Mirror, Mirror

© 2006 by Darke Angelus

Part 1 – Reflections


The Earth was saved (again!), the heroes were reunited (again!), and everyone was happy (again!)... at least in the hoverjet speeding a direct course back to the Western Capital, everyone should have been. But they weren't. Not by a long shot.

It had been decided that the best place for Majin Buu to hide out for the year was at the Capsule Corporation Headquarters Building, at least until the Dragonballs could be collected and the wish made for everyone to forget about him. Both Trunks and Bulma were anxious about sharing the small space with the simple-minded entity; it was pretty hard to forget all of the death and damage he had caused in the 24-hour period, not including the chaos his equally vacuous incarnations had wrought upon the Earth. But all Buu did throughout the voyage was babble on about the view and gobble candy bars. Eventually, Trunks relaxed around him and tried talking rationally; a frustrating affair, he soon discovered, with a creature having the intelligence of a two-year-old child.

In the cockpit there wasn't much conversation between Bulma and Vegeta either. He spent much of the time in a half-doze; dying and being resurrected had a way of exhausting a man, and he would have discovered death a second time if Dende hadn't healed him on the Kai's planet. It had been a rotten day, one he just wanted to forget all about, but he was well aware of Bulma's tense silence beside him. "How much do you know?" he finally asked her in a low voice.

She looked over at him, startled. He was still lying back in the co-pilot's chair with his arms crossed and eyes closed. Collecting her thoughts, she said finally; "I got almost the full story from Piccolo and Gokou at the Lookout, right after you d-died."

He opened his eyes and stared at her. "What did they tell you?"

"That the magician Babidi took control of you and transformed you into Majin. You battled Gokou and when Majin Buu was released, you sacrificed yourself to kill him. Piccolo said it was the most amazing display he ever witnessed-"

"-It didn't work. What else?"

"Well, I died. That over-grown wad of chewing gum back there ate Trunks and me! But I don't have a clue what happened after that until the Earth got wished back. You did that, didn't you? That was your idea." She flashed him a beaming smile and he found he had to look away from the happiness in that face, the pride she had in him. All he could offer her was a mute nod as he became lost in thought, refusing to be drawn out any further.

When they landed in the courtyard, Trunks had accepted Majin Buu's presence and took him by one gloved hand into the Headquarters building to show him around. Bulma was about to follow after them but Vegeta grabbed her arm and held her back. "Not yet, Bulma. There's something you need to know."

"It's bad, isn't it?" she asked in dread. "I can tell by the look on your face. What is it?"

"Piccolo and Kakarrot didn't tell you the entire truth," he told her in a low voice. "I let myself be taken over by Babidi's magic. He gave me something that I wanted... and took away something else in order for me to battle Kakarrot."

Her blue eyes widened in alarm. "What was it?"

"You," he said bluntly. "How I felt for you and for Trunks. I let him take away those feelings so that I could revert back to how I was before I'd ever laid eyes on you. Those emotions were holding my powers back. Babidi freed me."

"I thought I recognized that look on your face when you returned to the tournament. You killed all those people- You almost killed me!" she shouted into his face.

He didn't waver. "I knew you were there. I could sense you."

The deliberate certainty in his voice chilled her. "You destroyed the part of the arena right where I was standing. You barely missed me and the others! Why did you do that?"

"To prove to you that I could. To show off," he shrugged and looked away.

"To-to show-" Words failed her as she tried to rationalize the concept. All of a sudden her face scrunched up and her body leaned to the right. His battle sense immediately interpreted the incoming move but he didn't avoid the slap across the face when it came. He only hung his head when it was over.

"You-you-" She cradled her aching hand and danced around but even as angry as she was, she still couldn't resort to any name-calling. Not yet. "You threw Trunks and me away just so you could battle Gokou for old time's sake? Is that what you're saying? That all of this Majin Buu business would never have happened if not for your god-damned pride!"

Majin Buu would have been hatched sooner or later but he couldn't have been bothered to tell her that. He only said, "Yes."

"Why are you telling me all this!" she screamed at him. "Damn you! I would have been happier not to know any of it! Why are you telling me?"

