She sat in the big, cushioned navigator's chair on the bridge of their newly stolen ship, examining the innards of the Ki damper she had taken off the Saiyan's neck back in Chikyuu. She had discovered a hidden talent for grand larceny she hadn't known she possessed until today. No one on the entire, ratty port city of the pirate run world of Urdas had wanted anything to do with their ship, for sale or for trade. The Tsiru-jin design, and the widely known fact that Frieza did not sell even the blasted shells of his fleets' ship on the open market, had branded it as red-hot goods from the onset. And no one wanted to cross the Lord of Tsiru-sei in any way, form or fashion. Vegita's presence hadn't helped either. He was apparently well known, and the pirates and fences on Urdas had regarded him with the kind of look a man might give a tornado spinning just outside his house. A force of nature that might pass them by or sweep them up to their deaths, that could not be reasoned with, only hidden from. He had been on the point of spinning out of control, his pale, sweating face grown thunderous and deadly, when she suggested simply taking a ship, and leaving the Tsiru-jin troop carrier behind in its place. It wasn't precisely honest, but it beat the hell out of getting caught by Frieza or watching Vegita blow the port city to rubble in a fit of rage. So, they had simply walked into the spaceport and selected a ship. He had pointed at a small Serulian yacht, most likely the property of some wealthy, slumming son or daughter of one of the Trade Houses, he'd said. Fast and sleek and without the tracking equipment or kill switches a pirate or smuggler's ship would be fitted with. She simply broke the magnetic locks on the hatch, and they were gone. No alarm had sounded. The nav computer's launch boot hadn't even been security encrypted.
Now she sat, watching the rings of Saturn spin lazily past the little bridge's view screen, rewiring the dainty, white collar in her hands for a scatter burst effect through one of its external energy ports. Beside her, Vegita sat slumped in the captain's chair, half-asleep, tossing fitfully in the grip of a steadily rising fever. Whatever this white collar had done to him, it was getting steadily worse. She swallowed, not wanting to think of the possibility that he might…just keep going downhill. Just continue to fade, and die. How in the names of all the gods could she feel so much for this vicious, wild creature, who had forced himself on her---if not in body, then in mind and soul, when he had…bonded her to himself---that the mere thought of his death made her want to throw back her head and howl? Maybe the question was the answer. They were bound together, with a kind of empathic understanding and connection that transcended words and logic.
And maybe…maybe knowing someone so intimately, on such a basic, instinctive level, was the foundation of these feelings. Poppa had always said that when you knew someone well enough---anyone, no matter how bad they seemed on the surface---that you always came to love them on some level. Because there was something worthy of love in everyone…you just couldn't see it sometimes.
Poppa… He had died holding Momma's hand, after she died crying like a little girl for her dead flowers, for her murdered animals. She bit back the tears and turned her burning eyes back down to the collar. It was finished. A nice little weapon if they ran into trouble after landing on Chikyuu. The long-range scans said the planet itself was still there, though it was probably nothing more than a spinning ball of dead rock after Frieza's visit. She leaned forward in her chair and programmed the ship to make landfall just outside of the crumbling ruin of Capsule Corp. The bomb shelter she'd spent weeks in after the Ginyu's initial attack, planning her theft of their ship, had a full medical facility. This ship only had a jumped up first aid kit on board, and Vegita needed real medical help. More than she could give him, probably. But there was no one else to help, so she would have to do.
They set down an hour later. She had studied the scanners while they'd been making they're descent, and found nothing. There was no trace of the Namekian ship anywhere on the black, blasted surface of the world. She gritted her teeth and stood. First things first, dammit. She shook Vegita awake gently, and he came to with a start, clutching at her as though she'd pulled him out of a nightmare.
"We're on Chikyuu…" She put her shoulder under one of his arms, pulling him clumsily to his feet. He leaned heavily against her, trembling all over. "There's a full medical wing in my family's bunker. Let's get you back to full strength before we go Namek hunting." He glared at her, clenching his teeth in impotent fury at the thought of needing her help, needing anyone's help, then slowly nodded.
They staggered down the boarding ramp, and she gasped faintly at the blackened, smoky skies, the icy winds, and thick, choking ash in the air. All around them, as far as the eye could see, lay nothing but smoldering ruins and rubble, in the heart of what had once been West Capital. On an island and a world that had once been a garden, overflowing with every kind of life imaginable.
And would be again, she thought harshly, pulling Vegita along beside her as she tried to weave a path through the wreckage that was on more or less even ground. They stumbled their way slowly toward the pile of debris that had been Capsule Corp's main compound. They were within a hundred feet of the hidden elevator hatch that led to the underground shelter, when Vegita suddenly tensed, eyes searching the dusky shadows around them wildly.
"What---?" She began. Then something knocked the air out of her lungs, and jerked her aloft by the collar of her heavy jacket. Vegita was growling and spitting like a cornered panther, fighting weakly against the three armored men who were trying to hold him down.
"What the hell have you got here, Vegita, my lad?" Captain Ginyu chuckled delightedly. "Don't kill him, boys," he told the others with a warning grin. "We want to make the little fucker last a long time. Do you here me, Vegita-chan? " The others laughed as the Saiyan shouted angrily at the diminutive form of his name.
"We're gonna kill you as slow as we can possibly manage it."
"This is the Chikyuu-jin bitch who snuck on board and probably blew us out the air locks," Guldo muttered, squinting up at her. "Gods know this little monkey didn't have the brains to pull off a stunt like that. She had a lot of crap glued to her face when she came in with the other whores, though. Looked a lot different."
