As tired as I am, I suppress a smile as I watch him dig in.
"Geez mom!" he exclaims between bites. Trunks raises his head to look at me thoughtfully. "This is really good… way better than the usual."
Great. Should I be insulted or comforted?
As I watch him ask Gohan to pass him the peas in the polite manner I know to be his actual, earnest nature, I immediately forgive him. After all, there's still plenty of time to teach him the subtleties of tact. Despite anything he does, he's still my innocent, oblivious little boy.
Still, who says I can't have a bit of fun?
"Trunks!" I say reproachfully. "You've never tasted anyone else's cooking, so I really don't know how you can say that." I wink at Gohan. "Quite the gourmet connoisseur my son's become, huh?"
The boy stops shoveling food long enough to look abashed for about two milliseconds. What he probably doesn't know is that I've taken valuable research time to drag myself to the nearest supermarket so I could bring home enough food to feed two voracious half-Saiyans.
You'd think that after ten years of single motherhood, I would be a five-star chef. That's still not true by a long shot. My cooking, however, has improved by quite a bit, mainly as a result of many messy experiments and well-intentioned jibes from Trunks, which is why I'm so proud of my culinary accomplishments this evening.
The truth is, though, that most nights I'm much too tired to put as much effort into a meal as I have tonight. These days I seem to tire more easily than I did just a few years ago. The weight of worry I've felt since I watched Goku draw his last, gasping breath has gotten heavier as the years pass.
Although my looks are the last thing I worry about, I know the strain shows itself in the lines around my eyes and my mouth. And even I myself can hear the distinctive brittleness that's crept into my voice.
The countless parenting books I practically digested after Vegeta's death all told me not to take out my frustrations on my child. The worried expression he gets when I sometimes get teary-eyed or yell a little too loudly makes him look years older – and has made me even more determined to hide my pain and fear.
Over dinner, I can observe his wellbeing without him noticing my staring and becoming embarrassed and fidgety. In the bright kitchen light, Trunks' angelic face is still framed with downy hair. But the thing I love the most about his appearance is the wide-eyed innocence radiating from his bright blue eyes – so unlike his father's eyes.
It's good to know that he's not completely grown up yet.
I frown. He's asking Gohan in that reverent tone he reserves especially for his mentor, whether or not they can train a little more after dinner –
Cue concerned mother! "Don't you two know there's a thunderstorm coming in?" I interrupt. "I've been listening to the radio all day and it sure won't be pretty. I don't want you two coming home soaked and half-drowned after you've already had such a hard day of training."
Trunks' face falls, and for a moment I can see the spark of defiance that leaps to his eyes. But since he's been old enough to understand the world around him, he's always shown a remarkable concern for the feelings of others, especially mine. I know he'll listen to me, although I feel as though I'm denying him a well-earned treat.
"I wouldn't object to the storm, Trunks, but I agree with your mom. We've worked hard all day… how about you spend the rest of the evening with Bulma and I?"
Gohan catches my eye as he speaks, giving me a gentle smile that I return. It's hard to tell him with just a look, though, how deeply my appreciation of his understanding and consideration goes.
His word is practically law for my son. An adorable grin transforms Trunks' entire face. "Yeah! I was really hoping you'd stay after dinner so we could hang out."
Trunks begins to rattle off a list of All the Things We Will Do, while Gohan listens with unfeigned interest. Here in the warm kitchen, fragrant with my best efforts at preparing a nice dinner, hearing the excited, happy voice of the person I love the most in the world lulls me into forgetting about my troubles for just a moment.
Warmth, safety, comfort… they're luxuries I can't seem to afford for Trunks.
I thank my lucky stars that Gohan understands him as well as I do. He knows that beneath the muscles and tough talk when it comes to the androids, Trunks is still a little boy who needs a childhood. Although… now that I think about it, that should be obvious.
Trunks is exactly like he was at that age.
I look at Gohan's youthful face. His eyes are really the only thing that gives away the fact that he's been forced to grow up much too quickly. How can I describe them? Sometimes I can barely meet his gaze; it can become too intense. His eyes are always wary, haunted. And much, much, too old. Since our friends and his father died, it's like he's been an adult waiting for his body to catch up.
It's precisely what I want not to happen to Trunks.
My ruminations are interrupted by a distant rumble and I glance out of the kitchen window. What I can see of the sky outside is darkening, soon to be covered with heavy grey clouds.
I get up. I hadn't exaggerated; this storm could become messy. As I move to close the window, a breeze enters that touches my face and lifts my hair. It smells like rain. It's a gentle summer breeze that seems to trail down my spine.
Disturbingly, it evokes memories of long, hot nights in the distant past I had spent by the pool trying to cool off. Memories of happy, carefree days appear in my mind's eye.
