Dragon Ball Super Z Part One The mid-morning sun shone dazzling light over the treetops. This was one of the few green places left on Earth, one of the few patches of woodland that hadn't been burnt or blasted down when the Jinzouningen rampaged over the face of the planet, killing everything in sight. In the nearly four years since young Trunks returned from the past, the scattered survivors of two decades of terror had been slowly rebuilding their lives. One of those survivors lived here, near the clustered treetops and rolling mountains that hid the broken skyline of the old city from view. Hanging her meager washing to dry in the early summer breeze, ChiChi paused in her work for a moment and looked back at the house Gokou had built for them both to live in. It'd never been attacked by the Jinzouningen; it stood the way Gokou had made it to stand, a cheerful little dome under the high vault of the heavens. It had always been sturdy enough to withstand the normal stresses of the elements; the interior was always cool in the summer, warm in the winter. It was a good home, even if it did seem horribly empty now. Her sight blurred, and ChiChi buried her face in the sheet she'd just hung on the line and let herself cry for a minute. She never let her father see her cry; he was getting so old, and she worked hard to make sure he would be comfortable in his last years. He was inside, sleeping late as he'd taken to doing; she was glad he couldn't see her right now. "Gokou," she sobbed, "Go…Gohan-chan…" She'd done it again this morning--she'd made too much rice for just herself and her father. She was just too used to it; Gohan had had such a healthy appetite, just like Gokou's...even after almost eight years, she still forgot occasionally and she found herself having to throw out most of what she cooked for the day's use. She didn't want her son--her baby--to be dead, and some part of her still couldn't accept it. The sorrow she had carried for so many years, the shattering loss of Gokou--her husband, her love, her whole world--was compounded and sharpened by Gohan's horrible death to the point that she could barely stand to be alive anymore. Only caring for her aging father kept her broken heart beating. She straightened up and wiped her eyes with the corner of the sheet, then picked up the basket of fresh-washed laundry to move farther down the clothesline. A hint of movement over the trees caught her eye, and she looked off to the west. Two specks hung in the sky; as ChiChi watched, she managed to determine that they were actually people, although still too distant to make out any details. Trunks and Juuhachi-gou? I hope so; maybe they can help me get rid of some of the extra food. Trunks-kun has always had a healthy appetite...I can't really say I care much for the Jinzouningen, but I'm trying so hard to be forgiving, even if she did kill...kill my...She blinked hard to forestall more tears. Bulma had patiently explained, numerous times, that Juuhachi-gou was no longer an enemy and only wanted to make up for what she had done. But can she bring back my Gohan? Can she make Gokou return?--No, Gokou wasn't really her fault, and she was more or less insane when Gohan died...oh no I'm not going to cry again!!! She took a deep breath and scrubbed her sleeve across her eyes, looking up to greet her visitors. Strange...Juuhachi-gou's much smaller than Trunks, but these two look about the same size. And--wait...they both have...dark hair...?! She blinked, again and again. At first she thought it must be a trick of the sunlight; then she thought her eyes must have been going bad. Finally, when the pair of too-familiar figures touched down in front of the house, ChiChi was absolutely convinced she had finally, mercifully, taken leave of her senses. "Ahh...we're home!" Son Gokou stood tall in the morning sun, tall and magnificent as he'd been in the prime of his youth. The summer breeze stirred his unkempt black hair, tousling it over his wide, cheerful eyes. He looked at the house with a mixture of nostalgia and deep longing. "It's been such a long time..." "Hai, Tou-san," Gohan agreed. As tall as his father, and nearly as muscular, the younger Son stepped up to stand beside Gokou. "It's good to be home, na?" "Sou." Gokou's eyes swept the yard, finally coming to rest on the woman who stood staring at them in blank disbelief. "ChiChi!" His face broke out into a delighted grin. To her credit, for once in her life ChiChi didn't faint. "Go...ko...u...???" Gokou opened his mouth to answer--but his stomach spoke first, growling so loud it almost echoed over the treetops. With a little scowl, Gokou rubbed his midsection. "Anou...ChiChi...are we too early for breakfast? I'm starving!" With a sound that was half laugh, half sob, ChiChi cast her laundry basket aside and ran headlong into her husband's arms, sobbing against his chest. Gokou, startled, patted her back clumsily. "ChiChi, I'm sorry...I didn't mean to hurt your feelings! Do you want us to go out to get something to eat?" "I think she's glad to see us, Tou-san." Gohan looked at his father with mild reproach. Out of the corner of his mouth he said, "I told you we should have called ahead." Gokou replied in similar fashion, "Maybe, but I wanted to surprise her!" "I think we did." "Gohan-chan!" ChiChi hurled herself at her son, still weeping mightily. "My baby! My baby!!!" Gohan hugged his mother tightly to him. "I missed you too, kaa-san," he said softly. The front window swung open and a large gray-bearded head appeared. "What's all this noise? What's going on--GOKOU!!!" The Ox King gaped at the two men in the yard being wept all over, each in turn, by his daughter. "Gokou! Gohan! How in the world--?! Is it really you?" "Hai, Oo-sama," Gokou grinned, raising his hand in greeting. "ChiChi, it's okay, really! Please don't cry anymore...you'll make yourself sick if you keep this up!" The Ox King had lived entirely too long and had seen entirely too many strange things not to take the sudden unexplained resurrection of his son-in-law and grandson in his massive stride. He was surprised--oh, yes, possibly even taken aback--but he held steady, as he always had. "Well, the things that happen these days...! Hurry, boys, bring ChiChi in before she floods the valley." Gohan nodded. "Come on, Tou-san...let's go inside, hm?" "Yosh'!" Gokou agreed, scooping the weeping ChiChi up in his arms. Struggling for self-control, she clung to him as though afraid he might suddenly vanish. She wiped her tears away with a trembling hand and looked up into a face she'd only seen in photographs for twenty long, lonely years. Gokou smiled down at her, his wide dark eyes tender and loving. It didn't matter at that moment that he was as young and handsome as he'd been the last day of his life. It didn't matter that she'd gone on aging without him, almost an old woman now, nearly fifty. It didn't even matter that even in her youth she'd never been a great beauty--not like Bulma. None of that mattered to Gokou. He looked at her now with the tenderest expression of longing fulfilled, drinking in the sight of her, treasuring her presence as though she were the most precious thing on Earth. He had missed her. That sudden, shocking revelation was almost enough to break her mending heart all over again. She had spent so many years missing him so terribly...it had never once occurred to her that, wherever his restless spirit was, he might be missing her every bit as much. In his eyes, she wasn't an old woman at all. In his eyes, she was beautiful, as in his eyes she had always been. Because he loved her as much as she loved him, and always had, and always would. "I'm hungry," he said softly. "Let's go in and have breakfast, okay?" Smiling shakily, ChiChi nodded and wrapped her arms securely around his neck. "I think I made just enough this morning." * * * * High above the surface of the Earth, at the top of the sky, Dende nodded once, sight beyond sight watching the reunion of the Son family. "The healing continues," he said softly. Thrust unready and unwilling into the role of God for this one small world among many, he'd accepted his destiny, as was his nature, but he had never rested easily with it...at least not before now. Now was a time of recovery, of restoration, of reconciliation, and for that Dende was glad. He sighed and opened his eyes and wondered for a moment what the Elders on New Namekse were thinking and doing. Best not to wonder, he supposed; most Namekse-jin were born to a single task, their entire being revolving around that singular purpose, never swerving from it. They couldn't conceive of being called upon to do anything different than their lives' chosen path. Only a rare few could change course and explore new avenues of thinking, acting, living. The previous Kami had been such a one; Piccolo was one now; and he, Dende....well... uneasy as he felt sometimes, he was still able to carry out the sacred duty of Kami-sama. "Perhaps, God, it isn't so very different from what you were born to do," a deep voice commented. "You are a healer by nature, and Earth has needed a healing for many years." "Mr. Popo." Dende turned with a slight smile. "Are my thoughts that transparent, or obtrusive?" "No, God." The small round black figure smiled a bit. "But I know the doubts you carry about yourself. All of us do. In our own eyes we're often not enough to meet a challenge, but really the strength is in us all along." Mr. Popo waved a hand at the small green world below them. "Already you've accomplished more than anyone expected--most of all you." "Hai, hontou ni. You're absolutely right." Dende turned to look earthward again. "But there's so much left to be done." "If there wasn't," Mr. Popo observed, "the worlds wouldn't need guardians. Or great heroes like the Z Senshi." * * * * The morning light shining off the white ceiling finally brightened enough to make Bulma groan and turn over in bed. When she did a myriad of small aches and pains coupled with a throb of protest from her arm brought her all the way awake. Blinking, she stared at the cast for a second; then memory slammed into place and she looked to the other side of the mattress. Empty, but there was an impression of a head still on the pillow, and when she picked it up and brought to her face, inhaled, tears pricked at the back of her eyes. His scent; Vegeta's. He had been here last night, his arms drawing her in and wrapping around her as she faded into sleep... But where was he now? She looked at the bedside clock and gasped-- it was almost 8 AM, almost an hour and a half later than she usually slept in. Instantly she got up, staggered a little as her legs wobbled, and found a dressing gown, wrapped it around herself. Now that she was a little more awake, she could hear something from outside; the sound of flesh on flesh, blows exchanged and dodged. Walking to the balcony window, she opened it and looked down. In the side yard, where her mother'd once had a garden, Vegeta and Trunks were sparring. Trunks had his sword out and was lashing at his father, forcing him back. Almost, almost, Bulma called down to them, wanting them to stop before someone got hurt... but she didn't. Instead, she watched quietly. If she'd learned nothing else in her life among the Saiyajin, she'd learned that fighting was more than a skill or even an art with them. It shaped everything they did, said, felt, thought and believed, one way or another. They're bonding, she thought. Finding the common ground where they can meet and understand each other--where Vegeta can accept Trunks as the son he's never known, and Trunks can learn his father's as mortal and fault-filled as the rest of us... One corner of Bulma's mouth turned up. Okay... maybe Vegeta IS overloaded when it comes to faults. With a blur of speed, Vegeta ran in at Trunks, throwing himself into a slide and passing under an arc of the blade to come up inside the young man's guard. With a snarling laugh he rammed an elbow into Trunks' midriff, the other hand grabbing at the hilt of the sword. Trunks grunted and half-crumpled, but doggedly clung to his weapon, bringing a knee up at Vegeta's groin. The older Saiyajin sidestepped, but changing stance weakened his grip on the sword, and Trunks wrenched free, jumped backwards. Undeterred, Vegeta shot up into the air, then barreled down at Trunks out of the morning sun. Trunks dove forward into a tuck and roll to avoid the attack and came up, throwing his sword up at the same instant and leaning to let it fall into the sheath as his hands wove a pattern in the air. "BURNING ATTACK!" Vegeta rolled in midair, the ki blast grazing along his side and scorching through his armor, and thrust his own hands out in a back-and-forth motion, punching the air in front of him. "RENZOKU ENERGY DAAAAN!" Hundreds of small ki shots leapt forward, chewing up the ground around Trunks as he dodged and leapt and rolled to avoid them. Choosing his moment, the Saiyajin prince lunged forward and slammed a fist hard into Trunks' stomach, followed with an uppercut that sent the boy skidding along the ground into a chunk of fallen masonry. As Trunks tried to sit up, a booted foot descended and drove him flat on his back. He looked up into his father's face, gasping. Vegeta was smirking down at him, arms folded. "Is that the best you can do?" he said mockingly. By way of answer Trunks grabbed at Vegeta's ankle and rolled, summoning his ki as he wrenched Vegeta off balance. Gold fire exploded around him as he tossed the other man to the ground and came to his feet, pouncing at Vegeta, fist cocked back for a punch. Vegeta also went Super Saiyajin and caught the blow; for a moment the two of them stood there, snarling into each other's faces, hands locked as they jockeyed for position and leverage. Then Vegeta fell backwards, hooking one leg around the back of Trunks' leg as he did, and flipped his son into the side of Capsule Corporation hard. Bulma winced as she felt the impact through her feet. "More repairs, dammit," she muttered crossly. As Trunks struggled up out of the wrecked wall he felt a hand catch his shirtfront and haul him out. Panting, he looked at Vegeta, waiting for the next blow. It didn't fall. Instead, with a strange care, Vegeta set him on his feet, nodded once. "You'll do," he said. "Kakarott's brat didn't do too bad a job teaching you to fight. I'm surprised." "It wasn't all Gohan-san's doing," Trunks said, wiping the blood from his mouth as he powered down. One dark eyebrow rose. "Nani?" For a moment Trunks didn't answer, not knowing quite what to say. "In... the Past Time, where Gokou-san didn't die... I spent a while there. Someone... trained me. In Kami-sama's Room of Space and Time. He insisted on it." He looked his father in the eye. "You insisted on it." The other eyebrow rose. Then a faint smile crept into the Saiyajin's eyes. "Did I now," he said softly, voice amused. "Good to see I had enough sense to correct any flaws Kakarott's boy left in your training. I'm sure there were plenty." The amusement faded, replaced by a long measuring stare. Finally Vegeta's hand rose; hesitated; then came to rest on Trunks's shoulder. "Well, now it's my turn to train you, and don't think I'll go easy on you--" his voice lowered until Trunks could barely hear it-- "ore no musuko." My son
Juuhachi-gou and Mirai Bulma
"Someone Take These Dreams Away"
that point me to another day
Dragon Ball Super Z
The mid-morning sun shone dazzling light over the treetops. This was one of the few green places left on Earth, one of the few patches of woodland that hadn't been burnt or blasted down when the Jinzouningen rampaged over the face of the planet, killing everything in sight. In the nearly four years since young Trunks returned from the past, the scattered survivors of two decades of terror had been slowly rebuilding their lives. One of those survivors lived here, near the clustered treetops and rolling mountains that hid the broken skyline of the old city from view.
Hanging her meager washing to dry in the early summer breeze, ChiChi paused in her work for a moment and looked back at the house Gokou had built for them both to live in. It'd never been attacked by the Jinzouningen; it stood the way Gokou had made it to stand, a cheerful little dome under the high vault of the heavens. It had always been sturdy enough to withstand the normal stresses of the elements; the interior was always cool in the summer, warm in the winter. It was a good home, even if it did seem horribly empty now.
Her sight blurred, and ChiChi buried her face in the sheet she'd just hung on the line and let herself cry for a minute. She never let her father see her cry; he was getting so old, and she worked hard to make sure he would be comfortable in his last years. He was inside, sleeping late as he'd taken to doing; she was glad he couldn't see her right now.
