A Perfect Day © 2009 Darke Angelus
It was all so different now...
Goten sat on the hill that overlooked his house and the valley beneath Mount Pazou and watched the sun come up. He had gotten home in time for his mom's curfew but slipped out again shortly before dawn to savor this rare solitude. His head felt clear (if slightly hung-over) and the realization that he was finally finished with exams, college selections, and – the ultimate prize- graduation, seemed to suddenly hit him over the head like a blow from Majin Buu.
Everything was different now.
The trial and tribulations of high school were over: No more juvenile pranks, no more peer pressure, no more worrying about appearances, especially no more fretting over those 'popular' girls with their gaggle of friends who could make or break a poor guy with some piece of deliciously evil gossip (true or made-up). Goodbye stupid class assignments, small time school politics, and boring extra-curricular activities. Farewell to hall monitors and bullies, chaperoned school dances, miserable PE, and crappy cafeteria food. Aside from one or two teachers who stood out from the rest, Goten could happily forget the majority of instructors who just seemed to be going through the motions of their job.
He was on his own now. Free to make his own choices and have direction over his own destiny. Free...
Goten had watched how his older brother, a fighter with the potential to be stronger than their father and Vegeta, bent his own ambitions and desires to accept what their mother thought was best for him. Gohan became the scholar she had relentlessly pushed him to become. He really didn't have any other choice. With their father continuously absent, someone in the household had to be able to support them. The youngest son knew that to escape that same fate, he would have to move. It saddened him to have made the decision but he wasn't going to settle into a life living in a home next door to his mother, like his older brother had done. He wanted to travel first, not marry the first woman he fell in love with and settle down. His parents had done that at eighteen. Gohan had been twenty. Goten planned on staying single as long as he could. ChiChi had become a grandmother to Pan; the pressure was off him to be any kind of a role model.
Especially considering who their role model had been...
Goku was sleeping in the hammock when the teenager returned home at two in the morning and the youth, while surprised to see him still sticking around, had no desire to disturb him. A few hours later, as he slipped from the house, he noticed that his father was gone. No big surprise there, either. Goten still loved his father, make no mistake, and he still marveled over the man's sheer power and expert fighting prowess, but he had lost a great deal of respect for him all the same. It was another side-effect of this growing maturity he was dealing with: He could now view his parents as fallible, normal people who made mistakes. Often bad ones. They weren't deities to worship, or demons to fear. They were simple people trying to struggle and cope with their hectic lives just like everyone else. Good or bad, they simply tried to do their best.
'Your father has an amazing knack for popping in when he's most needed, playing the selfless hero, and disappearing again. How can anyone really hate a guy like that?' Piccolo's words came back to him and the Namek had been right: You couldn't hate a person like that, even if you tried. Even Vegeta had a grudging camaraderie with the personable fighter and the prince didn't like anybody, outside of his own family.
"I wish..." he muttered and went silent. How many times had he lied awake at night thinking about the Dragonballs and the wishes he could make? 'I wish my father was home'; 'I wish my parents were happy'; 'I wish I could live at Capsule Corp.'; "I wish I were normal'. There were so many that went through his mind, changing in range and scope as the years went by. The Dragonballs were meant for serious damage control, not adolescent dreams, but it was hard to convince any teenager that their problems weren't the end of their world. Goten had realized this before acting rashly but, still, he often wondered... 'What if-?'
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" commented a voice beside him, making him jump.
Goku was kneeling in the grass, deliberately out of his peripheral vision for who knows how long. He had exchanged his usual orange gi for his light blue casuals and both knees were already wet with early morning dew. He was holding a handful of wildflowers, no doubt a peace offering for ChiChi. "Right after we got married, your mother and I stood here on this peak for hours, searching for the perfect spot to build our dream home. I grew up around here and couldn't think of a more beautiful place to live and raise our children. Yeah, it's isolated, and rural, and over an hour away from the Western Capital, but to me it was heaven on earth."
Past tense, Goten thought to himself as he listened. He's using past tense and not even aware of it.
