A/N: Picking up immediately where we left off, Vegeta's engaged with Goku, in the blazing heat of battle, shocking his rival by dredging up the full might of his Oozaru powers, without even having to transform.

Chapter 55: Behind you all the way

"It looks like Vegeta's turned into some sort of crazy werewolf or something! Just look at those blood-red eyes!" The dumbfounded announcer cried. He ran over to the other Z-Fighters. "Will someone please explain this to me?!"

"I- I- I hardly know m-myself." Yamcha stammered incredulously.

Krillin, however, took a moment to collect himself, before reminding the blond-haired man of the peculiar incident that took place during the 21st world martial-arts tournament, when Goku transformed into a Giant Ape.

"Basically, uh- people like Goku and Vegeta, become ten times stronger when they catch sight of a full moon- well provided they still have a tail." He elucidated. "But somehow, Vegeta's learned how to summon that strength, with very little change in either form or size. I'd honestly never considered it, but then again, these guys never fail to surprise."

"When you say 'people like Goku and Vegeta', what exactly do you mean?"

"Well, let's just say they were born with special abilities that normal humans don't have."

"Like that blonde-haired transformation?"

"Yeah, like that." Krillin nodded. "It's called the 'Super Saiyan' form. To be blunt, it makes them fifty times stronger than they are already. Tien can basically do the same thing, with his Super Kaio-Ken."

As the announcer relayed the baffling information to the anxious audience, a war of words erupted on the fighting platform.

"Face it Kakarot." Vegeta sneered. "No matter what tricks you pull, I'll still have the advantage and there's nothing you can do to change that."

"We'll see about that Vegeta!" Goku grit his teeth vexedly, shooting his power up even further. "Kaio-Ken times ten!"

WHOOSH!

The augmented assault from Earth's hero, bore little fruit. Vegeta's battle aptitude was sharper than a freshly forged Damascus steel sword. He could see through his taller opponent's movement, clear as day, outwitting and outmaneuvering him, at every turn.

"My God, I have to say, it's rare to see the champion face this much trouble in battle!" The announcer vociferated. "What an honor it is to witness the rise of this astronomical new competitor! Ladies and gentlemen, this right here is what true martial-arts is all about!"

The stupefied spectators wholeheartedly hooted, in agreement with the blonde man. To hell with that pitiful loser Mr. Satan. He wasn't even worth the dust on Goku and Vegeta's boots, as far as they were concerned.

'This is insane!' Goku thought to himself, in sheer frustration. 'How is he so much better than me?! I never counted on this! Man, I really need to focus and get my anger in check! Looks like I have no other choice. I haven't had to do this, since the fight with Frieza and I don't know if my body can handle it, but here goes.'

"KAIO-KEN TIMES TWENTY!"

BOOM!

The Prince spat out a glob of blood, as he was struck with a crunching blow to the midsection. Goku didn't let up, continuing his assault, till his foe landed face-up, desperately gulping in the air around him.

"Vegeta, if you're as good as you say you are, surely you won't have to transform into a Super Saiyan before me, will you?" Earth's hero taunted. "Cause it seems to me that that's the only edge you have, right now. Or can you prove otherwise?"

"Just as I expected." Piccolo smirked, knowingly. "Goku's no simpleton either. He knows exactly how Vegeta's mind operates and he's using it to his advantage. For Vegeta to accept this proposal means putting himself at a major disadvantage. For him to reject it means setting aside his pride and that's something he'll never do. Nonetheless, there's no conceivable way he can handle the Kaio-Ken times twenty, not even in his primal form."

"Vegeta, don't fall for the bait!" Bulma called out in desperation, despite knowing that her warning would go in one ear and out the other.

"Wait a second, if Goku can use the Kaio-Ken times twenty, that means he could've beaten me without turning Super Saiyan." Tien gnashed his teeth, feeling severely demoralized, at the thought.

"Come on Tien, he knocked me senseless with the Kaio-Ken times two, so what're you so upset about?" Yamcha argued. "You ought to be proud, man."

