Author's Note: Back again as promised. Sorry if I haven't replied to your reviews and questions yet - I prioritised getting this out over replying.
Before you all start screaming at me, let's get this out of the way - I haven't started the next chapter yet. There is no ETA yet.
Bulma left the others and hurried back to her house, but Vegeta wasn't there. She stood in the bedroom and stared at the place they had been making love, weird, desperate love, not half an hour ago.
What a fucking mess this is!
She wanted Vegeta with her, but she knew she needed to go to Earth.
Returning to the dining table she opened her laptop and activated the private line between her and Vegeta.
'Vegeta, where are you? Vegeta?'
She waited, but when there was no answer, she put her head down on the table and cried.
'Please, Vegeta, come in! We need to talk about this! Answer me!'
Deep in the interior of the desert, things were exploding. Rocks were levitating, shattering, flying at supersonic speed and turning to red hot lava around the Saiyan that screamed his fury and hurt at them.
Vegeta had heard Bulma's pleading, and it was rocket fuel on the bonfire of his anger. He had almost crushed the earpiece in temper, but managed to restrain himself enough to just shove it in his new training suit's pocket instead.
He took comfort in his power, feeling the wellspring of destruction pouring out of him, causing chaos even without his direction or intent. The sky boomed, lightning sparked by the boiling air, and the ground cracked, buckling into a crater as wide as a mountain and glowing like a volcano's caldera.
Finally, scared of the amount of damage he was wreaking, he restrained himself, fearing he would cause the planet to become unstable. Breathing hard, he looked down and around, impressed.
All this power and still second best to Brolly, he remembered.
And after everything, even after her words this morning of not wanting to be without him, Bulma had chosen the stupid dead Earthlings over him! And Brolly would send him alone to Namek with Tarble's frozen body!
He screamed, then choked on the vapours of burnt rock.
Would Raditz and Kakarott stand with himself, or fall in line with Brolly and Bulma? Raditz had said he would still follow Vegeta the night Nappa died - hadn't he? Or had he said he would have to follow Brolly if Brolly was to actually stand up and lead? Damn it all! He had not risked everything, dragged Raditz and Nappa out of slavery with him, and rescued Brolly from obscurity only to have the brat usurp everything he had claimed!
He left the scene of his tantrum, and picked a direction at random, flying as fast as he could. He ended up at the south pole, flying into a deepening dusk. The mountains at the pole were steep and cruel looking, partly covered in glaciers and snow, but with many spires too sheer to harbour either. He chose the top of one to perch on, imagining the others finding him here, come to beg him to return, realising how right he was.
Thoughts chased themselves through his head.
It wasn't just Frieza that made him want to go to Namek first. He was scared that if they went to Earth first, Bulma would never leave again. And the way she had chatted to her boyfriend like he, Vegeta, didn't even exist! Like she hadn't just been fucking him like a wildcat! Why was she like this? Begging him to stay, and then discarding him like garbage the moment her precious Earth was in reach? Earth was the end of her adventure, he was sure of it. Maybe he could force her to come with him and fulfill her side of the now-burnt treaty of alliance, but he wanted her to want to come with him! Not be forced! Oh, why had he gone down this route? Nappa had been right all along about women! She'd tied him in a fucking knot, and it was pathetic!
There was a knock on Bulma's door. She swore, brushed aside her tears and heartsickness over Vegeta, and answered it.
Krillin, Goku, Brolly and Raditz were at her door.
'What do we do now?' Krillin asked bluntly.
'I don't know.'
'I was thinking,' Raditz said, 'it doesn't matter which planet we're going to, the first step is still getting the freighter ready.'
'Yeah,' said Krillin. 'And I mentioned that we need to stock up on food - frozen and canned-'
'And I said we should hunt for some meat to take with us in the freighter freezers!' Goku said, looking pleased with himself.
She sighed deeply. 'You're right. We still need to do all that. I'll go into town to get the packaged food. Krillin, you can come with me.'
'Then we'll go hunting,' Goku announced.
'Small and medium sized game only,' Raditz said. 'So it can be butchered and cooked in the ship's kitchen.'
'But we can have one big one for tonight, right?'
Bulma hadn't wanted to stay on-planet as long as dinnertime, but the reality was, they still needed to do a lot of prep, make some important decisions, and wait for Vegeta to front up like an adult.
'Sounds like you guys thought of everything already. Go for it.'
Bulma had her least enjoyable trip to Metrophilia yet. She and Krillin took the shuttle and argued most of the way there about the necessity of splitting the group.
'It feels like a dream - that we will finally be back on Earth again!' he said at one point. 'No more weird alien food, no more god-awful spit roast dinners, no more leaky spaceships in the vacuum of space! And best of all, seeing everyone alive again! I don't know why you aren't over the moon about it!'
'I am,' she moaned, not sounding it. 'I'm just not happy with the thought of ditching Vegeta and whoever else to go take care of everything else alone.'
'How are you going to force Vegeta to stay with us if he doesn't want to, huh? You need to go to Earth, he wants to go to Namek. Do you think he's going to change his mind?'
'I don't know.' It was unlikely, but maybe she could appeal to his feelings for her.
