Author: Jacob M. Bosch

PART: 3/4

PAIRING: Vegeta/Bulma

Vegeta transported himself many kilometers from Capsule Corporation to one of the few places he was familiar with on Chikyuu-sei. A forest shrouded in darkness near the hovel Kakarott shared with his shrew of a mate and their child. Vegeta felt blood seep from cuts incurred from the ki blades soak into the fabric of his uniform. He remembered there was a river located somewhere to the north, deep in the woods, and concentrated until his ears picked up its near subsonic roar and let the sound guide him through the forest. Vegeta planned to clean the wounds then cauterize them if necessary.

Vegeta sensed quite a few creatures creeping just out of sight, no doubt attracted by the scent of his blood. None attacked him, perhaps sensing in their own way how difficult a prey a Saiya-jin prince would be. Vegeta reached the river within minutes. He removed his cloak then peeled off his uniform (gloves and boots included), folded each article and placed them in a neat pile on the ground beside him. Next, Vegeta calmly examined the cuts on his arms, legs and then finally the single laceration scratched into his right cheek.

After deciding they weren't life threatening, Vegeta knelt on the bank and started scooping up the cool water with his hand and cleansed his wounds.

Vegeta narrowly escaped what was almost certain death, and he knew it. Oddly, he wasn't angry the little warrior nearly killed him. It was a nice change of pace, actually. Clearly Krillin trained and developed new skills in order to confront him, to kill him. Usually it was Vegeta chasing after the brass ring, striving to conquer one supremely powerful opponent or another. His goals had become obsessions, bitter obsessions, in which he sacrificed all in order to obtain them. Nothing else mattered except crushing his enemies decisively, and quite fatally. Family, allies, friends (if Vegeta truly ever possessed them) meant absolutely nothing.

Had Krillin become such a person? Vegeta recalled Krillin's brutal attack on Kakarott. He'd meant to remove Kakarott from the battlefield, and succeeded admirably. Yet… Krillin had the opportunity to kill Kakarott but didn't take it. No, Vegeta ruminated as he continued to pour water over his cuts. The small warrior hadn't reached that final plateau of ruthlessness. I would have stuck that blade right through the fool's forehead if it meant removing him as an obstacle, Vegeta thought with no small amount of glee, his mind painting a pleasant picture of the other Saiya-jin with ki spikes sprouting out of his skull.

Once the bleeding stopped and Vegeta washed away what blood remained, he saw all the cuts were rather shallow. In a day's time he'd have red scars, but they'd disappear over time. All in all he'd come away from the fight reasonably intact.

Still, it was a close thing; I can't afford to face the little warrior again without some greater sense of his abilities. This power he has to anticipate my every move and duplicate his physical form exponentially will be bothersome. To make matters worse, Krillin's prowess never decreased during our battle. It was as though his techniques took no discernible effort to use.

Very bothersome, indeed.

Goku shivered as cold sweats racked his body. He never felt such intense pain in all his life. And the pain was increasing as the flesh around the ki in his shoulder began to swell. Irritating his wounds as the sinew pressed against the spikes and caused his nerves to howl. He could hear the others talking, knew in some vague way they discussed Krillin and what he'd done since reappearing after so many years.

Why?

Goku could not understand why one of his oldest and dearest friends did this to him. Oh, it hurt so much! Goku tried to focus, but it was difficult, so very difficult… But he was able to piece together his memories, let them slide back six years. After Dende agreed to become the Kami of Earth he restored and reprogrammed the Dragonballs, allowing Cell and Vegeta's victims to be wished back. When Krillin came back, he came back different, driven by a renewed passion to become stronger…

Change, Goku was not one to observe the passing of time and the changes time brought with it. He lived a simple life in the country, a wild nature where dangerous, man-eating creatures will wander near and consider you a potential meal. Civilization hadn't encroached on this place, the closest major developed city was hundreds of miles away, the nearest town almost twenty. Without civilization there were no new neighbors, except the children born to those already inhabiting homes passed down from generation to generation. The people here didn't go for change, preferring the quiet and bare essentials rural living inspired, so very little changed.

But when they did, the changes were swift, so quick, no one had the chance to rail against them.

And sometimes the changes can never be reversed—never be put right.

