Note: Yes, this is AU after Buu.
Thirty days. That was how long Son Goku had lasted in his home after the Buu fight before he had found a new adventure. No one was particularly sure what that adventure was, either. One day he had a little conversation with King Kai, and the next thing they knew he was so far off the planet that no one could even sense him. He had said no goodbyes before he had left, offering only a slight wave to his eldest son before disappearing again.
That had been two months earlier.
Gohan rubbed his tired eyes as he plowed through his history homework at the kitchen table. The work itself was not particularly difficult, but the seventeen year old had a very long day and, quite frankly, was borderline exhausted. A couple weeks after his father had left, Gohan had taken up a part time job in order to help out with the family finances. They had managed to scrape by before he had, but he could see the huge amount of stress it had been having on his mother.
Chi-Chi had taken what little prize money had been left over from Goku's championship and had been stretching it to provide for her family for almost ten years. On top of that, she did every possible thing she could think of to save up for the future of her children. She washed their clothes by hand using water from local stream and dried them on a clothes line. She grew crops out behind their house and harvested as many seeds as she could from one season to the next to try to expand their food budget. Whenever clothes were torn up, she stitched them back together with her own hands. Goten remained home schooled, and Gohan's education was provided for by scholarships. And to add to their meager savings, Chi-Chi made rugs, throws, and custom clothes, and sold them to the people in the local village.
After watching his mother work all day long almost every single day just to make ends meet, Gohan had gone out to find work. At first he was just going to check out the 'Help Wanted' signs in the village, but Bulma had caught on to what he was doing and had offered him an intern position. The teenager had protested at first. Gohan couldn't help but feel like he was only being offered the job because the heiress felt sorry for him.
But Bulma had insisted that if the boy applied for it, he would get the job based on merit alone. It took a high GPA and several letters of recommendation to get considered for the entry level job, but Gohan could meet every one of those requirements.
At his own insistence, Gohan got no special treatment. He did the filing, data entry, and entry level work that the other interns did. And just like the other interns, he called her 'Boss' when she came down to check on them once a week. It was the only time they ever saw each other, and they kept it strictly professional. It wasn't a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination, but it paid significantly more than a restaurant or retail job would have. Besides, it looked great on a college application.
However, after eight hours of school, five hours of work, and making sure to spend some time playing with his little brother, the poor boy often found himself worn out by the time he even began his intense homework load.
"It's the moments like this," he grumbled to himself, "I really wish I had just let everyone on Earth know that I killed Cell."
"And why would that be?" a voice softly asked from behind.
With a start, Gohan whipped around. "Geez, Mom, you almost gave me a heart attack!" he softly responded.
Chi-Chi chuckled lightly as she sat across from her son. It was nearing midnight, and the only lights on in the entire house were the ones Gohan studied by and a single lamp in Chi-Chi's bedroom. The light cast a slightly eerie glow on them as the mother slowly got to her feet and put the tea kettle on the stove. "I thought you had the power to sense people coming," she gently teased.
Gohan smiled at her. "Well, it doesn't count when it's my abnormally soft stepping mother sneaking up on me as I try to figure out how the rest of the world sees the Cell Games."
Rolling her eyes, Chi-Chi sat back down. "I'm afraid I can't help you there," she responded. "What does the book say?"
"Not what actually happened, that's for sure," the teenager grumbled, flipping the page back to the beginning of the section. "I'm trying to figure out if he's supposed to have done it out of honor, duty to his fans, or just because it was a tournament for him to win."
"Well," his mother said, stretching out her legs, "you could just write a tell-all exposé about how he was completely useless and just got in the way of the real fighters."
Chewing lightly on the back of his pencil, Gohan stared down at his notepaper. "It's tempting," he agreed. "And if it weren't for the fact that he's my girlfriend's father, I might actually do it. Unfortunately, I made a promise to her not to publicly humiliate her father, and unless you want me to go back to being a dateless wonder…"
"NO!" Chi-Chi called out, immediately covering her mouth in embarrassment over how loud her outburst had been. The last thing she wanted to do was wake up Goten. Once he was up, that boy stayed up. Fortunately, he was an extremely heavy sleeper.
Trunks had even given a very entertaining lecture and demonstration on the subject at a sleepover the previous year.
Clearing her throat slightly, the graying mother got up and smoothed out her skirt. "What I meant," she calmly said as she went to prepare her tea, "was that you and she are an adorable couple. You two are meant for each other. And I want those grandchildren, so you'll just have to study the lies."
