Greetings! Team One here with an important announcement!

After almost two years, Plus One is reaching its final stretch, so to commemorate, we've decided to freshen up a little and give our story a new face in the form of a brand new cover image! (courtesy of our own Boboleta :D)

We recommend you go check it out before reading this chapter, since it'll help visualize our two favorite love birds a lot better. You'll see what we mean. :D We will also be posting the image on our Facebook page (link on our profile), so you can check it out there as well, and in higher resolution!

Hope you like it! And please enjoy the chapter!

...

Brought to you by Boboleta and Gue22.

...

If only she could bottle up this feeling and sell it to the highest bidder, she'd be able to cash in on a millionaire retirement within a year or two. … Nah, she couldn't; purity like this shouldn't be sold; it should be given away to every living being on the planet as urgently as a life-saving inoculation. Who could ever again think of war and malice when their blood had been replaced with sweet, gooey honey?

And they say sex was dirty, an insult to God… if anything it was proof He existed.

Videl sprawled herself across the heavenly-soft cotton of the futon, drawing imaginary angels in its snow-white surface that was anything but wintery cold. The hot furnace of a man that'd birthed this warmth had left her with only it and that particular numbness in her heart that she could only classify as satisfaction, pure and simple. Oh, and the rashy fire down there at her inner walls, a glorious side-effect from the friction she embraced as fervently as the precious air that was crawling in and out of her lungs.

This was it: the climax of life, the triumph of fulfilment one only reached when unchaining themselves of the need to keep searching - for happiness, for accomplishment, for unattainable perfection. It was all tickling at her skin from the inside, like all her cells and vessels and muscles were hopping and dancing to the beautiful music her heart was singing. Girlishly, she covered her head with the comforter that pampered her, inhaling the snugness and the musky scent of his skin she'd swear she could pick within a crowd of a million. Food being the last thing on her mind, she kept hoping he'd hurry back with breakfast so she could just skip it and watch him eat it instead; surely he'd be a bundle full of sexy doing that too.

Ding, dong!

Her body stilled for the briefest moment, startled by the unexpected sound. Apparently someone had forgotten to take his keys with him. With condolence and a sigh for the loss of the precious cuddle of the futon, she reached for the nearby leg brace and applied it to her limb with mechanical swiftness, acrobatically maneuvering to her feet and rushing towards the stairs but freezing just shy of the first step.

She was indeed fully and completely naked - apart form the damn medical contraption. Surely Gohan wouldn't mind the view, but maybe opening the front door to the world outside in your birthday suit would've been just a little too risqué for her to attempt. The last stunt of earlier that morning had taken a great chunk of her daredevil points, so, after what she deemed to be careful consideration, she hopped to the corner of the room and picked up Gohan's dress shirt from the floor, buttoning it closed as she wobbled down the stairs. She'd never tried this look before, actually, but those women on TV exuded nothing but sexiness sporting it, so it was ultimately a good call on her part. Hopefully he would like it just as much.

The sweetest of smiles overcame her as she opened the door, but vanished right after. Who in the world...? "Um… can I help you?"

The tall guy outside was just as surprised - clearly - doing a fleeted onceover down her legs that made her feel exposed but thank the heavens at the same time: Her previous getup would've certainly made that blush on his scarred cheeks exponentially fiercer, no doubt. Disregarding the flush that tinged his face, she noticed his eyes, also the color of onyx, and his hair just as dark and spiky as Gohan's but less rich somehow.

"Huh..." His voice cracked in an almost-squeak. "I was looking for... I mean," he stuttered, gulping in the nervousness of whatever he was gonna say. "I'm sorry, I must have the wrong house."

"Whose house were you looking for?"

"A friend's. He just moved and I… I guess I have the wrong address. I'm sorry to disturb you," he concluded, turning around to take his leave.

"Does this friend have a name?" She didn't really know the area, but maybe Gohan had already met some of the neighbours. Although… a friend that'd just moved…? Could it be?

"Son Gohan. Does that name mean anything to you?"

More than a few anythings, actually. Wow, Gohan didn't waste any time to announce his moving there, huh? A day in and already with housewarming visits. "Of course, he's my boyfriend. He's out, though."

The guy's eyes widened to ridiculous lengths, as did his unbelieving lips. That word was still very unfamiliar when attached to Gohan's handsome face, but she was sure gonna abuse that title now that she'd claim it. "B-Boyfriend?"

"Boyfriend. Yes," she confirmed.

"But you're… you're…"

Her eyebrows scrunched together in a menacing scowl. "I'm what?"

"You're that man's daughter! Does Gohan know about this?"

"By 'that man' I assume you mean my father. If so, then yes, Gohan does know about it." Not that it was any of his business, whoever this guy was. "You got a problem with my father?"

He completely ignored the threat in her voice, and the question, and even her mere existence, half-naked as she was in front of him. His gaze went vacant to some area on the wall behind her. "He knows...?" he mumbled to himself. "He knows. Wow." His head was shaking side to side in disbelief.

Her entire dating life had gotten her used to grins of joy whenever the big afro-wielding elephant in the room had been uncovered - namely from those who wouldn't recognize her right away as the Saviour's daughter - and scepticism and incredulity were all familiar attributes to her as well, but normally lined up with the golden thread of 'it's just too good to be true', not this 'I can't believe he knows' absent look. Gohan's distaste for her father was well known amongst his personal circles, apparently.

"Well then, I guess that's that," the man added after a distant while. "Who would have thought?" He threw his head back and laughed shamelessly. Really laughed, shoulders quaking and everything. "Man, they sure know how to pick'em."

"Excuse me?" How to pick them? What was that supposed to mean?

He continued blatantly disregarding her, entertained with himself and his witty monologue. "One a princess, another an heiress... Will be interesting to see what Goten and Trunks come up with." An obnoxious chuckle. "Man, these guys always pull out all the stops, don't they?"

Not one to be ignored, she prepared herself for the mother of all rants, a furious tantrum that would undoubtedly get his attention, but then another voice beat her to it. "Yamcha?"

The visitor spun around and instantly beamed, "Gohan!" while his arms spreaded in cheer, and then maneuvered for a pat on the back. "I was just getting to know your girlfriend, here." Inflexion intended, she was sure. First as uneasy as they came, then unbelieving, and now a cheeky, almost pervy grin. Who was this guy, anyway? Yamcha, was it?

"What are you doing here?" Gohan asked. He didn't seem horribly upset about the other's presence, but he didn't seem exactly happy, either. More like extremely uncomfortable. "Do you need anything?"

"Not anymore!" his friend lit up and rejoiced. One would think he'd just won the lottery. "Here I was, worried like crazy that you had the hots for Kirsty, and it turns out you had a freaking girlfriend!" He pointed vigorously at her. "Phew! You just made my day, Man!"