"Because I broke my promise to you," he said in that same damnable, level tone. "I said that I'd never hurt you and I have. It wasn't a physical blow but it might as well have been. I want to know what I can do to make up for it, Bulma."

"Why? You think I'm going to offer up some sort of penance that you can work off so that we can continue to live happily ever after?" she sneered at him with amazing venom.

He nodded. "Something like that, yes-"

She moved like a flash and slapped him again and this time his instincts gave him no forewarning. His head swung with the blow and when he looked back at her his expression was frankly astonished. "Finally," she said, breathing hard. "A flash of emotion in that damned poker-face of yours. I want you out of our bedroom, Vegeta. You got that? I don't care where you go, but the last thing I want to see is your face today. I need to wrap my thoughts around all of this."

He stared from her, to the building and back again, suddenly uneasy. "Do you want me to move out?"

"I don't care!" she hollered at him. "I just want you to get your shit out of our room before I go up there. RIGHT NOW!"

He took a wandering step back, looked self-consciously around to see if anyone was watching them, and then offered her a mute nod. Without another word, he flew to the balcony of their bedroom and let himself in. Bulma watched him go, her vision warped by bitter tears. Only when she was certain he was out of sight did she sit down on the landing strut of the hover jet and cry until it felt as if her heart was going to burst through her chest with the force of her sobs.


Vegeta moved into guest quarter's one level up from the family sleeping area and stayed out of her sight for the next three days. That was just how Bulma wanted it. She was dealing with her own conflicted emotions and needed time to deal with this recent betrayal. She waited until the next day of their fight before she braved up enough nerve to talk to Trunks to about the incident. Right away, she gained a far different perspective than what Vegeta had given her; the boy knew nothing about his father's possession by Babidi. All that the youth seemed to know was his acute embarrassment over being hugged in front of Goten, and his resentment that he had been knocked out before being able to deal with Majin Buu for attacking his father. He was Vegeta's son, all right, and it was the first time since her husband had confessed the situation to her that Bulma began to feel her anger fade at long last.

She went upstairs to the guest quarter's level and stood in front of Vegeta's bedroom door. She could hear the muted sounds of the television in the other side and took in a deep breath before letting herself into his room. No knock, no announcement, she just barged in.

He was simply lying on the bed and watching TV. A part of her had hoped to catch him doing something, precisely what she didn't know, but this persistent calmness of his was beginning to bother her; a part that the anger and bitterness couldn't quite reach. "We need to talk, Vegeta."

He sat up and cleared aside the books and magazines and fast food wrappers to try and make a spot for her on the bed. She looked at all of the litter scattered on the bedspread in disgust. "Have you even budged from this room in three days?"

"Well, just to go get something to eat. Otherwise, no. You said you didn't want to see-"

"God, it stinks in here," she interrupted, and went to open up the window. After breathing in a few lungfuls of fresh air, she began to pace the room impatiently. "I'm still angry at you-"

"I know that."

"And you really hurt me-"

"I know that, too-"

"Then shut up and let me talk!" she shouted at him.

His mouth closed with a snap, and he blinked once at her but that was all. No flash of anger on his face, no precursor to a sulk, he just stared at her, his face curiously blank and unguarded. It made her hesitate for a few seconds before she plunged on.

"I talked to Trunks and he told me what you did to him-" He started to open his mouth again and she held up a hand. "I know that you did it for his sake; him and Goten's both. They never would have stopped battling Buu if you hadn't. Is that when you came around? Is that when you started shaking off Babidi's control?"

"I was never under Babidi's control. I took what he gave me and ignored his orders. Kakarrot was the person who made me see reason, eventually. By then it was too late; Buu had hatched."

"So you tried to set things right? By sacrificing yourself?"

He nodded once. "Bulma, I'm sorry-"

"No, you're not," she said in a cold voice.

"...I'm not?"

"Look at how calm you are! I know what you're doing: You're just biding your time and waiting for me to welcome you back with open arms, and legs, like nothing's ever happened. I'm telling you right now that strategy won't work on me this time."

"It's not a strategy."

"Oh? Then what is it?"

"I can't explain it. I just know that you have all the right to be the angry one here. If you need more time to deal with what I've done, I more than understand-"

"Who are you!" Bulma yelled at him. "And what have you done to my husband!"

