The boy is smiling.
Packed under Trunks's nails is dirt upon which thousands of worthless, weak children have trodden, and there are flakes of rust stuck to his palms where he gripped the metal chains of the swings, the bars of the climbing frame. He smells like sunshine and sweat, aborted adrenaline and smug satisfaction, but none of it born from battle. The heir to the Saiyan throne paints an indecent picture, one that would have sent his grandfather—had he been alive—into an apoplectic fit. How the child could derive such entertainment from something as innocuous as a playground is beyond Vegeta, but his son curves in the air with an effortless twist to look at him, mouth stretched wide, cheeks flushed, and shouts over the wind, "This was the best day ever!"
As if it had been a selfless kindness on Vegeta's part. As if it had been a gift. Perhaps it had been in the boy's eyes: a reward for proving that a mere pup with a claim to a non-existent throne was capable enough of not only carrying the name of his forbearers, but realizing a legend.
He thinks back to the days when the air was heavier and the sigil of his father sat in foreign gold upon his breastplate. The men and women who waited upon him were so big, stretching up into the crimson-soaked sky, and not one of them would ever dream of ignoring him, ignoring his wishes, his whims. They lived to see that he wanted for nothing, and looking back, he can't recall a moment in which he smiled the way Trunks does now. An entire planet at his feet, and it held no joy.
The familiar yellow dome of Capsule Corporation crests the horizon, and Trunks spirals lazily through a cloud, laughing as it passes over the skin of his arms and the nape of his neck. "Did you see me on the jungle gym? I smoked those other kids, and I didn't even use any of my power!"
The happiness on the boy's face is simple, unwanting, and Vegeta knows then it has nothing to do with his heritage.
It's little more than a child being allowed to be a child. Children on this planet do not spend their days pushing their bodies to impossible limits in order to find satisfaction in the rush of blood, in torn muscle and the inherent call to destroy. Children here seek their pleasures on merry-go-rounds and see-saws and games of "freeze tag" and observing insects. It's no wonder the human race implodes upon itself, killing and raping and ruining their own even as they preach superiority of the species—even the lowest Saiyan wasn't so corrupt.
Vegeta bites down on a sneer and deliberately blurs the memory of his home world. So he hadn't been a particularly happy child. At least he had honor. Some of those dainty little groin spawn at the park would benefit from a good, raw fight; to know and understand their base urges would serve them well in the long run. Saiyans recognized and answered that primal call at a young age and trained to tame it into a usable weapon. Human children revel in their innocence and, as adults, are unable to fully hide their monsters behind their numerous social niceties and rules. The divergence is startling, that two species could be so similar and yet so very different.
It's a shame Kakarot failed to cull the human race all those years ago. Destroying them would be a kindness rarely afforded to such an undeserving species.
Vegeta exhales as his feet touch the ground, Trunks landing beside him with a grace of which he would have been envious at that age, and as he opens his mouth to instruct his son to wash the filth of the park off before dinner, Trunks slams into him, throwing small, strong arms about his waist. He staggers back a step and his muscles lock, foot braced against the sudden weight, and his fingers curl around a spark of ki before he can stop them. Fightkillfightdestroy, his body screams, and he can feel it, just for a moment, a breath, a blip—a flash of gold, and then it's gone.
"Thanks," Trunks says into the fabric of his shirt, squeezing tighter, either ignoring the spike in Vegeta's ki or completely unaware of the danger he'd been in. "I know you hated it and wanted to kill everybody, but it was awesome. I had so much fun."
The boy is smart and quickly drops his arms, moving back, leaving a comfortable distance between them. But still, Trunks is smiling.
"You're the best, dad." With that, he runs inside, yelling something about how he's going to call Goten and tell him all about their trip to the park.
