Of Breath, Blood And Destiny
She was falling – falling…
And then she wasn't anymore.
It felt like hours later when she dared to open her eyes – a pair of glacial teal eyes staring back at her from up close.
It was dark – the air was cold and clammy, it was some sort of cave – stalactites festooned the rocky ceiling. Through a numb hysteria, Bulma faintly thought about bats, of how disgusting they were, but hey, at least it wasn't raining anymore, that was something –
She felt disconnected.
Then she blinked and he was there like he had always been there.
She was breathing hard through her nose – slowly, she realized his arms were wrapped around her.
Her eyes widened and only then she began to feel something – her heart was pounding; her clothes, soaked by rain and sweat, were clinging to her like a second skin – she realized she was shaking from head to toe. A furious, violent tremor that coursed through every fiber of her body; she instinctively tightened the grasp she had on his shoulders, fingers moving frantically, clutching desperately – a vice-grip digging in his skin and muscles.
"Am I dead?" she stammered through the chattering of her teeth, looking in those icy teal eyes that were so unfamiliar to her – and yet they were staring at her in a way she knew so well. Those eyes on her face –the eyes that could burn through her, that had the power of making her feel defenseless, undressed.
His eyes – underneath it all it was Goku and he was there and he was the only thing keeping her upright.
She wanted to struggle against his arms – somewhere in her right mind, the right mind she couldn't find, she knew she ought to be furious – but instead she saw Goku's mouth going tight as though he was the one mad for something – he shook his head.
"You're okay," he said and that did it for her.
Without warning, Bulma's knees buckled and she dragged him down on the rocky and uneven floor, down to their knees. His arms never left her – she never unclenched her grip on his shoulders.
She couldn't see – she bowed her head, letting her forehead fall against him and he didn't let go, not even for a second. She could feel the rise and fall of his chest, she could feel his heart – she closed her eyes.
She could feel warmth.
Bulma blinked. She didn't know how – she could feel actual, real warmth rushing from him to her in gentle waves – her clothes dried off, her hair did the same – her trembling subsided and she closed her eyes again; slowly, gradually, she let herself relax a little, she let a hand slide down to her belly.
"You're safe," she heard Goku say against her hair and she knew she was.
She thought that everything around her felt soft and cozy, like when you fall asleep beside a fire and you really don't want to wake up and get away from it. She was safe and her child was safe and she was home – she didn't want that moment to ever end, she wanted to be crushed against his chest forever.
But all of it lasted only a brief minute instead – Goku pulled away.
He was getting to his feet and he was hauling her up along with him – Bulma felt that moment of warmth and safety flutter away like a deflated balloon.
She didn't want them to fight –
The worst of it all was that she didn't know what Vegeta would do after and the thought scared her. Bulma felt terror in her guts – fear that everything she had been trying to build was a façade, fear of everything crumbling down.
She didn't want Goku to let go and she loathed herself for that.
She renewed her grasp on his shoulders, trying to keep him close, to keep him from fluttering away like the yellow balloon.
"Wait," she said. "Please… don't go through with this."
Had she been more lucid, she would have known that asking a Saiyan not to fight was like asking the world to stop turning; berating them for it was like berating a wild animal for having fangs – Goku shook his head, blond tresses brushing against his forehead. There was a resolute glint in his eyes – the fire Bulma knew so well was burning beneath the green and blue, but his voice was infuriatingly calm when he spoke.
"Stay here," he said, cupping the side of her face with a strong hand. "Don't move."
Bulma's eyes widened.
"NO! Listen to me–
But he was already gone in a golden whirlwind that cut at the speed of sound through the rain outside, where the storm continued to vent its fury.
" – Goku!" Bulma kicked a rock on the ground and the anger swept away the daze in her brain.
Goku launched himself out of the cave and went on to fly upwards as fast as he could, his passage rising gusts of gale-force wind that cut through the pouring rain like a knife – the storm was gaining strength; its violence was whipping the sky into turmoil and Goku was welcoming that awesome power as his own.
Fury and adrenaline were coursing through him, lending him the strength he needed to keep going and to ignore everything else.
The pain in his left arm, the pounding in his chest – those things didn't exist anymore. Every ounce of his life energy, of his ki, was now sharp and focused, all of it channeled into the Super Saiyan transformation, the first after many months and, for the first time after many months, he felt again like his old self, the one that had fought Frieza and won, the one that could do anything.
Brow furrowed, Goku gritted his teeth – he knew he would pay the consequences of leaving Bulma behind in that cave. He knew that in her book saving her life didn't make up for being ignored – but he also knew that it was for the best, whether she liked it or not.
