Midnight Clear

AN: Written in response to the Christmas B/V challenge, "Vegeta's first Christmas on Earth," from The Prince and the Genius Forum, run by Boogum. I don't normally do one-shots, but I figure it's for the best here.

Mounds of white swelled up from the brown below, rolling in frosted hillocks as far as the eye could see. They glistened round the edges, shining crystalline and reflecting the golden light above. Vegeta's eyes scanned from one iced top to the next, frowning in puzzlement. He took a breath, sniffing the air, trying to place the foreign scent.

Beyond the white trimming the surface, he could discern caps of green peering out, nearly buried in patches of the pale stuff. With a hesitant finger, he scraped up a small amount of the cool substance, examining it closely as he rubbed it against his thumb.

How bizarre . . .

"Bulma, darling, are you almost ready?" Mrs. Brief applied a fresh coat of deep red lipstick as she called out from the downstairs bathroom.

"Almost!" a shout rang from upstairs.

With a wink and a kiss at her reflection, Mrs. Brief shut off the vanity light and stepped out of the bathroom with a sashay. "How do I look, sweetums?" she struck a pose in the doorframe.

"Smashing," Dr. Brief answered absently from the living room, his nose in the most recent edition of Science Quarterly.

"Ahem," the blonde gave a prompting cough, attempting to be delicate.

Dr. Brief turned a page to look at a diagram of an experimental missile launcher. "Astounding," he muttered, stroking his moustache thoughtfully while he read the schematics, "absolutely fantastic."

"Honey," Mrs. Brief cooed, rounding the couch with a sway in her hips. She leaned down in front of her husband, her chest pooling slightly over her low sweetheart neckline. "What do you think of my dress?"

"Hmm?" the doctor lowered his magazine to reveal a full view of his wife's ample cleavage. He blinked his eyes rapidly at the sight, pulling out a handkerchief from his breast pocket and discreetly preventing any nosebleeds from being seen. "Oh," he tried to recover, "yes, the dress. Very . . . very nice, dear."

Beaming, Mrs. Brief backed away and jutted out her hip to give him the full effect of her tight red ensemble. "I'm so glad you like it," she tittered, a satin-gloved hand rising to her cheek. "I thought about wearing the white one, but with all that red wine there—well, you just never know!"

"Yes, the dress," Dr. Brief repeated, his eyes apparently stuck on it. "Are you . . . sure it's appropriate?"

"Of course, silly," his wife waved his concern aside with a giggle. "Why, the one I wore last year was even shorter, and you didn't have any complaints then," she adjusted one of her stockings high up on her thigh.

"Yes, well," the doctor pulled a little at his collar, suddenly warm as his eyes tracked her fingers as they adjusted her garter. "Shouldn't you cover up?"

"Oh, I'll slip something over this, but I don't think I'll keep that on for long," Mrs. Brief winked. "I'm sure I'll warm up on the dance floor with a few of those handsome business partners of yours."

Dr. Brief blew a slightly irritated breath that ruffled his moustache.

"You could still change your mind about coming, you know," the blonde perched herself next to her husband on the armrest of the sofa. "You know no one else can foxtrot like you do," she put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

He gave a small sigh. "Not this time, dear. I'm afraid my years are catching up to me. Going out and about in this cold weather gives me a stiff neck."

"But everyone will miss you," Mrs. Brief pouted. "And I could always," she slid her hand up his shoulder to his collar bone, "take care of your neck for you."

"Now, honey," Dr. Brief pulled her hand away gently, "let's not start something out here. I'm sure Bulma can handle the company party for me just fine. Besides, if I stay out all Christmas Eve at the party, I won't make it back in time to put the presents under the—"

"You mean Santa won't make it back in time," Mrs. Brief quickly corrected him. "Santa puts the presents under the tree."

"Yes, of course, dear. Santa."

"I'm ready!" Bulma's voice rang out from the hallway upstairs as her feet thudded down the stairway. "Mom, do you have the white elephant gifts?" she grabbed the railing at the landing to stop herself from falling over it in her rush.

"Of course, Bulma dear," Mrs. Brief answered. "They're in the hallway. We'll just grab them on the way out." She stood up, beckoning her daughter closer. "Now come here, let's have a look at you."

"We have to hurry up a little, Mom," Bulma stepped over to her briskly. "We have to finish up that toys for charity run, and we shouldn't be late to our own party."

