I'll Give You Romance
I considered making this story a lot longer, covering the events this version skips over, and then how things might continue into the 'Z' part of the story, but in the end I decided to set a goal that wouldn't require months of commitment, and narrow the focus on the central relationship. I might still write that continuation if I get the time and motivation so watch this space, but this story is intended to stand on its own so it's listed as 'Complete' for now.
The girl was like no-one Chi-Chi had ever seen. In all the storybooks in the palace, rescuing was a princely activity, or sometimes a fatherly or brotherly one. But along she'd come, zipping through the air on one of those wonderful floating bike things they had in the cities, and snatched Chi-Chi right out of the pursuing dinosaur's jaws.
Just as well, Chi-Chi thought. A second or two more and she'd have had to kill the thing, she supposed, in some terribly unbecoming manner. Now they were parked behind the cover of a nearby boulder, and her rescuer was offering a hand as they dismounted her vehicle.
"H-Hey," she said, sounding a lot less confident than she'd looked. "I'm, uh, Bulma. You okay, kid?"
"Yeah!" Chi-Chi vigorously shook the hand with both of hers, the child's unnerving strength lifting Bulma fully off the ground for a moment.
"Sorry!" Chi-Chi cocked her head. "Are you okay, miss?"
"S-Sure. Got a little more used to dinosaurs after this long on the road, but…" Bulma leaned back against the boulder, pressing a hand to her forehead. "…I really dunno what I was thinking."
Chi-Chi beamed. "But'cha still saved me!" She found the concept of 'acting despite fear', a new one to her, even cooler than lacking it entirely. In fact, her adoration for this stranger was growing by the second. She'd never seen hair that colour, for one. And as a child, her only thought on the outfit was, maybe rabbits are popular where she's from?—though in retrospect, that on its own might well have woken something in her that day.
"Ahm not keeping you from anything important, am I?" she asked, remembering her manners.
"Almost the opposite, actually." Bulma pointed to the flaming pillar on the horizon—an ever-present landmark in this region. "I was just at your home, actually. Turns out there's something I've been looking for inside, but it's on eternal fire and all. Your father—" She left out the brief misunderstanding and attempted axe-murdering. "—said he'd tell me how to get inside if I tracked you down, since you'd wandered off."
Chi-Chi gave an apprehensive look. "Well, that's awful sweet of you…but I think Father is just using you to track me down. I don't know everything, but if there was a way to get past the flames, we'da used it by now."
"Oh…that makes sense." Bulma slid down the rock into a crouch. "Man, I feel real dumb right now…"
Chi-Chi shuffled up and tentatively patted her shoulder. "Please don't be mad at Father. I'm right sure he was just worried about me."
"Hmph. Fine. You're lucky you're a cute kid."
Now that gave Chi-Chi a feeling she couldn't describe. "Ya…think so?"
"Sure, whatever. Ahh, what am I gonna do?"
"What exactly is it that you're looking for? One of our castle's treasures?"
"Yeah." Bulma dug through the bag strapped to her hoverbike, producing a palm-sized glassy golden sphere. Four little red stars were inlaid at the centre. "A Dragon Ball, see? This is one of seven." She continued, seeing Chi-Chi's eager expression. "I found one in my basement at the start of summer, and did some research. Legend says whoever gathers all seven together will be granted a wish by the dragon god! So, being the smartest person in the world on top of the most beautiful, I put together a device that tracks the energy they give off, and went for a little adventure! I've already got four…" Her face fell. "…but number five is looking pretty impossible right now."
Chi-Chi kept nodding along for a couple seconds after the story finished. "Ooh, you're a scientist? I've heard a'those!"
"You…don't get out much, huh."
"I guess not." Chi-Chi brightened up. "Well, look, let's get back to Father. Maybe he does know something about getting inside, and there's just some reason we've never used it ourselves."
"I kinda doubt that."
"Well, it sure ain't gonna happen standing around here!"
Bulma gave a sudden chuckle. "Hey, you're not wrong. Climb on."
The massive arms waving at them were visible from an impressive distance, and the great booming voice audible from nearly as far. The cries of "Chi-Chi! My darling daughter! There you are!" didn't subside until they'd landed in the shadow of the blazing Mount Frypan itself and the princess had shared a long hug with her towering father.
Jumping down from the embrace, Chi-Chi gave a frown. "Father, dontcha think it was uncalled-for to lie to this nice lady about there being a way into the mountain?"
Gyumao looked down at his feet, rocking the earth with each bashful half-step. "Well…that…was a decision made as a concerned father."
"I understand that," Chi-Chi said, "but I'll have ya know, she dashingly rescued me from a horrendous beast! I would say I owe her my life! I simply must ensure she finds this Dragon Ball she seeks."
"Honey…" Gyumao sighed.
"I. Simply. Must." Chi-Chi swooped into the nearest crumbling wall, draping her cloak across her body. "It's my…noblesse oblige."
Gyumao, who had heard his daughter use noblesse oblige often enough to get the gist of its meaning even if spelling it remained a challenge, gave a resigned shrug. "I can't stop you, can I?"
"…I never looked into this, because I didn't want to bother my great old teacher." He produced a small, battered book from his back pocket, tossing it over. "So if he asks, I didn't give this to you. You were looking through my things one day, and you found it."
"Oh! Thanks, Father!" Chi-Chi flipped it open, Bulma kneeling down to read over her shoulder; at first glance, it seemed to be a pasted-together collection of myths and legends. "Will this get us inside?"
"Couldn't say. I didn't give it to you, after all." Gyumao winked, stomping off into a wide tent nearby, which from the smell of it was where dinner was being prepared.
"I wonder what his old teacher has to do with this…" Bulma muttered. "Can I see?"
Being older and the faster reader, Bulma spent a good half-hour poring over the old book, before finally giving a delighted yelp. "This could be it! This right here!"
"What is it, what is it?" Chi-Chi came running out of the hut with a half-eaten bowl of soup, skidding to a halt in front of the book being waved in her face.
"Listen. 'The Bansho fan': With a single swing, it can summon winds strong enough to part the seas, blow away an army, or put out a forest fire!' I bet that could put out the fire around your home completely!"
Chi-Chi nodded, spooning in soup faster and faster. Between mouthfuls, she asked, "Does it say where it is?"
