Disclaimer: I do not own DBZ, or the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story. But if I did...Sex. There would have been sex.
A/N: Thank you to all of you who keep pushing me and prodding me for updates! Trust me when I say that it gives me the motivation I need to keep writing when I'm too tired to even see straight. Thank you to everyone who reviews; you know how much I love you especially my chronic reviewers. The fact that you've stuck around this long means the world to me. A special thank you to Lily for your extremely well thought out and awesome review. Seriously, you've said some incredibly nice things to me, and I hope you realize how much they mean to me.
As usual, thanks to my amazing beta, Lilpumpkingirl for making my sometimes manic writing more understandable. Seriously, she's amazing guys.
Chapter Twenty-Six: Bested!
Bulma's entrance back into Ton society was not completely her idea, or her doing. Really, it came down to Bunny (did it not always come down to Bunny?). She called the doctor, who had come for Bulma's ankle--which was healing at a remarkable rate, of course--and he had given his blessing for her to go back into public as long as she did not dance on it. So that excuse had been taken from her. Not only that, but she had received a note from Basil, the first from him that had nothing to do with translations since that disastrous mission.
She had received the missive from Basil earlier today and read its instructions on keeping her eyes and ears extra open with a frown on her face. First off, she did not even want to attend this event, and second, she was done with being a spy. Oh, she would do as he asked, and still did translate anything Basil sent her way--but as for the nitty-gritty spy details? Bulma would leave those to people who had no problem hanging off of the side of the building as it rained. Bulma still felt like she had an adventurous spirit (probably always would)...but she preferred the kind of adventures where you did not constantly fear for the loss of your life. She would stick to her dumb pranks with her brother, and being outdoorsy when she felt like it.
But still, the call of attending a social gathering once she realized her mother was dead set on having her go, allured to her more than she would have thought. Something about seeing the Widow Gero earlier that week...it made Bulma realize she was not meant to play the role of the recluse, even if she would rather do nothing more than stay at home and finish up her plans of the steam engine. She needed to be out and about--though going to the French Embassy's annual who's who of French people in London was not her idea of dipping her toes back into the pond of the Ton. It was a bit more like throwing oneself full-bodied into the ocean of the Ton--but hey, she was out and about, and her parents were ecstatic to see her outside of her room.
As was Goku, who was in a particularly good mood. Though he would not tell her why. She wondered if it had to do with the pretty little cook that worked downstairs, but Bulma was still having a hard time grasping the concept of her brother seeing women as anything other than boys missing some parts (his words, obviously), let alone trying to grasp the concept of Goku having feelings for a woman. When she asked him what was so great about tonight after he had told her it was going to be a good one, he had only said, "Why you coming back to the society, of course!" Before he tapped his nose, winking. Bulma had a feeling he was trying to tell her something, but this went beyond her and Goku's usual wordless communication. Not that he would explain himself when she asked him what the hell was wrong with him and their parents' arrival soon stopped any communication between the pair.
Her arrival back into society went just as she would expect it would. Everyone flared up when she walked into a room, happy to see the season's incomparable back before turning back to their respective groups so they could gossip about her reappearance, and why she had disappeared in the first place. Oh, if only they knew. The gentlemen who had been at her side all season returned, falling over themselves to help her get some punch, or to escort her to the most comfortable chair they could find, while the ladies paid her their dues by coming by and speaking to her. It was really advantageous that she basically held court in the room, as she was able to meet every single French person that she had not yet this season, though it did not help her answer that nagging question of just who Zhelonie was.
Not that Bulma had been spending a lot of time or resources to those thoughts--though she still cared, she found herself not as thoroughly sucked into the question as when Vegeta and her could discuss them together. Plus, it was not like Basil was going to share intel with her about what was going on in the spy world the past two weeks, so she found herself going in circles, again and again, over what she already knew. Throw that on top of the work she had been doing with the engine, as well as her taxing emotions about what just had gone wrong with Vegeta--and you had one thoroughly maxed out Bulma.
But tonight, sitting where she was, being introduced to everyone who was anyone (she had already thought she had met everyone who was anyone in London, but shows what she knew), Bulma found herself back on high alert. She watched everyone a little more closely than usual, listened to every conversation that she could, and generally catalogued everything and anything about the people around her, hoping to cross reference it with what was known about Zhelonie later.
Though something was niggling at her neck, some indefinable thing that had her constantly reaching up and brushing her bare neck as if there were some fly that kept buzzing at her neck. But as she looked over her shoulder through the windows she sat in front of, once again, into the inky blackness of the night behind her, Bulma could not shake the feeling that she was missing something....
Vegeta found himself in the gardens of the French Embassy, on the outside looking in on the party, frowning at what he was watching.
