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You Can Break Me but You Can't Take My Pride

Chapter Text

Prince Vegeta paced in front of the closed double doors that led to Frieza’s penthouse suite, checked his tablet again, then sighed in exasperation. He was royalty, and should not be left outside like a commoner while Nappa was in conference with Lord Zarbon and Lord Frieza. It was, well, insulting.

Saiyans were not known for their patience; he did not do well with waiting, and he had to move, had to keep active or he would give in to the temptation to yell or strike out. The honor guards, marked by their blue and black battle suits, watched him pace with a mixture of trepidation and amusement.  

The young Saiyan felt annoyed that Frieza chose to deal with his bodyguard instead of directly with him, which was the usual way of things. In the past, he and Frieza often spoke one on one, so now Vegeta was not sure why Frieza was keeping him at arm’s length.

The uncertainty made him uncomfortable and angry, the usual combination of emotions. His muscles were tense, and he had to keep reminding himself to relax, not to indicate his anxiety. He made sure that his tail was firmly wrapped around his waist; he could feel the hairs standing up nonetheless.

“What is taking him so long? It’s a simple question!” Vegeta mumbled, and grew more annoyed. He folded his arms across his chest and ignored the throbbing from his recently broken nose and sprained tail.  Neither sentry responded to his query, nor did he expect them to.

Vegeta had not seen or spoken with his father since he had been drafted into Lord Frieza’s service two years previous. This infuriated the young Saiyan; he wanted to scream. Why had his father given him up?  Why had the king not contacted him once news of their world’s destruction became known? Did his father know that their home was gone, did he even care?

The young Prince had been assigned Elite missions for most of his career, sometimes in the company of his caretaker Nappa, and Raditz, the eldest son of Bardock. The three of them were - to Vegeta’s knowledge - the only remaining Saiyans, besides the king, and Vegeta worried in secret that his father may have met a similar fate as the planet named after him.

The three survivors lived together in a cramped single apartment provided by the Planetary Trade Organization as a service to all active members of the Frieza Force, along with basic care and food. But the Saiyans had high metabolisms, and their bodies needed far more food and nutrients than most of the other soldiers.  Because of this, most of their extra pay went towards feeding themselves. A Saiyan who did not eat regularly became lethargic and easily controlled and that was something they could not afford in the hostile atmosphere on Frieza Planet 79, one of the main bases of operation for the North Quadrant and Frieza’s Empire.

It was an endless cycle; they would go on missions to earn money, but instead of saving up their earnings, they spent most of it on food out of necessity - a neat little loophole that kept the Saiyans trapped and unable to improve their lot.

This, too, made Prince Vegeta angry. He had grown up in luxury on Vegetasai and was not used to such crude treatment: often on the verge of starvation, ridiculed by his inferiors and mocked by those with far more power. Sadly, there was not much he could do about it. Tapa... he was an Elite soldier, capable of great things ... yet he was forced to grovel, especially to Zarbon and Dodoria, who controlled access to Lord Frieza.

When Lord Frieza had taken Prince Vegeta in (a phrase used loosely, to be sure) he promised the Saiyan fair treatment and quarters in exchange for his services, and that he would be able to rise rapidly through the ranks.

So Vegeta worked hard to earn his place. Even though young, he soon outranked the majority of PTO soldiers, to their chagrin, yet he was still stuck. When the rogue comet had destroyed Planet Vegeta, Frieza promised to take Vegeta in and treat him like a son. At first that seemed true. But somewhere along the line, things had blurred, and Frieza’s polite exterior and concern slowly turned to impatience, then scorn, and then ...

Vegeta’s mind skittered away from half hidden memories of discussions with Frieza in which the warlord had threatened Nappa, Raditz, himself, his father. Worse that that were the other conversations in which Frieza had tutored him in techniques both mental and physical, and Vegeta had left dazed and numbed with chunks of his memory missing.

As an Elite, Vegeta often trained with other shock troops, most of who came under the purview of Zarbon, Master of Assignments, and Dodoria, who often led the high-risk assaults. Vegeta was strong, yes, but could not ever hope to match their power levels, much less Frieza.

He trained with different Elites several times a week, which often left him with injuries that sent him to the Medical Capsules. He lost track of the times his arms and ribs had been broken. Vegeta knew he did not stand a chance against any of them, yet he fought as hard as he could, and did not back down or surrender. It was not in his nature.

Each fight made him stronger, wiser, harder. Some day he would be more powerful than they. He would unlock the secret of his royal blood and ascend to become a Super Saiyan, like in the legends. When that day came, they all would pay. First, the Elites, then Frieza’s lackeys, and then Frieza himself. Vegeta would avenge his world and his people. This thought was the only thing that kept him going on some days, knowing that he would see Frieza fall.

Yet, that glorious day was far away. Vegeta was too weak and inexperienced, and must bide his time building his strength, finding allies, and keeping his enemies ignorant of his true might.

This rankled Vegeta; he was forced into servitude to do Frieza’s bidding, and that due to his age he had to take the abuse of his so called superiors. He especially held deep hatred for Zarbon and Dodoria; both individuals often harassed and humiliated him, injured him physically and mentally whenever they got the chance - all behind Lord Frieza’s back. Their violence often lacked a reason, combined with bits of kindness that put Vegeta off guard long enough to unsettle him and give him a glimmer of false hope.

Just the other day, Dodoria was working with some of the recruits. He had asked Vegeta to display a complicated fighting technique, and Vegeta - always ready to show off his skills - complied without question. Dodoria praised him, put a hand on his shoulder, then without notice grabbed his hair and slammed him face first into the floor, catching him off guard and instantly shattering his nose.

Dodoria laughed and told him that he should always watch his back, and then stepped on his tail for good measure. When Vegeta returned home, he refused to tell Nappa what had happened due to embarrassment.

Zarbon’s wickedness was far more sinister; he never issued an open threat, but Vegeta knew that to cross him would be fatal. He held the ear of Lord Frieza and spun connections with his polite tones and insidious machinations.

The doors to Frieza’s inner chamber slid open with a hiss and broke Vegeta out of his reverie. He stopped his pacing because he did not want either Zarbon or Frieza to see him rattled.  Nappa exited; his face carefully blank.

“Nappa, I’ve been waiting for hours! What -”

The giant man held up one hand to delay any questions. Vegeta felt a quick rise of anger - how dare Nappa silence him - but the words died when he saw Nappa’s tail language.

Saiyans often communicated to one another using their prehensile tails, this allowed them to say one thing verbally while indicating another intent. Nappa’s tail was slightly puffed and twitched at the tip, indicating worry and anger that should not be expressed in front of others.

Nappa placed a strong hand on his shoulder. “Let’s go home, Prince Vegeta. Lord Frieza sends his condolences that your father is still on a sensitive mission and can not be contacted.”

Despite his best efforts, Vegeta’s face fell. His tail drooped.

“Come on now, Vegeta. Your father is an important man, and Lord Frieza would only cut off contact if it was necessary.” Nappa smiled and spoke in a soft reassuring tone, but his tail continued to twitch. “It’s almost midday meal time. They’re serving Takarian deep fry at the mess. I know you like that, Prince Vegeta.”

“I’m not a baby, Nappa! Don’t placate me,” Vegeta snapped, then immediately regretted it. He huffed, and then remembered his tail had come free. He wrapped it around his waist; the last thing he wanted was someone stepping on it yet again.  “Fine. I’m hungry. You can get my food for me.”

The doors slid shut behind them as they walked away.

“Let’s stop by the apartment and collect Raditz,” Nappa suggested. His hand still rested on Vegeta’s shoulder.

Vegeta did not reply, he just snorted and stalked away. Nappa followed him; both remained silent until they arrived at their shared domicile. Nappa swiped the key pass over the sensor and the entrance slid aside with a hum, then stopped moving. An acrid smell filled the air, and smoke oozed from the pad. The door stuck halfway with barely enough room for Nappa to squeeze his large frame through.

The former commander cursed a stream of colorful and creative invectives and slammed a fist into the metal door. “Ah come on ... Stupid, useless, piece of shit! What the hell else can break?”

The rant was enough to bring a smirk to Vegeta’s face. He suspected that Nappa had done it more to make him smile than because the commander was truly frustrated.

Once they were inside their quarters, Nappa used the inner keypad and activated the security subroutine. A thick metal door slid down to give them a semblance of privacy. Nappa sent in a work request, without the swearing, to fix the portal but who knew how long that would take? He adjusted the gravity controls to a closer imitation of Vegetasai’s heavier gravity. The pull helped the two Saiyans feel a bit more at ease. Raditz was not at home. They would have to wait for him, yet another annoyance.

Vegeta walked past the tiny kitchenette and into the living area, leapt over the back of the well used couch, and settled on the battered cushions to wait. He felt angry and hungry, a bad combination. He deactivated the communicator function on his scouter and removed it, then tossed in onto one of the small end tables.

“Is there anything to eat, Nappa?” Vegeta said, wishing to avoid the real subject. He felt small and lost.

“We don’t have enough to stock up, and Zarbon’s being an ass. But don’t worry, I’ll figure something out. I always do. Here, drink this. It’ll fill you up until we get to the mess hall.” Nappa turned on the tap in the kitchen, filled a glass, and handed it to the younger Saiyan.

“Water? Really?”

“Sorry, Vegeta.” Nappa sounded dejected.

Vegeta sniffed and took the proffered glass, then took in a breath, and sighed.

“What did he say, Nappa? Where is my father? Why won’t anyone tell me?”

Nappa shifted on the balls of his feet, an indicator that he was conflicted. “Same story, Prince Vegeta. They claim he’s out on mission and that he can’t be contacted for security reasons. I think it’s a batch of lies - I’ve done secret work for the Force in the past, and no mission lasts this long.”  

Nappa stopped speaking, and remained silent for several minutes; he refused to make eye contact with Vegeta. A cold knot formed in the Prince’s stomach, a sour taste as bile rose in the back of his throat.

“Nappa?” Vegeta couldn’t suppress the plaintive tone that entered his voice.

“Look, I’ve never lied to you and I’m not gonna start now. They’re feeding us a line. I know they’re lying, and they know it too. I think we need to face facts - I think the King is dead, Vegeta, and likely has been for years.” Nappa did not look at Vegeta, but sat next to him to reassure the young Prince.  

Vegeta did not respond. A sense of unreality, of disconnect crept over him, and his world faded into a strange haze. Nappa’s voice sounded faint, as if he were yelling from a great distance.

“No.” As if that one word could stop reality. Part of him knew it was likely true, and had known for years, but another part refused to even consider it. His father, the King, could not be dead.

“Vegeta,” Nappa began, and Vegeta noticed the placating tone in the older Saiyan’s voice. He hated it, and hated Nappa at that moment for making his fears real.

“No, no, NO! Fr’i ta’i ja’ta m’yo ! It’s a lie! I won’t accept it!” Vegeta screamed the denial in Nappa’s face; his own features contorted in anger and fear.

He stormed off, throwing energy and objects alike, the energy swirling around him in destruction until his rage was spent and he realized what he had done.  Vegeta crouched down on his haunches, feeling ashamed and lost. He barely noticed when Nappa sat cross-legged next to him, placed an arm over his shoulders, and pulled him against his side for comfort. Instinctively, Vegeta curled up against the large warrior. Saiyans often huddled during times of distress, and this was no exception.

“It’s okay, Vegeta. Au n’ta,” Nappa soothed, “we’re going to be okay.”

“No. It isn’t. He wouldn’t die without talking to me! I won’t believe it. I won’t...not until I have proof. Do you have that, Nappa?” Vegeta’s voice began to crack.

Nappa started to object, then shook his head. “No. Just suspicions.”

“He’s not dead. He can’t be, Nappa. I know it...because I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

Chapter Text

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Round Two Statistics
Kill Ratio: 100%
Strike Accuracy: 95%
Enemy Count: 15
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Vegeta checked the mission display shown by one of the holoprojectors in Training Room Three, shook his head in disbelief and brushed the fringes out of his eyes. “Tsk. I missed one ... ”

He looked into one of the cameras, waved a hand to ensure he had the tech’s attention, then spoke: “I’m waiting, Kinqua. Send in another grouping. Make them stronger and make it quick. I want to feel like I’m actually fighting.”

Moments that seemed to stretch into hours passed as the prince waited impatiently, tapping his foot and his tail lashing as he waited for his handler to reset the parameters and initiate a third wave. He closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, and prepared himself.

A green light flashed warning, a harsh buzzer sounded a ready alert. Small openings spaced around the room slid open; more Saibaman rushed into the training chamber where Vegeta stood waiting among a pile of bodies from the previous round.

The Saibamen came at him, a mass of writhing green bodies coming in from all sides, already grown and ready to fight. Vegeta counted quickly: twenty this time. Kinqua had taken his advice to heart, but they - like the others - would soon be dust. Perhaps after this, Kinqua would believe him. The creatures screeched their high pitched battle cries and closed in, sharp claws extended and teeth bared.

Focus. Breathe. Flow. Fight.

From the center of his chest, bright light blossomed and exploded with force from his body like an exploding sun. The wave expanded outward and forced everything in the vicinity backwards to crash, stunned, against the walls or the floor. Green ichor oozed from shattered limbs and crushed skulls. They squealed in agony as they died, but their last throes did not affect Vegeta in the least.

He took to the air, soared towards the ceiling, charged up a glowing ball of fire in each hand, then launched it at the shattered Saibamen, engulfing them in flames. As they burned, he smiled, his sharp canines bared. The bodies caught on fire, but the ventilation fans kicked in before the blaze could get out of control.

As the last Saibaman fell to ash, the rush of combat left his blood and left Vegeta numb. He descended, touched ground, then glanced about. Most of his enemies were nothing more than ash and charred pieces of bone, but a few leftover carcasses outside the blast radius lay scattered about the room. There was no challenge here, not for the Prince of Saiyans who had led war parties, but it was one of the few ways he could rage in safety. Corpses lay piled before the exit, and as he departed the chamber he kicked one the still bodies to one side.

“Weak, useless creatures,” he muttered, and slammed his fist against the strong polymer door. “Let me out!”

A red light flashed warning, and the door hissed wide to allow him to exit. He did not wait to see his final mission numbers. The techs who ran the chambers looked up; one returned his scouter to him as he passed. Vegeta glowered at them and stalked up to the Head Technician squatting at his controls, the blue visor on his helmet thrown back to reveal narrow black eyes and navy blue skin.

“I told you this was too easy, Kinqua! I could take these fri’vau in my sleep when I was five! I need real opponents, not weak clones.” Vegeta clenched his gloved hands in fury, his eyes narrowed and his tail whipping in frustration. “You’re insulting me. Increase the difficulty. Now!”

The blue skinned man seemed to fade a bit, even though he normally towered over the young Saiyan. He fiddled with the complex panel of controls, then his scouter. “I’m sorry, Prince Vegeta, but I can’t go beyond safety parameters, Lord Frieza’s orders. Anything more difficult would require authorization.” He held up both hands in an apologetic gesture that only served to anger Vegeta further. The man was mocking him!

“Then get it. I’m waiting. This level of difficulty is child’s play!” Vegeta crossed his arms. Even though he wanted nothing more than to remove the man’s head from his shoulders, he knew that abusing the help would only earn him a visit from Zarbon and disciplinary action.  

“I’m sorry, but I can’t.” Kinqua covered his face with his hands, as if he could possibly block an attack from Vegeta; the man could not even use Ki. “Please don’t hurt me!”

Fri’va, Vegeta thought, then growled,  “I despise cowards. Now fix it.”

“Y-y-You’ll need to speak to Lord Zarbon. He can override the system.” Kinqua offered a weak smile, a placation, and ignored the Prince’s taunt.

“Jik’hi!”  Vegeta refused to be mollified. He leaned in, got in Kinqua’s helmeted face and cursed -  then regretted it immediately. He hated to lose face in front of these inferiors.

“Be glad I didn’t kill you,” he snarled, then turned on his heel and stalked away, leaving Kinqua to shake.  A Saiyan’s full temper was a terrible thing to witness.

He took deep breaths from his solar plexus as he walked, a centering technique that Nappa taught him, and sought to calm his emotions. Usually, Raditz or Nappa would have been there to meet him after a training run, but Nappa was currently out on a solo mission and Raditz ... well ... Raditz was busy being an errand boy as of late, a point of contention between the three Saiyans that led to many loud disagreements and punching matches.

Vegeta knew that he should wait for Nappa, his official guardian to return before he went to deal with Zarbon, but he did not want to wait. He should not have to, he was royalty. He hated dealing with any of Lord Frieza’s henchmen, but he despised Zarbon above all others. Frieza’s second in command seemed to enjoy making his life hell; Vegeta sought to avoid the man by pawning off all interactions on Nappa or Raditz whenever possible.

His scouter chirped to indicate incoming communication. “Open channel,” Vegeta said, but did not stop to talk. “What is it? I’m busy.”

“Nice to talk to you, too. I’m sorry, I should have been there to meet you. My exercise ran over and I just got back to the apartment.” Raditz voice cracked as he responded, then he coughed slightly.  

Vegeta curled one lip. “What do you want, Raditz?”

“Are you on your way back now?. I’m starving and I’d like to go to the mess hall together. I can come and meet you at the elevators; Nappa would have my head if he knows I let you go out on your own.”

“I’m not your caretaker,” Vegeta snapped. “If you want to eat, go and do it. I’ve got something I need to do.” Sometimes Raditz just ... pissed him off. The older Saiyan was far too passive in Vegeta’s opinion, and as a result often the target of his wrath.

“Well, you don’t have to be rude about it, Vegeta.” Even over the comm, Raditz managed to sound like he was ready to cry.

“That’s Ve’ho Vegeta to you.”

“Oh, now it’s ‘Prince’? Remind me of that the next time you want to be groomed.” Raditz severed the link. Vegeta rolled his eyes.

Soldiers in different versions of flexible Saiyan armor passed by, some idle and talking, others at alert. At regular intervals, announcements came over the public comm channel that most of the troops had their scouters tuned to. Vegeta ignored them, most dealt with infantry movements and logistic details. He did not care much about Frieza’s latest takeover or Raditz’s whining. All he wanted to do was fight, burn off his anger, and forget what Nappa had told him.  

His father ... he was not dead. Could not be dead! Until Vegeta saw the body, he would refuse to believe it. How could Nappa say that - Nappa, commander and war hero of the Tuffle Uprising ...  But if that were true, why then the long silence? Why had King Vegeta left him in Frieza’s clutches and not come for him, like he had promised? Vegeta hissed in anger, his tail lashing quick. Someone was lying to him.

Finding Zarbon was often an exercise in frustration; the blue skinned General served as both Frieza’s main enforcer and his consul. He also controlled all PTO assignment logs, and as such had many people bending his ear. Rumors abounded among Frieza Force troops that Zarbon was once an aristocrat as well. His people had been conquered by Frieza, so Vegeta could not  understand why the tall aide treated him with such scorn.

The main headquarters for FP-79 were composed of a huge maze of artificially lit corridors that branched off into smaller hives of rooms. Several high ranking officials, such as Zarbon, Captain Ginyu, and Cui had living quarters located here. Lord Frieza kept a private complex for his own uses when on planet as well. Both these locations were part of Home Base FP-79, which easily housed thousands of the Frieza Force along with supplies, troops, and ships and was a hub of Frieza’s Empire.  Vegeta, Nappa and Raditz were all that remained of the annexed Saiyan Army, and as such had a flat on base.

Frieza himself was not on planet, but Vegeta hoped that Zarbon was. Otherwise, this was an exercise in futility. He followed the twists and turns from memory, followed a path that he had Nappa had taken so many times in the past to ask for additional work, to the Master of Assignments’ private office.

The verbal chatter continued, ordering troops and supplies, a kind of white noise that most soldiers learned to ignore. Vegeta could not have repeated a single conversation, but it was a way to keep a finger on the pulse of the empire. He listened with half his attention - destroyers and refiners on deployment to extract materials from defunct planets and other stellar bodies. How many worlds had fallen to Frieza’s greed, and how many more would?

In his musing, Vegeta had come to Assignments alone and unguarded.  Not that he needed guarding, but still... Soldiers and officers stood about in groups speaking. All eyes turned to him when he passed the entrance, triggering a notice chime. Vegeta felt their stares, and the hairs on his tail rose in unconscious response before he took control and wrapped it around his waist. I am royalty, I am an Elite, he reminded himself.

A quick check of the room showed that Zarbon was probably not present. Cui, a lower level officer, sat at the large wooden desk with his feet propped up and spoke into his scouter; the doors to the private room behind shut. Vegeta strode up to the desk. When Cui did not respond, he slapped his hands on the flat surface loud enough to make the purple lackey jump.

“I want to see Zarbon,” he announced and stood at his full height, as his father had told him to do when dealing with others.  “Tell him that Prince Vegeta is here to see him.” Vegeta spoke as if this were his domain. Never show them weakness, always have control of the situation.

“... One moment. I have to deal with a little annoyance.” Cui stopped speaking, glanced up from the tablet he was typing on, then regarded the Saiyan with cold disdain.

“I said - ”

“I heard you, little monkey,” Cui replied, then burst into a short laugh, his thick lips curled in mirth. “But you’re out of luck. He’s not here. Not that he’d speak to the likes of you, he has far more important things to tend to. Now run along and play before you get hurt.”

“I’m not an infant,” Vegeta roared. “I’ll have you know that Saiyan warriors are battle ready by the time they are five!”

Cui chuckled, a wet sound that sent unconscious shivers up Vegeta’s spine. “I’ll be sure to pass the word along.”
 
“My father will hear of this!”

“Oh, I doubt that. Now, I’ve got work to do.”

With that, Cui returned his attention to the work screen in front of him, dismissing Vegeta.

It took all of his will not to scream; instead Vegeta dug his fingernails into his palms with such force that blood welled from the wounds. Without another word, the Saiyan prince swallowed his pride, turned on one heel, and marched out of the Assignments building, followed by the snickers of Cui and the other PTO soldiers.

Gods help me ... I will kill them all.

Chapter Text

What a waste of time! And how dare Cui treat me this way?

Vegeta flew down the main corridor, in open defiance of the rules. Part of him hoped for a confrontation just so he could take out his anger on someone. His scouter chirped, but he disregarded it. The last thing he needed was to hear Raditz griping about going to the mess hall alone. Vegeta was hungry too. He had eaten four hours previous, a substandard fare of gruel and protein patties the base cooks dared to call breakfast.

The Saiyans' fast metabolisms demanded they eat at least seven meals daily; as of late they had been short of pay, and short of extra food to fuel themselves beyond the daily allotments. Well, he would go and eat later after he found Zarbon. The fierce need to blow off the anger he originally felt had died down, leaving only a slow burn, however, Vegeta knew he needed greater challenges to continue building his strength.

One day. I will show them all the might of a true Saiyan Elite. I swear it, Ja'ta.

He did not dare to take a first strike, but he gleefully bowled down a few aides who were not paying attention. He laughed as he sped away, ignored their shaking fists.

Let them talk! For a moment, Vegeta felt good. It didn't last.

Still looking back over his shoulder, Vegeta threw an obscene gesture their way that would have earned him a harsh scolding from both Nappa and his father...if he had been there. A Prince was never supposed to be crude, it was unseemly. Still, who was going to tell on him?

As he rounded a corner at high speed, he ran headlong into Zarbon. The force knocked Vegeta out of the air, and he landed at the teal warrior's feet, dazed by the impact. Zarbon did not seem to be affected at all. Vegeta blinked, confused at first, and shook his head. He noticed Zarbon and Dodoria, side by side, glaring down at him. He stood, made sure he was steady on his feet, and gave a cursory bow to the two men.

"My apologies, Lord Zarbon. Are you unharmed?" Politeness kicked in automatically, a trait ingrained in him at an early age.

Frieza's two aides looked at one another, and unspoken communication passed between them. Vegeta's good mood faded quick, replaced by a nebulous anxiety.

"Vegeta, I know you are aware of the regulations in this building," Zarbon purred, and leaned down towards the petite Saiyan in a display of intimidation.

"But yes, I am unharmed." Zarbon brushed imaginary dirt from his armor, the movement caused the delicate earrings he wore to shimmer. "This is a place of business, not a sporting ring."

Dodoria snorted laughter in response. "Boy thinks this is funny maybe? We could teach him a lesson in respect." He cracked his large knuckles, then elbowed his comrade.

"Oh, Dodoria ... I'm sure that our little Prince was just having a bit of fun. No need for harsh discipline. Wouldn't you say so, Vegeta?" He winked at Vegeta, as if they were the best of friends.

"It won't happen again," Vegeta promised, his voice small.

"Of course not. Oh Vegeta, I hear you were looking for me? How can I help you?"

Vegeta felt his hackles rise. Zarbon was never kind, and this placating manner worried him. Perhaps he should forget the entire thing? He hated to owe Zarbon anything.

No. I won't back down. I will get what I want.

"Yes," Vegeta took a deep breath to steady himself. "The training room is too easy. I need the safeguards removed ... If it's convenient for you, Lord Zarbon."

"Too easy?" Zarbon's eyebrows rose; whether in true admiration or mockery, Vegeta could not tell. "Hmmm. We'll have to fix that."

The teal skinned man tossed his long green braid over one shoulder in an unconscious move, then consulted his tablet. "Yes...hmm. Too easy for you, 'child's play', I believe you said? Perhaps you need more ... intelligent ... opponents."

Zarbon stared at him then in uncomfortable silence that dragged out. Vegeta fought the urge to fidget; to show weakness would be to lose ground. He forced himself to make eye contact, but made sure he kept Dodoria in his peripheral vision. Just as he was about to respond, Zarbon continued.

"Well, I love a good challenge as well, Vegeta. So, I'll make a deal with you. You seem to like games, so let's play a little game of hide and seek! You know what that is, right? If you win, I'll remove all the safeguards for you. Forever. If you lose, well, let's save that little detail for later. Hmm?"

"What?" Vegeta blinked a few times, unsure if he had heard right. Was Zarbon trying to insult him?

"How about it, Vegeta. I'm in a sporting mood."

Vegeta sighed. "Ugh. Fine."

"Excellent!" Zarbon clapped his hands together. This did not reassure Vegeta at all.

"All right, then, here are the rules. One: You are going to run, and we give chase. If we catch you, little Prince, we kill you. You will tell no one of our game; if you do - they will also die. Two: in order to give you a fighting chance, we will not use our scouters. You will not use yours, either. Three: we will play here, in the main complex. If you attempt to leave the building, the sensors will alert Dodoria and I, and you will forfeit. We will give you a head start. Does that sound like enough of a challenge for you?"

"Y-you're joking, right?" Vegeta stammered. He fought to keep his voice level. His tail frizzed out, an unconscious response to fear that he had not quite learned to control.

"Am I laughing, monkey?" Zarbon's tone was flat, and his eyes dark. He glanced at Dodoria, then pressed the power button on his scouter, powering it down. Dodoria followed suit.

"Now ... RUN!"

For a second, Vegeta froze, unable to move. This could not be real, Zarbon and Dodoria were screwing with his mind. They would not outright attack him, they did not dare! Then Zarbon moved quick, reached for him, a sadistic grin on his face.

Saiyan reflexes and battle training kicked in, and Vegeta began to execute a back flip to put space between himself and the older, more experienced beings. The initial pause cost him; he pivoted his body beyond Zarbon's reach - the main threat - but at the pinnacle of his vault, Dodoria grabbed his tail and yanked. His momentum carried him forward, but torsion twisted the vertebrae in his tail. Vegeta felt something wrench, and the intense pain caused his eyes to water. He stifled a scream, his balance knocked off, and narrowly avoided smashing his face into the floor for the second time in two days. He landed flat, the breath knocked out of him.

Dodoria laughed. "What a joke, Zarbon! This is no challenge at all!" He leveled one hand, finger pointed, at the young noble and charged up a Ki ball.

They meant it. They were going to kill him. A sharp metallic taste flooded his mouth and Vegeta allowed his body to take over; his mind would get him killed. He rolled quick as the blast scorched only inches from his face, onto his feet, relying on his superior agility. He heard their laughter, saw Zarbon move in quick to one side, Dodoria to the other.

Vegeta dodged the second blast, felt the bolt sear deep into the flesh on his right thigh as he attempted to flee. In response, he gathered his Ki and rose into the air, taking some weight off his injured leg. At the same time, he pulled energy from the surroundings - felt the resulting temperature drop - and flung it into Dodoria's face. It was a sloppy move. The wave dissipated when it struck, but had the desired result. The bulky spiked warrior bellowed in pain and grabbed his face.

"My eyes! You stupid monkey!" Dodoria hollered in pain and frustration, took a blind leap at Vegeta, and collided with Zarbon. It would have been comedic if they were not trying to slaughter him.

Vegeta launched himself at Dodoria, used him as a springboard to leap over and beyond, then hit the ground running. He hissed in pain, slid around a corner and fled for his life. He hunched his shoulders and braced himself for the inevitable strike from behind. When it did not come, he refused to look back. Why wasn't he dead? Both Zarbon and Dodoria could have easily used their Ki to smite him down. Could they possibly be honoring their terms?

He needed to put distance between himself and his two superior opponents to gain time to think and treat his wounds. He could fly to escape, but a continuous output of energy would drain his resources, and Vegeta did not know how long they planned to hunt him.

The halls were filled with midday traffic, moving obstacles that served to help and hinder the Saiyan Prince as he fled, his gait slowed. Few people paid him much attention, and those who did seemed disinclined to ask questions. At the first opportunity, Vegeta ducked and rolled into a small alcove, out of direct line of sight.

"We're coming for you!" Dodoria's deep raspy voice boomed, a loud projection that caused heads to turn.

Vegeta startled and pressed against the wall. He could not fly or run fast due to his injuries, and he was sure Dodoria had crippled him on purpose to slow him down. He had to get out of sight, had to do something that they would not expect, gain the upper hand. But ... what? First things first though, triage. Dodoria's attack had sliced open his thigh muscle, and blood started to pool in the cuff of his boot. By chance, the injury was not bleeding enough to create a trail. Yet. Both his leg and his tail throbbed in pain.

"Nappa is going to be pissed. He just bought these clothes for me." Vegeta realized that a damaged wardrobe was the least of his worries, but he could not suppress the thought as he ripped a wide swatch of cloth from one sleeve and used it to bind his leg. There was not much he could do about his tail. A quick examination showed it was broken near the tip, extremely painful, and unable to be used for support or grasping.

"Oh tapa," he moaned, gritted his teeth as he tore a second strip and used it to immobilize the break. He felt his body start to seize as the pain ate his consciousness. He leaned back, took a few deep breaths and stared at the ceiling as he waited for the dark spots across his vision to clear. Vegeta willed himself not to pass out.

Above him, recycled air hissed from one of the many vents and caressed his face. He thought he could hear Dodoria and Zarbon, soon they would locate him and most likely beat him into a pulp or just disintegrate him. Running was out, so what was left?

Somewhere to hide, like ... that vent overhead, a small panel no more than two feet square. Too small for either Dodoria or Zarbon, but large enough to accommodate Vegeta's small frame. He would be trapped if found. Yet if he was quick and quiet, he could secrete away and wait until they grew bored, or Nappa finally got a clue and figured out he was missing. Vegeta took the risk; flew up, grabbed hold of the slots and pulled. To his surprise, it clicked loose with little effort.

"Small favors." Vegeta scrambled in backwards, then reattached the grate cover.

The interior duct closed in tight, but Vegeta could maneuver well enough to turn around and begin his escape into the innards of the complex. He did not dare to move fast for fear of making noise as he crawled through the winding maze that imitated the structure below. He moved in the dark for the most part while some light filtered through the grates, but darkness did not frighten Vegeta. He kept moving and listening for any indication of his pursuers. The air movement went against his skin; it felt as if light fingers were constantly ruffling the hair on his tail and head.

Disembodied voices drifted up as he made slow progress. Vegeta heard many useless conversations. There seemed to be no sign of Frieza's lackeys. Watch yourself, he thought, can't be calling them that to their faces. Whenever Vegeta felt comfortable enough to stop and rest, he detected the voices of one or the other, and it panicked him. He saw Zarbon pass below him at one point, and Vegeta froze, held his breath until the man passed by not more than four feet from him.

Vegeta lost track of time. His life became slots of light and dark, punctuated by frantic scrambling through the metal labyrinth, always worried that he would be found out. Several times he thought he had been detected, and skittered deeper into the heart of the building. His tail and leg continued to throb and pain him, but after a while those hurts started to fade into the background, replaced by the growing pangs of hunger. That must be their plan: to starve him out of hiding and force him to forfeit.

Every floor of the compound had connective ductwork where smaller tunnels from many sections combined into one larger artery. This allowed the Saiyan more space to sit up and stretch his cramped limbs. He could hear little due to the continuous hissing airflow, but no one could detect his movements either.

Vegeta rested and checked his wounds. The makeshift cloth bandaid had soaked with dried blood and adhered to his skin. He noticed no contamination, or sign of infection. Vegeta wished for his scouter; not to signal for help, just to hear something besides the endless susurration that was his constant companion. Unfortunately, he had dropped it when he escaped Zarbon's grasp. He sighed, and let his eyes close ... only for a minute, to rest and figure out his next move.

Chapter Text

“Wake up, Vegeta.”

Rough hands grabbed him, ripped him out of a sound sleep. He was being dragged backwards by one arm towards an open grate, out of control. Panic blossomed in his chest. How could he have fallen asleep? Vegeta started to thrash, tried to free himself. His arms and legs would not respond. Claws dug into his flesh, he teetered on the lip of the ledge, then was pulled forcibly through the small opening. Head spinning, his body useless, unable to summon Ki, Vegeta plummeted down and landed hard. His shoulder dislocated first then he blacked out.

“Wake up.”

Someone kicked him in the ribs, pain lanced through his torso. He coughed, tasted blood, and knew that he was badly hurt. Vegeta opened his eyes. His head pounded, his skull felt like it had been cracked open. Disconnected shapes and colors swirled in his vision, streaks of painful bright light, blue and maroon and darkness that wavered into focus. Two monsters hovered over him, their forms huge and distorted. Their voices sounded like shards of glass; he heard jagged laughter and knew that the game was over.

“I said, wake up.” The spiky magenta blob (Dodoria...his name is Dodoria) grabbed him by the collar and punched him in the face. His lip split, he felt hot blood pour down his chin. “You lose. Time to die now.”

“Clever little monkey, you thought you could trick us?” Zarbon leaned into his field of vision, smiled cheerily, then ran one finger down his cheek. Vegeta tried to pull away from his touch, but was frozen in place.

Trapped. Can’t flee. Can’t fight.  

“Lord Frieza won’t like this ... you can’t do this to me.” Vegeta threw out the last and only defense he could think of, anything to delay the inevitable.

“Oh, Vegeta, Lord Frieza already knows!”

Zarbon’s smile was as wide as galaxies. He lifted his right hand, palm up, fingers splayed. A blue sphere of glowing energy winked into existence and grew rapidly, so bright, filled up his vision until there was nothing else. It was the last thing he would see before he died. He screamed in terror. His hair stood up on end, static energy crackled across his skin as he started to feel heat. A blinding flash seared him; he could feel his flesh burning, the fires of a nova engulfed him to the sounds of laughter and he howled.



“Ah ...Fr’i ... fr’i ... FR’I!”

Vegeta awoke screaming and thrashing in full panic until he smashed the back of his head into a protruding edge. Sharp pain lanced through his scalp, blood rushed warm down his neck. His heart felt like it would explode from his chest, his breath came in spastic gulps, his body taut and his limbs twitched.

It was a dream. I’m alive. I’m okay. Vegeta covered his mouth with his hands, squeezed his eyes shut, and forced himself to calm down. Panic will not serve here. Deep breaths. Focus. Now, listen. Assess the situation.

His abrupt revival did not appear to have attracted notice, a positive thing. His tail had swollen during his unexpected nap, the cut in his leg still lanced pain, the back of his head bled, and he shook from hunger and thirst. All of his limbs tingled when he crawled back to the small opening a few feet ahead.

Without a scouter, he could not tell if Zarbon and Dodoria still hunted him or had grown bored and moved on. He also had no conception of how long had passed ... hours, days, an eternity? Inside the building, the lights always shone, and there was no marker to tell except for the gnawing pain in his belly.

In the end, hunger won out.

Ignoring the fear that cramped his stomach, Vegeta shimmied his way back into the narrow pipes until he could see the passersby below. His legs cramped up again when he stopped moving and he hissed in discomfort. The light stung his eyes, he squinted and searched for his enemies. No sign of either one. Good. Oh heu please, just let this be over and done with.

All he had to do now was remove the covering and fly down; he could not get his muscles to obey, perhaps due to disuse and or fear. So he remained in place, caught in his mind until he saw a familiar ebony mane of thick hair.  Raditz! The older male was in a great hurry somewhere, his large strides ate the distance.  

“Raditz! Up here!”

Vegeta tried to attract his comrade’s attention, to ask about Zarbon and Dodoria but his mouth was dry as dust and whatever voice he managed was swallowed up by the hissing air. Next, he banged on the ducts and hoped that would be enough. Raditz, however, kept going. Damn him! Vegeta threw caution to the wind and kicked the grate free. He intended to fly down the egress, but he didn’t have enough energy to do so. Instead, he tumbled out, arms and legs useless to break his fall, and landed on his back, knocked the air out of himself and blacked out, for real. He woke to Raditz slapping him in the face.

“W-what happened to you? We’ve been looking for you all last night and today! Nappa is furious!”

On a usual day, Vegeta would have ripped Raditz a new one for slapping him, but damn he was so glad to see a familiar face. That, and he did not have the strength. He tried to sit up, but a wave of dizziness swept over him. Raditz squatted next to him, fretting, a concerned expression on his face.

“What’s wrong?” Vegeta felt like his mouth was stuffed with gauze.

“Tsss ... your scalp is cut, it’s bleeding a lot ... I’m sorry I hit you, Vegeta. Stay down. I’m contacting Nappa.”

Raditz stood, glanced around, then tapped his scouter for a secure line.  He spoke in soft tones. “Nappa, I found him ... yes, I’m in Main Headquarters, near the supply depot ... I don’t know. He’s so weak he can’t walk. I’m taking him to medical. Meet us there.”

Raditz scooped him up as if he were a young child, unable to do for himself. Vegeta normally protested such actions, but didn’t have it in him to fight this time.

“Get me out of here,” the Prince whispered, then lost consciousness.

When Vegeta came to, he lay on a medical bed with sensors placed on his skull and medical lines snaking from one arm. He found both Raditz and Nappa sitting next to his cot. Both wore expressions of worry, and persuaded him to lay back down when he tried to sit up. He still felt muzzy and tired.

A young red skinned female clad in the sleek black medical scrubs entered the semiprivate room by parting the curtain. She smiled, displaying sharp teeth, as she examined a tablet. She ran a bio-scanner over Vegeta’s body, then turned to the older men.

“All right, let’s see here. Which one of you is this young man’s guardian?”

“That’s me,” Nappa raised one hand.

She nodded, an economical movement. “I’m Doctor Berra, attendant. I’m here to cover his incident report and treatment. Patient is a male Saiyan, approximate age seven years. Initial exam showed lacerations to the right thigh and back of the skull, a fractured vertebrae in his tail. Blood levels show an alarming level of dehydration and malnutrition. The cuts were dressed and sealed, the break immobilized, and he was given an IV to rehydrate and raise blood sugars. I highly recommend some nutrient dense food for him. Now, I hear that these injuries were sustained during training? Forgive me, but he seems too young to be a soldier.”

“I’ve been on missions since I was five,” Vegeta snapped in an automatic response. “I am not a child.”

Vegeta missed the look that passes between the doctor and Nappa. She cleared her throat, tapped her stylus a few times on the screen, and continued.

“None of these injuries required the Medical Chamber. Once the IV drip is complete, he will be ready to leave.”  

“Thank you, doctor.” Nappa placed his hand on Vegeta’s head. “Hear that, Ten’ta? You’ll be out of here in no time.”

“Stop calling me that,” Vegeta protested. He despised it when Nappa treated him like a child in front of others.

“Oh right. Sorry about that, Vegeta.” Nappa didn’t look very sorry.

“Hmph.”

“We’re just glad you’re all right.” Raditz voice cracked again, something that had been occurring more as of late. He looked embarrassed, then coughed. “We searched everywhere for you, y’know. We thought something horrible happened to you! Gave us the scare of our lives.”  

Vegeta almost laughed at the older boy for sounding weak, but held back his scorn. Raditz had come for him, searched for him. Worried about him. Vegeta felt an odd rush of gratitude.

“What happened?” Raditz repeated his question from earlier. Concern apparent on his features.

He meant to say it was nothing, to brush the event off, but when he opened his mouth he could not get the words out. Instead, he just started to shake. He bit his lip to keep the tears from spilling out. Nappa and Raditz exchanged a worried glance and Nappa put his hands up.

“Oh hey, Ten'ta, it’s okay. We’ll talk about it at home. Why don’t you just rest, take a nap?”

Vegeta did not know if he ever wanted to sleep again, or if he even could.

“It was a training exercise, Nappa, and nothing more. I told you that already!”

Vegeta glared at his elder and hunched his shoulders as if to fend off a blow. He folded then unfolded his arms across his blue jumpsuit, refused to make eye contact with the older soldier. Although Nappa had his best interests in mind, Vegeta felt cornered and it made him defensive.

“Who was running it?” Nappa refused to drop the subject.

“I was alone, like I said. It was my idea. I’m done talking about it.”

Nappa crossed his arms and imitated Vegeta’s body language. His tail swished a wide arc.  “I know you’re lying. Did they threaten you?”

“No!” Vegeta shouted, “And I don’t want to talk about it any more! You will stop pestering me, Nappa.”

Nappa growled and stood up to his full height; he towered over the young prince. His expression was terrifying to behold. He ran one hand through his thick black mohawk. “I’ve had enough of your attitude, Vegeta. You’re my Prince, but I’m still your guardian. I’m gonna find out the truth. Better start talking.”

For a second, Vegeta cowered away from Nappa’s rage. Then he caught himself and recoiled. “No.”

“Damn it, Vegeta! Stop being so difficult! Fine ... I’ll figure it out without your help. I’ll talk to Dodoria; he ought to know who was in charge of that so-called mission. If not, someone is getting an ass kicking until I find out the truth.”

Nappa turned on his heel without another word and stomped out of the flat, his fists at his sides. Both young Saiyans sat quiet for a moment until Raditz let out a shaky breath, and Vegeta stared at him.

“I - I hate when he gets like that,” Raditz sighed. “It frightens me.”

Vegeta shrugged and pretended he had not heard Raditz. Sometimes the adolescent said such uncomfortable things.

“Why don’t we go sit on the couch and relax? I’ll groom you and we can watch the screen. I’ll get your combs. Okay?”

Vegeta stared at the older boy, his dark eyes bored holes through him. “All right. But I’m not telling you anything either.”
 
True to his word, Raditz retrieved the grooming kit from the small pantry, turned on the flatscreen, then settled onto the divan cross-legged, patted the spot next to him. Vegeta paused for a moment, then gave in. He loved being pampered, and he needed the reassurance. He clambered up next to Raditz, pulled his knees up to his chin, and wrapped his tail around his body. Once settled, he huddled up against Raditz for comfort. When Raditz started combing his hair, he sighed, let down his guard.

Grooming was a nightly routine, something that helped calm Vegeta and kept bonds strong between Raditz and him. First, Raditz ran a tined comb through his thick mane to remove snarls, check his scalp for dandruff and pests. Next, he brushed through roots to tip, then rubbed hair oils in and massaged his scalp, and smoothed the fur on his tail. Usually by that point, Vegeta was half asleep. Once a month, Raditz trimmed and shaped his eyebrows as well. But this night, after removing the snarls, Raditz ran his hands over his hair, petted him over and over until Vegeta’s head dropped onto his knees and his breathing eased.

Often during this nightly ritual, Raditz told Vegeta the old stories, legends that he had heard from his mother Gine about the Legendary Warriors, of the great conquests, of the Saiyans' space faring adventures. If Nappa was present, he could be convinced into telling war stories about the glory days when he was Commander of Armies, when he and King Vegeta fought for the honor of their people. Vegeta’s favorite was the tale of the Legendary Super Saiyan; the last tale his father had told him.     

The calming effect of the background noise of the screen combined with Raditz’ calming touch helped Vegeta finally feel at ease.

He was home. He was safe. They hadn’t won.

Raditz cleared his throat, and paused in his grooming.

“Nappa’s gone, so do you want to tell me what happened?” Raditz continued scratching his scalp, but the calm Vegeta felt dissolved instantly.

“No,” Vegeta snarled, and pulled away from Raditz. He felt his hackles rising.

“You can tell me, Vegeta. I swear I won’t tell anyone else. Not Nappa, not anyone.” Raditz pleaded with him.  

Vegeta tensed up. “It was nothing!”

“You’re petrified. Did they threaten you? You can just nod. That way you’re not actually telling me. Please ... Trust me. We’re all in this together. You’re my prince, and I’m supposed to keep you safe. I can’t do that if you don’t talk to me.”

Tapa ... He’s right.

“They threatened all of us,” Vegeta whispered then felt ashamed. “They threatened my father if I told anyone.”

He heard Raditz take a quick breath. Don’t you dare say my father is dead. Raditz did not reply, he continued brushing Vegeta’s hair until he calmed down again, relaxed enough uncurl his tail.

“I’ll ask Master Zarbon.” Raditz spoke after a long delay. “He knows everything. He’s my friend. I’m sure he’ll help us.”

“You can’t! I’m ordering you not to tell him. Not Zarbon!”

“Why?” Raditz’ eyebrows pulled together and his tail waved, indicating his confusion.  

“He’s not your friend, Raditz. Don’t be stupid! How many times has he called us ‘monkeys’, or hurt us? He’s not helping you. He’s playing games with you! He’s got some other plans and I don’t trust him!”

“I wish you wouldn’t say that about him, Vegeta.”

For the last few months, Raditz had been training with Zarbon independently of either Vegeta or Nappa, and he often talked about how he was Zarbon’s ‘star pupil.’ Vegeta did not trust Zarbon as far as he could throw him - in Vegetasai’s gravity - and the fact that Raditz seemed so trusting of Zarbon was an irritant, to say the least. Raditz was the recipient of many gifts and favors from the General - and even though Vegeta was young, he knew that nothing came without a price in this galaxy. Also, nothing Zarbon ever did was just to be kind. Vegeta clenched his fists as he contemplated Raditz’ naivety.

Raditz sighed, and shrugged his shoulders. “Fine. Have it your way. Don’t say I didn’t try to help. Sit back down, I’ll continue with your hair.”

Pacified, Vegeta returned to his perch next to Raditz and let the older Saiyan continue grooming him. Vegeta was scared, though, that Raditz would go and talk to Zarbon, and then Zarbon would know he had broken the rules. When would the game finally end?


Nappa strode through Headquarters side halls the like an advancing storm front, each stride eating up the distance. The Commander was furious - not only had Vegeta been put on assignment without them giving notice to him, but the boy had been hurt as well, needlessly. And no one could tell him a thing about why.

