Hello Hello Hello
"There exists a silken red thread of destiny. It is said that this magical cord may tangle or stretch but never break. When a child is born, that invisible red thread connects the child's soul to all the people—past, present, and future—who will play a part in that child's life. Over time, that thread shortens and tightens, bringing closer and closer those people who are fated to be together."
"Bulma? Are – are you alright?"
"I… We have to gather the dragon balls. Now."
"Stop gawking at me, Yamcha! We're wasting time! I… I'll grab the radar and you – am I just talking to myself here?"
"…Shenron can't help him, Bulma."
"Kami himself said so."
Bulma didn't realize her voice was coming out of her throat in a feral growl. She couldn't. Eyes wide and crazy, she was focused, too focused on the furious, buzzing thought in her head to notice anything else – a thought that was saying that she wasn't going to pay heed to any kind of god that had allowed this to happen in the first place.
She slammed her hands on the kitchen counter again – gripping its edge until her knuckles became white and Yamcha was still talking, still talking, about natural causes and powers and limitations and on and on – and how in the world could he just accept what he'd been told? How could he still be talking, and who was Kami to decide what was fair and what it wasn't, what was natural and what was not?
She gritted her teeth.
"Well, then, screw the dragon balls!" she yelled.
Oh, yes, she knew very well what illness they were talking about – it had been all over the scientific journals, and the news, in the past year. If Kami and by extension Sheron's powers, considered themselves so above saving Goku then guess what, the human kind would. With its strengths and brain alone, and screw herself for believing in something higher, in something more powerful and ungraspable and magical than that.
"It's a disease!" she cried and she started pacing restlessly, not mindful of the shards and detritus on the floor, she was moving to make up for Yamcha's inertia – someone had to move. "A disease! And we're talking about Goku!"
She looked at Yamcha as he shook his head slowly, she looked at him without knowing him.
"…I know," he said softly and she shook him, hard.
"So there must be something we can do!" she cried hoarsely. "There must be something!"
That had been two mornings ago.
Before she locked herself in the lab, day and night, comparing data, searching for a winning strategy against the enemy.
Before using her father's name to turn over every stone, to scour everything on Earth – before all the little clues started to tell her that even if he'd never failed the Earth, the Earth might probably not return the favor.
November 3rd, 766
On the third morning, Bulma was standing at the edge of a familiar forest.
The sky was of an icy, blinding, almost punishing blue – as though made out of pure cold, and Bulma felt a shiver running its way down her spine. She scowled and pressed her back against the tree behind her. She had been standing there for what looked like, and probably were, hours – watching the small dome-shaped house from afar.
Her eyes wandered for what was perhaps the hundredth time on the ribbons of smoke curling up from the chimney – on the perfectly stacked wood, on the small white car parked on one side. The perfect picture of domesticity.
She then flicked her eyes to the left, to the shrine-like hut with the curved roof and the circular windows.
She was sixteen years old and eyeing it warily for the first time.
She hissed through her teeth and crossed her arms in a self-hug, trying to retain some warmth, wishing badly for a cigarette – a lot of things were keeping her rooted in that spot, hidden behind the trees, unable, in equal parts, to go ahead and knock at that door – and to turn on her heels and leave.
She figured she could just stand there forever – press the stop button of the world and stay there, just looking in from the outside, not taking part.
But there was a noise, maybe a movement and she squinted – she thought she saw a small boy hopping out of the little hut and into the clearing, skipping, whistling a tuneless happy melody –
She shook her head and it was actually the door of the other house that was being pulled open – on a foolish instinct, Bulma quickly hid herself behind the tree.
It wasn't like she wasn't ashamed; she was – she had been childishly waiting on some sign, on some indication on what to do for hours, and now – Bulma swallowed.
Her heart hammering in her throat, she strained her neck to take a quick look – and what she saw was enough to shift the balance of everything.
Bulma couldn't believe her eyes; Chichi – her purple frame was unmistakable – was marching briskly to the car, hopping in – leaving. For how long, Bulma couldn't know, but she guessed it couldn't be too much – she hadn't even finished the thought that she was sprinting away from the tree and running up, crumpling the frozen lawn under her feet, the cold air biting her skin –
There she was, at his door.
