A Place in Time

Chapter Seven; Curiosity's Folly

Caelestis Kibeth

[Goten] couldn't help a soft chuckle at thinking of a world where his niece and his best friend weren't in denial of their poorly hidden feelings. Trunks had been adamant that Mirai Trunks was much different than the man he had become, growing up in a world which hadn't been ravaged beyond recognition by some evil force—and, to his credit, that theory held some water. But given what he had witnessed over the past six years, watching the pair's relationship change and develop... In Goten's mind, all this news did was confirm what he had known for a long time:

Somewhere, beyond all of the cruel pranks and prideful jibes, Trunks and Pan loved each other in a way that far crossed the line of Friends.

"Ready to get out of here?" he asked as he watched the man across the table compose himself. As Trunks caught his eyes and nodded, Goten could see that his friend still looked far from relieved about any of this, but certainly seemed less lost.

That was a start.

Where this crazy turn of events would take them, though... Well, that was one thing Goten was very interested in finding out.


Capsule Corporation

(Present Timeline)

"Are you done yet?"

"Just a little bit more."

A grunt of impatience accompanied crossed arms. "It's been nearly an hour already!"

The other girl in the bathroom rolled her eyes. "Beauty takes work, alright?"

"For the last time, though, I don't even want to go to this stupid party—"

A can of hairspray was set on the counter more forcefully than necessary. "Now I know I didn't spend the past two weeks planning you a party that you just called stupid."

"Ugh, it's not that I don't appreciate it, it's just that—"

"Listen, I am going to stab you with this bobby pin if you don't sit still and shut up."

"Like you could manage the strength to stab me with any—OUCH!"

The speed with which Pan whipped around in her chair to send a ferocious glare towards her best friend was blinding. Bra, entirely unaffected after twenty-one years of deflecting the far superior murderous looks of her own father, didn't even bat an eyelash. Instead, she threw back a glare of her own and sternly placed her hands on Pan's shoulders to force her back in the opposite direction.

"If you dare peek at my work before it's finished, you're going to have a lot worse things poked at you than a bobby pin, so sit still!" Bra demanded, fairly calmly but still managing to sound serious enough to make Pan think twice about the protest already poised on the tip of her tongue. In the end, it fell away uselessly as the raven-haired Saiya-jin miserably resigned herself to her fate at last.

This was useless, of course, Bra's grand idea of giving her such a makeover. Pan was and always would be a hopeless tomboy. She had never possessed the sumptuous curves, the nice chest, the smooth skin, the basic girl gene that made women like her best friend into the confident, graceful beings that they were. While she would never dare doubt the skills of a Briefs woman in being a master in the field of femininity, there were just some people who would always be beyond help. Pan had no problem with facing reality and admitting that she was one of those people.

Well alright, so she had a little problem with it. It hadn't exactly been fun being the butt of Trunks and her uncle's jokes for the past 20 years, after all. It hadn't been fun going through high school with the majority of the male student body refusing to ask her on a simple date—not even just because she was so strong, but because her rougher-than-usual looks gave them no reason to want to either. But when it came down to it, what was the point in getting herself down about something over which she had no control? As a teenager, subject to all of the fears and insecurities that one was prone to be at that age, it had been a bigger concern, but she was an adult now. Whatever her own physical shortcomings were, Pan had long ago come to terms with them and chosen to look at the things that she loved about herself.

For example, like how she could kick any of those boys' sorry behinds in a head-on match. With one hand tied behind her back. Surely it would have been fun to prove them wrong, but that was no more than a fanciful notion which she had no idea why Bra was wasting her time entertaining when she could think of approximately four hundred and sixty-seven other things which would have been better employments of the past hour.

"There we go!"

Pan blinked, having been waken from her reverie by Bra's sudden pronouncement. Had they really been that close to being finished, or had she just been so out of it that she had lost track of the minutes? Either way, Pan was just about ready to leap out of that chair regardless of whether Bra had made her into a beauty queen or dyed her hair pink and put a monkey on her head.

