Brought to you by Gue22 and ShadowMajin.
5 minutes earlier...
She stared at her hands, frowning. She'd been sure they'd stain just about everything she touched: doorknobs, rails, glasses, phones, zeni bills... anything really. So it was rather shocking that they didn't; that all of her didn't stain. That she'd been able to sit comfortably in the limo— all the way from Satan City to Blue City— without leaving so much as a smudge or stain of body paint on the posh leather seats? Extraordinary. Miraculous, really.
But of course the real miracle was her. She looked every bit like something taken from a dull inanimate state, skinny dipped in a thick coat of mercury and then brought to shimmering, glittering life. She was grey-white alloy. A living, breathing, molten silver doll, all polished to an exquisite animated shine.
"Right this way Miss," the escort in the bow-tie said.
Right. She couldn't exactly hang out in the reception forever.
She took one step forward— barely noticing her limp. Really, she'd been so skeptical when Marcell and the crew had presented her with these boots. The long racy stirrups were so not her style. The elaborately decorated clasps looked more like exotic accessories than anything orthopedic. And the very thought of strutting around adorned by 6 a piece per leg had seemed rather... over the top. And then there'd been the platforms! What imbecile designed boots meant for a fractured leg with a fashionable platform in tow?
Well. Apparently the imbeciles on the staff of Phoenix. They'd sworn on their jobs that these so called Air-Stirrup-Braces would not only compress, support and protect her fractured bone, but that they'd also do it faithfully within the cushy upholstery of the air-rated platform. These are all the rage in modern pneumatics, they'd claimed. Then they'd sputtered some mambo about duplex air cells, graduated pneumatic compressions and more bla bla bloody bla.
Still... thank goodness she'd given in. The damn boots even pulsated when she walked. Her first try had nearly had her squealing like Erasa. They were all that was advertized and more.
Now, if only their cowardly new owner would just... well ... grow a pair and walk. She was pretty sure the boots were up to doing their part: stabilising, comforting and securing her fracture. Not to mention the little added bonus of looking rather good while they were at it.
She gave her reflection in the gleaming marble a once-over: glittery, fairy kissed cheekbones, long silver tinted hair and then there was the rest of her: pure liquid alloy over bare flesh.
God. Had she completely lost her mind along with her virginity this morning? What would her father say if he saw his only daughter attending a ball in the nude? Because to be honest, Sleek's scant bikini-like contraption did not count as clothing. More like a band-aid for the bare essentials.
Well, scrambled brains or not, she'd agreed to and participated in Marcelle's madness. And now she was here. The receptionist had given her the go-ahead. And three little cupids perched atop a fountain looked just about ready to spear her heart out should she dawdle any longer.
Like it or not, it was time to move.
She expelled a long breath, her stomach in twisted sailor knots. Bloody hell, why was she so nervous? Why was she still hesitating? It wasn't as if bailing was an option. She was just being damn foolish, that's what.
She had nothing to worry about. Should things go awry, should any of the guests take her state of undress as an invitation to cop a feel ... well ... she had Sleek's trusted whip clasped to her waist and coiling down her thigh like a dangerous snake. One false move and the cad would taste the bite of its venom.
"Miss?" her designated escort prompted. Oh. Right. She was meant to be following him. "This way if you please, Miss."
I please. I please. She followed after him. She'd kept him waiting long enough.
Wait. Was it her or had his gaze lingered a little longer than it should have when he'd turned? Was she as good as naked after all? Oh how she wished for the millionth time that she'd just bought a bodysuit off the damn internet! Stupid! Stupid Marcelle!
Quietly, Mr. Escort led her into the elevator. Honestly, was she walking or gliding? These boots were fantastic.
They stopped on the first floor.
Hmm. So maybe she was being just a tiny bit paranoid. Mr. Escort was not looking at her after all. He hadn't glanced her way once the whole ride up. Not that it was much of a ride. Just one floor. Still! The guy did nothing for a girl's vanity: he was as stoic as King Furry's guards.
They walked a short distance then turned a corner.
Wait. What if he wasn't looking because there really was nothing to look at? Was her costume bad? Did she really look like Sleek or just some painted freak? Would Gohan hate it? Or worse, be as indifferent as Mr. Award Winning Escort here. Oh God. What if—
"The ballroom," Mr. Escort announced with great poise as he bowed low, sweeping an elegant arm in invitation.
His eyes did not linger. Damn.
"Thank you," she murmured, slipping him a 20 though she felt rather put out.
He accepted it with a bow before he made his retreat. Then he disappeared around the corner.
Which left just her, the widely open panel doors and the loud chatter coming from inside.
Okay Videl. Here goes nothing.
With forced casualness she stepped forth, noting the soaring ceilings, the chandeliers, the waltzing drapes and countless people reflected in the surfaces of the tall windows. It was not the grandest affair she'd ever attended, but it was definitely something to behold.
The guests had really gone all out. The diverse array of costumes was truly spectacular. She shouldn't have worked herself up so much; it was doubtful she'd stick out within the throws of this thrall. With any luck, given her flawless make-up, she might even get by unrecognized. And with no one clamoring to photograph her, it was possible that her father need never know about how little she was wearing.
Having reasoned her way to some semblance of optimism, she dispelled all lingering negativity and perked up.
Alrighty then! Her boyfriend was somewhere in here. That alone was reason enough to be excited and expectant. So ... where was he?
She stood by the entrance and swept through the crowd, eyes taking in the scatter of guests group by group. The room was truly packed. And the costumes — wow! With all those respective accessories: tails, eye patches, wigs, horns, masks — they all made it so much more difficult to identify faces.
But Phoenix wore no mask so ... that should not be a problem.
Alright. She would simply immerse herself and hunt him down.
Now ... if only she had some of Erasa's gall. She'd simply harass each patron in the room, demanding the whereabouts of her precious bird. Heh. How she wished—
"Excuse me," someone poked a finger at her shoulder.
"Um ... Yes?," she turned—
"My God!" she-who-had-poked her gasped, eyes wide.
The girl was what Erasa would have described as 'a winter's beauty' in her manuscript. Ice-blue eyes and snow-white skin, she would have written. All framed under the shade of silken hair the colour of December sunlight. Oh yes, that's just the kind of frilly garb her best friend would have written to describe this fair looking creature. Heh ... as if December sunlight was any different to January's or February's ...
"Good grief!" Miss wide-eyed took a step forward and smacked her palms against those winter kissed cheeks. Then she really parted her mouth. "It's—oh, my!" She was blinking rather rapidly now, galaxies upon galaxies of stars dancing in the pale of her eyes as something akin to hysteria broke from her.
"I can't believe what I'm seeing!" she exclaimed.
And just like that, Videl was forced to watch her optimism sail out the panel doors. So much for not being recognized.
"You're— " the girl was utterly breathless, her heaving chest said as much. "You're ... I mean ... your costume is ... you look— " she stuttered incoherently. "What kind of fabric— " she reached out as if to touch her but seemingly came to her senses at the last minute, retracting.
Those eyes though, so alight, so enthralled. "It looks so real!" She finally let it all out and squealed, clasping her hands together like a prayer. "Like I'd sink right into you if I touched you!"
"Forgive my girlfriend," said the guy in shepherd's clothing. "She's been obsessed with all things Phoenix since they made that live adaptation." His smile was sheepish. The smile of one accustomed to apologising on his girlfriend's behalf. "And your costume really, really looks like the real thing."
Videl was so relieved she could hug them both. These guys had not approached the Champ's daughter or Satan City's heroine. These were fellow fans! They were simply excited by the results of the 6 hour paint job. Hell, had she not been the one wearing it, she most probably would have squealed too!
"When we saw you from the back just now," the boyfriend added on a chuckle, clearly encouraged into chattiness by the smile she couldn't help but wear, "poor Mac here nearly had a heart attack. We both thought you were the real Low Down."
"But I'm so short!" Videl laughed good naturedly. Low Down was the actress that had played Sleek in the series and she was very tall. Though Mah Brook —the actor that had played Phoenix —had towered over her, it had not been by much.
"But you look so real!" Mac's eyes roamed over every inch of her, drinking her in like a glutton faced with her favorite food. Then— "Please, please tell me where I can get one of these!"
"Mac," her boyfriend pulled her back as if he expected her to tackle Videl to the floor and forcibly remove the Sleek-do right off of her body.
But Videl didn't care, she couldn't help but be infected by the girl's obvious delight.
She laughed. "Well," she stretched out her arms, twisting and twirling them towards the breathless Mac so she could get a proper look. "It's mostly make-up, so— "
"Touch it," she took the initiative and grabbed the girl's hand, placing it on her forearm. "See ... just make-up." She found herself beaming at the incredulity on the girl's face as she stroked her arm, turning it this way and that, and—
"Oh my!" Mac giggled as she made contact with one of those jelly like prosthetic things glued on for extra effect. "Amazing!"
