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This is the first anime fic I've ever completed...yet another attempt to peer into the head of a character who doesn't especially like his thoughts peered into. Introspection more than plot; this might even be waffy, as far as I understand the meaning of the term, and as much as it can apply to these characters...
Dragonball Z and its people are Akira Toriyama's. Though I wouldn't advise telling Vegeta that.
Even after this many years, sometimes it becomes too much. When every voice speaks a language not native to his tongue, and every face is subtly different from his own features, and every scent warns him of the alien nature of the people around him. He's learned to control it, somewhat. Direct the schizophrenic apprehension/terror/excitement of the strange, not toward battle-lust as he once did, but other outlets. Transformed to anger, he lashes out—only verbally, usually. He can't often afford its physical expression here. Humans are too fragile.
Not his son. The boy is well past the age to fight. If he were raised as a true Saiya-jin he would have made his first kill by now. But he has no blood on his hands, and when he laughs it still has the ring of innocence. They train together, and train hard; he wouldn't spare his son, and the boy is old enough to understand the honor of a true attack. But outside of the battle...the boy looks so human, when his warrior's blood isn't boiling. The smooth light hair and pale eyes, identical to his mother's, for all that they are set in a copy of his father's face.
There are times it shakes him, the simultaneous familiar and foreign being of his son. He is not alone; few humans are consciously aware of the difference, but they sense the boy's exotic nature. It repels some, fascinates others. The boy is too young to really be aware of the reactions yet, but he'll notice it soon enough.
His mother, though, is all human. Yet manages to fascinate and repel all the same. A most bizarre creature, his mate— wife, she insists, though he never has fully grasped the distinction. It doesn't occur to him to admit his ignorance by seeking a definition. To know that one word annoys her more than the other is enough. He's careful to use the former.
She doesn't quite understand why he does so much to irritate her, though she's fully aware it's deliberate. He has never made an effort to 'get along' with anyone, but with her he stretches his wits to new levels. It is a battle, not the type he is accustomed to fighting, but a battle nonetheless, and he will not lose. When she is truly angry, her fury peaking, she can almost look, almost sound Saiya-jin. She is no warrior, and never will be, but paradoxically the spirit of combat in her heart is strong. She will not lose, either; she will always find a solution, and surrender is never a choice.
He fights with her for the sake of the fight, usually, and she returns it in kind. But today is different, and she sees it. "What's wrong?"
"What kind of stupid question is that?"
"The kind you ask someone acting like something's wrong. What's gotten into you?"
"Me? What's gotten into you, woman?"
"You're going around snarling at everything that crosses your path. Which is usual, except usually you're stomping. Now you're moping. What gives?"
"What, what, what—you squawk like a parrot. You always want to know what's going on—if you're such a genius, shouldn't you know?"
That hits, though how he doesn't know. "Bastard." She should be screaming it, but isn't. "Why does it always have to be a fight? Why are you always fighting? For once, can't you just..." She turns her head away, but her voice still catches even if she is hiding her tears. "I wish I knew...I want to know why..."
This is a new tactic, one to which he has no ready response. With a wordless growl he pivots on his heel and marches away. Before he reaches the door, he stops, looks back. She's facing the window, arms crossed, her back to him. He growls again, and leaves.
It's day still, and he wants darkness. So he flies away from the sun, the wind sharply cold against his face, until the golden glare is lost behind night's horizon. The ocean is black beneath him, a vast expanse spotted by the white curls of breaking waves, and faintly glowing masses of life bobbing under the shimmering surface.
Why, they always ask why. As if it changed anything; as if it meant anything at all. He has yet to figure out why they ask it—realizing as well that his own question is just as meaningless. He has been on this world too long.
But why do they bother, when clearly the answers are only invented to respond to the question? Justification, rationalization. As if there were anything truly rational about the very concept. Humans kill one another as much as the Saiya-jin ever did, but waste far more time pondering the implications of murder. They have to find reasons to battle. Excuses to fight. Patriotism, religion. Prejudice and honor. He will never understand any of it.
Eventually the sea gives way to a different glitter, thousands of buildings radiant with artificial light. He slows as he passes over the city, predator eyes piercing the haze of smoke and luminance to watch the pedestrians on the crowded streets.
In the center, a patch of darkness stands as a haven from the surrounding brightness, a false wilderness of paths and trees and shadows. He lands within the deepest glade of the park, as far as possible from the white circles cast by the streetlights. No one has seen him. Usually he would not care, but this night he keeps himself hidden, moving through the dark with a hunting cat's stealth.
He hears them before he sees them, their footsteps loud on the paved path, quiet voices rising into the smoggy night. They are hurrying—not running, trying to hide their fear, but he can taste it in their whispers, their scent. An older couple, her gold hair streaked with gray, his black curls reduced to a fringe around his scalp. The woman's face is pale and she walks huddled close to the man. His arm is around her protectively as he glances back over his shoulder with wide dark eyes.