"You don't understand, Yamcha." The three-eyed warrior seethed. "It's the principle of the matter. The only reason Goku went Super Saiyan was to make me feel better about myself, not because he actually needed to. Do you not realize how belittling that is?!"

"You know Tien, for someone who hates Vegeta so much, that sounds an awful lot like something he'd say." Krillin jested, but immediately closed his mouth and winced, as the three-eyed man sent a peevish glare, his way.

"Dude, take a chill pill." The ex-bandit remarked. "You're super strong, okay? Everyone here knows it."

"Tch, yeah right." Tien abjectly spat. "I'm nothing but a joke, compared to those damned Saiyans."

"Enough with the self-pity." Piccolo growled. "You're not the only one here who needs to play catchup, alright?! Now shut-up and watch the fight!"

As expected, the prideful Prince dauntlessly rose up to the seemingly impossible challenge.

"Well played, Kakarot." Vegeta smiled smugly. "But do not believe for even a second that it'll change the end result. While the Kaio-Ken times twenty gives you a clear edge over me, you know as well as I do that it's a double edged sword, in that it significantly exhausts your own energy."

"So, what do you say then?" Goku prompted.

"Very well, challenge accepted." The Prince nodded.

"Vegeta, it's not a freaking challenge, it's a trap and you're playing right into it!" Bulma objected, from ringside. "Don't be stupid!"

"You're wasting your breath." Piccolo chuckled. "He can't hear you. The only thing Vegeta can see right now is the man that stands before him, nothing else. He's a Saiyan warrior and if I know one thing about these stubborn bastards, it's that they never turn down a challenge."

The heiress muttered a string of livid curses under her breath, knowing that the Namekian was spot-on and that nothing could get through to that obdurate, flame-haired midget.

"Come on Vegeta, kick his ass!"

"Goku, you can do it, you're the greatest fighter ever!"

"You're both awesome!"

"Take off your shirts!"

The crowd was torn between Goku fans, Vegeta fans and feverish fangirls, who were desperately eager for a chance to eyeball more of the mesmerizing man-meat, in front of them. Just as Piccolo asserted, however, the gargantuan Saiyan duo were completely unmindful of the myriad distractions, surrounding them.

Fully charged up, the younger Saiyan went on the offensive yet again, bombarding his red-eyed foe with a range of blows, confident that he could force Vegeta to yield and transform.

"It appears that the tides are turning in Goku's favor now!" The astonished announcer remarked. "Keep in mind that this man's participated in every championship battle, for the last 3 tournaments. Time and again, he's had to overcome adversities, one after another, so this isn't something new for the champion."

As the swiftly sapping seconds ticked by, Goku began to notice that his attacks didn't have the intended effect. It made no sense! Anyone else in Vegeta's position would've fallen long ago!

"That all you've got, third class?" The flame-haired Saiyan taunted, riling up his opponent's fury. Goku indefatigably continued his reckless assault, paying little heed to the hefty toll it was taking on his rapidly deteriorating Ki.

"How- how can you still be standing?!" He demanded, breathing severely hard, while his self-satisfied opponent stood as tall as ever, in spite of his dwarfish stature. "It's not possible."

"You ever watched Ali vs. Foreman?" The Prince asked, earning a blank look from his younger adversary. "Didn't think so. The key lesson from that fight is that it doesn't matter how much stronger your opponent is, if his punches don't land properly."

"What're you talking about?!" Goku hissed back. "My attacks were spot on! You weren't able to block a single one!"

"You're right." Vegeta nodded solemnly. "Your attacks were delivered perfectly, there's no denying that. Physically I was unable to stop them, given the vast difference between us, where power level is concerned." He continued, with a smirk. "However, where my body lacked the necessary speed, my other senses were still able to perceive each incoming blow. Right before it connected, I quickly concentrated large portions of my energy around the targeted area, creating a buffer zone of Ki and thereby minimizing the impact of every single strike."

