There was a smile on Bulma's face as she walked down the corridor of the hospital. For the first time in longer than she cared to admit, things actually seemed to be going quite well for her. They had checked in with Goku and the nurses as they had entered, not particularly surprised to find him leaving the cafeteria, and all reports were positive. Chi-Chi was still weak, but all things considered she was recovering quite nicely. The child, still unnamed, was also showing remarkable progress. Not fine, not even entirely safe, but the first twenty-four hours had gone better for him than they could have dared to dream. They had food, they had a plan, they had money coming in, and they had decent health. And to top it all off, Bulma was carrying a cardboard carrier full of fresh coffee in one hand and a bag full of sandwiches and snacks in the other. It might not have been the life of luxury she had been used to once upon a time, but so far as she was concerned, life was pretty damn good.
The boys had branched off before they had reached the elevator, opting to take a trip to the restroom before the group reconvened, so Bulma's happy walk down the hallway was done solo. It had been not long earlier that those same halls had terrified her. The idea of being seen or caught seemed daunting and threatening to what little they had. But they had a plan now, and they were finally back in control. Those white corridors no longer frightened her, and her walk showed her confidence.
As she rounded the corner and got within sight of Chi-Chi's room, she clearly watched Vegeta shift so he was facing away from her. She rolled her eyes, assuming that he was simply pouting that she had taken too long to bring the promised food. Closing the distance between the two of them, she smirked at the boy. "Miss me, sailor?" she teased.
Slowly he turned toward her, and she found herself sliding back slightly, startled by what she saw. He was mad, but that was hardly surprising. No, it was the true level of damage to his face that caught her. Over time she had watched him take the damage on bit by bit, and certainly had been aware of a certain level of bruising and swelling. It had been an incremental increase that, while not negligible, was not horrifying. But she had not looked him head on in longer than she cared to admit, and in the bright lights of the hospital, and him not turning at least slightly away, she finally took in the full brunt of the damage. He looked awful. If she had not been there as each step had happened, she would have sworn that he had been savagely beaten. "Oh lord…"
"What?" he sneered.
Bulma swallowed what little spit was in her mouth. "You're not okay."
His words were short and clipped, their tone leaving no question that he wanted the topic dropped immediately. But Bulma had something on her mind, and she was rarely one to let something go. "You need help."
He glared at her. "No, I do not. I am fine."
"Can you even breathe through your nose?" she pushed on. She placed the coffee container and food on the chair, freeing her hands to gently cup his face. He flinched at her touch and pushed her away, but she would not be swayed. She reached out again, and again he pushed her away. A third time she grabbed him, more aggressively than the previous attempts, and for once he did not push her back. Blue eyes narrowed as she carefully studied every aspect of his half broken face. Gently her thumbs explored his cheekbones, applying careful pressure bit by bit as she made her way in toward the areas just under his eyes. Without even being aware of it she stepped closer to allow herself a better look. Her other fingers began to aid her in her explorations, searching for clues to exactly what was done under the surface. She was unable to physically detect too much by her touch alone, but every small twitch he made told her far more.
As she tenderly inspected him, he watched her eyes. There was an intensity in them, a burning curiosity that only came when something truly captured her fascination. It was that look that convinced him that she should stay with the group. That scientific curiosity, that need to know how everything works and know everything she could about the objects in her life, had proven an invaluable asset. He had never spoken it before, and likely never would, but her whirlwind entrance into their lives had turned out to be nothing more than a miracle. They had more with her than they had ever dared dream about without her, and that was before she had been told she would have access to part of her former fortune.
A gnawing feeling began to form in his stomach as a familiar, terrible thought once more crossed his mind. She had what she needed to live life without them. She had the assets to get by and go back to the comforts she had known months earlier. If what he had picked up was accurate, she had more than enough wealth to live a borderline luxurious life…if she walked away from them. They were holding her back, and she would be a fool not to know that. If anything, they were a liability to her. The logical thing for her to do would be to simply claim her fortune and leave them behind.
She remained unaware of his worries as she continued her inspection. Another step was taken in, closing the distance between the two of them almost completely. Without intention, her arms rested on his chest and shoulders. His breath hitched slightly at the contact, and she mumbled an apology without slowing down her actions. Unconsciously he found himself leaning in toward her. That look, that curiosity, that need for knowledge, it was fascinating to watch, and he could not look away.
