Small Steps

A One Punch Man fan fiction by Hitokiri-san

A/N: In canon, Genos gives me the feeling that he doesn't really know how strong the mad cyborg is, that he is trying to get as strong as he possible can so that he can trump the mad cyborg in any event. Vague references from Genos and Dr Kuseno that the mad cyborg is "strong" doesn't manage to convince me.

Saitama, on the other hand, gives me the vibe that he doesn't really look forward to Genos getting stronger - he didn't want to be a teacher in the first place, doesn't know how to train the kid, and has no real desire for Genos to get this strong as it would be boring.

And then there is this ticking bomb as Genos realizes that just watching his teacher closely is really not going to make him stronger. Cue angst.

In his defense, he hadn't even let his guard down this time. He'd simply been outmatched, and there was no excuse.

Genos could hardly budge an inch as the monster - a deceptively cute, bubble-spewing reptile which had introduced itself by the name of Bobble - reared up with an endearing grin, and prepared to engulf him with its acidic, exploding bubbles.

Bobble used to be a heavy gamer, the thing had explained to him mildly; But then it became obsessed with this retro arcade game involving bubbly dragons and white sharks. It tried and tried, but it just couldn't beat the last stage. The repeated failure drove Bobble nuts, it mutated, and that was that. So much for a tragic sob story.

Its threat level, Bobble had added with a hearty little gurgle, was of course Dragon. For some reason, the pun amused it to no end. Looking at it now - looking at how everything around them had dissolved into molten, bubbling globs within seconds of the fight – Genos had to admit that this monster was worth every bit of that rank.

His jets were down, Genos realized, and both his legs were twisted beyond any hope of putting them back online. There was no way out of this.

He didn't even have the time to consider self-detonation when a giant bubble mushroomed towards him, obscuring his entire view. As he squeezed his eyes shut in the face of inevitable destruction (death, his brain said otherwise), the only thing that crossed his mind was:

Dad, mom – I'm sorry.

"Jeez, that was close, dude. ...ew, now my suit is totally ruined."

The anticipated blast never came, and Genos' eyes snapped open immediately at the familiar monotone.


Silhouetted against the afternoon glare was Saitama, his hero costume melting off his body in a thoroughly grotesque manner even as he stood, one hand scratching the back of his bald head. He'd apparently thrown himself between Genos and the gigantic bubble just in time to save his disciple from melting into a puddle of metallic goo.

What had Sensei done, Genos found himself wondering absently, even as he reeled from the shock of the close call, to make his body immune to even acid and flame?

"Hey," he cringed slightly as Sensei bent down and tapped him on the forehead, "you're ok, right?"

By now, Saitama had learnt to distinguish when Genos was and was not in need of urgent repairs, having seen the cyborg missing various body parts for more times than he could care to count. The general concept was that as long as his head and core were intact, Saitama could leave the cyborg in the good doctor's care and expect Genos to come home intact after the repairs were done.

Genos felt a wave of shame at his own incompetence, and would have hung his head had he had the mobility to do so.

"Yes, Sensei! ...I apologize for inconveniencing you."

Saitama gave him an unimpressed look and turned to face the blue reptile, recognition dawning on his face. Which was rare, considering Saitama's inability to remember names and faces even if his life depended upon it.

"Oh, hey, you're the Player 2 dragon from that arcade game! Bubble Dragon, Bubbly Bubbles, whatever."

The thing cocked his round head at Saitama, interest piqued.

"Bobble," it repeated amicably, by way of introduction, "I just couldn't beat Stage 100, and I've been going at the game for a whole year. This is simply tragic."

Saitama clucked his tongue somewhat empathetically. "The great white shark got you every time, yeah?"

"Yes. Could you possibly understand what I'm going through right now?" Bobble exclaimed, with feeling, even as it ambushed Saitama and engulfed him in a thick, seemingly impenetrable bubble before Genos could warn his teacher properly. The cyborg watched, concerned as his teacher floated off the ground along with the bubble, looking entirely too bored to consider evading.

