By C.S. Hayden
All characters are the property of Akira Toriyama, DragonBall Z and Toei Animation.
Author's note: All names have their English spellings for continuity. Puar is male in this story because when I was trying to find out just what sex Puar was, there wasn't a set answer: most DBZ fan sites listed Paur as male, some listed Puar as female, and the 'official' DBZ site run by Funanimation had Puar as neuter. Go fig...
Long before they passed over the shore of the mainland and crossed over the mountains, Eighteen started having cold feet. If the occasion weren't so important to Krillin, she would have never agreed to accompany him. It had been all he could talk about in the past few weeks as the baby's birth approached - ever since Chi-Chi had asked Krillin to be the baby's godfather. Although he seldom mentioned it, Eighteen knew that Krillin still mourned Goku's passing and deeply missed his best friend. She couldn't explain why but she felt that being with Krillin today would be worth all the trouble of dealing with his other friends who were still uncomfortable around her.
"Hey!" Krillin reached out and tapped her shoulder. "Time to make our descent." He looked at her wistfully. "There's still time to change your mind, you know?"
Eighteen raised one eyebrow. "I said I would come and I will. If Vegeta starts something, I'll be sure to take him outside first."
"I'm sure Chi-Chi would appreciate that!" Krillin laughed. He let his hand slide down her arm to twine his fingers with hers; a gesture to which she had finally grown accustomed. "I'm so glad you're going to be here with me for the ceremony. I've never been a godfather before."
"You'll be fine." Inwardly, Eighteen was amused. Krillin had nearly paced a hole in the floor the night that the baby boy was born and had been on pins-and-needles waiting for this day to arrive.
They circled down into a small valley in the mountains where a number of vehicles were parked around a dome-shaped house. The largest jetcar had the Capsule Corporation logo blazed across it. A wide, barrel-chested man with a horned helmet came around it and waved at the newcomers!
"Krillin!" Chi-Chi's father, the Ox King bellowed. "Hello!! It's about time you got here!" He turned and called to the house. "Gohan! Come see who's here!"
Before the Ox-King could finish his sentence, the youngest super Saiyan on the planet was airborne and headed their way. "Krillin!!" Gohan crashed into him with a bear-hugging tackle. "And Eighteen!! I'm so glad you could come!"
She nodded, grateful as always for the easy way the boy had accepted her when Krillin had made their relationship known to his friends. "It was nice to be invited, Gohan. How do you like your new brother?"
"He's okay," Gohan shrugged, "but he's awfully small and boy, can he yell!"
"You know what they say," Eighteen said wryly, glancing at Krillin, "good things come in small packages."
"Kril-LIN!!" Gohan laughed. "You're all red!!"
Still blushing, Krillin leaned towards Eighteen as they landed and murmured, "Gee, thanks!"
"C'mon!" Gohan demanded, herding them towards the house. "Yamcha is bringing the priest so there's still time for you to visit with everyone before the ceremony."
"We'll be along in a minute," Krillin told him. He turned back to Eighteen, his eyes bright and shining. "Ready?"
"Yes," she lied, flicking away a leaf that had landed on the lapel of his tan suit. "You're not, though." She ran her fingers through his hair to straighten it but there was always that one errant lock that refused to stay put. "That's better. How do I look?" She stepped back and turned, flaring the skirt of the sleeveless blue dress she'd chose for the occasion.
Krillin blushed slightly and swallowed. "Beautiful as always, babe." He held out his hand. "Shall we?"
Her fingers tightened around his as they stepped into the crowded house. Chi-chi was holding court in a rocking chair in the corner of the living room, the baby wrapped in a quilted blanket in her arms. Master Roshi and Oolong had arrived a few days earlier and seemed to have made themselves at home. Bulma was showing the baby to Trunks but the toddler was not terribly impressed. His father, Vegeta, wore a similar scowl as he leaned against the wall. Three-eyed Tien and diminutive Chaiotzu were guarding the food as Lunch worked in the kitchen. Eighteen smirked as she saw the Saiyan prince eye the refreshments and guessed that he'd been thwarted from helping himself to the goodies.
Gohan had threaded his way through the crowd and whispered in his mother's ear. Chi-chi called out, "Oh, good! You're here! I was starting to get worried."