Videl laughed too. "Thanks." She gave the girl a thorough once over as well. Flowing robes with stars, a weaving loom, a shawl representing the river in the sky. "What about you? Look at all the detail in your Kimono. Tanabata-Tsume right?"
The girl blushed. "Thanks. I've always been obsessed with the romance of the milky way. Don't you think it's so beautiful and tragic? I mean—"
"Whoa!" frantic hands waved, cutting in."Don't let her rope you into a discussion about it," warned Tanabata's herdsman. "Trust me. You'll be here all night if you do."
The poor girl blushed rather sheepishly, but Videl noted that she did not attempt to deny the accusation.
"I'm Soko by the way," the boyfriend extended a hand to introduce himself.
Videl shook it heartily. It was always a pleasure to meet people who did not fawn over her. What more, these guys clearly had great taste if they were fellow Phoenix fans. She loved them already.
"And this hopeless romantic— " he went on to say, wrapping an arm around the girl's shoulders, "— is Macademia."
"Just Mac, please," Macademia insisted as she also shook her hand.
"I'm Videl," she said easily. "It's nice to meet you both." She smiled. "And don't worry Mac, I used to make my father tell me that story all the time as a kid too. Especially when—" she faltered; suddenly they were both staring. Staring in a way that had nothing to do with her costume.
"My Goodness!" Mac blanched, hand over heart.
As for Soko, the herdsman's jaw was too busy scraping the shiny marble to be of any use towards making a sound.
They turned towards each other in perfect sync, turned back in her direction and blurted—
"Videl Satan!" —simultaneously. As if they'd practiced it for years.
Videl couldn't have heard it any clearer than if they'd shouted it in her ears. Her name, falling upon the room like the loud dong of a temple bell.
The effect was immediate. The entire ballroom went as still as a tomb. The sudden hush of it reverberating across the crowd like lightning on a delivery mission.
Somewhere in the background there was a tinkle of breaking glass, then a collective gasp began to echo from every corner of the room.
Fuck. Shit. So much for getting away unrecognized...
She didn't need to turn and look in order to confirm the worst. She could feel the combined pressure of a room full of eyes. It bored down her spine like a fist of steel ramming against stone.
"It really is you!" Mac's eyes lit up even brighter than before. Even brighter than the stars embroidered on her kimono. "You're Satan City's Videl!" She squealed even louder than Erasa ever had and promptly grabbed both of Videl's hands tightly in her own.
Boy. Those pale, pale, doll like eyes were clearly worshiping her every feature like a shrine.
"Mac," once again her boyfriend gently pried her off of her. "Sorry," he added sheepishly after taking a quick look at the turn of the crowd. "We didn't mean to make such a racket."
Mac took one look into the gawking crowd and— "Oh." She expelled miserably, face drained of any semblance of color - which had been nonexistent to begin with. "T-They're ... they're all staring now," she stammered bleakly, ringing her hands in discomfort.
"It's okay you guys," Videl piped reassuringly at their crestfallen expressions. "It's not your fault," she added, hands on her hips. "Look at me— I'm not exactly dressed to fade into the background now, am I?" She treated them to her best crowd pleasing smile and wink.
Inside, she was busy summoning up her guard. It was time to face whatever frenzied onslaught the crowd may or may not unleash upon her. She could only hope that whomever approached would exercise a semblance of dignified restraint— given the formal environment and all.
"By the way," she addressed the duo by her side. "Did you guys happen to see anyone that could possibly pass for Phoenix?" All Gohan had said about his costume was that he had it covered. Humph! He'd better.
"Phoenix?" Mac brightened.
"Yeah. I'm meeting my boyfriend and he's supposed— "
"Oh yes!" Mac cut her off, literally bringing her hands together in a loud clap. "We saw a great Phoenix didn't we Soko?" She beamed at her boyfriend. And at those words Videl felt an absurd quickening of the pulse.
"We did. We did." Soko nodded vigorously.
"Actually we were admiring his costume!" Mac beamed.
He was here already. He was in costume. Best news ever.
"Oh! I'm so happy he's your boyfriend!" Mac beamed.
Me too. Me too, thought Videl. She couldn't have agreed with a person more. She wanted to squeal it out just as Mac had but—
"You guys are going to look great!" the pale girl exclaimed.
"I don't see him you guys," Videl scowled, her eyes sweeping through the gawking crowd. She was doing her best to search him out while trying to appear blaise and confident as the eyes of everyone in the room continued to punch holes into her, their whispers and gasps and silences making her want to cringe.
"He stepped out over there," Mac pointed beyond the crowd, Videl's eyes following her finger like it was the pied piper himself. "On the terrace, see him?"
Her heart tripped, missed a beat and nearly stopped.
A second ago, the room had been ringing with whispers of hushed conversations. Of suspended laughter. It had been full of shrill and loud disbelieving gasps. Now ... now it was full of him. Just him. Her boyfriend. He did not merely occupy that spot out on the terrace; he eclipsed it. Casting everything and everyone else into inconsequential obscurity.
Was that red flame his hair? He was illuminated by a light so bright it could shatter even the purest of diamonds. And how were his wings doing that? They looked so real she half expected him to defy gravity and fly.
God. He was her Phoenix fantasy, her Nimbz reality and Gohan obsession all woven together. Sunshine and sunset all tangled together in one brilliant mesh.
She swallowed, her chest rising and falling. What the hell was one supposed to do when their ultimate fantasy came to life? In a crowded room of all places? No wonder her heart was pounding like a caged bull ramming against captivity. How could it not when she knew, knew like she'd been born knowing how to breathe that there'd never, ever be another fantasy to surpass the one standing on that terrace.
Was it really just this morning that she'd been in his arms? Somehow it felt like a million years ago. She was all hot and alive and wishing the distance between them to hell. She wanted to be in-his-arms right now.
How she wished he'd turn. How she wished her bloody duplexed-air-celled boots or whatever the fuck they were called could fly, torpedo ... anything to propel her closer. But even more she wished—
"Do you see him?" It was Mac. She was nudging her in the ribs. "Ooh," the girl expelled rather breathlessly. "I think he sees you." She added rather unnecessarily for Videl had registered the second that he'd seen. Her heart had nearly expired at the look on his face.
She wanted to bulldoze the masses. Fell them away like clatter. But then again ... there he was: Gohan. Tall. Golden. Cutting the crowd in half. Coming her way.
Ah shit. He was beautiful, his body moving so right. She must not have looked at him very closely this past week because he wasn't just handsome, he was a bite-your-teeth and curl-your-toes kind of sexy. That, or she had turned into Erasa on ecstasy overnight.
Was it her wild imagination or did he look taller, leaner, skin tighter on his frame? And what about those eyes? The guy was anesthetizing her knees with the sharp stab of those green eyes damn it. And — oh god, all thoughts left her as he came to an abrupt halt before her.
"You're here," he said, breathing a little hard, his voice low and raspy like battle worn callouses threading through silk. And those eyes ... so vivid, they were staring down at her like she was the only thing he ever need see.
"I'm here," the two words but a whoosh of air expelled from her lungs. Of course she was here. He was here, so this was the only place in the world worth being.
He leaned in, his long lashes fanning his cheekbones. "You look— " he bit his lip, as if the thing he wanted to say was not so fit to be said in public. He leaned in further, sending prickles of anticipation down her spine. Then she was breathing but not breathing, because his hand cupped her cheek and his lips lowered to hers. Kissing her.
It was dizzying. He was dizzying and her heart beat as though she'd just felled a legion of crooks all by her lonesome. His lips were softer than anything and she wanted him to kiss her forever.
But all too quickly it was all over. His lips were gone, leaving her bereft as he pulled away.
A scotch of breath against her cheek, and he was skimming his lips across her ear. "Cruel, cruel Kata," his voice a rush of potent adrenalin coursing through her veins. "I don't know how I'm going to get through tonight with this thing you're wearing."
Says him! The epitome of all the fantasies she'd ever had.
His fingers ran lightly across her ribs, grazing along the thin straps of her bikini-like costume. And then there was just cold air where his lips and his breath had been. And she was right back to wishing for all things him.
She couldn't take her eyes off of him. Couldn't get enough of the smile on his face. Of his nearness. Every spec of space in her world was full of him.
He touched her shoulder, lightly grazing her skin, allowing his fingers to trail down her arm. He tucked his arm around her forearm, then covered her hand with his, interlocking their fingers. And his eyes said a thousand things at once; that he'd like to do so much more than just that chaste kiss.
Good thing too, because she felt exactly the same way. She wanted to launch herself at him, wrap her legs around him and kiss him senseless. But ... between her wobbly knees and the brace ... she doubted she could manage it. Even her breathing was faulty. It would not settle into an easy rhythm; it jerked uncontrollably in her throat.
"Come," he said, those piercing green eyes — why were his eyes green? — never leaving her face as he tugged gently at their joined hands. A little frisson of awareness danced up her arm. "We're this way."