A flash of lightning struck close when he finally caught up with Vegeta, who was still hovering above the remains of the plateau where Bulma had been standing.
Thunder rumbled and reverberated throughout the canyon.
"Why didn't you try to save her?" Goku bellowed, bright aura flaring with more strength – rage adding fuel to it.
Vegeta let his gaze wander on the golden hair, on the aura that was like fire – he snarled and for a moment he was a snake baring his fangs.
"She's alive, isn't she," he seethed. "That blast was meant for you, Kakarot." A venomous sneer materialized on his face as he continued. "If what happened bothers you so much you should have let it hit you."
Goku shook his head. "We were still too close…" he said.
He couldn't believe Vegeta was willing to sacrifice everything to their feud. The cool and unfazed expression on his face couldn't be true, it had to be a mask, it just had to be, Goku said to himself. A stupid, dangerous mask of detachment – that had almost cost the lives of Bulma and the baby. Goku clenched his teeth – it was time for Vegeta to get his head out of his arse, open his eyes and start seeing.
"I told her to get the hell out of the way," Vegeta was snarling. "It's not my fault if she's an id –
Vegeta didn't even see the fist that impacted his jaw, but he certainly felt the thud and the pain and the metallic taste of blood bursting inside his mouth as he was sent flying backwards through the icy pelt of rain.
Goku didn't waste any time – he fazed out of sight and reappeared behind Vegeta, stopping his trajectory with a devastating, well-placed kick square in Vegeta's back.
Vegeta was sent rocketing toward the ground and he was about to crash when he finally managed to use the momentum, turning it into energy to flip himself around and bounce back up toward Goku – with a thunderous scream of pure rage, he let his blue aura explode around him as he sped up; he charged a ball of incandescent energy and waited until the last second, until he could clearly see Kakarot's icy eyes, to shoot – but the blast went surging through Goku as though he was made of thin air –
Vegeta's eyes widened – he turned –
Goku, flesh and bones, was standing right behind him in his ready stance, that goddamn half-grin back on his face. Outraged, Vegeta narrowed his eyes.
"You won't go far with this little tricks, Kakarot," he boasted. "Not even as a Super Saiyan." He spat those last words as though they were something poisonous.
Goku's only answer was to widen his lopsided grin though his eyes remained of heated steel. He stretched his good arm, the one that wasn't bleeding, and pointed two fingers to Vegeta's solar plexus, touching it lightly with the fingertips – Vegeta barely had the time to look down and feel bewilderment; Goku made a fist with that same hand and, with an explosive knee extension, his hips twisted at the speed of sound, thus thrusting the shoulder and then the arm forward with extraordinary violence – Goku's fist drove straight into the pit of Vegeta's stomach with a strength and a speed that was mind-boggling for such a short range attack.
Vegeta reeled backward; the blow knocked all the wind out of him –he doubled over at the waist, choking, coughing.
The pain was indescribable – it burned through every nerve of his body, making his brain buzz and his vision blur – he thought he was never going to breathe again.
But then – the anger bubbling in his veins prevailed.
The fire of envy and hatred gave him the strength to straighten up and launch himself at Goku with an animalistic battle cry.
Blue aura flashing, he plowed into Goku with a furious tackle, the momentum driving the both of them through the rocky formation far behind Goku's back.
Goku yelled – he could feel as the rock burst and shattered as he drilled right through it like a jackhammer – he felt the fragments cutting through his clothes, he felt the sting as they pierced his back – he gritted his teeth and then powered up in a flash, letting out a powerful kiai that effectively freed him for Vegeta's grasp.
Forced to let go, Vegeta skidded back only slightly, powering up to resist the windstorm Goku's explosive aura had caused.
Vegeta wasn't going to relent, not anytime soon. There was nothing a third-class scum could do that he could not do, he repeated to himself as he charged again – he delivered a series of punches that forced the Super Saiyan to twist from side to side at the speed of sound to avoid them; when he finally managed to hit Goku's cheek with his fist he smirked then he pivoted on the spot and kicked, going for Goku's bleeding arm – but Goku controlled the attack by wrapping an arm around Vegeta's knee, blocking the kick in mid-arc.
Vegeta was trapped and Goku continued with a punch that impacted Vegeta's nose with a crunch, then – with a bang – Goku flew away, starting to gain some distance.
Vegeta wiped away the blood from his upper lip and roared in anger.
"You're running away now, Kakarot?" he yelled and launched himself to the chase of the golden blur that was quickly cutting through the storm; then, he decided that he wasn't interested in catching up with the fleeing Saiyan, in taking the bait. With a sly smile, he propelled himself upward where he had a pretty clear view of Kakarot and laughed as he started to charge two energy balls, one for each palm.
