The second time was not sudden, but neither was it hard. She'd lived a long life, and when the doctors told her that her heart was starting to fail, she didn't waste time in tears and recriminations. She died in her sleep, with the man the alien that she loved sitting by her side, holding her hand. Once again, there was no real transition; she drifted away on Earth, her last sight the faces of her husband and children, and when she awoke, she was standing on the golden road that she remembered vaguely from that one other time in her youth.
"It really happened," Bulma said aloud. "I'm dead ... again."
The soul standing ahead of her in line turned to look back at her. "What do you mean ... again?"
"Sorry. Just silly ranting." Looking down at herself, Bulma found that her youth had been restored; she looked approximately as she had when she was killed by Buu, squiggly ghost-tail, red dress and all. She found herself wondering suddenly if it was because the afterlife's processing center retained a template of her from the last time it was here, and when it processed her again, had it just mapped her newly dead soul onto the old template? Then she laughed at herself. Here she was, trying to figure out how the afterlife worked. Age would never change certain things.
Her thoughts turned to her family, and she wondered how they were reacting to her death. At least all of them knew (from personal experience, except in Bra's case) that life after death was more than speculation; it was reality, and loved ones would be reunited eventually. She hoped that Vegeta would be able to let his pride bend enough to lean on his children until he rebounded and she was confident that he would rebound. Her husband loved her, but he was also independent and self-reliant, qualities that she admired in him because they reflected the same qualities in herself.
Vegeta ... something was niggling at the back of her mind about Vegeta. Time had no real meaning here, marked only by the slow moving of the line, so she had no idea how long it took her to finally realize what was bothering her; and when she did realize it, she dismissed it at first as idle speculation. As the line moved slowly along, however, her concern grew to outright fear.
At last she stood in front of Enma-Daioh's desk.
"Bulma Briefs," he rumbled. "I've seen you before. Looks like ... pride, vanity, selfishness ... the usual human sins. Heaven." He reached for his stamp.
"Wait!" Bulma shouted up from the floor. "Aren't you going to ask me what I want?"
Enma-Daioh looked down at her. "No. You don't get a say in this. If I let souls decide for themselves where they want to go, how many do you think would choose hell?"
"Honestly," Bulma fumed, and crossed her arms. "Sorry, buddy. I'm not going anywhere."
"What are you rambling about? I don't normally have souls argue about going to heaven. Perhaps you're confused and think it's the other place."
Bulma shook her head. "I'm not confused. I'm just not leaving until you answer a question."
Enma-Daioh leaned his head in the palm of one hand. "Well, ask it, but hurry up, because I'm busy and don't like having my time wasted. If you don't answer quickly, I'll just send you to the place of my choosing."
"My question is this," Bulma said. "My husband, Vegeta. Is he destined for heaven or hell?"
Enma-Daioh shook his head. "I can't answer that sort of question. Client confidentiality."
"I refuse to go to heaven until I know if my husband will be there."
"You don't have a choice," Enma-Daioh said, reaching to stamp her paperwork.
"Now listen to me, you giant oaf!" Bulma shouted, and launched herself into the air. Irked by her helplessness during the fight with Evil Shenlong, she'd talked Vegeta and Trunks into teaching her how to fly. If Videl could do it, Bulma reasoned, then so could she. She still wasn't very good at it, but good enough to completely shock the onis who were supposed to be restraining her. Very few humans could fly, and this one certainly hadn't been able to do it the last time she was here.
Bulma flew straight at Enma-Daioh's face, ranting. He recoiled in astonishment.
"and it's perfectly obvious that if you ever stopped a minute to think but it's quite evident from looking at you that thinking is not your strong suit trust me, you big jerk, I've been living with Saiyans for a lot of years and "
Enma-Daioh caught her gently in one enormous hand.
"Very well, I'll answer your question," he said. "But you'll probably wish you hadn't asked. He is still destined for hell."
"WHAT?" Bulma shrieked. "But that isn't fair! He's worked so hard and done so much and changed so much!"
"He's done some good things, it's true," Enma-Daioh said. "But he's still a mass murderer and no amount of good deeds can change that. He will have to suffer for his sins. In all likelihood, he won't be reprogrammed; that fate is reserved for the most incorrigible souls. I can't promise it, however."
Bulma had wilted in his grasp. Enma-Daioh began to set her down, when she launched herself from his hand into the air again.
"Then I'll go to hell too!"
She landed on the desk and planted her hands on her hips. "Then I'll stay right here until Vegeta arrives, and HE'LL knock some sense into you!"
"You can't stay here. He's a full-blooded Saiyan, the last one. Do you have any idea how long he's going to outlive you?"
Bulma shot up into his face again. "Are you arguing with me, you giant oaf?" she shrieked.
Enma-Daioh rocked backward in his chair, almost crashing to the floor. The terrified onis behind him fled out of the way.
"Listen, woman "
"Don't WOMAN me! Don't you dare call me that! That's Vegeta's name for me and you absolutely may not use it." Bulma looked around the room. "There's a nice corner. It's out of the way and I'll simply stay there."
"You can't stay h"
She spun back around on him. "I said I'm staying and that's final! Final! FINAL!"
Enma-Daioh simply stared at her. I can see how this one managed to stay married to a Saiyan for all those years ... Finally he grunted and set Bulma's papers to one side of his desk. "Fine. You can stay. Just get out of my way." After all, she's bound to get bored in a year or two, and it's better than putting up with her temper tantrums; she's making the other souls nervous.
Bulma broke into a smile and flew forward. "Thank you so much!" she cried, and kissed him on the cheek. "You won't regret it. You'll love having me around. I can do all kinds of useful things for you. For example ..." She dropped to the desktop and pointed at the heaven stamp, still in his hand. "Why are you still using paper? Why don't you have a computer? Do you know how much time you could save if you'd just automate your record keeping?"
Enma-Daioh rubbed his eyes wearily. I hope I didn't just make a huge mistake.
Time passed, even in this timeless place.
For the first year or so, the onis and Enma-Daioh ignored their new houseguest, or at least tried. Bulma made it very difficult for them. Having discovered that she didn't need to eat or sleep, she spent most of her time sitting on the edge of Enma-Daioh's desk with a clipboard and pencil that she'd "borrowed" from the onis' paper-supply room, covering page after page with diagrams of different ways to automate the soul-sorting process. She pestered the onis constantly, insisting that it was absurd to expect a lady to sleep on the floor ("You don't sleep," they told her) or get by without a decent bathroom for goodness sakes! ("You don't need to use one.") She kept insisting that the onis help her build a lab.
Finally, to give her something to do and keep her from bothering the onis so they could do their job, Enma-Daioh told her to write down a list of the materials she needed for her lab and gave her the use of a spare supply closet, which, being built to his proportions, was more than enough space for all her needs. Bulma wrote busily, non-stop, for two and a half days, then presented the bemused judge of the afterlife with a box filled to the brim with lists.
