Well, after 19 gruesomely long chapters… here it is, guys. Can't believe you've put up with me this far! xD

Merry Christmas (and other assorted holidays) to all! And many thanks to kalebxdd for his help. You rock!


All she could do was sigh. Mostly because she couldn't choose between cursing the coziness of her bed or the damn physiology that urged for a bathroom run. At four in the freaking morning… Sigh.

Videl kicked her covers off in a childish tantrum of sorts, feeling her skin bristle instantly beneath the single layer of cotton that was her spaghetti-strap nightgown, and slowly sitting up and then stand. No point in turning on the lights - she didn't need the dazzle on top of the annoyance. With a step to the side, her hand reached for the wall and that was all she needed. She opened the door and wobbled out of her room, drowsy for a second but at least the moonlight coming from the common-area's window took the blindness away.

There was no bother to close the door to the bathroom, just as there was no strength to keep her eyes open while she sat at the toilet. Her business was done in a minute, flushing and running some water over her hands just for the sense of cleanliness. But then she walked out again, and froze when something felt... misplaced.

The moon shone over the entire room but chose to spotlight the couch, where it definitely shouldn't be a black mass of… something. Her heart thumped loudly in her head, in her throat, but the danger seemed to be idle somehow. Unmoving. A dry gulp brought her no comfort so she flattened herself against the wall, listening for any signs of life. … Breathing, slow and soft.

Sleepiness was but a distant memory, all her senses honed and prepared to pounce the threat that would always take the form of that bastard's face now, independently of its source or nature. It's not him, she kept telling herself but tough luck she'd listen. If only Sharpner wasn't at his mom's… Or if Gohan was here! She always felt so absolutely safe when he was around. … But no, Videl Satan didn't need a man to come save her. She didn't. She really, truly didn't. For some reason, her shaky legs chose to ignore the underlying fear and go with the words alone, unstable was they had been in her head. Bare feet slid across the parquet for just a few steps, just so she could see who… Gohan?

Without a second thought, she jumped towards him, sitting on the nook between his legs and stomach. Why was he there, sleeping on that god-awful couch? A hand threaded his hair and then his warm cheek. "Gohan?" He didn't move, so after a second or two, she leaned closer, calling a little louder right next to his ear. Hopefully it wouldn't scare him. "Gohan."

His eyes flashed open just before his whole body startled her with a jerk up and away into a sitting position. He didn't even look at her, a scowl of vigilance weighing his face, like the surroundings had to be assessed foremost to assure safety. Goodness, did he always wake up like this? Battle-ready, sharp and alert… She frowned at the thought, the damn secret tickling her with its presence since years of TV series began ringing bells of alarm: PTSD, was it? A severe condition amongst soldiers who'd seen action? It stroke her gut once more, wondering which T had caused the S.

It all vanished when he looked back at her, though, sweet and drowsy as if he hadn't just been possessed by a sentry caught off-guard. "Hey, Vi." Even through the penumbra she could see his embarrassment, shaded of red amongst his cheeks, although the hand behind his neck was a dead giveaway.

"What happened?" she asked with barely concealed urgence. "Why are you sleeping on the couch?"

"Humm… I…" Maybe he felt sick or something, she wondered over the hesitance while her hand touched his cheek again, and then slid to the forehead. It wasn't too hot... The last thing she remembered before falling asleep was how wonderful and strong his arms felt around her body. How she had been making up girlish trades in her head: her pillow for his chest, or his scent for the air in her lungs. Maybe it'd been raining outside, last night, and he just didn't want to get wet. "Sharp told me how he slept here every night since..." he finally said but couldn't finish, searching for words that didn't come and sighing instead. Oh… so that was it… The reminder crumpled her insides: for every night that she'd had trouble falling asleep because he'd chose not to come back, the weight on his shoulders had also been increased exponentially. It was one of those Gohan versus himself situations, she was sure - heart versus mind. "I just didn't want you guys to be alone," he concluded while looking down to his hands.

She didn't blame him anymore, about his decision, sure that she only did so in the past out of some childish notion of what he should've done in place of what he did. If he'd really liked her, he would have come running back to her, sleep by her hospital bed and never leave her side. Selfish stupidity, no other words could describe it. This man was different, in whichever way that secret kept hidden from her, but she wouldn't want him any other way.

Her hands covered his, hopefully saying "it's okay" while the kiss she gently painted against his lips would tell him how thankful she was for the gesture. He was the one who would have to live with the decision to not return to that hospital, but he was here now, sleeping by her bed now, and never leaving her side. As if she needed anymore proof of his affection… "You slept here last night too, didn't you?" she asked as soft as the smile that grew alongside his sheepish one. Good to know she wasn't getting crazy, making up poltergeists as logical explanations for misplaced pillows and blankets.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Why didn't you say something? And you left so early in the morning." She'd been up since 10 a.m. On a Saturday!

