Disclaimer:Premise and characters are the property of Akira Toriyama, I'm just borrowing them for some non-profit fun
Author's Note: This story is a side story for "Becoming a Family" ch. 11
An old, old woman sat at the window and watched the vibrant city spread out before her with a look of deep satisfaction on her lined face. She remembered when this city had been nothing more than a blasted out shell but to look at it today no one would have guessed at the devastation that had been unleashed on it by a pair of misbegotten Androids. How long ago was it? She searched her memories; almost five decades.
The woman held out her hands in front of her face. She could hardly believe how old she'd gotten. She stared at the rail veiny hands hardly believing that they were hers. She watched them shake from the effort it required just to hold them up. It was strange to think that these hands had helped t rebuild a world, these hands had built the time machine that gave them the chance to rebuild. She remembered her hands as steady and sure.
How had she gotten so old? More and more she found herself dwelling on the distant past. She remembered adventures with a boy so innocent and so powerful that half her visitors didn't believe her stories were real. She remembered a group of friends who had stood up to defend the world time and time again. It was hard for her to believe that they could have fallen even after all these years. And she remembered an alien prince, a dark warrior who had come to destroy them but who stayed to fight with them. He gave her a son and stole her heart. He had claimed that power was all he cared about but he died protecting his family. A tear trickled down Bulma's faded cheek, she missed them all so much.
Even if Dende hadn't warned her she still would have known that it wouldn't be long before she'd see her childhood friends again. Her body was telling her, in a hundred different ways, that her life was coming to an end. She wasn't afraid of dying. Thanks to the adventures of her youth she knew more about the Afterlife than a living person had any business knowing. A large part of her was looking forward to being reunited with Goku and the old gang even if... even if... There were certain disadvantages to being able to talk to God and demand a straight answer because she'd known him when he was nothing but a little squirt. Bulma knew not to expect the person she missed the most.
Bulma was pulled from her musings by a loud dispute in the hall outside of her hospital room.
"I won't go! You can't make me!"
"Watch me!" Her son's voice was stern. Then he sighed. Bulma had to strain her ears to hear more. "Your grandmother wants to say goodbye to all of us. Why are you making this so difficult?"
"I won't say it! I won't, won't, won't!" Bulma heard a dull thud; the sound of shoe leather forcibly colliding with a shin unless she missed her guess. Then the sound of rapidly retreating feet reached Bulma's ears. She heard her son curse as he ran after his recalcitrant offspring.
Several minutes later the door opened Bulma smiled at her handsome lavender haired son and her youngest grandchild. The dark haired boy was slung over his father's shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
Trunks plopped his son down with a whispered "Behave yourself."
Bulma patted her knee and her grandson obediently found a seat at her side.
"I won't say goodbye," he declared. He scowled darkly at her but his eyes were suspiciously bright.
As always Bulma had to curb an urge to giggle. Her grandson was the very image of her lover. And it amused Bulma to no end to realize that the fearsome warrior prince must have been an extremely cute child, just like his namesake.
Bulma spent a few minutes just playing with the little boy's hair and gradually the tension left his body. He curled up against her side.
"Vegeta, whether you say goodbye or not I'm still going to die," Bulma told him. Her tone was as gentle as her words were blunt.
"Why? I don't want you to. I'll miss you! Why can't we wish for you to not die?" the boy argued.
Bulma sighed and hugged him as tightly as she could manage. "I'll miss you too but I'm old Vegeta-sweetie. I'm tired, my bones hurt and I won't even be able to get from this chair to my bed without asking your dad for help."
"We could wish it all better!" Vegeta protested.
"Honey, it's natural. I've had a very long, very exciting life, this is just my time. It's not right to use the Dragon Balls to change that."
"But I don't want you to go!" Vegeta hugged Bulma tightly. Even though he was only a quarter Saiyan the boy's arms were still like steel bands and Bulma had to fight to keep from wincing at the pressure on her frail ribs.
Bulma sighed and resumed stroking the little boy's hair while she waited for him to calm.
A nurse stuck her head in, "Visiting hours will be over in a few minutes," she told Trunks quietly. He nodded.
