Chapter X - Bizzare Love Triangle
I feel fine and I feel good.
I'm feeling like I never should.
Whenever I get this way, I just don't know what to say.
Why can't we be ourselves like we were yesterday?
I'm not sure what this could mean;
I don't think you're what you seem.
~New Order, Bizarre Love Triangle
Vegeta stalked down the long corridor leading from the Hall of Concubines to the throne room. He didn't want to be there, and he most especially had no desire to talk to his father. He'd come to the palace to get Radditz and clothing for Bulma. Those were the only reasons. It wasn't supposed to have taken him this long.
However, his father had heard that his son was on the palace grounds, and of course, the old man couldn't help summoning Vegeta. What the fuck could he possibly want? he fumed. The Prince had hoped to keep his return as quiet as possible, but he should've known it wouldn't have worked. Even if he hadn't gone to the Hall himself, Bulma had, and Vegeta had already made it apparent that she went nowhere without him. The King monitored all of Len'ah's visitors obsessively.
Thus, the King knew Vegeta was around to annoy and exercised his royal right to do so. His father seemed to take sadistic pleasure in irritating his heir, and of course the Prince rose to the bait every time. The two men circled each other like opponents in a sparring ring, and while both dealt the other stinging blows quite frequently, neither seemed to have a desire to meet in a death match.
Maybe that should change, Vegeta thought darkly. As the Super Saiya-jin, he had more than enough power to depose the King and take the throne. The only reason he didn't was because he had no desire to be king at this point. He also didn't know how the death of his father would affect Len'ah. She certainly did not love him, but he wasn't sure if she hated him. Vegeta didn't want to hurt his mother, and until he was sure about her reaction, he wouldn't kill his father.
As he burst through the doors to the throne room, he expected his father to yell at him for being late. However, looking at the King, Vegeta saw that he was haggard and seemingly resigned. The Prince knew this meeting would not go well.
"What do you want, old man?" Vegeta barked.
"Is that any proper greeting to your king?" came the enraged reply, anger at Vegeta's insolence obvious.
"It's all you deserve," the Prince sneered.
The King looked as if he might rise to challenge Vegeta's mockery, but the sparks of anger in his eyes extinguished themselves before they had a chance to ignite. He sighed. "Gods, Vegeta, I don't have time for your self-righteous attitude. It's unbecoming in a prince!"
His son bristled. "And it's unbecoming for a king to be a sniveling weakling!"
"Boy, watch what you say! You should show me respect! I am your father!"
"You stopped being my father the moment you handed me over to that lizard freak!" Vegeta yelled.
"Dammit! You know why I had to! It was---"
"It was the only way you knew how to be: a coward."
The King stood abruptly and began stalking down the steps from the throne. "By the gods, Vegeta! I'm sick of this. I did what I had to do. Not that I owe you any explanations. I am king, and as such, I may do as I please!" he shouted.
"Maybe its time Vegetasei had a new ruler!" Vegeta roared back.
"As if you could."
"Don't try me, old man."
Both men faced one another, anger and resentment rising off them in thick clouds. Past hurts and misunderstandings seemed to block both figures on all sides. It was not unoften that their arguments ended in a stalemate. As father and son, the two could not exist. Every fight they had reinforced this understanding in the King. It was all he could do just to make their relationship as monarch and heir work.
"Look, Vegeta," he said. "This gets us nowhere. Unless you want to initiate a challenge right this moment, let it go."
Vegeta hesitated for a minute, but finally capitulated. He wasn't ready to become King, probably wouldn't for another few years.
"Fine," he finally replied. "What did you summon me for?"
The King released a nervous breath. "Frieza has made his intentions clear. This morning he expressed definite interest in dissolving our current treaty."
"Frieza is unpredictable. I had thought he would bid his time a little longer, but I was wrong."
"Nothing new there," Vegeta muttered.
His comment earned him a sharp glance from his father, but no more. "Anyway," the King continued. "He sent a new treaty to me and the Council this morning. Said it was just a rough draft and most definitely negotiable."
"Which, of course, means it isn't."
"Exactly. Basically, nothing changes in this new alliance. We Saiya-jins would continue conquering and purging planets for him, except we'd do it under the name of his empire, not ours."
