Chapter 1: Where the Wind Blows
You don't have a particular song in mind as you strum your guitar, but the notes play out smooth enough that the passersby toss you a few hundred yen. You glance up at your patrons, nodding in gratitude for lack of a better response. For twenty or so minutes longer, you continue to play before you decide to take a break, immediately going to adjust the bandanna covering the bottom half of your face, and checking the time on your disposable flip-phone. It's a little past six in the evening, meaning it's about time to move off the street to avoid the late night City Z police patrol and find somewhere suitable to sleep.
As you pack your donations and guitar into your guitar case, you briefly recall the musings of an old, friendly volunteer worker at the local homeless shelter you frequent. He told you stories about the abandoned "ghost town" that resides in City Z and explained that many of the buildings are rumored to still have electricity and running water, despite its former residents having migrated en masse. The only catch being that the zone is infested with monsters to the point of it practically being a "death trap" for anyone stupid enough to venture past its gates.
After hearing the old man's stories, you couldn't think of a better place to hide out in. The ghost town was supposedly empty, quiet, and ripe with opportunities to train. And if you could find a decent apartment with operating facilities, the amount of bills you would have to pay would be the low, low cost of free. As far as you were concerned, you wished you would have heard about it sooner.
Adjusting your guitar case to fit comfortably on top of your weapons--twin short blades held together in a cross sword sheath--, you make sure you're able to grab them easily, before heading out, feeling hopeful at the prospect of a warm shower and a place to call your own, however temporary it may be.
- - -
You wander the streets of City Z, walking countless alleyways and streets in search of the infamous ghost town the old man told you about. Your search shouldn't have been difficult considering how much of City Z had supposedly been abandoned, but with your directional skills and lack of familiarity with City Z itself, the sky had taken on a pink and gold hue by the time you found one of the ghost town's main entrances.
With how close this part of the ghost town is to a residential neighborhood, you don't have to wonder why it's so heavily marked and secured. A warning sign hangs loosely on cross wire fencing lined topside with razor barbed wire, effectively ensuring anyone curious enough to cross the barrier would be more than hindered in an attempt. On a whim, you approach the gate and stretch your dominant arm out in front of you, your fingers widespread before you clench them and pull your fist back towards your hip. Of course, nothing happens, and, if anything, you feel just a little bit silly.
Your powers have been out of commission for a while, and the only thing you can connect it to is this one nightmare you've been having in repetition over the past few months. The apocalypse, or so it felt like to you, and a dead man dressed in a strange outfit were the only things you could distinctly recall every time you woke up, but the details would only ever stay with you for a few minutes. Afterwards, you couldn't for the life of you remember what had happened in your nightmare, left only with the vague feeling that it had something to do with your powers--you just need to figure out how.
But, until then, you'll have to get around like everyone else. Tightening your guitar case strap, you sprint towards the building bordering the gate and run up the side of the wall, twisting when you reach a height just above the barbed wire to safely flip and land on your feet, opposite from where you were moments ago.
Righting your stance, you reach up, hands hovering over the handles of your blades as you look around the deserted zone and assess the area for threats. Nothing, it seems, is present. So much for the whole "monster congregation" thing the old man talked about, you think to yourself, This place is just as empty of monsters as it is humans.
You shrug and drop your arms to your sides, whistling a short, plucky tune as you begin your journey through your new neighborhood. Maybe this is the way it's meant to be, you wonder, glancing up at the slowly darkening sky, amusing yourself with the vague glow of far away stars, After everything that's happened, maybe some peace and quiet is all I need.
- - -
Although what you had been looking for was quiet, the eeriness and unfamiliarity of the ghost town sets you on edge, especially now with the sun having gone down. Of course, you're not scared, but the minimal visibility the moon and stars provide doesn't exactly soothe your nerves when the shadows appear to move on their own.
Unwilling to spoil your first peaceful evening with paranoid delusions, you pause and unzip your guitar case, intending to play the instrument to bring some life back into the ghost town. You're a moments hesitation away from strumming your first chord when you sense an attack coming from behind you and dodge out of the way with a roll and a consequential high jump performed off of whatever had just attacked you.
Landing on the ground some feet away from your assailant, you frown and lean your guitar against a nearby building in order to unsheathe your blades and approach the slowly retreating mass of beige tendrils with a confident strut.
Cackling, a monster steps out of the shadows and into the blue light of the moon, "Wrong place to take a break, vagabond!" a mushroom looking creature screeches, its voice wavering and whiny as it shoots out several jagged spores in your direction. It takes such minimal effort to dodge the attack that you find yourself contemplating killing the monster before it can annoy you further.
"I am Spur!" It announces, toothy human grin reaching the corner sides of its wide, speckled mushroom cap. You patiently listen as it, like most monsters, recites its battle cry, "I am the self-proclaimed ruler of all fungal kind! I was borne out of the sacred Mamashroom and demand the respect and payment my birthright affords me!" it pauses, as if waiting for your response, before snorting, "Money is what I want, and if you cannot give it to me, human..." it tilts its head down, shading its beady eyes in a way you suppose it thinks is menacing, "I shall take your corpse as fertilizer for my children!"
Some sort of fume releases from its body, to which you respond by making a face of disgust and adjusting your bandanna closer to your nostrils, And here I was thinking that smell was just the trash, you think, deflecting Spur's onslaught of vine-like arms with the flat side of your blades. "Stop dodging my attacks!" it yells, and you roll your eyes, I guess in some ways I was right.
When one of its arms reaches almost too close to your face, you decide to stop toying with the desperate monster and end the fight. With the next barrage of arms and spores, you slice clean through the thick tendrils and watch the fallen limbs darken and shrivel on the concrete sidewalk.
Spur's eyes go wide, "Aaaaiiieee!" it reels back, thin, strangely human lips quivering, "Are you insane?! Those were my arms, stupid! What kind of helpless vagabond are you?!"
You tilt your head at the monster, but otherwise persist with your steely composure. Man, is this what the Hero Association deals with, nowadays..? Spur wails again; you scrunch your nose in distaste, What a brat.
Releasing a pained, bitter laugh, the monster grins through its sloppy tears, "Too good to talk to a low-level monster like me, I see..." Spur rises from its stubby feet and growls, "Well, I'm too much of a fun guy to take offense from useless scum like you! Take this!"
A hailstorm of spiked spores rain down on you, but you're already in front of the monster, your swords crossed and pressed just beneath the brim of its mushroom cap before you slash through the thick flesh of its head, and, for wasting your time, the rest of its limbs down to the base of its body.
The monster blanches immediately and scurries backwards, having fallen on its back to cry, again, "H-how could you!" it wails, watching as you sheathe your weapons and walk back to your guitar, having completely disregarded its existence. Spur inhales through leaky nostrils and scrambles to stand on its newly made stumps, "I'll never forget what you did to me, vagabond! I'm going to come back--n-next time with my cousins, and we'll have fun decapitating you! You'll see!"
You glance back at the monster and note with a sense of satisfaction that it flinches under your gaze. Casually, you pick up your guitar and stroll away from the so-called "fungal ruler", and its pile of severed, wrinkled limbs, your gait relaxed and content.
The shadows stop moving on their own.
- - -
Although you find yourself growing tired as the night wears on, none of the buildings you have come across have been in what you would call livable condition. Rats and other things scurry around in the garbage left behind by previous residents in some places, in others, damaged walls or leaky pipes, and when you do think you've found some place in a decent state, the water doesn't run or the electricity is out.
Still, you strum a simple tune to the rhythm of your steps and continue on, hoping against hope that you'll find somewhere to shower and bed down. You glance around in order to decide which building you'll check out when you notice a tall apartment complex close by, adjacent to the abandoned highway that connects to the neighboring cities. That's convenient, you think to yourself. Even though the highway itself is closed, travelling would be easier and quicker for you if you followed the highway rather than wander aimlessly through the ghost town like you had been doing (at least, until you get familiar with the area).
Upon closer inspection, the complex seems to be undamaged, almost neat in a way, at least, compared to the garbage and debris you had been getting used to a few blocks back. You're walking towards the stairs leading up the front of the building when you notice what appears to be a light turn on in one of the windows. That's when you feel a sharp, agonizing pain in your temples. Your knees give way in the wake of its intensity, causing your guitar to clatter out of your hands and ring an unpleasant mess of chords. The sound echoes in your head, then fades into murmuring voices. Slowly they grow louder and louder, taunting and screaming until they meld into an incorrigible blend of pure noise.
Your brain feels like it's going to explode inside your skull, and helpless to do anything but wait it out, you claw frantically at the concrete beneath your palms in an attempt to relieve the tension. A few of your nails bend backwards in the movement, but you barely notice it as a fresh wave of pain rips through your head, knocking the wind out of your lungs and forcing you to curl up on the ground.
Your mouth opens in a silent scream, your body breaking into a sweat as you attempt to steady yourself--mind racing, trying to figure out what's happening and how to stop it. The flesh at your hip, through some unseen force, begins to burn terribly, as if being broiled and cut from your body. Confused, you shut your eyes, and then you see it--
Flashes of a scene familiar to you only through your nightmares: a red sky, a city in disaster, and the pale, lifeless face of a man splayed on a pile of rubble with a twisted, gaping hole in his torso. His fingers are limp, but lay stretched towards you. You feel bile rise in your throat, his name on the tip of your tongue. Your side burns, oh god your side burns, but you don't turn away from the man, don't dare take your eyes off of his face.
You see your own hand reach for his, fingertips just barely grazing the rubber of his red gloves, but not quite close enough to grasp. The world twists and suddenly, you're on your back, staring dazedly at the apocalyptic sky. Smoke clouds the air with haze, and you cough, but the motion causes you to wheeze painfully, blood and stomach acid coating your tongue as your hand finally lowers to cradle your side.
Guilt. This shouldn't be happening. This is an anomaly, a mistake. This isn't my fault, you think through the mess of the hushed whispers and muffled screams. This isn't my fault! You scream, voiceless, but the voices, they hear you. The voices know. They accuse you of deeds you haven't done, call you nasty things--howl for your blood. YOUR FAULT. Your fault. YOUR FAULT. You cry, tears streaming down you cheeks, No... this isn't my fault. It can't be... Suddenly, all goes quiet, and then all at once, a scream: It is.
"Got you girly!" a familiar voice screeches, forcing your eyes open just in time to catch a glimpse of the mass of tendrils that wrap around your neck and drag you onto your back and towards them. The back of your shirt and jacket roll up with the friction, catching on your sword sheath and cloth guitar case, exposing the flesh of your back to the rough pavement, shooting pain through your struggling body. "I told you, I told you!" Spur sings giddily, jumping up and down as another mushroom monster quickly pulls you along. A group of fungal figures stand behind Spur, but you're too distracted by the pain at your back and the tendril choking you to death to make them out fully. "I told you I'd be back!" Spur is practically foaming at the mouth, its excitement palpable, "I told you I'd bring my cousins! After they saw what you did to me, they were very, very eager to meet you, ha-ha~!"
You struggle for breath, tearing desperately at the limb around your neck, twisting and turning as you bounce against the concrete, scraping more than just skin, now, off of your back. The hold tightens on your neck when you manage to rip out a chunk of flesh from the tendril, but it's not enough. You clench your teeth, feeling your consciousness begin to wane, fading in and out as you're choked and strung along the pavement like some sort of forgotten, abused toy.
It gets harder and harder to stay awake, your body and mind having already exhausted themselves in dealing with the very real repercussions of your daytime nightmare. Your hands go slack against the thick tendril around your neck and slowly fall limp to your sides. This isn't how you thought you'd go. You thought you were stronger than this.
Just as you're about to lose consciousness, the tendril around your neck flinches, allowing you the slightest strained breath of air. "Huh, who's this jerk-"
A moment later, you hear the sound of screaming and feel the rush of a cool quick breeze before everything goes silent. The limb around your throat flails and loosens before shrinking into a dry stub. You gasp, sitting up and snatching your bandanna away from your face, greedily taking in as much air as your lungs can handle. In your haste, you fall into a coughing fit, but clumsily attempt to stand regardless, ignoring the intense burn of your back. You're not even up for two seconds before you begin to fall again, but instead of the ground, you feel someone grasp your body and steady you with a gentle hand at the curve of your hip.
"Hey, you okay?" he says, and you dazedly nod, clearing teary eyes with the back of your hand to properly view your savior. Your stomach drops. It's him, you think and, fearfully, you attempt to release yourself from his grip, but the man holds you still, brows knit in confusion. "Whoa, it's okay. I'm not gonna hurt you." he stares at you with blank eyes, but there's a distinct softness to them, endearing you to him, "You're injured, let me help."
He's the guy from my nightmare, you think. And deep down in your gut, you feel like you know him; you could practically taste his name on your tongue. His name, your mind goes in a frenzy, searching desperately for information that is not there, that couldn't be there, because you know you don't know who he is, but the feeling is so strong. His name... Goddamn it, what is his name? It doesn't matter. Leave. Leave.
You pale, a wave of nausea washing over you at the sound of the voice. You push the stranger away, feeling overwhelmed, confused. The voice in your head repeats its mantra (leave, leave, leave), you don't even take a full step back before you're shouted down in anger, with so much force that you're practically knocked back into the stranger's arms. NO. It screams, bringing on another headache. NO, NO, NO.
What the hell? Gazing up, you find yourself holding the unnamed man, your hands pressed against his chest as you stare up at his face, standing in the exact position you had been moments ago. Did you even push away from him at all? What's going on? You stare at the man and watch in a distant, dazed way at how his lips are moving, but his voice is muffled, overtaken by a shrill ringing that slowly drowns out every word until it's the only thing you hear. The man is obviously distressed, but your eyelids are heavy, and your body feels as if it's being weighed down--as if all of your strength is being sapped out of you.
You're tired, so much so that somewhere in the back of your mind, you're scared. Am I dying? You think to yourself. A chorus of whispers, rise out of the ringing in your ears, speaking loud, but paradoxically soft, Do not be afraid. Sleep. The voice states, soothing, kind, and it doesn't take long for you to comply. The threat of the darkness lulling you closer into unconsciousness. Sleep, It repeats, your body goes limp, Sleep. Sleep.
