Chapter 18 – The Fine Line Between Love and Hate
"Nice to hear you still remember me," the king huffed sarcastically before eyeing the large man accompanying Bulma suspiciously. "Who is your friend, darling?"
"I am the princess’s new personal guard," Radditz informed, his tone was nauseated, he could not believe the bastard had just called her ‘darling.’ Taking a protective step in front of Bulma, he positioned her securely behind him. "I have been given strict orders to keep her from you, so unless you want to be physically removed from the premises, I suggest you be on your way."
"Radditz please, just give me a few moments to speak with him. He will not hurt me," Bulma begged desperately, if she was going to be kept from the king, she at the very least wanted him to understand why.
"No, Bulma," Radditz reminded, "you are not to have any contact with him. It is bad enough he has approached you, I will not allow any further discourse."
"Oh, I understand now," Juunanagou interrupted the enlightening exchange, "so Vegeta realized the only way he could sever our engagement was by locking you away from me, ne? Honestly, the man is beginning to worry me. He is sounding more and more desperate by the minute."
"Desperation is an emotion only experienced by cowards like yourself, who use the loved ones of enemies as a means of retaliation," the burly Saiya-jin growled menacingly.
"Are we not just a knight in shining armor," Juunanagou joked sarcastically, as he shifted his gaze to his fiancé. "Bulma, I assume this brute does not speak for you. So please, tell me, do you wish me to leave?"
Taking a short breath before answering, Bulma spoke up. "First of all Juunanagou, Radditz is not a brute. He is Kakarrot’s brother, and a close friend of mine, so do not speak ill of him." The princess snapped in a tone that surprised the handsome king. "Now, having said that," she turned to her guard, "I do wish to speak with him. Now before you tell me that I am ‘not supposed to,’ let me remind you that there was a certain something you promised to take care of for me, and since I would obviously not want to do anything rash pending that outcome, I think you can trust that my time with Juunanagou will be spent as nothing more than for sharing a dialogue. So, if you want me to be a compliant little hostage for the remainder of Juunanagou’s stay, then you will agree to this."
Radditz’s first reaction was of course to answer with a very firm ‘no,’ but being aware of how Bulma’s mind works, denying her this chance now would only ensure a later, more deceptive, attempt at speaking with the enemy. "All right, then. I will meet you back in your room in half an hour. So he had better be gone by then."
"Thank you," Bulma nodded before receiving a soft kiss upon her forehead.
"Half an hour," Radditz emphasized as he watched the pair change direction and disappear into her chambers. ‘I hope you know what you are doing, saiai,’ he thought hopefully before transferring his focus to finding Vegeta. ‘I suppose I should start by checking the most obvious place,’ he decided as he knocked on the king’s chamber door. Fortunately, it was right next to Bulma’s room, keeping him close in case anything was to happen.
It did not take more than a few minutes before the boisterous sound of the Saiya-jin no Ou came roaring through the door. "Go away!" Vegeta screamed while throwing the shirt he had just removed back over his head. Among his evening with Bulma, his conferences this morning, the Juunanagou debacle, and Kakarrot’s firing, Vegeta did not have a single chance to bask in a relaxing bath since the day prior. He had hoped for some time alone to consider all that had been happening, but it seemed he would not be granted the time he desired as his unscheduled guest continued to pound on his door. "I hope whatever it is you need to see me about is worth dieing for!" Vegeta shouted as he threw open the doors to his room. As his eyes fell upon the figure before him, he could not help but gasp, "What in the name of the gods is your banished ass doing back on my castle grounds?!"
"Always a pleasure to see you too, Vegeta," Radditz smirked as he took the luxury of allowing himself into the king’s room, "nice to see that the years have not softened your disposition."
"I will not ask again," Vegeta growled as he slammed the door to his room shut. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"You mean Kakarrot did not tell you?" Radditz attempted to withhold a chuckle. "I am Bulma’s new guard."
Vegeta’s eyes widened and narrowed in one fluid movement, "Over my dead body."
"Do not tempt me," Radditz hissed in response. "Besides, I have already seen Bulma, and she is more than thrilled by my presence, so unless you wish to remove yet another close companion from her company, and garner her further hatred, I would bite my tongue and listen to what I have to say."
"And why the hell should I do that!?" Vegeta challenged, this man had no right to demand such magnanimity from him.
"Amazing how quickly friends can become enemies." Radditz shook his head ominously, "How soon you forget that I once devoted my life to protecting you, Vegeta. I used to be a close confidant."
Vegeta huffed at the memory, "Yes, well that was before you made contest for my ward."
"And what a betrayal that was," Radditz chortled sarcastically.
"You are below her station!" Vegeta repeated the same flawed argument he had used with Kakarrot. "Not to mention thirteen years older than her. You would be a ridiculous match!"