It was not unusual for him to be outside at a party like this--Vegeta knew better than most that the outside gardens of a party were for more than clandestine meetings between paramours. What better place to share information with another agent, or to pump someone for information, than in the muted darkness of the outside of a large, glittering party? He knew that Basil would have other spies here tonight, inside the party, so Vegeta's plan had been to come as if he were going to attend the party itself, but then to spend as much time as possible outside, watching everyone who came outside for something unusual.
He had discovered more information this way than by stoically standing in corners at other events he attended, and had no plans of entering the party. Especially since he was not feeling particularly sociable after the day he had been through. Vegeta was expecting an uneventful evening of standing in the dark, waiting for someone, anyone, to reveal themselves to him as Zhelonie.
Regrettably, he had not anticipated that Bulma would spend the night in a seat that put her in his direct line of vision no matter which way he turned. He felt like he was a beggar on Bond Street, watching a glittering jewel sitting behind glass, feeling the desire to do nothing more than to touch the jewel to see if it was brilliant as it looked behind the glass. As he observed her though, he felt himself growing irrationally angry--he had thought that when he had left, when he had purposefully hurt her...he had thought that the hurt in her eyes was unbearable. But no--seeing her, now, acting as if nothing had ever transpired between them, as if she could oh so easily go back to her life as the incomparable of the London season--that rattled him more than he wished to admit.
He forgot Kakarrot's earlier words of Bulma hardly having left her room, instead wondering just how quickly she had resumed her life as London's society queen after he had left her, trying to put distance between them. The black pit in the bottom of his stomach that had started churning earlier today, with the mention of that fool Yamcha, became a vortex, threatening to consume him whole as he saw Bulma smile, nod, and laugh with other men.
Half a dozen times he had to stop himself from walking into that party and going straight to Bulma. Half a dozen times more he had to resist the urge to punch one of the men Bulma had been talking to as they came outside to the balcony for daring to talk to Bulma. But Vegeta stayed where he was, leaning against a tree that offered him a shadowed place to observe the whole party without being a part of it, forcing himself to look at anything but Bulma...and failing miserably as time and time again his eyes were drawn straight to her. She was not even wearing a remarkably colored gown as he had come to expect from her--she had gone with a rather demure white, but all that did was make her hair all the more vibrant.
Still, he had to force himself to observe what was happening around him, not just Bulma. He ignored the couples that walked past him, thankful that his dark position meant that none of them saw him as they moved onto their assignation spots for the night, trying not to think about his very own assignation he had had earlier this season. Instead, he forced himself to observe those around him that drew his suspicion--namely, those who walked alone in the gardens. He kept track of the people, though he found that they were often waiting for the other half of the rendezvous to show up, though there were a few that he had followed, only to walk back to his spot when he found they were just looking for a quiet place to empty their stomachs. Some people really could not hold their whiskey.... Which begged the question of why they were serving Whiskey at a French event, but that was a mystery best saved for another time he thought.
One particular woman who came out by herself, though, caught his interest more so than anyone else--especially as she had also been in his thoughts today. The Widow Gero moved outside like a woman with a secret, constantly watching everyone she passed, looking for someone it seemed. Vegeta, abandoning his post at the tree followed her for a bit, waiting to see what she was doing--if he knew the Widow, it would be meeting her latest lover out here. But he was hoping to catch her alone so he could question her on just what in the hell she was doing going to Bulma like she had.
Eighteen traveled deep into the gardens, moving in an erratic way that was totally at odds with her character that peaked his curiosity. Eighteen never moved like this--she usually kept her head high, her nose up, as she moved authoritatively, knowing that whoever she was looking for her would find her. But now...after searching for a while, she seemed to deflate further, finding the closest bench she could and slunking into it in the least regal way possible.
She sat slumped forward with her knees stuck together, her elbows resting on her knees with her chin resting on her fists. She stared ahead, unseeing, her mouth undoubtedly in a pout. It seemed as if she was disappointed, but about what, he could not know. This pouting--it was the last thing Vegeta had ever expected to see Eighteen do. She was always poised, regal, icy--never glum, or ungraceful in her mannerisms.
He observed her with none of the sexual interest he had once had in her (another thing he could thank Bulma for--an utter lack of interest in anyone of the female sex who was not her), before he decided he was ready to confront her. Vegeta made sure to make no noise as he joined her on the bench she was sitting on, but even so it took her a minute longer than he would have thought to pull herself from her thoughts and to realize she was not alone. She slowly turned her head, her face still set in a pout, as she flicked her eyes over her shoulder. He could see the moment her brain processed she was not alone, her body freezing before her eyes turned back to him, her mouth working to get something out.
Vegeta gave her a cool nod of the head, resting his arm on the back of the bench as he casually observed her. "Widow. Lovely evening for a stroll, is it not?"
