying that, but a lot of fears aren't all that irrational in my opinion," Saitama says. "There's usually a reason behind it. I just don't understand what your line of thinking is. If I did, I bet it'd make a lot more sense."

"My line of thinking," Genos repeats, easing himself onto the stool beside Saitama again. This time there's a little more distance between them.

"Yeah. A lot of it makes sense already," Saitama assures him. "You want to keep me safe, so, locked door, nobody comes in, nobody goes out. That way, there's an unbroken barrier between us and anything that's out there. You have to flip the lock three times, because three's a good number. Safer than just once, anyway. Right?"

Genos' eyes widen, looking shiny again, and he nods.

"The cooking might be a little wasteful, but I think that's something to focus on when you're stressed, to keep you busy," Saitama says. "And it's practical. Keep me safe, keep me fed…" he looks at the stove and then back to Genos. "Make sure I don't die in a fire."

"Not dying in a fire is ideal," Genos agrees, curling his fingers against the counter. He takes a breath, and then starts. "When my village was destroyed by the Mad Cyborg, 524 people died in a single night, including my family. Last week, there was a Dragon level event that caused 3,602 deaths before the monster was killed. This past month alone, there have been over 65,000 deaths related to monsters and mysterious beings. Most likely, more people are dying as we speak. In comparison to that, less than 2,000 people died from fires in the last year. Even less from oven fires, specifically. That means you're 390 times more likely to be killed at random by a monster than die in a fire. This world we live in now is so dangerous, and the odds are so skewed it's illogical -- it's - it's stupid -- to worry about the little things. But between monster attacks and everything else, there are only a few things left that I have any control over." He finishes by giving Saitama a sidelong look, trying to gauge his reaction. "That's my line of thinking."

Saitama is quiet. Admittedly, a lot of the numbers and figures rolled off of his brain easier than they'd rolled off of Genos' tongue. But he got the gist of it. Even if the risk of dying by fire is ridiculously low, it's something Genos can actually guard against. It says a lot about the world they live in that the top ranked hero still struggles with feeling helpless against the daily onslaught of ever-stronger monsters.

Most people don't talk about the deaths anymore. At this point, almost everyone has somebody they've lost. News reports focus more on reporting monster sightings or praising the bravery of heroes than mourning the dead. It's not like it's forbidden, but there would be too much grief to process. Since the monsters became more frequent, entire blocks and cities being wiped out became more common. Genos' village was hardly the first, nor the last. Saitama still remembers an elderly woman on the news saying she was worried that if she let herself cry, the tears would never stop. So she didn't cry anymore. Ever.

People either fell into despair, or they kept looking forward. And those who fell didn't always have the luxury of time or support to get back up again.

Saitama doesn't want to fall. He doesn't have that luxury.

"I kind of think about it differently, I guess," Saitama says slowly. "You can't decide when one of those things shows up. And when they do, there's only two outcomes. You'll either live or you won't. So the only important thing is that you try your hardest. To live. Y'know?"

Genos lowers his eyes. "It's different when you're a hero. You have to worry about more lives than just your own."

Saitama almost wants to argue that Genos doesn't have to do that. But he does worry about others, and that's exactly what makes him a hero. He wonders how much Genos hates himself right now for being holed up inside while he knows that he could be making a difference elsewhere. But just because Genos has the power to help, it doesn't mean he can help all the time. He deserves rest and he needs to take care of his own wellbeing, or he won't be able to help anyone.

"Listen," Saitama says, taking a second to try to pick his words carefully. "I can't tell you everything is gonna be okay. I don't know that. But I can tell you that everything is okay right now."

"Is it?" Genos asks.

The simple question really throws Saitama for a loop. It takes him a few seconds to gather his own assurance.

"I mean… you're okay. I'm okay. Left Shark and Right Shark are okay," he adds, pointing to Genos' feet. "Seems like everything is alright."

"You and I might be alright, but are we alright?" Genos wonders.

"I'm whatever you want me to be," Saitama murmurs. He means it, but even as he speaks, he can see the doubt on Genos' face. That answer doesn't really say much about them. He takes a breath and tries again.

