Things Behind The Sun

Bulma No, Bulma Yes

The air smelled of soot and lava – of a sulfurous stench carried by the wind toward the reddening sky.

There was a flash of light and, after that, a seismic wave was his only warning as the rocks beneath his feet smashed and cracked apart – but Vegeta wasn’t fazed. He merely leaped out of harm way and then again, as another energy blast was sent after him – Vegeta powered up and flew away, the golden aura flaring around him – and he sneered as he felt his opponent following hot on his heels.

He knew what was about to happen – Kakarot just loved to pop out in front of him out of the goddamn nowhere – so Vegeta was ready. As soon as he felt the signature ffft of the Instant Transmission that had fooled him one time too many, Vegeta charged a small ball of cracking ki in his right hand and shoot it forward faster than the speed of light – toward the spot where he knew Kakarot was just about to re-materialize.

The blast went right through Kakarot’s chest without even giving him the chance to acknowledge it.

It pierced the heart, it certainly blew the lungs into smoke. Blood squirted out like in a small explosion – they were so close that the scarlet droplets splattered all over Vegeta’s face – and he reflexively closed his eyes, recoiling slightly – then he slowly lowered his arm, waiting. Waiting for the ahhh moment, for the satisfaction that the simple concept of killing Kakarot was supposed to bring. He remembered it faintly from a long time ago – he knew how good it was, what it was like to feel Kakarot break beneath his hands.

But there was no ahhh moment. Instead, the most ridiculous thing happened.

“Ow!” said Kakarot’s voice. “That hurt!”

Vegeta’s eyes snapped open; he had committed his fair share of murder and genocide, so he was certain enough that once you one-shot people – or aliens – through the heart, they usually didn’t talk back. But there he was, the stupid clown: beneath the blond bangs, Kakarot’s teal eyes were flashing with something that was more mild annoyance than excruciating pain or anger – which was disappointing to Vegeta, to say the least.

The next time he managed to land a nice shot, it was a through-and-through that pulverized Kakarot’s guts. The wound was beautiful in its viciousness – a perfect black hole, big and circular like a full moon. Again, according to Vegeta’s experience, there was no way in hell someone could survive something like that.

“What is this place anyway?” Kakarot said lightly, dusting himself off.

Mh. Weird. Vegeta refrained from growling in frustration; he narrowed his eyes and he found himself weighing the question in his mind.

“It’s planet Vegeta,” he drawled after a long moment, his eyes hovering all over the face of the man in front of him and stopping on the trickle of blood coming down the side of his mouth. It was bright red, and gleaming. “Our – my planet.”

“Really?” Kakarot said raising his eyebrows in surprise; he looked around with curiosity, the expression of a happy puppy plastered all over his face. “Cool!”

“Cool?” Vegeta echoed, while a tremendous explosion shook the earth again; the scorching heat coming from the exposed core of the planet raised to graze his skin, and sweat started to bead on his forehead, but he didn’t know if it was because of the heat or because of the fact that he could smell – no – he could feel Kakarot’s blood splattered on his face, on his clothes, on his hands; those droplets weren’t as weightless as they looked, which was – odd. Distracting.

Vegeta frowned and swiftly examined his enemy. Blood was still flowing from the gaping hole in Kakarot’s stomach, pooling on the dusty reddish ground at his feet, yet he seemed completely unaware. No, not unaware – Kakarot looked at ease. Like bleeding to death was no big deal.

And how the hell is this news? Vegeta thought sourly, but then he narrowed his eyes even further – if Kakarot could pretend nothing was happening, then so could he, but that didn’t mean he was about to let Kakarot’s inanity slide.

“Cool?” he repeated. “Frieza is slaughtering it, it’s exploding – in five minutes all of this will be history. How is that cool?”

“Well…” Kakarot tilted his head to one side and paused for a moment. His lips puckered, he hummed lightly under his breath, eyes pensive – then he crossed his arms and gave a tiny shrug of his shoulders. “You sure this is not Namek?” he asked.

It was Vegeta’s turn to fall silent for a moment.

“Yes, Kakarot,” he sneered at last. “I think I know what my homeland looks like. Tch.”

He had had enough already of Kakarot’s voice and face. With a snarl and a shake of his head, Vegeta turned around, readying himself to resume the battle, to try and take Kakarot by surprise once again.

“Heh, you’re the expert,” the clown was saying and in moments there was a deafening whistle followed by the rumble of a faraway blast moving swiftly to catch up with them, and then the scream, the urgent scream –

“GET DOWN!”

With barely enough time to take a breath, Vegeta couldn’t register what was happening – all he felt was the impact, the heavy blow at his back as he was tackled from behind – and it was Kakarot, of course. Kakarot pushing him down, shielding him from the explosion with his body. It was – it was plain madness, so much that Vegeta didn’t wait for the ground to stop shaking like a horse under his stomach; he rolled over immediately, pushing Kakarot away with everything he had.

“Get the hell away from me!” he yelled, scrambling quickly to his feet. Kakarot was already standing beside him, his arms crossed behind his head and his eyes twinkling in amusement.

“Would it kill you to say thanks every once in a while?”

