Learning

Learning

 

The waiting room went utterly silent as all eyes fixed on the doctor. Goku took a half-step forward, the fear and hope fluttering his eyes almost painful to witness.

"Goten...? How is he?"

Dr. Marlin inhaled slowly, then lifted her eyes to his and gave him a small, tight smile. "Goten... is surviving. At this point we canít say anything definite about the state his mind is in or what the damage is, but weíve got him stable. Assuming nothing else goes wrong, I think itís safe to say that your son is going to live through this."

Cries and murmurs of relief traveled across the room. Gohan leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. Videl laughed through her tears, getting up to embrace her husband. Trunks sagged in his seat, wiping at his eyes even as a tremulous smile touched his lips. Cheers and hugs and thankful whispers came from all corners. Goku bowed his head, pressing his fist to his lips for a moment to compose himself.

Dr. Marlin had waited for everyone to finish expressing their relief, only continuing when Goku once again met her eyes. "But," she said, a gentle note of warning in her voice, "we wonít know for some time yet how his mental capabilities have been affected. For now, I think itís amazing that heís survived this at all. Itís like his body has a super-human ability to endure staggering damage and is working to repair itself at an accelerated rate... Itís simply remarkable, actually." The doctor blinked, shaking herself away from a topic that clearly fascinated her and focusing on the task at hand. "In any case, it will be days before we can begin to get an accurate idea of how his mind is reacting to this trauma. Just know for now that all signs point to his survival, and please try to be patient during the examinations that will follow."

Goku nodded, wiping quickly at his eyes. "He... Is he... I mean... Can I see him...?"

The doctor gave him a kind, weary smile, pushing loose strands of hair out of her eyes and nodding. "Heís in intensive care, of course, and we canít allow you to remain too long just yet, but small groups of you can go in together to see him. Theyíre just moving him to room 121, on the floor just above this one, to the right. Please keep it to two or three at a time, and make certain not to disturb him."

Nodding, Goku immediately headed for the door, Vejiita following quietly in his wake, much to the consternation of certain people in the room. They rode the elevator in silence, Vejiita respecting Gokuís distraction and not bothering him. As soon as the doors open they walked quickly into the hallway. Gotenís room was only a few doors down.

They entered the room quietly, and Vejiitaís eyes fell on the bed. Goten looked alarmingly small, hooked up to machines and monitors and IVís, thick swathes of white bandaging around his head. What could be seen of his face was deathly pale, even his lips nearly colorless, his eyelashes dark streaks of black against his cheekbones. Extending his senses slightly, Vejiita observed that the boyís ki was dangerously low, but stable. He seemed terribly fragile.

He heard Kakarrotís low, sharp intake of breath, his eyes flickering briefly to the taller Saiya-jin. Tears had filled Gokuís eyes again but didnít fall, glimmering brightly in the lowered lights of the room. Vejiita stood back as he slowly approached the bed, tentatively reaching out, brushing Gotenís hand with his fingertips. He bowed his head for a moment and Vejiita looked away, feeling uncomfortably like he was invading Kakarrotís privacy and should leave.

After a moment he returned his gaze to father and son, seeing that Kakarrot had taken Gotenís hand into his completely, holding it gently as if afraid he might break it. Shakily, he drew a small chair forward and sank down on it, not releasing Gotenís hand, staring at the boyís face. An expression of agony crossed his features, and he slowly bowed his head, pressing his face to the edge of the bed.

Frowning slightly, Vejiita opened his mind to Kakarrotís, feeling a rush of fear and grief, intermingled with hope. He stepped forward slightly.

"No, Kakarrot."

Goku tensed briefly, as if heíd forgotten Vejiita was there, then turned to look at him, pain-filled eyes questioning.

"Remember what I told you. You cannot give in to your grief or your doubt. I know you feel it. I know you canít help it, but you must suppress it. Fill your mind with... your love for Goten and your confidence in him, and project that to him the best that you can."