"Sometimes friends fight," Saitama explains. "We're still getting to know each other. We're bound to step on each other's toes and hit some sore spots. The real test of friendship is how we handle the hard times. I said I'm not going anywhere and I meant that."

Genos stares at Saitama, eyes wide. Without warning, the cyborg gets up and leaves abruptly, disappearing into his room.

Saitama is left a little rattled, unsure if he made Genos mad again or uncomfortable, or if Genos had something in his room he felt the need to check on, or--

Genos returns with his notebook. He sits down, opens it, and starts writing so quickly, his hand is almost a blur. When he's done, he closes the cover and lines the notebook up next to his empty plate, pushing his utensils and pen into place with the tip of his finger. Saitama watches, mesmerized by the meticulous little adjustments until Genos at last pulls his hand away and they both lift their eyes at the same time.

A few minutes ago, Genos had so much anger and hurt in his eyes. Saitama couldn't even stand seeing that and knowing he'd caused it. Now the look on Genos' face is so soft, it makes Saitama's chest ache.

"Do me a favor?" Saitama asks. "Next time I piss you off, just deck me in the face. It'd be less painful."

"I don't think hurting you would make me feel better," Genos says.

"No? It'd make me feel better," Saitama mumbles.

"Okay," Genos says, abruptly shifting gears. "If it makes you feel better. Next time you piss me off, I promise I will punch you in the face. Gently. With my mouth."

"Dork!" he scolds, while Genos laughs. "That's not a good incentive to make me stop pissing you off," Saitama says, and then realizes what he just admitted. "Uhm -- hey, I'm all done eating, if you are."

"I'm done," Genos agrees, snatching their empty plates and silverware. He deposits them into the sink where they disappear into the soapy water, then rolls his sleeves up with a sigh of relief and begins scrubbing dishes with methodical efficiency.

While Genos battles grease, Saitama finds containers and cling wrap and wrangles all of the excess food so they can keep the leftovers. They both finish at about the same time.

"Wanna watch a movie next?" Saitama asks, eager for more distraction. They just need to survive a day together, and the less opportunity he has to put his foot in his mouth, the better. Saitama sets the last plastic wrapped plate on the counter, finishing his neat pile while Genos dries his hands.

"Maybe after," Genos says. "I need to finish cleaning the apartment."

"Okay. After we clean."

"You don't have to help."

"I'm here for you," Saitama says. "Whatever you need."

 

-

 

Genos' apartment is spotless, but the way Genos cleans, you'd think it was a biohazard. Sweeping, mopping, and wiping down everything is pretty standard. Even cleaning the walls and doors, Saitama can appreciate. But while they're cleaning the bathroom, Saitama realizes a little too late that Genos prefers using straight bleach.

"Um. Genos. Genos, that's too much. Can you stop?" Saitama asks, alarmed. "Let me get out first." But in the confined space, the fumes are already strong and start burning his throat. He bolts, searching for clear air and only dimly aware of Genos following him. He goes to the huge window in the living room, as far from the bathroom as possible, and drops to his knees, lapsing into a coughing fit.

"Saitama--?!"

"Are you okay--?"

"I'm sorry--"

"--sorry, I'm sorry, I'm--"

"Please, please, I'm sorry--"

 

Saitama's head aches, and his throat and eyes are still burning, but Genos is the one having a panic attack.

"I'm okay," Saitama says, although his throat feels raw and he could really use some water. "I just need some air."

"I didn't -- I didn't mean to -- I-I didn't think--"

Genos looks petrified, his hands twitching towards Saitama and then away, too scared to touch. Saitama makes the choice for him, taking Genos' hands and placing them around him.

"Come here. Hold me," Saitama says, barely finishing to speak before Genos squeezes him three times and then keeps him cradled in his arms, gently, like he's made of glass but also would die if Genos stopped hugging him.

"I'm supposed to protect you," Genos mumbles. "I'm supposed-- I'm supposed to keep you safe."

"It's good. I'm good," Saitama says, slowly, holding his breath for a few seconds at a time until the urge to cough eases away. "Can we just watch a movie?"