He had already been to the training gym, the officer’s mess halls, and Dodoria’s personal quarters in search of the Patrol Leader. Every individual he talked to told him they did not know where General Dodoria was at, and Nappa should check in at the gym, or the mess hall, or the Assignment Office, or several other useless locations. Nappa was quite sure he was getting the run around. He kept checking his scouter, but could not get a fix on Dodoria. Several dozen high power levels kept registering and masking each other. So, it was footwork, and Nappa just wanted to smash some skulls.

Being Vegeta’s guardian was a task in frustration as the young Prince often defied his wishes - not that Nappa could officially order him to do something - but Frieza often held Nappa responsible for the actions of his squad. Unfortunately, Nappa did not have the favored status with the galactic overlord that Vegeta did. This often lead to Nappa taking punishment for Vegeta’s actions.

“I’ll be damned if I’m paying dear for this royal fuckup.” Nappa grumbled. Did the boy just not know when to tap out? Vegeta really needed to get his pride under control, because it would get him killed.

The last lackey Nappa spoke to had, under threat of dismemberment, directed the powerful Saiyan towards the testing rooms - where he had begun this idiotic quest. The next moron who said, ‘I don’t know’ would receive his wrath.

Kinqua’s back was turned to him when he stomped into the control room.

“Where is he,” Nappa roared, and reminded himself to control his temper. Frying the head tech wouldn’t help any.

Kinqua leapt out of his chair, his thin shoulders hunched under his grey uniform. He spun rapidly to face the towering warrior, and he shook.

“Commander Nappa ... who are you looking for?”

“Don’t you fuck with me, Kinqua. This run around stops here, with you. If you want to keep your head attached to your shoulders you’ll tell me where Dodoria is. Now!”

It took Nappa two steps to close the distance between them. He cracked his knuckles as he leaned down to glare at the blue skinned tech.

“What is it with you Saiyans and threatening me?” Kinqua’s voice squeaked into the upper registers as he broke out into a cold sweat. His hands trembled as he folded them behind his back.

“Dodoria. Now.”

“He’s in Training Room three. You’ll have to wait, he’s in the middle of a run.”  When Nappa bared his teeth, the tech thought better of it. “Never mind ... I’ll signal him.”

Dodoria met him at the entrance to the training room. The rotund being wore the standard flexible Saiyan over armor with blue chest plate and brown shoulder guards. He wiped sweat off his horned visage and tossed the used cloth in a bin to one side. Dodoria appeared to be overweight and perhaps a bit soft, but Nappa knew this was to fool opponents and the man was nothing but solid muscle. Nappa also knew that Dodoria outclassed him in power, although not in skill and fighting experience. Still, Dodoria acted as Frieza’s main enforcer, and could make Nappa’s life miserable with only a few words.

“Nappa,” he grunted, “don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind. I’ve already allocated time and men.”

“You know why I’m here. No more fucking around. Tell me who was in charge of that unauthorized ‘training’ with Prince Vegeta. I approve all missions for the prince. Someone fucked up and I want to know who. Don’t make me go over your head.”

Dodoria brayed laughter, slapped his meaty hands against his ample thighs. “Aw ha ha! That’s rich, Nappa. You shouldn’t threaten your betters. I sent you word. Not my fault you didn’t get it. I also told the boy during yesterday’s workout period. He should have told you. Maybe you need to go yell at him.”

“This was your doing?” Nappa felt a vein start to pulse on his forehead.

“Didn’t say that. He should have mentioned it to you. Maybe he’s trying to prove something? That’s not my fault. You really need to keep a better watch on him. Now, we done here? I’ve got important things to do.”

Dodoria swept him aside, leaving Nappa to stew in impotent anger.  Someone was lying to him; someone was playing a game and all it took was one misstep to become deadly. 

Chapter Text

=======================================
Mission Launch Time T30m. Report to Launch Hub 79-XA.
** Confirmation Requested **
=======================================

A soft feminine voice interrupted Vegeta's thoughts. He snapped out of his reverie to glance at his assignment pad, as he, Nappa and Raditz made their way towards the base launch docks. The young prince barely glanced at the tablet in his hand before he placed his right thumb upon the screen to silence the notification and send a confirmation to the control office. In response, the automated voice thanked him, ever so politely, and provided the necessary authorization codes.

"We're good to go," he told the remainders of the once proud Saiyan army, then handed the group tablet to Nappa.

"It's about time. Maybe we get paid after this." Nappa's expression was grim. "I'm not working for charity."

Raditz laughed, a nervous sound that drew terse looks from both Vegeta and Nappa. In response to their scrutiny, he bared his teeth in a nervous grin.

"What's so funny," Vegeta demanded and focused his dark glare on Raditz.

"Er ... never mind." Raditz broke eye contact, and moved ahead of the flame haired Saiyan boy, his shoulders hunched up in a defensive posture and the tip of his tail twitched in spite of the training clip - an object usually reserved for very young Saiyans - he wore during missions, something that Vegeta liked to mock him for.

Vegeta snorted, but did not reply. The last few last weeks had been extremely tense since the 'hide and seek' incident with all three each other's throats. Vegeta refused to reveal his torturers, Raditz defended Zarbon, and Nappa finally got fed up with the silence. They needed something to take the edge off, and only battle could provide enough emotional and physical release for the aggressive Saiyans.

Vegeta and his team stopped by Equipment Storage first to collect items needed to complete the job. All of their battle armor had been left for dry cleaning the other day in preparation for the upcoming mission; and Vegeta was undergoing another growth spurt that made it necessary for a new bodysuit and boots. Luckily, new combat related items were covered by the PTO for all of their soldiers.

After scanning their mission tablet, the meek purple skinned supply clerk made a few quick notes, then returned their battle suits to them, clean and repaired. In addition, the Saiyan warriors received upgraded scouters, basic dry food stocks, water, and the latest tech: a programmable Blutz Wave generator. Vegeta and Nappa could create Power Balls on their own, but why waste their energy if they did not have to?

In the prep room, Vegeta stripped bare; the thermal jumpsuits fit like a second skin. His new leotard was black, instead of his usual blue. He felt a momentary annoyance. Changes of this sort bothered the young noble, who was a creature of habit. After the base suit, he put on the new white Elite armor, specifically tailored for the muscular yet flexible Saiyan body type, made of an expandable yet sturdy polymer canvas. Upon the left breastplate, his royal crest was emblazoned in crimson red. The new boots and gloves were of supple leather that fit like a second skin, and gave the wearer extra grip texture. Vegeta no longer wore the all weather cape since an opponent had snagged it during an earlier battle, and he would bear deep scars on his chest and arms for the rest of his life.

Nappa wore black and gold armor with hip guards, and Raditz wore brown and black. Most of the time, the colors worn by individuals were personal choices and did not indicate rank. Neither man wore a body suit, opting for bare legs instead. Usually, Vegeta harassed them about going to battle in their underwear, but no one was in a laughing mood this time.

When the pad chirped a ten minute warning, Vegeta simply waved one hand and they made their way through the busy halls to the outbound pod launching terminal. Vegeta in the lead, his shoulders back. He swept into the entrance cubicle like he owned the place and marched up to the Dock Master, a short and broad shouldered being with large ears and moist green skin. Nappa and Raditz trailed in his wake.

"I am here for my assignment. You will get the pods ready for me now."

"Name, please," said the bored dock worker in a monotone voice. He did not look up, and paid more attention to the game on his tablet then his job. This insolence ticked Vegeta off; he hated being ignored, and the man damn well knew who he was.

"Sprutt, you know my name. Don't piss me off."

"Okay, kid." Sprutt snorted laughter and dared Vegeta to do something about it. He still did not look up from his game.

Vegeta felt his face turn red. His tail frizzed and began to lash in fury, and he opened his mouth. Before he could get a word out, Nappa placed a restraining hand on his shoulder and leaned in to whisper in his ear.

"Now's not the time, Prince Vegeta. We need this job."

Much as he hated to agree with Nappa, the man was right. Vegeta settled with growling at the annoying tech. Sprutt held out one hand for their mission tablet, Nappa gave it to him. In response, Sprutt made a big deal of checking their data, and Vegeta bit the inside of his cheek. The green tech was close to a Ki blast in the face. Vegeta suppressed the biting comments he wished to hurl.

Vegeta sighed. "Prince Vegeta. Party of three. Planet Akon. And I'm killing you first when I get my revenge."

"I'll put it in my schedule." Sprutt connected the tablet to the main console, clicked a sequence of keys. The screens in front of him lit up in sequence, a stream of information downloaded. In the launch tubes, three attack pods powered up, then hatches popped open. The Dock Master returned the tablet, now filled with the latest technical data on the planet and any civilizations they might encounter, to Nappa's outstretched palm.

"You're good to go. Have a nice trip, Prince Vegeta. Don't die." Sprutt's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Fuck off, Sprutt."

Sprutt just chucked and waved one three fingered hand in dismissal.

Seething with anger, Vegeta walked to his awaiting pod, stepped inside, and settled down to start the preflight check. Once out of the gravitational pull of Frieza World 79, Vegeta and his squad would enter stasis sleep. Vegeta had done it dozens of times before, it was standard procedure. He checked the coordinates again, triggered the flight harness, then entered the start up sequence. In response, the hatch slid shut with a pneumatic hiss and enclosed him in a tiny space.

The walls seemed to draw in, a narrow tomb, and Vegeta went from calm to instant panic. His heart began to race, he began to shake, felt like he would pass out, his chest tight. He was back in that vent again, caught again ... trapped.

"Let me out!" Vegeta shrieked. He did not care how ridiculous he sounded, he was not thinking at all, he had to get out, had to escape. "Get me out of here!"

When no one responded to his commands, he pounded his fists on the polyglass surface of the hatch and howled in terror; his ability to think with any reason gone. In his panic, he forgot that he could open the pod himself.

"Vegeta! Hey, Vegeta, look at me!"

He felt strong hands on his shoulders, and the haze lifted enough for Vegeta to note the open hatch and Nappa's grim face.

"It's okay." The giant Saiyan spoke to the terrified boy in soothing tones like he was a wild creature. "Calm down. Breathe. Do the exercises I taught you."

Sweat covered Vegeta's face, he felt nauseous and distant. But he took deep breaths as Nappa instructed: in through his nose, out through his mouth - and he tried to center himself, a difficult task when his heart raced and the tang of adrenaline filled his mouth. After a moment, Vegeta felt calm enough to sit back down. Nappa remained with him, squatted in front of him so that he had a friendly face to focus on. In the background, Vegeta could see a crowd gathering, likely attracted by his shouting. Now, he just felt humiliated.

"What happened, Ten'ta?" Nappa kept his tone low so that only Vegeta could hear him.

"Don't call me that." Although he would never admit it, Vegeta viewed Nappa as a surrogate father, and right now Nappa made him feel safe ... he was so glad to hear that stupid nickname.

"Sorry, Vegeta. Now, what's going on with you? This isn't like you at all."

"I - I was ... back in the darkness. In the vents. I couldn't get out, Nappa ..." Anger rushed in at this admission, and he pushed back the sting of tears. How could he be so weak and allow Zarbon and Dodoria to get to him, to control him even when they were not present?

"Just keep looking at me and breathing. It's a panic attack, happens to the best of us." Nappa continued to talk Vegeta down, help him to relax.

Sprutt parted the crowd, and walked towards the pod. He wore an annoyed expression on his deep green face. The harried dock worker clicked his tongue, then pointed at his tablet. "Any day, now, monkeys. I have a schedule to keep to. Are you going or not?"

Nappa stood in one fluid motion, grabbed the tech by the collar of his grey uniform, and pulled him in so they stood nose to nose. The towering warrior had to bend over to accomplish this, and he looked like a crouching predator. He narrowed his eyes to slits, and growled. All the onlookers sensibly moved out of Nappa's reach in case he decided to take out his anger on any one else; the Saiyan commander was well known to pummel people who pissed him off. With minimal effort, Nappa shoved the Dock Master back into the murmuring crowd, knocked him off his feet.

"We'll leave when we're damn well ready." Nappa folded his arms across his chestplate and glowered down at the thin man.

"Lord Frieza will hear of this," Sprutt muttered, but did not dare to say it to the Nappa's face.

Vegeta suppressed the urge to snicker or comment. Nappa could intimidate with the best of them. Vegeta felt gratitude towards his guardian for giving him a chance to recover his composure ... although he might never recover face. His breathing returned to normal and he wiped the sheen of cold sweat from his visage and settled back into the pod. Nappa knelt back down to speak with him again, but this time did not touch him.

"Feeling better?"

Vegeta nodded. The sick fear still lurked in the recesses of his mind, but he was a proud Saiyan, the Prince of his people, and he could not show fear or weakness. He would conquer this inner battle. He had no choice.

"You're mission leader, Prince Vegeta. You can call this off."

"No. I'm not a coward. I'm not afraid, Nappa. I'm a warrior, and I won't let them win."

"That's the spirit." Nappa patted him on the shoulder, stood, then returned to his capsule.

Brave words to carry him into the abyss of sleep and space. Vegeta closed his eyes and surrendered to the launch process. In spite of his claim to Nappa that he was not scared, he found the urge to slap the panic button and leap out of the pod. Instead, he focused inward and tried to remember the stories that his father used to tell him: tales of heroics and conquest, the legends of old. Someday, Ja'ta, I will BE a legend.


"Wake cycle complete, Prince Vegeta. Arrival at destination successful. Atmosphere breathable. Hatch decoupled."

The soft voice accompanied a gentle chime that brought Vegeta back into consciousness. As usual, he awoke fully alert and ready to respond. He took a moment to adjust anyway and observe his surroundings. Their pods had come to rest on a small mountain with a flat section and little shrubbery.

Planet Akon circled a cooling red giant over 48 standard hours away from FP-79. It was a massive planet with two moons, a clear red atmosphere, a profusion of native plant life and plenty of surface water. In other words, some rich man's ideal vacation spot, once the locals were 'convinced' to give up their real estate.

Nappa joined him at the crest of the hill that overlooked a sprawling metropolis that, at one time, had been the crown jewel of a glorious society. Now, some of the buildings leaned over or had collapsed due to years of warfare and social stress. This was a society in decline, and most of their cities had decayed. The Akonians were once a proud people, but they had refused to accept Lord Frieza's offer to join his empire and regain security. Now, they were considered defunct - their planet worth more than they were, and the Saiyans were the cleanup crew.

"What do we need to know about this dirt ball," Vegeta asked. As he spoke with Nappa, he activated his scouter and checked for energy signals and other power sources while Raditz secured their pods and put them in Respond Mode. A simple code would recall the ships to their current location.

"Let's see ..." Nappa scanned the group's assignment tablet. "Our orders are to level all standing structures and exterminate all intelligent life forms. This is a Level Two priority and we are to report back immediately after mission end."

"Pods are secure, Prince Vegeta." Raditz joined them, crossed his arms as he looked down. A grin spread across his face too as he rejoined the party. "Anything to worry about?"

"Nothing here that can touch us. Their defenses aren't worth mentioning, there's no power levels over 250, and most of them aren't Ki users at all. So you have nothing to worry about." Nappa snorted, and elbowed the maned young man in the ribs. Like Vegeta, he took good-natured cracks (in Saiyan opinion) at Raditz.

"Jik'hiu," Raditz muttered, tired of being the butt of his compatriots' jabs.

"Stop screwing around," Vegeta snapped. "Is there anything else we need to know?"

"No humor. Got it." Nappa grinned as he glanced down at Vegeta, always ready to push the envelope. When Vegeta didn't reply, Nappa continued with the report.

"Initial recon showed limited military time capability and plasma weapons with heavy usage of foot soldiers. No tactical strike capabilities, and as I mentioned earlier, little to no Ki usage. There are seven major population centers located on the northern continent, all within a short flight. This oughta be easy."

Like all Saiyans, Nappa loved a good fight. He, Vegeta and Raditz had not had a chance to use their abilities to their fullest extent for several months now. The lack of any challenging opponents was a disappointment, but it gave them an excuse to pillage and burn with impunity.

"Damn, it's good to be back to work." Nappa's words echoed all of their thoughts.

Vegeta opened the small hip flask he carried and extracted a tiny metallic sphere: the self contained Power Ball, no moon needed. One surface was flattened and contained an input screen. It hummed with potential power, and Vegeta felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

He tapped the screen, contemplated for a second. How long to program the lunar cycle generator for ... A low level civilization with minimal military capabilities and little Ki to speak of? Not a challenge for an Elite squad. Vegeta keyed the generator to his personal energy signal, then tapped in a 24 hour cycle.

"Ready to go, Vegeta?"

"Let's do this." A feral grin spread across Vegeta's features. He couldn't wait to get started.

Vegeta initiated the generator and tossed it into the air. The tiny machine rose up from his palm with a soft hiss. It began glowing with a pale white aura as it rose into the air, expanding and emitting the Blutz Waves that allowed Saiyans to transform into their powerful battle forms. The only problem with using a Power Ball was that any enemies with visual surveillance would be alerted, but that would not matter much in a few minutes.

Once at its greatest altitude, the generator assumed the diameter of a small satellite. It would follow them as they razed the planet.

Vegeta turned his face up to the light, opened his eyes wide and held out his arms as the transformation took hold of him. Most Saiyans became raging beasts while in their Oozaru form, but Vegeta had control at a young age - a gift of his royal blood. He was able to make conscious decisions and remembered everything after returning to his original form. This ability was one of the reasons Frieza sent him out on missions. Nappa and Raditz did not have that kind of control, but they responded to Vegeta as alpha male, and were easily steered in the right direction.

His flesh twisted as his body expanded; bones broke and regrew, muscles ripped and reformed, thick black fur emerged to cover and protect his flesh, his facial features contorted and expanded; he could not help screaming. Taking on Oozaru was always painful, but it was an exquisite pain.

Once the transformation completed, Vegeta closed his eyes for a second, then opened them. He blinked a few times, flexed his limbs, adjusted to his new perspective and checked on his team. Both Nappa and Raditz had fully changed as well, and awaited his instructions.

Vegeta bared his fangs, and his red eyes flared. He growled, and spoke in the deep gravel tones of his battle form. "We begin."

Three Great Apes, agents of death, leaped off the cliff, landed in the clearing below, and roared their fury. The ground bucked and heaved in a shock wave that announced their arrival, announced the end of a civilization.

Fighters had already scrambled in response to the unknown light and came to meet them; air support and ground troops fired upon the invaders with plasma weapons and ballistics alike. It would not do the inhabitants of Akon any good, however. They were already doomed.

Vegeta roared, and smashed his enemies out of the sky, their weapons only stings upon his thick furred body. With a gesture, he directed his teammates forward. Nappa and Raditz responded quick to their leader's commands; they attacked blindly with no thought, smashing and destroying with their fists and screaming their delight. Vegeta rushed into the fray as well, ignoring most of the defenders' feeble attempts to repel him. He raised his hands, focused, and loosed devastating blasts of fiery Ki, disintegrating structures and living things alike. The battle rage sung in his blood and the Prince of All Saiyans gloried in destruction, pain, and the suffering of his inferiors. He was a living weapon and all would fall before him.

Pitiful, how quick they died! Such weakness deserved extinction. Vegeta snarled in disdain of such feeble efforts as he swatted away attacks like stings of annoying instincts. He grew tired of the ease it took to destroy these creatures, looked about. Nappa and Raditz trampled through the industrial section, leaving a trail of rubble and corpses in their wake.

Vegeta let them continue on. He vaguely registered the howl of sirens and screams - both sounded alike - as he trampled down the metal spires. It didn't matter to him if they fought or begged, they would all have to perish. Something exploded near him, a fuel repository perhaps, and he felt the blast sear his fur with intense heat. He shrugged it off, kept moving. Later he would have to address the burns, but for now the pain only amplified his power. All hail the Prince of Destruction.

Minutes passed ... hours ... time stretched out and the multitude of deaths blended into one face. Vegeta stopped paying attention; he could remember but he chose not to, and allowed the lust for battle to carry him on until at last nothing remained standing. Fires burned out of control across the horizon, scorched earth and death.

Above, the Blutz Wave generator guttered, then faded out and triggered the change again, this time a horrid compression of his limbs. He moaned, his tired body protested the alteration.

Vegeta always regretted returning to his original body. After the battle form, his petite frame always seemed a weak afterthought. His mind still raced in battle time; adrenaline coursed through his veins. He still wanted to fight, but using Oozaru always sapped his energy. He stood panting and exhausted. The acrid smell of ozone and burnt flesh seared his nostrils. The Saiyan sunk to his haunches, and took a few deep breaths to center himself. The Great Ape transformation burned through massive amounts of energy, and he would need to eat and drink soon.

His comrades were nowhere to be found, and he was miles from their pods. That was not an issue, Vegeta could summon his ship by triggering the code from his biosensor, but leaving without the rest of his troop was not an option. He needed to find Nappa and Raditz, but his exhausted body required fuel before he could take any further action.

The chest plate of his body armor had a few internal pockets that could conceal small items. Vegeta always carried pain ampules and protein supplements for such purposes. He extracted one of the calorie dense bars and gulped it down in two bites. Unfortunately, there was no convenient source of clean water to clear the dust from his throat. Well, that could not be helped. Next, he needed to locate the rest of his crew, get off-world, and report back to Frieza.

Focusing his Ki, Vegeta took to the air to locate the other two men. He wished that he had his scouter, but a model that would expand had not been invented yet, sadly. If he were an engineer, he would create such a thing.

Vegeta found Nappa and Raditz resting near their pods. The hatch to Nappa's ship was open. It was powered up, but not active. The two taller Saiyans had started a small fire and were gleefully ripping limbs off of some scorched creature and consuming the flesh while they waited. Damn them, why did he have to always chase them down? He was their leader, not the other way around! Vegeta descended slow in order to give his teammates a chance to notice his approach, and not blast him out of the sky as a hostile ... that had happened before, much to Vegeta's chagrin.

Once he set down, he gave a curt greeting and joined them around the flames. All three males were battered, covered in burns and scrapes. Vegeta examined the damage: the main body of his armor was intact although scorched, the right shoulder guard cracked and the groin protector broken, but the black bodysuit would need to be replaced. The right side of his face and neck were red and would blister soon; most of the eyebrow was scorched off, and a quick trip to medical would take care of the other minor lacerations on his arms and legs. Nappa and Raditz had similar injuries, nothing that required more than minimal care. Logistics would be happy, no one needed to go to the Medical Chamber.

"Anything left to worry about, Nappa?" Vegeta asked. He felt weary, and more than ready to sit back and rest.

The giant man checked his scouter. "Nah. Wiped clean. There's some heat sources remaining, but no life. I think we're done here. I don't see any reason to stick around. Here, take these."

He tossed a protein bar and a bottle of water to Vegeta.

"Good. Tell Control we're finished - no medical alerts and no casualties. We're one stasis day out. I'll talk to Lord Frieza myself when we return."

Vegeta took a sip from the bottle, felt the cool liquid pour down his throat. He had not realized just how parched he had become. He sighed, then squatted on his haunches while he ate and rested.

"Yes sir," Nappa replied, with no tone of irony.

Three Saiyans shared their food and water and rested, taking the time to recover their strength. Nappa entered the report details into their squadron mission tablet and sent verbal notification over their open communication channel. Vegeta hated doing detail work, so it usually fell to the former commander.

Night came to the deserted world, the atmosphere was hazy due to smoke. Vegeta watched the large red sun sink below the horizon and smear brilliant colors across the sky - fading first from a deep maroon to indigo, then to black. His would be the last eyes to see the sunset on this doomed planet. Within a month, it would be terraformed to meet the needs of an unknown PTO client. The smaller moon rose, a sickly crescent that provided little light. In the darkness, the little fire seemed like a beacon to the heavens ... but no gods had listened.

Vegeta swiped the chip in his wrist over the biosensor on his pod. The hatch slid open, a gaping mouth that beckoned him to come inside and be swallowed whole. He suppressed an involuntary shudder at the image. He would not let this idiotic fear conquer him. The Prince of All Saiyans stepped inside, settled into the cushioned seat, and closed the hatch. When it shut, a surge of anxiety swept over him. His heart rate jumped, his muscles tensed, and he started panting out of fear. Trapped ... I'm trapped in here.

He closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe in slow through his nose, out his mouth. This is nonsense, I am not some coward. Still, it was a few minutes before he felt calm enough to key in the command that strapped him in the flight harness and began the start up sequence. A calm disembodied voice informed him that stasis sleep would commence in five minutes, and atmospheric departure in ten. Because he had no choice, Vegeta surrendered himself to the oblivion of coldsleep ... worried that perhaps, this time, he would not wake back up.

Chapter Text

Lord Frieza, galactic overlord and Northern Quadrant commander of the Planet Trade Organization, sat in contemplation and savored an expensive sweet wine out of a wide bottomed glass. The back wall of his comfortably appointed suite featured a sweeping panorama of clear thermoplastic that allowed him to gaze upon his domain. Hundreds of suns, planets, moons, and people; they all belonged to him to do with as he wished. No one could say otherwise. Frieza knew, without a doubt, that he was the most powerful being in the universe, with no exceptions. To admit anything else was against his nature.

For the past few months, Frieza had spent most of his time in his 'summer' vacation resort on Planet Shinsai, a beautiful terraformed world with lush forests, vast clear lakes and no intelligent species at all, which was how Frieza liked it. As of late, he had been working and taking audiences on Frieza Planet 79, one of the main bases of operation for his glorious Empire, where many of his high ranking officials kept their main living quarters.

By Frieza's side, his right hand man and personal aide Zarbon stood quiet and at attention, his green haired head tilted as he too observed the ships coming and going: commerce and war, the vital lifeblood of the galaxy, all were controlled by Frieza.

The teal skinned assistant kept silent as he listened with little attention to the verbal traffic over the scouter channels. Normally, he tended towards garrulousness; Frieza and he had formed, over the years, a kind of camaraderie that lent itself to easy conversation for the most part ... almost a friendship, of sorts. The golden-eyed man was, like so many others in the PTO Elites, the lone survivor of his race. Zarbon had been granted clemency by Frieza, offered a place of honor in the Frieza Force and a chance to prove himself. So far, Zarbon had gone above and beyond in his duties, showing himself to be a shrewd negotiator, strategist and keen business man. Frieza often asked Zarbon's opinion on ruling matters, but just as often did not take his advice.

Frieza shifted in his personal hovercart, adjusted the angle of his tail and flexed his strong clawed feet. He sighed. He hated to be kept waiting, and the emissaries from Xekon III were quite late.

Perhaps I will smite them, he thought. People may think I am going soft. Can't have that, can I? He tapped one black fingernail on the base of the crystal glass, then ran a finger along the rim - eliciting a mellow ringing tone - partially because he liked the sound and also because he knew it annoyed Zarbon to no end. Frieza could be capricious at the best of times, and downright cruel when he was annoyed. To one side, he heard Zarbon huff.

"Zarbon, do you have something you wish to say?"

"Of course not, Lord Frieza. I was simply wondering when our guests would arrive."

"Good. I'd hate to think I was bothering you. Refill my glass, would you?"

Frieza handed the empty glass to his adviser and pretended not to notice the tall man sigh again. Zarbon took the proffered goblet, walked to a nearby stand and poured more wine into it. As he returned, he shook his head in an unconscious tic that tossed the long green braid. The delicate trappings he wore on his forehead and ears jingled with his movements.

Zarbon was a vain individual; easily controlled with proper applications of praise, status, and riches. This malleability both pleased and bothered Frieza. It meant that Zarbon would never cross him, but it also meant that the man was slowly losing his edge. Oh well, there was always the Monkey Prince. Now, that child burned bright like a flame and would, with time and proper handling, be a great asset to the Frieza Elite, and an extension of his long clawed reach.

That boy will be a powerful tool if only he learns to control that temper of his! Frieza allowed a small grin to creep across his face. How Zarbon would howl if he were replaced ... but then, he probably would be nothing more than a smear on the floor at that point.

"Here you are, Lord Frieza."

"Thank you, Zarbon. Why don't you have a glass with me? Oh, don't worry, I've got more than I know what to do with." Frieza indicated with a wave of one finger that his aide should feel at ease and help himself. "Now ... why don't you update me on your latest acquisitions?"

Zarbon smiled. Yes, the man truly was easy to manipulate. He surrounded himself with beauty of all kinds: rare artworks, fine foods, exotic animals and servants, elaborate soirees, and his most profound and detailed work, himself. He also was one of many individuals in the North Quadrant who dealt in the not-so-secret illegal trades; it took up most of his time when he was not doing official work for Frieza.

The black market thrived behind closed doors and the homes of the Elite. The flesh peddlers and illicit substance dealers pretended that they were clever, that they operated below the watchful gaze of the PTO. In truth, Frieza took his share of all deals and in return pretended that he did not know about them. A well kept secret, indeed. Frieza chuckled, and made a mental note to ask Zarbon for his monthly kickback.

"Well, as you remember, I recently tracked down that elusive artisan ... you know, the one who works in plasma? Well, she does the most exquisite pieces. I asked her to design a portrait in commemoration for your ten year anniversary as Head of North PTO. I think that we should plan celebrations throughout the Empire." Zarbon poured himself a bit of the wine, swirled the liquid around his glass to smell the delicious bouquet, then sipped.

Frieza titled his head so that he could look down upon Zarbon from his hovering perch."You and your parties, Zarbon. If you wish to do so, then do so. However, I will not have you shirking your duties to have your play dates. You will keep up your work with Vegeta. That boy needs a firm hand to keep him in line. And please, Zarbon, don't break my toys. He's a limited edition. Otherwise, I may have to take your monkey instead ..."

Zarbon, along with a wide circle of upper class citizens, were well known for their 'pet projects'. Frieza chuckled when Zarbon bristled at the mention of his current protege, Raditz, a tall and muscular youth who was Zarbon's current favorite.

Both his scouter and Zarbon's started to chirp, an indicator that Ki users were approaching. Obviously not the delegates, as the natives of Xekon III were unable to manipulate energy. Frieza noted three incoming, and one bore a significant power signal ... most likely his clean up crew.

A sharp tone indicated incoming communication from the honor guards posted outside his suite. Frieza clicked to accept.

"My Lord Frieza, Prince Vegeta and his crew have returned to make their report in person. Shall we admit them?"

Excellent, and ahead of schedule, too! Frieza felt delighted that his circus monkeys were, for once, doing as they were told. Although, it never took much persuading to get the brutish Saiyans to go forth and pillage.

"Please, allow them in." Frieza turned his hovercraft towards the anteroom entrance. He liked to face his guests when they arrived. Rarely, he would keep his back to arrivals as a show of dominance, but Frieza hated to engage in such churlish behavior. He was a being of imminent manners and grace, and the Head of the PTO should not show rudeness, even to the little people. Also, dealing with the volatile Saiyans was like handling a live energy grenade while drunk.

Show time. Frieza smiled, and swirled the liquid in his glass.


Vegeta knew that Frieza had been notified the moment their attack pods had coupled back into the launch tubes, and (most likely) the overlord was counting the seconds until they came to report. The young Elite also knew that they were coming in a good fifteen hours before the deadline. He wanted to make his report immediately, but Vegeta resisted the urge and made sure to take a few minutes and change into a clean outfit. He refused to show up covered in dirt and blood, that would only reinforce the image of Saiyans as 'uncouth' barbarians.

"Maybe this time Frieza will be in a good enough mood to give us our fucking pay. We made the deadline, and then some. There's no damn excuse."

Nappa grumbled as they walked. The large warrior tended to be the most obstinate and least compliant of the three when in Frieza's presence; that fact created many tense meetings, but Nappa refused to let Vegeta request any assignments or make any reports on his own.

The entrance doors stood open when they arrived at Frieza's personal chambers, and the bulky guards waved them into the antechamber without an argument, for a change. As befitted his status, Vegeta walked in first, Raditz at his right shoulder and Nappa at his left.

The subdued interior of Frieza's quarters always came as a shock to Vegeta, who had grown up in royal splendor. One might expect a galactic dictator to surround himself in the spoils of war, to live in decadence as a show of his superiority. However, that was not the case with Frieza, and it unsettled Vegeta. Frieza's rooms were utilitarian, almost to the point of scarcity. Granted, this was where he entertained visitors and not, perhaps, where he spent his free time.

The sitting room was a wide semicircle that featured a curved space with a giant vista window. It was tastefully done in a simple color scheme of browns, tans, and subtle reds. Another wall was covered by multiple flat screens blaring continuous news feeds. Several comfortable couches with small tables awaited guests; Frieza never used the furniture. A minibar featured a well stocked wine and alcohol display and a metallic cold-store with expensive delicacies from around the galaxy. The only other hint at wealth were the hand knotted carpets that adorned the floors, showing scenes of death and glory. These works had been commissioned, and made by the artisans of Planet KusKus ... now sadly extinct.

Vegeta ignored the doormen. He swept by them as if they did not exist, and marched into the chamber where Frieza and Zarbon waited, glasses in hand. Frieza wore a slightly detached expression while Zarbon's features were crafted into a calculated pleasant yet bland neutrality. Vegeta recognized that one - he often used it when dealing with his 'superiors' - but sometimes had difficulty in keeping the anger from his eyes, or the curve of one lip. He used it now; forced himself to keep the snarl away, and to make eye contact with Zarbon as he approached.

"Ah ... my dear little Prince. I see you have returned, and on time, too. Bravo!" Frieza welcomed them, indicated they should take seats if they wished.

Frieza's lips curled a bit as he waited to see how the Saiyan prince would react. His red eyes bored into Vegeta, a contest of wills. Vegeta knew that he was supposed to supplicate himself before the tyrant, a bitter pill to swallow and an insult to his pride. He was damn sure that Zarbon did not to bow and scrape every time he spoke with Frieza. Like Zarbon, Vegeta was royalty. He was supposedly under Frieza's 'care,' so he should not have to debase himself.

He heard Zarbon click his tongue in annoyance and he realized that he was glaring at Frieza, and his tail had come undone from around his waist and started to frizz at the end.

"You will kneel before Lord Frieza." Zarbon uncrossed his arms. and started to move forward. Frieza held up one hand, halting Zarbon in his tracks.

"Hold on, Zarbon. Our little Prince just needs to remember some manners. He is still a diamond in the rough, after all. And how can we expect him to learn if we don't teach him? Now, Vegeta, what did your father teach you to do when addressing your elders?"

Vegeta bit his tongue, then grudgingly dropped to one knee. He placed his right hand, fingers curled into a loose fist, over his heart. He was seething. Raditz and Nappa echoed his actions.

"Reporting as ordered, Lord Frieza." Vegeta sought to keep the venom out of his voice. "The purge of Planet Akon went as expected. All intelligent life has been extinguished. All cities are destroyed. The planet is ready for sale."

"Oh, is that so? Tell me more. I love to hear the details." Frieza placed his chin in one hand and leaned forward.

Vegeta felt unsettled, put off guard. Frieza usually didn't care much about the details. Also, Frieza tended to take a severe approach when he thought people were being insubordinate. The youth blinked, unsure how to continue.

"What - what is it you want to know, Lord Frieza?"

"Everything!" Frieza spread his arms wide, focused his full attention on the smallest Saiyan. "I want to hear all about your mission, Vegeta. And do look me in the eyes when you speak to me."

"Well ..." Frightened, Vegeta took a step backwards and bumped into Nappa. Without thinking, he wrapped his tail around Nappa's calf. It was an action used for comfort that Vegeta had left behind with young childhood, a sign of how disturbed and upset he felt. He hoped that Frieza either had not seen or did not understand what the gesture meant. The Saiyan commander put one hand on the prince's shoulder to steady him, squeezed once, then released.

Vegeta was not sure of how best to proceed; there was something going on that he did not understand. He took a breath to steady his nerves, made sure he wrapped his tail around his waist to keep from giving away any more of his thoughts, and started to give a more thorough account of the cleansing of Akon: the fall of the cities, the destruction of a civilization, casualties of war swatted aside like gnats. He talked about strategic choices, such as the decision to go in Oozaru form, taking the capital first, choosing to attack military targets first and minimizing damage to the surroundings.

Frieza listened with rapt attention, the most consideration he had ever shown the Saiyans before. During Vegeta's briefing, he asked questions that became increasingly graphic and disturbing: "How did they die? Did you hesitate at all? What did you do with the noncombatants when you found them? Did they scream? Did you enjoy it?"

With his last question, Frieza reached out to cup Vegeta's chin.

To his left, he sensed Nappa shifting position, often an indicator of a coming outburst. Raditz tensed up and drew closer to Vegeta, his eyes wide. Vegeta noticed him glance towards Zarbon, a plaintive expression on the maned Saiyan's face. Zarbon did not respond; he did not appear to have noticed at all.

"What kind of questions are these?" Nappa snarled. "What does this have to do with our assignment?"

Vegeta cursed under his breath and stepped on the bridge of Nappa's foot to warn him. Frieza's pleasant expression switched in an instant, and his fingernails dug into Vegeta's flesh, then released.

"We've done our job. We've done it well." Nappa clenched his fists, and took one stride forward. Cold fear ran through Vegeta's veins. Not only would Nappa be punished, but he would as well, and he had paid for Nappa's lack of restraint many times over the years.

"Stand down, Nappa!" Vegeta's voice was high with barely contained fear.

The hulking warrior froze in place the second that the command left his lips. Nappa, always loyal to the throne and to the prince he was sworn to protect, would not act against Vegeta's wishes even if he disagreed. In truth, Vegeta wanted to let Nappa attack and pummel Zarbon and Frieza ... yet, it would mean a swift death for the man, and then he would only have Raditz to boss around. "Apologies, Lord Frieza."

"Ah, I'm in a good mood. I'll let this pass. But Nappa, next time will be the last. Your prince saved your miserable hide. Do try to keep a civil tongue in your head."

Zarbon tilted his head to one side, the display on his scouter lit up, strings of data spewed across the small viewscreen. "Forgive me, Lord Frieza, but the delegate cruiser is requesting to dock."

"Thank you, Zarbon. I suppose we shall have to end this party then. A pity. I was having so much fun. Now ... there is the matter of payment." Frieza tapped the built in screen on his hovercraft, scrutinized the rapid display from Nappa's earlier report. "Hmmm. Finished before the deadline, and no tectonic results. A pleasant surprise. However, some of the water sources have been contaminated. Tsk. And you were doing so well. But, as I said, I am in a good mood. Zarbon, pay them according to the schedule, and give them a bonus for such an early completion."

Zarbon did not comment. He nodded his assent and tapped on his ubiquitous tablet, quiet for a moment. "Done. Your group account has been credited, Vegeta."

"That's Prince Vegeta. I'm royalty, Zarbon. Just like you." Vegeta snapped, and felt his face flush when the tall aide gave a small chuckle, as if Vegeta had said something amusing.

Nappa, still scowling his displeasure, checked the pad. His scowl dissolved into a toothy grin. "Damn ... that's enough for a month's wages!"

"Don't spend it all in one place," Frieza advised, then winked as if they were all the best of friends. "You are dismissed. Leave now before I decide I am no longer feeling generous."

I can't believe it, we made it through that meeting with no issues. And ... why all the questions, what did he really want from me?

Upon dismissal, Vegeta gave a hasty bow, then turned on one heel and hurried towards the exit before Frieza or Zarbon could change their minds.

He did not make it. Just when the three Saiyans crossed the threshold, Frieza spoke up.

"Oh, Vegeta, I almost forgot. Do stay behind for a moment. I need to speak with you in private."

Although presented as a request, Vegeta knew he had no choice but to obey. That cold fear arose again and a knot formed in his stomach.

"I'll catch up with you and Raditz," he told Nappa and struggled to keep the worry out of his expression. With his tail, he begged Nappa not to cause any problems and to keep quiet.

"We'll wait outside, Prince Vegeta." Nappa gave a cursory bow, grabbed Raditz by the arm, and left Vegeta by himself.

"Leave us, Zarbon."

"Lord Frieza," Zarbon started to protest, but Frieza cut him off.

"I don't think I need to worry about Vegeta. He is just a child ... that, and he is my ward, after all. Now leave us."

Zarbon looked shocked, but complied. Frieza waited to speak until the effeminate aide had departed, a confused look on his sculpted face.

"Now come back in, Vegeta. We need to speak, you and I. We haven't had one of our little chats in a while. I've been so busy lately that I've been neglecting my favorite little prince."

Vegeta froze in place. He could not move, could not speak, could not even be upset that Frieza called him a child. Gods help me, I'm going to die here. A heavy weight pressed down on his chest and he felt like he was hyperventilating. I cannot let him see I'm afraid. Breathe. Just breathe.

He forced himself to move one step at a time, back into the chamber. Frieza motioned him to come closer, within arm's reach. Every instinct cried to run, but Vegeta would not back down. That Saiyan pride kicked in again, and he approached Frieza with his head high and his black eyes blazing. He did not kneel, and Frieza did not punish him.

In earlier years when Vegeta had first arrived in Frieza's care, they had spoken more, and Frieza did not force him to bow then, and he did not this time either. But it was a gamble because Vegeta never knew which Frieza he would find: the calm indulgent master warrior, or the sadistic tyrant of galaxies. Frieza motioned to one of the couches, indicated he should sit.

"Now. Have a seat so we can speak. Something has happened, Vegeta, and I wanted to be the one to tell you. Would you like something to drink?" Frieza indicated the table with the wine bottle, glasses, decanter with water and ice cubes. Vegeta felt even more confused.

"No thank you, Lord Frieza."

What is going on ... Is this about 'hide and seek'? Vegeta recalled his horrid nightmare, in which Zarbon had insisted that his torture and death was authorized by Frieza himself. Vegeta suppressed a tremor of fear and remembered to look his mentor in the eye.

"Don't look so glum. It's nothing that you have done, my dear boy, but it does concern you. Do you know why I have taken you in? You remind me of myself when I was young. So strong, so powerful, so gifted."

"Thank you," Vegeta replied by rote, not sure what this being wished from him.

"Well, I know that you didn't understand why you were taken from your father all those years ago. You need to be trained and pushed beyond your limits, my young Saiyan. That was one of the reasons that I had you brought here, to work with my men and myself, to achieve your greatest potential. You would never reach it under the tutelage of your father, or that great oaf Nappa. And ... it is a good thing that you were here, Vegeta, when your home was destroyed. It would have been a shame to lose you."

Vegeta knew the correct response would have been to nod or bow, to give thanks to Frieza for his benevolence, but the mention of his father and Vegetasai dredged up an avalanche of intense emotions: anger, fear, frustration at his poor treatment ... and the core of abandonment. Vegeta knew he should distance himself from those memories, especially anything pertaining to the King, because such feelings could be used against him. But the longing to know the truth overcame his better judgement and he could not contain the words; they tumbled out before he could stop them, each one a weapon that Frieza could turn against him.

"My father, is he all right? I want to talk to him. I keep asking, and Zarbon keeps lying to me. If you're so concerned for me, then tell me where he is." Vegeta's temper flared, but he managed to add the supplicant: "Please ..."

Frieza sighed, reached out a long fingered hand, and touched Vegeta on the arm. It took all of his will not to physically recoil. One misstep and Frieza might decide he was not worth keeping after all.

"My poor boy. I wanted to tell you this in person. Your father - as you know - has been on an important long term mission for me, one spanning for years, that required him to stay out of communication. The mission was finally completed, and he was on his way back to reunite with you here. Unfortunately, he was discovered; his transport was destroyed en route, along with the rest of his team. It was a terrible tragedy to lose such fine warriors. You have my condolences, Prince Vegeta."

Vegeta's world narrowed to a few words, to the piercing look in Frieza's eyes. Was he smiling?

His first impulse was to deny, to force Frieza to take it back. But he knew, and had for a while now, that Nappa was right. His bodyguard had tried to warm him, tried to ease the sting of loss, and Vegeta had refused to believe him. He had been such a fool! Now, he could no longer pretend. King Vegeta, the best warrior produced by the Saiyan race in centuries, was dead.

Frieza waited, his hands folded in front of him, for some sort of response.

"I - I want to see the body." Vegeta spoke each word with great effort; he just wanted to scream.

"Vegeta, dear, there is nothing left. I know this is difficult."

Death is part of everything. Every battle could be a warrior's last. Vegeta knew this; he had been taught this truth at the knee of his mentors. He knew that at any moment he too could go into dark oblivion, but he was not dead. No ... his family, his people, his world, all were gone ... but Vegeta lived on. Now, he was homeless, orphaned, a crownless Prince without a people and completely at the mercy of this cold being. Reality set in.

He broke eye contact, squeezed his eyes shut and scrubbed them with his fists, like a child. He could not show emotion, not now. Still the hot tears came, long held back. He stood before the ruler of the galaxy, tail drooped to the floor, fists clenched at his sides, and choked back the sobs. He did not care if Frieza laughed. It was the last time that Vegeta, Prince of Saiyans, would shed tears again ... until his own death.

Frieza continued to make physical contact with him, a ghastly parody of concern that was thin as ice, and cracked to show the darkness inside.

"I can't have you blubbering every time something goes wrong, Vegeta. This is not befitting a member of my Elite force."

Hot fury rushed through him, layered upon deep sadness, complex layers of emotion. He glared at Frieza, bared his teeth in a grimace of pain and defiance. How dare he insult me? I am a Prince and I will not bow before him! He felt the powerful energy of anger crackle through him, and felt the hairs on his body stand up. Ki swirled around him and his palms tingled.

Frieza laughed, a deep sound that ran chills through his spine. Vegeta had heard that Frieza had laughed just like that when he had heard about Vegetasai's destruction, and now he could believe it was true. The tyrant wrapped his powerful segmented tail around Vegeta's shoulders, and pulled him close into a parody of embrace. The sharp purple tip pressed into the hollow between his clavicles, and applied pressure.

"What are you going to do now, attack me, little Prince? You need to check that temper of yours or I will have no use for you. You seem to have forgotten our earlier lessons, Vegeta." Frieza dug his nails into Vegeta's chin again and forced him to make eye contact. "Control your emotions, or they will control you. You do recall the techniques we practiced? I hate to think I wasted my time on you."

Breathe. Focus.

Unbidden, an image arose in his mind: an empty white space with a floating door, disconnected from any structure. Focus your emotions, focus your memories; see them spinning like a Ki ball between your palms. Remove them from yourself. Know they are separate. Release the ball and let it float away. Now, open the door and step outside. Leave them behind and become blank as a new tablet screen. They can't touch you now. Step aside ... nothing else matters.

A curious numbness spread through his body. Vegeta disliked the feeling, as if he had been paralyzed, but it was better than the sharp pain. In the room, he put his father's face, the loss and the pain, the anger ... all things that made him weak, vulnerable.

I won't let them use me, won't give them an edge any more. I'll just ... step aside.

Part of him worried that, eventually, he would not be able to find his way back from the void. He felt like a piece of him had died, gone cold, forever. Vegeta ate his emotions ... and Frieza smiled.

"Good boy. It's so simple, isn't it? Now, go on and join your teammates. Claim your rewards and celebrate your victory. We will be talking again."

Later, Vegeta could not remember most of their conversation. He did not recall leaving Frieza's suite, or joining up with the rest of his team. He came to in a restaurant, one of the many off site, in the company of Nappa and Raditz. Mountains of dirty dishes spread before them, and they were laughing, eating and drinking, telling tales of past glories and victories. Neither man seemed to notice that Vegeta was not talking much.