Goku looked at Goten again, pressing his lips together, before once more meeting Vejiitaís eyes.

"I... I donít know how, Vejiita," he confessed defeatedly, his voice low and tired. "I donít understand these things like you do, I donít know what you mean."

Vejiita paused, his brows drawing together thoughtfully. He hadnít considered that. It hadnít occurred to him that of course Kakarrot wasnít as sure of himself and his empathy, he had never had the skill developed as a child, never been taught how to use it. Heíd never thought about it, as the other Saiya-jin seemed to have no problem when it applied to himself. He latched onto that thought.

"But, Kakarrot, surely you have..." here he blushed very faintly, "been aware of my emotions, my feelings at times."

Goku bit his lip slightly, his eyes considering, before he nodded. "Yes, I know I have, but... I still, I... never knew how I was doing it. And itís not very common at all. I could probably count the times that itís happened. I could never control it, I just thought it had something to do with the time we fused to become Vegetto or something."

Vejiita nodded distractedly, slightly flustered by the topic. "Ugh," he grunted, "Yes, that has something to do with it. In any case, every Saiya-jin will form bonds of this sort during their lifetime, given the opportunity. You can only rarely feel my emotions because, firstly, you donít know how to intentionally receive them, and I also know how to keep them to myself and do so without conscious effort for the most part. You, on the other hand," he said, a faint, wry smile twisting his lips, "are very easy for me to read, should I care to put my mind to it."

Goku blinked at him, a light blush starting in his cheeks.

"That is because you were never taught, nor had any reason to shield your mind from others. You are nearly always open." Vejiita refrained from mentioning how amazing he had thought it when he had first encountered the other Saiya-jin. Then he glanced at Gokuís face and amazed himself by releasing a short, bitten off laugh. "Oh, donít look at me like that, Kakarrot, you donít have to worry. When we learn how to shield our own emotions we also learn how to block those of others. I have not often Ďlistenedí to your feelings. I have never liked to do it..."

He trailed off, his face darkening. He had never wanted to know the feelings of others, for fear they might weaken him.

"You do have the ability to do all of this, though," he continued, "whether or not you realize it. When I first arrived at the hospital, your mind was completely closed. You had drawn in and protected yourself without realizing it."

Gokuís eyes widened slightly. "I didnít know..." he began.

Vejiita nodded, waving off his words. "I know you didnít. I merely mean to point out that you can do it, itís just a matter of understanding."

He paused and looked at the other Saiya-jin consideringly. Goku gazed back at him, his dark eyes tired and pained, but willing to listen.

"Kakarrot," he said quietly after a moment, "I want you to try and relax your mind. I know that sounds strange, but... try to imagine letting any.... doors... in your mind open, so you can receive. Iím going to send you an emotion, donít be alarmed."

Goku nodded, taking a slow breath and closing his eyes briefly. He looked at Vejiita again. "Iím ready."

Vejiitaís teeth came together as he consciously allowed the emotions this event had caused to come forth, latching onto the foremost, the loudest and most overpowering, and projecting it.

Anger.

He watched Goku stiffen slightly, his eyes widening as he stared at Vejiita. "I... Anger. Lots of it... That... was very strong."

Vejiita nodded curtly, looking down for a moment as he firmly reined in that emotion, before it became dangerous. Even he was vaguely surprised at its strength, pushing it far back into his mind again. "Yes, it would be strong. I have never consciously sent you any emotion before, itís much more powerful that way then when one is Ďeavesdroppingí, so to speak."

He moved forward to stand beside the other Saiya-jin, glancing down at Gotenís unconscious form.

"You can do it as well, Kakarrot. You can send your emotions to him, and he will almost certainly receive them. Because I intentionally sent the anger to you, you would probably have picked it up even without trying. It should be the same for Goten. It is not difficult. Just... press your feelings toward him. Extend your mind and... wrap them around him."

Goku frowned, leaning forward in his chair slightly. He drew a breath, and after a moment his eyes fluttered closed. A look of intense concentration tightened his features, and he leaned toward the boy on the bed. Lightly brushing against his mind, Vejiitaís eyebrows arched and he frowned.

