A/N: The events of this story take place immediately following the 2008 Dragonball Z special: "Yo! Son Goku and his Friends Return!" If you haven't seen it, you can find the episode easily on Youtube.
Vegeta was pissed off.
For those who knew the Saiyan prince, they would all agree that this seemed to be his natural state of mind. On this particular occasion, however, the source of his tantrum and the reason for it both seemed a bit off, even for him. He was leaning over the table and shouting into Goku's face about a piece of sushi the other man had stolen from his plate. The two had transformed into their Super Saiyan forms and were close to coming to blows over the issue.
Everyone was starting to look decidedly uncomfortable until Chi Chi grabbed a huge plate loaded with chashu pork and egg rolls and slammed it down between the two combatants. "Will you both calm down? There's plenty to go around! I swear, sometimes the pair of you are worse than Goten and Trunks! Fighting over food . . . Ridiculous!"
The brunette was the only person on the planet who could intimidate Goku and he immediately dropped his empowered form and humbly sat down. "Sorry, honey. Sometimes I get carried away. It's really good food! Right Vegeta?"
The Saiyan prince was glowering at Chi Chi, not happy with the interruption, and looked away with a sniff as he powered down. His gaze fell on the nearby table and he met the eyes of the younger man sitting there and abruptly turned to leave, declaring, "The rest is yours, Kakarrot. I'm done."
"Wow! Thanks!" the fighter immediately began to tear into the repast with renewed enthusiasm.
Bulma watched her husband leave the pavilion and walk out into the darkness. The attacks by Abo and Kado had really done a job on the lighting and she quickly lost sight of him among the rubble of what had once been "The Mr. Satan's World-Saving Defeat of Majin Buu Super Gorgeous Hotel". Everyone else eased back into their conversations as if the interruption had never happened, but Bulma was troubled by her husband's behavior, amateurish even for him. Turning in her seat she smiled over at Gure, a petite, featureless grey alien who still appeared to be fretting over the display at the Saiyans' table. "Hey, don't worry, they do that a lot. It's kind of a game between them."
"I'm glad that my brother has made friends here," commented a soft voice and Bulma forced her eyes to meet those of the man sitting next to Gure. It was difficult for her to accept that the figure sitting there was Vegeta's brother, Tarble. It was a name that she had never heard her husband mention before this day.
The age of the newly-arrived Saiyan looked to be a mystery. Bulma knew that it wasn't possible for Tarble to be any older than thirty-nine, but he still looked like some lanky teenager. He stood about four-foot-five and barely filled the outdated armor that had once marked the soldiers of Frieza's army. Standing next to his brother, he made Vegeta look enormous. The heavy forelock falling across his high forehead added to his youthful appearance. Bulma decided it was time to do some fishing. "Yes, he has, although he would never call them that. He's been on Earth for about twelve years now. We've been married for eight. How long have the two of you been married?"
(In the background, pretending to meditate, Piccolo's left brow twitched as he listened in on the conversation with his extra-ordinary hearing. He figured that Bulma had all the subtlety of a Mack truck driving through a field of daisies.)
Tarble reached over and grabbed his mate's tiny hand and squeezed it tenderly. "Almost fifteen years. Fifteen wonderful years, haven't we, Gure?" The little female tittered in agreement.
Nope, definitely not a teenager, Bulma thought. "Where did you two meet?"
A troubled expression crossed Tarble's face. "King Vegeta sent me to Gure's world just before our home planet was destroyed," he said slowly.
A grave expression came over Bulma's face. "Were you sent there to kill everyone?"
The younger man's eyes widened in horror. "By the stars! No!"
"Goku," she motioned to the fighter who was still gobbling down massive amounts of food. "He was sent here as a baby to purge Earth but he injured his head and lost his memory. He grew up thinking he was human."
Tarble appeared to consider that. "You were all very fortunate. This appears to be a beautiful planet. It would have been a shame if it had been destroyed. No, I was sent to Gure's world . . . for my own protection."
"I don't understand."
"It's complicated," the Saiyan said, dropping his eyes. "I'm really not comfortable talking about it."
