Goku sat on a plain wooden bench in the fighter’s locker room, relaxing before his next match. He rubbed a thumb absent-mindedly over the material of his orange mask as he wished there was an easier way to make money. Even though the people in his league were all rated as some of the strongest fighters out there, it was still tiring to constantly have to hold back his power while also putting on a good show. The first few matches he had participated in had ended in one move and his manager had cussed him out for almost an hour over it. So in order to make top dollar he now drug out the fights with flashy moves that normal people had no chance of pulling off and the crowd adored him for it.
A bored voice called over the intercom that he needed to report to the staging area and he stood to stretch. Slipping his mask over his head, he calmly headed to the edge of the curtained area and let out a long sigh. He was fighting a newcomer tonight so he wanted to put on a good show for their introduction match. Even if he won the fight, it would look good for his opponent if they appeared to be evenly matched.
“And now ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the unstoppable, always spirited, GENKI DAMA!” The announcer yelled and Goku slipped through the part in the curtain.
The crowd went wild as he stepped into the arena and stopped to wave at his fans. People of every creed cheered and waved signs with his stage name written across them. He posed, flexing his bare upper torso that made women and men alike scream in excitement. This part of the match always made him feel a little silly, but his manager insisted that it was extremely important so he did as he was told.
After a few moments of strutting his stuff and waving, he jumped into the air and did a flip to land neatly on one of the turnbuckles with a thumbs up.
“And there’s a brand new challenger in the ring tonight, hoping to take the champion’s mask! Introducing THE FINAL PRINCE!”
Goku’s heart almost stopped as he looked over and saw his opponent. A white mask with a red, royal symbol across his whole face, a red cape draped over bare shoulders, a pair of familiar navy pants, and the same white boots and gloves as always. His mind raced, wondering how Vegeta could have possibly figured out where he was. But not only did he find out where Goku worked, he had managed to also join the league and arrange for his first fight to be between the two of them.
Hopping down from the turnbuckle, he was thankful that his mask covered his blush as Vegeta stopped to preen for the crowd. The other Saiyan looked so natural at it and seemed to enjoy the attention even though most of the people in the arena booed him. He just kept smirking and waving, acting every bit the royal he truly was. Finally he set his eyes upon Goku and a shiver of nervousness shot through the younger Saiyan. The way Vegeta’s eyes narrowed when their gazes met had him rooted to the spot as he waited for his opponent to make the first move.
He didn’t have to wait long thankfully. Vegeta leapt impossibly high for a human and spun around on his descent until he landed directly in the middle of the square with a smirk. The crowd cheered at his theatrics and he put his hands on his hips as if he had won some sort of victory by getting people to his side.
Once the screams had died down enough for him to be heard, he raised an arm and pointed at Goku. “Genki Dama, I’m here for your mask!” A chorus of gasps and jeers ran through the crowd at his proclamation.
Goku blinked in shock at the challenge. Sure, others had tried to take his mask before, but he had never feared someone might actually do it. But more than that, he wondered what was driving Vegeta to suddenly act this way. He hadn’t seen the other Saiyan for over a year after the incident with Buu, only to see him suddenly show up now in the strangest circumstances. The chanting of the crowd reminded him that he was supposed to entertain them and he puffed up his chest at the taunt.
“What makes you think you can win?” He spoke confidently, but on the inside he cringed at having said that to Vegeta of all people. Seeing the second of anger flicker over his opponent’s eyes, he wondered how much of this was a show to the Prince and how much the same grudge from before.
“I’ve seen you fight many times before. I know all your moves and I’ve made it my life mission to defeat you!” Vegeta answered by rolling his neck and fixing another confident stare at Goku.
Mentally sighing that he had to keep up his wrestling persona instead of speaking to the Saiyan the way he really wanted to, Goku crossed his arms over his chest just as Vegeta often did. “You’re incredibly bold to stand in front of the undefeated champion on your first match and challenge me for my mask! I accept your offer, but you’ll be the one leaving the ring without a mask!” He ended his speech by holding up his arms and flexing, thankful that he had watched all those videos of Mr. Satan’s interviews when he joined the league.
Vegeta chuckled darkly and held his head high. “We’ll see about that.”
The referee entered the ring and made a few inspections before pointing at each of the fighters to make sure they were ready. Both men nodded: one with an almost malicious smirk and one with a confident smile that hid his true feelings. With the blow of a whistle, the match began.
