~ A Day Later ~
Ajax paced in unease, restlessly wringing his hands before him in an attempt to release his nervous energy. He moved his hands with a cautious rhythm, mindful not to inadvertently worsen the injury from the Special Beam Cannon. He cast a quick glance at the wound, detachedly noting that spots of red were once again visible through the outer layers of his bandage. Darn it, he must have jostled it on the way here.
The silver lining of this situation was that the injury no longer bothered him. The once agonizing pain had dissipated to a mere annoying throbbing within an hour of the injury thanks to his adaptation. Now, it had progressed to a state of cool nothingness, something he is very appreciative of. It is a fantastic perk, Ajax thinks, to be shielded from prolonged physical discomfort. No more sweating through blankets for him!
However, reality is imperfect. With resignation, Ajax had to admit that the wound had shown minimal healing progress, which wasn't unexpected, given that only a single day had passed since the injury occurred.
Ajax turned around, pacing backward along the same path. Since the impromptu telepathic message from Kami the day before, the Z fighters had finally glimpsed a ray of hope. Kami had requested them to gather at Korin's Tower in two days' time, where their training would commence in preparation for the impending Saiyan Invasion. In other words, tomorrow, since Kami said that yesterday.
This aligned with Ajax's recollection of canon, as the same sequence of events had occurred there as well. However, what Ajax didn't anticipate was getting the responsibility of delivering the bad news to Chi-Chi unceremoniously dumped on him. He feels irked just thinking about it!
"Freaking Krillin and his bald-ass head, throwing me under the bus like this" Ajax scowled, muttering under his breath.
Ajax, who had been pacing in front of Goku's house, stopped as his eyes focused on the structure—a round, modest little thing slightly upshore of a gentle river and flanked by a warehouse that likely stashed food for Goku's black hole of a stomach.
'The house looks like Krillin's bald head,' Ajax thought vindictively.
Ajax took a deep breath. It was time to face the music. Steeling himself for what lay ahead, he rapped his knuckles against the door. To his surprise, the door swung open swiftly before he could knock a third time. From the doorway, Chi-Chi greeted him with a welcoming smile.
Ajax met her gaze and offered a polite nod.
"Hello, Mrs. Chi-Chi. Can we talk for a moment?"
Chi-Chi tilted her head, smiling warmly, "Why, of course! I've been waiting for you to stop pacing and come in. I can sense Ki too, you know?"
"O–oh…" Ajax stuttered, a small blush of embarrassment tinting his cheeks as the mortification of being caught red-handed washed over him.
"You must be young Ajax?" Chi-Chi continued, her amused smile widening a tad at Ajax's embarrassment.
"You– you know who I am?"
"Yes! My Goku talks about you sometimes. He was so very proud of himself when he learned he was your hero and so very excited for your graduation ceremony!" Chi-Chi chuckled, her eyes crinkling at the corners.
Oh shit, now Ajax feels guilty for plotting to have him killed.
"Oh, where are my manners, come on in!" Chi-Chi graciously stepped back, inviting Ajax to enter with a welcoming gesture. "I have already prepared some tea and snacks; got to make a good first impression!" She gave Ajax a small conspiratorial wink.
Feeling a bit out of his element, Ajax responded with an awkward look, uncertain about how to broach the awful news delicately. He had been expecting the matter to be relatively straightforward: drop the news, perhaps offer some well-meaning platitudes, and be promptly on his merry way. He hadn't expected to be invited in for tea of all things.
Noticing Ajax's discomfort, Chi-Chi furrowed her brows, a flicker of confusion crossing her eyes as she attempted to identify the cause of his unease. As Ajax continued to hesitate at the doorway, Chi-Chi's keen eyes zeroed in on the bloody bandages wrapped around Ajax's hand. In a heartbeat, her eyes widened in shock and the once-jovial expression slipped from her face.
"Oh dear! What happened to your hand? Come, let me take a look." Chi-Chi said as she gestured more fervently towards a nearby table. When Ajax still hesitated, Chi-Chi took matters into her own hands. She walked over and gently but assertively dragged Ajax inside by the sleeve of his shirt before giving him a light push toward a chair. "We can't let your injuries go untreated. Here, sit down and let me help you. Tea can wait."
Ajax hesitated briefly before deciding to pull out the chair before him, gingerly taking a seat at the dining table.
"It's just a small injury for me, nothing to be worried about," Ajax muttered.
Chi-Chi, having plentiful experience dealing with comments of such nature, was not convinced. She fixed Ajax with a stern, motherly look— a look universally meaning 'cut the bullshit.'