"Fair enough," Bulma said, trying to hide her disappointment. "So . . . when was the last time you and Vegeta saw one another?"
"I don't want to talk about that either."
That was the end of Bulma's attempt at civility. She slapped both palms down on the table, making heads turn (and Piccolo smile), and then slumped back in her seat with a huff. "I swear! Getting you damned Saiyan princes to talk about yourselves is like pulling teeth!"
Tarble met her eyes again. "I'm not a prince."
At this point, Krillin decided to lean in and join the conversation. Behind him, Yamcha, Oolong and Master Roshi were practically falling out of their chairs as they eavesdropped. "You're not? But Vegeta-"
"The son of the king isn't born as 'Vegeta'. It's a name that has to be earned. My brother was far stronger than I was. That's why he received the distinction and I didn't."
"It's more like a rank," Bulma marveled. "I never knew that. I just assumed that all male sons were born with that name."
Tarble favored her with a bitter smile. "It would have made things rather confusing."
"I suppose it would have. So, were there any others? Siblings, I mean, before your planet was destroyed?"
"None that lived," Tarble said enigmatically, and that stopped the flow of questions for awhile.
Trunks and Goten had been absent for the show of the dueling fathers and that was just as well. It would only have sparked a fevered debate about whose dad was stronger and that would have led to them brawling, as usual. Instead, they were playing among the ruins of the hotel. Abo and Cado had set their scouters aside as they devoured Chi Chi's radishes and, like true thieves, the boys had snatched them and were now trying to get them to work.
"Trunks, I can't get mine to show English. This stupid language looks like a game of Tetris!" Goten objected, fiddling with the earpiece and trying to tighten it. Its predecessor's head had been as round as a basketball.
"Me, either. I think it's called Galactic Standard. My dad can speak that, you know."
"Cool! Hey, can you read my power level?"
Trunks played with the buttons on the side and blinked as the symbols suddenly converted to text he could read. "It's over 9,000!" he yelled.
"What? It should be higher than that!" the boy bawled.
Trunks was laughing at his own genius wit. "Oh chill, I was just joking!"
"It isn't funny," a voice spoke up directly behind him and he squawked in surprise and jumped around. His father was standing there with his arms crossed. For how long was anybody's guess, he hadn't tripped either scouter's proximity alarms. Trunks tried to scan him and came up with zero and he knew that his dad's power level was higher than that. A lot higher. "Wow, these are kind of useless," he said with disappointment, taking it off.
Vegeta took it from him and appeared to examine it. "They're useful as a translator, that's about all. Once everyone learned to submerge their power levels it made them redundant." He surprised both boys by suddenly crushing it in his hand and scattering the pieces to the ground. "You, too," he said to Goten. "Destroy it."
"Aw," the youth muttered but he didn't argue with the older Saiyan. He wouldn't have dared. He took it off and dropped it to the ground, stomping down on it with his foot.
"Why'd you want to do that for, dad?" Trunks asked, voicing both boys confusion.
"They're relics of the past. They have no place here," he said, staring over at the gazebo where the others were still assembled. It looked as if the pre-opening gala was finally breaking up. People were on their feet and milling about in clusters and that was usually a precursor to disbanding. That was good. He was anxious to get away from this place.
Trunks followed his gaze. "So I have an uncle, huh? That's really cool. At least he's not a psycho like Goten's uncle was."
The other boy bristled. "No fair, Trunks. I didn't even know my uncle Radditz!"
" And Gure . . . she sure looks funny but she seems really nice. Does that make her my aunt?"
"It doesn't make her anything!" Vegeta snapped at him.
Trunks recoiled in shock. "Are you angry at me? Is it because of that fight against those two soldiers?"
The Saiyan glowered at him and then passed his cold gaze to Goten, who noticeably swallowed. "The both of you were cocky and reckless. You didn't take the threat seriously at first and that could have been a fatal mistake."