“Damn you, Kakarot!” Vegeta yelled hoarsely. A hot, billowing wind had picked up to embrace them, and he felt like he was choking on the red dust that was flying everywhere. He bared his teeth – he clenched his fists, aching to put them through Kakarot’s face. “Nobody asked you to do anything!”

Kakarot was quiet for a moment – he just stood there, while the wind screamed his unearthly wail, looking at Vegeta in the patient way a teacher would reserve to a particularly stupid child.

“Why am I here then?”

"Why?”

With a roar, Vegeta lunged forward, seizing Kakarot’s by the throat with both hands. He squeezed, he wanted to squeeze until he felt the windpipe snap like a useless twig. “I don’t want you here!” he seethed, saliva spitting everywhere. “Don’t you – don’t you see that I’m trying to kill you, you stupid bastard!?”

Kakarot’s hands closed around Vegeta’s wrists. They were ice cold, and there was a weird glint in his eyes and though it was hot as hell, Vegeta suddenly felt cold, chilled to the marrow.

“Aw, it’s okay,” Kakarot said and a smile appeared on his face, a smile like a knife. “I’m already dead anyway, so… you know.”

Vegeta shook his head. From up close, the reek of Kakarot’s fresh blood was overwhelming – so much that it wasn’t a smell anymore, it was a taste. Something sick and metallic filling Vegeta’s mouth so fast that he wanted to throw up. His hold around Kakarot’s neck slipped a little – and then Vegeta noticed that his hands were bloodied as well, drenched, completely covered in the crimson liquid – he widened his eyes in horror and flicked them to Kakarot’s face, breathing hard through his nose, his heart pumping in his chest twice as fast –

He had been so close – but he remembered now. As he was always forced to remember –

“…what do you want…?” Vegeta said then, with a lot less strength than he intended to – a furious lump that couldn’t be swallowed was clogging his throat. Kakarot merely let out a soft giggle. “Say something, goddammit!” Vegeta spat, shaking Kakarot’s by the throat.

Kakarot’s giggle died on his lips.

“What do you want me to say?” he said in a barely there whisper, but Vegeta could not answer – he could only stare at the flesh. It was melting away from Kakarot’s face fast, exposing the bone, the skull – it was like fast-forwarding through a decomposition and Vegeta wanted to run, but he couldn’t move. The scream sprouted and died in his throat, never making it to the air. He was paralyzed.

“What do you want me to do then?” Kakarot pressed on and through the fractured horror, Vegeta saw a chance glimmering in front of him, the chance of putting an end to everything.

“…go away,” he said, trying to keep his voice firm and demanding, to not plead. “Stop – stop following me.”

The wind stopped; everything fell silent at once, everything was muffled. It was like being underwater, like being in a bubble.

“But you’re the one who’s following me. I’ve seen you,” Bulma said, startling Vegeta because his hands were now closing around the woman’s white neck.

It was the woman, there was no mistaking it. She had those huge, beautiful eyes carrying that hidden smirk of hers, and that perfect mouth – Vegeta didn’t know if it was the relief of not having to deal with Kakarot’s decomposing corpse anymore, but he suddenly felt the insane desire to kiss that mouth. So he did. He remembered the woman’s mouth tasting fresh and a little bit sweet – just what he needed to get rid of the blood. But even when their tongues met, even when they started to languidly wrestle and intertwine, Vegeta couldn’t get rid of it – he couldn’t get rid of the blood.

It was everywhere the taste, in his mouth, in his nose, hiding on his skin – Vegeta hastily broke the kiss and saw the dark crimson stain circling Bulma’s mouth, destroying her beauty. But she didn’t seem to care – she slowly licked it off with the same knifelike smile Kakarot had and then she leaned forward to whisper in Vegeta’s ear.

"Always trying to catch up…"

Vegeta hissed as something inside him exploded in scarlet and he pushed her away as though she was a poisonous snake.

“You…” he roared and powered up blindly, causing the earth to start trembling again, the vibrations becoming one with his bones. ”How dare you!" he yelled, unleashing all his energy against the woman – who was sent flying against a wall of rocks.

She never screamed. Maybe she laughed. But there was definitely the sickening noise of the impact of her bones against the rocks and then nothing as she fell down, limp like a puppet whose strings had been cut off. Vegeta waited for a moment, then he tentatively stepped forward to get a better look at what he had done. He kneeled. Bulma’s face was partly hidden behind her amazing aqua hair, and he reached to move them away – instantly wishing he hadn’t. Her eyes were wide and dull, unseeing – she wasn’t there anymore. He had thought – that maybe it was all a dream, but Bulma’s corpse was real, she was real –

He had to make her disappear.

“Vegeta, listen…”

Breathing harshly, Vegeta tore his eyes away from Bulma’s still, dead body. A shape was stirring in the darkness. Kakarot was back, walking towards him and though his body was whole again, he wasn’t a Super Saiyan anymore – Vegeta knew the glint in those black eyes, for he had seen it before. He knew what the other was going to say – and he didn’t want to hear it. He wanted to wake up. It had to be a dream – it just had to be –

“NO!” Vegeta cried out as gusts of gale-force wind started to blow in every direction.

“Stop –

Vegeta staggered back. He brought his hands to his head as excruciating agony exploded in his skull and a single howl rose from the depths of his lungs. “GO AWAY!”