He actually smiled. "Heh. That's a funny one."

She slapped her hands to her sides. "I give up! When you're ready to take this matter seriously, you know where to find me. Until then my room, and me, are off limits-"

"I understand."

"And I've disabled the gravity simulator-"

He nodded. "Alright."

In desperation, she added, "And-and... I've told my mother to stop cooking for you, too!"

"That's fine."

"Agh!" She left the room and slammed the door after her. He stared at it for a few seconds, his face oddly blank, and then returned to the bed to resume watching TV and eating Twinkies as if nothing had happened.

The twisted irony of the whole situation was that if Vegeta had responded to Bulma's anger with his usual reaction (i.e. by screaming back), the fight would have been immediately over and the pair would have reconciled with their trademark passion and the incident would have faded into the background where it deserved to go. However, Bulma was wrongly interpreting the Saiyan's out of character nonchalance as some sort of passive-aggressive posture against her and that was just angering her even more. She was a competitive person by nature and right now she believed that there was a contest going on between them over who was going to give in first.

She couldn't have been further from the truth.


With a child's intuition, Trunks immediately picked up that something was very wrong. Unfortunately, he could only vocalize it as; "You're acting really weird, dad," which was exactly what he told his father a few days later.

"Am I?" Vegeta asked pleasantly, smiling down at the boy before turning to look at the sights. "What makes you say that?"

"Well, here we are at the park, for one thing. You never take me to the park!"

"That's not true. I took you a month before the tournament."

"Yeah, sure, only because you felt bad 'cause you bloodied my nose!"

He winced, "I told you I was sorry-"

"We-e-e-ll, you never really said you were ever really sorry-"

"Well, I'm saying it now, Trunks. I'm sorry," he put an arm around the boy's shoulders and pulled him against his hip in an informal hug.

The boy fought to get away from him in embarrassment. "And I'm telling you, you're acting weird!" he snapped, his cheeks flaming. "It's freaking me out!"

Vegeta laughed and scratched the back of his head and became distracted as he followed the course of a Frisbee across the sky. After a few seconds, he turned back to the boy and remarked, "Well, I don't know what to tell you, Trunks-"

"You're cool enough as you are! You don't have to act like him, y'know?"

For the first time, Vegeta regarded him seriously. "...Act like who?"

Trunks started with: "Like-" before he was interrupted. "Trunks! Over here!" A young voice shouted.

The boy noticed some familiar faces playing catch over in the field and said, "There's Mark and Jason from school. Can I go over and play with them for awhile?"

Vegeta stared down at his hands and looked around the peaceful surroundings of the park like a man coming out of a dream. By the time he managed to get out, "Sure," his son was already racing away to go play with his friends.

Sitting down on a nearby park bench, the Saiyan tried to puzzle out what Trunks had been trying to tell him. He'd been having trouble keeping his mind focused for the last couple of days now; thoughts just kept drifting in and out and he couldn't seem to keep track of them. He should have been bothered by the odd feeling but he felt a curious sense of detachment. Such calm was rare for him; Hell, lately he'd actually even been able to sleep for longer than three or four hours at a time. It wasn't something he really wanted to dissect but, deep down, he knew that Trunks was right; he was acting... 'weird'.

A nearby hotdog vendor caught his eye and he went over and bought one with the works. He took a bite and smiled while he chewed; It was one of the best hotdogs he had ever eaten. It was –

-Yummy. The wordflashed through his mind, and he choked on the mouthful and started coughing.

"You okay, fella?" the vendor asked.

Turning to respond, Vegeta caught a glance of himself reflected off of the silver vendor's cart and dropped the rest of the hotdog in shock. His hand went up to his hair where he found only his trademark flame-styled spikes. Not the haphazard mess he had seen in his reflection.

"Fella?" the vendor tried again.

His reflection was his own again. Flustered, Vegeta backed warily away and returned to where Trunks was playing. A group of boys were playing a pick-up game of football and Trunks currently had the ball and was running for a touchdown, bowling over the other boys who were stupid enough to get in his way. It was both an inspiring and depressing sight, Vegeta mused; In a perfect world, the boy would be training among other Elites his age instead of associating with these non-powered weaklings.