Eighteen looked at him, sitting up straight, frowning as she took in his relaxed manor. "I was not aware you were at the party, your Grace, or even in town."
Vegeta continued his relaxed charade, not looking at her as he examined the back of his hands. He made sure his voice was plenty icy when he spoke though. "And I was not aware that you were on visiting terms with Miss Briefs, Widow Gero." He turned to look at her as he finished his sentence, making sure his black eyes flared with the displeasure he felt.
He was gratified to see her mouth open in an Ôo' at that, but she regained herself rather quickly, sitting stiffer as she frowned at him. "I was not aware you kept tabs on who I visited."
Vegeta inclined his head, raising an eyebrow at her presumptiveness. "You think I keep tabs on who you visit with? Not on who comes to my household, even if I am away?"
Eighteen grimaced at his reply seeming stumped for an answer. "I...uh...I...uhm...." Vegeta looked at her, raising an eyebrow at this out of character loss of speech, and she glared back at him. "But then why would you care that I visit--oh!" As she spoke her face went rather neutral, as she seemed to hit upon a realization. He saw a spark in her icy blue eyes, before she closed her face off, giving him that far off smirk he recognized as she turned to face him more. "No...I guess I was being rather self-absorbed with that statement. I am not that surprised you keep a constant vigilance on your home, even when gone--but I was surprised that my little visit to Miss Briefs even registered on your radar."
Vegeta, seeing the spark in her eyes, and feeling the way she had relaxed under his observation, felt himself growing uneasy. "I like to always know what goes on around under my nose."
Eighteen chuckled, leaning back into the bench, saying nothing as he moved his arm from the back of the wrought-iron bench, but raising her eyebrow to acknowledge that she noticed. "Oh, but this goes beyond your need to control everything, does it not Vegetasei? You came into the gardens to talk to me about it...because...well, it is not me you are interested in, is it?" At his stony silence, she smiled a feline smile, before continuing, "I doubt you were ever interested enough in me to care who I met with, even when I was with you Vegetasei. It is the Briefs heiress, is it not?"
It was Vegeta's turn to frown at Eighteen, cursing inwardly as he wished that the Widow was not as smart as she was. Why could the women he surrounded himself with not be as simple minded as the other chits in the London Ton? Not that it mattered now if Eighteen was smart or not--he was not sure how he had talked himself into that corner, but he knew he had to get out of it. "You are mistaken. I only am wondering just what you and Miss Briefs had to discuss. I was not aware you two had even been introduced."
She chuckled softly, shaking her head. "Don't be obtuse Vegeta. Everyone has met the great and beautiful Miss Briefs. Even lowly Widow's, such as myself."
His mouth flattened into a thin line, and he snorted at her tone as he stood from the bench, putting some distance between himself and the Widow. He crossed his arms as he looked back to her. "You still did not answer the question. Just what could you two possibly have to talk about?"
Eighteen looked at him, her blue eyes clear and wide as she watched him walk away. She ran her fingers through her bangs when he looked back, smoothing them, a gesture he recognized, before she spoke, "I needed a recipe from her."
Vegeta was not convinced, and his tone clearly displayed this when he answered, "A recipe?"
Eighteen gave him a smile, tilting her head as she crossed her ankles, hooking one behind the other, leaning forward. "Yes." She paused as she ran her hand through her bangs again, before she continued on, her voice light, "Isn't that what you men think us women talk about when you're not around?"
He growled at her facetious tone, but resisted the urge he had to take a step towards her, threatening her with his demeanor. Instead he forced himself to stand still, to affect a disinterested look. "Believe it or not, I do not often spend time thinking about just what it is women prattle on about when there are no men present."
Eighteen, though, seemed not to hear him as she too stood, pacing slowly before she turned back to him, her face in an a-ha moment when she spoke next, her voice eager. "Unless you think Bulma and I have something else in common we could discuss, which would explain your interest. But what could it possibly be?" She crossed her arms, and then tapped her chin with her finger, as if thinking. Vegeta felt his unease grow, especially when she gave him another cat like smile. "What could it be that would have you so worried, Vegetasei? What could we have in common that would cause you to seek me out? Something of a more personal nature, perhaps?"
Vegeta realized that this conversation was going nowhere he wanted to go, and fast. He needed to get out of there, quickly. He was no closer to discovering why Eighteen had visited Bulma than when he had first sat down to talk to the Widow and he saw no reason to stay. Especially as the Widow had turned the questions he was asking her back to him, and Vegeta did not like how close she was coming to the truth. So he moved away from her, making it clear that this conversation was over as he turned to look back at her. "I hope the recipe you received from her was delicious, but I do not anticipate hearing your name on the visitor list of Saiyan Hall anytime soon, especially as you two have nothing, I repeat, nothing, in common."
