"Congratulations. You've officially killed it."
Never let it be said that Bulma Briefs doesn't know when to give up, because she does. It doesn't happen often, but when it does she knows well enough to give the hell up. And this? This is one of those times.
She tosses her drill to the side where the rest of her tools are scattered and falls backwards into the grass with a sigh, tilting her face up to catch the shrinking rays of the sun.
"It's still not working!"
"That's because it's dead, you dumb ass!"
The reply comes as a strangled sound of outrage, amplified by the gravity chamber's acoustics, and she can almost feel it shake about in the hollow of her ribs. Her husband's anger is many things, but subtle isn't one of them.
"Fix it!" Vegeta's bellow is encased in alloyed metal.
"You've completely fried the accelerometer," she shouts back.
"You upgraded it a month ago!"
"Doesn't matter how often I fix individual components, you dimwit, the chamber's thirteen years old; it could only last so long. I'll bust out one of the excavators in the morning and we'll give it a proper burial. Start composing the eulogy now."
Her arms stretch out as if she were about to embrace the sky, and for a moment she's a decade younger, determination and pride wrapped around her like a cloak of invincibility, her fear of becoming obsolete in a group of superhuman warriors made into armor as she volunteers to go off-world for the first time. She'd been beautiful. Fearless. Her friends may have been able to fly and shoot light from their hands and beat the ever-loving shit out of each other, but none of them could build a bomb from scraps and sticks and chewing gum. None of them could pilot a ship, or create medical bots when the senzu beans ran out. None of them could write a virus so delicate and thorough that even the best computer system would be wiped out before it even registered a threat. Damned if she would be the weak link.
All that, and what does she have to show for it? A broken gravity chamber that she'll be hearing about for the next month.
As if summoned by her thoughts, a shadow falls over her, and she looks up into the unimpressed eyes of the prince of all saiyans.
"You're blocking my sun, sweetheart."
"You only use terms of endearment when you don't actually mean them," Vegeta grouses.
She grins wide, her cheeks pulling tight, and holds out a hand to him. "Come and lie down with me for a while, my love, my darling, my sugar-coated dish of key lime pie a la mode."
"I'm going to annihilate you," he mutters, hunkering down to sit next to her.
"You haven't done it yet. I'm not too worried."
Amusement tugs at the corners of his mouth. "I'm biding my time."
"You've been biding for over ten years," Bulma reminds him sweetly, relishing the weight of her own words.
"It's been a long con," he agrees. His shoulders droop and he lifts his chin toward the sinking sun. Whatever frustrations he'd been clinging to about the gravity chamber leave him in a slow roil like distant thunder, and Bulma can't quite stop the chuckle that escapes her to see it. A decade ago, he would've thrown a tantrum and blown up the neighborhood. "Now what the hell am I supposed to do?"
She shrugs and rolls onto her side, pressing her forehead into the meat of his thigh. "Go have a boys' weekend with Goku while I build a new one. I'll get to test out the updated renormalization group before I implement the latest batch of calculations into a new core, and you'll get to beat the shit out of Goku for a couple of days—everybody wins."
A gloved hand slips up her neck and buries itself into her hair, and she shivers, pushing into it with a hum. He gets so hot under the proverbial collar when she talks shop. It took her longer than she'd care to admit to realize the worlds-hardened, war-mongering prince of a butcher race had an abiding interest in the sciences, that the interest that lit his eyes whenever she explained processes and procedures wasn't strictly sexual.
The first conversation they ever had that wasn't a screaming match was about the synthesis of the liquid used in regenerative tanks, lasting almost three hours before he realized where he was and what he was doing, sneered at her, and left. She didn't see him for two weeks after that, but he eventually came back, this time with some interesting ideas about high-pressure turbofans.
Her husband's an intelligent man, loath as the asshole is to cop to it.
"The brat's gone for the day?" It's framed as a question, but it sounds more like a confirmation.
"For the night, too. Sleepover with Goten." She rubs the bridge of her nose against his leg to help get her through a yawn. "Goku took the boys to a water park this afternoon. I've already got our lawyers on standby for the civil suits that are sure to come out of this. Will you testify?"
"I'll do whatever it takes to throw that idiot behind bars," Vegeta says, and she laughs.
"You'd last three days before you'd break him out."
With the way he's backlit by the sun, limned in fiery orange, his gaze is hidden from her, but it's intense enough that she can practically feel it, hot and as palpable as hands roving over her skin, and that's all the warning she gets before she's suddenly pressed up against the metal of the defunct gravity chamber with no real memory of how she got there.
Damn saiyans and their super speed.
He smirks up at her. "Trunks is gone, Kakarot will soon be in jail, and my training regimen has been sorely interrupted. I'm going to need to pass the time somehow. Idleness is a saiyan's worst enemy."
She shivers a little at his low tone, the sure grip of his hands as they hold her up. "If you're looking for things to do, the R&D team needs a new project and you wouldn't shut up about how inefficient the mainstream operating syst—"
Her mouth opens eagerly for his tongue and she wraps her arms around his neck, pressing against him where he's hot and hard for her already.
In the beginning, when they were little more than willing bodies to each other, he used to kiss her with the force of a storm, all whirling wind and the unforgiving rumble of something exciting and truly terrifying, and she would stumble around in a daze afterwards like a tornado victim. Mine, his mouth and tongue and teeth used to crow. Over the years, his kisses have tempered somewhat in their roughness but are no less intense. If anything, they're better, leave her stunned and aching for longer, because when he slots his lips against hers she can hear the way they murmur yours.
Vegeta steps back from the gravity chamber, and she curls her legs around him, lets him take her weight, never once breaking the connection.
"I could take you right here," he pants against her mouth, then drags his teeth down the sensitive skin of her neck, chuckling when she chokes on a gasp. "Where anyone could walk by and see you moaning like a—"
"There's no wish powerful enough to bring you back from where I'll send you if you finish that sentence," Bulma growls.