"Must suck," Saitama said, arms crossed, "doesn't justify you melting down the whole city for that though."

Then he was out of the bubble and in front of the creature's face, fist cocked.

The rest was foregone conclusion.

"Doctor." Genos spoke up at the now-familiar ceiling of Kuseno's lab, while the scientist painstakingly installed his legs from scratch. All of his limbs were beyond salvage this time, the metal plating and circuits having been melted down into liquid puddles as Bobble tried and succeeded in immobilizing him.

Doctor Kuseno had heaved a long-suffering sigh at the teenage cyborg (or what was left of him) the moment Genos came through the door of his lab, Saitama carrying him in the crook of his arm as though he weighted no more than his usual groceries. Unfortunately, this was not the first time the scientist had seen Genos brought in by his teacher in such a state, nor - bless his soul - was it going to be the last time.

"Hm?" Kuseno prompted, wiring and snapping a cable into place as he waited patiently for Genos to continue. The cyborg had been quiet for the whole duration of the hours-long repairs, the way he usually was when he was silently moping over a humiliating defeat.

"Am I just a burden for Saitama-sensei?"

Kuseno hummed, already knowing what this was about. "What makes you say that?"

"I fought a monster today and was soundly defeated. The monster tried to finish me off with an acid attack. Saitama-sensei had to jump in front of the attack in order to save me." Genos was still staring at the ceiling, contemplative. He was much terser than his occasionally rambling self, as though he was trying to recount the events with some sort of word count in mind.

"A lesser man would have died on the spot, Doctor. I'm not even sure if any of the S-class heroes could have survived, jumping headlong into the attack like that." Zombieman, maybe, since it was rumoured that the man could regenerate even if he was blasted into smithereens. Maybe he was underestimating his fellow heroes, but no one else really came to his mind.

Saitama had backed off from Kuseno immediately, free hand stretching out in a "stop" gesture, when the scientist had reached over to inspect Genos upon their arrival.

"Hang on, Doc, we're both covered in this icky acidic goo stuff. Best not to touch right now. Yuck," he frowned in irritation as his cape sizzled and degenerated some more, "is there something we can wash off this stuff with? I don't want to walk around naked."

"Uh, yes, sure," Kuseno was dumbfounded, because the human body was not built to withstand corrosive acid, what the hell exactly was Saitama made of? It was, perhaps, only at this moment that he understood how exceedingly strong this man, this teacher Genos had found himself, was. The kid had not been exaggerating when he said Saitama was the strongest man in the universe. Considering Genos and his reckless shenanigans, Kuseno was glad that Saitama was willing to take the kid under his wings. At least he no longer had to constantly worry about Genos being dead in some dark alleyway every time the kid was out doing his thing.

"Good thing that Saitama-kun is made of ridiculously stern stuff, then," Kuseno replied airily, and watched with amusement as Genos scowled, deep lines forming around fine synthetic features. He tried to sit up, agitated, but Kuseno prodded at him to lie back down, gesturing meaningfully at the miscellaneous cables and wires that still connected Genos to the computers. He'd known Genos for far too long to be intimidated by his airs.

"Doctor! I'm being serious. I keep getting defeated because I am too weak, and I endanger my teacher every time this happens! I wish I could blame it on carelessness, but the truth is I couldn't defeat those monsters on my own, without Sensei's help! At this rate, I…"

"Hey, I made the body you call weak," the scientist cut in in mock protest, and Genos looked instantly apologetic, internal fans whirring in alarm.

"I didn't mean it like that, Doctor! I'm forever indebted to you for saving my life and making me this body. I just wish I have the strength to utilize your creation to its fullest potential. We have a goal to accomplish."

Genos had obviously been stewing over this issue on his own for far too long, and Kuseno decided to take pity on the kid, pushing on his shoulder and guiding him down onto his back, again. It wasn't like Kuseno could proceed with the repairs with the cyborg doing crunch ups on his lab chair like that.

