Chapter 65- Loose Ends

"Mom!" Bulma looked up from the scribbled-up notebook before her. She had been staring at the equation for so long that even she could hardly decipher what she had written. "We're home!"

"Hi, honey." Bulma called back, glancing out of the window to see that the sky was still the deep orange of Iro's typical late afternoon. She blinked. She had expected Trunks to stay much later at the arcade. Perhaps it was closed? Leaning back in her chair, she looked toward the door. It wasn't until she saw the other person standing beside her son that she registered that he'd said "we."

"Gure!" Bulma blinked in surprise, but then immediately realized why the other woman would be there. That didn't explain the woman's red face and teary eyes though. She rose from her chair and took a few steps toward the pair. "Gure, what…what's the matter?"

Gure met Bulma's concerned gaze with a slightly hostile one. "What do you mean 'what's the matter?' Tarble's dead. Hadn't you heard?"

Bulma sighed. "Yes, but…" She looked over to her son. "Trunks, why wouldn't you…"

"She didn't give me time to explain, mom." He ran a flustered hand through his hair. Given the way it was now sticking up, she could only assume that he'd been repeating that motion for quite some time. "She pulled me out of the arcade in front of all my friends. She was so determined to see Kurenai. And I couldn't explain it on the train."

The small alien woman looked up between them. Her small doll-like body made it seem like she should be perpetually cheerful. Should be. She wasn't now. "Explain what?" She asked suspiciously. "What's there to explain?"

Trunks disappeared back down the short flight of stairs that led to the front door, and Bulma heard the deadbolt on the door click. A moment later, Trunks reappeared. He cast Bulma a glance that let her know that he expected her to do the talking. It was one of those times that Bulma suddenly realized just how grown up he had become. He was almost her height now, with strong shoulders, and serious eyes that made schoolgirls—and some older women—stop and stare wistfully. Trunks shrugged off his school jacket and tossed it onto the couch before heading toward the kitchen.

Bulma looked back to Gure. How painful it must be for her to think that Tarble would never be coming back. She remembered back from her youth, before death had lost its meaning for her, having felt such pain once or twice. It was such a vague, distant memory though... "Gure…" Bulma started. "The dragonballs. We're going to wish everyone back to life with the dragonballs."

Gure's eyes squinted in confusion. "Dragon…balls? What…?"

"I'm sure you heard of them. When you came to Earth, and the boys were telling all their stories…"

"The magic balls!" Gure squeaked.

"Yes. They have the power to bring people back to life."

Gure was silent for a moment before continuing. "Do they really…? With…with no…side effects?"

Bulma nodded with a smile. "Mmhm. Five years ago when Majin Buu and Bobbiti came to Earth, they killed everyone and destroyed the entire planet…Long story short, the boys had everything wished back with the dragonballs."

Gure blinked as if she couldn't comprehend such a thing.

"It is hard to believe. But…you've seen proof, yourself. You saw Vegeta's execution, right?"

Gure slowly nodded. "I saw talk of it on the news afterward."

"Well he did die." Bulma said frankly. "We wished him back. The dragonballs are the reason that he's alive again."

Gure blinked. "So…Vegeta's not immortal?"

Despite herself, Bulma choked out a surprised laugh. "Fortunately not."

"Mom!" Trunks, now leaning against the kitchen doorway with a plate of food in his hands, sent her a surprised look.

Bulma only sent him an amused smile. "Oh honey, don't give me that look. You didn't know him during the time that he was trying to gain immortality. He was insufferable. And in any case, if he'd succeeded, you would have never been born."

He furrowed his eyebrows in thought, and she turned back to her sister-in-law.

On Gure's face was a look of wonder, and her red-rimmed eyes fixed on Bulma's clear blue ones. "So you're saying that these balls have the power to fix all the damage brought by the war, and to bring everyone who died back to life?"

Bulma's jaw dropped slightly, and she felt a hint of red on her cheeks. "Well…uhh. They might, but…" Oh boy, how would she phrase this? "We...we can't bring everyone who died back to life."