Snorting with amusement, Vegeta nudges his face up for another kiss.
"Take us inside," she whispers.
"The king of all saiyans doesn't take orders."
She cups his cheeks in her hands and brings their foreheads together, grinning. "Oh, we've graduated to king now, hm? Well, your majesty most certainly does take orders if you want to fuck your queen's brains out."
"Just this once, then," Vegeta says and licks at her teeth.
"Keep telling yourself th—" The words halt on her tongue at the sight of Vegeta's brows furrowing, his eyes drifting past her shoulder and into the sky. "Vegeta?"
His mouth, puffy from their kisses, flattens in annoyance. "Trunks is back."
Before he can reply, her little boy lands with a veritable bang, searing the grass beneath his feet with a golden flame, hair twisted into knife points and eyes as endless as the sky. She's seen him go Super saiyan more times than she can count, but she's never seen him like this—as if he actually has a reason for the change.
There's something ugly in his expression as he takes the two of them in, wild and angry and hurt beyond all measure, and she shimmies out of Vegeta's hold to stand on the ground. She's never seen that look on his face, not even during the Buu fiasco a couple of years ago.
"Trunks? Baby, are you—"
Trunks doesn't even look at her. All his considerable attention is on Vegeta. "Is it true?"
"Aren't you supposed to be at Acadia Land with Goku and Goten?" Bulma asks, her hands automatically finding their way to her hips. It's a gesture she's been doing for years, but it never happens for any particular reason. She could be ludicrously happy and her arms would still be akimbo.
"Is it true." Trunks never phrases questions as actual questions—just like his father—but the thread of rage sewn through the words is enough to make the hair on her arms stand up and take notice. This is something different. "Is it true that you—"
Trunks bites off the sentence and chokes it down, and the whites of his eyes bleed to pink, taking on a sheen so thick that it almost makes them look like glass.
"Trunks," Bulma says, calm, because what they need is calm right now. She is the last bastion of stability in this goddamn family, which is kind of a leap for her; Bulma Briefs is many things, but calm usually isn't one of them. Or maybe it is these days. She's done a lot of growing up since taking over Capsule Corp and having a kid, which means she's probably long overdue for a large-scale freak out. But since she's not going to have some random coroner write Caught in the crossfire of a saiyan father-son hissy fit in her autopsy report, she might as well hold off the meltdown for a little longer and play the role of the least crazy one in this veritable asylum. "You've got to give us more than 'is it true'. Is what true?"
There's an explosion of light and sound as Trunks powers up. Bulma stumbles back.
"Say it," Vegeta says simply. He looks at Trunks as if he's a particularly interesting bug, and not the earnest warrior of whom he is so proud. "You're dishonoring yourself if you accuse your father and king, yet can't even get the words out."
"A+ parenting, sweetheart," she groans.
"Goku said—He said you used to—That before you came to earth you—"
Chi-Chi better have made the best of her time with Goku, because Bulma's going to kill him.
"Is it true?!"
The thin lines at the corners of Vegeta's eyes—ones forged by laughter, not pain—smooth out, and there is nothing but the truth on his face. She wants to place her hands on him, let him feel her the way he used to when he was unsure of his place in a world without his rival and needed some sort of anchor. She's always been his mooring.
He crosses his arms and tilts his chin up, a dim echo of the alien who fell from the sky with designs on the planet, every bit the king should have been. The picture he makes is completely undermined by the Capsule Corp logo that rests on his human-made armor where the House of Vegeta insignia used to be, the way his frown trembles ever so slightly at the edges.
Trunks drags in a shuddering breath. "Is it true?"
It isn't much, but it's more than enough.
There's a blur that her eyes can barely detect and then suddenly Vegeta's buried into the side of the gravity chamber, the metal erupting around him like water hitting a boulder. Trunks's hands strain where they're fisted around the straps of his armor, the skin of his knuckles bleeding to white.
"Trunks! Trunks, stop!"
She waits for the parry, for Vegeta to fight back—a punch, a ki blast, something—but nothing comes.
"How many?!" Trunks rears back and slams Vegeta further into the metal, which twists and groans beneath the pressure. Another hit and they'll go right through the wall. "How many people died because of you?! How many worlds did you wipe out?!"
Bulma gets as close as she can, which is maybe ten feet away. The golden aura around her son sparks with enough electricity that her ears ring and pop; it'd be suicide to go any further.
"Do you know?" Trunks shrieks, a blaze of molten gold and rage. "Did you keep track? Do you even care?!"
Vegeta's mouth is usually so full with the clever and cutting rebuttals that Bulma knows he stays awake at night coming up with, but his silence weighs heavier than his bloated speeches ever have. It's obvious that Trunks is expecting something, anything—justification, or even a proud disagreement.
Despite his demands, Trunks can't hear the answers Vegeta is keeping behind his teeth. To know the absolute truth would break her boy beyond all measure, and Vegeta knows it.
But Trunks is nothing if not very astute. He is their son, after all.
"You don't, do you." The realization hits him harder than a punch ever could, and he releases Vegeta with a shuddering exhale, floating backwards and wearing the most heart-rending expression Bulma's ever seen. "You don't care at all."
And because Vegeta is Vegeta, he doesn't stay silent for long.
"Use your brain, boy." Vegeta pushes away from the chamber and pulls his bullshit bravado around him like a cape, brushing dust and bits of broken metal away from his body armor, hanging in the air like it's any other day. "Do you honestly believe I give a shit about any of that?"
"Y-You killed innocent people!"
"Even the defenseless ones—old people, babies—"
"Oh, at the very least." It's said with the same relish he reserves for half-hour-long blowjobs and twenty Heart Attack Specials from the diner down the street, and Bulma grits her teeth against the rage that bubbles up in her belly to hear it used for this.
Trunks's bottom lip trembles. "You're a murderer!"
