Things Behind The Sun

Time And Timing

July, 766

"Is this some kind of joke?" Goku said.

His smile faltered, he couldn't help it. He turned his head to his left, where Chichi was sitting, half-expecting her to fold her arms on her chest and to roll her eyes to the ceiling and say something along the lines of 'yeah, right'.

Instead he found her staring at nothing, crying – and she had been crying for a while too, it seemed. Her eyes were red and puffy and tears were streaming down her cheeks without restraints, her hands were mercilessly twisting a white handkerchief.

Goku forced himself to speak again.

"It is, right, doc?"

The doctor sighed.

"This virus is rare and resilient and mostly unknown," he said at last. "That's the reason the diagnosis has been so complicated. We can try to slow down the process but ultimately there's nothing we can do. The damage to your heart muscle will only progress. I'm sorry."

"So what, you're saying that I'm going to die?"

There was a dull thud when Chichi fainted and slipped from the chair.


36 hours earlier

After the first time, Chichi had taken on the habit of reading the label and the instructions every single time.

It made her feel sure – precise and efficient.

You can never be careful enough with these things, she told herself every single time. Caution and dedication and wishful thinking were never enough – she had found out, years ago, that life always had a sneaky way of dealing heavy blows; she had learned it the hard way, when she had been trying to be a loving, attentive mother, rarely letting Gohan out of her sight and still a green creepy demon alien had managed to kidnap her son and to kill her husband for good measure.

Gohan had come back home eventually. And Goku too – but they were not the same persons as before. They had changed in ways she couldn't understand but, as long as they were home safe and sound and leading the ordinary life she so wished for them, well – she didn't care.

What she had learned was enough – you can never be careful enough.

So every day at 08:55 a.m. she took the dark bottle from the cabinet of the kitchen, she read the label and the instructions until she could recite them by heart and she poured the three spoonfuls of gooey liquid in a glass.

It had been four long months since the awful night in which Piccolo – yes, because now they were on first name basis with said demon who had kidnapped her son, that was how insane her life had become – had dragged Goku home and, after the first weeks of fear and disbelief at the notion that Goku – who was strong and young and healthy and who had taken down armies and aliens and demons and whatnot by himself – could get desperately sick, things had finally started to look up.

Nobody had actually understood what was wrong with him, but he had slowly, for the most part, regained his strength; the poor doctor was baffled – he had prescribed the dark gooey medicine that according to Goku tasted like poison – 'like you ever drank poison', Chichi had tutted – 'but I have!' Goku had insisted – and instructed Chichi to keep in touch but, otherwise, things could finally go back to normal.

Chichi loved normal, she cherished the word; and there was nothing unusual in Goku roaming the woods around Mount Paozu, Gohan in tow; there was nothing unusual in seeing him lounging under a tree or meditating with Piccolo near the waterfall –

Still… something was amiss.

Goku was there and he was the same as always and he laughed and played and got to Chichi's nerves with his usual antics – but in between those bursts of vitality, half of the time he seemed distant and disconnected – tired; it was as though he had not been able to spring back completely, not yet anyway – Chichi didn't want to think about what it meant, if it meant something. She didn't want to talk about it, she limited to do the best she could to keep everything normal and safe and quiet.

And anyway the next check up with the doctor was close.

She glanced at the clock.

9:00.

She hadn't stopped to question how Goku felt about that nine o' clock ritual – it was what was needed to keep things normal and safe and quiet so, as far as she was concerned, there was little to no space for questions and doubts; no space at all for trivial complaints.

She looked outside the window and immediately spotted him – she observed for a moment the orange and blue shape practicing a particularly convoluted kata beneath the shade of the trees.

"Goku!" she yelled.

She saw him stop in his tracks, an arm still raised in an upper block – she couldn't see his face, but she saw his shoulders sag slightly.

Goku straightened and turned to face her with a clueless smile.

"Yeah?"

Chichi shook her head, pursing her lips. Every morning it was a struggle.

"Come inside!" she yelled and she didn't wait for an answer – she turned her back to the window and, sure enough, a moment later Goku strolled in, amazingly using the front door.

"What is it, Chichi?" he said and Chichi had to refrain from rolling her eyes. She pushed the tall glass and it slid on the table with a dull noise of glass against wood.

"Here you go," she said.