"Just like you said last night," Vegeta reminded him. "What is new? You knew he would do this. My stance in this matter is clear. I want no part of an alliance with Frieza, now or ever. Why are you wasting my time?"
"There have been a few new developments..."
"Quit fucking around, old man!" Vegeta roared, his patience at its end. "What the hell is going on?"
"There's a new part of the treaty. Immediately after it's signed, you and I are to engage in a death match."
"What?" Vegeta said in disbelief. "Since when does Frieza involve himself in Saiya-jin politics?"
"Since you pissed him of by refusing to remain in his service!" the King responded. "You wounded his considerable pride when you left."
"Don't you fucking try to blame this shit on me!"
"I'm not, Vegeta. I'm just trying to get you to see the impossibility of this situation. He's out to get you," the King tried to reason.
The Prince suddenly had the desire to blast something. His angry eyes darted frenetically around the room, lighting upon the first big object they saw: the throne. Powering up, Vegeta sent a huge blast to the gaudy, golden chair, reducing it to smithereens in a matter of seconds. The King just stood back, accustomed to his son's temper tantrums.
"That's the fourth chair you've destroyed this month," he said deadpan. "It's now coming out of your monthly stipend."
"Fine," Vegeta growled. "Just next time make sure you're sitting in it." He shoved a frustrated hand through his coarse, dark hair. "He's such a goddamned, bloody coward! Why the fuck doesn't he just face me directly?"
"Because that would be too easy," his father replied. "Frieza knows he could defeat you in battle without breaking a sweat. Manipulating you is more fun."
Vegeta grit his teeth together. He hated it when his father tried to be the voice of reason. Frieza was obviously trying to corner him, pressure him into playing any trump cards he might have. The lizard was too wily for his own good.
The Prince did indeed have a trump card: he could turn Super Saiya-jin.
He was almost tempted to reveal the truth to his father, but then stopped. What good would it accomplish? He wasn't ready to face Frieza yet; he needed more time to train. There was also the matter of the traitor. It would be harder to flush the coward out if he knew that he would face the wrath of not only the King and Prince, but a Super Saiya-jin as well.
"How could Frieza use me as king? He has to know I would never cooperate with him," Vegeta commented.
His father didn't reply for quite some time. When he finally did, his words were slow, precise, as if he were weighing each before they passed his lips. "Vegeta, you think I gave you over to Frieza all those years ago for training as a sign of good faith between him and me, right?"
"Yes," the Prince replied suspiciously, instinctively knowing he wasn't going to like what his father had to say.
"That wasn't the only reason...Frieza was blackmailing me with certain knowledge."
"What did he know?"
"He knows, has always known, the truth of your birth."
Vegeta was completely floored by his father's confession. The Prince had seen many things in his relatively short life; rarely did anything surprise him, especially if it involved Frieza.
But this news...well, it certainly wasn't what he'd been expecting. The implications of this information were staggering, and yet, suddenly, everything made sense. The contempt with which both Frieza and Zarbon treated him. The jealousy that he, Vegeta, was a half-breed, and yet incredibly powerful. The taunts of "princeling" and "monkey bastard."
His identity was no longer a private joke he enjoyed at their expense, but vice versa. Never, never had he had the upper hand like he'd prided himself upon. This new realization made him see red, literally.
"How?" he whispered. "When?"
"From the beginning practically," the King replied. "Before you were born, Frieza and I had, upon occasion, entered into temporary treaties, designed more as a united front against a common enemy than anything else. But then I started to see how truly devious and backstabbing he was, so I decided to cut ties. Frieza was, of course, infuriated, but there was little he could do. He wasn't as powerful then as he is now. Then, after you'd turned five or so, he approached me and told me he knew the truth about you. I return for his silence, he wanted me to turn you over to him to train."
"And you did it? Just like that," Vegeta asked, snapping his fingers, eyes burning.
"I did to save your life, boy!" the King protested, already seeing the denial contort his son's face. As an added measure, he continued, "And I did it to save your mother. Both you and she would have been immediately killed had the truth been discovered."
Vegeta felt his anger die in his throat. The King was telling the truth; he never fucked around with anything involving Len'ah. Besides, if the Prince was completely honest with himself, he knew that had he been presented with the same situation with Bulma, he'd have done the same thing. His need for the blue-haired beauty rivaled his father's need for Len'ah.
