Insert standard disclaimer here. I don't own Dragonball Z or any of the characters.

Unexpected, ch 13
Fate
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Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait...

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I swallow, and finally say the words that I have been denying for so long. "My mate."

Jerking upright, she stands immobile, every muscle visibly tightened as her eyes pierce holes in me with the sharp, mind-numbing shock they reflect. She doesn't even seem to be breathing. I wait uneasily, the rise and fall of my own shallow breaths the only movement I can manage; even the ash-grey blanket of misty fog surrounding us seems to halt its wind-swirled motion in anticipation.

Her reaction, when it finally comes, is not at all what I'd expected: razored, cutting laughter, with the edge directed inward. "Is that so, Vegeta?" she laughs, but there is no humor in her tone. Her usually clear voice has a ragged edge that is painful to hear. "Do you think that you can just say it, and it is so?"

In contrast to her increasing volume, my voice has gone deadly quiet. "No." I gesture to the scar, and say simply, "This makes it so." My hands look strangely dark against the milky paleness of her arms, and realizing that I am likely bruising her damnably delicate flesh, I loosen my grip slightly. Still in contact with the silken, burning warmth of her skin, I can actually feel the bright, blinding rage of emotions humming angrily under the surface.

Her fists clench, eyebrows drawing down in furious confusion. "What?"

I sigh, not liking the way this is going, and having a strong premonition that it is only going to get worse from here. "On Vejitasei, anyone who came upon you would immediately know that you were mated. For life." Isn't that what she wants? But my words are not having the desired effect, as she grows more irate with every syllable I utter. Eyes blazing cobalt with a flame so intense that it is almost difficult to look at her, she leans closer, mouth open, I am sure, to unleash the blistering venom in her soul upon me.

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Unbelievable. I am beyond fury. On his planet we would have been mated, ever since that first night, and yet he has abandoned me, time and again, nearly killed my best friend...and he let the ship fall...

Oh, that bastard!--

"What an utterly barbaric culture! I am not cattle, to be branded and owned, without so much as a by-your-leave!" Pausing only for breath, I continue, "And in case you have not noticed, we are not on your non-existent planet! Your primitive, ass-backward laws aren't binding here!" He manages to look at once both slightly taken aback and insulted, and there is a glint of real anger, and something else, in his eyes.

Poking a furious finger into his chest, I rage, "And what kind of mate would leave, go off and--" My throat closes, and I have to swallow hard against the tears, though they betray me, coming forth anyway. "Just forget it!" Berating myself for the weakness, I dash them from my eyes with a vengeance and shove away from his unresisting hold. He belatedly reaches as if to stop me; spitting like a cat, I hiss, "Don't touch me!" and make a mad, tear-hindered dash toward the house.

"Woman!" he roars, in a tone of voice I have heard from him only rarely, and never directed at me. "You will hear me out!"

An icy little shiver of fear trails down my spine in spite of myself; I increase my pace, lengthening my stride, and I almost make it--

But before I can cross the threshold, I am abruptly caught up from behind by unyielding arms of banded steel, borne away from the earth at a sickening velocity that leaves my stomach behind. Struggling futilely in his grasp, I dredge up from memory every foul turn of phrase that I know, swearing like a sailor, before I realize that perhaps I really don't want him to let go; the snowy cloak of evening mist covers everything, and I can no longer see the ground.

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I will make her listen to me.

Unable to come up with a better idea, I bodily abduct her with a flying tackle. The only coherent thought in my mind is that I refuse to let her run away from me, from this. After a fashion, I decide that the best solution is to take her somewhere that she will have no other option but to hear me out. There are any number of uninhabited islands nearby from which she will have no escape; her frail body cannot survive a swim in the frigid waters on a night like this.

She hits ineffectually at me with fists and feet, screeching obscenities so varied that I can't help but pause a minute in admiration. She could have made even the most grizzled of Frieza's soldiers blush like a schoolgirl. Insisting that I put her down, she continues the assault on my eardrums until the sheer futility of it finally sinks into her fury-clouded mind.

