Trunks beat him off the ship when they docked at Solaris. His father ignored all of his impatient urgings and continued to fully shut down everything on the ship since he didn't know when he would be back. With one look, he caused Trunks to remember that they had to unload his luggage and the boy crossed the metal dock with a disgruntled look on his face.

"Go get a dolly. There should be some over there near the tower."

"What am I, your slave?"

"Yes," Vegeta answered without missing a beat. "What else are kids good for? Now go do what I say before you piss me off."

Somehow Trunks knew that pissing off his father was a very bad thing indeed. "As you command, Master," he said, bowing, before scampering off to fetch a dolly.

Vegeta had a feeling that his life was going to be disrupted beyond repair. Originally he'd figured that he would give Trunks a week or two to get settled in before he put his newly-created rules into effect. Said rules were pretty much designed to make Trunks' presence in his life nearly non-existent.

Enforcing them would make him no better than his ex-lover and her parents.

Right then and there as he watched his son coast along on the dolly as if it were a giant skateboard he decided that he would not stifle Trunks at all. If he was to grow up and become successful it was important that he was allowed to be himself as much as possible.

He let Trunks ride on the dolly like a much younger child but he had a feeling that the boy had been denied many simple pleasures over the course of his young life. The dock was busy but not overly so. Male and female, young and old, human and felid and ghazi and others were loading and uploading merchandise, working on their ships, or just passing the time. Activity on Dock M-8 was a fact of life as many traders and merchants had permanent bays there.

He was fortunate enough to be one of them.

Solaris was a very productive colony and it was next to impossible to take up permanent residence there let alone have a permanent "parking space". Vegeta's own space was inherited from the man he'd served under while he was still learning the ins and outs of the smuggling business. The apartment he rented had been Malcon's as well. When the 57-year-old man had met a gruesome end due to a deal gone bad, the sole benefactor of his will had been Vegeta. He'd pretty much inherited Malcon's business, complete with merchandise and a customer base. The ship was inherited as well. While Malcon had called it the Angel, Vegeta referred to it only by a series of letters and numbers. He didn't see the point of naming inanimate objects -- vehicular or otherwise.

"Hey, Papa, that guy over there is tryin' to get your attention." Trunks leaned precariously over a box and yanked on his father's shirt.

Vegeta almost smiled. Trunks had never called him anything before. He had long ago adopted the habit of launching directly into whatever he wanted to talk about. He supposed that it was his son's way of distancing himself from his "drop-in dad". For him to call him papa now was a sign that he truly believed that Vegeta wasn't going to abandon him.

"That's the dockmaster of M-8. Everyone who comes here has to see him before they're allowed into the colony." In his preoccupation he had almost walked by the small building where the dockmaster-on-duty spent his time. It was right next to the air lock that allowed entrance into Solaris proper.

"A lot on your mind?" the gruff ninx asked as he gave Vegeta's citizenship documents and ship registration a cursory glance. The masters generally knew each and every person who had a permanent space on their docks but it was Solaran law for them to present identification and proof of ownership for their ships.

"When isn't there?" he muttered. Louder he said, "This is Trunks. He's going to be living with me until he's old enough for me to legally kick out." His son twisted his head around to eye Vegeta, unsure if he was joking or not. When he caught the wink that he threw at him, Trunks began to grin.

"Well, between now and then I'm gonna make his life a living hell," the boy said, his grin turning sinister.

"He a citizen?"

"Not yet. I still have to fill out the forms."

"Remember: you only have a month to get the process started. If the gov finds out you have him here and there's no record of him in the database..." The ninx handed back his paperwork and slid a clawed finger across his throat.

Trunks looked horrified.

"He's exaggerating," Vegeta said quickly, glaring at the dockmaster. "They'll probably just fine me."

"Are you willing the find out?" the dockmaster asked.

Not bothering to reply, Vegeta slid the documents into the bag he wore over his shoulder and continued on his way. Behind him he could hear the ninx muttering something to himself that sounded a lot like, "What does he know about taking care of a kid?"