"Gokou," she sobbed, "Go…Gohan-chan…" She'd done it again this morning--she'd made too much rice for just herself and her father. She was just too used to it; Gohan had had such a healthy appetite, just like Gokou's...even after almost eight years, she still forgot occasionally and she found herself having to throw out most of what she cooked for the day's use. She didn't want her son--her baby--to be dead, and some part of her still couldn't accept it. The sorrow she had carried for so many years, the shattering loss of Gokou--her husband, her love, her whole world--was compounded and sharpened by Gohan's horrible death to the point that she could barely stand to be alive anymore. Only caring for her aging father kept her broken heart beating.
She straightened up and wiped her eyes with the corner of the sheet, then picked up the basket of fresh-washed laundry to move farther down the clothesline. A hint of movement over the trees caught her eye, and she looked off to the west. Two specks hung in the sky; as ChiChi watched, she managed to determine that they were actually people, although still too distant to make out any details. Trunks and Juuhachi-gou? I hope so; maybe they can help me get rid of some of the extra food. Trunks-kun has always had a healthy appetite...I can't really say I care much for the Jinzouningen, but I'm trying so hard to be forgiving, even if she did kill...kill my...She blinked hard to forestall more tears. Bulma had patiently explained, numerous times, that Juuhachi-gou was no longer an enemy and only wanted to make up for what she had done. But can she bring back my Gohan? Can she make Gokou return?--No, Gokou wasn't really her fault, and she was more or less insane when Gohan died...oh no I'm not going to cry again!!! She took a deep breath and scrubbed her sleeve across her eyes, looking up to greet her visitors.
Strange...Juuhachi-gou's much smaller than Trunks, but these two look about the same size. And--wait...they both have...dark hair...?!
She blinked, again and again. At first she thought it must be a trick of the sunlight; then she thought her eyes must have been going bad. Finally, when the pair of too-familiar figures touched down in front of the house, ChiChi was absolutely convinced she had finally, mercifully, taken leave of her senses.
"Ahh...we're home!" Son Gokou stood tall in the morning sun, tall and magnificent as he'd been in the prime of his youth. The summer breeze stirred his unkempt black hair, tousling it over his wide, cheerful eyes. He looked at the house with a mixture of nostalgia and deep longing. "It's been such a long time..."
"Hai, Tou-san," Gohan agreed. As tall as his father, and nearly as muscular, the younger Son stepped up to stand beside Gokou. "It's good to be home, na?"
"Sou." Gokou's eyes swept the yard, finally coming to rest on the woman who stood staring at them in blank disbelief. "ChiChi!" His face broke out into a delighted grin.
To her credit, for once in her life ChiChi didn't faint. "Go...ko...u...???"
Gokou opened his mouth to answer--but his stomach spoke first, growling so loud it almost echoed over the treetops. With a little scowl, Gokou rubbed his midsection. "Anou...ChiChi...are we too early for breakfast? I'm starving!"
With a sound that was half laugh, half sob, ChiChi cast her laundry basket aside and ran headlong into her husband's arms, sobbing against his chest.
Gokou, startled, patted her back clumsily. "ChiChi, I'm sorry...I didn't mean to hurt your feelings! Do you want us to go out to get something to eat?"
"I think she's glad to see us, Tou-san." Gohan looked at his father with mild reproach. Out of the corner of his mouth he said, "I told you we should have called ahead."
Gokou replied in similar fashion, "Maybe, but I wanted to surprise her!"
"I think we did."
"Gohan-chan!" ChiChi hurled herself at her son, still weeping mightily. "My baby! My baby!!!"
Gohan hugged his mother tightly to him. "I missed you too, kaa-san," he said softly.
The front window swung open and a large gray-bearded head appeared. "What's all this noise? What's going on--GOKOU!!!" The Ox King gaped at the two men in the yard being wept all over, each in turn, by his daughter. "Gokou! Gohan! How in the world--?! Is it really you?"
"Hai, Oo-sama," Gokou grinned, raising his hand in greeting. "ChiChi, it's okay, really! Please don't cry anymore...you'll make yourself sick if you keep this up!"
The Ox King had lived entirely too long and had seen entirely too many strange things not to take the sudden unexplained resurrection of his son-in-law and grandson in his massive stride. He was surprised--oh, yes, possibly even taken aback--but he held steady, as he always had. "Well, the things that happen these days...! Hurry, boys, bring ChiChi in before she floods the valley."
Gohan nodded. "Come on, Tou-san...let's go inside, hm?"
"Yosh'!" Gokou agreed, scooping the weeping ChiChi up in his arms. Struggling for self-control, she clung to him as though afraid he might suddenly vanish. She wiped her tears away with a trembling hand and looked up into a face she'd only seen in photographs for twenty long, lonely years.
Gokou smiled down at her, his wide dark eyes tender and loving. It didn't matter at that moment that he was as young and handsome as he'd been the last day of his life. It didn't matter that she'd gone on aging without him, almost an old woman now, nearly fifty. It didn't even matter that even in her youth she'd never been a great beauty--not like Bulma. None of that mattered to Gokou. He looked at her now with the tenderest expression of longing fulfilled, drinking in the sight of her, treasuring her presence as though she were the most precious thing on Earth. He had missed her. That sudden, shocking revelation was almost enough to break her mending heart all over again. She had spent so many years missing him so terribly...it had never once occurred to her that, wherever his restless spirit was, he might be missing her every bit as much. In his eyes, she wasn't an old woman at all. In his eyes, she was beautiful, as in his eyes she had always been. Because he loved her as much as she loved him, and always had, and always would.
"I'm hungry," he said softly. "Let's go in and have breakfast, okay?"
Smiling shakily, ChiChi nodded and wrapped her arms securely around his neck. "I think I made just enough this morning."
* * * *
High above the surface of the Earth, at the top of the sky, Dende nodded once, sight beyond sight watching the reunion of the Son family. "The healing continues," he said softly. Thrust unready and unwilling into the role of God for this one small world among many, he'd accepted his destiny, as was his nature, but he had never rested easily with it...at least not before now. Now was a time of recovery, of restoration, of reconciliation, and for that Dende was glad.
He sighed and opened his eyes and wondered for a moment what the Elders on New Namekse were thinking and doing. Best not to wonder, he supposed; most Namekse-jin were born to a single task, their entire being revolving around that singular purpose, never swerving from it. They couldn't conceive of being called upon to do anything different than their lives' chosen path. Only a rare few could change course and explore new avenues of thinking, acting, living. The previous Kami had been such a one; Piccolo was one now; and he, Dende....well... uneasy as he felt sometimes, he was still able to carry out the sacred duty of Kami-sama.
"Perhaps, God, it isn't so very different from what you were born to do," a deep voice commented. "You are a healer by nature, and Earth has needed a healing for many years."
"Mr. Popo." Dende turned with a slight smile. "Are my thoughts that transparent, or obtrusive?"
"No, God." The small round black figure smiled a bit. "But I know the doubts you carry about yourself. All of us do. In our own eyes we're often not enough to meet a challenge, but really the strength is in us all along." Mr. Popo waved a hand at the small green world below them. "Already you've accomplished more than anyone expected--most of all you."
"Hai, hontou ni. You're absolutely right." Dende turned to look earthward again. "But there's so much left to be done."
"If there wasn't," Mr. Popo observed, "the worlds wouldn't need guardians. Or great heroes like the Z Senshi."
* * * *
The morning light shining off the white ceiling finally brightened enough to make Bulma groan and turn over in bed. When she did a myriad of small aches and pains coupled with a throb of protest from her arm brought her all the way awake. Blinking, she stared at the cast for a second; then memory slammed into place and she looked to the other side of the mattress.
Empty, but there was an impression of a head still on the pillow, and when she picked it up and brought to her face, inhaled, tears pricked at the back of her eyes. His scent; Vegeta's. He had been here last night, his arms drawing her in and wrapping around her as she faded into sleep...
But where was he now?
She looked at the bedside clock and gasped-- it was almost 8 AM, almost an hour and a half later than she usually slept in. Instantly she got up, staggered a little as her legs wobbled, and found a dressing gown, wrapped it around herself. Now that she was a little more awake, she could hear something from outside; the sound of flesh on flesh, blows exchanged and dodged. Walking to the balcony window, she opened it and looked down.
In the side yard, where her mother'd once had a garden, Vegeta and Trunks were sparring. Trunks had his sword out and was lashing at his father, forcing him back. Almost, almost, Bulma called down to them, wanting them to stop before someone got hurt... but she didn't. Instead, she watched quietly. If she'd learned nothing else in her life among the Saiyajin, she'd learned that fighting was more than a skill or even an art with them. It shaped everything they did, said, felt, thought and believed, one way or another. They're bonding, she thought. Finding the common ground where they can meet and understand each other--where Vegeta can accept Trunks as the son he's never known, and Trunks can learn his father's as mortal and fault-filled as the rest of us... One corner of Bulma's mouth turned up. Okay... maybe Vegeta IS overloaded when it comes to faults.
With a blur of speed, Vegeta ran in at Trunks, throwing himself into a slide and passing under an arc of the blade to come up inside the young man's guard. With a snarling laugh he rammed an elbow into Trunks' midriff, the other hand grabbing at the hilt of the sword. Trunks grunted and half-crumpled, but doggedly clung to his weapon, bringing a knee up at Vegeta's groin. The older Saiyajin sidestepped, but changing stance weakened his grip on the sword, and Trunks wrenched free, jumped backwards. Undeterred, Vegeta shot up into the air, then barreled down at Trunks out of the morning sun. Trunks dove forward into a tuck and roll to avoid the attack and came up, throwing his sword up at the same instant and leaning to let it fall into the sheath as his hands wove a pattern in the air. "BURNING ATTACK!"
Vegeta rolled in midair, the ki blast grazing along his side and scorching through his armor, and thrust his own hands out in a back-and-forth motion, punching the air in front of him. "RENZOKU ENERGY DAAAAN!" Hundreds of small ki shots leapt forward, chewing up the ground around Trunks as he dodged and leapt and rolled to avoid them. Choosing his moment, the Saiyajin prince lunged forward and slammed a fist hard into Trunks' stomach, followed with an uppercut that sent the boy skidding along the ground into a chunk of fallen masonry.
As Trunks tried to sit up, a booted foot descended and drove him flat on his back. He looked up into his father's face, gasping. Vegeta was smirking down at him, arms folded. "Is that the best you can do?" he said mockingly.
By way of answer Trunks grabbed at Vegeta's ankle and rolled, summoning his ki as he wrenched Vegeta off balance. Gold fire exploded around him as he tossed the other man to the ground and came to his feet, pouncing at Vegeta, fist cocked back for a punch.
Vegeta also went Super Saiyajin and caught the blow; for a moment the two of them stood there, snarling into each other's faces, hands locked as they jockeyed for position and leverage. Then Vegeta fell backwards, hooking one leg around the back of Trunks' leg as he did, and flipped his son into the side of Capsule Corporation hard. Bulma winced as she felt the impact through her feet. "More repairs, dammit," she muttered crossly.
As Trunks struggled up out of the wrecked wall he felt a hand catch his shirtfront and haul him out. Panting, he looked at Vegeta, waiting for the next blow.
It didn't fall.
Instead, with a strange care, Vegeta set him on his feet, nodded once. "You'll do," he said. "Kakarott's brat didn't do too bad a job teaching you to fight. I'm surprised."
"It wasn't all Gohan-san's doing," Trunks said, wiping the blood from his mouth as he powered down.
One dark eyebrow rose. "Nani?"
For a moment Trunks didn't answer, not knowing quite what to say. "In... the Past Time, where Gokou-san didn't die... I spent a while there. Someone... trained me. In Kami-sama's Room of Space and Time. He insisted on it." He looked his father in the eye. "You insisted on it."
The other eyebrow rose. Then a faint smile crept into the Saiyajin's eyes. "Did I now," he said softly, voice amused. "Good to see I had enough sense to correct any flaws Kakarott's boy left in your training. I'm sure there were plenty." The amusement faded, replaced by a long measuring stare. Finally Vegeta's hand rose; hesitated; then came to rest on Trunks's shoulder. "Well, now it's my turn to train you, and don't think I'll go easy on you--" his voice lowered until Trunks could barely hear it-- "ore no musuko."
Trunks fisted both hands, hard, feeling heat come into his eyes and seeing the world mist-waver for a moment as he blinked fiercely. "Hai, Pappa," he said, proud of his voice for not shaking. "I'll train hard."
"You're damn straight you will." Vegeta released his hold and folded his arms, looking up at Trunks. "Every day, first thing in the morning, and every night before you sleep. With and without that pigsticker on your back." One fingertip flicked at the swordhilt. "Weapons can be taken away. You'll learn to rely on your fists and feet first." Turning away, he jerked his head. "Training's over for now. If she knows what's good for her, that lazy mother of yours will get breakfast ready while we clean up." Vegeta looked up right into Bulma's face and smirked. "Better get started, too, woman. I don't plan to spend all day in the bath."
"And just what do I look like, your servant?" Bulma started to put both hands on her hips, reconsidered, and settled for one.
Vegeta looked her up and down. "Of course you're not my servant. I'd never have such a stupid, stubborn, ugly wench serving me. However, since I'm stuck with you, I might as well get a decent day's work out of your fat butt."
"My... I'm.... FAT BUTT?!?!" Bulma screamed and grabbed the nearest object (a pot of flowers) and hurled it at the Saiyajin's head. He calmly tipped it to one side just enough to let the falling pot miss him without moving from where he was standing. "Your aim's no better either, I see," he remarked calmly. "Just as I expected. You never could get anything right."
"OOOooh!" Gritting her teeth, Bulma launched into a litany of the worst abuse she could manage--which was just about enough to take the paint off a battleship at 500 yards. Trunks's eyes got progressively wider as his mother's furious tirade continued, covering Vegeta, his ancestry, his personal qualities, and the interestingly painful things she planned to do to her mate given a reasonable amount of time and the proper equipment (including, but not limited to, fire ants, red-hot pokers, and a good quality kitchen cleaver).
"--And NAIL IT TO THE WALL!" Bulma concluded, shaking a fist at Vegeta.
"You're wasting time," Vegeta replied, floating up to the balcony to stand at eye level with her. "The longer you stand out here and screech like a harridan, the hungrier I get. Better get moving before I have to...chastise you."
"You and what army?!?"
"I don't need an army to handle you, woman." One hand shot out and cupped Bulma's chin, and before she could react Vegeta had leaned in and closed her mouth with his own. Even from where he stood Trunks could see Bulma's eyes widen in surprise, then slide slowly shut as she returned the kiss. Then he half turned away, trying to give them the moment to themselves, but curiosity won out; a second or two later he glanced back over his shoulder. By this time Vegeta had drawn back and was looking directly into Bulma's eyes, hands resting on the edge of the balcony, face unreadable. Bulma's expression, on the other hand, was full of a shy, delicate wonder that gave her the illusion of being the girl she had been, years ago, when this man first walked into her life. He's never kissed her like that before, Trunks thought. Not so openly, where anyone could see. I think… I think things are going to be very different in this lifetime, for them both.