"You make for a nice moving target!" Vegeta bellowed. "Take this, third-class!""
With a final scream, Vegeta launched an explosive barrage of white-hot ki blasts towards his opponent –putting his all into that violent, unrelenting attack.
When he stopped, several minutes later, Kakarot was nowhere to be seen. Breathing hard, Vegeta lowered his arms – no one could escape such an attack unscathed, he said to himself, but still, something in his gut was making him reluctant to lower his guard – he flinched when he sensed a shift in the air –
"This way again, Vegeta."
Vegeta swiveled around and, once again, he found himself face to face with a relatively unharmed Goku. He clenched his fists –
"How?" he spat.
Goku tilted his head to one side. "Instant transmission, remember?" he said, then, to Vegeta's astonishment, he let out a long, deep breath and discarded his Super Saiyan transformation.
"What are you doing?" Vegeta said. "We're not done, obviously. You're still alive."
Goku shook his head and actually – smiled. Vegeta's veins popped out in rage.
"We're stopping. You wasted a lot of energy with that last attack. You do that a lot, actually." Goku said. "We should try this again after you follow my advice."
Vegeta shook his head, outraged; he was seething. He was trembling from head to toe – but it wasn't the rain, it wasn't the cold, it wasn't the fatigue – there was only fury. Anger and hatred rushing through his body along with his blood. Fury at Kakarot – fury at himself.
Fury and nothing else.
Goku turned and made to fly away, but the primal scream that resonated from behind his back made him stop short.
"I – WILL –SURPASS YOU, KAKAROT!"
After the explosion, there was only the pounding of the rain. Incessant, unmerciful.
Goku didn't turn around again – his back to Vegeta, he closed his eyes, but the grin stayed.
"Good luck, Vegeta."
A moment passed. There was a swooshing sound and Vegeta was at his side.
"Mark my word. Next time, only one of us will walk away," he seethed in a low, dangerous voice. "I will."
Goku opened his eyes and sent him a sideways glance.
"We'll see about that," he answered.
A moment later, Vegeta was already a blue blur far away on the dark horizon.
Goku's shoulders sagged.
He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths – slowly, slowly he started the descent toward the ground and when his feet finally touched down, his knees inexplicably turned to jelly beneath him – he fell, stopping short of going face-first into the mud by catching himself with his good arm.
His vision swam and he closed his eyes tight – he was beyond exhaustion. He tried to take a deep breath, then another, then another.
Something heavy was enclosing him, something like a prison. Goku tried to fight it focusing – focusing –
One breath at the time, he said to himself. One breath at the time. Breath. Heartbeat.
He wanted to sleep – to roll over and fall asleep for a week. Then, with a wince, he remembered that the day was far from over since Vegeta had not happened to be flying in the direction Bulma was.
A new rush of adrenaline mercifully washed over Goku and he pushed himself to his feet on slightly wobbly legs. He could do this – he could. He concentrated, looking for her unmistakable shimmering ki – with a pop, he was there.
Bulma was standing just outside the cave – of course not where he had left her, of course not where he had told her it was safe.
She was soaking wet all over again – but she didn't seem to be registering the raindrops hitting her face.
She stood there, not moving, arms limp by her side – Goku had to watch carefully to see that Bulma was actually there, that it wasn't just her shell standing in front of him and, once done, he knew she was there the way he always did – by looking in her eyes that were so blue you wouldn't expect to see fire in those orbs. But there was, the way it always had been. Maybe more – and Goku took a small comfort in that fiery and hard stare he had thought he was never going to see again, not in real life.
And when her hand shot out and grabbed a handful of the top of his gi, Goku told himself he should have seen it coming. He looked down – her face was so close that their noses were almost touching; despite the rain, he could smell the intoxicating scent of her skin somehow – maybe it was in his head; he had never really forgotten that scent.
"What did you do?" she hissed, pulling him even closer. "Where is he?"
Goku swallowed. "Don't worry," he said. "He's fine. He'll be back."
Her eyes pierced Goku's for a long second and he did his best to not falter – he could tell she was ready to skin him alive, her anger too hot to articulate words – the look in her eyes was like a fever burning, something he had never seen before, not even on her.
Bulma shoved him back and away from her with all the strength she had and when the only thing she accomplished was making him stumble slightly, just half a step back – that fueled her anger even more.
Why he had to be so much stronger her? Why hitting him and banging her head against the wall had to be exactly the same thing?