Her leg muscles screamed in protest as she stood, uncomfortably stiff after being sat in one place for so long. It took her a moment, but once Pan was up, Bra stood aside, a Cheshire grin plastered across her face, and made way for a stranger to step forward from behind... A gorgeous stranger, of diminutive height and flowing black shoulder-length hair, encased in a figure-accenting white cocktail dress that cinched at the hips and then fell softly down to a point just above her knees. In her hair was a single braid on the right side, the top clipped with a diamond-and-pearl dangling ornament that resembled teardrops. On the backdrop of the mysterious woman's perfectly pitch black hair, each gem looked like a falling star within the vast expanse of space, reminding Pan for a split second of a time in her life when she had been younger, stupider, and all of her relationships so much less complicated.

But that wasn't all that there was about this mysterious woman which was so alluring. It was the mildly puzzled, innocent look on her face as she stared wordlessly back into Pan's eyes that she was caught up on. It was like she wasn't sure why she was there or who had brought her to this sinfully pink bathroom, or like she was peering into a mirror and seeing herself for the first time.

And then it hit her. A mirror. She was looking into a mirror, the full-length wall mirror that took up one whole side of her best friend's needlessly expansive bathroom, and the puzzled girl was Pan and she was in a way seeing herself for the first time. But at the same time as she realized this, Pan honestly couldn't believe it. It would have taken nothing short of a wish to the dragon to make her look like that. For the love of Dende, she looked better than ninty-five percent of Trunks and Goten's harems of supermodel ex-girlfriends.

Combined.

A smirk couldn't help but draw up on the edge of her mouth as Bra stepped up behind her friend and threw her arms around Pan's shoulders, a matching smirk on her own face.

"See, I told you that you should have let me do this years ago," she gloated.

"Yeah, I guess so," came the quiet but undeniably awestruck reply. One of Pan's fingers twisted into a lock of her hair idly before letting it rest back on her collarbone again, and the grin on her best friend's face only widened.

Bra felt marvelously triumphant, not simply because she had proven her best friend's past 20 years of arguments to be invalid, but because, as a friend, she knew that this was exactly what Pan needed at the moment: to see herself again, to be reminded that she wasn't a ghost... and to catch some well-deserved attention from a certain lavender-haired jerk who needed a severe wake-up call. The reason the raven-haired Saiya-jin had been so morose lately, after all, was because she was so not-so-secretly in love with Trunks, and his behavior towards her over the past week had been less than kind, and certainly less than normal. It had thrown Pan through a loop for sure, and no matter how many times she tried to deny and deflect, Bra knew better than anyone the real truth behind the matter.

Of course Bra knew that there were reasons behind Trunks' attitude too—however little she agreed with the idea that they warranted the silent treatment of all things—but she and Goten had talked at length about the problem and were both certain that he would come around soon enough. Tonight was a good a night as any, they had thought, to start the ball rolling back in Pan's direction again, and what better way to do it than to give Trunks the shock of his life and remind him what he had right in front of him? After all, Pan looked absolutely stunning, if Bra did say so herself. If this look didn't scream 'get over yourself and have babies with me already!' then her brother really had gone off the deep end.

That being said, one glance at the clock told her that if they didn't get down to the party soon, there might not be a Trunks to impress. While her brother had vowed to his friend that he would definitely be approaching Pan that evening to make amends, Goten hadn't been so certain. Bra was inclined to agree. He would show up for sure, but whether he stayed long enough to actually go through with things was another question. Over the past week, she had seen little to no indication that Trunks was getting any better with handling the idea of the children—in fact, he had taken to sleeping in one of the company apartments, off on the other side of the city, simply to avoid them—and he still acted like a hormonal teenage girl whenever she mentioned anything to do with the subject.

Then again, if Trunks dared to hurt Pan on her birthday, he was going to have a lot worse problems to worry about than looking at the faces of a few toddlers every day.

Whatever may come, though, Bra had done her part. She knew that all she could do now was sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch how this drama was going to play itself out. Untwining her arms from around Pan, she stood next to her, taking a moment to admire her own get-up as well. Hell, maybe she could start a little romantic drama for herself while she was at it, she thought with a flip of her own hair directed at her reflection.

Tearing her eyes away from herself, Bra turned towards Pan—who, she would never admit it out loud, might have looked better than even she did tonight. "So you think you can get through this night now without totally hating me forever?"