With a snort Vegeta broke the tableau by taking Bulma's shoulders, turning her around, and whacking her backside lightly. "Breakfast, woman," he ordered. "Now. I'm tired of waiting for your feeble brain to kick in."
"Hmph!" Rubbing where he'd swatted, Bulma headed inside to get dressed and go downstairs, pausing at the doorway long enough to fling one final insult before she vanished: "Beast!"
Putting one hand behind his head, Trunks drew a long, long breath. It looks like things are going to get a lot noisier around here, too. "Ah... Pappa... does Mamma always carry on like that when you're around?"
Vegeta considered the question. "No. Sometimes she's worse." His lips curled mockingly. "But I always win."
* * * *
"Ahhhhhh!" Gokou leaned back, drew an arm over his mouth, and rubbed his stomach. "Oishii!"
"Hai," Gohan agreed, pushing back from the table himself. "I feel so full, I can't even think about eating!"
"I can," his father answered, then added, "but not any more right now!"
"You're sure? I can make some more you know. It won't be any problem. I can make you all the food you want!" ChiChi caught herself, shook her head. "Oh, goodness, I'm babbling aren't I?"
"Just a little, ChiChi." Ox King smiled at his daughter. "But that's okay, you know, this is a very happy day!"
"It's the happiest day of my life…" ChiChi wrapped her arms around one of Gokou's and rested her head on his shoulder. He blinked, then smiled and leaned his cheek into her hair.
"What I want to know is how did you two get back?" Ox King continued. "I mean, we heard Piccolo had returned from the dead, but it couldn't have been the Dragon Balls—you've been gone too long."
"Well, Ojiii-san, it was Bulma-san's doing mostly," Gohan said. "She had some help from Kami-sama, but without her nothing would've come of it. Oh, and, um… Juuhachi-gou… she helped too. I think."
"Bulma… and Juuhachi-gou?" ChiChi straightened, eyes wide. "We heard she'd—the Jinzouningen, I mean—had come back and was a friend instead of an enemy now… I personally wasn't too sure, mind you, but if you say she helped, Gohan-chan, then—EEE!" Letting go of Gokou's arm, ChiChi swatted at her leg, then stopped, reached down and grabbed something. She stared at it for a moment, then shrilled, "G-G-GOKOU!"
"Hm?" The Saiyajin looked down also. "Oh! Hai, gomen ne, ChiChi." Neatly his tail whisked itself out of her grip and curled back around his waist. "I guess it's as happy to see you as I am."
"That…was…your…tail," ChiChi forced out, still staring.
"Hai. When we came back, we all had our tails again."
ChiChi reached out, touched the furry length where it lay coiled around her husband's midriff. It unrolled and rose up at her touch, waving gently in the air, and before she could react the very tip end flickered under her chin, tickling it. She gasped, then got a good look at the mischief in Gokou's eyes, and laughed. "Oh, Gokou! You're teasing me!"
"Sukoshi," Gokou admitted, then laughed as well.
"Well, I guess I'd better get into the kitchen and start washing up." ChiChi sighed, looking at the sink, piled high with dishes. Somehow, she didn't even mind the mess in there, she decided. Then a second thought occurred and she gasped, one hand covering her mouth. "Whatever am I going to fix for dinner? I don't have nearly enough food in the pantry for all four of us! I need to go shopping right away."
"I can go for you, Kaa-san," Gohan volunteered. "I want to get out and see what everything looks like, anyway."
"That's a good idea, Gohan," Gokou said, nodding. "Take Oo-sama with you to show you around. –You've still got plenty of money, ne, ChiChi?"
"Hai. I saved every zenni you made from the Budokai. Not that it was ever very much, since somehow things always happened to keep you from getting the winner's purse… but never mind, there's still enough left. Hold on, Gohan-chan, I'll get you some." ChiChi bustled off to the front room, where she knelt by the little fireplace and drew out a loosened stone, revealing a small metal box from which she drew a handful of bills. She counted them over carefully and gave half to Gohan. "Now, you know what I need," she said. "I know I can trust you to remember that, Gohan-chan. And you two be careful! Just because that wicked Juunana-gou is gone doesn't mean the roads are safe. Don't talk to strangers and watch out for bandits!"
Gohan smiled at his mother, remembering all the times he'd run this very same errand, and all the times she'd given him almost the exact same warning. "Hai."
ChiChi stood at the door to watch them off, then turned to find Gokou standing almost directly behind her. "Oh! Gokou, what did you want?"
Gokou didn't say anything at first. Instead, his hands cradled her cheeks and tipped her face up so he could study it. ChiChi swallowed, suddenly nervous, wondering what he was thinking. "Go..Gokou?" she asked softly.
"ChiChi." Gokou's eyes crinkled as he grinned. "I need a bath, will you scrub my back?"
"Course, I splash a lot, so you might want to change into something that won't get hurt if it's wet. Your birthday suit would be okay I think."
"My birthday suit? But, Gokou, that's—" Abruptly ChiChi realized what her husband was really asking, and exactly why he'd suggested Gohan take her father along on the trip to town. She promptly blushed clear up to the roots of her hair. "GoKOU! In the middle of the day?!"
"Yeah." In one swift move Gokou picked ChiChi up and headed up the stairs towards the bath.
* * * *
"…A menace! We all know what they did, how they destroyed our world! Look around! Our homes, our families, everything we held special, it's all been ruined! How do we know we can trust her? This could all be some kind of trick to take us off our guard…"
Gohan paused outside the grocery store and leaned on the handle of the shopping cart, watching the young dark-haired woman as she alternately pleaded with and lectured the people moving down the sidewalks of New Hope City. Although some stopped to listen, most only gave her a cursory glance, and of those who listened not one seemed to pay her any real heed. As he continued to watch, she sat down dejectedly on a bit of broken stone from one of the buildings and put her face in her hands. When her shoulders started shaking Gohan couldn't bear it any more. "Oo-sama, who's that?" he asked softly. "That girl."
"Hm? Oh, that's Videl. You remember Mr. Satahn, don't you?"
"The World's Champion? Hai, who wouldn't?"
"That's his daughter."
"D-D-Daughter?!" Gohan's eyes tripled in size momentarily.
The Ox King laughed. "Don't ask me who the poor woman who married him was!" Then he sobered. "They're both dead now, from what I hear. It's said he died fighting the androids."
Slowly Gohan nodded. "Would, would you take the groceries to the aircar? I want to talk to her for a minute."
Wandering over, Gohan knelt by Videl. "Uh… o-jama desho ga, demo…"
"Oh!" Videl sat up, hastily wiping her eyes, and glanced at the young man, then looked again. He was about her own age, with a sweet, open face and wise eyes. Something about him was so reassuring, so calming that she immediately relaxed. "It's okay, you're not bothering me." She tilted her head, looking at him. "I'm Videl…Do, do I know you?"
"I don't think so." Gohan bobbed a hasty bow. "Please let me introduce myself. I'm Gohan, Son Gohan. I couldn't help noticing you looked very sad…"
"Hai." The young woman gave a bitter little laugh. "More discouraged, really. No one will listen to me, and it's so frustrating." She slammed her fists down on her knees hard. "No one wants to disagree with their meal ticket—" she jerked her chin in the general direction of Capsule Corporation.
"Meal ticket? I don't understand."
"Bulma." Videl almost made it a curse, then stopped and shook her head. "No, I can't blame her for being taken in too. It's just, I thought, she's so smart and everything, you would think she'd understand we can't take that… that thing's word about anything." She looked at Gohan helplessly. "People around here have a lot to thank her for, and so they're only too happy to pay attention to what Bulma says, and when someone comes along to contradict her, of course they're troublemakers."
"Thing…" Gohan glanced in the direction of Capsule Corporation too. "You mean the Jinzouningen, Juuhachi-gou?"
"What else?" Videl's eyes flashed anger. "That witch killed my father. It and its devil of a 'brother'. Now it's living up there. And they don't even mind, Bulma or her son! They even seem to like it!"
"Well, you know, people change," Gohan ventured cautiously.
"That's just it! The Jinzouningen's not a person. It's just a clockwork mannequin. There's nothing real or human about it. How could there be? Look at all the terrible things the Jinzouningen did. Wouldn't a human being have had even a little conscience or compassion?" Videl held up her hands. "Nothing stopped them, they cared about nothing and no one. As long as Juuhachi-gou's here, we're all in danger. Any day now it'll drop the act and mow us down like so many blind, trusting rabbits. Gohan-san, you believe me, don't you?"
"I…." Gohan shook his head. "I haven't seen her do anything like that."
With a little start Videl drew back. "You've been around her? A lot?"
"Well, Bulma-san is sort of a family friend. She's known my Tou-san for a long time."
"Then it's useless." Videl turned her face away, but not before Gohan caught a hint of the despair in her eyes. "You really won't listen to me."
"That's not true! I—" Gohan broke off as the Ox King honked the horn of the car and leaned out, waving, "Oi, Gohan!" he bellowed. "Some of this stuff needs refrigeration, you know! We need to get back before it spoils."
"You go on." Mustering a smile, Videl stood and bowed. "You were nice to me, anyway… arigatou, Gohan-san."
"Listen…" Gohan fidgeted, then burst out, "listen, Videl-chan, I'd like to talk to you some more sometime. I promise I'll listen, I'm a really good listener."
"That's a lot of 'listening' you did just now in that last sentence," Videl teased, one brow arching.
Gohan groaned and whapped himself in the forehead with one palm. "Baka na," he growled at himself.
"Gohan-san…. Nanimo. Wakatta." Videl's smile brightened a bit as she added, softly, "I'd like to talk to you some more too."
"Sou ka?! Yosh'!"
"Gohaaaaan!" Another beep of the horn. Gohan impulsively reached out and took Videl's hands, held them a second. "Where can I meet you?" he asked.
"Um… oh… I don't know—wait! You're from around here, ne?" At Gohan's nod she added, "Do you remember the old Lion Park? Down near the Orange Star High School?"
"We'll meet there!" Hastily Videl dug around in her pockets, came up with a scrap of paper and scribbled something on it, pushed it into Gohan's hands. "This is my phone number—call me and let's work out a day to meet!"
"I will! –Oi, oi, Oo-sama, I'm coming!" Gohan raced to the car, hopped in, and waved out the side window as they drove away. To her surprise, Videl caught herself waving back… and hoping very much that the young man would keep his word.
* * * *
With a long sigh Bulma stared at the wreck and ruin of the evening meal. One Saiyajin makes a mess. Two make a disaster, she thought wryly. I managed to teach Trunks some manners, but I might as well forget it where Vegeta's concerned. She stood, wincing a bit—she was so stiff and sore, and little wonder; Juunana-gou had worked her over pretty well the day before.
"Are you all right?"
Bulma turned and gave the speaker a smile. "A bit more achy than usual, but I'll be fine. Though this arm's going to give me twice as much misery from now on when it rains—" she gestured at the cast. "I already had a touch of bursitis in the shoulder." She tipped her head. "Any particular reason you avoided breakfast, or should I ask?"
"Your husband." Juuhachi-gou folded her arms and leaned against the wall. "He doesn't like me."
"That's an understatement." Bulma shook her head. "He'll get over it."
"Will he, Bulma? Men like Vegeta hold grudges a long time."
Bulma's mouth tightened. "He'll get over it if I have to take a LAW rocket and tattoo the news that you're on our side now on it, then fire it point-blank into his ear."
"He'd probably just complain of a mild earache." The cyborg sighed. "Bursitis, you said? Are you taking anything for it?"
"Not much of anything to take for it, Juu-chan. Just part of growing old." Bulma began gathering the myriad of plates and bowls scattered over the table into neat stacks. "I'm in my fifties, you know."
Juuhachi-gou permitted herself a faint smile. "You don't look it."
"Flatterer." The other woman also smiled. "Well, my family has a penchant for looking pretty good as they get older, but it's the inside that counts at this point." She slowed and stopped, staring down at the table but not seeing it, a sadness stealing into her expression. "I always wanted a little girl," she said, almost to herself. "A sister for Trunks. He was such a perfect baby."
"Is it too late already?" Juu moved over and began to stack dishes also, watching Bulma as she did.
Bulma nodded slowly. "Hai. About a year, year and a half ago. No more children." Suddenly she sat down. "We've lost so much time, Juu-chan…" One hand crept up to cover her eyes, hide the moisture gathering there. "It used to be we were a year, maybe two, apart in age. At least that's what we figured out once. He's about five years older than Gokou, you know, Vegeta is."
"Sou ka?" Juu blinked.
"Hai. Now I'm not just old enough to be Trunks' mother; I'm old enough to be Vegeta's mother. How will he deal with it, when… when I really start showing and feeling my age?"
Juuhachi-gou put down the handful of china she'd picked up and moved over to put her hands on Bulma's shoulders. "That won't be for several years yet, ne?" she said softly. "It's not as if you're tottering on the edge of the grave. Are you that afraid of growing old, Bulma?"
"N… No…" Bulma looked up, trying to pull herself together. "Just… of growing old before Vegeta does. Half my life's over already. I'll never have that time back again, never be able to share it with him."
Unseen and unnoticed by either woman, a shadow moved in the hallway. Drawing back from the edge of the door, Vegeta scowled. He'd felt the Jinzouningen's presence in the dining area after he and Trunks had departed, and had sent the boy off on some pretext while he circled round to watch her. He'd half hoped she would try something with Bulma so he would have a ready excuse to kill her, but she wasn't harming his mate… for now anyway… so he'd dismissed the pleasant idea of dismantling the wind-up toy till another day.
It was the subject of conversation that held his full attention now. What did Bulma mean, half her life was over? The scowl turned more thoughtful as Vegeta remembered Kamesennin making remarks about being 'a frail old man'. Was that what age meant to humans? Saiyajin didn't become weaker as their years advanced; those who outlived their enemies usually just stopped breathing in their sleep one day when their lives were done. But this 'age' business, now…
Would that, was that, happening to Bulma now?
He growled softly under his breath, irritated (and, on some deeper level that he wouldn't admit but had to acknowledge, worried). One more damn thing humans can't get right. What complete and monumental idiot thought it made sense for them to wither away with the years? I won't have it. I didn't suffer through a decade in Hell without a body, then put up with Kakarott in Heaven for another decade, just to have Bulma dry up and blow away on me. I refuse to let it happen. There must be a solution, somewhere, if I have to beat it out of Kaiou-sama or Kami-sama or Enma-sama themselves.
Turning on his heel, Vegeta paced away.
* * * *
Somewhere beyond space and time, something stirred.
