Disclaimer: You all know it by heart. I own nothing.
In My Dreams
The wind whipped her straight blonde hair into her eyes, forcing her to shake her head to clear her vision. The sudden wind brought a chill through her, and she rubbed her upper arms vigorously, trying to restore warmth. It suddenly struck her as how human this gesture was, and she stopped.
Android #18 frowned to herself as she stared over the ocean horizon, noting how choppy the waves were, looking at the tumultuous black clouds that rolled across the sky. It will probably rain soon, she thought to herself.
Almost as if on cue, the sky split open and it began to rain; softly at first, then more steadily until it became a heavy downpour. #18's hair became plastered to her face, and she pushed a wet lock of hair out of her eyes. The rain didn't bother her--in fact, it was almost a guarantee that she would be left alone. For some reason, the humans found inclement weather something to avoid.
#18 spoke too soon, however, for behind her she heard the sound of someone flying up to the roof, where #18 herself was perched. #18 bit back a sigh. Was she to have no peace?
"Hey, #18, uh, it's raining."
That would be Kuririn, the short, bald human--#18 recognized his voice and his hesitant manner, though she hadn't seen him in quite some time. She didn't turn to look at him. "I know it's raining."
"Well, uh, maybe you should come inside. You might catch--"
"Cold?" #18 finished the sentence for him, scorn evident in her voice. "I'm not susceptible to weak human illnesses, you know."
There was a sigh, and finally #18 turned around. It was indeed Kuririn, the diminutive human hovering over the rooftop, rain soaking his clothes and damping his hair to his head . . . hair?? #18 almost did a double-take as she realized Kuririn's head was covered in short, black hair, which was plastered to his head at the moment. #18 couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. "What did you do?" she asked incredulously.
Kuririn gave a nervous laugh. "O, yeah . . . I decided to quit shaving my head. The girls never are attracted to bald guys," he put a hand behind his head as he realized how stupid that sounded.
#18 started blankly at him for a few seconds until she discerned that the last part of the remark was meant to be a joke. Once she had discovered this, #18 rolled her eyes and looked away, fixing her gaze once more upon the ocean.
"Hey, I haven't seen you for a month or so," Kuririn attempted to strike up conversation again. "How have you been?"
"Fine," #18 replied shortly. Living at Kame House with the dirty old man, his friends, and those ridiculous talking animals was exceptionally bizarre. #18 kept having to cover the keyhole in her bedroom with a blanket, just in case that crazy old man got funny ideas and decided to peek. #18 hated living there, but she had nowhere else to go.
Kuririn's voice cut into her thoughts. "Master Rôshi isn't a bad guy, you know. Odd, yeah, but he's interesting to talk to."
#18's head snapped around sharply. "How did you know what I was thinking?" she demanded. "Can you read minds like that Namek?"
"No," Kuririn shook his head, seeming pleased with himself. "Though sometimes I wish Piccolo would teach me how. Nah, I just recognized the facial expression. Bulma stayed here a while once, a long time ago, and she complained about Master Rôshi all the time."
#18's only answer was a snort, which effectively ended the conversation. She was getting quite good at slapping down Kuririn's attempts at conversation.
The wind picked up again, blowing the rain in all directions and sending shivers up #18's spine. She shuddered in spite of herself. All of a sudden, #18 felt warm and dry--she looked over to see that Kuririn had moved over to sit close beside her and had raised his energy--what he called "ki"--so that a soft yellow glow enveloped him. His proximity to #18 allowed the aura to surround her as well, keeping off the rain.
When #18 realized what was happening, she jumped up immediately and flew into the air. "What do you think you were doing?" #18 demanded angrily.
Kuririn's face had turned a deep shade of scarlet. "I-I'm sorry," he stammered, "You looked cold, that's all."
"I don't need anyone's help, you understand me?" #18 snapped by way of reply. "Just leave me alone!"
Kuririn bit his lip, looking embarrassed and not a little hurt. "I'm sorry," he apologized again, "But you really should come in out of the rain . . . you may not catch a cold, but you never know."