Well, if it keeps her out of trouble ...
Once the onis began delivering the materials for her lab, Bulma was happy as a clam for another month or two, and life in Enma-Daioh's palace settled back into its usual routine except for the occasional crash or explosion from the closet. Eventually, Bulma began constructing the soul-sorting computer that she had tried to tell Enma-Daioh about. Over the next couple of years, the thing came to fill almost the entire closet. Bulma would occasionally be seen around the palace, taking brisk walks of a day or two in duration (brisk floats, actually, since she had no feet) to work off her pent-up energy and figure out how to solve the latest problem she'd encountered in the construction of the project. She also started demanding a body.
"What do you need a body for?" Enma-Daioh wanted to know. "You have the semblance of one, without the hassles."
"It isn't the same," Bulma snapped, hovering in front of his face and tapping her squiggly tail in the air. "When I do delicate work, it feels like I have gloves on. If you want me to build this thing for you, I need a body to do it right."
"I DON'T want you to build it," Enma-Daioh grumbled. "In fact, I seem to recall specifically asking you NOT to build it." In the end, though, he reconstructed her body just to shut her up.
Bulma delighted in her new, corporeal status. Of course, now she had to get the onis to fetch food for her on a regular basis. After a while she got tired of eating alone in her lab and started joining the onis in their communal mess hall. (Being corporeal themselves, they had to eat, too.) At first they merely looked at her strangely and gave her a wide berth, while Bulma complained about the sorry state of oni cooking. "It's all that antiquated equipment in your kitchen. I can't believe you're still cooking in a coal-fired oven with a bellows! What is this, the middle ages?"
She left off her computer-constructing project to build kitchen equipment for the onis. After putting up with Bulma traipsing around their kitchen, measuring and documenting and, eventually, constructing, while they were trying to work, the cooks got together and took a petition to Enma-Daioh requesting that he remove the human female from their kitchen.
Enma-Daioh groaned and stomped off to find out what was going on. He walked in on most of his onis crowded around Bulma's new cooking apparatus a giant, very elaborate combination of stove, microwave and refrigerator.
"... so you see, you can preserve all the flavor of a dish by cooling it immediately once it's prepared," she was explaining.
"Make her leave, Enma-Daioh-sama," whimpered the onis' head cook.
"Oh, there you are!" Bulma called. She smiled at the cooks. "Of course, as I was about to tell the others, no kitchen is more than just a tool for human, uh, I mean demon hands. The better your tools, the better the work you can do. Why, after being hampered by outdated technology all these years, imagine what you can accomplish now! Don't you want to try it?"
"Um ..." The cooks stared at the new stove.
"I'll show you how to use it. Just give it a try and if you don't like it, you can go back to the old one. What do you say?"
"If my presence is not required," Enma-Daioh grumbled, "I'm going back to work as are the rest of you!" he roared at the assembled onis, who gulped and scuttled back to their duties.
A little while later, Enma-Daioh quietly stuck his head into the kitchen to find the oni cooks enthusiastically producing a variety of pastries on the new stove. Bulma was sitting cheerfully on the end of one of the tables, sampling the various dishes. "Oh, that's wonderful!" she called to the cooks through a mouthful of cupcake. They blushed bright blue.
Enma-Daioh rolled his eyes and went back to work.
So the kitchen was a success and Bulma went right on building her computer. Some three or four years after she'd arrived at Enma-Daioh's palace, she asked him if she could start inputting data from his old records.
Enma-Daioh gave her a grin of pure sadistic glee. "Sure," he said, and pointed to a rather short clipboard-toting oni wearing glasses and a pocket protector (despite his lack of pockets). "You. Show her the record room."
Bulma followed the oni to a part of the palace where she had never been before. He hauled open a huge door, and Bulma peered around his shoulder. In front of her, as far as the eye could see, were filing cabinets. They went from the floor all the way to the very high ceiling, and marched off in the distance until finally fading away into a bluish haze like the color of distant mountains.
"Oh ... my," Bulma murmured. For the first time since arriving in the afterlife, she felt a bit discouraged. She sat down on the floor and stared up at the filing cabinets. Then she took a deep breath and her eyes changed to blue steel. So Enma-Daioh thought that she was going to give up and go quietly to heaven, did he? Well, he was forgetting something: she had all of eternity in which to input her data. And if she had to spend all of eternity waiting for Vegeta, then she was going to do it; so she may as well have something to keep her busy. She asked one of the onis for a box, filled it up with paperwork from the first drawer, and flew back to the closet.
The next year passed in peaceful routine. Bulma built a machine to automate the process of entering information from the old paperwork: she dumped a boxful of papers into its hopper, and it sorted them, scanned them, and filed all the information. For the first few months, she kept having to constantly tweak it and check on its sorting ability, as it had a tendency to misfile items, but once she got all the bugs worked out, the limiting factor became her ability to fill the hopper. Now that she had her body back, she tired as quickly as she would have on Earth. The past couple of years had left her in good shape (probably better shape than she'd been in since she was a Dragonball-hunting teenager) but she still couldn't carry boxes of paperwork back and forth all day and all night.
The solution, of course, was obvious. She started building small wheeled robots to carry the boxes, mentally kicking herself for having carried all those boxes without ever having thought of this. At least it had made her arms strong, though wouldn't Vegeta be surprised when he got here and she was so strong?
She was lying on the floor of the closet, struggling with a particular stubborn bolt on the newest version of the box-carrying robots, when a soft tap came at the door. Bulma looked over her shoulder, and laughed out loud.
"Kuririn! Chi-Chi! Yamcha!"
She ran to hug her friends. Except for the halos over their heads, and the way that Chi-Chi's legs tapered off into a ghost-tail, they looked just as they had when the three of them were much younger, though Kuririn had kept his hair.
"What are you guys doing here?"
Kuririn laughed. "We'd started hearing afterlife rumors about a human girl who was remodeling Enma-Daioh's palace and terrorizing the local demons. We thought it sounded like you, so we talked Kaio-sama into letting us come for a few hours to find out if it was really you."
"Kaio-sama?" Then Bulma registered the fact that Kuririn and Yamcha had normal legs and feet. "You kept your bodies!"
Yamcha shrugged. "Kaio-sama felt that since the afterlife has been attacked in the past, it might be a good idea to have some defenders ... so Kuririn and I have been on his world, training."
Kuririn laughed and ran his hand through his hair, embarrassed. "Actually, there's not a whole lot of training going on ... more like just sitting around swapping stories of the old days, and sparring for fun. It's so peaceful up here, and now that we're both dead for good, we have all eternity to get strong."
"Men!" Chi-Chi snorted. "Always wanted to fight."
"What about you, Chi-Chi?" Bulma asked her friend. "What have you been doing?"
Chi-Chi had not outlived Goku by very many years. She had had a stroke, and slipped away quietly with her sons at her side.