Your eyes close.
Chapter 2: Familiar Strangers
The sky is red, colored just as deep as the blood that runs down the crumbled rubble beneath the corpse of the man with the hole in his torso. You gaze at him, fingertips grazing his glove as a strained, self-pitying smile plays on your bloodied lips, The apocalypse arrived too soon, your mind supplies, Hopeless. Hopeless. This is impossible. The world is over. Everyone is dead.
You roll over onto your back, as another thought replaces your first, repeating over and over in your head. One more chance. This will be your last chance to make everything right, and if you fail there's no going back--not this time. FIX IT. COWARD. COWARD. A voice, familiar and unwanted shrieks suddenly, its echo resonating in your head.
Sweat drips down your temple as you shakily stretch out your arm, palm open and fingers splayed. No sense in playing around, you might as well give it one last try. Turn away. Can't risk it. Can't risk it. Another voice murmurs, Save yourself. You close your eyes and focus, ignoring the voices fighting in your head. You have to do this, for the world--for him.
Make your choice. You cringe, your side burning, your vision sliding in and out of focus. You lift the hand pressed against your side and see the blood drip between your fingertips. There's not enough time. Will you make it? How will you know? You have chosen. Will you be able to change the outcome? Wake up. What if you can't? Wake up. You close your eyes.
Clenching your fist to your chest, you sit up, your clothes damp with sweat and sticking to your heated skin. Feverishly, you look around, eyes wide in terror. After a few moments of confusion, you come to realize you're no longer lying on the ground, but in a comfortable bed roll in an unfamiliar room. The low drone of the television a few feet in front of you is the only sound you can hear past the blood rushing in your ears. Where am I? You wonder, further examining your surroundings as you cautiously remove the blanket from your body.
It's daylight, the sun is gleaming through the curtains and spilling into the room. Your cell phone, weapons, and guitar case are all lined up against the wall next to a glass sliding door, and, after little to no deliberation, you decide to grab the items first before you attempt to search the room for answers. However, the moment you shift to your side, intending to stand, an aching, raw pain grates at the skin of your back, forcing you to sit up stiffly to avoid irritating your apparent wounds. Suddenly, you're very aware of every injury that had been inflicted on your body before you passed out.
The memories rush to you, reminding you why your throat feels thick and swollen, the skin around it bruised raw from that encounter with those monsters. You twist your arm around, gritting your teeth at the skin that gets pulled by the movement, and touch gently at your back to feel for the damage that was caused in being dragged along the ground; however, instead of an open wound, your finger tips graze one of several rows of carefully taped bandages covering your injuries.
"Oh, you're awake," a man says from a few feet behind you in a room separated only by a half-wall. You whip around, clenching your teeth at the pain it causes, but stay on guard. When your meet eyes, you realize it's the stranger from before and just barely relax. The man simply stares at you, eyes blank and unreadable.
You frown, unnerved by his gaze, and move once more to stand up. Your legs feel weak, causing you to stumble in much the way a newborn fawn does when taking its first steps. Before you tumble over, you catch yourself on the stranger who has somehow made his way towards you in the time it has taken you to lift yourself from the bedding. He grabs hold of your hand and arm, supporting your weight as you attempt to regain your balance.
If you could, you would probably have told him to let you go, but instead, you test the waters and release his hand only to immediately grab it when your knees start to shake. You huff, feeling your face heat up, embarrassed at how frail you must seem in this moment.
"Take your time," the man says, his voice calm, "You've been out for a while; it makes sense that you're not at your best."
You look at him, brows knit in confusion. How long was I out? You push away from the stranger, and clumsily amble towards your items, rifling first through your guitar case before finally grabbing your flip-phone and pulling up the rather dated notes feature to text out a short phrase. You walk up to the stranger and show him your question:
< how long ?
The stranger shrugs his shoulders, rubbing the back of his neck as he thinks, "Well, not that long, just two days." he gives you a small smile, "Still, that's a pretty long time to be sleeping. You almost made me worry you weren't going to wake up."
You nod in understanding, despite feeling surprised at the fact considering you still somehow feel so tired. You run a hand down your face, stopping when your fingers catch your bottom lip. Your eyes go wide, Shit! I don't have my bandanna! You glance around the apartment, stopping only when the stranger reaches out and waves his hand in front of your face to gain your attention, "Are you alright?"
You stare at the stranger. The stranger stares back, his eyes flicking to your mouth for the briefest second before returning his gaze to your eyes. No wonder he's been staring at me for so long, but it's way too late to hide, now... maybe he doesn't recognize me?
Panicked, you start texting a second question, but your fingers are so hurried you keep messing up which letter you're trying to pick out and have to start over again. It doesn't help that every time you glance up, the stranger is staring at you, just as he was before, face blank, devoid of expression.
Worried that shit, maybe he does know, you scrap your original garbled message and instead type something else entirely:
< pen paper ?
With a hum of understanding, the stranger turns around to look through the apartment for said items. You hear him go through drawers in the small area he had been in before, and watch as he emerges with a crumpled grocery store sales advert and a thick, red marker. He shrugs as he hands them to you, "All I could find, sorry."
You kneel down at the small table in front of the T.V. and write your original question in full before showing it to the stranger.
"Do you know who I am?" You watch him carefully as he reads your question, hoping, for his sake, he doesn't.
The stranger makes a sound in the lower back of his throat, thinking, before shaking his head, "No, should I?" he pauses, considering you for a moment, "I'm not good with faces..." he says, and you can feel your shoulders relaxing, the hand that you were holding the marker with loosening its grip. "But, I guess you do seem sort of familiar," he continues, causing your breath to catch. "Have we met before?"
The thought of his dead face crosses your mind, but you suppose that would be best to keep to yourself. "No." you scribble in the free space of the ad, beside a bright textured "sale" price for crab claws.
After reading your note, the stranger stands and begins to walk away from you. Confused, you cough into your hand, causing the stranger to turn and look at you. Hastily, you scrawl another question and get up to hand it to him, "Where are you going?"
"Looking at all that food, I got hungry. And, since you've been out for a while, you're probably going to get hungry too, right?" he says as if its the most obvious thing in the world.
You shake your head "no", but your stomach grumbles loudly, notifying you and the stranger of the truth. You look worriedly at the stranger who nods to himself and continues towards the door, his cape swishing behind him.
"Yeah, well, I forgot to pick up some food while I was in town, anyway, and that paper you have reminded me of a sale I need to catch..."
The stranger walks into the other part of the room, which you assume is the kitchen, and towards the door adjacent where both your shoes and his sit neatly in a shoe rack. You pick up your swords and follow him, watching curiously as he sits on the single step leading to the exiting door and tugs on a pair of red boots. "Do you mind giving me that paper?" he asks over his shoulder, holding one hand out. You hand him the paper and set the marker on the counter beside you. "Thanks." he says before continuing to pull on his boots.
What if he's putting up a ruse and is leaving so he can turn me in? You think, fingers playing with the black cloth sleeve of your main sword. What if he finds out? Are they still running those reports..? It's been so long.
Don't take a chance. End it. End it. A voice whispers, you cringe and feel your legs grow weak as another voice, louder, responds. NO, NO. STUPID. COWARD. SAFE. SAFE.
You lean against the wall, your head aching painfully. End it, one voice screams, SAFE. SAFE. the other answers. Your sword slips from your grasp and clatters to the ground.
The stranger turns to look at you and immediately reaches out, "Hey, are you going to black out, again?" When you don't respond, he tries again, "Do you want me to take you to a hospital?"
You can just barely hear the stranger over the screaming of the voices, and shake your head in response. You feel his hand graze your arm, attempting to keep you standing, but the voices have become deafening, and on impulse, you cover your ears and fall to your knees.
No chances. Kill him. Kill him.
NO. NO. COWARD. SAFE. SAFE.
You clench your eyes shut, body shaking with the effort to quiet the voices echoing in your head, but it's all starting to echo into wordless garble, getting louder and louder until suddenly--Enough.
The voices are hushed, and all that's left is a dull ringing. You open your eyes, your vision blurry, but slowly focusing. The voices are gone, What the hell is happening..?
"You sure?" The stranger says from his knelt place in front of you, breaking your daze. You look at him, and it takes you a few seconds to gather your thoughts before you shake your head "no". "Alright," he stands, takes your hand, and helps you up, allowing you to lean against the counter as you regain your strength. "If you're sure you're fine, I'm gonna go..." he pauses, "By the way, you're not allergic to seafood, are you?"
You frown, grab the marker from the counter and hold your hand out for the advertisement the man had taken. He hands the paper over to you, allowing you to write on it before you hand it back to him.
"Why are you helping me?"
The stranger, the man whose dead, gory corpse has haunted you for countless nights, shrugs and tucks the advertisement in the pocket of his costume, "It's what I do."
With that, he exits, leaving you with your thoughts and the silence of the room.
- - -
After about thirty minutes of watching some random cartoon about a colorful gang of heroic dogs, you turn to the news to see what has been going on around the country. The show hosts, an older gentleman and a young woman, remark on the extravagant deeds of the most noteworthy heroes of the week.
A man named King has just conquered the dragon level threat, Vaccine Man, after two A-Class heroes were defeated in the fight. King rose from Rank 8 to Rank 7 with the deed, solidifying his standing among the S-Class heroes. You distinctly remember the man from your days in the Hero Association; he was one of the only heroes who had risen to the top so quickly on dragon level threats alone. Despite the importance of his work, you've always held a certain level of suspicion of him considering just how rare dragon threats were, but the facts remained all the same; wherever King went, powerful monsters were destroyed or else turned themselves into the police, and that's all that really mattered, right?
Growing restless hearing about the accomplishments of heroes, you decide to entertain yourself with a walk and perhaps locate your missing notebook and pen while you're at it, although you don't hold out too much hope.
Slinging your swords around to your back and consequently gritting your teeth at the way the still healing skin there stings with the movement, you grab your cell phone and leave, deciding to take a short trek around the block before returning back to the apartment.
The sun is warm, despite the cold chill that clings to the air. Fall is setting in, slowly darkening the days much earlier than the fading summer months. You pause on your way down the stairs to check the time on your phone. It's 5:37 which means the sun should be setting within the next half hour or so. Tall shadows are cast by the buildings as the sun begins its descent toward the horizon.
You take a deep breath and close your eyes as you walk, taking in the silence and peace of the ghost town with great appreciation. That is, until you feel something distinctly unlike concrete crunch and squish beneath your shoe. Your eyes shoot open, and you glance down, realizing you stepped in some sort of rubbery, dried flesh, sort of resembling... a mushroom...
What happened to those monsters that attacked me? You ask yourself, knowing full well you hadn't tried to kill them at the time due to your state of mind and body. After readying your swords, you follow the pieces of desiccated mushroom meat, watching as it grows in amount until finally you see piles of half obliterated mushroom bodies littering the sidewalk in front of a leveled concrete building. You pause, dumbfounded by the amount of destruction caused by that group of monsters and who you guess is the person that saved you, the stranger.
Sheathing your weapons, you look around the wreckage of the building and confirm that yes, this did occur recently and was not just the result of some other form of erosion or a halted construction project from before the zone closed off--not that even that would explain the massive near precise gaping hole that tore through the entire upper half of the building. You step away from the rubble and return to the apartment, your curiosity piqued and your thoughts racing.
How did he destroy all those monsters? What kind of power does he have? And, the most important question of all: who is he and why is he present in your nightmares?
- - -
When you reenter the apartment, you decide to set aside some time to meditate while you wait for the stranger to return. Either he is going to alert the Association of your location, or he isn't, and if he does then you'll deal with the situation when the time comes, but as it stands you're hungry, tired, and physically unprepared to take off any time soon.
Feeling the sore skin along the column of your neck, you're reminded of your close encounter with the group of monsters that, in hindsight, should have been easy to deal with if you had been in a solid state of mind. Normally, for you, a monster fight is a breeze, but with how you react to those daytime nightmares... Taking care of mortal threats doesn't seem to be a good idea in your present, volatile condition. Still, you know you can't stay here forever.
As kind as the stranger is, you refuse to become any more of a burden than you have already shown yourself to be. Tomorrow, you think, I'll leave and find somewhere else to stay.
You inhale deeply, hushing the roil of thoughts that threaten to overflow into your current peaceful state. One thought, however, manages to invade your mind, gently easing a hint of doubt into the foundation of your already made up mind.
What if you are meant to be here? The thought doesn't feel as if it's entirely your own, but you don't feel the need to shy away from it and instead allow yourself to further debate the question. You nightmare did seem to have pushed you into this situation. What was once just a haunting, repetitive dream has become some sort of strange vision, somehow having led you to the man it featured.
The situation was too perfect to be coincidental, there had to be a reason as to why you dreamed of his death in connection to what you would assume to be the apocalypse. Was I meant to find him? Is that what I've been doing all this time? You wonder, Why? Why should this random man matter to me? What does he have to do with my life?
He is strong. You realize this, on some level, considering the extent of the damage you're assuming he had inflicted on those monsters, but what should his strength matter to you? You don't need strength, you need to get control over your powers, so you can take your life back. It is more than that. You frown, What does that mean?
Stay. You pause, suddenly realizing what you're doing, Am I talking to myself? Stay. No, you're not... You feel sick. That voice, you recognize it from your dream earlier. That voice, it isn't yours. Who are you?
Stay. The voice repeats and you can feel it when it leaves, as if something is being taken away from you, a thin veil lifting up away from your eyes. Who are you?! What do you want?!
The thought passes in silence, so you try again, Hello?!
*Click!* The front door creaks open, and you unsheathe your swords and ready yourself for battle.
Chapter 3: What is Left Behind
Instead of whatever or whoever you thought you were talking to earlier, in steps the stranger with that same blank expression of his, one gloved hand holding a plastic bag while the other shuts and locks the door behind him. You put your swords away, but keep them close by more out of self-comfort than suspicion. If this man was going to attempt to haul you in or attack you, you suspected he would have done so already.
