Chiaotzu gently tip-toed into the small room that he and his best friend shared. Tien was sitting on his bed, his head in his hands, panting hard. His lip was split cleanly down the middle, bleeding profusely, and he seemed to be exhausted. Chiaotzu frowned, knowing that he himself was solely responsible for his friend's current condition. It had just been a typical day of sparring at Master Roshi's house—Chiaotzu had been busy fighting Yamcha, but he had lost his focus. Immediately his opponent had seized this golden opportunity to defeat his enemy, and he had. Within moments, Chiaotzu was on the ground, ready to give up and be defeated for his careless move, but of course Tien had jumped in at the last moment and saved him—or tried to, anyway.
If you asked Yamcha, he'd tell yo that yes, he'd beaten Tien Shinhan fair and square, but Chiaotzu knew that hadn't happened at all. The only reason Tien had lost that fight with Yamcha had been because of the fact that he'd been taking the rare opportunity to spar with Goku. He'd been nearly spent by the time he had decided to defend his friend, and that was exactly why Chiaotzu was so angry at himself. If he hadn't let his guard down for that one crucial second, Tien wouldn't have lost. It was his fault. Tien probably hated him.
That was the reason why as Chiaotzu entered the room, he tried not to make his presence known, but instead just quietly slipped off to his bed without a word. It was Tien who spoke first. "Chiaotzu, are you okay?"
He hesitated, surprised at these words of concern. "Huh?"
His friend turned to him, revealing his blackened eyes and bleeding mouth. "Are you okay?"
Chiaotzu, ashamed of himself, bowed his head. "I'm so sorry, Tien. I didn't mean to-"
"He shouldn't have caught you off guard like that," he interrupted, blinking his three dark eyes, "It was cheating."
"But you didn't have to jump in like that." Chiaotzu argued. "It was our fight; I never asked you to do that."
"You didn't have to ask me, I would've done it anyway." he said in an uncharacteristically soft, kind way. He rose up from his bed and went over to his friend. To Chiaotzu's surprise, Tien didn't seem mad at all for his injuries. He just gently placed a warm hand atop Chiaotzu's head and gave him a concerned look. "I don't want to see you getting beat like that, not ever. If I do, then of course I'll jump in, no matter what."
"No matter what?" he asked.
His friend nodded, smiling a little. "No matter what."
Then Tien rose up to his full height and limped over to his bed. Slowly he lowered himself onto the mattress and then let out a relieved sigh. Again Chiaotzu's heart filled with guilt. "I'm so sorry," he said, going over to where Tien lay.
His companion's gentle sweetness melted away into anger. "Quit saying that, Chiaotzu! Stop feeling sorry for yourself! You know I hate it when people do that."
Chiaotzu said nothing, just stood there. He didn't ever want to see his friend in this much pain again, that much he was certain of. He missed the days when it had just been he and Tien training together, with not a care in the world. Why couldn't they both go back to that simpler time? An idea came to him. He sat next to Tien on the bed and gave him a smile. "Tomorrow when you're feeling better why don't we train together, just you and me?"
Tien arched a brow. "What?"
"Like we used to, just you and me. No Yamcha, no Goku or Krillin...we'll spar and-"
"No," he cut his friend off, "I'm sorry, but not tomorrow. I already made plans with Goku to go another round."
"What about the day after that?"
"No!" he suddenly exclaimed, "Just no!"
Chiaotzu shrunk away slightly and his smile faded into a look of fear. Tien was glaring at him, his eyes full of malice. "But why n-"
"Because I—no, just no, Chiaotzu!" and he turned over to face the wall. There was a long, painful moment of silence between the two of them before another word was spoken.
"I'm sorry, Tien. You must hate me..."
"Of course I don't."
"Then why are you yelling at me?"
"Because I...I..." Tien couldn't find the words for what he was trying to say. Finally, after minutes of thinking, he found it in him to roll over and face his friend to say, "I don't want to fight you, Chiaotzu."
The look in Tien's deep, soulful eyes told Chiaotzu all that he needed to know and so much more. Although Tien loved sparring, he didn't want to fight his best friend because he didn't want to hurt him. Clearly even the thought of Chiaotzu being injured or put thru the smallest bit of grief was enough to make Tien go insane, which seemed odd to the smaller fighter. In all his years of knowing the other man, Chiaotzu had always seen Tien's thirst for blood; he loved inflicting pain on others, the deserving and the innocent, and this was an instinct that he had to fight every day that he lived and trained with the Turtle Hermit Roshi and his other students. Tien would be willing to hurt and even kill anyone in the world, except the one person who he had been with since the start of his training.
At last Chiaotzu said, "You don't want to fight me because you think you're stronger than I am—you think that I'm weak." Although he knew that his partner was superior in terms of physical strength, he himself possessed psychic powers that nobody could imagine. He was anything but weak. Tien realized this as well.
"Of course I don't think that you're weaker than me; if anything you're stronger, it's just that..."
"What? Don't go easy on me, treat me like you treat Krillin and Yamcha!" he said in his high-pitched voice, nearly crying. Tien sat up, a look of concern in his eyes in response to his friend's sudden out pour of emotions. He reached a hand out, but Chiaotzu slapped it away and yelled, "You think that you have to take care of me, but you're wrong! I can take care of myself, Tien! I want to fight with you like we used to do! I want you to treat me like a person!"
"I..." he seemed speechless for some time. It took a while for words to come, but when they did Tien was able to look down at the ground and murmur, "Damn it, Chiaotzu, you make everything so difficult...damn you...I can't treat you like I treat Yamcha and Krillin, or even Goku, because you mean so much more to me than any of them. I love you."
"Oh." he didn't know quite how to respond to this. Of course he'd always had his suspicions about his companion's wandering gaze, and the way that he would sometimes hug him at inappropriate times...anytime, actually. Chiaotzu found his already red cheeks burning. "Tien..."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it." he raced to recover, scooting a little farther away from Chiaotzu. "I just have a headache, that's all."
Without warning, Chiaotzu had thrown himself on top of Tien's bare and battered chest. He tried to hug him, but found that he couldn't wrap his arms around the other man, so instead he just laid there, sprawled out on his companion's chest, his face hidden away, crying tears of affection for the other man. He didn't know what to do. He'd never felt this much unchecked affection for any one person in his life. Just the thought of the other man's injured body under his own made him let out a sigh of pleasure. He felt a large hand fall on his back and gently settle itself there, not demanding or anything. It amazed him how a brutal warrior like Tien could become so soft and kind, so affectionate. How could this man that had been fighting so bravely and ruthlessly earlier have such a gentle touch? Chiaotzu pressed his face into the warmth of Tien's chest and smiled. He kissed the skin and closed his eyes, feeling his face redden at his kiddish behavior.
Tien just let out a soft chuckle and smiled down at Chiaotzu. "I don't want to hurt you, that's all. I can't fight you, I just can't."
"Are you mad?"
"No," he answered happily, "not at all."