“…being –

“Get out!” Vegeta yelled frantically, pulling at his hair, trying to cover his ears. He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes, he started to bash them forcefully into his eye-sockets, repeatedly. “Leave me alone! I said get out, get out, get out –

“…stupid.”

"Get out!"

“But Vegeta,” Kakarot’s corpse said as though stating the indisputable. “Where should I go? I am you.”

“GET OUT!”


She was struggling up a steep mountain path, the hill was broken and hostile, but she knew it well enough.

The vegetation was thick at the sides of the trail and she was trying to keep her balance by occasionally leaning onto the branches of the trees and bushes that were offering her some kind of raw handrail.

Her white nightgown was flapping around her ankles in fascinating, ghostly patterns as she ran and her turquoise hair were swaying on her shoulders like waves.

The forest was eerily silent.

It was almost dawn and the lights were pale and cold, almost bluish, cerulean. She kept going, she was almost there. In fact, just as she emerged onto an open, rocky plateau, out of nowhere a warm hand landed firmly on her shoulder.

All she had to do was turn around and look at him. Touch his face, feel his skin under her palms, feel the light he had in him – pull him closer, say ‘you found me’ and never let go.

But she was stuck.


MAY 12th, 767

There was a loud bang when the window in Bulma’s bedroom suddenly opened on its own accord, startling her out of her sleep. She jerked on the chair and her elbow slipped on her desk – and with a gasp her eyes snapped open, her heartbeat thumping a little bit faster in her chest.

She was met by the harsh blue and white light coming from the screen of her computer and she blinked – had she really dozed off at her desk? The pain in her neck said so apparently – she groaned and rubbed her face vigorously, then she threw a bleary glance at what the fluorescent numbers on her left wrist were saying.

2:00 A.M.

Great.

“You gotta be kidding me,” Bulma muttered, running a hand through her mid-length hair. She sent an unnerved glance at the open window where the curtains were dancing slowly against the pale moonlight, casting dark shadows on the floor – and though it was almost summer, Bulma felt something impossibly cold crawling its way up her spine, making her shiver. She shook her head forcefully to try and dispel the weird disquiet and she got up from the chair; she walked to the window to look outside – there was a slight breeze and the moon was slipping in between the clouds, shining a cool white light all over the garden.

Everything was quiet, motionless, just the occasional drone of the odd solitary car passing through the streets at night – Bulma found herself swallowing a clog of uneasiness down her throat. She tried to forget about the dream, but it was easier said than done. The texture of it, misty and cool, was imprinted in her brain – and the colors too, grey and blue, leftovers from the night. And there was his hand, and then – nothing. Everything else kept receding into the fog.

Bulma flexed her fingers on the window frame.

Everything was in place, but there was something different about that night. She could feel that the rules were different somehow, more lax, but also crueler. The barrier between life and death wasn’t as thick and smothering as it was supposed to be and he was emerging and then vanishing in between her thoughts, in that moment when dreams receded and wakefulness took over.

She didn’t want any of that. She wanted to forget his face – she liked so much being numb, it was comfortable – the little slip in concentration the day of Trunks’ birthday had been so excruciatingly painful she had sworn to herself that was it. Never again. It would have been easier to dismiss him in daylight, sure, but she had to try for her sake – so she did. She closed her eyes against the night, let out the breath she was too aware she was holding – and closed the window.

Done.

With a heavy sigh, Bulma squared her shoulders and tried to relax, she straightened and arched her back, stretching her arms over her head, reaching, reaching until every single one of her vertebrae gave a satisfying pop. The bed behind her back was beckoning her, like a siren’s song, so she decided it was probably time to answer the call – to lose consciousness and open her eyes only to the sun way high up in the sky seemed like a very good idea so she turned off the computer and flopped on the bed without too many ceremonies. She rolled on her side, away from the window, and hugged the spare pillow to her chest with a sigh.

Then she turned to the other side.

Then, growling, she turned on her stomach – she felt nauseous, tightly wound, she couldn’t stop her mind from racing, she couldn’t get her brain to slow down, every single small noise of the house registered like a deafening explosion in her senses; she tossed and turned thinking that was how people went mad – going without sleep, hearing stuff that probably wasn’t there in the first place and –

There was a rattle at the window –

– having the feeling of being constantly watched.

Bulma lifted her eyes. She sat up quickly, a tingling at the base of her stomach. She didn’t allow it to grow into fear, though.

Get it the hell together, she said to herself. You know better.

It was the breeze maybe, or her wild imagination – most definitely. Bulma waited for a few seconds, holding her breath – and then a noise and then Trunks’ voice came out from the baby monitor on her nightstand, saying something in his gleeful gibberish, something that wouldn’t have been alarming in any other circumstance – but that night Bulma hurled herself to her feet. She raced the small distance to Trunks’ nursery without bothering to turn on the lights, a weird, hard look of determination on her face – she careened into the room wildly, almost slipping and spinning on the polished floors with her argyle socks when she hastily slammed on the brakes in front of Trunks’ crib – when she regained her balance she looked up.

Bulma found herself staring, petrified, at the wide open window.

What...

Trunks little screech of excitement brought her out of her trance – she looked down and saw the baby boy standing on his two chubby legs, holding himself up on the railings of the bed with one arm, while with the other he was trying with determination to get to the small stuffed bees hovering above his head.