"Oh, you remember what heaven is like. Your parents are there, Bulma, and most of my childhood friends. I miss my boys, but I know they'll be with me soon."
"We picked her up on our way back here. We thought she'd like to see you," Kuririn said. "We can't stay very long, though."
"Have you seen Goku since you've been dead?" Bulma asked them.
Chi-Chi shook her head sadly.
"I can feel him sometimes," Kuririn said. "He's not gone ... but it's like he's staying apart from us, and I don't understand why. That isn't like him."
They chatted for a time about the old days, and then the three visitors said goodbye to Bulma, with promises to get together again sometime soon, and went back to their own afterlife.
Their absence left Bulma feeling very lonely. Throwing herself into her work for the past few years, she'd almost forgotten that she was all alone up here, having voluntarily given up her right to pass on to eternal rest, choosing instead to exist in a sort of limbo. Now she began thinking about her family again, about her children, about the husband she was waiting for. How had Vegeta dealt with her death? Had he moved on? The unpleasant thought occurred to her: had he found somebody else?
She pestered Enma-Daioh for news of Earth, but on this he was firm: it would be an unpardonable violation of the rules to allow her to look at her family. So Bulma sighed, and threw herself into her work again.
She had perfected the box-carrying robots, but now she was confronted with a new problem: somebody had to be on one end to load them, and on the other end to unload them. Well, now she just had to build more robots to do the loading and unloading.
By this time she'd been dead, according to her own estimate, for five years or so. And then she got another visitor, a completely unexpected one. She was fixing one of the loading robots in the room of records; it had turned out to be too rough with the papers and had torn up some of them (which hadn't endeared her to Enma-Daioh at all).
"Bulma? Are you in here?"
That voice ... Bulma's head snapped up; could it possibly be? Bulma stood up and looked over a pile of boxes almost as tall as herself.
"Oh my kami ..." she whispered. "Son-kun!"
Goku stood in the doorway of the records room, not the child he had been when she'd last seen him, but a full-grown adult again. Everything was the same ... his spiky hair, his orange gi, the happy grin on his face when he saw her ... And though Bulma had been happy to see Kuririn, Yamcha and Chi-Chi, at the sight of Goku she felt her eyes fill with tears. It was as though all the years fell away, and her separation from her family did not exist, and she was a girl again with a girl's dreams.
"Wow, Bulma," Goku said. "You're not old anymore."
... and then she was reminded why he'd always driven her crazy. But, damn it, she loved the big lug just the same, blunt comments and all. Bulma scrambled over the pile of boxes, heedless of the papers cascading everywhere; the onis would yell at her because they'd have to organize everything again, but she didn't care.
"Bulma " he began, but didn't get a chance to finish because she hauled back and smacked him across the face.
"How could you die without saying goodbye? How could you do that to me, to Chi-Chi, to your kids?"
Goku fingered his cheek. "Wow, Bulma, you've gotten strong."
"You didn't answer my question!"
"I don't know, Bulma. I thought it would be the best way. Everyone needed to learn to get along without me."
"We didn't want to get along without you, idiot. You're our friend." The tears pooled in her eyes and cascaded down her cheeks, and she put her arms around him. Goku hesitated, then awkwardly hugged her back. As deep as she knew his capacity for friendship, love and forgiveness to be, he'd always been a bit uncertain about physical affection.
"Chi-Chi said you didn't even come visit her in heaven," Bulma said when they separated.
Goku shook his head. "I'm not even really supposed to be here."
"Yeah ... Kuririn said that it was like you were intentionally holding yourself apart from the rest of us."
Goku nodded. "I am. And it's hard."
"But why?" Bulma asked, cocking her head on one side.
Goku shrugged. "It's part of the bargain I made ... to bring back the people of Earth after the last battle. In order to set right the balance that I destroyed with the dragon balls, I have to do a sort of penance. I guess that's what it is."
"By being all alone?" Bulma asked, horrified.
He smiled at her. "I'm not all alone. I'm with Shenlong. And it isn't torment, and it won't be forever."
"A hundred years," Bulma breathed, remembering Shenlong's last words to them.
Goku nodded, then hesitated. "Well, it was supposed to be. Like I said, I'm not supposed to be here. This will extend it ... I'm not sure by how much. Another hundred years, maybe."
"But you shouldn't do that to yourself just to see ME!" Bulma protested.
"I'm not here because of you."
The uncharacteristic seriousness in his voice made her hesitate, as did the shadow in his eyes.
"Vegeta," she breathed, knowing, without knowing how she knew. "You're here because of Vegeta."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"He's ... slipping," Goku said, frowning. "Since you've been dead ... he's started to slide back into the darkness that once consumed him. The children still hold him back from truly losing himself Trunks and Bra, and their kids. He loves them, but he's walling himself off, building the ice back around his heart."
She had imagined Vegeta being hurt by her death, but never anything so dire. If he died, she would not lose him; she was staying in Enma-Daioh's palace to make sure of that. But if he stopped loving her, stopped loving anyone ... if he allowed himself to become what he once was ... then he would truly be lost to her, to everyone. And many more people might die.
"But there's nothing I can do, Son!" she cried in frustration. "I'm up here and he's down there."
Goku shook his head. "No. Remember how I came back for the Tenkaichi Budokai? Everyone gets one day."
Bulma gasped. "My day on Earth!"
Goku stepped aside to reveal Uranai Baba behind him. The little witch floated forward, grumbling to herself. "... should never have told you people about that. Should have known you'd be no end of trouble."
"Thank you, Baba," Goku said gratefully. "I really owe you for this one."
"Yes. You do." She turned to Bulma. "Well, let's get on with it. I don't have all day."
"Oh, Bulma!" Goku said. He took a folded piece of paper out of his gi and gave it to her. "Can you give this to Vegeta for me, please?"
Bulma started to open it, curious. Goku put his bigger hand over hers, and shook his head. "No," he said gently. "That's for Vegeta."
Bulma looked up at him and nodded. She put the folded paper in her pocket. "Tell me something, Son," she said. "How did you know Vegeta was in trouble? Can you see the Earth from the place where you are?"
"No," Goku said. "I can't. But I can feel things. I knew when Chi-Chi died, for example. And with some people ... well, let's just say Vegeta and I have a connection that neither of us really understands. We are the last Saiyans; maybe it has something to do with that. Maybe it's because we once fused. Maybe it's only because we are friends. But I knew about this, and I knew I had to do something about it."
Bulma looked up at him. His eyes were troubled, and she realized that only Goku truly understood her feelings for Vegeta because he shared them, though in a somewhat different way. Vegeta's children loved him, but they had never really known him. Only she and Goku had seen him change from a cruel killer into a person capable of love and decency and only the two of them sincerely liked him, and cared about him, in spite of knowing fully the depths of depravity to which he could fall.
"Thank you for extending your punishment in order to save my husband," she whispered, touching his cheek. "If anyone in the universe does not deserve to be punished, it is you."
