Chains of Affection
by Syldana     More by this Writer
In an attempt to keep a suicidal Vegeta from killing himself, Goku iniates a very special bond.

Art Source :

https://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?id=45433
Deathfic



Chapter 01
Drawing in a deep, tremulous breath, Goku paused before the door, taking a brief moment to bolster his courage. Kami, he had never before in his life felt such fear… overwhelming fear and utter helplessness. Then again, never before had he ever been this helpless, unable to act, unable to do something to change this.

To save the day.

It was what they all expected of him. Though they had tearfully accepted his explanation as he'd grimly related the words of Dende, their eyes had belied that acceptance, mutely pleading for him to do something, anything, to save her. But there was nothing more he could think of to do.

Kuso, if only he was smarter! But he was not, and had never been so. The fact had never truly bothered him before. He had always been content with the person that he was, and was actually relieved that he had lost, well, whatever it was he had lost when he had fallen on his head as a child. He had seen the kind of person, the kind of Saiyan, he could have been, if not for that fateful accident. For if not for that fortuitous injury, he could have long ago destroyed all that which he now cherished, just as he had once unwittingly killed the revered grandfather that had raised him. No, he would not trade his human compassion for more brains. He just wished…

Goku abruptly shook his head, shrugging off that useless train of thought. This time, there were no wishes that could magically fix the impending tragedy. With a defeated sigh, he pushed open the door and entered the somber room beyond. He was immediately challenged by a pair of dark, obsidian eyes that glowered with unfettered hostility, and an acute tension rippled through the air just as it always did when Goku found himself face to face with the Saiyajin prince.

"What do you want, Kakarotto?" he hissed vehemently, yet so very, very quietly, as Goku came to a halt before him. Here was the only person who had not looked to him for help, not of any kind.

"She asked to see me, Vejiita," he declared softly, almost meekly, for he did not wish to start a fight with the prince, not here, not today. And though his dark eyes harshly expressed otherwise, Goku knew that Vejiita inwardly desired the same.

Vejiita made a low, angry sound of disgust, yet turned without further protest and stalked silently to the far corner of the room. From there he continued to glare at him, his arms crossing to contain his fury as Goku slowly approached the woman reposing motionlessly on the bed.

"Bulma?" he called to her gently, almost fearfully. Kami, her ki signature was so weak! Her life-force was fading quickly, and yet so agonizingly slow. Her breathing was shallow, just quick little gasps really, that drew air in painfully to her ruined, tattered lungs. At the sound of his voice, her eyes fluttered open; the lovely blue orbs were unusually bright with pain and yet also dull with the sedating weight of morphine.

"Son-kun," the aqua-haired woman murmured in a voice no more than a whisper, a faint smile touching her lips. Goku carefully took one limp, delicate hand into his own. "Thank you… for coming," she wheezed out warmly.

"Ah, you know I'd do anything for you, Bulma," he returned, a smile curving his mouth as it always did, the pleasure of seeing her, even like this, stealing over his open, honest countenance.

"I know," she replied, and then her smile waned. "That's why… I've asked… you here. A favor…"

"Anything," he promised blindly, drawing closer to hear her better.

"Vejiita…" she whispered softly. "Please… Son-kun… watch out… for him."

Goku knew in a quick, staggering instant, that this was no warning. Bulma was actually asking him to look after her dark, volatile husband when… when she no longer could. Yet despite the former blind promise, he found himself suddenly hesitant. Watch after Vejiita? He glanced nervously over at the man still scowling in the corner. The Saiyajin prince would not like that at all, especially not from his longtime rival.

"Um, are you sure you want me to do that, Bulma?" he questioned, turning back to her with all the doubt in the world on his features.

"Who else?" she replied, amusement flashing for a moment in her drug-filled eyes. "No one else… would believe… he needs it. No one else… would care," she added sadly.

"Trunks and Bura…" he began, but she was already shaking her head.

"They… wouldn't… have the courage," she said, a mother's wisdom in her gaze. "Please, Son-kun… he is… not as strong… as he portrays. He will… need someone."

Goku considered her words carefully, wishing once again that he was as intelligent as the small, withered woman before him, whom he would always perceive as beautiful. Even one with his limited intellect could see the truth of her rationale.

"I'll do my best, Bulma," he told her finally, with abrupt determination.

"Thank you," she returned, drawing a deeper, quivering breath and releasing a sigh. Then her eyes fell closed once more, the conversation having taken much more energy than she'd had to spare.

"All right, Kakarotto," Vejiita growled, suddenly beside him, "that's it. Leave. Now."

