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Goodnight, Badman

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In the wild and constantly moving life Bulma experienced with her friends, she didn't tend to dwell on things. Flying headlong into a battle zone and almost experiencing an untimely death was chump change compared to realizing Dr. freaking Gero had converted himself into a synthetic being. It didn't occur to her that she should have expectations about who came to her and her baby's rescue until the future version of her baby brought it up.

Trunks, overall, was more offended by Vegeta's lack of reaction than Bulma was. She saw him shoot off after Vegeta, but brushed it off (again, Dr. freaking Gero). He brought it up to her later, carefully, politely as was usual for him.

(Honestly, she was surprised he turned out so polite.)

"Uhh…" Her response was teetering between awkward and trying her damnedest not to be dismissive as he watched her with disappointment that her motherly instincts nagged at her to protect him from.

He looked so much like Vegeta, it was a little uncomfortable. Lying would do nothing, expressing anything lame like well at least you turned out handsome instead of with your father's mean mug would rub salt in the wound. It wasn't really about her even though Trunks thought it was.

"Honey, I don't know what future me told you, but…your father and I weren't—aren't together."

There had been tenuous respect before Trunks was born, almost a friendship, that culminated into a short-lived affair when their mutual loneliness had become overwhelming. She liked Vegeta well enough and cared about what happened to him (mostly) but she wasn't in love with him or expecting anything when she wound up pregnant. The bad boy type was that way, after all, and her own attraction to them was masochistic to a degree that only a therapist could unravel she figured.

"I mean, why should I have expected Vegeta to do anything?" she laughed nervously, realizing too late it was probably not the best phrasing. "He wasn't the only one there who could fly! And, you know, like half of those guys have been my friends for much longer than I've known Vegeta, right…?"

(Except Piccolo. Piccolo was an outlier that she had only just recently stopped feeling jumpy around.)

Trunks' face fell, Bulma cursed herself for her babbling (it always got her into trouble! Always!) "Oh, Trunks…" she said, reaching out to touch his face. "I'm sorry."

"I just…" Trunks leaned into her touch, eyes closing with a pained grimace. Poor kid. Poor kid. He had already suffered so much but learning the ugly truth about his parents seemed to shatter him just that much more. "My mom…you in the future, she said that even with how Father was, there was some good to him. He had a kind side. He didn't show it, but she knew." 

Occasionally, yes, Vegeta showed her a vulnerable side—he was unexpectedly gentle when they were intimate. She didn't regret the time they spent together though she was sure he did. Bulma knew she was a distraction, she knew her pregnancy was a distraction, she knew his frustration at failing to ascend was mounting—so she let him go. She was the one who suggested he leave. She wished him luck—"I know you can do it!" she had said.

It wasn't fair to their son, the present version or the future version. He didn't ask to be conceived by people with no intention of being anything more. He didn't deserve to grow up without a father. Bulma Briefs was selfish and spoiled at her worst, everyone knew that, but…it wasn't about her.

"I wouldn't have said anything bad about him to you," she said with a bitter smile. "Your father is a jerk, but I respect him. And he gave me you even if he didn't mean to. I don't hold anything against him."

Bulma Briefs didn't need  a man, if she wanted a man she could easily get one.

Well, not every man, Vegeta didn't want her—and as much as it would usually piss her off that someone didn't think she was the greatest thing to happen ever, she didn't need him.

Trunks didn't push the subject further, not that he could anyway with the ensuing chaos after their conversation. He was immediately drawn into the usual drama of training and time limits and villains making messed up rules for their own amusement because they're quirky.

Bulma and Vegeta hardly made eye contact with one another in that time, let alone spoke more than a handful of words. When she said her final goodbyes to the grownup Trunks, hopeful that his future would be a brighter one after how hard he worked, Vegeta stayed there much to her surprise.  He didn't say anything to her, not that she was expecting him to. He was free of expectations from her, wasn't that for the better? Wasn't that what he wanted? Bulma still felt his presence, felt his eyes on—her?

No, more than likely the baby, Trunks had told her what happened when Cell killed him. She didn't know what happened between training, it seemed Vegeta bonded—in his own way—with the older version of their son. Maybe it meant he would take an active role in the baby's life. Bulma wouldn't deny him, he had every right to have contact with his son if he wanted it even if she didn't need him. She supposed it would be the same as it was before, only baby made three in the awkward tangle of life.

She wouldn't interrogate him about what he wanted to do, he had a lot to think about and so did she what with the teensy issue of her best friend dying permanently. He didn't seem in a hurry to say anything either as, of course, Vegeta remained quiet and kept to himself.

The hush felt like a gaping distance between them, even though they were on the same compound again. She faintly wondered if he was expecting anything, pushed aside the thought and left him be. His mood appeared akin to a deep depression, much to her alarm, his precious gravity room that she slaved over for his pompous demands remained shut off and he sat around watching something in the middle distance if not the baby.

Whatever. Bulma continued to give him a wide-but-healthy-for-Saiyans berth, busied herself with work in the lab—she needed to concentrate on something since the madness of the androids was over. Baby Trunks sat by her side in his bassinet, busying himself with the equally important baby business of gumming onto every solid object in reach and making adorable noises until the time came to put him to bed.

So lost in thought she was with considering what lighter work she could occupy herself with at her desk until she passed out, Bulma didn't realize that an abnormal surprise was waiting in her room.

Vegeta was resting on her bed like he belonged there, looking out at the window at the night sky.

Bulma jolted, stopped from stumbling out into the hallway by the barrier of her closed door.

He looked up, his expression impassive, his eyes locking uncomfortably onto hers.

"Are you lost?" Bulma asked, unable to stop herself from saying the first thing that came to her mind. Augh! Stupid! Idiot! What did you say that for, you—

"The boy is in my room," Vegeta interrupted her thoughts. "Unless that's your way of telling me to leave again?"

Something acrid was inherent in his tone, Bulma cringed at the words, confused. What did that mean? It wasn't like she chased him away, she suggested it, he agreed, he returned and showed her that he had transformed before leaving again for more training.

Was she thinking too hard?

"It made more sense to convert the room next to mine into Trunks' nursery," she said, gripping her upper arms both to shield herself from his scrutiny and to have something to do with her hands.

He didn't answer the explanation but canted his head to the empty space next to him on the bed, a silent invitation Bulma did not take him up on.

"Vegeta," she said, holding her stance firmly. "You can train Trunks when he's ready. You're welcome to stay here as before." Not in her room, though. She moved from the door to gesture at it. "I'm sorry your room is occupied now, you can take whichever one you want and I'll move your clothes tomorrow."

"You kept them," Vegeta stated, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah…?" Now she was more confused than ever. "You live here, I wasn't going to throw your stuff out."

He hummed rather than answering verbally, indicating the space next to him again. She relented with a sigh, shoulders dropping, she shuffled over to join him on the bed. "You missed me that much, huh?" she teased in an attempt to alleviate the awkward tension.

"Tch."

At least he responded with something besides grunting. His gaze shifted to the ceiling.

Was it possible for an awkward silence to become tripled in awkward? It was starting to really irritate her. "Are you interpreting me suggesting your trip as saying I want you to leave?" Bulma finally snapped, well and truly done with Saiyan bullshit. "Because I wasn't, okay? I knew you were getting frustrated and I didn't want you blaming me or Trunks for your plateauing."

He looked like he wanted to argue for a moment, probably some nonsense like "you overestimate your influence on me" whatever bastard prince nonsense he wanted to believe.

"No, Vegeta. I know how you think. Don't lie, you considered me a distraction, and with my pregnancy—"

"Bulma." His voice shut her up immediately, she watched Vegeta as he slowly turned his gaze to her. "Fine. I was perturbed that you caught onto it before I left on my own."

"So you're being a petty asshole right now," Bulma sighed. "Seriously?"

Yes, seriously, she knew Vegeta, knew his levels of irrational testosterone and neuroses. He was pettier than herself looking at the latest celebrity couple drama in crappy magazines. He hated that she knew him so well, probably resented her and himself for allowing it to go that far.

"Look, Vegeta, I don't care that you had to leave—"

"You dare assume that I—"

"Shut up." She rose up from her place to pin herself over him. It was a fruitless action, of course, since the absurdly powerful alien could throw her off as easily as breathing, but it surprised him enough that he did nothing for the moment it took her to finish. "I considered you a friend, Vegeta. Despite it being horrible for my health, I still consider you a friend. I never stopped believing in you, I'm proud of what you accomplished, and I'm grateful—yes memorize that because I'm only going to say it once—I'm grateful you made it home and you're going to be in our son's life in some measure." Bulma leaned into his face, his eyes were still wide in surprise at her behavior, his mouth slightly agape as if he wanted to form words. "You are not obligated to be here, Vegeta, not in any stretch. Don't you dare act like I'm trying to trap you in blissful domesticity, okay?"

"I didn't want a son," Vegeta blurted out first after a few more seconds of mindlessly mouthing attempts at words.

"Yeah, no shit, that's why I told you—"

"I wanted to leave this planet and forget I had ever heard of it or been here." Swifter than she could perceive, he rolled them over, pressing a finger to her lips. "I had nothing to my name except the clothes on my back, and even that was given to me. You made them. You gave me a son. You gave me the tools to ascend. I sought your help when I was weak, and I couldn't leave even though you had no expectations of me."

The air around them sparked, a golden light enveloped the room as Vegeta transformed, Bulma did not flinch from the heat and the light. She tasted metal at the back of her throat, felt the buzz at the back of her skull that came only when someone strong was near. Yet she waited, undaunted, for Vegeta to finish whatever point he was making. What happened to him, she couldn't help but wonder, though she didn't want to break the moment with diverting questions.

"Look," his gruff voice was the only thing she could hear over the pulsing electricity of his aura. "This was your doing, Bulma. I had hit a wall and stopped caring, but I ascended. And my first thought was to come back and show you."

The proud Saiyan prince's eyes seemed…haunted, like he had somehow aged in the few days he had been gone.

"Vegeta…what happened to you in that time chamber?" she asked when he had moved his hand to run his fingers through her hair.

Instead of answering, he made a noise of frustration and whipped off his gloves in one fluid motion before resuming touching her hair. "I couldn't leave, Bulma." His hair and aura faded back to their natural state. "You had no expectations of me and I still couldn't leave. My time in that godforsaken chamber, I had nothing but my thoughts, the boy left me alone on my request. A year passed for me though only a day passed for the world outside, a year of being alone with my thoughts. Then I went back for another year. Two goddamned years of reflection, Bulma."

Was he telling her that he had lost his mind? He seemed calm as he was talking, though she couldn't imagine what it might have been like in that chamber. All she could do was raise her hand to touch his, hoping her expression was encouraging. Her heart ached at having him back here with her, in this unusually intimate position. She didn't fully understand it, didn't like it, really didn't like it, Bulma didn't want to pine over a man—fuck that.

"I asked him about you. The future you. He said she was strong and I didn't deserve to hear about her. He was angry about the incident with Gero at the time." Vegeta didn't look like he was even pretending to feel shame about bringing up their son being angry at him, typical.

"Yeah, I told him—" Bulma shifted, pushing on his shoulders. "Hey, this is awkward, and my legs are falling asleep. Get off."

There was a joke in there somewhere about not objecting to him being on top before that neither of them would make. Vegeta wouldn't think of it because he was a total prude at heart and Bulma didn't want to ruin the first actual conversation they were having in a long time with dirty jokes, especially if they weren't currently and likely weren't in the future going to have sex.

Vegeta sat back, pulling her up along with him to rest in his lap. She wasn't sure why he didn't want to lose contact with her but wouldn't embarrass him by asking, she didn't mind, she missed contact. Maybe not necessarily from him or…maybe she did. It was annoying to think about.

"Anyway, I told him you weren't the only one who could fly there, frankly if I bothered to think about it I'd be more mad at Krillin or Tien if Trunks and I bit the dust—some friends, huh?"

He smirked, resuming his strangely gentle touches by resting a hand on her cheek. "Practical as always. There's something admirable about your ruthless way of thinking, I didn't say it at the time since I wanted to fight but your idea of taking out Gero early amused me."

"Wow, a compliment. What do you want if you're trying to butter me up?" Bulma said, shaking her head. "More battlebots? I'm not exactly in the position to build any more right now."

"You'd screech about it clogging your pores if I put butter on you. I want you to let me finish what I'm trying to say before I lose my nerve and retreat like a coward."

Oh, he was being serious, Bulma would allow him the courtesy of being mum and not giggling at his misunderstanding of her speech.

Vegeta continued, "He couldn't resist speaking of her even if he was having a temper tantrum. I learned how she survived on her own, raised Trunks on her own. She didn't need the other me after all, but…she always spoke fondly of him."

Well, it's easy to idealize someone when they're dead, a very uncharitable thought occurred to her. It was plain Vegeta was having a moment, though, so she wouldn't spoil things for him.

"I shouldn't have asked, though," he gave a heavy sigh, shrugging with the exaggerated distaste that she knew usually signaled something genuinely affecting his feelings and him disliking that quite a lot. "Mama's boy rubbed off on me, I couldn't stop thinking of her, you. I wondered why I began to think of your suggestion as dismissal. I thought about you frequently while I was in there. It drove me mad, even after you suggested I remove myself from your presence to get rid of distraction, you were still present. Taunting me. There, but just out of reach."

So, you were totally losing your mind, Bulma thought resisting the urge to interject.

"When I left the chamber the first time, my first impulse was the come back here, like before. Then again after the second time. Then…then Cell killed Trunks."

The abrupt change of subject brought a shudder up from deep within her bones, Vegeta felt it as he moved his hands down to hers to hold them, warm them. His expression shifted, eyebrows sinking, eyes closing, he looked like he was in the anger state of grieving and Bulma was helpless to comfort him. His voice was quiet, yet forceful as he said, "Shot through the chest. Just like how Frieza killed me. My son was dead, I did nothing, I could do nothing."

He didn't want a son, he wasn't prepared for the emotions that came with it, but then again neither was she. They both went at it alone out of their own stubborn insistence.

"Suddenly it mattered so much, I had no use for sentiments or attachments. But my son was dead, I did nothing. You could have died along with our son, I did nothing. I resented myself for doing nothing and it was too late."

"Vegeta…" Bulma pressed her forehead against his, sighing, unable to resist that same feeling of sympathy and relation welling up that got her into the messy business with the Saiyan in the first place. "It's done, you…" He would never admit to making mistakes even if it was exactly what happened. "…You can't mope and obsess on it. There's no room for that in this family." She cupped his face in her hands, his eyes shot open, staring into hers with that familiar piercing black that she grew so fond of. "Do better," Bulma said firmly. "Maybe you're not ready to fight again, that's okay, but if there's one thing I will ask of you it's do better."

"Don't you order me around," he said, an amused quirk of his lips present nonetheless before it melted back into a frown. "Don't fly into battle zones for your own amusement again."

"Don't you order me around, Saiyan," she retorted, releasing his face only for him to catch her wrists in his grasp. "Next time, Trunks will be strong enough to survive a stupid explosion if he's with me, and I can just be wished back."

"Reckless woman," he muttered.

"I seem to recall you liked my reckless attitude," Bulma said with a sly smile.

Vegeta didn't answer her teasing, only stared at her for a long moment of quiet contemplation. She could barely fathom what he was thinking, had been thinking for the past two years by his perspective. Whatever it was pained him and she wanted to ease him of that pain though she knew building up any trust between them again would take a while with his temporal displacement and…the general issues between them. The issues she wouldn't address but knew were present.

"She mourned me. Your future self," he finally said, his voice a soft, disbelieving whisper that she almost couldn't hear. "But she survived without me. Like you."

"Would you have it any other way?" Bulma asked seriously. "If I was the kind of woman that needed a man so much she couldn't function, I would be weak, wouldn't I?"

"I wouldn't have given you a second glance, let alone gotten so far with you," he admitted, loosening his hold on her wrists to let her hands drop. "But I am…confused at the same time. Part of me continues to take it as dismissal."

Rejection, that was clear enough, and a prideful man like Vegeta wouldn't know how to deal with it. Neither would Bulma, if she were to honestly consider it, she responded to rejection or criticism with anger and a succinct reminder that she was Bulma fucking Briefs. "I think somewhere down the line you started to like me, Badman," she wryly laughed. "We were friends before, even if you wouldn't say that."