"It just says…'no-one knows who forged it, but it's said it was the prize in a martial arts competition at the turn of the last century, which was won by the Muten-Roshi.' Never heard of them…actually, hold on." She turned back a few pages. "There's an entry on him too! Must have been a real big-shot back in his day." She gave the page a quick scan. "Or maybe still is. Says here, greatest martial arts master of the age, rumoured to be immortal, said to still live on a small island at…oh. That's back where I came from!"
"How far?" Chi-Chi asked.
"Ugh. Weeks." Bulma set the book down, rubbing her eyes. "I can do it, I just really didn't think I'd have to do this much back-and-forth. Man, at this rate I'm not even gonna get all seven by the time summer break's over." She started rocking back and forth where she sat. "Skip a term and get my wish…or hide these four away and try again next year…"
"How 'bout this?"
Bulma swung around—Chi-Chi was holding out the book on a new page, having picked it up while she was having her dilemma.
Kinto'Un: A magical cloud, able to be ridden by the pure-hearted, and fly over the world at great speed. A common sight in the previous century, now the stuff of rumour and wonder.
"Well, wouldn't that be great if we knew where to get one," she said.
"Says on the next page, a pure heart can call one by name. Do you wanna try?"
A pure heart, huh… Bulma laughed nervously. "Well! Uh! I think you better. You discovered it, after all."
"Um, sure." Displaying that shocking strength once more, Chi-Chi jumped onto the half-crumbled roof of the next house down the decaying street with a single bound. She took a deep breath, cupped her hands to her mouth, and called, "K-KINTO'UN!"
The sky was silent. The clouds rolled on by, at their own lazy pace.
Bulma stood up. "Hey, I'm sorry, kid. Maybe there just aren't any left these days."
Chi-Chi turned to climb down—and caught a golden gleam in the corner of her eye. She whipped back around, gasping as the speck on the horizon quickly became a fuzzy little shape, streaking through the sky towards them at incredible speed.
"It's real!" she cried, peering over in disbelief at the friendly little yellow cloud now bobbing next to her. "It's real! I called it, I called it, I called it!" Without a second thought she hopped on, the ethereal surface perfectly supporting her weight. She found it responded instantly to her so much as thinking of directions, twitching back and forth through the air at her whim.
"This is amazing!" She brought it down to ground level, hovering next to where Bulma sat, staring in awe. "C'mon and git on and we'll find that fan!"
"…oh! Right!" Steadying herself as she stood, Bulma took a determined leap—and passed right through the cloud, landing face-first on the ground beneath. "Oh. Ow."
"Huh." Chi-Chi leaned over the edge, peering down at her. "I wonder why that happened."
"I have many wonderful qualities," came the reply from the dirt. "It's possible a pure heart is not one of them."
"If you say so," Chi-Chi said. "I guess I can go on my own? If that legend's right, this thing should be able to make the trip real fast."
"Oh, sure. Track down a living legend, just a quick trip…" Bulma lifted her head off the ground. "But…if you're gonna go, take this." She made her way back to her bike, retrieving a couple small plastic squares, each with a little metal spike at one corner. "Here. Radio handset. We can talk to each other through 'em even from far away." She spoke this last sentence into the one she kept for herself, to prove her point.
"Whoa, you're right!" Chi-Chi held hers up to her ear, starry-eyed. "Did you invent this too?"
"Nah, we have plenty of these in the cities. Now you better get going, all right?"
"I'm telling you, it can't be that one!"
Chi-Chi sighed into the handset. "Well, this is my third time 'round, and that's the only island with anyone living on it anywhere near here."
"Then I guess there's no Muten-Roshi around," Bulma insisted. "That old guy's dumb as rocks, and you're better off steering clear."
"What's wrong with him?"
"Eh, I dunno. Barely met him, he just felt…off."
"I'm gonna go ask him," Chi-Chi said, angling the nimble little cloud down towards the tiny patch of beach, from which a single hut protruded.
"Fine." Bulma relented. "I guess tell him you're friends with me. He thinks I'm super-selfless for bringing his lost pet turtle home. Even gave me a Dragon Ball he'd found washed up as a reward. Truth is, I was just trying to get rid of the damn turtle by dumping it at the nearest beach. Wouldn't leave me alone. And I noticed there was a ball in the area, and…yeah."
"But you did return it," Chi-Chi said. "Whatever you were thinking, you still helped 'em."
"I…guess so. I still don't like the feeling I get from him."
Chi-Chi swooped down in front of the little building, helpfully labelled—'KAME HOUSE'. "Hello! Is there anyone home?" No answer. "I'm, uh, friends with Bulma?" Still nothing, though she heard a faint yawn from inside. Whoever was in there could almost certainly hear her, and yet…she scowled, hopping onto the beach and stomping up to the door.
"Hello!" she said, with force. "I am a princess!" She knocked sternly on the door. So sternly, it flew off its hinges and into the opposite wall. "Princesses do not like to be ignored!"
Finally, a voice came from upstairs. It said, "argh!"
Then, it said, "all right! I'm coming!"
And this proved to be true; shortly, a little old man scurried down the stairs into view, dressed for the beach and with his face almost entirely hidden behind an excess of beard and sunglasses. "What on Earth is the rush? I'm going to have to fix that, you know."
"I'm looking for the Muten-Roshi." She affected her best regal stance. "It's important."
"I'm sure." His expression was unreadable, disguised as it was. "And…where did you hear about this fellow, missy?"
Chi-Chi's face scrunched up for a second, bracing herself for the lie she was about to tell. She was no good at these. "In an old book of legends I…found. When ah was goin' through my father's things. Gyumao—maybe you've heard a'him? We're a bit out in the sticks, but he is a king."
"Heard of him?" The old man seemed to light up. "Gyumao's one of my favourite disciples! Er…I mean…"
"One of your…" Hold on…Father did say he didn't want to upset his old… She swung an accusatory finger at him. "You don't mean t'say you're the Muten-Roshi!"
"Well…cat's out of the bag, I suppose." He sighed. "Yes, I am."
"No you're not!" came Bulma's voice over the speaker, which Chi-Chi quickly covered with both hands.
"Uh…well…then, I have something to ask of ya," she said, eyes narrowing slightly.
