Disclaimer: Yamcha, Marron and DBZ actually do not belong to me quite yet. If I had gotten to them sooner, I would have had Marron have some more of Kuririn's traits. She IS half his, after all.
Warnings: Rampant symbolism.
Authors Note: This is a piece that is based on the theme of time, and the passage of. This is also a pure, unabashed Yamcha/Marron, so if an age difference of around thirty-eight years squicks you, pack up your inhibitions and clear out of here, né. Yamcha is a sexy, sexy man, for those of you who didn't know, and I like him with short hair. Ponytails on men have a tendency to look skanky.
Many thanks to Penumbri, who has no idea I'm dedicating this fic to her, and who's inspired me more than anyone I've ever known. Hats off to you, m'gel.
She can't quite recall when it began. Time was more forgiving, then, allowing one second to tumble to the next without conflict or concern, breathless giggles and swishes of sassy golden tassels enough to keep the inevitable at bay. It is times like these, cursing creaking knees and stiff joints (was she so old already?) that she most mourns the time squandered in the flippancy of youth and wasted on the trials of the old. Somewhere in the whirlwind of months and years the pace had slowed, dragging moments into eternities and tugging at flawless skin. …
She does concentrate, though, cherry wood and wicker creaking beneath her –the chair could break any day—and with a slippered toe nudges the sewing kit further across hardwood floors scratched and sullen with age. Even as memory fades into obscurity –click-clack-click of needles meek in the weight of the silence, hard eyes flickering from stitch to uneven stitch—she can still catch the scent of smoke and spice in the air, enticing and nonexistent, and feels the familiar rush of anger that makes the scars burn.
She can't quite recall when it ended; tears spilling from angry eyes and unhappy scraps of yellow hair brushing the tips of her ears.
Marron noticed it around his sixty-ninth birthday.
"Can you do it tomorrow?" she asked instead.
He looked up. Baked potatoes and flaccid cheese-noodles; she could count on one hand the traits she had inherited from her father, and being a good cook had never been one of them. "Dinner?" he guessed, and contemplated his plate when she nodded. "Yeah... not to, you know, make you mad or anything, but if you could only cook like your dad… between you and me we'd have banquets all week."
"Should've married him, then," she pouted, poking at her potato.
"Well, we entertained the idea for a while, but we just couldn't end up finding a wedding dress small enough to fit him." Yamcha scooped up a bland forkful and rocked an insolent salute off his temple with it before shoving it into his mouth. "And just between you and me, you're a heck of a lot prettier," he announced around his mouthful.
"You're not right-handed."
Yamcha paused, then slid the fork from his mouth, frowning at her as he swallowed. "M'sorry?"
She rested her chin on her hand. Her eyes, heavy-lidded and baby blue, were deceptively unfocused. "You're using your right hand to eat. You're not right-handed."
He glanced down and blinked, as if surprised. "Well, what do you know? Guess it comes from baseball. I was a switch-hitter, you know."
"I know." The bird-clock on the adjacent wall groaned to life, the eight o'clock Black-capped Chickadee sluggish with the onset of battery failure. "You're not batting."
Dark eyes flickered slightly; he shrugged, setting his fork down deliberately. "My arm was hurting earlier today, so I decided to give it a rest, that's all. I figured I must've pulled a muscle or something –I used to do that all the time, anyway. Why the sudden interest?"
Marron traced a groove in the table, then absently rubbed the crumbs that had gathered on her finger. "No reason," she said softly.
Still, when bedtime rolled around and candles had long since been extinguished, she sat, watching him breathe in the rhythm of deep sleep, and gently thumbed the grey streaking from his temples, thinking.
It had probably started sometime around her eleventh New Year's, and she had felt it then, and hadn't felt it, like a song played too long to be anything but unremarkable. Grown-up conversations had a way of both enticing and boring adolescent girls; come twelve-thirty she was weary of politics and innuendo. The living room was still teeming with guests, lights dimmed and Wild Turkey on Papa's breath as he kissed her good-night. She didn't know if anyone else had noticed when she left, save Goten, whom she kicked soundly in the stomach when leaving the room before she realized he was sleeping in front of the doorway.
Had she not heard the sigh she would have passed the kitchen. As it happened, she hesitated, toes curling and uncurling in the air above the first step, then backtracked, treading carefully from carpet onto tile. Yamcha was leaning against the counter, fingering a glass of milk and squinting at the chili pepper lights fastened in random, haphazard places around the room. Though her footfalls were silent he immediately turned his head, blinking lazily at her. "What's up, baby girl?"
Briefly she worried about him being annoyed at the disruption of peace, but the easy-going manner was sufficient enough encouragement to calm her nerves. "Nothing."
He downed the rest of the milk in a swallow, rubbing the back of his wrist carelessly along his upper lip. "Goin' to bed?"
Something sticky tugged at the bottoms of her feet. "Uh huh."
"Yeah, I don't blame you. It is pretty late." He set the glass in the sink and reclined against the counter once more, exhaling slowly.
She grimaced and wiggled her toes again, wondering what it was, and as an afterthought wondered why her ears suddenly felt so warm. "Why aren't you at the party?"
"Oh, I dunno. Got a little too noisy, I guess." He shifted; the red glow sharpened to green, reflecting off his irises eerily. "Plus, they're talking about politics in there. The stuff's okay, but man, do they get boring with it…! Proposal this, proposal that, who cares?"
"But… won't they miss you?"
"Barring those underage, your dad's probably the only one not drunk in there. I doubt they even saw me leave."
"… What about you?"
"Hm? Sorry, kid, you've gotta speak up. These ears aren't what they used to be."