"Fine," he said finally. "This changes nothing between us, however."
"Vegeta--" the King began.
"No! I don't want to hear it. I do not care. Is the information being used against you now?"
The King swallowed back a lump of grief from his throat, but he knew too much other than Vegeta's childhood stood between him and his son. It was too soon to expect anything other than civil contempt from the Prince.
Instead, he chose to focus on the matter at hand. "No. The truth about your birth is useless to him now. You are much too strong to be disposed of, and the people hate Frieza too much nowadays to believe anything he has to say without proof."
"Humph," Vegeta answered, as if now disinterested. "How did he find out?"
"I truly did not know at the time," the King replied. "He claimed that he tortured one of the doctors that had tended Len'ah after you were removed from her womb. Since I had all medical staff killed after you were born, I could not verify his story."
"You 'did not know at the time'?" his son queried. "What makes you think you know now?"
"Similar sensitive knowledge is once again being leaked to him," the King said. "History is repeating itself. The traitor we have now most likely is the one from twenty years ago. This theory makes further sense when considering who was spotted leaving Zarbon's private quarters last night."
Vegeta's head shot up, his eyes alert and his body tensed for battle. "Who?"
"Your old sensei, Nappa."
"The cleavage needs to be a bit deeper. Lower it."
"Are you sure, Lady? I mean, I don't want a full frontal look going on."
"Nonsense. You have wonderful, er, assets, Bulma. They should be flaunted."
"Uh, okay," the blushing, blue-eyed woman replied. "Ouch!"
"Kitara, you little fool!" Len'ah scolded. "You're supposed to impale fabric with the needle, not flesh. If it happens again, I'll have you whipped!"
The frightened seamstress trembled at Bulma's feet, making the concubine pity her all the more. She had been at Len'ah's for over an hour, getting poked, prodded, and measured for her new wardrobe. Usually, she would enjoy something like this, but Len'ah was in a fierce mood. Very different from her convivial joy the night before.
Perched precariously on a foot stool, Bulma had to keep her head up and shoulders straight, or else her new outfits wouldn't 'flaunt her assets' to their best advantage. She dared not cast a sympathetic gaze to the slave, for to do so would only incur more of Len'ah's wrath. The next time Kitara's needle slipped, however, Bulma clamped her mouth shut and didn't make a sound.
As the fitting continued, she remained silent and docile, not even breathing a word of objection when Len'ah wanted the slits in her skirt to extend all the way to her hip, not her mid-thigh, as she would have preferred.
After what seemed like forever, Vegeta's mother announced her satisfaction. Bulma carefully stepped down to the ground, holding the gauzy material away from her so as not to accidentally poke herself with one of the stick pins riddling through the dress. She made her way to a full-length mirror, noting that her dress would appear much as she had predicted. The light-weight sheath would cling to her curves and expose a considerable expanse of chest and leg. An improvement over what Vegeta had her wearing, but not by much.
Len'ah came up behind her. "Well, my dear, what do you think?"
"It's, uh...I like the simple design," Bulma said uncertainly. "It should make cleaning it a breeze."
Laughing, the other woman replied, "Who cares if it is easy to launder? You have houseslaves for such tasks. Now, seriously, I know it shows more skin that you're used to, but this is what all the girls wear. You'll grow accustomed to it, though I'm not sure Vegeta will. He probably won't be able to control himself in your presence."
Bulma flashed a weak smile at Len'ah, uncomfortable with any sexual references to Vegeta, especially from his own mother. "If you say so," was all she offered by way of comment.
She padded over to the changing screen Kitara had erected earlier. Carefully changing back into her white sheathe-dress, Bulma came back out and handed the pinned garment to the kneeling slavegirl before sitting beside Len'ah on the loveseat.
"Kitara, I expect all the new dresses to be finished by tomorrow morning. The banquet gowns and training suits can wait until the next day," Len'ah instructed.
"But, my Lady, there are others with orders, too. Sariane is down to her last sheathe. Lord Palez has torn or otherwise ruined all her others---"
"I don't care, you stupid girl!" Len'ah bellowed. "Lady Bulma's needs come before those of common palace whores! She is the Prince's Royal Concubine. She cannot go around in rags, as she has been doing! Her needs come before all others! Do you understand?"