"Well, um, bye!" she thought she heard someone chirp. It might have been Mac or maybe it was Soko.
"Bye!" she thought she remembered to say to them. They'd been nice and she'd liked them but her Phoenix was here holding her hand, leading her somewhere so she couldn't be sure that she'd remembered to be polite.
She could not stop staring. Would not. He seemed so electrically alive that the air around him seemed to hum, to crackle, to vibrate. There was a palpable—
"My god! It really is her!"
Voices. Murmurs. Hysteria.
She blinked, her eyes only just emerging from their Gohan drunkenness. And unfortunately, the room seeped slowly back into reality.
"By God she's got a great ass."
Noise buzzed around them, colors blurred, and snippets of conversations made their way to her ears.
"—and wearing a bikini. Hot damn!"
She glanced around, blinking. They were cutting a path in the middle of the ballroom, surrounded by people on all sides.
"—actress. Low Down."
The crowd was trying not to stare, but their faces said they really couldn't help it. They stared with incredulous, greedy and curious eyes. The whispers growing in frenzied staccato.
"—champ here too?"
Camera flashes burst around them like fireworks, but she scarcely paid them any mind.
" — be her boyfriend! Did you see that kiss?"
She kept walking, the warm hand interlaced with hers like an anchor even the wildest storm couldn't touch. She was exactly where she wanted to be.
"—upload it to my blog."
And no amount of clicking, of pointing, of gawking or downright ogling was going to ruin it.
"— so lucky!"
But all too soon their swathe across the room was at an end. Indeed, without her realizing, they were already at a stop. A rather uncomfortable sort of stop it would seem. At least that is, if the faces of the people they'd just joined were anything to go by.
The sound of wheels rolling down the hall echoed off the walls. The janitor's cart hadn't aged well, leaving the wheels to make that jerky, incessant noise. All the better the cover, mind you, but no less annoying.
So to make sure it didn't get the better of him, Roach was whistling. It was a nice, upbeat tune, and he was rather fond of it while he worked. All alone, he moved down the hallway. The guests were coming in through the front door, where security would be at its tightest. No one would be looking around the back halls. Not at this hour.
Reaching the end of the corridor, Roach turned the cart, mindful of his location. He'd be reaching the backstage soon. From there he would just have to wait for the party to reach full swing and he'd be in business.
"Hey! You there!" a voice called out.
Stiffening, Roach came to a stop, slowly and uneasily turning around. Towards the intersection he had just vacated stood a security guard, a large flashlight in hand and its beam targeting him. The guard was walking towards him, his footsteps echoing off the walls. "What are you doing back here?" the man demanded.
"Cleaning up," Roach answered, shrinking on himself and doing his best to look nervous. He didn't really have to try all that hard to get that effect.
"This late? The ball's going on," the security guard retorted.
"This is a big building," Roach couldn't help but say snarkily. "And you kicked out most of my staff before this big shindig of yours." Letting out a sigh, he then pleaded, "I only have these last couple of rooms to go. Just let me finish up and I'll be out of your hair."
The guard stared at him before shrugging his shoulder. "Fine, just don't get into trouble, alright?"
The man nodded his head thankfully. "Will do." Turning back around, he began pushing the cart forward again, angling to one of the doors. Coming to a stop again, he peeked over his shoulder at the security guard, finding him walking back the way he came and disappearing around the corner.
A scowl appeared on Roach's face. Now that was just annoying. Didn't that guy see he was busy? Pfft, hopefully he'd be in the ballroom too. Moving once more, he made his way through the halls until he reached a set of double doors. These led backstage, right where he wanted to go. Placing the janitor cart along the wall next to the doors, he quietly opened one of them and slipped through.
Music instantly became louder as he let the door close behind him. The chatter of the party's guests were muted in comparison, but Roach could just make them out. Curtains hung right in front of him, blocking his view of the room and the front of the stage. Looking from left to right and back, he soon found what he was looking for. There was a ladder on the back wall, which he walked over to and began climbing. It didn't take long for him to reach the top and step onto the catwalk above the stage.
Now Roach had a better view. He could clearly see the front of the stage now, empty at the moment aside from a podium with a microphone. Kneeling down, he could just see part of the room, where costumed idiots chatted away with each other. There was some movement off to the side, right where the dance floor was and a few tables were visible, but Roach didn't care about that at the moment.
Reaching into this pocket, he pulled out a small device, a key sticking out of its side. Turning the key, the device came to light, a small green light glowing from the top. There were a couple of buttons side by side. Pressing the left one, he then glanced at his wrist watch. It would take a couple minutes, but right now the water inside of the table legs were pouring out. He'd wait for the water to spread out as much as it could.
And when it did, he'd push the right button and it'd be "Goodnight, Lucy."
Here we go. Videl prepared herself as she took in the group before them. Oof — all those eyes.
Eyes that sprang out and stared at Gohan. Then stared at her. At their joined hands. Then down to her bad leg. Now at Gohan again, then her. And on it went like an eerie never ending loop.
There was some uncomfortable clearing of the throat— Gohan's to be exact. Turning up to look at him, Videl could just see the red creeping up on his cheeks even as he tightened his hold on their interlaced fingers. Gah. The guy was impossible. Bolder than a volcanic eruption one minute and as shy as an unfurling flower petal the next.
"Guys," he swallowed. "Allow me to introduce my girlfriend. This is Videl."
They all gaped for a moment; a moment filled with the most flabbergasted eyes she had ever seen. What did they think he'd introduce her as? His bodyguard?
"Wha—!" one of them spluttered. "G-G... G-Girl... ," he stammered. It was the the tall one. The one dressed just like her father. And she had to admit that his fro was rather spectacular. And so was his championship belt. "W-What do you mean this is Videl?" He choked.
And at the same time—
"Oh shit!" exclaimed the one in baggy clothes, goggling in pure horror. "Videl Satan!" he blurtred. "Why?" He looked like he was about to cry. And that was before the girl in blue standing next to him jammed an elbow into his ribs.
"Ow, Cash, jeez!" Mr. Baggy-pants turned to said girl and scowled.
"You are so embarrassing," the girl hissed at him, completely unsympathetic as Baggy-pants rubbed his assaulted side.
The girl stepped forth instead though, beaming rather brightly. "Hi! I'm Cash." She then grabbed Videl by the shoulder — her glass of wine cooling her ear, as she kissed her on each cheek. Pulling away, she beamed even brighter, unnaturally so, saying, "It's very nice to meet you Videl!"
"You too," Videl chirped rather brightly herself, somehow trying to match the exaggerated smile on Cash's face. She was never one to try too hard, but these were Gohan's friends. And the last thing she wanted was to appear as the unfriendly, cold or stuck-up girlfriend. It was enough that her father was a strike against her.
"And this idiot here— " Cash went ahead with the introductions by shoving Baggy-pants forward "— is Anre."
Videl chuckled, smiling at said idiot. "Nice to meet you Anre."
His face colored like a splash of blood on a clean floor. He didn't speak, didn't seem to have understood the words that had come from her mouth. Like some of the others, he seemed only capable of staring.
Cash proceeded to smack him on the head with her free hand, the contents of her glass swirling and almost spilling with the movement. "You're staring idiot!" She hissed.
"You didn't have to hit me Cash," he whined. "Jeez!"
"Someone had to!" Cash glowered.
Videl was accustomed to shocking people, but these guys ... these faces looked—
It was Hades that visibly regrouped first. After staring at her for several long seconds, he seemed to blink away the fog. "Never mind the comedic duo, Videl," he tsked at Cash and Anre as they continued to bicker. "They're always like that." His voice was surprisingly smooth and warm, flowing over her like a familiar tune. He made a rather striking Hades with his blue hair, his cascade of flowing robes and Videl's favorite— his two tongued scepter. "I'm Mosa," he slipped his drink into his left hand and extended his right towards her. "It's a pleasure to finally meet Gohan's mystery girlfriend," he grinned, winking in Gohan's direction.
Typically, her boyfriend blushed.
Videl smiled even more. She was ecstatic to know that Gohan had talked to his friends about her. Had talked about her and referred to her as his girlfriend way before she'd blurted it out herself. She was very much aware that she'd been the one to refer to herself as such first. It was good to know that he'd been thinking of her in that capacity all along.
Absurdly pleased, she shook Mosa's hand heartily. "Nice to meet you too Mosa."
"I'm sure everyone is dying to know how you two met. And it goes without saying that he had good reason to keep you a secret," he smiled good naturedly.
"Umn," Videl didn't quite know what to say to that, but luckily Mosa just kept on talking.
"This is my girlfriend," he circled the tall girl next to him with his arm. "Pecan."
"Hello Pecan," she said, extending a hand. "It's nice to meet you."
Pecan barely touched her fingers before retracting her long slim hand with a barely discernable, "Likewise," haughty nose turned up in the air. And then she twitched a small smile that wasn't really a smile. A painted smile, on a mask.
