Weirdo and Weirdo
Chapter 1: Threat Level Tiger
City B was in peril. If the giant had not been spotted by chance from a tour company helicopter, there would have been almost no warning. Three A-class heroes had been brushed aside as the titan strode through the suburbs, and only the insane ramblings of the monster's companion kept it from being an immediate defeat.
Instead, it took a few minutes of monologuing first.
Hundreds of thousands were in immediate danger. The whole city might be destroyed.
In the end, the Hero Association had no one powerful enough nearby. There was a whole world to safeguard after all, with a hundred crises a day to solve, and very few heroes had even a hope of matching this threat. In City A the Association's leadership, lacking options, decided to play their trump card.
Fortunately for them, the trump card in question happened to be on site harassing the staff about her last assignment. It took only a moment to bring up live video of the incident. The hero watched as a whole swathe of the city was torn apart by a single blow of the monster's fist, and missiles fired from military aircraft caused no damage even with direct hits.
As the control room staff looked on, horrified by the spectacle, the hero's eyes showed a glimmer of interest, and maybe a little bit of excitement. No one noticed, though, as the hero's next words were almost reassuring, being precisely what they expected to hear.
"This had better be worth my time."
Thirty-eight thousand feet up, the S-class rank 2 hero, Senritsu no Tatsumaki, was feeling cautiously optimistic. This stupid looking giant might actually be worth fighting! It wasn't that she didn't like saving people, or was totally selfish, or anything like that.
She was just bored.
There had been a time when opponents were challenging, and she had had to use all her cunning and strength to defeat them. She understood how cruel the world could be, and she was determined to make sure that she could fight back. Tatsumaki knew the truth: no one was coming to save her. Thus, she learned to save herself.
It was an amazing feeling.
Or it had been, anyway. These days she was basically untouchable. She hadn't actually been harmed by a demon level threat in… well… long enough that she couldn't remember. Even the rare dragon level threats weren't a substantial challenge. She just crushed them.
Although half the time she thought the Association fools were just kicking up the threat level to get her hopes up.
Pride in herself had now become scorn for others.
These days Tatsumaki was either frustrated, bored, or disappointed. Her sister made her angry, the Association made her angry, the other S-class heroes made her angry, and the lower ranks made her furious. Even civilians got on her nerves, alternately complaining that there was too much damage or fawning all over her.
It was getting to the point that the only strong emotion she felt was anger. Even the self-satisfaction of being powerful was losing its luster. Everything else was… fading away.
Have I lost something essential? Tatsumaki reflected as she flew. She shook her head in resignation. So what if I have? I'm strong, strong enough to never lose again. There's nothing I can do to change things now. Just have to wait and hope for something good to come along.
She did not expect that it would.
Nearing her target area, the Esper let herself enter free fall and watched idly as she broke the cloud layer. Beneath her was the metropolis of City B, in worse shape than she had seen it from the Association control room, with a new crater about the size of a stadium. The giant was ludicrously tall, still standing, and appeared to be enraged.
Tatsumaki accelerated with an audible crack of the air around her.
She was only a few hundred meters away, contemplating how to start, when she noted with some irritation that the damn giant hadn't noticed her. She was a beautiful woman wearing a sexy dress with heels, flying in a nimbus of green power, and she had definitely made some noise after breaking the cloud layer, but the thing was not looking her way. In fact, it was yelling at some bald weirdo wearing a yellow suit, red gloves, and a cape.
It was only because she was paying careful attention to the weirdo, since he was monopolizing her current assignment, that she was able to see exactly what happened next. The man leapt about a hundred meters straight into the air and threw a nonchalant punch at the titan's face.
And then it left the ground, flying outside the city with its head completely blown apart. Her brain froze for a moment, unable to accept the insane display she had just witnessed, but what caught her out was the loud voice of the bald weirdo.
"Overwhelming strength… is boring."
He was expressionless. Empty, even. She just floated there for a long moment, before the man simply turned and started walking away. She shook her head, noted that the giant wasn't twitching, regenerating, or shouting about his final form, and flew down to the bald guy.
Closer up he looked pretty nice, pleasant she supposed, but the obvious boredom just made him look tired. Like he was waiting in line at a supermarket instead of fighting a giant monster. He did perk up a bit when he noticed her, though.
