Looky at this. We’re almost done. ^.^ Again, don’t mind Kami and his "poetry." This part was actually hard to write because it finally hit me that I had to keep everyone relatively in character. *sigh* Ah well. Just watch out as you read this because I put a lot of metric-type stuff in here, and math was never my strong subject either. ^.^ But *I* like how it turned out and it you don’t then poo on you. Enjoy.
Chi-Chi grimaced as a sudden sapling that shot into the night sky—already illumined by the waxing moon—caught her injured ankle and hoisted her high into the air. Gritting her teeth in a phenomenal effort not to cry out—and further proving that she was indeed the daughter of the Ox King—she twisted until her body was flung out across the whole of the branch, feeling it bend under her weight. The princess tested the vines holding her foot to the juncture of tree and limb, grunting slightly as she tensed her entire leg and ripped free. The sudden jolt made the branch sway dangerously, bringing her over the center of the clearing instead of the edge. Below, Vegeta shifted slightly, obviously still fighting back the instinctive change. Chi-Chi flinched, remembering the problems Kakorrot had controlling his other form. If the moon had been full this night...
She shuddered involuntarily, eyes widening as the sapling’s bough creaked, a sharp snap making her stiffen. Her first instinct was to sit up, but her 54-kilogram (about 120 lbs.) frame would then be concentrated in the same area and she would no longer remain above the field. It wasn’t the fall that frightened her. It was the stop at the end. Especially since directly below slept the arrogant Saiyan her best friend had claimed. And the Vegetasei duke was not well known for social graces when awakened before he was damn good and ready to be.
However, luck could not outlast gravity, and she heard the inevitable cracking just before the branch went out from under her. Chi-Chi closed her eyes as she started the rapid descent. It took a moment for her to realize that her skin no longer felt as if it were being stripped from her body and the howling wind no longer deafened her. Cracking one eye, all the princess could see were the black orbs of the duke staring expressionlessly into her own. Behind his flaming spikes of hair, she could make out a few boughs, the lowest branches of the surrounding trees, indicating that they were several meters above the ground. Vegeta cradled her to his compact chest almost protectively as he controlled their drop to the forest floor. He kept blinking as if something had gotten in his eye, and a half-dazed expression constantly flickered across his chiseled features.
"My lord?" The Saiyan seemed to focus on her, although his gaze had never left hers. Chi-Chi smiled slowly. "You may put me down. I believe the danger has passed."
The strangest look crossed the duke’s face as he pulled his forearm away from her knees and let her feet slide to the ground. His nose twitched as his perpetual frown deepened. "Kakorrot has touched you." It sounded almost like an accusation.
"Yes," she began hesitantly, wondering why Vegeta was acting so unlike himself. Normally she only received a curt nod in greeting, but now he was initiating a conversation after saving her. "I fell and Goku helped me up." His expression was unreadable, although she sensed that if he was informed of the younger Saiyan’s rudeness toward her, he would hunt Kakorrot down without a second thought. Why did he suddenly care?
"He will not again," Vegeta promised, black eyes steely. His arm circled her waist and pulled her to him until they were pressed tightly together from chest to knees. Chi-Chi’s eyes widened and she tried to use her arms as leverage against his monstrous strength, but only succeeded in tiring herself. The duke waited until he felt her go limp in his grasp before lowering his mouth to her ear. "No one touches my mate without my permission."
The princess went rigid and immediately renewed her efforts to free herself. "NO!" The duke blinked, ears ringing from her shout. The momentary loss in concentration allowed her to pry his hand from his hip and take the few hobbling steps backward that brought her out of his reach. "I’m not your mate, my lord."
"Not yet," he growled, crossing his arms although his stance showed that he would much rather go after her. "We shall see to that."
"What of Bulma?"
Vegeta shrugged nonchalantly, eyes flicking back and forth between the two women. Chi-Chi fervently wished her friend would awaken. The noble slept as if dead, and was just as hard to rouse from slumber. "What of her, my dove?"
The princess was momentarily stunned, lower jaw slackening. He’d never used romantic words with Bulma, choosing only to call her "woman" in the most affectionate tone he could manage. Blinking to bring herself out of her stupor, she closed her mouth and straightened. "You’re betrothed to her, my lord."