While he watched, the figure of Trunks wavered and became another little Saiyan hybrid he immediately recognized.

"Goten?" he muttered, and blinked hard. The lavender-haired youth was back, spiking the ball and executing a victory dance while his friends jeered at him. The boy noticed him looking on and waved enthusiastically.

Too stunned to respond, Vegeta watched helplessly as the boy raced off with his friends down the field to start another game. This time he had become Gohan, and the little boy's thick black hair bobbed in time with his strides.

Vegeta fled for home. He landed in the courtyard and stood alone in the yard for a while, trying to absorb what had happened in the park. At length, he geared up enough nerve and entered the business entrance. He knew that Bulma still very angry with him but he desperately needed her input.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Briefs," the receptionist greeted as he walked in.

"Yeah, good afternoon...uh," he squinted at her as he tried to remember her name.

"Cheryl."

"Cheryl! Right. It just slipped my mind."

"That's quite alright, sir," the woman said, watching him walk by with a pleasant smile on her face. When he went down the stairs, she was immediately on the phone. "Penny? Head's up- Bulma's husband is on his way down. No, he's in a good mood. I AM being serious! Get this: he actually acknowledged my presence!"

Oblivious to the exchange, Vegeta turned down the corridor to enter the executive wing, bypassing the doors to the Research and Development labs. Bulma's secretary, Penny, hung up the phone the instant she saw the Saiyan round the corner. "Hello, Mr. Briefs! How are you today?"

"Fine..." he absently waved a hand in her direction as he struggled with the name.

"I'm Penny, Mr. Briefs."

"Penny! I don't know what's wrong with my blasted memory today," he grumbled as he looked at the closed door to Bulma's office. "Is she busy?"

"She'll be out of the office until 2 p.m." the woman instructed.

"Shit," he whispered under his breath and cast the woman a startled glance. "Uhm, that kind of slipped out..."

"That's quite alright, sir," Penny said, blinking at him in amazement. She had heard her boss's husband release some choicer expletives than that one over the years, but he didn't appear to remember. "Is there anything that I can do for you?"

"No, I don't-" he had begun scratching the back of his head and caught a glance of himself reflected back from the window of Bulma's office. He visibly recoiled in horror.

"Mr. Briefs? Are you alright?" Penny asked, genuinely concerned.

"No," he grumbled, quickly heading back to the stairs. "Not anywhere close-"

"Little buddy!" a voice cried out and Charles McNeal jumped out of a doorway and hugged him. "I heard that you had died- I'm so glad to see you alive and kicking!"

Vegeta was too dumbfounded to respond to the close contact, and Charles wisely backed off before anything could happen. He knew first-hand the Saiyan's penchant for violence and had been on the receiving end of more verbal assaults then anyone else in the entire company. He just shook it off with his customary eccentric enthusiasm. He respected the alien's designing ability with almost cult-like worship, after all; the Saiyan's designs had provided job security for everyone in his department guaranteed to last into the next decade (and secretly, Charles also had a deep attraction for him). "You are okay, aren't you? You're looking pale as a sheet-"

"-Who the hell are you?" Vegeta finally cut in.

The scientist's eyes widened dramatically behind his coke-bottle lenses and, for an instant, he looked as if he was going to cry. "I'm your best buddy! We work together in the lab- Y'know, Research and Development?"

Vegeta mind worked feverishly trying to substantiate what the crazy human was talking about. It came to him like memories out of a fog; McNeal: Bulma's crazy scientist friend. Quickly Charles added, "Well, it isn't like we party together or anything like that-" he became lost in thought for a moment before he shook his head to clear it. "Anyway, my staff and I work on the designs you draw. We flesh them out, develop prototypes and all that. You know all about it, you're always there to criticize what we do-"

Vegeta felt an inexplicable flash of remorse. "I'm sorry-"

Charles gaped at him again. "No, no! It's a good thing, really! It keeps us on our toes! We could actually use some of that callous wit right now. Will you come and take a look at what we've done with your GravTabs so far?"

