|The Burden of Hope
CHAPTER SEVEN: “Why Won’t You Help Them?!” Trunks’ Accusation
Fire. It danced almost hypnotically through the city, lulling the inhabitants to sleep with the heavy waves of heat it exuded. It reduced both rock and metal to liquid, mixing the two substances together most unnaturally. It devoured wood, but did not taste it, for its tongues were pointed upward, trying to lick at the two figures suspended in the air high above them.
Yet even here, out of the blaze’s reach, flames still burned. These flames were cold, but no less intense, and no less deadly; they flared behind the pale eyes of each of the two figures: one a woman, her power an artificial gift, and the other a boy, his power a natural birthright. The woman’s lips were curved upward in a pleased smile, while the boy’s were tightly pressed shut in a firm line. Still and silent, they stared at each other across the small space which separated them.
Wonderful, Gohan thought bitterly. Just wonderful. This is what I get for not paying attention! His growing concern for Trunks had clouded his mind as surely as smoke from the burning city clouded the sky, and he’d somehow forgotten the possibility of running into the androids. Mistakes, by their very nature, always exacted a price, be it large or small. No doubt, this particular mistake had the potential to be especially expensive; it could well cost him an arm and a leg---and several other important body parts if he happened to be exceptionally unlucky.
“Who would have thought that you would show up again so soon?” Android Eighteen asked pleasantly. Her brows lifted, and her eyes curiously scanned the area around him. “Where’s your little friend? You just get sick of the brat one day and decide to ditch him?”
Gohan growled angrily, his eyes narrowing. He felt his ki rise in response as a wave of rage rippled through his aura, making it more brilliant than the flames below. Just get sick of him one day? She dared say such a thing? The soulless witch!
Seeing his reaction to her words, Eighteen broadened her smile. “My, my. It looks like I’ve touched a nerve.” She folded her slender arms over her chest. “Well, what are you waiting for, kid? Don’t you want to make me regret what I just said?”
I certainly do, you vile little… Gohan choked off the thought before he finished it. No; he wasn’t going to let his fury control him. If he wanted to live long enough to find Trunks, he needed to listen to reason instead of rage; he had no illusions about his chances in direct combat against Android Eighteen. He may well need to fight a running battle, and slip away at the earliest possible moment. It was an extremely dangerous prospect, but it seemed as though it were his only chance…
Clearly annoyed, Eighteen frowned testily. “I haven’t got all day, you know. Are you going to start this or not?” Gohan tensed further, but took no aggressive action; with an impatient sigh, the android unfolded her arms. “Very well, then. If you’re not going to do anything, then I guess I will.”
In a barely perceptible blur, she shot forward; instinctively, Gohan threw himself into a steep dive, narrowly dodging her attack. He yelped in surprise as he felt her hand powerfully grip his ankle, and grimaced in pain as she wrenched it sharply to one side. Before he could react, he was met with the most nauseating sensation of being whirled in rapid circles, the wind a nearly solid barrier pressing against the front of his body; he then felt himself being hurled in a direction that he assumed was downward.
Gohan grunted in pain as his back slammed into the roof of a building, sending cracks radiating out in several directions. He forced his eyes open---and saw Android Eighteen diving at him, fist cocked. Gasping, he hastily rolled to one side; Eighteen’s punch shattered the concrete where his chest had just been. Taking advantage of the situation, Gohan sprang from his hands and somersaulted into the air to smash both feet into her back; the force of the impact nearly sent the android crashing through the roof.
Blasting upward, the boy raised his hands over his head, the back of one laid flat against the palm of the other. He wished that he has the time to gather more ki, but knew that Eighteen’s distraction would only last a few short seconds. “Masenko-ha!” The golden ki bolt shot forth as he thrust his hands down in front of him; the building below exploded into an immense cloud of dust, and concrete chips rained down with a soft patter.
Not daring to pause, Gohan raced off in a random direction. He hadn’t the luxury of time to re-orient himself on Trunks’ ki; it was far more important that he be alive to find it when he was blessed with an opportune moment---
Pain erupted through his face as something hit him between the eyes with the force of a meteor strike, reversing his forward motion for a few seconds before he managed to stop himself. Gritting his teeth, he carefully fingered the bridge of his nose; he winced as he felt a tiny hairline fracture.