"It is nothing that cannot be broken." Chi-Chi swallowed thickly as the Saiyan advanced, knowing that even in top form she could barely keep pace with him—in her current condition of tired and injured and in an unknown place, she couldn’t escape if he decided to pursue. "You are the one that I desire, lady." His hand lifted hers to his lips and the black-haired woman twisted it out of his fingers. Vegeta caught her wrist again, slowly bending one knee until he was kneeling before her. "I wish for you to be my mate, the bearer of my children, the one I will protect with all my might." She recognized the formal proposal used in Vegetasei, and the parts of Chikyuu that shared that border and tried to pull away before he could finish. However, the Saiyan was determined. "My lands, my love, my life. They are yours if you wish them."
"I do not," Chi-Chi whispered, no longer struggling to free her arm. Vegeta would only let go when he was ready to.
"Tell me why."
"What?" Of all the answers she was expecting, that hadn’t even been considered.
"Tell me why," he repeated, and allowed her hand to drop from his palm.
"I don’t love you, my lord, I love Kakorrot. And I will do anything to make him love me in return. You are betrothed to Bulma, and I refuse to accept your vows when she is sleeping only here." Her wounded foot nudged the blue-haired noble for emphasis. "She loves you, and I will do nothing to hurt her."
"Her feelings matter not to me," he grunted. "YOU are the one I care for, princess. How can I love a dog such as Bulma when the beauty and grace of a goddess stands before me? She had bewitched me into believing SHE was the better, but now my eyes are clear and I know my heart belongs to you. That witch holds me under her spell no more."
You eyes are NOT clear, that is the problem, Chi-Chi thought as she backed away, leaving the kneeling Saiyan in the shadows. Bulma stirred suddenly, stretching with a languid laziness. Her back was to her friend as she grinned and rose. She placed a kiss on her lover’s forehead, which he flinched away from. "Vegeta? What—" She was silenced by a glare, but followed his gaze toward the other side of the clearing. The noble’s eyes widened. "Chi? What... what are you DOING here? I told you not to follow!"
"Why do you pretend you didn’t know I was coming?" the princess hissed, crossing her arms as her eyes traveled the short distance between Bulma and Vegeta.
"I didn’t," Bulma replied, looking just as confused as her friend. "How could I have?"
"How DARE you make sport of me now!" Chi-Chi growled, using every last nuance of control to keep herself from stamping her foot childishly. "I am lost in these gods-forsaken lands and you only continue to amuse yourselves at MY expense!" She drew herself up to her full height, chin high. "No longer."
"Chi, what ARE you talking about?" Bulma demanded, throwing her hands up in exasperation. "Vegeta, do you—" The glare that was before reserved only for Kakorrot was leveled at her with such ferocity that she stepped back, eyes wide. "My lord, why are you looking at me in such a manner?"
"Do not address me in such a familiar way, woman," he growled, folding his arms across his chest and narrowing his eyes almost to slits. The women felt a slight chill as he shifted the bulk of his weight to his back foot. "I am your lord and expect to have the proper respect as such."
Chi-Chi’s eyebrow rose as Bulma’s face mixed with hurt, confusion, and her infamous temper. "I shall address you any damn way I please, my LORD," she hissed, leaving her emotions to configure themselves. "If I’d known that my betrothed would be so irate when caught sleeping beside his fiancée I would have made you stay farther off." Before the Saiyan could respond, she glanced over her shoulder at the princess. "What have you done to him?"
"What have *I* done?" Chi-Chi ground out between clenched teeth. "YOU are behind this!"
"Behind WHAT? I have yet to be told what you’re rambling on about!" It was more than obvious she was making a conscious effort to keep her voice only exasperated as she put a hand on Vegeta’s shoulder to steady herself as she adjusted her shoe. A small stone rolled out as the duke moved out of the way, sending his future wife to the ground.
She blew her hair out of her eyes, glaring at him and clenching at the bare ground. One gloved hand made a dismissing motion. "Away from me, wench."
The princess back farther into the shadows, biting her lower lip. Vegeta wasn’t that good an actor, and he would do nothing to hurt Bulma, even if only for show. Something doesn’t make sense, she thought desperately, watching her friend mouth the word. Then she exploded.
"WENCH?! You dare call me WENCH, my lord?" She grabbed the folds of his jacket, yanking him toward her in a moment of surprise. "I hope you know what you’re doing, Vegeta, because if I wanted I could have every fighting man in Chikyuu after you. My father’s tracking machines are really a sight to behold. They can sense motion and heat as well as energy. There will be no place on this continent that you could hide." She pulled him even closer, their noses almost touching. "Do you really want to scorn THIS woman, my lord? The repercussions might not be worth the momentary satisfaction."