Used to letting his opponent make the first move, Goku wasn’t surprised when Vegeta sped at him. But the fact that there was a sudden stinging in his abdomen from the Prince’s punch certainly shocked him. It had been a big surprise to the warrior that in these fights you weren’t actually supposed to hurt your opponent, so now the feeling of pain seemed odd to him.
“Vegeta! We’re not supposed to really hit each other!” He whispered in the Prince’s ear as he grappled with the smaller fighter.
“I’m not a pathetic weakling that you have to pull punches for!” Vegeta spat back under his breath, lifting the larger male and tossing Goku against the mat in a backbend.
“I don’t want anyone here to get hurt!” Goku hissed quietly as he quickly scrambled to pin the small Prince. He felt the body underneath him go limp for a second before bursting into action and knocking him to the side.
“Genki Dama, I will have your mask!” Roaring as his body trembled, Vegeta ran towards the ropes and then bounced off them. Launching himself into the air he landed a dive-kick into Goku’s chest.
Eyes rolling back from the heavy hit, the champion was stumbling backwards and trying to recover from the blow. As his vision finally cleared, he saw his chance and used his momentum to also bounce off the ropes and spring into the air. Executing several tucked flips in the air, he landed in on a body-splash atop the still prone Prince.
“Why are you doing this?” He pleaded softly for an answer even as he held a fist up high to show off his flashy maneuver which ended in a pin.
His opponent struggled underneath him, but Goku bore down all his weight to keep Vegeta on the mat until he got an answer.
“Why don’t you ask yourself that?!” The Prince bit down on his arm and Goku actually let out a howl before releasing him.
As the crowd madly cheered them on, the two Saiyans circled around the ring in a stare down. Goku’s mind raced as he tried to figure out what Vegeta had meant. He was here because he needed money, plain and simple. Even though he had lived self-sufficiently for years as a kid, with adulthood came responsibilities and child support payments. Since the Budokai had been disbanded temporarily, this was his next best option. Vegeta lived with the richest family in the world and had no need for a job—clearly he was the one who should explain!
“Last Prince, you’ve put up a good fight so far, but you’re doomed to fail!” He wanted to punch himself in the face after Vegeta’s eyes wavered. Vowing to end this fight now so they could put all this behind them, he leaned his weight into the ropes once more and was propelled forward. When his opponent dodged his flying kick, he just wrapped an arm around Vegeta’s neck and dropped him to the floor. Springing up, he flipped onto the turnbuckle and raised his arms high into the air above his head.
The crowd went wild as he prepared to do his signature move, but this time he didn’t care. He looked down at the slightly-dazed Saiyan on the mat and his heart clenched. Vegeta had plenty of time to move out of the way, but instead the Prince’s mouth just twitched with the beginning of a smirk and he remained stationary.
Goku’s stomach dropped at the way Vegeta laid there and accepted his defeat. It was so uncharacteristic of him that Goku didn’t want to land the final blow. But someone had to end this and the crowd was screaming for him and egging him on. Taking a deep breath, he leapt into the sky for the final time and did several tight spins on his way down until he landed atop his downed opponent.
The referee started the countdown, but Vegeta didn’t even try to fight it. He stayed silent until the bell rang to signal the end of the match. Goku stood and held out a hand to help his friend up but it was batted away. The pair stood and stared at each other once more before Vegeta’s hands rose to his head and he pulled the mask off of his face. A wry smile flashed on his lips before disappearing just as fast.
“Here is my mask.” He shoved it into Goku’s hand. “I’ll never wear one again.”
Vegeta’s heavy gaze held Goku in place and he scrambled to think of what the pleading in those jet black eyes meant. Even though the arena was filled with raucous outbursts, in that second it felt like they were the only two in the room. But before he could answer, people were around him and pulling him into victory poses and making announcements. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the Prince slinking off towards the locker room and he pushed away from his manager and the announcer to follow. Making sure to wave at the crowd as he sprinted past, he slipped through the curtain and into the hallway beyond.
Once out of sight of the public, he hesitated in his pursuit. His heart pounded and he had to push himself forward. Making his way to the locker room, he scanned for Vegeta’s energy and confirmed that the royal was still inside. Pushing the door open, Goku caught sight of the Prince folding his cape and stuffing it in a duffel bag. He cleared his throat even though he was sure Vegeta knew he was there.
Pulling a loose navy tank top from the bag, Vegeta slipped it over his head and looked up at Goku. “The Four Star Dragon Ball. Cute.”
With a snort Goku pulled the mask from his head. “Vegeta, why did you come here? Why like this?”
