A heartfelt thanks to G3rain1 for advice and con-crit. This is the last chapter, folks.
Gohan and Videl sat with their backs against the wall of the greenhouse, looking out at the fence and the dumpsters and the related junk hidden away at the back of the school. Not the most pleasant of settings; Gohan valued living in the countryside more than ever now he'd seen the alternative. But he and Videl were out of sight here, at least.
He'd followed her ki, feeling determined to talk to her and talk. Her anger had intimidated him, but he'd held his ground and said his piece.
And... she'd listened, hadn't she? She'd give him a chance now, surely?
Now, recovered from the confrontation, she was sitting beside him. Her hair lay over her face, concealing tear-tracks as she fumbled with her school bag. When she produced sandwiches and an apple from it, she offered him one without looking up or pushing the curtain of hair back. He caught a glimpse of reddened eyes anyway.
He didn't comment. The sandwich seemed to be a peace offering, and as such it was a good sign.
And surprisingly tasty, too.
Both of them were tired of talking, so they ate in silence. There was a heaviness to the situation, a sense this was the calm in the middle of the storm: an emotional lull.
At eleven o'clock, the bell's ring came as a surprise. Lessons seemed far away: had it only been twenty minutes since they'd sat in class, one determined to ignore the other and the other unaware of that determination? Still - not without reluctance - Gohan moved to get up. Missing a lesson was against the rules.
Videl tilted her head. The Satan heir was sitting with her arms resting on her raised knees, back curled, bag dumped on her lap. She had half a sandwich in her hand, but hadn't been eating it (his had long since gone). Her tear-stained face was pensive, and now visible - her hair had been parted to let her eat. She frowned at the bell.
"Can we stay and... talk?"
"Um, after school, maybe?" Gohan offered, rubbing the back of his neck. Her voice was uncharacteristically tentative, but: "We have Mr. Krayawn for History, and..."
Videl snorted. The ineffectual Krayawn's lessons tended to be dominated by the more obnoxious boys and whatever trouble they felt like causing.
Gohan shifted on his feet and looked towards the school building.
"Do we have to?" Videl asked. She sounded more normal now, at least.
Shouting Videl was scary. Crying Videl, though... that had been far more horrible. Seeing helplessness at any time woke up all Gohan's sympathy and pity and concern, no matter who it was who was helpless. Seeing Videl reduced to tears had done that, and it had shocked him deeply as well. He'd never realised she was fragile.
The half-saiyan offered her a hand to get up.
"I don't want to go back there, Gohan. I really don't."
He looked concerned.
There was a long silence. Gohan stood waiting, his bag in one hand. Videl cracked.
"Gohan, maybe it's escaped your notice, but it's really obvious I've been crying. And if we're going to talk, what's wrong with doing it now?"
She... really didn't want to go back, though. And although he'd been thinking she'd calmed down, she'd didn't quite seem to have. Not properly. There was a reactive air to her, there was tension that hadn't vanished yet.
He shrugged, smiled at her in an attempt to be comforting. "Sure."
"Okay." She nodded, making the word decisive. "We'd better not stay here, then. They always look behind the greenhouse for skivers."
Skiving? Oh, this was trouble...
It had been humiliating, shouting at him and breaking down. Videl hated the helplessness of strong emotions, and she'd always told herself not to let things get like that, told herself to start fist-fights rather than shouting matches if she was that angry. But... this argument had been something different to the fruitless rows she'd had with her dad. It had told her something: why she was so angry at Gohan.
It hadn't been the little lies themselves. Those would have been almost funny, on their own: he'd panic because didn't recognise the name of a celebrity and couldn't say what his favourite manga character was. It was the reasons behind that clumsy concealment that upset Videl, the way she had no idea what was being concealed, or even what he really cared about.
Because, secretly, Satan Videl had quite an idealised idea of friendship: you shouldn't lie or bank away from secrets when you're talking to someone you actually care for, friends shouldn't do that. She'd confided in Gohan about her dad, although admittedly in a round-about way, and the way he'd paid her back for that kind of trust was by refusing to even admit he was hiding anything. That wasn't fair. And it was made worse by the fact they both did get on well with each other, so much that Videl would have said she really understood him. If it wasn't for the lies.