Gure cocked her head with a somewhat distrusting look. "What do you mean?"

"Well the dragonballs can only bring people back if they've died within the past year. Once a person is dead more than a year, the dragonballs can't do anything. We couldn't have brought everyone back anyway. And…and even if we brought back everyone who died in the past year, we'd have to erase their memories of how they died. It would…"

"So you're just bringing back your family and friends, is that it?" Gure asked flatly.

"When you say it like that, it sounds…" Bulma trailed off.

Gure didn't supply a word for her, but her expression was unimpressed.

Bulma frowned. She sent a glance to Trunks only to see that he was wearing a clearly guilty expression. It was true that Trunks had spent more time on Iro than she had. He had made more friends, and Bulma knew that many of his friends had lost loved ones in the war. It was natural. Iro was the center of the Empire, the place where warriors congregated, statesman met, and refugees flocked for protection. They should know. They were included somewhere in that tally.

Bulma knew that what Trunks was feeling was like survivor's guilt. Everything would work out okay for him, but not for his friends. Trunks got his father back, but many of his friends would have to live the rest of their lives without theirs.

"I suppose we could…" Bulma started, pensive. "We could do what we can to bring back as many people as possible."

Trunks spoke up suddenly, cutting off whatever Gure might have said. "But mom…how would we keep the dragonballs a secret?" Still leaning against the doorway, he looked every bit like his father. "What if people don't understand what's happened and start a huge witch-hunt? What if people who are revived are picked up for experimentation? We could pass dad off as immortal, but I don't think the universe is going to accept thousands of people coming back to life without question."

"But…" Gure started, but Trunks cut her off again.

"I'm sorry, Aunt Gure, but we shouldn't do it. It's just too…how can I say…There are just so many reasons!" He shook his head in irritation with himself at not being able to find the words he was looking for. "Look, when dad died, every second of every day, I waited for him to walk back through the door—all the while knowing that he wouldn't until he was revived with the dragonballs. These people don't know about the dragonballs, and it has been stressed over and over to me and Goten that they can't know about the dragonballs. If we bring some people back, it will be like a miracle for some families. But the others, they'll keep on waiting, expecting a miracle that will never happen. Wouldn't that just prolong their pain and keep them from healing? Or worse, make them bitter against the people who came back. Because when you think about it, in this past year, the death toll has been way lower than in the previous years. The dragonballs are only capable of bringing back a small percentage of the people who were killed."

Bulma felt tears stinging her eyes. When had her son grown up? It had happened right before her eyes, and somehow she had missed it. He had matured so much in these past few years, she realized. The grinning boy was still there, but now he had his father's tactical mind. And a painful childhood to teach him cold pragmatism. She suddenly realized that a child his age should not know so much about the pain of loss—whether or not he understood the true meaning of death. She realized suddenly that she should have done more to shield him.

"Aunt Gure," Trunks continued, not noticing his mother's blotched cheeks and wet eyes. His small aunt was standing sadly in the middle of the living room as if already resigned to the injustice of the universe. "I know it's unfair, but it may be better to leave things the way they are. The war that has gone on for so long is finally over, and all along it was all about power. Dad says that the dragonballs hold the power to do far more evil than Hui ever did. When people start questioning how some people were brought back to life and not others, they might eventually figure out that the dragonballs were involved. The dragonballs have been a carefully guarded secret specifically because every time people find out about them, the Earth is invaded or a war starts."

"It's still unfair." Gure said. "If they're so powerful, can't you just erase-"

"Everyone's memories? Technically yes, but...Look, after the Earth was destroyed a few years ago, my dad and Goku wished everyone back to life, but they also erased everyone's memories of what had happened. We realized when the Tik invaded Earth that that was a mistake. Dad said that when the Tik came to the Earth, the Earthlings didn't know who to side with because they had always been lied to and sheltered from the universe outside. They distrusted us because they didn't believe in super powers, and they distrusted both empires because they couldn't remember ever seeing aliens before. They had no idea how powerful or cruel the Tik could be, because they had intentionally cut themselves off from contact with the universe outside. Millions of Earthlings ended up getting slaughtered by the Tik because the Earthlings were too ignorant about the universe to know how to respond.