"You threaten me?" His deep voice bordered on incredulous.
"I inform you," she hissed back, releasing him with the same suddenness she’d displayed when forcing him near. "I’ve never seen you like this before, Vegeta. What’s going on?" When his only response was a twitch from his jaw, she sighed and turned her attention to her friend. "Chi, explain."
The princess clutched at the tree behind her, uncertain of her ability to make an escape if either of the pair decided to come after her. "He proposed to me," she whispered.
"Goku finally pulled his head out of his ass? That’s wonderful!" In her excitement, she missed her fiancé’s low growl.
"Not Goku," Chi-Chi muttered as the older woman started toward her. "Him."
"Him?" Bulma turned toward the Saiyan, who was smirking. She shook her head slowly, turning to face the younger noble. "You must be mistaken. He can’t. He is wedding me with the sun."
"I am not." Vegeta’s voice sounded in her ear and she spun to find him centimeters away. "I am free of your spell now, witch. Away with you."
Bulma looked between her friend and her lover so quickly it looked as if she were only shaking her head in denial. "You’re jesting."
"That’s what *I* told him," Chi-Chi growled.
"And you know as well as I that I do not jest." He pushed past his fiancée with slow deliberateness. "My princess and I will wed with the rising moon. Return to Kakorrot. He will need comfort before I kill him." His expression softened as he moved toward the raven-haired woman, something like a smile playing at his lips. He paused an arm’s length away. "Come, pearl of my love."
Chi-Chi swallowed thickly, shifting her weight to her uninjured foot and bending that knee. She reached out one hand, seeing that Bulma was slowly falling to her knees, biting her lower lip to keep the tears at bay. The duke’s smile turned true as he extended his palm. As their fingers touched, the princess straightened her leg, launching herself toward the thick brush at her back. She rolled to a stop, sand-covered and wincing, seeing that Vegeta was trying to break through the foliage as well. He was still fighting the flora as everything around her was cast into darkness.
Kami glanced over at his servant as the younger Namek appeared, looking almost smug. Piccolo slid his cape into place with an arrogant grace and placed his turban on his head with a flourish. That display openly showed that he was rather proud of his completed assignment—even his master had a difficult time pinpointing the exact location of mortals. Kami mentally rolled his eyes, cocking his head to the side in silent inquiry. Piccolo nodded sharply, crossing his arms across his broad chest.
"Well done noble servant. Now let us see the fruits of thy labor." The lord’s hand waved and the blackness before them swirled into a blurred picture, clarifying as the two blinked in unison. Kami’s brow furrowed as Vegeta knelt before the Chikyuu princess, then slowly closed as he realized what had happened. Piccolo stared curiously at his master as the older Namek’s wrinkled fingers gently massaged his temple. "Ah, unfair cur! Thou hast bewitched the wrong man with the one of my favor! This is not the man I before espied, yet ‘tis the lady who had cried." The servant’s low groan—almost a growl—could hardly be heard by Kami as he spoke again, this time shaking his head. "Dilemmas now we shalt see from this blunder made by thee."
Kakorrot growled as the ground shifted under him once more, this time tossing him on top of what looked to be a palm tree and below, half the pond of an oasis. The water stopped abruptly at the next line of trees where the forest continued on. Shaking his head, the Saiyan eased himself into the branches of his new lookout and stared at the sky. Even that had visible line through it, as if two different quilts had been cut apart and hemmed together. The small slice of moon seen in one corner wasn’t visible over the forest, as another hung effortlessly in the sky. Through his search, he’d come more and more to respect the Forbidden Lands in all their dangers. One never knew exactly where he was or where he would end up after taking only a few steps in a new direction. The sprites hadn’t been seen, but this was their home. They knew every shadow and movement of land or sky. They were watching.
He scowled as he stretched out along the leaves, folding his arms under his head as he stared thoughtfully at the night sky. Finding any of his companions now in this gods-forsaken place would be a deed worthy of knighthood. Finding them alive would most likely be worth half the kingdom, especially when considering that the princess was just as lost. Kakorrot bit his lower lip as that odd feeling of guilt washed over him once more. He didn’t know why he’d left Chi-Chi to deal with the Forbidden Lands alone, knowing that Bulma would never forgive him if she found out and war would be declared on Vegetasei. None of that so much as made him twitch, but the obvious betrayal in her eyes made his stomach squeeze.