“Aww,” came Eighteen’s voice, filled with mock-concern; startled, Gohan looked up to see her casually lower her fist. “What’s the matter? Afraid that I ruined your cute little face?”
Gohan acknowledged her with a tight smile. Blinking the stars out of his eyes, he wiped away a trickle of blood from his nose. His first escape attempt had certainly turned out to be fruitless. He would have to make sure to get it right the second time; it would be foolish to count on getting a third chance.
“So what’s with all this running away?” Eighteen went on. “It’s an annoying habit that you seem to have developed. You were a lot more fun a few years ago; you actually stuck around and tried to put up a fight. I guess you just don’t want to suffer the same fate as all of your pathetic friends.”
Gohan bared his teeth, growling ferally; if she mocked his friends just one more time… “That was three years ago, you battery-charged witch!” he almost screamed, his voice cracking with fury. “My friends have nothing to do with this! Leave them out of it!”
A cruel grin spread across Android Eighteen’s face, and she chuckled softly. “Now why would I do something like that, kid? You seem to start thinking the most absurdly cute things at the mention of them---like that you’re actually capable of avenging those foolish weaklings!”
It was the last, callous, straw; he would hear no more of this. With a ferocious scream, Gohan launched himself forward, his fist catching Eighteen in the stomach; gasping more in shock than in pain, the android drove her knee into his chest, following that strike with a vicious punch to the boy’s cheek.
Feeding off the sideways momentum fro the last blow, Gohan spun and delivered a kick to her side; Eighteen grunted and began to plummet. The boy raised his hands, readying a ki blast---and only had time to gasp in surprise before a blast of Eighteen’s own hit him full-force. Pain crashed over him like a tidal wave against shoreline rocks, and he felt his body go limp and the wind pressing against his back as he dropped from the sky.
Slowly, the burning agony subsided, and Gohan managed to stop his descent. His breath hissed through his tightly-clenched teeth; his nose was nearly overwhelmed by the scent of his seared flesh. Dazedly, he opened his eyes to see Android Eighteen floating before him, a few stray hairs hanging in front of her dirt-streaked face.
“Now that’s more like it!” she said excitedly. “Come on, kid; take another shot at me! Try and see if you can take me down!”
Snarling, Gohan gathered himself to do just that… but instead stopped, mentally cursing his foolishness. Baka! What about Trunks? You won’t be able to find him if you’re dead! Get ahold of yourself!
“What’s wrong this time?” Eighteen growled impatiently; with an exasperated sigh, she placed her hands on her hips. “How long do you expect me to put up with you? Quite honestly, I’ve just about had it with all of your hesitation; I think that it’s time I ended this pitiful excuse for a battle.”
Gohan didn’t even see her move; less than an instant after she finished speaking, it seemed, she buried her foot in his chest. He heard and felt bones crack and gagged as blood and saliva spurted forth from his mouth; his body was propelled toward the ground, smashing through the spire of one of the taller buildings in the city. Before he could stop himself, something hard slammed into the middle of his spine; the boy cried out, but that cry was cut short as another blow stole the air from his lungs.
Gohan was barely aware of the fact that he was beginning to fall again; his mind was drowning in a sea of pain and oxygen deprivation, desperately clawing its way toward the life-giving clarity that lay just above the dark waters. Ever so slowly, his mind struggled upward, toward lucidity.
At last, he broke the surface; the world came back in one startling instant. Gohan looked over his shoulder to see the ground rushing to meet him at a disturbingly high speed. He was about to stop his descent, when an idea occurred to him.
Twisting his body to face downward, he brought his hands together, gathering his ki. At the last affordable second, he let it free and executed a right-angled turn as the blast propelled a huge cloud of dust into the air; he dove through the broken window of an abandoned building and stopped to catch his breath.
