Goten No Sakura

BY : saiyansecret
Category: Dragon Ball Z > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 1657
Disclaimer: I don't own DBZ, & make no financial profit writing fanfiction.

Later that day~

The last hours of sunlight over West City simmered into the ground, leaving clouds of humidity radiating from the pavements, and mingling with the methane stench of pollution in busier areas. It was much worth the detour to avoid, the Z-gang agreed.

To say that the other residents of Capsule Corp were surprised to see Vegeta casually enter with Goten, was putting it mildly.

The former calmly told them, "Goten will be staying here for awhile. I'm seeing to his training."

"It's about time," Trunks replied, with a morbidly curious glance at Goten.

Misunderstanding Bulma's raised eyebrow, he said merely, "If you want to hear the same from Kakarot and ChiChi, go ahead."

She only shrugged, "Fine with me," as she left the room, mumbling, "Guess we're worthy again."

Vegeta paused at the computer in the adjoining office. "I'll need some time and information," he told the demi Saiyans, "Go on and put your things away."

Trunks was already dragging Goten off, looking relieved that he seemed closer to normal again. "C'mon, I'm tired of playing against the machine. And I need someone with reflexes."

When they'd left, Vegeta spent a good three hours on the appropriate medical research, before shutting off the screen to rub his eyes. People of Earth had strange problems. While the process was tedious, frustrating, and required real medical advice, the results were worth it, he noted with satisfaction. Still, he hoped to whatever gods who may be listening, that the actual experience would be anything short of hellish.

-:-

As he set up his state-of-the-art game console, Trunks glanced at the other demi Saiyan a few times, before venturing, "Goten, I can tell whatever this is about is really hard." He hesitated, adding, "Let me know if there's anything I can do."

Goten nodded slowly. "Thanks. I just got too much to think about right now."

"That's cool," Trunks replied as they began playing. Certainly his father had bluntly told him to cut the bullshit, yet he hoped he hadn't been too hard on him. A few minutes into the game, he remembered, "Weren't you supposed to see Ren today?"

Goten looked blank, then face-palmed. "Tomorrow. You mind if I call her from here?"

Trunks shook his head. "I can step out."

"No need," Goten replied. Sensing the other demi's thought, he half owned up, "We're just friends now."

"What happened?" Trunks hadn't been easily surprised by Goten for quite some time.

"No drama. It's just better a good friend than a half-assed relationship," Goten shrugged off simply, taking his phone from his pocket.

"I guess so," Trunks agreed. He fell silent while Goten dialed, turning to look busy tidying a pile of books.

"Hey, Ren," Goten greeted cheerfully when she picked up, "…Fine, why?… Oh. I'm at Capsule Corp. … It's okay now. … Several days I guess. … Uhm, later, okay? … Nothing's 'up.' My uncle thinks my technique sucks. … Listen, about that, they know. … Sure, it's cool." After a long pause, he asked, "Is everything okay? … Yeah tomorrow. … Ciao." Goten hung up, and slid the phone back into his pocket.

Wondering at how much more natural the conversation sounded than usual, Trunks commented, "Mom loves her, but Dad can't stand her."

"Why?" Goten asked innocently.

"He basically told me she's a hoe, and he'd kick my ass if I ever got with one," Trunks recounted, "Don't know why he thought that. She's one of the good girls."

"Maybe she reminded him of someone," Goten pretended to guess, and they went back to their game. Building new lies to cover old ones had become second nature to him; the problem was, it was not in his nature at all.

-:-

Despite a bit of expected uneasiness, it eventually and gradually settled. By the end of the evening, everything seemed more like it used to be, as much as it were possible now.

Having done more research on what he knew too little about, it was well after dinner when Vegeta called Goten into the smaller, adjacent office. He motioned for him to sit on a couch in the corner before taking a seat himself, but remained silent at first, propped on his elbows in reflection.

Finally he told him, "It's like I thought, you have to take smaller doses in time. About every two or three days. As many as you're used to, the rest of your stash won't be enough. But I can get more, until you're done."

Goten nodded mutely, feeling considerably awkward. The current subject was embarassing enough in itself, and he hadn't the least idea of how he was to speak and behave around Vegeta now.

The latter appeared no more comfortable than himself, but continued, "The specialists who published this stuff…" He pointed to his folder of printed research on the desk. "…all advise exercise. Meaning training is more important than ever, for times of peace."

Goten nodded again. That made sense. At times, he almost forgot that he even had a body, and knew how pathetic his technique had become. Appearing thus, by witness of Vegeta of all people, was unacceptable in his own esteem.

Vegeta's eyes remained fixed on the floor. "For the week of school left, just get through it. I understand your mother is letting you quit after this year?"

"Yeah," Goten mumbled, also looking down at his sneakers. He was sixteen now, and that had been settled.

Vegeta explained the process at length, sounding oddly knowledgeable. He had a chameleon-like potential of blending in almost anywhere if he wished, some of the Z-gang noticed. "You're awfully quiet tonight," he commented after a long pause.

Goten looked up and quickly back down, feeling his cheeks flush. "Sorry. I'm just not sure how to act now."

Vegeta nodded his understanding, his voice becoming dull. "Like you've said too much?"

"That, too."

Vegeta was quiet at his turn, frowning. "Yeah, it's uncomfortable." Indeed, what he'd blurted in a state of panic was light years from his idea of normal.

Be that as it may, Goten thought, Vegeta didn't BS him. The irony of him saving Goten's life as he had his own a few years before, was unsettling.

To break a bit of the tension, Goten asked, "How did you know so much about that, if Bulma just had them once? Before, I mean."

"Twice, actually," Vegeta recalled, "You might not remember when she went into the hospital, and looked what your mother called 'well rested' three months later?"

"No, what happened?" Goten asked, morbidly intrigued.

"It did look painful. While her face healed, it was bruised in unusual colors, and swelled up just like Hercule's Buu," Vegeta recalled, "It was a joke at the time." There were no such lighthearted jokes anymore, he needn't add.

"Hey!" Goten protested, remembering just then, "After what she told Videl, me and Trunks went to a lot of trouble to get her that special water."

A glance brought a nervous laughter, but it somewhat broke the ice.

"What?" Vegeta asked at Goten's strange look when they were quiet.

"Once when you fought, I heard you say Yamcha-san wasn't good in bed," Goten asked, "How do you know?"

"She told me that long ago, and I believed her," Vegeta replied simply, but blinked. "Maybe she was just bitter. Do you have such a filthy mind?"

"You'll find out," Goten replied innocently, "Later, I guess."

"Cut it out, it's not gonna work," Vegeta affirmed stubbornly.

"Just curious," Goten retorted, "She also said you almost killed her. Not my business really, but I hope that was exaggerating."

Vegeta rolled his eyes impatiently. "I accidently broke her arm once. Is it dumb questions day?"

Goten shrugged. "Just wondering what I'm in for. You won't have that problem with me, though," he commented with a smirk at the other's expression.

Vegeta slumped. "Don't put me through too much hell."

"I'm the one about to go through hell," Goten reminded him, his perfect hindsight kicking himself.

"Not if it's done right," Vegeta encouraged.

Goten cringed. "Imagine what my mother would do if she thought she could. Problem is, the so-called 'specialists' have no idea what it's really like. They oughta be required to know firsthand, if they're so smart." He looked away, but Vegeta considered him.

"You have a point," he conceded, "I don't know what it's like, either. Maybe I should."

"I didn't mean you!" Goten declared, alarmed.

"Calm down." Vegeta stood to take a small, familiar bag from the desk. "Just one to see what it does, won't do the same to me."

Uneasily, Goten watched him dry-swallow one. "Alright, but don't forget," he warned him flatly, "I've seen you beaten to the edge of death before, not counting what you do to yourself and call it 'training', and never once did you complain about pain."

"Fair enough," Vegeta replied, and sat back down. "How long does it take?"

"About fifteen minutes," Goten replied warily, but Vegeta's confident refusal to be controlled reassured him.

They talked casually for some time, before Vegeta paused with a faint smile. "That is nice," he commented.

"I know, right?" Slowly, Goten enlaced him from behind.

"Taking advantage of me again, are we?" Vegeta teased, not sounding truly opposed to the idea.

"Just a little," Goten replied, glad for the opportunity to hold him. Knowing what effects kicked in when, for the time he did nothing more.

"I don't cringe when you touch me," Vegeta reflected aloud.

Goten blinked. "It's good to know I don't make you cringe," he replied flatly.

"Nah, I mean it's strange," Vegeta explained, "Usually I do, even when I know they mean no harm."

Goten was quiet for a moment. "Because you're more used to battle?"

"I don't know. It's just unusual."

Goten frowned. That would explain several things.