Goku smiled. "Don't worry about me. Time passes more quickly in the afterlife than you would believe. And you've made this possible yourself if you hadn't kept your body for Vegeta's sake, you wouldn't be able to do this."
"Are you two going to stand around talking all day?" Uranai Baba snapped.
Bulma jumped. "Oh! Sorry!" She waved to Goku, and then ran to Baba. "Will you take me to my husband?"
Enma-Daioh's palace fogged out and faded about her. When Bulma's vision cleared, she was standing in a dimly lit room. She'd been gone so long that it took her a moment to realize she was in the living room at Capsule Corp.
"You have twenty-four hours," Baba said. "Use your time wisely." She rose into the air and flew off.
Bulma rolled her eyes upward and could just catch a glimpse of her halo, glowing gently in the dark room without illuminating anything. A clock on the wall read 12:01.
"Twenty-four hours," she whispered.
Flickering blue light came from the adjoining TV room. Bulma followed the light and peered through the doorway. Trunks and his two youngest children, Spandex and Thong, were curled up on pillows, watching a movie. Bulma had another flash of deja vu, remembering Future Trunks lying in front of the TV so many years ago, waiting for a broadcast from Cell.
Bulma cleared her throat.
Trunks looked around and then jumped, literally, several feet in the air, and hovered there, his reflexes reacting before his brain caught up.
"Of course it's me," she said.
"Mom, you're ... young."
"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Bulma demanded snappishly. Then her frown faded and she spread her arms. "Don't you have a hug for your mother?"
Trunks ran over and pulled her tightly against him. "But ... I don't understand. You're dead, and the dragon balls are gone ..."
Bulma pointed over her head. Trunks followed her gaze to the halo.
"Oh! Just like Uncle Goku! Does that mean you have a day here?"
"Yes, that's exactly right."
The girls had gotten up off the pillows and were staring at her nervously. Spandex, who had been a scrawny teenager when Bulma last saw her, had filled out into a gorgeous young woman, very similar to her Aunt Bra but with long black hair. Thong had been only a baby, but she was growing into a pretty girl. She hid behind her sister.
"Come say hi to Grandma," Bulma said. She had to explain about her "miraculous" return before Spandex would come near her; the girl seemed convinced that Bulma was actually some sort of alien enemy. Thong jumped happily into her arms, however. They spent a few minutes catching up on the events of the past few years, and then Bulma looked up at the clock, which read 12:35. She had decided not to tell Trunks what Goku had told her about Vegeta, but she was very aware of her precious time slipping away.
"Where's your father?"
"I'm ... not sure." Trunks's happy demeanor slipped away. "I'll tell you the truth, Mom: we've been worried about Dad lately. He hasn't quite been the same since you ... died. I mean, for a while Bra and I thought that maybe he didn't care much at all, because we never saw him cry or seem to grieve. But I think he's been torn up inside. Lately he's spending most of his time by himself. He never even looks at the kids anymore." He frowned. "I'm sorry to have to tell you that, Mom."
"I'd rather know," Bulma said gently.
Trunks concentrated for a moment. "I feel his ki a few hundred miles from here. He's probably training. That's the only thing he really does anymore, but he doesn't use the gravity chamber; I think it reminds him too much of you."
"Can you take me to him?"
Trunks nodded. "Hey girls ... you'll have to tell me how the movie turns out, huh?"
The girls giggled and nodded. Trunks took his mother in his arms, and swooped out a window with her. Bulma relaxed, trusting him. She could have flown herself, but nowhere near as quickly, and she would not have been able to pinpoint her husband's ki, either.
They flew across the dark landscape. "Bra's birthday party is tomorrow night, Mom," Trunks said, breaking the silence. "Everyone from both families will be there. It's nice timing that you're here now; you'll be able to see everyone!"
"Oh, Son, you sneak," Bulma said under her breath. Sometimes Goku could be amazingly thoughtful.
"What's that, Mom?"
"Oh, nothing. Nothing."
They flew until fields and houses gave way to trees, and trees gave way to mountains and desert. What a bleak place, Bulma thought, shivering. Is this where Vegeta spends all his time now? No wonder he's growing so cold.
A sudden explosion made her jump in Trunks's arms. Off to their left, a mountaintop crumbled in a cascade of dust and flying rocks.
"Yep, there's Dad." Trunks slowed, a golden glow suffusing him as he let his ki flare up to alert his father to his presence.
Now Bulma could see a glowing figure above them. It slowly descended to the pile of rubble that had been a mountaintop until just a few minutes ago. The light flared out as Vegeta changed from Supersaiyan into his normal state.
Trunks landed behind him. In the darkness, Bulma could just make out the spikes of her husband's hair, illuminated by starlight.
"Hey ... dad?"
"You are not wanted here," Vegeta said softly, without turning around. "Go away, brat."
Bulma felt a shiver run through her. Even his voice sounds more like it used to ... "Vegeta?" she said.
Vegeta's whole body flinched. "What game is this?" he asked coldly, turning his head. And froze. Bulma stood still, her heart in her throat. For just a minute, the surge of fury in Vegeta's eyes choked her with fear. He really thinks it's a trick ... Kami, what if he destroys me without thinking ...
"Dad ..." Trunks said warningly.
Bulma forced herself into action. She pointed at the halo over her head. "Honestly, Vegeta, I can see you're still the same dense Saiyan you always were, better at fighting than thinking. Don't you see that? I'm just like Son-kun at the tournament. I'm back for a day."
Vegeta simply stared at her.
"Trunks, could you go back to Capsule Corp.?" Bulma asked.
He hesitated. "Mom ... will you be okay?"
Things really had changed, if Trunks was afraid that Vegeta might hurt her. He'd always idolized his father. Bulma's heart gave a painful twinge. "Yes. It'll be okay. Go on."
Trunks nodded, and gave her another quick hug before rising into the air. He flashed off to the east, and was gone.
Bulma and Vegeta were left alone on the mountaintop.
"It is really you. Your ki," he said quietly, all tense control, as always.
Bulma was not so bound by pride, and she ran across the treacherous rubble, slipping and twisting her ankle in the process a sprain she'd feel for days, even in the afterlife, but at the time, she felt nothing. She only wanted to put her arms around Vegeta. She was afraid he would pull away, but slowly, oh so slowly, he relaxed into her embrace.
He was so thin, nothing but bones and rock-hard muscle. "Oh, Vegeta, my self-reliant Saiyan prince," she whispered. "How could you let my death break you up so badly? What's wrong with you?"
Vegeta hmphed, his face buried in her hair. "You overestimate your own importance, Woman," he grumbled, but the tight grip of his arms around her body gave the lie to his rough words.
They made love on the mountaintop, under the stars. It lasted a long, long time. When they were finished, they lay curled up against each other, dozing, until the sun began to rise.