"I'm a saiyan." Vegeta sneers, and to anyone else it would be proof that he was the same vicious beast who came to Earth looking for trouble, the desperate fighter who would have sold them out if it meant getting a leg up on Frieza, the arrogant prick who wouldn't have batted an eyelash if his child and its mother perished at the hands of a cyborg. As if the last decade never happened.
"N-No! A saiyan isn't—"
"Isn't what?" Vegeta widens his eyes mockingly. "A murderer? A monster? Oh, my son, you know nothing of your heritage, of the blood pumping from a heart half-forged in the ruins of a hundred-thousand worlds."
"That isn't true!" Spittle flies from Trunks's lips, dissipating in the golden blaze of energy, and sparks erupt and curl around him as if to protect him from the person who gave him that power. "A saiyan is an honorable warrior. We—all of us fight to save the planet! We're the good guys!"
It brings a cold, sharp grin to Vegeta's face, the slash of a blade. "There used to be an old saying on my planet: saiyans are the dogs of Death. We were its herald and hastener. Death pointed its finger, told us to take, and we obeyed. And had you been born to greatness as you should have been, your throne would have been made from the skulls of those you conquered, carved from Death's very hand."
Trunks stares, eyes wide and wet. "But I don't—"
"Don't you? Every time you call upon your power, the urge to destroy overrides everything else. I've seen it when you fight, even during simple sparring matches with Goten. It's all you can do to stop yourself from killing him. I can see it on your face even now—you want to put me in the ground, stain the earth with my blood. You can barely contain it. But there lies the problem: you want to, but you won't. The saiyan in you has been diluted. Polluted. The heart in your breast has been tempered by a morality that a saiyan never ought to know. Had you been prince, your people would have torn you limb from limb to see such weakness bred into the royal line."
Bulma steps forward, curls her hand around his ankle, and pulls hard. It doesn't move him even a little, but it's enough to knock him from whatever red haze descended over his mind. "God, Vegeta, enough. This isn't helping."
At the sound of her voice, Trunks jerks hard in surprise and turns wide eyes on her. "You knew?"
She sighs. "Trunks—"
"You knew and you still—" Whatever he'd been about to say dies on his tongue, strangled, and betrayal claws at the corners of his mouth where it's stretched around the clench of his teeth. Tears glitter in beads on his lashes, glowing bright gold from his aura, little fire. Her boy looks like an angel, brought low by some classical torture, staring at her as if he doesn't know her. She's never wanted to hold him as much as she does now, but she can't even get close enough to so much as reach out for him.
Anger clouds his face with red and he sneers, "What, did you want a boyfriend so bad that you settled for a killer?"
It's like being slapped, and Bulma rears back, ears ringing. "Trunks!"
There's a blur, and Trunks jerks back in surprise, cowering away from the force of his father’s rage. For a terrifying second, Bulma thinks Vegeta’s going to hit him. Trunks glares up at Vegeta through his lashes, the tears there finally losing their grasp and spilling over.
"GODDAMMIT, VEGETA! WHAT th..e..."
As Vegeta drifts to the ground, fear makes a home in her bones for the first time in a long time. She's never seen that look on his face, not even in the early days when anything might have broken the tenuous truce they'd made and brought about the planet's destruction. This is not the shattered and hateful man from before, but this isn't the husband she knows, either. This is someone new.
"You will never disrespect your queen in such a manner again. Do you understand me?"
Biting his trembling lip, Trunks risks a glance at her, remorse etched into every shadow on his face. He's never felt shame easily or dealt well with it when he does, and she watches the apology struggle to find a handhold on his tongue, his lips parting awkwardly around it, but it misses and falls away.
"Enough," Vegeta says with a sigh and strikes his signature pose, fist propping itself easily upon his hip. Despite the relaxed picture he makes, Bulma reads anxiety in the tight line of his shoulders, the taut skin of his neck. "Dry your eyes."
Exhaling, Bulma steps forward and pastes on a smile. This isn't the time to let her anger overwhelm the situation. "Come on, baby. Why don't we go in and talk? I bought twenty cartons of Moose Tracks and tons of whipped cream. We'll make sundaes."
Trunks swipes angrily at his face and gets to his feet, dirt clinging to his bare arms like a second skin. Gold gives up the ghost and his hair flops down around his face, soft lavender, and the too-intense blaze of his aura disperses with a small puff, as if a switch had been flicked. He always cuts a figure that seems taller than he actually is and after all he's been through, after all he's accomplished, it's so easy to forget he's just a little boy. But now, he looks just like any other child, a vessel for the sins of his father and impossibly changed because of it, too small under the faint light of the street lamps.
"I wish you'd stayed dead," Trunks whispers. "I hate you."
The words are wrapped in sorrow and bare breath, and they hit with the subtlety of a dirty bomb. Before the dust clears, Trunks launches into the sky and does something that leaves her shaken to the core: he runs.
Heart heavy, she stares at the streak of vapor left in his wake, slashed across the violet sky like a brushstroke, and lets out a long, low breath. "Well, shit."
There's a whoosh behind her, fabric swishing, and then, "Bulma, Vegeta, I—"
Whatever Goku is about to say meets a violent end as Vegeta whirls around and buries his fist in Goku's belly, the blow hitting so hard that Bulma feels it in her own gut. Goku gives a choked cry of surprise, garbled with the sudden onslaught of spit and blood that forces its way out of his mouth, before he goes crashing into the gravity chamber, which erupts in a brilliant show of fire and smoke. So much for burying it in the morning.
The combustion sends a wave of debris toward her, but it burns up and is tossed aside with a quick flare of sunlight, shielding her from it as if it were nothing more than a little sprinkle of rain. Bulma lifts a hand and places it on the hard plane of Vegeta's back; beneath her palm, limned in gold, the muscles are stone.
"Vegeta, calm down."
