Timeline: seven years after the Cell Games, at the start of the Buu Saga. The night before the tournament.
Bulma Briefs couldn't sleep.
She rarely had that problem. One thing that growing up as the daughter of one of the planet's richest and most famous men had taught her was how to let go of stress. Bulma usually dealt with it by blowing it off: if she was stressed-out or angry, she'd scream, throw things, maybe bang on something mechanical with a wrench for a while, then take a few deep breaths and wouldn't worry about it any more. If you can change something, then change it, her father had said. If you can't change it, forget about it.
She wished she could do it tonight.
Bulma rolled over and wadded her pillow under her head, trying to put the next day out of her thoughts. Morning would come when it came, and would bring what it would. There was no point in dwelling on it.
Still ... she couldn't help wondering what it would be like to see Son Goku again.
Oddly, she found that when she tried to picture him in her head, she couldn't quite see him as an adult. The adult Goku was already a dimly faded memory, like a distant recollection of childhood. Yet paradoxically, she could still see the child Goku as vivid as a snapshot: the bright eyes and spiky hair, the sweet smile. She kept trying to remember how he'd changed as he grew, to map the child's features onto the gawky young man who'd defeated Radditz, or the muscular adult who had fought so many times, so bravely, for his planet and his family, before finally he ...
... died ...
She wished that she had been there, that day, at the Cell Games. There would have been no point in it, nothing she could have done, and yet she regretted not being there with a great, deep ache.
Well, tomorrow she would have a chance to see him again, to say hello and goodbye, for the last time.
And ... she was afraid.
Because time on Earth had not stood still. Time had changed her life, changed her in ways she would never have imagined. And Goku had surely changed too. He was no longer the big-eyed kid that she remembered. And for all that Goku seemed, to his friends, to always stay the same, to never change ... in truth, he had evolved greatly, and so had his relationships with other people.
Like Kuririn, for example. I remember how inseparable they used to be. Now ... I know that Kuririn misses him, but he's got his own life, his own family. There was a time when he would have moved heaven and earth to get Goku back. Now ... he's willing to let him go. And Goku must be happy in the afterlife, or else he wouldn't have stayed.
She rolled over onto her back and folded her hands under her head.
How does Goku see ME now, I wonder? For that matter, how did he see me then?
At one time she'd fancied herself a sort of mentor to the little guy, somewhere between the mom he couldn't remember and the big sister he'd never had. It had taken years to realize that her relationship with Goku was different and far more complicated than anything she'd imagined. He didn't look up to her, didn't look up to anybody -- he didn't seem to know how. He was polite to everyone, treated people like he'd want to be treated, but he didn't want a big sister, and the only way he really knew how to be friends with people was by fighting them. She was probably the only friend he had who couldn't fight. What did that make her, then? she wondered. Somebody special? Or somebody less important?
Or did it even matter? Son Goku was dead. He'd be back for one day, tomorrow, and then he would be gone again, and no matter what she meant to him -- friend, big sister, something more, something less -- he would go on about his (after)life, and she'd get on with her own life.
Her life. Her husband. Her child.
Bulma's brow furrowed, staring up at the ceiling. Herself. A mom. Somehow, her romantic girlhood dreams of perfect boyfriends and fluffy white weddings had never included sex or kids. And they'd certainly never included a stubborn, arrogant, violent boyfriend who not only refused to entertain the notion of marriage, but didn't even know what it was.
Bulma's lips twisted in a wry grin. Those romantic girls who dreamed of marrying princes had no idea how much of a pain it was to actually live with one.
When did I start thinking of him as my husband, anyway?
And what will Son-kun think?
Does it matter?
Does it matter?
