Tripping over her own heavy feet as Vegeta dragged her behind him, the concrete walls and iron cell doors whizzed past, one closed cell door after the other after the other. The air was sweetly rank with the damp dregs of the ship, and the lights queued from their end of the cell block stretching outward and endlessly before them were causing them both to squint painfully. She struggled to take in breath and put one foot in front of the other, cursing herself desperately for having mastered the skill of using her own two legs so long ago, and now, of all times, failing miserably at it.
Her wrist clutched in his grip prevented her from being anything other than a kite gaining air behind him. All she could see of him was his broad back stretching the grimy gray jumpsuit as their footsteps pounded the pavement.
Their long strides must have measured a quarter of a mile when the orange glow of the incandescent bulbs above them was replaced by the bright clean light of fluorescents, and she swung around his form, pulling against her wrist clamped in his grip with the need to see. The hallway emptied out into a foyer up ahead. Her heart stumbled over itself.
They spilled out into the foyer and he skidded to a halt, causing her to smack into his back. He released her wrist, and automatically she stepped to his side to see what it was that he had stopped for. She stuttered with confusion.
There was no one there.
"Why have we stopped? Where is-"
He spun her to the side and pointed his finger to a corridor. She tensed, assuming he must have heard a noise or spied the silhouette of a guard. Instinctually, she gripped the back of his shirt and peered out from behind him.
Instead, the tip of his finger lit her vision up, bathing her face a brilliant, catalina blue. Bulma's eyes widened.
How long had it been since she'd seen a blue like that? A deep blue, forbidding. Electric, but cool and controlled. Dreamy as an ocean that she'd splashed around in with small feet, and as thoughtful a blue as the sky above her to lay beneath and ponder with the powerful sincerity only childhood could claim. Something was in her chest as she stared at the blue energy in his hands, an acute pain that could only come from remembering something as sweet and faraway as the unadulterated pleasure of childhood.
Her hair began to rise, and she clutched him with white knuckles as his pointer finger lowered, aiming at a distant doorway, and slowly, they watched as a guard meandered out from a doorway, turning their way and then coming to a halt uncertainly before them.
The thick, long finger glowed a searing white blue before it jumped, emitting a string of dazzling electric energy that surged forward, whipping back and forth like a serpent to plunge straight into the chest of the guard.
She held her breath around a shriek.
"MOVE," he hollered, except he was high tailing it towards the guard and the hall. A dozen different protests over the logic of his decision burbled up into her mouth, but she chased after him.
His stride was nothing but powerful even having just been uncaged, and they were dumped into another foyer, with less luck this time. Guards, guards everywhere- -they all stood, rigid and disbelieving, as she and her fellow escapee poured into the room, their jumpsuits easily giving their identities away.
They were surrounded. She stepped closer to the Saiyan as the guards all stood from their chairs along the walls, regarding the spectacle they'd created in the center of the room.
"They're unarmed," she whispered, unable to turn her gaze away as each guard dropped into an uncertain defensive stance, knees and fists bobbing.
"The sins of the prideful revealed," came his answering rumble, and liquid energy began condensing inside his palms. "Get behind me and stay there."
She scurried behind him and grabbed at the hips of his jumpsuit with less trepidation than she'd ever like to admit.
Like dominoes falling, the guards began their descent, falling towards them one foot after the other, and the energy roiling in his fists became wild and ragged before its unruly ambitions became too much and the stunning microcosm imploded in on itself. It trembled violently once before condensing into a thick ball of blue light skipping over his skin. The Saiyan began turning circles gracefully on his heels. She followed behind him, failing to mirror his own footwork. "Hurry up already!" She griped as the guards drew nearer.
She was jolted when the Saiyan lit up into flames, and the energy rushed over him like waves, torrents gushing from some untapped source. She gaped. She'd spent years fighting an enemy that held the universe in its palm like some sort of kitsch token won at a carnival. Without any luster at all, without any respect at all, they crushed it in their hands like cruel boys.