The slavegirl bowed even closer to the floor, visibly shaking with fear. "Yes, my Lady."
"Good," Len'ah responded, slightly calmer but still condescendingly. "If you do not comply with my orders to letter and if your work is not up to my or the Lady Bulma's expectations, I'll have you beaten and killed, as well as your children. Now get your ugly, lazy hide out of here!"
The slave clumsily gathered her supplies and scampered from the room. Bulma had to admit that Kitara wasn't attractive by any means, with her short, stocky frame and scaly brown skin, but she had seemed diligent and willing to please. She had only been extremely anxious about Len'ah's obvious bad temper. Bulma felt the seamstress hadn't deserved such harsh treatment, but was unsure of how to address the subject.
Len'ah, however, seemed to pick up her disdain. "Don't judge me, Bulma. Kitara is Yatori-jin. They are timid, weak, stupid, and lazy. Sometimes they need to be put in their place and reminded of the consequences of disobeying orders," she said imperiously.
Bulma knew this argument was one she was not going to win, so she just nodded her head vaguely. "I guess I'm just uncomfortable with the concept of slavery."
"Really?" Len'ah asked, surprised. "What sort of world is Chikyuu?"
"It's a very beautiful one, actually, and quite different from Vegetasei. We don't have a single, unifying culture or a planetary monarchy. Most of the planet is divided into different countries, each with their own government."
"Extraordinary. I've never heard of anything like it."
As the conversation progressed, Bulma felt her earlier stiffness relax a little, but she was still more wary of the other woman than she had previously been. Her initial suspicions about Len'ah began to creep up again now that she knew Vegeta's mother had a cruel streak.
"So, no slavery exists on your planet?" Len'ah asked.
"That is correct, Lady. Everyone is free to make their own choices."
"Humph. It is no wonder your people have amounted to nothing. You do not have an efficient or effective socioeconomic-political system," she sniffed. "Moving onto to other things, how are you and my son getting along?"
Bulma was startled by the sudden change in subject and also by the question. Len'ah was no longer a snobbish, mean taskmaster, but more like an avid gossip similar to ones that frequent tacky beauty salons. Her eyes shone a bit too brightly and not wholly sane in Bulma's opinion. She also gripped the armrests of her chair as if her entire world depended on Bulma's answer.
She didn't want to have this conversation. After all, this was her captor's mother, but she also needed to hear someone else's take on Vegeta's new battle strategy. While Len'ah might not be as simple and uncomplicated as Bulma had originally thought, she also knew her son well.
"Well, things between us are...unusual, I think," Bulma began. "He has declared war on me."
"What the hell?" Len'ah gasped.
"He has declared me his enemy until I have surrendered to him," the blue-haired woman explained.
Len'ah pursed her lips, trying to stifle her humor. "Oh, dear. That is definitely original. My son is very creative, to say the least."
As she thought about it more, the coal-skinned woman couldn't contain her laughter. She began giggling uncontrollably. Bulma was at first annoyed. After all, this was her life being run roughshod over. But Len'ah's laughter proved infectious, and soon Bulma was giggling with her.
"So, let me guess!" Len'ah stated between laughs. "He's got a full battle plan made, and he warned you that he takes no prisoners!"
"Yes!" Bulma replied gleefully.
"Oh my! I can just see him! Dressed in complete battle gear, growling, his tail snapping behind him!"
"Yes! That's it exactly!"
After a few more peals of laughter, Len'ah wiped tears from her eyes. "Wha-what did he demand you surrender?"
"That's the best part!" Bulma gushed. "He wants...no, he demands...this is so funny...he demands...hehe...my heart!"
Suddenly, Len'ah stopped laughing. Her entire body stiffened, and her eyes dilated until almost no silver was visible. "He what?" she gasped.
Bulma felt all her mirth fade away at the sight of Len'ah's shock. "He demanded my heart. I assume he meant my love as well."
"By the gods, girl, go you realize what this means?"
Ignoring the girl's confused silence, Len'ah said, "It means that my son, Vegeta, the coldest, fiercest warrior ever born to the Saiya-jin race is...in love with you."