Wait… Kirsty? "Who the hell is Kirsty?"

With that, Gohan suspended everything in himself except the blood that sprinted to blush his cheeks. Whoever that floozy was, her name was obviously not meant for Videl's ears. "Errr…" Gohan muttered for time and probably some poor excuse. There was a kindling sensation tingling inside her stomach, ready to ignite at the faintest of provocations towards her womanly pride, but she fought to keep it at check. She needed her answer; if this Kirsty wasn't anyone of personal importance, why did he hesitate? Was the question that difficult?

"Oops, look at the time," Yamcha threw in while glancing at the imaginary watch on his bare wrist. "Gotta run. See ya!" Yeah, you better run…

"The hots for Kirsty?" she demanded instantly after, almost in a motherly scold that she kept toning down so as not to come out as too aggressive. Though she was growing aggressively bothered to have her answer. "Care to explain?"

"It's not what you think." He waved his hands furiously and with nervous carelessness, to the point of almost dropping the bakery's paper bag cradled beneath his bicep.

Her arms crossed against her chest. "'The hots for Kirsty' is pretty self-explanatory."

"Do you have to keep repeating that?" Gohan spoke in an embarrassed whisper, cautiously stepping inside past her and placing the baked goodies he'd brought on the desk he got from his parents'. She closed the door shut behind him.

"What? Do you not have the hots for Kirsty? Is that it?"

"No! I mean…" He sighed, giving in to the tension in his face and a hand to the back of his neck. "I guess I did, once. But not anymore. Not since I met you, I swear."

He wouldn't lie to her. Not after their fight yesterday and all the wonderful things that'd happened ever since. But why was she feeling like such a… a girl, then? Why was her feminine ego throbbing in distress when all the logic in her believed and understood? "Who's Kirsty?" she continued to ask. Maybe that'd appease her demons and her conscience.

"She's my supervisor. From work," Gohan responded promptly. "I asked Yamcha to keep an eye on her after her house exploded and... I guess he grew fond of her."

"And you're not? Fond of her?"

"I am," he admitted, punching her gut with an acid fist. "But not in the same way. She's just a friend." His big hands gripped tightly at her shoulders before sliding to her back and waist in a lazy hug. She resisted the affection, at first, but her heart was quick to shoot dead her pride and childish jealousy. His handsome smile was enchanting, his scent intoxicating. "You've acquired all the rights to those particular feelings, I assure you," he added playfully yet seriously, and just like that, she was assured.

Her eyes locked on his, studying their shine for the meaning in those words while somehow knowing them to be the exact truth. Jealousy was a horrible emotion to have, but surely she'd get a free pass at it for being just human, after all. She'd searched so long and hard for this man, endured excruciating dates with sub-par company whose only real interests shifted between her name and her breasts. By God, she deserved him, even if he deserved perfection instead of her, selfish and juvenile as she turned out to be.

A foreign impetus propelled her harder against his chest, threw her arms violently around his neck and drew her hungry lips into his. She'd never been one to feel sorry for herself, so she disregarded the reasons behind that silent yet obvious beg for him to see past her flaws, only giggling lively when he stumbled back from the surprise attack. He giggled just the same - so cute and sweet - albeit confused from the behavioural one-eighty, but today was not the day to feel apprehensive or second-guess his intentions due to the words of some stranger.

"Come on," she told him after a while, grabbing his hand and the brown bag that waited patiently to his side - dear God in heaven, it smelled warm and amazing! - and pulling them towards the stairs. "You still have to teach me how to do those light-ball thingies you did yesterday, remember?"

He chuckled. "'Light-ball thingies', huh?"

"Yup. Maybe over a naked breakfast?" she suggested. Or informed, rather. Even more itchy than that shirt she was wearing, was all that superfluous cloth that hid his dazzling body with all its dazzling muscles.

"Can't wait." He smirked. "So hot and delicious..." In the very next moment, she was the one now stumbling in surprise, shrieking unlike herself when he picked her up bridal-style and uttered a guttural, "And breakfast is good, too," so, so manly and animalistic that struck a shiver down her spine, electrifying her skin all the way to her nipples and puddling in a heated mess between her legs. God...

Breakfast? What breakfast?

...

He ran a tired hand through what was left of his thinning hair, which wasn't all that much unfortunately. In a few years, he'd be as bald as his grandad had been when he'd turned fifty.

"Well," the juggernaut of a man in WIA uniform fixed him with an irritated look. "What's your take, Inspector?" It didn't take a genius to figure out how the entire WIA task-force dedicated to this case loathed that they'd been ordered to consult with him every step of the way. It wasn't just written in their faces, but it played out in the condescending cadence of their tones whenever they spoke to him.

Flicking off a stray hair that had fallen to the shoulder badge of his tunic, the Mt. Frypan Inspector sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly. A small team had barged into his home last-night to "escort" him to this neon-infested facility where the arsonist was being kept. He'd spent the better part of dawn going round and round in circles with the prisoner. Hell of a way for a man to start his Valentine's day.

"I don't think he's lying," he offered truthfully after much deliberation. "There could be a partner."

The beefy man snorted, his chest puffing up as he sat up straight in the unfortunate chair that was struggling to house his large frame. "And yet the funds from those fucks all trace back to his accounts?" He fixed him with a cold stare before he leaned forward, the table squeaking and near buckling from his weight. "You listen to me, Inspector," he sneered with a gusty flare of his baboon sized nostrils. "We're not running a baby's asses investigation here. We cross all our T's and dot all our I's, get me? Hell, we even cross our sevens's and Z's just for the fuck of it."

The Inspector found himself forced to resist his own snort. God save him from pompous idiots.

"We leave no stone unturned, get me?" the mammoth barked with a near fury that had his hairy arms flexing. "And no dirt either. Even if we gotta dig it up from the same ground as our ma's graves. There's nothing we turned up that indicates that this fucker's got a partner."

Get me? The Inspector curbed his amusement with his stoic expression. "Still," he began stiffly, "I'd consider keeping an eye out on all the targets just the same. Just in case."

"Fine," the much larger man spat. "We'll put eyes on them. But no way are we cutting a deal with that smug piece of shit," he declared as he roused from his seat to tower over him. Not that he needed to stand to achieve that feat...

"Do him a favor and get a name outta him by today." He bent his massive spine to speak as close to his face as possible. "Cause otherwise," he sneered, curling his lip cruelly, "I'll hand him over to our special interrogation's unit. And not only won't he get a whiff at a donkey's ass of a deal, but his chances of walking out with his balls intact will be highly debatable."

Slouching in his chair, the Inspector sighed. Grateful to be rid of the man's presence. Why the overgrown oaf would think that he cared about the fate of the arsonist was a mystery to him. He didn't care one way or another. He just wanted this whole thing to be over so he could go back to running his little station.