It had only a shadow of form, no real substance at all; nothing but will. Yet, even without a body, burning eyes studied a tall cliff with a thin cleft down the middle, currently being watched by two horned figures.
For years it no longer remembered it'd sought a way out of its current imprisonment, striving to return to the material world. There was so much left unfinished… destiny's cruelty couldn't be forgiven or forgotten. Not even Hell could banish those memories.
It'd despaired of ever leaving until one day it'd overheard two oni talking, discussing a mortal, a soul that had fallen into Hell and escaped again. How, they didn't say, but the mere idea had sparked a savage hope. Over time without time information had been gathered, stories sifted through and rejected, until finally, finally…
No prayers; the heavens had rejected its prayers once. Only patience.
"So what's the word from up top?" one oni asked, scratching his arm idly and letting his club drop to the ground.
"Enma-sama's finally getting his backlog of souls from Chikyu cleared up a little, my cousin says," the other oni answered. "Though I hear it's still standing room only in the Palace."
"About time! Things are so crowded down here already it's a wonder we can keep our eyes on everything." The oni paused, glared over at a small group of drifting clouds that were squeaking among themselves. "Hey, you losers! Move on! This is Hell, not a holiday tour!"
The 'clouds'—in reality, souls—drew back a bit, one smaller one nudging into a larger one. The larger squeaked more loudly and promptly launched itself at the smaller. A furious tussle broke out, with the two souls rapidly joined by more, seemingly from nowhere, until half the air seemed filled with furiously roiling spirits.
"Hey! Cut that out! Ah, look at that, we better go break this up!"
"Wait a second, wait a second, Enma-sama told us to guard this passage back up to his antechamber—"
"He also told us to keep things orderly and calm down here. YOU want to explain to him why we let a riot go on?"
As the oni argued, the watcher slipped from its hiding place and shot silent and low over the ground, flattened as much as possible for concealment. It reached the crack and darted in, never slowing. The others had bought it the time it needed. Everything else was up to it.
This time, nothing would stand in its way.
* * * *
The ruined streets stretched out in all directions, a maze without end or beginning. He wandered down them, looking, listening. Nothing moved but papers in the wind.
Where were all the people?
A few spatters of rain gusted down; he ignored them. There was a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach as every sense told him he was alone.
Where were all the people?!
As he rounded a corner, a splash of color against the gray rubble, brilliant, fresh… red.
He sprinted forward and knelt to touch the wet crimson blotch, felt its slippery stickiness on his fingers. The dread inside became a fist, clenching on his heart. "Is anyone here?" he shouted. "Oi! Please, answer me!"
No answer. Standing, he looked around, saw another patch of blood, and another… and another… leading to a crumpled form on the sidewalk. He ran to it, turned it over.
Beyond that, a form draped over a shattered lamppost: Vegeta.
Impaled on the broken glass of a storefront window: Bulma.
Lying on his back, sightlessly staring up into the gathering clouds: Trunks.
Half crushed under a chunk of masonry: ChiChi.
And in the middle of the street, with a hole where his heart had been… Gokou.
Slowly Gohan turned in a circle, eyes taking in the horror even as his soul screamed in protest. "No," he choked, falling to his knees beside Trunks. The thirteen-year-old's eyes accused him wordlessly: where were you, Gohan-san? Why didn't you help us?
In one motion Gohan was on his feet, whirling to face the speaker. She smiled and stepped off the rooftop, smoothing her blonde hair back as she drifted to the ground. "Juu… Juuhachi-gou…" he stammered.
"Sorry I left you out." The cyborg waved a negligent hand at the bodies. "If you'd been here earlier, you could've taken your place with them. As it is, I'm afraid I'll just have to kill you all by yourself." She smiled. "You really didn't believe me when I said I'd changed, did you? Machines don't have consciences, Gohan-san. And I'm Dr. Gero's best model." She made a face, looking at Trunks. "Though it's a pity-- he's a cute little boy, he would've been bishonen when he finished growing up."
With a howl of rage, tears half-blinding him, Gohan raised his hands, cupping them to focus his will for a Kamehameha that would take that horrible, poison-sweet look off the Jinzouningen's face forever.
But though he felt both hands there… only one appeared.
Nothing but an empty sleeve flapped on the other side.
Stunned, Gohan clutched at his shoulder, feeling the stump where his arm had been blasted away, and turned to Juuhachi-gou. "Doushite?" he screamed. "WHY?!"
"Silly." Juuhachi-gou giggled and leveled an arm at him. "Because Videl was right."
The light leapt at him, tearing into him, searing white pain everywhere--
Gohan sat up in bed, both hands slamming over his mouth to hold in a shout, a cold sweat making him shudder in the early morning breeze from the open window. For a moment he had no idea where he was—how had he gotten inside from the street? Who had brought him inside, when everyone was dead?
Hands. Hands over his mouth.
Slowly he removed them, glanced from one to the other. Both his. Swallowing, he collapsed back against the pillows, dragged an arm over his forehead. A dream, a nightmare. That was all.
(Because Videl was right)
"I guess part of me does believe her," he whispered aloud. Suddenly his bedroom seemed too close, almost stifling. Throwing off the bedcovers, Gohan moved over to his writing desk, scribbled a hasty note: 'Gone for a walk. Couldn't sleep. Back soon' and taped it to his pillow, then pulled on his gi and stepped out the window.
The sky was still mostly dark, but towards the east a soft gold light had begun to bleach a blue streak across the night. Gohan flew slowly along, letting the wind whip the last tatters of the dream from his mind.
But Videl has a point, part of him said silently. What if Juuhachi-gou is just waiting until we all lower our guard? She's alone now. How much easier to have a little patience and take us all by surprise!… I need to talk to someone… but who? I can't worry kaa-san or tou-san with this. Vegeta-san already hates Juu-san enough, I don't need to give him an excuse to kill her if she's innocent. Trunks… Trunks-kun is too close to the problem. So is Bulma-san. Who does that leave?
A smile spread across his face. It leaves someone I trust with my life. Pausing in mid-flight, Gohan closed his eyes and reached out, feeling for one particular spirit among the many scattered over the face of the planet. It wasn't hard to find the one he sought; almost as soon as he reached out, he felt someone reaching back, answering his call before it had time to grow a second old. He turned and headed in that direction at his best speed.
Over the mountains Gohan slowed, coming to a stop beside a figure sitting cross-legged in the air, arms folded, eyes closed, head lowered slightly. "Piccolo-san," he said softly.
"Gohan." The Namekse-jin opened his eyes and fixed a piercing gaze on the young man. "You're up early."
"Anou… I… I couldn't sleep."
"Mm." Piccolo mulled that over, then shook his head. "Come on, kid. Spill it. What's the real reason you're out here?"
"It's that plain?"
"You might as well be wearing a sign: 'Piccolo, I've got a problem. Please fix?'"
Gohan laughed. "You always did know me better than I knew myself." He also sat on nothing and stared down at the ground far below. "It's Juuhachi-gou," he said finally. "Piccolo-san… how can we know? I mean, how can we really trust her after all the things that've happened?"
"Oh, he's asking me, the Demon King, who can be trusted."
"Piccolo-san! You gave that up a long time ago. Besides, that was the you before you... I think... you know, I never really understood that—"
"Never mind," interrupted Piccolo. "We're talking about the Jinzouningen, not me."
Piccolo turned to look at Gohan, and something in his expression softened, as it did for no other living being in all the universe. "Bad dream, I take it. Shook you up pretty bad, huh?" he murmured.
Gohan nodded slowly.
"Okay. On the level now. If you're worried about Juuhachi-gou, don't. Take it from me, there's no evil in her. Never was, really. But the feel of her's different now."
"How can you say she wasn't evil?!"
"Is a rock evil, Gohan?"
"Answer the question." Piccolo leaned over and thwapped Gohan solidly across the back of the head, hard enough to rock him forward a bit but nowhere near harming him.
"Um…." Gohan frowned. "No."
"Not even when it falls on you and crushes your foot?"
"No, that's just the way it's…" the young man trailed off. "Ahhh…"
"Now you've got the idea." Piccolo nodded. "The Artificial Humans were created to do what they did. That's the way they were."
"Wakatta." Gohan chewed his lower lip. "They weren't given a choice between doing right and wrong. To them, anything they did was right, and anyone trying to stop them was wrong, because that's the only reference they had, the only life and purpose they knew. But now, now Juu-san knows the human ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, is that it?"
"Right." The Namekse-jin smirked. "About time. You've got a better brain than your dad's, Gohan, you should've picked up on that one right away."
Gohan laughed again, then nodded respectfully.
"You're probably still pretty wired. Felt like you were about two heartbeats from Super Saiyajin a little while ago—must've been when you first woke up. Why don't you settle down somewhere quiet and meditate for a while to get yourself calm, then head on back to bed?"
"I'll do that, Piccolo-san." Gohan nodded, paused. "Sankyuu…"
"Go on, get out of here, I'm tired of seeing your face." But the corners of the Namkese-jin's mouth were turning up fractionally even as he said the harsh words, and Gohan smiled back, waved, and flew away.
Somewhere over the mountains close to home Gohan stopped, lowered himself to a ledge, and closed his eyes, tucking his legs up under him. He concentrated first on his breathing, making it slow and even, paying attention to its rhythm. Bit by bit the tension drained out of him and his mind became an empty pool, undisturbed by the outside world, focussed entirely on the inner calm he sought.
As he let his thoughts drift, Gohan felt something brush across them, like a breeze. Startled, he opened his eyes, not recognizing the touch, and found himself surrounded by a mist that eddied and swirled against the sky like something alive.
No, not like something alive—it was alive—
In a heartbeat of time the cloud closed on him, and simultaneously Gohan convulsed, a cry choked off in his throat before it began. After a few moments, the violent trembling stopped and the young man's body relaxed, then righted itself. The dark eyes opened and scanned the world around him as a slow, triumphant smile crossed the Saiyajin's features.
Gohan's body, Gohan's eyes… but not Gohan.
* * * *
"A Duel of Personalities"
a duel of personalities
that stretch all true reality
"Now, you're sure you want to wait here?" Bulma tipped her head. "I might be a while."
Juuhachi-gou shrugged. "It makes no difference to me. Just be sure you come and get me when you're ready to load the car. I don't want you straining that arm. You may feel better than you did yesterday, but you're still healing."
"Okay, I will, I promise." Bulma smiled. "Though really I can manage—"
"Bulma, don't give me that."
"Hai, hai." With a wave Bulma headed into the store. Juu settled herself and watched the passersby idly. Not so long ago the sight of so many humans would've set her on edge, but now she almost welcomed the flow of pedestrians. It meant the city was restoring itself. Maybe she and Juunana-gou hadn't quite driven the human race to extinction. She permitted herself the barest trace of hope. It wasn't much to make up for all the lives she'd taken, but—
"Hm?" Juu looked up into a pair of serious eyes under a shock of dark hair. Almost instantly she recognized the young girl who'd attacked her a few days ago, right before the resurrection of the Z Senshi. "Can I help you?"
The girl nodded slowly, hesitated, then bowed. "I'm Videl," she said quietly. "I… I was wondering if you'd talk to me. I think we've got a lot to talk about."
"Sure." Seeing the girl's unease, Juu got out of the car, trying not to appear intimidating. "Maybe you'd like to talk somewhere a little less public?" she suggested, not really expecting the girl to agree. After all, last time they'd spoken Videl hadn't had much better to say than obscenities, and since then, from all they'd heard up at Capsule Corporation, the young lady had been carrying on a one-female hate campaign. This sudden change intrigued Juu, though she wasn't much worried. Very little if anything Videl could muster would stand a chance of harming her, if that's what was in store.
"Hai, please." Videl drew a breath, looked around. "Maybe... maybe over there?" She pointed at a small park down the street, in easy view of the market. "They're still cleaning it up, I don't think we'd bother anyone."
Juu raised an eyebrow, studied the park a moment, then shrugged. "If you're comfortable with it." She set off in that direction, Videl falling in beside her. Picking her way past toppled benches, she settled on a fragment of a shattered statue and looked at Videl expectantly.
Videl swept her hair behind her ears, fidgeted a bit, then took a breath and said, "I'm… sorry I was cruel to you. People around here seem to've accepted you… and they have as much reason or more than I do—did—to hate and fear you. You destroyed their city as well as their lives."
Gets right to the point doesn't she? Juu thought, wincing inside. Aloud she said, "I'm sorry too. I know that doesn't count for much. As it is…" she shrugged. "I can't change the way the world was. Only the way it's going to be."
"I hear you." Videl spread her hands. "But I don't believe you, not completely. Please, can't you give me a reason to? Tell me how you feel."
"I… I don't talk well about my feelings," Juu said, the words sounding hollow even to her. "I'm too new to them."
"Then how do you know you're sorry?"
"How does anyone know?" Juu stopped. "That's not an answer. Forgive me." She picked her next words as carefully as she could. "If the same choices presented themselves to me… knowing what I know now… I wouldn't do what I did. I'd try to stop Juunana-gou, talk sense into him. Make him see that Gero stole our lives to have revenge on a world he despised."
"Dr. Gero, hai. He was a genius, wasn't he, almost as smart as Bulma-san?"
"Probably smarter, about some things. But then, Bulma is an expert in fields Gero didn't know much if anything about, so they're even. If you consider sheer creativity and versatility, I suppose they're pretty equal."
"Don't you think he might've put, I don't know, some kind of backup in you? Something to restore your original programming in case you were damaged? How do you know you'll never become what you were again?" Videl's fists clenched. "How do you know?"
"I don't know. Believe me, I'm as worried about that as you are."
"How can you worry?! You're just a machine!!"
"I don't think this conversation is getting anywhere." Juu slid off the stone and glanced up towards the market. "Besides, I'm sure Bulma will be finishing her shopping soon. I should go and help her."
"I think Bulma will be looking for new 'help' soon," a second voice intruded. Juu turned, a puzzled frown crossing her features. "Gohan?" she said, blinking as the young man stepped out from behind one of the few remaining trees. "I didn't know you were here." She tipped her head, some dim warning beginning to sound in the back of her mind. Why hadn't she felt his presence?
Gohan only smirked, then looked at Videl. "Good job. Now move out of the way. This will be quick and violent. I don't want to waste time on killing the Jinzouningen."
Juu stared, hearing but not understanding what Gohan was saying. "N..Nani?" she forced out at last. "Gohan?"
The young warrior only leveled a hand at her, light already gathering in a corona around it. As the blast leapt out at her, Juu dove to one side, rolling and coming up to return fire instinctively. Gohan batted it aside with one hand, amber energy wrapping up around him as he transformed to Super Saiyajin. Videl gasped, eyes widening. "G-Golden Warrior—" she stammered.
"Baka na." Gohan threw her an irritated glance. "Will you get out of the way? I've got plans for you."
