Ki-Blind: Chapter Four
Goku turned out to be right about the caves. The hillsides were riddled with them, and Vegeta found a crevice in the rocks that was almost invisible from the outside, but large enough inside for the two of them, with a stream right outside the cave mouth that not only provided them with a source of water but a convenient way to hide their tracks and smell. Goku had stopped rambling, and the silence was almost worse than putting up with his nonstop chatter. Vegeta lowered him down to the floor. "Stay there," he said, as if Goku could do anything else, and went back outside.
His comment about needing Kakarrot to survive in the Earth wilderness had been somewhere between an exaggeration and a downright lie. While Vegeta was unfamiliar with Earth's native life and geology, he'd had years of experience under Freeza's command at getting thrown into an alien ecosystem and having to scavenge to survive. Right now, they both needed warmth more than anything else, Goku in particular. Vegeta gathered armloads of brush and carried them back to the cave, where he made a pile between two rocks.
Goku had apparently passed out completely, so Vegeta dragged him over against the wall and covered him, still trying not to bump the spider legs too much -- he knew he had to remove them, but he hated the idea of trying to do it in the dark, with those wicked barbed edges.
He was reasonably good at wilderness survival, but he'd never had to do it without ki, which made a huge difference. So many little things he'd taken for granted could no longer be relied upon. Like ... building a fire. How did anyone start a fire without ki? Bulma could surely devise something -- actually, come to think of it, humans must have some relatively simple technological solution, but that certainly didn't help him since he didn't have any of it. They needed a fire. A pile of branches simply wasn't going to cut it. The night would be cold, and he was already shivering himself in his soaking-wet training outfit. Without ki, they'd both be popsicles by morning, hypothermic at the very least, and Goku would probably be dead.
How do lesser races stand this ... this weakness? he cursed inwardly. Vegeta strode to the mouth of the cave and looked out. The red lights still winked on and off in the sky. A few bursts of ki would annihilate the pathetic creatures. Instead, here he was hiding from them, like a child or a coward.
That thought was almost enough to drive him out of the cave ... but common sense stopped him. He and Goku together had been barely able to kill two of them, and it had ended with Goku seriously injured. By himself, against thousands of them, he knew he wouldn't stand a chance. He had to accept his own weakness, and that infuriated him.
He could leave.
He should leave. If he kept moving, he'd stay warm enough and also avoid detection by the spiders. Once he made it to some sort of civilization, he could contact Bulma -- he refused to consider the possibility that she wasn't still alive -- and she could surely figure out what was blocking him from being able to use his ki.
Vegeta looked over his shoulder at Goku. The other Saiyajin was a dark, immobile shape in the deeper darkness of the cave. Even from here, Vegeta's keen sense of smell could detect the faint, metallic tang of Saiyajin blood. Kakarrot's blood.
He's weak. Helpless. Leave him.
It was the right thing to do, he told himself. It was stupid to stay here, practically an invitation to the spiders to find him. Kakarrot would most likely be dead by morning anyway. The weak are abandoned and the strong move on. The weak die; the strong survive. That's how the universe worked. His father had taught him that, and then Freeza had hammered the lesson home, year after year.
The weak cling together and die. The strong survive, and stand alone.
He stood in the mouth of the cave, torn by indecision.
"I don't think I can walk, Vegeta. Why don't you go on."
Kakarrot had even told him to leave. The idiot wouldn't blame him if he did; Vegeta was sure of it. Kakarrot's mind worked that way. Vegeta had lost count of the number of times he'd betrayed Kakarrot in the time they'd known each other -- attacked him, abandoned him, lied to him. Didn't the fool remember all those times? Yet whenever it mattered, whenever Vegeta was about to die -- there was Kakarrot, getting in the way, helping out whether it was wanted or not.
Go on, he told himself. But still he didn't move.
The weak die. The strong survive. Yet ... the thing that his father and Freeza had never taught him, the hardest lesson he'd ever had to learn was that no one, no matter how powerful, could be strong all the time.
Look at Kakarrot. He was (shameful as it was to admit it) the strongest person that Vegeta knew ... possibly the strongest he'd ever known. Yet right now, Goku was helpless as a child.