"Damn," Vegeta mumbled under his breath, "If I knew what that did, I'd've taken it instead of drinking."

"Vegeta!" Goten exclaimed reproachfully, "You're supposed to be observing. Like a scientist doing an experiment. In a… scary, unofficial way… you kind of are." It was probably a good thing that he hadn't witnessed what he'd done to the Gravity Room.

"I am observing," Vegeta replied calmly, "Though, what you're doing is an unforeseen, outside factor that may scew any empirical evidence."

Goten only smiled. "It can get empirical."

"Easy," Vegeta replied groggily, "Don't make me think."

"We should totally smoke a joint someday, Vegeta!" Goten declared, "…or maybe not," he corrected hastily at the former's slitted-eyed glance.

"You're incorrigible," Vegeta muttered, "Keep still, I'm trying to– observe."

"You're definitely 'observing,'" Goten assured him, stifling a grin.

"Hmph." Vegeta kept his eyes shut, allowing his head to rest back on Goten's shoulder. It was easy to see the gentle power of such a euphoria, and the way Goten's hand smoothly caressed him while his arms snaked around his chest, brought him another form of bliss.

Goten was tempted to bring them both to sleep thus, but knew better than to get that snowball rolling again. No one must suspect their intentions until he was safely eighteen, they'd agreed. He was doing nothing wrong, he thought defensively, carefully sliding his legs around Vegeta. He reclined them back on a large cushion, before going back to playing with his hair. No complaints was an unspoken green light, Goten had quickly learned.

He was letting himself be seduced to some measure, Vegeta realized. Perhaps Goten didn't know how easy it would be to make him crack if he wished, he thought, but knew he was true to his word. It was a quality he'd come to taking for granted in the Son men. The demi Saiyan's confidence had also taken a considerable blow, Vegeta sympathized, and he felt oddly secure with him. And perhaps something that was elusively more than secure.

It was more than a question of self confidence, he thought dryly at feeling Goten's hardened bulge poking him in the ass. He made a conscious effort not to move, casting the teen a furtive glance of reproach when the same happened to him.

"Sorry," Goten proclaimed helplessly, his cheeks matching the deep burgundy-colored cushion beneath him, "I can't help it."

"No big deal," Vegeta brushed off, "That happens to me a lot, for no reason."

"I noticed," Goten informed him with a smirk, "You have a reason now." He locked his legs around Vegeta's own, slowly stroking his knee with one hand. He kept the gesture on the border of innocence, with an occasional squeeze.

Vegeta kept still, exploring the contrasting, sleepy euphoria, and building desire. Damn, he's good, he silently recognized, settling into their cozily sexy cocoon.

At his senpai's approval, Goten tested his boundaries by slowly moving his hand to his thigh, just suggestive enough to make him squirm.

Vegeta reached down to sternly knock his hand away, but Goten was faster, trapping his legs and elbows, while his socked foot did the same. The former's intended reprimand dissolved like a sweet on his tongue, and he remained quiet. That was exciting as hell. Goten was showing him his power, an enticing challenge in such a naive way.

"You like it which way, or both?" Goten asked in a sultry way that gave him an idea of what the manga he'd seen in his hidden stash were about. What else could he expect from one such as Goten, who would make him very envied on the old planet?

"You'll find out later," Vegeta echoed his earlier retort with a faint smirk.

"Too late to be a hypocrite," Goten informed him, not about to let an opportunity slip away.

Vegeta seized his wrists by surprise, easily gaining the upper hand, and pinned him down firmly, his slanted dark glare alone making his head spin. "If I were a hypocrite, right now I'd suck you off so well you wouldn't know what hit you, then screw you into this couch so hard you couldn't breathe before you finally pass out. Or something like that, but we can look forward to it," he settled, before following through with a long, deep kiss that started out hard and aggressive, gradually softening at just the timing he liked and responded to so nicely.

At length, Goten's breathing slowed to normal, his blissfully shining eyes uncaring of his reddened mouth and messy hair, where Vegeta's hand was still entangled. Their eyes were peacefully closed, and Goten smiled faintly, wondering how he always seemed to know the answer.

Damn horny teenager will be the death of me, Vegeta thought drowsily, but his arms tightened possessively around him. After such a long, stressful day, that felt too nice.

-:-

After what seemed a considerably long time later, Vegeta's eyes opened lazily, then widely. He shook Goten's shoulder, who reluctantly awakened. "What time is it?" he demanded, careful to keep his voice down.

Goten pulled back one orange wristband, squinting at his sports watch. "About three a.m.," he reported, "We're okay."

Both sat up, relieved. "You're too comfortable," Vegeta muttered dryly, but in the dim lamplight noticed that the inside of his terrycloth wristband was heavily stained with dried blood, though he hadn't a scratch. He said nothing, but it wasn't difficult to guess what the senzu bean had also healed. "Yeah, we're okay," he instead agreed lightly, "The thought of being walked in on horrifies me. Before Earth, it could've meant immediate execution."

"Damn," Goten muttered, and paused. "What did you think of it?"

Vegeta thought about it, as it had mostly worn off by then. "I see why you took it, but it made me sleepy."

"That's normal," Goten reasoned, "You need some sleep, anyway."

"You're the one telling me that," Vegeta ironized.

Goten shrugged. "I'm used to it."

Vegeta contemplated the younger male. "I resented you halfbreeds, getting more powerful every generation so fast and easily… but I didn't think of your human sides. It seems to make you more affected by things than a fullblooded Saiyan. That just didn't happen to us." He paused and frowned. Did it?

Goten fidgeted idly, nodding. "You and my dad had years to get used to all that power… it's just too much to handle without losing my mind. It must be the same for Gohan and Trunks." Not exactly the same, he thought, and looked away. "Believe me, you got nothing to envy."

"Maybe you also need time, in a different way," Vegeta advised.

"Maybe," Goten agreed half-heartedly, annoyed at bearing the guise of a wimp in comparison.

Vegeta changed the subject. "I'll bring you the medecine tomorrow morning and evening." He hesitated. "Get some sleep, Goten. You can wake up late if you want."

"Will you sleep so easily?" Goten asked, doubting it.

"Eventually," Vegeta replied casually, knowing he would probably not.

Sensing the issue he was sidestepping, Goten advised, "Try reading. Sometimes that helps." He took a literature book from his backpack and handed it to him. "The class was boring, but this isn't bad." Vegeta accepted the book. Goten uneasily turned away at the awkwardness, hoping it would quickly disappear.

No less clumsily, Vegeta slid an arm around his chest. "At least try."

Goten clutched his arm, biting his lip. Why can't I sleep with you?

Vegeta's expressionless face darkened at the obvious question that needn't be spoken. "We'll figure it out."

Goten nodded stoicly, squeezing his hand. "Good night, Vegeta."

"Good night." Vegeta watched him quietly leave the office to the stairway. He gave the book an impatient glance, but brought it to his room anyway.

Willing himself to simply stop thinking, he changed into his sleepwear, and crawled under the covers.

Doubtful that Trunks' own habit of reading before bed would help, he opened the book, pausing curiously at the first page. It read:

'The Dance'

["I have sent you my invitation, the note inscribed on the palm of my hand by the fire of living. Don't jump up and shout, "Yes, this is what I want! Let's do it!" Just stand up quietly and dance with me.]

[Show me how you follow your deepest desires, spiralling down into the ache within the ache. And I will show you how I reach inward and open outward to feel the kiss of the Mystery, sweet lips on my own, everyday.]

[Don't tell me you want to hold the whole world in your heart. Show me how you turn away from making another wrong without abandoning yourself when you are hurt and afraid of being unloved.]

[Tell me a story of who you are, And see who I am in the stories I am living. And together we will remember that each of us always has a choice.]

[Don't tell me how wonderful things will be . . . some day. Show me you can risk being completely at peace, truly OK with the way things are right now in this moment, and again in the next and the next and the next. . .]

[I have heard enough warrior stories of heroic daring. Tell me how you crumble when you hit the wall, the place you cannot go beyond by the strength of your own will. What carries you to the other side of that wall, to the fragile beauty of your own humanness?]

[And after we have shown each other how we have set and kept the clear, healthy boundaries that help us live side by side with each other, let us risk remembering that we never stop silently loving those we once loved out loud.]

[Take me to the places on the earth that teach you how to dance, the places where you can risk letting the world break your heart. And I will take you to the places where the earth beneath my feet and the stars overhead make my heart whole again and again.]

[Show me how you take care of business without letting business determine who you are. When the children are fed but still the voices within and around us shout that soul's desires have too high a price, let us remind each other that it is never about the money.]

[Show me how you offer to your people and the world the stories and the songs you want our children's children to remember, and I will show you how I struggle not to change the world, but to love it.]