"What, you need training from the best?" he asked. "From what you did to my door, you'd have a pretty good headstart."
"Uh…no. It's just…my house has been on fire for about five years. The book also said you were the owner of the Bansho fan…?"
"Ahh." He gave a slow nod. "Well…I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, I lost the fan in a drinking game and currently, I believe a giant is taking a hundred-year slumber on top of it. The good news is, I can put out the fire myself! With a secret move of my own creatio—"
"Where's the giant?" Chi-Chi asked, voice flat.
"Huh? Hell Valley, round about 50 miles north of Mt. Frypan. Why?"
"Oh, I know the one! Thanks! I'll go get the fan, then!"
"W-What?" But she was already running out the house, hopping back on Kinto'Un and soaring off into the sky before he even made it to the doorway. "Crazy gir—wait a minute…is that where my Kinto'Un took off to?" He shook his fist at the sky. "Off all the disloyal, unfaithful—isn't my heart pure enough?"
"Shut it, you damn turtle!"
"Um…not to question your royal judgement, but what the hell are you doing?" Bulma said.
"You said you didn't like him," Chi-Chi said, picking up speed, the wind whipping at her hair. "I'm not gonna make you deal with him."
"Oh! That's really sweet of you."
"You think?" Chi-Chi asked, voice suddenly full of excitement.
"Hey…I was thinking. I really wanna help you get the Dragon Ball and all. But I know, soon as you get it, you'll have to take off."
"Well, yeah," said Bulma. "I've gotta get the rest, and I have to go home eventually."
"Yeah. It's just…you're th'coolest and nicest person I ever met, and I wish could stay together."
Bulma laughed. "You're pretty cool too. But I don't think we can, you know?"
"Um. Maybe…hey, since ahm about to do somethin' reeeeal dangerous for you, can I ask you something?"
"What is it?"
"Wh-When we're grown up, will you marry me?"
A complicated series of noises came through the radio. Eventually, they were followed by something vaguely like, "Huh?"
"I just thought! Then we could be together! And…" Her excitement faded into mumbling. "…it seems t'be…the done thing…with dashing rescuers…"
"Well, you've thought this through," came the reply.
"So? Will you?"
"Can you get me a Dragon Ball?"
"Then sure, kid. Whatever you say."
"All right!" Chi-Chi sped on through the sky, the familiar flaming mountain passing by on her left as Hell Valley came into view ahead. I hope it's a friendly giant…imagine little ol' me having dealings with a real monster. I could end up making such a mess.
Come t'think, I'm doing an awful lotta un-princesslike things today…
I guess…I really wanna be more like her.
Hell Valley had certainly earned an ominous name—it didn't look naturally-formed at all; more like a great chunk had been torn out of the ground, leaving an angry scar. A little nervous now, she brought Kinto'Un into a slow descent, passing far below where the sun could reach as she sank further and further into the jagged crevasse, finally touching down on the bare rock of the valley floor.
Even in the huge canyon, it wasn't hard to find a direction; a darker part of the gloom indicated a cave opening in the cliff-wall, ten times Chi-Chi's height at least. From deep within came a faint rumbling, the ground shaking a little as it passed each time. In fact, if she had to imagine what a sleeping giant sounded like, this would very much be it. Patting Kinto'Un and whispering for it to wait here, she took a deep breath and crept forward into the cave.
It was even darker in here, and she moved slowly for fear of tripping on the jagged rocks that jutted from the floor. She went further and further, until the relatively brighter patch behind her, indicating the entrance, was almost too far away to see, coming to a halt. Was there an end? Did this cave just snake on and on, undercutting the entire world? She certainly didn't want to keep going, and lose sight of which way was out. All around were monolithic, unmoving shapes; more rock formations, sticking out of the walls, hopefully.
Maybe I should just…"H-Hello? Hello!" she called. "Is there someone livin' here? I don't want to keep going and get myself lost…is there anyone…? A…giant, maybe?"
The rhythmic rumbling she'd heard since she was outside abruptly stopped.
One of the shapes moved…rose…stood up.
"Who? Are? You?" The voice alone was enormous. "Let's see…" A match was struck, and a torch on the wall lit up. In its flickering light, Chi-Chi saw the giant. His craggy blue skin looked more like rock than flesh, and a long horn curled its way off the left side of his head, while the right bore a worn stump where its counterpart must have once been. The sheep-pattern pajamas, meanwhile, somewhat undercut his overall menace. But only somewhat.
"Ooh," he rumbled. "Snack-sized. I'm always hungry when I wake up."
"N-Now, wait just a second!" Chi-Chi said, waving both hands out in front of her. "I'm sure you can find some other breakfast just fine! I actually came to ask you for help." She shot a nervous glance over her shoulder, and ended up staring for a second—with the torchlight, the cave entrance was much closer than it had previously seemed. The darkness must have been playing tricks on her, and she had been walking slowly to avoid tripping.
"My help?" The giant slowly sat, clearly intrigued. "If you ventured all this way, you must really be in some kind of need."
"There's, uh, somethin' I think the legendary Bansho fan could help solve. I heard you had it, and…" She gulped. She hadn't really thought this part through. "I was…wondering if I could borrow it, Mr Giant, sir?"
He gave a hearty chuckle. "Brave kid, aren't you. Well…how about this. I don't have much use for the fan. I just sure wasn't letting that old bastard keep it. So, you can have it, if you do one thing."
"Solve my riddle," he said, making what looked like an attempt at a stoic expression.
"Oh! Okay!" This was great! This was exactly the kind of thing the fairytales had prepared her for! "Let me hear it!"
"It goes thusly," the giant intoned.
"…is a six-letter word that means 'to leave someone out'? Starts with 'd'."
The giant sighed, reaching behind him and producing a very battered newspaper. "It's this damn crossword! I solved most of it, but I've been stuck on the last word for two hundred years!"
"Oh." Chi-Chi shrugged. "Ahm awful sorry, I'm still learnin' to speak all proper m'self."
He leaned against the wall, looking defeated. "After the first hundred years, I gave up and decided to look at the answer, but the answers page had rotted away! And they don't do reprints for that long ago…I guess I'll never know."
"Um…" A third voice piped up. "Hey, kid. Uh, Chi-Chi. Can you hold me up to your friend there?"
Chi-Chi raised the radio Bulma's voice was coming through. "Like this?"
