(This was, at least a year ago, a light-hearted AU where Krillin was in a terrible band with the other fighters…and the twins were models that ran a corporation, and Juunanagou, like, ODed on cocaine and Sixteen made Krillin their manager they all ended up taking a road trip in an RV…and it had no conclusion or climax and was kind of a mess. Just a terrible mess.
(and I realized, this isn't going anywhere and isn't good enough to be even a one-shot in this collection, and needed something, something more-
(dramatic because you know, I don't write enough angst.
(and I realized that I haven't mentioned the Future timeline at all…
(Thus, everything was scrapped and this particular story was idea was expanded and written in the last two months. So now you know why it's taken me so long to put this out. Thankfully, the next chapter is already finished and should be posted soon)
Never be disenchanted of
That place you sometimes dream yourself into,
Lying at large remove beyond all dream,
Or those you find there, though but seldom
In their company seated -
The untameable, the live, the gentle.
Have you not known them? Whom? They carry
Time looped so river-wise about their house
There's no way in by history's road
To name or number them.
In your sleepy eyes I read the journey
Of which disjointedly you tell; which stirs
My loving admiration, that you should travel
Through nightmare to a lost and moated land,
Who are timorous by nature.
Through Nightmare-Robert Graves
"But all the while Persephonē knew how brief that beauty was: fruits, flowers, leaves, all the fair growth of the earth, must end with the coming of the cold and pass like herself into the power of death. After the lord of the dark world carried her away she was never again the gay young creature who had played in the flowery meadow without a thought of care or trouble." ~ Edith Hamilton, "Mythology".
Krillin came into the lab, carrying the thing as though bearing Ophelia fresh from the river. The water dripped from their clothes until it became a puddle at beneath his boots. Silver bright hair, silver on his cheeks from the rain. Outside, the wind was howling at the lightless moon, like the Earth was waiting for revenge for what it had suffered through or like a man she'd once known. His own mother, had she ever known him, wouldn't have recognized him through the blood. Eyes blind, looking ahead, unable take in anything before him.
Then he was blinking, moving forward. "Bulma. Bulma."
There was so much blood, and she felt a hand choking her throat again. Again. Again. Again. "Gohan, where's Gohan?"
On Namek, even on Namek, he'd never looked this way. "He's fine—getting patched up by your Mom."
Which didn't sound like fine to her.
She saw Gohan in a flash from years ago, brave and strong, his father's son, looking over his shoulder at her as the wind from the dying planet blew by. Young and beautiful but doomed, as Goku had never looked. No, Goku had never even dared to contemplate his own mortality, could not think he might die, to consider that he might sacrifice himself to be brave as his own Dad; Goku had never even known his father. Beautiful and damned, could that be, as he looked back, just as he had when leaving the house with Krillin.
He's alive. He's alive, and he's going to be fine. She didn't notice her hands coming together until they were squeezing together painfully. Nails bitten to the quick, pink and calloused and still dirty under what was left of those fingernails. These things somehow belonged to her still.
Gohan's alive and so is Krillin. And so am I. Part of the group that actually knew what Goku looked like, and how hard he'd fought and all that he'd done. Knew of his smile, and the terrible peace that had finally came over his pale face in the end. Buried in that field outside the house he'd grown up. Gone around the world, had saved the world, had even left the planet and gone to a far stretch of space to save the day again, and ended up right back where he had been practically born. Where he had landed to begin the mission he'd thankfully never completed.
"He's okay, really." Blinking, trying to bring himself back to this moment. "We did it. It's over."
But Bulma couldn't look away from the body in his arms. The blonde hair across the forearm, and the sleeping pale face. Her fingers came unstuck. Bulma knew that face. "The other one…?"
"Dead." His Adam's apple jumped. "Dead."
"But you saved—saved her."
"She was." Krillin stepped further into the lab, heavy footsteps. Nearly swooning. Dark stubble showed on his head, the first time Bulma had ever seen him with any hair. "She was…I thought-"
Bulma took a step back.
How could this thing still be alive?
What Goku had helped teach them all during his time on Earth. The fighters all seemed to try their best to follow his example, to some extent. Even Vegeta had at least been taught humility. But his name alone was a fresh cut to her heart that made her eyes sting. Pity and mercy could be signs of bravery, but Bulma no longer felt either of those emotions anymore; they had died alongside Vegeta.
"I thought we could use her."
"Gohan. Here, buddy." Krillin adjusted the knitted, scratchy scarf around his neck, and Gohan waited for it to be over. To not squirm. People, they still treated him like he was a little kid, and he hated acting like one.
But he'd still taken this scarf when his Mom had handed it to him, and hadn't even put it on right.
It was that voice again. The one that asked all the questions.
And what were you doing, when Dad died? Everyone else was there, even Vegeta, even Trunks, who was now walking and talking.
He had run away as fast as he could. And then he hadn't come back fast enough.
His Dad's face, still, blasé, as though not particularly interested anymore in getting up or even his own death. Not afraid, not unhappy, not particularly at peace, almost like he was thinking of something not all that important that he couldn't quite remember.
After that, nothing had really been the same. Even after Goku had seemingly died against Freiza, there hadn't been such a stillness in the air. They had just been waiting, during that time, spending the time with one ear out for Goku's laugh to come again, as Gohan had heard seemingly a thousand times before. In the house at the dinner table, outside as they fished or sparred, or even in a fight.
Maybe it had been Kami's influence that made Piccolo attack the androids first. Or maybe the two androids had sought him out, knowing about the dragonballs, and not wanting anyone to attempt stopping them. It had been the first blow, been the most serious wound and it had festered. Sunk its teeth in and began to chew away at the others. They had been searching for survivors from the latest attack, all of them, all of what was left of them, when Vegeta had died.
Gohan would always put on his father's colors when he fought.
He wore them now, even though he might have been better off in more layers.
But Krillin wore the same, and it felt good to feel like a real fighter again. No matter how cold it was here, as Krillin continued to go on about, shivering exaggeratedly. Trying to make Gohan laugh.
The map printout and magazine article, useless really, were passed back and forth. With only the light from their ki, also carefully kept low, it took hours to find anything that looked close. A small camp set up, and neither said anything about the old days of nights spent under the stars. Countless times packing a tent and never finding all the right poles. Him with a book on maybe fauna tucked under his pillow, Bulma and Yamcha and Oolong and maybe Piccolo with them, all of them talking and maybe drinking beer that made their 'adult' jokes so hilarious when they thought he'd fallen asleep. And his Dad would be there, of course, eating all the food and not understanding the jokes they made about sex and bills and significant others. Hearing their voices, and feeling so safe, closing his eyes when he couldn't see the ceiling of his tent anymore.
Remembering that and nothing else allowed him to sleep and not worry about his mother back at home, who was worried about him in return.
It didn't seem to be much of anything, really, when compared to being on Namek. Still Earth, after all, with the same insects chirping and the sun setting. No aliens here (except him, sort of) to run from or towards.
Gohan could nearly feel the weight of the planet, it's gravity pulling at him, and felt a helpless love like when his father had taken him to watch a certain clutch of dinosaur eggs hatching, holding him up when he'd been much small to get a better view. Loving the dinosaur family, and worrying about them, loving his dad and not daring to think anything bad could happen to him-Goku larger and stronger than any of those dinosaurs, holding his hand and leading him home as they came up with names for those babies. Smelling wild grass, laundry dried on the line, and maybe his mom's cooking or just his imagination and that was nearly as good.
And when they got home, there would be homework and his parents joking about the 'field trip' and easily loving each other and maybe his Mom would let him stay up and extra hour to watch TV. Falling asleep on the couch between his parents, and Dad would wake him up a little when he carried him to his bed, telling him that everything was okay and to go back to sleep.
This was his planet, and he had to protect it.
These facts that had been so inescapable, more so than the gravity of Earth.
All of it so clear, in this half-asleep state; he'd been safe and loved here. How could he not try to save the day, like the others had? To help others feel the same way, rather than losing their own parents because of the androids? Losing their kids…
Could hear crickets or cicadas maybe, and the wind rushing through and the fire crackling as it ate through the supply of wood. Krillin's breathing, too fast to be asleep.
Where were his parents, anyway? Were they still alive, or had they died, before Gohan had even been born asleep? Krillin had wanted kids too, marriage and kids, as he'd talked about occasionally on Namek and made jokes about over the years. Weird to really think about, him having a girlfriend and a couple of children. Were those things even possible now, with the androids running loose? Bulma was always so afraid of leaving Trunks out of her sight…And again he could feel the fist around his heart, what must be a sort of tenderness for his friends remaining.
Bulma and Trunks needed to be watched out for, especially maybe Trunks who was running around now and loved to chase Gohan and to swing his plastic bat around and knock everything he could reach over. He was another half-Saiyan, and sometimes when Bulma looked at Gohan, he knew that she was wondering how her own son would turn out and when he would have to fight. Krillin, who was only human, and like an uncle to him (better than his real uncle) and would have sacrificed everything he had to make sure that Gohan and the rest of his friends were okay, and who had the best knock-knock jokes to tell Trunks and deserved to be happy. They all had to be protected.
He was the only one that could really do that. Trunks was just a little kid still, and would need to be trained. Someone had to teach him about what he was, and how to fight and someone would need to take him fishing and show him which berries to eat and how to make a fire. Krillin was the only fighter that had been trained by Master Roshi, and couldn't do anything against the androids.
It wasn't fair, but that was a little kid thought.
But everyone was dead, his dad and all his friends, all the strongest fighters hadn't been strong enough to stop them.
At least Bulma had a plan. They had a plan. And might not even have to fight the androids.
It could be simple.
They might be able to save the day, as they had every other time. Even without the others. And if the others were watching, they would see that things were going to be okay, and—and…
The others, watching Earth from Other world.
His dad seeing him as he tried to get there in time. And failing. Had Goku watched him, the first time he'd fought the androids, seen his son get batted about and left to struggle in what remained of a city. Seeing him lose, to wake broken and to weep as he clutched his bleeding palms to his cheeks. Watched his only kid trying to plead with the machines, lost in panic and despair and without a shred of dignity while he spat up blood.
And had Piccolo…he couldn't think about Piccolo.
It was hard as always to fall asleep, just lying still was difficult now. This relative peace that Gohan could no longer stand, especially when he might see the moon coming through the window. Feel the tension in his spine, and not-remember his tail and what he'd done, and if it was possible to regrow his tail, could he, would that work, could that be worse than Earth being destroyed by a pair of machines that looked only a few years older than him.
Mornings were even worse here, this pale sun coming out, as they jammed their hands into their armpits and tried to get the fire going. At least there were trees here, and they had to egg each other on to eat. Enjoying what warmth they could find.
"We'll find it," Krillin promised. With dark-circles under his eyes, and the muscles all tense around his mouth. Gohan wondered with a start if he would look like that when he got older. If he looked like that now.
Eventually, even Krillin had stopped making jokes.
And he was the one to find the hole, just a dent in the mountain from a distance. "I think that might be it."
She dreamed of hospital rooms and of a broken ceiling with a hole in the center of it, covered over with thick sheets of sheeting. Polyurethane. The sheeting was a vacuole that loomed above and threatened with every gust of wind to lean down and eat her. A mouth that gapes. Some
where there was machine oil
and anesthetic burning her nose.
Her head was too heavy to move, and she didn't seem to have any body attached. But how could she be alive if that was true. Her throat felt lined with sandpaper. Awareness. Black.
The voice in her head told her what was wrong, switching to its own life.
'Blood temperature low. Heartbeat low. '
Something, when she searched for what she was, informed her: One of Earth's Protectors.
Oh, that helps.
I must have…I hurt. Let her head roll to the side.
Anything else might be important. Even if she was just a mission.
All else in unnecessary. Nothing else matters not revenge
nothing comes before helping save Earth. Not even her name. Obey.
Fine, fine. For now.
She opened her eyes.
White. Splatted of color around. A bed, she lies on a bed. This is her arm, that is her right leg.
She couldn't believe there was a second voice in the room. That anything existed anymore outside of her and her thoughts. What was left of her body jumped, scrambling, nothing but human instinct. Noise in the back of her throat. A vase nearby, empty, and miles away, a lurid red. Darker than the marks on her arms. Her arms, covered with half-healed scabs.
"Are you awake?"
It didn't feel as important as it was, to put the android on that table. To know that she was here, in this sanctuary that still stood despite the wreckage around it. Her, with moisture sliding off the yellow hair and wet clothes sagging.
At least those eyes were closed.
She might wake up, right now. No matter what Bulma said.
Krillin had to crouch there, remembering endless days and nights of meditation and didn't even know what he was doing now. Not looking into himself for guidance since he doubted he was capable of knowing what to do now.
Praying. To whom now that Kami was gone? For what, for time to reverse itself, back to before the others had been killed? All the way back to when Goku had been alive?
Seeing what was on his hands, of their hurt palms, feeling his back aching finally from the falls, feeling the slow deluge of pain as adrenaline ebbed.
Water everywhere, and he remembered Yamcha, who had grown up in the desert, and had died in this wet weather. Foggy, it had been foggy and grey. Alongside so many ruining buildings. He'd been a bandit, Bulma had told Krillin, and had tried to rob her and Goku. Just like all the others, he'd died trying to protect innocents. Sixty-one bodies alongside the remains of his friend that he'd known since he was thirteen.
And Tien, who had known all too well what he was to face and Chaotzu that refused to leave his side. How he'd taken Krillin's hand, ignoring the pleas. 'You've been a good friend.'
'Please don't go.'
The small pale was smiling. 'Another time and place.' Something that still chilled and confused Krillin when he thought of it now.
Even as he huddled closer to a concrete wall that was all that was left of some building, wishing he could go with them. He could go with them, die together. One last fight together. Until their backs were gone and he could only stand there while sensing their ki, watching the sun rise and aware of how many people would never see this sight again.
His fellow Earthlings.
Men he'd sat around with during calm moments, had beers with during barbecues, and had watched die once before, just as helpless as he was now. No, now it was worse. There would be no Goku to come rescue them. No Namek to make things alright again. This world was dying.
And the cause lay there, as though asleep.
Did they sleep? Nap, maybe, like cats, yes. But did they dream? Were they capable of such? Even Vegeta had dreamed, and Bulma had told Krillin that there had been nightmares that wracked the Saiyan's head. Hadn't Goku also gotten some bad dreams when stricken with that virus? Did the androids ever close their eyes and drift off to a murky place where they could finally be vulnerable.
But she wasn't asleep, not now this android either way.
She was hidden away further, pushed past the human race. Even Krillin could have killed her by himself. Finally defeated an enemy. No, again, he could have stopped her permanently. In so many ways.
Suffocated, or blown up or strangled or something slowly, or why not try taking the needles there and filling them with anything and further push Juuhachigou from humanity? A nudge to see her from the shores of consciousness. Wasn't she already so far apart from everyone, the lack of ki that betrayed the fact that the androids weren't properly alive, the eyes as flat and disinterest as an animals, that they were not fully adults perhaps, but had not aged a day since he'd first seen them, floating above as he'd only seen warriors do, but these two could not be sensed so how…
'A gift from the Red Ribbon.' Said with a blown kiss and then a kick to the stomach that had blacked out everything, turned the lights off, and when he awoke—he wished he hadn't.
To go back to that time, and not wake up and be with Goku and soon, the rest of his friends. To die like a real fighter, a man, and not left behind like Gohan, like a child, to be slowly drained of life and find himself in a two-inch puddle and hoping that they would finish him this time. Let him drown.
Half of Earth's destroyer laid there before him in a cluttered lab underground, and though Krillin doesn't have a sword in his hand, there was also no Goku to insist on mercy.
Sleep and messy hair reduced the hollows and softened lines. She could have been a normal girl. Could have been anyone.
"We need to get our story straight."
"What the hell are we going to tell her, Krillin? Oh, there's a twin that looks exactly like you that went around terrorizing the planet, but it's okay because it's not really you? Oh, and you're a cyborg."
"She did have a murderous twin." It hurt still, to prod at his teeth as his thoughts swirled. Bruised jaw, and soreness in his back that would remain for at least a week. But he could have clutched his swollen face and wept and laughed through his fingers, the spittle and tears cleaning off the dirt. He stood there, in this home that had withstood too much, a short man in ragged clothes looking like he'd crawled from the gutter he'd been living in for this past year.
"That's not good enough. We have to get pretty close to the truth."
"Okay, um. She has to know she's an android?"
"Definitely," Bulma said, so certain that Krillin nearly could wonder why.
"So, how about we just tell her that she was once a killing machine bent on destroying the planet. But now she's good."
"Because we reprogrammed her? Yeah, that'll go over real well. Remember what she did to her first creator—I don't think the androids were lying about that. Or much of anything. She can't turn on us, Krillin. Next time, you might not be so quick with the remote."
"Okay, okay. We tell her she was an android, that she…was saved? From her brother?"
"Who also terrorized the planet. Good, good. Say she had a twin sister too, maybe?"
"And that she was identical. So it was the other girl who blew everything up."
"That might complicate things. We need to keep this simple. Short and sweet."
They both needed to laugh.
But neither could even smile.
Bulma touched him shoulder. It was good, to feel that, to remember he was still alive. She was simply relieved that this would end, in some way. Krillin was here, and he could always make a plan, and crack a joke. "We can't say that she used to destroy everything. She'll ask why she stopped."
"And we can't say that we stopped her."
"Not unless we can back up that threat. And we can't."
"So, there were triplets?"
"A good, and a bad Juuhachigou? Why not?"
"Wait. But what are we going to say her name is? She's Juuhachigou, she might remember that. And everyone knows about 'Androids Number Eighteen and Seventeen.'"
"What if we say that she had a genuine change of heart, and her brother tried to attack her?"
"That might work. He shut her down. Erased her memory."
"And we tried to help!"
Had the situation been different, they might have high-fived. It was a good plan, not the best, but when you had decided to reprogram an android capable of murdering everyone on the planet, you were already screwed. It was just a matter of reducing the amount of damage, and knowing that you could walk it off.
On the ninth day, she still had not moved, but they had a plan in general order.
There was no one else that would do it, pick her up and move her around. Not that she was heavy in the least. But to approach someone they saw on the news destroying whole cities with a clown smile that set pales eyes above the sunken nose bridge, that took a courage that Krillin did not blame others for not having. Could not blame.
How he despised even touching her that first time, fingers bloody as he took a wrist to feel for a pulse.
How he had screamed, when seeing her for the first time, helpless and unable to not make a sound as he saw the blue eyes. Mercy. Oh, no, mercy. It seemed like with every drop falling onto her hair made his heart stop because it moved her.
But she had not risen with a sickeningly look that promised pain as she put together that Juunanagou was dead.
Even when a soft cold breeze swept by, possibly blowing dust into (yes, glassy) eyes did he understand what might have happened. Hadn't the male android's face gone blank, and his knees crumble, sending him falling to the earth? Krillin had only been focused on that dark-haired one, the one that had turned the slightest degree to perhaps notice him standing there. Had he seen what Krillin had been holding?
Realizing that surely she was alive, of course, nothing was that easy, the explosion had only taken out one of them, sent he and Gohan flying, sending her to tumble bonelessly through the air. In a way, she was very lucky that her neck didn't seem to be broken. Touching a too-small wrist, and feeling dread, and knowing what he had to do. The first step.
The first step that he couldn't entirely go through with. Not compassion, not when he could have gladly strangled her, put his hands around that neck and squeezed, but just hearing Gohan's weak cries, and not wanting this android to calmly go off into the Other world. Drift off. Peaceful.
Still coming to grips with the fact that he could feel his body, the worn lining in his boots his wet tongue in his mouth the roughness of his teeth clothes hanging off him how the rain was letting up. Breathe.
She didn't deserve such a thing, but anything else was out of the question. Impossible to put her on trial for her crimes. None of his enemies had ever been tried in that manner. Justice had been served through their deaths at the hands of Earth's defenders, usually by Goku. When, of course, they weren't being spared and finding a…
A different path.
Gohan was still calling out, saying his name, trying to find out if his friend was still alive.
"Gohan, Gohan, I'm okay. It's okay. We got them."