"I'm not going back inside that house," #18 declared vehemently. "They hate me--they all do, except that dirty old man you call Rôshi," she scowled blackly at the sky, her dark expression matching the intensity of the storm raging above. All of a sudden, something snapped inside her. "I'm always being judged," #18 burst out suddenly, "All because of who I am. I don't know why I stayed here even this long. Goodbye."
#18 turned and made to fly off, away from that house, away from Kuririn's friends--but something stopped her. Literally. Glancing down, #18 saw Kuririn had grabbed her hand to keep her from flying away. She fixed him with a cold glare, and Kuririn hurriedly dropped her hand.
"#18, I was just wondering if, uh, since you don't like staying here, and some of my friends are still a little wary of you, uh . . ." Kuririn was blushing again.
#18 crossed her arms. "Hurry up. I want to get away from here."
"Why don't you come live with me?" Kuririn blurted out.
#18 merely raised a delicate eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
She'd thought Kuririn couldn't get any redder, but she was wrong. This time the flush spread right to the roots of his hair. "That's not what I meant," Kuririn struggled to rephrase his badly-put inquiry. "I meant . . . I have a guest room at my place; I use it whenever Gohan comes over. There's a bathroom and sitting room there, too, so the only room we'd have to share would be the kitchen, and if you want, we could take shifts or something."
#18 considered. While her initial reaction would be to rap out a sharp "No!" she realized that she probably wouldn't find a better offer. Kuririn was making it perfectly clear that he would stay out of her way, leaving #18 to do as she pleased. Even if she had to share the kitchen with him, it would be a hundred times better than staying here, or living alone in the woods.
"All right," #18 relented, "But understand that I want to be left alone. I need my space, is that clear?"
Kuririn nodded. "You don't need to worry. I may have trained under Master Rôshi, but that doesn't mean I picked up on his habits."
"Good," #18 replied humorlessly. "Because I'd hate to have to kill you. Senseless murder was always more my brother's style."
"Believe me, no one's happier to hear that than I am," Kuririn joked. "Now if you'd care to follow me . . ."
* * * * * *
That night, Kuririn couldn't sleep. All he could think of was--predictably--#18; her face, her voice, the haughty way she always flipped her hair out of her eyes after she had stepped on yet another of Kuririn's pathetic efforts to start conversations . . . and her eyes. Especially her eyes. Ice-blue, they always seemed to penetrate through him, stripping Kuririn of his emotional defenses; but beneath the coldness, Kuririn thought he could sense a deep and lingering pain.
#18 had definitely made it clear that she wanted Kuririn to leave her alone, but Kuririn didn't mind. The very fact that she had agreed to live at his house was something, even if it was born of a desperate attempt to be rid of Master Rôshi and his advances. And she had eaten dinner with him, though she'd repelled any conversation. Maybe he was exaggerating, but Kuririn thought #18 was starting to mellow a little.
Kuririn groaned and buried his face in his pillow to hide the sound. His life had been much simpler before he'd met #18; his previous relationships hadn't lasted more than a matter of months, sure, but there had never been this element of wondering. The girls had either liked him or they hadn't, one or the other. With #18, though, there was a constant "what if" factor, and it was this that drove Kuririn crazy.
The steady rain which had poured all day had now turned into a horrendous thunderstorm. It was the perfect backdrop to Kuririn's musings, he thought morosely, with the crashes of thunder that seemed to pronounce doom with every flash of lightning. How fitting.
With a snort of disgust, Kuririn threw off the covers and got out of bed. He obviously wasn't going to get any sleep this way, and he might as well go downstairs and get a glass of milk or something.
Throwing on a house robe, Kuririn left his room and headed for the stairwell, inadvertently glancing at #18's room as he did so.
The door was open, her bed empty.
Kuririn's eyes widened, and he hurriedly checked every room in the house. All of them were vacant. Just then, a particularly loud crack of thunder sounded, and Kuririn's gaze was drawn up to the ceiling as a sudden thought occurred to him. "O, no," he muttered. "You wouldn't."