"Oh nonsense," Mrs. Brief ignored her hustle. "We'll catch up. Now, turn around, let's see that dress!"

With a complacent sigh, Bulma took off her coat, spinning around once in a deep blue sheath dress. "There, now let's go."

"Slow down, slow down," Mrs. Brief protested, grabbing hold of one of Bulma's shoulders. "Oh, that's lovely," she commented, noting the slight ruffle along one side of her tasteful neckline. "Are you sure you'll be comfortable, though? It looks a little long—"

"Mom, I'm going in Dad's place as head of the company. I have to look like I'm in charge, not in a nightclub," she tugged a little at the hem that stopped right at her knee. "Now come on," Bulma shrugged herself back into her coat. "I want to make sure everything's set up right."

"Have fun, you two," Dr. Brief waved them off. "Don't stay out too late. I wouldn't want you to come home and catch me stuffing the stock—"

"Santa, Dad! Catch Santa stuffing the stockings," Bulma called out from the front hall. "Come on, Mom! We have to go."

"Just a minute," Mrs. Brief rushed back into the living room. "I forgot my purse," she picked up a tiny leather bag from the coffee table in front of Dr. Brief. She took the opportunity to give him a quick peck on the cheek. "Don't forget," she smiled at him as she started heading back out, "I want you to set up the gingerbread house for tomorrow. I baked all the parts and finished the gingerbread men, but I just didn't have time to build the house. It's all ready to go in the kitchen."

"Sure thing, dear," Dr. Brief agreed, watching his wife leave the room. He put a pensive hand under his chin at the thought of the warm cookies waiting for him. He licked his lips a little.

"And don't eat them!" his wife's voice carried from the front door. "I'm saving them for tomorrow!"

Dr. Brief sank back into the sofa a little, defeated. "Yes, dear."

He waited only until he heard the door slam shut and the tell-tale whirr of a hover jet outside before springing from his seat.

Vegeta took another experimental sniff of the white substance between his fingers. It seemed harmless enough, light and cool to the touch, but the smell—he brought it to his lips and gave it a small flick of his tongue, testing it.

"Ah, I see you had the same idea I did," Dr. Brief walked in to join him in the kitchen.

Vegeta gave him a wary glance as he tasted the creamy substance on his tongue. It was sweet and sugary, melting in his mouth. He looked in surprise at the source, the white icing trimming a veritable army of gingerbread men, decorating their chests and faces in small mounds and globules, and outlining them under the warm kitchen light with shining sugar crystals.

He picked up one of the small brown soldiers from the ranks, eyeing the green gumdrop buttons with curiosity. Plucking one out, he took a small bite out of it, chewing thoughtfully before licking the sugar coating from his lips. He stared back at the now buttonless brown man he held, quirking a brow.

"The gumdrops are my favourite too," Dr. Brief caught his attention, and Vegeta looked over in time to see the older man pop four or five of the green gummy candies into his mouth. Swallowing, the doctor picked up a handful of the small, flat brown men and promptly bit the head off one of them. He chewed greedily, finishing it off with a small sigh. "The forbidden treats are always the best," he smiled wryly before looking over at his houseguest, who was taking an investigative sniff of the brown cookie man.

The doctor gave him a conspiratorial glance. "I won't tell if you won't." He bit into another gingerbread man.

"Well, I'm glad you liked it," Bulma smiled at one of her employees as he excused himself to put his party gift in his car. She headed over to the refreshments table for some more cider when her mother intercepted her.

"Oh, Bulma," she was smiling broadly, "you really must come out and dance a little!"

"No thanks, Mom," Bulma picked up a glass. "You have fun."

Her mother gave her an appraising look, watching her daughter stir her drink with a distracted hand. "What's wrong, dear?"

"Hmm?" the blue-haired heiress blinked back. "Oh, it's nothing. Go enjoy yourself, Mom."

"How can I go have fun when you're just standing here all alone? Something's wrong, I just know it," Mrs. Brief put a finger to her lips in thought. "Are you feeling lonely because you're spending the holidays away from Yamcha this time? That's it, isn't it, dear?"

While her mother prattled on, concerned, Bulma looked out at the party where several members of the accounting team encircled a small table, laughing loudly and beginning a round of what seemed more like the twelve shots of Christmas than anything else. Interns were chatting by the cheese platters, discussing vacation plans while some of their supervisors passed a few beers to each other and clinked their bottles together. A few couples were moving in slow circles in the centre of the room to a soft rock song with some sleigh bells thrown in for cheer. They have no idea, Bulma frowned a little. In just three years—

"Bulma?" her mother's voice cut through her gloom.