Pan took a deep breath and nodded, the fingers of her hand twining through Bra's and giving it a grateful squeeze. For all the times they didn't understand each other at all, she really did have the best best friend ever.

"Let's get down there and blow some minds."


"We're not supposed to be here..."

"Would you shut up?" The reprimand was hissed through a pair of teeth, and with a rustle of fabric, a high-pitched voice squeaked in pain.

"What was that for!" came an agitated protest by the wounded party. "We're not supposed to be here!"

"Vegeta's right, Gohan." The third voice was distinctly female, and the soft features of Musume Briefs came alive in a sliver of purple light from the door through she was peeking. "What if Grandma catches us? Or Grandpa?"

Despite the general blackness of the hall around the three children, they could each tell that the other two had felt a distinct shiver run down their spines at the idea of the ill-tempered, height-challenged Saiya-jin prince going off on another one of his rampages—the likes of which they were already extremely familiar with, even after only one week spent under the same roof. Not yet had one of them come up with a feasible explanation as for why Vegeta the Elder acted in the irrational manner in which he did, but they had learned very quickly that they did not want to get on his bad side.

"You're both a couple of babies," Gohan replied with a frown. "Musu, you were the one who said we should sneak down here in the first place!"

"I didn't mean for real!" his exasperated sister exclaimed, earning another round of shushing. Before she could become the second victim to Gohan's violence, she lowered her voice. "I thought we were just talking, not that we were actually going to do it..."

Musume gave another surreptitious glance through the doorway before turning back to her brothers with a troubled mask shrouding what they could manage to see of her face in the darkness. From downstairs and just through that very door, the deep bass of party music gave a slight shake to the walls around them, and the distant chatter of voices could be detected from over the din. Down there was their mother's birthday party—they had overheard their aunt Bra talking about it—and that meant that down there was their mother. They had been deathly curious about seeing what was all happening on the floor below just fifteen minutes prior, as they had laid in bed trying to sleep like they had been instructed to. They had all agreed that it might be fun, just a little, to sneak down and get a peek at this younger, more carefree version of their mother.

However, now that they were actually there, just a couple of steps away from all the action, only Gohan was not left shaking in his footed pajamas at the idea of what might happen were they caught.

Or rather, Musume thought with a sigh, maybe I just don't want to meet her and find out that she's just as mean as this world's Papa is.

"I've got an idea."

Two raven-haired heads turned towards the sound of the third voice; it had been Vegeta, hanging back at the end of their pack. The smallest Briefs child brought up a hand to run through his perpetually messy hair and regarded his siblings curiously. "Maybe we don't have to go down there to see her," he suggested timidly. His ideas always seemed stupider when he said them out loud.

Gohan rolled his eyes. And here he thought that Vegeta had finally jumped back on board. It really was annoying being the only one with a backbone sometimes. "If you say we should go back up to bed, I am going to kick you," he muttered.

Vegeta now sent a glare through the shadows. "I wasn't gonna," he pushed. "I was gonna say that we should go to the garden."

The garden on the Capsule Corp. property, a vast expanse of land which filled the entirety of the back lawn, had been one of the only places on the compound where the three children had been allowed to spend much of the past week. They had enjoyed playing hide and seek around what must have been hundreds of different types of bushes and plants and trees, splashing around in the pool, and peeking in the windows of the domed gravity chamber—whenever they thought their grandfather wouldn't catch them, anyway. But other than being an endless source of entertainment for bored toddlers, the garden was also conveniently accessible to the Briefs' main living room by a wall's length full of glass. It would be a perfect place to get a clear shot of the action, while staying fairly hidden at the same time.

It took Gohan less than a second to consider the suggestion before he was on his feet, eyes wide with excitement and impatiently pulling on the arms of his brother and sister. "Little bro, you're brilliant!" he enthused, ignoring Vegeta's grumbling at the name and pulling both reluctant siblings to their feet. Gohan had made it over to the window on the opposite side of the hall faster than lightning—he was already on the sill, ready to jump down to the yard below, before either of the other two could even come up with a breath of air to protest.