I cannot stop the regret and bitterness that rise like bile in my throat. Even nearly a decade later, it's hard to let go of the pain my friends' deaths have caused.
I slam the window shut and turn around abruptly, in time to see Trunks looking guiltily at me.
"You'd better stop hiding those carrots and eat them, Trunks. They're good for your eyes."
This is the third time I've seen him stifling a yawn. "Trunks," I say firmly. "Bedtime."
I'm not too eager to get up from the soft couch where I've been dozing off for most of the past two hours, while the other two both seem to have boundless reserves of energy, but I follow him to the bathroom.
After brushing his teeth, washing his face, and changing, he finally burrows under the covers.
"Night Gohan!" he calls sleepily after I've tucked him in. "Goodnight mom," he yawns. "Can we have waffles for breakfast?" I plant a kiss on his forehead.
"Of course, honey," I murmur. His eyes close slowly as I stroke his soft, silky hair. The light from the hallway throws shadows on his eyes from his long lashes. I gently shut the door and make my way to the kitchen.
I'm not surprised when I enter it to see Gohan washing the dishes. He's always been so thoughtful and responsible; perhaps that's why he's as great a scholar as he is a fighter.
"Oh Gohan," I sigh, although what I really want to do is sink into a hot bath with a nice, relaxing novel. "You didn't have to clean up. I know you're exhausted, and besides, you're a guest! Let me take care of it and I'll fix us a snack before you leave."
He takes in my wilted form and I know he can see right through me. "No way, Bulma." Seeing my expression, he adds, "Besides, you know I'm always looking for new ways to help out."
I'm exhausted and I relent effortlessly, but I join him by helping him dry. I suppose we both know what a relief it is to have a helping hand!
"Well, you did go through, what, 20 bowls?" I tease. "You owe me."
He smirks. "Yeah. I guess some things never change." Suddenly he frowns. "But you didn't eat much today, Bulma. It was a great meal, you know."
"Hey, thanks. It was the least I could do. Trunks was ecstatic this morning because you were coming… you should have seen him."
I pause. Trunks needs friends his own age… but it's so hard when he has no chance to meet them. The memories of that middle school the androids gutted are still lodged in my mind, appearing occasionally in my nightmares. "You know, Gohan, I really appreciate everything you've done for us. For him especially. He loves you. You're the father figure he desperately needs."
Gohan smiles. "He's an amazing guy. I'm always kept on my toes by his intelligence, his power."
He hesitates. "You know… he asked about his father today. While we were training."
I freeze, and then relax. "He does that too much. Well, what'd you say?"
"Uh… I told him Vegeta was a very powerful fighter. And that he was a prince…"
I snort. "I hope that's not all you said, Gohan. Vegeta was also a royal pain in the ass and way too proud for his own damn good. I could go on, actually."
Gohan winces. "I did tell him his dad was a proud man. I also said that he was a good person who died defending the people of Earth. It's the truth, I guess."
I have to resist the urge to roll my eyes.
We're nearly done the dishes. I glance at the time; it's already eleven o'clock. The sky outside is completely dark.
"How's Chi Chi holding up?" I ask him as we finish up.
"I don't know, actually. I haven't seen her in a year."
I drop the fork and towel I'm holding. "What! Gohan! What on earth happened?"
"The androids," he says, his face darkening perceptibly. "They recognize me, since I've had some confrontations with them. As you know… they would think nothing of tracking down my mom and hurting her. I had to separate myself from her."
The pain in his young face touches me deeply. His voice is quiet, almost ashamed. I notice suddenly the numerous scars on his neck, his arms. I can't help but feel a twinge of fear that some day, Trunks may have to go into hiding himself – reduced to occasionally visiting a little boy and his lonely mother to keep from going crazy.
"Gohan," I say suddenly. I have to reach up to grip him by the shoulders, but my voice is forceful.. "Don't keep on fighting them. Don't. I know you're –"
A sudden clap of thunder, right above us, nearly scares me out of my wits and we both jump.
"Oh right," I say weakly. I'd forgotten. "The storm…"
Outside, I can hear the light, steady patter of raindrops on the roof.
"Wait," he says quietly. He moves to the door that opens out of the kitchen, into the surrounding land, and opens it. I hurry after him. Is he going to leave?
I've tried to dissuade him from confronting the androids before. Each time he has refused. It can grow tiring, having the same argument over and over.
I join him in the doorway. The same treacherous, memory-evoking breeze assails, albeit gently, our faces.
The rain is so far, falling gently. I can feel humidity and the air smells damp. What little light there is comes from distant lightning that eerily lights up the countryside.
In the darkness, I can't see Gohan's expression. He's turned towards the landscape. But I can sense the warmth of his body. Here in the desolate wilderness we face, it seems as though we are the only two survivors of a shattered race.