"I'm going to kill him," he says, and she doesn't doubt the sincerity in his voice for an instant. It's been years since she found the sight of him as a super saiyan terrifying instead of stupidly hot, but the old fear is coming back to her now.
"Ow." Goku claws his way out of the wreckage, his signature gi ripped in several places, cheeks smudged with soot and blood. "That hurt."
Rage, brighter than any ki blast or super saiyan aura, flares up inside her, and she starts forward, hand lifting and curling into a fist.
"Did it? Good!" Goku could easily dodge it or block it, but he takes the hit without complaint. Thank god for senzu beans, because she's pretty sure she broke something; it doesn't matter. Her anger cancels out the pain. "How dare you! How dare you! You had no right to tell him, Goku! None at all!"
He at least has the good sense to look sorry. "I didn't mean to—I thought… I'm sorry, Bulma. I thought he already knew, so when Goten asked me how I met Vegeta I said—"
Bulma turns to look at Vegeta and she can hear Goku do the same.
"Vegeta, I really am—" Goku begins, scratching at the back of his head sheepishly, forestalled by the hand Vegeta lifts to silence him.
"Said what, Kakarot." It's not a question.
Goku's expression goes through a color spectrum of intent, rippling through the blues and violets of righteousness all the way over to the reds of deception, and he stays there in the crimson for a long time. Too long. He's never been the sharpest tool in the box, but he's always been a champion of truth—and this is the first time she's ever seen him willing to be anything else. That's how she knows he knows how badly he's fucked up.
But it's only for a moment. He heaves a great sigh, pained, and admits, "I told him about our fight. The first one. And then… I told him that you worked for Frieza."
She buries her face into her hands and, mouth clamped shut, screams. She's never felt this kind of anger, like she's being flayed from the inside out, sliced away to nothing under the force of how much she wants to kill something. This must be what Vegeta feels like all the time, except he somehow manages to restrain himself every single day; if she had his power, she'd never be able to control it.
"Goku," Bulma breathes hotly into her palms, "I'm going to kill you. I'm drafting plans in my head for a robot to do the job for me."
"Even after the whole thing with the cyborgs and Cell, you'd still want to…?"
She drops her hands. "Goku!"
"Bulma, I thought he already knew," he says again, but it rings hollow even to his own ears by the looks of it. "I…"
"You could've said anything. You could've said you met on Namek and left it at that. You could've said you met through me. You could've changed the fucking subject, Goku! You're the adult! You're allowed to shut down questions you're not equipped to answer! Do you have any idea what you've done?" The corners of her eyes burn and she blinks quickly to dispel the tears gathering there.
Goku's eyes go wide. "Aww, c'mon, Bulma. It's not as bad as all that! Even if he didn't know, he would've sooner or later, right?"
"Wow, really?" She wipes angrily at her wet cheeks. "I don't know about you, but genocide's a bit of a tough sell these days. Goddammit, Goku, you're lucky that Vegeta—"
The scorching wash of blood over her insides cools into something hard, a black stone, as she turns to look at her husband, whose face has been washed of anything resembling emotion. He's little more than a blank slate. She takes in the soft line of his mouth, the relaxed swells of his cheeks, and fears that her ribs might crack under the sudden pounding of her heart. She searches his eyes, the most expressive part of him, and finds nothing. Nothing.
His hand is lifted. His palm begins to glow.
"I will admit, it's been long enough that I can't actually remember the last time I was betrayed like this," Vegeta says with an almost casual lilt, so devoid of his familiar, now dear rage.
Goku shakes his head and jerks forward a step. "No, Vegeta, it wasn't—"
"It wasn't your fucking place." Peasant, Vegeta doesn't say, but Bulma can hear it. From the stricken expression creeping over Goku's face like a coming night, Goku hears it, too. It's been years since the haughty tone of saiyan aristocracy has graced Vegeta's voice, but it clouds the edges of his words as if it never left.
"I know you're angry."
"Angry?" Vegeta huffs. "Oh, Kakarot, this isn't anger. I'm beyond anger. I don't think I know quite what it is I'm feeling right now. But whatever it is, it will ensure that there won't be enough left of you to make it to heaven after I'm done."
"I'll talk to Trunks," Goku promises. "I'll go right now. I can still do something."
"You've done enough." The ball of ki growing in Vegeta's palm flares, doubling in size.
She puts the kibosh on that with a quelling hand upon his arm. "Vegeta, stop. As much as I actually want you to kick his ass, it's not going to fix this."
The ball of ki continues to expand, a miniature white dwarf in the palm of her husband's hand. He could very well ignore her; why would he listen to her at all with such power at his disposal? It's an unkind reminder that she is the odd one out here, a mortal among gods.
Mortal or not, she is still his queen and he will listen to her. "Vegeta, enough."
A long, uncomfortable minute passes before the ball of ki dissipates and Vegeta lowers his hand to clench into a fist at his side. "This fucking place. If we were back on our planet, Kakarot, you wouldn't be shown such mercy. You would have been executed to the full extent of the law for your trespass against the royal family. I've never wanted to be back there more than I do in this moment."
Goku shudders and looks at the ground. "Vegeta, I'm sorry."
Vegeta doesn't shove his fist through Goku's spine like he obviously wants to, but he spits at Goku's feet before taking to the sky. It isn't an escape; it's the worst kind of dismissal. Goku stares after him, eyes brimming with remorse, lips bitten red, and says nothing. It is possibly the first time he's ever been hurt like this, lost an integral friendship in such a vicious manner, due to his own actions.
"He always says he's gonna kill me, but I think he meant it this time," Goku murmurs, pained.
"I don't think you understand, Goku," Bulma says. "Even if Trunks knew, even if he'd always known, it wasn't your past to bring up. It wasn't your story to tell, Goku. Vegeta's right: it wasn't your place. I don't think I can forgive you for this—I don't think either of us can."