Upon having received the royal summons, Nappa had rushed from his palace apartment to the throne room. As he entered the airy chamber, Vegeta could smell the intense fear pervading his old teacher, and he knew deep in his gut that Nappa was a traitor. Before punishing him, though, the Prince needed to know if anything had been said about Bulma being the Key. For that reason, he'd convinced his father to let him with Nappa alone.
Stepping from his cover of shadows, the Prince cleared his throat, causing a startled Nappa to jump. "Hello, old friend," Vegeta said by way of greeting.
Nappa tensed at the formality of his lord's tone of voice and looked sharply into Vegeta's eyes. In those cold, black, bottomless orbs, he saw nothing and knew that his treachery had been discovered. He also knew that this day would be his last.
Vegeta saw the change overcome Nappa's normally stodgy demeanor. Saw the instantaneous stiffness come over his heavy form. Saw the harsh recognition in his eyes that death was but moments away. Saw the eventual resignation to his fate that encompasses all warriors when they know they have fought their last battle.
Even in defeat, Nappa embodied all that a soldier should, and Vegeta found he had to give his old master credit for that. "Why?" he finally asked.
After some hesitation, the older warrior replied, "It's complicated, my lord."
Vegeta let out a short bark of laughter. "What is often simple to the average man is complicated to you, traitor-sensei."
Nappa had the grace to flinch when he heard the epithet. It served as a double-edged sword, reminding him of the great honor he had lost and the great dishonor he had gained. "I realize I deserve that coming from you, Prince Vegeta. I meant complicated along the lines that you will not like what I have to say."
"Of course I won't, you fucking moron!" he roared. "You've betrayed your people, your name, your king. You've betrayed me! What is there to like about it?...Now start."
"Yes, my Prince," came the quiet reply. "I guess I should start at the beginning."
"It's usually a very good place to start," came the reply, deadpan.
Nappa opened his mouth as if to speak, but then closed it. Vegeta felt him hesitating again, as if he was debating whether to confess everything or only some things. This feeling was understandable. After all, the warrior knew he was going to die, and if could easily betray all that he stood for before, why feel any obligation now?
His situation was extremely pitiable to the soul who was capable of the emotion. Unfortunately for Nappa, Vegeta was most definitely not one of those souls and found that he could care less what became of Nappa. His sensei had lost any compassion or understanding the minute he'd thrown down his hand with Frieza.
All the Prince wanted now was the truth. After that, Nappa was on his own.
"Look, we can do this one of two ways," he said coldly. "The easy way, or the hard way. A quick death, or a painful one."
Nappa saw the rage burning in Vegeta's eyes now, and he recognized the look. It was the one the Saiya-jin no Ouji wore right before he was going to finish off a particularly challenging opponent. The Royal Elite knew he would get no mercy from the other man other than a clean death.
"Very well, Ouji-sama," Nappa murmured. "What do you wish to know?"
"Did you tell Zarbon or Frieza anything about Bulma?
"My vendetta is against the king, my lord, not you."
Though he was careful not to show it, Vegeta was surprised by Nappa's answer. He'd figured Frieza had bribed the older soldier, but now it seemed a personal grudge was involved. The Prince was now very interested in what Nappa had to say.
"Very well," he replied after a few moments. "Since this matter does involve my father, it would seem fitting to have him here."
"If you don't mind, Prince, I'd rather this remain between the two of us."
"Alright." It didn't really matter to him. His father had already turned on the recording devices embedded secretly into the walls. That was why Vegeta had asked about Bulma, but not his ability to transform into the Super Saiya-jin. He couldn't risk anyone else betraying him, and the more people who knew, the greater the chance it had of getting out.
"Why, Nappa?" he asked, tired of beating around the proverbial bush. "Why did you tell them about my birth?"
Nappa blinked his eyes several times, as if gathering the courage to speak. Vegeta's enhanced hearing heard Nappa's heart rate increase, and he began to sweat profusely again. The Prince steadied himself for what looked like was going to be a long conversation.
Finally, the older warrior seemed to have collected himself. "I told the secret of your birth to Lord Frieza because I hate the King and everything he stands for," Nappa replied at length. "And because I love your mother."