"Wild horses couldn't keep us away," Krillin answered jovially as he crossed the room. "And how is our guest of honor today?"
Chi-chi smiled and folded back the blanket to reveal a chubby baby with unruly dark hair dressed in an embroidered kimono. "Goten is doing just fine," she said, smiling although her eyes were sad. "He's got a full tummy, just like his father."
"Goku would be so proud," Krillin said gently. "It's an honor to be godfather to his son."
"Would--" Chi-Chi sniffed. "Would you like to hold him? I need to check on things."
"Would I?" Krillin grinned and held out his hands. "You bet!" He took the baby and cradled him gingerly. "Wow, he's little. I remember when Trunks was this small."
Bulma laughed. "But now he's a big boy now, aren't you, Trunks?" She reached down and ruffled her son's hair. Trunks snorted and toddled over to the wall by Vegeta. "Oh, don't be like that. You and Goten will have great fun together when he's older."
"My son and Kakarott's offspring, playmates?" Vegeta sneered. "Think again, woman."
"Yeah?" Bulma drew herself up. "After that fiasco with the preschool center? Gohan and Goten are the only kids strong enough to play with Trunks."
"Preschool?" Krillin asked, raising one eyebrow. "What happened?"
"It wasn't that bad. With any luck, the teacher that tried to discipline Trunks will be out of that body brace soon."
Eighteen drifted over to look at the baby over Krillin's shoulder. As human infants went, Goten was not that unattractive. What amused her was the expression on Krillin's face as he rocked the baby. Such a kind, gentle smile - not all that different from the ones he gave her when he thought she wasn't looking. He glanced up and grinned.
"Wanna hold him?" Krillin waggled his eyebrows. "Saiyan babies don't break."
"The robot hold the baby?" Vegeta said loudly, shifting his weight from one side to the other. "As if she would have any feeling for it."
Eighteen glared at him from across the room. "If you like, I can always break your arm again so you'll have an excuse not to hold him yourself."
Vegeta's face darkened but before he could say anything, Chi-Chi came back into the room. She caught sight of Krillin showing the baby to Eighteen and smiled. "Go on," she said proudly, "go ahead and hold him, Eighteen. It's all right - Goten loves to be held."
Krillin abandoned the chair. "Go on," he said encouragingly. "It's better if you're sitting down." As he put Goten into her arms, he winked and said, "Besides, this will really tweak Vegeta."
Eighteen raised an eyebrow and would have made a wry comment of her own but she was distracted by a firm grip on her finger. Goten burbled up at her as he squeezed tight, her distorted face reflected in his dark eyes. She stared at the baby, not sure what emotion she was feeling; it was a strange combination of vertigo and awe, tinged with a vague affection. The child was nothing to her, but somewhere, somehow she had held a baby before. Without thinking, she cradled Goten against her shoulder and rubbed her cheek against his forehead, breathing in the baby sweet scent of talcum powder and milk.
How long she remained like that, Eighteen could not say. Only the sound of Krillin's voice brought her out of her reverie.
Eighteen blinked and looked up into Krillin's worried face.
"Yamcha's here with the priest," he said gently. "You need to give Goten to Chi-Chi now, you know, for the ceremony."
"Of course," Eighteen replied hastily. Goten had fallen asleep with a lock of her golden hair in his fist but she managed to tease it loose.
The ceremony passed in a blur for Eighteen. She remembered to respond in all the right places and was pleased to see how happy Krillin was, surrounded by his friends once more. She retreated outside to be alone with her thoughts. Shaken by her reaction to the baby, Eighteen felt confused and frightened; two emotions that she despised. She was beginning to think that was how all humans felt, as often as she herself felt that way since she had been with Krillin. With a heavy sigh, she sat down on a convenient boulder.
"Human celebrations can be tiresome, can they not?"
Eighteen looked up at the sound of the gravelly voice. Piccolo was nearly invisible in the shadows beneath the trees nearby. She shrugged. "Krillin wanted to come."
"Same here. Gohan asked me."
An uncomfortable silence settled over them, interrupted from time to time by laughter from the house. Eighteen could pick out Krillin's voice amongst all the others and it made her miss having him all to herself.
"He's a good man," Piccolo commented. "You chose well."
