Epilogue: "Why We Play the Game"
Time passed, and, as they had done so many times before, the people of Earth went on with their lives, continuing with their love affairs and their feuds, driving to work each day, taking their children to school, as if their world hadn't nearly been destroyed yet again that spring.
"Do you ever think that there must be something in the human psyche that just can't cope with change?" Gohan asked Videl, as the two of them lay on a hillside meadow not far from the Son house, gazing up into an infinite, cloudless blue sky. "Something that puts up blocks in the mind to separate today from yesterday, as if today is the only reality, no matter what happened before. As if the past doesn't exist."
Videl wrenched her gaze away from the sky; she'd been lazily drifting, thinking about flight, and had only heard the last few words. "Hmmm? What doesn't exist?"
"Never mind," Gohan said, smiling as his point was illustrated. His hand groped to find hers, against the cool earth, and he let his head drop back into the grass. There was, after all, no point in dwelling on a painful past.
Overhead, he watched two streaks appear from the west, growing larger until they zoomed across his and Videl's field of vision, leaving golden ki-trails behind them. Small ki-balls flew back and forth between the two of them.
"Who's that?" Videl asked, shading her eyes.
"Reach out your ki and feel them," Gohan reminded her.
Videl did so. "Oh, it's Kuririn and Yamcha!"
"Looks like they're getting quite fast," Gohan said, following the movements of the two fighters with his eyes as they faded into the distance. "Eighteen said they've been practicing regularly since the fight with the spiders. I dunno if it'll last ... it seems like every time there's a threat to the Earth, everybody trains conscientiously for a few months afterward and then lapses back into complacency." He laughed softly. "Well, everybody except Vegeta-san and Dad, but they're Saiyajin; it doesn't count really, I guess."
"I haven't seen your father around much lately," Videl said.
"No." Gohan frowned, staring up into the blue sky. "Neither have we."
Months had passed since the defeat of the robots and the rebirth of peace on the Earth's surface. The chill of early spring faded into the flush of summer, and the one-year anniversary of Buu's destruction of the Earth came and went, although no one thought of it except the Z-senshi, since the rest of the planet's population did not remember any of those events.
It took that much time for Eighteen to go and visit her brother, as she'd promised herself she would. Like Kuririn, she had been training in the past few months, although it was a bit different with her than with him; Kuririn was training his body with a specific aim in mind, that of becoming a better fighter, but Eighteen was more intrigued by the idea of exploring her own limits and investigating the things she could really do if she used her natural ki in tandem with her cyborg energy. She thought she finally was beginning to understand what Gero's original idea had beenthe reason why he'd used human stock for his latest models rather than building them from scratch. A machine could only perform the functions it was built for, while a human, whose energy came from its own flesh and blood, was limited by its body's ability to build up and maintain a large supply of kiin order to keep its energy high, a mortal being had to consume a great deal of food (as the Saiyajins apparently did) and also keep its body honed to physical perfection. By combining a human's flexibility with a machine's vast energy supply, Gero had created a fighting machine capable of learning, adapting and overcoming its own limitations.
Perhaps this is the true difference between myself and my future counterpart, Eighteen mused as she practiced katas in the backyard of Kame House, keeping an eye on Marron playing in the sand nearby. I never really understood how to use the power that Gero gave me. Seven years ago, I really do not think that my brother and I could have defeated the Z-senshi ... not at the power level that we possessed then. Some of them, maybe, but not all of them. And we were never interested in conquest and destruction, like our counterparts in Trunks's destroyed world.
Maybe part of the difference is that we awoke under different circumstances, and Gero never had a chance to teach us that the limits of our power were higher than we ever dreamed ... perhaps even higher than the Saiyajin themselves. Intoxicated by that promise of power, our future selves became monsterswhile we, instead, were reminded of our own limitations when Cell defeated us. They learned arrogance, where we learned humility. And it made all the difference in the world.
Fascinated by the exploration of her own limits, Eighteen continued to put off traveling to see Seventeen. At least, she told herself that was the reason. Finally, she had to admit, if only to herself, that there was a bit of nervousness, too. The last time she'd spent any time around Seventeen was before they were absorbed with Cell. In essence, they were both children thennewly awakened, selfish, surrounded by what they saw as a world full of toys, free for the taking.