Vegeta stares after him, heart pounding, and then turns his attention down to the fist he'd made, glaring at his fingers until they relax and unfurl, the spark dissipating. After a moment, he closes his eyes and exhales, the urge—killkillkillkill—leaving him, and he casts a line out through the walls of the place he calls home in search of one particular life force. It pings back, blue and metal upon metal, and he heads for the second lab on the basement floor.
In the elevator, he's flirting with the urge to destroy the sound system that plays nothing but the same mindless song for every ride, ultimately deciding against it since he has less than ten seconds left in this box, when the air is suddenly sucked from his lungs.
"Oh, fuck me," he gasps.
It's been eleven years since his resurrection following the Namek clusterfuck, and he knows the elevator music. He knows how long it takes to get to the basement floors. He took his son to the park. His son. His son. To a park.
Vegeta staggers back against the wall and breathes.
Think, he tells himself, inhaling. Remember your roots. Remember father's black—no, blue cloak. Remember the color of the throne room. It was—white. No, no, that's wrong, it was blue. It was gray. … it was…
The walls of the throne room are colorless in the recesses of his mind, and he closes his eyes against the realization that this is the most permanent his life has ever been. This is his life: elevator music and trips to the park. He has no roots on Planet Vegeta—they burned up, and another seed was planted in the fertile soil behind the main dome of Capsule Corporation, in the shadow of the gravity chamber, in the wide smile on his son's face.
Somewhere, his own father is rolling.
He rubs a hand over his face and straightens, shoulders hard, as the doors slide open.
W E L C O M E V E G E T A T O B A S E M E N T L E V E L O N E
It's as good a eulogy as he deserves, he thinks bitterly, and steps out of the elevator.
As he walks, he passes by people in lab coats whose names he can't be bothered to learn. They wave to him, or shout inquiries about the latest designs for the gravity chamber, and he pushes on without acknowledging them. He doubts they expect him to—he never has before.
Three floors above him, he feels Trunks move about, an aimless sort of wandering that speaks of bone-tired contentment. Trunks is, undoubtedly, reminding Goten of his distinct lack of a father as he recounts his afternoon at the playground, and in that backwoods shithole Kakarot called home Goten must feel it keenly.
The corners of his lips twitch, and he can't stop the smirk that slides across his face. His son has an incredible, innate ability to wound without drawing blood. He would have made quite the king.
Vegeta turns the corner and comes to a stop just outside the door of Lab 2, the toes of his boots edging up against the mat on the floor that reads 'WELCOME—NOW SHUT UP AND PUT ON A PAIR OF GOGGLES'. The life force, all oceanstormsky, buzzes pleasantly at him through the door. It sits fixed, unmoving, as does he, and he lets a moment, then two, pass before he has his fill of it and steps onto the mat. The door slides open with a whisper, bidding him welcome.
She doesn't look up at the sound of his footsteps, all her considerable focus on the screen in front of her. It surprises him sometimes how fast her fingers can move over the keys; it's as if her brain plumbed the depths where her ki ought to have been and decided it could come up with something better. As one hand continues to type, the other breaks away and reaches out to the left, feeling around for a device that lies just beyond her reach.
"You could hand me that," Bulma says without turning her attention from the endless string of numbers, letters, and symbols that continues to populate on the screen.
He crosses his arms and sniffs. "I could."
"Prick." It's affectionate. "A little birdie told me a certain someone took a certain little someone to the park this afternoon."
"A little birdie?" He echoes. Already the tension in his shoulders leeches away, and he moves to stand beside her chair, hip propped up against the desk. "Do we have a pest problem? I'd be more than happy to take care of it."
She pauses for a moment, tilts her head just enough to spy the device, and snatches it, bringing it in front of her. There's a bright flash of light, limning her in green, and then it's gone. In the air above them appears a holographic rendition of it, spinning slowly in 3D space.
"Be my guest. Although be prepared to lose your number one fan, since that little birdie was my mother."
He snorts. "Tempting."