"Yeah! Hey, big guy. I think I might know the answer."
"Y-You do?" He peered down at the device. "You are wise indeed, O metal box."
"I'm not—whatever. Listen, how's 'disbar'?"
The giant frowned. He sat back. He produced some reading glasses and a pencil. He gingerly laid the newspaper on the floor, counting the blank squares and nodding to himself, mouthing out the letters in the word. Finally, with great trepidation, he pencilled in D-I-S-B-A-R, holding the completed crossword up with religious awe. "It's…done. It's done! I don't believe it! Thank you, little explorers!"
He started rummaging through the little pile of things behind him, continuing to mumble inaudible thanks, before turning back towards Chi-Chi with something altogether more impressive in hand; a large, red and green battlefield signal-fan in the old style. Though entirely made of feather, wicker and wood, the ornate craftsmanship was undeniable.
"The Bansho fan you asked for," said the giant, handing it over. "Like I said, I don't really need it, and you helped me a lot today!"
"Oh! Thank you!" Chi-Chi ran in little circles, clutching the oversized fan in both arms. "Now I can help my new friend, and we can finally get into the castle!"
"The castle, hmm…" The giant cocked his head to one side. "Now why would you need the fan for that?"
"Oh, well, it's…sorta, on fire."
"On fire…? Don't tell me you come from that Mount Frypan down south."
"Um. Yes, why?"
He slowly stood. "To think, I'd meet Gyumao's daughter one day…listen. I took that fan to pay the Muten-roshi back for cheating me in that tournament." He trailed off into grumpy muttering for a moment—something about hypnosis not being a 'real' technique—before remembering himself. "The point is, I'm sure as hell not about to let one of his students have it!"
"Well now who's a bad sport!" Chi-Chi fumed. "You said I could have it! An' I don't care about that old guy anyway!"
The giant took a thundering step forward. "You know what? I think I am hungry after all. C'mere, breakfast!"
Chi-Chi gave a yelp, leaping away as his enormous hand smashed down into the ground, carving up the rocks where she'd been standing. Unfortunately, she hadn't been thinking about which direction to jump, and he now stood between her and the entrance.
"Sorry, but I have to go." Placing the fan on the ground behind her, she reached up to her helmet, detaching the bladed crest and hurling it overarm. "I'm nobody's breakfast!"
He gave a startled cry as it smacked against his forehead with superhuman force, staggering him back a step, but he seemed more angry than hurt, reaching down with both arms now, encircling all her escape routes.
"L-Leave me alone!" She pressed both index fingers to the gem at the centre of the helmet, a beam of golden light emerging and striking his closest hand, the powerful laser forcing it back and making him use the other arm to brace this one—but despite steam billowing up from his palm against the heat, he pressed in, slowly pushing through it and inching closer and closer to grabbing her.
Just a moment before he had her, there came an odd sound from near the cave entrance—and then something struck him from the left, causing a huge explosion and knocking him over onto his side. Chi-Chi looked over to see Bulma zooming towards them on her hoverbike, discarding some kind of smoking tube—Chi-Chi could identify a sword or a spear, but 'rocket launcher' was a new one.
"This sucks!" Bulma called as she approached, hanging a quick half-circle around the fallen giant as he stirred. "What is with today and doing stupid things?"
"You saved me again!" Chi-Chi clutched her hands together, under her chin. "So cool…"
"That hurt…" the giant growled, clambering back up. "But at least my snack just became a full meal. Who's first?"
"You sure about this? Look over here."
"Huh? Wha—wait! Don't!"
The reason for his distress became clear once Chi-Chi craned her neck to see around his bulk. Bulma was holding up the old newspaper, brandishing it like a weapon to ward him off.
"I'll tear it! Don't think I won't!"
"I've had…" Chi-Chi grabbed her helmet-crest again, winding her arm back. "…enough of this!" She put her whole body-weight behind this throw, the weapon smashing up into the giant's chin—and as soon as it made contact, she fired her beam again, aiming directly for the crest, the shot adding to its momentum and combining into a mighty blow that slammed him back into the cave-wall, his head ending up buried in the rock, one arm twitching but otherwise lying still.
"Oh…whoa. Hell of a pitching arm you got, kid," Bulma said, tossing the newspaper away and bringing the bike back around.
Chi-Chi grinned. "Couldn'ta done it if you hadn't been distracting him!"
"Yeah…I…" Bulma suddenly sank into the seat of the vehicle, tugging at the bunny-ears on her headband with a mortified expression. "…what was I doing? That was so scary!"
Chi-Chi nodded. "I was scared too, but I didn't wanta let you down, you know?" She ran over and retrieved the fan. "Look, look! We got it! We got it!"
Her laughter was infectious, and Bulma found herself cheered up pretty quick. Maybe this hadn't been such a mistake. She didn't plan on making a habit of doing the right thing by anyone but herself, but for some reason it seemed to be working out for her lately.
Unlike the prospect of a trip all the way out to the Muten-roshi's island, Hell Valley only took a few minutes to reach even for Bulma's bike, but Chi-Chi was still running rings around her on the way back, waving from all directions, zipping up into the clouds for a second before dipping back into view.
When they arrived back at the mountain, though, it wasn't just Gyumao waiting. Lurking near the hut was a shaggy-haired boy with a sword at his waist, and a little feline creature floating above one shoulder. At the sight of him, Chi-Chi flew into a rage, leaping from Kinto'Un and charging at him. Bulma barely had time to get between them, holding her arms out to keep them apart.
"Whoa, whoa! What's the matter? This is my, um, friend, Yamcha."
"He's a brute! A mean ol' monster!" Chi-Chi snapped, as Yamcha cowered against the wall. "He tried ta kidnap me earlier!"
"I did not!" Yamcha said, trying to work some indignance into his fear. "Your father asked us to go find you! You jumped the gun and knocked me out before I could explain!" He untangled himself from the ground, nervously approaching. "So, uh, good job finding her, Bulma!" A stranger undertone entered his voice as Bulma got closer, as if overcoming some other kind of fear. Just a nervous guy all around, it seemed. "Let's ask about the Dragon Ball!"
"Oh, I found her ages ago," Bulma said offhandedly. "We've been having adventures and stuff. We're about to get the ball, actually."