He scowled at her, tsked at how ridiculous her statement was. "I disliked you the least of Earthlings, I will say that."

"Well…" Her eyes cast down, attention caught by his hands—steady as always, scarred of course, calloused, warm, shockingly gentle when he put his mind to it. "I liked you. I like you. I'm not—"

"Expecting anything from me," Vegeta interjected, sounding tired but accepting.

Now it was her turn to press a finger to his lips to shut him up, his cheeks flushed faintly at the unexpected contact—only she got to see him make expressions like that. "I expect that you'll train our son, I expect that you'll pick yourself up from your anger at Goku's death and try again. Because that's who you are, Vegeta, you're not a quitter, you're a hardworking determined man, and I admire that about you." She took her hand away, offering him a sincere smile. "I was going to say, I'm not expecting you to have a relationship with me—no sex, no romance, whatever. But I want my son to have a father."

Vegeta didn't answer at first, watching her in the secluded, secure environment that they had created together sometime before. Bulma was clear, she was resolute—she wasn't going to demand Vegeta stay, he wasn't a prisoner, she wouldn't allow him to use her and their son as an excuse for his frustrations. He was clear, too, for a reason he didn't fully comprehend that he didn't want to leave, he was drawn back to her home (their home) every time.

"Hey." Bulma placed a comforting touch on his arm, he didn't pull away but focused on her gesture. "It's late, it's been a long day. Let's talk some more tomorrow, huh? You're tired."

"So are you," Vegeta quietly argued back, as expected for him.

What was not expected was his motion of rolling back over to the side of the bed she originally found him on. Her jaw dropped at the sheer baffling audacity of the Saiyan who was now casually removing his armor and boots before tucking himself in under the sheets. "Hey!" she protested, shaking him by his shoulder.

"I recall you saying that since my old room is occupied, I am at liberty to pick any room I want," he said, nonchalantly rolling to face her. "I choose this one. Goodnight, woman."

She huffed, slumping in defeat, an amused laugh coming forth despite the continued Saiyan bullshit she was experiencing. Bulma leaned down and kissed him on the forehead, just out of habit, and rolled over herself. "Goodnight, Badman," she mumbled, eyes slipping closed.

Bulma couldn't hear Vegeta's reply, if he spoke actual words (it was more than likely he sputtered outrage at her kissing him). It didn't matter anyway.

After a while, he must have thought she was asleep rather than in a light doze or else he certainly wouldn't have done that, Bulma felt him pull her against his chest.

No expectations, she reminded herself. Though she realized she failed to ask Vegeta if he had expectations.

That would be a tomorrow problem.

Chapter Text

"Good morning, woman."

 

He wanted to stay long enough to say that to her when she woke up, a teasing comment reflecting on her silly parting. Before, she would have wrinkled her nose and pushed him on the chest, commanding him to shut up and stop smirking at her. Even before their relationship became physical they playfully bantered once they began to understand each other's thought patterns. Vegeta felt a tiny, deep down part of him that had softened like an overripe fruit which craved the comfort they used to have.

He mashed it down by recalling a word he festered a resentment of over the past few years: expectations.

Bulma didn't expect much from him. "I'm pregnant," she had outright said to him some time ago, unafraid, no pleading or sadness in her eyes but calm and bold acceptance. Before he could sputter doubt that he held any responsibility for the brat, she poked him in the forehead, snarled that if he dared suggest she had been unfaithful he would pay dearly. "I didn't want this to happen either, Vegeta. But I'll deal with it, you just keep training."

She turned away from him then, the further away she went the larger a schism seemed to open up between them. Something had changed, not for the better, the comfort and affection between them was gone. But he had expected that would happen, didn't he? Vegeta didn't have things. Anything he had was temporary, taken away somehow, it was why he didn't waste time with bonding and sentiment, possessions, nothing. Vegeta had his strength and his pride, his destiny as the avenger of his people.

Of course that was taken away by Kakarot, noble and wonderful Kakarot who sacrificed himself to protect his precious planet. Coward. Coward running away so he wouldn't have to fight Vegeta. What was he supposed to do now that Kakarot was dead? Bulma saying he was angry at Kakarot's death was an understatement, him and his nauseating affection towards his friends and family, encouraging his son to be strong and fight Cell.

Cell, the bastard that killed Trunks. His son. He failed his son where Kakarot succeeded with his own.

And now Kakarot was dead while everyone else lived.

Vegeta watched Bulma's reaction when the news broke, he didn't know why, it was some fixation, he had to know how she felt about losing precious Kakarot. She was the one who found him in the woods all those years ago, after all, he was her oldest friend. Bulma maintained a strong front as he expected, any fool would assume her to be indifferent but he knew better. She was a prideful creature, much like him, it was one of the things they related over. She wouldn't show her feelings of pain to him, to anyone, but especially not to him. Showing him such weakness was a mistake and he respected her determination to maintain her independence.

Bulma had no expectations of comfort or support from him.

That was fine at first. He had nothing to give, anyway.

He had nothing except her, she who gave so much for no reason. Of course he was suspicious of behavior like that! Everything came with a price, what was hers?

Nothing. She expected nothing from him then, just like now.

Well, that wasn't entirely true, she decided at one point they were friends, she liked him, she believed in him and encouraged him all the way.

"I think you're hitting a wall," she had said to him that day. "I'm not much use right now with—well, you know. Why don't you take the ship and do some independent training? I'll bet removing distractions will help! I know you can do it! I know you can become a Super Saiyan!"

The rift between them was still so large but he felt her encouragement as genuine. He felt her words last night as genuine. She was genuine all the way even if it made more sense in his own warped way of thinking that she couldn't possibly be.

He pushed himself up from the bed, quietly so as not to wake her in the present. He couldn't help but linger for a moment to watch her. Bulma's eyebrows were drawn down, mouth similarly turned in an unhappy expression.

Probably thinking of Kakarot, Vegeta thought with some bitterness. It irritated him and he didn't know why. Jealousy? She wouldn't have mourned him like she did Kakarot, his son wouldn't remember him (but that's your own fault, a small voice reminded, you abandoned them, you avoided them because it was easy). Though it made him sick to consider such a thing, Yamcha might have ended up the paternal figure to Trunks, even if Bulma was adamant she had no interest in the weakling and he seemed to regard Trunks' existence at all as some kind of betrayal.

It shouldn't have bothered him. Vegeta never needed his father, but humans were different, they were so…ridiculous. He didn't want his son being raised by another man. He wanted…what? Nothing was expected—but what was wanted? He wanted…

When he and Bulma began their—for the lack of a better term—affair he was inexperienced since he prided himself on his discipline and dedication to training alone, therefore made no time for frivolous pleasures. He equally prided himself on his ability to learn, though, and made up for it quickly (he wouldn't admit his ego was boosted nicely by Bulma accusing him of lying about his inexperience). It turned out, unfortunately, he liked sex quite a lot, he liked the intimacy of it though he would throttle anyone before admitting that. Sex with Bulma specifically? Not sure, he had been steadfast in faithfulness to her alone just as she had to him.

It felt nice to have an experience exclusive to him.

That must have been it.

He paused at what used to be his room, the boy was beginning to stir—he recalled those eyes of his son's, blue, like his mother's. The future version of the boy glared at him for the beginning half of their training, it amused him, he looked like Bulma when he did. It only made sense, didn't it? Bulma raised him, by herself. He wondered if her future self told the other him she had no expectations too.

Or, maybe she didn't get the chance to before he died. Before everyone died. He thought of her alone in that future often, the last one standing, the greatest survivor living by her wits and guts. He found himself feeling respect towards the future Bulma, just like he respected his Bulma.

His Bulma?

He shook himself out of the thoughts, or tried to, just the same as he did in the hyperbolic time chamber. Bulma's image taunted him with the memory of her smile, her gentle touch, the sweet words she would whisper to him while absently tracing patterns on his chest as they laid in bed. "You miss me, don't you tough guy?" her voice flitted through his mind, driving him to the edge of sanity. "Why don't you just tell me that? Why won't you just tell me that you—say, what do you want, anyway? Have you ever wanted something just for yourself and not because it was expected of you?" 

Expectations. That fucking word again! Vegeta snarled, pushing himself away from the alienating silence of the hall to head down to the kitchen. He shouldn't have come back, one voice scolded him.

You would have anyway, said another, you can't stay away. You won't stay away. You want to remind the woman that you survived and you're still here even though she doesn't need you!

Need.

He drifted past the tittering of Mrs. Briefs to sit down and make himself a plate. He was beginning to come to the frightening conclusion as Mrs. Briefs' chattering turned into a dull buzz that even if Bulma didn't need him, he might need her. Even when trying to keep his distance she was there in his mind. Even when he was at his lowest, realizing he had nothing and breaking through the wall to ascend, coming back to Earth (to her) first came to mind.

But what did it mean? What did he want and why?

Many images flashed through his head, a swirling confusing storm of memories that both haunted him in the chamber and occurred after.

"You know, darling, I'm glad you're staying," Mrs. Briefs' voice cut into his thoughts, bringing a pause to his mindless motions of shoveling food into his mouth much more slowly than usual.

Vegeta's eyes flicked over to the entirely too sunny form of the Briefs matriarch—Panchy, though she had flirtatiously informed him that all her favorite boys called her Bunny—she was smiling of course but something about her gaze seemed too keen for the spacey woman. "Bulma was lonely without you even if she won't admit it," she continued, serenely refilling his plate with what was probably an entire farm's worth of bacon and sausage. "And a boy shouldn't grow up without his father!"

Vegeta didn't answer but mulled over the words (though usually he would turn a deaf ear to the unsettling woman). He wasn't so self-absorbed that he didn't realize Bulma was fond of him, wanted him, yet she refused to make those feelings known. Not because she thought it would influence his decisions at all—of course not—her pride wouldn't allow her to be vulnerable to the humiliation of wanting someone that wasn't interested.

And she was right to be, he wasn't, he didn't want a son, he didn't want someone attached to him being a distraction getting in the way of his goals. His thoughts wandered to their time together again, her curled up against his body, hair splayed out, skin flushed and soft breaths puffing from equally soft lips. Something about the post-climax daze seemed to loosen her inhibitions up in a different way, she would confide to him about the men who would eye her as a teenager.

"They'd be like, old enough to be my dad. These old fuckers bored with their marriages looking to trick a kid into doing gross stuff with them. They're all like that, the younger they can get the better. I wasn't a person to anybody, I was a conquest, a status symbol."

Her front of confidence, for part of it was a front, ended up being her shield in protecting herself from falling prey to people like that, though she admitted it didn't stop the more aggressive ones that had no shame in using force, or her own flirtations.

A trait that she clearly learned from her mother who was still watching him. "Bulma never opened up to someone like she did you," she said, startling him with her insight. "And I bet you feel the same, don't  you Vegeta?"

None of your business he first wanted to say, would have said if he wasn't caught off-guard by her statement.

Bulma never opened up to someone like she did to him. Why? Why would she say that? It couldn't have been true, and he muttered something in protest about Yamcha to prove her wrong.

Panchy laughed as she took out a bottle of wine to just—drink directly from it?!

Yes, she did that with the eerie grace of an empress, for a moment he saw hints of the regal demeanor, the pride that he would witness in Bulma. Impossible—that was Panchy fucking Briefs, wasn't it? The woman didn't exactly scream dignified.

"Sweetie, I love dear Yamcha to bits but he doesn't have any common sense, I'm no genius and even I can see that," she giggled, shaking her head. "Would you like some wine, darling?"

Too shocked by the amount of sass being displayed by the woman, Vegeta numbly shook his head, trying not to let his jaw hang open and just concentrate on eating. 

"The poor dear was so scared of women for most of his life, he didn't know what to do when he started to overcome it. He never learned how to actually treat a girl, sadly."

On one hand, she was implying Vegeta knew how to treat a girl and while he would usually be smug about being better than someone else at something it was so preposterous he didn't know what to say. He sputtered, "You think I do? What was between us was purely physical!"

Not that it was any of the damn woman's business that he had been fucking her daughter! How mortifying. They might have talked to each other after intercourse, but that didn't mean anything—he might have specifically made it a point to do that as well after she told him Yamcha would either always fall asleep or just leave. But that didn't mean anything.

He would have voiced more protests until he realized that Panchy's eyes were open and staring right into his own with a knowing gleam that punched him in the gut. Her eyes were blue, just like Bulma's, he couldn't escape her no matter how far he ran.

"I got up to some mischief when I was young, Vegeta," she said, already busying herself with clearing up the plates. "Just like you."

Mischief was hardly how he would have defined it. She couldn't have possibly been comparing her mischief to his conquests as an active soldier, she wasn't that stupid, was she?

"I'm still pretty handy with guns, you know!" Panchy smiled over her shoulder at him as she cleaned. "When I met Briefs I thought he was a total drip, he didn't like guns."

Was she implying that she had killed people in the past? Okay, that was a little similar to his own background. Vegeta found himself listening as she continued even though he really thought it was a bad idea.

"We didn't have much in common it seemed, he was a gentle country bumpkin that liked fiddling with inventions and taking care of animals…he was totally helpless and needed my protection, honestly!" She spun around to face Vegeta again, watching him. "But as I got to know him I realized…he was such a calming presence for me. He listened to me, he treated me like I was a person and not just some gun-toting bimbo, and he said that I treated him like he was a man and not some space cadet." 

Being treated like a person, feeling whole, he related to that sentiment though he would never say it aloud. When he was with Bulma, he felt like he was more than a killing machine and warrior prince, he felt like a man. It took him entirely too long to realize that, and he didn't even want to voice it though he was sure it would make figuring things out with Bulma easier. 

Panchy knew, the gentle smile she was giving him said that she could see right through him and he hated that. "It's not too late to talk to Bulma, dear, she loves you very much even if she won't admit it. I know you two are good together." 

Love, his lips automatically peeled back in a snarl. He was familiar with the word, heard the nonsense spouting from lesser lifeforms begging for their lives, heard Earthlings on TV exchanging those empty sentiments. He didn't understand it, however, it was nothing more than weakness. 

Vegeta scoffed, pushing himself up from the table and leaving behind the kitchen as well as Panchy's enigmatic expression. He still needed to think, needed to figure out what any of it meant. He almost didn't hear her call that she would watch Trunks for the day so they could go out on a "date" (whatever the hell that meant).

Go out? He didn't want to go out, Bulma didn't want to either he was fairly sure. He had become very attuned to her ki signature, as weak as it was, and he knew for a fact she was still in her room. 

"Bulma," was the only warning Vegeta gave as he pushed the door open. "It's far past breakfast—"

He stopped, eyes taking in the dim lighting of the room illuminated only by the TV. He could only see Bulma's silhouette against the screen, the top of her head poking up over the couch.

There was the smell of salt, the noise of shifting as Bulma composed herself and hurriedly flicked off the TV before he could see the video playing—too late, he saw the excited face of Kakarot as a child peering too closely into the screen. "Hey, Bulma!" his jovial voice faded out with the buzz of static and darkness.

Oh.

He had caught her in a moment of weakness, evidently. Watching some video from when she and Kakarot were children. Crying now that she had a moment alone, where no one could see her and offer condescending platitudes.

Crying over Kakarot. A wave of bitterness enveloped him again as he moved to join Bulma on the couch. She was curled up in the corner of it, stubbornly looking away from him. "Bulma," his own voice sounded out of place in the gloomy mood of the room, rough and authoritative that it was.

"What?" she snipped back. "I'm not in the mood right now, Vegeta, just leave me alone."

She thought he was there to start a fight, to insult and mock. "Bulma," he repeated, somehow stuck on just saying her name while he scrambled to think of something else. He had to tell her something, something to shake her out of the mire of heartache, something that would—that would— 

"Let's go out," Vegeta blurted. 

Bulma raised her eyebrows at him, mouth dropped open in surprise. "Wha…?" 

"Your mother is going to watch Trunks for the day, let's go out. You said we were going to talk more, didn't you?" He stood suddenly, holding out a hand to her. "Come now, you can't just wallow around here all day, you're going to become as pale as cave worm." 

Eugh. Worms.

It lit a fire of defiance in her anyway as she stood up, bypassing his offered hand entirely to get into his face. "Even at my worst, I still look better than you, tough guy," she sneered, turning away with a flick of her hair. "Fine, let's go out," Bulma sighed with an exaggerated shrug as she traipsed over to her bathroom. "But I've gotta get cleaned up first. Some of us like practicing good hygiene around here." 

