Taste the Pain

by April CK

I just felt like writing a contemplative fic. It probably is a tad OOC but only in the sense that large amounts of contemplation hardly ever occur in the anime. (That I've seen anyway...)

Dragonball Z characters, settings and items are all registered trademarks of at least Bird Studios.

"Walk away and taste the pain, come again some other day... Aren't you glad you weren't afraid? Funny how the price gets paid."

-quote from the song that inspired the title, Taste the Pain by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Gold tinted clouds drifted past in silence. Far below, the world spun in slow motion - distant and peaceful. Above and all around the darkness of the universe was draped like a security blanket with each glimmering star seeming to promise that no matter what changes occurred on Earth, the universe would always be there.

A golden streak crossed the sky, moving with great speed through the billowing clouds of heaven. Fast as the warrior flew, he could not escape his own thoughts. The thoughts he had so little time for elsewhere. Training and fighting always required that all his focus be on the moment but while flying his mind was able to drift into memory and speculation.

Son Goku, his name was well known and it brought despair to traditional human warriors. Stories about his talents were endless - Goku knew, he'd heard most of them by now. The human imagination never ceased to amaze him. When he'd been a kid the rumors had mostly concerned his ability to turn into a giant monster and his natural resistance to bullets. But as he'd grown up, so had the stories. Goku was aware of what he'd become. A living legend, a constant source of tabloid headlines, a hero that was invincible and could do anything.

He didn't understand how anyone could believe that garbage. Nothing in the universe was invincible, himself included. If Goku had been invincible - if nothing could have ever hurt him - he wouldn't need to train. He wouldn't need to worry.

He wouldn't be dead.

That was the annoying part. Despite his having died people still didn't seem to realize he was vulnerable, that he had weaknesses. That he could bleed, suffocate, starve or drown. That he wasn't immune to psychic attacks, poisons, magic spells, energy drains, radiation, bad weather, common diseases, insomnia or very large explosives. There were all sorts of ways to die. Goku wouldn't have felt comfortable advertising these facts but he just wished that people in general would get a clue. Enemies specifically.

At times it seemed like evil forces in the galaxy went out of their way just to look him up and test his strength. If only they'd thought he was weak, maybe they wouldn't have come to Earth at all.

Things could have been different. Maybe they should have been.

Goku had rarely shown it but once he'd been truly proud of the title he'd earned. Because after all he'd gone from being an unknown orphan to an officially recognized hero, the Earths martial arts champion. That title had been a small source of pride and respect for him. Now the title was little more than a burden. Goku spent his every waking moment - and most of his dreaming ones as well - either preparing to fight, fighting or traveling.

The fame was the problem. The irony of it stung him. He was the Earths hero and yet...he'd originally been meant to destroy the planet.

Goku didn't usually let his past bother him, at least not to the extent that it showed. He'd always been able to keep relatively busy so that he didn't have to deal with all the various articles of emotional luggage. He wasn't sure how to deal with it anyway. How do you deal with learning that you are one of the last members of an alien species? How do you deal with never knowing your parents, not remembering your true heritage, killing your brother? How do you deal with being aware that your home world no longer exists?

There were days when Goku couldn't help but wonder if perhaps Earth would have been better off destroyed by his own hands. At least then the planet might have peace, it wouldn't be harrassed anymore. Those thoughts couldn't last long. Goku knew in his heart that he'd done the right thing but he just couldn't adapt to the burden. The responsibility weighed him down. The world seemed to rely on him sometimes and it wasn't even his own native world.

He didn't mind saving Earth too much - it was always interesting and besides someone had to do it. But...all the time... Goku was sick of it. He hadn't ever consciously set out to be the hero that he had accidentally become, he'd always just been himself. That's what made stopping hard. How did you stop being yourself?

Flying. There were times when such a talent was easy to take for granted. Goku had always known that he was meant to fly, he'd craved it. He'd grown up watching the birds and insects around his home in the wilderness with a degree of envy. As soon as he'd gotten the hang of flight, the sky had become a second home for him. Flying was nearly a religious experience - comforting, peaceful and profound on so many levels. It was an art, a freedom, a form of self-expression. Flying meant not having to conform - not having to walk or drive or rely on anyone to give you a ride. It meant being able to be alone as often as you needed, being able to survey the surroundings, being able to travel. To be able to fly at all was a small source of pride, a mark of true independance.

Anymore, Goku almost wished that he couldn't fly. Flying was just one more thing that set him apart from the crowd.