"Oh," the older man nodded in mock understanding, "I forgot the cut off was at eleven years her senior."
Vegeta was unable to halt his recoil at the man’s accusation. "And just what the hell are you implying," he growled out roughly.
"Implying? I am not implying anything. I am simply offering a palpable statement. You see, Vegeta, the entire time I was away, there was always this one little question I could never find an answer to. Why? I mean, certainly, I am quite a bit older than Bulma, she is above me in rank, but for you to react as furiously as you did, it just never sat well with me; at least not until I returned."
"If you have a point, I suggest you get to it right now," Vegeta demanded, if he was going to be accused of something, he wanted to be told point blank.
"My point is that I now understand that your anger towards my proposal to Bulma had absolutely nothing to with me. It was all about you, and your feelings for her. I mean it makes sense, you saw me as a koigataki. Even though she rejected me at the time, you still saw me as a threat, so you eliminated that threat by banishing me. The perfect solution, of course, since my abrupt departure left her believing I wanted nothing to do with her anymore. I mean, you would not believe how amusing it was to hear that she had absolutely no idea that you were the reason I left. She still to this day thinks I made the choice to abandon her. But that was how you wanted it, did you not?"
"You have certainly come back full of allegations." Vegeta twisted his neck in an attempt to ease the tightening of his muscles. "Too bad they are all false."
Radditz shook his head in disappointment, "You are breaking her heart, you do know that?" he questioned. "You are taking people out of her life because you ‘think’ it is in her best interest, when in truth the only person’s interest you have in mind is your own. And if that is not bad enough, you are sending her mixed signals. One minute you are her warden, her protector, her friend, and then the next you are forcing your affections on her, asking her to marry you. So, which is it, Vegeta? Do you want to be her warden, or her aikouka?"
As soon as the word left the brawny man’s lips, he felt his body being pushed violently up against a wall by the smaller man. "I should kill you for suggesting that my intentions towards the onna are anything short of pure. She is my ward, and yes I hold her in a very high esteem, but I do not desire her in the way you suggest!"
"Then why offer her your marriage claim if you feel nothing for her?" Radditz challenged, he wanted to hear the truth.
Vegeta again flinched as he was hit with yet another entrapping question. "I do not have to answer to you!" he screamed as he pushed away from the larger Saiya-jin. "I do not have the patience to deal with Juunanagou and you! So, one of you must go and since you are easier to rid myself of, I want you—"
Both men lost their attention towards the other as they jerked their heads in the direction of the thin wall that separated Vegeta’s room from Bulma’s. "That was the onna," the concerned king verified before rushing out of his room to find out why the hell his ward had screamed his name.
Radditz followed closely behind, hoping his allowance with Juunanagou was not the cause of her ear-piercing shriek.
As soon as both king and princess were inside Bulma’s chambers, she closed the doors behind her. "I am sure you must be wondering what is going on," she began softly, as she turned around to face the stoic figure of her fiancé. "So, before you jump to any conclusions, I think I should start by telling you that nothing has happened to change my feelings for you, it is just that circumstances have developed that have—"
"Well, I’ll be damned." Juunanagou lowered his voice to that of a near growl. "So he did it. Vegeta convinced you, even after all that he has done, to break our engagement."
"This is what I meant about ‘jumping to conclusions’ before I had a chance to explain," Bulma reiterated while taking a short breath to calm herself. "Juunanagou, as I am sure you can guess by what Radditz said, Vegeta has ordered that I eliminate any contact with you from now on. He will not now, nor ever in the future grant me permission to marry you."
"And you are just going to let him!" the king interrupted, "Bulma, he can not control your life like this! By Saiya-jin law you were of legal age four years ago, he is not even technically your warden anymore!"
"I know, that technically you are right," Bulma nodded with a sigh, "but he is still my caretaker. He has devoted his life to protecting me, to lavishing me with any and all that I have ever needed, and before now, he has never asked anything of me in return; which makes it very difficult for me to deny him, yes, but Juunanagou, as much as it pains me to say this, the more that I think about our union, the more I tend to agree with him. Our marriage would be a devastation to so many."
"You can not mean that," Juunanagou insisted as he reached out to encircle her fallen face, she would not let him however as she pulled away.