As his rival's words sunk in, the younger Saiyan looked as though he'd been struck atop the head, by a thunderbolt. How could anyone possibly have such fluid control over the flow of energy, across their body?! It was absolutely inconceivable!

"So needless to say, Kakarot, your little ploy failed miserably." The Prince quirked his lips up maliciously, bearing the sharpened fangs of his new form. Goku couldn't help but recoil in horror, at the ghastly sight of his feral foe. He looked like a wild sabretooth, thirsty for blood- his blood!

"Man, Vegeta's freaking awesome!" Krillin exclaimed. "No matter what Goku pulls, somehow he manages to get the upper-hand!"

"And Goku's far too exhausted to use the Kaio-Ken times twenty, any longer." Piccolo noted, with a frown. "He wore himself out completely, while Vegeta was able to absorb every single blow. Regardless, I have a strong feeling that Vegeta took more damage than he's letting on, though Goku's definitely the worse for wear."

"Does he have any real chance at victory, now?" Tien asked the Namekian.

"To be perfectly honest, I would have to say no." Piccolo sighed. "Every conceivable advantage that Goku could've had, Vegeta's somehow been able to offset." The green alien chuckled wryly. "On the battlefield, he's proven himself to be nothing short of perfect. On top of everything else we saw before, he's trained all his senses, natural and otherwise, to work together in perfect sync. Just look at Goku up there. I haven't seen such fear and misgiving in his eyes, ever since he fought Frieza on Namek."

"There's gotta be something he can do." Yamcha insisted, heavy hearted at the thought of his friend and hero being defeated. "He's Goku, darn it! He always comes through! He just has to! He can't lose, not like this!"

"What's the matter?!" Vegeta goaded. "Not feeling so cocky now, are we?!"

Goku was rooted to the spot, engulfed with doubt and raw terror, like never before.

"Now, now, don't lose heart, Kakarot." The Prince smirked. "You fought well, for a third class, but I'm afraid that this is where it ends."

He promptly pounced upon his younger rival, ready to deliver the knockout blow, only for Goku to turn Super Saiyan on impulse and effortlessly catch the attack.

"Looks like you transformed first." Vegeta laughed.

"Yes I did, happy?!" Goku scowled in resentment and jumped back a pace. "Go ahead and transform then. This fight isn't over yet!"

"As you wish."

A swarm of eyes were glued to the ring, as the flaming pair of Super Saiyans duked it out, to determine who would seize the win. As expected, the fight was very much one-sided. In addition to Vegeta's superior battle aptitude, Goku had lost a significant portion of power, following his reckless use of the Kaio-Ken times twenty. A roaring right hook, swung across the larger Saiyan's jaw, propelling him far sideways, landing him on his back and causing a gruesome maxillary fracture. All those in attendance grimaced at the sickly, bone-crunching sound that rung across the stadium. So ear-piercing was the blow that many viewers were surprised to see that Goku's head was still attached to his shoulders.

"… seven, eight, nine and what's this?!" The announcer gasped, in shock. "The champ manages to get up at the count of nine, despite the overwhelming fatigue, countless injuries and that fractured jaw! From where I stand, he looks pretty much finished already! As much as I love Goku, there's a thin line between courage and stupidity and I'm afraid to say, he's just crossed it."

"Stay down Goku, you're gonna get yourself killed!" Krillin yelled anxiously, from ringside.

"I told you, he can't hear you right now." Piccolo shook his head. "Besides, you know as well as I that Goku would sooner die than give up a fight."

"This is too much." Bulma felt her eyes tearing up. "I don't think I can watch." The heiress fell in Yamcha's arms, unable to control her sobs. Goku was her best friend and the last thing she wanted, was to see him get killed at the hands of Vegeta, of all people. The mere thought, plagued her heart with a sharp, piercing pang of sorrow. She knew her Prince wouldn't intentionally kill Goku, but when they were submerged so deep in battle that they couldn't even perceive anything on the outside, who knew what could happen?! If Goku took another hit like that, it would surely snap his neck.

