Disclaimer: I don't own Dragonball Z, of course.

Rated M for to be safe and for language.

They've lost. They've lost the battle, maybe even the war, who knows? All Bulma knows is that they have to get out of here before they're all dead, before it's all over.

It doesn't make sense.

Ki blasts soar past her head and Nappa hastily pushes her to the ground, making her slam face-first into the dirt. In his panic, he had not held back quite as much as she would have liked, and she lies for a moment, paralyzed.

Someone grabs the back of her shirt and hoists her up, setting her on her feet and taking off. Nappa had long since vanished, perhaps not even knowing that she had disappeared from his side.

Bulma turns, looking through the mass of terrified warriors, all fleeing from Frieza's powerful forces with fear in their faces. She pushes past them desperately, to the edge of the hill, and looks down at the grassy plain stretched out in front of Frieza's city. She watches as four lone figures face the thousands of soldiers sprinting right for them.

There was a word in the Saiyan language for this. Extrais. It meant that everything that could go wrong would go wrong.

It was funny, really. No, not funny – it was sick and wrong and twisted how they could come so far and gain so little.

Ashes to ashes, we all fall down.

Ashes to Ashes

Chapter 1

The young teenager twirled a lock of her dark, black hair between her index and forefinger and smirked at the slack jawed looks that she was on the receiving end of. It wasn't often that members of the upper camps visited the lower, the one that was home for civilians and scientists and weaklings. Basically pointless people, for all she was concerned.

The girl allowed a few of some men standing outside a hut to get a good look at her – from her indecently revealing armor, showing off her bare torso and back (Vegeta had often complained that there really was no point to her armor, for it only concealed her breasts and her privates, but she enjoyed the feeling of power that she got when men's eyes lingered, the assurance that they wanted to see more), to her sharp, fierce features, to her dark, calculating eyes. The men's eyes roved and she unraveled her tail from her waist, waving it rhythmically behind her, laughing delightedly as they watched it as if entranced. She strode by them and entered the hut that she had been directed to; the reason that she had been told to make an appearance in the slums in the first place.

Lifting her nose high in the air, she walked right by the guards without sparing them a glance. They shrunk away from her, feeling her bad mood emanating from her slight frame.

Vegeta always gave her the pointless missions, she thought vehemently with an annoyed grimace in memory of the last one. Granted, this wasn't exactly pointless, but she could care less. She tended to find anything that didn't solely have to do with herself completely pointless.

The room she entered had a measly population of five; three men and two women, all seated at desks. They straightened their chairs the moment she entered and their eyes flashed with surprise. They knew that they were important so couldn't be surprised that someone of her status had come to see them, so she deduced that they were surprised at her obvious youth.

The girl walked casually up to the blackboard, scrawled down an elaborate equation that made absolutely no sense to her (Vegeta had given it to her, and she truly didn't know if he had come up with it himself) and turned to face the five people. "Solve it," she commanded, gracefully sliding herself into a chair and tilting it precariously backwards so that she could prop her feet up on the nearest desk. The scientist sitting at it shifted his wide eyes to her boots.

This was the scientists' one and only chance to promote themselves up to Ring One, and she could see the eagerness in their eyes, the thirst for bigger and better things as they hungrily drank up the equation and screwed up their faces in concentration.

"You first," she commanded to a handsome man, using her tail to motion him forward. He stood, sucked in a deep breath, and started forward, picking up a piece of chalk. The man set to work and the girl briefly checked out his ass, raising her eyebrows. She couldn't be blamed, after all, there wasn't exactly a surplus of handsome, eligible men back in Ring One. Kakarrot was, well, Kakarrot, and he chose to mate with that annoying harpy, Nappa was basically hideous to look at, Vegeta was…ugh, gross, Gohan had the makings of a handsome face but he was young (three years younger than herself, and that made all the difference to her), Apollo - although handsome - was weak and obnoxious, the rest of the men in Ring One she could care less for, leaving Radditz, who was generously handsome in his own way.

Lost in her thoughts, the girl's eyes snapped to attention when the handsome man cleared his throat nervously. He seemed stumped by the equation and faltered, unable to do more. "Get out, useless fool," she snapped, motioning the next forward to make an attempt.

The next man couldn't get any farther than the first, and then the third finally finished, circling her answer confidently. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the last woman's eyes flash, so she pointed her tail at her. "You, show her where she went wrong." The blue-haired woman strut forward, her head held high, a confident gleam in her eye. Vegeta had not given her any answer to the problem so when the blue-haired woman finished, she looked pointedly at the last man and asked, "Did she go wrong?" He shook his head, eyes wide. "Then you get out."