To the casual observer the Son family acted typically, adhering to behavior that seemed assigned to each as if by script. Chi-Chi yelled and complained; Goku dutiful accepted frying pans to the noggin and wiggled away to train, and Gohan was quiet and obedient, except when he, with half-hearted attempts, tried to insert himself back into the world outside his schoolwork. It was all false; a desperate and arduous façade they used to ignore a fateful event, which had left friends either dead or scarred forever.

Goku sat at the dining table and watched his wife amble about the kitchen and thought he should help out in some way, but he'd learned it was best not to insinuate his way into Chi-Chi's homemaking. Chi-Chi grew rounder everyday, but the pregnancy hadn't slowed the raven-haired woman down in the least. She cooked and cleaned and probably would do so right up until she went into labor (she'd never trust Goku with either task) and kept a stringent eye on Gohan's studies.

Goku lowered his gaze from the intense look of concentration on her face to her swelling belly. They hadn't decided on a name yet, for either a boy or a girl. The obvious choice in names if it was a boy was the very last one they'd choose. When Gohan was born Goku remembered it was one of the happiest times of his life, and Chi-Chi's as well. Maybe when this baby was born his family can find that joy again. Then they could focus on something positive, something that will inspire optimism long missing from their lives.

"Goku, you're in my way," Chi-Chi said.

Goku looked up. "Wha?"

Chi-Chi placed her hand on her hip, and she said, "I need to wipe down the table and mop the floor, and I can't do that if you're loitering, mister."

"Oh… Okay," Goku replied.

"Why don't you go outside," said Chi-Chi. Then after a slight pause she added, "Maybe Gohan wants to tag along."

Goku beamed at his wife. "I'll ask!"

Goku sat up from the table and jogged to Gohan's room. He found the boy sitting at his desk; two books open in front of him. One he read from and the other he scribbled on with a pencil. He looked very intent on what he was doing and Goku was almost hesitant to interrupt. But not discouraged—it wasn't everyday Chi-Chi excused the boy from studying.

"Hey, Gohan!"

Gohan ceased looking from one book to the other and stopped writing. He turned around in his chair and looked at his father. "Hi, daddy," he said.

"Chi-Chi says it's okay for you to take a break. I think we should go fishing, what do you say?"

"No thank you, I really need to finish this assignment."

"What kind of assignment are you doing?"

"An essay on the impact of Capsule technology on pre-industrial and modern economies."

"… That's… interesting," Goku said, though he had no earthly idea what Gohan was talking about. Gohan smiled warmly and started to turn back around, but Goku stopped him. Speaking with a low, sly tone, Goku said, "We can visit Piccolo."

Gohan bit his lower lip and looked off to the side then down at the floor. "I… no, I should finish… really," he said finally, then without looking at his father, Gohan turned back around. He seemed to stare out of the window for a few seconds before he resumed working.

"Okay, you go ahead. See you at dinner."

"Okay, dad," Gohan replied, his head swiveling back and forth between the textbook and the notebook, his pencil moving rapidly. Goku swallowed his frustration and quietly left the room. He walked back into the kitchen.

When Chi-Chi saw the expression on his face and she walked over to him and patted him on the shoulder. "Dinner's at seven," she said.

"Seven?"

Chi-Chi rolled her eyes. "Just be home by sundown. Really, Goku, would it kill you to wear a watch?"

"They fall off sometimes when I fly," Goku complained.

"Walking has been known to be a wonderful form of exercise."

Goku wasn't in the mood for training alone so he decided he had the right idea about going to see Piccolo, even if the idea came to him originally as a way to lure Gohan away from his studies. Piccolo was staying on Kami—Dende's—Lookout, he was there to help Mr. Popo train the newly appointed God of Earth. Because he'd flown at a leisurely pace, Goku reached the Lookout ten minutes after taking off from his house.

How Piccolo dealt with serving on the place he had been killed a few short months ago Goku didn't know. The Namek never seemed to have a problem with it outwardly, that Goku could tell and for that he truly admired Piccolo. Goku still experienced a violent chill whenever he set foot on the temple.

Speaking of chills…

The Lookout appeared empty. It was quiet and that bothered Goku more than anything, not that he expected Piccolo to be engaged in rowdy debates with either Mr. Popo or young Dende. Goku guessed the inhabitants occupied the temple proper so he walked across the white ceramic surface of the Lookout to the largest building among half a dozen smaller Bogota topped temples. Goku carefully opened the temple's stone doors then poked his head inside the room. The cavernous chamber was dark, and apparently empty. Goku held off from calling out, feeling more than a bit unnerved. He didn't think it had to do with Vegeta and what happened, he just had an unfocussed sense something was wrong. Goku pulled his head from the doorway and was about to close the doors when he felt a hand drop on his shoulder.