Yes. It did matter. Of the various people in her life, with the sole exception of her parents, she'd known Son Goku the longest. And though she'd deny it with her last dying breath, she had to admit to herself that she wanted Goku's approval. Perhaps, if she had to give a rational reason, it would be that Goku always seemed to know what was in people's hearts. Even though most days she had no doubts about her decision, there were times when she'd look at Vegeta's proud, cruel profile and wonder just how much he had truly changed. The horror stories of women beaten or murdered by their boyfriends and husbands would come back to her ... made all the more frightening by the awareness that this particular boyfriend could put his hand through her chest without even trying. It had taken years for her to put aside the recurring fear that he'd lose control and accidentally crush her during sex, or get angry at little Trunks and blast the child's head off.
Better than anyone else, she suspected, Goku understood Vegeta -- sympathized with the dark forces that drove his prince. He had seemed to accept the brief liaison that had produced baby Trunks -- but marriage was different, was a much bigger commitment. Would Goku be happy that she had chosen to spend the rest of her life with a man who had once tried to kill him and all his friends? Would he condemn her decision -- and if Goku thought she'd made the wrong choice, what would she do?
Well, she thought with detached amusement, I should have known my life wasn't going to be easy when I fell in love with my best friend's worst enemy.
Or ... worst rival, anyway. Best rival. Whatever.
Or ... worst rival, anyway. Best rival. Whatever.
Bulma groaned and ran her hands through her short hair, standing it on end. This wasn't going anywhere. She glanced at the clock, which read 12:17. In less than six hours, her alarm would go off, and the way things were going tonight, she'd still be staring at the ceiling, her thoughts going in circles. Maybe it would help to have a cup of tea or warm milk.
She rose in the dark room and shrugged into a robe. Her eyes roved from the clock to the empty bed, and she wondered, briefly, how late Vegeta was planning to stay up. She assumed he was training in the gravity room. Knowing that man, he probably wouldn't come to bed at all. After all, the following day he would finally have the chance he'd spent the last seven years training for.
Something clicked over in her head, and she realized what was really nagging at her. It wasn't so much seeing Goku again, and dealing with the changes of the years, though that weighed on her mind as well.
No. It wasn't that.
It was Vegeta.
She was nervous, afraid even, of what would happen when her husband and Goku came face-to-face. For the last seven years, it seemed that all he could talk about (when he talked, which wasn't often) was defeating "Kakarrot". At least he had never said killing Kakarrot, at least not where she could hear him, but whenever the subject of Goku came up, her husband's eyes grew hard and sharp as the eyes of a hawk -- reminding her that it hadn't really been so long ago that the two had been mortal enemies.
Surely the rules of the tournament would keep them in check. Vegeta wouldn't try to kill Goku in front of a stadium full of people, would he?
If he wanted to, what could stop him? Her husband's powers outstripped the judges', so far as to be laughable -- it would be like swatting flies with a freight train -- and the other Z-senshi had never been able to fight on his level; even Gohan, since he'd let his training lapse, was probably no match for Vegeta now. If he did get out of control, Goku would be the only one with a chance of stopping him -- and Goku would be the target; could he avoid Vegeta and protect the bystanders at the same time?
What in the world am I thinking? Vegeta was her husband. He would never do such a thing -- out of love for her and Trunks, if nothing else.
Forget tea. She needed a stiff drink.
Light spilled out of the kitchen doorway. Oh great, not Vegeta ... At the moment, she had no wish to see her husband, as if her conflicted and disloyal thoughts would be written plainly in her eyes for him to read. She almost turned around and went back up to bed, but put a little Bulma Briefs steel in her spine and strode bravely in ...
... just in time to see her only son hovering in front of the open refrigerator, lifting a jug of milk off a high shelf.
"Ack!" The boy let out a startled cry and dropped the milk. With speed that would have done a full-blooded saiyajin proud, he scooped his hand under the jug and caught it before it had fallen more than a few inches. "Mom!"
"What are you doing?" Bulma demanded. "You know you're not supposed to fly in the house. Remember when you broke Grandma's good china cups?"
"I couldn't reach the milk, Mom. I'm makin' cocoa."
Bulma smiled in spite of herself. "You couldn't sleep, huh?"
