Brought to you by Boboleta, Gue22 and ShadowMajin
His mind was blank as he focused on the thin vertical gap of the closed elevator door, hypnotized by the lame jingle he unfortunately knew to the beat by now. Always the same, day in and day out.
Last night had started out so amazingly that he should have known it would come crashing down into yet another convoluted mess. How could it not? Starting an evening with Videl had taught him that he'd only have a few hours to enjoy her company before drama and misfortune came rushing along to smack him across the face.
He felt the inertial weight of the lift's deceleration - his floor was up. One, two, three seconds and it stopped. One, two, the door opened and Gohan automatically walked out, slow and steady, beelining straight to his desk while unbothered by the irrelevant surroundings. He was sleep-deprived, peace-deprived but most importantly, Kata-deprived. To think, he could have spent the night with her... the whole night! Instead, he'd had to leave a note like some shitty low-life, taking off under the cover of the night.
A sigh. He'd known it the minute he'd seen his father's serious frown that he wouldn't be able to sleep for the rest of the night, tossing and turning over the details of what he'd uncovered. So he'd left. He'd had to. If he'd returned to her bed and the touch of her body, to leisurely breathe in the sweet fragrance of her hair only to lie awake and feign his sleep should she wake up... it would have been deceitful and it would be wrong.
His cubicle came into view shortly after but he didn't really acknowledge its existence. He plopped onto his chair with a loud sigh, elbow on the armrest and hand to the face to rub his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose. This was not good. Innocent people were at risk with every minute that passed and he couldn't allow tiredness to take precedent over their lives. He wouldn't allow it. Coffee... that'd do the trick.
He was about to get up to go make some when he took notice of it, a small wicker basket, filled to the brim with all sorts of items he didn't recognize and that only added to his confused frown. What the hell?
An ivory-white card was taped and dangling from the tall twisted handle, and he carefully removed it with hesitant fingers. It had his name on it, beautifully calligraphed in black and folded in two. He opened it and read its contents, an involuntary smile forming absentmindedly when he did.
Sorry about your home. This is just a little something from all of us. Hope it helps in this time of need. Our hearts are with you man, and our homes at your disposal.
Love, the awesome four (A.K.A. the interns).
"So... what do you think?" A voice from behind startled him and he spun in his chair to face it. His fellow interns - no exception - were scattered all around his cubicle's immediate surroundings, gazing his way with their warm smiles.
"I...I don't know what to say..." They'd actually gone to this much trouble? For him?
"Dude, seriously though," said Anre, "when shit like this happens, you call! Can you imagine our shock when we found out? Plus it was already EOD and that's only because Mosa's uncle is one of the Suits upstairs, and they just happened to cross paths in the elevator after lunch."
"Uh yeah, I...uh..."
"We waited and waited, but you never came back from Synergy!" Someone else injected.
"Uh...well, I had to be somewhere straight after work so..."
"Oh," said the shortest of four - Raku, as he took three steps in his direction, passing him an envelope. "We scraped together 5,000 Zeni each, even got some extras from some of the other staff on our floor. It's not much but..."
He cleared a tiny lump from his throat. "Guys, I can't accept this, really...I appreciate it but-"
"Don't sweat it Gohan," Mosa gave him a big pat on the back. "We interns have to stick together after all right?" he grinned good naturedly. "Which reminds me, you're coming friday night right?"
Gohan blinked, "...err...friday...night?"
"Anre's throwing a big bash at his crib! Feel free to bring that hottie you came with to the Orientation Dance...Lime right?"
"Man, can't believe you guys are just friends!" Anre agreed in a heartbeat. "You'll totally hook me up though right?"
"I uh...friday is actually," Gohan scratched the back of his head. "See...my girlfriend kinda fractured her leg so a party's probably not the best place to-"
"Girlfriend?" Exclaimed Anre, lips gaped in a perfectly shaped O that he quickly shifted into a smirk. "Thought you said you were single?"
"Well, uh..." he flushed. Whoa! Talk about jumping the gun. "Well, more like this girl I'm seeing anyway," Gohan rephrased, embarrassed. Was she his girlfriend? They'd never actually talked about the status of their relationship.
"Playa!" Raku raised his hand for a high five, which Gohan felt pressed to reciprocate, though he couldn't suppress the small twinge of guilt which surfaced as he did so. "So...tell us about this girl man, where did you meet her? When did you meet her, and most importantly," he flashed him a wolfish grin. "Is she hot?"
"There's no way she's hotter than Lime, that girl's just...I could just..." Anre added, framing his hands in a crude cupping gesture, his face contorting into an expression that was just too...wrong.
Gohan flushed as they snickered, each giving their two cents worth about the merits of Lime's curves. Yeah, if there was ever a bunch he didn't want to discuss his Kata with - it was this one.
"Oh, guys," Mosa started, "when are we gonna decide on the 'costume problem' for next Saturday? There's five of us," he circled his index finger around, "we should get that sorted out."
"You're right," Raku concurred. "Let's just do the draw now."
"Wait, what costume problem?" Gohan frowned in confusion. He'd normally just let the guy's conversation topics flow right by him, but if he counted correctly 'five of us' would include Anre, Mosa, Raku, Sig and him. Did he miss something? He knew that he was prone to giving in on his recurrent musings...
"The problem of who gets to go as 'The Champ', of course. We can't all go as the same, that'd just be lame!" Anre responded as if obvious.
Gohan wasn't sure on who'd put him on that particularly hellish list but he certainly did not want to go as that man. It brought an acrid taste to his mouth just thinking about it. "Oh, you can count me out. I... um... I already have a costume," he lied.
"Oh? What are you going as?" the usually quiet Sig inquired.
"Oh, I... I can't tell you." He truly couldn't. "It's a surprise?"
"Cool, man. One down, three to go," Anre stated in smug playfulness, rubbing his hands together.
"Yeah, right," Mosa countered, pacing away back to his own cubicle. "Let's have lady luck get the last say, shall we?" The others followed as he spoke and Gohan shook his head ever so slightly. They were a handful, those guys, but their hearts were in the right place. The care package caught his attention again and he smiled.
"Oh, and Gohan?" Anre called and he rolled back on his chair to face him.
"I'm gonna add your number to our group chat, that way you'll always be up to date with what's what, and you won't have an excuse to leave us hanging like that again," he said, picking up the slim rectangular device on his desk.
"Sure," he answered politely with a shy smile and a single nod, as the other intern pressed at various buttons of his phone. Couldn't hurt, right?
"Okay, you're officially in the group chat," his neighbour announced, placing his phone back on his desk. "Check your notifications. And oh!" his face lit up with mischief. "Be sure to check out the pic from this weekend that-"
"Don't you guys have work to do?" A female voice echoed loudly from afar and their heads whiplashed in its general direction, all sets of eyes widening exponentially from disbelief at the sight that greeted them.
Kirsty's mere presence was usually enough to curb their egos into puppy-dog defenselessness, let alone her voice and attention, but the way she looked today was what ultimately left the group of interns mute, dumbstruck and apprehensive, all in one blow.
Her tailored garments, always pricey in look, were left back home this time. Today, she made her entrance in a pair of gray sweatpants and a plain colored tee underneath a denim blazer - neither one hers, given their size and overall fit. Her flawless complexion appeared blemished and reddened, and her usual bun was lazy and in disarray, miles away from the shiny-slick do worthy of a sophisticated professional.
Gohan absorbed all of the unusual details and discarded them in a heartbeat because the slinged arm and that wide gauze pad on her forehead were screaming louder than anything else. And she was limping! What the hell had happened?!