"I begged you not to fight!" she raged and she shoved him again, slamming her palms against his chest. Goku grabbed her wrist with his good arm, closing his fingers as gently as he could around it.
"I'm sorry," he said. "You weren't supposed to be anywhere near this."
Bulma opened her mouth, wanting to fire back, but the words simply stumbled on her tongue. She couldn't speak – she was at loss for words for so many reasons she wasn't about to start counting. How dare he – how dare they to shut her out like that? Like she was nothing? Like she didn't matter at all? She was shaking – she hadn't even realized that but apparently Goku had, because his frown softened as he let go of her arm. He tipped his head back, watching, feeling the water falling down with violence – as though the whole sky wanted to break down and collapse.
"Bulma, please," he said, shifting his eyes back to her face. "Let me take you back home. You'll get sick, it's dangerous for you and –
"Now you care about what happens to me?" she snapped and when he blinked and recoiled as though he had just been slapped, she felt a petty satisfaction rising up in her chest.
"W-what do you mean?" he said. "As… as opposed to all the other times I didn't care?"
Goku's voice came out higher than normal and he hardly had the time to finish the sentence that Bulma was all over him, as though she'd been waiting for that, exactly for that – she turned rabid.
"Well, you're the one who doesn't listen to a word I say!" she lashed out. "You're the one who likes to disappear for months and years on end! That's how you are!"
Goku gulped and leaned back away from her, as though he was defending himself from a physical attack – he stared for a moment, at loss for words.
"I… I disappear?" he was able to say at last. "You're the one who said we couldn't see each other anymore!"
"Oh and is that right? Because you are the one who's married to another woman!"
"You told me it was the right thing to do!"
"Oh, really? Wake up, Goku! I didn't want you to!" Bulma yelled, her voice breaking up at that volume. She knew tears were welling up in her eyes – she could feel them, burning and stinging, blurring the edges of her vision. She squeezed her voice past the thick and raw lump in her throat. "And when you did I wanted to die!"
As soon as the words left her mouth, Bulma knew she should have been stronger than that – but it was done. There. It was the truth. And it all came back to her – the unique sensation of drowning into him, of being one with him – of breathing the same breath.
She gritted her teeth, closing her eyes shut for a second, and it was all she could do to stand, still and rigid, to not break under the stare he was throwing at her – which was wide and confused and lost.
Goku's eyes flickered close for a moment, as he attempted to take a steadying breath. He didn't understand – all he knew was that her words felt like a stab through his ribcage, like something impossible to breathe around.
"I don't get it… why, then?" he said. "And why did you…"
He couldn't help it, it was like a reflex – his eyes wandered briefly to Bulma's baby bump.
"Have you been like… trying to punish me?" he asked at last, throwing his good arm out, more hurt than accusing, more defeated than defiant – and not expecting at all the hand that a nanosecond later collided hard with the side of his face.
"Ow!" he said. "Bulma!?"
Bulma lowered her trembling hand. It was now her turn to stare at him with wide eyes. Was that what he thought of her? It hurt – badly.
Was… was he wrong?
She shook her head, moving her mouth, searching for words that refused to come up. Her ears were ringing – she couldn't believe that the first truth she had uttered in months, in years maybe, had met such a poor ending. When she could finally speak, her voice was low and shaky.
"I really hate you right now."
Goku grimaced. "Yeah, I kinda got that."
"No, I don't think you do! Goku, you –
Goku's head suddenly whipped up and half a second later the shout came from apparently nowhere.
"There he is! GOKU!"
Bulma's shoulders shot up in tension – she felt as though she had been caught red-handed during the worst possible crime. And maybe it was like that – she turned her head, following the direction of Goku's glance and, through the rain, she saw two small figures flying towards them – as they gradually became bigger she was able to recognize Krillin and Yamcha – great. Bulma scowled, but her misfortunes were far from over. She saw Goku turning his head in the opposite direction, from which other two shapes were approaching fast.
Bulma frowned at Goku's sharp intake of breath.
"What now?" she hissed and Goku shook his head.
"Gohan…" he said.
Bulma had nothing to say to that –she snorted, shaking her head slightly, averting Goku's gaze. Great – just great. She hoped Goku had the energy for that because she sure as hell didn't – she couldn't sustain anything anymore.
She focused on the raindrops bouncing on Goku's shoulders.
A moment later, Gohan landed beside them, shortly followed by Piccolo, who's unreadable expression didn't bode well, Goku thought breezily before focusing his attention on his son's face, whose eyes were so wide and alight with worry that they seemed way too big for his small, round face.
Goku tried to smile.
