Chapter XII - Conversations in the Dark
I am nothing more than
A little boy inside
That cries out for attention,
Yet I always try to hide.
By the time the travelers had reached Vegeta's estate, darkness completely enshrouded the planet of Vegetasei. An orange-red moon hung low and bulbous in the pitch-black sky, causing an eerie uncomfortableness to arise in Bulma. Unconsciously, she tightened her grip on Vegeta even though he was at the core of her fear.
Vegeta, though not displeased by her clinging to him, also felt her trembling slightly. "Woman, what is wrong?" he asked gruffly.
"N-nothing," she whispered, though she expected at any moment for him to transform into a rampaging beast. "Just please, don't look at the moon!" she pleaded.
He seemingly ignored her pleas as he slowed his speed to land. As his feet lightly touched upon the paved rock of the courtyard of his house, Vegeta maneuvered Bulma’s form to one arm, so that her length was pressed to his, all her weight supported by him. With his free hand, he gently caught her chin, forcing her head back. His eyes searched her lovely, fear-stricken face with new wonder. "And just how is it, little one," he murmured, "that you know about the Saiya-jin ability to transform?"
Bulma’s eyes widened in surprise as she felt his calloused hand begin to softly, almost absently, stroke her cheek. The caresses were a bit distracting, but she still managed to form a coherent answer. "Goku is my best friend. I’ve known him since we were kids," she replied. "When we met, he had a tail, just like yours, and when he looked at the full moon, he turned into a huge, ape-like monster. Caused a lot of panic and damage."
"Goku?" Vegeta mumbled in confusion, pausing in his gentle ministrations. Then, realization hit him. "You mean that soft-headed fool, Kakkarot?" he asked, disgust evident in his tone.
Bulma broke away from Vegeta’s embrace, frowning with anger at his insult to her friend. Eyes flashing with blue fire, she snapped, "He isn’t soft-headed! He’s just innocent and naive. I happen to find that quality incredibly endearing! He also happens to be the bravest warrior I know!"
Vegeta was gripped by a volatile wash of jealousy at her words. A fast, consuming flood of rage burned through him at the high-esteem she obviously felt for the pathetic Saiya-jin-raised-human, especially since she regarded the Prince with little more than tolerant contempt. He almost wished the fool were there right then so that he could have the satisfaction of blowing him away.
Instead, he directed his wrath at the woman before him. Stepping forward, he closed the gap that she’d put between them and grasped her shoulders, fingers once light and soothing now digging vise-like into tender flesh. He saw her wince in pain, but didn’t care. All he could think about was showing her that she was his possession and should not think so highly of other men.
"So you think him brave, do you?" the Prince asked harshly, roughly pulling her to him until their faces were mere centimeters apart. He saw her eyelashes flutter with fear and something else as her body reacted to their close proximity and heated emotions. "You think him the greatest in the galaxy? Worth such high praise and admiration?" he continued, his tone sardonic. "Why then did he do nothing when I seized you for myself?"
"You didn’t ‘seize’ me, you stupid monkey!" Bulma screeched. "I allowed you to take me prisoner because otherwise you would have destroyed my home! And just for the record, Goku has never lost a battle!"
He knew her statement to be a direct challenge to his declaration of war upon her for her heart. Even though he was caught in the throes of raging jealousy, Vegeta couldn’t help but appreciate the fiery spirit his woman displayed. Suddenly, his anger evaporated, leaving in its wake mere passion, which he meant to dispense to this disobedient wench.
His grip on her shoulders loosened, but before she could wrench herself away, his arms circled her, clamping her own to her side. The Prince arched back, shifting her weight to his upper chest, forcing her mouth into very close proximity to his own.
"And I assure you, woman, I have never lost a battle as well," he sneered. Then, his mouth swooped down upon hers, capturing whatever caustic comeback that had risen to her lips. His kiss was harsh and brutal, making her feel as if he wanted to devour her whole. She was too shocked by the suddenness of the contact to be able to react initially and could only hang limp in his embrace as her teased and nipped at her mouth and jaw. Before she could begin to respond, he had pulled away.
"In answer to your question, woman, I do not turn Oozaru simply by looking at the full moon," he said, seemingly unaffected by the kiss. "I can control myself, unlike some people here."
He smirked at Bulma’s outraged gasp. Setting her on her feet again, Vegeta planted one last, hard kiss to her lips before gently pushing her towards the door. "Go fix dinner, woman," he ordered. "That is, if you know how."