After removing his boots, the stranger hands you the bag with a curt nod. You take it to peek inside, curious to see what foods he had picked up only to see a carton of crushed eggs. You look up at the stranger who scratches his cheek, gaze focused on the bag as a hint of something like disappointment colors his features, "The crab wasn't really an option since the store closed before I could buy it, so I decided to buy some eggs at the corner shop close by... but they got crushed on the way here. I hope you're okay with eggs over rice."
You give him a weird look, wondering how he managed to crush the eggs so badly (they look like they were ran over or something), but you shrug it off and offer him a half-smile which he returns in kind. A few moments of comfortable silence pass between you and the stranger while he pulls off his boots and you place the bag on the counter. While you're busy trying to figure out the best course of action to remove the broken shells from the yolks, the stranger starts off to the main room only to pause just before crossing the threshold. You turn and watch as he approaches, his hands wandering over his red and yellow outfit, searching, "Hold on," he says, stopping in front of you, "before I forget..." he trails off, reaching around his back, eyes widening slightly in triumph, apparently having found what he was looking for. You feel your shoulders tense, still wary, but knowing--or at least, feeling like you know--that he won't hurt you. When he pulls out a pocket sized notebook and pen and hands them to you, your shoulders relax, "I picked these up at the store."
Your eyes widen as you look between the stranger and the notebook and pen, before taking them in hand. You flip the notebook open and write quickly, "How much did this cost? I want to pay you back."
The stranger reads your note and walks out into the main room, "It wasn't much; I got them on sale." he explains, approaching the closet door close to the kitchen, "Besides, if we're going to talk, you can't keep using my grocery ads. I need those."
You frown, move towards your guitar case, and retrieve your coin purse to pull out your last few yen, the change adding up to a little over 800 yen. Estimating the cost of the notebook and pen as well as the eggs, you figure this is probably a bit over the supposed price, but, after everything he's done for you without even asking for anything in return, you wish you were in the position to offer the stranger more.
When you walk up to him and attempt to hand him the money, the stranger almost reflexively opens his palm before he notices your empty coin purse, "No, it's fine, really." he says, turning, once more, towards the closet to pull out a light blue and white striped pajama outfit. "Pay me back some other time."
You scribble in your notebook and practically shove it in front of his face, "Just take the money. Really."
The stranger looks at you with passive eyes before nodding to the kitchen, "There's some leftover rice in the fridge, can you heat it up while I change?"
You're in the middle of writing something else, but before you can finish, he walks out into the short hallway, enters the bathroom, and closes the door. You stop at the door with an airy sigh, before you start to turn back to the kitchen. You've barely stepped a foot onto the tiled surface when the stranger peeks his head through the door of the bathroom, "Didn't mean for that to seem rude, sorry." he says before, once again, closing the door. You smile and shake your head. The whole situation reminding you of someone you knew.
- - -
After you and the stranger are finished eating, he goes to the closet and pulls out an extra bed roll that he sets in the empty space adjacent to the bed roll you had been and are currently lounging on. When the bedding is settled, a modest amount of space between the two of you, the stranger lays down, one arm pressing between his head and the pillow to support his neck while the other lies limp on his stomach. Glancing up from your guitar, you look at him, curious and finally having the time to really look him over without the stresses of paranoia, or the remnants of your recurring nightmare nagging at you in the back of your head. At first glance, you suppose the stranger can be considered completely and devastatingly average.
If not for the pristine baldness of his head and the red and yellow outfit you can only guess is his... uniform? you doubt you would have ever looked his way if you had just been a normal person crossing him in the streets. Though, the harder you look, the more you feel something like fondness bubble up in your chest, and think, briefly, that he can also easily be considered kind of... attractive. Maybe unconventionally so, but if you peer past the jaded, empty look on his face, the stranger is admittedly pretty good looking--an average kind of good looking, because he doesn't hold the same exotic beauty that most models display, but for some reason, that makes him just that much more attractive--being able to look good without even trying to look good takes talent, or good genes. Either way--
Your train of thought screeches to a halt when you realize that you've been staring at the stranger long enough for him to actually stop staring at the ceiling to turn his head and look at you. Childishly, you want to follow the urge to go back to playing some nice sounding notes and pretending you weren't just openly checking him out, but the adult side of you reasons that you can come up with a reasonable excuse to make this whole situation a lot less weird, especially considering you're going to be going to sleep barely an arm's length away from each other. Laying your guitar down, you fumble around beside your pillow to pull out your pen and notebook.
You scribble hastily before showing the man what you had written, "What's your name?"
He looks between you and the notebook, one of his eyebrows arched, confused, and for a moment you think he's going to ask you something, but instead he turns so that he's lying on his side with one hand supporting his head, giving you his full attention. "Saitama." His other hand kind of just lays on the ground, and you feel sort of like you should shake hands or something with how matter-of-fact he said his name, but you decide, thankfully, that that would only make things more awkward and instead grab your notebook to write your name out before showing it to him.
Saitama reads your name out loud, glancing over at you as if looking for your approval, before he repeats it several more times, each time with different tones and inflections, and it's funny because the way he says your name brings a soft smile to your face that feels familiar, but also not at all so. "Am I saying it right?" he asks, and when you nod he gives you this sort of pleased half-grin that you feel your cheeks tinge pink for, and you think maybe you shouldn't have thought to yourself on how attractive he was, because now his smile is suddenly, somehow incredibly attractive.
Saitama lays back down in the same position he had been before he noticed your staring, but this time he closes his eyes. You've just grabbed your guitar and started playing when Saitama starts talking, "It's weird," he says, and it's sort of out of the blue, but you find yourself interested in what he has to say, so you place a hand on the strings to cut off the sound of your guitar, and wait. He doesn't move, breathing even and calm, and you watch the rise and fall of his chest in a strangely serene trance. "I don't usually care about stuff like this, but... for some reason, I like it--" Saitama looks over to you, one eye cracked open, "Your name, I mean." and then he turns back to face the ceiling, his eyes closing once more, "It has a nice sound to it..."
You like to think that Saitama's little compliment doesn't make your heart flutter or your stomach fill with butterflies. You like to think you're reasonable, and that these feelings you're getting from just looking and talking to Saitama, a man you just learned the name of five minutes ago, are all just hormone related occurrences--maybe due to the fact that you haven't had any real interactions with anyone for at least a year. So, you lean your guitar against the wall and lie down, covering yourself with the blankets as you try to will yourself to sleep instead of thinking about how his name, too, sounds nice in your head.
- - -
When you wake up, it's to tweeting birds and the warmth of the sun peeking through the curtains of the patio door. You're warm, body bundled up in a nest of soft cloth and fluff, limbs curled in and the scrapes on your back only aching dully, the warmth and press of the blankets on you alleviating any of the discomfort you had previously felt in your muscles. You glance over to the patio door, noting the tinge of dark still clinging to the sky before you decide to huddle into the warmth of the blankets behind you only to feel something distinctly unlike a blanket press back into you. You stop moving, eyes shooting open as realization dawns on you.
An arm is draped over you, Saitama's side pressing against your back as his soft snores filter muffled against his pillow. You freeze, blood running cold despite the heat rising to your cheeks. Gently, ever so softly, you scoot out from under the blankets and Saitama's limp arm, feeling awkward as it drags along the still healing scrapes at your back as you slowly try to remove yourself from this disastrously embarrassing situation. When only his hand is resting on your back, Saitama suddenly shifts and your breath stalls in your throat. Mumbling something or the other to himself, instead of waking up, Saitama turns away from you and onto his side, leaving you lying perfectly still a few inches away from him with your heart thudding against your ribs.
When it's clear he's not going to be waking up anytime soon, you stand up and tip toe towards your guitar, swords, and charging cell phone where they lean against the walled counter just in front of the kitchen. You look around briefly for your bandanna as you tuck your phone into your pocket, wondering exactly what you're going to do, now. You were well rested for once, the nightmares that had plagued you for almost a year and a half having gave way to blissful nothingness last night--a dreamless sleep. And your back, although still somewhat raw in certain places, was mostly scabbed over the last time you checked to remove the bandages. You could move with more comfort, so having your swords and guitar on your back won't be such a hassle.
It should be obvious to you, what you should do; you should leave. Staying with Saitama, was, for all intents and purposes, a Samaritan gesture made on the part of your host due to your injuries. You weren't friends, and you had only just gotten to know his name last night and hadn't talked as so much as made light comments towards each other. There was nothing keeping you from leaving except for the curiosity of the nature of your dreams and the mysterious voices demanding you stay, but even beyond that, you still felt inclined to stay, if just a little bit longer, despite every logical part of you begging the opposite.
You need to find a way to fix your powers, so that you can finally expose and deconstruct the corruption you had been subject to long ago. You need to hone your skills, stabilize your abilities, and prepare yourself for the next upcoming disaster--whether it be reminiscent of the one from your nightmares or a forewarned culmination of the consistent uneasy, restlessness you get whenever you're alone. You need to do all these things and then some, but as you glance over at Saitama, his sleeping face peaceful, if not a bit comical for the drool dripping down his chin, you're struck with guilt at wanting to run away from someone who might need your help.
Although you could estimate Saitama's ability considering the mushroom mess you had seen the day before, you had never seen him do anything besides walk around in his obnoxiously colored outfit and stare blankly at you or something else. But besides that, you're not even sure if he took care of the monsters himself, or if someone else may have done so for the both of you. Who's to say he's not just wearing the obvious superhero caped get-up as some sort of mascot for a comic book store or something--maybe he's just a very dedicated cosplayer. You don't know anything about Saitama, and he sure as hell doesn't know anything about you, but there's a small part of you that whispers and tells you that, You want to know, bringing to light the well-hidden fact that you really, truly do.
You want to get to know Saitama, you want to know why you dreamed about him being dead before you met him, and why that bothers you so much. You want to know why his smile seems so familiar and his name so nice, and you want to know why you really hadn't minded that you had woken up cuddled into him just a few minutes ago. You want to know all those things and more, and you would never find out if you ran away. What if he doesn't want me here? You find yourself thinking. A hushed whisper, in the back of your mind replies, He does. before the voice vanishes, and you're once more reminded that that was not your own thought, but something else entirely.
You don't waste your time trying to think up a way to beckon the voice back, and you must be crazy, because you're actually considering listening to it. Maybe it has something to do with the guilt, your interest, and maybe your curiosity, but you so desperately want to believe Saitama doesn't want you to leave anymore than you want to go.
You have chosen. A voice, unlike the first, speaks out, echoing briefly into a deep ache in your head that makes you clench your eyes shut, and then... nothing. You open your eyes and find yourself standing in the bathroom, your hands resting on the sides of the porcelain sink, cool, clear water running down into the bowl with a low hiss. You feel disoriented, dizzy, so you try to quell the sickness rising in your throat by splashing water on your face. When you look up into the mirror, you find that you're wearing your underclothes, your usual jacket missing.
After drying your face and turning off the sink, you exit the bathroom and cautiously walk through the apartment. Nothing seems strange or any different than you had left it. Saitama is still lying on his side snoring softly and your things are still leaned against the wall of the counter. The sun is shining, the birds are singing--the only thing missing is your jacket.
...Were you wearing a jacket? Did you even have a jacket? The thought makes your head spin. Shaking your head, you don't think you had a jacket, but something is missing, isn't it? Something...
Taking a deep breath, you sigh and run a hand through your hair. It doesn't matter. What were you doing, again?
You glance over at Saitama, and then towards the closet door. Maybe he put your jacket in the closet? You open the door and search for something familiar to you, something that reminded you of the aforementioned item that you can't even remember the color of, let alone the style. Nope. Not there. Maybe you really didn't have a jacket after all, Or maybe, you think in slight jest, I'm losing my damn mind.
Picking over Saitama's clothes, again, you don't find anything that pops out in your mind as yours--everything was just a bit too big to be yours. And you're just about the shut the closet door when a sweater, red and white, falls off of a hook and lands on the ground, stopping you from closing the door. You pick it up by the shoulders and almost laugh, the word "OPPAI" written in bright yellow above a pair of minimalist breasts donning the front. It's soft and warm and it smells kind of herbal, like tea, light and pleasant smelling, almost comforting in a way.
Saitama wouldn't mind if I borrowed this, would he? He certainly didn't seem the type to be very possessive, especially over something as material as a sweatshirt, but you couldn't really say that considering you didn't know him, and based on your past and those you had once associated with, you weren't exactly the master at reading people as you had once believed you were. Still, the strangely cozy scent lingering on the sweater eased the stress of you losing your jacket, so you pulled it over your head, and gathered your items, including the notebook and pen Saitama had given to you before untying your bandanna from the strap of your guitar case with a cloudy sense of strangeness before shrugging it off and heading to the door.
Your hand grazes the notebook in your back pocket, and you decide that you should go pick up some food for breakfast in thanks for Saitama's care before you make any big decisions. That way, you won't exactly be leaving, but you'll give yourself enough time to gather your thoughts as you try to determine whether or not you should stay, or if you could even stay. Yeah, that's what you'll do. You'll make sure the breakfast is nice too, Saitama has been good to you so far, so you figure you should be just as good to him.
- - -
The trip you made to the store was uneventful. You had played some music by the very populous City-Z park, your guitar case open for donations and your bandanna firmly tied behind your head. The patrons at the park must have been in a charitable mood, because it had only taken you half an hour to gain a sum of money sizable enough for you to head into the grocery store down the street with little to no worries about not being able to pick out at least a few food items and maybe some much needed toiletries.
You walked around the store, searching for discounted meats and vegetables that fit within your budget, and managed to snag a half pound of chicken breast on sale, a cheap pack of off-brand soba noodles, a couple of carrots, red peppers, and some stalks of fresh green onion. You picked up a small travel-sized toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and a bar of sweet smelling soap. All of the items you gathered added up to a good 950 yen, leaving you with 510 yen to spare. While you waited for the grocer to bag your items, you overheard some of the patrons waiting in line behind you talking about some sort of donation drive some of the local schools have started up since City-B's destruction yesterday.
