In, 1, 2, 3 . . . . Out, 1, 2, 3 . . . .
In, 1, 2, 3 . . . . Out, 1, 2, 3 . . . .
His breathing would barely have been audible to a passerby, had there been anyone traveling the remote dirt road at this hour. But in his mind it was the only sound.
In, 1, 2, 3 . . . .
He did not hear the powdery coating of snow underfoot being crushed as his soles pounded forward in an unceasing rhythm. Nor did he hear the sound of the wind whistling through the leafless trees on either side of the path. He heard only the air filling his diaphragm from the bottom up, and then slowly being expelled.
Out, 1, 2, 3 . . . .
But it was becoming painfully hard to ignore the fact that his lungs were about to explode.
For a split second, Gohan hated the frigid air that was turning his body to ice from the inside. But with the next breath, he turned that feeling on himself. If only he was able to slow his breathing, the pain would stop. Focus, Gohan, he told himself. Opening his eyes, he noticed a sliver of orange fire on the horizon. The sun had begun to rise on Mt. Paozu and that meant he was late.
Picking up his pace would make it harder to control his breathing, but it had to be done. Gritting his teeth, he willed his legs to move faster. His father’s words echoed in his mind.
‘All of this milk has to be delivered in time for breakfast, Gohan.’
It was the same way in which his father had trained under Master Roshi. Gohan’s grandfather, the Ox King, and Goku’s adoptive grandfather, Gohan, had also delivered milk just as he was doing. Thinking of the great men who had come before him, the demi-Saiyan’s stride increased.
And so did the burning.
In, 1, 2, 3 . . . .
Gohan did not have to dig very deep within himself to find the motivation he needed to keep going. A year and a half ago, a young man named Trunks had shown up literally out of nowhere. He came to warn Goku that in three years’ time, a pair of androids, created by the evil Dr. Gero, would begin a reign of terror on earth like none the world had ever seen.
Trunks explained that in the future, where he was from, Goku had died of a virus before the androids arrived. The remaining fighters were not strong enough to defeat the creatures without Goku’s help. One by one, they had wiped out every warrior that opposed them. They had killed Trunks’ father, Vegeta. Tien, Piccolo, Krillin and Yamcha had all fallen. Eventually, they had even taken Gohan. In the future, there was no one left to fight them except for Trunks, and he wasn’t strong enough to defeat them. In a last-ditch effort to change the future, he and his mother, Bulma, had built a time machine so that he could travel to the past and warn the world’s greatest fighters to be ready for the android threat. He had also brought with him an antidote for the virus, so that Goku would live to fight alongside his friends.
Since that day, Goku, Gohan, and Trunks had been training intensely to stop the unthinkable from happening again. Unable to help in his own world, Trunks had stayed to train with the Z-fighters, in the hopes that he could gain the strength he needed to eventually go back to his time and set things right.
Only Goku, Gohan, and—thanks to his sensitive ears—Piccolo actually knew who Trunks was. When Mirai Trunks showed up in the present, he had not yet been born or even conceived there. So, in order to avoid affecting such future events, they all decided it was better to keep his identity secret. To that end, Goku had invited Trunks to stay with him. At Goku’s house, there would be very little chance of running into Bulma, Vegeta, or the others. Plus, after hearing from Piccolo how Trunks was a Super Saiyan and how he had effortlessly defeated Frieza and his henchmen, Goku was sure he would make a valuable training partner. The whole gang had planned to meet up in three years’ time, to be ready and waiting when the androids arrived. Since then, the Son family had shared their home with this mysterious young man.
Because the house at Mt. Paozu was so small, Trunks slept on the floor in Gohan’s room. It had taken Gohan a while to get used to sharing like this for, having been an only child, he’d always had his room to himself. Not to mention that this stranger from the future was, indeed, strange.
At first, he barely spoke to Gohan. He only looked at him as though he had seen a ghost. And he often seemed to have nightmares. Both phenomena left the younger boy feeling disturbed. Sometimes when Trunks looked at him with those expressive blue eyes, Gohan could almost see his own demise reflected there. It always left him with chills and a heartbreaking feeling of sadness. He often wondered what his future self’s relationship had been with Trunks. He knew the mysterious teenager had called him “Master” in another time and place. But was such a bond strong enough to transcend the boundaries of time?
As he ran, Gohan drifted back in his thoughts to the day Mirai Trunks arrived. It had been he, Gohan, who had encouraged the others to trust him and follow him. But why had he done so? Gohan himself wasn’t sure. Perhaps he had simply sensed that the time traveler was sincere. Or perhaps he had been guided by something more. He didn’t know. But whatever it was the future had held for them, it was clear that Trunks had struggled with it in the beginning.
But as time passed, so did the awkwardness. Gohan learned that Trunks was well-versed in mathematics and the sciences and he would help Gohan whenever he noticed him faltering on his assignments in those early days. Eventually, Trunks became his full-time tutor. At night, they would spend the hours before bed studying calculus, trigonometry, and physics until Gohan could barely keep his eyes open any longer.
Unlike Gohan’s previous tutor, the awful Mister Shu, Trunks was a kind and empathic teacher. When Gohan failed to understand something, he seemed to know just how to explain it in a way that made sense. The previous winter, when they were studying material properties, he had taken Gohan to a nearby frozen pond to help him understand negative thermal expansion. He used an energy beam to melt a hole through the ice, and explained how water displays negative thermal expansion below 3.984 degrees Celsius. “So you see,” he said, “these long equations aren’t just something your mother uses to torture you.” Trunks got up as Gohan continued to stare into the black water. “They’re relevant to everything around us,” he went on. “Like this lake, and the ice we’re standing on, and this snowball for example.” With that, he tossed a well-packed ball of wet snow at the younger boy, hitting him directly above the ear. Gohan cringed, not because the throw had been hard, but because the pulverized snow had fallen into his jacket and was now melting into his previously warm, dry shirt. Trunks laughed merrily until Gohan ran towards him with speed Trunks didn’t know he could manage and slid into the teenager’s knees, sending him sprawling across the ice on his backside. Then, twin peels of laughter echoed across the snowy landscape.
Soon, the younger boy found himself wanting to study harder simply because he craved the reward of Trunks’ respect and attention. Not to mention the occasional treats, like that day on the ice. As he ran, Gohan thought fondly about the time they had spent together since the other demi-Saiyan had arrived. Warm memories were about the only thing he had to wrap himself in on frigid mornings like this one.
He had run this route every morning for the past year and a half. Still, it never got any easier. Mostly because his father kept finding ways to make it more difficult. On the first morning of training, Goku and Trunks had dragged Gohan from his bed before dawn and hauled him down to the local dairy. There, Goku had talked the farmer into letting Gohan make all of his milk deliveries, instead of the farmer’s normal delivery man. The man only agreed to Goku’s terms after he promised that Gohan would perform flawlessly.
Armed with two full crates of fresh milk, Gohan had set out behind Trunks and Goku as they marked out the delivery route he was to follow through the valley. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, for he had heard the farmer talking to his father. ‘On foot?! You’ve got to be insane! It’s a 25-mile delivery route!’
‘Don’t worry!’ Goku had said. ‘Gohan’ll be fine.’
In fact, Goku apparently didn’t think the route was challenging enough, for no sooner had the three Saiyans started out through the valley on the narrow dirt path than Goku began to deviate from it. He cut energetically across the road from left to right then right to left, making figure-eights around the trees on either side. Goku actually looked like he enjoyed the activity. He chanted ‘zig-a, zag-a, zig-a, zag-a!’ as he jogged along.
