Minutes to Mercury

It isn't a clear evening.

It is a bit cloudy, as it so often is at this time of year. Fine cirrus clouds float through the sky, effectively blocking much of Vegeta's view of the heavens. Besides that, West City is always well-lit; the light pollution reflects off the fine mist in the air, rendering it all the more difficult to make out the majestic constellations that Vegeta knows litter the sky beyond Earth's atmosphere.

It isn't a clear evening. Not at all suitable for stargazing. And yet, that is precisely what Vegeta is doing. Lying on his back upon the curved roof of the domed Capsule Corp compound, looking to the sky, as if it holds the answers that have eluded him for decades. He smiles bitterly and mentally scolds himself for such notions. He has been among many of those stars, having traversed solar system after solar system in his time under Frieza's command. He knows full well that no answers lie in the murky depths of space's vacuum. Not for him, anyway.

Between the light pollution and the clouds, it's difficult to make out many stars. But the planets, those are relatively easy to see—they twinkle far brighter than stars at this time of night. Vegeta sees one planet in particular stand out against the dark, grayish blue sky. He does not need to consult any astronomical guides to know that it is Mercury.

Vegeta has always known his way around astral maps.

He turns his head a bit, focusing his attention on Mercury. He knows that it's a wretched, abandoned husk of a planet, a barren oven. Though surely astronomers would notice, Vegeta sincerely doubts that anyone would actually care if he flew into space and destroyed the crater-laden sphere with little more than a flick of his wrist.

This leads to a whole new line of thought.

One-hundred-twenty. That is how many planets Vegeta has destroyed, either by emptying them of their populations or blasting them apart entirely. In the twenty-four years he spent ruled by Frieza, he destroyed dozens upon dozens of populated worlds. He idly wonders how many planets Majin Buu, in all his murderous insanity, annihilated before his demise.

Vegeta smiles sardonically at himself. Was he really better than that pink, blubbery monster?

This morning, he had not been. At least, not according to the gatekeepers of heaven and hell. Vegeta hadn't been surprised, exactly, when upon his death he had been stripped of his body and sent to the depths of the underworld. He knew he probably had it coming, and stoically accepted that judgment.

Still, Vegeta thinks there's something obnoxiously presumptuous of King Yemma. Sitting behind his desk, sending souls above or below based on his assessment of their lives. It's not that Vegeta has a problem with eternal damnation per se. It simply rubs him the wrong way that another man should be his judge, jury, and executioner, all rolled into one.

He got enough of that from Frieza, after all.

Vegeta shakes his head. He wonders if he would have been so annoyed had Yemma granted him salvation. He sincerely believes that he would be.

He thinks back to the final stage of the fight against Buu, when he instructed Porunga to resurrect all the innocent victims of the past few days' bloodshed. He snorts to himself as he recalls his own halo disappearing at that moment. Kakarrot had such an obnoxious, shit-eating grin when he discovered that Porunga had apparently decided that he was "one of the good guys." Considering he'd been languishing in hell mere hours before, this came as, to put it mildly, something of a surprise to Vegeta. But the startled expression on his face and his subsequent sputtering were not merely signs of shock. He'd been irritated.

Not that Vegeta was particularly fond of hell. But as far as Vegeta is concerned, his redemption, like his damnation, is not for anyone else—even the Eternal Dragon—to grant.

Mercury glitters at him, bringing Vegeta back to the present. He wonders how a planet that is so barren can possibly sparkle like this. How, millions of miles away, something so dead can seem so alive.

A smooth, feminine voice interrupts his thoughts. "That can't be comfortable." Vegeta tilts his head to see his mate poking her head though the now open skylight built into the roof. She is standing on a tall stepladder. Even in the dim light, Vegeta can make out the lines under her bright blue eyes—the woman is clearly exhausted.

Not that he can blame her. It's been a long day.

"What can't?" he finally asks.

"Lying on the roof like that," she responds calmly. "The roof's curved."

Vegeta rolls his eyes. "I hadn't noticed."

She ignores his sarcastic response. "It can't be good on your back." She pauses as Vegeta looks away, once again turning his gaze to the night sky. "What are you doing? Looking at stars?"