Okay. Not that she expected everyone to fall at her feet or anything but though the girl was lovely in an exotic flowery kind of way, it was clearly one cut out of marble because she was as cold as a nonliving thing.
The one called Cash on the other hand could not be mistaken for inanimate or cold. She was as alive as alive could be, demonstrating her vitality by elbowing the ginger-headed girl next to her — no prize for guessing which of her dad's floozies she was supposed to be. The hair and dress said it all.
The light elbow jab from Cash did the trick though. It stunned said ginger-head into rapid high pitched action. "I'm Almond!" she squeaked rather unnaturally, pupils dark and dilated like an addict on a high. "Nice to meet you!"
"It's nice to meet you too," she said. Her own voice pitched suspiciously higher than normal. Good grief! First Pecan's dead stare. Now Almond's exaggerated smile. It was stretched so far across her face, it looked positively painful.
The rest of the group were equally as bad. They stood erect and alert like soldiers about to be punished. Forced smiles etched up to their ears.
Well, all except Pecan and one other — the one in the orange overalls. Satan Penitentiary overalls to be exact. Some famous prisoner perhaps? Regardless, he looked as if his lungs were screaming for breath. A breath he had quite forgotten how to draw. His face was turning blue like a man just sentenced to life without parole. And she would know, she had been witness to many such faces in the courtroom. For one terrifying second Videl thought he might actually collapse! What was wrong with him?
Luckily for him, the girl standing next to him ... Eh? Scratch that. The girl that had him collared and leashed? Huh... Were they supposed to be some famous BDSM couple or something?
The girl literally yanked his chain, forcing him to expel a breath.
But ... wait a minute!
She did a quick double take at the duo again ... and ... burst out laughing.
Oh! This was priceless. This wasn't just some girl. The girl was meant to be her! Idiot! How could she have possibly missed it? It was written plainly in her pigtails, her 'FIGHT' t-shirt, those fingerless gloves — whoa! It really was her. But then, who the hell was the prisoner supposed to be? She may have dated one or two douchebags temporarily in the past but she was pretty sure none of them had ended up in a penitentiary. Let alone Satan City's.
Tilting her head, she scanned him from head to toe. Orange garb, that elaborate hair, all the chains ... Ew!
"Blackfox!" she blurted, and the collard prisoner, as well as the rest of the group all turned a sickly kind of green. It was rather disconcerting to watch, given the exaggerated smiles on their faces. The combination made a rather bizarre picture.
To be honest she felt a little sickly herself. Did people really think she had a thing with that slimy cow Blackfox? How disgusting!
Even worse though, beside her, Gohan was utterly rigid. She could just feel his tension, it coiled around him tighter than the whip curling down her hip. He was clearly not happy. And that just wouldn't do.
She gave their joined fingers a squeeze as she smiled at her doppelganger. It was up to her then, to put all this awkward tension behind bars. She had to hand it to the girl though — she made her younger crime fighting self look sexy in a slutty sort of way. Erasa would have given her stamp of approval.
"Sorry," the girl mumbled, head bowed low. "I hope you're not offended or anything."
Videl did her best to reign in her laughter. Offended? Not really. More like shocked that Blackfox had gained such notoriety. He was nothing but a useless cur. A clever one perhaps, but useless nonetheless. The poor girl looked positively mortified, her fingers flexing and clenching where they were wrapped around the leash.
"Mind?" she shook her head. "Not at all." She raked the girl from top to toe. "I'm too busy trying to figure out how to convince you to let me borrow those boots sometime."
The girl blushed. And Videl was glad to see something akin to relief bloom in her eyes. But more importantly, with that comment about the boots, Gohan's friends seemed to to collectively exhale.
It was with some effort that the girl looked back up into her eyes. "I'm Hazel," she introduced herself. "Sig's girlfriend." She gave her leash a little tug, probably as an attempt to yank some life into the poor collared sod. But this Sig character still looked like he had a bad case of indigestion. "Goes without saying," said Hazel, "that I'm a big fan." A small self-deprecating smile.
"I'm flattered. Really." Ah, this was awkward. "It's just— " she scowled and everyone tensed all over again. "—now I'll have to spend the whole evening trying to convince my boyfriend here— " she tightened her fingers along their joined hands and raised them in a swinging motion. "—that there's nothing at all to those Blackfox rumours," she turned sideways, grinning up at her boyfriend. "Right?"
"Wha—!" His reaction did not disappoint. His eyes widened, his expression of utter shock. "No! I would never believe such a ridiculous thing."
"Oh?" she turned fully towards him then. "You don't reckon he's my type?" she teased.
"Not at all," was his confident response. And with one step, he closed the tinsy bit of space between them, his eyes shining with mischief. "Not unless some mad prison scientist has developed a serum to grow him wings. Then I'd worry."
She gaped at him, laughing. "Well, I do have a soft spot for wings," she shrugged. "No point trying to deny it."
"Lucky me," he said softly, green eyes locked on her in an expression she wished she could decipher.
"No," she shook her head, "Lucky me," she cupped his cheek with her free hand at the same time that he lowered his face. She couldn't be sure because she was too busy staring at his eyes, but his wings somehow moved. She could imagine being wrapped around them — warm and soft — like a fluffy blanket. Something warm and tight curled inside her, from her diaphragm to the pit of her belly. Their foreheads touched ever so slightly, and all she wanted was to curl herself around him and—
"Oi!" Voices exploded around them. "You guys realize that we're still standing right here right?"
They sprang apart instantly, heat spreading to her cheeks.
Goodness, she had forgotten about them. She could not forget them now though — she could just feel the keen pitch of interest that had just superseded their initial shock, if not horror.
The one called Anre looked particularly stricken, like their display of affection had just bulldozed through his belief system. "So you guys are really ... I mean ... you're Videl Satan, and you actually like this kind of guy? I mean— " his face suddenly grimaced. "Ow!" he hopped on one foot, the giant medallion around his neck swaying from side to side. "Damn it Cash!"
"Just ignore him Videl," Cash said brightly, as if she hadn't just stomped her steeped heel on poor Anre's foot. "I always do."
Luckily for all of them, an impeccably attired waiter chose that awkward moment to arrive at their party with a tray full of offerings. And again, it was Hades who saved the day. "Refills, ladies?" He grabbed two flutes from the tray and began passing them around. Dutifully, everyone deposited their empty glasses onto the tray as they accepted new ones."
Videl gladly accepted hers, and didn't much care what was in it. If things didn't improve, she'd need fortification to get through the rest of the evening for sure.
The curve of her neck, the grace of her stride, the way her eyes hooded when she was contemplative like now... Yamcha bit his lip. He'd fallen for her faster than Goku could instant transmission between planets. And under the warm glow of the lights, the nest of battery operated snakes — twirling and hissing around the frame her face — looked exceptionally vicious.
He could see how at first glance, her face gave the impression of severe hostility — a staid, dull figure of humourless authority. He'd let that starchy front fool him for a nano second — before he'd seen right through it. Perhaps he had the advantage 'cause he'd first met her in an unguarded moment. Maybe. However it had come about, he'd seen through it.
Now he only saw the vitality behind those big eyes, as if she were steadily laughing at this silly world that had yet to figure out her secret.
The sight of her invoked an ache in him. An echo of some sort, memories of old hopes from more innocent days perhaps. Whatever it was, it had pumped him full of an impatient yearning to possess her, which was something utterly foreign to him.
He liked looking at her, even now as she stood ram straight before the receptionist, a vision in white, all wrapped up in that torga. He smiled at the mass of hissing, twirling snakes tumbling around her face. How like her to dress as a woman known for her ability to turn men into stone.
"— staff," she was saying, no smile in sight for the poor hostess. "Under Leigh, Kirsty Leigh." She stood spine straight, chin up, dignity drawn around her like a shield, wrapped around her tighter than the layers of stiff cotton that made up the layers of her costume.
The hostess smiled nevertheless, nodded, then moved her fingers over the keyboard. She paused, flashing a practiced smile: "Here we are— Dr. Leigh and Dr. Commons," she read from the screen.
Yamcha chuckled, Dr. Commons indeed. That loser was so gone. His first order of business after seeing Gohan that morning had been to convince Kirsty to ditch her plus one.
"You're seated at table 5," said the hostess. "Our escort will be down shortly to show you to the ballroom."
"Thank you," she said, aloof. Cold. Nose turning up like she really was some kind of goddess. He'd never met such a competent faker in his life! She had everyone convinced that she was this cold and haughty woman. It was the cutest thing in the world.
She turned, and the corners of her mouth immediately tightened. Ah, she was still mad at him. Oh boy. She walked stiffly towards the wall and feigned a steady interest in the blood-and-gold sunrise painted on the massive canvas.
"C'mon, don't be like that," he coaxed. Her shoulders were so stiff and tightly wound, she'd give the haughty Prince of all 5 Saiyans a run for his money.