Gohan slowed down and eventually stopped running altogether as he watched his father. He looked slightly ridiculous: a grown man wearing nothing but canary yellow tights, skipping across the road and chanting happily. Has he completely lost it? Gohan couldn’t help but wonder.
‘Gohan, move!’ Trunks’ sharp voice interrupted his thoughts. He sounded the order like a drill sergeant and Gohan’s body immediately jerked forward at the command. He bee-lined down the road to catch up with his father but Trunks appeared again in front of him, blocking the path. Gasping in surprise, Gohan barely managed to stop his headlong sprint before running into the older demi. As he screeched to a halt, a few tiny drops of milk, caught in the centripetal force, splashed over the lips of their containers and landed at Trunks’ feet. For some reason, Gohan felt very relieved the spilled milk didn’t hit his new trainer.
‘Not like that,’ Trunks said, referring to Gohan’s straight-line route down the path. ‘Like that.’ He nodded over his shoulder at Goku. Gohan leaned to the left to better see around Trunks and caught a glimpse of his father still skipping back and forth across the path, now weaving between the dunes on either side. Gohan swallowed and looked up at Trunks one more time hoping he was joking. Not only did it look silly, but performing the deliveries like this would add several miles to the already marathon-length delivery circuit. But all he saw as he looked up was lavender hair swish as Trunks took off skipping after Goku. The youngest boy watched him follow Goku’s lead. Then, stifling a laugh, Gohan followed suit.
‘Can’t hear you!’ Trunks shouted back at him.
‘Zig-a, zag-a, zig-a, zag-a!’
The first day of training was the only day Goku and Trunks had accompanied him on this errand. Every day thereafter, Gohan had gotten up on his own to make the deliveries while the other two slept peacefully in their warm beds. Gohan had to step over Trunks each morning on his way out of their bedroom and he couldn’t help but notice, with a tinge of envy, how peaceful and warm Trunks always looked. Once, in his grogginess, he had tripped over the dozing demi and awakened him quite rudely with a knee to the middle of the back. Thinking back on it, Gohan smiled to himself. Of course it had been an accident, but misery did love company after all.
On the second day of training, his dad had given him a turtle shell and simply sent him on his way. The first shell had been a mere 100 pounds and Gohan quickly became accustomed to carrying it. Soon he graduated to a more challenging 300 pounds. Today was his first day carrying 600 pounds and the new weight was definitely taking its toll. Normally he’d be miles ahead of where he was now.
Out, 1, 2, 3 . . . .
The rest of his day would be spent sparring with the other two men and Gohan knew that whatever pain he felt now would be nothing compared with later. Goku and Trunks had long ago attained Super Saiyan form and their fierceness in battle could leave Gohan in awe. Once they ascended to their full power, every kick and punch took ten times as much out of him as before. Goku had instructed him to start daily milk delivery to increase his strength and stamina in the hopes that he could eventually ascend to a new level of power as well. But, because he endured several hours of brutal training every day before the other two had even awakened, Gohan grew tired in the afternoons while they seemed full of renewed energy and intensity. At first, he had found it ironic that the very training that was supposed to make him stronger had only resulted in him sitting on the sidelines for much of the real fighting. But, little by little, he noticed he was lasting longer against the other two. His training was working slowly but surely to bridge the gap between his power and theirs.
Gohan’s route eventually brought him to the river. At this point, his father had instructed him to swim across it and run downstream, only to re-cross the river once more and continue his deliveries. More than once, Gohan had been tempted to simply run straight to the next house. No one would ever know that he hadn’t crossed the river. This particular morning, the idea was especially tempting. He estimated the air temperature was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind already stung his body, which was entirely exposed to the elements except for the pair of light blue Lycra training shorts he wore. He didn’t even want to think about how cold it would be once he was soaking wet. Also, he could make up valuable time by cutting out this seemingly meaningless swimming.
But Gohan quickly banished the thought, reminding himself of the greater purpose of milk delivery. Even more important than getting the milk to each family by breakfast was the end goal of training his body to deal with extreme situations. Gohan was sure there was a good reason behind everything his father told him to do and any skimping or cheating now could lead to failure against the androids later. If neither Vegeta nor Trunks had been able to beat them in the future, then Gohan thought he stood very little chance. And if his father thought this training would help, then Gohan would not question it.
With little time to argue with himself, he waded waist-deep into the water. Turning to face the shore where he had just stood, he eased himself backwards into the water and began kicking furiously to propel himself towards the other side. He rested the milk crates on his stomach to keep them out of the river. In the icy water, the breath he had worked so hard to regulate was ruthlessly stolen from him.
Reaching the opposite shore, the young Saiyan promptly began weaving in and out of the dunes as he followed the river’s bank downstream. His pace quickened noticeably as he tried to get the blood flowing back into his numb extremities. Gohan was sure the color of his skin was beginning to match his blue shorts. For the millionth time, he resented his father’s decision to forego any lining on the shorts which might have kept him warmer. When the three of them had gone to the tailor to pick up their training spandex, the gentleman had made all three pairs of shorts with a Gore-tex inner lining. “For warmth,” he had said. But Goku wouldn’t hear of it. He told the man he’d actually pay more if he removed the lining. It had been obvious the tailor thought he was insane, but he did as requested and Goku threw him ten extra zeni per pair.
Gohan supposed that Goku didn’t think much about the extra money, since he had used the milk delivery wages to pay for them. Then Gohan remembered that Trunks had first offered to pay, and he couldn’t help but think that if Trunks had bought their training gear, he would probably be enjoying the enveloping warmth of the Gore-tex right now. But the cold certainly was pushing him to finish faster. Maybe Goku had known this all along.
The miles now flew by quickly and, after some time, the next house on his delivery route come into view. Here goes . . . he thought as he waded back into the water just upstream from the house. But the second time immersing himself in the river wasn’t half as bad. It was warmer than the freezing air, at least.
After placing an ice cold gallon of milk on the doorstop of the next house, Gohan finally turned east to complete the last leg of his journey. He felt as though he was racing with the sun itself as it crept ever higher into the sky in front of him. But the warmth that came with the dawn was most welcome. His final task was to deliver the few remaining bottles in his crates to the houses at the top of the mountain for which the area was named.
As the terrain became steeper, he felt the weight of the turtle shell once more. His legs would have been burning if he could feel them. Everything below his waist now simply felt like jelly. In an effort to distract himself from the physical discomfort, Gohan focused again on his breathing.
In, 1, 2, 3 . . . . Out, 1, 2, 3 . . . .
In, 1, 2, 3 . . . . Out, 1, 2, 3 . . . .
The ground evened out as Gohan reached the highest inhabited plateau on the mountain and not a moment too soon. He heaved a sigh of relief and slid the last bottle of milk into a trough near the door of the home. The exhausted boy slumped down onto a nearby rock to rest but the quiet moment was soon interrupted.
“You’re five minutes late young man!” The shrill voice of the home’s owner made Gohan jump. “First you’re late with my milk and now you’re taking a nap on my property!”
Gohan stood up. “No, Yuki-san, I wasn’t!”
The hefty old woman moved with inexplicable speed towards Gohan and stopped directly in front of him to wag a finger in his face. “You lazy good-for-nothin’—I swear you wouldn’t know hard work if it jumped up and bit you! Is it really so hard to have my milk here by 6 a.m.? I’ve been up for an hour already! You probably just crawled out of bed. And what in the world are you wearing?” She grabbed Gohan’s left arm and probably would have lifted his feet right off the ground if he hadn’t been wearing a 600 pound weight. She critically observed his unusual delivery uniform. “You’re liable to freeze! Doesn’t your mother know how to dress you right?”