After taking your bag and walking out, you decide to check your phone, browsing the local internet news sites for interesting topics and sure enough, some sort of naked giant had fallen onto City-B, yesterday, due to the hero, King's single-handed effort to take it down. The casualties, thankfully, were minimal--mostly being caused by the monster before King had stepped in and saved the day. He hadn't risen in rank, again, since the Association had only classified the Being as a demon level threat, despite the fact that it had destroyed a great portion of the city.
As you scrolled through the site, still walking back to Saitama's apartment with your bag of goodies, you noticed an ad featuring Sweet Mask winking and holding his hand out like some sort of shoujo manga lead with a small speech bubble placed in the empty space of the banner: "Looking to save the world and deliver justice to those who have done wrong? Apply to become a hero at the Hero Association in City-A! Fame and fortune await you--if you've got what it takes~"
You exit the blocky browser with an eye-roll and an increasingly unsettled burn in your stomach. Just looking at him made you want to disappear into the shadows and hide where it's nice and warm, but so far away from him and anything connected to him, so that you'll finally be able to forget who he once was to you. The memories try to break through to the forefront of your mind--strong, but soft hands gripping your shoulders, your thighs, the glide of silk sheets against your back, words, honeyed and loving whispered down your cheek, your neck, and--no, You think, shaking your head as you slip your phone into your back pocket, now walking more briskly towards Saitama's, almost jogging. Lies, they were all lies. And that thought, you let linger, let taint those once beautiful memories like burnt sugar drizzled over sweet cake.
Sweet Mask didn't deserve your time, your thoughts--not then, and not now. So, you bury him and his lies in the back of your head, locked in some deep, dark corner where they belong, and decide to never, ever, think of them, again.
Chapter 4: Welcome to the Neighborhood
By the time you get back, it's well into 11 in the morning, so you suppose what breakfast you were going to make was just going to have to be lunch, not that it mattered all too much, you just hoped you weren't gone long enough for Saitama to think you had ditched him without at least saying thanks and goodbye. In the distance, you hear shouting--something about "death" and "underground people", and you think you hear a maniacal laugh thrown in there, too, but you can't be too sure. Then you hear a scream, and you realize that it had come from somewhere near Saitama's apartment complex. There's a crack like concrete breaking, several more, high pitched screeches, a shout that sounded distinctly like Saitama, and then silence.
You're running before you know it, hand clutching your grocery bag as you whip around the corner of the apartment building, pull out a sword from behind you, and ready yourself for battle.
"Oh, hey, uh... hm." Is all Saitama says as he glances from you and then back to the monster flattened into the concrete, and then to a hole beside that where a white flag sticks out, characters reading out "We're sorry" as it ripples in the wind. You walk up to Saitama and return your sword back into its sheathe. He looks at you, brows furrowed, like he's... disappointed, or something. You frown and pull out your notebook, "What was this about?"
"They, uh... they wanted to take over the surface. I guess they weren't as prepared for it as they thought they were..." Saitama stares hard at the cracked and broken face of the monster, almost glaring at its corpse before his face melds back into its normal, blank countenance.
You poke his side with the butt of your pen, garnering his attention, "You alright?"
Saitama moves his hand as if waving off his thoughts, "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm always fine. I was just... excited. I thought this was gonna be something big, but it kind of just turned out to be a big letdown." You're not quite sure what he means, why he would be excited about fighting a monster rather than just annoyed. But, before you can even start writing out your question, Saitama turns his back towards the gaping holes in the street to look at you fully, "So, what are you... are you-" Saitama pauses for a moment to think over his words before settling, "Do you have somewhere to stay?"
When you don't move to write anything, just look at him while you try to come up with an answer, Saitama rubs the back of his neck and lets out a breath, annoyed, but you're not sure if it's directed towards you or whatever he's dealing with right now. "My apartment is kind of small, but if you don't have anywhere to go, you can stay with me for a few days--or, y'know, until you find whatever brought you here."
You raise a brow at that, "What do you mean, 'what brought me here'?"
"Well, it's no secret this part of City-Z is infested with monsters. No one comes out here, because no one ever has a reason to. I can't even order delivery, because so many people are afraid to come here. So, if I had to guess, you're either searching for something, or you're hiding away from something, and either way, it wouldn't bother me if you stayed. It's not like I get visitors often, and you seem decent enough," Saitama looks past you and at the short swords sticking up from behind you, "You haven't tried to skewer me with those, yet, at least."
You can't help the surprised look on your face at his shockingly astute observations. He hadn't really struck you as the scholarly type, but you suppose there are different kinds of intelligence that have nothing to do academics. Some people are book smart, others are street smart, and others still are what you like to think of as down-to-earth smart--more in tune with themselves and others than what they would otherwise let on. Still... "I don't want to over stay my welcome," you write.
With a shrug, Saitama responds, "I really wouldn't mind that much, but if you're that worried, you can stay in one of the other apartments in the building. One of them has to still be in pretty decent condition--mine was when I first got here."
"Thank you," you scribble quickly on the notebook, showing Saitama. He looks from the notebook to you and gives you a small smile. You want to tell yourself that it doesn't make your face heat up, but Saitama has this way of looking at you, like he really sees you, that makes you feel happy. When his face returns to its neutral expression, you feel a hint of disappointment rustle through you. God, you wish he would smile more. Maybe, one day, you'll be able to help him with that.
- - -
You had returned to Saitama's apartment upon said man's curiosity on what was in your grocery bag. You told him you were going to cook some chicken with rice, and Saitama had asked if you knew how to make chicken katsu. Of course, was your reply, because chicken katsu had to be one of the first and easiest recipes you had learned in the few years you spent cooking for yourself, but as it was, you didn't have any breadcrumbs, not that that deterred Saitama. When you walked into his kitchen, moving to rinse the green onions off, thinking maybe you'll scramble and garnish the remaining eggs to have alongside the main dish, Saitama had walked in behind you and reached into one of the drawers to pull out a clipped bag of panko with an enthused grin.
You took the packet with a smile before nodding, and ever the easily pleased man, Saitama grinned before motioning towards the front door, telling you that he'll look for a decently clean apartment for you in the meantime. By the time you had fried the chicken, breadcrumbs turning an even, crunchy, gold brown, you had already plated the steaming rice with some sauteed carrots, bell pepper, and onion (you had scrounged a small overripe, but still edible, bulb from the bottom Saitama's fridge crispier), and had been on the way to plating the chicken katsu, sprinkling green onion over it when Saitama walked in to the apartment with an audible sniff.
"Mmm... that smells delicious." he says, walking towards where you and the food are in the main room, his feet padding against the wood floor with quick steps. When he sees the food, his eyes go wide with excitement, "It looks great, too!" Without another word, Saitama sits at the table opposite to you and smiles wide. You hand him a pair of chopsticks before sitting down, taking a pitcher of water you cooled in his fridge, and pour yourself and Saitama each a drink.
When he starts digging in, almost frantic in shoveling the food in his mouth, you actually can't help but laugh, because he's starting to remind you a lot of an old friend you knew. In your mirth, you forget your laugh is unlike most people's laughs; the sound is more like silent puffs of air, kind of like you're panting, but the smile and crinkling at the corner of your eyes conveys well enough what you're trying to do. At that, Saitama pauses and looks up at you, a pepper hanging between his chopsticks on the way to his mouth, and immediately you stop, realizing that you must look and sound pretty ridiculous, but without a voice you can't exactly laugh like everyone else.
Your embarrassment must show on your face even though you're trying desperately to hide it by taking large gulps of the water, but Saitama's still staring at you by the time you put the glass down and you know you have to look at him and probably address the proverbial elephant in the room. You reach for your notebook, preparing to start writing out your whole life story, because hoo-boy is it a doozy, but then Saitama clears his throat and you could swear you see a hint of pink on his cheeks, as he, honest to god, smirks at you.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but that was pretty cute." And maybe you got hit on the head too many times back when you used to fight, and maybe you're dying and these are your last few hallucination filled moments, but you think Saitama may have just called something you did "pretty cute" to your face. Not just in his head like you had been doing to him, but to your face, and you can't imagine what you must look like now, but you're hot and the color on your cheeks must range from beet red and cherry tomato crimson, because holy shit! Saitama just called you "cute"! Clearing his throat, Saitama goes back to eating, although, this time, more slowly before pausing again when he notices you haven't touched your food, "Look, I'm really sorry if that made you uncomfortable, it kind of just slipped out-"
You immediately scramble to pick up your notebook and pen, writing quickly, your pen almost slipping as you finish your thoughts, and all but shove the page into Saitama's face, "No! It's fine, I just didn't expect it!" and then, "You do some pretty cute stuff, too."
When you finally put the notebook down, you exchange a glance with Saitama before deigning yourself to stare anywhere but his face as you start eating, because, now, you know you're not the only one blushing, and damn does that just make you blush harder.
- - -
After you're both finished eating, you and Saitama take the dishes to the sink, where you decide to wash them (much to Saitama's chagrin, him having said something about you cooking so he should wash the dishes, but you were having none of it). After you're finished, you turn your attention to the counter behind you and begin the work of putting away leftovers and setting the pots and pans in soapy water to loosen the food for easier cleaning. When all the food is wrapped and bagged and placed in containers in the fridge, you turn back around to set to rinsing out the pans when you make the mistake of looking up over the counter to see where Saitama had gone and your jaw nearly drops to the floor.
Just having changed out of his red and yellow caped outfit to pull on a pair of off-green shorts, Saitama is in the middle of pulling a yellow short sleeved shirt over his head when you look over. Oh no, you think, he's hot. And you're not sure what you expected to see before, but Saitama is all cut muscle and smooth skin and you're not sure how to breathe, or if you can even breathe anymore, because you had thought he was attractive before you saw him with his shirt off, but now...
You choke on your own spit while you're absentmindedly rinsing out a pan, but you're not looking as you do so, so as luck would have it, you just about drench yourself in water. Clumsily, you drop the pan and jump back, nearly slipping and falling on the ground in your haste to not wet Saitama's sweatshirt with oily, sudsy water. Shit! Your mind supplies, as you scramble to keep yourself from falling. You almost jump when you feel a hand touch your shoulder.
"Are you alright?" You hear from your side, and you know your face is red, because now Saitama is in the kitchen looking at you, but thankfully he has his shirt fully on when you look back, even though your eyes flit downward to check, y'know, just in case. No, you think, I really shouldn't be thinking like that--that's weird, right? I just met this guy! Saitama hadn't meant for you to get an eye full of his well-toned physique, and by the looks of his mildly worried expression, he doesn't know you did.
You almost shake your head (more at yourself than to his question), but then opt to nod, fearing that if you tried to write out any sort of response, Saitama would see the tremor in your hands and then the jig would be up. You'd have to leave the continent, because Saitama would think you're some sort of peeping tom pervert, and then you'd be sad and embarrassed, and you'd never figure out why you feel like you know him from somewhere, and maybe he'll die, because you still haven't figure out if your dreams are real or not, and-
"Are you sure? You're looking kind of... sick?"
Standing to your full height, you brush your damp hands on the thighs of your jeans and level Saitama with a strained, closed mouth smile. You pull out your notebook and let out a deep breath, "I'm fine, really-" but then Saitama grabs your wrist and you realize that, like you had thought, your hands are shaking, but now they're shaking for an entirely different reason than you first contemplated. You look up at Saitama and he must see the sudden distress in your eyes, because he kind of just tugs on your forearm towards the direction of the main room, and you, of course, follow.
- - -
In the main room, Saitama makes you sit down on the bed roll, encouraging you to rest for a bit, because you look exhausted. And he's not entirely wrong, because you are a bit tired, mainly from the long walk you took into town earlier, but really, you're fine. But, Saitama is just as stubborn as you, so he gives you this surprisingly stern look, and you stay put, legs stretched out as you lean against the wall closest to you, arms folded over your chest like a petulant child that doesn't want to take their daily nap time. You fight monsters for gods sake! You know your limits, but you also know you would rather not tell Saitama what had really stressed you out, or what had caused you to even fall into that line of thinking in the first place. Nope. Telling him about having seen him die in your dreams was one thing, but telling him you freaked out and nearly fell down because you saw a portion of his unclothed torso was an entirely different deal. You'll die before you tell him that one.
You close your eyes as you rest your head against the wall, listening to Saitama shuffle around before you hear the TV click on and feel something wooden being placed in your lap. You open your eyes and see Saitama standing next to you, handing you your guitar, but his eyes are trained on the television as the newscaster, an older man with glasses recognizable as the host for the show G'Day! 3, introduces a guest who is an expert on mosquitoes and their migrant patterns.
Curious, you take the guitar and listen in to the interviewee, ignoring Saitama as he starts to walk past the TV and towards the open patio door, holding a green elephant shaped watering can. "Sounds like City-Z is right in their path..." Saitama says, and you're not sure if he's talking to himself or you, but when he continues, now outside, you feel a shudder of nervousness run through you at the prospect, "I hate bugs."
Coincidentally, that's the exact same thing you were thinking, but you don't have the voice to tell him so. Instead, you turn your attention back to the television show, reading the fast paced notes at the bottom encouraging citizens to stay away from any swarms of mosquitoes and to take immediate shelter until the mosquitoes pass. You're about to get up and go outside, scribbling a note down like, "Maybe you should get back inside, so we can close all the windows and doors..." but then the G'Day! 3 changes to a warning news reporter, urging all City-Z inhabitants to return to their homes and/or evacuate, because the swarms have entered City-Z's limits.
Footage of pale, rotting, desiccated cow remains flash on the screen, and you feel a knot twist in your stomach. You hate bugs, but you think you hate mosquitoes more than anything else, right now. You pull the curtain to the side, still writing out your question as Saitama kneels down to water a small cactus plant. When you're done, you notice that Saitama is no longer focused on watering the plant, but has placed the watering can down and stood up. You want to ask him what's wrong, but before you can even move, Saitama is gone, reappearing in only a flash and a *woosh* of cool air with a resounding slap that echoes through the empty streets below. Saitama's hands clasp on something before he disappears again, but in a different portion of the patio, slapping the air and then moving. He repeats this a couple of times, and, faintly, you hear the buzz of a bug, and wonder if he's trying to catch it, but also wonder how the hell is he moving so damn fast?