She swallowed, unsure if she was encroaching upon a line. "Are you… you know…"
He blinked, then smiled, though she was unable to tell whether it was prompted by the topic or her discomfiture. "What, drunk? Nah." He focused up on the ceiling wryly. "It's hard having fun getting smashed –pardon me, little girl—when you know you have to drive yourself home. Last time I tried I ended up wrapping my car around a tree. Managed to knock myself out, too, to add to the humiliation. I better never hear of you doing anything that stupid, got that?"
She nodded. She felt childish all of a sudden, sporting a knee-length shirt and two long pigtails, and sought to increase her importance in the conversation. "So… politics…" she said lamely.
Sharp eyes flickered to her, glittering with amusement. Marron felt herself blush. "You know, the election in West City. I… I think Ashton Kalkit should be voted in as mayor."
"Really? Why's that?"
She struggled valiantly for an intelligent reply, attempting to recall what Bulma had said about the man. "He's… well, Kalkit is… he's pro-choice for a lot of things, and… and I think people should be allowed to follow their own paths as long as they don't hurt other people doing it."
"That could be dangerous, though." Yamcha's expression was neutral. "People thinking differently."
"I don't care," she said stubbornly, warming up to the conversation. "Oppression is horrible. Papa taught me about the wars on Earth thousands of years ago. People had been slaves of other people just because they didn't look or think the same way. Nobody should have that kind of control over anybody else. It's cruel."
"That's very wise of you. Want a glass of milk?"
Yamcha half-turned and retrieved a glass from the cupboard behind him. "You should always drink lots of this stuff," he murmured, sliding the jug from the counter and pouring out the remainder. "Makes strong bones. Helps ya fight."
Marron took the glass from him, biting her lip as warm fingers brushed hers. "Papa… he doesn't want me to fight. He says it's pointless."
"Okay." He withdrew, resting against the refrigerator and closing his eyes. "He's the boss. He's a hypocrite, but he's the boss. Drink it anyway, okay? Don't let it ever be said that your Uncle Yamcha didn't look out for you."
Snow brushed up against the window on a sullen surge of wind, caking crystals across the glass. Marron sipped shakily, idly wondering how arms could look so incredible under such a singularly nondescript white T-shirt, how such a crude red glow could slide off the curve of his lips and the rise of his cheekbones with such (perfection…?) how scars could dominate and yet not ruin a face, how utterly appalled her parents would be at how wildly her heart was racing. "Uncle Yamcha… how old are you?" she asked suddenly.
A startled pause; Yamcha chuckled softly. "Who wants to know?" he teased.
He shifted, nudging magnets aside with a broad shoulder, and allowed his head to roll to the side slightly. When his eyes opened again, they were slightly distant, and perplexed. "I think… well, all things considered… yeah, I guess I'm probably forty-eight or forty-nine, now. Maybe fifty. Nah, let's make it forty-nine, it's a nice happy medium. Or maybe it is fifty…? We can say I'm forty-eight and a half and make it seem more official. Then again, that might seem a little too generous, so… yeah, forty-nine. And a couple of months. Weeks. A month and a week. However you look at it, I'm old."
Marron, who had been staring in horrified disbelief, was startled into a response. "No you're not! My Papa's younger than you and he has grey hair, and you don't."
Yamcha shrugged, grinning with indolent complacency. "Your dad just isn't as lucky as I am. Age'll catch up to me sooner or later, kid. Just wait a while."
That night, one-eyed stuffed panda by her side and covers tucked to her chin, Marron lay awake, pondering the ceiling. When the next night rolled around, she didn't sleep then, either.
"You should learn how to fly," Yamcha said.
They sped over the ocean at a steady 65mph, shopping bags tossed in the backseat and eyes stinging with salt and love of speed. Yamcha was sitting back, idly nudging the wheel with practiced flicks of his fingers. He looked at her from the corner of his eye. "Fly," he repeated, and focused his attention back forward, lowering his voice. "It's not that hard."
"I don't know…" When she was six, her father, in a rare moment of blithe idiocy, had gotten excited and had attempted to teach her the Traditional way, shooting up a couple of miles and letting her go without warning. After her mother had finished beating him she had dragged him up to the Lookout to get him a senzu, leaving Marron behind to wish she'd never even heard of ki or flying. "I'm not very good at it."
Yamcha snorted softly. "That's crap. Let me guess: it was your father. He did it the Traditional way."
"Well, that's the thing. Not everyone learns best that way. Take Videl. You didn't see Gohan dropping her out of the sky, did you? He was patient and taught her the right way. She doesn't fly much anymore, and she's never had enough raw energy to actually shoot the ki she gathers or anything, but she can always get out of there if she's in a tight spot. That's why I want you to learn it."
So that was it. Marron was still reluctant. "You're going to teach it to me slowly?"
"Sure. Man, I'll never get girls. How can you not want to learn how to fly? It's, like, everyone's dream, isn't it? You can't even imagine the thrill you get. It's addictive."
"Sounds great," she said sarcastically, though a genuine smile graced her features. "Okay then, hotshot, stop the car. Teach me."
"Woah." Yamcha lightly pressed the brake, staring at her in confusion. "Now?"
"Yup. Right here. Come on, I want to learn."
"Okay, okay, I'm stopping." Yamcha finished decelerating and put the car into park. Sensing moisture, the convertible switched modes; as they descended, a raft popped from the bottom with a sound equivalent to a small explosion, scarlet 'CAPSULE CORP.' logo bright in the sunlight. The car settled gracefully into the water. "First things first," he said.
Marron squeaked as he lifted her out of her seat and set her onto the hood. He floated in front of her, propping his elbows up on an invisible ledge. "Has Kuririn taught you anything about energy?" he asked calmly.
"A little... Mom actually taught me more than he did." She shifted her weight, trying not to feel nervous when the car bobbed in all sorts of sickening ways. "She told me she never used to use true ki attacks before she met Papa, but once she started she saw how useful they were."
"Internal power supply," Yamcha murmured. "Yeah, I remember her saying something about that. Well, did she teach you about the manipulation?"