“B-but—” Gohan stammered. “It’s my training uniform—”
“And that long hair! You look just like a wild animal,” she said, letting his arm drop. “I’ll have a word with Chichi about you, you can count on that. I swear, in all my life—”
“I’ve got to go, Yuki-san, good talking to you!”
Gohan smiled in spite of himself as he turned away from the woman and ran towards home with newfound speed and energy. It was amazing how nasty old ladies could be just as motivating as the android threat.
Before long, the welcoming sight of home loomed in Gohan’s view. Grey smoke swirled up from the chimney and Gohan’s well-honed senses could already pick up the smell of the bacon, sausage, and fresh baked bread wafting from his mother’s kitchen. In order to avoid being seen by Chichi, he approached from the opposite side of the house. He could see Trunks hanging laundry on a line that had been tied between the two large trees in their backyard. Goku waited for him there, leaning against the tree on the left. His arms crossed over the front of his orange gi, he watched with a goofy grin as Gohan approached.
“Dad!” Gohan exclaimed. He ran a bit faster.
“Hey, Gohan! How did milk delivery go today?”
“It was tough,” Gohan said honestly, resting his hands on his knees and catching his breath. “But look what I got!” He proudly displayed a fistful of cash. It represented all of the tips he had earned for the week. He placed the money in Goku’s outstretched hand.
“Good job, son. I’ll just hang onto this, okay?” Trunks approached them then, carrying a basket containing a clean, dry blanket and Gohan’s plum-colored gi. He removed the heavy shell from the freezing boy’s back then threw the blanket around his shoulders.
“Let’s get you cleaned up, kid,” he said, using the blanket to wipe the beads of cold sweat from Gohan’s forehead and chest. While Goku counted the money his son had collected, Trunks wrapped the blanket all the way around the shivering demi and, with his palms, applied just the right amount of friction to the outside of the blanket that Gohan could feel the warmth beginning to return to his extremities. With a grateful sigh, his body relaxed a bit under the warmth of Trunks’ hands. Then, draping the blanket over the younger boy’s head, Trunks dried his matted hair. “Now, go ahead,” he said, leaning down to hand Gohan his gi. “Put this on and hang your shorts on the line.”
Gohan knew he had to get dressed before he went into the house to prevent Chichi from flipping out over his less-than-protective training gear. Which reminded him . . . .
“Oh, Dad,” he admitted, “I was five minutes late delivering milk to Yuki-san’s house today.” He looked at the ground. “She said she was going to talk to mom about me.”
Goku and Trunks looked at each other. So far, Chichi had been uncharacteristically accepting of their training. It was partly because having Trunks around meant Gohan had a full-time personal tutor who worked for free, which she liked, and partly because Goku had inexplicably started producing an income after years of her nagging him. But it was mostly because she had no idea of half the things they were actually doing. And they planned to keep it that way. She would never let Gohan continue training if she found out about the extreme conditions under which he carried out his task.
“Breakfast!” Chichi called from the kitchen.
“Just go change, Gohan. We’ll figure it out,” Trunks said.
Gohan grabbed his gi and jogged towards the other tree. There he slid out of his shorts and pinned them to the clothes line. Hopefully, with the rising sun warming the landscape, his shorts would be dry before they left for the day’s activities. He quickly slipped into his regular outfit. A billowing white bed sheet waved in the wind, blocking him from view as he changed.
No sooner had he finished than he heard the sound of an old car in the distance, its engine laboring loudly as it approached at a high speed. Oh, please, no, Gohan thought, as he turned toward the sound. But even from here, he could see Yuki-san’s angry face crouched over the steering wheel. She sped around the corners on the winding road, veering from the path and tearing up the grass at every turn.
Gohan raced across the yard to join the other two. He looked at Trunks with panicked eyes. But the older boy just winked at him and smiled. There was no way he was going to let a meddling neighbor with a chip on her shoulder get in the way of the work they were doing. It was just too important.
The old woman’s car screeched to a halt in front of the group. Opening the door, she huffed and puffed as she heaved her hefty frame from the driver’s seat. “Oh, good morning, Yuki-san—” Goku began nervously, but she immediately cut him off.
“Nothin’ good about it thanks to that lazy, good-for-nothin’ son of yours!” Yuki pushed past him and began thumping towards the house. “I’ll have you know I ate dry cereal this morning for breakfast.” She raised her nose to the sky. By her demeanor, one would think it was the most degrading indignity a human being could suffer.
Trunks jogged alongside her, desperate to stop her before she reached the front door. “Ah, Yuki-san, it’s such a pleasure to see you, as always.” She ignored him.
“Not only was that boy late, but he showed up half frozen and wearing the most ridiculous get-up. Nothin’ but some silly turtle shell and a pair of underwear! Why I never! What if one of my granddaughters had been outside—”
Trunks cut her off. “We were just chiding Gohan for being late. You’re absolutely right, it should never have happened. Our sincerest apologies.” But Yuki was unmoved. She continued her march towards the house and had almost reached the front door when Trunks decided to change tactics.
“We’d be happy to hear your thoughts on what his penance should be for this sin!” he blurted, then breathed a sigh of relief as Yuki stopped in her tracks. Now she seemed intrigued. Having gotten her attention, he continued. “Perhaps Gohan could do something to make it up to you. It’s been a very cold spring. You must be running low on firewood, no?”
She pursed her lips as though deep in thought. “Well . . .” she began. “I do need some firewood cut.” She glared at Gohan suspiciously as though he couldn’t possibly repay her for her dry breakfast even if he delivered all of the trees in the forest, finely chopped, to her doorstep.
“Great! You’ll have it tomorrow, then. Won’t she, Gohan?”
“Mm-hmm.” He shook his head slowly, not sure whether to be grateful or angry.
“Now, won’t you let me see you off?” Trunks attempted to usher her back towards her car, but she planted her feet firmly in the grass.
“And,” she said shrilly, not budging an inch, “I expect I’ll also need my garden tilled as soon as the ground thaws!”
Gohan simply stared at her, his jaw slack and his eyes wide. He was shocked to hear Trunks’ calm voice saying, “Of course, that’s not a problem.” Now Gohan stared with that same look at the older Saiyan. He had barely been five minutes late. And Trunks knew very well it was only because of the oppressive new turtle shell. But now he was bound to perform hours of chores for Yuki to make up for the insignificant mistake. Trunks just rubbed his chin with his fingers and continued, “Although . . . when we tell Chichi, she’ll probably prefer to confine Gohan to his room with his books.” Yuki-san frowned. “Yes,” his tone was apologetic, “my guess is when she finds out about this, you won’t see Gohan out of his room for a good month.”
“Well, let’s not be hasty,” Yuki said cautiously. “I think we three have this all worked out. There’s really no need to go bothering Chichi.”
“Hm.” Trunks pretended to think about it. “Well, I suppose you’re right.” Yuki nodded emphatically and Trunks smiled. “In fact, if anything should happen in the future, be sure to come and see me first. I’m sure that you and I can work out a punishment that would be satisfactory without involving his mother.” He then turned and looked at the younger boy expectantly. “Gohan?”
Gohan was at a loss. Trunks obviously wanted him to say something, but he failed to see what more he could possibly do to appease this woman. “Apologize to Yuki-san,” Trunks stated, as though it was obvious.
Gohan could feel his face burning but he only looked at the ground and stated quietly, “I’m sorry, Yuki-san.”
She snorted. “In my day,” she complained, “people did that on all fours.”
“Uh, what do you mean?” Gohan stammered.
