I lay my armor out neatly, staring down at it almost mournfully. But Prince Vegeta no longer wore it, and neither did Kakarot. I look at the clothes my nephew brought me curiously. He had explained to me where they all went, but it was pretty self-explanatory. Humanoid clothes are humanoid clothes, no matter where you go. The boxer shorts are the most confusing to me…why would anyone want to wear a smaller pair of pants under their regular pants? Gohan had flushed an alarming shade of red when I asked him, and had blurted out something about decency. It’s strange thinking this stammering, uptight young man is my nephew, the howling little boy I had kidnapped upon my arrival here. I couldn’t see his power level without my scouter, but I’m sure he’s enormously strong; Kakarot had said so, and I believe my brother. His face would make him the most terrible liar.
So I put on the shorts, then pull the jeans over them. I like the jeans, they fit snugly without being too tight, and they’re a rather charming shade of blue, like the morning sky here on Earth. Even in the short time I was here before dying, I appreciated the natural beauty of this place. It’s what I imagined Vegeta-sei looked like in the days of our ancestors. Unfortunately, though, these pants don’t leave room for my tail, so I poke my head out the door, looking for someone. Ah, there’s Kakarot’s wife.
“Chichi, do you have a knife I could use to cut a hole in these pants?” I asked, holding up said item of clothing. She just looks at me and splutters. I can see a darkness growing in her face, and I’m sure she’s about to holler something at me…I saw her do it to my brother already. And if she can push him around, she must be pretty damn strong.
“Never mind!” I get out, ducking back into my room.
“PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!” I hear her roaring out in the hall, and I wince. I hope she’s not going to come in here and beat on me. I’ve had enough of that for today. When the door opens, I drop into a ready crouch, thinking I’ll at least go down fighting. But it’s only Gohan, looking a bit flustered.
“Look, uh, normally people don’t run around without their clothes on around here,” he begins, and I can see he’s as nervous of his mother as I am.
“I am wearing clothes,” I respond reasonably, pointing to the stupid shorts. “And besides, she’s family.”
“Well, those are underclothes, and they’re almost as bad as going around naked. And my mom…well, she’s a little touchy about that stuff. Look, what did you need?” Gohan sighs, and I wince again, only internally this time. I feel like a stupid child, and the urge to run strongly washes over me again. No, I am not going to be weak here! If I can’t be physically strong, then damn it, I sure as hell am going to use a little will power! How difficult can this be?
“Just a knife. To cut a hole in these pants…for my tail,” I explain, unwrapping and waving said tail behind me. Gohan blinks in surprise, before a strange, blank look washes over his features. He keeps staring at my tail, like it’s some alien thing, and his lips are slightly parted…
“Gohan!” I snap, embarrassed by his staring. I know none of the Saiyans on Earth have tails anymore, but it’s not like I’m some sort of freak! He yanks his gaze away, and looks up at me.
“Oh, a knife! Um, scissors might be better for that…here, let me look in the desk…” He begins rummaging through the desk that I guess I’m borrowing, and comes up with a pair of blades. He takes the pants from me and cuts a neat hole in the back. I suppress a growl…how old does he think I am, anyways? Like I can’t use a pair of scissors! Stupid pup…and then I stop. He’s only a few years younger than me, now…I sigh, and flop onto the bed. How am I ever going to get used to all this?
“Raditz?” he asks hesitantly, and I open my eyes to look at him.
“Are you…are you okay?” He seems almost scared of me. Then again, I was a part of a rather traumatic memory of his childhood. But how could he be frightened now? I’m a gnat, a flea to him.
“It’s just a lot to take in, kid. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay. If you say so. If you need anything…well, just let me know, okay?”
I’m strangely touched by the gesture...how un-Saiyan these Earth people are! I can’t get used to it…but I’m grateful. If this was Vegeta-sei…well, they’d have never wished me back in the first place, but if they had, they sure wouldn’t treat me like this!
“Thanks, Gohan, I will.” He smiles at me, and I can see the child I knew briefly so many years ago. As he leaves, I pull on the pants. The hole is perfectly placed, and I slide the dark pelt of my tail out comfortably. The shirt is easy, a short sleeved cotton thing Kakarot called a t-shirt. It’s red, and plain, and very comfortable. A bit tight fitting across the shoulders and chest, but not too bad. Kakarot says Gohan had a hard time finding anything in my size. I’m even bigger than my brother, and I gather he’s large for an Earthling.