Kakorrot sighed and spit over the side of his arm. He’d thought that once he’d broken the engagement to Chi-Chi the feelings he had would vanish as well. He wasn’t ready to be king, and never would be. The problems of Chikyuu would weigh so heavily on him that in the first year of his reign he would probably kill himself. So he’d gone to his childhood friend, the one match that the parents of both approved of. It was true, he loved Bulma, but the passion he’d felt for Chi-Chi wouldn’t reappear with the noble. Why she still wanted him after dealing such a slap in the face he would never know. Vowing to set things right once they were away from this accursed place—if any of them survived—he let his eyes slide closed. As he fell into sleep, he felt the eyes of three hundred sprites upon him.
Seeing the duke and his lady suddenly disappear wasn’t the most comforting thing she’d ever experienced, despite wanting to get away from the Saiyan at all costs. Chi-Chi groaned when the earth below her shook, sending her down the hill despite already being on the ground. This time when she stopped, a grainy feeling rose from her skin. The princess grunted as she pushed herself into a sitting position, snarling as her black hair tumbled loose from its tie and into her face. The moment she could see again, she wished she hadn’t. All around her dunes of sand rose almost as high as the trees she’d just left.
Snapping around at a sudden groaning sound, she saw that the patch of forest was slowly being stripped away until nothing remained. Black eyes closing, she forced herself to her feet and eyed the nearest knoll. It was hard work getting to the top, even if she hadn’t had the handicap of an injured ankle. Chi-Chi panted, coming to the crest and stared out in dismay over the landscape. Rolling hills of sand stretched as far as the eye could see, uninterrupted by strands of grass or even the footprints of another living thing. Falling to her knees, it was all she could do not to cry.
Her mind reeled with the sudden realization that she was trapped in the desert with no companions, no food, and no water. Chikyuu had no regions such as this. Any barren place was frozen so harshly that not even the Saiyans’ magic could bore a hole into the ground. She would die here, not from battle but from exhaustion and starvation.
"What a miserable way to die," she growled, still staring out into the unchanging landscape. She didn’t know how to find water, or even shade in this type of place, didn’t know what—if any—animals inhabited the area and if they were poisonous. The only advantage she had was a hunting dagger tucked into the small of her back, luck having it that the armory was on her way out of the palace. She now pulled it out from under her shirt and turned it over in her hands. The starlight glinted off the metal scabbard as she held the hilt away from her. I will not give up. That thought would become her mantra as she stood once more. The fault was her own that she was even IN this despicable situation. She was the daughter of the Ox King, and the stubbornness that had given her father that name had been passed down to her.
She smirked, pulling the blade free and studying it with a careless ease. Both sides were deadly, and kept in prime condition, the whetstone located inside the sheath. It was clean, although several dark spots showed proof of its usefulness in battle. The princess slid the knife back into its scabbard and tucked it back in the waistband of her breeches. Any sprites that lurked these lands would be in for a bit of a surprise. Chi-Chi carefully made her way down the mound, unaware that the hissing at her back was not the wind.
A soft sobbing could be heard as one passed over the glade. The blue-haired noble was curled on her side in the same place that she’d been sleeping in blissful ignorance before she’d lost her lover to her best friend. She now knew how Chi-Chi felt when Kakorrot had abandoned her, and clenched her fists as she fervently wished she didn’t. Vegeta didn’t look as if he’d been jesting when he went after the princess, and yet Bulma also knew that Chi-Chi wouldn’t willingly take him. Some sort of prank was being played on her, but she had yet to figure out what was to be gained by either of them if she were made miserable. She didn’t think that her tender heart couldn’t take much more of the abuse.
Bulma groaned as she pulled her knees closer to her chest, clutching the ring given to her at their engagement celebration in one hand, the fingers of the other tangled in her necklace. In some dim part of her mind she realized that she was wallowing in self-pity—behavior far from her normal prideful, spunky self—and didn’t care. She’d just lost everything that was important: her lover, her two best friends, possibly even her life. Fat tears squeezed out from under closed lids as she bit her lower lip. She’d thought before that she would cry for no man, but then she’d made the mistake of giving Vegeta her heart, and he’d just caused it irreparable damage. He’d crushed it thoroughly Bulma knew it would never be the same.