"I'm just screwing with you, Genos. Chill," he coaxed, and Genos relaxed into the chair reluctantly, looking uncertain. "Saitama-kun is a lot to measure up to. He's the strongest, you said so yourself. Of course you won't be able to catch up to him today or tomorrow. Give it time, lad. You'll grow stronger bit by bit. These defeats are your lessons too. Be glad that your teacher is there to catch you when you fall. Otherwise you would have been dead five times over."

Genos would have believed that, if he hadn't initiated that sparring match with his teacher in the first place. Now the rift between his and Saitama's strength seemed entirely insurmountable, and he ran a hand through his hair, sighing.

"I wish I have your faith, Doctor. The truth is, I can't see myself reaching Saitama-sensei's level, not in a hundred years. I've hoped to grow as strong as he is, so that I could present a challenge to him one day; so that I could avenge my family. It seems like such a presumptuous goal, now."

Kuseno blinked. It was rare to see Genos so disheartened and negative, and it was even rarer to see him admitting to his insecurities like this. The kid usually forged forward in his goals with a determination that was brilliant and daunting all at the same time. The most recent fight, Kuseno realized, must have taken a great chunk out of his pride.

"I'm your mechanic, not your teacher. If you need guidance on your training, take it to your master. And don't give me that face," he scolded lightly, as Genos' expression grew sour, like he'd rather lose all his limbs three times than admit to Saitama that he needed help with his training. Kids. "You tracked him all over the city and bullied him into letting you stay in his house just so you can learn his art. What are you doing, if you aren't trying to learn it?"

Genos looked somewhat scandalised, shifting uncomfortably in the lab chair as he gave the scientist a baleful look. "You make me sound horrible, Doctor. Sensei is too strong to be bullied into anything."

Kuseno gave him a crooked smile, because Genos was a smart kid despite his one-track mind, and he knew full well that Saitama would never have let him be his disciple if he hadn't strong-armed his way into the household in the first place. "But he's a kind man, right?"

"Yes. He is too kind and tolerant for his own good." Genos sounded reverent and frustrated at the same time, as though he was recalling some kind of events outside the doctor's knowledge.

"Then he'll tolerate you asking him questions, jeez, Genos. Go right on."

"Questions," mused Genos softly. Kuseno nodded, and continued with his work in silence.

Questions did not quite fit into Genos' interaction with his teacher. Saitama, typically, showed very little interest in the outside world and in other people's - including Genos' - affairs. The only reason he even knew about Genos' tragic past was because Genos had dumped it on him that first time he'd shown up at his house; and even then he'd shown very little interest in what the cyborg had to say (sum it up in twenty words or less, you idiot!).

Saitama had never asked anything concerning his history thereafter.

It might be that his teacher was too kind, and had decided not to ask him about something so sensitive and painful unless he volunteered it. Saitama himself might say otherwise, but the man always acted with people's best interest at heart, and Genos respected him greatly for that.

Emotionally deprived as he was, Saitama might also just be having trouble taking in and empathizing with other people's plight. Genos still remembered vividly how Saitama had told him that he had grown so strong that he couldn't quite feel any emotion these days other than a lingering emptiness, and how he wished there were stronger monsters, because fighting monsters had become so mundane that he had trouble concentrating on the battles.

They had been talking about something else at the time – something about the thrill of doing battle with a strong opponent – and the man had offered the information as casually as though he was talking about the weather.

The cyborg had been downright traumatized at that moment, oil leaking from his eyes unbidden, because in all this time he had been training with his teacher, he had only been focused on his own revenge; he'd noticed that Saitama always seemed bored, lethargic and disinterested in everything. But not even once had he spared a thought for his teacher's mental wellbeing, and the possibility that his teacher had all along been depressed.

All Saitama had to say to that was a bland, mildly piqued "why is there black stuff on your face?" and, when he finally realised that Genos was weeping, "ugh, man, why is this a big deal?"

Correction - his teacher did ask questions, sometimes, about things around him. But to him, it was only idle conversation - he wasn't honestly curious for an answer, and it made very little difference to him whether his questions were actually answered or not.