"Gohan!" he exclaimed and then Yamcha and Krillin touched the muddy soil next to him. Looking at them, Goku let out a meek giggle. "What – what are you guys doing here?" he said and Krillin immediately arched an eyebrow.
"You're kidding, right?" he said. "Your power was all over the place! We thought something bad was up… we came from Kame House as fast as we could!"
Goku stretched his smile, but he had the distinct impression that it was coming across more like a grimace than anything else – on autopilot, he brought his functioning arm behind his head.
"Yeah, about that…"
"What happened, dad?" Gohan said with a worried frown. "Are you okay?"
Goku glanced down at Gohan, and his breath hitched in his throat – without even wanting too, Goku's eyes shifted to Piccolo. He didn't know why; the Namekian returned the favor by narrowing his piercing dark eyes to slits.
"You were fighting Vegeta," Piccolo stated at last, his face back to a neutral mask. "We sensed that. What happened? Where is he?"
"Uh, yeah, you know how it is with Vegeta," he said vaguely. "But it's okay. We're all okay, we just got a little carried away."
Krillin eyed him from head to toe, a disbelieving look on his face. "A little?"
Goku winced and looked down at himself – taking in his torn, mangled appearance for the first time and as the adrenaline from the fight with Vegeta and then with Bulma left him, a throbbing ache steadily made its way throughout his bones and muscles, and the heavy feeling in chest came back full force. He gingerly cradled his left arm and hissed between his teeth, but he let the pained breath dissolve into a laugh.
"Okay, a lot," he conceded, trying not to make a big deal out of it – he shivered in his soaked clothes, but at least it looked like the rain was letting up.
A moment later, Yamcha cleared his throat. "Anyway, we sort of forgot the obvious question… " he said, looking between his friends. "Bulma?!" he exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Yeah, Bulma, what gives?" Krillin added. "And, hem, by the way… congratulations?"
Bulma, who had been silent the whole time, shut down and shut up, her head bent – apparently dead set into trying to pierce a hole in the ground with the her stare – whipped her head up and saw that everybody except Goku was looking at her as though she was the alien of the little gang –
"Mind your own business!" she barked and Yamcha recoiled immediately from her proximity.
"Sorry, forget I asked!" he said, throwing a sideways puzzled look at Krillin who shook his head with a shrug. Goku winced and glanced at Bulma, whose eyes moved to meet his – before stubbornly going back to examine the soil. Goku sighed.
"Actually, Yamcha…" he said. "Bulma needs a lift. Can you –
He trailed off, suddenly too tired for anything. He hoped Yamcha would understand… and luckily his friend nodded.
"…Sure," he said, turning toward Bulma with a wary expression – the way one would approach a ticking bomb. "Bulma? You okay?"
Bulma raised her head once again and looked straight at Goku for a moment, her eyes burning and her jaw ticking.
The rain stopped altogether.
"Let's just go," she huffed at last.
Yamcha carefully picked her up, not daring to say more to her – probably even trying to avoid eye contact. Once he was sure she was comfortable enough, he smiled weakly at the others.
"Well," he said. "See you at the next shindig… I guess."
The only answer was Krillin's hesitant wave – a moment later, they were off. Goku nodded imperceptibly and followed their flight for as long as he could – when they disappeared beyond the horizon he lowered his head. Now he was the one who found the ground very interesting. He was feeling sick.
"Shouldn't you do something about that arm?"
Krillin's voice forced Goku to look up again.
Krillin raised his eyebrows in concern, motioning with his head at the way Goku was cradling his arm against his side. "It looks like it hurts," he said.
Goku looked down, following the direction of Krillin's nod and smiled wearily. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Hehehe, I totally forgot about it…"
Krillin rolled his eyes. "You would," he replied. "You could use a senzu, anyway."
Goku was silent for a moment, mouth hanging slightly open – before his face lit up in a way that Krillin found completely out of proportion… really, senzu beans were an obvious suggestion. But then again, it was Goku they were talking about –
"Krillin!" Goku exclaimed. "You're a genius!"
Krillin shot his friend a nervous smile. "Am I, now?"
Goku nodded enthusiastically. "Yes! The best!"
Gohan studied the cheerful, but chalk white face of his dad and decided it was time to intervene in the conversation.
"I'll go to Korin with you, dad," he said, taking a step forward, but Goku ruffled his hair using his good arm and smiled.
"Nah, Gohan, I'll be fine!" he said, and he seemed totally confident in that regard. "Go home and I'll see you there when I'm done, okay?"
Gohan stared for a moment, biting down lightly on his lips. He really had a bad feeling about it – about it all.
"…Okay," he said at last.
