Disclaimer: I do not own DBZ, or the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story. But if I did...Oh man. Seriously guys--that would be awesome.
Warnings: None this chapter. Weird.
A/N: So I can't believe it's almost been a month between postings. Yikes! Time flies and all that good and fun stuff--but never fear. This story has not been forgotten about. First off, I wanted to thank everyone for their extremely kind and awesome reviews for the last chapter. I was so afraid I was going to post it, then lose all of you guys completely when I had Vegeta reject Bulma--but no. You guys understood that it made sense for Vegeta as a character, and were so great with your reviews. Honestly--you guys are all the best. I mean that from the very bottom of my heart.
As for this chapter...well, it's actually more of a half chapter. One of the shortest one's I've posted for a long time. There's a reason for that--this chapter is totally spontaneous, thought of and written in about two days (which also means no beta this chapter...I apologize in advance). Its not part of my original story outline...but it hit me, and I felt like it was necessary. Especially when I realized I have almost zero interaction between my female characters--so no men this chapter!
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Women
Bulma was in the process of writing a long list of components she would need for her working model of the steam-powered engine she had been slaving over when one of the Vegetasei footman tapped on her room. Bulma, chewing on the end of her pencil mumbled, "Enter," expecting her lunch to be brought in and left on the table behind her, like it had been on the past week. Instead the footman surprised her by walking over to the desk she was working on, presenting her with a card on a silver platter.
Bulma frowned first at the proffered card, and then at the man himself, knowing full well that the staff were under orders not to take anyone's cards meant for her, to only tell them that she was not receiving. It was not as if this was a new order either. She had not been receiving (or seeing other humans for that matter) ever since she had come back from the Regency--almost a week ago at this point.
Thankfully it was not seen as being rude, especially in light of her injury. The sprained ankle she had gotten from where Vegeta had grabbed her to drag her back into the building had proven to be her saving grace from having to go anywhere or see anyone. Though the story about how the ankle had been sprained was made up (everyone thought that the ankle had been sprained when she had slipped down some stairs--which mortified her since Bulma considered herself extremely graceful), the sprained ankle itself was extremely real. She had been seen by a doctor that next morning and told that she was not supposed to walk on it much, or at all really without the lovely (bleech) cane he had given her, for the next few weeks. It worked in her favor though, especially as Bulma had no true desire to leave her room anytime soon.
That night after Vegeta had unceremoniously dumped her back in front of Saiyan Hall--taking off to heavens knew where--Bulma had crawled into her bed, bawling her eyes out as she thought of not only how she had almost lost her life, but also how Vegeta had been so mean to her. She had known he was a pitiless man, she had seen flashes of it--she just never thought that such cruelty and vitriol would be directed at her, especially not from him. She thought things were different with them--that they were beginning to have a connection, a real one, that...well...that meant something to both of them. Shows what she knew.
So she had given herself that night, that one night, to really, truly cry her heart out. Her eyes and face had gotten puffy and swollen, her whole body aching with the exertion of the sobs that racked her body. Then she had fallen asleep--and when she had woken up she had fought herself (really fought herself) to get up from the bed after the doctor had come to see her, leaning heavily on her new cane as she made her way out of her bedroom. That was as far as she got. Leaving her room and sitting room were completely out of the question. She had to stay in there. She could not face other human beings right now.
It had been a tough few days, really forcing herself not to sink into any sort of depression or to allow herself to become that woman who could not leave her bed, but so far she had been doing incredibly well by her own estimates. She worked. She worked hard--and she did not allow herself anytime to stop working. Even when she was working she felt her emotions heave and change if she gave herself a second too long to think of anything but her engine.
When she got in bed at night, she tried to be exhausted enough that she would just pass out, but there would be an inevitable few moments where her thoughts would stray from work or sleep. They were erratic at best, incoherent usually. She vacillated between extremely angry at Vegeta for daring to talk to her like that, to extremely sad when she thought about the venom behind his words. It was not helped that he had been gone ever since that night, the only thing that Bulma had heard being that he had been called to one of his further land holdings for a few days. She wavered on her feelings on that as well--she was glad he was gone, too mortified to imagine facing him, then she was mad at him for running so she could not confront him, then sad when she realized that she partially wanted to confront him so she could ask him why she was not good enough for him.