Eighteen hitched an eyebrow at that, crossing her arms, giving him a small smile as she watched him walk away. "Of course, your Grace." She gave a sigh that stopped him in his tracks, though he did not turn to face her. "But us women are such fickle creatures, are we not? Whereas Bulma and I may have nothing in common today--tomorrow, we could easily find a subject matter we both have lots to talk about...."
Vegeta gave her one last glower over his shoulder, and then abandoned Eighteen as quickly as his two feet could carry him. He was wondering just what he had been hoping to get out of that conversation, frowning as he walked back to the tree he had been leaning on earlier. Whatever it was--it was not what had happened. Just how obvious was his interest to Bulma? His former interest in Bulma--Vegeta had made the decision to forget about her as anything other than a woman who had to live in his house currently. But still--it irked him, just what Eighteen was insinuating.
He cursed himself as he made it back to the tree, settling in against the bark, ready to observe like he had been, ready to figure out just who Zhelonie was. He was just going to stand here, waiting for the Kami-damned clue he knew he was missing to figuring out who the spy was. He was not going to move again, he was just going to be the best damn spy he knew he could be, and not move a Kami-damned muscle until he needed to.
But even with his stubborn declaration, he found his eyes unwittingly drawn back to Bulma, and cursed when he saw whom she was talking to.
This time he did not stop himself from abandoning his post, heading straight to Bulma, promising himself to add Viridian's name to the top of the list of possible spies... Only to remember it was already on there with a host of death threats written underneath it.
Bulma could not say she was that surprised to find Viridian standing over her once there was a lull in the number of gentlemen offering to bring her another punch (no way in hell--she had already visited the women's retiring room twice, and she already felt as if her body was going to burst), and women bringing her other people she had to just simply needed to meet. He often waited to talk to her until they could have as much privacy as one could find in a public setting.
She knew he held a tenor for her, but she could not take it seriously--for two reasons mainly. One, she saw him flirt with every female that was present at these things (from the youngest debutante to the oldest dowager...she was sure she had once seen Viridian make the dowager Duchess of Vegetasei smile and that was a testament in and of itself). And secondly, because despite her wishes to the contrary, she could only seem to think about Vegeta in that way. Even when she thought back to Yamcha, she could not pinpoint a time where her feelings for him felt as strong as they did for Vegeta. And they had been together for years!
But she was not going to think about Vegeta right now, not when Viridian was smiling at her, ready to charm her as usual. Viridian was at an advantage of everyone else in the Ton in that she had seen him when she had sworn off visitors. Viridian was not the only person who had called on her when she had been sick, but he had been the only one she had received (besides the Widow), simply because she had a nagging suspicion that she was missing something with him. Even through all of his flattery, and the way he always charmed her--she knew that there was something about him she should keep an eye on.
Something was not adding up with Viridian, with his demeanor, and his attitude compared to the rest of the Ton, and Bulma had hoped that meeting with him in as near private as she could would help answer whatever the voices in her head were telling her was wrong with him. Of course Goku was there, both to intimidate and to maintain propriety, but she did not air her suspicions about Viridian to him. Viridian had been oozing charm when she had received him and the meeting did not last long, only five, ten minutes, but Bulma had still had a sneaking suspicion she was just missing...something. He was too perfect--that was what it came down to. He always knew what to say, always knew what to do--it was if he was a blue blood who was acting exactly like the books said they should be, rather than a real blue blood did.
She was snapped back to the present, though, when Viridian drew up to her, stopping the proper distance away, far enough from the chair she occupied that she did not have to stare up at him when they spoke. "Miss Briefs, might I say it is lovely to see you back out and about?"
Bulma gave a nod of acknowledgement, inclining her head. "Thank you Viscount. I am glad to see that the London social scene has survived without me, especially after the way everyone has been commenting on my absence."
Viridian gave her a smirk, hearing the tease in her polite answer. Bulma might not trust Viridian any further than she could throw him, but at least she knew she would have an enjoyable conversation with the man. Viridian did not disappoint as he answered her, "You are lucky you did not see how everyone simply fell apart with you not here. Who were we to talk about? We could only comment on your absence, only speculate about just where you were, or how you had really twisted your ankle so many times before it simply came down to everyone lamenting those stairs you fell on, wondering how quickly your ankle would heal. Poems, no, sonnets were written in your absence, and I would not be surprised if the gossip columns of the Times changed its name to Speculations on Miss Briefs."
Bulma gave an honest laugh at that, shaking her head as she smiled at him. "Really Viridian, you do me a great honor. I doubt people really even noticed my absence."