"But you redeemed yourselves in time to vanquish your foes by working together," Vegeta finished in a softer voice. He was still miffed how easily Goku had tricked him and launched the finishing blow against their enemy, but he knew his frame of mind wasn't either boy's fault. At least they'd managed to hold their own. He hadn't even had time to fire off a single shot. "You did fine," he said to Trunks and glanced over at the other youth, offering him a curt nod. Then he turned, folding his arms, and gave the crowd at the gazebo his full attention. Everyone was exiting the structure, as he had hoped, but his eyes narrowed when he caught sight of his woman with two figures in tow. "No," he muttered under his breath. "Oh no, not this time. Not them!" he stalked off, grumbling.
Goten sidled over to his friend and whispered, "Uh, what's wrong with your dad?"
"As long as he's not mad at us, who cares?" Trunks said, elbowing his friend in the ribs and darting playfully away when the younger boy swung for him. The game was back on.
Piccolo was eyeballing Abo and Cado, who were snickering at some joke Oolong was telling them, and glanced at Goku. "So, what're we going to do about those two?"
The younger fighter shrugged. "It's not like they can do any damage here. They're pretty weak."
"To us," the Namek corrected. "According to Tarble, they were causing a lot trouble in space."
"Well, we can destroy their space pods," Krillin ventured. "That way, they can't leave Earth."
"But where would they go?" Yamcha asked. "They aren't staying in my place, that's for sure."
Goku paused for thought for a moment then turned towards the pair and yelled, "Hey! Abo and Cado! How would you like to work at my farm? You can eat all the radishes you want!"
"Goku!" Chi Chi hissed.
"Aw c'mon, honey. It'll be fun to have them around."
"They'll eat up all the profits!" the brunette squalled.
"All the radishes we want?" Abo piped up, followed by Cado who added, "Really?"
"No more rations! No more rations!" Apparently pickings were slim in outer space. The pair hugged one another and engaged in a twirling, happy dance.
Krillin whispered to his best friend, "You hated farming, didn't you?"
"You have nooo idea," Goku quickly shot back. For him, anything remotely resembling work was something to be avoided at all costs.
"Well, that's settled," Piccolo rumbled approvingly. His sharp eyes darted ahead where Bulma was walking with Tarble and Gure. "Is anyone else bothered by the fact that Vegeta has a brother that none of us knew about?"
"He didn't even tell Bulma," Krillin said. "And I've got the impression that she knows a lot more about his past than we ever will."
"No doubts there," the Namek agreed. "I would have understood it if the younger one had been more powerful but Tarble is extremely weak. He couldn't be more than 1,000." That other one, however . . . Piccolo eyed Gure carefully. The little female appeared innocent enough but everyone had sensed an enormous power signature when the pair had entered Earth's orbit, and it hadn't come from Tarble. The situation warranted close watching.
"It's probably out of shame," Yamcha snorted. "Knowing that prideful son-of-a-gun, he probably disowned the kid just so it wouldn't be an insult to his superior royal image."
Piccolo shook his head. "It's not shame." Vegeta had caught up to the trio and his voice immediately elevated to a raging tirade. "It's anger."
"You invited them back to Capsule Corp., didn't you? Didn't you!" The prince accused. His fists were clenched by his side and he glared first at Tarble, who dropped his eyes, then at his own wife who easily met his raging glare.
Bulma beamed happily at her husband as if he had brought her roses instead of attitude. "Of course I did! They've been traveling in those cramped space pods for over a year. A nice long rest in a warm bed is the least I can offer them, and it'll give us all time to catch up-"
"There will be no rest. There will be no catching up," Vegeta interrupted. "They will return to where they came from. Immediately."
Tarble took one tentative step forward. "Brother, please-"
His response was a glowing hand less than one foot from his face. "We've dealt with your threat. Your purpose here is done. It's time you left," the prince said with deadly venom.
Goku immediately phased in and grasped Vegeta's wrist and he was rewarded with a vicious uppercut that knocked him backwards a few steps. He looked back at his friend in shock, rubbing his jaw. It was rare enough when someone managed to get in a blow during a spar but Goku had been expecting resistance and still hadn't seen the punch coming. He took a look at Vegeta, a really good look, and realized he hadn't seen such rage in the smaller Saiyan since Vegeta had succumbed to being Majin two years ago. It wasn't a comparison that brought him any comfort. "Listen, just calm down-"
"Stay out of this, Kakarrot! This is a-" Family affair, he was going to say but couldn't force out the words. Because they were wrong. Everything about this was so damned wrong that he could barely think straight. "This is none of your business."