Ginyu stalked over to where the others held Vegita pinned, still holding Bulma aloft in one hand, grinning down at him. "We'll make your little friend last too, boy. A long, long time. In fact, we'll---" He stepped back with a startled curse as the Saiyan loosed a blast that would have neatly taken off his head, had he not dodged it. Ginyu bared his fanged teeth and aimed a solid kick to Vegita's stomach, smiling merrily when the Saiyan doubled up, coughing blood. "Bet you're wondering why we're still alive, me and my lads. Our Lord and master left us marooned on this dead mudball to starve to death slowly. He didn't even have the decency to kill us quickly, after all our good work for him over the years. And why? I don't know what pissed Lord Frieza off more.
That we lost the dragonballs when that damn Namek got himself killed, or that we let his favorite boy toy escape. You're the only one of his little minions he ever showed interest in after their voices changed, Vegita-chan. Whatever sorry excuse for a warrior you've grown into, you must be a very talented wh---" Vegita shrieked and threw off the men holding him with a howl of insane rage, lashing out with a wild, uncontrolled blast that tore through the chest of Guldo and lopped the head of the red-skinned Ginyu beside him clean off. Then he launched himself at Ginyu like a cannonball. The world flew by in a blur, as Bulma went sailing through the air, landing hard on a pile a rocks and broken concrete. She raised her head weakly and saw Vegita tearing into the horned man with a crazed savagery that made the two remaining members of his killing squad step back. Ginyu sneered and raised his hand, swatting the Saiyan down with one blow. Vegita had used up all his remaining strength in the mad burst of adrenaline that had killed the horned man's two comrades…and now there was nothing left. He lay on his back, growling weakly, staring up at the Ginyu Captain, unable to even rise to his feet.
"Berta…" Ginyu said softly. "Bring the little Prince's girlfriend back over here, if she's still alive. I say we cut her up in front of his eyes, before we start in on him."
She raised her eyes at the grinning, blue serpent man as he approached her…and activated the rewired Ki damper in a localized blast, directly into his midsection. He stood still, shuddering like a man who'd accidentally pulled the hair dryer into the bathtub, as the collar's current buzzed through him in one concentrated jolt. Then he fell forward on his face.
The Captain's eyes snapped around, but before he could move, something big, green and deadly barreled into him from above, clutching his head on either side, and twisting viciously. There was a sickening snap, and the horned man fell bonelessly. She craned her head to the left just in time to see the last of Ginyu's men, a giant man with an orange mohawk, fall backwards with a hole through his heart. As he fell, the man who had been eclipsed behind his huge, hulking form stepped forward, his third eye tattoo gleaming with power in the dull, faded light. Someone pulled her up then, warm, strong arms around her, lifting her off her feet.
"It's okay, babe. I got you."
"Is she okay, Yamcha-san?" A child's voice asked solemnly beside her.
Yamcha…She stared as he raised his warm, smiling brown eyes from Gohan's worried face to hers. "Yeah…I think she's just fine."
"You're all alive…" She kissed him soundly, hugging him, laughing through tears. Then she squirmed out of his arms, doing the same to Gohan-chan, who crinkled up his nose, giggling in embarrassment as she kissed his cheek.
"Dammit, Tien…you could have left at least one of them for me to fight." She stumbled over to the small, shaven-headed man who had just spoken irritably, and nearly collapsed in his arms, sobbing openly now. "Krillan…"
"Hey…" He said gently, grinning shyly. "Don't be making passes at me right in front of Yamcha, Bulma. You're gonna get me beaten up." Tien embraced her briefly, with that calm-eyed meditative reservation that always masked his deeper feelings.
"Chao-Tsu?" She asked hesitantly.
"He's below…he's sort of standing rear guard in case any of them got past us to your father's bunker."
"Who the hell is this?" A rough, deep voice asked her.
She blanched as she saw Piccalo standing over Vegita's unconscious body, glaring down at him. She strode over to kneel beside the Saiyan, touching his throat, feeling for a pulse. He was alive, just barely.
"His energy's bottomed out," Tien said solemnly. "He's…he feels really messed up. Like something splintered his Ki with a mallet. Who is he?"
"He's a Saiyan!" Gohan exclaimed. "Look at his tail…just like mine!"
"He's one of the Saiyan's you were all training to fight," she said, frowning apprehensively up at Piccalo's dangerous expression. "After they killed all of you, the Ginyu ambushed his ship when it made planetfall. They…they were just as much his enemies as ours. Don't hurt him." She said sternly, glaring up at them suddenly. "He saved my live and---and---just don't hurt him, okay?"
"Any enemy of this Frieza is a friend of mine, as far as I'm concerned," Krillan muttered. But his eyes looked worried as he stared at the unconscious man's tale, whuch was still twitching minutely.
"Let's get him below," Yamcha said slowly. "If he saved your life, that's good enough for me." They carried him back to the bunker hatch in silence. Bulma felt a lump rise in her throat as a small comforting hand slipped into hers.
"It'll be okay, Bulma-san," Gohan told her. "Our new friends can help him."
She held off on the dozens of questions she desperately wanted to ask, until they were all below. Their new friends, Gohan had said. There were several hundred of them, bedded down in the dozens of rooms of her father's underground complex. The people of Namek…She didn't know why it should seem so strange, that mere flesh and blood had given birth to Kami-sama eons ago, that he should have mortal kin. They stood around her, beaming serenely as she walked past them to the infirmary, trailing after Tien and Yamcha as they carried Vegita's body through the brightly-lit corridors. They stopped only once, when a tiny form embedded itself in her arms like an attacking bumblebee.
"Chao-tsu," Tien told his friend after a moment. "Go and bring the Eldest and Kami-sama from the meditation cloister on the Namek's ship." The ancient child sped away.
"I brought someone who can help!" Gohan told her breathlessly, as her friend lay Vegita down on one of the infirmary's beds. Son-Kun's son was holding the hand of a small Namekian boy, who looked to be his own age. The green-skinned child smiled up at her with painful shyness. "Dende can heal people just by touching them!"