One of his shoulders waved as an answer since he was lacking a better one. It was her turn to sigh. You big lug... "Come on," she told him, taking his hand and his sneakers along while getting up.

Gohan didn't fight it, walking behind her, but still asked, "Where?"

"To bed. I have so much to do in the morning it's not even funny." Whoever said Sundays were for resting didn't go to college, surely. There were still so many things to prepare, so much reading to catch up on. And surely all her lovely professors would cash in on those crappy prior-knowledge tests… Damn overachievers. Suddenly, his hand held her back just as they were entering the room. She looked over her shoulder as he stood by the threshold. "What's wrong?"

He seemed anxious, his hand tensed up. "N-Nothing. It's just… I'd never even entered your room before tonight."

Videl smiled. Probably true; with no TV, the only things she ever did in there besides sleeping were reading and studying. And cater to the fantasies of her dirty mind, of course. Solo, unfortunately.

"It's just a room," she replied. "Nothing fancy about it." But his eyes darting to her bed spoke differently on his behalf. Nothing fancy but tremendous, apparently.

With a stronger tug, she brought him all the way inside and took advantage of the ivory shine of the moon to locate the nightstand and turn on the small light, discarding his shoes to wherever. Yep, it was official: tremendous and nerve-wrecking, considering the way he was hugging himself while avoiding eye-contact. It was one thing to bring her unconscious self inside and put her to bed, but another one entirely to come here with her. It had its logic, she guessed, but it wouldn't deter her from her intentions. She walked around him to close the door and then stepped over to stand in front of him, staring seriously eye-to-eye. "That hellish sofa is the most uncomfortable piece of crap ever created. I'm not okay with you sleeping there."

"I can… I'll just go home, then."

"It's four in the morning!" She couldn't believe it! Just a damn bed; would it automatically be given another name just because she'd also be lying on it? Horizontal Platform for Sexual Promiscuity? … Dear God, she wasn't right in the head at four in the morning, was she? Poor Gohan… "You can sleep over the comforter if you prefer," she bargained gently, stroking his arm. "I'll go get the blanket."

"No." He stopped her by the shoulders, sliding his hands up and down the length of her arms afterwards. "It's fine. I'll be fine."

"I don't bite, Gohan. I wouldn't… try anything."

"Vi, no. It's not-"

"I know, I know." This wasn't going anywhere. "Serious talk" wasn't compatible with such ungodly hours, she concluded, and immediately turned to plan B with a playful smile and a peck on the cheek. "I promise not to peek while you take off your jeans," she bantered while turning away from the obvious blushing. She probably enjoyed it a little too much, to be honest.

Entering the bed, she felt assured they'd both fit, even if snugly or alternating positions between lying on the back and on the side. There was only one pillow, but she didn't feel like going back for the one in the living room. This one was nice and long, and she could just do without it if need be, so no issues there. With everything sorted in her mind, she laid down on her side, back touching the wall through a nice insulating layer of her duvet. That should give him plenty of r-

And then he caught her eye, shooting former promises dead with the way he was slowly stripping himself of his pants. Damn…

The delicious curvatures of his body had all been thoroughly and carefully acknowledged through that tight football uniform of his - no exceptions - but seeing bare skin was still as close to a treat as they came. Only his arms would occasionally be allowed to see the light of day on the warmest months, so the sight of those toned legs made her feel hot in the cheeks, as well as other places. She hasted a flee to look at her hand instead, as uninteresting and flat as it was. Unfortunately, he decided not to take off his t-shirt as well. Baby steps, Vi. Baby steps.

He walked to the bed, ridden in awkwardness that was instantly wiped from her thoughts at the sight of that huge scar on his left thigh. Not overly obvious, but so long... And then she noticed the other ones; a couple were tiny, others not so much, stitching him all across the legs and knees. Most barely visible over his fair skin but now she couldn't see anything but them. Too many to account as the bicycle accidents of an unruly kid...

Don't ask him. Now is not the time.

When he finally settled, his body was so stiff he might as well just sleep on the floor, she grieved. Maybe she should have just let him stay on the couch, or go home like he'd suggested, but the thing was surely the devil's creation - furniture turned contraption for sore necks - and it was the middle of the damn night!

Her reasoning was pure, and so she decided not to mull over it any longer, instinctively going for the light in order to end the day and get her functional brain back at full capacity. But just as she was stretching an arm over his chest to reach for the switch, she retracted it immediately, flustered and self-conscious. With the tension hovering among them - mostly sexual, she was sure, but also plain regular one - boobs-on-face might not have been the way to go. Curbing the embarrassment, she told him instead, "Could you…?" while pointing shyly at the device.