"Why do people turn into monsters for random stupid reasons?" the bald man was half complaining, half wondering now, sprawling lazily across the floor of the apartment and propping up a comic book on one hand.

"I got a guy back then who turned into a monster because he did too much boxing. And then there was the guy who loved cars too much, and the guy who ate too much crab. And this time we got a dude who turned into a monster because he couldn't beat an arcade game. Jeez, give me a break. Must be tough for them too, getting turned into a monster for reasons like that and then getting heroes breathing down their necks."

His teacher's musings were legitimate to say the least, because no one really knew why or how human beings got turned into monsters, except for the fact that the number of such monsters had been skyrocketing in the past decade.

The only known reason was obsession. These people had been obsessed over one thing or another, and the intensity of their feelings had ultimately led them astray.

If this was truly the case, Genos wondered why his thirst for infinite power and revenge hadn't turned him into a monster yet. Maybe you needed an organic body in the first place to mutate, or maybe those people turned into a monster because their hearts were twisted.

But Saitama had mentioned the bubble dragon, and the recollection of his defeat and humiliation struck him so strongly he had trouble concentrating on his teacher's philosophical question of why human monsters had come to be.

"Sensei," he found himself setting down the dustpan he had been dragging around the apartment and settling into seiza across from Saitama, amber eyes unblinking. Saitama turned over a page, entirely unbothered with Genos' blunt interruption. This, also, was common occurrence, and Saitama had gotten used to the fact that the teenage cyborg just did not listen to what people had to say, and when he did, misinterpreted everything with a zeal bordering on religious.

"Hm?" the bald hero said instead, and Genos sat up straighter, dustpan laid horizontal across his lap like some kind of katana.

"Sensei, am I growing stronger?"

Saitama blinked and paused, half-turning towards him. "Well – you've been getting stronger and stronger parts from the Doctor, right? And you've been doing well in battles and moving up the ranks bit by bit. I think you're getting there."

Genos felt a sudden spike of frustration; he could tell that Saitama wasn't thinking this through, and his answer was something he just came up with on the fly.

His grip on the dustpan tightened. Of course; with his humiliating defeat at the hands of that dragon, he was already lucky that his master had not berated him for being entirely useless. He would have been presumptuous to assume otherwise.

"I apologise for being such a lacking disciple, Saitama-sensei. I did not wish to be a disappointment."

Saitama rolled over to face him, frowning resignedly. "…I just said you're getting there, dude. Were you listening?"

"Sensei is very kind," the cyborg said, dejectedly, "but I do feel like I am not making much progress."

There, he'd thrown it out into the open. Sensei had that expression he often wore which said he couldn't be bothered with deep, psychologically taxing conversations, but the man eventually sighed, deciding that he would humour his disciple just this once.

"Is it the bubble dragon?" Saitama guessed, and having already read the answer on Genos' face, added somewhat sympathetically, "there's no need to be so harsh on yourself. That one was a tough one."

It wasn't the bubble dragon, per se. It was a hundred failures adding up and prodding at Genos all at once.

Yet Sensei tore through the thing with a single punch anyway, as always, Genos thought sourly, but didn't say.

Instead, he shook his head, eyebrows drawing together in grim determination as he asked the one question he wasn't sure he wanted the answer to. Genos hoped, wryly, that Dr Kuseno was happy he was following his advice. "Sensei, please be honest with me on this. Do you think that I will ever get as strong as Sensei is, so that I may one day eradicate the mad cyborg and avenge my family?"

Saitama looked a little troubled. Genos knew, by now, that his master did not care much for talks about strength and training, because that was exactly where his existential crisis stemmed from. Did Saitama still follow through with his strength training regime every day? Genos didn't know; he had never seen his teacher do it. Maybe Saitama did his training in secret, away from all prying eyes.

Or maybe he'd stopped doing it altogether, having no incentive to get any stronger than he already was.

Be that as it may – and Dr Kuseno was right on this - those were crucial questions that Genos needed answers to, if he wanted his training to go anywhere. Even if he had to press his teacher for them.