Juu took advantage of the momentary shift of Gohan's attention to take to the air, shooting up and out of town at her best speed. She didn't want to confront him right now for several reasons, not least of which was the fact he was potentially the most powerful of the Z Senshi. If he was seriously trying to kill her—and the shot he'd fired hadn't been lacking in power enough to do that—then she needed to stay out of his way until she figured out what had brought him to this.
A surge of energy behind her caught her attention, and she barrel rolled just in time to dodge another ki burst. "Gohan, yamero!" she shouted over her shoulder. "What's gotten into you?!"
"Na, don't bother asking. You won't be around long enough for the answer to matter." Putting on a little extra speed, Gohan drew abreast of Juuhachi-gou. "You're useless to me. I need the Saiyajin, and you don't count. Nothing personal."
Back down on the ground, Videl shaded her eyes and watched as the two tiny figures flitted back and forth in the sky, lines of fire drawn between them. When Gohan'd come to her and offered to help destroy the Jinzouningen, at first she'd been delighted. At last someone had listened to her warning, shared her doubts about Juuhachi-gou's sincerity. But hadn't there been something missing in Gohan's eyes, and something added?
And was she so sure the terrible dark fire in those eyes was such a good thing to see, when it seemed to've crushed out the gentle light that made him someone to trust?
Others were gathering now, pointing upward and murmuring, and Videl suddenly felt nervous about her part in it. She turned and slipped through the tiny crowd, wondering what she should do next. Looking around, she spied Bulma standing outside the market, obviously searching for the Artificial Human. Some impulse of propriety drew her that way. "Bulma-san?"
"Who—" Bulma turned, scowled, then nodded. "Oh, aren't you—"
"Never mind." Videl pointed upwards. "Your… friend… Juuhachi-gou is up there."
"What in the world—? Who's that she's fighting with?!"
"Anou… it's, um, Gohan… Son Gohan?"
"Nani?!" Bulma darted past Videl and all but dove into her aircar, yanking open the glove compartment and jerking out a pair of binoculars. Cursing under her breath at the cast on her arm, she clumsily focussed on the distant combatants. "Oh Kami…." The field glasses slipped from her hand and thudded to the ground as she gaped in disbelief. Then old reflexes took over and she ran around the other side of the aircar, jumped in. "No way I can stop them…" she muttered. "Dammit, Vegeta, you had better be home."
"Oi, Bulma-san, please can I come with you?" Videl heard herself saying. "I—I think this is partly my fault."
"What's that supposed to mean? Never mind. You can explain later. Get in, sit down, buckle up, and hang on!" Bulma floored the accelerator, yanking the steering wheel around in a vicious circle as the engine protested, and headed at top speed for Capsule Corporation.
In the air above, Juuhachi-gou turned and twisted, using her own ki powers mostly to deflect Gohan's shots. Too many of them were coming uncomfortably close. He was guessing her moves much, much too easily. Time to go on the initiative, she thought grimly. She came to a sudden halt in mid-air, trusting that her cybernetic reflexes were still that fraction quicker than even a Super Saiyajin's. As Gohan overshot her, rotating in mid-air to face her, she lifted her hands and fired, hoping to stun him.
With a snarl Gohan batted the ki shot aside. "That's not nearly enough to stop me now," he said. "I have more power than you can dream of. Enough to finish what I started years ago." He laughed, a cruel sound. "Kind of a pity Freeza's not around. I'd love to see his face as I blew him apart."
"Freeza..?" Juuhachi-gou shook her head. "What are you talking about, Gohan-san?"
"Don't be so formal, Juuhachi-gou. You can call me Gohan. It's almost the truth anyway."
Juu's eyes narrowed. The way he moved, spoke, acted… she peered at Gohan closely, reading his ki, and gasped. "You—you're not—"
"Say goodbye, osanai ningyo." Gohan's hands cupped in front of him, then swung to one side. "KAAA-ME-HAAA-ME-HAAAA!"
Below, in the road, Videl squealed as the sky seemed to light up with a second sun. Bulma gripped the wheel grimly and didn't look up—she knew the sound of that attack only too well. "Kuso, kuso, kuso," she muttered. "What's gotten into Gohan?!" She threw the aircar into a bootlegger's turn in front of Capsule Corporation and leapt out before the dust settled, wincing as the motion jostled her injured arm, and ran up the steps. "Vegeta! VEGETA!"
Videl got out more slowly, looking up into the sky and blinking as the great light faded. One of the two distant figures seemed to be getting slowly larger, and she realized someone was falling to the earth, limp and motionless. But which one? She agonized. Oh, Gohan!
"What the hell?!" a deep voice growled nearby. Jumping, Videl whirled, eyes widening again in shock and terror as she took in the newcomer. With infinite care she began to edge along the side of the car, hoping she wouldn't be noticed.
Piccolo noticed anyway and summarily dismissed the human girl as no threat. He even favored her with a glance and a slow half-smile that froze her in her tracks. Yeah, that's right, girl, take a good look, Piccolo the Demon King in person. Better people than you have taken the memory of my face down with 'em as their last vision in this life. –I love it when they cower. It's so damn funny. You'd think I was about to eat them alive. Almost makes me wish I had to eat, just so I could freak them out by walking around munching on a nice raw leg of something. Then he turned his attention to the sky. Now what is going on around here? Why's Gohan powered up—and where's Juuhachi-gou? I felt her ki up till a few minutes ago, but now there's nothing. Got to be something wrong.
"Damn, he's not—" Bulma barreled out of the building, caught sight of the Namekse-jin, and finished, "Piccolo-san! Thank Kami!"
"Don't thank Kami, this version had nothing to do with me." Turning, Piccolo folded his arms, jerked a thumb at Videl. "This one's next to useless. I hope you know what's going on, Bulma."
"Something's wrong with Gohan. Juu and I were going grocery shopping, and when I came out she was nowhere to be seen. Videl-chan here said something about him attacking Juu!"
Piccolo looked at Videl (who tried to shrink even more) and read the guilt in her eyes. "You can explain later," he growled at her, watching her face go whiter. "Right now I've gotta go talk some sense into the kid. Don't go anywhere." He shot upwards toward the pale figure hanging in the sky above Capsule Corporation, slowing as he approached. "Gohan."
Gohan turned to face him, and Piccolo half gasped, half snarled silently. Gohan it might seem to be, but an alien expression lay on the youngster's face, fierce and unforgiving and lacking the candleflame of compassion that always touched his eyes. It was a stranger looking back at him, and Piccolo didn't like it. "Who the hell are you?" he snapped, fist clenching.
"Piccolo-san, don't you know me?"
"I know you're for damn sure not the person you look like."
"You're very observant." Gohan tipped his head to one side as if listening to something. "I should've expected that; you're the closest one to Gohan, except for…" the expression softened a bit. "Except for Kakarott."
"Keep digging that grave, bud, you're going to need it. Where is Gohan?"
"In here." Gohan tapped his own chest. "Right where he's always been. Just consider me a new tenant. We're sharing the body."
"Whuh… what?" Piccolo stammered, and at the same moment he heard, or thought he heard, a voice as thin as the wind in his mind: Piccolo-san! Wa.. watashi na otetsudai…
He won't let me out-!
"Shut up," Gohan said aloud casually, and the voice faded. He shook his head. "The boy's persistent, I'll say that. Strong will. Just as a Saiyajin should be."
"You've got three seconds to—"
"To what?" Gohan smirked. "What are you going to do? You know Gohan's in here with me. And don't think I don't know how he worships you, and how really close you are to him, despite the way you act when anyone else is around. What you do to me you do to him as well."
For a moment Piccolo hung in the air, head bent; then he looked up and smiled grimly. "Yeah. That might be true. But I'm not letting you just walk all over us or him. Gohan wouldn't want me to give in like that."
With an impatient sound Gohan—or whoever was wearing his body—charged in, fists swinging. "Idiot Namekese-jin," he said under his breath. "You might've been useful. Now you're just a dead man."
Piccolo twisted and flew backwards, dodging the punches ramming in at him. He's not kidding around, he thought, this nutcase is trying to kill me. And with Gohan's power, he can do it too. Piccolo concentrated, feeling the stranger out and finding no trace of Gohan's ki around him. He's got Gohan pushed so far down the poor kid's practically locked in a box. I can't count on any help from there. Gritting his fangs, he jabbed a fist forward into the young Saiyajin's ribs hard enough to knock the breath out of him. One thing, his fighting style's different. A little simpler, maybe. Not that it'll help much, but if I can take advantage of this guy's unfamiliarity with Gohan's body… An open palm strike rattled him, and he winced. "That's gonna leave a mark," he grumbled.
As the two forms jockeyed for position, blows and blocks falling faster than she could follow, Bulma clenched her fists, feeling helpless. Where the HELL are Trunks and Vegeta?! I swear to Kami, I'm going to make them start wearing beepers. Something is seriously wrong with Gohan, he'd never attack Piccolo— she stopped, a cold little fear creeping around her heart. Did… did I get something wrong in the incubation process? Could something have gone wrong in Gohan's brain? Please no! If that's the case, then it could be happening to them all… a nightmare filled her mind's eye of Vegeta, returned to the conscienceless killing machine of his earlier life, and Gokou beside him, no longer Son Gokou at all but Kakarott, the Saiyajin, sent to Earth to wipe it clean of life. She shivered, then grabbed at Videl and ran for the steps of the building as Piccolo rocketed down out of the air and slammed full-force into the car, reducing it to scrap.
"Screw this," Piccolo said, pulling himself out of the metal and glaring up at the stranger in Gohan's shape. Dende.
Piccolo-san! I was about to call you--
Never mind that. Find Gokou and the others, I'm a little busy to figure out where they are right now. I need them here. Gohan's been possessed.
A mental gasp. So that's where it went!
Where WHAT went?!
Enma-sama, I've been at his palace. They had an escape from Hell. All the terrible overcrowding, things have gotten lax. An old and powerful soul found a way out. Enma-sama says it would need to inhabit a living body in order to remain in our world. And if it stays long enough, it will take the body over!
The two spirits will meld, Piccolo-san. Gohan-san will be absorbed!
"The hell he will," Piccolo snarled, rage flooding him. "Over my dead body." Get off your butt, "God", we need a little divine intervention down here if you don't want this planet going down the Cosmic Sewer.
Piccolo-san, the rules--
Stuff the rules where the moon shines! You've already broken out of one rut, Dende. Don't give me that crap. This is your planet to watch over, so WATCH OVER IT!Piccolo broke the mental communication angrily and flew back up, where Gohan waited. I should've asked what this bastard's name is. I'd kinda like to know who my killer's going to be. "Okay, party boy, let's get started. Hell misses you, and I mean to send you right back there on a one-way ticket."
He had the brief satisfaction of seeing the derisive grin drop off Gohan's face, replaced by a momentary look of consternation, before the interloper dove in at him and the battle began in earnest.
Up at his palace, Dende opened his eyes, beads of sweat trickling down his face. "But I can't interfere directly," he half moaned. "It's forbidden, he knows that! The only reason I'm allowed to commune with him in this way is that once he was part of the old God."
"Piccolo-san has always been one to consider the forbidden no different than the ordinary, God," Mr. Popo said quietly. "Remember his origins."
"H-Hai." Stricken, the young Kami looked up at his servant and advisor. "And if I don't help, the one using Gohan's form is very likely to kill Piccolo—and anyone else who gets in his way. That includes the Z Senshi most particularly."
"It isn't an easy choice, God." Mr. Popo lowered his head. "The greater the power, the more the responsibility that even the least action bears."
Dende nodded, then shut his eyes again and thought, hands clasped so tight in front of him they trembled. Very softly, he said, "I can't warn the Senshi directly. Not unless the world itself is threatened, and this intruder wants the Earth for himself."
"That's so, God."
"But if… if in their hearts… they felt a need to return at once to Capsule Corporation… I'm not in control of their feelings... and besides, battle calls to the Saiyajin. No doubt they already know something's happening."
"That's also true, God."
Dende nodded and flattened his palms together as if in prayer, sending the subtlest tendrils of thought out, the tiniest nudge, the softest of whispers. Go home, it said, and go to Bulma, and find Gohan.
And across the face of the world, three men, one off by himself thinking and two locked in a spar, stopped, like hounds catching a scent on the breeze, attention turning to the distant horizon. Without a word all three took to the sky from where they each were, and the feel of power raised in battle pulled them on.
* * * *
"Figures From The Past"
and mocking voices ring the hall
Grasping a handful of tunic, Gohan hauled Piccolo up out of the crater the Namekse-jin had made with his last impact and held him up for a moment, studying him. "You're a good warrior," he said. "I've enjoyed this."
"Get… on with it," Piccolo rasped, and spit out a mouthful of his own blood. "Or... are you trying to talk me… to death?"
"Leave him alone!" a female voice shouted, and Gohan raised his head, brows knitting across. Then he began to laugh. "Oh you don't really think that will work, do you?" he asked, amused.
Bulma thumbed off the safety of her rifle by way of answer. "I don't know if it would anywhere else," she answered tartly, "but I bet if I put a few rounds into your eye it'll sting a little. I used to be a pretty damn good shot, Gohan. Do you want to gamble I've lost my touch?"
"Bulma, you idiot," Piccolo husked, "it's not—" he broke off as Gohan hit him again across the face, breaking his jaw, then tossed him aside and turned to face Bulma, folding his arms. "Suppose you did shoot me," he said. "I could dodge a bullet."
"Who said this gun uses bullets?" Bulma sighted, her aim never wavering even though her stomach felt as if a tiger was clawing its way around inside. "This is a gauss rifle, Gohan. It uses a magnetic field to accelerate a burst of solid metal projectiles to well over the speed of the fastest rifle shell. Are you going to be able to dodge all of them?"
A slow, admiring smile spread across Gohan's face. "Now that's what I like," he murmured, "a female with courage. I can see why Prince Vegeta would take you for a mate." He gave a sideways glance to Videl. "Well, she's younger, but we can work on that. I'll have you too. If Vegeta objects, I'll kill him." He started forward.
"Stop," Bulma warned. "You move one more step, I'll shoot."
"Will you? Are you going to kill me, Bulma-san? After you worked so hard to bring me back to life? Didn't you cry at my grave when you buried me, you and Trunks?"
Bulma swallowed. "Iie," she forced out. "I didn't cry for you, Gohan. I cried all the tears I had when your father and Vegeta died. But it hurt. It hurt every bit as much. And it's going to hurt a lot more than that this time." She pulled the trigger.
And Gohan simply wasn't there.
In the next second the gun wrenched from her grip hard enough to jolt her injured arm and the pain dropped Bulma to her knees. A wail of metal bending was followed by a thud as her rifle, bent into a neat coil, landed beside her on the ground. Then she was yanked upwards and shaken sharply once.