But here was this thing that wasn't supposed to be, this earthly phenomenon, this fairy tale Bardock and Turles had spoken of existing before the Icejins arrived on Vejitasei like a remorseless north wind. They'd told her about ki energy, oh sure, they'd assured her when she shook her head dismissively of its realness, of its vitality, of their ability to use it like a shepherd with a living tool. Of course, Frieza had taken it away from them as soon as touching down on Vejitasei and felling the Royal Family. Snipping it like they'd hacked off their tails, cutting off its course by cutting their wiring just above their spine in their skulls. The only race in all of the galaxies to be able to harness, tame, and grow the energy of their spirits beyond the Icejin, now powerless eunuchs, impaired and profoundly tormented for Frieza's small pleasure.
Why wasn't this one castrated as well?
It was hot, his ki was, and it smelled like ozone and made its home in her sinuses like the dried out heat that came from an old furnace, causing what was left of her hair to stand on end with static. It rolled off of him into the sky without seeming to take anything away from him, rushing out and then upwards like a momentary secret from Kami, too lofty for sharing with earthly folk. It warmed her toes and hands in a way she'd gone without since she'd left port just before being captured, when she still had the small pleasure of heat and sleeping between sheets and a job to do each day in relative freedom, sorting through refugees and arming a coup.
Hadn't the emotion strangled inside her, watching them straggle in and give thanks to the Resistance effort for sanctuary and activism, remembering when she had been a fresh refugee, the raw despair and pleas for help still on her tongue? She'd watched women, jumpy, avoiding her men and close spaces and understood their caution deeply. Many women were given as toys to the Imperial Army. It was the Icejin's superstition that women were good for nothing but pleasure, but trinkets in the boudouir. Some luckless women, like herself, were given to the Elites to bounce upon the waters like a skipping stone before finally sinking. The Elites, the top guns in the Imperial Army, were the truly depraved. They had honed a sadism that the foot soldiers lacked. It was how she had met Zarbon. The memory churned her gut. The real currency the Empire dealt by was pain, trading the estrangement and angst of subjugated people's into a pleasuredome.
Once she'd finally made her final and first-successful escape from the Empire, she'd made it very clear when she'd pinned the note to Frieza on the lifeless body of the man she'd first had an 'assignation' with that calling her a 'whore' leading a 'Whore's Army' was misleading. She was nobody's whore. She was the Empire's misbegotten nightmares.
That kind of resistance, that kind of rejection of the definitions Frieza had made for them all, was her deepest pleasure. Much like the conceptualizing and devising she did with her father at Capsule Corporation before the Earth's demise, this was engineering on an even grander scale.
The Saiyan reached his hands out benevolently before facing his palms outward at the guards, who seemed seconds away from rushing them. And with a downward sweep, energy burst from his palms with a spurious sizzling, and whipping like barely contained lightning, he swept it through the guards midsections one by one in an eardrum bursting adagio.
As the guards fell to their knees and then into lifeless disarray like marrionettes freed from their strings, the Saiyan closed the requiem with a last, brilliantly blue burst, and then the roiling energy at his palms was gone, escaped, the energy around him folding up and disappearing inside him.
The few dozen guards lay silent, entrails weeping.
The Saiyan strode towards the final hallway, energy flaring around him delusory.
Bulma tried hard to keep her last meal from tumbling out and followed him blindly.
Frieza waited for them at the heart of the bay of ships they'd hoped to escape from, several dozen guards at its perimeter and his upper Elites at his side.
She and the Saiyan stopped side by side at the opening of the port's mouth, absorbing it.
"The Prince has returned," Frieza said with a sickeningly smug smile. He was all contradictions, all stone and evil inside a deceptively saccharine delivery.
Her thoughts stuttered. Prince? The Saiyan Prince? He hadn't been jesting? But...the Prince was dead. Wasn't he?
His bottomless stare spoke volumes of his belief that he was being sullied just by having to personally put down this mutiny.
Did he fear, somewhere deep down, that he couldn't? Did he exist so far in his conceited wonderland that he believed he was too big to be touched? Was he here just because he was so deeply offended that someone would try?
"It seems that you have regained your faculties," the Emperor mentioned like it were tripe, in repose, and in response, the Saiyan powered up, whipping her hair and buffeting her feet.
"You would have had me rot with them still intact, after all," the Saiyan snapped.
A smile that didn't reach his eyes crept up the Emperor's face. "It was merely the first phase of your stay here. You have many, many more phases to go before I even think of killing you. I will no longer hide you from the masses, I think, not so much because your decay on display will surely melt even the most powerful resolve, but because there are no more Saiyans left for your existence to impact." An icy tremor betrayed his anger.