"Damn you, you bastard." The noble didn’t recognize her own voice, thick with emotion. "Why did I have to fall in love with you?" The thought of simply going home and wedding Kakorrot as soon as he returned crossed her mind, but it wouldn’t do to make the innocent Saiyan suffer because of her own pain. She would have to take her revenge on Vegeta, and Vegeta alone. Using the back of her hand to wipe the wet trails from her cheeks, Bulma sat up, opening her eyes at long last. "I warned you not to scorn this woman, my lord."
There was nothing. He was completely alone in this blackness, unable to see or hear, feeling nothing against his sensitive skin, though there was a sour bitterness in his mouth that he wished to the gods he could be rid of. Vegeta strained to see, his black eyes open as wide as he could force them, but there wasn’t so much as a trace of light in this place. He could feel the rumbling in his chest seconds before the low growl broke the deafening silence. Something felt wrong, as it had when he had been with Chi-Chi. Everything had been fine until Bulma had awakened, the fire that had caught his attention several times before captured it once more. Most of the noise he’d made had been out of his own inability to attend to his mate, as his eyes kept being forced back to the princess. She was beautiful in a way other than his fiancée, that he would admit, but the only feeling he’d harbored prior to this was one of loose friendship. Now he felt as if he were being ripped in two between his true love and the one he was being forced toward. He’d given chase to Chi-Chi, his legs moving of their own accord and he was now trapped in this soulless abyss.
He felt a presence by his side and strained to look over his shoulder. The smirking form slightly behind him looked much like the little healer Dende, and Vegeta realized that this had to be one of the boy’s ancestors. The Namek sprite grasped him, one hand on either hip, and surged upward, breaking through what looked like layers of earth and metal, emerging on the border of forest and desert. The duke was stunned by the sudden activity, trying to keep his spinning stomach under control. Glaring at his savior, the Saiyan used every last ounce of self-control not to fall to his knees. Never before had he experienced something like that, and never would he want to again.
"Who are you?" he demanded coarsely, still holding his sides for fear of emptying the contents of his belly. "What is your purpose?" In answer, the sprite pressed one forefinger to the center of the duke’s forehead, magic crackling about the lengthy nail before Vegeta’s head snapped back from the sheer force. When his vision finally cleared, he held one palm to the burning point on his head. Whatever had been wrong with him, the sprite had dulled the effect. He now knew that he had to break whatever spell had been cast through his iron will, and he planned to do just that. Clenching one fist, the duke smirked as raw magic filtered through his fingers to create a pulsating globe of light. He was the hunter once more.
"Damnation!" She was sure that she could be heard all the way to the Chikyuu capital as she plunged knee-deep into a pit overlaid with a seemingly solid layer of sand. She now had to use her injured leg to pull herself free, as there was nothing for her hands to grab onto, and they would be useless because of the angle she’d fallen at. Gritting her teeth, she braced herself just before an insistent rumble caught her attention. Closing her eyes and praying to any deity that would listen, she hoped she hadn’t tumbled into the home of some daytime sprite. When the shuddering started, she felt herself being pulled backward, down the way she’d come. Had she not been caught in this hole—now a blessing in her mind—she would have rolled to the bottom and had to start all over again.
Chi-Chi was still upright enough to glance over her shoulder and see a line appear as if the place where hill rolled into valley had been whipped. The next moment all movement on her dune had stopped, and she was covered with sand so thoroughly she could hardly move. All limbs were trapped, and what covered her head was starting to get heavy. The princess sighed and relaxed, making sure to calmly exhale through her nose in order to keep the passage clear as the sand continued to tumble over her. She’d heard rumors that the Forbidden Lands moved on their own, and only pieced it together now. She’d escaped Vegeta through the random motions of land and sky, and was now being transported to gods-knew where.
The moment she decided that this might not be so bad, her patch of desert slammed down in its new home, burying her completely. Chi-Chi bit back a scream, knowing the last thing she needed was 22 kilograms (about 10 lbs.) of sand trying to force its way down her throat. The weight pressing down on her chest was far from comforting as well and she squeezed her eyes shut even harder in an effort to keep the rising fear from overtaking her. Fists clenching at her sides, she did the only thing she could think of. Her magic welled up in every pore—not as potent as Kakorrot of Vegeta’s, but it was enough to blow the sand off as she let it explode around her with a silent roar. The force from her magic had also opened the hole around her leg, and she started to slide backward as the airborne sand started to come back down. The princess kicked as the solid-packed dirt under her and used her arms to shield her head as she continued more roughly down the dune.