He knelt for a long moment, chest heaving with each laboured breath; carefully, Gohan prodded his stomach, checking the extent of his injuries. One rib broken… another three cracked… possibly some internal bruising… All in all, the wounds were nothing over which to trouble himself; he’d lived---and for that matter had fought---through worse.
An outraged cry assaulted his ears. Though it wasn’t necessary, Gohan glanced out the window to see Android Eighteen standing in the crater that his blast had created; she had clearly expected him to be lying in it.
“Blast you, you sneaky little brat!” she shouted furiously. “Where are you hiding? I’m not letting you get away with making a fool out of me! Get out here!”
Can’t waste time sitting here; I’ve got to get moving. Gohan dashed across the room, limping a bit on his injured left ankle, and carefully leapt out of a window on the other side of the building. He focused his ki a little, levitating a few inches above the ground, and shot away; behind him, he heard the rumbling of the explosions that Eighteen was causing to draw him out of hiding.
After a few moments, he halted, placing one hand against the wall of a miraculously undamaged building to steady himself. What in the world had he been thinking back there? He knew better than to attack either of the androids and was lucky to have come out of the fight in as good a condition as he had. So Android Eighteen had insulted his friends; what could he do about that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just like three years ago. He was such a fool.
Shaking his head, Gohan straightened. The past was unimportant; he needed to focus on the present, on finding Trunks. He strained his senses, remembering how weak the toddler’s ki had been the last time he’d checked… there. Straight ahead, and not far away; by sheer luck, Gohan had fled right toward him. The adolescent sighed, relieved; soon, both he and Trunks would be able to leave this dead city.
As Gohan approached, however, such hopes were dashed---he’d been stupid to have gotten them up in the first place. Intermittent explosions warned him that his young companion was not alone---and that the company was not pleasant. A quick glance back confirmed the presence of the lurid light from other, more frequent blasts; Eighteen’s search for him continued unabated, which meant that her brother was the one ahead of him, the one that he might have to go through to get to Trunks.
“What am I? Cursed?” Gohan groaned aloud; he sighed in exasperation. “First Android Eighteen, and now Android Seventeen. I can almost hear fate laughing at me; this is probably the funniest thing that it’s ever seen. Good grief, Trunks, you’re a whole lot better at getting into trouble than I ever was! Let’s both hope that you’re as lucky as I used to be in getting bailed out of it!”
Screams. Explosions. What was it like to hear sounds other than these ones? Trunks wasn’t sure that he knew anymore; it seemed as though he’d been listening to them for every second of his life. Tears flowed endlessly from his tightly-shut eyes, rivers of liquefied fear and grief; no matter how many of them he heard, each scream was another person being hurt by the bad boy-robot and he just couldn’t stand it.
All he’d wanted was to go home. That was why he’d come to the city: to find his mother; instead, he’d found only terror and death. What he wanted now was to get away before the bad robots could get more people… and before they could get him. But he knew that that was impossible, at least without Gohan-san around.
The sounds stopped suddenly. Cautiously, Trunks raised his head a bit, blinking his tear-filled eyes open. A wide trail of blood stained the ground in front of him, but he looked at it without emotion; it was only blood, after all. He’d seen it lots of times before; the sight of it had never really bothered him all that much. Far more interesting was the surrounding silence. What did it mean? Was this horrific nightmare finally over?
Trunks waited---waiting being all he could really do at the moment. He did so for what he was quite sure was a very long time. Nothing seemed to be happening; maybe it was safe to come out now. Fighting back the part of himself that was screaming at him to stay exactly where he was, the child slowly inched forward on his hands and knees.
He should have listened to his fears.
Mere seconds after one of his hands peeked out from under the truck, a hard impact slammed into the air, sending both the vehicle and Trunks hurtling backward. The truck smashed against a building, the metal creaking as it folded against stone; Trunks grunted in pain as his shoulder struck the ground and he rolled to a stop, lying facedown.
He lay still for a moment, waiting for the aches in his body to fade. Slowly, the child pushed himself up on his hands. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a pair of feet in blue shoes; one of those feet shot up and kicked him in the stomach, drawing out a cry of pain and flipping him over onto his back. Trunks folded his arms over his stomach, whimpering.
