Chapter Ten: Dinner Dates
Disclaimer: Characters and premise are the property of Akira Toriyama, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.
Vegeta spun at the sound of a loud crack. The world snapped into the ultra-clarity of battle as Bulma's medallion began buzzing annoyingly against his chest.
He tried to tap down his ki even as he searched for potential threats.
The people around Vegeta seemed to move in slow motion but a spike of panic pointed him toward the trouble. A snapped guy-wire which had been stabilizing a huge crane that was lifting the giant structural beams into place twirled toward the ground. Without it the long arm of the crane was toppling, taking out the half-finished structure near it as it fell. Smaller beams and bits of rubble rained down on the site.
One big blast could disintegrate the whole mess. Vegeta's impulse was to unleash the largest blast he could summon, but if he missed anything chances were he'd be unconscious and unable to do anything about it, as the buzzing medallion reminded him.
Vegeta snarled a curse as he used a minor ki-blast to deal with the smell but still potentially deadly debris. Then he gave the crane quick shove to rebalance it for a second or two. In the time he'd bought Vegeta leapt into the air. Quickly he gathered the still falling beams and tossed them somewhere harmless. That done he caught the still falling crane and eased it to the ground.
Vegeta landed and put a hand over Bulma's agitated medallion. Even though he'd opted against the brute-force method of dealing with the crisis he'd still exceeded the limits set on him during his race against gravity. He took a deep breath, reminded himself that the crisis was over and let go of the ki he'd raised.
A moment before it went still the medallion almost seemed to purr at him, pleased he'd stopped doing something potentially harmful to himself. 'Of course I don't need it,' Vegeta thought. "I could remember Mad-Scientist Briefs' limits without it."
'It wasn't entirely unpleasant, to be reminded that Bulma cared,' he admitted to himself.
"Itsuni, you okay?" Tsukuri-san asked as he dropped a hand on Vegeta's shoulder.
The medallion resumed it's urgent warning as Vegeta's ki shot up. He jerked away from Tsukuri-san and fell into a wary stance.
'Just an accident, not a prelude to an attack,' Vegeta told himself, remembering the previous day's debacle with Goku.
"Didn't mean to startle you kid."
Vegeta straightened. "I'm fine. Everyone else?"
"You got it all," Tsukuri-san assured him.
"Had enough pratice," Vegeta remarked, thinking about his first Sensei and Incident-commander. Then he grimaced as he remembered how that relationship, like too many others had ended. He glanced at Tsukuri-san with renewed wariness.
'No,' Vegeta reminded himself. 'That's what Phantom wants me to think. He is my only real enemy. To think anything else is to fall for his trap.'
After school let out, three days after the fight during History, followed by another bizarrely tentative spar during BBB a day later, Bunny decided to fly out to the Sons' for a private, uninterrupted chat with Goku about what the hell was going on.
Bunny grimaced, the spar might have been restrained on Goku's side. Vegeta had been pushing both the imposed limits on his ki and his creativity. He'd ended by storming off in disgust when Goku refused to seriously go on the offensive.
Bunny landed in the Sons' front yard. She considered going straight for Goku but she knew that would only inspire nosiness.
"Bunny-dear, what brings you all the way out here?" Vidalia called. "You'll stay for dinner, of course."
"How could I not?" Bunny replied. "When have you ever let anyone leave your house without feeding them first?"
"Saiyan blood dear," Vidalia replied. "You know how it is, food and fighting, not much out ranks those two. Just because I want my son to work the muscles between his ears as the well as the ones below his neck, don't forget that my blood runs as thick as yours."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Bunny said with a grin. Then she heard a small rustle of grass and turned in time to snatch Goku's younger sister out of the air.
Far from being upset at the failure of her sneak attack the seven-year-old beamed worshipfully at Bunny.
"Almost Fidgets," Bunny said playfully.
"You never come over anymore." The dark-haired little girl wrinkled her nose at Bunny's nickname for her. "Is big brother being a stupid-head? I'll make him sorry."
Bunny laughed, knowing exactly how much chaos Goku's younger sister could cause for him. For a moment she was tempted to turn the little hellion loose on him. "You know I spend weekends at my dad's," she said instead.
"Your parents need to get married again. That way you wouldn't have to waste so much time on them," Fidgets declared. "You need to spend more time with me!"
Bunny patted Fidgets on the had as she set her back on the ground. "I'm eating dinner with you tonight."
"Then could we gang up on Big Brother?" Fidgets asked. "His head's getting all swelled."
"He's not sparring with you?" Bunny translated.