"Lesson One: I'm not as tolerant as Prince Vegeta's become of you," Gohan said. "Try that again, or anything like it, and I'll break Videl's arms and legs in as many pieces as I can one by one while you watch the whole thing." With a second shake he let her tumble to a seat on the ground. "And as for you Videl, the same goes back. Disobey me, and Bulma will suffer. A great deal. Understood?"
"H-hai." Videl knelt by Bulma and slipped a protective arm around the older woman's shoulders. "Who are you?" she burst out. "You're not Gohan-kun."
"The name wouldn't make any sense to you, and it won't matter. In a little while I'll be Gohan, for all intents and purposes—hn?" Gohan whipped around, just in time to take a ki blast square in the chest that rocketed him well away from the girls. A second later a slender form flashed by, headed after him, and Bulma caught a glimpse of an upraised sword. "Trunks!" she cried, trying to get to her feet. "Trunks, don't take him on yourself, go find your father-!"
Trunks heard her, but it didn't change things. As he drew closer he slashed at Gohan, laying the other Saiyajin's shirt open and drawing blood. "What the hell are you doing?!" he shouted, furious. "Gohan-san! What are you doing?? And where's Juu?!"
Incredulous, Gohan touched the cut, looked at his bloody fingers, then snarled and leapt at Trunks. "High-born brat," he said savagely. "Ki'koug ta!"
"N-Nani?" Trunks said, dodging the fist whipping in at him. "What did you say?"
"If you don't give in now you won't be around to learn the language," Gohan replied. His hands and feet blurred in a furious series of strikes which Trunks backed and wove and ducked and dodged through, barely keeping ahead of them. "I don't want to have to kill you, Trunks. You can be taught about the way things will be from now on."
"Gohan-san, you're-- what are you talking about?!"
"This world. It's going to be our salvation. The Saiyajin race will live again." One hand locked in Trunks' shirtfront and drew him forward till he was face to face with Gohan. "We'll sweep across the galaxies. A thousand worlds for a battlefield!"
"Gohan-san, what's wrong with you?!" Trunks shot back. "This isn't you talking! You hate fighting except when you have to. Sparring is one thing, that's just training, but this-!"
Luminous blue-green eyes narrowed. "This," Gohan said softly, "is your future. Better choose wisely, Trunks, live and fight or die and be forgotten, like the Jinzouningen, like the Namekse-jin."
"You want an answer?" Trunks drew breath and screamed in Gohan's face: "IiiiAAAAAAAAAA!" Energy exploded around him jostling him out of Gohan's grip, as he went Super Saiyajin. Blade flashing, he pressed an attack, driving the older man backwards.
"Fine. I'll clip your wings, fledgling." Gohan closed in, punching the air before him and sending a volley of ki blasts at Trunks, blasting the ground around him and whipping up a cloud of dirt and rock fragments. Instinctively Trunks leapt into the air, barely avoiding a blow from Gohan. He shot straight up, the other Saiyajin in hot pursuit.
As Gohan drew level with him, Trunks suddenly whirled, sheathing his sword and letting himself drop, placing Gohan above him. His hands blurred into a quick series of motions as he summoned his ki. "BURNING—ATTAAAACK!"
"Nani?" Gohan said, blinking, then tried to move aside, but too late. The beam caught him full on, sending him crashing to earth. Videl screamed and crouched over Bulma protectively as the young man slammed into—and through—the side of Capsule Corp's main dome, bringing a good portion of it down atop him. For several moments all that could be heard was the crash and thunder of collapsing masonry. When it died away Videl looked up, eyes wide with sorrow. "Go..Gohan..?" she stammered.
Panting a bit, Trunks dropped lower, trying to catch any activity in the ruins. "Mamma, please move!" he called. "Both of you get clear. He may only be down for a—"
A blue-white streak tore up out of the concrete, vaporizing what pieces lay in its path, and enveloped Trunks. His scream was lost in the Kamehameha's roar, but Bulma's wasn't. "TRUNKS! IIE, ONEGAIIIII-!" She reached upwards, as if to stop or blot out the sight of her son's limp form as he struck the ground and lay still as death. "Please no…"
Descending, Gohan walked over to Trunks and kicked him in the ribs. The boy groaned, tried to force himself up. With a savage laugh Gohan kicked him again, and a third time. "The strong survive," he said. "Ki'koug ta die."
"My son is not a worthless half-breed." Hard on the heels of that came a shot that drove Gohan skidding backwards in a trench he dug with his own body.
Lowering his hand, Vegeta snarled, "Dig your grave, inu, and I'll help you lie down in it." He moved to stand between Gohan and Trunks.
"Vegeta!" Gokou grabbed the other man's shoulder. "You can't kill him!"
"Move your hand, or you'll be next."
"Iie. I can't let you kill Gohan."
Both men turned and stared as Gohan struggled up and shook off the effects of the blow, took a step forward, eyes locked on Gokou. "Kakarott," he said again, voice trembling. "At last… I see you with my own eyes and not in some dream of the future."
"K-Kakarott?" Gokou's face twisted in bewilderment. "Gohan-kun… did you hit your head or something? Otou-san da! You don't know me?!"
"No," growled a low voice to their rear. "He doesn't. Because he's not Gohan."
Gohan scowled. "You heal fast, Namekse-jin."
"Yeah." Piccolo stood, favoring his left leg. "Comes from eating right and getting plenty of exercise." He jerked his head to indicate Gohan. "Dende dropped the ball on this jerk. He's a refugee from Hell who's decided to take over Gohan's life. If we don't get him out of there soon, it'll be a permanent takeover."
"Saiyajin," Vegeta said abruptly. "Whoever he was in life, he was a Saiyajin. That word. Ki'koug ta. It means more than 'half-breed'. It's an insult of the worst kind in Saiya-go." His expression never wavered, but his eyes promised destruction, and soon. "Do you think Trunks and Gohan were the first Saiyajin to have another race's blood in them? Che." His voice lowered, till in the quiet they could all barely hear it. "A low level warrior might get away with it for a while, if the child's coloring was right," he said, as if to himself. "But sooner or later the truth would be found out, the half-blood always made for weaklings… and weaklings die. Even being suspected of half-blood, that would buy you a quick grave.
"A higher level warrior or a Prince wouldn't even dream of considering a woman of another race suitable to mate with. And to sire a child by such a woman… that would mean death for them all, the mother killed before the child was born, the father broken and left to die slowly in the wilderness, without honor…" Vegeta trailed off. "If such a child was allowed to live, the sire would never acknowledge it his own, not unless he wanted shame and death to hunt him down." His dark eyes found and locked on Trunks. "My son is not a half-blood," he said, raising his voice. "He's Saiyajin, and a Prince of the Saiyajin, and I will have it no other way."
"Pappa…" Trunks whispered. "Pappa…"
"Be still. This is my fight now." But there was something almost kind in Vegeta's voice as he said it, before the rage flashed out again as he turned his eyes back to Gohan. "Show me who you are," he demanded.
Gohan closed his eyes, concentrating. His aura flared, shifted, settled into an image that lay over Gohan's frame like a transparency. A man's form, clad in Saiyajin battle armor, scouter in place on a face marked by a battle scar.
A face which aside from that one mark was identical to Gokou's.
After a heartbeat Vegeta's voice broke the silence again: "Bardock."
"Anou…" Gokou edged closer to Vegeta and stage whispered, "who's Bardock?"
"A low-level warrior," spat out Vegeta.
"Your father, Kakarott," Bardock/Gohan answered.
Gokou, predictably, shrieked. "NAAAAANI?!"
Piccolo winced. "Good thing I've got another ear on the other side of my head, that one's shot."
"You're… my…." Gokou took a faltering step forward, and another, staring at the wavering image. "My otou-san?"
"Then—what you're doing here, inside Gohan?!"
"I needed a body or my soul would dissipate," Bardock explained as Videl and Bulma joined the group, Bulma kneeling by Trunks to take him into her arms. "A body that was of my own bloodline, or I wouldn't be able to hold it more than a few minutes. And I have too much to do. I didn't fight my way out of Hell to blow away like leaves in a storm." He held out a hand. "Listen to me now. I didn't want to fight, but those who don't stand with me have to be put down."
"You have a strange way of 'not fighting'," Vegeta said, gaze never wavering.
"Prince Vegeta. Your… son's not dead yet. He still has a chance to choose to join us." Bardock clenched his/Gohan's fists. "I knew what Freeza was going to do. On my last mission, I was cursed… I could see the future. No one would believe me when I warned them that Freeza meant to destroy us, wipe out our world and our race in a single minute." The Saiyajin's voice tightened, shaking with fury. "His men killed my squad… left me for dead. I dragged myself back to Vegetasei, begged them to hear, to understand… I saw you, Kakarott, grown, with your true birthright lost to you, forgotten. They wouldn't listen! Baka na!! We could've stopped Freeza! I was left by myself to try, I fought the terrible destiny…" he stopped, eyes closing. No one moved or spoke.
"And I lost," he finally finished in a whisper. "Freeza… I burned alive in the strike that shattered Vegetasei. It was for nothing. Nothing." Bardock looked up again, eyes fixing on each of his audience in turn. "I swore, somehow, I would set it right. Our race didn't deserve to die like that! Cut down like trees, unknowing, unable to fight back! We were Saiyajin, the greatest warriors in the universe. We will be again. Here. Don't you see?! We can build a new home, make this earth a New Vegetasei. We'll rule a thousand stars, and no one will ever strike us down again!"
"Just how do you intend to do that, let all the other Saiyajin out of Hell too?" Piccolo folded his arms. "It's not that easy."
Bardock shook his head. "No. But I don't have to. Our race is alive now—" he gestured at Gokou and Vegeta. "Their blood runs true. Gohan's body will do for me, he's worthy, he's proven that. Trunks can live if he'll do as he's told."
"Saiyajin DNA," Bulma whispered, and everyone turned to look at her. She swallowed hard, looking across at Bardock. "You want to breed a new race of Saiyajin."
"Hai." Bardock nodded once. "With Vegeta and Kakarott I have enough to do it. First we'll take over the Earth and set ourselves up as its rulers. Then, bit by bit, we repopulate the planet with Saiyajin. You can help there, Bulma. I can see it in Gohan's memories—" he tapped his temple. "The same way you grew these bodies, you can make the children grow up faster. We'll teach them the old way, like we did with the babies we sent out to conquer weaker worlds. The half-bloods can mate with each other, strengthen the Saiyajin blood in their children enough to weed out the weakness the human blood will bring."
"Chotto mattei! What about Gohan?" Gokou's brows knit across. "What happens to him?"
Bardock shrugged. "He'll be remembered as a noble warrior who gave his life so our race could be born again. Almost the truth. We're becoming one. Very soon now his strength'll run out and I'll absorb him completely." Glancing at Vegeta, Bardock added, "You know, Gohan is the Legendary. That'lll make me strongest of us all when I finish joining with him. Then it would be only right for me to be King. But you'll be in command of all the war forces, Prince Vegeta."
Grinding his teeth together, Vegeta snarled. "Bakayarou! Kusottare! What makes you think I'd let a low-born warrior like you rule anything?!" He took a stance.
"And you can't have my son." Gokou's face was now thunderous. "You got no right to come along and take someone else's life just because yours ended. You said it was destiny. It had to happen that way. Gohan deserves chance to live –you've had yours." He fell into stance right beside Vegeta.
"Time to get the hell out of the way." Piccolo swept up Trunks, Bulma and Videl, retreating with them.
Bardock/Gohan stared at the pair in front of him, bewildered. "If I have to beat sense into you," he said finally, "I will." His aura flared up again, tiny bolts of energy like lightning lancing through it. It drove the wind before it and sent sand and rocks flying. Gokou half-crouched, protecting his face with one arm and squinting at the invader. "You ready, Vegeta?" he asked.
"Don't get in my way," the Saiyajin Prince retorted, then charged forward, feet lifting from the ground as he pushed to Super Saiyajin. "KUSOTTARRRE!!"
Gokou was right on his heels. "KIYAAAHHHHH!"
Bardock crouched and waited for them, arms slightly spread. As the pair rocketed in at him he leapt straight up, twisting mid-air to fire a volley of ki blasts as they passed beneath him. Rolling to either side, Vegeta and Gokou returned fire.
Several hundred yards away, Piccolo held up the edge of his cape as a partial shield. Somehow he just happened to be in the right position to protect Bulma and Videl as well by the action. "This isn't good," he grumbled.
"Surely Son-kun and Vegeta can handle Gohan?" Bulma asked as Videl watched the fight in complete astonishment.
"Yeah. Gohan they could. This isn't Gohan." Piccolo's eyes hooded. "The kid always holds back a little. Part of him loves competition and the chance to use his power. The other part wishes he'd never have to raise a fist again. Never have been able to get him past that. But this Bardock guy… he's not holding back one bit. And that's only the tip of the iceberg."
"Kaiou-sama told us something fun about the Saiyajins once while we were in Heaven. Turns out once every generation an extra powerful Saiyajin gets born. One that makes all the others look weak by comparison." The Namekse-jin's mouth twisted wryly. "Bardock mentioned it just now. 'The Legendary'. He meant the Legendary Super Saiyajin. And lucky us, this generation it turned out to be Son Gohan."
"There's got to be something we can do…" Trunks started to push himself off the ground, to be restrained by one taloned green hand. "Don't," Piccolo said simply. "You go out there the way you are now, not only will you get in the way, you're likely to wind up getting used as a hostage. –Bulma, didn't you say something earlier about Juuhachi-gou?"
"Juu!" Trunks gasped. "H-Hai, Go—ah, Bardock said something about her too, and…and it didn't sound good."
"Can you fly?"
"I think so. Hai."
"Good. Take off. Try and find the wind-up girlie. Get her back here where Bulma can check her out. I'll keep an eye on the fight." Silently he added, And your mom.
Trunks nodded once and took a few steps away, powered up, and flew off. It didn't take him long to find the Jinzouningen; a huge crater marked her impact point. He landed, approached her cautiously. "Juu?"
The tattered form made no response, no motion. Blue eyes stared sightlessly upwards. Swallowing past a tightening throat, Trunks knelt and took her wrist, felt for a pulse, found nothing. Hoping he'd simply missed it, he put a hand to her neck to double-check.
The next second he was lying on his back staring up at a fist ready to smash into his face. "Juuhachi-gou!" he shouted. "Juu-chan!"
"Don't shout. My ears are better than any human's." Juu lowered her fist. "Trunks. Gohan's gone—"
"Iie. It's not Gohan."
The cyborg blinked. Once. "Care to explain that one to me?"
"In a minute. You're okay?"
"I've felt better, but I'm alive."
"I thought—" Trunks swallowed hard. "I was worried… you weren't."
