Roman Candle Of The Wild
"That must be because I'm a Saiyan, too… Whenever I see an amazing guy like that, my heart leaps…"
– Son Goku, Dragon Ball Z
31th October, 766
It was the silent and dark hour before dawn, the moment everything took on a black and blue hue, and Vegeta's gloved hand was hovering above the handle of a window.
The hand was trembling only slightly, but before any – unlikely – observer could have said Vegeta was hesitating, the prince of all Saiyans firmly closed his fingers around the handle and opened the window – it made a soft whoosh sound as it slid to the side, allowing Vegeta to quietly slip inside.
Ammonia and medications were carrying a discouraging stench throughout the room; the smell instantly attacked Vegeta's throat, closing it, making it swell uncomfortably.
A blurry thought sprouted in the back of his head; in some distant place, he knew the swelling was the result of the gnawing feeling that had been plaguing him all the way up there, something that had looked and tasted weirdly like fear, but no – he wasn't going to allow that thought to unfold.
And anyway, Vegeta truly hated that smell – it reminded him of the medical quarters on Frieza's ships, places and events he wished he could erase permanently from his memories – so his alibi was strong.
He looked around; he didn't know what he had been expecting when a force, when that feeling had drawn him away from his training and up there but the thought – the shapeless thought told a different story.
The next obvious thing to do was take a step forward but instead he stood still, jaw clenched – a sense of inadequacy was creeping over him, crawling up on his arms and on his chest; tingling just behind the mouth of his stomach.
I shouldn't be here, wasting my time with some low-class scum.
Vegeta narrowed his eyes as the words echoed in his skull.
Maybe it's the low-class scum that shouldn't be here in the first place, was the answer to the seething voice in his head. Or maybe we both are in the wrong place.
He clenched his fists, hard, as though bracing himself for a fight; he felt the nails penetrating into the palms.
Should. Shouldn't. Maybe.
Vegeta had always loathed uncertainty and there had been nothing, nothing but uncertainty since the first time he had set foot on Earth after the defeat of Frieza; still, he had been able to somehow grit his teeth and push through it because there was always him –
"Hey, nice shot! Perfect aim!"
– Kakarot. To drive him. The strong push and the magnetic pull, the road that despite himself Vegeta knew he had to follow to retain his pride, to break through his limits and become a Super Saiyan, the Super Saiyan, the strongest in the universe –
"Laugh while you can, Kakarot."
He wanted to train and think of nothing and he had tried and for a while he had succeeded – then the woman had come along with her smart mouth and her fearless eyes that glittered even in the dark.
And the uncertainty had struck again –
"Are you getting in or what?"
He had loathed what, despite everything, despite even himself, he had found in those startling blue eyes, the way they'd secretly told him that he didn't have to settle for a space pod as a home; he had loathed the thought that had crossed his mind… what had started out of spite and convenience had become maybe I can live here in peace for a second.
But it had been nothing more than morning glory; a fleeting illusion born to die –
"…the only reason I'm on Earth is to crush you!"
Like taking a peek into someone else's life –
She wasn't his and that wasn't his life.
"Why didn't you try to save her?"
Because it was all wrong.
It was all wrong, right from the start. Right from the moment Kakarot had spared his life during their first battle – everything that had followed, every breath, movement and emotion and yes, even the blasted woman's eyes, Vegeta owed it to him – the mere thought was so unbearable that running away, focusing on his one and only goal and suppressing everything else had been the only remedy, the only way to keep at bay the fear of having something take roots in him.
The art of suppressing wasn't hard for him; Kakarot's words and Bulma's gaze, the doubts they brought him and the possibility of a future – all of it looked so impossibly fragile that it hadn't been hard to shove everything out of his head. Becoming stronger was the only thing that mattered – training was the only tangible thing.
The uncertainty crept back.
He remembered the first time it happened; it had been the first time he had sensed Kakarot's life-force, that usually stood out vibrant and annoying – so that Vegeta could never forget how much he hated it – starting to flicker and then to dwindle in the wind. If Vegeta dared to close his eyes while focusing on it, against his eyelids he could clearly see the last colorful splashes of a wild firework that was burning out, out, out –
The dimming of a spark – a flame dying a slow, undignified death.