Chi-Chi was brought to a sudden stop as her back came in harsh contact with a tree. Her eyes popped open, hesitantly feeling the bark. It wasn’t the forest she’d just left, and Chikyuu didn’t have ones such as this. Glancing over her shoulder, she ignored the leafy flora as she turned on hands and knees toward the pool. It was an oasis.
He was cast to his knees as the tremors started, the trembling nearing the ferocity of only the enraged sea. Black eyes wide, he dug his fingers into the sand, trying to gain purchase and prevent himself from returning to the darkness. His efforts were fruitless as the unrelenting wind pushed him farther back, toward the juncture where the two pieces separated. Growling low in his throat, lips pulled back in a snarl, he ground his booted feet more firmly into the ground and stripped off first one glove then the other with his teeth, returning each hand to a small indentation in hopes of keeping himself from moving.
I am the future duke of Vegetasei, he grunted mentally, closing his eyes as the wind whipped the sand into a frenzy. His skin felt like it was being slowly torn away, layer by layer. I cannot be beaten. His magic sparked to life along his spine, traveling the nerves into his arms and legs. Vegeta’s fists clenched as the 80 kilometer-per-hour (about 50 mph) wind felt more and more like a caressing breeze, he standing fully erect and moving forward. The Saiyan smirked as he made his way effortlessly to the top of the hill, staring out over the new scenery.
Nothing but stars met his gaze and he felt a strange thrill travel through him, making every hair stand on end. A sudden jolt made him stumble forward, making him hard-pressed to stay balanced as he was forced down the hill by the sudden momentum. Now he was surrounded by more sand, more hills, and out of the corner of one eye he could see the sliver of light reflecting off water. Vegeta smirked and turned fully toward the oasis, heart leaping as he noticed a familiar figure limping into the grove as if it contained the gods themselves. Forcing the sudden emotion back, he followed slowly. He had to break the spell, but how could he when Chi-Chi drove him to distraction whenever he was near? With a sigh, the duke shook his head and turned his steps toward the water.
Kakorrot’s eyes flashed open as the groaning sound intensified, as if breaking away from the trees was taking more effort than it should have. He straightened, moving into a sitting position as his shelter rattled as if it were going to shatter. Grabbing the tree’s trunk, he grunted as one leg was wound around it and his fingernails bit into the bark. Simple he may be, but even a child knew better than to remain so far above ground during a quake. His teeth were bared as he made his way carefully down from his post, pausing frequently as the ground swayed and bucked under him. Finally he gauged the distance enough to jump safely and released the trunk, landing in the water up to mid-thigh. His breath escaped him in a rush of relief, a smile etching itself over his lips. Too soon, as the frothing pond washed over his head with such force it washed him back. He was still under the surface when the land was returned.
Chi-Chi heard a muted squeak as the other half of the oasis hover passed over her, hovering a redwood’s height over where it should be, and realized it was she that tried voicing her awe through a dried throat. Black eyes widened as the patch crashed into place and she fell to her knees, bending at the waist and holding her arms over her head. When the ground didn’t tremble, when the wind didn’t bowl her over, when she was still filthy and dry, she chanced a glance toward the completed haven. The line down the center was slowly disappearing, and as it vanished she could feel the slight effects. The breeze kicked up, small waves lapped at the beach, and the tiniest of tremors ran under her as she got to her feet.
"By the gods," she heard someone breathe. The princess whirled around to find Vegeta only a few paces behind her, her voice unrecognizable for the awe in it. She’d thought her throat dry before: now it felt as if it had been scrubbed with sandpaper and overlaid with cotton. The duke’s eyes fell on her and he smiled. "My dove, you are here." While he made no motion to get nearer, she still moved back, out of range. One eyebrow rose and he seemed to shrug, yet another difference from earlier that night. Before he would have chased her back into the wilds of the desert before allowing her out of his sight again.