"I---I'm still learning," the boy said. "We should really wait for the Eldest. He---"
Vegita began to shudder convulsively, his breath sticking in his chest. The he stopped breathing altogether. "Oh gods…Vegita!" She turned to the child, eyes pleading. "He's dying…he's…" Yamcha caught her as she begin to sink down, shaking and weeping uncontrollably, her own breath becoming painfully tight in her chest. She could feel him slipping away, farther and farther, pulling her down with him into darkness.
"Bulma!" Yamcha was calling to her from somewhere far away.
"What's happening to her?!"
"They have some kind of empathic bond…it's really strong," the Namekian boy said softly. "He is---" A soft, painfilled gasp. "He is not a good man…I can't---"
"You have to," Gohan's voice, near tears. "He's dying and he's taking Bulma-san with him! You can't let her die!"
"Her heart is---is good and strong…" A soft sigh. "Something has disrupted his Ki to the point where it is turning in on him each time he tries to use it…tearing him apart from the inside."
"He used is last to save Bulma's life on the surface," Tien said in his quiet, deep voice. "He can't be all bad."
"He's not…" Dende whispered. "He's…it's more like he's sick. Sick in his heart, sick in his soul. So full of pain…every time I touch his spirit it's like being stabbed with knives! Maybe… maybe I can try to heal that, too…"
Slowly, by agonizing degrees, she began breathing easily again, her heart slowing, steadying, as the boy poured his healing energy into Vegita, as a small piece of the child's warm, sweet spirit washed out of the Saiyan and into her. She felt…more content and calm than she had in days…weeks, wrapped in a comforting web of good feeling and…She sat up, gently disengaging herself from Yamcha's arms, stumbling to where Vegita lay gasping for breath, as the Namekian boy touched his head with both hands, directing a flowing healing power inside. Then the Saiyan arched his back and screamed, and she screamed with him, as a wave of pain lanced through her like a spear thrust. She sank down again, sagging between Yamcha and Krillan, dissolving into hysterical tears again, weeping like a child that had lost everything good in his life, drowning in a sea of pain and grief and rage and---
"Peace, child…" A big, warm hand touch her forehead and she calmed, the pain washing away as though it had never been. She was floating inside a cloud, it seemed, a weightless cocoon of warmth. All the pain had once more vanished, and she opened her eyes to see a giant, kindly faced Namek peering down at her with gentle concern. He was ancient, as old and wizened as Kami-sama, and nearly as wide as he was tall. She wondered vaguely how he had managed to fit through the door.
"He lives," the Namek's deep voice said.
"Poppa…and Momma…you wished my friends back… where---?"
"We wished Chikyuu's strongest defenders back to face the peril that will soon return."
"Frieza? Is he---?"
"He will not return today or tomorrow. But he will come, and soon. The outcome of this struggle is still uncertain, thus…Kami and I thought it best not to disturb the slain in their rest. Not yet. It would be cruel to raise them and heal this world, only that they might die again within the month."
"Yes…I guess you're right." She sighed, turned her eyes from the Namek's face, seeking the face of the man who lay on the table beside her, drawn to him like a moth to a flame. "Vegita." She said his name again softly. He stirred at the sound of her voice, not waking. The Eldest's great hand touched her forehead again as she began trembling uncontrollably, calming her once more, then moving to her shoulder, pulling the collar of her blouse to the side, revealing the ...the bite mark. She raised one hand self-consciously, lowering her eyes, turning her gaze away from the Namek, away from the horrified looks of worry on the faces of Yamcha and her other friends. It wasn't shame she felt. She didn't know how to describe the feeling. It was just---
"A very private thing, child," the Eldest finished the thought for her. "But we must speak of it nonetheless. I will tell you what has happened to you as best I can in mere words. This is a Saiyan mating bite."
"Mating…" Yamcha was beside her again, tense and afraid, glaring down at the face of the unconscious man on the infirmary bed. "What the hell---?!"
The Eldest stayed his angry words with nothing more than a raised hand. "It is an outward sign of a subtle, deep reaching bond of body and spirit. It had two forms. One is a low grade empathic binding, a traditional seal of wedlock. And I think that is what this young man meant to forge with you. But…he had been more deeply injured by the Tsiru-jin Ki damper than he knew." She didn't think to ask how he knew about the Ki damper or any of these other things she had not told him. He seemed to be holding her mind and soul in the palm of his hand, like a man sheltering a terrified, wounded bird, and nothing in her memory or thoughts was hidden from him. "The damper is a restraint, an evil sort of chain if you will. It was not meant to be used as an instrument of torture. Ginyu disrupted the Saiyan's Ki so greatly with the device over the last few weeks that his own energy began to turn inward on him and kill him slowly. And he had other injuries as well, of soul and spirit, older and far deeper in some ways…" The Eldest regarded her silently, washing her again with peace, with the soothing, unconditional love of his own soul, as she thought of things Ginyu had said to Vegita before Piccalo killed him, the taunts he had hurled. "I say that Vegita meant to forge a wedding bond with you, child. But because he was dying, and because he was more than half mad when he attempted it, the imbalance in his mind and body wrought the second, deeper form of the bond instead. His people called it "moonbonding." It is…
Becoming two halves of one soul, on some ways. The Saiyans of old revered this form of bond, but they feared it as well. It is deep and absolute, and very often, when one partner dies, the other will sink down into death with them….as you nearly did a few moments ago."
"Did you break the bond, Eldest?" Gohan asked hesitantly. He was standing a little away from the others, in the looming, oddly protective shadow of Piccalo Daimo. His little arms were folded over his chest in an unconscious imitation of the big Namek.
"I cannot. It will last as long as they both live."