"Nnnahh!" he shouted and whirled about to confront his attacker. He found instead a rather inimical looking Piccolo. "Ah, Piccolo! I didn't know you were--"

"Evidently. Anyway, I'm glad you're here," Piccolo said. "It saves me the time and trouble of looking for you."

Goku relaxed and shook off his momentary alarm. "Why are you glad--"

"I didn't say I was glad," Piccolo interrupted.

"I pretty sure you did."

"Certainly not."

Goku frowned and thought back on Piccolo's words. "Nnnnnooo, as I recall you said 'glad you're here.'"

"I—never mind that now. Follow me," Piccolo said a bit testily, crossing his arms over his chest as he turned on his heel and walked away from Goku.

Shrugging, Goku followed.

It didn't take long for Goku to figure out where Piccolo led him. They headed towards the building the Room of Spirit and Time was in. Once there, they found Mr. Popo and Dende standing outside the large brown door separating the extra-dimensional space from their own reality.

"You wanted to show me the Room of Spirit and Time, Piccolo?" Goku asked.

"More rather what is inside, Son."

"Krillin-san is in there," Dende said worriedly.

"Training?" Goku always thought Krillin was a little afraid of the Room of Spirit and Time and found it hard to believe his friend was inside.

"No, Son, naturally he's chosen the room as a prime vacation spot."

"Okay, okay, don't havta be so sarcastic," Goku said glowering at the Namek-jin. "Krillin's training I don't understand why that's such big deal."

Dende stepped forward and stood in front of Goku, staring up at the Saiya-jin with wide eyes. "You don't understand, he's been in there for almost forty-eight hours!"

Goku's gaze shot to the door concealing the Room of Spirit and Time. "But that means…"

"In two hours the door will disappear and he'll be trapped inside forever," Piccolo stated.

Horrified, Goku ran to the door and wrenched it open and rushed inside the Room of Spirit and Time. The platform station the only place inside the room unaffected by its strange physics was abandoned. The food cranny, the bedroom space and bath showed no sign anyone had used them. Goku ventured farther out on the platform to the single step separating it from the actual environment of the Room of Spirit and Time. The room was at present in one of its more habitable periods. When fire didn't swirl across the white out landscape, nor did freezing winds wind through stalactites of ice springing up from the ground beyond. Goku searched the entire horizon and saw no trace of Krillin. But he couldn't be that far away, Goku thought. It'd be suicide to venture too far from the platform station. The sinking feeling, which had steadily been growing heavier and heavier in his belly, became an anchor of dread; Goku's feet lifted off the tiles of the platform and he started to fly into the dense atmosphere of the Room of Spirit and Time.

Piccolo's large hand was clamped over his shoulder once more, pulling at him with indelicate strength.

"Son, it's foolishness to go after him," the Namek said. "If we can't sense him at this distance that means Krillin is far enough away it will take hours to find him. Well beyond the time limit he has left."

Goku yanked away from Piccolo and whirled about to face the floating Namek. "Then why bother even wasting your precious time telling me if you didn't wanna help him?" Goku yelled.

"I didn't say we weren't going to help, but there are smarter ways than flying off blindly in any given direction."

"What do you think we should do?"

"I tried powering up my ki to its maximum so Krillin could use it as a beacon, but it didn't work…"

Goku caught on quickly. "But if I do the same as a Super Saiya-jin he'd be able to sense my ki from a greater distance."

"Yes. Also, you can maintain a higher output for a much longer period. And… you are his friend, he may respond better to you than me."

Needing no more explanation of the plan, Goku landed back on the platform and transformed right away. For the next hour and a half Goku maintained a constant outpouring of ki. With every minute that passed his hopes strained, because after every minute that passed Krillin didn't fly over the horizon.

After another twenty minutes went by Piccolo was screaming at Goku's back.

"Goku! There's no time left!"

"We can't lose him!" Goku shouted back. "I won't lose him."

"Baka!"

Goku continued to churn out energy, even as his body began giving in to fatigue. Soon his golden aura flickered sporadically and then ceased altogether. Leaving Goku gasping and drained. It was then Piccolo grabbed Goku's arm and yanked him around and plowed his fist into the Saiya-jin's jaw. Already weakened, Goku crumbled into Piccolo's waiting arms; he wasn't conscious when Piccolo carried him through the only door into the Room of Spirit and Time seconds before it faded away, and left only a plain, smooth wall in its place.