Taking a deep breath, Bulma tried, and failed, to give a rhythm to her knocking at the door.
She waited, straining her ears – searching for one voice and for a moment she was convinced she could hear it, just on the other side of that wall.
The door opened and Krillin appeared, a serious expression on his face.
They stared at each other for a few moments; Bulma silently took in Krillin's bloodshot eyes, not knowing if she was disappointed, or surprised – or scared.
"Krillin," she said stiffly.
"Bulma, hey," he said, in a casual way that felt prominently out of place. He shifted on his two feet, and made no move to invite her in. It actually looked like he had forgotten she was there, or like he had forgotten what people usually do when someone knocks at the door.
Bulma huffed loudly, her nostrils flaring. "Are you going to let me in or do we have to stay at this door 'till the end of time?"
At that, Krillin seemed to snap back into himself. "Sure. Sorry," he said and he stepped aside, letting Bulma brush past him. He immediately closed the door behind them, to keep the cold outside and cleared his throat.
"Er, you just missed Chichi," he said. "But she should be back in no time, she went to –
"Tell me Yamcha is an idiot and didn't understand a word of what you've told him over the phone," Bulma said impatiently, brusquely twirling on her heels to face Krillin.
He didn't need to know that she had actually meant to miss Chichi – nobody needed to know that she had spent the last hours cowering under a tree praying to whoever was listening, god or demon, to be struck by lightning when it wasn't even raining.
Krillin scratched his head. He chuckled softly, awkwardly. "Well… Yamcha's idiot sometimes, yeah."
Bulma breathed long and hard through her nose. "Mh-mh. And?"
Krillin's chuckle slowly grew thin and strained until it died altogether. Bulma watched with wide eyes as he shook his head and the balance of the whole universe shifted again, in the opposite direction though, making Bulma's head spin violently, making her heart seize up.
There was a pit in her stomach when she swallowed dry.
"Where is he?" she asked breathlessly.
Bulma bolted immediately –
– it took her a moment to realize she didn't know where she was going.
She stopped, briefly closing her eyes. Then she heaved a breath and turned her head, looking around – taking in the small living room for the first time. Goku's home.
It was warm and narrow, the way a hug could be – a hug not meant for her though, something that made her feel horribly out of place. A slightly worn out couch, a woven rug on the floorboard, flowers. A packed bookshelf – for Gohan surely. A closed door of dark wood that was muffling the voices of Master Roshi and of who she assumed was the Ox King – Bulma squinted; she noticed then for the first time the number of pictures scattered around on the walls, on the furniture.
There was one of Chichi and Gohan, the length of Gohan's hair told her it was pretty recent, the awful bowl cut only a memory. He was smiling meekly and she had an arm around his shoulders.
There was another, of The Ox King holding his newborn grandson. And another, of a lady she didn't know.
Then Gohan again, at every age, in every pose. In the red hat with the four-star dragon ball. Wrestling with the ribbon of a gift box twice his size. Gohan blowing out candles – two, three and four. A pint-sized Gohan trying to wield a fishing pole – with his dad crouched beside him at the edge of the small river, back to the camera.
Bulma lost her breath.
"I've never been here before," she said, her voice wavering slightly. "Can you believe it?"
Krillin blinked, then he chuckled again.
"I… I can actually," he replied. "He – he's never been the best at keeping in touch, right?"
He said it with such a quiet wistfulness that Bulma was taken aback – she felt her blood run cold as she studied Krillin's face with flashing, searching eyes – was he insane? Did he not realize he had just talked about Son Goku as though he was already long dead?
She shook her head; the instinct to lash out, to throttle the little bald man took over – and as fast as it came, it faded. Her jaw was trembling and she looked away for a moment –
"Take me to him," she said after a moment, softly. "Please."
Krillin's face twisted in a sad imitation of a smile. "Sure. Come on."
He led Bulma past the closed door and through a small archway – then up the staircase, silently, in what looked like a death march, the wood whining under each step.
"Gohan?" she asked.
"Asleep in his room – Goku had a pretty rough night from what I've heard, and…"
"Yeah, I see." Bulma was quick to shut Krillin up. The unbearable silence was preferable to that.