"No, stop Kakarrot, wait..."

The younger Saiya-jin released a pent-up breath before turning to look at him, despair in his eyes. "Iím doing it wrong...?"

"Youíre trying too hard," the prince responded, his eyes moving slowly over Gotenís unconscious features. "Perhaps Ďpressí is the wrong word. Just... open yourself to him, you donít need to exhaust yourself trying to shove your feelings at him. Itís... hard to describe, but just release your barriers... Just... love him."

Goku nodded, drawing in a slow breath and visibly forcing himself to relax. After a moment he closed his eyes lightly, his hand lightly covering Gotenís, and became very still. Reaching out with his own mind once more, Vejiita brushed against him, and this time was able to feel the beginnings of a rapport between father and son, though he could not break into it. Nor did he wish to.

Slowly, he stepped away from the other Saiya-jin, moving into the background where he felt like less of an intruder. Turning away from the emotional family scene, he gazed quietly out between the blinds of the hospital window, watching as the sky outside slowly deepened into twilight.

He didnít know how long it had been when the nurse opened the door to tell them that their time was up and they needed to let him rest now.

Silently, he moved to the door, just catching the tail end of Gokuís comment to his son.

"-be here, I promise. I love you."

The intimacy of the whole situation made him feel strangely embarrassed, and he shifted his weight awkwardly, not looking at the other Saiya-jin as Goku made his way from Gotenís bed toward him. They exited the room without speaking, beginning to make their way back to the others. Just before they walked back into the stuffy, stilted atmosphere of the waiting room, Goku touched Vejiitaís arm, halting him.

The prince hesitated briefly, then lifted his eyes to meet the other Saiya-jinís gaze.

"I..." Goku began, then paused, his eyes searching. "Thank you, Vejiita... For everything, I... Thanks."

Vejiita nearly cursed as he felt the foolish warmth rise in his cheeks, averting his gaze. He was already heading toward the door again as he mumbled, half under his breath, "It was nothing, Kakarrot."

*****

And, for the next minutes, hours, days, there was little to do but wait. Vejiita rarely returned home, spending most of his time at the hospital, inconspicuously in the background, a silent pillar of support. It seemed very strange to him, how so many of Gokuís friends and family kept turning to him for advice or guidance, or, most oddly, just to talk. Gohan was his frequent visitor, the young doctorís nerves often frayed and his resources spent as he struggled to focus on doing his job while worrying for his brother. It was a source of dry amusement to him that Videl came every once in a while to ask after Gohan, and get an outside perspective on her husbandís state of mind. Piccolo had sought him out once or twice, simply looking for someone to speak with who could be relied upon to be solid, and, if not entirely emotionless, than at least firmly in control of those emotions. Goku himself did not speak to Vejiita so often, but he didnít speak to anyone else a great deal either, spending long stretches of time at Gotenís bedside.

Now Vejiita looked up as new footsteps approached the bench where he sat by himself, lost in quiet contemplation. One eyebrow arched as his lips twisted very faintly in a wry half-smile. Here was a new one to add to the list.

Pan was heading toward him, her dark eyes troubled.

He settled himself, patiently waiting for whatever question or worry she had for him and wondering idly why she would ask him instead of her father or mother.

He was not prepared for her sudden forwardness.

The young girl didnít pause as she reached him, instead crawling up onto the bench to plop down next to him and rest against his side, her cheek on his chest. Vejiita startled, unable to suppress the surprised reaction, his eyes widening as he stared down at the top of Panís head.

He shifted uncomfortably, ever so slightly away from her, but she was undeterred.

"What are you doing, brat?" he asked, realizing in irritation even as he said it that there was no forcefulness to the question at all, instead bewilderment lacing his tone. Even the word Ďbratí was entirely mild.

The girl sighed, seeming completely unworried as she settled comfortably against him. "Everyoneís busy," she mumbled. "I was all by myself."