Goku straightened and turned to regard the man once again. The anger burning across his visage had only increased in intensity, the fury in his black eyes threatening to blast Goku to hell with the power of hatred alone. And Goku well knew that the prince could wield forces far more powerful than mere hate. Vejiita… watch out for him. Perhaps he should consider that broken, entreating statement as a warning, as well. Without his wife's bright, assuaging influence, who knew what the prince would do? It was only the thought of Bulma and his son, Trunks, that had halted their last, bloody, all-out fight to the death. How was Vejiita going to react when Bulma finally passed on? Goku searched those hate-filled eyes and felt a shiver of dread run up his spine, seeing nothing of the vulnerability Bulma had claimed lay within the unpredictable man before him.

"Okay, Vejiita," he said, then continued after a pause. "I'll be here, if you need me."

The prince merely snorted in reply.

* * * * *

Silently, and for once without taking any joy in it, Goku ate. Bura had been thoughtful enough to feed them all as they wordlessly waited downstairs in the living room at Capsule Corp. Bulma had insisted she spend her final days at home, amongst family and friends, and no one had dared suggest otherwise. The group was a small one, consisting of Bulma's two children, Trunks and Bura; Goku and his two sons, Gohan and Goten; Kuririn, Juuhachigou and their daughter, Marron; and Yamcha and Puar. None of them spoke as they grimly ate their meal, the reason for the gathering stifling all thoughts of conversation. The waiting was growing more and more oppressive, and yet everyone was dreading the moment that it would come to an end. Goku supposed all deathbed vigils were like that.

Then, with his fork halfway to his mouth, Goku's whole being came to a sudden halt. His breath caught in his throat as he instantly glanced up from his seat on the couch. Trunks's visage abruptly drained to a cold, stark white, and Bura immediately threw her arms around her brother and buried her face in his shoulder. Kuririn's arms snaked out to encircle his wife, as he, too, felt the wispy, yet eternally strong, life-force drift away. Their wait, long and sorrowful, was finally, anguishingly, over. Tears flooded Goku's eyes, quickly obscuring the sight of the others' grief from his vision. The food was unceremoniously plunked down on the coffee table before him as his hands began to tremble with the aggrieving pain of his own loss. Oh, Kami, Bulma…

There was only time for that one, short moment of grief, and then Goku abruptly found himself unable to breathe once again. A wail of utter, desolate anguish, so pure, so profound in its severity, thundered down around them with deafening violence. And then… silence. Then the ground itself began to quake and howl its fury at the loss of one so fiercely beloved. The air returned to Goku's lungs with a swift intake of terrifying realization.

Vejiita!

The feel of Vejiita's tremendous ki was at once all around them, and steadily rising at an alarming rate; and, with it, the tremors that shook the earth beneath their feet grew more and more violent. A bolt of fear shot through Goku as he quickly discerned that not only was Vejiita's power level growing beyond his previous limit, but that the prince was nowhere near in control of it.

Kuso, if he doesn't stop he'll destroy the entire city… the entire planet! And then Goku was moving, flying up the stairs with all the speed he could muster. In an instant he was before the door and kicked it down without hesitation. The door was knocked to the floor with the force of the blow, abruptly revealing the center of the raging turbulence.

Vejiita stood at the foot of the bed, his features twisted in terrible, insufferable anguish, his aura swirling brilliantly around him as wave upon wave of sheer power rolled off of him, churning the earth with the rabid force of unendurable agony.

"Vejiita!" he cried out over the roar of the earthquake, but received no reaction whatsoever from the man detonating before him. In a heartbeat, Goku was behind him, sending his own ki skyrocketing, wrapping his arms tightly around the smaller Saiyan's body, screaming out his name again and again. He formed a shield around them both, and then began straining, straining, to eclipse Vejiita's ki in the hopes of stopping him before it was too late.

Then, suddenly, there was a wealth of hair pouring over his face, and Goku had to rapidly shake his head back and forth several times in order to free himself from the thick, golden tangles that had abruptly slid into his mouth and obscured his eyesight. It took him only a moment to realize that the Saiyajin prince had just attained level three… and the building they were standing in was about to shake out of its foundation. It took him another precarious moment to find a spot on the planet completely bereft of any ki signatures, and then he phased out of sight, taking Vejiita with him.

They appeared over a large, barren desert, to Goku's profound relief, but the danger was far from over if he failed to contain Vejiita's power. At least the prince wasn't trying to escape the hold he had on him; in fact, Goku wasn't sure if Vejiita even realized he was there. Goku finally reached Super Saiyajin level three, himself, and then he simply… held on.

Vejiita's power hammered wildly at the edges of the ki shield, some of it still managing to break through, causing the earth below them to rumble in protest, though not enough to do any serious damage to the planet, itself. Goku was thankful the power seemed to have finally reached its pinnacle, which was probably near equal to his own; it was difficult to get an accurate measure, being engulfed in the middle of it. All he had to do now was hang on and pray his stamina outlasted Vejiita's.