"It's time to go home Vegeta," he said. "Say goodnight and let me help your grandma to bed."
Vegeta unhappily released his grandmother and stepped aside.
Trunks went to pick Bulma up. She rolled her eyes and gently slapped his hand. "Help me, don't carry me," she told him tartly. "I'm not a complete invalid just yet."
"Always the stubborn one, huh Mom?" Trunks grinned. He knelt in front of Bulma's chair and offered her his arms.
Bulma braced her hands against his arms and tried to ignore how little of the standing happened because of her efforts and how much of it was simply Trunks lifting her to her feet. Trunks wrapped his arm around her waist and slowly, ever so slowly she shuffled across the room.
Vegeta bit his lip. He remembered his Grandmother flitting energetically about her lab working on some project or another while helping him and his older sisters with their science projects. It made him sad to see her so worn out. All his life she'd been busy, usually managing three or four projects at once and still having the time and energy to play with her grandchildren. He knew she couldn't be happy when just sitting in a chair was almost more than she could manage.
After Trunks had helped Bulma into bed Vegeta hugged her one last time. "I love you, Grandma. I'll miss you."
Bulma heard the acceptance in his voice. "I love you too. You get into tons of adventures and have lots of fun. Do everything and see everything and a long, long time from now we'll see each other again. You make sure you have lots of stories for me, okay?"
The little boy nodded. As he and his father left Trunks paused in the door. "Bye Mom. Say hi to Goku and everyone for me."
Bulma smiled warmly at him and waved cheerfully. For a long time after the hospital had gone silent Bulma lay back in her bed going over her mental checklist: She'd made sure her family would be all right, that they understood that she was ready. Plans for her funeral had been made, everything from arranging to be buried beside her Vegeta to picking out the outfit she wanted to be buried in was done. She'd turned her experiments over to others years ago. She had never quite gotten out of the habit of dropping by the labs every now and then, but they'd get by without her. The world had healed from the ravages of the Androids but it really didn't feel like her world anymore, not lately. It was time to let the younger generations worry about it, she trusted that it was in good hands. Bulma's expression relaxed into one of contentment, everything she need to accomplish was taken care of.
Gently her eyes slid shut.
When Bulma woke she was standing in a long line of ghosts. She yawned and stretched then grinned in delight as her body responded easily. She felt like she was twenty again.
It wasn't long before Bulma was fidgeting impatiently in line. She'd never had much of a temperament for waiting.
" 'Scuse me. 'Scuse me. Sorry. Coming through."
Bulma's whole face lit up as the sound of a long unheard, but never forgotten voice. She turned and pushed her way through the line until, "Son-kun!" Bulma hugged the tall fighter enthusiastically.
"What? No hug for the rest of us?"
Bulma released Goku and saw that all her old friends had come to greet her... All except one. Bulma pushed that thought down and grinned. She had known better than to expect him anyway. "Yamcha! Chichi! Kurinin! Piccolo! Everyone! What are you guys doing here?"
After hugs all around Yamcha said. "Well since we knew you we figured we'd start the welcome party out here... before you started thinking up ways to cut in line."
"Oh you!" Bulma exclaimed as she punched her old boyfriend playfully.
"And we figured we probably wouldn't get to see you for a long time after this," Goku volunteered.
Chichi smacked him in the back of the head. "You weren't supposed to tell!" she hissed. "Now look at her! She's all upset."
"It's nothing bad," Kuririn assured Bulma quickly. "It's just that King Enma is going to give you a choice."
Yamcha looked resigned as he added, "And I'm pretty sure I know what you're going to choose."
Bulma looked confused but nodded. "Okay... well... Tell me how you've been? You've all got feet? You got to keep your bodies?"
"Yep! We're all part of the North Kai's group of champions." Goku told her cheerfully.
"You too Chichi?" Bulma asked.
Chichi nodded. "Did you think I'd spend my whole afterlife waiting for this great oaf to come home between tournaments?" She smiled affectionately at Goku. "I was quite the adventurer myself when I was young."
Kuririn gave an exaggerated sigh. "She has too much fun beating up on us poor defenseless guys to stay home," he confided.
"I told you to watch out for her frying pan," Goku said as he shook his head and grinned.
