The Middle

by DoraMouse

Dragonball Z characters, settings and items are all registered trademarks of at least Bird Studios.

"Hey, don't write yourself off yet. It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on. Just try your best, try everything you can and don't you worry what they tell themselves when you're away."

--quote from the song that inspired the title, The Middle by Jimmy Eat World.

North. Even in springtime the northern landscape was a barren collection of frozen hills and icy plains. But today the air was unnaturally warm. Drifts of steam rose from the ground while clouds of dust and debris settled.

"It's over." Someone said authoritively, "You can get up now."

A nervous cluster of reporters pulled themselves off the ground. While the camera crews quickly began to assess the amount of damage done to their recording equipment, some of the braver reporters stepped forward and raised their hands like children in a classroom waiting to be called on.

Television is the kind of industry where you see everything. Shows where talking animals and sometimes even talking household appliances could teach kids to count and read. Commercials where people would go to unrealistic lengths for a certain brand of soda. Stuff that like was so common it was mundane. Which was why these reporters had turned up for the Cell Games in the first place. Broadcasting the potential end of the world live was a guaranteed ratings boost. Besides - if the world was actually ending, people had the right know.

"Excuse me, sir?" One of the reporters inquired hesitantly, "What happened?"

Mister Hercule Satan twitched his mustache and narrowed his eyes. "The world has been saved. Obviously."

He only tolerated the media because his income - and therefore, the existence of his dojo - relied on it. For the past year and a half, Hercule had been trying to become famous by doing commercials and publicity stunts. The tradeoffs had been steep. While the jobs he'd gotten had paid the bills, they had cost him a lot of his dignity and his work schedule - especially the tours - had frequently taken him away from his family.

When people looked at Mister Satan they saw a middle aged man in a bright red fighting gi with a head full of thick ebony curls. They didn't see a frustrated warrior whose entire life had been overshadowed by the accomplishments of his ancestors. They didn't see a guy who'd just had his self-esteem run over by boy who probably wasn't even old enough to go to a movie theater without adult supervision.

Hercule Satan was a lot of things that the general public didn't know about. Overworked husband, concerned father, struggling martial arts teacher... But the public didn't need to know. It was none of the worlds business. The pending divorce, the threatening bankruptcy, the endless meetings with narrow-minded school counselors who insisted that Videl was hyperactive and in need of medication... Those things were his problems. He'd deal with them eventually, as soon as he figured out how.

"Weren't there more warriors?" A reporter wondered aloud, "Where are the other...?"

"They saw you." Mister Satan said flatly, his patience wearing thin. "If they wanted to speak to any of you, they'd be here. They aren't. Take the hint."

He couldn't keep the edge of blended hatred and sympathy out of his voice. While Mister Satan didn't exactly envy the kid who'd defeated Cell or any of the rest of them - the burden of the world was a pain - the things he'd be able to DO with that kind of power. It boggled the mind.

And how the hell had they gotten so strong anyway? Was it something they ate or some kind of special training? As a career martial arts sensei, it irked Hercule profoundly that he couldn't figure out their methods. He'd tried everything he could think of but so far nothing had worked. The single result of his tireless training was that Mister Satan was much stronger than the average human being. But that still that didn't mean much around the few warriors on Earth who could fly.

Fly... If that wasn't ridiculous, what was? If people had been meant to fly, they'd have been born with wings.

"So the world was saved." A reporter concluded, making the statement sound extremely anti-climatic.

By a boy that flys and shoots energy beams from his hands. Thought Mister Satan and he paused to wonder if the general public would be able to believe the truth.

Then he paused to wonder if the general public should even be told the truth. How was anyone on the planet going to feel secure if they were told, point blank, that there really truly were a group of warriors who could probably destroy the world by accident? How was the general public going to feel about 'they can fly and you can't, so there'?

Mister Satan knew enough about the media and the general public to realize that giving the warriors who had just saved the world credit for their acts might actually earn them a lot of unwanted attention. People would start to say things like "what makes them so special? why can't we fly too?" Then regular people would probably start jumping off buildings, flapping their arms and trying to learn to fly.

It wasn't that people were stupid, it was... Okay. Nevermind. People were stupid. They might call it adventurous, they might call it brave or defiant but it was often just plain stupid. This was why buttons clearly labeled 'do NOT press' got pressed. This was why items like hairdryers came with warnings such as 'do not operate while sleeping' printed in bold text.

Dear Kami, it was a disaster waiting to happen. People always imitated their heros and if they tried to imitate this lot... Mister Satan got a headache just imagining the consequences.

"Yes..." He heard himself say, "...the Earth was saved..."

Then there was the kid, the boy. Mister Satan had seen a lot of himself in that kid. Talk about overshadowed by ancestors! Jeez. The difference was that Mister Satan's famous ancestors, the ones that had gotten a city named after them, hadn't been warriors. By becoming a martial artist Hercule had broken away from his family tradition. He'd lost the support, both emotional and financial, of his parents and relatives years ago. If someone, anyone, would have just spoken up on his behalf...

