I don't own Dragon Ball or any of its characters. This story is based on the events of the official Dragon Ball Online timeline. GT never happened.
The Son household was cheerful and full of life while they ate. It had been a while since the whole family had come together to dine. With Gohan researching, Goten working and about to get married, and Pan finishing college and running Satan's fighting school, they had come to treasure what little time they had together, especially since there was a noticeably empty seat at the table.
Chichi had died of natural causes a couple of years ago. Her sudden heart attack had come as a shock for the Sons, and Goku had been devastated. He had always thought he would die again in some great battle for the Earth and stay dead this time (again), but the world had actually enjoyed peace for the longest time yet. With the support of Pan, Uub and, surprisingly, Vegeta, Goku had gone back to his old self, but he still gave a long and nostalgic look to Chichi's seat every time they all sat down to eat.
That day, the menu included a large serving of grilled chicken, beef stew, baked potatoes, broccoli cream and chocolate cake. It wasn't much, but Goku wouldn't complain to Videl. He knew that she had never possessed the culinary skills Chichi had. Videl also had a job, so preparing a meal that was on time was actually an impressive feat in and of itself.
Just as Goku was starting to eat his large slice of chocolate cake, the phone rang twice and Pan went to answer.
"I'll get it!" she said in a cheerful tone "Son Family, how can I help you?" her eyes brightened a little "Oh, Bra! How are you? We haven't talked in ages! Fine? Tell me, what's up?"
"Oh that reminds me..." Gohan stood up and took his empty dishes to the sink. "I need to ask Bulma to let me use her lab. There are some tests I want to run and-"
"A Senzu bean? Hold on." Pan blinked a little surprised and covered the phone with her hand. "Dad, Grandpa, Uncle Goten? Do you have a spare senzu bean?" she asked out loud.
Gohan shook his head.
"Did Vegeta have an accident in the Gravity Room? Weren't you training with him, dad?" Goten searched his pockets but he remembered it had been a while since he had any senzu on him. There hadn't been a reason to carry it. "Sorry, no luck" he shrugged at his niece.
"We stopped sparring like half a year ago" Goku said with a sad sigh. "It's been boring ever since..."
"Hey!" Pan frowned "I have been training with you, haven't I?"
Goku's shoulder raised a little and he laughed nervously and went back to finish his cake while he looked for the bean in his clothes with his free hand.
"Oh, I haf one" Goku still had his mouth full of chocolate cake, raising his hand and showing a senzu.
"Ah, great" Pan nodded at her grandfather "Bra? Yeah, grandpa has one. Do you want him to use IT right away? Yeah, ok. Grandpa-" she hanged the phone.
Goku swallowed the whole slice in one go. "Yeah, I'm ready" he was already taking his two fingers to his forehead but Pan waved her arm.
"Wait! I want to go too! It's been a while since I visited Bra. Let me go with you" she rushed to his side and grabbed his red shirt. Goku gave her a cheerful smile and concentrated on Bra's ki.
"Please, dad! Tell Bulma I want to speak with her about the-" Gohan tried to remind his father but they were gone in the blink of an eye. "...-lab" The man sighed and he heard Videl chuckling at the table.
Bra gasped a little at the sudden appearance of Pan and Son Goku. She would never get used to it. Goku usually came to Capsule Corp flying with his family, but the few times he had used Instant Transmission he had always startled her. Goku never teleported directly to Vegeta because he knew the royal prince would take it as an offense.
"Good, you are here" Bra said with slight relief. Pan hugged her best friend.
"It's been a while, huh!" Pan giggled but Bra just gave her half a smile. Goku recognized her somber mood very quickly.
"So, what happened?" he tried to locate Vegeta's ki inside the building. To his surprise, it was weak. Bulma was with him.
"Well... umm." she didn't know exactly how to say it. "I guess you will have to see for yourself"
They made their way to the infirmary. Goku knew the place well from when he had begun sparring with Vegeta some years ago. Bra knocked on the door and opened it slightly.
"Mom, Son Goku and Pan are here. They brought the senzu" she said in a low voice. Goku was getting tense; he could tell something was not right. Bulma said nothing for a couple of seconds but then motioned them inside. Bra opened the door and let Pan and Goku pass.
The sight of Vegeta was simply shocking. It wasn't the oxygen mask or the bandages on his arms and chest. No, he had been in much worse shape after previous fights and training exercises. Neither Goku nor Pan cared about those wounds.
They stared at his hair, baffled. It had gone completely gray. Pan was speechless. Goku's eyes darkened and he moved closer to the other side of the bed.
He now looked like someone on his sixties, but even then still a little younger than Bulma.
"Goku" Bulma was caressing Vegeta's forehead with one hand and extended the other to retrieve the senzu. Goku handed it over wordlessly, watching as she leaned closer to the wounded Saiyan's face to whisper something to him before placing the senzu on his mouth. He was visibly in pain and Goku could only imagine that he must have severe internal injuries.