Goku warily eyed the dark, icky looking stuff in the glass, his jaw ticking inconspicuously. Then he cracked a hopeful grin. "A bit of sugar on top?"

Chichi considered not replying at all – she huffed. "We already talked about it."

"Can I at least have a funny looking straw?" Goku said, gingerly picking up the glass.

Chichi's dead serious stare was the only answer to his attempt at joking and Goku sighed.

"No? Oh, well…" he shrugged before squaring his shoulders and downing the medicine in two big, audible swallows.

Chichi raised an eyebrow. "There," she said. "I swear it takes you more time and energy to complain about it than to actually do it. Was it really that bad?"

Goku put the glass in the sink and said nothing – he hung his head and gripped the edge of the sink until his knuckles became white, all his weight slumping on his arms, on his hands. But it was only a fleeting moment, the time of the blink of an eye, or of the passage of a shadow.

He went back to standing tall once again.

"Nah, it wasn't," he said, turning with a smile. "It's so nice outside, what do you say we go for a walk? The three of us."

Chichi shook her head. She had archived the nine o' clock ritual and was already thinking about the next chore, duster in hand.

"I don't think so," she said. "Gohan's doing his summer homework and you know he can't fall behind and I have things to do here. Why don't you go catch a fish or something? We can have it for lunch."

Goku hesitated for a second – then he nodded. "Sure. I'll see you later then."

Chichi waved a hand. "Yeah, and try to fish like a normal human being if it isn't too much to ask," she said and then she turned her undivided attention to the already immaculate furniture, humming with content under her breath.

Goku watched her for a brief moment – then he turned on his heels and went back outside.


The morning was indeed perfect.

The sun was bright and warm, but not uncomfortably so – and everything felt fresh and super green and beautiful. Goku had always had the tendency to live in the moment and not to dwell too much on things. But lately time had been so dilated and uncertain to him – hostile and mixed up. It was getting hard to live in the moment, to feel weightless.

He knew he was lucky to stand there and watch that green unfold before his eyes. But he couldn't help it – the primal, most ancestral part of him was screaming – kicking – it was dying.

No matter how much he tried to spin it around – he was a fighter. A warrior – he craved the thrill of a battle, the beauty of combat. The giddy feeling that came when facing a new challenge – he missed it so much that it was a physical ache.

Maybe that was what was wrong with him, he thought with a lopsided grin – maybe he just needed to be himself in a good fight; he didn't need that horrible, unnatural green stuff Chichi made him drink every morning.

Goku put two fingers to his mouth and whistled.

Flying had always been easy like breathing – now both things were almost impossible. Hard, strenuous. It was like falling perpetually and he wanted to fly.

He closed his eyes and tilted his face toward the sun as he waited. He thought about the other precious thing that gave him that thrill, that electric jolt; he thought about how he missed her, how he hoped that she was happy and that she was good.

He opened his eyes just as Nimbus came somersaulting through the blue sky and landed swiftly at his side. Goku grinned affectionately.

"Hey, Nimbus!" he exclaimed cheerfully. "It's been a while, huh?"

He patted the cloud and it bounced slightly under his touch; it was like meeting an old friend. Goku took a deep breath and bended his knees to jump –

Here goes nothing, said a voice deep inside his subconscious –

Nimbus felt soft but solid beneath his feet and Goku laughed in pure delight.

"Woo-hoo!" he said and Nimbus made a daring spin through the air. Goku laughed as the wind tickled his face. "This is great! What do you say Nimbus, are you up for a little walk?"

The little cloud shot upward like a soft, fluffy rocket – Goku closed his eyes for a second, enjoying the rush, the wind in his hair, the air in his lungs that for once weren't hurting.

"Woo-hoo!"

It was amazing – observing the world from his favorite perspective.

The green of the woods leaving place to the white and brown of the mountains, the rivers like blue snakes, the yellow of the desert – everything was rushing underneath like a rainbow rollercoaster – he was part of everywhere. Time felt fluid. He was alive.

And he was weightless and for the first time in a long time he didn't feel like he was falling.

It felt like a moment later when Nimbus hurtled above the outskirts of a very familiar city.

Nimbus was moving on its own accord, as though reading into the deepest recess of Goku's being. And it was a moment later that the hustle and bustle of the city reached Goku's ears and that he spotted the large, dome-shaped yellow building.