Bulma sat up and started pulling on her clothes. She'd taken to wearing a jumpsuit again in the afterlife; it was practical for her heavy, dirty work, and she didn't have to worry about dressing nicely now that she was no longer president of Capsule Corp. Some aspects of her youthful vanity had been left behind along with youth. Encountering an edge of folded paper in one of the pockets, she took it out and looked at it.
"What's that?" Vegeta asked from behind her.
Bulma turned her head. He was lovely to her in the early morning light and far too thin; she'd have to make sure that he ate something before she left.
"It's something Son-kun gave me for you."
Vegeta tensed, and sat forward, his dark eyes eager and alive. "You saw Kakarrot in the afterlife?"
Bulma hesitated. How much to say? But she realized that, while she might conceal things from Trunks, she had no right to keep them from Vegeta. So she told him, briefly, about the past few years: about waiting for him in the afterlife, and getting her body back; about Goku's penance for misusing the dragon balls, and the sacrifice he'd made to come warn her about Vegeta.
When she finished speaking, she looked over at her husband. Vegeta was staring off at the distant horizon. "Sounds like something that idiot would do," he murmured.
"And he gave me this letter, to give to you," Bulma said. She handed it over.
Vegeta hesitated, the wind fluttering the paper in his hands. Bulma could see the muscles in his hands tense. She could see his desire to just open his hand and let the paper flutter away in the wind. Then he carefully unfolded and read it.
Though Goku had stopped her from reading the letter in the afterlife, he'd never specifically said that she wasn't to read it, and from the place where she was sitting, she just had to lean a little bit to read Goku's sloppy, imprecise handwriting.
I know you want to let go of everything. Don't do it.
It might seem like the easiest way, but it never is. Do you remember Babidi and everything that happened then? I know it's painful to remember those times, but sometimes you have to, in order to remind yourself of what you fought for, and won.
Your children love you and need you, and your wife is waiting for you in the afterlife. I'll take care of her and protect her as best I can, but it's you she really needs. You know she will wait as long as she needs to wait for you.
Son-kun you stubborn dolt, Bulma thought; as if I need protecting as if you could protect me from where you are! Honestly.
Your pride and inner strength has always been a credit to our race, my prince. The demons within you cannot beat you without your consent. Don't let them win.
You know that I trust you to do what's right, even if it's hard. I have always admired your ability to do that, in spite of the burdens of your past.
I am looking forward to seeing you again, and sparring with you again.
Your friend, Kakarrot
Vegeta's hand trembled on the piece of paper, crumpling its edges. He turned his face away from Bulma, and stayed that way for a long time. Once he raised his hand to his face. She wondered if he was crying, and didn't know what to do. Somehow she sensed that she should leave him alone.
Finally he folded the paper very carefully, and tucked it into a pocket of his jeans. Then he turned to Bulma with a faint, but genuine, smile on his lips, and held out a hand to her.
"What would you like to do for your last day on Earth, Woman ... Bulma?" he asked.
Bulma took his hand. "I think I would like to see more of it. All of it. With you."
Vegeta lifted her gently, and they took off.
If time in the afterlife seemed to pass in a golden haze, then that day was a whirlwind of sights, smells, and memories. They didn't see the entire world, but they saw much of it. From a deserted seacoast, where they made love again in the sand, to an amusement park where they ate ice cream while Vegeta made disparaging comments about the "morons" around them; from zoos to forests, wheat fields to polar icecaps, from cities where Bulma (who had missed shopping in the afterlife) bought whatever she wanted with a Capsule Corp. credit card and then gave it all away to whatever neighborhood kids happened to be handy, to little farming villages where they left the townspeople scratching their heads in confusion; the two of them circled the world. And not just once, but twice that day, she got to hear something she'd never heard before: Vegeta's laughter, happy and devoid entirely of anger or sarcasm.
That evening they attended Bra's birthday party and Bulma was reunited with Gohan, Goten, Marron, #18 and the rest of the people she had known in life. They chatted and giggled and ate birthday cake. Bulma didn't notice when Vegeta slipped away and disappeared. Finally, though, she looked at a clock and was shocked to see that it read 11:45.
Quickly she said her goodbyes to everyone, reassuring them that they would all be reunited after they died, and asked Gohan to pinpoint Vegeta's ki for her. He was upstairs. So she waved to them all, and slipped up the stairs.
Vegeta was sitting in the bedroom that the two of them had once shared, bent over Bulma's old work desk in the corner. He looked up when she entered, and gave her a fleeting half-smile.
"I have to go," Bulma said quietly.
"I know." Vegeta rose. "Tell me, Woman. Do you think you'll see Kakarrot again when you go back?"
"I don't know." She thought it was unlikely, but then, with Goku you never knew.
"If you do see him, give him this for me." He pressed a folded piece of paper into her hand.
Bulma smiled and tucked it away. "I will."
She put her arms around him, kissed him and then just held him, until a familiar voice behind her said, "Touching as this is, it's time for you to leave."
"Go away, old woman, or I'll blast you into my future son's dimension," Vegeta snapped. He laid his cheek against the top of Bulma's head, then pushed her away, gently but firmly.
"I'll see you after you die," Bulma told him. "And I hope I won't see you soon, you know." She smiled.
The corners of his mouth twitched. "See you later, Woman."
Bulma rose into the air, following Baba, through the open doors to her balcony and out into the night sky. She didn't dare look back. She was afraid that if she saw him once more, she'd start to cry, and she didn't want that.
After they had flown high enough that Vegeta could not possibly see her, she took out the piece of paper and unfolded it. After all, it might be a long time before I see Son-kun again, and I might lose it, and then I'd have to give Vegeta's message to him in person.
First, protecting my mate is well and good, but if you touch her in a way you shouldn't, I will hunt you down and kill you, regardless of whether or not you're already dead.
Second, I don't need your help and I don't need you to tell me what to do.
Third, I am insulted that you believe I would not protect this world to the best of my abilities. This is my home. Its people are my people.
Fourth, regardless of this "penance" my mate talks about, if you are not there when I arrive in the afterlife (regardless of when that may be) I intend to track you down and drag you back. No dragon is going to rob me of my chance to defeat you, third-class traitor.
And last, Kakarrot, I do not know how I can thank you or repay you for this. But whatever you need, whether or not it is within my power to give, I swear by my birthright as a member of the Royal House of Vegeta that I will try.
Vegeta, Prince of Vegeta-sei
And there, high above the Earth where she could not be seen by anyone but Baba, Bulma Briefs did begin to cry.
She had herself more or less under control when she landed in Enma-Daioh's palace. She was amazed to see that Goku was still there, sitting on the edge of Enma-Daioh's desk and chatting with him. Seeing her, he stood up and waved, and floated to the floor.
"It went good, huh?" Goku said, beaming at her.
"It went very good." Bulma flung her arms around him. "You're a wonderful friend, Son. I'm glad Vegeta and I have a friend like you." She handed him the letter. "This is from Vegeta. Open it in private."
He nodded and took it. "I guess I'll see you around, Bulma."