"What?" Eighteen scowled at the Namek warrior as she jumped to her feet. "What are you doing in my head? Stop it!"
Piccolo regarded her mildly. "It doesn't take a mind reader to see how close you and Krillin have become since we last met. You've been very good for each other."
"I suppose." Eighteen sat back down.
"You seem troubled."
"My, you're nosy today."
"Merely making an observation," Piccolo said with a shrug. "It was hard for me to fit in at first, too."
"If Vegeta wasn't busy stuffing his face," Eighteen commented sarcastically, "I suppose we could pal around together wearing 'I tried to kill Goku' shirts."
"Except that I actually did kill Goku."
"Then you can be the leader of the club."
"Krillin has rubbed off on you, I see." Piccolo grinned at her, his fangs gleaming in the shadows. "Strange how humans can do that."
Eighteen didn't reply. The Namek closed his eyes and resumed his own mediations, leaving her to her solitude. Giggling announced the arrival of Gohan and Trunks into the yard, followed by Chaiotzu and Krillin. They had a star-spangled ball that they were tossing around between them. Trunks was leaping up for the ball but his little legs weren't quite strong enough so Krillin swung him up into the air. He put the lavender-haired boy on his shoulders and Trunks shrieked triumphantly as he swatted the ball back at Gohan.
What was it that made Krillin fit in so easily? Eighteen watched him playing with the boys and that strange warm feeling returned. She'd fought it as long as she could, denying the truth of it, until she had no choice but to admit it - she had learned to love and in loving, re-discovered her human self. Unfortunately, being human also meant being vulnerable and that was a weakness that went against Eighteen's programming.
It wasn't until she realized that the noise had stopped that Eighteen noticed that the ball players were nowhere to be seen. The sun was just sinking over the treetops and long shadows striped the empty yard. Somehow while she had been lost in her thoughts, the afternoon had slipped away. Bulma was out in the yard setting up guest quarters for the night by popping compact dome houses out of dyno-capsules. Krillin was talking animatedly with her, Eighteen assumed about the house by the way he was gesturing at it, and she decided to see what had him so excited.
"-And how many rooms do they have?" Krillin was asking Bulma.
"It depends," Bulma replied. "These are the basic two bedroom models, with a living room/kitchen area and a full bath. What do you want with one, anyway? Thinking of moving out of Roshi's place?"
"Maybe," Krillin said thoughtfully. "My father died a few years ago and left me some property. It took a while for his solicitors to track me down so I didn't find out about it until recently."
Bulma put her hand on his shoulder. "Oh, Krillin - I'm so sorry to hear that."
"No biggie." He shrugged. "My father and I hadn't spoken since he left me at the monastery. We weren't close."
Eighteen knew all too well that Krillin was just putting an act. She remembered the morning the letter had arrived and the way a shadow seemed to fall over his face as he read it. He'd gone outside without speaking to anyone and trained the entire day without stopping before he was himself again. She had almost reached them when Krillin continued.
"Anyway, I've checked it out and the land's good but the house really needs work before Eighteen and I can live there. There's enough room for one of these capsule houses while I'm fixing things up."
Her eyes widen as Eighteen stood a few feet behind them, listening to Krillin planning their future. How dare he not consult her? It was all she could do to hold on to her temper.
Bulma caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and turned towards her with a nervous smile. "Hey, Eighteen! We were just talking about you."
"Hey, what say we spend the night?" Krillin suggested, his dark eyes dancing. Bulma's brought some extra capsule houses to camp in."
Eighteen frowned. "I'd rather not. I didn't bring any extra clothes with me."
"Chi-Chi or Bulma could let you borrow something."
"It's not the same."
"Please?" Krillin cocked his head to the side and tried his puppy-dog eye trick on her. "I'd really like to stay and visit a little while longer."
"Fine. Stay." Eighteen stepped away from him. "I'm not." Her cornsilk hair suddenly billowed around her face as her energy levels flared. She rose into the air like a rocket before he had a chance to speak again.
"C'mon, Krillin," Yamcha said in his most reasonable voice. "What'd you expect? She's an android and she's a woman. The two don't mix if you ask me!"
"I didn't," Krillin replied tersely, his head propped up on one hand and the other wrapped around a drink. He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. "Sorry, I don't mean to be a party pooper but this is not how I planned to end the evening."
