This Must Be The Place
That Night Of August, 764
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 offered her some kind of raw handrail.
The yellow balloon was free and was fluttering nearby, just out of reach, glowing in an enchanting way, it was almost a kaleidoscopic gold – and it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen and she wanted it more than anything she'd ever desired.
She sped up and reached out to grab its string, but it flew higher and away from her hands and she wondered if the wind would ever bring it back to her.
That Day Of August, 764
The energy released by the ongoing battle was making the winds rise and the mountains around her crumble dangerously – Bulma tried to stay on her two feet, but the earth shook mightily and she was knocked down.
She felt her body being hurled to side, painfully, rolling between the dust and the rocks. She was acutely aware of the fact that dying that day wasn't that far-fetched anymore and, as she covered her head with her arms trying to protect it, she let out a snort at her expenses.
So much for distraction.
She got her feet beneath her and started to run, she couldn't see where she was going through the dust and the smoke and the dirt, but she pressed on – any place was better than those collapsing cliffs. She tumbled down a steep slope of dirt and when it became vertical she lost her footing, falling down hard for – a moment.
"Ouch!", she let out when her backside slammed onto the ground. She shook her head to recollect herself and glanced around.
"Oh, look," she mumbled to herself. "More rocks."
Bulma looked up. Puar had finally caught up with her and was floating in her direction as far as fast as he could.
Bulma's shoulders sagged with relief and as soon as Puar was within hand, she leaped up and crushed the creature between her arms, falling on her knees, hugging it tightly. She didn't let go when Puar let out an high-pitched squeak.
"Oh, Puar!" she exclaimed. "Thank Kami!"
"Are you alright?" Puar asked in a slightly choked voice, though his concern was pretty clear. "Where's Yamcha?"
Bulma finally let him go.
"Ha!" she yelled. "That's a good question! They tried a surprise attack on Frieza's henchmen and left me here all by myself! Can you believe it? Those JERKS!" she concluded, her voice getting higher by the second.
Puar floated at her eye level, a skeptical look on his face. "Surely they left you behind to protect –
"I don't care!" Bulma exclaimed. She pouted in indignation. "What do they think I am, some kind of useless deadweight? I want to see Frieza too!"
"Bulma!" Puar tried to reason. "They're fighting! I don't thi –
"Ssst!" Bulma held out her index finger. "Listen!"
Puar put his little hands on his mouth, to banish any risk of making any sound. Sure enough, all the clamor and the commotion caused by the battle had died over. The earth had stopped its quaking, the dust was starting to settle.
Bulma and Puar looked at each other for a minute, blinking their eyes, ears straining.
After a while, the catlike creature put his hands down. "What do you think has happened?" he whispered.
Bulma shook her head, eyes bright and enormous, the look when she had something in mind. She peered behind a rock.
"Let's go take a look," she whispered back. "What do you say?"
"Bulma, that's a terrible ide-
Bulma jumped to her feet. "Follow me!" she said and started towards the slope.
Poor Puar sighed and flew behind her, trying to catch up. He had not been able to finish more than one sentence.
Frieza took half a step back, his whole frame quivering at the sight of the one who had deflected the lethal blast meant for the half-blood kid.
"Let's not rush into things we might later regret," the one said, his tone secure and good-natured. "What do you say, Frieza?"
"You… " Frieza seethed, rage and hatred coming out of him in powerful waves, manifesting themselves even physically, with sparkles of bright purple coming out from his shaking limbs. "Filthy… low class… Saiyan!"
Goku was standing tall in front of Gohan, his posture relaxed and yet surging with confidence and strength.
He was wearing clothes that seemed to belong to other cultures, other planets, other worlds. But it was him, there was no way of being mistaken. The determination and steadiness he brought along with him were absolutely uncanny. And that made Vegeta's blood boil with a rage that was probably beyond Frieza's. He clenched his fists to stop them from shaking. He gnawed his teeth. He wanted to punch him in the face more than anything in the world.
"Goku, you're here!"
"I can't believe it!"
Gohan was getting up. "D-dad?" he stuttered. He looked awestruck, like the rest of the other fighters. "H- how?"
Goku gave his son a sideways glance to quickly check him over, then turned his attention to Frieza.
"Guys," he said, his voice firm. "Grab Bulma and get away from here, as fast as you can. I've got this now."
Vegeta was fuming.
"No way, Kakarot!" he bellowed." I got him first! This is my battle now!"
Goku opened his mouth to reply but was cut off by Frieza's cold laughter. "I'm sorry, I must have misheard," he said, looking at Goku straight in the eye with his red, unsettling pupils. "You what now, filthy monkey?"
Goku actually smirked and crouched slowly into his ready position. "I said…" he replied, studying Frieza's form with a lopsided grin, a lively glimmer deep in his gaze. "I will handle you and your big friend… Frieza."
Frieza looked at Goku for a moment, a mirthless smile curling his lips.
"It appears that in this year you have forgotten the true order of things," he said, his voice dangerously smooth. Then something sparkled in the depths of his red eyes and the quiet was gone, replaced with a thunderous fury that made the earth shake when he bellowed.
