And I Will Not Disappear Into The Fog
by KC Anathema     More by this Writer
Future Trunks fixed the timeline...and eradicates the world he knew. Distraught, lost at heart and forced back into a time he doesn't recognize, Trunks aimlessly drifts day by day until stumbled over by Gohan, now grown up and attending high school in Orange City.

The fog crept in slowly at first. In the heady elation following the death of the androids, at the sudden sense of hope that life might start again, a little mist and fog at the far edge of the world seemed like such a small anomaly. Hardly a blip on the globe. And as days became weeks and weeks became months, Trunks found rebuilding the world far more satisfying than even destroying his enemies.

As pockets of survivors appeared, two or three at first, rising from deep bunkers and mountain retreats, Trunks gathered them together into small villages. He paved roads, blasting smooth the ground to provide routes for the vehicles that he salvaged.

Easy to rebuild a house when he didn't have to look over his shoulder. Easy to plant food when he didn't have to dodge laser fire. Easy to set up solar panels and wind turbines when the world didn't seem about to collapse under his feet.

The sun shone warmly on sprouts shooting up out of the ground as if the earth itself was tired of death. Enough food came from Capsule Corps to feed survivors until the harvest as they kept busy with relearning how to be a community.

Half a year after Trunks saved the world, the radio broadcasts began again. Transmitters in different parts of the world spoke of more people, more settlements. And in the middle of gathering in crops, the East Capital sent an emergency report.

Singeru village is gone, swallowed up in gray fog, and anyone who walks in does not walk out again.

Trunks was about to fly out to see what it is when his cellphone rang.

"Do not fly there." Bulma's voice was stern, more insistent than the years when she had to scold to keep him safely inside. "You hear me? Stay put."

"But mom—"

"No argument." She sighed and audibly leaned back in her chair. "I can explain it later. It's a natural result of the time travel and alterations to the timeline. Just don't go near it and it'll take care of itself."

She was still the smartest woman on the planet, and Trunks agreed easily, if a little disturbed by the insistence in her voice. But the corn and wheat needed to be cut and brought in if the early chill in the wind was any indication, and he forgot the fog within moments, lost in the work in front of him.

It was easier to forget when the transmissions from East Capital ended within the week.

By the end of the month, his favorite station, a folk song channel from Yamu village, also vanished.

"It's the timeline sorting itself it out," Bulma said. "It'll wrap around the earth eventually. Trust me, everything will be fine."

When Ginger Town, Central Capital and Baseru city vanished, he stopped listening.

The fog that surrounded West Capital was so dense that he couldn't see the top of it. He flew up until the air grew too thin and cold to hold him, but the fog surrounded the city in all directions. Even when he blasted a hole into the earth, trying to tunnel under the fog, he found the gray clouds pushing up from under the ground. And when he threw a rock into the mist, he didn't hear it land. Instead he heard a low ringing sound, like a string vibrating continuously.

That his cellphone rang one more time didn't surprise him.

"Don't touch it," she said. "Come home."

In the time it took for him to hear the short phonecall, the fog had advanced and swallowed up another few feet of earth.

When he landed at Capsule Corps, Bulma was waiting for him outside. The compound felt empty and silent as she led him inside. He frowned. There had been numerous new workers as he brought in survivors. At the very least, there should have been the families in the dormitories.

"Where is everyone?" he asked.

"In their homes," she said. "They kind of left all at once."

That...made no sense to him. They went into the hangar where he'd kept his time machine, and he found that it had been connected to its original setup, fueled and stocked once more. She hopped up on the ladder and picked up a screwdriver, adding a last fine tuning to an exposed panel of wires.

"Mom?" He flew up and hovered next to her. "What are you doing?"

"I..." She coughed and ran the back of her sleeve across her eyes. "I didn't want to tell you until I was sure, but the time reset kept eating up so many resources that the calculations didn't finish until this morning. Boy, am I glad I got this baby charged up in time."

She slid the panel back in place and locked it, then slid down the ladder and went to sit at the workstation in the corner.

"Mom.."

Trunks looked from the machine to his mother, thought about what she'd told him for the past several months, and then about the fog slowly creeping closer. Now that he wasn't distracted with rebuilding the world, he could work out what was happening.

"It's 'a natural result of the timeline sorting itself out'," he said. "The time stream resetting."

"I thought that we'd created a new timeline," she said. "A branching future."

She brought up the displays on the monitors surrounding her. "I had cameras installed all over the city. But you can see...when the fog hits them, they just disappear. They don't even send static. They just...disappear."

"You said everyone was in their homes," Trunks said, coming close. "You said everything would be fine. Why did you tell me that if—?"

"Because it's true," she said, and she turned to face him. "They are in their homes. They're all alive and well and they probably don't remember any of this."

He shook his head. "They're all gone, even if this place is still here. I don't get it."

But as he looked around, half expecting to see the fog already around them, instead his gaze fell on the time machine. Like a puzzle piece falling into place, he understood.

"It's a tachyon bubble," he said slowly. "Created by the machine. That's why the time reset started at the other end of the world. It's the machine holding it back."

"Not just the machine," she said. She reached out to put her hand on his. "You, too. You were in the time stream. You were in the future. So you don't quite fit here anymore."

He stared at her, mouth parting slightly. "So...what? My tachyons are holding this field in place. Maybe...maybe if I take the machine out—"

"Trunks—"

"—I could fly around the world and push the fog back—"

"Trunks—"

"Mom, listen, I could—"

"Trunks!"

His breaths started to quicken. "I can't just let this world fade out of existence! I did everything to bring it back and now—"

"And now it's going back to how it should be." She put her arms around him, holding him close, feeling his heart pounding faster and faster as the panic began to set in. "You saved this world, you did."

"But then why—"

"Because there just aren't two time streams," she said. "It's okay. The time lines are just smoothing themselves out. No one died, not really. This world just won't exist anymore. It never existed."

"But we're still here—"

"Trunks..." She leaned back, smiling at him, pushing his hair out of his eyes. "It'll be okay. The worlds are just going back to how it should be. Except...I don't know how it'll try to treat you."

"Forget about me, what about—"

"No." She turned him. Funny how easy it was for her to maneuver one of earth's strongest fighters, but he did, letting her turn him to face the time machine. "You were in the past, so you're part of the past now. But since you're here, I don't know if the time stream would put you in the right place or just erase you from existence. And I don't want to take that chance."

He refused to move toward the machine, instead holding her hand tight as if she might try to run.

"I won't leave you here," he said. "I'm not abandoning you."

"You aren't," she said. "I promise. I'm still in the past, and that past is getting closer now. In a few minutes, there won't be any difference between that timeline and ours. Except you might disappear. You have to leave before then."

He looked past her at the monitors. Most of them had gone blank, and of the few still transmitting, they only showed a rolling plume of gray clouds coming down the hallway. It was almost there.

Bulma followed his look and half smiled.

"It's not really fog, you know," she said. "That's just what our minds make it out to be. It's really the other world sweeping in."

"Mom, come with me," he said, pulling her toward the machine. "It'll be tight but—"

Somehow she slipped out of his hand and stepped back, shaking her head. "You know I can't. You know how this works and you know I can't. Now get inside. I love you."

"Mom—"

The fog was in the room. Somehow the walls had ceased to exist and the gray void slowly ate its way toward them. Trunks instinctively backed away from it, bumping against his time machine. He looked to where Bulma had been and found the monitors, the chair, the floor...

Gone.

Feeling as if he'd swallowed a pound of rocks, he fired ki blast after blast into the void. Nothing exploded. Nothing crashed. Nothing echoed. Even the sound of his spirit faded into the low ringing, the steady vibration as the worlds slowly came closer to touching.

He flew up and into the machine, finding it already on and its settings fixed. And on the dashboard, on the lever that would shield the machine against time, hung his mother's red cap.

Picking it up in the same motion as pulling the lever, he held the cap close and watched the gray void completely surround the time machine.

~

At the edge of the Orange Star High School campus, Gohan skirted around the fence behind the baseball field. His bookbag hung awkwardly at his shoulder, knocking against his hip as he jogged. If he went behind the dugout, took the shortcut past the fieldhouse—

No luck. Leaning against the fieldhouse door, Videl tossed a baseball in the air, catching it in one hand.

Gohan ducked behind the bleachers. Somehow the dark haired girl managed to guess which route he'd take today. Not that it was hard. He rotated between the side doors by the gym, the back exit behind the theater and sometimes the front gate if he left early enough. With the front street blocked off for construction and the theater filled with drama students rehearsing for the play, the gym was the only route out.

He sighed and considered hopping the twelve foot fence. Easy enough for Saiyan, but he didn't think he could excuse his superhuman feats on his shoes again. Maybe if he changed into his Saiyaman costume, he could—

"Hey Gohan." Videl knelt beside him. "What're you hiding from?"

"Ah!" Gohan stumbled sideways and crawled backwards several feet. "Um, I'm not hiding down here behind the bleachers where you weren't looking."

"Oh?" She folded her arms and frowned as she usually did when he spoke. "Then what are you doing?"

"I was..." Gohan turned on his hands and knees and put his face close to the dirt. "I was examining the fauna down here. For my science experiment."

"Uh-huh..." Her weight shifted to her hip as she stared down at him.

He nodded quickly. "Did you know the acidic concentrations of carbon dioxide has a negative reaction with the minute ecosystem with the soil? I intend to demonstrate the harmful effects of acid rain on the soil farther out from the industrial center of town."

"Right..." Now her weight shifted to her other side. "And you were taking samples in...what exactly?"

He smiled through his wince. "Oh, I don't need to take samples yet. I'm still looking for good places first. And, um, maybe this spot isn't so good so I'm gonna go scouting for more. See ya!"

He was up and sprinting before she could answer, but as fast as he was, he'd underestimated her reflexes. She turned and followed at his heels, completely giving up any lie that she wasn't tailing him. He likewise gave up the lie that he couldn't hop the fence, jumping over without even bothering to grab the top as if he had to vault it.

Well, he thought, at least she hasn't gone to get her helicopter.

He turned the corner and ran down the sidewalk, detouring around the orange cones and barrels marking off construction on the pipes under the ground. On the next block, he headed into the crowd that gathered after school, hoping to lose her in the sea of faces at the streetside cafes. He dodged around the throng of high schoolers and office drones escaped early from work, passing under the broad umbrellas at the coffee shop—

And stopped, skidding on his heels. Videl bumped hard against him and landed on her butt, but he barely noticed her.

A familiar purple-haired teen sat at a table under the umbrella, his hand lightly on the handle of his coffee cup. And in his other hand, draped on the back of his chair, dangled a single cigarette. Nothing had changed about him—the same jacket, the same pants—except the red baseball cap stuffed into his front jacket pocket.

"Trunks?" Gohan stopped and took a step closer. "Is that you?"

A moment passed without reaction. At first Gohan thought that maybe he'd imagined the future teen there, but then Trunks raised his head and looked up at him.

Gohan tensed as if hit. Trunks didn't really see him. Trunks looked through him, staring at a point in the distance. Then Trunks looked back at the reflection in the coffee and took a long drag off his cigarette.

"Hey."

"Um." Gohan stared at him. He hadn't seen a hollow stare like that since he'd seen survivors of the stadium, the people who'd sat closest to the seats destroyed by Vegeta. "What're you doing?"