A few short days later, Eighteen knew, her own outlook on life had been changed utterly. She was not at all the same person that she had been. All this time, she had believed that Seventeen himself had stayed the same, a boy forever, self-absorbed and unaffected by the events around him. But wasn't it naive to think that he hadn't changed as well?
The question was ... what had he changed into?
She wanted to find out by herself. So not only was she reluctant to visit Seventeen, but she did not want to do it with Kuririn, and she couldn't think of a way to make an excuse to leave.
I should just do it. I know he won't mind.
And so, one day, she did. Kuririn was off sparring with Yamcha and Tenshinhan, and Roshi and Oolong had gone into town to stock up on suppliesand, she suspected, on pornography. Only Eighteen and Marron remained on the island. They could be gone and returned before anyone knew where they had been.
"I guess it was inevitable that I should take you," Eighteen sighed as she picked up the little girl. Marron giggled; unlike her daddy, her mother almost never talked to her, and she seemed to enjoy the sound of Eighteen's voice even when she appeared not fully aware of what her mother was saying. "After all ... you are the living proof of my humanity, the evidence that I am different from my brother. Or, so I had always assumed."
She took off from the island with her arms carefully folded around Marron to shield the child from the wind of their travel. In very little time, they were descending into the craggy desert country where Seventeen lived. Eighteen felt her heart pound, almost as if she were an excited human girl. How odd. Living with Kuririn must be affecting her more than she had realized.
Marron squealed with pleasure as they sped down the river canyon where Seventeen lived. Descending towards the rocky outcrop where he had built his house, Eighteen saw her brother standing on the edge, staring up at her.
Eighteen dropped to her feet in front of him. Marron giggled happily and held out her pudgy arms, either recognizing her uncle or simply expressing her usual friendliness toward anyone and everyone. Seventeen stared at her with his normal lack of expression, making no move to reach out to the child.
The silence stretched out and Eighteen realized that she was starting to experience the same discomfort a human might feel in a similar situation. Had she really changed that much? She found herself casting about mentally for conversation topics.
"I felt your approach," Seventeen said at last, rescuing her from having to think of something to say.
"Yes, I was ... out flying," she agreed, setting the squirming Marron down on the ground.
"This is a rather remote place for a flight."
Eighteen raised an eyebrow at him. "Perhaps I also wondered whether you made it home safely after ... everything that happened," she trailed off lamely, realizing that she'd just made perhaps one of the most inane statements of her entire life. What in the world would have happened to hima freak thunderstorm? A spider? She appeared to be picking up the humans' tendency toward what they called "small talk". How embarrassing.
"Ah," Seventeen said. "I see that you have brought your offspring," he added, glancing at Marron, who was toddling near the edge.
"Yes," Eighteen admitted. "It's quite a problem what to do with it when I'm gone." Perhaps the most annoying aspect of having a child, she'd found; you couldn't simply leave it for a few hours by itself.
"I suppose so," Seventeen said, and turned around and kicked Marron into the river.
Eighteen's jaw dropped and she started to lunge towards the water, but Seventeen stopped her with a hand on her arm. A moment later, Marron surfaced, spluttering and too shocked to cry, treading water rapidly with her small pudgy arms. The current began to sweep her downstream.
Seventeen rose into the air and scooped the child out of the river, depositing her on the ledge where she stood, dripping, still in a state of shock. Eighteen knelt down and put her arms around the stunned, soaking-wet child. "And now why don't you explain why you just did that," she told her brother grimly.
"It was necessary to see if it could swim," Seventeen said.
Eighteen narrowed her eyes at him. "You could have asked ME."
He snorted. "You probably taught it to swim in the ocean shallows. A river is an entirely different matter. And don't say that you can watch the brat every minute, because you can't; your attention has to wander sometime. Before it spends any time on this ledge, it's going to have to be able to fall into the water and pull itself back out again."
Eighteen studied him for a moment, a level blue gaze. "Prudent," she said at last.
"Yes, I am."
Eighteen smiled slowly. Prudent ... with hidden depths yet unguessed. It was going to be fun to get to know her brother again.
The warm greenery of summer spread across the planet's northern hemisphere. Capsule Corp., of course, was nearly always warm, and the summer skies in which Vegeta trained himself were not considerably different from how they had been months earlier.