Of course it was true that he had only been a drop-in dad and had only taken Trunks out to have fun, but he was confident that he could learn quickly. After all, his son was a little boy whose only concerns were probably just school and growing up. How difficult could it be, really?

"How far away do you live?" Trunks asked as they entered the air lock.

"My apartment's in Hedin and this is one of the industrial sectors called Orn. We have a long way to go."

With a hiss of hydraulics, the reinforced steel door closed behind them and the atmospheric stabilizers went to work. The air locks were also designed to scan all occupants (living as well as inanimate) for signs of infectious diseases and illegal contraband. A soft blue beam of light swept over the air lock from one door to another then the lights came back on to signal that they had been cleared.

"What was that for?" Having never been inside a colony, he was fascinated by everything.

"It checks to see whether we're harmless or not."

When nothing more was forthcoming, Trunks picked up the conversation where they left off. "How far?"

"Solaris is broken up into twelve areas called sectors. There are three others like this one where docking areas are located along with factories. You saw from outside that it's kind of round?" Trunks nodded. "There are nine sectors in the Outer Ring and they're the oldest. The Inner Ring was still being used as a mech graveyard and general dumping ground until the population exploded last century and they were forced to develop it.

"Hedin is the third of the 'inner sectors', right between Ain and Aros. The people there try to pretend they're better than everyone else. I want to move out to the outer ring, but vacancies never come up in my price range."

"I know all about those kinds of people," his son said knowingly. "I went to school with a lot of 'em. You wanna learn how to take 'em down a notch?"

As if he was going to be told a great secret, Vegeta leaned forward. "Yeah?"

"Beat up the most popular one. Turn 'em into an example. Makes everyone else afraid of you, too. Life's a lot easier when they're all afraid."

For a moment Vegeta was transported back to his childhood. He could picture the way his father always made sure to loom over him with the hope of instilling respect in him. The king's words filled his head, echoing a dozen lectures. "Make them fear you and they will be easily controlled." That was how his father had ruled, and his father before him. There had never any room for kindness in their lives.

Looking at his son, he saw himself. But he would not repeat the mistakes of generations of Saiya-jin kings. He would not transform his son into a monster. "Trunks, you can't go around kicking ass and taking names."

"Why not? They always leave me alone afterwards."

"You can't do it because it's not right." Frantically, Vegeta searched his head for answers. "What do you think would happen if everyone beat up on the people who annoyed them?"

His face scrunched up as he tried to imagine it. Recess would never be the same, he bet. "That would be kinda crazy, huh?"

"Yeah. People would say that it's better to ask them why they're bothering you and then ask them to stop."

"Papa, what would you do?"

"I would kick some ass." Vegeta was, if nothing else, brutally honest. "But we can't always give in to what we want."

Trunks was awed. He would have never expected an adult to tell him the truth. "You would never lie to me, would you?"

"I'll try not to. I can't make any promises."

His son's smile could have lit up a room.

When his father came home he had headed straight for the shower. Feeling sorry for the punishment that would befall his younger brother, Gohan delayed calling the nearby Chinese restaurant so that his father would also be delayed going into the kitchen. They always ate in there at the table because his mother claimed that it was uncivilized to eat in front of the television. Now that she was gone, however, he figured that would change, but he wasn't sure if that evening would be the start of it.

Chisa went home after muttering a subdued greeting to Goku. Her mother was due home within the hour anyway so Gohan saw no harm in it. After all, they were just across the hall. It was Goten that needed to be carefully watched, after all, not Chisa.

His brother disappeared into the room they shared and shut the door, claiming to not be hungry. If that wouldn't alert their father that something had gone wrong while he was at work then nothing else would. Goten, on most days, was like a human garbage disposal. He went through food almost faster than they could buy it at the grocery store. For him not to eat was like a sign of the apocalypse.