She would. Kuririn rolled his eyes and opened the front door, instantly drenched to the bone from the torrent of rain. "#18!" Kuririn yelled, but the noise from the thunderstorm drowned him out. During the intermittent flashes of lightning, Kuririn looked frantically around for the woman he'd grown to care for. If she had run off . . .
But no, wait . . . when the next strike of lightning came, Kuririn saw a huddled form lying on the roof. Breathing a sigh of relief, Kuririn flew up to the roof and found #18, fast asleep, though obviously she was soaking wet. "What are you trying to prove?" Kuririn asked quietly as he picked #18 up and carried her back into the house. "I know you don't need me, but you don't have to drown yourself in rain to show me that."
Kuririn set #18 down on her bed, covered her with a blanket and started to leave the room. Before he did, Kuririn glanced back at her, sleeping soundly and peacefully despite the fact that her clothes were still dripping, and her hair was plastered across her cheek. That couldn't be very comfortable.
He decided to risk it. Going back to the bed, Kuririn perched on the edge of it, took #18's hand and raised his ki level, surrounding her with a soft glow. Within seconds she was completely dry, but Kuririn was reluctant to leave. Asleep, #18 looked like a little girl, her face somehow innocent, bereft of the haughtiness which was characteristic of her normal expression.
Kuririn sat there for a few more minutes, still holding her hand, until #18 stirred restlessly in her sleep. It was then that Kuririn realized what he was doing--Kami-sama, I'm watching her sleep!--and he let go of her hand and jumped back, wiping his palms on his house robe as though he'd done something wrong.
Shaking for some unknown reason, Kuririn backed away from the bed and out the door. Kuririn, you idiot, he thought to himself as he smacked his forehead with his palm, Don't you realize what you're doing? You've fallen in love with an android . . . and not just any android, one who tried to kill all your friends!
No, Kuririn's mind contradicted itself. Not #18. Her brother was the bloodthirsty one, he thought of the cold, heartless way #18 had dispatched her opponents--the dispassionate expression on her face when she first broke Vegeta's arm, then crushed it. Well, maybe not, Kuririn admitted.
It doesn't matter! You can't allow yourself to care for her. She's been betrayed and hurt and her entire life has been taken away from her. What she needs now is a friend, not a lover.
I know . . . Kuririn's shoulders sagged in defeat. But it's not like I can turn it off! I love her!
Well, it's your choice . . . but I'm warning you, you're just going to hurt her if you let her know how you feel. I think it's in her best interest--and yours--to just try to be her friend, and nothing more.
Knowing his subconscious was right, Kuririn made up his mind right then and there to keep his feelings hidden, no matter how hard that would be.
At breakfast the next morning, #18 said nothing about waking up in her own bed instead of the roof. She had wondered, at the time she had gone up to the roof, whether or not Kuririn would come after her. For some odd reason, #18 was pleased that he had.
"Did you have a good sleep?" Kuririn asked. He was bustling around the kitchen, fixing a humongous breakfast that could have done Goku justice.
"I slept well," #18 said, nodding. She managed a small smile of thanks as Kuririn set a plate piled high with food before her.
The two of them ate in silence for some time--or rather, Kuririn ate and #18 toyed with her food. After a time, #18 spoke up. "Why did you come after me last night?"
Surprised by the suddenness of the question, Kuririn blinked a few times before answering. "I was worried about you," he replied honestly, and #18 could see a bit of the anxiety still lingering in his eyes. "What were you thinking, going there in the middle of that thunderstorm? You could've been struck by lightning, or something even worse!"
#18 snorted. "You worry too much," she informed him. Inwardly, she grimaced. O, great. That was a really smart question to ask. I know the human has feelings for me; I shouldn't encourage him. What was I thinking?
Her subconscious answered this one. Because you're beginning to have feelings for him, too; feelings you've never experienced before, and you want to find out more about them.
Shut up! #18 told herself sharply. You don't know anything!
