He was awakened by the sound of the computer as it alerted him to the close proximity of Gnoll. He was still about an hour and a half out, but in heavily trafficked areas that was better than being five minutes away. As he was nearing his destination, he contacted the space traffic controller on Gnoll to request a docking berth and a place in the arrival queue. The number he was given wasn't bad, but neither was it good. Since Gnoll was home to the famous Eona Luxury Resort, he was fortunate to have a chance to dock the same day he arrived in Gnollian space.
Well, it gave him time to sort out his affairs. As paperwork was the part he most hated about being in business for himself, he often put off doing it. Of course, any information on said business gave the impression that he ran simple transport operation. Smuggling was illegal, after all. And often for good reason.
On the job before the one that had taken him to MO-12, he'd transported live animals. Dangerous live animals, the kind that liked to eat people for lunch. While it had been fun to wrestle the giant carnivorous cats into steel cages large enough to hold a furian, it had been significantly less fun to hear them yowl from the small cargo hold the entire way to Amida. Because of this, he'd demanded a sizeable bonus from the client and had sworn to never transport the living ever again. Inanimate objects were no big deal and the dead were eternally silent. (And he would know since he'd transported quite a few dead bodies over the years. It wasn't his business to know what the client would do with the cadaver once it arrived and he was certain that he didn't want to know.)
As he was putting the finishing touches on the report, his ship's computer let him know that he had an incoming transmission. With a muttered curse, he told it to allow it on audio only and continued to work.
"Vegeta, engage the video. Now!"
His cursing became louder and more foul as soon as he recognized the distinctive, demanding voice of one Buruma Briefs. "What do you want now?" he asked, not bothering to obey her command.
"Is that any way to speak to a lady?" she asked.
"Well, when I see one, I'll be sure to ask. Did you contact me only to annoy me as usual? If so, I'm going to hang up on you. Again."
"Wait, Vegeta, I have something serious to talk to you about. Turn on the visual." There was a brief pause. "Please," she added.
It was so unusual to hear her politely request something, that he typed in the command to allow her head and shoulders to fill the small rectangular window of the communication console. Buruma's carefully made up face didn't do anything for him, not anymore. If anything, she had on more make-up than was attractive. Her blue-green hair was done up in intricate curls and twists and he could just barely see the top of a strapless green sequined evening gown.
"So..." he prompted.
Buruma bit her lip in nervousness. "I need you to come get Trunks," she finally blurted.
He looked up slowly from the document he was bent over and stared at the mother of his son. "You want me to what?"
"Come. Get. Trunks. He's impossible to control, Vegeta, and I probably have your Saiya-jin genetics to thank for that!"
"You can't handle one eleven-year-old boy? You?" He said this in a false wondering tone, knowing full well that she was ill-suited to raising children. Hell, most of the time she made her mother take care of him. Anyone would be a better parent than Buruma Briefs, even Satan himself.
Anyone except him, that is.
But did he really not mind his son growing up in the environment that Buruma would provide for him? Did he want him to feel as if he were only a burden? Vegeta understood what it felt like to know that your parent only kept you around out of duty, that love had never, ever been a part of the equation.
"Is he with you?" he asked finally.
"No, I'm on vacation on Gnoll. He's with Okaasan."
Gnoll. Great. "I'm headed there right now. We need to see a lawyer and have your guardianship rights signed over to me. I'm definitely going to need some sort of proof to go pick him up. You know your parents despise me."
"I don't think they despise you, just what you do for a living. Anyway, how does tomorrow sound? I have something to do later so today isn't good."
"So I can see. You go on ahead and enjoy your fancy party. I have a delivery to complete anyway. Tomorrow afternoon I'll contact you with the information you'll need to wash your hands of him."
She looked horrified at the way he'd worded what she was doing. "I'm not writing him off, Vegeta."
"Oh, really? You don't call signing him into my care because you don't want to deal with him anymore writing him off? What would you call it then, Buruma?" When she couldn't find anything to say in response, he nodded in a self-satisfied way. "I'll see you tomorrow." He then disconnected the transmission and let his head drop into his hands. What was he supposed to do with a kid? Beyond the occasional visit whenever he was near Amida, he'd never really spent any time with his son.