"Huh?" she looked back at Mrs. Brief. "Sorry, Mom, what was that?"

"I asked if you think we should invite Yamcha over to join us tomorrow."

"It's a little late, Mom," Bulma pointed out. "Besides, we both agreed we needed some time apart. That includes Christmas."

"Well, I sent him a sweater anyway," her mother grabbed a champagne flute from a passing waiter. "No sense in leaving him completely out in the cold."

Bulma rolled her eyes. "Mom, West City doesn't even get snow. He hardly needs a one of your wool sweaters." She took another sip of cider.

"Oh, hush," Mrs. Brief waved her hand. "You can never have too many layers in the winter. Speaking of which, do you think Vegeta would like a sweater for Christmas?"

Bulma nearly choked on her glass at the image of the surly Saiyan in one of her mother's handmade wool sweaters, complete with crocheted reindeer and snowmen. "Ah," she tried to recover, "I don't think that would go over so well, Mom."

"Hmm," Mrs. Brief mused as she took another sip from her glass. "Maybe you're right. I don't even know his favourite colour."

"Mom," Bulma gave her mother a pointed look. "I think we already do enough for him. He already has everything he needs."

"Oh," the blonde giggled, "I don't know about that."

Dr. Brief gave a satisfied pat to his stomach. "There's just one thing we need to make this crime complete," he shifted his glasses up on his nose to glance at his accomplice.

Vegeta gave a non-committal grunt as he licked a few crumbs off his fingers. The ranks of the gingerbread men had been decimated, hardly a frosted limb or gumdrop button left to be seen on the kitchen table. The spicy cookies left a warm feeling in his mouth, not all that unpleasant, and he reclined a little in his chair, taking the opportunity to let his muscles loosen a little.

"How is the training going?" Dr. Brief asked over his shoulder as he opened the refrigerator door. "Have you made it to 450 times gravity?"

Vegeta shifted a little at the question, looking down at the crumbs on the table. "Yes," his tone was neutral.

"Absolutely amazing," the doctor's voice was muffled as he rummaged for something in the back of the fridge shelves. "I must say, you never cease to surprise me," he pulled out a large carton and set it on the table.

Giving him a long look, Vegeta watched his actions guardedly, suspicious of any commentary on his training. He crossed his arms, brooding inwardly, remembering his last training session just a few hours prior. While he had increased the gravity, his sessions seemed to advance no further as he battered himself with energy blasts and fell to the chipped tile floor, crushed to the ground. This day, like so many others, had left him completing his training bent low on the ground, muscles aching as he climbed his way back up with so much effort, exiting the chamber with painful, slow steps. So much effort, and for what? his scowl deepened. Day in and day out, stretching my limits, breaking my body . . . and it still seems so far away. Perhaps the others are right. Perhaps I am crazy to pursue it . . .

Doctor Brief closed one of the dish cabinets, holding a couple glasses. "Why, it reminds me of when I first started out working on the Dynocaps," the old man puttered on. "They all said I was crazy to keep working on it."

Vegeta's attention shifted to the doctor at his last sentence.

"All those hours holed up in the lab, hardly stopping to eat or to sleep—I worked like a madman on the things, and no one believed I could do it. Well, I showed them," he chuckled a little, ruffling his moustache.

Leaning a little further forward in interest, Vegeta continued to watch the older man.

"Just had to keep at it," Dr. Brief gave a contented sigh at the memory, setting the glasses down on the table. Opening up the carton, he turned to his Saiyan houseguest, swishing the contents a little in offering. "Eggnog?"

"But Bulma," Mrs. Brief protested, "it just isn't right to let him go empty-handed on Christmas."

Bulma sighed into her third cup of cider. "Mom, he wouldn't understand it."

"Well, we should teach him," her mother insisted. "Just show him a little kindness, some good old Christmas charity—"

"Mom," Bulma's look was pointed, "he won't accept that. He's too proud—and distrustful. He'll think it's some kind of trick, or worse," her brows pulled into a frown. "He'll think it's some kind of obligation—he'll think he'll have to give something back, and he can't."

"I—oh," Mrs. Brief blinked. "I hadn't thought of that."