Gohan groaned and leaned back in his chair. "You couldn't at least wait until I was out of high school before you started pushing for grandchildren?"
"No," she smoothly answered, sitting down again with a gently huff. "No, I could not."
Gohan glanced at his mother, and really took in her appearance. In the last two months, her hair had gotten significantly grayer. The lines around her eyes were more pronounced, her movements were a little slower, and she had been tired a lot more often. She was only thirty seven years old, but she was starting to look like she was nearing fifty. And the simple act of making her tea seemed to leave her slightly out of breath.
"Mom?" he gently asked. "Are you alright?"
Hesitantly, Chi-Chi looked her firstborn in the eye. "I've been better," she admitted. "It's a little later than I like to stay up, and I think I might be coming down with something. I've been a little off my game lately."
Gohan reached out and put a hand on his mother's shoulder. "Why don't you take a day for yourself tomorrow?" he suggested. "If you keep doing everything, you're never going to get any better."
Sighing, she slid her hand on to his and gave it a soft pat before nudging it off. "Maybe I'll just to the laundry and your brother's schooling tomorrow. I can put everything else off for a day."
"Those first two can, too," Gohan pointed out. "The laundry will be just as dirty on Friday as it will be tomorrow, and we can give Goten a 'play day' at Capsule Corp."
Chi-Chi lowered her eyebrows. "First of all, I'm not happy with the idea of letting Goten slack off with his school work. I don't know if you've noticed, but he's not quite as good at it as you were at that age. You took three years off and didn't miss a beat. He takes a three day weekend and forgets math."
The half Saiyan chuckled softly to himself. As much as he loved his little brother with all his heart, it was no secret that academia was hardly the kid's strength. At seven years of age, he still needed some help with reading and basic arithmetic.
"Secondly," the mother went on, "if I put off the laundry for one day, then I'll have twice as much to do the next day."
"I'll help out with the laundry over the weekend," Gohan assured, "and I think Goten can miss one day now and make up for it on Sunday."
The woman looked into her teacup, considering the idea for a moment. "I'll agree to the laundry," she eventually consented, "but I'm going to at least give Goten a half lesson tomorrow. He can play with Trunks and Bulma."
The thought immediately crossed his mind that Bulma would be at work all day, thus leaving the boys in Vegeta's care, but he decided that his mother did not need to know that at the moment. The last time Vegeta had been with both of them for a whole day, he had ended up locking them in the gravity room with him to keep them as contained as possible. Chi-Chi had not been happy about that, so Gohan figured that a little ignorance would be good for his mother's bliss.
"Okay, but you have to promise to take the rest of the day off," Gohan pushed, giving his mother a mild glare. "One day of rest is not going to kill you. You really don't look that good."
"Thanks," she sarcastically answered.
"You're welcome," Gohan replied with a smug look on his face.
Glaring at her son, Chi-Chi sipped at her tea. "You know, I'm starting to think that Trunks is a bad influence on you, too."
"Actually," Gohan corrected, "I got that one from Krillen. So technically, he's the bad influence."
Looking exhausted, Chi-Chi got to her feet. "I'll make a note of everyone you're not allowed to be near ever again in a couple days," she jokingly said. "But I am really tired, so it will have to wait." She walked around the table and kissed her son on top of the head. "I'll see you in the morning, sweetheart."
"Good night, Mom," he softly answered.
"Gee, Mom, this smells great!" Goten cheered as he hopped into his seat at the breakfast table.
Chi-Chi gave her youngest son a smile and ruffled his hair with her fingers. "Aw, thank you, sweetie," she said. She stepped back over toward the stove and pulled the porridge off the heat and counted her blessings that her son would almost always be happy with what she offered. In fact, with the exception of lima beans, the boy would eat just about anything with a smile on his face. "Where's your brother?"
"Right here," Gohan called out, jumping down the staircase as he toweled off his hair. Fast as could be, he popped the towel into the laundry hamper off in the side room before joining his mother and brother in the kitchen. "Sorry about that," he apologized. "I slept late."
"It's true," Goten confirmed, nodding enthusiastically. "He broke the alarm clock again, and I tried to wake him up, but he just kept on sleeping and mumbling things."
Chi-Chi shot Gohan a mild glare, and the teenager quickly held up his hands in defense. "I'll fix it, Mom, I swear!"
The mother just let out a tired sigh as she stirred their simple breakfast in the pot. She really did not want to spent money on a new clock for the boys, but it was hardly lost on her that Gohan was already stressed out more than a seventeen year old boy should be. The last thing she wanted was to make him repair his clock on top of everything else he was doing. "Don't worry about it," she gently said. "I think I have a spare one around here."