Bulma's jaw dropped completely and remained that way for several moments. Vegeta in love with me? It was the only thought that her brain would process. Eventually she loosened up enough to open and close her mouth, but her vocal chords stayed frozen. She had to settle with looking at Len'ah, totally dumbfounded.
Vegeta's mother chuckled softly. "My dear, the news wasn't supposed to paralyze you."
"O-okay," Bulma croaked.
"Please, let me explain before you panic," she continued. "I do stand by my hypothesis that Vegeta loves you. However, I don't think he's admitted it to himself yet, and so is progressing his feelings onto you. Thus, he demands your love. It's really quite simple."
"Simple? Simple, my Lady?" Bulma asked incredulously. "Nothing Vegeta does is ever simple."
Len'ah grinned. "How well you know him."
"Actually, I don't know him all that well," Bulma responded with a grimace. "But I do know that he does not love me. If he did, he wouldn't hold me captive. He wouldn't have abducted me from my home. He would respect my wishes and not force himself on me. He would want me to be happy..."
The more the girl spoke, the more sympathy was aroused in Len'ah. Bulma was a very smart young woman, but she was also incredibly naive. It was clear that she'd had limited experience with men, especially hard ones like Vegeta.
Oh, the road you have to travel is quite long, my dear, she empathized silently with the blue-haired girl. Instinctively, Len'ah knew that Bulma's awakening would not be easy, and she felt obligated to smooth some of the initial sharper edges. Namely, her son.
"Bulma, my dear, the kind of love of which you speak does not exist here," the older woman explained. "Perhaps it did on your planet. Your people seem much more capable of such sentimentality."
"Sentimental?" Bulma asked. "It's not sentimental! It's romantic!"
Len'ah sighed deeply. "Very well, dear. Call it whatever you will. Regardless, that kind of love has no place in the life of a Saiya-jin warrior."
"I don't give a fuck about them!" Bulma snapped, momentarily forgetting to whom she was talking. "In my life, I want the romantic crap! I want a man to put a gold wedding ring on my finger and give me flowers and chocolates for Valentine's Day---"
"Then you are doomed to a life of loneliness and misery here on Vegetasei," Len'ah cut in bluntly. "Saiya-jins love like they do everything else: fiercely, passionately, obsessively, and selfishly. Most wouldn't even call it love; they call it lust. It has less of an emotional connotation. Lust is more primal, basic, and animalistic..."
"You say that as if lust was a bad thing, but it is not. Of course, perhaps in a society that thinks gold rings, flowers, and chocolates build for lasting relationships, that would make sense. Here, however, physical intimacy is the foundation of all mated pairings."
"I don't understand," Bulma moaned.
Len'ah continued her explanation, trying to put it into terms the other woman could understand. "Sex is the most fundamental way two creatures can form a relationship. From this union, everything else follows. Trust, commitment, friendship even. That is how the Saiya-jin mind operates. It really isn't that bad either. True, many go through a multitude of partners before they mate, but when they finally do, it is for life."
"Is mating similar to marriage?" Bulma asked.
"Yes, you could say that," Len'ah agreed.
"I didn't know it was for life."
"Why do you think the King has remained with me all these years?"
"Because he loves you?" came the uncertain reply.
"By the Saiya-jin definition of love, yes, he does. It is not gentle or tender or romantic, but it is lasting."
"So you are his mate?"
Len'ah hesitated for a moment. Finally, she said, "No. I am not his mate. According to Saiya-jin law, only Saiya-jins may mate with other Saiya-jins. This is done to keep the blood of the race pure and free from alien taint. Only offspring produced from a mated pair are recognized by society. That is why it is so important to keep the truth of Vegeta's birth a secret. I am only the King's concubine, but we have remained together for so long because if he could do so, I think the King would make me his mate officially. So, I must be content with what I have."
Bulma's eyes widened in horror. "But that's awful! If two people love each other..."
Vegeta's mother stiffened and seemed to pull back from her once-candid demeanor. Cautiously, she replied, "I never said I loved the King."
"There are no 'buts' to it, my dear," Len'ah continued matter-of-factly. "The King knows I do not love him."
Bulma was totally stumped. "But why would he keep you in a one-sided relationship?"
