It wasn't as though they were friends. People like them didn't have "friends," not in the more usual sense. But they tolerated each other's company rather well and could even hold short conversations without getting on each other's nerves. On occasion they swapped parenting tips, especially after his daughter was born and he found himself completely bewildered by the opposite sex all over again. Most of the time they said nothing to each other, content merely to share space as their friends and loved ones laughed and socialized and went about the more usual business of having friends.
He never brought up the way she'd broken his arm and she never brought up the way he'd sacrificed her to Cell without a thought. That was in the past, and one thing they could both agree on, though they'd never do so out loud, was that the past was better left alone.
They weren't friends, but their quiet acceptance of each other's company was tested when Bulma decided Vegeta needed a therapist.
"You nearly destroyed the whole universe because you couldn't get past your inferiority complex thing with Goku, not to mention all those unresolved issues with Frieza, and don't get me started on your messed up relationship with Trunks."
Vegeta looked up warily from his morning coffee, dimly aware, in the part of his brain that contained his instincts for battle, that his life was about to get very, very uncomfortable.
"I fail to see what talking about my mother or my childhood would accomplish," he pointed out, for once in his life wishing he knew more about earth culture; for instance, what exactly a therapist did.
His wife rolled her eyes.
"Freud was a fraud," she said dismissively. "You just need to talk to someone about your issues. Get them out there and actually deal with them instead of bottling them up all the time."
"I have no interest in talking to anyone about my issues," he spat. "And I do not have 'issues'!"
"Sure you don't," she deadpanned. "You let an evil wizard take over your mind just so you could beat Goku, and you blew up an entire stadium of people to make sure he'd actually fight you. Sure you don't have issues."
He tightened his jaw, tempted, for a black moment, to blow her up. He sipped his coffee instead.
"And I've already decided who it's going to be. I mean," she continued, scoffing, "You can't talk to me about it."
"Why not?" he protested, knowing he was beaten before he'd begun, damn her.
She rolled her eyes.
"Oh, please. You don't want me to know all the sordid details of your past. You'd hate that. Besides, you'd just try to seduce me to get out of it, and we both know you'd succeed."
Was that a compliment? he wondered. It was hard to tell.
"Who, then?" he gruffed, preferring that this bandaid be ripped off swiftly.
"Android Eighteen," she said casually, and Saiyan-Proof Mug, Model Number 87 shattered in his hand.
"WHAT," he roared, tendons standing out on his neck. "WHAT."
"Well, let's consider our options, here, shall we?" she retorted, hand on her hip. "You can't go to a normal therapist because they'd never believe you. That leaves someone in our little group of friends." She counted on her fingers. "Goku's out, obviously; Chi-Chi is a terrible listener; Yamcha's my ex; Krillin's afraid of you; Gohan would annoy you; Roshi—ha—not Roshi; Tien and Chiaotzu—do they even count anymore?—anyway, not them; uh… Dende? He's probably more afraid of you than Krillin is—"
"Alright, alright!" Vegeta roared. "I get it, none of your friends wants to babysit my psyche. What makes you think the tin can does?"
"First of all, her name is Eighteen, you could try calling her that. Second of all, she doesn't hate you, she isn't afraid of you, and you can actually have a decent spar with her."
"I was not aware that therapy involved sparring," he said carefully. She rolled her eyes again, but it was more affectionate this time.
"Vegeta, I know you. You're never going to open up to someone you can't respect, and you don't respect people who can't fight. Not to mention Eighteen is very bribable. All I had to do was mention the word 'zeni' in conjunction with a few zeroes with a one in front of them and she perked right up. You know. For her."
"You are paying her for this?" Vegeta was surprised to find that the idea bothered him.
"Of course. Aside from the fact that it was the only way I could convince her to do it, I doubt you'd be very trustful if you thought she was doing this out of the goodness of her heart."
Vegeta frowned down at the shards of his coffee cup, which still littered the table. He began sweeping them up in his hand, and then murmured, hating himself for every word,
"Why not… the Namekian? Piccolo, I mean."
"Piccolo," she said dramatically, "is not very coercible."
Vegeta gathered up the last broken piece and put the remains of his mug in the garbage. This sort of domestic humiliation was exactly why he'd tried to turn his back on his earth life in the first place, he mused darkly.
"Neither am I," he growled, leaving the kitchen. He thought he heard a chuckle behind him, and pretended that he hadn't.
"I could get a couch for you to lie down on if you want."
Her voice held dry amusement, and he turned in his pacing to snarl at her. Eighteen rolled her eyes.
"Look, Vegeta," she said, voice sharp. "I don't want to do this any more than you do, but neither of us has much of a choice, so we might as well get it over with."
"You have a choice," he spat, continuing to pace through the barren wilderness he had decided was far enough away from people that eavesdropping could be avoided. "You don't need however many million zeni she's paying you."