They crossed the narrow hallway and a moment later they were standing in front of an open door. Krillin peeked inside the bedroom and sighed – then he turned to Bulma and nodded for her to go ahead. Bulma swallowed. It was the last chance to turn and run away. Go home, get back in the lab to keep on looking – there must be something! – not knowing, not seeing was almost the same thing as hope she thought –
She clenched her jaw and stepped inside and it was as if her heart tried to escape from her ribcage, right there, right then when she finally saw him.
She hadn't meant for that soft gasp to leave her throat – she had always thought she knew Goku's face as she knew the back of her hand. But this…
Goku had lost all the things that made him Goku. There was no trace of his transcendental sun bright spark, no trace of his vitality, of the way he'd always stood out – everything had been leached away.
Her eyes flickered all over him, wide and burning, searching – she heard Krillin say something, but couldn't focus on the actual words. She figured that whatever it was, it didn't matter – little did at that point, anyway.
"Shouldn't he be in a hospital?" she said after a moment and a knot of ice formed in her stomach – she didn't want to hear the answer.
Behind her Krillin sighed, he shook his head with a shrug.
"He wanted to come home."
Bulma briefly closed her eyes – the sorrow in Krillin's voice as he spoke those words was heavy, so heavy that it pierced through the stupefied fog in her brain; the meaning it held was overwhelming and only then she was able to bring herself to close the small distance to the bedside, where she let herself fall on the vacant chair.
A long moment went by in silence. The three of them – brought together by chance, a long long time ago.
Krillin placed a hand on Bulma's shoulder and squeezed lightly.
"I'll be downstairs if you need me, okay?"
Bulma didn't answer. She never took her eyes away from Goku's face as she listened to Krillin's steps doing the death march in reverse, 'cross the hallway, down the stairs – creak, creak, creak –
The only other sound was the sound of Goku's breathing as he lay sleeping on his back, his head straight on the pillow. It came whistling out of his lungs – sounding like the wind brushing down on the grass of their clearing.
It was a shallow, erratic rhythm that lulled Bulma into a bitter reflection – she thought of everything he'd given, whether he'd meant it or not, and of how little he'd taken; she thought about all the times he hadn't failed her; strong and bright, he had always been there to catch her. And now… she didn't want to fail him now.
Tentatively, Bulma reached for Goku's hand.
It was heavy, and ice cold – she squeezed it a little. Nothing happened and she squeezed a little harder. She could feel his pulse, slow and languid – mocking the placid notes of a warrior at rest.
It was so, so wrong.
"I know I said I needed time," she murmured at last, "But don't you think this is a little too extreme?"
It was all she could do to keep her voice from breaking. "You… you should know better than to listen to anything I say."
Bulma held her breath and waited – hoping that the unique prospect of talking about her flaws would be enough to coax him out of that mortal sleep.
Goku's eyes stayed close.
He remained inert against the pillow and Bulma blinked, clenching her jaw – she could feel tears, vicious and hot, bubbling up the back of her throat – she swallowed and slowly, slowly, she leaned forward, her elbows on the mattress – she bowed her head, hiding her face behind her hands –
She stayed like that for several long, long minutes, her breath hitching and faltering though her eyes remained dry. She slowly breathed out through her nose – thinking about that time she had bawled her eyes out and he just held her close, quiet and patient and smiling –
A movement caught her attention and she lowered her hands – Goku was shifting; he grimaced and coughed a little, he gritted his teeth, turning his head on the pillow, eyes scrunched as though he was in a lot of pain –
Bulma felt her insides freeze over. She leaped from the chair – she was not ready. Not for that, not for any of that. She opened her mouth to call for Krillin, but the brutal fit was over as quickly as it'd come, and she was left staring, her heart beating like crazy –
She was not ready.
She made to run downstairs – then, unexpectedly, Goku's eyes slid partly open.
Bulma stopped in her tracks, watching as he sluggishly blinked, and as his eyes finally settled to stare half-vacantly at the ceiling after what seemed like a lifetime.
Her knees went weak and she slipped back in the chair. She had forgotten how to breathe.
"Hey, there…" she murmured.
Goku blinked again, once, twice – then he moved his eyes to look at her. Bulma's heart dropped. He was far away, somewhere deep, sunk inside himself. He was there and yet he wasn't and she swallowed the clog of tears that once again threatened to get the best of her – she wanted to scream, to drag him back, shake him until the lights went on again into those eyes. But instead she brushed the bangs out of his forehead with the tips of her fingers.