Marron nudged her braid off of her shoulder. "You put your ki under you," she said hesitantly.
"Yup. Wanna try? Here." Yamcha took her waist and motioned to the sky with a quick jerk of his chin. "Go for it. Imagine a cloud coming up from under you and pushing you into the air. It takes balance, which is why I'm holding on to you for now, okay? Not that I need an excuse, or anything…"
"But I can't…"
"Aw, c'mon, Marron! If Videl can do it, so can you."
Marron crossed her arms stubbornly. "Why are you always comparing me to Videl?" she challenged.
"Well, duh. She's a pure-blooded human."
"So are you."
"I'm part wolf," he said seriously. She twisted her head to see if he was smiling, but he gently tugged at her waist. "Let's go, baby girl. You wanted to learn."
"Fine." Sighing, Marron closed her eyes and concentrated. As usual, her energy eluded her at first; not being a z-fighter or even being remotely interested in fighting had limited her skills in many respects. Thanks to her mother she could concentrate it enough to twist a stubborn lid on a salsa jar or un-jam a door, but shaping it into something tangible required an effort she had never even thought to exert. "All right…" she whispered.
Yamcha made a surprised noise in the back of his throat when Marron began to rise, and tightened his grip. "Hey, I thought you said you'd never done this before!"
There was an odd tingle at the back of her neck, like a shiver that couldn't quite complete itself. "I think you're giving energy to me," she confessed after a moment. "I feel strange… I don't know… more powerful. I think it's due to the contact."
"Huh? Oh, whoops." Yamcha hastily let go and backed away. "Sorry, I…"
Marron barely had time to shriek before she plunged into the ocean. She heard Yamcha's frantic voice as she floated back upward and wasn't surprised to find herself nose to nose with him when she resurfaced. "Are you okay?" he sputtered, horrified. "I'm so sorry, I… I wasn't even thinking…"
Marron looked up through a curtain of soggy golden hair, pondering the weight of her sandals and her clothing. "Would you please help me out?" she asked at length. "I may have learned to swim before I could walk, but even I find this a little uncomfortable."
"Huh? Oh, oh yeah! …Here, grab hold, okay?"
She grasped the proffered hand firmly, smiled sweetly, and yanked. Yamcha yelped as he tumbled into the water. "Serves you right," she cried as the z-fighter resurfaced, spitting seawater and cursing. "Letting me go…! What if we'd been up in the air?"
Yamcha tossed his head to get his hair from his eyes, scowling in mock indignation. "Then I would've made sure to tickle you while you fell!"
She laughed and ducked underneath the water as he lunged toward her, then dug an elbow into his stomach. She felt him double over; flipping neatly, she pressed both hands to his head and shoved him deeper, then surfaced. He shot upward a moment later, coughing. "You can't beat me," she warned him, trying not to laugh. "I'm a fish in the water. You'll never catch me, not in a million—"
The sea exploded upwards. Marron bit back a scream as the water around her dipped enormously and lifted her up on the crest of the resulting waterfall. Yamcha appeared in front of her and snatched her up into the air as the sea came crashing down onto itself. The car, sensing the disturbance, kicked into auto and rose into the air with a prim chug of machinery. Marron stared at the chaos below her, then turned her head to Yamcha, an indignant comment on her tongue. It fled instantly when saw that his head was bowed, his breathing shallow and ragged. Alarmed by the pallor of his skin, she reached up to touch his face. "What's the matter?" she asked softly.
His eyes flickered open at her voice. Seeing her anxious expression, he smiled dazedly. "Guess I overdid it…" he whispered.
"I guess you did," she agreed, cross with concern. "All right, you've won. I admit defeat. Now let's get back to the car, all right? No more flying lessons for today."
He nodded slowly, still trying to catch his breath, and piloted them over to the convertible. The little car was still hovering over the water with cheerful efficiency, unaffected by the turmoil of the ocean. Yamcha lowered Marron into the passenger's side carefully, then began floating over to his own seat. Before he could land Marron scooted nimbly across the controls and plopped herself in instead, fastening her seatbelt. "Passenger's," she said.
Yamcha hesitated. "I'm fine, Marron," he objected. "I just got a little winded back there…"
Slumping, he settled down into the car. "You sound like your mother when you do that," he grumbled.
Marron flashed him a sunny smile as she started the car. "That's what Papa says."
"I can drive, you know. I'm just fine."
"I know," she said.
But then again, when barely a minute had gone by and he was curled against the door, fast asleep, a part of her, and more than a part again, couldn't help but doubt.
She had that feeling again later, too, though pinpointing the trigger turned out to be surprisingly difficult. It came most often when she wasn't expecting it: in the middle of a game of checkers… the time he slipped on a splotch of milk and spilled cereal all over the kitchen floor… the time he spent the night at the Kame hut and woke everyone up in the house at seven-thirty the next morning with his shower performance of 'You Make Me Feel Like A Woman' (done in an obnoxious, piercingly loud falsetto)… how he randomly used his "Wolf Fang Fist!' attack when doing something as simple as spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread and then laughed for hours afterwards. As she matured, pink dresses shortening to cut-offs and halter-tops when her parents' backs were turned, and outings with her Uncle Yamcha shifting from playgrounds to movies and lunch, she began to see that the other females could feel it, too. Whether it was bumping into him, talking a bit louder when he came around, fluffing their hair… there was almost always some kind of reaction when he came into a room. To Marron it was glaringly obvious, but for reason Yamcha never seemed to notice, and had seemed surprised when she finally questioned him about it one day.
"Why don't I… what?" Yamcha stared down at her, bewildered, as they exited the movie. The Rabid Toads of Zangarr, the poster read, blithely advertising what was perhaps the worst picture ever to ever visit the screens. "What do you mean?"
Marron stepped over a grate on the sidewalk. "I mean," she said patiently, "why don't you look at women? I'm sure you've seen the way they check you out."