And now –
He could have used his hate for the piercing scent of disinfectant to justify the lead that was lining his bones, yes – but the pure and yet inconceivable truth was that when Vegeta found himself out of the bubble of fury and adrenaline that the challenge, that the thought of surpassing Kakarot provided him, if he wasn't engrossed in it, he didn't feel like a real person. He felt at loss. Without that thought to ground him and simultaneously drive him, Vegeta was adrift – and his hostile sea was that unexpected or maybe not hospital room with its palpable, oppressive silence; it was a blanket of artificial quiet trying to smother him – he could feel the violent tightening of the noose around his neck.
Making no noise, Vegeta walked slowly to the bed.
Kakarot lay there, eyes closed, breathing faintly. And he kept lying there as Vegeta looked on.
Vegeta pursed his lips in anger – because he had yet another truth to admit.
And the truth was – he could hate and resent what Kakarot had done to him all life long, and he had all the intention to, but that didn't mean that deep down Vegeta didn't know what Kakarot was – a true embodiment of fire. Worthy of being the archenemy of the prince of all Saiyans. And it was making Vegeta's blood boil – to sense and watch that kind of fire, that kind of power trapped in what looked like a discarded pile of dying bones that apparently wasn't even trying to counter the enemy.
"Aw, come on! You're telling me you're not in the slightest happy to see me?"
Vegeta examined the irritating slowness of the rise and fall of that chest and, as he stared, he couldn't help but wonder if in the end it really took so little to put an end to the race of the most powerful warriors of the universe. He told himself if that were true, if they were waiting around just to found out it was, then his own nature would have turned out to be something impossibly ordinary.
Just like the rest of them, seethed the voice in his head.
He shifted his eyes to the pale, slumbering face of his enemy.
Kakarot's expression was placid, even, pain betrayed only by a small crease in the middle of his forehead. But the lips – they were lifeless, blue. Grey, set in a straight line – Vegeta startled.
Kakarot's mouth had lost that unique, omnipresent and – Vegeta snarled – hateful bend upwards. He surprised himself thinking he'd rather have the irritating smile he had wanted to punch out of that face so many times, than that empty stillness –
Vegeta knew his legs were trembling.
It was that quiet inertia that shook him to the core.
An inertia he had dreamed of – actual, glorious dreams of Kakarot unable to avoid his blows, of Kakarot defeated, of Kakarot finally bowing to his superiority and his alone –
Vegeta closed his eyes against that pitiful sight and breathed out through his nose, long and slow.
As long as he didn't speak, as long as he couldn't look him in the eyes, that shell wasn't the real Kakarot.
Vegeta listlessly reopened his eyes and – Kakarot was looking at him with the ghost of an exhausted smile on his face – as though he had picked up on his presence and had woken up – for him.
Vegeta startled; he took half a step back – Kakarot's black eyes were like hot ash on his skin. They always had been.
He opened his mouth, just to close it a second later, allowing his breath to go up his throat, then immediately pushing it back down. Kakarot's own breath was already coming in shallow wheezes but the smile was still there and it was saying 'quiet, it's alright'.
In the way one would console a child.
Except Vegeta certainly wasn't a child and he certainly didn't need to be consoled and it wasn't alright – couldn't the blasted idiot see it wasn't alright?
"I knew you'd show up eventually, hehe," Goku said at last, in a weary voice Vegeta didn't recognize.
How Kakarot? And why? Why?
Vegeta did the only thing he felt he could do at the time. He let out a disdainful half snort. "Shut up."
Goku's laugh came soft and distant. And short. He fell silent almost immediately – the smile stayed on his lips though, giving a soft quality to the worn out face that couldn't possibly belong to him – it was thin and almost transparent, eerily so; and the eyes dark and almost hollow and it was all so out of place that Vegeta concluded there was a mask hiding the real Kakarot; he felt the urge to leap forward with a battle cry and snatch the mask away, screaming about how idiotic he was being, drop this foolish act, you third-class outcast –
And get up!, and let me go back to a life where there are no images of broken fireworks, to my life, let me go back to find a way to get stronger – and then stronger – get up and don't leave me here where I cannot stop thinking –
We're the last remaining Saiyans.