Another moment passed. Trunks continued to stare at the coffee as if he hadn't heard. His eyes closed. "Nothing."

Behind him, Videl had climbed back up to her feet and brushed herself off.

"Like running into a brick wall," she muttered, coming around Gohan, looking at Trunks. "Who's your friend?"

"Trunks?"

Gohan leaned closer, brow furrowing. Something was definitely off. Plus the last time Trunks had appeared, Goku had died and the world had nearly ended.

"Mind if I join you?" Gohan was sitting down before Trunks answered, waving to the waitress. "What's up? This is Videl from my school."

To his relief, Trunks responded to that, his gaze flickering up at her for a second. It was a reaction at least.

"Uh..." Videl grimaced and stepped back. "I think I gotta get home. I'll see you later, Gohan. Bye, uh, Trunks."

She turned and walked away, looking over her shoulder several times. Neither Gohan or Trunks moved or spoke. She murmured something about homeschool kids being weird and disappeared.

Coffee came quickly. Gohan took a long sip and looked at his friend again.

Little had changed about Trunks...except everything. His hair looked longer with small tangles at the base of his neck. The jacket had gray streaks at the edges, as if Trunks had flown through a dust storm of gray soot. His hands lay deceptively lightly on the cup, on the cigarette, as if he had to carefully control just how hard he touched them for fear that he'd break them. And cigarette? What athlete, let alone a Z fighter, let alone a half-Saiyan, would ever pick up a cigarette? Each breath was overly precise, almost measured, and brought Gohan's look up to Trunks' eyes and the dark half-moons around them.

Gohan recognized that look, but he didn't know from where. He just knew it wasn't right.

"What happened?" he asked. "Didn't it work?"

Trunks finished the coffee and put it down. Almost immediately the waitress zipped by and refilled it.

"Sure." Trunks gave a small shrug. "It worked."

Gohan tilted his head. "Then...what's wrong?"

A strange breath escaped from Trunks. Then another. Short and sharp, another passed before Gohan realized that Trunks was laughing. Strained, without humor, the way a man would laugh at a crowd before he was hanged.

"Nothing." Trunks laughed again. "Saved the world. Saved the time stream."

The smile was unbalanced. It left his face unbalanced—one eye even twitched as Trunks looked at him.

Gohan froze. He knew where he'd seen that look before, heard that bitter laugh.

The explosion that came from behind them was almost a welcome relief.

Gohan stood, looking over his shoulder at the flames soaring at least twenty feet high, taller than most of the nearby building, followed by thick black smoke. Shrieks and car horns followed. He turned and started fighting the crowd as people ran by him.

"Trunks, come on!" he yelled. "We gotta help!"

Trunks' gaze rose to meet his. Then, with a small huff, Trunks stubbed the cigarette out and tossed zeni on the table.

"Whatever."

Not sure if his friend would actually follow, Gohan sprinted ahead, wishing there was time to switch into his Saiyaman outfit. Maybe he could toss on the helmet and cape and hope no one from school saw him?

That hope was dashed when he heard Videl's helicopter swooping in low. He dashed to one side behind a tree. The last thing he needed was her spotting him running towards the explosion. Had she been going to get her helicopter this whole time? She had to have been to have it so soon. Then she'd been coming back to keep an eye on him.

"She really needs to get a hobby," Gohan groaned.

He followed after her on foot, but as soon as he came around the corner, he spotted the source of the flames. The construction in front of the school had hit a gas line. Several workers lay unconscious dangerously close to the fire, and Gohan ran closer and began dragging them to a safe distance.

There was a scream up above. Another worker was hanging onto the bent wreckage of an earth mover, its long steel arm bent upwards several feet up in the air. Gohan breathed a sigh of relief to see Videl maneuvering her helicopter and sending down a ladder, flying him away as soon as he clung on.

A second smaller explosion tore away pavement, sending asphalt chunks in all directions. The street had turned dark from the smoke blocking out the sun, and only the red flames lit the blackened sidewalks. A deep rumbling came from below. Gohan realized that the next explosion wouldn't be small.

As he frantically pulled people back, not caring who saw him lifting a human in each arm, Gohan felt someone walking past him. Blinking ashes from his eyes, he turned as Trunks headed straight for the flames.

"What the—" Gohan breathed. "Trunks, don't go near it! It's gonna go!"

"No kidding." Not breaking stride, Trunks flashed golden and walked into the searing heat. Melted tar stuck to his boots. He stopped at the pavement's broken edge and examined the damage, then casually hopped down.

Gohan set the last two workers down and turned, running back—

A sphere of ki expanded around the broken pavement, large enough to encompass the broken digging machinery and scorched pavement. An instant later, a final explosion filled the ki sphere with a raging hellstorm of fire and golden sparks.

Gohan put his arms up in an X-block, but there was nothing to defend against. The explosion cut off at the edges of the energy field. Somehow Trunks had contained the explosion so the fire wouldn't run up through the gas line throughout the entire city, but what had happened to Trunks?

Videl's helicopter landed a short distance away and she ran close, stopping next to Gohan.

"What the heck is that?" she gasped. "Is it the gold fighter?"

Gohan didn't answer. His own identity felt like such a small thing compared with his friend inside there.

The flames suddenly turned to wisps and vanished, as did the ki sphere. Gohan pushed through the last billow of smoke and saw Trunks standing on a pipe that had torn completely in half, the steel edges still glowing red. Then Trunks sighed and fell to his knees, then fell backwards, lying still.

"Trunks!" Gohan leaped down beside him, leaning over him. "Are you okay?"

The ki had protected Trunks from most of the explosion, so why...? Gohan felt for and found a pulse, but when he listened for a reply, he heard nothing. He looked at Trunks' chest. It wasn't rising. His friend wasn't breathing. Trunks had snuffed out the fire by denying it oxygen, and he'd been at the center of it.

"You stupid..." Gohan muttered, without hesitation putting his mouth over Trunks' and exhaling hard enough to force air in. "Even demisaiyans need to breathe."

Breathing couldn't always be restarted. He knew that from his studying. But that was humans. What happened to half saiyans? There was no way to tell.

This close to Trunks, Gohan noticed the shape of his body—too thin under the bulky jacket and loose pants. Was Trunks eating? Cigarettes were an appetite suppressant, but that didn't explain the wiry, whipcord feel of his limbs, the lines of ribs under Gohan's hand.

Finally a shuddering breath came out of Trunks, and he coughed as he dragged in air again. Grimacing, Trunks turned on his side and put his arms around himself, curling as if he'd been gutpunched.

"Dammit..."

That didn't sound like Trunks was upset he'd been hurt. It sounded more like Trunks was upset he'd survived.

The street was so quiet that his yell to summon the nimbus felt like it travelled across the city. Instead it just travelled up to Videl, who watched with wide eyes as a cloud sailed on command to Gohan's side. Without a word, he sat down on top of it and pulled Trunks into his lap, and then the cloud soared back up into the sky.

To hell with secret identities. He had to get Trunks to Capsule Corps.

~

"...hasn't woke up yet."

"He's still resting. He needs a little more time—"

"Why is he even—"

Bright lights burned overhead. Trunks squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head.

So he was alive. Again. Trunks gave a small sigh. Well, it wasn't like he'd been in terrible danger. The explosion hadn't even rattled his teeth. If he hadn't created a ki shield, he wouldn't have been knocked out at all.

He opened his eyes just a sliver and looked around. A row of gleaming steel and plastic, numerous computer displays, the ubiquitous CC trademark stamped on everything...he groaned and sat up. The last place he needed to be was this world's Capsule Corps.

"Trunks!"

He winced as someone rushed to his side, putting a heavy hand on his shoulder. Gohan's ki signature rushed over him, too familiar and too alien, and he shrugged the hand off. With a deep breath, he turned to the side and hopped off the bed. At least he still had his clothes.

"Gohan, give him some room. I told you, he's all right."

To her credit, Bulma didn't rush forward or force herself in between them. Trunks didn't think he could have handled seeing her. Only the different quality to her voice made it possible to stand being this close to her at all. Her voice didn't have any crushing weight or sadness, only the light hearted confidence of being protected by warriors who never lost a fight.

At the far side of the room, she sat back in her chair and flipped her hair out of her face.

"Hi, Trunks," she said. "If you need a job or a place to crash, let me know. I've got some things only a demiSaiyan should handle, and I'd rather have someone with a brain do it than send Vegeta or Goku."

Gohan winced. "Ouch, Bulma. You know I'd be more than happy—"

"Oh, not you, honey," she said. "You're too busy with school."

Trunks paused. She hadn't asked why he was there. From the sound of her offer... Bracing himself, he half-turned and looked over his shoulder at her.

She was wearing her hair pulled back in a no-nonsense bun, heavy lab glasses over her face. Her white lab coat held several scorch marks and black smudges that smelled like oil and grime. This was not a woman salvaging small parts. This was an engineer at the height of her ability.

She'd been tinkering on heavy machinery and stopped only because Gohan panicked and brought him here. This was his mother from his timeline. This was...Bulma. From the past. Even if time had caught up, he would always think of her as from the past.

"You knew," he said.

Her smile faded, but she didn't look away. Meeting his gaze, she nodded once.

"I suspected," she said. "Then when you didn't come back, I figured the timeline just worked itself out somehow. When Gohan brought you here, though..."

"...yeah."

His mother had said the two timelines would merge, but as much as he stared at her, he found nothing of his mother in her. They had the same face, the same hair...but this Bulma held none of the same worry lines, none of the same tired fear. This Bulma had never held him or sung to him or made tiny, windup toys to make the days go by a little quicker.

"Did they merge?" he asked suddenly. "She said they'd merge but...it doesn't seem like anything I remember."

She tilted her head, considering. "Well, I can't be sure. I only thought to look when Gohan showed up with you. I won't know until I can get some real data together, but looking back on it, this does kind of explain why there were whole city blocks full of sprouting corn and tomatoes and other vegetables. We had a ton of wheat pop up across the compound. Oh, and..."

Keying in a search term, she brought up a news article and titled the monitor so he could see it. "There were a bunch of houses that popped up all of a sudden up by Jingeru village, and some by Namu village. Right in the middle, but the only ones inside were kids."

She sighed and faced him again. "I figure it's the way the timeline reacted. Anyone in your timeline with a match to someone here...they merged. And the kids who were only born in your world, they stayed."

He looked at her again. "'Merged'?"

"I don't know," she said, shaking her head. "There just isn't enough data yet. I have technicians going out to interview random people, but that's going to take weeks and months to gather, let alone compile and sort."

He turned away. If he looked any longer, he'd go insane trying to find any semblance of his own mother in her. But no matter what she'd said, this wasn't her. Maybe his mom had been wrong. Maybe the moment the fog swept in, she'd vanished, painlessly, swiftly, forever. No, worse. She'd never existed.

Except for the baseball cap safe in his jacket.

Out, out—he couldn't stay there. He hopped off the bed and went to the door, heading down the hall. The complex was the same as he remembered, only this Capsule Corps wasn't burned and smashed in places. The wiring wasn't exposed and sparking or flooded under sagging holes in the roof.

"Trunks, wait." Gohan caught up and walked with him. "Why did you do that?"

