twelve. hopes, dreams, and magazines.

The evening found the Son family seated around their dining room table. Piccolo stood off to one side in the doorway, stoic as always, his arms folded. He didn't have any sympathy for the weepy warrior who sat amongst the Sons as they offered him comfort. He had always thought, from what he had heard anyway, that he didn't act the way a boyfriend was supposed to. He had never been aware that cheating was acceptable, yet it seemed that that was exactly what Yamcha did at every turn. Even Piccolo, who had no experience in relationships whatsoever, and had no desire to enter into one, knew that Bulma Briefs deserved better. He also knew something that no one else, except for Goku, did. This was why when Yamcha turned up at the Sons' house earlier that afternoon and poured out his heartbreak Piccolo had not been surprised.

Gohan didn't completely understand what was going on. He was intelligent enough, of course, and he understood that Yamcha had proposed to Bulma only to be not only declined but rejected. He understood that Yamcha was upset. But he couldn't relate. He had never experienced heartbreak before. He could only liken it to when his father was killed by Radditz, but even that was not quite the same because Gohan knew the Dragonballs would bring Goku back. He couldn't comprehend the absolute grief Yamcha was experiencing, because Yamcha understood that he had lost his final opportunity.

While Chichi had a better grasp on the emotional aspect of the situation, she couldn't entirely understand it either. Why hadn't Yamcha been able to see this consequence? Every action has a consequence, and she knew that if Yamcha continued to behave the way he did and be unfaithful, this would happen. She could comprehend his despair but couldn't sympathize with him. He had brought this upon himself and had been given fair warning. More than fair, in her opinion. Yet he had never learned. And, to top it off, he admitted to suspecting that Bulma was having an affair? Chichi almost couldn't believe it.

As always Goku connected with his friend's anguish. He was a sensitive person and felt genuinely sad for Yamcha. Almost as long as he had known them, Bulma and Yamcha had been a pair. Faced with this split now, Goku himself felt almost lost. The couple was a constant, not a variable, and suddenly it felt as though the whole formula of the world had been changed. Not that he hadn't been expecting it, but he hadn't anticipated it would feel so wrong.

It was now that Yamcha decided to take his leave. He rose from the table and thanked everyone – including Piccolo – for their support and lending an ear.

"Cheer up," Goku said. "It will all get better."

"Try to keep yourself occupied," Chichi suggested. "If you're busy you won't think about it."

"Concentrate on training," Goku said. "You'll be too busy to think about Bulma and you'll be working towards saving the Earth."

"Goodbye, Mr. Yamcha," Gohan said.

Piccolo nodded his leave from the kitchen doorway.

When Chichi sat back down she sighed heavily. "Well, that's that. I was wondering when this would finally happen."

"Why?" Gohan asked.

Chichi shrugged. "I think that this has been happening for a long time," she said. She turned to Goku. "Don't you?"

"I don't really know."

"Of course not," said Chichi bitterly. "You're hardly ever home."

An awkward silence descended upon the house and, sensing one of Chichi's rampages, Piccolo motioned for Gohan to follow him into the safety of the forest.

"Oh, come on Chi," Goku said as Gohan and Piccolo headed outside. "You know I'm sorry."

"Yes, but saving the world always comes first. Why do you always have to be such a hero?"

Goku slumped forward onto the table and rested his head in his folded arms. "Is there someone else who will do it?"

Chichi's eyes dropped to the table and she picked at a loosening sliver. "I just… I miss you so much when you're gone. And I never even know when you're going to be back to have that to look forward to."

"I'm sorry."

"No," she said after a moment. "No, don't be sorry. I guess this is partially my fault. I knew how you are before I married you, but I wanted to be with you anyway. I guess I kinda hoped I could turn you into more of a homebody, but there's no changing you, Son Goku." She looked up and smiled at him wearily. "I think I love you even more because of that, even though it's hard."

Goku grinned at her. "Plus Gohan's home," he said.

Her smile grew slightly. "He's becoming more like you everyday. Look at him with Piccolo – that's not the same boy from three years ago."

Goku turned towards the window Chichi had motioned towards and watching Gohan and Piccolo spar for a few moments before he said, "I hope Vegeta returns soon."