Pulling out his phone, he figured he ought to warn Son Gohan about the possibility of a partner.

"You have reached," began the annoying monologue of a computerized script. "Please leave a short message after the beep."

"You want what?"

"A costume, yeah," Gohan confirmed. "Nothing too fancy, though."

"A… costume…" Piccolo repeated in the form of a question while focusing harder on the kid's facial expression; surely he'd catch a glimpse of a smile this time, or a stifled laugh. No such luck.

As former guardian of this planet, he knew well how today was a special day for the Earthlings, though he failed to understand how a day for love could be of any greater importance than the one they chose for celebrating furry rodents…

"Every day on this wonderful world is a cause for celebration," he recalled Bulma saying on one of those costume parties of hers he'd attended over the years. Remorsefully, of course. The dreadful interactions taught him invaluable lessons, though, about the behaviour of men, native and Saiyan alike. How such occasions tended to turn ballrooms into battle fields, for one, where dressing up as the best unpeeled banana would become a matter of pride.

A banana… Proud to be a banana.

Goddammit, not Gohan too.

"Yeah," the kid went on to say. "It's for this party."

Good for him to have a life outside of fighting - the same couldn't be said about his old man - but even so, pull rank like this for a costume? They were on the Heavenly Realm, home of the guardian of this Earth; was nothing sacred anymore? But even more severe than that, "Do I look like a seamstress?"

That grin made him look so much like his damn father he could've smacked it right off the edge of the lookout. "A very handsome seamstress!"

"I know what you're doing," Piccolo told him after a semi-amused snort, "and I like it, but I still don't see why you couldn't just go out and buy yourself a banana costume like everybody else."

"A banana? Do I look like a banana?" Gohan defended too damn loudly. A pineapple then? He didn't care what stupid fruit it was, as long as it'd have the least bit possible to do with him. "I am… pause for dramatic effect... the Phoenix."

"Who the hell is that?"

"He's a superhero." If the incredibly childish way he'd said it hadn't managed to pop a vein in his bald green head yet, the fisting his hands against his hips and pulling out his chest number would definitely do the trick.

Could Dende's powers cure aneurysms?

"So… like you," Piccolo stated. Did it even constitute a costume when one already played that role in the first place? Saving lives, vanquishing evil.

"No, not like me," Gohan responded. "He has wings."

"Oh, of course. My mistake." Cheeky little bastard…

"Here, I brought you his picture." He reached into his back pocket and took out a folded piece of paper, straightening it out and handing it over for his sensei to hold.

He didn't. That thing was hideous. "What am I supposed to do with it?"

"Well, I'm gonna paint my hair red, and then transform into Super Saiyan so I can mimic his fire... aura or whatever that is, and you just have to use your clothes beam thingy and -"

"For the last time, it's not a 'clothes beam'! And it's definitely not a 'thingy'!" Piccolo yelled out, fists clenched and shaking with the tension. A flock of small birds rushed past them in fear for their lives, the flapping sound of their wings giving way to a strained moment of silence and staring. It didn't discourage the kid, unfortunately.

"Clothes ray?"

"No!" Was he fuming? He was definitely fuming from his big pointy ears, by now, directing an accusing finger towards his friend's chest. "I'll have you know, that thingy is a highly sophisticated technique that's been with my people ever since our very first ancestors." It was a highly probable fact, at least.

Gohan crossed his arms across his chest. "What's it called then?"

"It's the…" Wonderful… What in the world was he going to name that particular skill? He wasn't too good at coming up with these sort of titles, and he'd surely exhausted his fortune in that area with Special Beam Cannon. Though that one was brilliant, he had to admit. "The particle... materializer... spirit technique."

"The particle materializer spirit technique…" Gohan repeated.

"Yes, of course." Who was he going to ask about it for confirmation? Kami?

Gohan nodded, biting down a smile. "So... can you use the…" He cleared his throat. "...the PMS technique on me? Please? Hopefully it won't upset you or anything."

"I'm not upset, though you should be more respectful of these things. It doesn't just happen, you know? I have to concentrate, align all the particles and everything."

"I understand. Please don't be mad at me because of the PMS ."

"W-What...? I'm not mad." Extremely irritated, maybe. About to fly off to go berserk on some mountains, yes, but not mad. "Why are you laughing?"

"I'm not, I'm not," Gohan said, waving his hands defensively so as to sign off on the words, but at the very least he was chuckling. "And I swear I'll be more sensitive to your PMS from now on, okay? Cross my heart."

What in the world was he…? After a few seconds of staring numbly into the other's eyes, Piccolo just managed to shake his head and say, "You're the weirdest kid ever." Not that he knew that many, thank all the colorful Kais above. If this one had the ability to turn a world-threatening green monster into basically a wardrobe generator…

A quiet, dejected exhale escaped him. "Give me the damn picture."

Arms folded across her chest, Videl glared at the stylist. "You expect me to go to a ball dressed in body-paint?" she huffed, incredulous. "Are you crazy?" She took a threatening step in the taller man's direction.

To his credit, the rainbow haired man didn't falter. He merely pushed out his sharp, stubborn chin, then planted his palms firmly on his narrow hips. "Now, now, Videl," he said rather calmly, black painted fingers tapping against the suede hem of his low-hanging pants. "Don't exaggerate, darling."

"Exagge-" Videl began on a growl, but the stylist didn't give her a chance to finish. With a dismissive wave of his hand, he merely pointed at the strips of glitzy metallic-looking things laid out on the table. Glancing at them, Videl found them a bit eerie, glistening as they were under the heavy studio lighting.

"You'll also have these." He picked up one of them. Videl eyed it warily. Really, the thing seemed to be squirming like quicksilver under his touch. It looked disturbingly alive. "These little scraps of silicone prosthetics have been doused with a liquid-metal finish."

"And what exactly am I supposed to do with those things?" she asked suspiciously.

"Why, wear them of course," he beamed, holding the strip closer to her face. "They'll be glued onto various patches of your skin to enhance the body-paint.

Glued on? Ew! Her skin visibly shivered in disgust. "Marcell," she began, going for calm though she felt nothing at all like it. "I will not go prancing around in nothing but body-paint and a few strips of that dubious looking jelly!" Okay, so she hadn't exactly pulled it off, but what was Marcell thinking? "I will not!"

"Come now, darling," the man spoke without inflection as he carefully placed the strip of it back down on the table. And then with that infuriatingly stubborn glare of his, he added, "Don't get hysterical. You're Videl Satan, not a drama queen."

She clenched her fists. He had the audacity to call her a… a drama queen? Him? Mr. "My life is over because the Champ's cape didn't flap majestically enough"? Of all the-

"Their translucent effect," he was saying, "will enhance and bring the texture of the paint to life."

"I don't want paint!" Was the man even listening?