"Things were just perfect for a few years and then Radditz came and everything suddenly changed: I died; I ascended to Super Saiyan; I encountered villains that could destroy this beautiful planet a hundred times over, I... changed and, I guess, maybe not for the better." The fighter moved closer and sat beside his youngest son, staring at him with eyes that were dark and sorrowful. "Fighting became more than just a hobby, it became my life and you, and Gohan, and ChiChi all suffered for it. Vegeta was right: I'll never get any of that time back. I missed watching you grow up for the first seven years of your life. I missed you being born-" his voice went hoarse and he scrubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand and betrayed a strangled sob. "-I'm so sorry, Goten!"
Shocked beyond words, Goten could only put an arm around his father's shaking shoulders. "You... you did the best you could, dad-"
He violently shook his head. "No, I didn't. I let you down so many times. You're all grown up now and I missed it. I missed everything! If you hate me, I-I can understand-"
"I don't hate you," Goten choked. "I could never hate you. You're my father."
Goku stared at his son, there were tear tracks down both of his cheeks and his eyes looked rheumy. Neither could ever remember a time when the man had ever shed tears. "I'm not a good one," he whispered, and he clutched his chest as if the words were tearing his heart.
"You're my father," Goten repeated and hugged him. "That's the only thing that matters."
Clutching desperately at his son, Goku thanked him over and over and promised that he was a new man now. That things would be different and he would make it a point to put his family first. He would stay close and not stray an inch.
It lasted for one week.
Vegeta was in the process of cleaning out one of the storage sheds on the Capsule Corp. grounds when he suddenly stopped what he was doing and cocked his head to the side like a puzzled dog. He was picking up a muffled thump-thump-thump bass beat that seemed to be getting closer and it wasn't until he caught sight of a shiny red sports car that he realized the sound's origin. He went back to what he was doing with a disgruntled snort. He was angry and out of sorts and didn't appreciate any unannounced visit, particularly not from Kakarrot's spawn. It only served to remind him that, even after seven days, his system still hadn't completely recovered from his Instant Transmission endeavors on Goten's graduation day. Bulma had the Gravity Simulator locked out, and his son wouldn't spar with him. He was crawling the walls out of sheer boredom.
Goten pulled up to the gate on the property, the car's stereo blasting away, and pressed his thumb in the security pad. Bulma's system did a quick scan to confirm the youth's identity and promptly opened the gate on a timed circuit that allowed the car to pass before slamming shut again. It had only been in the last five or so years that such precautions had become necessary as the Briefs family tried to maintain their privacy, particularly since Bra's birth. At least once a week, some ambitious paparazzi managed to breech the system only to find Vegeta waiting for him at the main building. It was a miracle that the Saiyan hadn't killed any of the intruders but Bulma feared her husband's patience was running out and kept making improvements to the design on a nearly daily basis.
Goten pulled up to the huge domed building and beeped the horn, making the Saiyan wince. He still had a headache and the added noise over the vehicle's straining speakers was almost more than he could bear. He made a slashing gesture across his throat and Goten immediately snapped off the stereo and turned off the car. The muted tones of the city filled the void and the Saiyan closed his eyes to savor the quiet.
"Hiya Vegeta!" Goten said, walking over.
"Trunks isn't here," came the expected response.
"I didn't come here to see him. I wanted to talk to you."
Vegeta didn't respond and hauled a massive steel girder out of the shed and hoisted it to his shoulder without any visible effort even though it had to weigh over three tonnes. He carried it over to a nearby dumpster and threw it inside the container as if it were a twig. "I'm not in the mood to talk," he grumbled and walked back to the shed for a repeat performance.
Goten reined his enthusiasm back and watched the older Saiyan work for a few minutes. It was rare when Vegeta engaged in what he called "menial labor", and it was even rarer to see him bare-chested and wearing jeans. Clearly, he had been at this for a few hours if his disheveled appearance was any indication. "Is there anything I can do to h-"
"No. Go in the house, go get something to eat, go anywhere but here. I have to get this done." Bulma had hired a salvage company to clean out the shed but as soon as she left for work, Vegeta excused the crew to do the work himself. "Light duties" be damned. The crew was due back in a few hours, Bulma shortly after, and it was the Saiyan's intention that his wife be none the wiser to this deception.
"Really, Vegeta, it won't take long-"
"Sonova-" Slamming an old refrigerator down to the ground, the Saiyan whirled on him. "Fine! Spit it out and get lost!"
Unfazed by the tantrum, Goten said with a smile, "I want to thank you."
"I know, I know! You like the damned car-"
"That's not what I'm talking about."
