Passport to Paradise
A few more days passed. Vegeta continued to care for
Kakarotto, hoping against hope that he would wake up eventually. Alain no longer
visited every day, but he did visit often to check up on the prince and ask if
he needed anything. On the second day he did this, five days after he'd left the
inn for another, he found Vegeta on his knees beside the bed, his hands clasped
and his eyes closed, his face raised to the heavens. He stopped in the doorway
and started to quietly back away when he heard the prince begin to speak.
"I'm not sure I believe in any of you, but I'm going to take a chance and ask for a favor anyway. You know what Kakarotto's going through and I want you to consider seriously the point of causing him so much suffering. First you take away everyone he's ever known, next you allow him to be sold into slavery where he was abused and neglected on a constant basis, then you let the barbarians find him, and now you've got him in a coma that he's unable to wake up from. Do you honestly think this is fair to Kakarotto?
"I will do anything to have him back as long as it doesn't take me away from him because that would kill me as surely as his death would. I know it sounds selfish to place a condition on his recovery, but that's just the way I am and nothing's going to change that. Anyway, that's all I have to say. Please save him. He's the only person I've ever loved." Vegeta lowered his head dejectedly and Alain left him alone.
On the sixteenth day since the breaking of Kakarotto's fever, Vegeta was drowsing in the early morning twilight when he felt Kakarotto stir. It instantly brought him awake completely as he hadn't moved since before they'd left the desert. He held his breath and watched the teen's face carefully for any signs that he was waking and when none were forthcoming, he settled back down onto the bed with a disappointed sigh.
"It's alright," he whispered soothingly. "Wake up when you want to. I'll still be here." He kissed him gently on the lips and settled back down beside him.
Kakarotto's mouth moved, but no sound came out. As Vegeta's eyes were closed, he didn't see him trying to speak, but he did feel the movement of his jaw against his face. He shifted so that he was on his knees and took his lover's nearest hand while examining his face closely. "Kakarotto, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand."
It was faint, but he detected movement. Vegeta began to grin and he brought Kakarotto's hand up to his chest. "You're going to be all right. Alain and I took you away from the desert about a month ago. You're in a town called Janan where a really good healer took a look at you and stitched up your injury the right way. Whoever did it before was an imbecile and I should dismember them for exposing you to infection like that."
"No," the teen whispered hoarsely. "Don't leave."
"I won't." He settled back down at his side, throwing an arm gently across his abdomen. "I'm going to stay by your side forever."
And he did stay right there, at least until his bladder's insistence could no longer be ignored. Kakarotto had fallen into a light doze that he did his best not to wake him from as he moved off the bed.
When he finished using the chamber pot, Kakarotto's eyes were open and staring at him. He smiled and just looked at him for a long moment. The teen was pale and shaky-looking, but he was conscious and that's all that mattered.
"Are you hungry? I've only been able to get broth and water into you."
"I'm starving," he sighed. "Can you do me a favor first, please?"
"Can you bring the pot over here? I really have to go." And then he blushed in embarrassment.
Vegeta didn't say a word. He helped him swing his legs over the side of the bed, steadying him with one hand when a momentary bout of dizziness made him lightheaded, then retrieved the chamber pot. He raised it up so that Kakarotto would find it easier to aim, politely averting his eyes when it was obvious that he was uncomfortable with being looked at while peeing. When he was back in bed beneath the covers, Vegeta went downstairs to order a breakfast tray for him. It was still fairly early so the day's morning meal had yet to be prepared, but the cook sent him back with a few leftover sweet rolls from the day before and a glass of milk. Kakarotto's eyes lit up at the sight of it, which caused Vegeta to laugh.
"I know it's been a while since you've eaten solid food, but you weren't even awake for most of it." He had to make light of the entire thing or he could easily find himself in a corner trembling as everything that had happened from the second day of being in Fisher's Cove finally caught up with him.
"Well, my mind might not miss it, but my body sure does." Then he proceeded to attack the food like a ravenous wild animal, hardly pausing to chew before he swallowed. Vegeta just watched him with a look of fascination on his face.