“I mean people had respect for their elders at one time! Not like this brazen youth here!” She gestured wildly at Gohan and looked as though at any moment she might break for the kitchen door. “I don’t know why I even bothered trying to reason with you people. A bunch of animals, you are—”
“You’re perfectly right, Yuki-san,” Trunks said, but this time there was a distinct edge to his voice. “Gohan.” He spoke the name through clenched teeth. It was clear that he wanted Gohan to comply with her request.
Shakily, the younger Saiyan crouched down, placing one knee on the grass and then the other. Talk about indignities, he thought. He rested his elbows on the ground at Yuki’s feet and grabbed a few fistfuls of grass to steady his hands, which were trembling. Now kneeling as low as he could to the ground without completely planting his face in it, he said clearly, “I’m sorry, Yuki-san. It won’t happen again.” Without breathing, he waited for what she might say next. He understood that it was imperative that she not speak to Chichi, but Gohan wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take.
Thankfully, she accepted the second apology. “Fine, then I’ll see you tomorrow by six, and you’ll have my fire wood and my milk with you.”
“Yes, Yuki-san.” Gohan remained in his crouched position. For good measure, he added, “thank you for your kindness and understanding.”
“Just don’t you abuse it, young man,” she warned.
“And,” Trunks added, “please be sure to let me know if Gohan’s services aren’t satisfactory. I like to be kept up to speed on how he’s doing, so I can be sure he makes improvements where needed.” Gohan dug his fingers further into the dirt beneath the grass.
Yuki-san bowed slightly to Trunks, an evil look gracing her wrinkled features. “I most certainly will.” Then she turned to Gohan. “I hope you know how lucky you are to have such a polite and dedicated tutor.” Gohan only pressed his forehead harder to the ground. He dared not look up or Yuki would see the red-hot anger in his face and think him ungrateful.
After a few deep breaths, he was finally able to manage a half-hearted affirmation. “Yes, Yuki-san. He always has my best interests at heart.”
All three breathed a collective sigh of relief as she began waddling back to her car. Gohan sat up straight and watched her slowly drive away. As soon as she was out of earshot, Trunks grunted in disgust. “Please be sure to spit in her milk tomorrow, Gohan.”
The younger boy laughed in spite of himself. It was not often he heard his teacher say something disrespectful like this. It made him happy to know that Trunks was still on his side, even if he did completely sell Gohan down the river only a moment ago. “I’m sorry, Gohan,” Trunks said, offering a hand to help him up from the ground. “But if she had spoken to your mother, a lot of your hard work would have been for nothing.” With that, he turned toward the house. Gohan followed him inside, still reeling from the recent experience. And Goku brought up the rear, whistling as he meandered into the kitchen.
“Goku, who was that in the car?” Chichi asked, turning from the stove with a very heavy-looking frying pan in her hand.
“Uh . . . .” Goku scratched his head, eyeing the pan warily.
“Just some lost tourists,” Trunks finished.
The three Saiyans ate in silence, fueling up for their full day of training ahead. Trunks finished his meal first and got up to help Chichi clear the table. Taking dish cloth in hand, he then began washing the huge mound of dishes that were piled on the counter top.
“Young man, you don’t have to do that,” Chichi said, but her voice made it obvious that she was grateful for the help.
“I insist,” Trunks said. “It’s the least I can do for that delicious breakfast.”
“But Trunks,” Goku whined. “We really should be going.” He was eager to get started with their workout.
“Oh, just be quiet, Goku! You know, you could stand to learn some manners!” Chichi bellowed. “Just because you don’t ever help with the chores—”
“But Chichi!” Goku protested.
“I hang the laundry out every morning!” He insisted in a last-ditch effort to defend himself.
Gohan and Trunks shared a private grin behind Chichi’s back as the couple continued bickering.
“Oh, you do not,” she said with annoyance. “You probably just stand there looking stupid while Trunks does it.” For a second Gohan wondered if his mom had been watching them from the house, but he realized she simply knew her husband all too well after so many years.
“I do not . . . .” Goku countered meekly, as he stared at the ceiling and tried to remember whether or not he had actually hung any clothes that morning.
“I’m finished.” Their helpful house guest tossed a wet towel onto the counter and turned to face the rest of them. The announcement had the desired effect of ending the argument.
“Great!” Goku brightened, but then his face turned serious. “Let’s go.”
Chichi ran to Gohan. “Oh, sweetie, you be careful today, do you hear me?” She tied a red scarf lovingly around his neck and smoothed down a few unruly strands of hair around his face.
“I will, Mom. Bye!” He ran outside to catch up with the other two.
“Goku, don’t you be too hard on him!” Chichi yelled across the yard to her husband but Goku just laughed in that way he had and the three of them took to the sky.
“Where are we going today, Trunks?” Gohan asked excitedly. Each day they put in roughly eleven hours of training that was designed to challenge their bodies to the limit. The workouts involved both exercising and sparring under radically different sets of conditions so they’d be prepared to fight in any environment when the time came. Every few weeks, Goku would change the circuit entirely so they faced new challenges and practiced different fighting and survival skills.
Recently they had been heading West to the desert to fight in the mornings but Gohan realized they had set out to the East today. “I think we’re going to the ocean for a morning swim before our workout.” Gohan’s face must have betrayed his thoughts. He was in no hurry to get back in the water after his romp in the icy river only an hour before. But Trunks quickly reassured him. “Don’t worry, Gohan,” he laughed. “It’ll be much warmer there!”
Relieved, Gohan smiled and picked up his speed. A half hour later, they touched down on the sandy beach. They wasted no time removing their gis and stripping down to their training shorts. Goku wore yellow, and Trunks wore black. But as Gohan began to slide off his gi he realized with a start that he’d forgotten to grab his shorts from the clothes line before they’d left. Oh no, he thought. They wouldn’t make him train completely naked, would they? Gohan really couldn’t be sure of anything with them.
But out of the corner of his eye, he saw blue lycra flying towards him. Trunks tossed the training shorts at him with a knowing look. “I grabbed them from the line while you were being otherwise dressed,” he said, nodding at Gohan’s red scarf.
“Thanks!” Gohan smiled as he put them on. He remembered how at first he had been shy about training in the shorts because his body was so much less developed than the other two. But he had grown significantly in the last year and half thanks to their intense workouts. And although he was not yet as tall as Trunks, his musculature was slowly beginning to resemble the older demi’s.
Trunks placed all of their extra clothes in a duffel bag and capsulized it. A few minutes later, the fighters had located a crop of boulders along the edge of the cliffs that framed the sea. From among the large rocks, the two older Saiyans picked four that they would tie to their arms and legs to make their morning swim more challenging. Goku also picked four massive rocks for Gohan. As Gohan secured his arms and legs to the rocks with tight knots, he glanced at Trunks and Goku. He could swear that the weights his father had picked for him were the biggest.
Then, scaling the cliffs, the three prepared to dive into the frothy sea. Below, the waves crashed against the rocks mercilessly. “We’ll head for those volcanic islands off to the southeast,” Goku shouted over the sound of the waves. Then he dove head first off of the vertical platform. Gohan followed, making sure to propel himself far enough from the cliff face to avoid the rocks below. Trunks watched as the four boulders that Gohan had tied to himself hit the water on both sides of the boy. When he was safely out of the way, Trunks followed suit.
As they swam further into the open ocean, the floor of the sea dropped from beneath them and the ropes holding the weights became taught. Feeling their full weight pulling him down now, Gohan summoned more energy to stay above the water. The food and rest that he had gotten during breakfast had refreshed him somewhat. And, as Trunks had promised, the water was much warmer here. The sun had now fully risen overhead and Gohan actually enjoyed the feel of the cool water splashing around him. Stretching his arms and legs as he swam, he felt each one of his muscles expand and contract in turn. He could almost feel himself getting stronger day by day. It felt good.