"Good," he said, and he brought the two customary fingers to his forehead. "Laters!" he said, flashing a particularly bright smile to Piccolo – before disappearing into thin air. Gohan's breath itched and he took a few steps toward the place where his father had just been standing.
"Chin up, little buddy," Krillin said. "You know your dad's always been nuts."
Gohan sighed and looked up at Piccolo, whose face was still unreadable.
"Yeah…" the kid said at last. "I know…"
When Bulma reemerged from her scalding hot shower, clad in her light blue, warm pajamas, she found Yamcha seated in the armchair next to her bed, one leg crossed over the other, absentmindedly flipping through a book.
She scowled. She had washed away the chill of that cursed day, but apparently, all the other stuff – the madness, the sorrow, the humiliation, the anger – wasn't so easy to scrub away and forget.
"What are you doing still here?" she snapped when he looked up. "I already thanked you. What do you want, a gold star?"
Yamcha closed the book, the dig going past his head. He knew Bulma very well after all and he was accustomed to that kind of verbal abuse. He tapped his fingers on the cover, on edge for another reason entirely.
"Sooo…" he began hesitantly. "Wanna talk about it?" he asked at last and Bulma narrowed her eyes, looked at him funny.
Yamcha raised his eyebrows.
"Well," he said, and Bulma thought she saw a faint blush in his cheeks. He was obviously feeling uncomfortable, and she thought she had to at least appreciate his effort or to laugh at his embarrassment, but she was too tired for that – she was too tired for everything. "You're acting sketchier than usual," he continued. "No offense," he added immediately at Bulma's arched eyebrow. "And that thing before – that was weird."
Bulma stared at him blankly for a moment.
"How is not wanting the father of your child to get into a potentially mortal fight weird?" she said.
"Goku would never kill Vegeta… as much as it pains me to say."
Bulma sent Yamcha a frigid glare. "Accidents happen," she said and Yamcha cringed and laughed weakly.
"Well, when you put it like that –
"Yes, I'm putting it like that," Bulma said quickly, darting her chin upward as if to dare him to say otherwise.
Yamcha sighed and got up from the armchair. "Okay," he said and he made his way to the door. "Get some rest and…"
He trailed off and Bulma scowled.
"What?" she snapped.
"Nothing just… stay out of trouble," he said. "You're a mom now, you know. Well… kind of."
Bulma snorted. "Goodnight, Yamcha!"
"Yeah, yeah, goodnight."
When the door closed behind him, Bulma let out the breath she had been holding. She knew she should cry – she knew she should break down. But the tears were stuck – they weren't coming out.
She curled in the middle of the bed – she knew very well she was going to be all alone that night. Maybe tomorrow night too; and the one after tomorrow – and somehow she thought it was fair.
She lay on her side, the only comfortable position for her lately – she closed her eyes and tried to sleep. She wished she could stop hearing Goku's voice in her head over and over.
But she couldn't stop – she couldn't stop thinking, she couldn't shut down her brain. She thought about the past, and it was wistful and bittersweet; she obsessed about the future and it was scary and uncertain, full of shades.
When she finally fell asleep, hours later, she was dismantled – empty. Like a seashore after a storm.
"You are you, Bulma."
Later that night, the storm seemed to have travelled all the way to the other side of the world with a certain violence – Piccolo couldn't quite recall the last time he had witnessed such a raging downpour in the woods surrounding Mount Paozu.
Son Goku was there, a small orange and blue shape just above the trees – Piccolo watched in morbid fascination as his former enemy, his rival, his friend snapped his arms back and forth, quickly, rhythmically – methodically releasing blazing volleys of ki blasts that travelled fast through the air in what looked like a discharge of lightning. It was a perfect, captivating symphony along with the storm that crashed down relentlessly.
It would have been an endearing sight – if only Piccolo wasn't so sure there was something terribly wrong in the whole display and, for once, he was grateful for the asinine tight leash Son Chichi had on her son – he had a feeling this wasn't something Gohan was supposed to witness.
Slowly, he flew closer.
"Are you trying to kill yourself today?" Piccolo said, raising his voice just enough to make it through the pounding of the rain.
Goku didn't seem particularly surprised to see Piccolo. He spared him a glance, a smirk flashing on his face – a lopsided, defiant grin that held no malice, though, and Piccolo was ready to swear Son Goku was the only living being capable of such an expression.
"The opposite!" Goku said in a loud and upbeat voice, going back to shoot his blasts with renewed intensity. But Piccolo saw right through it – he had been created with the sole purpose of killing Son Goku; so it was only fair that the namekian was in tune with every single shift of the Saiyan's ki.