Bulma swallowed thickly. It was okay. He was okay; in fact, he was more than okay. He was – perfect. She fleetingly thought about the way Trunks sometimes snickered to himself in his sleep.

“Mah-mah! Mah!”

Bulma huffed in relief and lifted him in her arms. He smelled good. Baby powder and milk. Forest, cotton on soft skin.

“Who was it?” she murmured, nuzzling Trunks’ head. “Do you know who it was?”

Trunks only giggled and grabbed a fistful of her hair, saying something in his own personal language. Bulma bit on her lower lip – she lightly patted Trunks’ back, sending a piercing, knowing glare to the open window.

"Five little monkeys jumping on the bed – one fell off and bumped his head – so mama called the doctor and the doctor said…”

Morning couldn’t come fast enough as far as Bulma was concerned – but at the same time it came all too soon. She had not bothered to go back to sleep that night and her left eye was positively twitching – she was sitting at the kitchen island, propped on a stool and strung out on coffee, with her laptop open on the countertop while the music from the TV was trying to drill a hole through her brain – if it hadn’t already.

“…no more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

Bulma glared toward the kitchen table where Yamcha was busy clapping and singing in front of Trunks.

Unlike his mother, the baby boy was in a great mood. As always he had glared suspiciously at Yamcha’s attempt to entertain him at first, but by now he was cackling and screeching madly, slapping his hands onto the tray in front of him, and it was unclear if he was trying to tear the thing to pieces or if he was trying to keep up with the beat of the song. Still, it would have been an endearing sight – for anybody who had slept more than two hours at best.

“Yamcha, do you mind keeping it down?” Bulma said. “I’m trying to work over here!”

While Trunks’ hands carried on with their syncopated rhythm on the tray of the highchair, Yamcha deigned Bulma of his attention for less than a second, before smirking and turning back to the toddler.

“I’m sorry, we can’t hear you over the might of our favorite show!” he quipped. ”So mama called the doctor and the doctor said ‘no more monkeys jumping on the bed’!"

As Trunks burst out in a high-pitched giggle – a lovely sound, she had to admit – Bulma snorted and shook her head slightly.

“And you’re still wondering why mom picked you to be the clown last week,” she said dryly.

She took a sip of her black coffee and looked at the scene in front of her over the rim of her cup. Yamcha was smiling broadly – he was, in equal parts, having a blast with the monkey song, which was weird – but hey, there were worse things – and laughing inwardly at Bulma’s gibe; she knew him well enough to know that, he was a good friend like that – but she idly noticed, not for the first time, that for whatever reason she was gradually losing her touch at intimidation – and she didn’t like that one bit.

“Stick and stones,” Yamcha said offhandedly, quickly, because he could not afford to miss a beat. ”No more monkeys jumping on the bed!" he chanted with definitely too much intensity. Bulma rolled her eyes. ”Three little monkeys jumping on the bed…"

Bulma huffed to herself and drained the remains of the coffee, then she started typing again, trying to tune out everything else – but she could hardly focus. She was too tired and her mind was a million miles away; there were times when she wondered – she wondered about the young Bulma stranded in the Diablo Desert, about what her life would have been like if.

There were a lot of ifs in her story – she often wondered if there were many other Bulmas around in the universe, that had followed different paths and that were doing different things right now. Sometimes she felt like she had started many different lives – they all started from the same root and then went off in random, opposite directions, branches on a tree, and sometimes she found herself thinking – what did the Bulma that finally married Yamcha look like right now? Did she exist somewhere? And what about the one that had found the dragon ball in the basement but never looked it up? Was she alive, breathing, doing stuff somewhere, working at amazing new inventions? Was she happy not knowing what she had missed? Were there any ghosts at her window at night? And what was she like, who did she love? And where would he be?

Bulma shook her head forcefully and willed herself to concentrate on the writing on the screen. But she could still hear very well when the three monkeys became two, then one and then mercifully there were no more monkeys jumping on the bed! – just when she thought she was in the clear a new, if possible more annoying nursery rhyme started on the kiddie TV Show and she groaned inwardly, raising her eyes toward the heavens. Kami, please make it stop.

A moment later, the TV screen started to fizzle, then it went completely black.

Bulma raised her eyebrows at the sudden silence.

Well, I’ll be damned, she thought.

“You’re such a spoilsport, this is all your fault!” Yamcha said. He was probably pouting more than Trunks, which was saying something since the baby’s face was pinched and red, definitely in preparation of a solid crying session.

Bulma smirked. “I won’t confirm nor deny.”

Yamcha was about to reply, but then he looked up, almost too suddenly.

He opened his mouth and closed it without speaking, a slight frown making its appearance on his face. He stood up slowly and stepped away from the table – Bulma cocked her head to one side and sent him a quizzical look but then Trunks, not pleased with the fact that his playmate had just abandoned him, choose that moment to finally start to wail.

“Oh, no…” Bulma said, getting to her feet to hoist Trunks out of the highchair. She held him with one arm and bounced him a little with her hip. “Hey, Trunksie!” she said, with the best baby voice she could muster. “It’s okay! Come on, the song’s coming back very soon.”