"No?" he quirked, a shapely, but bushy brow hiking up his forehead. "Then how, pray tell," he stomped towards the curtain, "do you expect to look like this?"

Videl cringed as he slid the drapes apart. Behind them, and posted on a white board next to a row of mirrors was a blown-up poster of Sleek. The heroine was all glimmering alloy as she forged a spear with the liquid-metal oozing from her fingertip. Oh boy…

Videl bit her lip with a sinking feeling. This what not what she'd had in mind when she'd readily agreed to go to the fundraiser as Phoenix and Sleek. "I expected you to achieve the look with a costume!" she bit out. "You know, that thing made out of clothes. Fabric. The kind of thing you actually wear. Over the head or feet-in first."

Marcell pursed. "We tried clothes. We tried making bodysuits with various fabrics. And the effect was sub-par. Cheap. Not the gleaming, liquid-metal that is this!" he poked a finger right onto poor Sleek's thigh. And then he drew in a breath. "Don't you see, darling?" Long and thickly coated lashes fluttered at her. "None of the costumes were good enough for our beloved Champ's only daughter."

"Marcell-" she began, but wasn't given a chance to continue. Marcell – in sheer dramatic fashion - threw his arm across his forehead and sighed.

"You can't imagine my bitter disappointment, darling, especially given that I only had a week's notice to work with." Videl wasn't high pressed to sympathize; Marcell could pull out an outfit from a hat. She knew this. "But I'm a professional darling, and I wouldn't dare dream of accepting failure," he continued. "Which is why I had no choice but to pull a few strings and call the producers of the live adaptation and-"

Videl blinked. "You did what?" Surely she hadn't heard him correctly.

"Called the producers of the live adaptation," Marcell said more slowly, eyeing her with puzzled eyes. "The series, darling. You know, the one you used to be obsessed with?" Videl gritted her teeth. She knew very well which one; there had only ever been the one live adaptation of her favorite comic. Though, it had been a while now since it had stopped airing. But… that Marcell had called them to beg for their trade secrets was...

"...and then I spoke to him," he was saying, "and demanded to know how they'd achieved the look on the lead actress. What was her name again, that skinny girl...?"

"You… demanded?" Her eyes widened, appalled. Really, she should have just gone online and ordered a costume. Marcell had taken things a little too far.

"Of course I demanded," he huffed, all indignant. "It was an emergency, darling. I explained it was for you and of course they saw reason."

"Of course," she said dully. She really, really wished they hadn't. 'Cause then she would have gotten away with wearing a sub-par bodysuit. Which given the alternative, she much, much would have preferred. It was fine for Low Down – the actress that had played Sleek. She was a professional, she would wear or not wear whatever the script demanded. Videl, on the other hand was not. And she would very much like to remain covered at all times. Well, almost all times…

"And not only did they cough up their secret but they sent us the make-up crew!"

Say what? Her stomach made a flip. "So those guys in the back are…?" She could hardly believe it.

"Yes."

"From the real set of…?"

"Yes."

Damn. The fan-girl in her was awed. They were the real thing, who'd worked on the real set, of the real Phoenix. "Wow."

"Only the best for you, darling," Marcell beamed. "And they are very anxious to get started on you." A hand on her shoulder, he started nudging her not so gently towards the back. "It is a six hour job after all."

Say what? "Six… hours?"

"Apparently it used to be ten," Marcell added flippantly, and why not? He wasn't the one expected to stand around like a statue for six hours! "You know, before they perfected the craft."

Videl paled, unable to comprehend how anyone could possibly expect her to stand still for six hours! Six hours?! No wonder they'd been hunting her high and low this morning, panicking when they couldn't get through on her cell. Marcell had called Erasa, who'd tried her house, her dad, the police, and as a last resort, Gohan. And damn if that call hadn't woken them up at the crack of dawn.

She flushed suddenly, remembering exactly what had followed after the call…

"So we should hurry," Marcell began to full-out shove her to the room at the back. "No time to waste."

"But-"

But her protests fell on deaf ears as Marcell dragged her to the awaiting crew. And then it was really too late because she suddenly had three sets of hands ushering her here and stripping her there. It was all rubbing and kneading and spraying and glueing. All oils and paints and powders and slimy sticky silicone things. Her skin was bombarded with foreign pressures, tickling brushes, cold sprays, foreign hands, and all manner of things intrusive.

It was shaping up to be the longest six hours of her life.

Standing as if ready to fly, Blue City's Convention Centre was a large curvilinear building whose design – though remarkable and ingenious – had the unfortunate effect of reminding him of Frieza's spaceship. Those dwarf pillars holding up the spherical structure… the way they were designed as if to claw into the ground… Yeah, they just brought back less than pleasant memories.

And so, as his taxi pulled into the long driveway, Gohan ignored the resemblance and took some comfort in the design of the roof instead . That at least had nothing to do with the bland arch that had covered Frieza's ship. This roof looked more like eaves or wings of masterfully-folded origami. It was a rather uplifting look, tilted at the sides in splendor, creating broad over-hangings over the curvy walls. Suddenly, it was the vision of a soaring kite that filled him, replacing all old memories of spider-like spacecrafts.

As the taxi came to a stop, what seemed like thousands of candles glimmered in the darkness. Each little bright spark bringing life to the multitude of bonsai trees and ornate gardens surrounding the premises. A twenty to the driver, a deep breath, and Gohan stepped out onto the cobbled stones.

He felt… ridiculous, looking as he did. But there was no turning back. He was here and in costume, and if it pleased his girlfriend, he'd happily prance around in Phoenix's garb for the rest of his life. Besides, he wasn't the only one. Ahead of him, men and women climbed up the candle-lit staircase in regal jackets, gowns, crowns and jewels representative of historic kingdoms. Some were in military gear adorned by swords, or other such weapons of times long past. And others still with strange hats, wigs, masks, and even halos. So, there was really no reason to feel out of place. All the guests pouring in were faithfully attired to the theme.

Smoothing his hands down his pants, he squared his shoulders, flaming wings shifting with the motion, and followed the masses up the stairs.

The elaborate staircase spilled into a large foyer of gleaming marbled floors. They were so thoroughly polished that he found himself staring at his reflection next to his boots. And at the center, the main feature of the foyer was a rather picturesque fountain. It was a basin of white resin with three chubby little cupids rendered atop its gold-plated rim. The little winged cherubs sat with their love-bows strung and poised as if to strike at the ensuing guests.

Too late for me, he smiled fondly as he approached the hostess at her station.

"Welcome," she offered, a warm smile and bouncy tendrils of blackberry hair springing around her face. "Phoenix?" Red painted lips quirked, dark eyes raking him over. There was a sprinkle of something he couldn't quite read in her amused expression.

"Um, yeah." He fussed with the golden sash of his costume. "Phoenix."