"I AM LORD FRIEZA!" he screamed, and violet sparkles alighted around him. "Ruler of the universe! I hold the destinies of the galaxies in my hands!" he seethed. "And it's high time that I remind you of that!"
Goku cocked his head to one side, apparently unimpressed. "To tell you the truth Frieza, I think you're just a bad loser," he said.
Vegeta was growling, scowling at Kakarot's unnerving calm - but then he caught something with the corner of his eye. Something was moving behind Kakarot and his kid. One of Frieza's henchmen was still alive, crawling to his feet, and was pointing his ray gun, ready to take a shot -
Vegeta instinctively raised an arm and one shot him, his golden ki blast flying past Kakarot's ear and hitting the minion square in his chest.
"Whoa!" Gohan exclaimed. "Vegeta!"
Goku turned to look at the dead henchman, scratching his cheek with a perplexed look, then broke into a grin aimed at Vegeta. "Hey, nice shot!" he shouted. "Perfect aim!"
Vegeta bared his teeth. "What are you talking about?!" he bellowed in reply, showing his clenched fist. "I missed!"
Goku waved a hand. "Ha, you're kidding."
Frieza's shout cut off the exchange and, in the time of a blink of an eye, he sent an energy beam flying straight to Goku's face. Goku's head snapped to one side as if he had been slapped.
"Just kill him already, Frieza," King Cold finally intervened. "I feel like we're just wasting time… I would like this planet gone within the hour."
Frieza sneered and started to charge a new attack. "I want to have some fun first," he said, his voice filled with malicious pleasure.
Goku brought the back of his hand to the side of his mouth, wiping away the small trickle of blood. His eyes were burning with a blazing fire, sparkles of blue and aqua at the bottom of his black irises.
"You don't learn from your mistakes," he said, and his voice was different, any trace of levity had left. It was made of icy fire, of something hard, adamantine, quiet and yet sizzling within. "Is that right, Frieza?"
Frieza bared his teeth in a malignant sneer. "That's because I make no mistakes – and TODAY YOU DIE, SAIYAN!"
Goku's expression didn't shift, but his eyes were sparkling more and more with aquamarine flames.
Piccolo saw that and smirked. "You heard Goku," he said, addressing the other warriors, who were looking on in wonder at the scene. "Let's go."
"Like hell I'm going anywhere!" Vegeta snarled and he received in turn Piccolo's bored look.
"But Piccolo," Gohan said. "Don't you think we should give dad a hand?"
"Hmpf," Piccolo replied. "Believe me, Gohan, he doesn't need it."
Goku's hair had begun to wave to an invisible wind. He took a step forward.
Bulma trudged closer to the spaceship, Puar in tow, keeping her head down to hide behind the low rocky formations.
"Don't you think we're close enough?" Puar said in a small voice.
Bulma didn't reply to her friend, but she kneeled behind a rock and strained her neck to look at the scene.
"Oooh, Puar look!" she whispered to the companion. "Is that…?"
She suddenly gasped sharply. She could have recognized him anywhere, in a million of faces, in a million of years. Her heart leaped. She instantaneously felt safe – it was the way things got luminous when he walked in.
The earth started to shake wildly.
"Oh, no, not again!"
"Show him, dad!" Gohan yelled, eyes bright and enormous, poignant. Then he flew after his friends, to land on a rocky cliff nearby – where they could still intervene if things went somehow wrong. Vegeta growled and followed begrudgingly.
Goku took a step forward.
Frieza narrowed his eyes, slowly spreading his arms. "Very well, monkey. Let me remind you the terror of my power," he said.
At that, Goku actually smirked. His eyes sparkled.
The air itself seemed to shake.
He let a scream build up in his chest – a primal scream that was born the very same day he was. A scream of anger and fury, and of desire to protect. Throwing his head back – he let it go.
The earth trembled from its very core, its foundations shaken with the release of energy and burning fire that came in prodigious golden waves, like a tide rising, first slowly then rushing up and swallowing everything.
When Goku opened his eyes, they were of the purest aquamarine. The hair flowing up around his head were golden.
A moment of silence passed, the wind howling relentlessly around them, making the golden aura twirl in mesmerizing patterns.
Frieza's eyes widened. He was shuddering from head to toe, sparkles of violet and purple surrounded him. Even King Cold had abandoned his uninterested stance and was watching the scene closely.
"So this is the power of a Super Saiyan…" he murmured.
"Jogged your memory now?" Goku said.
As an answer, Frieza screamed, his aura exploding around him and he threw a powerful, violet energy beam at Goku. The beam flew, twitching with sparkles of pure lightning as it pierced the air, spiraling its way towards Goku, who waited till the last second to counter with an energy attack of his own.
Purple met gold - in a violent explosion that made the earth and the heavens tremble.
Goku stretched his arm and without making a sound, he effortlessly increased his energy, sending the adjoined beams back at Frieza, who had no other choice but jump in the air, letting the blasts hit the spaceship behind him. A raging explosion and the ship was on fire.
Impassive, Goku threw his head back to stare at Frieza. Then, he smirked. "Sorry!" he said.