"Why?" Goku pressed his hands against the wall that once held the brown ornate door.

"He said he wanted to use it to get stronger," said Dende. "We didn't know he planned to do… what he did."

Goku took his hands off the bare wall but kept facing it, and he asked, "Is there any hope we can get to him again?"

"It would be possible with the Dragonballs," Piccolo answered, "to simply wish for another door, but another four months must pass before they recharge. By then one hundred and twenty days will have gone by…"

"More than a century for Krillin," Goku whispered.

"Also," Piccolo continued, "there is no guarantee the door will lead to the same section of space as--"

"Piccolo-san," Dende interrupted gently and Piccolo fell silent. Dende walked up to Goku, the tall, knotted wooden staff in his hand tac'ing against the tiles. He stopped and stared up at the back of the man's head, then said, "Forgive me, Goku-san. I waited too long before I grew concerned."

"No," Goku said as he turned about, "it's no one's fault, least of all yours, Dende. I just wish I knew why he took a risk like that!"

"I thought his motivations would be obvious," Piccolo said.

"What possible reason did he have to kill himself, Piccolo?"

"I don't believe it was his intention to commit suicide," Piccolo said. "Krillin chose to risk all for reasons similar to those which inspired Yamucha's decision not to return to the world of the living."

Goku turned his gaze away from the Namek-jin. I don't blame Gohan. Hell, I understand why he went a little wacky. Might have done the same myself…Goku remembered Yamucha's last words to them from afterlife. Spoken with peaceful resignation and no hint of bitterness, …But… I think that maybe it's my time.

"You're wrong!" Goku declared. "You don't know Krillin like I do! He has a greater will to live than anyone I know, he wouldn't have given up his life for more strength just for strength's sake!"

"I may not have known Krillin as long as you have but I died that day, too. I know how it feels to be murdered by someone you thought your ally."

"Wrong, I do know what that's like."

"You willingly sacrifice your life to save the world and those you loved, Son. That's very different than the humiliating death we suffered at the hands of Vegeta, especially in Krillin's case."

"What are you talking about?"

Piccolo's eyes grew wide for a split second before returning to their normal dimensions. Then Piccolo tried to mask his momentary surprise by folding his arms over his chest and turning away from Goku. Yet, Goku could still see Piccolo was uncomfortable and hiding something.

Goku got in front of Piccolo, knowing Piccolo's dignity would not allow him to avoid his confronting gaze. "What did you mean by, "especially in Krillin's case", Piccolo?" Goku asked.

"It's not my place to say."

"Please, Piccolo, if you know something that can help me understand why this happened you have to tell me!"

Piccolo and Goku held eye contact for several moments before Piccolo looked away, but for only a second, then met the Saiya-jin's gaze again. He released a breath that wasn't quite a sigh and not quite a growl. "I'm not sure how to explain it, Tenshinhan might better convey the human aspect of what Krillin went through," Goku started to protest but Piccolo held up his hand and cut the man's words off before they began, "I didn't say I wouldn't tell you, Son. Just that I cannot fully judge Krillin's emotional state and I may be wrong. It is," Piccolo shifted uncomfortably again, "not my area of expertise as I said.

"As you know Tenshinhan and I remained on the Lookout when Vegeta and Trunks left to face Cell and you and Gohan began your special training inside the Room of Spirit and Time," Piccolo began. "We watched Vegeta locate Cell, no large accomplishment considering the bastard was blowing up dozens of small islands at the time. The battle began and Vegeta took no time gaining the upper hand. He toyed with Cell briefly—I believe in hopes Cell was stronger than he appeared to be—but he dispatched the android when it became clear Cell was no match for him. It seemed the threat to Earth was finally over. While Krillin and Trunks congratulated Vegeta the androids tried to make their escape, the female carrying the giant as she flew away. Vegeta noticed and blocked their route."

Piccolo paused, then let his eyes wander away from Goku's before continuing.

"To be completely honest I had no qualms about Vegeta ridding the world of those androids, though their threat was significantly reduced. It was not an unwise action, considering all the trouble they caused. Krillin saw it differently, however…"

First he was praising Vegeta. Krillin was unbelievably relieved Cell was dead, he remembered how afraid he was when Cell had him at his mercy on the plane. Huge, green hand clasped over his face, there to either crush or cook with a nonchalant ki blast.