"Stunning," she offered appreciatively, and then turned back to the monitor. "Staff or guest?"

"Um, staff. Son Gohan?" he supplied, a bit unsure. With all the recent excitement in his life, he'd clean forgot to email Marcy from Public Relations. What if they were not expecting him? While he chewed on the possibilities, her fingers flew over the screen device in front of her.

"Ah, here we are. Son Gohan," she tilted her head and seemed to squint, "and Guest?"

"Uh, right. I was meant to email the name of my date in, but uh, forgot."

"That's fine," she glanced back at the screen. "Unless," her eyes seemed to travel beyond him, searching. "She's not here yet?"

"Uh, no." He knew it was a bad idea to come ahead without her. The girl was just so stubborn. "She'll be a little late," he informed the hostess, hoping it wasn't going to be a problem.

"Ah, in that case..." she returned to the keypad. "I'll need to enter a name so she can get in without incident."

"Um, right. It's Videl," he said, squirming. If she made him say the last name, he just knew he'd blush. She'd probably think he was making a lame joke. Then things would get awkward when he insisted that he wasn't and then… ugh, he could just see her sticking him with one of those disapproving Lime-glares. She would never believe him. He still didn't believe it.

"Veh dhel," she merely sounded out the syllables as she typed. "Done." She turned to him again, and Gohan found himself a little relieved. "Alright, Mr. Son. You and your guest are seated on table twelve."

"Twelve. Okay." He nodded, wondering if he should ask if the tables had numbers on them. But he figured they would, so he refrained.

"Our escort," she said, beckoning at one of the men in black bowties, "will take you up to the ballroom. Enjoy your evening." She flashed him a radiant smile.

With a polite one of his own, he thanked her then followed behind the impeccably dressed escort, though his guide didn't lead him far; just into the elevator and onto the first floor. They turned a corner and the ballroom was just there, wide-panel doors open in welcome.

It was a large circular room sitting beneath a wrought-iron and glass domed ceiling. In circumference, gleaming stone pillars stretched up to the high ceiling where glass cut chandeliers hung, spilling light like a drizzling rain in dazzling hues. And large, richly colored drapes swayed along the walls to the soft, melodic sounds of the string quartet on stage. Someone had clearly gone to a lot of trouble to set the mood. It was exquisite.

"The ballroom, Sir." His escort bowed, sweeping out his hand in practiced elegance.

"Thank you." He bowed in turn, and then he was staring at the back of him as man in bowtie disappeared. So he turned his focus to the room, taking in the décor and mingling crowd.

No one was seated yet. The tables, though elaborately dressed with crisp-white linens and ornate centrepieces, remained empty. The costumed guests seemed content where they stood, engaged in lively conversations. The hubbub of their voices filled the room with a warm, relaxed ambience. It was interesting to note, though, that Marcy from Public Relations had lied; there were no tables set for two as she'd led him to believe. All the tables were large ovals set with placings for ten.

Not that he was complaining: the lie had made him desperate. The humiliating vision of being the only one sitting by his lonesome at a couple's ball had forced him to take up Lime's suggestion and hit the on-line dating scene. Where he'd found his Kata. So all that ends well…

Shy person that he was, his foot was busy hesitating at the threshold when - "Son!" The familiar clump of a beefy hand clasped him on the shoulder. Turning, he nearly choked at his boss's attire. White labcoat, thick-rimmed glasses, a bowl-cut wig in light-gray tones that matched the bushy mustache that covered his lips… If it wasn't for the fake black kitten on his shoulder, he'd make his brain discard the costume as that of a run-of-the-mill scientist, not any specific one. But no… this one was very, very specific. Oh, boy…

"S-Sir," he tried for a smile.

The man held an empty flute in his hand, and the rosiness of his coloring suggested that it hadn't been his first drink. "A fairy, eh?" he quirked, bemused.

A fairy? Heat swarmed his cheeks. Was that what he looked like? "Oh, umm… It's meant to be a superhero from a comic."

"Is it? Well, I never married so," he shrugged. "No kids to school me on these things." A bellowed laugh, and then he added: "I'll be disappointed, though, if you couldn't guess at my costume, ey?" He collected himself, gathering the thin lapel of his coat and began to twist the strands of his almost-white mustache between his fingers. It was so familiar it hurt.

Gohan smiled good naturedly. "Dr. Briefs?"

His boss bellowed heartily once more, voice coming straight from the lungs. "That's why I like you, Son!" He clumped him again. "That's exactly right. The King of scientists himself. What a guy, ey? You know he's an engineering fellow like us! Been my idol since I was this high, I tell you." An open hand at about hip-height exemplified just how small he'd been. "Man... I mean, what's there not to admire? Genius and great taste." He grinned then, not so white teeth flashing beneath the bush of mustache. And with a lowered voice he leaned into him and whispered conspiratorially, "You've seen his wife, no?" He elbowed him in the ribs as he chuckled. All the more when Gohan flushed and rubbed at the back of his head.

He couldn't exactly think of Mrs. Briefs like that. She was like an aunt to him. But then again, he could hardly say that to his boss. Moreover the man was still talking. "...was only reasonable that I get myself a knockout of a girl to go with my genius, ey?" His boss' fleshy arm hooked around his bare one. "Come, she's right over there." And then he was guiding him through the ballroom under the scrutiny of dozens of eyes as the crowd parted for them.

His boss led them all the way across the room and to the side of the stage. It was the bar area where tall flutes of fizzing champagne were laid out on shiny silver trays. Three bar men in red heart-shaped bowties worked behind the counter, an eyeful of skill as they chopped colorful fruit, screwed openers, tossed bottles, and poured mixing and shaking concoctions with fluid accuracy. And coming to claim their creations were waiters and waitresses, elegantly clad in black and red uniforms, dumping empty trays and picking up new ones, as they bustled to and fro the crowd.

"Bunny!" His boss beamed as they approached two ladies engaged in an animated discussion, his voice booming loudly over the melodic sounds serenading the room. One of them – the one leaning against the bar - was definitely meant to be Mrs. Briefs. Her simple deep-blue dress was actually pretty much the kind of garment he'd normally see Bulma's mom wear, coming up at just under the knee and with a wide neckline that exposed her shoulders. The other one… Gohan was no expert, but the pink, puffy tutu and gold curvy slippers suggested at some famous dancer. He couldn't say which one though, since he wasn't particularly familiar with the art.

"Bunny," his boss touched the blonde lightly on the arm, directing both women's attention towards them. "Let me introduce you ladies to Blue Inc.'s newest star." He nudged him forward. "This is Gohan, the genius behind the Golden bridge fiasco."

"Oh my!" the blonde lady fanned herself, "and so handsome too!" Gohan flushed. Really, did she have to be so much like Mrs. Briefs? Even the tone of her voice had the touch. Light and airy, it was just like Bulma's mom's. "My mad scientist here," she went on to say, patting affectionately at the lapels of his boss's lab coat, "says business is about to boom because of you."