"Huh. I didn't know little girls could fly. Pretty cool."
"I'm 28 years old, jackass!" Tatsumaki's face twisted in rage at the remark, before she caught herself. "Wait…" she said, puzzled, "You don't know who I am?"
"Nope," he replied, shrugging. "Sorry about the age thing. Still, really cool that you can fly. Can you do anything else?"
"Yeah, well, I'm an Esper. I can crush anything with my mind, telekinetically manipulate objects… Hey! I'm getting off track here. You really don't know who I am?"
The bald man shook his head. "Who are you?"
Now honestly perplexed, Tatsumaki was finding it hard to get mad. "Senritsu no Tatsumaki. S-class hero, rank 2." Not a glimmer of recognition on his face. "Who are you?"
"Ah, Saitama. Just a guy who's a hero for fun."
Just as she was about to follow up on that incredible remark, the baldy was unwittingly saved by the sound of a phone ringing.
"Damn it. Just a second, ok?" Tatsumaki fished out her phone and answered it. "What do you want? I'm busy here."
"Ms. Tatsumaki, err, is the threat defeated? We saw on the satellite image that—"
"Yeah, yeah, it's dead or whatever. Some random bald guy killed it in one hit. Don't call me again today." So saying, she hung up the phone and looked back at Saitama. "What do you mean, a hero for fun? I've never heard of you."
Now the guy actually began displaying some emotion: shock. "What? Seriously? I've killed tons of villains! I've taken out countless monsters and criminal organizations! I've never heard of anyone who has done anything like that!"
She quirked an eyebrow. "Uh, I have. I kill monsters and stuff all the time. I'm an S-class hero." She paused, then raised her voice in anger. "I'm an S-class hero! I'm the best! Who the hell are you anyway? What was with that punch? What rank are you, baldy?"
"Baldy!? Hey Takoyaki, that was uncalled for. I'm just doing this for fun you know, and this has not been a good day for me—"
"It's Tatsumaki! Tatsumaki you moron! Now what rank are you, and why aren't you in S-class if you can beat that stupid thing in one hit?"
"What are you talking about?" He looked honestly confused now. "What rank? I'm just a hero."
"You… you don't know about the Hero Association?"
"Huh? The what?"
The scene was silent for a moment.
"Oh my god."
She tried to make the explanation as short as possible, since she hated wasting time. The baldy — Saitama, she reminded herself — seemed to appreciate her brevity. Plus the offer of actual pay.
"So anyway, you have to come with me to the main Association building so we can get this straight. You need to be registered and paid for this stuff. Plus you're way stronger than most of the weaklings running around pretending to be heroes. Anyway, let's go."
"Go? Like right now?"
"Yes now! You need to get the credit for this stupid giant guy, not me, and keep in mind that I am doing you a huge favor here." She crossed her arms and huffed.
"Well," he said, rubbing the back of his head, "thanks then. I appreciate it, Tatsu."
Since he sounded so sincere, she decided to let it slide.
"Ok, get ready." She enveloped herself in her psychic aura and did the same to him, and they took to the air.
Or at least she did.
"What the hell?" She strained, finally getting him to float. "How heavy are you? What's the deal?"
"Uh, about 70 kilos. Why?" He looked interested again to see her flying.
The Esper looked at him, then turned around. An enormous mound of concrete and rebar debris, the remains of a highway overpass it seemed, glowed green and flew straight up, then eventually disappeared from view. It did not come down again. Then she turned back, tried to lift him, and got the same result as the first time.
"What is with this guy…" she muttered.
"Hey, you can just fly or whatever. I'll run there if you give me the address." He pulled out a phone and glanced expectantly.
She stared at him, incredulous.
"Sure," she said finally. "Sure. Meet you there, then."
At least she had his phone number now.
They arrived at the same time. Tatsumaki was honestly trying not to think too hard about the absurdity. This guy was just way too strange.
Saitama looked around at the peculiar building. "So, this is the place?"
"Yeah. Just follow me and we'll get this stuff out of the way," she replied, then floated toward the doorway. The usual crowd of photographers undoubtedly caught them coming in together, but she did her best to ignore them as always. Saitama seemed either totally unaware, or totally uncaring.
Either way worked for her, really. It would be a huge pain if he started acting like a jerk now, or even worse, starstruck. She hated the suck ups more than almost anything.