Genos nods, but he barely lets go of Saitama long enough for them to move to the couch. There's a Seagull Fury marathon on, but Genos doesn't really watch it with him, just clings to Saitama, listening intently to his breathing, to his heart beating. Saitama puts his hands on Genos' head, petting his hair, and lets Genos do whatever he needs to right now. His cleaning routine has been interrupted, Saitama notes, and he isn't sure if it's that, or the accidentally-bleaching-Saitama's-lungs incident that has Genos so stressed, but he's definitely a little worse off.

Over a dozen times, Genos gets up without warning and leaves to check the door, the oven, the lights, the sink, the refrigerator, the outlets, and the caps on all the bottles of cleaner.

Saitama hates himself for adding something else to worry about onto Genos' mental list.

When Genos comes back, Saitama lets him back into his arms without question, lets Genos wind himself around him, like he's something fragile that needs to be protected, or a security blanket, or both.

And he hates himself for liking it so much, because he doesn't like Genos suffering like this.

 

-

 

At some point in the middle of the second movie, Genos falls asleep, his arm thrown over Saitama, one leg hooked around his, and his head still resting against Saitama's chest.
After so much stress, Saitama lets Genos sleep. He can only imagine how strenuous a day like today is on his nerves.

When the next film in the marathon starts, Genos stirs again, taking in a long breath and shifting slightly as he regains his awareness and realizes that he'd dozed off. Saitama can feel the tension coil back into Genos' body.

"Are you okay?" Genos asks immediately, his voice still groggy with sleep but otherwise alert.

"I'm fine," Saitama says, running his fingers through Genos' hair.

A warm sigh of relief huffs against his chest, but instead of relaxing Genos tightens his hold on Saitama. It takes a few seconds of shifting for both of them to rearrange limbs and settle in comfortably again.

"Are you still watching that seagull movie?" Genos asks. His face has been stubbornly buried in Saitama's shirt for the last three hours, but the sounds of furious chirping and cawing is oddly familiar to him.

"Mmn. Not really," Saitama admits. "This one is the weakest films in the franchise. They spent their entire budget on special effects and hiring Hatsune Miku to do the voice of the paradise flycatcher. It made a killing at the box office, but the script is a hackjob. It's the lowest rated in the entire series."

Genos finally turns his head to look at the TV for more than a second. On the screen, two obviously stuffed birds on visible strings flop against each other against a blue backdrop while dramatic action music plays, overlaid with voice actors making frenzied squawking sounds. He hasn't heard a single line of dialogue so far.

"That's realistic," Genos deadpans, pressing his face back into Saitama's shirt.

Saitama ran his hands over Genos' back. "Yeah, the director almost got arrested for animal cruelty charges."

"What? You can see the strings."

"That's why you can see the strings," Saitama counters. "You'd never be able to tell the difference otherwise."

Genos is pretty sure he could tell the difference between a real bird and stuffed ones flopping around on strings, but he just laughs into Saitama's chest and doesn't argue. He can hear the explosions and gunfire happening in the movie. All of it sounds so ridiculous mixed with the bird noises, but it sets him on edge and eventually he has to get up again.

"I'll be right back," Genos says, easing himself out of Saitama's arms.

"I gotta get up anyway," Saitama says, sitting up and stretching. He watches Genos do his routine again, doing everything in threes. While Genos fiddles with every knob on the oven, Saitama gets up and slips through the kitchen to go to the bathroom.

It still smells kind of bleachy. Not badly, but enough to give him a twinge of a headache. Saitama locks the door behind him and just manages to sit down before Genos is tapping at the door.

"Saitama? Why are you in there?"

Saitama puts his head in his hands, listening to the door knob attempt to turn three times. "Dude, it's a bathroom, I'm going to the bathroom."

"Are you okay?" Genos asks, but upon hearing a solid thump against the door, Saitama feels like he should be the one asking that question.

"I'm peeing."

"Let me in."

"No?"

Saitama didn't know a thump could sound so dejected, but somehow it does. "It's not safe," Genos says, sounding absolutely miserable.

"I'm only peeing, Genos, please chill," Saitama says again, wishing Genos could understand how ridiculous he sounds right now. Or maybe he does. It's not like he can help it.