A rustle of sheets mercifully broke through Vegeta's thoughts, making them scatter like crows – he looked down and saw Kakarot trying to sit up against the pillows and it looked like he was making an immense effort, but really – that made no sense whatsoever.
Nothing was making any sense whatsoever.
"What the hell is this?" Vegeta spat. "A pathetic trick to get away from our rematch? Little Kakarot is too scared?"
A wider smile, a small chortle and for a moment Kakarot's eyes sparkled in a familiar way.
"Never," he said and then he waggled his eyebrows. "What about you?"
Vegeta crossed his arms on his chest. "Don't make me laugh."
The idiot's smile was unrelenting and, for the life of him, Vegeta could not figure out the primal reason of that smile; so, just out of spite, he decided that whatever the reason was he didn't care. He angrily darted his eyes away from the fake not-so-fake Kakarot and planted them on the wall.
The silence stretched, then Goku cleared his throat; with the corner of one eye Vegeta saw him make a wide gesture with both his arms, as if to say 'can you believe any of this?'
Can I believe any of this?
"Sooo…" Goku started eventually, "Crazy, huh?"
Vegeta didn't take the bait. He kept on staring at the wall and they remained in silence for a long moment – Vegeta didn't dare to move his eyes from the white wall; so he didn't see as Kakarot grimaced and closed the hand resting on the sheets in a tight, trembling fist – then let it go.
He heard though as Kakarot let out a haggard sigh and he knew at once the third-class Saiyan was about to say something incredibly stupid or incredibly irritating –
He closed his eyes –
"…whatever you do..." Goku continued sharply as though Vegeta hadn't spoken "…stop being stupid."
The last thing Vegeta thought before shattering altogether was that he was going to raise a hand and blast Kakarot out of existence for saying that.
He bared his teeth but then – he simply shattered; Vegeta shattered like crystal – pieces of him exploding and then scattering miles away even though the only outward sign that he had heard Kakarot's low but firm voice was that he shifted his eyes from the wall back to his rival.
And Goku apparently knew better than expecting an answer. He closed his eyes for a moment and then, wearily forcing them open, he raised his gaze to meet Vegeta's stare, a stare in which storm clouds where gathering fast –
And the last of Vegeta's sanity snapped in half under the weight of those black eyes.
He snapped. He closed his fingers against his palms with violence, eyes raging with a fire that even that stupid, stinging, unwanted veil of tears couldn't put off.
"I thought I told you to shut the hell up, Kakarot!" he shouted hoarsely, and he had to force his voice past the lead that was encrusting his throat. "STOP IT!" he screamed. "You know nothing so stop it! Stop it, stop, stop with everything!"
Goku widened his eyes ever so slightly; but as abruptly as he had burst, Vegeta fell silent all at once; he covered his eyes with a hand, catching his breath, trying to retain some measure of composure. He breathed hard for a few more seconds, then he lowered his hand and, as Goku watched in morbid fascination, Vegeta's storm disappeared, going back to brew just below the surface.
"Next time, only one of us will walk away."
Vegeta shook his head. He turned and walked briskly to the window, without adding anything further. He couldn't stand to be in that white room, not for a second longer.
But then – then – he just froze with a hand on the handle. Without meaning to. Without wanting to.
"You listen and listen well," he spat. "Open your ears, Kakarot. I will defeat you".
Goku blinked; he hesitated for an instant, his mouth hanging slightly open. Then, in the end, his face melted into a knowing smile at Vegeta's back.
Vegeta didn't dare to say more. He opened the window and got out. Eyes shut tightly, he bit hard on his lips, drawing blood – and he hovered outside the window for the briefest moment, running his tongue over his teeth, licking the blood away.
Then he shook his head again and, in a flash of sparkling aura, he stormed away, leaving a blue trail across the brightening skies.
Bulma sighed as she cast her head back and let the hot water of the shower fall over her skin like scorching rain.