He hit the grass softly and glanced over his shoulder expectantly. Vegeta and Musume knelt together on the edge, staring at each other with eyes dull with resignation. When someone got Gohan Briefs started on something, there was just no stopping him. You either got pulled along for the ride or trampled along the way, and no one knew that better than his brother and sister.

"At least we get to see Mom?" Vegeta offered with a shrug, before floating off the sill to where Gohan was.

Musume just shook her head.

As she hovered lethargically down towards the lawn below, she just couldn't help but to think that this was going to be a big, big mistake.


Awash in the violet and silver glow of the party lights, the expansive living area of the Briefs residence was nearly unrecognizable to its resident of the past 34 years. On one side of the large room, an open bar had been set up from the half-wall into the kitchen. There, party guests sat on stools of leather, sipping only cocktails which had been approved to fit with the specified color scheme of the event. On the other side, a DJ presided over the dance floor, swaying back and forth to the heavy bass beats of a remix of some popular song, feeding off the energy of the crowd gathered before him below the disco ball. Along the walls were hundreds of tiny twinkling lights, shining like stars from behind the yards of glistening lavender fabric draped from the ceiling. A cake, four tiers and garishly displaying a message of 'Happy 20th birthday, Pan!' sat on a table near the door, its resplendence nearly overtaken by the mountain of presents on either side and in front—again, all wrapped according to a very strict color theme that Bra would have beaten into the heads of every person on the guest list beforehand.

Every corner of the room was filled to the brim with those very guests; mingling, drinking, dancing and generally adding to the nightclub-esque atmosphere that had been created around them. Trunks had to wrack his brain to identify even a handful of them—and imagined that Pan knew even less—but he knew that mentioning such a thing to his sister was out of the question. Everyone simply accepted that when Bra Briefs went into full party-planner mode, it immediately became much more her party than anyone else's and there was no use fighting her on it. Even when the occasion was her best friend's birthday and this scene should have looked much different than it did.

Bra was selfish, frustratingly so. It took everything in him to not go grab her from her place at the bar—where she was currently balancing a martini glass and being entirely too engaged in some joke Goten was making—and give her a firm shake.

It was partially for this reason that he had resigned himself to a far corner of the room not long after arriving fifteen minutes prior. It was better, perhaps, if he just laid low and observed for the time being. He had strategically chosen a nice spot in an alcove which he had determined to be the darkest area, in order to draw as little attention to himself as possible. There was a specific danger in a party such as this. As West City's most eligible bachelor, the second he showed his face around all these strangers he would never get a moment alone for the rest of the night.

Normally he would have been basking in the glow of the limelight. Tonight was different. Tonight was not about him.

Tonight was about a close friend, one to whom he had some very deep apologies to make after the detestable way in which he had treated her over the past several days. It had taken a serious talk from Goten of all people for him to figure it out, but Trunks knew now: whatever it was that he felt towards those mysterious children who had shown up, no matter how awkward it was to be around her with these disturbing new what-if's that had forced themselves into his peripheral vision... he could not treat Pan like a stranger. He could not punish her over his own torments.

She was one of the dearest people in his life. She deserved better than that.

Even knowing that, it didn't make any of this any easier. His hand tightened around a small box in his back pocket and he sighed, looking out over the crowd and feeling his purpose slip away a little more with each passing second.

When he had stepped through the door that night, Trunks had been more than ready to do this and get it over with. He'd had his speech memorized, had talked himself up, and had gone in with his resolve as strong as if he were stepping up to face any one of the many formidable foes they had gone up against over the years.

The problem was, his 'foe' that night, the diminutive Saiya-jin with the raven hair and onyx eyes, had not come to meet him.

In fact, even now as he stood back and scanned the crowd for the millionth time, Trunks still could not spot Pan among the raucous revelers. It seemed odd that she would not be in attendance to her own party if Bra was so seemingly unperturbed—then again, at times it seemed that Bra could get so caught up in cooing over Goten that she might not have noticed. He gave a deep frown, and his hand on the box constricted nervously once again. Pan couldn't have skipped out already or his plan would be ruined. If he didn't talk to her tonight, Trunks wasn't sure when he'd be able to psyche himself up enough to do it again.