Trunks shook his head, trotting over to the stove with the jug of milk. A saucepan had already been placed on the stovetop, presumbably by a small flying demi-saiyajin. However, without flying he couldn't reach it, even standing on his tiptoes. He mumbled something under his breath in frustration.
"Trunks! I know your father says those words, but you know you're not allowed." Bulma took the milk from his small hand, and in doing so, got a good look at his face.
"Huh?" the boy said nervously.
"Let me see your cheek." She gripped his chin firmly in her fingers and tilted his head to one side. There was a bruise under the boy's eye, and Bulma felt her maternal instincts bristle.
"Did your father do this to you?"
"Do what?" Trunks said, obviously confused. "Oh! That! Yeah, we were trainin' this evening, after you went to bed."
Bulma balled her hands into fists, trying to keep her temper under control, and, as usual, not succeeding very well. "How dare he! That ... that arrogant, stubborn ... oooh! How dare he lay a hand on his own son!"
"Mom," Trunks said patiently, as if speaking to a retarded child. "We were trainin'. You're supposed to hit each other."
"Did he tell you that? Did he tell you to hide it from me? How dare he!"
Trunks cringed slightly; when his mother got angry, she was a lot scarier than his dad. However, the need to defend his father against her accusations got the better of him. "Mom, I didn't even think about telling you! It's just a little bruise! I'm not a baby! How'm I ever supposed to learn to fight if I can't handle a little bruise?"
"I'm never letting that abusive jerk near you again!" Bulma yelled, and then froze, because suddenly she had just heard Chi-Chi's voice coming out of her own mouth. Oblivious to the stare of her confused son, she cocked her head to one side, her anger seeping away, replaced by stunned realization. She remembered Chi-Chi's rages at Goku, Chi-Chi's refusal to let the boy go train with his father, and her own irritation with the woman's irrationality, especially when the world was threatened by androids and Gohan needed to be as strong as he could be. She remembered that she used to wonder how Chi-Chi could possibly be so dense -- why couldn't the woman understand how important it was?
Now Bulma was the one to understand.
Because she'd never really comprehended what training meant, had she? For some reason she'd always visualized something choreographed and exciting, like the martial-arts matches on the Satan Channel. But that wasn't what training meant to the saiyajins or to the serious human fighters, not at all. It meant hitting each other and hurting each other -- in the knowledge that you had to learn to take it, to deal with it, because you were preparing to fight enemies who didn't care if they hurt you, and at least when the blows were dealt in love and friendship, they didn't have deadly force behind them.
It meant bruises and lacerations and broken bones, and more than that, the risk of accidental crippling or death -- because even someone as powerful and controlled as Vegeta could not calculate every variable behind every stroke.
So why did they do it? Why didn't they just stop? But she knew. She couldn't speak for the human fighters, but for the saiyajins at least, it was in their blood. They needed it; they lived for it. Except for Gohan, apparently ... and now she remembered how he had spoken of his fear of losing control, his refusal to give in to the savagery that lurked inside him, and possibly hurt somebody.
Bulma felt her legs grow weak. The milk slipped from her nerveless fingers and plunged towards the floor. Trunks squeaked, made a dive and caught it, then looked up at his mother's stunned expression.
"Mom? Uh ... I'm really sorry, Mom. I didn't know you'd -- GAK!"
Bulma had engulfed her son in her arms. For a moment he stayed rigid, then realizing that there was no one around to bear witness to the ultimate embarrassment of being hugged by his mother, he relaxed into her embrace like the small child that he really was.
"No, Mama's the one who's sorry, Trunks-kun. I shouldn't have gotten angry at you or your daddy."
Bulma buried her face in her son's hair, the soft pale human hair, not spiky black saiyajin hair. And she wondered if there could be anything in the world more difficult for a human than loving a saiyajin. Poor Chi-Chi. How did she deal with loving three of them?
"Uh ... Mom," Trunks mumbled, slightly muffled. "Mom, I can't breathe."
Bulma laughed and let him go, ruffling his hair in more of a big-boy-approved gesture of affection. "Let me make us some drinks, huh?" she said, taking the milk from him and going over to the stove.