Helpless as Vegeta had been when Goku threw himself between Vegeta and danger, as usual, and had taken what should have been Vegeta's death blow for him ...
Snarling with impotent rage, Vegeta looked down into the valley, and he realized that not all of the red glow was from the lights of the creatures' eyes. Some of the vegetation that had been set ablaze by the crashing meteors was still smoldering.
Vegeta's eyes widened, and he almost smiled. He turned to look over his shoulder at Kakarrot again, and this time some of the hard edge had gone out of his eyes.
"Kakarrot. I need to leave ... for a few minutes."
There was no response. Goku was still unconscious -- or ... something. Frustrated by his continuing inability to sense ki from a distance, Vegeta crossed the cave floor to the other Saiyajin and touched his face lightly to make sure he was still alive. Goku's skin was very cold, but through the skin-to-skin contact, Vegeta could feel Goku's faint ki.
Vegeta turned, and left, running with silent speed into the forest.
He easily eluded a couple of spiders wandering about under the trees, their red lights turned dim. It was much easier to be the stalker than the stalked. Still, the spiders did seem to be actively looking for the two Saiyajin. Vegeta suspected that the spiders could not sense ki or they would have already found them, but he didn't like this, not at all. Unable to fly, nearly unable to fight, he'd never felt so helpless in his life and he thoroughly hated the feeling.
He came to the edge of the blackened area where the first spider had crash-landed. The acrid scent of smoke stung his sensitive Saiyajin nostrils. Nothing was actively burning, but a lot of the damp vegetation was still smoldering weakly, producing the glow that he'd seen from above. Vegeta gathered some leaves and bark, and used them to wrap up a package of coals. On the way back to the cave, he saw no more spiders, but every once in a while a red light went by in the sky, low and searching.
He hadn't fully realized, until he found himself back at the cave, that he was really going back after all. Vegeta sighed.
"Damn you anyhow, Kakarrot."
Goku remained where he'd left him. Vegeta, shivering in the earliest stages of hypothermia, longed to build a blazing bonfire, but instead he built a small, low fire with the driest wood he could find, as close as possible to Goku. The cave would shield the light from being seen, and hopefully what little smoke the fire produced would be mistaken for smoke from one of the blazes started by the meteors.
Vegeta bent over the flames, relaxing as the fire's warmth drove out the chill of oncoming hypothermia and dried his clothing. Then he turned his attention to Goku and found a pair of dark, pain-glazed eyes on him.
He would never say a thing and he didn't realize that his happiness showed in his own eyes. Goku responded to it, though, and grinned slightly. "I see you got a fire going," he murmured.
"From the fire in the valley. It was still burning. I got some coals."
"That's smart, Vegeta," Goku mumbled. "I would never have thought of that."
Quit complimenting me. Don't you know I was going to abandon you, you jerk? I'm not one of your stupid friends. I never asked for your damn second chances so quit giving them to me.
"Kakarrot," he said, looking away. "Those spider legs are still in your body. I need to get them out ... doing so might kill you, but as long as they stay in, they're going to keep causing damage and might even allow the spiders to track us."
"I understand," Goku whispered. He raised his upper body, though it must have cost him greatly to do so. "Do it, Vegeta."
Vegeta still couldn't look him in the eyes. He knelt down beside Goku.
All it would take would be a little twist, said a voice inside him, a voice that sounded a little like his father and a little like Freeza. He's dying anyway. You hardly even have to hurry it along. He's a burden to you as he is ... and your damned conscience won't let you leave ... but if he's dead then your conscience can go screw itself and you'll be able to survive. It could even be an accident. The strong survive ...
"I'd rather die than do that," Vegeta whispered to the voice, swallowing nausea.
"Vegeta, hurry," Goku said, his arms trembling with the strain as he held himself upright.
Vegeta took hold of the spider leg through Goku's shoulder. The legs had thrust in from the back ... so he should be able to pull it through from the front, so that the barbs would slide easily through the flesh without causing too much more damage. He gave a small, experimental tug, and Goku gasped in pain. The spider leg felt as if it was hung up on bone.
I really might kill him by doing this. But I can't leave it in; I can't move him without taking the risk of catching it on something and doing far worse damage.