Chichi's mood soured immediately. "What?"

"I hope Vegeta returns soon. To Earth."


"Well… why not? I wouldn't mind training with him a bit. He must be a lot stronger after training in space for so long. He would make a great sparring partner."

Chichi threw her hands in the air. "How can you like that man? How can you want to be friends with him? He came here to kill you! Are you incapable of understanding that? Don't you get what that means? He's a murderer! If he had the opportunity he would kill you in a second!"

Goku frowned. "No, I don't think he would."

"Why not!? Because he helped you on Namek? That was only because he hated Frieza more than he hated you! Frieza was a bigger threat to him than you are. He couldn't take on Frieza by himself, but he can definitely take on you. Especially now that he's been training so much, or so everyone is saying. Why do you think he agreed to help fight the Androids? To protect Earth?" She snorted. "Not likely! He came here to destroy it, or did you forget about that tiny little detail? Why would he now be interested in its protection? I'm telling you, it's not because he wants to help us. It's because he's waiting for his opportunity to get you!"

Goku paused, still frowning in thought. Then he said, "No. I think you're wrong."

"What? Why?"

"Well… after Namek… remember when you all thought I was dead? Vegeta was here. Remember, Bulma offered him a place to stay at the Capsule Corp. but he left in Dr. Briefs' ship. Remember? I wasn't here and he could have easily destroyed the entire planet then. Nobody would have been able to stop him. But he didn't."

"He was probably waiting until he could get you into the mix."

"No," Goku said again. "If he destroyed Earth that would only bring me back here sooner. Then he would have had the advantage because he would be waiting for me and I would still be trying to figure out what had happened. No, I don't think he's planning on killing anyone. Except the Androids."

"You're far too trusting," Chichi snapped.

"I still hope he comes back soon."

"I feel horrible that Bulma has to deal with him as a houseguest. What in God's name possessed her to offer him a place to stay anyway?" she asked.

"I think Bulma and Vegeta get along a lot better than you think, Chi."

"What makes you say that? I can't imagine you spend a lot of time there. You don't even spend a lot of time here."

"I don't know. I just have a feeling."

"I think you're crazy. I'm going to bed. You can keep hoping Vegeta comes back soon. I'll keep hoping he doesn't."

As his wife exited the room, Goku's gaze shifted back to Gohan and Piccolo. They had improved so much since the news of the Androids first reached them, and yet Goku knew that they still had so far to go. He knew that they were going to need more than three years' worth of training to achieve the strength they required. It made him sad to think that all this effort and time may ultimately be in vain, that it may not be enough. Yet if he told anyone that they would only insist on working harder. He knew he was the same.

He watched as Gohan was sent tumbling head-first into the snow. His son was so strong now; he was such a tough little warrior. He knew that Gohan's full potential had only been barely uncovered. He also had a feeling that as much as Chichi openly disapproved of Gohan's training, Gohan's strength and power would prove far more vital to the Earth's safety than anyone could possibly imagine.

He was eternally grateful to Piccolo for recognizing the boy's abilities and taking it upon himself to train him. Goku had always wanted to, but Chichi had ruled against this with an iron fist. Piccolo, however, was unbending to Chichi's demands – he had no need to keep her happy. But he also recognized the change Gohan had brought about in Piccolo. Piccolo was no longer the same cold-hearted fighter Goku had first met. He was softer, more peaceful, and more fatherly. He was tough – no doubt about it. He was a strict teacher and he demanded perfection. But he wasn't hell-bent on killing Goku. He also wasn't working strictly for his own gain based on his own personal motives.

This was what Chichi didn't seem to remember. She had either forgotten or chosen to ignore the fact that Piccolo was once as equally murderous as Vegeta. Piccolo, too, had once been Goku's enemy. But now Piccolo was living in the same house. He was training in their yard. And in Goku's prolonged absence, he had provided for Gohan.