Kuririn watched in mild alarm as #18's face went through several expressions in a matter of seconds; self-belittlement, curiosity, and finally, anger. At the moment she was scowling darkly.Gosh, he paled as a sudden thought occurred to him. I hope she isn't mad at me!
"Hey, uh . . . you done?" Kuririn ventured finally, gesturing to #18's plate and glass.
#18 shook herself out of her trance and nodded. Kuririn cleared the table and washed the dishes, while #18 remained at the table, watching him. It was a little unnerving, knowing #18's eyes were on him the whole time, following his every move, though completely without interest. Kuririn wondered, not for the first time, what #18 was thinking. Man, I've got to get Piccolo to teach me how to use telepathy, Kuririn thought wryly.
Once he had finished, Kuririn turned to #18. "You'll probably want some time to yourself," he waved his hand in an expansive gesture. "The house is all yours, my dear. I'm going out to train for a few hours--I'll be in the woods, if you need me."
#18 raised her eyebrows in a "Why should I care?" expression that made Kuririn feel about as intelligent as one of Vegeta's target drones. "Well, I'll see you later, then," Kuririn called lamely and left the house, heading for the woods.
During the next few hours, Kuririn occupied himself with sparring against an invisible opponent, punching and kicking the empty air with ferocious speed. The sweat poured off his body, and Kuririn found himself grinning widely; fighting, even in practice, was his favorite past-time. It kept him alive . . . while battling, all Kuririn's other problems seemed to disappear into thin air--especially women problems. It was a wonderful feeling, and in what seemed like no time at all, Kuririn's stomach was telling him it was time for lunch.
Kuririn ran a hand through his hair and shook his head, sending sweat droplets flying off in all directions. He grinned as he headed back to the house. "Now I know why Goku and Vegeta eat so much," Kuririn remarked to himself, "I'm starved!"
Kuririn made himself lunch, had a quick shower, and changed his sweat-soaked clothing before heading back out. #18 hadn't been in the house, something for which Kuririn was strangely grateful. He couldn't trust himself not to make a fool of himself in front of her, especially when he was worn out from training.
He had only been back outside for about ten minutes when he was met with a shock; into the clearing walked #18. She was dressed in an orange gi and blue undershirt that were too large for her, but the deadly competence in her eyes removed all possible humor from the situation. Kuririn's mouth dropped open. "What are you wearing?" he managed finally, realizing belatedly just how dumb that sounded.
#18 raised an eyebrow. "I borrowed it from your friend Goku's closet--his widow was only too glad to let me have it. She said she never wanted to see a fighting suit again," she tugged at the blue sash around her waist, pulling it tighter.
Kuririn tried again. "Why . . . ?"
This time #18 looked annoyed. "What, does fighting sap the energy from your brain and move it to your muscles?" she glared at him. "Training alone isn't nearly as effective as training with someone. I need a sparring partner--and if I'm correct, so do you."
"Well, yeah," Kuririn admitted, his brain slowly catching up to its surroundings. He could hardly believe his luck. "Sure, if you wanna be my partner, I do need one."
"If I hadn't wanted to, I wouldn't have brought up the subject," #18 pointed out matter-of-factly. She planted her feet firmly on the ground and clenched her fists in the ready stance. "But I'm warning you, I'm not going to go easy on you just because you gave me a place to stay."
Kuririn flashed her a cocky grin as he powered up. "I wouldn't want it any other way."
#18 attacked first, coming at him with a barrage of kicks and punches, all of which Kuririn
managed to block and counter with blows of his own. #18 was a good match for him, forcing
Kuririn to go to his limit, and even then Kuririn could sense she was holding back a little . . . or a
lot. She had defeated Super Saiyan Vegeta.
At one point in the mock-battle, the two combatants faced one another and locked hands, fingers intertwined and arms outstretched, their muscles rigid. #18 had to stoop to accommodate Kuririn's height, but still she managed to push him steadily backwards. Kuririn, of course, was having a hard time concentrating on the fight; #18 might be able to ignore the fact that her hands and Kuririn's were so closely linked, but Kuririn sure wasn't. Try as he might, it was extremely hard to push the thought to the back of his mind. Kuririn glanced over their joined hands at #18's face and saw that it was completely expressionless. Well, what did you expect, he chided himself, She's way outta your league!