"How else do you expect me to be? You went off and asked for his permission? Permission? Like I was some ... what? Possession of his?"
"I did not go there to ask for permission," he sighed. "I just wanted to know how he felt about you."
"It shouldn't have mattered how he felt!" she whirled. The look in her eyes ... If those snakes in her hair had been real he really would have turned to stone.
"What if he'd said he still had a crush on me, then what? Where would we be then?"
"I don't know," he said honestly. He hated that he'd upset her. But he'd already resolved not to lie to her. Not about anything. Only, the truth had earned him nothing but tight jaws and cold eyes. And things had been going so well between them.
He'd convinced her to kick her date to the curb for one. So good'ol Dr. I'm respectable 'cause I have a PHD was officially a thing of the past. Granted, the fellow was only an old research partner, but still ... he'd felt pretty damn good when she'd called the schmuck and cancelled.
All in all, they'd had a good day. A great day ... that is until the big confession. The confession of where he'd been that morning. The confession that had soured the rest of their day.
Now there was nothing but bleakness behind those chocolate brown eyes.
"Look..." He ran a hand through his hair. "You have to understand, Gohan is— "
"What I understand," she began in that leave-me-be voice, "is that you put me second."
He shook his head. "I did not put you second."
"Yes you did. You put his feelings before mine. How is that not putting me second?"
"I didn't even know your feelings." He'd hoped that she'd see just how special what they had was, hoped that reason and logic and common sense would not get in the way of the pulsing, living thing that was between them, but he hadn't known that she felt exactly as he did. Not for a certainty. Not till this morning. "How could I have put them second when I didn't even know what they were?"
"So you just go around proposing to just anyone?"
"I've never proposed in my life!" He flushed. "That is, before today." To think, that just earlier this morning, he'd been talking himself into playing it nice and slow. Baby steps. One date at a time. Heh. "Marry me," he blurted again. He had never felt more sure about anything in his life. "Tonight. After the ball."
She eyed him warily. Cautiously, the way you'd eye an injured tiger while attempting to help it. "You've known me for 3 days, only a certifiable idiot would think to marry a strange woman so quickly."
He grinned, "If I had a zeni for every time my ex called me an idiot, I'd be as rich as the Champ."
Her reaction was a slow, downward sweep of her lashes. But when she raised her eyes, they were blessedly alive. Alive and laughing. She folded her arms and turned her nose in the air. "I don't even know how old you are."
He slipped his arms around her waist and buried his chin in the crook of her neck. "I'm legal, I promise."
She laughed. "I don't doubt that. You said Gohan was five when you were in your twenties?" her voice was low, warm, and deeply sensual. "So that makes you— " she turned her neck up to his face, eyes twinkling. " — how old again?"
He laughed, pulling away from their embrace. "Did I say he was five?" he turned his finger on his chest. "Me and my big mouth."
"So, how old are you?" her eyes were soft. Big. Expressive. He loved her eyes. They were the kind of eyes that made a man think of ridiculous things. Strange things like forever.
"Old enough to know that this," he circled the space between them, "is the real thing. Marry me."
"I can't marry a man whose proposal skills are so lacking. You didn't even go down on bended knee."
"You're kidding right?" He grabbed her shoulders and forcibly turned her in the direction of the water feature in the middle of the reception area. "Do you not see the little cupid cherubs pointing their love weaponry on us?" her lips twitched. "That beats bended knees any day."
She scoffed. "You don't understand me at all. I am a very proper young woman. And you don't even have a ring. I'd be remiss in my duties if I—"
"What you are is a very misinformed young woman," he said. Slipping a hand into his left pocket.
"Am I?" she raised her brow.
"You are," he said. "I excel at being proper. Were you not listening the other night? When I was a criminal I was a very proper thief," the corners of his mouth twitched at her expression.
Even more when his hand came out of his pocket clutching a small box.
Her eyes flew to his face.
"When I pursued Martial Arts, I fought in a very proper tournament." He went down on bended knee.
She gasped, backing away with a hand against her heart.
"Even more," he went on to say. "I've even been known to dabble in a little proper baseball," he snapped the box open. "Marry me."
"You—" she swallowed. "I don't know what to say," her eyes didn't leave his face. Never left his face.
"Say yes," he coaxed, grabbing her hand and sliding on the diamond. She didn't pull away. Didn't stop him. Just ... gaped at him like he'd really gone mad.
Well, he already knew he was mad so that was okay. He'd only known her for three days after all. Three very long, very excruciating days. Three days to sweat, to dread. To despair about falling for the same girl as his friend's son. Thank God for that cocky brat Videl Satan. If she hadn't snared Gohan in record time then ... he didn't even want to think about it.
"You're impossible," she murmured, her eyes glued to her finger. "When did you find the time to buy this thing?"
"Was that— " he cupped his ear. "The sound of you officially running out of excuses?" he grinned, hopping to his feet.
She gave him a look. "We don't even live in the same city," she huffed.
He laughed. "Okay, spoke too soon. I'm retired," he shrugged. "I can live anywhere."
"I'm just getting started and my carrier is everything," she said. Walking away. Leaving him behind. "I won't give it up," she turned when he caught up. "Ever."
"It'd be nice to have someone ambitious in the family," he followed her as she followed the escort leading them to the elevator. "It will give me the chance to brag about my brilliant, successful wife," he interlocked their fingers. "Marry me."
"You'd regret it," she stepped into the metal box, snakes twirling everywhere. "As soon as you realize I have no intention of having kids. Not even sure if I like them."
The escort's fingers faltered at the buttons, but he quickly recovered his composure and pressed on the desired button. Going back to pretending he wasn't listening to their conversation.
"Didn't I tell you? I hate kids. Snot nosed little whiners. Can't stand them."
"Right. I forgot. Which is why you were gushing over the picture of that little girl? What was her name again?"
"Yes. I can see that you really hate kids."
"I only tolerate her 'cause her ol'man is a friend. She doesn't count. Marry me."
"You'd be miserable in days. I'm actually quite a slob," she frowned. "I'm difficult and stubborn."
Wrapping his arms around her waist. "I love slobs," he murmured. "I especially like slobbering all over them."
She laughed. "No one likes a slob. Not even other slobs."
"Well," he humed. "I do. But only if they're difficult and stubborn. Otherwise I can't stand them." He could trace the path of her laughter up her ribs. It was rich and infectious and he wanted to keep it forever.
"You're impossible," she cupped his cheek and kissed the corner of his mouth.
What he was, was completely enamored with everything about her. From the severely cut suits she wore to work — her armour as prepared to battle the chauvinistic hierarchy — right down to the whiff of no nonsense soap that always clung to her skin.
He started. "Yes?" He swivelled her round, tipping up her chin to look directly into those brown eyes. "Yes?"
"Yes," she said it again, just as the elevator came to a stop.
Hoooly crap. She'd just said yes. It was like drinking strawberry slush too quickly. Her answer just out and out froze his brain.
"But only because we're here and I have to hurry," she added quickly. "It's almost time for the speeches and I'm never late."
The elevator doors slid open and their escort stepped out, motioning their arrival with a sweep of his hand.
It took a moment to compose himself because she was the sensible sort and he never expected to wear her down this quickly. Whoa! But there was no time to stop and marvel at his surprise. "Did I happen to mention how much punctuality turns me on—"
Their escort coughed, and Yamcha grinned as he grabbed her hand and led her inside.
By now, they'd moved their party of ten away from the terrace, back inside the glittery festivities of the ballroom. The formalities were about to start, and like good little interns they stood aptly amongst the hum, waiting. Guests and waiters shifted past them, around them. Movement was everywhere. The ballroom packed and alive with the hum of excitement.
Behind them, someone laughed loudly, startling him. He tightened his arm around the curve of her waist — just in case. Perhaps he was being too clingy but ... as it turns out, he had completely underestimated the frenzy she'd cause.
Her arrival had stirred a commotion; it coarsed through the ballroom like the ripple effects of a large rock landing in a small pond.
So far, people kept their distance. But ... all he had to do was turn his gaze in any direction and there they were — covetous male eyes, staring. Envious and awe-struck faces, gawking. People stood on tiptoes and craned their necks to see her. Those furthest from her subtly shoved others aside for a better look. And the flash and click of cameras continued to come fast and loud like keyboard strokes in a busy office.
And then there was all the talk. How he wished he could shut off his Saiyan hearing. Then he wouldn't have to overhear the many murmurings about her ass. About her silky soft skin. About the swell of her breasts or the sleek curve of her waist. Or the more fanciful descriptions of how her hair dangled enticingly against the nape of her neck.
He groaned. The last thing he needed was a word by word account from the loose tongues at the ball of how good she looked. He had eyes. And he was trying very, very hard to control them.