In the lobby Tatsumaki ignored the entreaties from the receptionists and headed for a bank of staff elevators. "Come on baldy. We're going to see one of the old guys."
"He won't mind if you just barge in?" Saitama asked.
"Eh, he'll listen. If you ask the small fry they just have to go to these guys anyway."
One long ride later, and they exited onto what was clearly an executive floor. The Esper ignored the stares again and floated toward a large office guarded by a secretary.
"I need to talk to Sitch, now."
The secretary took a nervous look at Saitama, then paged her boss. The gentleman either wasn't busy, or just wasn't busy enough to warrant irritating Tatsumaki. "Please enter. Would either of you like tea, coffee, or anything else?"
"Coffee. This could take a bit. What about you baldy?"
The other hero looked around the office absently. "Tea, please."
The secretary nodded and they walked in.
The older man behind the desk stood to greet them, but Tatsumaki cut him off before he could speak. "Hey Sitch, this guy crushed that giant in City B today before I got there, and he made it look easy. He needs to join the Association."
Sitch looked at her with a bit of an odd expression. "Is that right? Well, Ms. Tatsumaki, I'll be glad to help out with this." He turned to face the other hero. "My name is Sitch, I'm one of the executive administrators at the Hero Association."
"Saitama. Good to meet you."
"Yes, please sit down, both of you." Saitama obliged, while Tatsumaki simply floated over her chair, slightly above eye level of the two men.
"So, you're interested in being a hero, Mr. Saitama?"
"Ok look," Tatsumaki interrupted in an irritated tone, "he says he's been doing hero stuff for a while now, and he's way stronger than those jokers in A. Make him an S."
Sitch stared for a moment with his mouth open, flabbergasted, before he controlled himself. "Well, um, I can't say we have never had a request for such a promotion, but… Ms. Tatsumaki, we can't just—"
"Are you seriously saying no to me?" Her eyes narrowed. "When have I ever asked for anything around here, huh? What special favors have I been begging for? And this is just reasonable anyway. This guy is strong enough to be in S. He proved that today. So put him in S."
"Ms. Tatsumaki," the older gentleman was clearly shocked. "Is there," he glanced over at Saitama, who seemed to be surprised at Tatsumaki's words, "is there any… other reason we should be aware of concerning the case you're making for Mr. Saitama here?"
Then, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU IMPLYING YOU OLD BASTARD? DO YOU WANT THIS FUCKING TOWER TO BE STANDING TOMORROW OR WHAT?"
Just as objects in the room began shaking (including Sitch himself), Saitama stood up and put his hands on the Esper's shoulders.
"Woah, woah, calm down Tatsu! It's not that big of a deal, all right? I'm sure the man wasn't saying what you thought he was saying."
"How the hell do you think you think you know what I thought he meant, huh? Moron! Don't tell me that—"
The door opening behind them fortunately interrupted the rant, and Tatsumaki huffed and turned away. The secretary meanwhile served everyone, trembling, while Sitch gathered his nerves. Saitama sat back down and tried the tea.
"Look," Sitch began once the secretary had left, "My most sincere apologies for any unwarranted assumptions before, Ms. Tatsumaki. I was just honestly surprised to hear you campaigning for someone to be elevated like this. It's never happened before."
"Well maybe I never met anyone who was strong enough to be in S-class who wasn't an ass before, all right?"
The executive raised his hands in apology again. "Why don't we talk about the process for becoming a hero, then. Mr. Saitama, have you ever tried and failed our hero examination?"
"Eh? No, I didn't know it was a thing until Tatsu told me about it today."
"Look. If you want to make him take the stupid exam, let's just go get it done now." The girl rolled her eyes theatrically.
Ignoring the absolutely unprecedented pet name for the most feared Esper on earth, he replied. "Now? But Ms. Tatsumaki, the next exam is in three weeks. We've not shown favoritism before, and I would not want to start now. Can't Mr. Saitama take the test with the other candidates?"
"Those losers? I can't believe this…"
"Ah," Saitama interjected, raising his hand, "it's fine. I'll just take the test thing then. Don't worry about it."
Tatsumaki sighed. "Fine! Ok. But he is getting credit for that stupid giant thing today." She turned to address Saitama directly, still angry, "I don't steal achievements from other people."