The bathroom door thumps one more time while Saitama is washing his hands. When he opens it, Genos is standing there like a kicked puppy.

"Are you okay?" he asks again. "The bleach fumes--"

"Are dissipated," Saitama says. "I know you're worried but this isn't healthy, Genos. If you avoid everything that could possibly be dangerous, you won't be able to live."

"I know," Genos says, letting out a breath and closing his eyes. "I know."

There are little lines creasing his otherwise perfect face, making him look a little bit older than he should. Stress, worry, and above all, disappointment in himself are all written there. Saitama reaches out, cupping Genos' face in his hands. It's a small gesture, but as he strokes his thumbs against Genos' skin, he sees some of the lines ease away.

"I know today is awful," Saitama says. "And we aren't going anywhere. But I still don't want to spend the entire day doing nothing."

Genos' eyes pop open again. "What do you want to do?" he asks, confused.

"I don't know. The gala is closer than ever, isn't it? What do have left to do to prepare?"

The question seems to focus Genos, bringing him back into the here-and-now. He looks Saitama over, settling his hands on his waist. "You need a suit," he says, still eyeing Saitama as if he can tell his measurements just by looking. Come to think of it, he probably can. "Tomorrow we'll go to a tailor and get something together."

"Tailor?" Saitama repeats. "Isn't that kind of expensive?"

"Quality is worth paying for," Genos says. "I want you to look your best. Everyone will wonder who I'm dancing with."

Saitama blinks at that and then his mouth goes wide in a panicked, grimacing smile.

"What?" Genos asks, frowning at him.

"You didn't say anything about dancing," Saitama says, still holding that fearful smile.

"I must've," Genos says, trying to recall.

"Nope. Not a thing," Saitama says, turning to twist away from Genos and escape back to the kitchen, but the cyborg catches him, locking his arms around Saitama.

"Wait," Genos says, his chest pressed to Saitama's back. "Is it that awful to dance with me?"

Saitama slumps in his arms, head dipping forward in shame. "No, but you didn't say this would be a dancing event. I mean, I don't know what the heck goes on at one of these things, and I imagined there might be some dancing but we'd just -- I don't know -- hang out by the food and watch other people dance and make fun of them."

"We could do that, " Genos says. "But I also-- I really wanted at least one dance with you. It could be a slow dance."

"Oh man, that's worse," Saitama groans. "I don't mind dancing, I'm just not good at it."

"Not good at dancing? Well, that's not gonna work," Genos frowns. "You'll have to learn how to waltz in the next 24 hours."

"What?!"

"Don't worry, I can teach you," Genos adds, a little too eagerly. "Would you prefer to lead or shall I?"

Saitama squirms in his grasp. "Are you for real right now?!"

Genos' laugh gives him away and he lets Saitama go, who twists around to face him.

"Brat," Saitama accuses.

"You don't have to be great at dancing," Genos assures him. "I just don't see how you could be bad at it."

"Dude, have you seen me move?"

"Yes."

"So you know it's gonna be less dancing and more awkward rhythmic shuffling."

"Awkward rhythmic shuffling is my favorite."

"Of course it is," Saitama sighs, realizing he wasn't going to win this one. "You got music or something?"

"I do," Genos says, and he goes to put on something. A soft song starts playing, with a slow but bouncy little beat behind it. Saitama listens to it while Genos keeps fiddling with the settings and volume. Although Saitama can barely hear any difference, he doesn't object.

 

Don't try--
Don't try so hard--
My love is easy.

 

Saitama's mind flashes forward to having to dance with Genos while this song plays, and he feels a wave of scarlett heat come over his face, all the way up to his ears.

But fiddling with the stereo system makes Genos compelled to make his rounds again, and he doesn't finish until the next song starts playing. It's something else Saitama's never heard before, and he isn't sure what to make of it, but it has a brighter sound to it, happy and wistful at the same time, and most of the lyrics don't really make sense to him.

"Okay. Just one?" Genos asks, offering Saitama his hand.

"One," Saitama agrees, taking Genos' hand like he'd take up a challenge. "Only because we should probably practice before the big night."