Saitama pulled himself upright reluctantly. Insensitive as he was, this was not a conversation he could have while lounging against the low table.

"...and how strong is the mad cyborg?" he asked instead, tone serious, and Genos reflexively opened his mouth, about to say that it was very strong; after all, it had managed to flatten his town, kill his entire family and destroy his original body –

- except that any Demon level threat could deal exactly the same damage, if not stopped. He was fifteen years old and untrained and human at the time of the tragedy. How much could he trust his younger self's judgment? Granted, Dr Kuseno had also said that the mad cyborg was very strong, but the man was not a fighter, and his assessment of strength may or may not be correct.

His goal was to overpower and destroy the mad cyborg. How strong, precisely, did he need to get in order to do that?

Is it stronger than the bubble dragon?

Genos snapped his mouth shut, suddenly unsure.

"It is exceptionally strong," he insisted, softly, "ideally, to ensure my victory, I would need to attain a level of strength comparable to that of Sensei's. I know this is difficult if not impossible to achieve, but it is still my goal."

Sensei's gaze – sharper and less apathetic now – searched his. His teacher must have seen through the gaping hole in his logic, seen that he actually had no idea what level of strength to expect from the mad cyborg -

- and that he had been blindly chasing for infinite strength, for no apparent reason that Genos himself could fathom.

Saitama was not a vain person, but it was clear as day that the mad cyborg could not be as strong as the bald hero was, if only because nothing in the world could be quite as strong. But Saitama was also not a harsh person by nature, and he only tilted his head, lips drawn down in a grimace.

"You don't need to get that strong," he advised grumpily, "you won't get any challenge after your revenge if you get too strong."

That was spoken, of course, from Saitama's own experience, and Genos found that he had no way of associating with this sentiment at all.

"I am created for the purpose of revenge, Sensei. With respect, not getting any challenge after my goal is achieved is the least of my concerns," the teenage cyborg replied, and with a quirk of his lips, added, "Besides, I will be able to give Sensei a run for his money if I can achieve that level of strength."

For some reason, Saitama was instantly testy. "The good doctor saved you so that you could live. Give him some credit, okay?"

Somewhere along the way, after having met each other for one too many times, his two mentors had gained some sort of understanding – and respect – for the other, and it soon became apparent to Saitama that Kuseno was something like a father figure to Genos. The scientist had not turned the kid into what he was just so he could destroy the mad cyborg. If anything, Kuseno was perpetually worried – and he had good reasons to – that Genos would one day bite off more than he could chew, and end up so utterly destroyed that even the ingenious scientist would have no way of putting him back together. This, Saitama could definitely relate to.

His tone startled Genos, who looked instantly chastised. "I apologise, Sensei. I do not mean to sound like I am carelessly throwing my life away. I don't want to die, and I have no right to do so, not when you and Doctor Kuseno have saved me so many times."

Saitama looked like he wanted to argue, so the blond cyborg pressed on. "But I must avenge my family, Sensei. They died a brutal death before my very eyes, and I can't – I won't rest until I have hunted this cyborg down. I need to be much stronger than I am now, so that I can succeed in destroying it without killing myself first. Please - guide me, Sensei."

There was nothing Saitama could say to something like that, and he could only pinch the bridge of his nose, sighing.

"That was my bad. Sorry," he closed his eyes. "I don't want to sound like I've been scamming you all along or anything, but you've already realised that I don't actually have a secret to my strength, and I can't really teach you anything useful, right?"

"That's not true. Sensei has enlightened me in so many ways, and my duty as your disciple is to figure out the key to your strength," the cyborg said, brows starting to draw together intensely, and Saitama didn't want to be drawn into a long, meaningless discussion on his merits (or lack thereof) as Genos' teacher, so he held out a hand.

"I'm just saying - if you want to go to a guy who actually knows how to teach you something, you can always go to someone like old man Bang, he actually has pretty awesome skills too. You don't need to stick around if you don't feel, er. If you know what I mean," Saitama quickly backtracked when he saw those amber eyes narrow dangerously.