"Oh." He nodded. "Yeah."

With a click, all that remained was the darkness and the silence - so awkward and horrible and painful in a way, since his heat was right there but she kept refusing herself of a touch. Maybe she could ask for his arm? Just his arm, just the touch of his skin, the ridges of his muscles. There was a mere inch of air between them - tiny; so so tiny - but it felt like a whole world of weight and unresolved issues. Go to sleep, Videl. It'll be better in the morning.

"Good night," she whispered, a tone shy of inaudible.

"Good night," he whispered back. So horribly manly and gorgeous that urged the need to hug herself so as not to invade his barrier and hug him instead.

Just go to sleep.

Was it Sunday? It had to be. He'd always wake up with this amazing feeling of comfort, like he'd fell asleep on the Nimbus under a warm Winter sun. God, how he missed this…

It had always been the unofficial "family day", where Mom would let him sleep in and take a break off his studies - for a whole day! - but most importantly, where Dad would pause his training and hang around the house with them. In the Summer, they'd just pack up the car, go out somewhere beautiful for a delicious picnic, only to return at the tangerine tones of a night to come. Dad would always carry him directly to his bed, upon returning, exhausted from the all fishing and the goofing around. Dream big, Champ, he'd whisper in his ear.

This felt so familiar. So perfect. It had to be Sunday.

Eyes closed shut, no sunlight was going to rob him of this moment, no matter the hour, no matter what. His cheek felt so warm against his pillow, heat permeating through it and to his chest, belly, legs. He hugged it tighter, brought it closer, furrowed his nose down into it and inhaled a delicious breath of air and fragrance of… green apples? Man, how he loved green apples... He wanted so much more of it, to sink into it, to be one with the pillow if that was even possible. It was singing to his very soul, or to something much deeper within, though there were no lyrics, no words. No need for them either, since the ache was unmistakable. This pillow was his. He'd kill for it, die for it, he'd keep it safe. For every rake of his teeth against its flesh, the need grew demand, desire, hunger. His hips pushed into it, meeting a hard resistance that felt so good yet so painfully not enough.

And then it moaned.

Like a blaring siren, it blew open his eyes and immediately stole all his blood and his breaths. It was Vi… Dear God, his pillow... it was her. His arms had encircled her at some point during the night, pulling her in, back to chest. Her beautiful skin had teeth marks imprinted on the curve of her neck, and that hard resistance… Shit. Right between her legs. No, no, no, this couldn't happen. As much as he wanted to drill deeper, to bite harder, to leave existence and live in this dream alone - and he wanted it so, so badly - this couldn't be the way.

Panting out of stress, though as quietly as possible, he disentangled an arm, and then the leg that had been caging hers down against him, and lastly his other member, freezing solid mid-way to freedom when she moaned once more. The wavelength was distorted, however, from pleasure like before, to complaint. Her hips slid minutely towards the space he'd opened up, pushing back in search for the blaring erection that he'd taken from her. Please don't wake up.

He managed to leave the bed, standing as she finally stilled into the puffy pillow, holding it with a sigh and an adorable armlock. His plan was to leave a note and walk away - he did grab a pen, he did choose a piece of paper - but like an asshole he just stared instead. That curve of her hip was just too beautiful, the way her shoulder blades stood out, or that precious crease was indented along her spine just too enchanting.

One day, maybe, that piece of heaven would be his, but sadly that wasn't today. His single thread of courage was only enough to dare a kiss on her bare shoulder, where it lingered for more than intended - dreadfully hot and sweet as it was. In the next instant, he was putting on his jeans, choosing silence over speed, and grabbing his sneakers before taking one last look, one last reminder of where he'd been just a minute ago. Silently, he grabbed the pen and wrote the note, the most heartfelt of thoughts that'd ever crossed his mind while true in so many ways.

Thank you, it spelled, omitting the genuine measure of the words with their simplicity, but hopefully she'll know just how much, how deeply, how desperately. He could only hope.

One day, maybe.

Mmm… Mommy's lasagna was the best! Her mouth had been watering for hours, ever since she'd asked what was for dinner way back when the beef was still fuming deliciously in the pan, but it always tasted so much more yummy than it smelled - and it smelled real good!

As always, the music around the small table was mostly Goten's utensils clinking against his bowl - though the big thunderstorm outside would also chime in on occasion - but the rhythm was a whole lot slower this time around. Maybe he was tired, since they'd spend all day walking around in the woods. The four of them had left just after lunch by Gohan's request, convincing even Mommy with his "one last lazy day before school" argument. Well, maybe Goten was all quiet because of exactly that.