Viridian shook his head, tsk'ing his tongue as he crossed his arms, affecting a serious air. "Ah Miss Briefs, you astound me with your supreme modesty. Surely you know the only interesting thing left to talk about with your absence was Lady Launch's mood swings. Even you, in your supreme modesty, must know that those are not the most interesting of things to speculate on for the rest of us. Really, it was downright selfish of you to not be here for the rest of the Ton's amusement."
Bulma gave another easy chuckle, nodding her head in agreement. "Indeed. Well then I am glad to be back, as we know Lady Launch hates to hear about her mood swings being talked about, and to do so will only further incite further mood swings."
A deep timbre, one that had been haunting Bulma whenever she tried to sleep broke into the conversation then, shocking both Bulma and Viridian with its presence. "I assure you Lady Launch's mood swings have vastly decreased since her marriage to the Earl of Tienshinhan."
Bulma felt her throat close up and she had to fight to keep her face as neutral as possible when all she really wanted to do was bug her eyes out and stutter, ÔY-y-y-you!' Instead, she kept the pleasant smile on her face as she looked towards the latest person to join her circle, assessing him in a swift gaze. She noticed that he looked as he always did, dark, handsome as the devil--but if she was not mistaken, he looked tired. Good. After the way he had treated her, the least he could do was be tired.
Viridian gave a respectful bow to the Duke, moving to the side so that they would form a triangle rather than a line, murmuring, "Your Grace," which Vegeta responded to with a slight bow, before he turned back to Bulma.
By the time he was looking at her she was just sane enough to remember her anger, and she was just furious enough at him for arriving in London right when she was trying to make her entrance back onto the social scene to give him a good lift of her chin, her eyes blazing as she calmly spoke, "Well I'm glad Lady Launch was able to find a man who was man enough to handle her." Her voice had changed since when she had spoken to just Viridian, or anyone else from that night, taking a harsher edge on it as she looked at him, wondering just what the hell he was doing here.
He had already told her he did not want her, so why in the hell would he find her tonight? She simply wished he would go away. Well, right after she punched a hole through his stomach, of course. Or made him, at the very least, eat the words he had spoken to her.
Vegeta quirked an eyebrow at her words, muttering, "Indeed," while Viridian only interestedly looked between the pair. Vegeta continued, boldly stepping closer to Bulma, effectively cutting Viridian out of their little triangle, forgoing the propriety that Viridian had observed by standing as close to her as he could, forcing her head to go up to look at him. "But then again, what woman does not like a sappy happy ending to a love story?"
Bulma scowled inwardly at his words, but smiled as she gritted her teeth to him. "Indeed. What a foolish woman's fantasy it is--to find someone to love."
Vegeta shrugged, grabbing a glass of wine off of a passing waiter, taking a sip, before he answered softly, "Like you said. Love is nothing but a foolish woman's fantasy."
Bulma felt her tongue freeze, as she looked at him, the full impact of his gaze hitting her right in the chest, as Vegeta spoke, and before she knew it she had bared her teeth at him, barely resisting the urge to snarl at him. "I never said that."
Viridian tried to intervene, clapping Vegeta on the back, "Come now Vegetasei. How could you say such a thing when we have such a beautiful woman speaking to--."
But Vegeta cut him off, barely noticing the man who had dared to touch him. "You did not have to. I thought a woman as smart as yourself would know love is nothing but a foolish emotion thought up by poets and novelists."
Bulma scoffed at his words, forcing herself to take a deep breath before she answered, buying herself a second, "I think it is only a brave person, who is not afraid of emotions, who can really open themselves up to something as scary as love."
Viridian tried to speak again, but Vegeta did not even let the man breathe before he chuckled darkly at Bulma's words. "A brave person? Scary as love? Oh come now, Miss Briefs. Whatever could be so scary about love?"
Bulma smirked at Vegeta's words, as she calmly uncrossed her legs, repositioning herself, taking her time before she looked back up to Vegeta, blinking slowly. "What could be more scary, or more brave, than finding someone you love so much, you trust so much, that you would willingly give all of yourself to them. To let them know the real you, to trust them to be there to pick you up when you fall, to know they will be there for you when you need them the most. It is rather brave indeed to trust in another, as you should know."
Vegeta's smirk grew harder, his eyebrows pulling down over his forehead. "Seems like an incredibly foolish person indeed who would trust someone else that much."
Bulma looked down, blinking up at him through her eyelashes, "I did not expect someone like you to understand."
There was a stilted silence as Vegeta and Bulma's eyes met, the chatter of the crowd receding from their self-imposed bubble. Bulma could hear her own breathing, and she swore if someone dropped a pin between them in that moment that she would hear it. She watched Vegeta as he stonily observed her, feeling a smile ghost her lips as she saw the muscles in his neck work. Vegeta might be an expert at making sure his face gave away nothing, but Bulma had become an expert on reading Vegeta when he least wanted to be read.