The expression on Vegeta's face immediately became guarded and wary. Pulling a rag from his back pocket, he wiped the grime off of his face as he collected his thoughts and finally said in a calmer voice, "What, exactly, are you referring to, boy?"
"I know that you had a good talk with my dad and it really seemed to straighten him out. He was like a different man this week. That was really a better present than the car. Thanks, Vegeta."
The Saiyan offered him an acknowledging nod of acceptance, relieved that the teenager didn't appear to know anything about the Instant Transmission debacle. "Is your father still home?"
"No. He went back to Africa this morning," Goten said, but he didn't appear troubled by this fact. "He promised to come back and visit more often-" he saw Vegeta's mouth open and cut in with; "Yeah, I know. I won't get my hopes up or anything-"
"I was going to say that I believe your father will hold true to that promise," the Saiyan told him honestly.
Goten blinked in disbelief at the shorter man. "You do...?"
"Kakarrot has played the act of the clown for too long but it's just that: An act. Your graduation day was the first time he realized it. For all the insults I hurl at him, I know he isn't stupid. He realizes that he let you down and he will make up for it, in his own idiotic way, I'm sure."
"Wow, that's good to hear. My mom and even Gohan figure that he'll just go back to... y'know, forgetting all about us again."
"He won't. It takes one Saiyan to know another; even if the other Saiyan is a specimen of lowly Third Class breeding," Vegeta said haughtily. "So... are we finished here?"
The teenager looked back at him in confusion. "What?"
"I'm in the middle of something. Is the reason for this interruption now over?"
"Oh!" Goten looked at the shed and saw that it was still half crammed with junk; old machinery of Dr. Briefs that had seized up with rust and disuse; gadgets that Bulma had stopped tinkering with over the years; old engine parts and other debris. There was a lot of work left to do but the youth hesitated in answering.
"Goten..." there was a cautionary note to the Saiyan's voice meaning he was a hair's breadth to returning to his "Bad Man" mode and the teen knew he'd better speak quickly.
"You'll probably think this is pretty silly, but before my dad came back, I used to wish..." Goten lapsed into silence and chewed nervously at the inside of his cheek before blurting out, "I'd see Trunks with you and I used to wish that I could live here and be your son, too." He blushed and stared down at the ground for a few seconds and then braved himself to make eye contact.
Vegeta was staring back, his expression surprisingly neutral. "Ironic," he muttered.
"Trunks once said the same thing to me about your father."
The teenager openly gaped at him. "Trunks actually said that? To you?!"
"It was a bad day," was all Vegeta would say of the matter. *
Goten waited for more but saw that the older man had lapsed into moody silence and it gave a moment for the youth to examine him. Vegeta was vastly different from his own father just as Piccolo had said; As different as night and day. It wasn't hard to tell who belonged to the darkness either. Vegeta's temper was as short as his height and he could be intimidating as hell. With his shirt off, Goten caught sight of numerous faded scars that the Saiyan had acquired during his thirty years in space. It looked as he had endured a great deal of heavy combat, and they were years that he never talked about. He was of royal blood, a strategist, intelligent enough to give Bulma a run for her money, insanely powerful, sarcastic, and seemingly never happy about anything.
However... Goten had spent enough time at Capsule Corp. over the years to know there was a different side of the brash, often obnoxious, alien. When he was alone with Bulma or with his family Vegeta laughed, and quite often (a sound that had startled the teenager the first time he heard it). And he had a wicked sense of humor when the mood struck him (Trunks had an entire repertoire of raunchy jokes committed to memory that would make even Bulma squirm). Most surprising of all, he was exceptionally patient and gentle where Bra was concerned.
Goten genuinely liked him and was grateful that the man had been around to provide a much needed father-figure while his own had been absent. Vegeta had even given him what Gohan labeled the "Know your enemy" speech ** when he had hit puberty (from that day on, girls had never quite looked the same...). "For what it's worth, Trunks was wrong," he offered.
"I don't need any reassurances from you, boy," came the scathing response.
Goten sighed. "Can I at least give you hand moving out all this junk? There's a heck of a lot there for just one person."
