It was the sort of spontaneously lazy afternoon that Bulma cherished. No meetings, no phone calls, no reason to return to the office after lunch. Trunks was still at school, her parents were at their bridge club, and for the last two and a half hours she and Vegeta had been sprawled together on the couch, binge-watching a tough-as-nails investigator solve murder after murder, each with increasing levels of political intrigue.
“What’s that word you use on this planet for people who are mated?” Vegeta asked suddenly, apropos of nothing.
Bulma couldn’t quite hear him over the television. “Hm?”
“The word. For people like your parents. Starts with an ‘m’.”
“Oh, ‘married’. Why?” she asked, not looking away from the screen.
“How do people become married? What does it entail?”
Of course, Bulma thought, he would get chatty right when Detective Fletcher is about to discover who the real killer is.
Questions were an inevitability when watching things with Vegeta. How did electoral campaigns work? Why did teen girls link pinky fingers before making a promise? What was a ‘catch-phrase’ and why was it funny? They couldn’t make it through so much as a shampoo commercial without him asking what was so great about shiny hair and how coconuts factored into it.
On the one hand, she appreciated his curiosity and enjoyed the challenge of explaining even the most mundane, everyday occurrences as if they were alien concepts. On the other hand, there were ten minutes left in this episode and Bulma desperately wanted to know how the senator’s body ended up in the reservoir. She paused the television with a sigh.
“You can explain later, if you wish.”
“Too late, I already paused it,” Bulma said, “What was your question? How does marriage work?”
“Okay, well, technically, it’s just a legal contract. It says: ‘This is my person. What I have is theirs, what they have is mine. If I get sick, they can come visit me in the hospital. If I get really sick, they can make decisions for me. If I die, they’re in charge.’ And both people sign it in front of witnesses and then you’re beholden to it until one of you dies. Or if you mutually decide to dissolve the agreement.”
“Legally speaking, yeah. But most people have a big party and a fancy ceremony where they pledge their undying love for one another in front of all their friends and family, then everyone eats cake and gets drunk.”
“And people may choose between one or the other?”
“Yes. I mean, no. It’s complicated. Marriage has a legal definition and a social definition. Two people could sign the contract and not have the party and they’d be married. But if you have the party and don’t sign the contract, it sort of doesn’t count. Depends on the people involved, I guess.”
“I see,” Vegeta said.
He stretched his arms along the back of the couch and seemed to ponder this information. Bulma waited. She knew better than to hit ‘play’ while he still had that contemplative look on his face. On screen, the coroner was frozen mid-sentence.
“…I would like to enter into this contract with you,” Vegeta said, at last.
“Ideally, without the pomp and circumstance.”
“Are… are you asking me to marry you?”
“If that is the correct usage of the verb, yes.”
Bulma didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Of all the things she’d had hoped for out of her relationship with Vegeta, marriage had never been one of them. It never seemed like a possibility. Loving him was like loving a wild thing; some days he was here, some days he was gone, and one day he simply wouldn’t come back. That was his nature. Vegeta was looking at her now, expectantly, his eyes full of an earnestness that tugged at her heart.
“No,” she answered.
“Vegeta—No offense, but marriage is a serious thing. I know I gave you a kind of dry explanation, but it’s really about promising your love and fidelity to a person. It’s not something you just… do.”
“I understand that and I am perfectly ready to make such a vow.”
“Yes. You are my mate. I would die to protect you. You are the only woman who will ever bear my children.”
“Child. Singular,” she corrected.
He smirked. “We’ll see about that.”
“Only if you’re volunteering to push the next one out of your vagina.”
They were quiet for moment. Bulma tilted her head up, looking for answers on the ceiling. She and Vegeta cared for each other. They had a child together. They lived together. What was so different between what they had now and a marriage that Bulma couldn’t bring herself to say yes? Consistency? Since the Cell Games, Vegeta had been more present at home, more engaged with Trunks, more explicit in his affections. Still, Bulma couldn’t shake the feeling that Earth was just a pit stop for him, a layover on the way to something greater.
She had always assumed she loved him more, cared more for him than he did for her. She organized her whole life around that assumption. Yet, he had meant it when he said he would die for her. Would she die for him? She honestly didn’t know. Bulma wondered how he could be so certain, while she was so unsure.
“Well?” Vegeta asked.
“Will you marry me?”
“I… I’ll think about it,” she said picking a loose thread from the blanket draped across her lap, “I think some things would have to change between us first.”
“Well, if we’re married, then we’re partners. Fifty-fifty. We have to decide things together. You can’t just do whatever you feel like doing, whenever you feel like doing it.”
“And we’d have to communicate more, in general. If you’re upset about something, you can’t just disappear for two weeks and then come back and act like nothing happened; you have to talk to me. And I’d need to be able to talk to you when I’m upset about stuff—even stuff that doesn’t concern you—and I’d need to know that when I ask for your help, you’ll give it to me willingly, without me always having to twist your arm.”
“…I see,” Vegeta said.
“I get that that’s a lot to ask from you,” Bulma said.
She tried to say more, but stopped short. Here were the tears. They’d taken their time, but now they all came rushing in at once, filling her eyes and spilling down her cheeks in broad strokes. Like striking oil. She took a shaky breath and continued her thought.