Not to mention, it was important that it be tonight. The last thing he wanted on his conscience at the moment was to have ruined her birthday on top of all the harm he had already done over the past week. He clenched his jaw.

And that's when he saw her.

It was just a glimpse. A flash of milky fabric and dark hair, the shutting of a sliding door, and she was gone before he could even tell whether it had been a dream or reality. It didn't matter if it was a dream, because before he knew it, Trunks's feet were moving beneath him, taking a brisk pace towards the door out to the garden, shrugging off the hands of several scantily-clad women who had been quick to recognize him as he went.

It was only when the wall of cold night air slammed into him that he realized what he was doing and where he was. It was like a haze had lifted from his eyes as he blinked and his racing thoughts slowly settled to take in the scene before him.

Like some vision out of a fantasy book, she stood there a few mere yards away, heels spun through the slender digits of her left hand as she padded barefoot just centimeters from the edge of the crystalline pool. The lights from under the calm water cast an illuminating glow upon her figure, softening her features into a mask of serenity and reflecting in her eyes quietly. It contoured the well-toned lines of her body underneath the flowing fabric of her dress, and for the first time, Trunks noticed that Pan might have grown up much more in the past few years than he had ever thought to give her credit for. It was probably just the time and place, he thought, but he couldn't quite shake the odd feeling that he had spent the past five years of his life blindly ignoring that something extraordinary had been gradually coming together right in front of him.

It was then that he caught himself, and the heat rose to his face. What was he thinking?

No, this was Pan. There was no way that she would ever really be anything in his mind other than the stubborn, fiery, tomboy little sister he'd never had. But tonight he could at least admit that maybe, looking the way she did at that moment, to the unfamiliar eye Pan Son was not exactly a little girl anymore.

"You know, standing around staring at people is kind of creepy."

She turned her head gradually over her left shoulder to send him a one-eyed glance. He couldn't read what was in those eyes of hers from his current distance, but if her tone of voice—equal parts stormy and weary—were any indicator, then he could imagine that she was in fact still quite angry with him.

Trunks opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to the punch, this time turning around fully to face the lavender-haired warrior. "Well? Are you going to say something, or are you going to dash off like a scared animal again?" The serene image from before was immediately shattered as she crossed her arms over her chest and fixed him with an expectant look.

A frustrated retort bubbled up from his throat and Trunks barely caught it before it could pass his lips. No, this was not how he wanted to play this. He was there to apologize, not take his frustration and embarrassment out on her like he had been inadvertently doing all week.

Well, shit. He hadn't exactly been very good at doing anything but yelling at everyone lately. This was going to be more of a challenge than he had anticipated. In an uncharacteristically nervous manner, he reached up to scratch his head and turned his eyes to the pavement below.

"Ah, actually I was kind of hoping that we could—you know... talk." Mentally, Trunks cursed at himself. This had come out a lot smoother in theory than it was coming out in practice. "I mean, if you don't totally hate me..."

His voice trailed off in uncertainty and he waited for the inevitable smack to the face to come. He deserved no less, that was for sure.

It never came.

Instead, the warmth and softness of a female hand gripped his own, and he was finding himself nudged from his spot. When Trunks finally allowed his eyes to rise from their focus on the ground, he noticed that the other Saiya-jin was quite suddenly a mere foot's breadth away from him, pulling him off in the direction of an area off to the side of the main pool yard.

Together, they ducked through a hedged archway and immediately he recognized the clearing that had opened up around him as his mother's favorite little place in the garden. It was a small area, containing only a low stone bench and surrounded by tall, flowering bushes to ensure privacy—perhaps the only private place in the entire yard, if there was one—but it was the perfect place for a quiet moment alone away from prying eyes.

A few not-so-quiet, not-so-alone moments that he'd spent in that very place came rushing back into his memory and Trunks bit down on the inside of his cheek, trying to get his thoughts off of such things. This was probably the worst time ever to be remembering how many girlfriends he had brought back to that very spot... Because, quite honestly, with Pan in that get-up that Bra had undoubtedly shoved her into, and all of her previously undiscovered curves and other womanly features being swathed in the moonlight, it was becoming increasingly difficult to remind himself just whom he was standing there with.