Trunks didn't reply. He came to the glass double doors and stepped out into the courtyard, wincing at the amount of car exhaust and dust in the air. After months of planting new farmland, he found himself staggered by the pollution around him. Maybe he could find a spot in the wilderness—

"Trunks." Gohan came around, standing in front of him. "I'm not letting this go. You tried to kill yourself."

A bitter laugh slipped out before he could stop himself. "Didn't do a good job, then."

Gohan put his hands on Trunks shoulders, only to have them smacked away. "Hey—"

"What?" Trunks growled. "What do you want?"

"I want you to talk," Gohan said. "I'm worried about you."

"You heard Bulma," Trunks said. "I'm fine. Lay off."

He moved to step around him, but Gohan matched him, refusing to let him by. When Trunks huffed and flew up into the air, Gohan flew just that much faster to stay in front.

"You're not fine," Gohan said. "The Trunks I remember was full of life. You didn't give up, even though your world was almost gone."

"My world is gone," Trunks said between clenched teeth. "And the only Gohan I remember is dead."

Gohan froze. When he'd brought Trunks here, Bulma hadn't been clear about why the future teen had returned, but she hadn't been surprised. If anything, she'd sighed and her shoulders had dropped as if she'd watch someone lose a fight. Her attitude made a lot more sense if the other world was gone, swept up by time.

"Stay here," Gohan said. "You don't have to go—"

Trunks' laugh was a low, bitter thing. "You think you're gonna make everything better? Just talk it away?"

"Well, no, I..." Gohan couldn't find the words, not faced with the other's raw spite. "You tried to die. You might have if I—"

Trunks bolted left, leaving him sputtering in the air. Gohan pressed his lips together and followed, putting on a burst of speed as Trunks flew faster.

Beneath them, the city passed by swiftly, thinning out into fields and farmland before turning into the wild grasslands. Still Trunks didn't stop, and Gohan wondered if he knew they were headed north, not towards Orange City. He wondered if Trunks even had an apartment or if he was living out of his time machine.

Stopping suddenly, Trunks turned and fired a ki bolt that missed only because Gohan thought he might plow into Trunks and dodged right, stopping uncomfortably close. He looked over his shoulder at the passing bolt, then back at Trunks.

"What the heck!" Gohan said. "You trying to take my face off?"

"Quit following me!" Trunks yelled, holding his hands out for another blast. "The next one won't miss."

Arms locked, hands positioned so he could sight the shot, Trunks tilted his head to better aim. As they hovered facing each other, as silent as the clouds blowing past, a faint shiver ran through Gohan's spine that had nothing to do with the cold sky. Trunks had that look again, one eye slightly wider, that gave him the same crazed look as his father.

Trunks stood only a little out of arm's reach, and yet he felt a thousand miles away.

"Please," Gohan said. "You're not okay—"

Much stronger this time, Trunks' ki blast shot straight towards him and curved when he dodged, following him to the side. There was a concussive blast that sent the clouds scattering and forced Trunks back several feet. And then the wind blew the smoke away and revealed Gohan still hovering, his sleeves scorched and scraped as he lowered his arms. His worried look gave way to a deep frown.

"Do you really want to turn this into a fight?" Gohan said. "I don't want to have to get serious."

Trunks stared at him for a long moment, his surprise less to do with how Gohan shrugged off an attack and more at how he simply wouldn't give up. Trunks took a deep breath and lowered his hands.

"Great," Gohan sighed in relief. "Let's go back—"

With a sharp yell, Trunks flashed golden.

Firing burst after burst, Trunks pressed his advantage, driving Gohan back with a barrage that, if they missed, still rocked the other boy with heavy concussive force. Gohan's head rang as he flew straight up, staying ahead of Trunks' ki bolts and trying to come around on top of him, only to have a continuous burst fired from below.

"'Serious'?" Trunks said, flying backward toward the earth. "We both know you won't turn this into a real fight."

"Then how about fighting me, brat?"

Gohan blinked at the sudden arrival, but it was the way Trunks whipped around and bolted away that startled him. In blue and white training armor, his head canted, Vegeta looked like he'd been at the tail end of a rough training routine, tired but alert. Gohan floated closer. Vegeta was no slouch in a fight, but why would Trunks be so much more on his guard?

"How'd you get here?" Trunks demanded. "Why're you here?"

"The woman," Vegeta said. He flew a little higher so that he matched Trunks, his arms crossed as if this was a casual conversation. "She thought you'd blow up the city."

"I asked why you're here," Trunks said, more obviously aiming at him.

Vegeta half-grinned. "Same reason."

Gohan looked from Trunks to Vegeta, Vegeta to Trunks. Despite the hair and clothing differences, they were so obviously father and son. They wore the same asymmetrical expression, held the same measure of tension, even matched each other for the tilt of their head. Gohan winced. Trunks hadn't seemed anything like his father on his previous visit, and Vegeta wasn't someone he thought Trunks should be like.

"Nothing's getting blown up," Gohan said, clenching his fists when neither acknowledged him. "We're not fighting!"

"You aren't," Trunks said, not taking his eyes off Vegeta.

"He's like his father," Vegeta said, tossing his head at Gohan. "Stupid, idealistic, naive. So soft hearted it's sickening."

While Gohan squawked indignantly, Trunks narrowed his eyes. "And I'm not?"

"No," Vegeta said, and his laugh matched his son's for bitterness. "For all the good it did you. Too much like your father."

"Shut up," Trunks warned him, tightening his hands.

"Went and lost your own world, too," Vegeta said. "Couldn't even save one damn human."

Gohan stared at him, too shocked to respond. He knew Vegeta could be cruel, but—

Golden energy blazed out of Trunks in a blinding wave at the same time that he flashed to a higher level. Gohan flew backwards to avoid the heat pouring out, gasping as he felt the air scorch. Ki was not supposed to burn like this, radiating out likes flames.

Unsurprised, Vegeta moved just out of reach, dodging so economically that he seemed more like he was trying to stay close. The smile vanished, and Vegeta darted in and smashed his elbow into Trunks' chest, throwing him backwards. Trunks cried out, one hand clasping his shoulder to protect himself, then fired again.

"Back off!" Gohan yelled, using a ki barrage to try to force Vegeta out of Trunks' space. "What's even your problem?"

"Stay out of it!" Vegeta snarled, and his own attack exploded in Gohan's face and sent him tumbling out of the sky.

As Gohan caught himself out of his freefall, the battle continued between father and son. Without watching, he knew how it would end. Trunks fought out of rage, screaming between punches and throwing himself at Vegeta, who had dropped his sarcasm and turned calculating. And who knew what Vegeta would do once he won? Gohan hovered, watching indecisively.

"Geez, what do I do?" he whispered.

"Stay out of it, that's what."

Gohan looked over his shoulder. Piccolo hovered beside him, his ki signature dwarfed by the clash in front of them. Arms crossed, eyes shut, the Namekian might have been completely oblivious to the fight if he hadn't winced as two ki bolts erupted against each other.

"Huh?" Gohan shook his head. "But Trunks can't win! Vegeta'll steamroll right over him."

"Saiyans..." Piccolo grimaced as if he had a headache. "This isn't about winning. Trunks needs to work this out."

"This isn't working it out," Gohan said. He waved his hand at the battle raging farther ahead, the gold and white exploding like lightning in a stormcloud."This isn't therapy. This is just them fighting."

"For those two," Piccolo shrugged, "it's the same thing."

Finally a thunderous crack sent Trunks tumbling out of the sky, his hair fading back to purple. Gohan gasped and angled to fly forward, brought up short as Piccolo grabbed the back of his shirt.

"Just wait..." Piccolo said. "You'll get your chance."

"But—"

As Trunks fell, headfirst and so limp that Gohan knew he had to be unconscious, Vegeta shot down from the clouds and caught up. Matching Trunks' speed, Vegeta put his arms around the boy and pulled him close. Their descent slowed so that they softly touched down, Trunks in his father's arms, as they sat down on the sand.

"Give 'em a moment," Piccolo said, but he let go of Gohan's shirt.

Gohan swooped low, coming closer, but as he closed the distance between them, what he thought was the wind grew louder and louder until he realized that the wind wasn't blowing. It was Trunks.

Screaming.

Vegeta sat still, bearing the frustration howled against his shoulder, taking without complaint the fingers clutching at his armor and digging into his arms. While Vegeta stared ahead at nothing, Trunks raged and clung to him, gasping for breath.

"She wasn't there," Trunks all but shrieked. "I turned and...and...she was...she..."

"Maybe our line is cursed," Vegeta said, his voice so soft it was nearly lost in the screaming. "So we can never keep our worlds."

"I tried..." Trunks' words choked in his throat. "She would've...but..."

"And everyone we love vanishes." Vegeta shut his eyes, lowering his head.

"I can't." Trunks coughed, finally exhausted. "I can't..."

"Then don't," Vegeta said.

No response. Trunks lay passed out, breathing deep, and the bruises he'd suffered were already fading. Gohan came closer, realizing that for all the explosions and force in the fight, Vegeta had never been out to hurt him. All of the pent up energy in Trunks had been spent, leaving him in a deeper sleep than when he'd nearly died.

"Stupid brat." Vegeta lightly took to his feet, hefting Trunks in his arms. "You'd think it was the first time you lost people, the way you act."

Gohan hesitated, watching him stand. "Vegeta..."

"Heh." Vegeta glanced at him, at Piccolo as he descended to join them. "The woman mentioned you'd be here. That you'd take him."

Gohan froze. Take him? Take Trunks? Where? Trunks looked so worn down, so beaten and in need of rest. Gohan was just a high school student. But Vegeta looked at him with confidence, and Bulma had said that Gohan would take him. If she would trust her son to Gohan...

He stood straight and nodded.

"Gohan," Piccolo started. "Are you sure about this? He isn't a lost baby dragon."

"I know." Gohan stepped forward and accepted Trunks into his arms. "But...I have to. He needs me."

"And what do you need?" Piccolo said. "A crazy Vegeta in your dorm room?"

"It'll be okay," Gohan said, holding him so that Trunks' head rest on his shoulder. "I know you're worried, but it'll be okay."

"Sure," Vegeta said with a cruel laugh. "What's the worst that could happen?"

With that ominous thought, Vegeta flew off back toward Capsule Corps and, after a huff, Piccolo followed suit. Gohan watched them disappear, wondering why Piccolo had come and figuring he was still trying to protect him.

Once more, Gohan found himself on the nimbus with Trunks in his lap. Heading back to Orange City, he considered his options. Try to keep Trunks in the dorm? Find an apartment? Maybe skip all of that and try going camping on the city's edge?

Something jangled in one of Trunks' pockets. Feeling a warm flush across his face, Gohan gingerly reached into Trunks' jacket, sliding his palm around until he felt the outline of keys. He pulled them out and found two on a chain, a label reading #324 Orange Apartment Heights, 47 Star Lane.

Well, Gohan thought, that solved that problem. And feeling a little more settled, he relaxed, hoping they would make it back to the city before the sun set.

*

Sunlight through blinds. A warm breeze. The sound of light windchimes.

Trunks squeezed his eyes shut and turned on his side, ignoring the light. He recognized the scent of the couch under him, beat up and threadbare and dusty, and lying still for another hour sounded good. If he was lucky, he might fall back to sleep, dreamless and empty. If he woke up, he would just go back down to the cafe, sit awhile staring at nothing, then come back and stare out the window as the sun—

Wait.