"Son!" Piccolo yelled. He reached out and grabbed one of Goku's wrists, squeezing hard. "Stop it! What the hell is wrong with you?"
Goku struggled his arm free from Piccolo's grasp and, without warning, he attacked; a back fist aimed to the face that Piccolo easily parried and then countered with a punch meant for Goku's stomach – punch from which Goku defended himself with a swift outer block; he then went with a front kick that Piccolo fended off by drawing back and to the side.
From his new position, Piccolo growled at the unconventional aggressive vibe Goku was sending off in jarring, unsettling waves. He narrowed his eyes as he went to strike with a fist under which Goku ducked before going again for the offensive –
"The senzu bean didn't work, Piccolo!" Goku yelled over the rain and past the sound of the blows they were exchanging.
Piccolo snapped his leg up for a kick and Goku moved past him, twisted on the spot and punched him in the back. "HA!"
Piccolo snarled and turned to face Goku. "Your arm seems fine."
Goku smirked again and went for a sneaky feint; a sweep of his leg that he immediately turned into a roundhouse kick to Piccolo's head.
"You know what I mean."
Piccolo ducked. "And you react by wasting all your goddamn ki to the wind?"
Goku's grin faltered. For less than a second, he gritted his teeth through it, but then the grin came back as though nothing had happened.
"I'm not wasting it – I'm training!" he said and he attacked again, but Piccolo blurred out of sight and Goku was left breathing harshly for a moment, head darting right and left, ready for the attack the was surely coming –
Piccolo reappeared to Goku's side half a second later. But he made no move to attack; with a swirl of his cape, he turned and flew towards the ground.
Goku frowned. "Hey!" he said, before following suit. When he caught up with Piccolo, the namekian was standing, arms crossed on his chest, his back leaning against a tree.
"What is it?" Goku asked, a cross expression on his face. "Let's go on."
"I think you did enough for today," Piccolo answered. "Go home. I have no interest in dragging you all the way over there."
Goku blinked as he watched the Namekian turn and fly away – leaving him alone.
It was fine; he actually quite liked being alone – usually he liked being able to focus exclusively on his thoughts, on his mind, body and soul – sharpening those three things to the point of perfection and then beyond, always beyond. Goku liked his own company but, that night... that night was different.
He didn't want to be alone – he didn't want to be alone with the knowledge that the senzu beans, the magic beans with unlimited powers, the ones that could heal gaping holes in a body, had done nothing for him.
Sure, they had fixed the cuts and the burns; sure, they had replenished the energy he had lost – but the pain…
The pain had not left; not since the fight with Vegeta. It used to recede before – there were moments in between in which Goku felt like he could breathe easy; moments of solace in which he actually forgot what the chocking sensation that the vicious hand in his chest brought was like.
But, that day, it seemed that no amount of positive thinking was going to cut it –
Goku felt like he was dying and he didn't even know why.
As if on cue, he felt his chest constricting; a ton of bricks had been dropped on it, he was sure – he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to concentrate again –
It's okay. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay –
He gasped, and he was on hands and knees, shaking –
"Dammit!" he yelled, punching the mud with his clenched fist – his voice breaking on the last syllable.
He was going to choke. He knew he was.
"Are you ever afraid?
"…Sometimes. But I think it's okay, though."
"…That's… very smart, Son-Kun."
Goku opened his eyes forcibly – he tried to smile. He wanted to smile. He knew that voice from somewhere – an enemy? No, a rival… a friend…
"You were right, Piccolo," he gasped in between short wheezes. "What... what a day… huh?"
He tried to take a deep breath and that was a mistake – searing pain. Burning, burning pain in his lungs, eating him from inside out, eating him alive, burning, burning – it was too hot to be outside, grandpa had said so, he should have listened –
He thought he felt a hand on his back, but it wasn't possible, he was alone and it wasn't that bad –
He chuckled and it was strained and painful.
"I... I wish I was a… kid… again," Goku huffed. "I used to be… free… "
Breathing meant pain, breathing meant death.
Goku coughed, he heaved and then he bit hard on his lip – he felt the blood – so he was alive then?
That was great – that was awesome. He had many things to do, he needed to talk to her…
Someone was pushing him down, but couldn't they see that he had to go? There was no time, no time at all –
"I should be getting up," he choked out. "I need to – get up. Help me get up –
"Son, stay still."
"No, I –
Goku wanted to protest against those arms – he wanted to, really – but someone stabbed him, square in his heart and he wasn't expecting it at all and it burned and he forgot about everything else that wasn't the pain – he could not see, he could not breathe, he could not think about anything else – he couldn't...