"Hey, no problem." The scarred warrior raised his beer bottle. "I've been there, bud, I know."
After Eighteen's abrupt departure, Krillin had lost all enthusiasm for the family party and Yamcha suggested a diversion. They'd dropped the priest off at the temple and gone into the city with Master Roshi, Oolong, and Puar who had invited themselves along once they learned where Yamcha was taking Krillin.
Krillin grimaced. "I can't look. What's he doing now?"
"Um...," Yamcha sat up and craned his neck to see over the crowd. "Roshi's leaning up on the stage and having the dancer take zenni out of his teeth. Oolong's been drooling so much that there's a guy with mop bucket behind him. And I haven't seen Puar since that one stripper used him to powder glitter all over herself." He sighed. "Sorry about this. I just thought you needed a drink. I didn't plan on the traveling sideshow coming along."
"It's all right, Yamcha." Krillin shrugged. "I should be used to it by now. It's been over six months since Eighteen moved in with us at the Kame house and she still does this cold robot act." He lifted his drink to his lips and took a sip. "I don't think she can help it, really. It's in her programming."
"I'll never understand how you two hooked up," Yamcha commented, signaling the bartender for another round. "I mean, Eighteen is a real looker but I know firsthand what kind of power she's got under the hood. How do you cope with that?"
"It isn't easy," Krillin admitted, "but I manage. I think Eighteen's had a lot of pain in her past - she never talks about it but I can see it in her eyes sometimes. She deals with it by putting up a wall around her feelings, but every now and then she lets me see the woman behind the android and that, my friend, is well worth the wait."
The crowd behind them burst into scattered applause and catcalls, making conversation impossible for the next few minutes. Yamcha glanced back at the stage and raised one eyebrow. "The pig is wearing some chick's underwear on his head."
"Probably brought it from home," Krillin commented sagely. "Eighteen caught Oolong going through her laundry once. We nearly had BLTs for lunch that day."
Exploding with a high-pitched burst of laughter and snorting beer through his nose, Yamcha nearly fell off his barstool. Krillin chuckled a little too as he stared at the ice cubes melting in his glass. Yamcha got a grip on his giggles and nudged his companion.
"Just between us guys," he asked seriously, "how far have you got with Eighteen?"
"Far enough," Krillin answered. "I'd rather go slow and wait for the right time than rush things. Eighteen can be kind of fragile where her emotions are concerned."
"And there's no point in getting certain body parts ripped out by the roots."
It was a long, lonely flight back to the island, but without Krillin, she was able to travel at her top speed. The rush of air in her face kept her face as blank and emotionless as ever but inside she felt like weeping. She knew Krillin meant well, but it was like the lab all over again - having other people run her life. She'd had enough of that with Dr. Gero, even her brother, but she'd never have thought Krillin would do it too.
The sun was setting as she touched down. Instead of heading into the house, Eighteen slipped off her shoes and went down to the beach. Krillin had raked the sand clean of debris earlier and the wind had blown it smooth and pristine. It was like being the only person alive in the world. She sank down to a comfortable spot halfway up a dune and contemplated the horizon, watching as the sun disappeared and colors filtered from pink to purple to finally a deep indigo blue.
This was normally one of her most favorite times of the day. Master Roshi and Oolong would be cozied up with their evening television smutfest and Krillin would be coming out the door any moment to sit with her. Sometimes they didn't even talk, but just watched the stars and listened to the waves rushing on the shore. She glanced back over her shoulder, but the house was dark and Krillin was far away.
"I shouldn't have lost my temper," she told herself contritely. "It wouldn't have been so bad, being around all those people."
The truth was, even if she didn't want to admit it, Eighteen hated being alone. She didn't like being interfered with, but she'd discovered in the dark days after Cell had been defeated, that being unique in the world was also a curse. Aside from her brother, there were very few people who could even remotely relate to her. If it wasn't for Krillin finding her that awful day out in the rain, shivering and soaked to the skin, she didn't know what she would have done. He'd saved her again without realizing.
A school of fish disturbed the waters in the lagoon, making starlight glitter and flash on the surface. She half-expected to hear Krillin laugh at the sight. He found so much to enjoy in life and always a way to include her in the fun. It had taken several weeks, months even, but she came to realize that she loved him, in her own way. She wasn't always able to say it but she tried to show it when she could. What he must think of her now, she couldn't possibly imagine.
