DISCLAIMER: I DON’T OWN DBZ OR ANY CHARACTER OF THE SAME. I’M NOT RECEIVING ANY MONEY FROM THE WRITING OF THIS PIECE OF FAN FICTION.
WARNING: ALL YE UNDER 18 GO AWAY NOW! This fic contains violence, adult themes, sex, and profanity. If this is not your thing, don’t read it.
Bardock stood over the unconscious bodies of the two young men, keeping his face carefully blank. He could feel the gazes of the others around him, the members of Vegita’s Privy Council. Had he known this would happen? Was this a good omen, a bad one?
"Damn!" Nappa growled softly, kneeling beside the Prince, inspecting the boy for some kind of wound.
"How did your brat even manage to land a blow, Bardock?" Turna had landed lightly beside him, his mate Articha at his shoulder. The grizzled man was shaking his head in wonder.
"He didn’t after Vegita-ouji transformed," Bardock murmured, watching Nappa’s giant hands turn Vegita and lift him with surprising gentleness. "The Prince brought Kakarott out here to spar with him, beat the hell out of him, and then passed out himself."
"There’s not any serious wounds on him," Nappa grunted. It was the closest the big man would ever come to agreeing with him, the Seer thought. "The change must have exausted him."
"He battled the…" Articha paused before going on softly. "He fought for twelve solid hours yesterday, and I would wager all the remaining days of my life that he did not sleep last night."
"No…he did not sleep," Nappa rumbled harshly.
Bardock frowned as the bald man stood with Vegita in his arms. The black, seething hatred rolling off the Elite’s Ki was, for once, not directed at him. Bardock caught a faint but familiar scent clinging to the boy’s hair and every exposed inch of his skin. A sweet, flower-like scent he knew. Good…it was about damn time. Nappa’s jaw was clenched so hard Bardock wondered that the man's teeth didn’t crack. Who was gaurding the girl right now? Kyouka? No matter, Bardock thought, kneeling beside his son as the giant shot off into the sky without another word. Nappa would have no opportunity to harm her today in any of the hundred thousand ifs that lay at the end of any course of action the big fool might contemplate. And soon…Bardock smirked. Very soon, he would be paid back in full for his little "revelation" to Kakarott a few months ago.
The black expression that might have flickered across his face as he watched Nappa’s great form deminish to a dark dot on the sky, smoothed away to something more nuetral. It was easier to hold off killing a man you hated, when you cold See where the path his feet were set on would eventually lead him. And much harder to hate that man completely…
"Did you have fun, Kakarott?" He asked, prodding his son’s body for injuries. The boy’s rib cage was in fragmented shards.
"Uh-huh," his son weazed. "…not mad?"
"No." He lifted the boy in his arms, in a pose that was nearly a copy of Nappa’s moments before. Bardock wondered if he had the same foolish look of doting concern and poorly-hidden affection splayed across his face as well. This child he had never wanted, whom he had cast adrift to the vast emptiness of space without a second thought, somehow managed to wrench at his heart as no other living thing ever had…except the boy’s mother. "If he wants you to train with him, do it."
The smile that broke across the boy’s face was…Gods, how could he have not seen the boy’s mother in him from the first? It was not anything physical. The boy’s features might have been poured from a mold of Bardock’s own face. But his expressions, and this mannerism or that---there was sometimes so much of Romayna in them, it hurt to look at the brat.
"Yay…" Kakarott croaked painfully, as his eyes slid shut again. He was still smiling.
He bore the boy back to an empty house and plunked him in the regen tank, setting the timeout on twenty minutes. He sank down besdie the machine’s front glass pane to wait, willing calm, willing peace. The longer he trained with the Yardratsei-jin, the easier it became to control the visions than he would have ever thought possible. He could force them away now, put them behind a kind of barrier, so that he could talk and function day to day without the hell of seeing everyone around him with a thousand superimposed images of all their possible fates layered over his perception of them. Without madness…
He closed his eyes. The triad that would be their ulitmate salvation, if any was to be had, had come together completely today as the boys fought for the first time in the desert. Kakarott, Vegita, and the Chikyuu girl. All bound together like the three points of a spearhead that Bardock meant to hurl into Frieza’s heart. All of whom he must bend and twist and usher toward one distinct future. A future that had only two possible outcomes---win or lose. Of all the roads he might have pushed these three to walk, this one stood the greatest chance of victory.
One in ten, at most.
No one knew this, of course. That even with Bardock’s clean line of Sight to the end of this war, their chances were still so slim. Or that the odds of any of the countless other roads not taken were at best a thousand to one against survival. Or that the events that must now play out would take them all to a victory only by way of what would seem like certain defeat. Lose all or win all. There was no middle road.
The last stubborn factor to fall into place had been the Chikyuu-jin girl. She and the Prince had held out against the steady, unrelenting hand of inevitability longer than he would have thought possoble for two such hot-blooded youngsters. Or maybe it wasn’t so surprising. The Prince had, lying well-hidden beneath the outer shell of hard Saiyan arrogance, an amazing capacity for selfless caring that was, in ways, as deep and all-encompassing as Kakarott’s. He had waited for the girl to cease grieving and come to him willingly. And Bulma, this girl-child who was in some fashion---at least in the strange Chikyuu-jin familial structure that existed in Kakarott’s mind---a kind of foster daughter to Bardock, sister to his son, had at last heeded the call of her blood, body and heart, and laid aside her mourning.
Bardock felt an unexpected twinge of pain at that thought. As though, in some way, his firstborn had died again as Raditz’ woman became the mate of another. So strange… Boy to man, he had been taught and had firmly believed that the untimeliness of a warrior’s death did not matter so much as the manner in which he lived his life and the manner in which he died. And Raditz had died well. That should have been enough…
Bardock had first come to know his eldest son in the boy's early adolescence, had fought beside him on a number of occasions. He had grown to like and respect the man Raditz had grown into a great deal, and called him a friend. Which meant more than son, among their people. Raditz had lived well, grown strong, and died bravely. It was all any Saiyan warrior could hope for a son he had come to value. And all the good years his son might have seen, all the life he should have had if he had not fallen on Madran, the fact that he and Bardock would never again fight beside one another or simply sit and speak, should not matter so much. But it did.
And it should have been the same with Romayna. He had told her what was to come the night before the end of their world, had been unable to keep the fact of her approaching death to himself. She had simply nodded, and asked only one question.
"A good death?"
"Yes…a very brave one." He had whispered in a voice he knew was less than steady.
Then she had smiled, and wrapped herself around him in the dark stillness of the last night of the world. "That is good." She had died leading the first assault on Frieza's battlecruiser.
Again, it should have been enough. But there were times when the two ragged holes in his chest where his wife and son had seemed to dwell in life nearly felled him to his knees with the pain of loss. The lights on the tank ticked over to a countdown sequence, and Bardock punched in the drainout command. The boys eyes were weak, but bright and aware, and he bore no hint of pain or injury. The girl Bulma was frighteningly clever sometimes. After Arbatzu, she had taken that Madrani doctor Scopa in hand and the two of them had disassembled the fleet’s one working regen tank and produced nearly two hundred copies in a matter of weeks. Kakarott had put the idea in her head, he knew. No more Spurat’s would die under manual field surgery for want of a tank to heal them.
The boy smiled at him through the glass as the water poured out of the tank, and Bardock felt something seize up in his chest. God of gods, the Kanassans had been wise and cruel in their revenge. The Saiyans could and would change in order to survive, and in doing so, become something new, perhaps better. Though the next generation, Radu’s generation, would be immeasurably more complex and impure of heart than their fathers. The peace and clean remorseless joy of being a perfect killing machine, unfettered by conscience or empathy, would be lost to them forever. All the generations of Saiyan warriors to come would be torn between the violent call of their blood and their morality. For men like Nappa, riding the crest of the wave of change, nine-tenths of their lives firmly rooted in the old ways, it was most painful. Without the Sight, Bardock was not sure that he wouldn’t have been every bit as horrified by what his people were slowly becoming as Nappa.
And for Bardock… Seeing with eyes wide open was not a curse because of all the myriads of swirling maybes that pressed in on his mind without relief if he did not block them out. For Bardock, the continual torture was the changes the Sight had bored into his mind and heart. This curse of Seeing the uniqueness and irreplacable beauty of every living thing around him, and its worth in simply being. The curse of caring, he thought, gazing at the boy’s face steadily. It worked its way into a man’s soul until he ended up caring about everything and everybody on some level. And it was agony.
The curse of grieving for Romayna and Raditz with an unfiltered capacity to feel that the Sight had awakened in him. The curse of loving this good child he had known less than two years so much it was almost unbearable sometimes. The curse of knowing how much his death would hurt this boy when it came.