At that, Bulma abandons her project and swivels in her chair to look up at him. The swell of her cheek is smudged with oil and there's an absent slash of red pen on her jaw, a wound forgotten in the face of innovation. Her hair is unkempt and disheveled, and her eyes hold the manic glaze of too many hours spent in front of a screen without stopping for food or sleep. She's an utter mess.
He bites the inside of his cheek hard against the overwhelming need to throw her on top of the desk, part her legs, and feast upon her until she screams herself hoarse.
"Very tempting sometimes," she agrees, grinning. "But then who would keep you in raspberry torte and lemon cake?"
"Certainly not you," he says.
Bulma tosses her head back and laughs, and he wants to make a home in the long, lean line of her throat. "Damn right. So, what brings you down into the tenth circle of Hell? I figured after a trip to the park you'd be burning your clothes and sobbing hysterically in the shower."
It startles a laugh out of him. "Your sexual fantasies leave a lot to be desired."
"Ooh baby," she croons, "scrub away the human filth slower."
"Vulgar woman." He glances at the device in front of her and jerks his chin toward it, intrigued despite himself. "What are you working on?"
She follows his gaze. "It's nothing."
"Your heartbeat says otherwise." It's a quick, stuttering thing in her chest, a kick like a war drum. "Don't lie to me, woman; I can always tell."
Bulma says nothing for a moment, a silence that stretches loud and long between them, taut like a rubber band stretched too thin, and she finally relents with a sigh, picking the thing up and handing it to him. "Look familiar?"
He turns it over in his hands, the hard edge of the metal dulled by his gloves. "No."
"It's the hard drive—or whatever the equivalent is—from Raditz's ship."
His fingers curl reflexively around it and the edges dig hard into his palm, even through the fabric. "You cannibalized the pod."
She gives him an incredulous look. "Of course I did. Was I supposed to pass up the chance to study alien technology?"
"You study alien technology on a regular basis." The hard drive is larger than he expected, but then Frieza's transport vehicles were hardly cutting edge; his interests were in the healing tanks, in up-to-date scouters and ki-readers. "What are you planning to do with this?"
"What do you mean?"
He tosses the hard drive onto the desk. It skids across and embeds itself into the wall. "You've patented the healing tank design—"
"—Your name's on the patent, too, you idiot—"
"—patented the healing tank design," Vegeta continues loudly, "which makes me wonder what other tech you've used to boost Capsule Corporation profits."
"This is rich, coming from the prince of a race whose entire economy was built on the appropriation of tech and culture." She rolls her eyes, standing. Her legs buckle slightly and she grips the edge of the desk until she gets her bearings about her. There are notes stuck to three of her monitors, all reminding her to eat something.
Bulma crosses the room to where there's a blank stretch of wall. She taps her fingers against it as if keying in a code, and the wall parts to reveal—
"Clever," Vegeta murmurs, impressed. He never would have known.
The storage safe is hollow save for one thing, which Bulma takes out with careful hands. As she draws closer, he sees it's a large folder, bulging with loose paper to the point that it's been held together with several rubber bands. She thrusts it against his chest, forcing him to catch it as she lets go of it.
"What am I supposed to do with this?"
She crosses her arms and leans against her desk. "You're not stupid, Vegeta—I never would've had a kid with you if you were. Open it."
Sneering at her, he drops the folder onto the desk, rips the bands off, and opens to a random page.
… normal output at rest is 6.128 litres (re: Subject R) to 7.25 litres (re: Subject V, 15 Mar 765, asleep; Subject SG, Wukong Hospital, 03 Apr 760); output increases to 81.5 litres with moderate physical activity. Extreme physical activity (re: Subject V, 23 Mar 765, Gravity Room) increases output forty to seventy times greater than resting state, where it then plateaus.
Output in SSJ state unknown.
Saiyan cardiac output is not influenced by age or weight, as compared to a human, but rather physical fitness and ki (1 kWh = 3600 kJ).