Well, there had to be books or vid discs or something he could purchase on Gnoll to help him. Even though the natives (called folicans) were green-skinned and possessed tentacles, they still had children. And they were no longer the only citizens on the planet. Once the intergalactic free trade and free travel agreements had been drawn up, just about every known inhabited settlement (whether planet or colony) had seen an influx of different species. The settlements that remained unaffected by the agreements had done so by choice. His homeworld, Vegeta, had been one of them.
He also had to think long and hard about whether or not he would keep up his business. With a kid along, his already-risky job would become infinitely more dangerous. God, he hated change. But sometimes change was necessary.
Once on Gnoll, he immediately searched for -- and found -- the nearest public access computer. Every civilized settlement had one for the usage of its citizens as well as for its guests. He performed a search query on family legal services and received quite a few results. After narrowing them down by using the keyword "human", he had a list of five. Since he was wary of just randomly picking one, he decided to make a trip to each office after his delivery was made.
Eona was everything he had heard it to be... and more. He could easily see why people would use their life savings for even a day or two at Eona. There were fountains and carefully-landscaped lawns everywhere. The resort boasted tennis courts, a large golf course, three swimming pools, a health spa and gym, and more. All he saw was the delivery entrance, but even that was opulent. The employee who met him at the back entrance recognized the name of his false shipping company (Intergal Express) on the sides of the crates and grinned.
"You're ahead of schedule, man," the felid said happily. His hair had been dyed an eye-searing orange that clashed horribly with his short brown fur. "We can start off-loading this stuff before the big bash tonight. There's gonna be so many people in a party mood that we'll probably sell out."
It wasn't at all unusual for people to receive illegal deliveries at their places of business. If they were caught, they could easily deny all knowledge of how the shipment came to be there. Though sweetgrass wasn't illegal to smoke on Gnoll, it was illegal to bring any onto the planet or grow it and therein lay the conundrum that most who wished to obtain the narcotic found themselves lost in. So it was up to smugglers like Vegeta to to supply it and most charged an exorbiant fee for the service. Vegeta was no exception.
"If you really appreciate my fast service, you'll give me a ten percent bonus," the Saiya-jin suggested.
The felid stared at him for a moment then grinned again. "Okay, sure. We'll have loads of extra cash after today. I'll transfer your payment into your account as soon as I can. Thanks again!" He waved goodbye and wheeled the dolly into the hotel.
Vegeta returned to the street in his rented SUV and pointed the vehicle in the direction of the nearest family law office on his list. Ten minutes later, he was convinced that he had wasted his time. The partner that escorted him to his office had been pleasant... at first. As soon as he'd heard why he needed legal aid, that all changed.
Grell-sa, a ninx, was a family-oriented man. That was pretty obvious just by the sheer amount of family photos and childish crayon drawings he had on his walls and on his desk. He launched into a lecture about the importance of preserving family structure that Vegeta tuned out after thirty seconds. As soon as Grell-sa had reached a break in his monologue, Vegeta stood up and walked out. He'd wanted the man to be aware of exactly when he'd left and not be still lost in the midst of his lecture.
He was on the next-to-last law office before he'd struck gold. Faith Thomas was human and a divorcee with three children (which meant she could understand child custody cases). She drew up a contract with a minimum of fuss and was willing to delay leaving the office to give Buruma a chance to get there.
"Do me a favor and have him ready by the end of the week," he told her as they were exiting back out into the Gnollian city of Fresia. The sun was setting and its light was tinting everything dull gold. "I keep a tight schedule and don't have time to wait for him to pack and say goodbye to his friends."
"What friends?" she snorted. "Trunks scares away every child that comes into contact with him. I've had to take him out of four excellent, difficult-to-get-into schools because he keeps starting fights."
"Have you bothered to ask him why?" When Buruma declined to answer, he rolled his eyes. "Nevermind. It was stupid to ask you such a thing. When have you ever taken an interest in your son's life other than to punish him?"
For a moment Buruma looked as if she would slap him. "Look, you bastard, I love my son."