"Whether or not I need money is hardly your business," she said, eyes tracking him even as her posture remained relaxed. "But regardless, this isn't going to be pleasant for either of us."
"If you or that shrew think I am going to sit here and open up to you about my personal life, you are both sadly mistaken!"
She only shook her head.
"Really, Vegeta," she admonished wryly, "we all know you're whipped. Denying it only makes it more pathetic."
With a growl he threw a punch at her head. She caught it in her hand and stood up from the rock she'd been lounging against.
"Don't play that game with me, Vegeta," she threatened in a low voice. "We both know you can beat me now, and we also both know you wouldn't have an easy time of it. So let's just skip the macho theatrics and get down to business."
"I do not need your help!" he bellowed in her face. "I do not need anyone's help! I am fine!"
"You're not fine," Eighteen negated calmly. "We can all tell, Vegeta. I don't know exactly what happened two weeks ago, but it's obvious you're not dealing well."
Vegeta swallowed and pulled slightly away. The android let him go. "Two… weeks ago?"
"Krillin may not be a fighter anymore, but he can still sense energy," Eighteen all but scolded. "So can I. We can all tell when someone goes super Saiyan, and we can tell the difference between sparring and fighting."
Vegeta felt suddenly shaky. Yes, he had lost it, and yes, Trunks had been forced to take him down, suffering enormous damage in the process. But he had taken some small comfort in the knowledge that only himself, his son, and his wife had been aware of what had actually transpired. The lie to explain Trunks' injuries had been accepted, if reluctantly, by their group of friends, and if any of them suspected, as he knew some of them did, well, they didn't know.
Except that apparently they did.
"That was… an accident," he protested weakly. He heard her scoff.
"Right. I've seen Trunks. You don't get marks like that walking into a door."
Vegeta clenched his hands into fists.
"He was in a training accident," he corrected softly.
"Training accident, falling down stairs, walking into a door: it's all the same thing. Why do you think my brother and I ran away from home in the first place?"
Her voice was hard and caustic, but he heard the undercurrent of pain as well. Both of them were silent for a long time.
"I still don't want to talk about it."
"And I still don't want to hear about it. But…" She sighed. "I'd also rather not see Trunks get beaten up by his father again, and if this helps, then…fine."
Vegeta allowed the silence to descend once again. She did this for Trunks? He knew, perhaps better than anyone but Krillin, how much motherhood had softened her, though it was strange to think that such sentimentality extended to his own offspring. He also knew, from the reading he had done on the sly to prepare counterarguments against Bulma's mindless insistence, that he did need to sort out some things. The events of two weeks prior were proof enough that his methods for dealing with his 'issues' weren't working.
But it was infuriating! He had never allowed his shitty past to affect him, not like this! He had never wallowed in nightmares so completely that he hadn't been able to tell friend from foe, son from phantasm. But then, he mused, he had never consciously admitted to himself that Bulma and Trunks were important to him, that he cared about their safety and their wellbeing. Accepting this in his own heart, much less having everyone know, changed everything. He could no longer pretend to himself that he was the dark prince he had once been, that he was merely biding his time, living with the woman and the child because it was convenient. That fiction had been torn away from him, and underneath was a writhing mess of pain and horror that he had never properly expunged or dealt with.
And even knowing all that, he might still have been willing to continue to let it fester, to attempt to merely cover it up again and go on as before, except for the sight of a bruised, exhausted Trunks, smiling up at him, proud in the knowledge that he had been strong enough to hold his own against his father at the peak of his power. The boy assumed his father's breakdown had been nothing more than a particularly intense spar, and he was ecstatic at the thought that he had passed some sort of test. The look in Bulma's eyes from across the hospital bed told him she knew the truth, and he had been unable to do more than squeeze his son's hand gently and stay by his side until he fell asleep.
The thought that he himself could be a threat to the two people he cared about more than anything in the universe was unbearable. Even worse was the knowledge that as simple as it would be to remove this threat, leaving them was perhaps a worse form of damage than physical pain could ever be. They could not bear it if he left, and neither could he. The old black and white of strong and weak, friend and foe, did not apply here, and he did not know what to do. If this… therapy… was how you defeated an enemy in this world shaded with grays, then perhaps it was best to do so with someone who, out of all of them except maybe Piccolo, understood him the best.
He turned to her, chin raised, bearing regal.
"You will not repeat anything you hear—"
"To anyone, ever." She snorted. "As if I would want to."
Vegeta stood, unmoving, for a long time. Then he began.
"When I was a boy, my father told me I was the best chance the Saiyan race had of becoming the legendary Super Saiyan…"
"It's not an inferiority complex," he announced to Bulma's jump-suited behind. She shut off her welding torch and turned around.
"What?" she demanded, frowning.
"I suffer from hubris and megalomania, as well as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but," he insisted, "I do not have an inferiority complex towards Kakarrot," and walked out of the room.
Bulma smiled, and went back to welding.