Marron was ten years old before she realized she wasn't normal.
"Are you girls ready for Pan's birthday party tomorrow?" her father asked during a commercial. Roshi shushed him (it was an ad for women's underwear, and her mother smacked him lightly on the head with the remote and changed the channel), but Marron answered her father, ignoring the old man.
"I still can't decide what to wear," she admitted, and her mother turned her attention to her.
"I thought you were wearing the red dress and white shoes," she reminded her. Eighteen shifted the remote to her other hand, away from Roshi's attempts to grab it back.
"I dunno, I was thinking maybe the green dress and the black shoes…" Marron said dubiously. She wanted to look her best, and she just wasn't sure red was her color. It had been a long time since she'd seen some of the people who were sure to be in attendance; some of them wouldn't have seen her since she was three years old. The green sweater dress was scratchy and uncomfortable, but it made her look very grown up.
"Man, it's great to have more girls in the group," Krillin sighed happily. "Do you think Pan and Bra are going to be like Trunks and Goten?"
"Let's hope not," she muttered, and Marron giggled. She didn't see the two boys often, but she'd heard plenty of stories, and the few times her father had agreed to babysit meant she knew none of them were exaggerations. There was a crack in the wall of the kitchen they still hadn't gotten around to covering up that was physical evidence of the fact that Trunks and Goten (sometimes literally) got along like a house on fire.
The TV program came back on, and Marron shifted her position until her head was in her mother's lap. Eighteen began absently running her fingers through her daughter's hair, making Marron even more drowsy than she was already. She felt her mind wander.
Goten and Trunks. They had always fascinated her, strange creatures that they were. On the rare occasions when they came over her parents had worked hard to make sure the boys didn't get carried away while playing with her, but the truth was she was happier just watching them. They were actually pretty nice to her when they could muster the patience to play with a younger girl, but their true love was fighting, and watching them go at it was far more entertaining than roping them into playing dolls with her. She remembered many happy moments sitting on the porch, chin in hands, as the two boys sparred and wrestled on the sand or in the air in front of her, and she had never once been tempted to join them.
Oolong wolf-whistled at the TV, and Marron realized that she, too, was excited at the prospect of more girls. Pan was only turning two, and Bra was still just a baby, but it did not matter how much younger than her they were; she would surely have more in common with Bra and Pan than with boys. She would be a mentor to them, she mused sleepily. She would initiate them into the world of femininity: dolls and dress-up; clothes and makeup; and someday (she smiled as she shifted her position on the couch slightly, mostly asleep) she would teach them about the mystery of boys, just as soon as she understood it herself…
When Pan, dressed in an orange gi identical to her grandfather's, blew out her birthday candles and disintegrated the entire cake, Marron felt her stomach drop.
She hid her sudden discomfort as Gohan tousled his daughter's hair with a gentle smile on his face, and Chi-Chi, exasperated but doting, told everyone in a loud voice that Pan was Gohan's daughter alright. Marron made sure to smile when Goku announced proudly that he was already training her, and laughed dutifully when Krillin made some quip she couldn't hear. She snuck a glance at Bra, who was seated on Vegeta's lap, watching the proceedings with an expression that matched her father's impatient detachment. The unconscious similarity almost made her laugh for real, especially since Bra was less than a year old, but Vegeta noticed her gaze and treated her to one of his more mild glares, and she looked away. She drifted to the back of the crowd, slipping the small wrapped box containing hair clips she'd bought with her allowance into the pocket of her sweater dress, and didn't eat any cake. She did not notice her mother's eyes on her, nor the slight frown on her mother's face.
She was silent during the ride home.
The next morning was routine. Marron engaged in the portion of the daily training her father and Roshi allowed her—that she wanted—to participate in, which consisted of Tai Chi and some deep stretches. It allowed her to spend time with her father and the man who was as good as her grandfather, and it gave her some exercise and a change of pace from her usual, more mundane, routine. But the truth was, she had never thought about it much; it was just something she did every day. Today, however, was different.