[Sit beside me in long moments of shared solitude, knowing both our absolute aloneness and our undeniable belonging. Dance with me in the silence and in the sound of small daily words, holding neither against me at the end of the day.]

[And when the sound of all the declarations of our sincerest intentions has died away on the wind, dance with me in the infinite pause before the next great inhale of the breath that is breathing us all into being, not filling the emptiness from the outside or from within.]

[Don't say, "Yes!" Just take my hand and dance with me."]

(from "The Dance : Moving to the Rhythms of Your True Self", by Oriah Mountain Dreamer)

Vegeta blinked, and slowly reread the passage. Its intended artistic effect was mostly lost on him, but some of the words were not.

An almost eery recognition, like some obscure mirror, compelled him to read on. The rest was similar, as far as he could read before his eyes became tired, and he set the book aside to shut off his lamp.

Still it was that he stared at his dark ceiling, unable to shake his thoughts of the fateful day. Somehow, Goten knew him in a way no one ever had; perhaps they each recognized a part of himself in the other.

How easily he'd fallen asleep beside him, accidentally on a couch that was not very comfortable. Despite the day's weariness, he was tempted go and bring Goten back regardless.

Vegeta tossed and turned restlessly every several minutes, before the lingering traces of the pill finally tugged his eyelids shut. Though he would never tell Goten, the mysterious medecine was the reason he managed to sleep at all that night.

-:-

The rest of Capsule Corp seemed to agree with the future couple on a late morning. It was the weekend after all, with no particular plans for anyone.

Seeing Goten still sound asleep at eleven, Trunks stepped out quietly for his shower, returning a few minutes later in a fresh change of clothes.

Hearing the door squeak open, Goten awoke groggily, rubbing his eyes as he sat up.

"About time, lazybones," Trunks greeted cheerfully, "What time did you get in?"

"Dunno, but some birds were singing," Goten recalled, stretching his feet for his slippers, "I fell asleep on the couch."

Trunks grinned and snapped his towel at him. "I believe it. Get your butt to the shower so we can go eat."

"Isn't that my line?" Goten mumbled, but left to do so.

He reemerged quickly, also in a fresh change of clothes as he rubbed his hair dry. Mrs. Briefs called them down to brunch, happy to see them appear promptly.

There wasn't much conversation with three grown Saiyans before plates of food, and Bra was catching on well.

Bulma had been studying Goten thoughtfully, trying to understand what was amiss. "How are things, Goten?" she inquired.

"Fine," he replied after a last gulp of tea, "Just pretty rusty."

"I know your drill sergeant has that base covered," she specified dryly, "I meant in general, since you didn't look well yesterday."

Goten shifted uneasily, appearing nervous. "Just tired of school. I'm glad it's over soon, for good."

Bulma nodded, she herself disapproving of ChiChi's agreement, but dismissed it. "I hope you'll be inviting Renshen. She'd make you a good little wife, you know."

Goten shrunk back in his chair. "If you like. But we're only friends now."

Her mouth dropped open. "What? She friend-zoned you?"

"Mom!" Trunks objected with a sharp glance, while Vegeta maintained his uninterested allure.

"No, it was mutual," Goten replied, "We just didn't want to ruin a good friendship."

Bulma shook her head, believing to understand, but Mrs. Briefs encouraged, "Give him time, dear, they're still young. Don't you agree, Vegeta?"

He looked up, surprised to be asked his opinion. "Not really my business, but your system of mate selection is faulty."

Bulma rolled her eyes. "I suppose you could find him a better one?"

"Probably," Vegeta replied calmly, reminding Trunks and Goten, "Be ready at one o'clock."

-:-

When the meal was over and the family had dispersed, Goten waited by the office door as they'd agreed, pacing. Come on!

Shortly, Vegeta arrived, beckoning for him to enter. Goten complied in haste, closing the door behind them. The room was much smaller than the main office by the lab, and it had been agreed that Vegeta would be using it for the time being.

He handed the demi Saiyan a small water bottle and the now lesser dose of pills, which he swallowed in one fast, accustomed gulp. "Thank you," he sighed with relief.

Vegeta frowned at his shaking fingers that clutched the sides of his gi pants, and beads of sweat that dripped from his hairline. "You need to take it earlier," he observed, "Wait until the drunk phase passes."

"Stoned," Goten corrected irritably, and flopped down on the couch.

Vegeta watched his fingers clawing into his knees. "What exactly happens if you don't take it?"

"Like I want to jump out of my skin, kick whatever's there, and ultimately self-destruct," Goten clarified, wiping the sweat from his brow.

Vegeta nodded soberly, waiting for him to relax as the molecule faithfully kicked in. This was not good.

"Guess I'm the only one dumb enough to fall into such a trap," Goten muttered dully, "Bulma and my mother took the same thing and didn't, and the rest of you, it never crossed your minds."

"They made her sick," Vegeta explained, "But I think everyone has some kind of escape."

That confirmed Goten's suspicion, as he'd noticed more sprains and wraps than usual. "My dad said you've been overdoing it again. That's why you had a senzu bean?"

Vegeta nodded. For the next half hour, he discretely observed Goten while thinking. "You seem calm now, but not all bizarre like I was last night," he finally commented.

"I rarely get a buzz anymore," Goten explained, "It just keeps me from being miserable." He scowled at how awful that sounded spoken aloud, and stood to look out the window at CC's professionally sculpted lawn.

Vegeta joined him. "I won't let you go through that," he promised, hesitating. "Did you sleep well, at least?"

Goten made a so-so gesture with his hand. "You?"

"Same," Vegeta replied, lowering his voice, "I regretted not bringing you back with me."

"Why didn't you?" Goten asked sullenly.

Vegeta sighed with exasperation, disliking repeating himself. "Like I've had time to think. I told you, I didn't believe it would actually happen. Ever, even less right now."

"Like winning the lottery?" Goten reflected.

"Similar," Vegeta agreed, "I wonder what you would do with all that money. Blow it all on passing whims, invest it, or what?"

"Dunno, but I'd share it," Goten pointed out innocently.

"Subtle," Vegeta commented dryly, but accepted his tentative embrace. Again, the unseen whirlpool of energies between them turned his insides to liquid. "Why do you make me such a mess?"

Goten smiled lightly, stroking his cheek. "A mess is right." He paused. "I'm never sure what you'll let me do," he explained, "I can respect your limit, but I don't know where it is."

"Me, neither," Vegeta acknowledged, knowing also that it was give an inch, take a mile.

"Yeah, but you know we can sleep in the same bed with no problem." Goten scowled. "Is it really like I have to twist your arm?"

Vegeta's eyes narrowed to call his nonsense. "Don't you think your absence will be noticed? If you have an idea, say so."

"It would help if I knew what we can do," Goten moodily pointed out.

Vegeta considered his point of view, understanding how easily he felt rejected. He himself saw life in how patterns appeared, and was thrown off course by impetuous ways that deviated from them. "Well, what's missing otherwise?"

"Nothing specific." Goten's voice returned to its usual, subdued timbre. "I just hate an invisible leash pulled like it's something bad. At least learn to trust me."

"Baka," Vegeta scoffed, but traced his fingers through his hair. He liked the softness of his shaggy, untamed locks, a nice contrast to what was lower down, and far from soft. "What are you thinking about?"

Goten's nails dug into his back. "You, fucking me like a slut right now."

"Nice." Vegeta's eyes began to cloud with lust. "I can promise you that." Unexpectedly, he shoved him against the wall for a heated makeout which they'd wanted all night.

Goten's kiss alone merited an X-rating, and he did not want to end what he'd yearned for for so long. The next step would be too easy to take, and felt too natural.

Sensing it, Vegeta slowed them down, but smiled at what he was indeed looking forward to. As much as he'd insisted that it could not be a constant habit for them, it was unrealistic to not expect. They could surely find a happy medium somewhere.

Knowing what the rest of the Z-gang would think, Goten liked Vegeta's sophistication, who in turn found the demi Saiyan's innocence intriguing.

"I'm tempted to ask if I can read those manga in your stash… please say no…" Vegeta told him, "I wanted to laugh, how quickly you hid them. Your face looked just like some guy in a film I saw, who threw himself on a live grenade to save his platoon."

"… You don't think you're exaggerating, just a little?"

"No." Vegeta grinned at his expression, his rare humor becoming catching.

"Well, it's embarassing. But it's okay with me," Goten replied. He sat down and reached for his hand, quickly finding himself curled up in his lap. He made Vegeta late to the Gravity Room, he later noted with satisfaction.

-:-

A couple of hours into their workout, the prince called for a break to tell the demis that Trunks was to take his and Goten's practice from there, so that he himself could squeeze in his more intense workout alone.