She stood there in the dark, eyes closed, enjoying the moment, thinking of nothing. Or at least trying to – things were not like she had imagined they would be like.
Life had turned out very different from what she used to dream of when she was sixteen – there were no grand adventures and mystical voyages, no road trips on a motorbike or an a spaceship, no boys on a cloud and the Milky Way was always obscured by the light pollution of the city.
There was only time drifting by in a flat line, and maybe she had already used up all the excitement of a lifetime because lately the days crawled by and nothing ever happened.
And each day she tried to push him further away.
She imagined him flying on his cloud and she was always right so he probably was.
Flying on his cloud and keeping his promise – there were moments in which she wished he weren't so honorable, moments in which she wished his word weren't so valuable – when she wanted him to be selfish again with her. And then, when she realized she was wishing for his soul to cheapen for her, she also realized why it was so important he stayed as far away from her as possible; and then, to feel better, she went all over it, all over their relationship – and when it was time to decide whether all her decisions had been an act of bravery or of cowardice, she always gave herself the same answer.
An amazing, amazing act of bravery. That she would repeat and repeat and repeat until she would finally be free of him and of the twinkling stars in his eyes.
She wanted to be free. Decontaminated. It was the only way; he would go back to be the silly monkey boy, this time for real and nothing would hurt anymore in his presence. Yeah.
Sometimes, at the oddest moment an ache at the back of her throat surprised her. It was like the feeling that something wasn't quite right; every time she dismissed it as an after effect of having been through some crazy stuff in the past years – whether it was the course of her private life or merely the destiny of the galaxy, she had been forced to constantly keep on her toes; maybe she still had to get used to a life in which everything wasn't in constant danger.
In the last month, Trunks had learned to roll from his back to his stomach. Yesterday he had crawled for the first time – and she had smiled and cheered – and bragged with the neighborhood about her precocious amazing kid – and told herself that it was more than enough to feel content.
Because it was.
Bulma heard a muffled noise and she immediately turned the water off, stretching her ears to the adjoining room where Trunks was still asleep in his crib – last she had checked he was snoring away, holding onto his stuffed dragon with a chubby hand.
The sound of a soft footfall. Bulma frowned.
"Mom?" she called.
And when there was no answer, she felt her heart seize and her head spin.
She listened to his bright, sunny voice echoing all across her soul and remembered – that particular morning of a lifetime ago when he had teleported in the shower –
"You scared me, you dummy!"
She'd screamed at him and he'd taken her face in his hands and kissed the corner of her eye. She could not forget the simple beauty of that.
The soft noise echoed again and Bulma raced out of the shower – she wrestled her white bathrobe on and quickly walked out of the door and into her bedroom, wet hair dripping all over the floor. The room was still plunged into darkness – winter was approaching fast and the sun rose later and later those days.
Her heartbeat was like a drum in her ears and Bulma squinted trying to adjust her eyes to the dark – the window was slightly ajar and –
There was a looming shadow right next to Trunks' crib.
Bulma's heart stopped altogether; she felt the blood draining from her face – she took a step forward, wanting to break into a run and to strangle whoever was towering over her child –
Something stopped her short.
Her eyes widened as the pupils adjusted to the darkness and it was unmistakable – Bulma felt the knot of tension in her chest tightening up as it changed its nature; it wasn't made out of fear anymore, but of something else, something nastier.
She stood, as still and noiseless as she could – she knew he knew she was there, but that didn't mean he had to know he had been busted. After all, she was a mere, powerless earthling that couldn't possibly spot something weird going on in the dark. She stood still, holding her breath, staring at the deeper kind of black against black as her thoughts started to swirl chaotically in her brain.
So he was back.
But she was damned if she was going to make things easy for him – no. It was someone else's turn for an act of bravery.
Have the guts to show yourself, she thought and as she watched and waited, and watched and waited, quickly it all became unbearable to her. She longed for light, she wanted to hold Trunks against her chest, to tickle his belly and listen to his gurgling laugh.
She didn't want to be pulled back in the darkness again –
"Hey!" she yelled, hating the way her voice sounded hoarse and strangled. "Who's there?!"