Inhaling shakily, he nods, eyes downcast. "So what now?"
She fills her lungs deeply, holds the air in for a moment to feel the oceanic roar of her blood, the war drum of her heart, and lets it out slowly. This is what she's good at: already the first roots of a plan are burrowing into her brain, spreading out until they bud with decisive intent.
"Now you tell me where Trunks is, and then you go home," she says.
He nods, the space between his brows furrowing as he tilts his head, casting out the net of his ki. "He's… in the Northern Wastelands, near where Frieza landed. I could take you there in a second."
It's said earnestly, genuinely, and he looks at her like he'd let her cut out his still-beating heart and eat it in front of him if it would fix this.
Years and years have passed since their first meeting, pages of history between them, and yet he's still that weird, little boy with the tail, wild and innocent, steadfast in his loyalty to her. He was the first to be content to learn what he could about her, the first to want to help her without demanding anything in return, the first to care nothing about her wealth. Their lives have been intertwined so tightly that she honestly can't imagine her life without him, even in the face of this seriously stupid move on his part.
She'd told him she couldn't forgive him, but how could she not? He was her first, real friend.
Sighing, her anger dancing away like smoke, she reaches up and pats his cheek. "You can't fix everything, Goku."
He turns his face into the cup of her hand. "But this is my fault."
"It is," she agrees. "But you didn't know, and you'd never do something like that out of malice or spite, so I'm giving you a pass. For now. Someday I'll kick your ass for it, Goku, don't think I won't. But in the meantime, you gotta step aside and let us mere mortals handle things once in a while."
Bulma slides her hand up into the surprisingly soft wilderness of Goku's hair, grabs a good handful, and yanks. Hard. "Don't you even think about it."
"Ow, owww, Bulma!" He's the savior of worlds and he flails helplessly in her grip like a four-year old.
"Do you hear me? Leave him alone. If you go after him now, he will kill you or destroy the planet trying, and I'm accepting an award from the Society of Women Engineers in two weeks and I can't be dead for that. He'll come find you and beat the shit out of you when he's good and ready." With one last yank, she releases him.
He stumbles back with a pout, rubbing at his head. "You're scary as all get out, you know."
"And don't you forget it. Now go home. Trunks and I need to have a talk."
"Why does it have to be you?" He looks genuinely confused. "Shouldn't it be Vegeta?"
She sighs and looks to the northern horizon where her little prince is no doubt unleashing a storm upon the earth. "Of course it has to be me. I've already done this."
It's normally a two hour flight to the wastelands, but she makes it in about 45 minutes. The new wings Vegeta designed have completely changed the amount of time it takes to accelerate the airflow; she makes a mental note to praise him for it later. Not only is it the truth, but it ought to have the added benefit of taking his mind off of this clusterfuck, even for a little while.
Years of practice make for an easy, almost soundless landing, and she's greeted with a blast of frigid air the moment she opens the door. She'd known that deserts got super cold at night, but she never had the pleasure of experiencing it until now. Earth's enemies all seem to be courteous enough to start shit during the day.
The last time she was out this way, it was with the others, all of them ready to lay down their lives at Frieza's feet. Their martyrdom was foiled by the arrival of a fair-haired stranger who bore a saiyan's gaze and the signature color of her own line. In retrospect, it was obvious. He'd been wearing a Capsule Corp jacket, for god's sake.
Crossing her arms tightly, she surveys the mountainscape, or what's left of it: majestic behemoths of stone and time have been reduced to rubble, littered around like fallen building blocks. Eons of formation, squandered in a matter of minutes.
She blows out a breath. That environmentalist group is totally going to sue her again.
A deafening boom startles her into almost falling on her ass and she turns, heart pounding, to watch helplessly as another rock face meets its end, collapsing next to its brethren in a brilliant show of dust and inevitability. It's far away enough that she doesn't have to worry about debris, but the ground trembles beneath her feet as though it means to open up and swallow her whole.
Her mouth opens to tell him to cut that shit out before she grounds him for life, but the words falter on her tongue.
Curling into himself, Trunks slowly floats downward, a leaf at the mercy of the breeze, and sits at the edge of the cliff, chin tucked over his knees. He's the very picture of despondency, of betrayal, head bowed under the weight of her mistakes, of his father's past, of the identity that he no longer recognizes.
By the time she carefully navigates the uneven terrain to get to him, his bare shoulders are hunched and shivering. He doesn't use his ki to will the wind away.
Bulma props her fists upon her hips. "Trunks?"
"I feel so dumb," Trunks whispers.
She hunkers down next to him and wraps an arm around his cold shoulders, pulling him against her side. That he doesn't thrash out of her hold and whine that he's not a baby, that he immediately curls into her and rests his head against her chest, worries her in a way that knocking down mountains never could.
"Oh, kiddo. You could never be dumb. You're my son." It's meant to lighten the conversation some, take the tension out of his muscles, but it falls flat and scatters in the wind.
"I thought the Majin thing was just because he wants to beat Goten's dad. But it wasn't, was it? That was him. That was him all along."
Her eyes slide shut on another sigh. "Sort of."
"How can it be 'sort of'?" He tucks his nose into her shirt. "He destroyed that stadium like it was nothing. You were still there. He almost killed you. Mom, he almost killed you."
He tenses and moves to get up, no doubt to challenge Vegeta to another fight, and she tightens her hold on him. It'd be nothing to break, but he subsides, trembling with rage, so very much his father's son.
"Easy, baby," she murmurs and reaches up to stroke his hair. "How much did Goku tell you? About what dad was like before, I mean."
"Enough," Trunks growls.
Bulma rolls her eyes. "Define 'enough'."
"He said…" She feels him shrug. "He said dad used to work for Frieza. Did… did his dirty work. Killed for him. He said dad tried to kill everyone when he first came to earth."
"Not really," Trunks says. "But that's plenty, isn't it?"