Trunks had been discretely observing Goten, trying to figure out the reason for his landslide drop in skill and coordination. He was accustomed to his occasional laziness, but it was clear that it wasn't the case. He also tried not to show the offense he still took despite himself, that his best friend still refused to tell him why. His father had learned by chance, he'd said, which was unsurprising. The stranger thing was why he thought it was for him to take care of, when Goku had been covering for him all year. Without a doubt, they'd learned by chance as well. Even Gohan hadn't a clue. Trunks reminded himself to be patient, knowing that more questions would just set off his unusual moodiness again.

Goten could not help his annoyance at this exclusion, as well as being led to train outdoors. After all that Vegeta had been insisting on a higher gravity tactic, he'd changed his mind as though it were out of his league. For the moment, he said nothing. Anyway, it would pick up again later on, so he and Trunks continued sparring outside to enjoy the pleasant weather.

On Vegeta's part, he needed to burn off steam as always, and to not think. Often, his best ideas stemmed from his workouts, and right now, he needed both.

Barely an hour of what his family called his solo-masochism had passed when the doorbell chimed. Focused on a technique that was complicated even for himself, he ignored it, but it rang insistently several more times. The distraction caused him to land on his already sprained wrist, cursing.

"No one can answer the damn door here?!" he yelled down the corridor, but the place was otherwise empty. Irritated, he grabbed his face towel and strode to the front door, swearing to himself that this had better be important.

He was unamused to find Renshen waiting patiently outside. "Goten's still training," he informed her less than patiently, his voice tinged with disdain.

"Yes, I know," she replied politely, hesitating, "Actually, it's you I was hoping to talk to, Mr. Briefs."

"That's the woman's name, and we aren't married," he told her flatly, "I'm Vegeta."

"Okay… Vegeta-san," Ren corrected herself, unsurprised by his animosity, "It can wait, if this is a bad time."

Not knowing what to consider a better time, Vegeta waved for her to enter, mainly out of curiosity. He took two cans from the refrigerator and set one aside for her, opening his own for a long swallow.

"Thank you." Ren accepted the kitchen chair he kicked out for her. She did not care for soft drinks, but opened the can anyway to not offend him, taking a sip of the fizzy lemon drink.

Vegeta sat down and shot the girl a suspicious glance. "Why do you want to talk to me?"

Ren sensed it best to get to the point. "You know now I'm only a friend of Goten's, right?"

"So it appears," Vegeta replied neutrally.

"When he first brought me here to introduce me as his girlfriend, that was also the case," she continued, "Which I guess you know now, too?"

"That's what he said," Vegeta confirmed in feigned confusion, "Why are you telling me this?"

Renshen took a deep breath. "He doesn't know I'm talking to you, and probably won't be too happy about it. Sometimes I wish it had worked out for real for us. It just didn't. But I'm still his friend, and I've been worried since school started, because it's clear something's wrong. He won't tell me, or anyone I know of. I'm hoping at least you know?"

The fullblooded Saiyan considered her a bit differently, yet was puzzled. "I get your concern, but what do you think makes me any different, and why the pretension? I don't see the point."

She raised an eyebrow. "Can I speak frankly?"

"Please do," he replied satirically, losing patience again.

"I knew 'uncle' was an honorific title. It seemed like a lot of trouble, since you don't strike me as someone who gets into anyone else's business. Goten obviously cares a lot what you think, and he never looked at me the way he looks at you. Am I wrong there?"

Vegeta studied Ren, who this time wore casual, loose-fitting long shorts and a t-shirt, with her hair clipped back simply. She spoke seriously, and sounded more intelligent than on his first impression. "What do you mean?" he asked, knowing that Goten had never told anyone anything concerning them, ever.

"You're the one he loves, aren't you?" she affirmed rather than asked, yet her voice had softened understandingly, if a bit hollow.

He looked up sharply, his face astounded and indignant. "Do you realize what you're saying?" he demanded.

"Hey, it's cool," Ren assured him quickly, "If you love him, maybe it'll be okay." She hesitated. "…Do you?"

Vegeta glared angrily, in a wordless demand of who she thought she was. "So what if I do or don't?" he demanded in a calm, quiet voice that was more chilling than his anger.

"That isn't… my worry, Vegeta-san," Ren carefully levelled with him, "If he's happy, that's great. I just think there's something else. I won't tell anyone, or ask you to betray a confidence. Just to tell me if you can help." She watched him, nervously wary.

Vegeta was quiet for a moment, frankly surprised at her honesty and lack of criticism or mockery, as she seemed to have known for quite some time. He reconsidered her, and nodded. "I'm doing what I can."

"Thanks," she sighed, relieved, "That's all I wanted to hear."

"You're more mature than I thought," Vegeta acknowledged.

"That means a lot if you think so," Ren told him thoughtfully, hesitating, "I wasn't sure of your origin, so Goten told me. I'm sorry about your island being destroyed."

"Isl–?" Vegeta began, then brushed off, "It was long ago."

She seemed to accept that. "It's strange, though. You and Mr. Son don't look much older than us."

"Genetic things," he shrugged off, scrutinizing her slender frame which lacked in much muscle tone. Her ki was quiet and restrained, but she had guts. "I assume you don't study any martial arts."

"No, I'm afraid not," she replied, guessing this to be a default in his eyes, "Which one is yours?"

Vegeta had not seen any Earth martial art like his own, except the Kame school in some ways. "I don't have a preferred style," he replied vaguely.

"Mixed Martial Arts?" she guessed, "It's what my brother does."

"Something like that," he settled, his opinion of her grudgingly moving up to a wary tolerance.

At that moment, they heard a key turning in the lock, signaling Bulma and her parents returning with Bra from the toddler's park.

Vegeta cast a piercing glance at Ren, who nodded with a zipping motion over her mouth.

"There you are, Ren, it's great to see you!" Bulma greeted with a delighted smile.

"Good afternoon, Bulma-san," Ren replied with a returned smile.

"Sounds like you discovered Vegeta's favorite subject," Dr. Briefs commented, chuckling. "Told you she'd be back soon," he reminded his daughter.

Mrs. Briefs put on tea and unwrapped a new pastry box, and the three women talked cheerfully.

Seeing the towel around his neck, Bra climbed onto Vegeta's knee. "Hey, do I get to train with you?" she wanted to know.

Vegeta patted her head. "Sure. Get changed, and wait outside with the boys." So much for his own time that day, he resigned with an exasperated glance at the clock.

Trunks and Goten looked in curiously at the wait and the sound of talking. "I thought you were stopping by later," Goten said to Ren.

"Yeah, but I was in town and thought I'd wait. Is that okay?" she asked with a glance of apprehension at the others present.

"Of course it's okay," Mrs. Briefs smoothed over, "You can visit with us until their practice is done. You're staying for dinner, I hope?"

Ren smiled uneasily, but glanced questioningly at Goten.

"Guess so," Goten replied, looking confused.

"Sure," Trunks confirmed, picking up his little sister. "Come on, squirt, in uniform," he told her with a wave at Ren, "Later."

Vegeta followed, once out of earshot muttering to Goten, "Careful. I don't know how, but she knows."

Goten paled, covering his face. /The gods hate me./

-:-

As chilled out as Vegeta had been around him lately, Goten had marveled, during practice, he was as strictly no-nonsense as always. He expected no less from Trunks and himself than all they had, and Goten was no exception now. Vegeta had always encouraged power struggles, which had not changed. Also, the former did not want to disappoint him any more than he knew he would. The session had been exceptionally gruelling that day, or perhaps it just appeared so, as out of the loop as the youngest Son had become.

Now he looked up from flat on the floor, sweating with his teeth bared furiously at how easily Trunks had knocked him down. The variable tactic he'd used had always before destabilized the other demi Saiyan. He sprang back up, albeit less agile than before, determined for a better outcome as he faced who was nothing but his sensei in this context.

"You'll just have to do better." Vegeta's piercing black eyes were as pitiless as his words.

"I'm trying!" Goten snapped, not caring about etiquette this time.

"Try harder," was the prince's retort, following up with an attack that threw him no favors.

Goten began to understand Vegeta's plight of early years firsthand. He counter-attacked with full effort, finding himself battling in retreat again, to his dismay. iWhat the actual fuck!/i he swore to himself, ignoring the sweat that dripped into his face.

A last-ditch effort to parry what was to be Vegeta's coup de grace earned him enough space, like a large, invisible bubble-shield, to begin the counter-attack that ran through his blood. A concentrated ball of ki that was the intention of every fiber of his being, formed instinctively in his hands, which must be nothing other than precise. This was what he dreaded, putting literally all he had in a tactic, with the terrible possibility of it not being enough. But it must be.