He had been on autopilot, and he was startled to realize he had lost a chunk of time. His chest ached, his head felt fuzzy, and something was terribly wrong, something was missing. Better not to think about it. Better to celebrate while he could, because their fortunes could change in an instant.

Vegeta raised a glass with his compatriots, and knew that he was lost.

Chapter Text

The Saiyans stumbled home late after their impromptu celebration. Both Nappa and Raditz drank large amounts of alcohol: spiced ales, clear izu, and Raditz's favorite blue sugarberry wine. They ran up a large bar tab and refused, for the most part, to give any to their prince. The excuse they used was he was far too young to partake, even though Vegeta was a combat soldier, just like they were. However, they need not have bothered, because Vegeta did not take part in their jovial festivities. He remained downcast through the meal and ate in silence; the others were too drunk to notice his odd behavior. He could not and did not want to talk about the meeting with Frieza, but nobody asked him.

At the end of the night, they returned home with full stomachs and large bags stuffed full of leftovers. It was a rare event when the three warriors could afford to sate themselves. Yet, even after a night filled with excesses, the group still had a decent amount of money remaining. They returned in a good mood, laughing and joking. Even Vegeta managed a half-hearted smile.

Fatigue set in as they stumbled in the door and put their spoils away. Nappa crashed on the couch, fully clothed, and Vegeta opted to turn in without being groomed. He crawled onto the bed first, pulled the covers over himself, then closed his eyes. He felt odd, hollow.

Raditz climbed in next to him, stretched out, then threw an arm over him. Within seconds, Raditz was snoring. Loud roars came from Nappa, as if he were competing with Raditz. Even though he was exhausted, Vegeta could not sleep. He remained awake and stared at the top bunk. After a while, he rolled over and curled himself into a sad little ball.

He did not remember most of his dreams the next morning, except that he had spent most of them adrift in darkness, surrounded by shadows that whispered and laughed. Once, he came across a large metal door that lead to nowhere and everywhere. When he opened it, he fell into the void and woke up, covered in sweat and trembling. Vegeta pressed his forehead against Raditz's chest for comfort. In his slumber, Raditz wrapped his arms around Vegeta. Finally, lulled by the sound of the older boy's steady heartbeat, Vegeta dozed off again, and did not wake until his alarm went off the next morning.

Day and night were arbitrary assignments on Planet Frieza 79, a low atmosphere world. The entire base complex was an enclosed environment; most locations were located in domes connected by wide passageways, and tall towers. Wake/sleep cycles were controlled by raising and dimming the ambient lights in the complex hive of buildings. Each day cycle consisted of 30 standard hours; morning set at 0700, and the sleep cycle began at 2600, although there was a robust nightlife in the entertainment section.

Vegeta's alarm went off at Local Time 0500, much to his displeasure. He trained five day cycles out of eight with Zarbon, Dodoria, or Nappa when they were not on mission. He tabbed off the alert, crawled over Raditz's slumbering form, and stumbled to the small lavatory to wash his face. Sometimes Vegeta craved solitude; it was difficult to find alone time living with two roommates, and on a constantly busy location.

There were days when he missed his home on Vegetasai more than others. Vegeta missed his large comfy bed, his spacious chambers, his private jacuzzi, his catered meals, his assistants ... and his family (don't think about that). The Saiyans' shared apartment was meant for one person, not three, and Vegeta had no personal space to speak of. He was often hungry, cold, dirty, or a combination of all three; an unsatisfactory situation that he had no power to change. He sighed, scrubbed his face with cold water, and ran his hands through his thick black hair to untangle it.

The day had just begun and Vegeta was already in a bad mood. He was cranky and tired, plagued by night terrors, and could already feel the beginnings of a headache.

He returned to their bedroom, separated from the living space by a privacy curtain. The room contained a bunk bed (no one used the top), a dresser, a desk, and shelving units. Vegeta took out one of his new black bodysuits, one without the sleeves, and dressed himself. He pulled on his new boots, then his armor emblazoned with his royal crest, then checked his tablet again: training with Zarbon at 0700.

Vegeta sighed, and resisted the urge to schedule a trip to the medical center in advance.

"Get up. I want my breakfast, and you didn't groom me last night." Vegeta poked Raditz in the back to wake him up.

Raditz mumbled, then turned over. "You said that you didn't want to be groomed."

"I do now. Get up and get going. I need something to eat before I train," the prince commanded, and shoved Raditz with one booted foot, but not much force.

"You are so needy." Raditz's words slurred as he spoke. Vegeta chose to ignore the adolescent's snarky comment.

He walked through the living space and past the couch where Nappa lay face down, still snoring. The flatscreen was off ... for once. Nappa had been too tired to even watch the nudies. He did not stir as Vegeta went into the mini-kitchen, pulled out a chair, and waited for Raditz. A pitcher of water and glasses always sat on the table so that Vegeta could get his own beverage, and he did so while he waited for his food.

Raditz shuffled in a moment later, bleary eyed and yawning. His huge mane of hair had snarled; it looked like a wild animal had attacked his head. He glared at Vegeta behind his back then searched through the full cold unit. He extracted some left overs, reheated them, and tossed the plate in front of Vegeta without a word. This earned him a frown from the prince, who felt the long haired Saiyan was slacking off.

"Why aren't you cooking my breakfast?"

"Good morning to you too, your highness." Raditz' eyes drooped as he wandered to the bathroom to fetch Vegeta's grooming kit. "Now eat your food before the rats get it."

"I would be so lucky," Vegeta said - half in jest. "How can I train if I am starving?"

On occasion, large rodents found their way into the soldiers' residential quarters. Instead of lodging a complaint, the Saiyans caught and used them for supplemental meat. While Vegeta ate, Raditz ran the comb through his hair, used light oils, then styled it.

"There you are. Fresh for your victory, right?" Raditz referred to Vegeta's usual saying when he started out a new day. "You know, I can teach you to groom your own hair. That way, you don't have to wait on me."

Vegeta stared at the adolescent, wrinkled his nose and huffed to express his displeasure at the suggestion. He loved the attention, craved it sometimes, and besides ... it was Raditz's duty.

"Or ... not." Raditz grumbled, turned away and started to wash dishes from the previous night.

During the last year, Raditz had become prickly and bad tempered, even for a Saiyan. He often snapped at Vegeta for no reason and started arguments. This confused Vegeta, who had grown accustomed to Raditz pandering to his whims. Nappa said that it was because Raditz was going through puberty, but there seemed to be more to it than just a surge of hormones. He spent more time away from Vegeta and Nappa, going out on special solo missions for Zarbon as part of his training. Sometimes he returned late during the sleep cycle smelling like alcohol, much to Nappa's disapproval.

Two years previous, shortly after the destruction of Vegetasai, Raditz had become one of Zarbon's proteges, and received personal attention. On occasion, he trained in tandem with other students, including Vegeta. This choice confused Vegeta; Raditz's Ki abilities had plateaued years ago while Vegeta's power level continued to rise. Zarbon was one of the best fighters in the Frieza Force - a Super Elite - so why was he still working with Raditz? He determined to ask Zarbon today. Also, he had been steeling himself to talk to Zarbon about hide and seek. Weeks had passed; Zarbon had made no mention, and acted like nothing had occurred.

He finished up breakfast, then placed the dishes in the sink - one concession to Raditz - collected his scouter, tablet, and backpack, then put on his new gloves. Vegeta walked out the door without so much as a word to either Raditz or Nappa. Raditz often accompanied him, but Vegeta was old enough to take care of himself. Besides, Raditz took too damn long with his hair and appearance, and Vegeta did not wish to wait. He wrapped his long tail around his waist and stepped out the door.

Vegeta checked his tablet again, he hated to be late to any appointment. It was 0630 Local Time. The residential corridors were mostly empty; a few soldiers returning from the night shift, maintenance robots on clean up duty. The ambient light was still dimmed for the sleep period. No one paid any attention to the little Saiyan. There was a mix of soldiers and Elite forces, a myriad of different species intermingling. With a large variety of species, people were used to extremes in appearance. Vegeta walked out of the barracks section, contained in a large separated dome, then entered the main thoroughfare.

Like most military bases, FP-79 was a small city where PTO soldiers could live their lives in relative ease. Everything they needed was on site, but not necessarily everything they wanted. Personnel lived in residential sections. There was a well stocked commissary, an entertainment section where both legitimate and illegitimate pastimes thrived, restaurants of varying quality, medical and training centers. It also hosted its own security force to keep order.

FP-79 was also the main warehouse and connection hub for the Northern Quadrant, and as such was constantly busy. Barracks were provided for transient workers, while high profile visitors were housed in splendor in the Main Headquarters. Most places could be reached on foot within 15 minutes. Flying in the hallways was forbidden; not all individuals could use Ki, and it was considered rude and possibly unsafe. So, of course, Vegeta made it a point to fly whenever he thought he would not get caught ... and sometimes, even when he thought he might. Vegeta loved challenges, even the small ones.

Zarbon met him promptly in front of Training Hall 3B, their usual location. He carried a workout bag slung over one shoulder, and checked his chronometer as Vegeta walked up. He had already changed into his workout clothes. As always, he was a standard of perfection: not a hair out of place, his expression and body language alert although he was likely out most of the night. Zarbon had a reputation as a man who worked and played hard.

"0705. You are late."

Vegeta rolled his eyes, but did not dare mouth off. Instead he dipped his head in a cursory bow.

"Apologies, Master Zarbon."

Zarbon eyed him for a tense moment, then turned and slapped the entry panel. Over the gateway, a light blinked, and the door slid open. Zarbon held out one hand, indicated that Vegeta should go in first. Vegeta did so, and fought not to hunch his shoulders. He hated leaving his back exposed, but to show fear would be to show weakness and let Zarbon know he had an edge. Besides, if Zarbon attacked him for no reason, he would have to answer to Frieza. Every now and then, having Frieza's favor had an upside. Zarbon followed behind, shut the reinforced portal, keyed in the code that activated the containment shields.

They were fighting today in a modified room with padded floors and reinforced shock walls with shields, meant for Ki training; although often Zarbon and he did not use energy when sparring. As one of his training masters, Zarbon reserved the right to strike Vegeta without repercussions from Nappa, his overzealous bodyguard.

Zarbon wore a black gi made of breathable fabric, but still kept his bangles on. His long emerald hair was pulled back into a functional braid. Vegeta wore a blue bodysuit without sleeves. Both he and Vegeta were barefoot, as was tradition in all hallowed training halls. Vegeta removed his armor, placed it in his backpack which he stored in a small locker to one side. He walked to the center of the room, where Zarbon waited.

"I am here for my training, Master Zarbon. I am ready to learn." The polite and rote response of student to teacher. Zarbon was a stickler for protocol, and Vegeta had learned that it was easier sometimes just to placate the teal man.

They bowed to each other, the proper beginning to every training session, although Zarbon held little respect for Vegeta and the Saiyan knew it. Before they sparred, they did warm up exercises. Neither spoke, and the silence had an uncomfortable edge. After warm ups, they meditated for ten minutes or so.

Vegeta fidgeted as he sat with his legs folded and his tail unwound. His mind was scattered, and he had difficulty in keeping his mind blank. He cracked one eye to see if Zarbon was paying attention. His teacher seemed to be in deep reflection: eyes closed, hands folded in his lap, body still. Vegeta's knees hurt, and his tail still ached from the break weeks ago. He could not keep focused, so he opened his eyes, ran his hands over the permanent kink in his tail, and felt angry. He had been tortured, injured, humiliated ... and for what reason? Tapa... He was a Saiyan warrior, a royal Elite and he refused to cower in his own mind. He had to know the truth.

Zarbon opened his eyes and regarded his pupil for a moment. "Problems, Vegeta? This time is for you to focus and reflect. This session will not go well for you if you can't calm yourself. I do hope you didn't overindulge last night."

"Master Zarbon, may I ask a question? I ... have to know something."

Zarbon sighed in exasperation and nodded. The platinum earrings jingled, small symphonies. "Saiyans ... If you must. Perhaps then you can pay attention to what we are doing."

Anger flared, and Vegeta bit the inside of his cheek. He would not get answers if he pissed Zarbon off. Instead, he bowed his head again, showed mock respect to placate his teacher. Vegeta knew how to speak politely, but he was exasperated and fatigued; he did not trust himself to say the correct platitudes that would please Zarbon. And he wanted answers, now.

"I don't take time out of my busy schedule just for you to waste it. This isn't a game. What is it?"

"Games," Vegeta snapped, his patience whittled away by weeks of head games and plausible denial. "I want to talk about games."

He waited, watched Zarbon for a reaction. The man was unreadable ... oh, how Vegeta admired that control, but it infuriated him as well.

When the teal general did not respond, Vegeta continued on. "When are you lifting the restrictions on the training rooms? I won the game."

Zarbon blinked, then tilted his head to one side. The long green braid fell over his shoulder. "Whatever are you talking about, dear boy?"

"Hide and seek," Vegeta shouted, and clutched his tail in both hands. "Don't tell me you forgot!"

Zarbon did not speak for a moment; it seemed like he was confused by the accusation, but Vegeta knew better.

"Oh ... that," Zarbon chuckled. "Dodoria and I, we weren't being serious. I am sorry if you took it that way. Sometimes, you are too sensitive, Vegeta. You need to learn to relax." He smiled, a smug expression that infuriated Vegeta. "However, if you feel ... slighted ... I will talk to the head tech. Happy now?"

Vegeta was sorry he had opened his mouth. Zarbon was playing him again, and he had lost control, lost the battle.

Numbness descended over Vegeta; he could not tell whether Zarbon truly thought it was amusing, whether he and Dodoria had sat around and laughed while he hid in terror, whether Frieza was in on it. It was too much for a seven year old - even a Saiyan one - to deal with. He had sworn that he would never cry again, never allow his enemies to use his emotions, so he did the only thing he could. Vegeta smiled, as if he and Zarbon had shared a great joke, as if what had occurred was insignificant.

"Now that we've cleared that up, shall we begin today's lesson?" Zarbon unfolded his long legs, stood up, and motioned for Vegeta to do so. Vegeta felt like he was floating just outside of his own body as he rose to his feet and stretched his spine. He faced Zarbon and stood at attention, then bowed.

"Good. Today, we focus on hand to hand combat. We will not be using Ki attacks."

Vegeta frowned. As of late, Zarbon had been directing him away from energy training. "Why aren't we using Ki?"

"Because somewhere along the line, you have become lax. There will always be someone who has a higher power level than you, and you will lose if you count on it. Physical skill and strategy can compensate for lack of power, and you need to know how to use your particular strengths against a greater opponent. For example, I am stronger and have a height advantage over you. Your task is to turn that against me. That is what we will focus on today."

Zarbon took up his usual fighting posture: body turned to one side, weight mostly on his back foot, front knee bent and hands flat. Vegeta dropped into a wide stance: low to the ground, hands in loose claws, his tail flat behind him for balance - although he would likely wrap it when engaging.

Dodoria was a brutish opponent who focused on overwhelming force up front, whereas Zarbon relied on a combination of force, energy, and strategy. He often drew out a match in an attempt to exhaust his opponent. Generally, Vegeta preferred to spar with Dodoria but knew that, in the long run, he would get more from Zarbon. Zarbon also was merciless, and would not give any leeway to Vegeta. That was a bad thing today … Vegeta's concentration was off; his meeting with Frieza the other day had taken its toll, although he could not seem to recall much of the interaction. He had to remind himself to pay attention and listen, or else the teal fighter would pummel him.

"Let us begin." Zarbon extended one hand, palm up, and waggled one finger at the Saiyan. It was an invitation to begin the match, and a taunt.

When fighting an enemy with superior reach, a smaller fighter can remove the advantage by closing the gap, getting in close and taking away the full range of motion. Vegeta was suited to this style of combat; quick movements and dodges, rolls and grasps, using his agility to render Zarbon's attacks futile. Up close and personal also meant that an opponent would be less inclined to use Ki for risk of hitting himself.

Zarbon smiled, a gesture that indicated disdain for his young opponent. Vegeta knew that Zarbon neither liked nor respected him, and only put forth effort because of Frieza's command. Vegeta hated the situation and Zarbon; the blue man often used Vegeta's anger against him while sparring.

They circled for a bit; Vegeta sought to clear his head and focus in the moment, or else Zarbon would hand his ass to him. Zarbon did not attack, just used his greater reach to keep the smaller Saiyan at bay. If it had been a real situation instead of practice, Vegeta would have already lost the fight.

"Are we going to dance around all day, or are you going to spar with me? I have other places to be, monkey."

Vegeta snarled, allowed himself to be goaded into action, and launched himself at Zarbon. He moved in low and quick to knock off the blue man's center of balance and tried to duck in under Zarbon's reach. Zarbon anticipated this; he phased behind Vegeta, kicked him square in the back, knocked him off his feet, and sent him flying. A cheap move. Vegeta tucked into a shoulder roll to recover his balance, then spun to face his teacher. Zarbon's smile widened and he chuckled.

All Vegeta could see was Zarbon's dead grin, hear him scream, "RUN."

"I thought we weren't using Ki," Vegeta snarled.

"Rapid movement is not a Ki attack, boy. You're distracted. Pay attention! Now come on and hit me."

"I'm NOT A CHILD!"

Vegeta closed the distance, fueled by rage. He rained down blows upon Zarbon, who easily countered, his face a blank mask with perhaps a hint of amusement. Unable to land a punch, Vegeta grew angrier and his technique became sloppy, his movements telegraphed. Zarbon aimed a kick at his face; Vegeta dodged with a split, Zarbon's foot came so close that he felt his bangs move. On instinct, he rolled quick to one side as Zarbon reversed momentum and tried to heel stomp.

Here's my chance. He rose into a crouch, feinted, leapt up and smashed his shoulder into Zarbon's unprotected groin. Next, he lashed out with his feet and tried to kick out Zarbon's knees. The tall warrior grunted in surprise, but did not react as Vegeta hoped. Zarbon sidestepped the foot sweep, smashed his elbow down on top of Vegeta's head and knocked the boy to his knees. Vegeta's vision blurred and his ears rang from the impact. He moved on intuition, dodged Zarbon's follow-up attack. When that failed, Zarbon leapt back, put space between them, and took away the advantage again.

"You monkeys have such thick skulls," Zarbon sneered. "Stop playing games and think. Or is that too much to ask?"

Vegeta rolled to his feet again, shook his head to clear it. He realized Zarbon was goading him, but he could not seem to find that calm center. Focus. Breathe ... but he could not, not today, and Zarbon would never allow him to surrender.

Zarbon closed the distance in an instant; he moved so fast that Vegeta could not follow, and struck the prince in the face several times, exasperating the head strike. Vegeta screamed in frustration, gathered his energy and launched a Ki ball at Zarbon's chest point blank. He knew this was against the rules of the match, but did not care at that point. Immediately, he closed in and followed with an open palm strike to Zarbon's chin.

It would have worked, but his movements were sloppy. Instead of connecting, Zarbon grabbed his arm and wrenched, then threw him with all of his strength. Vegeta smashed into the reinforced wall shoulder first, then struck the back of his skull. He felt something crack, then he slumped to the ground. Consciousness faded away into a gray fog.

Zarbon walked over to his unconscious opponent, glared down at him, moved the body with one bare foot to inspect the damage. Blood oozed from one large ear, and the boy's shoulder was dislocated.

Tsk. That stupid boy had managed to anger him after all. Zarbon was disappointed in himself that he lost control enough to lash out without thinking. Vegeta was just like all other Saiyans Zarbon had dealt with over the years: could not follow simple instructions, always rude and uncooperative, and no respect whatsoever. Why Frieza chose to keep the little brat was a mystery. Zarbon sighed and checked for a pulse. Regular and strong. If there was one thing you could credit Saiyans for, it was their ability to take a beating. He hoped, however, that he had not damaged the arrogant little monkey enough to force a power up; the Saiyan race possessed an annoying ability to recover from near fatal injuries more powerful than before.

Zarbon had always found Saiyans to be a confusing people, they matured sooner both physically and mentally, and Vegeta was a prime example of that maxim. Vegeta's short stature often caused Zarbon to think of him as a young child, and it was off-putting when his behavior did not match. Yet, he was still immature, inexperienced, and extremely powerful - a bad combination. This boy is going to be a danger someday.

With a sigh, he collected the crumpled body. The boy's long tail, kinked near the end, dragged on the ground. Zarbon resisted the urge to step on it out of spite. He took a few seconds to regain his composure. A little voice in the back of his head whispered that perhaps he was training his own replacement, although Zarbon doubted that any Saiyan, royal or no, could have either the social or organizational skills to topple him from his position.

Zarbon pressed the exit button with one elbow, waited until the egress slid open, then emerged with Vegeta's body cradled in his arms. Someone who did not know them might mistake the gesture for caring, but nothing could be further from the truth. He collected his scouter and tablet and checked for messages; several from Lord Trictic, an invitation to a party, an invoice for his latest art acquisition, requests for missions, and ... oddly ... nothing from Lord Frieza.

He carried the youth to the medical center, placed him in care of the doctors, and walked away without looking back. He sent a quick missive to Lord Frieza with a summary of the day's training, a notification to Nappa that Vegeta was (once again) in medical, then went home to clean off the sense of personal disappointment.

Chapter Text

Commander Nappa arrived at the Base PTO Medical Center in an irritated mood. He had received a message from Zarbon informing him that Prince Vegeta had sustained 'training related injuries' while in session with the teal aide ... again. He had chosen to make the journey from the residential domes by foot instead of taking one of the public trams, it gave him a chance to calm down. He completed the twenty minute commute in half that time, eating up the distance with giant strides fueled by his anger.

At least this time, it occurred during a scheduled sparring period and not that nonsense from weeks ago where Vegeta had disappeared for days and showed up wounded and scared. Nappa still had received no answers from either Zarbon or Dodoria. Both beings claimed ignorance, and Vegeta refused to talk about the event at all. Now the boy was jittery and even more paranoid, and no one could persuade him to reveal the truth.

The on-call doctor met him at the entrance; it was the same woman who had treated Vegeta earlier that month. Doctor Berra nodded a greeting to the angry Saiyan. She wore brown scrubs with a white lab coat today, and her long black hair was pulled back into a severe bun at the nape of her neck. The style did not complement her pointed features.

"Well, Commander Nappa, we seem to be meeting here a lot lately." The red skinned medic gave a tiny smile, enough to show a row of sharp teeth.

Nappa was not sure if the woman was hitting on him or not. The tip of his tail twitched as he glanced down at the diminutive medic and wondered if he should say something, then decided against it. He did not want to make things more awkward.

"I got word from Lord Zarbon that Prince Vegeta is here. What's broken this time?"

"He's in one of the Medical Chambers, recovering." Berra seemed surprised at Nappa's question.

"What? What the hell happened to him? I leave him in Zarbon's care and that idiot tanks him?" Nappa shouted in frustration and worry, his voice echoed through the main room.

At Nappa's outburst, the doctor seemed to recoil a bit, and her friendly manner dimmed. "I thought you were informed about the nature of his injuries, Commander. Normally, we would ask your consent for treatment, but he was badly hurt, and we didn't want to wait."

"Yeah, fine. Nobody gives a shit about my say-so anyway." Nappa mumbled under his breath.

The red skinned woman narrowed her gold eyes. "Well, come with me. He's in the middle of a treatment cycle. I'll get you caught up and you can check on him yourself."

She turned on her heel and motioned for Nappa to follow her into the bowels of the treatment center. Most of the hundred triage cots were empty, with a few soldiers in for treatment of minor work related injuries, and the remnants of the recent bout of food poisoning from one of the offsite canteens. A row of eight medical tanks filled with green liquid lined one wall. A metallic double door at one end led to a handful of private rooms for high ranking officers, or visiting V.I.P.s. Another section contained the labs, operating rooms, and pharmacy. Nurses and medtechs of varying species, clad in maroon scrubs, moved about with purpose. Some individuals nodded a greeting to Berra as she passed, but none acknowledged the massive Saiyan who accompanied her.

The medical chambers were squat domed tanks that allowed doctors and techs to view the progress of patients, and make minute adjustments to the nutrient bath from control panels. Vegeta's unconscious body floated in the last dome, a breathing mask over his nose and mouth. Electrodes attached to his chest and temples tracked his vitals. A medtech presided over all the chambers, and glanced up when Berra and Nappa approached.

The young Saiyan seemed so small immersed in the liquid. He had curled into a fetal position, legs drawn up and his tail wrapped around his knees. His eyes were closed. This was Vegeta's fourth trip to Medical in a two week period, all due to the 'teachings' of Zarbon and Dodoria.

Berra checked the readouts, checked the temperature and endocrine levels, then made a few changes to speed the healing process. Nappa felt a rush of fury when he saw his charge in such a vulnerable state; he was sworn to keep the prince safe, and he was failing. He placed one large hand on the outer surface of the clear polymer, even though Vegeta could not see him. "Mah'ni, Ten'ta ... I'm failing ya. Failing my promise to your father."

Berra cleared her throat and allowed Nappa to pretend the moment of emotion had never occurred.

"Who brought him in," Nappa asked, although he was quite sure of the answer.

"Lord Zarbon did. I decided to tank him because he came in with severe head and spinal trauma, along with a dislocated shoulder. I could give you the medical details if you wish, Commander, but they're not necessary. The main point is that his injuries were acute and needed immediate attention. Now, without treatment it is likely that he would have been paralyzed to some degree and with possible brain damage. He will recover and likely will suffer no permanent effects, but I'd keep an eye on him for the next few weeks. Let me know if there are any personality changes, or functional issues. He's young, and Saiyans (as you know) are hardy, so I'm expecting a full recovery."

Nappa growled, an unconscious reaction and Doctor Berra recoiled a step.

This was ridiculous! Bruises and contusions gained during sparring were one thing, but severe head trauma or paralyzation? Nappa was beyond furious. You did not fuck your students up that bad, no matter what. He had trained young Saiyans for decades and knew damn well that severe injury to a student was unacceptable. Either Zarbon had lost control - in which case Nappa would lose what little respect he had left for the teal aide - or he had purposely tried to disable the prince.

Doctor Berra gave a polite cough to draw his attention.

"His injuries were exacerbated because the patient was moved instead of being immobilized and calling for a medbus. I spoke with Lord Zarbon on that matter." Berra gave a sly smile, and Nappa decided that perhaps she was not so bad, after all. Anyone who would take on Zarbon like that had to be gutsy.

I think I need to have some 'words' with Zarbon myself, Nappa thought.

"Look, Commander, I'd like to speak with you about a sensitive subject." She placed one small hand on Nappa's forearm. "I'm concerned about the level of injuries this young man is coming in with on a regular basis. I'm also concerned about his overall health. Now I know I haven't been here long, and I'm not an expert on Saiyan physiology, but I have worked with Saiyan troops before, and there's enough here for me to be concerned."

Berra waited for a response from Nappa. The large warrior did not speak, but gritted his teeth. She hesitated for a moment before she continued.

"Prince Vegeta has been consistently underweight, according to his chart; often malnourished to some degree, and small for his age. He has begun a phase in which he will undergo his main growth spurt, as I'm sure you've noticed recently, and if these conditions persist they will have a long term effect on his wellbeing."

"Are you sayin' that I'm negligent?" Nappa bristled, and the tip of his wrapped tail twitched in anger.

Once again, Berra distanced herself from the warrior. She held up her hands. "I'm not implying anything, and I'm sorry if I offended you. Look, I realize that it can be difficult for soldiers, and Saiyans in particular to meet their nutritional needs. I'd recommend supplement packs for him."

Berra extracted a small labelled bottle from an outside pocket of her lab jacket, then handed it to Nappa. It looked tiny in his giant hands.

"What's this?"

"It's meal replacement drink, but in Prince Vegeta's case I would advise that he takes them along with his meals. Something like this would be helpful until he's past puberty. It's high in protein, and is geared towards beings who have an active lifestyle. You can find them at the commissary."

Such unwarranted kindness was unusual, and set off warning claxons in Nappa's mind; paranoia perhaps, but caution had served him well in the past. Maybe she truly was concerned for the boy's welfare - that would be damned nice - but Nappa did not want to create false hope for himself.

"Doctor, why do you care so much about him? What is it you want?"

The doctor looked offended by Nappa's blunt accusation. "Not everyone here is heartless, Commander. I'd be a poor physician if I didn't care."

Nappa had the good grace to look chastised. "Look, I didn't mean anything. It's just, well, Saiyans aren't well treated in the PTO." He crossed his arms, looked away from her and cleared his throat, feeling guilty.

"I gathered that. But I hope you realize I'm not your enemy, and I'm not here to judge. I have to do my rounds now. You're welcome to wait until the end of the cycle, or I can notify you when he's ready."

"I'll wait." The tall Saiyan grabbed one of the chairs scattered throughout the center, placed it near the tank where Vegeta floated, and sat down. It was too small for his giant form, and he had to squeeze into it, his knees tucked towards his chest. Not meant for Saiyans, for sure. Like all soldiers, Nappa had developed the ability to fall asleep anywhere. He tucked his head on his chest, crossed his arms, and dozed off.

Vegeta floated in a state of bliss and dreamed. Somewhere on the outside, pain existed and confusion existed, but now he was warm and safe. He drifted in and out of sleep, lulled by the relaxing properties of the healing solution, and wished he could stay there forever in the womb, not sure of where or who or what he was. His reverie ended when the liquid drained out, exposing his wet skin. Vegeta came to as a nurse removed the electrodes from his temples and wrapped him in a robe, then escorted him to a cot. He saw Nappa asleep in a corner.

That female doctor from before appeared and checked him over, looked in his eyes with a light, asked him to touch his nose with his finger and follow instructions. Vegeta did as instructed, and for once did not argue. He was distracted; he expected to feel sluggish or dulled, but his body felt different, somehow, like his nerves were on fire.

"There you are, young prince. Everything is good as new. Your items are clean and off to one side." Berra indicated a neatly folded pile of clothes placed on top of the small patient table, along with his gloves and boots.

The red woman looked down and smiled. This was the first female he had interacted with since leaving Vegetasai, since the Frieza Force held a heavy bias towards males, and Vegeta felt confused by her friendly gesture. It was probably his imagination that the physician seemed to be concerned for him. Instead, Vegeta decided that she was grooming favors for the future. He changed back into his bodysuit and armor while she filled out release information on her tablet. Nappa unfolded himself, stood and stretched, and joined them while Vegeta dressed.

"Thank you, Doctor ..." Politeness kicked in. It always paid to groom favor with the medics, one never knew when one would need their help again, and pissing off a doctor was a very bad idea.

"My name is Doctor Berra. We've met before. Here, this is for you." She picked up a small bottle, twin to the one she had given earlier to Nappa, from the table and opened the lid, then handed it to Vegeta.

"What's this for?" Vegeta raised an eyebrow, suspicious of her motives, and sniffed the contents. He made it a habit never to accept gifts from strangers.

"It's a nutrient supplement, I've already spoken to your guardian about them. It's not poisoned, I promise. If I wanted to hurt you, I would have done so already."

The brown liquid exuded a rich smell that made him salivate. And the woman was right, she could have killed him several times by this point. He sipped, found it had a mellow yet sweet flavor and a smooth texture. He drank it in one gulp, and had to suppress a shudder of delight.

"Get me more of these," Vegeta commanded, and tossed the vial at his guardian.

"Glad to see you're feeling better, big ... I mean, Prince Vegeta. We done here, doc?"

"He's all set. I hope I don't see you again for a while, Prince Vegeta. Have a good day, the both of you." Berra gave a quick wave, and strode away to meet the next medical emergency, efficient and oddly cheerful.

Nappa watched her for a moment, then clapped one hand on the young Saiyan's shoulder. "C'mon, ve'ho, let's go get ya something to eat."

That odd feeling persisted as they walked back to the commercial section to buy foodstuffs. Vegeta still felt different, better; he could swear that his reactions seemed quicker, his thoughts clearer, or perhaps it was the aftereffect of the healing gel; he often felt euphoric for hours after emerging. He hoped that it was permanent ... only time would tell.

Chapter Text

On their way back home, Vegeta and Nappa decided to stop by the Galactic Noodle Shack - a cheap diner known for plentiful servings, a homemade zesty broth, and an unimaginative name choice. The two Saiyans sat in a dinged up booth in a far corner with their backs to the wall, ate copious amounts of hot savory udon, and drank scalding herbal tea. They had plenty of food back at their apartment, but the lure of freshly prepared fare overcame their common sense. Besides, the noodle hut was cheap and Nappa knew the waitstaff; they often slipped him extra leftovers.

When their food arrived, Vegeta shoveled the noodles and broth into his mouth as fast as possible, and focused his attention on eating. The scents and smells were overwhelming, he was ravenous and even his bones hurt. It seemed that he would never be full. He ate so fast that he bit his lip and did not notice. Nappa kept ordering refills without commenting, and the young Saiyan was glad not to have to make conversation. He consumed ten bowls by himself before he looked up from the table and made eye contact with Nappa.

One of the waitresses came by their table to check up and refresh their teapot with hot water. Her pale blue skin and long straight silver hair were complemented by the low cut navy blue and white checkered uniform she wore that hugged her backside and showed off her long legs. When she bent over, a teasing view of her bosoms was revealed. As she poured, she leaned on the table and treated the two males to a peek and a dazzling grin that made her red eyes sparkle. The effect was lost on Vegeta.

"Anything else I can get for you two? More noodles, perhaps? We have plenty of those ..."

"... It's our specialty," Nappa finished the quote along with her. "Yeah, thanks, Amaranth. Another large bowl for Prince Vegeta, maybe some of those crunchy ones with the hot sauce dip if you got 'em. And tell Teff he needs a better slogan."

"I tell him every day, hon. He just doesn't listen." She winked at Nappa, a familiar gesture, and stood back up. As she moved, the large earrings she wore jingled and caught the light. It made Vegeta think of Zarbon and he suppressed a shudder.

"So, where's Raditz today?"

Nappa shrugged, a simple motion that looked like mountains moving on the heavily muscled Saiyan. "Out. He's been paling around with Lord Zarbon a lot, copping an attitude. Says he's training with him, but I'm wondering what that's a cover for."

Vegeta snorted, his mouth full, to indicate just how he felt about Frieza's right hand man.

"Right, sore subject. I'll put the order in." With an eye roll and the tilt of one hip, Amaranth walked back to the kitchen counter. Her jewelry spun, threw glints of light. "Teff! More of the same for 8B. And throw the spice in."

Within minutes, Amaranth returned, a large tray balanced on one arm. She set it down, then distributed the large crocks of soup, a selection of dipping dishes filled with a variety of sauces (including Nappa's favorite hot sauce), a second bowl with short deep fried crunchies, and a pitcher of water. She refilled their glasses and collected the mountain of dirty dishes the Saiyans had pushed off to one side.

"Here you are. It always amazes me how much you boys can eat," she commented, then departed to attend to other customers.

"I'm not a child." Vegeta replied by rote, but his heart was not in it. He grabbed a handful of crisps and tossed them into his broth, then resumed gorging himself, but at a slower pace.

"Feeling better, Prince Vegeta?" Nappa tossed more tea leaves into the brewing pot, then placed the lid back on.

"Yes, but I'm still starving. It's odd, Nappa. I feel different. Do I look different?" Vegeta picked up the steaming bowl, held it near his face, and slurped the liquid. His hands still shook and a hollow ache rested in his stomach.

"What do you mean, different?"

"I can't really explain it. I feel like everything is moving slower, and my thoughts are quicker. It's like I'm on fire, but I'm not hurting. I feel like I could run for hours and not get tired."

"Well you look the same to me." Nappa paused, tapped one finger on his front teeth as he thought. "When did this start?"

"I noticed it after I left the med tank."

"Huh. Lemme check something out." The older Saiyan activated his scouter and scowled when nothing happened. He removed the battle worn piece of tech, turned it on one side, jiggled a few loose wires, then put it back on and ran the energy scanner program again. Letters and numbers scrolled across the purple eyepiece, and it emitted a sequence of chirps.

"Hmm ... thought so. Your power level is higher."

"How?" Vegeta leaned forward. "That piece of junk must be broken."

"Nah, it's running fine. I checked out on myself first. You can try your scouter too if you don't believe me." He waited until Vegeta confirmed the change for himself.

"But I haven't done anything ..."

"It's not what you did, it's because Zarbon fucked you up."

"What? Why would that matter?"

"It's called zenkai, Prince Vegeta. It happens whenever a Saiyan is defeated in battle by a superior foe. We come back stronger and more powerful to fight again. It's one of the things that makes us a force to be reckoned with. Zarbon screwed up hardcore. Hope Lord Frieza puts his ass in a sling." With a chuckle, Nappa deactivated his scouter.

"Wait, you mean that's a real thing? I thought it was a metaphor, like we just get up after a beating and keep on going."

"Nah. In our case it's literal. The more damage we take, the more we gain. Kinda a neat trick."

Vegeta sighed, placed his chin in one hand. "So ... to get stronger, all I have to do is nearly die?"

"That's a dangerous way to think about it. There's a fine line between zenkai and death. We can come back from severe injury, but dead is dead, Vegeta. And I don't think Zarbon's gonna screw up that badly again."

"Nappa, Zarbon has been steering me away from Ki training lately, even when I ask. Do you think he knows about zenkai, that he's trying to keep me weak?"

"Wouldn't surprise me. We're dangerous people, and Zarbon hates it when someone challenges his authority. What surprises me is that he actually lost control enough to hurt you that bad. Maybe he's slipping."

"Maybe."

They finished eating and summoned Amaranth to their table. She arrived with the bill, a wink, and a generous takeout bag. "From Teff. See you boys in a bit, I hope."

"You bet." Nappa returned the gesture.

Nappa paid the bill, tipped Amaranth generously, and gave a cursory wave to the cook and owner. They left the Noodle Shack on foot and headed towards the PTO commissary to pick up ration stores, fresh water, and buy extra food for the week - that would use up most of their spare earnings. They walked without conversing for the first half, both caught up in their private musings until Vegeta broke the silence.

"Nappa, can all Saiyans get zenkai?"

"Sure thing." Nappa chuckled, the sound became a thunderous rumble of amusement. "A good fight is one of the best things in the galaxy, and a powerup is a hell of a trip."

"Can it only happen once?"

"Nah. If you're hurt bad enough, it can happen every time."

Vegeta mused on this idea. If all Saiyans could get zenkai ... He imagined an entire force of Saiyan warriors, maxed out and going full tilt at their enemies. The Grand Army of Vegetasai must have been a terrifying thing to see in battle, a conquering force to rule the galaxies.

"It's funny that we're the only Saiyans left. Almost seems on purpose."

Nappa did not respond at first and did not meet Vegeta's eyes. "Yeah ... funny."

Both dropped the subject, not wanting to follow that line of thought to its logical conclusion.

But now I know the truth, what Zarbon's been trying to keep from me. Zarbon should have killed me when he had the chance because I will surpass him, and then Frieza! I will seek zenkai whenever I can, right under their noses.

Vegeta knew that Nappa would not give approval for such a dangerous course of action, but he just would not mention it to his bodyguard. He would have to be careful, though, or he would not get his revenge.

Each soldier was issued a red supply ticket, filled with credits weekly as part of their stipend. It allowed them to purchase foodstuffs and other necessities at any of the PTO commissaries. Nappa often transferred extra income from their group account to the Redcard to fuel their enormous appetites; he had done so with the bonus from their last mission on Akon.

The commander reached into one of his chest plate pockets, removed the group assignment tablet, and checked their balance. "We have extra, Prince Vegeta, so we can pick up some special items. But this has to last us, so don't go overboard. Okay?"

Vegeta sighed; his guardian could be such a pessimist. "Fine ... spoil my fun."

The Saiyans entered the food depot, grabbed a large cart and tossed food in as they walked down the aisles and contemplated their choices. The commissary served many beings from worlds throughout the galaxy, and had a large variety of edibles, some of which did not appear to be edible at all to Vegeta's eyes.

Usually they shopped on a limited budget and only bought the essentials to keep themselves filled up. This tended to include a heavy load of filling, cheap and easy to prepare carbs. Today, however, they chose fresh produce, grains, and proteins. The luxury of fresh meat made them drool in anticipation. It was exhilarating not to need to watch every credit and to toss items in their tote and not worry about the cost. It was glorious; a small time of no worries and a reminder of better days.

Most of the time, Nappa and Raditz were in charge of grocery shopping; this time Nappa let Vegeta select whatever he wished...for a change...and did not complain about the expense. The young prince tossed items into the cart with glee and kept up a running commentary as he did so. If he could not reach, he floated to the shelf to grab his prize.

"Nappa! I want these noodles ... get me these rice buns, they taste really good ... and this, Nappa. Get me this, it smells good ... and this ... and this ..."

Nappa started to worry about the total after a while, but he did not wish to ruin the prince's fun. Vegeta so rarely enjoyed himself; the boy deserved whatever sliver of happiness he could find, a moment where he did not have to be a toughened war veteran, but simply a child.

Vegeta returned with a package of deep fried takki - small sea dwelling creatures with little soft bodies and many tentacles - grasped in one hand. They had been a favorite delicacy of Vegeta's years ago, on Vegetasai. Once he had eaten them by the hundreds until he had gotten ill on them and refused to touch the dish afterwards.

"Prince Vegeta, I thought you hated takki."

"I know, but it reminds me of home." Vegeta looked sad for a second, then shook his head to cancel the emotion. "I still want it."

Fresh delicacies were expensive, and Nappa did not wish to spend their hard earned wages on something that Vegeta would not eat, but one look at Vegeta's forlorn features made him keep further comments to himself.

"All right, Ten'ta. But that's your treat."

"And the vitamin drinks. Get those for me, too."

Nappa looked down at his charge and studied him. The youth had grown, again, during the past weeks. He appeared emaciated, his cheekbones too sharp and his ribs visible in spite of his muscling. When Vegeta placed the six pack on top of the mound of groceries and dared Nappa to put them back, Nappa felt guilty.

"Okay ... but we can't afford this all of the time."

Vegeta scowled up at him, and bared his teeth. "That doctor said I needed them, Nappa! And what did she want, anyway? Why did she care so much about me?"

"I dunno, Vegeta. I guess we'll ask her next time we see her. Don't ya worry, I'm getting 'em - so stop glaring at me. Let's get going."

Nappa pushed the overburdened cart to the front checkout. He swiped the Redcard, tried not to wince at the total, then paid a modest fee for a mobile dolly to tote their groceries home and save themselves a walk.

The ride back to their room only took five minutes, and Vegeta thought about food the entire time: warm meals and fresh treats and those delicious supplements. Maybe he could persuade Raditz to cook something nice, and then groom him. After all, he was the Prince. He deserved special treatment and Raditz had been seriously slacking as of late.

Unfortunately for Vegeta, Raditz was not at home, so he and Nappa had to carry the containers inside. This put Vegeta in a bad mood again; he complained the entire time that he 'should not have to do commoner's work.'

Once the groceries had been unpacked, Vegeta bolted down two of the supplements, shaking as he did so.

"Hey, Vegeta, take it easy on those." Nappa appeared shocked when the young Saiyan actually snarled at him. "Okay, big guy, just calm down. Why don't you go lay down for a while and I'll put the food away."

Normally, the suggestion of a nap angered Vegeta and made him feel like Nappa was babying him, but he felt odd still, stretched out thin, his mind on fire. He did not argue as Nappa expected, but instead shrugged and trudged towards the bunk beds, crawled onto the bottom mattress and curled into a ball. Soon, he fell asleep. He did not dream.

"Hey, Vegeta. Wake up."

Vegeta sat bolt upright, startled out of a sound sleep. Those words...A tall figure cast into black relief by the backlighting towered over him, reached a hand out, and Vegeta panicked. He felt trapped in the small space of the lower bunk; he had nowhere to escape to. His heart raced, and he backed against the wall, and he hissed out of instinct. Then the figure knelt, and Vegeta saw Raditz's familiar face: his vast expanse of hair, the pointy chin, his soft demeanor.

Raditz's expression turned from a half smile to one of concern. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Vegeta snapped, and shame flooded him. There was nothing to be afraid of, it was just Raditz. So, why did he feel terrified? He felt his face turn red, and he scowled to cover his embarrassment.

"All right. Well, I wanted to tell you that dinner is ready. I noticed that you got takki."

Raditz seemed willing to pretend that he had not seen Vegeta's reaction, that everything was normal, and Vegeta was willing to play along too.

"Yes. And it's mine. You can't have any." Vegeta crossed his arms and glared, his usual reaction to questions from Raditz.

"But you hate takki ..."

Vegeta ignored the older Saiyan and crawled out from the bunk. He stretched, yawned, then walked to the kitchenette. Delicious smells permeated the air; the table was set, filled with a variety of choices, and full glasses of water. Raditz had plated his meal out for him. Nappa was already eating, and Raditz joined them. Vegeta picked up his chopsticks and dug in to a dish of seasoned meats, roasted vegetables, steaming grains, and fresh diced fruits.

"Mmm." He closed his eyes to savor the mix of favors and textures that crossed his tongue. Vegeta (like all Saiyans) loved to eat and would consume just about anything if the circumstances called for it, but he could appreciate a fine meal. When he put effort into it, Raditz was an excellent cook.

"So, what happened to you? Master Zarbon said that you were hurt during your training session."

Vegeta did not look up from his plate as he spoke. "Did Zarbon happen to mention breaking my skull? He tanked me."

Raditz made a noncommittal noise as he drank from his glass, then shrugged. His seeming lack of concern annoyed the prince. Raditz's master was a sore subject between the three of them. "Well, Master Zarbon said to pass along his apologies to you."

"Did he? Pft ... he could have said so himself. Instead he just dumped me at the med center and took off. Some Master." Vegeta stabbed a bit of meat with a bit more force than he intended; the morsel flew off, pinged off of Raditz's forehead. Vegeta bit his lip to suppress a snicker while Raditz wiped the sauce off his face and tried not to look annoyed.

"Guh ... Uh, well ... how are you feeling?"

"Much better." Vegeta took a few more bites of his food. "Have you ever heard of zenkai?"

"Not this again," Nappa mumbled. "Don't encourage him, Raditz."

"Er ...uh ..." Raditz paused, confused, then continued on. "Yeah. It happened to me before, back on Vegetasai. There was this time I was heading back after training, I never made it home. I was cornered by a group of older kids. They beat the shit out of me for no reason. My parents freaked out - I was gone for days. One of the masters tracked me down and put me in a healing chamber, said I was technically dead when they found me. They never figured out who did it."

"Hmph." Vegeta was still feeling sore about Raditz' seeming lack of concern, and he returned the favor by being snippy. "...And?"

"What do you mean, 'and'? I got a boost from it, that's my point. It's the only time that's happened to me."

"What did it feel like?"

Raditz thought for a moment, his tail swayed. His eyebrows drew together, and he squinted and blinked. "Well, the dying part hurt. A lot. Afterwards, when I got out, I felt like I was buzzed. It was kinda nice. Too bad the feeling didn't last. Why do you ask?"

Only Raditz would compare something like that to getting drunk, Vegeta thought. "No reason ... just wondering."

"Um. Okay. Glad I could help."

Once dinner was finished and the plates wiped clean, Raditz cleared the table and washed the dishes in the small sink. Nappa grabbed a bottle of ale from the coldstore and Vegeta sat down at the communal table with his private tablet to do his lessons, something that he thought was a waste of time and Nappa insisted upon.