Annoyed at himself, Kuririn dropped suddenly to his knees and threw #18 over his shoulder. She fell to the ground and slammed hard into the dirt, though she got up immediately. "Good one," #18 complimented him, squeezing out a small smile as she examined her right sleeve. It was torn at the elbow. "But don't expect to be able to do that again."
They stared at each other for a few seconds, and against his will, Kuririn found himself noticing how pretty #18 was, even when she was fighting--
That split-second of distraction was all #18 needed to charge Kuririn and knock him down. "You aren't concentrating," she scolded, placing one foot on his chest. "When you fight, you have to think of nothing but the battle. You only leave yourself open to attacks otherwise."
"I know, I know," Kuririn grimaced. He attempted to get out from under #18's foot, but to no avail. "Let me up and I'll do better this time."
#18 cocked an eyebrow and she lifted her foot. "Good. I came for a challenge, not a pushover."
The fight continued then, generally increasing in intensity until Kuririn's hair and clothing were once again soaked with sweat. Amusingly enough, #18 could have been sitting at home reading the entire morning for all the exhaustion she showed, despite a few minor rips in her jumpsuit.
After she had beaten him a second time and Kuririn had defeated her once, #18 issued a challenge. "Let's step it up a bit," she declared, an expression on her face that--had Kuririn not known her better--could have been taken as a grin. "Why don't we try using energy blasts as well?"
Kuririn suppressed a wince. He knew quite a few energy attacks, but most of them were fatal. "I dunno', I don't want to--"
"Hurt me?" #18 finished the sentence. She crossed her arms, her momentary flash of humor gone. "Listen, I came here to fight you, not to have you try to baby me because I'm a woman. Now you've got two choices--either fight back, or I'll kill you. It's your decision, and though I don't really enjoy killing people who don't fight, I will."
Kuririn swallowed hard. He knew #18 was perfectly serious--he'd seen that same look on Goku's face before. "All right, I'll fight."
As it turned out, Kuririn needn't have worried about killing #18, or even seriously hurting her. Although her gi became somewhat tattered, #18 withstood all of Kuririn's attacks. Some of them, like the Kienzan, she evaded . . . others, such as the case of the kamehameha, she countered with a blast of her own, then dissipated the energy. After an hour or so, Kuririn knew he was on the losing side, and he wondered how he could get out of this gracefully. Vegeta and Goku had always sparred until one of them was beaten into unconsciousness, but Kuririn had no desire to go that far.
"Hey, #18--" Kuririn began, but a particularly powerful blast hit him full force in the chest, sending him flying backwards, where he slammed into a tree. Kuririn sank to the ground, out cold.
#18 walked over to him and prodded him with her foot, looking for a reaction. When no response came, #18 wasted no time; she hoisted Kuririn over her shoulder and began carrying him back to the house. It had been silly of the small human to think he had even the slightest chance of beating her, but #18 admired his courage anyway. The others refused to spar with her at all . . . but there was something about Kuririn, something friendly and trusting that seemed to draw #18 to him, despite her attempts to remain aloof. With the exception of the women, who saw #18 as one of them, and maybe Piccolo, #18 had no one besides Kuririn to talk to. In all honesty, however, #18 couldn't think of anyone else who was worthy of her conversation. Certainly not Vegeta!
When #18 reached the house, she set Kuririn on the couch, tossed a blanket over him, and headed off to the kitchen to find a sensu bean. Kuririn probably didn't really need it--he'd wake up in a few hours on his own--but he'd be in a lot of pain when he did. #18 admitted to herself that she'd been a bit tougher on him than she'd had to be, and it wasn't too fair to make Kuririn feel like a squashed tomato if she didn't have to.
