Of course I end up at the Son house once more. Son, what a joke. Kakarot shouldn’t have a human family name, all that’s left of his real family is me. What’s strange, though, is that when I touch down angrily out back by the woodpile, Kakarot’s there, sitting on a rock, looking at me curiously.

“Back from taking Trunks home?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I snarl. “What the hell are you doing out here?”

“Well, it is my house,” he remarks lightly.

“Oh, yeah, right, excuse me, Kakarot. Now what the hell are you doing out here?” I don’t feel like being polite. My little brother never seems to mind, though.

“Oh,” he shrugs, “I’m on the outs with Chichi, and I didn’t feel like sleeping on the couch, so I came out here. I’m not real tired, anyways.”

I know Chichi kicks him out of the bedroom sometimes, though I’m still not exactly sure why he puts up with it. “Didn’t you take her out tonight?”

“Yeah,” he responds sheepishly, “And I thought it was going real well, but then Goten came home and he was wearing these clothes that…um, well, made Chichi real mad.” Oh shit, that’s right! He went right in the front door…damn it, I totally forgot! “So then she started yelling at Goten, and I tried to get her to calm down, and she told me it was my fault because you should have done something about that, and you’re my brother, and…” he trails off, shrugging again.

“Shit, Kakarot, so it’s basically my fault.” I shake my head. Oh well, what’s one more crappy emotion on top of everything else? Throw guilt on the pile…but not much. It’s not my fault he married such a shrew. “Sorry.”

He cuts in with that weird telepathy thing of his. “Oh, it’s not your fault, Raditz.” He looks away from me, out into the darkness of the lurking trees. “She seems to be looking for fights lately.” The expression on his face is easy to read, but complex. Frustration, a bit of melancholy, and confusion all vie for space. I perch on top of the woodpile next to him.

“Kakarot, can I ask you something?” I wonder.

“Sure.”

“Why are you married to her?”

He looks up at me, pushing his hand through his wild corona of spikes tiredly. “Do you mean…why did we get married, or why are we still married?”

“Both, I guess.”

“Well,” he looks down at the ground, rubbing the back of his neck lightly. “When we first got married, it seemed like a good idea. I mean, she was really the only person that wanted to marry me…and I liked her well enough. She’s a great cook, and a good housekeeper, and she’s a good fighter, too. After we had Gohan…well, I guess that’s when I first really started loving her.”

“So you didn’t love her when you first got married?”

“Yeah, I did, but it wasn’t the same as later. But she was so protective of Gohan, she loved him so much…I guess I started to love her, too. Then all that stuff happened…I was gone off and on for such a long time. I still loved her when I came back…but she had a really hard time with me being away so much.” He leans forward, resting his chin in his hands. “Chichi really needs someone consistent…someone who can be there for her. I guess that person isn’t me. But she would never leave me…I think she’s pretty unhappy now, but I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve tried…to make it like it used to be, when Gohan was little, but it isn’t working.”

He looks back up at me, and I see glistening trails down his cheeks. He’s crying! “I don’t know what to do, Raditz! Should I leave her, let her get on with her life? But then, what would the boys think? Where would I go? And I still love her…”

Gods! He’s blaming this whole thing on himself, like his wife doesn’t nag him constantly, doesn’t take out her unhappiness on him. They’re both too tangled up in each other to see any way out. So they just keep biting and scratching at each other, stuck together with the glue of their kids and their lives together. It’s sad…but it makes me angry, too. For once I feel like Kakarot is my little brother, and I want to help him, protect him from this. But like so many other things, I don't know how to handle it, how to help, or fix anything.

“Kakarot,” I begin, then stop, trying to gather my thoughts. “Kakarot, I think you should leave her. You two…you just aren’t a good match. Maybe you were once, but not any more. I’m pretty sure both Goten and Gohan would understand.”

He stares at me unblinkingly. “No one…everyone’s always said we should try and stick it out…”

“Everyone?”

“Well, Bulma and Krillin, mostly. They’re the only people I’ve talked to about it. Bulma said that Chichi just needed some time…and Krillin said I should wait until Goten leaves home. He said…you know, that it could hurt him. Kids get messed up in divorces.”

“Kids get messed up in unhappy families, too. And Chichi’s had a lot of time.” I’m angry about the whole thing. Krillin, at the very least, should know better! Doesn’t he care about his friend? Well, if no one’s going to watch out for my brother, then it’s up to me. Maybe I do know what to do, after all. “Kakarot, you have to get out of there. It’s obvious you two are not working out! Smarten up! How long have you been taking her shit?”