"KAAA– MEEE- HAA– MEE–!" Knowing it to be Vegeta's strategical weakness, he sprang an attack with his explosive ki blast backed by chudan punches to the midsection, and a triple spin kick. He feinted the first two, with an unexpected, powerful third kick to the chest. The prince routinely dodged it, grasping his ankle with a seeming effortlessness, and sent him crashing to the floor. His Super Saiyan glow faded dejectedly.

"It's time to call it a day," Vegeta crisply announced the end of their session, looking on grimly while a heavily bruised-up Goten swore a blue streak under his breath.

"NO! It's not 'a day!' It can't end for me, like… that!" Goten hissed through his teeth, ignoring the fact that the sun had begun to set. He banged a fist on the ground in livid frustration, before standing up disgustedly.

Trunks signaled his exit to his father, before slipping into the adjoining showers. He wasn't about to be in the middle of that.

Finding them alone with only the beginning chirp of cicadas, Goten turned his back sullenly, still fuming. Vegeta waited in stoic silence.

"I can't believe it!" Goten ranted, when his fury had calmed sufficiently to speak without blowing something up. "That wave was all I fucking had! And all my dad could say was, it was 'no big deal,' and a break was okay. It's obviously not okay!" He folded his arms, staring dully into the distance.

"Well," Vegeta reasoned, "If he had insisted, would that have changed your mind?"

Goten's mouth was pinched tightly in grim silence, knowing it would have made no difference. Finally, his voice lowered. "I know damn well it's my own fault, Vegeta. But now, when my best effort isn't good enough… no, it's not okay. It's not even remotely okay."

Vegeta internally cringed at hearing his own echo, knowing that there was nothing he could say to remedy the situation.

Another long silence passed, before the demi Saiyan announced, "I want the dose lowered faster."

"I understand, but that's not a good idea," Vegeta warned sharply.

Goten threw his hands in the air. "So what IS a good idea, train with Bra since she can't beat me up yet?"

"It's supposed to be every two or three days," Vegeta reminded him impatiently, "You looked sick today when it was just a few hours later than usual.

"Yeah, but I'm fine now," Goten argued stubbornly, "If I can handle this, a little less won't hurt. It's like it's not even worth the bother to train."

Vegeta sighed. "Goten, you've been under permanent anesthesia for almost a year. Your balance is off, and you're not used to it anymore. That's the real point of your training for now."

"Exactly." Goten turned to face him. "It's like I was already dead. But even if part of me still thinks it's too good to be true, I got a second chance. Don't you think it's at least worth a try?"

"Is that what it's really about?" the native Saiyan inquired, "Do you think I expect you to be back in shape overnight?"

Goten said nothing, quite aware of how Vegeta saw weakness in general.

The latter's silence matched his own for a thoughtful moment. "Alright, Goten," he conceded, "If that's what you really want, we can try. But one sign of it going wrong, it's back to the original system." His voice trailed off in a tone of warning.

Goten nodded. "Understood."

"It isn't as bad as some cases I read about," Vegeta informed him, "Many humans have stayed that way for years. Imagine how much harder it would be for them, if they still cared, or even survived it." Seeing that Goten was at least thinking, he added, "You aren't too far gone, you know."

Goten offered a forced smile, acknowledging his effort to encourage him.

"Get cleaned up," Vegeta closed the conversation, "You'll see."

Goten followed him to the changing room. Billows of steam from the showers, and the smell of soap and muscle gel were familiar, welcome signs of a long day's end. He peeled off his sweaty uniform and stepped into a shower stall, turning up the water's heat to his level of satisfaction. In another stall, he heard Vegeta doing the same. As usual, the water seemed to carry the tensions of sore muscles and overthinking down the drain with the sweat and soap suds.

He dried himself and stepped out to change, feeling admittedly lighter.

Trunks stepped out in turn a moment later. He was late to finish because he'd picked up the angry yelling, mostly from Goten, and the bits he'd been able to hear were alarming:

- "my dad… not okay!"

- "not a good idea… even survived it…"

- "second chance… worth a try?"

- "one sign of it going wrong…"

Trunks frowned. Something was indeed wrong. He decided to just remain attentive, hoping to find out somehow. The possibility seemed unlikely, and the whole scenario was downright creepy.

-:-

When the last plate was cleared away, Ren politely lent a hand to clean up the kitchen, before joining the demi Saiyans in the spacious living room.

"What'd I miss?" She set a pile of snacks on the low table, before joining Goten and Trunks in front of their TV series.

"Less than me," Goten replied, lost in the storyline after missing a whole season.

"They finally got through the wormhole," Trunks filled Goten in, "Of course, the Azvo did all they could to screw them up, but they got through by a secret cave that blocked their signals. They lived there for almost two years, and left when the Emperor gave them up for dead." To Ren, he added, "Just what happened last time."

They watched in rapt silence, though Goten no longer found the series as interesting as before. He could, however, relate to the difficulty of living under the radar for so long.

When the credits rolled, Trunks smiled at them uneasily. He was sure he picked up something new in the girl's attitude toward Goten. Doubtless, she was as thrown off by his friend's wierdness as himself, he decided. "Well, I gotta finish my history paper," Trunks excused himself as he stood.

"You'll breeze right through it," Goten commented.

"Yeah, but I hate waiting til the last minute," he told them lightly, "Later." He was halfway up the stairway before either could reply.

An expected pause of trepidant discomfort hovered around them. Whereas Goten often let tension build up around an issue until someone reacted, he hated it done to himself.

He finally spoke up to clear it. "So, I guess you know now."

Ren hesitated, then nodded. "He told you I talked to him, then?" She looked to the direction of the small office where Vegeta had gone, as though she could see through the walls.

Aware that half the time, Vegeta used that office as another refuge, Goten replied, "We haven't talked yet, he just said you knew." He frowned, puzzled. "It's impossible that anyone told you, so how did you know?"

"I just thought it was wierd," Ren admitted, "It made no sense at first, and… sorry, but the atmosphere spoke for itself."

"How do you mean?"

She lowered her voice. "You told me before you also like guys. I never would've thought it was him, except you said he was the one who was supposed to notice our show. To be honest, I didn't quite believe your story, and he looked at me like he hated my guts. You refused to come here until now, and I saw how you always looked at each other."

Goten stared at her incredulously. "How?"

"Sneaky," she specified, "But different now." At his horrified look, she asked, "You don't think I'd tell anyone?"

"No," Goten acknowledged warily, adding in warning, "You better not." His pulse raced. Geez Kami, who else knew?

"Really," Ren drawled sarcastically, but paused. "How do you work that out, since you aren't eighteen yet?" she wondered aloud.

"Don't matter to me, but he wants to wait for anything serious," Goten confided reluctantly.

"Dang," she sympathized, but reasoned, "He's right, though. You wouldn't wanna cause him any trouble, would you?"

"No," Goten replied defensively, but studied her in thought. "You don't look shocked or anything. But thanks for not calling me jailbait and a homewrecker."

"It's… unusual," Ren agreed, "I mean, damn. But if you're happy, that's what counts."

"Is that why you talked to him?" he inquired.

She hesitated at the strained subject. "Yes and no. I just wanted to be sure everything was okay."

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Goten scowled that such a thing should be so transparent, now beginning to worry about what else was.

"You'd rather nobody cared?" Ren pointed out, "You're lucky you don't have my mom."

Goten raised an eyebrow. "I think everybody would agree with you about that."

She snickered. "I guess so." The mood had lightened, as it had once been. Despite her regret that a relationship hadn't worked out for them, she would not have wanted it as a rebound, not to mention the indignity of being his second choice. Ren left Capsule Corp that evening with an odd mix of relief and sadness. Things happened as they did for a good reason, she'd been taught. Though she didn't always agree, right now she had to believe it.

-:-

As soon as Ren had left and no one could see, Goten hurried into the office for his new routine.

Vegeta watched her leave from the window. "You seriously never once slept with her?" he wondered aloud.

"No," Goten replied, "Why, I should've?"

"I didn't say that," Vegeta commented lightly.

"So you don't think she's a hoe anymore?"

"Huh?"

"A slut," Goten clarified. The jealousy trip had served its purpose, but it now disturbed him.

"It was nothing personal," Vegeta replied, closing the subject.

"Well, who was your first?" Goten wondered aloud.

"No one you've met," Vegeta dodged it, knowing the person in question had without a doubt given his brother a bad opinion of his bloodline.

"I figured that," Goten retorted dryly, "You probably won't tell me, but how old were you?"

"You're right, I won't." Vegeta was getting used to his out of nowhere questions.

Goten grinned. "You weren't eighteen yet, were you?"

"Close enough," Vegeta lied, regretting having aborded the topic.