Vegeta stared at the screen and listened to the running water as Raditz worked. He flicked his tail in annoyance, sighed, and procrastinated. What good did knowing the major exports of Metamor or being able to calculate the slope of an angle in three dimensions do for him now? He would never become King, likely would never fly a warship or need to parse out a verb in Old Saiyan any time soon.

"This is useless, Nappa. Why do you make me do this?"

"We've been through this before, Vegeta," replied the bodyguard as he settled onto the well-used and well-loved mustard yellow couch. "It's only proper that a Prince be well educated. No more arguments. Get back to work, and stop swishing your tail before you break something."

"Ugh..."

Nappa turned on the flat screen, cracked open the bottle of beer, and flipped through channels while Vegeta pretended to study. Instead, he listened to the clack of dishes and the shouts of the televised game, and Nappa shouting at the screen as if anyone could hear him. "Throw the ball, you asshole! I've got a day's wages on you..."

An incoming message alert chimed, and Vegeta looked up, glad for an excuse to stop his 'learning'. He checked the group pad for any changes to their upcoming mission, but found no new notifications. Irritated, he drew his eyebrows together and frowned.

"Sorry, that was me," Raditz explained. "I've got to go. Master Zarbon needs my help at another gathering."

"The hell?" Nappa turned in his seat to stare at the tall youth, an irritated look on his face. "It's the night cycle, and we've got a group mission coming up. I don't need you coming home trashed again."

"I've already confirmed that I'm going."

"Well, unconfirm it."

"Damn it, Nappa, Master Zarbon has been nothing but kind to me these past few years. Why can't you see that? And all of the chores are done now, so why can't I go out?" Raditz threw a drying cloth at Nappa's head. Glad for a distraction, Vegeta put his tablet down and watched. This was far more entertaining than studying.

"Your home is here with us, Raditz. Not Zarbon's place. We're your people, and this is your family - no matter how fucked up it is. We need all of our earnings to take care of ourselves. Vegeta needs new clothes, and good food. We need to upgrade this place. You should stay here, not go mucking around at one of Zarbon's bump and grinds. You're a Saiyan, so act like it." Nappa stood up, fists bunched; he walked around the couch as he spoke and got in Raditz's face, poked a broad finger into the younger man's chest.

"I'm not spending anything ... I'm getting paid to help. I'm off earning money for Vegeta! Everything I do is for him. What about me for a change, Nappa? Is it just because you need someone to cook and clean and groom Vegeta? Fuck that ... you're just like my parents. That's all they wanted from me, too! Do this ... do that. Well, I'm out of here. I'm going where I'm appreciated."

Raditz pushed his way past the large Saiyan, stomped past the table where Vegeta had stopped even pretending to study, then began pulling his boots on. His tail was frizzed out, and lashed back and forth in anger.

"Raditz, you can't go. You haven't even groomed me yet." Vegeta leaned over the back of his chair, arms crossed, feeling irritated and ... worried. Vegeta had never seen him so upset.

"Seriously, Vegeta? Think about someone other than yourself for a while. It won't hurt you," Raditz snapped, and headed for the exit.

"You can't talk like that to me, I am your Prince. Nappa, tell him to stay! Who will groom me if he leaves?"

"Not now, Vegeta," Nappa warned. "This isn't the time to pull rank."

Raditz slapped the exit trigger and the outer panel slid open. "You going to jack me up a wall again to stop me, Nappa? Oh, and don't get all pissy, Prince Vegeta. I'll be back. Don't worry, you'll be fresh for your victory."

With a dismissive flick of his unbound tail, Raditz departed into the night. Nappa and Vegeta just stared at one another for a while, speechless.

"Well, damn," Nappa said, and returned to the couch. "At least he's acting like a Saiyan. Hope he makes it back in one piece."

Chapter Text

The dark room lit up and an alert chimed, pulling Zarbon out of a sound sleep after a long night of hosting and cleaning up after his guests. The assistant removed his eye mask, reached over for his ever present tablet, and glanced at the time: 0100, the middle of the night cycle. Who in the galaxy would send him a message at this time ... It had better not be Zunni; Zarbon had had enough of the man’s politicking and palm greasing for one day. He grumbled, then swiped his thumb across the screen to check the incomings.

____________________________________________
New incoming message: Received 0059.31 Local Time
Sender: North PTO Head of Operations
> Zarbon, come to my quarters. Immediately. <
____________________________________________

The message was unsigned, but Zarbon knew exactly who had woken him. Frieza was back on site again. He cursed, crawled out of his bed, started the teakettle, shrugged out of his sui-silk robe and into his light armor. He took a moment to pull on his leggings and arm decorations, some of the few pieces of cultural material left to him. He pulled a warm light blue thermal cape around his shoulders and attached it to the holders on the shoulder pads of his gold and white armor, then ran one hand through his thick green hair to smooth it. He poured himself a cup of stim tea and sat for a moment to wake up.

Damn Frieza, he always had the worst timing and absolutely no sense of decorum, although Zarbon would never breathe a word to his superior of his true feelings. No, Zarbon enjoyed his position along with all of its benefits, and he also quite enjoyed living. Frieza’s mood could be volatile; the overlord could turn violent without notice, and finish the job he had started so many years ago, beginning with Zarbon’s world.

As much as he wished to put this off, he knew that Frieza would not accept ‘later’ as a response. He glanced out the large windows and caught a glimpse of the rising second moon as he drank the hot tea in peace for a moment. Then Zarbon sent a quick confirmation in return, stood and stretched. He checked his image in the full length mirror ... perfect, even in the middle of the night. Zarbon took a deep breath to prepare himself to deal with his master. He glanced back with regret at his large bed, covered with expensive silken sheets, warm blankets, and dozens of comfortable pillows, then exited the suite and went into the connecting hallways towards the elevators.

As he rode the elevator upward, Zarbon made a mental list of issues that would be worth a trip this late: the failed negotiations with the representatives from Xekon III, the latest uprising on Kosasai that would need to be repressed, the monthly kickbacks and hush money ... or perhaps Frieza just had a bug up his ass and wanted to fuck with him. That was always a possibility. The communique had been terse, but Zarbon knew Frieza well enough to tell the tyrant was upset.

The lift slid open and Zarbon exited on the top floor. Only one suite occupied the penthouse space: Lord Frieza’s personal chambers where he stayed when he was not occupying his office in Main Headquarters. Zarbon had only been to Frieza’s personal quarters after hours a handful of times, and each one had been unpleasant. He suppressed a yawn as he walked towards the grandiose entranceway and tried to shake the drowsiness that persisted.

Going into a meeting with Frieza half asleep was an excellent way to make himself vulnerable. In spite of his easy relationship - to the untrained eye - with Frieza, each word and gesture exchanged between the two of them was part of a complex and long running battle of wits. One wrong move and Zarbon could lose anything from his status, to his property, or his life. Zarbon liked to believe that one of the reasons Frieza kept him was that the overlord found him a challenging mental opponent; if he were to annoy or bore Frieza ... well, Zarbon would not let that happen.

Although he had been woke up in the middle of the night Zarbon was dressed, groomed, and appeared alert when he strode up to the double doors that led into Frieza’s inner sanctum. Even though it was the middle of the night, two honor guards stood watch. Frieza’s power was such that he did not need protection, but he tended to keep them about as a show of force and to cut down on the riff-raff bothering him with small details. That was Zarbon’s job ... details.

Zarbon passed the guards without a word and walked into the earthen hued sitting room where Frieza waited and watched out the window, ignoring the muted vid-screens.  His back was turned to Zarbon; something that annoyed the prince, as he felt it was a slight. The overlord waited in his hovercraft, a glass in his hand. He turned to greet Zarbon and appeared awake and alert, as always. In spite of being one of Frieza’s main advisors, Zarbon did not know if he ever slept.

“Ah, Zarbon, so good of you to join me this morning.” Frieza’s voice was cultured, cold, and contained the slightest hint of sarcasm.

Zarbon dropped to one knee then bowed his head in a sign of respect, something that he did not need to do - for the most part - but it never hurt to placate Frieza. He took in the room and its occupants as he did so, and noticed that he was alone. Dodoria was not present, nor were any of the other Elites.

This is not a good sign, Zarbon thought, and kept his feelings to himself. “Good morning, Lord Frieza. Are we waiting for Dodoria, or perhaps Captain Ginyu to begin the meeting?“

Frieza did not reply. He swirled the liquid in his glass, stared out the window, tapped at the personal screen on his hovercraft. He did not look at Zarbon, and it made the teal assistant very nervous.

“No, Zarbon, this meeting is just for the two of us. Am I inconveniencing you?”

“Of course not. I was already awake.”

“Good. Well, let’s get right to it, shall we?” Frieza held out one hand, gave a small smile,  and indicated that Zarbon should stand. “ I have some interesting reports before me, Zarbon. One is your summary notes for your training with Prince Vegeta earlier today. The other is from the Base Medical officer. These two things do not seem to match, and that disturbs me. Perhaps you can help to clear this up?”

Of all the subjects to bring up, Zarbon had not expected this. It meant that Frieza was still personally monitoring Prince Vegeta, and perhaps all of the Saiyans, behind Zarbon’s back. His mouth hung open for a second before he shut it with a snap, before he could reveal that he was caught off guard. Instead, he put on a suitable expression of light puzzlement.

“I’m not sure what you’re referring to, Lord Frieza. I gave a full report on today’s session.”

“Humor me, and tell me again, Zarbon.”

“Er ... “ Zarbon stuttered, and mentally kicked himself. “Well, I have been working with Prince Vegeta on hand-to-hand combat and strategy. I have been staying away from Ki work for the most part as we discussed. The boy grew impatient, as usual, threw a tantrum, and resorted to Ki attacks expressly against my instructions. I admit that he caught me off guard. When I repelled his disobedient attack, he struck one of the barriers with more force than expected. He was injured, so I took him to medical for proper attention, as per procedure.”

Frieza stared down at his aide and remained ever so still, except for one finger tapping out a rhythm on the side of his hovercart. Zarbon resisted the urge to start speaking in order to fill up the silence. Frieza refilled his glass, took a swallow of wine, ignored the large screen display on his hovercraft and focused his full attention on Zarbon.

“Zarbon ... who advised me to ‘deal’ with the Saiyans in the first place?”

Careful ... Zarbon sighed.“I did, Lord Frieza.”

“And ... why did you think they were a threat, exactly?”

“Because of their innate ability to grow in power. If they banded together, they might eventually have been able to overthrow you.” Zarbon spoke each word with care, and watched his employer as he did so.

Frieza clearly was not interested in a history lesson, or a review of their discussion years ago during which Zarbon had urged the overlord to quell the rising Saiyan threat. Frieza had an excellent memory, and had not forgotten one word. Zarbon had observed Frieza interact with numerous diplomats and dissidents over the years in the same manner, and it tended to end badly when he asked the obvious.

“Yes. Now ... what causes a monkey to gain in power, Zarbon?” Frieza spoke in a carefree tone as if the answer did not interest him in the least.  

Zarbon knew better. The teal warrior shifted his stance, sensed the jaws of a trap closing around him. “If they are seriously injured and are given a chance to heal.”

“Ah. Thank you for the reminder. Now, yesterday, you took my ward Prince Vegeta to the infirmary after a sparring match that you were in charge of. And, for some reason, you chose not to stay and monitor, correct?”

The nervous aide hissed under his breath. “Yes, Lord Frieza. I didn’t think the boy was injured that badly. He’s received worse under Dodoria’s tutelage.”

“That’s the problem. You didn't think. Are you a doctor, Zarbon?” Almost as an afterthought, the galactic tyrant drummed his fingertips in a staccato rhythm as he spoke. He turned his attention from Zarbon to look out of the curving thermoglass panoramic window.

“No, Lord Frieza.”

“So you disobeyed my orders, left my ward, and did not follow up. The Medical Officer reported that you, in fact, did more damage to him by moving him. Did you, perhaps, stop by to see how he recovered?”

“No, I didn’t. I asked the medic to send me a follow-up report, which I included when I sent you the update.”

“Hmm. Did you know that all reports that involve Prince Vegeta are sent directly to me first?” Frieza turned his hovercart to the side so that he made direct eye contact with his nervous aide again, and smiled ever so slightly. His red eyes glowed like burning coals.

Zarbon felt his stomach churn. “Er ... no, Lord Frieza. I didn’t know that.”

“Yes, and here’s the interesting part.”  Frieza tapped the screen, looked at the display. “As a direct result of your negligence and lack of control, Vegeta’s power level has increased. Did I ask you to upgrade my monkey?”

“No, Lord Frieza,” Zarbon stammered. His body tensed up; all pretenses of camaraderie with this being had faded to nothing. For a moment, Zarbon was back to the beginning, a young man who had just lost his people and his planet, kneeling before a terrifying force with no hope of continuance.

Frieza’s voice raised in pitch and volume as he continued to rant. His muscled tail lashed and the half drank glass of sweet wine tipped and emptied its contents on the expensive hand woven carpet.

“Not only did you disobey my direct orders, but you caused additional problems, ignored your responsibilities and gave me a false report, Zarbon. Only I am to discipline the monkey for incorrect behavior, not you. I will not have you messing up my personal projects ever again, is that understood?”

Frieza did not wait for Zarbon to reply, but continued on, his voice raised to a fevered pitch. Zarbon’s scouter chirped, indicating a rise in Frieza’s levels as well.

“You have become sloppy, Zarbon. Now how do I know that this behavior isn’t going to continue? Should I keep a closer eye on you, perhaps remind you of who is actually in charge? I can always train up a new assistant, you know. No one is irreplaceable. Remember that the next time you think you have the right to take matters into your own hands.”

Zarbon knelt then, so that he did not have to keep looking into the fires of Hell. For once in his long life, he worried that he had met with a situation that he could not talk his way out of.

“I - I’m sorry, Lord Frieza.” Zarbon had never been so sincere in his life.

Chapter Text

After Raditz threw his fit and stomped off into the night, Vegeta and Nappa decided to call it a day. Vegeta closed down his study program without any protests from his guardian. They settled down to wait for the moody adolescent to return on his own, and while the night away in relative quiet until sleep claimed them, in spite of Vegeta's repeated requests for story time. Usually, he could convince Nappa to spin his war tales about the Tuffle uprisings, or yarns about the old heroes of Vegetasai; the tall commander was a great storyteller and relished the chance to tell about his escapades, but he was in a foul mood and did not want to talk much.

Instead of honoring his Prince's requests, Nappa ignored all of Vegeta's demands to groom him, since Raditz had left without doing so. Nappa did a bad job of it anyway; he yanked too hard with the comb and he used too much hair oils, so it did not take much to persuade Vegeta to wait.

Nappa forced Vegeta to shower, which set off a heated argument between the prince and his guardian about who was really in charge ... and Vegeta lost. As a consolation of sorts Nappa heated up leftover noodles, brewed sweet tea, and they ate their meal on the couch. Once they finished dining, they watched the playoffs for the Galactic Baseball Major Leagues. Nappa yelled at the screen and screamed about losing his bets. Vegeta did not understand the sport, nor did he care much for it. He thought the whole thing was just silly.

The gravity was turned up to match that of Vegetasai, Vegeta was warm, his belly full, and he felt tired in spite of his time in the restorative tank. He could still sense a residual buzz from his recovery; the combination of all those things made him drowsy, so he curled up against Nappa's side and closed his eyes.

Saiyans were a fierce warrior race; their young matured quick both mentally and physically, so childhood was a fleeting time, a luxury that most could not afford. Most species in the galaxy viewed them as volatile savages without mercy. That could be true, yet among their own kind, Saiyans were social beings who interacted with complex body language and drew together in groups for comfort ... and this place was very unsettling.

But now, the Saiyan people were extinguished. Vegeta felt lost most of the time in a sea of enemies who could not and did not understand his language or culture. Nappa and Raditz were the only ones who did, so when Vegeta needed something he had to go to them to meed his needs: to be touched or groomed, to speak their native tongue, or just to have contact. As a result, the three males often crowded onto the couch or sleeping spaces together. It was reassuring for Vegeta, who had grown up surrounded by servants and his large family.

The prince had fallen asleep in front of the screen covered in all the blankets he could find, but he awoke tucked into the lower bunk when Raditz stumbled in late at night. The older Saiyan smelled of booze, smoke, and some acrid herb that tickled Vegeta's nose and made him sneeze. The screen was turned off and Nappa had fallen into slumber on the couch, his loud snores rumbled through the room. Raditz stripped down to his undergarments, crawled in next to Vegeta, and wrapped one arm around him.

"You stink," Vegeta mumbled, and pushed Raditz away with one foot. "What did you do ... roll in something?"

"Mmph."

"That's not an answer. Nappa is going to kill you for drinking."

Raditz mumbled something incoherent in return, rolled over to his other side and promptly fell off to sleep, snoring with his mouth open.

Vegeta glared at the older Saiyan; no amount of poking or prodding was able to rouse him. The prince tried to breathe through his mouth, and stared up the bottom of the top bunk. He contemplated crawling over Raditz and using the upper bunk for once ... but he would be dammed if he had to do the moving. He curled up and did his relaxation exercises. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth, a never ending cycle; just focus on the count. The annoyance he felt gradually faded, until he fell back into a doze.


The little boy ran through the wide halls, his feet swift, his long tail trailing behind as he ran at top speed. He knew he should not run in the palace, he would earn the scolding of a lifetime from the majordomo, but it was raining outside and he just needed to move before he exploded.

He launched himself into the air and hoped this time he would stay aloft (it had happened once before) but as always he crashed to the ground, skinned his knees, and slid to a stop. He squeezed his eyes shut against the sting; he was not a baby. He was the Crown Prince of Vegetasai, Fifty-fifth of his Name, and he would not cry.

Instead, he shook the pain off and stood up, then looked about to see if anyone had noticed. The marbled floors were stark white, cold as ice, and the walls were barren. This section was unfamiliar, and felt forbidden ... part of him wanted to turn back, but he couldn't go, not yet. Heavy metal portals, dark as night, lined both sides of the hallway. Vegeta was not sure if they led to other rooms, or if they just opened into the cold void of space. He progressed forward slow, unsure of himself, but unable to stop moving.

At the end of the hallway, one last door swung open as he approached. Fear whispered into his ear: don't look, little Prince ... but of course he did. Inside, he saw two figures standing close together. They whispered in hushed tones, but they grew silent and looked up as Vegeta approached.

"What are you doing here, Vegeta? This place isn't safe." A tall man spoke; his hair was like a black flame, his face bearded. He wore a chained emerald pendant around his neck and jeweled rings on his fingers, bracers on his forearms, and a jeweled clasp in front on his wrapped tail. He wore Saiyan battle armor in reds and blacks. Next to him stood a petite woman in similar armor. Her long ebony hair cascaded down her back, decorated with shining diamonds, her long tail adorned with silver rings and bells.

"Oh Vegeta, you shouldn't have come here. Go back now."

Vegeta ran toward them, in spite of the warning, toward their smiling faces, and reached out one hand ...

"Mama ... Jaja ..."

... the door slammed shut in his face. Vegeta heard laughter; a quiet rumble at first that soon rose in volume, layers of sound that doubled, tripled, and soon threatened to deafen him. He turned to flee back to safety, to the warm halls above, but his escape route was cut off.

There stood Frieza with an evil smirk on his face, so tall that he blocked the exit, his eyes glowed red as blood. The overlord reached out and grabbed Vegeta by the arm, pulled him in so that they were nose to nose.

"Let go" he howled. Vegeta fought back, pulled against Frieza's hold, but the tyrant's tail wrapped around his neck, and squeezed so hard that Vegeta had trouble breathing, fueled his struggled anew. "Get out of my HEAD!"

"Why are you fighting? You do know that they gave you to me, boy? You're mine now, body, mind and soul ... Vegeta."

Vegeta screamed then, a wordless expression of pain and loss.


He woke up wailing in terror, cold sweat poured down his face. It could not be true. It was all a filthy lie! Vegeta covered his mouth with his hands to stifle any further noise, and looked at his surroundings, not sure if he were free or still caught in the dream. His legs had snarled in the sheets and were soaked with his perspiration. Next to him, Raditz slept; his long hair covered him like a blanket, undisturbed by his outcry.

... It was a dream.

He was home, in his room, not in some cold prison. Vegeta panted, his chest felt tight, and he shook. Raditz mumbled something but did not stir, even in response to the yelling. Focus. Breathe. I won't let a dream win. In spite of his brave thoughts, the prince was still frightened and it took him a few minutes to calm down. He pressed himself against Raditz's back and stayed awake the rest of the night, staring at the wall.

Vegeta did manage to fall back to sleep only to be woke up by Raditz moments later. He did not mention the nightmare, and Vegeta felt a twinge of disappointment that Raditz had not noticed and did not seem to care. The youth had showered and ran a comb through his mane, then pulled it back out of his face.

"Breakfast, Vegeta." Raditz, a man of few words in the morning, pointed towards the kitchenette.

Nappa was up and moving as well. Tension from last night was in the air; Nappa and Raditz kept growling at each other when they crossed paths. Vegeta was fatigued, and he kept rubbing his eyes. That odd buzzing sensation had faded and left him feeling empty. To top it off, he had a raging headache.

Nappa stood in the bathroom, shaved the sides of his overgrown mohawk and trimmed his mustache while he hollered at Raditz, instead of talking to him - a technique that Nappa employed when he was feeling out of control. "Where the hell did you go last night?"

"Out," Raditz replied, with more attitude than usual. "I came back like I promised, right?"

"You're too young for bars," Nappa reprimanded, "so where did you get the booze? And don't tell me it was Zarbon or I'll have his pretty head."

Raditz sighed and rolled his eyes dramatically. "Master Zarbon is taking good care of me, Nappa! It's my fault that I got drunk. I was helping him out at one of his ... " Raditz paused and thought ... "soirees, helping clean up. And there was some left over fizzy. I just wanted to try it. I didn't think it would be that big of a deal."

"I thought you learned your lesson after the Ginyu incident. Are you trying to get your ass kicked again?"

"I haven't touched anything since then. I promise." Raditz pleaded with the large Saiyan.

"Can you two stop arguing, my head hurts." Vegeta snapped, and was not surprised when they ignored his request.

Vegeta shuffled to the cold store, grabbed a supplement drink then sat at the table. He poured himself a glass of water and checked his tablet while Nappa and Raditz continued to squabble. Today was another training day with Dodoria.

Just what I need, Vegeta thought, and huffed. Their last group mission had been a week ago, and Vegeta felt restless and trapped. He wanted to move, to test out his supposed new power level to see if zenkai was worth it. He checked the time, noted that morning meals were ready to start at the residential mess hall.

"Why didn't you wake me up earlier," Vegeta asked Raditz. The youth rolled his shoulders, and Vegeta scowled at him.

"You looked really tired. I didn't want to wake you. A-And I'm sorry I yelled at you last night." Raditz's apology caught the prince off guard.

"Oh ... Well, now we have to eat at the mess, and I still need to be groomed."

"Didn't Nappa do it last night?"

"No, and I didn't want him to, Nappa sucks at it." Vegeta folded his arms and furrowed his brow. "He almost pulled my hair out of my head last time."

"Hey, that's not nice. You hurt Nappa's feelings," Nappa spoke up as he came out of the lavatory, deposited a few pain pills in front of Vegeta, than grabbed his tablet. "Here, big guy, take these for the headache."

Vegeta grumbled, tossed the pills in his mouth and washed them down with the water. Raditz sighed again; he had hoped to get out of grooming duties.

"Fine..." He grabbed the prince's hair kit. "I'm just going to do a quick run through. We'll do a more thorough job tonight, okay?"

"Tch!" Vegeta drank his supplement while Raditz combed and oiled his wiry hair. The bangs still insisted on flopping in front of his face. They were getting so long that they sometimes blocked his vision, but he did not wish to cut them.

Nappa wandered into their sleeping area and dressed. As the large man pulled on his boots, his tablet dinged a reminder: morning meal time. He turned down the gravity and the heat, then motioned for Vegeta and Raditz to follow him.

As a unit, the three Saiyans exited their tiny quarters, made the trek to the residential main hallway, then took one of the elevators to Mess Hall 3. Residential housing was located in a gigantic dome composed of many different levels. High ranking officials had penthouse suites near the top, while the masses dwelt in tiny boxes on the lower levels. The Ginyu Force also called FP-79 home, and had a not-so-secret fortress somewhere on site.

The din of soldiers talking and sharing meals greeted the Saiyans as they entered the wide room filled with tables, chairs, and masses of beings feeding themselves. The ever present screens lined one wall and showed news, entertainment, and sports feeds. Vending machines offered automated choices to PTO troopers in a rush, and the cafeteria section served those who wanted fresh made fare ... although the quality was not the best, and Vegeta often wondered just where they got their meat from.

The noise could be overwhelming during peak meal times, and the Saiyans tried to miss the rush hours when they could. Vegeta's headache still pounded in his temples, and the last thing he wanted was a barrage of noise. To make it worse, when they entered there was a long queue of individuals waiting to be served, and most of the tables were in use.

Nappa, Raditz and Vegeta always tried to sit by themselves if possible. They were often the butt of criticism from other soldiers; Saiyans were not well liked, and they encountered prejudice every day. Some men picked fights, most of the Elites showed them anything from thinly disguised scorn to outright hostility, and they had to take it. They were outnumbered, outranked, and always walking on thin ice. It was enough to drive them mad ... and one day, Vegeta thought, he would just go insane and start killing them all. It would serve them right.

Nappa went in first and scanned for empty seats. The only available spot was in the middle of the room, surrounded by their enemies.

"Maybe we should come back later," Raditz suggested. "We do have leftovers."

"That has to last us. We can't afford to skip meals. C'mon, let's just get in line." Nappa was right, of course.

Raditz sighed; he had been doing that a lot as of late, along with moping and mouthing off. Vegeta did not respond. He rubbed at his forehead and wished they would all shut the hell up. He just wanted to get his food and get the hell out, he hoped the headache would be gone when he got to the training rooms.

They joined the slow moving line; Vegeta and Raditz pulled closer towards Nappa, an unconscious Saiyan reflex. Nappa was one of the tallest and most muscular individuals on the base, and could often intimidate people just by his appearance. He had also cultivated an image as a ruthless warrior with a short fuse; most lower ranked individuals tended to give him a wide berth. It was helpful, but it did not work for everyone in Frieza's employ, however. Some of the Super Elites not only were not frightened by Nappa, but took any chance to mock him or the other Saiyans ... especially in public.

Most days on base included some form of ridicule. Today was no exception. Vegeta closed his eyes, trusting that Nappa would keep watch for a few seconds. Next to him, Raditz gasped, drew in closer to Nappa, and stepped on Vegeta's foot. Irritated, the prince hissed and opened his mouth to reprimand the older boy, until he saw Raditz's body language. The long maned adolescent's tail had frizzed out and he bared his teeth.

"Ohhh..." Raditz moaned, "The Ginyu Force ... Why now?"

"Ooooh look, Burter. Monkeys! Didn't know we were going to the zoo." Jeice's brash accent was easily identifiable, along with his bright red skin and long white hair.

"Saiyans. There goes the neighborhood." Burter slapped his red comrade on the back in response.

Loud guffaws followed, and Vegeta felt his hackles go up. Next to him, Nappa tensed up, clenched his fists, and drew in a quick breath. Behind the Saiyans, all five members of the Ginyu Force sauntered up and joined the queue. What were they doing here? They could certainly go to better places to have breakfast instead of the common mess hall. The Ginyu Force laughed and strutted; they were masters of all they surveyed.

Vegeta knew that there was nothing the three of them could do that would even touch Frieza's High-Level Executive Class mercenaries. They would have to sit there and take the abuse in front of hundreds of watching eyes. Vegeta hated not being able to strike out, to be made passive. The Ginyus knew it; they loved an audience.

"We'd better cut the line, there will be nothing left if they get to it first." Recoome grinned, flexed his bulging muscles, and struck a pose: hands on his hips, head turned to the side, orange locks curled over one eye.

"Right, mate. How about ... here?" Jeice pushed his way past Nappa and his group, purposely elbowed Vegeta as he did so. The prince stumbled back against Nappa's great thigh. Nappa steadied him by placing one large hand against his back. Burter and Guldo followed Jeice's lead, and forced the Saiyans back. They ignored Nappa's growls, snickering the entire time.

"Idiot," Vegeta snapped at Jeice, unable to stop himself. "Watch where you're going."

"Oh, sorry about that, short stuff. Didn't see you down there. Besides, this is a place for grown up men, not little kids," Jeice mocked.

"You can't speak to me like that," Vegeta growled, his tail lashed in futile anger, his eyes narrowed.

"You got something to say to us, monkey?" Guldo spoke in his gurgling voice, trained all four of his eyes on the Saiyans. He was one of the few people in the Frieza Force shorter than Vegeta, but the Prince did not dare to point that out, or mock Guldo in return.

"I thought not." Guldo smiled, a smug expression that Vegeta wanted so badly to wipe off the Ginyu's face.

The mercenaries laughed at the Saiyans' expense again. Vegeta felt his cheeks burn red with embarrassment. In his head, he added this new slight to the ever-growing tally list of slights.

"Hey Blue, look who it is," Jeice exclaimed, then elbowed Burter in the ribs. "It's Raditz, right? Zarbon's pet Saiyan? Fancy another ale with us?"

The two comrades roared into loud laughter and clasped their stomachs as if that was the best joke ever. Raditz flushed in response, and tried to step behind Nappa. It was obvious to Vegeta that something had happened between the three of them.

"What are they talking about, Raditz?" Although he was worried, Vegeta also felt a surge of morbid curiosity.

"Not now. I'll tell you later, Vegeta, please." Raditz whispered, then looked into Jeice's grinning face. "Just leave us alone. We didn't do anything to you."

"Ooh, cheeky monkey. You really should be more polite to your superiors. After all, I'm just tryin' to be friendly." Jeice raised his hands up and shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know why Frieza keeps them," Guldo said. "They're just so ... primitive."

"Right you are. Well, see ya' around, monkeys." Jeice gave a dismissive wave with one hand, then turned his back toward the Saiyans and left them to stew in anger.

Vegeta looked up to Raditz, crossed his arms and looked up at the spiky haired adolescent. "Now are you going to tell me what happened?"

"This is SO not the time. And ... no I'm not." Raditz broke eye contact with his prince, turned his face away in shame.

"Nappa ..."

"Awww... don't pull Nappa into this one," Nappa grumbled. "Just let it go for now."

"No one tells me anything."

"You don't need to know this, Prince Vegeta," Nappa offered, then patted the boy on the shoulder. "Line's moving. Let's ignore those assholes, get some chow and get out. How's your head feeling?"

"Fine." Vegeta was sure that the two older Saiyans were keeping things from him - important things - and it upset him. They, just like everyone else in the galaxy, were treating him like a child. How many people did he have to kill to get some respect?

Twenty minutes after they entered the line, the Saiyans finally got their allotted 'slop allowance' as Nappa called it, a selection of nutrient dense food that had no distinct flavor: patties of protein, thick grains that clumped, squares of dubious matter in unappetizing colors of tan and grey that might or might not have featured fiber. It was as if someone had gone to great lengths to create the worst meal in the universe. To the food obsessed Saiyans, it was akin to hell.

As they walked to the common tables, they had to go past the Ginyu Force, most of whom hooted and hollered and called out vague threats. Only their leader, Captain Ginyu, refrained from the verbal barrage.

"Watch yer backs, monkeys," Jeice called out as Raditz passed by with his shoulders hunched defensively.

Vegeta stopped moving and Nappa bumped into him.

"Don't, Vegeta..." Nappa knew him well, could tell he was nearing a snapping point. "There's no point in it. A wise warrior knows when to pick his battles. Don't give 'em the satisfaction."

Vegeta could hear the comments and snickers from the surrounding tables; nothing that could be attributed to any one person, but a barrage of insults that kept wearing at him day after day: 'Savages', 'monkeys', 'dirty Saiyans', 'they shouldn't be allowed to eat with civilized people'.

"I hate this. I hate this place. I hate them."

"I know, Ten'ta. Here's some seats. Let's grab 'em before they're gone. Keep your tail wrapped."

The Saiyans selected three seats side by side: Vegeta in the middle, Nappa to his right and Raditz to his left. Nappa pulled out his chair to sit down ... and fell on the floor, spilled the contents of his tray. The chair which had just been in his hands rested several feet away.

For a second, the scene did not process, and Vegeta blinked in confusion. Nappa snarled a stream of curses, brushed himself off and stood, rubbing his backside. Off to the side, Guldo and Burter chortled and pointed. Vegeta covered his mouth and bit his lip so that he would not laugh too, even though it was not really funny. He just could not help himself.

"Damn you, Guldo," Nappa roared, "this has gone far enough!"

This only earned more howls of amusement from the Ginyus, and praising of Guldo for his clever use of his time halting abilities.

Once seated, the three Saiyans drew closer together in a defensive huddle and began to eat rapidly, not wishing to remain as targets for longer than necessary or draw further attention to themselves. Vegeta took a bite of his tasteless meal and blinked. Something had changed ... His tail was unwrapped and the tip was stuck inside his glass, soaking the fur. Granted, it was a harmless prank and could have been so much worse, yet Vegeta felt humiliated. He pulled his tail out of the liquid; it dripped, and behind him he heard the laughter start up again. Vegeta wiped his tail clean, tried to pretend nothing had happened, but Raditz noticed.

"That's it. They can't treat you like that." Raditz rose, pushed his chair back, and stood.

Suddenly, Recoome loomed behind Raditz - he moved so fast it was like he had teleported - and Raditz collided with him. The giant man towered over them. He crossed his massive arms, stared down at the Saiyans.

"Aw. Don't get mad, silly monkey! We're just having some fun with you." He reached out, patted Raditz on the head, and ignored the look of rage and disbelief that crossed the adolescent's face. Then he grabbed Raditz by the hair with one hand, and yanked him off balance. In the other hand, Recoome held a knife that he showed off with a flourish.

"Wh - what are you ..." Raditz stuttered, then fell mute when Recoome chopped off a handful of his long black mane, his pride and joy.

"That'll do it. Thanks for the donation, monkey. Guldo's been having a bad hair day, and you've got plenty to spare. Figured you wouldn't mind helping. Oh, and tell your 'master,' Princess Twinkletoes, that we said hello."

Recoome waved his trophy in Raditz's face, then pirouetted away, leapt into the air and performed a grand jeté for the crowd. The giant rejoined his company and handed the swatch of hair to Guldo, who grinned, then displayed it on top of his bald green pate. If it had happened to any one else, Vegeta would have laughed, the situation was so ridiculous ... but it was happening to them. Raditz' face fell; the youth crumpled into his chair, hid his face in his arms and started to shake. Nappa snarled in impotent rage; he knew that attacking the entire Ginyu Force would be a futile and painful choice.

I can't do this ... I'm going to lose it. Unbidden in his mind, a dark portal opened; Vegeta saw all the insults, all the humiliation, all the laughter into a blazing orb which he tossed inside. It felt like reality slipped and he was looking through another set of eyes. Someone else was being tormented, not him ... and without meaning to, he stepped aside. Numbness set in and Vegeta stopped reacting, stopped caring.

After a minute of back slapping and posturing, Captain Ginyu held up one hand to still the festivities. "Are you done with the petting zoo, Recoome? We have things to do."

"Yes, Captain," Recoome replied and stood at attention.

"All right." Captain Ginyu stood up and drew attention to himself. On his cue, the five members took up their signature poses.

"Good morning, Base 79! We are the Ginyu Force! We would like to announce that we are holding open tryouts for our squad at Training Section 13, 1000 sharp. Come one, come all, and see if you have what it takes to be ... Ginyu!" The purple skinned fighter swept his arms upward, then pointed one hand towards the Saiyans in a dramatic fashion. "Monkeys need not apply."

As one, the Ginyu Force filed out. Vegeta kept his head down for the most part; every time he looked up, he saw the people staring, pointing, laughing, but it did not really bother him. They set in to eat as fast as possible before anything else could go wrong. Nearby, Raditz sat close to tears and for once Vegeta did not mock him for it.

At the end of their daily quota of humiliation, the Saiyans exited in silence. No one could think of anything worthwhile to say. They bused their trays, left them at the counter, then left the common hall in a hurry. Nappa looked worried, Raditz was busy clutching his mangled hair, and Vegeta kept his eyes forward and ignored any attempts at conversation.

They rode the elevator up in uncomfortable silence and exited. Nappa parted ways with them, off to a solo day mission while Raditz and Vegeta went by the tram to the training halls for their martial lessons. After five minutes of quiet travel, Raditz turned to Vegeta and cleared his throat.

"Why are you just ... sitting there, Vegeta? The hell's going on with you?"

"Nothing," Vegeta whispered. He knew he should be feeling more, saying more, raging perhaps, yet ...

"Nothing? Really? Were you awake for what happened in the mess hall with the Ginyus? I can't believe you're not screaming for revenge."

"Hn." Vegeta rolled his shoulders. "It didn't really bother me."

"Now I know there's something wrong with you."

Raditz eyed him with a mix of concern and ire, but Vegeta looked away. He could not explain it, nor did he wish to deal with Raditz's emotional issues.

Why do I feel so ... odd? Raditz is right. I should care. So, why don't I? Even his thoughts seemed far away and disconnected as if he were dreaming. I guess I should be thankful.

"I said I'm fine, Raditz. Now stop pestering me." Vegeta crossed his arms, ended all attempts at conversation, and put his head down for the rest of the journey.

Chapter Text

Vegeta remained quiet for most of the journey, his thoughts seemed disconnected and he felt numb. Raditz, however, tried to make conversation in spite of Vegeta’s silence. The adolescent kept up a running stream of chatter, something he did when he was nervous.  Usually the prospect of battling with Dodoria and working on his Ki strikes excited Vegeta, and got him talking. Even mention of zenkai, Vegeta’s current obsession, was not enough to elicit a response from the reticent prince.

“You’re so quiet. It’s not normal.” Raditz shifted in his seat, unsettled and unsure of what to do, or if there was anything he could do. Vegeta did not respond, not that Raditz had really expected him to, so he changed the subject to one that likely would draw a response, just to break the silence.

“So... I’m with Master Zarbon today. We’re working on blocking and redirects. Who are you training with today?”  As if he did not already know ...

“Dodoria,” Vegeta scowled, but he did not take the bait. Instead, he kept his arms crossed and his head down. The omnipresent headache that had haunted him since awakening still had long tendrils in his temples. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. Apparently he had a sour look on his face, because Raditz puffed up and glared at him.

“Hey, I’m in training just like you, Vegeta.” The older Saiyan tapped one foot in an annoyed staccato.

“Prince Vegeta.”

“Seriously? Oh gods, whatever!” Raditz pulled on his hair in frustration and resisted the urge to punch the little prince. “Master Zarbon is teaching me to fight, to stand up for myself, so I’m not a fri’va, not a ‘weakling’ like you always call me. Why do you have a problem with that?”

“I don’t. I have a problem with Zarbon. He dresses you up, does your hair, takes you to salons ... he treats you like a pet. It’s humiliating to a warrior. We’re Saiyans.  He’s doing it on purpose. Why are you letting him?”

“You shouldn’t talk about Master Zarbon like that! And he’s not ‘doing anything’ to me. He’s helping me and I’m helping him. Why is that so difficult for you and Nappa to accept? I’m starting to think neither of you want me to improve. Besides, like I told Nappa, I get paid to work for him, and those credits go towards food on our table and clothes on your back, ve’ho. A ‘d’in m’yo’ every now and them would be nice, you know.”

Even though he knew it was a bad idea, Raditz poked Vegeta in the chest. He was tired of the prince’s lack of gratitude, and lately was having a hell of a time not going off on the younger Saiyan. In his mind, he heard Nappa’s voice: “He’s your Prince, ya treat him with respect,” but when did Vegeta ever treat him with respect? All Vegeta ever did was demand things. “Raditz, comb my hair ... Raditz, make my meals ... Raditz do this ... Raditz do that ...” Arrogant, ungrateful, entitled little jik’hi ... Nappa be damned. He had not signed up to be a glorified nursemaid.

But still, Vegeta was his Prince, and he felt a responsibility for the younger Saiyan that was hard to shake, even when he was furious with him. There were only three of them left, and Vegeta was the only one with a chance of taking on Frieza and ending their servitude ... if he survived long enough to do so.

The other riders on the tram looked up as the Saiyans’ voices raised, several scooted backwards out of range, just in case they decided to start a fight. Raditz noticed that others were staring, and started to feel bad. He resisted the urge to apologize to Vegeta. Just as he was going to, Vegeta opened his mouth and ruined everything.

“He treats me like crap, and you don’t care, Raditz.”

Raditz stared, his mouth open. He felt like Vegeta had just stabbed him in the heart, repeatedly. “How can you say I don’t care about you? Everything I do is for you.”  

Vegeta stopped talking; he shut Raditz down and ignored him until the tram arrived at the station serving the PTO training rooms and gymnasium. By then, the fog in his head seemed to have lifted. They deported, walked the short distance to the squat building and entered the main lobby and control center. Both Zarbon and Dodoria were present and waiting on their charges.

Raditz’s face lit up when he saw his mentor, and he forgot his earlier chagrin. “Master Zarbon! It’s so good to see you!”

“It’s good to see you too, my boy.” Zarbon was dressed in his blue and black gi, and had a workout bag slung over one shoulder. He graced Raditz with a smile, which made Vegeta even angrier. The teal skinned aide never treated him with kindness of any sort.

“How are you today, Prince Vegeta?” Zarbon’s tone was subdued; he seemed distracted, tired. If Vegeta hoped for an apology, he was disappointed.

“Fine, no thanks to you,” the young warrior growled.

“You shouldn’t talk that way to Master Zarbon.” Raditz spoke up, only to earn another glare from Vegeta.

“I’m your Prince. Don’t tell me what I can or can not do.”

“S-sorry ... I wasn’t trying to ... It’s just that Master Zarbon is a teacher, that’s all, and we’re supposed to respect our elders. Nappa always says so ...” Raditz trailed off as Vegeta’s brows furrowed and he bit his lip to keep from snapping at the older Saiyan.

“At any rate,” Zarbon interrupted, hoping to forestall any squabbles, “let us get to work, shall we? You and I can speak about any issues you may have with me at a later time, Prince Vegeta.” Zarbon held out one hand, and indicated that Raditz should go first into the training section.

“You can bet on it,” Vegeta muttered darkly.

“I’ll see you after my workout, Vegeta,” Raditz said, in a cheerful tone. The tall Saiyan waved one hand in parting, then led the way. Vegeta noticed that his tail had come undone and was curled up at the tip, an indicator of trust and that he felt comfortable.  

That one gesture spoke volumes, and upset the prince more than he cared to admit. He always felt on edge around the teal skinned General, could never let his guard down, yet Raditz was so at ease with the man. It was not right. Zarbon was an enemy. All of Frieza’s Elites were enemies.

“Tch.” Normally, he would warn Raditz about his tail, but his anger at Raditz’s easy manner and passivity overcame his concern for the other Saiyan. He scowled; the interaction between the two had soured his initial passion towards the upcoming lesson.

Once Raditz had departed, Vegeta walked down to Training Room Seven where Dodoria waited, his fists clenched and his thick pink brow furrowed.

“General Dodoria, Prince Vegeta reporting for training.” Vegeta nodded his head, a quick bob that might be called a bow if one were generous.

Dodoria grunted, then shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, put his hands on his hips and glowered down at the young Saiyan. “Let’s get to it, monkey.”

“Et,”  Vegeta thought in Saiyago, and began a mental count. Whenever he sparred with Dodoria, he kept track of how many times the rotund General used the slur ‘monkey’. It was a trick he used often, instead of letting it get under his skin and disrupt the match.

Dodoria approached the master control booth, Vegeta in tow. Head Technician Kinqua sat at the controls, nervously monitoring all active sessions, oblivious to his surroundings even though he was the only one working.

Vegeta glanced over the blue skinned man’s shoulder at the wall of screens, looked for a familiar tower of black hair, and found that Raditz and Zarbon were already in session. Both sat in seiza posture, knees tucked underneath, and were speaking. Raditz wore a smile on his face but had remembered to wrap his tail, at least. The fool.

Other rooms were in use as well, as indicated by the green light flashing above each entry portal. Most often, they were utilized by Elite officers to keep up their skills, or to blow off frustration. In addition to Raditz and Zarbon, Vegeta saw Burter and Guldo sparring in another chamber, and Jeice fighting drones solo in a third. Jeice was renowned through the Cold Empire for his innate Ki abilities. He was a powerful fighter who combined both strength and creativity, and he constantly invented new attacks.

Vegeta envied Jeice’s casual manner and adaptable talent; the Elite constantly invented new attacks and modified existing ones with ease. That was something Vegeta aspired to; but for the most part he had been blocked from doing Ki work by Zarbon, and (presumably) Frieza himself, most likely in an attempt to keep him subdued, under the tyrant’s thumb.

The only way to grow his power was to fight, and at seven he had already surpassed both Raditz and Nappa. Most Elites refused to spar with him, saying they did not wish to fight a child. It frustrated Vegeta to be dismissed. But ... he could train on his own. He thought about the conversation with Zarbon during their last sparring match about lifting the safeguards; it seemed like a thousand years ago. He should ask Kinqua after the match.

Dodoria cleared his throat in a great rumble. Head Tech Kinqua jumped at the noise, then sat up at attention. He swallowed nervously when he saw the General, then blanched for a second at the little Saiyan.

“General Dodoria ... I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there,” the blue skinned tech apologized in an attempt to cover his skittishness.

“Obviously. Is the room ready, or have you been sleeping on the job?”

“Heh...” Kinqua grinned, another nervous tic. His hands flew over the keyboard as he interacted with the database. “Yes, sir. Standard variables are in place, outliers included. Energy and flame control engaged, power level buffers are set at 20,000. Please enter Room Seven when you are ready.”

“Move it, monkey.” Dodoria grunted.

“Hi.”  Vegeta added a tic to his mental tally. We’re off to a good start.
.
Dodoria and Vegeta entered the fortified training room, a large square area with a padded floor, metallic walls with openings of various sizes to release drones, and large ventilation shafts. Holoprojectors were located throughout the area, protected by their own shields.  Once the reinforced blast portal slid shut, a red light flashed over the door frame, and the containment field activated. A silver sheen spread over the walls and ceilings, it emitted a hum so low and quiet it hovered on the edge of awareness. It was irritating to Vegeta, like something under his skin.

Dodoria was not big on ceremony, so Vegeta did not have to bow or address him as ‘teacher’ or ‘master’ ... not that he ever would. Both Vegeta and Dodoria wore their battle armor and thermal suits. The fugue from earlier had passed, and Vegeta was once again excited and ready for battle; finally he would get to go all out and see what zenkai meant, use Ki, and not be punished for fighting at full strength.  

“I’m not gonna go easy on you, monkey.”

“Urd ... I don’t want you to.” Vegeta smiled, the left side of his mouth curled up. There were no meditations or warm up exercises. Dodoria was to the point.