"Well, it certainly is mine," Bulma said in a firmer voice, beginning to get a grasp that this was becoming a serious matter. "They're my brother and sister-in-law and they're coming home for as long as they want."
"I won't stay under the same roof as him! I won't!"
"Fine, be that way," Bulma sighed.
"You think I'm bluffing?"
"It's one of the things you do best!" she suddenly shouted in his face. "How many times have I heard that threat over the years every time I so much as throw a party? You piss and you moan and, in the end, you stick around. This isn't any different so- yes, I'm calling your bluff, tough guy!"
Vegeta's eyes narrowed to bare slits and his face turned alarmingly red. All of the fighters felt his ki suddenly surge and began to get into defensive stances but the prince blasted off into the night sky without another word or gesture, setting a distinct course for Capsule Corp.
"Uh, Bulma," Krillin was the first to speak up. "Do you think that was a smart thing to do?"
"Oh, don't mind him," she dismissed with an absent wave. "He'll spend the night sulking in the gravity simulator and then come down to breakfast like nothing's ever happened. That's what he does."
To Piccolo, it seemed that the heiress wasn't taking the situation quite as seriously as her husband but wasn't sure it was his place to point that out. Vegeta's temper was shorter then his height and he was renowned for his violent tantrums. The Namek eventually conceded that, of all of them, she probably knew him best.
There were a few more minutes of small talk and then everyone slowly began drifting away to different points of the compass to return to their own lives. Before leaving, they all thanked Mr. Satan for providing the opportunity for the much-needed get-together but the old blowhard was still mourning the loss of his precious hotel and had lapsed into a depression. Gohan and Videl barely managed to pry his arms off of the lop-sided pedestal that had held his gold statue (now crushed beyond recovery) and lead him to the car.
Goku fetched Goten and told the boy that Abo and Cado were coming to live with them. Goten hadn't been too keen on the idea until his father added that they were going to take over the chore of tending to the radishes. His father's son in all the ways that mattered, the youth was ecstatic at the prospect of more time to play. Chi Chi was doing a slow burn as she watched them cheer and then fixated her disapproving glare on the aliens who ambled up to join them, still giggling like a couple of school kids. It would be at least a week before the Son family would realize that the radishes were like a drug to the two, causing them to be constantly stoned out of their simple, little alien minds.
Krillin, Android 18, Marron, Oolong, Turtle, and Master Roshi all climbed into their battered car in preparation for the long trip returning to Roshi's Island. Not able to hold in his keen wit, Krillin made the mistake of bragging to his aloof wife that he thought Vegeta's brother was a hell of a lot more stable than hers had turned out to be. He spent the next two nights on the couch regretting the innocuous observation.
Piccolo, Tien and Chiaotzu all parted company and returned to the relative obscurity that was their lives. Yamcha had been engaged up until he'd made the grave mistake of admitting to his fiancée how excited he was to see Bulma after these two years. That had lead to an interrogation that made the retired fighter and baseball star now wonder if he would find the locks to his apartment changed when he got back.
Bulma watched all of her oldest, dearest friends leave one by one until it was just her, Trunks, Tarble and Gure left behind. "You'll really like Capsule Corp.," Trunks was telling the pair. "It's huge. There's a pool, tennis court, several training rooms, and we even have a chef on staff to cook for us now. Mom doesn't like to brag but we're the richest family on the planet."
"Trunks, hush," Bulma said, rummaging in her purse and throwing one of the Hoi-Poi capsules she found. Several feet away, a large hoverjet appeared in a cloud of smoke.
"Amazing," Tarble admitted, eying the sudden appearance of the craft.
The heiress was positively glowing with pride. "That's just a small sample of my father's technology. Since I took over the company, we've branched out to the domestic and automotive sectors."
"It appears that my brother was very lucky to have met you."