"Son," she called, stopping a couple of steps away from the elevator. Gohan could see the severity of her injuries from the minute twitching between her eyebrows, a measure of the pain that was obviously impairing her. It was evidently a struggle for her to just be walking around! He ransacked his database, trying desperately to figure out what could've caused this.
"Son!" She repeated, shaking him out of it. His brain rebooted into awareness as it realized how he'd stupidly forgot to respond before.
"Grab me a cup of coffee," she ordered, and he instinctively jumped up to do her bidding. With a quick step, he rushed over to the break room, thanking the scent of a fresh brew that tinted the air. She hated that stale shit - her words.
Kirsty spoke again, stopping him in a startle. "And bring one for yourself too. We're wanted upstairs." Her words came out tired... and she seemed it, too.
Gohan continued as if uninterrupted, hurrying to grab the two plain white cups and filling them up sloppily and unevenly. She'd been wounded - badly so - and the knowledge was giving him that feverish feeling that took his gut, clenching it with protective instinct. Swiftly, he walked out the small break room and over to Kirsty, heart pumping ten times faster to a beat that he could feel throughout his whole body, drowning out all other sounds around the office.
It had to be the same people... the same assholes that had set fire to his home, the ones that could've killed hundreds in the hotel stunt, it just just had to be. So then...Kirsty was one of the targets? The confirmation was as clear as that fear in her eyes - the one she was desperately trying to conceal. She looked so... 'normal', leaning against the wall and looking down at the carpeted floor, still beautiful, though in an entirely different way.
Gohan offered her the cup - black and sugarless, just like his - and she took it in one rushed move, clearly caught off guard while lost in her thoughts. He called for the elevator and slid aside as the doors opened, letting Kirsty limp her way in before stepping over to join her. Assuming their destination to be the top executive floor, Gohan selected the respective number which lit in yellow beneath his finger and the lift came alive in compliance.
His lips were pressed together, head shaking from side to side - he should've known... He should've made more of an effort to decipher his father's descriptions of the targets. Of course she would be one of them! He should've anticipated that they'd go after her next. How could he have let this happen? She could've died!
His hand jumped on its own to the red 'Stop' button and the lift obeyed the command immediately with a rumble and a shake. Gohan spun around to face her, his frown unrelenting as he deliberately ignored the appalled glare that was greeting him back.
"What happened, Kirsty?" He asked point blank. "Tell me."
"What do you think?" she snapped, but her usual bite was lacking. It was evident in those eyes that had always managed to pierce right through him, but this time he could sense them vacant of that confidence she mastered so perfectly. They seemed to be bluffing their way out of pity since he was sure she would loathe to be the object of it.
It pained him to see her like this - a cornered beast, robbed of everything she was. What have they done to her? To his Kirsty?
Without a sound he turned and faced the door again, clicking the respective button to resume their way. His arms crossed in front of his chest as he kept his stare anchored to some undisclosed spot in the metallic surface even if he knew and felt fully well that hers was still on himself. He sipped from his coffee. Horrible as always.
A few seconds concluded the climb and a few more their path to the big threatening door that belonged to their boss' office. Kirsty forced her limping body to speed up and take the lead but ultimately they arrived at just about the same time. Gohan grabbed the handle first and the achievement got him an even deeper frown and a considerably keener glare.
"I can do it myself," Kirsty snarled.
"I know," Gohan responded, not intimidated; not this time. "They won't get away with this."
The room reeked of authority as they entered, both the intricate drapings and solid oak furniture increasing its gravity, if only by a tad. There was a long table stationed in the middle of the room. On one side stood Kirsty and Gohan, the former looking as stoic as ever while the latter was brimming with nervous energy. It wasn't often the dark-haired young man found himself standing before his bosses and it wasn't something he relished in.
On the opposite side sat four men. The one at the far left was his boss, the one he had traveled to Gold City with. To his immediate left was the Vice President of the company, a severe-looking man who looked every bit his sixty years on this planet. The man next in line was the company's president, who in contrast to the VP appeared nicer looking. He looked as if he kept up a health regimen in order to appear younger than he was and it was most certainly working. Finally, at the right-most part of the table sat Gohan's boss' superviser, a rather ordinary looking fellow, though he was much younger than the white-haired President and Vice President.
"Welcome," the President greeted warmly as his eyes gazed at the youngest people in the room. "I'm sure you know what this meeting is for."
Gohan remained silent as Kirsty answered for the both of them. "It has something to do with both of our residences falling prey to arson."
The President nodded his head in the affirmative. "Correct. As you can probably guess, the board and I feel as if the employees of this company are being targeted, you two specifically due to your involvement in the bridge case. Quite frankly, we find this most troubling," he stated solemnly, glancing around the room to the other distinguished and their nods of approval.
Gohan could feel himself relaxing as he listened to the elderly man. The man's tone and body language were comforting and helped relieve the anxiety. Well, most of it.
"Thank you for your concern, Mr. President," Kirsty thanked him. "We both appreciate it."
"Because of these incidences," the Vice President suddenly intervened, directing all attention to him, "We feel it is in the best interest, not only for the company, but for you two as well that we turn over the investigation back to the police. You've built a very strong case for them so far. They can use your findings as they see fit and liaise directly with the prosecutor. Our company's involvement ends today."
At those words, Gohan felt a sinking feeling in his gut and he was mostly sure he'd paled a tone or two. He was being pulled off the case, the one the had been working so diligently on for so long. The only time that ever happened was when someone did a shoddy job or was just flat out incompetent. Who knew how far this would reverberate down his career path? His mother was not going to like this.
Kirsty was apparently thinking along the same lines as she spoke, "Sir, I respectfully disagree with this course of action. The reason we are being targeted is because we're making excellent headway on the case and obviously someone wants to stop us."
Unfortunately, those words didn't move the Vice President one bit. "This is not a reflection on either of you. You've both done great work for the company and we appreciate your contributions more than you know. With that said, this isn't about whether you're doing a good job or not. This is about the safety for our employees. We cannot in all good conscience continue down our present course when there have been three attempts on your lives."
"This is for your own good," the President added, sounding as if this would someway make it better. "No one will hold this against you in the future."
As much as Gohan wanted to add his two cents in, he knew his position as an intern did not allow him the chance to argue. Kirsty's own diplomatic words were the best chance he had and from the way the President and VP were acting, they were not having that much effect. Fortunately, it looked like their boss wasn't completely behind their removal from the case.
"This is still an unprecedented move," the boss said as he turned to face his superiors. "We've had dangerous cases before and that didn't cause us to hand it over for fear of employee-endangerment."
"But none of those cases involved the direct targeting and property destruction of an employee," the VP rebutted, giving a stony look to the boss. "We have even gone as far as requesting a protective detail for everyone here, specifically these two." At this, he pointed a bony finger at Gohan and Kirsty.
At the mention of the protective detail, the dark-haired youth was taken back. He had never been one to need such a thing, not only because of his Saiyan blood or years of training and battle experience, but also because of his mom. There wasn't a human force alive that could get through Son Chichi's mama bear tendencies - at least if that force didn't want to end up in bloody pieces. Though he could understand why the company would want to make sure he was protected, Gohan was already picturing how this new development would inconvenience him. He couldn't exactly shake a group of ordinary humans looking after him while he tried to fly home from work or tried to go see Videl.
The young intern immediately suppressed a groan at that thought. Videl, how would he go about seeing her with a protective detail around him? The convenience of flying to her had been making their relationship work better than he could have possibly hoped. With people keeping an eye on him, there was no way he could go see her, or if he did, he'd have to make the trip in the conventional way - and that would be at least an hour each way from here.