After he moved the tray to a small wooden table beneath the room's only window, Kakarotto talked Vegeta into cuddling with him. Although the prince had done almost nothing but hold his lover while he was unconscious, it was incredibly embarrassing to do it while he was awake. But he evetually relented since his body was crying out for the contact. It felt infinitely better to hold Kakarotto when he was able to hold him back.
"The healer instructed me to fetch him when you woke up. It won't take very long."
"I wish you didn't have to go," he said so quietly that the words almost held no sound. He folded his hands in his lap and looked down at them as Vegeta dressed. Without anything to distract him the memories were free to come again. He didn't want to remember how Fisher's Cove had looked as the fires ate away at it. He didn't want to remember the ceremony and the way the ritual knife had felt cutting deep into his body. He didn't want to remember that he had failed the entire world.
"There was nothing you could do," Vegeta said firmly from the doorway.
Kakarotto looked up and pasted a false smile on his face. "I know," he lied easily. The prince frowned, but did not try to correct him.
When he left there was nothing else to distract him from his grief. The tears ran unchecked down his cheeks, made even more poignant by the lack of sound accompanying them.
When Vegeta returned, he was surprised to see Kakarotto downstairs at a table. He was dressed in a clean tunic and pants as well. The healer came in after him, clucking his tongue to see his patient up and about so soon.
"Good morning," Kakarotto said. "You must be the one who's been taking care of me." He smiled with gratitude. "Thank you so much."
"It was no problem. No problem at all." The healer was an older human man with kind eyes that Kakarotto immediately knew he could trust. He bustled over and began checking his temperature via his forehead and started to raise his shirt to examine the wound that was scheduled to have its stitches removed any day now. Kakarotto squeaked when the old man's fingers had grabbed the bottom of his shirt, but he allowed him to look beneath it since his body was blocking it from the view of curious patrons.
"Everything's fine," the healer said, patting Kakarotto's shoulder after he lowered his tunic into place. "You're very lucky."
This caused him to grow serious. "Yes, I know."
Vegeta took the healer aside, then, to pay him what he owed... and then some. "Without you he would have died," he said in explanation. "Nothing could ever repay you for that, but this might be a start."
"You don't have to do this. It's my job."
"I insist." They stared at each other for a long moment, neither budging on his position. Then Healer Harin sighed and took the small pouch full of money. "Thank you." Turning back to Kakarotto he said, "Take care of yourself, young man. If not for your own sake then for the sake of your soulmate." Both Kakarotto and Vegeta were startled by what he'd termed the prince. "I know more than just the art of healing," was his only response.
After the healer left, Vegeta took a seat across from Kakarotto. "Are you really feeling all right?"
The monosyllabic answer surprised him. "You don't sound like you are."
"Vegeta, I was taken against my will to a place where they cut me open and removed the one thing I was supposed to protect. Then I almost died from infection due to someone's sloppy stitching job." He stared down at the table, unable to look at him any longer. There was something else bothering him as well. He had just noticed it between the time Vegeta had left and returned with the healer and hadn't yet had the time to come to terms with it.
"Kakarotto, please tell me what's wrong. And don't try to say that it's nothing because I can see the truth on your face."
"Vegeta..." He looked up and his eyes were wet with tears that had not yet fallen. "I can't feel my magic anymore."
At first he thought he hadn't heard him correctly. "What?"
"When I woke up those times after they took the Key, I hadn't paid much attention, but then today, after you left, my mind was too clear and I had no distractions so I took the time to assess the situation." He groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "There's no way I can stop them now. Without my magic I'm useless!"
He was at his side in an instant. "Talk to me, Kakarotto. How is such a thing possible?"
"It's not! I mean, it shouldn't be. It hasn't ever happened in the history of my clan... until now."
"Wait," Vegeta said, holding up his hand. "Before you have a breakdown, let's step through his logically."
"I don't see what good it will do. My magic is gone and I don't know how to bring it back."