"Hey…" she repeated, quietly.
"Am I dreaming?" he said in a tired, lost voice she had never heard coming from him.
There was no hint of recognition in those black, clouded eyes; they were focused on something a thousand miles away and she knew at once that that wasn't a cute if out of character phrase, it wasn't a joke – it was a genuine question, the question of those who couldn't draw anymore a distinct line to tell apart the real world from the realm of dreams and shadows.
She felt her lungs turn to stone at the thought of what it could mean, but she tried nonetheless, she tried to help him find his bearings, to gently steer him towards the world of the living.
"No, Goku," she said quietly. "You took a nap and now you're awake."
At the sound of her voice, of her voice saying his name, Goku's eyes seemed to clear a bit. He blinked again, with excruciating slowness, but when he finally looked straight at her he knew exactly who she was. His eyes crinkled at the corners and they were full of awareness and – of happiness.
"Yes! I'm right here!" she exclaimed, grabbing his hand once again, squeezing it as tightly as she could. "Hi…"
Goku's eyes wandered all over Bulma's face for a long moment. Then he closed them and drew out a shaky breath.
"I've missed you," he said softly. "…I… looked everywhere for you…"
Bulma frowned – a gentle frown that was partly a smile.
"You could have picked up a phone, you know," she said. "No need for the melodramatics."
"...yeah…" Goku said, with pauses too long between words. "…but… I can never remember how that thing works."
Bulma blinked. Then – she just couldn't help the laugh. It was soft and gentle on her soul, it sounded foreign and at the same time it was just right. She didn't know if she'd just imagined it, but she liked to think that he had laughed too…
"Goku, listen… I'll find a way out of this," she whispered thickly. "If it's the last thing I ever do, I'll find a way, I'll think of something – you… you just have to hold on a little longer. Can you… can you do this for me?"
"Yeah," Goku said. "Anything."
"You better, you dummy," Bulma said breathlessly. "We can do anything together, you and I."
But it was clear that Goku was done talking. His eyes flickered with raw emotion one last time, they held Bulma's gaze for a few moments before – sliding away. They were losing their focus on the present, he was drifting off.
Bulma took in a deep, shaky breath.
"Get some rest now," she said, watching as he fought to keep his eyelids open. But they were heavy and they drooped inexorably before shutting altogether.
Bulma kept vigil for a few long moments. She was convinced she'd lost him again to that deep lethargy but then –
"Stay," he mumbled. "Don't leave."
Bulma jumped on the chair. "I'm here," she said. "Right here. I won't leave."
She reached with one hand and stroked Goku's hair, slowly – she intertwined their finger together and watched as his breathing began to change. The pauses in between were growing larger.
"Sleep… sleep. I won't leave I promise. I won't ever leave. I'll be here when you wake up. Remember… when we used to wake up together? You – you always said I was the only one who snored louder than you –
Bulma's voice broke.
– sleep, my love… It's going to be okay. We're going to be okay. We're going to be okay."
She sat there for she didn't know how long, holding his hand, and pressing her other palm on his chest, so that she could touch the rise and fall – praying that one prayer under her breath – keeping track of every little shift, every change in Goku's face.
At one point, a little, peaceful smiled erupted on his lips and, as she wondered what he was dreaming about, Bulma allowed herself to believe. That love could actually conquer all and that if she held his hand tight enough she would be able to shield him from all the bad in the world; that she could be a blanket to keep him safe and warm. That as long as her love was so big and so close it could fill his lungs with breath and he would find the strength to wake up again and keep staying, keep fighting, keep going.
"It's going to be okay... it's going to be okay..."
She wasn't going to fail him. Not this time, not ever again.
"Why you're not the one who's dying?"
The voice rang low and seething, it cut the air like a knife.
Bulma felt the temperature drop abruptly, she could feel the chill, the chill that sentence was carrying as it settled on her chest. She didn't want to, but she raised her head and glanced ahead.
Chichi was standing at the doorway. Bulma could see her reflection right in front of her in the mirror, dark and motionless – and she was reminded instinctively of Vegeta. They were that kind of people, hard, impossible to move, like rocks in a river.