"Half right, you dickless joke," the Saiyan answered in a guileless baritone beside her. "There is one Saiyan left, and he is standing on two feet in front of you." His cyclone of energy doubled swiftly in width. "And your error has ushered in the last phase of my incarceration: that of your death." He had seemed to have forgotten all about her now, and his ki pushed her backwards to its proximate limits, several feet behind him. Frieza's talon-like toes flexed against the floor at the end of the Saiyan's speech, and he crossed his arms over his sleek white torso in a chillingly human pantomime of consideration.
"I don't think I can reject your offer, even though I long to crush your spirit for years and years to come. Saiyans are not so long lived that I'd even get a fraction of full satisfaction at your duress, but at least I've made certain that you will never have another moment of pleasure in the presence of another Saiyan, or on your hellish home soil."
The answering flare of ki from the Prince managed to knock her and the guards to their backs. She caught herself clumsily with her palm behind her but sank with a painful knock to her knees, staring upwards at the back of the Saiyan with a powerful plea she didn't even recognize giving. Was this the moment? They stood in front of evil itself and were cast to sink or swim. All of her work was for this moment, transpired in a way she could have never imagined or planned for. The Saiyan Prince lived, his legendary power was evident. But was it enough to end the Empire?
With a brief burst of energy that blinded her for a terrifying moment, the Prince knocked the guards from their positions once more, this time for good, his ki cutting a swath through their necks. In disfigured poses, they gaped up at the ceiling with awkward moues. All around her were the bodies of the dead that only took the Prince the briefest flare of ki, and she gaped, kneeling in a parody of a curtsy. Through the bright light of his energy, she could see through its trembling, viscous substantiality the faces of some of the Elites, wavering.
She seemed to have been forgotten by all behind him, and with no one left to bother with her, she gave a moment's thought to crawling to some safe space to wait for this impromptu, flaming refrain that was sure to come to come to its end.
She thought she heard the Prince say cavalierly, "I will have all the pleasure of a lifetime soon once I've dispatched you to Hell."
Something in front of the blue wall his energy had created burst into a vivid, ripe purple, and she understood from the tick tock of her heart and the leaping of her gut that this was it, this was the end.
There was a tremor she felt through her palms on the floor, and the blue and purple ki battered at the other as the beings in the center of it powered up to their fullest heights.
The keening whistle of ki whipping upwards, the tremors ransacking the ship became an all consuming white noise, and her heart pounded to its rhythm. Not something stately or gracious, no, but grand anyways, as she watched the half dozen Elites seek to surround the Prince, whose attention was on their sovereign.
In the heart of the place where she sat, mouth dry with dumb shock, her eyes followed the spattering of Elites still alive as they manuvered around the press of the Prince's royal blue ki, unable to breach it, but pacing like ants.
And that's when she saw it.
A single ki rifle, banging against the side of one of the doddering Elites.
She crawled towards him without thinking.
There was a flash, followed on its tail by a shrieking siren's song of immense power, and Bulma understood then that the fight had begun, though she couldn't make them out. Bardock had explained to her that Saiyans fought at impressive speeds. The only thing that proved that the Saiyan and the Emperor even existed in the same space was the occasional whine of air as their kicks and fists sliced it, and the occasional meaty crack of a fist making impact.
She stalled then, worrying her lip as she tried without success to make out whether the Prince was okay. Let him be okay, she prayed. The feeling was unfamiliar to her. Faith in the logic of the universe was long lost to her. Let him live, she thought urgently, anyways.
It seemed so selfish a thing to pray for. Though wasn't the very act of praying self centered anyway? But if there was anything to stake her faith on, her life on, it was this, wasn't it? It was the Saiyan Prince.
A few of the Elites had already been slain, lying askew on the floor, and she crab crawled around them. She glanced around frantically. Where had the one with the gun gone? She didn't recognize him, the little green thing with the bulbous eyes. There. He sat clutching his chest, weapon falling out of its holster as he drew in breaths from a hole in his neck.
She could have laughed in savage glee. She pressed forward.