'Are you going to get Brolly to pull rank and force him? Because that's not going to end well, I can tell you now!'
'Fuck, I don't know, Krillin! I need to talk to him, and he's not answering over coms!'
'I'm surprised to be saying this, but Brolly is making more sense than Vegeta on this.'
She knew it did, too. She just didn't like it.
'I know you and Vegeta have your thing going,' Krillin said, more kindly. 'If you really want to be with him, if we split up, it doesn't have to be forever. You can join up with him again once we're done on Earth, if you really want.'
The heavy rock in Bulma's chest felt like it was going to crush the breath out of her when he said this. Krillin hadn't heard her argument with Vegeta this morning about the doomed nature of their relationship.
'But we should leave as soon as possible,' he said, when she didn't reply. 'It sounds as if every hour counts. What if we got to Earth and found that Kami had been killed again by one of the PTO soldiers just before we got there? That would be the end of it - of everyone! We should leave tonight.'
Bulma cleared her throat and tried to talk around her anguish. 'What if I can't get a hold of Vegeta before then?'
'Leave a note.'
'What? "Dear John" him? That's despicable!'
'Bulma, he's being a baby about this, and we don't have time!'
'Are we going to take all the other ships, too, and sell them? Because that would leave Vegeta high and dry!'
'He has time to steal new ships. I don't know - maybe Puar could go with him and help him do the whole shipjacking thing. It would only take a handful more days, and he doesn't have as far to go, anyway. He doesn't have such a pressing time limit.'
'I don't know how Puar would feel about that.'
'Puar flipped harder than you did when Vegeta stormed off - I think she might be okay with it. I'm going to ask her.'
'What?' Bulma looked away from the airpad they were approaching to stare at Krillin as he tapped his transponder and spoke.
'Hey, Puar, if we split the group up tonight, would you go with Vegeta to help him jack more ships and meet us on Earth later?'
When Puar responded she was panting. 'Uh. I don't know. Maybe? But we don't know what we're going to do yet!'
'Well, I think we should decide and leave tonight.'
Puar screeched a little. 'Can you at least wait until I get back?'
Bulma frowned. 'Puar, where are you?'
'Going to find Vegeta. I think he's gone out to the spot he used to sleep at.'
Krillin gave Bulma a smug look and took his hand off his transponder. 'See?'
'She didn't say yes!'
'If push comes to shove, she will though, I'm pretty sure.'
"Krillin! Wind it back a bit! No decisions are made yet!'
'Yes, they are,' he replied darkly. 'There's no decision to be made for us - we have to go back to Earth. And Vegeta decided that he'd rather go it alone than spare the detour from his revenge fantasy.'
'To be fair, he's also being cautious about the possibility of Frieza getting to Planet Namek first.'
'Do you think that's really likely?'
'Well. No, but it can't be ruled out entirely, I guess.'
Krillin was silent for a while. 'And that's why it's probably best if we cover both bases at once.'
Raditz, Goku and Brolly stuffed the freezers on the freighter with anything that loped, scurried or hopped across the desert plains. Raditz went out to check on the large beast they'd put on the spit a couple of hours before, Goku and Brolly half-emptied one freezer again in order to fit Tarble in.
'If we need to bring him with us,' Brolly added.
Goku looked at him in confusion. 'Of course we'll need to. If we go in one ship or two, he'll need to come with us, at least to the moon.'
'I was talking to Krillin before, and if we leave tonight without Vegeta, we'll have to leave Tarble with him.'
'Then how will Vegeta get to the ships on the moon?'
'There's a spacesuit, right? He can use the old cruiser to get there, wearing the spacesuit. We'll leave him one of the ships on the moon.'
Goku gave him a dark look. 'I don't like that plan. Who said it would just be Vegeta, anyhow?'
Brolly frowned and bit his lip before answering. 'Surely you don't want to stay with Vegeta? The Earth needs you more, doesn't it?'
'I want you to come with us.'
Goku walked away from Brolly before he could say anything else. He hadn't taken orders from Vegeta, and he wasn't about to start taking them from Brolly, even if he was a friend. He'd make his own mind up.
Bulma and Krillin returned at dusk, not talking to each other, because everything he said seemed to wind her up and upset her more. Splitting the group was starting to look inevitable to her, and her heart was in pain over it. She wanted guidance, she wanted more information, she wanted support. She tried praying to this King Kai god she'd never heard of before, but it seemed to be a one-way thing. When she got no answer she even tried praying to Yamcha, as absurd as that felt, but nothing.
She landed the shuttle next to the freighter, then performed a long and sweat-inducing set of delicate maneuvers to dock the shuttle to the frieghter's loading bay, an exercise that was much easier done in space than under the influence of gravity.
She had bought enough food to hopefully last them the long journey should they not be able to use a wormhole for whatever reason, pallets carefully loaded onto the shuttle, then encapsulated out of sight, and carefully labelled. For now, she left them on the shuttle.
When they joined the others everyone was quite solemn.
'Dinner?' Raditz asked, and then began serving from the pot of mash and the spit roast meat he'd prepared.
'Are we saving any for Vegeta?' Brolly asked.
Raditz gave him a glum look.
'Yeah, he might show for dinner.'
Bulma hadn't even got the first forkful to her mouth when Krillin ruined her appetite.