So, he was the one that killed those monsters, you think to yourself, remembering the destruction of the building and the remains of mushroom flesh lying on the ground. He has to be, there's no other reason he wouldn't be, and the way he took out that mole monster... But, your mind once more strays to the building and its near complete destruction, and you wonder exactly, who Saitama is if he's not part of the Hero Association. He's obviously not just your average everyday squatter. Most people are scared of monsters, but Saitama doesn't seem scared of anything--not the mushroom monsters, not the mole monster from earlier, not even the plague of mosquitoes steadily heading to City-Z for unknown reasons.
No matter how tough he is, you think about the cow corpses and feel a shiver run down your back, no one can kill a horde of mosquitoes.
You're in the process of raising a hand to wave and get Saitama's attention, but before you can, he pauses just long enough to pick up a can of bug spray, and then he's gone. Having jumped from the balcony to the street, Saitama sprints, chasing down the rogue bug and screaming bloody murder: "I will kill you, you damn mosquito!"
Your eyes widen as the echo of warning sirens play in the distance. Shit! You look down at the street towards where Saitama had disappeared to, heart thudding in your chest, I have to go find him before he gets himself killed!
With that, you run inside, snagging your bandanna and pulling on your sword sheathes as you run out of the door and down the steps of the complex to the streets. You don't see Saitama, but you know which way he went. You stretch your hand out, but then put it down remembering your dilemma and why you're out here in the first place. You start running, bandanna melding against your chin, pressed down by the wind whizzing past you, but you know you're not fast enough to catch Saitama--he moves like you did when you had your powers. Silently, you curse whatever caused you to lose your abilities in the first place and continue to huff it, eyes darting around every so often to watch out for mosquitoes.
You're not sure what powers Saitama may have that made him think it was smart to chase a mosquito down during a fucking mosquito storm, but you know you're not prepared enough to deal with a horde, so you just have to pray you'll get to him before they get to you.
Chapter 5: It's A Shame
You are officially the world's biggest tool--you just have to be. How do you lose a cursing, screaming man in a bright yellow shirt?! How?! It's not like there are other people out, right now--a fact that should be disconcerting to you, should make you pause to think, because you can't really tell, anymore, if you've run outside of the ghost town or not--, but you keep running, turning a corner here and there for no other reason than because it feels like Saitama might have gone that way, but really, it's all just wishful thinking. Slowing down, fatigue begins to weigh on you and you can't remember the last time you've run that hard and that fast for that long, but you know you must really be out of shape, because your legs are starting to feel like jelly.
Coming to a stop, you lay one hand against the corner of a building and pant, sweat dripping down the side of your face and down your neck. When your breathing calms down, you decide to look around, and yep. You're lost. There's no doubt about that.
Crap! You think, looking around the area for some hint of familiarity only to find more empty roads and even emptier buildings. With a sigh, you start to walk back from where you came from, hoping maybe you'll at least see some familiarity there that will lead you back to the apartment. Instead, you're greeted by a steadily approaching cloud of black, and it takes you a minute, but then you realize, Mosquitoes.
Turning on your heel, you start jogging--desiccated cow corpse, mosquito swarm, stay inside--, but your legs hurt and your lungs are still burning from overuse, so it's difficult to match the pace you were running at before--certain death, skin and bones, stay inside--, but you keep going, legs aching and god you can hear the swarm as it gets closer. Run.
You start to run, arms swinging in rhythm with your steps--demon level, stay inside, mosquito swarm, stay inside--, and you think you might be having a panic attack, because your heart is pounding against your chest and your head is swimming, dizzying, like you're choking, but you can't get enough air no matter how hard you try. And you can hear them more clearly, the almost deafening buzz of what can now be considered killer bugs, but you're not sure you can go faster than you currently are.
You think you might die, might get your blood sucked out of you so that you become a hollow shell just like the cows they showed on TV, just as stupid, too, but then you see a flash of the apocalyptic sky from your nightmares, Saitama's dead and twisted corpse lying cold and bloody on a pile of rubble, but now he's lying on the ground with a swarm of mosquitoes leaving him, the blood pulled right out of his body to the point you can't see his eyes. They're gone. His mouth is open in silent agony, skin pulled taught over bone and bloodless muscle.
Can you save him? Your hearing bleeds out to white noise, a steady, high pitched hum until that's all you can hear. You can't even hear the mosquitoes behind you, but you can feel the woosh of them at your feet, as if collectively grabbing at you. You dodge, turning a corner, hoping you can lose them--buy yourself time to think of a plan that doesn't involve anymore running. You catch sight of a tall building in the distance, a single glass door propped open, and you have just enough push in you to make it. Can you save yourself?
The mosquitoes swipe at you again, and you feel them brush along the cloth of your hoodie. Yes, you think, I can save him. I can save myself. I can do this. I can do this.
Your vision dims, focusing on the door. You have to make it. RUN, so you can expose the Association, Run, so you can stop the apocalypse, Run, so you can save yourself, Run, so you can save him.
You practically launch yourself through the door, catching the bar of it to pull it shut behind you, and you actually slip, your ankle twisting in a painfully awkward way, but you have to keep the door closed. You're breathing hard, harder than you've ever breathed in your life, and you've fought Dragon level threats before and those bastards don't stay down. You feel the door shake under the weight of the mosquitoes, pushing hard enough for the glass to crack. Your eyes go wide and you look around, eye catching on a flip lock near your head. You reach over and click it shut just as the mosquitoes slam against the door with so much force that you fall onto your face. Twisting so that, now, you're on your back, you scramble away from the door and watch as, like a wave, the mosquitoes smack against the glass.
And you can see it, the run of a crack in the door. You're going to die.
The crooked, jagged line gets longer, bigger, making more, smaller cracks, and you want to cry, to curse, to damn whoever the fuck thought glass doors were a good idea, but you don't. You can't. And that just makes everything more terrifying. One more hit, and it's over. You're dead. You can't decide whether or not you want to close your eyes as you die, or if you should keep them open in defiance. As they reel back, you close your eyes. Man, fuck mosquitoes.
But, the last thump, the one that should be followed by the breaking of glass and the pained way your throat clenches when you try to scream as they swarm you and suck your blood out from your legs, your arms, your eyes... none of it comes. In fact, after a few seconds of hearing nothing but your own heartbeat, you open your eyes. All you see is the horde of mosquitoes hovering in front of the door, almost harmless looking--dumb like mosquitoes should be--, before they twist and fly away down the street. You blink. You release a breath you didn't know you had stalled. Well, you're not going to complain, but--and then it hits you, Saitama!
Rushing to stand, your thoughts race: They saw him, they're going after him, why else would they leave? Oh, god, they're going to kill him. A pain seizes your dominant leg, shooting up from the strain in your ankle and tensing the muscles in your calf and thigh. You bite your lip, I've been through worse, and sure you have; you've been bitten, punched, kicked, slammed, but this pain is fresh, and you've been out of the game for so long that it seems to double what you had ever experienced before. You think of Saitama and the mosquitoes and his dead body and you lay your foot down, putting much more weight on it than is probably recommended based on the pain that blossoms there, and you start running.
In the distance, you see a swarm of mosquitoes gathered in a squirming ball, and decide that that must be where Saitama is. You almost stop running, your heart sinking, because you know that if it is, then he's dead. He has to be. No one can survive a swarm of mosquitoes; it doesn't matter how tough you are--S-rank, A-rank, B, C--it doesn't matter. A swarm of anything can subdue the largest of giants, and the human body doesn't have enough blood to compensate the amount a horde of mosquitoes can suck away.
Leave. You can't. You can't just leave him. You have to know if he's alive, if you can save him. KEEP GOING. RUN. RUN. You had no intention of stopping. If Saitama is alive, you're going to make sure he stays that way. You look up at the gathering mass of mosquitoes with a pang of finality. You're going to make sure he stays alive, even if it kills you.
- - -
Every slam of your foot against the pavement is hell, every lift, a reprieve, but you don't stop. Even though your injured ankle is screaming, hot and probably swollen, you don't stop. You can see the swarm as it gathers above, maybe a half mile out, but before you can get even closer, you see a bright light of something shoot up at it and then that bright light is spilling out. You're not a fool.
Tucking and rolling into the alleyway beside the street you were running down, you watch as heat and fire spill down the streets, scorching everything in its path and leaving behind the dull thrum of warmth like a fireplace that's been burning for too long. It's stifling, and you feel like the sweat on your brow was dried in its sudden gush of heat, but realize you can't just stay here, you have to go see if Saitama is there. With luck, he'll be alive, and you'll have questions--does he have fire powers or laser eyes or something? That could explain the blank expression, maybe... maybe he can only shoot them out with extreme emotion, kind of like crying--focus! Now's really not the time.
Although the thoughts distract you from the now nearly overbearing pain in your ankle, you know that building yourself up for success, hoping and believing too hard that Saitama is alive, that he caused that blast or even maybe just survived it... all of that could lead to devastation if he was just as dead as he looked to be in your nightmares. Maybe the hole in the stomach is just a metaphor, you think, dread building in your throat. After all, death comes in all shapes and sizes.
You hear yelling, a feminine sounding voice giggling loud and breathy as the sound of slashing and something metallic being cut gets closer and closer. You look up to where the sound is coming from and see some sort of flying monster kicking and slicing at someone... You squint, your breath catching, thinking the worst, but then you see it's some guy with platinum blonde hair and what looks to be metallic innards. You slow down, watching in confusion, not recognizing the guy, because he's obviously not a monster, but he isn't exactly human either. Maybe he just got caught up in the monster's game. Either way, he's being tossed around like a rag doll while the monster laughs and cries in delight, and you're not a fan of just standing by.
You can't really make out the words it's saying, but you suspect it's not trying to kill him just yet. It's toying with him, playing with him. It looks like some horrible mosquito-lady abomination, and you feel disgust bubble in your gut. You hate bugs. You hate monsters. So, you definitely loathe bug monster hybrids.
Starting back at a running pace, you dart through an alleyway and then turn to where the monster and the guy are still in the air, but now he's falling down and the monster is following right behind him, head stinger directed at his face. You run over just in time to see Saitama reach up and smack the mosquito monster into oblivion with one hand, the only remnants of it being the large splatter of blood across the building and the thunderous clap of the impact echoing down the street.
You stop running. You see the metal guy fall to the ground. You look up and see the parted clouds, the broken line carved deep in the streets, and all because Saitama slapped some monster out of existence.
You feel a headache coming on. You feel something like amazement, but also fear. But, before you can deliberate too much on it, you hear Saitama say probably the lamest pun you've ever heard in your life, and all your fear turns to embarrassment, because did he really just say "Bugs; they suck?", because wow do you and him need to have a talk and also--...wow do you and him need to have a talk.
Your cheeks heat up, and you feel just as awkward as you had the first time you saw him without his shirt, only this time it's him without his shirt, pants, underwear, and shoes, because he's naked. Holy shit he's naked.
You want to shield your eyes as you approach, but then you'd probably run into him, because he definitely hasn't noticed you yet. He's too busy introducing himself to the astonished robot man lying in a heap of metal parts on the ground. When you come to stand next to Saitama, he turns to you with a neutral smile. "Oh, hey." he thumbs towards the building covered in blood, "You just missed it. Some bug lady was the reason behind all the mosquitoes. Who would've guessed, huh?" You glance at the building, then at the guy on the ground who is looking at you with a curious gaze, so you stare back, not really wanting to look at Saitama for fear of your eyes straying downward.
"Genos." the man corrects, although not as harshly as you would have expected, considering his state. Genos glances between Saitama and you, before settling on you, "Who are you?"
You feel Saitama look at you, but you keep your gaze strictly turned away from him. You focus on the crack running down Genos's face. It reminds you of the door to the building you were hiding in while you were fearing for you life... God. You're so stupid. WEAK. WEAK. You feel your headache get worse. You want to throw up. You should have stayed inside.
Saitama gives the man your name, but not much else, then touches your shoulder, "...Weren't you supposed to be resting or something?" he asks, bringing your attention to his face, and you feel your annoyance and the hurt of your pride lessen, because he isn't looking at you like you're nothing, not worth the swords you were given, but like he cares about you. Why? You don't know, maybe he feels the same strange draw you feel when you look at him. Your headache subsides.
Moving closer as if to test your temperature, Saitama reaches up, and the movement wrenches you out of the moment, because you remember he's naked and he's getting close to you, and that is so not good, so you slap his arm away. Saitama may have looked surprised at that, hurt even, but you don't think too hard on it, because, really, does the man have no shame? With a body like that, you can't say you blame him--wait, no. Bad girl. Stop it. Keeping your eyes firmly away from him and his nakedness, you reach for the bottom of your--his--sweatshirt, pull it over your head, and hand it to him.
Saitama takes it wordlessly, and you wait a few moments until he says, "Okay, it's... ahem it's okay to look, now."
When you do, he's still naked topside, but now the sweatshirt is tied around his hips covering his front like an apron, the word "OPPAI" and the boobs pasted exactly where you suppose his junk is hanging at. You give Saitama a weird sort of confused smile to which he rubs the back of his neck, a prominent blush coloring his cheeks (ah, so he does have shame), before he nods toward the road to your right, "Um, not sure how much you saw, but it's kind of cold, so maybe we should head back to the apartment."
You nod, turning to walk down the street only to stop and bite your lip when a sudden shock of pain runs up your leg. You gasp loudly, leaning on your good leg to take the weight off of your bad one. Yeah, okay, you're not sure how you handled worse than this sprain a few years back, or even how you handled running on it a few minutes ago, but now you're positive you can't walk on it, now.