She neared him and reached out, small pale hands closing around the butt of the rifle. "This is outstanding," she breathed. Ki technology wasn't something anyone had ever entertained. Ki was a legend! And besides, they were lightyears away from this kind of stuff. She should have known, should have listened to Bardock and Turles instead of dismissing their stories. Stupid! Of course, it must be the very thing Frieza feared in the Saiyans! The weight of the gun pressed against her hands and she lifted it with reverence. Lifted it, and put the stock to her shoulder, and aimed without thinking, with old familiarity at the nearest thing that moved.
The kickback was brutal, causing her to slide back on the floor a few feet and crack the back of her head against it, speckling her vision. She laughed raggedly as the smell of soot and ozone greeted her.
"You," came the sweet cruel voice of the Icejin Emperor, and she opened her eyes to see him gazing down at her, blood seeping from the corner of his pouting, unhinged mouth.
"Did I do that?" She asked reverently.
"You should have stayed with the whores," he said to her, and she fought to breathe.
He pointed one slender white finger at her.
Amid the raucous of her emotions, she understood poignantly.
His long fingernail shimmered with his misleadingly beautiful, mauve ki.
She could only stare helplessly above her at that pointed face that had haunted her since the 'harvesting' of her planet, with every boarish Elite grunting above her, with every mother forever separated from her children weeping into the crook of her neck, with every curse in Saiyago Bardock would choke out beside her in his sleep.
"You should have killed me when you had the chance," came a sonorous answer somewhere above her, a winged thing that seemed to pluck the diamond from the rough of all her thoughts and answer for her, and with a speed too immediate to process, an angel appeared out of the air, bathed in golden light, and plunged his knee into Frieza's back, a string of surprised purple spittle hurling above her head.
She sat up with panic to watch the Prince's gripped fists coming down on the head of the Emperor, who crumpled to the ground, though he countered with much less controlled movements to deliver a fist to the Prince's midsection.
The Prince was on his hands and knees, and with cold regard, the Emperor turned towards her. Their eyes met as he leveled his finger in her direction.
"Bang," the Emperor mouthed, firing off a single burst of ki just a moment before something ripped through her shoulder and her world winked black.
The Prince let out a loud growl in abject rejection as he watched her body collapse a dozen feet from them, before tearing the offending hand right off Frieza's body. Frieza let out a shriek and stared upwards into the halo emitted around him, pupils contracting with fear.
"No." The Emperor rejected stiffly. "No. I will give you anything. A position at my side? Anything, tell me what will buy you." The words were now tumbling brokenly from his mouth, which hung loosely, thanks to the woman, from his face.
"Tell me first," the Prince said above the Icejinn, "does an Icejinn like you experience fear?"
Guessing by the terrified grimace on Frieza's face as his vision took in the golden aura of energy crowning the Prince, he must have been capable of feeling something like it.
"Good," the Prince purred before plunging his fist through Frieza's skull.
All he could hear was the roar of enervated energy in his ears and things crashing down around him, and he stood shakily, listing sideways a bit, blood dripping from his fists.
He surveyed the room, now strewn with flames and rubble, and he heard the tale tell sound of the ship's engine whining before they exploded next to the fuel tanks. The room was conspicuously empty, until he remembered that everyone who'd once inhabited the ship had been slain, the stark evidence of it all over the floor.
He had half a mind to incinerate the Emperor and all that remained before the naggling at the back of his mind manifested before him in a pool of blue hair and blood lying a few feet away from him.
He was there in an instant, tripping over himself as he kneeled beside her. Her eyes were open, unseeing, and he shook her, noting the hole in her shoulder.
Something jumped inside him when her gaze found his.
A small smile appeared on her face.
"Did we get him?" She rasped with child-like uncertainty.
"Yes," he struggled to say, his jaw tightening.
A small fist rose in his vision, her fist, clenched in solidarity, and a dazzling smile stretched across her face. Blue eyes, blue as the deepest velvet gracing the throne of Vejitasei, and he covered her fist with his hand and smirked back at her.
"We did it," she said.
Nose to nose, they smiled at one another, before her eyes rolled upwards and she sunk into darkness, helpless in his arms.
It was between pleasure and pain that they hauled the bodies from the pod and rushed them to the wall of regen tanks below deck, submerging the limp things in a panic and slamming their palms on the 'ON' buttons even as they fumbled with the oxygen masks and the switches to latch the doors.