Trunks hopped up into a chair at the table, relieved that his mother had apparently gotten over her strange attack of mental illness, while Bulma heated the milk and got two mugs from a cupboard.
"So how is your ... training going?" she asked at last. "Do you think you'll do well in the tournament tomorrow?"
"Oh, yeah." Trunks sounded a bit dejected; she looked around to see him with his chin propped on his small fists. "Too good, really, since I'm stuck in the kiddie section. It's all gonna be babies there. Goten's the only one who'll be any fun to fight."
"Well, it does go up to age twelve, you know," Bulma said, smiling as she set a plate of cookies on the table. "That's about how old Son-kun was when I met him."
"That's right, I keep forgetting -- you were just a baby when he died. You'll meet him tomorrow. Anyway, I'm just saying that there might be some kids there who're a challenge to you, so don't go getting all cocky just yet."
Trunks snorted. "Mom, if there was somebody that good, I'da heard about it. It's all just little mama's boys. It's gonna be between me and Goten mostly."
"Well, who do you think will win, you or Goten?" Bulma asked, adding chocolate to the mugs and setting them on the table in front of the two of them.
"Oh, me of course," Trunks said, drinking from his mug. He looked momentarily like his father with the self-confident smirk on his face, though the effect was somewhat spoiled by the chocolate-milk mustache on his upper lip. "Goten's just a little kid. He's a year younger than me, and he can't fly."
Inwardly, Bulma hoped for his sake that Trunks was right; Goten was a nice kid, but if Trunks did get beaten by the son of "Kakarrot", his father's scorn might be crushing to the boy's self-esteem. At times, she felt that Trunks's very healthy self-esteem could use a bit of crushing ... but she knew how cutting Vegeta could be without meaning to.
Trunks looked around suddenly -- sensing ki, Bulma realized a moment later, when Vegeta strode into the kitchen. Speak of the devil, she thought.
The prince paused for an instant at the sight of his mate and son at the table, then recovered and continued on his course without acknowledging them. He opened the refrigerator door.
"Hungry?" Bulma said.
Vegeta grunted, his head buried in the contents of the refrigerator.
"Want me to heat you up something to eat?"
"Honestly," Bulma snapped. "Sometimes it's like living with a fence post, only a fence post isn't so rude. I don't know why I bother."
Vegeta raised his head. "Why is there no food here, Woman?"
"What do you mean, no food? There's plenty of food -- it just isn't cooked yet." She set aside her half-finished mug of cocoa and got up, pushing him out of the way. The Prince of Vegeta-sei, conquerer of worlds, allowed himself to be shoved aside with an irritated mutter. Bulma knew that her mother always cooked as if for an army, and she wasn't surprised to find platters of leftovers in the back of the restaurant-sized refrigerator that the family had been forced to buy.
"Now sit down and stay out from underfoot," she ordered, marching to the microwave (also restaurant-sized) with a platter in each hand.
"Don't tell me what to do, stupid Woman," Vegeta retorted, sitting down in the chair she'd vacated.
"Don't call me stupid in front of my son."
Trunks, who was thoroughly used to his parents' antagonistic interaction, sipped at his cocoa. He knew all the warning signs of a real fight and would be long gone before they started yelling at each other.
"One of these days I need to figure out the secret of saiyajin metabolism," Bulma mused aloud as she waited for the microwave to finish. "I could market it as the perfect weight-loss drug. Of course ... if I wasn't careful I'd probably end up getting the appetite part right but not the speeded-up metabolism, and end up with a town full of 500-pound housewives."
Trunks giggled so hard that he choked on his cocoa. Vegeta stared off into space, ignoring (as usual) his mate's human whimsies. Why she spent so much time on what-ifs and might-have-beens, he could not fathom.
"Here," Bulma said, plopping a platter of food down in front of him. "Thank you, Bulma. Why, you're very welcome, Vegeta."