But there was no other that Bardock could See to win. The boy would survive, Bardock told himself harshly. Kakarott would bear the loss of a father with the same strength he had born the loss of that green world he still stubbornly referred to as his home. And if he and the other two managed to win the day, Kakarott would live long and happily, and see a new Saiyan Empire---an empire of strong, thinking protectors rather than ravening beasts---rise up out of the ashes of both his homeworlds.
He pulled his son’s body out of the tank and carried him to the room the boy share with Toma’s brat. It was sheer foolishness to let them remain in his house, he thought, as he laid Kakarott’s still weak and shaky body in his bed. To let an adult son an his mate live in his quarters as though they were a pride of felines in a den. He’d told himself at first that it was to let the brat make a stronger bond with him, so that when it was time to die, Bardock’s death would give Kakarott that last little nudge he needed to ascend as Vegita had yesterday. There were gaps in every vision of what was to come, holes in the chain of events that would lead to that exact moment, and Bardock could See that if he chose to, he could side-step his own death when it came for him. But he would not. It was the boy’s surest road to his full power. And together, Kakarott, Vegita and the girl would throw down the Lord of Tsiru-sei and win a future for all of his people.
"Toussan?" The boy’s voice was soft, almost past the veil of sleep.
"Sleep, Kakarott," he said. It was not just the need to let the boy care for him, to manipulate his emotions to force him to achieve what he must, that drove Bardock’s actions toward his son. A man with only weeks to live should at least be honest with himself. A part of him desparately wished he could live to see the new Saiyan Empire these three children would raise in the years to come, to see the sort of men Raditz’ sons might become, to--- It was not to be.
But in spite of everything, there was still enough of the old ways steeped in the foundations of his perception of life to rejoice that he would die bravely and well. It was enough. It would have to be.
Bardock left his son sleeping. The house was empty and no one would disturb the boy for several ours. Anyan would not return til nightfall and Jula--- He grinned. She would be out and about all day, he had no doubt. The Maiysoh-jin woman had taken up with the Madrani medics almost as soon as the fleet made landfall, determined to be of use to the war she was not capable of fighting. She had seen her first field surgery at the battle of Arbatza---the very definition of an initiation to the arts of medicine by trial of fire. She had come through it surprisingly well, showing no shock or reaction until that night. After the Prince had been laid up in his rooms to heal, after the Chikyuu girl had been born away to the safety of Bardock’s house, and…and after Kakarott had learned the full truth of his past, the girl had calmly closed the door to their bedroom and simply fallen apart.
"Babies…oh goddess, they were so little!" She had been sobbing almost incoherently, curled up in a ball on the bed, arms wrapped around herself for comfort. He had stared at her in confusion, before remembering that she had been assisting Scopa…Scopa, who had treated most of the wounded children in Radu’s squad. He had watched the sobs tearing through her slim, fine-boned body, and he had suddenly realized that he was seeing the real woman behind the courtesan's beautiful smile, perhaps for the first time. And of course, she had not reached out to him for comfort, he thought, watching her rock back and forth on the bed, her long ivory hair falling into her eyes. Because comfort was something she gave, not received. Comfort, pleasure, entertainment…things she had been trained in as an art form since adolescence in the high class brothels of Maiyosh Prime, and never expected to receive in any situation from a man. The light-hearted, winsome smiling mask was gone now, and as he looked at her, he had felt it again…that painful, wrenching sensation of empathy, of caring. The curse of giving a damn. He had put his arms around her and simply held her.
He had been like every client she had ever had. He had not once touched her for any reason other than to take pleasure or comfort in that beautiful body. And there was no reason she should expect even the least little bit of compassion from a Saiyan warrior, in any case.
As he held her, stroking his fingers through the soft pale hair, simply letting her cry, it occurred to him that she had not shed one tear since the destruction of her world. The children’s deaths had opened up a floodgate for all that pent up pain to burst and come pouring out.
"I’m---I’m behaving terribly." She said finally, trying to muster a smile, trying to smooth her tangled hair back into a more appealing arrangement almost without realizing what she was doing.
He had grunted. "You’re behaving real, woman. It sits better on you than the dolly act."
In nearly a year and a half of having her in his bed, this was one of the longest conversations they’d had to date. He tilted her chin up to meet his eyes. "You don’t have to smile and prance about as though all your life is flowers and sunshine. Truth to tell, in the middle of this sort of war, that kind of behavior could be construed as madness."
The corners of her mouth had twitched for a second. Then she sobered and gazed up at him intently. "How do you want me to be?"
He frowned. "Just…be you."
She smiled slowly, sad and a little wistful. "I’m not sure I know who that is."
He cocked an eyebrow. "I think you’re being her right now." His frown deepened, considering whether or not to speak of something that had gnawed at him since the day Toma had foisted her off on him. "Tell me the truth. Do you want to stay in my bed?"
She blinked. "What?"
He shifted uncomfortably. "I wasn’t pleased at all when Toma gave you to me," he began. "There was a good reason."
"Oh," she nodded. "I know. Toma asked us before any of the others in your squad chose, which one of us would like to have you. More than one hand went up." Bardock felt his cheeks being to redden. "But I was the owner of our Bathhouse, so I over-ruled the other girls. I like troubled, pretty men. And I’d already had a taste of you back on---on Maiyosh Prime." Her eyes went distant and haunted for a second or two. Then she met his gaze again. "You were gentle and fierce at the same time. You tried to please me as well as yourself. I could tell you’d never taken a woman lightly before. I liked that."
"I was mated when I was as young as Kakarott and Anyan," he murmured softly. "She was lost when Vegita-sei fell. Romayna and I were together for nearly eighty years, and she was the only---" He stopped, his throat constricting.
Her soft hand on his scarred cheek, dark eyes shining in a beautiful rose-hued face. "Do I want you? Yes. You are kind and beautiful and you don’t beat me or wish to rule over me. I know you grieve for your mate and I know you don’t love me. But what you have given me is a hundred times more than I have ever had. And now you would give me the gift of myself as well? How could I not love you, Bardock?"
He had kissed her, feeling that strange twisting in his chest again as he drew her closer. "I will give you what I can. I cannot care for you as I did for Romayna. But I can be your friend."
She smiled, another real, unaffected smile, her midnight eyes bright with tears. "It is enough."
It had been enough…for a while. But as the silent couplings that had been the sum of their relationship shifted to long conversations late into the night after love-making, to comfortable companionship at evening meals that was often followed by several games of the Chikyuu-jin battle strategy game chess, as he began to see the wry humor and quick, sharp mind that had lain behind Jula’s smiling doll mask, he had… He’d had to force himself to hold her at a certain distance. And as she began to change under the simple freedom of exploring exactly who and what she was, as her bright mind was excercised day by day in the labs of both Scopa and Bulma, slowly awaking to the concept of her own self-worth, he had seen the seeds of dissatisfaction begin to grow in her eyes when he held her against him. An entire life as a courtesan made for a shrewd, piercing psychological insight, and more, the ability to read a man’s heart to a hair’s breadth. She had known he was holding himself back. Deliberately.
It was the bitterest of ironies that he had unwillingly stumbled upon a woman who was as different from Romayna as one woman could be from another, and yet…And yet was slowly evolving into a woman he could possibly cherish every bit as much as his first mate. The sure knowledge that she had consciously begun to change herself into the kind of woman who could win his heart, and the cold certainty he began to see in her eyes that she believed he was holding himself aloof from her because she was not good enough, had convinced him that, sooner or later, he would have to tell her the secret no one else knew.
That time had come last night. She had been silent and shaken after the grinding tension and fear of yesterday’s events. He could have alieviated it all for her, told her he had Seen this and that the Prince would win the battle and all their lives. But to speak of some futures, altered them. Last night, in the stunned stillness that enfolded the base in the aftermath of the Prince’s battle and ascension, she had come to their bedroom and fixed him with a sad, direct gaze…and asked her question point blank.
"Is it me? Is there something I lack? Something more that you need---"
He stopped her words with a caressing hand across her lips.
"No." He said. She deserved the truth, if he could give her nothing else. "If there was, I wouldn’t have to hold you at arm’s length the way I’m doing now. There is a reason. But it’s a hard truth."
"Tell me," she whispered.
"I will not live to see the end of this war, Jula."
She was silent, staring at him, not seeming to have heard his words, not reacting at all. "No," she said finally.