Shouts tripped along the walls as they fought with untangling the puzzle that the two bodies had left them. Frowning white with fear because they knew who it was that lay pale on twin stretchers, jostled as they were rushed down the hallways, and not knowing why. It wasn't until, just moments later, they got the call from another fob from another quadrant with news that the Icejin ship had gone up in a silent, grave supernova.
Was the Emperor on it? They had all questioned, disbelieving.
"The Emperor is dead," the fob grimly answered.
The Emperor was dead, his ship blown to kingdom come, and the Empire with it, and two desperados floated soundlessly in the regen tanks below deck, with all of the answers locked behind their closed eyes.
How their hearts had jumped for joy- -he'd hugged his captain and his star navigator more than once- -but soon plummeted, smothered with the awareness of the high cost, embodied in two bodies that floated somewhere between life and death.
Indeed, their healing tanks chirrupped like normally, alerting them to the rhythm of their heartbeats and to the levels of the oxygen and to the naked urgency of the situation. The familiar sounds of the regen tanks seemed much more grave this time, much more prone to error and imbued with more of an ominous chirp than any other time in memory. His helmsman put in the call. The Emperor is dead. The Prince lives. The Blue Lady lives. But prayers for their lives are in order.
Lives tattered by the Empire's masochism, just as all of their lives were. One day, they'd been living each day with only a complaint about what was for supper or the alarm clock sounding in the dark, and the next day they'd then been living with their children's blood awash on their tunics, their home planet's dust skimming the horizon at night, where they hammered out sixteen hour days in labor camps, trying hard not to glance at the stars, where their wives never to be seen again, wishing for death under some Elite's savage thrusts.
Should we hold a wake? The gunner had asked.
They shook their heads roughly and cupped his ears, growling with displeasure.
Only prayers would be heeded. Only prayers, no epilogues, no fears, no funerals.
After all, it was without reservation that the two had taken up the helm of the resistance. The memory of the Dead Prince and the magnetism of the Blue Lady collecting them all in their arms and setting them on a new path of meaning. No, their lives would never be the same. There was no one in the whole wide universe that could give that back to them. What the Empire had taken away was permanent. The scars on their hearts would forever be there, itching, aching hollowly in cold weather, where they'd rub at it, the damn things pestering them, and continue with their day as if nothing in the world had been ripped from under them.
But they had been given another chance at living, a living beyond their scars instead of never leaving their residence, scratching them raw.
Prayers, and prayers only. Nothing else would be heeded.
It was natural for her memory to be clouded and her cognition fuzzy upon coming out of the regen tank, the women assured her. She stood under the spray of the shower numbly, running her hand through her hair with unfamiliarity. Do you want to cut it? One of the women asked when she stepped out of the shower and onto the towel, where they hovered, observing her cautiously. A towel made its way over her shoulders. Cut what? She'd asked, frowning slightly. The women glanced at each other. Had she suffered brain damage? It was apparently what they were thinking. She made a face. Sit down, Ms. Briefs, one of the women laughed. We'll trim your hair for you. It's grown a bit longer since you been in there, anyway. We'll give you something short and sassy and feminine. Something real cute.
She sat in the chair and let them do whatever it was to her.
Care to pick your outfit? They asked. She felt a twinge of memory, something loosen. "Clothes?" She asked and then felt stupid for it. Don't feel stupid, the women laughed good-naturedly. We're all just tickled you're alive.
She felt another twinge, a memory loosen but hold.
"I'll dress myself, thank you," she snarled tiredly.
Taking in, then, the amount of outfits at her perusal, she tamped down the anxiety coursing through her and turned back around. Thankfully, the women still hovered at the seams of her vision. They seemed to sense the overwhelmed misgivings pouring over her.
One of the women stepped forward. "Would you like some help?"
Ms. Briefs, still visibly out of it, nodded regally, seeming to understand that it wasn't damaging to her pride if she was being asked respectfully.
Much like the Prince had been, the women thought with a chuckle.
She stood in the center of the cabin, shaking hands and enduring a good many grown men tearfully thanking her.
It was receiving their gratitude firstly, and then she was to meet with the captain to hear reports of current events and discern what it was she wanted to do next. It didn't seem to be high on his list of priorities, though. She'd have thought he'd want to know what happened, whether the Emperor lived. But since she wasn't sure herself, she guessed that they wouldn't push it.
