The stars were bright overhead and the night was warm, a breeze ruffled Trunks' hair and he closed his eyes, tilted his face to the wind and took a deep breath of the fresh air. His every sense was heightened, partly from the adrenaline that was still pumping through him, even hours after the fight with Cell was over. It was strange to be alive, strange to touch, to feel, to smell and see and hear. He'd been dead. That was a hard thought to swallow, and it definitely wasn't a pleasant one. He couldn't remember much about it other than there being some kind of check-in station and a long list of other dead souls. It was a hazy memory though, a memory of a different life.
He opened his eyes again and looked again at the sky, saw how the city lights reflected from the clouds overhead. Trunks felt hungry somehow, but not for food; he wanted to take life and live it in a way he never had before, he wanted to fight and run and shout. For the first time in his life he was completely unafraid. He stopped to test the deepest reaches of his mind and soul for any trace of the terror that had ruled his life for so long, but it was gone. Cell was dead and with the new power inside him the androids of his time would soon be gone too. There was nothing left to fear. Reconstruction could start, and Trunks could start living as he wanted to--find a girl, marry, have children, train and get stronger. He promised he would never allow another threat like the androids to arise. Not in his lifetime. He would become a great hero, just like Goku had been, a defender of life and peace.
Trunks smiled to himself as he thought of Goku, but it was a sad smile. Now Goku was dead in both times and it was up to other to uphold and protect his legacy, up to Gohan and Trunks and other like them. He wondered for a moment if Goku was smiling down on them from those stars, or if he were too preoccupied with being dead. It didn't really matter, All Trunks wanted to think about now was the new freedom he had. After all, it was a happy day, and even though Goku being dead was a cause for sadness he didn't want his own happiness to be spoiled.
The youth looked at his watch. It was late now, past one in the morning, but he wasn't ready to go to bed yet. In all honesty he should have been resting for his journey the next day, but he was so glad to be alive and so excited to go back and set things right in the future that he didn't think he could sleep.
He continued the walk he was taking through Capsule Corp's yard. The first thing he would do when he got back to his own time would be to hunt down the androids, kill them, and then Cell. And when they were gone he'd come back to this time to give the good news. He wondered if he might be able to take Piccolo back to his time to revive the others, because one thing about the future hadn't changed--everyone was dead, and Trunks was lonely.
Suddenly the sense of a nearby presence hit him. It was dark and isolated as the night itself, angsty and fierce and full of regret. Trunks knew it by now the way he knew his own face; he'd spent a year locked in the Time Chamber with nothing but that essence all around him. He turned and saw Vegeta stalking through the shadows. The Prince was passing right by him, and yet he seemed to not see Trunks.
Actually, it was more likely that he did see Trunks but that he was ignoring him.
Trunks wasn't in the mood to be ignored. He called to him, "Heya...Dad..." His voice tapered off as the thought struck him that maybe Vegeta wanted to be alone.
To his surprise, Vegeta went stiff like he'd been caught breaking into a bank safe and turned around slowly, "Hn?"
"Oh. Uh, nothing. I was just saying hi."
Vegeta didn't answer. He didn't even move. There was something troubled in his spirit today. Trunks remembered what he had put on the line for him after Cell...he wondered if he were embarrassed now that everyone could see. He studied his father's impassive face, but as usual there wasn't a trace of emotion. Not even embarrassment. He wondered how Vegeta always managed to look so detached. Now suddenly, in Vegeta's presence, Trunks didn't feel carefree or happy. Instead he suddenly felt solemn and melancholy. It hadn't occurred to him yet that going back to his own time would mean leaving Vegeta here, that whatever bond he had managed to make with his father would be lost to time. He didn't want that, and for a moment he really considered never going back to the future.
No. There's no place for me here. I already exist here. And anyway, that would be selfish; Mom and the others...they need me...
"So...Cell's gone huh?" Trunks immediately felt stupid for saying something so obvious, "I mean, I'm kind of sorry I missed it."
Vegeta still didn't speak.
"I heard you helped...he'd probably have won if it weren't for you." Trunks felt like he was just rambling now. Maybe he should have let Vegeta go by without saying a word.
"Um, Dad? I just wanted to thank you...for what you did...I mean...you could have died." There was still silence and Trunks felt his cheeks flushing a little, "So thanks."
The Prince said nothing, just stared, almost like he didn't know what he was talking about.
Frustrated, Trunks turned away and started to walk again.
The voice was so sudden and the words so out of place, Trunks spun around and stared, wondering if he was just hearing things.