As terrible as the cries had been, hearing the crying. Desolate, even if it was from relief, keening and inarticulate for once in his life. Permanent and miserable; the sound of lamentation. So loud it was the only thing in this dead place, so much more than the rain. Gohan hadn't sounded like a child.
Holding this monster's wrist, hearing his best friend's son weeping, Krillin tried to remember the exact date Goku had died. It had been in summer, early summer.
Her mouth was closed, eyes open as he couldn't bear to touch her eyelids. Alive? Water falling into that face. Had Juunanagou been alive before that final blast? Did she need to breathe? Was she in pain? Krillin dearly hoped so. His enemy, helpless and defeated.
They could…after all this, they could rebuild. Permanently. With Piccolo dead, Kami and therefore the dragonball were gone, but maybe there was another way. A trip to Namek, again? Or was there a way for someone else to become the guardian, and resurrect the dragonballs? Perhaps that would be him, even. He had trained with Mister Popo and Kami, and had spent the years from five to thirteen preparing for monkhood. For good, things could return as they once were.
Feeling his split lip with a tongue, tasting rain and copper, as his hand went to her nose.
Flinching at the sensation of skin that felt human, almost absurdly, insanely, giggling at the fact that for the first time in years he was touching a woman (almost woman), and it was to kill her. Cold. Blank-eyed. Blank-faced. How long had it been since he'd even actually looked at either of the androids, right in their face, into their eyes. Pale and inhuman, unsettling in a way that now he understood: the irises were devoid of those lines that could be like flowers or feathers that were the different colors in normal people's eyes.
What are you?
She is powerful, I know that. Power and speed and cruelty. Devoid of mercy, but not without humor and taste, given how she complains of clothes, and remember, how she likes ransacking stores? And destroys the ones that don't have anything she likes? Why is that? Not just the way she ruins everything, but why does she care about clothes, and Juunanagou doesn't—didn't. Why choose to dress in those clothes, with the Red Ribbons on them, when you two claim to hate Gero?
Why do you care?
Why do you not care?
Powerful, too powerful. If you'd been weaker, we could have saved you. Stopped you, and turned you and even Juunanagou…
Now you're just lying here.
Like when Goku had died, either (both) times. All that will and energy, gone and moved past, out of this particular vessel, no matter how unfair that might be. Gone and empty, done as an spent battery and meant to be discarded.
That spill of pale hair, dirty with mud, getting wet and strands sticking to her forehead, how she would have hated that (vain) dust in her eyes though she did not blink.
Is there anything in there?
But, no, she isn't gone, not entirely.
The remote had disappeared from his hands, flown from his hands, but if he hit that button again, might Juuhachigou wake up. Kami, what if it had gone pin wheeling away, and landed on that button again, activating it. They would have died, and she would have continued murdering everyone on the planet. Just without Juunanagou.
Luck had been with both of them.
His hand still on her nose, without a struggle. Cowardly, yes. A brain working behind those dead eyes. Still alive, on some dim level. Comatose. Catatonic. Did she see him, was part of her in there, watching him and feeling his hand on her face? Did that part scream and rage, and fear?
What if they left her there, to wither away and rust? Buried her, in a tomb no one would ever find or mourn at?
"Gohan? You okay, buddy?" Surprised himself by smiling, as the half-Saiyan crept closer. His poor face was gore covered it was hardly recognizable. But he was grinning back, no matter how it must have hurt him.
Alive, and going to be better. Everything was going to be better. Krillin could feel strength in his body again, a lightness that he hadn't felt for so long.
She was just a machine.
Not a dragon, not anymore. A tool.
I sentence you to live.
His own grin was spreading, even as Gohan's seemed to slide off his face as he saw the fallen body. It was perfect, what they could do. To turn her, as they had their previous enemies. Oh, he had never known Gero, had never met him, but wished he knew the man's face just to picture it so horrified as his creation was yes, subverted. It was right. Machines can be reprogrammed, can't they?
She could be our tool, our weapon, to fight any other enemies, and to save and help. The very things that she would hate, they would make her appreciate and protect. She'll use her powers for good.
What would be a better form of vengeance, to do away with all the old Juuhachigou and make anew an android that would fight with them? Of justice?
He saw the patches of grass that still remained, the dying fires, and it all looked almost beautiful and brave. Even after everything, these things all stood.
He was nearly hiccupping, sounding like the child he was. "Why is it still alive, Krillin?"
"I don't want to kill her."
"I have a much better idea."
From the feel of warmth spreading over his chin, Krillin guessed that his lip's wound had gotten worse. "I want more than to just…Gohan, I want to completely undo everything Gero did."
Then he had carried her to Capsule Corp, he and Gohan practically weaving from exhaustion through the air. Every second wearing at him, the wet denim like some animal's fur, hair brushing against his arm and having to keep himself from dropping her a dozen times. Two dozen.
But Bulma had understood revenge better than anyone else left alive.
Now he was still carrying her around, disturbed and unsettled when she was undressed, and he had to remain in the room for Bulma's safety. Nearly covering his eyes, and wondering again and again if he were doing the right thing. One thing to sit in the rain and believe he could find something between murder, better than murder, but another thing to sit in this warm home of his friend with a mug of coffee, and not-seeing her clothes removed. Hearing Bulma cursing as she had to tug some of the fabric off, and nearly yanking the android off the table at one point.
It was beyond thinking 'how angry she would be to be treated this way,' but just thinking about how any person would feel to be treated like a mannequin. At least Bulma had covered her eyes, and eventually the rest of her with a sheet. The lab too, was sterile and cold, and nothing like any place he'd been before.
Safer to be around things unfamiliar.
To pretend he was someone else, and that android would be someone else to.
Bulma had understood too what his plan was. Quickly assessing things. "I think it's possible." Looking at Krillin as though he were a stranger.
To undo and recreate.
This person that he'd wanted to murder, not to just defeat but outright murder, to wrap his hands around her neck and strangle her, this rage that outraced his training and reduced martial arts to animals raging. Kicking and screaming and punches losing steam. Claws. Grabbing and yelling that she was a monster, a cry not to the machine that didn't care, but to the universe for allowing this to happen.
Saliva and blood exchanged over this past year. The blood from him of course. They had literally spat on each other, during one horrid fight. Nearly as intimate, fighting her as it had been with Frieza though no part of her body had ever actually been inside him. How awful, once he thought about it, the separation between trying to pleasure and trying to hurt someone. Especially when you were tangling with someone that looked female and had to make her little comments on her own prettiness and his noseless face though at least he was in good shape, woops, not anymore. Fought, and left him just unhurt enough to live. The way his ankle would ache in a way no aspirin would touch on a rainy day.
Once, she had knead him in the groin, then jumped back to watch Krillin vomit onto a road, on the broken white line that seemed very vivid even now. Crying and clutching himself while she laughed. Getting her entertainment while maybe watched him; he'd been in too much pain, bright spots in his closed eyes and sure that the world had ended. That white line that his spittle and the remains of a half-digested breakfast couldn't cover up, her laughter that had never ended and having to find his feet to walk away from all this when he could barely feel his legs.
Weeping only occasionally as the weeks streamed and slid into one another, and not just for the bodies that would litter the streets, but for himself. Left a gash across his forehead that had made a thin scar over his Orin temple marks. A ragged one on his jaw that nearly reached his cheek, from a toss into a building that Krillin could hardly remember. She had scarred him, physically, but that was the least of it.
'Cuuuuute. Aren't you just adorable.' Said right before punching him in the stomach. Said right as he'd been trying to look for survivors of their recent murder spree.
Things that annoyed him, and disgusted Juunanagou.
'Stop flirting and kill him already.'
'Shut up and let me have my fun!'
'What, like I don't let you spend two hours trying on clothes?'
While Krillin would crawl away, hating them, glad that they had the attention span of gnats.
Rarely had he spent so much time in cities, aside from with an ex-girlfriend Krillin didn't want to think about. But there were holes to crawl into and hide, away from even other people where you could huddle with your knees pulled to your chest. See only windows devoid of glass, or look through those holes down to trace shapes in the cracked pavement. Wait until they were gone and you could tell yourself that you'd survived today.
She was the worst one, too. Not just the little jokes, but the brutal strength of her. Juunanagou was vicious, crueler even, but prone to letting others go just for a laugh. Juuhachigou was the 'perfectionist' and hated to miss. And she seemed to know where to stick the knife when it came to others, and given that she was the more 'social' of the two, probably had the higher body count, if only by a slim margin. Didn't she spent an awful amount of time in the malls, tracking others while sorting through clothes and annoyed when blood would splatter onto something she like?
'You completely ruined this vest, shrimp.' With her boot on his chin.
Spared him, and so in return, Krillin would let her live.
Let her learn guilt and empathy and find no peace in the world that she'd distorted.
The next step was when she fluttered open her eyes, and looked at him. For once, she didn't appear angry. Or happy or smug or vengeful. There was a simple blankness, of lack, and he knew that there was nothing there behind, inside, the flesh. No emotion, conscious or not. Juuhachigou just was, existed, and was in her own separate universe from all.
Then something flickered in undead eyes.
Shocked. Trying to understand what had happened, perhaps, please, let her not remember anything, please. It was not a face that was meant for confusion, or any real emotion anywhere. The muscles under there were dead, as dead as the people they would cross. Electricity move them, something that Krillin didn't understand even now.
A face that hadn't been meant for that expression.
Juuhachigou. Number Eighteen.
Scared. Of him.
"Who are you?"
Krillin had been all prepared with his lies for an angry, haughty android. Not one holding a blanket to her chest and trying to hide.
Good guys didn't scare women.
Another part of him, thought with a greedy coldness, 'good.'
H would be the spokesman, given that everyone trusted him; no one could think that round face was capable of lying apparently. "This is Bulma. Do you remember her, at all? Or me? I'm Krillin."
Nonsensical syllables that passed by too fast for her.
Could she even speak anymore? Hear? Understand any language? Bulma had talked about what she'd done, what had been removed, but they had no way until now to fully understand the consequences.
"Do you remember anything, at all? What you did?"
"Did?" That voice is not all that different. Perhaps more hushed and breathy, but that might have only been because of the tube that had been in her throat to make certain she did not die of starvation of thirst. But she didn't look like someone that had been unconscious for so long; already, the IV marks in the hollows of her arms were healing.
"Your brother. Your twin brother." The blue-haired figure was stepping in front of her. "You don't remember killing him?"
Her swallow was so loud. "I killed someone?"
"You killed a lot of people."
"A lot of people," Krillin repeated. "You don't remember."
"The bomb went off. That your brother had inside him, when you killed him."
"You two are androids. Created by Doctor Gero, for the rebirth of the Red Ribbon Army. You're Android Number Eighteen. Juuhachigou. Does any of this ring a bell?"
"No. No, it doesn't."
"You received a lot of head trauma."
Then Juuhachigou touched the bandage on the side of her head, winced. Then Juuhachigou seemed to sink into the pillows. "Who are you?"
"I guess we used to be enemies," he told her.
But what are we now?
He patted the spot besides her pillow, watching her eyelids creeping downward, like a sleepy child. "But we're taking care of you, so you get better."
After, after this, Krillin found himself wandered West City, flying upward above the clutter and garbage and rot that still littered the place. Looking for the tallest building to see the full extent of what they'd done to the most populated city left. The smoke was long gone, even if the scorch marks exist, so much has been destroyed in unnatural ways, has been broken and twisted from the force of them.
Them. The terror of them, that had driven humanity underground, to fight against each other for resources, that would have driven them to extinction, but slowly. How they had loved to take their time and watch everything burn around them. Dead, they were dead, and the one left might as well be, they would—
Painful, still capable of pain from the cyborgs or not or maybe it was still them hurting Krillin in whatever way, this scream and fire in his veins as he powers up, the cement crumbling under him, Gohan will sense and worry, he has to stop this, to lower his power or something terrible will happen
(a stroke a heart attack will he follow Goku his heart)
Hi ki rising and he can't control it. Was this still his body, his voice that was screaming and had to be scaring others that might still be here, hear, to hear, he had heard her speak and knew that she was alive, none of this felt like it belonged to him anymore, this thing, his heart.
Found himself on his knees, the sun still there, unmoved, hands shaking before him. His scarred hands, too little for a man and a fighter, scuffed with the veins just barely poking up that lead to small wrists and then forearms that don't match. Mottled body, of bruises that are still healing and scars that won't and discolorations on the muscles that all his friends had and they had gotten such looks when they would go out.
They would do to her what she had done to this planet. Change and deform. He had heard her voice.
So he went back. Told Gohan that he was fine, and the boy, teenager, seemed to understand in his own way.
Bulma took in however he looked, of what felt like hollows beneath his eyes. So many times she had joked about his baby face, round cheeks and big eyes that hadn't changed much from when he'd been a kid. "We don't have to continue this."
"No. We do."
Juuhachigou was still out, still gone in whatever murk there was inside that head. Slipping in and out, trying to repair herself maybe, as he would come in wearing a worn blue jacket, too light for this weather, shivering in the steel and sterile lab. Watching this form, as the snow began to form. Then melt, and she would still sleep, higher now on the next floor in a real bed. Did she dream, or was it blackness when she drifted off? Krillin often wished for that himself.
The eyes that stared out from the caves of her socket, that responded to light now. "Can you hear me?"
Clutching the square forehead, as though she had a headache. "Yes, of course I can."
Whether she trusted them or not was not even a matter to think about, since there was no strength left in Juuhachigou. Even keeping awake was a struggle, and Krillin remembered Goku's last days, while he brought her glasses of water and straws. The bland words that now came back to his mouth, accursed. "I think you're getting better."
"Pretty soon you'll be running around again."
"The next surgery should help with that."
Until Juuhachigou was able to sit up and take note of her surroundings. To look him in the eye with eyes that could still blaze—no, that were alive as they'd never been when there had only been poison between them and Krillin had never known what her hair felt like against this arm. Outside, where there was real daylight and the hours of it grew longer and longer.
"Why are you even doing all this for me?"
"We couldn't just leave you there, you know."
There. Out there. With humans that might have murdered her outright, or she them.
How she watched him, almost tracing his features as she looked for something. A bedrock to cement her place in this world she didn't know. Looking to him, always, and never fully Bulma or Gohan because she could see what was there. "You want to kill me, don't you?"
Who, me, I'm not that kind of guy and blah blah blah. There are a hundred lies and glib remarks and silences that Krillin could give. "Sometimes."
She reminded him of himself. During the first days of it. When he could feel every death, never growing numb to it. The ki's dropping. Feel the death in every breathe, the ash sucked into his lung no matter how far away he was. When that was all he had been, and Krillin had wandered, as he once has as a teen, no longer a boy he'd thought. Clutching his head, existing only in this state of pain. There had been nothing outside it until—
He had just learned to live with it.
Just as she would her own pain and this life.
There had been little true joy in her previous life, if Krillin could make that call. So what now did it matter that there was a misery in how she was unable to focus on one thing, and might just sit there or wander the halls. On the bed, with knees drawn up and a pathos learned from something like a movie. If there must be a pit of nausea that spread further than the stomach, of lurid dread, then what of it. Who didn't feel that way, after what the androids had done.
Their fight-or-flight response was a mess, Bulma reported. Said while their new enemy, their latest win, was under, before Juuhachigou had even woken to try and talk.
The drill caked with blood.
The first time he threw up half-way through it. The second he makes it until the end before being sick. Now he watched all of it, stomach only twisted, twisting.
Bulma did not relish it, but didn't flinch either. Krillin didn't know to feel envious of her or not. She was glad to finally have one of them at their mercy. Now she could actually help as she hadn't been able to on Namek. But the dark marks under her eyes were too large, and ultimately, he felt for her the same as he did for the rest of them: pity.
Later, when Juuhachigou has been patched up, they might speak of it. With glasses of alcohol that made him sick. Sicker. But he did want to drink, to empty bottles for the first time and not remember anything of today. Anything of any days that stretched back for too long.
"I thought there would be more mechanical parts. That's how I was even able to make that remote." Finally she was saying that word, the one that hadn't been mentioned since Juuhachigou had woken up.
"But they're not robots. They were human, once. The limbs are reinforced, and the spinal cords too. I thought they were…I thought there would be more. But there is more than just nerves and mechanics.
"It's something in the brain that makes them so strong," she whispered. Looking far off.
Itemizing, doing and inventory of what made her up. Even after she was conscious, and could make guesses about their work on her. The bomb Krillin himself had to handle, so small considering, and throw into the ocean far from any life. Then shiver even as down south spring began to make an appearance, watching it land on an iceberg, one amongst any. It had been so clear there, blue and lifeless. Clean. He could have spent a long time there, losing his attention in the soft shift of waves, until he no longer noticed his breathe pluming and the way his teeth chattered.
Maybe he could go back there, one day, to meditate and avoid the destruction that otherwise cluttered the planet. When they were done.
Back to fighting their own kind. It had been years since any Earthling had been any danger to this planet. Not since the Red Ribbon Army, maybe, and that was fitting. 'The Red Ribbon sends their regards,' the first and only indication that they cared a wit for anything Gero wanted. Mentioned shortly before revealing who they were, what they were, and what they'd been created for. 'Not that Gero got to see any of this.' What type of monster killed their own inventors?
They weren't like their other enemies.
Frieza had demanded order, laws that were determined by himself, but for a purpose, if a grim one. A business, if one of genocide and slavery. Goku had even told the others of Frieza offering him a job, and they had all laughed, even Chi-Chi. 'Your first and only job offer.'
The Red Ribbon army that had been Gero's creation before these two had been to control, and those outside itself were meant to join with them.
Vegeta, and Nappa, had ruined worlds, but on orders and in exchange for gain, and to make themselves stronger.
Anything they hadn't been able to use for themselves had been destroyed. Nothing could exist for the sake of itself. It wasn't childish; even Trunks, who enjoyed knocking over blocks, never had any malice. Their curiosity only extended so far as what they could derive from something.
A car could be used to race around in, running others down, and what it was unable to go on, they discarded it and moved onto another thing.
Their power was supposedly infinite. Unchanging.
Which Bulma quickly took care of. Held the small device that apparently supplied such a loop of energy that was reused rather than dissipated, sneering at the blood-soaked thing that Krillin had no wanted to stare at. Their true enemy, perhaps.
Or one of them, when Bulma reported on the programming database that she'd wiped clean of all mentions of them. Grim, this woman above stained gloves, who Krillin had to stand beside to make sure the scalpel never nicked anything unnecessary. Together, the human had learned more about Juuhachigou than she knew about herself now.
They were all dictators, and feared that one might rise up and defeat them. Had created their own worst enemies. Funny, considering how they'd let Krillin and Gohan live for so long just out of boredom.
For that, for the others, Krillin wanted her to live. He wanted the other android to see this, and seethe.
But they had once been human, Bulma said. Hissed. Hated, hating someone that wasn't here anymore. They had been normal people, and under their—the fighters-protection then. More than once, they had inadvertently, unknowingly, had saved the twins when they had saved the planet from its attackers. Until Gero had gotten them and twisted anything cruel in them, if not programmed their psychopathic tendencies, and made them cyborgs and murderers.
All that they'd done, and lived through, for little as the last place they would have looked for a fight bore their worst enemy.
Piccolo had of course died with his head held high. Baring fangs and his cape flapping. A demon maybe, but one they'd all trusted and Gohan had never been the same since finding him-would never be the same. A demon they'd once feared. A hero.
Vegeta had died a hero too, though he would have sneered at such a title. A warrior then, if only to spare the Saiyan Prince's feelings in Krillin's head. Fearless, laughing at them and mocking their existence with cracks of wires and of being a toaster, as that was the fighters only way of beating them. Alive, no matter what they did to him or how his ki had faltered. Perhaps not locked in his own hell. Mourning, capable of mourning and fighting for others, Krillin liked to believe. He had died on the outskirts of a town, far from Capsule Corp, leading the cyborgs away.