As of 12 Dec 774, Subject V trains in normal state at 450G conditions. Cardiac output average: 471.25 L
Vegeta lowers the page. "This is—"
"Before you say anything, I want to make it very clear that this is not the property of Capsule Corporation. In fact, officially, it doesn't exist." Bulma re-crosses her arms and drums the fingers of her right hand against the Capsule Corporation logo sewn into the left sleeve of her jacket. "This is for me. Call it a personal research project."
"Research on me." There's an odd snag just under his diaphragm that pulls uncomfortably at the thought of being an experiment. It becomes painful at the thought of being her experiment.
She blows out a breath. "Research on Saiyans in general, Vegeta. Not everything's about you."
"I don't understand," he growls, and he doesn't. What cause does she have to study him in such a manner? To render him as little more than figures on a page.
Her index finger taps against her arm once, twice, thrice, and he's about to rip it from her hand when she, again, uncrosses her arms and places her palms flat on the desk. "It isn't what you think."
"Then explain it to me." His tone brooks no argument.
"I started this—let's call it a dossier—on September 19, 766." She waits a beat, then nods at the realization that she must see on his face. "Two days after Trunks was born, yeah. I had a half-Saiyan newborn and absolutely no idea about what that sort of anatomy and physiology entailed. I needed to establish a baseline in the event that he was hurt, or sick, or there was an undetected deformity. It's not like I could ask you—you weren't here. And in the event that you never came back, I wanted to make sure Trunks knew everything he could about his heritage. So, downloading the information from Raditz's hard drive was, in all honesty, my best option.
"After that, I began compiling the data we gathered on you during your sessions in the gravity chamber, as well as the medical records from the times you landed yourself in the infirmary. I also have files in there on Goku, Gohan, Goten, and Trunks—both of them." At his look, she shrugs. "Cross-referencing."
He flicks through the mess of loose leaf paper, scribbles on notes and napkins, photographs of him in his armor and close-ups of wounds in various stages of healing, ultrasound photos, a series of printouts from Raditz's pod stapled together and shoddily translated from Schaeffan, and what looks like zip-locked bags of dark hair and fingernails.
With a hard swallow, he closes the only Saiyan history book that will ever be and places it gently on the table.
"Vegeta. Look at me."
He turns his head to stare at the empty storage safe, its gaping maw now the home of all Saiyan knowledge, tucked up and sealed behind plaster and machinery. All that remains of the Saiyan empire can fit into a hole in the wall.
"Vegeta," Bulma says quietly. She places a hand on his arm, fingers squeezing into the muscle, and he can't look at her. He can't. She knows him down to his very atoms, printed and itemized in a folder she keeps hidden from the world. "There's another reason I've continued this project."
He closes his eyes. "What more can you possibly take from me?"
"Oh, Vegeta, no. No, no, you—Vegeta, look at me." Her fingers slide over his chin and bring it around until he is forced to meet her gaze. "Vegeta, it's not about taking. It's about what I can find and give back."
There's a soft, wet pressure against the place where his ear meets his jaw, then nothing, and he watches as she opens a drawer by her thigh and pulls out—
The dragon ball radar looks the same as it did on Namek, and he swallows down the thrill of excitement that sings through him at the sight of it. He's long-since lost his thirst for immortality, but he can't deny that the idea of it still has a hold on him.
Bulma hands it to him. "You know I made this when I was sixteen? I found one of the dragon balls in with my dad's stuff and, using what little information I could get from it, I made this and found the rest. So far, I'm the only one who's been able to do it."
"You used one dragon ball to gain the others, just as you used one Saiyan to gain knowledge on the others. Congratulations. I wonder how these statistics will aid you in bringing about the end of everything I've lost—"
"What did you just say to me?"
"I had next to nothing on the dragon balls, but I still managed to find all of them," Bulma says, firm and slow, eyes chiseled from stone. Gone is the exhausted scientist—the president of Capsule Corporation, veritable royalty, and one of the greatest minds the planet has ever known is who stands before him now. "You keep saying you're the last of your kind, that you, Goku, and the boys are the only ones left."