The worst of it was the speculation: Who was he? What was the nature of their relationship? Was that elaborate kiss some kind of publicity stunt? Gah! It was a mere peck to say hello! There had been absolutely nothing elaborate or unseemly about it. What did elaborate even mean? He hadn't even thought it out. It had just happened. But to overhear it being whispered about? Well, apparently he'd practically mauled her like a wild animal for all the crowd to see. Which was untrue and utterly unfair. He'd barely touched her.
"Let's take a closer look at those wings!" someone oohed rather loudly behind them.
Suddenly his his spine prickled with an edgy energy.
A shuffle of feet, something that sounded like a crash ... He swiftly sidestepped, digging the pads of his fingers into Videl's skin, swerving her out of the way. Not a second too soon, either. The momentum of the body carried. The collision hit Anre — who was standing opposite Videl — full on; arms grabbing onto his clothes, body pining into him. It was a small wonder they didn't topple over.
"That was close," Videl said, scowling as she righted herself. "Impressive reflexes," she grinned up at him with a nudge in his ribs.
Gohan grunted, not at all pleased. In front of him Anre and his accoster were still staggering. A messy tangle of limbs and liquid since Anre's drink had splashed over both their clothes. Just thinking that all that grabbing and mauling and pining had been meant for Videl ... Gohan wanted to grab the guy and punch him in the nose.
"Aww, Jeez! Come'on!" Anre grumbled, finally having shoved off the guy successfully.
"Oops! Sorry," said the offender in all his pirate garb, while Cash and Almond pulled out tissues from their purses and attempted to pat Anre dry.
"We're so sorry," the pirate's wrecking ball of a companion — a Knight in shining armour no less — offered a lame apologetic smile of his own. He had done the 'accidental' shoving while the pirate had happily complied with the falling. Pricks.
"We were just coming to take a look at your friend's wings," said the Knight. "But we got pushed by the crowd," he said. As contrite as can be.
Yeah right, thought Gohan. How pleased they must be with themselves. They may have been momentarily thwarted by his quick action, falling on Anre instead of Videl, but now they were firmly ensconced in their circle. They'd probably gun for introductions next, just to hang around. And there was nothing he could do about it, short of telling them to piss off right off the bat. Which would be rude and unbecoming in any situation, let alone this one.
What he wouldn't give to be Vegeta right now. Then he could toss Videl over his shoulder and abscond with her. That or punch these two out of existence. Consequences be damned.
"Don't pout," Cash was saying. "It's only white wine. It won't really stain."
"Careful with my medalion," said Anre. "It's from—"
He didn't hear the rest of Anre's sentence, Videl squeezed his hand just then. Probably trying to distract him from all the tension coursing through his spine. Was this what it was like for her? Being on constant alert for potential troublemakers all the time? One day in and he felt exhausted just thinking about it. Especially given how useless he felt.
As it was, the duo were already moving along successfully with their infiltration ploy.
"I'm Riff by the way," the pirate happily took advantage of his location — right in the middle of them all — and introduced himself with a self congratulatory gleam. Ugh. He really disliked this guy.
"This is my friend Raff," he carried on unabashed, giving the Knight beside him a fond pack on the back.
He too beamed with satisfaction. "Hello."
A corny salute.
"We're both with Black Inc.," The pirate went on enthusiastically, if not expectantly. When no one volunteered a greeting or acknowledgement, he just carried on. "Analysts," he added, like anybody cared about their job description. "You guys with Blue or Red?"
Clever, Gohan acknowledged grudgingly. Firing a direct question would probably grant them some acknowledgement lest there be talk later of how rude some of the interns had been. And sure enough: "Blue," Sig grunted. "We're Blue Inc."
"Way to go with that whole bridge thing by the way," Mr. Knight in shining armor finally found his voice, accompanied by flashing white teeth. "WIA agents and everything. Man," he raked his hand through his hair, "that was cool to watch."
Great. They'd planted themselves in Videl's circle nice and firmly now. Just great. "So, Riff and I—"
"Have you ever seen toddlers skate on ice Mr. Raff?" The question came out of nowhere. Gohan blinked. Then he glanced up to confirm — yes. It was Pecan who had spoken.
"Pardon?" Raff blinked, staring up at her with barely concealed confusion. Gohan was rather afraid he had the same expression. Where the hell had that come from?
"Toddlers. On ice. Skating." She repeated the question. Only this time, she did it slowly. The way one would repeat a complicated concept to ... well ... a toddler. "Have you ever seen them?"
"Uh," Raff stood up straight, trying to compose himself. She'd thrown him as surely as if she'd picked him up and tossed him out the terrace. "I can't say that I—"
"Because," she said, unsmiling. "Even they could have avoided that so called collision that wet my friends' clothes."
Gohan blinked. Someone else coughed, and he didn't fail to notice that Mosa had his hand capping his hairline like he was preparing to brace himself.
As for the duo, "Um," Riff seemed to have lost his ability to speak. "Excuse me, what?" Raff did a little better.
"I am referring to your movements of moments before. The choreography was poor in design, the execution clumsy and graceless. In simple terms, your ploy to deliberately maul Ms Satan was painfully obvious."
Gohan watched with satisfaction as their faces botched up with colour. Different emotions battling for dominance in the ensuing silence. Shock. Outrage. "It was an accident," Raff croaked unsteadily.
But apparently Pecan was just getting started.
"I wish to draw your attention," she continued, "to the new issue RT4 stainless steel hand and leg cuffs my associate over there has in his blatant possession," she directed a casual nod towards Sig.
They all swung their necks like puppets to look at him. Personally, Gohan thought Sig looked more like someone caught with his hand down his pants than an associate of any kind. But that didn't seem to deter Pecan's gall.
"We may have blended in with the rest of the guests," she swept her hand down her costume. "But we take our job of guarding Ms Satan very seriously."
Next to him, Videl choked.
Gohan could only think that Pecan had said it. She'd said in plain terms what she'd been alluding to all along. He was just having a tiny bit of troubling believing that his ears were not playing tricks on him.
But, looking at the duo — with the sudden absence of colour in their pasty faces — they'd heard it too. In blank shock.
It was clear their minds had stopped, their tongues too. They swallowed, their throats bobbing like they'd both been sentenced to walk the plank into shark infested waters. The perspiration misting their foreheads said it all: they believed her.
So too did the way Riff backed up a step, blood draining from his face.
Pecan didn't bat an eye. She touched the elaborate flower arrangement in her hair and pulled out the longest, thinnest hair pin he'd ever seen. It didn't look particularly threatening to him, but then again his dad would have something to say about that.
One glance at the duo's pallid faces suggested that he may just be the only one underestimating its potential threat. Huh.
"If we so much as think you're trying to get into Ms Satan's space again," Pecan took one elegant step forward, her mouth hard and unsmiling. "You'll be on the ground and in chains so fast we'll be hauling you both out of here in time to make the late night news."
"Wait a minute!" Riff blistered with panic, unable to tear his eyes away from the hairpin. His friend Raff put his hands up. "We were just—"
"Leaving." She drew herself up and gave them a scathing look. "You were just leaving."
The pirate looked like he wanted to argue, or plead or something. He opened his mouth to speak, but his friend grabbed his arm — "Come on, let's go." — and dragged him off.
They disappeared into the colours of the crowd.
"That takes care of that." Pecan tossed her head.
Mosa threw his head back and roared with laughter. His body quaking in bursts under his robe, scepter clutched firmly in hand. The sound echoed through the ballroom, bounced off the walls and jumped between the chandeliers. It was rich and apparently infectious because in no time at all, everyone — Videl included, had joined in. Except for Pecan herself, that is.
Gohan was pretty sure he was gaping like an idiot. His mouth felt rather largely open, his eyes more than sufficiently dilated. D-Did that just happen? Did Pecan just ...
"Pecan," Anre took a deep breath in between moments of laughter. He paused. Then smacked his forehead with his palm. "Man," he shook his head, his eyes incredulous. Not that Gohan blamed him. He still couldn't believe it himself. "You," Anre said again, staring. "You'll never change." And then he threw in the towel and gave in to the laughter he'd temporarily held off.
As for Pecan herself? Her face did not betray so much as a flicker or a twitch. She remained perfectly poised, sipping leisurely at her drink with the grace and composure of royalty. As if she hadn't just rudely dished out a cold kick to the ass to Riff and his companion Raff. As if she had not just made up the biggest balony of lies he'd heard in a long, long time.
Beside him, laughter abated, Videl grinned. "Wow," she shook her head. "That was amazing."
"I hope you don't mind," Pecan said, catching Videl's eye.
"Not at all!" His girlfriend beamed, her face betraying just how much she must have enjoyed the taller girl's antics. "That was a lot more efficient than pulling out my whip." She tapped the head of the contraption where it lay clipped and twirled around her waist. "More civilized too."
All eyes naturally followed the tapping motion of her fingers. Which brought all eyes way too close to places he'd rather not have other people's eyes looking. Fortunately, Sig garnered their attention just as suddenly with his outburst: "What was that again?" He blinked. "New issue RT. Stainless. Steel?" He enunciated each word with deliberate emphasis as he held up his cuffs.
