The Things He Can Do
By Jane Lebak

Poised against the balcony railing, Vegeta breathed the strangely cold air while watching the sunset. After the supercharged atmosphere of the wasteland, ionized by Cell's power until it had a bitter taste, this coolness acted like a tonic. Nothing about the chill excited the heart or surged the adrenaline. Instead末just chill. Just somebody's mother harping at her son to put on a sweater.

Vegeta felt his body breathing as though that were the only activity he'd ever have to do again. For the past two hours he'd tried末tried with Saiyan determination末not to think.

Behind him, the veranda door glided open, then shut again. A tentative cat穆tep made it clear the visitor was Bulma.

"Mom saw you return. And then you didn't come in." She kept her distance. He felt his skin crawl at the thought of her touch against his arm, but the touch didn't come. "Is it over?"

"It's over."

Bulma said, "Did Goku末 How did it happen?"

She had no faith in him. Apparently she never had. And damn it, why would she have? For about an hour, he'd been the strongest creature in the universe, and then he'd told Cell to go ahead and leave him behind. What a stupid, stupid末 If he'd killed Cell then, everyone would have fallen at his feet. Trunks would have stood there like his idiot self just beaming, saying that's my dad, as if Vegeta even cared what Trunks thought. Instead everyone had been left walking around saying Vegeta's pride was at it again and look how Vegeta nearly destroyed the earth for a second time.

Who cared about this backwater planet, anyhow? He ought to take that ship standing in the courtyard and just be gone. What was left for him here now? It didn't matter what they thought. He had plenty of options. Just because he wasn't the single strongest in the universe didn't mean that there weren't a dozen or more planets who would believe he was.

He would know, of course.

Bulma said again, "Tell me what happened. All I know from the radio is that egotistical wrestler is taking the credit."

Vegeta barked a startled laugh. "What? Cell pasted him into the side of a mountain, and it was all that maggot could do not to wet his pants for the rest of the fight!"

Bulma said, "Did you fight?"

Vegeta took a deep breath. "Kakarrot is dead."

He heard her gasp. He'd never know if she gasped like that when he died末if he ever did die, and if she found out about it afterward. She said, "But末 And you killed Cell?"

"Kakarrot's son killed Cell."


She at least had the decency to sound shocked. He turned to find her eyes wide, her mouth slack. "Vegeta What happened? What about everyone else? Why are you back alone?"

"They went to the lookout. They're going to use the Dragon to revive everyone." He forced himself to meet her eyes. "Trunks is dead."

This time he did have to step toward her as the color drained from her face, because just the sight of her bloodless lips, her non謀istanced stare, her obvious faintness末she'd have fallen if he hadn't. He gripped her shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. "We didn't realize it would happen. We thought Kakarrot had taken him out when he末when he left, but Cell returned. He fired from a cloud, and he struck Trunks. And I末"

She didn't register the way he trailed off. Her voice emerged thinly. "They'll末 They'll be able to revive him, won't they? He's not from here. There's no dragon in his time. Maybe they can't末"

As if she couldn't help herself, she embraced him, pressing her face into his shoulder. "Oh, poor Trunks, poor kid... You smell like smoke." She looked up at him. "You're all ripped up too. I'm scared. This doesn't make sense. Goku's dead? And Gohan fought Cell?"

He'd already said as much. He turned a little and stared off into the cold air, the angry red sunlight almost forgotten by the sky.

For a long time they stood locked together, he letting her hold him more than holding her himself. With her eyes shut, Bulma kept her face pressed against Vegeta's neck. He couldn't tell if she cried. The air grew chillier, and she tucked herself tighter into the heat of his arms.

A faint power surged into the air. Vegeta faced north and opened his senses. He could find Gohan's unsettled power, Piccolo's restrained force, and the faint signatures of the humans who'd tagged along. He could feel the Dragon. And shortly末

"Trunks is back."

Bulma's grasp tightened on his shoulders, and he felt her nod against him.

After a moment, Vegeta added, "Kakarrot isn't."

"I didn't think he would be. We revived him once before."

"They'll go to the Nameks. They'll use that dragon."

Again she nodded against his chest.

