Goku landed swiftly and silently on Bulma's balcony, holding her close.
He had been flying slowly, slowly, for multiple reasons. The official one was that so they could enjoy the views.
The shameful, unspoken one was that he had to keep his power level to a minimum so that nobody would sense them and make the insane assumption that they liked everything about each other – the way the other thought, the way the other talked; that they liked when they touched; that he wanted to feel her underneath him and she wanted to dig her nails in his back; the insane assumption that they couldn't stand to stay away from each other.
The genuine reason he was going at a slow pace was simple. He didn't want the night to be over.
The clearing had made things easy. Bewitching everything, covering everything with the glittering fairy dust courtesy of the starry sky, pushing them gently into an involved dream that made them think they were still two kids of 19 and 23 and that possibilities were infinite and consequences not really to be feared. And they had eagerly dived into the dream – sinking into it and into each other.
The outskirts of West City had made things instantaneously difficult. Or rather – real.
In the real world, away from the clearing – for Goku and Bulma the mess was of colossal proportions. And yet, given half the chance, he knew he wouldn't take anything back. He didn't know if the same feeling applied to Bulma.
Reluctantly, he put her down.
She didn't face him, not immediately. She was observing the white curtains of her bedroom – they were dancing lazily in the breeze of the late night. Or early morning.
Everything was black and blue, the darkest hours before dawn, and everything was eerily familiar, like a heartbreaking déjà vu. Goku suddenly knew what would happen next. She would flip out and leave him in the rain, slamming the glass doors with violence. He would stare at the white curtains for a while, then fly away – back to where he had been told he was supposed to be.
They had been there before.
He looked up, squinting at the cold blue sky. Ha, at least it wasn't raining this time.
When Bulma finally turned around, he braced himself for the next part of the déjà vu, but Bulma's eyes were not distant and dismissive like he remembered they would be.
They had that hard and fiery expression that he loved so much – the déjà vu dissipated into thin air as her lips curled into a small smile and it was as though they had traveled back in time, just like she was saying – seizing the opportunity of making a different decision at a pivotal point.
She spoke in a low, faintly playful voice. "What now… friend?"
Goku blinked. He didn't know that he was holding his breath.
He opened his mouth to speak. Wanting to tell her that he wanted her. No, he didn't want her – he needed her. That he'd never thought it was possible to need someone as much as you need… a pair of shoes to walk, as you need to sleep in order to function. He didn't know what that feeling was – he knew for certain it was beautiful and so bottomless it was scary.
But then – Goku stopped himself. Because – those years in between had existed, they didn't belong to another universe. For better and for worse he had lived those years and they accounted for something and he could feel all those years pulsating painfully in his soul.
Even if Bulma was – Bulma. Even if she was his foundation, the reason why he was standing there in the first place – the reason his life had been so incredibly full and amazing, the reason his heart accelerated and his blood boiled – because she was the one with the eyes that pulled him into a mesmerizing, paralyzing stupor.
Was that what being in love was supposed to feel?
He had no idea.
And everything was so damn well complicated – he'd rather have round three with Frieza at the moment. For real.
"I don't know," was all he could say.
Bulma looked at Goku's confused expression and fought the insane impulse to laugh at his crazy widened eyes. She bit her lower lip, but a small snort escaped her nonetheless and Goku frowned, which once used to be rare. "What is it?" he said. "Why are you laughing?"
"It's nothing, Goku, I…"
She pulled her head down, gathering her thoughts, then she decided to be honest. "I feel weird," she said. "I don't know why."
Well, that wasn't completely true. She knew why – as soon as she had touched the pavement of her balcony and glanced at the curtains, she had felt – disconnected. There were two Bulmas.
The one from the clearing – desperately wanting to sink into Goku forever, to laugh with him forever, to change the last events of the night of eight years before – and the one trying to stay afloat. The Bulma who wanted to break the spell that was holding them prisoners and be free, never again haunted by thoughts of her married best friend making love to her.
And she could clearly see that Goku was no less conflicted. And Goku was the epitome of non-conflict. He had always been whole. All of his facets parts of an incorruptible diamond. And she loved it and she was damned if she was going to be the one to break it. So, she guessed – history had to repeat itself.
The rational Bulma had to take things over and take responsibilities for what she had done and make him see what he had done, what they had done together. Again.