Completely at a loss, Vegeta trailed along after the peculiar man like a man caught in a bad dream. That comparison actually wasn't too far off the mark. None of this seemed real to him; the scientist and his odd ravings, even his surroundings. The yellow walls seemed to waver and change and become expansive fields and rivers he didn't recognize. He was still dwelling on the strange sensations, idly wondering if the hotdog he had eaten had been drugged, when Charles led him up to a drafting table. "See? What do you think?"

He was looking down at a plan that had handwriting scrawled across it he didn't recognize. The heading was: Gravitational Tabular Ascension Lifts, and included a freehand drawn design that appeared almost as a three-dimensional reference with computations and notations added in all available free space. He touched it wonderingly, as if it were the first time he had ever seen it and, under his breath, he murmured, "Cool."

Charles didn't hear him, he was gesturing to a box that appeared to be floating two feet off of the ground. "I'll show you what's happening with the test module," he said, lifting up the box and quickly backing up. A small circular device about two inches wide, wobbled in the air for a few seconds and then zipped upwards and imbedded itself in the ceiling, joining other holes of equal size. "You see that? It has something to do with the displaced inertia. The little bugger handles the weight-load just fine but when it's removed, it seems to over compensate for the zero pressure. You think there's any way to have an auto shut off attached to the module?" He turned expectantly towards Vegeta.

"Are you talking to me?" the Saiyan asked in confusion.

"Well, of course! You designed the thing. What can we do to fix it?"

Vegeta turned helplessly towards the drafting table and tried to make sense of what he was looking at. Some of the words he was reading didn't even appear to be English and he had trouble associating meanings for words that had more than three syllables. He shook his head and backed away towards the door. "I don't know. I can't help you-"

"Little buddy?" Charles could help but notice that something appeared to be wrong with his idol. "Vegeta? What's wrong?"

"Nothing - everything- I don't know!" Vegeta shouted at him and left the lab before the scientist could come near him.

He exited the building and stood out in the sunlight, trying to get his racing heart rate to settle down. His entire body was vibrating like a coiled spring getting ready to snap. When he looked back towards the building he saw that it, and the rest of the city, had been replaced by a towering green mountain. The vision wavered for a few seconds and then became the Headquarters building again.

"Hey!"

He flinched and looked up and saw a little boy drop down from the sky and land beside him. "What the heck happened? Why did you bail on me?"

"Gohan?" Vegeta blinked and saw Gokou's older boy standing there, appearing about the same age as he had been on Namek. He rubbed his eyes and looked again, and this time the boy had changed to Goten.

Trunks looked around and frowned at him. "Dad! Are you tripping out or what? Why did you leave?"

It finally dawned on him who the new arrival truly was. "I'm sorry, Trunks," he relented. It seemed like he had been apologizing a lot today and the look that Trunks passed him was probably echoing his own. "I'm not feeling the greatest. I think I'm going to go lie down for awhile."

"Oh..." the boy blinked at him in surprise. He tried to remember the last time his father had ever confessed to any feeling of weakness and called up a blank. The agitation immediately left his face to be replaced by true concern. "Yeah, sure... sure, dad. I hope you- y'know, feel okay and all."

"I do, too, " the older Saiyan grumbled and turned to leave.

"D'you want me to give mom a call?" the boy offered.

Vegeta actually hesitated and the boy knew that wasn't like his father, either. "No," he said last. "Don't bother her. It isn't serious, I'm just... tired."

"Sure," the boy said again, watching as his father took to the air to go to his room on the third floor. He knew that his folks were currently sleeping in separate rooms at the moment; it didn't take a genius to figure it out that they were probably fighting again. As far back as he could remember, the pair had their screaming matches and slept in separate bedrooms at least five times a year. This was the first time he was beginning to wonder if it was actually serious.

Vegeta landed on the balcony of his quarters and entered through the balcony doors. He went straight to the bed and collapsed backwards on it, staring blankly up at the ceiling. Now that he was alone, his troubled thoughts began to drift off and he could feel himself starting to finally relax. He was actually having trouble remembering what had set him off in the first place. Was it the hotdog?

-Yummy, he heard in his mind, making him squeeze his eyes shut.

Or that strange reflection he had seen in the vendor's cart? He had seen it again in the window behind the receptionist's desk.