He breathed in deeply, then he closed his eyes and blew it out – Nimbus took a sharp turn and then a dive and beneath Goku there was now a large spot of green and, as he spiraled closer, he saw the trees and the colored flower beds, the fountains and the people and the swings and the slides – Goku had seen similar places before, those weird imitations of the world outside the city; he wondered why people bothered with it as he jumped down from Nimbus, landing on a bush in a semi-deserted section of the garden – there was a loud shriek and two teenagers scattered away from behind it, the girl fixing her shirt. Goku watched them go blinking owlishly, scratching his cheek with a finger.

"Oh, well..."

Goku looked around. Why am I here?

But he knew exactly why now; better than that – he could sense the reason under his skin. He walked until he was surrounded by people again, he turned right at a hot dog stand that he eyed with heartbreaking longing and he went on until he saw a nice white fountain a little bit ahead.

Thank you Nimbus for carrying me all these years.

There was a semi-circular path under a few trees and she was sitting on a bench, enjoying the shade.

Goku's eyes widened, then they filled at the sight.

Her hair were shorter than he could remember, cropped just below her cheekbones and he could clearly see the tender, endearing curvature of her neck, but that wasn't what caught his attention.

He had never been one to worry over haircuts or overall appearances – especially when there was a funny looking, three-wheels baby carriage in plain sight and when Bulma, his Bulma, the first person of his life in lots of different ways, was holding a baby in the crook of her arm.

"That's right, Trunks" she was saying while holding the bottle of formula to the baby's lips, tipping it slightly. "And I'm not finished yet! You see, when mommy finally found the underwater tunnel…"

Goku sighed and smiled his smile too big for his face.

He leaned with his back against the tree behind him – he crossed his arms on his chest and listened to her voice, listened to her tale – that was familiar and new at the same time.

"But the mean guys were right behind me!" she was saying animatedly.

Goku's smile widened. He watched from afar as she put the now empty bottle in the navy blue bag beside her, as she shifted her hold on the baby so his chin was resting on her shoulder.

He loved to listen to her talk – he realized in that moment how much he had missed that sound; he had missed her voice – the rasp, the cadence, the unexpected shifts in her tone.

He had missed all of her and he wondered how he had ever managed to do without that voice.


"…and this, kid, is the story of how your mom defeated an ugly robot pirate and then found the biggest and prettiest diamond ever, all in one day! Pretty cool, huh?"

"Hehehe, yeah, I remember that one!"

Bulma's heart jumped to her throat.

It was his voice, loud and sunny and so so near.

She briefly wondered if she was dreaming – and if it was possible for someone to choke on their own heart.

She twisted on the bench, straining to turn and to keep holding Trunks properly against her chest and she saw him – coming out from behind the tree making his same old gesture of his arm behind his head and the toothy grin – and she felt frozen rage at the tingling in her stomach.

Goku in a park in West City – amidst carousels and cotton candy and children playing tag and teenager couples trying to be inconspicuous. It was glaringly normal, too normal, so normal it was bordering on extraordinary.

He was supposed to be something from a fairy tale – the boy living in the deep of the woods; the boy, the man who pounded on her window at night, kissed her and took her flying around the world.

And she had locked that window – knowing that she could never heal from what she had missed because it was too big, but she could morph and adapt. She was learning to cope – Trunks was teaching her so. She was slowly, painstakingly trying to be her own hero in her own adventure – she didn't know if she was succeeding, but she was trying so now how dare he.

How dare he to cross that boundary. How dare he show up and make her wonder if in those months he had ever lingered outside that balcony again – how dare he walk up to her and drag her back, again, back in the dreamscape where they could trail off like shooting stars together and nothing could touch them and it was beautiful, but it couldn't be real.

And he was getting closer now – like he'd never left, like he had any right after what he had said and done.

He took a final step towards them and she looked him up and down, she had no choice; his usual orange and blue clothes, the heavy boots, the hair sticking every which way.

He was the same as always and yet he was not; something in him had shifted, but Bulma couldn't put her fingers around it.

"Have you been like…"

Bulma swallowed dry.

"…trying to punish me?"

She couldn't even make a proper scene in that place, there were too many people around.

"What are you doing here?" she hissed furiously.

Goku blinked twice, quickly; he rubbed the back of his head.

"Uh, I was flying around."

Bulma arched an eyebrow. "Flying around?"

"Flying around," Goku said and he smiled as he casually flopped down on the bench. "Nimbus was in charge."