There was a short laugh and the sound of a zipper closing. The Prince threw the duffel bag over his shoulder and walked over to stare down the larger Saiyan. “When was the last time we saw each other, Kakarot?”
Goku’s brow furrowed at the obvious answer. “When we fought against Buu.”
“And how long ago was that?”
“Um, I dunno. About a year, I guess?”
“It’s been eighteen months, Kakarot. Seven years you made me wait for you. Only to then have the greatest battle of our lives, share bodies with each other, and have me accept my station in life. Then I don’t see you for eighteen months later and only then because I had to track you down to this ridiculous place where you degrade yourself in front of idiots? If I hadn’t come today how long would it have been, Kakarot?”
Swallowing a lump in his throat, Goku shook his head. “I’m sorry, Vegeta. Buu took a toll on everyone and then with Chi-Chi, I just lost track of time.” He didn’t know what else to say. It wasn’t as if he had meant to offend Vegeta, but his coming back from the dead after so long had required certain adjustments to his life and not all for the better.
Vegeta stared at him with an unreadable expression, staying quiet for far too long.
“I just needed some time alone is all.” Goku added quietly, nervousness making him babble.
There was a strong stinging in his cheek and when he turned his head back to the front he could see Vegeta withdrawing his hand with watery eyes.
“You always think of yourself first. What about all the time you left me alone?” Vegeta asked with an accusing hiss. “If you were hurt, why didn’t you come to me? Even if not me, one of your other friends? Instead I had to endure not only being abandoned again after you finally returned, but also hearing Bulma nag me with rumors about where you were and what was happening to you. She finally asked me to search for you and I did, until I finally tracked you here. At the other end of the world, working in some sort of circus.” He slammed his fist sideways into a nearby locker, crumpling the metal under his hand as if it were paper.
Vegeta turned and brushed past him, stopping at the door of the locker room but not looking back. “What do you want me to tell everyone?”
Blinking back the stinging in his eyes, Goku hurried to the Prince and pulled him close in a tight embrace. He felt the small frame stiffen under him and he knew he was imposing on his friend, but to hear that Vegeta had searched for him, even if only under duress, was the first bit of happiness he had felt in a long time. Choking back his emotions, he let go of the other Saiyan and took a step back.
“I-I guess tell them...I’m okay. I’ll see them soon.” Goku’s voice cracked a little and he hoped it sounded genuine.
“Is that another eighteen months or longer?” Vegeta asked in a monotone voice.
“Vegeta…. I…soon?” He glanced at the floor, “I would only be a burden to them right now.”
There was a dry, unamused laughter emanating from the Prince and when Vegeta turned around Goku could see the wet stains on his face. “Is that what you think you would be? Your absence is the burden. Not you. They all want you to come back.”
Goku’s eyes furrowed and his lips twisted into a frown. “But Chi-Chi doesn’t love me anymore…. If she can’t then how can anyone else?”
A gloved hand covered Vegeta’s face as he threw his head back with a loud hysteric laugh. “Are you going to base your entire worth on her opinion? Are you too dumb to realize I’ve fucking been in love with you since we met? Doesn’t that count for something?”
“Vegeta?! I-I didn’t know that! How could I know?! I didn’t think you liked me at all until we fused and only then because the fate of the universe was on the line!”
The short Saiyan’s hand whipped out to snatch the orange fabric from Goku’s grasp and shook it in front of his stunned face. “A mask, Kakarot! It was all a mask to protect me! But I told you I wouldn’t wear one anymore, so now you know the truth!” He threw the material to the floor in disgust and wiped his hands over his face. “Do whatever you want, Kakarot. You always do. I’ll tell them you’re okay and they’ll see you soon.”
Vegeta turned to walk out again and Goku snared him by the arm to hold him in place a moment longer. “Soon, Vegeta. I promise. I can’t give you an exact time, but soon I will come back and I won’t need a mask anymore either. I hope that you’ll be there.” He lifted his hand off the Prince’s arm and stared at his blurry reflection in Vegeta’s black eyes.
“I’ll be waiting, Kakarot.” With that, Vegeta pushed open the locker room door and walked away.
As soon as the door swung close, Goku sank to the nearest bench and let warm tears rolls down his smiling face. Even though there was still a lot he had to work through, there was a goal now. There was someone waiting for him to return. Someone he wouldn’t have to mask his feelings from and who wouldn’t hide theirs from him. Running his fingers through his hair, he let out a mixture of a sob and a laugh. He made a vow that as soon as he returned he would never make Vegeta wait again.