Author's Note: This is the short story I did for the Under Every Moon fanzine! Now free for all of you who missed out on buying one of those classy things.
This is without a doubt the shortest, sweetest and most all-ages thing I've ever written.
Bulma wedged the plank in the fork of a branch and began sawing it in half. Her hands were already sore from cutting and hammering for the last hour, but her tree fort was worth it.
The sound of her sawing must have drowned out the sound of them coming.
She turned, expecting Goku, Krillin — or she hoped — Yamcha, but instead she dropped her saw in fright. It was Goku's brutal older brother Raditz and his meaty, horrible friend Nappa. Since when did they know about this place?
"What're you doing here?" Raditz asked. Bulma had been about to ask the same thing.
"What does it look like?"
"Looks like a pest is in the way," said Nappa. "Clear off! This is our fort."
"Your fort? I built this fort! It's mine, and I didn't say you could play here, so screw off!" The instant the words were out, she wanted to stuff them back in. She knew how Nappa would react.
He hauled himself up to the platform she was building and snatched at her. Bulma threw herself on her back, but Nappa seized her ankle and pulled. She grabbed at a branch to save herself, screaming as he dragged her legs over the edge. Raditz laughed.
"Stop," called a voice.
"Why?" Nappa asked, but he let her go.
A third boy swung himself up like a monkey to land on the platform. He hauled her back up by her armpits, but she didn't feel much safer for it. She had never met him before, but she recognized him from Goku's descriptions. It was Vegeta, the menace of St. Bart's Boys' School. Goku had been on the receiving end of a first-class beating from him recently, and Goku was tougher than any kid their age.
"Idiot," Vegeta said. "She's making our tree fort bigger and building our defenses!"
"It's mine!" Bulma insisted.
"It was," he corrected. "I've commandeered it."
Over the next hour, Bulma decided that Vegeta was as bossy and useless as he was scary. He had ordered Bulmato continue her work, andshe did, though she hammered as loud as she could to express her anger. Raditz and Nappa were lighting firecrackers in a lower part of the fort while Vegeta "supervised" her.
"Well, if this fort is supposedly yours, the least you could do is help," she pointed out as she hefted the saw again.
"Saw wood?" he asked.
Cautiously he crossed the platform, took the plank and saw from her and set one to the other. After two strokes the teeth skittered out of the shallow groove. He tried again, pushing harder in annoyance. The saw jumped up and dragged over the skin of his other hand.
'Shit!' He dropped the saw and clutched the back of his hand. Bulma tensed, but when he took his hand away she saw the wound was more a jagged scrape with a few drops of blood than the awful gash she had feared. Still, her knees went a bit weak. Vegeta rubbed the back of his hand on his jeans like it was nothing. He really was tough.
"You're not very good at that," she pointed out.
Vegeta shot her an acidic glare. "I prefer destroying things to building them."
Suddenly, Raditz's alarmed shout rang up from below, "It's Zarbon and his gang!"
Vegeta lay flat on the platform and peered down through the branches. Curious, Bulma joined him. Four boys appeared out of the woods. The tallest one, with a long braid and gorgeous face, stopped near the massive trunk and looked up. He looked older than Nappa and Raditz, maybe even a teenager.
"We're coming up," he said. "If you don't want trouble, get lost."
Bulma was disappointed that such a beautiful face belonged to such an asshole. And why did everyone think they had the right to her fort?
"You should get lost!" she shouted down from the safety of the highest platform. The newcomers looked up.
"How're you going to make us?" sneered the tubby, red-faced kid next to Zarbon.
"The question is, how will you make us, Dodoria?" Vegeta yelled back. "I doubt your lardy butt could make it all the way up here!"
Even Dodoria's friends laughed at that. Dodoria roared and charged at the trunk. The others followed, swarming up to the first platform. Raditz and Nappa cried out in a mixture of fear and delight. Bulma shot to her feet.
"They're coming for us!"
Vegeta grinned. "I know."
Bulma wasn't sure if she was caught in a game or a fight. Soon she was red in the face and puffing hard, her hair stuck to her face with sweat, squealing in anticipation as one of Zarbon's gang swung a branch at her. Nappa had been thrown to the ground twice already. The other two boys, Cui and Appule, had been ejected too, and now they were on the run more than the attack. Bulma wondered if they would actually throw a girl out of a tree, but thankfully no-one had caught her yet — she knew her tree well, and she was fast when she needed to be.
Coming back down to the trunk, she chanced upon Zarbon emerging from the hut that was the heart of the fort, and in the instant their eyes meet, sheknew that he would go after her. Before she could even think about it, her legs launched her over his head and onto a facing branch. She shrieked with fear as she realized how close her feet were to his hands. Up the branch she scrambled, faster than she had ever dared before. This branch was so high; falling wasn't an option.
Vegeta was coming down the same branch. He took one look at her face and who was following her, and switched directions back up the rungs to the new platform. Vegeta lowered himself over the edge, hanging by his fingers, and then swung onto a lower branch. Bulma saw her mistake in coming this way: the branches above were too high to reach, and she didn't think she could do what Vegeta had done.
