Disclaimer: I don't own Dragonball Z.
A/N: This is written for deviantart's DBZ-Fanfics group contest, with the theme 'timing'. If you're on DA and like DBZ fanfiction, please join the group! You can find a link on my profile :)
Bulma sighed as she stood beside Goku, watching her young daughter being thrown repeatedly in the air by 'uncle' Yamcha. Not for the first time, Bulma wondered what her children would have been like had they been fathered by her first partner instead.
And in the odd way that her mind worked, she suddenly found herself reliving her younger years, as the memories of worry, hurt and guilt came flooding back.
The night before the twenty third tournament was wet, but not cold. As they crowded around for Roshi's pep talk before bed, Bulma couldn't help staring at Goku, taking in the angles of his face, his defined jaw, and the way his t-shirt was just a little too tight for the bulging muscles underneath.
It wasn't really her fault. The last time she had seen Son, he had been a short, stocky fifteen-year-old, who still had the remnants of childhood plastered on his roundish face.
Now this man had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Who knew that three years could make such a difference? Gone were any indications of childhood; all that was left were the muscles and lush, dark hair and high cheekbones and those soft-looking lips… it made her feel sick. Sick and guilty. 'He's just a boy', she told herself, while her eyes drifted even lower, her mind wondering…
She felt nothing when Yamcha kissed her that night. No sparks, no chemistry, just these warm wet things pressing up against her own skin. It made her feel even worse.
"I'm so happy to see you again," Yamcha whispered, planting a final kiss on her forehead.
And what was she supposed to do? She was too confused to do anything but grin and reply with the same sort of remark, feeling the weight of her smile as she did so.
It was only when she turned to face the second doorway in the room that she realized she'd had a spectator all along, worry present in the dark pools of his eyes.
"Why did you lie to him?" Goku asked innocently, reminding her once again that he was just a boy.
"I didn't," she replied coolly, "I really am happy to have him back."
He looked at his bare feet for a moment, then met her eyes defiantly. "In martial arts there's a technique called the after-image…"
"I know that, Goku," she replied hotly, suddenly feeling defensive.
"…but the image is always a ghost image. It's not real; and if you look closely you can tell the difference. It's just… empty."
"And what has that got to do with anything?"
"It's your eyes, Bulma. They were empty."
Breath caught in her throat. "Are they empty now?" she whispered, dreading and longing for the answer.
The short reply echoed between them. He seemed to be waiting for something; she opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. She leaned forward, and he did too…
"Goku, you have a fight tomorrow."
Roshi's voice was harsher than usual, and they sprang apart, despite the fact that they hadn't even touched. Goku mumbled a reply and darted away; she glared at Roshi, and got a frown in return.
"He's too innocent for you, Bulma. You know that."
With Son Goku, timing is always essential. He blitzes through life so quickly that if you miss your window of opportunity, that's it. Her window opened and closed in that single night. The next day he married Chi Chi.
"Do you remember the night before the twenty third tournament, Goku?" she asked suddenly.
The answer hung between them.