"Really?" Gohan asked.
"I'll look for it later," she assured. "But right now, I know two growing boys who could use a nice healthy breakfast!"
The next half hour was spent happily, with Goten telling his mother and brother all about what he was hoping to do with Trunks that afternoon. Chi-Chi laughed at her little boy's antics, and promised to drop him off absolutely no later than one. Gohan was then forced to swear, under threat of pain, that he would remember to pick up his little brother after work and bring him home.
"Oh, man," Gohan gasped, looking at his wristwatch and shoving one last bite into his mouth. "I gotta go if I'm going to get to class on time!"
Goten rushed to the door after his brother, waving him off. "Bye, big brother!" he called out as Gohan took to the sky.
"Bye, Squirt!" he called back. "Bye, Mom!"
"Hey!" Chi-Chi shouted, breathing a little hard as she reached the doorway. "Promise that you'll take care of your brother!"
As Gohan shot off to the west, he called back, "I promise!"
With an appeased look on her face, Chi-Chi looked down at Goten. "Well, let's get to it," she instructed. "You've got your own studies to do if you want to go play!"
Bulma Briefs glared at the paper work at her desk. She really hated being the president of the company sometimes. Before her father had retired, the heiress had spent about half of her day in a lab, getting her hands dirty as she tried to make some wondrous new invention, and the other half doing whatever the hell she wanted. After taking over, though, she had found half of her day locked in her office with mindless paperwork, half of her day in the lab making sure that her real talents didn't go to waste, and half the day with her family. She knew that added up to three halves, and was mathematically impossible, but she was still convinced that those were the accurate ratios for how her days were spent.
She turned her glare to her clock and groaned loudly. It was almost four in the afternoon, and not only was she not almost ready to go home, she hadn't even had her lunch break yet.
"I really need to get around to inventing that time machine," she grumbled, angrily shoving the papers away and putting her glasses back on her face. "I really do not have time for this right now."
Groaning again, she slumped down in her chair. Not only had it been a particularly heavy day as far as politics and paper work had been concerned, but she was also having to function without a drop of caffeine. Three days earlier she had found herself holding a positive pregnancy test, and while the news had made her happy, the number of things she had to give up did not.
"I wonder if I shoot someone now, I can get a jury to agree that it was justifiable homicide," she muttered, strumming her fingers on her desk. She had been having mood swings off and on all day, and she really thought killing someone would make her feel infinitely better.
Rubbing her eyes, she leaned forward and rested her head on her impressively large desk. "I'm seriously contemplating murder just to lower my stress level…I have been spending way too much time with Vegeta," she groaned.
For what felt like the millionth time that day, the phone began to ring. "I'm not here," she muttered in to her desk. "I'm not here, I'm not here, I'm not here, I'm not here…"
Soon enough, it switched into her voice mail, and she sighed with relief. The last thing she wanted was to deal with another money grubbing investor or corporate shark thinking they could break her into selling off parts of her company. She would never bow to them, but that certainly did not mean that she wanted to talk to them.
Her moment of bliss was short lived as the phone immediately began to ring again, and again she let it go straight to voice mail. When it began to ring the third time in a row, she gave up on the idea of her pursuer just giving up. Whoever was on the other end really wanted to get a hold of her. Violently snatching at the phone off of the hook, she practically snarled in to it, "This better be important!"
"Hi, Aunty Bulma!" a cheerful voice called out from the other end.
Bulma sat straight up and immediately wished she hadn't. The headache hardly seemed worth it. "Oh, Goten, sweetie, how are you?" she asked. Suddenly, her eyes grew enormous. "Wait a minute, where are you? Aren't you with Trunks and Vegeta?"
"No," the boy hesitantly answered. "I don't know where they are."
Bulma's eyes narrowed dangerously. After all the stunts the boys had tried to pull on him the last time, Vegeta had sworn that if ever stuck in that situation again, the minute the boys acted up he was going to abandon them in the woods. If Goten was supposed to be with him, but had no idea where he was…
"I'm going to kill him," she growled. Cradling the phone with her shoulder, she pulled out a pen and a piece of blank paper. "Listen, honey," she said, trying to remain calm, "if you just tell me where you are, I'll come pick you up right away."
"What?" the high voice on the other side asked. "Oh, I'm just at home. Actually, that's why I called."
Bulma dropped the pen and leaned back in relief. "Thank goodness," she softly said. "So, what? Did your mom just make you study all afternoon, but you're ready to come over now?"
