Not Who She Expected
Epilogue: First Step
Disclaimer: Characters and settings are the property of Akira Toriyama, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit romance.
The battle against Cell was over. Mirai Trunks had returned to his own time. Goku had chosen not to be wished back to life. Gohan and Chichi had retreated to Mt. Panzo to sort through their confusion and grief; Piccolo was keeping an eye on Gohan.
The battle was over and normal, day-to-day life resumed... for everyone except Vegeta. For Vegeta the battle and the last four years of intensive training, first to fight the Androids then the year in the Room of Space and Time preparing for Cell with the future version of his son, had been normal life. Fighting and preparing to fight had been Vegeta's entire life for as long as he could remember. Now there was no looming threat to prepare for. Frieza was dead, Cell was dead, the Androids had ceased to be a threat... His rival was dead and had chosen to stay that way.
For a passing moment Vegeta considered Gohan as a rival then dismissed the thought with a disgusted sneer. Gohan might be the strongest of them all, at the moment, but he was no warrior at least not the way his father had been. Gohan didn't want to fight, his true potential was buried under a pacificist's soul. To truly test himself against Gohan Vegeta would have to litter the planet with bodies and after five years of freedom from Frieza's abuse Vegeta remembered that he didn't really enjoy killing non-combatants.
Since the day he was born he'd been raised as a warrior, but there was a difference between killing someone in battle and killing the ones who didn't fight. There was no glory or any reason to take pride in killing the ones who simply stood there and watched him with hopeless eyes as he executed them.
As a small child Vegeta had become a butcher at Frieza's command because Frieza had told him his own people's continued existence depended on his obedience to the tyrant. So Vegeta had done as he was told and if clearing a world's populace got to him occasionally... Well he was careful to hide his reaction because it wouldn't do for Frieza to think he was weak, not when he was supposed to prove his people's worth to the lizard.
When he was ten Vegeta-sai was destroyed and he rebelled against Frieza. It had been a child's rebellion: refusing to do as he was told any long because he believed there was nothing more Frieza could do to him. Frieza had beaten him to a bloody pulp then dumped him on a colony world populated by a race who's home world had been decimated by a Saiyan team. He spent a week being hunted like an animal, fighting not to black out at an inopportune time. When Nappa had finally been allowed to come for him he'd knelt before Frieza without prompting and begged for forgiveness. It was then that Vegeta knew Frieza didn't need the fate of the Saiyan people to hold over his head all he needed was Vegeta's own life.
By the time Vegeta was fifteen killing meant nothing to him it was like breathing, he did it to survive but never thought about it. The only thing he'd felt had been hate and the rush of battle. On his fifteenth birthday he'd been with Frieza for just over a decade. The following two decades of his life only brought more of the same.
Learning of the Dragon Balls had given him back hope of defeating Frieza. Dying at Frieza's hands, dying after acknowledging that he hated how Frieza had twisted him, dying with the knowledge that Kakarrot would accept the burden of avenging their murdered race had burned away the sort of hate that had consumed Vegeta's sanity. When he was revived he was different. He woke up remembering who he'd been instead of just who Frieza had made him to be. And the simple fact was he didn't have a taste for the sort of carnage that would be required to motivate Gohan to fight.
Vegeta considered leaving Earth behind. Frieza and Coola had been the strongest the Universe had ever seen. Vegeta was much stronger than either of them now. He could go out and conquer an empire but he couldn't seem to find the energy to even think about it seriously.
He'd considered asking Trunks if it would be possible for him to go to Trunks' future with him. There were still Androids to fight in that time and as Vegeta understood it Cell would come to their timeline by killing the boy after Trunks killed his time's Androids 17 and 18. The boy was forewarned now but he wasn't nearly paranoid enough. The only way Vegeta could be certain that the fool boy wouldn't get himself killed again was by being there to guard his back. But Trunks' time machine was only designed to carry one passenger so like it or not Vegeta was simply going to have to trust his son to take care of himself.
Vegeta looked toward the horizon. After several minutes a small black dot resolved itself into Bulma's jet-copter. Vegeta watched expressionlessly as it zeroed in on his position.
Bulma eventually found a flat spot to land in then clambered across the rocks to Vegeta's perch. She stood there and stared at him for several moments. Vegeta considered ordering her to say whatever she'd come to say or leave but he didn't know that he wanted to hear what she had to say and he wasn't entirely convinced that he wanted her to leave so he said nothing.
Bulma sat down beside him without saying anything. They watched the clouds moving across the sky in silence for a time.
"You miss him don't you?" Bulma asked quietly.
"Oh! You miss both Trunks and Goku." This time it wasn't a question.
"Feh," Vegeta said dismissively.
Bulma patted his thigh sympathetically. "I miss them too."
She smiled crookedly, her eyes gleaming with tears. "I watched Goku grow-up. He's one of my best friends. I can't believe he's not coming back. And Trunks... I know his timeline needs him and that he's got a mom there who wants him back but I wish we could have kept him here with us."
Vegeta inclined his head slightly.
"You know, I miss you too," Bulma said hesitantly. "Trunks, my-our baby, is still here. I think he'd like to have his father around."
"Do you know why Kakarrot chose to stay dead?" Vegeta asked.
Bulma blinked at the apparent non-sequitur. "Goku said he attracts trouble and..."
"He wasn't human enough to understand his own son," Vegeta interrupted. "Kakarrot remembers nothing before coming to this planet and still it was an android who understood the key to unlocking Gohan's power, not Kakarrot."
"What?" Bulma exclaimed.
Vegeta turned to face her. "Kakarrot screwed up and nearly got his son and this entire world killed in the process," he stated. "When Kakarrot gave Cell that senzu bean he thought his brat would react like he would have, like a Saiyan would have reacted. He knew Gohan had the power to destroy Cell. He assumed the challenge of a good fight would bring out that potential. It didn't work. The challenge of the fight wasn't what brought out Gohan's power, it was the need to protect and avenge."
Vegeta looked away. "Kakarrot should have fought Cell to his last breath. He would have lost but it would have unlocked Gohan's potential. Android 16 and Cell showed us that. Kakarrot sacrificed himself to correct his earlier mistake. He stayed dead so he wouldn't repeat it."
Vegeta stood up and turned toward the precipice. His posture told Bulma he was a second away from flying off. "If Kakarrot wasn't human enough, if his son was better off without him, what chance do I have? What child would want me for a parent?"
"Trunks would," Bulma said quietly. "You saw the way he watched you when he first came back. He grew-up with Gohan for a father-figure but he still wanted to know his father. He wanted you. If -and I do mean if- you're right about what Goku was thinking he was only making another mistake by staying dead. The way things are now he'll never have the chance to learn to understand Gohan. You may not understand Trunks now, but if you come home with me you'll learn as he grows up. And, hell Vegeta, he's half-Saiyan too. I won't understand that part of him. I don't understand you but I still missed you when you left. Come home, we'll work it out. Together."
Bulma caught his hand and after a moment Vegeta let her tug him a step toward her.