"Kakarot, you know you're better off staying down." Vegeta arrogantly folded his arms. "There's nothing you have left."

'I'm afraid that's where you're wrong Vegeta.' Goku replied telepathically, unable to physically speak as a result of the overwhelming pain. The Prince frowned, in curiosity. 'I've still got one more surprise up my sleeve, so you better prepare yourself.'

The younger Saiyan shut his eyes, focusing every remaining scrap of energy he had, into a powerful Kamehameha, hands cupped by his side. It he were to win, he needed to time this final move, just right.

"You can't be serious!" Vegeta scoffed. "Even if you were able to pull that off, it's nothing I can't handle, especially in your condition. You know that, just as well as I do."

'We'll see Vegeta, we'll see.' A blue orb of Ki materialized within his palms, dilating wider and wider, by the second.

"Fine, if that's the way you want it." The flame-haired Saiyan shook his head and rose into the air, readying his own special move. "Galick…"

The moment Vegeta's energy was fully concentrated on that one attack, Goku decisively used his Instant Transmission to vanish and reappear behind his thunderstruck opponent.

"What?!" Vegeta gasped.

Almost simultaneously, Goku released the entire force of his signature attack, giving his rival virtually no time to think, as he was struck up close, by an enormous wave of Ki.

"N-no, d-dammit!" The Prince was launched at a downwards angle, losing his Super Saiyan form, as he was engulfed by his rival's mammoth Kamehameha, unable to keep himself from smashing right into the blocks of solid concrete below. Vegeta lay there, mentally cursing the other Saiyan, as he desperately clung to the thin edge of consciousness. He'd played right into Kakarot's hands! That third-class opportunist had been waiting for him to focus all his energy into one place, so that he couldn't transfer it in time to create a barrier that would've otherwise defended against that Kamehameha! He'd never considered the possibility of the Instant Transmission being used like that, while in the heat of battle. It was literally the one thing he hadn't been prepared for!

"My goodness folks, in spite of his near-fatal condition, I don't know how, but Goku's once again been able to turn the tide of battle, in his favor, just like he did against Piccolo, during the last tournament!" The announcer exclaimed. "This is what a true champion is made of! And now to start the countdown: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven and now Vegeta's getting up folks! He's getting up! Unbelievable! Are these two persistent or what?!"

By this time, Goku had already descended to the ground, having lost the Super Saiyan form himself, after expending just about every remnant of Ki, within him. If Vegeta still had something left, there was absolutely nothing he could do. As he was, it took every ounce of willpower Goku had, to remain standing on two feet. When his enraged opponent got up, however, the younger Saiyan couldn't help but quiver.

"K-Kakarot, you b-bastard- ugh." Vegeta wheezed, before his charred body wilted and he collapsed on his back, completely motionless.

"And Vegeta goes down, yet again!" The blonde man declared, before restarting the count. "… nine, ten and that's it! The fight is over! After the toughest battle he's ever fought, Goku manages to emerge on top, winning by knockout and retaining his world title!"

As soon as the announcement was made, Earth's hero quickly lost consciousness, falling face-first onto the fighting platform. The Z-Fighters instantly rushed towards the ring, in a frenzy, trying but failing to rouse either of the two Saiyans.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I just wanna say that I've never had the privilege of witnessing a fight so spectacular as this one!" The blonde man gushed. "Even though Vegeta lost, he proved to us all that he has the heart of a true champion, when he got up, after eating a powerful Kamehameha from such close range! No one and I mean no one has put Goku to the test, the way he did. Let's hear it for both of these terrific fighters."

The audience tore into a frenzy of unbridled cheers, for champion and challenger alike.

"They need senzu beans immediately, both of them or there's good chance, they're not gonna make it." Piccolo stated.