Silently, quicker than her feeble human senses could detect, he came up behind Bulma to grasp her shoulders. "You told me we would talk more, Bulma. I will hold you to it." 

She paused, completely still in his hold, her eyes turned up to him with that same magnetic gaze that drew him inexplicably all those years ago. "I wanted to ask if you expected anything after this, that's true."

Expectations. He grimaced at the sound of that damnable word but held her steady. "I can't put it into words just yet," Vegeta found himself admitting. "And I want you to be honest about what you're feeling."

"Do you?" Bulma held her gaze coolly, turning in his embrace to avoid being vulnerable to him. "You want me to be honest that I'm happy you stayed? You want me to say that even though I don't need you, I want you? That I love you?"

He waited for her to say something about him mocking her and was surprised when it didn't come. "Say that again."

"Which part?"

The part about love. That weird word that made him feel squirmy inside, even though he certainly wouldn't have the understanding to echo the sentiment to her. Whatever it was that gave him comfort to have Bulma in his arms again. "How do you even know that you…love me?"

She shrugged. "Seems stupid, right? It doesn't make very much sense, does it? Well, unfortunately for you, I don't have an explanation, love doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Just one of those Earth things, I guess."

"You probably wouldn't be mourning me like you are Kakarot," Vegeta answered without thinking, trying to disprove the so-called "love" she felt towards him.

It didn't make sense. She couldn't love him.

"Is that what stupid shit thing you've talked yourself into today?" Bulma scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Sorry, Badman, I'd be devastated if you died. At least if you just left I'd know you were still alive."

"Stupid shit th—I do not talk myself into stupid shit!" he snapped back defensively, unable to comprehend the implications behind her words. "Blasted woman, I—" He stopped himself, taking a deep breath. "You want me to stay."

"I told you that last night, yes."

"And you…?"

She sighed, "And I love you, Vegeta. You don't have to say it back."

"But going on a 'date' is fine, isn't it?" 

Bulma and Vegeta remained silent for a long moment, just staring into each other's eyes, both wanting to voice something but not knowing what exactly to say. 

Fuck it, he thought, leaning in and kissing her.

It was a bad idea, it was what got them into the whole tangled mess of feelings in the first place, what got them a child that was downstairs being doted on by his grandmother. But by the gods that he didn't believe in, he had missed this, missed it with her. He had missed her warmth, her softness, the little noises she would make, her hands carding through his hair—

"Yeuk—" Bulma pushed herself away, cheeks red and panting despite her attitude. "Seriously, let's save this for after we've cleaned up and gone out—brush your teeth, Vegeta, sheesh."

Bah, she devoted more concern than necessary to hygiene. He rolled his eyes, letting go of her nonetheless and stepping back. "Whatever, don't dress yourself up more than necessary, especially don't use that perfume, it makes my nose itch." 

Never mind that she had stopped wearing any strong scents besides her soap during their time together. 

Later, a cleaned and minty Vegeta was waiting in the kitchen for Bulma to finish getting ready, trying to avoid the glance of Panchy who was beaming at him as she fed Trunks. "Not a word from you, I don't want to hear a single word from you." 

"I don't need to say a single word," she hummed cheerfully. "You and Bulma are going on a date~"

Apparently, they were. Apparently that was what he was going to do until, as Bulma said, he was "ready" to start training again. He supposed he could go about figuring out what he wanted from his life on Earth that he inexplicably couldn't leave with Bulma, he had sought her help once before and she still seemed willing to give it.

"Hey, Vegeta!" he heard her call from the stairs. "Let's go on an adventure!" 

"An adventure?" he responded as she bounced into the room, certainly not dressed for a date as he understood them from how they went on TV. Jeans and a T-shirt, a leather jacket, thick boots made for exploring forests and the terrain she used to call her stomping grounds as a teenager. "Is that usual for dates?" 

To be honest, as Vegeta looked upon her excited expression, he didn't mind. 

A new adventure with Bulma, that sounded right. That sounded good. Why not? They had time now, they could go on as many adventures as they wanted. 

Kakarot had left a hole in Vegeta's certainty of himself as a warrior, of his reason for continuing to train and grow stronger. He would still have to figure out what he wanted to do there, at least figure out something before Trunks was old enough to train, he couldn't allow himself to show doubt to his son if he was going to be raising him like a proper Saiyan. 

"Yo, homeboy," she grinned. "You coming or not?" 

Bulma held out her hand to him and, after a breath, Vegeta took it. 

It was warm. It felt like home.

"You're certainly not leaving without me, woman."

Chapter Text

Usually, such cheesy and cliched scenarios as a former couple (not really one though) trying to make amends ended in passions instantly reigniting and a round of make-up sex.

Shit like that didn't happen anywhere outside of the movies or dramas Bulma's mom enjoyed watching, however, and it certainly wasn't going to happen that way. Especially not as Bulma was climbing up a tree to get some fruit while Vegeta waited down below. They had agreed to a "date" to try and work things out, or at least spend some time without any of the total nonsense that was going on at home. Bulma wasn't certain what kind of "date" they could go on, it wasn't like she could take Vegeta out to a place to eat given a Saiyan's appetite, not to mention his lack of patience. The typical scenarios for a date honestly sounded exhausting to her after everything, she wasn't sure if it was maturing or just…getting old.

I never had an option for dating again after all this, did I? a pessimistic thought occurred to her as she casually tossed the fruit over her shoulder for Vegeta to catch. The regular life of settling down still sounded unbearably boring to her, and regular men were even more boring, not to mention weak. Bulma, caught up in her musings, realized enough time had passed that she should consider setting up a capsule house and get lunch started for them. Not that it was her cooking, of course, Panchy had stores of food saved away in capsules for Vegeta just in case.

"You're taking too long," Vegeta's voice suddenly chimed in from her side as he grabbed her around the middle to take them down the rest of the way.

She yelped, "For crying out loud! If you don't like it then you can just buzz off, Vegeta!"

He ignored her, shifting his hold so she was resting in his arms bridal style. "If I left, there would be complaints about leaving you behind," he retorted, still holding her even as his feet touched the ground.

An excuse to save face for being kind, as was usual for Vegeta. Bulma tsked, squirming to get down—he had never held her like that even when they were together (not really together though). Actually, she had not been held by anyone like that in a while—if at all, she searched her memory as she pushed away from him. Usually Bulma would tease back that she had her vehicles, catch him in his lie, aggravating Vegeta wasn't as fun with the awkward tension between them. It was worse now that they were away from the house, away from trying to act cheerful in front of her mother.

She was…so tired. So tired of understanding and wanting to care, why couldn't she? Why couldn't she just be a selfish brat again? That hurt less.

"Sure, whatever, let's get a house set up and have lunch."

To say Vegeta looked disappointed by the bland reaction might have been an understatement. Typical, he might have gained some inexplicable fondness for her, but his apparent Saiyan impulse towards riling her up for his amusement remained. The expression remained for only a moment, yet the fact that it presented itself at all surprised her, Vegeta never openly showed his emotions. Sometimes in her less charitable thinking Bulma doubted he experienced emotions besides anger and dislike.

It hardly mattered, anyway, so long as he didn't kiss her again. Vegeta being evasive about emotions was easier to understand than the Vegeta that had been initiating touching. She could handle the former after having trained herself through Saiyan Bullshit. The latter wreaked havoc on her emotions, fooled her into thinking maybe he felt something towards her. Maybe the fact that she loved him did matter.

Yeah, right, she thought. Bulma drifted in and out between awareness of her own actions of setting things up and her turbulent daydreaming. Guys are guys. He's probably trying to get into my pants.

What a ridiculous thought, Vegeta wasn't that sort of person at all and thinking like that was nothing more than a delusion. It was an easy delusion, however. It was easier to block herself off from the pain of going into a comforted daze like when he so gently touched her the other night, when he kissed her that morning. It was more predictable than trying to figure out feelings—his or hers.

She felt his eyes on her back as she worked, as she set down the food in front of him he continued to watch her without speaking (without blinking). The brooding loner deal attracted Bulma to Vegeta when they first met, but right then it annoyed her. Dates usually involved talking, didn't they? Of course, Vegeta wasn't much for conversation usually. He had no idea what a date even was, Bulma was the one that got herself into this mess in the first place.

"Am I the only one eating?" he asked, glancing up at her.

Bulma shrugged, not sitting down for the moment but continuing to watch him from across the table. "I'm on a diet, still working off that baby weight," she answered in a dull, disinterested tone.

Vegeta looked over her perceptibly, she tried not to shudder under his scrutiny and instead concentrate on how his expression seemed equally uninterested with what he was looking at. He was probably going to say something critical, about how it didn't matter anyway because she was a weak human.

"I see no difference," he scoffed. His tone was too dismissive to be any sort of reassurance. "Or—is that what this little excursion is about?" Vegeta's snide grin portended nothing but crap she didn't want to hear, something to goad her into arguing.

"—Is that what you're going to latch onto? Me exercising? What next, are you going to say I'm weak and stupid? Maybe ugly and loud? Then save it, I don't want to hear it," Bulma said, tone lacking the familiar bite.

A flash of…something crossed his face again, his smirk fading with the same air of disappointment that came only from being let down harshly. However, he did not respond with anything snappy, he only watched her for a moment before: "Are you angry? Do you resent me? Is this what your 'love' is, or are you still caught up in grieving Kakarot?"

True, how could she say that she loved him when the mistrust and bitter agony remained at the front of her mind as she looked at him. By his perspective, he had just as much reason to be bitter, by his perspective she had kicked him out of her house and generally acted indifferent towards him. By his perspective he had been gone for years without seeing her, and no matter what that affected him even if he didn't want to admit it. Bulma could tell him that wasn't the case until she was nothing more than dust, it wouldn't change how she acted now.

But, she steeled herself, she wouldn't allow him to use her or their son as an excuse for anything that made him feel dissatisfied. Did she resent him? Not at all, she was only trying to protect herself against being hurt by him (again, again, remember? He couldn't care less if you died). Was she grieving Goku? Oh yes, the loss of him opened up a hole in her heart already exacerbated by her feelings towards Vegeta—the affection, the broken trust, both warring with each other. Warring because something was wrong with her that made her love men that couldn't and wouldn't give a damn about her.

She wouldn't be so damn angry if he wasn't trying. If he had just left she could move on with her life,  but no, he had to stay—had to say he didn't want to leave but nothing more than that. Had to watch her with that enigmatic stare, both analyzing each other like an opponent in battle.

 

If only, if only he hadn't wanted to try…whatever he was doing. All he found himself doing was trying to draw Bulma into an argument with their usual banter, selfishly trying to recapture the memory of the Bulma he knew. The Bulma from years ago (by his perspective) who he bonded with, didn't mind being around. His Bulma.

His Bulma, again—what sort of childish delusional thought was that? A fiercely independent woman like her would never abide being called such a thing, he remembered clearly her rolling her eyes behind Yamcha's back whenever he would call her "my girl."

"Just tell me what you want from me," Bulma sighed finally, putting her hands on her hips, radiating suspicion and hostility. "I told you we don't have to be anything, you don't have to stay here. What are you…trying to accomplish with this 'I don't want to leave' thing? With kissing me, touching me? Why? Are you…?"

She was prompting him to reveal the thoughts he couldn't articulate yet, most likely wouldn't be able to. Bulma had gone under the impression that he was manipulating her, plying her into comfort around him again in order to coerce her back into bed, hadn't she? Despite her declaration of love, she did not trust him.

Or, rather, she did once—but he spoiled that and she couldn't bring herself to anymore, of course he did, he ruined everything good, didn't he?

Vegeta was used to not being trusted, he welcomed it, Bulma not trusting him and looking at him like some debauched lesser male infuriated him.

"Woman, are you implying I'm attempting to trick you into bed?" His own voice sounded foreign, too soft despite the rage the accusation invoked simmering just below his skin, trying to ignite his blood and ki. No, he wouldn't allow that, it wasn't a battle—not a typical one, at least, not one where he would use his power to threaten and intimidate. He couldn't do that to Bulma, not Bulma. "You think I'm like those men, after all this time? Was I really that callous to you?"

(You did nothing when she was being attacked, fool, of course you were!)

He didn't have to clarify what those men were, the predators that plagued Bulma's supposed-to-be innocent youth. She spoke extensively about her bad memories in their time together.

Bulma clicked her tongue, slowly lowering herself into the chair across from Vegeta, far-too-blue eyes watching him with a shrewd glare that brought to mind Mrs. Briefs' own. Not just shrewd calculation, he could see the exhaustion writ large on her face—she had dropped the pretense, she had reached the limit of her compassionate heart.

"When I was a kid…" Her voice remained steady though Vegeta perceived the amount of emotion behind the words, Bulma was quite demonstrative of her emotions even while trying to control herself. "I told Goku that he'd become a dirty-minded adult just like the rest of them. I mean—it was inevitable, right? We were surrounded by shitty adults that pushed their views on us because we were powerless to stop them."

Pushing their views was an interesting way to describe "exposing them to pornography" and "openly asking Bulma for sexual favors."

"Adults like that, they don't do anything but lord their power over people weaker than them. Because they're experienced, they think they know better. Hell—I did it to Goku too since I was older than him, just because of that. I thought he was stupid."

It made sense, he could recall those older than him in his own life as a boy, imposing their views on him, trying to shape him like clay into something for the fulfillment of their own egos. Bulma knew some of the incidents—the blasted Ginyu Force, Zarbon's sadism, Frieza's grooming and sickly twee declarations that Vegeta was like a son to him.

"It was wrong, though," an echo of Bulma's voice sounded in his head, bringing his mind back to the memories of them speaking intimately. "That shouldn't have happened," she said then. "I know you're a big tough Saiyan, but…you were a kid. They didn't have any right to do that to you."

"—To me, to Goku, any kid," the voice of the present Bulma cut back into his thoughts. "It's not right…" she whispered, eyes misting over with the sentimental intensity he knew her to express.

Now that was more like the Bulma he knew, a perplexing soft-hearted creature that cared so much though most did not deserve the courtesy. (Though I didn't deserve it.) He saw the pain it took for her to even breathe as she continued with her story, her hands clenching together into fists, he wanted to reach out for her and give some sort of comforting touch—an odd impulse he stopped himself from acting on. "Bulma, you are an adult," Vegeta pointed out.

"No shit," Bulma snapped back. "That's not the point. The point is…Goku told me he wouldn't be like that. He wouldn't be the kind of adult that made the world unsafe for kids." She sighed, shoulders dropping, a half-hearted smile forcing its way onto her face. "And go figure. He went and sacrificed himself for that. Leaving me, his family, his friends, so we would be safe."

"Was that…a vow you shared with him?" he inquired carefully, trying to understand what the point was of bringing up this childhood nonsense with Kakarot.

She nodded, eyes turning to the table. "I did. I said if that's the case I would do the same."

"And do you want me to make this sort of vow with you?"

She shook her head. "I'm never going to make you do anything you don't want."

"We have a son," he said, "What makes you think I wouldn't want that?"

"Safe for our son, yeah," she answered, frowning. "You lost your warrior's purpose when Goku died, like protecting the world for all the children is something that would magically fix that."

How did she know? How eerie, this woman, she could still read him even while caught in between hating him and loving him. "You told me to do better, Bulma. …What is better? Better than what? I thought it would be better by you, but—"

She took a deep breath, trying to contain herself from saying something, trying and trying and always trying.

"You would rather I died than Kakarot," he spoke aloud the poisonous suspicion that nagged at him. Of course, she must have been lying when she said he would be mourned just the same. There was no way.

"I could say the same to you about me, Vegeta," Bulma replied.

"No!" He shouted back automatically. He stopped, realizing the reaction. A shudder came over him, he felt submerged in frigid water that chilled him to the very soul that he held doubts even existed most days.

She really thought that? Had he really ruined things between them so much that she believed such a thing? That he would prefer her dead if it meant Kakarot lived…?

No.

Not her. Not Bulma. Not his Bulma.