Vejiita continued to stare down at her, as though his mind couldnít quite fully grasp that there was a small child cuddling up to him.

"Your mother and father?" he heard himself say stupidly.

"Theyíre too worried about Uncle Goten," Pan replied. "Theyíre doing lots of things. I didnít want to bother them."

"Well, I, uh," Vejiita fumbled, "did you want anything?"

Pan shook her head slightly, her eyes falling closed as she began to sag a little bit, her cheek sliding on his chest. "Iím... a little sleepy."

Vejiita opened his mouth, struggling for something to say, but found that nothing would come out properly. It took no more than a few minutes for Pan to be soundly asleep against his chest. He gazed down at her, watching her slow, even breathing and feeling the steady rhythm of her heart, and felt a sudden pang somewhere low within him. He wondered what it would have been like, to have a daughter...

Slowly, very gradually, his hand slid from the back of the bench and hung in the air, indecisive and hesitant. Then, seemingly independent of any conscious decision, he ran the pad of his thumb over the soft curve of the girlís cheek, ever so lightly. Her skin still had that perfect, silky fragility of the very young. Unblemished innocence.

It pained him, suddenly, and he closed his eyes, turning his face away from the image of the child curled against him. He had never been that young. Never been that innocent. Even when he had been her age, he had been so much older... The regret that stung him was thin and bitter, overlaid with blood-red threads of guilt. It had been his mission to destroy innocence, never preserve it.

Donít think on it now.

There would be time enough to face his own action later. Time enough for self-pity when he was away from here. Firmly, he pushed the feelings back.

*****

It was some time later that he seemed to sense a ripple through the air, an energy, and he lifted his head, wondering how much time had past. He had withdrawn into himself, ignoring the routine going-ons around him in favor of allowing Pan her rest, and himself his solitude. Now that subtle energy rippled against his awareness, and he tapped Panís shoulder with his fingertips, nudging her slightly. She mumbled, flexing against him and smacking her lips a bit.

"Wake up, girl," he said quietly, gripping her shoulder now to give her a light shake. "Somethingís happening."

She was blinking, slowly pulling away from him to sit up, her cheek red and creased where it had been pressed against his shirt for so long.

"What?" she said thickly, rubbing at her eyes, "Whatís happening?"

"I donít know yet," the prince replied, "but sitting here isnít going to help us find out."

He pulled his arm back to his side from where it had been resting against the back of the bench, frowning a little as his shoulder cracked stiffly from being in the same position too long. He got to his feet, stretching briefly, his tail unfurling and his muscles tightening as he bared his teeth briefly. Cracking his knuckles, he headed down the hallway, not looking to see if Pan was following.

"Hey!" the girl cried, and he heard her running footsteps a moment later, pattering on the tile floor. "Wait for me!"

He glanced back over his shoulder, lifting an eyebrow with a slight smirk. "Keep up then, brat."

"I am not a brat!" she said indignantly, arriving at his side and hitting his arm with a closed fist. "Iím a good girl."

"Of course you are," he said condescendingly, lips still curved in a slight smile as he looked around carefully.

"I am!" she declared, slipping around to walk behind him. He ignored her, not slowing his pace, until he suddenly felt her arms wrap around his waist, her cheek pressed to his back, and became aware that he was now dragging her.

"Give me a ride!" the girl giggled, still letting her feet trail behind her on the floor as Vejiita continued walking.

"Girl," Vejiita snorted wryly, "you can fly. Why should I give you a ride?"

"Because," Pan said confidently, "Iím your favorite niece, and you should be nice to me."

Vejiita blinked. When did she become my niece? And, while they were on that subject, when in the hell had she taken such a liking to him?

"Well," he said after a moment, "In that case..."

Reaching around behind him, he hooked his arm around her waist and lifted her, carrying her at his side like a sack of potatoes, arms and legs dangling.

"Hey!" she squealed, "I didnít mean like this!"