"In the meantime," the President began talking, tearing Gohan out of his depressing thoughts, "because both of your homes are beyond habitable, the company has made arrangements for you both at the Blue Hotel. It's very comfortable, with the added advantage of being just around the corner from the office. I hope this is acceptable."
"It is," Kirsty immediately replied, Gohan finding himself nodding his acceptance as well. "The gesture is much appreciated."
Returning to his thoughts, the dark-haired youth found himself crossing off one of his problems. Now he wouldn't have to worry about flying home; he could maintain his appearance as a normal intern without anyone being the wiser. Plus, this could buy him some time with his house hunting with Videl. Yeah - yeah, this could work.
However, there were still pressing issues, specifically the one his father had brought to him last night. They knew now that the arsonist captured by his mom was a hired hand with a specific list of targets, and that he had a partner who was planning something big. Unfortunately, there wasn't much more information than that. The man hadn't indicated what his partner was up to or where he would strike. At best, they only had a description of him, which was better than nothing. Now if only they could figure out what Goku's actual description of him was... And the other targeted people's.
In a city as big as this, there were all kinds of events taking place that involved large gatherings of people - music concerts, festivals, parties - an attack at one of these places could injure hundreds, if not thousands just because one person in that crowd was a target.
A nightmare scenario he never wanted to see the light of day.
In the small makeshift study, Videl sat - injured leg stretched out on a secondary chair, keen eyes glued to the bright of the screen. The methodical clanking of her keystrokes filled the otherwise silent space, as her hands glided.
...It can also be argued that the excess drain on judicial resources, she typed, the dark hue of purply-green lines jumping beneath her skin...is not entirely justifiable to the hardworking taxpayer.
She paused, eyes narrowing in contemplation as she read over her work. Drumming her fingers on the palmrest, she bit her lip indecisively at the text. A second later, she hit the backspace key, erasing the last sentence altogether.
Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, the dark haired girl turned to the thick textbook spread open just next to her laptop. Scowling, she scanned through the text highlighted in pink, her face contorting into familiar disgust. As far as she was concerned, the whole book was nothing but sentimental trash from a bum who'd never even faced off with a real life criminal in his life. She had no idea why the academics clung to his writings so badly, spreading them around the teaching institutions like some kind of authority on the subject of handling criminals.
Turning her gaze back to the screen, she ransacked her brain for the eloquence to highlight the ridiculousness of some of these concepts. The whole book just...pissed her off, just like the author - that stuffy Prof Sinu.
She pursed, lining up her fingers, ...The idea that everyone can be rehabilitated, she began, her eyes shooting daggers at her screen as if the poor text had personally birthed the very concepts she despised ...is as naive as it is STUPID! Her knuckles blanched as she pounded on the undeserving keys, STUPID and DUMB! Just like you stupid professor! She added, chuckling at the thought of actually submitting her thesis with these comments. She would even bypass a crime in the making just to be there to see the look on his face. Pity, she could never do such a thing, not if she hoped to get her Masters. A sigh, as she backspaced the text - erasing all evidence of her feelings with a regretful glance.
And suddenly her eyes were lighting up, beelining to her phone when the familiar melody started going off, only to dim a second later in disappointment when she saw the number. Sighing once more, she picked up with just a tap of the finger, hitting the speaker button shortly after. "This is Videl," she answered evenly, the horizontal stroke of the cursor blinking impatiently from the glare of the white background.
"How's that unfortunate leg doing?" a melodic voice crooned from the speakers.
"Better than yesterday," she said, the edges of her mouth tilting in amusement. Despite her earlier disappointment, she was glad to hear from Satan City's Chief Prosecutor.
"I'll bet," the other woman chuckled. "Must have hurt like hell though," she said sympathetically. "Pity I won't get a personal shot at those barbarians in court."
"Hardly a pity," said the grad student. "That would be an extreme waste of your talents," she waved the idea off, "that bunch was nothing but small-fry." Eyes stoning over, the light amusement drained out of her voice as she posed her next question. "So, any news on-"
"That's why I'm calling," the prosecutor injected evenly, with a firm voice. "Trial has been moved up to tomorrow. Are you up to taking the stand?"
"I'm still breathing, aren't I? What time do you want me?"
"I'll send a car for you at seven, that should give us some time to prep before you take the stand."
"You're killing my beauty sleep here, that means I have to be up at six!"
The other woman chuckled. "My evil ploy to remain the fairest revealed," she added, and Videl could almost see her green eyes glinting in amusement. "Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast - you'll need the energy," she added.
"For what? I'll be sitting on my ass answering questions - useless."
"Trust me, you'll need it. The defense attorney is notorious for picking witnesses apart. He's rather skilled at looping them round in circles until they're tripping all over their words. This guy's never lost a case."
Videl snorted. "Because he's never been up against you before. I'll be ready for him don't worry."
Rich cackles of laughter filled the room from the other end of the line. "I'll take that confidence instead of a second cup of coffee to get me through my morning," she said. "I'll see you bright and early tomorrow."
The call ended to the sound of a closing door that was quickly followed by soft footsteps paddling down the short corridor. "Ms V? Where did you disappear to?" called the familiar voice of her best-friend.
"I'm in here Erasa," she called back, raising her arms into the air in one long fluid stretch.
"What's this? Attacking the books so early in morning?" remarked the blonde as she skipped in, looking rather unkempt in the same skimpy white dress she'd had on yesterday.
"It's almost noon Erasa, I was expecting you back this morning."
"Miss me did you?" she smirked, leaning against the desk with the edges cutting into her leg as she stood facing her. "Yes well, I barely slept last night so I made up for it this morning."
Videl rolled her eyes. "Well, that's obvious. You look a mess. You have clothes and everything at his place don't you?"
"So? I happen to like my own shower better. Now," her face lit up. "Tell me everything! Should I be stripping the bed? Did Cloud Guy finally introduce you to the pleasures of the flesh?"
"Eww! Erasa!" she lifted her good leg and stabbed her foot into her best friend's stomach. "Nothing happened!"
"What do you mean Eww?" the blonde smacked her off. "Are you prudish and asexual? What reason do you have for not jumping him?"
"It might come as a shock to an obsessed nymph like you, but some of us are actually content to spend quality time with just good conversation."
"Please," Erasa snorted, folding her arms. "Tell me that after Cloud Guy's been between your legs."
Aghast, Videl snatched the bulky textbook with its offending ideas and tossed it at her friend, hitting her square in the scarcely covered chest, face red with mortification.
Head tipping back, shoulders quaking, Erasa merely burst into laughter, the thin straps of her dress threatening to slide off her tiny shoulders. "Try not to make this so easy for me to scandalize you, will ya?" mirth danced in those blue her eyes.
Cheeks burning, Videl opened her mouth to speak but turned away instead, her eyes taking a sudden interest in her thesis. She exhaled, willing her brain to stop that image from implanting itself in her mind. Besides, she should have been used to her friend's loose mouth by now.
"Aww, come on," said Erasa. "You're too old to be embarrassed by such things. Let me tell you what we did last night."
"No thank you!" she covered her ears with her hands. She had enough of those kind of images swimming around her head now. Erasa was such a pain.
"Jeesh," said Pain's arms went up in exasperation. "Some friend you are," she pouted. "Good thing I've got my cousin's wedding this weekend, at least she'll listen to my stories."
Videl didn't even glance her way, she didn't dare, her face was still flaming from that comment. She was so incredibly attracted to Gohan that the mere suggestion of them doing that ...well, it definitely set a fire of something burning in her stomach. She bit her lip...that kiss last Saturday on the couch... pity she'd fallen asleep last night before something interesting could even happen. She blew out a breath, kicking herself and the stupid pain meds.