But she did believe it, didn't she? She recalled the dismissive words he spoke, "I have no use for sentiment", how proud he was to declare he would have let her and their son die. It had only been a few weeks for her since that time, the wound remained open, festering while for him it became a hole of regret as the years in the chamber ticked by. It had only been a year for her since the rift opened up between them, apparently for his sake as she didn't want to put expectation onto him about being a father to their son. It had been three for him total, three years of remembering what had been lost due to his own incompetence with handling precious things.

"I want to be around you—with you. I hate that things ended up this way," his voice came out as a hoarse whisper, staring down at his clenched fists in his lap. "I…I'm…sorry. What I did—or didn't do, that was…wrong."

It might have been as close to an expression of love he could manage. The desperation inherent in his tone was a huge blow to his pride, but he just couldn't—couldn't go back to isolation without her. Two years of solitude, two years without seeing her eyes, her smile, without hearing her voice petulantly scolding him about this or that. He missed her.

"If…getting Kakarot back means losing you, fuck him, I don't want that."

 

No…him being so vulnerable made her uncomfortable, made her feel regret—oh whatever sadistic god is out there making our lives this miserable, I actually hurt him, Bulma thought with horror. She was only trying to protect herself and her son, she didn't want to hurt Vegeta. "You…" she began, carefully, reminding herself of how Vegeta thought and running it through her own logic-driven mind. "You wouldn't find your purpose as a warrior with me, I'm…a liability. I can be used against you."

A faint nod was the only answer he gave to allow her to continue.

"…But, Vegeta, you're the strongest warrior in the universe right now."

A pause. He squinted at her as if not hearing correctly, despite Saiyans—as he often reminded her—having "superior hearing."

"Yeah, I mean…since Goku's dead, Cell's dead, 17 and 18 are—whatever, you're the strongest left, and—" Bulma gestured to the general space above them while she spoke. "You could always train and challenge people out there."

He blinked, once, twice, then followed her gesture up to the ceiling with his eyes. He was silent for another very long moment.

"No, I'm not telling you to leave again, dumbass, I still expect you to come back!" Bulma snipped in the absence of a reaction from him. "Or—I mean, I want you to come back, you don't…have to."

"Stop saying that," Vegeta finally answered. "You've already established I'm not a prisoner, I remember, I'm not a thickheaded moron that needs repeated instruction."

"Sometimes you are," Bulma muttered, noticing Vegeta definitely heard her and was smirking. "What?!"

He looked a little too pleased with the conversation as it currently stood even if she didn't have a perfect solution for his loss of purpose. He stood, pushing aside his dishes to come around the table and face her. Not wanting the frankly awkward scenario of him standing over her, Bulma stood to meet with him. "What are you so smug about, billboard head?"

"I still don't know what a billboard is," Vegeta answered, smile not faltering. "I'm 'smug' as you call it because you're acting more like yourself. This withdrawn and cold act is nothing like the vulgar persistent woman I know."

"Oh, great, I'm so happy I pleased you," she said, rolling her eyes, not realizing at first he was standing a little too close again.

"Why did you withdraw from me the first time?" he asked suddenly. "When you told me about Trunks."

"You know why. It's the same as I said last night, I wasn't going to let you use me as an excuse, me or my baby." Bulma looked him over up and down, warily she asked: "Are you going to kiss me again?"

"Would it bother you if I did?"

The question sounded part genuine and part teasing. She nodded nonetheless. "It would, but at the same time I…miss…that." It felt like breathing knives as she spoke, her stomach twisted, Bulma wanted so much to fall back and not get up again.

But she wouldn't. Bulma fucking Briefs would never back down.

"I missed you, even while you were gone, I missed you even while I told myself I shouldn't because it wasn't like we were together anyway. I missed you even while I knew it was for the better that I not hang onto you, leave you to your training and fighting. Vegeta, you standing here and saying all this feels like some bizarre dream! I'm so…"

"Afraid," Vegeta finished for her, gently cupping her face in his hands.

"Afraid," Bulma agreed.

As was he.

"Vegeta…you don't know how you're feeling, do you? It's that whole emotional constipation thing."

He snorted, pulling his hands away to cross his arms with a scowl. No, he didn't, and such a thing must have felt like a trap to him—exactly what she didn't want.

"All right…I know you feel confused and I know my part in that. I'm sorry for being mean." It was childish but true, yes, Bulma was being mean even though both could acknowledge that she had some justification in being that way. "Why don't we just…back up and go a little slower?"

"If you're going to insist on it," he huffed, his own way of agreeing.

It wasn't like either of them were under the impression that it would only take one day to work out all of what was wrong. Bulma took a breath nonetheless, cautiously putting forward a question: "You said you don't mind being around me. How do you feel when you're not? I mean besides while you're training and want to be on your own, of course."

"…Irritated," Vegeta said, looking away from her to the floor. "Because then you're all I can think about, it's a horrible distraction and that irritates me further but at the same time I want to seek you out. I had started seeing you in that blasted chamber even while I knew you couldn't possibly be there." His hands flexed at his sides like he wanted to place them somewhere but having nothing to grasp onto. "I wanted to hold you, I still want to—not even for that, though I won't lie, I missed that too."

"Yeah, same here," Bulma muttered, only half-realizing she was speaking what was intended to be an internal thought.

He looked smug again. Damn him.

It quickly dropped back into a frown. "Is there a point to asking me such a ridiculous thing? Besides knowing that you feel the same."

"There is, I promise," she assured him, placing her hands on his shoulders to soothe his frayed patience, smoothing over them in circles. "When I told you I was pregnant, how did you feel?"

"Horrified, I never thought I would father a child, nor did I feel like I had any right to be a father—especially when I had not ascended and couldn't provide for a family." It was such a profound statement of honesty and vulnerability, Bulma was struck with the memory of their time together, how he would hold her close and mumble stories of pain with his face buried in her shoulder. "I bring destruction, I'm a warrior, that's all I was ever meant to be, Bulma. That I created life…it seemed impossible. But then you distanced yourself from me, and I thought—there it was, there was the reminder I couldn't have a thing like this."

"I did it because—" Bulma began to defend her actions, silenced when Vegeta held up his hand.

"I know, Bulma. You told me. And you were right, that is how I would have viewed it. I'm furious with myself that I allowed someone to know me that well, if you were a typical opponent I probably would have been killed."

She giggled despite how very not humorous the situation was, trailing her hands down the path of his arms from his shoulders, down to his hands. Automatically, their fingers laced into each other, eyes met, a silence dragged out between the two. "Then…" she ventured, "When I told you we didn't have to be anything…?"

"Dismissal. It felt like dismissal. I know, logically, you were reassuring me that I'm not a prisoner, but…" He scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Your ridiculous claim that I grew fond had some merit after all. I don't understand that word you spoke, 'love', I won't pretend that I do."

"Of course."

"…But hearing it was…acceptable."

Vegeta was of the opinion that he didn't deserve nice things, to put it in simpler terms. Bulma had known that he went through some terrible things in his time and had a tainted view of life, but to know how deep it ran—to know he thought it inevitable that it would be ruined. It…broke her heart. It put anxiety in her mind that he would sabotage his own chance at happiness just because he felt like he didn't deserve it, and there was no way she could assure him that he did or stop it. Love didn't fix everything, shit like that only happened in movies.

"I love you," she said at first for lack of anything else to say. "I love you so much, Vegeta."

"You're telling me to leave again, is that love?" he questioned her with a suspicious glance.

A very unattractive snort came from her in response. "Moron, I wasn't. I told you I wasn't. If you're restless, go out in space and find challenges, but come back to see your son—hell, when Trunks can move around on his own, take him with you! It should be good training, right?"

Vegeta hummed in thought, "The boy…I suppose. I'll need maintenance done on the ship."

"Yeah—"

"It would be practical to take a competent technician with me."

The leap of her stomach felt like he had suddenly picked her up and taken her for a flight, though the two were still standing together in the house. She stared at him, mouth dropped open in surprise as it dawned over her what he was implying. "Okay," Bulma replied without hesitance. "But I'll need to work on some defensive measures before anything else."

"Hmm, why don't we finish our 'date' before anything else?" Vegeta smirked, his usual cocky confidence seeming to finally return after the long overdue and overwrought sharing of feelings. "I was thinking, perhaps we should stay out a little longer."

The crotchety prince of all prudes wasn't one to use innuendos or, really, even make propositions, that was Bulma's role in their dynamic. It wasn't going to stop her from teasing him anyway. "Are you thinking of something naughty?" Bulma asked, feigning innocence. "It's too soon to jump each other's bones again, my prince, what will my parents say?"

She knew he hated it when she called him that. He knew that she would do it anyway just to aggravate him. Bulma was rewarded with a glare and his hair frizzing up just a little. "Don't be a fool!" he snapped, cheeks faintly tinting pink. "I wasn't implying that and you know it, vulgar woman! Just shut up and come along, I'll show you!"

Bulma, of course, did not shut up but continued giggling even as Vegeta led her by the hand out the door. To further bother the temperamental man, she hugged onto his arm like they were a regular couple. Ironically, she never felt more secure than she did when she was with Vegeta, and wherever he was taking her now she knew she would follow him anyway.

 


 

 

What Vegeta knew about "dates" came from watching the television that Earthlings pathetically relied on for entertainment, it wasn't by any means an accurate picture but showed him the general idea of what was expected. In a cliched scenario, a long apart couple trying to make amends would inevitably fall into bed together.

Well, technically he and Bulma did fall into bed after their exploration of the forest for the remainder of the day, but it wasn't for any of that. He had led her to a river where they spent time until sunset, watching the fireflies float lazily over the water and to the falls. Bulma complained about the cold and mosquitoes, as expected of her, once he had pulled her into his lap and put his arms around her she stopped at least.

They stayed there for a while, not speaking, not doing much of anything beyond just holding each other and looking at the scenery. He had glanced over to watch her face illuminated by the dim glow of the flying lanterns and the stars. She was watching the moon, herself, eyes entranced by the slim crescent hanging above them, the light washing out her already pale skin into some ethereal color.

She looked beautiful. She was unbearably beautiful, not just in her physical appearance, her compassionate heart, her benevolent soul, her courageous spunk; Bulma Briefs was a formidable woman and Vegeta wouldn't have it any other way.

In the present, he held her in his arms still, against his chest and she contentedly curled up with him.

"Bulma," he broke the silence after so long. "Kakarot's death hurt you."

"Yeah," she answered, voice a little muffled. "I miss him. But so do you."

"That's being generous," he scoffed. "He was your best friend, wasn't he? You've known him longer than I have, so…how long will you grieve him?"

Bulma didn't mope over Kakarot openly, allowing her to fall under the cover of nobody being aware of her grief. It didn't work like that with him, he knew Bulma just as well as she knew him. He knew she felt the need to hide her emotions in order to appear strong, like a leader would. A stray thought occurred to Vegeta that she was already an excellent leader and, perhaps, she would have been a celebrated queen of the Saiyans.

Ah, what was happening to him? Truly the stress of the past couple of years had destroyed his mind. There was no way…no possible hint of a way that this was meant for him. It was too good, too peaceful, he felt something like safety and joy with her.

Vegeta had been bred, born, groomed to be a ruthless destroyer—his father and Frieza expected as much.

"Mm…" Bulma's mumbling broke him out of his musing, bringing his attention back to her curled against him. "I'm not going to mope about it if that's what you're asking, I've got other shit to do, you know?"

Of course she did, Bulma was a workaholic—though he could never say that without her shooting back that he was just the same. "Is that you doing better?" he asked.

"It's one way."

Do better, she said to him. He considered what it meant for him to do better, in the past he could have figured that to mean grow stronger, keep training, become an even greater warrior than before. But what did that mean in his life on Earth…? It wasn't a life or death slaughter on command existence anymore, he had a son, he had a home, he had…whatever Bulma was to him. He told himself a long time ago that it was only lust—after all, she approached him; she was willing, attractive, had a pulse, and most importantly wasn't going anywhere.

(Some days Vegeta switched on whether having a pulse or not going anywhere was the more important trait.)

It wasn't only lust no matter how much he tried to lie to himself that it was, he never viewed himself as a particularly lust-driven person anyway, besides lust for battle he supposed. Pleasures of the flesh didn't register as something to care about even in his youth. Apparently he would have rather characterized himself as such than, gods forbid, admitting that he genuinely liked another person.

He looked over to see Bulma dozing and snorted—typical woman. The first time she fell asleep next to him was startling, the prince would have never thought that someone would feel secure enough to let down their guard so thoroughly around him. Someone felt not just safe but encouraged touch from his bloodstained hands. It was an altogether pleasant thing that he didn't feel worthy of yet the bizarre woman persistently offered. Help, a home, comfort, intimacy, an heir, amusement—Bulma freely provided everything to him.

"I'm not ready to begin training again," Vegeta found himself saying though it was uncertain if Bulma could hear him at that point.

"That's okay," she mumbled back, fingers curling into his shirt. "We have a future now, don't we?"

Yes…they certainly did, didn't they? A future long struggled and fought for, though Vegeta wasn't the one to assure its safety—no, he made it worse by allowing Cell to play him. He could acknowledge that at least.

"Goodnight, Bulma." He allowed himself a tender gesture of running his fingers through her hair. At least, at least he could do something right in his mysteriously given new chance at living. Something to put the pieces back together into a man worthy of a good life. A warrior with real honor and purpose.

Could he…? Bulma seemed to believe he could. The way she opened her eyes and looked at him with honest affection almost convinced him that he deserved her affection. Almost.

"Goodnight, Vegeta."

Chapter Text

A few months had passed since the end of the Cell Games, Bulma and Vegeta were making a genuine effort to try again with being…friends, he reminded himself. They weren't anything more than that, they were friends.

It just happened she indulged his ridiculous desire to be near her and allowed him to stay in her room, as he did before she fell pregnant and the rift made itself known.

Vegeta looked up at the ceiling, lying there in bed with her, Bulma was already asleep since she had a full day of working. He didn't mind, it wasn't as though they did anything in bed besides being close and talking. Some ground had been made with their…feelings, he supposed. Small incidents he kept locked away in his mind to reflect on over and over.

After they returned from their "date trip" as Panchy had called it, another cold silence fell over the pair. It wasn't for anything bad, it was just Vegeta remained unready to train again and Bulma was eager to start on making upgrades to the ship for the future. When her focus turned towards work or a new project it was difficult to break (and usually he wouldn't, he cursed himself for feeling lonely of all things). He watched Trunks in that time. It was mostly Panchy helping him while he watched, remaining confused and somewhat awed that he had created life when all he was meant to do was bring death.

Only…death…

His eyes drifted closed.

When he opened them again there was nothing but fire and carnage around him, West City was in shambles, he had Bulma by the throat. The rest of the Briefs family lay dead around them—Trunks, where was Trunks? Something in the back of his mind fretted over what was going on and why was it happening, he batted it away and grinned down at the helpless woman as he squeezed her pretty little neck.

"Why…?" Bulma wheezed, gasping for air, tears streaking down her face. "I tru—I tru-s-ted y-you…"

"That was your mistake," he laughed, raising up his free hand to deliver the deathblow—

Until Vegeta awoke in a cold sweat, panting, horrified.

Alone.

Alone? A panic seized him, clouding his vision as he tried to take in his surroundings—it looked like—but—where was—? He felt around under the covers, trying to calm down the thunder of his heart, the cool relief that washed over him at feeling the soft skin of someone's arm quieted his anxious thoughts immediately. Vegeta pulled Bulma's sleeping form to him, cradling her against his body, burying his face in her hair and breathing as if for the very first time, taking in her scent and reminding himself it was only a nightmare and she was here, she was alive.

His face was wet. He wasn't sure if it was perspiration or tears. Maybe both. He didn't bother with wiping them away for fear of loosening his hold on Bulma for one moment, like it would undo the whole thing and she truly would be dead by his hand. My fault, my fault, I only destroy—I—bring pain—

Vegeta couldn't sleep for the rest of the night, hanging onto Bulma, feeling her heartbeat against his chest.

Even when she began to stir, he didn't relax his grip on her once, though understandably she was very confused by the position they had ended up in—while Vegeta tended to be clingy when they were more intimate, he had respectfully kept a distance during the rift.

"Hey?" she mumbled to him, voice thick with sleep. "You good…?"

"No," he mumbled back fiercely, not even bothering with pretending anymore. He just—he just didn't want her to leave right then.