He remembered the blast, Gohan, his father—if nothing else, the bruises remembered for him—and then...

He sat up. Gold and orange sunlight washed out the rest of the apartment's colors, throwing long shadows across the floor. Not sunrise but sunset. Was it still the same day? He looked down at himself and sighed. He was still covered in dust and black soot.

He spotted Gohan asleep on the opposite couch. Sprawled out like a starfish, Gohan claimed the entire space, his arm draped down to the floor as one leg took over the back. His bookbag lay on the floor, collapsed sideways so that the corners of scribbled paper edged out. On the coffee table in front of him lay a note with a scrawled list and several things crossed out.

dishes
window
floor
menus
groceries

Trunks glanced at the sink. Sure enough, the handful of dishes had been washed and set out to dry. The window looked clean of dust, and the broom stood in the corner. The take-out menus constantly shoved under the door lay in a neat stack on the kitchen counter, and the groceries were probably put off for tomorrow.

Trunks wasn't sure how to feel. He settled for not feeling anything at all and went to take a shower.

Of course the bathroom had been cleaned. Hair product, loofas, potpourri, all of it had been gathered up from the floor and placed neatly on the sink. Trunks swept his hand across all of them, sending some of them into the trash and the rest back to the floor again. At least the towel had been left slung over the curtain rod.

He heaved a long sigh and locked the door, a useless gesture among people that could destroy mountains.

Turning the cheap faucet as hot as it would go, which was only comfortably warm and would cool all too soon, he cleaned off all the dust and dirt and grime from the day. The explosion, the fight with his father...the water turned black as it ran down the drain.

The bruises on his skin stood out. He'd gone terribly pale in the past few days, and the marks his father had left on him had colored parts of him the same as his hair.

There was a knock at the door. "Trunks?"

Narrowing his eyes, he scowled and stayed silent.

"Trunks? Are you okay in there?"

Trunks rinsed off his hair and turned off the water, grabbing the towel.

"At least answer me," Gohan said. "Otherwise you might be hurt and I...well, I mean, I don't want to barge in, but—"

So don't, Trunks thought.

He also considered sucker punching Gohan. True, the other boy would go through the wall and the landlord would be pissed. It was almost worth it. The country-styled flower design on the door was stupid, anway.

Instead he wrung out his hair, stepped back into his scorched clothing, and put on his jacket. Just as Gohan's hand fell on the doorknob, Trunks turned it and walked out, bumping his shoulder against Gohan's.

"Whoa," Gohan grumbled. "Rude much?"

Trunks ignored him, already heading to the front door and undoing the latch.

"Where are you—?"

"Food," Trunks said.

"Oh," Gohan said. He threw a glance at the take-out menus. "I thought we could order in—"

Trunks was out the door and walking.

The orange rays of sunlight faded behind the mountain, and in the increasing shadows, the city's lights flickered on, sending thin spotlights down to the street. Here, on a residential side road, the street lamps left golden circles on the pavement, making the leaves look like washed out copper chimes that rustled in the faint wind. Crickets chirped out of sight, a sharp contrast to the murmuring of distant voices and rumbling cars several streets over.

Reaching into his pocket, he found his cigarette pack. One left. He sighed and took it out, tossing the pack into a curbside trashcan, then lit it with a spark of ki. The flame flashed warm in his hands, and he breathed out a plume of smoke. Harsh, burning...it felt like cinders deep inside himself.

Gohan caught up and fell into step beside him, and to Trunks' relief, he didn't try to strike up a conversation. He didn't even ask where they were headed. Trunks glanced sideways at him and found Gohan studying the street, reading the signs and spotting the local shops. How long did Gohan intend to stay? To keep babysitting?

They came to a street of bustling cafes and restaurants, all sparkling in the dark, and Trunks took them back to the same cafe they'd met at. Two of the tables were still empty, so he grabbed the one on the curb and sat down. Almost instantly another waitress set down a coffee and took out her notepad, waiting for Gohan's order.

"Uh..." Gohan smiled sheepishly and sat straight. "I don't usually drink caffeine. I mean, I don't even drink soda—"

"Large latte for him," Trunks said, then lapsed back into silence.

The waitress scribbled it down and went back inside, and Gohan settled more comfortably in the steel chair. Someone had left a newspaper face down on the table, and Gohan pulled it closer mainly to have something to do with his hands.

EXPLOSION – A massive fireball erupted from the middle of Senji district, caused by a construction crew accidentally cutting into an unmarked gas line. The initial explosion opened a wide crater in the road, followed by an even larger blast that could potentially have ignited gas lines under the entire commercial district and outlying residential areas. Details are sketchy as to what stopped the blaze.

Satan City's own Videl participated in the immediate rescue of construction workers, but she has remained silent as to what actually happened. Other witness accounts include a strange gold light that preceded the explosion, as well as a little cloud that appeared to move in circles close to the rooftops. City officials refuse to speculate, saying only that they are conducting an investigation into the cause to determine any liabilities...

Gohan sighed and pushed the newspaper aside. His coffee appeared at his elbow, followed by a refill for Trunks. Gohan took it and inhaled the scent, then gave it a tentative sip, grimacing at how bitter it was. Hoping that Trunks wouldn't judging, Gohan attacked the tray of sugars in front of him, adding in a half a dozen until he could stand the taste.

"Huh," Gohan murmured. "Not bad, actually. Once you get used to it."

He glanced at Trunks. The other boy sat with his eyes shut, doing his best to pretend that the rest of the world didn't exist. His hand holding the cigarette lay on the table, slowly burning a thin trail of smoke into the air. The night breeze gently touched his hair, and Gohan felt himself leaning a little closer, taking a longer look at him.

During the fight against Cell, Trunks had seemed like a hero to him, confident despite being tossed out of his time stream, slicing Freiza with one stroke. A scant amount of time had passed for Trunks, but for Gohan, years had flown by. Before, Trunks had seemed more like Bulma's son. Now he seemed more and more like Vegeta's son—tired, sullen and quiet until pushed.

And it became obvious, now that Gohan thought about it, why Trunks sat here, possibly day after day. The cars passed by beside him, hot wind rolling off their engines, and people laughed and chatted at the tables around them, walked by with bits of conversation in the air. Trunks closed his eyes and listened and felt, and the world swept him along with it as life continued around him.

Fear, Gohan thought. Of being alone, especially now that his world had been swallowed up by time. Trunks was still in shock. Might be in a shock for a long time.

A heavy hand hit the table, startling Gohan back from his absorbed staring at Trunks. Coughing once, he looked at Videl, who pulled a chair from another table close and sat down. She glanced between him and Trunks, visibly deciding that Trunks wasn't going to react and instead focusing on Gohan.

"So," she started. "What are you?"

Falling back on laughing obliviously, he smiled and hid behind his latte.

"I have no idea what you mean—" he said.

"Cut it out," she snapped. "I know I saw you take him up on a freaking cloud. And I know I saw him go all golden and spikey before that huge explosion of...of what? That wasn't even fire. That was something else."

"Videl—"

"I want answers," she demanded. "Why are you hiding this?"

Gohan stared at her, struck by how manic she felt. She leaned into the question, and even as a human, her sheer force of will was almost tangible. If she'd been tenacious before, she'd be doubly so now. It couldn't be a coincidence that she'd spotted them almost as soon as they sat down. She'd probably staked out this cafe ever since they disappeared.

His smile faded. Gohan sat straight, squaring his shoulders as he faced her, and to his surprise, she blinked. Leaned back slightly, as if she finally realized she might be talking to someone even stronger than her father.

"Because I don't want a city named after me," he said. "None of us do. We just want to live peacefully without tv cameras and paparazzi and whatever else goes with being famous."

"'Us'?" she echoed. "You mean the other fighters, don't you? Are they...are they as strong as you?"

"We're all at different levels," he said, unable to help glancing at Trunks, who'd just managed to hold his own against Vegeta. "If there's a threat, we all go to try to stop it."

Her breath hitched, and she had to pushed herself to ask her next question. "Can...did you need that cloud? Or can...can you really fly?"

Gohan hesitated, glancing at Trunks again, but the other boy seemed to ignore the conversation entirely. Trunks probably didn't gave a damn about any of this.

"He was hurt," Gohan said, "so I called the nimbus. But yes, I can fly."

Now Videl pounced, leaning forward so close that Gohan jerked backwards.

"Can you teach me that? Can you teach me to fly?"

Gohan stared at her with wide eyes. "Wait...what?"

"There's so many criminals and monsters and—and whatever that Cell thing was," she said in a rush. "Maybe you don't feel it since you're so strong—I don't know what you do to make yourself go all golden, but if something really bad happens, if there's an earthquake or something, you can stop it, really stop it. You can—"

Her voice hitched again, and she made herself sit back again, taking a deep breath.

"You can fight. You can do so many things, and I'm...I feel like I'm trying to play catch up. I know something's wrong with dad's stories. I can tell something's wrong. I don't know what, but..." She shook her head and looked up at him again, looking less like the daughter of heroic Satan and more like a scared little girl. "I don't want to be helpless."

Gohan's brow furrowed as he thought. If he revealed who his family was...but then she could probably find out easily. And she wasn't trying to become strong for selfish reasons. She already had some talent. With some training, she could probably become as strong as Krillin, maybe stronger. Certainly enough to take care of her city and surpass her father.

"I..." Gohan took a deep breath. "I can."

Her face lit up brightly.

"But not now," he continued, grimacing as her face fell. "I just have too much I have to take care of. In a few weeks, maybe—"

She turned aside, lowering her head. She'd probably imagined having to force it out of him, blackmail or begging or just sheer insistence. Being told she would have to wait, now after searching for so long, no doubt felt like seeing her goal slip further and further away. He could all too easily keep putting her off and delaying, keeping her at arm's distance.

A spark drew their attention. Trunks had tossed the remains of his cigarette into the ashtray and now raised his hand, balancing a tiny spinning ball of ki on his fingertip. The ki spun quick circles, and he sat straight, leaned in, bringing it closer to Videl's astonished look.

"Put your hand out," Trunks said.

Unable to breathe, she gingerly held up one finger. Trunks brought the ki closer, closer, lightly touched her fingertip...and the ki made a little jump and stayed on her hand.

"That's from me," Trunks said simply. "You have your own. Learn to focus your own ki like that."

The ki blinked out. She gasped, stunned at how quick it vanished, but a ghost of the sense remained with her. Some inner potential had been revealed, and now she had a path to follow, a goal set before her.

"I can do that?" she whispered.

Trunks shrugged. He didn't seem to notice when she ran off, grinning broadly, with barely a polite token bow towards them both.

Gohan watched her go, carefully dodging people as she sprinted for her helicopter, probably parked on someone's roof. Learning that basic first step would probably take weeks if not months. She'd been given what she wanted and Gohan didn't have to worry about her dogging his heels until then. He glanced at Trunks, who half-smiled as Gohan realized what he'd done with one little trick.

Gohan returned the look. Trunks' smile was still asymmetrical, a little dazed, but at least it was there. At least he was still responding. And Gohan had a growing feel for how to handle this new friend.

"I'll order in," Gohan said, "when we get back. We can't live on coffee and cigarettes."

