He awoke in the woods with a ringing headache, battered and bloody. He started to stand up but couldn't make it as every movement brought fresh pain. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to walk. Where was he? He saw a break in the trees and changed direction, hoping it might be a town.
A little purple-haired boy burst into the meadow, yelling and firing blasts at someone behind him.
He stared. Trunks? It couldn't possibly be…Trunks was in a coma, and was about fifteen years older besides. But how could it not be? They looked so alike….Then another little boy ran in…a little boy with unmanageable dark hair and a bright smile. A little boy he thought he had left far behind him.
He stared. The pain was momentarily numbed as his mind tried to understand what was clearly impossible, but what had to be fact.
"Trunks!" the little boy called. "Trunks, that's not fair! Come back!"
"Ha! In your dreams, Goten!" Trunks yelled back. "If you can't catch me, don't expect me to make it easier."
Goten's eyes narrowed and he stopped, concentrating intensely. He disappeared and flashed in front of Trunks. He grabbed his friend and tossed him down. "Ha! I win! I caught you!"
Trunks scowled and pushed Goten aside. "So? I could catch you!"
"I know-hey, who's that?"
"Who's who?" Trunks asked angrily.
"Can't you feel it? Somebody's watching us…"
Trunks frowned with concentration. "Hey, you're right!" He looked suspiciously at the trees. "Who's there? Come out!"
A slight smile crossed his lips as he stepped into the light. Trunks never changed. Suspicious as always. "Hello, boys."
"What's your name? What do you want? Why have you been watching us?" Trunks demanded.
"Trunks! Look at him! He's hurt! He's bleeding!" Goten exclaimed. "We've gotta help him."
He didn't recognize this Goten. Naïvely optimistic and trusting. Had he been like that? "I'll be fine. Don't bother."
Goten looked surprised. "But aren't you hungry? Kaasan could cook you some good food," he offered.
"Kaa-Kaasan?" The stranger swayed slightly and sat down. "Tell me about your family," he said intensely.
"My family?" Goten looked confused. "Well, Tousan trains me when he's not busy. My brother Gohan is married-"
The stranger sat back. "So he got her. That's great."
"And they have one kid, Pan." Goten scratched his head. "I think that's all…"
"Thank you, Goten." The stranger turned to Trunks. "And your family…tell me about yours."
Trunks glared at him. "How do you know our names?"
"Just tell me, please." The stranger's eyes pleaded with him.
"Well…all right," Trunks finally agreed. "My mom and dad-"
"Yes, my dad! I didn't just pop out of my mom's, you know! It's me, my mom, and my dad."
"You forgot Bra, Trunks," Goten said.
Trunks glared at him. "And I was very happy doing so, thank you very much!"
Goten shrugged. "Well, you forgot her, that's all." He looked back up at the stranger. "What's your name? You know ours already, so we should know yours."
"You can call me Son," the stranger said shortly.
"Son? That's my name!" Goten exclaimed.
"Yeah, I know."
"What's your other name?"
"None of your business," Son said firmly. He closed his eyes and winced.
"Will you come home with me, Mr. Son?" Goten asked. "You really don't look well and I have to go home soon and I can't just leave you here."
Son was amazed. Had he ever been that guileless, that ready to help others? "All right, Goten. We'll see if your mom won't mind taking care of me."
"She won't," Goten said confidently. "Come on. Home's this way." He stood up. "Are you coming?"
Son forced himself to his feet and followed the boy. Trunks followed reluctantly. "Goten, you don't know anything about this guy! Look at him! He has tons of scars, and they don't even look cool like Yamcha's, and his clothes are covered in blood and I don't think somebody would be after him for no reason!"
Goten looked at Trunks, then at Son. "I can trust him," he said, eyes locked with Son's. "He won't hurt us." He grinned at his friend. "Besides, think how many people have been after our dads for no reason."
Trunks threw his hands up in the air. "Fine, do whatever you want! I'm going home!" He stomped out of the woods.
"Trunks never changes," Son said in an amused tone.