The woman gasps as around them, out of the darkness, figures emerge. He sensed them already, watches unsurprised as they show themselves. Six, seven, eight, and there are twice as many still waiting in the shadows. They wear black and carry weapons, and think that stalking harmless, impotent prey makes them hunters. He curls his lip derisively.
The couple halts as one boy steps in front to bar their way. He is tall, young but brawny, his close-cropped skull tipped back to glare down at them contemptuously. He stays silent while the others gather closely, muttering and jeering. With every cackle the woman jumps, and the black-jacketed youths laugh again.
"Please," the man stammers at last. "How—how much do you want—" He fumbles in his pants pocket to pull out his wallet.
The tall youth smacks the billfold from his hand with lazy scorn. "We ain't no turnpike. Shouldn't have crossed us."
"Please," the woman breathes. "Just take our money, we'll leave—"
"Not good enough!" the youth shouts, and the others echo him. "You gonna pay." He shoves the man in the chest with both hands, causing him to stumble. The woman steadies him. "Whatcha doing with her, trash?" demands the leader. "Nice white lady like this?" He puts one hand out toward her face. She shies back.
The man pushes between her and the youth, fists clenched. "Don't touch my wife!"
"So you think you're her husband? Freaks." He slides forward. The man swings, punch connecting before the youth ducks. He doesn't fall, only shakes his head and spits, then wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. "Don't try that again," he snarls, and knocks the man down.
"No!" the woman screams. "Help! Someone—" Two of the other boys grab her, one wrapping his hand over her mouth to muzzle her. A third pulls out a knife and advances, grinning.
The man forces himself up and tries to go to her, but the leader slams him across the chin, then kicks him hard in the stomach. The rest of the gang have appeared to encircle them. They only watch, until the man, struggling up again, lunges desperately. He tackles their leader around the knees and brings him crashing down, but before he can strike him the others seize his arms and wrestle him back. Their leader punches the man again while he is held, then steps back. "Do you wanna watch?" he spits. "Why don't you watch." He swaggers toward the woman. The boy with the knife presses the blade against her throat, almost hard enough to draw blood, then dips to slice off the buttons of her blouse, one by one. The woman's shudders are muffled by the hand over her mouth.
That is enough. He walks out of the cover and onto the path. Everyone freezes momentarily as they become aware of his presence, then shake it off. Fools. He sneers. If they had any ability they would understand that chill, realize the power pulsing against their own weak ki. But they're ignorant, and stupid. "Get out of here, chink," the leader says. "You ain't seein' nothing. Beat it."
"Is that an order?"
The boy laughs raucously. "It's good advice. Scram, shorty. Or we'll make sure you don't see nothing at all."
He smiles. At least one of the gang is smart enough to see the danger in that expression, retreating as he pulls his knife. But the leader ignores it. "Just get. You want a fight?"
He inclines his head, narrowing ebon eyes. "You actually think you can give me one, asshole?"
The youth's face transforms into a mask of rage, and he leaps forward, a knife suddenly gleaming in his fist. He never touches his opponent; a fist against his torso knocks him flying backwards, with a sharp crack as a rib snaps. He slams against a tree and crumples at its roots, motionless.
Some of the others roar with anger and charge. They all drop before they can see the blows that fell them. When he lowers his arm, not half a minute has passed. The black-clothed youths are scattered on the ground around him, panting, groaning, or silent. None are dead; he can feel their life still blazing faintly. But they will not forget their injuries for some time, if ever.
Those of the gang who did not attack gape at their fallen allies, then run, vanishing back into the night. He doesn't bother to pursue. Released, the woman rushes to her husband's side, helping him stand while murmuring anxious inquiries. Only after he has reassured her does she look up, staring at their rescuer with her face whiter than before. "Thank...thank you..."
"Don't thank me," he snaps, irritated by her timidity, and even more her naked gratitude. Doesn't she see how easily he could kill her and her husband? They aren't fighters, not even laughable ones like the gang. If he attacked them they wouldn't even know how to defend, not that it would do them any good. Stupid humans; why had they even been here, when it was so dangerous for them? "Go home. Quit wasting time here."
"Sir," the man says, drawing himself upright with effort. "Thank you. If you ever...ever need anything..."
His brow lowers further as he stares at them. The woman tugs her husband's arm nervously. They bow to him before continuing down the path, both glancing back once as he stands there, a silhouette outside the streetlight. He hears her whisper, "Who—who is he? Why did he..." The rest of the murmur is lost to the night.
He waits on the path until their footsteps have faded into the darkness. There are others in the park, but none close enough to cross the pair's route. And none worthy of a fight.
