She never should've got the drop on him. Nevertheless, there she stood in the captain's office, as at ease as if it were her own. She bent over his desk, her hands smoothing down it.
Vegeta stared a moment longer than he ought have. She'd grown her hair out - changed her old red minidress out for midriff baring yellow and a dark undersuit that clung to her skin. Her skirt pulled up her thighs, then she straightened. He tightened his jaw. The duel with Captain Tao Pai Pai - a tedious affair, but as they'd reclaimed the Star of Gol D. Roger, no matter - had clearly rattled him.
"You!" He started thunderously forward. "How did you get in here?"
Bulma smiled with alarming sweetness at him. Her hair, a darker violet than he recalled, curled at her throat.
"Well, hello, tall, dark, and grumpy. Where've you been?"
"I will not repeat myself again," he snapped. "How did you penetrate my defenses?"
She'd not the dignity to look cowed even as he glowered his fiercest up at her, but then she'd never been much for dignity. Bulma made a show of polishing her nails on her ample chest.
"Now, you know it isn't right for a girl to kiss and tell."
Her smile took on a little edge; her eyebrows drew down. She blew across her fingers, and as she did so she pursed her lips: a kiss.
Vegeta clenched his hands tightly. The last he'd seen her, she'd thrown him a series of obscene hand gestures out the window of a police shuttle, hideously attractive in her rage. Now she perched upon his desk and crossed her long legs, an expanse of thigh flashing between that short skirt and her stockings, and she smiled at him like a cat in the cream.
"Enough. What do you want?"
She crossed her arms and huffed. "Can't you ever just be happy to see someone?"
"No," he said significantly. "Whatever it is you've come for, you won't find it. Now get out."
He made to turn from her. A sudden jerk at his throat caught him.
"Listen up, buddy!" Bulma snarled. She pulled at his cape again, dragging him nearer. "I didn't cross ten hundred berradiles just for you to pull this feel-no-emotions crap! You idiot! Jerk!"
He hissed through his teeth. "And who was it who asked you to break onto my ship!"
"Well, it sure wasn't you!"
Then, suddenly, she dropped his cape; it flew back into his eyes. He reeled briefly, then her hands were on his face, and Bulma had slipped off the desk. Her breath brushed his cheek. He stiffened, but he did not pull away. Her fingers stroked his jawline. She wore gloves, the cool leather smooth.
"I didn't come here to fight," she said. "Vegeta."
He held himself still, even as she slithered close. The blood beat in his ears.
"Then what did you come here for?"
She toyed with his left horn, the sensation of her fingers playing along it faint but electric for the thought of it.
"Oh, I just wanted to let you know I forgive you for turning me in." She fluttered her lashes coquettishly. "After all, I did fence three of your landcraft without asking."
"Five," he said. "And two speeders."
"I was going to share the money," she said, heated, "and I upgraded the rest of your fleet so you didn't even need them. Plus--" She caught herself.
"No," he drawled. "Continue. I can't wait to hear what other excuses you have."
She frowned, then turned it into a pout, and said, "Plus, I've missed you."
Bulma wound her arms about his neck and pressed against him. His hands settled low on her hips - to push her away - then his fingers tightened; he held her there.
"Let's just call it even," she murmured.
Her lips were soft, her mouth warm. It was only that he was so shamefully exhausted that he allowed her to drag a kiss from him, then another. Another. He bent his head up to hers, and his mouth opened. Bulma ran her tongue along his teeth. Her hair tickled his throat. Her thighs shifted beneath his thumbs. He exhaled hard through his nose and then the stiffness which lingered in his shoulders eased, and he pressed against her as she had against him.
An klaxon screamed, a pyaan! pyaan! that jolted him. He looked back to the door. Shouting had started in the hall.
Bulma shoved him violently, pushing him back on his heels. She grinned at him - her lips red, her chest heaving - as, in the same fluid motion, she hopped back onto the desk.
"That'd be my kouhai," she said. "Oh, you hadn't heard? I have a partner now, and my own ship. Thanks so much for getting the star back for us, by the way."
"You! You-- Woman!" He grabbed for her. "You would dare steal from me? Again!"
Bulma danced away on her toes. "How many times do I have to tell you? My name is Bulma." She winked. "Now we're even."
"Ha!" He sneered up at her. The door was at his back, the window, which looked out onto the waiting vacuum of space, at hers. "You might be able to break onto my ship, but you can't escape--"
She flicked something at him from her waist, and a putrid smoke engulfed him. He coughed explosively and fell forward against the desk, scrabbling for purchase.
"I'll see you around, okay?" Her voice echoed strangely. "Oh, but you have to promise you won't get mad. All's fair in love and war, you know."
"--hate you," he managed to spit out, and: "Treacherous snake--"
"Gosh," she said, "you sure know how to treat a girl. Prison, then insults. Bring roses next time."
There were a thousand things he'd rather do than bring flowers - as if he, the Demon Captain Vegeta, would ever stoop so low as to fetch roses - to the woman who had stolen the Star of Gol D. Roger from his hold, but by the time the smoke had cleared, she had gone again.
He staggered out of his office and onto the main deck, where that same foul smoke permeated the air. Usopp, his eyes streaming even behind his goggles, quaked at his station.
"Lieutenant!" Vegeta shouted.
Nico turned to him from her monitor. She held a hankerchief to her nose, but her eyes were red; she, too, wept. Still, she said with some control, "Yes, Captain. What course of action would you like for us to take?"
"Tra--" He coughed hard into his fist. That woman. "Trace their likely getaway. I want to find that damned Bulma!"