Disclaimer: I do not own Dragonball Z. Period, dot, end of statement.
Capsule Corporation was full to the brim of all the Z fighters and their friends. Even Tien and Chiaotzu had come out of their self-imposed exile to visit the others. A short week ago, Goku and Vegeta had defeated the creature known as Majin Buu and so Bulma decided to throw a party in honor of their hard-earned victory. The two honorees, of course, were sitting at the buffet table, eating everything they could get their hands on. Everyone was watching the nauseating spectacle, still trying to figure out where it all went even after all these years.
Everyone except Krillin.
Krillin was in another room, staring out the window. Normally he would have been in the thick of things – telling jokes, teasing Gohan and Videl, or playing pranks with Trunks and Goten. It wasn't in his nature to be as anti-social as he was today. His arms were crossed, his normally cheerful face set in a frown as he gazed at the quickly fading sky, the epitome of a pensive man as he tried to figure out just when it was that he became so useless in a battle.
This whole Buu fiasco made it painfully obvious that he was outclassed as a fighter. True, he had taken it easy the past seven years, busy wooing and marrying 18 and then becoming a father four years after that. He didn't regret settling down at all, but he did wish that he would have trained at least a little bit. It might have helped him in the fight, not that he had much opportunity to even throw a punch. Dabura turned him into a statue before he could help Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, and the Supreme Kai with the enemies inside the ship. Buu turned him into chocolate of all things before he could do more than hit the pink demon. His suicidal attempt to save his family and friends failed as well, leaving him feeling more worthless than ever.
So when was it that he became such a liability on the battlefield? Buu? The Cell Games? On Namek, or fighting Vegeta, Nappa, and Raditz? Maybe it was even earlier, at the 23rd World Martial Arts Tournament, when he fought against Piccolo in the quarterfinals and had to forfeit because fighting the Namekian had completely drained his power. Yes, that sounded about right. He had done so well in the preliminaries (not that they were ever that hard for him), but then he was brought down by the brother of the monster who had caused his first death. The result of that match was the beginning of the long, profusely drawn-out end of his usefulness as a martial artist.
Krillin's next spectacular failure was when Raditz came to Earth for his brother. Trying to escort the Saiyan off the island only earned him a sore jaw from the blow and an aching head from meeting the house wall and crashing through it. Goku wouldn't even let him help fight Raditz, reminding him that he had already died once and in a fight with an enemy this powerful it was possible that he could die again and this time he wouldn't be able to come back to life. Even though he knew Goku was right, he still felt useless. All he could do was stand by as he watched his best friend in the world sacrifice himself to save Earth.
At least he redeemed himself slightly when Nappa and Vegeta arrived on Earth. After watching Yamcha die when the Saibaman he was fighting latched onto him and self-destructed, Krillin flew into a rage, killing three of the other Saibamen with a single attack. But he was helpless to keep Tien and Chiaotzu from dying when they fought Nappa and he couldn't save Piccolo either, although admittedly he probably wouldn't have tried as hard to save his former nemesis. Everything went downhill from there. He couldn't even touch Nappa, let alone Vegeta. Goku had to come to the rescue once again.
On Namek, he could only watch as five-year-old Gohan's power easily surpassed his own after Guru unlocked his potential. The most good he did in fighting their opponents was being the distraction so Vegeta or Goku could kill them. Then he died a second time. At least his second death triggered Goku's Super Saiyan transformation, so dying wasn't completely in vain like it was the last time. Trying to keep Tambourine from stealing Goku's 4-Star Dragonball, he was killed by a single blow and Tambourine took it anyway.
But it was when the Androids were activated that he really fell behind the rest of the group. He had watched in utter terror as 17 and 18 had defeated Vegeta and Trunks without breaking a sweat. They barely noticed Tien and Piccolo's attacks and swatted them down like flies. All Krillin did was watch. He didn't even try to jump into the fray, too frightened to oppose the twins' awesome powers with his own comparatively weak one.
Fighting Cell was an eye-opener as well, especially getting his head stuck in the plane. He thought for sure that he would be toast then; it was lucky that Tien and Piccolo arrived when they did or else he would have died a third time. Fighting the Cell Junior at the Cell Games only rubbed salt into an already open wound. He knew that he was outclassed, so why force the issue? Watching Gohan defeat Cell was the most awe-inspiring and self-esteem-killing event he had ever witnessed. Gohan had attained a level that even his father couldn't grasp and he was only an eleven-year-old boy. He shouldn't have had that kind of power, even if he had been fighting in life-or-death battles since the tender young age of four. After the tournament, Krillin went back to Master Roshi's, intent on training until he was at least as strong as Tien.
His marriage to 18 put his training on the back burner, however, and after the birth of Marron, he gave up training almost entirely, only sparring with 18 on rare occasions to keep in shape. They did train right before the tournament, just to regain a little bit of their former edge, but that was it. He went with Goku and the others to Babadi's ship purely because he felt like he had to be there, though he knew he wouldn't be able to do much. He was right, first being turned into stone and then turned into chocolate. He couldn't even do anything in Otherworld; of course, he wasn't a Saiyan and so his power level didn't jump a gazillion percent higher like Goku's and Vegeta's would.
Krillin had come to a crossroads in his life. Each enemy was exponentially stronger than the last. He knew that he would be no match for the next enemy that attacked the earth. Should he continue to train regardless of the fact that he probably wouldn't gain much more power? Or should he just give up the hobby-turned-volunteer job that had consumed his life ever since he had become Goku's best friend? He was in a unique position in his circle of friends; he was too weak to give any of them a truly decent fight, but a normal human couldn't hurt him if they tried. It wasn't a good place to be in. Hearing his daughter's high, childish voice demanding to know where her father was, he gave the now star-studded sky a final look before turning to go back into the main room, plastering his trademark grin onto his face.
The choice was obvious. As much as he loved the martial arts, he also had a family and all the responsibility that came with having one. If there was one thing that he disliked about Goku, it was the younger man's almost cavalier attitude towards his family and their feelings. It was possible that it was just a Saiyan thing, but whatever the reason, Krillin knew that he couldn't do the same thing to 18 and Marron. His family was the most important thing in the world to him and he wanted to be there for them for as long as he could. He wanted his fourth death to be of old age, not caused by another power-hungry tyrant. It was time to leave the fighting to the true fighters.
It was time to step down.
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