Once upon a time, during that precarious year before the cyborgs when she had been navigating an unfamiliar body and eating for what felt like two-thousand instead of two, she'd become intimately acquainted with the old hard drive from Goku's pod. Most of her time was spent in the lab with a scouter perched delicately on her face, her already aching back made worse by hunching over her desk for hours, translating and cross-referencing the conditioning curriculum Goku had been meant to follow with the information in the scouter. Every night, her dreams were beset by a great beast that would tear itself from her womb and, dripping with her own life, gorge itself upon the world.
She lets out a breath. "Plenty for a human, but nothing for a saiyan."
"What do you mean?"
"Your father wasn't… wrong about what he said," she murmurs. "About saiyans. He was being a dick about it, but he was telling the truth."
"I don't…" Understand. And he might not. The fine tremor making its way up his spine and to his shoulders might be born of the cold, of an innocence on the cusp of being shattered, and despite the gentle sweeps of her hand she can't stop it.
"With the exception of your dad, the only saiyans you know are ones who've lived their whole lives on earth—Goten, Gohan, Goku. They obey earth laws, practice earth customs, and believe in earth beliefs." She pauses thoughtfully. "I'd even hesitate to call them saiyans. They're humans in every way that counts."
"They're still saiyans," Trunks protests, pushing back, away, to glare at her with an inherited scowl. "They have saiyan blood!"
"Blood has nothing to do with who someone is," Bulma says. "Biology is not identity, baby. It's what keeps you alive; it doesn't make you you. You come from inside here," she taps his head with the hand pressed lightly to his back, "and here," with her other hand over his heart. "The things that make you Trunks Briefs… well, you were born with most of them; the rest you learned from the people around you."
"Nature and nurture," Trunks mutters in acknowledgement.
She smiles. "See? Not dumb."
"So, what, just because dad isn't from earth he thinks killing everyone is okay? Goku isn't from earth and he would never do anything like that."
"I hate to break it to you, kiddo, but that's literally the only reason Goku even came to earth," Bulma says. "He was sent here to destroy it."
Her boy stares at her with wide, betrayed eyes, but even that shock takes a backseat to the questions that arise from it, the implications of that inconvenient truth. For as long as Trunks has known Goku, he's viewed the man as a hero, the father ideal, the savior of all mankind—the man his own father would never be. His idolization of Goku was predicated on the simple idea that Goku would never hurt anyone unless absolutely necessary.
She hates ripping that from Trunks when he's already lost so much of his childhood as it is. But role models are never what they appear to be: held to a fixed standard, never changing. And isn't that just Goku all over?
"The only thing that stopped him was… well, his grandpa."
"How did he—"
"He, uh, dropped Goku. On his head. By accident… I think."
Trunks keeps staring. "He was actually dropped on his head as a baby."
Her lips twitch and she has to bite down on the hysterical laugh that bubbles up. "Yeah."
"That explains a lot," Trunks muses.
She snorts so hard that her eyes tear up. "Trunks Vegeta Briefs, that is rude."
"So he hit his head and… what?"
"From the moment he left Planet Vegeta to landing on earth, Goku was being conditioned. Do you know what conditioning is?"
Trunks nods. "Like brainwashing."
Close enough. "He was conditioned to destroy, but hitting his head made all of that fall out and he was able to fill the hole left behind with kindness, compassion—all things we associate with humanity. But if he hadn't fallen, Goku would have grown up with a saiyan's mentality, a saiyan's idea of right and wrong… and a saiyan's penchant for violence and death."
"Like dad," Trunks whispers.
"Like dad," she agrees. "The only full-blooded saiyan saiyans I've met are your dad and, very briefly, Goku's brother." She can feel his chin slide up so he can look at her. "Long story. But your father… he may be a saiyan—with all that entails—but he didn't have a typical saiyan upbringing. On earth, a person's success is measured in terms of wealth or marriage or having children, but for a saiyan… success was measured in other ways: becoming strong, fighting hard, adding planets to their territory. They were a warring people. They evolved into it; it's why you age so slowly, so you can keep fighting longer."
Sometimes, she imagines it, pieces together the buildings and barracks, the different cities, the slums—all of it built by bloodstained hands from stolen blueprints. The palace that Vegeta called home, the father who raised him to be a false idol, the reign he was denied… All of it saiyan, and yet not. There would have been no clear way to delineate pure saiyan culture from all the others subsumed into it; saiyan power was forged from the blood of the people they destroyed. They made themselves into an empire not out of malice, but necessity. They grew too big, too fast, too much.
Frieza was right to fear them. Sooner or later, he would have fallen before the saiyan machine—by the hands of a legendary warrior or not.
"We're all born with the instinct to kill to survive, but taking pleasure in death is something learned. Your father did terrible things, Trunks, because he never had the chance to do anything else. It was the only way to survive."
There's a quiet moment where that sinks in, and then Trunks settles back against her side with a thoughtful noise. "Survive working for Frieza, you mean."
The name means nothing to Trunks, but even a passing mention is still enough to make Vegeta tense, even now. Frieza has been reduced to nothing more than a boogeyman, spoken about in passing like an urban legend. Someday, after enough time has passed, he won't be even a footnote in the universe's history. "Frieza was many things, Trunks, and none of them were good."
"How bad was he?"
"Think of the scariest person you can possibly imagine. Not the strongest or meanest, but the scariest. And no matter what you come up with, it won't be nearly as scary as Frieza. He was a cancer that spread throughout entire galaxies, invading everywhere there was life and leaving behind only death. He took a lot of pleasure in conquering worlds—not just in wiping out entire populations, but forcing himself into the ones he kept around. Entire cultures were broken down and molded to fit his own vision. And he'd long-since started with the saiyans by the time he destroyed their planet, presenting himself as an ally while he tore them apart politically, economically, socially… Chipping away at them little by little."
Trunks shudders. "Didn't they fight back?"