Vegeta checked that his tail was wrapped, then he dropped into a low and stable stance: feet spread out wide and weight evenly distributed. He began to gather his power for the fight. Vegeta imagined pulling energy inward, towards his core. He felt a chill pass over him, and a slight breeze caress his skin, moved the hair on his head and the nape of his neck as the temperature dropped, something that always occurred when the prince started to channel Ki.

Although Dodoria was bulky, he could move lightning fast. One would not expect it from such a fat being if they did not know better. He also was without any decency or honor in battle; he fought hard and always fought to win. The General would not go easy on Vegeta, nor would he stop until the young Saiyan was beaten into submission.

It’s perfect, Vegeta thought as he concentrated. I just need to push him, make him angry, get him to beat me within an inch of my life. Shouldn’t be too hard, he can’t stand me already. Time to power up.

Dodoria employed little strategy in combat; he liked to fight head on: his body faced forward, his attacks in straight lines, no subtlety. He did not need to be subtle; he was so strong he could overpower most of his opponents, Vegeta included.

Vegeta hated to admit that Zarbon’s lessons were useful, but all that talk about strategy had rubbed off. He considered what Zarbon had taught him about straightforward combatants: “When you are fighting an opponent of overwhelming strength, there are several things to remember. The first is simple: do not be in the path of their attacks, do not passively accept being struck. It’s foolish. Instead, redirect their strikes, use their momentum against them, and keep moving. As always, determine their weaknesses and use it against them.”

Vegeta relished the irony of using Zarbon’s teachings to combat Dodoria. Redirect, dodge, and use his greatest weakness: Dodoria’s short temper and attention span.

White light surrounded Vegeta as the Ki he pulled into his body activated and he powered up. His eyesight sharpened, his reflexes quickened; it felt like the white fire burned through his entire body, seared him with hot pain ... yes, something had changed. He bared his teeth in anticipation. His focus narrowed, and his world became the battle. He was bred for this.

“Begin.” Dodoria raised his fists.  

Without further warning, Dodoria launched into the air and charged at him full speed, right shoulder lowered and leading. The massive warrior moved so fast that Vegeta almost did not dodge in time; he dropped to all fours so that Dodoria passed overhead, and missed him by inches. Vegeta rolled forward, gained his footing, then turned. He raised his hands above his head, gathered Ki, then launched the yellow wave at Dodoria’s exposed back.

Vegeta had used the Destructive Beam in previous fights. He had learned it from Dodoria himself and was familiar with its parameters. Yet today, the energy pull was faster and more powerful, so the resulting blast was more potent than Vegeta expected.

It struck Dodoria and threw him forward, out of control for a second, much to Vegeta’s surprise; he almost lost concentration. The advantage did not last. Dodoria caught himself, rebounded, shook his head, and spun around with a growl.

“Back attack’s a coward’s move, you dirty little monkey,” Dodoria taunted, but Vegeta swore he saw something in the other man's eyes. Was it shock, or perhaps even concern ... surely not.

“Ood.” Vegeta shrugged, but did not respond to the insult. Dodoria had never fought fair, so why should he? He performed a series of backflips to gain distance as Dodoria came to his feet, then closed in with a leading elbow strike.

Even after moving back, Vegeta could not dodge; Dodoria moved too fast. Vegeta was forced to block. He threw up his arms in front of his body, and Dodoria struck him full force. On the edge of awareness, Vegeta felt his ribs crack from the impact, but pain did not matter.

Now it was Vegeta’s turn to be jarred, to be forced back, the soles of his boots left skid marks on the floor. Next, Dodoria attempted to grapple him and immobilize him with his greater physical prowess, but Vegeta expected such a move. Dodoria was predictable.

The young prince dropped down into a low stance before he could be snared, then sidestepped, and tumbled out of reach. There was no sense in trying to unbalance Dodoria, the man was a juggernaut whose center of gravity was far too low.

“Stop dodging, you stupid monkey,” Dodoria roared, angered that Vegeta refused to meet brute force head on.

It.”

Dodoria spun, and instead of charging again fired a mouth blast at Vegeta, point blank. Vegeta was already moving, but the burst seared him nonetheless. He smelled the unmistakable odor of burnt hair and cloth; he would need a trip to medical afterwards and would bear bruises from the concussive force for weeks.

Instead of fleeing like Dodoria expected, he raised his hands together, flung a Ki blast then charged at the General, screaming. Dodoria raised his arms to block the incoming strike, and Vegeta dove between his outstretched legs. The momentum carried the Saiyan out of reach; he somersaulted to his feet, popped up, leapt onto Dodoria, ran up his vast back, and launched into the air ... all in one liquid move.

If I’m a monkey, I might as well act like one! That ought to piss him off!

Once airborne, Vegeta gained altitude, then launched a barrage of smaller Ki balls in a row - another attack learned from Dodoria - at his foe. The energy blasts formed quick and flew without effort.
 
He’s not going to dodge this, Vegeta thought, as his volley flew in and ... missed.


Dodoria teleported out of the way. Tapa! I have to learn how to do that. I should have seen that coming ...

Vegeta cursed himself as he turned in expectation of an assault from behind, and was struck over the head from above, a crushing blow with both fists that stunned him. His vision whited out. He lost concentration, felt himself plummeting towards the floor, too dazed to react.

Snap out of it!

Just before he struck the floor, he extended his aura enough to prevent the impact that would have immobilized him and ended the match. He did not have time to recover; Dodoria was up close and personal, pummeling him with a flurry of massive fists that struck the Saiyan in the face and the chest. After a few blows so powerful that he felt his teeth rattle and his right clavicle snap, he managed to pull his arms in front of his face to block. Dodoria kept up his ruthless physical assault, raining down punches. Blood coursed down Vegeta’s face and stung his eyes, he could do nothing but defend.

An energy attack at this range would have been devastating, but the large soldier was too angered to focus, luckily for Vegeta.  His body would not be able to take such punishment for too long. He was, after all, physically still a child so he resorted to his earliest training. He extended his arms out at his sides, pulled in Ki, then pushed it out in a dome, forming a light yellow force wave that exploded from his body.

It was enough to shove Dodoria back so that Vegeta could elude his opponent’s vicious assault and refocus.  He charged a white ball of Ki in his right hand, then flung it directly into Dodoria’s face. It was a properly formed version of the sloppy attack he had used on Dodoria during the infamous ‘hide and seek’ incident. This time, the result was a powerful wave that enveloped the General in a gust of white plasma.

Dodoria snarled in fury. Vegeta kept firing a volley of concentrated Ki balls, a move of desperation. How long can I keep this up, how much reserves do I have? I need to piss him off ... soon. Dodoria swung at him, and Vegeta kept dodging in hopes of annoying his opponent further.
 
“Come on and hit me if you can, you great oaf,” Vegeta called, and took to the air again with Dodoria in angry pursuit.

He forced Dodoria to chase him around the reinforced room; weaving and dodging the energy balls that the magenta fighter hurled in his direction, laughing the entire time as battle lust burned through his veins and ate the pain of his injuries. He felt so alive! Vegeta loved to fight, and he enjoyed goading Dodoria. He flew to one of the sides, rebounded off and sent off a red fireball in Dodoria’s direction. The large man blocked without effort, swatted the blast away like an annoying insect; it struck the shield and dissipated with a hiss.

Immediately after going on the defensive, Dodoria teleported again. Vegeta expected it, but was swatted out of the air nonetheless and crashed down to the cushioned floor on his back. The impact jarred him, concussed him, yet he forced himself to roll out of the way of Dodoria’s punches that came so fast they were a blur.

“Bring it!” Vegeta screamed. He felt buzzed, drunk on his own power.

Dodoria roared and came at Vegeta. A ball of orange energy formed in one palm, ready to crush the impudent Saiyan brat. Instead of blocking or dodging, Vegeta stood his ground and purposely dropped his guard just before Dodoria made contact. He braced himself for the severe pain that was sure to follow.

But Dodoria did not follow through, did not smash Vegeta down. He stopped attacking altogether. His meaty chest heaved underneath his Elite blue and gold battle armor. He growled, lowered his hand, and dismissed the Ki ball.

“What are you doing? Hit me!”

“I know what you’re up to, monkey,” Dodoria rumbled.

“Mai.”  Vegeta snarled a denial, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You won’t trick me into it. You won’t get an upgrade from me.” Dodoria laughed, a low raspy sound that grated at Vegeta’s ears and angered him.

“What?”  Zarbon, that jik’hi, had warned Dodoria!

The Prince of All Saiyans lost his temper, instead of Dodoria. Vegeta screamed in frustration, he had been thwarted. He gathered an orange sphere of energy faster than ever before in the palms of his hands and launched it. He was stunned when it struck Dodoria full on, but the General remained standing. Smoke poured off of his rotund frame; his armor was cracked, but he was unharmed for the most part. Vegeta felt despair. That was his best attack ... How would he ever challenge Frieza if he could not even touch Dodoria during a sparring run?

“Not your day, huh, monkey? Session’s over. You got a problem with it, you talk to Lord Frieza about it. Now get lost.” Dodoria grunted, then turned on one heel and walked to the exit. He slammed the panel with one hand and waited for the door to open, then walked out without looking back.

“Ti,” Vegeta muttered in frustration. “He’s slacking on the insults today.”

Vegeta wiped the blood from his face and stalked out. He was pissed at Dodoria, but more angry with himself for failing to achieve his goal. He collected his scouter from the tech, placed it back on, then looked for Raditz. The long haired Saiyan was still with Zarbon. Vegeta stood next to Kinqua, enjoyed seeing the man twitch, and watched as Zarbon and Raditz traded blows. Raditz was powerful physically, but he lacked in speed, strategy and (most of all) self confidence. Vegeta smirked as Raditz misjudged and took a blow to the face from a feint that Vegeta would have seen straight through.

“Dodge, you idiot,” he murmured, then rubbed his forehead. “How long are they in session,” he asked the tech.

Kinqua consulted his readouts, typed a few commands, then responded: “Thirty minutes.”  He did not make eye contact with Vegeta.

This, too, pissed Vegeta off. He was supposed to spar with Dodoria for an entire hour, and instead got screwed out of half of his time. Damn that Dodoria....

As the battle fury left him, Vegeta started to feel the pain, and did a quick inventory: burns, lacerations, likely some broken bones and cracked ribs. Nothing he could not handle, and his body was already starting to heal the minor wounds. He was hungry, and soon he would be starving.

The burns on his face from the numerous Ki blasts started to sting, his ribs and forearms started to yammer in pain. He wanted to leave and go to and the medical center, but that would mean leaving Raditz and getting a lecture from Nappa. Vegeta did not wish to hear Nappa yell about ‘group cohesion’ and ‘not leaving your comrades behind’. Well, at least it was amusing to watch Raditz take a beat down.

He watched the screens and ignored his injuries as he waited, stood over Kinqua’s shoulder and caused the tech to have silent conniptions. How he ever got the job with such an anxious personality was beyond the young prince. Well, at least he could see if Zarbon had kept his word.

Kinqua hated it when Vegeta lurked around like that; it made him uncomfortable, worried, as the Saiyan child was unpredictable, much like a rabid animal that could rip off your face without any warning.

“Kinqua.”  Vegeta smirked when the nervous man jumped. “Are the safeguards finally removed for my sessions?”

“Pardon me?”

“You don’t remember the safeguards that you wouldn’t lift for me? Zarbon said he spoke to you. Now. Are. They. Removed?” The tip of Vegeta’s tail began to twitch in anger.

Kinqua blanched. He was one of the few adults that Vegeta could intimidate and the Saiyan took full advantage of it. He typed in a sequence into his control, then checked the binary feed.

“You are cleared for all levels of access, Prince Vegeta. Congratulations.”

“About time.” Zarbon had done as he promised; it was the closest thing Vegeta would ever get to an admission that the twisted game had really occurred.

Vegeta considered going back into a solo room, now that he could get a real challenge, when the light over Room Four flashed red. The door opened; Zarbon emerged, followed by Raditz. The older Saiyan sported a few scuffs, but no real damage. Zarbon had to be pulling his punches. Any time Vegeta sparred with him, it ended up in a fresh coating of scrapes and bruises, and usually a trip to medical as well.

“... make sure you stretch afterwards.” Zarbon spoke over his shoulder as he stopped to pick up his scouter and equipment bag. “And if you are sore, be sure to apply moist heat.”
 
“Of course, Master Zarbon.” Raditz’ shaggy head bobbed in agreement.

“Go ahead and get showered - I have some quick business to attend to. And remember, you are helping me out tonight,” Zarbon gave a reminder in a kind tone that Vegeta had never heard used before.

“Yes, Master Zarbon. You sent notification to Nappa, right? I don’t want him mad at me again.” Raditz’s simpering tone put Vegeta on edge.

“Of course, dear boy.”

As they walked past the tech, Zarbon gave the end commands and Kinqua disengaged the programs. With a flourish of his long green braid, Frieza’s attendant swept out of the building and into the main thoroughfare, leaving Raditz behind to deal with his Prince, who was hovering near the systems operator and making him jumpy ... on purpose.

“Eh, Prince Vegeta,” Raditz gave a cheerful greeting, then noticed Vegeta’s reddened skin and bloodied appearance. “ ... what happened to your face, your hair?”

Vegeta shrugged as if it was nothing, but when he moved it was clear to those who knew his body language that he was injured: his eyes were squinted and his shoulders hunched.

“Just part of training. Nothing I can’t take.”

“Well ... that looks bad. We should get you checked out. Do you want to go now or do it after we clean up,” Raditz asked, concern in his voice.

“I can wait.” Vegeta wrapped his arms around his upper torso, and hissed at the pain.

“You sure about that?” Raditz knew the prince was trying to act tough, but he was hurting. His breaths were shallow, and his face had a peaked look that told Raditz the younger Saiyan was masking pain. He would not admit it in public, even if ‘public’ was just Raditz. Fine, if he wanted to suffer, then so be it.

“Okay, if you’re sure.” Raditz collected his scouter. “I’m going to shower. How about you?”

Vegeta shook his head. He hated using the community showers in the locker rooms, hated doing anything that involved common spaces. He did not understand how Raditz could stand it.

“I’d rather wait.” Vegeta remained in his hunched over position.

“Suit yourself. Just don’t blame me if people wrinkle their noses at you.” Raditz patted Vegeta on the shoulder once, a quick touch to reassure the prince and give him another chance to change his mind.

Vegeta did not reply verbally. He turned his head and twitched the tip of his tail three times: a dismissal of sorts. That usually made Raditz upset, but today he was in a good mood, and he just smiled.

Vegeta waited outside in the main gymnasium lobby while Raditz cleaned up; he checked his tablet and tried to ignore the burning and itching from the Ki burns. Curiosity got the better of him; he went into the lavatory to check the damage. His face was bright red, the skin on bridge of his nose and cheekbones peeled, his eyebrows were gone, and most of the fringes had seared off. The smell of burnt hair lingered about him. Tapa...I will have to make Raditz fix it.

Half an hour later, Vegeta had worn a hole into the lobby floor with his impatient pacing, and Raditz emerged. His long mane lay flattened, meticulously combed, and pulled back into a restraint. They left the fitness center together and headed for a transit car.

“Finally. You take forever, Raditz.” The adrenaline rush was completely gone, and Vegeta was feeling every burn, contusion, and fracture in his small frame.  

“I like to look good,” Raditz replied, with a bit more spirit than usual. A good fight always puts a Saiyan in a better mood, and Raditz was no exception. “Although it’s odd that Master Zarbon didn’t take a shower here.”  

“And?” Vegeta prompted, more to placate than because he cared about the reply.

Raditz scrunched his face in his ‘thinking’ expression. “He didn’t seem at his best today. I wonder why.”

He changed the subject when he looked at Vegeta - it was clear on the younger Saiyan's face exactly how he felt about Zarbon. “When did you finish with Dodoria? Was it a good lesson?”

“Half an hour ago ... and, no. Well, yes ... both actually. He cut it short. And I didn’t get to - ”

“Don’t say it,” Raditz moaned.

“ - zenkai, I was saying, before being interrupted,” Vegeta snapped.

“You’re still on about that?”

“What, getting stronger? Gaining more skill? Finally getting the respect I deserve? Becoming powerful enough to get my revenge? Yes, Raditz. I am ‘still on about it’.” Vegeta yelled and clenched his fists, in full rant mode, and stamped his foot.

“Okay, forget I said anything, Prince Snappy!” Raditz waved both hands in the air. “I was just asking!”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Vegeta murmured quietly.  “You don’t have the fighting spirit.”

“What?” Raditz stared at Vegeta, dumbfounded ... did his Prince just disregard him in public? He had to have misheard.

“Never mind. Let’s go to medical.” Vegeta stamped off, and Raditz trailed in his wake, frowning and fretting.

At the connection terminal, they selected the appropriate tram and made their way to the back of the car. There were other soldiers already on board, and some looked away as they passed by, some sneered when they thought the Saiyans were not looking.

Neither Saiyan spoke as the transit car raced through the narrowed tunnels connecting the different domes of Base 79. A soft ‘ding’ indicated an upcoming stop, then a disembodied voice announced their arrival in Galactic Standard, as well as several other common languages.

“Exit 50: Terminal Hub: Departure and Arrival Terminals. External Docking and Storage. Medical Center.” The transport came to a stop, and the doors hissed open.  

Vegeta exited into the busy center hub first, Raditz in tow, and walked the short distance to the Medical building. It was located near the spaceport and mission launch pads to quickly treat any incoming PTO wounded.

Although it was still early in the day cycle, the terminal was filled with people, and the health center was also busy with activity.  A harried medtech looked up at their approach; his red outfit was rumpled and his green eyes narrowed. He ran one hand through tightly curled maroon hair and swiped the other across his input screen.

“Name and PTO ID please, and have a seat.” The medtech indicated a chair, then held out one hand for their credentials. Vegeta reached into the breast pocket of his damaged battle armor and produced his tablet. Raditz was busy looking into the back, hoping to spot the doctor who had treated them before.

“Prince Vegeta. I am an Elite Soldier. I require treatment, now.” Vegeta held out his hand for his tablet to be returned.

The tech eyed him, then ran a quick body scan. “Are these injuries related to an active mission?”

“He was hurt in a training exercise,” Raditz said. “Is Doctor Berra in? She’s familiar with us.”

“She’s busy right now. Your injuries aren’t life threatening, so you’ll need to take a seat in the waiting section.”

“I am royalty,” the young Saiyan stood up at his full height, and put on his best scowl. “I demand that you move me to the front of the line!”

Vegeta’s assertion that he was special and that he deserved better treatment did not work well, and only served to annoy the red clad nurse. With no other choice, the Saiyans claimed seats near one of the entertainment screens and people watched. While they waited, an injured squad was rushed in, headed for the medical chambers, their bodies torn up and pouring blood. Physicians in brown scrubs went to work as they moved, pulling shrapnel from one man while he screamed, and another was stripped in preparation for the healing tank. Doctor Berra was visible in the background, her hands red with blood and gore.

Neither Raditz nor Vegeta reacted to the carnage. They had seen death’s many faces for years now, had been the agents of destruction themselves, and were calloused to the suffering of others. It was all just meat in the end. The thought of food made Vegeta hungry. He was famished, his body burned through his reserves to fuel the healing process. With little else to do, Vegeta closed his eyes, leaned against Raditz, and dozed off.

“Hsst ... Vegeta, wake up. Here comes Doctor Berra.”

Raditz’s voice woke Vegeta up out of dreamless sleep. He rubbed his eyes, blinked, and yawned as Doctor Berra walked over to greet them, a large tablet in hand. Her black hair had come undone in places, a dark smudge ran across her forehead, and her uniform was coated in questionable specks.

“Hello Raditz, Prince Vegeta.” She consulted her pad with a quick glance, and ran a forearm over her sweaty brow. “Training exercise, I see? I hope you haven’t been waiting too long ... we had a sudden rush. Are you hurt too, Raditz?”

“Not really, just a few bruises. The Prince is the one who needs attention. I’ll be all right.”

“I see. Come with me, and we’ll check you out.” The medic led the Saiyans back into the establishment. During Vegeta’s nap, the fervor had died down, and most of the bunks had emptied. The row of healing tanks were full, however, and the techs busy.  The doctor asked Vegeta to sit on one of the beds and inspected his wounds with a gentle touch that elicited hisses of pain from the prince, although he tried to keep up his bravado.

With a few efficient actions and little conversation, Berra completed her inspection and then dressed Vegeta’s wounds. She covered the burns with an ointment, wrapped his ribs, put his right arm in a sling to immobilize the clavicle bone and issued a warning to restrict movement. Lacerations were cleaned and sprayed with an antibiotic spray, and already on the mend. Finally, Vegeta was given an oral pain tablet, along with several meal replacements. The young prince gave a small smile at that.

“Well, that’s it for now. Be careful with those sprained wrists. All of your injuries are, thankfully, minor. With your metabolism you should be healed mostly by tommorrow at the latest. Drink the supplements, that will help give your body what it needs to do the job by itself. I’m putting a note in your chart to let your instructors know you may not be operating at full for a few days.” She held out one hand to help the young Saiyan down, but he refused both her and Raditz’s offers for assistance.

“Thank you Doctor Berra, but I don’t need to be babied.” Vegeta climbed off of the bed, and winced as he twisted.   

“Of course not. You know, I see you two so often that I’m starting to think you come here just to see me.” Berra made eye contract with both Raditz and Vegeta, then noticed the dark clouds forming on the young prince’s face. Saiyans could grow violent with little provocation; so she smiled in an attempt to diffuse the upcoming storm of Vegeta’s temper.

“Er...” Raditz blushed in response to Berra’s gentle humor, then gave a nervous laugh and scratched the back of his neck.

“Let’s go, Raditz.” Vegeta rolled his eyes. He did not understand Raditz’s growing obsession with females. Nappa said it was part of growing up and it was normal, but Vegeta thought it was just a waste of time.

“Thanks for taking such good care of him.” As Raditz stood, he placed a hand on Vegeta’s shoulder; the youth shook it off in embarrassment. Raditz sighed, and wondered why he bothered.

“Part of the job,” she replied, but did not give voice to her thoughts on the constant injuries she saw on these Saiyan children, and the worrisome fact that they seemed to think that constant injuries were the norm. She completed her treatment log, handed a few more drinks to Vegeta with a wink,“It’s our little secret”, then turned to move on to the next patient.

“Uh, Dr. Berra,” Raditz called out.

“Yes?” She turned back to face the tall adolescent.

“Um, well, I was wondering ... if I could talk to you later about my tail?” Raditz did not make eye contact, he stared at the floor and played with the tip of his tail as he spoke.

Ever since Vegeta had met Raditz, the older male had problems controlling his tail. Although he was twelve, and already on the path to adulthood, he still was unable to keep his tail wrapped, and it seemed to have a mind of its own, much to Raditz’s distress. Usually by the time a Saiyan was four, he had complete control over all of his appendages. This fact made for plenty of jokes at Raditz’s expense, and many awkward and painful situations over the years.

“Hmm. I thought you said you weren’t injured.”

“It’s not that ... it’s just, well, it doesn’t work right. It hasn’t ever since I was a little kid. Maybe you could ... um ... maybe take a look at it and figure out what’s going on with it?” Raditz gave a hopeful glance in her direction, ashamed to have to ask for help, and bashful about talking to the female. He also was not looking forward to the mocking he was sure to get from Vegeta for admitting weakness.

“I’d be glad to, but this isn’t really a good time. We can make an appointment for later, if you like,” Berra offered.

“That would be great. Thanks, Doctor Berra!” A broad smile covered Raditz’s face; he was glad that somebody was finally listening to his problems and showing concern.

“No problem. Let me check my schedule ... I have a break tonight at 1730. Does that work for you?”

Raditz extracted his tablet and hummed softly as he consulted his personal pad. “No ... I’m doing something with Master Zarbon then, so can I just stop in some other time?”

“That’s fine, if you’re willing to wait. I never know how busy I’ll be at any given moment.”

“Okay. Thanks, again. I really appreciate it.” Raditz said, then extended his hand awkwardly.

Before the doctor could return the gesture, Vegeta stamped his foot in impatience and held up his tablet. “Ugh, flirt on your own time, Raditz! I want to get going. Lunchtime is soon. I want to get there before the Idiot Force shows up again. Nappa says he’s meeting us in Mess Hall Three.”

“I thought...we were going to a different hall after this morning.” Worry was clear on Raditz’s features. He unconsciously took hold of his mangled hair.

“No point ... I doubt the Ginyus are showing up twice in one day. That, and going to another mess takes longer. Don’t know about you, but I want in and out quick.”

“Fine,” Raditz echoed Vegeta’s favorite dismissal. “See you later, Doctor Berra.” He waved and waited until the diminutive medic returned the gesture, then he and Vegeta left together.

They hopped on the tram, went to residential, departed, and took the elevator down to the mess hall. As was usual when meeting after training, Nappa waited just outside the cafeteria for his charges. When they drew close to each other, Nappa punched Raditz on the bicep and clapped his large hand on Vegeta’s back in a rough greeting.  

“Eh, Raditz, Prince Vegeta. Got a message from the good doctor ... Dodoria again?”

“Yes,” Vegeta hissed, and was grateful that Nappa did not make a big deal out of his unwanted hair style. “It’s nothing I can’t handle. He hits like a pussy, screwed me out of half my session, and I didn’t get a zenkai out of it.”

Behind Vegeta, Raditz rolled his eyes at the mention of ‘zenkai’. The tall youth mouthed to Nappa: “He’s still on about it.”

Nappa snorted in amusement, then coughed to cover it up. Vegeta glared up at his mentor, but said nothing.

“Look ...” Nappa rubbed the back of his neck with one calloused hand. “Ya gotta be careful, Vegeta. Ya keep that up and Frieza’s gonna figure out what you’re doing and be breathing down our necks. Fight smart, not hard. Okay?” He clapped one hand on Vegeta’s shoulder again. “Well, I’m starving. Don’t know about you. Let’s go eat some slop.”

“Can’t wait.” Vegeta griped, and walked in first, tailed by his subjects.

Chapter Text

Frieza Planet 314: Shinsai, Lord Frieza’s Vacation Estate.

“Is there anything else I can get for you, my Lord?” The purple furred female servant, clad in a flowing silken shift, picked up the empty glass resting on the side of the jacuzzi, and replaced it with a full one.

“No ... that will be sufficient. I will summon you if I need anything further.” Frieza dismissed her to the background with the motion of one finger and picked up his refill. He continued his contemplation and allowed the hot soothing water in the spa to continue its work. It was rare when he left his hovercart, and he enjoyed the freedom to stretch out his tail, flex his toes, and relax.
 
Frieza’s well-appointed vacation estate rested at the top of a terraformed hill; it was surrounded by landscaped gardens of the rarest plants from conquered worlds, and featured a spectacular view of a shimmering blue lake. The palace itself was three stories, constructed of imported white marble, and filled with rare items. A full staff was in attendance at all times, guest rooms were always ready with any luxury one could want at the touch of a fingertip, and Frieza ignored all of it. Mostly, he kept such surroundings to impress and intimidate.

He spent most of his time in his open air sunroom, either in the spa or the sauna, but always with glasses of bubbly. The room was, like his quarters on Frieza Planet 79,  decorated in tasteful earth tones.  His meditation room had no screens and no communication devices except a small mobile vidscreen.

Frieza came here when he wished for quiet, a break from the constant buzz of the Empire. Except he was never quite alone. Taking a break meant thousands of messages upon returning, even after foisting off most of the work on the eager to please Zarbon. Also, he knew that his father was monitoring his actions, a looming figure always in the background, waiting for Frieza to screw up.

Well, he would not give King Cold that satisfaction. Although Frieza knew his father had always favored him, he was always watching, and Cooler was waiting for him to make an error. It was a constant game of strategy that Frieza enjoyed (most of the time), but sometimes it just bored him. At those times, he considered how best to dispose of his loving family so that it looked like an accident, and he could rule the Cold Empire alone. It would take years...
 
His tablet buzzed and broke his pleasant reverie. Frieza wished he had turned the damn thing off, and checked the screen.

INCOMING COMMUNICATION: Cold Planet One. Samuisai. Private Connection. Priority One. ACCEPT?

Just what I need ... a call from Father. He’s a week early...

For a moment, Frieza considered ignoring the call, but decided not to give in to churlishness. He routed the connection through his vidscreen. Before he engaged the camera, he made sure all traces of annoyance were removed.

“Accept.”

The small vidscreen lit up with an explosion of color, digital bits and bytes that formed into King Cold’s face: the large striped horns, the blue pate dome, the lavender skin and that damned self assured smirk that irritated Frieza to no end, yet he unconsciously imitated.

“Ah, Father! It’s so good to hear from you, and ahead of schedule, too.” Frieza held up his glass in a greeting.

“Freezy-pop! How are you doing?” King Cold’s cultured basso voice rumbled from the speaker. He smiled, but it did not reach his red eyes.

Frieza did not reply at first. One finger tapped at the glass in his hand. “ Do not call me that, Father. Not in front of the help. Actually, not ever again.”

“Apologies.” King Cold chuckled, but did not seem at all sorry.

“To what do I owe this communication? Surely you didn’t call just to chat?” Frieza stopped speaking and watched his father’s expression intently.  

“Well, I was just running through some numbers for the quadrants, you know, checking up with the Quadrant heads ... Oh, I just spoke with your brother. He said to say ‘hello’ for him.”

“I’m sure that he did, Father.” Frieza imagined his purple-skinned brother engaging in such a display of fraternal affection, and smirked. Most likely Cooler had begged King Cold to ‘deal’ with Frieza. “Please tell my dear brother that I can’t stand him as well.”

“Tsk tsk, poor manners among family mean poor manners in general.” The Cold Emperor sighed, and shook his head in mock disappointment. “And I’ve been so generous with you. Perhaps I spoiled you too much as a boy ... I hate to think that I’ve given you a sense of entitlement.”

“Did you actually want something, or are you just running out of servants to torture?” Out of view of the camera, Frieza’s tail lashed in irritation.   

“Really, Freezy-pop. Can’t a father just say ‘hello’ to his son without there being an ulterior motive?”

Frieza’s eyes narrowed as he stared into the camera. He was growing tired of the maneuvering and the politics. ”Can we please get to the point, Father?”

King Cold glanced down at something off screen, soft clicks could be heard, then a stream of numbers appeared in a side box on the main view. “All right then, down to business. As I’ve said, I have been running the monthlies, and I’ve noticed certain ... deficits ... in North PTO. You’ll note them here - here - and here. There are extra expenses ... lagging acquisition and resource intakes ... makes one think that there’s an issue. Is there?”

“I’ll check up on it. I’m sure it’s just a downturn. They DO happen.” Frieza spoke almost dismissively, as if it was a simple matter beneath his notice, but he made a mental note to put Zarbon on the job. If someone was skimming, they would be living on borrowed time.

“Well, it seems to be a reoccurring pattern over the last few months, and I can’t have that. I have an Empire to run. I have clients who have paid good credits for their products, and if you can’t handle the responsibility ... “ The patriarch twirled one hand as he trailed off.

“I said that I will check up on it, Father. I am in the middle of an important meeting, so I will have to get back to you soon. Good day to you.” With the flick of a finger, Frieza ended the conversation. It was a small jab to disconnect on his father, but it made him feel better.

That damned busybody! How dare he imply that I, Lord Frieza, am incompetent.

For the second time that day, his tablet buzzed.

“Seriously? That had better not be Father again.”

INCOMING COMMUNICATION: Frieza Planet 79: Base HQ. General Dodoria. Priority One. ACCEPT?

“What now ... Accept.”

Dodoria’s broad and spiky pink face filled the screen, his blue lined lips curled in a grimace that passed for a grin.  

“What is it, Dodoria. I am on vacation. This had better be good.”

“Yeah, Lord Frieza. So, I worked with the monkey today. You know that upgrade thing you warned me about? Well, that damn kid tried to pull one over on me. I fucked him up good, but not enough to cause problems. Took his monkey ass to medical. Here’s the reports.”

Dodoria made a sweeping motion, and three file links appeared on Frieza’s tablet: a medical report on Prince Vegeta’s admitting injuries, physical scans, and Ki readouts. Frieza moved these to a private folder labelled ‘Prince Vegeta Project’ - buried deep within his personal databases. When he returned to the base, he would access the secondary readings automatically sent to him any time the Saiyans showed up in medical.

“Thank you, Dodoria.”

“Yeah, figured I’d let you know immediately. I’m not Zarbon. Anything you want me to do about the little smart ass?” Dodoria snickered, and pumped his fists together a few times. “I could smack him around a few more times. Love to.”

“No, Dodoria. I’ll handle it from here. That will be all.” Frieza severed the connection and stared at the blank screen for a moment. He felt, well, annoyed. That disobedient monkey thought he was so clever. He would have to be dealt with in a more ... unpleasant manner than usual before his ego got out of control.

However, FP-79 was a half day travel away. I’m not thinking about this right now. I will punish him when I return. Let him sweat, waiting for the consequences, wondering when they will come. Or perhaps he thinks that I did not know ... I will not let that monkey ruin my down time.

Lord Frieza turned off his tablet, told the servants he was not to be disturbed, and returned to his meditation.



Vegeta, Nappa and Raditz entered the mess hall together in a defensive huddle; the two larger men flanked their prince as they stood in line. Vegeta’s arm was in a sling; his injuries bothered him still, and the medication from the doctor had started to wear off.  In spite of Vegeta’s obvious hindrance, the other diners left them alone except for a few stray looks or comments. They ate quick, then left in a hurry.

After a run by the commissary for essentials, the Saiyans retreated to their small apartment. Raditz unloaded the few groceries, filled a kettle for tea, put a pot on to boil, and began prep work for their afternoon meals. He hummed as he worked. Vegeta poured himself a glass of water and took several pain tablets while Nappa fiddled with the temperamental outer door yet again.

“When are they gonna fix this damn thing,” Nappa yelled, and slammed one huge fist into the metal, adding another dent to the growing collection.

Once it slid shut, Nappa turned to Vegeta, arms folded, foot tapping. “Let’s hear it, Vegeta. What made you think you could pull a stunt like that with Dodoria?”

“What’s to tell? He’s an idiot. I thought I could trick him into it, make it look like an accident.” Vegeta shrugged, then winced. “Ah ... and that doctor wants me to rest. I don’t have time to rest. I’ve got to  - “

“What you’ve gotta do is stop obsessing. No more zenkai talk. Let it go, for a while, let people forget. You’re attracting way too much attention. And don’t underestimate Dodoria. That’s a tactical error that’ll getcha killed. That, and too much ego.”

At the perceived slight, the prince frowned. “Is it ego if it’s true, Nappa?”

“Aw ... Vegeta ...”

“That stupid Dodoria ... I don’t need him any more. Zarbon lifted the safeguards on the training rooms. I can train whenever I want now. No one can stop me.” He grinned in triumph, then went to the cold store, rummaged around for a nutrient drink, and drank it in two gulps.

 “Take it easy with those, Vegeta. We’re almost out,” Nappa warned.

“Then get me some more,” Vegeta ordered, and tossed the bottle in the incinerator.

Nappa sighed and shook his head in frustration at his charge. “Well, speaking of Zarbon, we need to get down to Assignments. It’s been a bit since we had work, and the coldstore is damned empty. He needs to stop jerking us around.”

Raditz tossed a handful of grains in the boiling water and started to chop up roots and vegetables, then added a few spices and bouillon cubes. The kettle began to whistle. Raditz turned off the flame, set out three cups, prepared the teapot, and poured the water in to seep. Most meals outside of the mess hall that the Saiyans ate were prepared by the older youth, more out of necessity than anything else. Nappa could set water on fire, and the Prince of All Saiyans would never agree to helping out. He kept his head down as he listened to the exchange, and sensed a coming storm.
 
“Let me speak to Master Zarbon, Nappa. He’ll listen to me. Perhaps I can get one or all of us back on the schedule ... after Vegeta’s arm heals, of course,” the older youth offered, in hopes of ending the argument before it started.

With a growl, Nappa began to pace like a caged animal. “I don’t like it. But for once, maybe we can use him instead of the other way around.”

“Ugh ...Nappa ...” Raditz groaned.

“Don’t you start with your ‘Master Zarbon is our friend’ nonsense, Raditz. I don’t like him. I never will. But we’ve gotta get some work. And it doesn’t help that you’re creating more problems for us, ve’ho.” Nappa sighed, and pointed at Vegeta. Then he looked down at the prince, and frowned. “How’s the arm, ten’ta? Hurts?”

“You think I did this on purpose, Nappa?” Vegeta’s tone was sharp because he felt like Nappa was attacking him, even though the accusation was true.

Nappa hesitated before replying. “Yes, I do. I got the report from Dodoria. Did you actually stop in the middle of a fight and drop your guard?”
 
“Well ... yes ... but my collarbone was broken before then,” Vegeta said in a defensive tone.

“Heu m’yo!” The frustrated commander rubbed his face with his hands and gritted his teeth. “I swear, ve’ho, you’re gonna be the death of me! What if he didn’t stop ... “

“I was counting on it.” Vegeta spoke with the unsullied confidence of the young.

“Dammit, Vegeta! What if he killed you? Dodoria isn’t known for pulling punches. You’re lucky he didn’t crush you. Stop and think - what you do affects Raditz and me, too. If you get dead, we’re all fucked!”
 
He did not mean to, but as Nappa ranted, his voice rose in volume and he towered over the little prince. His fury got the best of him, and he reached down and put a rough hand on Vegeta’s shoulder and dug his fingers in. He wanted to shake some sense into the thick-headed child.

“You get that right? You’re it, ve’ho. You’re our last chance, and if you’re gone ... well, Raditz and I are beyond screwed. Frieza probably’ll kill us off ‘cause we’re too much trouble. He keeps us more to keep you in line. And then, guess what: no more Saiyans. Battle’s over, we lose, and everything we’ve sacrificed is for nothing. Is that whatcha want?”

Vegeta hissed, and swatted Nappa’s hand away.

“I get it, Nappa! Just shut the hell up!” The prince hunkered down, an instinctive move of defense. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and for the first time he felt threatened by his guardian. Along with the fear, cold anger started to rise.

“I swear, Vegeta. Just ‘cause you’re our ve’ho doesn’t mean you get to talk like this to me. I’m your elder, you need to respect me. I know you’ve been taught better.”  

“Don’t ever touch me like that again,” the prince warned.  

Vegeta met Nappa’s eyes and gave the older man a cold, blank stare that sent chills down the commander’s spine. It was like looking into nothingness and it terrified him, a grown man, to his core.

“Damn,” Nappa muttered, and broke eye contact with his prince. The giant warrior disliked feeling unsettled about the child he had been sent to guide and guard, but he did.

“Something’s wrong with him,” the commander thought, “ ‘cause a kid shouldn’t have that look, like he’s seen a thousand battles. What did I fuck up with him to make him this way? I never wanted to be a father figure, but I swore that I’d keep him safe and sane. Now I’ve betrayed my oath to my Ve’ta ... ”



King Vegeta and his Elite squad stood in the Master Control Room, where Low Class Saiyan children were launched into space for conquest and where Prince Tarble had been sent into oblivion. They watched through the panoramic window in silence as Frieza’s flagship took off and escaped Vegetasai’s orbit, becoming another bright point of light before fading away into the background, taking the Crown Prince and Vegetasai’s last hope with it. No one spoke, they did not wish to disturb their King.

Commander Nappa looked at the King with worry and exchanged glances with Adviser Celar and Zorn, his old comrades. Vegeta continued to stare out of the window, his fists clutched and his face impassive.  These four had fought together as a unit during the Tuffle Wars, and were close as family; losing the prince was felt keenly by all of them, not just the king.

“Your Majesty ... Ve’ta ...” Nappa started, but his old friend did not respond. “Vegeta. Aw...c’mon Vegeta, let’s get out of here ... it’s haunted.  We can’t do anything right now.”

The giant Commander put a hand on his king’s shoulder and pulled him out of his morose thoughts. The royal did not speak a word, but made eye contact with Nappa. Then he turned and walked away.

The four Saiyan warriors exited as a cohesive unit. Normally a talkative man among his cabinet, Vegeta held his tongue while they passed servants, advisers, and guards. No one said anything, but the tension was high: word had spread that the king had given away that which he held most dear. Before anyone could ask questions, Nappa snarled at them and sent any nosy onlookers scurrying.

Everyone moved out of the way as they marched through like one of the vicious summer storms that swept over the plains of Vegetasai. They retreated to the king’s private office, a small cozy place done in warm colors, the opposite of the imposing throne room. King Vegeta opened the door and walked inside.

Nappa had known Vegeta since they were young men. Their fathers had been allies, they trained together in classes, joined the army at the same time, rose through the ranks and fought together. When Vegeta was quiet, it was bad.

Once the door was shut and they were in private, Vegeta spoke, his back to his trusted friends. “Leave me.”

“Ve’ta, you can’t kick us out,” Nappa protested, but of course neither he or the other two warriors would openly defy their King.

“Nappa, you stay,” Vegeta ordered. “The rest of you are dismissed.”

Nappa halted, one hand on the doorknob, and let the other two pass him by. If King Vegeta was kicking out his trusted advisors ... it meant that he was closing himself off, but it also meant that Nappa could speak his mind without repercussions.

“Vegeta ... Ve’ta m’yo, the hell’s going on?”

Vegeta turned to face his oldest friend, arms folded and face stern. “You’ve been demoted, Nappa. You’re no longer Commander of my Armies.”

“What? You can’t be serious, Vegeta. Not now, not when there’s so many problems. The squads are disappearing, we’ve got Frieza on our doorstep. We don’t know what’s going on ... Who’s going to ... why would you ...”

Vegeta held up one hand. “I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t necessary. You know that. I’m sending you after my son. You are his na’vata, Nappa, and his personal bodyguard. I will not have him alone in that hellhole, at Frieza’s mercy. He will need companionship and care, someone to teach and guide him until I can take him back. I will also send his young training companion along with you. If Frieza is still pretending to have civility, he will allow this.”

The galactic tyrant had shown up unannounced, months before the scheduled delivery time, and demanded that the prince be handed over without delay. King Vegeta had no choice but to comply.

Nappa scratched at his mohawk and thought. “Are you talking about Bardock’s boy?”

“Yes, Nappa. Raditz is the only friend that my son has made, and he will need friendship  just as much as protection.”

“Permission to speak freely, Va’ta m’yo,”  

“That’s why we’re alone, Nappa.”  Normally at this point, King Vegeta would have offered the Commander an amused smirk, but there was nothing normal about these circumstances.

“You’re sticking me with two young boys under Frieza’s watch? Are you trying to get me killed?”  
 
Nappa stepped back when the king glared at him, raised one hand, then grabbed his forearm. They had always been able to talk to each other on familiar terms, but perhaps this time Nappa had overstepped his boundaries.

“Promise me, Nappa. Promise me that you will keep him safe. Don’t let Frieza ruin my boy. Keep him until I can figure out how to get him back. Tell me you will do this. Swear it to me. Swear it on your tail.”

“M’eh j’ha.” Nappa dropped his eyes, bowed his head before the king. Nappa was loyal to a fault, and would die if the king told him to. He hoped it would not come to that.

“Good. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with this task.” The two men grasped forearms, then touched foreheads, a silent affirmation of the oath.  

Without warning, King Vegeta snarled, then slammed his fist into the wall and destroyed it. Nappa jumped at first, then looked away and pretended not to notice.

“I’ll start getting ready now, Ve’ta.” Nappa waited for a moment. When no response came, he left without being dismissed.

It was the last time that Nappa saw the king alive ... and he would spend the rest of his life fulfilling his promise.

Chapter Text

After Vegeta and Nappa argued, Vegeta stopped his verbal warring and went quiet. Perhaps he felt guilty, perhaps he finally understood what was at stake, or perhaps he simply did not care ... Nappa hoped that last bit was not the truth. By unspoken agreement, they dropped the subject, and drank the steeped tea instead.

The rest of the day cycle passed by quick and uneventful. Afternoons were often used for studying and then training in the gymnasium to burn off Vegeta's excess energy. Dinner was a mess hall affair again, a tasteless assortment that failed to entice the Saiyans. Afterwards, they made a trip to Assignments, where they waited for over an hour for Zarbon to return before Vegeta tired of harassing the staff and ran out of patience.

"I'm done with waiting," snarled the little prince, and stood to leave.

"Don't worry. I'm helping out Master Zarbon tonight, so I'll talk to him. He'll help me, I promise. Maybe I'll be able to bring home some leftovers too," the taller youth offered, even though he expected his companions to complain.

Both Vegeta and Nappa rolled their eyes and bit their tongues, but chose diplomacy for a change. They needed the credits, and they all knew it. No one spoke up when the Saiyans departed, flanking Vegeta as if they were Honor Guards escorting their King, but Vegeta was sure he could hear them laughing as they exited.

It's a good thing for them that I am injured. Else I would show them what it means to cross the Prince of All Saiyans!

Defeated for the short term, they returned to the cramped quarters to pass the rest of the evening in each other's company. They all honored the unspoken agreement to not talk about recent events, and instead worked to repair their fading connections. The last few weeks had been tense, all the Saiyans grumbling and sniping at each other, so it was helpful for them to sit down together in the comfort of home, eat leftovers and relax.

Nappa cracked open a few bottles of ale, shared one with Raditz, and even let Vegeta have a taste; he hated it. They piled on the couch, turned on the screen and found a mindless serial show, then curled up in a pile. Raditz took extra time to groom Vegeta until he was comfortable. Vegeta dozed to the companionable hum of Nappa and Raditz talking, and the noise of the show. Sleep would allow his body to complete its repairs.

Vegeta was woken by the chiming of the communal vidscreen; it jolted him out of a sound sleep. He yawned and stretched, then turned his head to see who was calling. The screen lit up as it buzzed.

INCOMING COMMUNICATION: Frieza Planet 79: Location Withheld. General Zarbon. Priority One. ACCEPT?

"It's Master Zarbon!" Raditz sat up and disturbed Vegeta from his comfortable repose. "That's great, Cui must have told him that we were looking for him. I told you he'd come through for us ... Accept!"

When Zarbon's sculptured features came to digital life, Raditz leaned forward, smiling, to greet his master. Zarbon did not look happy to see him, not at all. Vegeta sat up, curious, and Nappa leaned in.

"What do ya' want, Zarbon," the commander asked, and held up his bottle of beer in a greeting.

"Hmph." Zarbon tossed his braid, and snorted in disdain. "A fine greeting, Commander Nappa. You really should address me as Lord Zarbon."

"Sorry, Lord Zarbon," Nappa drawled, then chuckled. He ignored Raditz's angry look.

Well, I'm glad to see all three of you are in one place." Zarbon's cultured accent made the words sound like an insult, somehow. "It saves me hunting you down. You three are to report to Lord Frieza's suite. Immediately. That means right now, for those of you who can't handle words with big syllables."

"It's the night cycle," Nappa pointed out, ignoring the jibe.

"Who does Zarbon think -" Vegeta began, but was cut off by Nappa.

"Not now, Vegeta." Nappa flashed him a warning glance to keep quiet in spite of the prince's offended scowl.

"Oh, I'm aware." Zarbon's lips pursed together in a thin line. "This is a summons from Lord Frieza directly, so I would take it seriously if I were you. That means no detours for snacks."