“Must you whine like that? It’s really annoying.” Trunks opened his eyes to see the bad boy-robot looking down at him, a mean expression in his grey eyes; then the bad boy-robot’s face scrunched up a bit, as though he were thinking about something. “You look kind of familiar, kid. Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” After a few seconds, he smiled. “Oh, I remember you now. You’re the little runt that that brat Gohan saved a few days ago. How’d you manage to lose him?”
Trunks didn’t even try to answer; fear dried his throat, and his stomach still felt as though it were being stabbed over and over again with a dull knife. What was he going to do? What could he do without Gohan-san? Nothing… except wait for the bad boy-robot to get him.
Still, the child tried to shrink away as the bad boy-robot bent to reach out for him. It was useless, of course; the bad boy-robot grabbed a fistful of Trunks’ light sweatshirt and lifted him up to eye level.
Trunks only stared, not bothering to struggle; he knew that he wouldn’t be able to get away. Gomen nasai, Gohan-san. Gomen nasai, he desperately apologized in his mind. I shouldn’t have run away. I’ll never, never do it again! I promise! Just come and save me, please!
“Too bad for you that he’s not here this time,” the bad boy-robot whispered evilly. “Not that he’d be able to do any good; I’d kill him, too. Easily. Still, it’s less fun this way; he might have tried to put up a fight. You on the other hand…”
Trunks yelped in surprise as the bad boy-robot flung him into the air. Panic fluttered in his chest; any number of awful things could happen to him now, and he didn’t care to find out what any of them were.
Gasping, he saw a bright blue beam of light racing toward him. He’d seen those light beams before; he knew what they could do. Helpless, the child closed his eyes and waited for the hit that would take him away forever.
Gohan rounded a corner in time to see Trunks’ tiny body being tossed into the air. A brilliant flickering light in Android Seventeen’s hand caught his attention, and he knew in less than an instant that the toddler was about to die.
Without thinking, Gohan surged forward in a nearly invisible blur and sprang into the sky between Trunks and the pseudo-ki blast. He wrapped his arms around the toddler, pulling him against his chest as he took the blast full on his back; he grunted at the force of the impact, but suffered no damage---while the blast was more than enough to kill Trunks, it was not powerful enough to harm Gohan while he was in Super Saiyajin form. Before the flash from the impact could dissipate, he dove behind a pile of rubble.
“Trunks?” he whispered softly, wanting to ensure that Android Seventeen would still be oblivious to their presence. Carefully, he loosened his grip on the little boy’s body, ready to examine the injuries that had made his ki so weak---
“Gohan-san!” Trunks crowed, lifting his head, blue eyes alight with joy and thankfulness. Gohan was too stunned to hush him; he’d expected him to be badly hurt, his ki had been so low. Yet here the child was, with a livid bruise over his right eye and a thin trickle of blood running form his bottom lip, but otherwise completely unharmed. How…
Utterly shocked---though not unpleasantly so---Gohan opened his senses, and found Trunks’ ki to be just as strong as the day that he’d first sensed it. Though it hardly seemed possible, there was only one explanation: Trunks had somehow instinctively stumbled onto ki suppression.
“I was hoping you’d co…” This time, Gohan had wits enough to smother Trunks’ mouth with his hand; every muscle taut, the older boy listened for signs that they had been discovered, but only heard the distant roar of flames and the occasional chunk of concrete crashing to the ground. Slowly, he lowered his restraining hand. Trunks, apparently having taken the hint, remained silent.
Both boys ducked their heads as the ground shuddered from the shockwave of an explosion. Peeking over the pile of debris, Gohan saw that it had occurred fewer than one hundred feet away… and that it had flushed out a group of a dozen or sow people. One of those people, before he had a chance to get very far, shrieked hideously as the slender hand of Android Seventeen punched lazily through his flesh.
Sighing bitterly, Gohan returned to his crouched position to wait out the remainder of the attack. Sounds of pain continued to ring out like notes from a mutated bell, but he paid them no mind; he had already done the only important thing: rescuing Trunks.