"And it just happened to land in some random garden in West City," Bulma said, shifting to the other edge of the bench, putting as much space as she could between them, not making any effort to be discrete about it. But either way, Goku didn't notice – or rather, if he did, it didn't show.

"Well, I've never been, you know," Goku said and the laid back attitude caused Bulma's blood to boil furiously. Goku stretched his legs in front of him and hooked one arm on the back of the bench.

"It's actually kind of nice. Maybe Nimbus knew it," he continued with a smile and Bulma narrowed her eyes to slits. She shot him a sideways suspicious glance because if he was making freaking small talk to her then surely the world was coming to an end – ordinary and Goku were words that clashed when put into the same sentence and anyway, even if it was hard to believe, she had learned that Goku rarely did things for the hell of it.

He always had his reasons.

Bulma felt her muscles tense painfully. She adjusted her hold on Trunks, holding him tight in a silent and futile request for help – but what kind of help could a three months old ever provide? Trunks didn't even know what was going on. Now that story time was over, he was keeping himself entertained by diligently and toothlessly chewing on one of his chubby hands, his sparkling eyes staring at it with an intensity that was out of proportion.

Bulma smirked and busied herself trying to stop him, to tug the little hand out – anything, anything to stop focusing on that burning hot presence on the bench, so ordinary and so out of place, anything – she wanted to get up, but she couldn't, she was glued to the seat. She mentally went over all the nearest exits of the park, should she regain some kind of control over her lower limbs anytime soon… maybe she could call the police. But what could he be accused of anyway? Bench hijacking? She glanced furtively at his orange gi. Chromatic mischief?

She focused on the kids playing on the swings just a little far ahead, trying to ignore the fact that the silence was quickly becoming unbearable. You can do it, Bulma, she thought. One leg at the time – put Trunks in the baby carriage and go. Now.

"So, huh…" Goku said. "Trunks, right?"

Bulma turned her head just a little, just enough to see Goku glancing at Trunks from his stranded position, the hint of a pensive smile on his face – and she forced herself to square her shoulders, to sit up straight. She shifted Trunks so he was again upright against her chest. Yeah, so what?

Would he dare to ask her about Vegeta? He wouldn't, would he?

"Yeah, that's right," she replied defensively.

Goku cleared his throat.

"He's, huh…" he trailed off, his eyes wandering on Trunks' rounded features, on the huge blue eyes that took almost all of his face, on the slight scowl under the sky-blue cotton cap and Bulma felt a pit in her stomach – she covered it by rolling her eyes upwards.

"Yes, a boy," she finished for him. "In case you were wondering."

There was a tiny pause and then Goku burst out in an open laugh. Bulma closed her eyes briefly – she could feel it bouncing against the walls of her stomach and she could feel the fluttering – of the goddamn butterflies.

"Aw, come on," he waved a hand. "I was going to say great. He's great. He looks like you," Goku said and his smile became bigger, deeper, it sparkled in his eyes. He shifted closer on the seat and leaned down, he poked Trunks nose with a finger.

"Hey, Trunks!" he cooed. "I'm Goku, how's it going? You being a good boy?"

Bulma watched the interaction with her mouth hanging slightly open, with a frown that was mirroring Trunks' one – it was safe to say that Trunks was not impressed and it would have been funny if only she had not been so nervous and yet stuck on the goddamn bench for some reason.

She shook her head, she shifted Trunks' weight.

"Yeah, he's great," she sighed. She patted Trunks on the backside, lightly, she bounced him a little and Trunks made a loving gurgling sound. "I'm the one who's a terrible mother," she murmured as an afterthought, not meaning for Goku to hear her, not on a conscious level anyway, but of course –

"What?" Goku said. "That's not possible."

Bulma shook her head again.

"It is, though," she said and she bit pensively on her lower lip. "It's… hard. It… it doesn't come naturally," she explained and she wasn't musing aloud anymore; she was addressing him and him alone even if she didn't know why it was him. Of all people. But pouring her fears, her doubts, her heart out to him had always felt natural; and he had his way of taking all the bad away, his way of reminding her that 'you are you and it will be okay' – she remembered how he listened without passing judgement, how he used to study her face without prejudice.

She wondered if such a thing was still possible between them and cracked a rueful smile.

"Sometimes I just want to make a run for it, go to a deserted island or something."

Goku chuckled.