With him it was about the fire in his eyes, or in the small ways his muscles moved that told her all she needed to know. And what she knew, right now, was that she had pissed him off. Good.
Vegeta, to his credit, spoke in that same calm voice he seemed to always employ in public as he simply repeated, "Indeed."
Viridian, sensing that his presence was extremely extraneous at that point and time (and having observed enough to give him good gossip fodder for the rest of the evening), motioned towards the room breaking into their silent bubble. "If you would excuse me, Miss Briefs, Vegetasei. A glass of wine sounds divine right now, and I hear the French chardonnay was exquisite this year."
Bulma blinked, looking away from Vegeta's obsidian gaze, instead looking at Viridian's interested amethyst gaze as she gave a small nod to indicate she had heard. Truth be told, she had forgotten he was there. Damn--she hoped he had not sensed the sparkling undercurrent of her and Vegeta's conversation. Still, she gave him a small smile as he looked at her, speaking as politely as possible, "Of course, Viscount. Until the next event."
Viridian, looking amused at her, only intoned Vegeta's voice as he said, "Indeed."
Vegeta seemed not to notice his disappearance as he moved closer to Bulma, as close as propriety would allow, boxing her in so that he seemed to fill all of her vision. They were in a silent stalemate, after their charged words, but Bulma spoke first, the venom finding its way to her voice as she spoke, "Vegetasei." She chose one of his most proper titles, deciding to put some much-needed space between them as she spoke as coldly and as properly as she could. No way was she going to invite any more double entendre's or loaded language with him tonight. "I hope your travels were pleasant."
The way she said the last word left no room to doubt that Bulma wished the opposite to be true, but Vegeta only smirked at her, following the tone she set for their private conversation. "Miss Briefs--I am glad to see you are doing well. I trust that the ankle did not keep you long from holding court with the idiots of the Ton."
Bulma's grip on her cane, which to this point had been lax, changed, tightening as she imagined it was Vegeta's throat her fingers were around. She looked at him, steady though, as she cocked her head. "I don't see how it is any of your business who I talk to, seeing as you are only the man sponsoring me this season, and nothing more."
Vegeta snarled, leaning closer to her. "And you are nothing but the insolent whelp who had her brother blackmail me into sponsoring her."
Bulma sat up straighter, wishing she could stand, but knowing her ankle was sore she could only inch her neck up as far as it would go. "Well it is hardly my fault that you leave yourself open to being...blackmailed? Is that the word you used? I prefer coerced, your Grace."
"Dress it up however you like, Miss Briefs, it comes down to the fact that the only reason you are here right now, sitting so pretty, is because your brother would not come with me, without you." Vegeta's eyes flared up at this, and the corner of his mouth drew up in a smirk.
Bulma responded with another saccharine sweet smile. "And the only reason you're standing here right now is simply because if I start beating you with my cane, I know the rest of the Ton would assist me making sure you never lurk in any dark corners again."
Vegeta's eyes narrowed, and he took a step forward, but whatever retort he had been about to lob her way was cut off as Goku entered Bulma and Vegeta's tension filled bubble, seemingly not noticing that the two of them were currently in the middle of an all out war, lighting bolts erupting between them as little boulders were metaphorically rising around them. "Vegeta! I'm glad to see that you made it! When you left Jackson's earlier, I was afraid you would not show up tonight."
Bulma eye's snapped to her brother, breaking from the fury-induced rage she was close to erupting into. She turned to her brother, partially glad, yet incredibly upset at him for breaking up the best fight she had been in an incredibly, incredibly long time, frowning at him. His words sunk in a second later, even through the red mist she had settling in over her vision, and she incredulously said, "You knew he was here?"
Goku smiled at her, oblivious to the situation he had just put himself in the middle of--or doing a damn good job of pretending he did not know what kind of situation he had put himself in. He moved so that he was standing between them, putting some much needed space between the two of them as he could, simply by shouldering his way in. "Of course! I saw him earlier."
Bulma glanced at her brother, fighting to keep the hiss out of her voice. "You saw him earlier and you didn't see fit to tell anyone else the Duke was back?"
Goku shrugged, that smile still in place. "I knew you would see him soon enough--he said he was looking for you, earlier, and I knew he would find you." Goku shifted, putting a hand behind his head as he stared up over them as he remembered, "I mean, earlier, he was standing right in front of--"
Whatever he had been standing in front of earlier was to remain a mystery to Bulma though, as Vegeta roughly cut Goku off, his voice the loudest she had ever heard it as he spoke in a pitch she had never heard from him. "I WAS ONLY--," he frowned as he heard the tone of his voice, and tried again after clearing his throat. "Ahem--I was only going to ask after the state of my ship, the Saiyan Monarch."