“Heads up!” Goku shouted from behind. Gohan realized he must have passed his father at some point. He looked back and saw Goku swimming furiously. A wall of white water shot up behind him as his speed increased. But close behind the spray of tiny droplets that Goku created, an unmistakable and foreboding gray triangle jutted out of the water. “Shaaaark!”
Sucking in his breath, Gohan turned to face forward again and plowed through the waves as fast as he could go. Through the salty sting of water in his eyes, he could see the others on either side of him. All three raced neck-in-neck towards the islands, which were now looming closer on the horizon. At the pace they were swimming, it would only be a few minutes until they reached the shore. Feeling a bit bolder at the sight of land, Gohan dared to glance backward. He was caught by surprise at the sight of thousands of glistening white teeth emerging rapidly from the waves behind him. He pulled his legs to his chest just as the shark snapped its jaw shut, barely missing his toes.
Now completely terrified, the youngest Saiyan focused on the shore ahead of him. He didn’t even feel the weight of the boulders anymore. He put one cupped hand in front of the other, thinking only of reaching the sandy beach. In the blink of an eye, he was there, dragging the last of the heavy stones he carried onto dry land. He collapsed onto the sand and watched as Trunks and Goku continued to race with the hungry shark.
Although they easily left the snarling predator behind, the other two reached the shore some time after Gohan. He could feel their eyes on him as they climbed out of the water. His father’s eyes were narrowed in thought, and Trunks’ lavender brows were knitted with seriousness. Gohan couldn’t tell what they were thinking, but without wasting any time, they removed the tethers from their wrists and ankles and began jogging inland side by side, toward the center of the island. He quickly freed himself from the boulders he was carrying and followed.
Goku and Trunks talked as they ran, but the younger boy couldn’t make out their words. He raced faster to try to catch up, but they picked up their pace as well. A few whispered syllables drifted back to Gohan before being carried away by the wind.
“. . . he could become . . . .”
“. . . with proper motivation . . . .”
“. . . if only he could harness . . . .”
But as Gohan ran faster, the sound of the wind in his ears muted their voices. Soon the terrain on which they ran became steeper and the vegetation became scarce. Above them, at the center of the island, loomed the mouth of the volcano which had created it. Gohan could tell by the extreme heat rising into the air and distorting his view of the clouds that this was an active volcanic site. About halfway to the top, the walls of the mountain became so steep the Z-warriors could no longer run but had to climb. With their hands and feet they grasped whatever rocks or small trees they could find for leverage and scaled the mountain walls. Before long, they had reached the uppermost ridge of the volcanic crater and could look down at the boiling surface of the lava inside.
Gohan was the last to reach the top by a small margin. He wrapped his right arm and leg around the ledge that made up the rim of the volcano. They reddened almost immediately from the heat and the blistering air burned his throat and lungs. “Dad, what are we doing here?” he asked.
“We’re going to train here, Gohan.”
He followed his father’s eyes as they rested on several narrow ledges inside the volcano. Some were located near the mouth and others were deep inside, dangerously close to the level of the lava. Gohan swallowed. “In— In there?” he asked.
“That’s right, son.”
To Gohan’s right, Trunks swung his legs over the lip of the mountain and lowered himself onto the widest, uppermost ledge inside. “We’ll start up here, to give ourselves time to get used to the conditions.”
Gohan wondered if one ever got used to being inside a volcano. “Why don’t you start with some push-ups.” Goku suggested.
Lowering himself on to the same ledge, the younger demi hit the deck with both hands and began counting as he lifted his body up and down on his arms. “9, 10, 11 . . . .” Soon he felt his father’s foot on the middle of his back. Without a word, Goku leaned all of his weight into that one leg. His face was stern and Gohan knew better than to complain. He summoned still more energy and continued counting. “21, 22, 23 . . . .”
He glanced up at Trunks to see if he planned to join Goku in this task. The two of them seemed to like ganging up on him during daily workouts. But Trunks’ attention was not on Gohan or Goku. He jogged in place, every so often throwing hard punches and jabs at an unseen enemy. His jaw was clenched and his normally animated eyes were dark and unseeing. He sometimes got like this during training sessions. Trunks was the only one who had seen the androids before, and the only one who had fought them. And the way he looked when he thought about them was enough to send shivers down Gohan’s spine. Closing his eyes, he picked up the pace of his pushups, straining harder against his father’s weight. “102, 103, 104 . . . .”
After some time, Trunks joined the other two. Goku removed his foot from his son’s back and dropped to the floor nearby to do some pushups on his own. Gohan sat up and tried to catch his breath. It wasn’t that the training exercises made him very tired, but his body simply couldn’t get enough air in this atmosphere. Each breath was painfully hot and he choked and gasped as his lungs protested.
“Are you okay?” Trunks asked as he sat down in front of Gohan. His eyes shone with concern and his face was soft. Gone was the fiery anger that had driven him a few moments ago. Gohan nodded in the affirmative. “Good, then let’s keep going. How about some sit-ups?”
“Sure.” He put his feet together in front of Trunks, waiting for his teacher to hold his ankles and give him leverage. But instead, the older boy settled down onto the dusty ledge himself and stretched his legs toward Gohan. “Here, link your ankles with mine,” he instructed. “That way we both get a workout.”
Trunks placed his feet on the inside of Gohan’s ankles then laced his toes underneath his legs and around his lower calves. Gohan turned his ankles inward and latched his feet around the inside of Trunks’ calves. As they both lowered their shoulders towards the floor, their shifting weight pulled their legs tightly against each other, providing leverage for both. Each boy laced his fingers through the back of his hair and pulled himself back up again. They counted off their progress aloud as their elbows touched, signaling another completed sit-up.
As their pace quickened, the fighters felt the familiar burn in their abdomens. But in the clutches of the volcano, it also felt like their skin was on fire. Beads of sweat drenched both of them and made it difficult to keep their locked legs from slipping apart. Trunks noticed that Gohan was still matching him in speed and intensity. Though his strained expression showed that it wasn’t easy, his determination was certainly to be encouraged. “You’ve developed quite a six-pack there,” Trunks said with approval.
Gohan’s face lit up. He couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride. After all, he had been working so hard. Without even realizing it, he tensed the muscles in his abdomen, flexing subconsciously.
The two of them continued their endless exercise, now focusing on their obliques. To isolate them, each demi swiveled his body to the left as he sat up. Their right elbows touched. Then, rising again, each swiveled to the right and their left elbows touched. They continued to count off, simply because shouting out a number gave them something to look forward to while their muscles ached to lift their weight off the ground. But after some time, Trunks noticed how the younger boy was struggling to breathe in the all-consuming heat of the volcano. Finally he said mercifully, “Alright, that’s enough.”
Goku balanced himself in a hand-stand position, his feet elevated high above his head. He lowered himself down towards the ground and then back up, performing one-handed, upside-down push-ups; first with his left arm, then with his right. Gohan had barely begun to catch his breath when his father jumped back onto his feet and began surveying the day’s battleground.
“Okay, guys,” he said. “I don’t want you using any energy attacks in here, because we don’t want to destroy this volcano. This will be a good place to test our speed and skill in hand-to-hand fighting. Fight as hard as you can but don’t send your opponent into the walls. Like I said, we should try to leave this place exactly as we found it.”