"Uh..." Really, his boss ought to stop carrying on about him like this. It was Kirsty who'd rescued the case by organizing a source for new evidence after he'd botched it all up. And now that he knew about his girlfriend – though they hadn't exactly touched on the issue – he could very well guess that she'd pulled the strings that had danced the police and WIA into action. Alone, his efforts wouldn't have ended as neatly as all their efforts together had. "It was mostly teamwork, ma'am."

She giggled, shoulders hunching in amusement. "Oh, dear." She sipped from her glass then patted at the pile of golden curls of her puffy hairdo. "Genius, handsome, and polite to boot!"

Heat swarmed his cheeks as he glanced at the floor. In his go-to gesture of comfort, sweaty hands traveled to his hips only to be reminded that he had no pockets to stuff them in; he'd had to carry his phone in the strip of fabric half-covering his abs and everything. Dammit, Piccolo… Some creative additions to his outfit would've been greatly appreciated.

"Really, Pistachio." Her friend - the one in the tutu, the one who'd just been staring, bemused - decided to finally join in. "Can't you see you're embarrassing him?"

"Nonsense!" his boss boomed in. "This here's a real Casanova." Clump. "Snuck out right under my chin there in Gold City." Clump. Clump. "And while I stewed outside, watching the hotel go up in flames, worried sick he'd been caught up mind you." A deep chuckle. "The fellow here was out on the town, hitting Gold City's Iguana Street. Ey, Son?"

"Oh my," Pistachio's shoulders shook again in a giggle. "And we all know what goes on in Iguana Street." Gohan squirmed under their scrutiny. Yes, even he knew what went on in Iguana Street. Even his mother knew; she'd even accused him too. Man… What a thing to have his boss think of him.

"You know..." the lady in the tutu half-whispered as she took his arm and pulled him to the side while the couple chuckled. "Pistachio tells me you haven't signed Blue Inc.'s offer yet." He only blinked at her. Huh?

"Red Inc. could really use young talent like yours," she went on to say, surprising him even more by pulling out a business card from somewhere in her tutu. He stared at the card, at the words printed competently in gold. Eyes wide, he stared back at her now. This woman was... "Call me." She brushed his arm, and then took a step back. "Oh my," she trilled suddenly, loudly. "I better hurry on and look for my leading man. Toodles!" She blew kisses to all of them and then she was gone.

Gohan could only trail his gaze after her, shocked. It's true that he hadn't accepted the offer just yet, but… whoa!

Clump. "Seems our bridge case prosecutor just arrived," said his boss, directing his gaze towards the wide paneled doors. And sure enough, there was the case prosecutor, dressed in an unfamiliar costume and whispering something to the woman on his arm.

Clump. "Gotta go and butter him up some. Wish me luck, Son." And then they too were gone.

Sometime during his stupor, the rear doors of the room were flung open and brought his attention back to reality. There, Gohan saw that several groups of people were standing about on the terrace. It seemed like a good idea to take advantage of the balmy evening air. Or the fumes of nicotine, depending on your preference. Luckily he didn't have to stand at the fringes of the crowd feeling awkward for long. For there, on the terrace, in a cozy group of four, he was able to make out the outlines of two of his fellow Blue Inc. interns.

They were impossible to miss. Raku's generous height in that Mr. Satan costume was a dead giveaway. His wig towered over the entire group like a black mushroom, though Gohan had to admit that it looked well made with its mound of tightly coiled curls. Raku was also sporting pasted sideburns and the characteristic pitchfork mustache drooping down his chin, as well as the Champ's usual brown and white ensemble, complete with collared cape and championship belt. As for Anre… Gohan had no idea what that costume was supposed to represent.

He could only presume that two girls conversing with his friends were their respective plus-one's. One girl – pink tube dress and bouncy ginger curls looked a little like the girl in the photograph on Sig's desk. It's true that that girl in the photo had whip straight blonde hair and a far smaller, uh… chest area, but the face and the features were the same. The other girl in the group – blue figure-hugging dress, blue dangling sapphire earrings, and blue silky long hair – was completely unfamiliar.

Watching them, Gohan smiled. Anre was doubled over, laughing. The girl standing next to him – Ms. All-in-Blue - widened her eyes, then promptly smacked the back of his head in a huff. Shoulders quaking, Raku and the ginger-headed girl next to him were clearly sharing in the amusement. And though he longed for Videl's prompt arrival, he was relieved at the sight of all the familiar faces.

"Holy shit, Gohan!" Anre caught sight of him first. The hyper intern was dressed in overly-baggy, overly-colorful street clothes and an assortment of over-sized golden accessories. Every single item on him seemed way too big, but that was presumably intentional.

"Hey, guys." He halted just a step from their circle. They took two steps and rounded him, staring.

"What the...?" Raku looked stumped, pitchfork mustache drooping low on the chin with his agape mouth. "Shit man! Where'd you buy this thing? Shit's smokin' for real."

"Uh," Gohan lifted his arm and rubbed the back of his head, wings curving slightly in tune. He had no idea what to say. Where did people go to buy such costumes? This was a first for him. He settled for, "I kinda had it made." Which was the truth.

"Holy shit!" the girl in blue exclaimed, blue powdered eyes opening wide. "Custom made? Such a great job. Is it me or is he really glowing?" Her voice oozed breathless excitement. At least to his ears it did.

"I think he's glowing," the other one agreed - the ginger head - and began to circle him, making him feel just the tiniest little bit like one of Bulma's laboratory specimens. "Yeah, he's glowing," she concluded with a fervent nod of her head, ginger curls bouncing along the curve of her neck.

"It's supposed to," he added, uncertain. He'd wanted the full effect for Videl's sake, so he'd gone all out with the Super-Saiyan aura, but… in retrospect, last thing he wanted was to outshine her in her Sleek costume... Was it too much then?

"I have to say," the ginger added, "this is the best damn Phoenix impersonation I've ever seen." Her words made him feel light. Hopefully Videl would feel the same way.

"No doubt. It's pretty awesome," Anre agreed speedily, "but check this out, Gohan." He then grabbed the zenni-shaped golden pendant dangling down his neck. "So, So... what do you say about my big medallion?" He held it out to him eagerly. "Looks authentic, right?"

"Eh..." Gohan started. He honestly had no idea what it was supposed to be, so he had no idea whether it looked authentic or not. "Uh..." He scratched his scalp, wings lifting with the tilt of his shoulder. "Um, it's uh... shiny?"

"Damn straight it's shiny!" Anre seemed to be pleased with the response. "I'm Pimpin' for real, my man. Pimp Master in the house!" Pimp Master? Was that supposed to be a person?