"As am I." Chi-Chi’s eyes closed as her head tilted back, demanding of the gods what she’d done to deserve this punishment. Kakorrot, dripping and bedraggled, poured the excess water out of his boot with an infuriating carelessness. His dark eyes were locked on Vegeta. "My lord," he acknowledged, nodding once with a respect neither of his companions thought he still had.
"Kakorrot," Vegeta’s deep voice boomed. The younger Saiyan eased the boot onto his bare foot and emptied the other one before giving his friend his full attention. "Why are you here?"
"I didn’t have much of a choice, my lord," he answered with a dry smile. "Where is Bulma?"
"I know not." The firmness in his voice also suggested and I care not. Kakorrot gritted his teeth to prevent himself from saying something he would later regret. As much as he hated his old friend for taking Bulma from him, Vegeta still outranked him and his Saiyan upbringing still viewed that as an obstacle. The duke smirked and cocked his head. "Something bothers you?"
"Not at all, my lord. I only came to congratulate you and see for myself that you have not died on your way." Kakorrot gave a lengthy bow, rising with his face expressionless. "I have also come for the princess. She is in no condition to travel to the palace alone."
"Why the sudden change of heart, Goku?" Both men glanced at her as she limped out of the shadows. "Three hours ago you were content to leave me defenseless and lost."
"You will not go near her," Vegeta ordered, crossing his arms, eyes daring Kakorrot to challenge him.
"And why will I not?" he demanded, meeting the duke’s stone gaze.
"I don’t want you to," Chi-Chi said before the older warrior could give his reason. Amusement danced in the Saiyan’s eyes although his face remained unchanged. Kakorrot looked at her incredulously and she shook her head. "I want you no longer, my lord."
"Lady," he whispered, blinking away sand that had blown into his eyes as he crossed the few meters between them.
Vegeta growled, hand moving of its own accord to grab the collar of the younger man’s shirt and haul him back to sit at his feet. Kakorrot looked up into the smaller man’s shadowed face. "You were warned, Kakorrot, not to go near her."
"What is she to you my lord?" he spat.
"My future mate." Those three words made Kakorrot go rigid in Vegeta’s grasp. The duke pulled away, scowling. "And she is therefore under MY protection."
"Is no longer any of my concern," he heard himself saying, although the name of his fiancée tugged at something in his heart.
"I haven not accepted you, my lord." Chi-Chi lifted her chin regally, staring straight into the eyes of her best friend’s lover. "And I will not." She turned her gaze to the shocked Kakorrot and felt her heart soften. Before that could reach her expression, she clenched her fists and spoke. "You jest with me my lord, and like not having my feelings toyed with in such a manner. It is enough that one of you causes me harm. I will not tolerate two."
"But I jest not!" both men chorused. Kakorrot was swiftly looking more and more desperate as he gazed at his ex-fiancée. "Princess, I—"
"Enough!" Her ankle was radiating pain and she wanted to sit, but would not show weakness at such a moment as this. "I will hear no appeals. My father will handle the both of you." Kakorrot swallowed thickly, knowing that if the king wanted them dead for upsetting his daughter, a lawful way would be found to do it. At the very least he would be exiled from Chikyuu, and Vegeta would be sent back to Vegetasei with no wife and a possible war on his hands. The older man seemed to realize that as well and remained silent, although from the rush of magic felt even by Chi-Chi he was by no means pleased with the situation. "I bid you good night, GENTLEMEN." She moved into the trees closest to the water, the rustle of plants stopping as she laid down to sleep.
Vegeta scowled and stormed off in the opposite direction the princess had done, choosing to slumber in the sand at the pool’s bank. Kakorrot sighed and chose to stay where he was. Descending into a cross-legged position, he closed his eyes in mediation. No sleep would come to him this night.
Kami’s fingertips rubbed across his forehead, the headache forming once more as he took in what Piccolo had done to the mortals. "Ignored by all before was she and now love is given much too free. The love of him with flaming hair has been cast to her without care." Piccolo’s silent comment made his master scowl. "She wants him not, can’t thou see? With the other she shall be. Fragile are these mortal hearts who cannot bear to be apart." He pointed to the image of the sleeping trio, expression softening. "This one man of peasant birth belongs to her of much mirth. The noble duke and prideful lady will reconcile in places hazy. This shalt only be a dream, in the light of full moon’s scheme. When awakened none shall recall why they traveled here at all." His voice trailed into a whisper, almost as if a prophecy, as the moon began to sink back into the darkness, the first hint of dawn.
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