Vegeta kept his senses trained north. Trunks' signature had flickered for the first moments, but rapidly it surged up to the regular dancing flame he'd come to expect. Like Gohan, the boy was easy enough to identify even from this distance because of his inherited hybrid power. The moment that final ember had died out from Trunk's spirit, when that spark had vanished after Vegeta had become so accustomed to it always ghosting at the peripheries of his life末just remembering it brought a metallic taste to his mouth. The living signature continued to rise and expand, and for a moment Vegeta wondered if he sensed it staring back at him.

He pushed Bulma off his chest and entered the building. His steps brought him through the corridors and up the hallway toward their rooms. He passed his own and continued toward the nursery. Quietly he entered and looked over the edge of the crib.

The natural light had faded to blue鉾rey by now, and Vegeta didn't click on the lamp. The baby lay on his back, his arms in a fencing position and his head turned toward one side. His chunky legs were bowed. He made the tiniest snoring sound Vegeta had ever heard.

He couldn't think of the last time he'd seen the boy in his crib. Bulma's family had glutted the room with toys and toys and toys. Her father had located every beeping, whistling, glowing, mind穆timulating product on the market. If advertisers claimed it enhanced the IQ, Dr. Briefs had ordered one for the nursery and one for the diaper bag. Bulma had even less restraint. With a brazen intuition, she'd banked right from the first day on the gender, and she'd done up the entire nursery in boy patterns, boy toys, boy僕ooking furniture, sports posters, and stuffed animals that invariably had their ravenous predatory teeth mortifyingly transformed to harmless plush.

Knowing what he did now about that mysterious super亡aiyan from the future, Vegeta believed Bulma had figured it out from the start.

Behind him, he heard a door open for the second time. He glanced toward the window, and his eyes fell on the small futon mattress there. He hated when the baby cried at night. He wanted her to teach him to stay quiet. He knew she took the baby into her bed to sleep when he wasn't around. What idiocy. Saiyan babies didn't even know their mothers, at least in the royal court. Maybe a third膨lass like Kakarrot would have been raised by his mother if he hadn't been weeded out and shipped off朴lanet. All this mother鉾oggling Trunks did couldn't possibly be good for him. When Vegeta told her to shut up the boy, she invariably came in here and slept with him on the futon. That kept the boy quiet, and while training, that had been all Vegeta cared about. Let her spoil the little larva if that's what she wanted. As long as she kept it out of his way.

Vegeta stepped toward the window and stopped at the edge of the futon. He lay down.

She joined him, cuddled at his back, one arm wrapped over his left side as he lay on his right facing the wall. Her breath came gently against the small hairs at the base of his neck.

He'd promised her he'd protect her and the baby. She'd made him swear he'd grow strong enough to defeat those two androids. He hadn't even done that. Then when he could have done it末 But no, think about all that power! Think about breathing in the aura of Cell in his fullness! No one would ever experience that again in a lifetime. In two lifetimes. Heady with the immensity, he'd still known the singularity of this strength. He'd have to become as immortal as the Dragon to live long enough to taste an equal might, to plumb an energy so surging and so bottomless... Who could have let slip that chance? And hadn't it worked out? Kakarrot's son had produced a power even more exceptional in response末one the universe never would have seen without such an opponent to draw it forth. The planet had survived. Everyone had survived except Kakarrot, and him Vegeta had wanted to kill anyhow. He'd have done that next, now that they'd dispatched Cell.

But what Kakarrot had done, it was the ultimate defeat末but of Vegeta rather than himself. He'd died so unfairly. He just checked out, and fearlessly. Who was Vegeta now?

That last look back before he transported Cell and himself to certain death末 Vegeta felt himself shiver, and Bulma tucked closer to him in response. Even now he felt as he had in the desert as he hung in the air behind Piccolo like a rag謀oll with a peg in its back, limp穆houldered and breathless. It had taken effort to wipe the blood off his mouth. Piccolo had said something inane about bravery, as though he needed applause. Go to hell末he knew what he'd been. Reduced to a bystander, a gawker more able to fathom Cell's infinity than Kakarrot's sheer idiocy of giving his life just because everyone else was going to die anyhow. That moment could return to him in all its sensory completeness. He could recall the unstable power of Cell on the verge of self謀estruction, the stray grains of sand that had blown into his mouth, the scorched smell of burnt clothing, the broken cries of Gohan screaming like an eleven幌ear撲ld boy, the ragged harshness of Vegeta's own breathing末and then that half殆ink from Kakarrot as he flickered out of existence.