She then glared at Yamcha, but it became obvious that he wasn’t paying attention to either of them. He looked like he was deep in thought – no, he looked like he was focusing on something elsewhere, something very far away.

Bulma frowned. “Yamcha?” she called. “What’s the matter?”

Yamcha did again that thing, that thing in which he opened his mouth and closed it without uttering a real sound. He narrowed his eyes and looked around, as though searching for something.

“I’m… not sure,” he said at last.

Bulma kept bouncing Trunks, and with her free hand she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, waiting for Yamcha to start making sense again. She was about to speak again when a set of multicolored vertical lines appeared on the TV screen, then there was a moment of static noise and then the lines again. Then, as Bulma and Yamcha exchanged sideways glances, the glum face of an anchorwoman in a blue suit appeared on screen.

“We interrupt the regular broadcast to bring you breaking news,” the newswoman said, looking straight at the camera. “At this very moment Amenbo Island, just nine miles southwest of South City, is being attacked.”

“Attacked?” Bulma repeated, but Yamcha was quick to shush her. She gave him a sour look, but then she obliged, turning her attention to the TV.

“The nature and dynamics of the events are still unclear,” the anchorwoman was saying and then she paused, looking for a moment at her notes, “for further details we switch you to our special reporter in Sasebo City,” she concluded and she turned to the big screen behind her. “What’s going on over there?”

The picture switched to a frazzled-looking man standing at the corner of a street, microphone in one hand, his other hand pressed to one ear.

“Yes, we’re here live from Sasebo City!” he shouted above the wailing of sirens. “The details are still very sketchy, what we know is that a series of explosions burned to the ground the heart of the financial district earlier this morning around 9 a.m. – there’s a huge crater where buildings used to – hold on!

The camera shook violently and the reporter turned his attention to something off-screen, before hurrying into a crouch; a split second later the sound of shattering glass and of walls crumbling down – blood-curling screams erupted from nowhere, and yells, and cries –

Bulma grimaced. She turned her head to look at Yamcha, but Yamcha didn’t return her glance. His eyes were fixed on the television, his brow deeply furrowed.

From his crouched position the reporter was still amazingly doing his job, talking fast into the microphone, but something had gone haywire with it because his voice was coming and going –

“We’ve taken – mass casualties –the military has been deployed – we’re still– oh, shit!”

There was a huge, deafening explosion and the cries grew louder. On the screen Bulma saw people scrambling around the reporter to run away screaming for their life, stumbling, falling on the ground, walking on each other and there was smoke, black smoke starting to curl in the air – the screams were deafening and the reporter’s eyes bulged out of their orbits. He began to backpedal, stumbling -

"Oh, oh no!”

Bulma held her breath. She shifted Trunks in her arms - she could feel Yamcha trembling beside her, growling under his breath. Then suddenly he shouted:

“RUN!”

Bulma jumped. It was as though the reporter had heard Yamcha’s yell because he suddenly turned and ran away, the cameraman hot on his heels and the footage became shaky and confused, the only clear things were the screams of absolute terror and someone’s heavy breathing –

“Oh, no, oh my goodness! –

A flash of pure, clear blue light pierced the air and with a thunderous explosion, everything went black.

A moment later Bulma found herself staring at the horrified face of the anchorwoman seated at her desk.

Bulma blinked.

Holy crap.

Admittedly, her first coherent thought didn’t hold that much depth. While the anchorwoman on TV was struggling to say something, Bulma turned her stupefied stare to Yamcha.

“What the hell was that?” she said. “Was it…”

“An energy blast,” Yamcha finished for her. “There’s no doubt.”

Bulma stared at him, her eyes suddenly going wide and animated.

“Tell me!” she urged.

Yamcha didn’t answer immediately. He seemed to be thinking about what to say and whether to say it or not. But a pointed look from Bulma made him cave.

“There’s people… ” he began, then he cleared his throat. “I can feel people dying, like flies, right in this moment.”

Bulma shook her head, her lips curled in a grimace. ”What?"

Yamcha shook his head, briefly closing his eyes. “It’s – it’s a massacre…” he murmured and a thought, a single cold thought crossed Bulma’s mind as out of nowhere she started to feel queasy. Her knees were shaking but she ignored them. She clumsily adjusted her hold on Trunks.

“You don’t think…” she started, but Yamcha immediately got her, and spared her the burden of actually having to ask.

“No,” he interrupted quickly. “If this was Vegeta’s doing we would have known at once. This is different, this…” he trailed off and his frown deepened even more, so Bulma barely had the time to get the feeling back in her legs and to breath in relief at the news that Vegeta had yet to murder anyone that day.

“What is it now?” she said staring at Yamcha, eyes almost out of their orbits with the frustration that usually accompanied her whenever someone started that power-level-sensing bullshit in her presence. Kami, she hated that – she hated being kept in the dark, she wanted to know, to understand – why on earth couldn’t Yamcha just say it as it was?

“…I think…” Yamcha said slowly, too slowly, too far gone into his senses to notice Bulma’s exasperation. “I was right, I can’t feel Piccolo’s ki.”

Bulma blinked stolidly once, twice, three times. Trunks was quiet in her arms – she suspected he was about to nod off and, for a brief, insane moment she wished she could just do the same – go to sleep, not deal with anything. Maybe not knowing was the safest choice after all – but an obscure sense of dread and urgency started to fill her bones.