"You? A deserted island?" he said, raising his eyebrows and Bulma glowered at him; she flaunted her best stink-eye, the one she had not used in ages.

"Well, bringing all the Capsules that have ever existed of course!" she said, huffing in indignation. "I'm not a savage!"

Goku chuckled again and only then Bulma noticed how close he was – how she could feel his scent, forest and sunbathed grass – how her knee was brushing against his and had been for a while.

She recoiled immediately, a furious blush rising to her cheeks, to her ears, she could feel its white-hot burn – she swallowed painfully and she stubbornly focused again on the kids playing in front of them, then on Trunks, thinking that maybe the fact that she had behaved as though knees were forbidden territory was her obvious cue to leave, but –

"You know," Goku piped up. "Once, when Gohan was like two I let go of his stroller thing and he almost crashed into a tree. Well, not almost." He giggled. "Oh, boy!"

Bulma stopped patting Trunks' back and gawked at his beaming face.

"Are you making that up?"

Goku shook his head.

"No way!" he said enthusiastically. "He powered up and smashed that tree!"

Bulma hesitated, her mouth still hanging open in awe mixed with disbelief.

"AT LEAST – " she started, then she lowered her voice to avoid startling Trunks and all the people in the next two hundred miles. "At least have the decencyto not sound so proud of the whole accident!" she hissed and Goku giggled again, waving a hand in front of her indignant face.

"Aw Bulma, I'm just saying that you can't be perfect!" he said. "You're going to make mistakes, that's for sure, but they'll live. They're their own persons." He flashed an impish smile she knew very well and for a moment she thought he was going to wink, but he didn't. "Of course in our case it helps that they're half-Saiyans, hehehe. Isn't that right, Trunks?" he said, wiggling a finger before the baby boy's eyes and as an answer Trunks glared as usual. "You're strong, huh?"

Bulma looked down, she kissed the top of Trunks' head. She felt the corners of her mouth tug upwards a little as if to smile, but she didn't; she couldn't stop her thoughts, though. She couldn't stop her mind from forming the forbidden thought, from asking how in the world she had ever managed to do without him.

She could feel his eyes on her so she raised her head and made eye contact.

It was intoxicating. Sitting next to him was intoxicating.

"I can't believe I'm even listening to you," she scoffed, but the smile was there, it was a hint in her voice and she cursed herself for it. She finally got up and it was surprisingly easy. She eased Trunks in the baby carriage, fixed the sheets of light cotton around him, gave him a pacifier. She couldn't look up, she could feel Goku's eyes burning holes in her back.

"I'm still mad at you, you know," she choked at last, still giving him her back and she didn't care if it sounded silly and childish – she couldn't let him win, she couldn't slip in their spiral, not again, not now – it was too risky. That game was over and there were no winners.

She grabbed the bag and carelessly threw it on her shoulder – she hastily started to push the baby carriage on the gravel, scowling all the while. Goku stood up and hurried behind her.

"I know," he said urgently, falling in step beside her. "That's why I'm here I think! I would have come sooner, but – anyway, I had some time to think and I never thought so much in my life!"

Bulma abruptly stopped in her tracks and Goku, who was not expecting such a hasty hit on the brakes, stumbled.

"About?" Bulma snapped.

Goku grinned as he regained his balance. "Well, you," he said innocently and Bulma narrowed her eyes to slits. He gulped and tried again. "Us? I mean… my brain was hurting, that much I can tell you."

Bulma snorted and started again on the gravel path, pushing the baby carriage with renewed strength.

"It'd be a nice change of pace," she muttered under her breath, stomping forward as fast as she could and who the hell had moved the exits anyway?

"I'm sorry," Goku said, scrambling to keep up with her erratic walk. "I know I'm not good at this, but whatever mistake I've made with you, Bulma, I'm sorry. Can we move on? Please?"

Bulma brusquely screeched to a halt and forced Goku to do the same.

"Move on?" she snarled.

She had been trying to move on, thank you very much, she thought furiously. Then he had had the brilliant idea to sit on her bench in her park – helping her with her biggest fears, looking at her with those impossibly wide eyes.

Goku nodded. "Yeah, you know… forget all the bad stuff and move on together," he said and when Bulma's eyes narrowed so much that he wondered if she would ever be able to un-narrow them, he quickly waved his hands. "Not together together, but you know… together?" he said tentatively, but Bulma's withering glare didn't change; Goku gulped. "…and… go from there?" he concluded weakly, inwardly preparing himself for Bulma's next sprint in that bizarre cross-country.