Frieza was hovering high in the sky, looking down at Goku, trembling with irrepressible fury. Then he snapped and let out a mirthless, chilling laugh. Powering up, he held a finger in front of him.
"Insolent monkey – you brought this upon yourself!" he said and something sparkled at the tip of his finger as Goku looked on.
Frieza's deranged laugh resonated throughout the valley as he gathered all his malignant energy in a sizzling ball that was growing bigger and bigger until it became a huge, yellow and orange, sun-like energy sphere.
King Cold's eyes widened. "Frieza, no!" he shouted. "A planet can't handle that!"
"I don't care about this stupid backwater planet!" was Frieza's insane reply. "I want to watch him burn! And if the Earth has to burn with him – then SO BE IT!"
Goku stared. "See?" he said. "I told you! You're a sore loser, Frieza!"
"SHUT UP!" Frieza roared and launched the supernova-like ball towards the earth. It fell slowly, its energy sizzling and burning the air on its path.
Goku didn't make any movement to stop it. The energy sphere was upon him and he didn't move a muscle – it completely encompassed him and he disappeared under the huge ball of fire and ki that kept on plunging down until – it stopped.
Frieza's laughter died in his throat. "Wait, what in the –
The supernova had slowly, but steadily, started to surge from the ground, like a raging, rising sun.
Goku was below it, controlling its ascent with the tip of one finger.
Frieza's eyes widened.
"H-how?" he cowered in fear and disbelief. The attack was meant to crush the planet, to turn the Earth into ashes and yet the Super Saiyan had taken control of it, stopping its destructive fury.
Blind with rage and fear, Frieza aimed a ki blast at his own supernova. "DIE!" he screamed as the blast hit the huge sphere – the detonation above Goku's head was instantaneous and it made the planet shook from its core.
Frieza laughed madly as the dust settled and Goku was nowhere to be seen. The Super Saiyan had finally perished – he was finally ashes – he was finally nothing.
"FINALLY!" Frieza shouted, laughing harder than ever, throwing his head back. "I AM the strongest of the universe!"
"You still don't get it, do you?" said a harsh voice.
Goku was in front of him, completely unscathed. He had a hard, blazing expression in his eyes.
Frieza was frozen to the spot - he was paralyzed with outrage, fear, disbelief.
With a last look, Goku cupped his hands to his side and, after a split second, he launched the clear, azure wave of energy straight at Frieza.
"HAAAAAA!" he shouted, giving his all into the Kamehameha wave, controlling it, making it an extension of his will. He closed his eyes and shoved it further and the world trembled when it hit Frieza in a rush of pure energy – not even giving him the time to acknowledge it.
The explosion that followed made the sky open, clouds scattering away fast. Goku opened his eyes. He gritted his teeth.
He had finally done it. Frieza was gone – mercy thrown uselessly at him this time.
But it wasn't over yet.
Goku landed swiftly on the ground and searched the area with his eyes, looking for King Cold, that was nowhere to be seen or to be sensed.
"I suggest you take what's left of your ship and leave my planet, now!" Goku bellowed, trying to coax him out of hiding.
He caught a movement with the corner of his eyes and turned around, on guard. But –
"Goku!" Bulma shouted, running towards him. "We won! We won! Right?"
Goku straightened himself as she approached him and narrowed his eyes. "Bulma, what –
It happened in the span of a millisecond, but in Goku's eyes time stretched to infinity. He saw the white-hot beam coming at her and didn't think – moving as fast as he could he threw himself on her, shielding her body, the momentum taking them both down to the ground.
He heard, rather than saw, Bulma's head smacking hard on the rocks and heard her scream of pain, but before he could do anything else – he rolled on his back and blindly counterattacked with all his might, all in one gesture.
His blast went straight to King Cold's chest, piercing him through and through, sending him flying towards a huge rocky plateau.
He was already dead when he crashed against it.
"Bulma!?" Goku called, and she hazily sat up.
The relief sent him reeling. He got up and, taking both of her hands, he helped her to her feet.
The side of her head was bleeding heavily, but that wasn't uncommon with head wounds. She would be okay. Her precious head would be okay.
He touched the side of her face as he let go of his transformation. His hair and eyes went back to jet-black – the golden aura disappeared.
She was looking at him as if she was in a daze – surely because of the blow to her skull. He was about to say something when –
"Dad! Bulma! Are you alright?"
"You did it, man!"
"How did you get here so fast?"
Gohan and the others were rushing to them. Goku turned and smile broadly at his son and the kid threw himself at him.
"Gohan!" Goku said, taking the hug in stride. "Hey!"
"Dad! You were great!" the kid said, cheer and relief in his voice. "It's all over now, right?"
Goku winked at him. "Right!"
"Don't mind me!" Bulma exclaimed and Goku met her hard, fiery gaze with a smile. That was his Bulma, alright. Wait, what?
Krillin snickered. "What if that blast actually got Goku?" he said, but his tone was playful. "You were about to single-handedly doom us all, that's impressive! I've always said you're worse than Frieza!"
They all burst out into untamed giggles, but Vegeta immediately cut off the hilarity.
"Laugh while you can, Kakarot," he hissed.
Goku's eyes shifted to him. "Will do," he simply said.
It was on again.