“That’s—that’s why I never really… You are who you are and I’m not going to waste my time trying to change you. And I don’t want to ruin what we have going by putting a bunch of expectations on you, only to be hurt when you don’t…”
She shook her head and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. She could feel Vegeta’s gaze on her. He hated crying. Or, she assumed he did, because he usually bolted out of the room as soon as the water works started. Only, this time he didn’t. He didn’t exactly comfort her, either. He simply put his hands in his lap began a critical examination of his fingernails. Bulma consoled herself with a tissue from the box on the coffee table.
“Do you really think so little of me?” Vegeta asked, once the sniffling had subsided.
“I don’t think little of you. I love you. I want you in my life. I want you in our son’s life. And I want you to want to be here—“
“I do want to be here.”
“I know you do. That’s why I can’t… This is going to sound harsh, but, what we have right now is not a marriage and not because we haven’t signed a contract. There’s a lot of stuff I just kind of ignore for the sake of being happy and enjoying our time together. But if we got married, I don’t think I could ignore it anymore. So, either you’d have to change how you behave or I’d be miserable.”
Vegeta frowned. “It has never been my intent to make you miserable.”
That would have been the joke of the century, if Vegeta wasn’t completely serious. Bulma had forced herself out of the habit years ago, but she could still playback the compilation tape of Vegeta’s Biggest Asshole Moments in the theater of her mind. While there may not have been many recent additions, the classics still ached like fresh bruises.
“Yeah, well… if there was an apology in there somewhere, I don’t think I heard it.”
“I do apologize,” he admitted. “I… I am sorry to have hurt you, Bulma.”
Bulma blinked at him. Somewhere, on another plain, Hell was freezing over. Vegeta folded his arms across his chest, eyes downcast. When he spoke again, he sounded like someone who’d just been told they had three months to live.
“Perhaps I didn’t realize the extent to which my actions affect you,” he said, “I understand your concerns. And, in light of them, I think you’re right to reject me.”
“Don’t be. Your opinion is one of few in the universe that I value. I appreciate you giving it to me honestly.”
Fuck. Where had this shit been six years ago, when he’d left her—pregnant and terrified—without a word of goodbye? Bulma supposed she shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Then again, what use did she have for a horse with bad teeth?
“Can I ask you something?”
“Of course," he said.
“Why’d you bring this up? I mean, what made you think about getting married all of a sudden?”
Vegeta shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “That woman at Trunks’s school. She assumed that we were. The way you corrected her…”
“Dr. Briefs, so good to finally meet you,” the principle had said, “And this must be your husband!”
“He’s not my husband,” Bulma had replied, a little too quickly, “He’s just the father.”
Bulma winced to recall her bluntness. At the time, she thought she was doing them both a favor, maintaining the poorly-kept boundary between what they were in private and how they acted in public. In retrospect, she could see how much it stung.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would bother you,” she said.
“Neither did I, until you said it.”
“Well, I guess we both could stand to be a little more considerate of how we treat each other.”
“I suppose so,” Vegeta agreed with a nod.
“I think I can do that,” Bulma said, “What about you?”
“Yes. And… I would like the opportunity to prove myself to you.”
“You’ve always had the opportunity,” she said with a somber smile. “But I can’t promise anything, you know. It’s not like if you perform ‘X’ weeks of good behavior, I’ll suddenly feel like marrying you.”
Vegeta snorted. “Of course not. You’re not a vending machine.”
“Exactly.” Bulma picked up his arm and put it around her shoulders, settling against his side. A snuggly declaration of truce. “But, in the meantime, I can call you my boyfriend, if you want.”
“I don’t particularly care for that word.”
“No,” Bulma agreed, “It doesn’t really suit you. But I guess it beats ‘baby daddy’.”
“You don’t want me to introduce you to people as my baby daddy?”
“What about ‘special friend’?”
“I regret ever starting this conversation.”
Bulma laughed and said: “Don’t. I’m glad you brought it up. And it’s—it’s really nice to know that marriage is something you want, even if I’m not quite ready.” She took her first deep breath in fifteen minutes and picked up the remote. “Now, can I please find out who killed Senator Lor? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure if I have to wait in suspense for another second, my head will explode.”
She was about to press ‘Play’ when her phone began to flash and chirp. Three o’clock already. Time to pick up Trunks from school. That meant the mystery would have to remain unsolved until after bedtime. She groaned and reached to silence her alarm.
“I’ll retrieve the boy,” Vegeta said.
He was already on his feet, pulling on his jacket. “Finish your story. You would have gotten to earlier, if I hadn’t interrupted.”
“All right,” Bulma said, cautiously. “You remember where to go?”
“Are you going to fly or are you taking the car?”
“First one’s faster.”
“Okay, well. Be careful he doesn’t fall.”
Vegeta gave a short laugh, not bothering to look up from tying his shoes. “I was planning on dropping him on his head, but now that you’ve said that...”
“Right.” Bulma swallowed her anxieties and smiled. “Thanks.”
“Hmph.” Vegeta returned to the couch. He tilted her chin up with his fingers, kissed her, and said something he had never said before. “I’ll be back.”
Her smile blossomed into a grin. “I’ll be waiting.”
Will you marry me?
As she watched him leave, Bulma couldn’t help replaying his question in her mind. The words sounded so foreign in his mouth, sort of clumsy. It gave her butterflies, like the first night he’d whispered that he loved her. Bulma still wasn’t sure she wanted to say yes, but, the more she thought about it, the more it was starting to feel like a possibility. She settled back against the couch cushions, picked up the remote and pressed ‘Play’.