Yamcha frowned into space, absently hopping onto the stones surrounding a despondent city tree. "I dunno. I mean, sometimes, yeah. Some of them are really obvious, you know? I just try not to look at them."
"But why?" she asked in disbelief. "Aren't guys supposed to like having girls pay attention to them?"
He grinned, skipping back to the ground soundlessly. "If they knew what age I really was they'd go running. Why should I play along when I know no one's going to benefit? I'm not gonna put any girl in that position, it's cruel."
"So… you don't want a girlfriend?"
"Well, I wouldn't go that far. But seriously, if I were supposed to I probably would have gotten one by now, don't you think? It's a little too late for stuff like that."
Marron opened her mouth to object, then gasped as a large man in a rumpled business suit shoved past her. "Move it, little girl," he snapped belatedly.
Marron began to stutter, an apology already on her lips, but Yamcha reacted faster. "That was uncalled for," he said softly.
"Deal with it, punk," the man snarled, then howled as a ki bolt struck his backside, sprawling forward onto the pavement. His briefcase smashed to the sidewalk, breaking open and scattering papers over the road.
Yamcha took Marron's hand and smiled at her. "Besides," he continued as if the conversation had never been interrupted, "no one wants some crusty old guy walking next to them and pretending to be a stud. I promised myself that I'd never sink so low. I'm not even good-looking anymore, so what's the point?"
But he was, she realized, and the women knew it too. From then on, then, whenever they were out, Marron took her Uncle Yamcha's arm, blinking up at him disarmingly when he raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and snuggled closer to him –very subtly, of course, it was just a game—whenever the women began turning their heads. For a few moments then, at least, she could pretend that she was his; and, if she dared to dream a little, that he was hers.
Later, when she didn't have to pretend, she still did it anyway.
"There are some things I wish I'd done."
Marron looked up. She had been filing her nails mindlessly, smoothing down three-quarter moons pretty in pink, sand soft under her legs as she continuously shifted her weight. The sun was beginning to set now, the Sunday beach crowd gradually dispersing and heading back up to the city behind them. "Done?" she echoed.
He rolled over to look at her, smiling. Ponytails and haphazard foot-long spikes had long since been transformed into carelessly shorn locks, casually ruffled. "You know. In my life. I don't suppose you want to hear them."
"Will it be one of those old geezer speeches? Like, you know, 'in the summer of this and this year…'"
His smile deepened into a grin. "Anything coming from this mouth is old geezer talk, darlin' girl."
"Cut that out." Marron moved to her thumb, smoothing out irregularities with quick, confident swipes. "You know you can tell me anything, Yamcha. Go ahead."
"Okay." He fell onto his back again, folding wiry arms behind his head. Once they'd been heavily muscled; had made girls fall over them with coos and fluttering lashes. "I'd always wanted to become the strongest human on earth. Not that I begrudge Kuririn the title or anything. But, geez, it would've been nice, don't you think? I'd worked my butt off all my life only to end up with the realization that just about anybody could beat me up if they wanted to, including your dad."
She hid a smile at the thought of sweater-vests and unruly lip fuzz. Sensing her amusement, Yamcha reached over and playfully dug into her side, making her squeal with laughter. "Hey, your old man may look older than Master Roshi and sit around soaking his teeth while playing Bingo or whatever, but he can still kick any pure-blooded human's ass that comes to mess with him. You know, I really miss the days when I didn't have to add 'pure-blooded' to classify people…"
"What else did you want to do?"
"Oh, this and that." He shifted, grunting slightly. "Weird stuff that you'd never think to do. Like… I dunno… like sneaking in through the back door at the movie theatre to get a free show, just to say I did. Maybe riding a horse, I love those things. Going to some fast food place with one of those contests –like that 'MegaMuncher' burger challenge at the Burger Barn, remember that? A full pound of beef and cheddar and onions and tomatoes. Mm. And then you get your picture on that wall of fame and have people shout at you on the streets, 'Hey, you're the latest sucker to bloat yourself on beef and cheese!'"
Marron grinned, tossing her file down by her feet. "That's the kind of stuff you wanted to do?"
"Well, sure. Things that are so normal and stupid that people take them for granted." Yamcha turned his head toward her, winking. "Most of all, though, I want to wake up one day and just start walking outside, totally butt-naked. Just to see how people would react, you know?"
"Yamcha!" Marron whapped his arm, trying to keep from laughing. "You can't be serious!"
He waved a lazy hand in the air. "Even if I wasn't, it'd be too late now. Seeing this naked butt would make the ladies ralph up their stomachs. I don't want to be responsible for murder."
She leaned over and kissed him gently, then slid her lips across his cheek until they reached his ear. "I see that naked butt and I don't ralph up my stomach," she whispered.
"You're different," he told her, and caught his breath when she began nibbling his earlobe. "Seeing me every day is like getting a shot to prevent infectious diseases. You've just become immune, that's all."
"There's absolutely nothing about you that's less than ideal." Marron released his ear and snuggled against his chest, fingers idly tracing the faint outline of his abdominal muscles. "You're getting thinner, though."
"Diet plan. I was gettin' too beefy."
"Don't joke," she frowned. "I'm serious. You worry me, Yamcha. You're not eating. And don't tell me it's because you hate my cooking, because we both know that even though it stinks you still used to eat all of it."
"Just haven't been hungry, I guess," he said vaguely. His hand lifted to hug her closer to him, fingers playing idly with the ponytail at the base of her neck. "God, I love your hair…"
Marron bit her lip in annoyance, unsure of whether or not to encourage the obvious evasion. "It's just like my mother's," she muttered. "It's nothing special."