And as if things can't get any worse, Saitama, having noticed your pain, is in front of you, kneeling down to look at your ankle, because you know it has to be swollen to hell if it was that obvious what you had stopped for. You feel two of his fingers smooth gently along the heated skin there and you actually double over, hands catching his shoulders at the pain. You feel so stupid. God, you feel stupid. It's just a sprained ankle, there's a guy lying on the ground who was literally cut into pieces behind you, and here you are on the verge of tears over an injured ankle. Given, Genos seems to be some sort of robot man, so you're not even sure if he can feel pain, but you still feel stupid and weak in comparison.
How you survived this far doing what you used to do is beyond you.
"Yeah," Saitama says, standing up slowly, catching you by your arms to help steady you as he looks you in the eyes, "That doesn't look good. We should get you home and wrap that up with a cold compress. Can you walk?"
You test the ankle and hiss, but you're determined to walk, so you try to take another step, and the pain makes your knees weak, nearly toppling you over. "That's not going to work." Saitama says, and before you can protest, he scoops you up into his arms. Instinctively, your own arms move to hang around his neck, but Saitama holds you up with no issue, like you weigh nothing, and you start kind of wishing that those mosquitoes killed you when they had the chance, because you're so embarrassed.
You're embarrassed by how weak he must think you are, by his nakedness, and by how nice it feels to have him holding you despite that niceness feeling like something of a perversion. He's just trying to help you, and here you are thinking thoughts like how good it would feel to have him hold you in a different way, in a different situation, lying on a bed, maybe, you on top--Shut up! you think to yourself, but there are no voices, none but your own. You can't blame anyone else for these thoughts, it's really all just you.
Bitterly, you wonder, Had there ever been voice? and then, Maybe I'm going crazy after all. I must be going crazy.
You half expect a voice to crop up in your mind, but not a single one does. It seems they only show up when they want to, when it's convenient for them and detrimental to you. Fuck everything, you think, and defeatedly, you tilt your head to lean on Saitama's naked shoulder, because why not? You're already in his arms, feeling every sculpted and toned muscle against your soft, squishy one, so why the hell not just stop being so damn coy and pretending that this is just some casual, everyday situation between friends--roommates, whatever.
Pressing your cheek into Saitama's shoulder, you peek over it, expecting to see the robot guy still lying on the ground in the distance, but he's already gone. You wonder if you should worry about that, but decide you're too tired, and your head is starting to hurt again, but somehow so much worse, so you can't really muster up the strength to think about anything but getting back home--Saitama's apartment, you mean. Not home. Not yours, at least.
In the silence between Saitama's footsteps, you hear murmurs, and think, There they are, but the tones are too hushed for you to make out any single word. Guess I'm not crazy, after all, you think, and rest your eyes for a bit, breathing in the familiar scent of tea and a hint of fire smoke as you relax into Saitama's arms.
Chapter 6: Memories That Won't Go Away
When you get back to Saitama's, things aren't nearly as awkward as you thought they were going to be. You must have dozed off while he was carrying you, because when you open your eyes you're lying on the bed roll in your shirt and jeans; it's dark, and Saitama is no where to be seen. Distantly, you hear the sound of draining water and then, after a while, the sound of a bath running and assume that that's him. When you sit up, you feel your muscles twinge, the running from earlier really setting into your body like the aftermath of overdoing an already harsh workout.
You sit up and test the movement of your ankle with a small twist. Nope. Yeah. No. No. No. That does not feel good. You lay back with a thump. You can't believe you sprained your ankle, were you ever this clumsy when you had your powers? Had you been injured in this way before? No, you don't think so. It wasn't often an opponent got the drop on you, much less was able to force you to run on the defensive.
When you had your powers, you were practically invincible. One moment, you would be fighting a monster, teleporting this way and that, and the next, your opponent's body was cut to ribbons, while you were in the next city over buying smoothies with the money you made from the Association.
Life was good then. It was perfect...--a smile, one that was made for television, but you knew what was really going on, still, you had to pretend--No. No, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't even good. Life back then was just as messy as your life now, it's just now instead of interviews and false pretenses you don't have your powers to back you up and you're haunted by voices almost every other hour of your life. But I'm free, you think, I have the freedom to choose where my life is heading.
You hear the door to the bathroom open and look over your shoulder to watch as Saitama emerges from the dark hallway to enter the equally dark main room, the only light in the place being the one spilling from out of the bathroom. When he sees you, he regards you with that Saitama typical blank face as he sticks his pinky in his ear, trying to get rid of whatever water was in it. "Oh, you're up," is all he says as he enters the room, squats down in front of you by your injured ankle, and points at it, "Mind if I check this out?"
You shrug, so Saitama takes that as "go ahead" and tenderly observes your swollen ankle with a gentle prod. While he's doing that, you do a little observing of your own to distract from the pain.
Saitama looks and smells clean, his soap smelling fresh and herbal, which distinctly reminds you that you haven't taken a proper shower in a while. You don't exactly want to think about what you must smell like, especially considering Saitama had been holding you close enough to smell you just a few hours ago.
Sniffing yourself, you make a face, and you hear Saitama laugh, the sound short but hearty, and you try not to grin. You like his laugh.
"I'm guessing you want to wash off?" he asks.
You nod and look to your side for your notebook, only to find it lying neatly next to your bed roll. You don't want to think about how thoughtful that was of him, because you might start noticing the butterflies fluttering in your stomach. "A bath would probably be a good idea. For both of our sakes." you joke, and after Saitama reads it, he chuckles again, and this time you can't suppress your smile.
Moving from your ankle to your side, Saitama helps you stand up and hobble towards the bathroom, keeping you from putting too much weight on your ankle for the time being. "You know," he says, walking as slow as you need him to, "You don't actually smell that bad--at least, I haven't noticed if you do."
You snort, as if to say, "Sure I don't", but he either doesn't catch it or chooses not to comment on it, not that you mind. When you reach the bathroom, you notice it's still steamy and warm from Saitama's own bath a few moments ago. Walking you into the bathroom, Saitama leads you to the tub, sets you on the edge so you can sit, and begins to draw out some warm water from the spout. Testing it with his hand before plugging the tub to fill it, Saitama looks you over, his expression almost bashful, "Do you--uh, do you need help, or anything, or are you fine?"
You blush, feeling, once again, like he thinks you're some helpless idiot who can't even wash the dishes without nearly passing out, so you shake your head "no" to which Saitama nods, quickly dismissing himself with a wave and a click of the bathroom door lock.
"I'll be right outside if you need anything." he shouts, his voice muffled through the wood of the door. You know he says it more as a statement than anything else, but you feel awkward not being able to respond in the affirmative, so you distract yourself by peeling off your clothes.
They feel grimy and sticky and you can't help but wonder if Saitama's sense of smell is just shitty, or if he's just a really good liar, because you know you can't smell good--shirts just aren't supposed to crackle when they fold... Okay, maybe you're exaggerating, still, even you can smell the day old sweat clinging to your shirt.
Briefly, you feel bad, remembering the fact that you were wearing Saitama's sweatshirt and how it must smell just as horrible as the rest of your clothes. You'll have to make an effort to wash it when you get out of the bath.
Reaching over, you shut off the spout before the tub overflows then turn and slowly sink into the warm bath, letting the heat of the water loosen the knotted muscles in your back and shoulders. You sigh, soaking in the feeling for a few moments before finally setting to begin the process of cleaning yourself.
You look around the tub and notice the unopened soap bar box you bought earlier lying on the edge of the tub. You smile, knowing Saitama had set it there for you, probably sometime earlier when you had started cooking food.
Unboxing the soap, you lather it and begin the process of washing up, making sure to scrub off any dirt and grim from your face and body before you work on detangling and shampooing--crap. You didn't pick up any shampoo. You look around the tub, and note that no, there are no hair care products either. Why would there be? Saitama's bald.
You sigh, a little annoyed even though you've never really put that much stock into your hair--mostly just because you're usually too busy placing that effort into training and fighting monsters--, but there was a time in your life that someone was hired to deal with your hair for you.
If there was one thing you missed the most about your life before you left, it was definitely not having to fix your own hair. Although, the perfectly cooked cuisine made by your own personal chef your that your amended contract with the Association provided you had been nice, too. Still, no amount of kind hairdressers or food, chef prepared or otherwise, was worth the trouble you went through.
Shaking your head, you go back to looking over the bottles Saitama does have lying around and find one old one stashed behind several types of (empty) body wash bottles and pull out a half full shampoo bottle advertised for men. You scoff, reading something like "arctic winter" or "ice wolf" or something. With a sigh, you empty some of the bottle out into your palm and begin to shampoo your hair, remembering the marketing techniques you used to hear your--Sweet Mask's--producer yap to you when you complained that the his makeup artists put too much makeup on you during one photoshoot or another.
It's for the television, sweetheart, his producer would say, we're selling an image--a goddess, not some girl-next-door.
Goddess, you roll your eyes, Yeah, right. Rinsing out your hair, you scrunch your nose at the memory, If I was supposed to be a goddess, I guess that makes him a god. You can practically see Sweet Mask's stupid, perfect smile. Jackass, you think. If I ever see him again, the first thing I'll do is punch his damn teeth out. You grin to yourself. Now, that's a commercial you'd pay to be part of.
- - -
The night passes by in a blur. You had ended up borrowing some of Saitama's old clothes after you washed and dried out your own as well as his sweatshirt. After that you and Saitama wrapped your ankle, ate, talked about the day and what you're planning on doing the next (he mentioned something about the cyborg guy asking to be his student, but Saitama never even told the guy where he lived, so he hopes "Geoff" took it as a noncommittal agreement), and then you fell asleep while Saitama elected to stay up.
As you drifted off, in the back of your mind, you heard the sound of news reports and then a song that's familiar to you only because you remember you played it for an audience the very first time you were invited on air. Saitama changes the T.V. to something else, some sort of stalker drama, but your mind stays on the song and brings back an event you didn't know you remembered.
It was rare for heroes back then to be featured on television besides the news, especially considering Sweet Mask was the only high-profile hero that seemed to have both the desire and connections to be able to do so. The only reason you were featured on the show--some sort of upcoming entertainment show where the hosts talked about various trendy topics--, was because you had saved the son and daughter of one of the main producers and he had been so grateful that he wanted to help boost your career by giving you a chance to "wow" the audience.
And wow them you did.
For a guest who could only speak through sign language and a translator, you kept the conversation light, playful, and above all, entertaining. The audience would laugh at your jokes, wait on bated breath as you retold the fights you won during your time in the Association, and they'd clap when you'd answer questions, presenting yourself humble and honest, as if you were simply talking with a group of friends. But when you were asked to play a song by one of the hosts, just a short song, nothing too fancy, but also nothing too bland, you were put on the spot.
You hadn't expected that you were going to play anything, and apparently the producer didn't either, because he was looking at the host with annoyed surprise, and even more so when one of the stage hands brought you your guitar, so you supposed it was planned, but at the same time wasn't.
Instead of tripping up, however, because you've been through tougher situations--you were a rising A-rank hero, after all, and you had helped an S-Rank fight off a Dragon level monster before--, so you decided to play the first song that came to mind. It was a wistful sound, well-practiced, emotionally charged and heartfelt, and by the time you were done, you had forgotten you were even on stage in front of an audience and cameras before the clapping and screaming hit you.
People were standing up, cheering, and shouting your name. In all, it was pretty overwhelming, but you were proud. Your mother had taught you how to play that song when you were younger. She would have been proud to see you, then, on the T.V., all smiles and a bright future twinkling in your eyes.
You wonder if she would still be proud the way you are now, with what you did that got you here, and decide that that memory, too, you'll keep locked away somewhere to replay only when the emotions aren't as raw. You'll keep it hidden, and maybe one day look upon that once great moment without thinking about what happened afterwards.
- - -
This time, you don't wake up in Saitama's arms, but rather on your back, feeling like you're choking as the remnants of your dream cling wet to your lashes. You open your eyes, sitting up straight as you clutch at your throat, eyes darting wildly around the brightly lit apartment. "You alright?" Saitama's voice calls to you from where he sits on his bed roll, still in his pajamas and lying on his side, reading a manga about a superhero with extraordinary strength, but only in his eyeballs.
You've seen that comic before, the exact same issue, too. It had fallen out of your former friend's pants pocket as he desperately tried to hide the fact that he read comic books from you. "With one look he can fell his foes!" You remember thinking how lucky that guy must be, because the rest of you heroes take at least 10 minutes--20 minutes tops if it's a big one and 5 more if it has more than two teeth and/or eyes.
The thought calms you down, but Saitama's still looking at you like he's wondering if you're about to go into another episode, so you nod that, yes, you are fine. And run a hand through your hair.
How is he not tired of me, by now? Between constantly checking up on you, or otherwise tending your wounds, the desire to show good-will to the girl who just showed up on his doorstep and passed out must run out at some point. But, no, Saitama is still staring at you, but now you're sure it's because he knows you're lying, but also knows you're not going to tell him the truth, so he goes back to his manga.
"So, how's your ankle?" he asks, not looking up at you until he hears the flutter of your notebook and the gentle scratch of your pen against paper. When you're done, you're grinning like your ankle isn't swollen to the size of a very large orange and reads it. Instead of commenting on the obvious lie, Saitama makes a spectacle out of pointedly staring at your swollen, wrapped, and elevated ankle before leveling you with an unimpressed gaze, "'Great', huh? Can you move it?" You're about to nod, but when you do move it, you make a face and then you're resigning to the truth with an expression like, "Okay, so not so great."
Saitama smiles at your reaction and gets up from his bed roll to check your injury. You remember last night when he had helped you wrap it and how skillful and gentle he was, as if he's done so many times before that he could do it blindfolded. You were amazed, because, although you had admitted that Saitama was smarter than he may otherwise appear, you never thought you'd add "basic medical knowledge" to the list of skills he had.
Ever the one to impress, Saitama had wrapped your ankle with the professional confidence of a practiced doctor, and you briefly wondered who he was before he lived in the outskirts of society. You're not sure you'll ask, just in case it's a sensitive topic, but also because that would mean sharing your own history--something you'd prefer to keep in the dark, if only so you can further escape it.