"That's pretty honorable of you, Tatsu! I'm impressed." So saying, he smiled at her.
Sitch tried to contain his astonishment when the terror of S-class began blushing.
"Well, yeah, stupid baldy. I'm the best, and I prove it every day. I rely on my own strength."
Taking a moment to take a sip of his coffee, Sitch considered how to handle this. "Very well," he said, "Mr. Saitama, we will get some information from you now, and you will take the hero examination in three weeks. However it turns out, you will definitely receive recognition and pay for your services in City B today." He turned to look at Tatsumaki, who was now trying her coffee. "Is all that acceptable?"
"Good enough I guess. But he better not get the run around after I went through all this crap already." She looked over at the caped hero sitting next to her. "Sound good, baldy?"
"...yeah, sounds good."
After less than an hour of expedited paperwork, Saitama and Tatsumaki were headed out of the lobby.
"What a bunch of garbage. You'd better be grateful that I walked you through all this."
"Yeah, I really appreciate it Tatsu. I never would have known about this stuff otherwise."
She shook her head. "I can't believe you didn't even know."
"Yeah, well," he scratched his head idly, "thanks Tatsu. So, what are you doing now?"
The woman snorted. "Nothing. You did my job today, so unless some freak shows up and they think I should deal with it, zero."
"Huh. Want to get some udon then? My treat for all the help today."
Tatsumaki started, her hair twitching. Was he seriously asking her… No. He was just staring back at her with a placid expression. No ulterior motive whatsoever.
He was just being nice.
"Sure," she replied, trying to sound casual. "Let's eat."
Over dinner, as Saitama idly checked the packet he had been given and remarked on the sample questions (plus essay requirement), Tatsumaki made a horrible realization.
This bald dummy was going to fail the retarded written hero exam.
"What are you talking about? It's totally obvious how they want you to answer this stuff. What's wrong with you?"
"Ah, well, this stuff is pretty unimportant, right?"
This idiot… there is absolutely no way I'm letting him fail after I made such a production. Who the hell knows what they'll be saying if that happens?
She resolved that it was absolutely not going to go wrong. Her opinion would be validated. It was a certainty. She glanced at Saitama, who looked totally calm, and resisted the urge to grumble.
At least the udon is good here.
It was going to be a long couple of weeks.
Tatsumaki arrived at her apartment, closed the door, then sat down on her sofa, staring into the middle distance.
What a bizarre day. First someone who is weirdly stronger than the other S-class heroes shows up, like he fell out of the damn sky, and he doesn't know anything about the Association at all. He resists my powers, can run as fast as I can fly… and is a total weirdo.
Nothing about the guy made any sense to her. Her regular temperamental responses had been curtailed over and over by the odd things that he kept saying and doing, and she had ended up walking him through the Association personally, something that was not only unprecedented but honestly shocking. But she had done it, and it had felt right.
There was kind of a weird flow about the guy that made things easy.
Probably his shiny head, she thought tiredly. Thoughts and worries roll around it like a river around a rock.
The guy, Saitama, had definitely caught her attention though. The world was full of fakes and liars. She'd seen way more than her share of idiots bragging about their strength. That's how she could tell he was being straight with her. To top it off he had thanked her earnestly, and even bought her dinner. Despite his dopey expression, he seemed to be genuinely nice.
"Overwhelming strength… is boring, huh?" She repeated his words from earlier that day. It was just way too out there to be a lie, especially in light of what she had seen him do. Plus, she thought that he had a point.
Pride in oneself was great, but when nothing was a challenge? Ever?
It all started to be a bit meaningless. Like shouting that you're good at eating cereal or something. Like the whole thing was sort of a sham.
Tatsumaki leaned her head back and sighed. Time for a shower, and some sleep. Tomorrow, we get baldy up to speed so he doesn't embarrass me.
If nothing else, it did sound challenging.
The next morning, she flew to City Z after breakfast. What she found at Saitama's address however…
"What is up with this place? Is the whole district condemned or something?" She asked as he opened the door for her. In reply, he just quirked an eyebrow.
"I don't know. Never really thought about it. Anyway, want to come in?"
Sighing, she nodded and followed him in.
The first thing she noticed was that the apartment was tiny. The next thing was that it was pretty clean. Not clean like there's a girl coming over, quick hide the garbage and porn, but just clean. Like a normal person lived here and cleaned up after themselves.