"Goodbye, Son-kun. And thanks again. Don't let that dragon work you too hard."
Goku smiled, touched his fingers to his forehead and teleported away.
Bulma went back to her lab, and the work that awaited her.
Despite her joy at seeing her family again and her conviction that, this time, things would work out for the best Bulma found it harder to adjust to being alone again. She went through periods of depression when she was sure that her plans would all fail, and after all this she'd miss Vegeta somehow, and he'd be sent to hell and reincarnated in a new body and lost to her forever. She also experienced bouts of desperate loneliness when she thought she'd go crazy without someone to talk to. The onis had come to like her they seemed to regard the odd human female as some sort of amusing pet but they were no replacement for her family and friends.
The job that Enma-Daioh thought would take her all eternity, entering data into the computer, was actually finished almost sixty years to the day from the time she began. Once everything was running smoothly and bug-free, she brought him to look at it. Along with its necessary cooling apparatus, the machine filled the whole closet, like an old-time Earth mainframe on a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk giant's scale. Bulma had had to move her living quarters and base of operations to another closet.
"I don't know about this," Enma-Daioh said. "Can this machine be trusted to keep accurate records?"
"It's more accurate than your onis, Enma-Daioh-sama," Bulma said, to a chorus of protests from the gathered demons. "It will never make a human error, and it always checks its data as it copies, to make sure there are no mistakes. I can set up a terminal on your desk, if you'd like to give it a try."
With extreme reluctance, he agreed ...
... and a few months after that, visitors to Enma-Daioh's palace who had been there in the past would be amazed at the changes. Gone were the piles of paperwork and the onis with clipboards. In their place was a massive terminal on Enma-Daioh's desk with a keyboard, mouse and printer, and onis with PDAs and laptops instead of clipboards. The dead were processed twice as fast. The onis were worried about being put out of work, but instead, there was plenty of new work keeping the computer running and expanding. The afterlife's first class of oni computer programmers and electrical engineers graduated from an informal school taught by Bulma, and gradually computer literacy spread through the palace's staff. Even the cooks wanted to use the new computer for cataloguing recipes.
Bulma herself was a bit concerned that her depression and loneliness would return now that her master project was finished, but even after the onis were trained and running the computer themselves, she continued to find new things to build. She invented a capsulation process that could encapsulate living beings without harming them which Bulma was sure could revolutionize space travel, except for the obvious problem that she could never share it with anyone on Earth, since she couldn't return to Earth. She also built a host of other little gadgets to make her closet-lab more comfortable and to assist the onis in their day-to-day activities.
The years and the decades went by ...
Bulma received frequent visitors now, since almost everyone she knew was in the afterlife. Gohan, Goten and Trunks had kept their bodies, like Yamcha and Kuririn, and now lived on Kaio-sama's world, although from the reports she heard, there was a lot more goofing off than actual training. Everyone else was in heaven. Occasionally Chi-Chi, Videl or Bra would ask her when she was coming to stay, and Bulma always gave them the same answer: When Vegeta comes.
She also found herself wondering about Goku. It had been a lot more than a hundred years. Pan, who had recently died, told her that she'd seen Goku, or thought she had, at the last Tenkaichi Budokai that she'd attended, which made Bulma wonder if he could be gallivanting around the universe and had just forgotten to inform his family. Somehow, she would not have been surprised.
She also learned from Videl that Gohan had been occasionally visiting hell. This shocked Bulma until Videl told her that that's where Piccolo was which was also a bit of a surprise, though Bulma realized that she had completely forgotten to wonder what happened to the Namekian after his death on Earth. According to Videl, Piccolo was now in charge of hell and had completely remodeled it. "Gohan says there's no sulfur and brimstone anymore. It's all very modern and up to date. Oh, I mean, there's still plenty of punishment for the bad people, but Gohan says that Piccolo is mainly interested in redeeming them rather than hurting them. He says he knows from personal experience that it's possible. Piccolo's been doing a lot more reincarnations and apparently has a very good success rate."
Bulma was happy to hear it (though she politely declined Videl's offer to come along on her and Gohan's next vacation in hell) but she wondered what that would mean for Vegeta's fate. If Piccolo was reincarnating people rather than punishing them, then maybe she would lose Vegeta after all. On the other hand, Piccolo was an old friend of Goku's and Gohan's, so he might be willing to be lenient with Vegeta.
The years went by in the afterlife ...
... and the years went by on Earth, too.
Mortality. Vegeta found himself reflecting on it more often as time went by. Saiyans were naturally long-lived, but in practice, it was uncommon for them to live out their full lifespan. The average Saiyan lifespan was close to that of a human being. He could only remember seeing a couple of old Saiyans in his childhood, and in human terms, they were really just past middle age. He wondered how long a Saiyan could actually live. He wondered if he'd find out ... and if he wanted to.
Almost everyone he'd known in his youth was now dead. Strange to think that he'd once wanted it that way. He even found himself missing people he'd never expected to miss ... Kuririn, Yamcha ... Tenshinhan ... Piccolo ... The Namekian in particular he might have been friends with, though he didn't think he had become aware of it until Piccolo was gone. He felt that of the non-Saiyans in his life, Piccolo might have understood him the best. Fellow members of the Kakarrot Arch-Nemesis Support Group, he thought, his lips twisting in a wry grin.
His children died, and Kakarrot's children died, and one by one, their grandchildren died and their great-grandchildren grew old. He'd never imagined how short a human or demi-human lifespan could seem.
There were times when he was still tempted to throw it all away to abandon the Earth, and its constant reminders of everything that he'd lost; to take one of the spaceships that were commonplace on Earth now, and fly somewhere far, far away ... maybe even to return to the lifestyle he'd left behind so long ago, as a plunderer of worlds.
When those darker urges came on him, and there was no Bulma, Trunks or Bra to look at and remind him of the things he fought for now, he'd reach into the pocket where he carried a letter: falling apart, taped together so many times that the original paper could hardly be seen, so faded that the words could no longer be read. But he didn't have to read them; they were imprinted forever in his mind and heart.
What eventually killed him was just a freak accident. He was sparring with #18, the only person left on Earth who could still fight him on anything approaching his level. It had taken #18 many years to recover from the old-age deaths of her husband and daughter, but once she had begun to take interest in living again, she'd proven to be a very able fighter with a quick ability to learn new techniques and add her own variations. Vegeta had recently taught her a new multiple-burst ki attack, and she was trying it out on him. Dodging the ki blasts, he didn't notice until too late that #18 was rebounding them off a cliff face behind him. The barrage hit him from the back. Normally, it should not have penetrated his shields, but after years and years of having no real opponents to fight, he'd gotten too sloppy about keeping his guard up.
He fell, trailing blood, and #18 caught him, horrified. "Vegeta, I'm so sorry! I'll take you to Karin's Tower ... we'll get senzu beans ..."
Vegeta struggled to shake his head. "No ... don't think I'd make it that far ..."