Bulma frowned, confused as to what was passing between the men, as Goku looked at Vegeta, interested, and Vegeta turned to look at Goku as if he wanted to tear his head off, his nostrils flaring with smoke practically coming out of them. But she was even further thrown into confusion at Vegeta's words. "Your ship? The Saiyan Monarch? I have never even heard of it."
Vegeta turned back to her, glaring, the force of his anger hitting her full square in the chest. When he spoke, his voice was calm and controlled, alerting Bulma to the fact that he was extremely angry, "The Saiyan Monarch is the ship I told you you could put your steam engine on."
Bulma frowned at him, crossing her arms stubbornly as she looked up at him. "You never told me anything of that sort. Otherwise I would have started construction already."
Vegeta looked at her, his own arms crossing as he unconsciously copied her, "I left a letter for you the night of the--" he stopped himself, seeming to realize where his words were leading and just how inappropriate they would be in the current situation, as he amended, "The night that you twisted your ankle."
Bulma thought back to that night, that charged night, the last time she had seen him, the last time she had touched him--and tried to remember what Vegeta had told her, but beyond those hurtful words he had thrown at her, nothing else stood out. "No you did not. I'm telling you. I would have remembered that."
Vegeta pushed Goku out of the way, standing close to Bulma again as he looked down at her, his arms tight at his side as his fists clenched and unclenched. "Yes I did. I left a note for you in the front hall, and I even sent a note to you and the Captain of the Monarch to let him know to expect you."
Bulma scoffed at him, rolling her eyes as she stretched up to meet with him, her neck once again lengthened all the way up. "No you didn't, Vegetasei! I never got the note! I would have gone, even with my ankle!"
Vegeta let out a threatening growl, leaning closer to her, but once again Goku moved between the pair again. They did not seem to realize they were drawing the eyes of those around them, not because of their words (which no one could truly hear) but because of how they had moved closer and closer as they fought, pushing the boundaries of what was proper, but Goku sure as hell did, and he knew he needed to diffuse this situation and fast. Especially as their faces were mere inches from each other, Vegeta leaning down as Bulma sat as straight as she possibly could, both of them breathing hard from the need to do more than just argue verbally.
Goku smiled, breaking the mood with an easy laugh, diverting their attention. "Bulma, I knew you would have gone, even with your ankle. So I might have...with mom and dad's permission of course...hidden the note."
Vegeta, seeming to realize the eyes he was drawing, frowned at everything and everyone until they turned back to their own conversations, before turning back to the brother and sister.
Bulma's anger was instantly drawn from Vegeta, who she had been politely been scootching away from (also having realized the stares), whipped around to Kakarrot, her mouth in a flat line. Vegeta, if he had not been so angry at the world (but particularly at Bulma) would have been happy to see her anger directed at someone else. Instead, he was too busy flexing his hands, wishing to all get out that he had beaten out some of his aggression earlier today, to even really notice. Her words, though, he heard loud and clear. "You KNEW about the note?!"
Her brother smiled at her, shamefully, and he rubbed the back of his head, in a gesture she recognized. "Ah Bulma, you know you weren't supposed to be on your feet, and I know that if you knew about the ship, you would have been down there as soon as possible."
Bulma's mouth flattened into a thin line, but Vegeta was surprised to see her heave a frustrated sigh as she rolled her eyes, before giving a laugh. "You do know me...." Vegeta, seeing her instant mood swing, could only stare incredulously at the pair. She never calmed down at him that quickly!
Goku smiled, seeing that he had soothed her, putting a hand on her shoulder, smiling. "Well this is good news, then! You can start work on the Saiyan Monarch tomorrow! That means you can be done in as little as a month with the steam engine!"
Vegeta felt another bout of irrational anger surge through him at that, which he tried to tamp down. What he was feeling could only be described as jealousy, which he tried to tell himself, over and over again, was insane, as she meant NOTHING to him, could mean NOTHING to him. Still, seeing the way that Bulma and Goku were easily smiling at each other Vegeta could not help the sarcasm in his tone as he spoke. "I will write the Captain of the Monarch again, informing him that you will be coming. Again."
Bulma turned back to him, her blue eyes flashing in a curious way as she looked up at him. She seemed to realize they were in the middle of a London Ton party, rather than somewhere they could actually argue and only nodded, even giving him a polite smile as she put the mask of society back on. "Thank you, your Grace."
Vegeta looked at her, seeming as if he wanted to say something else, but instead, he just nodded, putting on the same mask she did, before he left Goku and Bulma to each other.