Krillin had been certain he was to die at the pleasure of the insane android creature, then Piccolo and Tenshinhan arrived on the scene and scared Cell away. But truthfully Krillin wasn't glad Cell was dead because the monster nearly took his life, he'd been half expecting to die since the whole Android ordeal began. Mostly Krillin was glad Eighteen was safe from being absorbed by the lizard-looking android.

First he was praising Vegeta; glad for once the Saiya-jin was around. He didn't even mind the way Vegeta waved off his and Trunk's praise. Not with humility, but with arrogance enough to choke a dinosaur. "My strength only looked impressive because you are both so very weak," Vegeta said.

"Yes, father," Trunks agreed quietly.

"I don't know about Trunks," Krillin said casting a side long glance at the half Saiya-jin hovering beside him, sensing greater depths to the young man's power than he was showing, before returning his gaze to Vegeta's black, superior eyes. "But you're certainly much stronger than I ever thought was possible."

"Never underestimate a--" Vegeta started to say then stopped mid-sentence, allow his golden aura flare then used Zanzoken to blur out of sight.

"Where did he go?" Krillin asked Trunks.

Trunks of course had followed his father's movement and tracked the man's trail, which lead led directly behind them. "There," the young man said, pointing across the decimated island mass.

Krillin turned and his insides froze. Vegeta was floating directly in front of Eighteen and Sixteen, the small Saiya-jin's golden ki crackling with rising power. Krillin knew Vegeta was going to kill Eighteen, regardless of how weak and helpless she was against him. The female android did defeat the Prince not so long ago, broke his arm and cowed him. Krillin was foolish to not have expected Vegeta to avenge his frayed honor.

"Well, what's this?" Vegeta asked no one specifically. "Two leftover parts."

"Please… no," Krillin whispered, still paralyzed with terror.

"Let us pass," Eighteen said, her soft contralto betrayed none, if any, of the fear she may have felt.

Vegeta sucked air through his teeth, and said, "No, no, I believe you should join your brethren on the scrap heap, especially since you're not part of a complete set anymore."

"Hysterical, Vegeta," Eighteen replied dryly. "Let us pass, I promise you will not see us again."

"You can hardly guarantee that, now can you?"

Krillin could not see Eighteen's reaction, but she fell silent for several moments. Then she took her arms from around Sixteen. The giant android remained aloft under his own power.

"My brother is of no threat to you, and he has never attacked you. You gain nothing from his destruction."

Vegeta studied Sixteen briefly before returning his gaze to Eighteen. Then with utmost casualness, lifted his right arm and fired a beam right through the android's torso. Eighteen screamed as Sixteen exploded into many smaller pieces.

"Except some small satisfaction, of course," Vegeta said.

Eighteen watched Sixteen's parts scatter across the island, before slowly craning her head around to face Vegeta. The giant android's destruction shocked Krillin out of his petrified state of fear and he finally found the will to move. As Krillin flew towards them he watched her fists clench, and he willed her not to attack. Krillin reached them just as Eighteen let out another scream and lunged at the Saiya-jin prince. Her small, deadly fists flying furiously at Vegeta, who ducked, bobbed and playfully blocked her strikes.

Krillin frantically wrapped his arm around her waist and then with all his might wrenched Eighteen away from Vegeta. The maneuver shouldn't have worked, but Eighteen had been solely focused on Vegeta and nothing else. Eighteen yelped in surprise as Krillin dragged her down to the ground.

"What are you doing?" Eighteen screamed. Krillin was grateful she was too stunned by what he was doing she didn't tear his arm off.

"What indeed?" Krillin heard Vegeta ask, then suddenly he felt a jolt run through Eighteen's body. Followed immediately by the feeling of something wet and warm splatter across his shaven head. The wetness ran down his face and thickly coated his skin.

Krillin's feet settled on the ground, but the moment Eighteen's feet touched the earth her legs bent under her and Krillin realized his one arm around her tiny waist was the only force keeping her from folding into a heap on the ground. Krillin looked at her limp form, saw how her head lolled, most of her blonde hair was not blonde anymore. Deep, dark crimson drenched her locks and dripped from the sharply trimmed ends. Krillin rolled her in the crook of his arm then moved his arm so his hand cradled the back of Eighteen's skull, blood flowing between his fingers and down his bare arm. There was a hole in her throat the size of a quarter, destroying the flawless milk-white skin of her slender neck.