Have the guts to show yourself…
Trunks' cry immediately rose in response and she sensed the shadow stiffening, then staggering and a split second later it lunged for the window – Bulma turned the lights on and she ran, she reached the window and leaned out, but it was already too late.
He was nowhere to be seen – there was only a fading trail in the early morning sky.
Bulma's eyes lingered on it for a moment, Trunks' wails ringing in her ears – then she snorted.
"Yeah, you better run!" she yelled in frustration and she slammed the window close, thinking she really needed to get a security system to her windows or maybe go all the way and set up a guillotine. She turned to pick up Trunks.
"Hey, little guy," she murmured, as he squirmed and wailed against her chest. "You're right, you're right – it was a real ugly face, huh?" She kissed the top of the little head where wisps of purple light hair were growing thicker day after day. "It's okay, now, don't be scared."
A few moments later, when Trunks had calmed down a bit, she lay on the bed and put her baby on her, belly against belly.
Trunks' weight was soft and warm. And Bulma clung to it – trying not to think about the ice cold feeling that that black shadow had left in her bones, something like a bad omen – but she was a scientist so she could not believe in premonitions and sixth senses – an uneasy feeling that looked a lot like the familiar odd ache at the back of her throat.
She woke again something like two hours later, with the sun pretty high in the sky.
She yawned and blinked slowly – the autumn rays were filtering through the curtains and Trunks was still lying on her stomach, nice and quiet – she grimaced as she slowly eased the both of them out of the bed, slowly, careful not to wake him up.
Everything felt normal as she settled her baby boy back in his own tiny bed and Bulma wondered if it all had been a dream, if the black shadow had been a fickle of her imagination – she opened the window and looked out – the uneasy feeling was still there. But she had to shake it off – because there was Trunks, and coffee to make, a laugh with her mother and a meeting with her dad, a new project that needed a final touch.
She had to work on the stable world she was trying to build around her and there was no time to waste thinking about stupid black ghosts and stupid black sensations.
So... coffee first.
Bulma's voice rang light and upbeat as she walked breezily into the kitchen where she knew her mother was probably already starting breakfast.
"Good morning grandma!" she continued in a singsong voice, moving Trunks' little hand up and down. "And… good morning Yamcha and Puar!" she then added, like a question – raising a suspicious eyebrow at the two unexpected guests, Yamcha propped on a stool with his arms crossed and Puar hovering just above his right shoulder.
"Hi, sweetheart," Mrs. Briefs said with a taut smile. Bulma didn't immediately notice – she grinned as she settled Trunks in the high chair.
"There we go," she said, flicking Trunks' nose up and she got a happy gurgle in return. "So… what's up Yamcha?" she then asked and, as her attention focused on the man, she clearly saw him stiffen and then squirm a little on his seat, like a kid caught doing a bad thing. She glanced at the clock on the wall – well, showing up at people's house at roughly eight o' clock in the morning was kind of a bad thing.
She briefly thought about a time in which Yamcha at their breakfast table was nothing unusual.
It seemed impossibly faraway, like something of someone else's life.
Yamcha rubbed a hand on the back of his neck.
"I, huh, I brought bagels," he said at last, nodding his head to the brown paper bag on the table.
"Really? Thanks!" she said, opening the bag and taking a distracted peek inside. "Wait a minute, you're not trying again to get a discount on our latest Capsule Corp. car, right?"
"What?!" Yamcha stuttered as he blushed furiously. "No!"
"Because I'm more of a cigarettes kind of girl as you should know!" Bulma continued, turning to the coffee maker on the counter. "I swear to Kami one day I'll know the name of the one who leaves a millimeter of coffee in the pot."
At that, Yamcha cracked a feeble smile. "I'm pretty sure that would be you."
"Yeah, well, nobody asked you," Bulma answered, while starting a pot of fresh coffee, but before she could begin to properly pick on Yamcha, her mother let out a dejected half sob that rang forlornly across the kitchen walls.
Bulma's hands froze mid-motion.
She raised her head and looked at her mother, then at Yamcha, then Puar; and she noticed that none of them was meeting her gaze.
"Uh... is something wrong?"
