A jar of jam, sack of beans, packet of seeds...Krillin’s eye skimmed the shelves, moving horizontally in search of their missing ingredients. His chest clenched when his eye passed across an empty space. He’d hate to think Mr. Kami’s general store was out of the seasonings and beans they needed to make this dinner. This was his first real, official date with Eighteen Gero. He didn’t want to screw it up.
“I’ve got the peppers already,” Eighteen said at his side.
“Oh!” Krillin shot her a smile. “Oh, good. Wait.”
Eighteen’s pink lips pulled up on one side, stifling her grin as Krillin eyed her.
“Where did you get the peppers?”
She shrugged, turning to peruse the goods selection on the other side of the pine shelves. “A garden.”
“Who’s garden?” As she tapped her fingers along items on the top shelf, humming to herself, Krillin scowled. “Eighteen.”
“Do you want to make my family chili recipe or not, Krillin?”
Krillin sealed his lips. He wanted nothing more than to get to know Eighteen on a deeper level, and what could be a better way to do that than showing off his culinary skills in a way that convinced her to divulge some family history? Though, her family history somewhat scared him. With a patriarch like the late Dr. Gero, Krillin couldn’t imagine many fond stories in her past.
Krillin sighed. He supposed he could let Eighteen’s thievery of a few peppers slip. Goku wouldn’t mind if he knew his garden had been ransacked. If anything, Eighteen just saved his friend some work. Hell, Chi-Chi might not even mind, if she knew her garden was contributing to the development of Krillin’s first serious romantic relationship. Krillin gulped. This really was his first real chance. And with a woman like Eighteen, who could be intimidating and hard at times, he didn’t want to blow it. He wouldn’t start the date right at all, scolding her like he was still playing sheriff of this town.
“That’s Yamcha’s job now,” he reminded himself in a murmur.
Krillin blinked at Eighteen’s blue eyes fixed on him. “N-nothing! So, I’ve got the beans!”
As Krillin held up two sacks, snatching them from a middle shelf by memory of the beans’ location, Eighteen smiled, her eyes sparking. “All we need now’s a little spice to give it some...kick.”
“Don’t tell me you eat mild chili.”
“No!” Krillin said hastily with a nervous laugh and fervent shake of his head. “Of course not!”
Krillin was painfully aware of Mr. Popo’s eyes on him, of Mr. Kami eyeing Eighteen’s nimble fingers on his shelves. He didn’t like having an audience while he interacted with the woman he was courting. It was embarrassing.
“Good,” Eighteen said, shaking a loose strand of perfectly straight and shining blond hair from her face, “because if you’re going to eat my family’s recipe, you’re going to need a strong tolerance to heat.”
“Oh?” Krillin said, feeling perspiration build on his bare, bald forehead. “You make it real spicy, huh?”
“We’re making it real spicy,” Eighteen said, shooting a glare at their watchers behind the store counter before she reached for something at the end of the shelf. “Here it is.”
Krillin eyed Eighteen’s selection, a small glass bottle with a label he couldn’t read, its contents orange and flaky. Her narrow blue eyes lit as she turned the bottle between her fingers, inspecting its contents and humming. Her skin was flushed from the heat of the store’s humid environment, the dancing gas lamps that surrounded them moving the light across her face, giving her an enticing glow. Krillin let a sigh slip from his lips as his cheeks grew warmer. She was gorgeous.
Turning his eyes to the print on the bottle’s label, Krillin rushed to speak before he might be caught staring. “Is that a family favorite, too? Five...five peppers?”
She shrugged. “My brother never was partial to it, but I like it. It used to be my uncle’s favorite. He always used this blend.”
“You have an uncle?” Krillin said with a smile.
“Used to be, I said,” said Eighteen. “That man was dead before we even came into this town.”
Krillin smiled wryly, amused at an errant thought he had about the Gero family, and then at himself for finding amusement where he should be expressing condolences. Then again, given the way Eighteen treated the situation, and the way she’d reacted when her father died, he didn’t suspect she mourned much for her late uncle. No, she didn’t need sympathy. The relief of that thought returned Krillin to his first errant thought.
When Krillin met her eyes, Eighteen raised a brow. “What?”
Krillin couldn’t stop his smile from reaching his ears. “Was he named after a number, too? Or was that method for naming solely your father’s creative genius?”
Eighteen’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t like my name?”
“No!” Krillin waved his hands. “No, I love it!”
Eighteen abutted her knuckles against his cheeks, her touch soft and almost caressing. “I know. As a matter of fact, he was named Nineteen. Nothing my father did was completely original, though he liked to think it was.”
Krillin took the jar from Eighteen’s hand, savoring the warm touch of her fingers before he swept the cool glass into his palm. “So this was Uncle Nineteen’s favorite, huh?”
Eighteen nodded, smiling down at him. “Old glutton loved it so much, as a matter of fact, it killed him. He ate way too much chili.”
Krillin laughed until the weight of Eighteen’s words dawned on him. “Killed him? Wait, what, literally?”
Eighteen smirked, taking the glass from Krillin’s loosening fingers before it would fall to the wooden boards below. “He couldn’t keep his hands off the spice. Gave him a heart attack.”
“And...” Krillin’s brows furrowed as he pointed at the tiny, potent jar. “You want us to eat that?”
“You’re not scared, are you?”
Krillin stiffened, intimidated by Eighteen’s challenge, but not wanting to let her see it. He was the man here. He had to show bravado. No fear, like a real ex-lawman of the West. He’d eaten spicy before. It was nothing new to him, and he figured he could brave it. Still, knowing it was strong enough for a man to die from the stuff...
“Because if you are,” Eighteen added quietly, softly, “we don’t have to use it.”
With a wash of relief, Krillin smiled. Eighteen had a soft side, and she wore it well. Perhaps more beautiful than she was as a hardened, confident criminal, this side she shared with Krillin now was fleeting and special. And with all the worries about bravado and confidence aside, Krillin realized an incredibly spicy meal was a foe he was prepared to challenge without no worries about saving face. He would eat and it and however it burned, take it like a man. For Eighteen.
“I’ll take that.” Krillin took the bottle of spice from Eighteen’s hand, tossing it and catching it as he tucked the sacks of beans beneath his arm, his smile widening. “Should I take our goods to the register, my lady?”
Eighteen snorted a giggle. “My lady?”
Krillin marched toward the register with his goods in hand, where Mr. Popo waited with a kindly smile. Krillin was used to his kindness, and Mr. Kami’s, but even if they’d been confrontational, it wouldn’t matter. Nothing could weigh down Krillin’s mood now. He was floating on the clouds, about to eat probably the hottest supper of his life, with the most beautiful woman in West City.
“Are you ready to pay?” Mr. Popo asked them.
Krillin slid the items across the counter as Eighteen butted her soft hands against his, pushing her items to Mr. Popo. Krillin exchanged a smile with her before giving Mr. Popo a nod. “Yes,” Krillin said as he swiped a loaf of mild, soft bread from Kami’s counter to add to their order. “We’re ready.”
After they paid, Eighteen followed Krillin our the door, raising her hand in curt salute at the store owners who smiled back at her.
Once out in the cool desert night air, darkness fell over them and offered them the privacy Krillin craved. Eighteen’s hand was in Krillin’s, caressing him with that same glimpse of softness she’d offered him before.
He squeezed back firmly as he sighed into the night, anticipating a belly full of savory chili, a quality night with the woman of his dreams, and a tongue full of fire.
Life couldn’t get any better.