Bulma set down her cider, starting to become a little buzzed. "We should just let him be. It's what he's always asking for, anyway."

"Well," Mrs. Brief finished her glass of champagne. "You know him best, dear."

"W-what? I do not," Bulma blushed, flustered at the thought. "As if anyone could get to know that arrogant little—ugh. I don't know him best; I can just see where he's coming from."

"Isn't that the same thing?" her mother asked.

"No," Bulma huffed adamantly. "No, it's not."

"Whatever you say, dear," Mrs. Brief patted her shoulder comfortingly.

Bulma rolled her eyes at her. "I'm going to go talk to some of the partners. You know, do my job and all," she polished off her cup of cider and set off toward the other side of the room.

"Try not to look too serious, dear!" Mrs. Brief called out after her daughter. "Your face will wrinkle!"

"Really? Rewiring the particle receptor to repair the pod?" Dr. Brief poured another glass of eggnog for himself. "How did you keep it from blowing up in your face?"

"I didn't," Vegeta grunted into his own glass. "I have a strong face."

Dr. Brief had to hold his glass steady as he shook with a chuckle.

Vegeta took another sip of the creamy drink, feeling a warmth spreading through his stomach that left him more comfortable than he had been in a long while. The heat rose to his face and he felt a little light-headed. "But after the initial smoke," he continued, feeling his tongue loosen slightly, "the pod worked fine."

"Remarkable," Dr. Brief smiled as he took another sip from his glass. "Risky—but remarkable nonetheless. I'd have checked the photon levels first, just to be sure—but, hindsight's twenty-twenty, isn't it?"

Vegeta shrugged his shoulders before setting his empty glass down in front of the doctor. The older man filled it up again and passed it back. The Saiyan raised it up to his lips, tasting the warm spices in his mouth as he took another drink. The two men sat at the kitchen table in the warm light, gingerbread crumbs littering the space between them, and the only sounds the swish of the eggnog and the clink of their glasses as they set them down between draughts.

The comfortable silence between them was interrupted by the chiming of the hallway clock.

"Ah, midnight already," Dr. Brief stood up after the last chime. "I suppose that means Bulma and her mother will be pulling a late night at the Christmas party. I should get to work before they come back," he pushed his chair back in and Vegeta watched him as he left the room. "You can help yourself to the rest of the eggnog, son."

Vegeta stiffened a little at the last word, but the doctor had already left the room. Alone, Vegeta finished off his drink and stood up as well, gazing out the kitchen window as he did. His face was pensive as his eyes scanned the horizon.

The night sky was a deep indigo, streaming with ribbons of stars across its wide expanse, cleaving through the darkness, still visible despite the bright city lights below. The windows of the tall buildings gave off a warm glow that seemed to counteract the chill in the air, as evidenced by the slight cloud that was fogging up the windowpane. He could hear a distant hum floating on the wind from carols sung around the neighbourhood, the music rising slowly from the houses up to the stars above. Vegeta's dark eyes absorbed the sight of the cloudless night sky, filled with so many stars, all so far away, one farther than others.

"Foolishness," he muttered, tearing his gaze from the empty space his eyes had settled on.

"Well, I'm going to head inside," the head of Capsule Corps. legal department snuffed out his cigarette. "You going to join us? I think there's still some champagne left."

Bulma smiled faintly, but waved him off. "I think I'll finish this off first," she indicated her fresh cigarette. "But you go on ahead."

"I'll make sure to save you a glass," the employee stepped back into the building from the balcony.

Bulma took a long draw, letting the smoke swirl around her in the cold. Leaning over the railing of the balcony, she took in all the holiday lights the company had set up around the edge of the building, gleaming in the night. The palm trees were encircled with small gold bulbs, and every window seemed to be trimmed with bright flashing lights of every colour. The bright lines surrounding the edges of the roofs appeared to echo the stars high above them and bend them down to the earth. She sighed.

"Hard to get into the spirit," she blew a smoke ring, thinking out loud, "when you know it could all be gone soon." Her eyes lifted toward the horizon, beyond the city lights into the cool darkness of the mountains. "Oh, Goku," she held up her head with her hand. "I sure hope you can pull through again. You'd better be training hard," she tapped her cheek in thought, imagining all the preparations he and the other warriors were making for the upcoming battle: Tien and Chaozu training out in the wilderness among the cold tops of the mountains, Krillin testing his Kamehameha waves at Master Roshi's island, sending bright beams of energy over the horizon, Goku himself, teaching his son with Piccolo as Chichi called them in for dinner, Yamcha working up a sweat in her front yard, or breaking equipment at the gym, and—

"You've got to stop training for a while! I mean, look at you—you're a complete wreck!"