The faintest smile crossed Juu's features. "Were you." She shook her head. "When I realized Gohan, or whoever, was really trying to kill me, I decided to give him what he wanted. I cut off my power temporarily. I guess it worked, he obviously doesn't know a lot about Jinzouningen. We regenerate." She moved off Trunks' chest and stood, sweeping her hair back. "Kuso, there's a lot of power being thrown around over there!"
"Pappa and Gokou-san are trying to stop Bardock. –That's the one who attacked you. He's possessed Gohan."
"Wonderful. I'm sure it doesn't bother Vegeta in the least, but that means Gokou's not going to fight at full power for risk of hurting his baby boy. Come on." She put out a hand and hauled Trunks to his feet. Together they set off back to the battleground, joining Piccolo and the others.
Meanwhile, Vegeta had reached the exact same conclusion. "Damn you, Kakarott," he hissed under his breath as he watched Gokou and Bardock exchanging blows. "Fight, don't dance with him!"
Ducking under a palm strike, Bardock dropped and swept Gokou's feet out from under him, then came down with an elbow in the pit of Gokou's stomach, knocking the breath out of him. "Kakarott, listen to me," he said urgently. "I'm your father. That has to mean something to you."
"Means you ought to be nicer to your grandson," Gokou retorted, and slammed a knee up into Bardock/Gohan's stomach, then grabbed him by the shoulders and rolled Bardock into a pin. "Gohan… Gohan-kun… I know you're in there. It's Tou-san. Say something, okay?"
Bardock snarled and slammed a punch into Gokou's jaw, sending him sprawling. "Don't try that again!" He cupped both hands in front of him, drew them to the side. "Kaaaaaa… me….."
"Yamero!" Gokou knelt up, holding one hand in front of him. "Gohan, dame na! Don't do it!"
"H.Haaa.. m…" Bardock shivered violently, took a faltering step backwards, hands rising to clutch his temples as he fell to one knee. His entire expression changed. For a moment a tired, frightened Gohan looked out of his own eyes again. "Tou-san…" he said, voice breaking. "I'm fading."
"Gohan-!" Gokou put out a hand. As he did, Gohan shivered again, then straightened, mouth curling in irritation. Gokou froze, sensing the moment had passed and Bardock was in control again. "Bardock," he said quietly. "Stop now. Give me back Gohan."
"No." Bardock leveled his hands again. "Kaaaa-me-Haaaaaa-me—HAAA!"
Gokou never even tried to move. The blast flung him back to crash into the standing portion of Capsule Corporation. He slid down the wall with a groan, struggling to clear his head as Bardock bore down on him.
"Oh for crying out loud." Piccolo put two fingers to his forehead. "I'm gonna regret this in the morning. –You want to hightail it, kid," he added to Trunks. "You and Juu get Bulma and the girl—"
"My name's Videl," Videl snapped, hands on hips.
"Save the introductions. Leave." Energy crackled around his fingertips as he thrust his hand out in front of him. "MAKANKO SAPPOU!"
Bardock dodged, but not quite enough; the energy wave knocked him to the ground as it burned along his side. At the same moment Vegeta thrust out an arm, palm flattened, and screamed, "BIG BANG ATTACKKK!"
The earth around Bardock exploded in fire and smoke. Videl covered her mouth to stifle a scream; Bulma shook her head slowly, not sure whether to pray they'd succeeded or failed in stopping the Saiyajin intruder; Trunks and Juu exchanged long glances, then watched the eddying dust. For a long moment nothing stirred in the thick haze. Then a second Makanko leapt out of the darkness, searing a path right at Piccolo and blowing him backwards as Trunks and Juu each grabbed a passenger and took off for the nearest cover. A third, aimed low, followed on its heels, catching Vegeta off-guard. He, too, toppled, clutching his leg and grimacing in pain.
Slowly Gokou stood, face expressionless. "Gohan…. Gomen na…" His voice fell to a whisper. "Forgive. Can't let this go on, ne?" Stepping away from Capsule Corporation into the clear, he concentrated. In his cupped hands power flared, a miniature blue-white star. Slowly he drew back. "Kame…Hame…HAAAAAAA!"
Catching sight of the oncoming shot, Bardock whirled and fired his own Kamehameha back. The two blasts met head on, swelling into a ball of power too bright to look at. For long moments the two men struggled, neither one giving way, as the orb rippled back and forth, eating away at the ground beneath it. Then Bardock drew a deep breath and screamed defiance, his aura flaring into a tower as his Kamehameha blew through Gokou's and slammed into the other Saiyajin. Hurled backwards helplessly, Gokou dug a trench with his shoulders, stopping only when he hit an outcropping of boulders and shattered them with the impact.
Gritting his teeth, Vegeta stood, limping over to collapse beside Gokou. "He's too strong," he panted. "This is lunacy." He laughed bitterly. "I wouldn't tell a baby this story."
"Yeah. I noticed," came the faint reply. Slowly, inch by inch, Gokou levered himself up, gasping. "It's only one thing left to do."
"And that is?"
Gokou gave a little rueful laugh. "Fusion ha."
"K..khh…" Vegeta's eyes widened. "Bakayarou! Chikusho! Maasaka! I swore I would never do that with you again!" He leaned in and hauled Gokou close, all but screaming in the other Senshi's face. "Does your tiny brain understand the concept of 'never'?!"
"Vegeta. It's Gohan. He's dying in there."
"What difference should that make to me?"
"What you would do if it were Trunks?"
"Leave Trunks out of this!" Vegeta released Gokou and slammed both hands flat to the ground, fingers digging in as he shook in rage. "Once was too damned often. I'd rather die and be locked in Hell for eternity than go through that idiocy!"
Gokou only looked at Vegeta, then smiled wearily. "Hai. Wakatta. It's hard thing." He turned, considering Bardock, then closed his eyes and sighed. "Promise me you take care of ChiChi? It's going be hard on her, having us go back so soon to Heaven."
"I can't let Bardock keep Gohan's soul." Gokou opened his eyes and looked up at the sun. "Worked on Koola… should work on Bardock too. We'll be up there so quick he won't have chance to escape." Slowly he got to his feet.
Scowling, Vegeta also looked up, then understood what Gokou was saying. "Kakarott," he gasped, "Kakarott…"
"You going to promise?"
With a snarl Vegeta was on his feet. "Iie!" Face twisting in anger, he backhanded Gokou savagely. "Baka na! How dare you think of that? I won't permit it! Have you forgotten already? You're mine to kill, Kakarott. The time of your life and death are mine to choose, not yours. If you think you'll sacrifice yourself and escape my vengeance, you're wrong." His voice lowered, grew cold as ice. "And you're not going to sacrifice yourself to prove me a coward either. I am the Prince of the Saiyajin. If a low-born peasant like you can go through Fusion, so can I!" He stepped back and took the first stance of the Fusion. "Ikisho!"
"Yosh'!" Gokou took up a mirror pose beside Vegeta. "Sankyuu, Vegeta!"
"You'll pay in years of agony for this." Vegeta swallowed hard. "Fuuuuuuu—"
"—sion!" finished Gokou. Then both men leaned in at the same moment, their voices chorusing as their index fingers met: "HAAAAA!"
Raw energy washed over the land, tumbling things before it like straws. Trunks and Juu threw themselves down over Bulma and Videl, respectively, and dug their hands into the ground to hold on. Even the rocks around them seemed to groan and shift as a white fury filled the world. In a few seconds the air stilled, but it tingled with the presence of power.
Raising his head warily, Trunks gaped. Where his father and ojisan had stood only seconds before, only one person stood now, and he looked like some eerie blend of the both of them. With quiet self-assurance he was facing Bardock, who looked about as stunned as Trunks felt. "Who—" Trunks stammered, then fell silent as burning emerald eyes shifted his way. Even at a distance Trunks could feel their gaze, sense the mind behind them turning its attention to him. Not unkindly, but with a terrible intensity that took his breath away.
"I am neither Gokou nor Vegeta," the figure said, in a voice that was Gokou's and Vegeta's perfectly blended, flawlessly in chorus. "I am the one born to send Bardock back to Hell. I am Gogeta."
For a heartbeat Bardock said nothing. Then he bared his teeth. "I won't let you!" he shouted. "I wasn't expecting this, but even this won't help you!"
Gogeta didn't reply. He only took a ready stance and waited.
"AIYAAAAHHHH!" Bardock flew forward, ramming his fists into his opponent, a hundred punches in the time it took to count to ten. Each time Gogeta's arm or open hand was there to deflect or block the punches, casually, almost effortlessly. Frustrated, Bardock drew back, cupped his hands and fired a point-blank ki blast.
When the dust settled, Gogeta was still standing. Shoved backwards a few feet by the force of the shot, yes, but only because the earth beneath his feet had given way; there wasn't a mark on him. The faintest smile touched his lips. "Full power combat begins now," he said, and rocketed straight up at Gohan, the two of them vanishing into the clouds. Slowly Trunks stood up, shielding his eyes and peering upwards. Flashes of light and reverberating cracks—the sound of fist on bone, he knew—turned the heavens into a tempest worse than any thunderstorm. More than that, he could feel the fight; it burned across his skin, in his nerves. "Su-sugoi," he breathed.
"Impressive," Juu agreed, standing beside him. She turned and looked at Videl. "Are you all right?"
Videl only stared back at her, trembling. "Why?" she burst out. "Why are you worried? I was going to help Gohan--whoever--destroy you! Why did you help me, protect me? Doushite?!"
"Do you think I hate you?"
"Why don't you?!" Videl lunged, her fists beating a tattoo on Juu's chest. "You killed… my father..!" With a choked sound she slid to her knees and began to cry, the sobs shaking her whole body. Juu watched her for a second, a helpless little frown settling on her features. Then she knelt, put her arms around the young woman. Videl tried to pull back, then collapsed in the embrace and cried all the harder. "I didn't… have anything… to live for," she gasped between sobs.
"So you lived to hate me." Juu nodded once. "Because that was the only reason you could think of to go on living."
Videl nodded, the first wave of tears starting to lessen.
"Well, at least you lived, didn't you." Juu drew a long, long breath she didn't need and let it out slowly. "But I just keep not doing anything to be hated for."
"Baka." Juu stroked the young girl's hair. "Hating is easy, isn't it? I ought to know. I spent most of the life I can remember hating humans, because of what one human did to me. Gero took away my life, and Juunana-gou's, and put something in its place that only pretended to be a life. So I wanted everything that reminded me even a little of what I'd lost destroyed. But I never stopped to think what I'd have if I'd actually managed to destroy all the humans." She tilted her head to look down into Videl's face. "I know better now," she said quietly. "I have better now. Because if hate's all you live for, when the hate's gone, you have nothing."
Videl looked up at Juu, searching her face for something, Juu didn't know what. But she must've found it, because in a few seconds she started to cry again, but more softly this time, and hugged Juu hard. The cyborg found it strangely easy to let her do so, and to return the embrace. Maybe… maybe because when one person whose life I ruined forgives me... I can forgive myself a little too.
"I'm…sorry," Videl choked.
Juu put a hand gently on the girl's back. "For what it's worth," she said gently, "so am I."
Far above, the scene was less forgiving. Bardock wasn't holding anything back now, if he ever had been, and he'd already scored several good hits. During a brief lull, Gogeta watched him closely, knowing Gohan's potential. He could match it, he knew, but only for the duration of the Fusion. When Gokou and Vegeta returned, they would be exhausted, unable to continue the fight. The problem was, how to drive Bardock out without killing Gohan?
Have I thought about the fact Gohan may not even be there to save any more? –No, I can't accept that!–Hm, well, Kakarott reached him before, so there's something of him left. When is Gohan strongest? –Ah, that's easy one! Gohan's always done better fighting for others than for himself. If I appear to be losing? Na, that's no good; Gohan and Bardock will know that for a trick the minute they see that. –Kisama. Well, don't sit here thinking all day, I don't have much longer to exist. –The key is Gohan, I'm sure of it. I have to give him reason to fight back.
"Give up," Bardock said, almost casually. "I know you can't last."
"That's not an option." Gogeta smiled. "You have something you're not supposed to. I'm here to take it back."
"You're powerful. I didn't think there could be anyone stronger than Gohan. But his memories tell me the Fusion doesn't last long, and the more power you call up, the shorter your existence will be." Bardock shook his head. "Why are you trying so hard to stop me? You can't tell me the idea of a New Vegetasei is that bad."
"It is when you're the one who makes the rules. You won't let anyone say 'no' to you. What kind of world is that? You'll be another Freeza yourself before long."
Bardock's eyes blazed. "No! I'll never be!" Teeth bared, he charged in, fists swinging. Gogeta blocked most of them, but the last one got through to slam into his shoulder painfully. As Bardock closed in, Gogeta brought a knee up into Bardock's stomach. With a wheeze Bardock few back a few feet, clutching his midriff. Then he straightened, one hand darting out. "MAKANKO SAPPOU!"
Gogeta was already in motion as the beam lanced at him, but Bardock had anticipated that, and began to shower the area around the centerpoint of the beam with smaller blasts. Some of them, purely by virtue of sheer numbers, hit Gogeta. He was blown backwards a bit, and Bardock pounced on him, whipping him into a full nelson before the Fusion could move. "Now we wait," he panted. "Only a half hour, Gogeta, and then my son and Vegeta will see sense—"
"Iie. If they won't cooperate… I can't lose them." Softer, almost as if to himself, Bardock added, "I won't lose him again."
–Lose 'him'? –Kakarott! He means Kakarott! –But, why? He never met Gokou! –He saw him as a child. –Does he care, maybe, a little? –Speculate on it later, baka, I have to get free.Straining, Gogeta tried to throw Bardock off, even a little. Bardock only tightened the grip, keeping the advantage of leverage. The pair executed several flips in mid-air as they struggled. Then Gogeta chuckled.
Bardock scowled. "What are you laughing at?"
"You don't know everything Gohan knows. You didn't expect the Fusion because you didn't know it could be done till it was. Then you made him tell you, didn't you?"
"Do you think I'd tell you if you were right?"
"I know I am." Gogeta relaxed, arms sagging at the elbows. "I know something else too." Unseen by Bardock, the other warrior tucked all but the first two fingers of one hand in, pressed those two against his forehead. "Shuken Idou!"
And he disappeared.
"NANI?!" Bardock roared in rage, trying to watch in all directions at once. "Where the hell are you?!"
"Here," Gogeta said, reappearing behind him, and slamming his clasped hands down hard in the middle of Bardock/Gohan's back. The younger man cried out sharply and rocketed downwards, hitting the ground like a bomb. Gogeta was right after him, and as a dazed Bardock struggled to stand, a well-placed kick put him flat on his back. Gogeta straddled him, pinning him, and drove his feet and hands into the rock like living manacles.