I don't know why, was what she wanted to say. I don't know why he has to go away and I have to stay.
Chichi snorted. "Of course I knew."
Bulma said nothing. She looked down again; her hold on Goku's hand slipped a little and she renewed it, squeezing with all her strength – Chichi could stare at the back of her head all she liked or didn't like.
"You think I'm blind? Deaf?" Chichi continued after a moment. "You think you're the only one with a brain?"
Bulma was looking at the way Goku's chest moved, so focused on every flicker, on every shift, on every flutter of his heartbeat, that for a moment she forgot what Chichi had said. She frowned slightly. "Then why didn't you –
"I was afraid," Chichi hissed before Bulma could finish the sentence. Her voice then changed, it morphed into something small, something thin and impossibly bitter. "I didn't want to face the fact that he didn't love me the way I wanted. I hated my life without him… I was afraid I'd lose him for good. Ironic, isn't it?"
"I'm sorry Chichi," she said. But it came out toneless, and empty. She pitied Chichi – but it wasn't enough.
"I want you to get out of my house."
Bulma still wasn't looking at Chichi – she didn't need to, she knew very well it would have come to this, but she couldn't help it as her throat begin to burn, raw and painful –
"I promised I would stay," she said in a choked whisper.
"And you're such an honorable person, aren't you?"
This time, Bulma flinched at the hate that was dripping off Chichi's tongue, like poison. She sighed – so that was it.
She let go of Goku's hand, gently arranging it under the covers. She breathed and got up.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
She didn't know why she repeated it twice. She didn't know for what or to who she was apologizing exactly – she doubted that Chichi cared.
"Just – take care of him," she breathed and she walked out quickly, scared that if she waited a second longer, her legs wouldn't be able to carry her away from that room.
Krillin was sitting on the floor just outside the door, listlessly bumping his head against the wall behind him, slowly, rhythmically. He stopped when he saw her, and though his expression wasn't of outright shock, nor of surprise truth to be told, Bulma felt the need to say something, to defend herself.
"Not one word, Krillin," she seethed, and with that she ran downstairs.
In the living room people were starting to gather; Master Roshi, the Ox King, even Yamcha, Tienshinan – Yamcha perhaps even called her name – Bulma didn't look up.
She sprinted outside in the cool morning air, stopping in the middle of the frosted patch of green in front of the house – she tilted her head upward, welcoming the chill of the upcoming winter in her bones, thinking, thinking –
That the last thing they did was exchanging untruths.
Thinking that if she couldn't even keep that last promise to him, if she couldn't be a blanket to keep him safe when he needed it the most, if all the love in the world couldn't keep him on Earth with her – then they might as well put her underground to rot beside him.
Gohan's head peeked around the corner to look inside his parents' room.
His mom was still standing at the window, her gaze firmly planted on the slowly changing light of the late afternoon.
Gohan bit on his lower lip for a moment. Then he braced himself and slowly walked in – his steps soft and padded on the floorboards.
His dad's appearance had profoundly changed in the last few hours. His breathing had gotten excruciatingly slow, but he looked truly peaceful for the first time in days; it made Gohan feel that for a little while it was okay to not feel sorrow, or pain, or fear – not for himself and not for his dad. That it was okay to feel just a little bit of peace for the first time since the beginning of that nightmare.
As Chichi turned and looked on, Gohan climbed onto the bed next to his dad and curled up against the headboard. He opened the torn book he was carrying and smiled.
It was the two of them, like when he was four and they sneaked out together to go playing.
"You like this story dad, remember?"
He cleared his throat and began, his finger threading along the page as he read.
"The divine root conceives and the spring breaks forth as the heart's nature is cultivated, the great way arises, before chaos was divided, heaven and earth were one."
"…All was a shapeless blur, and no man had appeared."
"Once Pan Gu had destroyed the enormous vagueness, the separation of clear and impure began."
"You know, I had this dream… a girl was telling me that the yellow ball back at the house was a magic-magical thing… and there were seven balls, with the stars, and if you managed to get them all you were granted a wish. Crazy, huh?"
"Magic, huh? What would you wish for, my boy?"
"Living things had always tended towards humanity; from their creation all beings improve…"
"I don't know. No, I know! A big, huge dinner!"