"Ms. Catibi says that's the whole point of history is that we should remember these things. We should remember how terrible these power struggles can be so that we can avoid them in the future. The universe should learn to live with the scars from their battles, and they should learn from them to prevent wars like this from happening ever again. It's a terrible decision to have to make, but it's very likely that if we wish everyone who's been killed in the past year back to life, we'll only be doing more harm than good. We need to leave this one alone."

"Trunks…honey." Bulma choked out. Her face was now streaked with tears. "I never knew that all this had affected you so much." She opened her arms to pull him into a hung.

"Huh?" He blinked at her, a look of surprise on his face. Suddenly realizing what he'd said, he blushed and chuckled. "Oh that? Ms. Catibi made us write an essay on why history matters. I may have...borrowed a bit from a conversation with Han'nei. Actually," He flushed under his mother's stern gaze. "Most of that was a mixture of things dad and Han'nei said. With a few of my adjustments, of course."

Bulma's outstretched arms dropped back to her sides with a loud clap. "Han'nei?"

"Oh. Umm…Well...you see...I…may have asked her...once...if she'd had the choice of bringing everyone who died this past year back to life, what she would choose. She gave me a lecture on the lessons of war and learning from our mistakes and all that. The part about people not healing because they keep expecting a miracle that will never happen was also from her."

Bulma's face fell. It would figure that the one time her son said something moving and insightful, he would just be repeating what his little girlfriend said. And then here was another problem. "Han'nei knows about the dragonballs?" Trunks's eyes grew even wider.

"Well…Not…in those terms. I just mentioned powerful magical artifacts." His face grew pale as his mother's eyes narrowed. "But she's promised not to tell a soul about them!"

Bulma brought a hand up to pinch the bridge of her nose. "I can't believe you told your girlfriend, Trunks! We talked about this."

"She…she's not my girlfriend!" He squeaked, turning bright red.

"Oh Trunks, honestly!" Bulma snapped.

As mother and son launched into furious squabble, Gure stood between them in silence. She didn't accept Trunks's argument, but she could see that her opinion mattered little here. These people were strange, with strange ideas, and strange priorities. It wasn't the first time that she'd realized just how much of an outsider she was to Tarble's brother's family. They were used to playing with power behind her imagination, and they did it as if it were commonplace. It was a world she would never understand.

Gure let her shoulders sag and then dropped onto the black leather couch behind her. She had nowhere else to go, really. These people might be strange, but they were family. Even if she may resent the fact that they wouldn't at least try to bring as many people back as possible—reunite as many families as possible—they were going to bring Tarble back. It may be selfish, but she would take what she could get.


The security footage was boring. Hui had fallen into a seemingly-exhausted slumber, curled on his side on the tile floor, his arm cradled against his chest and his burned face almost relaxed. Although Kurenai had had no real desire to speak with Hui—to gloat or otherwise—she had requested to be patched into the surveillance feed for the room Hui was being held in. She—or one of her minions—was no doubt watching said feed right now.

Vegeta had had no contact with the ex-emperor after his initial visit. He knew that Midori had reluctantly paid Hui a visit though—several actually. Almost immediately upon seeing the young man on the surveillance feed, seeing his broken, burned face, his mutilated arm, his bloodied shoulder, Kurenai had reminded Vegeta and Midori that, even if such standards were not held elsewhere, it was Krimzon policy to treat prisoners of war humanely. It had been an offhanded reminder, as if Kurenai couldn't care less. But rules were rules. Vegeta had flat out refused to play either nurse or maid to Hui, citing the fact that he was technically no longer Krimzon, but was in a limbo land somewhere between Krimzon savior, traitor, and Tik Emperor.

Midori had been stuck with the task of bandaging and feeding Hui—having failed to pass the task off to any of the Earthlings. Hui was now sporting white bandages on his arm, shoulder, and face, and was being fed three meals a day of cheap, packaged noodles.