"So," her friend's voice pulled her out of her thoughts. "Since you didn't get any last night," she glared. "Did you at least settle the issue about your costumes to the fundraiser?"
"Uh, yeah, sorted. I called dad's stylist this morning, she has people working on my costume already. I guess I should ask if he needs help with his?"
Erasa's face fell. "Bummer, so you're really going to dress up in some fighter drab? How dull."
"Actually-" she began to say, but was cut short by the welcome melody of her ringtone. On pins, her eyes flitted to her phone once again, and this time her features softened under the wrinkles of a fully fledged smile. "It's Gohan, go away and shower or something, filthy girl..." she dismissed with a wave of her hand, and then she picked up the silver device vibrating from on the table.
"Hi," Videl answered with near breathlessness, turning her eyes from the blonde just to do a double take and glare when the shamelessly disheveled girl began to speak in that 'blonde voice' that she did so well and it was deliberately loud.
"Oh, Cloud Guy!" she mock-moaned, batting her eyes as she rubbed her chest. "I can't wait to get you all hot and sweaty and inside my-" and then she was shrieking and chuckling, picking up the weighty tome that Videl'd just sent flying her way and thankfully taking her leave soon after.
"Hey," came the much anticipated masculine voice, the reverberating tone spreading a sheet of warmth that stretched all the way to her toes, blanketing out the retreating footsteps of her best friend.
Kirsty hugged herself tighter when a harsher gust rushed by. It wasn't cold - far from it, given the season. But...that feverish feeling she despised - that sign of weakness was chilling her; mind, body and soul. For a moment she craved her designer winter coat - the red one - the one probably being scattered around town in tiny little pieces as carelessly as the white smoke from the cigarette between her fingers.
She hated smoking - she truly did - but what she hated about it the most was how herculean of a task it was to quit the first time around - gum, patches and psycho-crap galore. She sighed, not really caring right now, since the damn thing was being successful at calming her down - as she'd known it would. It was all she could hope for at this specific point in her life. One in which every single person on the street, strangers and acquaintances alike, either passing by or hanging around - was definitely out to get her.
"I didn't know you smoked," a voice scared the shit out of her. Stealthy son of a bitch!
"Dammit, Son! Don't scare me like that!"
"I thought you heard the door close."
"Well, I didn't," Kirsty stated the obvious, taking a long puff from her cigarette.
"Sorry, about that," he said after an annoying chuckle, with that sheepish smile and that hand behind his neck. She wouldn't go as far as to find it not cute but damn him... How could he be so... so carefree and untroubled like this? These guys were after them both, and they'd nearly succeeded with her! And then the nerve of his next question... "Are you ok?"
"Just nice and dandy," she scoffed out of contempt, even if she knew he didn't really deserved it. Looking down to her cigarette, she snorted at the tiny zig-zags that the smoke was tracing at its tip, attesting to her shaky hand. Because he'd scared her, that's all. And she was cold.
Her body tensed and she shot daggers at his hand when it reached over to touch her shoulder. That muscle just beneath her left nostril reacted and tugged at her lip as a warning, a reminder for the intruder on who he was dealing with.
A determined frown darkened his eyes as they glared back at her but they were not dark at all, she noticed. They radiated warmth and conviction, and she could hear them in her head. "Trust me. It's going to be ok. We'll get those bastards," they spoke in a jumble and she accepted all of it.
A single microscopic nod was her own silent response and it was enough for him to release his grip. When did that jaw become so chiseled and those elbows so wide? And why were they helping to even out her heartbeats? As if a flimsy geek like him - an intern - would be able to protect her from anything other than a fly on the wall. And she wouldn't want his help even if he could! She was more than able to take care of herself. Still...
"Can you... can you walk with me? To the hotel?" She whispered, looking away, just kind of hoping he wouldn't have heard her say it.
"Hum, shouldn't we... take the company car?" He asked with a pinch of hesitation and she couldn't smother the smirk that crept up her face. Oh, how she loved that uneasiness, it just made her day. Good little intern...
"If you'd rather wait for half an hour instead of going for a two minute walk," she responded with an extra dose of sarcasm, just for kicks, just so he'd squirm that tiniest bit more. Delightful...
"Oh... ok," he said, solemnly enough. "But... how about your injury? You shouldn't be putting any weight on that leg, let alone walk. Even if it's just around the corner."
True, her doctor explained as much, but she never listened to those people, anyway. Why would she start now? The lit stub in her fingers flew to the ground and her head shook.
"I'll be fine. The sooner we get there, the faster I can get some rest," she offered as justification and started walking, sure that he would follow suit.
"Wait," Kirsty heard him say faintly, unsure, and in that very same second her superior frown returned in full. Was he still questioning her? Talk about annoying... She looked back over her shoulder but just barely since he teleported right to her side, grabbing her arm by the wrist.
"What do you think you're doing?" Kirsty asked, loud and pitchy, and he had the nerve to pretend like he didn't hear her, only reacting with a step closer to her body. Too close... so much so that her mouth revolted with air instead of words just out of pure shock. Gohan was embracing her side-by-side when he finally looked down to meet her glare, the faintest shade of a blush on his cheeks.
"I assumed you wouldn't let me pick you up and actually carry you there," he explained in a low, raspy voice and was absolutely correct, but... embracing her wasn't an option either! He started pacing slowly and she found her body being dragged right along, with no effort and surprisingly pain free. And he was so warm too...
The silence was nowhere near comfortable but halfway there she was relaxed enough to stop pushing against and away from his body, tightening her hold on his waist and letting him actually help her.
The ample lobby was big and toasty as they arrived at the hotel, not nearly as eerie as the darkening city outside and as such she instinctively pulled herself away from Gohan only to accomplish nothing since he didn't budge on his grip or on his momentum. Had he even noticed it? Damn tree trunks for arms and what not... where did he get those, anyway? Reluctantly, she allowed his help to drag her those few extra steps to the wide marbled desk with a young woman in a ghastly blue uniform behind it. Gohan released her there and she leaned over it for support.
Pleasantries and key cards were exchanged and their rooms assigned, and a few minutes later they were entering one of the hotels suites but she wasn't walking anymore. He was carrying her in his arms... When did that happen? Her mouth opened to curse one of those standardized speeches she kept ready to go at all times - how dare he touch her without her permission? - but then realized that it was more of an embarrassment to have taken this long to lash out than to actually allow the interaction. And she felt so incredibly heavy, too...
Gohan walked over to the master bedroom and placed her down on the mattress, slowly and with care. The bed was so squishy and comfortable that she just wanted to sprawl back and sink into it and her dreams, since they were always so much less complicated than real life... Although, she hadn't really slept since it happened, so... maybe her subconscious was not a peaceful retreat anymore. Would anything ever be again?
"So... listen," Kirsty heard the young man hesitate and automatically stood up as tall as her bruised ribs would permit. Maybe she didn't really look the part right now but she was still a highly respected businesswoman. They wouldn't take that away from her. "My grandfather has a personal guard service at his disposal for various reasons. I called him about our situation, so he's sending one of his men here to watch over you, ok?"
"Absolutely not!" Kirsty shot back in answer like it was second nature; one that came with those three little words - watch over you... Pffft, like she needed it.
"Because," she started, calm words to disguise her stormy interior. "I don't want some damn stranger watching me while I sleep." It wasn't exactly a lie, anyway.
"He's not a stranger," Gohan refuted. "He's a reputable professional and a trustworthy individual. I wouldn't have suggested it otherwise." Again, his words were cherry-picked to appease her into submission, but she wouldn't budge; her glare made that very clear.