"Yeah, I get it." Goten smirked triumphantly, finding himself skilled at reading between the lines.

"You Earthlings always go on about cultural tolerance," Vegeta settled impatiently, "I'm from space, give me a break."

Goten smiled innocently. "Hey, no problem from me." He silenced him with a soft kiss and a knowing smile before leaving the office, still smiling.

Vegeta winced at the broken contact, which almost literally hurt. He blinked, muttering to himself, "…the death of me."

-:-

As Goten had confidently promised, the next few days passed smoothly, as his residual rustiness in practice began to taper off. Though he'd been skeptical, Vegeta was pleased by his progress.

Trunks, however, could not shake an insistent sense of foreboding and suspicion. Perhaps suspicion was a strong word for what was simply bizarre, yet inhabitually so.

Each night, Goten set a small water bottle on his nightstand for the next morning. School had been out for weeks, but he still awoke at seven before going back to sleep.

One morning at the hour, Trunks feigned sleep to see his father slip into his room, quietly so as not to wake him. He shook Goten's shoulder, who awoke to accept something placed in his hand. His back was turned to him, but he could see his hand brought to his mouth before taking a drink of water. Vegeta patted his back and left, and it was the same ritual every morning. He was clearly swallowing something, but what kind of medecine could a Saiyan possibly need? Trunks began to genuinely worry. Had he caught some rare illness, and chose not to tell anyone?

Sometimes, Goten stepped into the hallway with his water, to return a few moments later. Either way, Trunks didn't like it. Yet, nothing seemed to be wrong with the other demi Saiyan; if anything, he was improving.

Then, one afternoon while playing video games, Goten suddenly dropped his controller. He'd broke into a sweat, his face red and feverish, while his hands and limbs visibly trembled. He made a visible effort to keep his cool, but his fists were clenched in tight resistance.

"Goten?" Trunks asked in confusion, "What can I do?" The former had been a bit jumpy, which he'd chalked up to the game.

"Vegeta," Goten managed, and leaned forward on his rubbery knees.

Trunks ran off immediately in search of his father, predictably finding him in the Gravity Room. An instant later, both appeared in Trunks' room. The latter watched anxiously, while Vegeta took one look at him, nodding grimly.

"What's the hell's wrong with him?!" Trunks blurted, his indignance pushed aside for momentary concern.

"Later," Vegeta replied impatiently, adding, "Bring him to the other spare room in my suite for now."

"What are you doing?" Goten asked when each took one of his arms.

Trunks helped drag him to the other single room. They pulled off Goten's sneakers, and tucked him under the covers of one of the neatly made twin beds.

"Just get some cold water and a rag," Vegeta instructed calmly. Trunks complied, leaving Vegeta with other demi Saiyan.

"No, it's too hot!" Goten complained, kicking away the covers they'd pulled up.

Vegeta tucked them firmly back in place. "I told you, it was too fast," he declared, uselessly at this point. The next instant, Goten began shivering, curling into a ball, and clutched the covers around himself.

Quickly while they were alone, Vegeta produced the small bag he'd wisely kept hidden in the Gravity Room, shaking out what was to be his dose that evening. "Swallow, hurry." He listened for Trunks' quiet footsteps.

Goten washed them down without question, and curled back up beneath the covers.

Trunks appeared promptly with the requested items, worried beyond his stoic face, with his mother in tow. She had also been puzzled, trying to figure out what was up, with hundreds of possibilities in her mind.

"Oh my God!" she exclaimed at the sight of Goten, "Vegeta, he's sick!" She took the cold rag and mopped Goten's face, then placed it on his forehead. That actually was a great idea, and Goten pressed it gladly to his face.

"Yeah no shit," Vegeta muttered sarcastically, flustered by their panic, "But not the way you think."

"Like what, then?" Trunks asked in bewilderment, "Gohan told me about the heart virus Goku caught once, that not even a senzu bean would touch. That story of how he survived it was vague. Tell me the truth, is it something like that?" Trunks' face was pinched, but pale.

"Not at all," Vegeta assured him, though neither were reassured. "If he wants to tell you, he will."

"What the hell's got into you?" Bulma demanded, "That's not the kind of 'secret' you can agree to keep! Is that what Goku and ChiChi also refused to tell us?"

"Indeed," Vegeta replied, refreshing the rag, "There is a good reason. Do you really think they would put their son's health in danger?"

She shook her head impatiently. "That's what I can't believe," she declared, "Why would he tell you of all people, and why would they leave you in charge of him? Either tell me what's going on, or I'm calling a doctor like someone should have done long ago."

"He didn't tell me, I found out. And he already has one," Vegeta informed them, "Right now, there's nothing more the doctor could do than us."

"I don't believe you," she stated firmly. Like Trunks, she kept a wary eye on Goten, who was slowly calming back down.

Vegeta took the said doctor's business card from his pocket, and placed it in her hand. "Call him, if that will satisfy you. But he won't break confidentiality."

Trunks took the card from her and stepped out, and she followed immediately.

Vegeta sighed wearily when they'd left, sitting on the side of the bed. After a moment of silence, he told Goten in a lowered voice, "I kept my promise, but maybe letting Trunks know is only fair. Think about it."

Goten nodded, keeping his eyes shut. He could not think of much at the moment.

Vegeta brushed back part of his hair that was stuck to his face. "Try to rest like you're supposed to," he encouraged.

"But I'm fine now." Goten sat up, trying to ignore the alternating sweats and chills.

Vegeta pushed him back down with one finger. "That wasn't a request." He tucked the covers back into place again. Goten did not truly have an argument with that, and both were silent.

Over half an hour passed before Bulma and Trunks returned, this time with Goku. Instant Transmission was a handy skill at any time. The former two looked perplexed at having heard first the doctor, then Goku, confirm what Vegeta had said.

The latter, who'd also shut his eyes with his arms folded in thought, looked up. "That's cleared up, then?"

"For you," Bulma retorted crisply, "Since you're apparently in charge of this mess." She turned on one sandaled foot and left. Trunks followed her, with a last questioning look behind him.

Sensing his father's ki, Goten opened his eyes while Vegeta gave him the short version of the story. He'd put in as much practice as himself, but tried to drop too fast, and had finally collapsed.

"He's impatient," Goku agreed, "Are you feeling better, Goten?"

"Slowly," Goten replied, "Just tired now."

Goku nodded, seeing the situation under control. "They sounded awfully panicked, though. They wouldn't be if they knew."

Vegeta glanced at Goten. "His decision."

"Not that I don't understand," Goku replied ambivalently, already wondering what to say to ChiChi.

"How's Mom?" Goten asked, guessing his thought. To his relief, conversation shifted to lighter subjects, until he dropped back off to his nap.

Seeing that the demi Saiyan drifted in and out of a fitful sleep, the other two stood by the window to talk.

"I'm doing my best, Kakarot," Vegeta told him, seeing himself literally stuck between two worlds, "I guess I hoped what he thought he could do was possible."

Goku watched him thoughtfully, unable to help a bit of jealousy. He was there for his youngest son in hopes of making up for his initial absence, as he'd been determined, yet in some way, he wasn't. Goten had still turned to Vegeta, as Gohan had to Piccolo. Yet, something was different. He pushed his thoughts aside, useless now anyway. "Maybe you're just better placed to help him now."

Vegeta cast him a sharp glance, unable to guess what he meant, before remembering who he was talking to. "Maybe. Some things are aside from the duties of a parent."

"I know, Vegeta," he replied cheerfully, glancing at a clock on the nightstand. "I should be going. ChiChi doesn't know I left."

Vegeta nodded with a glance at Goten. "Do you–?"

"Nah, don't wake him up," Goku cut in, "Catch you later." He placed two fingers to his forehead, and vanished.

"How in the hell does he do that?" Vegeta muttered to himself.

"I wish I knew," Goten replied in a bored voice.

"You aren't asleep?"

"Trying." Goten shifted restlessly. "It makes me less nervous."

Vegeta frowned, examining his eyes. "Isn't it helping? If not, you'll have to go back and slow down."

"I don't know yet." Goten looked pained, his disappointment evident.

Vegeta nodded grimly. "Try to sleep a little, then we'll see." He leaned down for a stolen kiss before leaving, shutting the door behind him.

Goten's eyes closed with a faint smile, and he let himself dream. That helped.

-:-

Trunks remained quietly out of sight, but waited in his father's suite. Find out, his mother had tersely insisted. He would, as he'd promised; but first, there was something that he absolutely had to know. Following his gut instinct, he waited for the one person who could answer: Goku.

Knowing he would learn nothing new from their conversation, he paced, impatient for the fullblooded Saiyan to pass through the hallway.