What was her name again? Henny? Jenny? He couldn't remember and that wasn't like him at all.

"What the hell is going on?" he asked the empty room, scrubbing at his burning eyes. He was having a hard time sorting out his own troubled thoughts; some images were coming in with their usual crystal clarity, while others he didn't recognize were fading in and out like smoke on the wind.

Unable to sleep he went back out on the balcony and sat on the railing, considering the cityscape. At least it should have been the city but more times than not, it became that towering mountain again and the unspoiled green fields and rivers that were at its base. He began to wonder again if the hotdog was the culprit but he had only swallowed one bite and he knew that this odd feeling had been growing inside of him ever since they had returned from Dende's Lookout. At first it had just been unfamiliar dreams, which had faded by the time he ate breakfast. Each day, that sense of odd displacement grew more and more until he began to see things that weren't there. Today had been the worst. It should have seriously worried him but each time he started to feel that old familiar anxiety creep up on him, it faded just as quickly. It was like trying to find a bomb trigger that had gone missing. By the time he actually found it, he could no longer remember what had upset him in the first place...

For the next two hours he stayed where he was and let the visions swim in and out of his mind, almost dozing with a serene calmness he had never known before. In a strange way, he almost treasured this sedated peace of mind that had engulfed his haunted memories and pushed them to the background. No flashbacks of Frieza or the Ginyu Force, or past defeats, or embarrassing situations his pride had problems shrugging off. Just thoughts full of sun-warmed grasses, flowers, and a quiet that was marred only by birdsong.

A car pulled into the compound, interrupting his conflicted musings. Bulma got out, talking at a fevered pace into her cell phone and didn't notice that he was directly above her. Leaning over to try and get her attention, his jaw dropped when he saw the woman who had suddenly replaced his wife. One blink it had been Bulma, and the next it had been-

With a brisk shake of his head, he ran back into his room and tripped over a six-pack of Pepsi. He fell sprawling amid the litter of chocolate bar wrappers, fast food bags, and empty cans. "Fuck!" he shouted, gripping his head and digging the sharp nails into his scalp. "What the hell is happening to me?" It was very similar to how he had felt after he had recovered from Frieza's poison seven years ago and he knew that didn't want to face that torture again. He slammed his fist down on the carpet and then stared at his hand, the anger draining from his face. Mashed into the carpet was a demolished cupcake and icing was smeared along the side of his hand. He licked it off and began salvaging what he could of the demolished dessert.

When he realized what he was doing, he turned away retching. Since when did he eat garbage? Forcing himself to sit up, he stared over at the balcony, no longer sure what it was that had set him off in the first place. Something he had seen... but what was it? Shaking his head, he gave up. All of this thinking was giving him a headache.

Deciding that a long hot shower might help to clear his mind, he went into the bathroom and did an astonished double take when his eyes fell on the mirror over the sink. His reaction was instantaneous and his fist was through the glass and buried deep into the drywall even before he could rationalize the action. Blinking dully, he stared down at the litter of shattered mirror shards, seeing his reflection bouncing back from a hundred different angles. His reflection. Not the person he had first seen.

...only his...

His previous anxiety returned with a vengeance and he pulled his hand free. There wasn't a scratch on it but it was shaking quite badly. His mind was starting to swim with those strange images again and in desperation he picked up a shard of glass and clenched his fist around it. The pain was bright and immediate. Blood began to well around his fingers. Pain was something he was familiar with and he was relieved to discover that it helped to chase those odd thoughts away and bring everything back in focus again.

But it wasn't enough. He needed more...


It was finally starting to dawn on Bulma that something might be seriously wrong with her husband. It had been ten days now since they had all returned from the Look-Out and he was still avoiding her like the plague. He wasn't making any fuss about the Gravity Simulator being off-limits and, perhaps the most shocking, her mother had confessed that she had tried to sneak a meal to him and he had given it back, scolding her for not obeying Bulma's wishes.