Gohan wrung his hands in worry (a gesture he'd unconsciously picked up from his mother) and paced the living room floor. He'd always thought that he knew his father as well as he knew himself, but his mother had shaken him. If he was honest with himself, he would admit that his father was depressed. That surprised him and that made him feel horrible. Never had he gotten the impression that his parents felt anything for each other beyond obligation and maybe a little bit of caring. They weren't cold to each other, but they had never really been warm, either. There had been no passion in their relationship whatsoever. If he and his brother hadn't existed, he was sure that they would have separated as soon as a year into their marriage. As it was, Gohan had been conceived pretty quickly and there had been no time to reconsider (in his parents' opinion, anyway). He had no doubt that his mother and father would be better off without each other.

He heard the bathroom door creak open and froze mid-step. From the hall you could easily see into the living room. Quickly, he half-ran, half-hopped over to the couch and threw himself onto it with the pretense that he was going to watch television. His father entered the room as he was reaching for the remote to further authenticate his story. Smiling nervously, Gohan clicked on the TV and surfed for something to pretend to watch.

"Dinner's not here yet?" he asked as he took a seat beside his son.

"No, I'm sorry. I didn't call until after you got into the shower."

Goku shrugged. "Don't worry about it. Where's Goten? He's usually glued to the TV around this time."

"He went to his room. He, uh, has more homework to do." His palms were beginning to sweat and he rubbed them on his jeans.

"Gohan," his father began. He could always tell when his eldest was lying to him because he was so bad at it. Now Goten, on the other hand, could be a politician. "Did something happen?"

"No!" he squeaked. Clearing his throat, he repeated himself. "He just has homework to do."

"Uh huh. Are you sure we're talking about the same kid here? The one we usually have to threaten to take away his TV time to get him to do his homework before nine o'clock?"

"He's growing up?" Gohan tried.

"No, I don't think so. What's going on, son?"

Gohan sighed. "He tried to cook himself and Chisa a snack. Let's just say that if Chisa hadn't come to get me things might have turned out badly. It's partially my fault; I should have been watching him more closely."


"I completely understand if you don't trust me to look after him anymore," he continued. "I'll even understand if you think it's better that someone else was here to look after both of us."


"What does a fifteen-year-old know about taking care of someone else? I can barely take care of myself."

"Gohan!" he shouted.

The young man finally stopped talking and turned his head to look at his father. "What?"

"Could you stop putting yourself down for a minute? I'm not angry at you. It's not your fault Goten is a mischievous ten-year-old boy. He probably would have tried to do something like that sooner or later even if I was home. I told him not to but you know how his mind works." Goku tipped his head back and stared up at the ceiling. "He learned a lesson and we're lucky he didn't kill himself or anyone else."

"Still, he shouldn't ignore what you say."

"I know, but he's a kid. Testing the boundaries is what they do." He peered at Gohan and smirked. "Now you, on the other hand, were born with the mind of a middle-aged man. You wouldn't even dream of breaking any rules. That's why I trust you so much. If you hadn't been around when she did this, if it had just been me and Goten..."

Gohan understood exactly what he was saying. He was keeping his father sane by organizing things and looking after his little brother. Goku had more than enough to worry about without adding his sons to the pile.

"How are you doing, son? I mean, really?"

"I'm... okay." He stared down at his hands then for a moment then shook his head. "No I'm not. My mother's gone and I don't know if she'll ever come back. It's like she didn't love us enough to stay, but my mind knows that's not true."

"You're right. I think the reason she left has more to do with me than with you and Goten. I was a bad husband."

"A bad husband for her. Okaasan just wasn't your soulmate, that's all. There are millions -- billions -- of single women out there -- you'll find someone."

Goku smiled at him with false cheer. "Yeah, I'll find someone." His son wasn't fooled but he didn't know what else to say so he remained silent. The two of them sat without speaking until the doorbuzzer sounded to alert them to their dinner's arrival. Suddenly they were in motion like ancient statues come to life.