No shoes. Gohan said you can’t really buy shoes for someone else without knowing their size, and besides, you don’t wear shoes indoors here. I look at myself in the full-length mirror on the back of the door, and cock my head to the side. With my tail wrapped neatly around my waist, I could almost pass for an Earthling. Then again, I haven’t seen any of them with hair like mine.
And Chichi told me I had better brush it. You’d think she’d know after all those years living with Kakarot...you can’t tame Saiyan hair. But she seemed personally offended by the state of mine, and seemed to think that brushing was somehow going to correct it. Well, I would try, anyways. I pick up the sturdy wood brush and begin to pull it through my long black mane. My one pride and joy, and my only concession to vanity. Prince Vegeta used to love to bury his face in it when we...
I cut off that train of thought as fast as I can. As pleasant as the beginning of that road was, it only ended in pain. I’m trying to start a new life, now, and my prince made it very clear he did not want to be a part of it. Sighing, I run the brush in long strokes, but when your hair falls past your ass, it’s hard to do all at once. I do the best I can with the little brush, but it looks pretty much the same as when I started. I hope Chichi doesn’t get too ticked off.
Exiting the room, I venture downstairs, to be greeted by the delightful smells of cooking. So here’s reason number two why my brother married the wild woman...before I can find the kitchen to investigate, the front door opens and a young man stamped clearly by the Son features comes in the door. He stops to stare at me, and I see immediately the resemblance to Kakarot...and to Father. The looks I never got, for I take after my mother in all but size. That youthful face suddenly breaks into a sunny grin that cements it...this is Goten, Kakarot’s other son.
“You must be Uncle Raditz!” he exclaims, and then drops his book bag and pulls me into an enthusiastic hug. I’m too shocked to do anything for a moment, but that doesn’t deter him, so I rather gingerly hug him back. I may not be able to read power levels, but the kid’s obviously a real powerhouse. He pulls back, laughing.
“Wow, you look nothing like Dad! You’re not still trying to kill him, are you? Oh, of course not,” he answers his own question, and I wonder if I’m ever going to be able to get a word in edgewise. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Wow, Dad said he was going to wish you back soon, but I didn’t know it was going to be today! Trunks told me, though, so here you are!”
“Trunks?” I manage to ask.
“Yeah, Trunks, my best friend! Vegeta’s son...I’m sure Vegeta told you about him?” His eyes, so like his father’s, take on a special shine when talking about this Trunks, and I wonder how much interfamily mingling is going on here!
“Actually, no. Kakarot mentioned that Prince Vegeta had two children...but my lord did not see fit to enlighten me further.” I realize my tone is stiff and formal when talking about my prince, and I wonder if the kid notices. But he seems cheerfully unaware as he begins pulling me through the house, presumably towards the kitchen.
“Ah, you call Dad ‘Kakarot’! Just like Vegeta! And you call Vegeta ‘Prince Vegeta’! That’s so weird!” Indeed, it is the kitchen, and a bustling Chichi greets her son with a kiss on the cheek, me with a dark scowl.
“I see you managed to figure out the mystery of clothing,” she aims sharply my direction, and I shrug, unsure of how to respond. But Goten just laughs again, and pulls me past the kitchen, into what must be the living room, where my brother and other nephew wait.
“Raditz! They fit, good. I heard you gave Chichi a bit of a scare,” Kakarot grins at me, and again I shrug.
“I didn’t know anything could frighten your wife,” I offer lamely. My brother throws back his head and laughs...just like Goten, who’s giggling, too. But Gohan meets my eyes with surprising sympathy, and suddenly I don’t feel quite as embarrassed.
“Well, Videl can’t make it tonight, I guess the baby’s sick,” Kakarot explains when he finally catches his breath, “So it’s just me and the boys and Chichi. I invited Vegeta and his family, but he said he couldn’t...ah, couldn’t make it.” He corrects himself suddenly, and I confirm my earlier suspicions...Kakarot is a terrible liar. So Prince Vegeta doesn’t want me seeing his family? Or is it that I simply make him ill to look at? My stomach clenches painfully, but I keep a poker face far better than my brother, and just nod.