Trunks' smile faded but didn't entirely disappear. He didn't feel like he was trying to shrug Gohan off anymore. Just a faint, half-acknowledgment that Gohan existed, and that Trunks could live with that.

They sat together, silent, listening to the city move around them for another hour.

*
Coffee, cigarette, one of the vegetable rolls…Gohan watched Trunks eat tiny amounts of anything. Coffee went down black, the spring roll vanished between cigarettes. The rest of the take out boxes lay open, spread over the coffee table, mostly empty around Gohan, who picked from Trunks’ untouched portion with a little guilt.

He watched Trunks from the corner of his eye, studying him as if he was a textbook and Gohan was turning pages. Trunks had lost weight. He’d always had a hungry look, natural for someone surviving in a dying world, but now his muscles clung too close to his skin. The Capsule Corps jacket hid it well, but with it off, in just a black t-shirt that should have been tight, the weight loss was obvious. Wiry, too thin, Trunks faded in the smoke rising from the cigarette between his fingers.

Rarely did the cigarette touch his mouth. Trunks breathed in smoke rarely. The rest of the time, the cigarette merely burned down to the very tip of his fingers.

“Why’d you start smoking?” Gohan asked, surprising himself that the question had slipped out. He must have sounded curious instead of judgmental because Trunks naturally responded.

“Kills the smell,” Trunks said, tapping ashes into the tray. “Something they don’t tell you about the end of the world.”

“’Smell’?” Gohan repeated.

“Dead people,” Trunks said. “Animals. Things rotting. Gasoline fires and stuff.”

Dinner was over. Gohan covered up the leftovers and set them in the fridge, three little boxes in a white cavern. He washed the few dishes they’d used, the silverware, and looked out the kitchen window at the clouds chasing the sunset. On the distant highway, cars crawled along like gold dots in black space, and closer by, the streetlight, yellowed with age, flickered unevenly on the empty sidewalk.

Trunks was asleep, draped across the sofa. The last cigarette burned out in the ashtray, its smoke trickling to nothing. Gohan sat down, quiet as possible, and wondered what to do with himself.

Why was he here? To play babysitter? To take care of Trunks like a child? To keep watch over a temperamental, sullen demiSiayan who could destroy the world? Was he here serving as a kind of check on Trunks so no one else would have to?

The nervous knot in his stomach twisted. What about school? He had missed almost a week now, and there were tests coming up. If he missed too much more, he could lose credit for the semester. On his phone, a line of texts from his mother all praised him for caring this much about a nigh stranger, but he had his studies to keep up, and shouldn’t one of the Briefs have to mind Trunks anyway?

He wondered if he should sleep here on the couch or go in and use the bed. It seemed like a waste to let it stand empty in the other room, but it felt wrong to enter. Not that Trunks had ever used it. It just felt…wrong.

So much of this felt wrong.

Most of all, Trunks felt wrong.

Double survivor of a twice dead world. Gohan tried to imagine being in his place, losing everyone, then losing everyone again. Worse—that his family were not even dead but did not remember his world, his life. No wonder Trunks was off kilter.

A soft sound. Even in sleep, Trunks could not escape. He breathed shallow, turned, curled his fingers, curled his legs to make himself smaller. Gohan wondered if the cigarette had been deliberately set to burn while Trunks slept, a wisp of a lifeline that wavered in the air conditioned draft.

The thought surprised him, but the more he thought about it, the more natural it seemed. The ugly paper print on the walls, stifling green paint, shabby furniture…the unchanging routine and starvation that had nothing to do with food.

Trunks turned his shoulder just so as a dream made him flinch. His hair fell across his face, lavender and violet and shadowed indigo.

Gohan reached across the table and brushed the strands from his eyes.

Soft.

Unlike Gohan’s stiffer hair. His brothers, his father certainly, Vegeta, all of them had the Saiyan black hair that kept its own shape in wind and rain. Somehow Trunks had come out as a perfect blend of Saiyan and human, strength and—

At Gohan’s second touch, smoothing his hair back, Trunks drew back before his eyes had opened, aware of the touch before he realized that it didn’t hurt. Trunks stared at Gohan a moment, sleep clearing enough to realize what had happened.

Trunks' gaze dropped. His breath caught. And when he glanced back at Gohan, behind his hair again, the sense of expectation filled the air between them. An expectation of something obvious, unspoken, save for in the faint break in Trunks’ exhale as Gohan shifted. Expectant that Gohan might…

Trunks swallowed, reflexively, and Gohan’s look moved to his throat, the curve along his collar that disappeared under his shirt. Then back up to Trunks, who had noticed his look and returned it, silent, unresisting.

Now Gohan realized why he had been all but given Trunks, why Bulma had left them to their own devices, why Vegeta had put him in Gohan’s arms. Why Piccolo had made this decision to help Trunks seem so much heavier than it had felt at the time. It must have been so obvious to everyone else.

Including Trunks?

Gohan never held back from a feast, so much like his father—they both ate freely—and he found himself once more pushing Trunks’ hair from his face. Drinking in how Trunks didn’t try to move away, looking at Gohan like…like a survivor in anticipation.

In being raised by Bulma and another older, scarred, hunted Gohan, this Trunks had become a perfect blend of Saiyan and human, strong…

…and vulnerable.

The moment lingered. And when Gohan touched his hair once again, Trunks closed his eyes and allowed it.

Gohan caught himself. Let his hand fall.

“I’m gonna go crash on the bed,” he said.

Trunks said nothing, still watching him. Gohan glanced around the room – dark walls, dark windows, and smoke filling up what little air remained.

“And tomorrow we should go,” Gohan said. "Up to the mountains."

Trunks still said nothing, his urge to argue cut off as Gohan mentioned the mountains. Wary, Trunks regarded him with a look that said he wasn't sure if Gohan was a threat or not.

Gohan found that he liked that look a lot more than how Trunks looked when calling Gohan an idiot. Breathing out, he headed to the bedroom, feeling Trunks’ eyes on him the whole way.

*

In the morning, Gohan expected an argument or even flat refusal. Trunks might punch him through the door and then vanish to another cheap apartment in another city. Maybe Trunks would simply walk out the door, sit down at the same cafe, and refuse to talk to him.

Instead, when Gohan said it was time to go, Trunks followed without a word. The dawn glowed gray behind heavy clouds, early enough that no one saw them fly straight up into the air.

With the weather so overcast, it was easy to fly above the first layer of clouds, occasionally pushing through the heavier layers and emerging with a fine layer of mist over their skin and hair. Beneath them, the landscape changed from tightly packed suburbs and manicured lawns to fields and farmland, neatly squared with long stretches of roads. Dotted more and more by trees, the fields finally gave way to sparse woodlands and rocky crags that grew higher and higher until the clouds began to roll over mountains.

They descended over a small break in the trees, a clearing of flat grass and moss neatly hidden by tall underbrush layered with thick ferns and brambles on one side. It provided a welcome break from the rest of the forest, bordering the edge of the bay. The scent of sea water blew in with the breeze.

"Perfect," Gohan said, landing and setting down his pack. "Doesn't smell like rain, but I'll set up the tent just in case. You wanna get the fire?"

Trunks landed lightly beside him, barely making any sound as he stared across the bay. The gray skies cooled the wind, which seemed to blow a little harder to make the waves choppy.

"Mm. Whatever."

Trunks paced further along to where the grass touched the sand, going so far that he stopped just at where the waves lapped the shore. White foam brushed his boots.

Gohan sighed and figured on having to build the fire himself, then busied himself with the tent. The collapsible poles snapped together, then he stretched the canvas taut before tying the ends down to the stakes. Idly he wondered why Bulma had never created a line of camping capsules, and that brought him back to thinking about Trunks. And how the fire was not being made. He couldn't help a small sigh. At least Trunks was out of that apartment, had taken an interest in something outside of himself. Still, it seemed so—

Something clattered behind him. Gohan looked over his shoulder and found Trunks dropping a handful of driftwood beside the quick hole he'd scraped out of the ground. Yawning, wincing at the faint glare of the morning sun even behind the clouds, Trunks put his hands in his pockets and headed toward the treeline, his gaze sweeping the ground.

Gohan smiled and finished tying down the tent. He could get started on fishing, then.

*

Trunks came back almost half an hour later, dropping a handful of logs into the campfire. A few he twisted in his bare hands, splintering them into small pieces for kindling. Finally he zapped a tiny bit of ki into the wood and walked away, ignoring the wisp of smoke as it trailed up, becoming a small plume as flames glowed hot beneath the logs.

He found Gohan knee-deep in the waves, holding a fishing pole with a long line out into the water. Trunks watched him for a moment, the way the sea spray misted his his black hair, how he stood as a dark silhouette against the gray clouds. He finally noticed that Gohan had put on his old training gi instead of wearing his usual slacks and button top, and he wondered how long Gohan intended on staying out. Trunks grimaced. The Sons all seemed to like spending weeks or even months outside to train, while the Briefs in every timeline preferred technology and the comforts of home.

Still...he had to admit this was better than sitting in the apartment or at the cafe again. Marginally.

Coming down to the sand, he spotted a tall outcropping of rocks just a few feet from Gohan. With a small push, he flew a few inches over the water and landed on the rocks, laying down so he could stare at the sky.

"I already caught a couple," Gohan said. "But I wanted something that could feed the two of us, so I'm just using the last one as bait for something big."

Trunks didn't answer. Gohan glanced at him and spotted his frown.

"What is it?"

"The fish here," Trunks said. "You can eat them."

It wasn't a question, but... Gohan nodded.

"Yeah. We eat 'em all the time when we go out. There's some real monsters out here, mostly just oversized tuna and bass, but there's some huge sharks and sea serpents, too. Those are way deeper, though."

Trunks mulled that over, glancing over at the large fish bobbing on the end of Gohan's lure.

"There aren't..." He paused. "There weren't any in my time."

"None?" Gohan said. "How come?"

"When you destroy a city," Trunks said, "a lot of crap runs out into the rivers. Things stop working that cleaned up what people leave behind. All the rivers and water smelled like chemicals. So the water turned dark and anything that didn't die mutated."

Gohan didn't know how to answer that. Something bit at the lure, saving him from having to think up something on the spot. He pulled gently, careful not to break the line, reeling in something that started swelling the water over itself like a giant emerging from the sea.

Finally whatever was on his line realized that Gohan was in front of it and forgot the hook in its mouth, surging forward with suddenly great jaws widening over him. Trunks flew off the rock just before it swamped, and he raised his hand to fire a ki bolt...

The fish slumped down in the water, half on the sand, and Gohan lowered his hand, still smoking from his own ki blast.

"Wow," Gohan chuckled. "Didn't expect to land an ocean gar this far north. Nasty little guy."

Trunks glanced from Gohan to the fish. His skin crawled. The animal's snout was almost as long as Gohan, with teeth as big as his hand. It looked more like an alligator that had decided to try being a fish instead.

"That's...edible?" he asked.

"Huh?" Gohan blinked. "Yeah! They're pretty good, just really sneaky when you lure 'em in. Help me get it further up so we don't get any other predators coming after his tail."

Trunks came down and put his hands on the creature's snout, then flinched back as the body flailed back and forth, snapping its jaws at him. Gohan came around him and grabbed the jaws in his hands, shoving them shut, then wrenched the whole body further onto the sand. After a moment, the flailing faded and the fish lay still again.