Her eyes narrowed in a fierce promise of retribution. "This isn’t over, monkey prince," she hissed.
Suddenly, Vegeta sobered. "No, it isn’t, Lady," he answered softly and formally. "It is just beginning." His tone of voice was dark and sensual, full of promises of things to come. For a few moments, their eyes locked in silent, but mutual, understanding.
Then, Vegeta broke the spell with a sharp, but not too hard, slap to Bulma’s nicely-rounded backside. He followed the love tap with another gentle shove towards the entryway to his home. "Go, woman," he ordered again.
At this point, Bulma was too confounded by his ever-changing moods to do much else but obey. Her eyes, however, told the truth of her confusion and pain. Though he’d ended their conversation playfully, Vegeta had still been heavy-handed in obtaining her obedience. For a moment, he felt a true pang of regret at having provoked her, especially when earlier it had seemed he’d actually been making progress with her. He didn’t want to small amount of favor she’d shown him to disappear. However, the Prince had also been raised all his life to take for granted that others would jump at his command. His instincts told him to rebel against the feelings of guilt she aroused in him.
Gods, what is happening to me? Now he found himself actually caring about how the annoying woman felt. As if the situation between his parents wasn’t enough to deal with in one day. He, the mighty Saiya-jin no Ouji, was concerned for a weakling human’s heart. No one else in the galaxy made him feel so weak...and yet, so strong. Vegeta gained immense satisfaction in knowing that she was his, and yet he hated what she did to him. Do you really, though? his inner voice mocked.
Bulma, for her part, was too tired to try to figure out his moods. She had thought that his acceptance of her comfort earlier had relaxed him somewhat. Obviously, that assumption had been wrong. Well, I’m done trying to understand him, she vowed to herself. He was on his own now as far as she was concerned.
"Fine," she replied scathingly. "I’ve better things to do with my time than stand around trying to placate a bitchy monkey."
Before Vegeta could reply, she turned abruptly, her blue hair swirling in a fine cloud around her shoulders, and stalked into the house. Vegeta was left in the courtyard feeling more confused than ever. He’d answered her damned question, doing his best to reassure her of her safety, and she acted as if he’d backhanded her or something. She refused to give him an inch.
"Damned stubborn woman," he muttered under his breath.
"She is just as perplexed by this day’s events as you are, my Prince," a new voice observed.
Vegeta grunted in annoyance. "What the fuck do you know, Radditz?" he asked, turning to face his now most trusted (that word used relatively, however) Royal Elite Guard.
Radditz, to his credit, didn’t flinch beneath the intensity of Vegeta’s glare. "I know she is very stubborn and very strong, at least mentally. Just like you," he answered, ignoring the frown now contorting the Prince’s features. "I also know the look you give her."
His sovereign sighed, strong jaw locked in frustration. "And what look would that be?"
"The same look your father gives your mother."
Vegeta’s eyes bulged in shock, and for a moment, he forget his composure. "I am NOT like the King!" he snarled.
"No, you are not," the other warrior replied calmly. "Nor is she your mother. She has yet to be corrupted by hate. See to it that that does not change."
"You dare to give me orders, soldier?"
"No, my lord, merely advice. On how to continue being unlike your father."
Subtlety is lost on him tonight, Radditz thought silently. He was going to have to be blunt. "Do not treat the Lady Bulma as your father treats Len’ah."
"What the fuck is that supposed to imply?" Vegeta raged. Then, he raised a hand in negation. "Never mind. I’m too fucking tired to wax poetically with you tonight." Suddenly, he just needed to get away from everything, most especially the mix of jumbled emotions swirling in his mind. "If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hunt. Watch her. Make sure she eats something. I’ll return later," he mumbled to the other warrior.
He was off the ground again and disappearing into the dark of the night before Radditz could form a reply, not that his guard knew what else to say.
Bulma stomped into the main living quarters of Vegeta’s spacious summer home, too angry to appreciate the quiet good taste in which it was decorated. She glanced around, noting the sunken circle in the middle of the room that served as a both an eating area and one for relaxation. Hallways lead in different directions from the central room to various other rooms. For a moment she was tempted to find a bedroom and just crash, but she knew she was too wired to sleep anytime soon.
