Chapter 31 – Drowning

In the Afterlife:

A small screen resting in a tuft of clouds, followed Chichi everywhere she went. The audio was muted and the action playing was rather boring at the moment, two boys bedded down in the wilderness, but Chichi had no intention of losing track of her Gohan ever again. If the afterlife was willing to indulge her voyeurism, she saw no reason not to take them up on it.

The afterlife actually got high marks for being accommodating since finally sending them to their corner of rest. Chichi could close her eyes and will anything and everything she or her family could need into existence. Since they weren't corporeal, need wasn't really the correct word. Goku still wanted to eat, and Chichi liked to feed him. Goten wanted to play with and taste everything in creation.

"Chichi, look what Goten found," Goku called. "We've been digging for worms to go fishing later. Show mom, Goten."

Goten lifted a handful of wiggling worms and grinned at her. Chichi cringed at the dirt on Goten's face and stuck in his teeth. She didn't want to know what Goku had let him get down while she wasn't watching. At least they were afterlife worms. Afterlife worms were probably clean?

Goku's smile faded a bit and he nodded to the screen following her. "How are the Gohans doing? Still arguing all the time?"

"They're still out in the wilderness, but arguing less I'd say. The Chichi in that reality is really dropping the ball. She can't let them take control like this. They should be home, safe and studying." Chichi sighed and shrugged. "There's nothing I can do about it from here."

"Nope, not a thing," Goku agreed. "We have another visitor too." Goku nodded toward a lone kid in a green jumpsuit. A single line was carved in his neck.

Chichi frowned and willed a large spread of food into existence. Once fed, Saijens and hybrid Saijens tended to open up more. Kids like the one lurking over there, generally found their way here looking for Reinyn, the boy her Gohan had become, and through them, Chichi had begun to get to know who that was. "Get Goten ready to eat," Chichi commanded. "I'll greet our guest." She turned to the her Gohan-vision screen and gestured sharply. "Stay. I'll come back for you after the company leaves."

"Why don't you study this morning," Reinyn said. A taunt bundle of pent up energy, he walked away from the breakfast fire, his meal untouched. Gohan made no move to pick out a textbook. He simply watched his double go, scrutinizing his fighting aura. Once a starburst of white, almost indistinguishable from his own, the color had shifted into a red spectrum and the red was still in flux. People's auras got stronger or weaker; they didn't shift spectrums and they didn't change color.

Something was very wrong with Reinyn.

Not that Reinyn wanted to talk about it. The last time Gohan tried to broach the topic with him, Reinyn had simply walked away, dampening his aura until it was imperceptible and disappeared for a few days. Gohan, intrepid wilderness survivor, had tried tracking him, but Reinyn hadn't left a trail that he could find. Then he came back, sparred half-heartedly for a few hours and they set up camp.

A few weeks ago he had been hoping for a change in the status quo, something to dull Reinyn's fangs. Now Gohan had his wish, and he just wanted to know what had taken hold of his favorite sociopath and if it was hurting him. Two nights ago Reinyn had stopped sleeping. As of this morning, he wasn't eating. With a Saijen metabolism, not eating was a definite red flag.

Well, Reinyn and his new aura weren't hiding today. Gohan followed him, making no attempt to disguise his pursuit. Reinyn hadn't gone far. He stood motionless in a clearing, his shoulders slumped and his hands balled into fists. "Do you hear that?" Reinyn asked.

Gohan listened carefully, wondering if another wandering musician had found them, but no unusual sounds found him. The wind in the trees and some squabbling squirrels were the loudest of the background noises. Gohan listened harder, searching for what might be bothering Reinyn, but there wasn't anything. "Sorry. The squirrels?"

Reinyn frowned darkly as though Gohan had insulted him. "Yes, the squirrels are driving me mad."

"Something is driving you mad?" Gohan asked. "If you explained what's happening, I could try to help."

"You're going to help me, hero?" Reinyn laughed. "You don't hear it, and that means it isn't there, and that means I'm losing my mind."

"Whatever is happening to you isn't just in your head. Your aura is shifting. This is physical. My friend Bulma, she has quite a few diagnostic toys at her disposal. If you're willing to let her look?"