Yamcha had died with so many others he'd been trying to save. The android had been cowards with him, this Earthling; they had snuck up on him at the end. How Krillin had screamed at them for that, for being so pathetic as to not even face Yamcha in a proper battle, and then he'd known that yes, the androids could mock human customs, life and death, but in the end were afraid. A thing that blossoms, and was the second sun, a new moon, in Krillin's mind. It didn't matter how they beat him, what new shape they beat him into. He could focus on this truth as he swallowed blood back down and looked towards the darkening sky. All dictators feared and created their own worst enemies. It was something he told Gohan, clutching the boy's arm, while being lifted and carried away. 'It doesn't matter. They'll never really win.'
'No matter who they kill, they're still afraid and miserable. They'll never be happy.' No friends, no one to mourn or miss them or them someone else, no loved one, no love. Others would die, but what life did these two have?
Tien had understood better, better than Yamcha who saw and felt only death, and Gohan with the furrows in his brow and tendency to bite his lip that Krillin recognized coming from himself. The closest thing he'd have to a son, something that Yamcha would have understood better than Tien. But Tien had accepted death, had thought of it as the next phase. Maybe because he'd been an assassin or having died or something inherent, something from when Tien had been a child that let him find peace. Chaotzu had been the same, brave and unflinching, together, and determined to die in battle fighting for others and alongside each other.
These people, enemies once, now in Otherworld alongside Goku. Training together and maybe okay with their lot.
Krillin didn't want to remember what exactly had been done to them. The wounds and blood and bones. How he knew which one had killed by which android by how long the fighters had suffered.
These things that he knows that won't leave. It would be a betrayal, no matter how much Krillin wants otherwise, to not know about blood and the secret of what was under skin and another truth, this one of the flesh: it didn't matter how strong you were. In the Earthly word decay will win. Thankful for not having a nose, but he still had eyes, could still hear the flies.
He had wept for all of them.
Men he should have died alongside of, but would have to live to make sure their memory wasn't forgotten. Honor them whatever way he could.
They all still seemed so closer. All but Goku.
Goku was further away than the rest. They'd had so long to come to grips with his death, to try to come to terms with the gap his death had left. He had slipped away, and was so far away, had drifted away like an astronaut with a cut chord. The tall man, Saiyan, had always been there, but Krillin had grown to only half-expect him to be there when he turned around, even when he'd been alive. He had been meant for a stranger life, not for watching TV and cleaning fish, and even if his death had been so unexpected, him leaving them all behind was not.
'We came for Goku.' A hand flicking back hair. 'But Gero was a little too late.'
Krillin no longer had to fight.
No matter what his gut told him when he saw her.
No matter of the rage that curls in his stomach.
You couldn't hate someone without hurting yourself, a double-edged sword. It would cut you just as deeply, a mantra that Krillin repeated as he learned again the fact of what was beneath the skin, the myriad colors and shapes that had been designed by nature after all. With tears blurring his vision and all he can hear are monitors of the machines and want to take it back, all of it, please.
The only people that wanted to kill her more, and were around, were Gohan and Bulma. And Chi-Chi, who claimed not to have lost any members of her family to the monsters yet, but had wept soundless, wordless, at hearing of Piccolo's death. Because wasn't the Namek in the family pictures, grimace or blank stares or not? Skulking and making them laugh to see him there. Pictures that no one could look at for too long, although sometimes Krillin would pull out the family albums or look in his own clippings of tournaments and bindings of loose pictures.
He didn't want to forget them, and Trunks would have to be taught who these people were.
Every day another climb up the mountain, to a peak that couldn't be reached, and wouldn't it be easier to just let your grip loosen. Awaken, curled, and pull yourself up from the sweat-soaked sheets, think on the month that it was, tell yourself that they were gone, dead or changed. It was done. Loosen the grip on his throat and get up to swim and shower and ignore his face in the mirror. Wake up and don't ask why.
But he woke up, and went to Capsule Corp like it was a job. Because he had decided, and now had to take responsibility. Every day, he decided again and again. In his arrogance, he had seen fit to spare her, as though he had any right to play any god, to act like she were his to command and shape.
But there was no one to step in and stop him; not even Gohan could put the brakes on, not with Bulma and her presence, of fingers, a trembling lower lip. Wanting relief as another tremor tried to shake her apart at the seams. Her head was a house where the furniture had been rearranged. Pupils so wide. Head trauma from finally getting into a row with her twin, and she seemed to understand that it would have come to that point after watching them, trying to comprehend that was her in that skirt and her flesh and blood there besides her.
He had known that it might be like this, hadn't he? What they would do to her, and Krillin had even relished it. They would remove what made her tick, and then reset her like a clock. An assault, something more intimate than any attack, a spiritual rape. These things that he'd become, that were further settled into his mind, of blood and the gleam of things harder than steel. It would have been kinder to go to her while she slept, and cut the tether that kept her in this world. But it was too late.
If a person wasn't dead, did that mean they were alive?
Krillin would wake up and try to find clothes to wear besides his gi, as he had turned in his cape for the role of a nurse for. Helping her up, changing the sheets on her bed, having to deal with her weight against him while he led her around, the sight of her pale legs through the hospital gown that she hated. Unsettling. Things that made part of his brain slow down. Even fluffing her pillows and bringing her dinner. Trying to pretend that she was a patient like the others he brought in, though there were fewer and fewer that needed him.
But she was sitting up and sleeping more normal hours, and there was little to further remove inside her. Or at least, things that weren't supposed to be there, given how Bulma would take of nanobites and things Krillin didn't understand, but did get the talk of certain organs. Whispering to herself, 'I wonder why Gero left her ovaries and uterus in.' Things that he would rather not know about at all.
But she wanted to talk.
"Did I want to stop?"
That cold part of him took in the scene. Yes, this would be the attempt at securing his sympathy. A pretty girl looking depressed. Her curled up on her side, him unable to see her face. Was she capable of biding her time until an attack? If she tried, Krillin and Bulma would probably die, but Gohan was still out there, wary and watching as their new protector.
Rotting ice under him. Trying to not reach for the button to call Bulma or Gohan, to not ignore her. "I don't know. Maybe. You never seemed to like it as much as he did. You weren't as…cruel about it. I think you just got bored."
"You ran out of a real challenge and wanted to stop." Feeling sweat on his neck.
"I'm not an idiot."
"No one thinks you are." Something all too true.
"I see how they all treat me. Even the child is afraid of me." There was a smile on her face that didn't touch her eyes. "And you, Krillin. You're a little better at hiding your fear, but I still see when you flinch away."
His name, of course she knew his name. He could feel his own lips, the muscles of his mouth, all cold. "Do I?"
"Less. What, should I thank you for that?"
Juuhachigou was looking at his face, while he saw only her hands. These fingers that had blasted out the ki to destroy his friends. They were so limp and there across that span. Krillin hadn't held anyone's hand since when he'd told Bulma about Vegeta's death. Confirmed that he was gone, as though she didn't know, no matter what she said. Weren't they like any other couple with their own secret language and bond, no matter if Bulma had felt the moment when he'd died.
"Maybe I should thankful." But she was already cycling back into solipsism and pain of her own existence. Self-pitying and how that made Krillin want to shake her. To reduce that expression.
Bulma wouldn't eat near Juuhachigou, and even Gohan lost his appetite around her. Couldn't say that it was impossible to not stand the thought of her eating alone, lie about her possibly plotting in her loneliness, there were too many lies already, but Krillin would sit with her at that small table. Eating food for an invalid, made so carefully by Mrs. Briefs, who didn't discriminate. Comforting, to be around the older woman who commented on how skinny they all were, and kept pushing donuts onto Juuhachigou.
She might have lost her sense of identity, but not her sarcasm and still knew where to drive the emotional knives. "Are you my wet nurse now?"
"Oh, knock it off." Unable to help himself. "Crackers?"
How she snorts. Could two enemies talk over a meal and smile, only one reluctant? Wasn't it better to be polite, regardless?
There are flashes, when he saw. When he began to hear again, again as that had also left his life, dripped out like a bag with a hole in it. Sometimes, he even noticed what is before him and can taste it again and remembered that he didn't like coffee much. Monosyllables, too many of them, they stack up, they grow. Unimportant, but they exist. Between them, they exist.
There was a sense of humor in there. One that found things other than snapping someone's spine and looking into their eyes as they understood what had happened to them amusing. A strange look on that face that Krillin had to relearn and acquaint himself with.
Perhaps talking about something in a book, an idea or theme, or maybe he would find a movie, harmless and dumb. Come in with dust on frayed cuffs of his clothes again, like the old days, and explain that he had been helping rebuild. She would even want to hear banalities about building construction than be stuck inside her own head.
Hunger. For speech and experiences and to soak in what was outside of herself.
Juuhachigou wanted to talk, and Krillin had once spotted her petting a cat, speaking in a low monotone about how it hopefully didn't have fleas and that no, she didn't have any food for it. A flaxen-haired ghost that liked to hear him talk about old tournaments that hurt a little less to think about now. Feet on a chair, back curled into another, complaining about the movie that had been all but stuck in the machine. "Please, if you make me watch that crap again, I'll claw my own eyes out."
A thing that almost made him choke on his soup, remembering that. Remembering too much. Sometimes, Juuhachigou was the lucky one.
"Alright. We can skip the movie."
"But then what will I look at? Your face?"
Something that did make Krillin grow a lopsided smile. "Okay, maybe a different movie?"
If Juuhachigou didn't appreciate in some way the company, she would have yelled at him to leave. Like when she was changing clothes, a sight neither wanted him to see. No more than she wanted him to see when she was sick and needed help to the bathroom or for him to put the bucket in her arms. When Bulma did this, had done this, either Yamcha or Krillin had held her hair back, but he didn't dare touch Juuhachigou at this moment.
Every day, he would be there to watch her, to practically memorize the individual strands of pin straight hair. To return from working around West City to sit here, dirty, and have Juuhachigou bug him about her outfits and if someone could at least bring her some real clothes. Or better yet, could she go shopping now that she was no longer a homicidal robot and would be a good girl from now on?
"Or do I have to perform some charity work? Because I will, if it gets me out of here. I could go with you, to help with the construction. Really, I don't care, Krillin."
"Are you sure you're strong enough for that?"
Rolling her eyes. "I just want to remember sunlight. Does that still exist?"
"Oh, I think we can find some. Do you want me to get the wheelchair?"
A pink flush. But her voice was what made Krillin step back as she hissed, "Shut up."
Then he waited, feeling every particle in the air, the glint of her dark eyelashes under the lights, and the jut of a rounded chin. Then he noticed the walls, the light paint, the empty flower vase and the pillow and bed and small stack of books on that tiny table. A stain where they ate. A crack in the tile by the door.
"I'm—just knock it off. You know I hate that. Please." The word nearly caught in her throat, and Juuhachigou couldn't quite make eye contact. "Please don't leave."
"I wouldn't leave. Maybe play those monster truck races in a loop, but I won't go."
"Don't even dare." She flipped some loose hairs away from her face. "Now can we go out or something?"
Ignoring each other's relief.
There was a window not far from the stairs, and that appeased Juuhachigou for now. "I still want to leave. Eventually, I am going to, aren't I?"
A weighing glance. "Wasn't that what you reprogrammed me for, so I could go outside and help people?"
But she had seen enough of his face, and turned her attention to what she could see of the world beyond Capsule Corp. Bare arms exposed in the sun, devoid of even tiny hairs, as she sat there, him having pulled open the blinds, eyes closed and savoring such a little thing. Looking alive and perfect under that light, glowing, and Krillin has to be poked by a firm finger and told to stop staring. Face leaning forward, to have its forehead touch the glass, looking at him, hardly looking up. Too large ice-blue eyes, playing coy. "You're such a dork."
God. How many times had she said stuff like that—too many, and all untrue after less than thirty seconds after their first meeting. "No, I was just—it wasn't like that."
But everything still distorted when he came back for night and heard her calling his name.
Like a puppy, Krillin would come running, and then hate himself for this tightness in his chest that wasn't fear. Hating when she laughed at him and how she would sit there, waiting for him. Hating the further surgeries that left Juuhachigou so diminished.
It made it so much hard to actively hate her. His muscles began to relax around her, and the time when he could have watched every move had long since passed. When she asked, politely for once, too weak to argue, for something to read. Anything to keep her mind off her itching wounds. Awkwardly trying to hold the book or magazine, all scanned and found to be devoid of all mentions of the androids, clutched in weak hands. Sometimes, Krillin would read to her until she found the strength to cover her head with a pillow.
When he brought movies from Capsule Corp's library and Kame House, scanned to be free of porn and destruction, and they'd watch them until it had to be nightfall, falling asleep in their seats, and him waking up to the smell of French toast and dark roast coffee, and learning that Juuhachigou drooled and talked in her sleep. Krillin, leaving before she had the chance to notice him still there.
When Krillin caught her in another room after a panicked horrible moment, with Juuhachigou simply looking out of a window. Annoyed at his surprise. 'I just wanted to see what time it was.' And he had wanted to take her outside, onto Capsule Corp's grounds, to teach her to play golf that he wasn't so great at, and have her feed the dinosaurs. Smell what browning flowers were left and see the leaves falling off the trees. Settled instead for a gift of a clock.
But she does say 'thank you.'
The way she might stare at him, from her place on the bed, weak, eyes nearly rolling in sweaty sockets.
She looked like a girl, not even fully a woman at times, and that might be the start of the problem. Juuhachigou had once been a normal child, years and years ago. He could mourn that person. A baby with a mother and father, just like Krillin had once had. But she had been born along a brother, had a childhood unimaginable, had grown up to be Gero's monster. Perhaps they had some distant relation with him; Bulma had shown him pictures of Gero and there might have been resemblance through the eyes and chin. A blue-eyed woman that had been created through natural biological means and born in a hospital like this.
Regressing, going back to some state before Gero.
Was this torture? For her? Not only the removal of her memory, if not entirely her personality, but what was a person if not what they'd experienced? An empty vessel that had to be filled, rebuilt and taught not for Earth, but for her—just not with things like hobbies, like knitting since she hated that. Books and drama on the television and moody art films that none of them could figure out.
There was a certain tilt to her form, when she stood drinking coffee and resting her weight on one leg, the swing of one hip when she walked. She watched Trunks on the slide outside, and would smile when he'd go back it backwards. Legs maybe swinging when he'd helped her onto the surgical table, after he'd had to help her up though she had no problem slipping off it.
"How can you stand to be around her, Krillin?" A grimace on that face. Now, Krillin nearly had to look up to see him. He would be as tall as Goku, one day. One day that would happen now.
"I just know that I have to. Someone has to watch her."
Act like a martyr. The new guardian to Earth and what he did actually mattered.
It wasn't so bad. Compared to fighting her, what was eating with her.
"I am sick. Why don't you just hand feed me?"
Juuhachigou had been in that bed for too long, as Krillin never would have thrown a grape at her face. There would have been a ki blast or a punch to his skull rather than her throwing that grape right back at him. Neither laughing, and kidding like this were all normal, but both of them watching one another like they hadn't before. He could have smiled.
But he was a better liar than he'd thought.
A fact that almost faltered when the moment came. The point where she was wearing a t-shirt and pants that he'd brought but she'd put on herself, and again wanted to know what she'd already heard and knew. "How many people did I kill?"
"You and your brother? A lot. Billions, maybe." Dead if not from the actual murderous rampages, than from infrastructure crumbling and those starving, especially children—but none of that could be thought of right now. Use the circuit breaker and reset everything. For your own sake, before the rage ended this game, because Krillin was so afraid of the end of this line. If she died anyway, after all this, what did that make him?
"No wonder you're doing all this." Feeling along the bed, finding seams in the sheets. In a plain white shirt and jeans tugged on with a struggle he'd heard ever from the hallway. "Didn't you say there was a way to undo all those deaths?"
"The dragonballs are gone."
"But you used them to bring back all the others. They actually brought the dead back."
"We used to."
"You said that you were trained to be a monk. A Buddhist monk? Doesn't that—isn't that something against some doctrine you have?"
Having a theological debate with an android of all things. Of all things to discuss with Juuhachigou. Why would she care about something like that, rather than just dismiss the entire—she had remembered his glib response to her asking about some of his scars? Why would Juuhachigou bother to keep that fact in her head? Or was she watching to catch them out in a lie?
Juuhachigou was rubbing at her right arm, above the elbow. "Isn't that what you said? Or are you not a Buddhist anymore?"
"I don't know," What did he know of Noble Truths and honesty and ethics? Of karma? How could someone still believe in the rebirth, when he knew it was to be true and no longer a matter of faith? But Krillin still did know of tanha and dukkha still.
"What do you believe in?"
"Hey, I've died. I know what happens."
"What? What happens?"
I could show you. I could-
"I'll tell you about it later. Why think too much about it anyway?"
"You were in Hell, weren't you?" When she smiled, it creased the corners of her eyes. "You can tell me."
Impossible not to smile at her if only a little, and wish he had thought to shave that morning.
Especially when she went on, making a deal of him looking so slopping. "Even your shoes are a mess. I can't leave; what's your excuse?"
Krillin didn't bother to go home that night, or to search Capsule Corp for a distraction or to sit in the kitchen emptying their store of tea until it hurt to keep his eyes open and his face hung around his collarbone. But he couldn't fall asleep after all, too comfortable in these sheets, and his stomach alternatively burning and freezing when telling himself that she was in this building too, still, of course she was. But there were new layers that he didn't dare begin poking into. Not even to ask why they were there were there, half-built but existing as they shouldn't have.
He wouldn't focus on it. But still couldn't sleep.
There was a migraine throbbing behind his eyes when he went back to her.
"I want to show you something."
She didn't need to be asked twice.
Hopping into her boots, and throwing on a light jacket with a hood. Eyes all bright as she prodded him with questions. "What? Where are we going? It's a little early to go shopping, isn't it? Or to see a movie? Or do anything?"
He didn't bother with the car, even if it might have been easier, safer. Too slow, when what he needed was a jolt. No one stopped him from bringing her outside, and she gave a long sigh, stretching in the morning air. Almost chilly, but never mind that. Or how she protested when he scooped her up. "I told you, I have to show you something."
She weighed less than him. He hadn't been this close to her since the night he'd brought her to Capsule Corp for the first time.
Juuhachigou could have snapped his neck. Not flinched every time she looked down, and told him repeatedly to slow down right now, Krillin, I mean it, stop joking around. Even when he put her down, finally, the android had to lean against him and regain her balance, and tell him to stop smirking you asshole, my arm already hurt before this.
Then she turned around to see where he'd brought her.
The water pipes had burst or being destroyed during a fight, and the rising sun gleamed gold on the water that had spread making this artificial pond amidst all the concrete. Had he been here before? After enough time, all the ruined buildings looked the same. Still, from this view you could take in the surrounding area for acres and acres, and who knew how good Juuhachigou's vision was. At least here there were no bodies. Either people had gotten away in time, or they had been buried. The wind howling through the cracked streets like a dog. Like the sirens that had used to scream for everyone to run and hide, and how the androids had hated those and would go out of their way to destroy them.
There was a heat-craze in his head, throbbing as he took in her face. "You and Juunanagou did this. For a while."
"Shut up," she choked. "Can't you just shut up."
Her eyes that blue, so wide and shadowed by dark eyelashes. Over the sharp nose and smug mouth. Dumbfounded as she truly saw something realer than the grainy recordings or stories on the radio. Never looked at her for so long while she was awake. His stomach plunging when he was consciously recalling the suddenly new fact of her
The physical mold of her how and feeling still warmed from her body. She was pretty, though, it had to be said no matter how grudging. As though she had ever let anyone not know about that facet of her. Her arms hung by her side, and maybe it was too much sensory input after so long of staring at walls and the faces of those that hated her.
"Why didn't you kill me? Why don't you let them kill me?"
She was looking directly downward, at what was left of the street.
And Krillin knew exactly what she was thinking, but also knew how futile that would have been. He almost touched her shoulder. "It would be a long way down."
But it wouldn't, not really.
The wind nearly ate her words. "I guess dying more than once would give you a different perspective."
Because there is something after this life, but Juuhachigou, you may not want it.
"I want to go back now. Can we go back." Arms wrapped around herself, looking away from him, from everything. Wincing, and finding a pained nerve in that arm. He wanted to grab her and force her to look, to understand why they all feared her and still wished for her to not wake up. Look at it.