He obviously hadn't tried to hide anything or make himself up for her, either. He was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, and there was a volume of manga on the table. She wasn't sure how to feel about the reception.
"Want some tea?" He asked politely.
"Sure," she assented, still glancing around. "So you know why I'm here right?"
"Ah, the test question thing, was that it?" He replied over his shoulder as he made the tea.
She resisted the urge to sigh. "Yeah, that." She waited for him to serve her tea before saying anything else. "I saw how strong you were yesterday baldy, and things kind of snowballed at the Association, but I want you to pass this stupid test and not embarrass me. I've never recommended anyone before, so I don't want to look like a fool. Ok?"
He nodded and drank some tea before replying. "If it's that important to you, I'll do my best then. What do we do first, Tatsu?"
What followed was a tedious review of the demo test questions that gave her a bit more hope. The guy didn't seem to be stupid so much as… kind of out of it.
The conversation was pretty strange for her, since she was usually hounded by fans and reporters or met with terrified shrieks from villains (and other heroes). Even her sister acted weird around her, although that was mostly just arguments and yelling. That was at least kind of normal; other people had stubborn younger siblings that refused good advice.
Saitama though, he didn't worry about her at all. Just talked normally, mostly. Dinner the night before had given her a chance to vent a little about the Association, and he had chatted with her while they ate. It was kind of refreshing.
They had spent about an hour going through the Q and A part of the test, and she felt that if she could get him to actually pay attention he would do all right.
Next was the essay part.
"Hey, Tatsu, can we take a break for now? This is pretty dull stuff." Saitama interjected, scratching his ear.
"Yeah, sure." It was pretty dull after all. "What do you for fun here, anyway?"
"Read manga, watch TV for any disasters or monsters I can fight. That's about it," he replied, rubbing his chin.
For a moment Tatsumaki was tempted to call him out on being boring, but upon reflection she realized that staying at her apartment and hanging out until the Association called wasn't much different. Most days she actually left home to go look for monsters or criminals out of boredom, and they were invariably disappointing.
Her mouth dropped open as she thought about it. Do we actually have something in common here, or what?
She coughed, pretending that she hadn't just spaced out for a minute. "Ok baldy, that sounds… not good. Anything else?"
"Just training. Not nearly as hard as it used to be though." He looked a little nostalgic at the thought, she noted.
She ruminated on that for a minute. "Training, huh? All right. We're both bored and I've got nothing unless I get a call. Let's spar or something . There's a nice open canyon and some wasteland Southeast of here, no inhabitants."
Tatsumaki was a little curious about what else he could do, and anyway she always enjoyed getting a chance to flex her abilities out in the open.
"Sure, sounds fine to me." He replied easily.
"You know," she said with some irritation, "most people would be extremely grateful for this chance to be out with the great Senritsu no Tatsumaki, baldy."
"Maybe if you stop calling me baldy I'll be more appreciative," he retorted.
Tatsumaki made a face and finished her drink. "Thanks for the tea, Saitama."
"Thanks for all the help, Tatsu."
Her eye twitched. Good enough, I guess.
He was late.
Tatsumaki had been floating above a boulder in the canyon for five minutes, and she was beginning to get irritated. Sitting on the boulder was out, since it was midday and the rock was hot. If she was going to use a psychic field to keep the heat out she may as well just float.
So she did. She was going to wait exactly five more minutes before calling to yell at him.
He showed with ninety seconds to spare.
"Why are you late? I pinned the coordinates on your phone… wait, what's that stuff on your glove?" She pointed at the odd neon yellow paste on his right hand.
"Ah, there was this weird walking tree by the highway, and it was tearing open a truck…" his voice trailed off. "Anyway, this is like sap I guess? Blood? Trees have sap right?"
She met his mild curiosity with a blank stare of her own. This must be normal for him.
"Whatever egghead. I'm guessing you didn't tell anyone you did this, like the police or the Association?"
He shook his head.
Tatsumaki facepalmed and resisted the urge to pull her hair. "This is why… look, you just KO'd this tree thing and ran off, and since no one saw you some other hero is just going to take credit for it."
He looked contemplative for a moment, then shrugged. "Well it's not a big deal. I just did it because I'm a hero, after all."