While his father answered the door, Gohan went to retrieve his brother. He knocked on the door first and, after receiving no response, he slowly turned the knob and cracked it open. "Go-chan?" he said softly, using a nickname for Goten he'd stopped using with his brother was about six or seven years old.

"Go 'way," was the hiccupped reply.

He entered the room and sat down on the edge of his brother's bed. "Otousan's not too upset. You can come out and have dinner with us."

"I'm not upset about that." The little boy rubbed at his eyes and pushed himself up so that his back was against the headboard. "I'm upset because I did something stupid and made you mad. I don't like it when you're mad at me."

"I'm not mad," Gohan told him honestly. "You scared me a little, though. I don't want you trying that again unless Otousan or I are right there with you."

"Okay," he said in a small voice.

Sighing heavily, Gohan motioned to him with his hand. "Come here." When Goten climbed onto his lap, he hugged him. "I love you, alright? Nothing you do is ever going to make me stop loving you. Otousan feels the same way. Besides, if you weren't a brat you wouldn't be Goten." Grinning at him, he ruffled his hair. "Now are you done being depressed now?"

"Yeah." Little fingers quickly dug into his brother's sides and wriggled like worms. Gohan started in surprise and began to laugh and squirm to get away. "I'm not a brat!"

"Okay, okay! Stop tickling me!"

Hearing the noise coming from his sons' room, Goku went to investigate. Stopping in the doorway, he simply stood there and watched his boys play. He could always count on them to get along which was -- if television shows and movies were to be believed -- highly unusual. When Gohan's face started to turn a bright crimson red, he called a halt to Goten's tickle attack. "Dinnertime, boys. Wash your hands and meet me in the living room."

Goten snatched his hands back far too late and tried to adopt an innocent expression. Of course his father wasn't fooled. "Okaeri[1], 'tousan!"

Goku only smiled and left them to their task.

The trip to Hedin only took an hour but Trunks started complaining twenty minutes in. It wasn't as if he was walking, but Vegeta figured that boredom kicked in quickly in small children. He knew that he himself had been easily bored and it had been a challenge for his instructors to come up with new and interesting teaching methods.

Orn was incredibly boring to look at. As it was an industrial sector, the buildings were designed for function and nothing else. They'd passed by blocks upon blocks up square gray buildings with utilitarian steel doors and no windows save for rows of narrow, rectangular openings near the roof. There weren't even any people around to break up the monotony. One glance at his watch (that had never been changed from Solaran time) and Vegeta informed his son that it was near the end of the second shift and that there wouldn't be anyone around for another two-to-three hours. The residential sectors were far different usually. Even when the children were all at school, and a vast number of the adults were at work, there were still people around.

Another air lock separated Orn from the road that divided the Inner and Outer rings. There were air locks between every sector as well to stop accidents from becoming catastrophes. The Wayfarer's Road, while not very wide across, circled the entire Inner Ring. It was, of course, the main thoroughfare of Solaris and usually the most-traveled route between sectors as the air locks separating a sector from its neighbor were usually small and designed for only three-to-five people to fit in comfortably. For those traveling far, there was also a train system that served all sectors of the colony.

When the thick steel door opened to admit them into Hedin, Trunks let out a brief cheer. Compared to Orn his new home was a riot of color and sound.

Apartment buildings lined the street and quite a few contained small businesses on their ground floors. Just about every one of them were still open despite the semi-late hour and were serving a regular stream of customers. Trunks tried to take everything in at once and ended up making himself dizzy.

"I've never been anywhere like this before!" he exclaimed.

"Anywhere like what? Most, if not all, of the residential sectors resemble this. So do many of the other settlements in Intergal." Trunks' former homeworld popped up in his mind and he shuddered at the thought of the cold sterility that coated everything there. "Amida wasn't anything like this."

"Nuh uh. It was so freakin' perfect!" He made a disgusted face. "If you even touched anything there someone would yell at you."

"Not many people will do that here," he reassured him. "As long as it's public property, that is. Touch anyone's private property without permission and they have the right to chew you out. You understand?"