Glowering at the teenager, Vegeta turned and considered the shed, still over half full and it was getting late in the day. He had taken too many breaks as his strength waned and had fallen drastically behind. "Just a second," he grumbled, pulling his cell phone out of his back pocket to check the time. "Damn it. I might just have to take you up on-"
Flinching in shock, he fumbled with the phone and looked up to see Bulma hovering overhead in her personal jet, leaning out of the open pilot door and glaring down at him. Goten distinctly heard him mutter, "Ah shit," as she landed on the lawn and jumped out. His muscles started bunching up as if he were about to engage in a battle and he raised a finger in warning to his advancing wife. "Don't you dare start bitching at me-"
"What the hell is this?!" she yelled, waving her arms at the half-empty dumpster. "Where's the crew I hired? Why haven't they finished? And what are you doing out of bed?"
"I can't rest anymore! I told them to get lost so I could do the job myself!"
"Great idea, Mr. Wizard! From the looks of things you bit off more than you could chew, didn't you? Get in the house!"
"Back off, woman. I'm almost done!" he snarled and stalked into the shed in an obvious retreat.
"Oh, don't you turn your back on me, buster! I'm not through with you!" Bulma said and chased him inside the building.
There was more yelling, some name-calling, and then... ominous silence. Goten knew it was time to leave when he heard Bulma say in a breathless voice, "You know, you look damn sexy in those jeans..."
And that was followed by the rare sound of Vegeta's low, husky laugh.
Summer passed on its inexorable pace until the nights began to linger with that subtle chill in the air that suggested the next progression of seasons was well on its way. Leaves were turning color and the valley beneath Mount Pazou looked like it was on fire in resplendent gold, crimson, and orange hues. Peppered here and there were tendrils of smoke as chimneys flared to life in other farmsteads, chasing away the early morning chill.
Goten stood on the rise where he often came to study or think and considered the view with a sad smile on his face. His bags were all packed and already loaded in the car. He would be moving into his room at the student dorm at the Western Capital campus late this afternoon. As promised, Bulma had placed him in a well-paying laborer position at one of Capsule Corp.'s factories near the university that revolved perfectly around his academic schedule. He would be starting his first day of work there tomorrow and his heart was racing; whether from fear or anticipation he couldn't be sure. He couldn't believe all of this was happening even though he'd had the last two months to prepare. All of a sudden things seemed to be progressing much too quickly: new home, new school, new job, new life. It was overwhelming for any eighteen-year-old, and the hybrid was no exception.
Thankfully, Trunks had gone through all these trials the year before and it had helped to prepare Goten for what to expect. Despite their power and wealth, Bulma and Vegeta were not coddling their son and Trunks was taking Business and Economic courses at the university while interning at the Headquarters building. There would be many evenings ahead for the two best friends as they compared their hectic schedules over a beer at the local pub.
Taking a long inhale of the fresh air, Goten released it with a smile and ambled down the hill. His mother was cooking a large dinner as a send off and Gohan, Videl and Pan were there to see him off. Goku had held true to his promise of visiting them regularly, just as Vegeta had said, and the last visit had been two days ago; a wonderful day of sparring in the yard like old times and watching a movie in the living room, just like regular folks. Goten had no expectations of seeing his father back so soon so he was amazed when he saw the fighter happily wrestling with Pan on the front lawn.
"Hi son," Goku said, pinning Pan to the ground with just his pinky finger. The little girl was thrashing like a hellcat but couldn't break the hold so she settled for kicking at the lawn in a tantrum and bawling. "ChiChi told me that this was your last day at home. I figured I'd see you off."
"That- that's wonderful!" the teenager said and ran over to him. "I didn't think you'd come back so soon."
"I made a promise," the tall Saiyan told him seriously. He let go of Pan and the little girl immediately tried to punch his face. He deflected it easily. "Two visits a week, plus all holidays and special occasions. If this isn't a special occasion, I don't know what is."
"We're glad to see you," Gohan said, leaning against the front door, his arm casually slung around Videl's small waist. ChiChi rushed out the door and leapt into Goku's arms and kissed him, and the fighter swung her around in a circle and hugged her close, laughing.
Goten observed his family with a lump in his throat, committing every single detail to memory. It would be his happy thought whenever the future got stressful and he needed an image that would relax and cheer him up. His father was home, his parents were reunited, his brother and his family were healthy and happy.
It was, finally, a perfect day.
* Fanfic reference: "MIRROR, MIRROR": Part Three
** Fanfic reference: "TWO SIDES TO A STORY": Chapter 10