He gasped and choked on his own blood. #18 landed and knelt with her former enemy, now her friend, in her arms. "Maybe I could take you to a hospital ..."
Vegeta shook his head. "I've been the last ... of my kind ... for a long, long time. I ... don't mind this. In a way ..." A coughing fit overtook him, and when it faded, his face was white, his eyes slightly glazed. He struggled to focus on her. "You ... have given me a gift. I am growing old, and I would far rather die in battle than in a bed somewhere. A true Saiyan death ..."
His eyes closed and he slumped against her. Gently, #18 laid him down and stood looking at him as his perpetual scowl slowly relaxed in death, until he looked almost peaceful. She looked at the gray streaks in his hair, the lines in his face, and touched her own unlined face and straight blond hair.
"Death in battle," she said softly. "... the only kind I will ever know." She looked up at the sky, and a slight smile touched her lips.
"Kuririn, Marron ... my family ... I know you're waiting for me up there. I am looking forward to joining you someday, but not quite yet. I seem to be the last defender of the Earth and I will do my best to protect it. For you."
She launched herself into the air in a blaze of ki, and flew to tell the descendants of the Briefs family of their patriarch's death.
Bulma had waited for this day for longer than a human lifespan, and when it finally came, she almost missed it.
She was off in the records room looking for some old files that had somehow either failed to be added to the computer in the original programming, or had been accidentally erased by an over-zealous oni. "Honestly, 200 B.C.," she muttered, scanning the faded labels on the drawers. "Why does he need records from 200 B.C. anyway? Whose family could possibly be so important that he'd have to trace it that far back? What a hassle."
"Mrs. Briefs!" The call echoed down the seemingly endless rows of file cabinets. "Mrs. Briefs, are you back here?"
"I'm here!" Bulma called. She took out another of her inventions, a sort of afterlife GPS that she'd invented to find her way around the records room after once getting lost and wandering around for two months, nearly starving to ... whatever happened to dead people who starved to death. Soon she was back at the door, to be greeted by a nervous, breathless oni.
"Mrs. Briefs! That person that you've been waiting for he's here! But he was almost to Enma-Daioh's office ... he might've been sorted by now ..."
Bulma dropped the GPS and flew faster than she'd ever flown, back to the sorting room. She skidding to a halt, panting, and scanned the rows of waiting souls. Nowhere was there a familiar spiky head. Bulma fell to her knees in despair.
"No, it can't be ... I've waited so long ..."
"What are you crying about, Woman?"
Bulma looked up. Vegeta was sitting on the edge of Enma-Daioh's desk, smirking at her.
"Oh you! Wipe that look off your face before I wipe it off for you!"
She flew up to join him. "Vegeta! You've still got your body, too!" She looked up at Enma-Daioh. "Oh, thank you!"
Enma-Daioh looked down at the small human female with something approaching fondness. Though he'd never admit it, even for the judge of the afterlife, it was impossible to share your living space with another creature for a hundred and fifty years without developing some affection for it.
"You'll be happy to know that the rules have changed somewhat in the last century," he said. "The current demon-lord of hell whom I believe you know apparently recognizes that a person's deeds in their past are not necessarily an indication of their soul's present condition or capacity for evil. In short: people change, and this is now taken into account, to a much greater extent than was true in the past."
"Which means?" Vegeta grunted, frowning.
"Which means that you've become the second Saiyan in history to be sorted into heaven. Congratulations. Are you both ready to go?"
"Oh, yes!" Bulma cried.
"The second," Vegeta grumbled. "I can just guess who the first one was. It never ends, does it, Kakarrot?"
"... and finally, at last, you'll be gone," Enma-Daioh sighed with relief. "He's stuck with you for the rest of eternity, and we can all get some peace." Then he looked down at Bulma and added, "...I don't suppose that if we have any problems with this newfangled thing ... that you might be willing to ..."
"I'd love to come back and visit," Bulma said, smiling.
"Just to make repairs, of course. As long as that's clear." Enma-Daioh hit a key on the computer.
Bulma put her hand on Vegeta's arm. As the two of them vanished, Vegeta said, "Say, Woman, I don't remember seeing a computer the last time I was here ..."
**Epilogue: Eternal Warriors**
In the vastness of heaven, it took Bulma and Vegeta some time to find their families ... not that they were looking very hard at first. When they did find them, in the middle of one of the giant fields of flowers that seemed to abound here (which Vegeta was constantly making snarky comments about), a party appeared to be going on.
"What's up, guys?" Bulma asked, sidling up behind Trunks. Then she saw who was at the center of the whole affair. "Hey Son-kun!"
Trunks nodded, grinning. "Uncle Goku's back. He's been back for a while. Hi, Mom. I knew you'd make it up here eventually." He hugged her. "Dad," he said, nodding to his father. Only the sparkle in his eyes revealed his happiness and relief at Enma-Daioh's decision to send his father up ... rather than down.
Vegeta nodded back to his son. "Come along, Woman. You can visit later." He rose into the air and Bulma followed. They landed in front of Goku and Chi-Chi.
"Hey, Bulma, Vegeta!" Goku said cheerfully. "Bulma, when did you learn to fly?"
Bulma raised her head haughtily. "You've been gone a long time, Son! Don't make the mistake of thinking that you Saiyans are the only ones who can learn ki-tricks."
Goku grinned. "Hey, I could teach you to Kameham" He caught Vegeta's horrified look. "ehaaaaaaa ..." He trailed off. "Never mind, probably not a good idea." He smiled at Vegeta. "Hey, Vegeta! Long time no see. How are you?"
"Dead," Vegeta said. "You?"
"Mostly?" Vegeta echoed.
"Well, yeah." Goku laughed and put his hand behind his head, the old familiar gesture. "It's kinda hard to explain. I'll tell you about it later."
"Yes, well, you realize that we have something to do first, Kakarrot," Vegeta said, cracking his knuckles.
Goku laughed and adopted a fighting stance. "Have you been training hard, Vegeta?"
"Training hard? You have no idea! Do you know I can go Supersaiyan Four now, Kakarrot?" He glared warily at Goku. "You haven't reached the fifth level, have you?"
"No. Is there a fifth level?"
"I don't know," Vegeta admitted, then bristled. "But if there is, I intend to get there first."
Goku grinned wildly and rose into the air. "Show me what new tricks you've learned, Vegeta! And I'll show you mine!"
"You're on!" Vegeta flew up after him.
"Goku! Goku!" Chi-Chi yelled after him. She was completely ignored. "What is wrong with those two men?" she appealed to Bulma.
"I'm not entirely sure," Bulma admitted, smiling at her friend. "But I don't think we'd want them any other way, would we?"
After greeting her old friends, Bulma found herself yearning for solitude. A hundred and fifty years of being essentially alone had affected her more than she'd realized. Leaving the others talking and laughing, she went to lie down on a grassy hilltop, hands crossed behind her head. The sky overhead was blue, tinged with golden light. As Bulma lay looking up at it, a shockwave spread from horizon to horizon, followed by a sonic boom.