Her eyes were shut and her features could not have been more angelic in Krillin's mind. "E-Eighteen?" he called her name pleadingly, hoping she'd open her eyes.

"Eighteen," Krillin repeated when her crystal blue eyes stayed closed.

"Oh, this is just so very sad," Vegeta's said, his snide voice raining down from above.

"Sh-She…" Krillin stammered.

"Put her down so I can reduce her to more manageable portions."

"Dead…" Krillin said as he gently laid the android down on the ground. Krillin tilted his head up and stared at Vegeta's floating figure. "How could you?" he asked.

"Easily, is the short answer," Vegeta said. "Now step aside, runt, I have a job to finish before I keep my vow to Kakarott."

Krillin powered up and Vegeta's brow rose. "You," Krillin whispered and floated up to Vegeta.

"Pure foolishness," Vegeta said, grinning and shaking his head in disbelief, "to think you can face me in battle."

"How could you!" Krillin screamed… and charged.

"…Straight to his death. Krillin never came within an arms reach. Vegeta incinerated him in an instant," Piccolo said.

Reeling from the story he just heard Goku managed to croak out his next words. "Trunks stood by and let Vegeta kill Krillin? I can understand why he didn't raise a hand to help the androids, but--"

"It happened so quickly I doubt Trunks could have done much to prevent Krillin's death. He did act afterwards and engaged in a brief skirmish with his father. Before he left for his own time, Trunks made it clear he disavowed Vegeta as his father. That he wished he never met Vegeta. Then Vegeta came to the Lookout and killed Tenshinhan, Mr. Popo, and I… You know the rest."

Goku fell silent while he absorbed everything Piccolo related to him. There had been so much he didn't know about that day. Goku admits he never asked, never really wanted to know how Krillin died, it hurt enough knowing he had died for no reason except to sate Vegeta's blood-lust. And also, Goku's chose to focus on Gohan—to help him survive emotionally after accidentally killing Yamucha on Master Roshi's island. But now he knew the whole story, at least more than he did before, and he still couldn't grasp Krillin's reasons for exiling himself in the Room of Spirit and Time forever.

"So you think Krillin felt ashamed he was so easily killed by Vegeta?"

Piccolo shook his head, then asked a question of his own. "Did you know Krillin destroyed the remote device that could have deactivated the female android?"

"No," Goku said, not quite sure what point Piccolo was trying to make.

Piccolo bowed his head slightly and sighed in exasperation. "Goku it is obvious to even one such as myself Krillin formed some type of infatuation for Android Eighteen."

"You… you think he… was in love with Eighteen?"

"I'm hardly one to judge human emotional states such as love but, yes, I believe he was in love with her."

Goku's eyes sprang open and he sat up on a couch in Bulma's living room. He automatically turned his head and looked at his shoulder, expecting to see the flesh there ruined. To Goku's surprise the spikes were gone and his shoulder, exposed because someone had cut away part of his gi, was smooth and unmarked.

"Dad?"

Goku took his gaze off his shoulder and looked into the concerned eyes of Gohan. "Gohan, what happened?"

Piccolo strolled up and moved up behind Gohan and looked down at Goku from over the young man's head. "The ki in your shoulder disappeared a few minutes ago then we were able to give you a senzu," the Namek-jin said.

"Thank you, guys. What… what about Krillin?"

"He and Ve—er, he disappeared into thin air," Gohan answered.

Goku noticed Bulma and Trunks standing a little ways behind Piccolo and understood why Gohan held off from mentioning Vegeta. As far as Goku knew Bulma hadn't told Trunks about his father and had no intention of ever doing so. But after tonight Goku wondered if Bulma could keep the truth from Trunks for much longer.

"Goku, can I talk to you in private?" Bulma asked.

Goku rose up from the couch and rotated his arm at the shoulder. He had a feeling he know what Bulma wanted to talk about. "Okay," he replied and then followed Bulma as she led him into one of the bedrooms.

She took him to what looked like her bedroom. The space was surprisingly pink and frilly; there wasn't even a work desk or anything remotely technological inside besides the digital alarm clock on the stand next to her bed. Bulma had her hand on her forehead she paced back and forth over the carpet.