"What?! Then why did you leave me to wander around looking for her?"
"I was busy. Figured I'd pick you up afterwards."
"What if it was dangerous?"
"It was, actually. But this kid is super-strong, as it sounds like you know first-hand." Bulma jumped off the bike and poked at his chest. "And I'm learning to look after myself, thank you. I defeated a fearsome shapeshifting monster before I had your help, remember?"
"And that wasn't a monster at all!" The hovering cat opined.
Yamcha nodded. "It was just Pu'er here's errant high-school classmate. Remember?" He swung away in defiance, then all but jumped out of his skin with a shriek, Chi-Chi having snuck up behind on Kinto'Un, now hovering level to his head-height and glaring. "Wh-wh-wh-what do you want?!"
She scowled. "What are you to Bulma?"
"Just so that you know," she said, leaning ever further forwards and forcing him to crane back almost off his feet, "we're engaged."
Yamcha's head swung almost a full 180, giving Bulma a sharply-arched eyebrow. She returned him a just humour the kid sort of look.
"…right," he said, backing away. "W-Well, I'm just helping her get the Dragon Balls. Least I can do after, uh…well, we didn't really hit it off when we first met." And just as soon as she's collected them all, I take 'em!
…assuming I can stop freezing up when she comes within three feet…
"Well. Good for you." Chi-Chi hopped off her cloud, hefting the fan and starting to trot towards the flaming mountain. "Father! I'm going to put out the house now."
"Be careful, sweetie!" came the booming reply from the hut.
"Easier said than…hup!" She gave it a running start, building up momentum before swinging the fan, twice as tall as she was, around to her front with both arms. It responded with a roaring rush of air, the wind picking up all around her at once and blasting forward into the mountain, building up into a mighty gale and seeming to hurl the flames off into the sky in an instant, where they spiralled up into the sky and vanished.
And there Mt. Frypan stood…well, very charred, but it looked like the interior was mostly intact. It had probably been a very impressive castle five years ago. Now it was a very impressive mound of rock and ash.
"It worked!" Chi-Chi sped back towards the others, arms waving frantically. "It worked, it worked! We can go home and you can get what you're looking for!"
"That's wonderful!" said Gyumao, striding out into the open with a second serving of soup in hands, casting a shadow over them all. "Now, we should wait a couple hours for it to cool off…"
"Good idea." Bulma crouched next to Chi-Chi, patting her head. "Hey…thanks so much. I guess you're really motivated by helping people, huh?"
"Seems t'be!" Chi-Chi looked hesitant. "Um…you have to go now, don't you?"
"Right. I'll see you again, won't I?"
"Uh, of course."
"Great! A promise is a promise."
"That…it is." Poor kid. But she'll get over it. Everybody grows up.
About a week later, the dragon-god Shenron was summoned by the scheming Emperor Pilaf. Some fast-talking from Bulma got him to waste his wish on change for a vending machine, but even after escaping his clutches this still left her without the magical boyfriend she'd hoped to wish for, and Yamcha with his paralysing gynophobia. Hooking up seemed to be their solution to these two problems, and while perhaps not the most well thought-out idea, there have been far worse.
Technically, according to the laws of a rather archaic monarchy to the south, Bulma remained legally engaged to a foreign princess, but she had more or less forgotten about that by this point.
But Chi-Chi remembered.
Six years later
The rain was coming down pretty heavy by the time the sun set. Chi-Chi didn't mind. She'd got to liking the feel of it, after enough years on the road. They should be here soon…if they don't want to be late, anyway.
But then, with mere minutes to go…there. A group, half a dozen or more people, fading into view through the gloomy evening. Some clearly here to enter the tournament, including one Chi-Chi unfortunately recognised, his face now marked by a striking set of scars. But there, at the back…her. Everything else fell away.
Perhaps not as dramatically as Chi-Chi had, but Bulma had grown up, and the young princess felt her heart in her mouth. These past few years, she'd learned a lot about herself, and found there were all kinds of women she liked, but none shone like Bulma to her. Just the bright red of her lips was like a beacon in the dark. It was almost disappointing that she wasn't wearing some outlandish outfit this time, but then again, the simple blue dress made her seem less like the dream Chi-Chi had been carrying in her head for years and more like a real person; maybe even someone one could work up the courage to talk to.
And they were coming this way. Well, she was standing by the entrance to the tournament grounds, but they werecoming this way. Well, they were still talking amongst themselves and none of them had so much as looked at her, but they were coming this way.
They walked right past her.
Pushing past the shock of disappointment, she spun to face them before they passed out of earshot, blurting out "H-Hello!"
Oh, yes, very good. 'Hello'. What irresistible charm, Chi-Chi.
Realising it couldn't have been directed at anyone else after some looking around, the friendgroup turned to face her with some surprise.
Bulma frowned, looking the tall ponytailed stranger in the red and blue gi up and down. Do I know…? Nah. She gave a little laugh. "Oh, you're one of the fighters, I guess? Hey, it's always cool to see more women entering!"
Yamcha nodded. "Good luck tomorrow!"
From the shattered remains of her self-confidence, Chi-Chi mustered up something like, "…yes. Wishing you good luck. That's…what I wanted. To say. Do your best." She sprinted past them, registering and fleeing the scene before they'd even taken three more steps. At least the rain was washing her tears away.
Maybe, Chi-Chi thought, she could pay for all the fist-shaped holes in her hotel room's walls with the prize money.
What the heck? She doesn't even recognise me! She'd been so sure Bulma would instantly cry her name, they'd rush up to each other, and…she sighed. I mean, sure, I've grown up a lot, but… She rolled off the bed and onto the floor, dragging her pillow with her.
And that Yamcha guy… Were they together now? They were still hanging around each other…and he seemed like a much more serious fighter than last time. Had he stepped up his training to impress Bulma? Was that what she liked?
If so, it sure would be convenient. The whole reason she was here was after hearing about their attendance to the previous tournaments, at an event where she could take centre stage and really look impressive in front of the literal girl of her dreams. After a while, though, the martial arts itself started to become a fascination to her, almost to the point of addiction, rather than just a means to an end. If that turned out to be getting two birds with one stone, great…
…but in all this jumping from thought to thought, she'd more or less skipped over the 'is she with Yamcha' question and just taken it as fact.