She found the sensu beans in a jar in the kitchen cupboard. Palming one, #18 went back to the living room and prepared to give Kuririn the bean. She paused, however, as she glanced at Kuririn's unconscious form. Soon he would wake to his cheerful effervescent self, and #18 would have to retreat within herself, hiding behind an impenetrable mental wall. When Kuririn woke, he would chatter and make corny jokes and laugh at himself, but all the while silently letting #18 know he was there for her if she wanted to talk.
#18 shuddered. She had to keep a wall erected between herself and Kuririn; had to stop herself from becoming too friendly. In her analytical way, #18 began cataloguing the reasons for this.
When the real cause came to her, #18 sucked in her breath sharply. She knew, deep down inside her, that the true reason she felt the need to distance herself from Kuririn was that, if she allowed herself to get too close to him, she might begin to care for him. #18 closed her eyes and let out a long sigh, knowing she was right. Kuririn's sympathetic and caring nature drew #18 to him, though she wasn't sure why. It was as though Kuririn's openness and #18's cynicism provided the perfect foil for each other, and despite her inner protests, #18 knew it.
#18's hands shook. She would not--would not!--allow herself to feel any more for him than casual friendship. It was far too dangerous. What is happening to me? #18 asked herself furiously. Why is this stupid human taking over my thought processes? I'm a cyborg; I have no feelings!
Almost angrily, #18 administered the sensu bean, then left the house quickly. More than anything she wanted to run off, to leave Kuririn and her messed-up brain behind . . . but that was a stupid thought. #18 had nowhere else to go.
#18 saw a tree in the front yard, and she flew up to it and sat on a branch about twenty feet from the ground. Something about trees comforted her. Perhaps it was a subconscious memory from her long-forgotten childhood. Well, whatever the reason, #18 felt a lot less confused.
Kuririn woke up on the couch, and though he felt a little disoriented, he didn't seem to have any injuries. #18 must've given me a sensu bean, he realized. That was nice of her, Kuririn winced. Ah, Kami-sama, I still have to make supper.
Just then, the phone rang. Kuririn jumped up to answer it, though when he saw who it was, he almost wished he hadn't; on the viewscreen was the image of Vegeta, and he didn't look too happy.
"Oh hey, Vegeta," Kuririn greeted him warily. He and the Saiyan Prince got along okay, but Vegeta could still be quite testy with him.
As usual, Vegeta didn't mince words. "Baldy, is that cybernetic freak with you?"
It took Kuririn a few seconds to register the question, and when he did it was another length of time before he could work through his anger enough to give a civil response. Sometimes Vegeta's snobbery could go a little too far. And I'm not bald, he thought to himself. Is Vegeta blind, or just nasty? "If you mean #18, then yes, she's here. Why?"
"Stupid Rôshi called me," Vegeta snorted. "Said she'd run off yesterday and was wondering where she was. I figured she'd be with you," the Saiyan gave Kuririn a look that implied a great deal of things.
Kuririn felt his face turn red. "Aw come on, Vegeta! It's not like that!" he wilted under Vegeta's "Sure it isn't" stare. "You know me, man!"
"That's what I meant."
Kuririn's blush deepened. "Yeah, well, she's different."
Vegeta shrugged. "Whatever you say. It's your problem, not mine. Anyway, Psycho Woman wants you to join us for dinner tonight. We're going shopping--" Vegeta shuddered-- "And out to one of her favorite dance clubs to eat."
Psycho Woman? Kuririn thought.
"I heard that!" Bulma yelled in the background. "You call me that again and I'll break the gravitational trainer into a million pieces! Just ask Kuririn if he and #18 want to come."
Vegeta turned back to Kuririn, grimacing. "Well, you heard her. Are you coming?"
Kuririn thought fast. #18 would probably never forgive him for this, but it would be good for her to get out once in a while. "Yeah, sure, we'll come."
"Fine. We'll be at your house at seven."
Kuririn signed off and glanced at a clock on the wall; it was not quite six, which gave him an hour to persuade #18 to come. Something told him he'd need all the time he had available.
* * * * *