"Jula, I have Seen it---"
"No," she said again flatly. "You don’t know everything. You---you told Zarbon once that there are holes in all your visions, and---and---"
"I will not bind you to me, or let you any closer than you are now, when I have less than half a year to liv---"
"NO!" She screamed, and flung herself at him. He caught her small fists and pulled her against him until the anger dissolved into tears. This was his fault. He should have rejected her outright when Toma gave her to him, or failing that, he should have kept silent and aloof months ago and never have allowed her come to know him…or let himself know the real woman that had lain beneath the smiling façade. "You don’t know everything, Bardock," she whispered again.
"My curse," he replied softly. "Is that I do."
Had the Kanassans known that their curse would spiral outward from Bardock and bring misery to anyone follish enough to care for him? It didn’t matter. He was the bastard for letting her come to care for him in the first place. But there was something inutterably cruel in the way this woman had found something she had never known could exist for her, only to have it snatched away.
"Don’t you dare," she said harshly, reading the direction his thoughts were slowly turning, though his face had given away nothing. "Don’t you dare cast me aside for my own good. You told me my life was my own. Then I’ll live it the way I want. And I want to have every minute I have left with you. However much time is left, I want it all!"
He regarded her silently, still holding her body against his tightly. And in the shadowed depths of all the maybes that swam before his every conscious moment if he did not use the Yardratsei-jin disciplines to lock them away in a side chamber of his mind, he Saw that whether he cast her away or drew her even closer in the weeks to come, that she would soon begin to hunt her own death. She would soon make a conscious decision that she would live each day she had left with him to its fullest…and live not one day longer.
There was one way around that future. One course that would give her will to live even in the face of his death, and comfort in his abscense.
"Jula," he said softly, brushing her hair back from her face. "I will give you all I have to give in the time that is left to me."
She cried out when his teeth pierced the tender skin and muscle on her shoulder. He lay her down beneath him, and lost himself in the sweet burning need for what he had held back for months, growling softly as he entered her, not breaking the bite as he took her gently at first, then with growing ferocity as he cast aside all control and inhibition. She was sobbing, her face buried in the crook of his shoulder, as the half-empathic bond---of which the mating bite was only an outward physical symbol---sent wave after wave of pleasure pouring out of his mind and body, into hers, and back again, amplified with each sweet, searing exchange, until all sensation for both of them was one long soaring climax that went on and on and---He drove inside her one last time, deep and strong, nothing held back now, all barriers shattered, as he poured the catalyst of life into her body. As he gave her the one part of himself she could hold and cherish all her days. As he gave her his son.
"What…oh goddess, what did you do?" She was clinging to him, shaking like a leaf. The mating bond was less absolute and soul-wrenching than moon bonding, but still profound. It must have been all that more over-whelming for her because Maiyosh-jin were all natural low-grade empaths. He put his lips against hers, a Maiyosh-jin "kiss", soft and warm. He propped up on one elbow and lay his hand on her flat, perfect stomach, caressing gently.
"He will be with you when I am gone."
Her eyes widened and she shook her head, almost disbelieving.
Then she kissed him, and she said the words. The three words his people did not say. He felt a full-blown, rather foolish smile begin to spread across his sweat-streaked face. She would say those words often in the weeks to come, he had no doubt. But there was no harm in it. She was no Saiyan and he did not expect her to be.
He skirted the Prince’s house without missing a beat, honing in on the boy’s agitated Ki. It was radiating from the Mastertech’s research lab directly adjacent to the Royal quarters. He grinned faintly at the new architechtual eye-sore extending from the leading edge of the lab warehouse, connecting the research facility with Vegita-ouji’s house by way of a kind of ugly, makeshift hallway. He banged on the door of the labs, thinking how Jula had launched herself out of the house this morning to go and beat down Scopa’s door for medical confirmation of what she already knew. Kyouka answered the door, looking pale and a little wild-eyed.
"The---the Prince is…occupied at the moment, Captain," the boy said. Bardock’s grin widened. He could hear the sounds of female screeching and the deeper, angry tones of Vegita’s voice drifting down the hallway, through the lab.
"I’m sure he is. It’ll be all right, brat." Kyouka had been fifteen and pitifully scrawny when he had been rolled into the cell beside Bardock’s on Imsul. In the last five years, the young man had grown a full meter, but he still looked like that small, rabbity child when he grinned with such wilting relief. "How’s your son?"
Kyouka didn’t even think to ask how Bardock had known the child had been born last night. "He looks sturdy enough. He had a strong grip. He grabbed my finger and held on when I lifted him out of the basket by it." He grinned hugely. "You’d have thought I drop-kicked him the way my woman screamed."
Rubi was holding the child in question, looking pale with fright. Jula hovered next to her friend. Zarbon gave him a brief nod, looking vaguely relieved, as he asked Scopa in a soft wry voice if the doctor thought they should continue downloading the medical files Bulma had requested or wait to see if they would all be blasted to the far side of Hell in the next few moment first. The Madrani doctor’s golden skin blanched as he looked down at his feet and replied it might be better to wait and see. Bardock noticed with a veiled smirk that the doctor could not seem to meet Zarbon’s eyes for more than a second or two without blushing profusely. Zarbon was apparently oblivious to this.
No one spoke as the sounds filtering down the ugly, decapsulated, prefab hallway that led back to the Prince’s quarters ceased abruptly. Another few minutes of tense silence crawled by, though everyone looked much calmer just observing on the easy, unconcerned expression on Bardock’s face. The Prince finally returned to the lab, his boots clanging hollowly on the tinny floor of the capsule hallway. The Chikyuu girl followed after him, and Bardock nearly laughed aloud at the patently false expression of sweet submissiveness on the little thing’s face.
Vegita swept them all with a dark, hard gaze, but he spoke softly, turning his eyes first to Bardock. "Seer, you will dine at my hearth tomorrow night, you and all your men. Bring your women if you wish. Doctor…" Scopa nearly jumped out of his skin as Vegita’s eyes fell directly on him. "You are welcome as well." The Prince strode forward into the center of the room. "I will have all my warriors and servants behave as they did before yesterday. I cannot command men who are so busy bowing down to me they do not hear my words. Kyouka!" The tall young man swallowed hard. "Tomorrow at dawn I will go into the desert to spar with Kakarott. You will be my warm up match." Kyouka seemed to sag with relief at the prospect of nothing more severe than a sound beating for having allowed the Chikyuu girl to creatively annex her lab to the Prince's house. "I will see all of you on the morrow." At that quiet dimissal, everyone except Bardock beat as hasty a retreat to the door as dignity allowed.
"When were you planning to tell me about Kakarott, Seer?" Vegita spoke with deceptive softness. "Or was this to be another of your little surprises…Like my father's arrival yesterday?"
"I will not insult your intelligence by explaning to you why I kept silent in that, Ouji-sama." Bardock could feel Jula, motionless and frightened, several feet behind him. Refusing to leave without him.
Vegita's gaze softened into something marginally less baleful, and the boy seemed to repress a sigh. "No. I understand why. Tell me now, Seer. Does the end of this war draw near?"
"It is weeks away, my Prince." Bardock thought he heard a little gasp from Jula. "Train with Kakarott until you can transform without effort. And let this girl build what she will."
"And Kakarott?" Vegita almost growled.
"He will catch you up when need is the greatest. Train, Ouji-sama. Beyond that…I can say no more without altering what must come to pass if we are to win. From this point, I can give no council."
"Can you not tell us anything?" Bulma asked softly, edging a little closer to the Prince unconsciously.
"Do not falter in the face of what will seem like absolute defeat."
Bardock could hear the sepulchrous echo in his words, as the future flowed through him, moving his lips of its own accord. "The road we are on stands the best chance of victory. But you will only achieve it, my Prince, by walking through the mouth of Hell itself first."
Vegita and his bride were silent, their young faces bearing the look of uneasy fear that he always awoke to in the aftermath of prophesy.
He turned and left them to the few sure hours of peace they would have together before the last, bleak endgame of this war bore down on them both. He turned to Jula as they left the lab warehouse behind them.
"The end of the war is weeks away," she whispered.
He took her face in both hands and kissed her trembling mouth. "That is not now." There was no need to train this evening. He had done all that needed to be done today. He scooped her up in his arms and carried her back to their quarters.
Bulma stared down at the silly-looking machine she had labored on all day yesterday and all through the night. It looked like nothing so much as a football helmet with blinking Christmas tree lights embedded in its outer shell. It was finished. The only way to test it was to test it. Now, this morning. Before Vegita or Scopa or anyone else figured out what she was up to and smashed her little invention to bits. Vegita had risen at dawn to go and train, strutting into her workroom to find her still working. He had brushed her lips with a half-smile that sent a wave of heat burning from her lips to the tips of her toes and back up again, and left her to her work without speaking a word.
She stared down at the device on her workbench, thinking hard.