"Well," Goku began, interrupting her thoughts. "I want to say, from the bottom of my heart…"
Bulma looked up, holding her breath. Maybe, just maybe – it wasn't going to end in tears. Maybe this time they could make it work together. Maybe they were mature enough, maybe Goku wanted it as much as she did, maybe –
"…that I'm really, really hungry!" Goku concluded, awkwardly scratching the back of his head, giggling faintly. "I'm sorry!" he continued with a sheepish smile. "Can we talk about it later?"
Bulma was glowering daggers at him.
"GOKU!" she exploded, past caring of who could hear them. She grabbed his ear and yanked it down ferociously.
"I want to say, from the bottom of my heart," she said, pulling the ear down and down, "that I want to kill you!"
Goku tried to free himself from her vicious grasp. "I believe you!" he yelped.
Bulma let him go, but the stink eye remained. "We're talking about something serious here!"
"And you were laughing!"
"Because – I laugh when I'm nervous!" she said, and she spread her legs apart and put her hands on her hips. "See? HAHAHAHAHA!"
"If you don't stop laughing I'm gonna kiss you."
"No, you won't, I –
Bulma felt her body slam against the wall as Goku's mouth crashed onto hers. He kissed her deeply, his tongue stroking the velvety inside of her mouth, fiercely, ardently. After several long moments – or possibly hours – they broke apart. Bulma's breath was coming in short gasps. Goku grinned, unabashedly.
A moment passed, in which they stood there, an inch from each other, looking at each other but never moving.
Then Bulma reached with a hand a grabbed the back of Goku's head, pushing it closer and Goku didn't waste any time – he dig into her white neck, covering it with bruising kisses – and a moan escaped her throat. A keening sound that resonated in the night. Goku felt it, intense and electric, and both hands went at her waist and he picked her up as though she was a feather – Bulma hooked her legs above his waist, instinctively tightening around him and, together, chained, they stumbled through the open french window.
He deposited her carefully on the bed and he lowered himself onto her, slowly, with delicacy. Their gazes locked in a long, lingering, searching stare and they knew it would be the last time. There would be no happy ending, no such thing as time travel, no loaded dice.
Goku brushed a thumb on her lips, in the gesture Bulma had learned he loved so much. Then he kissed her again, slowly, savoring every inch of her mouth. With a hand, he brushed her hair away from her forehead, a loving gesture that made Bulma smile.
It didn't have to end in tears.
They could have that last time.
At six forty-five of that October morning, Bulma, transfixed, watched the coffee as it trickled lazily into the carafe of the coffee maker.
It was a simple event, one that occurred daily. No, more than that, more than daily. Thus, she had never stopped to examine it – it was plain, uninteresting and ordinary, nothing worth dwelling upon.
And that October morning Bulma wanted nothing more than ordinary, or so she wanted to believe anyway.
Goku had left a while ago, an hour before sunrise – he had made his way back home flying, not bothering to teleport right away, in an obvious effort to gain some time to decompress. And she – she had lit a cigarette and had taken long drags watching the sun as it rose from the horizon, hoping to find some meaning in that dawn. Some sign that a new era would begin for her, where she could start to heal her soul from the exquisite bruises her brief tryst with Goku had left and start anew.
No sign came.
The cigarette was well into the ashtray and the sun was fairly high in the sky when she closed the window with a sigh.
Maybe it was just too soon.
She poured the fuming coffee into a mug and held it between her hands, enjoying the hot sensation against her palms.
She thought about that last night – and felt it too because her muscles were sore – a delicious ache in her legs. It still hadn't sunk completely in that they had had sex again giving in to years of subconscious daydreams and abandoned hopes and buried truths.
She was trying to keep the rational Bulma afloat, making coffee and reading the newspaper – but magic had occurred last night. She didn't forget that.
Maybe in a million of years she would be able to look at Goku with unbiased eyes and without her heart trying to tumble out of her chest – like she did when they first met. He was pretty annoying back then. She told herself, if she waited long enough, maybe someday she'd go back to that. Annoying worked – annoying was good.