"Course I do. I'm eleven-and-a-half, not five."

"Just keep that in mind. Your mother may have screamed at you when you did something wrong, but I'm more creative than she is. If you want to see how well I can dish out punishment, just try me."

Trunks mock shivered. "Oooh, I'm sooooo scared!" But his eyes said that he would heed his father's warning.

Vegeta headed down the street until they came to the third intersection, then made a left. A few more turns and they were finally at his apartment building. It was five stories tall (with five-to-six apartments per floor) and was one of the largest in a four block radius.

"This is our stop," the small Saiya-jin said as he stopped the dolly beside a chain-link fence that guarded the plants from casual passersby. "We're going to unload all of these boxes in the lobby then carry them into the elevator. It'll be easier that way."

"If you say so," the boy said, climbing to his feet. He stumbled a little as millions of tiny pinpricks ran up and down them. He looked up at the building from his position on the sidewalk and tried to imagine what it looked like on the inside. "What floor do you live on?"

"What floor we live on," his father corrected. "This is your home now, Trunks. You don't have to act like you're a temporary guest."

The eleven-year-old gazed at him seriously. "I might be. You haven't really spent time with me before. I can, and probably will, drive you crazy and then I'll be sent back to Okaasan and the mummies."

Vegeta walked around the dolly and crouched in front of his son to put them on a more-or-less even level. "I won't do that. Who would do something like that to their own kid just because they annoyed them?"

"Okaasan," he said in a sad voice. Vegeta cursed Buruma mentally in several different languages. It would take a lot of time and effort on his part for him to undo the damage she'd done.

"Trunks, I'm not your mother. Thank God," he added just to make his son smile. It worked, but it was weak. "I'm not your mother so I'm not going to give you up. I know how it feels to not be wanted. My father considered me to be a burden and he always treated me like that. Why would I put you through the same thing I went through?"

Blue eyes began to fill with tears despite Trunks' best efforts to hold them back. "I think I love you already. I know I think you're ten-times better than Okaasan, Obaasan, and Ojiisan[2]." He wiped at his face, feeling like a little kid. Vegeta pulled him into an awkward hug. He had never really given comfort to anyone before and no one had ever given comfort to him. He was only going by what he'd seen on television and what he'd observed of the actions of others.

"I love you, Trunks. I'll never betray you."

The boy buried his face in his father's shoulder and emitted a muffled, "Now I know I love you!"

Eventually they separated, the eyes of both still suspiciously damp. Vegeta stood up again and pulled the key to the lobby out of his pocket, intending to prop the downstairs door open so that they could carry everything in. He was intensely embarrassed and was doing a pretty bad job of dealing with it.

Trunks watched him with a knowing smirk on his face. He could see himself in just about everything that his father did and it was nice to finally be around someone who understood him. But that wasn't going to stop him from teasing, however. "What's wrong, Papa?"

"Uh, nothing."

"It doesn't look like nothing. Did something get in your eye?" The look on his face was the picture of innocence, but the expression in his eyes gave him away.

"Yeah, I think it did. Looks like you were hit by the same thing I was, huh?" Vegeta looked at him over his shoulder with a smirk identical to the one his son now wore. "Damn insects." Not that there were many insects on the colony, mind you.

Vegeta and Trunks worked together to move the boxes and the work was completed quickly. In less than an hour, everything was stacked in Vegeta's spartan living room. The entire apartment was a little bare, actually. As he had never been home for an extended period of time, he hadn't bothered furnishing the place. He had a feeling that his new roommate would appreciate more decor, however.

"It's perfect," Trunks said, returning to the living room after his brief tour of the apartment.

The corners of his father's mouth twitched upward. Then again, maybe everything was fine how it was.

[1] = it's the informal version of "welcome home" and is usually the companion of "tadaima" (I'm home)

[2] = grandmother and grandfather respectively

Author's Note: Think of Solaris' structure kind of like Midgar's from Final Fantasy VII but everything's more-or-less on one level.
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