Vegeta turned his eyes away from the surveillance footage of Hui's "room" and studied the footage from the other cameras. The rest of the ship was still.

It had been still all day, actually. The day had passed without incident, time seeming to warp and race until Kakarott surprised him yet again with the news that it was his turn in the control room. He hadn't put up a fuss this time. There was nothing else to do on the ship anyway. He'd just as well go and be bored in the control room.

Vegeta's bare feet were propped on the control panel now, legs crossed at the ankle. Slumped in his chair, he looked every bit as tired as he felt. Not that he was exhausted…Had he been human, he could have likened the feeling to the lethargy one associates with a bad cold. Since he rarely experienced such common illnesses though, this feeling was entirely new to him. He didn't know how to cope with it without a mild sense of panic. What exactly was this stone draining? Would its side effects be permanent? After Hui had taken it off, he hadn't seemed to notice a difference. What if it was in fact the stone that had changed Hui? What if it was also slowly changing Vegeta as well? And what if those changes were permanent?

Vegeta decided once again that he hated magic. It was like the Potara earrings all over again. How he remembered the horror when, after he'd agreed to wear the thing, Goku had finally decided to tell him that the earrings' effects were permanent. And now this necklace. Where it came from and what exactly it did, he had no clue. Neither did Hui, apparently, despite the fact that he'd been wearing it for twelve years.

Vegeta's frown deepened. People had no business dabbling in things they didn't understand.

A muted drama was airing on a small TV to his left. Vegeta tried to focus on it, tried to lose himself in the over-dramatic acting and under-developed plot, but his mind was drifting. His eyes drifted away from the screen to rest on the viewport. Stars and space dust were flying by. It was a familiar view. One that he'd grown up with, and despite all the negative memories and feelings that were associated with it, he found the view oddly calming.

His mind began to drift. In his mind's eye, images were flashing. Kurenai, Kurenai, Kurenai. Over the months that he'd been with her, he'd always noticed that odd gleam in her eye, that lust, whenever he'd done something remarkable, but he'd never thought anything of it. Now, he was reanalyzing every time she'd looked at him that way. Had it only been a look of excitement at having a weapon strong enough to finally win the war, or had it been something more? Something more sinister? He always knew Kurenai had a mischievous side, but now he was starting to wonder if she had a darker one as well.

He suddenly remembered standing in Hui's stadium on planet Loth just after he'd transformed into a Super Saiyan for the first time in front of Hui. He remembered the look on Hui's face then, and he remembered thinking that in that moment, Hui looked just like Kurenai.

He still thought so, and that's what was worrying him. He didn't know if he could trust Kurenai with that kind of power. It wasn't that he thought Kurenai was evil. It was just that power corrupted, and this necklace obviously had a corrupting effect. He had to figure out how to keep his end of the bargain without actually giving her the necklace.

But he was just so tired.

He was tired of thinking, tired of scheming, of trying to one-up the next person just to keep himself out of hot water. He just wanted it to be over. He wanted to live his own life without being ordered about all the time.

He tried to keep his spirit up. He could do it. He always figured a way. He just had to do this one last thing—he just had this one last puzzle to solve, and he'd be free. If only he had some idea how.

He'd painted himself into a corner, and he knew it. Dragonballs weren't going to fix this one.

The silence was annoying now. Space was always quiet, but now the top-notch technology only emitted the faintest of whirring and buzzing. Although he was fairly certain that the rest of the "crew" wasn't asleep, whatever they were doing, there weren't making any noise. He was completely and utterly alone.

He looked at the clocks on the control panel. He couldn't remember how time was read on Trinuto, but it was mid-morning on Iro. Slowly, his arms uncrossed, and his hand reached out to the scouter sitting on top of the control panel. Slowly, hesitantly, he punched in her number.

His nervousness nearly led him to cancel the call before she answered, but he forced himself to put the scouter to his ear. She answered after a few beeps—too early, actually. He wasn't sure he was ready to talk to her, but it was too late now.