Goku was not certain just how long they remained like that, but it seemed like quite a long while passed before he finally took notice of a power drop in Vejiita's ki. And once it started to fall, it tumbled down so quickly that it made Goku raise a single ridged brow in surprise. In mere seconds, Vejiita had not only dropped out of level three, but had dropped out of Super Saiyajin altogether; and Goku suddenly found himself holding the limp, unmoving form of the prince, his hair once again in shorter, upswept spikes, and black as burning midnight.

"Vejiita?" he called to him softly, hesitantly, but still received no reply. He deemed it safe enough and fell out of Super Saiyajin, as well, and then slowly descended from the sky to land amidst the red, rocky mesas on the desert floor. He shifted the smaller man in his arms and then gently lowered him to the ground.

Peering down at him, Goku noted with concern the pale, pasty complexion of his visage… and then grew even more concerned when he discerned that the man's ki was still decreasing in strength. A few seconds later it was down to almost nothing. At this point, Goku began to panic once more.

"Vejiita!" he called to him again, louder, then slapped his cheek none-too-gently with his fingers. Still, no response. He tried again, and again, but to no avail whatsoever. And then his ki simply vanished.

Goku sucked his breath in sharply, and gaped down in horrified shock at the motionless, ki-less form of Vejiita. What… had happened? He… he couldn't… die…

"Vejiita?" he repeated, stupidly, his voice a mere whisper, robbed of all sound.

Like himself, Vejiita had died twice before, and both times he had been wished back by the dragon balls. Goku had been present the first time the prince had died, but had been unconscious the second. Both times he could hardly believe that a spirited warrior such as Vejiita had died. And now he was being faced with the same occurrence once again. Yet it was not the same. Those first two times death had claimed the Saiyan prince, they had been sworn enemies—well, Vejiita had declared them so, anyway. But now…

Goku had considered the prince a friend for years now, since just after that second death, since they had fought Buu together. Kami, what a fight that had been! Yet it had not been the fight alone that had changed things between them; it had been the technique.

Fusion.

Son Goku had always thought of himself as a good fighter; he knew he wasn't very smart, but he could fight. He had proved that to himself many times throughout his life. Yet once… once he had tasted perfection. Once he had become a perfect fighter, the perfect warrior.

Vejitto.

Yet he had not done it alone. Vejiita had, thankfully, after much persuasion on his part, finally relented and provided the other half of the fusion warrior. Goku had not had time to consider all the ramifications of donning the Potara earrings—the entire universe had been at stake at the time—but he remembered how greatly relieved he'd been upon feeling Vejiita's ki just before he'd succumbed to what he'd believed to be his last, grisly resort: Mr. Satan. That had been quite a harrowing few minutes, for the Potara fusion, unlike that of the fusion dance, was supposed to be permanent. Yet he'd had no reservations at all about fusing with Vejiita, though the Saiyajin prince had balked, vehemently, at the very idea. Goku had finally convinced him, however, and once Vejiita had managed to get the damned earring on, everything had changed.

With vivid clarity, Goku recalled the odd, tugging sensation and the brightness of the light that had suddenly flared to envelop him… no, to envelop them both. It erupted between them with a force of power he could not have resisted even had he wanted to, drawing him toward Vejiita with unbreakable strands of luminous energy. Then, just as their bodies were about to touch, the light had blazed even more brilliantly, and he'd felt…

Oh, Kami!

"Vejiita!!!" he cried out, desperately, soulfully, jerking the silent figure back into his arms almost involuntarily. He could not die again. He could NOT.

Veeeeejjiiiiiitttaaaaaaa!!!!!

His final, imploring scream was purely mental; his entire soul poured into a soundless shriek of anguishing despair, and fueled by every ounce of telepathy that he possessed. Without another thought, Goku sent his own ki surging into the unmoving form within his tight embrace, his mind inordinately occupied, frantically seeking that of the prince, knowing, by way of his own extended experience with death, that there might still be a chance to reach him. With painstaking deliberation, he searched and searched, but could not find the familiar spirit that was Vejiita.

A cold, desolate emptiness settled agonizingly around him. It was dark, so very, very dark. How could he go on alone? He had nothing… WAS nothing… now… The loneliness, wrenching and unendurable in its intensity, seeped across his psyche, chilling his soul, dampening his spirit, beckoning toward him with an icy, alluring finger of death. Yes… Kami, yes…

The sudden, suicidal feeling was unbearably strong, merciless, oppressive, and with a relentless determination, began to whittle away at his ki. Goku didn't fight it, didn't want to fight it, as tears gathered in his eyes and his heart threatened to burst under the overwhelming pressure. His energy level dropped even lower, and the physical burden of the firm body in his arms began to weigh heavily upon him. He didn't care… Nothing mattered… Just give up…

His eyelids snapped open, then started blinking rapidly as his mind finally caught up with the rest of his wayward thoughts. Give up? To Son Goku, it was a completely foreign concept. But that could only mean that the atypical thought could not have originated with him. In an instant he was powering up his ki to a more tolerable level, even as the wheels of his mind began to circle feverishly.

