It was very, very important to Trunks that the people around him understand that, despite what they may have thought, he was perfectly fine.
After all, it wasn't as though he had anything to be upset about. It wasn't as though Trunks had just lost someone important to him. It wasn't as though his 15-year-old best friend had recently become horribly ill. It wasn't as though his best friend's had suddenly developed a heart condition, one that left him wracked with pain as his systems started to fail. It wasn't as though that same best friend had struggled and suffered for just over a week before finally giving in.
It wasn't as if Goten had died. It wasn't as if Trunks had watched it happen.
And even if all that had happened, it wouldn't be something to get worked up over. It certainly wouldn't be something Trunks couldn't handle.
And sure, Trunks had found himself zoning out at the oddest times as of late; and maybe he found himself losing his temper over the slightest provocation, such as misplacing his pen, or his computer freezing for approximately thirty seconds, or the poor cashier at the school bookstore that had dared miscount his change and give him back ten zeni more than she was supposed to; and it was possible that he had woken up several mornings over the course of the past month to find tears staining his face, and on occasion he would even start quietly crying when he was awake, only to stop crying when he inevitably realized that it wasn't helping in the slightest, at which point he would sit and stare at the wall for god-knew-how-long and silently beg the powers that be to please please please let him wake up from this awful nightmare, to bring his best friend back, or at least let him see Goten alive and healthy just one more time—
But none of that mattered, because he was fine. He was fine when Goten died. He was fine at the funeral. And he was fine now, nearly one month after Goten's death.
Trunks was so fine, in fact, that he didn't skip dinner because he just couldn't bring himself to eat anything, as he'd done so often over the past few weeks. He didn't lie on his bed and gaze at the ceiling of his bedroom for hours, waiting for it to divine him some sort of answer to a question he didn't even know how to ask. He didn't wonder what Goten would say to him in this situation, only to feel his throat tighten up once more as he remembered for the hundredth time that he'd never hear Goten say anything again. He didn't keep staring at the ceiling as he fought back tears, if only because he had gotten so fucking sick of crying. He didn't allow his to eyes slip shut after several minutes of this, because keeping himself from crying had drained what little energy he had. And he did not fall asleep still dressed in his jeans and a t-shirt, because he just couldn't see the purpose in getting undressed.
Trunks was not mourning. He was not grieving, he was not playing over the days leading up to Goten's death in his mind, and he certainly was not depressed.
Because Trunks was perfectly, completely, undeniably, undoubtedly, unquestionably fine. And damned be anyone who thought otherwise.
Trunks opened the heavy mahogany door, poking his head into the large office. Behind a desk made of precisely the same shade of mahogany sat an attractive, neatly dressed woman in her late forties. She was slender, with pale skin and shoulder-length hair that couldn't quite decide whether it was a silver-grey or a pale blonde. Either way, it suited her sharp green eyes and gracefully aging features marvelously.
The woman raised a single pale eyebrow up toward her hairline as the youth entered her office. "Well, I'd have to go a while without seeing you in order to miss you, wouldn't I, Mister Briefs?"
"Oh, Lilla," Trunks said dramatically as he closed the door behind him and took the seat across from her desk. "I know they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I just can't stand being away from you."
"Please, Mister Briefs, just call me Principal Taishin." She sighed, turning to her computer screen to bring up Trunks' personal file. "So, which class were you terrorizing today? Robotics?"
"Come on, Lilla—Principal, you know my schedule better than that."
"Ah yes. Well, it's fourth period. So chemistry."
"Exactly." Trunks gave Ms. Taishin a self-satisfied smile. He had been attending The West City Academy for Gifted Youth for just over two years, over which time he'd struck up quite the rapport with the school's beleaguered principal. At least, Trunks would insist they had a rapport; Ms. Taishin would respond that the only reason the boy had yet to be thrown out of the elite institution was because of his spectacular test scores and consistently perfect grades.