All or nothing, Bardock had told them yesterday. She had turned the two-fold problem every which way imaginable in her head, and this was the only resolution to the situation.
After waking in Vegita's arms for the first time yesterday morning, after the argument that had really not been resolved so much as deliberately shoved out of both their minds, he had summoned Kyouka to stand watch on her for the day, and left her to her designs and schematics to go and "do some special training." She assumed that meant he was going out to expiriment with his new powers.
"Beh!" Karot-chan had said brightly, gripping leg and pulling himselft up to a wobbly stance.
"Don't move," she told Kyouka intently. The young warrior stood stock still, as the baby held on for a moment, then let go and fell hard on his bottom.
"Good boy!" She cried, picking him up, hugging him tightly. "What a big boy!" The baby almost immediately began to wiggle to be let down, and she sat him back on the floor beside her strewn blue prints, feeling irrationally hurt. "The bigger he gets, the less he seems to want me to hold him," she said almost to herself.
"That's normal," Kyouka said. "My woman says that women with older Saiyan brats have told her it does not mean that the child is not attatched to you."
Maybe that was true. She had no doubt in her mind that Radu loved her, and he wasn't a cuddly child either. "How is Rubi?" She asked.
"She and the boy are well."
"The---did she have the baby last night?!" Bulma jumped to her feet. "Everything went okay?"
He nodded. "Maiyosh-jin have a naturally high fighting power. Enough so that bearing a Saiyan child is not dangerous for them."
He smirked. "He is red, with black Saiyan hair."
"You should be with Rubi abd your baby right now," she protested. "Not stuck here babysitting me."
"I have seen him already." He shrugged. "He sleeps and eats, and when he does not, he screams. He will be more interesting when he begins to talk. Today Rubi is showing him to her Maiyosh-jin sisters. They pass him back and forth and make cooing noises. I would rather not be present for that."
She supposed that Saiyans had never heard of taking personal time off anyway. She stared down at the plans she had scratched out on her drafting pads. She couldn't do this alone. She didn't have the medical knowledge. "I need Scopa's help on this," she said firmly.
"I also need to check the status of the decoding program I have decrypting the code of the lockout software for the Super Mech's blue prints. Actually, I need my whole damn lab."
"If I let you leave, or go myself to fetch these things for you, the Prince will kill me."
She frowned. "I can't leave this house, but he didn't say a damn thing about anyone coming to me. Call Scopa and tell him I need his help on something." She ran to the little night study she'd set up in her bedroom, and rifled through the desk for the capsules she needed.
Three A-grade servo-bots and one sort of odd-end architecture she'd thought she might have a use for one day. Kyouka followed her apprehensively as she strode back into the sitting room and grabbed Karot-chan. Then she marched purposefully through the house to the south window that faced her warehouse-sized lab. Ten meters from this wall to the edge of her lab, she judged. Good. She popped the bot capsules "Make me a door, guys," she told them.
It took less than half an hour to tear out two perfectly lined up doorways in her house and the lab, then erect the capsule transam.
It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing thing she'd ever seen in her life, but it turned her research lab into an annex of Vegita's house.
Problem solved. She hoisted Karot-chan a little higher on her hip, and strode down the new hallway to her workroom, oblivious to the worried frown on Kyouka's face. Scopa arrived with Jula half an hour later, and they set to work in earnest. As it always did when she worked, time seemed to slip out of her grasp while she pieced together the missing pieces of the puzzle Scopa gave her. It should work. It would work. She just had to build it...and keep everyone around her from shutting her little project down before she could test it. She smiled grimly. She was so consumed in her work, she was startled when Rubi arrived with lunch for everyone. The Maiyosh-jin girl was up and about after a night a hard labor thanks to the regen tanks Bulma had made damn sure were placed in every separate dwelling on the base. Jula fussed over the new baby strapped across her friend's breast in a baby sling. Scopa fussed at Bulma as she hunkered over the cannibalized electrodes and retailored replicas of the internal diodes she'd torn out of the captured mech several months ago. The doctor thought the whole project was insanely risky, and waxed eloquent in his list of all the things that could go wrong. Bulma nodded absently, noticing suddenly that Kyouka had gone motionless, his head cocked in a peculiar listening pose. "Kyouka?" Rubi said uncertainly. He grinned ferociously. "Gods, I wish I could see it!" "See what?" Bulma asked. "Kakarott and Vegita-ouji are sparring. It's like...there Ki's are like two stars at war!" Jula met Bulma's eyes worriedly. "They...Bulma, they just barely get along at the best of times. And the Prince is much stronger than Gokou-chan now." "The Prince is..." Kyouka's eyes widened. "He just did it again!" He whispered in awe. "Super Saiyan..."
"He'll kill Son-Kun!" Bulma cried.
"No, he won't." Zarbon had entered the lab in his cat-quiet way, unnoticed by any of them. "Bardock sent me to tell you not to worry. They're just---"
"Being big, stupid, testosterone-driven men!" She snapped. But the cold knot of fear for both of them drained out of her at the blue man's words.
Zarbon raised an eyebrow. "Boys will be boys. Or rather, Saiyans will be Saiyans. The Prince never cancelled the meeting he had scheduled for the afternoon, so Bardock and I have been enjoying the company of Nappa and the rest of the Council, waiting to see if he'd show. We sensed them begin the fight. Bardock went with the others to retrieve them, and sent me with a message to tell you to not to stop doing what you're doing." He glanced down curiously at the cluttered bits of medical and software parts. "What are you doing?" She smiled. "It's a secret."
"It's a weapon of some kind," Scopa said flatly. "And I…Bulma, I can't in good conscience help you with this any further. As a physician, I can't contribute to any invention that will be used to kill."
Zarbon smiled cynically at the golden-skinned young man. "This from a Madrani, who are famed throughout the galaxy as weapons wrights."
Scopa rounded on him. "I have never built a weapon. And I have never taken a life. Nor do I ever intend to." The quiet, angry dignity in those words wiped the almost Saiyan-like smirk off Zarbon's face. He regarded the Madrani solemnly.
"I believe you…and I ask your pardon, Doctor. I am glad to know you. I hadn't thought men such as yourself really existed."
Scopa held his eyes for a second or two, then mumbled something about apologies being unessesary. Bulma thought the Madrani's face had an oddly reddish tint to it as he turned away.
"When did it happen?" Rubi was asking Jula breathlessly. "Last night," Jula said, beaming from ear to ear.
Rubi squealed with delight, embracing her fried.
"What happened?" Bulma asked curiously. Jula told her. Bulma began to squeal as well. The three men crowded together, looking confused and vaguely uneasy as though Bulma and the other two women had suddenly developed some strain of comunicative madness. "And Scopa confirmed it this morning," Jula added. "Son-Kun and Radu are going to go crazy when they hear!" Bulma told her. "They'll be so happy! We should all---" The new door that led to hallway adjoining the lab and the house proper was suddnely torn from its hinges. There was no sound except for the soft snores of Karot-chan on the little cot bed she'd laid out for him, and the steel-shod clang of Vegita's booted feet as he strode into the room, his face black with fury. Kyouka fell to his knees, his face blanched as Vegita's eyes fell on him. "Ouji-sama, I---"
"You," Vegita told him softly, "have disobeyed me, soldier. I commanded you to keep the woman in my house and to bar her from leaving if she tried." He turned that black, burning gaze on her and she met it without flinching. "I knew she would try," he ground out, "as she is incorrigably disobediant." "But I haven't left your house, Ouji-sama," she said evenly, her face a mold of accomodating sweetness. "I merely added onto it." "You---" He cut the words off sharply staring at the others. He shot forward and the air rushed out of her lungs as he hefted her over one shoulder. "Stay right where you are," he told the others with soft, deadly menace. "I will deal with the rest of you momentarily." The air seemed to whip around her, and the world became a blur. A second later, he set her on her feet back in the hearth room of their house. His house.
"You will not disobey me again, woman," he snarled in her face.
"I didn't!" She shot back, hearing her own voice begin to rise. "Not technically, anyway. I had work to do and I needed my lab. You said not to leave, but you didn't say a damn thing about having guests! And you even said it was okay for me to be around Bardock and his squad!" "And their women? And the Madrani doctor?" He rasped. "Do you trust all of them with your life?!" "Yes!" She screamed. "They're my friends! And you're not going to take them away from me, or lock me up one more day! I won't live like that!" "I will do with you as I please!" He roared. "You will do as I command, like any of my subjects from the highest to the lowest! And that will never change, woman! I am the Saiyan no Ouji! And whether you are my slave or my concubine or my queen, I will still be king and you will do as I say!"