Vejiita? he sent out, tentatively, hope transfusing his heart. Once again he received no answer, whatsoever. Yet there was no doubt in Goku's mind that the cold, barren darkness that was strenuously besieging him was, indeed, the Saiyan prince. He had simply failed to recognize him, so different was the feel of his spirit. But he had him now.

He grabbed on.

He didn't even think about it, didn't stop to consider if it was even possible, he simply did it. His mind—soul?—reached out to skim the edges of the raging darkness that was Vejiita, then spanned outward, over, around, until he finally met up with himself—in effect, completely encompassing the prince with his own being. It was a strange bastardization of a ki shield, encircling the soul of Vejiita, and imprisoning him within. And Goku wasn't about to let him go. Instead, he thrust his own awareness deep toward the center of the roiling chaos.

* * * * *

Pain. Loss. Agony. Emptiness.

Oh, Kami, the emptiness!

The pain, so acute, so overwhelming, surged brutally into the cold, black nothingness of the void, slashing, slicing, searing the inner walls of the fresh, raw, bleeding wound. The void, dark and utterly barren, had burst into being in one terrible, jarring moment; a moment when the precious soul which had previously abided there, had instantly, savagely, been ripped away. Only the void, a bitter, aching cavity of anguish, remained where the silver-soft tendrils of joy and contentment had once lovingly caressed.

Now there was no more joy, and never would he feel any manner of contentment again. Once he was Vejiita, the Prince of all Saiyans, now he was merely the poor, wretched soul left torn and bleeding in the wake of the beautiful, headstrong life-force that had been Bulma Briefs, his mate.

The loss was excruciating, stealing his power, his control, callously exposing the splintered shards of his heart, and ruthlessly stripping away his very will to live. Mere existence was now harrowing torture, and for the dwindling soul convulsing within the endless blight of pain, any escape route was welcomed wholeheartedly.

He had the vague perception of someone else nearby, a shadowy spectre just on the edge of his awareness, calling out to him, but he ignored it arbitrarily, every shattered fragment of his being haphazardly aimed toward the cessation of life. All else was suffering. All else was pain.

Then, suddenly, the way before him was barred, as if the gates of heaven—or perhaps hell—were abruptly, seamlessly, shut, instantly cutting him off from the much-coveted relief awaiting him on the other side. Releasing a mental wail of despair, he hurled himself against the bright barrier that had suddenly sprung up around him, cursing it frenziedly when it casually bounced him back. He made another attempt, and another, but the barrier remained strong, intact, and completely unscathed. And then, to add to his horror, the barrier of light began to contract, shrinking inwardly, advancing toward him with direct intent and singular purpose. He recoiled from it involuntarily, but there was nowhere he could flee. The dazzling light had him completely hemmed in.

And then it touched him.

The sheer force of it jolted through his being, its strength and power almost incomprehensible; yet that was not what froze him instantly in place, arresting him with absolute unbounded awe. It was simply the heat—a pure, guileless warmth—unlike anything he'd ever encountered before. It radiated profusely from the blinding brilliance around him, torrid, intense, scorching the surface of his glacial spirit, melting the icy outer layer of his contrasting darkness. The fiery warmth battered gently, tenderly, against the remaining layers—pleading, promising, proffering—a thousand different ways, a thousand different things—all in an ardent, heartfelt appeal to gain access to the inner core of his soul. It was a place few had ever dared to venture, and even fewer had been allowed entrance. Yet there was something about this…

Something familiar.

And—oh, Kami!—he needed it! The need to grab it, to hold it, to brand it as his own was so painfully overwhelming, his whole being vibrated with the severity of it. It was not like that which he had lost; if it had been, the mockery would have been too much to overcome. No, this was different, new, and yet old and familiar at the same time. It was far too tempting to resist, and his mental state was far too brittle to even try.

Let it in? Hell, yes!

But once inside, that pure, blazing warmth, that bright, flawless magnificence, would be his.

* * * * *

His brow furrowed. Kami, his head hurt! His body ached, as well, as if from long, physical exertion. Kuso… had he been sparring with Kakarotto again? He could not remember. Must have hit his head pretty hard this time. His lashes fluttered in an attempt at cognizance, but the weight of his eyelids was unnaturally heavy so he merely let them fall closed again. Besides, despite the headache and muscle fatigue, the rest of his body was feeling extraordinarily splendid right where it was.

There was an odd, curious warmth encompassing him, cradling him, nestling him securely within its firm, blissful wrapping. His keen warrior instincts should probably have gone on instant alert at the unfamiliar contact, but strangely, the warm sensation was having quite the opposite affect on him. It was actually making him feel… safe. Yes, that was it—safe. Kami, when was last time he had felt safe? Vejiita could barely recall, but knew it was so long ago that he had been little more than a brat at the time. Since then…

He had not been safe since then. He'd had to make himself safe. And obtaining even that fragile sense of security had taken every ounce of sweat and willpower he'd possessed. There was now only one possible threat that remained, but he had finally dismissed it a few years back. Kakarotto was still, vexingly, more powerful than himself, but Vejiita had ceased to think of him as a true enemy since their fight against Majin Buu. Since that damned fusion, actually. For that was the moment he'd had his first glimpse into the other Saiyan's mind. It was then he'd discovered that Kakarotto truly had no hidden thoughts of domination or malice toward him. It had been an astonishing realization, for before then, he hadn't believed the concept even possible. But before then, he had not known anyone at all like Kakarotto.