One of the fallen youth moans faintly as he regains consciousness, and with it pain. He blinks open teary eyes to see his assailant rise from the ground and soar into the black sky. When he has lost sight of the man's white boots, he shuts his eyes again, praying hallucinations don't mean his injuries are fatal.
He flies above the clouds, under starlight clear and cold. In his mind's eye he sees the couple again, the woman's face turned up toward him in awed surprise, the man's open thankfulness. So soft, so weak. Not even worthy of being a prince's subjects. He has no subjects. Prince of a destroyed kingdom, last of a murdered people.
A thousand thousand stars in the blackness overhead...they should all belong to him. His birthright, he the strongest of the strong, meant to take them all. Conquer all he could see, and his vision reached far. But he lives here, and rules nothing, not a soul of this feeble race.
His power so beyond theirs, he could be a god to them. He could demolish their cities with a wave of his hand, slaughter the people as surely as his own had been slain. As he had intended, when first he came those years ago. He could end this world.
But that would be pointless, when he has already once given his life to save it.
He screams, to hear his own call carried away with the wind rushing past. To feel the power coursing through him, an affirmation of his strength. There is no one to listen here. He might have stayed silent, for all the sky responds.
Then he hears an answering shout. Too late does he realize the voice is not his own; too late does he feel the force behind and above him, the ki carefully masked. He swerves to the left, twisting around, but not fast enough; the blow rams his side and sends him hurtling down into a cloud bank. Hidden within the thick fog, he steadies himself. Adrenaline washes away the pain of his bruised ribs and sets his heart pounding; red heat rises within, burning through him.
Keeping his ki low, he reaches out to locate the other, finds his opponent and plunges up toward him. He bursts from the cloud just as the other swoops down to him. The face is clear in the starlight, but even blind he would recognize this man. He would never mistake this ki, so like his own and yet so vastly different. Nor could he mistake the laugh, as the other banks abruptly, releases a small energy blast to buffet him back, then shoots by.
His cry trails behind him. "Taaaaaaag!"
"What?" He takes off after the other, now only a speck on the dark horizon. But his ki is bright now, impossible to lose. He pushes himself to catch up. "Kakarotto!" he rages once close enough to be heard. "What the hell are you doing? Wh—"
Barely in time he stops himself, before the question leaves his lips. Not his question, but a human's. There is no reason to ask it. Not of this one. There is no answer needed.
The fire in his blood sings. He grins savagely, puts on a burst of speed and flips downward, aiming for his opponent's back, but the other realizes it in time to dodge, then responds in kind. For barely an instant they hang in space, exchanging kicks and punches faster than eyes can follow; then Kakarotto takes off again and he pursues.
Flying, battling, they pass over the clouds, until the night is clear and the countryside spreads out below, rolling plains with houses burning like embers in the dark landscape. Then onward, into a storm, diving through roiling black thunderheads which rumble ominously at the intrusion. Electricity flickers around them, crackling with the friction of their combat. At last the lightning is released, a bolt arcing from sky to ground, the night for an instant brighter than day.
He feels the raw power and cries aloud, raising his hands to the sky as he unleashes his own energies in an aura of gold. Kakarotto matches him in kind, black hair turned yellow fire, black eyes now glowing jade stars. They charge, and strike, and charge again, forces clashing in an incandescent corona.
Far below, a couple of children peer out their porch window and marvel at the flashing clouds.
The storm dies, but their fight continues, past the fields, past rivers and cities and long canyons, until the flat plains gradually rise again into foothills, then mountains, bare rock jutting up from the earth, past the clouds.
If they are tired, neither would admit it, though they pant now as they breathe, and fly for longer between engaging one another. Their clothes are ripped, and both have shed a little blood. The sight of this fuels him if he should falter. His wounds are matched in his opponent, and he knows the other has not been holding back, any more than he has himself. They are equal.
He will, he must, override the balance. Whirling suddenly, he kicks out, connects and drives the other down. Kakarotto smashes into a fog-draped rock face, cracking the stone, and is momentarily stunned by the impact. Not giving his adversary time to recover, he lifts his hands, palms-out, and concentrates his energy, gathering a fiery burst—
"Stop!" The aura around his opponent dies suddenly, his hair settling in black spikes. He makes no move to defend himself. Caught off-guard, the attack would rip him apart.
With an irritated snarl, he tosses the half-formed ki ball into the air, where it detonates in a harmless explosion of light. "What?" he snarls, eyes returning to black as he drops his own power.
The other stands. "Thank you," he says, one hand behind his head.
He probes his opponent's ki, finds no changes, no mysterious weakening, and senses nothing in the area to warrant the cessation. "What?" he demands again.
"Look." Kakarotto points behind them.
He looks. "I don't see anything."
The other nods, an idiot's grin splitting his bruised face. "Wait." He floats to the top of the rock face to perch on the craggy tip, drawing up his legs to loop his arms around one knee. Then he gazes forward to the horizon.