The Academy was one of the most exclusive secondary education institutions in the region, and ran two parallel educational tracks. Approximately half the students were tracked to the school's prestigious arts curriculum, while the other half comprised its intensive science program. A courseload that included three separate science classes as well as advanced mathematics would provide a challenge to most students, even brighter-than-average ones. But Trunks was not most students.
Trunks liked school. School was easy; math and science came naturally to him, and he had no trouble keeping up with the material in his history and literature classes. He had grown especially fond of the place in the past month. And while Trunks would insist that he was fine, that he was not mourning, nor grieving, nor depressed, nor any of another multitude of synonyms for "sad," he would—if pressed—admit that school may have been the only thing keeping him sane.
He was simply returning the favor by making it a slightly more interesting place to be.
"What did you do this time?" Principal Taishin asked, scanning the young heir's long disciplinary file. "Replace the saline with vinegar again?" That particular stunt hadn't caused any injuries-at least, no serious ones-but the stench had taken the better part of a week to clear out.
"Dear Principal, I never repeat myself." The demi-Saiyan's grin widened. "Rigged all the sinks to release party foam instead of water." It wasn't his fault his humorless chemistry teacher couldn't appreciate his efforts to make class slightly more festive.
Principal Taishin sighed again, turning back to the teenager. "I can't imagine what you'd accomplish if you used your talents for good instead of evil."
"Well, my mom and granddad beat me to all the good inventions."
The principal folded her hands on her desk, frowning at the boy. "Speaking of. I just got off the phone with your mother."
Trunks' eyes widened in response. "You called her over a little bit of foam on the classroom floor?"
"I called her because you've been acting out more than usual lately."
Trunks shrugged. "I just so cherish our meetings."
Ms. Taishin's expression softened slightly as she took a moment to gather her thoughts. "Trunks, we need to discuss your attendance record."
The remaining traces of his smile dropped from Trunks' face. "What are you talking about? I haven't missed a single day this term."
"Precisely." She looked down at the notebook on her desk. "Your mother informed me that on the afternoon of Sunday, September 12th, a very close friend of yours passed away."
Trunks startled up in his chair. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"At 8 a.m. on Monday, September 13th, you arrived here for a multivariable calculus exam."
Trunks crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Which I aced."
"That isn't the point." She stared the boy down for a few moments. He returned her gaze, trying to ignore his mounting discomfort.
"You have two options, Trunks," she said sternly after several long moments of silence. "You can either take a leave of absence from school—which no one would blame you for—or you can get your behavior under control. But I won't have you using my staff as the targets of your misplaced anger."
"I don't have any misplaced anger."
"You made Mimi cry when she gave you fifty-seven zeni in change instead of forty-seven."
"This a school for gifted students. I'm just offended by bad arithmetic."
The principle mumbled something inaudible in reply as she placed the notebook back in her desk drawer.
"Look, Lilla, I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine." Trunks rose from his chair. "So what's my punishment for the foam?"
"Detention this afternoon, my office, two hours."
Trunks' smile returned to his face. "Two hours with you? That hardly seems like punishment, Principal."
"Followed by your cleaning up the entire chemistry lab."
Trunks rose from the chair, placing his backpack on one shoulder. "You're tough but fair, Lilla. Tough but fair." With that, he made his way out of the office, gently shutting her door behind him as he left.
Principal Taishin placed the tips of her long fingers on her temples, pressing down in an attempt to relieve the pounding that had suddenly appeared there. "One of these days, that boy is either going to end up saving the world or destroying it."
It was nearly seven in the evening by the time Trunks arrived home. His detention session had run its allotted two hours—during which he was ordered, on pain of suspension, to sit silently and face the wall as Ms. Taishin went through some paperwork—and cleaning the lab had taken longer than he'd expected. The task could have been completed in mere minutes had he been able to work at full speed, but his chemistry teacher had insisted on supervising the whole time.