Vegeta swallowed and after a second his face relaxed. He opened his eyes slowly and looked at Bulma silently.
Behind them, Bra took Pan's hand without her noticing at first. She looked anxious and Pan put her arm around her friend's shoulders. She knew this had to be hard on her.
Vegeta gave Goku an annoyed look. "Kakarot, stop staring, you idiot" he moved up and sat at the edge of the bed.
Goku took his eyes off him and stared at the ground in silence. Neither of them spoke and finally Bulma sighed and touched Vegeta's shoulder.
"Girls, let's go outside. Alright?" Vegeta nodded at her, his simple way of thanking his wife for some privacy with the fool of Kakarot. He would have questions, surely. This was going to be a painful talk, he thought.
Pan and Bra looked at each other with worry but followed Bulma out of the infirmary. Once they had closed the door, Vegeta walked over to the great windows and leaned against the wall, looking at the sunset that was irritatingly appropriate.
Vegeta glanced at Kakarot, who was still staring at the floor in silence. The taller Saiyan's face was riddled with confusion and... denial? Yes, it was denial. Vegeta shook his head.
"Kakarot, did the cat eat your tongue? Don't stand there like a fool. Speak!" he demanded of the warrior.
"What happened?" Goku whispered in disbelief, the only thing he was able to say.
"I have told you before. We Saiyans stay in our prime longer than humans, although we have almost the same life spans. Once we reach a certain point, we age quickly."
Goku said nothing but he was like an open book, sadness written all over his face.
"Don't you dare pity me, Kakarot" Vegeta warned, narrowing his eyes.
Goku shook his head "No, of course not. It's just-" Goku tried to explain but the words left him. He closed his eyes trying to clear his mind. "I just thought you would have more time thanks to your royal blood and all that." He tried to smile, but it was too difficult.
"I already knew the day would come, so let it pass. I can still train but, as today's incident proves, 1500Gs are out of the question. I have enough with Bra and Trunk's worried looks, and don't even start with me about Bulma..."
"You can't blame them. They love you."
"I know" Vegeta closed his eyes. For anyone who didn't know him well they wouldn't have realized the small corner of his mouth turning up slightly.
"So... that's why you stopped sparring with me, right? It means we are not going to spar anymore, right?" Goku asked trying to hide his disappointment, and to Vegeta's surprise, the words hurt. After finishing his training with Uub, Goku had kept visiting the Briefs regularly, trying to make up for lost time. He didn't want Bulma to yell at him again for not dropping by. He would come with Goten or Pan and then go out to have a friendly spar with Vegeta. It had been one of those things that had kept him going after Chichi died.
"Hn, your stupid concern will just get in the way. There's no point really" He shrugged. It wasn't the main reason but the truth wasn't far from that. He simply didn't want Kakarot to see him age like this.
"How did it start?" Goku crossed his arms and moved to the other side of the window looking at the sunset too. "Was it fast?"
"You could say that. During our last spar I could tell there was something wrong with my hands and arms" He showed the bandages that were still on him. "It went slowly downhill from there. My legs, my back…the hair. It's been about five months since then" He didn't mind to tell Kakarot about this. The fool needed to know, because his fate would be similar if there wasn't another dangerous foe that would take their lives first. "I was angry today and tried to push my limits… but after this" he looked at the infirmary bed with disgust. Bulma would never forgive him if he went a far enough to accidentally die. She had made him promise he would not try to harm himself after Buu, but he did not intend to keep that promise if his family was ever in jeopardy again. He would willingly die for them as many times as was necessary… but he had to agree that 'death by training' would make Bulma force Uranai Baba to take her to the Other World to scream at him. He would not take his chances.
Suddenly, Goku's eyes brightened and he smiled. "Wait Vegeta… I have the solution!" Vegeta glanced at him curiously and shook his head like he had just read his mind.
"No, we can't use them"
Goku blinked confused. "Oh c'mon. It's just a simple and harmless wish." He said tentatively. For the first time in decades he actually wanted to make a wish to the Dragonballs. It wouldn't be the first time someone wanted to regain their youth through the power of Shen Long, and it was not like Vegeta would turn on them again after so many years. "Why not?"
"I don't want to live longer than her" Vegeta's words were like a slap for Goku.
"Ah… Of course " he nodded, his face darkened, erasing the possibility completely from his mind. He would have said the same if Chichi had been still alive.
"Whatever" he shrugged and started to move to the door. The talk was over. It was now time to hear Bulma scolding him about the accident and expressing concern for his wellbeing.
The prince looked back expecting another 'great idea' out of Kakarot, but it took the taller Saiyan a couple of seconds to finally speak.
"I'll be there if you need me" Goku said with all honesty. Vegeta frowned and walked out of the room as he didn't care. Goku managed to hear the prince say one more thing before disappearing into the hallway.