He replies without looking at her. "Planets mostly. Too much light pollution to see many stars."

"I know." She climbs the last few steps of the ladder, making her way onto the roof. Carefully, she steps barefoot toward Vegeta.

He sits up, looking at her. "You could fall," he says evenly, trying to keep the concern out of his voice.

She places her hands on her hips, frowning down at him. "You're lying here."

"I can fly."

"And you can catch me."

Vegeta snorts at that. "Do you really want to stake your life on that?"

"Lemme think about it." She hums for a moment and gets a strange glint in her eyes, one that Vegeta knows can mean nothing good. Then, without warning, she takes a running leap off the roof with a yelp.

Vegeta acts before he can think. His heartrate has easily doubled by the time he catches her by the waist, mere meters from the ground. He glares at her viciously. She just giggles like a child as he flies them back onto the roof, and his heartbeat begins to slow.

He sets her down on the crest of the curved roof. She takes a moment to regain her balance as he narrows his eyes at her. "What were you thinking!?" he yells, a distinct twitch coming to his right eye.

She gives him a self-satisfied grin. "Told you you'd catch me."

Vegeta clenches his teeth and pinches the bridge of his nose. He doesn't know what amazes him more—that the woman has, once again, shown him up, or that she would literally risk breaking her neck to do so. It only validates what he has believed for years: his mate is a complete lunatic.

Vegeta cannot think of an appropriate response. So he simply declares, through gritted teeth, "You're an idiot."

To his annoyance, she laughs again. "I'm married to you, aren't I?"

Vegeta releases his grip on his nose. "Dumbest thing you've ever done." The comment is somewhat introspective, directed at himself as much as it is to his wife.

Bulma's tone softens to match his voice. "Probably." Her smirk becomes a smaller, more genuine smile. "So, mind if I join you?"

Vegeta sighs and turns away from her, lying on the roof once again. He places his hands under his head and scootches down the roof a bit, trying to find a more comfortable position. "As if I have a choice in the matter."

The woman's smile widens. "You're learning." She lies down next to him, her posture mimicking his.

A warm, companionable silence falls between the two of them. Vegeta turns his attention to Mercury once more. His thoughts move with no particular direction or purpose. He simply stares, enjoying the display of light rendered by the reflection of the planet against the Earth's sky.

Bulma clears her throat, once again breaking into the prince's thoughts. "So," she begins tentatively, "I learned something today."

Vegeta does not turn his head to face her. Still, against his better judgment, he takes the bait. "What's that?"

"Dying?" She pauses for a moment, letting the word sink in. "Sucks."

It's such a ridiculous, hilarious understatement that Vegeta can't help but laugh. He has gone through the process twice already, after all. Neither time was particularly pleasant. "You're telling me," he says, amusement still apparent in his voice.

Silence descends once again. Bulma scoots a few inches closer to Vegeta. It's a matter of minutes before he notices that she is staring at him intently.

"What?" he asks, making eye contact with her once again. His nose is mere inches from hers; he can feel her breath on his face, and he's sure she can feel his. Still, they aren't touching.

She bites her lip, looking away for a split second. "Goku told me what you did."

Involuntarily, Vegeta swallows. "What are you talking about?" He thinks he's faced enough demons—literally and figuratively—for one day. The last thing he needs now is a confrontation regarding his willingness to allow that wizard to possess him. To abandon, albeit temporarily, the life he had built on this small, blue planet.

The response is not what Vegeta expects. "On the Kai's planet. How you came up with that plan to kill Majin Buu. And held off Buu long enough for Goku to gather the Spirit Bomb."

He turns away again, a soft sigh of relief coming to his lips. "One of us had to use his head," he says simply, hoping she will drop the matter.

Bulma laughs again. The sound is different than her earlier giggles. It's sardonic, almost bitter. "You know," she says with no small measure of exasperation, "I really wish you'd pick a side and stick to it."

Vegeta rolls his eyes, opting to diffuse the moment with sarcasm. "Oh, believe me, I'm stuck."