"Yes, he most certainly was." Vegeta's drafting contributions had helped that expansion considerably but she didn't add that. Her husband wanted that particular talent to be kept as private as possible and she was respectful to obey his wishes on the matter. It often bothered her that all everyone ever saw in public was the arrogant, vain prince façade that Vegeta had spent a lifetime perfecting. They didn't know how different he was at Capsule Corp. when it was just the three of them together. She was ecstatic by the prospect of these two new arrivals seeing that rare side of him.
The small Saiyan fixed her with an odd look. His eyes were a lighter brown than his brother's and lacked the intensity and anger that usually dominated Vegeta's gaze. He didn't have any hint of that exclamation point between his thick brows, either. "I'd like very much to hear of that meeting. I'm sure it's a fascinating story."
"That's an understatement but not tonight. I'm sure we're all exhausted from this day's excitement."
"Not me!" Trunks exclaimed.
"Oh please, you'll be asleep before we land in the compound," Bulma said with a laugh, leading them into the craft. Once everyone was settled, she got them in the air and entered their course home. When she set the jet on auto-pilot, she went back to check on her guests. Trunks, as she had predicted, was already sprawled out on one of the bench seats in the back. He wasn't asleep yet, but he was close. Bulma retrieved a blanket from the storage locker and covered him with it. There was a mumbled protest, " . . . 'm not a baby . . . ", before he ducked his head beneath the covering and began to snore. "Told you so," she whispered, smiling at the sight.
Tarble was observing everything with his quiet, peaceful manner but it was his wife who gave voice to her mate's whirling thoughts. "He's beautiful. The eye color and hair are definitely yours, but he also looks like . . . his father."
"He's a powerful little fighter, too, and smart as a whip. Too smart for his own good, sometimes," Bulma said, sitting in the seat across from them. "Vegeta and I are very proud of him."
"Vegeta with a son. And married." Tarble gave his head a puzzled shake. "It's hard to take in."
Bulma's smile sagged. "You met him, didn't you? I mean, before Frieza died." She knew how out of control and crazed her husband had been while under the tyrant's rule. Hell, she had seen it first hand and barely escaped with her life. Vegeta's penchant for violence and cruelty had been legend in the galaxy.
"He was-" Tarble became lost for words and Gure finished the sentence for him, "-terrible."
"Yes, he was," Bulma said, surprising them both with a curt nod. "But since those awful years working for Frieza, he's died and come back to life twice. His soul was judged and considered good by a power greater than you can possibly comprehend. He's no longer the man you knew."
Tarble was openly gaping at her. "How is all of that possible?"
"It's a very long story. Too complicated to get into tonight, that's for sure. Once everyone's had a decent night sleep, I'll clear my schedule for tomorrow and try and force Vegeta out of his precious training simulator. Then we can all sit down and have a nice long chat, just like families are supposed to do," Bulma told them pleasantly. "I'm so happy that you came to Earth, you know that? Vegeta's always seemed, oh I don't know, like such a lonely person. When he comes around I'm sure he'll be as pleased to have you here as I am."
Tarble offered her a wane smile and when it seemed apparent that Bulma was waiting for more, he was relieved when an alarm blared from the cockpit and she had to excuse herself to take the controls. Gure glanced over at Trunks, making sure he was still asleep, before she murmured to her husband, "Maybe she's right, Tarble. If he's changed this drastically, perhaps now the two of you can finally make your peace with what happened."
The small man's face screwed up in anguish and he cast her a solemn look. ". . . Would you?"
The female alien glanced down at her hands. "That's not for me to say."
"You saw him. He barely spoke to me. He can barely look at me!" He shook his head sadly, "No, Gure, he's still furious and I can't really blame him. He has every right to be angry."
"But it's not your fault," she whispered.
"It's not his fault either," Tarble sighed and looked over at Trunks and then towards the cockpit where Bulma was arguing over the comlink with someone who was in her airspace. They were both beautiful people, with gentle, innocent natures, a credit to this planet called Earth. How could Vegeta, the Dark Prince and scourge of the Cold Empire, have accepted this place as a refuge? There were so many questions Tarble wanted answered that he wouldn't have left this world even if he'd been physically forced to do so. He wanted to believe if Vegeta had changed this much then maybe . . . just maybe . . .