"Loving him isn't enough in this case. You have to be willing to be tough with him when he's being rebellious and hug him when he's feeling down. Do you know how many times I wished that my father wasn't the asshole that he is?" Vegeta turned away from her, pissed off at himself for admitting such a thing to a woman who often got on his last nerve. It wasn't helping at all to preserve his "badass" image, though. "Look, I'll look after him from now until he grows up. You don't have to worry about it anymore."
She bit her lip, unsure of whether or not she should say something. Then she made up her mind and said, "Please, for his sake, get out of the smuggling business. I don't want to see him dead. Either of you," she added.
"You act like I'm an assassin," he smirked. "I assure you, smuggling isn't nearly as dangerous."
"Fine, fine," he grumbled. "I was thinking about it anyway. I have a place on Solaris in the Hedin sector. When he gets settled, I'll let you know about it. Maybe you can come and visit him."
It was as good as he was going to get. Nodding farewell, Vegeta crossed the parking lot and got into the SUV. He watched as Buruma headed for a little red sports car and pull off with a brief honk of the horn. He glanced over once at the document lying innocently in the passenger seat, amazed at how quickly his life had changed. With a soft sound that could have been a sigh, Vegeta drove back to his ship and his soon-to-be-former life.
Goku had gone to bed hoping that yesterday had been only a strange dream. His wife wouldn't abandon them. She would always be around no matter what. When he awoke the next morning, he'd automatically reached over to the left side of the bed where Chi Chi slept and encountered a warm body snuggled up to his own. A faint smile appeared on his face and he opened his eyes to watch his wife sleep and realized that the person he was touching was Gohan. Goten was curled up on the other side and both boys clutched at him in their sleep, afraid that he would abandon them too. Goku silently cursed his wife for damaging their children. He had a feeling that it would take a long time for either of them to truly trust anyone again.
A glance at the clock on the nearby bedside table showed that it was close to seven a.m. As it was a school day, his sons would have to get up immediately to make it before the eight o'clock bell. Goku contemplated the merits of forcing them to go to school even though it was probably the last thing they wanted after what had happened the previous day and decided that it wouldn't hurt them to stay home for a day. It was Friday and having a three-day weekend would do more good than ill. His mind made up, Goku closed his eyes and willed himself to return to sleep.
An hour or so passed before he woke up again. Gohan was gone from the bed, but Goten was still deeply asleep. He wondered if his eldest had awakened on his own and decided to go to school. Almost as soon as he thought about it, the door to his bedroom opened and Gohan entered with a breakfast tray holding a bowl of Goten's favorite cereal, toast, bacon, and juice. "Tousan, Goten, are you guys awake yet?" he asked quietly.
"I am, but you know your brother won't wake up of his own free will." They shared a weak smile.
Gohan sat down on the bed, one leg folded beneath him, and set the tray down nearby. "What are we going to do now?"
"We're going to move on. What else can we do? She didn't leave information on how to contact her and everything of hers is gone so I doubt she'll be back. Listen, Gohan, Chi Chi's decision to leave wasn't your fault. Neither was it Goten's. She made up her own mind."
"It wasn't yours either," Gohan told him.
"I know it wasn't," he sighed, "but sometimes you might have to remind me."
He woke up his youngest and the three of them had a companionable -- if subdued -- morning meal. While he ate, Goku tried to find a specific instance when Chi Chi's presence would be sorely felt and really could not. While she had been the cook of the household and had taken care of their home, that was pretty much all she had done. Goku had been the one to encourage the boys, play games with them, and ease their fears. Chi Chi had only nagged and nagged and nagged. Oh, when Gohan and Goten had been very little she used to cuddle them and kiss them and treat them like princes, but once they started school she'd wanted them to be independent. She had heard horror stories about good-for-nothing "Mama's boys" from other women and desperately didn't want her own boys to become like that.
They each would miss her because she had been a constant in their lives, one they'd thought would never go away. She had also claimed to love and care for them, but her recent actions did much to disprove that. Goku spent a long time looking at his sons, hoping that they would bounce back soon.
 = intergal is shorthand for "Intergalatic Confederation of Worlds"
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