Yamcha uttered a choked noise, his arms going around her shaking shoulders as though he could make the things the Eldest had said untrue by simply holding her. The god of Namek-sei flooded her with an even deeper level of calmness before he asked his next question softly. "Did you accept him willingly, child. Or did he force himself on you?" There was dead silence in the room, as she shivered in Yamcha's arms, even through the balm of the Eldest's touch. Then she slowly pushed herself out of the embrace of this good man she lad loved, almost since childhood, moving once again to stand beside Vegita. She gazed up at the Eldest, noticing Kami-sama for the first time standing behind him, deferring to the bigger Namek like a scholar bowing to the authority of an old, well-loved mentor.
"I---" A tear slid down her face, and she felt the aura a serenity the Eldest was projecting into her like a sedative wash through her again. "It just sort of happened. It was him…it was me…we just…" She didn't know the right words to explain how it had been. She touched Vegita's still face.
"How the hell can she know whether or not he forced her to---to---" Yamcha stumbled over the words, his face black with rage.
"How can she know anything for sure, if he did this---this mind rape thing to her?! He made her want him! He made her care for him and fawn over him like she's doing right now! She---!"
"There is steel in this young woman," the Eldest broke in over his words gently. "Whatever else may be true, she knows her own mind."
"Will he be all right?" She asked softly, trying to turn her mind away from Yamcha's words. They had given voice again to all the fears and doubts of her own feelings she'd had since---since this had happened. She remembered vaguely how angry she'd been at first, murderously enraged, when she'd had the first inklings of what he had done to her. Mind rape, Yamcha had called it. How far was that from the cold truth? He'd pushed this bond into her mind, unasked for, thrusting himself into her soul without her leave, even as she accepted him inside her body. He had---
No…He had meant to make a bond of empathy between them, something natural and instinctive to his people, the Eldest had said.
This…this other, all-encompassing, terrifying thing…it had been an accident. Because he had been dying, maybe. And perhaps the deepest part of him had known it, though his conscious mind had not, and had reached out like a drowning man to grasp her mind and soul.
"Dende saved his life," the big Namek replied. "But…there are complications that will affect you." A soft, regretful sob from the Namekian boy beside him, and he put one enormous hand on the child's head comfortingly. "It was not ill done, my son. You could not know things you had not been told." A deep sigh from the kindly god, and he turned back to her. "The Saiyan was balanced, I think, on the cusp of madness. And Dende unknowingly did a thing that is forbidden when he healed his Ki and internal balance.
He attempted to heal his mind and spirit as well…to heal his madness."
"Did it work?" She asked, not daring to breathe.
"In a fashion." The old god's face was somber, gazing down at her. "He is well…perhaps more so than he has ever been. But all things in the mortal heart and soul have their place and function. The wall of hate and rage he had built around his spirit is broken now. Dende dissolved it. He is still a Saiyan. Still fierce and deadly, still a killer and set in the patterns of behavior of a lifetime of all the violent things inherent to his blood. But even insanity has its purpose, child. I am holding his mind, and I have stilled its pain for the moment, as I have stilled yours. But the wall of madness and fury around his heart guarded his spirit from all the horrors of his life. He has been a slave in the service of a monster for twenty years, child. And he has known pain that you cannot imagine."
"And that wall…now that it's gone…" She whispered.
"He will feel his pain," the Eldest finished for her. "For the first time. A wall as thick as his should only be pulled down slowly, over a period of years. But now…the weight of it may break his soul. And yours as well, my dear. Because of this accidental moonbond, you will feel all that he feels. But…there is a remedy for you, if you wish it."
She shook her head in confusion, her eyes full of tears. Were they hers, she wondered? She had never cried, never let herself break down in paralyzing grief. Not even when her father had died in her arms, not even when her entire world had died, blown to black dust in a single day. But since Vegita's mind had woven itself inseparably inside her own, she had wept almost constantly. Were they her tears…or his? "What remedy?"
"I can hold your mind and soul separate from his, in a state of peace, when I wake him. He will either survive the blow of confronting himself without any barriers to shield him, or he will not. But you need not suffer with him. And if his spirit shatters, and he wills his own death rather than endure the pain…you will be free of him."
She was silent for a long, long moment, thinking.
"Bulma." Yamcha began. "You---"
"I need a moment to think," she told her friends quietly.
"You don't know what you're thinking!" Yamcha tried to hold her. It was all she could do to fight off the urge to sink into that strong, familiar embrace, all she could do not to listen to the words he said with such utter conviction. "Everything you think you're feeling for this son of a bitch is a product of what he did to you, Bulma! It's not real!" He turned back to the others for support. "She's not in any condition to make this kind of decision. She---!"
"Yamcha," she said, very softly. But the note of steel in her voice, one he knew very, very well, silenced him. "Give me a few minutes alone with Kami-sama and the Eldest. Okay?" She watched the muscles tense in his face, saw his shoulders sag in defeat. He knew her too well, knew better than any of the others how futile it was to argue with her. She turned back to the two Namek-jin when her friends were gone.
"He won't survive is you cut me off from him." It wasn't a question. It was sure gut knowledge. "But if I'm with him when he wakes, sort of anchoring him, he might."
"Most likely," the deep voice rumbled softly. "But you must accept the risk of your own free will."
"I do," she said. "And there's more at stake than either of our lives, isn't there? Vegita is strong. Stronger than any of Chikyuu's defenders, stronger than Son-Kun was. And now, after having been on the brink of death for so long…His power will be monstrous. And he wants to kill Frieza. More than anything. He's got the best chance of stopping him."
"It may be so," Kami-sama said, speaking for the fist time. "Son Gokou is beyond resurrection now. If this young man slays the Lord of Tsiru-sei, it will save the lives of countless billions on this and many other worlds."