Well, that's fine.
I'll just beat him up and she'll see how much cooler I am.
Then we can be together.
She didn't get much sleep that night.
Chi-Chi hopped down off the mat, raising a triumphant fist in celebration of clearing the preliminaries, the nearby fighters clapping politely. She grabbed a towel to cool off, tugging her qipao collar halfway open as she headed for the corridor leading outside. Yesterday's storm had broken, and an intense sun bore down on the festivities outside.
And there was Bulma, just short of the exit, looking right at her.
"Heya! You're the one from registration, right? How'd you do?"
"Um, good! Good. I made it, actually."
"Oh, well done! Look forward to seeing you in the big matches, then." Bulma craned her head towards the other end of the corridor. "I'm just waiting for Yamcha…"
"Right." Chi-Chi made to head outside. "He's, uh, lucky ta have you."
"Huh?" Bulma waved a hand frantically. "No, no, we're not together. Used to be, though. Just…didn't work, you know?" She gave a quizzical look. "What'd you mean by that?"
"Just, you know…anyone would." Chi-Chi hovered on the spot, all her best-laid plans once more tossed out the window. "You're beautiful, and smart, and um…beautiful?"
"No, no, it's…don't apologise," Bulma said. "I've just never been…approached by a woman, you know."
"Is it a problem?" Chi-Chi hazarded.
"Hmm…" Bulma frowned at the ceiling for a second, before breaking into a smile. "I guess not. Just never thought about it before. Never thought…" Her eyes seemed drawn to Chi-Chi's exposed collarbone all of a sudden. "…yeah."
Chi-Chi tugged the other button open as nonchalantly as she could manage, ostensibly to towel over and under her arm. "Well, hey." She headed outside for real now, turning back just before disappearing into the crowds to wink and add, "First time for everything."
Yamcha came jogging up just as she left, catching a moment's glimpse. "Hey, Bulma! What I miss?"
"Just…talking to that girl."
"Her?" He nodded. "She's good, I tell you. I'm fighting her in the quarters, and it's not gonna be easy."
"Oh! You made it?"
"You know it! Straight to the finals for me this year, I'm telling you." He struck a pose, flexing his biceps.
Bulma took an appreciative stare for about a second, before her mind drifted. "…hers were bigger."
"She", meanwhile, was outside banging her head against a palm tree. Couldja stammer a bit more, Chi-Chi? Almost strung two words together once or twice back there!
Honestly, though, she couldn't say if that had gone way better or way worse than her expectations. But what was really bugging her was this: What do ya mean 'never been approached by a woman'? I asked you to marry me! Granted, Bulma could have been forgiven for not taking it seriously at the time, but thinking rationally was the last thing Chi-Chi intended to do here.
I can't believe she still ain't remembered! Hello? I thought you were the coolest then and I still do now! Stupid girl with your stupid inventions and your stupid red smile and your big stupid rescues and your big stupid eyes and your big stupid curves and aaaaargh
Well…she was single. There was that. And not too straight to be into her. Take your victories where you can find 'em, I guess.
Chi-Chi's already ludicrous strength and the taste for training herself she'd acquired growing up were a potent combination, as it turned out, and Yamcha didn't last long. Apparently his time dating Bulma had done him some good, though, as he at least didn't freeze up at the very prospect of fighting her. He was pretty good-natured in defeat, too, which really threw Chi-Chi—just the previous night she'd been all but casting him as the villain in her personal little romantic drama.
And so, she fought her way to the final match; but so did someone far less talkative or human-looking, eventually revealing himself to be the demon Piccolo, returned after his failed conquest of Earth to take vengeance on the Crane and Turtle schools that had thwarted him.
He was not well pleased, then, to play along all through the tournament only to end up faced with a complete unknown, hailing from neither of those legendary schools.
"I don't know you," the demon king growled as he mounted the arena. "Walk away now, girl, and you can live. For now, the Turtle and Crane students are all I want."
Chi-Chi rolled her head back and forth, stretching her neck. "I don't really get what's goin' on…but you're a real bad guy, right? And I re-eally want to win." She grinned. "So, no. Not that easy."
"Very well. There will be no second chance." Piccolo cast aside his cape and turban, the terrified announcer ducking out of their path. "It is for the best, I suppose. My failures before lay in not eliminating Earth's premier martial artists. Standing here must mean you number among those."
"Um…fight!" came the timid announcement.
Huddled in the stands, peering over the railing in the same pose as the small percentage of die-hard fans who hadn't fled the premises yet, was a small group of competitors and friends.
"Man, how stupid is she?" Krillin muttered. "Does she even know who she's talking to?"
"Maybe not, actually," Yamcha said. "She does kinda seem like she's from out in the sticks."
Lunch pumped a fist into the air. "Well, I say kick his ass! She made finals. If anyone can do it…"
Yamcha shrugged. "And if she does lose, what, we all jump him and hope?"
"Will that work?" Bulma asked.
While they'd been talking, the match had begun. They started out cautious, each unfamiliar to the other, keeping to a defensive arm's length. Fearless or naïve, Chi-Chi pushed forward feint by feint, gradually working Piccolo back to the edge of the ring. He glanced behind him and scoffed.
"Do you think I'll leave quietly if you ring me out?"
"Hey, if you wanna go for real after the match, that's fine," Chi-Chi said. "But this is what we're doin' now."
"Strange creature…perhaps I will show you what happens when I 'go for real'." He raised a hand palm-out, harsh light gathering around it.
Krillin paled. "Oh crap…hey, lady, get down!"
Chi-Chi shot a look back over her shoulder. "Huh? Why—" She got no further before the light blossomed into a huge swathe of solid energy, crashing into Chi-Chi while she was distracted and engulfing half the arena in smoke as is detonated.
"Oh, nice going, Krillin," Bulma growled, swinging for his head. "C'mon, please be alive…"
A cough came from within the cloud. Chi-Chi stepped back into view, waving the smoke away, looking more confused than hurt. She frowned at the circle of ash on her forearm, which she seemed to have stuck up at the last second to catch the blast. Basically the only casualty of the whole thing was her wristband.
"Sorry, what were you sayin'?" she called over to the stands.
"N-Nevermind…" Krillin said. "I'll be quiet now…"
"If'n you say so." She turned back to Piccolo. "Hey, that pretty cool! How'd you do that?"