He isn't wrong. When he tries to move with Genos, neither one of them can decide how to move together. He supposes Genos has had slightly more practice than him, considering the fact that Saitama has never had to dance with anyone before, but it's still concerning when he narrowly avoids having a ton of cyborg step on his toes.

"Dude," Saitama says, after the second time Genos grazes him. It's fortunate that he's still wearing the shark slippers, but the weight behind them is still no joke.

"Sorry," Genos says. "You're not stepping with me."

"I told you, awkward shuffling," Saitama reminds him. "I've never danced with anybody, so just feel lucky I agreed to this at all. You get what you get and you don't talk shit."

Genos huffs a laugh, close enough for Saitama to feel it. "Fine. I have an idea, but it's not… very conventional."

"Nothing about this is conventional."

"Fair enough," Genos agrees. He stops moving, planting himself in front of Saitama. "Stand on top of my feet."

"What, like a little kid?" Saitama asks, already putting one foot on top of a long-suffering plush shark.

Genos has to grasp his hands tightly to help Saitama keep his balance when he steps up. After a few seconds of flailing limbs, Saitama manages to adjust, leaning heavily into Genos, who puts his arms around him.

It's fortunate that Genos is steady on his feet and solid enough to hold up a building, because when he takes the first step, Saitama has to cling to him for dear life.

Genos keeps moving, slowly, and in short time it gets easier for Saitama to feel steady and secure. But he doesn't let go, regardless, just listening to the very quiet mechanical sound of Genos' body moving, and the swell of music over them.

 

And if the world don't break
I'll be shaking it
'Cause I'm a young man after all

And when the seasons change
Will you stand by me?
'Cause I'm a young man built to fall

 

"Good?" Genos asks. They're not even in tempo with the music, but Saitama supposes that hardly matters.

"Terrible," he laughs against Genos' chest. "This won't work at the gala, you know."

Genos turns his head, tucking Saitama's head under his chain.

"I'm okay with terrible."

 

-

 

When the song ends, it's almost a relief to hop off of Genos' slightly-flatter-than-before shark feet. Almost. As soon as Saitama steps away from Genos, he kinda regrets making such a fuss about the whole dancing thing. Because he might be really shit at it, but Genos didn't care after all, and now there's no excuse to be all wound up in each other again.

Genos leaves the music on for a while, moving lazily to whatever beat is playing while he resumes cleaning the apartment.

Saitama joins him in the cleaning, and whenever he gets the chance, watches Genos. It's nice to see him a little more at ease.

It's long past dinner by the time they realize they're both hungry. Saitama takes out some leftovers to pick at, neither of them bothering to use plates or utensils.

When Saitama pushes himself up to sit on the counter near the sink, he notices Genos' eyes dart over to him, his body going tense, and then very pointedly turning his head away from him.

"Bad idea?" Saitama asks, and Genos nods his head without looking at him. Saitama scoots off the counter slowly, dropping his feet back onto the floor.

"Thank you," Genos says, but he still doesn't look at Saitama. He seems disappointed in himself more than anything.

"What are you thinking?" Saitama questions.

"Just stupid stuff. Don't worry about it," Genos mumbles.

"I told you, it's not stupid," Saitama reassures him. "You can tell me. I wanna know."

Genos still doesn't say anything.

"Okay. I'll tell you something instead," Saitama offers, and notes Genos' head tilt towards him in curiosity. "Escalators scare the shit out of me. You might be thinking, what's the worst that could happen? If they break down, they just become stairs. But I've heard horror stories about people who get their shoes stuck in the little lip at the end, before you step off. Loose shoelaces? Now you don't have toes anymore. If I have to ride one that's all I can think about."

"Now I'm terrified of escalators, thanks," Genos says, finally turning to give Saitama a disapproving look.

"Oh. Fuck. Well, at least we'll be scared together. Stair squad for life," he says, holding up his hand for a high-five, even though Genos is too far away.

Genos smiles. "Kidding. Although that is unsettling to think about, so I've decided I'm not going to."

Saitama nods, dropping his hand. "A wise decision."

