Passport to Paradise
The barbarians, or the Kir as they were known to
themselves and their allies, were desert people. When Alain told him this,
Vegeta thought at first that he was mistaken. The closest desert a week away and
even that was a short estimate. When they'd awakened the morning after Kakarotto
was taken, ready to start their journey, the camp in the valley was gone and so
were the Kir. There had also been no sign of their ships on the water when Alain
and the prince cast off themselves in one of the few surviving boats. The winds
were not that strong, and the ship was too large to be rowed, so Vegeta just
didn't see how they could have gotten such a head-start on them.
"They can use magic," his guide shrugged. "I guess they conjured up a wind." Vegeta frowned at the reminder that the barbarians had the gift of magic and moodily stared into the water. Trying not to imagine the horrors his lover was going through successfully consumed all of his attention.
The survivors of Fisher's Cove had been given a document signed and stamped by the prince that would prove to the king that they had been told to seek refuge in the Saiya-jin kingdom. While there was not enough room in the castle for them all, nor was there a city within a day's travel large enough to support them all, he supposed that they could build shelter in the forest. There was more than enough game to feed them all for quite some time if they hunted in moderation and several clear streams ran amongst the trees. He had a feeling they would be fine there; the ancient elven magic that protected the king would likely protect them as well.
Alain had never sailed before so he hadn't known that he would be prone to seasickness. Vegeta knew this logically, but he still couldn't be anything but angry at his guide for springing such a thing on him. What little food and water they had salvaged from the stone buildings that hadn't burned he wasted by ejecting it forcefully from his stomach into the ocean. The sounds of him being violently sick were getting to him, as was the sickly expression on Alain's face, and so his temper was often short and vicious.
"I don't know why I'm still here with you," Alain said miserably, his head hanging over the side.
Vegeta rolled his eyes. "Perhaps it's because were out in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. Unless you would rather swim to our destination?"
He blushed very faintly, feeling like an idiot. "Oh. Right."
The prince sighed. He hoped that they spotted land soon.
When Kakarotto returned to consciousness with a start, he immediately wondered why. When he could not figure it out within a few seconds, he decided to worry about it later since his body was making its discomfort known. His stomach was empty and grumbling in complaint, his bladder was full to bursting, and the skin over his chest was so tight it felt as if it would tear with the slightest movement. All in all he was in fairly bad shape.
Groaning with the effort, Kakarotto slowly tried to roll over onto his knees. Before that moment he had never known just how many muscles were connected to his chest. The resultant pain of his endeavor threatened to cause him to black out again, but he held on to consciousness with a tenacity that surprised even him and was able to use one hand to reach under his body and relieve himself. Luckily he had not being lying downward on a slope.
"Why did they let me go?" The sand felt warm beneath his hands as he crawled slowly and painfully away from the wet patch he'd created on the ground. He looked down at himself, not at all surprised to see that he was still naked. The cut on his chest had been inexpertly sewn up with overly-large and somewhat messy stitches. He would have a nasty scar to remember the ceremony by. If he managed to survive infection while avoiding starvation and dehydration, that is. Kakarotto groaned aloud and allowed his weary arms to lower his body onto the ground. Why had he survived? He had failed in the one thing he had been charged to do and now the entire world would pay for it.
A harsh, grating cry startled him out of his gloomy thoughts. Turning his head, he spied a crow perched on a large stone staring at him with one dark eye. He hissed at the ill omen and weakly tried to shoo it away. Letting out another caw that seemed to mock him, the bird flew off, its dark body marring the flawless blue of the sky.
The day was not yet hot, but that would change within a few hours. Without any clothing he would be at the mercy of the intense desert sun, but he usually tanned instead of burned so it would be only a mild discomfort. Unfortunately the heat would undoubtedly cause him to sweat which would, in turn, cause him to deplete his body's supply of water and he had none to replace it with. Being left in the middle of a desert with no sustenance whatsoever would kill him as surely as pushing the ritual knife into his heart would have. At least being killed by the knife would have been faster.
Now that he was out there, his innate determination wouldn't allow him to just lie in the sand like a corpse. He was conscious and not in too much pain so he had to go as far as his legs were able to take him. After that, he would just have to crawl.
The moment the boat was on the sand, Alain dropped to his knees and laid his cheek against it. For a while he'd thought he would never see dry land again. They had been steering by the sun and the constellations the entire way, trying their best to stay on a somewhat northeasterly course. Vegeta had voiced the opinion before they'd embarked that it would have been safer to follow the coastline, but that would have added a few days onto their journey and there was no time to lose.
"Get up," the prince ordered, shading his eyes with his hand and looking out onto the lifeless desert plain. Here and there he could see patches of hardy plants and rocks, but there was no sign of anything living that walked on two legs. "How far away is the nearest settlement?"
Alain rose and looked around, trying (and failing) to orient himself. "It could be anyway from half a day to nearly a week. I don't know how far north we went."
"Great. Kakarotto could be dying and we have no idea where he might be."
The guide, being the hasty person that he often was, was more than ready to just march headlong into the desert in search of Vegeta's lover and his revenge, but the prince halted him. "I don't want to get lost," he explained as he dug around in his pack and pulled out a bright red tunic of Kakarotto's. It was one of his new ones. He had chosen most of his new shirts by how likely they would blind you, it seemed. He tied the sleeves around the small oar lying in the bottom of the boat and then forced it into the sand. "So we can find our way back," he explained.