Speaking of annoying – she hadn't heard nor seen Vegeta in a whole day which was a rare occurrence those days, since he didn't let any occasion pass by without pestering her about the progress of the gravity room. He was so unrelentingly dull she could cry. The glimpse of emotion she had seen days ago had been lost again in the sea of impenetrable void he wore like some kind of armor.
Bulma blew on the coffee and took a small sip. She closed her eyes with a sigh as she felt it burn its way down her throat – then she heard the footsteps and the irrational Bulma gave in to the hope that it was him. That he turned around and went back to her. She kept her eyes closed, imagining Goku standing behind her, tall, all eyes and smiles, a hand behind his head.
"It's you that I want" he'd say in his clear voice, like in the cheesy movie she liked so much.
But then she turned – and it was just Vegeta.
He was standing there in the doorframe, arms crossed on his chest, eyes narrowed, small and vicious. She took a deep breath and tried to swallow the disappointment along with her coffee.
"So?" he hissed, tapping his foot on the floor.
"So what?" she asked, already knowing where this was going.
Vegeta huffed slightly through his nose, pursuing his lips. "Is it ready yet?" he asked impatiently.
Bulma leaned with her back on the counter and sighed. "No, not yet," she simply answered, not giving him any pretext to continue the exchange. But Vegeta didn't turn on his heels with an indignant huff as he'd always done. While she casually sipped the coffee, he stood there and leaned with his side on the doorframe and gave her a long hard stare, before one corner of his lip curled up into an unpleasant smirk.
"So you're up to spin your wheels as usual, only earlier."
Bulma almost spat in her coffee. "Excuse me?"
Vegeta snarled. "You heard me."
Bulma gaped at him for a second, before setting her face into a deep scowl. "I don't see how what I do is any of your business," she snapped. "What are we, girlfriends?"
He didn't move a muscle and Bulma felt her annoyance reach dangerous levels, but she resisted the urge to throw the mug at his head. She squinted. "And anyway, what do you do, Vegeta?" she inquired, heavy sarcasm in her voice. She couldn't believe he had actually accused her of uselessness.
Unfazed, he let out a detached snort. "I train."
Of course he did. She rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "Go back to it, then."
"I'm losing my patience, woman."
Bulma frowned. "Tell me about it. Isn't there someone else you can torture?"
"Hmpf. Lots," Vegeta replied, the half-smirk going back on his face. "But this is more important."
Bulma studied his stone still figure for a moment, then she sighed. She was too tired to engage into a screaming match with the jackass. And what was more, maybe some work would take her mind off the colossal mess churning in her head.
She put the mug in the sink and straightened her shoulders. "Trust me, you've made it very clear," she said. "Come on, let's go take a look at that thing."
She deliberately, or maybe not, brushed against him as she made her way out of the kitchen, but she didn't bother to register his reaction or his lack of thereof. She slowly walked to the stairs and then up, assuming he was following her – he had a way of moving soundlessly that made her nervous – making her way to the almost finished gravity room. From the outside, it was just a plain metallic door – inside, it was just brilliant. She was proud of it – her complaints came mostly from the fact that he was an insufferable pain in the ass and that she didn't want to be caught dead making him favors. She pictured how it would be to work on this kind of things with Goku – then shook her head, quickly disposing of the thought. She didn't need to do that to herself.
She pushed the security code in the pad and waited, thinking – that she had to warn Goku about this somehow… she could tell Krillin. Surely he wouldn't waste any time in informing his best buddy of Vegeta's intentions – not that Goku wasn't already strong enough, but still.
The door opened and Bulma and Vegeta entered the room. It looked like the inside of a spaceship, rounded walls and white tiles. The gravity device stood at the center, seemingly innocuous.
Bulma opened the panel of the gravity device and typed some stuff into the small keypad, humming to herself. Vegeta's silence and immobility were getting on her nerves more than usual, so she did the talking.
"Well, actually, it's mostly done," she said, and her voice echoed through the rounded walls. Vegeta grunted and she rolled her eyes, typing some more. "What I'm concerned about is the stability of the whole thing when you push the gravity straight to the maximum," she continued, and widened her eyes when Vegeta closed the panel with an abrupt smack of his hand, barely giving her the time to withdrew her own hands.
"Vegeta, what the hell?" she exclaimed.
"I don't care about these idiocies! If it's ready I want to use it right now!" he said harshly.
Bulma's mouth hung open for a moment. "Are you really that suicidal?"