"A dead alien is enacting her vengeance from beyond the grave, and you think your friend Bulma can help?" Reinyn laughed again, and he lifted his hands to cover his ears. The music of Biren echoed in his head, growing louder and more painful as time passed. He could barely hear Gohan now over the swell of grief song. "Go home, Gohan. Go home."

"I'm not going to leave you like this." Gohan stepped forward to support Reinyn before he could fall to his knees. "We're going to see Bulma."

"No!" Reinyn commanded. "I'm still in charge here, and I am not going anywhere. You understand?"

Gohan contemplated stepping back and letting Reinyn fall to the ground, to see if he would continue to pretend he didn't need help when he obviously couldn't even stand. "I understand, and we'll wait, for now."

Back in the afterlife:

The table of food lay in complete shambles, not a crumb left behind. Chichi smiled, knowing that she wouldn't have to clean any more than she'd had to cook. "So Warten, why are you looking for Reinyn?" Chichi asked.

Warten frowned and stared at his hands self-consciously. "I just wanted to see him, make sure he was okay and didn't need me."

"He's still alive, like we explained, so none of us can touch him or talk to him yet." Chichi willed the dirty dishes away. "Can you tell me something about him? I want to know everything."

The boy looked up, his nervous frown shifting into a nervous, small smile. "He was the strongest of us and the weakest. It was weakness in him that made him protect the underpowered children, but as I was one of them, the underpowered, I was glad of it." Warten's smile turned crooked. "He glowed yellow and his hair went all blond when he got angry. He had an orange ball that he kept in his pocket, all wrapped up in a packet of old uniform cloth. He almost never took it out. Some of the guys, me too I guess, we figured it was a religious thing from his mother's planet, but he never told any of us about it."

Chichi grinned and wiped an unshed tear. Warten wasn't the first of Reinyn's soldiers to mention the Dragonball but it always upset her. It had been a terrible mistake putting the Dragonball on Gohan's hat. With that permanently missing Dragonball, they couldn't make wishes. She had composed so many wishes over the years, wishes that would save her son. "The ball was a Dragonball, and his father gave it to him when he was very little. Dragonballs are magical."

"A magical ball." Warten rose abruptly and like the children that had come before, he turned to go. "When he dies, you'll tell him that I came so he knows I didn't forget what he did, what he…was."

"We won't forget to tell him," Goku said.

Chichi settled next to Goku, cuddled in close and rested her head on his shoulder. "You know, if you put away those numbers that the Kais have on him, all the killing nonsense, that has to be exaggerated anyway, our Gohan seems to have done some good. He took care of those other kids. That's honorable."

"He did his best," Goku agreed.

"Human Chichi!" The tall orange alien, Omea, strode through a rift in the afterlife, invading the lush green sanctuary that the Son's lingered in. "Forgive my intrusion." She bowed and dropped to one knee, stiff formal deference. "I require your assistance. Can you, as his mother, reach your son in the living world? I must communicate with him. Now."

"Sorry," Chichi said. "I can watch him, but not speak to him or touch him. Why?"

Omea's orange face flushed darker, turning almost copper. "Because he isn't adapting and at this rate it will consume him, and I want to help."

"What is it? What's happening?" Chichi asked.

"Bah, you want him to die, so you can have him back. Why I thought you might help save him I don't know." Omea growled low and rose. Spotting Chichi's screen, she strode over and stared intently.

Goku squeezed Chichi's shoulder and stepped forward. "If you're going to insult my wife, you aren't welcome in our afterlife. What's wrong with our son? If we can help him, we will."

"Just let it out," Omea commanded futilely, staring at the screen. "Please just live." She turned back to Goku and Chichi. "From here, we can't help. He killed me, and it seems, I've returned the favor."

Author's Note:

Those of you who are on this journey with me, I appreciate the company, but this is important and it's what I was getting at last chapter in the last author's note, though I don't think I stated it well. (Lord, another sign that I'm slipping.) This story is just a silly fanfic, yet it means a lot to me. I'm not asking for a boost or asking for an ego stroke. I just expect you to tell me if I screw this fic up while trying to finish it. If I screw it up, I will try to fix it rather than continue destroying something I've invested so much in. It's a huge pitfall of writing without a beta. There isn't anyone to point out my serious screw ups, and I'm paranoid about this fic of late. It's on my mind, and I plot it constantly.

This is just me saying that I can handle a negative review, and I would appreciate honestly if I start to go seriously astray.

With love and angsty lollipops,