Yet this brand new sense of security, of warm, soothing safety, was completely different. There was nothing fragile about it. It was not only warm, it was strong, powerfully strong, yet at the same time utterly gentle. It would have alarmed him, otherwise. Instead, he surrendered himself to it, without care and without thought, accepting the gift of warmth with a sigh. He shifted slightly, snuggling himself closer, breathing in a musky, pleasing scent that becalmed him even more, for it was somehow known to him.

Less than a moment later, the heavenly warmth withdrew.

Vejiita moaned in immediate protest at the sudden loss, and his arms moved of their own accord to clasp onto it. One hand smoothed its way over the warm surface of a wide back, as the other latched onto to the solid flesh of a muscular bicep. Confusion whirled through his aching head, and he sought to open his eyes once again.

"Vejiita?" a familiar voice queried softly.

His eyelids slowly lifted to see a blurred face hovering closely above him. "Kakarotto?" he returned with a hoarse, questioning whisper. Then his eyes finally focused and the man's features sharpened before him. A grin as bright as the noonday sun fired across Goku's familiar face, and then Vejiita abruptly found himself being squeezed to death in the other Saiyan's powerful arms.

"Oh, thank you, Kami!" Goku cried out, loudly, right next to his ear, his inflection full of heartfelt relief. "Thank Kami, Vejiita!"

The Saiyajin prince began to squirm within the confining embrace. "Let go of me, baka!" he wheezed, his anger igniting almost reflexively. "I said, let go!"

Goku relaxed his hold, and Vejiita quickly scrambled out of his arms, scooting back from him until he came up against a wall of rock. Vejiita gaped over at him soundlessly with eyes wide and breathing erratic. Goku merely grinned back, stupidly, like he always did. Vejiita opened his mouth again, to berate him, harshly. Yet no words came out.

Something was wrong.

It struck him, hard and fast. Yet he didn't know what it was. His eyes took a rapid inventory. Where the hell was he? How the hell did he get here? He didn't recall coming here, to spar with Goku or otherwise. This was not where he was supposed to be, he knew that for certain. But then, where was he supposed to be? And why was Kakarotto here? Better still, why had he been holding him? And why…? He peered closer at the other man's face. Why had Kakarotto been crying? That, more than anything else, sent a flood of anxiety hurtling through his body. That, and… something inside him felt wrong. He couldn't put a finger on it, something within him was just… off. Wrong. And whatever that wrongness was, somehow, Kakarotto possessed the knowledge.

"What…" His heart began to thump heavily beneath his chest. "What has happened?" he asked in a small, rasping whisper. Goku's grin instantly vanished, and true fear clutched at Vejiita's heart.

"Bulma." He said it gently, yet in a voice permeated with sorrow.

One little word. It was everything to the Saiyan prince. One little word. It brought everything rushing back.

The blood evaporated from his visage, and turned to ice within his veins. He felt his heart begin to freeze over as it laboriously endeavored to pump the ice throughout his body. Despite the oppressive strain, the chill spread quickly, seeping into his bones, pounding into his brain, leaving his whole being numb and unable to move. His bloodless lips soundlessly echoed the word. His mind sent it shrieking across the dimensions.

But he received no response; he could not find her bright, knowing spirit anywhere in the universe around him, nor in the deep, sacred place within him that was hers and hers alone. He remembered, now, the moment she had left him, her brilliant soul a diaphanous mist he could not hold on to—though Kami knows he had tried! He had failed. She was gone.

She. Was. Gone.

The reality of that could not be avoided, and his body began to quake from the impact of that hard, scourging fact. His eyes were still locked soundly onto Kakarotto's as he drew in a deep, shuddering breath. It was not enough to even begin to steady the swelling tide of emotion that began washing over him, and his lungs heaved again and again, desperately gulping in great quantities of air in a vain attempt to maintain control. Oh, Kami, he could not lose it—not in front of Kakarotto. But there didn't seem to be much he could do to stop himself as the incoming onslaught of pain grew more and more harrowing.

He quickly averted his gaze as his eyes began to fill and started blinking rapidly, but that only made the tears spill down his cheeks even more freely. Kuso! His body would not respond to the urgent command to flee. It wouldn't respond to any order whatsoever; it just helplessly succumbed to the overwhelming deluge of grief.