"Because we are!"
"No, you're not!"
The tail end of her words echoes throughout the lab, in his skull, and he stares at her, at this frail human with eyes the color of a blue dwarf star, and feels as though he will explode all over the fucking walls if he doesn't touch her.
Her chest heaves as she drags in a sharp breath, and one can only guess what her cardiac output is, if she has it recorded in a dossier of her own.
"You're not," she says again, quieter, swallowing with a dry click. "It's statistically impossible. It's improbable. You're not alone, Vegeta. You're not the last."
"My planet was destroyed," Vegeta reminds her and resolutely does not think about the walls of the throne room, which were not white or blue or gray. "Except for me and Kakarot, and our brats, the Saiyan race is gone."
"The Saiyans spent most of their time off-planet. Yes, okay, the majority of the Saiyan race was destroyed, but think about how many Saiyans weren't even there for it. How many were on different planets, or en-route either to Planet Vegeta or to their next assignment, or babies sent off like Goku."
"Shut up," he says.
"Hundreds, Vegeta. Thousands. Theoretically, there could be—no, I'm not even talking theoreticals now, I'm talking reality. They're out there. Hell, with a difference of only 10Gs? They could be here."
"Shut up. This is false hope. This is—not even Frieza dangled this in front of me—"
"This isn't false hope. This isn't me dangling this in front of you. There are Saiyans out there, and I'm going to find them." She gets into his space, her hands on his cheeks, shaking, and she presses their foreheads together. He inhales her stale breath, the sweat and oil that cling to her, and is helpless in the face of his—of his regard for her. Of his need for her. His hands come up to cup her hips and press her back against the edge of the desk, his thigh forcing its way between hers. He's never been so hard in his life. "I'm going to find them, Vegeta. We owe it to you. We owe it to our friends, to our son—he's a child of two worlds, and I'm going to bring them together."
He rocks his thigh up, and Bulma hisses, her hands scrabbling at his back, dragging down the exposed nape of his neck, and he bends his head to her throat, to the beautiful, throbbing vasculature that begs for his tongue.
"Clever, wicked," he drags his teeth over an artery, relishing the sound of her stuttering breath. "Immoral, devious little thing. You take everything from me, drain me of all that I am, and then give it back tenfold." His hand sinks into her hair, cupping the back of her head, exposing more of her throat for him. "No one is that selfless, Bulma. No one in this universe—not even Kakarot."
She drags his head up and forces their mouths together, her tongue slipping in, the sweetest invasion he's ever experienced, and he would destroy worlds for this. He would raze the galaxy to nothing just to know her taste, to rip open her chest and climb into the space just beneath her heart.
"I am," she gasps, tearing her lips away to throw her head back. "In this, I am. I will give you a home, my king."
He brings a finger to his mouth and pulls his glove off with his teeth, moving to rip open her pants and pushing past the silk he finds, delving inside where she's hot, wet, and welcoming.
"You already have." My queen.
Later, he rubs his face through the sheen of sweat on the swell of her breast, and closes his eyes as fingers trembling with the aftershocks of orgasm card through the hair at the nape of his neck. There's a calm that weaves through his muscles as he reaches out and strokes the soft, bare skin of her hip, flesh that has never seen battle.
"Quick," he mutters, "record my cardiac output before you lose all this data."
"Shut up," Bulma groans, stretching beneath him. He feels something pop somewhere, the muscles relaxing as she does. "God, that was good."
He hums and says nothing, content to let his fingers wander over her hip, the delicate curve of her pelvic bone.
"I meant what I said." Her hand in his hair never pauses in its gentle, sweeping touch.
"I know." His eyes open and he stares at nothing. "The world martial arts tournament is next week."
"I know," Bulma says. "I entered you and Trunks already. Maybe you'll get paired up with Gohan and we'll all be treated to a show."