Vejiita shrugged. "It helps to be specific."

She kicked, her fingers clenching in a handful of the denim covering his thigh to keep herself from plopping forward onto her face.

Her futile struggling continued as he moved closer to Gotenís room, no longer paying attention to the squirming child under his arm. When they were about ten yards from the doorway, he set her down, briefly covering her mouth with his palm.

"Quiet now, brat," he near-whispered.

She fell silent, something in his tone communicating seriousness to her, and he advanced the rest of the way toward the room, pausing in the doorway to glance inside. It seemed to be one of the few times that there was not someone constantly at Gotenís side; the room was empty but for the demi-Saiya-jin lying quiet and still on the bed. Vejiita focused on the boyís form, letting his awareness expand outward to touch the otherís essence. His lips parted quietly.

Gotenís ki was rippling, threads and spirals of energy skittering along invisible lines around him. Unseen, the patterns and forces that identified his ki, his awareness, were fluctuating. The energy that had for so many days been a mere glimmer was brightening, strengthening, dangerous gaps pulling together and reknitting.

On the bed, Goten shifted and a very soft, barely audible moan issued from his lips.

A thread of something almost like excitement touched Vejiita, and for a long moment he simply stared in amazement, watching with his senses. Then he realized abruptly that there was someone else who came before he did.

His eyes lost focus as he let his awareness expand further, encompassing the entire floor of the hospital, and downwards, to the first level. The other Saiya-jin was there, absent for only a short moment to find something to eat, a few moments rest.

For a moment Vejiita hovered, not touching. It lasted only a second, though, and then he "knocked" on the otherís mind. There was a brief feeling of startlement, and then recognition and a questioning.

Kakarrot... Come.

The acknowledgment came swiftly, and Vejiita closed off their connection, remaining in Gotenís doorway as he awaited the otherís arrival. He did not have to wait long.

Only minutes later, Kakarrot was rounding the corner, brushing his hands nervously on his jeans. His normally bright eyes had dulled in the past several days, dark shadows beneath his eyes and his cheeks slightly hollow. Hair that was already wild was even more unkept now, and his clothing looked slept in. But, at that moment, for the first time in a long time, there was more than feeble hope in his gaze.

"I- Vejiita," he said as he approached, glancing to the side with hopeful apprehension, "I heard you, what-"

"Sshh, Kakarrot," Vejiita replied, quietly, lifting his hand to stop the otherís tremulous speech. "Come here and look."

The other Saiya-jin obeyed, with the slightest hesitation, his footsteps cautious as he approached the doorway, peering in from the opposite side to the prince.

"Can you feel it? See it?" Vejiita asked very softly.

Kakarrotís gaze focused intently on his sonís quiet form, looking with something other than his eyes. And the his eyes widened and his lips parted in a silent gasp. For a long, long moment, he didnít move or speak, and then his startled gaze leapt to Vejiitaís in unspoken question.

The prince nodded slightly and he looked past the other Saiya-jin to the boy once more. "Yes," he said, softly, "Yes."

"Oh," Kakarrot said after another long moment, and his voice was alarmingly weak, almost thready.

Vejiita looked at him to find that the taller man was sagging weakly against the doorframe, clutching it tightly as if he needed itís support. He said nothing, merely waiting for the other Saiya-jin to wrap his mind around what was occurring. A short, soft laugh shook Kakarrotís shoulders, and he lifted his head to look at the prince once more. His eyes were damp with tears, but there was a slowly growing smile on his lips, and a flare of joy overwhelming the lifelessness of his gaze.

"Grandpa...?" Pan said, unable to keep silent any longer from where she stood behind Vejiita. "Whatís wrong, whatís... whatís happening?"

Kakarrot looked down at her, seeming to notice her for the first time, and his smile widened, even as the tears began to spill down his cheeks. He chuckled softly, reaching out to ruffle her dark hair.

"Your uncle is getting better," he said softly, a deep happiness threaded all through his voice.

Panís eyes widened. "Unc- Uncle Goten?!"