And the truth of it is, Erasa was a great friend, but she couldn't ever empathise with Videl's frustration about her father. The blonde girl's ambition was to be a model, see: how could you expect her to see the problem with glory-seeking? Videl would always trust Erasa to be kind, to try and help, but the other girl was so fundamentally different to Videl that her advice would never really be what her friend needed to hear.
It had hurt when she realised how confident she'd was that Gohan would understand her feelings. She'd mentioned all her private resentments and dissatisfactions (the kind of things Sharpner would sneer at and Erasa would be confused by) almost by-the-way to him.
And now she realised he hadn't done that back. He'd turned away from the trust she gave him. At any questioning about his personal matters, he changed the subject. He flat-out ignored anything she asked. Why? Why couldn't he tell her? Why didn't he return her trust?
It was that unanswerable question that had built up in Videl's mind. That had driven her feelings of rage and rejection and hurt against him. But now... it was that that he'd promised to resolve. He'd held her as she cried, gently, without making any comment or resenting the words she'd thrown at him. He'd promised: he'd made her an offer, standing and staying calm in the face of her anger. I will confide in you. Let me return your trust and your friendship.
She felt a kind of nervous anticipation: there was a new sense of trust between herself and Gohan, they'd been straight with each other for the first time.
As they made their way through a hole in the school walls, her mind was busy. She thought over her friendship with him, and came to a new understanding of it all. She'd hadn't ever really wanted to make a distance between them; either way, he'd closed it now.
She was leading the way. They had to stay off the main road out from the school, because teachers had been known to wait there and ambush people cutting class. So it was along a back street and through a run-down residential area they went, ending up in a tree-lined avenue that led to a park of the kind used only by bored teenagers and unimaginative dog-walkers. A single bench sat at one end of the small field, a slide and see-saw within a fence at the other. Gohan overtook her and took a seat on the bench.
He looked up at her, serious.
She felt an indecision that surprised her. He looked like he was struggling for words, all tense and nervous, and she half-wanted to say "don't worry about it," and that she didn't mind. Half of her did, though: she couldn't think of anything that was suspicious about him other than that he lied and apparently lived too far away for school to be practical. And this was something important, the mystery secret he was keeping: something so important he'd lie when his nature was an honest one. She was curious.
He gestured to the bench, and she sat down, tucking her hair behind her ears and looking at him. She couldn't decide what to say, but he started speaking first.
"Videl, um..." he looked down at his knees, then after a long few seconds back at her: "Let me tell you something about the Cell Games. It is to do with what I'm explaining, just, promise me you'll listen to everything I have to say, right?"
Slowly, Videl nodded.
The Cell Games had been unexpected: Videl had been thrown. But only temporarily, and as Gohan started speaking and stopped again before a full word had escaped, she reached her own conclusions.
"My father didn't defeat Cell... and Son Goku was at that tournament, and you share his name!"
He looked like a rabbit in the headlights for a second, and she was so amazed at herself and that his secret was something like this that she burst out laughing at him: Gohan knew the secrets to a conspiracy. And...
Slowly, more facts rose to her mind. He didn't just know something, he...
"And you... you're the right age to have been that Delivery Boy."
He nodded. He seemed to keep doing that.
She'd probably been staring at him just as much, though, and that probably looked equally silly. What did it matter?
Gohan spoke, low-voiced: "My father and I defeated Cell... but dad... was killed. The thing is," (and he started the next sentence rapidly, as if he was trying to chase the word killed out of his mouth) "the reasons we could fight him effectively is because we've learnt thing other people haven't: the use of ki. Ki's essentially life energy, and what Mr. Satan called light tricks were attacks that used it. But... my father and a few other people – and me – are naturally better at using these skills because..."
He trailed off. Videl took the time to assimilate the information he'd given her. There were suddenly lots of questions in her mind, but if she interrupted Gohan he might not keep talking.
"...We're not exactly... Human."