"Of course." Krillin nodded, pulling out the senzu sack from his waistband and proceeding to insert one inside his best friend's mouth. Goku's eyes shot open and he sat up, taking a huge breath, his injuries all but vanished.

"Hey man, you did it!" Yamcha grinned at his roused friend. "That was freaking amazing."

"I- I won?" Goku blinked a few times, before grinning wide himself, overwhelmed with a rush of pride at the greatest victory, he'd ever achieved. "My God, I actually won! I beat Vegeta! God, that is just wicked!"

"Tell me about it." Tien laughed. "You were getting your ass kicked the whole way through. None of us thought you could pull it off, but man, that Instant Transmission Kamehameha was something else!"

"Guys, can you celebrate some other time?" Bulma frowned. She was sort of disappointed at the result, considering how well Vegeta was doing, but then Goku had always been like a little brother to her, so it wasn't too bad. "In case you forgot, someone here still needs a senzu bean."

The three-eyed warrior was about to retort "let him die", but then thought better of it. Besides, Vegeta was clearly a pivotal asset at this stage, what with the Android threat, looming over their heads. Plus he was the father of Bulma's child- however that happened.

"Right, right." Just as Krillin was about to walk over to Vegeta, Goku grabbed him by the wrist.

"Wait a second." The bald man confusedly turned towards the wild-haired Saiyan. "Let me, Krillin."

"Uh- sure." He offered the sack to Goku, who grabbed it and ambled towards the prone figure of his fallen foe. "Here, Vegeta." The younger Saiyan popped the healing bean into the mouth of his older counterpart.

The flame-haired Saiyan jerked to a wake and immediately took in his surroundings, scowling as he noticed the idiotic grin plastered upon his rustic rival's features.

"Tch, you got lucky Kakarot!" He hissed, shamed more than ever at his defeat and humiliation at the hands of a third-class. Just as he was on the cusp of victory, it'd been stolen from his grasp. "I'll admit that was a smart move, getting me to lay my guard down like that and seizing the opportunity, but it won't be happening again, I can assure you!"

"I know, I know." Goku chuckled. "It was the only technique I had left, in my arsenal hehehe. Knowing you, there's no way it would work a second time around. I think it's pretty clear from this battle, which one of us is the better fighter, Vegeta. You had me on the losing end the whole way through and if it weren't for that trump card of mine, I wouldn't have stood a chance."

"You're goddamn right!"

"Yeah, but don't think I'm gonna be second best, forever." The younger Saiyan vowed. "I've learned a lot from this fight and I'm gonna train harder than ever now, mark my words! I guess the score's even now at one-all, but if the two of us make it through the battle against the Androids, I promise to give you a rematch. Then we'll know without doubt, which one of us is the greatest Saiyan of all."

"Hmph, of course." The Prince smirked. "I won't be falling for any of your tricks again. You can count on that."

"That aside though, I want you know something Vegeta." Goku said, voice unusually grave and sombre. He earned his rival's undivided attention. "No matter what happens, no matter who you face in life, as long as there's still breath in my body, I'll stand behind you all the way."

Vegeta gaped at him wide-eyed, as did the other Z-Fighters, incredulous at the heartfelt vow that escaped the younger Saiyan's lips and the unswerving promise, rooted within his deep black eyes. There was no lie there. After a short lacuna phased by, Vegeta snorted dismissively.

"Well I am the Prince of all Saiyans, after all, so of course you owe me your-"

"It's not about that Vegeta." Goku cut off his rival. "Yes, you're my Prince, there's no denying that, but you're more than that, so much more. You're my friend."

The flame-haired Saiyan choked, at the unsolicited assertion.

"G-Goku?!" Tien sputtered, not knowing whether to feel incredulous or just plain disgusted. How could anyone call this pompous jerk a friend, especially given his history?!

"You don't have to accept me as a friend if you don't want to, but I still consider you to be mine." Goku repeated emphatically. "And my friends mean everything to me. That's why I'll always have your back, Vegeta." A brief pause followed. "Always." He repeated.