Vegeta ignored her and dug into the food. He looks exhausted, Bulma thought, moved by sympathy despite her annoyance at his lack of manners. She'd hardly seen Vegeta at all the last few days, and when he did turn up, he looked about as he did now: sweat-soaked and bruised, with dark rings under his piercing black eyes.
He's going to beat Goku in the tournament if it kills him, she thought, and then wished mightily that she hadn't used that particular figure of speech.
No one is going to get killed, Bulma, she told herself. It's just a tournament. You've been to plenty of them.
"Mom, I'm hungry too," Trunks whined.
"You mean 'May I please have some food,' don't you?"
"Yeah, whatever," Trunks said, draining his cocoa.
He's turning out just like his father, Bulma thought with a grin as she went to load up a plate for Trunks. The idea did not bother her, though it gave her a bit of surprise.
Yes ... in a lot of ways, Trunks is turning out to be a mini-Vegeta. And ... I don't mind. I don't mind a bit.
She gave Trunks his saiyajin-sized "snack" and dragged another chair to the table for herself. Picking up her cocoa mug, she found it empty.
"Trunks, did you drink my cocoa?"
"Unh-uhn," the boy mumbled through a mouthful of food, swallowed and shook his head. "Wasn't me, Mom."
"Vegeta?" Bulma looked at her husband suspiciously.
Becoming aware of her intent stare, he raised his head and regarded her warily. "What, Woman?"
"Did you drink my cocoa?"
Vegeta glared at her. "What is cocoa?"
Did he act dense just to annoy her, or was he really that thick-headed? "The stuff in my cup. The stuff you just drank."
"If you know I drank it, why did you ask?"
Bulma wondered how long it was going to be before all her blue hair turned gray, if she had to put up with this sort of thing day in and day out. "Did you?"
"Did I what?"
Vegeta gave her a long, level stare, and then went back to eating.
Bulma felt a smile pull at the corners of her mouth. "Did you like it?"
She hoped that she hadn't just let herself in for another round of "Like it?" "Like what?" but Vegeta merely shrugged.
"It tasted as if its energy content was high," he said.
Bulma raised an eyebrow at Trunks, who looked confused. "I think that's your father's way of saying that it's good. Vegeta, would you like me to make some more?"
Another shrug. "Suit yourself."
Bulma gritted her teeth. Enough was enough. She slammed the cup down onto the table, hard enough that Trunks jumped and Vegeta paused with a bite halfway to his mouth.
"Are you completely incapable of being polite?" she snapped.
Trunks quietly set down his fork and prepared to flee if necessary. This was starting to look like it was heading down the road to an actual fight.
"Woman, I am a saiyajin warrior. We are not 'polite'."
"Does this look like Vegeta-sei to you? Do I look like a serving woman to you?"
Vegeta smirked. "Aren't you?"
Bulma opened her mouth to launch into a tirade. Then, with her mouth still open, she realized that she didn't have the energy for it. She was tired of fighting. Tired of living with an ungrateful bastard who never showed any sign of affection for her or their son. Tired of spending all her time worrying about him, and getting nothing back in return.
She closed her mouth.
"All I wanted just then," she said softly. "... all I wanted was for you to ask me nicely. I was about to get up and do a favor for you. All I wanted was to know that it was, in some small way, appreciated."
Vegeta studied her curiously. Perhaps if he'd noticed an interesting variety of animal on a strange planet chewing on his boots, he would give it this exact look -- intrigued, irritated, maybe a little bit puzzled about its behavior. "And if I 'ask you nicely', then you would know this?" he inquired, his voice dripping scorn.
"Yes. Yes, I would."
"What possible purpose would this serve, if you were going to do it anyway, idiot?"
Trunks had eased back into his seat. It didn't look like his Mom was going to end up throwing things after all, and this conversation had gotten interesting.
"Because it hurts my feelings when you ignore me and insult me all the time," Bulma said softly, alarmed to realize that she was near tears.
Vegeta snorted. "Feelings, indeed. You knew what I was like when you asked me to move in with you. What did you expect? That I'd change for you, like one of the pathetic fool men in those stupid 'soap operas' that you watch?"