Gohan had been around so much these past holidays that he might have gotten too accustomed to their brother's presence once more. It would be really hard on her too, since beginning next week would be business as usual in their school-time routine, but they had to be strong. It was what they'd promised Gohan a year ago; he wouldn't have gone to college otherwise.

And they all knew it was the best thing he'd ever done with his life.

Goten suddenly groaned, venting a simple yet pained and very, very unexpected, "I hate math," that brought cheerful giggles to the whole kitchen after a moment of speechlessness - from her, from Mommy, from himself... but not from Gohan, she noticed. He was just playing around with his food, which was even stranger because he loved lasagna. Mommy noticed it too, taking a glance to the side but not mentioning anything. She wondered what was wrong this time… maybe it was the same as always.

"Why do you hate math?" Mommy asked, taking a small portion of food to her mouth.

"It has so many numbers, and it's so hard," Goten complained in between bites - as awful as math was, it would never outweigh his appetite. "Will it get easier in your class, Mimi?"

She wished! Even though they'd only had two days of school before the weekend, it'd been more than enough to itch her skin in the very same way. Not only did things seem hopelessly harder, they'd all been warned of the extra amount of homework and projects that would come in attachment. But as a good big sister, she knew better than to crash his hopes of an easier path come next school year, so she went with, "I think so. You'll do great, you'll see." It wasn't exactly a lie - which was good 'cause she didn't like those at all - but that satisfied grin on her little brother's face would be worth a much bigger bunch of baloney, anyway. He was so cute when he smiled, with those little dimples on his cheeks.

Being one year ahead meant she could help him and Trunks out with things much fresher in her mind. Well, not Trunks, since he didn't really need it. He was so smart... and funny. But Gohan was much better at explaining the hard stuff. And Math was full of hard stuff, unfortunately.

"Don't worry, Baby," Mommy continued to say. "I'm sure that either I or Gohan can help you understand things if you have any difficulties. Right, Gohan?"

He didn't respond. He was really somewhere else.

"Gohan?" she repeated.

"Huh?" Looking around, he noticed quickly that he'd missed something. "I'm sorry, I wasn't listening."

"Are you feeling okay? You haven't touched your food," Mommy asked as if no strings were attached, but Mia could see the probing for answers just as clearly as the worry. There was no way Mommy would ever stop worrying about them, but at least it was better than the way she'd been before - all crumbled and cooped up in her dark room. She'd become a million times better in the course of last year, but it had changed a bit ever since the beginning of the holidays. Mommy had to try extra hard not to let the worry overwhelm her now - she'd press her lips together, really tight like she was biting them on the inside - ever since Gohan came back home after leaving for a few hours to wherever. That one time they'd baked a cake after dinner.

They didn't know she hadn't fallen asleep yet, that night, and curiosity had been just too loud for her not to go peek into the living room where they were talking. Gohan's clothes were all torn up, and she thought it was the reason why Mommy was almost shaking with tension… but then she realized that his shirt wasn't supposed to be red. Apart from some cuts and scratches, she'd never even seen blood in her life before that day. It was so much, it made her so sick.

No wonder Mommy became so worried; she was worried too.

"It's nothing, Mom," he said, scooping food into his mouth as if in a hurry to prove it. "Just some school stuff I need to take care of."

Yeah, right. She looked at Mommy to see her reaction, but the only thing she did was look back at Mia, just for a second. It made her feel strange, that connection, grown-up in a way. For all the secret happenings in her big brother's life, the fact that Mommy knew that they were both seeing the same thing felt a little too good, given the concern that hovered in the air. The Son boys might all be stronger and faster, but the girls were much more perceptive, she was sure.

There was nothing added to the exchange after that, apart for some more random chit-chat and the usual evening stuff. In a jiffy, bedtime had come, teeth had been brushed, pajamas put on, and Mia sat patiently in bed, waiting for her goodnight kiss from her big brother that was now tending to Goten's.

And then, for some reason she didn't question, she looked at him for more than the usual glanced second. Daddy.

Mommy had a whole drawer full of pictures in her bedroom, all still in their frames as if they'd been taken off walls and shelves in a hurry... or a frenzy. They were off limits, but she'd dared a peek or two in the past while no one was around. It was like a treasure chest that was just too precious and rare to ever be touched or enjoyed, but Mommy let each of them keep a picture of Daddy so his face wouldn't be that of a stranger's - one each, though, and none more.

She picked up the small wooden frame, an old photo inside it. Mommy had mentioned it'd been taken just before they were married. He was wearing this dark orange, almost red training suit that was in most of his other pictures, so he would've liked it a lot. He was so tall and handsome like Gohan, but his smile was just like Goten's. And his hair too, of course.