She looked at him carefully, and again detected no sign of false modesty. He believed what he was saying, as best as she could tell. He's not doing it for money, or fame, or even attention. He'd just be doing it every day, all alone. Her eyes opened a little wider in surprise. That's what he has been doing. Just… being a hero, all by himself, just because he wanted to.
Tatsumaki wasn't quite sure what to think about that yet. Saitama spoke up and broke her train of thought.
"So what did you want to do out here, Tatsu? I know you can fly and stuff, so it would be pretty cool to see what else you can do." He smiled at her, like he was excited to see something new and different.
She grinned in response, before catching herself and crossing her arms. "Well, lucky you, baldy. I haven't had a chance to get a decent workout lately, so you can watch me warm up, and then we can fight a little. Sound good?"
"Cool. I'll hang here then." He proceeded to sit on the baking hot boulder she'd avoided, and turned his eyes on her. "Whenever you're ready."
With Saitama watching, Tatsumaki felt the urge to show off a bit with her little warm up. Without looking away from him, she reached out to the canyon wall behind her and pulled.
About fifty cubic meters of the canyon wall gave way with a crash and floated over. Again without looking, she concentrated and lifted the wall up over them. About twenty meters up, she began compressing it with her power. The rock wall heated up rapidly as it compacted, and when it hit about half the initial volume it began glowing and turning to a viscous fluid.
Lifting her hands like a conductor, she started stretching the field from a sphere into a cylinder. In a moment she had the molten rock stretched out like a piece of pasta right above them. Saitama was actually clapping now, which embarrassed her a little before she checked his expression.
He looked really happy, like this was really worth watching. Not a hint of snark or mockery to be found.
Keeping the heat trapped in her telekinetic field to maintain the fluid, she made it turn on itself, first in a simple knot, then a more complex one, and then shattered it into about fifty separate spheres. Finally, she funneled them into a conical lance shape, and hurled it into the canyon wall behind them, where it drove itself though the rock and out of sight, leaving only the hissing and shattering of stone coming from the opening it had made. She covered it again so nothing would be ejected accidentally, and turned to look at her audience.
"Man, that was incredible! You could have totally crushed that giant guy the other day."
"Well yeah," she said proudly, "I'm the best. Don't think party tricks like this are the extent of my abilities either." Tatsumaki was feeling pretty good. She didn't get a chance to play around like that much. Or maybe I just don't make time to… well, whatever.
She floated over in front of him. "So, how tough are you anyway? I saw you take out that giant's head after jumping ridiculously high. How high can you jump?" She watched, curious, while the caped hero answered.
"I don't really know. I never tried."
"Really?" She asked. "Never?"
"Never had much of a reason to jump very high."
So was that jump before not very high then? she thought.
"Try it then. I want to know."
"Sure. Stand back I guess." He motioned her away. She flew about ten meters back and waited.
Then the canyon floor shattered beneath her, and the nearby walls started to shudder. Saitama was gone, and there was a crater at least a meter deep in the rock. It was buckled beyond where she was standing.
Shocked speechless, Tatsumaki swept the dust away and looked up. After a long few moments she saw a very small yellow speck in the sky, one that was accelerating at about 9.8 meters per second squared.
"What the hell…?" She said absently.
As he continued his descent, she shook her head and took to the air. She met him about twelve thousand feet up and started yelling while he was in free fall.
"What the hell baldy! How fucking high did you jump?" She screamed.
He just shrugged and kept falling. Then he seemed to realize something, and yelled at her. "Don't worry Tatsu! I'll land in a minute and tell you then!"
"Land in a minute? What? Let me catch you, you moron!" She screamed angrily.
He made a sort of dismissive wave, then just turned around to watch the sky with some slight interest.
It was like the prospect of hitting the earth like a damned falling satellite didn't even phase him. He wasn't scared. He wasn't even really interested.
What the fuck is with this guy?
Gritting her teeth, Tatsumaki tried to arrest his fall with her field. It was doable, but way harder than it should have been given his mass and velocity.
Just like the last time…
Finally she managed to drift him down slowly, and they landed in the canyon again. Saitama turned to look at her.
"Thanks for slowing me down Tatsu. Now that I think about it it would have been a real mess on the suit to hit the ground and dig myself out again." He smiled and nodded in appreciation.