“Raditz! It’s not like that…”

“Isn’t it? Can you tell me that truthfully?”

He looks at the ground strengthlessly. “But where would I go?” His voice is a whisper.

“Who cares!? Gods, I’m sure any number of your friends would take you in until you found your own place!” I’m standing now, waving my hands through the air in agitation, my tail whipping angrily.

“I…” he takes a deep breath. “Okay. Will you…will you come with me?”

All I can do is stare at him. Does he think his wife would stand for me in his house with him gone? I nod at him, grab his wrist, haul him to his feet. “Come on,” I growl, pulling him into the air, and yanking open a window into Gohan’s room. He follows meekly after me, standing in the middle of the room while I pile my meager collection of belongings into a big bag, then pulling him out into the hall.

“Get what you need, Kakarot, and let’s go.” I think for a moment that he’s going to protest, say something, but he doesn’t. I know he really wants to go, but he would never get the balls to do it himself. The strongest fighter in the goddamned universe, and he can’t stand up to his wife. Bullshit.

He opens the door to the bedroom quietly, and I take the opportunity to duck into Goten’s room. The kid deserves to know what’s going on. It’s dark in here, but I can hear Goten breathing. He’s not asleep, and I can make out his dark form sitting up on the bed. “Goten?”

“Yeah, Uncle Raditz? What’s going on?” His voice is shaky, a little hoarse. Has he been crying, too?

“Your mom giving you any shit, kid?”

“Oh…nothing big. I just should have come in the window. I forgot…” he sighs softly in the velvet blackness. Like father, like son. I snarl to myself, glad he can’t see my face. Doubtless he would think it was aimed at him.

“Your dad’s getting out of here.” My voice is flat.

“What? You mean…for a few days?”

“For good, if I have anything to say about it. You coming, kid?” The silence is thick, weighty.

“No, I can’t-“ He’s cut off by a loud shriek from down the hall. I can hear Kakarot’s quiet mumbling as I dart back into the hall, sprinting for the bedroom.

I walk into a war zone. Flying clothes, candlesticks, books, any item that comes to hand is going right from Chichi to hit Kakarot in the head. She’s a dead aim, and he’s just standing there, eyes down. Gods, do I have to do everything? I stride across the room, blocking the screeching harpy, and grab her by the wrists, lifting her off the ground. I ignore the cacophonous wench and say to my brother over my shoulder, “Get your stuff. Now.”

Chichi is still howling like an angry monkey-though I think there’re words in there somewhere-and kicking me repeatedly in the stomach and thighs. She’s got strong legs on her, but she’s no Saiyan. I put my face right in hers, and pitch my voice as loud as I can. “SHUT UP, WOMAN!” This silences her for about two seconds, then she’s directing all her poisonous ire at me.

“Youputhimuptothisdidn’tyouIknewyouwerebadnewsyouhorriblealienWereyoujustgoi ngtohavehimwalkoutwithouttellingmeYou’dlikethatwouldn’tyouyoufilthyscumPUTME DOWN!” A light tap on the shoulder tells me Kakarot is finished, and I look around. Goten’s standing in the doorway, open-mouthed.

“Sure you want to stay, Goten?” I ask quietly, and he just looks at me and Chichi. I think it’s shocking to him, to see the all-powerful mother held up like a tantrumming child. But he can’t do it, not yet.

“No…I…someone has to stay with mom.” I nod tersely to him. He’s taking the harder route…but I’m not sure anymore that it’s because he’s weak. Maybe he simply takes his responsibilities very serious. I roll Chichi in the thick blankets of the bed, and tie a couple of knots in it. Should hold her for as long as it takes to get out of here.

I pull Goten into a fierce hug on the way out. “Take care, kid. Don’t let things get too heavy here, okay?”

“’Kay.”

We take the front door this time, and Kakarot follows me into the air. “Where are we going?” he asks quietly. Good question.