Changing tactics with a dizzying speed that leaves my head spinning, the little vixen twists herself around in my arms, wraps a leg around my waist, and bites my ear. Nearly dropping her in surprise, I curse the swift, fierce reaction of my body. I want to talk to her, not--

Her other foot caresses my calf and her fingers run through my hair. Her hips tease, just a little, grinding against mine slightly with a shift that could have been accidental, though I would have placed money otherwise. Her mouth trails wet heat in a teasingly slow, circular path from ear to shoulder and back again.

"Woman, knock it off!" I groan. It takes all of my discipline to furiously suppress the mental image of our bare limbs, intertwined in heady pleasure. This is more important, and I'm no fool; she doesn't really mean it.

Finally! I find somewhere to land and dump her out of my arms as if the touch of her skin burnt me. Only, she is prepared, and instead of dropping to the ground, she twists in midair and aims a completely unexpected kick to where all warriors are most vulnerable. To my misfortune, I had not anticipated such an underhanded attack from her, and I drop like a rock. The catlike, self-satisfied grin on her face is unendurable, but I have to chuckle. I am constantly underestimating the resources of this one. Perhaps she really is worthy of me.

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I derive no small satisfaction from seeing him bent double in the breathless agony that only men can know. The smirk on my face must surely rival his customary one. He is wearing it even now, the arrogant smugness clearly recognizable, if slightly pain-twisted.

"Little bitch." The expletive is almost affectionate. He is pleased that I took him off guard, caused him pain?!

Already rising to his feet, he turns to face me. Cornered like a wild animal, I have nowhere to run. I'd never survive the swim in these conditions; hypothermia would claim me well before I made it to the mainland. But my boiling anger at his audacity is enticing me to try. I turn away, taking in my surroundings, sucking in cool rationality from the salt-tinged breeze that stirs the sand at my feet.

The fog has rolled back, leaving everything etched into sharp relief by the half moon set among a winking canopy of stars overhead. The crisp white light illuminates a narrow swath of dark, fathomless ocean, sparkling brilliantly among the liquid obsidian ripples like a pathway of flawless diamonds trailing from coast to horizon. The only audible sounds in my ears are the racing of my heart and the muted roar of the waves crashing periodically on the shore. I can almost pretend us to be merely out for a romantic midnight tryst, the sight is so utterly still and beautiful. Almost...

For an instant, I wish that I could somehow halt the flow of time, forever capturing the quiet crystalline perfection of this elysian moment.

Instead, I must find my resolve and face what stands before me: the death of something I always wanted and never quite had, the pristine white stag I'd endlessly pursued through tangled thicket and deep emerald forest, never managing to snare. Its flight was too fleet, its tracks too elusive; I'd undertaken an impossible quest. It is time to give up the hunt.

I inhale deeply and break the quivering silence. "You have some nerve, Vegeta, dragging me out here like this." The fiery anger has burnt out of me, leaving behind only the cooling ashes of bitter resignation.

His earlier temper seems likewise to have fled. Emotionless and detached, he retorts, "You left me little choice, woman."

Hells, Vegeta. Why do you do this to me? I shiver uncontrollably from the inevitable chill; I'm wearing only jeans and a light shirt, no fit attire for a frigid, blustery night on a deserted beach.

As though the movement is automatic, unconscious, he steps toward me, arms slightly opened, intending to wrap me in them and lend me their warmth. Tempting, but cold as I might be, I do not want him touching me again; I back away, my foot sinking into the powder-soft sand. It crumbles underfoot, making me lurch awkwardly, exaggerating the rebuffal to look more vehement than it actually is. He halts the forward motion almost as soon as it begins, his reflexes so lightning-swift that I almost wonder if it were only my imagination that he moved at all. But not quite. For I can plainly see the suddenly stiffened set of his shoulders, the rigid posture that speaks silently but clearly of the hurt I've dealt him.

With a blisteringly cold look, he turns and begins gathering together driftwood, lighting the small pyre he accrues with the careless flick of one aristocratic finger.

"Sit," he commands icily. Which has no effect on me, of course; I'm not one of his soldiers, to be ordered about.