Yes. I thought maybe you would ... not like THAT but maybe just a little bit. I thought maybe you had. But when I try to look at you objectively ... I just don't know. Am I imagining that you care about me and Trunks? Do I see love where none exists because I love you? Do you only stay with me because I feed you?
She looked away, avoiding Trunks as well. She didn't want to burst into tears in front of her family. If only I wasn't so stressed about that stupid tournament. If only I could handle this a little better ... It doesn't usually bother me so much ...
Vegeta snorted. "Well, if you insist on doing so, then bring me another cup of that stuff you call 'cocoa'."
Bulma looked around at him, so startled she forgot about crying. "What?"
"Are you hard of hearing too, Woman? I said bring me more of that drink. It tastes sweet and seems to contain a lot of calories and fat. As such, it would give me more energy to train."
Sweet Kami, I think he just complimented my cooking. Or tried to. "Yes. I think it probably would," Bulma said, trying to smother an almost hysterical fit of laughter. She got up and went to the stove. "Trunks, would you like another cup?"
"Uh ... sure." Trunks was vaguely disappointed ... he felt as if something had happened, but he'd missed it. Maybe it's a grown-up thing, he thought, and attacked his food again.
Bulma stood at the stove, keeping an eye on the milk to make sure it didn't scald, but mostly watching her two saiyajin eat. Once Vegeta darted his eyes sideways at her, realized that she was looking at him, and hastily returned his attention to his food.
It's not that he doesn't care, she thought. It's that he has no idea how to show it. He has had no practice at it, no experience, no role models. Just as this world is alien to him, the landscape of emotions is alien to him as well. And he doesn't know how to deal with it.
She mixed up the cocoa in two regular-sized mugs for herself and Trunks, and a giant one for Vegeta. She set Trunks's cup in front of him, but Vegeta's she placed gently into his hand, letting her fingers brush against his as she did it.
He glanced up at her; and though he didn't respond to the touch, he stopped eating, and drank from the cup. Then he resumed eating again.
Bulma decided to offer a little nudge. "Well? How is it?" she asked, sitting down in her own chair.
Vegeta paused, and looked at her. He seemed almost hesitant, as if he was searching for the words to say. "It is suitable nourishment for a warrior," he said, and went back to eating.
Bulma folded her hands around her cup and looked into the swirling brown liquid, not sure what to say in return.
He doesn't know how to give compliments. I don't think he's ever done it before. And yet ... he is trying. He really is trying. For me. Because he understands, now, that it makes me happy.
She found herself close to tears again, but for a very different reason this time.
It is a very strange thing, to feel you have changed a person's soul.
But is it enough ...?
But is it enough ...?
Once again, the doubts returned to plague her. She raised her eyes, watching Trunks; the little boy was almost falling asleep in his half-empty plate.
Her eyes returned to Vegeta.
Yours and mine.
She realized that the last few days' training for the tournament was probably the most time that Vegeta and Trunks had ever spent together. As much as the boy idolized his father, most of Vegeta's activities left little room for an eight-year-old child.
It has brought us that, at least.
She watched Vegeta eat. He was unaware of her, eating steadily, lost in his own world, as usual. She wondered what he thought about when he focused inward like that. Was it Goku that he thought of -- and his own quest to be stronger than Goku?
How much do you want it, Vegeta?
I guess tomorrow I'll find out ... how far you're really willing to go.
Vegeta did love her, did love Trunks. No matter what anyone said, no matter what the tiny voice of doubt in her heart said, she was sure of it. And yet ...
What would you sacrifice to defeat 'Kakarrot', Vegeta?
Would you sacrifice us?
Would you sacrifice us?
It was the one question she truly wanted to ask -- and the one she would never dare, for she was afraid to know what the answer might be.
Vegeta had changed a lot since she had known him, more than she would have ever believed possible. But sometimes she feared that he had not changed enough.
Not nearly enough.