Gohan sighed in defeat, continuing. "Look, he's already on his way, so..."
"What?" Kirsty shrieked in outrage.
"The police won't be able to send anyone to protect you soon enough and I ju-"
"They'll send an officer first thing in the morning," Kirsty cut off again, repeating the information as it was pointed out to them earlier in the day.
"That's not soon enough," Gohan fired back immediately, louder than before, a growl more than an actual statement. She could feel her defenses liquefying into mush and sinking to her feet, stone walls years in the making crumbling down like pebbles with his rumbling voice. "Please, Kirsty," he breathed out in a sigh.
The intensity in his words took her aback into a moment of silence, raw and overpowering in a way she'd never expect of him. So... manly. How long had it been since she felt like this - tiny yet not inferior? "Just until the police sends someone," she found herself whispering, averting her eyes to anywhere other than his beseeching ones. He walked closer and sighed again but this time as if relieved, wavering over his next move but deciding to go for it in the end.
His arms encircled her very gently and just like that... they were hugging.
Sunset arrived as a blood-red horizon with grey, lifeless clouds hovering over the caps of Mt. Frypan not unlike crusts of hardened blood scabbing over a fresh wound. The small police station nestled under the open mouth of the large tooth-like rock at the edge of the village was somber and near deserted at this time.
The day shift had just departed with a noisy shuffle, leaving the grave floors quiet and barren with only the whirring and dripping of the old A/C as it struggled to blow cold air into the room, leaking droplets of condensed vapor to the peeling floor.
At the corner of the room, behind the large working table sat Gohan. The young man was focused, his shoulders hunched, dark eyes riveted to the LCD in front of him trying to ignore the rote dribbling of the A/C unit. Tapping his foot lightly beneath the table, the young engineer's fingers meticulously dragged and clicked on the mouse-pad with a speed the stiff red-headed Inspector standing behind him couldn't follow. He was glad to be working with someone who knew his secrets, this way he didn't have to slow down his search by trying to appear normal. After all, the processor like speed with which he was scrolling through Synergy's staff page would leave anyone but a select few feeling rather dizzy.
The door connecting the quiet interior of the little station with the outside squeaked open, stealing his concentration for a second as he unconsciously lifted his head towards the source. In walked three middle-aged men dressed sloppily in uniform. They seemed to be be dragging their feet, their jelly bellies bouncing to the tune of their stifled yawns. Ah, the night shift. He didn't have to turn around to see the reaction of the Inspector at their tardy arrival, he could feel it in the murderous aura emanating from behind him.
He almost smiled as the trio's sluggish entry came to an abrupt halt, followed by a rather poor attempt to straighten up when their unexpecting gazes fell to the corner. To find the disapproving Inspector (who was usually home at this hour) still at the station was clearly a shock. No doubt the presence of the Ox King's grandson and son-in-law was also a sobering anomaly to their usual routine. Inelegantly, they mumbled a few sheepish greetings, fumbling with their hats and collars, before they shuffled to their respective stations.
"Humph," was all the Inspector said, followed by a slight rustle of fabric which Gohan suspected was the Inspector folding his arms. His eyes twinkled, coming alight with misplaced mischief. He shook his head, lowering his eyes back to the screen.
Just then, his phone buzzed, making him sigh with exasperation. Ever since he'd been added to that group chat...he'd been privy to all kinds of disturbing information and pictures. Reluctantly, he picked up his phone and clicked on the notification. Oh boy, he shook his head, reading the attachment sent from Anre's number with 'ROLMA' underneath. 'Man stuns police by suing prostitute for misrepresenting the size of her chest on the telephone.' Not bothering with the rest, he closed the screen and shut off his phone. He didn't have time for such foolishness.
Hmm? From the corner of his eye, he spied his father. The oldest Son was supposed to be paying attention to the screen, but he seemed to be miles away, rotating his wrist languidly from his position on the table, where he sat, orange clad legs and black boots dangling to the ground.
Gohan's brows immediately dipped when he noticed the spherical bulb of Ki as it bounced slowly from his father's hands – up and down, rolling from his palm to the back of his hand in a repetitive motion. Seriously? There were people around! And as usual, his father didn't even seem to care! Squinting his eyes, the dark haired youth could feel his irritation mounting with every roll of his dad's wrist. He knew exactly what this was - a mindless indicator of the older man's restlessness and growing boredom.
"Dad..." he scowled in disapproval.
"I'm focused, honest!" was the immediate response, big guilty eyes blinking down at him innocently.
An audible "Harumph" mirroring his own feelings erupted from the Inspector behind him.
Gohan could hardly blame the thin man, his father's eyes kept darting from screen to door, from screen to window and from screen to...anything really, in a manner identical to Goten's from back in the days when he'd been trying to teach him his ABC's. The youngest Son had been anything but focused, the allure of the outside hosting all kinds of undiscovered secrets of Mt. Paozu had been far more interesting to him. Wiggly scribbles on a dull page had never been able to hold his interest for long. The little Squirt's attention span had been way too short, his eyes simply too curious - a combination that had made him a near impossible student in those days.
Despite what was shaping up to being a horrible day, he took the time to smile fondly at those memories. Life had been much, much simpler in those days. Now everything in his life felt... complicated. Work, the constant jumble of his feelings and his relationship with Videl... well, the Videl part was a welcome complication in any case.
He smiled a little wider this time; definitely welcome. His mood slightly improved, he turned much rounder eyes up to his father. "At least, put out the Ki Dad," he said. "You might scare someone."
"But I'm bored," he whined as the ball of Ki diminished. "Can I pop in at your grandpa's for a sec, I'm sure your mom's cooking something delicious?"
"Not yet Dad, just a little while longer." It was clear to Gohan that Goten took after their dad in more than just looks. Seriously though, they'd only been at the station working on identifying the list of targets for less than an hour and his dad was already tuckered out from boredom.
When he'd arrived from the hotel, his father and the Inspector were already at the station. A frail, salt and peppered haired woman was sitting with them. She was a sketch artist called in by the Inspector in an effort to pull the faces of the targets from his father's brain. Nowadays, the big cities with mountain sized police budgets had thriving forensic art departments boasting very sophisticated systems in place for composite sketching. Mt. Frypan was certainly not one of them, they still relied heavily on the freelance talents of various individuals. By the time he'd arrived though, the poor thing was nearly in tears from the frustration of dealing with his father.
He'd immediately sympathized, he was no expert but he knew from his studies that a composite session was an extreme exercise of human communication and drawing. One that challenged the skills of an artist to understand and illustrate words of description to the highest level of performance. And his father's descriptions...'big froggy eyes' and 'funny bird hair' would no doubt be more than a challenge to even the most highly trained of forensic artists.
He'd been quick to bring the Inspector up to speed with the new developments, explaining about Kirsty and the explosion at her house. Then he'd rescued the sketch artist, sending her home until further notice. He'd then set up his laptop, opening up the staff page of Blue Inc. for his father's perusal. As he'd expected, his old man's eyes had lit up with recognition the minute he'd seen Kirsty's stoic face staring back at them from her employee photo.
"That's the face!" he'd exclaimed triumphantly. "The one I told you, with the big froggy eyes," he made big circles with his fingers, cupping them above his eyes like a pair of binoculars. "Just like this, all sad and hungry," he chuckled.
"Dad! She does not look sad, or hungry and definitely not 'froggy'! She looks perfectly normal."
"But those eyes!" his father had insisted, proceeding to demonstrate again with his hands.
He'd grumbled in dismay, no wonder Kirsty had not come to mind last night while his father had given him his brief descriptions of the suspected targets. She was nothing like he'd described!