She was beginning to grow tired. That's natural, the captain assured her, offering her his seat, which she delicately refused. You've been in there quiet awhile, and a visit to the regen tank that long would pull the wool over anyone's eyes awhile. We're all just happy you're alive and well. She scowled, seemingly annoyed but only annoyed with herself. She was growing impatient to be functional again. She felt another tear inside, this one letting some kind of regret seep through, some kind of anger at herself because she couldn't properly receive their thanks without understanding exactly why.
She tugged at the slim collar of her blazer and endured the throbbing of her feet from her heels.
The Captain's voice breached her thoughts. Ms. Briefs, you've done more than enough for us, we won't put you out any longer. We have a room ready for you before you depart. Would you like to rest?
Her brow furrowed. All she heard was that her weakness was evident. She didn't want to rest, though her aching body definitely did. She wanted to demand her memory to return and feel like flesh and blood again, not this ghost of a woman before whatever trauma occurred before the regen tank.
Ma'am? Is there something bothering you? The smallest cadet asked her.
"I feel," Bulma croaked, her voice unused, "I feel like something is missing." She gazed out the cockpit windshield, where all the stars in this quadrant hung suspended, flickering silently.
Yes, ma'am, likely your memories.
Bulma gazed forlornly, stubbornly out the window, lips pulled taut with some unnamed, not understood emotion. The cadet's voice softened. Don't worry, they'll be back in good time-
A hush fell over the cabin, and after a moment, a twinge sounded again inside Bulma, this time unrelenting. Understanding the moment had gone on too long for silence, she turned her head over her shoulder with a contemplative, delicate frown.
There, where she had stood only moments ago shaking hands with the crew, was The Saiyan.
He regarded her from black eyes set in an imposing, noble face. Scrubbed clean, his skin was bronze and smooth, his cheeks wide and high and pronounced, his jawline sharp above his thick, strong neck. A crisply white breastplate caused his dusky coloring to stand out, the vivid red emblem of Vejitasei Royalty imprinted on his breast. A deep red cape hung gracefully around him, capped at the streamlined shoulders of his breastplate with gold links, matching the pointed toes of his snow white boots. His tail wrapped tightly around his waist as he stood rigidly under her regard, white gloved hands, with military precision, hanging at his hips.
She moved, and there she was, in front of him, and she placed her hand on his jaw to make sure he was real. He stiffened, but his eyes never left hers. "You're alive," she breathed, a smile cracking her troubled face.
"As alive as you are," he muttered, his eyes downcast before meeting hers again.
She grabbed at his hand and held it up in front of her face, the smooth, white glove in her grip. "Why didn't you tell me who you were?" She asked, and she couldn't wipe the smile off her face.
He scowled, but betrayed his discomposure with a slight blush. "What difference would it have made."
To his surprise, she laughed softly. "None at all," she admitted, smiling up at him, and he smiled down at her, his pleasure a handsome, quiet thing that lightened his intimidating expression. It added another level of complexity to him, as it was a bit crooked and wry. She smiled upwards at him with her own sharp, knowing smile and clutched his hand in her own against her chest.
"Welcome to your new life, Prince..." She drew out the title and leveled a quizzical look at him.
She stepped back, relinquishing his hand, before holding out her hand again to him with a warm smile. He clasped his in hers, shaking it slowly.
"Bulma. Bulma Briefs."
A/N: Thank you to all of those following this story or any of my other stories. This story is now complete, raising the total to four stories down in the war against unfinished fan fiction and anxiety attacks. If you're new to me as an author and you liked this story, you may like some of my other work, including Vigilantes and What Is Desire, both complete, and Reciprocity, which I give you permission to throw tomatoes at and boo off the stage. Reciprocity, that bum. It's update and conclusion alludes me at every turn.
This story wasn't even a twinkle in my eye last month, and I have the Contradictions Challenge to thank for that. In the event that any of you are regulars on the community and wondering what the hell I'm posting the final chapter for before submissions are due, I'm due to be away from my computer this weekend. I'll still post the link to the community on submission day via phone. I had a million other ideas and could have gone so many other directions with each prompt, but I'm glad I stuck it out with this one.