As always, Bulma was more merciful than anyone (but especially he) deserved as she turned in his arms to face him, gently resting a hand on his cheek while she smiled. It was the signal she would stay until he was in the frame of mind to leave, a gesture that wasn't lost on him, ungrateful though he might have been in the past for her kindness.

"You remember the first time we kissed?" Bulma asked suddenly.

Trying to distract him from whatever was so upsetting, no doubt. It was working, anyway, he nodded back.

A "first kiss" was allegedly something uplifting and pleasant, it wasn't then—though Bulma apologized excessively for doing it, the first time she kissed him was out of anger at something Yamcha did. He recalled her tear-stained face, makeup running, her outfit disheveled as she marched right up to him and kissed him. He hadn't known what to do then, he had never kissed someone before, but whatever her motivation was for doing it happened to be, she was angry—not in her right mind whatsoever. Vegeta pulled away both out of shock and—

"Don't do something out of anger," he warned. "If you do something out of anger, you will regret it."

She had deflated, head lolling back with a sigh. "You're right…shit, I'm sorry, I don't know what I was thinking just now. I was just…"

(Vegeta ignored the ego-crushing feeling of Bulma regarding kissing him as a I don't know what I was thinking moment and kept focused on the situation.)

"He's not worth the tears," Vegeta offered her some reassurance. Really, it was absurd to him that a woman like Bulma wasted so much time, effort, and tears on a fickle man like Yamcha. It wasn't even out of some selfish desire for her to focus entirely on his efforts to become a Super Saiyan, he realized with vague surprise, he genuinely believed that the woman deserved better. Very few people were ever (or never) afforded his honest admiration, but Bulma Briefs had clawed her way into his good graces.

"He didn't even…I was just…" Bulma let go of his arms and sank back against the counter, trying to compose herself. It was significant, he thought, that she had even approached him in such a state in the first place, while Bulma never hid her other emotions from him, she certainly hid her tears and insecurities. "Never mind, I don't need to give you more ammo for making fun of me," she scoffed, turning away to leave.

It wasn't the first time she had said that, it struck him as strange and he didn't enjoy hearing it or even seeing her that way. They had gotten into arguments before, quite frankly Vegeta thought it was fun riling her up, it was the closest thing to mental stimulation he got from someone of equal (though actually she was smarter than him) intelligence sans the nauseating do-gooder attitude the other Earthlings had. Bulma was cunning, vicious, didn't spout off the moralities Earth's special forces did (though she had a courageous and reckless spirit that signaled to him she would kill him if necessary)—her line of thinking was quite similar to a Saiyan in significant aspects.

(And yet, and yet she had such baffling kindness and earnest caring that he just didn't know what to make of.)

He didn't realize she took their fights as something to guard against, he thought she liked them too. The gods only knew her peers weren't on her level of intelligence and she was keenly aware of that.

It wouldn't have been the first time he had miscalculated about something like that, however, social mores weren't exactly his specialty.

Vegeta caught her by the arm—carefully, not tugging or gripping too hard—and directed her back to face him. "You think I'm going to let you leave without taking responsibility?"

He wanted to say something more convincing than that so the puzzling Earth woman would stay there and talk. Maybe something comforting. Neither of that was his forte.

"Oh come on, Vegeta," she groaned, slapping his hand away. "It was just a stupid kiss, I made a mistake, all right? I was pissed and I wanted—I don't know—I wanted to feel like somebody wanted me close."

"And you came to me for that?" His tone wasn't mocking, he was sincerely asking. Why him? He had been nothing (both intentionally and incidentally) but a pain in the ass for her, as she said multiple times. The words I hate you had come out a couple of times, he recalled, things he was used to hearing and accepted as knowing at least her brain worked properly to know he was detestable. Why would she…?

"I don't know why I came to you, okay? You were just the first person I thought of."

Vegeta didn't know what to say to that. He could hardly think of anything after that besides the nagging little voice in his head that said with astonishment: she feels that, too?

It wasn't lost on him how he had begun to find Bulma the moment he needed or wanted something. Hurt? Find Bulma. Hungry? Find Bulma. Bored? Find Bulma. On and on and on even amid her telling him what a pain in the ass he was, how irresponsible he was about his health, go find her mother if he wanted food for Heaven's sake, he still did it. He still sought out Bulma.

Even when he wasn't around her he was thinking about her, it had become a preoccupation that stayed solidly at the back of his mind yet was still there.

It's a distraction.

Bulma tried to leave again. Vegeta stopped her again. "What did he do?" he asked. "I can—"

"No hurting him!" Bulma interjected before he could get into what kind of gruesome things he would do. Her eyes softened as she considered that him offering to rough up her now-ex was indeed a gesture of kindness on his part. "Thank you, though…it doesn't matter. I just had an overdue wake up call that we really weren't meant to be."

She still didn't tell him what it was Yamcha did, though she revealed to him much later after the incident it really wasn't as terrible as she had made it out to be in her own mind. Yamcha had only been obliviously friendly to some women getting too up close and personal with him. (Yamcha himself explained later that he had bailed entirely when they got handsy as it scared the hell out of him and was confused to find Bulma had left.)

Vegeta didn't tell her until much, much later that it had been his first kiss, it wasn't a gesture done among Saiyans or really very many alien species. She mistakenly thought that he was annoyed with her for it and apologized for stealing his first kiss.

"How the hell can you steal something intangible?" he snorted then.

"Yes, you were angry and possibly drunk," he snorted in the present.

"Only a little!" she giggled. The joyful noise trailed off into silence as she looked at him, reaching forward to wipe away any remaining tears with delicate fingers. If she realized they were tears, she didn't call him out on it, which he was grateful for, he couldn't bear the storm of feelings that would bring up. "Hey, tough guy…what are you thinking about?"

The nightmare, holding her life in his hands and being consumed with the desire to crush it. Her, an alien woman who had somehow in some inexplicable way won his trust and captured his mind (his heart?) Kakarot, the fool who went and…left…just to ensure their safety. Trunks, alone in the future with his mother and at the same time sleeping in a crib in the next room.

Too many things.

Had his future self been able to have the relationship with the future Bulma he inexplicably craved? No one had known about the androids, all his future self would have been focused on was surpassing Kakarot, maybe they…maybe he had been able to say he loved her back and meant it.

Now he was thinking about how Saiyans didn't love. They couldn't. They shouldn't. They were warriors intent on fighting and growing stronger. His father had never discussed this sort of thing with him. Then again, his father had never discussed much with him except growing stronger and making him proud. He had never quite had a father figure unless one counted Nappa—but Nappa was a subordinate, and dead.

(How was he to have any clue of how to be a father if he never had an example of a father?)

A father…

He straightened up suddenly, a crazy reckless idea planted in his mind as he practically flew out of bed to get ready for the day, ignoring Bulma's questions of what got into him and where was he going.

The old man, his mind firmly set into a goal—find Bulma's father.

He halted at the doorway, turning back to Bulma. "Are you able to watch Trunks today?" he asked, remembering she had specifically told him that his running off without saying anything was inconsiderate. "I have…errands to run."

"Uh, yeah," Bulma stammered back, clearly perplexed at what was going on. Understandably so, he wasn't the type to run errands, after all.

Despite the "no contact, don't make it weird" rule Bulma had placed he paused again at the doorway, staring out at the hall for a moment until coming to a decision and turning around. Using the advantage of his speed, he went back to Bulma's side and gently kissed the top of her head before flying back out again with a vague parting of seeing her at dinner.

Vegeta had a mission for the moment, scolding himself for how foolish that was and how inconsiderate it was to Bulma would come later. (Though it would nag at him anyway in the back of his mind with highlights like doing it and running away won't suddenly make it all right that you did that and she's not a vending machine just doing things isn't going to give positive results!) For the present he had to find Dr. Briefs.

Briefs was an enigma of contradictions almost on par with the rest of his family. A brilliant scientist yet seemed almost naively disengaged from the awful world, hands off as a parent yet unquestionably adored by his daughter, so much power and influence (his family practically ruled the city) and yet…he was kind, warm-hearted. There was more going on with the man, it seemed, much like the rest of the Briefs family.

Vegeta swallowed a lump in his throat he hadn't realized was beginning to form when he remembered that the doctor always looked at him like he was actually welcomed in Capsule Corp. even after the rift formed between him and Bulma. He remembered how Briefs called him son like it was the most natural thing in the world.

"Vegeta, would you pass me that socket wrench there?" he had gestured to the wall while he was headfirst in the guts of a machine.

The prince scoffed at being asked to do things like he was some pissant assistant, but nonetheless passed over the tool to the doddering old fool.

"Thanks, son," Briefs' muffled voice spoke out.

Son. Vegeta had paused then, staring, mouth agape waiting for the joke to be on him.

It never came, he wasn't being mocked, Briefs had in sincerity called him son and he…he liked hearing it. King Vegeta had called him son, yes, though mostly he had called him boy with a harsh tone or didn't speak to him at all, but it was different from how Briefs said it, how Briefs said it felt…comfortable. He found himself doing favors for Briefs over and over again just so he would hear the nomer, get that rush of serotonin from being positively regarded by someone for once.

It was pathetic, really, but if Briefs had noticed he didn't comment on it.

"Mornin', Vegeta," the good doctor greeted him from his position at his desk, coffee in one hand and scribbling away at some notes with the other. Scratch, as usual, was perched on his shoulder watching with those large, large eyes. A cigarette bobbed around in his mouth as he considered the diagrams before him.

Vegeta scowled, immediately snatching the foul-smelling stick from the old man's mouth, to which Briefs only blinked slowly. "You need to stop smoking, it's unhealthy," he scolded.

(It shortened the already-short lifespan of Earthlings, he had learned years earlier.)

He only laughed and waved it off with a shrug. "My boy, I've told you before, I'm an old man."

(I hate it when you say that, you make it sound like it doesn't matter when it does.)

Bulma would only start up the habit again as well when Trunks was old enough. These Earthlings would be the death of him.

Bah! Vegeta shook himself out of the thoughts, taking the doctor's gesture towards a chair next to him as an invitation and sitting down. "I want to know…" He thought for a moment, trying to psyche himself up for what came next. "How did you know that you…wanted—" He shook his head, correcting himself: "That you loved Panchy?"

Briefs, caught in the middle of getting out another cigarette to light up, froze. His glasses slipped down the bridge of his nose, his look became uncharacteristically discerning so suddenly Vegeta wondered if the "slip" was intentional.

"Son," he said, tone heavy with…something unrecognizable, something serious. "I don't know if that's going to help you with figuring out your feelings towards my Bulma, but if you're asking then I'll do my best to help you. I like you, Vegeta, understand?"

Any other man calling Bulma his would irritate Vegeta, he realized with shock, Dr. Briefs doing so did not since—obviously—he was her father. Something about the statement rattled him, shook something loose that he didn't entirely understand but caused him to straighten up and listen.

He likes you. He considers you part of his family and he cares. He's doing this because you're part of his family.

Vegeta had never been welcomed or made part of something so sincerely as he had been with the Briefs family before. Back with Frieza, he was a leader to the remaining Saiyans and had to hold them at a distance. He was a subordinate to Frieza (especially when the abominable lizard realized Vegeta was too disobedient to be shaped how he liked). He wasn't someone's son, someone's father, someone's…whatever he was to Bulma. Live-in nuisance?

"I don't know what it was like back on your planet, son, but me—I came from a more rural part of the world, mountain parts, forest, all that."

Come to think of it, not that he paid very close attention, Briefs did have a different accent from the other "city" Earthlings he had met, it was closer to Kakarot's than anybody else's. He nodded, not wanting to interrupt, nonetheless wondering what in the world that had to do with his question. In the meantime, Scratch had jumped over from the doctor's shoulder to his, the needle-like claws of the little cat not even registering as uncomfortable. He absently raised a hand to pet the small creature, still not knowing why he was so drawn to him but weirdly unable to refuse the feline.

"The Saiyan population wasn't…as big as Earth's, even in its prime," he found himself answering.

Briefs tilted his head at him, interest caught—typical for a scientist—but remained focused on the topic at hand. "Well, up in the rural areas, folks tend to make do on their own, hunt their own game, make their own amenities, and so on."

Despite himself, Vegeta's interest was piqued at the description—hunting? He couldn't picture Briefs of all people hunting, it sounded too Saiyan-like for the gentle doctor.

His supposition was proved correct when the old man continued: "I never fit in with that lifestyle, though." Briefs chuckled, shaking his head. "I brought home animals alive and cared for them more often than not, and I hated even looking at guns let alone touching them. I worked on the electrics for my family, metal shop in high school, things like that."

Vegeta didn't need metal shop explained to him, the implication was strong enough to remind him of weapon forging with fire on other planets. Scratch started purring in his ear, the weight of the cat on his shoulder became unusually comfortable.

"I guess it was enough to impress the old fogies, I applied for a scholarship for college in West City and moved there soon after. –That's a sum of funding for education, pays for getting in and the books, doesn't pay for housing and food." A wry smile came to Briefs' face as he thought about it. "I rented out one of my professors' garages to live in while doing odd job repairs to make a living. Don't know how it happened, I got some reputation for being pretty good with machines."

"Certified genius," Vegeta commented.

"More like certifiable," he joked back, shocking a smile and a laugh out of the prince. "It brought me nothing but trouble, son, I can tell you that. I still remember the day Commander Red darkened my doorway with a job offer."

Somehow the temperature in the room dropped slightly, Vegeta didn't know the name but the military title and red together reminded him of—

"The leader of the Red Ribbon Army Gero worked for?"

"Oh yes, but Gero came much later." His demeanor was distant as he stared off at a spot on the wall, somber, quiet. "They were quite the powerhouse of weaponry and technology back in their heyday. Red promised me all sorts of…benefits if I agreed to engineer weapons for him. I…"

That was an expression Vegeta had never seen from the doctor before, disgust and fury.

"I refused. I hated everything they represented. That remains true to this day. The very idea of creating weapons to harm innocent people—it infuriated me that anybody would even think such a thing was acceptable."

(Vegeta shifted uncomfortably, remembering that he had no qualms about doing such things in very recent times and was uncertain of where he stood currently.)

For a moment, he imagined a younger Briefs holed up in a dingy and dark garage amid scattered parts of machinery and gadgets in the making. He imagined the younger Briefs, wide-eyed and perplexed yet outraged at the proposition of a powerful commander; a young man barely out of his teens trying to seek out an education and livelihood now caught in the snare of attempted manipulation that went against his morals.

(He imagined that Briefs had blue hair then, he had only ever known the man to have faded grey hair but it couldn't have always been like that, could it? He cursed himself for thinking of Bulma even when actually speaking with her father.)

"How dare you ask me to help you with killing people?" he imagined the shaky voice of Briefs speaking out against Red.

"The problem with that was," the Briefs of the present cut into his thoughts. "You didn't say no to the Army. I thought saying no was enough, that was how it was where I came from, but of course not. I was marked for death then."

"You don't say no to me, Briefs. You don't say no to the Army. Watch your back, boy."

Despite himself, Vegeta shivered at the idea that Briefs was very close to being murdered.

"That would be how I met Panchy."

Briefs' tone had turned…chipper then, Vegeta raised an eyebrow at the shift in subject—or so it seemed a shift. He opened his mouth to ask what that had to do with anything until Briefs spoke again:

"She was sent to kill me."

It took a moment for Vegeta to realize that his mouth had remained open while in the middle of a question, then started to hang opened like an idiot while his brain caught up with what the hell.

"I got up to mischief when I was younger, too, just like you!" she had said to him.

"She was a mercenary," Vegeta confirmed what was staring him in the face with a dull tone of acceptance and disbelief at the absurdity.

"Oh yes," Briefs laughed, a twinkle in his eye that shouldn't have been there considering he was talking about being a target for death. "One of the best, it was a family thing you see. She came in the middle of the night and…"

Threatened to kill him? It should have been the logical conclusion, Vegeta thought.

Briefs surprised him again. "She nudged me awake and asked if I really lived in all the squalor. I thought she was a dream and just…huh," he shrugged, "Ah, I made her a cup noodle. Figured if she was out and about so late at night she might as well have something to eat. I suppose she had already made up her mind that it didn't make much sense I was in the, err, living conditions I was while being the Red Ribbon's target. She figured I'd be more…I guess, powerful? She told me later I was so sweet and not at all like her other 'dirtbag marks' that she simply couldn't do away with me."