"You presume too much!" Len'ah bristled. "Just because I do not love the King does not render our relationship 'one-sided.' We both have things in our past that complicate the issue, not that it's any of your business."
The blue-haired woman immediately felt contrite. "I didn't mean to offend you, Lady," she apologized. "But I'm just trying to understand how things work here. I'm so confused."
Len'ah exhaled deeply, letting her anger fade. "Of course you are, my dear. I have been hear so long that sometimes I forget my first few days. The anger, the pain, the rage. The hopelessness and the helplessness. It was all jumbled together in one huge ball of confusion."
Bulma's heart surged as she finally heard someone vocalize her feelings. "How did you get over it?" she asked desperately.
Len'ah let out a harsh, bitter laugh. "You don't 'get over it.' I still long for my freedom; I sometimes chafe under the yoke of a man I do not love. No, my dear, one doesn't 'get over it.'"
She looked at Bulma and saw despair and desperation fall over the girl's beautiful face. Len'ah might have felt pity at her predicament, but she'd been enslaved too long. Had seen too many other girls realize how fully and completely un-free they were.
"There are ways to cope, my dear," she continued. "You just have to find them."
Bulma was trying hard not to give into depression, so she wanted to cling tightly to whatever hope Len'ah could throw her way. "How?" she asked, sniffling only a little bit. "How do you cope?"
"Well, my background does help. I was raised a princess on the planet Dakara. Our society was very patriarchal, so I was taught from an early age that men would be making the decisions in my life. When I was fourteen, the Saiya-jins attacked and decimate my home. Only a handful of us were alive, and I was claimed by the King. My status here is very similar to that I would have been."
Bulma listened intently to Len'ah's story, wanting to cringe in sympathy with the woman. However, her instincts told her not to. Vegeta's mother was proud of her survival skills. To offer pity would have belittled her struggles and triumphs.
Instead, Bulma asked, "How did you survive the initial days? Months? Years even?"
Rather than answer, Len'ah parried with her own question. "How are you surviving these first few days? You seem lucid enough that the initial shock and numbness have seemed to wane."
Bulma was taken aback by the question and pondered it for awhile. Finally, she replied, "I guess the main thing I've been doing is taking everything bit by bit. I try not to let myself think about the distant future. Except for escape, of course."
She slapped her hand over her mouth quickly, muffling her gasp of shock. That last part had been said absentmindedly. Looking at Len'ah's darkening expression, Bulma knew, however, that she would not be able to get out of this mistake unscathed.
Len'ah sighed deeply, as Bulma's parents had done whenever they were about to give her a long lecture over some infraction she'd committed as a child. "Bulma, I say this not as Vegeta's mother or as a concubine to another concubine, but as one slave to fellow slave," she intoned. "Do NOT even entertain notions of escape."
Bulma slumped in dread. The other woman's eyes had gone hard and cold in deadly earnestness.
"Such thoughts are impossible," Len'ah continued. "No slave of Vegetasei has ever made it off-planet, and those who try to escape their masters' clutches are hunted down and killed, slowly and painfully. Every single one."
"But why?" Bulma gasped. "Why such cruelty?"
"The slave population of Vegetasei is quite large. We outnumber the Saiya-jins three to one. Their strength and brutality keep us in line. In your case, however, I do not think Vegeta would let you be killed."
Usually having knowledge that she would live would have made Bulma feel better. However, something in Len'ah's tone led her to believe that death would be preferable to whatever the Prince would to do her alive. She knew she was off not knowing, but her curiosity got the better of her. "What would he do to me?"
"Make your life a living hell."
"He does that already," Bulma replied, deadpan.
Her attempt at humor was lost on the other woman. "He would make it much worse, my dear. Much, much worse. Don't doubt it for an instance. You don't have a broken, haunted look in your eyes...yet. I can only assume Vegeta hasn't forced himself on you."
Under the woman's calculating stare, Bulma flushed. "Not entirely. I was asleep when he started to..."
"Don't go on," she interrupted. "I can imagine very well what your story is. That incident would be nothing compared to what he would do to you after you'd been recaptured. He'd rape you over and over again until you bleed. He'd keep you in chains and manacles so heavy and so thick, that you'd get breathless just walking from the bed to the bathroom to clean yourself after a night's abuse, if he even let you bathe at all. Saiya-jins are incredibly turned on by blood, you know."
