Elissa Clark rang the doorbell. The elegant camera above her would show the people inside the big house her picture, she knew. She lifted her hand to adjust her strict curls, but lowered it self-consciously. Damn it! she reproached herself. I'm a professional. No reason to be nervous.
On the other hand, this was the CC living headquarters. Not the big house, thank the heavens, but a smaller one. Elissa wondered if she would meet company president Trunks himself, or if he had sent some servant to deal with the business with his mother.
His mother. Bulma Briefs. The former heiress, the former inventor. She used to be brilliant.
The door flew open, and Elissa took one step back. Dark eyes glared up at her.
"What do you want, woman?" the man in the door asked. His voice was flat and low. It made her fear for her life, just for one primal second. Then she raised her head, staring down her nose at him. He was one short bastard.
Elissa put much faith in first impressions. She always talked about her skill in judging characters. She just knew that this one was worthy of her hate.
"I come on behalf of The Golden Years Resort," she said smoothly. Every capital was pronounced, it was no doubt that it was something splendid she was speaking about. "I'm to meet with Bulma Briefs. I'm expected," she added, as her opponent failed to react.
"She's not expecting you, and neither am I. You can leave." He moved then, leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms in an insolent manner.
"I was contacted by president Briefs himself!" Elissa did not know what to do; the whole situation was absurd. She sure knew one thing. "To be accepted by The Golden Years Resort is a great privilege. Our facilities and personal are unparalleled on Earth! Bulma is lucky to be considered. There, her last years will be..."
She noticed his eyes. They were narrow pools of boiling acid in a face of stone. She noticed him. He raised himself from the leaning position, and the small movement was somehow too controlled. She couldn't describe it, but she felt it in her stomach; it was like an avalanche held in check.
Anything she could have said withered to insignificance beneath those demon eyes. She backed away, stumbled slightly, and fled for her life. I don't care if they fire me, she thought. Just let me get out of here and I'll never come back.
Vegeta shut the door softly, using just the amount of force necessary. That high-strung woman had said that Trunks had sent her.
Bulma was crying in the kitchen. He could feel her distress; his telepathic hearing was deeply sensitive of her due to many years of attuning.
Her mind was endlessly fascinating to him. At the beginning, when she had first taken interest in him, her mind had envisioned him as hers with such a force that it drew him in like a moth drawn to a flame. Her mind was like a bright and complicated crystal city. He had fully expected to hurt her when he let himself be drawn in, not really caring if he were to shatter those crystal structures. He had been amazed when he had not. She was resilient, and strong.
Lately, though, her mind had... changed. He knew why. She was coming to the end of her cycle. Humans died so young. It saddened him, in an almost abstract kind of way.
The ageing, the changes in her appearance had alarmed her to no end, he remembered. She had fought it, using much time and resources to try to stay the same. She had stopped the efforts when the ageing reached her mind. Her hair had assumed its now natural white, and she did no longer hide the fragility of her body, or the thousands of lines in her face.
Perhaps that had been a year ago. Vegeta never really measured time like that. Things were as they were, or they changed, or he made them change. Time had no significance in all that.
Bulma was dying. It would have filled him with anger, except... it didn't. She was still here, still alive. Bulma was dying, that was the fact. He did not wish to dwell on it. Vegeta had a very disciplined mind. He did not dwell on it. He focused on the present, on the now.
Bulma was crying in the kitchen.
She stopped when she saw him. An unformed something in the slick clean surfaces in the empty room had made her cry. It was all gone now. The feel of her mind was peaceful.
He helped her sit down on a chair by the table. Her eyes come to rest on a single rose that stood in a vase on the table, and she smiled. He had bought it for her, knowing she liked roses. He had never bought her roses before. Things had been different then; she had been able to get her own flowers. Never mind. Never mind!
He went for the flower, brought it close under her nose. She took a deep breath. The scent of the rose triggered her mind through the most amazing transformation. Out of the peacefulness ran a small girl on scrawny child legs. She was laughing and running - do you see me mother? Her mother grew roses in the garden. The sweet smell of her mother's rosebushes was all around the girl as she ran. The girl saw the roses, the red no less vivid for all the years gone by. What was, was. The girl saw the roses, and it was good.