"Drop down!" Vegeta urged her.
She looked back to see if Zarbon was still chasing her and screamed. He was half on the platform already!
"I got your girlfriend!" Zarbon taunted.
Bulma jumped. It was the most reckless thing she had ever done in her life, but for a second she really thought she would nail the landing. Her feet hit the branch next to Vegeta, but then she pitched forward, her momentum carrying her off into space.
Her scream was cut off by a strangling force around her throat. She stopped falling.
"Idiot!" grunted Vegeta, struggling to hold the back of her shirt. She heard stitches pop, butthen he grasped her arm and brought her back over the branch. She grabbed hold of it with all four limbs.
"She's insane!" exclaimed Zarbon from above.
"She's brave," Vegeta amended. Then he shook her shoulder. "Climb over me!"
She looked up at him in confusion and then up at Zarbon, who was lowering himself off the platform. She forced herself to let go of the branch and clamber past Vegeta, using his shoulders to balance. As she raced back to the trunk she wondered why he hadn't just gone first. She looked back — was he protecting her?
Zarbon landed on the branch, but the toes of his shoes slipped —and he fell. Bulma screamed. Even though he'd chased her, she didn't want anyone to fall from that height. Zarbon's arms shot out, catching the branch before he could plummet, but his legs dangled in space.
"Help!" he cried.
Vegeta leant over him.
"I'll help you, if you say I win."
After Zarbon's rescue he and his gang beat a surly retreat. Bulma and the boys celebrated by setting off the last of Nappa's firecrackers. They talked until dusk settled between the leaves of the woods and Nappa and Raditz went home to dinner. Now it was just Bulma and Vegeta. Her bruises and scratches stung, but Bulma felt they were badges of honor. She felt proud to have survived hanging with the mean boys. And Vegeta, the menace of St. Bart's, saved her twice, and sat next to her not menacing her at all. And he was pretty cute too. Goku hadn't mentioned that.
"Did you really build this fort yourself?"
She nodded. "With help from my friend Goku."
"Goku? You hang out with that guy?"
"Yeah," she said. "You beat him up."
Vegeta smirked. "He called me out. I had no choice."
"I'm sure," she said, and then winced as she leaned on a bruise
"You've really got some grit," he said, watching her. "I didn't think girls could be cool like that."
"Of course we can!" she replied, as if she hadn't pushed past her personal limits that afternoon. "You obviously don't know many girls."
"Never met any girls that I liked before."
She met his gaze in the gloom of the hut, her heart leaping. Vegeta looked away quickly, and there was just enough light to see his blush.
"You like me?" she asked innocently.
"As friends I meant."
"Oh. Okay then."
The cool evening breeze set the branches rocking and she shivered.
"Are you cold?"
Vegeta took off his hoodie and held it out in front of him.
"Won't you get cold?" she asked.
"We can share," he said. He was still blushing, and not looking at her.
Trying not to smile too hard, Bulma shuffled closer to him, pressing against his warm thigh and shoulder. He draped the hoodie over them like a blanket. Bulma's chest was tight with a kind of joy she had never felt before. His hand on his knee was so close to hers that she could feel the heat of it.
"You don't have to go home for dinner?" he asked.
"Not yet. But I'll hear my mom calling for me. We just live through the trees over there. What about you?"
"My dad works late. Dinner is in the fridge, so it can't get any colder."
"You could come to my place for dinner."
He looked at her in surprise, their faces close. "Maybe."
Her shivers were forgotten. Was this how kisses happened? But Vegeta looked away. She was almost relieved. Was she ready for her first kiss?
"I've decided," she said, "that you're allowed to play on my fort anytime."
"And I've decided that you can play on my fort anytime, too."
"I hope you're joking!"
He laughed. "How old are you?"
"Ten. How old are you?"
"Eleven. You seem grown up for ten."
"I know," she preened. "They put me up a grade at St Catharine's, and I'm still top of my year."
"And Goku's your boyfriend?"
Bulma laughed at the idea. "No! Not that dork! I mean, he's my friend, but…"
Vegeta smiled. "Good."
She felt Vegeta's little finger press against hers. It could have been accidental, but she knew it wasn't. He didn't look away. Blood rushed to her face. This was it, her first kiss, coming now, ready or not…
"Bulma! Dinner's ready!"
"And bring your new friend!"
Author's Note: You may notice that Never Ever Land has gone on a bit of a hiatus. Well, there are three reasons for that, one good, one neutral and one bad. In the good news category it is because I am working on a Big Bang challenge story for Vegebulocracy. It will be long, and hopefully dense and exciting, and will be done in November (hopefully, lol). The neutral reason is that I have the next chapter done, but as I am in a hurry to get to the next real action point, I don't want to post it until I've finished the chapter afterwards. The crappy reason is that I have am out of work at the end of September, and I suddenly have a lot of not-fun work-outside-of-work to do to secure my future, find a job and prep our house for rent, or at least house sitters. To hear me weep and moan about this, follow me on Tumblr!