Genos smiles again, this time a tight, pained expression and looks away again. "I'm thinking about what would happen if you slipped off that counter, and cracked your head against it on the way down, and then you'd be dead on the floor in a pool of your own blood and I wouldn't be able to do anything about it."

"I dunno," Saitama says. "There's a lot you could do. You could chuck my body down the garbage chute."

"Saitama," Genos says.

"No, really. If I die in some dumbass way, I want you to memorialize me as a dumbass," Saitama says. "You have my full permission to hurl my body full force out into the ocean for the sharks to eat me."

"Why would they do that?" Genos frowns, looking down at his goofy little plush slipper sharks with their too-big eyes and rows of soft felt teeth.

"Because sharks eat garbage," Saitama says. At Genos' disbelieving look he adds, "It's true. They'll eat almost anything, including tires and license plates."

"Guess a shark wouldn't eat you, then," Genos says. "Because you're not garbage."

"A bold claim, with little supporting evidence."

"I don't want you getting hurt," Genos says. "Or eaten."

Saitama is quiet, studying Genos' face. "Is that really what you think about all the time?"

"Not all the time," Genos shakes his head. "But on a day like today? Yeah. It's nonstop. What if you get injured, what if you get sick, what if I hurt you by accident? It's exhausting. I think I know now why I don't have friends."

The last statement hits Saitama a little harder than he expected. Of course they aren't friends. Genos is paying him for his time, so it isn't like he expects Genos to consider them as such. But it kind of snuffs out the possibility altogether. Caring for people is a lot of emotional work. For Genos, it's a lot of added unnecessary stress. Saitama was starting to feel like his being here was causing more of a burden than it was a comfort for Genos.

"Not gonna get hurt," Saitama reassures him. The damsel role was never something that sit well with him. He didn't need somebody worrying about taking care of him. He could take care of himself. He'd already gotten this far in life on his own.

"Tell that to my brain," Genos shrugs. "If it were up to me, I'd just lie down on top of you for 24 hours and never get up. That isn't how anything works. That isn't how normal people act."

"Who cares about normal?" Saitama replies, dropping his gaze when Genos looks at him to avoid that eye contact. "I mean, no you can't literally do that. Not for entire day at least. But we're still kinda doing that in spirit. You need to lock the doors, and check everything, and just, like… I don't know… hold onto me now and then, then whatever. You don't see me complaining. As long as I've got food, and bathroom breaks, and intermissions, then do whatever's gonna make you feel better."

"You say that, but…" Genos trails off.

"But what?" Saitama presses, but if Genos has something on his mind, he won't say it. Saitama leaves his spot by the counter, and goes to Genos, pulling the other man's head against his chest and then wrapping his arms around him as tightly as he dares, trying to give Genos that sense of being held immobile and safe.

"There's not much left of the day," Saitama says, trying to cheer Genos up. "How about we find something else on TV and you can like, crush me to death on the couch cushions?"

"Don't say it like that," Genos scolds, swatting at him, but Saitama just laughs and doesn't let go of him until Genos agrees to that plan.

When they return to the couch, it's different than before. Genos isn't as stressed, but he also doesn't sleep. They're a mess of tangled limbs, neither one the least bit reserved about touching the other. They're only interrupted by Genos' compulsions, reluctantly pulling apart from each other every time he gets up, and then effortlessly fitting together in new ways every time he returns. Saitama's fingers find their way into Genos' hair. Genos' hand ends up underneath Saitama's shirt, fingers tracing over the muscles of his back and the dips in his spine.

It's deceptively easy. A few hours pass like that, with Saitama barely even focused on whatever nature documentary is playing on the TV. All he can focus on is how warm Genos feels in his arms, and the way he smells, and the way his hands feel on his skin, and the parts of Genos that feel softer than they have any right to be.

He's half asleep when Genos gets up the last time for another round. Door, oven, lights, sink…Saitama can tell where Genos is in his routine just by the little noises each thing makes as he goes. This time, on his way back, Genos does the lights again. Off, on, off. Each one making the apartment darker, until only the TV is left.

"Genos?" Saitama asks sleepily when he comes back.