"We'll just have to wait and see what happens," he finally said and then turned to look out the port side window, cutting off further conversation on the matter.
Structurally, the yellow domed building that was the Capsule Corp. headquarters really wasn't that remarkable. It wasn't until you stepped inside that you got a grasp of the scale and realized it for the technological marvel it truly was. Everything was state-of-the-art and some of the products hadn't yet reached mass production. There were pressure plates in the floor that automatically lit each area any person entered; sensors in the wall that scanned a person's body temperature and automatically adjusted the heat and humidity; every room had a voice-activated module to act as an in-house intercom or outside landline; little robots buzzed back and forth on a cushion of air, each serving its own unique function: dusting, vacuuming, cleaning windows, etc.
Bulma gave them the grand tour starting with the atrium. Dr. Briefs' dinosaurs and other eclectic creatures had long since been relocated to an island reserve and the area was now a peaceful park-like setting for Capsule Corp. staff to enjoy on their breaks and time-off. Gure seemed particularly pleased with the tranquil nature of the place and took her time smelling the flowers and running her dainty hands along the grass and leaves of every specimen she discovered.
From there, Bulma showed them the gym, filled with the most expensive training gear in existence (and most of that Bulma had to redesign or reinforce so they could hold up to the wear and tear of a certain Saiyan); the indoor pool and Jacuzzi; and the kitchen. That area had undergone the most radical remodeling, an essential decision once Trunks began growing and consuming almost as much food as his father. Gone were the days when Mrs. Briefs would spend the entire day cooking, all without one word of complaint. Bulma's parents were now enjoying their retirement in Sarasota, Florida and that left a serious void in the kitchen that neither Bulma nor Vegeta were prepared to tackle on their own. There was now a preparatory room for a professional chef and two of his personal assistants, complete with a walk-in freezer, two double refrigerators, and three stoves. The dining room was now separate, with a table long enough to seat a dozen quests, and displayed Bulma's mother's collections of bone china, designer plates, and sumptuous knick-knacks behind elegant oak cabinets.
The family room was on the main floor and all of the furniture was up to date and sumptuous. Dominating the far wall was a gigantic HD flat-screen television and plugged into it were all of the top gaming platforms for Trunks and Goten to enjoy at their leisure. The general décor radiated comfort and relaxation, making the atmosphere very inviting to the casual observer. For Bulma, Vegeta and Trunks, it was home, but for her two new guests it was simply a marvel.
Leading them up the curved staircase, Tarble and Gure were taken to the guest quarters and they accepted the first suite that was offered. By now they were becoming a little overwhelmed by their surroundings after more than a year trapped in a space pod hurtling through barren space, and just wanted a chance to relax and unwind. It had been a very stressful day, and Tarble admitted as much.
Bulma more than understood. "Have a nice night. I'll see you again at breakfast tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock in the dining room. If you need anything before then, just ask the computer interface by the door. We have service bots that can get you whatever you want."
"Right now, that would be sleep," the short man said with a laugh.
"Well, if you decide to do anything more," she passed him a suggestive wink, "The family quarters are far down the hall. We won't hear anything. I promise!"
Tarble and Gure both looked at her in confusion. "Like what?" the little female asked innocently.
Bulma blushed. "Uh, I just meant, I- Well, have a good night you two!" she made her retreat back down the stairs before either could respond.
Tarble watched her leave and then closed the door, looking around the huge room. There was a king-sized bed that was about three feet off the floor. Tarble pulled a chair up beside it so that his wife could use it to climb up rather than try and scale the bed as if it were a mountain. She was excitedly checking out the adjoining room and turned on the television, recoiling back with a squeak when a commercial suddenly blasted out of the speakers: "-Come on over to Crazy Jerry's Jell-O Emporium! Our prices are INSAAAAANE!"
She dropped the remote and slapped the indentations beside her head that were her ears. Tarble came up beside her and shut it off. "I think we've enjoyed quite enough of Earth culture for one night, my love. Don't you think?"
"It's all so different from our world," she marveled. "Harmony and chaos all rolled into one. Perhaps that's the appeal to your brother. Maybe that's why he's stayed here."