Vegeta snorts. "More information for you to squirrel away." He shifts against her and closes his eyes once more. "Trunks has achieved Super Saiyan."
It startles him into sitting up, and Bulma winces as the sudden movement shifts her on the floor. "You know? How did you—let me guess, it's all in your book of all things Saiyan."
"It's not, actually," she says thoughtfully, tilting her head back to look at the table upside-down. "But it will be. I keep forgetting to add it."
"Then how did you know?"
She drops back down and stretches again. "He told me."
"He told you? He waited until we were training in the gravity chamber so he could show off."
Bulma laughs and forces herself to sit up. "Of course he did. He's your son."
"Are you calling me a show-off?"
"If it walks like a duck…" But she's grinning as she says it, reaching out to cup his jaw with her hand and slide her mouth over his. It's brief, but it thrills him the way seeing the dragon radar did, and she pulls back with a soft smile. "Hungry?"
As if on cue, his stomach issues a loud complaint, and she laughs again, climbing unsteadily to her feet. She dresses quickly and runs a hand through her mussed hair, making it worse.
"All right, let me go put in an order at Pacho's and make sure Trunks hasn't burned the house down. I'll see you upstairs." As the door slides open for her, she pauses, turning to look at him over her shoulder. "I'll leave it up to you. It's in your hands now."
He pushes up to sit, the floor unforgiving beneath him. "What is?"
She turns fully to face him, once again the human royalty she forgets she is until it's convenient. "The dossier. If you want to get rid of it… well, it's your decision. I'll be pissed, but I'll understand. Eventually. If you… decide to leave it as it is, then I'll start working immediately. I meant what I said. I'm going to find them."
He shakes his head. "And I said no one is that selfless. What do you want in return?"
"In return?" A sad, but sweet smile curves her face. "If you really have to ask why I'd do this, then you haven't been paying attention."
With that, she turns on her heel gracefully and leaves, the door sliding shut to punctuate her exit. As parting shots go, it's a pretty good one.
Vegeta waits a moment, then stands and pulls on his clothes. It takes him a few minutes to find his gloves where they'd been shoved beneath a cabinet. As he tugs them down over his hands, his gaze wanders around the lab until it fixes upon the dossier.
He picks it up, careful not to spill any of its contents, and holds it. Just for a moment, just one, and then he'll destroy it. If anything like this were to fall into the wrong hands, hands white and clawed, hands like Frieza's, then it would be the downfall of the Saiyans—five, or the thousands among the stars.
He was a child when the not-white, not-blue, not-gray walls of the throne room, the room from where he would have ruled, crumbled to less than a memory, and he stands here now a man. A father. A lover. A king without a throne or a crown, but a soldier with a home. The folder in his hands is nothing more than a reminder of all that he's lost.
It would be quick—a concentrated burst of ki, and then nothing. All of it, gone.
You're not alone, Vegeta. You're not the last.
There is a name for such a kind addiction, and he has not managed to break free from it.
He walks to the other side of the room and slides the dossier back into hiding, shutting the door behind it. The cracks to denote its place fade until there is nothing to suggest it is anything but a wall. He steps back and studies it to make sure, but it's flawless. The information contained within will stay safe.
There will come a time when the need for such a thing will disappear, when he has realized his power, his birthright, and will be the king he was supposed to be. The walls of his throne room will be whatever colors he wants, and at his side, placed upon the highest throne of its kind, will be a queen with hair like a dying star and a mind that could bring the universe to its knees. And when his reign ends, his son, a legend at eight years old, will continue his line.
He places a hand on the wall and closes his eyes. Someday, he will need to expand his kingdom, but not yet.
His stomach growls, making its neglect known, and he leaves his history behind walls of chrome in favor of an irritated, "Did I stutter? I want four of everything on the menu. What the hell kind of restaurant are you?! Do you know who I am?!" and the sound of something expensive breaking followed by his son's laughter.
As a boy prince, he did not know joy of any kind.
He has somewhat of an inkling now.