Trunks had told her of their peculiar journey to the park. It had been such an odd tale that Bulma had been sure that the boy had been making it up until she had run into Charles McNeal down in the lab a few days ago. His version of the irritable Saiyan had sounded suspiciously like the Vegeta of Trunks' story. It was Penny who had solidified the Heiress's concerns for good. Her receptionist had always made it a point to disappear from her desk the instant she got the 'head's-up' call from Cheryl, at the reception desk, that Vegeta was on his way down. When she related her conversation with the normally scathing Saiyan to Bulma this afternoon, her boss finally listened.

Sitting at her desk, Bulma tried to figure out what could be the culprit of her husband's odd behavior. One glaring certainty stood out: He had died. Kami's prophetic vision eight years ago had finally come true. However, he had been wished back along with everyone else at the end of the Buu ordeal but... there was no other way to say it, he was very different. Was it the result of the wish or something else?

When her troubled thoughts could come up with no answer she got to her feet and stepped out of the office. "Penny," she said to her secretary, "I'm stepping out for the rest of the afternoon. I'll have my cell phone with me for anything important, otherwise just take a message."

"Sure, Ms. Briefs. No problem," the redhead said curtly.

An hour later, Bulma was flying over Mount Pazou and landing in the backyard of Gokou and Chi Chi's small home in the country. She saw the fighter practicing his kata in the backyard, with little Goten sitting off to the side and watching his father with rapt attention. "Hiya guys!" she called as she stepped out of the hoverjet.

Goten offered her an enthusiastic wave but Gokou didn't even turn around. He was wearing the bottom half of his gi and the muscles across his back stood out in stark relief as he pantomimed a flurry of punches and kicks. He was breathing heavily and his skin was oily with fresh sweat, glistening in the afternoon sun.

"I said- HI GUYS!" Bulma cheerfully yelled out as she approached the pair.

Gokou whirled in surprise and Bulma took one look at the expression on his face and immediately froze in mid-step. "G-Gokou-?" she said in a timid voice.

The younger fighter's face was dark and menacing, flushed from his efforts and streaked with sweat. He stared at her for a few seconds, looking as if he didn't recognize her, before his expression relaxed a bit. "Oh- Bulma, hi," he offered, adding a faint smile. "How are you?"

"I was going to ask you the exact same thing," she confessed. "Is everything okay?"

To her growing astonishment, he cast the house a dirty glare and that previous irritation tightened up his youthful features again. Looking at his profile, she could plainly see fading scratches across his left cheek. "Just fine and dandy," he said lamely. "Chi Chi and Gohan are in the house, I'm sure they'll be happy to see you."

There was an odd note to his voice that she had never heard before. "Thanks, Gok-" she started but he had turned his back on her again and resumed his practice. For no good reason, Bulma suddenly said, "Vegeta says, 'Hi'." It was an obvious lie but she was curious as to what reaction it might generate.

Gokou stopped moving. He glanced at her over his shoulder and asked. "How's he been?"

"Fine," she lied, eyeing him closely. "Why?"

"No reason," he said, and continued his training as if he had never been interrupted.

The initial dread she'd felt at Capsule Corp. returned with a vengeance and she reluctantly entered the small capsule house, immediately hearing the sounds of weeping and Gohan's soft, consoling voice. She found the older teenager and Chi Chi in the kitchen, seated at the table. The brunette immediately raised her head at Bulma's approach and, before the other woman could attempt a greeting, snapped out: "Vegeta's been acting strange, too. Hasn't he? That's why you're here."

Bulma was staggered and when she admitted, "Yes," Chi Chi immediately burst into fresh tears.

"It's been impossible ever since Gokou came back!" the younger woman said between exasperated sobs. "I waited over seven years for my beloved husband to return to me from the Afterlife and do you know who I got back instead?"

"Who-?"

"YOURS!" Chi Chi screamed at her. "All we've done is fight since we got back home. The things he's said to me-! And he won't spend any time with Gohan or Goten. All that he wants to do is train, and argue, and-and-" she made a choking sound and scrubbed her face with a handkerchief.

"Mom," Gohan put a restraining hand on her shoulder. "This isn't Bulma's fault. Yelling at her isn't going to help anyone."

"WHO SAID I WAS YELLING!" she shouted directly in her son's face. To his credit, Gohan stood his ground and, after a silent stare-down between the two that lasted for all of ten seconds, Chi Chi backed off first. "I'm sorry, Gohan. You can go back to your studies, I'll be alright."