Ready… steady…

Bulma did not move. She stared at Goku, still as salt. Her eyes where the only thing alive, her blue irises shifting and flashing in the sunlight, her gaze hard and fiery the way he remembered, the way he loved.

"We tried already and look where we are now," she said at last. "Why try again?"

"Because... I've missed you," Goku said simply. "I'm not talking about kisses and stuff and whatever, even though –

"Oh Kami, Goku, shut up while you still can!" Bulma shrieked and she turned to the baby carriage, ready to bolt again –

Goku placed a hand on her shoulder and it wasn't warm, it wasn't hot, it was ardent; blazing on her skin.

"I mean I've just missed… you."

Bulma felt her breathing slow down to a halt as she turned to look at him. She knew exactly the quiet fire of those black eyes – as well as she knew their innocence. And those eyes were for her. He was for her – he was standing there in West City, talking, and it was for her his effort.

She looked down at Trunks, who was quietly sucking on his pacifier, his eyelids drooping.

It could have been so easy now – to say yes. To smile and pile up another untruth; to say yes, I can exist next to you without craving you, I can laugh with you without dreaming of our clearing.

Like useless parallel lines when the desire locked in the deepest of her soul was for their lives to plait together like in a braid.

Her ears were roaring.

"No."

Goku blinked. "What?"

Bulma grimaced.

"We can't, Goku… I-I can't," she said and it sounded eerily familiar, but it was not. For the first time in her life she was being truthful to herself and truthful to him – and the truth was that it couldn't be, they had screwed up too much, too badly, they had gone too deep and all the while he had always lived his life –now it was time for her to live hers.

It was time to learn from their mistakes.

"You know, you're right, we do have to move on," she said and it was all she could do to keep her voice from shaking. "But we can't do it together. I can't, not now."

Goku's face fell, then his determined gaze came back. "When?"

Bulma scowled. "I don't know!" she snapped. "Don't pressure me, okay? Don't you realize how much my life has changed? I need time for myself, for Trunks, I can't deal with you too!"

Goku nodded, he rubbed the back of his neck in the gesture that tore at her heart.

"Is it because you hate me?"

Bulma stared at him for a moment. His face was all eyes, wide and... vulnerable. She bit on her lower lip, she shook her head. "Are you really this stupid?"

Goku's reaction caught her by surprise. He broke into a huge grin and held his arms open for a moment, laughing his light, happy laugh she didn't know she had been missing and then – he closed his arms around her. Bulma didn't' know how exactly or why she found herself snuggled into his embrace, her head buried in his chest, under his chin.

It was the perfect fit.

"Goku, what did I say about needing space?" Bulma said, even as she clutched at him and they were pieces of a puzzle founding each other – she breathed him deeply.

"You said time," he replied and Bulma could hear the smile in his voice and her face melted into a smile in turn while her heart started to race.

"It's the same thing, you dummy."

"Anything for you," he said against her hair, in a voice so low she thought she had imagined it, a whisper in her heart, in her conscience. "All the time in the world."

He pulled her a little bit tighter and in that moment Bulma sensed it. The difference – the way Goku's body felt different against hers. It was infinitesimal, but it was there – tinier? Softer? She couldn't understand – she frowned against his chest. She waited another moment then she wiggled and he released her with a quiet sigh.

She looked up to his face, searching – his eyes were bright, but something… something was off. He smiled at her intent scrutiny and reached with a hand, he tucked a short strand of hair behind her ear to no avail, it bounced back immediately; he cupped the side of her face like he had done maybe a million of times before. And this time Bulma raised a hand and placed it on his.

She felt something cold rising in her chest.

"What's going on, Goku?"

Goku's smile tightened, he dropped his hand.

"Nothing. I'm happy you don't hate me."

Bulma rolled her eyes, she shook her head. Her cheek felt hot, burning hot from his touch. She looked down and saw that Trunks was sleeping soundly in his baby carriage.

"Do you ever – do you remember that thing we talked about, years ago…" she said. "The time theory?"

Goku blinked. "Uh… well, I remember you went into too many details and phew!" he made a sweeping gesture with his hand, "Went right past my head!"

Bulma snickered. "That's not true, I know what your face looks like when you're not getting something."