Slowly, Bulma found herself becoming aware of something more. Never had she been that physically close to the boy, able to touch him and gaze at him. Even with the breaks and bruising, there was no denying that he was attractive. Again she found herself swallowing, but not for the same reason. Something was warming her, exciting her, making her heart speed up. It was intense. It was dangerous. And it needed to stop.
Her cheeks had a gentle pink stain on them as she pulled back and dropped her hands. "I still think you need help," she softly told him, "but I know you're not going to listen, so just promise me that you'll track any symptoms as they come up so that we'll be able to help you properly if something goes wrong."
His face betrayed nothing as he bluntly responded with a simple, "Fine."
Suddenly feeling quite shy, she turned to the chair that she had placed their sustenance on. "Um, we grabbed a little bit of everything. I know that we've lived together for a while, but I didn't actually know what kind of stuff you like. Sorry."
The boy approached the same chair, reaching into the bag and grabbing the first sandwich he could. He issued no thanks, not even eye contact, as he unwrapped it and quietly began to eat.
Her former embarrassment already forgotten, Bulma put her hands on her hips. "Geez, you're welcome," she sneered. "So happy to serve you, you're highness." When the only response he gave was a snort of derision, she threw her arms in the air in frustration. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"What the hell is wrong with you?" he shot back. "You brought food. You offered food. I ate food. What the hell is your problem?"
"My problem is that you're being a jackass right now," she growled. "Why the hell can't you say something like 'thank you' or anything like that?"
"Why is this a problem now?" he demanded, mindful of the volume of his voice. Inside the walls of the hospital, no matter how angry he was he had to keep his tone in a certain degree of check. "When, in the time you have known me, have I ever done anything like that? Bitching about it on the first day you met me fine, whatever, I get it. I still think you're an idiot, but at least it can be somewhat rationalized. Now? Now is just insane. You have known me long enough to know what I am like. And I have done nothing wrong. You were the one that decided to grab me. You were the one who wanted to get in my face. And you were the one that offered food. Therefore you are just being a bitch, and you can blow it out your ass."
Though she was not going to admit to any wrongdoing out loud, it was hard to shoot down his arguments. She was unsure why it bothered her so much all of a sudden, but it did. He had always been a matter-of-fact sort of guy. Civil formalities had never really been part of his repertoire. Krillen had once explained his personality as one based on work and worth. If you did something that helped him he would not say thank you. He would, however, do something later to assist you. That had made sense to her, especially after she had seen it in action on several occasions. Why did it suddenly bother her?
She did not have long to contemplate that, though, as she noticed the rest of their group rounding into the hall. Her small wave to them was eagerly met by Goku, who responded with his own enormous one. The enormous teenager opened his arms and approached with a grin, looking every bit as though he was intending to hug the blue haired beauty. No one was terribly surprised, though, when instead of wrapping his arms around the girl, he grabbed the bag of food.
Raditz rolled his eyes at his brother's actions. "Seriously? Did you not just come from eating a sandwich in the cafeteria?"
"I just came from eating half a sandwich," Goku clarified. "I split it with Krillen."
"Technically," Krillen pointed out, "you ate, like, three quarters of a sandwich."
Red shot through Goku's cheeks. "You're not helping."
"I'm not trying to help," his best friend stated. "I'm trying to get dibs on the food before the human garbage disposal gets all of it."
"I'm not that bad!"
"Oh please," Raditz laughed as he wrapped an arm around Bulma's shoulders. "Kid, after you came around I learned really fast that if I didn't eat quickly, I didn't eat at all."
The cheeks got darker. "That's not fair!"
"No, not fair was the fact that if I paused," his brother went on, "you would literally take the food out of my hand."
"One time!" his younger brother cried. "And that was my drumstick and you know it!"
"Would you people shut up?" Vegeta viscously hissed.
The hallway silenced immediately, and no one dared to move. The level of hatred in his voice was downright toxic. The very air seemed to drip with his anger. The first to move after the outburst was Goku, who slowly placed the bag down on the chair. Suddenly eating no longer seemed so important. "Are you okay?" he quietly asked.
Vegeta said nothing, turning angrily and storming out of the hospital. His sandwich was left behind, only two small bites missing from it.
"Have you heard anything from him?" Chi-Chi's words were soft and full of worry as she addressed her boyfriend.
Sadly, Goku shook his head. "Nothing."
The brunette frowned. "How long has it been now?"