"No," he calmly answered. Bulma listened as Goten was clearly fiddling with the phone for a while before he went on. "I was wondering if I could talk to Gohan for a minute."
The scientist rolled her eyes and removed her glasses again, tossing them on her desk. "Goten, we talked about the rules before, remember?" she gently explained. "I know you really love your brother, but we talked about how when Gohan's at work, you're not allowed to call him."
There was a pause on the other end as Goten continued to play with the phone. "I remember," he eventually said, settling the phone in his hands. "But I was hoping that maybe I could talk to him anyway."
"Goten," Bulma groaned, pinching the bridge of your nose, "why don't you let me talk to your mom?"
"Well, that's why I'm calling Gohan," Goten explained patiently. "Mommy's asleep, and I'm really hungry, but I'm not supposed to touch the stove when Mommy isn't with me."
"Yeah," he kept explaining, his voice still level and patient. "She said she was kinda tired, and that she was gonna take a nap, but she said that right before she was gonna make me lunch, and that was a really long time ago, and I'm really hungry, but there's nobody here to help me with the stove, and…"
"I get it," Bulma interrupted, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Goten, have you tried to wake your mom up?"
Again, the phone shifted in the boy's hand. "I tried to," he genuinely said, "but I must be doing it wrong, because she's not waking up."
Slowly, Bulma sat all the way up in her chair. "Goten," she slowly said, "how long have you been trying to wake up your mom?"
"I dunno," he casually answered. "A couple hours?" He paused for a minute before adding, "Do you think giving her another blanket would help her wake up?"
"Another blanket?" Bulma asked, feeling her heart rate pick up.
"Yeah," he responded. "She seemed pretty cold, so maybe a blanket could help her wake up. Wait a sec, Auntie Bulma, I wanna go try that…"
Her heart shot to her throat. "Wait!" she called out, wanting to keep the boy on the line. "She…she's cold?"
"Yeah," he said again.
Bulma's hands began to tremble. "Goten," she softly started, "I want you to fly over to our house right now."
Goten blinked in surprise. "Um, Auntie Bulma," he hesitantly answered, "I'm not supposed to do that on my own…"
"I know," the blue haired woman interrupted, "but since your mommy isn't awake right now, and Gohan's busy, I want you to start coming over here. Don't worry, honey, I'll send Vegeta to meet you on the way as you come, okay? Don't worry, you won't do the whole trip alone."
"Well…I guess that makes sense," the seven year old agreed. "Do you promise that he's going to meet me?"
"I promise," Bulma assured. "But I really want you to come right now."
Goten only thought for a few more seconds before happily agreeing, "Okay! See if Trunks can come to!" A click on the other side indicated that the boy was done with the phone.
Bulma sat back and put her hand over her mouth. "Kami, no," she whispered through her palm. There really wasn't any other conclusion she could draw from that phone call. Chi-Chi had been out for hours. She was unable to be awakened. She was cold. It was so simple, but it had to be wrong.
Leaning forward, she unsteadily picked up the phone and dialed a rarely used number. "Pick it up, pick it up," she whispered. Her shoulders began to shake and tears began to form in her eyes. "Please pick up your phone…"
"You know that I never actually pick up that useless device," a deep voice spoke from behind her.
Whipping around in her chair, Bulma dropped the phone and jumped to her feet. With a sob, she wrapped her arms around her husband's neck and pulled herself close to him.
Chalking it up to a mood swing, Vegeta rolled his eyes. It had been three days since it had been confirmed that she was pregnant, but he had been suspecting as much for almost a month. Normally, her moods were easily predicted by him. He knew exactly how she would react to anything at any time. When she had first been pregnant with Trunks, though, her mood swings had been wild, violent, and completely unpredictable.
This new pregnancy seemed to be moving along almost exactly the same.
Vegeta didn't dare open his mouth, though. Regardless of the cause of the swing, he had learned very well that the worst possible thing he could do when she was having one was talk. It never mattered what he said, it always set her off again. So when she grabbed him, crying, he calmly held her and kept his lips sealed.
Only a few seconds later, Bulma stepped back and wiped the tears from her eyes. "Go get Goten," she said, trying to keep her voice level. "I told him that he had to come over and that you would meet him. Go get him."
The prince raised an eyebrow. Her words had been firm but controlled. That was unusual behavior for one of her mood swings. "Why can't the boy…" He stopped, mid sentence. The look in her eye was that of borderline desperation. Something was very wrong.