Mrs. Briefs sniffed. There was no trace of her usual placid smile and Bulma blinked – she thought about that cursed black shadow, about the bad feeling, about how she didn't believe in premonitions.
"I… I'm gonna leave you guys alone," Mrs. Briefs said in a small voice, and she picked Trunks up, hugging him tightly. "Come here, pumpkin butter."
Bulma watched them go in silence, then she turned to face her friends with her hands on her hips.
"Ok, what's going on?" she said sharply. "Puar? Yamcha?"
Bulma felt the ice crawling its way up from the cold floor through her legs – a knot of ice formed in her stomach as she saw that Puar's eyes were glistening as he had started to weep quietly.
Yamcha sighed and he stood up, slowly, slowly, like a decrepit old man. Bulma's eyes were glued on him, small slits of turquoise – how could anyone move so slowly? He was doing it on purpose, trying to postpone the inevitable fulfillment of the black omen, there was no other explanation –
"Bulma," Yamcha said, his expression clouded and frowning. "There's… this thing. I came here as soon as I heard, I…"
Time started to flow in a slow, lazy stream. Bulma listened, never taking her eyes off Yamcha's face.
"What the hell are you talking about?" she hissed.
Yamcha's eyes were like the eyes of a sad dog. Bulma stared, with clinical detachment, as he sighed deeply, as his eyebrows that she thought couldn't get any more downcast suddenly did, as he groped for words to further explain.
"It's true," he sighed at last. "It's a heart thing." He shook his head, exhaling a third time. Yeah, Bulma was counting. "I don't know. Krillin explained it to me, but I swear to Kami I couldn't understand the half of it. It's… it's unbelievable. We should… we should visit him, I think."
Yamcha frowned. "What do you mean no?"
"It can't be."
"It can't. This can't be."
Bulma couldn't stop saying that.
She repeated it like a mantra, or like a short circuit.
She took a moment to realize she was dizzy and those words were her anchor and then in the midst of the blur of colors and shapes she saw Yamcha's worried face. Yamcha's sad dog face. The white scar – she had never asked about that scar. Goku didn't have scars. Just the one at the back of his head, she had felt it once, burying her fingers into the thick blackness of his crazy hair, the scar, the scar that had made him –
She moved her mouth like a lost goldfish, she shook her head like a broken robot.
"It can't be. It can't be. It can't –
Yamcha's hands were on her shoulders, she could see – but she couldn't feel them. Those hands couldn't reach her, not across the cold rising in her veins, not when all she could feel around her was the taste and texture of their last embrace, when she had known at once that something was off-kilter, she had known… But then he'd smiled and her body had crackled with electricity under the black velvet of those eyes and – she had forgotten everything.
"He didn't tell me," she murmured numbly. "Why?"
"I don't know, he didn't –
"How could he?" she continued breathlessly, stomping over Yamcha's words. "How could he… he lied… he lied to me… HE LIED TO MY FACE!"
Yamcha had lost the sad dog look – he just looked shell-shocked to her and then again why wouldn't he? He had every right to think she was losing her mind right there, right then; and after all, what did Yamcha know? What did he know of the betrayal of the silly monkey boy?
She imagined him flying on his cloud and she was always right so he probably was.
Bulma clamped her eyes shut. She lowered her head, shaking it, gritting her teeth – her whole body was seizing up with visceral rejection and Yamcha's frown deepened as he made to envelop Bulma in a hug – she pushed him away as though electrocuted, turning away from him like a rabid dog –
"DON'T TOUCH ME!"
– she lost her balance and caught herself on the counter, leaning all her weight on both arms, breathing hard, rigid like the dead and yet rattling like a dying leaf.
Her head was bowed, her hair were falling over her face like water.
"How could he do this to me?" she seethed. "How dare he?"
"This isn't about you, Bulma!"
Bulma blinked slowly. She raised her head, looked at Yamcha for a long moment. She let out a nasty sound that was between a sob and a laugh – a bitter, acidic cackle that erupted like poison off her lungs.
Then – she screamed; a roar like an explosion of sheer horror – and, with a single swivel of her arm, she sent all the innocent stuff that was laying on the counter, smashing with violence on the floor.