“More people are being hurt, aren’t they, Gohan-san?” Trunks asked solemnly, eyes clouded with sorrow.
Gohan nodded slowly. “Hai, Trunks.”
The look on Trunks’ face shifted to confusion. “Well?”
Gohan’s brow wrinkled. “Well, what?”
“Aren’t you gonna help them?” the toddler questioned. “I’m okay, now; I’ll sit and wait right here so you can go and stop the bad robots from hurting them.”
Puzzled, Gohan frowned. What in the world was the kid talking about? “Trunks, I’m not going anywhere.”
“B… but… you saved me…” Trunks protested shakily, his lips quivering and his eyes watering. He raised an arm and pointed to where the screams of the helpless victims could still be heard. “And those people… they… they need help, too. Y… you gotta…”
“I don’t have to do anything,” Gohan said firmly, his expression hardening. “I only came here to find you. Whatever happens to anyone else is no concern of mine.”
Trunks’ eyes flared angrily, and Gohan was startlingly reminded of the child’s father; the little boy had never looked more like Vegeta than he did at this moment. “Why not? How come you’ll only help me? The bad robots will get all of those people, and it’s all because you won’t help them!”
Disturbed and astonished, Gohan found himself unable to speak. What had gotten into this kid? He’d never seen him this way: eyes blazing with fury, jaw set stubbornly, tiny fists clenched so hard that they shook convulsively. What had happened to the reserved, innocent toddler that Trunks had shown himself to be, and when had he been replaced by this raging, venomous accuser?
“You’re supposed to help them!” Trunks cried hoarsely, tears ceaselessly running down his cheeks. “Why won’t you? Why? They need help!”
“Trunks, I…” Gohan began, glancing up nervously; if he didn’t get Trunks calmed down, the child might give away their position. Besides, the things that he was saying were making him extremely uncomfortable. “I…”
“If you’re not gonna do anything, then I will!” The toddler abruptly whipped away from him and started to dash out from behind the pile of rubble.
Gohan’s hand shot out, grasping Trunks firmly yet gently by the shoulder and pulling him back. “Trunks, no!”
Trunks struggled violently, grunting with the effort, but could not break the older boy’s grip. “No! Let me go!” he squealed. “Let me go! They need help!”
Gohan used his free hand to cover the child’s mouth again, all but silencing him. “Stop it!” he whispered harshly into Trunks’ ear. “You’ll get both of us killed!”
While Trunks’ efforts slowed, they did not stop; he was determined to break the older boy’s grasp. Gohan held him tightly, not daring to loosen his grip even the tiniest fraction, though there was no danger of the little boy breaking it; he continued to do so for several minutes after an empty silence descended upon the city. Then, reluctantly, he released him.
Trunks glared at him over his shoulder, eyes narrow and silently accusatory. Suddenly unable to look at him, Gohan bowed his head; he slid out of Super Saiyajin, his eyes and hair becoming as dark as his mood. “Gomen nasai, Trunks. I… I…” he tried almost inaudibly, feeling strangely compelled to apologize, but incapable of finding the right words to say.
Soft, quick footsteps scuffled away from him; looking up from under his eyebrows, he saw Trunks disappear around the pile of debris. Gohan let him go, feeling unworthy to be in the toddler’s presence, though not quite sure why. What did the kid want from him, anyway? There was nothing that he could have done to rescue those people; he’d done nothing wrong by staying back.
“How come you’ll only help me?” Trunks had asked him. Gohan suddenly realized that he knew the answer, and it shamed him; he hadn’t helped those people… because they’d meant nothing to him. Over the days they’d spent together, Trunks had grown to matter---enough so that Gohan was willing to risk his life to find him. Anyone else, on the other hand…
Gohan sighed, disappointed in himself, and rose to his feet. He gazed over the rubble to see those who were fortunate enough to survive crawling out of their hiding places. And Trunks… Trunks was kneeling amid the scattered bodies of the last group of victims, shoulders shaking---no doubt from grieving, frustrated sobs.