"I'm sorry, Vejiita," Goku murmured softly, his proximity now much closer. Then the larger Saiyan's hand settled gently on his shoulder in a gesture of comfort.

"Get away from me, baka!" Vejiita spat out with a strangled hiss, furiously slapping away the offending hand. Why couldn't the idiot just leave? Kami, leave him alone and allow him his pride. He had lost everything else…

Goku gazed helplessly at the man before him, torn between Vejiita's harsh demand and the terrible force of anguish rolling endlessly off of him. The prince had turned his entire back to him, this time, and his face was now buried against the cliff side, his hand clutching the wall, his trembling fingers literally digging into the bedrock.

And he had actually questioned Bulma's claim of her husband's inward vulnerability.

Watch out for Vejiita. He isn't as strong as he portrays. He will need someone. No one else would care. Trunks and Bura wouldn't have the courage.

No, they wouldn't, he agreed silently, now seeing the reasoning behind that statement. Vejiita would surely reject all overtures of comfort, even from his own children. Trunks and Bura would respect their father's will and never even think to contradict him on such a personal matter. Like himself, it probably wouldn't have even occurred to them that their strong, proud father would need any manner of comforting. Which was why Bulma had specifically asked Goku to look after him. She knew that he cared about Vejiita, and she knew that he was, perhaps, the only one in the world with the courage to disregard the Saiyajin prince—and the only one who could withstand his almighty wrath when he did so.

Goku released a sigh of resignation. Ah, well, Vejiita already despised him anyway.

Bracing himself, he reached for the prince again, this time with both arms. His hands curled around Vejiita's shoulders, attempting to turn him back around—but the prince flinched at the sudden contact and whirled around on him all on his own. With a savage growl rumbling deep in his throat, Vejiita swung a blind fist toward his jaw. Anticipating the move, Goku easily managed to knock the blow aside, and then used the smaller Saiyan's momentum against him, auspiciously dragging the enraged prince into his arms. Before Vejiita could marshal his thoughts, Goku had him wrapped neatly and securely within his embrace. The Saiyajin prince went totally ballistic.

A string of mad, scathing curses blazed out of his mouth as he thrashed wildly within the incarcerating grip. Goku could feel the other man endeavor to power-up, but what little energy Vejiita possessed at the moment had been a lifesaving gift from himself. Therefore, his fists did little damage as they hammered furiously against him. Goku quietly ignored his struggles and his curses, and simply held him, closely, to his chest. His ranting grew louder, coarser, and more vicious as the seconds ticked by, insults and stinging death threats lashing across the larger Saiyan's eardrums, landing with more accuracy and drawing more blood than he cared to admit. Finally, the prince gathered himself and let out one, last, feral howl of protest that seemed to embody every tumultuous emotion roiling within him—and then he collapsed, his body sagging languidly against him in utter defeat.

Vejiita's fingers clawed at the front of his orange gi, seizing the fabric tightly within a single balled fist as his face vanished deep within its hidden folds. And then his shoulders began to jerk with small, quaking spasms as the prince began to weep.

Goku nearly sighed aloud his relief. He eased his hold on the prince just slightly to allow a more comfortable grip, then he lowered his cheek to rest gently atop Vejiita's head. And there the two of them remained for a long, solacing while, their only movement the disquieting sobs of the grieving prince and the soothing caresses of Goku's fingers upon his trembling back.

It took a while, but the sobs eventually quieted, the shaking grew less turbulent, and Goku knew that after all that had happened, Vejiita had to be thoroughly exhausted. Then silence reigned supreme for several long minutes, and he thought perhaps the prince had fallen asleep. Until he spoke, that is.

"Kakarotto," he whispered despondently, his voice sacrificed long ago to grief. "How… how did you survive?" he asked finally, the words half-muffled by his shirt.

Goku blinked in confusion. Huh? How did he survive what? And then he knew. Chichi. It had been nearly three years, now.

"I don't know, Vejiita," he began, lamely, not quite knowing what to say. "My boys, I guess."

"I… did not realize," he commented softly. "Nappa had warned me, of course, but I thought it merely an exaggeration meant to console me to the fact that there were no more Saiyan females. I mean, how could I possibly believe that a race as powerful as ours held such a weakness? It ran contrary to everything I'd ever been taught. 'Less than half survived the death of their mates,' he told me, 'and those that did found a way to join them sooner or later. A few simply went mad.' But I was the Prince of the Saiyajin, and a Super Saiyajin, as well. Even if all that were true, it couldn't apply to me, especially when there were no other Saiyans left. I certainly didn't believe that one little… human… woman…" His rasping monologue trailed off into a fresh wellspring of tears.

"It was really hard, at first," Goku said to fill in the sudden silence, "especially being in the house. I kept forgetting, you see. I'd call out her name, ask when dinner was going to be ready, stuff like that, before I'd remember she was gone. That's why I left home for a while and did a bit of training in space. Remember?"