"You know Trunks?"
"I knewTrunks," Son corrected.
"Wow…how come he doesn't remember you then?"
"I knew another Trunks."
Goten nodded sagely. "Oh, like Mirai Trunks," he said. "I understand. Are you from the future, too?"
Son avoided the question. "Mirai Trunks?"
Goten was easily distracted, as Son knew he would be. "Oh, yeah, see, Mirai Trunks came back to warn Tousan that he was gonna die of a heart disease and he helped us beat the androids-"
"Androids?" Son repeated. "17 and 18?"
"Yep, that's right!" Goten beamed. He continued his story. "And we used the dragonballs and we wished them to be good and so they are. In fact, Krillin married 18 and they have a daughter. Her name's Marron. She's five."
Son was blown away. "They're good? Like, on our side?" Another thought occurred to him. "Krillin> married 18?"
"So they were evil in your time, too, huh?" Goten grinned. "Well, 17 lives by himself in the woods and 18 and Krillin and Marron live on Kame Island. And I guess they're good. If there's bad guys, they help us fight 'em."
Son shook his head, then winced as the pain resurfaced. "Bad move," he noted. "So. Good guys. Who'd've thought?"
"What did they do where you come from?" Goten asked curiously.
Son managed to keep his voice even. "They killed everyone," he said flatly.
Goten's mouth formed an O.
Son's eyes got a distant look, like he was seeing something that wasn't there. "But they strung out the killings, never just getting it over with. So over the years they killed all the fighters, except Trunks, Bra-chan, and me." His eyes now got a look of distant pain. "So one day they attacked and Bra-chan and Trunks went to fight. They didn't get me. Bulma called and I found them, barely alive. They killed Bulma just before I left and I don't know if they'll recover or not."
Goten's eyes lowered. "I'm sorry, Mr. Son."
Son blinked as if remembering his presence again. "Sorry?" he repeated.
"I didn't mean to bring the bad memories back to you." Goten looked at him shrewdly. "Were you in love with her?"
"Bra. You sound like you were in love with her."
Son couldn't speak. How could the kid tell? He'd barely mentioned her.
Goten saw the man's expression and bit his lip. "I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
"No…it's okay. What do you think of Bra?"
Goten made a face. "She's a baby. She cries. She sleeps. Bulma-san is always yelling, 'Trunks Briefs! Son Goten! You be QUIET! The baby is SLEEPING!' " he complained.
Son's mouth quirked upwards. "She'll get less irritating."
Goten sighed. "I'm sure. Well, here's the house." He ran in. "Kaasan! Kaasan! We have a visitor!"
Gohan came out. "Shh, Goten. Pan is sleeping."
Goten gave Son a look that spoke volumes.
Gohan noticed Son for the first time. "Who's that?" he asked.
"Gohan, this is Mr. Son. He's hurt and I thought we could take care of him for a while." Goten smiled. "He's a very nice guy and I think he's from the future or something," he added bluntly.
Son forced himself to look at Gohan. Alive. Married. A daughter. "Hello, Gohan." He held out his hand.
Gohan took it warily. "What happened to you?"
Son sighed. "17 and 18."
Understanding flashed in Gohan's eyes. "I see. Goten, can you go get Videl and Kaasan? I think they'll want to meet…Mr. Son, was it?"
"Just call me Son."
Gohan grinned. "Okay. Now, go get them."
"Okay, Niisan." Goten hurried away.
Gohan watched him, then turned back to Son. "You know, you look familiar."
"Do I? I don't think we've met."
"You're from the future, huh?"
"No. At least, no future that you'll ever have."
Gohan gave him a strange look. "What do you mean?"
"In my time, the androids killed you."
"I die in a lot of timelines." Gohan made a face. "I'm a nice guy, really I am, why do the androids keep killing me in other times?"
Son smiled but didn't get a chance to respond.
"Hello, Gohan. Oh, who's this?" Videl asked.
"Hi, sweetie," Gohan replied, kissing his wife on the cheek. "This is Son. He'll be staying with us for a while."