He held up his hand again. "As I understand it, you were born with magic. Correct?"
"Yes. We all are except for the very few who aren't for one reason or another."
"For as long as you have been able to recognize it for what it was, it has always been inside of you, am I right?"
"Then what makes you think it isn't right now?"
Kakarotto was very calm when he spoke, but it was a calm that was borderline to hysteria. "How about the fact that I can't manipulate it to my will anymore? Or the fact that removing the Key from my body probably has something to do with its absence? God, Vegeta! I'd never thought the Key actually looked like a key, you know, but I'd never thought that it was a creature and that it had been living inside of my body!" His voice had risen gradually both in volume and in pitch from the second sentence onward so, by the time he finished speaking, his voice was loud and shrill.
The last sentence made him pause, but the curious stares from the few people in the inn at such an early hour spurred him into motion. "Come on, let's go upstairs. You don't need an audience right now."
"Okay," he sniffled, rubbing at his eyes with his fists like a small child.
When Kakarotto was, once again, firmly ensconced in the bed, Vegeta paced and tried to figure out just what was going on. No matter how he looked at it, Kakarotto's claim that he'd lost his magic didn't make any sense. Neither did his claim that a living creature had been taken from within his body. He wondered for one terrifying moment if the infection had returned and the fever was causing him to imagine things again.
Shaking his head, he refused to think about it for the moment. "Where do you want to go next?"
His lover blinked as he was distracted from his thoughts. "What?"
"We can stay here a few more days until you think you're strong enough to travel again. I was thinking of someplace warm."
"We can't run away, Vegeta. There isn't a place in the world where we can go to escape what's coming."
"What's coming?" Vegeta felt that he had to sit down for this one. "I thought you said that the Key opened the door to paradise."
"I did, but it doesn't make sense anymore." He absently began to chew on one of his knuckles. "If all they want is to lead their people to someplace wonderful, why were they not above killing thousands of people to do it? Why did they take me by force and steal the Key from me?" He began to frown. "Whatever their true reason, I have a feeling that it definitely won't fall into the 'noble' category."
"What can we do to stop them, if anything at all?"
His frown grew more pronounced. "The only possible way to stop them is by magic and there are few people left outside their race who have it anymore. They would have to be powerful to oppose so many mages and to completely overpower their corrupted magic."
"So you say we can't do anything, but you're still going to dwell on the fact that they must be stopped." He was goading him on purpose, trying to get him to explode and release the grief he was keeping bottled up inside. Maybe after the catharsis he would be more willing to believe that there was absolutely nothing he could have done to prevent what had happened to him.
"Of course I am!" he shouted with a look on his face that clearly said he thought Vegeta was being cruel. "Do you know how many people are going to die? Fisher's Cove is as good an indicator as any that the Kir are more-than-willing to crush anyone standing in their way."
"It's their name for themselves," he said distractedly, "though few know it." He threw back the bedcovers and struggled to rise.
Vegeta reached over and grabbed his thigh right above the knee. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like? I'm going to get up. I can't lie here like an invalid when the Kir are seeking the gateway."
The prince's head was starting to hurt. For the past ten minutes they seemed to have gone in several circles. "So you're going to try and stop them?"
"No." He gently removed his hand and got to his feet. After swaying unsteadily for a few moments, Kakarotto regained his balance and went to get his shoes.
As much as he loved him, he seriously wanted to strangle him right now.
"Then what are you doing?" he asked from between clenched teeth.
"I'm going to go home and do a little research," he explained as he began to work on his other foot. "Then I'm going to tell the people living near the gateway to run for their lives. Saving the world really isn't on my agenda, but if I'm the only one who can do it, then so be it."
"Back to the swamps where I belong." He straightened and grabbed their packs. "Shall we be off, then?"
Vegeta had absolutely nothing to say. He simply stared at Kakarotto for a second or two, a half-smile on his face, then pushed himself to his feet. "Yes. Lead the way, Kakarotto. I'm eager to see where you grew up."
Smiling slightly, Kakarotto answered, "Well, you won't have to wait very long."