"I remember," Vejiita murmured in reply. "I was bored out of my skull for six months straight."

Goku felt a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. "Missed me, eh, Vejiita?"

"I missed pounding on your thick head," he shot back readily, yet his voice held no inflection other than plain, despondent misery. The man's recent words of death and survival rang hollowly through his mind.

He still expects to die, Goku realized with a start. But he had just saved him from death! Why would Vejiita still believe…

The words came echoing back. Less than half survived the death of their mates, and those that did found a way to join them sooner or later. Oh, Kami!

"Vejiita." His arms finally broke their long, comforting hold, and he shifted the prince in his lap, lifting his head from his chest and tilting him back a bit so he could peer into his face. Vejiita's eyes, red-rimmed and tearstained, instantly met his own, but what Goku saw in those dark depths sent a wealth of apprehension coursing through him. They were the dull eyes of a stranger, not the usual glittering shards of black fire that always seemed to burn right through him with their hard, glaring intensity. That dullness, an overwhelming despair, was pervading the man's soul, as well. The larger Saiyan could feel it, dismal and devouring, leaving no trace of hope or optimism in its wake.

"Vejiita, it was hard for me, at first, to adjust, but it got better. Going into space, getting away from everything for a while, helped a lot. Then, when I got back, there was Gohan and Goten, Yamcha, Kuririn, Bulma, even you, Vejiita. I had my family and friends to help me fill in the void that she left. I still miss her pretty bad, but my life is good again." He paused, awaiting some kind of reaction from the man before him. When he received none, he went on. "Yours will be good again, too, Vejiita, just give it a little time. You have Trunks and Bura, my family and me, and a whole lot more if you just look around you."

Vejiita's dark eyes simply gazed at him, spiritless and disbelieving, and then he gave a small snort of derision, just like he always did when Goku said something he deemed stupid.

Low-class baka! The man didn't even have to say it anymore. Everything Vejiita said or did insinuated that assertion, always reinforcing the insult in every way possible. It was in his very stance, in the mocking slant of his brow, the twisted smirk of his lips, in his sleek, graceful movements, whether in battle or otherwise. His air and demeanor was always regal, always proud, always so damned superior. And Goku had always let it slide right off him.

This time, the insult landed square between his wide, round eyes.

Maybe it was because he had just saved the man's life—again. Maybe it was because he was, even now, in the process of trying to do so again. Maybe it was the fact that he had been holding the prince so very closely for the past who-knows-how-long. Maybe because he had started to think they might have actually become real friends over the course of that time. Whatever the reason, Goku felt a sudden, keen sense of hurt, and what almost felt like betrayal, as Vejiita scornfully spurned his attempt to encourage him. Like he didn't know what he was talking about. Like he was a complete idiot. His eyes narrowed.

"How can you just give up?" he accused sharply. "Forget Trunks and Bura being there for you, you should be there for them! You're their father! They have just lost their mother, and your idea of consolation is for them to lose their father, as well? Kami, if only they could see you now: Vejiita, the proud Prince of the Saiyajin! You survived the destruction of your planet and your entire race. You lived under Frieza's thumb for who-knows-how-many years. You even survived, not one, but two battles against me—not to mention all the others you've fought over the years. Where's that strength now, Vejiita? Where's that tenacious drive that has always kept you going? That stubbornness that has always kept you coming after me? You do still plan on defeating me someday, don't you? Or are you finally ready to admit that I am just plain better than you are?"

It wasn't until he saw the color drain completely out of Vejiita's face that Goku began to regret his words. The man had just gotten him so… angry. Even so, that had only been half the reason he'd said those things. The rest of it was simply another attempt to snap the prince out of the dark depression that had settled so unshakably around him. He wasn't sure if this method was going to work, either… until he felt Vejiita's fist connect brutally with his face.

Where the other Saiyan had scrounged up the energy for such a powerful punch, Goku couldn't begin to fathom as he lay there blinking up at the clouds. And quite frankly, he couldn't care less. All that mattered was the mutating emotions now resonating out of Vejiita. A dark shadow fell across him, blotting out the sunlight, and he tilted his chin to see the Prince of all Saiyajin glaring down at him in all his magnificent splendor.

"You ignorant, low-class bastard!" Vejiita snarled in outrage. "Kisama, how dare you mock me! How dare you mock me!!!" The prince was virtually shaking from head to toe with rabid, murderous fury, and Goku could only gape up at him and thank every god he had ever met that the man's power was already spent. "You want to fight me, baka?! Fine!! I'll stick around just long enough to take you with me, Kakarotto!! But before that, I will see you bow down in the dirt before me and grovel like the stupid, filthy, lowborn mongrel that you are!!!"

Goku sighed, heavily, then slowly dragged himself to his feet and brushed the dust from his backside. Then he raised his head and met the searing gaze of the Saiyajin prince, calmly and without flinching. "I don't want to fight you, Vejiita," he declared softly, openly. "I just want you to live."