"Like your mother's," he scoffed. "Come off it, hers is blonde. Yellow. Yours… yours is like gold. It shimmers…" He trailed off as his gaze sharpened on the sky, seeking stars. "You know another thing I wanted to do?" he said suddenly. "Give you a really big wedding. The kind that the whole town pops in on and then talks about for months afterwards. It would've been at a huge church with thousands of flowers all along the inside, pink and white and purple, just like you like them. I would've gotten you the most incredible dress anyone had ever seen."
"I never wanted a big wedding." Something inside her was beginning to whisper a warning, though she couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was. "I was the one who told you not to do it. I didn't need it."
"But I had more than enough money..."
"A wedding that extravagant would have been meaningless to me." She closed her eyes, suddenly needing to feel the reassuring heartbeat against her cheek. "I like the way we got married better."
He chuckled quietly. "In the rain outside of a truckstop in the middle of nowhere?"
"It was fun and you know it."
"But you deserved better. You deserve everything I can give you and a thousand times more than that." There was no longer any trace of humor. "I just wish I could've given it all to you sooner…"
"You've already given me what I've wanted," Marron murmured. "You've given me you."
"…Yeah." He seemed to make an abrupt decision. "Sit up, okay?"
"Come on, I want to show you something. Up."
Obediently she raised herself from his chest, watching muscles tense as he dragged himself into cross-legged position. "What's going on?" she asked, slightly apprehensive.
"You'll see." Yamcha reached out and turned her slightly so she was facing him. "I want you to hold out your hands. …Like this. See?"
Marron imitated the position, palms facing each other about six inches apart. "What's going on?" she repeated.
"Watch." Yamcha closed his eyes briefly; when they opened again, they were intense and focused. "Saa…" he said softly.
Marron drew in a breath as a brilliant blue spec blinked into existence, then blossomed into a small blue sphere. Then, to her amazement, it suddenly grew rays, which soon rounded and curved in on themselves. He murmured again, prompting a dazzling golden ball to spiral in at the center. She blinked in recognition. "A flower!"
Yamcha nodded slightly, forehead bright with perspiration. "Your old man taught me this. Ki's always been his thing –he was the first to find out that you could shape it into things. Remember when I was trying to teach you how to fly? Same thing holds here. Ki'll do whatever you want it to if you have enough willpower. The years he and I were training together at Master Roshi's we'd sit up and make ki shapes in the sky all night long." He shook his head, laughing breathlessly. "Roshi would always be so confused the next morning when we had like, zero energy… he'd make us go to bed early the next night, and we'd just do it again, of course."
Marron swallowed hard, enthralled. "It's fantastic..."
"Here." Yamcha gently cupped her hands in his. She gasped as the blue light abruptly disappeared and energy, dangerous and sweet, began coursing through her body. "Concentrate," Yamcha encouraged. "Feel that? That's not just my ki. That's some of yours too, reacting to it. Imagine it running through your body, down your arms, and out through your palms."
"I can't do this," she whispered.
"Sure you can. Focus."
Marron closed her eyes. The sun, now beginning to flicker out on the horizon, suddenly seemed to be shining full on her back. The inside of her lids sparkled with tiny blue and gold stars, and her heart pounded, sending blood rushing through her veins. She felt giddy with power. "Yamcha…"
"Shh. Here it comes."
She opened her eyes again and inhaled sharply. The faint glow on her palms was steadily growing brighter, releasing wisps of energy. In the downbeat of an instant the rest suddenly exploded outward, dazzling her vision and burning the entire section of beach around them a bright indigo. Marron blinked back tears as the center of the flower spun up into gold, sun-bright. "It's… it's beautiful."
The entire flower abruptly flared into silver, then dimmed into nonexistence. Yamcha's hands slid from hers and dropped to the sand, supporting arms shaking with strain. Marron's heart leapt to her throat. "Are you all right? You're…"
He chuckled unsteadily. "Yeah… guess it takes a lot more outta me than it used to."
She touched the underside of his chin, forcing him to look up at her. "We've talked about this," she said reprovingly, and promptly belied her irritated tone by rubbing a tender thumb along his cheek. "It was amazing, though. I wish I could do it."
"You can." He drew in a breath that hitched slightly. "Maybe nothing that elaborate, but you have all the natural talent you need. You don't have to be a fighter to bring out your ki. It just takes practice"
Marron watched his gaze flit to heavens, the sand beside them, her nose; anywhere but her eyes. Despite the exhilaration, a part of her –most likely her mother's influence—was growing cautious. "Why did you teach me this now?"
Yamcha eased back onto his heels. "I showed you a technique, I didn't teach you how to do it," he said cryptically. "You know what it feels like now, but finding your energy is up to you."
She studied him carefully, taking in the weakness and the ashen complexion. Yamcha met her scrutiny with an expression she couldn't decipher. "But why?" she repeated.
"It was warm," he said simply, and looked away, dark irises glittering with sun and starlight. "I don't want you to be cold when…"
Marron waited, but he didn't seem to be inclined to finish. The breeze tugged at her hair, brushing golden strands across her nose. She pressed them back, wondering whether her sudden discomfort had to do with the change in mood, the look of quiet defeat on Yamcha's face, or the way the sea suddenly felt like it was reaching up toward him rather than retreating down the shore, like a mother trying to coax a weary child home. Marron stood abruptly, tugging gently on his arm. "Come on, Yamcha," she whispered. "Let's head back."
Her father had been, and was, amazingly and damnably perceptive; nineteen years and a day and 'thank you' at the dinner table, hand on the pea bowl, was correctly interpreted as a sigh of discontent. Her mother –jinzouningen if nothing else—was swift but blind to emotion, so she found it far easier to meet the ice-blue gaze than it was to try and pretend she didn't see the sympathy in the other, and how was your day, firefly?
Did Yamcha call you yesterday? He said he would… you know, it being your birthday and all… I still can't believe you're nineteen already…
No, and she shoved away from the table, fork clattering to the plate. Lately they let her be when she retreated, even when the times she spent prostrate on her bed stretched into days. Just a phase, they said, watching pale fingers dangle listlessly over the side, and closing the door softly. Let it pass.