Trunks was worried about his mother. It had been a while since he had seen his parents, but his latest visit had made it forcefully clear that he had been stalling too long. He should have made some arrangements for Bulma, should have made them as soon as he started to see the signs. Such as her forgetting what day of the week it was. Such as her not being able to put on a jacket. Such as her forgetting his name.
He had tried to talk to Vegeta about getting her to a place where they could take care of her. As usual, his father just did not listen, dismissing the subject as if was nothing. As if Trunks himself was nothing. This attitude of his father still hurt Trunks to no end. So he had just left things as they were. But the thought of Bulma, confused and alone - alone with Him - was deeply disconcerting.
He would have gone over to visit, except it had become a habit not to. And besides, he had been very occupied with the company. Lately, it had been hard. The downsizing, the steady decent of the profits. With the lack of new products, without the genius of Dr. Bulma Briefs, all the company really had to live on were its patents. In time, that was not going to be enough.
Trunks didn't know what to do. Once, out of desperation, he had even asked his father for advice but had got no help whatsoever. Just a shrug and a grunt. What had he been hoping for anyway? That was Vegeta after all. His father must have been thinking that the best way to get on top was to get rid of the competition. One murder at a time. Yes, Trunks hated to admit it, but Vegeta was a bit of an embarrassment to him. It was a good thing that he didn't want anything to do with the company. Trunks nearly shuddered at the thought of all his carefully nurtured contacts and connections severed by his fathers' caveman ways and total lack of diplomacy.
So yes, Trunks had been very busy, and all the time away from the company he had spent with his own family. Except... that was not an excuse anymore, was it? At the end of summer leave his 15-years old son, Levi, had left for boarding school, and he saw his wife every day at work.
He and Miriam had met at work. She had been 22, her infatuation with him deep and sudden. She had a ready smile and they certainly had had fun together. The fact that he had been more than twice her age had not put her off - he didn't look it anyway. One day she had made him stutter and blush like a boy by sincerely proposing.
Last time Trunks had seen his father he had searched his face for any sign of age and had not found any. He was glad for the small lines that had appeared on his own face. In his mind, they branded him human.
Trunks glanced at his watch. 10:50. He had been scheduled to meet the representative from the Home twenty minutes ago. Tardiness - that did not leave a good impression. Trunks drummed nervously with his fingers. He had given the matter a lot of thought and finally decided that the "Golden Years Resort" clearly was the best option for his mother. It was the most expensive by far, but money really should not matter in things like this. He was glad that something finally was going to be done. Vegeta should not complain as long as Trunks did not bother him. Trunks was going to do all the work and let his father train uninterrupted in his Gravity Room. Surely he was not going to miss Bulma. Surely not. Never had he shown any indication that he would.
10:55. Where was that woman?
"Thank you." Trunks terminated the transmission.
Not good. As it turned out the representative from the Home actually had been on time, she had just come to the wrong building, thinking it was Bulma she was to meet. Apparently Vegeta had met her at the door. Strange that, usually he was training at that time of the day - all times of the day really. What could his father have said to that woman? She had been very... agitated on the phone.
Trunks sighed. In all likelihood the exclusive Resort was now scared off for good. He sighed again. His father may not realise it, but Bulma was no longer fit to take care of herself. He had to go over there and talk, really talk this time. It could not be helped - there was not going to be time for any work in the company today.
Vegeta opened the door and eyed his son without surprise or interest.
"Come in," he said. "Bulma is in the kitchen, eating."
Trunks was frankly shocked when he saw his mother. She was so thin, so very old.
"Hi, mom," he said, and he felt guilty for not seeing her more often. She did not react, just kept staring at him.
Vegata sat down next to her and put one arm around her shoulders.
"Trunks is here," he said, his lips grazing her ear.
Bulma smiled and for a while she seemed to notice Trunks as he awkwardly sat down. After a few seconds she gazed at nothing again but the smile lingered. Vegeta kissed her lightly on one pale cheekbone.
Trunks stared. Never had he seen Vegeta kiss Bulma. His heart was beating hard and he felt a growing ache in his throat. He swallowed. Where did all this emotion come from?