At first I think the silence is simply awkward, until I look closely at all three Sons. They’re staring at something behind me, all three with identical expressions of intentness. I look over my shoulder, but I know what I’ll find already, having seen that expression before. My tail had uncurled itself from my waist at my earlier discomfort, and was now slashing agitatedly through the air behind me. With a quick frown, I put it back in its place, and turn back to my family.
Goten and Kakarot speak at once: “Wow, he’s got a tail!” and “I almost forgot...” Gohan, for his part, just looks dreamily where my tail used to be, and then brings his eyes up to mine. In them I can see a slow melancholy, and I remember that he had a tail when I first came here. They must have cut it off...maybe his brother’s, too. But I had never seen Kakarot with one.
My brother and his youngest son look at each other, and trade identical grins. But their smiles also hold a wistfulness, and suddenly I understand all the interest in my extra appendage. A Saiyan is not complete without his tail, and none here had one, except for me. I idly wonder if Prince Vegeta’s children had been mutilated in such a way as well.
“Dinner’s ready!” calls Chichi from the other room, which cut through the strange air like a knife. Kakarot and Goten immediately scramble for the door, and Gohan stands as well, though not quite as frantically. He ushers me into the dining room, and I feel my first real pang of joy since being brought back to life; the table is covered in dishes, all producing amazingly mouth watering smells.
All the Sons sit down eagerly, so I take the remaining chair, and just watch them, to figure out how they do this. Formal dinners are not something I’m accustomed to. Though maybe this dinner isn’t formal...but it doesn’t resemble any meals I’d had with Father. Even as a child, when my mother was still alive. Kakarot’s mother lasted little longer...she was a warrior as well, but you can’t fight a comet generated by a mad tyrant. I pull myself away from useless reminiscing to watch the Sons help themselves to just about everything on the table. I cautiously follow suit, earning another glare from Chichi.
“My cooking not good enough for you?” she snaps. Is this woman perpetually angry? I hastily add more onto my plate, and regret not mentioning how good everything smelled. She’d never believe me if I complimented her culinary skill now.
“Sorry,” I mutter, and Kakarot chimes in good-naturedly.
“Hey, Chichi, he’s never had Earth food, he probably doesn’t even know what half this stuff is! You really outdid yourself tonight!”
She smiles at him, a sudden flash of genuine warmth, and I can see that she really does love him. I guess she can’t help it if she’s kind of bitchy. Trying to apologize around a mouthful of some sort of fish, I add “It really is good, Chichi.”
She scowls at me, “Don’t talk with your mouth full!” But I can see she’s mollified by the way Gohan grins at me from behind his mother. I turn back to my food, not ready to brave the waters of familial interaction right now. But Kakarot and his sons are more than willing to fill up the silence with chatter. Goten explains some paper he’s doing in school to his dad, who looks a little befuddled, while Gohan fills Chichi in on the latest with his daughter. So I have a grandniece, too.
After dinner, Goten, with Chichi’s prompting, wants to show me family photo albums, and that’s about as much as I can take. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a walk. I’m afraid I’ve eaten far too much.” I smile winningly at Chichi, hating myself for ingratiating myself to anyone, even my sister-in-law. But Saiyans are nothing if not adaptable, and I know I won’t last long in this household if I don’t have her good will. Or at least, if I don’t avoid her wrath.
Kakarot nods eagerly, “Good idea! I’ll come out with you, show you around a bit.” I had wanted to be alone, but....
“Alright, Kakarot.” He leads the way out the door, and I follow quietly. Once outside, he turns around to smile in that charming, dim-witted way of his.
“I know you probably don’t want company right now,” he begins, and I have to suddenly revise my opinion of his. Is his empty-headedness all an act? Or was that a good guess?
“But, if you’re going to be out, I want to show you something.” I listen mutely, my face revealing nothing. “You’re pretty weak right now-which is something we can correct with some serious training!-and I think you should at least know who to avoid, if you run into them. So I’m going to teach you how to sense power levels, okay?”
I can’t decide whether to be mortified by my little brother treating me like a child, or excited at learning something new. I decide to settle somewhere in between, and respond a bit coldly, “Well, get on with it, Kakarot.”