She turned her attention to the winner of her little game, who was twirling the chalk in her hand and smirking confidently. "Welcome aboard the shit crazy ride that we like to call Kill Frieza. My name's Azuki, and I'll be your guide." Azuki smirked.

Bulma had thought that Ring One would be more impressive than what she was seeing. It was certainly nicer than Ring Two, of course, but that didn't take much – Ring Two was the slums, a slimy civilization of people that really didn't matter. Ring One had, at least, gotten rid of the slimy quality, but the houses weren't much grander. She could see the colosseum looming in the distance where spars could be held for show, but she could see that from Ring Two, as well.

All throughout the new civilization were men and a few women hanging about, sitting in front of their huts and watching her and Azuki with curious, watchful eyes. They were all either drinking or smoking or eating, all in armor and looking deadly, frightful. Bulma kept her head high, walking with deliberate pride in her steps.

Bulma's people had been the first to come to this planet. Their own planet – what was the name of it? - Earth, Bulma thinks, had been dying, and the other humans had had to escape. They had settled here, long ago. Gradually other races had settled here, too, bringing their own customs and foods and lives. And then, last of all, the Saiyans had arrived for much the same reason as Bulma's people. They had been the strongest and had immediately taken over, claiming the land as their own and proclaiming themselves the leaders. No one had been strong enough to object.

However, there hadn't been a lot of Saiyans, and the race was dwindling. Only a few remained. But they still led over them; the girl that Bulma was following was actually the last female of the race.

She wondered what that felt like. To be the last of something.

And then, many years after the Saiyans, Frieza had come. He had landed on the far side and made his palace, there, and no one had been able to drive him away ever since. His men would occasionally attack and kill some of them off, and he took all of their resources, leaving them to build huts out of wood and mud. They still had some things remaining from the past civilization, like the stadium, but a great deal had been destroyed. It was only a matter of time before Frieza found Ring One and Two, nestled deep in the forest, hidden from sight. He had never attacked them before because he had never found them, the forest being extremely dense, but everyone knew that little safety wouldn't last forever.

They had to eliminate him before he eliminated them.

No one had even seen Frieza, before. They didn't know what he looked like, but they knew that he was much more powerful than the Saiyans, and also much more evil. Vegeta didn't kill them when he grew bored. He didn't send out his army to massacre the smaller communities that lived on the planet. He was better than Frieza. Right?

Bulma chanced a glance at the Saiyan girl she was following, Azuki. The girl waved dismissively at some men that approached her, grinning as they shrank back, leaving her be. Azuki was generally known for making people disappear. It was known that Vegeta wasn't exactly a benevolent ruler and killed those who opposed or bothered him, but if one simply looked at Azuki the wrong way, chances were they would never be found again. Some people - the braver of the bunch - moaned that it wasn't fair she got away with nothing, just because she was Vegeta's sister and therefore royalty.

Some of the ones who complained were those who vanished.

Bulma watched as a dark-haired female approached and Azuki's demeanor instantly changed, her back stiffening and her eyes lifting to the sky in an eye-roll. "Have you seen Gohan?" the new woman asked, her voice slightly shrill, her hands balled into fists. "I swear, if you and Kakarrot have been taking him out to fight in the arena again –"

"He's not with me, as you can tell, Chi-Chi," said Azuki, waving her arms around her to show that this 'Gohan' was not in the near vicinity. "God, the kid's fourteen, you don't have to know where he is at all times."

"Every time he disappears he's doing something dangerous with either you," Chi Chi points an accusatory finger at Azuki, "or Radditz, or both. Or his good for nothing father."

"Kakarrot doesn't seem to mind." Azuki grinned, and Chi Chi immediately stiffened, her eyes darkening at the implications.

"Yes, because all he knows about is fighting, fighting, fighting, just like you and you other damn Saiyans –"

"Maybe if that's all you knew about, you'd be stronger –"

"And I'll have you know that Gohan is missing out on his studies –"

"Who needs to be intelligent when you're a good warrior?"

"And I am so damn sick of finding blood on his clothes – "

"Shit, you'd think I'd killed him, the way you're raving – "

"Just tell me where he is!" Chi Chi finally screamed, stomping her foot and shutting her eyes in exasperation. Azuki stared blankly at her for a moment, her jaw opening overdramatically.

"You've got to be kidding me."