Still with one arm around her Vegeta gathered a spoonful of mashed food. After a murmur from him she opened her mouth and with a feeling of denial Trunks watched his mother eat. Perhaps he made a sound. Vegeta looked at him, one brow raised.
"She can't even eat by herself?" Trunks whispered.
"Sometimes she can," Vageta said. His voice was soft and soothing, for her benefit, Trunks had no doubt. "But today her mind is far away." Vegeta looked at her with a fond smile as rare as his earlier kiss.
In her mind Bulma was a teenager in love. She was infinitely happy with herself and with the world. As close as he was, Vegeta saw that happiness, and he looked at it in wonder like it was some alien treasure.
"Yamcha," Bulma suddenly said. A thin line of drool mixed with food ran from the corner of her mouth. Vegeta wiped it up with a piece of tissue, that strange smile never leaving his face.
Totally unnerved, Trunks turned away.
"Father…" He paused, the words failing him for a moment. He never seemed to be able to be as verbal and collected when he spoke to Vegeta as when he spoke to everyone else. "Father, we need to talk."
"Later, boy. I'll take Bulma to bed so she can rest and then..." Vegeta turned to Trunks, his stare frightening in its intensity. "Then we'll talk."
"So... you're cooking now?" Trunks indicated the pots on the table. His vague gesture took in the situation in general; Bulma, Vegeta, the kitchen, the house.
"A simple art to master."
"Yes." Trunks took a deep breath. "I wanted to ask you if someone from, well, this morning did someone-"
"Get to the point, Trunks," Vegeta said, his voice as harsh as ever.
"Yes. Don't you think, wouldn't it be good if mother could come to a place where she would be taken care of." At least the words were spoken.
"Like the Golden Years Resort," Vegeta said. Trunks nodded. Vegeta's voice was low as he kept talking. "Where the rich elderly can live out the rest of their life in utmost luxury." He paused and Trunks nodded again, a bit hesitantly this time. "A place", Vegeta continued, "where every manner of pain could be remedied with a pill or a needle. A place... out of the way?"
"No! That's not what I meant at all," Trunks fumbled. He had thought he knew the battleground. Despite the baffling scene in the kitchen he had been sure Vegeta would just shrug in dismissal. He had not expected icy reason. He had forgotten how his father sometimes could become bitingly eloquent, and sometimes close to magnificent in flaming passion.
Vegeta's face tightened in anger. Slowly he walked closer to Trunks and he did not stop until he had to tilt his chin up to stare into his son's eyes.
With something like wonder Trunks noticed that Vegeta was smaller then him, not only shorter but also more slender. He could have been a youth, for the way he looked. The line-less face did nothing to break the illusion. This revelation did not fill Trunks with any feelings of protectiveness or something like that. On the contrary, his father's youthful looks brought godlike immortality to mind, his smallness in body only underlined the world-shattering power it harboured. Trunks knew that the man in front of him could smell his fear. He was not human.
"Now you listen to me, Trunks. There is no way that Bulma is going to move out of this house. She..."
Just like that, Vegeta's anger vanished. He backed away a few steps. When he spoke next sadness pulled at his voice. "Don't you understand, boy? Your mother... she's dying."
"Father..." Sympathy was slow to come, it seemed better to be rational. "Mother's more then ninety years old. Her dying is the most natural thing in the world."
"She's very old." Trunks caught himself talking to Vegeta as if his father had been some kind of wild animal, totally unpredictable and liable to bite at any moment. He made soothing gestures with his hands. "She's not healthy anymore. She's confused and perhaps she's in pain. Don't you think a doctor, or at least a nurse, should be at her side?"
"The doctors have been here, boy. There's nothing they can do. And yes, I can take care of her; I've taken care of her for some time now."
It was just a bit hard to accept.
"What about your training?"
"My training is important, more important then you know."
Now what was that supposed to mean?
Vegeta was silent for moment, before he dropped the bomb.
"I'm not training anymore."
After that, it didn't seem to be anything more to say. Trunks was soon walking across the lawn, autumn dew wetting his shoes. His father's parting words kept going round in his head.
"Come back soon. Your mother would like to see you again."