"Check this out too," his hyper friend pinched at each of the fleshy openings of his mouth, opening and stretching each lip to reveal… O-kay... A row of shiny gold teeth? He honestly hadn't noticed, and he had no idea who this gold-toothed Pimp Master was.

"See?" Anre prompted. "I got the gold teeth and everything!" he beamed, then struck a pose involving the folding of his arms across his chest. And then he doubled over. "Ow! Cash! Jeez!"

Gohan blinked. For reasons unknown, an elbow from the all-in-blue girl jabbed him in the ribs.

"Don't Cash me after being so rude!" said girl huffed. "What are we, invisible? Introduce us!" She pointed to herself and the ginger head.

"I was getting there, jeez." He rubbed the affronted spot over the droopy folds of his baggy t-shirt. "Don't see Raku being reprimanded," he muttered, straightening up. "Gohan," he said, gesturing reluctantly at the girl, "this is my roommate, Cashew. I took pity on her and let her tag- Ow!" Another jab in the ribs.

"Pity my ass," she huffed. "Don't be forgetting who's doing whom a favor here." She fixed her date with a hard glare, face completely softening as she turned to him.

"Hello." He was fool enough to extend a hand. "It's nice to meet you, Cashew."

"Just Cash." She ignored his hand completely. "It's great meeting you," she said. And the next thing he knew her chest was pressing against his as she gave him three kisses on the cheeks. "I've heard a lot about you from my idiot roommate." Oh boy. He could only wonder at the things she'd heard.

A throat cleared. "And this," Raku began enthusiastically, "is my gorgeous girlfriend, Almond."

She too delivered her own version of the cheek for cheek greeting before he could gather himself and say something appropriate. "Cash is right," she beamed at him. "We've heard so much about you!"

"Nothing bad I hope," he smiled shyly and scratched at his elbow; something about her piercing gaze made him squirm.

"Only good things." A conspiratorial wink.

"And speaking of good things..." Anre snickered, rubbing his hands together. "Lime is where?"

"Oh here we go," Cash rolled her eyes, a perfectly manicured finger sweeping back blue locks from her face. Gohan swallowed. Very suddenly, a vision of Videl's small but strong hands came to mind. As did the vivid memory of the feel of those short, neatly clipped nails raking down his back, kneading into his skin. He blinked, clearing his throat. "Huh?" Anre had asked him something, and he had no idea what.

"Lime. She's coming right?" the guy insisted eagerly. "You know, since your girlfriend's injured and all?"

"Oh, um, no. She has a date tonight."

"What?" His face fell, and Cash cackled. Seemingly enjoying her roommate's misfortune. Gohan wouldn't even try to attempt to understand their relationship.

"Well fuck." Anre ran a hand through his hair, all hope banked. "I hope it goes badly. Man, what a bummer."

"So who's on the line-up then?" Raku asked. "Lime has a date." He pulled out his thumb in a count. "Your mystery girlfriend's injured." He pulled out his pointer. "You do have a back-up, right?"

"Nuh." As much as he'd try, Gohan couldn't curb a smile. "My girlfriend's coming after all."

"And the two of you didn't come together because...?"

Ah. Good question. "We'd planned on it," he started to explain. "But then we got sidetracked." He chose - very deliberately - not to share how they were sidetracked. "Then we got a message that there was some kind of emergency with her costume." He thought back to Erasa's second call. She'd been pretty peeved that Videl hadn't gotten back to her or her stylist. "So she rushed off to see her stylist and-"

"Her what?" Cash interrupted.

"Her... stylist?" he repeated lamely.

"She has a stylist?"

"Uh, I think so," he started to say but the disbelieving looks they gave him made him regret even bringing it up."Anyway, in the end she left for Satan city to get ready-"

"She left for Satan City?" It was Almond that interrupted this time.

"She lives there, and her costume-"

"Uh, Gohan," Almond again, "Are you sure?" she asked hesitantly, eyes brimming with concern. "I mean, it sounds pretty suspicious."

"Suspicious?"

"Yeah," Cash again. "Are you sure she's not just... you know... standing you up?"

"No," he told them confidently. "She'll be here." And it was such a good feeling, a great feeling to know...

"Um, sure honey." Cash gave him a pat on the arm. It was obvious she didn't share his confidence; obvious from the looks all around that no one else shared his confidence either.

Unconsciously, his eyes flittered to the open panel doors were new arrivals were filtering in – no Videl just yet.

But he did catch the eye of a waitress doing the rounds. As she sauntered forth, expertly balancing a full tray of drinks in one hand, Gohan side-stepped the couple and snatched a glass with a polite smile.

"Drink anyone?" he asked politely.

"If I may," Cash grabbed two, passing one to Almond. "Here love."

Anre and Raku helped themselves to a glass each before the waitress took her leave, and soon their little group had gathered into a circle, glasses raised high in preparation for a toast. Anre was just about to lead them into the toast when Almond – who was standing facing the entrance - widened her eyes with a loud gasp. "Baby look!" She tugged at Raku's white cape. "It's Videl!"

Gohan's breath caught, joy dancing freely in his veins as he too turned. Jubilant anticipation had never burnt so strong, and though he'd monopolized most of her day already, it just didn't feel like enough. He'd been missing her like crazy since they'd parted, and now finally, she was here. And the thought of seeing her again… it flooded his stomach with a swarm of dancing butterflies. That is until, he completed his turn and saw...

The stem of his glass snapped in half.

A burst of anger covered his mouth and coated his tongue. It forced its way down his throat and forced him to swallow. And the taste was sharp and ugly, pricking him like the broken glass in his hand. Cursing and blurring into movement, he caught the broken stem before it hit the floor.

"Holy shit, Sig!" Anre doubled over, laughing. The sight of the approaching duo had him in stitches. He hunched over, the giant medallion around his neck dangling almost to the floor. Raku, Almond, and Cash were pretty much the same way too.

Gohan ground his teeth. How they could find Sig and his girlfriend's costumes funny….

"Sig," he vaguely heard Raku's voice over the noise in his head. But he did see his cat-like grin when he said, "You sick bastard. Well done!"

Well… done? Gohan clenched his jaw. Looking at Sig's costume, he couldn't even think for the roaring in his ears and the tightness in his chest. Well done? Fists clenched, his eyes smoldered at the sight of Sig's garb: a bright orange jumpsuit embroidered with a Satan Penitentiary badge, both ankles and wrists held up in bondage by wide metal cuffs that were all connected together via heavy chain. In bad taste or not, Sig's prison garb was replicated down to the very last detail. It was impeccable.

As for the dog-collar around his neck? Attached to that leather strap being used as a leash by "Videl"? That was clearly for perverse purposes. When arresting the man Sig was pretending to be, Videl had most definitely not snapped a collar around his neck. The chain she'd used to drag him to justice had been bound to his hands damn it! And for good reasons too!