'So, are we going to talk about this? What's our plan? Are we leaving? Are some of us leaving? Tonight?'
'Yes,' said Brolly. 'Let's talk.'
It was getting dark. And the freezing cold had chilled his temper.
Vegeta got off the spire of rock stiffly. No one had come looking for him, and he now felt ashamed for his little fantasy that they would. Bulma had called him and he'd ignored it, and the others could have been trying to contact him for all he knew, but he'd wanted some dramatic gesture.
He flew back to his oasis, snagging a furry, four-legged animal from the grasslands on the way to the desert.
What was going to happen tomorrow? Would he try to scrape back all the crew he could to take with him to Namek? Would it just be him and the clown, Kakarott? Or would Raditz join him, also? How would they divide their assets? It was so depressing and wearying to think about, he just wanted to lie down in the sand and stop thinking, stop trying, and just go to sleep forever.
A half-moon was out, enough to see the waterhole by. It was uglier than its usual state; the pond had shrunk to a muddy hole in its centre, and the banks were messy with withered, dead plants. He landed heavily outside the rock overhang he used as his home-away-from-home. His blue fur, blanket and log book were all there still, sporting a layer of sand.
He grabbed the fur and yanked it out to give it a shake and Puar fell out and landed on his foot.
'Daemon! What the hell are you doing here?'
'I came to find you, of course,' she replied, rubbing her eyes. 'I must have dozed off.'
'How did you even get out here?'
'I flew!' she announced, floating up to his face level. 'It took ages, but I know the way pretty well by now, and I figured you'd come back here tonight.'
He growled at her. 'Idiot cat. And what if you'd gotten lost?'
'I have my transponder this time.'
'I suppose you've come here to get me to capitulate and return to Earth with the rest of you?'
'Hmm.' She didn't answer right away. 'Maybe not. I've been thinking. I'm not sure you're wrong about stopping Frieza getting to Namek first. But I also don't want us to split up. What if we need each other's help? I don't want you to be alone.'
Vegeta scoffed at her, and threw down the fur and the animal carcass. He picked some stems of dead flowers and wondered if there was enough to make a fire to cook his dinner on, but decided it would burn too fast to cook it.
'I will do just fine without any of you. In fact, it would be a relief.'
'Just come back tonight,' Puar pleaded. 'So we can talk about it and decide what to do.'
'I am not going back tonight,' he replied, leaning down to tear a limb from the carcass. He'd have to sear it with his chi. Not his favourite method of cooking.
'Urgh! But the others were talking about leaving tonight! Please, Vegeta, come back to camp!'
'But we've got to make a move sometime!'
Things felt too raw to continue the argument tonight. Maybe tomorrow Bulma would have cooled down enough to see reason, and he would prevail with her. Or perhaps Brolly had been correct, and it was best that he depart alone for Planet Namek. Would it not be freeing to go without the others, and not have to cater to or compromise for anyone? However, he couldn't bear the thought of facing either Bulma or Brolly yet.
'In the morning I will go back. They will not leave before then, not without you at least.'
'But I don't want you to get left-'
'No! Go back to camp yourself if you are worried! Or stay here with me and keep your mouth shut!'
Puar slumped and dropped all the way to the sand.
Vegeta dismembered the rest of the animal and charred it in silence. It was one of the more miserable repasts he'd had recently.
The desert air was still chilly when Vegeta awoke just after dawn. Puar was under the blanket, curled up against his chest. She must have gotten cold in the night.
He lay there for a long while, too heavy of heart to get up yet. He felt somewhat deadened. He could also see now that there was no way he could force all the others to come to Namek with him. Some may come, or he may go alone. It was as if everyone else had forgotten the threat Frieza posed, and forgotten Tarble lying frozen in the cruiser master bedroom. Fine; he would resurrect his brother and ensure Frieza's downfall alone, if need be. There was no reason why Bulma should need to go to Earth - she wasn't a warrior that could help defeat PTO soldiers, after all. But there was no reason for her to come to Namek, either. Was there any point in trying to convince her? Perhaps this was all for the best.
He knew the moment Puar came awake. She stretched and straightened, then flinched and flew straight up from the blanket, taking it and all the warmth with her.
'Vegeta! Wake up, we need to go back to camp!'
'Calm yourself, cat,' he groaned. 'There is no hurry.'
Breakfasting at the oasis wasn't very appealing though, so after rolling up his bedding around his log book there was in fact no impediment to leaving right away.
He flew back at a moderate pace with Puar on his shoulder. But as they got within sight of the camp he could tell that something wasn't right. He hadn't been searching with his sense of chi, but he should have felt something by now. Where was their chi? Were they still asleep, and their chi too low to be sensed?
He put on a burst of speed, reaching the ravine in seconds, spying the campfire.
And they weren't there.
Puar gasped in his ear. 'They've gone!'
'They haven't gone!' Vegeta told her. 'They'd have to take the freighter to leave.' But had he seen it on his way in? Surely he had, and just had not been paying attention. He leapt into the air again, clearing the rim of the ravine, the freighter was-
All his breath left him in a sort of cough of disbelief. Puar screamed in his ear.
'No! They've gone! They left me, they left me!'