His fists clench at his sides, anger returning. Absurdly, I'm beginning to enjoy this. "Stop being so childishly obdurate, woman!" he rails at me. "You're drowning out the ocean, with your teeth chattering like that!"

I stare silently at him a bit longer, in a wordless contest of wills. Finally, the desire to be warm again stomps all over what's left of my pride; after all, there is no point in standing my ground when it's so much warmer elsewhere. With as much grace as I can muster, I seat myself near the flames, drinking in their flickering warmth. For a while, there is only the sound of the ocean and the feel of the sand underneath me, the warm air fanning my face, stirring my hair faintly, tickling my skin. The bright tongues of flame jump and dance in the wind, the occasional spark leaping up to the sky, and I am reminded suddenly of the last time we two sat across from each other with a fire between us, ages ago, in much different circumstances. That was the first time he'd ever held me...so long ago. When I at last look up, the hard edge of his gaze has softened infinitesimally. Does he remember, too?

"Will you now listen?" he asks, his voice veiled, too perfectly casual. Everything about him is closed, unreadable. Eyes darker than the night around us regard me calmly, detached and inscrutable.

The dance begins. "I don't have much choice at the moment, do I?" I mutter darkly, and more petulantly than I'd like. Not for the first time, I wish that I had a fraction of his skill at quashing unwanted emotion.

"None."

He falls silent after that, pausing so long that I am on the verge of screaming at him to get on with it already, when he finally begins to speak, low and haltingly. "The Saiyajin were a solitary breed. Rarely did they ever take a mate; males greatly outnumbered the females, who were generally not displeased with the ratio, as it gave them their choice of partners, taking whom they would for a time, selecting those who would sire the strongest offspring." His gaze unfocuses as he talks, falling away from me into the distance, where I can only guess at what it is he sees. Nothing that now exists, I surmise, and feel a twinge of pain for him, to my irritated dismay. "Occasionally, two would surface who wanted only to be with the other, though it was very rare, occurring only once in several generations, and never among the Saiyajin no Ouke. It was generally regarded as a flaw and a weakness--"

I snort impolitely, unsurprised. He glares at me, coming back to himself, but continues on when I say nothing, casting a black look of annoyance in my direction. "After all, it flew in the face of all that they believed in: survival of the fittest. Breeding without care for the best genetic match did not further the power of our race, and after so much time spent in bondage to another, strength was everything to us. Not that it mattered, in the end," he mutters bitterly, under his breath. Again, a dart of compassion finds a chink in my armor and stabs my heart painfully. I resolve to shut my mouth after that, to let him finish.

In clipped tones, he goes on. "They may have disparaged the idea of mating, but they respected it; to touch a woman bearing the scar of another was just cause for death at her mate's hands. Or hers," he adds. Is he hiding a smile?

"What I am getting at, woman, is that I was drawn to mark you as such, that night, but I never meant to."

Where the hell is he going with this? Is he trying to rub salt in my wounds, to injure me further? I grind my teeth with the effort it costs me not to start yelling at him.

He remains blissfully ignorant of the inner fury I'm barely holding in check, finishing with, "But I don't regret it...now." His eyes regard me steadily, unblinking, with a neutral expression that gives me no clue as to the nature of his words. Looking down, I furiously study, in detail, each grain of pale gleaming silicon encrusted on my bare feet, the cuffs of my jeans, blinking back hot tears of frustration. What is he getting at? Why can't he just say it, plainly?

I'm so tired of guessing...

"Woman." Preternaturally, he is behind me in the span of a heartbeat, so breathlessly close but not touching, leaving that last centimeter of air between us, a vast, gaping canyon that I know I will have to be the one to bridge. He burns hotter than the campfire, making me tremble for want of touching him, his breath grazing my cheek as he whispers in my ear. "There was much I had to do then, and I wanted no bonds to tether me anywhere." Bonds of any kind bring terror to one who has known true slavery--

This last I hear as though it were spoken aloud, though I know that it was not.