Instead, she plopped herself onto one of several hide-covered lounges that surrounded the hearth, cursing Vegeta to each of the nine circles of hell and back. How dare he! she fumed. He just proved how selfish and ungrateful he was by throwing the circumstances under which she’d come to this godforsaken planet in her face. Especially after the kindness and compassion she’d shown him earlier!
I’ll be damned before I ever let my guard down around him again, she vowed, let alone kiss him! Truth be told, however, she knew that was a lie. She’d practically melted, yet again, when he kissed her just moments before. Bulma was no more able to resist him than a moth could a flame. The chemistry between them went deeper that mere physical lust, and that was what scared her to the core. Her pride screamed for her not to give in...
And yet...And yet, every time she thought about how horrific his childhood must have been, or to the look of absolute misery on his face when he’d emerged from Len’ah’s rooms, her heart leapt to her throat, and she faced the danger of choking on her tears.
A very new side of Vegeta had been exposed to her this day, one that made keeping him at a distance even harder. Resistance was difficult when she’d thought of him as nothing more than a spoiled, arrogant little boy. But now she knew he was actually an exceedingly complicated man, haunted by memories darker than her own. Her heart cried out to this different man. Avoiding him now would be nigh unto impossible. He’d be the death of her.
Of course, there are worse ways to go, she thought devilishly, remembering their very heated embrace earlier that afternoon. Though they had kissed (and done even more) on several occasions, Bulma felt that this afternoon had been the first time they’d really made a connection. They’d been equals; two lost creatures seeking comfort and acceptance from the other as their respective worlds fell apart at their feet. It hadn’t been the familiar need to dominate on his part, or to resist on hers.
And then he goes and ruins it with his idiotic, asinine display of macho bullshit, she rage inwardly. That’s all the last kiss had been about. Not about pleasure or comfort or affection, but about the his sheer will to subdue her own. Never mind that no matter the circumstances, any contact with Vegeta made her feel woozy and not quite herself. She glared blindly into the empty fire pit, calling the Prince several choice names that she would have been more than happy to say aloud, had His Royal Pain-in-the-Ass Bitchiness been present to hear them.
Her mental tirade was interrupted by the sound of approaching feet. Bulma turned to see Radditz standing in the arched entryway of living room. "Hello," she said softy, giving the warrior a small smile. "Is he gone?"
Radditz saw the hope flare in her eyes, and he tried to smile at her comfortingly. "He just needs time, my Lady," he replied. "He will return."
"I know," she responded, wincing. "I’m just tired of fighting, both him and myself."
Her companion nodded his head knowingly as he ventured into the room, lowering his stocky frame onto a lounge near her own. "Both of you have had a very trying day, Lady," Radditz finally responded. "And both of you have very short tempers."
"Ain’t that the truth," she deadpanned.
Radditz’ mood then sobered greatly. "I assume you do not know all the details of what transpired today," he said gravely.
Immediately, Bulma cast away her own woes and focused her attention on the man sitting across from her. "I only know that Nappa is dead," she said quietly. "And that Len’ah love him."
"He was found to be a traitor," Radditz revealed. "He told Frieza the truth of Vegeta’s birth, and the lizard tyrant used this information to blackmail the king into gaining custody of the Prince for a time."
"Why?" Bulma whispered in numbness. "Why would he do such a thing?"
"Because he loved Len’ah, and since he could not have her, took revenge against the King," the Elite Guard answered solemnly. "I was unaware that she returned his love, however. Did Len’ah tell you this?"
"Yes," she replied absently, sinking back into her chair, trying to absorb the news. Then, a new, terrifying though occurred to her, and she shot straight up. "Vegeta...he didn’t...?"
"No. The Prince did not execute Nappa. That was left to the King, whom I’m assuming did it in a fit of jealous rage."
"Oh, thank the gods," Bulma breathed in relief. "I can’t imagine how Len’ah would be if her son had killed him."
Radditz only nodded in mute agreement.
After several moments, she spoke again. "What happens now?"
"I don’t know, Lady," he replied. "Vegeta is truly shaken, and I have no idea how he will handle any of this, especially with regards to you."
Bulma flushed beneath the warrior’s pointed gaze. "What do you mean?"