The demis nodded in understanding. Then Trunks and Goku took off from the ledge they shared with Gohan and settled on their own chosen ridges at equidistant points around the inside of the mountain. Trunks made the first move, lunging at Goku with his right hand pulled back and balled into a fist. Goku easily blocked the punch and simultaneously attempted a kick to Trunks’ left side which he blocked with his left arm. Before Goku could muster another attack, Trunks seemed to vanish and reappear behind him. But the pureblooded Saiyan anticipated the move and spun around to face him. Again they traded blows which were almost invisible in their speed, each blocking the other at every turn. They continued this way for some time, until Goku finally landed a solid hit to Trunks’ midsection.
The Saiyan prince flew back towards the opposite wall of the volcano but stopped himself midway across. Goku used the opening to turn his attention on Gohan. His father came at him with incredible speed and Gohan steeled himself for the attack. The speed of his punches was incredible. It took all of Gohan’s concentration to see Goku’s movements. He struggled to block the hits and succeeded in avoiding them for several minutes. Although he took no blows, the sheer pace of the exercise was exhausting.
Finally, his father backed off. But almost immediately Trunks was on top of him. He took a different approach, coming at Gohan from the side with his left foot stretched out in front of him, aimed directly for Gohan’s head. The younger boy was able to dodge the attack, but as soon as Trunks’ foot had missed its mark, he stopped himself in midair and flew back at Gohan with immense speed. His elbow landed squarely on the boy’s jaw and snapped his head to the side.
Shocked, his hand immediately went to his aching mouth. “Focus, Gohan, you’re making it too easy,” Trunks warned. Quickly regaining his senses, the young demi shook off the pain. His eyes narrowed. He lunged at his sparring partner, but Trunks easily blocked his right hook with the palm of his right hand. Then he made a prediction.
“My left fist to your stomach.” Gohan barely registered the words before he felt the hit connect. He doubled over. “My right foot to your mouth.” It was as if Trunks was playing with him, calling out his next move like it was a game of pool. His kick hit its mark and Gohan was sent sprawling backwards more than halfway across the cavern.
“Don’t listen to my voice,” Trunks commanded him loudly. “By the time you hear it, it’s already too late. You have to learn to read my body language. It’s all written right there.” Gohan could hear the frustration in his voice and he felt the criticism more harshly than any of the blows he was taking. Forcing himself to focus, he moved in on Trunks again, throwing alternating kicks and punches as fast as he could. Gohan was surprised to realize that he no longer noticed the hot air burning his lungs as he sucked it in.
Although he was unable to land a single blow, after several minutes he had the older demi backed against the volcano wall.
“When you fight the androids,” Trunks continued, “you can’t listen to a word they say.” He blocked Gohan’s foot with his forearm. “They’ll play tricks on you.” He blocked the boy’s knee with his shin. “They’ll mock you.” With that, he easily caught Gohan’s fist. “And the only way you can avoid getting caught up in their game is if you think straight, tune them out, and read their bodies.” Trunks blocked his opponent’s fourth attempt and simultaneously plunged the sole of his foot into his midsection.
Then Goku cut in again.
They went on like this for some time. Eventually, the double-team effort they were using on him began to take its toll. Both Goku and Trunks were able to rest while the other sparred with Gohan. But the youngest boy was never given a break. After a while, he was unable to keep up with the speed of their attacks. His reaction time slowed just a fraction, but it was enough for them to get past his defenses. He began taking more and more hits from the other two.
I have to keep going, he thought, attempting to catch his breath quickly while Goku momentarily backed off. Summoning the last of his energy reserves, he prepared to face Trunks again. He was startled to see his friend’s usually relaxed facial features set in a hard expression, his eyes narrowed and unforgiving. It was that same single-minded focus Gohan had noticed when they were warming up. He braced himself to fight at full power, but he was barely able to block his opponent’s first punch. Trunks’ fist landed against Gohan’s palm with enormous force that propelled him backwards several feet.
Though he managed to block all of the teenager’s hits, the force of his attacks pushed Gohan further and further across the canyon above the lava. If only Trunks would slow down for one second and give Gohan time to get his bearings, he was sure he could land a few good punches. But then again, he realized, the androids would certainly show no mercy when the time came to fight them. Trunks had made that clear.
“Focus!” his opponent hissed. “Or I think your lips will kiss my foot again.”
Gohan crossed both arms over his face just in time to block the roundhouse kick. But by the time he lowered his arms back down to his sides, Trunks was gone. For a split second Gohan was left disoriented, but then he felt a stiff kick to the middle of his back. He flew with immense speed toward the opposite side of the mountain and covered his head as the wall of rock raced toward him. Just before he hit it, Goku seemed to materialize in front of him. With his forearm, he landed a chop to his son’s stomach that sent him plummeting toward the lava. Gohan landed with a backbreaking thud on one of the lower shelves of the volcanic cavern.
He tried to force his eyes to stay open, but they would not. As his heavy lids blinked closed over and over, he saw the two older men locked together in their own battle. Their energy and ferocity seemed limitless. As he let the warmth and darkness envelope him, Gohan wondered if he would ever be their equal.
When he awoke, he was on the beach. The sun was high overhead and a fire crackled nearby. He realized it was the smell of cooking fish that had roused him.
He could hear Trunks’ voice, but it sounded far away. “I’m so sorry about that,” he was saying. “I guess I got a little carried away.”
“No harm done,” Goku reassured him. “The volcano’s still in one piece. And look, he’s coming around.” Their voices grew louder and clearer as Gohan fully awakened. He felt the rough skin of a coconut pressed against his lips and opened his mouth to gulp down the milk it offered. Trunks was kneeling over him, coconut in hand, blue eyes wide with concern.
“Hey, Gohan.” His father kneeled next to Trunks. “You hungry?”
The younger demi suddenly realized he was starving. He eagerly accepted the whole fish his father handed to him wrapped in seaweed. “How long was I out?” he asked.
“Only about an hour,” Goku answered.
Looking around, Gohan saw that a blanket had been spread out on the sand with bread, fruit, and bottles of fresh water. Trunks placed a tray of raw vegetables next to the rest, then looked at Gohan again. His expression had changed from worried to guilty. “The fish is fresh from the sea. But your mother was nice enough to pack us this food, too. You should eat your fill.” He looked down at the sand. “This morning has—uh—really zapped your energy reserves.”
“Mmm,” Gohan agreed, as he hungrily gulped down a few pieces of bread and then helped himself to another piece of fish.
Trunks studied the sand while he ate, lost in his own thoughts. He felt bad for letting himself get caught up in his anger at the androids and taking it out on Gohan during their fight. But Goku seemed to think it was okay, that tough love was the best training method. Thinking back, Trunks knew that his sensei Gohan had been pretty tough on him when they were training for the same mission years ago. But his lessons were always carefully guided by reason—no matter how harsh they were. The Saiyan prince was angry with himself for failing to keep his own emotions in check.
In the last year and a half, Gohan had come a long way in his training and he showed signs of being able to achieve much, much more. Trunks and Goku were constantly amazed at his seemingly unconscious displays of power. The difficulty with him was not his ability or potential, which seemed limitless, but teaching him how to access it, how to control it. And In order to properly teach Gohan control, Trunks felt it was imperative that he always remain in control of himself. He silently vowed to be more careful.
And he wondered what exactly it was that had gotten under his skin this morning.
The conversation he had with Goku when they arrived on the island replayed in his head. Yes, Gohan was stronger than either of them had been at his age. Yes, it was beginning to seem that he could play a key role in defeating the androids. But for the time traveler, that realization had been bittersweet. He had come to the past specifically to enlist Goku’s help. It had never occurred to him that Gohan might be the one to defeat the androids here. And why should he have to? It was one thing to ask Goku for help. But Gohan . . . . He was just a boy here in this time. Trunks couldn’t help but wonder bitterly why Gohan seemed destined to be on the front lines of this battle no matter when it took place.