"And if I don't?" She screeched. "You swore on your life you'd never hit me again. Are you going to go back on that? Or will you chain me to the walls of my room to keep me from leaving? Or lock me in a cell? Or will you just excecute me? Because if you think you can 'do with me as you please', you might as well go ahead and kill me now! Because my life wouldn't be worth living anyway!" His faced paled fractionally, then anger poured back in and his lips twisted in a sneer. "You would not die and leave your sons orphaned." She stared at him in sick rage, her heart seizing in her chest. He was right. The ultimatum she had given Raditz on her first day on Madran was no longer a bluff that could be called. She had more to think about now than her own welfare, and she knew she would force herself to stay alive, whatever the circimstances of her life.
"If you even try to use Karot-chan or Radu as leverage against me again, Vegita, I won't be able to forgive you." Her voice was quiet and cold as encroaching ice in winter. He stood motionless, eyes boring into hers, his face giving away nothing. "I fought so hard against loving you," she whispered. "I was so scared of it. Don't make me sorry I let you in."
He seemed to tense again with fury...then, he slowly let it all go. "Bulma..." One gloved hand stroked her face, and she gave all her will to keeping her face hard and cold. She could not melt into that warm, reconciliatory embrace he was on the point of offering. Not yet. Not until he gave in a little more. She stared at him stonily, waiting for him to speak.
"Bulma," he said finally. "I will not earn your hatred by--by treating you as though you are a thing I own."
It was the most he could do, she thought, her heart sinking. To treat well and allow her the illusion of freedom. Even as Prince, even as the Super Saiyan, he could not free her in the eyes of his people. Only she could do that. And no one else could help her. He did a strange thing then. He knelt before her and laid his head against her abdomen, wrapping both arms around her waist. Then, he seemed to sag with relief. "Thank the gods..." He murmured softly. She put her hands on either side of his face, tilting his head back to look at her. "Vegita? What is it?" "I thought---" He cut the sentence off short. "It is nothing." "Vegita..." She said again softly. It suddnely struck her, the pose he was in, his head agaisnt her body, almost as though he were listening for something. Raditz had done the same thing when-- "Vegita! Am I--?"
"No," he breathed. "I---I had thought you might be, but it takes more than half a day before conception is complete. That is why---"
He stopped himself again, glaring up at her angrily. "I ordered that you keep away from others for one day only, woman. Until I knew for sure. I told you I would not lock you away forever."
All that she had read as possessive, dictatorial rage had been fear.
Cold terror that he might have returned from his little jaunt with Son-Kun to find her torn to pieces by a mob of his people, had she been so foolish as to venture outside.
"Why didn't you tell me?" She asked softly.
"There was no reason to speak until I knew." He was staring into her face, eyes searching hers, as her fingers threaded through the stiff, black spikes of his hair.
"Tell me next time," she said. "Vegita…this won't work unless you talk to me."
"Nor will it work if you have no trust in me."
She gave a deep, shaky sigh and nodded. His hair was damp, his clean-smelling skin bore that ruddy, flushed hue that the regen tanks induced. "Were you hurt badly?"
He grunted distainfully. "By Kakarott?"
She frowned. "Did you hurt Son-Kun?"
"A bit. That is what Saiyans do to each other when they train, woman."
She snorted indelicately, still stroking his face and forehead, seeing the weary exhaustion in the shadows beneath his eyes. "You need rest."
His voice had deepened to a low purr. "If you guide to my bed, there is no chance that I will sleep…nor will you."
She smiled slowly. "Then go put yourself to bed. I need to finish this project and I'll probably work straight on til morning. We have tomorrow and every night after to keep each other up all night."
His eyes cuaght fire with a dark glow of anticipation for all those nights to come, but he nodded. "You will share my bed and my rooms after tonight."
"Ask…" She said gently, fingertips trailing down the sides of his face. "Ask me."
He raised his head a little higher and met her eyes with a smoldering gaze that spoke more clearly of depth and breadth of feeling than a thousand sonnets of love. He took a deep breath and spoke, barely above a whisper. "Will you share my bed and my household, Bulma of Chikyuu? Will you share with me all the days of your life? Your battles become mine, my victories and defeats become yours? Will you bear my sons and fight beside me against all who would oppose us? I am a Prince with neither throne nor kingdom to call my own, but all that I have and shall have, all that I am, I will give you. I will set you beside me as my queen when this war is won, I swear it! If I must kill every son of Vegita-sei who would object, I will make it so!"
She bent and kissed his lips, trembling from head to toe under the weight of those words. "It won't come to that. But, yes…Yes to all those things. I am yours, Vegita. Now and forever."
She felt him shudder against her with surpressed emotion. His people showed so little outwardly of the feelings that ran so deeply through their minds and hearts, it was a wonder they didn't burst. He stood and kissed her, wrapping her in an embrace that left her breathless and dizzy, as some small portion of what they both were feeling rippled between them through the intangible mental link he had formed with her the night before. After what seemed like an hour, he slowly pulled back, still holding her against him.
"I will ask Bardock and all his folk to come and wake my father tomorrow night. The Madrani doctor as well. I owe him your life and have yet to repay him."
The others had greeted them with pale, nervous faces that melted into almost sick relief as Vegita issued his invitation in the form of a command. Then Bardock, calm, soft-voiced and terrifying, as he told them just enough of what was to come to make Bulma's blood run cold. A victory…Only through the mouth of Hell itself.
Now she stared down at the device before her, her face blank and thoughtful. Scopa had some vague idea of what she had spent yesterday and all last night laboring over. It was only a matter of time before he put the pieces together and ratted her out to Vegita.
She was alone in the house for the moment. Vegita had indeed "warmed up" on Kyouka this morning before heading out into the deep desert with Son-Kun, since he'd somehow managed to blow up her gravity dome for the third time a week ago. Kyouka would be over in half and hour, as soon as he was on his feet again.
It was now or never. Now, while Vegita and Son-Kun were miles away, completely absorbed in beating each other to a pulp. Now, before Kyouka arrived. Now, while Radu was on parimeter watch and would not see what became of her of this little invention failed.
She turned to where Karot-chan lay, full and drowsy on his cot bed. This would work! There was no danger. None at all. She wouldn't die and leave him orphaned.
And more important than herself or even her sons, was the use this invention could be put to. It would turn thousands upon thousands of Madrani techs into…into something much more lethal than her shield and Ki-gun package.
She strapped the helmet on her head and set her jaw. Then she threw the activation switch and…and the room reeled sharply before wheeling back into a crisp, overly-clear focus that was almost painful.
All her senses seemed to be rushing in on her, everything she saw, heard, and felt was over-blown and…and too much. And there were new senses. An internal radar that defied description, and the vague impression of everyone she knew on differr\ent parts of the base around her. Every nerve and synapse in her body was thrumming with energy, and her head… Her head felt full. Full to bursting.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, she thought faintly. But her hand moved to the volume gage that lay along the side of her "helmet" and she took a reading. It was doing what it was supposed to do. She smiled through the chattering of her clenched teeth as she slowly began to adjust the device and raise the power setting. She knew exactly who to test her new inventoin on. Her "target" had an upward energy signiture of 35,000. She checked the stats on the helmet, and raised the power again. She needed to pump up the juice until her own gages read twice that. So far so good. She increased the input once more and---
She shrieked and clutched her head, staggering and nearly falling to her knees, as a tearing sensation ripped through her head. Her vision cleared after a moment, and she waited for the pain to ease up. Too much, too quickly. She should have taken several hours to slowly raise the settings, but time was something she didn't have.
Bulma!!! Vegita's voice cracked like a gunshot inside her head. His mental voice was so clear he might have been in the same room.
What the hell are you doing, woman?! Fear and anger were laced through every word, and beneath that…Oh gods, all that he felt for her, the sheer intensity and magnitude of it, struck her like a physical blow.
Oneesan! Don’t! Son-Kun's voice, almost sobbing in her head.
They were on their way back, tearing across the desert like twin missiles. She had ten minutes. Fifteen is she was lucky. She ran out the front door and across the open quad of the base's main square, in a direct line of sight to her "test subject." He was bullying a group of Madrani engineers. As she approached, he grabbed one of the techs by the shirt collar and shook him like a terrier with a rat. She took one last deep breath.
"Let him go, Nappa!"
He dropped the Madrani and spun to face her, frowning in confusion at the contraption on her head. Then his face crunched up in an ugly grin. From across the square, Articha, Turna and several others of the Prince's Councilors were looking on curiously. Nappa loomed up over her like a mountain, flexing his great hands.
"Where's your bodyguard, slave? You're going to regret having the gaul to address me as an equal."