A killer taken in by the kindness of another person. The parallel didn't miss him.

"But how did you know that you…?"

"Vegeta, it wasn't something I realized right away, or even completely—heck, I wasn't exactly comfortable with Panchy when I realized she was a mercenary, she, uh…had a lot of guns. A lot. Much more than I was comfortable even looking at."

"Oh."

Yes, he supposed a pacifistic man like Briefs wouldn't exactly be all that fine with a mercenary hanging around him.

"It took…time. That's what I'm getting at." Briefs adjusted his glasses, staring at Vegeta from across him. "We grew together, and after a while I realized we were growing together. Panchy completed me—don't gag at me, son, it's a thing. I'm not going to pry about how Bulma makes you feel, that's your own journey with her." His expression gained sympathy, of course it did, that was how he was. "I'm sorry for disappointing you, just talking about how other people found their way doesn't always solve your problems. Experiencing your own feelings is what does."

He would rather fly a ship into the sun than experience or confront his own feelings.

But it was what he was going to have to do, wasn't it?

"By the way," the doctor unexpectedly cut into his thoughts. "Bulma's birthday is on the eighth."

Vegeta opened his mouth to ask what that had anything to do with it. Briefs lit up a cigarette finally, staring at him stoically.

Oh.

"I see."

Earth made a big deal about birthdays, not that Vegeta understood it, the calendar out in space varied depending on what planet one was on. Saiyans were incubated in tubes and had no assigned "dates" to either their formation or removal from the tubes. There were many Earth customs Vegeta didn't understand, he understood them even less than feelings, but…hm, Bulma's birthday could present an opportunity to do something…special for her.

He just hadn't figured out what yet and he certainly wasn't going to ask Briefs what to do about it.

"You know, Vegeta," Briefs mumbled around his cigarette as he went back to his work. "That form you were trying to achieve—the turning blond thing, Super Saiyan? How did it happen?"

"I hit a wall," Vegeta answered with ease that only came from rehearsing and repetition. "I stopped caring."

"Funny," said Briefs, "It seems like you've stopped caring now. Must be true what they say, when you're at your lowest is when change can best begin."

He didn't have an answer for that, not even a furious retort, he couldn't say anything to the old man—not the truth or a lie.

Change when one is at their lowest. Huh.

The truth was his lowest was recognizing that he had nothing left and that he was…grieving over the loss. Grief, anger, loss…change, being at his lowest prompted change. It wasn't the same as how Kakarot transformed, consumed by his rage and grief at the loss of a friend. Vegeta was…

You had lost your people, your desired victory over Frieza, your precious status as the strongest Saiyan alive. You even lost the only person who ever gave a shit about you for something besides your status. You were so pathetic you thought at that moment you couldn't become strong enough to protect

No. That was nonsense. He stopped caring, his self-hatred took over, he was angry with himself over his inadequacies. He would never entertain an absurd thought like sentimental feelings being the cause.

Do better.

He rubbed at his temples as he drifted up from Briefs' lab back into the main house of Capsule Corp. continuing to be plagued by thoughts of this and that. Scratch still had not left his shoulder, contentedly sleeping like the world hadn't almost been destroyed a few months ago but saved by a nine-year-old with anger issues.

It was strange to him how Briefs described his relationship with his wife, that she "completed" him and they had grown together much younger than they were now. Did Bulma evoke such feelings in him? Like that she "completed" something he was missing? The fearful feeling that he needed her was evident, but how did that benefit her? Vegeta was no leech, he paid his debts, he gave as good as he got—but what did he give her? Yes, they had slept together, from what he could gauge she seemed to enjoy it, that wasn't a benefit (though the phrase she had bounced off him at one point was friends with benefits) it was only a pastime to amuse themselves.

She loved him. She said she did, he believed her, but why?

Asking her would be useless, she had already told him—she thought of him so often, thought highly of him even while he was being horrible. Her eyes were only ever on him even when other people were around (a feeling Vegeta wouldn't admit was very nice). "You understand me, me, not the idea of me being some spoiled rich girl that never worked a day in her life. You don't dance around with bullshit empty compliments and kissing up. You're the hardest worker I've ever known as well as being the biggest pain in my ass I've ever known. Why can't you see yourself how I see you?"

(Because I don't deserve the regard. I don't deserve to be forgiven.)

Vegeta stopped himself when he realized he was automatically heading towards where he sensed Bulma's energy. Carefully scruffing the cat on his shoulder, he set Scratch down on a couch arm in the living room and turned away before she could detect him from the next room.

(She can't sense ki you moron, stop being so paranoid. –But somehow she always knows, how does she know?)

The sound of voices stopped him. A scowl pressed itself into his face when he realized Yamcha was talking to Bulma. They weren't talking about him—he wasn't that paranoid—but he remembered, oh he remembered how much it nagged at him to realize that Yamcha was present for the birth of his son. It shouldn't have, really, Bulma needed support in that time and just because it was…her ex-boyfriend rather than the father of her child…didn't bother him…

(You wouldn't have even if she hadn't dismissed you. You would have already left, you coward. She had to protect herself from you stomping all over her feelings.)

He heaved a sigh, realizing that he was no closer to figuring anything out about his feelings and was only growing agitated. The more agitated he grew, the more likely he was to lash out and flee, that couldn't happen, not again. But what else did Vegeta have to help him? He only had the perspective of Earthlings who "knew" about the absurdities of feelings, the rest of the Saiyans were dead.

"Hey, man," a voice from behind him greeted.

Vegeta jolted, turning around with a stance of readying himself to fight only to realize it was Yamcha holding his hands up in surrender. "Chill, dude, it's me," Yamcha said, appearing too calm despite the obvious threat. "I noticed you were hangin' out here and wanted to see if you were feeling okay."

"It's none of your business!" Vegeta growled, sweeping aside Yamcha's consideration with disgust.

The man cocked his head at him, eyebrow arched, disbelief radiating off of him. "It kind of is, Vegeta, considering you're involved with one of my best friends."

He opened his mouth to protest that they weren't involved, Yamcha's unexpectedly stern look silenced him immediately.

"I don't know if you feel threatened or whatever by me being around her, but don't be, that ship has sailed and we're better off as friends. I'm not trying to be Trunks' dad either because—frankly—that's creepy and irresponsible as hell for anybody to do when the actual father is right there, even if he's got shit to work out in his head." He shrugged, putting his hands in his pockets as he allowed his posture to relax.

"I've never known you to curse," Vegeta blurted out rather than addressing any of Yamcha's attempts to assuage his irrational worries.

Any other social situation would have him being scolded for being deliberately inattentive to the topic at hand, Yamcha just laughed and made that faux-humble gesture of rubbing the back of his head. "I guess! Sometimes the situation just calls for it, y'know?"

I guess. Vegeta shrugged in return, crossing his arms and turning away.

Yamcha's expression softened as he watched him, Vegeta despised that look of sympathy but was helpless to do anything to counteract it as the man spoke again: "Vegeta? Is there anything I can do to help?" At the prince's bewildered stare, he clarified: "Working stuff like feelings out isn't easy, and I know you're trying. So…"

"Unless you can figure out how to revive Nappa and Raditz without bringing the total destruction of this planet," Vegeta cut in with a sneer. "No, you can't help me."

He expected that Yamcha would give up and walk off after declaring something so improbable. The man surprised him again by perking up and saying, "Oh! You just wanna talk to them? Yeah, I know someone who can help with that!"

His reaction of an actual jawdrop didn't seem to deter Yamcha from going on with explaining what he meant. It couldn't be possible—could it? There was a way on Earth that he could speak to his dead comrades without reviving them and dealing with the fallout of such? Without the Dragon Balls?

"We'll…" Yamcha looked over his shoulder, scratching at his cheek awkwardly. "We'll need some cash, though. If I remember how the old witch operates, she won't be satisfied unless we give her money."

Witch?! Vegeta found himself being steered by his shoulders back to the kitchen where Panchy was already making lunch. After Yamcha very bluntly told her they needed to pay a witch for her services, the Briefs matron was all too happy to hand over more money than Vegeta had ever seen in physical form.

Even as they were flying he was dazed by the insane things planet Earth had thrown and continued to throw at him since he first landed on the cursed place. Yamcha told the story of the witch Baba, the old pervert's sister, who had the uncanny ability to see all types of events in her crystal ball as well as slipping between the world of the living and the dead. To suit her own ends, she sometimes plucked out fighters from the afterlife to battle in her personal arena.

It sounded horrifying quite honestly, but if she was able to grant Vegeta the…opportunity (not privilege, not miracle) of talking to Raditz and Nappa, he wasn't going to dwell on it.

"You're not expecting me to thank you for this, are you?" Vegeta gave a suspicious side-eye to Yamcha when they landed in front of what looked like a smaller version of the Capsule Corp. compound sans the logos and windows, still impressive in size but not quite on that scale and appearing to be made out of stone.

"Pfft, I know better man," Yamcha laughed. "Just don't make any jokes with your buddies about how I tripped up and died the last time you were together."

"What, the Saibaman?" Vegeta raised an eyebrow at him, frowning in bafflement. "You got cocky, that's all, you were doing…fine before getting too confident."

"Oh, thanks dude," he replied with a bright grin.

Before Vegeta could stammer out denials that he had intended to reassure Yamcha at all, a hideous shriveled little thing wrapped up in black floated out of the building's entrance.

"Hey, Baba, we—"

She interrupted Yamcha by sticking her hand out. "Cash. Now," her shrill voice rasped out. "They're already waiting inside. I've explained most of what's happened since they've been dead, the rest is up to you meatheads."

"Nice to see you, too, Baba," Yamcha muttered, placing the stack into her outstretched hand. He turned back to Vegeta, checking to see if he was ready. "Buddy?"

Usually Vegeta would have snapped that he wasn't Yamcha's buddy, the sheer amount of nonsense happening around him prevented any irritable comebacks that would have come so easily and he could only manage to nod. He didn't even protest when Yamcha, realizing that the Saiyan's feet were firmly frozen to the ground and he was trembling slightly, put a hand on his shoulder and led him to the building as he did before.

"It's going to be okay, Vegeta," he assured him in a soft voice. "I'm not gonna pretend I know why you want to talk to them and what it has to do with Bulma, but I'm right here with ya in case you need backup."

It should have nauseated him how the man was so willing to show support for his…problem when Vegeta had effectively done at least half the things Yamcha himself wanted to do. Or at least he thought he had heard that the ridiculous Earthling wanted to "settle down" and by Earth standards that meant married and having children. He supposed that was part of the "friendship" thing the overly cheerful human was forcing onto him (yes, force! He would never agree to being anyone's friend!)

He balked when he sensed Raditz and Nappa beyond the doorway, pulling back against Yamcha's lead like a stubborn dog; a prickly sensation overcame him starting at the root of where his tail scar was, racing up his spine, right into his brain.

They weren't a threat to him, they never were, they weren't even a threat to Yamcha at the level he was at now compared to the years before. Yet what was this apprehension building in him…?

"Dude, you're nervous to see them," Yamcha whispered, seeming to sense the question on Vegeta's mind. "It's okay. That's normal."

Normal, but he wasn't normal he was exceptional.

He swallowed hard, throat dry as the desert air, he made up for it by stiffening his stance and going forward, making his expression harsh and intimidating. It was all he knew how to do in response to how he was feeling.

Nappa looked up first when they walked in, eyes keenly watching the two men as they approached. Raditz shifted his weight from one foot to the other, seeming somewhat confused and looking between Nappa (for deciding how he should be reacting) and the pair.

Raditz was always a follower, Vegeta remembered, trying to make up for how he was born in a third-class family but was permitted to work above his caste since he was more powerful than third class warriors. He acted cold, but Vegeta knew better, Raditz knew that he knew better as well.

"I'm not going to apologize to either of you, so don't even bother trying to guilt me about that," Vegeta began.

Yamcha winced at the brusque tone. "Come on, man, chill out. What you did to Nappa was kind of a dick move."

And he looked quite disgusted to even be defending Nappa in the conversation, so Vegeta humored him with an explanation: "Do you suppose he would have done better taking him back to Frieza?"

"How the hell am I supposed to answer that, Vegeta?" he said in exasperation.

He couldn't. None of the Earthlings truly had any idea of what it was like living under Frieza. Though the lower members of the Force treated him with respect, the higher ranks and the lizard himself…well, they would have used Nappa's and eventually his own grievous failure against Kakarot as an excuse. It was a mercy kill as far as Vegeta was concerned even if it he could acknowledge it was a betrayal at the same time.

He knew how Nappa was looking at him now, the old man had commented before that Vegeta was "going off the deep end" and becoming unnecessarily brutal in a lot of instances over the years. Ironic for an old soldier like him to comment on, nonetheless Vegeta had kept it tucked in a corner of his mind that he frequently ignored.

(The same corner that often scolded him for his own actions, go figure.)

"Being around Frieza is beginning to poison your brain, Vegeta," Nappa had said to him a couple of years before they went to Earth. "I know what we're doing, it's the same as Saiyans have always done, but that was unnecessary—that planet wasn't even a mark. Why did you…?"

"I never gave you permission to speak freely, let alone question me, you idiot," Vegeta had snarled back totally blowing off the concern, pretending it wasn't there. Nappa couldn't be worried about him, that just wasn't done.

As for Raditz…he had to have understood that with an opportunity like learning about the Namekian wish spheres being real that Vegeta had to prioritize getting in the position for killing Frieza.

(He would have brought him back later, the small corner of his mind that he ignored whispered, the idiot just had to be patient.)

But Vegeta didn't need to explain himself to either of them. Not at all.

"Having girl troubles, Vegeta?" Nappa spoke up first, no humor to be found in his tone as he shifted his posture to crossing his arms.

"She's not a girl," Vegeta snapped back automatically, "She's a woman." He clamped his mouth shut with an audible click of his teeth when he realized what he had said in his haste to correct that neither of them were children. "What did the witch tell you?"

"That you wanted to talk to us," Raditz answered, posture less closed off then Nappa's as he gestured to the witch. "That it was something personal." He trailed off, tilting his head to one side. "Is it true, Vegeta?"

"Yes, it's true that I've fathered a child," Vegeta replied a little too quickly, too sharply.

"Erm," Raditz grimaced, flushing a little. "No, I…I meant that you're a Super Saiyan now."

Vegeta felt his own face heat up in humiliation while Nappa chuckled. "…Yes. That is also true."

The long-haired Saiyan's expression turned eager—something that now reminded him too much of Kakarot—he gestured again, this time to Vegeta. "I wanna see!"

He puffed out a breath of annoyance but braced himself for the surge of ki that would be summoned up for transforming regardless. "Fine, then." Golden light enveloped the room as he transformed, unable to see himself but knowing what he looked like reflected in the expressions of shock and admiration from the two Saiyans. "That's the first form of Super Saiyan, but I expect that's enough to satisfy your curiosity."

"As expected of Vegeta," Nappa said vaguely, watching him as he powered down. "But an exhibition isn't what we came for, Raditz."

Raditz sheepishly wilted and muttered apologies, to which Yamcha patted him on the shoulder saying he didn't need to apologize and it was fine. Yamcha confused the hell out of Vegeta sometimes with his willingness to be friendly to everyone though he wouldn't allow it to distract him. "The mother of my child and I have had some…difficulties," Vegeta said.

Baba snorted, pulling out her crystal ball that was already playing the scene that constantly played back in Vegeta's own mind. "Difficulties?"

He felt his lip curl back in disgust but wouldn't turn away from what he had done (or didn't do), the burn of Nappa and Raditz's stares were right on him as the scene ended. "Difficulties," he spoke over the roar in his ears of his own blood rushing and the pumping of adrenaline at hearing Bulma's shriek of terror. "Let me start from the beginning."

Thus, as much as he would usually despise doing such a thing, Vegeta poured out the story of how a strange alien woman had gotten under his skin and bonded with him, only to anticipate his own heartlessness and dismiss him later. He tried not to think of it or speak of it like it was dismissal, he spoke of it as her suggestion like it really was. "…But she was protecting herself from me," he couldn't help blurting out. "She knew I was going to run off like a coward and blame her for my inadequacies."

"You sound gutted, Vegeta," Raditz observed. "Did it really hurt that much?"