"Who brings a frying pan to a martial arts tournament? I ask you who?" Yamcha spread his arms to the heavens dramatically.
"The woman who took you out of the tournament, that's who," Chichi replied smugly.
"Enough about fighting!" Chichi said. "How is my great granddaughter?"
"Cute as a button and just learning to crawl," Bulma reported. "Pan is so proud of her."
Chichi sighed happily.
By the time Bulma reached the front of the line they were laughing and reminiscing about the adventure of their youth.
When the group reached the front of the line King Enma paused, breaking him steady rhythm of judging soul and stamping their paperwork to send them to Heaven or Hell. "Don't you lot pay attention to any of the rules?" he asked. "Once you're dead you aren't supposed to leave the Afterlife without obtaining proper permission."
Goku scratched he back of his head and smiled innocently. "But King Enma, isn't the Check-in Station part of the Afterlife?"
"No, it is not," King Enma said with a fierce glare.
"Oh." Goku looked apologetically and innocently confused. "Sorry. I just thought it had to be. I mean you come here after you die. Why isn't it in the Afterlife?"
"And what about the rest of you?" King Enma thundered.
Kuririn shrugged. "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?" he said glibly.
King Enma groaned. "Would you all go back where you're supposed to be? You shouldn't even be capable of leaving without assistance!"
"Really?" Goku said. "I didn't have any problem with my Instant Transmission..."
"Just go," King Enma said. "The line's already backing up and this situation is slightly more complex than the average anyway."
"Well if you say so," Goku said. "Everyone gather 'round..."
After a last round of hugs the Z-Fighters clustered around Goku. "Bye Bulma," he said then touched his fingers to his forehead and they were gone.
Bulma looked up at King Enma.
"Well, go ahead and ask," he said.
"How is Vegeta?" Bulma asked.
King Enma smiled. "He's waiting to be reincarnated."
"Oh," Bulma said. She smiled a little. It could have been worse. She knew Vegeta was a bad man, that his past was full of unspeakable acts. He was being given another chance. He wasn't being held in unending torment, that was good. She never believed that they'd be reunited in the Afterlife anyway. So why did she feel like her dearest hope was shriveling up and dying?
King Enma watched the expressions playing across Bulma's face. "Vegeta gave his life to protect you. You've never stopped loving him. It is not my wish to separate the two of you."
Bulma's head jerked up as hope sprang back to life.
"But at the same time there is no way that I could mitigate Vegeta's sentence. Not considering his past," King Enma continued. "So I'm giving you the option of being reincarnated with him."
It was on the tip of Bulma's tongue to say yes, but at the last second she hesitated. "What about Trunks? What about my family?"
"When you return to the Afterlife you will regain your memories of them," King Enma promised.
"And Vegeta?" Bulma asked.
"Cleansing a soul such as Vegeta's of its sins is not a gentle process," King Enma said gravely. "Even here, only the vaguest impression of the life he lived remain. For you this would be a second chance to be with him. For him it's a chance to prove that the hints of redemption that were observed in him were not a fluke."
"However," King Enma stated forcefully. "I don't guarantee that things will work out for the two of you. If you are reincarnated together your fates will be bound to intersect but that is all I can promise you. Where that intersection of fate leads will be in your hands and you will not have the memory of this life to guide you in your next."
Bulma smiled. "It's enough that we'll have a chance," she said.
"Then step through that door," King Enma replied as he gestured to a small door behind his desk.
Bulma walked through the door and found herself in an empty room. All four walls, the floor and the ceiling were starkly white. Even the door that she'd entered through vanished as soon as it was shut behind her.
A few seconds later a door opened in the opposite wall and Vegeta walked into the room. Bulma's breath caught in her throat, it had been so long since she'd seen him.
Vegeta stared at her intently. His gaze was openly curious and shockingly unguarded. He strode across the room and caught her chin between his fingers. He stared into her eyes. "I know you," he said after a long moment.
"Yes, you know me," Bulma confirmed.
"Did you come to see me off?" Vegeta asked.
Bulma rested her hand on his chest, over his heart. She smiled softly. "No. I'm going with you."
Vegeta thought about that for a time. "I'm glad." he decided.