His next step had been to take his father through the entire Blue Inc. staff list, and thankfully Kirsty's face was the only one he'd recognised, which had been both a relief and worrying. A relief that none of his other colleagues were in immediate danger, but worrying because he'd been at a temporary loss as to how to proceed identifying the other six. He'd then traced his steps, loading the known faces of the individuals that had worked hands-on on the case like himself and Kirsty. Which is where Synergy had come in - they were the other stakeholders in this investigation after all.
He'd started off by keying in the names of the duo he'd met yesterday. The same duo that had compiled the report that had ultimately saved his ass, courtesy of Kirsty's efficient networking. But... upon loading their faces, his father had merely stared at them dumbly without so much as a flicker of recognition.
"Uh... who are they?" he'd scratched the back of his head.
"The guys I told you about, the ones who let me use their evidence and findings."
"If you say so," he'd said doubtfully. "But they're not the ones."
His spirits sank, he'd been sure about them too, but it... seemed he was wrong. And now he was eighty seven per cent through with the Synergy staff list and he still had no idea who the other six were. And worst of all, even worse than that annoying dripping of the A/C was the fact that his father's attention and interest in the task at hand seemed to be fading as quickly as the hoard of faces and names of Synergy employees passing through his screen.
He briefly considered sending a blast to incinerate the leaking appliance, but quickly reeled in his mounting frustration before it exploded. He continued to scroll through the remaining thirteen percent of the list instead, that is until he spied the veins lining the back of his father's hand as they began to jerk and move under his skin. White knuckled, Gohan gripped the edge of the table. Once again his father was rolling a small glowing ball, eyes darting around haphazardly. He was so not paying attention!
"Dad..." he began, but his upcoming lecture was cut short because his father's child-like eyes eyes suddenly lost their pitiful forlornness. They had swiftly shifted, darkening in a focused gaze, as his irises riveted on the screen.
"Her," he pointed at the current image. "I saw her face."
"Are you sure?" Gohan squinted at the picture. He didn't recognise this person at all. Big orange hair, glasses and a small benign, pear-shaped face. He had no idea who she was.
"I'm sure," said Goku. "The one that looks like that pretty choo-choo bird they keep locked up in Bulma's bird garden."
Right. He'd said something about a choo-choo bird woman last night outside Erasa's apartment as well. Why couldn't he just describe people normally? Still, he supposed he did have a point on this one though. The lady in the picture's coloring was milky and fair like the endangered bird's soft plumage. But, the main likeness to the cockatoo was her big orange hair, it was bright and flamboyant like the orange crest of the poor species facing extinction. Something the bird and his father had in common he supposed.
His eyes moved from her face to the bold italic writing under the picture. 'Fulvia Cholpov' it said. 'Senior Engineer/Quality Inspector - Civil & Structural Engineering'
He drummed his fingers on the large desk, trying to figure out how he knew the name. The face was a blank but the name...
"Know her?" his father chirped, he seemed to have cheered up some, now that he'd identified a face.
"That name," he said, roaming his eyes back to her face, then down to her name then...
"Shit," his eyelids lowered in despair as a disgusted sigh eased from his lungs. His hands shook slightly as he attacked his keyboard with ferocious strokes. "Shit," he muttered again, pulling up the original file from Synergy. He scrolled to the recommendations page and scanned through the names, sure enough, that's where he'd seen the name before. 'Fulvia Cholpov' was listed and CC'd. She was tasked with inspecting another project that was constructed at the same time as the Golden bridge - a project that was now suspected to have used the same faulty materials as its fallen predecessor. Just to be thorough, and to limit liability, the insurance companies that had commissioned Synergy had insisted that this project be inspected as well - just as a precaution.
"Damn it! Why didn't I think of this?" he pulled the window with his emails. He quickly pulled up the search window and typed 'Brief Bridge Kirsty', then fixed his eye on the spinning circle as it loaded. He then moved his pointer to the very first email she'd sent him, pulling the original brief sent to Blue Inc. from the police. He scanned the document, until he reached the information he needed - two names. Then he ran a general search for their names on the internet.
As expected, as soon as the faces of the two CSI's from the police who'd handled the case before Blue Inc. was brought in, as well as the face of the prosecutor preparing the case for trial had come on screen, his father had nodded in recognition.
"Yeah, them too."
Okay, so there was definitely a pattern now, he knew exactly what they were after. Which made a total of six people - six targets, himself included. It was progress, definitely progress, but...six out of eight still left two unidentified. A talk with the prosecutor should help in the identification of the other stakeholders he was using to build his case. Hopefully, the other three could be identified then.
Feeling a little lighter now, he swiveled his chair round to face the stone faced man behind him. "What do you think Inspector? Why don't you speak with the police in Blue and Gold city? These people need immediate protection. In the meantime I'll call the Gold City prosecutor and see what he makes of all this."
Why did she feel so hot? The night was actually cold - chilling, even - and she was just walking around, pacing through some city she didn't recognize. Where was she going, anyway?
Was... was someone following her? … They were! She could hear the footsteps, knocking in an echo all across the empty streets. They were getting closer, louder; her breaths faster and forced. They were coming for her! The ones who blew up her house. The ones that tried to kill her; they had come to finish the job. "Leave me alone!" she yelled from the top of her lungs but they were so weighted with fear that it came out pitchy and despaired.
The street lights went out into complete darkness. She never felt so scared, so defenseless; shivering from a cold she didn't feel but that was ghosting her breaths. "Kirsty..." a voice called, faint and unearthly.
"No.." she pleaded, quietly through sobs and pants. Her knees gave in and she collapsed to the ground, closing her eyes . She didn't want to see it coming.. "Please..."
"Kirsty..." Louder, closer. A hand touched her shoulder.
The lights came back on as she opened her eyes, crawling away from that touch to wherever, however; adrenaline curing all her wounds as of right now. She flung into a corner on the carpeted floor and crouched down to a ball, desperately small, covering her drenched face - sweated and teared - with trembling hands.
"Kirsty," the voice spoke again but this time it felt warm and kind. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Yeah, right. It was surely lying, toying with her hopes for its own sadistic gratification. Her loud and shaky breaths were all that was heard around the room for what seemed like eternity and the voice was actually keeping its promise. Would she dare a peek? Certainly it wouldn't wait to kill her just because she wasn't looking... right?
Kirsty gathered up that speckle of courage that hadn't fled with all the rest and gapped a single slit between her fingers. The man was smiling back at her, his soft features contrasting with the jagged ridges that crossed his face. "Hey," he said.
"Who are you? Why are you here?" Kirsty barked all at once. "And how do you know my name?"
"Gohan sent me," were the man's only words and they actually responded all of her questions. It didn't really put her at ease but at least he wasn't a complete stranger.
"You're that bodyguard," Kirsty concluded, mostly to herself.
"I'm a friend," he corrected and the softness in his voice spared no room for disbelief. It was like a slow tune that calmed her heartbeats but even so, she couldn't let that final jab hanging from the tip of her tongue.
"Friends don't barge into people's hotel rooms like that," she resolved with mimicked spite.
"I had a keycard. I knocked and heard you scream, so I came in. You were having a nightmare," the man explained and it all made sense in her head, every single word. The faith she had in a total stranger was not something she was comfortable with but nothing in the past few hours would make that specific cut, so... what the hell. At least she'd have a really cute guy for an assassin if he was really here to kill her… great, she really was losing her mind, now...
"Hey," he said again, winning back her attention. His hand was reaching out to her. "How about you get up from there and help me take care of those huge pizzas I brought along? You must be starving."