"You're not my equal, old man," she spat. "You're a stupid, brutish anachronism from an age that is over. You're also a mean asshole! And I'm going to beat the hell out of you!"
Oh pleaseplease, let this work!
He let out a roar and launched himself at her like a cannonball, and she---she moved without thinking, side-stepping his attack quicker than her own eyes could have tracked. Then she stuck out her foot.
The crowd that had begun to gather around them gave a collective gasp as Nappa tripped and hit the ground with a resounding thud. She gritted her teeth, and as he began to rise to his feet, she kicked him square in the seat of the pants. He went flying across the quad to land in a sprawling heap. She zipped after him, feeling the approaching Ki's of Zarbon, Anyan, Toma and a dozen others, streaking in from the training grounds, responding to Vegita's frantic, long distance command, telling them to get to her, to stop her. Nappa righted himself, roaring like a wounded bull. Over his head, blazing in out of the morning sun, she saw a dozen Ki auras burning toward her at top speed. Have to finish this quick! They're not going to stop me! They're not! She clenched her fist, feeling the fury and helpless rage of all the months of being someone's, anyone's "chattel" pool up in the palm of her hand like liquid fire. An ice pick of white pain turned the world red, as something seemed to buckle and rupture behind her eyes. Full to bursting… Her scream was cut short as something seized her throat and cut off her air. Something warm and stinging was flowing her nose and streaming from her eyes.
"Time to die, bitch." Nappa's labored breath was right in her ear. She shrieked once more, thinking of all the petty cruelties she had suffered at his hands since Raditz' death, of the way he had hurt
Son-Kun so deeply out of nothing more than spite, of his mindless, viscious hatred for anything and everything not Saiyan.
She hammered her fist down on the vise clamped around her neck, feeling bones crunch like kindling under her hand. Her other fist swung with a mind of its own, connected with something solid, then drove through it with a loud "crack".
Everything went silent.
What had happened? Her vision returned partially, and the world faded into bleary, stinging pink. She wiped her eyes to clear them and stared blankly down at the red smear covering her hand. She slowly focused on Nappa's huge body, lying prone and motionless on his back, several yards away. He was out cold. The world began to list horribly to one side, and she bit her tongue, willing the pain to keep her on her feet just a moment longer. She knew there were people all around her, but she couldn't see them through the red haze over her eyes.
"I claim my freedom…" Had she said that loud enough? Could they hear her? "…over---over the body of my enemy…I---I am…"
A rough hand reached out to steady her. "You are free girl." A woman's hard voice. "I witness it…I will not countenance seeing such a fighting spirit bound!"
"I bear second witness!" A man's rusty voice said. All around her, others were echoing the words.
"Move! Everybody get the hell out of my way!" Was that Scopa, she wondered muzzily? She'd never heard him yell before. Her legs began to give, and someone caught her.
"I've got her," said Zarbon's voice in her ear.
"Stupid, stupid girl!" Scopa sounded raging mad at her. Gentle hands were pulling the "Ki-cap" off her head, wiping her face, the soft beeping of a med scanner.
"How bad is it?" Anyan asked anxiously.
"Up!" Scopa barked out. "We have to get her into a tank now!"
For some reason she couldn't feel her face at all. The ground shuddered as though two meteors had just struck the earth right beside her. She couldn't feel him in her head anymore, now that they'd taken away her Ki-cap. She whimpered softly at the horrible loss, of all that love, that she'd been able to feel inside every part of her.
"Give her to me!" Vegita cried harshly. Everything lurched sharply to one side as she was yanked roughly out of Zarbon's arms. "Bulma…" Vegita's voice, his breath against her lips.
"Stupid woman…" She wanted to tell them all that she was getting very tired of that word, but her lips wouldn't move.
"Ouji-sama," Scopa said, with the studied, gentle diplomacy of his calling. "We must move her to the prime regen tank in medlab. Will you carry her for me?"
She slowly began to slide away from the world, wrapped in a warm cocoon of numb comfort. She wondered idly if they would get her to the tank in time. They probably would. Vegita could move very fast.
Free… Her last coherant thought before darkness washed over her like a black wave. Free.
She was in her own bed. Something small and warm was curled up against her side. She shifted to see what it was.
"Kassan!" Radu's arms tightened around her middle painfully.
She stroked his dark hair, as he slowly sat up, staring at her reproachfully. The boy's black, arched brows were drawn together in such a perfect replica of his father's expression of displeasure, she felt a lump rise in her throat.
"I'm sorry, Radu," she whispered. He kept on frowning at her.
"You almost died," he said accusingly.
She swallowed hard. "I know…that's why I'm sorry."
He bit his lip, tears forming in his eyes. "Don't you dare die! Don't you ever!" He let her hold him then, trying with all his newly christened warrior's pride to keep the tears at bay. He failed.
"I'll try," she said softly.
He wiped his eyes after a moment. "Jula's taking care of Nissan.
Did you know she's going to have a baby? There was about an hour where Doctor Scopa didn't know if you'd live or not, and Jisan cried so hard that Jula told him to make him feel better. He's really excited about it now! Jula's in the hearth room. Everybody's there." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Vegita-ouji's mad at you."
She winced. "I'll bet. Radu…" She hesitated. "Vegita and I---"
Radu grinned. "He likes you a lot. I'm glad you finally started liking him back."
She let out a huge sigh of relief. She'd had no idea what kind of reaction to expect from the boy where herself and Vegita were concerned.
"Kassan, what's a concubine?"
She stared at him blankly.
"Vegita-ouji said you were his concubine now," Radu told her.
"What is that?"
"Uh…I think it's somewhere between girlfriend and mate."
"Oh." Radu nodded, satisfied. "I'm hungry." He bounced off the bed, closing the door gently behind him. The smell of roasting meat was wafting slowly into the room.
"Me too." She stretched expirementally. Everything felt like it was in working order.
"You are very lucky to be alive, woman."
She jumped. He had been sitting in the chair beside the bed the entire time. "Vegita---"
"Do not explain. I understand why you did it." That soft, cold voice was somehow worse than if he had raged and screamed at her.
"You do not trust me."
"To treat me well?" She said quietly. "To let me think and behave as though I were free in the privacy of your house, even though it's not true?" He was silent, staring at her with that quiet anger, looking for all the world as though she's betrayed him by almost getting herself killed. "I had that with Raditz," she told him. "He never once used his ownership of me to command me or bully me in any way. I was so ignorant of your ways, and so naïve at first, that I didn't even realize that he owned me. When I came to Madran, I had just lost my whole world, and I held onto Raditz for dear life just to keep from drowning in my grief. He saved me. He was good to me. And he loved me. And after a while, because of all those things, I began to love him too. But…everything's different now. I'm different. I can't bear the thought that I can act as though I'm free in private and among friends just because you say so. That I can't even meet your eyes in public. It had to be real this time! Because…because I had to learn to love Raditz….because I never loved him as much as I love you! And---and I want it to be real, so I won't resent you somewhere deep down in my heart, however well you treat me. Your people don't see freedom as a right, they see it as something that must be earned. Even the Legendary doesn't have the power to set me free. I had to do it myself."
His coal eyes never left hers as he moved to sit beside her on the bed, showing no outward reaction to anything she had said. Then he drew her to him in a desperate, hard embrace, kissing her face, her eyelids, her lips, until she was gasping for breath, holding her so tightly she thought for a minute her back would break. His own breath was uneven when he finally calmed, one hand pushing her mussed hair back from her face.
"You are my free concubine. All my folk will bow their heads to you as such. Though there are many who will call you friend now, simply because you have beaten Nappa unconscious." She grinned.
"I would still have one of Bardock's folk guard you. Nappa's hate for you will grow to madness after today."
"Okay," she said softly.
"Scopa tells me that---that travesty you built to raise your fighting power gave you a cerebral hemorage and several ministrokes. He---"
Vegita clenched his teeth, as though the words choked him. "He says that you were reckless to increase the settings so quickly. And that you should have used the MRI of your own brain as a template, instead of a brain scan taken from a Madrani."
"I can make it work, Vegita. If that's the only glitch, we can use this device to give several thousand Madrani enough temporary fighting power to stand toe to toe with your warriors. It will solve the problem of what to do about the thousands of Saiyamechs we'll find gaurding Imsul and possibly Tsiru-sei as well when we attack Frieza's home world.
"Imsul first," he murmured, his eyes echoing the glitter of anticipation in her own. "Then Tsiru-sei. We may increase our numbers greatly if anyone can be rescued from Imsul first." He frowned. "You will have to build a new device. I smashed the one you were wearing."
She wasn't surprised. She lay one hand aside his face. "I'm sorry I scared you."