"It's okay," Gohan said. "It's okay. Just a stupid nervous reaction. It won't—Trunks?"

Trunks stood frozen, staring at the creature's teeth, his breathing so tight that Gohan thought Trunks might pass out. He looked up at Gohan, his eyes painfully wide. Gohan put his hand up, reaching toward him.

The moment he touched him, however, Trunks shied away and drew back to the campfire, using it as a cover as he added more logs and built up the flames.

"We're gonna need more than this," Trunks said, standing up and moving away again as Gohan came closer. "I'll be back in a few."

And before Gohan could touch him, Trunks had flown into the forest, disappearing among the trees and the shadows.

*

Chunks of the gar stood speared on long sticks crossed over the fire. As Gohan sliced it apart wth short, sharp ki bursts, he mentally kicked himself over and over, setting the spears with more force than necessary.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! he thought. I know he's been hunted for his whole life, and I make him grab that thing by the damn teeth. I knew that thing might flip out and I didn't even think about it. Stupid, stupid, stupid...

He sighed and sat down, turning the spears so the meat would cook evenly.

Can't blame him for taking off. This thing just comes up and...

The look Trunks had when it lunged—that wasn't the same Trunks who had nearly let himself get burned up. For just a moment, Trunks had flashed back to his life of being hunted by powerful killing machines. It was a wonder he hadn't simply flown off and abandoned Gohan entirely.

He considered going after him but gave it up at the same time. Trunks didn't want to be seen. Gohan figured that, if their positions had been reversed, he would've ran and hid, too.

He sighed yet again and looked up at the sky. If only it had been clear and sunny instead of so overcast and gray. Trunks needed to be out here. Gohan could almost see the shell around him beginning to crack. The death throes of that ocean gar wouldn't have been so scary if the sky wasn't so dark.

Twigs snapped. Gohan lifted at the sound of grass rustling, but he forced himself to act as though nothing was out of the ordinary, adding another spear of meat as Trunks came out of the trees. His arms were full of long tree limbs that had been trimmed of branches and leaves, and without a word, Trunks knelt beside the fire and began adding the branches in a sort of pyramid around the flames.

"What are you doing?" Gohan asked. "That'll block the.."

His voice faded as the fire crackled and grew more intense, warming more of the air around them while cooking faster the first fish kabobs that Gohan had set out. Trunks took the closest spear and tilted it, biting off a piece.

"How'd you know how to do that?" Gohan asked. "Dad never showed me any other ways to build a fire."

"Guess you never had to learn it here," Trunks said. "But in my time, you're the one that showed me. I think mom helped, some."

Gohan stared at the fire. Such a small thing... He had spent a lot of time camping out in the wilderness, but for Trunks, being outside hadn't been fun. This was the difference between camping and surviving.

"We're going to finish that...thing," Trunks said. He waved at the meat on the stick to indicate the gar. "Tonight. What'll we do tomorrow?"

"Go hunting again," Gohan said. "Something on land this time. There's deer and some pteradactyls along the coast, and—"

"There are boar tracks in the woods," Trunks said. "Pretty big one. We could take that down."

Gohan's mood lifted, but he tried not to show how pleased Trunks' suggestion made him. If he overreacted, Trunks could turn self-conscious and close himself off again.

"Great," Gohan said. "We can start early in the morning. That'll give us time to relax afterward. It's no fun having to eat so late."

Trunks blinked. "What's wrong with eating late?"

"Because it's so dark," Gohan said, motioning at the deep shadows and pitch black night beyond the fire. "It's great when it's not so overcast 'cause you can see the stars, but like this? It's spooky."

Trunks followed his look up at the clouds, barely visible for the silver edges around the moon. The sky was calm—no acidic rain, no streaks of fire or luminous fog of poisonous chlorine. His look fell back to the fire. Only the sound of meat cooking, of waves softly rolling against the shore, the wind in the branches.

Of Gohan explaining how he'd come here the last time with Goten and their fishing contest.

Trunks took a long breath, held it. And as he exhaled slowly, felt a little of the tension slip away.

When Gohan said he was tired, Trunks didn't join him in the tent. The tree branch over the tent was broad, sturdy enough to take his weight without bending, and he sat with his back braced against the trunk. Gohan stared at him for a moment, then flopped inside his sleeping bag.

Sometime in his sleep, Gohan woke. He opened his eyes, wondering what he'd heard, and found Trunks sitting inside the tent. One knee drawn to his chest, his other leg out, Trunks stared out at the waves washing along the sand. He had a blanket across himself to cut the chill of early morning air. The vague outlines of the tent and their gear stood out in the faint, faint light. The sun would not rise for another hour or so.

If he rose, Trunks might spook and shy away. At the very least, the quiet calm would be disturbed. Smiling, Gohan let himself to back to sleep.

*

Gohan woke to an empty tent.

Panic made him instantly awake, cold chills down his body. Had Trunks run away? Had Trunks flown off, back to his time machine, to vanish into the timestream where there wasn't a Gohan? Or just back to the apartment, to lock the door on him?

Scrambling to his feet, he ran outside. The campfire had long since gone cold. Bones littered the beach, but most of them had been scraped into a pile, obviously to be thrown away or buried later.

Gohan forced himself to breathe normally. Trunks would not have just run off, not if he had cleaned first. He closed his eyes and reached out—

There. So close that Gohan wondered how he hadn't felt him to begin with. He lifted into the air and flew over the trees, coming down almost immediately. There was an opening in the branches, a long stretch where the trees did not cover the stream flowing down the mountain.

Gohan landed on the gravel shore. Trunks' clothes lay in a pile on a wide stone, but Gohan couldn't spot the other boy. The water flowed fast, choppy and white, and his gaze followed the stream up into the trees and up the side of the mountain. He vaguely recalled the lake higher up, often low but now swelled with rainwater. So that stream was probably rather deep—

There was a splash as Trunks stood, emerging from the water as he took a deep breath.

Gohan stared, knew he was staring but couldn't bring himself to stop. He thanked Kami that at least Trunks had his back to him, somewhat salvaging his dignity. The water only came to Trunks' thighs, leaving his back glistening with reflected sunlight. He was not as muscled as any of the other Saiyans, but what strength was there was whipcord.

Gohan frowned. Too whipcord. Cigarettes and coffee couldn't keep a saiyan going, not even a demisaiyan. The strings of his muscles stood out too prominently, accentuating the old scars on his back.

Scars on his shoulders. On the small of his back. Gohan swallowed once. Too thin and too defined, Trunks was still too beautiful to look away from.

Trunks flared his ki once, warming himself. He shuddered, pushing his hair back, and dipped his cupped hands back into the stream, pouring it over himself.

Was it the cold that he wanted? Gohan knew from experience that the icy mountain stream could steal even a saiyan's breath. Trunks stood in the water as if he were on a warm, sunny beach.

Gohan shifted, and the leaves under his foot rustled.

Trunks half-turned, spotting him. His eyes widened as he startled, but when he realized it was Gohan watching, he turned away again. His shoulders tensed. He didn't move as gracefully as before, now awkwardly aware of being watched.

Gohan had no idea what to do. Leave like nothing had happened? Join him as if bathing in ice cold water was normal? Keep staring like a creep?

Trunks glanced over his shoulder, staring not at Gohan but at the ground.

"Do you stare at everyone you camp with?"

Gohan's miserable training with Piccolo finally offered a tangible reward in a swift quip.

"Just people who want to freeze to death."

Trunks paused, considering that, then faced forward again.

Gohan kicked himself. Damn. He had wanted to disarm the awkward situation. Now Trunks seemed even more distant—

Why was Trunks kneeling back down in the water?

Gohan's jaw dropped as Trunks went to his knees, gathering water in his arms and splashing a great wave over his head. He had to take another moment to whip his head back, sending water flying as his hair came around and landed across his shoulders.

"You're lucky," Trunks grumbled, beginning to wring out excess water. "Your hair's easy to take care of. You wake up, you just shake your head and it's back in place."

"You have to take care of it like a girl?" Gohan asked, then winced as he realized how that came out.

Trunks caught it, too, glaring at him over his shoulder again.

"Like a human," he said, deliberately pronouncing the words.

"Sorry, sorry," Gohan said. "I just...look, why are you over here? Even the ocean is warmer than that."

Trunks shrugged. "Cold feels better. You haven't ever flown up on a mountain and bathed in the snow?"

Gohan realized what kind of dreams he was going to have that night.

"Father told me about it," Trunks continued. "Says the cold after a hot fight shocks the system, forces you to get tougher."

Or maybe not.

"You, uh," Gohan started, "you talked a lot to your dad?"

Trunks shook his head once, motioning at his clothes on the ground.

"Bulma gave me a cell phone. I messaged him a couple times."

Gohan felt a brief guilty urge to rifle through Trunks' clothes, folded neatly on the stones by the stream. And then fought another urge to steal those clothes or incinerate them. Trunks didn't need them to camp, did he? Gohan swallowed and turned his head, knowing he'd flushed red down to his chest.

His legs were moving before his brain realized what was happening, and his mouth beat him to the punch.

"I guess I can try it out," Gohan said, already tossing his shirt aside, stepping out of his pants. "If you don't mind."

By the way Trunks froze, the muscles on his back tensing into hard definition, he did mind. But he didn't protest except to face completely away from Gohan.

"I...no." Trunks coughed once, splashing water against his face. "No. It's fine."

Which was how Gohan stepped into a cold mountain stream and didn't feel it at all. For a long moment, they both acted like nothing was out of the ordinary. Gohan rinsed himself off, sweeping away the dust and ocean spray, running his hands over his hair. Trunks was right. A minimum of attention left Gohan's spikes in their usual arrangement. Meanwhile, Trunks' hair...

His friend's hair had grown long. It hadn't been so noticeable in a messy ponytail, but now it visibly cascaded over his shoulder, half-concealing his face.

Trunks flinched and stared straight again, but Gohan had caught him looking over his shoulder.

With a deep breath, knowing he could ruin whatever this was before it had a chance to become something, Gohan put his hand on Trunks' shoulder.

Purple strands slipped over his fingers without any effort. He stared at it in surprise. He'd never felt his friend's hair before, and this felt so unlike anything he was used to. Soft. Pliable. Fitting so neatly in his palm.

At the touch, Trunks had gone still, but as nothing else happened, he half-turned, looking up at Gohan. His mask had slipped, and his wide eyes, slightly parted lips, were now only partly concealed by the shock of hair falling over his face.

Gohan lifted his hand, lightly touching Trunks' cheek.

Soft.

Pliable.

And fit so neatly in his palm. Trunks didn't move as Gohan cupped his head in his hand, running his thumb once just beneath his eye. Trunks glanced down at the flowing water, the ripples catching the early morning glare. His breath hitched, and Gohan had the distinct feeling that Trunks would let him do whatever he wanted, just for this moment.

His breath touched Gohan's wrist, misting faintly in the cool air.

"What do you want?" Trunks whispered. He looked up again, very aware of the extra inches Gohan had on him. "From me?"

"...I don't know," Gohan said.

He stopped. No, he knew at least one thing he wanted.

"I want you to feel better," Gohan said. "Safe. Like nothing bad will happen anymore."

That...was clearly the wrong thing to say.