"RT4 I believe," Mosa murmured dryly.
"What the fuck is that?" He shook at his cuffs, rattling their short chain as if expecting them to cough out a secret tag with RT4 blazed across it.
Gohan chuckled. That, he didn't say, was the unfailing stink of bullshit. Not that he was an expert on cuffs by any means ... but anyone with a decent eye would have known there was no way those were steel. Analysts, ha!
"Improvisation," was all Pecan offered him, leaving him to mull out the rest himself.
Gohan couldn't help his smile. It had been one hell of a bluff on Pecan's part. Good thing the Black Inc. analysts were too cowed by her audacity to call it. He was glad to see the back of those guys. Accident his arse.
"My love," Mosa curved an arm around the tall girl's waist, snuggling her into him. "You promised to play nice tonight remember?"
"With your friends," said Pecan, utterly unrepentant. "Those two on the other hand," she waved dismissively in the general direction they'd taken, "were total strangers."
"Right you are," Mosa murmured fondly. "Where would I be without you by my side to clarify these little matters?"
"On the fringes of perpetual hopelessness," she burrowed into him, "where I found you," she added, eyes welling with a undeniable sun-kissed warmth. Huh. So she was capable of something other than cold indifference.
Gohan had never seen Mosa with quite that expression before. His face was warm with colour, his every angle softened. "Have I told you lately how much I—"
"Can you two flirt on your own time please?" Cash rolled her eyes. "Some of us are trying to overcome our gagging reflexes over here."
"And some of us," injected Hazel, handing her glass to Sig. "Need to find the little lady's room before the full extent of the formalities descend upon us. Excuse me." She turned.
"Hazel wait," said Videl. She disentangled their joined fingers. "I'll come with you," and made a step towards Hazel.
Ugh. He was loathe to let her go by herself. After Riff and Raff, he didn't trust that she'd make it all the way unmolested. He couldn't stomach the thought of more assholes trying to paw at her while she made her way through the crowd. "I'll come with you," he blurted.
"Don't be ridiculous," she scowled at him. Anre and Raku snickered, while Mosa just smiled as sly as can be. "I'll be fine."
"Nimbz," a warm hand on his chest. "I'll be fine," she assured him. "Pecan will look after me," her eyes twinkled as she turned to the tall girl. "Right?"
"Of course," she didn't miss a beat. "I'll be back." She gave Mosa a peck on cheek and joined the two Videl's.
"Guess I better go too," Cash downed the rest of her drink and sighed. Saddling Anre with her now empty glass. "Get me a refill while I'm gone will you?"
And then the girls disappeared.
Gohan was vaguely aware of his friends' rapid fire talking, but he couldn't concentrate on what was being said. He knew she could take care of herself but — ugh. He was drowning in prickling apprehension. This whole everybody wanting a piece of his girlfriend thing was really not going to be as easy as he'd thought. Just knowing she was out there alone in this crowd ... his hands were getting all clammy and—
A hard smack on his back. "Gohan, fucking A man!" Four faces were suddenly within kissing distance of him. Wha...
"Videl Satan!" They hissed before he could even compose himself. Their faces — all toothy smiles and creepy smirks. He hadn't seen this much excitement since the day the gang had welcomed his father back from the dead.
"Uh," he backed off a step before one of them kissed him by accident. They were way too close.
"How the hell did you score a chick like that?" Anre punched him in the arm. "And not even say a word!"
"Where did you even meet her man?" Sig's eyes were befuddled. "Have you been holding out on us?"
"We met on the internet," he blurted. May as well go with the truth.
"Say what?" They goggled, eyes so big they looked like owls in a staring competition.
"The internet," he said again, a little weaker this time. Uh-oh. Was the whole internet thing something he should have kept close to his chest? Was it a bad thing? Their glee had deflated faster than a party balloon with a pin in its belly.
"You freaking met Videl Satan on the internet?" Raku hissed way too close, and just a tad too intensely. Spittle, actual spittle leaped from his mouth to his face. Gross.
Again, he had to take a step back. But he couldn't retreat very far. There were people everywhere.
"The internet?! What the hell Gohan?" Anre groaned like he was in pain. "Did you freakin stalk her?"
Stalk her? "What?" Were they entirely mad? "Of course not!" he hissed back, trying to keep his voice as low as possible.
"Tell us the truth," Mosa injected smoothly. "You have some dirt on her, don't you?" He grinned. "You're blackmailing her to be here with you."
"N-No!" He denied heatedly, his face overwarm. What did they take him for? Blackmail? Were they—
They cackled and chortled so loud that heads turned in their direction. They hunched their bodies and grabbed their sides, they were laughing so much. Mosa and Raku exchanged a high five while Anre threw in a fist pump. They were clearly pleased with themselves.
Gohan scowled. Some friends they were.
"We're just kidding man," Sig gave him a rattling pat on the back with his cuffed hands. "Jeez. Lighten up."
"Yeah man," Anre also patted him. "We saw how she looks at you," he said. "You lucky S.O.B," he snorted in disgust. "Chick's diggin on you like salted caramel ice-cream man."
He blinked, a little hopeful. "You think?"
They sniggered, short bursts of laughter mixed with phlegm-filled snort. "Look at that hopeful face," Mosa pinched his cheeks. Actually grabbed his face and pinched his cheeks.
He made a face. Not at all happy with how much fun they were having at his expense. "Cheer up." Another assault on his arm. "You got nothing to look insecure about."
"I'm not insecure. Just," he blew out a long breathe, "surprised by the commotion." He indicated towards the general direction of the ballroom where even now fools were still clamoring to get a good look in the direction Videl and the girls had disappeared off in.
"Surprised?" Anre grabbed him by both arms and shook him. "You bring a grade A steak to the zoo and you're surprised the hyenas are clamoring for a bite?"
He scratched his scalp. "Um," he supposed they had a point. He just didn't think ... didn't expect ... dammit, he'd only found out last night. He'd had no time to even—
"Tell us the truth though," Raku wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "You must have taken a good and proper dump in your pants when you first met her, am I right?"
He shook his head in disgust as they broke into another fit of cackles. Really? To think, these were the guys he'd competed with academically in order to gain his internship.
"I vote for a dead faint." Sig volunteered.
"I second that," said Mosa. "Well?" They all looked at him expectantly. As if they were really expected him to choose between those two ludicrous options. Shitting himself or fainting. Honestly.
Oh very well. He shook his head. "Well," he began. "I didn't know she was Videl Satan when I first met her so," he shrugged, "just your regular heart attack."
They laughed, but nodded their approval. "Damn right!" Raku raised his arm and high fived him.
"Fucking blind A hole making kindling out of cash man," Anre burst out in disgust. "Fucking blind A."
What? He blinked. He had no idea what the hell that was supposed to mean, but nevermind. He was seriously starting to get hungry. Shouldn't they have appetizers out at least?
Not to mention being worried. Shouldn't the girls have come back from the bathroom by now? What could possibly be taking that long? Unless—
Someone cleared their throat. "Um, Gohan," Sig looked suddenly like he was squirming in place. "On a more serious note. You know Hazel and I didn't mean any disrespect right?" He fidgeted. "You're not mad at us about the costumes or anything right?"
Mosa smacked him on the head. "Of course he's mad." He tsked, pointed at the cuffs, the collar and the leash in disgust.
Gohan had to honest. "I was a little mad but— "
Sig winced. So did Anre. As well he should given the crap he'd been saying too.
"But it's okay," he sighed. Videl was right. If he got worked up every time someone said something stupid about her then, he really would get that heart attack. "I know you didn't mean anything by it."
They all visibly exhaled.
"Quick smoke break out on the terrace?" Raku asked hopefully. "You know girls, they'll be in that bathroom doing their hair and shit till we're all old and gray."
Videl sipped more leisurely at her current drink. It was her third glass, having downed the first two rather rashly. It wouldn't do to get drunk and embarrass Gohan at a work function though, so she had to watch herself. Besides, things with his friends were good now so she could afford to remain sober.
They'd spotted the boys out on the terrace after their run in the bathroom, but had chosen to remain inside. Pecan had refused to 'pollute her lungs any further'.
"How long have you been together then?" Videl asked Cash. The girl in blue was a serious talker, and almost everything she had to say was a crack at Anre.
"Ew! Gross!" she made a face. "Anre is just a friend and roommate," she shuddered dramatically. "Known the idiot since he was about this high," she indicated somewhere above her knee. "I love him to bits and pieces but— " she took a generous gulp of her drink. "—I can't even think of him as male you know?"
Videl felt a smile spread across her face. "I know what you mean. I have a friend like that too." A fond smile. She was glad they'd made up last night, after all this time. The stubborn bastard. "He's a pain in the ass. But we've been best friends since we were kids." Without Sharpener and Erasa in her life ... she didn't even want to imagine.