Bulma shook her head to get the image of a battered Saiyan, bloodied and exhausted, out of her mind. "Well, hopefully you're not training that hard," she amended. "Won't do us any good if you go off and try to get yourself killed like he does every day, Goku."

She spent a few more moments like that, taking a few more drags on her cigarette, and looking off into the darkness of the night. "Got to give him credit, though," she blew a thoughtful smoke ring. "He's certainly dedicated."

"I think it's very admirable. In my day, a man who showed that much dedication to anything was definitely husband material."

Bulma blinked at the stray memory of her mother's voice floating about in her head. "Ugh, as if," she shuddered. "He's just as likely to kill us all after this whole androids mess is over unless Goku stops him. Mom's crazy."

Images of the stubborn Saiyan flashed across her mind, his quick and almost graceful movements when he performed his manoeuvres in the gravity simulator, his fierce frown as she watched him sleep off his injuries, still fighting even in his dreams, his far-off look he got whenever she caught him looking up into the sky, the way she was right now. She watched the stars a moment longer before turning to head inside, snuffing out her cigarette.

"Yup, crazy."

Dr. Brief hummed a few discordant lines of "Good King Wenceslas" as he put another gift into his wife's stocking. He had worked halfway through the stack of stocking-stuffers in front of the fireplace, teetering a little from drinking so much eggnog earlier. His hands worked as fast as they could as he adjusted the knit socks around the oddly-shaped boxes and packages.

Vegeta watched him from the doorway, his eyes passing over the garish decorations around the man. The socks he was fiddling with were an assortment of reds, yellows, and greens, and with the small packages he had stuffed into them, they looked lumpy and tumoured. Above the old man was a round circle of pine leaves and holly mounted above the mantle, bristling with small silver bulbs and bells. Beside him was the largest monstrosity of all: a twelve-foot tree, bedecked in popcorn, strings of metal foil, more brightly coloured bulbs and all sorts of baubles, from small framed pictures to plush teddy bears, to images of fat men in red suits. He shifted his gaze back over to the doctor, who had nearly finished his task.

As if feeling eyes on him, Dr. Brief turned his head and caught eyes with the Saiyan. "Ah, didn't see you there. Are we out of eggnog already?"

Vegeta nodded.

"Ah well, don't worry. I've got a stash of the stuff somewhere. I'll just finish this up and break out the new carton. Still have a bit more work to do tonight," he turned back and placed a shiny green package into the stocking labelled "Bulma."

A few presents later, and the doctor stood up, brushing his hands together in a satisfied gesture of accomplishment. "That should do it. Good thing they didn't come home before I finished—the missus always gets on my case about sucking all the magic out of the holiday enough as it is. Now," he turned to his houseguest looming in the doorway, "let's see about that eggnog, shall we?"

Vegeta shifted a little uncomfortably as the older man passed him, still gazing over at the bright colours that filled the room. "This," his voice ground out hesitantly, "this holiday . . ."

"Hmm?" Doctor Brief stopped and turned to the younger man. "Oh, yes of course—this must seem ridiculous to you. Well, you're not alone in that, let me tell you. Come," he chuckled a little, and put a hand to Vegeta's shoulder to guide him into the kitchen, "let's get you another drink, son. It's a little bit of a long explanation."

Vegeta tensed a little at the contact, but permitted it at the thought of more of the creamy beverage.

Several drinks and a thorough explanation of pagan rituals, Church assimilation, saints, and commercialism later, Vegeta still raised a quizzical brow. "So then," he rumbled as Dr. Brief refilled his glass again, "even knowing the different sources for it, you still believe in this . . . Christmas?"

"Well," Dr. Brief pushed his glasses back up over his flushed face, "above all else, I'm a man of science. I don't particularly believe in guiding stars and infant gods or the like. But I'm not sure if that's what the whole thing is about anyway. The way I see it," he leaned back in his chair, "the celebration really started as a way to lighten up the darkness of winter—to see the good in the world despite the cold outside."

Vegeta ran a contemplative finger around the rim of his glass.