That Night Of August, 764
The yellow balloon popped loudly and Bulma opened her eyes at once.
She sat up with a start and soon realized that the noise hadn't been in the forest, but something, someone, was fretting about her dressing table, quickly straightening the things he had knocked down, muttering to himself.
She blinked as if not believing her eyes, even though he was pretty unmistakable.
"Goku…?" she said, rubbing her head, looking around for any warning sign that could tell her it was all just a dream.
Goku jumped and twirled on his feet swiftly, bringing a hand on the back of his head, laughing nervously.
"Oh, hey! Hey, Bulma!" he said, flashing a tight smile through the semi-darkness of the room. He glanced sideways and, clearing his throat, he inconspicuously straightened the last bottle of perfume.
Bulma thought that not even in her wildest dream she could have made up someone that could be so strong and agile and brave and yet so incredibly awkward. He must have been real.
She scowled, not because he had invaded her room at night – undoubtedly using that Instant Whatever Technique of his, but because of the giddy feeling that immediately grabbed a hold of her stomach.
She shot him a suspicious look.
"What are you doing here?" she said and glanced at her alarm as her stomach clenched a little tighter. She knew it – she knew it, for goodness's sake! Nothing good ever happened after two o' clock in the morning. Ever.
Goku laughed weakly some more and took a few step away from the table. "Hehehe, sorry, I…"
He trailed off on his apology for his vanity stuff-mischief and shot her an impish grin, then plopped down, sitting at the feet of her bed.
Bulma narrowed her eyes and shrunk closer to the headboard. "What?"
"You really snore a lot, did you know that?"
"I DO NOT SNORE!" she shouted.
Goku moved his head up and down slowly, in a solemn nod, even though he was grinning madly. "Yeah, you do."
"Of course I don't!"
"Oh yes, you do!"
Bulma pulled the blankets up to her head. "No!" she shouted, her voice slightly muffled. "YOU snore!"
Goku laughed good-naturedly. "But it's funny!" he said. "A big noise coming from a tiny lightweight like you!"
He playfully nudged her with a finger. "Come on, get out."
Bulma growled in exasperation and tugged at the blanket, bringing it down in a sharp motion. She sat up. "If you're here just to make lame jokes, there's the door!" she said. "Or the window, or whatever! I need my beauty sleep, you know!"
Goku gave her an apologetic smile. "No, I'm sorry… " he began, turning serious. "I just wanted to check on you," he said. "How's your head? You really got knocked for a loop today."
Bulma's hands instinctively went to the bruise adorning her left temple. It was throbbing hard earlier that day, but it was already getting better.
She gave him a brief look. "It's… fine."
Goku nodded with a relieved smile. "Good," he said.
Bulma studied him for another long minute, biting slightly on her lower lip as she tried to figure him out, thinking about how, in the past years, he had grown to become the largest enigma in her life.
He had always been unpredictable – he had never been ordinary. Never static, since their very first meeting when she had run him over with her car – and that faraway night in which she had gotten to see him – to actually know him – only then she had started to grasp the undeniable truth the Goku wasn't only one thing.
Nobody was only one thing, she thought, except maybe for a few exceptions – but Goku – Goku was faceted in a very precious way. Each side of him glowing in different ways but – nevertheless – glowing. Pure crystal.
And for whatever the reason, that just-out-of-reach glowing had invaded her thoughts. All of his facets had taken over her life, pulled her in, making her feel things she had never felt before, making her think that they were chained, linked in the way few things were and that was just… crazy thinking.
For so many reasons she didn't even want to start counting. But her voice left her before she knew it.
Goku raised his eyebrows. "What?"
Bulma sighed. "Well, you made it back home after… almost two years."
"That long?" Goku said and there was a microscopic shift in his voice. "Wow."
Bulma wondered about the kind of welcome he had received at home. Something sly and serpentine in her mind made her wonder if he had gotten one at all.
She squinted. "You really didn't notice?"
Goku seemed to think about that for a moment. "No, I mean, " he finally said, "it feels good to be home. But Yardrat was just this weird and interesting place… I couldn't miss the opportunity. Time flew by."
His eyes were shining and Bulma found herself smiling fondly. "Yeah, I guess I understand."
"You should have been there!" Goku said, motioning with his hands.
"Yeah…" Bulma replied absent-mindedly as if it was only natural that she was supposed to be there with him. Then she snapped. "Yeah, well, I don't know!" she exclaimed. "I mean, how many suns were there? Namek hasn't been the kindest on my porcelain complexion!"
Goku laughed. "One sun," he said. "Lots of stars, though. It was very clear, kinda like –
Goku looked up at Bulma's interruption. "Yeah," he echoed.
They knew exactly what the other was thinking about.
Bulma wanted to get up, but she couldn't move.
Something stronger than gravity was owning her from her core, chaining her, and she could only see those blazing black eyes and feel her heart hammering wildly in her chest, and the tingling sensation in her arms and legs – and she could feel him.
She could feel him – he was making her feel. More there than anyone before and after, and she wondered if a human being made of flesh and bones could possibly be stripped down of everything until all that was left behind was just raw, bottomless emotion.