But he just grins back. I suppose he spends a lot of time with Prince Vegeta, he must be used to much worse than a slightly frosty tone of voice. “Okay, can you sense ki?”
“Okay, here, take my hand, and feel what I’m doing with my ki. I’m sort of sending it out, to you, in this case, and then feeling it bounce back. It’s just a little touch...” and he does it, showing me. I frown...this is so simple! I try it myself, then stagger backwards a bit as my ki comes pounding back into me.
“Not so hard,” Kakarot corrects me gently. “The main skill in this is being able to judge, by how hard the ki comes back, what power level the person is.” He has me try a few more times, until I can do it right. He says the rest is just practice with different people. It’s so easy, I feel stupid for not figuring it out myself.
He smiles gently at me when I have it down pat. “You’re doing great! You picked that up really fast!” I sigh at his condescension...fast as compared to what? One of these impossibly weak humans? As he turns to walk inside, he adds “We’ll go over some more stuff tomorrow. Enjoy your walk!”
I lean against the wall of Kakarot’s little house after he leaves, just looking out into the woods that surrounds it. There’s so much to take in...too much...
My thoughts are interrupted by two voices drifting out from inside the house-Kakarot and Chichi. The kitchen window is cracked a bit, and I can also hear the voices of my nephews faintly from somewhere else in the house.
“How long is he going to be here?” Chichi’s voice is tight, tense.
“I don’t know, hon. But he needs a place to stay, and he’s my responsibility.”
“You think everyone is your responsibility, Goku!”
“But Chichi, he’s my brother! And I brought him back from the dead! How can he not be my responsibility?” Kakarot’s voice is pleading with her, and I wince for him.
She sighs in return. “Look, I know for now he’s your responsibility. But it’s very obvious Raditz is a big boy, and he tried to kill you! I don’t think he’s a good influence on Goten.”
“Chichi! He hasn’t said more than two words to Goten! How can he be a bad influence?”
“He’s too much like Vegeta. He doesn’t know how to act right. Besides, he was your enemy last he remembers!”
“Most of my friends were my enemies at one point!”
“I know. I don’t like that, either.”
I push away from the wall, desperate to leave those arguing voices behind. Why couldn’t my brother have left well enough alone, left me dead! I bet being dead was absolute fucking heaven compared to this!
I can’t control the rumbling growl that rises from my chest as I stamp through the dark forest, cut off from the light of the stars. Fuck! My goddamn little brother and his goddamn “good ideas”...Prince Vegeta was right. It’s all useless sentimentality, that brought me to this hell where I’m as weak as a kitten and treated like a mewling babe! I can feel my anger boiling under my skin, and I have to release it. With a frustrated scream I send a ki blast through the trees, leaving a wide swath of blackened vegetation and torn up earth.
But that’s not good enough. I have the fury of twenty years inside me, and no simple energy blast is going to let it out. Of course, smashing down a few trees with my fists isn’t going to help much either, but it feels good to just let loose, let my flesh impact hard wood and destroy it. I wish there were faces beneath my fists, people I can crush, but somehow I doubt my brother, savior of the Earth, would allow that. Despite my anger, I’m not ready to die again just yet.
I slam into another tree, this time using my whole body, wishing that pain could somehow eradicate my rage and frustration. If that’s all it took, I would gladly beat my head against a cliff for the next few thousand years. But it doesn’t help, and the tree groans and crashes through its neighbors, landing with a splash.
A splash? I peer ahead of me, see starlight reflecting on water. I seem to have come to some sort of lake, but had been too distracted to notice. I step out into a clearing before the pebbly shore and stare up fiercely at the brilliant pinpoints pierced into the velvet of the sky. Once, perhaps, I would have been able to see my home. But I could look for centuries and never find it now. Somehow that thought alone brings the weight of my loss crashing into me, shaking my bones and blood in a terrible dance of sorrow.
I fall to my knees, and I realize I’m screaming unintelligibly, heart- broken sound ripping my throat raw and battered as I wish the rest of me was. I pound my fists into the ground, cracking the soft mud and clay. I’m shaking my head over and over, and my hair is a cloud around my face, the ends becoming thick and heavy with water and mud. Scalding tears streak divots down my cheeks and I’m still screaming, as if somehow with my voice alone I can purge myself of this.