An angel, Gohan would call him when they were younger. He had told them so many times of his stories and how wonderful he was, how brave and strong, that when she'd read or was told of any other story now, the hero would always take on his face. Daddy slaying the dragon, Daddy saving the princess. Sometimes she wondered if he'd really been an actual person, if he'd truly lived and then died. A distant character of a fairy tale seemed more accurate, imprinted in the form of a memory of something that never even existed.

But then Gohan would speak, and it would all become so real. Some trigger would go off inside her belly whenever some specific words or tones would come out of his mouth, in such a way that made it prickle all over. Like she was actually hearing Daddy's voice, remembering it. A wonderful feeling, but a fake, of course, since she was only a baby when he died.

"Hey," she heard Gohan say from the door, and smiled when he approached her. He sat next to her on the bed, tidying the old quilt on top of her legs. "What are you doing?"

An embarrassed shoulder rose as she shyly retreated back to the picture. Was she even allowed to wonder this much about him? Neither Mommy nor Gohan would scold her about it, of course, but it still felt silly, thinking about these things. Did he hold her when she was little? Was he happy when she was born? Did he love her? "Do I look like him?" she asked quietly. "I know I'm more like Mommy, but-"

"Your nose."

"M-My…" Startled, she touched it with the tips of her fingers for a second, before bringing them down again to scrutinize that specific part of his photo. The perspective didn't help.

"Yeah," Gohan said, circling the tip of her nose really gently and then tracing its bridge up and down. "It's pointy but strong at the same time. I used to sneak up to him and touch it sometimes, while he napped."

Mia chuckled. "Why?"

"It was his favorite sense. The sense of smell, I mean," Gohan explained, looking down to the frame in her hands. "Everyone would tell you it was 'taste' because he loved to eat so much, or 'touch', but…" He shook his head, certain that it wasn't. "When I was very little, I was afraid to go outside and explore because I feared I'd get lost and never find my way back. All the trees looked the same to me." His eyes became deadlocked on the picture, his mouth curved ever so slightly. "'I will always find you,' he told me." He tapped his nose twice, as if it was Daddy doing it in his memories. "'You'll never be lost, and definitely never alone'."

She smiled faintly, wondering if she would've had such a strong connection with Daddy as Gohan did. Luckily, she wasn't given the opportunity. It might've been selfish or self-protection of some kind, but she didn't want to suffer like he had. Like he did, still, to this day. "I can't smell things as well as you guys," she went on to say.

"Well, I could never do a Ki shield as powerful and as fast as you, so… we all have our things."

"That's not true. You're so strong. I bet you're as strong as Daddy in his stories."

"I wish." It was a half-truth if she ever heard one. She wouldn't press it though, since it would lead to doors that she promised Auntie Bu not to open. Namely the truth about Cell and what'd happened that day - things she wasn't supposed to know in this much depth.

"Do you think he's seeing us right now?" she asked instead, looking at Daddy. "From Other World?"

Gohan responded with a, "Yes," but she knew it wasn't meaningful. She wasn't as strong, and she didn't have a nose as sharp as all the Saiyan boys, but she was really good at hearing. And intentions were much easier to listen to than words, most of the times. It was as if he'd given her a completely different answer, which told her he either didn't believe it to be true, or knew it for a fact.

It made sense, she guessed. If he was dead, he was dead. Physical connections would have to break, or else it wouldn't be that much of a change from being alive. Would they allow him to keep his memories, though? His emotional connections? If he wasn't even able to visit or see them from where he was, she sure hoped so.

Daddy was all alone up there. Even if Trunks' dad was with him, and even if Gohan had assured her that they were staying with a God - a great honor, he'd said - even so… He must feel so lonely.

It hurt, sometimes, thinking about him.

"Try to get some sleep, okay?" Gohan said while carefully taking the picture from her hands and placing it on the nightstand. "You have school in the morning."

"Are you flying to college right now?"

He nodded. She'd worry about the storm, but she'd grown plenty masterful of Ki shielding in the course of the past year, so she knew he'd be easily safe and dry during his trip. But even so, naggy and horrible as he might make of her with all the questions, she had to ask it one last time. "Are you okay?"

It startled his eyebrows. They sunk a little. "Of course. Why do you ask?"

"I know you're not," she mumbled to her hands. "I know it as well as I know my own name."

"Hey, you don't have to worry, okay?" He tried to smile. It was so fake… "I'm really, really fine. Cross my heart."

Things were swelling up inside her and it made her roll her eyes, even if it was rebellious of her. Didn't he realize she could hear the storm in his head just as much as the one outside? "You're not! I hate it when you lie. Why can't you just tell me? You said you trusted me."

"I do. I-"

"It doesn't seem like you do."