This was not a conversation to be having while thinking about what it might be like, just once, to see if she tasted just as nice as she looked tonight.

It was a good thing that Pan had chosen that very moment to spin on her heel and fix him with a stern glare, ripping their hands apart and effectively killing any inappropriate thoughts he had previously been harboring. The storm brewing in her eyes brought him back to solid ground and he remembered the hole that he needed to begin digging himself out of. His stomach turned, half in fear of her well-justified wrath and half in disgust at himself for the places he had allowed his mind to wander.

"Listen, Briefs," Pan deadpanned him. "You've got three minutes to make your case before I go back in there and stop letting you ruin my night."

Trunks cringed inwardly, but searched himself deep down for his earlier resolve and grasped onto it firmly. After all, he had to count himself lucky that she was speaking to him at all.

Removing his hands from his pockets, he laid them out in front of her, palms up. "Look, Pan—I'm sorry," he began, feeling perhaps lamer than he ever had in his life. "I know I've been acting like an—"

"—enormous dick, jackass, idiot, worst friend ever—"

Despite that he knew he deserved those insults, Trunks shot Pan a glare to put a halt to her string of names. Couldn't she let him genuinely apologize without jumping down his throat in the middle of it? Sometimes she made things so much more difficult than they had to be.

"Yes, yes, and yes," Trunks agreed through gritted teeth. "And if you're going to give me three minutes, I'd appreciate it if you stop wasting it with name-calling and let me actually talk."

Pan sighed, making it clear that she had much more to say, but she reluctantly kept her mouth shut and waited for him to continue. Although she was no longer lashing out at him verbally, her right foot did begin moving up and down impatiently on the grass in lieu of words.

Trunks ran a hand back through his hair. "Alright," he began. "Just so you know, I'm not here to make excuses for myself, and I'm not here to tell you that I have a good explanation for the way I've been acting lately." It was a lie, of course—he had a great explanation. That was the whole problem, wasn't it? "But I want you to know that I realize now how I've been taking it out on you and I know that it's not fair."

In a moment of bravery, he chanced two steps towards her so he could look Pan straight in the eye. His hands itched, yearning to take her by the shoulders the way he always did when reassuring her, but in the remaining sane part of his mind he knew that might be one step too far over the line for the moment. Instead, he clenched them at his sides, nearly turning his knuckles white with the pressure.

"I've just had a lot of stuff come up lately, and instead of talking about it, I've just been getting angry and lashing out at everyone," he admitted. That much was not a lie, at least. "I was selfish, but Goten finally made me realize how I was pushing you away and I wanted to apologize. You don't deserve it, especially on your birthday."

Somewhere during Trunks's speech, Pan's expression had turned from agitation to mild confusion. Her arms remained crossed, but her grip had slackened noticably. If there was one thing upon which she prided herself, it was that she knew Trunks. As Pan searched his beseeching eyes, listened to the troubled tone of his voice, she could tell that he was being sincere. For the moment, he had completely let his guard down and was acting entirely out of character. One thing was for sure: he was truly sorry.

But that didn't mean that she wasn't still hurt. That didn't mean that she understood.

"I have one question, though," she frowned.

"What?"

"Just—why?"

And there was the kicker. Trunks could nearly hear the blood rushing to his face as he briefly entertained the notion of telling her the truth, spilling everything—about the time machine, about the kids, about her and this inexplicable reality warp that had come crashing down into his lap and turned his life upside-down. But there was no way. He could already never look at her the same way again. The last thing he wanted was for Pan to run away from him the way he had from her. Even if that was what he should have had coming to him following his own actions in response to the same news.

"I can't tell you that," he settled for regretfully.

"You are so full of shit, Trunks!" She'd had it with this. How dare he give that as his response? "I can't believe I even listened to a second of your pathetic—"

"No, Pan, wait—!"

She spun around and pierced him with a poison-laced glare, first to his face and then to the place on her arm where his hand currently gripped her, stopping her in her trajectory out of the clearing. His gut instinct screamed at him that he was treading dangerous ground here, but he would not let go of her arm. He could not let her leave this garden still angry at him. That was all Trunks really knew at the moment, but he knew it desperately.