"Vegeta?" Her voice made his heart jump.

"Yeah."

"Where are you?"

"Still on the ship." Where else would he be?

"Has something happened?"

"No."

"Why don't we switch to video chat?" She said suddenly.

Without even waiting for him to respond, hung up.

He pulled his scouter away from his ear and glared at it for a moment. He had just made such a heroic effort to give the woman a call—against his better judgment, he might add—and she went and hung up on him? He sat in silence for a moment, waiting for her call. It only took a few seconds for him to realize that she would have had no idea what the number to the ship's video chat was. She'd apparently just assumed he would call her. He frowned again, and grumbling, typed in the number for his apartment on Iro.

Bulma answered after two beeps, a small, slightly smug smile on her face—as if it were a cute feat to have gotten him to call her

She'd clearly been in research-mode if the oversized sweatshirt and messy ponytail were any indication. The orange sunlight streaming through the window lit up the stray blue wisps of hair that had escaped her ponytail. As she sat back on the couch, pulling her legs up onto the cushions, she studied him, "You look tired." It was hardly a difficult conclusion to come to. Weeks of poor sleep as a spy within Hui's ranks, a major battle, and then the necklace...The stone was draining his energy as fast as he replenished it.

He just shrugged. With his feet propped on the console, he seemed at ease, as if nothing could trouble him at all.

"Are you having trouble sleeping?" She asked

He huffed out a laugh. "No."

She raised an eyebrow in that way she did when she thought he was lying.

"I'm serious…" He said, and then scanned the room behind her. "Is anyone with you?"

She cocked her head curiously. "No…Trunks is out with his friends. Gure's here." She shifted.

He blinked. "Oh."

"But she hasn't come out of Trunks's room since last night. What's going on?"

He shifted, dropped his eyes to his lap, then darted them to the door again. Bulma waited patiently, knowing that if it took him this long to come out with it, it must be something important. "I've got a problem." He finally grumbled.

"Oh." She appeared surprised. Uncrossing her legs, she leaned forward eagerly. "Okay, well…I'll do what I can to help."

He scowled. "I don't…I didn't want your help." He clarified. "I just didn't want to think about it anymore…Need a distraction." The last part came out in a mumble.

She frowned. "Uh huh." She said skeptically. "Well, we need to talk anyway." She smiled a bit. "Vegeta, I know we didn't really discuss this, but some things just happen. You see, I—"

He knew what was coming. He knew, but he really didn't want to talk about this now. "No!" He dropped his feet from the console and raised his hands in front of him. "No." He repeated firmly. "If it's about that, just, no. Later." He assured her. "And I know already." He could practically hear his blood pressure skyrocketing.

Bulma's lip stuck out in a pout. "How could you—?"

"It was in the news."

She growled in irritation. "The news?! Oh, of course. I—" He brought a hand up to rub his eyes in frustration, and she cut herself off. "You really don't want to talk about it? It's kind of…monumental."

He closed his eyes and shook his head. When he opened them again, it was to see the hurt written clear on her face.

"Later." He promised. "One thing at a time."

"Well," She crossed her arms with a huff. "What do you want to talk about then?"

He scowled. Something that won't give me a migraine. That was apparently unavoidable, though, so he took a deep calming breath and pulled the necklace out of his shirt. "I've promised Kurenai to hand over control of the Tik Empire. This is the pendant Hui wore." Bulma furrowed her brows in non-comprehension, so he clarified. "The stone in it powers all of the Tik technology everywhere, including Meiyochi, Myomoshu, and soldiers' chips."

She leaned forward as if it might help her to see it better. "Fascinating."

"It's what's allowing me to control the Tik Empire right now."

"Is the stone really that powerful?" She asked. "Is it magic?"

"No." He answered, before amending. "Well yes, it's probably magic, but it's running on my energy."

"Oh." She blinked, and then studied him again. "Oh, I see." The pallor, the rings under his eyes, they made sense to her now.

"Yes, every piece of Tik technology that is used to control something, everything with the mysterious power-source that we didn't understand, all of that is now running on my energy."