"Only when I have to listen to you."
Bulma glowered at him. "Oh, so now you listen to me?" she snarled and made to open the panel again. "Can you move? Please?"
Vegeta snorted and took a step to the left. With and indignant huff, Bulma started to work again at the controls. Only then, he went to lean against a wall, crossing his arms.
"Why can't you just say 'yes, I'll wait over there, Bulma," Bulma muttered to herself as she worked. "Yes, I'll sit here in silence, Bulma'. Why does everything has to be a struggle?"
Vegeta smirked in response, but she never saw him. She went on with the gravity device for a while, trying to fix that last bug, her mind busy and challenged. It felt almost nice. She felt free, she was the rational, smart, sharp as a tack Bulma. Not the crazy one that inhabited the clearing. That one could stay there where she belonged.
Vegeta looked up at her. Bulma had her hands on her hips, her nose stuck up in the air. "Hahaha! There's nothing Bulma Briefs cannot do!"
Vegeta pushed off the wall and took a few steps towards her. "Are you through, crazy earth-woman?"
Bulma whirled on her feet and waved a finger at him, a light scowl adorning her brow. She clicked her tongue.
"Sticks and stones, Saiyan," she said breezily and snorted derisively when he obviously had no idea of what she was talking about. But something else was bugging her.
She was supposed to feel good at the moment, satisfied with herself. Because, if she could do anything, she certainly could get Son Goku out of her system. How she felt instead was… incomplete. She was trying to feel good about herself, but she was falling miserably short.
She pointed to the small spherical machines hanging from the ceiling. She was a genius. She could do anything. "There's the droids over there," she started. "They are pretty interesting, you know. They have detectors based on those scouters of yours… they can track you down and shoot you down when you least expect it! I'm a genius! Why are you looking at me like that?" she said, all in one breath.
Vegeta stared for a second, his face unreadable, then he nodded slowly. "You can go."
Bulma rolled her eyes. "Fine," she sighed. "Have fun. Oh, and when you blow up try not to ruin my mother's weeping fig."
Bulma breezed out of the gravity room and when she felt the door hiss as it closed behind her, she lowered her head. She thought the three hundred times gravity was nothing compared to the weight she felt in the pit of her stomach.
Yes, there were coffees to make, things to study, inventions to think up. Maybe, just maybe she would be able to find some kind of equilibrium, some measure of peace… but that night, in the clearing, she had felt complete – that night magic had occurred and she couldn't forget that.
Chichi glanced at the clock hanging above the kitchen door and growled for the umpteenth time that morning. It was past 8:00 and breakfast was getting cold on the table. She had shouted for her son and her husband twice already and she sure wasn't going to waste her breath again. Her left eye twitched.
Something was up that morning.
It was getting late – Gohan was usually up and about way earlier than that, getting ready for school and helping her set the table; not to mention her husband, who was usually up at the crack of dawn to train, making the foundations of the house tremble and generally annoying the hell out of her – but that morning she had woken up finding him huddled up in his side of the bed, stone still, completely out cold. It would have been worrisome, had it not been for his usual soft snores. She had raised an eyebrow but left him there – she'd gone down to the kitchen, knocking on Gohan's door as she passed by.
At eight o' clock, her house usually bustled with sounds and activities – or so it had been since Goku's return from space. He had told her the name of the planet, but she couldn't remember.
Chichi tapped her fingers on the table, then she sat up so fast the chair skidded backward making a dull sound, wood against wood.
She swiftly ran up the stairs, the reprimand aimed at Gohan ready on her lips.
"Gohan! You're running late!" she called and knocked on the door before entering without waiting for an answer. What she saw, or rather, didn't see, made her left eye twitch even more. Her pale face first went even whiter with worry, then it took a nice shade of purple with anger.
Chichi dashed to her room in a flurry of pink fabric. "GOKU!" she yelled again, at the top of her lungs.
He was still there, sprawled on his stomach on the furthest corner of their bed, face buried in the pillows, hair sticking in one hundred different directions. He looked exhausted and peaceful so Chichi shouted again louder than ever.
That did the trick.
Goku's body gave a sudden jolt and Chichi wasted no time. "Gohan's not here!" she hissed, making her way closer to the bed and shaking him.