Trunks' face lost expression, fading back into the frustratingly familiar mask. He let Gohan hold him for a second longer, than turned and stepped out of the stream.

Gohan closed his eyes, letting his hand fall. He had been so achingly close...

It only steeled his resolve. Trunks hadn't run, hadn't flown off. Hadn't told him no. Hadn't said it was impossible. This was just a deeper puzzle than Gohan had expected, and he would figure it out before the trip ended.

In their own thoughts as they dressed, neither of them noticed the growing mist at the top of the mountain. And when they returned to the forest, heading back to the campground, they couldn't see the thick clouds beginning to descend, slowly drifting through the trees toward the ocean.

*

Trunks hunted like an animal.

Following after him, Gohan wondered at how the other boy knelt by hard tree roots, listened intently to the wind. Breathed deep, thinking, then darted toward the right in the underbrush. Trunks made no sound, lightly leaping from exposed stone to stone, touching down on a mossy cover for just a moment before adjusting his chase and moving again. Gohan stayed only a few meters behind, careful not to make any noise.

The first time he'd cracked a twig and dry leave, Trunks' glare had been enough to make him feel like he'd failed a dozen math tests.

At the start, Trunks had been too caught up in whatever animal he'd heard, almost leaving Gohan without an explanation as he hounded his prey. Gohan couldn't tell what they were after until he heard the hard thunks of a wild pig stomping its trotters on stone and dirt.

Gohan felt a little of his nervous excitement dim. When he went hunting with his father, Goku always took them after a giant dinosaur which they'd wrestle and roll around with before finally making the kill. A wild pig wouldn't provide much of a match, let alone a mouthful. Maybe because Trunks had learned to live on tiny scraps—

The rhythm of the trotters changed. Turned. Stomped harder, louder. And then came galloping back, tromping louder and louder until Gohan realized that it had been a long way out and that distance had made it seem small.

The heavy tusks burst out of the foliage, scraping past trees as it appeared, a giant boar taller than Trunks, with black coal eyes. It squealed, a horrible high pitched sound that made Gohan tense and bring his hands up in a block, already flying backward.

Still on the ground, Trunks slipped on a mossy stone, landing sideways in front of its massive tusks.

Yelling his name, Gohan brought up a bolt of ki and fired.

And missed. The boar ducked his bolt, bending so it could dive at Trunks, then rearing back as Trunks' hand clenched deep in its bristled throat. Trunks flew out of reach and the boar's head twisted too far too quickly. A loud snap, and the body dropped at Gohan's feet.

"Oh man!" Gohan gasped. "I really thought you were gonna get hit. Where'd you learn to hunt like that?"

Trunks landed, shaking his hand to ease the ache. Deep red marks lined his palm and his fingers, scored where the bristles had scraped.

"From you," he said with a half-shrug. "It took me awhile to get used to it, but it works."

As he often did when hearing about his dead other self, Gohan felt a strange twist in his heart. No matter what the time stream had done to change itself, the other Gohan hadn't known the world would end up all right or merged back with its original timeline. That Gohan had died thinking he had failed utterly. The fact that he really hadn't existed at all only made his life seem all the more painful.

"Loser has to carry it back," Trunks said, interrupting his thoughts as he flew by. "I'll get the fire going for when you get there."

Gohan watched him go, following the sense of the ki trail to their camp. As perfunctorily as Trunks was treating this, at least he wasn't trying to distract Gohan and vanish.

Slinging the boar on his back, Gohan lifted into the air, floating down the mountainside to ease the strain. The boar was as heavy as a truck, and he didn't want to deal with all the bristles digging into his shirt and into his shoulders.

As he climbed down, he thought about how quickly Trunks had finished the hunt. No wrestling, no laughing, no dodging giant fangs or hooves or tusks. Just a kill and bring the food back to the fire. To Trunks, this was not sporting. Hunting was just like camping—survival.

No wonder Trunks hadn't been interested in coming out to the mountain. Gohan's head dropped. He'd dragged Trunks out into an environment where he'd never experienced anything but fear of being found and anxiety about hunting and killing his next meal. Trunks hadn't looked up at the camp's night sky except to search for the flashing lights and blasts of killer androids.

Had he ever looked up at the stars without being afraid?

When Gohan arrived, he found the fire fanned into a heavy flame with several sharpened spears all jammed into the ground, each leaning over the center. The boar was quickly torn apart and staked like huge kebobs. Dinner was swift, and they made a game of tossing the spears out into the water as far as they could, giving up trying to see who won when they couldn't even tell where the spears splashed.

Gohan sat down on the sand, resting on a berm where the beach met the forest. The waves rolled in a steady rhythm, and Gohan found himself nodding heavily as the sun went down. He'd hoped to see the night sky, but the clouds covered the patch of sky between the trees.

Beside him, Trunks had curled up close to the smoldering remains of the fire, his purple hair half-mingling with the ashes. He yawned, and the toe of his boot nudged the stones, sending up a small plume of smoke. His eyes watched the red embers in the gray wood, rousing slightly as the charcoal broke in a little shower of sparks. It reminded Gohan of how Trunks smoked cigarettes, focused on the burning tip more than inhaling, and he grimaced. Coming out here hadn't changed anything.

"One more day?" Gohan asked.

Trunks raised his head. "Yeah?"

"And then we'll go back?" Gohan half-shrugged. "I can't take forever off school, and...well, I know you don't really like being out here."

Trunks watched him for a moment, studying his face, then lay his head down again, staring at the fire.

"It's not bad. But yeah...one more day is fine."

Gohan gave a small sigh. He had school to return to. Trunks didn't mention anything he wanted. He would just return to the empty apartment and watch people through cigaette smoke. And maybe try to blow himself up again?

He briefly considered looking up counselors or therapy programs—that was what you logically did for someone like Trunks, right?—but what kind of program could help someone who'd watched his world vanish? Who knew that his closest friends and family who had suffered and fought and sacrificed with him...had never existed to begin with?

When he crept into the tent, stretching out on a comfortable plush sleeping bag, he wondered if Trunks would find a little relief talking to Piccolo or Vegeta, who had both done their share of losing important things and people. And he thought about how Trunks sometimes seemed to mirror his father's unbalanced expression, about how Piccolo likewise didn't speak for long periods of time. Maybe, like those two, Trunks would learn to put himself back together.

Gohan could only give him that time, and he wondered if he was selfish when he knew that he was waiting for his own reasons, too.

*

Gohan woke up knowing something was wrong.

He sat up, pushing off his sleeping bag, grimacing as his hand swept the damp mist off of the surface. His hair was damp, too, and the thin chill in the air cut across his skin.

He blinked once, then rubbed his eyes. No, it wasn't the bleariness of just waking up. He really couldn't see the tent around him. He put his hand out—yes, it was still there. The sun wasn't up—wouldn't be up for another hour or two—but the vague gray light of the earliest morning came filtered through a thick fog that had rolled down onto the beach, filling th tent.

Struck by the silence, he noticed that nothing was moving around outside. No birds chirping or flapping their wings. No crickets. Not even the wash of ocean waves on the beach. The world had gone silent, waiting for the fog to fade.

"Trunks?" Gohan whispered. "You awake?"

He didn't want to wake the other boy, but he'd found that Trunks could turn restlessly in his sleep. A bad dream would send him out onto the sand or even into the close-by tree branches. Gohan had the vague sense that waking up outside in the fog would be a jolt for his friend.

A rustle of cloth from the corner.

"Gohan?"

He froze.

Cracked. Strangled. That wasn't the sound of a jolt—Trunks sounded like he was turning to stone.

Gohan turned and crawled toward Trunks' ki signature, finding his silhouette. Trunks was sitting up, knees pulled against his chest, his head down with his eyes shut. Gohan put his hand on Trunks' shoulder—cold skin met his palm. He winced. Ice cold skin. Trunks had gone to bed without his shirt, too, and who knew how long he'd sat up like this?

"You're freezing," Gohan said, finding his shirt on the floor and using it to wipe away the mist that had formed on Trunks.

"You're still here?" Trunks whispered.

Oh.

Gohan's breath caught. He should have realized... Of course he'd known the fog would hurt Trunks, but he'd known it intellectually, logically. He hadn't known how bad Trunks would feel until he heard him talk.

"I'm here," he said, putting his arms around Trunks. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

Trunks didn't push him away. He turned and pressed himself flush against Gohan, holding him close as he put his face against Gohan's throat. He didn't feel the fabric of the tent under them, didn't feel the heavy sleeping bag being pulled over them.

The world was vanishing. Trunks knew it in his heart, knew he'd failed again somehow, and this time everything was disappearing into the cold, miserable fog...except Gohan was still there. Trunks hadn't vanished and neither had Gohan, and Gohan was warm and alive and holding him, too.

"I'm right here," Gohan whispered, glad the sleeping bag could cover both of them. "I'm not going anywhere."

Trunks held him with bruising strength. Gohan didn't complain, instead running his free hand across Trunks' back, slow circles with an added a touch of ki, warming the other boy quickly. Trunks couldn't seem to get close enough, sliding one leg between Gohan's.

As Gohan kept whispering, murmuring that the world hadn't gone away, that the tent was still there, the beach was under them, the forest was still behind them, little by little, Trunks breathed a little deeper, released a little of his death grip. Trunks shifted when Gohan did, settling so that he could more comfortably lay against him, but he didn't let go, tensing when he felt Gohan adjust, only relaxing when Gohan stilled.

"I know it's scary," Gohan whispered. "Everything's still here. It's just fog, really thick fog. It must've been 'cause yesterday was warmer. Sunny. When it hit the cold air coming off the ocean, it made fog and it just came rolling down here. That's why it's so thick. I know it's quiet—that's 'cause the fog's just spooked everything. Nothing wants to try to fly or run around when they could smack into a tree."

Gohan sighed. "Except maybe our dads. They'd think it was special training."

Trunks didn't respond. Gohan craned his neck, trying to see his face.

Trunks had fallen asleep. Gohan touched his hair, pushing it out of his eyes, and Trunks yawned and tucked his face down, breathing quietly against his neck.

Gohan sighed in relief, settling his head on the pillow. Too wide awake to think of sleep, he watched the fog swirling around in the faint light. Trunks was warm and comfortable in his arms. He had the same heady feeling as when a crisis was averted—his friend's panic wasn't world shattering, but he remembered Trunks' screaming during the fight with Vegeta. This time hadn't been that bad, and when he woke up...

Gohan frowned. If he was honest with himself, when Trunks woke up, he'd crawl back into that flat, emotionless mask and hide behind his cigarette smoke. It would be like this hadn't happened, and Trunks would answer any questions in simple monosyllables, if he even answered at all.

He shook his head. He wouldn't let himself think about that right now. It wasn't something he could change. Right now he had Trunks comfortable and calm. He'd worry about tomorrow when it came.

*

Taking a long, deep breath that turned into a muted sigh, Trunks turned his head, curling closer to the warm body beside him. The air was cold—he felt the cool breeze on his cheek—and he didn't want to move from...

from...

His eyes fluttered, and he shifted slightly, lifting his head.

During the night, he'd somehow come to lie with Gohan—almost on top of Gohan, pillowing his head on the other boy's shoulder. A flush stung his face down his neck. Their legs were tangled, and the heavy hand on his back had stopped moving...