He sighed, knowing he had to weigh his next words carefully, so that she would not become afraid. "Whenever the Prince gets into one of these kinds of moods, he is prone to random and violent fits of temper," he began. "Vegeta has also made it a point in his life to be as unlike his father as possible. In his infatuation with you, he finds himself mirroring the King’s obsession with Len’ah. He has seen first hand how that has torn apart the lives of three people, for two of which he felt some measure of trust or affection, and this tragedy is in part due to the King’s own volatile temper. The Prince, I think, is fearful of ending up the same as his father and destroying what he prizes most."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Please, Lady, I do not mean to worry you," Radditz tried to soothe her. "I only want what is best for you both. I would ask you to try and approach the Prince with more patience and understanding these next few weeks. Do not do anything that would deliberately provoke."
Bulma’s eyes became as frozen chips of ice. "I’ve nothing to do with the situation at hand. I cannot control the Prince. He acts as he will. As I have my own grievances yet to be addressed with him, I will treat Vegeta with the same courtesy he affords me," she replied, her bearing regal and cold.
In that moment, Radditz realized how foolish he had been to ever think her weak, and he knew he had made a considerable error in judgment. While everyone around might think of Bulma as nothing more than a slave, she herself still regarded her will as free. Her struggle to remain autonomous might be unsuccessful, it could not be said that she buckled under the pressure to submit easily.
"Well, then, my Lady, I hope for both your sake and his, that Prince Vegeta will indeed prove to be most courteous. He is a hard man, but I think some good will come of this whole situation in that he will learn some truth about himself and life," Radditz said. "My apologies for overstepping my bounds."
"Apology not necessary," Bulma replied with a graceful smile. "I am cold only because I don’t know what to do, and I’ve a feeling I won’t figure it out for quite some time. But, I tire of this conversation. I’m starving. What’s for dinner?"
She rose from her seat with a wide, mischievous grin, and Radditz couldn’t help but be charmed by her sweet innocence. Rising himself, he tucked her hand in his arm and escorted her to the dining area, where they ate a pleasant meal and enjoyed the other’s company.
And where they forgot themselves, if only for a few moments.
After dinner, the blue-haired concubine strolled tiredly from the hall into her room, her hand groped blindly for the lightpad. Not finding it after pounding the wall for several moments, she decided to screw it. The rays of the moon streamed through the balcony window, casting a spill of light across the room, enough that she could see by. Stumbling towards the bed, she began stripping away her clothes. Once nude, she crawled beneath the rumpled covers, sinking into the softness of the bed, appreciating the cool feel of silk against her heated skin. She snuggled into the mound of pillows, her groggy mind already beginning to slip into the nether realm of sleep.
Suddenly, she shot straight up. A shadow shaped like a flame at the top cut across the moon-illumined window. It remained there for several pointed moments before materializing itself in the light.
"Godsdammit, Vegeta," Bulma snapped. "Why must you always skulk about like a predatory wolf or something?"
"All the better to eat you, my dear," came the sardonic reply.
Bulma snorted at the vaguely clever literary allusion. Her eyes followed him sharply as the Prince pulled up a chair from a corner of the room and settled himself into it comfortably. She noticed cynically that he’d positioned himself just outside the shaft of moonlight, enough that she could see the hazy outline of his form, but nothing more, while she herself was fully visible.
"Where have you been?" she asked. "Did you eat anything?"
"I went hunting, woman," he answered, disdain dripping from his voice as if he found her concern to be absurd.
He didn’t want to be short-tempered with her, but his time alone hadn’t brought him anywhere near closer to understanding all that he was feeling. The sabrewolf he’d hunted and cooked in an open flame had satisfied his physical hunger, but the thrill of stalking prey and capturing it did not please the Prince as much as it usually did. He’d even blown holes into the sides of several mountains to rid himself of the growing sense of unease he’d had ever since leaving the palace. And he’d be damned if he could explain it. He was unsure for the first time in a very long while about the future, and he could think of nothing to fix it.
What was perhaps most frustrating was that now, in this room with the annoyingly beautiful woman he called his (though he didn’t know why), he felt more at peace within himself than his self-indulgence in savage violence had given him.
Bulma, for her part, was uncomfortable. She could feel the tension rolling off the Prince in waves, and she knew it had nothing and everything to do with her. It hadn’t occurred to her that he’d been in the room to see her disrobe and climb into bed in her birthday suit. Perhaps she should be outraged over such a violation of her privacy, but she was too exhausted. Besides, he done more than just see her body naked.
"What do you want, Vegeta?" she asked tiredly.