Vegeta just stared and stared. He couldn't believe it. They hadn't even waited for him to show up again! Bulma hadn't even stuck around to say a word of goodbye or apology or anything! He now realized that he hadn't really believed that this would be the outcome of their disagreement.
He grunted, practically falling from the air and landing badly, sending Puar tumbling off his shoulder to the ground.
'Why did they leave me?' she cried, hardly seeming to notice.
Vegeta clutched his chest, alarming sensations of both crushing pain and imminent explosion paralysing him before he eventually realised he wasn't breathing and sucked air in.
What? What? Why?
'I thought we were going to talk about it!' Puar was saying. 'Why did they just leave me without saying anything? I hadn't made my mind up!'
'Shut up,' Vegeta hissed at her.
But it was like Puar didn't even hear him.
'Why? I said I'd think about it, but I didn't really think they'd really leave me here with you! They left without even saying anything, like I don't matter! Like they don't even care about me!'
'Shut up!' It was like the cat bleating every pathetic thought that was tearing through his own head. He clutched at his hair. Something was flooding his system, making his whole body pound with the beating of his wild heart, like panic, like fear, like rage. He didn't know what he was feeling.
'You shut up!' Puar shouted back. 'I don't know what to do now! I thought they were my friends, but they just acted like I'm...not even a person!' She paused to sob, then looked at Vegeta with accusatory eyes. 'If I hadn't come to find you in the desert, I wouldn't have been left behind! And you made me wait for you till morning!'
'I didn't force you to stay with me!'
'And because I was the only one that gave enough of a fig about you to come looking for you, they left me here!' She jumped back up, hovering in front of him. 'Because I was friends with you...they ditched me!'
'That's what you get for believing in "friendship"!' he said, pushing the words out in an airless gasp, hollow and sickening. 'It's good that they're gone! Thank the gods, I will not have to put up with that rabble any longer!'.
The cat's lips rolled back in a toothy snarl that was hardly threatening in her small, fuzzy face.
'You're horrible! I know why they left you here, Vegeta! But why did they leave me?'
He roared and snatched her out of the air.
'SHUT UP!' he screamed at her, shaking her to make her stop. She did stop. She went limp in his fist. He was about to drop her, and then a new, cold, sharp feeling pierced him. He raised his fist to look at her closer, and her over-sized kitten head lolled to the side, like it was loose on her neck.
Her eyes were open, but looking nowhere in particular.
If his heart had been pounding before, it doubled now, feeling like it was going to beat it's way up out of his throat. What had he done? He'd just killed her! Just like that, through sheer anger and carelessness!
With no one to hear him, he screamed and fell to his knees.
'No! Puar! I didn't mean it!'
What useless words! What useless words! He cradled her gently in both hands, but she still lay there lifeless, the violence already done and impossible to take back.
'Don't be dead!'
Now he really was all alone. He had killed the only companion he had left.
'I'm sorry, I'm sorry!' He found words tumbling from his mouth, and then tears joined them, but who was there to see or care? He had done wrong - so very wrong. Why couldn't he have just gone back to camp when Puar said and talked things through with the others and damn his pride? Then she'd be alive at least.
He pressed his cheek against the silky soft fur of her belly, still warm, and the regret felt like it was going to kill him, too. How could he have caused the silly, soft thing to come to harm? Her only fault was her stupid attachment to him.
Then he realised what he was feeling through the fur - a heartbeat, rapid and uneven, but a heartbeat. Freezing lest it stop, he reached out with his chi-sense and felt hers still there, even fainter than when she slept, but still there. He must have broken her neck, but not severed her spinal cord completely.
'Hold on,' he ordered her. Had the others taken the regen tank with them? He levitated as smoothly and quickly as he could up to the cruiser where the rampway still sagged, open and broken. The tank was still there.
He pressed the button to open the door with his elbow, then lowered Puar to the floor of the tank, depositing her as carefully as he could. The mask was bigger than her whole head, and a single stick-on electrode covered her whole chest and wouldn't stick to her damn fur. He was afraid to shave her for fear that the rest of her spinal cord would tear if he moved her. She would just have to go in without either mask or electrodes. The tank would still sense a life form without either, but it wouldn't be able to monitor her and her sedation. She'd have to go in without sedation.
'Hold on,' he chanted over and over, a mantra holding back panic.
He set the controls with trembling hands, closed the door and collapsed onto the parquet floor, feeling ill. The tank filled with fluid. He watched her float to the top, then sink below the surface, her face contorting as she breathed in the regen liquid, coming conscious enough to panic and fight it.
'Keep still!' he shouted, pressing the button that would transmit his voice through the tank fluid. 'The fluid can't drown you! Don't fight it and you'll be okay!'
She slowly drifted to the bottom of the tank, gasping visibly on the fluid, her eyes wide in panic.
'The tank will heal you!' he promised her, though he was not completely sure it would. He didn't know how well the tank would perform without monitoring. How long would it take to heal a cat's broken neck? How would he know when it was done? If it was done? If he took her out too soon, she would sustain more damage, maybe even die.
Puar's mouth worked like a fish's until her eyes drifted shut again, and then her jaw hung slack. Vegeta pressed himself against the glass, expecting the machine's alarm to go off, announcing the death of the patient, but it didn't. She was unconscious again.