"I just wanted you to see."
"I get it." Eyes closed, finally. "Krillin. I get it. Can we go?"
And he could have shoved her. Time enough to hear her scream. Then he would stand here with his palms drying, shaking, and if she lived, survived? He would have to finish her off, and then go to Capsule Corp, and tell that that he'd done it finally, and there would no longer be her presence and the lies to live with. End the nightmares of him finding her in the hallway, in the lab, outside in the rain, holding the severed heads of his friends that still leaked black blood.
Or Krillin could skip that, and murder her right here. Fire a powerful enough blast to set off that bomb. In her weakened state, that might be possible. If she took him along with her, then so be it. That was nothing more than he'd expected, and at least it would be an end, finally.
That white neck he believe he could wrap his fingers around and squeeze. She wasn't so strong anymore, not now. Would she fight back, this person that couldn't stand to see what she was responsible for, or simply allow him to end her. End her own suffering so she'd never worry about what she'd done, about any of the tiny problems or worries about clothes or her hair. Send her to the next world, where she might or might not find redemption, but would be out of his life.
But she was awake now, and would look at him. See him.
See him and his crime.
Didn't everyone tell him constantly that he was a loyal? Wasn't that the bedrock of his personality? His soul? He could kill and wish for death, could want and lust and turn his back on what he'd been taught as a boy, but not hurt his friends. Could not betray them. New or old.
What was Juuhachigou, if not his friend? Who had trusted him not to poison her or even drop her when they'd flown. That stood there, waiting for him, for him to mete out justice or to help her just as when she'd first tried walking and her knees had buckled for Krillin to catch her and maybe that was why she had left the house with him.
It slid into his bones and weakens them, crushes his self-control and lies that he told himself. The simplicity and truth is so dumb and easy: Juuhachigou was maybe a friend. Becoming his friend.
This person that stood there, draped in growing sunlight that makes her squint when she finally looked at him.
"Let's go back then."
She wanted to say something, but caught herself. A complaint, a question, another want that he didn't know how to fix?
"I wouldn't mind learning how to fly," she offered, leaning back. Rocking back and forth on her heels and looking back towards the ground.
"I could teach you."
"Later. We should get back before the others start to worry."
"That I killed you?"
The leash they didn't dare try to use was in the lab, tucked away and did she have any clue, any suspicious to its existence?
The blonde hair was tumbling into her eyes from the breeze, but she didn't bother to tuck it away.
Not until Krillin shrugged. "Or that I finally took you to the mall."
"What would be so bad about that?"
"Well, considering Bulma gave me this credit card through Capsule Corp…"
"Oh, is that right? And you've been holding out on me? C'mon. We could at least buy you some new clothes."
He left almost strong, picking her up and making her yelp in shock. "What's wrong with these?"
"They're a mess." Juuhachigou was still squirming, and he could feel the thin cotton of her coat and the soft worn denim. "Really, how come all your clothes are so…"
"Tacky? But I guess that does fit you."
"Hey, you sure you should insult me when I'm carrying you this high up? Although, that's basically how I learned to fly." He found a laugh in him. "Chaotzu took me to this hill, and then he used his powers to shove me off."
"Did you hit your head? That would explain some things." She pulled a loose thread from his shirt, determined not to look at the small shapes of the buildings below.
"It wasn't that big a hill, at least. But he didn't even seem to get why I was so angry. And of course I didn't get it the first time. It must have taken fifty times before I got it."
Her smile was thin. "That I would have liked to see."
"I bet. But then who would take you to buy a heavier jacket for winter?"
How she lit up. Looking like anyone else but an android that had killed so many due to programming. "Finally."
"Just a jacket."
"Oh, we'll see."
Over the phone, one eye on Juuhachigou who stared right back impatiently, and was already about to set off for the fifth store. Here, she was just another shopper waiting by a bench and a plastic fond. He held up a hand, trying to explain to a dull-sounding Bulma what had happened. "I just thought it would be good, for her to see what happened. Sort of. What she did?"
"Did it have any effect?"
Krillin looked at the graffiti traced into the public telephone kiosk. The numbers and insults that had withstood this entire structure being bombed. Or were they new? "I think so."
"I guess it's best she know the full extent of what she did. Not that she ever really will, since it's not like she had to live through it."
His fingers found their way onto his shadow of hair. Searching for the round scars and the long one on his forehead. "She's been having trouble using her right arm."
Bulma made it seem like he'd begun to speak another language. "So? So what?"
"I just thought—I guess I thought you should know."
"To fix her?"
"Why would I 'fix her'? I don't want her to get better. Stop acting like her babysitter."
Like they hadn't all but begged him to be the one to talk to her, care for her, change bandages. Talk to her, every day. Every day remember what she was and what she did and have to how she felt and pretend that she too was a victim and had redeemed herself. That it wasn't his fault that she were here. Tell him it wasn't his fault that she stood right there behind him.
"Just bring her back here, Krillin."
But not until noon, when they were both getting tired of dragging around bags. When Krillin was tired of swiping that card and feeling satisfaction over the bill. At least Juuhachigou appreciated that he was there-No. Just hit the circuit breaker and forget about it.
About her asking how she looked, when she stood on something inside the dressing room to peek over the white door to make sure he was still there. "Okay? What about this?"
"Oh, sure, it matches your eyes."
Her quick glance at him, how her shoulders went up. "Does it?"
He didn't want to talk to Bulma when they got back, to see more than hear her disgust because he'd pampered and exposed her to others, what had he been thinking. But even Krillin could get sick of this house and of the same background behind her face constantly. At least now Juuhachigou was appeased. And wasn't it best to remind her of humanity, of her own humanity and how she was connected to others? Making her an Other would only worsen things, and perhaps make her wonder why she didn't just kill them all and leave. Why stop just because her brother was dead?
Krillin brought the dishes upstairs, cleaning them while his head went elsewhere. Finding the pain in his head subsiding without an aspirin. Easing away entirely while volunteering to help Missus Briefs to scrape up the leaves falling from the trees in the back. Nice to feel the still-warm air against your skin.
He was afraid of her still. Still feared for what she might do to others, and especially to Bulma and the baby. To Gohan. To himself. She was still capable of mass murder, and always would be. That was just a fact to her, a part like her voice, her quick small smile, her yellow-gold hair and those pale eyes and the way she looked when caught out like when he found her tossing pretzels at Doctor Briefs sleeping form alongside Trunks, who had immediately demanded with all the patience of a toddler to know why she'd stopped.
He didn't notice he was smiling until Bulma's mother commented on how nice it was to see him happy again.
The worst part wasn't just that she still breathed. That she still walked and spoke and could and would laugh.
She had not wanted to wake, any more than she'd wanted to sleep, Bulma remembered that. And the sore back, tired from holding Trunks all night. It had been a spectacular sunrise. Everything had glowed red and orange, turning Trunks' fine hair a spun gold. Stupid to have spent the night here, camping and waiting with the others for news as though this were just another adventure. And she had known.
How long had she hated herself for falling asleep, as Vegeta had no doubt planned.
If I'd had coffee.
No, you coward, you will not lie to yourself about that. Who was she kidding, even now, while Trunks began to walk and laugh and would soon ask questions. If I'd had more hope. If I'd had more faith, might he have stayed. Swallowed his pride and stayed for her, for their sake.
Now she couldn't sleep.
But she had woken up, and had a purpose, that she fulfilled as fervently as she had the dragonballs. But even after what she' been through for those, none of it compared to that search.
They had not buried their fellow fighters. Like lots of others now, like they'd used to do, they burned their dead. Human or alien. It seemed more respectful, and it was less terrible to imagine them under ground, in the cold ground, with the worms eating them. Less terrible, to use fire, to take gasoline from the nearest gas station left standing, and to cover them, to soak them in it, bodies of men she'd love, and some she'd barely known. The smoke had been so greasy.
Sometimes, in the lab, in the kitchen, she can smell it again.
Vegeta had let her lean on him, during Sons' funeral. But there hadn't been anyone there to hold her during his wake. His, and the other's funeral, really. They had died to quickly, one after another. Like it was another race.
No coffins to lower, to grab a handful of dirt and toss down. Feeling alone, utterly, even as her mother and even her father, who had come out of his lab for once, were actually crying. Chi-Chi there, held up with some strength that Bulma couldn't find in herself, not even for Trunks, maybe because she had been a fighter too, or had lost her own spouse twice before. Her touch had been dry, steely, and Bulma wished she could be like that now.
Not wail inside like she was twelve again and unable to just leave her house, it's not fair.
But she had wanted someone to hug her, a man there, someone that wasn't a mother and couldn't understand. So that she could have that much. Crumbling, that's what was happening, her sanity or spirit or whatever was the difference, and still unable to cry as the others were. Gohan, practically balled up, wearing an old stained gi that needed to be changed. Needing a haircut and to wash his face.
And who had been there to grab her and sit her down on the couch as they all dealt with the news, the new truth, and had taken Trunks and set him down for her?
A man, though she had often ridiculed and insulted him, called him every name in the book since they'd met as kids. 'You may not know it now, but it'll get better, Bulma.' Short, needing a shave and a change of clothes too, but alive. Despite his terrible luck, alive. He was what, a few year younger than her, and she hoped she didn't look as bad as he did right now. Exhausted, with dirt in the new creases on his forehead.
Puar was there, Oolong and the old pervert and even his sister and her parents, trying to speak to her, to say how sorry they were for her loss.
She couldn't really say how much she suddenly loved them. More than that. Love was something dumb and little, a thing that would turn around and bite you no matter how you grabbed its tail. It didn't help you by itself. Get you anywhere.
But respect was better. To fear for these people. Trust.
Those were so much more important.
Nothing she could ever tell them, feeling more than seeing the others come around her. Maybe just finally breaking down and sobbing as loud as her son did was good enough.
Just like how Bulma could never explain to anyone why she no longer ate pork.
Like how she had laughed, briefly, seeing the android on the operating table. For way too long, Bulma had been on the sidelines.
I will undo. I will mangle. I will avenge.
It was something Vegeta might have appreciated, smirked and laughed at, and that burns something inside her. Brings life and pushes away the grey curtains that have smothered her vision and made a mockery of her life. She cast them away, and watches her son growing and believed he might be tall eventually. He will become old enough for her to find out, thanks to Earth's protectors, and when she does cry, still seeing her bloody scalpels, he toddles over to check and see what's wrong. Bulma can pull him into her arms, ignoring his squawks, and kiss him and thank Kami and Goku for him, and Gohan and Krillin. And Vegeta. There were so many gifts now.
He knew his father's dead. All his uncles. Does not understand death, no, but will eventually understand what happened. It will be something pressed on him, even if the Earth recovers, like a brand or scar.
In ten years, will her tall son stand there with hair in his eyes, jaw clenched, and ask why she had spared the machine? Will it still be walking, or will they tire of their experiment?
The machinery was so delicate. Sweetly snug inside, delicate as her mother's cooking, as her father's hands at circuitry. The one piece that is a marvel, truly, so clever in how it circumvents the law of conversation of energy and thermodynamics. Nothing leaves, no heat dissipation, no mass lost, just recycled. Just like having all this power and using it to punch people of all things; Gero must have loved the idea of beating someone at their own game.
But that didn't give Bulma a pause in the least.
It brought her an immeasurable amount of pleasure to distort and twist the assembly inside that blonde head. No one could love the sound of her keyboard more, or better understand how deadly it is as the wires slide inside.
She will tire. Age? Maybe not. But now she is not invincible.
It was Bulma's finest work, aside from Trunks.
Try it, android. Just try it. Gohan still trains, still has his heart charred and half-diamond at this point, and will so gladly fuck you up.
She wanted to shout schoolyard insults and spit on the blank face.
You loooooose! Do you hear me? You do not get to win. Dead, you might as well be dead and we'll throw your body to the side of the road for the vultures, for the worms, for creatures of Earth to share the spoils of victory. Just like we did to your brother.
Like you did to us.
Because sometimes the greyness, the flatness, comes back, and sometimes it doesn't matter that we won.
A tie really, but the android got so many more points in, they took so much more. Fifty percent? We got that much, but how much did they win?
Were you the one that killed him? I know you helped kill others, but was it your hand that dealt the final blow, to Vegeta? To Yamcha? Did you kill Tien and Piccolo?
And Krillin had the nerve to make requests for her.
He understood, but not enough. Krillin had always been one of her smarter friends, realistic, usually with a plan and the one you could call on a rainy day to talk to about anything. One of the few that really had a phone and that didn't have a busy signal. It was he that got the remote, and Gohan would be the distraction they all decided. Not such a heavy thing, harder than working on Vegeta's training chambers, maybe because there was so much more at stake. She kept fucking something up, and having to start all over. Hands shaking and not because of the coffee or lack of sleep.
I could get them both killed if this goes wrong.
And she would be rightfully blamed. Had the chance for once to really help the fighters, and because of her, it would go wrong. These two, the two that were left of the group, would die because Bulma's vision wavered or because she couldn't solder something right for once in her life. How could she look Chi-Chi in the eyes again if something happened to Gohan? Roshi, and the others, how they would all look at her if something bad happened to Gohan and Krillin. Trunks who would wonder what happened to his two 'uncles' and learn that his mother was responsible.
But still she had listened to the radio while at her computer, at her desk with bare hands that burned but couldn't be trusted in gloves. Heard the latest toll, and hated that each one was on her—no matter how a voice argued against that. She wasn't getting it right, and so Parsleytown was now in ruins.
It was only later, with one android incapacitated and the other dead, that Bulma could close her eyes and weep. Relief and guilt and shame. If she'd figured this out sooner—if she'd been able to make a cure. If on Namek they had saved Goku on time. If she were better.
Two weeks six days that turn into six weeks.
The voice of the android in her walls, staining everything.
Just another day in this funhouse.
Was it you?
The worst part was that this was becoming normal. Seeing each other was less and less a surprise. They had a routine.
More than twelve weeks.
The unsettling moments of humanity, like catching the android grabbing the box of tampons—and then having to buy some for her and the sheer insanity of that. Her poking at a bowl of cereal, watching a game show on TV, usually with Krillin nearly, both of them making their little comments and laughing.
These things slip by and leave her unsettled, especially when she finds the android staring at Trunks, who had just dumped oatmeal on his head to congeal. Wanting to reach for a towel to clean him, and alone with her son.
Days that line up to weeks and months and months.
Krillin was always nearby lately. A relief, such a relief. To know that there will at least be a signal, that someone will know and tell Gohan, if the cyborg does bug out and go back—revert—to her original programming.
Krillin who wanted to be friends with everyone.
Who smiled at that thing, head turned a little away from her, almost shy. Almost hiding. Bringing back things. Taking her places, covered, but still outside the safety of this place and the remote controller. He would be the first to suffer her wrath, but was oblivious, in his own bubble that excluded common sense.
It was new, to see her friend in this peace lately. Not since Goku had died had there been any real laughter from him. Because he really did want to be friends with everyone, and would develop his own protective streak when it came to them.
Was that it, when Bulma found the machine insulting him, and Krillin nodding along, even when Juuhachigou grew frustrated with his passiveness.
Still little, but more a man than he'd been with his first girlfriend. The one that would force food onto the others, and had used that remote and had changed Trunks diaper and then helped potty-train him. Complaining about the tiny things, but never leaving no matter how they might yell at him while he stood there with eyes like (Goku, Vegeta, Yamcha, the rest of them) some patient animal.
She still had a hard time believing that he'd survived those things. Things that had killed the Saiyans
And not even Krillin seemed to understand it either. A cruelty that he'd lived, and maybe that's why his collarbone juts out and how he drifted now. There always, but never there. He would blink as though trying to shift the world, even now.
Especially now, as a new person entered their circle. The interloper in a way that there hadn't been for a long time now, since that one girl...whom Krillin hadn't had any dignity around. Bad news. Almost as bad for him as this android was, and they both looked strange alongside her short friend. Though, Juuhachigou stuck to him closer than that blue-haired woman had, and more than once had looked to Krillin for guidance at certain situations.
To be met with that equal patience he showed for everyone. Him all but taking her hand. Here. Here's how.
Making her a person, or trying to. Some parody that could go into a store and walk out without a body count.
For what though. The original plan of having her be a fighter (oh but no, why arm her further?) and to help them was hardly standing. So why not use that remote again and end this? But when she asked Krillin, there was something that Bulma only now understood in his reaction.
"Kill her? Now? I don't know, Bulma." Why would we do that?
Why wouldn't we?
This man that she respected that would come home, to their home (though who was their) with boxes and bags or fresh from the movies or from the park, both flushed from the cold. How similar that was to a before, to when they were all together and just waiting for Goku to finally show up again with a new adventure to drag them into. The unblinking look that wasn't anything like the flushed stammering little fighter, but why wouldn't that change too, along with everything else in this place?
This hell, where one of the androids still lived and everyone was dead. All of them gone and beyond her. Losing Vegeta before she could even begin to properly dismiss his presence and there would be no shock to find his mean little face next to her when she rolled over. With a child that still could outdo her with a crushing love, inescapable, when she found Trunks sitting calmly with a bowl of apple sauce on his head, waiting for his mother to return and clean him like a little prince. This hell of twisted walls and Juuhachigou looked nervous at her, and was perhaps trying to become friends with the small man that had fought even now to save her.
Bulma had really thought there would be a safe neat end to this. A neat flicker out, as they decided to kill Juuhachigou should she snap, or maybe send her away in time, for her to find a penance that would not involve any of them.
Remember Maron? Oh, why couldn't you have just married Maron?
There were worst things than getting used to all those things. Or it was those things, because their existence meant that their lives would continue on.
She awoke with sun in her eyes, and voices in other rooms. Noticed that, the weight of her head, the state of her body and its condition. Further spreading out.
It wasn't raining anymore.
What she knew was brilliant in its simplicity. Juuhachigou could only focus on each individual minutes, each day, and never anything past it. Wake and appreciate the coolness of sheets. The hunger that beat her pain in immediate attention. Sun warming her skin. The sound of coffee, the smell of it and how it might almost burn her tongue.
She was Juuhachigou, Eighteen, depending on the person saying it. She had nearly ruined the planet and should not be trusted. Had even killed her twin brother. Preferred the color blue. Liked to wear denim.
Jeans, pants, long-sleeved shirts in solid colors.
Slept too much.
She awoke from dreams of murder of strangers she'd seen only in photos. Of slaughter to those Juuhachigou did know.
But then Krillin would rush in and flop onto the ground. "Six hours. This time, Master Roshi and I played chess for six hours. He lost sixteen times." Prostrate, eyes rolling back. But then he blinked and jumped up.
"Want to go to the mall? That's how bored I was. I would rather have been at the mall. One time offer only."
There are animals here, usually ones that get by just fine alone. Cats and dinosaurs that avoid one another.
But now she understood the dogs that run for the door at the sound of a lock being opened.
His basic decency caught her short.
That he snuck her out and helped cover her face, sometimes literally putting makeup or just paint on her and all but giggling while he did it to himself to match. There had been ice between them, a gap of knowledge and experience that had deteriorated from simple fatigue rather than just kindness.
But Krillin was capable of that gentleness that still undid her. Like when he brought her clothes, and says yes, that she is real, and this is happening, and to go to sleep. Or stay up with him, watching useless infomercials and 24-hour news cycles that talk of the mysterious disappearance of the androids.
"Yeah, that's a real head scratcher," Bulma would say over something mysterious in her hands. This overlord of everything Juuhachigou could see.
"Who knows where those fiends could be?" And Krillin would play amazed, almost falling off his chair as he stared at Juuhachigou. "You know, you look really familiar."
Maybe the blue-haired genius/mad scientist would continue along with it. "Could it be?"
"I dunno. Look at that nose."
What about her nose? At least she had one.
"Yeah, I think it could be her." He clutched his heart, half-hanging from his seat. "Oh god, it's Juuhachigou! Run for your lives."
"I always thought she'd be taller, too."
"You two are not even funny. What, you two want my autograph?"
Hating that he—they- know every aspect of her life better than she does.