Ajax flashed an awkward smile as Chi-Chi went about retrieving medical supplies from the nearby cabinet, returning in no time and cradling a med kit to her chest. Ajax involuntarily jerked in his seat at the sight of the briefcase-sized med kit, caught off guard at the sheer size of the thing. The atmosphere shifted as Chi-Chi sat down, suddenly all business as she opened the formidable med kit.
"Show me your hand, dear."
Ajax extended his hand across the table, a silent invitation for Chi-Chi to inspect the wounds. She delicately began the process of unwrapping the bandages, revealing the gruesome wound that had just started to heal.
"My god! You're hurt so badly! Who did this? Did Goku do this?!" Chi-Chi huffed as she continued to work on the injury. "And I presume he's too scared to come back. Well, he better not, because I'll kill him!"
Caught up in Chi-Chi's rhythm, Ajax let her tend to his hand as she saw fit. It didn't matter to him either way, as it didn't really bother him anymore. Ajax watched as Chi-Chi fussed over the injury with a practiced hand, deftly changing the bandages. Her actions betrayed her wealth of experience, showcasing a level of expertise that a housewife normally would not have. 'She must've done this for Goku countless times,' Ajax thought.
As the silence dragged on, Ajax steeled himself for what was about to come. Now is as good of a time as any to break the news, he supposes.
"So, about what happened…" Ajax started broaching the subject.
Chi-Chi tilted her head, indicating that she was listening, all the while wordlessly working on his bandages.
"I just want you to know that I'm not the bearer of good news." Ajax finished.
"I know. Your body language and wound said as much. Goku doesn't make mistakes this severe during training." Chi-Chi paused briefly, contemplating the implications. "It must be pretty bad if they're sending you, a child, to break the news."
"…Goku is dead."
The movement of Chi-Chi's hands suddenly ceased as her breath hitched. After a deep, shuddering breath, she composed herself and resumed bandaging Ajax's wounds. However, her hands now trembled as the news of her husband's death settled down on her shoulders.
"Was it Piccolo?"
Ajax hesitated for a moment before responding. He has no intentions of willingly telling her about his involvement in Goku's death. After all, self-preservation took precedence, and Ajax wasn't keen on dying today, thank you very much.
"Only technically. It was actually an alien. This alien was so overwhelmingly powerful that Goku had no choice but to join forces with Piccolo. Even with their combined efforts, they only won by the skin of their teeth. In the end, Goku had to sacrifice himself to give Piccolo the opportunity to deliver a fatal shot on the enemy."
Chi-Chi tied the final knot on Ajax's hand. "And Gohan?"
Piccolo decided to train him, preparing Gohan to defend himself when two of the alien's comrades arrive in a year." Ajax explained, carefully choosing his words.
Chi-Chi's response was swift and incisive.
"That's an interesting way of saying he was kidnapped," she remarked curtly, fixing Ajax with a penetrating stare, conveying a mother's protective instinct through the intensity of her gaze. "Who was there when Gohan was taken?"
"Krillin, Bulma, and myself. Oh, and of course, Piccolo," Ajax answered truthfully. He felt a bead of sweat slide down his neck from the abrupt shift in Chi-Chi's tone and the atmosphere at large, the interaction resembling less of a conversation and more like an interrogation.
"You were already injured then?"
"From the same attack that killed the alien."
Chi-Chi tilted her head. "Did Krillin do anything to prevent the kidnapping?"
"I–" Ajax paused, hesitating. What's the best play here for him, lie or honesty? After a moment, he took a deep breath, decision made. "I persuaded him not to do anything."
The room immediately plunged into an icy stillness, enveloped by a bone-chilling silence amplified by Chi-Chi's expression that can only be described as abyssally cold.
"Why." She demanded frostily, the single word sharp enough to draw blood.
"Because Krillin and I were too weak to make a difference against Piccolo." Ajax began, carefully weaving lies and truth together, "I also believed that by allowing Piccolo to train him, we're giving him a chance to survive. Even if Piccolo were to leave Gohan alone, Gohan would still die a year from now if we fail to contain the threat. Besides, Goku is watching from the other side, so if Piccolo does anything, we both know nothing can save him from Goku's wrath."
"And you're absolutely certain that Gohan will make all the difference in the upcoming fight?"
In fact, Ajax knows Gohan would. Bolstered by his memories of canon, Ajax nodded with confidence stemming from foreknowledge.
Chi-Chi's face remained cold, her unblinking eyes an icy void as it pierced Ajax, causing him to shift uncomfortably. The sheer force of the stare felt like an oppressive weight, and the pressure she exuded was so intense that the air itself felt thick. It felt as if the very room was tightening around him as he sat there, feeling the seconds stretch into an eternity. Ajax swallowed as he felt the slight urge to puke. Damn, is this what Conqueror's Haki feels like?