Since she had been such a basket case of emotions, Bulma had considered it best for everyone to stay holed up in her room and not see anyone else. Hence the not receiving any visitors thing. But now, here was a footman presenting her with a card. Bulma only glowered at the man, wondering if he was new or slow, leaning towards the latter when her glare did not have him immediately stepping away from her. Bulma continued to look daggers at the man, and flicked her cane dismissively at the doorway he had just entered from. "Tell them I am not receiving."
The footman nodded, but gulped, still holding out the card. "I know mum, but your mother insisted that I present the card to you."
Bulma's voice turned less than lady-like as she screeched, "My mother?!"
The footman only nodded, and Bulma sighed, grabbing the card off the tray and dismissing the man before stomping out of the room, into the upstairs sitting room her mother occupied when she was not downstairs receiving. The cane really added to her anger nicely, Bulma thought as it thumped along the floor of the hallway, but it did present the problem of making it impossible to sneak up on anyone. Not that a sneak attack would do her any good when it came to her mother. Bunny was not deviously minded enough to prepare for battle.
Indeed, when Bulma stomped her way into the room her mother was sitting in, Bunny was sitting there with her back to the window, humming as she worked on some needlepoint, smiling up at Bulma as she came in. "Oh hello dear. Glad to see you up and out of your room. Did you receive the visitor downstairs?"
Bulma plopped down on a seat, her wounded leg already elevated when she crossed her arms, a scowl on her face. "No. You know I am not receiving anyone."
Bunny tutted, looking back down at her needlepoint as if Bulma had never entered. She hummed for a few more seconds, and then she continued talking, "That is a shame, Bulma. I thought you would see the name and be as intrigued as I am as to why she is calling on you."
Bulma opened her mouth to say something about not caring if the Queen of England herself was downstairs right now, but then her natural curiosity got the better of her and Bulma flipped the card over, reading aloud. Her voice was tinged with disbelief as she read, "The Dowager Countess of Red Ribbon?" She looked back up at her mother, her mouth hanging open, "Widow Gero? She's here?"
Bunny nodded, though she did not take her eyes off of the green thread she was currently pulling through a pattern of a flower's stem. "Mmhmm."
Bulma took to flipping the card over, again and again in her hand, as she wondered aloud. "But I thought she never called on anyone? Or that she had any women friends for that matter. I thought she never went out for tea time."
Bunny bit off a piece of thread, tying it before looking up at her daughter. "Indeed, my dear. The rumors around her place her as everything from a courtesan to a cold-hearted recluse who killed her own husband for his money." Bunny waited a calculated beat before continuing, "She must be a very intriguing woman to say the least. Especially with so much gossip surrounding her."
Bulma frowned again, muttering to herself mainly, "Yes...very intriguing indeed." Her voice got even softer as she continued, "What is she doing here then?"
Bunny smiled at her daughter having heard every word Bulma had just been muttering to herself. Bunny rarely missed anything, especially if it was being whispered around her. "Only one way to find out." Bulma looked at her, eyebrow raised, and Bunny made a shooing motion with her hand, "Why don't you go ask her?"
Bulma met her mother's triumphant eyes, and glared back though she knew that it would take much more than a stern look to ding Bunny's happy exterior. "You're trying to get me to be social again, aren't you?"
Bunny shrugged nonchalantly as she reached for the next color thread she would need. "I only know that you need to leave your room before you become that deranged girl who never leaves it who we all read about in those gothic novels." Bunny added silently to herself, I also know that you cannot resist solving a mystery, before she continued. "Now go see what she wants, before she gets tired of waiting and leaves."
Bulma stood with the use of her cane, and turned away conflicted, before she turned back to her mother, frowning. "Did you invite her here?"