"He says I might get hurt," Fidgets pouted.
"That mean boy," Bunny declared. But she frowned thoughtfully, wondering if it was something to do with Goku's slight habit of sexism that cropped up when it came to her fighting or if it was related to his sudden reluctance to spar with Vegeta.
After Goku's disastrous first Martial Arts Tournament he'd vehemently refused to spar with anyone other than his mentors for months out of fear that he'd hurt someone again. Bunny had eventually gotten fed up with it and had spent a week relentlessly pestering him until he'd finally lost his temper and relearned that Bunny was quite capable of holding her own. 'Well, at least until he had his growth spurt,' she admitted to herself.
"So you'll do it? You'll help me get him?" Fidgets demanded.
"We'll see," Bunny temporized. "After dinner. I wouldn't dare risk your mother's wrath by distracting him from his chores."
Fidgets shivered. "Mommy can withhold sweets practically forever," she confided, agreeing with Bunny's judgment.
"But since I'm here, I ought to lend a hand," Bunny offered.
"Goku is setting water on the north field," Vidalia said. "We're going to have a nice radish crop for sale come fall." She smiled with satisfaction. "Those new terraces my husband and I cut are paying off beautifully."
Bunny smiled and nodded. A city-girl through and through she couldn't quite grasp the Sons' deep attachment to their remote farm, but she knew better than to question it.
"I've got enough chores of my own," Fidgets huffed. "I'm not helping Big Brother with his!"
Bunny carefully hid her smirk as the most prominent obstacle to a private conversation with Goku stomped off in disgust.
"Speaking of your chores..." Vidalia called after her. "The chickens haven't been fed nor the eggs gathered."
Bunny waved and took flight. A few moments later she landed beside Goku. He'd just finished priming an old pump and was watching patiently as the baffled ditch at the top of the field filled with water.
"Now I know what I'm getting your dad for his next birthday," Bunny remarked. "That pump belongs in a museum. We've got to have something better at Capsule Corp."
Goku rolled his eyes. "With all sorts of complicated, unnecessary bits and bobs to break or wear out." He patted the old pump handle fondly, "This does the job year in, year out."
"Luddite." Bunny said with a playful shake of her head. "I told your mom I'd help with the chores."
Goku watched the ditch fill for a few more minutes. "You carry the pipes," he said, then shrugged apologetically at his lack of gallantry. "You suck at setting them."
Bunny shrugged then gingerly picked up a stack of gently curved, thin aluminum syphon tubes. She balanced the dirty pipes on her out-stretched hand, keeping them far from her pretty clothes. Goku snickered at her fastidiousness.
They walked along opposite ditch banks, Bunny holding the pipes, Goku taking them one by one and smoothly starting the water flowing through them into the field as they walked.
"So what's up with you and Vegeta?" Bunny asked after a few minutes.
Goku made a face. "I already talked about the fight with Uncle... And with Dad... And with Trunks. I don't think I can take another lecture about responsibility."
"I was thinking, maybe... Maybe I should cancel the spar for the pep-rally next Friday," Bunny said.
Goku hesitated. "You don't have to do that. Even with the limit Vegeta's still loads better than the rest of the class."
Bunny stuck her tongue out at him. "Thanks bunches."
"You're a girl. I don't wanna fight with you," Goku said.
"Try sparring with me," Bunny challenged. "We used to do it all the time."
"What were we talking about?" Goku asked, trying to get off that particular tangent.
"Yeah, you haven't exactly been sparring with Vegeta either lately... Except when you're fighting with him," Bunny said. "Your balance is all off; you're either holding back too much or going too far. And, by the way, your ki is running high, again. What's wrong with you?"
Goku didn't say anything.
Bunny turned and glared up at him. "We don't keep secrets from each other. Remember?"
Goku glanced away, he already had one secret he'd been keeping for a few years, one he had no intention of telling Bunny, just in case she didn't feel the same way.
Bunny kept up a steady glare. "We tell each other everything. You told me about not actually liking all the wilderness crap our families push you into. I told you about it when my parents first stopped liking each other. We used to talk to each other, about everything. What happened?"
Goku sighed and gave in. "The last month or so I've been sensing some sort of ki-creature creeping around in my head. He's an ugly thing, all malice and hatred. He whispers things."
Bunny's eyes darkened with concern. "Goku, you haven't told anyone? Not Uncle Vegeta or Granny Pan even?"