Vegeta was looking away, almost like he was ashamed, or like he didn't know where the words had come from. He muttered something Trunks couldn't quite hear.
"I said 'not used to these formalities.'" He looked to be at a loss for a moment, then he added, "They're idiotic. You shouldn't have to thank me. And I shouldn't have to say anything to it...but if I didn't you'd just walk away."
Trunks studied him a moment. "I guess so."
More silence passed between them and Trunks barely suppressed a sigh. It seemed there would always be this wall between them.
"You're going back in the morning."
It wasn't a question. Nothing was ever a question.
"The afternoon actually. I want to make sure I say goodbye to everyone."
Vegeta snorted but it was hard to tell what he meant.
For a long moment the two of them just stood, a few feet apart, both looking at the same stars, and Trunks wondered what he was thinking. His voice trembled as he spoke at last and he licked his lips, found that his whole mouth was dry, "Dad. Goku's gone. How's it feel...?"
"To be the last real Saiyan alive?"
Vegeta finally fixed his ebony gaze on his son, "Empty."
"I can't sense him anymore. He's gone. It's empty. What do you expect me to say? Imagine being the last human on Earth."
"I'm not human." Trunks said a little defiantly.
Vegeta laughed a little, and it sounded strange in the darkness. "I guess not. You're not really anything are you?"
The words hurt a little and Trunks felt angry. He looked away, really wishing he hadn't said a word to Vegeta. "I'm something. I'm here aren't I?"
The youth glared at his father, but he was shocked by the look on Vegeta's face; it was almost gentle, almost tender. And still something about the darkness in his eyes forbade that sentiment.
"You're not much really...here one minute, gone the next. It's like you're not here at all."
Trunks couldn't help wondering if Vegeta were drunk, but he knew he wasn't. He groped for words, "I'll be back. Soon."
"Hell, why do I care if you come back at all?"
It took Trunks a moment to realize that Vegeta hadn't said that he wouldn't care, that he was questioning why he did care.
"You shouldn't have come here Trunks. You really shouldn't have. All you did was get in the way the whole time."
The statement was so blunt that Trunks just gaped for a moment "Shouldn't have come? What do you mean? I had to come back! It was up to me--getting the medicine to Goku, finding the power to defeat the androids in my time...no one was going to do it for me, dammit! I did what I had to!"
Vegeta was impassive again.
"Don't you think...I was scared to death? Today? Yesterday? All of my life? I've been terrified ever since I can remember, but I came back because I had no choice! How can you say I shouldn't have come?"
The Prince glared at him, his face darkened by the shadows, "Shut your mouth. I didn't say I wish you hadn't."
Again, the simplicity of the statement left Trunks cold and for a long time he couldn't think of what to say or do. He shifted his weight a little and stared at Vegeta, unblinking, for several minutes before he said, "I don't understand you, do you know that? I don't understand you at all."
"No one does I guess. I stopped wasting my time worrying about that a long time ago."
"No. You don't get it. I want to understand you, I want it to make sense when you say things like 'you shouldn't have come here', but it just never does! I just don't get you!"
"I don't expect you to, that's why I never both explaining myself."
"How can you act like this? How can you pretend to not give a damn about me when..."?
"When what?" Vegeta's voice was a little harsh.
"Why did you do it today? Why did you put your life at risk when I was already dead? You shouldn't have done that. It's not even like you."
The Prince laughed a little, "You appreciate it though."
"I don't understand it."
Vegeta didn't answer, but he was smiling a little. Without warning, he reached over and clocked Trunks in the jaw. Not very hard, but enough to knock him off balance.
"Hey!" Trunks righted himself and shoved Vegeta on the shoulder, "What the hell is wrong with you?" He rubbed his lips a little, testing to see if there was blood.
Vegeta kept his own balance easily and stepped forward, punched his son in the gut, just enough to knock the wind out of him, then he pushed the boy to the ground and stood over him, his eyes appearing as nothing more than empty sockets.
Furiously, Trunks leapt to his feet and swung at his father, missed when Vegeta tilted his head to the side, but managed to clip him on the shoulder with the next blow. The Prince twisted away from him and kicked at him. Trunks just barely blocked the attack, felt his wrist bruise from the strength of the blow. He didn't have time to dodge the next punch, and this one found home right in the center of his face.
Blood gushed from his nose, but Trunks didn't bother holding it or wiping the blood away. Instead he focused completely on Vegeta, dove at him, fists cocked, flung one, then the next, one after another, a barrage of fists. Some flew by Vegeta's head, the other's the Prince caught or blocked and then returned some of his own. In a few minutes they were caught up in a full-blown fight, exchanging fist for fist, tasting blood, giving bruise for bruise.