* * * * *

I can only think of one place. Krillin’s is really too small, with 18 and Marron there. I don’t know anyone else, and Kakarot’s not going to be much help. So with a fortifying breath of air, now tinted with moisture, I lead my little brother right back into the lion’s den. Capsule Corps. By the time we land out front, it’s raining hard, and both of us are soaked. Good, maybe Vegeta’ll let us in if we look pathetic enough. I bang loudly, afraid to use the doorbell. Bulma’s probably asleep by now, and I don’t want to wake the entire household, especially not her. Don’t need Chichi showing up here tonight. The place is enormous, hopefully Trunks or Vegeta will hear the door and come to investigate. I’m not sure I’m ready to withstand another go around with Trunks…but maybe he’ll lay off if he sees why I’m here. I’m not sure what I’ll say if it’s Vegeta.

It’s Vegeta.

He’s standing there in the doorway, wearing nothing but a pair of black silk pyjama bottoms. Who said I was getting over him? It couldn’t have been me, his physical presence hits me like a sucker punch right in the gut, stealing my breath painfully.

“Raditz? What the hell-“ I step to the side, keeping my face blank with only the most supreme of efforts, let him see my bedraggled brother, his hair dripping down into his face from the weight of the rain.

“Kakarot?” The prince’s voice is startled, husky, and positively dripping with sex appeal. “What are you-you had better come in.” He looks up at me, face twisted in a snarl. “And you can crawl back into whatever hole you pulled yourself out of.”

I knew he would react like this, and I turn to leave, when I hear my little brother’s voice. “No.” I look around, surprised. So is Vegeta, he’s staring at Kakarot in consternation.

“Kakarot, you can’t expect-“

“If I come in, he comes in.” His voice is flat, exhausted. Vegeta snarls again, leaning forward on the balls of his feet aggressively. It’s so strange…to see him irritated without that sleek tail lashing behind him.

“Fine!” he snaps out finally. “But you had better tell me what’s going on!”

Kakarot follows him as limply as he had me, and I trail behind them, closing the door quietly. Vegeta leads us to a cozy kitchen down a few flights of stairs, and I figure this is his own personal space. A kitchen for a place this size would be huge, and this little room is just about right for three or four people. He motions for my brother to sit, ignoring me icily, and turns to the cupboards, rummaging around and coming up with some tea. He starts a kettle on the stove as I carefully take Kakarot’s bag from him. He still has it slung over his shoulder. I move to stand behind him, letting my hands rest lightly on his shoulders. Funny, how protective I feel of him. He’s always been the elder these last few months, but now…

Vegeta pads back over to the table, leaning his hip against it but not sitting yet. “Now why are you here in the middle of the night?” he asks sharply.

“I…I left Chichi.” My brother’s voice is quiet, almost too low for a human to hear.

“What?” Vegeta is clearly stunned. His ebony eyes flare wide, and for once he has nothing clever to add.

“I left Chichi. Raditz…Raditz brought me here.” Vegeta looks up at me for confirmation, icy hauteur forgotten. I nod solemnly.

“Well, for once the moron did something right,” he sneers, and I narrow my eyes.

“Please, Vegeta, not tonight.” Once again, my brother is intervening for me. He shouldn’t have to be doing this…not tonight. He’s right. But then, my prince was never a master at restraining his tongue. I can see him about to snap back something acid.

“Vegeta,” I cut in quickly, harshly. “I think we should talk…out in the hall.”

He looks like he’s about to refuse, but then he looks back down at my brother, and nods curtly. I follow him, shaking out my wet hair impatiently. As he turns I begin, knowing I have to get the first few words in or this will turn into another fight.

“Kakarot is going through a terrible time right now. I pushed him to leave, and he hasn’t really had time to deal with the decision. Now I know you want me here as much as you want a bag of cockroaches, but I am going to stick by my brother, and you are going to lay off for right now.” I poke my finger lightly at his chest to emphasize, taking care not to touch him. I don’t need to be distracted by that burning skin right now.

“Have you got it?”

He eyes me speculatively, and I’m shocked my plan worked. But I guess my prince still has his predilection for responding to a dominant tone. At least I don’t think he’s about to blow up on me.

“So you got him to leave, hm?” he asks, and I nod. “Guess you’re good for something after all.” And shockingly, he smiles at me. A predatory, mysterious smile that leaves me staring as he walks back into the kitchen. “Nice outfit, by the way,” he calls over his shoulder. I can only watch him go, my heart beating a trip hammer in my chest. Shaking my head, I follow him back, see him pouring the tea. Three cups.

He takes them to the table, hands one to Kakarot, takes one, and places the other next to my brother. “So you need a place to stay, hm, Kakarot?”