Nappa sobered up immediately. "What for?"

"Lord Frieza has not seen fit to divulge his motives to me. You have fifteen minutes," Zarbon sniffed, then disconnected.

"The hell ..." Nappa growled, then rubbed a big hand through his hair and sighed. He met both Raditz and Vegeta's unspoken questions with a shrug and the twitch of his tail. "Your guess is as good as mine."

The three males dressed in their battle armor again, then headed for the elevators and ascended to Frieza's penthouse.

Vegeta was twitchy as they exited the lift; trips to Frieza's place usually did not go well for him, and he was still injured. Although his collarbone still hurt, he removed the arm from its sling. He did not wish to appear disabled in front of the tyrant.

The guards ushered the Saiyans in without delay or comment. They came into the anteroom. Zarbon and Dodoria flanked Frieza, Zarbon's arms were crossed and his expression stern. Dodoria stood with his hands balled on his hips, legs wide, a big smirk on his face. Frieza leaned to one side with his chin in one hand, and had a tiny smile that unnerved the Saiyan noble; it indicated trouble.

"Prince Vegeta reporting as ordered, Lord Frieza." Vegeta murmured, crossed his right arm over his chest - suppressed the urge to wince - and bowed. Nappa and Raditz were quick to show obeisance as well. At least bowing allowed them to remove the scowls from their faces.

"So good of you to come on such short notice." Frieza sat up and interlaced his fingers, looked the Saiyans up and down. "Ah, I see your arm appears to be healed. I am glad to see you are recovered, Vegeta."

"Thank you, Lord Frieza." Vegeta felt on guard, his hackles went up. Nappa and Raditz drew near him and flanked him. "What can we do for you?"

"Well, I was just speaking with Zarbon and Dodoria about you, Vegeta dear. We were just comparing notes about your recent training sessions and about your recent ... increase in power. Quite impressive for one so young. I find it interesting that neither you nor Nappa reported these changes to me. Is there a reason why?"

"Didn't know that was part of protocol," Nappa spoke up, determined to protect his charge.

Frieza ignored the giant Saiyan and continued starting at the prince. "Vegeta, I heard that you purposely tried to goad Dodoria into injuring you to replicate these results ... to ... what is the word ... zenkai?"

Vegeta gasped and took a step back. Frieza grinned wide, and laughed as Vegeta gaped at him, startled and caught off guard once more.

"Did you think I did not know? Ah ... my little protege ... You seem to think you can simply do what you wish and I will be none the wiser, or perhaps you think that you know what is best?" Frieza paused and waited for Vegeta to reply.

"I -" Vegeta started to shake, and willed himself to remain still, to keep looking up into those awful crimson eyes. Don't show him you are afraid, or the battle is over.

Frieza tut-tutted, then gave a slight shake of his horned head. "You don't have the right to decide what your progress under my tutelage will be. I've been far too lenient with you; I have favored you too much, I think. I took you in when you lost your home and your family; I gave you shelter, taught you, treated you like a son ... and this is how you repay me: with disobedience? You willful child! You're no good to me if you can't obey."

"Lord Frieza," Nappa interjected, and placed a protective hand on Vegeta's shoulder. "It was my fault. I should have - "

"Keep your mouth shut," Frieza ordered, "or the next word you say will be your last."

The large man trembled, caught between the desire to protect his prince and defend his honor, and the knowledge that such actions were ... in the end ... futile. Nappa snarled a wordless curse under his breath. Next to him, Raditz bit his lip and tried to make eye contact with his Master, but was not successful.

"I thought so." Frieza levitated up out of his hovercraft, settled on his three toed feet and slowly padded over to the Saiyans so that he could look upon Vegeta's face, frozen between fear and defiance. It was ... delicious.

Dodoria began to chuckle softly in anticipation, but Zarbon remained silent and emotionless. He did not look at Raditz; he did not look at anyone.

"Whatever should I do with you, my little rebel?" Slowly, Frieza paced around Vegeta, forcing Nappa and Raditz to back up, and isolating the youngest Saiyan physically and mentally from his allies. He circled like an animal stalking its prey, hands folded behind his back, tail cutting a lazy swath through the air.

The Prince's body betrayed him; he froze, unable to speak or move. This was bad ... Epically Bad. He did not dare to look to Nappa or Raditz for guidance. All he could do was focus on his breathing. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. Gone was the mentor, the tutor, and here was the cruel tyrant who inspired such fear.

Next, Frieza widened his circle and paced towards the older Saiyans, then around them as well, enjoying their obvious discomfort. Neither man dared to look Frieza in the face.

In an exaggerated manner, the emperor rubbed his chin as he circled back to face Vegeta again. "Hmmm. If you are behaving in this manner, then perhaps your subjects will think they can do the same, and I can't have that, can I? What is it that you always say, Zarbon? Monkey see, monkey do?"

The teal skinned General shifted his weight, crossed his arms, and tossed his long braid, a noncommittal response born of politics. "I don't quite recall, Lord Frieza."

"Don't be shy, Zarbon. Do speak up," Frieza insisted.

Zarbon paused before replying. He made eye contact with Raditz for a second, looked away. Then he laughed, a cruel sound from his perfect lips. He ignored the shocked look from Raditz. "It seems that you have things well under control with the monkeys, Lord Frieza."

"I am glad that you approve, Zarbon. Now, Vegeta, I think I need to make an example of you." Frieza raised one hand to his lips and chuckled.

"I - I'm sorry, Lord Frieza." Vegeta spat each word out as if it left a bitter taste on his tongue. He tightened his tail around his waist and hunched his shoulders. His right clavicle issued a painful warning, but he ignored it.

"I'm sure you are ... but you're not sorry enough."

Before any of the Saiyans could react, Frieza lashed his tail out, grabbed Vegeta around the neck, then yanked so fast and quick that the prince sprawled on the floor at the despot's tripartite feet.

"Vegeta!" Nappa shouted in helpless fury and Raditz froze up except for his frizzed tail.

"Now, let's have a little chat, shall we?" Frieza lifted Vegeta up so that the Saiyan prince was forced to stand on his toes to avoid being strangled. Frieza smiled, then caressed Vegeta's cheek with a gentle touch.

"I was just sparring! I didn't do anything wrong," Vegeta shouted and began squirming. He grabbed on to the segmented appendage wrapped around his neck and tried to pry it away, to no avail. His tail came unwrapped and lashed back in forth in panic.

"Vegeta, dear. I despise liars." With theatrical slowness, Frieza tightened the grip around Vegeta's neck then lifted him off his feet. The young prince began to choke, but continued his struggles. His efforts only brought a wicked smirk to Frieza's face, and a cruel glimmer to his eye. "This isn't going to end well for you, Vegeta. Just submit."

"What," Vegeta gasped. He would not show the autocrat fear. He would not give in. "I won't!"

"Stand down Vegeta," Nappa yelled, "for once in your life, stand down!"

Frieza watched with amused detachment as Vegeta's face started to turn red and his thrashing started to subside. Oh, but the little thing so wanted to keep fighting ... "Are you ready to give in now, little prince?"

"No ... " Vegeta's voice was but a whisper; he would not give in, even if it meant more pain. It was not in his nature.

"Have it your way. Know you have brought this upon yourself." Frieza raised one hand, balled it into a fist, and struck Vegeta across the face ... hard.

Vegeta's eyes widened; Frieza had never flat out attacked him before. Then Frieza struck him several more times in quick succession. The Saiyan felt his lip split and blood pour out, his nose lanced with pain and blood ran into his eyes. He was still being strangled, white sparks of light danced across his field of vision; he was fading fast. And Frieza kept hitting him...

"Nappa, do something. He's going to kill him!" Raditz'x black eyes were wide with horror as he drew up next to his commander, helpless to do anything other than watch Frieza beat their Prince mercilessly.

"Dammit, Raditz, I can't. You know this." Nappa clenched his great fists, and grabbed Raditz by the forearm in case the youth decided to do something rash. He knew that any actions he took might cause more pain for Vegeta, as much as he wanted and needed to do something.

Eyes wide, Raditz turned towards his mentor, and pleaded. "M-Master Zarbon, please help! You can do something, right?"

"Sorry, my boy, but my hands are tied." Zarbon folded his hands behind his back, and averted his gaze.

The beating seemed to go on forever, the only sound in the room that of Frieza's fists striking the young prince, who still refused to make a sound or to surrender. After a while though, Frieza grew tired of the display and ceased. He looked at his hands, coated with Vegeta's blood, then shook his head.

"Still defiant, are we? I am disappointed in you, Vegeta. If you want to die so badly, I can give you that wish. If you keep up this behavior, I can guarantee that you will not survive this struggle, nor will you will be getting a boost. And once you are gone, who will keep your subjects safe?"

"Frieza - for heu sake - he's just a kid! You're gonna kill him. Look, you wanna beat somebody up, do it to me. I can take it," Nappa snarled.

"Noble, Commander Nappa ... but my little prince needs to learn to accept the consequences of his actions, and he needs to learn his place." Frieza lowered Vegeta's small form so that his feet were on the ground, then until he was on his knees, helpless, in a grotesque parody of fealty.

"That's better, Vegeta. Now, was that so difficult? All you have to do is just say the words and this will all be over. Just ... submit." Frieza unwound his segmented tail from Vegeta's neck and released him.

Vegeta collapsed to his knees, hands at his throat as he gasped for breath and sputtered. Blood poured down his face from multiple cuts, and his mouth tasted full of metal. His eyes were swollen, his nose was damaged, and a crimson ring of blood spatter surrounded him. Yet still, he refused to comply.

"No!" The Prince spat the word out. "I am the Prince of Saiyans, and I won't submit!"

"I guess it's true that Saiyans like pain." Frieza shrugged, then snaked his tail around Vegeta's throat again - so fast that the youth could not react - yanked him off his knees, and flung him against the thermoplastic vista window. Vegeta's body smashed against the curved surface with a sickening crunch, leaving a smear of blood behind, then tumbled down.

"F'RI!" Nappa shouted and launched himself at Frieza.

Dodoria lashed out and struck him down with one mighty punch, knocking him out cold for a few seconds. Then the General snickered and cracked his knuckles. "Next..."

Raditz did not react; instead, he kept his gaze focused on his fallen comrades. He felt conflicted, both Nappa and Vegeta were down; who should he help? He decided on Nappa, he did not want to risk Frieza's wrath.

"I hate breaking my toys," Frieza sighed.

The emperor approached Raditz, looked up at the tall Saiyan youth with that smirk on his lavender face. "How about you, boy? Are you going to make a useless attempt to thwart me, also?"

"N-n-no ... please, Lord Frieza, don't hurt Vegeta any more. Don't hurt either of them any more. Please." Raditz dropped his gaze, slumped his shoulders and lowered his tail: all signs of submission. He hoped if one of them appeared to give in that it would be enough to mollify the incarnation of evil before him.

"If only your Prince would follow your example." Frieza huffed, then walked towards the broken child and lifted him up once again, stared intently into his face as his consciousness faded. Vegeta's eyes rolled back and the small body went limp in his grasp, head lolling. "Zarbon, Dodoria ... do see the other monkeys out."

As he faded into the darkness, the last thing that Vegeta saw was the glowing coals that were Frieza's eyes, chasing him into oblivion. He wondered what death would feel like ... would it hurt, or if there would be anything to feel at all. Part of him still wanted to fight, to never give in, but his body refused to obey his commands.

"Zarbon take him to ..." Frieza's voice faded into the background, into the grey.

Vegeta's last thought was simply: I will not submit...

Chapter Text

Nappa stared in horror down at the bloodied form of his prince, the child that he had sworn to protect with his life, and felt despair. Had Frieza finally made good on his promise to extinguish all the Saiyans? And Nappa had not lifted a finger to prevent it. I broke a sacred oath...I'm going to hell for this, I'm sure of it. He was so lost in thought that he did not hear the order to leave.

"Zarbon, do take the boy to ..." Frieza paused. He glared down at the two Saiyans, annoyance on his lavender features, and sighed. "Why are you two idiots still here? Did you not hear me just dismiss you? Dodoria, see that they leave. Now."

"You heard the boss," Dodoria rumbled, "now get the fuck out."

Still in shock, Nappa snapped back to attention, then tapped Raditz. With a grandiose gesture, Dodoria indicated the exit, and 'escorted' them out of the anteroom and into the private hallway, smirking the entire time. Once outside, reality set in and Nappa's mind cleared. He was being separated from the one he was supposed to be guarding.

"We're not leaving without the Prince," Nappa growled, planted his feet, and crossed his arms. "We're staying right here until that damn door opens and I see Vegeta walk out."

"Boss man says you are," Dodoria replied, and snorted in derision. "Wanna take it up? I could go for a good round of monkey ass kicking. Helps me sleep better."

Raditz sighed in exasperation and balked as well, partly because he was fed up with Dodoria's insults, and partly because he was an adolescent who needed to rebel. "Come on, Dodoria? Why do you care if we stand here and wait, it doesn't affect you."

"What Lord Frieza wants, Lord Frieza gets. Move it, monkeys." Dodoria grabbed the younger Saiyan by his arms and yanked. The powerful enforcer ignored Raditz's cry of protest, twisted the youth's right arm until Raditz yelped, then began physically dragging him down the hall and towards the elevator. "I'm not fucking around, here. Let's go."

"Get off of me," Raditz hissed, his tail lashed in anger, and he pulled his arm free of Dodoria's grasp. "I'm going!"

"You son of a whore," Nappa snarled, just loud enough so that only Raditz could hear. There was little either Saiyan could do, other than complain and posture. Dodoria could take them both on with minimal effort, and it infuriated the former commander to know that he could do nothing to help, yet again.

To emphasize their helplessness, Dodoria pushed Nappa in the small of the back then herded them towards the lift. He pressed the button with one large finger, as if he were the galaxy's fattest bellhop.

"Raditz." The penthouse doors opened and Zarbon emerged, appearing like a coming storm. His eyes were narrowed, his arms crossed, and he scowled.

The youth turned at his Master's voice, a hopeful expression on his face. Zarbon would fix this.

"You're wanted back in the suite." Zarbon motioned towards the open doorway with one hand.

"Uh ... Master Zarbon..." Raditz's voice trailed off when Zarbon refused to look him in the eye. The youth's hopes started to fade.

"Now," Zarbon said.

Raditz moved to obey his master. He hurried back to Zarbon's side; in spite of his concerns, Raditz tried to smile and break the tension, but stopped when he saw the cold fury on Zarbon's face - an expression he had never seen before on his master, and it scared him. Just before the doors slid shut, Raditz glanced back over his shoulder, and Nappa saw the look of terror on his face.

"Dammit! They're separating us again." Nappa clenched his fists in futile rage, and resisted the urge to put a giant dent in the glistening lift door. The powerful Saiyan watched as Dodoria shambled away, as if he did not consider Nappa worth bothering with any more. It was yet another insult, and Nappa hated him for it.

After a few minutes, Raditz rushed out alone. Zarbon did not follow him. The younger Saiyan was wild-eyed; his tail puffed to twice its normal size, and he moved with a pronounced limp. He fled past Dodoria without stopping and towards Nappa. He collapsed at the taller man's feet, wailing and panting.

"Ohgods, ohgods, oh GODS! I'm sorry ... I'm so sorry Nappa, he made me. I couldn't ..." Raditz gasped out the words, tears streamed down his cheeks, his shoulders heaved with his sobs and he started to cough.

Nappa, the Commander of Armies had seen war, death, and genocide. He had taken lives and torn down civilizations. He was cold and callous, and had in the past prided himself for it. None of those things affected him as severely as Raditz' frantic outpouring of emotion. Perhaps he was growing soft, but watching the adolescent's raw anguish and fear tore at the older man with an almost physical sensation.

"Raditz, what the hell ..." Nappa reached down and pulled the younger Saiyan to his feet, a bit rougher than he intended, but the tears made the warrior both nervous and a bit angry. "Get it together, man. We're in public."

"Gods I told them, I told him... I had to ... Master Zarbon ... he made me. Please don't hurt me!" Raditz grabbed the front of Nappa's collar in his fists, pressed his forehead against his guardian's chest, and his breath hitched.

Dodoria's gravelly laugh reminded them that the General was still present, watching and mocking them. His head cocked to one side as he listened to commands issuing from his scouter. "Mhm. Got it. I'll tell 'em to get lost. Hey monkeys, boss man says to have a nice night. Don't wait up for your friend, he's gonna be a while. Now get out."

"Fuck off, Dodoria," Nappa roared, near the end of his patience. The thought of abandoning Vegeta to Frieza's whims made him furious ... but he did not have a choice, and he knew it. "C'mon Raditz, let's get the fuck out of here. And then you'd better tell me what happened in there."

Raditz shook his head, unable to speak any further. Nappa sighed, put an arm around the younger Saiyan's shoulders, dragged him into the lift cart, and pushed the button. Once the doors slammed shut and the motor engaged, Nappa released Raditz. The youth sagged to his knees; his head hung in shame and his tail drooped.

"Okay, let's hear it. What the hell happened? And stop that dammed whining." Although he spoke in a low volume, Nappa's rage was like a blast furnace.

A lump formed in Raditz's throat as anger threatened to overpower the horror and anguish he felt. How could Nappa treat him like this, didn't he care? Raditz sniffled, and rubbed at his reddened face. The long haired Saiyan knew that his emotions had been out of control lately, but he still could not help it. He had betrayed his prince, had betrayed his people ... and now, Nappa was going to kill him for something that could not have been helped.

The fear returned; he did not want to tell Nappa what Master Zarbon had done to him, what Frieza had done, how he had broken so damn quickly. He looked up to Nappa's grim face.

"I-I ... I'm so sorry, Nappa. You don't understand. I had to. They were going to - "

"You had to what, exactly?" Nappa bared his teeth, his eyes glinted like daggers. When Nappa was angry, he was a dangerous man. Right now, he was furious. "What did you do? Answer me!"

Raditz resigned himself to his imminent death. Nappa would not let it go, nor would he accept anything other than the truth. Telling Nappa that Frieza had him tortured to get what he wanted would not make things any easier. The youth lowered his head, too ashamed to look his commander and guardian in the face as he was forced to admit his cowardice.

"I told them everything, Nappa. I had to. If I didn't, Frieza said he'd kill Vegeta right in front of me. I didn't want him to die ... he's my friend, he's our Prince ... oh gods ... Frieza wanted to know what Vegeta was most afraid of, and he made Master Zarbon torture me ... and I...uh...I told them he's scared of tight spaces. I'm so sorry." Raditz braced himself for the pain that was sure to follow.

Instead of the outburst that Raditz expected, Nappa went cold and quiet, which was far worse than the usual explosive fury the older man was prone to. Instead, he crossed his arms and stared at the numeric display as it ticked down.

"I'm beyond fucking disappointed in you." Nappa spoke in such a soft voice that Raditz almost did not hear him.

The elevator stopped its descent and the doors opened. Nappa marched out without a look back at the younger male.

"Nappa, what ..." Raditz' voice trailed off in confusion.

Nappa's long legs ate the distance to their apartment as he left Raditz behind. He did not speak; he looked straight ahead. He punched in the door code and slammed the entry button with his fist. Raditz trailed after, quaking in fear. Part of him wished that Nappa would just yell at him, get it over with, punish him ... and didn't he deserved to be punished, after all?

Once inside, Nappa stalked to the kitchenette and slammed both fists down on the table, leaving a crack on the surface. He closed his eyes, breathed slow in an attempt to calm himself. It was not working well. Raditz came in a few seconds later, hesitant, and stared at him for a moment and waited for the outburst. When the larger man did not speak, Raditz took in a shaky breath.

"Nappa," Raditz began, "I am so sorry, I didn't mean ... urk..."

With a roar, Nappa grabbed Raditz by the collar, yanked him off of his feet, and slammed him against a wall with such force that the back of Raditz's skull smashed against the flat surface with an audible thunk. Luckily, Saiyan skulls were notoriously thick. In one quick motion, Nappa jacked him up the wall so that he was suspended in the air. Finally, the rage came.

"What the fuck is wrong with you," Nappa screamed, "I should rip your head off your shoulders right now!"

"Go ahead and do it, then! It would hurt less than how I feel right now!" Raditz countered, his face bright red and his hands wrapped around Nappa's big mitts. "You think I wanted to be used against Vegeta like that? I've betrayed his trust, your trust. Now just punch me and get it over with, like you usually do. You know, you're just like him, just like Raddich."

Nappa's fist connected with his jaw, and he bit his tongue. Raditz's ears rang and his vision blurred, but he felt like he deserved it. He closed his eyes, waited for his commander to pummel him in punishment... and was surprised when the next blow crashed into the wall beside his head.

"Dammit ... tapa! This is what Frieza wants: to divide us further." Nappa let go of Raditz, and the youth sagged down, sat on his haunches.

"Why did you stop?" Raditz's eyes still watered from the punch, and snot ran down his face.

"What's the point in killing you, Raditz? I'm not gonna do Frieza's dirty work for him, and I'm not gonna kill my own, no matter what. We're both being used ... and it's still us against the galaxy. No matter how fucking pissed I am at you."

"So, you're not going to kill me?" Raditz opened one eye to look up at the towering older male. His face hurt, and he still half expected to be struck again.

Nappa sighed, upset with himself for losing his temper. "Aw, hell no ... Sorry, Raditz. We can't be fighting when Frieza finally gives Vegeta back. I just hope he's gonna be in one piece."

"I hope he won't hate me. I couldn't stand that. D-do we have to tell him?"

"Nah. I don't think he really needs to know the details. What good'll that do outside of tear us apart more? C'mon, get up." Nappa extended a large hand out to Raditz.

The younger Saiyan hesitated, still worried about repercussions. When Nappa broke into a toothy grin, Raditz relaxed. With little effort, Nappa pulled his subordinate back onto his shaky feet, and clapped one hand one the youth's shoulder. Instinctively, Raditz flinched at Nappa's touch.

Nappa sighed, and ran both hands through his thick mohawk. "Heh. This shit keeps up, I'm gonna be bald."


...I won't submit... M'eh f'ri va'hir...

Vegeta slowly swam up from the depths of unconsciousness, chasing after whispers on the edge of perception, and emerged into total darkness. Nothingness in all directions greeted him like an old friend.

Am I dead?

Anger came first, then fear. Had Frieza actually killed him? Stop it. Breathe. Focus ... I can hear my heartbeat, I'm in pain. I'm not dead... so, why is it so dark? Where the hell am I ... Check your surroundings. Don't think, just do it.

He reached out his hands, groping in the darkness, to try and get a sense of where he was. Perhaps there would be a light source, or some clue to what was going on. Vegeta crawled on his hands and knees until he found cold metal on all sides forming a small box barely wide enough to turn in with a low ceiling that forced him to crouch.

I'm in the vents again. I'm trapped ... maybe I never left.

The first touches of fear brushed his mind; tight bands wrapped around his chest, his heart began to race and he started to pant. This can't be real...

Vegeta took a few breaths to calm himself as well as he could, focused his Ki into a small orb on the tip of one finger to create a globe to see by, and observed his surroundings. As he had thought, he was in a cramped space. There were no windows, no doors, no communication devices, no cameras: a tiny metal prison.

"Hey," he yelled, then pounded on one of the walls with a fist. "Let me out of here."

No response came, but then he had not expected one. He banged on the sides, the ceiling, even the floor. All seemed solid and unyielding. For a minute, Vegeta considered blasting one of the barriers, but he could not be sure if that would provide him with a way out or if he would just fry himself alive. In the end, he decided not to take the chance.

I'm stuck. Again.

Panic set in, thick as sap and deep as an ocean, submerged him in a blaze of intensity. The walls seemed to close in on him; he began to hyperventilate, and his thoughts raced out of control. I can't get out. What if ... no one knows I'm here? What if they've forgotten about me, what if I run out of air and I die in here?

"Get me out," he shrieked, and began pounding his fists against the sides of his cage with all of his strength until his hands began to bleed, leaving blood smears. The feeble light he had created blinked out, and he shrieked until his throat went raw and his voice gave way, but still no one came for him. In the end, he was reduced to a wordless howl, beating his hands in a useless effort like an animal caught in a trap, unable to think or reason.

No one will help. Vegeta heard the whisper, and was not sure if the voice came from inside his mind or from somewhere else. You must help yourself.

"How," he asked. "There's no exit ... I can't get out."

Then he realized that was not true at all. He could escape. He could go inward, shut down, throw the panic into the vault, and just give in ... submit ... to what was happening to him and just step aside.

And he did it. He gave in, shut down, faded away, and escaped.

Good boy, the whispers said.


Out of the fog, he heard voices. They were mumbling, he could not make out any distinct words. Blurred lights passed by overhead, an indication that he was moving. Was he free, or was this yet another trap.

"Where are you taking me?" He tried to speak, but nothing came out of his mouth. He felt so confused, sluggish. Two people leaned into view, cast into silhouette by the intense back lighting. Bright beams of light flashed and shone in his face, hurt his sensitive eyes.

The faces swam into focus, their eyes glittering with malice: Zarbon and Dodoria, laughing and taunting him as they reached for him, restrained his arms and legs. They're attacking me! They're going to put me back in there back in the vents back in the dark ... I have to get away.

Vegeta reacted without thinking; he wrenched his arms free from his captors, held out his hands, and threw an energy wave outward. Someone screamed in pain; he felt the sting of a needle ... and as he went under again, he despaired.

Chapter Text

 


It had been a slow night in the medical bay, and Berra took the opportunity to nap. Her shifts lasted for four complete wake/rest cycles; sometimes she went days without any real sleep, so the chance to slumber was welcomed and quickly seized. She let her head nurse know, then wandered back into the staff section. She retired to a small room with a cot, and flung herself face down onto the mattress. She was asleep in seconds, but her respite was short lived.

Her page went off, and the night tech opened the door and leaned in.

"Doctor Berra, you're needed in triage, right now. We've a patient out of control; it's one of those damned monkeys ... you're the only one they respond to."

After years of training, she was immediately alert and ready to respond. Berra was already dressed and moving before the tech could start his report. She grabbed her red lab coat and scanner as she swept into the center and towards intake. She heard the sound of an explosion, then yells, and she ran.

She found four attendants trying to pin down a small child, and failing. Prince Vegeta fought them tooth and nail, yelling in a mishmash of Galactic Standard and another, more guttural language; something about 'trapped' and 'vents' from what she could make out. One glance told her that he had been severely beaten, perhaps had internal injuries, and who knew what else. Several of her techs had wounds of their own, and bore angry looks on their faces as they attempted to wrestle the young boy down onto the cot.

"Help us, he's firing on us!" one of the men yelled, as the little Saiyan punched him full in the face. The attendant's nose broke and blood poured out over his green skin. He yelled, covered his face with his hands and backed away.

"Get OFF of me," the boy shrieked, "you won't put me back in there!"

"Don't pin him," she ordered as she rushed over, preparing a sedative just in case. "Prince Vegeta! It's Doctor Berra, I'm here to help. I need you to calm down, all right?"

She leaned into the Saiyan's field of vision, and tried to gain his attention. Instead of calming down, he lashed out in fear and clipped her on the jaw with one fist. Berra's head snapped back from the force of the blow, and she bit her lip. Part of her mind registered the injury; she would deal with it later. Without hesitation, Berra plunged the hypodermic into the exposed flesh of the child's bare upper arm and injected the solution. The dosage was more than enough to put down a grown being under normal circumstances, but Saiyan metabolisms were different from most. She watched close for a few tense seconds as Vegeta's eyes glazed over, and he went limp. The techs sighed in relief.

"Dammed animal," one of the night attendants hissed. Berra gave him an angry glare, then did a quick triage of her crew and surroundings. All four medics were roughed up to some degree. One was off to the side with burn marks and concussive damage from being point blank on the receiving end of a Ki attack. A large smoking hole was now in the ceiling, and some of the equipment was charred. It could have been worse, she could have been in the path of the blast.

"Is everyone all right? Do we need to triage ourselves?" She noticed the blood on her chin, and absently dabbed at it as she scanned Vegeta for a quick vitals check and consulted the results.

"Your lip is bleeding," one of the techs explained.

"I know ... I'll take care of it in a bit. Just help me put him in a chamber. Don't worry, it's safe. He's heavily sedated." Berra's voice dripped with sarcasm as she motioned with one hand towards the tanks, then unlocked the wheels on the hospital cot.

The main night technician, a short man with white skin and a mass of violet hair, broke out of his trance and helped Berra wheel Vegeta to the first medical chamber. Together, they removed his armor, placed the mask over his face, hooked up the electrodes to his temples and chest, then hoisted him up into the pod. Berra grunted as they lifted the child up; he was surprisingly heavy for such a slender thing. The chamber closed, then the warm liquid filled the inner space, lifted up the Saiyan until he was submerged and floating.

"Thank you all for your help," she said, and ran one slender hand through her mussed hair. "Please take care of yourselves, and could someone please alert Prince Vegeta's guardian? His digits are in the database ... oh ... "

In spite of the calming effect of the healing liquid, the little boy started thrash. Berra adjusted the bath, added a second strong sedative, and watched as Prince Vegeta's struggles ceased. His heartbeat and respiration slowed, then his brainwaves dropped into the relaxed delta state. Berra exhaled, and went into the staff room to check her wounds. As she had thought, she had bitten through her lip, and a large bruise was forming on the left side of her face. Her jaw was swollen and her neck hurt, but she felt that she had gotten off light.

"What were they thinking," she wondered, "restraining a Saiyan?"

As she cleaned her wounds, Berra thought about the years she spent working on the PTO hospital planet Pital, and the numerous Saiyan crews she had treated. All of them had been resilient, proud, and none had taken kindly to being held down. She shook her head, and turned her thoughts from the subject. Her term on Pital had ended sooner than planned when the Head of Medicine declared her to be 'too sensitive' and that she 'formed personal attachments to the troops'. Yet, how could she be an effective physician if she did not give a damn? Here on FP79 HomeBase, her ability to connect and empathize was a strength; she could and did get to know all of her patients.

Berra sighed, and applied a cool green salve to the puncture wounds on the inside of her mouth. The gel was a lighter version of the med tank liquid and had - ironically enough - originated from the Saiyan army. A quick dab on her cheek would mean no bruising the next day. The numbing agent kicked in. She ran fingers through her black hair, pulled it back into its ubiquitous bun, and exited.

She checked in on her helpers. The aide who had been struck by the Ki blast was severely injured and needed his own trip to the tank. The others were banged up to varying degrees. The doctor took the time to dress their wounds while she waited on Commander Nappa to arrive. There were many grumbles about violent patients, and Saiyans in particular, which Berra quashed. She was in no mood for it.

Fifteen minutes into the tank cycle, Commander Nappa rushed in with a grim look on his face. He was tailed by Raditz, his long hair pulled back into a thick tail. Both men wore their battle armor, as if going into combat. Nappa's focus was on their prince, but Raditz gave a small nod when he noticed her presence.

Nappa was glad to see Berra in attendance. The small woman seemed to have a better understanding of Saiyans than most, and did not seem to share the bigotry so common to other PTO employees. Nappa marched straight to the tank, placed a hand on the glass.

"How is he?" Nappa was matter-of-fact, his lips pursed. "When did he come in?"

Berra joined them and checked the readouts again. All seemed stable, Vegeta was resting comfortably. She made a quick notation on her tablet, then turned to speak with the two warriors. Both men towered over her, were heavily muscled and prone to outbursts - as were all Saiyan males - but yet she did not fear them.

"I'm not sure, Commander Nappa. He was brought in when I wasn't on shift. There's no record of the time, or who brought him in. It looks like someone beat the ever living shit out of him ... excuse my crudeness. Unfortunately, he panicked when being triaged and attacked my staff. We had to sedate him just to put him in the tank." Berra touched her bruised cheek unconsciously as she spoke.

Raditz reacted with worry evident on his features and in his voice. "I'm sorry ... are you hurt, Doctor Berra?"

"I'm all right, Raditz." The petite doctor reached out on instinct and placed one hand on the youth's forearm. He seemed to be quite concerned for her, an odd reaction for a Saiyan towards a stranger.

"It was an accident," Berra continued. "He was very disoriented and scared. Perhaps you two can help clear up something for me: Prince Vegeta was having a severe anxiety attack. I think he was trying to escape from somewhere; he kept saying something about vents. "

Raditz jerked back at her words, then crossed his arms over his chest and hung his head. In response, Nappa sighed and ran one hand over his face, and shook his head. Then the two Saiyans mumbled to each other in that guttural language that must have been their native tongue.

"Tapa," the large Saiyan muttered.

"Does this mean something to either of you? Perhaps something happened to him..." Berra hoped that such direct questions would not provoke the two powerful males, in spite of the rapport that she was slowly trying to build with them.

"Yes," the long haired adolescent hissed, and his eyebrows drew together. "Um ... well, a couple of months ago he got ... caught in some vents ... he was stuck in there for days, almost starved to death."

"Oh yes, I remember that." Berra nodded, thinking. She smoothed back a rogue piece of hair from her forehead. "That's when I first met the three of you. It was my first day on base. I thought those injuries were due to a training incident."

"Yeah. Training. Let's go with that." Nappa shifted to the balls of his feet and rolled his shoulders. He seemed on edge, and his tension transferred to Raditz.

"All right, a sore subject. Duly noted. As I mentioned, we needed to sedate him. I dislike doing so, but he attacked us. He seemed truly frightened. Hmmm ... Is he claustrophobic?"

"What's that?" Raditz's face turned red, perhaps out of embarrassment.

Instead of mocking him for ignorance, Berra simply answered his question. "Is he afraid of tight spaces?"

"Yeah. It's a newer thing for him." Nappa placed his hand back on the thermoplastic when Vegeta twitched. As if the boy could sense the presence of his guardian, he calmed down.

"Hmm. Well, I may be able to help with that, if it's a reoccurring problem. Would you be able to give him medication without any issues?"

On edge, Nappa shifted his weight from foot to foot. "He'll take whatever we give him. Why?"

"I was thinking that anti-anxiety meds might help him." Berra sensed the shift in mood and held up both her hands, palms extended: open body language to show she had no ulterior motives.

"What for," Nappa growled. His lips drew back in a snarl, and Berra felt her heartbeat pick up.

"Well, Prince Vegeta seems very nervous, especially for a child." To avoid looking at the hulking Saiyan, Berra turned her attention to the tank readouts. "That concerns me, as his physician."

Nappa grunted, then shook his head and rested back on his heels. He seemed to relax a bit. "Aw, don't let Prince Vegeta hear you call him that. He'd throw a fit."

Berra gave them both one of her best smiles. "He won't hear it from me."

"Saiyans are always nervous," Raditz explained, and returned the friendly gesture. "We have to always be on our guard, someone's always trying to fuck with us. Aren't you always nervous, Nappa?"

"Yeah, I'm on constant vigilance." The large man stood up to his full height, crossed his arms, and assumed a serious face - eyes narrowed and brows furled, although the sides of his mouth curled up almost imperceptibly.

"Ugh...Nappa...that's the same thing." Raditz rolled his eyes.

"I can tell," Berra chuckled, then held up her hands, and waved them. "I'm not trying to offend either of you. I thought the medication might help. He's too young to have such mental and physical trauma. It worries me."

"He's strong. He'll survive ... he has to. Right, Nappa?" Raditz spoke in a plaintive voice, looked to his commander for assurance, then began to pace, shaking his head.

He appeared highly agitated, another mercurial shift in mood that confused Berra. That comment led to another brief but heated argument between the two Saiyans in their native language that ended with the older man grabbing Raditz on the shoulder. The physician's analytical brain noticed that Raditz squeezed his eyes shut and flinched, and a wave of empathy came over her: for Raditz, for the Prince, and for Nappa; all clearly victims of circumstance and birth.

"Please realize that I'm not just concerned with Prince Vegeta's well being, Raditz, but with yours and Nappa's as well. None of you deserve the treatment you receive."

"We don't need your pity." Nappa snapped.

"Well, that backfired," Berra thought, and stepped back. Saiyan tempers were volatile and could change in an instant ... this seemed to be one of those times. Had she said something wrong?

"We're monsters, Doctor Berra." Raditz hissed, his expression unreadable.

"Well, I don't see you like that. The two of you have always treated me with respect. All the Saiyans I've worked with have been loyal, hardworking, dedicated, and strong. And yes, they've killed and destroyed ... but battle isn't personal, or at least it shouldn't be."

"Huh. You've never met Raddich. He's a piece of work. He'd rape you bloody and kill you without a thought." Raditz lowered his head as he spoke, then turned his body away from her, almost a blank look came over his face. He missed Berra's shocked gaze, but both he and Nappa could smell the pheromones of anxiety coming off of the petite female.

Berra did not understand the sudden personality change in Raditz, who had always seemed quite personable and reasonable. Berra hated to see them like the others did - as savages - but at that moment, she was a bit scared of them. They could snap her neck in an instant, disintegrate her to atoms before she could lift a finger and summon aid. She chose to move back out of their immediate reach, but she refused to openly show any sign of fear. Saiyans were also known to react aggressively if they perceived weakness.

"Sorry... " Raditz mumbled, and looked downright ashamed of himself. "See what I mean, Doctor Berra? We're all monsters. It's in our nature."

Berra looked horrified. "You can't really believe that about yourselves. You're both civilized beings."

Nappa barked out a short, humorless laugh. "You just don't know us very well."

The remark surprised the doctor at first, that even the Saiyans themselves had bought into the myth that they were nothing more than brutish animals. It made her sad ... that these two individuals would allow others' prejudice to rule their lives. She checked the readouts quick, then reached out to touch Raditz's forearm again. She was both saddened and concerned when he jumped at the contact.

"Well, I don't believe that anyone is born a monster." Berra indicated the young Saiyan child suspended in the warm fluid. "What about Prince Vegeta? He's still so young."

"You're wrong. Vegeta is the biggest monster out of all of us. Frieza is making him that way, and we can't stop him." Again, that lost and forlorn look came over Raditz, but he did not pull his arm away.

For a moment, Berra could not find the words to express her dismay. "You're saying someone did this to him on purpose? Why would someone do that to a child?"

"Lord Frieza wants to break him, break all of us. I'm afraid he's gonna get what he wants, no matter what we do. It's the way things are, we're used to it. We can take it, though." Nappa grunted.

"It doesn't matter if you 'can take it', Commander Nappa. I don't think you should be discriminated against, and I don't think that a child should be sustaining this kind of damage so often ... damn." Berra paused, collected her thoughts, then sighed. "I'm sorry, my personal opinions don't belong in the work place."

"It's okay, Doctor Berra. It's good to know that someone cares." The anger and coldness was gone from Raditz's demeanor, almost as if it had never occurred.

"I wouldn't be a good doctor otherwise," Berra said.

A tense silence followed; the Saiyans were clearly uncomfortable with the level of emotions, and were not sure how to react to anyone who showed concern for them. Berra consulted her tablet to escape the awkward pause and give the two soldiers a chance to regroup.

Nappa cleared his throat. "How much longer is he in there for?"

"Hmmm...he's going to be in the tank for another 20 minutes or so. Why don't you have a seat in the waiting room," she suggested, glad for the subject change.

Nappa nodded in response, then lumbered back to the waiting room, selected a chair, settled in and fell asleep. Raditz followed suit, leaned against Nappa and soon both men were snoring.

Berra looked over at the napping Saiyans. Every time she had encountered them, they were (mostly) polite, and clearly dedicated to each other. It was a shame that they were treated so awfully.


When Vegeta came to awareness, he feared that the walls had finally closed in around him. He could feel pressure from all sides, hands covering his mouth and nose, and ties that bound him. Panic blossomed in his chest, and he began to thrash.

"Prince Vegeta," a tinny voice spoke into his ear. "Vegeta, calm down - you're in a medical tank. Calm down please..."

When he opened his eyes, he found out that the pressure on his body was warm liquid - not restraints - and the hands over his face were just the medical chamber breathing apparatus. Outside of the clear thermoglass, he saw the distorted faces of Nappa and Raditz looking in on him. He released a breath he had not realized he held in a great gasp of relief.  By Blood and Battle, he was so glad to see them.

Reassured, Vegeta closed his eyes again and allowed himself to be lulled by the soothing fluid. His breathing slowed and his mind drifted as the anxiety melted away. Then the memories returned, vivid as life: Frieza's tail around his neck, the red haze over his eyes as the tyrant hit and hit and hit ... then the darkness and the cold metal coffin. He began to panic again. I've got to get out of here.

"Vegeta, ve'ho m'yo, calm down. Open your eyes. Look at me." Nappa's voice came through Vegeta's earpiece. He did as asked, an automatic response to his guardian. Nappa pressed one open palm against the tank, and Vegeta returned the gesture. That simple action soothed him; he was not trapped, he was not alone. It must have been a terrible dream. And then, he slept.

When he came to, he was lying on one of the cots, dry and dressed in a fresh blue undersuit that Nappa must have brought. Vegeta's eyes fluttered open again. The first thing he saw was Nappa and Raditz, both looked relieved. Nappa grinned a toothy grin, his eyes crinkled.

"Eh, Ten'ta. Welcome back. How ya feelin' ?"

Vegeta opened his mouth, but all that escaped was a pitiful whimper. He was free, and Nappa and Raditz were here with him. He started to shake, and was angry at himself for it.

"Aw, Vegeta." Nappa placed one hand upon his head, such a gentle act from a fierce warrior. "It's gonna be okay. Promise. You just wait here for a moment with Raditz. I'm gonna talk to the good doctor about something for ya, then we're getting outta here, going home. Okay?"

"Okay." Vegeta looked so small, curled up on the cot, curled in on himself. "Um, Raditz? How long was I ..." He trailed off, unable to talk about what he remembered, or thought he remembered.

"Uh, well, you've been ... gone ... most of the night." With a sigh, Raditz patted Vegeta on the shoulder. "Hey, let's not talk about it right now, huh? Let's get back home. I'll groom you and you can go back to sleep."

After a quick discussion with the doctor, Nappa returned, wrapped him up in a blanket, and lifted Vegeta up into his strong arms. Vegeta did not resist. The sedatives still in his system kept him calm and he felt safe in his guardian's care.

"I don't feel so good," Vegeta mumbled. He felt numb, his mouth was dry, and his limbs felt heavy.

"It's the sedative, Ten'ta. You've gotta sleep it off. Let's go, Raditz. Oh, and thanks, Doctor Berra." Nappa gave her a quick nod of his head in farewell.

"Not a problem, it's my job." Berra's friendly smile had returned. "If there are any further problems or complications, just let me know. Oh, and about his medicine; give him one packet. That should help him out."

"Right." The two males made their way out of the medical bay, Nappa in the lead. No one got in their way. Most of the techs kept out of their path, but no one chose to make any comments.

Raditz turned just before they exited. "Hey Doctor Berra, I'm sorry about what I said earlier. It was ... rude. Sorry if I scared you."

"Hmm? Oh, don't worry. You were both stressed. Have a good night." With a wave, she departed to the back again to continue her rest. She did not see Raditz return the wave, or Nappa's smirk at the youth.

"You like the yum-yum doctor, huh?"

Raditz flushed. "Shut up, Nappa! I do not. And don't call her that."

"Heh..." Nappa snickered, but did not continue to poke fun at the adolescent's expense.

Vegeta remained subdued for the ride back; he allowed Nappa to cradle him without complaints. They were the only soldiers on the tram, and the residential hall lights were dimmed for sleep. Nappa keyed in the entry code, and was surprised when the door did not stick or malfunction. He smirked at the multiple fist dents - Nappa's method of lodging a complaint against the lax repair crew.

As they entered their living space, the vidscreen lit up and began screaming an alert code, indicating an incoming call, almost as if the caller had been waiting for them to return. He handed the sleeping Prince into Raditz's care and went in first.

"What the hell," Nappa cursed, and stomped over to the table to check the incoming message alert. What he saw did not improve his mood: the caller was Zarbon.

"You've gotta be kidding me... Accept," he shouted. "What the fuck is it now, Zarbon?"

Zarbon's gold eyes glittered, and he looked quite awake for the middle of the sleep cycle. "And a good evening to you as well, Commander Nappa. I am giving you a courtesy call for an upcoming mission, per Lord Frieza's request as there has been no response from either Prince Vegeta or yourself."

"What're you talking about? I wouldn't ignore a mission request. And we're not on assignment until Fourday."

"Check your logs, Commander. I'll wait." Zarbon smirked.

Nappa cursed again, fetched Vegeta's personal tablet and checked the request log. He was sure that he had done so earlier that day, but there it was: a mission summons for the Prince - a solo mission. For tomorrow.

"Seriously, Zarbon? He can't go on a solo. He just got out of medical, and you know that. This request was sent when we were in medical! What are you trying to pull?"

"I? Nothing, Commander. Lord Frieza placed this assignment into the Prince's queue personally. Shall I tell him that you are refusing a direct order?"

"No. You son of a whore," Nappa shouted, "I swear I will get you for this."

"You can try. See that the Prince is at the Launching Bay at 0700. Have a good night." The screen went dark.

Nappa growled, frustrated, and ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't believe this..."

Still sedated, Vegeta slept through the outburst. Nappa was glad, the boy had been through enough torture, and now he would be sent out alone on less than five hours of sleep and placed in a tiny attack pod. It was as if Zarbon - or more likely Frieza - had gone out of his way to create the worst possible scenario for the prince.

Nappa sat down on the couch, removed his boots, and threw them in a fit of pique. He was too upset and wired to sleep yet. He decided to let Vegeta rest for the time being, and not to wake him.

Raditz went into the coldstore, returned with two bottles of ale, handed one to Nappa. He flopped down and put his feet up, grabbed the remote and turned on the screen.

"You're too young for that, Raditz. Put it back. Besides, it's the middle of the night."

"C'mon Nappa ... if we ever needed to get a buzz, it's right now."

"F'ri." Nappa grabbed the bottle from the long haired adolescent, who just grumbled. "I gotta set rules somewhere."

"Kinda late now," Raditz quipped, and the two men shared a laugh, to ease the tension as much as anything else.

They watched the screen, lost in their own individual thoughts for a while. On occasion, Nappa glanced over to check up on Vegeta whenever he thought he heard the boy whimper. Once, he got up, woke him out of a nightmare, then returned to his place next to Raditz.

"Nappa... I am so sorry. This is my fault. I feel so horrible! I'll do whatever it takes to make up for this. I'll do all the chores, I'll groom him every night... I swear it." Raditz leaned up against the older Saiyan and rubbed his forehead against Nappa's arm in apology. In response, Nappa wrapped an arm around the youth and patted his shoulder.

"Yeah, yeah...no sense in fighting the same battle twice. He was finally starting to calm down from that 'training run'. And now Frieza's fucked him up again. If only the little f'ril had just pretended to give in." But Nappa knew that Vegeta would never do so, he was too stubborn ... just like his father.

He did not relish the thought of waking up the recently traumatized prince and informing him that he was going out on solo assignment. Normally, Vegeta would have been thrilled to be given a solo mission ... but after tonight, things might change... at least for a while... until the natural Saiyan resiliency kicked in and he recovered.

"...if he ever does," Nappa mumbled. He took a long swig from the bottle, and switched to the nudie channel. He remained awake late into the night, brooding, then fell asleep on the couch with Raditz leaning against his side.