"They were smart to send you. Your age is your shield." Chi-Chi replied dispassionately, her eyes penetrating deep into his soul. "I'm going to say this once and once only. As the consequence of your beliefs and actions that directly resulted in my Gohan's kidnapping, when the next confrontation happens in a year, I want you to protect him with your life."
Ajax swallowed nervously again and opened his mouth to speak, but Chi-Chi cut him off.
"No. You've misunderstood. I didn't say 'try your best', so spare me your platitudes." Chi-Chi's eyes did not waver from Ajax's. "I'll say it again. I want you to keep Gohan safe. At. All. Costs. Even if you have to die. I won't listen to your excuses, and I don't care what happens a year from now. If you come back here alive and Gohan is dead, I will make sure that the only thing Shenron can say when he tries to revive you is 'This wish is beyond my power.' Am I clear?"
Ajax gulped and nodded.
"Am. I. Clear."
Ajax nodded more vigorously at those threatening words. He now perfectly understands why Chi-Chi possesses such a fearsome reputation despite her unimpressive strength. Cause… goddamn!
Suddenly, as if flipping a switch, Chi-Chi's countenance transformed from cold to radiant, a bright smile lighting up her face as if all was right in the world. Rising from her seat with fluid grace, she returned the humongous med kit to its original place in the cabinet.
Swiftly returning to Ajax, Chi-Chi carried a tray adorned with a teapot and cups, each filled with fragrant tea. She set the tray down on the table as if nothing unusual had transpired, smoothly resuming the role of a hospitable host with an eerie ease. Her sudden shift in emotion had only made the situation even creepier.
"Tea, dear?" she offered, her smile retaining its brightness.
Ajax reluctantly accepted the offered cup and brought it to his lips, taking a cautious sip of the tea. Chrysanthemum. Although he can't tell if poison is present, his ability means that he can adapt to it. Probably. Actually, wouldn't that be a hilarious way for him to go out? Imagine this, cause of death: poisoned by Chi-Chi.
"Why didn't Krillin come with you?" Chi-Chi inquired after taking a sip of tea herself.
Here, Ajax found himself standing at yet another crossroads, confronted with a choice that could have potential repercussions… for Krillin. In all honesty, he should just take one for the team. He's already waist-deep in the lioness's den and already had his life threatened. If he just claimed he volunteered to come, Krillin would get off scot-free. If he were to consider that Krillin is his senpai– ah, who is he kidding? He's definitely throwing Krillin under the bus. Misery loves company and all that, and today, his name is Misery.
"He was too scared to come with."
"Oh, is that so? How cute!" Chi-Chi giggled into her hand gracefully, reminiscent of a certain rich girl from Ajax's past life. "He really thinks that that will keep him safe from me!"
A slight shudder ran through Ajax, slightly disturbed as he observed Chi-Chi daintily holding her teacup and laughing joyfully (and somewhat maniacally) all the while silently plotting Krillin's death.
"What was that, dear?"
"Nothing, ma'am!" Ajax hurriedly responded. That's it for today. He's hit the limit of what he can handle. It was clear to him that he should've made his exit, like, yesterday, and come back never. Kudos to Goku for dealing with her every day, but he's got to dash before he actually gets himself killed.
"I have to go, ma'am. Master Korin is expecting me, and I can't keep him waiting for too long."
Chi-Chi acknowledged his words with a nod, her smile persisting as though she found amusement in the unfolding events. "Why, of course! Please stay safe on your journey there, and don't forget the promise you made to me!"
Her words might have sounded sweet and caring, but Ajax knew better. She wasn't genuinely inquiring about his safety at all.
"I won't forget," Ajax mumbled as he scrambled like a chipmunk with its butt on fire, making a beeline for the door while attempting to not appear hurried. He failed miserably.
Once safely beyond the doorway of that deathtrap of a house, Ajax managed to offer a swift wave in farewell before ascending into the air and booking it as swiftly as he could, breathing a sigh of relief as he did so. Even as the distance between him and Chi-Chi grew, he could feel the unsettling feeling of Chi-Chi's penetrating stare burning into his back. Yeah, he thinks Gohan deserves his own line in THE MASTERPLAN now.
As Ajax soared through the sky, his thoughts shifted to a different matter— the looming threat of Vegeta and Nappa on the horizon. With the Raditz ordeal now resolved, the intricate web of THE MASTERPLAN demanded he focus on a new set of objectives. As events progressed into the canon's next chapter, the resources he now has at his disposal expanded significantly. No more excuses, this time, he has to be ready for Nappa, and Vegeta.
In the meantime, though, Ajax supposes nothing is stopping him from getting to Korin's Tower a bit early. It's not because he wanted to put as much physical distance between him and Chi-Chi or anything. Definitely not.
Keep Gohan Alive (added) – (PENDING)