"Good idea." He took the small skin of what remained of their precious water from Vegeta and they began to walk northward, eyes scanning the desert for any sign of a person. Or what was left of one after the vultures constantly circling overhead had gotten through with anyone unfortunate enough to die in such a wasteland.
"You see that thick clump of birds right over there?" the prince asked suddenly after about twenty minutes of walking. The flag he'd made of Kakarotto's tunic was still in sight every time they reached the top of a sand dune.
"Yes," Alain said, squinting. "Well, I think I do, anyway."
"I doubt that's normal. It's like there's something newly dead over there or-" He cut himself off and began to run as quickly as he could over the shifting sand.
"What?" his guide asked, hurrying to catch up.
"Something might be still alive, but the vultures must sense that it's dying. It might be Kakarotto!" No, he knew it was Kakarotto. Something deep inside told him so.
His feet caught in the sand, causing him to stumble several times, but he picked himself and kept going. The relatively short distance became one of miles as he realized that there were quite a few sand dunes separating them, which dragged the distance out exponentially. By the time Vegeta reached the area where the vultures lurked, flying patiently overhead, his clothes were soaked with sweat and his lungs burned with the effort of breathing. With a quick look behind him, he saw that Alain was no better off, and that he had fallen some distance behind and was doubled over with exhaustion. Another look showed him that the red flag was so distant and partially obscured by the waves of shimmering heat rising up from the sand that it looked like something out of a dream.
He climbed the last dune, the vultures hissing with irritation as if they knew that their prey would be taken from right under their noses. Vegeta froze at the top, his eyes hardly believing the sight in front of him. It was Kakarotto all right, at least he was there somewhere under a thick coating of sand, and he was not moving.
"What have they done to you?" he whispered brokenly, falling to his knees beside his body. Tentatively he reached out one trembling hand to touch his shoulder and roll him over onto his back. He could not see his chest move.
His face was relatively clean save for a layer of sand on the cheek that had lain against the dune. The skin of his face was red and irritated and his lips were dry and cracked from lack of moisture. Trying and knowing that it was useless, Vegeta brushed the sand from him and revealed the nasty wound that marred his chest. His heart clenched as he eyed it.
"Did they take your heart? How could those bastards treat you like this?" He clenched his fists in the sand and bowed his head. "Why did he give me false hope?" he whispered to himself.
"I'm not dead yet," a hoarse voice croaked. "Though I sort of wish that I was."
Vegeta held his breath, but when no more words were forthcoming he thought he had only imagined them. Shaking his head, he continued to clean his lover as best he could while he waited for Alain to finally make it over to them.
"I love you, Kakarotto, and I'm sorry I was too late to save you. I'll see to it that you're buried with your people and then I'll join you wherever you are." Then he allowed the flood of emotion that pushed relentlessly at his barriers to crash over him. Vegeta rested his forehead against Kakarotto's chest and let the tears come.
It was like there was a wall between him and consciousness. Sometimes he was able to create a hole in it large enough for him to interact with the world beyond his mind, but then his strength faded and the hole closed up. In the twilight world between sleep and wakefulness, he could feel himself swaying with movement and two pairs of hands holding his aching body. He could almost, but not quite, identify the ones gripping him under the arms as their small and slender fingers had touched him many times, but could not put a name, or a face, to their owner.
He had a vague memory of telling someone that he wasn't yet dead, but he did not know whether or not he had spoken it in the Outside World. He couldn't remember much beyond drinking something sweet and rich from a wooden mug, the sound of male laughter flowing around him like water.
Chanting invaded his nightmares before he could pull himself out of them. The words twisted like angry snakes in his mind, bringing with them a ghost of burning, throbbing pain that left him breathless. Several times he thought to reach out to the person tending to him, but he was not sure if his arms actually moved or if he had only imagined it.
His body felt unbearably hot and tight and uncomfortable as the infection raged within him. The angry pulse of the white-hot pain in his chest climbed as the days passed until it filled his entire world with its blinding light. He screamed as it brought with it memories of a blade slicing into his flesh until his cries turned to whimpers as his voice gave out. His body thrashed around in a desperate attempt to escape the pain, inadvertently making it even worse because the kind hands could not successfully hold him still. He would slip into sleep, then, exhausted from fighting the pain and the familiar hand would caress his damp cheek until the darkness claimed him.
Sometimes he heard someone sobbing quietly as if their heart was breaking. Their grief stabbed at him, filled him up to bursting, until he felt as if their pain was a shared thing. He was not aware of it, but oftentimes their tears would mingle on his cheeks.
The tenth day after he was rescued, his fever finally broke. The tears cried on that day were of joy instead of sadness. But even though his body no longer burned, Kakarotto did not wake.
Alain gave up hope after the seventh day, but Vegeta continued to hold on. He wouldn't -- couldn't -- let go of the young man who had changed his world so completely. Every day he tended to him, gently feeding broth to him so he did not starve, bathing him regularly so that infection did not return, efficiently disposing of his waste. He spoke to him often, describing in great detail what they would do once he regained consciousness. At night he curled on the bed, his arm gently around his waist, and dreamed of the moment when his love would finally open his eyes and be with him once more.
And if the worst should happen and Kakarotto did, indeed, die, the tiny vial of poison he carried always in a pouch on his belt was a solid reminder that his own life was not a infinite thing and that he could, with little effort, join his lover in death.