"My name is Goku, G-O-K-U. What's yours?"
"My name? Mine?"
"Goku, calm down!"
It was so cold – he couldn't stop shaking and it hurt, it hurt so bad that he sobbed out loud.
"Dad? Mom, what's happening?"
"…Goku? It's Chichi, can you hear me? It's okay, you're home now."
Goku forced himself to the surface. He forced himself to open his eyes. "…Chichi?"
"Yes, it's me."
He saw the blurry shape of a serious expression that was very familiar. He swallowed. He felt like he had to talk – he felt it was his job to convince everyone that it was going to be alright because it was –
He closed his eyes and gathered his strength. "I will get him back, Chichi, I promise."
Goku swallowed again. It was his job to convince everyone that it was alright, yeah – but it was so difficult to form the words, even though he was trying –
"I'll save Gohan… from that Saiyan," he managed at last. "…he's not my brother… he's not."
He squeezed his eyes shut again and breathed hard, hungry for air – but it hurt to breathe, why, why did it have to hurt so much…
"Yes, I know," he heard from very far. "I know you will."
He felt something impossibly ice-cold being pressed on his brow and he jerked away violently.
"It's okay Goku, I'm just bathing your forehead."
Goku shook his head frantically. It was cold – already too cold – and he was slipping, he was falling, he was drowning –
"Mom…" was the last thing he heard, "He can't breathe…"
Then the pain triumphed and Goku sank into himself, unable to do anything else.
May 5th, 766
A loud, quivering cry echoed in Bulma's buzzing ears and she squeezed her eyes shut, her head falling back on the bed – someone pushed her matted, sweat-soaked hair away from her forehead.
She moaned weakly – she didn't want to be touched anymore, not if it could have been helped – she breathed harshly for a moment before her mother's voice pierced through the fog that was clouding her brain.
"Oh, sweetie!" Mrs. Briefs said. "He's perfect!"
Bulma peeled her eyes open and turned her head slightly to her left – where she could hear the noise of the baby, a muffled wail, like a cat crying – but they were the very first breaths of her son.
Everything hurt and Bulma gritted her teeth.
A nurse was cleaning him up, she was holding him in one arm, while the other methodically stroked his back with a cloth – Bulma tried to focus her gaze on the baby and thought that it was red-faced, dark and that it was the tiniest little thing she had ever seen in her life.
The scariest thing she had ever seen in her life.
"What have I done, mom?" she hissed between heavy breaths. "What have I done?"
Mrs. Briefs' forehead creased slightly.
"Bulma?" she whispered. "Ssst... It's alright…"
Bulma shook her head weakly and Mrs. Briefs frowned – then she left Bulma's side and when she reappeared, she was holding a little white bundle of blankets in her arms and she had a huge, emotional, slightly incredulous smile on her face.
"Ten fingers, ten toes and… ooh!" she was gushing. "And a tail! Look at that!"
That's right, Bulma thought… look at that.
"Here, say hi to your mama..."
Bulma didn't have the time to come up with a protest – her mouth hung open in astonishment as she was handed the baby. She weakly held that tiny person against her breast – it felt warm. She swallowed and adjusted her hold on the crying baby, straining a little to look at his face – she looked, but she didn't see him immediately. She would, eventually, but at that moment everything was blurry, she was floating, swimming, drowning in crashes of disbelief, confusion… fear.
She looked down at that red face she didn't know, looked at his mouth wide open as he cried and the tears finally came as a single thought crossed her mind.
Why are you here?
The baby was twisting and squirming in her arms, every single part of her body hurt and Mrs. Briefs was unusually quick to notice Bulma's discomfort because she leaned down and took the baby, cooing all the while, in a way Bulma didn't think she would ever be capable of.
"Here, here, it's okay, your mommy's tired," Mrs. Briefs was saying, cradling the infant against her chest. "Hello, little guy! Let me see your beautiful big eyes…"
Bulma watched, slack-jawed, as her mother kissed the top of the baby's head – as she lingered for a moment, nuzzling, her usual peaceful smile on her face.
"What does he smell like?" Bulma asked after a long moment in a low, weak rasp.
Mrs. Briefs paused. "Milk," she said. Then she lowered her head again and inhaled deeply. "No… forest."
Bulma closed her eyes. She tried to focus – to feel something besides the pain and the loneliness and the fear.
"I think he looks like you."
At that, Bulma smiled without even realizing it, a tired, wan smile – then she fell asleep and she dreamt about something cool and fresh and a little sweet.
"Where are we going?"
"I don't know! We're going!"