"After Vegeta ascended I tried to see if I could do it too," Goku continued. "You know how they all expect me to. Knocked myself silly a few times trying, but I noticed something: The ki-thing, when my guard's down he's worse, but running my ki real high keeps him from bothering me. It's like white-noise blocking him out. I figure if I shape my ki just right I could push him out of my head all together. But he really hates Vegeta. He gets stronger when Vegeta's around. I think it's out of shear determination to hurt him."
"This isn't something can just not tell about," Bunny said. "This is an attack, an enemy. You've got to tell them."
"NO!" Goku exclaimed. "They're all counting on me to be the planet's next defender and everything. What'll they think if I can't even protect my own head? They'll be so disappointed. I've practically got this figured out Bunny. Once I know how to push him out of me, I'll tell them about him."
Bunny grimaced. "All right," she agreed reluctantly. "But if I think you're losing it, I'm telling Uncle."
"Okay," Goku replied. "But only if I mess this up."
"And I really think we should cancel the spar. You said this thing had an issue with Vegeta."
"I can handle it," Goku insisted.
"Like the other day in History?" Bunny asked.
Goku winced. "They both caught me off guard. I know what to expect now. I've got it under control."
"Well, you keep me up to date," Bunny ordered. "No secrets. Not between us."
They fell back into silence.
"So," Bunny said after a few moments. "Your little sister wants my help to beat you up after dinner. You're being a meanie who won't spar with her."
"If you're here it should be okay," Goku said reluctantly. "The thing in my head really hates Vegeta, but there isn't anyone or anything that it doesn't hate at least casually." He shrugged. "I trust Vegeta to look after himself, but even a little slip with the squirt could turn out really bad."
"Okay, expect to be ambushed as soon as you're clear of the table after dinner," Bunny warned. "Patience isn't Fidgets' strong suit."
Goku grinned. "What's patience good for anyway? I'll make sure to get out of the house fast Mom hates it if we smash her furniture, or her walls."
"Parents are strange like that," Bunny said dryly.
Bulma sat on a low concrete wall across the street from the site where Vegeta was working. A picnic basket sat beside her. She leaned back and shaded her eyes with her hand as she tried to pick Vegeta out among the dozens of tiny figures moving about on the upper reaches of the skyscraper's lofty frame. She smiled as she noticed one figure, smaller than the others, holding a large beam while several of his co-workers riveted it in place. Despite what had to be stunning impacts as the rivets were driven through solid steel the small man held the beam rock steady.
Bulma waved cheerfully.
Fifteen stories above, one of the riveters noticed. "Hey kid, ain't that your girl?"
"Devoted ain't she?" Another laughed. "You got a ring for her yet?"
Vegeta's face colored. "None of your business."
A few grins were exchanged over Vegeta's head. The kid was such an easy mark when it came to teasing. Still, given what he was capable they were careful about how far they pushed it.
"Best speak up soon. Pretty little think like that, someone's gonna snap her up soon." That remark earned the speaker an astonishingly potent death-glare. The offender held up his hands in surrender. "Just kidding Itsuni."
"Well, you know kids today. Marriage is probably the last thing on their minds."
" 'Til someone gets knocked up."
Brilliantly red now, Vegeta glared at all of them. Then he collected his dignity. "You must all lead amazingly boring lives," he declared.
"Back to work!" Tsukuri-san called from the other side of the tower's unfinished frame.
When Vegeta finished for the evening Bulma was still waiting for him. "Hi," she said. She held up the basket. "Wanna go on a picnic? I would have called but your cell phone wasn't working."
"It got crushed during the fight last week," Vegeta replied. "I haven't gotten around to replacing it."
"I would have stopped by your place once you were done working," Bulma continued. "Then I realized you've never mentioned where you live."
She gave Vegeta a moment to rectify that oversight. Vegeta thought about her parent's home in contrast with the old, run-down apartment building where he lived and declined to reply.
"So," Bulma said after a moment. "Picnic?"
"I've got homework," Vegeta said with a grimace.
"So what?" Bulma asked. "So do I. It'll wait."
She handed Vegeta the picnic basket then took his free hand. "I've got just the place in mind," she said as she tugged him up into the air after her.
Fifteen minutes later they alighted on an isolated stretch of beach. Bulma promptly kicked off her sandals. "From here we walk."
Vegeta gave her a doubtful look.
Bulma grinned. "It'll be worth it," she promised.
"Whatever," Vegeta surrendered. He stalked toward the water.
"Not like that." Bulma looked pointedly at his shoes.
"Sand in shoes is a pain, sand between bares toes is great," Bulma declared. "Trust me."