"Goku…" she said, her vocal cords seizing up. "Just go now. Please."
Goku looked at her, dumbfounded, and she finally found the will to break the chains that were holding her to the bed. She leaped up with a jump.
"Please, please, go!" she said, moving fast to the side of the door, turning the lights on, Goku following her moves with raised eyebrows.
Bulma was frantically pacing the room. She spotted her white robe and pulled it on swiftly on her pajamas, hugging herself, as if everything that could get between them was good at that point.
"Get out!" she all but sobbed. She was feeling a clog of tears taking a firm place in her throat, but she wasn't going to surrender to that. "Leave, I beg you!"
Goku got to his feet. "Bulma?" he called, wariness in his voice. He put a tentative hand on her shoulder, but she recoiled and bounced away from his touch. She looked like a crazy human yo-yo.
"Get out! And don't come back, ever again!" she yelled.
Goku opened his mouth then closed it immediately, at loss. "What… what did I do?" he said.
Bulma laughed. A nasty, bitter, incredulous laugh. "You're so stupid!" she snarled. "I hate this!"
She turned and – since he was apparently not taking the hint – she started for the door, but she didn't make it, not even close, because Goku grabbed her forearm and made her twirl on her feet to face him.
His eyes were impossibly soft, yet impossibly blazing. She couldn't hold that gaze and she averted it, angrily pointing her eyes to the wall behind him. There, she thought nastily. Stay there, out of focus.
"What's wrong with you?" he said.
Bulma scoffed. "What's wrong with me?" she said. "And what about you? Are you deaf? I said I hate this!"
She twisted her arm free from his grasp. "Now go, before I lose my mind!"
Goku gaped at her for a moment. "You mean more than this?" he said, in a half-hearted attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
"I hate you!"
Goku blinked. "What?" he said. When she didn't reply he spoke again, hotly. "I don't believe you!"
Bulma scoffed again. "I don't care what you believe, Goku!"
They stood, never moving, and they finally looked at each other in the eye. Goku's stare softened and he lowered his shoulders with a sigh.
"Okay, then," he said.
Bulma threw her hands in the air. "Finally!"
Goku's eyes held something she had only seen once in her life. "Have a goodnight," he said and he turned to the window.
"I will!" Bulma yelled behind him, but he was already far away in the sky and she slammed the window so hard, the glass rattled.
Nothing good ever happened after two o clock in the morning. Ever.
A month later, it was over between Bulma and Yamcha.
After the 'fight' with Goku, she had buried herself in the laboratory, working hard alongside her dad at the capsules that were supposed to celebrate the fifty years of their corporation.
And she had tried to go back to the routine that had worked so well for her – for Yamcha – in the past year, except… it hadn't.
It was a cool, end of September morning.
They had spent the night together and a little bit after sunrise, Bulma had snuck out of bed and onto the armchair.
After a while, Yamcha finally sensed her absence in the bed and woke up, looking at her with bleary eyes.
Bulma was hugging her knees.
"It's not going to work, is it," he said softly after many long minutes. Not a question.
Bulma looked at him with teary eyes. "I'm sorry."
Yamcha shook his head. "Don't be," he said. "I guess… It happens."
Bulma got out of the armchair and walked to the bed, kneeling by his side on the mattress.
"Are we going…" she began, in a small voice. "Are we going to be okay, you think?"
Yamcha broke into a rueful smile. "Of course," he replied quietly. "I love you, Bulma, you know that, right?"
Bulma nodded through the tears that were streaming copiously down her cheeks. "Oh, Yamcha…"
She threw her arms around his shoulders and held him in the first honest hug in over a year.
It was over.
She was working on her equation, tapping the blue marker against her chin, when suddenly a hand slammed some sheets of paper hard against the board, at her eye-level.
She crossed her eyes to look at it. Then she looked at the hand and then she moved her head to glance at the arm and finally at the owner of said annoying limb.
Vegeta was holding the papers against the white board, a deep scowl etched on his face in a clear attempt to look intimidating, but Bulma had more pressing matters on her mind, more important problems to sort out and certainly she didn't have the time to deal with his prince of all Saiyans nonsense.
She spared him a brief look, before returning her eyes to the board.
"You're still here," she said. "Great."
And in fact, since she had not seen him since the whole Frieza incident, she had thought he was off to train – hopefully in space – but no, no such luck, it seemed.
"What do you want, Vegeta?"
Vegeta crumpled a fist around the papers. "You have to work on this, woman," he said.
Bulma threw him a nasty look at the term 'woman' but took the papers nonetheless and gave them a quick look.
"What…" she started, pausing to read something. "Oh, I see, the gravity room."
She sent him a fake smile and pressed the notes in his hands again. "Nice. Move along, please," she said, turning her attention back to her blue equation.
"I want this for my training," Vegeta said pointedly.
Bulma didn't look at him. "I figured as much –
"I'm not asking," Vegeta interrupted angrily. "Have you figured that too?"
Bulma rolled her eyes and finally turned to face him. Apparently, not taking a hint if their life depended on it was a common trait of the Saiyan race.
"Walk away, Vegeta."
"I know Kakarot trained with a 100x gravity on his way to Namek," Vegeta growled, ignoring her. "I want this – three times as much."