"If he doesn't set himself up in Frieza's place when the battle is won," she murmured. "You've seen inside his heart. Dende was right...he's an evil man."
"Not entirely," the Eldest said softly. "And now, much less so, because you are the second half of his soul."
She sighed tiredly. It was hard, impossible in fact, to feel like the pawn of the gods, when they explained their motives for using you so gently. She bent over the Saiyan prince's body, brushing her lips against his. "Wake him," she said. "I will stay with him."
The ancient one nodded, and slowly withdrew the cushion of peace he had wrapped around her mind and Vegita's.
Vegita woke with a start, gripping her arms too tightly. He had one bare second of complete confusion as he began to take in his strange surroundings. Then the blow fell, like the crushing weight of a hundred worlds. He curled into a ball and began to wail. All that he felt poured into her as well, like water through the breach of a punctured damn, and she cried out with him. And it was only the beginning. It was not over for a long, long time. But she did not shrink back. Not from the pain. And not from him. Not even when he held her so tightly in a clenching, reactive embrace, screaming his throat raw, that her bones fractured. Not even when he began to burn like a golden sun in her arms, searing and blistering her skin with the heat of his aura. She held onto him, and didn't let go, or flinch away. Not once.
She could feel Dende and the Eldest enfolding her broken body in a mesh of healing power, towing her receding soul back from the threshold of death's doorway. Then nothing…nothing for a very long time but the sweet, dreamless vale of sleep.
Someone had carried them to a soft, rickety bed in one of the empty supply rooms, piling blankets over them in an attempt to ward off the encroaching cold from the unnatural, black-skied winter above. He stirred beside her, his mouth seeking hers, finding it, his arms enfolding her. She wondered how long it had been since they'd lost consciousness. Her mind staggered back from the memory of how bad it had been, like nothing she could have ever imagined in her most horrific nightmares of pain and fear. Of how he had seemed to glow like Chikyuu's yellow sun at the end.
"…golden?" She couldn't get the whole sentence out. "What was it?"
"My destiny," he whispered. "Super Saiyan…" He seemed to heave a sigh that held all the contentment in the world in that one breath. A moment of silence. "Woman…why?"
She was silent herself, trying to frame words that would explain. She settled for feelings, giving him all the confused emotions of passion and fear and wonder at such a wild, terrible, beautiful thing as himself, of her love of his diamond hard core of integral strength and unwavering commitment to whatsoever he set his hand to, of all the wealth of feeling, born not of the bond itself, but of seeing and knowing him for everything that he was, the good and the bad. He took a slow, deep breath, processing that, a shuddering wave of emotion running through his body as he choked on one last residual sob…of all the tears that he had held inside for nearly twenty years. And all that he felt for her, no less real and absolute because he would never put a name to it.
"I will keep you…" He whispered, repeating the phrase he had spoken on that first night. "And keep you safe. You are mine." She felt one last thread of thought, a dark, bloody song of anticipation, ripple through him just before she drifted away again, and she saw clearly what was in his mind. He would kill Frieza. He had the power now to do so, and more. He would grant her Chikyuu and the lives of all its people, restored through the wish he had given her his word she would have. And then…
He would rebuild the empire of his fathers, in a sweeping, unstoppable campaign of conquest and destruction. And he would burn down whole worlds if they threatened her, if they so much as dared to make her frown in dissatisfaction. He meant to set her beside him as a queen in the dark empire he would forge upon the slain bodies of billions with this new power of his. This power she had helped him attain. Oh Kami…no! She had been a fool beyond all measure of the word to think that healing a man's broken mind and spirit meant the same thing as burning the evil out of his soul. And he was evil. And she…she was the devil's bride. My fault! she thought, trembling against him. All those deaths are to come because I didn't let him die….all the blame at my feet!
All the blame at my feet, woman, he said silently, stroking her hair, a wisp of laughter in his thoughts. Be my conscience, if you wish, since I have none of my own. But I mean to bequeath our son a great empire to rule when my life is over. And the mortar of great kingdoms is slaked in blood."
I will stop you…She was almost asleep, unable to stay conscious any longer, taxed beyond the limit of her frail body's strength.
You will try, I have no doubt…but that is tomorrow. Not now. Sleep, Bulma. He kissed her, gently. And Kami help her, she fell asleep in his arms…smiling.
She drifted in a sea of cool, unwaking darkness, unable to rise to the surface, unable to move or cry out, even when she felt the world begin to shake beneath her, even when she knew that death Himself had come calling and was tearing the ground out from under her as He strove against the only force in the galaxy that could challenge his strength. Even as she saw through eyes that were not her own the battle joined, fought and won in a slashing blur of blood and rage and towering, screaming joy. He is dead…dead…the old monster is dead! The thought burned in a wondering blaze of fierce happiness that sent tears streaming from her closed eyes, wishing she was there, wishing she could hold him. But she could not wake herself, or stir an inch. It was as though a hand that was not physical was holding her head forcibly beneath the surface of sleep, keeping her still and safe in her father's subterranean refuge, the closest thing to cover she could have when world-smashing titans fought in the skies above. Another interminable space of time, of sound, unknowing sleep.
Then someone was shaking her awake. "Bulma-san! You have to come quick!" Gohan grabbed her hand and nearly yanked her out of the little bed with his greater strength.
"What is it?!" She asked, though she knew already. She could hear the men's voices raised in anger, drifting down the corridor from the open warehouse of the flyer hanger where most of the Nameks had set up a temporary home. She let Gohan pull her along, gaining speed as the deeper tones of Vegita's voice shifted from a shout to something deadly soft. Which meant he was through bantering and ready to kill. Her heart leapt into her chest as she saw Yamcha standing in front of him, blocking his access to where the Eldest sat in a ring of his frightened people. Yamcha's arms were folded in a hard-faced pose that masked the fear she knew he was feeling. She couldn't feel Vegita's Ki, but she knew her friends could, and Yamcha and all the others would know how unmatchable it really was. They could probably feel it like a battering ram of power in their heads. Yet, still they stood in a protective ring before the Nameks, ready to try to stop him.