The last part was added in a parenthetical way, and Len'ah continued to describe the consequences of escape detached and unemotionally.
"He would never once think of your pleasure. It would only be about your pain. Any mistake you make would be punished threefold, and any scrap of hope you found to cling to, he would destroy, completely and without mercy, until your sole purpose in life was him. He'd try to find all your weaknesses and exploit them, even going to far as to deliberately impregnating you just to watch you suffer when he forced an abortion on you..."
Bulma felt herself grow increasingly nauseous as Len'ah trailed off. Any lingering thoughts she'd had about escaping had vanished. Instead of feeling despondent over their loss, however, she was more concerned about Len'ah. The vehemence and bitterness in the woman's voice convinced Bulma that she'd suffered some, if not all, of the consequences she'd described.
"When did you attempt to escape?" she asked quietly.
Len'ah's eyes widened in both shock and admission, and for a moment, she seemed as if she didn't want to answer. However, Bulma's shrewd perception deserved the truth. "It was about a year after I'd first been taken. The King had to leave on an important mission or something. He left me in the care of only one guard, though I don't know why. I caused trouble for him at every opportunity, much as I'm sure you do to my son. Anyway, I tricked the guard and made my way outside the palace. I didn't really have a plan, other than to just get away. I took to the hills, thinking I'd hide there, and I did. For two whole days. Just two days, but they meant everything to me...I was free for the first time in my life...But the King found my right away and took certain measures to ensure I never escaped again."
Bulma began shaking at the atrocities she was sure Len'ah had suffered, may actually still be suffering. "How can you not hate him?" she questioned.
The other woman laughed bitterly again. "I do, my dear," she replied. "I do hate the King...and yet, sometimes I don't. Oh, to be sure, the first few years I loathed him. Wanted nothing more than for him to die. Would've killed myself if I'd had the courage. But then, Vegeta came along five or six years later. The King's animosity had died down a bit, and he allowed me to keep my son. Above all else, the King is the father of my child and that creates a lifelong bond, whether I like it or not.
Bulma raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Are you sure that's a fair tradeoff?"
Len'ah smiled, genuinely this time, if not a bit tongue-in-cheek. "I know it may not seem so to you, but I'd never had anybody to love before. Vegeta was a miracle from the gods. He was the reason I began living again. Besides, hate is such a petty emotion."
"What do you mean? The Saiya-jins certainly don't seem to think so, including Vegeta."
"Whatever Vegeta has learned about hate came from his father and from Frieza, but I'd like to think I showered him with enough love before he was sent away to counterbalance that. Ultimately, I mean, hate is such a poor motivator. It can add fuel to the fires of rage and revenge, but by itself, it is lonely and self-destructive. It eats you alive from the inside out until all that is left is a dry, empty husk of your former self. If one wants to let hate be a part of their lives, give it over to vengeance. Vengeance is a much more practical and satisfying course of action than just wallowing in hate."
Bulma's eyes narrowed. Len'ah had obviously given much thought to the difference between revenge and hate, and this made the other concubine begin to think that Len'ah had fed her hatred by seeking revenge, though she couldn't imagine how. Once again, her old misgivings about the woman began to formulate. The woman had obviously been through her own private hell, so Bulma tried to push her suspicions away, but eventually her desire to know won out.
"Did you ever think about exacting revenge upon the King?" Bulma asked.
Len'ah's mouth twisted into a feral grin, rife with self-satisfaction and mischief. "Oh, indeed I did," she answered. "And I got it."
This news was certainly unexpected. "How?"
"I did the worst thing possible, other than running away again," Len'ah replied calmly. "I fell in love with another man."
Once again, Bulma was thrown for a loop. The intrigues of the Saiya-jin court were more numerous and involved than any on Chikyuu-jin soap operas. She probably would have laughed at all of it had it not been so tragic. Just what exactly did the King do to her? Instincts told Bulma that she should just let it go; she shouldn't allow herself to get sucked into whatever bizarre, twisted love triangle existed between Len'ah, the King, and this other man.
However, curiosity, like the cat's, was one of Bulma's strongest weaknesses.
"Who did you fall in love with?" she asked.
* * * * *