"It's also a great way to relax and appreciate the warmth of your home and family—and goodness knows we all need a break sometimes," the old man gave a sly look to his guest, though it was lost as the Saiyan's eyes were focused on the swirling liquid in his glass.

"Why don't you drop the arrogant tough-guy act and just relax—let it all go, take a vacation for goodness' sake! Unwind a little and see what life has to offer you."

Vegeta exhaled a little and frowned at the thought of that woman and her inane chatter, her ridiculous blue hair, and those open and trusting blue eyes. The eyes that stared at him with concern when he overworked himself, that snapped fire at him when he insulted her, that winked at him playfully . . .

"You're actually kind of cute."

Vegeta swallowed a large gulp of the eggnog and shook his head.

"So I suppose," Dr. Brief continued, "that my answer would have to be no," he stroked his moustache, thoughtful. "I don't particularly believe in the religious aspects of the holiday per se—but the spirit of the day," he looked to the doorway where he could see the edge of the brightly trimmed Christmas tree, "goodwill toward men, I can support. I may not have faith in a religion, but I certainly have faith in my fellow man," he smiled slightly, turning his gaze back to his Saiyan houseguest. "Especially when they can do so many amazing things."

"I—" Vegeta snapped his head up at the praise, unsure of what to say, and feeling his head reeling again as the liquor rushed to his brain. He tried to form words in response, but the older man had already turned his attention elsewhere.

"Now, I still have to build this silly thing before my wife gets back," he pulled a tray from the far counter and brought it to the table. It was filled with large sheets of that spicy ginger cookie they had inhaled earlier, as well as tubes and cups of icing and candies. "Care to join me?"

"Mom, keep it down!" Bulma shouted after her mother, who was carolling a rather loud and warbling rendition of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen." The blue-haired heiress huffed trying to catch up to her, "You'll disturb the neighbours!"

"Oh, lighten up, Bulma! It's already Christmas morning! Might as well be of good cheer—Tidings of comfort and joy!" she trilled enthusiastically. "Comfort and joy! Tiiiiiiidings of coooomfort and joy!"

A cat next door screeched and knocked over a few trashcans in its escape from the blonde's soprano.

"Come on, Mom," Bulma caught her mother by the arm before she could trip in her heels, "let's get you inside," she typed the code for the front door to open.

The warm air rushed around them as they entered. Mrs. Brief absently draped her coat over a passing servo-bot. "Oh my, that was quite a lot of fun—so many lovely people and so much dancing! I do wish your father had come, though. I always like to get a good dance out of him at these things."

"Well, let's go find him for you," Bulma directed her further inside, steadying her slightly as she held her shoulders. "And just for the record," they walked down the hall, past the kitchen, "next time we cut you off at three glasses of champagne."

"Shh!" her mother quickly turned around and raised a finger to her lips, stopping their progress.

"What?" Bulma was taken aback, "what are you shushing me for? You're the one who was belting out Christmas carols on the wa—"

"Just look," Mrs. Brief whispered loudly, keeping the two of them hidden behind the slightly open kitchen door. They leaned their heads forward and peered inside.

"—no, the scarp should be at a sharper angle."

"Like this?"

"Sharper. If you keep it like that, even the weakest Saibaman could scale it."

"Oh, I see—like this then. How are the anti-air turrets coming?"

"Four of five."

Bulma's eyes trailed up the length of the kitchen table, taking in the brown crumbs and small clumps of leftover frosting stuck to the surface. At the end of the table, her father appeared to be hard at work with a sharp knife, cutting pieces of cookie into triangular buttresses for the squat mound of gingerbread in front of them. The frosting lined steeply inclined panels in a pentagonal pattern, surrounded by a moat of icing and mound of marshmallows. Vegeta appeared to be stacking peppermint pinwheel candies into short, covered caps on the five points of the pentagon. Both of them looked rather flushed in the face, and when her eyes caught the number of empty eggnog cartons in the corner, her questions were answered.

Mrs. Brief tried to lean forward a little more to see. "What kind of house is that?" she whispered to her daughter.

"I think it's . . ." Bulma squinted her eyes at the short, angular construction, "some kind of fort."

"A fort? Whoever heard of a gingerbread fort for Christmas? And where are all of my gingerbreadme—oh!" Mrs. Brief suddenly lurched forward, bowling open the door and falling into the kitchen.