"My discipleship with Sensei is not something I take lightly," his self-proclaimed disciple said, simply for once, in a tone of voice that said he was deliberately restraining himself from slamming down on the low table. Huh.

"Just thought I ought to tell you, if you ever decide this 'training' thing is not working," the bald hero said with a resigned shrug, shoulders dropping into a lazy slouch. Genos could indeed be a strange kid at times, and it was best that he left the matter be.

There was a long stretch of silence, in which Genos bowed, fists clenched in his lap. Sensei was saying – he might not know it himself - that he expected Genos' training with him to go nowhere, and that he would be better off finding himself a new teacher.

That, Genos realized, was the true answer to his original question.

He was not growing stronger. Saitama was not disappointed, because he didn't truly have any realistic expectations that Genos would grow strong enough to match him in this lifetime or the next. Saitama had agreed to teach him out of kindness, had grown used to his presence; but when it came to it, he had no more expectations for him than Bang had expectations for Charanko.

He wasn't exactly surprised at the revelation, but it still brought a sharp sting to his non-existent heart. The only thing that could be worse than Saitama's disappointment was that he wasn't even expecting Genos to achieve anything in the first place.

Worse yet, he knew that Saitama did have a point. Try as he might, he couldn't unveil the secret of his teacher's strength; it was as though the man had turned into God overnight, the way lesser human beings had turned into monsters. If vengeance was first and foremost in his (not) life, and he could not find a way to master Sensei's skills, why wasn't he out there finding a more effective way of training?

Because, while vengeance would always be the core of his existence, he'd found a home in this ghost city, a life and purpose, a mentor to look up to. For the first time in years, his life had settled into some kind of orbit, and he was loath to leave it.

And somewhere along the way he'd wanted – like a child - to impress his teacher with his progress. It had – if he was willing to admit it - little to do with his plans of vengeance, and everything to do with wanting to be acknowledged. It was probably weak of him, to cling to the semblance of a normal human life like that, but he had never been good at letting go.

Dad, mom – I really am sorry. This will take some more time, but I don't know how to give up. Forgive me.

"I will prove you wrong, Sensei," he found himself blurting out, eyes ablaze. "Weak as I am, I may impress you yet."

Saitama blinked. "I never said that you are – you really don't listen to what people are saying, do you?"

Genos hesitated, feeling small and silly all of a sudden to have said something like that, when he didn't have the strength to back it up. Saitama grimaced, and reached over to pluck the dustpan out of his grip. The guy looked ridiculous trying to curl himself around the household item, and Saitama thought that he'd be doing his fans a service by taking the thing off him.

"You asked if I think you can be as strong as I am, right?" he finally said, and when Genos practically exuded nervous anticipation, he sighed once again.

"I don't know. I'm not trying to bullshit you or anything, but I don't even understand how I get my powers, and I don't know what you can do to get it," he explained, gesturing vaguely, "but you're young, and determined, and pretty smart. I think you'll get a lot stronger, you know? Strong enough to achieve your goals, and not be bored out of your mind."

The blond cyborg looked somewhat stupefied in his seiza, so Saitama shot him a small smile which he hoped looked assuring. "The most important thing is that you have a hero's heart. Like that bicycle guy - Mumen Rider? That will take you far. Just chill and keep working on it, okay? There's plenty of time. No more beating yourself over fights you lose. And absolutely no more charging headlong at monsters."

Genos started, looking up in surprise, and ah – there was approval in his teacher's slight smile, and he remembered, belatedly, that Saitama had always carried a somewhat romanticized outlook of heroes in his heart. One that had ultimately led the man to become a hero – and one that he had all along been assessing Genos (and everyone in the Heroes' Association) with, even if the man wasn't consciously doing it.

"Maybe I should really ask old man Bang how to teach properly, come to think of it," his teacher said, scratching his cheek, but his student was not listening.

It wasn't overwhelming strength, by itself, that his teacher was expecting from him, because strength in itself meant nothing to his teacher. It was his heart. Saitama had been observing his actions all this time - and had found him a worthy hero, even if he wasn't much in terms of strength in his Sensei's eyes.