 

 

Chapter Text

Vegeta swiped his thumb over his tablet screen and checked his assignment log, a nervous tic that he could not seem to stop. He had checked it at least a dozen times during the commute from Residential to Equipment and Supply. The request remained no matter how many times he wished it away.

The Saiyan Prince was in a foul mood; he had been woken up from a nightmare riddled sleep at 0500 by an apologetic Nappa, only to be told he was going on an unplanned solo mission and would be separated from his guardians - the only people that make him feel safe. When Nappa had informed him, he had hyperventilated at the thought of going any where near such a confining space. However, he could not defy a direct order from Frieza ... and now, Vegeta was terrified of displeasing the tyrant for fear of receiving worse punishment.

The remnants of the horrible beating and the confinement still whispered in the back of his head, but the memories were fading fast, almost as if they had happened to someone else. All that remained was the looming fear that threatened to disable him.

"Vegeta, it's not gonna disappear." Nappa loomed protectively over him as they exited Equipment, Vegeta dressed in new thermals and battle armor, and walked towards the Launch Control.

"I know that, Nappa," he griped, but a small part of him wished that it would. Vegeta bit his lip hard enough to draw blood and distract himself. Stop being a coward. Instead of allowing the fears to conquer him, Vegeta focused on his breathing. He could feel the tension in his body, and the racing thoughts, the precursors of what Nappa called a 'panic attack'. The exercises helped, a little.

Before they entered the launching docks, Nappa stopped him and placed one hand on Vegeta's shoulder. "Hold on a second, Prince Vegeta."

His bodyguard reached into the right chest pocket on his battered armor, extracted two slim packets, and handed one to Vegeta, who eyed it with suspicion. When he opened it out of curiosity, fine white powder spilled on his palm. The prince looked up at Nappa, and raised one eyebrow.

"What it this, Nappa? Drugs? You're giving me drugs?" Vegeta felt slightly offended, and he huffed.

"Not drugs, Ten'ta, it's medicine," Nappa explained, his tone gentle. "I wouldn't drug you! I got it from the doctor, it's to help you with that anxiety of yours. It'll get you through the ride there."

Now Vegeta was mad. He clenched his fists, and glared up at his towering guardian. His tail puffed out, and he lashed it in anger. "You think I'm weak! That I can't handle a stupid transport? How dare you, Nappa! I'm an Elite. I'm the - "

Nappa held up both his hands to ward off the coming rant. "I know, ve'ho m'yo, what you are. And you're one of the bravest people I know."

"Don't placate me," Vegeta howled. He was aware that he was attracting attention, but at the moment he did not care much.

Nappa closed his eyes, breathed in through his nostrils, then sighed. When he spoke again, it was in that quiet tone he had used all morning. "I can't win with you, can I? Look, you had a rough thing happen to ya, and I know you're having problems. But ya can't back out of this, and I don't think ya really want to. Do you?"

"No," Vegeta said in a small voice, and his tail drooped out of embarrassment. He was being difficult to Nappa for no reason, Nappa who was only trying to aid him. "It's my first solo in a while."

"Okay. Look at it this way: everybody has fears, Vegeta. It doesn't make you weak. And doing something to help doesn't make you weak either. Now, you can use the meds to help you through it and get it done, or you can eat your fear the entire way there. Your choice, ve'ho."

The young Saiyan fretted for a moment, caught between trying to save face, not appearing weak, and taking - in his opinion - the easy way out. "Have you ever needed ... help, Nappa?"

Nappa squatted down on his haunches so that he was eye level with his charge. "Yeah, I have. There's no dishonor in using tools, and that's all it is: a tool. You got a fight coming your way, and you don't wanna be fighting one on the way there, too. A wise warrior chooses his battles, remember? Frieza gave you this mission so soon after what he did for a reason, to make you fail. Don't give him the satisfaction."

"You're right." Perhaps Nappa was lying to make him feel better; Vegeta hoped not. With a sigh, he poured the contents of the packet onto his tongue. The powder dissolved instantly, without any sort of taste. "Now what?"

The former commander gave him a reassuring smile and returned his hand to the young Saiyan's shoulder, a gesture of comfort that Vegeta did not push away. "You'll feel it in a few minutes, Prince Vegeta. It'll help take the edge off, make it easier for you to stay calm. It'll make you feel warm when it starts in, okay? Here's the other dose. Put it in your chest pocket for the ride back. No one needs to know."

Nappa handed him the second packet and took his place behind the prince. Together, they entered the Launch Bay as the ten minute alert sounded on Vegeta's tablet.

In a show of bravado, Vegeta marched up to the main control. He was anticipating a verbal sparring match with Sprutt, the cranky Dock Master who often gave Vegeta a difficult time. He was surprised to find a different being staffing the central desk panel. A tall female with deep violet skin, a bald cranium, and large ears looked up as Vegeta approached.

"Where's Sprutt?" Vegeta felt disappointed; he was looking forward to a chance to exchange jabs with the green man and intimidate him.

"It's his day off, so you're stuck with me. I'm second tech Pare. Name, please. And I can let Sprutt know you were looking for him," she offered, then gave a consolatory shrug.

"Pft. Don't bother," Vegeta growled. He felt put out; he did not like changes in his routines, even one that benefitted him.

"As you wish. Tablet, please." Pare extended one webbed hand. Her expression was bland, and she was all business.

"Prince Vegeta. Party of one. Planet Palaphel." Vegeta spoke in a defeated tone.

The efficient technician took the offered pad, did a quick visual scan, then connected the mission tablet to the main computer console. Vegeta waited for the woman to comment about his species or his age. When Pere did neither, he was disappointed again. It was as if she was purposely avoiding giving him reasons to complain.

"Ah yes, I see you listed here for a solo mission. You are the first launch of the day."

Pare entered in the required parameters, her fingers clacked the keys. She was fast, efficient, and Vegeta wondered if Sprutt was really on vacation, or being phased out. He hoped it was the latter. As he waited, he felt an odd calming sensation flow over and through him, like someone had poured warm liquid over the top of his head. Was this the effects of the medicine? Then, he felt a bit sleepy, relaxed. It was a good feeling. He unballed his fists; he had been clenching them the entire time.

"Alright, Prince Vegeta. Your Attack Pod is programmed and ready for departure. You're in Tube Five. You may enter when ready." Pare disconnected his mission pad from the computer, and returned it to him with no biting comments.

Why is she being so polite to me? Vegeta scrunched his nose in confusion, but chose not to cause any problems.

Strips of light led to the launch pad, as if Vegeta did not already know how to find it. When he set foot on the walkway, a sudden rush of anxiety flooded him, and a metallic tang filled his mouth. Vegeta stopped, unable to move forward. It was as if he had slammed into a wall. He looked over his shoulder to see if Nappa was still waiting; loyal and dependable Nappa, who could read every little nuance.

"You'll do fine. Just remember your breathing." Nappa extended his fingers in a victory sign, and grinned.

"Remember, in through the nose, out through the mouth." Vegeta recited his mantra under his breath to combat the anxiety. Instead of building up, the feeling of tension in his chest faded as Vegeta focused his breath. Nappa was right. He did feel better. "D'in m'yo, Nappa."

"No problem. Okay, ve'ho, I'm goin' now. See you in a day." Nappa did not pat him or ruffle his hair, both of which Vegeta was grateful for. Either would have been humiliating in a public setting.

He went to his pod alone, to face his fears head on. The anxiety flowed like a dark undertow just under the surface of his conscious thought, coursing quick, but he could not feel it. He knew it was there, all he had to do was submerge and it would take hold again.

The hatch opened; an entrance to a cave to the underworld, to his own personal hell, and Vegeta froze up. He ground his teeth and clenched his fists. This is ridiculous...I am not a coward.

He crawled inside, strapped on the safety harness and performed the pre-flight checks with haste, then triggered the hatch. As it swung into a closed position and the atmospheric seal engaged, Vegeta closed his eyes and focused inward.

"Flight path engaged. Launch sequence in five...four..."

He felt his body pushed into the padded seat by the force of the launch. The little ship reached escape velocity and Vegeta was flung out into the void of space, towards an unsuspecting planet; an incoming satellite of ruin. Before the twisted game of hide and seek, Vegeta had loved to watch as his vessel exited the gravitational pull of FP-79, but this time he kept his eyes squeezed shut and counted in Saiyago until an atonal feminine voice announced the beginning of coldsleep. He heard a hiss, and the air took on a metallic tang as the sedative put him under in preparation. This time, he welcomed the oblivion.


"Wake cycle complete, Prince Vegeta. Arrival at destination successful. Atmosphere breathable. No hostile life forms detected. Hatch decoupled."

Vegeta swam to consciousness out of a dark and restless dream that left him unsettled. Had he been dreaming? It was not supposed to be possible during coldsleep, yet he remembered snippets of disturbing visions. Mentally, he shook himself then opened his eyes. He saw the confines of the pod, how close they were, almost touching him, closing in ... he allowed himself a moment to adjust and just breathe. He could still feel the numbness from the medication taking the edge off the sheer panic. Still, he smashed the exit button frantically with one palm until the hatch yawned open and he could leap out.

Vegeta sprawled unceremoniously on the disturbed ground, and dug his fingers into the soil to show himself that he was not trapped, that he was in control, that he could be free whenever he wanted. He huffed in frustration, ran his fingers through his thick hair, and exhaled. Some warrior he was. How everyone would laugh at him if they saw him now ... a stupid monkey, afraid of his own pod. He was his own worst enemy.

To distract himself, he checked his padd to review the material and commit it to memory before he began work. He swiped his thumb over the touch sensitive screen to recall the data.

================================================
Mission Briefing: Planet Palaphel: Class M world.
Atmospheric mix: elevated oxygen. Gravity: 1.5 Standard. Satellites: None.
Civilization grade: Three. Ki readings: minimal
Mission time: one day cycle.
Goals: 1) Purge all sentient lifeforms 2) preserve usable natural resources

================================================

A single star gave light to Palaphel, a lush planet with a small diameter and minimal population. The atmosphere was breathable, and the sky was a deep blue that bordered on violet. The air was crisp and clear, with no hint of pollution; it did not burn his lungs or make him choke on noxious fumes like other worlds he had purged.

He straightened up, took a deep breath and really looked at his surroundings. The area Vegeta had landed in was, outside of the smoking entry crater, abundant with foliage. Giant trees with thick gnarled trunks and twisted roots spread vast canopies of green and silvered leaves, some large enough to be used as parasols. The ground was soft, almost spongy, and covered with patches of flowering plants in violets, reds, yellows - a riot of color. Everything was so vibrant and alive that it almost seemed to breathe.

A hushed silence had greeted Vegeta when he first emerged from his vessel, but as he stood still and adjusted he heard the ambient noises start up, hesitant at first. Soon, he could detect the hum of life: the clicks of insects, the rustling of wildlife, the calls of the local fauna. In the distance, he heard running water - most likely a river he had noted on the map. He could smell it too, along with an earthy scent, that of a living ecosystem. The sun shone down through the leaves, creating dappled shadows on the ground and the Saiyan's thin body. It felt warm and inviting. A gentle breeze ruffled through his hair like a playful hand and brought more new scents. Vegeta soaked it all in, and almost felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sensory information.

He clicked his scouter to check for energy signatures and found nothing. He had expected some type of response by now, but he was glad for it. He hated to be on point the minute he started a mission. Instead of scrambling into action, he sighed and remained motionless, allowed the sun to warm him and the wind to caress him. Most of Vegeta's days were lived in the artificial atmosphere of FP-79 HomeBase; he did not get to spend much time in a natural environment such as this. And it was ... glorious.

I can take a few minutes to enjoy this. Who knows when I'll be able to again? Vegeta crouched and scooped up a fistful of grass and dirt, rubbed it between his gloved fingers, watched it crumble. He brought it to his sensitive nose and inhaled the rich, loamy odor. His eyes closed, and for a rare moment he felt at peace. He could pretend that he was not on a mission of destruction, just here to enjoy himself.

But Vegeta knew that he could not delay his mission for much longer, it would only make it worse. He consulted his tablet for topographics: water sources, known nodes of civilization, prime targets - the information he needed to decide where to begin. All of the known cities were concentrated in the lower southern hemisphere where he had landed.

There was little threat. The people were considered primitive; no space travel, minimal weapons capabilities, no artificial satellites. Talk about a back-water planet ... but it was so beautiful. The last system scan had been taken over 10 years ago, and had indicated Ki capable sentients, so Vegeta wondered why there was no military response as of yet. Was it possible they had not noticed his entry; were they that technologically challenged?

"Odd," he muttered, and secured the tablet inside the pod. Next, Vegeta made sure his emergency supplies were secure in his chest pockets, then he shut the outer hatch and keyed the lock sequence.

This might be easier than I thought ... perhaps too easy. Frieza would give me a job that an infant can do. He probably just wanted to stick me in that tiny space to torment me ... make me break. Pah! I will not give him the satisfaction.

"Time to purge." Vegeta twisted his head from side to side and felt the satisfying crack as his vertebrae popped. He rolled his shoulders, concentrated, then gathered his Ki and took to the skies.

As he flew towards the first hotspot noted in the schematics, his scouter chirped an alert: incoming Ki signals, moving fast. The welcoming party was coming to meet him, at last. What took them so long?

The scouter display showed five signals, flying in formation. All had varying power readings of 400 or less. They were not a match for the Prince of Saiyans, even on a bad day. Perhaps it would not be much of a challenge, but it would be a good opportunity to test his group combat skills, something he did not have many chances to do on Base.

Vegeta was still young and inexperienced with full length aerial combat. Continuous flight combined with heavy Ki usage over a long period still drained him. As much as he hated to admit it, he would have to take down all of his opponents quickly, or else bring the fight to the ground. His opponents were likely to be skilled, and to descend would only give them an advantage, so Vegeta dismissed that option.

As the natives came into initial visual contact, Vegeta first noted their auras: golden in color. The five antagonists spread out as they approached, took on a three dimensional formation to engage him from all sides. This did not worry him; his scouter tracked them without effort and Vegeta was free to concentrate his efforts on combat. In the heat of the battle, Vegeta had forgotten completely about his fears.

The defenders came in closer. Vegeta could see they were humanoid, dressed in voluminous red robes and odd headwear. None had charged up any attacks that he could detect, their power levels had remained the same, and they did not appear to carry ranged weapons either. Perhaps they were not coming to fight him after all, but Vegeta did not care. He was here to purge. He boosted his speed and came in fast. As he flew, he charged up an orange ball of Ki in one palm and held it until he was well within striking range.

The lead man held up one hand as they approached each other. Vegeta took the initiative and launched his offensive without even trying to communicate. After all, what was the point of talking?

"Shine Shot!" Vegeta shouted the verbal trigger, the final piece that boosted more advanced Ki techniques, and lobbed the energy sphere at the point man. Perhaps if it struck their leader, the troops would be demoralized, or their communications disrupted. Vegeta gave silent thanks to Nappa for drilling battle strategy into his head.

The fiery ball shot out at supersonic speed to envelop the target, but the robed being dodged out of the way at the last second. Vegeta raged, infuriated that he had missed his intended target.

The point man had skirted doom, but his robe did not. The garment caught on fire, he left the immediate battle and sought to extinguish it. His fellow squad member was not so lucky and did not move in time. He was struck full on, and plummeted out of the sky, flaming and smoking, to crash to the ground.

After that, Vegeta could hear them yelling in their native tongue. Wisely, they scrambled their positions, began to swerve so that he would have more difficulty tracking them. Luckily, his scouter did all the work. At the same time, they began firing upon him with small blue orbs of Ki that formed fast, and came in a barrage: six, twelve, eighteen ... all coming at him fast.

"Tapa," he cursed. Forced on the defensive, Vegeta weaved to avoid the strikes, his focus clear and his demeanor calm. In spite of the increased pace, he was not worried. Nor was he fatigued. He would win.

Unfortunately, the spheres were keyed to him, and tracked his movements. Vegeta put on a burst of speed to gain distance, then raised a defensive shield: a technique he had seen his father use on the last mission they had gone on together. He would not be able to maintain it for long, but hopefully he would not need it to.

The blasts struck Vegeta's energy barrier, and dissipated. He could see the looks of dismay on the faces of his assailants, and he grinned. Vegeta was unharmed, but the shield also prevented him from attacking in turn, an unfortunate side effect that might also be turned to an advantage. Vegeta did not drop his guard, instead he charged the nearest soldier and used the shield as a battering ram.

The defender had not expected a head-on assault. He raised his arms to block. Upon contact, Vegeta pushed the shield out in a concussive pulse that knocked the man unconscious and out of the battle, then brought the energy back in close to his skin.

Vegeta did not know how long it would take the man to recover, if he ever would. The Saiyan spiraled up on a vertical axis, a blaze of fire, and the rest scattered to avoid being struck. They continued to attack, the blows coursing after him as he moved, striking from behind.

His breathing increased, his heart rate up and the attacks kept coming, wearing his defenses away. He knew that his buffer would not last much longer, but Vegeta had no fear. Saiyans lived for a challenge, to feel the joy of battle and watch his enemies fall.

Vegeta charged up another Shine Shot and held it at the ready. He soared up at full speed, seeking for them to tail him, which they did. Tch. If only I knew how to teleport right now...

Without any warning, he halted his forward momentum and came to a stop. The three remaining fighters soared past, unable to adjust their course in time. Vegeta dropped his battered energy shield and launched the attack at their exposed backs. One soldier went down in flames, a second was scorched badly - his robes caught on fire - but the third man, the one in front, managed to escape again. They were learning.

As they turned to face Vegeta, one of their warriors from earlier rejoined the fray. They went back on the offensive and charged him. As he avoided their assaults, his scouter chimed another warning: more were coming, an additional five men.

Vegeta was forced back on the defensive again. He would not be able to create another shield while in active combat, there would not be enough time to do that the odds had shifted in their favor, Vegeta wanted to end the skirmish quickly before he was overwhelmed.

He allowed the scouter to track as he scanned the horizon. In the distance, he noticed a spire rising up out of the wall of trees: one of their cities, if memory served.

I need a distraction, or something to use as a shield ... like a forest full of trees. Let's find out just how nimble they are.

He flung a hasty energy wave behind him, then dove down into the green canopy. Vegeta could have chosen the coward's way out and hidden himself among the trees, forced them to seek him out, but that was dishonorable. He was no fri'va. He would fight them on a field of honor, as a Saiyan warrior.

Next, Vegeta considered torching the lush foliage; not only would it create stinging smoke, but it would give the defenders a second, possibly just as dangerous enemy to fight. But he was not sure if that would qualify as 'ruining usable natural resources'.

He wended his way through the massive plants - part of his mind cataloging at the same time - dodging both the trunks and his pursuer's occasional blasts. He noted that they also refrained from using their Ki. Here, he had the advantage. He did not have to see them to avoid them. Vegeta put on more speed. He could take out individual trees if he needed to, and he was sure that his opponents would not harm their beloved home. He felt the wind whipping on his face, stinging his eyes, and he laughed out of pure joy.

If he had hoped for his pursuers to crash themselves, he was disappointed. None of the Ki signatures dropped off as he twisted through the maze, but none joined either. A few minutes in, he realized that he was not trying to eliminate them. Instead he was enjoying the chase, reveling in the adrenaline rush

"Time to stop screwing off and get back to work." Vegeta chastised himself. Besides, there was only so much time he could stay airborne and keep fighting before fatigue grounded him.

Vegeta flew into a clearing in which sat a quiet little hamlet; a compound of domed buildings surrounded a towering pyramidal structure in the center. The tall spire he had noticed earlier rose from its peak. It shone a blazing gold color, and Vegeta could feel a heartbeat of Ki coming from it. He could see people below, pointing and staring, but not doing anything. There did not seem to be any sort of protective barriers or defenses.

He did not have time to appreciate the ascetics of the place; the scouter alerted him to incoming from behind. He flew to the center, hovered above the ziggurat, gathered up a fiery energy like a small sun. And then, he waited. Once they caught up, the purge could really begin.

Death had come for Palaphel, and its name was Vegeta.


Chapter Text

The last defenders of Palaphel burst into the clearing as a unit, only to see the Prince of All Saiyans posed like death above their precious city, a globe of destruction held at bay and grinning wickedly.

As they closed the distance, the men screamed at him in their native tongue. Perhaps they were issuing a challenge or a plea for clemency; Vegeta would never find out which one. Before they were able to form a cohesive defense, Vegeta launched his attack at the waiting civilization below. It came in fast, a harbinger of doom. The energy sphere slammed into the tall spire of the pyramid first, melted the metal and structures in a blaze of glory, then spread outward in a fiery blast diameter that consumed everything in sight. All that would be left was char and melted twisted ore ... and those fools had done nothing to prevent it.

It was almost too dammed easy. What kind of people didn't defend their homes?

The robed men surrounded him then, screaming in horror no doubt. They outnumbered him; if they decided to engage, he would be in for another difficult battle. He had been fighting full strength for a while now, and some of the reinforcements were relatively fresh. Vegeta summoned another tame sun in one hand, and waited for them to get closer, his trademark smirk on his face and his tail waving slow. As they drew near, Vegeta noted their golden skin and brilliant crimson hair.

"Attention! This world has been claimed by the Planetary Trade Organization and is to be purged." Vegeta spoke in a clear voice, amplified by his Ki. He said the words by rote because he had given the speech so many times before.

Instead of raising up a cry and fighting, or begging and bargaining - the usual responses - they stopped and stared at him, then huddled and whispered to each other. Vegeta was so confused that he did not assault them. Was this some new tactic? Curiosity got the best of him, and he waited to see what they would do. He could hear ripples of conversation, and several times thought he heard the word 'Saiyan' paired with another unknown word cluster. Too bad that they would not be alive long enough for Vegeta's language implant to learn the terms.

An unspoken communication seemed to pass between the locals, a consensus perhaps. Vegeta was shocked when all of his opponents dismissed their Ki and lowered their defenses.

"We will not fight you any more, Saiyan," one said in broken Galactic Standard. He wore red and black robes, had wispy white hair, and appeared to be the leader of the group. He was the man who had dodged most of Vegeta's attacks during the earlier skirmish. His blank eyes stared past the Prince, as if he were not there.

"What?" Their passivity upset Vegeta. He could not wrap his mind around it. "You are fools, then! There is no surrender."

"So be it." An odd, peaceful smile spread over the man's face, and he extended his open palms out towards Vegeta. "We will not resist you any further. We are a peaceful people, and have made peace with our fate, kahpaksren. Kana ha luusehren."

"You ... cowards! Fight me!" Vegeta bared his teeth, and his hands began to glow, surrounded in purple energy.

Cold fury blazed through him; how dare they insult the Prince of Saiyans in this manner? He would have done anything to defend his home, and here they were, almost begging him to end their worthless lives. The Palapheli did not flee; each simply closed his eyes and ... smiled. That was the final insult.

With a scream, he launched the Ki from his palms in a barrage of fury, one for each sniveling fri'va. The blasts struck and incinerated them so that only a glowing outline of their skeletons remained, then turned to ash and blew away with the wind.

Vegeta hovered, panting, his anger unsated. He looked at the blast crater below ... nothing but smoking ruins where once a city stood. Good. They deserved death. He checked his scouter on all frequencies: no Ki signs, no electrical impulses, no broadcasts, just dead cinders.

His body shook with dark rage; he needed to calm down before he made a mistake. Vegeta took a deep breath (in through the nose and out through the mouth) and imagined the emotion pouring out from his mouth and nostrils as streams of flames, until he could think straight again. Then the Saiyan warrior took off, determined to find the next hotspot of civilization and repeat the process.

Each city he found was built along a similar theme: gold and earth colored buildings nestled in the depths of the forest, a rising structure in the center, all with no defenses that he could see or detect. Vegeta could swear that people stood there and let him massacre them, if there were any sentients present. Other nodes were abandoned. No wonder this was a solo mission. Vegeta could have done it in his sleep.

Pah! Frieza is insulting me, keeping me from improving, perhaps saying that this is all I am capable of. I will prove him wrong!

He found that most of the cities were already in decay, as if someone had begun the process and quit halfway through. Plant life had started the process of reclaiming the land, so the last attempt must have been several decades ago, perhaps longer.

"Who was here first," Vegeta mused. The PTO scans from a decade past had mapped the ruins, so whatever misfortune that had visited Palaphel had occurred before the arrival of Frieza and his planet thieves.

The remaining urban centers spanned over several bodies of water and formed, oddly enough, a large circle. None gave him any challenge, and most seemed to be deserted. Each city had a main road that led towards the middle, like spokes on a great wheel. Vegeta followed one inland, feeling disappointed. The initial skirmish had been challenging, and now he was bored.

After an uneventful flight, Vegeta came upon what was likely the central core of the Palaphel civilization: a large cluster of spires and domes interspersed with planned gardens and open spaces. He could see an orderly layout of buildings and streets, but all seemed empty here as well, at least to the naked eye. He could detect numerous Ki signatures in the buildings below, but none were moving, and the numbers were small. The place had an open feel to it, and a small part of Vegeta felt sorrow at the thought of destroying such tranquility.

A towering pyramidal structure, painted in brilliant yellows, reds and blues dominated the center. It exuded such an aura that it set off Vegeta's scouter. Perhaps it was a cultural center, or the seat of their government. It surely was not a spaceport; Vegeta had seen no evidence of interstellar vessels or technology. Unlike the rest of the edifices he had come across, this structure had some form of protection. He could see the faint blue glow of a force shield, and he could feel the hairs on his body standing up as he approached. Such power ... so why the passivity? They knew he was here by now.

Vegeta came in closer and flew a lazy arc around the temple. His scouter indicated that the shield was a single dome. Experimentally, he lobbed a blast at it, and was not surprised when it dissipated with no effect. It seemed to work much like his own energy barrier. If that was the case, it would only be able to take a limited amount of damage. Well, he would find out just how much.

He raised his hands, concentrated, and rained blows down upon the barrier, vented his frustration upon it. Cowards ... hiding behind a shield instead of engaging him in combat.

The azure barrier began to spark after a few powerful direct hits, then it dissipated as if it had never existed. Vegeta descended and proceeded toward the temple on foot where there were active Ki signatures. Was this where the populace had fled to hide in shame? It was no wonder they had been targeted by the PTO for extermination.

This is too easy. Vegeta's hackles went up. I need to be careful, this may be one big trap.

By habit, he checked that his scouter was functioning properly and that his tail was still wrapped before he walked in the front entrance. If it was a trap, then he would deal with it. But, oddly, he did not think so, and he could not have explained why.

There were no closed doors barring entry, just archways surrounded by lit scones. Instead of resembling a yawning mouth, it looked inviting. Warm light diffused from inside the building, and it seemed to almost have a pulse. His scouter continued to indicate multiple stationary Ki signatures. What were those people doing ... just sitting and waiting to die?

A sense of calm descended over Vegeta when he set foot inside the massive building, a tranquility that reminded him of the medication Nappa had given him. Normally that would and should have worried the young Saiyan, but it did not trigger his instincts.

Vegeta stayed alert as he walked down the central aisle and into the heart of the temple, mentally cataloguing everything. Elaborate tapestries lined the walls, sculptures made of living plasma watched him as he progressed - slowly at first - but gaining in confidence as nothing happened. He knew that his scouter would warn him of any possible threats.

His ears detected faint sounds in the background: whispers, faint wordless melodies, and underneath all of it, a hum so low that it was more felt than heard. The Saiyan had purged many worlds, seen many things, but nothing like this.

What is this place?

More open doorways led to many rooms, none of which showed any Ki activity, so Vegeta ignored them for the time being. He would inspect them later for any prizes before he destroyed the city.

The main energy signature was located deeper inside, one strong oscillating pulse. Several smaller readings were scattered throughout as well. There were multiple floors to delve into, and many secrets ... if he had the time and inclination to pursue them.

A primal curiosity was roused in the young Saiyan, the desire to explore the mysteries and discover them for himself. Saiyans were inquisitive to a fault, and sometimes it could be their undoing. But Vegeta did not allow himself to give into the urge. Later, it's the least I can do to make up for this pitiful excuse for a mission.

The plasma carvings observing his progress were of beings similar to those he had fought; robed, hatted, and with piercing eyes that followed him. Vegeta could have sworn the murmurs came from them ... but that was ridiculous. You're just being jumpy. He had a moment of panic when he thought he heard skittering coming from behind the walls, but could detect no life.

The pathway led into a spacious room; the walls were decorated with full length tapestries covered with arcane writings and images so vividly colored they seemed to glow. More of the torches lit the interior; odd glowing crystals that emitted a gentle light. The floor was tiled in intricate patterns. The far wall consisted of thick wooden shelves that held many strange objects: crystals, staffs, boxes, rows and rows of rolled tubes of parchment, and what appeared to be an altar.

As he entered the inner sanctum, his scouter chirped. Many of the items had Ki signatures! These would make excellent tokens. As he continued, Vegeta caught movement out of the corner of one eye. He turned, instantly on alert, his body and mind ready for combat.

His scouter detected movement, and a man stepped out from behind a tapestry. Vegeta scolded himself for not checking behind them. The man wore vast maroon robes like all the other natives Vegeta had seen so far, but not the odd headwear. His red hair was pulled up into a twisted knot of small braids, his eyes lined in kohl, and the golden skin of his face and hands was traced with geometric patterns. Although he appeared young, he radiated a powerful yet calm aura.

He stepped in front of the Saiyan and blocked his progress towards the altar. Somewhere in the background, out of the corner of one eye, Vegeta thought he saw movement again, heard the susurrations start up.

What is he trying to distract me from?

The man's Ki reading was under a thousand units - powerful for this world, but still pitiful. However, he seemed inclined to fight, to defend his turf. Finally, someone who was f'ri fri'va - not a coward.

Vegeta allowed himself to be distracted. His lagging reserves had time to recharge, and he was ready to engage in combat, to sing in battle. He could have destroyed the monk with one scorching Ki blast, but Vegeta wanted to give the man a fighting chance. It was the honorable thing to do. It would not matter in the end, but Vegeta did not want it to end quick.

"Are you going to fight, or are you going to roll over and die, too?" Vegeta inquired.

The monk sighed; his eyes showed deep sorrow, and he knew that these were his last precious moments. "It will not matter much, but I will defend this place with my life, kahpaksen, even though it is fated that I should stand down. You will have your fight. But know that as I die, so does the lore of my people. When you destroy our home, we will cease to exist. Forever. I would think a Saiyan might understand that ... but perhaps not."

True to his word, he took up a defensive pose: body turned to the side, his hands thin blades, his mouth a thin line. A yellow aura flamed around his body, buoying the robes up as he lifted off the ground. "Aren kana. So be it."

"At least you are an honorable foe," Vegeta commented. "I almost hate to kill you."

They flew at each other, and exchanged a flurry of strikes and blocks, one of which managed to strike Vegeta in the face. He grunted at the impact. The monk was fast, faster than he had expected. After trading a series of brutal kicks and punches, they circled each other. The man had managed to deflect Vegeta's first round of assaults with ease, his face and his demeanor calm. Vegeta's sense of respect increased.

"Do you like dealing death," the priest asked as he dodged a blow that would have shattered his jaw. "or are you a victim as well? Children should not be asked to kill. I am sorry for you."

It was the worst thing he could have said. Vegeta's respect switched to hatred in a blaze of rage. "How dare you pity me," he shrieked.

Vegeta gathered Ki into a purple sphere of death - just as he was accused of - and launched it at the man, howling in anger and denial.

Although he was fast, the priest did not move, did not dodge. He seemed to be listening, perhaps waiting for something. He crossed his arms, the blast surrounded him, but left him untouched except for scorched clothes, the rest of the energy was absorbed, somehow.

How did he do that? Vegeta had never seen anyone dissipate an attack. If only he had time ... once again, another 'if only' in a growing list of them.

As a part of his mind contemplated, the Saiyan launched another purple blast, a quick attack that required little effort. He knew his opponent would either deflect or take the hit. In fact, Vegeta was counting on it. As he had done in training sessions, he came in immediately with a physical assault just after the energy ball landed and was absorbed again, too quick for the man to properly react to the change in tactics. Vegeta hammered blows into his face, his skull, and heard the satisfying crunch of cartilage and bone.

Vegeta followed through with a high kick to the man's chin, knocked him into unconsciousness as his head snapped back and a crimson stream spewed from his mouth. He fell to the marbled floor in a heap, his robes soon stained with dark blood. Bubbles of blood gurgled at his lips as he rasped for breath.

Vegeta landed at his feet, in a rage still. "M'eh f'ri br'at!"

The prince held out one hand, palm out and up, gathered a small white ball and launched it at the downed man, all thoughts of mercy gone.

The body jumped as the energy coursed through it, a horrible acrid smell of bone and cloth; then it disintegrated, leaving only a scorched outline to mark the man's useless attempts at defense. Vegeta stood still, panting not from exhaustion, but from white fury and another, deeper emotion that his young mind did not have words for. He blinked, not sure for a moment what had happened.

"M'eh Vegeta. M'eh ve'ho ih ee'ko Saiyanu." he whispered, to reassure and remind himself. "I am a warrior and no one will pity me."

His words were heard only by the silibant murmurs around him. Vegeta took in a deep breath. His scouter still indicated Ki about him, not moving, coming from many of the objects on the shelves. How odd ... He ripped down one of the smaller tapestries, then began tossing items onto it. He would figure them out later, or Nappa could find someone to pawn them to for some extra credits. Cultural items often brought a premium on the black market, some people collected items from extinct worlds exclusively.

Vegeta knelt, and used an alter cloth to tie up his makeshift bag with his prizes, only a small selection of what was available for the taking. There was only so many things he could fit in his pod. He tossed the sack onto one shoulder and turned to leave. As he did, he heard a small clattering noise. Many would have missed it, but Vegeta's senses were quite acute and heightened by battle. He stopped moving, crouched again, and consulted his scouter. Nothing. The damn thing must be malfunctioning.

He scanned the room first, then the incoming corridor for telling movements, shadows, anything. His eyes and equipment told him nothing, but his instincts told him otherwise - a sensation at the back of his mind. These people could diffuse energy and create barriers so perhaps they could hide their own Ki as well.

Vegeta stood and cracked his neck, tossed his bag over his shoulder, then started back down the hallway still lit by warm light from the crystalline torches. He entered each room in turn and searched for survivors. Most were sparsely furnished with only a cot and a dresser, more suited for meditation or perhaps punishment. One room held cleaning supplies, and another more of those tubes he had seen earlier.

He pulled one off a shelf and opened it. Inside was a rolled scroll of delicate paper, covered in arcane symbols that he did not understand. He returned it to its cover, stuffed it in his sack, and moved on.

The next room had a curtain covering the doorway. He pushed it aside with one hand and kept most of his body shielded by the wall in case of ambush. When none came, he entered. Inside was a cozy office with a small cot and a small desk, nicely appointed with lush carpets and tapestries. Clothes lay strewn about as if the owner had departed in haste.

As Vegeta walked in, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise up. Ki, for sure... yet the scouter remained silent. He searched, and found nothing worthwhile. But there was something here. He was sure of it.

He could not have explained why he did it, but Vegeta stood still, closed his eyes, and concentrated. When he opened them, he looked around the room again. Everything was in disarray; items tossed about, but it seemed almost too chaotic. He crossed his arms and continued his observations. The bed was crooked, the rugs pushed up, dresser drawers askew. Yet the tapestries were undisturbed by the supposed flight.

Hn. That monk came from behind a tapestry.

He checked behind the tapestries, and found a closed door, the first he had encountered. It was from there that the buzz seemed to emanate. He stalked close, and listened ... nothing, of course.

Vegeta created a concentrated ball of Ki then lobbed it at the closed portal. The door exploded inward and sprayed broken shards into a tiny unlit storage space. The odd buzzing stopped. Now, his scouter lit up; four lifeforms, all Ki sensitive, all stationary and hidden in the dark.

"Found you'" he whispered.

He felt the Ki come to life in his palm, a tame fire, and he walked in, tail whipping. Inside, he found a young female dressed in those simple red robes, her arms wrapped protectively around three small children.

Vegeta stopped and stared. He could hear the children's whimpers and smell the thick scent of fear rolling off of them. The woman responded by shielding them with her body. She had on a brave face, but he could see the sweat running down her gold skin and the terror in her eyes.

"Objective number one: destroy all sentient life." Vegeta could hear Frieza's voice whisper in the back of his mind. "It's easy."

Vegeta expected her to cry, to beg, to run. She did none of those things.

"I am not afraid of you."

Vegeta wrinkled his nose. "You should be."

She made eye contact with him, so direct that it almost unnerved the prince, and she did not look away. "When you kill me, look me in the eyes, kahpaksren. Although you are so young to be dealing death. That, too, is fitting."

"I'm not a child!" Vegeta roared, and clenched his fists, wrapped in purple fire.

The woman continued to stare at him, an accepting yet sad look on her face, and began to hum. Vegeta could hear the sobbing of the children. He raised his hands to gave them to their fate, and ... he did not deliver the killing blow.

What are you waiting for? Just do it.

He had slain so many already, what was a few more? But face to face with noncombatants, with innocent children - some younger than himself - Vegeta found that murder on a personal level was far more difficult. They were not soldiers, or trying to take his life. They were not even capable of defending themselves.

He paused, and saw the eyes of the young ones staring at him, waiting for their death. This was not a challenge; there was no honor to be found in this deed. Vegeta knew that it could have been him, under the right circumstances.

"We always knew it would end this way, at the hands of a Saiyan. It is fated. When we die, the balance will be restored and your revenge complete. Ka will be satisfied. Ka ne hana luusehren. " The female folded her hands into the ample sleeves of her robe and bowed her head as she spoke.

"Wait ... what revenge are you talking about? Why does it matter that I'm Saiyan?" Vegeta crossed his arms. The defenders from earlier had surrendered once they had realized his species, and now this woman and her cryptic talk...

"You are not here to avenge your fallen comrade?" The female monk blinked, and the children peeked out from behind her robes, their dark eyes curious.

"Tell me what you're going on about, right now." Vegeta demanded, and scowled. He did not like it when his plans were disrupted, and this was a major disruption. But, it was also another mystery, a puzzle.

Frieza would be furious that he had spoken with the locals and did not just execute them outright, but Vegeta had to know what she was talking about, why it mattered that he was Saiyan. If it had anything to do with his people, he had to investigate. He was the Prince of Saiyans; it was his duty, and damn what Frieza thought about that.

"Come with me, then." She motioned with one fine boned hand, walked past the prince and out of the room with her head held high. She was no longer afraid of him. The young ones trailed behind her.

"He's not going to kill us?" one asked.

"Hush! Follow me, Saiyan. I will show you our folly. I will show you our fate."

"I hope this is worth it." Vegeta shook his head, and followed. Did they all speak like this?

She led the small party back into the main hallway, through the worship room, through a maze of corridors that led to a partially enclosed balcony, the ceiling open to the sky. Sunlight dappled the tiled floor, and the walls were covered with a profusion of growing things that tickled his sensitive nose. Large marbled slabs led to a low platform with steps up to another shrine in the middle. As they approached, Vegeta saw that both the steps and the raised terrace were covered with offerings of food and flowers. When they drew in closer, Vegeta saw the altar was surrounded by candles and there were odd writings on the top slab.

"Mihre," she commanded, and waved one hand over the top. Her hand glowed, he symbols did so in turn, and the lid moved to reveal its contents. "Look. See our folly, death dealer."

Vegeta ascended the final step and looked inside. It was not an altar, after all. It was a coffin. A desiccated corpse rested inside, hands folded over its chest, the body scorched in places, the skull caved in. He was dressed in cracked PTO battle armor. No ... this could not be PTO issue; it was a different version, older. He had seen this style before. He could remember the guards around the palace on Vegetasai wearing similar armor.

He forced himself to lean in for a closer look. There, wrapped around the man's waist, was the remnants of a tail. Vegeta drew in breath, then bit his lip. It felt like someone had ran a spike through his chest.

Heu m'yo, it can't be. An adult Saiyan warrior, entombed on this backwater planet?

Saiyans did not bury their dead. Instead, fallen comrades were incinerated on the field so their spirits could be released to battle in the afterworld. Vegeta bared his teeth in anger. It was a horrible insult to the dead man's honor, and to the Saiyan culture. Part of him wanted to kill her for it, but if he did he would never have answers.

"You've trapped him," Vegeta hissed, then regained his composure. "Explain, now."

The woman nodded her head, but did not seem to realize that she and her kind had insulted the Prince of Saiyans.

"Years ago, one of your kind came here to bring destruction. We were foolish; we defied the will of Ka, we broke the sacred laws, we denied the Cycle and we fought back. All life, even that intent on destruction and murder, is sacred. We took a life, and now you will take ours in turn. Ka na hana luusehren; it is fated. We have buried him here in honor until the day that Death came for us. Today is that day." Once again, she performed that odd half bow.

"I don't ... how did you kill an adult Saiyan?"

"Just because we do not fight does not mean we can't. Do not mistake passivity for lack of strength. Now, we are at your mercy. It is right that we are here." She indicated the tomb. Once again, she gathered the children to her. "We are ready, kahpaksren. Balance the scales and complete our cycle."

Kill them. You're a monster. It's what you do.

"Close your eyes, little ones," she said. "It will be done soon."

"Will it hurt?" one whispered, and the woman shushed her, pulled the child against her chest.

Angered and insulted to his core, Vegeta rose into the air, his eyes blank and white. He hovered, surrounded by his powerful aura. Electricity crackled around him, all the hairs on his body stood up, and he extended one hand, palm up. A white sphere flared into life. Vegeta drew back his arm to toss the missile and watch them scorch and die in agony and ... he froze.

What are you waiting for, demanded the voice in the back of his head in Frieza's cold tones. Just do it!

Vegeta looked down from his high vantage point, unable to move. That confusing and frustrating woman continued to watch him, a stoic expression on her face. He could hear the children whimpering still, see them quiver with fear, pressed against their guardian.

It could be me. Oh, ja'ta ... I'm a failure. M'eh fri'va.

He couldn't kill them. All he could see was the destruction of his world, the senseless loss, and Frieza's angry face. Frieza would surely kill him when he found out that he did not do his job, that he failed by choice. Then he remembered Frieza beating him, just for trying to better himself and the following ... confinement.

Then Vegeta looked down upon the coffin, and the desiccated body of the dead Saiyan and made his choice. He would not complete what his counterpart had failed to accomplish just to line Frieza's already overflowing coffers.

"You were weak, and now I have to do your dirty work? I think not." He launched his Ki strike at the tomb, instead of the waiting Palapheli. The body crumbled instantly... as befitted a Saiyan, even one who had failed.

The woman and the children cringed at the noise, then realized they were, in fact, not dead. "I thought ... you are ... Why..."

"Don't ask." Already, part of him regretted his choice as he returned to the ground and walked over to the survivors. He hoped they realized just how lucky they were.

"You have my gratitude, then."

"Never mind that. Look, do you still have the ship he came in?" Vegeta indicated the melted slag where the altar once stood with a nod of his head.

"That little round ball?"

"Yes," Vegeta sighed and rolled his eyes, "and don't start in with that kapaksren nonsense. Is it still around? Show it to me. And make it quick before I change my mind."

"All right ... this way. Follow me. Children, come along." With a swish of red robes, she exited the sacred space, the children in tow, looking curiously behind at the small Saiyan. He grabbed his sack, and kept his emotions under control as he tailed her.

She led them to a small building outside of the pyramid, yet still on the lush grounds. It was squat, metallic, and purely functional in design, almost ugly. It too had a closed door, although no lock. She entered, followed by Vegeta. Inside were organized rows of equipment: gardening and maintenance tools, a few large machines that Vegeta had no idea what they could possibly be used for, and ... an old battered Attack Pod.

Its outer shell was scorched and damaged by dents and pockmarks that indicated heavy use. However, the strong plexiglass hatch seemed intact, and was closed. Vegeta examined the pod closer, did not see any punctures or obvious breaches. He wondered if it was still operational, or would open at all. Pods ran on solar power, but had back up chemical cells in case of emergencies.

There was only one way to find out. Vegeta held his wrist chip over the ancient panel, and was not surprised when nothing happened. He keyed in the override code (thank you, Nappa) and the hatch swung slowly upward. The inside of the pod was untouched. He crawled in, keyed in the startup sequence on an ancient keystroke padd, and grinned when the internal systems lit up and the ancient processor coughed into life and began diagnostics. He searched as he waited, found some protein bars of unknown age, a few bottles of water, a pain ampule, and a clunky old tablet. The user of this pod had liked to come prepared, so what had happened?

He smiled at the tablet, turned it over in his hands; it was a type he was familiar with. He had a similar model back at his flat on FP-79 Base, and was tech straight from Vegetasai ... back to the days of conquest before Frieza had come into the picture. Vegeta chuckled then. Nappa would flip the fuck out! Who knew what sort of information was on it? But he really didn't have time to screw off, the timer was running low and he needed to complete the job on time to get paid. He tucked it inside a side pocket, then climbed back out. The woman and the br'atu still waited, probably wondering if Vegeta was still going to kill them after all.

Vegeta sighed, then ran one hand through his hair - a tic he had picked up from Nappa. No, he wasn't going to kill them. He was going to help them, just to spite Frieza. Would serve that damned Ice-jin right, too.

"I can't believe I'm doing this. Hope I don't pay for this later. Here, watch me. This is how you operate it." He demonstrated the controls to the woman: how to program the pod, start the take off sequence, and landing sequences. "Do you understand? Now get off this world. Better yet, get out of this system. Go hide, because if Lord Frieza finds you, there will be no second chances."

"Ah, thank you... I was wrong. You are not kahpaksen. You are kahkensen. May Ka smile upon you!" She folded both hands in front of her chest, bowed low, then began chanting in that lilting language, a stream of nonsense syllables. Given time, Vegeta's language implant could detect phonemes and begin to translate, but he could not and did not want to spent that much time.

Vegeta waved one hand impatiently. "Okay, you're welcome, if it will make you shut up. Get in. It'll be cramped, but you'll survive. And if anyone ever asks, you never saw me. You don't know what happened, because if this comes back to bite me in the ass, heu help me I'll hunt you down and finish what I started. Now, get going ... you don't want to watch this."

He turned his back to them, and promptly started to forget they existed ... on purpose. He would finish his work, because when the 'cleaners' came, they would catalogue any standing buildings, and he would catch hell for slacking. Vegeta took to the air for one last time, rose high above the temple and its gound, and gathered his Ki. He looked down on the colorful building, a symbol of a complex and peaceful culture, and felt a twinge of sadness. What a waste.

Vegeta flung the fiery sphere downward towards the last temple and watched as it too crumbled to melted slag and ashes. Then he flew off, back to his own waiting pod with a bagful of loot, and perhaps a slender piece of hope. At the least, it was a piece of home and a new mystery to think about. Now that it was over, he could feel the start of fatigue due to the prolonged aeriel combat and emotional turmoil.

He opened the hatch with his chip. As it yawned open, that familiar rise of panic began. He crawled in quick, took a bottle of water, opened it. He fished the package of powder from his pocket, poured it on his tongue and washed it down with several large mouthfuls of water. Then he settled on his haunches to wait for the meds to kick in, inspect his injuries, and write his report before crawling inside his fears and going back home.