He frowned at her furiously, but pulled her close again. "You would tax the patience of a sage to madness, woman," he murmured against her hair. After a long moment, he spoke again. "You are well?"
"There are many people here tonight. I would greet them with you at my side. I wish to see you walk among them with your head held high."
"Yes," she said again, fighting back tears. "Yes, I would like that too."
The gathering was nothing like the horrible, nightmarish brawl that had been Raditz' wake. It was, with a few surprising exceptions, not much different from a night when Son-Kun's family and squad members came over. She was startled to see the Royal tactician and strategist, Articha and her mate Turna, two of Nappa's staunchest allies in Council, present. The scarred woman greeted her without any animosity at all on her hard face. It was so strange that these people should see her use of mechanical weapons on Madran as a personal affront to their strength, and yet not bat one eye when she defeated Nappa with mechanically induced fighting power. The only thing that seemed to matter is that she'd cold-cocked him with her bare fists.
"Watch your back, girl," Articha told her bluntly. "Nappa will try to take your life now, even at the cost of his own. Probably very soon."
"If he does, he'll regret it," Bulma said quietly.
The older woman gave her a long, measuring look. "No doubt he will. He has forfeited his life a dozen times over in the last two years with his arrant disobediance to his Prince. I cannot think why Vegita-ouji has let him live."
He will be needed, Bardock had said. Bulma felt a chill.
"You have won what you sought," the other woman went on. "A royal concubine has both freedom and great power if she chooses to wield it. But do not seek to rise higher still, girl. The Prince is not like other men who may wed where they will. He must have an heir of pure Saiyan blood." Bulma thought she had masked her feelings well enough, but as Articha gazed as her, the older woman's hard eyes softened a bit. "You did not wrap him so neatly round your finger out of desire for power or safety, did you? Do not worry. He will not set you aside for his bride when he must take a mate." She smirked. "In truth, I pity whoever he takes to wife. She will have nothing of his heart."
Bulma wandered though the night, eating her fill, receiving bone-breaking hugs from Son-Kun and others, and a stern, angry scolding from Scopa. She felt…light. As though a weight that had been pressing down on her for so long she's almost forgotten it was there had been suddenly removed. Kyouka, she was relieved to see, looking healthy and undamaged from his punative "warm up" bout with Vegita. When he told her casually that he'd spent nearly two hours in a regen tank this morning himself, she nearly cringed with guilt. Her fault. But he only grinned.
"I sparred with the Legendary, Bulma-san. It is a chance a man would happily spend a week in a tank to receive. Everyone on the base wants me to tell the tale!"
She caught sight of Jula, holding Karot-chan as she bent her head in some kind of deep conversation with Scopa.
"…know I should just turn around and walk the other way," Scopa was telling her. "In the Madrani residential quarter, they call him the "heart-stealer"."
"…never goes for anyone he actually knows and likes anyway," Jula said with a grin. "So, just do what all the girls do, and adore from afar."
Bulma hid a grin herself as she took her son off the Maiysoh-jin girl's hands. Jula had been happily feeding him bits of roasted cho-deer all night, and he was fast asleep. She meandered toward Vegita's rooms. Her rooms… There was a doorless, unused side-study adjacent to the bedroom, separated by a gauzy curtain. She popped the crib bed capsule and spent a moment or two rearranging the crib in the study. It was just right. She'd be able to hear him in the night as though he was in the same room. She lay the boy down, shivering as a light gust of night air rushed in though the study's---no, the nursery's---open window. Leeva had warned her while she was still carrying Karot-chan, that an open or unbolted window was an irresistable temptation to a Saiyan baby---
"Going somewhere, Nappa?" Bardock's calm voice froze her hands on the window sill. She stood motionless, listening to the low, animal growl of the giant's voice, chilled to the bone. Nappa had been about to enter the house, to wait and watch until he caught her alone for the half-second it would take him to snap her neck. There was the sound and a dull thud, followed by a muffled snarl of pain from the big man.
"You were a good soldier once, Bardock!" Nappa said. He sounded as though he'd just had the wind knocked out of him.
"I never should have let you have that two minute audience with Vegita-ou. None of this would have happened…"
"You're right," Son-Kun's father agreed. 'None of this would have happened. I know you hate me and my Sight, but that doesn't mean you disbelieve. If you had barred me from the throne room and killed me right then and there like you wish you had, Vegita-sei would still have burned. You would have survived, Nappa. And Vegita-ouji would have been taken alive to grow to manhood as a slave in the court of Tsiru-sei. And you would have gotten a front row seat to watch Frieza slowly drive the boy to madness. By now, Vegita would be like a rabid animal---"
"Shut up…Shut up!" Nappa seemed to rise to his feet with a muted roar.
"Do you want to lose this war, Nappa?" Bardock asked him hollowly. "Look at me. Into my eyes, so you'll believe what I'm about to tell you. If we lose, Frieza will take all of us who are unlucky enough to survive and wire our mutilated carcasses into his Saiyamechs. He will breed us like livestock for his fleets of mechs.
He will rule the galaxy, and the Saiyans of Vegita-sei will never rise again. If you kill the girl, all these things will come to pass, because we need her and her machines to win. If you enter this house and fail to kill her, all this will come to pass, because Vegita will kill you. And we need you to win. If you force the boy to put you down, if you are not alive when the forces aligned against Frieza strike Tsiru-sei, we will lose. Do you want to die knowing that the last of our race will end in the slave kennels of Tsiru-sei, because you did not stay your hand?"
There was a long tense silence. Finally, the bigger man uttered a soft rumble that was almost a moan of despair. "I have served my people and the Royal House all my days. But I cannot live in this new order…I cannot…"
"You won't have to," Bardock said quietly. "Both you and I will fall in the battle of Tsiru-sei."
Bulma swallowed the sob that rose up in her throat. Bardock…
Oh, poor Son-Kun…
But Nappa seemed to heave a weary sigh of relief. "A good death?"
"You will have a hero's death," Bardock intoned softly. "You will save the boy whose cradle you gaurded. And he will remember your faithful service to him before the end."
"It is good," Nappa's deep voice whispered.
"Better than you deserve, you bastard," Bardock muttered uncharitably. "I suppose I'll have a long time in Hell to repay you for all the shit you've done to me and mine."
"They say that heros' souls dwell in the Halls of Eternal War," Nappa said. "But Heaven or Hell, I will still greet each morning of eternity with a glad heart, if I may beat you until your bones break."
The soft growl of Saiyan laughter…and they were gone. Men and Saiyans, she thought. Maybe they would always be incomprehensible to her on some level. Bulma closed the window and locked it, shaking all over.
The fire in the hearth pit was burning low as the last few guests began to make their way back to their own quarters. Radu left to spend the night at "Jisan's", waving goodbye from his perch on Son-Kun's shoulders. Bardock and Jula had turned in early.
"Don't repeat what you over-heard to anyone, brat," he told her casually, as he left.
Warm hands fell on her shoulders, and her entire body seemed to quiver and melt against the man who stood behind her. Her man.
His voice was soft and deep in her ears.
"You were well pleased two nights past." She was growing used to the way he phrased questions in the form of a statement.
"Yes," she said. She turned to face him, the line of her body pressed against his. "Very."
The black coal of his eyes were kindling quickly to flame. "Your skill outstrips mine for the moment. But you will find I am a quick study."
She smiled and kissed him, tasting his mouth with her tongue, drawing one finger lightly down his spine to brush his tail gently.
He shuddered against her. "I will teach you all I know," she said softly.
The gnawing sense of impending catastrophe started as a faint unease in the back of her mind, and grew steadily to a pervading dred over the course of the next few weeks, marring the otherwise dizzying happiness wrapped around her like a shield from the hard realiites of the war. She went where she wanted, spoke with whom she wished, always accompanied by Kyouka or one of the others, but in truth, she didn't really believe she needed a body guard now. The few times she had seen Nappa from a distance, or in passing, he had staunchly ignored her. Even in Council, as she gave her report on the exact design flaws and strengths of the Saiyamechs after finally decyphering the damn thing's encrypttion code, Nappa just sat silent and grim-faced in his chair, not reacting to her presence at all.
"This news isn't as good as it seems," she told the Council. "I have deveolped a kill switch that will disable any mech built to these specifications, but if the bastards on Imsul are any kind of engineers at all, they'll be constantly improving and modifying their designs.
In other words, my kill switch may only work on those mechs built eighteen months ago and longer. Not on the new, higher powered models your warriors have been running into lately. The Supermech plans that Bardock captured a year ago…same thing. I'm writing an adaptive line of code into the special kill switch I've built based on the Supermech blue prints. Given a little time, it'll be able to ferret out the exact serial signal that will shut the Supermechs down, even if there are extreme design differences, but a linked scanner would have to be planted on the actual mech to overwrite the new data."