What he wouldn't give to be the normal guy that ChiChi wanted him to be, the normal guy she deserved. A husband that could spend time at home instead of always running around trying to save the world. A husband that could cook his wife dinner once without accidentally destroying the kitchen in the process. A guy that could hug his wife to pieces without being in danger of literally hugging his wife to pieces.

But the fact of the matter was that he couldn't be the normal guy. Saving the Earth was, much to Gokus dismay, a full-time job and a relatively thankless one at that. He couldn't save the Earth AND be a decent husband, a good father. Not when saving the world required all his attention. He'd never even had a chance to try to get normal job. Not that anyone would've hired Goku for a normal job anyway - he didn't have much in the way of a formal education, he didn't have any work experience and on top of that, he was too strong. He'd break things accidentally.

Goku was accustomed to things falling apart when he touched them. Brooms, washing machines, cooking utensils... Human tools were simply not designed to be used by a person of Gokus strength. Kami only knew how many of the house appliances Goku'd had to replace while he'd been alive - it was no wonder that he tended to leave all the housework to ChiChi. He wouldn't mind helping more but everything broke.

Everything he touched broke. Goku winced at that thought. It was, in a nutshell, the story of his life. He felt awful about it.

More than anything else, Goku felt cheated. Sometimes he felt he'd only done two things right in all his life, that he only had two things he was really proud of - one was marrying ChiChi and the other was being Gohans father. The more that he felt taken away from those two things, the more Goku had come to resent being the Earths hero.

Being away from his wife and son was painful, even moreso when it seemed like they didn't need him. The way ChiChi ranted - Goku knew she only did it because she cared - but sometimes he thought that perhaps she would have been happier without him. And Gohan...as proud as Goku was of his own son, he couldn't help feel a bit saddened as well. The kid had been happy to see him again, no doubt of that, but at least in Gokus mind it seemed that Gohan hadn't missed his father anywhere near as much as vice versa.

Goku treasured his family. Gohan and ChiChi were all the family that he had after all. It wasn't as if Goku had grown up knowing his parents and siblings. He hadn't even learned of his Saiyan heritage until he was 24, when he'd met another Saiyan for the first time. His brother, Raditz. His own brother. Goku had always done his best not to reveal how much that encounter had bothered him. He usually just blocked it all out of his mind. Before Raditz had come along Goku hadn't even suspected that he had siblings. What if he had more out there in space? What were they like? What if they ever came looking for him? Would they try to destroy Earth as well?

Parents...Goku hadn't given much thought to them. He'd never wondered about his origins that much. It hadn't been important. Most of his friends hadn't mentioned their parents so Goku hadn't been prompted to address the issue. He'd been raised by a kind elderly man that he'd referred to as Grandpa. An elderly man that had been killed by a monster when Goku had still been very young. Goku had been age 12 before he'd realized that he was the monster.

I am the monster...

That thought would haunt him forever. It was one of the reasons he'd chosen to stay dead this time. Earth had to be better off without him. It was worth a shot.

Goku had tried everything he could think of to get someone else to take the hero role. That was why he'd been reluctant to kill any of the villains he'd encountered - Goku had always been hoping that maybe they'd change their ways if given a second chance. Maybe they'd take over saving the world so that he could finally take a break. It wasn't a completely unfounded belief either. Most of the creatures that Goku considered friends had tried to kill him at some point. Even Bulma had almost run him over when they'd first met.

Deep down... It hadn't worked. His friends were all very strong but few, if any, would ever exceed his strength. They'd reached their limits and most were too busy with their own lives. Nobody had really replaced him. The Earth had a lot of strong warriors in residence but none of them were really interested in being heros. None of them had ever felt as responsible for the planet as he had. It wasn't something Goku liked to consciously acknowledge but it was something that he instinctively knew.

And they couldn't have stopped him. Not even if they'd all worked together. That was the other thing Goku knew.

He needed this break. It was time to give the concept of 'rest in peace' a chance. Otherwise... All the stress of his life had been trying to catch up to him lately. Everything that he'd pushed aside before so that he could focus on the matters at hand and save the Earth - it was all coming back to him. He couldn't ignore the stress anymore. He was going to have to deal with it, come to terms with it all.

Goku wasn't sure what he was going to do exactly but distancing himself from Earth had seemed like a good idea. He didn't want to regret his actions. He didn't want to end up destroying what he'd worked so hard to defend.

It was odd in a way, he'd given up everything to protect the Earth. He'd been saving the world since he was 12. Saving the world was easy...

...but who's gonna save me?

His trail of golden energy cut through the clouds like a knife, burning the air and distorting the peaceful shapes as he flew past them. Lingering for a moment, the shadows twisting before the light fades. The vast emptiness of the space around him mirroring the hollowness he has begun to feel inside.

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