Vegeta, Goku saw, was really not all that different. In fact, he and Piccolo were very much alike. Perhaps the only difference in attitudes, as far as Goku's generalizations went, was within their individual sense of home. Piccolo had grown-up on Earth and was willing to defend the planet because it was his home. But even Goku had to admit he was unsure as to Vegeta's motives to stay. Vegeta had no connection to Earth – emotional, physical or otherwise – yet he had agreed to be a defender. He suspected it initially had something to do with the gravity room and wouldn't argue against the idea that Vegeta was only interested in using it to become stronger than Goku with the intention of defeating him. He also suspected that now it had very little to do with the gravity room and defeating Goku, and imagined that Vegeta was also trying to determine why he continued to stick around.

Nevertheless, Goku found himself wondering about Vegeta often, especially now that Bulma was a single woman. He hoped desperately that Vegeta returned to Earth soon.

Although she was exhausted, Bulma found it difficult to sleep in the following days. Although leaving Yamcha was her doing, it upset her nonetheless, and she tossed and turned at night and felt more alone than ever. Her bed had never felt bigger.

At long last she did find sleep, but even then she was plagued with upsetting dreams.

In one she was standing with Yamcha in a park, chatting with him about something. When she turned around he was gone, and although she searched all over for him he was nowhere to be found.

In her next dream she was walking hand in hand with Yamcha when he suddenly pulled away from her, looking sullen. She reached out for him but he only walked farther and farther ahead. She began to run but he disappeared and she found herself alone.

She woke up with a deep feeling of panic in her chest, and it was a long time before she fell asleep again.

Her third dream was most vivid. She was standing with the Z Fighters, Vegeta, and the boy from the future. They were waiting for Goku to return to Earth; the boy predicted he would be back within a few hours. Although she appeared relaxed enough and sipped calmly on her Coke, her mind was in turmoil.

How was it that this strange boy reached the level of a Super Saiyan? He must obviously be a Saiyan, but his colourings were wrong. Where all the Saiyans she knew were dark, he was equally as fair. There was also something strange about his arrival. How did he know when and where Frieza would return? And how was he so certain that Goku would be there in a couple of hours? It gave her the chills.

The boy looked up suddenly and his eyes met hers. She felt an instantaneous connection with him that she had never experienced before, and it startled her. She felt as though she had known him once, like he was a childhood friend who had moved away and since been forgotten. She was unsure if he felt the same, but he did look undoubtedly awkward and averted his gaze immediately.

The scene melted into her living room. She was sitting on her couch watching TV when Yamcha entered the room. He was making his way towards her when he was intercepted by a smaller figure. His back was turned to Bulma and she couldn't make out who he was, but it was obvious that Yamcha knew him from the way they began to yell.

He turned around suddenly and smirked at Bulma. How could she not have known it was Vegeta? He became clearer even before he started to walk towards her, and his eyes pierced menacingly into hers.

Behind him Yamcha's shouts became comprehensible. "You leave her alone! Don't you touch her!"

Vegeta either didn't hear or chose to ignore him because he only continued to walk closer. But despite Yamcha's apparent panic and the expression on Vegeta's face, Bulma didn't feel afraid.

There was a sudden explosion at the side of the house, and she, Vegeta, and Yamcha all looked up in unison to see two shadowy individuals standing in the smoke left by their attack. It was clear that these visitors were the Androids, even without any introduction, and Bulma found that she had stood up from her seat to face them.

A Ki blast was sent streaking by her ear and she felt suddenly terrified.

Vegeta laughed arrogantly in their faces, challenging them. Bulma had expected nothing less. The Androids rose to his challenge and turned towards him first.

Behind her, Yamcha hissed, "Bulma! Let's get out of here!"

But as he reached for Bulma's arm she moved away from him. He looked confused and frightened at the same time, and his eyes darted between her and the Androids in quick succession.

"Come on!" he said again. "We don't have much time."

But Bulma refused, and found herself standing behind Vegeta. From here she was facing the Androids head-on, and they were approaching her and Vegeta quickly. While here she was in the direct path of certain danger and probable death, she felt safer than when Yamcha reached to pull her out of the house.

Yamcha stood where he was for a few moments, before making a melodramatic speech about how much he loved Bulma, but how he wasn't prepared to simply give up his life to the Androids this early in the war the way she and Vegeta seemed prepared to do. He was going to go off and train to become stronger, and then when he returned with his allies they would surely win the fight. Wouldn't she want to be part of that victory? No, Bulma decided. So Yamcha bid her farewell, and wished her happiness in the Otherworld before speeding out of the living room just as the Androids came upon her and Vegeta.