Tarble looked unconvinced but Gure didn't know what more she could say to placate her mate. She could only entwine her frail arms around his waist and he hugged her compulsively. Together, the odd pair stood like that amidst the unfamiliar surroundings for a very long time.
The alarm clock on Bulma's night stand went off at six-thirty the next morning and she treated the intrusion as she did every time it blasted at her; by bringing her fist down on the snooze button and falling immediately back to sleep. She had never been a morning person and only tolerated it now because of corporate demands. In the 'old days' (an expression she used very sparingly), she would have puttered in the lab until dawn, sleep until supper, and then go right back at it, eager to repeat the pattern.
When the clock went off again, she slapped it quiet and raised herself into a sitting position, blinking blearily at her surroundings. She glanced at the right-hand side of the bed and saw it hadn't been disturbed. Vegeta had either spent the night in the gravity simulator, slept in one of the spare rooms, or was down in the Research & Development labs. All three scenarios were so common she immediately forgot all about her errant husband and forced herself to her feet and shuffled to the bathroom, fixated on a life-renewing shower.
By eight o'clock, she was as ready to face the day as she ever would be; at least once she had her morning cup of coffee (no caffeine-free crap for her). Antony, the chef, and his assistants had been preparing breakfast an hour before and the smells of bacon and cinnamon-spiced pancakes greeted her as she came down the staircase. Trunks was already seated at his place at the table and wolfing down an entire box of Fruitloops out of a bowl that could hold two liters of milk. Tarble and Gure appeared to have arrived only a few minutes before Bulma and looked unsure of what to do. "Sit down and help yourself," she told them, reaching for the mug of coffee that was at her setting and drinking it as if it were a life-saving elixir. "We're not much on etiquette here."
"Where's dad?" Trunks asked between spoonfuls.
"I guess he's too busy to join us," she said shortly, dishing some scrambled eggs onto her plate and adding a slice of toast.
The boy frowned at Vegeta's empty place setting and offered, "I'll go find him if you want."
"I'm not going to have you late for school playing Hide-and-Go-Seek with your father." She looked over at her guests and saw that they had seated but still looked uncomfortable. "Is everything okay?"
"It all looks . . . wonderful," Tarble admitted. "I'm not sure where to start."
"Just have a nibble of anything that looks-"
"It'd be a shame if he didn't get any of this great breakfast," Trunk nagged. "I'll be really fast, mom. I promise."
Bulma rolled her eyes. "Oh fine! Check the usual spots. Hurry back."
"I will!" he said, and was gone in a flash of super speed.
"Is everything all right?" Gure asked hesitantly, reaching for a croissant. She didn't know what it was, but its quarter-moon shape enticed her.
"Vegeta missing breakfast is more common than you'd think," Bulma said, buttering her toast. "He tends to over-train and forget the time."
"What does he need to train for?" Tarble inquired. He had just discovered the taste of bacon and was now eagerly loading his plate. "I saw him in the state of the Legendary. What more is there than that?"
"There are actually two more levels beyond the Super Saiyan form. Vegeta can make the second and now he's working on reaching the third. I think he's getting close."
Tarble dropped his fork and Gure fumbled with her Danish. They stared at the heiress in shock. "He has that much power?" The small Saiyan gasped. "How is this planet still intact?"
"I told you: He's changed," Bulma said, this time with a hard edge to her voice. Forcing herself to calm down, she admitted, "I'm not ignorant. I know what he did to hundreds of worlds. He burned entire civilizations to the ground. That was over twelve years ago and a lot has happened since."
Tarble wanted to believe her so badly that he ached from longing but the doubt was plain on his face. He was about to voice his concerns when Trunks suddenly appeared next to his mother, breathing hard and his hair mussed from running. "I can't find him, mom. I don't think he's here."
"Then he's probably out jogging or-"
"No mom. He's not answering me," Trunks persisted, gesturing at his forehead. "That usually means he's out of range."
Or he's ignoring you, Bulma thought, and knew that both were out of character even for Vegeta. She rose from her seat and glanced at her guests, "Excuse me for a minute." She went into the next room and walked over to the nearest communication interface. "House."