Soon, there would come some breaking point where Juuhachigou would say enough, and take a car. Drive away from this city towards the coast with the windows down. Find a bar with tequila shots, sangria, margaritas. Lobster and shrimp and papaya on ice. No shadow at her side.
Maybe a dumb guy there, but one she could tell to fuck off and would do so. Not like Krillin, had taken to making faces. "Not nice."
"Who says I have to be nice? Especially to you?"
His round chin resting on small hands. "I guess no one. But wouldn't it be better if we weren't so angry at each other?"
"Are you angry at me?" Then fixing that statement. "At me right now?"
"I don't know. No. Not now."
"Because I killed your friends and half the human race? I did this?" She touched his face, watching how wide his eyes could go. How utterly black they were, with only a few radial lines of grey. Charcoal and steel. Expressive, under the thick eyebrows.
He was some kind of strange avatar of humanity. Muscles absurd, exaggerated, with his short form under the bright t-shirts. Noseless, unfortunate-looking with his assortment of scars, and odd. But the only one that would hold a conversation and answer her questions. Even now, would meet her eyes as her fingers traced around the warm, ugly mark on his jaw. The uneven stubble hadn't covered it, only drew more attention to it. "I'm the one that did that to you, wasn't I?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Before I killed all those people?"
"During. After." Krillin removed her fingers, swallowing, trying to look less afraid and loosen that jaw that was somewhere between square and round.
At least this wasn't reading the same book over and over again, or worse, comic book or chemistry textbook. Even if he was nearly holding her hand.
Juuhachigou, Android Number 18, wondered what he saw right now.
There wasn't much to her when she looked in the mirror. A wan pale face framed by pale yellow hair. Maybe she had dreamed that night of murder, blood leaking through fingers though she sworn to the dark eyes that she hadn't done this.
She didn't need that man, Krillin (his name completely new and unfamiliar no matter how she tried to recall what she might have done to him), but did prefer it when he was around. Especially compared to the others. Even strangers gave her double-takes, suspicious or leering. Which was worse? There were too many looks in her life, and Juuhachigou wasn't in any place to fully analyze let alone react to them all.
In and out of public.
Bulma who watched them so carefully. For the longest time, Juuhachigou hadn't known what was between these two, their looks, she sometimes felt like she'd been encroaching on some territory that didn't belong to her and that she had no idea she was even walking on. Maybe she still was, in some way. They both watched the purple-haired child, and had known each other since they were both teenagers. It might have been natural, until Krillin brought the photo album. Sat next to her and pointed out faces of dead men. "This is Vegeta."
His face was a larger sharper version of the toddler's. Juuhachigou didn't need to ask what had happened to him.
But that made things clearer, in some ways. Still, the blue-haired woman will watch them together with unease, and even considering what Juuhachigou was, that all seemed unnecessary. She wouldn't kill Krillin, hell, she hadn't killed him when she was a monstrous psychopath, so why now.
Especially now. This man that held her bags, and listened to her rant about how women's jeans had no pockets and about the wig or hat that she wore. Though she did stop herself before ranting about sports bras and how nonsensical the extra padding was.
"I have to admit, you make a strange red-head."
Someone that could be condescending, but would at least stop. Hell, hadn't he been there since the start, and had let himself form words when she could ask questions. That had not let her crash down during this latest mess of surgery.
"You're okay." His voice had risen, unknowing becoming something that he would have used to talk to the infant. "You're okay, I've got you. You're okay."
Insulting, yes, but at least Krillin had kept her from falling on her face. Especially in this hospital gown. Why kill the person, one of the few people, that knew her, that she didn't mind, and could keep his hatred tucked away?
Was that why she didn't mind him, or was it something besides his relative politeness? Or—who the hell knew?
Not even Krillin, who brought her to see new buildings going up, specifically pointing out people and their jobs why she tried not to get bored or ask why he did this. There might be some lesson, a test, and if she failed? And it was nice, even as coldness she couldn't feel with or without her dark green pea coat but still made crossing unsalted sidewalks treacherous, and she hated having to look up to Krillin.
"Are you okay?"
Like that was enough to hurt anything but her pride, that had already taken a beating over the last few months.
And Krillin still hadn't taught her to fly, or any actually ki training, though she'd spotted and watched him with the two boys. The brightness that had flown from his hands that had not-stunned her when first seeing it. Only awoken some wistfulness as she watched him forming it, see the lights outlining his features. Krillin trying to pass it to the purple-haired boy, Trunks, and trying to help him keep it in its star-shape. Now a T-shape. Blue and white, shifting shades as he demonstrated, and said things that made the dark-eyed teenager laugh.
A comedian and a teacher, that wanted to show her something new every day.
So she didn't go nuts and another murder spree.
"Go on, then. They're waiting for their foreman."
But still, it was a nice view.
This view, of him—of him with those people.
This view of his back—as he fluttered down to help them, leaving her behind. His clothes really fluttered, and Juuhachigou could almost picture him pretending to be some superhero. The superhero that he was, considering that there was literally flying around and righting wrongs going on in his life.
There was a twinge, watching them, and she wanted to go to them, to pick up their load and help rather than watching them. Help as Krillin did, with people greeting him as though he were a common sight around here. Perhaps he was.
It was mostly the waste that she personally minded. That gave her this twinge. Krillin seemed to hate it too, not matter how much paint and energy was spent with the children under his care. At least that was used to keep Trunks from swinging that bat and knocking over a needed lamp or to hit someone squarely in the groin, which was funny so long as it wasn't you that had to kneel over and learn to breathe properly.
Krillin could do so much more work than the normal humans. Overturn stones, and sometimes glance over his shoulder. Seeing her, or trying to make sure she was there? Watching them all.
Burning their dead.
Watching smoke rising, until her eyes were heavy and her entire head was made of cement. Wake up covered with his jacket. With him eventually returning to her, and them awkwardly trying to get comfortable when he picked her up.
"Why don't I just give you a piggy-back ride?"
Flat against him with her hands on his shoulders, and what, her legs wrapped around him? Trying to keep her voice down. "Would that really be more dignified?"
"Oh. So it was dignity that we were going for?"
"Well, why don't you just show me how to fly?"
"I will." He looked ridiculous, flapping his hands like that. "I just have to learn how to teach it. Now let's get back for dinner."
Take her back to the cage, and stay there with her right back to her bed basically. Practically crawling in there with her, wrapping her in blankets and there was nothing embarrassed in those black eyes.
Because why would there be, when he might squirm over certain women he met that worked around here, the people that would eye him over the scars and wonder what he'd seen and not mind any of it. Him. All of him, and that noseless round face that was meant for overreactions and his shortness that only emphasized the overkilteredness of Krillin, and the scattered of scars and the soft touch of wrinkles on his forehead and light indentures around his mouth in certain moments of stress and his awful voice and way he would get so embarrassed around pretty woman even as they refilled his glass. While she would look into her own mug of coffee and hope no one recognized her.
"How come you're always here?"
Now definitely in this bed, technically, with those elbows on the mattress and his hovering. "How come you're always here?"
She was nearly suffocated with the blankets he was shoving at her. Once, he'd rolled her in them like a burrito, until Juuhachigou nearly kicked him to make him stop. But now you're warm, oh, yeah, you might need your arms, huh. "I can't believe you're the one I have to talk to."
And that was Tuesday.
Just another Tuesday, and when she woke it would be Wednesday and Krillin saw nothing wrong with just hanging out in her room, eating yogurt and watching the weather reports. Staring right back at her. "You overslept."
"Weirdo. Like I have someplace to even be."
Krillin still pulled the pillow from away from her head. "We could go to the park again? Or see another movie? Whatever you want. The amusement park?"
It didn't matter where they went, even Juuhachigou knew that.
Maybe he needed a person at his side. A friend to replace those he'd lost.
He was good at whatever this was, placating her, especially compared to Bulma. Burrito-wrapping or not. She was the ruler, the liar, and not a good one. The one with the syringes and made Juuhachigou clench a jaw to hide the fear, as they wouldn't get that from her. No matter what else they might take.
Juuhachigou watched Krillin wandering from building to building and still claiming that the donut place was right around here, wondering consciously again what they were keeping from her, why she was never growing stronger and when they got back, watched the spread of her scars.
The second time Goku had died. His first grave marker.
Out of all the ways to go. They had made jokes when the first pain struck. About him eating too much bacon, and Goku had just grinned back and told them that you could never eat enough. And they ignored the way he began to sweat and his power to slide during their sparring match, and Krillin even managed to land a few too good punches that made him wince as much as they did Goku.
'Guess I'm just not feeling that well.' With his old smile even as Piccolo had to help him up.
Nothing as simple as a cold could really hurt someone like Goku.
It felt like he was the only one home. The others were out, gone with everyone to comfort each other. Drinks and exchange stories and help Chi-Chi and Gohan. Krillin should have gone along with them. Best friends. Why was he here, standing here in this living room.
The phone had been so cold when he'd picked it up.
Now it burned, almost searing his hand as he held it and felt his ki rising, feeling his friends miles away, even Vegeta who could not believe that the man was dead, even as he saw the body and the lack of any life force, it was a mistake. They had never been friends, Krillin and Vegeta, but he'd never understood the Saiyan prince more as he watched the man. All those thoughts flickering in his eyes, and it was hard to remember that this was an alien he'd fought and nearly killed and been killed by.
He was the one to reach for the Saiyan's arm, while Bulma and her son watched them, and the one to nearly get his teeth knocked out as Vegeta powered up to take off. Left to hurdle himself through the air, furious, alone now, Krillin realized. The last of a race that he still didn't know whether Vegeta even cared about. Had he escaped to space, where no one would see him perhaps bare any wounds? Krillin couldn't sense him, not anymore.
Feel the presence of the others so far away and how easily the phone crumbled in his hand, melting, exposing the wiring he rarely thought about, and it was even easier to throw it through the window. Child's play, even when he'd been a child. The other fighters were away, and nodding with clenched jaws.
He was still wearing the black band, and Gohan hadn't been able to even make an appearance for the funeral. Chi-Chi wept, able to quickly come to grips with her husband's death, and had perhaps been ready since the first time Goku had died. No one else would cry. Bulma had distracted herself with Trunks, holding him too close and trying to settle his crying. Why was he still wearing this band?
He wanted to break everything. These meaningless things. It was nothing to toss out the TV and blast right through the roof. Nothing hurt. Nothing here could hurt Krillin. For once, his strength that was so relative when it came to his friends and enemies, was nothing but a damnation. Strong as, what, perhaps half as strong as Frieza in his first form? For the boy that had used to get beaten up on the 'play yard' of the monastery, that was more than he could have hoped for. All for nothing, really. Not strong enough to ever help, but not weak enough to hang back and never fight.
Now he could destroy this entire planet, really. How much damage could he do before someone stopped him? Do enough damage to the core, as Frieza had, and doom everyone. It was enough to make him sick even right now. Strong enough to take a space ship and wreak havoc on other planets.
It had hardly been Goku they'd buried. Dressed in his same old gi. Not smiling, but solemn as he'd never been. Cheeks rounder than Krillin remembered. Still boyish and hair untamable. Once Lunch had tried to comb it, and even in her blonde, angry state, hadn't been able to get a spike to settle down. He and Yamcha had laughed and watched and Bulma had happily counted her money when Lunch finally paid up for having lost the bet. It didn't seem possible for this man, who would be reaching middle age eventually, to have once been that boy. A bad attempt at a clone or something.
There had been many reasons to not believe that this man slipping past youth couldn't be Goku. Had he lived, would there eventually be grey in his hair? A slouch to his shoulders, and muscles growing slack? Grandchildren and great-grandchildren growing tall around him. Fishing trips with them all, stories begged from their favorite Grandpa, and perhaps Goku might have learned to slow down.
His favorite move, so quickly learned from his Master, and once he'd hoped to look as heroic as Goku did when the Saiyan performed it. Such a pathetic thing. "Ka…me…ha…me...ha!"
Years ago, Krillin had once hated Goku. For about a week. Then began to like his fellow-short student. Admired him, and the lack of pretense and how easily he saw things, a colorblind person introduce to color for the first time. For someone as cynical as Krillin, it was like learning a new language. Eventually, the way Goku stumbled when it came to book learning made him lean forward and help him sound out the word, instead of laugh. Whatever scant thing Krillin might have taught Goku were returned in spades. Simple kindness, and the ability to laugh at the silliest things without any disdain.
The slow realization over how much he cared, and watched him carefully, heart all tender because he'd never really had a friend before, how easy and pathetic. Learning to be afraid of what his 'friend' thought of him, before realizing that Goku was his friend, and that meant he didn't care about Krillin's shortness or sarcasm or bald head.
The worshipfulness had come soon enough.
He had slipped so quickly into a coma.
A coma. Of all things. It was a secret word, dry, unfamiliar.
Chi-Chi hadn't cried as she called everyone. Hands steady, probably, as she tried to hunt everyone down. She had known.
If it had been the other way around, Goku would have found a way to help them. To not help, to just stand around as someone died, that wasn't in his best friend.
Goku had gone Super Saiyan when he had died.
How could he be alive, when Goku was not, and never would be again. A natural death.
How could the ocean even still be here, after all this? Any life at all?
Something turns off.
Falling was the easiest thing he'd ever done. To shut himself off and to let go, and not care.
How even now, he stretched out, and was repelled, towards his friends.
Dogpaddling towards land, his home, what he'd left of it the fire now put out from the waves that had crashed into it. Painted it recently himself, with the radio on and the sun heavy on his back. Nothing more urgent on his mind than wondering if he might head out to Capsule Corp and West City this weekend.
Remembering when he'd been a little younger, lying in the overgrown, what was it, hay or wheat, with a book over his head. When he'd been a teenager, trying to do, with a looming shadow overhead with a crazy haircut. Before that, a reminder from Bulma's child, when he'd been a child himself and held his mother's hand. Things that he could recalls, but knew he'd once been, of being small enough to be carried in his mother's arms, of the sperm and the egg that had made him thirty-three years ago.
He was horrifyingly alive.
This fact that ate him alive: how could he be alive, when Goku wasn't? A natural death. Like Goku dying could be natural.
Because of nothing. Germs, disease. Frieza that had sent him on that doomed path to some planet. The exchange between the new skills he'd learned from those aliens and that disease.
It had been a quiet three years. And in the months following Goku's death, the continued peace and in the new flood of self-pity, Krillin would nearly forgot how to hate.
But at least that was resolved for him after six months, when they arrived.
And of course, had Goku lived, had been there, they would have been stopped.
Nothing had actually changed. The springs were still sprung, the holes were still in the walls, clothes scattered about without him to pick them up.
The sea was definitely the same.
His friends that waited here, even now after the defeat of the androids, were unchanging. It was bracing, to hear the old sarcastic remarks from Oolong, that wanted to know exactly what had happened and didn't take him seriously when Krillin told them all that they were safe now. Puar's politeness over the food and gifts brought. His Master clapping him on the shoulder, telling him how proud he was of Krillin, his son.
One day, he would come back home, and permanently. But not now, no matter how something ached when he looked over his shoulder and saw the small house from a growing distance. Not yet.
Penance, and never forget that.
There were things from that house, that had taught him how to deal with this situation, that had fit him for his new job. The memory of this house, the house itself and recalling which boards squeaked and the flaking paint and the marks left from scrambles inside years ago as he heard the drill being used. What he'd learned here, and outside of it. His ability to take a beating, for one. It was like someone had fashioned him to one day have to watch Juuhachigou. All that training from boyhood that would come in now, things that allowed his mind to drift away as he looked after her. To see and not see. Something that allowed him to truthfully tell a horrified Juuhachigou that no, he hadn't seen her naked.
"Not ever?" Her angry and flustered. "Not once?"
"Nope. Of course not. What—what did you think happened between us before you lost your memory?"
Which only turned Juuhachigou paler. "Nothing…did it?"
Making Krillin just shake his head, nearly laughing.
That face so serious. "Is that why you're helping me, Krillin?"
"Knock it off. Of course not."
Not remembering until much later, when a different Juuhachigou had shrugged and turned away. 'You're lucky you're the cute one, that's all.'
A very different Juuhachigou.
This Juuhachigou had never done more than wrap an arm around his shoulder so she wouldn't fall. Cursed at him, at Bulma and Gohan, at herself, but was never—not exactly borderline perverted, she had never been like that, but had been very aware of her body.
There had been guys that she'd liked. Had spoken about it aloud, while her brother rolled his eyes. Then killed those guys to send her ranting about what a child Juunanagou was. Her flirting was a horrifying thing. It could send strong men to shivering in disgust, trying not to flinch as she traced a finger down their face.
Teenagers, the androids had been, and sex could be another plaything like their cars they raced.
Didn't Krillin know that better than anyone. With her jokes and kicks that sent him tumbling. Was that how he'd survived so long, for having this ridiculous face and maybe, for not crumbling or weeping at any overture no matter how sarcastic or otherwise. For knowing what she was, and not giving her any satisfaction…but there are things that Krillin would rather not think about concerning the androids, and not just about their murders.
Now she wore one of his button up shirts, white, and too loose, taken from his wardrobe when he wasn't there and thrown to cover herself up in the evening. And would make no comment on how nice her eyes looked when she wore blue, weren't they pretty?
If Juuhachigou was still aware of how pretty (perfect) she was even now
(especially when she wore that white shirt that was meant to go with that suit he no longer wore)
she didn't rub it in Krillin's face anymore.
It was a greased slide, and Krillin definitely didn't bother to struggle. It's easier to sink, to slide, and watch the flowers and weeds growing in the empty spots where whole houses had once stood.
He'd brought flowers, now. Crinkled in their paper. Weird, how there were still florists to be found, how people were still carrying on with business and that he'd used money to buy these rather than scavenged them. Not roses, but something else, 'hyacinths' the tag read, bright and happy, alive and waxy petals that probably smelled sweet, and yellow as—Krillin had brought flowers.
Juuhachigou didn't seem to care about them one way or another.
There are so many excuses for sneaking her outside more. She might be suffering from a vitamin deficiency from all that time underground. Like a normal person might. Growing bored and resentful, perhaps questioning why she was even listening to them at all, getting annoyed and awakening that flight-or-fight response that Bulma had commented on, so rearranged and twisted from Gero.
But really, he wanted to pretend they were normal.
That any of this could be normal.
That they could be in public like any other two people. And that she were any other person, one that wouldn't have normally given him the time of day, if things were different. She would have laughed in his face, rather than joked and teased about his scrub of a beard that needed to be taken care of, and wouldn't have encouraged him to please grow out his hair.
"It just looks worse when you're bald."
"Worse? For who?"
"Duh. Me. I'm the one in public with you. It reflects badly on me being seen with this…" But Juuhachigou was smiling. "Short noseless bald guy."
"How does that make you look bad?"
"Like you're the best I can do."
A high whistle in his ear, light-headed, in some short blissful state. "No one thinks we're together. Rest assured."
Then she seemed to take it as a personal challenge. Making him carry her things, all but looping their arms together or holding hands when they walked side-by-side. That time before that he now remembered with a crispness, when winter had still been on them, and all had been so wary of her, and then she'd, probably still a little out of it from meds, ended up being cajoled by Trunks into pulling his sled around. Commenting on women looking at him, and perhaps staring down a flirting waitress or the people that came into the shelters he spent so much time at that Juuhachigou had wanted to see. Her in shorts and a t-shirt, sometimes his own, as summer began to creep towards them. Things that made him want to put his head down for a long time.
Her in the flickering light of the TV screen, nothing words in the background, the sharp nose and her little remarks that begin to sputter out in coherency and frequency. When her hair fell into her face, those closed cat eyes. She snored, a little. The simple fact of her and all she was.
Juuhachigou, you are beautiful.
Until she would come up behind him. To poke the back of his skull with one determined finger. "What's wrong?"
Until it didn't matter that it was a joke. Because it didn't matter that it was a joke.
You can't. Oh, Juu, you can't do this.
No one had done this to him, for him, before. Not even his ex. Certainly not his ex, and he remembered her with a chilly flash. How many other girls he'd pined for, had tripped him up and left him to daydream, and now she was here, her, a person that he might have waited his entire life to meet and would have been better off if she hadn't been born. This woman that could have been in dreams instead of nightmares. Instead of both.