Bulma grabbed the coffee she had abandoned on the nearby desk and took a sip. "Uh-uh."
Her indifference must have stung, because Vegeta growled with rage and, with a scream, he hit the side of the board. The nails holding it in place ceased to do their job and the board swung wildly before crashing on the floor as Bulma watched in horror.
"You… you JERK!" she yelled, shoving him out of the way. "This is my work of months, don't you ever get close to it again! Get the hell out of here, now!"
Vegeta didn't budge. He looked at her with fire in his eyes, something that was beyond anger and it was cold, hard – disconcerting.
Looking at him, Bulma thought that maybe pushing him hadn't been her brightest idea, but then he spoke and it was as cool as ice.
"You use the word hell with such levity, it disgusts me," he said.
Bulma looked up with widened eyes, chilled to the core, not even realizing she was holding her breath,
"You want to know what hell is?" Vegeta continued. And the disturbing fire in his eyes increased in strength.
"Hell is being deprived of everything you are!" he bellowed. "Everything you've ever been… gone! Destroyed. Kakarot has done that to me and if there were a chance to ever get that back, wouldn't you take it, you stupid woman? ANSWER ME!"
Bulma stood paralyzed, struck dumb and frozen to the spot. She had never heard him speak more than a few syllables at once – and now it was… surreal.
She had always thought, faintly, in the back of her mind, without even realizing it up to that point, that Vegeta had an emptiness. She had never really wondered what that emptiness was made of.
It was despair – a special kind of despair. Getting a glimpse of it – was mystifying.
She lowered her head for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts, before speaking again.
"You must be as stupid as I am then," she said, in a thick whisper, "if you think that I would ever give you the instruments to hurt Goku."
Vegeta had already regained his composure. His lips were back in a firm, hard, thin line – his eyes were like stone. The silence stretched between them for an endless moment, then – he unclenched his jaw.
"I said – I'm not asking," he growled.
Bulma sighed in exasperation.
"Listen," she started, her voice higher in her annoyance. "It can't be done! Not even if I wanted to! This…", she took the papers from his hand and waved them in front of his eyes, "…is just theory! Do you know how to count, prince of all Saiyans? A 300x gravity means your body will weight eighteen tons! You will break! You will die in there!"
She pressed the pieces of paper to his chest and shoved him away again. There. She suddenly felt better with herself after the outburst, she felt lighter, she felt empowered – that dull, arrogant, ignorant Saiyan!
Vegeta snarled. "And what's it to you?"
Bulma snorted. "Pfft. Nothing."
"Then do it."
Bulma looked at him, incredulous.
He was really a thick-headed stubborn one. It was so annoying – she almost preferred the raging despair he had briefly displayed a few moments before. Either way, she wanted the guy out of her sight and she figured that giving in couldn't possibly hurt anyone. If she built the gravity room – chances were he'd probably die in there, for real. She was probably going to do a favor to the whole humankind. Krillin was right – she was stronger than Frieza. Ha!
She raised an eyebrow.
"Your funeral," she said, taking the notes from him again. "Now get the board back on the wall."
9th October, 764
Gohan charged at his father with all his might and Goku dodged the attack with stunning speed before disappearing into thin air.
Gohan stepped forward into the spot his father was occupying, looking around intently.
"Ha!" he said advancing, keeping on guard. "Come out, dad!"
– then his dad appeared at his side with a mischievous grin and, stretching a leg, he made Gohan trip over on the grass.
"Ow! Dad!" Gohan exclaimed jumping to his feet, indignant. His face was all eyes, wide and accusatory. "It's not fair! We said no instant transmission!"
Goku grinned unabashedly. "I know, I know," he said, then ruffled his kid's hair with affection. "Sorry. You were concentrating so hard… I couldn't resist!"
Gohan dodged his father's caress and gave him the stink eye. "Of course I'm concentrating if I want to become as strong as you are!"
Goku smiled openly at his son's dedication. He was the smartest and most promising kid in the world as far as he was concerned, and he was proud of him beyond words. At his age, Goku himself was nothing like that.
"You're right… I'm sorry. You did good," he said, and Gohan smiled in return and stuck his tongue at him.
Goku crossed his arms. "You need to improve your balance when you fight on the ground, though," he continued. "Always feel the earth firmly – make it your foundation and your springboard at the same time. That way, whatever attack comes at you, from any direction, you can counter."
Gohan nodded slowly. "I get it… I think."
Goku winked at him. "Round two?"
Gohan sprung in his fighting stance at once. "No tricks this time!" he declared and Goku laughed and nodded.
"You got it."
Goku and Gohan looked up at the familiar cheerful voice.
Krillin was flying towards them and there would have been nothing weird about that, if only he wasn't wearing a suit. And a hat.
Father and son shared a brief look before turning to their friend.
"Hey, Krillin!" Gohan said.
"What's with the attire?" was Goku's greeting.
Krillin giggled and made a backward motion with his head. "Look over there," he said, barely moving his lips.
Goku and Gohan did as told, but then Krillin waved his hands. "No, don't look like you're looking!" he hissed under his breath. "Look, look!"