Mister Satan had seen enough to know that Gohan hadn't really wanted to be at the Cell Games because he didn't enjoy fighting. There the kid had been, Son Gohan, the frickin son of the worlds most renowned martial artist and yet he didn't like fighting - how amazing was that? But of course, the first thing that would happen to the kid if he was revealed to be a hero would be invitations to tournaments. After all, people would want to see the hero in action for themselves. Plus the next time anything halfway dangerous came up, guess who the world would turn to. Yep. Their hero.

Not that the kid was normal anyway but how was he going to finish school or anything if he got dragged into the limelight? How was the boy going to break away from his family's expectations and find himself if the world was bent on making him a carbon copy of his father?

"And I saved it." Mister Satan finished, hoping that he sounded convincing enough.

Why not? The other warriors had the power, he'd take the glory. They didn't seem to want it and besides, it'd just be safer for the world to have a hero that wasn't - to put it nicely - too weird.

I'd probably be easier to work with anyway. Mister Satan reflected that most of the other warriors were already rich. He'd recognized five of the warriors as having placed in world tournaments before and one of the ones that he hadn't recognized had been wearing a Capsule Corp jacket. Capsule Corp didn't sell jackets. You had to work for the company to get one of those. Work implied income and Capsule Corp could afford to pay its employees well. So the other warriors couldn't need the media attention as badly as he did.

Mister Satan was abruptly aware that every single one of the reporters was staring at him. It was evident in their expressions that none of them believed he was capable of saving the world.

Someone coughed. "Forgive my skepticism, sir but we didn't see..."

"That's because you weren't there!" Mister Satan said coldly. "Speaking of which, where were YOU? I didn't see any of YOU trying to save the world. WHY NOT?"

Dead silence.

"I DID win the 24th Tenkaichi Budoukai you know." Mister Satan reminded them.

The world martial arts tournament had been held earlier that month - just under twenty days ago. The audience had been small. Contenders had been few and far between. The majority of Earths decent martial artists had avoided the tournament due to bad memories of previous disastrous tournaments. In the end, Son Goku hadn't shown up. People had been afraid that he would since Goku should have been the defending tournament champion. Most of the contenders had dropped like flies since nobody had wanted to risk fighting the legend. Even with Goku absent, everyone had been afraid that the legend might make time to challenge the tournament champion later.

Almost everyone. It wasn't that Mister Satan lacked genuine respect for the stronger warriors. It was just that when opportunity knocked, Mister Satan couldn't afford to ignore it. He'd won the tournament easily. Of course with things like androids hogging the headlines, his victory had been short-lived and largely unnoticed.

Even the prize money had been diminished significantly. Tournament officials had explained that they'd spent most of the money on rebuilding the Tenkaichi Budoukai stadium. The fact of the matter was that the tournament officials were in debt and had held the 24th Tenkaichi Budoukai in an attempt to earn enough funds to break even. So Mister Satan wasn't too surprised that he had yet to see the prize money he'd won. The check was in the mail. It probably always would be.

Mister Satan was tired of being overlooked. Sure, he might not fly or have flashy attacks or any of the rest of it - but at least he had TRIED to save the world. He'd willingly risked life and limb by coming out to the Cell Games. That was more than most people had done so it had to count for something.

Finally a reporter worked up the courage to say. "How did you save the world?"

The answer that immediately came to Hercules mind was: By throwing a robots head - and just the robots head mind you - at a kid that you never ever want to see angry.

It was a small and rather meaningless role to have had in saving the world but again, it was infinitely more than most people had done.

Mister Satan had tried hard work and he'd tried honesty. He'd tried them for years and they had rarely gotten him anywhere. Honesty and hard work were the sort of things that were their own rewards. Which, in Mister Satan's personal experience, meant that nobody rewarded you for them. And a clear conscious wasn't worth a whole lot when it came time to pay the bills.

Nobody liked reality anyway.

"You saw that Cell thing, didn't you?" Working in commercials had given Mister Satan a talent for improvising, "It was a giant bug! Anyone who knows anything about bugs should understand that there are PLENTY of ways to dispose of them. It was just a matter of getting close enough."

The key to being vague was to make it sound simple. As if the answer was so obvious that anyone with a pulse ought to be able to figure it out. Doing this discouraged people from asking further questions.

The other key was to leer. Mister Satan was an expert at leering. Staring at people in a way that implied that they were a complete waste of space and that if they dared ask one more question, you'd demonstrate your techniques on them was another effective way to keep conversations short. He was currently giving the reporters a look that said: I can bench press city buses. Do you really want to upset me?

Silence lapsed over the hills once again. The sky above the northern tundra was darker now and the wind was getting colder. The temperature would probably drop below freezing during the night.

All of us have better things to do than stand around out here. Hercule decided, wrapping his arms around himself. Satan City was located in the warmer southern part of the continent so it was going to be a long drive home. The sooner he left, the better.

In a businesslike tone Mister Satan addressed the reporters one last time. "Look - give it a week. Give it two if you want. If any of those others come forward and want to be interviewed, fine. But if they don't then you've gotta tell the people something, don't you?" He smiled, "Because after all, the people have the right to know."

He walked off towards his vehicle without waiting for any response - it was quickly becoming too cold to stay outdoors. The reporters already knew his name so they could look up his address and phone number if they ever needed to. He was listed in the directories.

Maybe his luck would change.