Bunny snorted, already threading the newest color into her needle, not even bothering to look at her daughter as she answered. "Do you think the Widow Gero would respond to a summons from me? Please. Now go--and don't be rude."
Bulma held her head up haughtily, and turned in a huff, muttering to herself, "As if I could ever be rude...."
Bunny only smirked into her needlepoint, pretending not to hear that. That was the thing about having amazingly acute hearing--you had to know when to use it, and when to pretend to be as oblivious as everyone thought one was.
Bulma knew about the Widow Gero--she had seen her at society events, and she had heard the whisperings about her--so Bulma knew that the woman was beautiful. So she could not deny it was pure vanity that stopped Bulma from heading straight downstairs, going to her room instead and changing into one of her nicer day dresses, and touching up her hair before she continued to the yellow sitting room.
When she walked in the Widow was already sitting, stiffly (but primly) in one of the high-backed chairs that faced the window that showed the back gardens of Saiyan Hall. She was intently watching the outside, her eyes trained on the gardens as if she was waiting for somebody. Before Bulma could ponder that, the Widow Gero stood when realized Bulma had entered the room, ending her solitude. The women greeted each other before Bulma rang for some tea, the pair of them awkwardly sitting back down. They exchanged small pleasantries, all the time the pair of them examining each other as they spoke about the weather and a ball they had both attended, before they fell into a stilted silence as the tea was delivered.
Bulma looked at her, really looked at her, as the Widow looked at the tea service (rather intently), unable to deny the other woman's beauty. She was the opposite of Bulma--she was a real English rose, even if she was a little tall. She was slim, and delicate looking, her blonde hair and blue eyes adding to her cold beauty, Bulma frowning at that thought. Cold beauty might be the best way to describe this woman. She reminded Bulma, in certain ways, of Vegeta--she wondered if the two had ever met.
Bulma waited until the maid left before she poured them both tea, serving as she had always been taught. As the Widow daintily took a sip from her cup, Bulma did the same, before putting the cup down. Maybe it was because she had been out of human society for the past few days, or maybe it was because she was an impatient woman who saw no reason to have her society mask on around the Widow, but either way Bulma could not stop herself from bluntly asking, "So, why are you here?"
To her credit, the Widow waited until she finished putting her tea down, before blinking those large blue eyes at Bulma. "I am here to see you. I have heard much about you, and I grew curious. Especially after your extended absence from society. I see that the details of a sprained ankle were not exaggerated," the Widow added as she waved her hand in the general direction of Bulma's cane that was resting on the side of the couch Bulma was currently occupying. "I hope you have a speedy recovery. Society does not know what to do with itself when its incomparable is not at any events."
Bulma's lips turned down at the Widow's words, ignoring the attempted change of subject, as she crossed her arms. "They will survive. They have made it before I showed up, and Kami knows they will continue to survive long after I have gone." The Widow inclined her head, and Bulma pressed on, unable to stop herself from being so forward. Something about how cool this woman seemed--it irked her. Bulma wanted to ruffle the woman's feathers, to get some emotion out of the woman. How could anyone be so emotionless? Did her and Vegeta have a support group about how to be a human being made of stone? "I would say that I am honored by your curiosity, but we both know you are not here to see me."
The Widow's lips flattened into a thin line, but to her credit nothing else changed about her appearance. Even her voice was still melodic as she answered. "Oh? How do you presume to know all this?"
Bulma gave the woman a smirk, extremely grateful for her keen powers of observation. They had yet to fail her. "Well, your eyes are constantly drawn to the window over my shoulder, and every time the door opens you stiffen all the more--in anticipation I would say. Every time you hear footsteps approaching the door, you perk up, and if I'm not mistaken, your eyes are constantly being drawn to the far left of the window--towards the stables. You are waiting for someone to arrive, I would think." Bulma stopped for a second, seeing the denial already on the Widow's tongue, not giving her the chance as she continued, "We have never met before, and neither of us has anything the other can offer. It is not as if you are here trying to save a business for a brother or other relative, and you are not calling on me on behalf of any other male you associate with. Now why don't you tell me the real reason you're here? If it's not to see me, who are you here for?"