“What does it mean? Are you sure?” she fired the questions quickly. “Do you think he was there? In Sasebo?”

Yamcha swallowed, he shook his head.

“I don’t know,” he said almost in a sigh. Then his head shot up again, again suddenly, again that incredulous grimace on his face. “Whoa, there’s - there’s a power level all over the place! Is… is that…? I think it’s Tien’s…”

Her stomach tingling, Bulma saw Yamcha’s face drain of all color in the span of a second. And in the same amount of time, she felt her arms become dead weights. Trunks’ weight suddenly felt quadruplicated – and then she tasted the blood. At first, she couldn’t understand where it came from, then she realized it was welling from her bitten lip. She hadn’t realized she had been biting it – it took her brain a few seconds to register the pain.

“Tien – what about Tien?” she said. Yamcha wasn’t listening, though. His eyes were in a daze and Bulma resolved to grab his arm and shake him forcefully. “Would you stop ignoring me?”

Yamcha finally turned his head to acknowledge her presence and when he did he had already made up his mind about something, it seemed. He straightened his shoulders, he held his head high – though there was a waver when he spoke next. Faint, but it was there.

“I don’t like this. I-I have to go and see what’s happening, there’s no other way.”

Bulma’s eyes flashed. “I’m going with you!” she exclaimed. Finally they were talking. She was more than ready to leave Capsule Corp. and to investigate, to do something – she couldn’t understand why Yamcha suddenly had that weird, lopsided smile on his lips while he scoffed with a shake of his head.

"Pfft,” he said. “You’re not.”

“Err, yes I am.”

“No, you’re not!”

“Yes, I am!” Bulma lifted her chin with a petulant jerk of her head. “Since when you can tell me what to do anyw–

“This is not a joke, Bulma!” Yamcha all but yelled. Startled, Bulma closed her mouth so fast she almost swallowed her tongue. Yamcha’s eyes and voice softened as he continued. “You stay here, with Trunks,” he said and put a hand on Bulma’s shoulder. She tensed up instantaneously. “We’ll know more when I’ll be back. I owe Trunks a song, anyway.”

Bulma exhaled, she looked up at him for the longest moment.

“Yes. You do,” she replied as coolly as she could.

“Good. And Bulma, just wait here. Don’t follow me.”

Oops, busted. Bulma rolled her eyes. “Ugh, fine!”

Yamcha nodded, with something resembling a real smile this time and then he turned and walked to the door that opened on the backyard. Bulma watched him walk, she followed him with her eyes, her heartbeat pounding weirdly in her ears.

Suddenly she was feeling like she was witnessing the scene from above, from outside her body – and a distinct, icy thought took shape in her mind, that she was watching someone exiting her life forever. Going somewhere where she, the Bulma of that present dimension, would not be able to find him again. She thought about how pale Yamcha’s face had gone, how white and cold. She thought about the blood leaving him, pooling uselessly on the dust of a wasteland. She thought about him lying still, on his side, at the bottom of a crater.

“Yamcha?!” she called frantically.

Yamcha turned his head, eyebrows raised. “Huh?”

Bulma opened her mouth to speak, but then – she didn’t. She was being silly, it was just a suggestion, a trick of her mind. She hadn’t slept a wink, after all – she struggled to smile, but the muscles in her face were rigid, they just wouldn’t let her.

“Nothing,” she settled on saying, shaking her head slightly. She shrugged her shoulders, scoffed a little. “Go. Be careful.”

Yamcha’s eyes lingered on her face for a few more seconds.

“I’ll see you later,” he said.

Then he winked and then he took off.


It was hours later.

Hours – six, eight, Bulma didn’t know. Everything that had to do with time was weird, she had established that long ago.

Trunks was thankfully asleep in the nursery, a dutiful robot equipped with the highest level of artificial intelligence watching over him and she was downstairs, sitting ramrod straight on the couch of her living room next to her mother, who was covering her mouth with her hands. Her father was standing behind them, cigarette hanging from his lips, smoke rising in ribbons toward the ceiling. They were in absolute silence – which was something that didn’t happen all too often at Capsule Corp.

Bulma’s eyes were glistening, her sight was blurry for some reason – she supposed there were tears frozen in her eyes and to the part of her mind that was still processing emotions, the thought was somewhat surprising. Her eyes had grown unaccustomed to tears over the months. She was just staring, eyes wide and unblinking , at the images of destruction flashing on the TV screen. She, as everybody else in the civilized world, had not been able to do anything else that day. It was all they could do – for hours, staring at the screen, feeling like ghosts, completely and utterly powerless.

“Chilling new details continue to emerge from the southern continent,” was saying the man seated behind his desk on TV, “where South City has been targeted after the attack on Amenbo Island earlier today…”

For the umpteenth time, helicopter footage of Anembo Island rolled on the screen – it was a nightmare, a living nightmare. There was no trace of the white tall buildings of the city anymore, no trace of the surrounding vegetation. There were only flames – raging, blazing tongues of fire and thick, black smoke spiraling towards the sky. Bulma distantly tried to imagine a human being trying to breathe and survive in that superheated hell.

She had had enough. She clenched her teeth and breathed hard through her nose.

“Just turn it off,” she said, turning her head briefly to her dad. “Would you.”