Rain washes over us and I reach for his hand as I shiver in fear and horror. Suppose that were true? It wouldn't be the first time I've had the nightmare that everyone was gone.
He squeezes my hand, acknowledging my unspoken query. "Being in the middle of a thunderstorm is always strange. It used to happen all the time at home when I was little, though. Not like in the big cities, you're more sheltered."
I shake my head in confusion; I don't understand.
But as his hand goes limp in mine, I realize he's thinking of his childhood, and how it must have felt to hold his mom or dad's hand while he watched the sky open up and pour itself over the earth.
Hearing his forlorn voice as he continues is almost more than I bear, because it reflects exactly the bitterness I feel.
"After they all died, I wasn't sure if I wanted to live anymore. I know it's so selfish, but their lives had been lost not for some noble cause, but because a couple of childish monstrosities had decided to have some fun."
He finally turns to look at me and what I can see of his face by the kitchen light is tight with anger.
"They kill for fun, Bulma. The casual things they say to each other as they rip apart families, ruin lives… it's a fucking game to them. They'll never stop. But there's no one else who can help fight them."
The rain is falling more thickly and I close the kitchen door so as to not wet the floor. I also don't want Trunks to hear us, however small a chance of that actually occurring may be. Gohan sounds like a young boy again.
Upon instinct, I reach out and put my arms tightly around him. Rivulets of cold water run down my hair, my back. It's a hug I would give Trunks when he needs comfort. But the electric thrill I feel running through my body as he presses back just as hard definitely isn't a motherly sensation.
"I know that. Who would know that better than us?" I nearly whisper. There's a long pause. When I speak again, my voice is louder, more confident. I look him in the eyes, glittering in the shadows with… an emotion I can't place. "But your life isn't worth it. There's better ways. I… I'm working on something right now."
I suddenly feel shy. The idea sounds as ludicrous now as it seemed brilliant when I first conceived of it. Maybe he'll think I've finally snapped.
"A few weeks ago, I started thinking about – um. I want to build a time machine."
I can't help my defiant tone. Trunks just stared at me with big, round eyes, when I asked him if it sounded like a good idea. That's probably why he hasn't mentioned it to Gohan.
But he looks at me seriously. He considers it. "It's not a bad idea, Bulma. I… don't know much about the science around it, but I know you could do it. If you put your mind to it."
God, I don't know if I deserve such faith! I'm forcibly reminded of his father. And really, I'd forgotten until today how young Gohan really is. I think he's barely twenty. Still young enough to optimistic.
Thunder rumbles above us. It feels like the ground is shaking.
He sounds almost apologetic because he knows nothing about the theories of time travel. Of course he wouldn't! Gohan should be in university right now. And he could be a brilliant physicist, or really, anything, if he wanted to be.
But the androids took away all chances he had at a normal life when they murdered almost everyone he held dear.
I feel cold. I'm shivering as the rain and wind buffets us.
He puts his hands on my shoulders; to steady me, warm me. "Bulma," he says softly. "Do you still think fighting them with everything I – everything we've got, is not worth it?"
"I just don't want Trunks to grow up having lost one of the only two people he loves," I reply. "I don't want him or you to be killed." When I sigh, I can feel shudders running down my back. There is a burning feeling at the back of my throat. I haven't cried in years. "And of course it's worth it."
Tears slide down my face as my vision blurs and I close my eyes. I know that everything I say is true. But that fact doesn't assuage the pain I feel, knowing that they're both, in every moment of their lives, in mortal danger. I know Gohan feels as lonely and as helpless as I do. Hopeless.
I don't know how he can tell I'm crying, but I can feel his fingers moving lightly over my face, trying to wipe away the moisture.
He draws closer until our noses are practically touching. He traces the rim of my ears, jaw, guiding my face towards his. The storm is really beginning in earnest now; over the roar of thunder and lightning, above all, I can hear my own heart pounding. In the darkness, trembling with cold and anticipation, our lips meet.
It sounds like a love scene in a romantic movie. I know that if I were sixteen, I would have swooned to be held in such an embrace, by such a man. But I'm nearly forty, and as his fingers trail hesitantly over my collarbone, I'm reminded once again of just how young and innocent he really is.
Yet… the sensation of a warm body pressed so close to my own is an indefinable comfort. To feel a man's touch after having gone so long without it, to hold onto someone I know and love and care for when I feel like giving up; I know I'm being selfish, but I don't draw away and tell him that he deserves better.
And it's true. Gohan deserves better. In a better world, he would have his pick of beautiful girlfriends, a loving, whole family, all of his friends; he wouldn't be fighting for his life everyday.
But this is the only world we know.
And in the darkness that surrounds us, I can only feel him…
I'm sure your imaginations can provide the rest :) Also, I estimated the ages of everyone.
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