The Widow drew her hand across her forehead, smoothing her bangs, buying herself a second before she turned back to Bulma, ice blue eyes meeting azure ones as she said, "You're right. I am not here for you."
Bulma chuckled, leaning back in her seat as she smirked in satisfaction. "I figured as much. Why don't I save us both some time and go get the person you really want to see?"
The Widow's eyes grew slightly larger, and she cocked her head, examining Bulma with newfound interest. "You are not who you pretend to be, are you? Or are all Americans as blunt as you?"
Bulma laughed, smiling at the woman. "A little of both, I would think."
The Widow gave her a small, tight, very controlled smile. "It is a shame neither of us seems to be looking for female friends--I think we could have gotten along in another life."
Bulma was taken aback by the woman's own bluntness trying to imagine her and the Widow as friends. She had already tried to help someone with a heart of ice to thaw out some, and look how that had worked out for her. Still, she was not unkind, nor completely untruthful as she answered, "I think you might be right. But enough beating around the bush. Who are you really here to see?"
The Widow scrutinized Bulma for another moment, in silence, and Bulma saw a slight pink spread across the tops of the Widow's cheeks becomingly. It would seem contrived on anyone else, but on the Widow, who liked to have herself completely in control at all times Bulma knew it was a genuine blush. Interesting--very interesting.
Bulma could almost hear the internal battle the woman was having with herself in the chair over there, about whether or not she could really trust Bulma with knowing who she really wanted too, and she saw the woman reach a decision--and Bulma knew that whoever the Widow was about to ask for, she was lying. Not that that surprised Bulma much--the Widow reminded her of Vegeta, someone who had been so closed off from real human interaction for such a long time, that they did not trust easily. Or at all.
The Widow's hand traveled over her bangs again as she spoke. "I need to speak to your chef. I'm throwing a party for a visiting Scottish lord, an old friend of my husbands, and I need to know what I should make for them in celebration of their arrival."
Bulma stared at the Widow, tilting her head and giving her a disbelieving look that clearly said that Bulma knew she was lying. She gave the Widow a few moments to change her mind, to tell Bulma the truth, but when she did not, Bulma rose from her chair with the help of the cane, nodding her head. "I will go fetch her myself."
Bulma left the room, making her way to the kitchen. She could have very easily rang for the cook, but she needed a few minutes to herself to think about the interesting conundrum sitting in her sitting room. Who was the Widow really here to see? Why even both with the niceties of seeing Bulma--could she not just visit whomever she wanted?
Bulma frowned at her line of thinking, knowing that the only reason the Widow could have wanted to see Bulma would be because the person she really wanted to see would be a person she could not call on. Not only that, but she would call on Bulma specifically since whoever the Widow was really here to see had a strong chance of being with or even just around Bulma. So in other words--she was looking to speak to a male. A male connected to Bulma in some way, and if Bulma were a betting woman, she would have to say the Widow was looking for Goku. Bulma frowned at that thought, wondering what the Widow would want with her brother, but she could not dwell on it long as she was already outside the kitchen door.
As she was about to knock alerting the staff to her unusual presence (an unnecessary gesture, especially since the cane had been particularly loud on the wooden steps), she recognized the voices of a couple of maids chattering, the one of the woman who had just served their tea louder than the rest. Her hand was stilted as she realized the women were gossiping so loudly that they had not even heard Bulma approaching--which of course caught her interest about what the hell they were gossiping about that was making them oblivious to all around them.
"I am not lying! The Widow Gero is upstairs herself!"
"The Duke's old mistress?! Core blimey--what is she doing here? Looking to start up with the Duke again?" Some tittering followed, and some unnecessary cat calling followed that.
A younger voice spoke next, sounding confused. "Why would she come when he's not here then if that's what she wanted?"