Words were lost on him even though he'd searched for the right ones. A sigh was his answer in her mind, defeated, telling more than the actual one that came right after. "It's complicated, Pumpkin."

"That's what adults say when they don't wanna go into details." It made him smile. Better than anyone, he should know how observant she was of these things. "Why is it complicated?"

There was only silence for a moment, but he seemed to be in thought, looking back at Daddy on her nightstand, so she held herself and her breath while hoping he'd open up, even if just a little bit. She wanted so badly to be the one helping him, this time. "Because I'm complicated," he finally said.

"Because you're a Saiyan?"

He didn't answer but she knew it was the reason, since it all boiled down to that in the end. Try as they might to be a normal family, that wasn't possible when they weren't normal to begin with. Keeping secrets, hiding strength and abilities from the other kids and teachers back at school. Nothing in them was regular, not even the loss of a loved one.

There was only one other boy in her class that'd lost his dad as well, but he'd never get her brother's pain. She didn't really know Daddy, so her loss wasn't as big, but Gohan did, for a whole eleven years - no, twelve! Another one in that strange room they'd spent a year in. Knowing that he'd died to keep them safe was almost as bad as them being the ones who'd self-destructed that day. It made her feel as bad as Cell, sometimes, so she could only imagine how her big brother must've felt all these years - being there when it happened, having those memories as his own. And so young...

Sometimes she wondered what was the point. Making friends that would never understand, living with a loss that was just as crippling as what it was supposed to prevent. It was so hard to keep up an appearance of being okay when something would always be missing. It was all so meaningless, useless, absurd. "Does that mean that I'm complicated too?" she asked him quietly.

"No!" he stressed immediately, taking her hands. "You're wonderful and… you're perfect, Pumpkin. Don't even think that."

"You're wonderful too, Gohan." Why couldn't he see it? He was the greatest person ever, the coolest big brother, the best friend she'd ever have in her life. He was everything that's good with the world, why couldn't he see it? "I wish you weren't afraid…"


"Of seeing it. Of being who you are. It doesn't have to be meaningless, it doesn't have to be hard." She didn't want to be speaking so loud and so fast, but it felt so urgent that he understood. Daddy was amazing, but he was the angel. He was the one who deserved the fairy tale and the princess. The glory of a hero that the world didn't even know. "How are you ever gonna be happy if you keep hiding?" A tear rolled out and she wiped it clean immediately. "Why can't you see it?"

His arms came in a rush, stuffing her face in his chest as if it would somehow cure her of this hurt. They hugged really tightly, her little hands clawing the back of his shirt instinctively but with not nearly enough strenght. The rest of the tears didn't feel so embarrassing coming out, like this was the only right way to set them free, in this intimate place he'd bring her to, on these occasions where she just needed something familiar to hold on and... be. He'd always know when those were.

"Please don't hide anymore," she half-whispered against him. "I want you to be so happy." She didn't like to cry, but it just got so difficult sometimes. Wish as she might, only in her dreams was she able to crack open his head, scrub everything clean and then close it up again. Maybe that way he could forget whatever it was that kept gnawing at his heart, but unfortunately, dreams were just mean reminders of what couldn't be done in real life. Like having Daddy back. If only Auntie Bu could make Gohan a pill, or build him another bracelet like that one he'd worn so he could play football...

"I will," he whispered back to her hair. "One way or another."

She leaned away to look at him better. "Promise? Please promise."

He nodded while they stared into each other's eyes; they looked so much like Daddy's in the picture. His thumb wiped her cheek of the wet tickles and he smiled in that one way he saved for when she was feeling sick or anxious. It was so gentle and sweet - that smile, his eyes - it always made her feel so safe, like everything was going to be alright even though nothing had actually changed. Hopefully, he wouldn't worry about his stuff even more because she was crying.

It was only because she was sad.

Breathe in, breathe out. Don't think. Just open the door.

His hand didn't rise.

You have to do it. This can't go on anymore. It's your fault she was crying. It's your fault they're hurt. Mia, Vi… who knows who else. Just open the door.

He gripped the key tighter. His hand didn't rise.

This is your weakness. This is your fear. You're the one who's scared again. Again! Like all those other times. Man up. Do it! If anyone has to suffer it has to be you, not them. They deserve better. Give them better or give them nothing!

Open the damn door!

The thing opened before he ever touched it. Erasa yelped, a hand to her chest. "Goodness, Gohan! What in the world…? Why are you just standing there?"

He didn't respond, just staring, too out of himself to even think of an excuse, let alone a believable one. It felt like life or death, glory or defeat; if he didn't do this now… His hands were shaking violently. He fisted them. They didn't stop.