As the Androids prepared to attack, Vegeta smirked at her over his shoulder, and Bulma felt that she had never been safer.

When she awoke, the lingering feeling of security stung her even more than her previous feeling of panic.

The days turned into weeks before Bulma and Yamcha's split became public. Bulma had expected the wave it would create among tabloids and had prepared herself for it as best she could; but when the first headline caught her eye she immediately felt the sting of tears behind her eyes. She reached out to take it from its place, her other hand reaching for the wallet in her purse. She was going to find out for herself what had been written about her and Yamcha.

"YAMCHA CHEATS ON CAPSULE CORP. HEIRESS FOR THE LAST TIME" the headline read, situated above a picture of Yamcha sitting with another woman in a restaurant. The caption underneath stated that "Briefs' boyfriend spotted with strange woman at Fratelli's restaurant in Western Capital two nights ago." Bulma stared, transfixed, at the image. It was the same picture that had circulated around tabloids almost three years before, but the pain of seeing it now was still almost as strong as it was then. It also began to slowly dawn on her that it was a blatant lie – she had not broken up with Yamcha because he had cheated on her. And suddenly all desire to read what had been printed about her vanished; if the tabloids were going to write fictitious stories with quotes from nonexistent "insiders" then she didn't care.

She felt suddenly furious and thrust the tabloid back into its place with such force and intensity that the magazine rack almost toppled over on top of her. She stopped it with her hand and righted it, and then felt almost overcome with the need to smash the entire display to the ground.

As she spun around to leave the store before she created a great deal of destruction, she was stopped by a young woman who had been watching her with a great deal of interest as soon as she had recognized her as Bulma Briefs. She had watched Bulma walk by the tabloids, and then pause as one caught her eye. And she had felt a great deal of sympathy as she realized which tabloid she was reading and watched her henceforth struggle with her emotions.

"I'm sorry," she began gently, sensing that Bulma would blow up at any second, "but I noticed that you were reading that tabloid. I can't imagine what that's like, reading lies about yourself. Especially about something so personal. I just wondered if you were okay."

"Yes, thank you," replied Bulma stiffly. She didn't want to be interrupted by this girl. She wanted to get the hell out of the store and sit in her car and cry. And then drive home at some point between tearing and feeling numb where she could cry more.

"Are you sure?" she pressed. "I don't want to pry, but you look really upset. Do you maybe want to talk about it over a coffee or something? I'm not really doing anything this afternoon."

"No, I don't want to talk about it over a coffee!" Bulma snapped. "If I wanted to do that don't you think I'd be here with my friends?"

At her tone the girl couldn't help but flare, but she forced herself to remain calm. She could genuinely understand where Bulma Briefs was coming from, and she did feel genuinely bad for the heiress. So instead she just nodded.

"If you're sure."

"I am sure."

She stepped out of Bulma's way but couldn't resist a final comment as she walked by. "Maybe Vegeta will return soon to provide some comfort."

"Vegeta doesn't provide comfort," Bulma retorted over her shoulder.

It wasn't until she was halfway to her car that the girl's comment completely sunk in. How did she know about Vegeta? How did she know that Vegeta was gone? When he first arrived, tabloids briefly mentioned him, but he was so isolated that he was rarely seen by anyone, including the paparazzi. And with no pictures to accompany a story, there was no story. Only those within the Capsule Corporation knew that Vegeta had returned "home", but Bulma was sure that woman wasn't an employee; she surely would have recognized her.

Bulma turned back towards the store to look for the woman and demand answers, but Narumi was already gone.

The tabloid stories only continued to grow worse and more common.

But perhaps the worst of them all was when a teen magazine ran an issue on the fifty hottest bachelors and bachelorettes. Bulma appeared on the cover as number one, with pictures she had done for a photo shoot nearly a year ago for an entirely different story that was never printed.

It was the fact that this magazine was reputable that made it the worst. Bulma and Yamcha's break-up was no longer a set of lies in unreliable tabloids; it was official, and now even the doubters could say for certain.