But of course, it doesn’t work. My screaming finally trails off to keening wails as I bury my hands in mud, my knees planted in the same. My head hangs heavily as my body is wracked by a storm of pain and deep despair. It seems to take hours, but finally I think I’m through, and only an emptiness remains, a soothing numbness. I pull myself to my feet shakily, noting idly that my feet are still bare, and the clothes my nephew has given me are covered in mud.
Looking out at the lake with blank eyes, I come across an idea that seems very good right now. Just walk in. Walk in to the lake. It won’t kill me, but maybe I can just sit on the bottom, sit there until all the people on this pathetic planet are dead and gone, and then I can emerge, and be king of a dead place. I start to laugh as my feet carry me into the water, the chill reaching out to numb me further. King of a dead planet, just like Vegeta. I can’t stop laughing.
The water’s up to my knees now, and it feels so good, so perfect. It washes away all feeling, all pain, and I decide maybe I’ll just be king of this lake. As the icy liquid licks seductively at my thighs, I look down, seeing tiny fish darting here and there. Some come to nibble delicately at my toes. King of these fish, too, and that gets me laughing again, positively roaring, and I throw my head back.
I’m up to mid-abdomen now, and my tail floats gently behind me in a bed of black hair. I will be the most powerful king this lake has ever known, and my first proclamation will be: “No Son shall be allowed to fish in my waters. Also, all the most beautiful fish maidens will be brought before me, and from among them, I shall choose a wife.” Did I just say that aloud? I guess so...I’m surprised I could get it out around all the giggles. I let myself fall backwards into the water, and find myself somewhat disappointed when I float. The water sinks its frosty claws into my scalp, and I smile blissfully at the heavens, wondering how many other dead worlds I’m looking at.
Suddenly my serene view is interrupted by a scowling green face. A familiar scowling green face. “And my second decree shall be to have Piccolo executed at the height of the harvest festival every year. He will be torn limb from limb...from limb from limb...” I’m laughing again, looking up into that face, and I wonder why he isn’t laughing, too. “Get it, Namek? From limb, from limb...” I can’t control myself, it’s just too damn funny, and my body curls tightly as my stomach clenches with the laughter. Suddenly I’m sinking, and thinking maybe I don’t want to live at the bottom of the lake, and I come up, completely soaked, gasping for air, and still shaking with hilarity.
“I’ll have to inform Goku that his brother has gone mad,” says the green face, which, I can see now, is attached to a floating green body, hovering just inches above the lake’s surface. That has me howling again, and I double over, shaking.
“Good idea, Piccolo! Kakarot can bring his harpy wife down here, and she can knock me out with a frying pan, and they can drag me back to the house. You can kill me all over again, and they can eat me for dinner!” I clasp my stomach in mirthful agony, and stagger back to shallower waters, then allow myself to fall backwards on my ass.
Piccolo continues the illusion of walking on water and steps over to me again, still frowning. He studies me with those dispassionate black eyes, so unlike a Saiyan’s, and snorts. “Oh, I see what’s wrong with you.”
“You mean other than the pains I’m getting from having to look at your ugly face?” I respond, grinning at him in unconscious imitation of my brother.
He continues as though I never spoke. “You’re still coming to terms with switching sides, so to speak. It’s been awhile for me, and I had some time to deal with it. But it was heaped on you all at once. You’re not the baddest of the bad anymore, not the wolf. In fact, if your brother has his way, you’re going to become one of the white hats. But for you, blowing up planets for sport wasn’t so long ago. Is that about it?”
“What?” I whisper suddenly, not sure how to respond. “What do you-“
“Oh, come on, Raditz,” he interrupts me, waving a hand my direction dismissively. “I know you don’t know this, but I was on your side of the fence once, too. It took a little boy to change me, but no matter how it comes about, you feel like you don’t have any choice at first. You’re going to feel that way for awhile, and maybe down the line somewhere you’ll still mourn your lost wickedness.” His eyes take on a dreamy expression as he looks up, to the stars. “I know I still do. But there are rewards on this side, too. You get to have friends. And people who love you.” His eyes suddenly flash down on mine, and bore a hole right through my head. “People who won’t use you and throw you away,” he adds softly, and I’m left gaping at him. How did he know?!