A cruelty, until Krillin was the one waking up with her watching him. Her asking him if he wanted to go out, to do something, and following Krillin into his bedroom to lounge about with one leg thrown over the arm of his chair. Him going on about some nonsense, talking aloud of picnics in the park and wander around the hills outside West City if she decided to stop hating nature so much, or walk around the mall. In the safety of his brain, having a fantasy of putting his head in her lap, of resting his chin on that bony knee or better yet, kissing that knee and then moving downwards to explore that leg, the calves and ankle, and then up to a spot he shouldn't think about.
Juuhachigou tugged and pulled him to her side. With those tapered blue eyes, yellow-gold hair that was painfully straight, and long fingers that could have been used for making sutures or writing books or holding a paintbrush. Her hands.
He fell, conscious, in love with her handwriting first, neat and tight, left-handed or not. She did everything well. Neat. Maybe ambidextrous. Perfect as the rest of her, he'd thought, and then filed that away immediately.
Could you care and trust and respect someone without trusting them?
Prejudice, or common sense, not to fall in love with an android that had killed half your friends and millions of others? Only with Juuhachigou was this an honest question.
If it had been Juunanagou, would you have spared him? If she had been closer, and had turned and so scared you, so brought your guts to your throat, would you have killed him?
Despises his own attraction, that he was a man, that he was heterosexual, that she looked like that, that she didn't act like this, that he had spared her, the treacherous voices in his head.
But didn't Vegeta do worse?
These treacherous voices in his head.
Even if that was something that Juuhachigou had spoken of, when learning of the others and their own pasts. "So I wasn't the only evil person to join your little group? You'd think you'd have developed standards by now."
"We did. That's why you're here."
"You just ran out of other members. That's why I'm here."
He wanted to forgive, but how could you do that for someone that could not repent, could no longer be held accountable for their actions?
He feared and wanted for the day to come when she would discover their lies. For the eyes to flash and turn cold and do what they had thought her capable of since he'd brought her to Capsule Corp.
Instead, she fell asleep while he had been rubbing her shoulders, boneless and impossible not to love her like that, this blonde little kitten. A lioness. A predator that now ate raisin toast and was not a morning person and disliked tea. Who might roll over and come very close to cuddling against him when they might fall asleep on the couch together.
Lately, Krillin had been counting the space between them, inch by inch.
Take note on that, and how his height gave him a complicated view that Juuhachigou didn't seem to acknowledge when she leaned against him. So little like the other women in his life, now and even before he'd met Juuhachigou. Her presence only seemed to exasperate the blank loneliness that had been driven back by the android's presence. Before their arrival, when Krillin had been so sure he'd never meet the right one.
A fact that he was more than ever certain about.
Wanting to approach women that he did meet, normal sane that didn't mind his shortness or lack of money and noseless face. Wanting someone there, to start a life with. To be there, when he woke up, with a cry in his throat, and have that person understand. For that person to not be Juuhachigou.
Even while knowing that it was too late. That there weren't any other women that could exactly compare to Juuhachigou, that understood him, that would actually tease rather than mock his appearance and stuttering that had suddenly come about when he was with her. Choked him up, when he'd turn his head and find her right there, perhaps about to lean on him and force his neck to hurt as he desperately kept his gaze elsewhere.
Even if it was doomed. All of it. Less than ashes he might have held when they still needed to burn the bodies that would stack up.
Too much separated them, even if Juuhachigou might be joking or serious as she would lay a hand lightly over his just before someone else came over to talk to him. Just to dissuade, or mock.
Krillin would see others together, couples, people having children again as they learned that the androids had been defeated. Something that Bulma had started telling refugees as they arrived, seeking shelter from their own destroyed homes. A growing trickle of humanity, as though buoyed by the fact that there were no more destruction and could live in peace. People kissing in public.
Girls that would never do that much to him, that he'd gone years pining for. That he had thought about, exactly women and just the idea of a perfect girlfriend that would stick around for a year, forever.
Understanding what they were would not save them. Did not save him from finding himself looking at the part in her hair or memorizing the curve of her cheek.
There could be no forgiveness.
Is there justice in letting things go, or just relief?
Or just what he would feel when she needed his help getting around and his hands would go around her waist, or when Juuhachigou would sit behind the wheel of a borrowed car. "Are you going to teach me how to work this thing?"
Then learning that she was a terrible driver, and no wonder why it had always been her brother that had used cars.
Juunanagou, whom Krillin had so rarely thought of. Now that Juuhachigou was cleaved away from him, this woman with hair hanging in her face that could not back the car up straight, he had to remind himself that she'd even had a brother. Remind himself that she was an android, and far from being a regular human being with all the flaws that came along with that.
There had been groups, people, that had worshiped the androids. That had seen them as a righteous punishment, as didn't they destroy cities, weren't they as capricious as any god? Had Krillin not spent years training among demi-gods and seen what the universe could offer, he might have felt something similar. Even for someone that had seen similar battlefields, looking onto the damage could bring forth a dread so terrible it could have been religious. Had the androids known—they would have laughed themselves sick and then murdered all of their worshippers?
Never knowing, or believing, the true origin of them. Weren't there other deities that were twins, and even ones that handled death? He remembered being on his knees before the steel table, and felt a guilty twinge.
Juuhachigou was not someone to be worshipped. Not this woman, not that woman she had been.
She would have hated that. As she did the stares she got from strangers, particularly men that saw that pretty, if sometimes tired, face. Then glance down and take in the rest. The rest was this perfection, even knowing the scars hidden under clothes. Average height, the only part of her that was average. She stuck out, covered up or not, and drew the eye.
One day, she would probably start something with someone maybe a fighter, one of the fighters maybe that were finding their way here, to learn more from the men that had killed the androids. They would learn the truth, and learn to deal with it. Just like Krillin had, but they would not come with the same amount of baggage and issues and unattractiveness that he had.
It didn't matter about his own selfish feelings and wanting to have her remain at his side. His secret.
The few that did know that she was still alive, if unchanged, were already learning to deal with it. Chi-Chi would even come by, if staring Juuhachigou down from a great distance. Analyzing the cyborg, and coming to her own conclusions while the blonde sat there unknowingly in the living room, slouching on the couch. She was another part of his life now, in all facets it felt like. An addition that kept him going, but for the living, rather than just to preserve the memory of the dead.
They existed in their bubble.
In the garden, behind the wall. Touching grass, fingertips stroking the tops of it. She didn't care much for flowers, put would still prod them just to see her effect on this world. Calm and peaceful, while he lay on the deck chair watching her and the last bits of summer weather and drifting out until Juuhachigou found the hose to spray him with.
Even now, her part of his group, there at his side while analyzing through the dust through to the destruction beneath. Her sharp eyes that were no longer something to be feared. Then she was slipping past him. Losing each other in that chaos, and Krillin had to still his fear. A year since she'd been stolen and reworked and changed, and yet there was still this worm inside him that whispered that he should be afraid. Ghosts of her in this mess that still his heart one minute and send it to shaking another.
When they found each other again, she was dirty, slightly annoyed at the state of her clothes, and oddly content. At some state of peace, here as they gathered survivors.
At that bar. A foot and a half of distance that slipped away as Juuhachigou started to talk. Then grew again when he began to speak.
Krillin had to leave her, keep his back straight. Not look over his shoulder. He would be the man he saw in the movies that broke up with the girl for his own selfish desires or maybe for something grander than himself, to not betray his country and flag and she had to know that deep down.
It didn't matter where he went. If he buried himself in this humanity or wandered alone. It didn't matter at all.
Not after what she'd said, and he'd said, and that look on her face. The things that had needed to be expressed. No matter of how it have carved into his thorax that leaves him almost physically holding his stomach as he walked. Amazed at himself, as much as he was at her, for all this.
Going home, to this home, was not an easy thing. Krillin could only imagine what he looked like, remembering a different return in another life. At least now there was less stubble on his face if more on his head at Juuhachigou's behest. Another way she'd physically marked him, the fighter (was he still?) realized just as he did what had happened.
"Is she here?"
The genius, and she was really, in all manners of everything as she often bragged, was looking at her cigarette rather than him. Watching the ash gather and grow heavy, and fall down onto the couch. She didn't need to look at him. Hell, Krillin wasn't deserving of eye contact like a better person might have.
I pushed her away, and for what—they blame me anyway, they still hate her and should and I-
"Nothing. Bulma. Nothing happened."
I wouldn't let it. Even if I wish it did.
Bulma was smiling, tightly, looking too old. Furious. "I wonder what will happen when you start to get angry."
"Angry? At who?"
"You'll see," she promised.
"I don't want to talk right now. Can you do that much for me?"
Should someone else find her, know who she was, they would have strung her up. Rightfully so. They wouldn't care that she had a sense of humor that didn't involve maiming and was a sore loser at video games and liked shopping for clothes. That hated the sound of sleeping bags and disliked the color orange. Juuhachigou no longer wore the same denim skirt. Or murdered anyone.
He had to leave, leave without telling anyone. Just for a little while. But long enough so that he would come back, the air would be cleaner. There would be so little oxygen when she spoke and Krillin would learn to breathe properly around her. Left with nothing but the clothes on his back, going to first north, then slipping eastward.
The little stream not far away was the same, the dead brown grass a little long without Goku to training and roll around in it and get it to a proper length as Chi-Chi yelled about grass stains. The apples had long since come and gone, and Krillin bet that his friend would have not minded being buried here. As opposed to a cemetery full of people he didn't know.
"Not that it really matters. You're up there with fighters you probably don't really know. Right buddy?"
Why was he whispering? The Son house was a ways off, and they wouldn't have mocked him for talking to this memorial. There were no weeds here, after all, and some drying flowers left nearby. A caterpillar walked over them, but Goku wouldn't have minded that either.
"But you were always good at making friends."
Now he was talking to a dead man. The body was nothing more than a vessel. No one knew that better than he, even before he'd seen proper death. What was under this grass and dirt would be a horror, and an empty one. Things that even Krillin couldn't have stood to see, even now.
But it helped, to have something to touch and feel connected to. Goku had moved on, but this still had his name on it.
"Goku, I'm not even sure why I'm here. You're not."
There was not even wind rustling to take as a sign someone was listening.
Should he say how sorry he was, that Goku had left, that Krillin hadn't been able to help at all. That he would have died gladly in his friend's case.
"I used to always try to follow your example. Hell, I still do. But I can't even imagine you in this situation."
For Goku, everything had come easy. Even marriage and children, though Krillin had always wondered how the two of them had gotten along—and how Gohan had come along so quickly from their clueless friend. But he had never wondered or worried about having a date, if he'd die alone, if he was good-looking or not. No build up idea in his head of family and his place in the world. One advantage of being raised in the middle of nowhere with such little human interaction, Krillin guessed.
He sat there, balanced on one knee, the other leg drawn to his body. Feel the sun warming his skin, on his short but even layer of hair. How the others would be so shocked at him having any hair at all, but even Bulma had commented that he looked better with it. The ex-monk reached up to rub at Goku's name engraved on the stone. Eventually it would wear away, just like the people on this planet and their memories.
"I think you would have said something about how crazy it was. Then you would have laughed. Because she's different now. I don't think you would have gotten all the stuff about the robotics, and I don't get it either, but you'd know that she's not the same person. Not really."
He wished he'd brought incense or something. That worn rock with fading mark of their master that only two people on this planet would have recognized the importance of anymore. A picture, even though such things were more important to the living.
"Would you have been okay with it though?"
Did it matter?
But he felt the slightest creep of the wind gently brushing his neck, hear the trickle of the stream nearby that he wanted to see again. It led to some creek, and eventually a river that ran fast in the spring and the Son family liked to fish in it. He could feel the mud on his worn boots that needed to be replaced as he followed it through the trees and fading sun. Sense and hear more than see how calm the water was, devoid of ice even now, and lacking in fish that would jump out to splash a hello.
One day, he'd come back here, and bring Gohan and Trunks. With fishing poles that were unnecessary and tents they could never set up right and dumb hats to wear. Tell ghost stories around a fire and eat piles of smores.
Maybe there wasn't any sign, but did he need one from Goku? Of what, that it was okay? Especially from a guy so quick to forgive? There was peace here, and that was partially due to him. Maybe it would be due to Juuhachigou, one day, if Earth continued to draw enemies. Life was still here.
But for now, there was another grave he had to go to.
There would be no markers for him, no sign besides this crater. He dug his hands into the earth, wanting the dirt under his fingernails to tell him he'd been here. Krillin knew this spot too well. Saw it often when he dreamed, when he might fly close by, and had all but memorized the coordinates. Even if he'd never been back.
No matter if there didn't seem to be anything here left of Juunanagou. The android had collapsed, and Gohan had not waited, doing exactly what they'd trained for. Had spoken of as faithfully as Goku might have talked of victory. The explosion had been like an earthquake, and Krillin had thought that they would die there after all. Something placed inside them to ensure that there would be no victories, he surmised, opening his eyes. Feeling out for Gohan's ki and finding it.
Then finding bright hair. Intact.
Here he was, back again. To pay his respect for Juunanagou? No, not even to find if there might a scrap left to bury. But maybe to bow his head for the dead lost. To remember that night, and see possibly the crater he'd made with that crush. The miracle that the remote hadn't been destroyed that had made Krillin sure that they were doing the right thing and luck was still with them.
What was remained of the buildings. Eventually, someone will come here with tools and bulldozers and clear the rubble. Will they find a shred of a black shirt, a white shirt, jeans?
Why had he even come here?
If it had been Juunanagou, there might a young man at Capsule Corp that worried about being a burden and got snotty about playing games and would cheat at poker. Would he ride around on shopping carts and tease Krillin by saying he could get the ones designed to seat children. Probably not let their hips brush when they walked down the aisle together, both of them so aware of their bodies and their surroundings.
Krillin would have more memories of Juunanagou, they'd be clearer, rather than the scattered ones. Of him shooting someone and seeing the bullet mushroomed and that stranger holding his own grey guts in. Right in front of Krillin, so close her could feel the hot blood hitting his face as he just sat there and watched the android walking past with his gun out. He couldn't remember what happened after that.
His ankle hurt now, in this ratty boots, and it was hard to breathe in the cold air. Krillin touched his hair, traced the scar on his jaw, and told himself that what year it was, what month, that it had been in the past and could not hurt him anymore. The bomb had half-done its job of taking out the android, if not an enemy he'd been facing. There was nothing left of Juunanagou but memories, and this area would be cleared and no one would ever know what happened besides him and Gohan and Bulma.
Right now, the only way this place had effected anyone anymore was the dirt under his fingernails.
Go back further.
The moment he walked onto the battlefield, trying not to show the only weapon they'd had, he known it was going to end badly. Nothing that involved him stepping into a place to be greeted by a person calling 'dibs!' could ever end well.
It was raining, and that seemed fitting. Wet hair clinging to everyone's eyes but his own, and Krillin was grateful for his own shaved head again. He couldn't afford any distractions, like the two androids did as she tried to shove back straight hair from their faces. They had just been about to go inside, to find some safety from the rain, before the fighters had found them. Juuhachigou in particular hated any sign of nature. Maybe she hated the very Earth itself, even down to its atmosphere and weather.
He hardly had a chance to raise his ki before the first blow that sent him flying into that building. A solid hit to the spine, rattling his teeth. Flying, crashing. Landed on his back, thankfully, no crunch but of pavement breaking under him. Boots following him, brown amongst all these blues and blacks and a greys, and a kick to his ribs to nearly fracture them. Playing. Another and again while he tasted blood and tried to protect his stomach above all else.
Juuhachigou that so rarely enjoyed a drawn out fight, but did love watching Krillin weeping and making him ask for her to finally kill him.
Juunanagou that liked to smile, and taunt and reveal that everything was a game. If you got to win, you could live. Everything could be reduced to a tally of points, and humans had been losing for so long.
"You two are so pathetic."
But then she had to turn away from him as Gohan sent a ball of blue energy at her, screaming a taunt, what, was she afraid of him. All but yelling that she should pick on someone her own size, and that might have been embarrassing if he wasn't tasting blood right now. And Krillin could see the boy standing there with a tight grin that maybe Vegeta or even Raditz might have worn. Keeping that look on his face, even as Juuhachigou hissed in irritation and flew at him, and Juunanagou occasionally send a thin stream of ki at Gohan with his finger cocked like a gun.
But he could feel it, the rectangular shape that fit his hand. It was intact still. Thank the gods, Kami, King Kai, whoever might still be looking out for them. Goku.
Another time, and it would have been him that was the Bait. A brief distraction for Gohan to try. He had already become their hope. But hadn't he always been, since he was little. He was the firstborn child of a long line of warriors, on both sides. Born to pick up the mantle. Goku would have been so proud of him, no matter how something twisted in Gohan's eyes when everyone told him that.
Another time, Krillin would have scrambled up. Might have sunk into whatever calmness that remained to him in this time, not a proper meditative state, but of fatigue and acceptance. Recalled his friends for a brief moment, and hope they were not watching. All his training, from birth truly, tested and tried and bloodied in battle, that really led up to this moment. It amounted to so little.
Now he was the one that be their only hope. Something that the androids would never see coming, even as he lay there and watched Gohan sprint into battle.
Feeling always his body, being so aware of his lungs and his feet in his shoes, to wonder how much it would hurt, it always hurt, how he was reduced to a child and trying to run away from pain. Ah, but he didn't want to die here, like this, cold and wet and unable to even see his friend anymore in the mist. There was no heroics or even dignity to this, to being slaughtered by a pair of smirking teenagers. Another number that was meaningless to the universe. Earth's death count. King Kai had not contacted any of them, to show them a way out of this hole. Did anyone outside this planet notice what was occurring? Just as they had never known of Frieza's destruction until they were before it?
There was only agony in his joins. But he didn't want to die on his knees.
This thing, faceless and howling, that grabbed him and yanked him up, are you a coward? The androids that would taunt him, when he'd faltered, when he begged, when he asked why.
At least let me die like a fighter, like my friends, to protect someone, like a man, because wasn't that what Krillin had been trying to be for so long. Strong and honorable. Couldn't he do that much? Unfair, to leave Gohan to be their toy.
Even for this brief time.
His bruises are minor, especially in comparison to Gohan who takes another hard elbow to the face that sends him flying further away from Krillin. Leaving him blind to the fight. All he could see was five feet ahead of him as the fog rolled in, see his hands before him already bloodied as healing scabs opened, the old scars and wrinkles of his knuckles.
Watch the rain drops falling into a puddle before him, beautifully clear with leaves floating in it, what little sun a soft gold. Everything is grey, cold before that that glimmer that sneaks through the clouds. Like dawn, back home. The small house with its peeling pink paint and drooping palm trees. He wanted to see that again, sit on the stoop and watch the water crawling over the sand, with no noise except for the waves.
I swear, I swear, this will end here.
There are only sounds left to echo in this rubble. Laughter and cries of pain, and he had to move. They hadn't left much to hide behind, but that was okay.
Hurt to crouch here. It hurt to stand, to move and creep. He'd always been fast, hadn't his Master said that before, even Goku. He would be quick and strong, thoughtless as the androids were.
And she was still laughing, it was knives in his head. Red plumes of rage and yellow fury that stabs into him, green aches of pain, that have clouded his sureness that is a clear blue as he handles the remote in hands that do not shake. Maybe he was even smiling as he watched them all.
She was laughing at the struggling figure in the rain. As though he weren't only a boy, and one hurt at that. As though she had any right to laugh. The male android was watching them, a smile on his face and more amused by his sister than their enemy. He was telling Gohan that he'd been way too late to help anyone, and how little fun they were having with him anymore.
But it was all okay, ultimately.
Juuhachigou hadn't seen Krillin come up behind her with the controller until it was too late. Had she, Krillin wouldn't have made it close enough.
Juunanagou might have understood with that turn to see who was moving closer, but it had sealed his own fate regardless.
The woman she might have been, had been, could probably diagnose this as a depression. She didn't need years on the planet to have known that this state of being shut-down, when she wasn't experiencing anxiety, was nothing healthy.
But those emotions and that state of mind didn't explain why she found herself following this short man in hopes that they would go swimming.