The back of her neck tingled. Eighteen lifted her head sharply and glanced around. There was a disturbance in the energy field around the island, marking the arrival of someone she knew all too well. She took a deep breath and composed herself.
Sand crunched as he landed and walked towards her.
"Here," he said as he draped his suit jacket over her shoulders, "That breeze is chilly."
"Krillin." She didn't want to look him directly so she watched the sand shifting and rolling down the dune as he sat down besides her. "I'm sorry. I ruined your evening"
"It wasn't much of a party after you left anyway," he said ruefully. "When Vegeta finished eating, there weren't even any leftovers."
Eighteen wrinkled her nose. She sniffed his jacket and then she sniffed Krillin, making a face. Even after flying back to the island, there was a faint aroma of cigarette smoke and stale alcohol. "What IS that smell?"
"Oh, Yamcha invited me into town for a drink at this place he knows. Master Rochi and Oolong are probably still there if they haven't been kicked out yet."
"Really?" She arched an eyebrow. "It's one of those places, eh?" She wasn't sure she liked the thought of Krillin hanging out in strip clubs with that pair of perverts.
Krillin gave an embarrassed laugh and grinned, running his hand through his hair. "I stayed in the bar with Yamcha. As much as I admire Master Roshi, there are times that even I don't want to be seen in public with him. When I left, he was dancing around with a sequined bra on his head."
Relieved, Eighteen smiled without knowing it. Besides her, Krillin stretched and lay back against the dune with his hands beneath his head and his legs crossed. She turned to smirk at him.
"You'll get sand in your hair."
"With hair like mine, who's going to notice?" He glanced up at her. "Wanna look at the stars with me? One shoulder, no waiting."
She regarded Krillin for a few seconds. He was keeping his hands firmly behind his head (making no sudden movements, she noted ironically) letting her take the next move. His eyes smiled warmly at her, inviting her to take the next step.
"All right." Eighteen carefully curled up along his side, tucking her hair to one side as she positioned her head as he wished, her cheek pressed against his shirt. He was still quite warm from the ki energy he'd expended during his flight and she hadn't realized how cold she had become. Unconsciously, she draped an arm and a knee over him to warm herself. She felt his heart beat faster and she commented wryly, "You may hold me, if you like."
"Yes, ma'am!" She felt one muscled arm curl around her shoulders.
"And what stars are we looking at tonight?"
Krillin was quiet for a few moments. "Cygnus, the swan." He pointed. "See there? Where those three bright stars make a triangle? That bright one on the short side of the triangle is Deneb, the tail of the swan and that line of stars to the southwest of it is the neck."
"Oh!" Eighteen brought her hand up to trace a line with her finger. "And those five stars that cross it are the wings?"
"That's right." His arm tightened around her shoulders in a gentle hug. "You're getting much better at this."
"It's not so difficult." She had been surprised at how much Krillin actually knew about astronomy when they'd first begun stargazing together. It seemed that the monks who'd given him his early training had taught him more than just fighting techniques. "So why'd you pick this one?"
"Yamcha commented that I've changed a lot. Usually when we're in a bar, girls come up to flirt with him but this time, some hit on me too."
"What?" Eighteen's temper flared and she started to get up.
Krillin laughed and pulled her back into his arms. "Nothing happened, babe, honestly. It was kind of surprising because it's rare that women even notice me. I was thinking about it on the way home and it hit me: I have changed - it's because I've been with you these last few months. I was an ugly duckling and you changed me into a swan."
"It's true." He tilted her face up and kissed her very softly. "Love changes you. Everybody knows that."
"I meant ducklings into swans. Ridiculous."
"Ridiculous, she says!" Krillin tucked his jacket around her shoulders. "Sounds to me like someone needs a bedtime story. Once upon a time--"
It was a totally bizarre tale of confused waterfowl, but his voice was very soothing and soon Eighteen began to get sleepy. Amusedly, she thought that Krillin would make a very good father; the way he played with the children at the party was proof enough of that. That thought made her open her eyes suddenly. She couldn't believe that she'd even think that - it implied that she wanted to be a mother and what kind of parent could an android be?
To be continued.....