"But now, Bulma, I have no plans to go anywhere..." His voice trails off, and I am drowning in his nearness, overwhelmed by the rare music of my name spoken with his voice, weak from the radiating heat of his body and the clean, male scent of him that fills my nostrils, the scent that I'd never forgotten, not even for a minute, long after it had faded from my sheets...

"Ever."

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We are at an impasse. There is nothing else my pride will let me say, and what I have already said, though it cost me dearly, has apparently not been enough. Still her back is to me, cold and stiff, ramrod-straight. She trembles slightly, whether from cold or emotion I cannot tell.

This is it, I suppose. I can not, I will not grovel before her. I can't live with her if it means forsaking my pride. So many times, it was the only tenuous barrier holding back the abysmal, consuming black void of complete madness. It has permanently fused to every facet of my existence, and I can't separate from it now, even for her. Without it, there is not much of me left.

Yet, even after such a short amount of time, I also can't imagine what my life would be like without her. How can I go back, to what I was? I am no longer capable of convincing myself that I truly prefer the forced solitude that was all I knew, for so long.

Those handful of days, when no misunderstanding or obstacle otherwise hindered us, they were the only days in my life that I can remember being...happy. Content simply to exist in the present, to just be. Those fleeting moments cast an ugly, clarifying light on all that I had thought happiness to be, before. All of my youth was spent immersed in a twisted dream, deriving my only joy from the fantasy of immortality, the dark hope of revenge. Then later, I sought the goal of reaching Super Saiyajin, and after that, beating Cell. Some future accomplishment always held the key; after I achieved it, my life would be complete, I could finally be content, at peace. But it never happened, so I would find a new quest to pursue, convincing myself that the next time would be different.

The only times I ever let go, ever allowed myself to forget, were the times with her: that wordless dance in the dark, bodies and minds melding together, giving and taking, touching and tasting. Knowing and being known, in the most intimate sense -- finally being understood. In those moments, she knew all that I was, accepting everything without judgment, wanting me as the man I was and not the one I wanted to be. Locked tightly in her arms, limbs slack from that satiated lethargy passion leaves in its wake, I would feel an unfamiliar peace, blessed sanctuary from the incessant demands of my driving ambition. For a time, anyway.

She is my peace, the quiet stillness that tames the raging storm in my breast, and lets me find a moment's rest. The bleak image of life without her looms darkly before me, undermining my resolve. Closing my eyes, I wait for her to say something, anything...

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Does he mean it?

He's never lied to me, but I've waited so long to hear something like this from his lips that I can't quite believe it. Oh, but he does mean it...I can almost see the tangled web of his emotions, coiling around each other in turmoil, so much like my own. This is real.

Everything hinges upon what I do now, at this moment. At one word from me, it could all be over, I know. He would leave, never looking back. And a part of my heart would die, forever. I will never truly be free of him; he lives in my blood and marrow, threading through every ounce of my being, impossible to separate. But it would seem that he is no less affected...

"Yes," I breathe. "Stay."

Crossing the gulf between us in less than the space of two breaths, I twist to face him, finding his lips against mine before I can even complete the motion. I cling to him feverishly as the kiss deepens, the rush in my ears drowning out the gentle crashing of the waves at my back. Pulling away slightly, he looks at me for a long moment, and only the tiniest flicker in the far reaches of his obsidian gaze tells me that he'd been afraid I would say otherwise. Then, he utters a short laugh, flashing a feral gleam of white teeth into the semi-darkness, the low sound of delight thrilling my senses before he bears me not-quite-roughly back onto the soft blanket of sand, heedless of where it clings to us both.

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As the first tentative rays of the awakening sun reach out from beyond the horizon, he stirs and rises to his feet in one smooth motion, graceful as a cat, lifting me effortlessly along with him. He doesn't say it, but the thought is in both of our minds: Let's go home. Home.

Dawn is almost upon us by the time he touches down, the landing so graceful and the transition into his liquid gait so smooth that I don't even notice that we're on the ground until he shifts my sleepy weight in his arms to allow him to open the door. He continues to carry me up the stairs, proceeding to my room and laying me on the still-made bed. I wiggle under the sheets, aware that I am covered head to toe in enough sand to fill a small sandbox, deciding that I can worry about that later.