"Oi, who understands these rich types! Maybe to leave a pair of old knickers on his bed, waiting for him?"
There was some giggling at that, but then another voice chimed in, "Maybe she's looking to exact some revenge on him for breaking things off with her?"
Some murmurs of agreement, others of dissent. "Nah--that's not what the rumors say about her. They say she's as cold as ice, always looking for the next mark to keep her in riches. She should know that once the Duke's dropped her he won't be picking her up again."
More agreement, then the first maid's voice again. "What if she's already picked out her newest benefactor and she's here to try and get a glimpse of him?"
"Who would that be then?"
Another scoff, "That's fairly obvious--it's the Viscount she's after now, isn't it?"
There was a clattering of pans that stopped all of the gossiping, and the rest of the maids fell silent as one of them quietly spoke, nervous, "Oh, uh, Chi-Chi...we were just...we were just...."
The Scottish brogue of the cook was even more pronounced when she started yelling at them, her voice coming in loud and clear even through the solid wood door. "YOU WER' JUS' CHITTERIN' LIKE A BENCH OF HENS, WASTIN' ME TIME! BACK TO YER DUTIES, THE LOT OF YE! NOW!"
Bulma, who had heard the whole exchange, felt her eyes growing wide as she processed what she had just heard. The Widow was Vegeta's old mistress? She had just spent the last ten minutes sitting across from a woman that Vegeta had been...intimate with?
No wonder Vegeta did not want someone like Bulma if he usually went after those like the Widow. Bulma was many things, but a cool, delicate beauty was not one of those things. She was emotional, and warm, and...well, still beautiful, there was no doubt about that--but she was not Vegeta in female form and could never be. Bulma felt a gnawing at her stomach she could not place, and she frowned as she rubbed the spot absentmindedly as she tried to imagine Vegeta holding the Widow in his arms as they made love, the pair of them silent, cool, reserved--nothing like Bulma.
Bulma gulped, ignoring the itching of her eyes that usually heralded tears, instead pushing the door open, her head held high. She was glad to see that only Chi-Chi was standing there, and she was furiously chopping what looked to be the remains of an already extremely chopped potato, muttering to herself. " ÔE would never go fer her type anyways. ÔE wants a real girl. Not a block o' ice."
She turned when Bulma cleared her throat, immediately dropping into a curtsy as she saw who was standing there, "Yes mum. How can I help you?"
The Scottish brogue seemed to be toned down right now, and Bulma smiled at the woman, trying to put her at ease with the comforting smile. She had only met her a few times, but she knew Goku could always come down here and leave with whatever food he wanted to. So Bulma liked the woman simply because she was good to her brother. But maybe, with the way she was acting right now, and the way she always gave Goku food...maybe there was more to it than a nurturing cook trying to make sure her charges were always fed.
Bulma gave the woman a placating smile, "If you would be so kind as to accompany me upstairs. The Widow Gero has a few questions about you and your cooking."
Chi-Chi's eyes grew larger, but she dropped into another bobbed curtsy, "O' course mum."
Bulma led the woman upstairs, ignoring the throbbing of her protesting ankle and the offered hand Chi-Chi gave her when she saw Bulma leaning heavily on her cane. Bulma did give her a smile for the kind gesture though (adding another tally in the cook's favor), before she opened the door to the sitting room. The Widow was extremely polite and pointed with her questions as she spoke to Chi-Chi, asking what dishes were best served this time of year and how to instruct her chef to make them. Chi-Chi answered every question quickly and quietly, nothing at all like she was downstairs with her boisterous voice and noisy pan throwing. Bulma observed the cook as she stared at the refined woman across from them both, taking her in as well.
She was also pretty--different than both Bulma and the Widow. She had dark eyes and dark hair, giving her an exotic look, and there was a lot of strength hidden beneath the shapeless gown Chi-Chi wore. Bulma found herself intrigued by this woman as well, though she frowned as she followed Chi-Chi's gaze back to the Widow. As she looked at the Widow with the new knowledge of her being a former lover of Vegeta's, Bulma had to fight to not bare her teeth to this woman in a primitive challenge.