He lay on the floor, waiting for the minutes and hours to tick past, for his heart to slow. The tank could usually heal a single bone breakage or fracture in less than five hours, unless it was a large break, such as the hip or femur. And Puar's neck was very small. But how complicated was the break, and how damaged were the nerves of her spinal column? He didn't know how long nerve damage took to heal - if he or one of his men was injured enough to have damaged a nerve there was always a hell of a lot of other damage to heal at the same time.
Time dragged on. He got up several times to investigate what the deserters had left him with, but turned back at the door each time, scared that Puar would die and he wouldn't be there, or that she'd wake again and panic.
An hour passed, then two. His stomach rumbled, and he checked the kitchen for food. It was entirely bare of course. Had they thought to leave him anything at all?
He moved slowly around the living quarters of the cruiser, assessing his assets. There was not much, unless you counted some brand new and rather nice furniture, that still probably wouldn't be worth the time to sell. Nothing was left in the cupboards, not even the bed linen or kitchen utensils. Upstairs on the flight deck it was also bare, save for a hint of strange perfume. It seemed to emanate from a folded sheet of paper that sat in one of the pilot's chairs. He moved towards it, at first curious, and then disgusted. Would this be Bulma's note of explanation? An essay on the reasons she had made a fool of his feelings for her and left without waiting a single night for him to say goodbye?
He decided he would not read it, not while Puar was in the tank still. Later he would go into the desert alone, read it in private, and probably regret it.
He could not turn his mind from the betrayal. He supposed it was not technically a betrayal, as they had nullified the alliance and Brolly had finally defied him and taken leadership. But it still felt like one. Even if this was the right solution to their inability to agree, they had not finished discussing it, and no, he had not let them finish, but he'd been going to. Instead, they had fucked off. And did he warrant such cold treatment? He didn't think so. Or did he? He had almost killed Puar.
Last night's assertion that it would be a relief to be alone seemed like bravado. He would not have to compromise - unless Puar demanded some concessions. But the idea of going it alone made the tasks ahead of him seem even more impossible.
He chanced a visit outside, going down to the campfire to see if they'd left any supplies there. They hadn't even cleared up their dinner mess. The bones of whatever they'd had for dinner were dumped in the sand, not even thrown away. They'd left him some meat on the roasting spit, but it smelled bad already, covered in flies. There was a pot with some cold mash in the bottom of it, lidded and fly-free, so he took that back to the ship and sat in front of the tank, eating it with his fingers.
As he scrapped the last cold mush from the bottom of the pot a heaviness stole over him, weighting his eyelids, melting his spine till he slumped to the floor. He welcomed exhaustion, letting it take him without a fight.
He finally awoke, queasy, groggy from sleeping in the middle of the day, and when he remembered what had happened earlier, he staggered to the bathroom and regurgitated the mashed vegetables. He felt a little better after that.
The tank said it had been on for five hours, and Puar was still alive.
He pressed the button on the side of the tank.
'Puar, are you awake?'
The cat opened her eyes and blinked, swivelling them towards him. She wore an expression of enduring panic. The relief he had begun to feel was brought up short. Shit, had the tank not healed her spinal column?
'Can you move your paws?' he asked.
To his relief her front paw twitched a little, then curled up. Then the other. And then she kicked her hind legs. It seemed to be somewhat of an effort though.
'That's enough, don't push it. I'm going to leave you in here another couple of hours.'
Puar's mouth opened in a silent, 'No!'
'Calm yourself - do you want to end up paralyzed?'
Her face turned thunderous, mouthing things that he imagined were harsh curses, but were probably childish insults. It didn't matter if he didn't know what the words were, they cut him all the same.
'I know,' he said, 'that if it weren't for me you wouldn't be in the tank. I'm sorry, Puar. But you must know I didn't mean to hurt you.'
Her eyes screwed up and her little chest convulsed. Was she crying, or convulsing?
'Oh, please, Puar, be calm! Be calm!'
Vegeta raided the campsite again, finding a few heat 'n' eat meals in a forgotten capsule and warming them in the ship's kitchen. Then he stared at the wall, unable to stop the spiralling of dark thoughts. If he didn't become the King of Galaxy now, there would literally be no one besides Tarble and Puar to know if he lived or died.
A small, repetitive movement roused him from his state of despair. Puar was beating her paws furiously on the chamber's glass wall. That seemed a reasonable sign that she was healed.
He drained the tank, and she collapsed to her paws to the floor of it, heaving as her head came free of the fluid. Vegeta put his hand out to steady her, worried she was not ready to come out after all, and she clamped to his wrist like a vice, claws out. She vomited fluid over him, gasping on nothing, making a small gurgling noise in her throat.
Vegeta up-ended her, and Puar began sputtering and choking, fluid draining from her as she choked and spewed it up.
'Are you okay?'
She shook her head and went on coughing for several minutes while Vegeta frowned at her in worry.
'You will be fine.'
'Easy-' she coughed, 'for you-' she coughed again, 'to say!'
The choking did ease eventually, and Puar squirmed to be set down, shucking his hand and staggering away from him.