Doctor Briefs raised his eyebrows.

“Sure,” he mumbled through an exhale of smoke and he aimed the remote at the TV. A moment later, the silence in the room was more oppressive than ever. They were quiet for a few more minutes, long , long minutes of horrified quiet. Then Bulma let out a heavy breath and it was as though every part of her, every fiber of her body was sagging.

“I’ll say it,” she said after another minute, her voice thick and strangled. “Yamcha’s dead.”

Mrs. Briefs gasped out loud, almost jumping on the couch. “Oh, no, honey, you don’t know that!”

Bulma narrowed her eyes, she pursed her lips together. “I can damn well guess.”

Unable to sit still any longer, she got up. She was feeling coiled, compressed, like a spring ready to burst – ready to fight. There was a buzzing at the back of her tongue and she started pacing back and forth; she fished a cigarette out of the pack on the table, she lit it up quickly.

“It can’t be, can it?” Mrs. Briefs sobbed. “Such a nice young man…”

Bulma bitterly nodded to herself, chewing on the inside of her cheek. She hastily took a drag from her cigarette and she continued to pace, back and forth, back and forth like a caged animal. She wanted to have faith the way her mother did, really, but she had felt Yamcha’s destiny as clearly as she could feel the smoke burning in her lungs.

Blood, dust, pain. She could feel it somehow – the barrier between life and death wasn’t as thick and smothering as it was supposed to be.

The telephone picked that moment to start ringing, breaking through the tense silence, and everybody jumped right out their skin – Bulma was the first to react, though. She launched herself toward the phone, while a wonderful, unexpected, amazing feeling of hope and possibilities ignited her bones–

“Yamcha, is that you?!” she shrieked into the receiver.

“Do you know where Gohan is?!”

Bulma blinked, her mouth agape.

The voice at the other end of the phone was a voice she had thought – had hoped – she would never have to hear again. She felt her palms becoming slick with sweat and she grabbed the receiver harder to avoid making it slip from her fingers.

"What…?” she exhaled.

“I can’t find Gohan!” said Chichi’s shrill, panicked voice. “I can’t find him – he went after Piccolo and now– I don’t know where he is, I don’t know where he is, I don’t know if he’s alive and no one’s picking up at Kame House and I just know something’s really really wrong!”

Bulma couldn’t move.

She couldn’t speak, she could not will her tongue to move and articulate words as memories from that last day assaulted all of her senses with terrifying violence, fast and blinding like a slap to her face. It all came back, the pain, the hate, the guilt – her wish for the Son’s household to burn to the ground with everyone in it because if Goku had to die and she couldn’t be with him and she couldn’t keep her promise then what was the point? What was the goddamn point?

“Are you there?” Chichi’s insistent, breathless voice brought Bulma back to the present. Which wasn’t a much better place than her head was. “Bulma?”

Bulma blinked again.

“…I’m here.”

It was all she could manage to breathe back but apparently for Chichi it was enough because she immediately started talking again.

“You know what’s happening, right?”

“Right.”

“Listen, I… I don’t know what to do...

Bulma squeezed her eyes shut.

“Please, I wouldn’t call you if–

Bulma’s eyes snapped open.

“No, I know,” she said quickly, cutting Chichi’s sentence in half. The less she heard her talk, the better. She breathed hard through her nose. “Look, huh, Chichi?” she said, trying to keep her voice neutral. She didn’t think she was making a very good job of it. “Just… stay where you are. Don’t move and I’ll see what I can do. I’ll call you.”

There was a long pause. The ash on the end of Bulma’s cigarette tumbled down on the floor.

Bulma could hear Chichi drawing hitching breaths, she could hear the tears she had been shedding and for some reason she found herself thinking of the woman’s screams when Goku was buried – of how she was dying to laugh in her face, or to yell over her scream until she finally shut the hell up; it was weird, now, listening to that quiet, frantic, helpless despair. It was more than weird, it was blood-chilling.

“…Thanks,” Chichi said at last. “Oh, Kami, thanks.”

Bulma closed her eyes again.

“Sure,” she said. She even managed a little shrug of her shoulders. Bulma wasn’t sure about who hanged up first – maybe she never waited to find out. The next thing she was actually aware of was of hurling the phone across the room with all the strength she had, startling her parents.

“Sweetheart?”

Bulma crushed the cigarette in the ashtray. She didn’t answer.

She had her hands on her hips, her chin bowed to her chest, head low, staring at the floor. She was going over all of it – thinking about Goku introducing a pint-sized Gohan to them – he had a clear smile on his face that day, and clearer eyes. She was thinking of Gohan, of arguing with him about fleeing from the soon to explode Namek. She was thinking about Gohan playing with Trunks on the carpet, about Yamcha squaring his shoulders and turning to look at her at the back door of the kitchen – about letting Gohan cry in her arms for the one they missed the most.

She bolted.

She raced toward her laboratory, a full-on sprint – she was thinking fast. She slammed the numbers of the security code on the keypad and waited with gritted teeth for the door to slide open – she rushed inside.

When her parents finally caught up with her, they found her going ferociously through the drawers, throwing over her head the stuff she wasn’t interested in – screwdrivers, calculators, blueprints, pencils, notebooks flying in every direction.