The teen hovered over her indecisively. "You sure?"

"I'm sure. I have to talk to Bulma in private."

Oh, lucky me, the heiress thought with dread, watching the teenager leave the room but not before he offered her a plaintive, miserable glance that did little to alleviate her apprehension.

Only once she was positively sure that her oldest son was out of earshot, did Chi Chi ask: "How has Vegeta been treating you?" she managed to speak in a calmer voice than Bulma would have given her credit for, under the circumstances.

"We had a big fight when we got back home from the Lookout," Bulma admitted. "We haven't actually talked since. I think he's deliberately avoiding me."

"That's not like him." It was not a question.

"No. No, it isn't," she said. Vegeta had his moments when he would disappear to nurse a sulk, but she was beginning to realize that this was much different. He had been avoiding her because he didn't want to upset her further and that wasn't like him at all. It was his normal strategy to antagonize her as much as possible. "It's something Gokou would do, isn't it? When you two... bickered?"

Chi Chi offered only a crisp nod and looked away, wiping her red-rimmed eyes. "I knew something was wrong the first night we all got back. I cooked an enormous celebration supper and Gokou only ate a little of it. And that wasn't like him at all! He kept giving me these strange, creepy looks, like I-I was the meal instead-"

Bulma felt the hairs on her arms rise with gooseflesh.

"-I asked him what was wrong but he said he was alright. I believed him until we were alone together. Bulma, he-he bit me..." she motioned self-consciously to her right breast. "... here."

"Oh crap," Bulma sat down heavily in the nearest chair and put a hand over her eyes.

"I scratched his face and told him to get out of our room. For a moment, he looked confused, as if he didn't remember what had happened. And when he apologized, he said... he-he said-"

"What, Chi Chi?"

The tears were coming again but she managed to keep them at bay long enough to rasp out; "He said, 'I'm sorry, Bulma.'"

There wasn't much conversation after that and even if there were, Bulma wouldn't have been in any shape to contribute. She had let the distance between her and her husband continue for far too many days and she felt a sudden urgency to return home and set things right between them, once and for all. As she piloted the hoverjet home, her cheeks flamed with shame and embarrassment. Somehow, in some unknown way, Gokou had attacked his mate with the same passionate fervor that was Vegeta's trademark. Her husband had bitten her nipple once, when he had been feverish from the V'Nhar, and even though he had left no teeth marks on her since that incident, her breasts were still a focal point of his attentions. Even if Gokou had given her a playful nip (as Bulma suspected), poor Chi Chi would still have had no experience to realize that. Her reaction had been understandable.

But Gokou confusing his wife as her? There was no logical explanation for that lapse. In all of their years of traveling together, the only thing that Bulma and the fighter could be accused of was innocuous skinny-dipping together. There had certainly never been any intimate contact between them. Not ever. They had been friends, pure and simple, and more than content to stay that way. So what the hell--!

Landing in the courtyard, she was out of the hoverjet even before the engines had fully cycled down. She rushed up the stairs to Vegeta's room and was almost knocked over from the smell that wafted out the second she opened the door. It was the odor of rotten fruit, sour body odor, and something else that she couldn't immediately identify.

Gagging, she rushed to the window and opened it with panicked urgency, savoring the fresh air and looking around the room in growing horror. The Vegeta she intimately knew was close to being a clean freak but this room looked like it had been taken over by a troop of hobos. The floor was covered in a litter of candy wrappers, junk food bags, soda cans, and half-eaten fruit. Unwashed training clothes were strewn about over every available surface and the bed was a tangle of sheets and blankets. Her eyes fell on the pillow and she waded through the garbage to take a closer look at it. There were large spots of blood across its surface, some old, some fresh. When she pulled back the rumpled sheets she dropped them again in a hurry.

"Oh god," she hissed through clenched teeth, backing away from the bed. The sheets and blankets were smeared with gore. From where she was standing, she could hear the fan running in the bathroom and cast the closed door a fearful glance. Forcing herself forward on unsteady legs, her hand wrapped around the doorknob and, after taking a deep breath, she opened it-

-And screamed.


To be continued…