"What the…" The demon king stared down at his steaming hand. "I'm certain I fired it correctly…no human should be abl—ghwaak"
This last part came as Chi-Chi darted in and smashed her elbow into his diaphragm, dropping him to his knees. "Y-You…"
"What? You had a good shot. That made it my turn."
Piccolo steadied his breathing, rising to his feet. "You will find yourself…regretting that you had not heard of me." The anger of a moment before was still there, but shorn of its directionless incredulity. Now it was focused on a target. "You would know one does not invoke my wrath lightly."
Chi-Chi barely deflected the first strike, its aftershock whipping past her and carving a groove into the arena floor. She backed away as he drove forward, a relentless machine, testing her reflexes to the very limit to turn away dozens of rapid strikes, any of which could have skewered her.
He wasn't bluffing…! This is a real monster… She dodged right, stepping past his latest swing and knocking her foot against the inside of his knee as she passed to throw him off-balance, but he threw another of his energy blasts into the ground, propelling himself into her shoulder-first and launching her into the air, only to bring her to earth a split second later with a fist brought sharply down into her side.
She gasped as she hit hard stone, just managing to get an arm beneath her head to stop it directly impacting the floor. "Don't think I can…rightly do this…"
"It's too late to understand." Piccolo began building power in both hands now, the harsh yellow glare filling the emptying arena.
"…while I'm still so darn distracted!" She slammed both fists into the ground, cracking it as she leapt up, completely ignoring her enemy and jabbing a finger at Bulma. "You're really tickin' me off!"
Piccolo stood stunned, too taken aback by everything to keep charging up, so Chi-Chi continued. "I been trying to let you remember on your own this entire time! It's me! Chi-Chi! Princess of Mount Frypan!"
"F-For real?" Bulma was just as frozen as Piccolo, a million conflicting thoughts colliding in her head. "W-W-W-Wait, then this is about…"
"You said we'd get married when we grew up!" Chi-Chi flexed her arms. "Pretty grown-up, ain't we?"
"You…sure are," Bulma mumbled. "Wow. Uh, I mean…" She took a deep breath, trying to sort out all the new information and figure out which of the urgent voices in her head to go with. "Listen, Chi-Chi…if Piccolo wins, he's gonna take over Earth. Again. So…" Another deep breath. She couldn't believe what she was about to say. "If you beat him, I'll marry you today!"
Chi-Chi's heart soared. "R-Really? Oka—"
Piccolo's charged-up fist smashed into her face. "You have a bad habit of getting distracted…uh?"
She hadn't moved. Slowly, she turned to face him, just the movement of her head pushing his fist back. She reached up, locking a vicelike grip on his wrist and levering it away from her face. There was a fire in her eyes.
From where did this strength—? He thrust his other hand forward, still pulsing with accumulated power, blasting her from point-blank, but Chi-Chi remained unmoved at the heart of the explosion.
"I never, in my whole life…" Her free hand snapped his head back with a dizzying uppercut, her grip on his wrist releasing just in time to side-kick him straight on, sending him skidding back across the ring. "…felt so motivated!"
Crouching in the stands, Yamcha nudged Bulma. "Look, whatever works, but doesn't this feel a little low?" She seemed lost in thought, but he pressed on, hoping she was at least listening. "I mean, I hope she'll understand you had to lie to her to save the world…"
"Did you see that kick?" Bulma gushed, cutting him off. "I could eat a buffet off those quads!"
He paused, cycling several steps back in his reasoning. "You're into girls?"
"I'm into hunks. That girl is such a hunk."
"I guess—wait, no. That's not the point. You're going through with this?"
"I don't know." Bulma tapped idly at her chin. "…I think so. Yeah. If there's one person I've met I couldn't bring myself to lie to…yeah."
"Didn't seem to bother you back then."
"Well, she's not the only one who grew up. Are you, like, jealous?"
"No!" he snapped. "Like, I'm jealous of anyone who can make the finals in these things, but there's no baggage here, all right? You're my best friend. I don't want you doing something you might regret."
"You're right. Yeah. I should be sensible. I should…mmm, damn it, she's so hot!" Bulma gripped him by the shoulders, shaking him back and forth with each word. "And pure-hearted! I've never met anybody this earnest! Look how happy saying that made her!"
Yamcha rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay, never mind. It's your life." Sensible was never your style anyway…
Piccolo, meanwhile, was getting fairly demolished. Chi-Chi laid into him with ludicrous strength, shrugging off any hits he scored with a terrifying grin. He staggered away, feigning more fatigue than he felt and waiting for her to pursue; as soon as she was in close, he unleashed his inner energy from his eyes, aiming to blind her. She ducked by a hair's breadth, continuing her dash inside his guard and reaching under his arm and leg to hoist him completely overhead two-handed.
"I'm gonna be my dream girl's wife!" she bellowed, heaving forwards and slamming him down into the floor, jumping clear as the impact shattered the centre of the stage, Piccolo's momentum driving him through it and into the dirt beneath, twitching but not getting up.
Chi-Chi wiped her forehead, exhaling sharply. "Oi, ref! That count as a ring-out?"
A sunglasses-sporting head poked out from behind a nearby wall, peering nervously at the wreckage. "Th-There's no official ruling on that, but as the relevant official I'm going to call it a yes! C-Congratulations! You win the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai, Contestant Anonymous!"
"You've been pretty quiet this whole time," she chided.
"Sorry, sorry," came the reply as the announcer returned to his hiding-spot. "It's just I had no-one to commentate to since the crowd ran away, so…I thought I'd better not draw attention to myself."
"Fair 'nuff. Good work'n'all."
"You did it!" Bulma vaulted the fence, running up to embrace Chi-Chi. She found herself scooped up and lifted effortlessly off the ground, rendering her speechless.
"Are you OK?" Chi-Chi asked.
"Oh! Yes!" Bulma laughed, blushing. Just wasn't expecting you to awaken quite so many things in me today… "Thank you. Really. I thought all that awful stuff was about to happen again…but here's my fairytale hero to make it all go away."