Academically she knew that there were martial applications to the motions she made: the steady pushes of her arms could be translated into strikes, the careful lifting of her legs into kicks. But as she sat on the porch afterward and watched the two men go through the rest of their workout, something she rarely did, she realized she could not really imagine using those movements, or any others, to actually punch or kick someone. She watched as her father and grandpa Roshi went through the slow, measured version of sparring that allowed them to maintain the fiction that Roshi's pupil had not far outstripped him years ago, and knew that not only could she not picture herself partaking even in such a watered down version of combat, she had absolutely no inclination to cultivate such a desire.
When she got up and went inside, her mother was waiting for her.
"Good morning," Eighteen said, and her eyes narrowed fractionally when all Marron did in response was hum a despondent greeting and make for the stairs.
"Aren't you eating breakfast?" she asked.
"'m'not hungry," Marron mumbled, dragging herself up the stairs so slowly she might have been going backwards. Eighteen watched her go, eyes still narrow, and did not turn back to her food until her husband and Roshi came in, sweaty and famished.
"There's something wrong with your daughter," Eighteen said, and Krillin froze. When Marron was 'his' daughter, that meant the problem was something his wife did not feel equipped to handle. This usually included the more emotional aspects of parenthood. Eighteen had never shied away from diapers or feeding or getting up at night to soothe their crying infant. She could put bandaids on scrapes and even kiss them better. But she got this helpless look in her eyes whenever her daughter was sad or moody, and he had always been expected to step in and take over at that point.
"Can it wait until after breakfast?" Krillin said hopefully, and was relieved when his wife shrugged. Not too urgent, then. He and his master sat down to eat.
"What's going on with my little firefly?" Roshi asked, the hand that had been reaching for the rice getting lost along the way and making for Eighteen's cleavage instead.
"I'm not sure," the woman said, gently nudging Roshi's hand away. The old man swore under his breath and cradled the injured limb to his chest. "It started last night at Pan's birthday party."
"Did something happen?" Krillin asked, taking some fish. He reached up to the cabinet beside the breakfast table and pulled out something for bruises, handing it wordlessly to Roshi.
"No," his wife said dully. "Not that I could see. She's just unhappy about something."
"Must be boy trouble," Roshi pronounced, rubbing the salve on his arm. Eighteen's eyes narrowed dangerously.
"It had better not be," she ground out. Krillin chuckled and shook his head.
"I seriously doubt that's it," he told his wife and his sensei. "She's way too young for that."
Eighteen grumbled something unintelligible and dug in to her eggs. Roshi, too, began eating in earnest, but Krillin nibbled on his fish thoughtfully.
A few weeks later Krillin got off the phone, a huge grin splitting his face.
"Eighteen, Marron, guess what!" he exclaimed. Eighteen, Marron, Roshi and Oolong, who had been rearranging the pieces of the Parcheesi board to put Krillin in last place as he spoke on the phone, looked up, all wearing neutral expressions. Krillin's smiled faltered momentarily as he looked cannily at the board, but his news was too exciting to keep the smile from his face for long.
"That was Bulma: she and Chi-Chi are going on a girl's only cruise and you two lovely ladies are invited!"
Roshi and Oolong immediately began making plans to crash the party, and Eighteen actually looked intrigued. Marron, who was being watched sidelong by both her parents, bowed her head over the board, fingering her game piece as her face fell into a frown. Eighteen met Krillin's eyes and they shared a look. He hadn't gotten around to speaking with her after the birthday party, but this time he would— later.
"She said you guys should come over later to discuss the details. She also has a message for you two," he added to his master and the Pig. He waited until he had their full attention before continuing. "She says if you even think about peeking on this cruise she'll let Vegeta deal with you any way he wants."
Krillin was pleased at the backpedaling this statement caused among the two perverts, and he was equally pleased at the smug smirk on his wife's face that meant he'd just done something that impressed her. But he was the most pleased at the genuine amusement breaking through Marron's frown.
Whatever was going on, it couldn't be too bad if he could still make his little girl smile.