"Hmm?" Doctor Brief raised his head at the flash of red he saw enter the room. "Oh, you're back, dear!"

His wife quickly jumped back up, apparently sobered. "What happened to the gingerbread men?"

Vegeta and Dr. Brief exchanged a look before both of them pointed a finger at each other.

"And the gingerbread house? What is this thing?"

"Oh, it's fantastic!" the doctor's cheeks brightened with a rosy grin. "It's a fortress, you see—meant to be built on an asteroid. The ground defence prevents land attacks, and we have anti-air turrets where you could put some sort of gun or one of these warriors with the energy blasts in them to—"

"I asked you to make a house."

"Well . . . we didn't have enough material to build the house since," Dr. Brief looked sheepish, "we . . . sort of . . . ate the roof."

"Good night," Bulma sighed against her parents' door, having herded the two tipsy elders into their bedroom after a lengthy discussion on the virtues of patience when it came to cookies.

"Oh, goodnight, dear!" she heard her mother giggle from the other side and a muttering echo from her father.

"Just make sure you guys wake up in time tomorrow," Bulma called back to them, "or I'll start opening presents without you!" She only heard more giggling in response to that, and when she could discern an audible "whump" of two bodies hitting the bed, she decided to make her retreat into the living room.

The sight of it made her stop. The room seemed bathed in gold, the twinkling lights around the tree and laced through the pine garlands that hung on the walls the only source of light in the room now. The shining ornaments on the tree reflected red and green patterns on the walls, and the decorative glass and globes on the shelves and end tables scattered the illumination over the floor to the point where no other light was necessary. Bulma smiled as her eyes travelled from the shining tree to the presents underneath, eyeing a "do not open until Xmas" tag.

"It's all coming up so fast," she sighed as she knelt down in front of the gift, feeling the textured green paper. "And soon it'll all be over . . ." She lifted the ends of the bright bow in her fingers.

"I was under the impression that those were only opened in the morning."

Startled, Bulma turned and stood abruptly toward the intrusive voice, eying its source on the broad windowsill across the living room. The heavy drapes were pulled open, revealing a broad window that looked out on the city lights. Leaning to the side of the window frame Vegeta sat, arms crossed and one knee upraised, lit by the low glow of the room on one side as he turned his head toward her, the rest of his form disappearing into the darkness of the shadow.

"I thought children were the only ones too eager to wait for the morning."

"Hmph," Bulma recovered, lifting the present up and resting it casually on her hip. "And only children tattle on others."

Vegeta just shrugged it off and continued to stare at her as she held the present in her hands.

"Augh, fine," she set it back down. "I'll be good this year. Spoil-sport," she stuck out her tongue at him.

He actually gave a small chuckle. "Yes, not childish at all," his lips pulled into a sarcastic smirk.

She blinked in surprise at his reaction, expecting something more hostile, but when she scrutinized him closely, the way he reclined against the window frame, stomach seemingly satiated and his face apparently flushed, she decided not to question it. There were quite a few empty eggnog cartons in the kitchen, she knew, and she imagined her father was not capable of polishing them off so completely on his own. She decided to seize the opportunity, and with a few soft steps, she crossed her ankles and sat across from him on the windowsill. His eyes followed her, but he said nothing to protest it.

"So I guess Dad explained all this to you then?" she waved her arm in the general direction of the tree and stockings.

He nodded once before returning his gaze out the window.

Bulma's eyes followed his, penetrating out into the city, the darkness lost to the soft glow of brightly blinking Christmas lights. It was late and the carolling had stopped, the town hushed in the cold clear night—still but for the slow back-and-forth of the blinking lights across the rooftops of the western capitol. There won't be many nights like this left, she peered into the quiet darkness above the city's glow, if what that boy from the future said was true. Bulma sighed as if to remind herself to breathe.

"What is it now, woman?" a pair of dark eyes fell on her irritably.

Bulma fidgeted with the ruffle of her dress. "It's just—it's strange to think that in three years' time, it'll all be gone." She turned her head back to gaze out the window. "All the cities, all the people—when those androids come, it might never be the same. There are only two Christmasses left," the blinking blue lights of a neighbour's house shone on her face, washing her features into a cool cerulean. "I really hope you guys can do it."

Vegeta gave a quick, derisive breath. "I will not let a tin can get the better of me," he scoffed.

"Yeah, yeah, tough guy," Bulma gave him a wry grin. "We all know you're pretty much indestructible. You've probably got the hardest head on the planet."