Slowly, Chi-Chi lowered her to the ground. "So the princess is the hero? I like that." She grew serious. "Hey…ahm so, so happy you like me after all this time, and excited, and…it's just, I've had this happy ever after planned for years. But I bet you got your own plans, right? If…if you don't really wanta…"
"It's OK. It's not like there's some other one true love of mine I'm saving myself for, and…" Bulma caught her retreating hands and pulled her into a tight hug. "To think I could make someone this happy…when am I gonna get another chance like this? Let's try your happy ever after."
"Not to burst yer bubble…" Lunch hopped over the fence, approaching the ring. "Like, all the best to the two of you, but can you get married? That's one of them legal things I don't give much of a shit about."
"Sure we can!" Chi-Chi said. "My 'kingdom' is basically just my house…mountain…but I am a princess. If I say someone is married, they're married."
"Then will you marry me, Princess Charming?"
Chi-Chi leaned down and planted a kiss on her lips. "You just did."
"Hey, now! There should be a lot more ceremony than that!" But that had felt good, so Bulma kissed back between sentences. Women really did taste different. But there was also sweat, and the steely firmness of a fighter. And that was her all over; big, strong and gorgeous.
"We can do that too." Chi-Chi stepped back, peering into the crater from which groans were still emanating. "What about him?"
Krillin piped up. "It's not, y'know, 'sporting', but…we should really finish him. He's way too dangerous—"
"Please, stay your hand." The voice was old and raspy, but contained a striking note of clarity, impossible to ignore. A peculiar figure stood atop the arena wall; above a flowing cloak from which a spindly arm protruded to grasp a knobbly walking-stick, sat a face looking all the world like Piccolo's, if about five hundred years older.
"Who th'heck are you?" Chi-Chi called up. "If you're, like, another Piccolo, I got another beating where that one came from!" She gestured down at her defeated foe.
"Nothing of the sort," said the stranger. He took a step out into open air and floated down to the ground, as if light as a feather. "I am, let us say, the equal and opposite reaction to Piccolo's evil. If he is the demon that haunts this world, I am the God that watches over it."
"God? Like, for real?" came Yamcha's voice from far behind. "How come you never answer my prayers?"
"Rest assured, I heard them, but my duties concern the guidance and protection of the planet, not your lottery ticket numbers." 'God' sighed, approaching the crater. "That protection, unfortunately, cannot extend to the actions of my worse half, as if either of us dies, so will the other—and the Dragon Balls you people are so fond of will be lost as well, being my creations."
"Looks like we've got a lot to thank you for," Bulma said nervously, slowly getting a sense for the gravity of the situation and retreating behind Chi-Chi. "But if we can't kill the guy, what do we do with him? Er. Sir. Your holy godness."
"I have thought long and hard on this," God said, resting on his cane. "It would be possible for me to return the two to one; return us to the single being we were in ages past. In his current weakened state, I would be able to assert myself as the resulting being's primary nature…thus, I would remain in the world, and with doubled power and restored vigor, and the Dragon Balls would continue to exist."
"Well, get on with it then!" Chi-Chi said. "Didja need ta tell us all that? I got a wedding ceremony t'be putting together."
"Quite correct," he said, furrowing his brow. "I wouldn't need to tell you, were that the whole story. I would still be taking Piccolo's evil into me, and there is a very real risk I could become corrupted by it. I see now that it is better than allowing him to continue to exist as things are, but I would need someone to watch over me, and if I went down the wrong path, drag me back by force." He extended a crooked finger at Chi-Chi. "Someone capable of defeating the demon king."
She nodded slowly. "I don't really get it, but—well, I am pretty strong, ain't I?" She curled a bicep, kissing it.
"I think that's my job now," Bulma teased, hugging her from behind.
God coughed. "What I mean is, that you would make regular visits to my temple, to check on my mental state. During your stays, I would provide special training—I don't know how strong I will be after the merger, but you will need to surpass that level, in case the worst happens."
"Hmm…sounds like time away from wife…" Chi-Chi's head tilted to the side. "But I do like working out'n'getting stronger…"
"Keeping the whole world safe sounds pretty important," Bulma said. "I don't know if any of your magic princess stuff translates to real world money, but my family's pretty loaded from our inventions, so I think we can afford it." She poked her head out from behind Chi-Chi to address God. "Just don't take her for too long, okay? Two days a week, nine to five, maximum."
He stalled in his tracks, flustered when he finally spoke. "I—well, that is—you see—um. I hadn't thought to the specifics. But it is quite important. Weekdays, perhaps?" he ventured.
Sensing weakness, Bulma stepped out from behind her new bride, smirking. "We-ell, since you did make the Dragon Balls…three days."
"Th-Thr—Do you have any idea who—"
"Take it or leave it."
Chi-Chi, all this time, was just staring wide-eyed down at her. "You're the coolest," she whispered.
"'Course I am," Bulma said, patting her hand without breaking eye contact with God. "Just leave the talking to me, beefcakes."
After about half a minute of spluttering, God slumped over his walking-stick in defeat. "Very well. Three days…I will return to my temple for the merging ritual. Return to this island in exactly one week, and I will, I believe the phrase is, pick you up." He swept his arm around in a wide arc, summoning up a sudden gust of wind; when everyone had blinked the dust away and could see clearly, he and Piccolo were gone.
"Well! Okay." Came Krillin's anxious mutters drifted over from the stands. "Just met God. That's cool. Placed in the Budokai finals again. Met God. Good day! What is my life…"
Chi-Chi turned to face Bulma, reaching up to tuck some stray hair back. "Are you okay with this? We finally met again, and…"
"It's fine," Bulma said, hiding a giggle behind her hand. "I had to make the old guy think we were getting one over on him, but this is actually great!"
"Hell yeah! We got an in with the guy who made the Dragon Balls! That's gotta help getting some wishes granted." She nudged Chi-Chi in the ribs. "Plus, you're about to get like, the ultimate martial arts course, and get even more ripped? Hot."
Chi-Chi joined in her laughter. "That what this is really about?"
"You are relentless."
"I'm honest," said Bulma. "And I'm honestly falling for you."
Chi-Chi leaned down to kiss her wife, and all was right in the world.
Hopefully Chi-Chi's character voice didn't sound too inconsistent. In part 1 I was trying to think about how much she'd be able to focus on affecting formality to try and cover up her natural country slang from moment to moment, while by the time of part 2 she's dropped the pretence, as well as obviously having grown up.