"You awake?"

Trunks tensed. Trapped. How on earth had he come out of his own sleeping bag and crawled into Gohan's? Had the night been that freezing? A bad nightmare—?

A sense of dread came up out of him. Yes, something from out of last night. His shoulders hunched at the remembered feeling. A terrible sense of being alone, a sense of emptiness, of loss—

The cold emptiness of the fog that had covered the beach, settling in like a cloud covering everything.

Swallowing a sound in the back of his throat, he ducked his face down into the blanket again, refusing to admit that he was awake, that he'd behaved like an idiot, that he'd panicked—years of living in fear but it was a stupid fog that made him panic—

Warm circles on his back. A comforting whisper. Readjusting so that they rested comfortably together.

Trunks squeezed his eyes shut, but he couldn't stop the tears slipping out. The soft shake of his shoulders.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

"What?" Gohan leaned back, trying to see him, and Trunks simply clung tighter. "What for?"

But Trunks didn't answer.

A long moment passed, and Gohan did what he thought best, simply holding him close. He couldn't help his mind wandering, thinking of Trunks acting so closed off before. In his own way, although he hadn't tried to blow up cities or planets, Gohan thought that Trunks was acting a little like his father. Vegeta wouldn't show his emotions to anyone, burying the deepest fears and regrets until he couldn't bottle them up any longer, finally losing control so that someone else had to help put him back together.

Gohan squared his shoulders. He would do what he could to take care of Trunks.

Only when Trunks suddenly put one leg over him, straddling his hips, pushing him flat onto the ground, did Gohan remember that—however kind and considerate Trunks could be—he was still Vegeta's son. As Piccolo had said, they had a strange idea of therapy.

"Uh, Trunks—?" he started.

"Shut up," Trunks growled, digging his fingers into Gohan's shoulders. "Shut up—don't talk, don't talk, don't talk."

Trunks spared a hand down to Gohan's side, squeezing hard enough to make him wince, and then Trunks was pushing down Gohan's sweat pants, scrunching them down before he could get his foot over the hem and push them off in one swift movement.

Gohan nearly gasped out loud, wondering where Trunks had learned that. Then Trunks had caught his hands, pressing them down on either side of Gohan's head, pinning him as if they'd been wrestling.

"Oh, right," Gohan breathed. "Martial artist. Forgot."

Trunks didn't answer, didn't even seem to hear. He squeezed his knees on either side of him, his toned thighs giving way to his ass sliding against Gohan's hips, and Gohan realized that he was growing hard despite himself.

"Wait," he breathed, feeling Trunks ease up, centering himself. When Trunks didn't stop, Gohan tried louder, "wait...don't....hang on..."

"Don't talk," Trunks whispered, closing his eyes, turning his head so he didn't even face Gohan. "Don't talk don't talk don't talk—"

"But you don't want this—" Gohan choked as Trunks lowered himself, feeling his head pressing at Trunks' entrance, then the overwhelming heat as Trunks pushed down.

A hiss—Trunks had closed his eyes in pain now, biting his lip as he rode Gohan's cock. The pace was slow but he didn't falter, keeping the rhythm as his aura blurred. The transformation to super Saiyan was gradual, like a gold wave washing over them both, and then the rhythm was easier, smoother, and Trunks made tiny noises that he tried to hide behind his hand.

Finally—half freed, Gohan reached out and pulled Trunks close, holding him in one arm even as Trunks refused to stop.

Thunder rumbled over head. Trunks whimpered, rocking harder against him, and he pushed his face against Gohan's throat, hiding from the world.

"S'not fair," Trunks whispered. "I just...I don't want to..."

"Trunks—"

"Not fair, it's not fair."

Gohan got nothing more coherent out of him. Snatches of ideas came to Gohan—Trunks was panicking, thinking the world was ending the same way as before, that sex was a natural response to being afraid for his life—but they faded against the physicality of Trunks trembling under his arm, refusing to open his eyes. And if Trunks finished and came back to his senses, felt that fear and embarrassment and guilt and shame at forcing this blind—

Snapping gold, Gohan laced his finger's with Trunks and gripped him tight, then rolled Trunks on his back. He straddled his hips and took a deep breath, ready for a fight...

...and instead Trunks gave in. Trunks moaned as Gohan now took control, driving in deeper but moving slower, refusing to match those previous panicked thrusts. Gohan couldn't stop this frenzied coupling but he could master it, forcing Trunks to rock with him, refusing to let Trunks do anything that Gohan didn't allow.

He worked both of Trunks' wrists into one hand, pinning him down into the sand. Trunks squirmed underneath him, groaning as Gohan pushed in, trying to buck so that he would move faster, harder, anything. He thrashed his head to the side, his voice choking back in is throat.

"Don't fight it," Gohan said through his clenched jaw. "Don't fight me. Just...give in."

The rhythm was slow, torturous to both of them, and Gohan began to doubt that he could make it work. Trunks refused to open his eyes, to calm down or even relax so that he didn't strain against Gohan's hold. As stubborn as everyone else in his lineage, Trunks fought Gohan and his own demons so that the struggle would have been admirable in any other context.

When the rain started, faint cold drops that stung on their exposed skin, Trunks finally went still, moving only with Gohan's hips. His eyes opened and he stared at the sky, watching the sunlight filter through the clouds.

Long minutes passed. Their climax was almost an afterthought, and Gohan slumped down beside him, one arm flung over him, fingers curling around Trunks' side in case he tried to fly off. Only when the power slipped out of Trunks and his hair fell loosely around his face did Gohan relax.

The water lapped against the beach, slow waves coming with the wind. Gohan blinked, then looked around.

The tent and the trees for several feet were gone, left in smoldering ashes on the glassy rocks. His pack and a few belongings that had survived were scattered along the sand, blown clear.

"Wow," he breathed.

Gohan's voice seemed to rouse Trunks, who sat up slowly, hugging a knee to his chest. He cradled his head as if hung over, blearily peering through his fingers at the gray daylight. At seeing the world around him, he lowered his hand, lightly tugging at the grass flattened but not destroyed by their coupling.

"It's..."

As Trunks let the bits of sand and grass flit through his fingers, tears squeezed out and he curled tight, shoulders shaking. Gohan pushed himself up and put his arms around him, gratified as Trunks finally didn't shy away, instead leaning into his hold. Trunks choked, coughed as Gohan wordlessly stroked his hair.

When the tears finally subsided, Trunks sat still, watching the waves come in.

"Sorry 'bout the tent." His voice, already small, risked fading away completely. "Sorry...I..."

Gohan snorted. "I'm not."

He felt Trunks shift against him, lifting his head slightly.

"It was a leaky old thing on its last legs," Gohan said, forcing himself to sound casual. "That was a...well, unexpected way to send it off...but I'm not sorry it happened."

Trunks didn't reply, tugging awkwardly at the grass and sand. Long minutes passed as Gohan rested his chin on Trunks' head.

"You aren't?" Trunks murmured. "Really?"

"Really. I'm glad I was here to help."

"...oh."

Gohan winced and turned his head, nuzzling at Trunks' hair, gently pulling him closer into his lap.

"I'm glad...I wanted to since..." Gohan sighed. The words would only come awkwardly, stumbling out of him. "I don't go crashing couches of all the depressed guys in the world, y'know. You...you're more than just a friend to me."

Now Trunks froze, and Gohan's worried that he'd overstepped himself.

"I mean, I know it's sudden and I—I don't wanna push, and I know you're really, really fragile right now—not that I think you're made out of glass or anything, but I like being with you—always have—and I wish you felt better and—"

It was a relief when Trunks touched Gohan's face and guided him down for a kiss.

*

The final bell rang. Gohan was first out the door, running through the halls and out the school gate, taking to the air before anyone could notice and crossing the sky. He landed in a narrow alley and darted out to take his usual place at Trunks' table, setting his backpack down between them and smiling his thanks at the waitress when she brought his usual mocha latte.

"I thought of a good one," Gohan said, leaning close. "A real good one this time."

"Nothing about plants in the desert," Trunks sighed, exhaling a stream of smoke past his shoulder.

"It isn't," Gohan said.

"And nothing with Capsule corp."

"Not this time."

"And no super heroics."

Gohan flinched under Trunks' glare. It had been his own fault trying to fly that idea past Trunks' pride.

"I know, I know, that was a dumb one. I promise, no Saiyaman sidekick."

He took a long sip of his latte. The caffeine boost was great for studying, but it was the sugar after a long day that made coming here to Trunks even more pleasant.

Gohan set the coffe down. "A school."

"..."

Trunks didn't scowl. But the idea had clearly been balled up and thrown into the pile of Gohan's other ideas.

"Just hear me out," Gohan said. "It could be wherever. You take on as many—or as few," he amended, seeing the other's look darken, "as few students as you want. And you just teach them how to handle their ki. That's it."

"'That's it'?"

Trunks put his cigarette out in its ashes. His eye twitched as it often did, as Gohan suspected it always would. That Trunks had learned to speak more conversationally was a step in the right direction, but the step was tiny, a grudging offering to make Gohan more comfortable.

"Why?"

It would help coax you out further, Gohan thought. It would remind you what it is to talk to people. You would be outside interacting with the world instead of just watching it.

"I think you'd like it," Gohan said. "And...well. Humans should be able to protect their own world."

That came a little too close to its target. Trunks looked away, taking out his pack and tapping out another cigarette. He lit it with a flash of ki, still watching the pavement.

"Against the kind of monsters your father has to kill?" Trunks asked. "You think humans can fight that?"

"Not Cell or Freiza," Gohan conceded. "But...maybe very powerful humans. There are plenty of monsters that aren't on Cell's level."

Androids remained unsaid between them. Trunks took a long drag off the cigarette, running one hand through his hair and staring at the table.

"A school," he muttered. "Right. Train humans to get in the way, more like. Jump in the middle of a fight and get vaporized in an instant."

"Saiyans had to have started somewhere," Gohan said. "Humans have to start somewhere, too."

Trunks snorted. Gohan reached across the table and slipped his hand underneath Trunks' fingers. It was the only touch that Trunks allowed when they weren't alone.

Light steps sprinted across the sidewalk, sliding to a halt beside them. Videl leaned over the table, holding her hand in front of them. A blue ki ball swirled over her palm.

"I got it," she said, catching her breath. "I got it—whoa..."

The ki turned to faint wisps, about to break apart. With a huff of effort, she forced the ball to coalesce again.

"It keeps doing that," she grumbled. "How do I keep it from doing that?"

Trunks glanced at her ki, then at Gohan, who stirred his coffee with a bright Son smile.

Trunks' hand closed on Gohan's.

"Guess you're coming, too?" he asked.

"Someone's gotta keep you from blowing them up," Gohan said.

Not sure where to take her, Trunks nevertheless stood and tossed the usual tip, then started down the sidewalk. Videl followed at his heels, sheltering her fragile ki like a candle in a storm. Beside him, Gohan fell into step, still holding his hand, not complaining about Trunks not saying where they were going.

Trunks frowned, not knowing why he was annoyed. Nevermind that he didn't know the first thing about teaching anyone—he just felt a deep irritation at this world for merely existing, for the last bit of his own world resting in a pocket in his jacket, the red tip of a hat barely visible.

But Gohan was there.

And at least it was a clear, sunny day.

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