Bulma closes her eyes and lets out a breath. "Even if they did, it wouldn't have mattered. He was stronger and more cunning than all of them put together."
"If dad knew he was bad, why didn't he try and get away? He's smart. He could've found somewhere to hide."
She'd be lying if she said she hadn't thought the same thing, had spent many nights lying in bed with the image of a tiny, proud child, veritably the last of his kind and line, left to the cruelties of the universe's worst evil.
"As if your father's pride would've allowed it. Have you ever known him to back down from anything?"
Trunks shakes his head. "But… if Frieza was as… scary as you say he was, even dad wouldn't have been able to last."
It's a good point. Vegeta had been a lost, misguided thing who endured unspeakable torture—some of which he's since told her about, curled into her after a nightmare, soft whispers penning a lifetime's confession into her skin, the only autobiography he'll ever write. Most of it is still left to her imagination, and she knows that no matter how bad she thinks it was, it was a thousand times worse.
But by all rights, Vegeta should not have survived his tenure with Frieza.
She doesn't know what kind of answer she's supposed to give Trunks, but she says the truest thing she knows: "Sometimes the need for vengeance can make us do the impossible. And sometimes it can make us into something we're not."
Trunks cuddles closer and says nothing for a long time. It's perhaps the longest he's been quiet since he was a baby, and even then he always had something to say. He shatters the hush with the soft realization of, "To beat Frieza, he had to become Frieza."
Her nose twinges hot and she coughs a little around the sudden lump in her throat, her fingers digging a little into Trunks's back.
What was she to expect? Her boy is a clever one.
"And even then, he never got the chance to beat him," Trunks goes on, breathless, voice cracking. "He did all of those things and couldn't—"
Goten always calls her the cool mom; she's the one who lets them stay up late to watch horror movies and pig out on ice cream, and she never yells when they get in her way, and she invents amazing things to help them train. Just this once, she'd rather be strong than cool, and so she says nothing about the cold splotches soaking the fabric of her shirt and hums the lullabies she used to sing to him.
She's almost through Moon, So Round and Yellow when his tears finally subside and she trails off into silence, allowing the hush to swaddle them both. For an odd moment, Bulma wonders about the tail she ordered removed when her obstetrician placed that squirming, squawling bundle in her arms all those years ago. What would it be doing now? Would he wrap it wrap around her wrist, binding mother and son even tighter together, or would it sway freely, unburdened by the secrets spilled between them?
Trunks whispers, hoarse, "Now what?"
"Dad doesn't… he's not going to be arrested by the, like, galaxy police, is he?"
She barks a wet laugh. "No, kiddo, nothing like that."
"Will he… get in trouble? With the big afterlife guy?"
There is no universe in which anyone should remember what their own death was like, let alone a boy of ten. Bulma sighs. "I don't know what's going to happen when we die. For good, I mean. Your dad's come a long way from the person he was and he's redeemed himself in ways I never thought he could—whether or not it'll be enough to… But it's not for us to think about. That part of him is gone. He isn't Vegeta the murderer; he's Vegeta the father, the husband, the savior of earth, and we love him for who he is, not who he used to be."
"Yeah," Trunks murmurs, and all the tension in his shoulders rolls out of him like dissipating thunder, crackling into whispers and then nothing at all. He rubs his cheek against her absently. "Yeah."
She runs her hand over the back of his head to feel the downy softness of the hair she gave him. "What is it?"
"Dad did what he did because… because he wanted revenge. Could you do something like that?"
She was sixteen when she laid eyes on the monster that her friend became and thought, "The things I could do with that kind of power." Her first thought upon fixing the scouter had been, "The secrets I could learn with this." When it was revealed that Goku and Gohan had alien blood, her fingers itched to break them open and look inside. On Namek, if anyone had bothered to include her in the goings-on, her wishes for Porunga would have been swift and terrible—to deny Goku the chance of battling Frieza and instead wipe the bastard from memory. In an alternate universe, she harnessed the power of time and helped change the course of history. She knew the cyborgs were human and still worked tirelessly to create the remote that would have destroyed them—and slept like a baby afterward. Even now, she lies in bed some nights, curled into the living furnace that is her husband, and dreams of the reign she will never have.
Idle thoughts, never made real. But if she were forced into action, there would be no end to it. All anyone seems to focus on is her temper, but no one can fathom the twisted annals and shadows in her mind. There is a fine line between genius and madness, and it's one she toes with every breath.
"I'm scared of the things I would do if someone took you or your father away from me," Bulma confesses into Trunks's hair.
Thank every god listening that she's chosen to put her considerable talents to use for the good guys, because none of them would have stood a chance against her.
Trunks hums. "You'd be a good opponent."
"That might be the nicest thing you've ever said to me," she says with a laugh, kissing his hairline. "It's almost enough to make me rethink grounding you for that boyfriend comment from earlier. Almost."
Rearing back, he gazes at her with wide, soulful eyes. "I apologized for that!"
"Yeah, no, you didn't. I'm thinking one week ought to do it. No training, no hanging out with Goten—"
The innocent act is replaced by sheer horror. "What?! No! What am I supposed to do—watch TV? Play on the computer? That's so dumb!"
She shrugs and pushes herself to her feet. "Should've thought about that before running your mouth. Bet you won't make that mistake again."
He gets up too, dusting his shorts off, and then turns a truly mean glower on her, as if she hasn't spent the last ten years ignoring that same look from his father. At this point, it's less an indication of anger and more an invitation to hug the shit out of whoever's wearing it.
Trunks lets out an annoyed grumble as she gathers him in her arms one more time, bristling a little like a cat, but he almost immediately throws his own arms around her in return. Someday he'll be too old for this; she'll take what she can get before then.
"Can I be grounded for three days instead?"
"I'll add another week if you keep it up," she says lightly.
He coughs. "No, no. A week sounds fair."