"We'll go there, sometime. When you get better."
When here was someone who knew what she was,
Sees him leaning over her, as a dentist might, with none of Bulma's flat eyes. In white, and was it bizarre that he had been putting his fingers in her mouth, intent and gentle….was that a sexual dream? There had been a mirror set above it, but she hadn't wanted to look into it, didn't dare, but who had control of such things in their head, and those teeth had been sharp, teeth that did not belong in any human.
Maybe because had had no memories, that was what made this so pathetic. Things that she didn't need to read any book on psychology for.
It smashed her in the head, perhaps as hard as that blast that wiped everything out had.
Was he supposed to be some father-figure, a replacement for her brother. He was, wasn't he? The entire story to this should have been different, one where Juuhachigou learned a lesson and there were clear lines and rules and redemption rather than waking up to limp through the day with no answer. And there should have been different actors, especially for her role.
Objectively, Juuhachigou was aware of how stupid this whole mess was. Of course another person might begin to have feelings for the person that basically saved them constantly, if only from going insane or being dismantled by others for crimes to which she is not entirely innocent.
That he is not exactly handsome, really, if you could think about something passionlessly. Short, and sticking out like a sore thumb in an unpleasant way. Though he did have nice hands. Krillin didn't have a damn nose, and that should be a drawback to his face that looked like a teddy bear's when unshaven and those black button eyes. Cute, but how long could that last.
No, really, how long?
Because Juuhachigou was getting tired of him coming into her room and mentally slapping her about.
It bites and gibers, this thing, this horrible unnecessary thing that has soaked up too much of her life. Why is it here, why, of all dumb things to take over her. When she was what she was, and he was this hero figure, a vigilante without the cape, that had spared her and would leave her to all but rock herself to sleep because she does know what this is and cannot stand it. A punishment, the true thing that will strain her past sanity, this thing that she cannot have any more than she will a normal life—Krillin was that normal life.
Juuhachigou was crazed, a cyborg with a huge list of murders to forever follow her, but she was not dumb. He was more than a man, a talisman that represented a life with a lover, affection, care, things like actually houses and their own photographs and lives build up, together.
He had no idea how attractive he was. How brave. Romantic, heroic, a host of things that she knows about only in the base of her spine. Cruel, for him to have this round if not soft face that did not match the dense heavy body. Incongruous. Poorly spliced and she had to stare at the round muscles, mottled pink in the sun, smooth, and she nearly drowned at the pool because of that bathing suit he wore.
Let her drown.
Except he'd been there, to pull her up and ask if she were alright. Mouth-to-Mouth was clearly unnecessary, and Juuhachigou spent the time drying her hair considering that fact. But no, if she had faked it, who knows what Bulma might put her through, besides jumping out from the bushes she was probably hiding from to pop the bottle of champagne. And then it would just be awkward when she came to.
The indents around his mouth. Juuhachigou sometimes had to wear his pants, though less under duress now, that showed too much ankle and was too loose around the waist. Smell his shirt, and know she was being a freak, especially when Bulma walked in on her doing that, and knew exactly what Juuhachigou had been doing- No matter how she tried to play it off. "I really do need some new clothes."
Greedily watching him, and losing herself in reveries concerning literally, his ass, while in public with a hat jammed over her head. Objectively, knowing that this was an escape valve from the rest of her life.
She dreamed, dreams, about him.
She feared and hated surgery for what she might say when under, as now she finally had a secret. Aside from hating them for the vulnerability in the first place, no matter how Krillin would tell her that they were making her better, that they were taking out the metal parts and that she was really, just a person like anyone else, with just a few pieces of modification.
There was no melodrama that matched anything she was experiencing, in any language, on any channel.
But there are terrible songs that reduce her to the rest of humanity, and there was comfort in that fact. That allow her to lay in her room, with a sheet around her shoulders and hands under her head, knowing that Krillin would be there tomorrow.
Deserving such emotions, almost happiness, was beyond her to know but not to ask. What did someone like her deserve? Who was the judge of her, Bulma, the woman who was removing the mechanical pieces of her and could hardly look her in the eyes, with her shifting moods? Or her mother, that blonde woman that tried to force pancakes onto her plate. The boy, with the dead eyes?
There may have been a time when misery was an empty bank account or low test score, but she could only imagine it in the barest way.
Krillin had described her having living in a cage of that Gero man's making, of her brother, of her own maybe. The only way out had been to step over her captors. Truth in that, probably, but it amounted to little. She was here, regardless of how it had come to be. There was nothing behind her, but confusion, and why bother when she could put on a ridiculous knit cap in clashing colors and go onto the hill with a sled and get less and less second glances. Even Bulma and maybe the dark-eyed boy would be here, and Juuhachigou wouldn't mind when they watched her chasing Krillin around to stick snow down his back.
She wanted to kiss him, even using an excuse, of that holly that hung overhead.
He made a cake, and Juuhachigou had to blow out the one candle.
These are new things that are part of her life now. She wanted to hide them away from everyone else. Even things about him that she noticed, like the scars that were caused from her, Juuhachigou assumed. That when he came in to see her, dusty and sometimes limping from a hurt ankle, she wanted to make him a bubble bath, rub his back, bring him soup. Things that he was happy to do for her.
There was a snippet of not even a song that would appear in her head. Rolling her eyes back, and then of course something else would overlay that piece, just when Krillin would enter the room. Or when Juuhachigou would spot him from a distance.
There was very little she could offer him, she knew, face down in a pillow.
Her physical charms probably won't outweigh the reality of what was under this skin. No matter how satisfying it was to slip a bar leg from beneath a sheet and watch him stutter. 'Uh, I could come back when you're dressed?' Okay, so at least there was one part of her he appreciated. Or noticed. Somewhat.
Had she always been like this, or had it been an eventually slide due to the removal of chips that sent her falling down this heap of sexual frustration.
But I am a woman, and you are desperate for one of those, given how Bulma and her mother tease you, yes?
Not that desperate, he'd say, holding his hands up. To cover his eyes and hide them from seeing her any more. Seeing a face that wasn't so cute if you'd witnessed it covered in your friends' blood for all she knew.
The magazines full of love and sex advice that the cheerful blonde woman left around the house mocked her. They spoke of love and attraction without boundaries, and weird shit to do in bed with your man, of polar opposites that were a positive sign, and wanted to rub it in her face that fall colors were in this time of the year, and she could not pull them off with her hair.
She couldn't say that he'd given her back the possession of humanity, as he had no right to such. But it felt like he'd set on some path back from whatever murderous-well, fiend- she'd been about a year ago. Helped kick her through a doorway onto something besides living in a hell of her own doing, and Juuhachigou was walking through it. Every day, she found herself further and further from whatever she'd once been.
It felt less and less like an elaborate joke they were playing on her, all the TV stories undoctered and these pictures were of things that had taken place. Hard not to trust that round face with those puppy eyes that never shied away from her own anymore.
Even if he was probably more responsible for her memory loss than he let on.
This life now didn't seem any more boring or meaningless than the life of that woman on the screen with her face. Even with this medical treatment. Like now, after maybe something else that might have helped, or was just an excuse to put her under and get her so screwed up she could barely close her mouth. On enough shit to make her head spin and put her legs approximately on the moon as far as Juuhachigou could tell.
The shadowy figure had to be her brother. Banal and unnecessary.
I hardly know his face.
From the TV.
He had the same eyes as her, the same nose, height, build. Darker, but he was obviously her twin after all. You killed me.
So I did.
So they say you did.
It was probably programming, a weakness, something that still made her stomach twinge. "I don't think I care."
There was nothing in that past, so caught on film and studied by everyone. It was meaningless shapes that she felt little for. Was it real, her apathy, how little she liked that clown smile that flattened her face and twists the corners of her eyes. Maybe her empathy was frazzled, but there was still a matter of aesthetic taste and boredom, and-
I could be angry.
But it was anger on how they lied to her, even now. Half-truths and white lies, maybe. That they did not trust her to go out without supervision, though at least Bulma will talk to her now, if softly, uncomfortably. They can sit in the same room together.
Juuhachigou wanted to apologize to all of them, the boy, the blue-haired woman, Krillin, but didn't know how to start. If she even could. If she still owed them that, and how to phrase such a thing. Should they all just say that they were sorry, for the lying and murdering? Why did she have to apologize when there was no memory of what she'd done, and was therefore—didn't that mean she was no longer responsible?
At least now, she hadn't taken advantage of their hospitality, and blown anything up. Killed the cats, had her way with Krillin, then destroyed the entire building before continuing on with the massacre.
They should be thanking her for her restraint.
Not just nodding as she had complained. "Then what's the point of all of this, if you're still going to treat me like a monster?"
"I get it, Juuhachigou. It's not like we keep you in a cage."
Not like she was free to go and return as she wanted either.
'But did that matter, when you could hardly hold your own drool in your mouth? And not just because Krillin was here to check on you,' her twin chided her.
Dizzy, as always after whatever-they-would-do, weak, shaky. Shields and walls that had been built for her own protection always crumbling.
'And what, are you thinking that you two will date? That you're going to marry him and give him lots of noseless kids? When he won't even introduce you to his other friends, and you still have to cover up to go in public?'
Krillin had used to ask all the time, 'What do you feel? Are you okay?' Rather than just assume that Juuhachigou wanted him near, and had no complaints about him putting a wet rag on her forehead. Chattering about nothing, while she tried to keep her brains from sloshing about. Her twin still fluttering in the corners of her eyes, handsome and dark.
'You won't even age. Remember what Bulma said.'
I know. But I'd like to imagine not just being Android #18. I can forget about the programming, about the voices and commands and just exist.
Pathetic. But there was that, and the simple draw of a reasonably well-adjusted man that knew her and was not frightened away with a dumb laugh that she could listen to, sink into like a warm bath.
He floated up there, judging her with those mean little blue eyes. 'Reasonably?'
If only Bulma's father hadn't left the occasional dirty magazine around. That might have helped, to not have such clear images around to embed in her mind as clear as the rest of the programming.
Had there been a man in her life, Before? Before Before? When she had been human, or was that time, now probably twice gone given what Bulma and Krillin said, spent only with her twin as it had been when she was a killer android. Of all things. When she'd been little, had she wanted to be a doctor or an astronaut or something equally cliché, never knowing that she would end up under a pair of doctor's blades, to put in and then remove cybernetics, never aging.
It was funny, and Juuhachigou was in the middle of explaining her laughter to Krillin when sleep caught her short.
Even when she woke up, relatively sober, it was still there. Planted and watered by him, and his obnoxious voice, the dumb things like his jug ears and how he came in to check on her while eating a pear that she couldn't resist taking a bite from as he bent over to feel for her temperature.
His reaction so weirdly embarrassed. "Juuhachigou! If you wanted one, I could have gotten it for you. How am I supposed to eat this now?"
Lying there on sheets he'd probably cleaned himself and a pillow definitely fluffed by those hands, chewing. Contemplating another year of this. If they lived together and decided to build something outside of what they'd been, would she have to start doing housework? Would one of them have to get a job, as humanity rebuild itself?
She didn't have a job now, not really. Not even when she could leave every day, and would find herself in some disgusting wasteland, using a shovel to dig for piping, hating the mess on her shoes and the stains on her shirt. Furious, when Krillin saddled up next to her. "So, I guess you were never in construction, huh?"
Nearly swinging at him with that shovel, even when she saw his smile.
"And you were?"
"Yeah. Goku and I used to do construction work, when we first started training with Master Roshi."
The pervert in the tacky shirts from the photos. Who was still alive, miraculously, and whom Krillin had never introduced her to. Nor any of those people that would know who she was, outside the small group that lived at Capsule Corp. The boy and his mother- both boys and their mothers.
Even now, she was still a secret and would go the rest of this life in this body, trapped and caged.
Krillin left, to help others, to stop others when he see reports on the news of thieves and murders. He helped to reestablish some sense of community, if only through making places livable. Shy, and prone to his own introversion, unwilling to act like a judge no matter how people come to him. He preferred lifting heavy things or pushing kids on the swings than using that brain. Unless it came to board games, where everyone had to form an alliance against him or give tips to the person facing him across the chess board.
He was still a hero. As seen when he'd yank on his shoes if they'd been off to rush out at the sound of bad news on the TV. Ignoring the teasing about where he'd stashed his cape, and then finally dragging her along when some major event did occur. Natural disasters were her best friends.
Shoving them into a coordinated area, finding and losing Krillin, finding herself alive with blood on her hands, nearly smiling as they wailed when she told them where to go. "I can't I Can't. I CAN'T."
Shoving the rubble aside to dig them out, pleased out how easy it was to do that. To do all of this. Wondering where Krillin was, if he was watching her. Was he glad that she were here, because Gohan might not hear about all of this and there was only so much he could do on his own to help everyone? These people that she hadn't hurt. Not now, anyway.
She didn't know how to comfort people, but she could save them.
Then stand there, preening and being an idiot, while Krillin tried to move people to a safer place. Follow alongside them further into the city, ignoring fallen power lines and the actual places where the pavement had split and buildings had fallen, like a sheep dog. Listening to whimpers and people trying to find out where a relative or friend had gone.
Ignoring the sudden unexpected, unwelcome pang when she sees a boy, younger than Gohan, blonde hair darker than her own, yelling a name. A wound on his forehead bleeding, but the kid was oblivious to that and how he tripped over the rubble and his own feet. Eyes ahead and searching for someone. And Juuhachigou had wanted to help him, to just ask what he was searching for, as he disappeared further from the group and she lost sight of him.
And after, covered in dust and dried gore, dodging others and trying to keep her hat on and the collar of her coat up. Krillin might be following her, and she wanted to shock him, to take him somewhere new that would twist his face into a ridiculous new shape. One that would involve his eyebrows, Juuhachigou knew. Those looks that she had such trouble reading properly, as she didn't when it came to the others. That lit something inside of her and that smug machinery would inform her of raised temperatures and increased heartbeats and the distance between them.
Would he drink alongside her? Get worse in all his mannerisms as the alcohol set in. Was he even following her?
There was a surprising amount of people here. Some worried, asking about others and here to watch the news in this structure that still stood. Others looked like nothing could move them, not even a raging fire or her and her twin coming in with hands of blue and red ki to murder everyone they laid their eyes on.
Did she prefer beer? Sour and watery. Vodka that tasted like frozen berries and cough syrup. Whiskey that was small islands of old oak trees. How was she to know if any of this was supposed to taste good. If there was something missing in her taste buds that explained why people drank these specific flavors rather than something flavorless that blurred vision and relaxed the knot in her head. The bartender had begun to give her looks, maybe because she hadn't paid for any of these emptied glasses.
She wanted to join those people. Just drink. To look at this glass, in this darkly paneled bar, and not how the background of it made Krillin's eyes look muddied, browner, as he found her. He ordered something ridiculous, just missing the tiny umbrella, and didn't seem to care at her own stare.
"You're just here, drinking? How come?" Something settled in his eyes. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Juuhachigou wanted to vomit on him. Punishment, or a metaphor for her opening this dumb mouth. "Talk about what?"
All gentle. The person that would let you fall asleep against them and not mind the cuddling, even as he flipped through a magazine, steadfast ignoring you. "What you're thinking."
All these sad little things. Things that were still better than the nothingness she'd experienced when first waking up. "I think. I think I wouldn't mind kissing you, at this stage."
That's what you say? That? Of all things? God, how could you say that- ?
His laugh was shaky. "What?"
"You know what."
"Juuhachigou? You're serious? You are being serious. You want…you like me?"
Like the person next to him could even nod, or do anything but find themselves encased in ice.
"You have no idea how, uh, tempting that is." He seemed to be reaching for her, for the heart that was in her throat, but taking her shoulder. "You don't."
And she wanted to put her head through the bar. A simpler want than the other that she had already voiced. Why the hell had she said that? Not the alcohol's fault, in the least, because she'd felt like this for so long. It couldn't even be blamed for this rush of heat.
"I can't. We can't." Still so reasonable. "It's not because of your—because you're an android. I don't care about that. We're friends. But we can't be together. It wouldn't be. Juuhachigou? It wouldn't be right. Like I'd be taking advantage."
As though she were a child that didn't know any better.
"No, you're not. You're not, but you…"
There was no latch on her mouth, and it was just going to going to sink her.
"You used to be my enemy. My friends are dead now. Even if it wasn't from you, and I know that you wouldn't do that now. I know you're not a monster. But it would feel like a betrayal. I don't know how they'd feel."
Krillin didn't seem to notice how her throat had tightened, and her eyes ached. Maybe he couldn't see that.
"But I'm-thank you? Juuhachigou?"
"What does it matter what your friends would think?" They're all dead, anyway. "This doesn't have anything to do with them. Leave them out of this, for once."
That rising flush. Pained eyes, as though she were hurting him. Something inside him that she couldn't seem to reach that made his tongue slip out to wet his lips over and over. "We shouldn't discuss this here."
"Where then? Is there anything to even talk about?"
"We should go."
Krillin had no idea how painful that word was, the mockery of them leaving. We. We should go. Go together, and then separate.
"I don't want to leave with you."
His usual trick of looking down at his feet, but now there was hair to fall into his face. Krillin looked younger, with that spill of ink on his forehead that hid the scars. "I don't want to leave you alone here."
"What do you care?"
Eyes wild. "You think I don't care? That I haven't been trying to separate you from what you used to be? How can I forgive you, when you can't remember what happened?"
"Whose fault is that?"
That flicker. And she could just lean forward, and put her forehead against his chest and say something about how sorry she was. Look weak and receive more pity. Did she deserve this pride that kept her from doing that, even as sat there and that wall of silence grew.
The glass was so very interesting, all of a sudden. It needed a refill soon. "I am not. I don't think I can even get intoxicated."
"Since that night when you woke up and we started making fun of that infomercial with the portable toasters. That was when I wanted to be with you." A twitch in his jaw, and Juuhachigou couldn't even remember that night. "Before that, maybe. I don't know. Do you have any idea how difficult this might be for me?"
"What about me? I'm the one that…" Fessed up.
Krillin's voice could still crack like he was that smug frog of a teenager she'd seen in the pictures that he hadn't wanted to show her. "What if we end up hating each other? We break up?"
"I'll kill you?"
His laughter was so out of place, even as made something curl in her stomach. "It's good we can joke?"
Moving closer, hand on the bar skirting closer to his own. "Is it?"
Which made him smile, if turn away. "Is this really happening?"
"Nope. You just hit your head really hard. It's all a dream."
His fingernails were the smoothest things she'd felt. Pink half-moons. A cut on the middle, already closed. In the mirror resting ahead, over the bottles, her face was mild and his as sweet as when he'd find Trunks lying on the stairs, spying. "You've wanted this for months, then?"
"When we were in the dark, and all I could do was listen to your voice."
Which brought light to this dim place. How many times had that happened to her, and yes, this might happen. She had not been a complete idiot. No, she had, because she had waited so long to confess. They would both just admit everything, and order dumb drinks complete with miniature umbrellas and then would go home together. Move into one bedroom, and not have to fight the urge to grab his hand when leading him places. Wake up next to him, and with him next to her in that bed.
The others might complain, but not all of them, given some of the comments and even that widow of his friend, with the dark-hair, she seemed to not hate her so much. The boy had even begun speaking to her lately, and Bulma didn't glare so much or insist on any more surgeries. They would get used to it, just like they had with Bulma and that man she'd probably killed with the sharp features and angry eyes.
We'll have hundreds of nights of making fun of dumb commercials. I don't know all the others things, not now, but I'll give them to you. I'll make it happen. Whatever you want.
"If things were different, and you could still like me, maybe we could have had a different life together." His voice was still so gentle. "One where, you know, we could date. Like a normal couple.
"You're an incredible person. One of the smartest, bravest people I know. Beautiful. You'll meet someone that will be perfect for you.
"We don't have to leave together. But come back to Capsule Corp. It's your home too.
"We don't have to talk about this again, if want."
Krillin was reaching into his back pocket, for his wallet to pay for them both. Leaving even a tip and nodding at the bartender very seriously. Turning his head to hit her with that black stare as he picked up that scalpel that Bulma had put down and decided to begin carving. He saw nothing wrong with yanking out what felt like half her organs, inspecting them, right before he started to walk away without a second glance. While she sat there, with no end to this hole inside her now.