She absolutely, truly was and smiled shyly in accordance, reaching for his strong hand. He took it but let go of it right after to reach closer and under her arms, slowly helping her up. With a nod, she said, "thank you" and, "I'll take it from here" at the same time and he took the hint, stepping up and over to the living room area in front of her. Man, if he'd only brought some beer she'd marry him on the spot.
"Oh, and I also brought beer."
A grin surfaced on her face, slowly and unexpected. Kirsty stopped and leaned against the threshold behind him, trying her best to hide it away when he turned to look back at her, his warm expression mimicking her own. "What?" he asked, a bemused look in his eye.
She didn't respond, drinking in the tall man, head to toe. They stared at each other; seconds or minutes... who knew? After a while, she finally answered with a question of her own.
"What's your name?" she asked, her ethereal tone uninvited but she didn't mind.
The second he took was too long and that slight blush on his cheeks just too adorable. A handsome stranger... the night could've ended up much worse, couldn't it?
"Yamcha," he responded... what a beautiful name.
He knew he shouldn't be doing this. It was verging on addiction now but he'd be damned if there was anything he could do about it.
Gohan flew faster than he normally would given the hour, telling himself that he'd actually get there in time if he did. She was sound asleep by now and if the pitch black sky wasn't enough evidence for his irrational mindset then her ki signature would make it undeniable - mellow and steady - indicative of a relaxed slumber.
He knew she was having a big day tomorrow - he knew it. She'd told him as much when he'd had to call her earlier from the station, cancelling on their plans for a quiet dinner at Erasa's. Shitty as he'd felt for doing it, he'd had no choice. The call he'd placed to the Gold City prosecutor had left him shaken. Instead of reaching the intended man, his assistant had picked up. "...there was a terrible accident this morning, he didn't make it. We'll be making an official announcement tomorrow."
He'd had to cancel, the need to protect the other targets had rained down on him with a cold desperate urgency that couldn't be ignored, especially after the dismissive response the Inspector had received from Blue and Gold city. They'd rejected him as a wack, a crackpot from a barbaric, backward Kingdom that got lost in the dark ages. They had refused to listen, laughing at the Inspector's attempts as he all but begged for their assistance in the case. So he'd had to fly around, calling in favors here and there from his friends to make sure that Fulvia Cholpov and the two CSI's were being watched. Which is what he'd spent the bulk of the night doing.
It was after midnight now, no doubt she'd been sleeping for hours - so why couldn't he just let it go? Let her go. She had a big day tomorrow, and the last thing she needed was being roused at this ungodly hour. It was bad enough that her voice had been so heavily laced with disappointment.
"It's okay," she'd struggled to keep it even. "I have to sleep early anyway. I have to give a testimony in court first thing in the morning about that bank robbery that I told you about, the one where the guard was killed. Erasa's at her boyfriend's so I'll have a sandwich and go straight to bed. Nyte Nimbzy."
He'd felt so shitty, not being there for her at a time like this, remembering how depressed she'd been about that guard on Saturday. Having to testify, having to face his killer in court, was going to be hard on her. Videl needed her sleep but he selfishly needed her more than that.
He'd just passed the Blue hotel - right there in the distance, jagging the horizon as he looked back - but there wasn't a fiber in his being that impelled him to go there apart from that speckle of decorum that was tarnishing his brain. There was nothing he could do, though. Gohan knew where he should have been going, but his heart was hundreds of miles away - literally.
The damn cell phone vibrated yet again in his pants' pocket but he chose to ignore it altogether this time. Most likely just another crude remark about some 'piece of ass' that one of his fellow interns was checking out at some club downtown during one of their 'hunting sprees' - their words, obviously. Maybe the whole 'group chat' thing was a bad idea after all...
He sighed. Not only from his so-called friends' all but vulgar behaviour but because he was dead tired. It had been hours since he'd last been able to call himself a productive individual but he couldn't just have clocked out without making sure that every single one of those targets were safe and guarded, for tonight at least. He'd think of something else in the morning.
His target neared, coming in the form of the tall apartment building and Gohan was quick to touch down at its top, knowing the front door to be invariably kept locked for security reasons to anyone but the residents. He took the stairs instead of the elevator since it'd be faster and he knew that standing around waiting for a metal box to come and meet him would only add to his building sense of anxiety. Coming over unannounced in the middle of the night was already getting the job done in that front, but even that wasn't enough to make him stop, turn around, leave. Videl's phone was turned off - out of battery because only that'd do the trick, as he came to realize - and even if he wouldn't admit to it, he was extremely glad that it was. If he'd been able to make that call she would've picked up and they would've talked... but he wouldn't get to see her. Selfish, yes - he'd admit to that sin - but he was only human. Well... mostly.
Gohan stopped at the door, hand ready for a knock but still hesitant. Ultimately, he just stopped fighting it, rationalizing how pointless it was to avoid a need as basic and raw as bringing air into his lungs. He just hoped she'd see it that way...
He knocked twice, knowing it wouldn't be enough and kept at it until he heard movement inside. Damn, he thought, grimacing when his sensitive hearing picked up on that velcro sound he recognized instantly. She was putting on the removable leg cast and forcing her weight on her wounded leg again; because of him. It totally slipped his mind and he punched himself internally for it, ignoring the little voice in his head that reminded him of his hypocrisy. It wouldn't have changed anything even if he did remember. He needed to see her that bad.
"Videl, it's me," he said calmly to detract from the feeling of urgency he sensed through the spike in her ki. It didn't work exactly how he'd hoped and he could do nothing but just stand there while she seemed to rush even faster, listening to the rustling sound of her foot as it grazed in struggle against the floor. Damn... he shook his head absentmindedly.
"Gohan?" Her voice made it through to him as she flung the door open. "I went to bed 'cause I thought you weren't coming." She rubbed her eyes. "Are you okay?"
He most certainly was not 'okay' since he'd suddenly forgot how to breathe. She stumbled to reach closer, cupping both his cheeks and locking her half-lidded eyes onto his, and he just wished for the willpower to keep the connection because he just didn't want to be caught staring back down at what she was wearing. Tiny sleeping shorts and a tiny tank top, nothing else. Nothing else... he noticed that pretty clearly.
Her lazy blues were fighting for focus, inspecting every inch of his face for evidence of harm and her frown smacked him right out of his revving. It showed the concern that was alarming her heart and he made an effort to ignore it, lest it clench his own with guilt for putting it there.
Gohan placed his own hands on top of hers and closed his eyes, letting their warmth melt his insides to nothing. This was why he came. That touch meant everything and he wondered how a person could make the world seem so perfect by just existing in it.
"Gohan?" Videl repeated and he came to his senses again. She didn't wait for his words to pull him inside by the arm.
"I'm okay," he said first and foremost. "I'm sorry, I know it's la-"
"What happened?" Her hands touched his chest and stole a beat from his heart.
"I just... I..." What was he to say? Everything sounded so greedy in his head, so infantile and immature. But he couldn't have waited for tomorrow; he just couldn't. His body spoke for him and took charge for his brain, leaning over into a hug that he was honestly beginning to grow desperate for. He held her in his arms and swore to whomever would listen that he'd never let go again.
What a horrible, horrible day - those seemed to have become the constant instead of the exception - but at least he had her. In his arms right now and in his life for as long as she'd take him. "I just needed this," he whispered absentmindedly.
Videl hugged him back - thankfully - and he held her tighter still. No, this was definitely nothing like it, he realized. That other hug he'd shared with Kirsty back at the hotel; that one had felt warm - comfortable in a way he wasn't expecting - it had felt right in every way but... nothing like this. That was a hug. This was home.