He looks back at the stars, then down to one of the little streams that feeds this lake. “Let me know if you ever need to talk about it,” he invites, his back turned to me. “But right now, I think you should go home. This is my lake, you see.”
* * * * *
I can’t just go home. I don’t have a home anymore, and I’m still not ready to head back to Kakarot’s house. But I also don’t want Piccolo to be telling me any more uncomfortable truths. I’ve had my little breakdown for the day, maybe tomorrow I’ll try again, and he can come tell me how I feel my father never really loved me. I snort to myself, skimming over the treetops. It’s strangely dark up here, with no moon. The chill air isn’t doing much to dry me off, and I take some pleasure in the fact that I don’t shiver. I’m not completely helpless.
I fly randomly, wondering somewhere at the back of my mind if I’ll ever be able to find Kakarot’s house again. Oh yeah, I can sense power levels now, so just fly towards the biggest fucking ki signatures on the planet. Easy enough. Maybe if I fly around long enough, some of Kakarot’s other weirdo friends will show up. Like that bald midget, or the blue haired bimbo. I alight on the top of a tree, and just stand there, wishing I could just stop thinking for awhile.
It doesn’t take long for a strong ki signature to swoop in. I don’t recognize it...then I see it’s Gohan. Great. Doubtless Kakarot sent his son out to get me just in case I couldn’t handle myself. I scowl at him as he lands on a tree across from me. “What do you want, kid?”
He doesn’t say anything at first, doesn’t even look at me. Just gazes out at the endless sea of trees, distance floating in his eyes. I grow impatient with his silence. “What is it?!” Finally he turns his head to look at me.
“You’re wet,” he states flatly.
“Wow, you noticed. I had a little run in with one of your lakes. What about it?” I hate how defensive my voice sounds...why should I have to explain myself to this boy? It’s so easy to forget how close we are in age...I still remember that whining brat.
“Dad didn’t send me.” I blink suddenly. Is everyone on this fucking planet a mind reader?
“Get to the point, Gohan.” I’m sick of being angry, sick of being defensive, sick of feeling insulted at everything these guys say. Now I’m just tired.
“I came looking for you, because I know how Dad and Mom can come across. Like you’re a little kid, no matter what you do. It must be so strange for you, all of a sudden being a part of our family. It must be so different from what you’re used to.”
“Yeah, it’s different. So what? New stuff happens, you change. It’s a way of life for us Saiyans, if you don’t adapt, you get phased out of the gene pool,” I tell him, and as I say it, I realize it’s true, not just me trying to sound tough and uncaring. It’s funny, but it sounds like the kid is playing on the same theme as his mentor. Maybe they share a brain. I allow myself a mirthless laugh at that. Gohan’s still looking at me.
“I know that,” he says softly. “I may not be full Saiyan...but life’s been pretty chaotic for our family. Vegeta, too. That’s got a lot to do with why we’re all so strong. You’re right...you change, or you die. I think you’ll change, Raditz.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence-“ I begin sarcastically, but he cuts me off.
“I just wanted you to know that it’s more than just Mom and Dad. Me and Goten are part of your life now, too. And I’m glad Dad brought you back. Family’s too precious to waste.”
All I can do is stare at him. I have to stop thinking of him as the kid. He sees a lot. More than I’m comfortable with, but then, this seems to be my night for emotionally devastating revelations. So what am I going to do with this?
“Thanks.” It’s all I can say...I’m surprised myself how much it means to me that my nephew gives a damn. I don’t care much what Kakarot thinks. Maybe because he obviously finds it so easy to love everyone. But Gohan is a different story. So his kind words strike home. It’s a good note to end the night on...I just don’t feel like sticking around for any more mental kicks in the head. “I’m going to head back now, kid.”
He nods, and offers me a smile. Not the sunny grin of his father and brother, something almost as warm, but harder won. “Okay. Maybe later in the week you can stop in, see Videl and Pan.” My grandniece, right. I find myself nodding back, and take to the air before he talks me into anything else.
“Sure,” I say with a quick wave, then focus in on Kakarot’s ki. I feel like I could sleep for days after all that. I sure hope Chichi’s in bed...she’ll flip if she sees me come in the house as wet as I am.
Part Three |