Just as my head touches the blissful softness of my pillow, an infant's small cry catches my ears: those first sleepy sounds he makes upon awakening, before working himself into a full-throated wail.

"Mmmmm....Trunks," I moan tiredly. Could your timing be any worse? Vegeta, stretched out at my side, rolls over to look crossly at me as I stumble upright, plodding sleepily toward the next room and dusting everything along the way with a generous scattering of sand. Lifting my son out of the crib, I smile in spite of myself at his delighted grin. "Not your fault momma was out all night, is it?"

We go through the usual morning routine of changing, feeding, and burping, but he must be beginning to teethe, because no amount of rocking will lull him back into slumber for a few more hours, as he is usually more than willing to do. He only quiets as I walk with him in my arms, and I am forced to pace endlessly though the halls with him, trying not to fall over in my exhaustion.

"Woman."

I start at the sound of his voice behind me. Damn his silent Saiyajin footfalls. Turning around, I find him looking strangely serious, and much more awake than I. He's also managed to lose most of the sand.

"Give me that." He gestures at the now-fussing bundle that is his son.

Dumbfounded, I hand Trunks over, amazed that Vegeta is holding him of his own volition. It must have shown on my face, because he snaps, "You're clumsy enough fully awake. You'll only drop him down the stairs in your current state."

I would not! my tired mind protests, but I merely yawn and make my way back to the inviting warmth of my bed before he rescinds the decision, snuggling into the hollow made by his body before falling into a deep, dreamless slumber.

Some hours later, I awaken scratchy but supremely content, enjoying the play of muscles well-used as I stretch. Wondering where my baby is, and why he hasn't woken me again at such a late hour, I roam the house curiously to find them both sound asleep in the living room, covered by a blanket most likely provided by my mother.

For a long moment, I stand gazing at the man frowning in his sleep on my couch, and the slumbering infant lying facedown on his chest, drooling on his father's shirt. I can't help but smile at the indignant outrage that that will evoke in my mate, when he awakes. My heart is filled to bursting as I suddenly realize: we are a family. My son has a father, and I...I have my soulmate. Was it only two years ago that I wept as though my heart were breaking, over the loss of my first love? Certainly at that point it seemed I was doomed to be alone and unloved, forever. But life has a way of turning all of your expectations upside down and surprising you; for who at that time could ever have imagined the two of us, together?

Sighing in contentment, I slip silently up to where they lie and brush my lips against his slightly stubbly cheek. Even that slight movement is enough to wake him. The scowl never leaves his face, but I've finally learned to search his eyes in order to read his heart; the intensity of what I find there leaves me stunned, breathless. His free hand snakes up through my hair to cup my neck gently but firmly, drawing my lips near again. The contact reopens a circuit between us, and through the dazzling current leaping to link our minds, I see his naked, unobscured impression of me. In his eyes I am lovely and pure, something to cherish: safety and sanctuary and redemption. He shifts the baby to make room and I sink into his embrace, pressed along the length of him, held firmly to his chest by an arm that brooks no opposition. Nestled in his surrounding warmth I soon fall prey again to the insistent pull of sleep, his renewed soft snoring revealing that he has beaten me to it. My last coherent thought is that being with him was a wild twist of fate that I could never, in a million years, have predicted, but my newfound happiness was no less wonderful, for all that it was completely Unexpected.

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End Chapter 13

The End

That's it! Hope you liked it. Let me know, either way :)

New fanart! A pic of the final scene, by Kayin. (I can't add links to the chapters anymore, but you can find a link near the bottom of my bio.)

Thank you so very much for your patience with me, I know that it took me a long time to upload the later chapters. In the interests of updating more regularly, I'm planning to limit myself to having only two fics actively in progress at one time, and for the moment they are going to be Sojourn and Guardian (A Final Fantasy X fic I haven't posted yet). Eventually though, I do plan on writing a sequel to Unexpected, so stay tuned...

(The song exerpt at top is from "With or Without You", by U2, but I'm sure you knew that.)

~Sango
sango_chan@hotmail.com