Sensing the latter's ki disappear from the modest spare room, Trunks let himself out an opened hallway window. He flew at full tilt toward the familiar, large mountain near the Sons' home, where he picked up the other's ki. His thoughts were racing faster than he could fly, which he could not even formulate into a question.

Who am I? a small voice in the back of his mind asked, which did not help.

He was not actually in a hurry, but was compelled to get away from his thoughts for a moment's respite.

When he saw the small dome house below, Trunks floated down. ChiChi was hanging out laundry, humming a song that was stuck in her head.

"Hello, ChiChi-san," he greeted politely, "Is Goku-san here?"

She turned with a kind smile. "Hi, Trunks. He's around here somewhere." She dropped a few clothespins into her basket, and led him to the side yard. Her smile faded when she saw Goku seated on the ground, watching clouds in thought. "Maybe the grass will get mowed sometime this century," she commented dryly.

Goku looked back and stood up, grinning. "I'll get to it. Just thinking."

"Saved by a visit, for now," ChiChi told him, shaking her head as she went back to the clothesline.

"What's up, Trunks?" Goku asked casually.

"Actually, I was hoping to talk to you, but I didn't get a chance," the demi Saiyan replied uncomfortably.

"Is everything okay?" Goku asked, puzzled. It wasn't like Trunks to look so perturbed.

The latter hesitated. "Once, Gohan told me about a wierd heart virus you had, and miraculously survived," he began, "Was it genetic?"

Goku frowned. "No. Why do you ask?"

Trunks looked at his feet before venturing, "Will you tell me the truth about that story?"

Goku was quiet for a moment, choosing his words carefully. "I'm sorry, but that'd be hard to do, Trunks."

"Why?" Trunks asked, bewildered, "Please, you gotta tell me what happened!"

Goku felt a stab of guilt at his obvious worry, but tried to help. "You don't still think Goten has the same thing, do you? I can promise you he don't. It's just a thing that's uncomfortable and embarassing to him."

The purple-haired prince sighed wearily. "I don't know what to think." He hesitated. "Everything's weird. I mean okay, my dad's in charge of whatever treatment it is. But they talk a lot, and… I don't know." He scowled, frustrated at having no solid question.

"Well, it's still a hard thing to deal with," Goku replied, but studied him thoughtfully, "What's wierd?"

"I don't know, but…" Perhaps his two concerns at once were making him paranoid, he thought. "How did you survive that, if it was incurable?"

Goku hesitated at his turn. "There was no cure for it in our world. A young person from another… well, time-world… brought the medecine from there, where it did exist."

Trunks stared at him, feeling his heart knock at his ribs. "That's weird. I want to specialize in quantum physics."

Goku smiled. "That's not too surprising."

"Why?" Trunks asked.

"The traveller was a lot like you," Goku replied. His smile faded. He hadn't thought of Trunks' future double lately, and he tried not to. For his own reasons, it had been difficult for him to watch him leave. Trunks looked exactly like him, of course, yet he wasn't the same, and it was troubling. Goku preferred not to think about it.

"How so?" Trunks asked, his interest piqued.

Goku tilted his head. "A scientist, like you. His life was really hard, poor guy. But he was a great ally and friend."

"'Was'?" Trunks was suddenly very intetested in learning more about the mysterious time traveller.

"Time travel is dangerous," Goku reminded him, "Nobody can just move to another time."

Trunks nodded, but saw him looking distractedly at the overgrown grass. "Watch this." With a carefully aimed ki blast, he successfully blew away a layer, which left their lawn neatly, evenly cut.

"How the heck did you do that?" Goku exclaimed, grinning.

"It happens a lot, anyway," Trunks explained amusedly, "I'll teach you how, if you teach me instant transmission. Not exactly a fair trade, I know."

Goku chuckled. "I'd say fair enough."

"Will you tell me more about that story some time?" Trunks tried again.

"We'll see." Somehow, Goku managed to reassure him throughout the rest of their talk, at least for the moment, and the demi Saiyan left in a lighter mood than when he'd arrived.

He stopped to take out his phone halfway to West City, as the reception in the Sons' area was terrible, and clicked on Gohan's number. He waited for him to pick up, wondering how Goku had reassured him by explaining so little, and opening a whole new can of worms. Perhaps he just needed a vacation, he finally settled.

-:-

For the next couple of hours, Vegeta remained out of sight, weary of being torn in two directions, and sure that he was slowly losing his mind. He was practically living a double life, when an actual relationship hadn't really begun. Had it?

He wandered restlessly into the kitchen, where a box of herbal tea was set out in a less than subtle gesture to make himself useful. He read the label and set water on to boil, deciding it couldn't hurt.

When it had steeped for the recommended time, he carried the steaming cup to the spare room.

He knocked lightly on the door, but there was no answer. He knocked again. "Goten?" He must have finally gone to sleep, he thought, quietly opening the door. And froze.

The demi Saiyan's back was turned, half on his side and half facedown, but the position and fast motion of one hand, while he bit the other to keep still at an obvious point of no return, was unmistakable.

"I just brought…" Vegeta set the cup of tea on the nightstand, unable to tear his eyes away. "…bad timing," he muttered, but Goten had quickly looked back, and their gazes locked.

He'd seen desire in Goten's eyes, but never before such a raw, sultry intention directed at him during his release. His hand had stopped moving, the other extented invitingly toward him.

Knowing that he should leave immediately and pretend he'd seen nothing, Vegeta instead found himself slowly closing, then locking the door behind him. Maybe it was the look in his eyes, or the hormones that exuded pure sex that made his mind shut down, or the wait that now seemed impossible, but his hand joined Goten's.

If his muscles had been weakened earlier, one hand was strong enough to yank Vegeta onto the bed and roughly pin him down, with a heated kiss of pure and surprising dominance.

Vegeta's face had a way of going blank when Goten kissed him, and he often hesitated before returning it, as though he were either unsure of what to do, or thinking about it.

"You're so cute," Goten told him with a darkly sexy smirk that actually made him blush, "Usually I imagine you taking me, but right now I want to fuck you so bad I could scream." He followed through with a hot, aggressively demanding kiss as he wedged himself deliberately between his legs.

I'm not subbing like a beginner! Vegeta's mind rebelled indignantly, but changed track at another thought. Maybe it wouldn't be as wrong if Goten topped… He hadn't expected it, and was ready to burst as it was. Why did this have to happen now?

"Goten, don't." He tugged to pull his wrists free, to the demi Saiyan's disappoinent.

"Why?" Goten demanded reproachfully, "Don't tell me you don't want it. And don't tell me you really care about anyone's dumb taboos."

That was actually true, he did not care. Still… "Not like this." He could feel beads of sweat form on his hairline. The younger male most likely didn't even know how.

Goten's frenzied kissing turned to bites among languid caressing, while he grinded hard against him.

Vegeta paused, unable to deny what had been driving him insane. His arms closed slowly around his lover, official or not, to return the same. A rush like he hadn't felt since he could remember, sent the energies already swirling within him spiral upward in sudden need, as powerful as Goten's own. Before he knew what was happening, it was too late to stop. His legs wrapped around Goten to accept the compromise, his hands grasping handfuls of his silky hair in time to both their muscles clenching and unclenching as they climbed the summit that made the rest of the world blacken in their periphery.

"Gods," Vegeta groaned among Goten's muffled cries. The release they'd craved brought them over a dazzling summit to collapse in a trembling mass, almost literally seeing stars from what had not been much.

Both remained still in their sparkling afterglow, until the harsh light of reality pulled Vegeta into a heavy, incredulous silence.

Goten looked up almost fearfully at the tension, his elation fading at Vegeta's darkened face. "I'm sorry," he mumbled timidly, "Are you mad at me?"

Still Vegeta was silent at a loss for words, staring blankly at the wall. But anger was not the fitting word.

"Vegeta, please, I had to get it out of my system!" Goten appealed, ashamed of himself now. "I thought nobody was there," he blurted, "But is it really so terrible that I want you with me? We didn't go all the way. Tell me you're not mad at me!" His face betrayed his fear, that the one he loved would leave him.

Vegeta sat up, noticing with irony that he still had his shoes on. "No, I'm not mad at you," his hollow voice replied, "But if you try that again, you'll get more than you bargained for, and I won't regret it."

Goten looked down, knowing that was not meant as a a good thing, and that it would not be wise to touch him right then. "I'm sorry, Vegeta. At least try to understand."

"I understand," he replied after a long silence, "But don't do that. Just… don't." He stood up and awkwardly left the room, confused and flustered.