Her voice lowered immediately to a deadly whisper. "Let me go," she warned him.

What was he supposed to do? Trunks's mind raced, trying to come up with a good solution, but following each train of thought only to reach a dead end. True, he and Pan had gotten into countless arguments and spats over the past twenty years of her existence, but never had he seen her mad like this. In a way, he couldn't even understand why she was so seething, or why this had struck such a nerve. She was furious with him, and for the life of him Trunks could not figure out what part of this situation it was that had cut so deep. Angry had been expected, yes, but this was on a whole other playing field.

"Look," he urged her, trying to keep his voice steady under her agitated stare. "I want to tell you, trust me—you're the only one I want to tell, but—it's just—it's better if I don't do that right now."

Before she could open her mouth to retort, he continued on. "That's why I've been so angry and closed off lately, Pan. I want to talk about this, but it's so personal that I just—" He broke off in a sigh and his eyes grew sad, imploring her. Had he had time to think about anything other than making his story believable at that moment, he would have been sickened with himself and how quickly he was able to twist the truth around.

"I just need you to believe me, please."

There was silence then, and a tension palpable enough to cut with a knife. Pan's face betrayed no emotion other than upset, but he knew that if she wasn't punching him, she must have been thinking. He still had a chance.

"Please," he repeated, this time with even more emphasis. "You know I wouldn't keep it from you if it weren't vital."

Trunks hated himself in that moment, more than he had hated himself in a long time. But when her arm fell down to her side and her shoulders slumped, Trunks knew that Pan had accepted his words, and for tonight that was the only victory that he needed.

Taking advantage of this newfound calm before he found some way to ruin it again, he quickly reached into his back pocket, remembering the box that had been there all night. Raising his eyebrows at her expectantly, he forced Pan to meet his eyes before holding it out in his palm.

"I know you don't take well to bribes, and I know it's not in Bra Briefs-approved wrappings, but..." he trailed off, doing his best to look apprehensive even whilst being certain that she would take it. It didn't hurt him to act a little humble after everything that had just occured.

"Happy birthday, Pan."

Hoping to keep him nervous, Pan stared at the tiny box for a good, long minute, but finally reached out and took it into her own palm. Freshly manicured fingers—those were going to be a bitch to get off before training the next morning—slowly lifted up the lid. As she revealed the sparkling multi-star pendant necklace laying on blue velvet, it took everything that Pan had in her to appear unimpressed. She took her time staring at it with as impassive an expression as she could muster, but inside she was anything but impassive. In her mind, she was wondering any number of things—how much had this cost him? When had she told him that she liked stars? Had Trunks finally realized that she was a girl and chosen a present to reflect that?

Did this gift perhaps mean that he might finally be seeing her in a new light?

"I hate you," she muttered with a sigh, cursing the twitch at the edge of her lips that betrayed her true sentiments.

Trunks broke out into a full-fledged grin, knowing now for certain that this disaster was over. "I wasn't sure if you'd like it," he lied, again far too easily. Of course he knew she'd like it. A person would have to have been blind to miss the indignance Pan had shown over the past several years to his and Goten's treating her like their long-lost little brother. He certainly hadn't. A gift like this, one which showed her that he had been paying attention to her frustration over never being seen as the girl she was, was a shoe-in to win her forgiveness.

Moving quickly, he reached over and removed the necklace from its box, then stepped behind her to latch it at the base of her neck. "But it seemed better to get you something a little different since you're an adult now," he said. "And when I saw the stars, I thought of all that time we spent together traveling the galaxy way back when."

He returned to his former spot and shrugged. "It seemed appropriate."

"It's perfect," Pan admitted at last. Shaking her head—her hair moved fluidly, like rippling water, he realized for the first time—and turning up towards the moon above, the smile on her face had turned peaceful. Come to think of it, Trunks had never seen Pan smile like that before. Always was she impish, joyous, or a mixture of both. Never just content the way she was then.

"I don't usually know why I end up forgiving you, but this time you did good."