He could have trained in the gravity room, but lately, he'd found it more and more rewarding to be outside. After all, he could crank up the gravity as high as he wanted500, 600, 700but it still couldn't quite capture the many variables of being outside. Training inside, no matter how strong you became, was still not a perfect substitute for the full-body sensory alertness of outdoor practice.
Or so he told himself. Perhaps it was only that he liked the blue skies of Earth, that he felt more alive going through his training routine at 1000 feet with a cloudless blue sky above him, a green world below him (so lush, so different from Vegeta-sei) and in between, a windy summer day filled with a million scents carried on the breeze from the distant mountains.
The woman's voice carried on the summer air, and though Vegeta's sharp hearing caught it on the first call, he went on practicing until she'd shouted several more times and her yelling had taken on a ragged note of frustration. Then, grinning, he dropped to the lawn of Capsule Corp., catching himself lightly on bent knees. Straightening as the breeze cooled the sweat of exertion on his body, he smirked at his blue-haired mate and the short human beside her. "You rang?"
"Oh, come off it, Your Highness. I know you heard me the first time," Bulma snapped. "Also, you stink." She threw him a towel.
Vegeta snatched it out of the air. "With your inferior human sense of smell, how can you tell?" he inquired, drying his damp hair.
"Have you seen Son-kun lately?" Bulma asked him.
"No." Vegeta reached out with his ki-sense and located Kakarrot somewhere to the north, near no other sources of ki. "He's in the middle of nowhere. Why?"
Bulma, uncharacteristically, began to fidget, toying with her dress. Kuririn was the one who spoke up. "We're worried about him."
"Worried, huh?" Vegeta tossed the towel over his shoulders. "Why are you bothering me with this?"
"We think he's depressed," Bulma said, looking up at him. "Since you probably know him better than anyone --"
"Since I what?" Vegeta snapped, shocked and vaguely annoyed. "I don't think I've seen Kakarrot more than once or twice since this spring. If you want the Kakarrot status report, ask his brats or his mate."
"We have," Bulma said. "Chi-Chi hasn't seen much of him lately, either. I guess we assumed he was spending time with you ... being the last two Saiyajins alive, and all."
"That counts for a lot less than you'd think," Vegeta snorted. "Is this what you interrupted my training for?"
"Look here, Vegetahe's depressed!" Kuririn burst out. "I've never actually seen him depressed beforeI mean, sad yeah, upset yeah, but not ... not like this. Losing his family the second time ... it did it to him. The few times I've talked to him since then, he acts all happy and cheerful like usual, but you can sense this kind of ... underlying darkness, I guess. And he always finds some excuse to leave almost immediately."
"And this has what to do with me?" Vegeta demanded, tossing the damp towel back to Bulma and ignoring Kuririn's glare.
She caught it with a look of distaste. "We've just been thinking, dear. Son-kun is impossible to talk to at any time, regardless of his state of mind. 'Heart-to-heart' is a foreign concept with him. You might as well try to psychoanalyze a rock. Whether he's depressed, happy, upset, or whatever, it's impossible to get him to articulate his feelings."
"The only thing that seems to help him when he's down is fighting," Kuririn picked up where she left off, at an insistent glare from Bulma. "But he's so far above my level now that it wouldn't be very cathartic for him. He'd have to hold back too much to avoid hurting me."
Vegeta looked back and forth between his mate and her friend. "So basically ..." he said at last. "What you're saying is that you want me ... to beat the living crap out of Kakarrot?"
"That's pretty much it," Kuririn admitted.
An old, familiar expression crawled slowly onto Vegeta's facean expression that had, on worlds throughout the galaxy, caused strong fighting men to run screaming in terror and planetary rulers to wet themselves. It was a grin of pure, sadistic Saiyajin glee.
"It would be my pleasure," he said simply, and shot skyward in a blaze of ki, vanishing into the cloudless noonday sky.
Kuririn and Bulma stared after him, then, after a moment, looked at each other. At last, Kuririn said, "Do you think we should have done that?"
Far to the north, Goku stood on a mountaintop, brooding as well as he knew how to brood, which wasn't very well.
It took a lot to batter down Goku's irrepressible cheerfulness, but the events of the past year had come closer than anything in his life to doing so.
Goku had seen, and dealt, a lot of death in his lifetime. He loved fighting, but he did not like to kill, or to watch things die. Still, he'd weathered thateven his best friend's death, even the death of his grandfather and the discovery that he had been responsible for it.