"But I do," she confessed solemnly, "I have been so selfish in my decision making in regards to you. Many events have occurred as of recent, which have impaired my thinking. From your arrival, to the riding accident, to the attack in the stables, and even through to our engagement, everything has been happening so quickly for me I have not had the chance to truly sit down and consider the ramifications of my actions. Our joining would hurt so many people, Juu. Though I may crave a distance from all that has been happening, to leave would destroy my governess, an onna who is as near to a mother as I have ever had. Then there are the Saiya-jin people to consider. They have accepted me as one of their own, as their princess, even though I hold no blood relation to a single one of them. They have shown me nothing but devout respect, and for me to marry you, a man they detest, would be like throwing all of their reverence back in their faces." Bulma halted her explanation as she saw a genuine look of offense cross the king’s face; she had not meant to be so harsh. "I am sorry," she attempted to apologize, "but it is how they—"
"I know," Juunanagou raised a hand to stop any further explanation. "I know Vegeta’s people hate me, though I defy a single one of them to give sound reason why. But, dearest, neither they nor Vegeta, nor your governess have a right to rule your life. If I am who you want, you should not cower away from your choice unless…" A groan interrupted the king’s thought as he was suddenly struck by the memory of Vegeta’s words earlier, "Unless you are in love with another." The consideration barely managed its way out of his mouth, utterly revolted by the thought. "Is that it!?" he demanded icily.
Turning her head away, Bulma walked slowly over to her bed, and took an exhausted seat. "It does not matter, not anymore." She lowered her gaze, "all that matters is my joining with you would not be right; for my friends, the Saiya-jins, and certainly not for you." She slowly raised her eyes so she could finish her explanation. "You take my pain away Juu, you make me forget my miseries, and as such I wanted to marry you, so you could continue to take that pain away. But that is a selfish desire. I would be no benefit to you as a wife. I cannot love you as you deserve, I can not… I cannot give myself to you, as you need a lover to."
"But you almost did!" Juunanagou reminded, "Had it not been for Vegeta’s intervention, I would be claiming you right now as my own."
"No, Juu," Bulma disagreed, "I know I thought that was what I wanted, what we almost did in the forest, but there was a reason I could not let it happen, and it was not, as I had suggested, because I wanted my first time to be proper, in the comfort of a bed. It was because I want my first time to be with a man I love, and though I care for you Juunanagou, I… I do not love you. So, I cannot in good conscience maintain a claim upon you."
"No!" Juunanagou objected as he knelt before the princess, grasping her face, he forced her to look at him. "You do not mean what you are saying! Vegeta told you to feed me these lies, did he not?!"
Raising her hands to cover his, she slowly pulled them off of her face. "I am telling you the truth, Juu. Yes, Vegeta would fight tooth and nail to keep us apart for the rest of your stay, yes he would lock me away in the tower to prevent my leaving with you, and yes he would find no immorality in forcing me to lie to you, but these are not the cases. I am making this decision, Juu. I cannot marry you."
Springing back to his feet, the infuriated man began pacing aimlessly back and forth trying to digest all he had just been told. After several moments, he realized his mind would not be able to comprehend any of this until he was given an answer to the most disturbing of questions she had hinted at. Unable to contain his curiosity, he demanded, "Who?"
Bulma blinked several times before she could register his query. "I already told you, it does not matter—"
"I deserve an answer, damn it!" His voice had risen to a near scream as he grabbed her by the arms and forced her to stand as he persisted. "You play me for a fool, and then expect me to depart without even knowing whom I have been unsuccessfully rivaling for you affections!?" His grip tightened around her arms, as he became blinded by rage; unable to realize the princess had begun to fight against his painful hold. "Tell me who this man is who could possibly be more worthy than I am of your love! Who is it! Damn it, I want to know—"
"Vegeta!" Bulma raised her voice so it was loud enough that he could hear her above his ranting. Her answer successfully resulted in her release from his entanglement, allowing her to step away and gently massage her bruised arms. "It’s Vegeta," she affirmed with rising tears in her eyes as she attempted to calm herself while she sunk depressingly onto her bed.
As soon as the admission was made, not only a first, but second time, Juunanagou felt as though all of the wind had been knocked out of him. ‘Vegeta, no, not him,’ was the only thought he could coherently concoct before the sound of he who had been the focus of their argument stormed into the room.
"What the hell is going on?!" Vegeta demanded as he roughly brushed past Juunanagou and knelt before his clearly shaken ward, "are you all right!?"
Bulma raised her head, surprised by the sudden appearance of her guardian, "Vegeta… I… of course I am all right," she explained quickly as she blotted her eyes with her shaky fingers. Letting her gaze roam over to the other man who had entered her room, she asked, "What are you two doing in here?"
"We heard you scream Vegeta’s name, we thought you were in some kind of danger," Radditz explained as he eyed the Adajinzoun king suspiciously.
Bulma felt her face flush; she had not realized her voice had been loud enough for them to hear her. "I am sorry if I scared you two, but I assure you both, I am fine."
"Then why did you call for me?!" Vegeta demanded, she was hiding something, he was certain of it.
"I did not," Bulma was quick to disagree. "It is just that we were arguing about you, and I suppose my voice, in the heat of the moment, raised a few decibels louder than it should have." She answered nervously; she had no idea if Juunanagou’s foul mood was volatile enough to object to her lie.