He didn’t want to put Gohan’s life in danger. He desperately wanted to avoid that. But deep down he knew he had to think of what was best for the people of Earth, not for the Z-fighters themselves. This was the emotional civil war that had raged inside of him all morning.
He wordlessly asked himself, What would Mirai Gohan have done?
And with these new questions inevitably came the familiar old onslaught of memories. Memories too terrible for words. Only a series of sights and sounds long ago burned into his brain, that now flickered like so many tragic snapshots across the insides of his eyelids. Unstoppable, like a self-imposed torture from which there was no escape. And just like that, he was there again; the memory of that awful day more real to him than the sunny beach where the other two now sat, eating lunch.
In his mind he woke up alone in the rain and shivered, feeling the wind on his wet skin. For the millionth time, he relived those split seconds of blissful ignorance before he had realized anything was wrong. The final moments that he had ever been a normal teenager. Before the last remaining flicker of light in his dark world was extinguished. In a puddle of water. In the streets of a ruined city.
Slowly, Trunks forced away the images and brought himself back to the present. He glanced across the blanket at the small Saiyan from this world that he had come to care so much for in the last eighteen months. He was so smart, so full of life, still unspoiled by the blinding anger, the crushing pain, the paranoia that Trunks had grown to know so well.
If only I could preserve that for him . . . .
Then he realized with a start that this must have been exactly what Mirai Gohan was thinking in those moments before he rendered the fourteen-year-old Trunks unconscious and left to fight alone on that fateful day. Trunks had always thought that, if only he had been there alongside Gohan, maybe things would have been different. And it pained him to admit, now, that Mirai Gohan wouldn’t have wanted things any different. He didn’t let Trunks fight that day because he wanted to him to survive, to have a chance at happiness, even at the expense of his own life.
Trunks blinked his stinging eyes. Finally he understood.
But he already knew that he wouldn’t have the option of forcing young Gohan to sit this one out. If it turned out that Gohan really was their best hope against the androids, then he would have to fight. And all that Trunks could do was his absolute best to train the child hero for that day.
And this time I’ll be there, fighting alongside you. I will not let you die.
As he made the silent oath, he knew he would do whatever was necessary to ensure that Gohan survived, no matter how painful it was for either of them.
The three fighters finished their lunch in silence, mentally putting the morning’s lessons behind them and preparing for the afternoon—one of them with significantly more to put behind him than the others.
An hour later, the trio flew wordlessly over the frozen wasteland of a northern province, surveying the frozen ground below. The solid white layout of the land was broken only by the dark grey rocks jutting through its icy crust. Goku’s eyes settled on a tall mountain rising in the distance and with a nod of his head, he indicated to the other two that it was their destination. They obediently followed as he touched down on the snow in the shallow valley.
Goku dropped the energy shield he had been using to protect himself from the rushing wind during their flight and immediately made a face. “It’s f-f-freezing here!” he complained, as though it hadn’t been his choice to come here. When his teeth stopped chattering, at least to the point that he could talk, he explained their objective. “Alright,” he began, “out here we can use energy attacks, so nothing is off-limits. I don’t want either of you holding anything back.” Laughing, he added “The only rule is don’t blow up the earth!” Then, turning to Gohan he said, “alright, son, it’s time to show me what you’ve got.”
“Okay, Dad.” Gohan’s voice was hard with determination. The two of them took to the air while Trunks watched. Goku instructed Gohan to try and hit him with an energy blast but Goku was not going to make it easy for him. He rapidly circled the boy at such high speeds as to become almost invisible. Gohan watched intently, his head moving back and forth in a desperate effort to keep his father in sight. He was doing an admirable job of following him, but it was a lost cause.
Gohan fired a strong energy blast but by the time it reached its mark, Goku was no longer there. “Close, but not quite,” he taunted, stopping momentarily. Then he began an even more erratic invisible flight pattern. Trunks watched Gohan try to focus on his father’s form but knew that the effort was futile.
“Gohan!” he yelled. “Track him with all of your senses. If you can’t see him, then listen for him, feel where he is.” Gohan hesitated for a moment, but then closed his lids, letting go of his natural desire to look with his eyes and giving himself over to his other senses. At first, he heard only swishes of air being displaced as Goku moved rapidly through it. But after some time, a pattern emerged. Gohan noticed that the air behaved differently depending on how his father moved and the direction he headed.
Reading the look of understanding on his face, Trunks continued. “Now, listen, and predict his next movement. When you know where he’s going to be, fire the blast at that spot.” A few seconds later, Goku’s surprised yelp rang out. Gohan hadn’t hit him, but only because of Goku’s lightening fast reflexes. He had correctly predicted his father’s next move and sent a blast hurtling towards his exact location. Only, Goku had seen it coming and managed to screech to a halt a millisecond before colliding with the devastating ball of energy.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed. “That was a close one.”
Gohan was disappointed, but Trunks smiled to himself. His progress was astounding. And, as is often the case, the third time was the charm. Goku flew backwards through the frigid air as his son’s blinding ki beam hit him directly in the stomach. “Good job,” he said, recovering quickly. “Now, you try to avoid me.” With that, he shot three short blasts towards Gohan who, surprised, jumped out of the way just in time.
The exercise continued for a while in this way. Finally, Goku caught the young demi with a broad reaching scatter-shot that left no room for escape. Gohan landed heavily in the snow on his right side. Dizzy and breathless, he got up immediately, ready for more.
“I think that’s enough for today, son,” Goku decided.
“No!” Gohan protested. “I can still fight!”
Goku wasn’t convinced. “And you think you have enough energy to fight both of us?” He motioned to Trunks who joined him in the air as he issued the challenge.
Gohan could see that his father expected him to back off. Instead, he gathered the last remaining energy he had. “Masenko!” he yelled. The light of the beam flashed up from where Gohan stood on the ground, illuminating Goku’s shocked expression for a split second before he expertly dodged it. But at least he didn’t argue any further.
And so the game became more intense. Each fighter attempted to hit the other two while simultaneously avoiding one another’s attacks. By the end of their second round, the barren landscape that formed their training ground had been all but decimated. And then for a split second Gohan paused, momentarily undecided about which opponent to pursue. And his slip-up was immediately noted by both of his sparring partners.
They turned on him with such force that he barely had time to block before their massive blasts hit. He was able to protect his body, but the force of the hit threw him backwards into the rocky face of the mountain. The impact shook the jutting mass of earth enough to bring a veritable avalanche of snow down upon his head. As the freezing, wet mass descended on him he lost the ability to block the attack any longer and the full force of the twin beams was unleashed on the mountain. Gohan, caught in the middle, was buried in the mound of rubble, which was all that was left.
When he emerged from the ruined pile of earth, he was utterly exhausted. In the last twelve hours, he had barely enjoyed a moment’s rest, except when he was either eating or unconscious. Now he sat down on one of the few rocks that had not been smashed to smithereens. Goku and Trunks had both transformed into Super Saiyans and continued their fearsome fight above him. Gohan watched them for awhile, trying to learn what he could from their movements. But as his wet clothes began to freeze to his skin, he decided to make himself useful building a fire.
Don’t need to be a Super Saiyan to do this, he thought with a bittersweet smile as he picked up a fallen tree nearby and reduced it to firewood. But he was proven wrong a second later when the tiny ki ball, which was all he could muster, failed to even catch the wood ablaze. Darn it.
After concentrating for a few minutes, he managed to produce enough energy to start the fire. Dog-tired, Gohan watched as the weak flames licked at the larger pieces of wood, gradually igniting the rest of the pile. Then he cringed as he remembered he’d have to get up extra early tomorrow to cut firewood and deliver it to Yuki-san before his usual milk delivery. The thought was made even less appealing by the realization that his right ankle was throbbing, an apparent casualty of his fall.