"You're lucky," said Almond, pulling down the hem of her pink tube dress. The tight number kept threatening to rise all the way up her bottom. "I don't have such long standing friends. My parents moved a shit ton when I was a kid."
"Well, Anre is a pain but friends are forever." said Cash. "Trustworthy boyfriends on the other hand ... well," she waved her hand dismissively and swallowed up the rest of her drink.
Videl suspected there was a story there, and not the happily ever after kind. She hoped the conversation wouldn't turn to an all-men-are-scum direction. She wanted to ride the high of her new relationship without being forced to think of the many million ways it could all go wrong. Thankfully, Cash blinked off the funk and veered in another direction.
"So," her eyes practically sparkled. "It's still new then? You and Gohan?" She smirked rather knowingly.
Videl blushed. "Pretty much yes."
"Well, that stupid roommate of mine was in serious shock that someone like you would go out with his fellow intern. But I for one will not ask what you see in him. I do have eyes after all."
At those words, they all turned to the corner where they could spy the boys outside. "I mean, just look at those arms," urged Cash.
Videl didn't need to look. She'd been looking since she'd arrived.
"Arms? Hello! Are you not seeing those abs?" The one called Hazel added breathlessly. "He's built like freakin' Hercules."
Videl had to agree. Everything was shapely: his shoulders, his arms, his flat, well-muscled abdomen. Not that she was into him for his body, she reminded herself. She'd liked him just fine when he was still just Nimbz. Before she'd seen it so ... really, she wasn't being shallow. Was she?
Almond merely giggled, ginger curls bouncing every which way. "You got yourself a cute one alright."
Pecan shrugged. "A little too boy-next-door for me," she said. "But I'll concede the body."
Cash snorted. "You're probably picturing him in tights."
"I am not," said Pecan. Scrunching her nose in distaste. "He wouldn't do at all," she added. "All buff and no grace."
Cash rolled her eyes. To Videl she whispered: "Pecan is a finalist in the Figure Skating Nationals. She's literally an Ice-Queen."
"If having a little dignity makes me an Ice-Queen," she said, "then I happily concede to the title." She tossed her hair back. "I'll see you later Videl," she offered a wan smile. "Almond, Hazel — always a pleasure." She nodded at them both. A condescending sweep of the eyes was all Cash received, and then she turned her back on them and walked away.
"Bitch," Hazel muttered. Only to flush beet red when she caught Videl looking at her. "Sorry," she mumbled. "Mosa is a great guy, but that Pecan— "
"She is not a bitch," Almond said. "You guys are just different. And Cash is always provoking her."
Cash rolled her eyes. "Whatever, she's a bitch," she said airily. "So," her eyes lit up in her direction. "How did you and Gohan meet anyway?"
"Yes, tell us!" Hazel bounced on her feet, pig-tails swinging to and fro.
"Well," she started to say, thinking that she rather liked Pecan even if she was rather aloof. Nevertheless Cash was still talking apparently.
"If I remember correctly from what Anre told me," she stepped out of their little circle and snatched a drink from a waiter. "Ah," she took a delicate sip. "That's better," she sighed. "So yeah um ... you and Gohan. He lives in the middle of nowhere and commutes to Blue City everyday right? So how did you guys even meet?"
Videl smiled. "Actually, we met on—"
"Excuse me," said a rather dishevelled individual, stepping into her view. His clothes were crumpled, his face unshaven and his hair longish and messy. "Ms Satan?"
"Yes?" She swivelled, giving him her full attention. There were circles under his eyes, as if he hadn't slept for days. Was that part of the hobo look or was he generally sleep deprived?
"Miss Satan," he began. "I'm so sorry to disturb you. I'm not sure if you remember me but—
"Of course I do," she said happily as his face finally registered. "Mr. Islands," she said. The homeless garb had thrown her off for a second but she did remember him. "Chief Prosecutor Folk Lore introduced us a few years ago during the Red Shark Gang case."
"Ah," he sighed in relief. "So you do remember me," he shuffled uncomfortably.
"These are my friends," she swept her arm to encompass the other three girls.
Cash happily stepped in. She introduced herself and the other girls. Talked for a good five minutes about his costume, his hair, and his distinguished boots. Apparently he was a well known book character known as the Disheveled Gentleman. Videl had never heard of him or his Lady. Cash however, had. And on she went questioning him even further.
She questioned him about his job so thoroughly that she ended the interrogation by patting him on the back. Apparently he'd just been promoted to Chief Prosecutor of Gold City. In fact, by the time Cash was done fluffing him up, the poor man had cheeks as red as the wine swirling in her glass.
"Well," Videl beamed happily. Genuinely pleased for him. "Lore never stopped praising your work. She always said you'd make Chief Prosecutor in your own city — congratulations.
"Ah, well," he sighed. "I wish it had been under different circumstances. Chief Prosecutor Tales was the best of the best. She was preparing the bridge case when she was killed," he added solemnly. "Lore must be devastated — they've been friends since law school.
Videl blanched. "Lore mentioned something about a friend and an accident when I saw her a few days ago for our prep. I didn't know about the connection to the bridge case."
"It was no accident I'm afraid."
Her heart jumped. "What?"
"The report came in this morning. Her car was definitely tampered with. And then the next day, a fire at her office and at her house."
"Oh god." Her knees shook. Lore had thought it cut and dry at the time. But it wasn't. Her friend was murdered ... murdered for working on Gohan's case. She felt sick. It could have been Gohan—
"Yeah," said the acting CP. "Someone didn't want to see this case prosecuted. Good thing everyone involved has protection now... which is why I wanted to have a word, Ms. Satan. I wanted to say that we are very grateful to your father."
Videl blinked. "My father?" What did he have to do with anything?
"Yes. The Champ took an interest in the case," his chest practically swelled with pride. "At his instigation, all the people involved in bringing Mercury. Inc. to justice are under protective detail."
"At his instigation?"
"That's right. Myself included. Even WIA jumped on board. I can't tell you how invaluable their help and resources have been. We'll nip this one in the bud faster than you can say guilty."
"My father," she wanted to say, had nothing to do with it. But the CP looked so sure and so awe inspired.
"Arranged the whole thing. What a guy, ey?"
"Umm..." What could she say? She had instructed the Chief to throw his name around if need be so he was probably just covering for her. It couldn't be helped.
"Please," his eyes were warm and sincere. "The next time you see him, please tell him how grateful we are."
She flushed. "Sure," and smiled.
"Anyway," he looked around, "I actually came this way looking to have a word with a Son Gohan from Blue Inc. I was just talking with their VP about the case and he pointed me here abouts."
"Well, you're in luck." It was her turn to puff out her chest and swell with pride. She smiled. "I'll introduce you."
"You're acquainted with him?"
"He's my boyfriend," she preened. "He's over there on the terrace with his colleagues."
"B-Boyfriend," he gaped. "You don't mean the young man you were with earlier with the glowing wings?"
"But he's so young!" He blurted.
Videl scowed. "He's not that young. We're the same age you know?" Just how old did this guy think Gohan was? Or how old did he think she was? Did she look like an old maid?
He blanched. "N-No I d-didn't mean," and stuttered. "I meant too young to be the lead on the bridge case," he swallowed. "Not too young to err ... be your ...um," he made a silhouette motion with his hands, squirming. "I mean," he exhaled. "You guys looked really good together!"
"Why thank you," she smirked. "And look," she pointed towards the doors where Gohan and his friends were walking through. "They're heading back inside."
It didn't take them long to meander their way back to them.
"Where's Pecan?" Mosa immediately asked.
"She took off," said Cash. "All hot and bothered," she added, rather unnecessarily Videl thought. Just as Gohan came round, eyes aglow with warmth.
Mosa scowled, passed his scepter to Raku and dug deep under his robes. A few rustles of fabric later, he pulled out his hand and came out with a cellphone clasped between his fingers. "Excuse me," he said. And took off.
Hazel and Sig exchanged a worried look, while Gohan circled round and inserted himself in the non existent space between her and the CP. "Everything okay?" He eyed the other man suspiciously.
She hid her smile, "This is Mr. Islands from Gold City. He's taking over as the new Crown Prosecutor for your bridge case."
"Oh!" He nearly jumped, straightening. The transformation from overprotective boyfriend to intern ... god, she could have died from laughter the way his expression changed. "Mr. Islands," he shook his hand. "It's very nice to meet you." Even his voice had changed. "I—" he started to say, but was interrupted by the loud thump of the microphone.
"Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen," a rather refined voice began. "A good evening to all the Gods and Goddesses, Queens and Kings, Knights and your Fair Maidens. Pirates. Ghosts. Angels. Witches and your fellow Warlords. Am I forgetting anyone?"
"Devils!" Someone shouted from the crowd.
The voice chuckled as the crowd laughed.
"Indeed, let's not forget those Devils out there," he said good naturedly. "Good evening all. Welcome to Color Group's annual fundraiser ball."
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