He didn't answer, Nappa knew he wasn't going to answer and didn't expect him to. Raditz realized his mistake and didn't push it further. Nappa picked up the slack of conversation, "Okay, Vegeta, so—you fucked up, I would say you were doing pretty good not killing the g—woman the second she told you she was pregnant, but I know we have different values of good over here." He muttered to himself about especially now.

Vegeta wanted to argue against the implication that he was now a do-gooder sycophant like the rest of the morons on Earth. This isn't about that, he reminded himself. He wasn't so sure if he wouldn't have done what Nappa described at any point in his life, but he was certain he wouldn't have been in the position of receiving such news anyway. Very few alien species were compatible with Saiyans and even if he was…the type to sleep around, he was equally certain that Frieza would have done something to prevent mistakes.

"That's the problem…values. Earthlings talk about love and crap like that," he murmured, knowing that Raditz and Nappa would still be able to hear him.

"Oh, they do?" Raditz said before nodding. "That makes sense, the way Kakarot was acting about—"

"Come off it Raditz!" Vegeta interrupted. "I know Gine used to say she loved you—I heard her saying it before!"

His fellow Saiyan flushed in a mixture of shame and embarrassment at being called out, looking down at his boots, shuffling uncomfortably.

"And I know Bardock and Gine loved each other as well—why else would they get married? Saiyans don't do that." He paused, adding over his shoulder to Yamcha: "Raditz and Kakarot's parents."

"Thanks, dude, I was getting a little lost."

"You're an imbecile." Vegeta's tone didn't have as much bite to it as he wanted.

"Okay then…" Raditz quietly said, staring at Vegeta with a strange, unfamiliar look. "If you want my real thoughts on it…you sound like you're in love with her and you want our opinions about how a Saiyan should deal with love."

Vegeta opened his mouth to deny it, Baba rolled her crystal ball into view showing himself coming back to Earth after ascending. He knew what was coming. He remembered that night—he saw himself sitting on the ramp for a long time, contemplating the indifferent stars.

What now, he had thought. He could have gone back to Capsule Corp., it was his first thought in fact, but would he even be welcomed? While Bulma still spoke with him as she helped him prepare for his departure, there was a lance of pain that came from experiencing it. She wouldn't casually touch him like before, just smile at him and give words of encouragement. She didn't talk about her work, she didn't talk about the annoyances of the day—she didn't even talk shit about her colleagues with him, which he always enjoyed. There was no mention of how her pregnancy was going, even.

She hid her thoughts, hid her pain, hid from him.

Well. Vegeta certainly wasn't going to tolerate that. He…

In the present, Vegeta winced at the image of himself landing on Bulma's balcony, going into her room, watching her asleep for a moment before gently brushing aside a lock of hair that had ended up stuck in her mouth. He just wanted to see her, that was all.

He kept coming back every night, when she was asleep, then he would move on to what used to be his room to see Trunks. He didn't know how to interact with the child, he wasn't used to being near children without having to kill or harm them. During the day he would watch them from afar—Baba actually showed mercy on him and didn't show those bits to Raditz and Nappa, instead her crystal ball focused on Bulma. Why? He didn't know, nonetheless he found himself watching the images, enthralled—there she was, working in her lab. She stopped, whipping off one of her gloves and wiping at her forehead with a sigh—inadvertently wiping grime and oil across her face.

Vegeta found himself smiling as he watched her, remembering the last time he had caught her in that sort of state in her lab, far before Trunks came along, drifting into a memory that—at least—he could keep to himself for himself.

"Vegeta!" the memory of Bulma protested when he wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling her. "Come on, I'm all dirty, at least let me—"

"What's wrong with that?" he had asked her, now deliberately pressing his face into her shoulder.

"I look like a wreck, obviously!"

How confusing, why would she think that? He told her as much, she looked fine. She always looked fine to him—the only time she didn't look fine was when she was crying, he hated that.

Because he couldn't allow himself to just live in a moment, he obsessed on the thought of what motivated him to get closer and closer to her like he did. He fretted and fussed over that stupid accidental kiss and why he wanted her to do it again but this time because she wanted to do it, not because he was there. He questioned himself why he hated when she cried, why he thought she looked beautiful no matter what state she was in, why did he continue thinking about her even after she rejected him—even after he locked himself away in a room that dilated time, he was haunted by images of her. Why? Why?

Nappa, in the meanwhile, had become fascinated by the infant Trunks, rubbing his chin and laughing as he watched the boy's attempts at escaping his bassinet. "Haha—awww, he reminds me of you when you were a tyke, Vegeta," he chuckled, Trunks on the projected image had just bent a wrench in half out of annoyance.

"You never interacted with me when I was that young, Nappa," Vegeta scoffed, turning his head away to stare at the wall. "None of that is why I wanted to talk to you fools—though I'm sorely regretting ever having that idea, I must have lost my mind."

"You're absolutely in love with her," Raditz concluded, even Yamcha was nodding with him in agreement. "I've never seen you smile like that at something like when you were watching her in this ball."

Vegeta wanted to protest that he didn't even know what love was, he wanted to internally combust over the fact that he had slipped up and allowed himself to smile around other people, he would have continued the charade of disagreeing that it very well might have been the case if Nappa didn't speak up next.

"And you want to know how a Saiyan handles love."

"…Yes."

Yes, with all his might, how can a Saiyan warrior remain strong and act as a proper Saiyan even while experiencing…a weakness like love.

(But was love a weakness? Kakarot experienced it, Gohan experienced it. Their emotions fueled them along with the thrill of fighting on Kakarot's part. Did Vegeta even enjoy fighting or did he simply view it as a way to express his superiority?)

"Well." Nappa rubbed his temples, sighing. "They don't. We were taught not to. To ignore it. To pretend it wasn't something that happened. Hell, we completely depersonalized having kids partly so none of us would have to deal with things like that."

True enough, or at least as far as Vegeta had been taught reproduction was entirely automated—take cells from the genetic bank, incubate them, create a child. No copulation (even in the most sterile, cold way) or birthing needed. Nothing like Earth.

"Maybe," Yamcha piped up after listening and staying silent for a while. "Maybe you're meant to make something new of being a Saiyan, Vegeta. Like, you're the only example of a Saiyan left."

"So who's going to tell you that's not what a proper Saiyan does," Raditz added. He gave Vegeta a knowing look again before snorting: "Besides yourself, anyway. Looks like you still talk yourself into stupid shit you made up."

"You shut your mouth!" Vegeta snarled for lack of anything else to say in response. He knew Yamcha meant to be comforting but being told he was the only Saiyan left only made him angry and somewhat despondent. It didn't help the hopeless feeling that he just couldn't live up to…anything worthwhile.

Yet he couldn't ignore that Nappa specified taught to ignore the feeling of love. He thought love didn't come to Saiyans naturally and only the abnormal experienced it. What was he supposed to believe…?

"I like her," Nappa announced, nodding at the now-blank crystal ball. "She doesn't take any shit from you, that's fitting for Saiyan royalty."

He felt his face burning at the observation but couldn't deny what was said. It was true that very often the ruling Saiyan monarch specifically picked a spouse that could overpower them, he remembered his parents being similar. He wasn't ready to consider the idea of—of Bulma being his wife or anything like that, he was certain she wouldn't either, she would likely stare at him and flat out refuse if he asked her to marry him. That wouldn't solve any problems, much like how sex wouldn't.

Eventually, he wasn't sure how much time passed, Yamcha and Vegeta left the witch's house, flying together though Vegeta found himself falling behind as he thought and thought and thought.

"Hey," Yamcha halted in the air, watching Vegeta meander into a skittering halt himself. "I'm gonna head to Tien's farm, I've been crashing there lately. You good on your own?"

"Tch, don't insult me," Vegeta threw Yamcha's kindness back at him as though it were something dirty. "I'm fine."

Yamcha frowned, clearly not believing him, but shrugged as he drifted to the east. "Listen, man, I know you're new to this whole thing but take it from me, Bulma will understand. She's way more patient than any of us give her credit for."

He wasn't sure if he had a response to that, even if he did the other man didn't afford him one anyway as he flew off, leaving Vegeta to contemplate the west.

What now?

He very well might be in love with Bulma, he could just…return to her and say once and for all that he loved her back. Wouldn't that be wonderful? The imagined look of awe on her face made his stomach flutter.

…He didn't trust that feeling. He didn't deserve the wholehearted devotion and affection. He didn't deserve to be forgiven.

Back at that bizarre dome building, there was a family that formed by unusual means—a country hick coming to the city and running afoul of a vengeful army, falling in love with a mercenary who was struck by how kind and genuine he was. They brought forth an adventurous, hotheaded, courageous, warm, foolish woman who showed mercy and gave help even to those who were nothing but ungrateful. She fell in love with a killer as well, like her father, had a child with a man who had blood on his hands.

But she still loved that man, and that man…loved her. That man felt like a man around her, like a whole person and not a symbol bearing the hopes or desires of other people trying to influence him.

Unfortunately, that man feared his own feelings of love. That man wouldn't be able to tell her the night he returned home how he felt. 

Later, I'll tell her later, Vegeta told himself. When I've… 

Bulma looked up at him from the table where she sat, smiling, waiting for him with two cups of those noodles she liked so much. 

"Hey," she said still with that beguiling smile. "You're a little late for dinner, but I was nice enough to make something for you anyway. There's leftovers in the fridge if that's not enough, though." 

He regarded the noodles sitting on the table, steaming away, then looked back at Bulma who was holding out a pair of chopsticks to him. "The boy?" he asked. 

"Put him to bed." 

"Your parents?"

"Also in bed." 

A smirk curled over his lips as he took the utensils from Bulma's hand. "Is this another date as you call them?"

She giggled, shrugging, running her fingers through her hair as she did. "You're being such a tease today, you know? First that kiss and now—? What's gotten into you?"

Vegeta shrugged, finally joining her at the table. "Who knows? Maybe your emptyheaded Earth sensibilities are slowly degrading my mind."

Bulma snorted, brandishing her own chopsticks at him. "Don't make me dump these noodles on your head, asshole." 

His smirk only widened. It was the first time they had acted the same as before in a long while. He was starting to think, as they did a mock toast of their cups, maybe he had an idea of what to do for Bulma's birthday after all.

"To a good night," she said.

He nodded back. "To a good night, indeed."

Chapter Text

Vegeta had been leaving more often during the week while Bulma worked on the ship. She tried not to let it bother her, he had every right to come and go as he pleased—no expectations, she reminded herself.

It wasn't like he was seeing other women.

Even if he was, she had no right to be jealous or suspicious. None whatsoever.

You're in way too deep, Briefs, she scolded herself.

Vegeta would never say that he loved her, her stupid brain needed to stop obsessing on it.

Of course, her stupid brain that would never shut up said, he would never say it aloud. Vegeta isn't a words kind of person.

Sometimes Bulma remembered finding Vegeta sulking in her lab one evening after he had finished training. Weird, as usually he would be heading to the dining room right after to get something to eat before tromping up to his room to avoid everyone else the rest of the night. "What, Vegeta?" she said with a sigh, already prepared for a fight. "If this is about repairs, I'm done for the night so—"

She stopped, he was holding out a first aid kit to her, looking away. Oh, he was hurt. She sighed again, rolling her eyes. "We have an infirmary, Vegeta."

He knew, she told him every time, he didn't care and still sought her out when he had been hurt. She still took the first aid kit and bandaged him up like always.

Only that time, Bulma felt his gaze constantly burning on her. She almost thought to tease him about not being able to take his eyes off of her since she was so irresistible, but didn't. Not after drunkenly kissing him without his consent though he hadn't mentioned it, he hadn't even teased her about it himself calling her a "vulgar woman" like usual.

Vegeta surprised her by taking her chin in his hand and pressing his lips to hers then.

Bulma didn't fight, not at first, too frozen in shock to react until she pushed him off.

Well…pushed on his solid chest with no give, at least. It signaled to him to stop anyway, he pulled back, unwavering in that intense stare.

"What the hell, Vegeta?" she had said, tone exasperated rather than offended or violated at being kissed without permission. She had done it to him, after all, maybe that was payback? "I said I was sorry for kissing you, so why—"

"Bulma."

Her tirade stopped at hearing her name spoken. He knew her name, of course, he knew all of their names but never used them—or rarely used them in Bulma's case. The only name he used consistently was Kakarot, Goku's birth name, because of course he did, Goku was always his focus and always had been his focus.

"You did something to me. I don't know what it was, but I can't stop thinking about what you did."

"Vegeta, come on…I said I was sorry, okay? It was a mistake, just a stupid—"

"Stop calling it a mistake!" He boomed suddenly, shocking them both at his own reaction.

Bulma stepped back several feet, Vegeta balked, hand paused midair like he was trying to pull her back but not quite touching. He looked lost, confused, vulnerable.

"I hurt your feelings," she realized.

Bulma saw nothing of the raw and vulnerable Vegeta when it came time for the androids to attack, he was arrogant and vicious, as he was before. The future Trunks told her that he often had to avoid the looks of disgust from his own father, saying he looked at him like he was a mistake. Part of her wondered if he was lashing out because of her "rejection" as he had phrased it in his own mind.

Another part of her reminded that Vegeta was a grown man and she didn't have to take responsibility for his feelings just as he didn't have to take responsibility for hers.

He doesn't love me. Just because he wants to be with me, doesn't mean it's love, he'll still run off and expect to come back when it's convenient for him. And I'll just take it because I'm an idiot and always want the most unavailable man possible.

"Bulma, darling," her mother's voice interrupted her reflection, setting down a glass of iced tea with a strawberry tart on the side. "You've been going nonstop, sweetie, have a little break why don't you?"

It was a tempting prospect, she could never resist her mother's strawberry tarts. She sighed, pushing away from her work to turn to the treats. "All right, all right…"

She did something to him, he said…Vegeta did something to her too. Now there she was, terribly in love, wanting so badly to trust him but knowing it just wasn't logical. He might have been doing better with Trunks, he might have been more present, but at any time he could just get bored and leave. A lot of men ended up getting bored and leaving, it turned out.

"Am I being unreasonable?" Bulma ended up saying aloud.

She didn't count on her mother still being there, the older woman made a ponderous gesture of putting a finger to her lips. "What do you mean, honey? About sweet Vegeta?"

Sweet Vegeta. Bulma almost choked, only her mother would ever be allowed to get away with calling Vegeta things like that. She kept her silence, stuffing the tart into her stupid big mouth so she wouldn't have to speak.

Panchy wouldn't relent, however, she kept watching her with concern. "Bulma? About Vegeta…?"

Now she really choked, thumping her chest, blinking tears out of her eyes. "Mom—I just…"

"I don't think you're being unreasonable about setting boundaries with him, if that's what you mean," Panchy said in the absence of a response from Bulma. "You know, Bulma…he loves you."

It was like her own mother had just socked her in the stomach, the sobs she was suppressing built up, made her want to heave. "No—no Mom, he doesn't."

Panchy frowned.

"What?" Bulma burst. "You want me to lie to myself, Mom? You want me to set myself up for disappointment? I already did that with Yamcha, why would I do that with Vegeta?"

"You're giving up," her mother replied simply. "You're giving up because you've already decided that it's impossible. That's not like you."

Bulma could not say anything to argue with that. She had given up, she had accepted defeat from the moment she realized what she was feeling was more than a simple "friends with benefits" deal—she had told herself that Vegeta would stomp all over her heart and it was pointless to try. Even though she had admitted that she loved him, she was still guarding herself, she still expected to be let down by Vegeta.

"It may not be like me, Mom, but I have to think about other things besides my own feelings now," she responded, her voice strained. "I can't go chasing after a man anymore. I have to think about Trunks first."

"You think you're doing the chasing…?" Panchy trailed off, a lilt of mischief in her voice before she giggled and fluttered off in a breeze of perfume and warmth.

What the fuck? Bulma thought but didn't say, clenching her jaw in irritation.

Hours later, Bulma was feeding Trunks when Vegeta came back. She felt the heat of his presence stop at the couch for a moment, watching her, before he vaulted over to sit down next to her as gracefully as could be.

"Don't be absurd. My feelings. You think me so fragile that I would concern myself with—?"