Goku woke up with the distinct impression of being out of place, the high-pitched yelling doing nothing to ease the feeling of disorientation that sometimes went along with abrupt awakenings.
"He's not in his room, he's gone!"
He raised his head from the pillow a little bit and squinted his eyes open, the sunlight hitting them mercilessly. He couldn't remember the last time he slept late enough that the sun was so high in the sky. Maybe it was never.
"…what?" he exhaled softly, sluggishly trying to make sense of Chichi's loud screams.
"I said I can't find Gohan!" Chichi shrieked and Goku immediately gained some degree of alertness. He jerked his head up so he could see Chichi's worried face. He glanced in her black eyes for less than a second, and he concentrated on Gohan's ki, on his son's life-force, searching, stretching his senses…
He breathed out forcefully and buried his face in the pillow again.
"He's sparring with Piccolo!" he all but whined, his voice muffled against the soft, cold pillowcase. He should have known there was no way something bad was going on with Gohan.
Chichi, however, was not impressed with the resolution of the case. Even if he couldn't see her, he could sense her rigid scowl.
"And just when did I give him my permission?" she screeched. "I'm anti-Piccolo!"
Goku's ears were ringing.
The reasons that was not going to be a good day were multiplying themselves by the minute. He suddenly felt like it was hard to breathe, guilt and frustration and sadness and hundreds of other overwhelming feelings were smoldering him all at once like a thick, unwanted, poisonous blanket.
He closed his eyes and tried his best to do what he always did. Be reassuring.
"But Chichi… relax," he said against the bedding. He sighed when he felt her inhale sharply, ready to chew him out for using the 'but Chichi'passphrase, but he continued anyway. "Piccolo's fine. Gohan's alright, I promise."
He rolled onto his back so he could look at her and instill more meaning to his words but, as soon as he did, a cold, painful sensation washed over him and he deflected his gaze to the ceiling.
He had always been able to hold her gaze. But the enormity of what he had done and the fact that given the chance he wasn't willing to take it back, the fact that he longed, he craved for the clearing, for the electric feeling Bulma gave him, was hitting him with the force of a thousands of kicks in the chest courtesy of Frieza.
He swallowed hard. He could feel her eyes drilling a hole through him and he just knew something bad was coming.
"Are you alright?"
Goku gulped and lifted himself onto his elbows. He forced himself to look at her. The frown was still there, but her eyes held something soft at their bottom and Goku felt his stomach churn violently.
"I…" he began. He swallowed again. "Sure, I'm fine."
"You don't seem fine," Chichi countered briskly.
Goku wanted to run. He rubbed his face with his hands and got up. "It's just... kinda stuffy in here," he said and walked to the window. He opened it and stayed there, giving his back to Chichi. He let a moment pass then he turned to her, an arm behind his head, laughing faintly. "That's better!" he said.
Chichi squinted at him. "What is the matter with you?" she asked, her hands going to her hips.
Goku tried to smile genuinely. "I just woke up, Chichi."
"Well, in that case…" Chichi began, her frown firmly back in place. "What are you waiting for?" she barked and Goku recoiled in alarm. "Go fetch Gohan! Teleport him back, or something! School's starting in half an hour and he still has to have breakfast!"
Goku gulped, but he tried to collect himself a little bit. He'd really rather have her mind-numbing yells than her looks of soft concern at the moment. It made it a little bit easier to breath and to exist in the same room as her.
His stomach growled out loud of all a sudden, and he scratched his cheek sheepishly. "Can I eat first?"
Chichi's reply came in a low, menacing voice and with a scary glint in her eyes. "Move it," she said and walked out of the room.
Goku watched her go and only then he allowed himself to take a deep breath. Going out was a good idea. A very good idea. In fact – he didn't know how in the world he hadn't run for the woods while Chichi was still sleeping. But the thing was, as soon as his head had hit the pillow, he had gone out, oblivious to everything around him. Really falling asleep for the first time in weeks.
Great. Maybe he was really losing his head for good, he thought morosely.
With a sigh, he dragged himself in the bathroom he shared with Chichi and closed the door behind him. At the sink, he splashed cold water on his face, one, two, three times. Then he looked up in the mirror and thought he didn't recognize himself.
"Do not freak out," he said firmly to his reflection.