There. That was that, Trunks thought. Even if he could not be rid of the root of the problem, at least he had mended things between himself and Pan. Despite that spinning the truth may not have been the most moral of tactics to use, it had been the best way, and he felt a little lighter overall already for having settled this. Now, with any luck, his future self would hurry up and come and pick up those three kids soon, before they managed to ruin his life any more than they already had.

"Trunks, did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

He regarded Pan in surprise and noticed that her eyes had narrowed in concentration and were aimed towards a specific bush on the opposite side of the clearing. He honestly hadn't heard anything, although he could not admit to having been paying much attention. It seemed, however, that Pan had definitely caught up on something being amiss.

Gingerly, as so to not make any sound, she lowered herself to the ground to pick up a mid-sized rock and then straightened again, holding it in a defensive posture and staring down the same bush. Trunks opened his mouth to inquire further, but he was silenced before he began by way of a single finger raised in his direction. Forbidden from speaking, he did the only thing he could, and reached out with his senses to detect who or whatever had Pan's wrath coming for it.

He felt them just a split second too late.

"Didn't your mothers ever teach you that spying is rude!?" Pan shouted, and simultaneously chucked her weapon in the direction of the bush.

Perhaps it would ruin the whole nice 'womanly' image that she had going with Trunks at the moment, but there was no way in hell that she was going to let Goten and Bra think they could get away with sneaking around like a couple of badly mannered children. Those two always stuck their noses into things that that were none of their concern, and Pan was tired of it. It was about time that both of them got smacked over the head with a heavy object to get the message across.

Except that what emerged from the bushes was decidedly not her uncle and her best friend. It was not two people at all, nor were they even adults. A shiver ran down Pan's spine as three familiar toddlers rolled out, one nursing a bump on his very Goku-esque head.

Pan fought to control her shaking hands.

Trunks wanted to throw up.

"Okay, I-I'm serious—" she struggled for words. No, this boy, who was ever the spitting image of her beloved grandfather, could not be here again. How was he here again? "Trunks, who—who are they?"

Trunks, however, was having trouble hearing anything over the sound of his own blood pumping through his veins at a hundred miles a minute. He felt hot and light-headed and when he opened his mouth to feebly attempt a whole new round of fables to somehow fix this, he found that his mouth was filled with cotton.

"Trunks, tell me who they are!"

He didn't have to. Just then, another rustle of bushes sounded behind them, and Bra stepped out, Goten on her heels. She gave her friend a guilt-ridden look and sighed.

"Pan... they're your children."


A/N: OKAY YOU GUYS I officially give up making promises about this story. For those of you who have been following me for a while (some of you crazies have even stuck with me from the beginning, which is just. Mind-blowing and I do not deserve such great readers as you), you know that I make promises all the time to start updating regularly again and I just for some reason always end up never being able to stick to that. Sometimes it's about lack of motivation, but a lot of it really is usually real life things and as much as that sucks, they do keep seeming to pop up and happen and I lose ability to work on the story at a regular pace. This time it was my crazy year working between four Japanese public schools, often having 6 classes a day (of 6 possible classes), and moving around so much that I was having to do so many different lesson plans and making so many materials that I just did not have time for much except for work. It didn't help that it was my first year teaching this course material, so I started with nothing.

As of this month, I've started a different contract working in a different city and working at just two schools—one JHS and one ES, which is soooo much easier than one JHS and three ESes. I am at the JHS most of the time, and anyone who has ever been in this kind of job probably knows that JHS is way easier than ES and offers a lot more free time. Of course, having taught a year of the exact same coursework already now is also helping me LOADS. Plus the fact that I am at my new JHS 90% of the time has given me a chance over the past two weeks to work on my writing again, which is really nice. I even started a prologue to a story called Here With Me, which is actually a prequel to this fic. I promised that fic to one of the most loyal readers of APiT back in August and finally am following through. But not to worry—this one is still my priority. I was just feeling inspired.

Anyway, yes. No more promises about updating quickly. I obviously can't be held to them. All I can tell you guys is that I really want to see this fic finished someday and I am going to do my very best to keep it going on. So keep reading and reviewing, my beautiful fluffy sugar bears! 3

P.S. I DID write almost 2,000 words more than usual in this chapter, so enjoy!