It hadn't taken her by surprise, though, when at 2:37 a.m., on the third day, a tap came at the window. She rolled out of bed noiselessly and pulled aside the curtains. "Hi," Yamcha mouthed sheepishly, lifting his hand. A present was snuggled neatly in his palm. "Please…?"
A quick glance over her shoulder; Marron lifted the latch and gently shoved. A cool breeze ruffled the lace on her nightshirt, revealing parts her parents would probably be shocked to see her revealing. "You're late," she said quietly.
"Yeah, about that…" His knee edged to the windowsill so he could power down slightly ("Your parents would kill me if they caught me here at this time of night...!") but went no further. She noticed the unobtrusiveness and felt a vague sense of appreciation lurking somewhere under betrayal. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for… it's just that I had… that is…"
Stuttering, her father had divulged five years ago over a bowl of cereal. Fourteen years old and just back from an outing with Uncle, she had brought the puzzling matter to the attention of the one who'd probably know best. "That's just Yamcha," he had said, chuckling. "He's usually fine, but get him alone with some pretty women and he still clams up, poor guy."
Am I pretty, Yamcha?
"It's just…" Yamcha sighed, rubbing a knuckle along the side of his face. "I couldn't decide whether or not you would like it..." Still sensing resentment, he blundered onward, "I mean, I wanted to make it special, you know? Not just another birthday. It's an important birthday. In three hundred and sixty-two days from now you won't be a teenager anymore."
"Everything up to one's twenty-first birthday is important or symbolic. What was the real reason?"
"That… is… the real reason..."
"I wanted you here for my birthday, Yamcha," she said. "I didn't care about some stupid present. You should know me better than that."
Pain flickered under the pleading expression. "I…"
Her lower lip suddenly trembled. She pushed away from the window, folding her arms around herself to ward off the chill. "Either come in or go away," she said dully.
A slight stirring of air; he landed behind her silently, discomforted. "I'm really sorry," he said again, and was startled when she turned, catching his lapels in small fists and reaching up to kiss him deeply. When she finally broke away several small eternities later, both of them were gasping. "Darlin' girl," Yamcha said breathlessly, expression tight with dismay. "I can't…"
"Can't what?" Marron let him go so suddenly he stumbled. "Can't what, Yamcha? I'm a patient person, really I am, but do you know how tired I am of hiding? Do you know how many times I've had to lie to my parents about why I'm depressed, why… why I don't feel like eating, why I'm not 'finding myself a boyfriend'…?"
"There's nothing to hide," he mumbled.
He reeled back as her hand smacked his face soundly. "Oh, so all of it was nothing?" she hissed, wrath twisting her delicate features. "Be sure to record some of these statements someday so future generations of males can marvel at your stupidity and learn from it. You… you bastard!"
"Thirty-eight years, Marron."
"It doesn't matter!"
"I was over the hill when you were two."
Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears. "I'm not jailbait; you're not an old man. Why can't you let it be?"
Instead of answering, Yamcha held out his hand. Marron looked down, gritted her teeth, and snatched away the box. "I'm going to toss this out the window," she decided.
A sad smile flickered across his scarred features. A handprint, scarlet and darkening, burned across his cheek. "You do what you want… but I know you, and I know you won't."
"Is that so?" He was right, of course, but that made it all the more frustrating. "Why should I accept this?"
"It's for you. Why shouldn't you?"
Perfectly logical. He made her furious. "Nothing ever gets past that… that mask, does it?" She plopped down on her bed, rolling the box over in her hands. Suddenly she wanted nothing more for it to be morning. "Acting like you don't care… always the voice of reason…!"
Yamcha took a deep breath, suddenly looking cornered. "I should go. This isn't right anyway…"
Her panda lay by her foot. Marron nudged it with a toe, watching as its remaining eye focused blankly on the ceiling. "Not a whole lot of things are, anymore," she said, then lunged from the bed and began tearing through the top drawer of her dresser.
Yamcha spun, alarmed. "Marron, what…?"
After several minutes she finally found what she was looking for and yanked it from the clutter. Before Yamcha could react she moved to him, lifted his hand, and shoved a ring onto his finger. 'Crispy Wheat' was printed across the top of it in bold black letters, ending in an exclamation point, the upper half of which had been dented into nonexistence. "Marry me," Marron demanded, face flushed and jaw set. "You can't get up enough guts to ask me, so I'm going to ask you."
Yamcha flinched away. "Marron…"
She bent down on a knee and pressed a hand to her chest. Old movies and sappy romance novels spun through her thoughts; caught up in the moment, she could feel her heart begin to race. "Marry me," she repeated.
He took a step back, flustered and desperate to the point of panic. Marron was stunned to see tears gathering in his eyes. "Please…" he whispered.
"Marry me. I'm down on my knees, Yamcha. What more do you want from me?"
Yamcha's eyes darted to the side; for one wild instant she was reminded absurdly of a stallion about to bolt. She tightened her hand against her chest as if the action would somehow keep him there. "It wouldn't be right," he stammered. "I… it just wouldn't be… your parents, and…"
"My parents have nothing to do with this," she said. "This is between you and me. Marry me."
"But I've done nothing to merit this, Marron, and you ought to have better, and you know it, and…"
Comprehension hit her with crushing force. Marron lowered her hands slowly. "You're afraid," she said, incredulous. "You're afraid to be happy, aren't you."