Fortunately, he did not, but instead he strolled over to Vegeta to offer a few choice words before taking his leave from three people who clearly did not desire his presence. "Congratulations, Vegeta, it seems you have won this battle." Juunanagou paused as he lowered his eyes towards Bulma, silently showing his hurt before returning to an icy demeanor to confront his enemy. "But know that the war is far from over," once the warning left his mouth, Juunanagou swiftly departed, slamming Bulma’s bedroom door violently closed behind him.
"What was that all about?" Vegeta demanded as he turned back towards his ward, he was shocked to see tears running down her cheeks.
"That was about your victory," Bulma laughed as she forced herself to stand up. "You won. I broke off my engagement with Juunanagou. Are you not happy? I mean, that is what you wanted, me alone and miserable just like yourself."
"Onna," Vegeta lifted a hand to try and wipe her tears, he did not have the chance however as she batted the gesture away. "Don’t you dare touch me!" she snapped, she was at the end of her emotional rope for the day; she could not handle anymore ‘comfort’ after all that had happened. "I do not want console from the man who put me in this position in the first place. You, Vegeta, have done more than enough to ruin my day, so why not just do me the favor of leaving now before you make things any worse."
Stunned by her callous words, Vegeta could do nothing but follow her orders as he turned away from the distressed onna to follow in Juunanagou’s footsteps. But, he did not leave until he offered a few choice words of his own, "I am sorry this has caused you grief onna, but you have made the right decision."
Though the comment was intended as a proud gesture, Bulma only heard condescension in his voice, as if a parent was patting a naïve little child on her back for doing what she had been told. Feeling the degradation overwhelm her, she snapped back icily in the form of another assault of verbal brutality upon her unsuspecting warden. "Oh, thank you for recognizing my small accomplishments," Bulma spat with vicious sarcasm. "And by the way, I just wanted to mention, while I am breaking off engagements, that since I do not think there would ever be any circumstances under which I would ever be so desperate as to marry you, we can just pretend you did not make such a ridiculous stipulation for me earlier."
Silence filled the room for what felt like several long minutes, Bulma’s eyes locked with Vegeta’s, almost daring him to say anything in reprisal. He did, but only with two very short thoughts. "So, be it." He whispered in a somewhat choked voice, "I will not bother you with the courtesy ever again."
Once the door slammed for a second time, Radditz rushed to the young princess’s side to catch her before her exhausted body could collapse into a sobbing mess upon the floor. "It is all right, saiai, everything is going to be all right," he promised softly as he buried her in his grasp.
"No, nothing is ever going to be ‘right’ again. I just lost my fiancé and my warden in one fell swoop," Bulma whispered between sobs, as she began to confess her greatest fears. "Gods did you see that!? I cannot even think straight anymore when I am around him! I do not want to hurt him, but he keeps hurting me, and I just snap—" she paused her babbling momentarily to control her breathing, "I just can not keep going like this, Radditz. You cannot imagine what it is like living everyday of your life loving someone so much that it hurts to be away from them. And then it hurts even more to be with them, to see the indifference, to see their obliviousness to your feelings! You can never fathom how agonizing it is to love someone who merely sees you as a child—or a daughter—or just a friend!"
"I would imagine it is almost as painful as watching the one you love destroy themselves over a person you only wish you could be."
The sound of his response echoed through Bulma’s mind as she released a heavy sigh while finally beginning to relax against her new guard’s grasp in realization. Who was she to fault Vegeta, when she was doing the same to Radditz? "I love Vegeta so much that I am beginning to hate him. Is that what you are feeling for me?" She asked fearfully, as selfish as it was for her to admit, she was afraid of losing him again to her unreciprocated feelings.
"I could never hate you," Radditz promised as he kissed her softly upon her forehead, "just as you, unfortunately, will never hate Vegeta."
"So what do I do then? Just keep hopelessly wishing?" She begged an answer.
"No," Radditz disagreed, "I do not think your wish is hopeless, I think it is just being ignored."
Bulma raised a confused eyebrow, but before she could ask, Radditz lifted them off of the ground and carried her over to her bed. "Get some rest," he ordered as he helped her undress and then slide under her covers. "Tomorrow is the Sakuritsu. You will need to look your best."
"Oh, gods, I completely forgot." Bulma moaned as she dropped her head against her pillow. "Just what I need, another evening of mingling with a group of spoiled emperors."
"Do not worry, saiai; I will be with you to ward off the vultures," Radditz promised as he slowly took a seat in the chair Vegeta had slept in the night prior. "Go to sleep."
Bulma smiled sweetly as she closed her eyes to heed his demand. Tomorrow would be a new day; she could only hope it would be better than this one.
* * * * *
Koigataki – One’s Rival in Love
Aikouka – Lover
Sakuritsu – Imperial Investiture