In any case, you trust Saitama, at least, when it comes to your ankle injury, because he proved he knows his stuff. So, when he unwraps the bandages so your skin can breathe and so he can check for bruising and range of motion, you trust him when he turns to you and says, "Yeah, that's gonna take a while to heal." and then, "You can't walk on it for at least a few weeks... We might even need to get you a splint."
Well, shit. You really don't like the sound of that. Not just because of the impending pain you'll be stuck with, but because you (technically) won't be able to move around and you really, really can't have that.
You have shit to do--powers to regain, corruption to unveil, unconventionally attractive and well built guys to save from terrible, gory deaths. You don't have the patience, let alone the weeks it would take for your stupid, fragile ankle to heal.
Saitama must be a mind reader, because he moves to kneel beside you, bringing your attention back to the present, "I can get you a brace when I go out today, maybe a crutch or something so you can move around, but you really can't be putting too much weight on your ankle, because then it'll get worse, and I don't have medical insurance." Saitama looks off to the side, and then at you, "Do you have medical insurance?"
You shake your head "no". Living off the grid, means living off the grid. When you left normal society, you had to disappear, and that meant ditching every government mandated ideal, including healthcare coverage. You didn't have to pay taxes anymore, so you guess that's a plus, but--wait, can you be charged with evading taxes if people find out where you are? You pale, all the more reason to stay off of the grid, it seems.
"Well, then. There you go; no moving around if you can help it." Saitama says, and then he's walking towards the hallway and into the bathroom where he comes out with a pack of generic ibuprofen and a bottle of water. He hands the items to you, "Here, it'll help with the swelling." and then he sits back down on his bed roll, watches as you eye the packet over, shrug, and take the pill and chase it with water. You're way past basic distrust by now, but a healthy amount of wariness never hurt anyone.
When it's down, you drink some more water, cap the bottle, and place it off on the side as you reach for and start playing your guitar for lack of anything else to do.
"How did you sprain your ankle, by the way?" Saitama asks just before you pluck the first string of the chord you were going to play out. You look up at Saitama with a curious expression. He only stares, making no motion to return to his manga as he watches you with an unreadable gaze. "I mean, you weren't injured before I left, so what happened?"
You pause, unsure if you should tell him the truth and risk sounding like the helpless, stupid girl you've been reduced to by bugs, or if you should lie and just let him know you're lying, because a lie would be better than the truth. You pause as, his voice--Sweet Mask's husky, molasses tainted words echo in your head.
Sometimes you forget that it's Sweet Mask's voice you hear in your head, for lack of your own. It's weird sentiment considering when you think, you tend to think with the tones of another, but the words of your own... well, usually.
When you were younger, your thoughts sounded predominantly like your mother, but as you got older, and her sweet voice became a memory as faded as your childhood, the voice in your head that reads your thoughts back to you began to take on the tone of those closest to you. You wish you would have just stayed with your former friend. As annoying as he could be on a daily basis, you hated knowing that Sweet Mask, of all people, would always be in your head. Like he promised us.
"Uh, hello?" Saitama asks, waving a hand in front of your face, snapping you out of your thoughts. Man, you're a space cadet, today... Too much thinking, not enough--okay, right, Saitama is still waiting for an answer.
Picking up your notebook, you begin writing, but each time, you cross out a thought, a lie--"Remember when I nearly fell in the kitch-", "I was sitting on it weird, and that's how it-", "Well, you see, funny story-"--, and with each unconvincingly lie comes frustration and annoyance, because you feel like you should lie, but damn it you're nothing like Sweet Mask and you need to learn to tell the truth, even if it's embarrassing. With a resigned sigh, you flip the page and begin writing out the events, in summary, on how you sprained your ankle.
When you're done, you hand Saitama the notebook and go back to strumming your guitar, wanting to relieve the voice in your head that keeps telling you that, HE THINKS YOU'RE WEAK, and the other that says, You are weak. You should have run. You should have died.
But their voices are faint as you focus through your mounting headache and on the smooth notes of your guitar, closing your eyes as you try to remember the rhythm of the other songs your mother taught you before she-
"Wait, you were chased by one of those swarms?" Saitama says, brows knit and mouth down-turned in an almost annoyed grimace, and you're sure that that is the most expressive he's been with you since you first woke up in his apartment.
You're not sure if you should be pleased that you've gotten him to break out of his neutral stupor, or if you should be scared, because the look he gives you isn't one you would have ever expected from him: he's worried, angry. The care free, stomp a monster in the face, smack a bug lady out of existence, make a pun ass-naked after parting the clouds with a single slap-Saitama, that Saitama is gone and has been replaced with a very emotionally obvious Saitama, because he's worried... about you.
Through the mixture of emotions swirling in his face, you can see the main feeling he's experiencing based on the lines that crease his brow and the subtle seriousness that etches his face as he looks you over like he's trying to memorize your every detail. You tilt your head, regarding him with a similar look of worry, and that seems to soften his features, because he opens his mouth to say something, closes it, opens it again, closes it again, before finally he sighs, hands you the notebook, and returns to reading his manga, but you can still see the stress in his shoulders even as looks away from you.
You're not sure what to say, so instead you kind of just look down at your guitar and try to remember what it was you were going to play, but the memory escapes you. You look up and almost jump, because Saitama is staring at you, but it's different because you can feel the emotion behind the stare--despite his best efforts, his blank expression still burns with that same, tense worry, but he speaks as if what you're seeing is all lies, his voice betraying nothing, "Next time, just call me."
And you kind of just shake your head, stunned, before you write, "I don't have your number?"
A pause. Saitama's vaguely serious face turns really empty this time, and then he sits up and raises a brow like he's confused as to what you're talking about. "Didn't I give it to you yesterday?"
You shake your head, not recalling, but reach for your phone, and sure enough, no "Saitama" shows up in your very short list of contacts. You show him as much before pressing a button to guide him to a menu where he could put in his contact information, and hand him the phone.
"I could have sworn... didn't we eat yakisoba, yesterday?"
"No, we ate katsu then left over katsu with egg," you reminded him. You watch as Saitama reads the page, looking even more puzzled than you were at his reaction, "I could make yakisoba if you want? I mean, we do have the ingredients still..."
Saitama blinks and looks from you to the phone, shaking his head as he thumbs in his contact information, "No, it's fine... It must have been a dream, or something." and then he's handing you your phone back, and you text him, so that he'll have your number, and he receives the message with a nod.
You frown, suddenly curious, and then you scribble down your question and show it to Saitama, "What 'must have been a dream'?"
Barely glancing over the notebook to look at you, Saitama returns to his book and lets out a sigh, shaking his head, seemingly returning to his normal self. "It's nothing. Probably just... It's not important."
Again, you want to ask him what he means, but just as you're writing out your question, Saitama stands up, stretches, and makes his way to the closet where he pulls out his red, white, and yellow outfit, only giving you a small smile as he says, "I'm going to go pick up your ankle brace... maybe bring back some take out. Want anything specific?"
You want to bristle, because it's not fair that he can just avoid answering your questions, because he knows you can't write them out fast enough for him to be forced to read, but, Saitama seems distressed, past the blank facade he tries to play you with, so instead of asking him another question, you just shake your head and the relieved look he gives you makes you feel a bit guilty for wanting to push him further.
"Great, message me if you need anything, or if you notice any... stalkers or weird people creeping around."
Your eyebrows almost shoot up to your hairline, That was way out of left field. Is that why he's stressed out? Is Saitama being stalked? Cautiously, you nod your head, and give him a questioning look that he dismisses as he walks away to change in the bathroom, calling to you from over his shoulder, "Don't worry about it, just--yeah, text me if you see someone creeping by. I'll be back in a few."
You wait until he pulled on his boots and left the apartment before you ease yourself up and hurriedly limp to the balcony--Ow, ow, ow--where you see Saitama's cape flutter as he rounds the corner and along the path to the city. You're about to walk back into the apartment, intent on getting something done, when you notice a reflection casting light on your face and in your eyes. You turn to look somewhere up on the abandoned highway just as the light drops from your face, and you see something move, ducking down behind the barrier.
What the-... you squint, and you can just barely make out a tuft of spiky blonde hair that peeks out from the barrier, and--it can't be. The tuft of hair disappears; the person, or, rather, robotic young man that it belongs to probably having realized that it was visible. You smirk, amused, That's the importance of combing your hair, kiddo.
With a sigh, you return to the apartment and deliberate on whether you should find out what the hell Genos is doing, or listen to Saitama and stay inside and let your ankle heal. You check through Saitama's closet, pull on one of his "too big on you, but perfect for him" jackets, pocket all your important items, and sling on your swords. A little walking won't hurt, besides, vitamin D is good for the bones--not that you broke anything, but bones are just a step away from ligamental tissue, so some sunshine should fix your sprain in no time.
You nearly forget to tie your bandanna on around your face as you exit the apartment, but then you freeze. Shit, he saw your face. The Genos kid, or, now, who you desperately hope is the Genos kid from yesterday, saw your face and you're supposed to be... well, gone, and now that he knows you're not, he can tell the whole world and then that bastard, Sweet Mask, will really hunt you down. To make matters worse, Saitama told him your name, and you hadn't really been paying attention, for obvious reason, but now this is important.
Looking over to the highway, you see Genos drop down from it, look behind himself at you before he takes off running.
You sigh and lay your injured and taped up foot down on the concrete as you set a light jogging pace to begin following him, cringing as you go.
So much for not walking on my injury... You're not sure what you're scared of more: Saitama finding out that you refuse to rest your ankle, or Genos potentially exposing the carefully crafted lie you've been living for the past year and a half, but you know one thing for sure--when you catch the kid, you're gonna give him a very sharp piece of your mind on just how you feel about stalkers.
Chapter 7: Expect the Unexpected
So, it turns out trying to jog on your already critically sprained ankle is a bad idea and should probably go down as one of your worst moments. Your entire leg throbs as a painful, near numbing pulse spiderwebs from your ankle. Incapacitated as you are, you're stuck sitting on the concrete, leaning against a building somewhere in City-Z, feeling like even more of an idiot than when Saitama had to carry you back home. Behind your bandanna you grit your teeth and curse your ever enthusiastic dumbassetry for reasoning that running on an injury was a smart idea, because all you gained was an overall body ache and a lengthened downtime you're almost certainly going to be forced to spend off of your feet, healing.
To make matters worse, it's not even like you could have conceivably caught up with Genos in your current state--even without your sprain, he was still too fast for you, because most of your "speed" stemmed from your powers. You knew this, even as you were chasing after him, but you were so determined to not be weak that you only managed to further injure yourself, and not much else. You lost sight of him almost immediately after you started chasing him, but you didn't stop until you were sweaty and unable to move your dominant leg without crumpling to the ground. Honestly, it was amazing you held out as long as you did before you just couldn't take the pain anymore. Still, you can't just sit on your ass all day in the middle of City-Z; you're going to have to do something.
Leaning against the wall, you palm your cellphone with a clammy, shaky hand and look over your contacts as you calm your breathing. You don't even have to scroll down for how short your list is, but even as the highlighter hovers over Saitama's name, you hesitate. You don't want to ask him for help--not after everything he's already done for you. The man nursed you to health, gave you a place to stay, carried you back to the apartment--he even let you wear some of his clothes dammit!
You close your phone with a renewed sense of will, or maybe just stubbornness, and make one last stupid, hard-headed decision to get yourself back to the apartment without any help.
Looking around the crowded downtown area, you spot a drug store across the street and about half a block down. If you can make it across the road, and not break your ankle, you can purchase a brace, or, at the very least, some aspirin.
Using the wall as support, your shimmy your way into a standing position, and test your injured ankle. If you could have cried out, you would have screamed. Fuck, how can something so small and seemingly innocuous hurt so damn much? And, more importantly, how the hell are you supposed to make it to the damn drug store to get the items to help you walk if you can't walk to the damn drug store?
Looking around once more, you search for anything that could be used as a sort of walking stick and end up spotting for one of several stained brittle pieces of plywood leaning discarded against a nearby dumpster. Thankfully, it's close, nuzzled in the alleyway splitting the building you're leaning on and the adjacent store. Carefully, you balance on a single foot, and hobble towards the plywood, ignoring the looks some of the passersby give you when you reach the edge of the building and use one of your swords to topple the tallest piece of wood so that you can lean down and pick it up without putting any pressure on your swollen ankle.
The piece of plywood is a little shorter than you would have preferred, but you'll be able to semi-comfortably lean on it, assuming it will hold up well enough for you to do so. While still holding onto the wall, just in case it snaps, you test the wood for its strength and note how it wobbles just the tiniest bit under your weight. If you don't lean too hard on it, it shouldn't splinter. Carefully, you test it without the wall, and are able to shuffle a few feet towards the crosswalk. It's a harrowing journey, but thankfully no one bumps into you the entire time you very gingerly inch your way across the street, feeling every bit the spectacle for how many eyes are trained on you.
You're red-faced and out of breath by the time you make it to the sidewalk. You take a breather and lean heavily against the flimsy plywood plank supporting your frame as you try to wait out the throbbing in your ankle. Several times during your walk, you miscalculated a step and had to bite back tears when you were forced to correct yourself with your injured ankle. It throbs painfully, a reminder of how dumb what you're doing is, and possibly irreparable if you keep on messing around the way you are, but at least this whole incident will be over when you reach the drug store. With a sigh, you turn to continue your trek to the store when the bottom of the plank catches on a crack in the concrete and snaps in half, sending you crashing into the nearest bystander.
The man catches you, surprisingly enough, but your stumbling caused your bandanna to come loose and pool just beneath your chin. When you look up, the first thing you notice is a metallic clack as something drops to the ground and the way the man's eyes widen in recognition of you, his jaw slacked in surprise. The second thing you notice is the stupid, carefully gelled pompadour on top of his head, and the way your old friend's face twists when his characteristic irritation catches up with his surprise, "You've gotta be fuckin' kiddin' me, right?"