"That's what I thought you said." She gives him a quick noogie before letting him go, standing back to smile down at him. God, she loves this kid.
His gaze meets hers for a quick moment before averting to the ground. He kicks absently at a rock, which goes bouncing to join the mountain graveyard. "I am, though. I'm sorry. That wasn't a nice thing to say."
"We've all said things we regret when we're mad," Bulma says. "But apology accepted."
"Thanks, mom." Trunks exhales and gives her a small smile, painfully awkward in its sincerity. "I think… I think I should go find dad."
Her little prince, his shoulders strong and unbowed, even under the weight of her mistakes and his father's past. In another life, he might have been the tipping point of a culture balancing on the edge of a knife. He would've made a good king.
"Okay, baby," she says, soft, and gives him an encouraging thumbs-up. "Go easy on him."
"He'd disown me!" Trunks laughs, then takes to the air, navigating his body as easily as she had her jet, before blasting toward the dark horizon.
She watches the vapor trail bleed into the air, disappearing, and then surveys the fallen mountains with a sigh. Always leaving her to clean up his messes. "How long are you going to let him look for you?"
There's a pause, her words impaled and held by pale rays of starlight, before the susurrus of movement behind her allows itself to be detected. Measured steps clack over the stone, growing louder with every breath, until they come to a stop at her side. She turns her head slightly, just enough to see Vegeta's severe profile; his gaze is arrested by the destroyed mountains.
"Not long," he says, chin lifting slightly. "He was right, you know."
Bulma cocks her head. "About which part?"
A hand presses to the small of her back, gently corralling her to press against him where he's steady and solid. She shivers at the sudden shock of warmth and burrows closer, tucking her head under his chin. It used to make him tense as though she were something to be wary of, to fear, and it didn't take her long to figure out how unaccustomed he was to such gestures of trust. Now, it's something she thinks he craves.
"That you would make a good opponent."
She smiles. "Really?"
"Mm." He rests his chin atop her head. "You would have been a terrifying queen—a vengeful goddess with a mind no saiyan could have matched. Together, we would have brought the universe to its knees."
"Sweet talker," she snickers, pressing her lips to the stretch of fabric covering his heart—where the royal crest would have been if they were other people. "So, how badly did I butcher the saiyan legacy? I assume you were listening."
There's a rumble of amused thunder beneath her ear, and he says, "Sometimes I forget how observant you are. You see too much."
"I see what I need to see."
"And what do you see?"
"I see you."
When nothing is forthcoming, she ducks away, needing to see his face. Something nameless lurks in his gaze as he looks at her, a deep and terrible longing, almost like fear, like awe, and she has barely enough time to commit it to memory before his eyes slide shut and his mouth finds hers.
The hands that brought about the end of countless worlds cup her chin as if she were made of porcelain, and he kisses her so gently, with such overwhelming gratitude—her lips, her jaw, her throat, and finally he buries his face into the curve of her neck, holding her like he never means to let go.
"Oh, my love," she whispers, and he snorts.
"You only use terms of endearment when you don't mean them." His voice is hoarse, thin, so very unlike the gruff warrior he is.
She smiles and presses a kiss to his ridiculous hair. "Not true."
Breathing heavily through his mouth, Vegeta lifts his head and presses his brow to hers. The first time he did it was on the Lookout, the exhaustion from the fight with Buu clinging to him like a second layer of armor, and for a moment he allowed her to carry the weight, just for a moment. She never felt so close to him.
"My caramel-glazed chocolate sugar cone," she can't help but add.
"I hate you," he mutters and pulls away, crossing his arms with that scowl. "I hope you’ve enjoyed your life so far, because I'm going to destroy you."
Her cheeks ache with the stretch of her grin. "And lose out on the best opponent you've ever had? C'mon."
The edge of his frown softens. "What you said to Trunks… before, about—"
She reaches up and gently places her fingers over his mouth, stilling the words. "It's in the past, Vegeta. I think we can leave it there."
Beneath her touch, his lips twist into something a little sweet, and her heart flutters as his hand lifts to capture hers, pressing a kiss to her fingers as he steps away.
"You know, one of these days I'm going to tell everyone what a total sap you are," she says.
He grins. "No one will believe you. Now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time I have words with my son."
She rolls her eyes and props a fist upon her hip. "Go easy on him."
"He'd disown me." With a smirk, he blasts into the air, following the path Trunks took, disappearing into the endless stretch of black, jewelled sky. She shivers at the loss of his warmth, rubbing at her arms as she turns to head back to the jet, but her eye catches on a patch of sky and she stops.
It's been mapped a thousand times in a thousand notebooks and she's slipped out of bed many nights to see it through her father's telescope. Even without the aid of her equipment and notes she's never had any trouble finding the small, empty space where Planet Vegeta once spun in a lazy dance with its two moons.
Millions of lives, snuffed out in a single blow. Perhaps it was karma for the lives the saiyans had taken. Perhaps they were just sad pawns in Frieza's endgame.
But no one is ever defined by the circumstances of their birth, not really. The saiyans were killers, sure, but they weren't just that. There must have been saiyans who loved music, and good food, and went shopping in their downtime, and had friends. There must have been those who bucked the have 'em and leave 'em tradition and forged close ties with family, raised their children themselves, taught them something other than how to be Death's dogs. They must have fallen in love, had dreams and desires, wanted to see the universe for the joys it could offer instead of just as new territory.
They were more than their nature. They were people. They were Vegeta, and Trunks, and Goku, and Gohan, and Goten, and… her. They were hers.
Lowering her chin, she bows her head to them, to the subjects that never were, the friends she'll never know, and the ones who managed to escape their planet's destruction and the trappings of their nature—wherever they are, dead and alive.
"I see you," she whispers, a royal proclamation, and lifts her head to smile. "I see all of you."
With a deep inhale, Bulma climbs into the jet and pulls away from the earth, soars into the sky, and heads for home.