"What the hell is going on here?!" She forced her voice up into its most strident, angry, pissy register, just a hair below a screech.
"Can I not leave you fucking men alone for a few hours without all of you getting into a Ki measuring contest?!" She strode right up to Vegita and placed herself between him and her friends. "What's the argument about, Krillan-kun?"
Krillan jumped a bit at being put on the spot, eyes widening as Vegita's gaze fell directly on him. "I---uh---Your…um…'friend' here wants to take the dragonballs away from the Nameks. And we were about to try to stop him. And get really dead, probably."
Vegita snickered. "At least one of this pathetic little band has more wit than a rock."
"Um…thanks," Krillan muttered.
She moved to where Tien sat on the floor, nursing a swollen, broken-looking leg. "I'm all right," the quiet-voiced man told her. Dende was hovering over him, bathing him in a greenish glow of his special power.
Yamcha stopped her as she began to round on Vegita, her eyes narrowed. He laid a hand on her arm, turning her to face him, beginning to speak. Then he was on the floor with Tien. He uttered an angry curse, and began to fling himself upward at the Saiyan who stood glaring balefully down at him.
"Do not touch my woman," Vegita told him softly.
"Your woman!" Yamcha spat. "You fucking bastard! She's only yours because you forced your filthy mind inside hers, twisted her thoughts until she thinks she loves you! You---!" A booted foot struck him in the chest, pinning him down.
"You were her lover, weren't you?" Vegita said in that same soft tone, his face breaking into a sneer. "Well then…I seems you may have a valid quarrel with me. Shall we settle this like men? If you can kill me, Chikyuu-jin, you may have her back."
"Stop it!!!" She screamed so loudly everyone in the great room jumped. She directed the full force of her anger, now truly monumental, at Vegita and he nearly winced. "I am not a pair of season tickets that you two can arm wrestle over!" She said succinctly. "Vegita…" She frowned, thinking for a second or two.
"Vegita wants to use the dragonballs. Did any of you guys ask him what he wants to use them for?" No one answered her. "Vegita," she said, softer. "Will you please take your foot off of Yamcha's chest. He can't breathe. He's been my friend since we were children, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't hurt him." The foot came up, and Yamcha sucked in a lung full of air, sagging in relief.
"I have pledged to give you the lives of all the people on this planet, woman," Vegita murmured. "I give you his now. But not a second time. Next time I will kill him."
"What wish did you want to make?" She asked him, drawing close to him, though not touching.
"What do you think?" He snapped. "I want power!"
"That you already have, warrior," the Eldest told him. "And your great enemy is dead."
"I know. But…I had thought I might destroy him in a different way with a wish. Less satisfying, but better in the long run. I would wish that he had never been born," Vegita said slowly.
"Neither him nor any of his accursed race. And thus restore my world and my people. Time travel will not amend the past, but the wishes…" He stalled, almost growling aloud in frustration at having to ask such questions, at having his wants and desires known to strangers. "Can they dissolve the past, old man? Remake the past anew, as though this reality had never been?"
The Eldest shook his head, a little sadly, Bulma thought. "There were once orbs, forged in the youth of our world, that could do this and more. But the arts that shaped them are lost to us. These dragonballs cannot be used to kill or unmake a soul. They cannot be used to remove a corporeal being, even one such as Frieza, from this plane of existence in any way."
"How," Vegita said coldly. "Do I know that you speak the truth, Namek?"
"I held your mind in mine when you hovered on the edge of damnation, son of Vegita-sei," the god told him. "You know that I may not speak a lie. To you or to anyone."
Vegita nodded slowly, frowning, trying to wrench himself away from that calm gaze. She caught the thought, gone almost before it fully coalesced inside the Saiyan's mind, that two days ago, he would have killed the gentle deity in a fit of rage, never thinking to ask these questions and learn what was and was not possible first. Never considering, until after he had done the deed, that the ancient Namek's death might mean the end of his dragonballs and the wishes they contained. A faint thrill of wonder, that he could suddenly think so clearly, so unencumbered with the ever-present rage that had been his constant companion for so long it---Then he thrust the thought away, with a quick, internal smirk, born of the knowledge that this made him far, far more dangerous than he had been. "So then…if not my people, could they bring back my world. The planet Vegita-sei?"
"It can be done," the eldest said slowly. "But an empty house is a sad dwelling, young man."
"I will fill it anew." He eyes turned to eye Bulma narrowly, a slow smirk playing across his face. "I had thought I would ask for immortality. But that is a fool's wish, I think now. And would become a curse in time. I had thought to wish that my woman's body be changed from Chikyuu-jin to that of a Saiyan, so that our children would be full blood." His smirk widened at her look of outrage. "But she is dangerous enough as it is. I will not give her fighting power as well." A soft, quickly muffled laugh from Krillan's general direction. She didn't take her eyes from Vegita's.
"But the first wish would be that my world might be restored as it was before Frieza destroyed it. You will grant this, old man. If you do not, your people will suffer for each second I am made to wait."
"There is no evil in this wish," the ancient Namek said. "Bring them forth, my children." The Nameks hesitantly brought our the seven, giant dragonballs of their world, and lay them before their god. He spoke, in a soft lyric language she could not understand, and the seven orbs ignited, and burst upwards, blowing the ceiling of the huge hanger and the earth between the bunker and the planet's surface away as they sprang to life. The Namekian dragon was much bigger than Shen Lon, his face and form more anthropomorphic. And vaguely irritable. The eldest spoke in a soft voice to the dragon, and the giant being rumbled a reply.