Bad grabs you by your arms and jerks you away from his chest so he can look you over in full. His scowl deepens the longer he takes, brain trying to parse with the fact that you're not dead--at least, not at the present moment, but you may very well be in the next few moments for the way Bad glares at you. His scowl twists into a snarl and he looks like he's about to launch into some sort of teenage, angsty tirade before you decide to push against him hard enough to cut off the beginnings of his rant, and subsequently knock yourself onto your ass.
Quickly, you gather your bandanna and secure it around your face, but just before you can tie the knot, Bad kneels down and tries to yank it off of you, "Nah, no, no, no, you are not about to try an' disappear, again! Not after I spent the last year searchin' for your corpse only to come up with nothin'!" Bad yells, obviously overcome with several emotions, all of them tinged with anger and betrayal. You think you see tears in the corners of his eyes, and his face is definitely red, but you can't afford to let him blow your cover just because his feelings are hurt.
You can't risk being exposed to the public just yet. If Sweet Mask caught wind of your return, you don't want to think about what you'd have to deal with concerning him, or the heads of the Hero Association. You can't lounge around and be their puppet anymore. You still have a world to save, and a goofy yellow suit wearing man to keep alive.
The second time Bad pulls your bandanna down, still yelling and grunting about you being an asshole, you lunge at him, cringing at the pain that blossoms in your ankle as you tackle your friend to the ground. Straddling Bad, you hold your crinkled bandanna up in a fist, and glare down at him. There's a brief expression of worry and confusion on his face before it melts straight back into fury. You drop your bandanna and sign, "I'm sorry," but the damage is already done.
Bad looks like he's torn between fighting you and screaming, so he sits up, probably intending to do both when he grabs you, but before you can react, you realize that a large group of people have surrounded both you and Bad, half of them have their phones out. Your stomach drops.
A man standing in front of you practically jumps back and taps the shoulder of the woman next to him, "That's--that's Quick Canary!"
Several bystanders gasp, and a few more pull out their phones and begin to snap pictures and take video, "Oh, my god! The S-Class Metal Bat and the A-Class Quick Canary know each other?!" a woman screeches from the gathering crowd.
"Quick Canary's alive?! I can't believe it! So, her death was fake?!" Someone else chimes in, "Of course she's alive! I knew she was alive! The conspiracy theories were right!"
"Someone should tell the Association, and-and Sweet Mask!" someone yells. Another responds, "Do you think they're still together?" you can't really tell who is yelling anymore, but you're starting to feel overwhelmed as more and more people clamor around. "Of course they are!" someone else shouts, "What makes you think the Association doesn't already know she's alive?! I heard heroes go undercover all the time, especially the high profile ones. Must have been a top secret-"
You look down at Bad, panic clear in your eyes. You lift your hands up, fingers trembling, but your hands feel so weak that you can barely form a simple closed fist, let alone string together a coherent line of signs. The anger in Bad's eyes soften just the slightest bit as he heaves an annoyed sigh and lifts you off of him while he stands. The look on his face is more contemplative than angry, now, but his signature scowl doesn't leave his face for a second as he ignores the crowd and grabs up his bat before calmly turning to look down at you where you're clinging to his arm for lack of better support.
You glance up at him then at his arm, before yanking your hands away and very gingerly balancing your weight on your uninjured ankle.
Bad's eyes narrow as he hefts his bat up to lean on his shoulder. He cocks his head to the side and nods, "We need to talk."
He doesn't so much as glance your way as he begins to walk through the crowd, an immediate opening splitting the group in half as he approaches. Your blank expression quickly morphs into annoyance. When you don't move, only fold your arms and frown at the back of Bad's slickly combed head, he stops, turns around to face you, and glowers, "Are you comin', or what?!"
You seethe, and quickly sign, "I injured my ankle! I can't walk!"
When he pauses to just look at you, you point down to your swollen injury and practically stab and cut the air as you sign at him, "Why do you think I fell into you?!"
Bad narrows his eyes and grumbles, but walks back to you before shoving his bat in your hands. You have just enough time to get a firm hold of it before Bad hoists you up in his arms and glares at you, "You better have some real good answers for why you disappeared for the past year and a half, or, if you're smart, you better come up with some, or we're gonna have some problems."
You scoff and roll your eyes, but let Bad walk you out of the crowd. You feel sick to your stomach as the group calls after you both, yelling theories, questions, or just simply your hero names. Metal Bat and Quick Canary. You wonder what will be worse: the rumors that will sprout up between you and Bad, or what Sweet Mask will do to you when he finds out you're alive.
Chapter 8: Apology
hi, ummmm....... i'm not really back to this story exactly, because i currently have a different obsession, but a lovely commenter reminded me of this story's existence and i took a little looksie in my drafts and i have apparently been had this full chapter finished. so! good news on that front, maybe not so good news for future updates since i've kind of fell off the bandwagon for one-punch, but that's not to say it'll be completely abandoned. it just isn't really a priority
anyway, hope you all enjoy this old/new chapter!
!!!there are hints toward suicidal thoughts!!!
He's not your friend, one screams. IMPOSTER. IMPOSTER. yet another chimes in, vaguely garbled and distorted, but the intent is clear as day. You make a face, cringing at their volume, even as another speaks low and calm, but somehow so much louder than the others, You idiot. As if anyone would care about you.
They begin to layer, leaving you only able to make out certain words, although you wished you didn't have to hear any of it. Worthless- unlikeable- ALONE- leave. You close your eyes and clench your fists so tight around the Bad's bat that your knuckles turn white. It isn't until you feel the weight of Bad's stare that you dare to open your eyes, again. You hear something like a hush, a low murmur dimming the voices, soothing them with a gentle hum. In your head, it feels like water running over them, covering them with warmth until they're silence once more. You open your eyes and watch in a daze as Bad's mouth moves, your own mouth hanging slightly open as you try to decipher what he's saying until it all finally fades in, "-freakin' me out," he says, one brow raised as his dark eyes dart across your face, "You alright?"
You collect yourself and glance quickly around your surroundings. You're deep in the forest at the exact place you first met Bad at; the edge of the lake laps gently at the almost sandy shore, and for the first time you notice it's drizzling. There's a creaky wooden bench nearby and not much else besides the dense trees, and a distance little cabin at the far opposite side of the lake. "Hey," Bad says, the sudden sound of his voice causing you to jump, threatening the echoes of a headache as a flock of dark colored birds fly past overhead. He tilts his head, regarding you more unimpressed than worried, "You, uh... Want me to set you down now, or are you feelin' comfy cozy like this ain't the weirdest shit since we fought that wannabe pirate monster a few years back?"
Accidentally, you let out a snort, recalling the monster fondly, despite its obviously rude intentions of brainwashing and enslaving City-A. It was an interesting evening, to say the least, one of the many fights you backed Bad up on, if only to ensure his little sister wouldn't have to fuss over him in the hospital like the other times. Bad cracks a smile, apparently recalling the memory, too, but you can tell he's trying not to by the way the side of his mouth tries to twitch down into a scowl.
Bad walks to the bench and gently lets you down, ensuring no weight is placed on your injured ankle before sitting down beside you with a hefty sigh. You place his bat down to lean against the bottom of the bench between the two of you as you try your best to relax, despite the nervous knots tying your stomach at the inevitable lecture Bad is going to give you.
It's quiet for a while, calm and peaceful - vaguely you can hear the chirp of birds and the buzz of insects behind you in the forest, but the lake is what draws most of your attention. It's beautiful. You and Bad always liked this spot, Bad maybe even more than you, because it's one of the only places in this entire country that hasn't yet been invaded or destroyed by monsters or people. The water shimmers, rippling gently from the light rain, but where you are underneath the trees, you're barely touched. You shiver, but only because of the sudden brush of cold wind that blows through the forest, and the movement catches Bad's attention.
As quick as he looks at you, he turns away, clearing his throat as the arm that had been resting behind you comes around to rest on his knee, elbows pressed against his thighs as he leans forward, face fallen and serious. You watch him, biting back a hiss from the way even a slight shift of your ankle brings pain. Bad seemingly focuses on the lake, but you know better. He's collecting his thoughts; Bad has always been in touch with his emotions, despite what his outer character and attitude might lead some to believe. He's not scared of showing his real feelings or voicing them - he's always been the type to tell the truth, even if it's blunt. That's how you were able to be friends for so long.
With a deep breath, Bad finally looks at you, but the anger you expect to see is nonexistent. Instead, all you see is how tired he is, and how he looks so much older even though it's only been a year and a half since you last met. Something bubbles up in your chest, but you can't decide whether it's anger or sadness. You don't have enough time for introspection, however, as Bad begins to speak, bringing all of your thoughts to a sudden halt.
"Y'know, you were one of the only people in my life that I could trust." His voice is low, but no less intense. You can see how hurt he is - how he's warring between frustration and blame, but he's not sure who he wants to point the finger at first, though to you it's obvious. It wasn't like he killed you.
Bad stands up and begins pacing, energy ramping up from the anger he must feel, probably recalling the events and the year after and coming to terms with the fact that it was all apparently a lie. He stops suddenly and looks at you, "Why?" he says, before advancing on you, caging you against the bench, but you don't flinch, you just stare. His eyes are glossy, teeth bared like he wants to snarl at you, but he's hurt and confused, betrayal surfacing clear on his face, "Why did you lie to me? To Zenko? We only had you! You were..." He pauses to push away, turning his back towards you as he swipes a sleeve over his eyes, "You were like an older sister to me."
You frown, opening your mouth, wishing you could call out to him, but he probably wouldn't turn around even if you could. Instead, you do probably the third stupidest thing you've done all day, and lift yourself from the bench. You balance on your good foot and test your injured ankle, only to collapse to the ground from the pain. You swallow down your agony, and take a deep breath before using the bench to lift yourself up, again. You stand on your only good foot and hop towards Bad. It's awkward, and you feel like you look stupid doing it, but you need to tell him - you need to let him know you're sorry.
The moment he turns around, you're briefly struck by the fear that he might just leave you here and you may never see him, again, but the look on his face says he's more surprised that you're closer to him than you were before. You bite the inside of your cheek as you try to maintain your balance, but your thigh is burning from the strain you're putting yourself through. Quickly, you sign, "I'm sorry about leaving you," Maybe it's not the entire truth - you didn't so much as leave him as you did just simply screw up, but he doesn't need to know that. Your apology seems to be enough of a start to get Bad to pause and regard you with more than unfocused betrayal. You lean forward, teetering awkwardly, "I know there's no amount of 'I'm sorrys' that will make what happened O.K., but I am sorry. I never meant to hurt you or Zenko."
Bad pauses, considering your words before scoffing and simultaneously speaking and signing back, "Yeah, 'never meant to hurt' us my ass!" he walks towards you, toes of his shoes almost brushing yours, "You know you could have told me anything! If you were in trouble, I could have helped! We were a team, and you just left me and Zenko, for what? Why did you even do this?!"
He doesn't need to say it for you to hear what he actually means - why did you die? Why did you leave him? You wish you could tell him the truth, how everything was so messed up, how Sweet Mask and people like him are terrible, because they only take and take and take... until you're standing at the edge of a tall building wondering what would happen if you just... but you don't tell Bad, because you're practically his older sister, and you're supposed to be the rational level-headed adult in his life - the shoulder he never had that he could lean on.
You take a deep breath and put your best face, "I can't tell you why-" you continue despite Bad rolling his eyes, "-but I promise I'm never gonna leave again."
Bad looks like he's about to argue, mouth screwing up like he just tasted something bitter. He points his finger at you, "Are you really gonna stand here and lie to me? After all these years, after everything, every monster, every-"
"I've been having dreams." You admit. It's about the only thing you can tell him, the only truth that won't completely derail your plans in progress while also keeping him safe.
Bad pauses, opens his mouth, closes it, then opens it again, "What the fuck kind of dreams make stagin' your own death acceptable?"
You cringe at his accusation, but continue, "They not just dreams, they're... it's a vision. I know it's going to happen-" You pause, holding up one finger to interrupt his interruption before you explain further, "I don't know how I know, but I know. It's awful. So many people die, and I'm at the center of it." Well, that's not exactly true, but you are the only one you know of that could possibly reverse time to give the actual hero a chance to fix it. Saitama, you suspect, is the only one you need to keep alive. "I just... I need to find a way to stop it all, and I couldn't be in the public eye to figure it all out."
Bad's tense posture loosens, but he doesn't seem entirely convinced, "So, what? On top of bein' able to teleport every and every fuckin' place, you can see the future, too?"
You bite the inside of your cheek, "I can't teleport anymore."
Immediately Bad stands to his full height, eyes wide as he looks you over, "The fuck- the fuck you mean you can't teleport? That's your thing, ain't it? That's your power."
"That was my power. It isn't anymore." You try not to show the bitterness you feel welling up in your gut, but it's difficult when it your irritation and frustration makes it seem like he's accusing you of purposely losing your abilities.
"Well, shit..." He leans on his bat, staring off to the side for a few moments, before looking back at you, "What happened?"
The voices slowly begin to peter in again, taunting tones of mocking phrases you can't really understand. Every time you try to think about it or they day you died, they always want to fucking chatter. You shake your head, not willing to face another headache so soon, "I'm not sure," a half-truth, then, "it doesn't matter."
Thankfully, Bad takes your solemn admission as good enough to end the interrogation. He looks to the ground then towards you before sighing, dropping his bat, and pulling you into a warm hug. It feels... nice. When Bad pulls away, he keeps you close, holding you out too look at your face, "I don't know what's really going on, or if ya' dreams are real, but I'm... glad you're back. I missed ya'." He gives you a goofy half-smirk, that you can't help but return. "Doesn't mean I ain't still pissed at ya' for disappearin' on me, though."
You laugh, before patting him on the shoulder, and turning only to wobble and almost fall over due to your screwed up ankle. Bad catches you, though, before giving you an unimpressed look. You grin, "Not pissed enough to not take me to the hospital though, right?"