"Rough day?" Videl asked after a while, her voice muffled a bit against his chest.
"Just..." he sighed, breathing her in. "Just awful."
They held each other for a moment longer, then she pulled back. "How about some hot chocolate and you tell me all about it," she suggested, looking up with a soft little smile that fueled his own.
"I'd love that," Gohan answered quietly and they went on to do just that, taking to the kitchen. It was just ahead at the end of the corridor but he immediately categorized the path as just too damn long; too much for the beautiful wounded woman beside him. He wouldn't have it and proceeded to pick her up, taking extra caution with her casted limb as he did and resuming their way.
"Gohan! What are you doing?" Videl squealed out in surprise and hurried to snake her arms around his neck for added support. Not that she needed to - he'd never let her fall.
"Since I've forced you out of bed, the least I can do is help you move around."
"I don't need help, I'm fine!"
"And I don't want you putting weight on that leg any more than you have to," Gohan promptly rebutted, entering the kitchen and pulling at the closest chair with his foot. As carefully as he picked her up he put her down again, placing her meticulously in the padded seat.
She humphed as he turned his back on her, stepping away towards the counter area but not before catching a glimpse of her gaped lips as they prepared to further voice her objections. The words never made it but a sigh did. He let out just the slightest smirk at the victory. He could just imagine that adorable pout.
Gohan explored the cabinets for the supplies he needed and soon enough joined Videl at the table, the sweet vapor, filled with chocolaty goodness, gathered at his nostrils and furrowed its way directly into that childhood memory he adored. The beverage was the only thing his father had ever been able to 'cook' - if you could call it that - and it was the one thing he begged his mother to teach him how to prepare when Goten became old enough to actually drink it. At least he'd have that one thing of their father's...
The beverage worked wonders on his mood and the self-loathing that was tiring him earlier gave way to a re-energized frustration. He looked over to Videl as she lifted the ceramic cup to her lips for yet another sip, closing her eyes and sighing in delight. The image tugged at the corner of his lip. As disheveled as her hair was, as dark as the bags under her eyes showed through, she was still so incredibly beautiful and attractive that he would blush just at the thought if physical exhaustion wasn't weighing him down like it was.
"I'm sorry," he said and she met his gaze. "I know you have to get up early in the morning."
"I do," Videl agreed.
The confirmation wasn't needed - he knew it fully well - but as it left her mouth this time, it shamed him into looking down to his hands. "I shouldn't have come."
"You shouldn't," Videl agreed again. "But... I'm glad that you did."
Gohan could hear the smile in her voice as she said it and it brought his right back, as well as his eyes. Her hand slid over the white melamine table and took his, bringing it closer and they just sat there, absorbing each other's company.
After a while, Videl was the one to break the silence. "Tell me what happened."
And so he did, after a deep breath for preparation. He told her everything,and with every single detail he'd share, his irritation just escalated all that much more. It went on and on, from the first fire in Gold City, the arson at Mt. Paozu, Kirsty's home exploding, to the progress - or lack thereof - that himself and the inspector back at Mt. Frypan accomplished just hours before. Then her eyes had seemed to altogether stone over when he mentioned the so called 'accident' that had killed the prosecutor, not that he blamed her. He was struggling to come to terms with it himself. And that was everything. Well, he did omit his presence in Gold City and his father's involvement in the whole matter, but that was understandable.
"It just boggles my mind!" Gohan vented in grievance. "How could someone be so unconcerned to risk other people's lives like that?"
"Some people just want to watch the world burn..." Videl stated in conclusion, reminding him of the likely probability that she'd experienced her fair share in dealings with psychopaths and murderers. One wouldn't be able to get by as a confidential police informant without it.
"Yeah," Gohan agreed. "But that's not what disappoints me the most. It's that even the people that are supposed to upkeep the peace refuse to work together for the greater good. Big city, small village, it shouldn't matter. The police is the police," he let out with a loud sigh, eyes fixed on the purple cat that looked back at him from the painted ceramic cup in his hand. He expected and waited for her opinion on the matter but it was taking a little too long to come, so his eyes traveled back up.
Videl was frowning, pursed lips to the side, contemplative about something that he wasn't really sure of. Was she even listening anymore? "Videl?"
"You said Gold and Blue city, right?" She asked, getting up.
"Hum... yeah." Ok, so she was listening but... what was she doing? Apparently she was going for the phone. But...who would she be calling at such a godforsaken hour, in the dead of night? Or better yet, who would take her call?
"It's Videl," she stated, not even apologetic at all. And of course, Gohan heard it all. A simple call of no more than five minutes to someone she addressed as 'Chief'. Chief of something, he concluded, even if it didn't become explicit as to what the chief's authority encompassed. Videl explained the basics over the landline as he'd given, and then she listened for a bit before hanging up with a common courtesy, incredibly nonchalant, given the hour. She dragged herself back to her seat in front of him.
"It's being taken care of," Videl stated, taking an unconcerned sip at her hot chocolate.
It made him blink in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"The inspector back at Mt. Frypan should be getting a call from both the Gold and Blue city's police departments any minute now."
Gohan stared at her, seconds passing by with every deafening tick of the blue wall clock. His mind was void apart from that one word that echoed merciless in its depths and he let it be heard. "H-How?"
Videl didn't respond, shrugging her left shoulder as she robbed him of his colorful cup. "More chocolate?" She didn't wait for an answer but he wasn't capable of giving it anyway, not oblivious but completely disarmed and unresponsive to her limping as she stood up yet again.
Five minutes. Five minutes in the middle of the night was all it took for her to do what hours failed to accomplish back at Mt. Frypan. What...? Who...? How...? How could her name - her first name, mind you - invoke such an influence?
He had his suspicions about what she was but... that theory did not fully account for this level of influence. Maybe her connections to law-enforcement were not as he'd thought - that of a reluctant informant providing information in return for leniency from some past crime. Maybe her family was influential, and by extension her too. Her last name would shed some light on the issue if he dared to ask, it was a miracle they'd gotten this far without either bringing the subject up, as if... as if they both had something to hide. But... if he brought up that little detail, then he'd have to give up his as well... dots could connect very quickly and he was not ready for that just yet. Soon, just not yet.
She came back and sat down again, smiling so beautifully that it just blew at his doubts and hauled them away. He reminded himself that this was why he came. Not to have his problems miraculously sorted out - or at least closer to that goal - but just to be with her. He'd live his whole life with this kind of hair-pulling stress if it meant she'd be there to make him forget all about it at the end of the day.
"Want to hear about my day? Maybe it'll cheer you up," she beamed.
Gohan smiled back, slowly but genuinely. "I'd love that." He truly would, and for a while he just listened, letting her voice lull him into that peaceful mindset that only she was able to take him to. Unfortunately, he wasn't there for long, blinking when his cell phone vibrated again, this time along with its cheery tune. His gut clenched with anticipation as he took it in his hand, not expecting the caller ID but not surprised when he read it, either. "Inspector?"
"You're awake. Good. I'll be quick then. I have just received an unexpected call from both the Blue and Gold city's chiefs of police," the man said evenly. "I'm faxing them the list of the presumed targets as we speak and they are already rallying up the protective detail for every single one of them."
"Seem so, " he confirmed dryly. "They'll be here first thing tomorrow to go over the case in more detail."
"I... I'm stumped," the young man said truthfully.
"Humph, you and I both. Who knows, maybe they came to their senses or a damn angel got through to them."
Gohan couldn't keep the smile in as he registered those last few words, looking back up and into those beautiful sapphires that his... his girlfriend took as eyes. What could he say?
The man was absolutely right.