Was Kakarrot stupid? Or did he just love being useful?

One night early during their stay in the time chamber, Vegeta had sensed Trunks in trouble. The boy's power had dipped so dramatically that he'd gone to find him. He'd located Trunks unconscious and injured. Standing over the body, Vegeta considered. He couldn't be sure the time chamber would let him back in if he had to bring Trunks out for medical help. They had none of those healing beans the humans perpetually needed. Leaving him there wasn't a good option, so he'd hefted the boy's unconscious weight onto one shoulder and toted him back to the building at the entrance. Saiyans usually healed fine on their own once the beating stopped. As he had dropped the boy onto the bed, Trunks had opened his eyes. "Thanks." Vegeta had grunted something noncommittal and walked out. "Mom was right," Trunks had murmurred as he tried to sit up末tried, and failed. "When I asked about you, she said you could do the most amazing things."

Was that what had led her to him: the things he could do? Two years ago, Vegeta had contemplated the idea of Bulma. He'd planned on pilfering her away from Yamcha because that would make them take him seriously. He'd reflected that if he made her pregnant, he'd have some measure of permanency. No, that hadn't been why she'd turned away from Yamcha末that had been none of his doing末but he'd positioned himself as a handy replacement. Although the pregnancy came as a surprise, he'd been planning to separate her from her contraceptives anyhow, and he'd definitely wanted to make her pregnant. He'd just never wanted a baby. He'd wanted her, but he'd never wanted a lover or a girlfriend. He'd wanted to show them what he could do.

Instead, for the past three years he'd demonstrated what he couldn't do.

Couldn't defeat Freeza.

Couldn't demolish the androids.

Couldn't finish off Cell.

Couldn't save his own son.

Couldn't keep his cool when the battle demanded it.

Couldn't win a rematch against Kakarrot.

Couldn't do a damned thing.

No, he could do something. He could knock up a lonely woman on the rebound from a manipulative relationship. He could throw himself into the fight against Cell in a positive frenzy; then he could get himself injured badly enough that the universe's only hope of survival had to get in between and take the blast that should have killed him off. He could finally apologize and then not be taken at his word.

I'm sorry, Gohan. I am. Vegeta had never in his life lied to anyone. He'd been able to offer Gohan that much, at least.

He could do even more than that, though. He could yell at Bulma; he could thrust her an arm's length from him whenever she needed the most basic companionship; he could tell his own son that he worked alone and that any time they spent together was meaningless if it didn't advance their training. He could terrorize an infant and make the boy's mother sleep on a thin futon accompanied only by a thousand soulless toys he couldn't even name.

A prince of the Saiyans could do so much. Who wouldn't be proud of that heritage?

The darkness had settled fully over the room. Vegeta's breath grew more uneven the longer he thought, and he inched backward toward Bulma. This time she didn't respond. When he closed his eyes, he was almost back on battle field, feeling himself propelled toward Cell by an anger so powerful it would have taken apart the universe, a grief intense enough to throw him face貿irst into a battle before he'd even powered up and then not stop him until it had expended every burning drop of enraged fuel. He couldn't even breathe when it was spent. Every struggled gasp had sucked in the flying grit thrown up by the most scattered attack he'd made in his life. No末 That wasn't him. That was a madman. That was someone who had never learned to cry. I'll make sure he can't put himself together again. What stupid, desperate words. What a stupid, desperate man to say them.

He swallowed a few times. His throat hurt. It took a moment to find his voice, but finally he squeezed the small hand draped over his waist. He whispered, "I'm sorry, Bulma. I'm so sorry."

Asleep, she didn't answer. He let her rest against him, lying curled side by side in the dark like spoons in a drawer. He felt his body longing to twist to face hers, to grasp her with all his strength and lose himself in whatever devotion she still had for him. She could make him forget, a far more potent tonic than the cold air or dreams of power. He tamed the urge. She'd found the escape she needed from the strain of the past weeks, and he let her have it. In the end, that was all a Saiyan prince could do.

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