My brother nods mutely, staring at the table. I return to his side, gently push on his hands so that he automatically brings the cup to his lips, takes a sip. “And I suppose you’ll want your idiot of a brother staying here, too,” Vegeta continues, but in a mild tone. Kakarot nods again, a bit more firmly.

“Fine. It’s not like we don’t have room. There’re several spare bedrooms near mine, close to the gravity room. You can stay there.” He watches Kakarot intently. My brother is just sitting there with the cup in his hands, staring into space. Vegeta flicks his eyes up to me. “Maybe you should take him to bed,” he suggests, and again I’m surprised, both at the concern in his voice, and his insight.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.” I gulp down the hot tea quickly, immediately regretting it as it scalds all the way down my throat. I pull Kakarot to his feet, grab up his bag, and again we follow Vegeta, up some stairs, through a few halls. I hope the bathroom is close, because I’m never going to be able to navigate in this maze. Vegeta opens the door on a small bedroom, two single beds up against the wall, a little nightstand separating them.

“I think you two should sleep in the same room tonight,” Vegeta observes shrewdly, and I nod. Doing a lot of that tonight. “There’s a bathroom attached…I’ll see you in the morning.” I look over my shoulder as I lead Kakarot to one of the beds, and Vegeta is still standing in the doorway, staring at us. He looks like he wants to say something, his dark eyes are full of some unexpressed emotion. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but he’s more beautiful than ever, and the urge to try and rip down those walls the years have put up is almost overwhelming. But even if there is a chance, my brother needs me tonight.

He’s just standing there, in the middle of the room. I put our bags down, and reach out to turn him. My fingers brush across the bare skin of his upper arm and I frown. He’s cold…and no wonder, he’s wet, still, soaked from the rain. “Little brother, you need to take a shower, warm up,” I comment to him lightly, and he turns his head to look at me, but says nothing. I sigh, and poke my head into the bathroom curiously. Pretty nice for a guest room, a big tub with a shower, toilet, sink, and linen closet. It’s small, but everything in there looks expensive.

“Come on,” I say, opening the door wider. Kakarot listlessly walks into the bathroom, again, taking his place in the middle and just standing there. Am I going to have to do this for him? I duck in behind him, turn on the water, letting it heat to just this bearable side of hot, hoping by the time I’m done he’ll have taken the hint and gotten undressed. No such luck.

“Kakarot, you need to warm up. Come on, you have to get undressed.” His eyes are following me wherever I go, filled with a sort of quiet desperation. I think briefly that maybe I made wrong decision, pushing him like that. But no…he just needs some time to adjust. I can take care of him for that long. He’s fumbling with clumsy fingers at his shirt now, slowly pulling it over his head. At least I don’t have to do that for him. His pants follow equally slowly to the ground, until there’s a pile of clothes puddled around his feet.

“Okay, now get in the shower,” I direct, and he dreamily climbs into the tub, standing directly under the hot spray, letting it hit his face furiously, little droplets of water flying everywhere. I wonder if I should wash him? He is in the shower…but then, he’s not particularly dirty. I watch him for a little while, see if he’s going to do anything, but he just stands there. Ah, well.

I strip off my own shirt, and snag a fresh wash cloth from the sink. I wet it under the showerhead, gently pushing Kakarot back a little, so the spray is now hitting his chest and stomach instead of his face, then turn him, so it’s now on his back. As I rub a bar of some floral soap into the wet cloth, my mind wanders back to my childhood.

Father didn’t want any part in caring for his second child, and Mother was often busy. I wasn’t old enough to be out of the house much yet, so I ended up taking care of my baby brother more often then not. I never minded…it was kind of like having a little pet, as Kakarot had been even more active than the average Saiyan child. He would whine and cry whenever I wasn’t in the same room with him, so I ended up carrying him around almost everywhere, perched on my shoulder like a little monkey, his tail curled snugly around my neck.

Not surprisingly, I ended up feeding, changing, and bathing him much of the time. Quite a big load for a small child, but I had nothing better to do with my time, and already our father had instilled in me the sense of responsibility that would later lead me to the Royal Guard, in our father’s footsteps. Kakarot, normally a squirmy child, always calmed when I gave him a bath, smiling beatifically up at me and curling his tiny tail around my skinny wrist.

As I run the washcloth in gentle circles over Kakarot’s chest, I think how similar this seems, even in our adulthood. It reinforces my sense of fraternity, and a fierce wave of protectiveness washes over me, reinforcing my earlier instincts. I wash his neck gently, then scrub softly at his thighs. “Turn around,” I murmur, and he faces into the spray, the soap running in white tendrils down his body to disappear into the drain. His eyes are no longer following me, he has them closed, and I’m glad. That naked look of vulnerability in them is a little too intense for me right now.