That knocked the questions right out of her head: "What?!"
And Gohan gave her a stumbling explanation of the Saiyan race and his father's arrival. By the time he'd finished it, she'd suspended disbelief, and she thought up questions about the stange-looking martial artist Piccolo that lead Gohan on to the story of Namek and then on to his training as a child. He talked for a long time.
Videl listened. Gohan had been terrified: he'd worried that she'd be angry to hear the truth about her father, or that she wouldn't believe him, or that she'd be horrified he was descended from a race of planet-destroying thugs. But – she was sitting quite calmly, now, head on one side and half-watching the children at the other end of the park while still paying attention to him. She'd stopped staring now. Of course, she was still amazed by what he'd said, but she was engaging with it: she asked some questions about the technologies behind space travel intelligent enough to need everything he'd learned from Bulma as a response.
The Dragonballs and the miscellaneous improbable stories involved with them took until lunchtime to be explained. About then, he decided that was enough. And he remembered the only thing other than his being an alien that she'd literally been stunned by. He made a plan.
Turning to face her fully, Gohan asked: "Videl?"
"You know, if we're not going back to school... I could do with some lunch."
She frowned, half-amused at the typically abrupt change of subject. He always did this.
"Tch, always hungry. I could almost believe this whole thing is your elaborate excuse for being greedy."
Gohan laughed. Everything seemed light and happy today, now that he'd told his story. Everything was optimistic.
And Videl's fond mockery was beautiful too: her expression lit her face up, too: her blue eyes were clear and sharp and her skin was bright in the sun.
"I guess I'll buy you lunch, then, for entertaining me." Her grin showed off white teeth, and she whispered: "if only because I'm a feminist."
He pretended to consider it, and she hit him playfully: "alien or not, Son Gohan, I'll kick your ass for bad manners."
"No, really, I was going to suggest something else..." A pause, during which his attempts to keep a straight face made him smirk: "Want proof I can fly?"
And so it was that Videl met Gohan's family, only nearly getting dropped to the ground by her escort on the way there. Chichi loved her future daughter-in-law, recognising as she did a fellow intelligent sharp-tongued female, and one she'd be proud to teach the art of the frying-pan knock-out. (She only even made one comment to the pair asking if they should still be in school, which to her son spoke of an affection stronger than love itself). Goten was less immediately welcoming, but he noticed the girl visitor distracted his brother often enough for him to sneak away to the cookie jar unnoticed, and that convinced him to like her.
And Videl... something in her mind recognised the place that would become her second home.
She wasn't sure what she felt about the rest of it. Gohan was clever and a good friend and nice despite his dorky attitude, and she really did like him. But this whole story: The Saiyajinn race and the Dragonballs, the fighting and threats to the world, the deaths and resurrections of loved ones. It shook her world-view. If someone else had told her anything like that at another time, someone who she trusted less and who'd cared less whether she believed them, then she'd have laughed. If she hadn't known her dad too well to believe he'd defeated Cell, she would probably not even have believed Gohan.
But Gohan couldn't lie, so she took him at his word. He'd earned that much respect from her, he'd listened to her screaming accusations. She'd give his crazy stories a chance. The idea of aliens who were stronger than a human could hope to be wasn't easy for her to accept: she'd always believed success was what you made it, and those who failed did so through their own faults. The idea these Saiyans could come to Earth and conquer all of it was novel and vaguely terrifying. And her friend being half-alien was almost harder to accept: but Gohan had been quite sincere in what he told her, and the very fact his lies were so obvious made her less inclined to doubt him now she knew the truth.
She'd think about it. Sure there was a lot to consider, but she knew Gohan better now. She was pretty sure he'd wait and listen to her and chat about school along the way. The two of them would have plenty of time together.
Aww... and a big shiny sign saying happily-ever-after goes here :)
I'd like to say thanks to everyone who's reviewed, and that I hope the ending lives up to your expectations. Some of you have written the most thoughtful, friendly, inspiring reviews I've ever got, and I really do appreciate it. Well, thank you all very much, and I hope everyone's enjoyed the story!!