The Saiyans had watched, many of them with vague horror on their normally stony faces, as she raised the first of her own mechs in the desert testing grounds a week later. It was fast, sleek and highly manuverable, tiny compared to the twenty meters tall Saiyamechs, but that wasn't what made many of the Saiyans turn away from it in initial loathing. It carried within it, the refined Ki-cap, built from her study of the Saiyamech's cerebral implants, and housed one Madrani pilot, who drove the machine's body and armaments with the power of his mind. Her version of the fighting power "upgrade" the Tsiru-jin had given their Saiyan victims to increases their Ki levels inside the Saiyamechs was non-invasive, and only bore a similar theory in it's inception, but the sight of a man standing inside a glowing mech with a wired skullcap clamped over his head was too close for comfort. The Madrani tech who volunteered to pilot B's first "Freemech" became something of a celebrity among V's warriors afterwards. It had been an act of monumental bravery in their eyes to merely step inside the thing.
"I need the metals and ore to mass produce them," she told Vegita firmly, after the first successful test. "The Madrani could be as effective with only the Ki-cap to raise their power levels," he said thoughtfully. "Their whole world is technology," she said. "They may freeze up in hand to hand combat, or become disoriented while flying under their own power or throwing Ki blasts. But give them a mech to drive, and they're on familiar ground." "Arbatsu is occupied by our allies now," Vegita told her. "I will bring you the ore." Three days later, the first shipment arrived on a Maiyosh-jin
freighter. She stood with Zarbon, watching dozens of red-skinned men unload the last of the ardantium metals, more than half her attention focused on the report shed just pulled up on the mini-comp in her hands. "I need a medular scanner from medlab," she muttered. The Ki-cap was inducing migraines in one out of twenty Madrani pilots who spent more than an hour in the mechs. "I'll go fetch it, love," Zarbon told her, a little too quickly. She eyed him suspiciously, narrowing her eyes threateningly. "Scopa is my friend," she said bluntly. "Hmm," the blue man murmured. "Funny. I think he's become my friend, too. I've never known anyone without a drop of blood on their hands, Bulma. He's...quite a find. Perhaps you're right. Perhaps I shouldn't---" "Don't be scared, Zarbon-kun," she said softly. "We could could all be dead in two months. It's now or never." He nodded uncertainly, poised on a knife's edge of indecision and fear, all traces of the smooth player she had him pegged as vanishing. He looked, if anything, like a nervous teenage boy in the throes of a first crush. Then he smiled slowly, and strode away in the direction of medlab.
Another month of grueling work, as she labored on her mech fleet, as Vegita and Gokou trained all day, every day, in the desert and her gravity dome, as Madrani long range snooper scans tried to determine something of the defenses and resistance they would meet on Imsul. As she revelled in a kind of desperate, soaring joy each night in Vegita's arms, made all that sweeter because they both knew it could all end any day now. She lived and breathed hope and nervous fearful aniticipation of an end to the war. One way or another. Karot-chan took his first steps the night before the strike on Imsul, grasping Son-Kun's fingers as he tottered about, then letting go with a gasp at his own daring. He took four whole steps before falling. She applauded almost hysterically, before bursting into tears. He had to have a chance to live, to grow up, to have a life!
All or nothing, Bardock had said. "Do not fight with me on this, woman," Vegita told her later that night.
"You need me." She shifted her head from the crook of his shoulder, raising up on an elbow to regard him solemnly. "If something goes wrong with my Freemechs or my kill switch, if they've modified the config so much it doesn't work on the new models, I can improvise on the spot." "Your puny Chikyuu-jin energy cannot support the Ki-cap," he growled softly. "The prototype nearly labotomized you!" "That was the prototype, not the finished product," she said emphatically. "You gave your word a long time ago that I could be part of the strike on Tsiru-sei. Let me come to Imsul and I'll not ask to come the Tsiru-sei...unless you decide otherwise." He nearly ground his teeth, rolling her over on her back, to glare down at her. "That is shameless blackmail, woman!" "You always say, 'Do what must be done to win,'" she said soft, but unyielding. "You know I'll be needed."
He made love to her then, feverish and rough, his breath harsh and almost a sob in her ear as he strove against her, and she lost the last thread of her thought in a battering wave of heat, before they sank down together in a damp, gasping tangle. They did not sleep. But just before the coppery dawn began to creep through the latticed windows of the bedroom, he seemed to sigh against her.
"Pilot your mech," he said. "I will set Zarbon and Bardock to be your wingmen."
Imsul was a rout. The Saiyan fleet fell upon the lifeless world like a pack of wolves and tore its meagar defenses to scrap. Less than a thousand Saiyamechs guarded the bunkered factories, a tiny fraction of the numbers that might have greeted them had the plant still been active. The bunkers were emptied of all the grotesque assembly lines Son-Kun had described. The kennels were empty as well. Two years ago, Zarbon had told her they had contained more than half a million captured Saiyans...She wished she could believe that the Tsiru-jin had killed them. Half a million Saiyamechs...
She unstrapped from her Freemech, standing silent and watchful among the battalion commanders of the fleet, the wreckage of the thousand mechs Frieza had left behind strewn all around them on the rocky plains. A thousands mechs, that Frieza coud simply throw away, because they were nothing compared the numbers he must now have quartered on Tsiru-sei. The full compliment of the Saiyan forces entire mech fleet was a little over four thousand... The kill switch had worked---probably because Frieza had discarded only older models of his mechs--- on more that half the defending mechs and the Saiyans and Freemech pilots had demolished the rest. But is wasn't a real victory, she thought angrily. The Tsiru-jin had packed up and left. She scanned the hard, stricken faces of the warriors towering around her, and realized the blow this must be to them all. Most, maybe all of them, had probably harbored silent hope of finding a friend or mate alive on Imsul. "There is nothing more to do but burn this dead rock to ash as we leave," Vegita said harshly. The Tsiru-jin were gone. And the numbers of their enemies had increased by an almost umimaginable factor of---
It happened so fast. So fast... The Supermech came barreling out of they sky like a falling meteor. Vegita fired once, then hurled himself upward with a roar of anger. The air above turned greenish-gray suddenly, as the Supermech, blazing in a dull, muted amber glow, belched out a cloud of gas just as the Prince drew near. Bulma squinted upward, trying to see, waiting for the explosion. Beside her, Son-Kun gave a soft moan of horror, as he suddenly understood what no one else had. "NO!!!" He vaulted upward, screaming V's name, streaking toward the grayish cloud that was jsut beginning to clear. Arriving too late... The sky was empty. It took her a moment to understand, even after the gaseous smoke dissapated to nothingness, even after Son-Kun slowly returned to earth, his face dark with despair and Nappa sank to his great knees with a raging howl of grief, even as Zarbon laid a gently steadying hand on her shoulder. It must have knocked him unconscious with the gas, some distant part of her mind reasoned anylitically. It would have to have been a very quick reactive agent, because...because... Her knees buckled and she began to scream like a soul lost in eternal torment.
He woke growling and weazing for air, the thick acrid smoke still clogging his lungs. He could not move. He could barely find the strength to draw breath. His power...oh gods, he could not touch his Ki... Some kind of drug. Icy white mist froze each shallow breath in the air before him. "...dangerous to keep him even half-conscious, Holy Lord," a chill voice lisped somewhere inside the pale fog. "Ah, but it would be no victory at all if he does not understand what is about to happen to him," another arrogant voice replied coolly. The voice spoke again, almost a caress this time. "I am suffiecient to my own defense, sweet Hayull."
Something blinking was attached to the second creature's head. The Tsiru-jin materialized out of the blinding white to regard him curiously. "So, the boy had grown to a man," Frieza murmured. The blinking was a cyber faceplate, laid out over the entire left half of the Lord of Tsiru-sei's head. Kakarott must have very nearly bashed the icelizard's brains out on Maiyosh Prime. Vegita uttered a weak, raspy chuckle. The ruby eyes narrowed, and one hand gripped him by the hair painfully. "You find something amuzing, monkey? You'll be blubbering to me for the mercy of death soon enough." The red lips bowed maliciously. "Your father certainly did." One cold hand stroked his face. "A pity...such a pretty young thing. Ah, well. Take him below and work your mechanical magic, Doctor. Inform me when my newest mechanoid is ready for assembly. I will come to watch." Another white face leaned over him eagerly, something brilliant and red in one hand. A lazer scapel. And somehow, Vegita found the strength to scream.
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(Coming Soon: Chapter VI---The grand finale. In which many things happen…)