He did not answer, but leaned back further with a small smirk, thumping his head on the window frame a little as if to prove her point.

They both sat for a small while, still looking out toward the city and its holiday lights. The houses with their blinking bulbs stretched out toward the horizon, as far as they could see, echoing the sky above so closely that it appeared as though a solid sheet of stars spread out before them. The empty roads this night were only brightened by the street lamps and their reflections off the tinsel and foil halfway up their posts, and no cars spread any movement across the dotted plains of golden light.

"Beautiful," Bulma breathed, placing her hand against the window as if to get closer to the lights. "It always looks like that this time of year," her smile grew slightly wistful. "I just don't know if it'll ever be the same—you know, after the androids come. Even if we do win, will there be much left? It'd be a shame to—ah, what am I talking about?" she interrupted herself, sparing a glance to her solemn company. "Stupid sentimental stuff, I know," she brought her hand back from the window, giving a small, self-depreciating laugh. "I shouldn't be dwelling on it, but I just can't help . . . I just can't imagine never seeing this again. I mean, if—"

"Woman," he cut her off gruffly. She blinked at him, a little afraid she had said too much and outstayed her welcome.

"I will defeat these androids," his tone was resolute, as if stating a predetermined fact as he continued to stare out the window. "You will see more of these ridiculous holidays yet."

Her brows raised in mild surprise, but quickly turned to a grin, her eyes shining. "Oh, of course," she leaned an elbow against the window, resting her head on her hand casually, "and once you've taken them out single-handedly, then you'll go and blow up the earth, I suppose."

"I wouldn't say I'd decided that yet."

This time her surprise lasted. "Really? I thought that was your next step. What made you change your mind?"

His profile remained still as the glittering lights played with the shadows on his face, passing over his sharp features like a wavering midnight mirage. With a last penetrating glance out at the lights outside, he turned his eyes to her, full and dark and serious.

"The food's not bad," he shrugged with a sardonic smile. "I'll give it a few more years."

Bulma could not help but laugh. "Remind me to keep the fridge stocked then."

"The safety of your planet depends on it," he raised a brow at her tauntingly.

Hah, so he does have a sense of humour, Bulma grinned inwardly. "Well, then you should know that we'll be starting breakfast a little later tomorrow—but don't worry, there'll be extra portions. Mom always makes cinnamon rolls Christmas morning." She stood up from her seat, stretching a little. "We'll probably start eating around 10:30."

"Those rolls had better be good if I have to wait that long," his frown began to return as she stood up to go to bed.

"Trust me," she winked, "I'd bet my planet on it."

As she started to make her way past him on her way to the stairs, she paused, tilting her head as she processed what he had said earlier. She stood somewhat beside him, biting her thumbnail in thought.

When he hazarded a glance her way, Vegeta's eyes widened in surprise as he felt a warm pair of lips on his already flushed cheek. "What the—"

Bulma pulled away quickly. "A gift," she smiled at him, "to thank you."

He appeared to have trouble getting his words out. "Thank . . . what for?"

"For giving the Earth a few more years," she said over her shoulder as she made her way out of the room.

Vegeta sat there a moment, rubbing his cheek with his hand, as if checking to see if it had been injured from the slight burning sensation he had felt. As he watched her form disappear up the stairs, his thoughts swam languidly around his liquored brain, focusing attention on his left cheek.

If this is what 'a few more years' gets me, he leaned back on the windowsill, a pensive smirk on his face, what will happen if I offer a decade?

A bit jumpy, a bit drabbly, but hey, it's Christmassy, right? I know it's not much of a B/V, but I figured the first Christmas would be pretty early in the relationship. In addition, I've always thought the whole Vegeta-earth-acclimation thing was really a team effort of the entire Brief family. I mean, it seems like a three-pronged attack to me, anyway.

I don't really do songfics, but I did try to incorporate some of the turns of phrase from the Christmas carol "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," in no small part due to the fixation in the final verses on the times to come that were foretold—while I am not particularly religious, I have been on a religious bent ever since I finished my thesis on the apocalyptic poetry of the sibyls, so it tends to creep in there. Sorry if that leads to a few too many descriptions of stars. I also thought that the verses about the weary finding rest were particularly applicable to Vegeta in reference to his training, so I tried to stick that in too.

By the way, I think I'm falling in love with Dr. Brief.

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