But ... at the center of his soul, there was always a sense of grounding. The Earth was still there, would always be there. It had been threatened, it had been endangered, it had suffered the destruction of entire citiesbut it had always been there. And his family had always been there: Chi-Chi, Gohan, Goten. In honesty, Son Goku didn't think of his family all that oftennot because he didn't care, but because it wasn't really in him to dwell on other people's well-being. He thought of them as safe, and so they were; and he went on with his life, content the whole time in the conviction that they would always be safe, no matter the danger.
Then, in a matter of months, he lost them all, not once but twice. He felt them die, not once but twice. He watched the planet that he loved blown to pieces while he was powerless to prevent its destruction, and then, only a year later, was on the verge of watching the whole thing happen againand once again, he was powerless, even more so than the first time.
Somebody who wasn't Son Goku might have been broken by this. Goku didn't break, and slowly, his naturally bubbly personality began to overwhelm the unaccustomed depression. But slowly, very slowly.
Goku was perhaps the only person in the world who really didn't know how to be depressed. He'd never experienced it; this was all new to him. He wasn't even articulate enough in his inner dialogue to understand why he wasn't happy. He only knew that a sense of sadness haunted him, a feeling of unhappiness that he couldn't shake, and being unhappy was something he did not understand, could not fight.
A ball of ki hit him square in the back and knocked him flat on his face, leaving small wisps of smoke curling up from his gi.
The ki-ball wasn't very powerful, certainly not enough to hurt an adult Saiyajin, and if he'd noticed it coming, he would have batted it away effortlessly. As it was, though, he was taken completely by surprisepartly because of his preoccupation with his own dark thoughts, and partly because the attacker's ki had been lowered to nearly undetectable levels while it snuck up on him. Now it had been allowed to rebound and he recognized it.
Goku pushed himself up on his elbows, spitting out dirt. He glanced over his shoulder to see Vegeta floating above him, smirking as usual.
"Tag," Vegeta said.
He shot off into the distance without awaiting a reply. A moment later, a rapidly gaining ki and a barrage of low-powered energy balls let him know that his challenge had not gone unanswered.
When Vegeta had first heard of this Earth children's game, years ago, his initial reaction had been the same as his reaction to most Earth customsa sneer of disdain. Why did these fools bother making their children play at mock war, when it would be such better training to give them real weapons and turn them loose to go at each other? In this darting free-flight, however, Vegeta discovered that the game was actually more challenging than it seemed, especially with the restriction of not being able to respond to the attacker in kind. His quick mind worked through the strategic ramifications of this game and came to the conclusion that there was no possible outcome for the prey other than being worn down and eventually "tagged". He speculated that it might be helpful to add a few Vegeta variations to the rules and started powering up a Big Bang Attack, when he noticed something familiar about the landscape passing rapidly beneath him.
Yes, he knew this placethis was the spot where he'd fought Kakarrot when he first came to Earth. The arid landscape held the marks of the battle well, with no vegetation to cover the scars or water to erode away the shattered hillsides. Vegeta, whose mind was trained to catalogue and retain every detail of a battle, could even remember which attacks had left some of those blackened cliffsides and crumbled hilltops.
Vegeta grinned as he dodged another ki-ball and glanced over his shoulder, going through a series of aerial evasive maneuvers and watching Goku try to anticipate his moves (and pretty damn well, but that was what he'd come to expect). The big half-wit seemed to be having fun. Vegeta had suspected that this pointless Earth-game would appeal to Goku's frivolous mind.
He was well acquainted with the fact that life does not often work out as you plan itbut still, he could almost laugh at the unlikeness of it all. Here he was, ten years after the battle that had taken place beneath them ... playing an Earth children's game with the enemy who had tried so hard to kill him.
Where would he have expected to be by now? Dead or ruling the universe, he mused, executing a rapid series of rolls to avoid a low-powered Goku version of Kuririn's Kienzan attack. Yes ... he doubted that he would have been able to endure being a servant to that pale bastard Freeza for much longer than he had. The day would have come that he would have broken ways with Freezaeither by challenging the dictator directly, or by fleeing to another part of the galaxy and gathering an army of his own. Either way, it would have come to a head long since. He wondered idly how it would have worked out. Odds were good that he'd be in Hell nowbut who could know; he'd turned out to have the capacity within himself for a level of power that could easily have killed Freeza, and if something had happened to bring it out, then maybe he, Vegeta, would have won.