"It is done." The Eldest turned his eyes to Vegita. "Your world is restored, its animals and plant life revived as well."
Vegita seemed to swallow hard. Then he narrowed his eyes and turned to her. "Take your due, woman. The wish I promised you is yours." She nearly broke down at the thought of it all being over, of Poppa and Momma, and---and everything.
"Can you restore everything on Chikyuu to be as it was before the Ginyu arrived? That would take care of the people and the planet itself." One more minute, one more brief exchange and deep, rolling reply. The world around them seemed to glow in an effervescent radiance of healing. And it was done. Except, strangely, for the whole in Capsule Corp's back yard, a gaping maw in the earth where the dragon had burst up from the bunker, his tail tethered to the center dragonball.
"Hey down there!" She nearly collapsed at the sound of that voice. "What are you people doing in my---sweetie, is that you? Why did you call the dragon from down there?"
"I had a good reason," she called back in a remarkably steady voice. "We'll be up in a minute, Poppa." The sky was still dark overhead, the product of the dragon's power.
"One more wish," Piccalo muttered.
"No, Piccalo-san," Gohan said excitedly. "There's two left. Now that you and Kami-sama are back, Shen Lon is back, too! And the Eldest told Dende and me that when you have two set of dragonballs in one place, the bigger dragon can take the wish of the younger one and grant it himself. So, we don’t even have to raise Shen Lon to get the forth wish."
"Two sets of dragonballs," Vegita murmured, his eyes glinting like black flames. "Then you will not think me greedy when I take one set for myself."
"You can't do that!" Gohan had rounded on the Saiyan, staring up at him angrily. "They belong to the people of Namek and Chikyuu!"
"I will do as I please, brat," Vegita said flatly. "And you are not strong enough to stop me…" He grinned suddenly. "Yet. You are Kakarott's whelp, aren't you? And strong for a half-breed." Gohan's eyes had widened apprehensively as that dark, cold gaze fell directly on him "Do not fear me, boy. Your blood is as precious to me as my own. I would not spill it for all the wealth in creation." He turned a hard gaze on the circle of angry, fearful faces around him. "I will take the dragonballs of Namek and my woman, and leave the lot of you to rot in peace. If you are lucky, we will not meet again."
Everyone was moving at once, all her friends, all the Namekian warrior priests, forming a defensive line between her and the dragonballs…and Vegita. She couldn't tell who fired first, only that the room suddenly exploded in a blaze of light and heat. She was moving before she even knew she had a plan, stumbling over the burned body of the child Dende, past Yamcha, cold and still beside him. There was death everywhere, the smell of burning flesh, the sound of screams of pain and grief. She moved in a haze of calm, along the edge of the vicious, concentrated fight, where Piccalo and Gohan, burning like a red torch in righteous fury, were quickly being beaten down by the golden flame that was Vegita. She reached the wall and broke open security glass, tearing out the small gun that lay inside. All her fault, these deaths and the uncountable others to come. There was no check or balance to his evil, no one strong enough anywhere to match him or curb his will.
And he had to be stopped. Now. Before anyone else died.
She turned back to see Piccalo fall, broken and bleeding, to see Gohan hurled like a rag doll against a wall to collapse half-conscious, sobbing for his father, for Piccalo-san. She moved back to stand before Vegita, who regarded her coolly, grinning faintly at the gun in her hand. She raised the gun slowly.
"Vegita," she whispered. "I warned you…and I told you I wouldn't let you did this."
"So you did," he said softly, stepping so close the barrel of her weapon was pressed against his breast. "And how will you stop me, woman?"
She turned the muzzle of the gun into her own chest and fired. He cried out as though he had received the wound himself, catching her as she began to fall, holding her in both arms, his face going pale. "No! NO!!!" He began to fall with her, his breath coming short, his strength failing, as her life leaked away in his arms, like water pouring out of a sieve. "Bulma…Bulma…" The last almost a sob.
She touched his face, gazing up sadly, trying to speak. I wanted to love you so much…I wanted you, to have everything with you, dark prince. But…not at any price. Not a marriage bed built on a pile of corpses…I wanted…to love you… He sank down beside her, his heart laboring, slowing with hers. He touched his lips to hers just as the warm night of death took them both in its arms.
"…the most idiotic, suicidally stupid idea you've ever had, you old fool!" Piccalo was growling angrily.
"Trust me in this." Kami-sama's voice, calm and measured. "Experience is the only school some men will learn in…but this was a very pointed lesson. I believe it will be taken to heart."
"You should have let the son of a bitch stay safely dead, and the girl with him, if that's what it took. She died heroically. Let her death mean something. Now he's free to toast us all over again."
Piccalo's voice moved away, grumbling, followed by the soft footfalls of Son Gohan.
Vegita's arms tightened around her, and she opened her eyes. She could feel the eyes of other people around them. She and Vegita still lay where they had fallen on the hanger floor. There was blood on his face…her blood. She reached out a hand a wiped it away, staring into his black eyes. Those black, granite eyes were full of standing tears, and he snarled in frustration and shame, wiping them violently away with his sleeve. The wall around his heart was gone, the Eldest had said. He would have to learn, as most people did in childhood, to feel his emotions without giving way to tears.
"Bulma…" He shook his head. There were no words for this, no way to express the conflicting emotions, his horror at what she had done, the knowledge that he had forced her hand, the heart-broken need for her and everything she was that was raging inside him. "I am…I broke my oath to you. I did not keep you safe. I---"
"Shh," she said. It was in her mind and in her heart and in her soul, all the words he was choking on. The sorrow he felt, his fear of this new and terrifying thing called love, his horror and loss as he had felt her die in his arms, and the…the need for her. She was becoming more and more aware of the presence of quite a few people around them. All of them alive and well. The Namekian dragon's last wish. Vegita stood, holding her in both arms, and levitated toward the surface, carrying her away from the crowd. The bright light of Chikyuu's sun was spilling down on them, the skies blue, cloudless and perfect.