The women downstairs said that it was over between the pair--but what if it was not? What if there was still some sort of assignation between them? Bulma felt herself grow irrationally angrier as the Widow sat there, so calmly, so coldly, asking her questions and listening to the answers. She could not imagine Vegeta and the Widow together. Ever. Where would the passion be? Where did the fire come from? Did the two of them just spend the night away, whittling away at the other's icy exterior?
Where was the fun in that?
Finally, when Chi-Chi gave all of her answers, she bobbed a final curtsy, ready to flee. Bulma stopped her though, "Could you wait a second for me? I have a few questions I need answered about the next week's menu."
The Widow stood, grabbing her shawl and reticule as she smiled at Bulma. "Well, now that I've gotten what I've wanted, I really must be off."
Bulma stayed seated, glad for the excuse of the cane as she flashed an unfriendly smile at the Widow. "Of course. Thank you for your visit. If you ever are in the area again, I hope you would considering stopping by...to visit me. Of course."
The Widow's eyes gave an icy sparkle, and she gave Bulma another clipped smile. "Of course, Miss Briefs. Good day to you both."
Then she was gone.
Bulma frowned at the doorway the Widow had just exited through, before she shook her head, facing Chi-Chi. She was not surprised to find that the other woman was watching her, eyes wide with curiosity. When she caught Bulma's eyes, Chi-Chi boldly asked, "You have some questions mum?"
Bulma shook her head, motioning for Chi-Chi to take the seat across from her. Bulma was not surprised when the other woman shook her head, declining, standing as she twisted her hands in her apron. Bulma did not take offense to the woman's strict propriety, instead leaning on her cane as she sat forward in her seat. "What did you think of the Widow Gero, Chi-Chi?"
Chi-Chi's face closed off, emotions wiped from her visage as she said, "Very regal."
Bulma nonchalantly reached for a cookie, taking a small bite before she spoke. "Regal is one way to describe her. I might say cold, but I understand my station affords me a bit more freedom when it comes to speaking about other's of my class." Chi-Chi gaped at her, but Bulma continued as she wiped some crumbs from her chin, "Quite the opposite of someone like my brother, though, right?"
Chi-Chi's cheeks grew red, and she started to stammer, "Oh--Aye w-w-wouldn't ken...uhm...oh...uhm."
Bulma took another nibble, before placing the cookie down, smiling back up to the cook. "Do not worry yourself Chi-Chi. I am not asking for your opinion, truly. I am merely pointing out that it would be someone who did not know the Viscount very well who would ever think he and the Widow would make a good pair, don't you agree?"
Chi-Chi blinked once. Twice. Three times. Then a smile grew on her face. "Aye. Someone who did not ken him at all. Someone would have to think yer brother was a completely different person to want to be...friends...with the Widow."
Bulma smiled, "Good. I'm glad to see we are on the same page about my brother." The pair of them smiled at each other for a moment before Bulma stood, leaning on her cane as she walked past Chi-Chi. "Can you please inform the staff downstairs to set me a place at the supper table today? I think my ankle is well enough to make the trip one more time tonight and would like to eat tonight with my family."
Chi-Chi nodded, and Bulma smiled as she walked past the woman and out of the room, shaking her head, chuckling to herself. Oh there was no doubt about it--the cook had it for Goku, and she had it bad.
Bulma could only wonder what her clueless brother thought of the situation....
A/N: So what did you guys think? I apologize again for spelling/grammar errors. I'm extremely tired but I wanted to get this posted for you guys. I love you that much!
Fair warning--I'm about to move...8,280 miles away from where I currently live. So while I am continually writing this story, I'm sure it will take me a while to calm down and have internet at my new apartment and all that good stuff. So I will try and update as much as possible in the next few weeks before I leave, but I wanted to warn you there might be some gaps. I promise to make it up to you guys when I can!! Just stay as awesome as you always do and I will continue to write!