Goku scratched his cheek, dumbfounded. "Hem…"
"Oh!" Gohan gasped and pointed at something. Goku followed his glance and saw, at the furthest border of the clearing in which they'd been training, a flaming red car with a blue-haired girl stranded on its hood, apparently sunbathing.
"Whoa!" he exclaimed in surprise and Krillin giggled sheepishly.
"That's Maron!" he said, blushing furiously. "She's my… my girlfriend."
"Oooh, congratulations!" Gohan said.
"That's… unbelievable!" Goku said and jovially patted Krillin on the back, making him topple over.
Krillin got back to his feet instantaneously and sent his friend a glaring look. "What?"
Goku blinked. "What?"
"Why so surprised?"
"What?" Goku exclaimed, bringing an arm behind his head, giggling hysterically. "I'm not!"
Gohan looked over at the girl. "Shouldn't we… shake hands or something?" he suggested, uncertain.
Krillin blushed again. "Yes, yes, of course!" he said, fidgeting about. "I'm so nervous… this is why I wanted her to meet you guys first, before bringing her to the party tonight," he added. "You'll have to help me!"
Goku looked at him blankly. "What party?" he asked.
"The fifty years of Capsule Corp," Krillin replied quickly. "I –I thought Bulma told you."
Goku let out a laugh. "Yeah, no…" he said. "It must have slipped my mind!"
Krillin eyed him strangely. "Please, tell me you're coming."
Gohan looked at his father with a hopeful look. He'd never heard about this party before, but he was more than okay with the idea of hanging around with Krillin, Bulma, Oolong and all the rest of the gang.
"Dad?" he said. "We're going, right? For Krillin," he added and Krillin winked at him.
Goku looked at him for a moment, hesitating. "There's school tomorrow," he finally said, "… I think."
Gohan gaped. "WHAT?"
"Gohan, call for help. Goku, buddy, sit down."
"What?" Goku exclaimed, looking between his son and his friend. "What did I do?"
"You don't know?!" they answered in chorus.
Goku waved a hand dismissively. "Just… Gohan, let's get on your mother's good side, you know, for a while?" he said, like a question. "You'll see the others some other time, I promise," he added, with an apologetic smile.
Gohan shoulder's sagged. "Oh, fine."
Krillin gave the kid a contrite look. "I hear you, little guy."
"Yeah, speaking of which, why don't you go back before she finds out you've snuck out again?" Goku said. "We'll be right behind you."
Gohan pouted a little, but he obliged, fearing his mother's wrath more than anything in the world. "Ooookay!" he said. "Laters, Krillin!" he shouted as he took flight. Goku watched him go, squinting his eyes against the sun.
The truth was, he knew nothing of this Capsule Corp. party whatever, but he had a pretty good idea that that was exactly in Bulma's intentions.
They had neither seen nor talked to each other in weeks, not since that awful night and Goku had tried hard not to think about it, but it didn't work. He had tried hard not wrack his brain about her, but that didn't work either.
Usually, things were pretty easy for him. Everything was straightforward. But something had changed for him and he didn't even know exactly what – he just knew that since that ride home after the battle with Vegeta, something had clicked and he hadn't been able to shake Bulma out of his mind. He didn't know what it meant – he didn't know what to do about it.
He felt different. In every way a man could possibly feel different. And that wasn't a great surprise, considering everything that had happened to him since his ship had landed on the blue fields of Namek.
But there was something else, something roaring in his chest, something that had been pretty easy to ignore while training, while fighting on Namek, while on Yardrat – it had been easy enough to set aside everything and concentrate on what he had to do, but those days of peace back on Earth, back with his family, were making him painfully aware of that difference.
Sure, it felt nice to be finally home.
He'd never dream of saying that Bulma was nice. Bulma was not nice. She was spirited, raw, a thundering force of nature. She was beautiful, but not nice.
Her eyes made him want to stop moving. He'd give any degree of freedom he had if he could just stop and stay where those eyes lived. Goku had always loved the snow around Mount Paozu – and Bulma's back was white. He remembered kissing it timidly that night, all those years before.
Her whole essence made his ears buzz loudly and his heart hammer in his chest – and he didn't understand – it was excitement, sure, but he didn't know why. It was the giddy feeling he got when he faced a powerful opponent.
Try as he might, Goku couldn't understand.
He had sworn to himself that he wanted it to stop and sometimes he even believed it, but it was a lie and he knew the truth. The truth was that watching her for a moment as she slept – that night in her room – Goku had felt truly alive for the first time since fighting Frieza on Namek. And he missed that – he missed her – more than he thought it would be possible.
"Something's wrong?" Krillin inquired.
Goku jumped a little. "What?" he said, laughing faintly. "No, no!"
"Would you just…"
Krillin eyed him suspiciously. "What is it?"
Goku sent his friend his most flashing, blinding, reassuring smile. "Nothing, just… if you see her, I mean, Bulma… say hello," he said.
"Of course I'm going to see her," Krillin said, furrowing his brow in a perplexed expression. "It's her house."
"Right!" Goku said and he waved a hand. "Forget about it! Come on, I'm sure Chichi can't wait to meet Maron!"