"You can't hold me forever," Bardock snarled up at him.
"Not planning to." Gogeta leaned on, locking his gaze on Bardock's. "Gohan. I know you can hear me. Listen to me."
"Gohan hears nothing I don't let him hear!"
"Na, I don't think so." Gogeta closed his eyes, centering himself. It was dangerous, what he was trying, it might mean defeat, but if it worked… deliberately he forced one side of himself down, the half of his soul that was Vegeta's, letting Gokou's influence take ascendance. For a moment his form wavered as the delicate balance that was his life shifted dangerously. Too much and he would trigger the end of the Fusion prematurely, not enough and Gohan would never hear the voice he needed to hear above all else now. Only Gogeta was strong enough to restrain a Legendary Super Saiyajin… but only Son Gokou could call Gohan back out of the darkness.
Bardock stopped struggling, face twisting in amazement. "Ka…Kakarott?" he murmured.
"Gohan-kun… otousan da…. Come on, say something, I know you hear me…"
For a moment nothing happened. Then Bardock broke out in a sweat. "No," he gritted between clenched teeth, "no, boy, don't you—I refuse—" his head snapped back to strike the ground hard and the ghost-image that'd concealed Gohan's body and face wavered like a soap bubble.
"Gohan…" Gokou's voice, alone, singular. Gogeta's form wavered again and his face twisted in pain. A glow of white light surrounded him and began to intensify as the Fusion began to break down.
"Tou…. Tou-san…" Gohan's features broke through the illusion of Bardock's as if through a film of mist.
"Gohan, fight him. I know you can do! You're strongest of us all. This is your life, don't let anyone take second chance from you. You can do it. I believe in you. Kick Bardock out! He's only old ghost and bad memories. You're Legendary Super Saiyajin. You're my boy. I love you, Gohan… come home…!" Gogeta's body became a shining silhouette of energy which abruptly split in half, each half a whole form. As the light faded Vegeta and Gokou opened their eyes, each struggling to get his bearings before the next blow fell. With the last of his strength Gokou began to crawl back over to his son's side.
"Ya..Yamero-!" Vegeta rasped. "Baka—"
"Gohan," Gokou whispered, not even hearing the angry voice behind him. "Gohan. Wake up now." Very gently he reached out to rest a hand over Gohan's heart, feeling it racing under his palm. "Gohan-kun…"
Gohan arched suddenly, pulling in a long, deep breath and letting it out in a piercing scream: "Hanaaashiteeee!" His hands dug into the ground, grip shattering the rocks it closed on. "Watashi wa shinanai! I WON'T DIE!" He convulsed again, then half-sat up as a great flood of mist gushed out of his mouth. As it tore out of him, Gohan's eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed, covered in sweat and shivering. Anxiously Gokou cradled the young man. "Gohan…?"
In a few seconds Gohan's eyes fluttered open, looking around in fearful confusion until they lit on Gokou's face. Then they filled with glittering tears. "Tou-san," he sobbed, and buried himself against his father's chest just as if he'd been no more than 5 or 6 again. "I couldn't, couldn't find… my way out…"
"Yosh', yosh', yosh'," Gokou soothed, holding Gohan close. "Over now." He turned to look at the patch of mist that was all the form Bardock had without a stolen body. It had gathered into a tight little ball and was swirling like a slow-motion top. "I told you you can't have my son," he said under his breath. "Now why you don't go back to Hell? Where you belong?"
The mist stopped swirling, just as if it'd heard him speak. It seemed to tremble on the verge of dissipating; then its shape changed as it flattened, lengthened, lashing out like a serpent. The sheer speed of it startled Gokou that he caught his breath—
And, borne in on that breath, Bardock poured into him.
"Tou-saaaaan!"Gohan screamed as Gokou dropped him, reeling backwards, hands clasping his own throat. He could feel Bardock moving inside him, suffocating him, battering him down. Ah, no, Gohan, is this what he did to you-? He stood, staggered backwards, then collapsed as a stormwave of darkness pulled him down.
* * * *
"Keep On Calling Me"
conquistadors who took their share
they keep calling me
keep on calling me
--"Dead Souls", Joy Division
Light and warmth on his face, ground and grass under his back.
Gokou lay where he was for a few minutes, letting those two things melt into him. He had no idea how long he'd been lost in the shadows, but right now the feel of the world supporting him and the sun on his skin was the final definition of pleasure. Still, there was something about it, something not quite right, and at the same time something that fitted him to perfection. Puzzled, he sat up and opened his eyes, looking around.
A dusty plain, ragged rocks off to his right hand side, and a clear sky above, with two suns—
"Nani..?" he whispered, scratching his head. This was too much for him. He got to his feet and swayed, taking a little half-step stumble before catching his balance. His body felt unaccountably heavy. Like being on Kaiou-sama's planet. But this is way too big! Where am I? And where are the others?
"They're right where they're supposed to be."
Gokou turned, looking back over his shoulder with a scowl as Bardock moved towards him. The other man hesitated, one hand starting to reach out, but faltering as his eyes met Gokou's. With a sigh Bardock let the hand drop, then folded his arms. "This," he said simply, "is home."
Gokou blinked, then glanced around again, eyes widening. "Vegetasei," he said.
"But it's blown up! Long time ago!"
"It lives here." Bardock tapped his forehead. "We're not really anywhere, Kakarott. This is… a dream, I guess you could call it. A dream made up of my memories. I brought you here because I… I wanted to…" the Saiyajin fell silent and Gokou could see the inner struggle skating over his face as Bardock tried to find words to express himself. "I wanted to know you before—"
"Before you eat me all up." Gokou turned and leveled a finger at his sire, not even trying to be polite. "That's what it amounts to, ne? You'll swallow me like candy, won't be anything of me left. All you."
"It's not that way!" Bardock clenched his fists. "If you'd only see sense, I might be able to leave you to take care of things for me! Kakarott, you have to admit, I have a point. Is it right for our whole race to be wiped out? Did we deserve to be cut down, crushed out like bugs?"
"That's not my decision."
"Yes it is. If you continue to oppose me, you're as much as killing the Saiyajin all over again. A hundred thousand lives or more, Kakarott, glorious victories scattered across the stars. Can you throw them away? They're your people and mine! Their blood is in your veins, their spirit's in your heart. You owe them your allegiance, not some miserable weakling race that can't hold its own against one Saiyajin baby!" Bardock mastered himself with an effort. "Kakarott. If it worries you that much, I suppose we can let the humans live. There aren't that many of them, and they seem to be pretty smart. They could be useful, if they're kept under control and taught their place."
"Yamero!" Gokou made a cutting motion in the air with one hand. "I don't know any of these things you're telling me. You try listening yourself to somebody, you're so smart!" He shifted a little, looking out across the windblown plains that felt strange and familiar both, and continued more softly, "Anou… you're right about that one thing you keep saying, it's not right for a whole people to be gone. But taking chance to live and love and be free from somebody else just so you can have it isn't right either. Maybe that's Saiyajin way, taking and not caring who suffers, but it's not mine. Chikyu isn't Vegetasei, and you don't have right to try making it into Vegetasei, because all you'll do is spoil things."
Bardock's gaze sharpened. "I might've expected it," he said bitterly. "You remember nothing of the pride of the Saiyajin. That damned soft little blue world's bled all but the dregs of a warrior's fire out of you. You consider them your equals, don't you? You idiot!" Bardock straightened, rage sparking in his eyes. "There is one race fit to own the universe, and that's our race. The Saiyajin. Ours is the strength and ours is the right to rule. Don't tell me you haven't felt that much at least in the heart of your battles!"
"Iie." Gokou's mouth twisted. "I want no part of you if that's way you think of things, nothing but fight and kill and steal. Every living thing, small or big, they all deserve to go on living without you and people like you coming down to crush them out. Those tiny lives, they're as important as mine, they matter as much. You don't get that, you don't get me."
"I'd hoped I could reach you." Bardock slowly reached up and took off his scouter, fingered the red headband he wore. "Do you know what makes this red? It's the blood of my team, the ones who died first at Freeza's hand, because they were my battle-mates. They fought to live and Freeza's men cut them down. I swore I'd avenge them if it took my blood to do it." In one swift movement Bardock had launched himself at Gokou, knocking him down and locking his hands around Gokou's throat. "My blood—or yours."
Choking, Gokou slammed his palm upward under Bardock's chin hard enough to rattle the other warrior's teeth, grabbing at one of Bardock's thumbs with his other hand and wrenching it hard, twisting the grip loose enough to grab a breath. Bringing his knees up to the other man's chest, he kicked out suddenly, freeing himself. Bardock stumbled, caught himself, then came back, fists flying. "Give up," he growled. "You're exhausted and this is my world, my mind, my memories. You don't have a chance!"
The only answer from Gokou was a fierce little grin as he flung himself into the fight. Back and forth they moved, almost like a dance, the only sounds a low grunt now and again as a blow struck home or the sear and crack of energy. But the longer they fought the more Gokou realized the truth of Bardock's words; while he was getting tired, the other Saiyajin seemed to be drawing strength from his surroundings. More and more often Gokou found himself forced into defense rather than offense, and Bardock showed no signs of slowing.
And once he, Gokou, was beaten down, what then? His heart ached at the thought of his hands, his body, but Bardock's soul, raging over the Earth with no one to stop him from doing whatever he wanted. Vegeta would never bow down to Bardock, and so he would have to be killed. Trunks would be put down without a moment's thought. Gohan might survive a little longer, but even though he was strong, Gokou knew… had always known... his son's deepest heart belonged to things other than fighting. Gohan would fall to Bardock too. Piccolo and Juuhachi-gou? Worthless to Bardock, as worthless as sand on the beach. Their futures were in his hands, and he was failing them—
Bardock's fists crunched into him and Gokou flew backwards, fetching up hard against one of the rock outcroppings. Before he could move aside Bardock was on him, hands shutting off his air again. That face, so much like his own just to look at once and so very much unlike once you saw the spirit behind it, leaned in, voice low and urgent. "Last chance, my son. You can live, I swear it, only swear in turn you'll let me guide you. There's a place for you at my side. Throw off that weak 'humanity' you've learned. Be who you truly are. Accept that you are my son, born to fight and kill and beat down all those who dare stand in our way. We are the bringers of death and fear. Accept your heritage, Kakarott!"
The bringers of death and fear?!
Fury rose up in Gokou, firing his hair gold and his eyes luminous aquamarine. He took hold of Bardock's hands in his own and with a single jerk broke their grip. "Iie," he said in a low growling voice that made Bardock's eyes widen. "Kakarott janai." The growl rose to a shout that shook the world. "SON GOKOU DA!"
Beneath their feet the ground shattered, and Bardock cried out as they fell through, into the void. Gokou didn't. He only shoved the other man away from him and cradled all his anger, all his love, all that meant anything to him at all, between his hands, letting it grow till its light was all he could see. "KAAAME HAAAME—"
* * * *
"We should kill him now." Vegeta scowled at the other Senshi, then down at the motionless body of Son Gokou. "Before Bardock finishes taking over and comes for us all."
Gohan only raised his fists a bit. "Vegeta-san," he said softly, slowly. "Iie. I respect you, you know that, and I hear what you're saying, and I know it's wise. But not my tou-san."
Piccolo moved up to stand at Gohan's shoulder, saying nothing. He didn't need to. His intent was clear enough: You fight Gohan, you fight me. Trunks swallowed hard, looking at the trio, wondering which side he'd take if it did come to blows. His father was right; if Bardock took full control of Gokou-san's form, there would be no stopping him. Gohan-san was right; killing Bardock now would kill Gokou-san too.
At their feet, Gokou stirred. Instantly every hand leveled at him. Slowly he sat up, eyes opening and looking around. Then he laughed, one hand tucking back behind his head and the other flashing a "V" sign. "Ossu!"
"Kakarott." Vegeta made a face and let his hands drop. "Damn."
"I'm happy see you too, Vegeta." Getting up, Gokou dusted himself off.
"Tou-san!" Gohan clapsed his father's shoulders, grinning ear to ear. "You're okay!"
"Where's Bardock?" Piccolo asked.
Gokou pondered a moment, then shrugged. "I don't know. All I remember is…" he trailed off. "We fought, and we fell, and I kamehameha'd him, it was so bright…" he trailed off again, one hand stealing up to his forehead and rubbing it lightly. "He's not here," he finished quietly. "Where he is, if he's anywhere, I don't know. But he's not in me."
Piccolo studied Gokou a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, you're right. There's no one in that empty head of yours but you."
"Gohan-kun!" Videl came pounding across the ground, Bulma and Juu following at a more sedate pace, and all but threw herself at the young warrior, who caught her purely by instinct. "You're all right!"
The girl smiled up at him. "Gohan…. Videl-chan. Ne?"
"Ahhh…" Gohan's face lit up. "Sou da!"
"Well, this is nice," Bulma said, looking around in disgust at the battlefield, which included a good portion of Capsule Corporation. "Now what? It'll take weeks to repair all this!" She gave Vegeta a hard look. "And don't you dare disappear on one of your little 'training trips' like you usually do when there's repairs to be made."
Vegeta only lifted an eyebrow and grunted noncommitally.
Trunks moved over to Juu, who was watching Gokou intently. "He's all right," he said quietly.
"I know that." Juu swept back her hair. "But now I understand something, finally." She scuffed the ground a bit with one foot. "Gero always told us that Son Gokou was the most dangerous man alive. Having met him, I couldn't see that. Vegeta is more ruthless and skilled; Gohan is more powerful, in terms of pure measure of ki. But it was Gokou who won the day." She straightened, still looking at Gokou. "It's not the strength or the fierceness or the level of training," she finished. "It's that no matter how many times you're beaten down, you won't stay down. You keep coming back, and eventually you win. Because you can be beaten… but you won't be, can't be, defeated. Ever."
Gokou smiled, just a bit. "Sankyuu, Juuhachi-gou," he said. "Demo… do you think there's a chance the kitchen survived all that?" He jerked a thumb at the ruins of Capsule Corporation. "I'm starving!"
"The appetite on legs speaks," Piccolo muttered. "Damn, Gokou, is that all you care about, when's the next meal or fight?"
The smile faded on Gokou's face, replaced by something deep and thoughtful. "No, Piccolo," he said very very quietly. "How much I care about, you'll never know." Then he laughed again. "Right now, though, I care about my stomach most of all!"
== END ==
Ossu! Ora Gokou! Next time on Dragon Ball Super Z, Dende recreates the Dragon Balls, just in time for Vegeta to steal them! –Oi, Vegeta, next time you make a wish, think about it first!! And, something nasty from Vegeta's past catches up! –Hey, who are you, and why you want Vegeta dead? Be here for "Just Another Day", the third DBSZ story! Bye-bye!