"I'm going to try to do it in one pull," he said.
Vegeta gripped the blood-slick metal and wrenched at it. The spider leg came free in a gush of blood, drenching his hands and the front of his tank top. Goku didn't scream or make any sound at all; he merely slumped forward, unconscious.
"Shit," Vegeta whispered. He need to stop the bleeding immediately; Goku couldn't stand to lose much more blood. He tore some strips from Goku's gi and made a crude bandage. The blood seeped through the orange fabric, but at least it seemed to be slowing.
And that had been the easy one.
Vegeta lightly touched the spider leg embedded in Goku's chest. It had to have missed the lung or else, Saiyajin or no, the trip through the woods would have finished him off. Still, Vegeta couldn't believe that he could actually get it out without killing him.
There's no other choice, he told himself, but then the self-doubt arose: Are you just saying that because you want him to die? Oh, sure, you won't admit it to yourself, but if he dies, you'll be the strongest, and isn't that what you've always wanted?
Vegeta looked down at himself, kneeling in a drying puddle of Goku's blood. His hands and the front of his shirt were dark and sticky with it. He looked like a murderer crouched above his victim. His hands trembled and he clenched them to get control of himself again, but the shivering didn't stop; it passed through him in an uncontrollable, shuddering wave.
I can't. I can't do it. If I pull that out and it kills him, I'll never know ... I'll never know if I wanted it that way ... if there was another way and I couldn't see it, wouldn't see it ...
He couldn't stop shaking. Even the cold had not affected him so strongly. All the muscles of his body were rigid; if there'd been anything in his stomach, he would have thrown up.
"Kakarrot, tell me the right thing to do," he whispered. "You always seem to know. Tell me what I should do ... please," he added, almost inaudibly.
But there was no answer. Goku was deeply unconscious. The decision was his to make, and his alone -- and the consequences his to bear, as well.
Vegeta, by the sheer force of his considerable determination, steadied his hands. He grasped the second spider leg.
Kakarrot ... forgive me ... I still don't know if this is right, but I just don't have any choice.
This one, to his amazement, slid out easily, falling into his lap, a curved and jointed instrument of death. Blood came with it, but not nearly so much blood. Impossibly, the injury in the chest seemed to have done much less actual damage than the injury in the shoulder.
Vegeta forced himself out of his momentarily frozen state, ripping off more strips of Goku's gi (it barely covered his torso now, and one leg was partly missing) and bandaging the fresh wound as well as the injury to Goku's arm. He really should wash the wounds, but he had nothing to carry water with, and bleeding was nature's way of removing contaminants anyway. Besides, if infection did occur, the possibility was so far in the future that he couldn't even bring himself to worry about it. He was living hour to hour, minute to minute.
Breathing hard, his bloody hands still trembling slightly, he checked Goku's pulse and found it weak but steady. His hand lingered for a moment, resting lightly against Goku's chin and cheek, feeling the coldness of his skin but also the faint warmth that meant he was still, for the moment, alive.
Kakarrot, you tough bastard, now stay that way, huh?
He rested his hand on Goku's face for a moment longer, a little longer than was really necessary, then rose quickly and went outside to wash the blood off his hands and body in the stream. The water was icy cold. He dipped a handful when he was finished washing and drank it, realizing that his throat was dry as sand. Kneeling in the shallow water, aware that he was courting hypothermia again but unable to summon the energy to care, he let his hands fall down at his sides and tilted his head back to look up at the sky.
For the moment, there was no sign of the baleful red light of the hunting spiders. There were only stars, hundreds, thousands, millions of stars, the same stars that, in much different patterns, had shone down on him on other worlds -- shone down on him as he killed, as he tortured, as he crouched in other streams and washed away the blood of genocide, washed and washed though it never seemed to wash away.
His fingers, numb with cold, trailed in the icy water. They were clean. The blood was gone. He hadn't realized until that moment how much he had changed, and though sometimes he still resented and fought it, he knew deep down that he would never want to go back -- back to being the proud, isolated soldier, as alone as the stars in the sky.
"Don't die, you tough sonovabitch," he said softly, to the stars, his only audience, though that wasn't really who he was speaking to. "Don't die, my friend."