"Gohan?" Videl peeked out from behind E's shoulder. He felt like throwing up at the sight of her. Shaking and staring in silence, the vision of him had to be making them nervous, but he couldn't step outside the guidelines that had been established during his flight there. Preparation, stepping up, taking the stance. Any word astray, any action that wasn't essential to function would make everything cave in on itself and then he wouldn't say it.

And Mia would keep crying. And Videl would keep hurting.

They were getting worried, he could see it in their faces. Vi stepped outside. Her hands covered his cheeks and she eyed him with intent, searching for the the trouble, or the illness. She could never fathom it. "Come inside," she said.

He did, mechanically and heedless since he didn't even notice Erasa leaving. How rude of him, but he just couldn't deal with anything of the kind, pacing around inside, trying to focus on only one spot or one item in their living room but it was impossible. Were his breaths always this loud? Videl grabbed his hands, constraining them inside hers. Now they both shook together. "What's wrong? What happened?"

"I need to tell you," he blurted, though his teeth were near gritted. Like they didn't want to let go of the words. "Right now."

"Tell me what?"


The world stopped with her heart for a moment, he could tell. This was too sudden, they were to keep things going without addressing this step - at least for a while - but he couldn't do it. Their path had already been treacherous enough, he wouldn't be the coward holding them back anymore. No more.

"It has to be right now," he added to bring her back to his urgence. "While I still…" While I still feel like I'm about to explode. He couldn't lose this momentum. It was his little sister's gift to him, even if it hadn't been deliberate. Those tears would haunt him forever, but not as much as the torture of knowing he'd wasted this push. He wasn't ready but he'd never be. This had to be it. Right now.

With no other words, she pulled him to her room - like the previous night - closing the door behind them. She stood in front of him for a moment but decided to to sit instead, nervous apprehension descending her slowly to the edge of the bed. Anticipation would be plenty in her head, though it was fruitless. How could she ever be prepared for something this ludicrous?

After a while, he sat too, rubbing his hands against his thighs for the friction and the illusion of control. "I don't even know where to start…"

The mattress waved. She sat cross-legged now, facing him. "Well... every story has a beginning. Why don't you start there?"

Every story… A sluggish turn from his rusty body, he faced her as well but his eyes didn't comply, stubbornly attached to his hands, all red and sweaty. There was no power to meet the worry lines on her forehead, or the troubled curve of her eyebrows. He knew well how her heavenly blues would be boring into him, though not for pressure or for fishing out the words. Lovingly and patiently, she would wait for him as always, no doubt about that. Always waiting... All the pain he had caused was blurring his mind, so he tried to think of his dad, remember his presence that'd always made him see things so clear and so simple, but it soon became obvious that this battle was his and his alone.

Hope was all he had, wasn't it? Just another limbo... As if eight years hadn't been enough.

Every story had a beginning; his might need a whole prologue. He took a deep breath, cleared his throat. "Once upon a time… there was a planet very far away from ours. Planet Vegeta, named after its ruler. There lived… the Saiyans, a race of warriors incredibly powerful and ruthless. They were forcefully recruited by an evil tyrant who saw their strength as an asset, and from there on out they worked for him, purging planets of their inhabitants so they could be sold.

"But their potential was immense, and they grew too strong, and one day, the tyrant realized that things could easily turn on him. He could face a Saiyan, or even a couple hundred, but not the entire race if they decided to join forces against him. And so… he destroyed planet Vegeta, along with its inhabitants. The entire Saiyan race… minus four. Three of them were out on a mission somewhere, and the fourth… He was a baby, but even Saiyan babies were incredibly strong as of birth, so the protocol was to send infants to "easy" planets, where they could extinguish life in a year or two.

"The baby landed… here on Earth. He was found by a kind old man that took him in and made him his family. His grandson. The baby grew up, grew stronger, and eventually went out into the world where he made new friends, and later got married and started his own family. Two boys… one girl." He dared a peek up to study her reaction but it didn't even last a second. "He became… a great man. The greatest on a world that wasn't even his own."

Another deep breath. At least this he would say like a man, not a rat hunched over himself. For this he would look her in the eyes. "His name was Kakarot. Here on Earth, he was called… Goku."

Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Thump, thump.

Three heartbeats. Her lips trembled into a gap. "Y-Your... d-dad…?"

A nod came out as a twitch, arrested on the muscles of his neck and probably not even visible, but… His jaw clenched, hurting his teeth with the pressure. Please, say something. Something else. Something more.

"Your dad was a… Saiyan. From another planet." A statement for confirmation. This time the nod appeared. This time he couldn't look away, mind blank, expecting a laughing fit or a dash out the door. "Your mom?" she asked instead.

"Human," he croaked. "From Earth."

"Half-Saiyan," she said. "Half-Human." Still staring back, doing the math to herself. He nodded once more. "What does that mean, exactly?"