When he had asked Mr. Saito why he didn't seem to trust him—all the while giving the older man the most innocent, wide-eyed expression he could muster—the chemistry professor had simply glared and handed him a bucket and a stack of rags. And so Trunks had spent more than two hours on his hands and knees, scrubbing at the floor and getting quite soaked in the process. Despite the mild October weather, he had shivered through the half-mile walk home.
Trunks slipped off his drenched sneakers as he stepped into the house, glad to be relieved of the uncomfortable sloshing beneath his feet. He was by the stairs to his bedroom when he heard a familiar voice call him.
"Trunks?" Trunks spun around on one heel to see his mother seated on the couch of the large living room.
"You're home late," Bulma continued, setting down the stack of paper she had been working on. "And why are you all wet?"
"I decided it was such a nice day, I just had to go for a swim. In my clothes."
"Can you go ten seconds without being sarcastic?"
Trunks looked down at his watch. "Ten, nine—"
"Oh, never mind," his mother interrupted with a glare. "Listen, I spoke to your principal today."
"So she mentioned," Trunks said, dropping his backpack at the foot of the stairs. "Why would you tell her about Goten?"
"It wouldn't have come up at all if you didn't insist on doing things like hacking the PA system in the teacher's lounge."
"It's not my fault Ms. Lindao can't appreciate the lovely mating cry of the wildebeest." Trunks shrugged. "Miscalculation on my part. I thought a biologist would enjoy the calls of nature."
Trunks shot her a grin, though his smile didn't reach his eyes. "That's why you love me."
Bulma stared down her son for a few moments before sighing. "Well, dinner's ready," she said with a soft sigh. "Come eat."
"I'll take a plate up to my room. Got a lot of homework to get done."
"There's a lot to do."
"Trunks . . ." Bulma trailed off, shooting the teenager a pleading look.
"Mom, I'm fine. Really."
"Sweetheart, you went to class less than a day after Goten died. You're either in school or holed up in your room. This isn't healthy."
"Can we please stop talking about this?"
"You never want to talk about it."
"Honey," Bulma said gently, "you know you don't have to pretend with me."
"I'm not pretending." When his mother shot him an incredulous look, he continued. "Look, I'm not denying that I miss him. I miss him a lot." Trunks folded his arms, breaking eye contact. "More than a lot. But I'm dealing."
"You know there's nothing you could have done."
"I'm dealing," Trunks insisted, turning back to his mother.
Bulma shook her head in resignation. "I'll fix you a plate."
Trunks ripped the sheet of paper out of his notebook, tossing it into the trashcan on his floor. Robotics didn't usually pose much of a challenge for him, but this inverse kinematics assignment was an unusually complex one. The problems weren't especially difficult, but a single mistake early in his calculations would throw all his subsequent work into chaos.
He shoved his cold, largely uneaten dinner aside as he restarted his homework on a fresh sheet of lined paper. His ears perked up as he heard an odd rustling behind him. He paused for a moment before chalking the noise up to the wind. He frowned, turning back a few pages in his robotics textbook to look up a particular equation.
"That looks complicated."
Trunks startled up in his chair, dropping his pencil onto his desk. Several seconds passed before he sighed, letting his eyes fall back down to his textbook.
"Great," Trunks said to himself. "Now I'm hearing his voice. That's reassuring."
"I'd hope you'd hear me," came the response. "Seeing as I'm talking to you."
Trunks' eyes widened. Slowly and carefully, he stood from his chair, pushing it to one side. Gripping the edge of his desk with one hand for balance, he turned around. There, on the floor mere feet in front of him, stood a teenage boy with shaggy, spiky black hair and wide black eyes. That all-too-familiar face was bearing an all-too-familiar smile.
"Um . . ." the boy trailed off as he stared back at Trunks. "Boo?"
The last thing Trunks saw before he hit the floor was a very sheepish grin on his very dead best friend's face.