“Oh, my goodness!” Mrs. Briefs gasped, ducking to avoid a blue marker aimed at her forehead. Dr. Briefs cleared his throat.

"Hem, what are you doing?”

Bulma didn’t look up – she merely quirked her eyebrows at the question as she rummaged through the bottom drawer of a cabinet.

“Gohan’s out there,” she said briskly, searching through a pile of useless stuff until she saw the dragon radar. She stopped for a moment, then she left it where it was. “I have to find him – I have to find them all.”

Mrs. Briefs sighed deeply. “Oh, sweetheart, I don’t think that’s–

“Yes!”

Finally Bulma found what she was searching for; she grabbed the power-sensing scouter with both hands, and stood up quickly, adrenaline pumping fast through her veins. She supposed she had to thank Chichi if now she had something to channel her energy into, a task, something to do to stop feeling like nothing. She pressed once on the red start button and the green lens came to life; then she started tapping frantically on the other button on the side of the device.

“Come on, come on…” she muttered between her clenched teeth, her eyes flickering feverishly over the green lens. Mrs. and Dr. Briefs exchanged a worried glance.

“Bulma…“Dr. Briefs tried again, but Bulma wasn’t having any of it.

“No, no, no! I know what I have to do so – save your breath, both of you,” she seethed as she kept tapping on the small button, using the scouter to scour the earth in search of any power level that would tell her that there was hope, that nothing was lost yet.

“But you can’t go over there, it’s too dangerous!” Mrs. Briefs said in her thin, high-pitched voice, her eyes uncharacteristically wide. “Think… think about Trunks, he needs his m–

“I am!” Bulma snapped. “Thinking about Trunks!”

“Are you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bulma hissed, studying her mother’s pained expression with a defiant snarl on her face. “Gohan’s a kid as well and I have to find him and get him home.”

“You’ve seen the news, Bulma,” Dr. Briefs said somberly. “I know you want to make yourself useful, but all you can do is get yourself killed in all honesty…”

Mrs. Briefs jumped at her husband’s blunt choice of words, then she clasped her hands together. “Honey, you’re upset, just wait until –

“Oh, I-I-I have to wait?”

Bulma was suddenly seeing red; her numb hysteria was replaced by complete fury all at once. She was pretty sure she was done waiting – waiting was her least favorite activity in the world anyway, and she was so tired of people telling her what to do she couldn’t even talk straight. “And for what?” she spat. “What exactly do I have to wait for? For South City to disappear completely?”

Dr. Briefs inhaled and exhaled heavily. He tapped a cigarette from the pack in the front pocket of his lab coat and played with it with his fingers for a moment, nervously, before speaking slowly.

“…for all you know it’s already happened.”

“So you’re saying my friends are all screwed and what, that I just have to give up on them?” Bulma raged incredulously, looking between her parents with eyes bright and a little crazed. She was suddenly shaking from head to toe and it was getting harder to speak. “Huh? Go get a goddamn drink?”

“Honey…” Mrs. Briefs tried to reason. “I don’t think there’s something you can –

“Yeah, watch me,” Bulma spat morosely, turning her attention back to the scouter, clicking madly on the small button – until two tiny yellow dots followed by two numbers appeared on the green lens. Bulma was feeling nauseous and exhilarated at the same time. “Here,” she said, narrowing her eyes as she examined the trajectory of the dots. “There’s two power levels standing out… heading north, out of South Capitol.”

She hadn’t even finished talking that she was already on the move, blood pounding in her head – she shoved the scouter and a capsule case in a small crossbody bag, she slung the bag across her chest ignoring her father’s heavy head shake and she made to run out of the lab when she felt her mother’s bony hand close around her wrist, pulling, holding her back with unexpected strength – Bulma yelped as she spun around, as she almost lost her footing.

“LET GO OF ME!” she screeched madly.

“Bulma, are you out of your mind?!”

“Bulma, please!” Mrs. Briefs’ voice was quavering. “Don’t!”

“I said let me go!” Bulma shrieked, actually tempted to grab her mom and shove her away, to hurt her in some way and the sheer violence and abomination of that thought scared Bulma so much she felt all the wind being knocked out of her lungs. She almost doubled over, panicking, the lack of air constricting her chest, a wave of sorrow and longing and sharp regret hitting her like a fist to the throat, his voice animating her hazy thoughts.

Anything for you.

“I loved him, mom!”

The sob left Bulma’s lips before she could do anything about it. And then, in the midst of all that pain, it felt so good saying it out loud for the first time ever, that she almost felt like laughing. “Goku. I loved him so much! But I wasn’t able to give him that love, I wasn’t able to let him go and then I couldn’t help him, I couldn’t do a goddamn thing for him so–

Mrs. Briefs eyes widened her eyes. “Bulma…”

Bulma breathed out, breathed in, before continuing.“So what I’m going to do now is find Gohan and make sure he’s safe if it’s the last thing I ever do and no one’s going to stop me.”

Bulma didn’t imagine that honesty was actually going to get her somewhere.

But the vice-grip hold her mother had on her wrists shook and then loosened altogether – so Bulma ran. She pushed past her parents and ran outside without lifting her eyes, the heels of her boots clicking on the floor, the bag bouncing against her hip with every step she took.

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