I work on his back equally gently, running the cloth down his buttocks briefly, then washing his legs. I peer at the scar where his tail used to be curiously. I’ve seen other Saiyans so mutilated in my life, but never up close like this. It’s a strange raised ridge, but there’s no stump. It must have been cut pretty close. I touch it lightly, running my forefinger over the tissue.

I hear a soft sigh, and look up to see my brother lolling his head backward. I can’t see his face, and I stand, forgetting the scar, worried. But the expression on his face is more relaxed, calmer, though he isn’t exactly smiling. Just like when he was a kid. I’m glad I decided to do this for him, it seems it’s helping at least a little. I return to running the wash cloth in slow circles up over his shoulders then down to the small of his back, over that little ridge of scar tissue. Every now and then he lets out a small noise, though I can’t honestly tell what’s causing it. It sounds happy enough, though, so I stop worrying, and just let him sit under the hot spray, rubbing his back.

After a while, I realize my fingers are wrinkling up from the water, and I figure I should probably put my brother to bed. I gently turn him again, this time letting the spray rinse his back. As I’m watching his back to make sure it’s rinsed well, I completely miss the fact that he’s now at least partially aroused. But I notice soon enough. I find a hot blush creeping over my cheeks, and I turn off the water hastily. As natural as I know these reactions are among Saiyan males, it’s still pretty embarrassing to see it on my brother. I busy myself with fetching a large towel, then hand it awkwardly to Kakarot.

He looks at it, then hands it back to me with a blank expression. I sigh, and motion for him to come out of the tub, then get to work briskly drying him, carefully avoiding his groin. But he’s still semi-aroused, and finally I leave him standing there to go root through his bag. At least I can get him something to wear so I don’t have to keep looking at it! But again, I’m thwarted.

Kakarot hasn’t packed anything that looks comfortable enough to sleep in. A few sets of clothes, some books that I’m sure belong to Chichi, an alarm clock, and two light bulbs. Great. I fetch a spare pair of shorts from my own bag and take them in to my brother. He takes them wordlessly, and pulls them on. They’re a bit baggy, hanging low on his hips, but they stay on, and that’s good enough for me. I shoot a longing glance at the shower, but I’m not comfortable leaving Kakarot alone right now, so I’ll have to skip it for tonight. I settle for drying my torso, stripping off the by-now-ruined leather pants, then rubbing down my legs. Another clean pair of shorts and I’m ready to go. If I’m going to be sleeping in someone else’s house, I should probably forgo my usual sleep-naked preference.

“Okay, Kakarot, time for bed,” I say, and he follows me back into the bedroom, then simply stares at the bed. I turn down the covers, and he slides into the bed. I cover him again, almost tenderly, and I turn to sit on my own bed. He’s just lying there, staring blankly forward, not moving at all. Well, if I’m going to treat him as though he was a child again…

“Turn over, Kakarot, lie on your stomach.” He does so mechanically, turning his head so he’s facing the wall. I perch on the edge of the bed, and pull back the covers from his upper body. Again, I begin to rub his back, slow, comforting circles. He lets out a low breath, and I see his muscles relax slowly. He moves his arms up to pillow his head, and I gently run my fingers through the hair at the back of his neck, lightly massaging the scalp, before returning to the soothing backrub.

After awhile, I become aware of a low, rumbling noise just at the edge of my hearing. Kakarot is purring, deep in his chest, and I smile my satisfaction. For some reason, it feels good to take care of him like this, help ease some of his pain and depression. I give him a final pat, then move over to my bed. I’m exhausted, it has been one of the most fatiguing days in my life.

“Raditz?” My brother turns his head to look at me. His eyes are sleepy, his face calm. I slip under the covers.

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

I smile at him. “You’re welcome.”

“Raditz?”

“Hmmm?”

“Will you stay awake until I fall asleep?” I sigh softly, but keep my face open, accepting.

“Yes, Kakarot.”

I slide back out from under the covers. No use getting too comfortable. I prop myself up against the headboard, pulling my knees up to my chest, resting my chin across the top of them. Kakarot smiles happily at me, and lets his eyes drift close. I watch his chest for the even rising and falling of sleep…

Part Twelve | Back
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