His eyebrow rose. "W-What does it mean?"

"Yes. What does it entail?" 'Cause being an alien wasn't enough, apparently. "You seem regular enough. And from what I've seen of your dad in pictures, he did too."

"We…" Say it. Just say it. "We have… powers."

"Powers? Like super-heroes and stuff?"

Stupid, stupid word. Powers? Really? He couldn't have come up with something a little less moronic? "More like abilities."

"What kind of abilities?"

"Hum…" Did flying count? Technically it wasn't a Saiyan thing; humans could do it too. The same for Ki control. "We're stronger, and faster. We heal faster too." What else...? "We can transform."

"Transform? Into what?"

Giant ape? Shit. If she wasn't running yet, the humongous monkey bit would surely do the trick. "T-There's this one where we don't change that much but our strength grows exponentially. Like really high."

Eyebrows scrunched together, she almost seemed disappointed. "That's not exactly a transformation, is it?"

"Well… it is. Our hair turns blond, and our eyes teal. Blueish-green or whatever."

Her eyes twitched wider, for a fraction of a second. "W-What?"

"Yeah," he said, daring a very faint smile. "Nothing a dye job and some contacts couldn't mimic, but that's just a side-effect. The power surge is the-"

"Show me."

"W-What?" Was… was she serious?

"I… I need..." She paused. "I want to see it."

Wanted to see him… a Super Saiyan. Not just as one, but turning into one. The gold tint spreading from root to tip, the black in his eyes fading into a completely different color. Could he…? Should he…? The aura had to be contained so as not to damage the place, and-

"Please," Videl insisted, so solemnly, leaning in for added demand. He didn't really know what to think at that point. Was it a good sign that she was asking questions about it? Was she believing it, or just hunting for loopholes that would prove fabrication, a lie?

She made him get up with those eyes; they followed his movement meticulously, unblinking. Carefully, she stood up as well, distant though fully engaged. There was no turning back from this. Indisputable, irrevocable proof of what he was. The story… he could just tell her he was joking, making stuff up to see if she'd fall for it, how she'd react. But this… this was it.

The end of things. A touch away from crashing hope into shards, seeing what's behind its shroud: The happy ending or the… other one.

It doesn't have to be meaningless. It doesn't have to be hard.

Instinctively, he rushed to kiss her. Softly but pressing. Hugged her as close as he could. Inhaled her, tasted her. A selfish last glimpse of the dreams for the future she'd implanted in his head. If it all went to the dogs, if that hellish pit of darkness and indifference was what life had chosen for him, then at least he'd said goodbye.

You can't hide anymore.

They disconnected. A beautiful rosy watercolor had dabbed her cheeks - maybe the gesture had been a little too eager - but he tried not to see it. He stepped back, unprepared, making an effort not to cry because it wasn't time yet. This step was the easy one. A pull in his core, and then…

... a crack.

The world flashed before his eyes as he stared into her own, sapphire-blue sheathed into a warmer shade from the radiation surrounding his body.

Her reaction was instantaneous. A gasp, hands up to cover her mouth, eyebrows flying to the sky. All normal gut reactions, he guessed. Until she gave a step back. And then he started to see the nuances through the blurry heat of his tears.

The gasp was horror. The hands, protection. The eyebrows, alarm. The step back… fear. Vi was terrified. Of him. Like all the others were when they saw behind the curtain of his power - Vegeta, Frieza, Cell. And Krillin, and Yamcha, and Tien. Obviously; he'd be scared too if it was the other way around.

With another step, her back touched the wall and she slid down into a ball on the floor, breathing heavily behind those hands, pearls of sweat twinkling on her forehead. The message was clear, Vi. I'm sorry. He turned back to normal.

It felt really peaceful, actually, aside from the pressure in his throat. The absolute peak of a rollercoaster before the fall, he reckoned. He'd never be the same after this moment but he didn't want to be, either. That beautiful, horrified face would never leave him for as long as he should live, and that was all he could ask for. Like his father's, there were some things he didn't want to forget, painful as they might be.

This amazing creature actually cared about him once. She was his for a whole weekend. How lucky was he?

The house key was still in his hand from before. He placed it on the desk. His chin started trembling, so it would be best to leave before he broke down entirely. For one last time, he took in everything he could about her, though she couldn't even look back at him anymore. It's okay. He understood. "Thank you," he whispered. For having given him so much more than was ever worthy - a breath of life, a fresh start, a year of heaven.

He walked away, because every story starts at the beginning, but every beginning inescapably runs towards one single place. Through the path of a hero, or by the way of a monster, what comes to life has to die, eventually. Someone else would save that princess. His time was up.

The end.

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