"Wow, Hazel!" Almond broke off from Raku's side to air-kiss Sig's date. She didn't notice the way he'd stiffened, nor the broken glass. And none of them noticed the glacier now chilling his stomach. She merely rushed off, bearing kisses. "Goodness," she appraised at the pig-tailed girl, beaming. "You make the sexiest Videl I've ever seen!"

Looking at the girl, Gohan had to thoroughly disagree with that assessment. If anything, the girl's cosplay of Videl was building a rather stale taste in his mouth.

Sure she had the hair down – dark-haired pigtails bound by gold bands - and the circular Orange Star High badge, as well as the word "FIGHT" printed across her chest. And sure she had what the press had called her "signature gloves", black and fingerless. Those details had been seen to rather nicely. Unfortunately though, that's where the similarities ended.

In place of the black lycra shorts he'd seen in Videl's crime-fighting pictures, Sig's date wore black hot-pants that rode so high, he wasn't sure if they were meant to be shorts or underwear. And where Videl had worn a long, baggy, white t-shirt over a pink undershirt, Hazel's was so tight and short it cropped over her ribs, leaving her tiny waist and navel completely bare. And, where Videl's boots had been yellow or green combat styled - practical for crime fighting and martial arts in general - the boots on this Hazel person were six inch stilettos of black leather. And they were hiking rather suggestively up her legs, ending in an open flair over the knee.

"I'll give you twenty bucks if you hand over the keys to all those cuffs, Hazel." Gohan managed to clear his head long enough to catch Cash's comment.

Fake Videl laughed. "Not a chance, Cash." She yanked at the leash, making Sig stumble forward with a grin. "I still have to take this bad boy to jail and break him in." She grinned.

"Ah, Ms. Satan, how I look forward to our alone time behind bars," Sig purred, the sound like a chair-scrape to his ears. Disgust began to whip at him like a voracious gale.

The perverse travesty of their act… The insinuation that Videl, his Videl would ... And with Blackfox of all people?

"I seriously ought to commit a crime," Anre's voice grabbed for his attention. "Anything to get the real Videl to collar me and drag me off to a dark location. Man, that would be something..."

"Keep dreaming, chump." Cash rolled her eyes. "If you really want Ms. Satan to collar your ass, you better run over to Satan City and commit a crime in her turf. That's what Blackfox-" she said but ended up interrupting herself. Her eyes widening. "Gohan what the…? You're bleeding!"

He uncurled his fingers, swallowing the rage threatening to spill from his mouth as he stared at his hand. "Guess the stem had a crack," he muttered, picking out the small shard embedded in his flesh.

"How awful!" Cash and Almond rounded him, concerned and examining his hand. And in that moment, all he wanted was to lash out and tell them that awful was the insinuation about Blackfox and Videl. That awful was making lewd remarks about a person's girlfriend. That awful was-

"Here, let me." Cash took the goblet and broken stem from his hands, momentarily stunting his thoughts into silence. And in the next second Almond, very gently began to dab the area with a piece of folded tissue. "It's just a scratch, luckily," she murmured, "You okay?"

"Fine."

Something tickled him on the arm. "Cheer up man," Anre said. "I'll get more drinks." He slapped him with a placating pat and sauntered off.

"I'm Hazel by the way." Fake Videl extended a gloved hand.

He took it and shook it with his left hand. "I'm Gohan. Nice to meet you," he tried for sincere.

"Heard about your home," she went on to say. "I hope you're hanging in there."

He was trying to formulate an appropriate response that didn't include all the unpleasant things he was holding himself back from saying. But a familiar voice, saved him from having to bother.

"Look at you, all cool and shit," said Mosa, strolling out towards the terrace. Blue-haired and with a cascade of black flowing robes, he made an impressive Hades, harnessing that bird-tipped scepter.

"Look at you, all dark and pernicious," was the best he could do with his less than cheery disposition. And while Raku stepped up to deliver his rather enthusiastic, "Ho, ho! All hail the regal god of Domos Haidou!" Gohan, in turn, extended his hand and offered Mosa's date a courteous, "Hello. I'm Gohan."

She barely touched him as she shook his hand with her own rather frigid, "Hello. I'm Pecan." And then she snatched her hand away no faster than if he'd burned her. Though elaborate flower arrangements sprouted from that long auburn hair, and though she made the perfect picture of sprightly spring in that long chiffon gown, her mood seemed as frosted as his. She didn't even crack a smile as she nodded in greeting at the other girls. And seemingly, neither did the girls.

Only Raku's cheer couldn't be banked. "Lady Persephone," he murmured in a bow. "Captivity seems to agree with you." He grabbed her hand and placed a gentlemanly kiss on her knuckles.

"Why, thank you, Mr. Satan." The frost didn't thaw for a second. "It was nice of my miserable husband to take me out of that dark and dismal underworld."

"You see what I have to contend with?" Mosa said dryly. "I should have abducted a bride more receptive to damp and moldy conditions. This one is all sunshine and spring, she has no love for my realm."

"A girl can only take so many flitters of bodiless ghosts per grey day, no?" she retorted, and Gohan desisted paying attention. His gaze found its way back to Fake Videl and her leash. Though he had his own anger to contend with, above that was his worry for Videl. She was so selfless in going over and beyond to help people and… this is how they repaid her. God. She did so much, so much! Surely affording her a little respect wouldn't-

A disturbingly loud hush befell his ears, forcing him to pull his head out of his mental litany. What was once a comfortable and lulling hubbub of voices across the ballroom had fallen into a rush of breathless gasps. Snapping to attention, he noticed the uniform direction of everyone's gaze: the wide paneled entrance to the ball.

And the sight choked off whatever breathe he'd had inflated in his lungs.

"Well fuck." Anre – arriving back from the bar with the promised drink – summed it up in his own way.

Someone else spoke to his side but he had no idea who, words softened and slurred by the shock of what they were all seeing. "W-Who... is that?"

A mirage, a hallucination, that's who. A cruel lie, mocking at them. No one person could be that perfect, no one woman that magnetic, that graceful in her walk. As ethereal as she looked, she was gliding instead, floating; not real, no way. Those curves were not of this world - they couldn't be - and neither was that glow that surrounded her, that liquid shimmer on her skin that inspired all the senses with every move and every step she'd give.

That beautiful creature was stealing the whole room, luring it into oblivion like a siren of ancient mythology. She might've just been a dream, an unreachable metaphysical construct of his mind, but he'd gladly go wherever she deemed worthy either way, whatever the cost. If she hadn't been here for him, hadn't she taken his heart already, he'd gladly rip it from his chest all over again just for a chance at her favour.

They said Phoenixes symbolized rebirth, second chances at live. Yeah, he totally felt the part now.

His Sleek had arrived.

...

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