She looked down on the jagged peaks of the reddish mountains, a little removed from the warmth of the heated room behind her balcony. The capsule house she'd constructed for this little adventure was huge, though it seemed like a tiny dot against the terrain around them. She'd built it in the exterior style of some ancient gothic castle, and that seemed to fit just perfectly with her husband's sensibilities.
He was rich, she had discovered. He had invested in a dozen separate interests within the mechantile Trade Houses, and rich was a weak adjective to describe the kind of wealth he'd amassed over his years as a mercenary. Blood money, she though with a chill. But all money was dirtied in some way, she supposed. It was the use you put it to. The Trade Houses were going to get a nasty surprise in the next couple of years, she imagined, if they thought they could just move in and confiscate Frieza's former slave worlds without contest. Vegita had a head for governing, and the strength to defy armadas of muscling competitors. With her business training added to that, it wouldn't be long before a new empire rose on this new world…this old world reborn. There were already petitioners, from worlds sick of bowing and scraping to thieves wearing the robes of corporate representatives, offering allegiance in exchange for protection should they defect into the arms of Vegita-sei. The first few ambassadors had been leery, terrified of the mere mention of the word Saiyan. But they had found one Saiyan only, dwelling alone with his wife in a house of stone and granite that was warm and surprisingly homey on the inside, on a pristine world, full of rich, wild beauty. One Saiyan with the power to lay half the galaxy to waste if he wished. Who had chosen not to, for reasons of his own. And now the petitions were coming in droves. A few refugees had even settled in the hills below their castle on the mountain, forming the beginnings of a little city.
She wrapped her arms around herself against the chill gust of wind that swept downward, smiling as warm hands fell on her shoulders. "You are cold?" he asked, his lips brushing the side of her neck.
"Lonely?" She would never have thought he would ask such a question aloud. She turned in his arms, meeting his eyes. She had shut herself off from her family, her friends, her entire world, to leave all those things safe from him. He was still a temperamental force of nature, still deadly and every inch the killer he had been when she first laid eyes on him. The worlds that were coming to offer fealty to him, did not expect to be free…only a little less enslaved and taxed out of existence than they were now. And in two instances in the last months, he had left their new world to sweep away the subduing fleets of the Trade Houses who meant to take back worlds now under his sovereignty by force of arms. He meant to rule these new vassal worlds in the most old-fashioned, medieval, monarchical sense of the word. One man, one law. For the moment anyway. Perhaps he would change these ideas in time. He already had given a great deal of ground on the issue of self-governing. She had every hope that she could nudge him a little farther in the direction of parliamentary monarchy with each passing year. Though how free would a representative body of any kind would feel to challenge the dictates of ruler who could blow their entire world to dust with the power of his mind? Not very. But change in governments, like changes in a man's heart, did not happen overnight.
In any case, it was courting tragedy to have him anywhere near Chikyuu, with its odd, outlandish views of royal figureheads and governments of the people…and with its band of warriors who would not forgive or forget what he had done in those terrible, brief minutes before her death. Her parents had been devastated at her choice to leave with Vegita, and Yamcha had been worse than devastated. She had a sinking feeling he would mourn the loss of her all his days, never accepting her word that she was in her right mind, not under the Saiyan's control in some way. And Poppa and Momma were nearly as bad…She would visit her parents and friends soon, to tell them her news, though she wished they wouldn't grieve for her as though she were a child stolen and sold into slavery in some far away country. She couldn't make them understand how it was between her and Vegita. If only because words were insufficient. Though maybe Gohan would come to see her soon. Chi-Chi's soul had somehow made her way past the officious desk of Enma, the Judge of Dead Souls, in the confusion of having such an enormous number of souls to process after the Ginyu had burned Chikyuu. She had followed the path her husband had taken down Snake Way, Kami-sama said. Now, they dwelt together on a tiny green world that hung like an emerald orb on the borderlands between this world and the next. And she had refused to return when the dragon had called all of Chikyuu's dead back from their untimely rest. Piccalo Daimo had taken the Namekian ship hidden in her father's nethermost hanger, and had taken Son Gohan as well, stealing away from Chikyuu without asking anyone's leave for custodianship of either. Poppa was building the Nameks a new ship, but was perhaps as worried about Gohan as he was about her. She smiled. She and Gohan had something in common in her husband and his new father. No one could fathom what either of them had seen in Vegita or Piccalo that was worthy of love. And there was a strange understanding between those two men, beneath the acerbic animosity. They had both walked the darkest side of midnight all their lives until recently, and emerged to contemplate the sun because of a bond with one living creature they each held dear. And Gohan was precious to Vegita because of the boy's Saiyan blood. He would be safe if they came to visit Vegita-sei.
"A little lonely," she said honestly. "Maybe tomorrow I'll go down to see the little city those Madrani engineers you hired are building in the cove. I could use some gear-head conversation… and a group of friends around me."
"I have brought one of their doctors as well…He will supervise the boy's growth, and attend you when your time comes. It will be dangerous. I have told you this already." He lay one hand one her still flat abdomen, caressing her and the life growing inside.
"I'm not afraid." She kissed him lightly, deepening into something sweet and languorous as he swept her off her feet, as he pulled her against him as though she were all that stood between him and the flames of Hell. Perhaps he thought she was. He lay her down on their bed, not making love to her…simply holding her. Something he'd never done before. She buried her head against his chest and sighed, falling down into hopeful dreams of the future. A man couldn't change overnight. But he could change. And each day, a little here and a little there, she could see it happening. She smiled and kissed him again.