'That was awful!' she said, starting to cry, then dissolving into another coughing fit. 'I drowned! And then I didn't die! I just kept drowning!'
'But you're alive!' He reached out to bundle her up again. 'Thank the gods, Puar, I-'
She spun and lashed out at his hand, her kitten claws actually tearing his skin, his chi was so low.
'Ow! What was that for?'
'Because you almost killed me!' And then she burst into a storm of tears and coughing. She persevered in trudging towards the bathroom on her short, wobbly limbs, and Vegeta watched her, feeling ashamed.
'This stuff is slimy and gross!'
He reached out to her. 'Puar, let me help you.'
'No! You'll probably hurt me again!'
'I won't! I promise, Puar, I'll be careful! I'll never hurt you again,' he pleaded, afraid that Puar was about to turn her back on him, too, and he deserved it.
She only cried harder, then collapsed to her haunches, wailing morosely.
'Please, don't cry, cat,' Vegeta said, his voice hoarse. He could not hold himself together against his own hurt and shame if she kept on.
'Why not? All my friends are gone! I don't have any!'
'Didn't you say I was your friend?' he asked. At this she fell forwards dramatically and pressed her face to the floor.
'Fuck! Puar! Let me help!'
He scooped her up gently and carried her to the bathroom. Placing her sobbing form on the vanity, he ran a warm basin of water, then sat her in it. She remained passive, submerged in grief. Sighing, he reached into the basin and splashed water on her back, then poured a handful on her head. When she still didn't seem to be motivated to clean herself he squeezed out some hand soap from the dispenser and started rubbing it into her fur. At this, Puar finally took it down a notch and merely sniffled as he rubbed soapy circles against her bony little back. She was so delicate and tiny. He should not have forgotten that.
'I am sorry for what I did,' he told her quietly. 'It was an accident.'
'It wasn't an accident - you lost your temper and hurt me on purpose!'
His fingers slowed, and he could feel the heat of shame creeping up from the collar of his training suit.
'You are right. I lost my temper. And I can't promise I won't again. But didn't mean to hurt you. I shouldn't have shaken you, shouldn't have taken it out on you. I shouldn't have touched you at all. I won't ever do anything like that again, I swear it, Puar.'
She didn't say anything, still sitting hunched over, her emotions a mystery.
'Will you forgive me?'
Dammit, he wouldn't blame her if she didn't. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing to stop him forgetting himself and crushing her to death next time he was in a rage. He'd never, until recently, had to curb his impulses to lash out at those around him who were weaker.
I must remember! I must not not act out my rage on those weaker than I!
He had to drill it into his head somehow.
Tentatively, he started lathering her head and ears, then her forepaws, feeling their tiny bones and needle-sharp claws that poked out when he squeezed the pads. Just a fraction of pressure harder, and he would crush her paws to pulp. A shiver ran up his body, and his throat tightened painfully. He scrunched his eyes shut and pressed his lips together, but couldn't stop his body rocking with suppressed sobs. With his hands holding Puar he couldn't even hide his face.
Suddenly Puar jumped forward, hugging his wrist.
'I forgive you!' she said. 'I have to forgive you, because you're the only friend I have, now! And I'm the only friend you have, and you need me.'
I am not your friend.
The words jumped to the front of his mind - the script for this interaction, but he pushed them aside. He gave up fighting it. Let it be whatever Puar thought it to be. He did need her.
He needed a cat.
He needed a friend.
What the fuck had he become?
His efforts to contain his emotion were in vain, and he grabbed the hand towel with his free hand and pressed it over his face, bending over the vanity with one hand still in the basin, Puar clamped tight to it.
'I'm sorry, too,' she said.
'For saying you're horrible.' She started crying again. 'I didn't mean it!'
How long this pathetic scene went on, Vegeta couldn't say, but at least the sounds of Puar crying drowned out his own. As soon as he was able get himself together he brustely sluiced the soap off her, then plucked her sorry form out of the sink and wrapped her in the towel.
'No apology required, Daemon.'
When Puar was semi-dried, they ventured out to investigate the camp and what the others had left them.
First they checked the credit stash, and thank the gods, the others had left them what seemed like most of it. They would need this money to buy supplies, and perhaps even a cheap ship, or… Vegeta had no idea what he would find on the moon, whether they had taken all the ships or not. Would they need to waste time doing more shipjacking? At least he could steal a ship now in the most blunt of ways and no one would but Puar object. If he was fast enough about it, maybe they would run into them on the trading post planet he and Raditz had picked out. Wouldn't that be quite a scene?
They had left the roasting spit and some cookware, and Vegeta wondered if there was any point taking these cast-offs himself. Though last night's dinner suggested that even Raditz's spit rotisserie was better than nothing.
And the capsule house was still there.
Crossing the ledge Vegeta let himself in, feeling like he was intruding for not knocking first. It was exactly as he had left it yesterday morning, except the toast was gone.
Puar floated in behind him and started looking through the cupboards and fridge. Vegeta walked to the bedroom and stared at the bed, all the happy memories formed there like choking dust now, clogging his throat and bringing the sting of threatening tears to his eyes.