"Comm enabled," a pleasant sounding computer-voice intoned. "Inquiry?"
"Call Vegeta's cell."
There was a pause of exactly one minute before the response was, "Prince Vegeta's cell phone is unresponsive."
Bulma wasn't surprised. "Ping the GPS."
"The cell phone is within the compound. Room 201."
Second floor, first room. Their bedroom. Bulma knew she would have noticed it if it were lying in plain sight and went upstairs to find it. When her search proved fruitless she said, "House. Dial Vegeta's cell phone again. Keep it ringing."
There was a muted ring tone that led her to the bureau. She slid open the first drawer and found nothing but underwear and socks. The second was empty of Vegeta's clothes with only his cell phone in their place. There was text message on the tiny screen, just three distinct words:
I wasn't bluffing.
Trunks had finished his bowl of cereal and now was working his way through an enormous pile of hash browns smothered in ketchup. Between mouthfuls he managed to keep his guests entertained, "-should have seen him. He looked like a big pile of used chewing gum in a pair of M.C. Hammer balloon pants. Me and Goten had to use the same fusion technique against him that we used against those Abo Cado losers. He put up a heckuva fight, though. We died."
"You . . . died?" Gure repeated. By now she had given up any pretense of eating and was staring at the boy with all of her attention, elbows resting on the table and her hands beneath her chin. Tarble was picking slowly away at his meal, paying keen attention.
"Yep! Me, Goten, mom, the whole planet went kablooey. Dad wished it all back," the boy said matter-of-factly, gulping down some orange juice. "He's really smart like that. Goku is great at fighting and all, but my dad has the brains. We'd probably all still be bored out of our minds in Heaven if it hadn't been for him."
Tarble asked, "When did this happen?"
"Two years ago yesterday. That's why we were all together when you found us. It was kind of an anniversary and Hotel opening in one."
"And Vegeta was there . . . celebrating . . . with his friends."
"Uh huh," Trunks said, oblivious to the stunned look passed between husband and wife.
Bulma came in through the door, cutting off the entertaining narrative. "Did you find him?" Trunks asked eagerly.
She flashed him an easy smile. "No worries. I got a hold of Videl and she said that she'd seen your father sparring with Goku. That's why he didn't answer you. Do you remember what happened the last time you interrupted one of their fights?"
Trunks blanched and squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. Last year, he'd been excited about a particular toy in the store and had sent a mental shout to his father. Vegeta had been in heated combat with Goku at the time. Trunks' mental distraction had been just enough for him to miss blocking a vicious kick to the groin. A vicious Super Saiyan kick. He had been laid up for nearly a week.
"You're going to be late for school, young man. If I get another late slip, your father will start escorting you to school." Bulma cocked a blue eyebrow, "You don't want him to do that, do you?"
"No, I sure don't!" Trunks said, jumping off the chair and quickly retrieving his back-pack. He lingered long enough to spare a glance to Tarble and Gure, "I'll see you guys after school. 'Bye," in a blur of movement, he was out the door and racing across the compound.
The instant he was out of sight, Bulma's carefree expression left her face and became remarkably cold. Tarble might have looked young, but his maturity was evident when he said calmly, "You lied to the boy because you didn't want him to worry. What's my brother done?"
"I think a better question is . . . What did you do to him?" Bulma said, struggling to maintain her composure. Her blue eyes were fixated on Tarble's gentle brown and unwavering in their intensity. "He's packed up and left. I don't know where yet, but that's not the point. He wouldn't have left his home without a damned good reason. I want to hear what happened between the two of you. Right now."
"It's extremely complicated-"
"You're not leaving this room until you tell me," Bulma said, sitting down in her chair and crossing her legs. She looked like she was prepared to stay for as long as it took.
"They only met the one time," Gure blurted out. "I wasn't there but I heard about it afterwards. All my people know the tale."
"Vegeta went to your planet," Bulma realized. "Why?"
"Can't you guess?" Tarble said slowly, "He came to kill me."
Next chapter: Tarble recounts his very first encounter with Vegeta.