"Very funny." Bulma huffs indignantly, but Vegeta know that her irritation is more an act than anything else. He's learned over the years how to tell when she's being sincere.

Before Vegeta can protest, Bulma scoots over a few more inches. Without his permission, she drapes one arm across his chiseled abdomen and rests her head on his shoulder.

Vegeta raises an eyebrow. "What do you think you're doing?"

She closes her eyes. Something like contentment enters her voice. "Giving you unwanted physical affection."

"Who said you could do that?" Vegeta glares at her, but the attempt is half-hearted. He can't bring himself to mind too much.

"It's in the marriage license," she responds. "Fine print's a killer."

"Oh?" he asks, going along with her little game. "Are there any other hidden clauses I should know about?"

"For now?" She opens her eyes again. "Just the one that says you have to reciprocate the aforementioned physical affection."

Vegeta bites back a chuckle. "Really now."

"Oh yeah. I'm a businesswoman, Vegeta. I know my way around contracts."

"Fair enough." Vegeta doesn't put up a fight; he just slips his right arm around Bulma's waist. She responds by nuzzling deeper into his shoulder.

She hums in contemplation. "Mercury's bright tonight."

"Yes," Vegeta agrees. "It is." He isn't surprised that her attention is turned to the same planet he had been focused on earlier. Right now, it's the brightest object in the sky.

"Funny," she says, tilting her head up slightly. "It looks so alive from here. When it's really just a big, dead shell."

Vegeta starts a bit at that. He really has been spending too much time around her. "Woman, you'd do well to stay out of my head."

She looks at him again, genuine confusion apparent on her delicate features. "What?"

Vegeta shakes his head. "Nevermind." It isn't worth explaining, really.

Bulma frowns, but opts to let it go. "You're a strange man, you know that?"

Vegeta almost laughs. Like she's just noticed. "I'm married to you, aren't I?" He intentionally echoes her earlier comment.

She nods against his shoulder. "Smartest thing you've ever done."

Vegeta's response slips out before he has time to think about it. "Probably." Bulma is obviously surprised by his assent; she falls completely silent.

Vegeta closes his eyes. Mercury continues to twinkle against his eyelids. He knows that the scorched planet is not especially far away. A Saiyan space pod would have him on Mercury's surface in under an hour. And he knows that Bulma still has one of the spaceships, complete with a Saiyan ship engine, locked up in her massive underground laboratory.

It would be so easy to run away.

And yet, he doesn't have any particular reason to leave. He has no reason to abandon this lush, green world for the heated craters of Mercury's face. Or for any other world, if he's completely honest with himself.

With that realization, Vegeta wonders when, exactly, the Earth became more than a temporary pitstop. When the oversized compound beneath him became his home. When Trunks stopped being merely his offspring and became his son. When this obnoxious, loud woman stopped being his on-again, off-again bedmate and became his mate.

He wonders when it was he stopped planning on running away. He wonders when he stopped wanting to run.

His eyes snap open as Bulma places a small kiss upon the tip of his nose. He sees that her pale eyes are looking intently into his. As if to answer the questions bouncing around his head, she speaks again. "I love you."

Vegeta doesn't respond with the words he knows she wants—if not expects—to hear. But neither does he push her away, or roll his eyes, as he does so frequently. Instead, he tightens his grip around her waist. He is rewarded with her smile.

Years ago, he might have been irritated by her incessantly interrupting his thoughts. This time around, though, he decides that introspection is overrated. So he doesn't turn away from her. And he doesn't complain when his mate leans up to him and presses her lips to his.

Vegeta still thinks that his redemption is not for anyone else—even fate itself—to determine. But as he closes his eyes and kisses back, he realizes that he has been given a second chance. One he'd be a complete fool not to take. He is finally the master of his own destiny.

He's slowly coming to accept that nothing he could possibly want lies out among those stars. He is coming to accept that maybe, lying on this domed roof with this infinitely infuriating woman, this is where he's supposed to be. So he parts his lips, deepens the kiss, and pulls her just a bit closer.

He doesn't even notice when Mercury dips behind a cloud.