And won what ... ah, there was the big question. Freeza's petty dictatorship, he supposeda position as a destroyer of worlds, constantly challenged (as Freeza had been) by power-hungry wannabes and by revenge-obsessed warriors whose worlds had died at his hands.
Instead, he had ended up with a different prize ... something even more unexpected than playing tag with a former enemy in the summer skies of Earth ...
Inner peacewhat a concept. He'd never dreamed of such a thing ... never thought there could be a kind of contentment that came from another source than the mind-emptying fire of battle-rage. He had not sought it, nor wanted it, nor understood itbut now he had it, thanks to a woman who saw good in him when he saw none in himself ... thanks to a child who loved him unconditionally despite his sins of the past ... and thanks to a good-hearted, lower-class halfwit who was willing to give him second chances even though he
A ki-ball hit him square in the face, singeing his eyebrows. While he'd been lost in thought, his opponent had circled around the front.
"Tag!" Goku shouted, and shot a good 200 feet straight up, laughing.
... even though he ...
... even after all the things he'd done ...
... and he wouldn't trade those three for anything: not for strength, not for galactic domination, not even to have been the one to kill Freeza, though that still rankled.
He would, however, give quite a lot to scorch the grin off the face of the idiot hovering above him, backlit by the summer sun.
Vegeta hurled a bombardment of low-energy ki attacks, which Goku cheerfully dodged. Irked, Vegeta threw a much bigger, faster ball of ki, which Goku also eluded but not by such a wide margin. It blew the top off a mountain behind him.
"Hey, Vegeta, tag isn't supposed to be that kind of contact sport," Goku protested, ducking another massive ki-ball which sailed harmlessly into outer space and exploded.
"This is Vegeta Tag," Vegeta retorted, building energy between his gloved palms.
"Well, if that's how you want it," and with that, Goku powered up to Super Saiyajin. Vegeta followed suit.
"What does the winner get?" Goku asked as they circled ever higher in a dizzying spiral, both throwing energy while the other avoided it.
"The chance to grind the loser's face into a cliffside under his boot, Kakarrot," Vegeta growled.
"Oh, I can do that to you anytime," Goku said happily, grinning as the peeved prince redoubled the force of his attacks. After a moment, the younger Saiyajin said, "I say that if I win, you have to call me Goku for a week."
"In your dreams, Kakarrot."
"What ... isn't there anything that you want?" Goku asked, wide-eyed and innocent, slipping lithely between two energy balls when at least one of them should have hit him head-on.
Vegeta's smirk returned. "Well ... if you insist, Kakarrot. Should I win, you and your mate will be babysitting Trunks for a week."
"I think you've got the better deal," Goku complained, parrying another of Vegeta's ki-balls with one of his own.
"Touch luck, Kakarrot; you made the rules." And quite aside from that, Kakarrot was clearly having fun, his depression temporarily forgotten, which was the whole point anyhow.
Goku's only response was to laugh and bring his hands to his side. "Ka ... me ..."
"... ha ... me ..."
" ... Bang ..."
" ... HAAAAA!"
In some fights, as in life, it really doesn't matter who wins. It's why you play the game.
Writing the story was a learning experience for me. I felt like I gained a much deeper understanding of the characters from writing this storyand after all, isn't that what writing fanfic is supposed to do? In the process of getting inside their heads to find their "voice", I've also learned a bit about what makes them tick, and gained new insight into their relationships with other people. I started off the story with a very limited understanding of Goku, who became one of my favorite characters during the process of writing him. I realized that Yamcha and Kuririn have a rather unique position among the fightersthey're the ordinary guys surrounded by the extraordinary. (Tenshinhan, while technically human, doesn't count as "ordinary" in any sense of the word.) They're the ones that you could imagine rooting for sports teams, watching late-night movies, and being perfectly happy if all the ki-powers in the world disappeared. My stories inevitably seem to center around Vegeta and his relationships to the people in his life, but I've become more interested in the other characters through the process of writing them.
The original "Ki-Blind" on fanfiction.net contained reviewer thank-yous for all those who left reviews on the story. They've been snipped out of this archive version in the interests of brevity, but rest assured that I've read each and every one of your kind reviews and emails, and hearing from readers is the nicest reward a writer could receive.