Glaring narrowly at the same horizon, he drifts down to the cliff's edge, crossing his arms as he stands beside the other. Impatiently, he waits.
This high, the sky is gray and pure, the thin air suited to their lungs. Below, clouds shroud the range in misty gloom, paling with the lightening sky.
Color seeps into the gray, gradually, then bursting forth. Suddenly the sky is dyed purple-red, the same shade as he was born under, and the man beside him was born under— though that one doesn't remember, and that sky exists now only in his memory. But remade here, as he watches.
Between two sharp peaks shimmers a single ray of gold, then another. Pierced by the shaft, the clouds bleed crimson, and the world is set afire.
He nearly jumps, then curses himself. For an instant, he had entirely forgotten the other warrior's presence. The merest second, a distraction long enough to die—but he was in no danger.
He says nothing, and the other stays silent until the sun has broken free of the horizon, no longer a lance but an orb in the pallid rose sky. Then Kakarotto stands, faces him. "Thank you for the spar, Vegeta." He smiles, good-natured as always. "You won, since I quit!"
"Only a pause, Kakarotto," he replies. "We'll finish it later." A glint of dangerous humor sparks in his black eyes. "I'll finish you later."
His rival laughs, with honest feeling, no sarcasm. "Then I better train hard! You won't want an easy win."
"Never," he agrees, knowing he would never get one. Not from this man. One day he will excel; it is his blood, his heritage, his destiny. But it will take an effort beyond anything he has mustered, pushing beyond every limit he has even dreamed. It will take years—perhaps more than he has. A lifetime, or more.
A lifetime on this world, among these people...it is his life now. His world, where the sky flushes violet and the storms rage with the fire in his blood.
When he turns back, Kakarotto is gone, his ki so distant he must have teleported. For a long moment he stands alone on the mountain's peak, breathing the familiarly thin air. Then he steps off the edge and shoots toward the horizon, chasing the fleeing night.
The building is dark and silent when he returns. Easily evading the guards of the grounds, both human and electronic, he slips through a window and enters his house.
The boy has been put to bed. She's curled in an armchair, waiting up for him, a book fallen open in her lap while her sleeping head nods against the cushions. Sleeping in that position, she'll wake with a crick in her neck, and whine about it an hour after the pain fades. He gathers her up easily in his arms; she weighs hardly more than their son, a feather to his strength. He brings her to the bedroom; when he lays her on the bed she rolls over to face him, one hand wrapping loosely around his arm. Still asleep, she tries to tug him closer, subconscious natal yearning for a warm form to snuggle against.
He could break away so quickly it would snap her delicate fingers, without effort. Instead he draws back, carefully, then pulls the gloves off his freed hands. Laying the white gauntlets aside, he smoothes back the pale hair to touch her face, cupping her cheek in his palm. Cool, her flesh under his bare skin. Her eyelids shift but do not open.
"Beautiful, huh?" he whispers, a derisive imitation of Kakarotto's ridiculous inflection.
She stirs and he removes his hand. "...came back," she mumbles. "'bout time."
"It wasn't that long, woman."
"Felt like..." Waking a little more, she blinks, then lifts her head to take him in. "Been fighting?"
He smirks at the thread of worry in her tone. "Just a spar."
"Hmph." She drops her head back to the pillow. "Hope you didn't permanently maim anyone. Go clean up. You're not getting blood on these sheets."
In all the galaxy, she is the only individual who has ever dared command him so peremptorily. Sometimes he wonders if he lets her get away with it because he has no other choice. Frowning, he stands.
Before he can leave she reaches out to snag his arm again, her grip tighter now, though no more effectual. He looks to her inquiringly without pulling away.
"I'm sorry," she says. "Before, I didn't mean...I wasn't trying to get you mad. I just wanted—forget it. I'm sorry."
In her own way, she has almost as much pride as him. Strangely, that makes it easier to say. "I'm sorry if I hurt you. Forgive me."
Her eyes open wide and she sits up, staring at him. She opens her mouth, but a moment passes before anything comes out, and then the words are stilted. "I...apology accepted. Why...what...did you..." She takes a breath. "Do I want to know where you went today?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes! I want to know. I want you to tell me."
"Tell you? When you should be perfectly able to figure it out yourself? You should appreciate a challenge."
Kneeling on the bed, her fists are planted on her hips as she glares at him. But there is something in her eyes, shadowed, not sparking with her fire. He crosses his arms, continues, "If you want me to spoil your game, I can. But don't say I didn't give you a fair chance."
A tiny exclamation slips out before she recovers herself, and mutters, "You are such a..." She leans forward, and perhaps he does as well, for their lips meet. When finally they part, she is smiling, for all that she has smudged her clean hands on his stained clothes. And her eyes are bright on him.
He smiles in return, knowing that this time, this battle, he has won.
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