Genos unclenched his hands, and let out a soft breath. He had been chasing the wrong things, for the wrong reasons, and he was glad that he realized his mistake before he eventually backed himself into a corner. Thank you, Dr Kuseno, for pointing me in the right direction.

Smiling in relief, he sank into a formal bow. "I will take your teachings to heart, Sensei. Thank you so much…for everything. Please continue to guide me in my path."

"That was not supposed to be –maybe you could stop copying this conversation onto your notebook with a calligraphy pen, Genos?"

Maybe it was fate that he ran into Mumen Rider a few days later during a solo trip to the supermarket – to be precise, Genos plucked him from the air, surprised, as the other hero freefell from what appeared to be a giant tree.

It turned out that Mumen Rider had been trying to retrieve a red balloon that had gotten stuck on a giant tree for a little girl. Things quickly went south when the tree he was climbing suddenly started flailing around, surprising the hero and dislodging him from his perch completely.

"I am known as Yggdrasil, the Giant Tree of Legends," the gigantic lump of wood said, his voice a booming bass, as it spread its branches (arms?) dramatically and began whacking at all and everything around them, "fear me, creatures of this earth, for I am the source of all life."

Genos momentarily balked at the prospect of just jumping up and incinerating what was probably a godly creature and "the source of all life" altogether, but Mumen Rider shook his head at him, exasperated.

"Too much Norse mythology," he explained tersely, "or just way too much RPG."

The teenage cyborg nodded in irritated understanding, disentangled the balloon from the creature's grasp, and proceeded to burn the tree down to the ground with his signature flame cannon. Unlike the bubble dragon, this thing was made of flammable material, and was significantly less of a challenge. Considering the crowds that had gathered around the site, Genos thought it was a blessing.

When all was said and done, the bicycle rider had come up to him with a grateful smile. "You have my thanks, Demon Cyborg. I wouldn't have been able to beat that monster and protect everyone by myself."

True to his reputation, Mumen Rider was certainly one of the most pleasant heroes in the Association, even if he was not one of the most formidable. Genos nodded at him in respect, recalling his teacher's admiration of the man's sense of justice and feeling it strongly in that instance.

"Consider it repayment for that time with the Sea King," he replied. He did owe his fellow hero his life, after all, and he was grateful for the opportunity to repay the favour.

Genos saw - rather, he felt through his sensors the small child Mumen Rider was fetching the balloon for, curled up in fear under a bench. Remembering the balloon in his hand, he offered it to Mumen Rider, who just gave him an embarrassed smile.

"I never got around to fetching that balloon," he demurred with a wave, and gave him a small shove. "You should give her that. It will make her day."

The teenage cyborg paused, taking in the man's haggard appearance from the ordeal. "You are a true hero, Mumen Rider. I will learn from your example."

And when Mumen Rider looked politely confounded, Genos turned around to give the child her toy back.

The kid gave him a brilliant grin, all adoration and hero worship, and it struck Genos at the moment that it might have little to do with the fact he had incinerated a giant monster, and more to do with the fact that he had given her back her balloon.

"You broke the eggs," Saitama's voice was woeful as he unwrapped the shopping bag and was faced with a dozen eggs in various state of destruction, and the teenage cyborg looked down, ashamed.

"I apologize, Sensei, I ran into a tree monster on the way back," he explained, apologetic, as his teacher fished the gooey mess out and attempted to salvage what was left of the eggs.

"You sure have it hard," his teacher said, forgiving as usual, and shrugged. "Well, we can have steamed eggs tonight!"

"Sensei," for some reason he felt the urgent need to add, "I gave a child her balloon back."

"Did you?" his teacher looked slightly amused, chuckling as he slid him a sideway glance.

"Good job, Genos."

E/N: I never even got around to Stage 100 on Bubble Bobble; I was eternally stuck at something like stage 70 or something, but the frustration was really something else, and the feeling has stayed with me throughout the years. All hail Bubble Bobble!