At first Trunks was angry and bewildered by Vegeta's behavior and even felt a little afraid, mostly because he wasn't sure if the Prince would actually try to hurt him, and if he did he didn't think he had it in him to kill Vegeta if he had to. Soon though, the youth felt his spirits beginning to soar, his soul uplifting, and he was full of excitement. He looked into Vegeta's eyes and felt something he'd never experienced before, a kind of thrill and camaraderie.
He liked the way he felt just then, he liked the feeling of fighting a good, fierce fight with another Saiyan. It took him back to the day he and Goku had skirmished as super saiyans. It was a kind of brotherhood. Only this ran so much deeper, threaded through his very body like a drug. It was in his blood to fight, and this man, this was his father, the man who should have taught him to fight, who knew everything about fighting and about technique. In many ways it was the most difficult fight he'd ever been in, but that only boosted his spirits more and made him want to laugh into the pure, cool night, just for the sake of laughing. Just so he would know that he was alive and free and Saiyan.
The fight ended just as quickly as it had started. No one won. Rather, both of them seemed to sense that it was over, that the goal had been reached and the dream achieved. Vegeta stepped back, folding his arms almost immediately, not showing any signs of fatigue, but Trunks dropped to the grass, breathing heavily and smiling. Without thinking about it he started to laugh. Suddenly he did understand, he knew everything--he knew that Vegeta was not really the only Saiyan left, that he still had someone left, and he knew that his father loved him, in some strange, almost indifferent way, as if he'd simply allowed the instinct to take over and hadn't really bothered fighting it. He knew that attacking Cell hadn't been for the sake of vengeance or for pride or for strength. It had been for him. Just for him. Indiscriminately. A display of justice and righteous anger and love. There was nothing more to it. Vegeta hadn't hoped to win. He couldn't have hoped that. But something in him had been provoked, something in him had remembered and been awakened.
Trunks gradually stopped laughing, then he lay still under the stars, staring up, grin still on his face. "Dad, who taught you how to fight?"
"My father I suppose. My bodyguard a little. Frieza a little."
"Frieza? Was he a good teacher?"
"Hell no. He was damn strong."
"Did you ever think," Trunks rolled onto his side "that you'd be able to defeat him?" He thought of how he'd spent his whole life thinking of what it would feel like to finally beat the androids, and now he'd finally get to feel that. Vegeta never would.
"When I was younger. Childish dreams really. When you're young there's always some unachievable dream you want to live up to. In the end I was as mortal as Frieza was."
For some reason the words made Trunks sad. That sadness wasn't in Vegeta--all he could feel in him was acceptance and some form of peace, but Trunks still felt that pang of loss for him. Maybe it was because, in many ways, he was still a child. He sighed and flopped onto his his back again. "Dad...I'm gonna' miss you really bad."
"I'll miss you too." Vegeta's voice was so soft that it almost seemed he wasn't talking to Trunks at all. Maybe there were a lot of faces and a lot of ghosts in Vegeta's past he was talking to. Maybe some part of him was even talking to Goku.
"Before I go...since I won't have a chance to say it tomorrow...I just want you to know," Trunks rose at last and looked Vegeta in the eyes, "I just need you to know..."
The Prince looked back at him, unassuming, almost as if he knew what he was going to say, and then there was sadness in him, a great, terrible, overwhelming sadness that overtook every part of his dark soul and seemed to cry out from the depths of that hidden heart.
Trunks smiled and stepped forward, put his arms around Vegeta's neck and pressed his face to his shoulder and held on tight for a long, long moment, breathing the scent of his father's clothes, memorizing what he felt and what he smelled. Tears came to his eyes and he could barely suppress a sob. He held on so tightly that he was a little afraid he'd snap Vegeta's spine. He felt the Prince's hands touch him on the back, run up the shoulder blades lightly. For just that tiny instant it was like they'd never been apart, and it was like they'd never see each other again.
"I love you."
"I know you do. I'm not stupid."
Trunks choked on what was half a laugh and half a sob.
Vegeta pulled away and stepped back. He looked deep in Trunks' eyes; one hand brushed against the youth's jaw and across the chin, his breath was warm on Trunks' face, his eyes were poignant and fierce, and for a moment there was the hottest glimmer of flames in them. Then, just like that, he was gone. He turned on his heel and strode away, through the garden, across the yard, onto the patio and into the house.
Trunks watched him go and smiled to himself.
That warmth and peace the bond he felt had brought was still in him, filling him so there was room for little else in the world, and for the first time in his life he felt like he was Vegeta's son.