Goten flopped dejectedly onto the pillow that now held Vegeta's scent as well. He would not be staying with him as he'd wished, though he hadn't intended to take it that far. Even though he himself didn't think it was much, Vegeta obviously did. Now he'd blown it. Way to screw everything up, he berated himself. He'd given his word, Goten thought grimly, and Vegeta seemed more upset by the incident that he would have thought, and wondered why. A quiet heaviness remained in his chest as he drifted off to sleep, and for the rest of the day.

-:-

Though he'd decided to finish training to get his mind off things, Vegeta ended up retiring to his room. He idly flipped channels on his TV for a minute, but shut it off in disgust, preferring to stare at the wall.

Goten had misunderstood his silence for anger, when he was in fact bewildered. He hadn't expected that at all, and it was not supposed to happen that way.

He found himself remembering his first time with Raditz, ironically of the the same bloodline as Goten. A younger Vegeta hadn't the least idea of what was happening to him, as he hadn't made the connection with his father's more simplistic explanation of the birds and the bees.

Instead of leaving his quarters when they were done, the elder Saiyan had curled up next to him in his bed. 'What are you doing?' Vegeta had asked, puzzled.

'It's part of it,' Raditz had explained, 'It's not in the right order, but I wouldn't cheat you out of the whole experience, Sire.'

Vegeta would have preferred to stay alone in the awesome-bubble of his first afterglow, slightly irritated, but Raditz knew more about it. To Vegeta's surprise, it was possible to start over and experience again what he'd been convinced was something magic. Their liason continued in an on and off way until the end, each insisting to himself that it was all about the physical release, another stress reliever.

In the back of their minds, they'd known that was bullshit. It was too dangerous to get attached to anyone, and when Raditz was killed, he'd lost more than a partner. He'd lost what the people of Earth would call his humanity.

Now, Vegeta scowled. The battles on Earth were not as constant, but they happened, and he could lose Goten as well.

He could easily see himself in Goten now, but did he really understand? Could he make up for something with him? It was true that they hadn't gone all the way, but… It was not supposed to happen like that!

Vegeta curled up on his side, cringing as the flashbacks began. One after the other, distorted, unconnected, and times confused. He had no concept of time. The only connection was the bloodshed; theirs, their enemies', that of the guilty, that of the innocent.

During his training as a kid, before he'd had any real experience, Nappa had drawn a simple red X with a small circle in its center. 'No matter the size or form of your target, moving or not, all you should see is this,' he'd explained.

Vegeta had followed the guideline asiduously, and eventually, it happened automatically in his mind. It had also happened when he'd used that same tactic to eliminate the Elite.

Now, he flinched as the visions and sounds worsened. No one must see him thus. Certainly not Goten. It was unfair to the demi Saiyan. He would not see it now; he was still young and starry-eyed. It would only hit him years later, and bring upon him regret. No, not now...

Without thinking, he reached under his pillow for the small stock of Goten's pills he used for his inevitable insomnia, and dry-swallowed a doubled dose. The demi Saiyan must never learn about that.

Vegeta put them away and curled back up on his side, this time pulling the sheet over his head. In time, the crazy thoughts and trembling subsided as the substance made them fade to a distant whisper, then silence. He could catch some mercifully dreamless sleep now.

-:-

After his nap, Goten was restless and anxious, knowing it best to let Vegeta cool off. He had no ally right now… did he?

He hesitated, then walked lightly upstairs, having sensed Trunks' ki. The other demi Saiyan was reading, but for the first time, Goten knocked politely.

Trunks looked up, puzzled that he'd knocked, but waved for him to enter. "Are you… better now, Goten?" he asked warily.

"Almost." Goten sat quietly on the other twin bed, considered his since their childhood, sensing that detail had changed. After an awkward silence, he asked Trunks, "Have you ever been in love?"

Trunks looked surprised at the question, but at least he was talking to him again. "I thought I was a couple times, but… dunno." He hesitated. "Have you?"

"Maybe," Goten replied dully. But I blew it, he mentally added.

"Something wrong there?" Trunks marked his page, and set his book aside.

"I don't know," Goten repeated. Trunks was his best friend - for now at least - and he'd been unfair, he knew. Without thinking, he told him the whole story of the pills, his addiction, and the result, of course leaving out Vegeta's true role. There. He knew.

"Holy shit," Trunks whistled under his breath. Aside from a few questions, he was quiet. "Damn," he muttered under his breath, the situation beginning to make sense now. "I wish you'd told me earlier, but I guess I understand." So, his father had saved his life. That explained why he felt it was his duty to fix, he thought.

They ended up talking until evening, seeing them relieved that their friendship was intact. Trunks could sense the missing link, but thought not of it now, knowing how difficult it was for him. He still had a lot to go through, and needed time, which was understandable. Of course he would tell no one, he promised. But it would be okay, he thought. That was the important thing.

-:-

The rest of the evening from dinner to later on was unusually silent, making the spacious house seem empty. Goten did not dare to go to the small office as usual, though he did not know if sleep were possible. Instead, he returned to the small spare room, where he'd moved his packed bag for the time being. He sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the wall as Vegeta had done earlier.

Near bedtime, he heard a knock from a familiar ki at his door. He looked up in surprise to see Vegeta slowly enter, then looked down at the floor. Seeing him in his pyjamas, he clearly had the same thought of turning in early.

The latter's face was as grim and blank as his own, yet darkened as he sat on the edge of the bed as well. "How are you doing?" he asked simply.

"I don't know. Kind of off," Goten replied, but did not look at him.

Vegeta placed a smaller dose in his hand, with a glass of water on the night table. "This will help you sleep," he told him simply, both knowing that it was back to the original program.

Goten nodded and compliantly swallowed them, but doubted it. The pills would do their job, but had no say over whether he could sleep.

"You okay?" Goten asked, still looking at the floor. He was sure it was something else, but did not know what, and he could not ask.

"Huh?" Vegeta shook his head at his own absent mind of late. "Yeah."

Goten swallowed hard. "You don't hate me?" He still looked at the floor.

Vegeta looked at him for the first time that night. "No. Maybe it's me who isn't ready," he acknowledged, "It messes up my head or something."

"I'm sorry," Goten repeated. He hadn't thought of that, feeling guilty again.

"It's not that bad," Vegeta explained, "It was just in the wrong order."

"The wrong order?" Goten could at least look at him.

Vegeta managed a small smile. "Yeah." He stood to close, then carefully lock the door before messing up the other twin bed, and returning. "I was told the least I could do is stay here to make sure you're okay. Don't you think that's a good idea? Move over," he added with a small smirk.

Gladly stunned, Goten made room on the small bed. Vegeta slid in on his side, quickly switching off the lamp.

Not knowing what to say, Goten informed him, "I told Trunks. About the meds, I mean."

"I hoped you would," Vegeta replied. He slid an arm around the demi Saiyan to pull him close. "This is the right order."

Goten closed his eyes, relieved to finally get the opportunity to, well, quite literally sleep with him. "Good, because I like it."

"You said you want to bring me to your hidden place, right?" Vegeta recalled, "In a different forest, I guess."

"Definitely!" Goten declared, elated that he'd remembered, and curled up in his long coveted embrace. "Good night, Vegeta."

('Do not tell me how wonderful things will be... some day. Show me you can risk being completely at peace, truly okay with the way things are now in this moment, and again in the next, and in the next, and the next...')

"Good night, 'Ten." For the first night in weeks, Vegeta's eyes closed peacefully. It was not going to be easy - he had no illusions of that - but often, a little happiness went a long way in making one strong enough to handle the darker sides of life. It would just have to be one day at a time. He brushed back a soft tendril of Goten's hair from his face, accepting his drowsy kiss. Yeah, he could do that.

- Intermission -

-:-

Though Vegeta succeded in his promise to sever him, the next couple of months was a time Goten preferred to forget, a lesson learned at a steep price for them both.

-:-

There was still something odd going on with Vegeta and Goten, Bulma thought, unable to shake a nagging if irrational suspicion. What were they still doing all the time in that rarely used office?

Once, as the door had been left open to a crack, she watched quietly for some time. The two of them were seated on the couch talking, too low to be heard. While that was nothing strange in itself, Vegeta talking to someone like a normal person was a rare sight. They talked a lot, she noticed, in the office or elsewhere, alone or in the company of people they were used to. Indeed, she'd long since forgotten her admittedly ridiculous accusation. Maybe it was actually nothing, she'd decided.

Then one day, she saw the two of them emerge from the office, clearly unaware of being seen. She knew not what had been said, but Goten lightly squeezed Vegeta's arm, and the secretive smile and mysterious look that passed between them sent cold chills of dread down her spine.

-:-

TBC in Part 2, Chapter 5...

-:-

Soundtrack: (Metallica M.O.P album)

-Disposable Heroes

-Master of Puppets

+

-Still Loving You, Scorpions



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