He didn't feel angry now. He felt ashamed. She had thought she needed to go, and she'd gone in such a hurry that she hadn't even packed her clothes, or the perfumed hair products or body wash from the bathroom. He'd expected her to wait for him, to endure his grand sulk, not realising how serious her urgency was - he'd forced her to leave without saying goodbye. Of course she had chosen the lives of the Earthlings over him - that was her grand aim, and he would not give his own purpose up for her. It was only fair.
'Bulma left her laptop!' he heard Puar call from the living room.
He found her trying to lift the thing from the bench seat to the tabletop. The woman was never without her "laptop" computer; it was her go-to tool and involved in nearly all her inventions and scheming.
'She's going to be pissed when she realises!' Puar said.
'She apparently left in such haste, I wouldn't be surprised if she forgot a lot of essential items.'
He froze as he suddenly remembered the giant dragonball radar. Where was it? Last he knew it was installed on the freighter! Had they remembered to take it off and leave it for him?
Rushing outside, he took to the air to fly around the cruiser, the camp, then the side ravine where Bulma did her experimenting. He didn't recognize anything as the dragon radar he'd seen attached to the freighter. But there was no way they could have forgotten to leave it for him! How else would he find Namek?
He flew back to the house, startling Puar.
'Did Bulma tell you what she did with the dragonball radar?'
She flinched at his shouting and shook her head.
'She didn't take it off the freighter and leave it somewhere for us to find?'
'Gods damn them! What are we going to do now!'
He went back to the ship, Puar following behind, looking around again for one of Bulma's compressing capsule things that she may have, however unlikely, left the radar in to install on another ship, but he found nothing. The ship was stripped of all small items, the surfaces bare and empty.
How could she have forgotten? Hadn't she thought of his needs and requirements at all? Or Tarble's? She'd doomed Tarble, too, with her thoughtlessness, and he'd thought she'd valued Tarble, after all those tears she had shed for him.
He took the earpiece from his pocket and shoved it in his ear, even though he knew it shouldn't work, unless, by some miracle, the repeater on the freighter was still in range.
'Bulma, you thoughtless bitch, where is the dragonball radar? I need the radar, or else you've just ditched me and Puar with no hope of succeeding! Come back here!'
There was no answer though.
He screamed, falling to his knees. Without the radar, how was there anything but utter failure before him?
'VEGETA! STOP! THINK!'
He looked at Puar, desperate for her to tell him he was wrong.
'There's something not right here,' she said, looking on the point of falling apart herself. 'Why would Bulma leave her laptop? She'd never forget that!'
She was right - this was out of character.
'She left a note,' he said, remembering. Maybe that would have some clues as to what had been going through her head last night. He got to his feet and ran up to the flight deck. When he snatched the paper off the chair there was something underneath it.
He stared at it, uncomprehending.
'What is that doing here?' Puar asked when she caught up.
Vegeta's heart beat slow, but so hard, his ears started to buzz. Another betrayal to the PTO? Who? Raditz? He couldn't believe it.
'Open the note!' Puar screeched.
My Dearest Monkey-Princeling,
You will be pleased to know that our master is just as maniacally obsessed with your capture and death as ever.
'It from Zarbon!' he realised.
'How?' Puar demanded. 'Was he here?'
'He couldn't possibly-' And then he realised that strange perfumed fragrance the note was saturated in was Zarbon's.
Fingers shaking, he read the rest of the note.
To this end, Lord Frieza has sent me here in the case that Nappa failed to deliver on his promise, and from what I observe, he most certainly has.
Despite his, probably inevitable, failure and death however, Nappa provided us (somewhat ironically) with a good deal of intelligence on the capabilities of your crew. I knew better, therefore, than to attempt to confront any of you since your unnatural power augmentation at the hands of the Namekian shaman. The simple application of a powerful sedative to your evening meal whilst your camp was deserted proved quite effective, apart from the fact that you didn't show up to eat your portion. However, this is no impediment. I have your Saiyan monkey troop, and I have your foul mate, and I have your "giant Dragonball radar", which no doubt, will prove quite advantageous. If you wish to see any of these items again, you will keep the rendezvous with our master on Planet Frieza 65.
I see your ship is in rather poor repair. Feel free to use the attack pod I left in the desert on the far side of the planet. If you haven't forgotten how to use PTO equipment, you should be able to locate it using the scouter accompanying this letter. The transponder on the pod should get you through any and all PTO wormholes and checkpoints. Our master would prefer no delay.
If you have any questions or enquiries, there is a direct line set up on this scouter. Do not trouble me with inanities, however, or I won't make myself available.
'Oh, gods, oh, gods,' he found himself muttering.
He let the latter fall, and Puar took hold of it, still struggling to read the Galactic script, gasping in shock at each revelation.
Bulma hadn't left without a word - she'd been kidnapped. She was in Frieza's clutches, as was the radar… Wave after wave of prickling, cold horror rolled through him. A tiny part of him was relieved, but the rest of him was just terrified to the core. He had been blindsided. They had all been outwitted by Zarbon, when he was positive that any of his crew besides Bulma and Puar could have taken him in a straight battle.
He picked up the scouter and sagged into the chair, feeling faint. Frieza would kill them all, except maybe Bulma, whom he would enslave.