About to fall off her barstool.
The face she saw back was not beautiful. Flared nostrils and mouth a white line. Ugly as anything she'd seen actually reported on, when something had annoyed her and had made her launch further attacks. No wonder they had all avoided teaching her to fight, and wouldn't even want her to learn to fly. Why none of them would approach her like a human being, as she wasn't, how could she have ever allowed herself to forget that fact. As apparent as the brightness of her hair so carefully hidden even now.
Juuhachigou had to turn away. Had to eventually leave, and tell herself that no, she hadn't been physically injured and there was no reason for this ball of sickness in her stomach. Or maybe that was just the alcohol.
In the bathroom, in the mirrors of the sinks, she didn't look any better. No matter how much water she might throw on her face to reduce that look in her eyes.
There were others outside these doors, and she had to keep her face still. Seeing herself walking, turning the door handle, over and over again. How many doors and entrances would she have to go through, for however long she might exist?
Then saw herself falling forward, eyes closed or open, falling right onto her face like a plant of rotting wood. Over and over again.
Especially in this yellow domed house that had taken her too long to find.
She didn't know if she were still drunk of not. If that even mattered. Sober or blind on beer and everything else. Her system was already processing it, filtering it out, and leaving her very bereft of its warmth.
This woman would gladly see her dead, but Juuhachigou needed to say the words aloud. Since this was just fucking honesty hour. "I have feelings for someone."
Blue eyebrows raising, coolly. Pausing. "I didn't know you were capable of that."
"Yes, yes, it turns out I had a heart after all. Now what the hell do I do about it?"
"What do you mean…what type of feelings are you having?"
Juuhachigou should have prepared better for this. So there wouldn't be a flush rising from her neck all the way to the tips of her ears.
"That poor bastard. But I'm sure if he doesn't know who are you, he might go for it. You look like a normal person." Some thought loosened the creases on her pale face. "Maybe this would even be good for you. To make some connection."
None of that was exactly false. Exactly.
At least Bulma wasn't outright discouraging her.
"So, who is he? Do you know his name? Was it someone you met at the mall? Please tell me it's someone I don't know."
…But Bulma might not want to give her advice on how to win over Krillin, who had always been more willing to forgive her.
The knowledge and disbelief in her eyes.
Because Juuhachigou wasn't even alive, maybe human under the machinery, but she has no ki, as she has been told. And all life has energy. No matter how she can move and think and yes, feel, there is no life inside of her.
"Are you asking me how to get into my friend's pants? Are you ser-i-ous? Why the hell—why…why would I help you?"
Because I want to be happy. I could make him happy. Because I can…because he will make me feel better? Because he doesn't want me and I don't know how to make him change his mind. "I don't know. Because I'm asking?"
"Are you going to go crazy and kill everyone?"
"What? Of course not. Just because of him…I'm not going to go nuts and murder everyone."
"Can you live without him?"
"Yes!" Like she was that sick, needy, pathetic. Not yet. No matter if she might have found herself in the restroom of a seedy bar, drunk, and trying not to sob in the stall and have others hear. "But I don't want to."
What if he'd left? To never come back, to avoid her forever more now. Dodge her, while she would have to do the same. Once, there person she'd been would have murdered Krillin, and had nearly done so a number of times. She would not have been happy to see this version of herself, the one that crumbled when her once-enemy laughed and wanted nothing more than to see him happy and with her, happy because of her, and had cried a little in the stall of a bathroom in some seedy bar.
Krillin would just leave her to talk only to Bulma and her parents and Trunks that could talk so much as to tell you that he wanted popsicles and now.
There must have been some disgusted expression on her face that had only recently begun to feel like her own, because Bulma looked ready to pat her on the shoulder. Lightly, and using a spatula or something longer, but still. "Krillin's an understanding man. He was the one that wanted to help you in the first place. I'm sure you two will forget all about this and move on with your lives."
For the second time, Krillin woke with a faceful of petals he couldn't smell. But the last time he'd been drunk from shame and beer he'd managed to unearth, and had stumbled to Capsule Corp. Wanting to tell Bulma that she didn't have to do this, that he would leave with her and bury Juuhachigou away from this, only to pass out before he'd gotten inside the building. A year ago?
At least he didn't have a hangover.
Instead there was an android standing there, shoving those flowers into his face. "I thought you might like them. Since you're always buying these things."
All he could say, and all he had said. Out of all things he could have said.
Feeling the plastic wrapped around it sticking to his face.
Then she was almost growling, and stomping out. Then coming back in, as soon as Krillin had peeled the flowers off him. Looking at him, glaring, mouth open and lips a flutter as she tried to insult him or ask him something. Only to make this creaking noise in her throat, and turn her back to him again as she left.
A strange woman.
He should have been annoyed or afraid, rather than sitting here with a lapful of daffodils and grinning and not knowing the answer to any of the obvious questions.
And she's supposed to be the superior species, isn't that what those two used to say? She's supposed to be so scary and intimidating.
Flowers. She brought me flowers. No one's done that before.
Hope she didn't steal these.
There were no answers in the shower, or in his face so fogged around the edges. The dark opaque shape on his head, the V-shape over his wide eyes, and it would cover most of his Orin Temple marks and part of the long curving scar on his forehead. Maybe it was for the best. Maybe he'd let the stubble on his face grow out, find some ruggedness to this round face. Change and find his own look.
Then Juuhachigou jumped out at him when he entered the hall, him still damp from a shower.
"Why didn't you just kill me?"
"Why are you still here?"
"I sorta live here. I guess."
"We're friends. Hey." He wanted to take her hand, hug her, pull her into a long embrace, kiss that rage off her face, not admire the length of her arms in that shirt. Please let someone stop him before his gaze wandered elsewhere. They were standing too close, and he'd always been at an uncomfortable height. "We're friends, and I would never hurt you. And this is your home too. More than it is mine, I bet."
Cup that chin and turn it upward and look her straight in those blue eyes. Oh, you. Juuhachigou. Let their foreheads meet. Then their mouths, and be done with it. Fold her hands in his.
How could he have so much self-control? Normally, his problems concerning women involved how to win them over.
But Juuhachigou was already moving again. Distrusting him, as Krillin had already ruined whatever there might have been. Set fire to it, weeping and choking on the smoke, but he'd burned that bridge. For the memory of his friends that had died at her hand. Let us not forget. Traded milky blue eyes and soft hands for the ghosts of men that probably weren't watching them, for this empty bed and wishing again and again to go back and find a crack to slip away and join them.
What did he have anymore, but those ghosts, and memories, and to watch what was left of his friends growing older and having their own lives. Those, and want, this want.
An hour later, she was hopping out of another room, scaring him. "We should go to the movies."
He carefully put down the knife, slapping the sandwich together and sliding the plate over to Trunks and his gaping maw. "What do you want to see?"
"I don't care. I just want to be alone with you in the dark."
There was still a knife in his hands, if only a butter knife, dull. Trunks was asking for another sandwich. Heat on the back of his neck. That shade of pink, so delicate on that face that was so undelicate really, if you knew her at all.
Smiling at him. "Just like we were. Only this time we can-"
"Juuhachigou, there's a kid here." What had been at the end of that sentence. God, what had been at the end of that sentence.
"Really, Juuhachigou, I have to watch him."
"Then we can stay in."
It would have been cute, if there weren't knives in her looks, and the way her shoulders curled inward when Krillin made sure there was space between them. She had more self-esteem than him, and wouldn't degrade and beg herself like he had with his first girlfriend. If he refused for much longer, she would shove him down the stairs and then move on for someone that didn't have his problems. She would leave him.
"I don't understand why you're acting like this."
"I told you," he repeated, curt. "We can't be together. It would be—"
Wonderful and miraculous and damning. Confusing. Scarier than his previous short-lived relationships had been. Relationship.
"I don't want to hurt you, Juuhachigou. Or for you to hurt me."
"You know I'd never break your neck."
"You're not a coward. Even if we all joke about that—"
What? They made jokes about him behind his back? Juuhachigou and who?
"- you're not."
"It's not fear, exactly. I'm just being realistic."
Outside these walls, there had to be someone with a normal life that had a mortgage and a significant other. Those two had met through friends, or at college on the quad, and went to dinner in places with candles and loved and trusted one another.
"What could you even see in me?"
Which only further put color in her cheeks. "Shouldn't I be asking you that? Or do you not see anything?"
"Of course I—it's different."
"Why? I'm the android that participated in mass murder. I bet I was the one that killed most of your friends. Isn't that right?"
"Let's say, that was fifty-fifty."
When was the last time he'd thought of his friends? Remembered their faces and looked at their pictures and watched the home videos and heard their voices? How long had Juuhachigou buried herself in Krillin's head and erased everything, pushed it away, sunk it under the waves? Until the point that it was okay and he could no longer fight how he felt, and only hold back from outright giving in.
What life would they have together? Some parody of a romance, of trying to be like that normal couple with their apartment and then house and kids and dog running around the backyard. He hadn't let himself imagine such a life since the androids had arrived, let alone one with one of those androids. Tow-headed and black-haired kids running underfoot, and how would Mommy and Daddy ever explain how they met. How much it hurt to think of that.
"But you're the awful one, apparently." The smugness in her eyes. "Because, what, you're short?"
When put like that…
"And missing a nose. And that voice."
"Despite that though, you want to date me?"
"I don't know anything about 'dating.'"
It was a dumb word to describe whatever this might be.
Her thumb was rubbing against her lip. Teasing in its way, even if she was looking away. "I'm not supposed to go into detail about what I want. In case a child hears."
Past children. Before children. What created them, and of having a lover. Beyond what anyone else had been to him, in totally different directions. Juuhachigou, who had wanted to kiss him. His friend. Who was walking away from his sad form on this couch back to the kitchen, as Trunks hollered for someone to reach the top cabinets for him.
"Put down that knife. I'll get you some cereal or something."
While Krillin leaned there in the doorway and watched them and eventually Missus Briefs came to keep an eye (two and squinty) on her grandson. Then Bulma, who wanted to eat and fall asleep at the table and obviously was pretending nothing was wrong with her overly loud voice like she was clearing the air between Krillin and Juuhachigou. Doctor Briefs that wanted them to help scavenge around for parts he needed, and while they were out, they really needed a few things from the supermarket.
Clearing off the shopping lists was a mercy, even as he laid there after another shower after a mishap with mustard in the condiment isle. Lying there, hands behind his head and wondering if Juuhachigou would visit him. Thinking that tomorrow anything could happen and how tired and awake he was. Aware of everything from his short hair to the tips of his toes and sensing Gohan miles away and safely studying with his mother nearby and Bulma buried away as she dealt with her grief that she never fully admitted to, and Juuhachigou, without any ki, and Krillin was sure she was thinking about him.
He hadn't understood with Maron that old talk about how your spouse was supposed to be your best friend. And maybe Juuhachigou wasn't, but it was approaching that. The ease of this. Slipping into a warm bath. Her embrace. Her.
I want to kiss you and bury my hand in that air and bite the tip of your nose and learn all about what really makes you tick and squirm. What I would do for you. Murder, if only that Gero, lay his head at your feet and confess that he was what made you.
She had asked him what he saw in her.
What don't I?
There was she, doors away, and maybe waiting for him. For him to run into her room, and find her in the mess of sheets and blankets, and pull her sleepy, drooling form out of that and into his arms.
"I want to show you something."
Not until they were outside could she even form a question. "Krillin? What the hell are you doing?"
Then she noticed the height that they were currently flying at.
"You know I hate it when you do this."
"That's why I do it."
With nothing to stop him from giving her sloppy loud kiss to her head. Except maybe fear of spooking her, of moving too fast, of scaring her away like he had his ex, maybe. Maron, who had maybe died because of this woman he was holding right now. A disturbing reminder, no matter how cute Juuhachigou looked in those loose jeans with her hair a loose mess. Fleeing from Metro West and past what was left of the suburbs in the outlying area.
There should have been an enemy to fight and prove himself before her for. Considering how they met, he should have struggled for her in the rain. Protecting her from something worse than even the androids. Frieza come back from Hell, or her twin to rise up and remind her who she was and take her away from them. But no, nothing could separate them except each other.
At most, Bulma would be annoyed by him stealing her away again.
No one to still judge them except themselves. And both of them were so tired of repeating the same facts that never brought comfort.
Disorienting, still scary a little, to see Juuhachigou at his old home. At least she wasn't wearing the old outfit, the denim uniform, or waiting for him with malevolence written across that face when taking in his reaction to her latest work.
She was gathering sand, holding it in her hands and letting it slip through her fingers. Hardly noticing her own repetitive motions, so far out her gaze was to the sea. Black water for miles. Could she see all the way to shore, or was she as hindered from it as he was?
The sun was still not up yet, and the lack of moon and everyone inside was asleep. There were only the stars left for light.
"You brought me all this way, to some pink." She looked behind her. "Some pink house in the middle of nowhere?"
"Don't you trust me, Juuhachigou?"
I can't hate you anymore. It doesn't help me anymore. It doesn't give me strength.
You do now.
There was a warm flush, from his neck to his ears.
"I trust you." The look was exasperated, fond, curious. "Of course I trust you."
It was worse now, to pick her up and carry her to the roof. Even if she didn't yell at him, not even after Krillin had sat her down and taken her hands. Cupped them and kept them six inches apart.
"Oh. I get it. Still, this is an odd place for a romantic date."
"Just watch. Keep your hands like this."
Bright blue the dot that appeared between his own palms after he'd moved away and imitated her position. Growing larger, streaked with gold and lighting up her surprised, smug face.
"I want to show you. I'm sure you can do it too. Here."
Purposefully letting their hands touch, as he tried to transfer energy. Pretending that any shaking was from this minor effort. It was strange, lifeless, like breathing into a rock. Still, she had a reservoir of ki, even if she hadn't used it much since that wet night a hundred years ago. The closest to any of that strength being revealed was tossing balls around the backyard for Trunks to chase after.
"Can I tell you a secret?"
Krillin looked up, at that smirking face looming inches above and so far. "Sure."
The ball of energy was bright, larger than his own. Yellow and warm. "It just didn't seem to have much purpose. Besides scaring Bulma."
"What else have you been keeping from me, huh?"
"You know more about me than I do."
"Maybe I do. I can definitely see into the future."
"Yep. And you're about to learn to fly."
How close she leaned in. Definitely flirting, and Krillin knew what it was like to stand in a dynamite factory holding a lighter. He almost felt bad for what he was about to do. "Oh, am I?"
"Keep that energy in your hands."
"Do I need the light then?"
"Can you spread it, throughout your body?"
"I think so. This is what you do, before you hop into the air and fly away."
"You can feel it. Right under your skin. Everywhere. Warm." Krillin watched her eyes all but flutter.
He really did feel a little bad for shoving her off the roof right then. Maybe should have told her to concentrate, or brace herself, even though it wasn't much of a fall. When he peeked over the gutters, she was just lying there, on her back and neck, buried a little into the sand. Half-shocked, growing pissed.
Especially when he floated down
"You're going to wake everyone up. Then that'll be the end of our quiet date."
"Bastard," Juuhachigou marveled.
"I told you: that's how I learned."
"There is sand all over my clothes. You owe me new ones. Just stand there. I don't need your help."
"It was pretty funny to see your expression there."
That could have come from Trunks or Bulma when she was unable to curse so loudly because of her watching child. Not homicidally angry, even as she dusted off those clothes. Looking lovely and pouty. It was such a relief that he had to float up and give her a peck on the cheek. "I'm sorry."
The muscles went slack in her face, but those eyes were so alive. "What for?
"Oh, never mind. Are you going to actually teach me anything?"
It wouldn't be a rough landing, no matter how she complained about how she must have gotten sand in her shoes. Balancing before him, leaning down and towards him, perhaps to take off those boots, Krillin realized belatedly. Since she hadn't really been looking him in the eye. Not until he was rising up to shove himself in her face. Find her nose of all things, dizzy at the touch and how sensitive his own mouth was.
Not here. But a dilapidated building might have been worse a place, to talk, to find her fingers in his hair. She would have said something him taking her someplace nice, as though requesting it, and Krillin couldn't think of anything better than this.
No matter how a part recoiled. It couldn't be here, though. Not this place where his friends had all spent uncountable hours in.
It was finally, nails in his neck and a mouth on his neck.
"Krillin." Juuhachigou was a breathless mess of tumbled hair and swollen lips. His own work, and that gave him a twinge that was possessive, and not full of sickness.
Sex was unnecessary. He had kidnapped her, helped rearrange the furniture in her head, and there could be nothing more intimate than that. Any actual intimacy was redundant. Sex was completely unnecessary. So had his hands in her hair and her bite to his lower lip, and all of this, especially her groping him.
Only the memory of Bulma's words, just a few about what she had, still had, and was in working order, kept him still. But they could. Could have. They could have that life he'd dreamed about that had been so scattered so before even the androids had arrived. Insane that things had rippled and distorted. And he was still alive, to pull air into his lungs and see the darkness of her pupils and the silver-coated hair.
He was as surprised as she was when he moved away. Cold now.
How loud the both of them were breathing. "Don't leave."
"Never. I just…there are others that are going to wake up. I'd prefer if they didn't watch."
Her smile. There were dark circles under her eyes, and Krillin wanted to cup her cheek and reassure her. Fall on his face and state his adoration and love. Brand himself before her. "Didn't watch what?"
"You grabbing me like that."
Feeling his pulse in the center of his forehead.
He hadn't looked at a calendar in a long time. Had it been over a year and a half since they'd begun this, two years eventually? He was lying there, this short man, unexceptional in any attractive sense, knowing the dawn was going to light up this ocean, and that he would have to make breakfast while he was here. Right by his lover.
Damned and doomed.
Lost that grip he'd clutched, all the while telling himself that it could be controlled, these feelings. As though anyone could choose who to love, and it didn't just happen, like struck lightning. What was he now, if not the loyal friend that wanted to keep his friends' memories and to be Juuhachigou's companion and guide to a normal life? Cast out as all traitors were when exposed.
"It won't matter. Probably another new enemy will show up. And it'll kill me."
"Oh, shut up. Enough of your self-pity. I'm the cyborg over here. Without a real name. Remember? Besides, I wouldn't let some random person kill you."
"You wouldn't? You want the honor?"
"I would fight for you." Juuhachigou sounded years younger. Wistful.
"You never talk about how I used to…what I was like before."
"I was afraid to," Krillin admitted.
"I bet I wouldn't have done any of this, back then."
Beautiful, when she smiled, with hair blowing light across her forehead, lying there stretched out. "So. I always had terrible taste in men then?"
"The one constant."
He kept his own smile on, even as he pushed some hair away from her eyes. "The others are waking up. And I can sense Gohan coming to check on us."
But she put her head lightly on his chest, almost nuzzling for a brief moment. Her finding some peace and satisfaction from him, which still bowled Krillin over and would forever. What he loved about her, why he loved her, in part.
They would be shunned, maybe. For a while, at least. Reviled by some of his oldest friends. But they would be together. In time, there might be forgiveness.
Gohan arrived here before the sun, before his friends in the house behind him.
"I felt your ki."
Always now, his eyes scanning around him. The stillness of him. He was looking weedy, too thin still, but better. Those eyes looked less sunken. There might be some semblance of a childhood left for him. Gohan would see adulthood, and would live longer than his own father had. Children of his own, eventually. At least there was that.
Did Gohan notice that his smile was too wide and sick?
Did he not?
Lying implied that you cared about what the other person thought. The androids had helped teach him that, as they'd stood there and told the fighters exactly what they were and what they wanted and what they'd done to the first person that had tried to stop them.
But Krillin couldn't lie, not entirely.
"Everything's fine now."
Eventually, he would tell the others, no matter their reaction.
"C'mon. Let's go inside and wake everyone up. Remember when Trunks found the pots and pans to bang on? Let's do that. I'll make French Toast. Or cereal. Or have to go shopping.
"Hah, you guys finally up?
"Who's this? Oh, this is Juuhachigou."