"Goku." Bulma smiled benignly, tears brimming her oceanic eyes. She was deeply touched by her best friend's ardent words, to a man who was once his bitterest enemy. This is why she loved Goku, so dearly. He was inconceivably noble, forgiving, kindhearted and altruistic. His deific virtues were like the finest incense that would permeate through even the darkest and dreariest of surroundings, flooding it with a rich, divine fragrance, unlike any other. True, it was her that had ultimately transformed Vegeta's heart, foraging through layers and layers of ice, until she was able to help dredge up the warmth that lay beneath, but Goku had still played an integral role and she would never forget it.

Vegeta continued to rubberneck his rival. A friend? This oaf actually considered him a friend? Despite the absurdity of such a bizarre notion, for some reason it seemed so much more profound, real and uplifting than whatever mechanized authority he once held over Nappa and Raditz. The younger Saiyan's veneration was centred around neither Vegeta's position as a Prince, nor his colossal power level. It hadn't been programmed into him, but had steadily developed, right from the time they'd been sworn enemies on the field of battle, up until this very moment. They were the last of the Saiyans and had repeatedly shattered the odds, as they transcended into legend and toppled a mighty tyrant, who had the entire cosmos at his fingertips, for decades. Together, they'd inadvertently embarked upon a journey towards greatness. Their unwavering desire to surpass one-another, led them to where they were now. Deep in his heart, Vegeta realized that such respect, reverence and- acceptance was oddly fulfilling, as though he'd been searching for it his entire life and just didn't know it, until now.

"Tch, whatever fool!" The ruddy Prince groused, resenting the softhearted sentiments that were stirring about in the hollows of his chest. This darn planet was making him go soft and he didn't like it!

"Well, if you're both done with all the touchy, feely stuff, how about we not waste another second and get back into training?" Piccolo snorted, earning a bitter scowl from Vegeta and a sheepish look from Goku. "Remember, ten days is all we have. Like Goku said, use what you've learned here today and let it guide you towards greater strength, cause very soon we'll all be needing it, more than ever."

"I second that." Tien nodded.

Ten days later…

It was 9 a.m. at Capsule Corporation. In exactly one hour, doomsday would begin- or so it was said.

"Be careful out there, Vegeta." Bulma murmured, as she held a baby Trunks in her arms. The heiress was wearing a pair of white capris pants, fastened with a scarlet belt, a scarlet tube-top and an orange vest. Her silky aquamarine hair fell to around chin-level, with bangs fashioned on the front, much like on the Namek trip. "Please, promise me you'll be safe."

"I don't plan on dying today, Bulma." Vegeta replied, before pointedly frowning at her. "But just remember, you're not to show yourself anywhere near the battlefield, no matter what. Am I clear?"

"Yeah, yeah." She sighed. Initially, the heiress was deadset on going and getting a firsthand view of the Androids, but the Prince repeatedly demanded that she stay away, for her own safety and that of their child. Bulma walked over and placed a hand on his cheek. "Come back to us in one piece, okay?" She whispered softly. "We need you."

"Da-da-da." The baby whined, holding out his stubby little arms, as though in agreement with his mother.

"Hmph, of course." Vegeta scoffed. "Do you really think I'd let you raise the brat, to be a softhearted clown, like Kakarot?" Despite the teasing gesture, Bulma's heart warmed at the mellow, caring underdone beneath it all. The Prince held an index finger out and Trunks wrapped his tiny hand around it, grinning wide. 'No matter what happens, take care of your mother, boy.' Vegeta mentally enjoined and the one-year old's expression went blank, as though he'd heard the message, but couldn't quite understand it.

"I love you." Bulma smiled and pressed her lips against his for a moment, before they parted.

It was time, at last…

A/N: Such a close battle, wasn't it? Hope you all loved it and Goku's heartfelt promise to Vegeta that followed. So now, the Android threat is here at last! How will things go down?! Find out next time and remember, all reviews, critiques and recommendations are deeply appreciated! :D