The small woman took a deep breath, then another, and then she started yelling.
"What is your deal? How high did you jump, and how the hell did you do it? Why weren't you even scared to get smashed to paste when you fell? What even are you baldy?" She was grabbing his shoulders now and looking a little crazed.
"Ah," he looked away and scratched his face. "Well, you know, I'm a hero. I'm pretty strong, so a fall wouldn't kill me."
"You're serious, aren't you?" she asked. Is this what shock feels like? Am I losing my damn mind? Have the last couple days been a fever dream?
"Hey, you all right Tatsu? You look a little pale. Well, more pale. You're pretty fair to begin with." He reached out and took one of her hands off his shoulder. She did not respond. "Yo, Tatsumaki. Hey, seriously, look at me."
She did. His glove was rough on her hand. She realized she was floating at eye level with him, and he was looking at her with a very serious expression, nothing like the dopey disinterested face he was making most of the time. She felt him squeeze her hand a little, and he reached out to pat her cheek.
Tatsumaki closed her eyes and let him, then breathed in and out, evenly, just like Bang had taught her, or tried to, the last time she threw a fit at an S-class meeting.
"Tatsumaki?" He asked softly.
When she opened her eyes, she smiled and met his gaze. "I'm fine now, Saitama. Really." She held steady for a beat longer, then moved back a bit. "That was just… crazy. How high did you jump?"
He watched her carefully, but she did look better. "Eh, I'm not real sure. I didn't want to jump too high."
She froze again. Breathe. This is insanity, but you have to breathe. "So, you were just messing around, not pushing to see how high you could go?"
He shrugged and looked at the crater. "I mean, I'd never jumped anywhere near that high before. I could go higher I guess."
He's not even tired, or winded, or sweating. He looks like he just… he looks like he did nothing at all.
In her mind, Tatsumaki heard his voice from the day before.
"Overwhelming strength is boring, right?" she said quietly.
"What? Yeah, never having a challenge is pretty boring."
She gritted her teeth and stared at the ground, and felt a hot, hateful choking in her gut. This guy…this damned guy…
And in a moment, he spoke again.
"But I mean you know that Tatsu. From that crazy stuff you showed me earlier for fun, plus your rank and all, you understand it just like I do. When's the last time you had a challenging fight, right?" He sounded a little sad, a little self-deprecating. "Most days I try not to think about it too much. You do the same thing, huh?"
She felt the ugly hot feeling fall away with his words as she turned to look at him again. He was sad, frowning a little.
She coughed out a laugh. "How the hell did you know that, baldy? How could you tell?"
He shrugged again, and looked at her. "Dunno really. Guess I know it when I see it."
She smiled ruefully, and with complete honesty. "You know… you're a strange one, baldy."
"Heh, look who's talking. I just wear a cape; you're the one who can fly."
The hot feeling from before was gone, but in its place, suddenly, was a very warm, disturbingly comfortable sensation.
"I think we're done here for now. Want to get something to eat? My treat this time."
"Sounds good to me. What are we having?" he asked with enthusiasm.
"How about pasta?"
The next day she was called up to fight some stupid slime monster that called itself "Sleemo the Unconquerable." The Association flew her all the way to the Southern coast, where the monster had taken up residence near a resort town.
Normally she would have been complaining during at least part of the long flight, but today Tatsumaki was silent. She and Saitama had blown off studying after their "training" session, and just wandered around for a while after getting an early dinner. The two of them ended up finding a whole grove (pod? flock? gang?) of the weird walking trees, so she had a little fun holding them in the air and crushing them at a distance while Saitama got covered in tree sap.
She smirked at the memory. He had been totally irritated at the thought of having to get the sap out of his clothes, but she had told him he ought to be happy since there was no hair for it to get stuck in.
He had made a very grumpy face in reply, which had set her off laughing. Eventually he had started laughing too. Not long after she had flown off toward her apartment, snickering the whole way.
After she had returned home and settled in to relax in her living room and read, she had actually started to worry about messaging him. Maybe say good night or something? She was still worrying it over when he messaged her first. "Thanks for coming by and helping today, Tatsu. I had fun. And thanks for dinner!"
She had been inordinately happy when she read it, and replied with a simple, "you're welcome baldy. I had fun too."