Krillen's voice cracked a little as he spoke, but no one made mention of it. In the past decade the two had rarely been separate for more than a few hours. They had been friends, almost brothers, who had survived together. When Vegeta had left the hospital two and a half weeks earlier, everyone had figured he had gone back to the apartment. When he did not return, it was assumed that he was pouting somewhere in the building, seeking sanctuary in one of the many abandoned rooms. But a few days after his departure, Chi-Chi had been discharged and the group, save Bulma and Raditz, returned from whence they came, and it was instantly noticeable that something was wrong.
Vegeta's belongings, what few he had, were missing. There was no note, no explanation, nothing. He was just gone.
The disappearance was quickly reported to Bulma and Raditz, but neither of them had any more information on it. They all tried to deduce where he might have gone, but no one could come up with anything. He had no home to return to, even if he had wanted to. As far as the others were aware, there were no locations that he felt connected to. His life had largely been nomadic, a state he seemed to take comfort in. All he had to his name were a few sets of clothing and a couple of books. The only other things he had any form of attachment to were the members of the group. Theories popped up that maybe, after all of the stress he had been under, he had just wanted a break from bearing the responsibilities of the group and wanted to lay low for a few days.
Nineteen days later, no one thought that any longer. As the days went on they had begun to wonder not just where he went, but if he was even okay. There were no resources at his disposal. Without the abandoned apartment, he did not even have reliable shelter. The nights were cold, and his thread bare jacket was likely not enough to keep him warm at night. Every day they looked around for any signs of him in the surrounding area, but nothing was ever found.
Each passing day their worry grew, but their talk of him dwindled. The longer he was gone, the less hope they had that he would be alright. And without anything positive to bring up, no one wanted to talk. They had too much else to focus on anyway. Chi-Chi, though discharged, was a far cry from where she had once been. Her body was still recovering from both her illness and the birth, and with limited resources in their home she was only going so fast. Between Chi-Chi off her game, Vegeta's disappearance, and Bulma no longer living in the building, Krillen and Goku found themselves working far harder than they had in a long time.
The boys had gone back to their job, and when he was not at his regular job, Raditz pitched in. But Vegeta's absence was well noticed, by both the boys and their employer. Their progress slowed dramatically, but the old man was kind and did not hold it against them. He paid each worker fairly for the day. However, he paid each boy as an individual, and without Vegeta there, the overall group income per day was usually a third lower.
Among the many stressors in their lives, amidst all the doubts, there was a definite beam of hope. Bulma was able to gain access to some of her funds, and her brief meeting with the attorneys seemed to indicate that more was coming her way than originally anticipated. She had offered to put her friends up in a motel while she was hunting for a larger home, and for the first week after her release from the hospital, Chi-Chi had taken her up on it. She had not stayed longer than she felt was necessary, though, stating that she did not want their precious windfall to be wasted on her comfort.
The child had shown great growth and improvement in his first three weeks of life, and the doctors were confident that, given time, he would be fine. He would still remain in the hospital for quite a while, though. The most recent estimates were that it would be, at minimum, another six weeks, and that was under the assumption that things went smoothly. That did not deter hope, though. Their prognosis remained positive.
Still, it was difficult to not focus on the negative. And it had taken its toll on all of the party members.
"How are you feeling?" Goku softly asked his girlfriend.
"I'm fine," Chi-Chi quickly answered. "Go check on him."
Goku frowned. He hated the situation he found himself in day after day. Chi-Chi was still a far cry from her former strength, and she needed someone with her. Their son, however, had to remain in the hospital. Chi-Chi had the strength to visit daily, but lacked the stamina to stay as long as she wanted to. Goku would often walk Chi-Chi back to the apartment, only to worry which person he needed to be with more: his recovering girlfriend, or his frail son. With Chi-Chi he could physically do things to help her. He could see the good he was doing with her, and it made him want to stay. His son, however, was far worse off, and the guilt ate away at him when he wanted to stay in the apartment. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," she insisted. "Go."
"If you need me…"
"I won't," Chi-Chi interrupted. "I'm fine, Goku, and even if something does go wrong, which we both know it won't, Krillen is here. I'm not alone. I'm fine. Go."
The frown remained, but Goku offered a nod as he quietly got to his feet and left. There were no words he could come up with any longer. All he could do was hope that when he got back, everything would have reset itself. Chi-Chi would be fine, Krillen would be happy, Vegeta would be back, and everything would be fine.
Why could things never be fine?