He watched with a certain detached fascination as his words impacted on the prince. How his rage appeared to stumble as the realization struck; his black eyes flashing with sudden doubt; his mouth opening and then closing again less than a moment later. Goku had to hand it to him, though, he recovered quickly, as usual.

"Don't mess with me, Kakarotto," he muttered darkly, folding his arms across his chest to halt any lingering tremors.

"Don't give up, Vejiita," he countered matter-of-factly. "I meant the part I said about Trunks and Bura. They really do need you. To lose their mother… I never knew my mother, but I do know how Gohan and Goten were after Chichi died. It's a terrible thing. They need to know you're there, that they still have you. Then they won't feel so alone. And maybe you won't either, Vejiita," he added gently, after a pause.

The prince didn't move a muscle, but Goku could both see and feel the conflict churning behind his unwavering gaze. There was a great struggle taking place within the smaller Saiyan's compact frame; the warring emotions equally potent on both sides. At the forefront was the anguishing pain and all-consuming despair that had been spawned at Bulma's death, which now battled ferociously against the gentler, yet undeniably powerful, force of a father's love for his children. Goku was not certain at all what the outcome was going to be, for it seemed to him the two forces were almost evenly matched. In truth, though he didn't want to acknowledge the fact, the darker force was fresher, stronger, and was staunchly pummeling everything around it. Slowly, steadily, it began to triumph.

No!! his mind cried out in immediate protest, as he began to recognize the imminent defeat. Kami, what else could he say? What else could he do? If the love of his own children wasn't enough to pull Vejiita out of this, then what else possibly could? He could think of nothing. Shimatta! Why couldn't he be smarter?! His heart wailed in soundless, panicked frustration. Oh, Kami, losing Bulma was bad enough; he couldn't lose another friend!

Then, something rose up from deep within his soul, something he didn't recognize, something strong, unbreakable, and just recently forged, that carried with it one solid, incontestable truth:

HE COULD NOT LOSE VEJIITA!!

His breath caught in his throat and his eyes welled with tears as the emotion, so unbelievably strong, splashed over his head and washed down over his entire body, leaving him weak and quivering with fear. It vibrated in the air around him, as if charged with ten thousand volts of electricity, then spiked outward, reaching toward Vejiita as if to catch him up and entangle him forever. That was what Goku wanted to do, as well; just walk up to the man and wrap his arms around him like he had done earlier—hold him close, soothe his pain—and never, ever let him go. But he knew the Saiyajin prince would surely pound him again if he tried.

A familiar grunt abruptly drew his attention away from himself and back to the man before him.

"Whatever," Vejiita said, in an offhanded manner, giving a slight shrug of his shoulders. Then he turned and began walking away.

Goku blinked.

"How the hell did we get out here, anyway?" the prince demanded, looking around the painted desert in obvious disdain.

Goku blinked again. What the…?

It was over. The conflict, the battle raging tempestuously within Vejiita, was simply… over.

"Well? Are you going to tell me, baka?"

"Uh…" How did we get here? "Instant Transmission."

"And why?"

"Uh… you were about to blow up the Earth."

"Hn."

"You were pretty much out of control," Goku went on abstractedly, "so I brought you out here where there would be less damage. It wasn't easy, either. You reached level three."

Vejiita came to an abrupt halt. "Level three?" he repeated, glancing back at him over his shoulder.

"Yep."

"Hn."

The prince turned to survey the terrain once again.

"Well, I suppose we should get back, then," he said, impassively, then started back toward him.

Goku could only stare at him as he wordlessly approached. Yes, the conflict was over… and he had actually won. He had no clue as to how, though. He'd thought he was losing…

"I suppose it's quicker if you do it," Vejiita said, a slight curl of disgust on his lips. "Besides, I have absolutely no idea where we are," he added, coming to a stop before him. His dark eyes lifted to meet Goku's stupefied gaze. They lingered there for several contemplating minutes, then traveled over the planes of his face as if searching for something. His lips parted, as if to speak again, but then he seemed to stop himself, his head tilting slightly as he considered him once more.

"Kakarotto," he said, finally, his inflection hesitant, his words painfully forced. "Thank you… thank you for reminding me who I am."

A sudden burst of warm pleasure radiated through him; gratitude from Vejiita was a rare and precious thing. Goku could do nothing more than nod dumbly in reply.

"It's about damn time you acknowledged it," the prince went on, his mouth twisting into a smirk, the black of his eyes igniting with a fiery gleam. "I'll have you on your knees before me yet."

For some reason, the taunting declaration had him grinning like a fool. "You think so, Vejiita?"

"I know so, Kakarotto," he returned haughtily, placing a warm hand on his shoulder.

Goku laughed aloud as he pressed his fingers to his forehead. Then that crisp, happy sound was all that remained of the two warriors as they winked out of sight, the laughter echoing merrily throughout the empty hollows of the desert.



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