Then the pilots announced they had hit the drop zone, breaking her reflective mood.
Upon arrival, she noted that the town was still intact. The monster had instead dissolved or eaten a nearby village and highway, per the pilot's latest update, and was still headed toward the resort town. There were a few military guys on the ground, along with some non-evacuated residents and some politicians in suits. They all took notice when she flew down to meet them, and started cheering.
She gave a halfhearted wave and flew down to the military guys. They were the least annoying typically.
"Yo. Where is it?"
"Senritsu no Tatsumaki, it's an honor to meet you. The monster is about three kilometers East, by the coast road. I'm afraid it will be here within the hour." He looked grave, but hopeful.
"Ok," she nodded. "I'll be right back."
"You're going to check it out?" He asked quickly. "I have some more detailed reconnaissance reports and aerial photos here if you would like." He gestured to a nearby building.
"Eh?" The green-haired girl looked at him with a blank expression. "I'm just going to kill it. Give me a few minutes." She flew off before he could say anything else.
The slime thing was pretty big, sort of blue-green, and weirdly chatty. It had a remarkably stupid looking slime face that it was talking out of, and it was talking the moment it spotted her.
"Oh, how delicious! The whole reason I, the magnificent Sleemo the Unconquerable, came all this way from my home in the fathomless undersea was to find some cute little girls like you! You will become my new toys! Be my playmate little one! Here I come!" So saying, it extended a number of tentacles her way at a very high speed.
"Yeah, how about no." She halted them with a psychic shield, and looked with some disgust at the thing. "Talk about gross. You belong in slime prison, or you would if you weren't about to be dead."
She spun up a vortex around the monster that tightened rapidly, turning it first into a column of slime, then into a sort of slime frappe, until the rotation from her impromptu centrifuge tore it to pieces and it evaporated.
The flying hero waited a minute to see if anything happened. Nothing did.
"Fucking Association. What a waste of a trip."
When she got back to the town, she was greeted by delirious applause, which did brighten her mood more than she had anticipated. The military guys were in shock, which happened pretty frequently now that she thought about it. She was about to ask for the plans for her flight home when the mayor introduced himself and offered a very nice condo to her, free of charge, for as long as she wanted it.
Tatsumaki looked around. It was a beautiful day, only a little after noon. The resort town (this one anyway) was in perfect shape, and she could see a nice array of shopping boutiques nearby.
Maybe not a total waste.
"Sure," she told the mayor with a childish, trusting, saccharine smile that somehow looked jarring on her normally angry face. "I can stick around for a bit."
"So the stupid slime thing was not even worth my time. Total downer. But I did get a free condo at the beach, so I'm staying the night. Have to skip our hero review today."
"Ah, no worries. There's some big swarm of mosquitoes in town today, so I'm staying inside anyway."
"Gross," the green haired woman made a face as she read Saitama's text. "Well, you're missing out. The beach here is fantastic. I've never been down here before."
"Really? Send me a picture. I haven't been to the beach for vacation since I was a kid."
She turned and snapped a picture of the surf, which admittedly looked picturesque, but then didn't send it. The beach was deserted due to the earlier emergency, so it looked sort of staged.
"This looks like a postcard or something. Ugh." She frowned and took a sip of her drink, then looked at her wrist.
She had bought a nice silver bangle, just for fun, to go with the bikini she'd picked up before hitting the condo. The store clerks had been awfully complimentary, but that was pretty suspect in the aftermath of saving the town.
She took another drink, then paused.
She flipped the camera and grinned, holding up the drink with her powers, and took a picture while making two V signs. Not thinking more than necessary, she sent it to Saitama.
It was only a moment before he replied. "Wow, you're totally cute Tatsu! Looks like you're having an awesome time too."
She bit her lip to avoid smiling too much, and squirmed a little in her chair. Cute. Heh.
"I know I'm cute, baldy. And I'm having a better day now. I bet you'd like it here too." She replied.
"No doubt. It would be a fun trip."
"What, like together?"
"Sure, why not?"
Tatsumaki was glad no one else was around to see her eyes fly open as she stared at her phone.
"Anyway Tatsu, I've got to do some chores. Let me know if you get up to anything else down there."
"Yeah, sure thing. I'll let you know when I get back." She dashed off quickly.
At least the text sounded nonchalant, right? She thought to herself.