Gohan stared silently at the child: a child who had been ready to rush headlong into a hopeless situation because he couldn’t stand by and let innocent people be hurt. I used to be like that, the adolescent realized abruptly. He’d once cared about people so much that he would not hesitate to step up in their defence. Such concern had vanished somewhere along the line, and Gohan didn’t need to think in order to know where.
He sighed again and stepped over to stand beside Trunks; the little boy made it a point to ignore him, shifting to one side and turning his head away. Depression creasing his features, Gohan knelt next to him and folded his hands in his lap. For a few silent moments, he stared at the corpses that lay in front of him in a bloody array, listening to the toddler’s quiet sobs.
At last, he spoke softly. “Gomen nasai, Trunks. Really. But there wasn’t anything that I could have done to help these people. I’m not powerful enough to defeat the androids; whether I fight them or not, a lot of people are going to die. It’s a fact that I’ve come to accept. Maybe I’ve accepted it too much. I don't know” The lines of sorrow around his eyes deepened. “Things like this used to make me angry---furious, actually. I know what you’re thinking: it’s not fair that these people were killed. And I know that those thoughts hurt. The thing is, Trunks, sometimes things can happen that make them not hurt anymore. One of those things happened to me a few years ago; that’s why I don’t seem to care about all this killing.”
Feeling drained, Gohan fell silent. He didn’t know what kind of effect that his words would have on Trunks---if they had any effect at all; at the very least, he hoped that the child would start speaking to him again. He held no expectations that his pain would be understood. How could it be? Trunks was only four years old, and while his upbringing probably couldn’t have been called sheltered, it had been far less painful than Gohan’s own.
“Gohan-san?” He jumped at the sound of Trunks’ quiet voice. Turning his head slightly, he saw the child gazing at him sombrely. “What made you stop hurting?”
Gohan didn’t answer immediately, only looked at him. At a little boy who had already seen too much that was horrible, but wasn’t numb to it. “You don’t want to hear about that, Trunks. It’s a terrible story. It would only upset you.”
“No,” Gohan refused, shaking his head. He stood. “We should leave. There’s no reason for us to stay here.”
Trunks glanced around, sympathetically watching the few haggard survivors before rising to his feet and nodding once. “Hai.”
As the two walked, a question that had been relegated to the back of Gohan’s mind pushed itself to the forefront and refused to be ignored. “Trunks?” The little boy looked up at him quizzically. “Why did you come here?”
Lowering his eyes, Trunks frowned thoughtfully. “My questions made you feel bad. I didn’t want to make you feel bad anymore, so I sneaked away to find Mama.”
“To find your mother,” the older boy repeated. “Um… Trunks, I hate to tell you this… but you’re mother wouldn’t be here. This isn’t the same city where you and she got separated.”
“I’m afraid not, kid.” Gohan’s brow wrinkled in sympathy when the child’s face fell. “You really miss her, don’t you?”
“Hai,” Trunks responded softly. Then: “It’s been a real long time since you’ve seen your mama, right?”
Gohan shifted uncomfortably. “That’s right.”
“Don’t you miss her?”
“Hai, I do,” the words escaped his lips before he realized that he’d said anything. But it was true; Gohan missed his mother a great deal. He missed her smile and her laugh. He missed the way that she comforted him when he was depressed, and the way that she kept him company when he was sick. He even missed the humiliating way she doted on him in public, the way she constantly insisted that he use his spare time to study, and the way she yelled at him when he got into trouble.
“Then,” Trunks continued, interrupting his thoughts, “you should go and see her.”
Gohan almost stopped, struck with conflicting impulses. His mind told him not to be stupid, that his mother would see only death in his face, and would be better off if she didn’t have to do so. His heart told him that he’d caused undue pain to both himself and his mother by staying away for so long, that she was likely heartbroken and had spent all this time mourning him as if he were dead. The two entities, mind and heart, warred within him for dominance.
But this war ended quickly. Strangely, the choice wasn’t difficult at all.
“You know something, Trunks?” Gohan replied, looking down at the toddler and surprising himself by smiling a bit. “I think you’re right.”
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