"You," he answered bluntly.
Her jaw dropped in stunned silence. She hadn’t been expecting him to answer so honestly. However, she wasn’t so dumbfounded that she couldn’t think enough to form a semi-coherent response. "I asked what, not who, you want," she declared hotly. "Anyway, you can’t have me."
"I know," came the resigned answer.
His lack of a fiery response triggered concern in her. He usually wouldn’t let such a direct, brazen challenge to his strength and masculinity slide. Bulma frowned, suspicion pooling in her azure eyes. What sort of game is he playing? Under other circumstances perhaps would she have tried to outsmart him with some elaborate lure to draw him out, but not tonight.
This night was the time for complete, if not brutal, honesty.
"Again, I ask you. What do you want?"
Vegeta sighed, shifting slightly in his chair. He leaned forward, so that his face could be seen clearly. His obsidian eyes, however, remained hooded and unrevealing as always. "I assume Radditz told you of Nappa’s betrayal," he spoke softly.
"Yes, he did," she replied, her voice so low it could barely be heard. "I am sorry."
"Do not be. It had nothing to do with you."
"I know. That doesn’t mean that I can’t feel sorry for the situation as a whole, however, for both you and Len’ah."
The Prince opened his mouth as if to make some scathing remark, but no sound escaped. His snapped his jaw shut, simply nodding his head in hesitant, if not reluctant, acceptance of her sympathy.
"Why?" she then asked. "Why did Len’ah love Nappa?"
Vegeta stared straight into her eyes at her question. "Why does anybody love someone?" he asked quietly.
Bulma shivered slightly at the menacing edge in his tone of voice, and she saw his eyes immediately drop to her silken-clad breasts. In the cool mountain air, her nipples had hardened, and their outline was clearly visible. Embarrassed for the first time at her nudity, she clutched the sheet more firmly to her, refusing to acknowledge the heavy lust blazing in Vegeta’s eyes.
"I don’t know," she answered his question. "Why do you think a person loves another?"
Though his desire didn’t entirely evaporate from his eyes, they did become more guarded. He decided he wasn’t ready for this discussion yet. "Tell me about your childhood," he demanded, offering no further explanation for his request.
Though the sudden change of subject threw her momentarily, Bulma also understood that this was probably the first time Vegeta had ever engaged in such a conversation, and therefore, she was willing to give him time to get used to it. However, she wasn’t going to cut him total slack. "I’ll tell my story only if you tell me yours."
Vegeta thought for a moment, and then to Bulma’s surprise (yet again), he nodded in agreement before settling back in his chair, once again veiled in the darkness.
Satisfied that she was getting tit for tat, Bulma launched into her life story. She began by telling him of her parents, of what it had been like growing up the daughter of a genius and one of the world’s wealthiest men. Of what school had been like, where she’d been far advanced compared to the other students, and the isolation this and her odd coloring had caused. Then she spoke of the Dragonballs and her first journey to find them. Of how she met Goku, of their adventures against the evil emperor Pilaf, and later the Red Ribbon army. She mentioned briefly Yamcha, her first boyfriend, not leaving out that he was the man Vegeta had killed on Chikyuu. Choosing not to linger on that point for too long, she then described how she’d lost touch with them during her college years and how excited she’d been about their reunion on the day the Saiyajins had shown up. She didn’t leave out how terrified and angry she’d felt, still felt, about that day.
Then, it was the Prince’s turn. From his place among the shadows, Vegeta spoke in monotonous, but sibilant, tones of his years under the nurturing hand of Len’ah, of her kind and patient and gentle ways. Then he spoke of the decade spent in the hell that had been Frieza’s training camp, of the daily and nightly tortures and humiliations, of the lizard tyrant’s mantra that the Prince needed two years of ‘special attention’ for every one year he had been exposed to the corrupting taint of Len’ah’s love to scour him of any weakness.
His voice neither broke nor rose as he recounted each and every whipping and beating and rape he both been victim to and participant in, though he’d actually only rape one other female besides Bulma, and that was when he’d been eleven or twelve, and Zarbon had threatened to kill the girl if the Prince hadn’t forced himself on her. She was the daughter of the compound’s cook or something like that, and he’d thought her pretty. He didn’t want her to die, and so had done what he was told. Zarbon had ordered the girl ripped to shreds afterwards anyway, so that threat never worked on Vegeta again.