"But you can get that yourself. You're strong enough to do that."
"Oh… that's right. But I'm not as strong as you are, Grandpa."
"…If you want to know about creation and time… read about the difficulties resolved on the journey to the west."
"Then I guess you'll just have to train harder next time. What do you say?"
"Yay! Yes! Can we do it now?"
"Now? But it's late! Rest, Goku. You did well, you fought well. Now it's time to go home."
Son Gohan's old little hut was little more than a cube of bricks just a stone's throw from the Son family house.
The door was painted a faded green and it whined loudly against its frame when Krillin quietly pulled it open a little while after dusk.
There wasn't much inside – a decrepit looking table, an impossibly small bed, a cabinet with four little drawers – a purple pillow. Translucent cobwebs festooned the ceiling and every surface was covered with a thick layer of dust.
He spotted her immediately in the semi-darkness, on the floor of the furthest corner, hugging her knees tightly as if trying to fold into herself.
When the door opened, Bulma looked up – she raised her head, the first real movement in hours and hours, and Krillin was standing there, arms useless at his sides – his small frame trembling from head to toe.
He was afraid. She could sense, almost smell his fear – his despair. She could see it, in his face that was frozen in a grimace of staggering grief – the mouth hanging loosely open, the lines on his face she could have sworn weren't there that morning.
She heard him sniffling miserably and her first impulse was to sneer – she wondered idly if her face too would be stuck in that ridiculous soundless scream, if only she'd be able to feel something, anything at all.
"He's dead," she said, voice dull and drawn out. "I don't need you to know that."
Krillin flinched. He stared at her with wide eyes, staggering slightly.
"Yes, he's dead," he whispered. "Goku… Goku's gone."
His voice disappeared in a miserable whimper. The tears were running ceaselessly down his cheeks, splattering on his shirt, on the floor. Bulma observed him for a brief moment until – until she couldn't take it anymore. She jumped to her feet.
"Damn you, Krillin!" she spitted furiously.
So he was dead, so what.
She was never going to see him again, that was what it meant.
It meant she was never going to see his back again, to feel every single muscle under her palm; it meant she was never going to breathe in the scent of his neck again; it meant he had taken his crisp, clean laugh along with him and his eyes too – they would be gone and she would never again ask him 'what am I' and he would never again look at her and answer 'you are you'.
She was never going to have those things again and she wasn't even getting the mercy of forgetting what they were like –
That was what it meant.
And yet it was Krillin who stood sniveling in front of her.
"Stop crying!" Bulma yelled and she grabbed a hold of Krillin's arms, shaking him, hoping his bones could break as they rattled against each other. "Don't you understand? He wouldn't want us to! He wouldn't!"
"Bulma – Bulma, enough!" Krillin yelled, trying to wrestle free of her grasp. But she kept trying to lash out, to scratch him – so he grabbed her wrists trying to keep her still. "Stop – stop it! He is my friend too!"
But I love him! something inside Bulma screamed.
And the pain finally tore her in two pieces.
The scream started low. It started low in her lungs, hoarse, before erupting into a feral, blood-curling sound – she yelled and screamed while Krillin held her close – she screamed for all she had missed, she screamed and kept screaming hoping that maybe, if she screamed loud enough, he could hear her and come back to her.
Far, far away from the two little houses – the old one and the new one – there was Vegeta.
He was standing tall, motionless, at the edge of a cliff – staring at the horizon without seeing. He was inside his head, senses focused inwardly as he waited for that little spark to get its second wind. It always did – it never went away completely, it always came back, it was coming back now. Any minute.
Any minute now.
He was unaware of the pulsation inside him – like the heartbeat of a hidden, sleeping creature slowly waking up.
He looked up – it was over. There was a newly formed empty space in the universe –
Vegeta's voice faltered.
A shiver of unprecedented violence coursed through every fiber of his being, through every nerve ending – Vegeta clamped his eyes shut, trembling, seizing.
His blood was quickly, inexorably being replaced by ice, ice and power blended together, building up simultaneously; it started from the tips of his fingers, running through his limbs and it continued in a ferocious surge, a centripetal motion that when it finally reached his heart –
"DAMN YOU, KAKAROT!"