And the Saiyan promptly turned and began to walk away. Chi-Chi glared after her but did not pursue, and Bulma hurried to catch up after sending the woman one unsure glance. Another man fell into step beside Azuki. He had dark, flyaway black hair, was wearing an orange gi, and had a goofy smile plastered on his face. Before he could open his mouth to speak, Azuki said, "Your mate is insane."

The man laughed somewhat nervously, scratching the back of his head. "What is it this time?"

"You aren't fooling anyone, Kakarrot. I know you waited until she was gone before showing up. Where's Gohan?"

Kakarrot shrugged, eyes briefly lifting to the sky before they came back down and rested on the female Saiyan. "I really don't know. He's been running off a lot lately." Kakarrot began to scan the crowd around them, as if to catch sight of his son, and his gaze fell on Bulma. His dark eyes widened briefly before he smiled a genuine smile and nodded his head. Bulma returned the gesture. "Hi! My name's Kakarrot. What's yours?"

"Bulma." The second her name came out of her mouth a hand descended on her shoulder, making Bulma startle terribly. She whirled, looking for the culprit, only to find that no one was behind her. Thoroughly confused, Bulma turned back to the chuckling Azuki and Kakarrot, only to find that a man was now standing in front of her, smiling lazily.

He was wearing a thin, sleeveless black shirt and some black pants that tucked into thick boots. His elbow down was wrapped in black tape, coming to an end at his gloves. The man leaned casually against Azuki, running a hand through his dark blond, almost golden hair that was in a tiny, loose ponytail at the nape of his neck, his clear blue eyes twinkling. Azuki promptly shoved him off of her, muttering something under her breath.

"Whoa, whoa," the man said with an easy grin, eyes resting on Bulma. "And to what do we owe the pleasure of seeing you down here?" he asked, as if he were the one who were living in the slums and she was coming to visit him. He bowed extravagantly to her, said, "Jude Asisca, at your service," took her hand, and kissed it. Bulma blushed.

"Snik, Asisca," Azuki snapped, rolling her eyes. The man, Jude, casually tilted his head and grinned.

"Just saw you three walking along and thought I'd accompany you to the meeting. This is the scientist, right?" Jude cocked his head in Bulma's direction, walking backwards, directly in front of Azuki.

"Yes, and I'd appreciate it if you'd move." Azuki reached forward to grab his shirt and shove him aside, but he danced out of the way smoothly, lifting both arms in surrender.

"Alright, alright. No need to get feisty." He turned and winked at Azuki, who immediately stiffened. In a flash, Azuki had appeared behind him and kicked the back of his knee, promptly making him buckle to the ground.

Azuki laughed, twirling by him as he grunted and began to get to his feet. "Watch yourself, Darling." There was the faintest of smiles as Jude slowly got to his feet and dusted off his pants.

"Don't forget who the assassin is, here," Jude growled, somewhat sternly, but there was a twinkle in his eye that showed his teasing.

"Don't forget who can kick your ass." Azuki stuck out her tongue at him, laughing delightedly at the put out look on his face.

Kakarrot, who had been standing aside, finally interfered, groaning, "We're going to be late. Can we go now?"

"He's right," Jude grinned at Azuki. "You need to stop wasting our time, little girl."

Azuki's lip curled and she let out a low growl, and Jude, sensing he was in trouble, turned and sprinted away, giggling like a little boy. Bulma watched as he easily disappeared into a crowd of people, Azuki hot on his heels, and knew why he was an assassin when Azuki came back empty handed, tail thrashing and muttering curses under her breath. Kakarrot laughed at her, waving a hand in the general direction that Jude had disappeared in. "He's good."

"He better watch himself before he winds up dead," Azuki spat, eyes flashing. She returned her attention to Kakarrot and jerked her head towards the center of the Ring. "Let's go."

The place where this supposed 'meeting' was to be taking place was in the center of Ring One; a grand hut more extravagant than any other she had ever seen. It wasn't necessarily huge; on the inside, it was just one, big room, but the carpet was scarlet and the walls were painted in various reds and golds, creating a very royal appearance.

A large group of creatures were gathered inside, each chatting nonchalantly. Bulma caught sight of Jude for a moment before he saw them, eyes shifting to Azuki, and winked at her, disappearing back into the crowd like smoke.

The people parted for Azuki and Kakarrot, and Bulma drifted along in their wake, but she was on the receiving end of many stares herself. The people around her didn't exactly mask their curiosity, either; Bulma's clothing spoke clearly of being from Ring Two, giving her away. They began to mutter to each other as they watched her, their eyes lighting in excitement.