"Please? You won't look silly. Besides, it's just you, me, the sand and the sea," Bulma argued. She sighed. "You've been pretty tight-strung lately, I thought this might help. Give it a chance?"
"Do I get to eat sooner if I give in?" Vegeta asked.
"Of course. You have no idea how stubborn I can be when I've got a notion," Bulma said.
"I find it remarkably easy to picture," Vegeta replied smugly. "So, since I want to eat before the food rots, I'll put up with your ridiculousness."
Bulma rolled her eyes and shook her head as Vegeta bent down to untie his shoes. He neatly tucked his socks into each shoe as he removed it, carefully not putting his foot down on the sand until it was bare. Then he tied the shoes together and hung them over his shoulder. He picked up the picnic basket again. Bulma reclaimed his free hand.
They walked down the beach, following the line of still damp sand left in the wake of the receding tide. Bulma led them along the curving coast until she found the perfect angle for watching the sun set. They retreated higher up the beach where the sand was dry and held the warmth of the day.
Vegeta set the basket down. Bulma spread out a thin, colorful blanket then began setting out goodies.
While they ate Bulma chatted quietly about inconsequentially things. Vegeta interjected the occasional, sarcastic comment to let her know he was paying attention but for the most part he was content to just listen.
When the sun's curve touched the horizon Bulma moved the picnic basket to one side so that she could curl up against Vegeta.
They watched in silence as the sun sank behind the waves. The sky darkened and gradually stars began to appear. The ocean also went dark but the crests of the waves would catch the gleam of distant lights and reflected it back to the stars. The glittering darkness of the ocean gave the illusion that the starry sky stretched out below them as well as above.
Vegeta lifted Bulma up then shifted so she was seated between his legs. He leaned forward and wrapped her in his arms. Bulma snuggled back against him. He rested his chin on her shoulder. Staring out at the emptiness spread before them he felt as if he'd come home.
"Better?" Bulma asked softly after a time.
Vegeta's lips quirked upwards. "Strangely, yes," he admitted.
King Enma paced heavily back and forth across his office. Dende stood in front of Enma's desk, shifting and grimacing. He couldn't help but think about how messengers sometimes got shot.
An ogre ran into the room, panting and out of breath. "We - we searched. Everywhere. From the Pool of Blood to the Soul Cleansing Machine. We checked everywhere, three times. Frieza is not in Hell. He's escaped. No one even remembers the last time they saw him."
King Enma looked grim. "Somewhere around thirteen years ago I image. Probably not long before Vegeta's parents were murdered."
"How could this happen?" Dende exclaimed. "Frieza had become a Dark Soul. He was proud of what he'd done in his life, his only regrets were over the people he'd failed to kill or break."
"Like Vegeta," King Enma sighed. "Frieza kept Vegeta at his side for decades, long after Vegeta-sai's destruction. When Vegeta openly rebelled against him, Frieza killed him but thanks to Goku's wish Vegeta was able to walk away and start a new life. Not many who came in contact with Frieza, even briefly, did so well."
"No," Dende shook his head. "Vegeta had more than enough reason to hate Frieza, but Frieza? Could he really have hated Vegeta enough to form a soul-bond with him simply because Vegeta survived him?"
"You said it yourself: Frieza's only regret was that he couldn't destroy everyone he met. There was no one he put more effort into breaking than Vegeta," King Enma sighed. "We best send someone to recollect him."
"What's the point?" Dende asked. "If he's bound to Vegeta Hell won't be able to hold him. No external force can keep a soul-bonded pair apart. He'll just keep going after Vegeta until he's as corrupted as Frieza himself. All we can do is hope for a minimal degree of collateral damage."
Dende groaned as he recalled his brief association with the Saiyan Prince and the Ice-jin Overlord. "Who am I kidding? They destroyed my entire planet in a matter of days. The Earth's doomed."
"We'll recollect Frieza," King Enma stated calmly. "We may not be able to keep Frieza from Vegeta forever, but at least we can give the poor kid a break. Remember, he's no longer accountable for the deaths of your neighbors. You're a Guardian, Dende, you have to be above these things."
Dende looked down at the floor, accepting the rebuke. "I know, but their potential for destruction is so immense," he said. "Wouldn't it be better to cut our losses and get it over with as soon as possible?"
"It's not our place," King Enma replied. "Frieza is a Dark Soul, his evil is saturated into every pore of his being, he has no potential to become anything better. It's our duty to keep him from the Material Realm to the best of our ability. Vegeta is not. We can't break the chains binding him to Frieza, but he can. If he can let go of his hatred. Vegeta has the right to another chance, even if his chances aren't good."