He pressed the power button on the side of the scouter and put it over his ear. The HUD lit up, and the open com link to Zarbon flashed in the corner, muted.
'Unmute comlink triple-one.'
The symbol changed to live.
'That's General Zarbon to you, Captain,' Zarbon said when he answered.
Hatred bubbled to the surface of Vegeta's heart at the sound of that smooth, sardonic voice. He had hoped to never hear it again after their encounter on Namek. He latched onto it, using it as a raft to stay afloat the fear.
'If I see you again, I will kill you.'
'Bold words from someone who lost our last fight.'
'I am a hundred fold more powerful than I was then. Can you say the same?'
Zarbon only chuckled. 'I'm not willing to test you on it. And you won't get a chance. The gristle is between you and Frieza, and I will stay out of it as far as Grenouilly possible. Did you just call to chit-chat?'
'I want to know if my crew are alive and well.'
Zarbon snorted. 'It's true - you have changed. They are all fine, All sleeping soundly in their stasis chambers.'
A video feed was transposed over his own scouter's HUD, and Vegeta closed his other eye and covered the screen with his hand in order to see it better. The view of an empty ship's bridge bounced and swayed as Zarbon left it, walking through the corridors of a ship that looked like a smaller PTO frigate or larger landing vessel. Both the bridge and the corridors were empty.
'Where are all the crew on your ship?' Vegeta asked.
'Nowhere in particular. I seem to be a little short-handed.'
'Is that why you came down to Baccanelli in person?'
'Correct. But it turns out, it's true that if you want something done well, it's better to do it yourself!' He laughed, as if this was some sort of joke.
'We would have sensed you at our camp! There's no way we would have missed a significant chi signature like yours!'
'Ah! The chi-sensing! Nappa boasted about that. I will have to get one of your monkey-brethren to teach me how to do it myself before all this is over. I merely donned a chi-supressing collar like we would use on a dangerous criminal. Hideous to be without chi, but effective in this case to slide by undetected.'
He stopped in a curved section of corridor lined with sleek, glass stasis chambers. Vegeta strained to see the occupants via the transparent image. Zarbon went on though, apparently enjoying the sound of his own voice.
'And the chi-sense may also have helped me find your camp. My scouter was quite useless; at first it found me nothing more notable than some local tournament fighters, and when I did finally catch something more brilliant, the thing exploded. I had a spare, but I didn't want to waste it. But, not to worry. It turns out that one of your troop hasn't been very discreet. Imagine my surprise when I flipped on the holovision set in my hotel and saw the news channel running a story titled "My Saiyan Lover - Sweet Stuff Sex Worker Tells a Tall Tale"!'
Vegeta cringed. 'Dammit, Raditz.'
'The lady in question was quite willing to part with more information with only a little encouragement. Your boy has taste, I'll give him that. Exotic, too! I'd never have imagined the versatility of a lover with both a cooch and a cock!'
Vegeta blinked. There was a lot to unpack there.
'Did you harm Anemone?'
'No need. Only money and charm was required for her to spill her secrets. She seemed under the impression I was some sort of journalist.'
He'd seduced Anemone. He had never known Zarbon to display any sort of interest in women, or on men either, for that matter, or anyone at all besides himself. But that was an irrelevant detail.
'Show me my crew!'
Zarbon sighed and took a closer look in four of the chambers. Vegeta recognised the slumped shapes of Kakarott, Krillin, Raditz and Brolly in the padded chairs of the stasis booths. 'Here they are, safe and sound.'
'Show me Bulma!'
Zarbon snorted. 'Ah, Vegeta, how we both have changed! I have her awake for now. I had a few questions.'
'You're torturing her?'
'No! Not yet; she's co-operating!'
'If you hurt her, I will tear your skin off pinch by pinch, char your raw flesh and dip you in acid before I kill you!'
Zarbon laughed heartily. He was moving through the corridors again, ending up at a small brig. Bulma was behind the force field, and jumped to her feet when Zarbon entered. She was manacled to the wall on a long leash. She looked mad as hell. Zarbon pressed the button to drop the force field in the doorway.
'What do you want this time?' he heard her demand, the sound faint through Zarbon's scouter.
'I'm talking to Vegeta right now. Say hello to your lover, Bulma.'
See? Perfectly fine. And I expect she will still be when you join us on Planet Freiza 65. It's your one-and-only chance to save her!'
'Vegeta, it's a trap!' Bulma screamed.
Zarbon laughed. 'I think, as dense as Vegeta may be, even he understands that!'
Bulma's expression became hopeless.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'Vegeta, you were right, we should have just gone to Namek first! Don't come after us! Go straight to Namek and make the wishes! We should have all left yesterday morning. Then this wouldn't have-'
Her voice was silenced as Zarbon put the force field back up again.
'I haven't told her yet that I have your dragon radar. So, Vegeta, you know what you have to do. I have a…twelve hour or so head start, you have an attack pod...I wonder which one is faster?'
The comlink closed.
Author's Note: You're welcome.
Now, before you start raging about Anemone, Raditz did tell her it was okay to tell her story if she waited a few days till they were off planet. Well, she did, but they were still on the planet. And she and Gal still need that money to get Gal free of her contract and set up their new business. It only makes sense.