But the majority of the tortures had begun right after his arrival at age five, and he’d used those experiences to bolster his will to survive and grow stronger and hatehatehate, the weakness inside of him.
And then he told the story of how the monkey princeling had won his freedom by defeating Frieza’s favorite, Zarbon, of course, in a match that was stacked completely against him, and of how a boy had become a man that day simply because of feverish determination, force of will, and sheer dumb luck. The ki blast that had left the reptilian alien unconscious for a week had only been marginally strong, but Zarbon had been too busy describing what he was going to do that night to the boy pinned beneath him in the fighting arena, that he had lowered his guard, leaving himself vulnerable to attack.
Like Vegeta had said, sheer dumb luck.
Then, the newly made man had returned home to Vegetasei to find that his mother’s love hadn’t changed, but that her son didn’t know how to accept that love, so he had rejected it. He chose to kill, purge, and blow up planets instead, and for the decade after that he’d continued to grow stronger, and to hatehatehate, not out of the will to survive, but out of the desire for revenge.
Vegeta paused momentarily, still too caught up in his memories to notice the steady stream of tears glistening down Bulma’s cheeks. Or perhaps did notice and simply chose to ignore them.
For then, he told the story of Len’ah, whose life mirrored her son’s in quality and who had also learned to hate very well. He spoke of how she’d been a frightened, devastated girl whose beauty had caught the eye of her people’s murderer and of her enslavement to that man and how her attempt to escape his lust had brought about only more brutal rapes and savage beatings. He spoke of Len’ah’s descriptions of days when she couldn’t rise from his bed because her chains were so heavy and her body was too used and bruised, but she had had to simply because there was too much blood soaked into the bedding and her hair for her to be able to sleep.
He told of a child conceived before him, deliberately implanted in her so that it could grow inside her womb and so she could bond with the life only to have the man then induce labor too early and to have the child survive coming into the world too, too soon and have to be put down in front of her eyes because it was a half-breed bastard.
And he talked of how the King realized too late what he had done, and in a pathetic and desperate attempt to fix her broken mind, had given Len’ah another child, a son, for her to love, and how that child, him, had been set on high as the heir to the fiercest, most noble empire in the galaxy. That son was then wrenched from her side, leaving her in despair and sorrow, but because she had been given another child, if only for a short while, she was expected to act meek and grateful to his father.
He didn’t leave out Len’ah’s further heartbreak when her son was restored to her only to reject her love.
"And so you see, Lady," Vegeta concluded, "Len’ah loved Nappa not only because compared to my father was he a better man, but also compared to me."
He then let silence reign in the room, but Bulma’s broken sobs occasionally shattered the noiselessness. Though he knew not why, he moved from the shadows to by her side on the bed. Taking her into his arms, he pulled her onto his lap. The sheet slid from her body, and his rough armor scraped her fragile skin. However, neither one of them cared. Vegeta simply held her, pressing her trembling form into his, letting her cry, cursing himself for the loss of his ability to do so under the heel of a tyrant’s boot.
They knew not how long they remained that way, but eventually, Bulma did run out of tears to shed. Neither of them spoke for several more moments, each still lost in his or her own thoughts, both about what had happened, but also abut the other. Bulma realized she had harshly misjudged him, and Vegeta, though he still could not live without her, knew he couldn’t force her love.
Finally, he asked, "What are you thinking, little one?"
From the cradle of his arms, she replied, "You...and me."
Her admission surprised him. Gently placing a hand beneath her chin, he forced her gaze to meet his. In the blue, blue depths of her tear-washed eyes, he saw sadness, confusion, and something akin to hope as well. "And what do you think about you...and me?"
"I think that I do not hate you."
He hadn’t known that she had ever thought of hating him. Suddenly, his old demons snapped at his heels, and he was in the throes of a murderous rage. His arms around her became a crushing vise, and he pulled her so close to him, she thought her ribs might crack.
"You will NOT hate me," he ground out harshly, his voice a menacing hiss in her ear.
Instead of snapping back with anger, she wriggled an arm free and raised a gentle hand to his face, trying the smooth the hardened lines of the fierce glare there. "I just said I didn’t, silly," she chided softly.
His frown relaxed under her tender ministrations. "I don’t think I could live if you hated me," he confessed.