Her eyes widened. He waited a moment to let her digest the enormity of that statement. He'd just told her that he was controlling virtually half the universe with his Ki alone. That would undoubtedly take a few minutes for her to…

"Wait!" Suddenly, she rocketed off the couch. Excitement was written clearly on her face, as she turned and bolted away from the screen. He blinked in surprise at her odd reaction, and then watched in confusion as she made her way toward the table—now cluttered with boxes and stacks of papers.

He took a minute to scan the apartment around her, noticing more than one coffee cup and various haphazard papers littered around. He'd left the woman the run of his apartment for a few weeks, and already she'd turned it into a disaster area.

Bulma mumbled to herself, flinging open boxes and rummaging through them.

"What are you doing?" He called in annoyance. Seriously, he comes to her with a problem for once, and she just skips away to play with her machines?

"Looking for—Aha!" Finally, she seemed to have found what she was looking for. "It's blue!" Ignoring the machine parts and notebooks that now littered the floor, she scrambled back to the couch and then held her discovery up for him to see. It was a blue stone.

He merely raised an eyebrow at it, and looked to her for a clarification. "Yes, and…?"

"It was green before." She insisted. "I hadn't noticed that it had changed. I pulled this out of a Meiyochi. It was green. It's been green all along. Back on Earth, you'd told me that it was Hui's power running it, that you'd felt his power in the stone but I…wow, this is just fascinating!" She held it up for a closer look and turned it between her fingers. "Now it's your energy powering it, so it's changed colors." She pulled a notebook seemingly from thin air and began scribbling something down. "How does Ki interact with the color spectrum? Do you know? Is it the density of the energy particles that gives a person's Ki its color? Or maybe the temperature?"

She finally looked back to him. His clearly un-amused face was enough to let her know that he had not appreciated her brief scientific detour.

"Sorry…" She cleared her throat, and hurriedly stashed the notebook at her side. "You were saying?"

He huffed. "The stone is a problem." He said, crossing his arms loosely across his chest. "Not only does it actually give the wearer the power to control the Tik Empire, but it makes the wearer feel like they should control everything. It's destructive. The power…it seems endless. Even Kakarott noticed. He only touched it for a moment, and he said that it made him feel as though he should conquer the universe and rule it."

"Really? Goku?" She furrowed her eyebrows. "That doesn't sound like—"

"It's the stone." He said. "It gives the wearer more power than any one person should have." He sighed. "I can't give this to Kurenai."

Bulma frowned. So that's what he'd called for. The one time he actually came to her with a problem and it had to be this? "So what will you do? You promised…"

"I know what I promised." He snapped. "I don't…I don't know yet. I can't give it to her because I don't really trust her…enough. But I can't not give it to her because…"

"That's the price of your freedom." She finished.

He shrugged, seeming to sag in his chair.

She frowned. "How much energy is that draining?" She asked. "Are you sure you're okay to keep wearing it? Do you at least take it off to sleep?"

He shook his head. "If it loses contact with me, my control disappears."

"Right, but could you maybe let Goku wear it for a little while."

"No." He snapped.

"Not for long." She insisted. "Just to let you recharge, and…" She held up the stone that she'd put on the coffee table. "Long enough for me to see—"

"No!" He snapped again.

She pouted.

"Well you've still got over a week until you get back to Iro. We'll think of something. I think the place to start would be to watch the video of the end of the fight again, and see the exact wording of what your deal was. I don't recall you mentioning the necklace at all. Do you?"

He straightened a bit. "I…I don't know." He blinked. "I can't remember."

"Well if you didn't promise her the necklace itself, then there won't be a problem."

He blinked again in surprise. And to think he'd been brooding for hours-days even-about this very problem. It was truly a testament to how drained he was that he hadn't thought of that. "Hm…"

"I'll track down a video later, and go back through it."

He nodded. "Yeah. Later." He could probably do the same from the ship, but not without people looking over his shoulder.

A silence fell between the two. Neither of them seemed to want to continue talking about his little predicament, but neither wanted to hang up.