"Are you kidding me?"
They looked at each other and burst out into roaring laughs.
9th October, 764
Bulma let herself fall on the deck chair with a loud sigh and looked around.
It was late, and everybody had left hours ago – her parents had stuck around for a last piece of cake, just the three of them, and then called it a night.
The party had been absolutely amazing.
Of course, since she had been the one organizing it, from the catering right down to the decorations – she had picked up tiny, warm, golden lights that looked like fireflies and cheerful, bright yellow balloons to adorn the whole house, the windows, the gardens. It was beautiful. Her father deserved that.
Almost everyone in West City had attended, along with her friends – Krillin had even brought a friend. A girl-friend. Or rather, a dumb chick sporting Bulma's haircut! Was that some kind of joke? When Krillin had introduced the two of them, Bulma had instinctively looked up, searching for Goku's dumbfounded expression and sighed inwardly when she didn't find him.
Of course she wouldn't – she had accidentally forgotten to invite him and his nice little family to the party, but well, it could've happened with any of the guests. Yeah.
Instead, she had spotted Yamcha staring at the girl with a stupid, smitten look on his face and discovered with a little bit of sadness and a lot of relief, that what would have once sent her flying off the handle, that night – it just didn't register.
She and Yamcha were completely free.
She was, wasn't she?
Bulma let her gaze roam around the deserted garden, where a slight breeze had picked up, thinking she was glad she wasn't the one who had to clean up the mess – where suddenly, she saw it.
A little yellow balloon had freed himself, and, pushed lightly by the breeze, was fluttering nearby, just out of reach, glowing in an enchanting way.
Bulma followed it with her eyes, mesmerized by it – it was almost a kaleidoscopic gold – and, for some reason, it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen and she wanted it more than anything she'd ever desired.
She got up on her feet and chased after it.
The balloon was drifting lazily in the air, teasing her – as soon as she reached with a hand to grab it by its string it sped up and rose in the air – and it got caught in the branches of one of the trees of the garden. Without thinking, Bulma started to climb.
Branch after branch she got up and, finally, the balloon was within hand. She grinned like a little girl and snatched it.
"Aha, gotcha!" she exclaimed, sitting down on the branch with one leg on either side and waving the string around, giggling as the balloon twirled in the air, brushing against the leaves. Then –
She looked down.
"Whoa!" she shouted.
She hadn't realized it was that high – how was she supposed to get down?
Panicking, she tried to turn around a little bit, but felt the branches whine under her weight and stopped immediately, going back to her sitting position at the speed of light.
It was okay. She just had to remain very very very still on the branch for, like, her whole life and everything would turn out alright. No one was going to get hurt.
On a tree with a balloon.
"You okay up there?"
Bulma gulped and looked down.
Goku was standing there, looking up at her, eyebrows raised and head cocked quizzically to one side.
Bulma swallowed. "Sure!" she said, trying her best to look as if she was comfortable and having the time of her life. "I'm just, you know…" she waved the balloon, "…hanging around!"
Goku said and did nothing at first – then slowly, but steadily – he rose up in the air to go standing at her eye-level.
"You're hanging around," he repeated, and there was definitely a hardly-restrained laugh in his voice.
Bulma nodded ."Uh-uh."
But she was about to burst into laughs as well. They locked gazes and in the space of a millisecond, she was finally able to see things clearly.
Everything she had done in her life had brought her up on that tree and, suddenly, it all felt so easy.
Everything was exactly where it was supposed to be and – all her fears dissolved, all the painful thoughts gone – she knew that what she had to do was actually pretty easy.
…discover the two-star dragon ball in her basement; build the dragon radar from scratch; wait for summer vacations to go dragon ball hunting and wish for a lifetime supply of strawberries or a boyfriend, either one was good.
Meet Goku – run him over with her car.
Escort a turtle back to sea. Meet Yamcha. Break up with Yamcha because he was the wrong guy. Let Goku save the world. Again. And again a few times; let him get engaged. Make love to him and let him get married and have a kid.
Go to Namek. Survive Namek and let Goku save the universe. Tell him off and throw a party. Climb up a tree. Be in the right place at the right time and, somehow, work up the courage to do the most stupid thing in the world.
Hand him over a yellow balloon.
"Here you go!"
Goku took the thin string of the balloon from her fingers, in an automatic movement.
"What is this?" he said.
Bulma seemed on the verge of replying 'it's a balloon, you dummy', but instead she looked at him, eyes hard and fiery and said:
"It's a present."
Goku looked at the yellow sphere for a moment, a big smile shining deep in his eyes. "I thought you hated me."
"I do!" Bulma replied, waving her hands around. "But you know – hating you is exhausting! So… it's okay! I forgive you! We're friends again!"
Goku sent her a lopsided grin. "So… the balloon says truce?"
Bulma nodded. "Yes. The balloon says truce."
"That's… good, I guess," he said floating a little bit closer.
"Yeah, it's all good", she reiterated.
"Yeah," he said and touched the side of her face with one hand.
Bulma leaned in the touch, never taking her sparkling eyes from his. "Totally."
And their mouths crushed together in a grasping, hungry kiss.