Videl looked Son over critically. "You're filthy. You need a bath and a hot meal," she declared. "ChiChi and I will start cooking while you go wash. Gohan, show him to the tub and get him some of your clothes to wear and burn what he has on now."
"Yes, dear," Gohan said. He led Son to the bathroom. "Take all the time you need."
Son emerged about a half-hour later considerably cleaner and refreshed. Gohan stared at him as he passed. "What?" Son asked, a bit self-consciously.
"You…you're healed. Did Goten get you a senzu bean?"
Son looked baffled. "No…I just healed myself."
"Healed yourself?" Gohan exclaimed.
"Yeah. You know, using your ki to…wait. You don't know how?"
"No! That's fantastic! Can you teach me?"
"Sure." Son smiled at him. "No problem."
Gohan smiled back, then it faded as something occurred to him. "You know, you look really familiar. Like…" Gohan stopped and looked at Son closely. "You look like Goten," he said slowly, stunned. He grabbed Son's arms and shook him. "What's your full name, Son?" he demanded.
Son didn't see any way around the question. "Son Goten," he muttered.
Gohan's arms dropped and he stared at Son. "By Kami! Why on Chikyuu didn't I see it before?"
Son struggled to explain. "Goten and I…at least, your Goten and I, we're nothing alike. His life, it…it hasn't been necessarily easy, but I can't see as it's been terribly hard, either. Mine was."
"What do you mean?"
Son laughed, but there was no mirth behind it. "Where to start? I guess with birth. Let's see…remember how Goku was dead when Goten was born?"
"Well, my> mother died giving birth to me. So you, er, my brother, that is, left me with Bulma while he went out to get the dragonballs and wish our father back. He was gone for a year. He and our father came back and they took me home. Then, on my eighth birthday, our father, Vegeta, and my brother were killed. Right in front of me. And then we played cat-and-mouse with the androids for the next thirteen years. And they stopped."
Son shrugged. "I'm still not sure. Maybe they didn't think Trunks, Bra, and I were threatening. So they stopped…kind of. Two years later, they started attacking again. Now, Bra and Trunks are stuck in comas and Bulma is dead."
Gohan looked amazed. "How old are you now, twenty-two?"
"Are you boys coming down?" ChiChi yelled, interrupting them.
"Coming, Kaasan!" Gohan called back. "Come on. You don't know, if she died, but Kaasan makes the best food anywhere."
Son smiled briefly as he followed Gohan. "I've heard about it though. Tousan and Niisan used to reminisce. And reminisce. And reminisce."
"Reminisce? Who? About what?" Videl asked as they walked in.
"My father and brother. They used to tell me how good my mother's cooking was."
"They both died. A while back."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"It's all right. Mmm, Gohan, you were right, this does smell wonderful. Can I help, Mrs. Son?"
Both Mrs. Sons laughed. "No, you just sit down," ChiChi told him. "What was your name again?"
"Strangely enough, my name is also Son."
"You don't say." ChiChi gave him a close look. "Amazing…you look like you could be related, but that's ridiculous…Goku doesn't have any living brothers or sisters."
Gohan laughed. His mother had never really caught on to the whole "alternate timeline" thing. But if Son didn't want to explain, he wasn't going to.
"Gohan darling, will you get Pan, please?" Videl asked sweetly.
"Of course." Gohan left and soon returned, tossing his little daughter in the air and catching and tickling her. Pan was shrieking with childish laughter.
Videl noticed the expression on his face. "Would you like to hold her?" she asked.
Son looked startled. "What, me? Oh, no, I'd drop her."
"Somehow I doubt that," Videl returned, but didn't push it.
"Where's Goten?" ChiChi asked.
"Probably over at the Briefs'. Do you want me to call them up?" Gohan asked.
Gohan had just picked up the phone when Goten ran in. He looked around, confused, then at the clock. His expression turned triumphant. "I still have a minute before I'm late!" he said in an accusatory tone.
ChiChi laughed. "Right you are. My apologies. Wash your hands and we can eat."