"Bed," Genos says, turning off the TV. "You're falling asleep."

"Okay, yeah," Saitama says, rubbing his eyes. He doesn't expect it when Genos picks him up like a sack of potatoes and carries him off to bed.

This time Genos doesn't toss Saitama onto the mattress. He lowers him carefully, sinking down over him in the same movement. When Saitama pushes himself up to find the pillow and make himself comfortable, Genos follows, crawling over him on hands and knees and then sinking down to half cover Saitama with his body. Not enough to crush, but certainly enough to keep Saitama pinned underneath him.

"Oof," Saitama exhales, trying to adapt to the added weight on his chest. It makes it a little harder to breathe, but he doesn't say that. Doesn't need to give Genos anything else to worry about.

"Day's almost over," Saitama says, hoping the news will make Genos relax.

"One hour and thirty eight minutes," is the reply that he gets.

"Counting down, huh?" he sighs, rubbing Genos' back. Saitama stares at the ceiling, until his eyes fully adjust to the darkness and he can make out all of the shapes in the room.

Everything's quiet, except for Genos' core whirring away. Not a purr this time, but more like a sustained whine.

"Genos… What is one plus one?"

After a second of silence, Genos says, "Two. Are you trying to distract me with math?"

Saitama feels sheepish. "Kind of."

Genos makes an amused sound, his breath warm against Saitama's chest. "You'll have to think of a harder problem."

"Listen," Saitama says, trying again. "If I'm one, and you're also one, then what are we together?"

"Two," Genos says, letting out a satisfied exhale.

"But two is a different number altogether," Saitama says. He finds Genos' hand in his and lifts the cyborg's pointer finger. "You are one. I am one. Both of us unique from each other. When we come together, we can be one thing. Together," he says, lifting his finger and pressing them together, so they're parallel. "But still independent."

Genos stares at their fingers and then squeezes his eyes shut and puts his hand over Saitama's to make it go away. "I know what you’re trying to do, and I really do appreciate that, but please don’t."

"Sorry," Saitama says, feeling his blood pounding in his ears.

"It’s okay. I just… it makes me feel like you think I’m being childish or stupid."

"I don’t! I don’t think that at all," Saitama objects, sick to his stomach at the thought.

Genos is far more calm than him somehow. "I know you don’t. That’s just how it makes me feel."

"I just thought - I thought maybe if you could see it differently instead…" Saitama trails off, realizing how stupid it sounds.

"I know. But I can’t. The day is almost over so I don’t wanna think about it, okay?"

"Okay," Saitama whispers. "Sorry. Are you mad?"

"A little," Genos admits. "Kinda want to punch you in the face."

Saitama nods but doesn't say anything, feeling that sinking 'I fucked up again' feeling in his chest.

Genos pushes himself up, hands on either side of Saitama, and then pauses, ducking his head down and pressing a kiss against Saitama's cheek.

"You're right. That made me feel better," Genos says, and Saitama catches a glimpse of a smile before Genos sits up to make his rounds.

When he comes back, he settles on top of Saitama again just as heavily. The crushing-to-death thing could be a very real possibility, Saitama thinks, and he isn't sure he'd mind.

It feels like it takes forever for the minutes to slip away. Time just won't go fast enough, and at the same time, Saitama wishes it would stand still.

"Twelve," Saitama says, when the clock finally shows midnight.

"You're okay?" Genos asks.

"I'm fine," Saitama reassures him, stroking his hair.

It's only then that Genos finally seems to relax, all of his tension melting away. All of the stress catches up to him, turning to exhaustion and claiming him into a deep, sound sleep.

Saitama takes a deep breath and lets it out again slowly. His fingers curl against Genos, trying to remember how this feels.

Because in the morning, it'll all be over and he'll never have this again. Ever.

It's hard to fathom already, but he counts himself lucky while he still can. Lucky to have someone like Genos care about someone like him, even if it isn't real, even if it's all going to be over soon, even if it's a matter of convenience. Lucky to feel this way, even just once in his life. Lucky to be able to give Genos a little bit of comfort.

He deserves so much more. Someone who'll be really good for him.

Someone better.

 

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