Goku raised his eyebrows. "And how is it?"

"Like this," Bulma said and she raised her eyebrows and blinked her eyes owlishly, her mouth hanging slightly open – while Goku unconsciously mirrored her. They stared at each other for a second – before bursting in silly, untamed giggles, their shoulders shaking madly, without control.

Several moments later, when they finally managed to stop, their eyes met again – something was sparkling deep within their irises...

Goku sighed. "So what about your time theory?"

Bulma shook her head with a smile and took the first step in the direction she had chosen. There was no need to casually talk about how to relive the past.

"Ah, forget about it. It's nothing."

Goku nodded pensively. "Okay," he said slowly. He hesitated for a moment, then, "For the record, I think time is weird, put that in your theory thing," he added with a wink.

Bulma's smile was rueful.

"It is weird," she murmured. She turned and fixed the light blanket around Trunks' sleeping form. So this was their goodbye.

"I should probably go now."

Goku nodded. "Yeah. I'm… I'm glad we talked."

Bulma nodded in turn. "Yeah, me too. Bye, Goku," she said softly, and pushed the stroller down the gravel path, thinking how sad it was that she had to stop being in love with him to be with him.

The good thing was they had all the time in the world. Now it was time for her to live her own adventure.

"See you, Bulma," Goku said, watching as she walked away in the sunlight.


36 hours later

"Chichi!"

As Goku and the doctor rushed to help Chichi, the silence in the room was like a shriek and the look of pity the doctor threw Goku's way hit hard.

So… that was it?, he thought as he held Chichi's legs up, watching as the doctor lightly tapped her cheek with the back of his hand.

He swallowed, his mouth was dry.

He was going to die. Okay.

It wasn't that big of a deal. Everybody had to die eventually, right? It was just… one just needed to be prepared, right?

Besides, he had been dead before. A huge hole in his chest, a couple of difficult breaths and it was all over. He had woken up with Kami by his side and had known at once, with excitement, that that wasn't the end – greater adventures were yet to come.

And did they came, Goku thought as he blinked. There was something stinging just behind his eyes.

Chichi was waking up. Good, that was good.

He was going to die.

And it wasn't that big of a deal because he had been dead before. And that was the catch –

This time dead meant dead. Vanished. Extinguished forever – everything that he was, that he had ever been and that he could ever dream of being was going to disappear forever.

That was a cold thought. A thought that knocked the wind out of him.

He watched as Chichi regained consciousness, he helped the doctor in sitting her up.

Everything felt fractured in his eyes, muffled in his ears. Somebody was crying, sobbing, screaming – Chichi?

Goku thought of the dragon balls, he imagined them glowing reassuringly.

"There are seven in all and if you collect all of them something amazing happens! Unless a bad guy gets them…"

I wish… I wish… I wish I could turn back time.

Fleeting visions of Namek flashed in his mind for some reason. He was flying fast across the green sky, he was one with the air, rushing toward a new opponent. The lush blue fields beneath him – no, wait – he was soaring through space, his nose pressed against the glass of his spaceship, watching in awe as the stars went by so close, and then – Gohan was just born. The yellow balloon zoomed in front of him and then he was fighting Krillin at the 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai, then his reflection was blinking back at him from the four star dragon ball that was glowing merrily in his hand – greeting him as on old friend.

And her lips felt moist beneath his thumb.

Goku shook his head and the visions dissolved into nothing, the doctor's office came back into view.

The dragon balls couldn't save him. The stupid stupid medicine could not save him. Okay then, but...

He wasn't ready.

It wasn't so much that he was scared of dying…

At least we laughed one last time together.

He didn't want to, of course, who'd want to die, ever? But like this – like this – Goku wasn't fine with it at all. He hadn't fought a good battle in ages and he wasn't even being granted the kindness of a quick and honorable death.

And there was so much he hadn't gotten to do yet – he had things to do with the people he loved, things to sort out, adventures to live, skies to explore. And to explore the depths of that golden power that was still so new to him; he still had so much to learn about himself, there were too many limits to break through for him to go away now, to give up everything he was and could ever be.

And he had made a promise – he had promised time, time for her, time for them. He had promised all the time in the world –

But his thoughts were going to vanish. Dead meant dead.

Goku felt a lump rise in his throat.

He wasn't ready.

"Chichi… don't cry… it's going to be okay…"

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