Her hand froze over his face. She gulped nervously, unsure of how to respond to such a raw display of emotion. Part of her wanted to weep anew at the need evident in his demeanor. She understood on a level deeper that she had ever thought possible what it took for him to utter such words. He was like a child asking for a hug and expecting a blow instead. It broke her heart to realize that he remembered little, if nothing, of his mother’s love. He probably hadn’t even known that he’d missed it until this moment, and now that he had, he didn’t even know how to ask for it.
It was poised on the tip of her tongue to spout empty reassurances that she did not, would not, could not, hate him. But then she thought of Len’ah, and of how the pitiable woman had centered her entire being around the love of this man, and of how she’d lost herself in hate when he had rejected it. So, instead of weak and vague promises, Bulma opted for the plain truth. She owed it to the both of them. To have done otherwise would have been to cheapen his efforts.
After some more thought, she replied, "I can say that I don’t hate you, but I cannot say that I love you, or that I will ever love you."
Vegeta stiffened at her response. His old self wanted to shake her, beat her, conquer her, into submitting to his superior will. His inherent arrogance wanted to demand that she give in to his desires for the simple fact alone that he was the Saiyajin no Ouji.
But then another, calmer part of himself dismissed this urge, citing that it would only push her closer to the edge of hatred. So, instead, he said, "I am grateful that you do not hate me. It guess it is all I should expect at this point."
"You’re damned right it is," Bulma replied scathingly, giving him no quarter, for she had seen how he’d wanted to react. "You’ve stolen me from my home and made me a slave. You forced yourself upon me, and you killed my lover. For all those reasons, you deserve my unmitigated loathing. But I do not feel for you what I should, and I don’t know why. I do know that you are the mighty Prince of Vegetasei and are used to people bowing to their knees in order to please you. But until a week ago, I didn’t know what the fuck a Saiyajin was, let alone you, so I don’t owe you anything."
Outwardly, Vegeta cringed from her tirade and at the cold, stark truth of her words. His world and his ways were alien to her. She had no choice in growing accustomed to them, but it would take time.
However, old habits die hard, and he wanted, needed, her love more than anything else, even revenge on Frieza, he realized with a violent, frightened shudder, and he was still willing to do just about anything to get it. This made him weak by Saiyajin standards, and his weakness made him angry.
"Perhaps you do not owe me anything, but do not think, woman, that because I have expressed a desire for your heart that you can wrap me around your little finger, and make a fool of me," he warned. As he spoke, he had kept his grip on her tight, pressing her to him not out of desperate need, but arrogant domination.
"Vegeta!" Bulma gasped in a cry of anguish. "Please stop! You’re hurting me!"
His arms only marginally loosened. "It is not my intention to do you harm, but I want you to understand," he whispered fiercely, "that I am no puppet to be strung along by fickle affections."
"And I am no toy for you to play with and abuse until you grow tired and discard me," she hissed back with equal fervor.
Suddenly, all the fight went out of the Prince, and his hold on her completely slackened. He rested his head against hers, keen Saiyajin eyes able to see the miniscule veins in her translucent eyelids, even in the dim, shimmering moonlight. "I will never tire of you, woman," he said softly.
Bulma did not respond for quite some time as she considered the full implications of his words. When at last she did, it was with a note of finality. "It is safe to say that both our worlds have changed drastically and violently this last week," she said. Feeling him nod agreement, she continued, "I think that what we mainly need right now is time. Time to get to know each other, and time to heal."
Vegeta’s brow furrowed into a frown. "Do you think two weeks is adequate?" he asked.
She pushed herself away from him a bit, looking directly at him in askance. "What?"
"Well, that’s the amount of time I decided to give you to surrender to me when I declared ’war’ on you this morning," he replied sheepishly.
His woman was silent with shock for a moment, but then she began shaking with laughter. Soon, her reaction proved infectious as Vegeta found himself quaking with mirth, too. After several minutes, he asked, "I guess that’s too soon?"
"Oh, yeah," Bulma agreed. "But don’t worry. Right now, time is all we have."
Saying thus, she yawned and stretched like a kitten in Vegeta’s arms. Quickly, exhaustion claimed her, and she was asleep. He shifted her back to the bed and then shed his armor and body suit. Slipping into the cool sheets beside her, he wrapped his body around hers, pleased when she snuggled closer. He placed a gentle kiss to her hair, and as darkness consumed him, he found in his thoughts of the future something completely unexpected.
* * * * *