Kakarrot nodded, and the girl gave a little squeak, jumping up and down and clapping her hands.

Another low, deep moan from the boy on the bed snapped all of their attention back to the room, and Kakarrot turned abruptly to step inside, quickly walking to his sonís side. Pan trotted after him, her eyes huge as she held onto his shirt with one hand.

Kakarrot reached out, his hand smoothing Gotenís hair back from his face very gently. Vejiita watched from the doorway in silence as the other Saiya-jin took his sonís hand and called his name softly.

The hand Kakarrot held tightened fractionally and Gotenís body stirred with the faintest movement.

Kakarrot spoke his name again, and, as Vejiita watched, Gotenís eyes slowly opened.

*****

The hospital room was crowded now, alight with hushed laughter and grateful tears, the low murmur of voices. Flowers and balloons were stuck in corners and on tables where ever they would fit, and piles of cards continued to arrive as the news of Gotenís waking spread. It was evening now, the hour slowly approaching nine oíclock, and all of Gotenís family and closest friends were trying to squeeze into his hospital room.

Right now the boy was seated in his bed, which had been raised to a partially upright position. He was weak and colorless, his movements sluggish and his speech slurred, but he was awake. And he recognized them, all of them. He did not remember everything that had happened, but pieces were coming back to him slowly, and the doctors were optimistic. Goku had not left his sonís side for more than a moment since he had wakened, and was seated there even now as Gohan, Videl, and Piccolo spoke gently and clearly to Goten.

Everyone else stood in groups waiting their turn, talking excitedly and animatedly. Everyone was smiling.

Vejiita was not smiling, as he watched the activity from the corner, but he was not frowning either. He was simply observing, his expression unreadable to any who looked at him.

And what he noticed, as he watched, was the way the group pulled together and drew each other in with their mutual happiness and friendship. When someone new arrived they were immediately welcomed and dragged into some conversation or another as everyone celebrated Gotenís return. Trunks had immediately melded into the bunch when he had arrived, breathless and flushed with happiness. Even Yamcha was pleasant and conversational with everyone.

Kakarrot welcomed each new arrival with painfully sincere happiness, pleased to share his joy with all of these friends that he had known for so long. There were hugs and kisses being given and received everywhere there was room for them, laughing and crying, just short of hysterics.

And Vejiita realized he had never seen such a complete and sincere expression of happiness from such a group. Untainted by any darker emotion or petty squabbling. Completely whole.

It lacked nothing.

The realization came to him quietly, and its taste was bittersweet. They lacked nothing.

Moving slowly, quietly, the prince retrieved his jacket from where he had tossed it over the back of a chair, having removed it as the room heated with new arrivals. He pulled it on carefully, walking softly, close to the wall to edge around the large number of individuals in the room. Juuhachigo stepped aside to let him past at the one point where there was no room to squeeze through, and he nodded to her silently.

A short minute later he stepped out into the hallways of the hospital, the air suddenly cooler and brisker, freed from the stifling confines of the overcrowded room. Adjusting his jacket, he shoved his hands through his hair and straightened his shirt. His steps then carried him quietly down the hallway, toward the elevator.

Goten was awake now, and he would heal, there was no longer any doubt. He had given Kakarrot all the advice that he needed to help the boy along; there was nothing left to do there.

The elevator door chimed open and he stepped inside, pushing the button for the ground floor.

They were all together up there, now. They were a family, complete and reunited. Kakarrot had support and friendship on all sides, he was fairly brimming with happiness. The group was tight and seamless.

Vejiita exited the elevator, walking out into the lobby of the hospital, moving past the humans silently. The doors were straight ahead.

His presence was that of the outsider, the one piece of the group that didnít quite mesh with the others. The darker spot amidst the light. What a silly thing it would be for him to stay, and how selfish. Something that wasnít required of him, and he didnít really want.

The prince hit the doors, pushing them open and stepping outside, resisting the impulse to look back.

He was no longer needed.

 

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