Bulma laughed. Heaven had no idea what it was in for, having two full-blooded Saiyan rivals cooped up in it. Goku and Vegeta were moving too fast for her untrained eyes to see, but every once in a while she caught a glimpse of them when they'd pause to rest or regroup. And one thing was amply evident to her in those brief glimpses: both of them were utterly, completely happy.
Peace is nice, but Saiyans sure do love to fight.
Some time later (she wasn't quite sure how long; heaven was even more timeless than Enma-Daioh's palace), the two combatants drifted down to land on her hilltop. Both of them were panting and covered with bruises and blood. Bulma propped herself up on her elbows, smirking at them.
"Well, I hope you two are happy. You do realize there are no senzu beans up here, don't you?"
Goku grinned through the blood of a split lip. "I can go get some."
"No, you can't, Kakarrot, you fool," Vegeta retorted. "We're dead, remember? We can't go back to the Earth. Not even you can."
Goku shook his head. "No, that's where you're wrong. You remember, I said I was mostly dead. I didn't die in the same sense as if I'd been killed outright. I still have my body, and it's alive. I'm fully corporeal, here or on Earth." He touched his fingers to his forehead. "Back in a minute!" He vanished.
"Oh, that's great," Vegeta growled, sitting carefully down on the grass, dripping blood. "Is there anything I'll ever manage to do that he can't? Not only does he have immortality now, but he's apparently some kind of minor god."
Goku reappeared, fully healed, and tossed a senzu bean to Vegeta, who crunched it up thoughtfully. After a moment, the prince said, "The dragonballs are back now, right, Kakarrot?"
"Yes," Goku said. "But I asked Dende to power them down ... a lot. They can no longer do what they could once do. Minor miracles only ... and in the century that they were gone, the legends have been mostly forgotten. Hopefully, we will never have to contend with an evil Shenlong again."
"Ah," Vegeta said, and continued to stare off at the horizon, sitting on the grass beside Bulma. After a moment, Goku sat down on his other side.
"What are you thinking, Vegeta?"
"What I'm thinking ..." Vegeta said, "... is that you're the defender of the Earth once again, aren't you, Kakarrot? You said yourself that you can be there or here."
Goku nodded. "I think in general, it's better to let the humans resolve their own problems. But if the Earth ever needed me, I'd be there."
"But I couldn't," Vegeta said. He waved his arm around him. "I'm stuck up here, surrounded by flowers. Does that sound like any kind of fate for the prince of the Saiyan race?"
"Would you rather be in hell?" Bulma demanded, punching his arm.
Vegeta's mouth twisted. "No ... but I'm not so sure about eternity up here, either. I'm thinking that there's something ..." He looked away from Goku. "There's a ... I suppose what I'm saying is ..."
Goku grinned. "You want me to do you a favor. You want me to go to New Namek and ask them to use their dragonballs to bring you back."
Vegeta gritted his teeth, but he nodded. "And immortality, while you're at it. Not for the reasons I used to want it ... to get stronger ... I just want to be able to defend the Earth."
Bulma spun to stare at him. "WHAT? After ALL THAT? Do you realize I waited for a hundred and fifty years for you, you jerk?"
Vegeta reached out to her, and hesitantly touched her arm. "Bulma ..." he said, with unusual diffidence, trying to ignore Goku who appeared to be listening intently. "I don't know what to tell you. I'm a Saiyan, a warrior. The Saiyan concept of heaven was a place where you fight constantly, growing ever stronger. Not a field of flowers. I don't think I can spend eternity here, even with you."
Bulma crossed her arms. "Well, then. It's perfectly obvious what I have to do. I just wish you'd figured this out a hundred and fifty years ago, but no matter."
Bulma turned to Goku. "When you go to New Namek, please ask Porunga to bring me back and give me immortality too. If it takes more wishes than he has, then we can wait on the immortality thing ... but not too long; I don't want to be immortal and old."
"Bulma, don't be rash," Vegeta said. "This is your afterlife, your heaven. You lived a long life and you've earned it."
Bulma snorted. "Idiot. Do you really think I'd be happy in heaven? Nothing is broken here. There's nothing to fix."
"But you died of natural causes, Bulma," Goku said. "The dragon can't bring you back."
Bulma smiled at him. "Shenlong can't, no. But Porunga can. I asked Dende one time, when my folks were getting old, if Porunga had the same limitation, and Dende told me he didn't. As it turned out, Mom and Dad asked to not be brought back ... and they seem very happy here, so I guess we did the right thing. But if someone on Earth could make the request ..." She looked pointedly at Goku. "I could come back, too."
"I don't know about this." Goku looked at Vegeta, who looked at Bulma, and sighed. The faintest of grins appeared on his lips.
"Kakarrot, you might not have lived with my mate as long as I did, but you knew her first, so you should surely know how impossible it is to argue with her. Apparently she even bullied Enma-Daioh. I don't think you or I stand a chance."
Goku grinned, and then laughed. "I think you're right."
Bulma glared at the two of them. "I don't think I like your tone." Then she smiled. "But I'm glad that's settled. Imagine how useful I can be to you two, and how much I can still do on the Earth! I wouldn't be happy up here without a lab." She leaned over, and slipped her arm around Vegeta's waist and somewhat to her surprise, he did not object.
"Should I go now?" Goku asked. "I'll need to visit Kaioshin-Kai, and have Kaiobito take me. I can't teleport to New Namek by myself."
Bulma looked up at him. "You know ... there's no need to rush it. I mean, Vegeta and I just got here, and you may be able to teleport back and forth, but once we leave, we'll have to rely on you for news of our kids. There is no hurry. We've got all eternity to do this. Let's relax a little first, and enjoy having the whole group back together. You can give Chi-Chi some undivided attention for a change, and we can have some time with the kids and grandkids before you big strong Saiyan men go back to being the defenders of the Earth."
Goku grinned at her. "Let's do that, Bulma." He flopped down on his back in the grass. Something in his gi was poking at him; he reached in and brought out a letter, very old, very faded, very patched together took a look at it, smiled and put it away. If either of the other two noticed the little byplay, they said nothing about it.
Bulma snuggled against Vegeta's arm.
"Myself and Kakarrot, eternal defenders of Earth," Vegeta sighed. "If anyone had been dumb enough to suggest it when I first arrived on Earth, I would've incinerated them."
Goku grinned up at him from the grass. "Then it's a good thing you've changed, isn't it, Vegeta?"
Vegeta glanced down at the top of Bulma's blue head, at her arm curled around his waist something he would never have permitted in public before her death. His gaze roved to Trunks and Bra, chatting happily with their own children among the field of flowers. Then he looked back at Goku his enemy, his partner, his best friend.
"Yes, Kakarrot," he said. "It is a good thing."