"You're afraid." Marron rose to her feet, numb with realization. "Papa was right…"
His eyebrows drew together. "Listen, I don't know what Kuririn's been saying about me, but the fact is, I'm just not good enough for you, all right? I wouldn't be able to give you everything you deserve. I…"
"I would rather have absolutely nothing else if it would mean having you," she said frankly. "Personally, if I were you, I'd be thrilled that someone almost forty years younger than I was thought I was dead sexy and wanted to marry me. I don't know where you've been." She paused, then shook her head, a glint of Juuhachigou in her eyes and Kuririn in her smile. "You big baby. The mighty Yamcha, my childhood hero, crying like a kid when someone finally gets him out."
Yamcha was startled into a chuckle. He rubbed a sleeve over his eyes roughly. "Just took me by surprise, baby girl," he murmured.
She crossed her arms. "Marry me."
"This is so screwed up…"
"You can do better."
"You think so?"
"I know so."
"Then it's a shame," she mused, playfully gripping his jacket and drawing him closer, "to end up with something considered less than top-of-the-line. Before now I've been so spoiled, don't you think?"
Yamcha tensed at their proximity, visibly unnerved. When he spoke, his voice was strained. "I suppose you realize what you do to me."
"Kind of," she admitted, and slid her arms around him. A shudder ran through his body; she bit her lip, unable to recall the last time he'd been so unsettled. It hurt and thrilled her at the same time. "I have an idea," she said. "How about we quit being afraid of things we know will work out in the end? If everyone lived according to what their heart told them, then there'd be no need to go through the trouble to set truth free" Marron tilted her head mischievously. "Besides, isn't it what you fight for? Truth? Freedom?"
"That's a bit of a stretch," Yamcha said wryly, then finally relaxed, albeit slowly. "When did you get to be so strong, Marron?"
"I've always been strong." She rested her head against his chest. "I've had some great examples set for me. Mom. Papa. You. I grew up around heroes."
"You know it's not right…"
"Maybe it isn't." Marron lifted her face again, smiling when his lids fluttered shut and his breath hitched once; twice. "But this is," she breathed, and reached up to capture his lips with hers.
And later, when she finally tugged him down, arms flailing as they fell to pink and cream-laced cushions –that was right, too.
She'd always hated days that were so calm and hideously overcast; how the air stank of rain on rotting leaves and set a pall for winter. The muted colors of the flowers stuck out in half-hearted contrast with the moving rows of black –laid to rest, then, on the pile atop the cedar, petals curling in the damp air. She lost track of the times she was patted on the shoulder; of how many times the speakers at the weathered podium said 'untimely'; of how many times she could feel the fidgeting of those present out of respect; of time.
It did bring about a spark of morbid amusement to know that others thought grief made her deaf, and thought they couldn't be overheard if they were standing more than ten feet away. It was in this manner that Marron knew Trunks had a meeting to attend at three ("I hope this doesn't take too long.") and Goten, who had never married, had a date with a girl named Furansu ("I could swear she's a distant cousin of Paresu's…!") and Vegeta, unsurprisingly, had pressing matters to attend to in first the kitchen and then the gravity room. Bulma was aggrieved, but she had been out of touch too long to feel it very deeply. ("We were the same age… it could have been me!")
Only her father had been as affected as she was. Unlike herself, however, he had gone ballistic at the news and had involuntarily raised his aura enough to blast the west portion of the roof on the Kame hut off before Juuhachigou tapped the back of the neck ("I'm sorry," she informed her, swinging Kuririn over her shoulder and retreating to the bedroom) leaving Marron sitting on the couch, watching plaster fall from the ragged edges of the ceiling.
Now he stood pale and straight, tears shimmering at his lashes. Her mother, standing closely beside him, reached out and gently clasped his shoulder. It was a small thing, but enough; Kuririn's composure crumpled and he sank to his knees, wrapping his arms around himself tightly. Juuhachigou followed him down, taking him into her own.
Marron focused her gaze intently on the flowers. If she stared hard enough, she discovered idly, she could make them spin on one another, kaleidoscopic, and (tears?) could make the petals dance in wind that wasn't there. Her perfect fingernails dug into her palm. All of the stories she had read had made it sound so easy to puncture the skin, and therapeutic. She kept digging.
"… such an incredibly good friend. I'll never forget the time I met him in the desert when we were searching for the Dragonballs…"
Marron grimaced slightly as the nail on her middle finger finally managed to do the deed, and focused on the people on the other side of the coffin. Vegeta was standing with his arms crossed, features schooled, looking off into the horizon. Trunks kept glancing at his watch, as did Goten. Behind them, Yamcha's former baseball team, having put their own contributions atop the box, now murmured among themselves.
Marron's ring finger and index finger broke through simultaneously. She spun, veil ruffling, and walked away in the middle of the speech. Startled whispers met the action. Bulma faltered briefly. Marron ignored them all, continuing grimly onward past granite rows and tacky plastic décor.
At the very edge of the cemetery, just south of a wood, was a small stream. The place was beautiful, if nothing else –dead and alive at the same time, crudely. Marron sat beside the water and folded her legs beneath her, uncaring of the dirt that ground itself into the fabric, and took off her veil. The stream slid by indifferently, meandering around curves and leaping over rocks. She watched it, some distant part of her mind recognizing the wavering reflection as being her own.
She didn't turn. Kuririn settled next to her with a soft grunt, ignoring the mud, and lifted a hand to loosen his tie. "The doctor said it was his heart," Marron said. Her hand curled in the dirt; she picked up a pebble and flicked it out across the water. "It shouldn't have ended that way, Papa. Not like that."
"I know." Kuririn crossed his legs and rested an elbow on his knee, wearily smoothing the creases on his forehead with a knuckle. "Thought we were all going to die in battle, myself. I mean… the final time. Something like that, at least."
"Something not as… absolute."
He nodded, drawing a sleeve across his face and exhaling shakily. Marron drew her knees to her chest, resting the side of her head against them to study him. She recalled her surprise when his ki had flared with such frightening intensity at the Kame house, and how her mother had taken it in stride. It didn't seem right, somehow, for a person to have so much raw power and seem so frail now, like a shell just south of breaking. She suddenly felt an apprehension she had never expected to feel –not before heroes had fallen, and somehow not after. When will it happen to you, too? "Are you okay, Papa?"