Bulma watched Vegeta as he walked away, unable to stop herself. As she watched him go, her thoughts got further and further away from her as well. Vegeta's actions--they were not what she was expecting for their first meeting. She had been expecting him to be as cold and indifferent as she remembered from that night--but no. He had been hot-blooded, arguing with her, seemingly angry at both Viridian and Goku for interrupting them...whatever he said his feelings were they were not the mark of a man who did not care.
In fact, if she were not so certain that it was absurd, she would say that they were the mark of a man who cared too much.
Vegeta was making his way out of the French Embassy soiree, already in high dudgeon after the horrible, horrible day he had been having (had one single conversation he taken part in gone according to plan?!) when the one person who could possibly make his day worse, called his name, "Vegetasei. Stop right there. We need to speak."
Vegeta froze, looking to the ceiling as he cursed Kami for throwing yet another obstacle in his path right now. All he wanted to do was get home, throw back half a bottle of Scotch, then to pass into blissful, numbing sleep. But no--Kami had thought it would be funny to make sure the dowager could find him before he left.
If it were up to him, he would pretend not to hear her and make a break for the front door. But, in consideration of where they were, Vegeta only counted to ten backwards in his head before he slowly turned to face the dowager, making his face as neutral as possible as he looked at her. "Do we? Can it not wait until morning?"
The dowager's mouth closed in a firm line, her eyes drawing closer together as she pointedly said, "Not when I know you have a habit of disappearing when you expect me to be expecting you. I have you now, here, the least you can do for your grandmother is spare me a few minutes."
Vegeta felt like growling, but knowing that the only reason she had used the familial honorific was because they were in public, and they were being listened too, Vegeta nodded, following her into a secluded drawing room that she could close the door in as they spoke. When Vegeta turned, facing the dowager, his whole body was closed off. He stood in a relaxed military stance, legs spread in a v, but his arms were crossed, and he knew he could not help the frown that graced his lips.
"What do you want?"
The dowager took a chair, observing him, tutting as she saw his expression. "I simply inquire after your health, Vegetasei. It is not like you to go into hiding for two weeks."
Vegeta felt snappish, especially after his conversation with Bulma and Kakarrot, so he could not help the snappish way he answered her, "Nor is it like you to care about my health. We have a spare heir now--you do not need me in good health."
Her eyes narrowed, and she gave him a sickening smile as she spoke, "Is that not the truth, Vegetasei." She sighed, looking disappointed when she spoke next, "But Kakarrot is not yet ready to take over your reigns, as he is still stubbornly in his old family's clutches." She looked back up at him, her mouth in a determined line. "A problem I see going away as soon as you complete our plan, Vegetasei."
Vegeta could not help the shock that he felt, but he could help it from showing on his face as he shook his head at the dowager. "That plan fell through long ago, and I still refuse to take part in it."
The dowager tutted again, shifting her head to the side to observe him. "Did the plan fall through? From what I have...gathered...you are well onto your way to causing the chit's ruin, Vegetasei."
Vegeta felt as if he was at the end of the rope, and at the dowager's hints of knowing about his and Bulma's prior relationship, he could not help but feel as if that was the last straw on the camel's back. He had had a shit day, a long ride, been caught by his cousin at Bulma's door, been denied a good fight before denying himself one, and had had countless conversation he should have fully been in charge of get away from him. This really was the last straw. It was as if he felt something he usually had a tight control of break inside of him, and before he could stop himself he was in front of the dowager, holding onto the arms of the chair she was on, leaning over her, hissing, "If you ever dare bring up any such insinuations in my presence, or in the presence of another human being, I will not be held responsible for my actions. Your plan is sick, and I see no reason to continue this charade of family we have if you continue to be the heinous bitch you have been your whole life."
As soon as he said his piece, Vegeta gave the dowager, who only sat, calmly blinking at him, one last snarl before he stormed from the room wishing just once, just this once, that he had been born into a family other than the one he had been blessed into.
A/N: I think a dowager who doesn't even blink when being insulted and threatened by her grandson is a dowager we should all fear... Notice how Vegeta's not as smooth as he usually is in this chapter, I wonder why that could be? *coughcoughbecausehecan'tadmitthetruthabouthisfeelingstohimselfcoughcough*
Uhm, anywhoo...It's been another fun chapter to write, and I'm glad we got to see Bulma and Vegeta back in the same room. They always seem to bring out the best (and the worst) in each other, don't they? Also, a Tien and Launce reference for the small faction of us that wonder why the hell they weren't a couple throughout all of DBZ...seriously. Maybe I should write a one-shot about them? Are there enough people out there like me who even care about Tien or Launch?? And you gotta love sweet naive Goku, who is more likely to unintentionally spill the beans on something he doesn't even really know is a secret than not.
The next chapter is written, I just need to re-read it and send it to my beta, so hopefully it won't take too long to post! Love to you all, and hope the new school years are treating all my teacher and student reader's right.