"Did he say why he came back?" Bulma asked. But she didn't give Goku time to reply before she continued. "I mean why would he come back? What if…?"

"Uh… he said he wanted to, well, be your boyfriend again," Goku said. "And Trunk's father."

Bulma stopped pacing and looked at Goku owlishly. "What?"

"Yeah, he wants to be together with you. I think he's really sorry, too. Amazing, huh?"

Bulma looked away, bowed her head slightly and stared hard at the floor, as if the carpet had an answer to her question but refused to enlighten her. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Out of everyone, you and Trunks are the only ones he spared," Goku offered.

Bulma didn't appear to hear Goku. "He doesn't really think I'll go back to him?"

"I'm more concerned about Krillin right now."

Bulma looked at Goku finally and she looked worried and confused. "I know, Gohan told me. I can't believe he hurt you like that."

"He had his reasons. Let's go back, we need to figure out what we're going to do about Krillin… and Vegeta."

As they walked out of the room, Bulma asked, "What do you mean he had his reasons?"

Goku wasn't sure how to answer, he wasn't sure if his theory was the correct one.

"Goku," Bulma said when Goku hadn't answered her, "you're going to forgive Krillin for attacking you, aren't you? Maybe you didn't see what your shoulder looked like, but I did. It was gross!"

Goku smiled, then he said back, "Bulma, just about every friend I ever had tried to kill me at one time or another. I think I can deal with what Krillin's done and not hate him for it."

"It… It looked like it hurt, Goku." Bulma said softly.

Goku didn't contradict her.

Because it did…

So much…

"I think we should find Vegeta," Gohan said.

Bulma's folks had gone to bed once again, leaving the young people to deal with the drama currently troubling the group. Trunks also went back to bed, very much against his will. Sixteen stood guard outside, while Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, and Bulma sat or stood in a loose half circle in the living room.

Bulma jerked her head around and glowered at the young man sitting next to her on the couch. Still unnerved by Vegeta's sudden reappearance she almost snapped at Gohan, but controlled herself and her words came out low and bitten off instead. "Why in the world should we go looking for Vegeta?"

Gohan missed the warning tone in her voice and went on to say, "Krillin's after him, so I think he'll eventually turn up where Vegeta is."

"That's not a bad idea," Goku said.

"Not to mention our only option," Piccolo stated. "I highly doubt Krillin wants to be found."

"What? And Vegeta does?" Bulma asked, and she couldn't help the way her voice rose a whole octave. "From the way you guys described it Krillin was a second away from cutting Vegeta to pieces, why would he make himself any easier to be located?"

The three fighters looked at each other briefly then turned their gazes onto Bulma. Goku was the one who answered her, his tone low and solemn. "For Vegeta that's all the reason he needs to let Krillin find him."

Bulma stared at Goku for a beat then rolled her eyes. "I cannot believe I forgot what macho jerks you guys can be. That's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard!"

Bulma didn't doubt they were right about Vegeta, though. Regardless of how stupid and reckless it was to court death in such a manner. It sounded exactly like something Vegeta would desire; the danger was irresistible.

Which means he hasn't changed much at all, Bulma thought.

Goku grinned and shrugged. "All we have to do is wait until Vegeta signals Krillin then I'll take us to him," Goku said. "Hopefully before Krillin gets there."

"Why?" Gohan asked tonelessly.

Bulma shot a surprised glance at Gohan, as did Goku. Even Piccolo let his black eyes dart his former student's way.

"Gohan--" Goku started.

"I mean, it's not like Vegeta wants our help anyway," Gohan quickly quantified, leaning back slightly on the couch. Holding his out his hands defensively, in an attempt to literally and figuratively back away from his previous expression of apathy.

"That may be," Goku said, looking at Gohan like a lion tamer who suddenly remembered beneath all the training and tameness, he was still dealing with a wild animal perfectly capable of tearing his throat out. "But I'm not gonna let anyone, anyone, die today if I can help it."

"Or maybe," Krillin's voice called out and they all turned to see him standing behind Piccolo. His arms crossed over his chest almost in the exact same manner as the Namek-jin. Even his expression came close mirroring Piccolo's as well, except if Bulma had to describe the look on Krillin's face she'd say Krillin looked annoyed instead of implacable. He's so different, Bulma thought, taking in his long, silver streaked hair and intricate robe garb. "Maybe you need to leave this alone, Goku, and let me finally put Vegeta in the ground."