Startled, Kuririn glanced at her searchingly, as if trying to seek the query's intent. She avoided his gaze. "Of course," he said softly. "How about we focus on you, okay?" He reached out to tuck a lock of ragged yellow hair behind her ear, face creasing with distress. "You should've let me trim this up…"
"I don't want to talk about it."
Kuririn bit his lip, dismay deepening to anxiety. "You haven't even cried yet, baby girl," he said almost pleadingly. "Are you trying to—"
"Don't call me that."
"Baby girl." Kuririn's daughter shied away from his hand, eyes closing. When they opened again several moments later, Juuhachigou's daughter looked out from them. "I'm an adult. I'll be treated like one."
The trees above them finally began to stir, the rustling of dying leaves backed by the grumble of impending storm. Kuririn slowly lowered his hand, a ghost of a smile flickering on a face shadowed with melancholy. "I know, sweetheart," he whispered.
Marron shifted her head, now propping up her chin. Her fingers plucked idly at the soiled fabric pooling at her ankles. "He used to tell me stories about Otherworld," she said into the silence. "How everyone was a fighter where he went. He said that only the purest came there… at least, those people who gave their lives for others. He said that there's always a fight whenever you wanted one, day or night. He said…" She swallowed hard, fighting past the lump in her throat. "He said it's always sunny there."
"Yeah… just about. And everyone's taken back to their prime if they've passed it in life. Right now, if he were there, Yamcha would probably be around thirty or thirty-five, something like that. And had he not been married to you, I might've been worried for his safety. There were a couple of female fighters he had his eye on over there… knowing Yamcha, he might've tried to get their attention, and the poor guy's never had much luck with women. They might've taken his head off…"
"If he were there?" she asked softly, not missing the intimation.
He turned his head. She could feel the gravity in his gaze; how it studied the smudges under her eyes and traced each line on her forehead. After a moment the dark eyes moved away again, focusing on the clouds at the horizon. "Fighters like us get a choice," he said. "When we get to the gate, that is. Most choose to go train with King Kai and the greatest fighters in the universe, seeing as we love battle and nothing else would thrill us more. But some… some have things they won't leave behind."
Marron stared at him. He gave her a wan smile, salt and pepper hair ruffling wildly on his brow as a breeze brushed across the brook. "There are a couple of places you can go. There's the fighter's quadrant, and there's hell, of course, and then… then there's the core of Otherworld. I guess you can call it heaven. I got to get a peek of it the first time I died, though I didn't get to go in, not yet. …There're flowers everywhere and the sun… God…" He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, bliss momentarily banishing the shadows. "It's like nothing you've ever seen or felt. There's not even a body or a centralized point; it's like the entire sky is this massive diamond, shot with rainbows. And that's not the half of it. I don't remember a whole lot from the second time I died, but I do remember waking up in the middle of a meadow this one day. There were so many flowers… you could stand there for hours, just breathing in and watching the butterflies. But do you want to know the best part? If you stood still long enough, you could hear the laughter on the breeze. Children, adults, families… everyone celebrating as they kept getting reunited. I've never seen so much patience and devotion, such… such love."
For reasons she couldn't quite grasp, she found herself holding her breath. Kuririn turned to her, something akin to wistfulness mingling with the grief. "He'll find you," he whispered.
The wind increased, sending bits of leaves skittering across their feet like red-gold ashes. Marron closed her eyes briefly, wondering whether or not to acknowledge the wave of hope that flared from anguish. "Are you sure?" she asked faintly.
A gentle smile creased the corners of his eyes. "I'm positive."
Marron stared at the river; absently listened to the burble of suppressed tension. "Thank you, Papa," she whispered.
Kuririn stood, kissing the top of her head. "I love you," he said. "Come back when you're ready, all right? We'll wait."
Marron watched him retreat. It was eerie how much the quiet slump of his shoulders and the way his steps found such easy purchase on the uneven ground, unconsciously graceful, reminded her of him, and she averted her gaze quickly, furious at her eyes for playing tricks and her mind for letting it.
The thunder sounded once again, closer than before. She watched as the water before her ran by impatiently and wildly distorted her reflection in the process; breathing out slowly, she lifted her hands and placed her palms close together, and listened.
"Feel that? That's not just my ki. That's some of yours too, reacting to it."
Something –is that it?—flickered obediently in response to the call. Marron closed her eyes tightly, struggling to seek out the energy of the grass beneath her and the sky above her. It had come so easily when he had held his hands against hers, whispering instructions in her ear. Focus.
"Shh. Here it comes."
Energy sparked from her index finger; jumped to her middle, as the familiar tingle curled in at her wrists and spread to her palms. After several long minutes, the ki finally became a tangible force in the center. Marron's breathing quickened. The energy took on a blue-ish tint, crackling in the gathering humidity. Unused to going through the process unaided, she could already feel her arms beginning to shake with strain.
"Why are you teaching this to me now?"
Tiny rays exploded from the ki ball, streaming from her fingers in a rhapsody of cerulean and silver. Marron gasped for breath even as her thoughts spun with joy and agony and desire, sweat pressing damp blonde strands to her forehead. Tree trunks groaned as the wind tore violently at their branches. After several more seconds, the energy peaked, faltered, and finally began to decline. Utterly spent, Marron let the thread go, falling forward onto her hands. The blue glow disappeared completely, leaving only the tingle of lingering energy in the air, soon lost to wind and shadow.
"It was warm. I don't want you to be cold when…"
The river leapt hungrily at her feet. Shuddering, she eased back and drew up her knees again. "Damn you," she whispered, and rested her forehead against them, finally allowing the tears to come.
Overhead, the rumble gave way to the whisper of rainfall.