Eventually, the older Saiyans joined him by the fire. Trunks, ever protective, noticed Gohan’s limp right away and pulled bandages from the duffel bag that contained their clothes. He wrapped Gohan’s ankle tightly. “With your Saiyan resilience, this’ll be fine by morning.” He reassured Gohan, picking up on his apprehension about the next day’s chores. “Just don’t let your mom see it before then, okay? And for gods’ sake, don’t tell her that I did it.” He winked.
Gohan smiled. “If you say so, Trunks!”
All three of them changed back into their gis. Gohan carefully tucked his right pant leg into his shoe to be sure Chichi wouldn’t spot the bandages. And a short time later, they safely touched down outside the house at Mount Paozu. The bright windows of the modest home stood out in stark contrast to the blackness of night that surrounded them. Its warmth was inviting and they wasted no time heading inside.
After a hearty dinner, courtesy of Chichi, the three warriors were free for the first time that day to pursue their own interests. For Gohan and Trunks, that meant it was time for academic lessons, while Goku lounged on the sofa, reading a martial arts magazine. Apparently his interests didn’t include anything other than eating or fighting.
Gohan struggled to walk normally from the dinner table to his room on account of his aching ankle. He didn’t want to attract his mother’s attention, but putting his full weight on it hurt like hell. As soon as he got to his bedroom he lifted his right foot and hopped on his left over to his desk chair.
“Ow, ow, ow!” Each hop was punctuated by his pained protests. He could hear Trunks still in the kitchen rifling through the contents of their freezer.
“Are you still hungry?” Chichi asked shrilly.
“There’s always room for ice cream!” Trunks’ voice was louder than Chichi’s as he was already hurrying down the hall towards Gohan’s room. He arrived carrying two containers of ice cream and two spoons and kicked the door shut behind him. Quickly dropping the containers onto the desk, he produced three packs of ice from inside his shirt.
“My god, that was cold!” he exclaimed, crossing his arms over his chest to try to warm the skin under his gi. “It’s like Yuki said, Gohan, I hope you appreciate everything I do for you!”
Gohan giggled and gratefully held the ice to his wounded appendage. Trunks slid his chair over to where the boy was sitting and placed a pillow on top. “Up,” he said, instructing Gohan to raise his leg onto the stool.
“But where will you sit?” Gohan wondered.
“Don’t worry about it.” His teacher packed the ice around the swollen purple skin that was now his ankle. “I’ll stand while I grade your exam. I figure I’ll be much more intimidating that way.”
Then, with a purposefully over-the-top air of authority, he picked up the test Gohan had completed the previous night on trigonometric functions. Straightening his back so as to appear as tall as possible, he stood over the boy with an expression of mock-superiority.
Gohan giggled again. “Trunks, you’re so funny!”
“Funny?” he pretended to be hurt. “Don’t you mean scary?”
“Compared to my last tutor, you’re a dream.”
“Hm,” Trunks said. “I’ll have to see what I can do about that.” But he had already given up his attempt at intimidation and his words trailed off as he settled onto the bed and began scrutinizing Gohan’s work in earnest.
The next time Trunks looked at the clock it was 10:00 p.m. Although it had been a long exam that he’d made up for Gohan, he couldn’t find a single mistake in the work. “Gohan, I have to say, I’m impressed—.”
He looked up to see that the boy had fallen asleep at his desk, his head leaning backwards over the back of the chair. “I really do need to be more intimidating,” Trunks said to himself, standing up to rap Gohan on the head with the rolled up test paper.
The student awoke to his teacher’s upside-down face above his. “Oops . . . .” he offered sleepily.
“I forgive you but only because you scored a perfect on my exam. I was sure at least #24 would get you.” Gohan just smiled. Normally Trunks would have had him study until at least 11:00 p.m., but tonight he decided to make an exception. “Why don’t we call it a night, kiddo? You’ve got to be up really early tomorrow.”
Gohan groaned at the thought of the wearisome chores that awaited him in the morning. Not that he shied away from hard work, but when it was extorted out of him by bitter old ladies he felt less than his usual resigned willingness.
“There’s nothing that can be done about it,” Trunks pointed out, “so you might as well make the best of it.”
“Make the best of it?” Gohan was skeptical. “There’s no upside that I can see.”
“Well, every bit of hard work you do makes you stronger. Even cutting firewood.”
“And tilling gardens?” He couldn’t help shooting his trusted teacher an accusatory look, remembering how he had so willingly offered up Gohan’s gardening services.
“Hey, I hear it’s how your dad and Krillin got so strong.”
“Really?” Gohan brightened a bit although he couldn’t believe such a mundane chore would really help him achieve the level he was aiming for.
“Ask him yourself tomorrow, if you want,” Trunks offered. Then he gently ruffled the younger boy’s already wild black locks. “You know I’m on your side, right, Gohan?”
Black eyes scrutinized blue for a moment. When he answered, “yes,” there was relief in his voice.
“Good. Now I have something for you that I think will lift your spirits a bit.”
“You do?” Gohan was excited. “What is it?”
“You’ll know soon enough. Now, just go get ready for bed.”
“Aw, but Trunks!” Gohan started to argue, but then thought better of it and obediently headed to the bathroom to wash. He didn’t have to wait long, though, for his curiosity to be appeased. When he came back, there on his bed was a wide, flat box, wrapped in shining silver paper and curling white ribbons. A small card on the top read, “Happy Birthday, Gohan,” in neat script. Gohan turned around, aware that Trunks was now standing behind him in the doorway to their room. Having bid his gracious hosts goodnight, he leaned against the wall and watched the younger boy with a knowing smile.
“I know it’s not your birthday quite yet, but I’ve never been good with surprises.”
“Wow, thanks, Trunks!”
“You don’t even know what it is.”
“Oh, yeah,” Gohan acknowledged sheepishly.
“Well?” Trunks spread his open hands in a questioning gesture. “What are you waiting for? Open it already!”
Gohan jumped onto the bed and carefully unwrapped the gift. Inside the box was a sketch pad of high quality charcoal paper. Underneath it, he found a box of charcoal pencils and a set of soft pastels. “Wow, what is it?” Gohan breathed, opening the box of pastels and fingering the colors.
“Art supplies, silly,” Trunks answered, walking over towards the bed. “I noticed that you like to draw . . . .” He paused at the desk and opened at random one of the many notebooks there. The page contained a margin full of doodles.
Gohan’s cheeks flushed. “I’m sorry! I just do it without thinking—.”
“Don’t be sorry. Art is no less important than science. And you’re not half bad.” Trunks seated himself at the foot of Gohan’s bed. “This way you can develop your skills properly. The margins are no place for artwork of this caliber.” He smiled as the notebook he was still holding fell open to a heartwarming sketch of Goku and Piccolo.
At the compliment, Gohan blushed even deeper. “Thank you. I love it.”
“No time for drawing tonight though,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow, if we can finish our studies quickly enough.”
“Okay,” Gohan agreed, settling further into the bed. Already his lids were becoming heavy and he smiled drowsily. “Thanks again, Trunks. You’re the best.” The lavender-haired Saiyan prince from the future pulled the covers over him and placed a chaste kiss upon his forehead.
“Anything for you, kid.”
Trunks had been right about lifting his spirits. Newly contented, Gohan looked forward to the next day with something akin to optimism. A tingling warmth was spreading through his limbs and he surrendered himself to the all-encompassing arms of sleep, knowing tomorrow would bring new challenges and, with any luck, new victories.