They reached a raised platform in the center with two huge men standing at the bottom of it, one bald and the other with long, spiked hair that reached his knees. "About time you showed up. Prince Vegeta would have been pissed if you'd been late," The bald one muttered sternly, hard eyes landing on Azuki. The teenager just waved him off.

"Yeah yeah, His Royal Highness could've waited a few minutes. I'm sure he'll keep us waiting."

Azuki's eyes lingered on the one with the longer hair and she grinned slyly. "Radditz," she said, and the longer haired Saiyan, Radditz winked back at her, his tail waving eagerly behind him. Bulma watched carefully, watched how Azuki would react, and was surprised when the female Saiyan did not reprimand him.

"Either of you seen Gohan?" Kakarrot asked, his eyes surveying the assorted crowd of people. "It's not like him to be late."

"Lost track of your own cub, brother?" Radditz guffawed, slapping his knee as if he found this truly hilarious. "Hasn't this been happening a lot lately?"

"I'm here, dad!" A younger boy burst through the crowd, placing both hands on his knees and leaning over, panting heavily. "I'm sorry! I got caught up and didn't know what time it was!"

"Where have you been?" Kakarrot had an edge to his voice that didn't really fit what little Bulma knew about him.

However, before Gohan could make a hasty reply, Azuki snapped, "Shut up, we're about to begin."

Indeed, a hush had fallen over the crowd, and Azuki had ascended the raised platform fully and stood at the top. She looked out over the crowd and seemed to spot someone, nodding slowly. Bulma followed her gaze and saw him, saw the Prince for the first time.

The crowd was parting for him hastily as he strode confidently towards the platform, head held high. He was wearing armor quite different from Azuki's, his blue and gold and white, and his hair was flame-shaped, standing up from his head and defying gravity itself. His eyes rested briefly on her before he passed, not holding any kind of interest, and Bulma huffed, folding her arms over her chest.

There was a thick silence over them all, now, and they seemed to be waiting for Vegeta to break it. He did, and the deepness of his voice surprised Bulma. "Frieza's men attacked Neuri yesterday. They killed hundreds." This was news to Bulma, and her eyes widened briefly. The crowd seemed to be surprised as well, as they muttered excitedly to each other, before Vegeta cut them off. "His forces are coming closer and closer here, and we've received information from our spies that it is not Frieza who is ordering these attacks. It is a man named Zarbon. You know that Azuki and I traveled in an attempt to kill Zarbon months ago, but he vanished and we were unable to locate him. I have devised a plan in which I will be able to find him, and perhaps we can get valuable information from him before killing him." Another excited murmur broke out over the crowd, but Vegeta hushed them with a leveled glare. "We will hopefully be able to achieve this within the next month. Once Zarbon is dead, it will be that much easier to get to Frieza. Dismissed."

The men and women that had gathered broke out into light chatter as they lazily made their way towards the door, exiting. Bulma looked around for Azuki, noticing that the teenager had already disappeared, as had Radditz and Nappa. She locked eyes with Vegeta accidentally but refused to break eye contact when he seemed determined to hold it with her. "You're the scientist?" he asked, his voice gruff and his eyes showing that he really couldn't care less who she was.

"Yes," Bulma answered confidently, holding her head a bit higher. There was no reason to be intimidated by this man. She was beautiful, intelligent; who cared that he was essentially the leader of all of them? Not her, not one bit. But she couldn't help but feel a little dirty as his dark gaze scrutinized her, from her dirty rags that were her clothes to her soot stains on her skin.

"Then you will be the one creating this device." Vegeta began to walk away, and Bulma deduced that she was supposed to follow, so she did, keeping a fair distance. "I need something that can detect ki, so we know when Zarbon is far enough away from Frieza's palace that we can attack."

Bulma nodded, before realizing that he could not see her, so hastily said, "I can do it. I'll need a lab."

"I'll provide one. And whatever tools you will need."

Bulma could get used to this living in Ring One. A lab, assistants, tools…her eyes glistened at the prospect of having basically everything she needed at her disposal. What more could she possibly want?

Prince Vegeta turned back to look at her, smirking ever so slightly. "I should hope that you don't fuck this up."

A/N: Oh, how good it feels to be back, writing B/V. Do you guys like it? I can't promise as frequent of updates as This is War had, but I promise to do my best! Tell me if you think I should continue!

As you can probably tell, this is very AU. The only differences in the Saiyans' powers, however, is that they can't fly. This is necessary for future purposes.