Suddenly Bulma straightened, and seemingly out of nowhere an excited, somewhat amazed expression lit her face. "Trunks monologued yesterday!" She exclaimed.

"He…did what?" Vegeta cocked an eyebrow, not sure if he and Bulma had the same definition of 'monologue'. Certainly Trunks would never…

"He gave an impromptu speech to Gure in the middle of our living room." Bulma shook her head as if she was still trying to wrap her mind around that.

Vegeta just blinked, his eyes wide and disturbed. "…why…?"

"I know!" Bulma said, noting his expression. "I was blown away. He…he actually listens to what we say." She waved her hands. "It's like…you know how sometimes when you talk to him, you feel like you're talking to a wall?"

Vegeta blinked. "No, not really. A hyperactive chimp maybe, but go on."

"But he listens! I swear!" She was all amazement. "He was all, 'dad says this,' and 'Han'nei says that.' He even referenced his history teacher."

"Huh…" Vegeta could see her eyes go watery, and he suddenly remembered how much he hadn't missed the mood swings from her first pregnancy.

"I was just…I was stunned." Bulma continued. "To think that all this time's he's been putting so much stock in what you and I—", Suddenly her face dropped. Her wistful, proud, starry-eyed gaze became indignant. "You know, now that I think back, he didn't reference me at all in his speech. Dad this, Han'nei that, Ms. Catibi this. But what about me? He didn't mention me once. Where were my words of wisdom?"

Whether it was her words themselves or the indignant pout with which she said them, Vegeta suddenly found himself howling with laughter. It was a loud, boisterous—if somewhat mocking—laugh. The kind of laugh that only a few people could ever draw out of him, and he couldn't seem to stop. Kami, it had been so long since he'd laughed this way. For so long, he'd had to be play the part of Nox. Before that as far back as he cared to think, the stress and pressure of his pivotal role in the war had been such a heavy burden. Now that it was lifted, he could almost relax. Relax and...laugh.

The door to the control room slid open behind him, but he hardly noticed. Goku and Krillin poked their heads into the room curiously. They noticed Bulma on the screen.

"Hey Bulma," Goku greeted. "Sounds like we're missing a party in here. Jeez, did you just tell a joke or something? It must have been a real howler."

She glowered at him and her husband in turn. "No." She pouted. "This is entirely at my expense."

Vegeta was still shaking, trying to quell his snickers. His laughter had taken on a somewhat hysterical quality, the kind of laughter that comes with being far too tired. He ran a hand across his face.

Goku and Krillen looked on in amusement for a moment, before Goku took a step closer. "Just to check…You haven't gone insane, right Vegeta?"

He waved a dismissive hand, still trying his hardest to stop laughing.

"I only ask because we're still not sure you're not going to start trying to take over the universe."

Vegeta sent him a weak glower, not trusting his voice enough to say anything, and waved him away again.

Goku and Krillin both looked back to Bulma. "Man, Bulma, I've kinda gotta know. What's so funny?"

She frowned, shooting a glare to Vegeta as his chuckles rose again in volume. "Nothing. It was nothing." She rolled her eyes, but despite herself, her lip twitched upward. It had been so long since she could just sit with him and smile. Even though they technically weren't together at the moment, this was the closest they'd been in weeks. It was this kind of moment that she'd dreamed about when he was gone. The quiet moments, when everything was at peace. The few moments when he actually laughed.

While Goku and Krillin nudged Vegeta to tell them what was so funny, Bulma just looked on with a small smile. They'd needed times like these. It was the quiet times, the times for recuperating, for talking, for laughing, that made the fighting all worth while.


A/N: It took entirely too long for me to update, I admit. My life kinda went crazy for a while, but I have not given up on this.

I hope you all enjoyed this. Admittedly, it was not action-packed, but hopefully you enjoyed it anyway. Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed the last chapter, and to everyone who's been sending me encouraging messages. I really appreciate your continued support despite the fact that I kinda fell off the map for a while.

As always, let me know what you thought.