The Vegeta in her memories turned away, breathing harshly, shoulders hunched as if to shrink in on himself. "What did you do to me…? I would never abide by a ridiculous thing like you hurting my feelings. But…I keep thinking about…"

"If you want me to kiss you, Vegeta," her past self began, touching his chin to direct his gaze back to her. "You can ask. I'm not mad, I'm sober, and I'm single—I don't mind."

"It's not something I've done before," he said petulantly. "How would I know to ask for such a thing?"

"What?!" she shrieked then. "That was—that was your first?! But how—?"

It hadn't made sense to her then—not remotely. Vegeta wasn't exactly ugly, she would call him that when she was mad (more accurately an ugly little troll doll) but she never meant it. Or she didn't mean it as ardently as he more than likely meant his return comments that she was ugly and loudmouthed.

"How was that your first kiss? Are you saying space pirates don't do much kissing? What are you going to tell me next, that you're a virgin?"

"What the hell is a virgin?"

"He's asleep," the Vegeta of the present broke the companionable silence.

"Oh," Bulma cradled Trunks close, glancing at Vegeta. "Do you want to hold him?"

He grimaced—a clear no. Holding such a small and fragile life in his hands without the order to snuff it out wasn't something Vegeta could comprehend.

"I see. Okay. I'll put him in his crib then."

She could feel his eyes on her as she went up the stairs to put Trunks to bed. What now?

 

What now, indeed, Vegeta was thinking the same thing then. It was the evening before the eighth, Bulma's birthday, he wanted to do something and had kept coming back to Raditz and Nappa for advice. Go figure, the old witch became fond of them and decided to keep them on as fighters for her own ends, which gave him the advantage of being able to go back whenever he wanted.

"Well, what do you want to do for this 'birthday' thing, Vegeta?" Nappa had asked him.

"I want…" he paused. "I want to take her somewhere. Somewhere we've been before, but for a little longer than we stayed the last time."

"Are you sure about that?" Raditz piped up. "You have a kid, you can't just take the kid's mother away for—what, a week?"

"I'm sure…I'm sure it would be fine."

The plan was still half-formed, usually he was adept at making strategies and yet with Bulma he found himself flustered and unsure of what to do next. Bulma reappearing in the living room brought him from his thoughts and he straightened up.

"Bulma," Vegeta stood up despite not knowing what he was going to say next or why he was attempting.

"Yes?" Bulma paused, watching him patiently.

He floundered. He often did that around her. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last, she had only become at a loss for words around him a couple of times herself.

"Uh…let's…leave that subject behind for now…" the Bulma of the past stammered. "I'm sorry that I stole your first kiss, okay?"

"How the hell can you steal something intangible? Why are you apologizing about that? Who cares?"

"Obviously I do, you idiot!" she snapped back, startling him into silence. After a moment, she tried to speak again: "Do you…want to kiss me?"

"Yes." Vegeta surprised himself then with how quickly and easily he answered. "Blasted woman, I've been thinking of nothing but that for ages now."

"Oh…" She was blushing.

He liked that. He had that effect on her? He had created a reaction in several beings over the course of his life, though mostly it was fear and disgust. What Bulma expressed around him was…different.

"Then we can do it again…just make sure I know you're going to do it, none of that surprise kiss stuff, okay?"

Bulma could have twisted the knife, could have thrown it back in his face saying that he must have been trying to trick her. But she didn't, she only smiled softly at him and finished bandaging him up, taking care of him like always. She cared about how he felt, she cared about his boundaries, and she cared about his health. Bulma cared so much. Why was that?

"Vegeta?" the Bulma of the present inquired, tilting her head at him. "Are you okay?"

"Are you?" he found himself asking. "I haven't seen you except when we go to bed, you've been working nonstop."

She tsked, frowning at him. "And you've been gone during the day. What are you doing?"

A direct question about what he was doing, she had never done that before, it took him aback prompting him to stammer at first rather than answering. How dare she think to question me, the Prince of all Saiyans?! His baser thoughts snarled. He tempered it by reminding himself Bulma had many reasons to question his actions, she had been too patient for too long and now had to deal with his depression and confusion.

"I am…thinking. I've been thinking about things, and I needed time alone to think."

"Oh."

He tried to ignore the wrench in his gut at her quiet voice, he tried not to read it as disappointment.

"About training again?" Bulma ventured to ask.

Vegeta frowned, did she really believe that? That he only thought about fighting? Yes, it was something he needed to consider, but Vegeta was nothing if not methodical, he would confront his depression and lack of desire to train after…after Bulma.

Bulma frowned back at him, and really, she had every right to. He had run away so often in the past and continued to in the present, shoving off any responsibility he had by saying he didn't want it, didn't need it as a Saiyan. The challenge of proving himself to her remained fraught with uncertainty but dammit, Vegeta felt she was worth the effort.

"I want…to take a trip with you. For your birthday," he admitted at last.

Her eyebrows raised, sitting back a little. "Who told you when my birthday was?"

"Your father," he answered before realizing second that maybe it would have been nicer to say that he knew and remembered already.

…No, she would have known that was a lie, and he was already doing enough lying to her leaving off anything about Nappa and Raditz. Vegeta was a lot of things, a lot of horrible things, but a liar would never be one of them. Deceptive, maybe, lying no. Yamcha apparently at least hadn't run his mouth and told Bulma where they went—although it was possible the buffoon had forgotten entirely, too busy mooning around with his three-eyed pal.

"I want to go back to where we went last time, in the forest," he continued. "…We can take Trunks this time, if you want, because I want to stay out there longer."

 

Bulma was at a loss for words—Vegeta was telling her he wanted to take a trip, but not in the ship she had been meticulously working on, he wanted to stay on Earth? And he remembered that they had responsibility as parents to a baby? Who was the man before her because it clearly wasn't Vegeta the arrogant windbag of all Saiyans.

"Why there?" she asked rather than spout off protests and accusations right away. He was being vulnerable, she wasn't so irrational that she would throw it back in his face.

"Because I didn't hate being there and I thought you enjoyed it as well," he grumbled back.

"I did," she admitted, breaking her own rule of "don't make it weird" by reaching out and touching his bicep gently. "Spending time with you was…nice."

Encouraged, Vegeta turned to her, knocking away her own touch by the motion. "Then we can go?" he sounded eager, or at least as far as he could express eagerness, a rare boyish happiness that she didn't see often even while they were together.

Bulma smiled back, pressing her forehead to his. "Mmhm. We can leave tomorrow afternoon, if you want."

"Woman, I wouldn't have brought this whole thing up if I didn't want to!" Despite the scolding words, his tone sounded almost playful. He paused as if realizing then the position they were in. "Bulma. You said don't make it weird."

"I know I did."

"But I want to kiss you."

"Well…"

Kissing wasn't so bad, was it? She puffed out a sigh, "All right, as long as you don't try to seduce me."

"Tch, vulgar woman, you say that as if I was the one who seduced you the first time."

Bulma giggled, interrupted when Vegeta leaned forward, cupping the back of her head to pull her into a kiss. It was entirely ill-advised for either of their feelings, but neither could resist the impulse of getting closer and more passionate in their embrace. It wasn't lust, though, something about it felt strangely affectionate even while they became heated.

 

Sometimes, Vegeta thought as he nipped at Bulma's neck, he figured things would be simpler if Saiyans had bonding activities like marking their mates. Or maybe a destined bond of some type! The understanding would at least be ingrained in him even if his mind wouldn't acknowledge it at first how he ought to feel towards Bulma, and she would have to accept that she was his.

Only, it didn't work like that, things like that only happened in fairy tales, and Bulma wasn't a possession. She wasn't some prize to be claimed and if he wanted to play like calling her his it would only be fair for Bulma to say in return that he was hers. The thought thrilled and horrified him simultaneously.

But his mind forced him to balk, as it always did, it would never let him drown in feelings he didn't understand and wasn't experienced with. He was always expecting betrayal, or to be harmed, even though Bulma had never done such a thing to him—at least, she had not harmed him physically, and he could never harm her physically.

It was unfortunate reality that they had both harmed each other emotionally.

Never mind, he stubbornly pushed the thoughts out of his head, allowing himself to give over to the pleasure of at least being allowed to kiss Bulma.

"Oh my, Bulma, Vegeta, were you intent on giving us another grandbaby already?"

Like they were abruptly jolted with electricity, the two pulled apart with a vague pop of their lips. "Th-that wasn't what was—" Vegeta sputtered.

"Mom!" Bulma shrieked at the same time.

Panchy laughed at them as they looked away from each other, beet red in the face and stammering denials. "You two are so cute! Don't mind me, keep on with what you were doing~" she tittered, sashaying away as usual for her.

The silence between them stayed for a long while after Panchy left.

"How soon can we leave?" Vegeta grumbled, crossing his arms huffily.

She smiled softly at him before reaching out and tapping him on the nose. "I'll tell Mom and Dad we're leaving tomorrow."

He waited for her to make a joke about needing to pack "protection" for their trip, but then remembered she hadn't made that sort of joke with him for a while. Bulma had changed her focus since Trunks was born, she carried herself differently and didn't talk about the same things as before. She was…a very good mother, a little more somber than before, wary, mature—he admired it. At the same time he missed the lively vulgar woman she was and knew part of this maturing was a result of the experience with him.

Vegeta didn't speak about any of what he was thinking, especially not about what he was feeling—that wasn't how he was—he simply held out his hand to her. "Come, let's go to bed."

She took his hand and allowed him to lead her to the safety of their room, he held her in his arms while she hummed softly.

Don't get your hopes up, a thought occurred to him. Then he remembered it was something the boy had said while they were in the chamber.

"Mother said that to me about you," Trunks had said with a note of bitter irony. "She was right."

"And yet you hoped anyway, didn't you?" Vegeta sneered back, ignoring the reminding jab that his Bulma had said much the same thing when she told him she didn't expect anything.

"Hope is all I have, Vegeta," the boy replied with a somber note. "Hope is what will bring me back to my mom waiting for me in the future, after the androids of this time are killed. Hope is what will rebuild our future. Maybe you could stand to have a little hope sometimes."

Hope. Hope was an unusual concept, Vegeta had never thought in terms of hope, he thought in terms of luck of which he had very little. He thought in terms of power, brute force, and fortune. Never hope. Hope was for people who were too foolish to realize that they needed to give up.

But then, Earthlings were like that in spades, weren't they? Even Kakarot had ended up that way—refusing to give up, riding on hope and the thrill of fighting even while he was afraid.

Perhaps hope was all Vegeta had now as well, lying in bed with the mother of his child, close yet distant to her. Thoroughly depressed and unwilling to fight for anything except maybe, just maybe that small hope that perhaps things would start to improve if he kept trying.

 

Don't expect anything, don't hope, you'll only disappoint yourself, Bulma had reminded herself every time she was with Vegeta in the past. She told herself it when he told her he wanted to try kissing again, she told herself it when he asked, outright, "You never explained, what in the hell is a virgin?"

"Well, it's…" Bulma stumbled over her words. "It means you've never had sex before."

She expected him to get embarrassed like he usually did when, god forbid, she flirted with him or made a passing reference to anything intimate. Surprising her, he only scowled.

"You Earthlings have a word for that? Why do you care so much? It's just a time-wasting activity, of course I never felt the need to engage in it!"

Unbelievable, the man was a virgin. He never had the urge? Not once? Then again, with what hints Bulma had about Vegeta's background working under Frieza, there might not have been much opportunity for that. Even with workers, there had to be a level of trust that the other person wouldn't take advantage of the compromised position and—as he said—it would have taken time away from his training. Vegeta was a man obsessed with becoming stronger, at the time to kill Frieza and dominate the universe, at the time she spoke to him it was to become stronger than Goku.

It always came back to Goku, Goku, Goku, a part of her thought with some bitterness. She loved Goku with all of her heart, but the way everyone always preferred him around instead of her…they would talk about her like she wasn't there, joke about how they needed to stay away or incur her wrath. Joke about how she chased Yamcha away. She could be forceful, yes, but that didn't mean…

"Well…that's your opinion, I guess," Bulma answered back at the time, unsure of what else to really say. "It's not exactly relevant to kissing anyway—" a half-truth, it could be depending on physical responses, right then however she was convinced Vegeta experienced no feeling whatsoever in that area. "—So…let's just leave that alone."

Vegeta was apparently in some sort of mood as he had only watched her shrewdly for a moment and replied: "Can kissing lead to sex?"

Oh boy, they were in a very weird place all of a sudden. It only became weirder afterward, at the time Bulma only tempered it with caution of don't expect him to want to be serious and gradually explained (and showed) him the different aspects of intimacy. It wasn't supposed to be anything more than physical. It was understood, though not spoken, Vegeta rarely spoke as it was let alone speaking his feelings.

It was a red flag when it became known that what they had was exclusive. She noticed him scowling when her mother brought up the idea of setting Bulma up with some of her friends' sons; he cornered her after and said if she was going to be with other men then tell him so he knew what was going on was over.

"I'm not interested in dating anyone. Let alone one of the assholes my mom's friends raised. I was over them the second they started talking about yachts and golf and crap like that."

"What the hell are any of those?"

"Boring rich people shit. Don't worry about it."

"I'm not worried, I simply have no interest in sharing."

"Sharing? You're saying you want this thing we have to be exclusive?"

"…Yes."

Now they were going on a trip together, with their son—almost like they were a real couple, a real family. But it wasn't going to solve his depression, she wanted so much to help him work through his depression yet Vegeta insisted on working things out between them first. Why?

Because he loves you, like Mom said.

No, he doesn't, Bulma scolded herself. Don't be a fool and expect him to ever say that—perhaps he could feel and acknowledge it, but he would never speak it aloud. For all she knew he would grow bored of the quaint little life on Earth they were making and take off again soon enough.

"Vegeta…tell me when you're going to leave next, all right?" she found herself mumbling to him.

A pause with a minute stiffening of his body answered her. "We're going on a trip tomorrow…why would I need to tell you we're leaving?"

"I don't mean that…I mean when you leave again."

"You think I'm going to?"

"I know you are."

He was quiet for a while, she had almost fallen asleep when he finally responded: "That's fair. Fine. I will tell you."

She should have ended it there to let them both drift off, unfortunately Bulma Briefs had never learned how to control her mouth as she spoke up again: "Vegeta?"

"What is it now, woman?"

"I love you," she said sincerely. "You know that, right? I love you."

His arms tightened around her.

 

Vegeta knew and he wished so much he wasn't a coward and could echo it back to her, he knew why she was telling him to inform her the next time he left. He knew that if he asked her to be his wife she would say no exactly because of his tendency towards leaving. He knew she realized that he would always focus on fighting first, if he was in his proper state of mind, and if Kakarot came back tomorrow Vegeta would want to fight him.

He knew all of that and for the first time in his life he resented it. Vegeta never explained himself to anyone or apologized to anyone for his behavior his entire life, Bulma was different. 

When you are at your lowest is when change can best begin.

He would not be domesticated. He would not be tamed like some common animal. But Bulma knew that and didn't expect such a thing—hell, she would be insulted if someone attempted to domesticate her.

Do better.

But what did doing better mean after all? Being more trustworthy? But to be trusted one had to give their own trust in return, did he trust Bulma? He was frightened to realize the answer was yes, without question, he trusted Bulma Briefs. He had given her his trust the moment he went to her for help in becoming a Super Saiyan. It was out of desperation only, Vegeta insisted to himself, but the reality was he had unequivocally given her his trust and she had never given him a reason in return to doubt or regret it.

Well, not quite, he did regret it in his more foolish and callous moments, he regretted it because of allowing someone to get close to him. He didn't regret it now.

He hoped in time he could earn back her trust. The request to tell her when he was leaving was a good sign, a willingness to compromise his own needs with hers.

Vegeta couldn't bring himself to speak the words, not now, possibly not ever even though it would have made things much easier. He didn't do easy. He never did. Everything in his life he fought and struggled for to the edge of reason. And somehow, against all odds, he had found someone that understood that, had struggles and pain herself even while it was nowhere near the level of his own.

He looked back at her again, asleep at last, and allowed himself to smile. "I don't understand that word, love," he said, knowing full well she couldn't hear him. "I've told you this. You know. But you…are very dear to me, Bulma."

Did she know that? …Probably not. And she wouldn't know either, since he could only outright say it with confidence when he knew she couldn't hear.

He didn't even know what else to do for her birthday after proposing the trip. That was enough of a trial trying to get it out into the open.

That would be a tomorrow problem.