=======================================
To: NPTO assignment officer
Subject: Assignment XYP-134
Text: Purge cycle complete. Primary objective met. All civilization nodes on scans leveled.
=======================================

Vegeta did not go into detail, for he knew that Frieza would want a report in person regardless of how detailed his end report was ... and Vegeta dreaded the encounter. At least he could say he came in before the time limit.

That warm sensation crept over him, and he crawled inside his living coffin, strapped himself in, keyed the sequence, and closed his eyes. Another world destroyed, mission complete. Heu grant that Frieza would never know the truth.

Chapter Text

*------------------------------------------------------------------*

Three chimes indicated the start of the waking cycle. The vents hissed as the antisedative gas was released into the interior of the Attack Pod, the nav computer made last minute calculations and the little ship began its descent towards HomeBase79. An atonal voice announced that docking would commence in five minutes. By then, the rider was usually alert and ready to respond to their environment.

"Wake cycle complete. Welcome back, Prince Vegeta. Pod is decoupling. Depart when ready."

The programmed voice notification pulled Vegeta out of the depths of his mind, fogged by the strong sedatives that induced coldsleep. Normally, Vegeta gained awareness within a few seconds and was ready to fight if necessary, but this time he was lost in the dark recesses of his mind and could not respond. It felt like he had been buried and was crawling his way back to the surface, he had not even heard the five minute indicator.

When he was able to shake off the muzzy feeling, disconnect his flight harness and hit the exit trigger to escape, the tendrils of panic started to wrap around his throat and choke him. The battle focus had temporarily burned out his fear during the mission, a short respite. Now as he crawled out of the Pod and set foot on the landing deck, it returned in full force.

Vegeta felt his stomach clench up; sweat broke out on his forehead and upper lip and his chest felt tight. The warm buzz from the medication had faded away and left him to deal on his own. Was it possible to gain immunity to them? Vegeta hoped not. That did not seem quite fair. He retrieved the makeshift sack from the Pod, hoisted it on his shoulder and walked quickly down the ramp as the flight techs came up to inspect the ship and make any repairs.

He saw the towering bulk of Nappa waiting in the main hanger. He had been holding his breath without realizing it, and he was glad to see a friendly face. Vegeta stopped by Dock Master Sprutt's console to complete the after mission checks, but kept his thoughts to himself. He was too busy fretting to bother lashing out at the squat green tech and did not hear anything the man said.

Nappa held up one hand in greeting as Vegeta left the launch bay proper and entered the main depot. The prince did not want to speak with Nappa, or Sprutt, or anyone for that matter. He did not feel well and all he wanted to do was go back to their flat, eat something and curl up until the sick feeling went away ... if it ever did.

The large Saiyan scanned his charge for damage, an automatic habit, then gave him a half smile and closed the distance. "Hey Prince Vegeta, how'd it go? Did the meds work all right for you? I see ya got some salvage."

Vegeta did not respond to Nappa's attempts to engage him in conversation. He huffed, flicked his tail, then waved it in a tight arc to indicate his distress and discomfort. He would not put his unease into words for all the techs to hear and comment on. He walked past Nappa and out of the building.

"Ah, okay, ve'ho. " Nappa felt in behind him and to his right, his usual place. He did not take it personally when Vegeta kept his head down and hurried towards the public square, too lost in his dark thoughts to respond.

What have I done... I purposely disobeyed Frieza. If he finds out, he'll kill Raditz and Nappa and ... then he's going to beat me again, stick me back in that hellhole ... and then he'll kill me too. Or worse, he'll kill them, and then keep me alone.

One of Vegeta's worst fears was to be left in Frieza's clutches by himself, entirely under the tyrant's control. Without Raditz and Nappa to turn to, he would be truly lost and alone on the Base. But the proud young Saiyan hated to admit that, hated to admit that he needed anyone else, but the truth was ... he did need them. And he had to keep them and himself safe.

The entire mission, including coldsleep to and from the target world, had taken two day cycles. During that time, his life had changed, forever. Heu, I can't think about this. I must not remember. I won't remember.

Certain details of his mission started to fade as the Saiyan dissociated. In the back of his mind, the door opened and beckoned, and he flung the memories inside. Frieza had given him these tools, and now at least Vegeta could use them to save his own hide (and perhaps a few others). Soon, it was as if someone else had chosen to spare the woman and children, as if someone else had shown them how to use the Pod and flee offworld and to their unknown fate. Although the decision to forget was deliberately made, his mind had altered the memories and sewn them together into a cohesive whole without any conscious effort ... and that should have concerned him.

By the time he had crossed the central courtyard and reached Main Headquarters, Vegeta had fooled himself into thinking that he had, in fact, destroyed all sentient life on Palaphel. Yet every time he thought about the last leg of the mission he felt an odd buzzing sensation in his head and a metallic taste flooded his mouth.

Before he entered Main Headquarters to make his report, he motioned to Nappa with his tail that they needed to stop. They sat down together on one of the benches provided in the center square, an open space that was used for public announcements and some PTO events.

"Nappa, hold on to this. Don't let anyone touch it. I have something to show you when we get home, too. It's really important." Vegeta spoke in Saiyago so that their conversation could not be overheard. Saiyans did not use their native tongue in public unless necessary. It prevented other PTO soldiers from being able to learn it through the military issued language implant.

"G'in, ve'ho my'o. I don't need to tell ya to be careful with Zarbon. Are you sure ya don't want me to come in with?"

"No. Just stay out here. Please. It's important."

Nappa's eyebrows rose at the polite request; he could not remember the last time Vegeta had requested something from him instead of ordering him around. "Okay, ve'ho. I'll just wait here."

Vegeta stood, handed over his satchel into Nappa's care, then entered Headquarters. He put his shoulders back and strutted in, but his stomach was rolling from nerves. He had to stop to squat on his haunches and just breathe before he entered Zarbon's domain to report in and receive payment. He walked towards the teal aide's office with his usual bluster, but he felt vulnerable without Nappa's reassuring presence behind him.

General Zarbon sat at his workspace, sipped from a large steaming mug of liquid, and stared intently at his tablet. His feet were propped up on the top of the mahogany desk, a casual pose that set Vegeta on edge since the man was such a stickler on formality. The office was quiet, unpopulated, and it appeared that Zarbon had been waiting on him.

Tch. Wonderful. Now he's going to be pissed off that I interrupted his day.

"Prince Vegeta, reporting in for my post mission briefing." Vegeta bobbed his head once, but did not go to one knee. Vegeta refused to bow to Zarbon. They were not in the training room, he was not the student here, and damn it ... he would not bow unless Zarbon forced him. Frieza's aide had been known to do so if there were an audience, but they were alone.

After Vegeta announced himself, Zarbon arched one manicured green eyebrow but did not sit up or otherwise acknowledge the Saiyan's presence.

Vegeta felt his face turn red. Even without speaking or moving, Zarbon still managed to make him feel small. He clenched his fists and wrapped his tail tight around his slim waist so as not to give his emotions away further. He waged internal war not to snap, or to repeat himself in an attempt to gain the man's attention. He would not lower himself. I am royalty. I should not be disrespected.

After what seemed like an eternity of the teal General sipping at his tea and tapping on his tablet, he sat up, folded his hands and looked down on Vegeta much like one might regard a particularly disgusting insect.

"Well ... back within the time limit." Zarbon toggled the screen icons with one fingernail. "And just within it, I see. What took you so long? Perhaps I will have to find something simpler for you in the future, little monkey?"

Vegeta bit the inside of his lip and resisted pointing out that Frieza had given him the assignment, not Zarbon. He knew that Zarbon was baiting him, trying to get a response by belittling him. When he did not reply, Zarbon continued to press the issue.

"This was an easy assignment, Vegeta. Most of the work was already done for you." Zarbon leaned forward and steepled his fingers together.

It took all of his lagging willpower not to lash out and make a fool of himself. Vegeta was anxious (but no longer sure why), overtired, and hungry. He had little sleep before being sent out on the mission after Frieza had 'disciplined' him. If he objected or argued, he was sure he would lose control and give Zarbon another reason to mock and punish him. Again, he wished for Nappa; the giant Saiyan would have realized that Vegeta was on the edge of his endurance, and done the talking for him. Instead the young Saiyan gritted his teeth and dug his nails into his palms

Zarbon tossed his braid back over one shoulder, a motion that he performed when he was bothered or annoyed. "No response? Ah well, You did come back in one piece. Normally, I would credit your account, but there is a small problem with that. I noticed your final report was sadly lacking in detail. I need a more thorough writeup in order to determine the proper amount of pay." His mocking tone pissed Vegeta off further.

"What? You're not paying me? But I completed ... " Vegeta hissed, then bit his tongue. He would not give Zarbon the satisfaction of begging.

I just want to go home ...

Vegeta turned on his heel, did not wait to be dismissed, and started towards the exit. He did not want to give Zarbon any more power.

"Oh, and Vegeta ... Lord Frieza sends word that he wishes to speak with you personally about your mission. Apparently, he agrees with me about your report. You may wish to fix that before you speak with him."

A shudder passed through his frame before he could control it.

"I'll make the changes when I get home," Vegeta promised, and cursed himself for always pawning off the follow-up reports on Nappa.

"And Vegeta, you'll have to wait until tomorrow. Lord Frieza is offworld on important business, and as much as he looks forward to your scintillating report, he will not change his plans to suit the likes of you. An appointment has been made for you, and you will be on time. Do not make me come and seek you out. I don't like playing games."

Zarbon stared him in the eyes, and gave a tiny grin that contained horrible cruelty. The veiled reference to the 'hide and seek' event only served to spike Vegeta's panic, surely the blue man's intent.

"You are dismissed." Zarbon swiveled in his chair so that his back was to the prince.

Vegeta froze in place; he could not force his muscles to move as half formed images drifted through his mind and immobilized him. What is wrong with me?

After a minute or so of inaction, Zarbon sighed. "Time to go home, monkey. I have things to do. Do I have to call your bumbling guardian in here to carry you out?"

The mention of Nappa helped to pull Vegeta out of his trance. He cursed himself for showing weakness to one of his worst enemies, turned without a word, and stalked out. As he exited, he looked at his shaking hands and noticed eight bloody semicircles cut into his flesh, and hoped that Nappa had not abandoned him.

Nappa was still in the same place, waiting patiently of course - why wouldn't he be - his large frame took up most of the bench. He had stretched out his long legs as he waited for his Prince to return.

"Hey ve'ho, ready to go to the Noodle Shack?" The former Commander noticed Vegeta's ashen face as the young Saiyan approached. His thick eyebrows knitted together to express concern. "What happened, Vegeta? Did Twinkletoes do something to you?"

"I'm fine, Nappa," Vegeta lied. "Zarbon didn't pay me, and Frieza wants to take my report himself ... tomorrow." His voice hitched. He hated that the fear seemed to be taking over his everyday life, that he could not control it. He hated how defeated he sounded, and knew Nappa could tell, too. He did not want Nappa's pity.

"That jik'hi ... why didn't he pay you?" Nappa growled and leapt to his feet. "I'm gonna go down in there and crack his pretty little skull!"

"Don't. I just want to leave." Vegeta's voice was so low that Nappa did not hear him at first. He did not want to tell Nappa that he was not getting his salary because he had slacked on his duties.

Nappa huffed, but did not pursue the issue. "Okay, then. You don't wanna go get food? I'll pay."

"I want to go home. Now, Nappa." Vegeta snapped.

Astounded that Vegeta would turn down an opportunity to eat out, Nappa just frowned his worry. He slung the bag with Vegeta's spoils over his muscular shoulder and reached out a hand towards Vegeta to see how the prince would react to the small effort of comfort - a way to judge Vegeta's mood. When Vegeta allowed the contact, Nappa fretted more.

"Okay, ten'ta. Home it is. We can go to the Shack another day."

The tram ride back to the Residential Quarters gave Vegeta time to compose himself. Nappa did not pester him with conversation for a change, or attempt to be chummy. The stoic warrior stood watch over his prince and growled at anyone who dared to come close or make comments.

By the time they arrived back at their apartment, Vegeta had regained some of his color and most of his composure. He even had started to look forward to examining his treasures, especially the Vegetasai tablet. As they entered the flat, strong aromas greeted them, savory scents that made Vegeta feel at ease. His stomach rumbled, and he realized that he had not eaten since before the mission. Suddenly, he was ravenous.

"Eh, Prince Vegeta, Nappa," Raditz said, and waved his tail once in a friendly greeting. Saiyans usually communicated with words and gestures at the same time.

The adolescent was dressed in casual clothes, his now shorter hair pulled out of the way. A stained apron was tied around his waist and he was busy chopping up fresh vegetables. A large pot simmered on the stove, the source of the delicious odors. Vegeta's mouth started to water.

Nappa lowered the sack to the floor, and Raditz whuffed - an nonverbal inquistive sound that Saiyans made when asking what something was. "Looks like your mission was a success ... you had time to go looting! You going to share that, ve'ho?"

Raditz's attempt at lighthearted banter backfired when Vegeta snapped at him.

"It's my stuff," Vegeta snarled. "Keep your hands off of it."

"Well, excuse me, Prince Snippy." Raditz threw his hands in the air and turned back to his cooking. Once again, he asked himself why he even bothered.

Vegeta, in turn, snorted in derision. Raditz rolled his eyes and gave a dismissive twitch of his tail that Vegeta did not notice. Nappa just sighed. They had not been home for more than a minute, and the arguing had begun.

"Anyways," Raditz continued, "I know you guys went to the Shack, but I'm making a batch of th'di to put aside in the cold store."

"We didn't make it," Nappa stated.

"Th'di!" Vegeta shouted in his excitement, his earlier anxiety and his annoyance at Raditz forgotten by the promise of his favorite food. "Is it the kind with kor'ta meat ... or saltweed?"

"Both," Raditz promised, and was glad to see the prince smile. "Thought that would make you happy."

Th'di was a simple meal made with savory broth, wide noodles, and a variety of spices that changed depending on the day Raditz made it. When their budget allowed, he added vegetables and protein, but usually it was just the basics.

'Dish' was a culinary accident that had become a favorite staple in the Saiyans' diet. One night, Raditz had come home late from one of Zarbon's 'work parties'. Not only was he late, but he was drunk and had not prepared an evening meal for the demanding prince ahead of time. So, instead of admitting that he had forgotten, he tossed a bunch of spices and noodles in a pot and called it th'di. Nappa and Vegeta had loved it, and Raditz kept up the pretense that he had planned the entire thing.

The easy to make meal was never the same twice, partially because Raditz did not remember exactly what he had thrown in the pot that night. Either Vegeta and Nappa did not notice (which was unlikely) or they were humoring him, but it always brought smiles to their faces and praise for Raditz ... something that was rare in the adolescent Saiyan's life, especially when it came from Vegeta.

Raditz ladled out large bowls of steaming noodles and watched as they devoured it. He poured the steeped tea into cups, helped himself to some th'di and sat down to eat with his ji'tach, a Saiyan term that referred to a fighting team who shared close bonds with one another. No one argued or sniped at each other while eating, and it pleased Raditz. At least there was one thing he was good at, according to Vegeta.

After the evening meal, they cleared the table off, and Vegeta unwrapped the battered tapestry to reveal his prizes. Once his stomach was full, he reverted to his earlier territorial aggression towards his property and asserted his right as prince to have first pick.

Chances to salvage - the polite word for looting and pillaging - were rare in their line of work. Rampaging around as a giant ape and spewing forth flames from one's mouth did not lend itself to anything remaining in one piece, and often they were on such a tight schedule that they did not have a chance to 'acquire' items even if there were buildings standing.

Raditz, still annoyed at Vegeta's earlier rudeness and his display of rank, concentrated on the clean up of the dinner dishes, although he watched from afar and mumbled to himself.

Now safe at home, Vegeta examined each item one at a time as if they were the most precious things in the galaxy ... and right then, to him, they were. Nappa sat across from him and watched, but did not touch anything until Vegeta asked his opinion, which was often. The two Saiyans marveled at a handful of colored round crystals that fit in one palm; they glowed when they came in contact with flesh, and also had Ki signatures when examined with a scouter.

"What are they," Vegeta mused. He held a red crystal up to the ceiling and turned it, watching as light flashed off the many facets, then held it out for Nappa to examine. "It's almost like it's alive ... but that's not possible, is it?"

"I dunno, Vegeta. I've never heard of living rocks before." As his bodyguard accepted the offered gem, it went dull. "Aw. I broke it."

Raditz snorted laughter in the background, Nappa pretended that his feelings were hurt as a result, and Vegeta grinned at their display. Both older Saiyans knew that if they lightened the mood, Vegeta would relax and calm down.

Together, Vegeta and Nappa examined delicate trinkets, parchments, strange hollow tubes - all made of natural materials, and no sign of technology. They could not figure out the foreign script or crack the mystery of the stones.

"Tch! I can't believe I forgot..." Vegeta reached into the right side pocket of his chestplate. In his haste to eat, he had not changed out of his armor. He handed over the ancient tablet to Nappa. "Take a look at this! I didn't have time to see if it worked."

"By Blood and Battle, I don't believe it ... this is from Vegetasai, ve'ho. Where the hells did you pick up something like this?" An expression of pure shock came over Nappa's stubbly face as he turned the old, battered piece of equipment over in his giant hands.

Curiosity overcame Raditz, and he looked over Nappa's shoulder. "That looks like the mission padd that my ja'ta used to carry." His voice sounded wistful.

The screen was cracked, the casing dented, and some of the ports looked corroded. It did not respond when Nappa tapped the screen with one bitten fingernail, not that he had expected anything based on the condition of the thing.

The former Commander of Armies huffed a bit, then shrugged. "Nothin'. Lemme try something else."

Nappa rummaged through his dresser and returned with a small repair kit he used for scouters: it contained minitools, spare connector cables, a portable microboard, and a diagnostic board. He set the ancient piece of tech on its side, cracked the case, and exposed the machine's inner workings. He connected it to the testing board, ran a cable to his own tablet and powered it up, then typed in code on the working screen. After a series of patterned tones and noises, Nappa grumbled something to himself, and used some of the small tools to toggle tiny switches on the old tech. He tapped in another sequence, then chuckled when the screen lit up.

Vegeta leaned in closer and watched Nappa as he did precise work ever so gently with his giant paws. "Nappa ... I didn't know you were a technician."

"There's a lot you don't know about me, ve'ho. Okay, let's see if there's anything useful. Huh ... That's odd."

The screen went dark for a few seconds, and Nappa started to curse. Then, without any input from the Commander, the old pad restarted itself. A familiar symbol appeared, spinning: the Saiyan Royal Crest. Vegeta's eyes widened and he drew in breath. Although it was the same symbol, it was in blue instead of crimson, like the one emblazoned on his chestplate. Below the icon, a line of text asked for one's user clearance code.

"Nappa... that's ..."

"I know, ve'ho."

Vegeta rested his chin in his hands and leaned forward to look closer at the display. "Why isn't it red?"

"Blue is the crest of the Vegetasai Grand Army," Nappa replied, his tone soft. "Well, tapa ... It's encrypted, of course. Lemme see..."

Nappa began typing in codes. As former Grand Master, he had been privy to all manner of royal secrets. After a few tries, Nappa grunted and scratched the top of his head. "Huh. Thought those would work ... this must be from way back. How about ... ha! That did it."

The rotating symbol faded away, and was replaced by the usual input screen. "Welcome, Captain Zukin. You have two hundred messages waiting "

The message was spoken in Galactic Standard, but Nappa wasn't surprised. Saiyago was a simplistic tongue, and it was difficult to convey more complex ideas. Galactic Standard was the common language; it was used by scientists, techs, diplomats, and politicians as it contained finer nuances. As a result, most Saiyans spoke both fluently.

"This is from before my Command ... during the Tuffle Wars ... I think ..." Nappa trailed off, typed furiously for a while. "I'm gonna have to work with this on my own a while. Okay, ve'ho m'yo. It's time you told us what the hell happened out there on that mission. Now start talking."

Chapter Text


"All right, Vegeta. This isn't just salvage," Nappa continued. His gravelly voice was low and he spoke in gentle tones, but his eyes bored into Vegeta and willed him to open up, to give his secrets away.

"How do you know? I did find it," Vegeta snapped. For some reason, he went on the defensive, even though Nappa was not his enemy.

"Vegeta, enough. We're on the same team, here." A hint of sadness crossed the large man's face. " I know something's wrong. And don't pretend like nothing happened - I know ya better than that. This is classified military issue, Vegeta, and it shouldn't of been laying around. Now spill it."

Vegeta shifted in his seat and avoided eye contact with Nappa. He never took well to being ordered around, and he definitely did not want to recap the last few days of his life. The memories seemed tainted, somehow dangerous. "You can't make me, Nappa. I'm ve'ho and I outrank you."

"Seriously?" Nappa's eyes bugged and a vein began to pulse at his temple. "C'mon, Vegeta. I'm not mad at you, I'm trying to help you! This is important; if something happened that could get Frieza on our asses, I need to know about it."

Nappa could only be pushed so far, and Vegeta knew the big man was reaching his limits. Even though the prince was the most powerful of the three and technically did outrank his guardian; Nappa was twice his height, physically powerful, and could be terrifying when pushed too far, as Raditz could attest to.

He crossed his arms and shrank down in his chair, intimidated. He felt outmaneuvered and cornered. But ... damn it, Nappa was right ... he did need to know at least some of it.

"Fine, have it your way." He took in a big breath, composed his thoughts, and began his narrative. Vegeta usually had an excellent memory; the young prince could recall the slightest details and also the tiniest slights to his pride. He could be eloquent when he did, in fact, talk - a skill that his ja'ta had encouraged.

As a young child in his father's court, he had chattered constantly to whomever would listen, possessed an extensive vocabulary, and was both imaginative and interactive, although horribly spoiled. That had changed the minute Frieza 'took him in.' Now years later, Vegeta's natural enthusiasm had started to wane and he was becoming reticent, perhaps even shy. It was sad to see him fading away piece by piece.

"It was beautiful there, Nappa," Vegeta closed his eyes as he spoke, visualizing as he narrated to his teammates. He could recall the warmth on his skin, the smells, the vibrant colors, and the ache of the beauty and peace he would never have. "Part of me hated to do it, to ruin it all, you know?"

The color returned to his face as he spoke; as he became more animated he painted a picture with words for his compatriots so that they could share the experience with him. Vegeta spoke of the lush world and its haunting beauty, the initial fight, the patterns of destruction and old ruins - as if someone had already been there - the sudden surrender of his enemies for no reason. He could feel the pulsing energy, and experienced the rush of adrenaline again as he described the intense combat with the monk in the temple and his rage at the man's pity. The words flowed from him as he told about the altar room, the odd items, the curious crystals that seemed to be alive.

Then he stuttered, and his smooth narrative halted. Vegeta had never stuttered in his life, and to his horror he found that he could not speak for a few terrifying seconds.

"Uh ..." He coughed to try and cover it up, but knew Nappa was not tricked. "Then I - I - I ... uh, I searched the rest of the place, and I found this ... um, altar ..."

Although Vegeta did not realize it, he stared blankly for close to a minute without speaking or moving. Then, as if it had never occurred, the fog in his mind lifted and the hesitation was gone. "When I looked in, there was a Saiyan warrior. He wore the older armor, like the kind I used to see some of the Generals wearing, or perhaps some of Father's personal Elite ... but he wasn't an honor guard. At least, I don't think so. I could tell he had been in a nasty fight, and was badly injured. They had actually put his body in a box and kept him like one of their trinkets."

Vegeta felt the bile rise in his throat as he thought about the man's spirit being trapped forever in that tiny space, unable to be free; he trembled as he realized that he too had been buried. Raditz and Nappa also looked horrified. The thought of a proud Saiyan spirit caught forever was abhorrent.

"Then I found ..."

Sweat poured down Vegeta's face, and he felt like he was going to pass out. The buzzing in his head and ears became so loud he could not hear Nappa talking to him, asking questions. He had gone somewhere, again. He saw a quick glimpse of a woman's face, of terrified children ... then the door in his mind closed again.

"...Vegeta? Hey, are you okay?" Raditz leaned towards him, concern clear on his face.

He blinked, confused, but nodded his head. He wiped the sheen of sweat away from his forehead, then poured a glass of water for himself from the pitcher on the table. Raditz and Nappa continued to stare at him, and waited while he composed himself..

" I - I searched his body," Vegeta's voice evened out. "And I found his tablet. I don't know what exactly happened, but I didn't have the time to figure it out. I gave him a warrior's death, even though he probably didn't deserve it for screwing up. After I took my fair share, I destroyed their temple and left. They were weak. They had it coming."

To Nappa, it was obvious that Vegeta had omitted something important, something possibly dangerous. "Ve'ho m'yo, we really need to know all of the details."

When Vegeta did not respond, Nappa snorted in frustration and leaned back in his seat. The older man folded his arms over his massive chest, and stared at Vegeta in silence, as if he could get Vegeta to talk by willing him to do it. Well, it would not work. Nappa was a stubborn man, but so was Vegeta. He locked eyes with his guardian, and they engaged in a wordless battle.

Frustrated at Nappa's pestering, he curled his lip and huffed loudly. "I'm going to have to repeat this to Frieza tomorrow, so I don't want to talk about it any more."

"Maybe you wanna get the story straight before you do, ten'ta?" Nappa took a gamble, and lost.

Vegeta reacted violently. He snarled, jumped out of his chair and got in Nappa's face. His tail puffed up and lashed in a violent arc. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as his aura flared. "How dare you say that I'm lying, Nappa! Nothing else happened! Nothing!"

When Vegeta came at him, Nappa's fighting instincts kicked in, and he had to force himself to remain calm. A Saiyan's natural response to aggression was aggression in turn, but this was his Prince and the child he had sworn to protect - not an opponent ... but did Vegeta remember that?

"Stand down, ve'ho, okay? No one's saying you're a liar." Nappa said. He held his hands up, palms out, and lowered his head to indicate that he was not going to fight back. During the confrontation, Raditz had backed away and out of the line of fire, his eyes wide and his tail frizzed.

The act of submission placated Vegeta, and he had the decency to feel ashamed of himself. What was he thinking, attacking his guardian in their home? Vegeta backed down; he dismissed his Ki, hung his head and lowered his tail. "I - sorry..." he muttered. "I don't know why I did that, Nappa." Sometimes, his anger just got out of control.

They all stared at each other in awkward silence. Vegeta stalked off, in quite the mood. Raditz sat back down, then drummed his fingers. Nappa went back to working on the tablet after running his hands through his mohawk, muttering to himself as he broke through levels of encryption.

"Tapa," Nappa muttered, "what the hell was this guy up to? I haven't seen this much encryption since the beginning of the Tuffle War. This was high level shit ... hell, it's still some of the best tech I've seen in a while. This is pure Tuffle programming."

"What's the big secret," Vegeta asked, intrigued in spite of himself. "If this was from the War, why was he off planet?"

"Yeah, that's the question of the day, ten'ta. From what I'm seeing, he was special ops. I'm talking ultra was before I took over High Command. Y'know, I always wondered what the hell happened. Most of those guys just vanished."

"So you knew him personally?" Raditz asked. He too, looked excited.

Nappa stopped, thought for a bit. "Well, yeah, but not very well. Like I said, he was in the Op-Elite Squad ... only a few people even know about them. Hell, this was part of Ji'ta's operation and I only knew about it because I was personal friends with Ve'ta. They were dealing with some nasty shit."

"I thought you were part of the War Council." Vegeta was drawn out of his shell by talk of the Wars. He leaned forward and placed his chin on top of his arms.

Nappa gave a humorless chuckle. "Yeah, but I was busy bombarding Tuffle cities, working my way up the chain of command when Zukin set out. I can't complain though - I always hated all that sneaking around. It's almost dishonorable. But ... it still doesn't make any damn sense. We were fighting a losing War and this ge'tah was gallivanting around the galaxy ... why? What was so important they'd send SpecOps out?"

"But you were Commander of Armies, right? Why wouldn't you know?" Vegeta asked.

"I didn't take over until closer to the end of the War, Vegeta, remember? Turns out there was shit happening that I had no idea about at the time ... and your ja'ta never told me... damn him..." He frowned. More clicks, and Nappa's face grew more concerned, animated, exited all at the same time. "Look, SpecOps dealt with the hinky shit - assassinations, secret alliances, foreign tech: all the things that could never see the light of day. And this ... this would have turned the War if he had completed his mission."

"And?" Vegeta said, getting impatient. Nappa glared at him.

"Vegeta, have a little respect. This is important." Nappa went silent as he scanned the newly opened files, then glanced over at the crimson gemstones, each the size of Vegeta's palm. "Damn ... it was all about those crystals, after all. I should'a known ... And we're gonna have to get 'em the hell outta here. We're dead if anyone else figures it out and we're sitting on 'em."

"What? Why?" Vegeta felt irritated. Those were his spoils, and they were a mystery. And if someone was sent out on a secret mission to get their hands on them, well ... then perhaps the Prince of Saiyans should have them. Maybe he and Nappa could figure out how to use them to defeat Frieza!

"I remember Ji'ta talking about this," Nappa continued. "He and Celar were looking for an edge to tip the balance. The Tuffles had all the advantages: numbers, technology, endless supply of energy. All of their cities were shielded and they could strike us at any time. The King was looking for a power source to combat it, something to power Ki and give us an edge for a change. "

Vegeta liked story time. He always liked to hear about the old days, the glory days of war, and the exploits of his ja'ta.

"Now that I think about it, I'd heard a version of this when I was a boy. The story goes like this: there was supposed to be this ancient civilization that rose to power long before machines were invented. They learned to use Ki to run things, instead of technology - I guess you could say that was their tech. The legends say that they had these magical stones that gave them unimaginable power and allowed them to harness their energy: they were able to protect themselves, travel through space, fight great wars ... well, you get the idea, right?

"Of course, eventually they became too power hungry, and they started to use their Ki for 'evil purposes'. They went out into the galaxy, started conquering worlds and building an empire just for the hell of it and not because they needed to do it to survive ... kinda reminds me of the PTO ... but anyways, their warriors supposedly had these 'batteries' they could power their armor and their weapons, and shields ... I can see why Command would have wanted to get their hands on 'em, imagine what that would'a done for our troops? I always thought it was just a kiddie tale ... but I guess General Ji'ta thought it was worth the gamble."

"Do you think Frieza's heard the stories?" Vegeta looked worried. "I'm fucked then, if he knows."

"Don't say 'fuck,' Vegeta ... and I dunno. Hell ... Heu grant that Frieza doesn't know about this ... that's all we'd need is for him to have unlimited power."

"Yeah ... that's all we need." Vegeta echoed, and picked up one of the red jewels. It emitted a warm crimson light from its center when the prince touched it.

They examined all the crystals closely. They flared into life whenever Vegeta touched them but remained 'calm' when either Raditz or Nappa picked them up.

"Wonder why they act this way," Raditz said. He almost looked disappointed when they did not respond to him.

Vegeta thought about Nappa's story; about the 'magic' stones. Then he remembered the temple, and how it pulsed like a heartbeat as if it were living and not just a construct of metal and stone. These crystals must have been used to power the force shields he had encountered, and the Palapheli weapons: that was how they had killed Zukin. Perhaps, they had even used his own Ki against him.

Not much could be done with them, so they talked about the rest of the spoils. Vegeta opted to keep one of the pendants that caught his eye, but they decided to sell the rest of the loot ... except the crystals, of course. They did not know what they would do with them, but it was clear that giving them into Frieza's care might be a colossal mistake if the tyrant did not already know about them. One crystal turning up on the market somewhere might unravel all of Vegeta's lies.

"I think I can probably move most of these things pretty quick. There's a big market for it. I'll talk to my contact - see if I can meet him tonight."

While Nappa waited for a reply, they ate more th'di and relaxed in front of the screen, each processing the events of the day in their own way. As the night wore on, the temporary calm due to a good meal and their ill-gotten goods wore thin. Vegeta returned to his previous cranky mood when he checked his tablet and found the appointment confirm waiting for him. He started to shake when he swiped the reply with his thumb, then began to pace.

"Aw Vegeta, why don't you sit down? You're gonna wear a hole in the rug," Nappa said after the twentieth time Vegeta paced around the apartment, but the young Saiyan did not calm down in the least.

"Good job, Nappa," Raditz said, out of the side of his mouth. "Watch this. Hey, Vegeta - go grab your grooming supplies. It's been a few days."

That got his attention; the thought of special treatment could break through just about any dark pit his thoughts had wandered into. Vegeta was jumpy when he sat next to Raditz, but as soon as the older boy began to run the combs through his spiky black hair, the prince relaxed and his eyelids drooped with exhaustion from the last two days' events. Just as he was about to doze, disturbing images flashed before his mind's eye; he snapped awake, trembling. Raditz kept grooming him, reassuring him without words; he and Nappa were not going anywhere. Vegeta was safe and he could relax.

He woke when Nappa walked through the living section, dressed in his battle armor, and let Raditz know he was leaving. "I'm meeting a friend to talk things over. Be back later. Don't destroy the house while I'm gone, you two. Heh heh ..."

"Thanks, ja'ta," Raditz quipped, his tone light so Nappa knew he was joking, and waved one hand in farewell. "Don't get dead."

Raditz and Vegeta sat quiet for a while after Nappa left and watched the Professional Galactic Baseball finals. Neither cared for the sport, but neither felt like getting up to change the channel either. Raditz continued grooming, and eventually Vegeta settled enough so that they began talking about the crystals again. But once the subject drifted towards the mission, Vegeta started to close up.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," the adolescent said, and paused in his grooming.

"Do what?" Vegeta glared up at Raditz, annoyed that the older boy had stopped.

"Stop talking ... you used to talk all the time when we first met in the training halls. Remember? I couldn't get a word in edgewise." Raditz trailed off, a wistful expression on his face. "I miss those days, Vegeta. Things were simple then. All we had to worry about was getting our katas right so Nappa wouldn't punish us." Raditz sighed. "I miss home."

"Me too," Vegeta replied, then stopped talking again, but he seemed receptive to further conversation.

"Hey, I never got to ask you, ve'ho. How did the anxiety medicine work?"

"It helped ... a lot. But I hate having to take them; I hate that I'm scared. The only time I'm not afraid is when I'm fighting." Vegeta did not look at Raditz when he made the admission. Part of him felt shame at needing to resort to outside help.

"Speaking of fighting ... do you want to tell me about your mission? Nappa's not here so we can talk like we used to." Once again, Raditz made an offer at comradeship and once again, it backfired.

"Nothing! I already told you and Nappa about it," Vegeta growled.

"Vegeta I'm your friend ... we're ge'tahu, and we're in this together. You know that, right? If something happened, you can tell me."

"No! Stop bugging me, Raditz."

"Fine!" Raditz threw up his hands in frustration and huffed at the prince. "That's what I get for caring? See if I keep grooming you."

Raditz's sudden burst of adolescent anger and frustration had an immediate effect on the skittish prince. Vegeta leapt up, ran to the bunk, jumped to the top and curled in a miserable ball. His head hurt, his chest was filled with shards of pain, and the people who were supposed to be protecting him were pushing him around. Why are they doing this to me, why won't they just leave me the hell alone? Why do they keep asking?

"Hey, I didn't mean it. Come back down. Sometimes, my moods just get the best of me."

When Vegeta did not respond, Raditz sighed, then climbed up and sat next to him.

"Go away," Vegeta said, in a very small voice. "I don't need your help. I don't need anyone's help. You weren't there ... I'll do it all on my own, like always."

"You know ... I know I'm nowhere near as strong as you are and I never will be, but you need to know that I've got your back in and out of combat. I'll do my best to keep you safe. I promise. It's what a ji'tach does." Raditz held out one hand, touched him on the shoulder.

Vegeta sniffled, biting back tears. His ja'ta had promised him the same thing - to keep him safe - and it was a lie.

"Don't lie to me," he howled, raging to escape his true feelings.

Raditz recoiled out of instinct, raised his hands to block the coming barrage. "Heu, Vegeta, what did I say?"

"Never mind. I don't want to talk about it," he replied, by rote. The memories of his father were too painful. He did not lash out at Raditz.

"All right. We won't. But if you ever want to tell me about it, or anything else ... I'll listen. I can make that promise."

And Raditz was true to his word. The long haired adolescent sat next to Vegeta and did not say anything else on the subject. Eventually, Vegeta allowed himself to be convinced to return to the couch and finish off the remains of th'di while Raditz finished grooming him. They remained that way, in a companionable silence, until Nappa returned late in the night cycle.

 

Chapter Text

 


He was home, he was safe, and his belly was full. So ... why couldn't he sleep? Vegeta shifted again, unable to relax. Every time he finally managed to doze off, the nightmares raged and he woke in a cold sweat, shaking and disoriented and ready to fight, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up in fear. After the fifth time, he gave up and wandered around the apartment and tried not to wake the other two men. He did not want their sympathy and he did not want Nappa to coddle him. Earlier in the night, his guardian had offered the last packet of medicine to help him rest, but he had refused. Perhaps that was a bad idea, he reflected, as he watched the clock tick down the latest hours of the rest cycle.

I have to talk to Frieza. I have to see his face, hear that laugh... Whenever he thought about the Ice-jin, he broke out into a cold sweat, and he felt the walls closing in. Buried alive ...

After long and lonely hours with only his thoughts, Vegeta finally decided to crawl back on the bottom bunk and shove Raditz into the corner in hopes of getting some sleep. if he could only escape the dreams.

"Time to get up, Vegeta." Nappa's voice pulled him out of the darkness. It felt as if he had just closed his eyes. Vegeta felt groggy and exhausted, and when he stumbled into the lavatory to splash cold water on his face, he saw dark circles under his eyes like bruises.

He put on a fresh blue jumpsuit and pulled on his white boots, still not awake. His stomach was in knots, and for a few blessed moments, he existed in a kind of numb twilight - not awake or asleep, not afraid or anxious. That ended when he looked at his tablet and saw the meeting reminder. Immediately, his stomach clenched up and bile rose in the back of his throat. His tail puffed up in response to his mood - he still could not control that automatic reaction.

After he washed his face, Vegeta sat at the table and waited for Raditz to serve his pre-breakfast. Although they ate at the mess hall three times daily, it was never enough to fuel the prince's metabolism. While the older Saiyan ran the combs through his thick hair, Vegeta fretted in silence. He had appreciated Raditz's offer of support last night, but Raditz would not be going in front of Frieza.

"There you are, Vegeta. All groomed and fresh for your victory," Raditz said, then removed a plate from the heating element.

Vegeta grunted in response, then started into his food. He doubted that there would be any sort of victory today.

After eating, he donned his battle armor and gloves and checked his tablet again. Zarbon had a bad tendency of sneaking changes into his routine to trip him up, and he did not wish to give Frieza any more reasons to punish him. Together with the rest of his small ji'tach, the Prince of Saiyans rode the lift down to Mess Hall Three in hopes of an early breakfast and less drama.

The meal was uneventful: bad food, bad attitudes, and the normal smattering of taunts. Vegeta did not speak, he kept his eyes down and tried to ignore the growing anxiety. He did not even respond when Nappa cracked poorly timed jokes about some of the other soldiers, something that usually elicited a smile; Vegeta was too wrapped up in himself to notice.

"Lighten up, Vegeta," Nappa said, as they exited the hall and returned back to the residential levels to pass time until Vegeta's meeting. When the lift door slid open, Nappa and Vegeta stepped off, but Raditz remained behind.

"I'll see you later, ve'ho ... Nappa. I've got my training lesson with Master Zarbon, and then I have to help with setup."

"Assist ... Is that what he's calling it now," Nappa growled, always irritated when Zarbon came up in conversation. "When were ya gonna mention that?"

Raditz grumbled low in his throat, and his voice cracked. "Nappa, it's been on your tablet for days now. I don't want to argue, okay? Hey ve'ho, good luck today. Go to your victory."

The tall adolescent gave a smile, and Vegeta curled one lip to hide his automatic response. Raditz sometimes showed too much concern in public, and it embarrassed the prince.

"Well, anyways, I ought to be back for dinner," Raditz waved one hand in farewell, then pressed the main floor before Nappa could launch into another rant about the blue dandy. The big warrior snorted in derision as the doors slid shut.

"Damn that Twinkletoes," he sighed, and Vegeta gave a snort of amusement.

An hour remained until the meeting with Frieza, so he and Nappa returned to the flat to while away the time. Vegeta wished to just get it over and done with, but an early arrival at Headquarters would not earn them any favors, not would it advance the meeting. Too much time: time to grow more nervous, more panicked ... but not enough time to take out his stresses in the training halls, something Vegeta did when he needed to blow off steam and take his mind off of his problems. Stymied, Vegeta was forced to wait, to show patience - things he was terrible at even when not under pressure.

As the time to depart drew near, Vegeta fiddled with his armor, his hair, and grew angry, his default emotion. This is humiliating. I'm a warrior, m'eh f'ri fri'va. Am I going to spend the rest of my life like this, always scared? Then he thought about taking all the fear, all the stress and throwing it inside the vault in his mind with all the other dangerous thoughts, to step aside. It seemed to work before.

Does it really, a voice whispered. You don't know what's in there, do you? There are things in there you wouldn't believe, in the dark, inside your mind...

Vegeta shook his head in a violent arc, as if he could physically dislodge the thoughts and fears. He crossed his arms over his white chestplate and unconsciously hugged himself as he paced around the apartment again and again. With each lap, his anxiety grew. His stomach cramped and he worried that he would throw up his breakfast.

"Ve'ho m'yo - enough now. You're making me nervous," Nappa's raspy voice broke through his fugue. He pulled out one of the chairs next to him, and indicated that Vegeta should have a seat. "It's time to focus and calm, okay? You're not doing this alone. I'm goin' in that meeting with you; I don't care what they say. Not after that last damn time. I'm your bodyguard, and your guardian, and I have the right. They'll have to drag me out before I let it happen again."

At his guardian's show of support, a tiny smile crept over Vegeta's drawn features. He hated to need the help, but Nappa made it sound as if he were only fulfilling his duties to his prince, and not babysitting a scared kit.

"Tch. I've given dozens of reports before," he protested, and continued his jittery pacing. "I should be able to do this, I've given dozens of reports before."

Nappa pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, his muscled shoulders heaved. Vegeta's nervousness was starting to affect them both, and they had to be calm ... or at least able to put on a good show. The oldest Saiyan drummed a rhythm on the tabletop, then shook his head and stood.

"We're a team, Vegeta. I know we've talked about this before. None of us are born seasoned fighters. The idea of a ji'tach is so no one warrior has to battle alone. We Saiyans work in squads for a reason: we're strongest in a group. Let us help you. There's no shame in it. Okay?" He held out one giant hand, and extended it towards Vegeta.

Caught off guard by the show of support and the appeal to his warrior nature, Vegeta stopped his pacing. He fidgeted in place and stared at the proffered limb. His brow furled and his eyes grew dark as he battled his pride, but then he reached out one small hand in return.

"All right, ve'ho." Nappa gave one of his goofy smiles, it deepened the lines on his forehead and the creases between his brows. "Well, no sense in standing around. Let's get going. If we're early, we'll just wander around the courtyard. Now, I've got the last dose of medicine if ya need it. But I'm sure you won't." He winked at Vegeta, and patted his left breastplate.

"Okay, Nappa." For some reason, Vegeta did not feel placated. Just knowing that they were doing something, even if it was pointless, helped to improve his mood. He gathered a few chosen items from his spoils to offer up as sacrifices to appease Lord Frieza, and placed them in a cloth bag while Nappa hid the crystals and the tablet in a small panel behind the toilet.

Usually, Vegeta went to Frieza's luxury penthouse to give his comprehensive reports. For some reason, today's meeting was scheduled in the tyrant's office at Main Headquarters in the Administration Dome, a fifteen minute ride by tram. The Admin-Dome contained many important buildings, such as Medical, Administration, Mission Central, and the Training Halls.

The ride seemed to last for an eternity to the jittery young Saiyan and only served to make him more anxious. As he watched the smooth walls of the connective tunnel pass by, he fretted. Perhaps he should take Nappa on his offer and take the medicine, but he did not want to have to constantly take a pill or powder in order to survive. It was weak ... what would his ja'ta think ... would he be ashamed too?

He drew in a shaky breath and closed his eyes. Vegeta focused on his breathing and started to go over what he would say: step by step, word by word, creating his report just for Frieza.

The report ... Vegeta moaned in despair and earned a concerned look from Nappa. How could he have been so stupid? There was not enough time to do it now!

"Oh tapa - I completely forgot to do my summary! Zarbon said there wasn't enough detail, and I had to redo it. I don't have enough time now, and Frieza's going to want to read it. I'm dead, Nappa." Images of the punishment awaiting him for such a colossal failure drifted past his mind's eye.

Nappa groaned, ran his hands through his hair and looked down at the prince. He chose not to mention the swear word. "Are you kidding me, Vegeta? I've been telling you that you needed to start writing those summaries yourself for just this reason."

"I know that," Vegeta wailed, and started to hyperventilate.

Nappa placed one large hand between his shoulder blades, a simple gesture that served to center the prince's attention and draw his focus outward. "Okay, Vegeta, calm down. Do your breathing."

Luckily, they were the only people on the tram from Residential, so no one observed his shame. When they arrived at their destination, Vegeta had his obvious emotions under control. He toyed with the idea of writing up the summary before going into Headquarters; bur that would have made them late, and Frieza did not accept tardiness. The last time that Vegeta was five minutes late for a meeting, he and the rest of the Saiyans had paid for it: their rations were cut to once a day and their workload tripled for a week. Vegeta still remembered with clarity the pangs of hunger that he had suffered; and the knowledge that Raditz and Nappa had also paid the price.

No, he would be on time. He couldn't afford not to be.


Chapter Text


Frieza and his two lackeys were already in the Executive Office, sitting and drinking wine, and discussing their latest conquests, or so Vegeta liked to think. He arrived on time - not a second too early or late - and requested that the door guards give him entrance to Frieza's domain, as if he were a welcomed and invited guest.

The two men, both easily the size of Nappa, smirked down at the petite Saiyan and rumbled a form of laughter. One tapped his scouter to inform their employer, if one could use that word, that his 'guest' had arrived. Vegeta awaited the response with nervous impatience and tapped one white booted foot to keep himself from exploding into action. He shifted the small sack from one arm to the other and chewed on his lip.

"Easy, ve'ho." Nappa's low rumble reminded him to keep his composure, but that was a difficult task. "Battle focus, remember?"

"I hate waiting, like I'm a commoner." Vegeta muttered. He sought to retain his old bravado, before the fear had settled into the back of his mind like an old friend.

"Affirmative, Lord Zarbon, I'll admit them." The sentry spoke into his comline, then nodded towards his blue clad partner. They opened the imposing metal doors, and swung them outward to grant the Saiyans admittance to the inner workings of the PTO. It reminded Vegeta of the lid being removed from a tomb.

Just ... don't think about that. The all so familiar flutter in his stomach took an upswing, and Vegeta swallowed the bitter taste of impending panic. He did not bother to acknowledge either man as he strode in, they were just glorified bouncers after all. Nappa followed behind, each of his giant strides equaled three of Vegeta's steps.

Unlike Frieza's sweeping penthouse in the Residential Dome, the Main Office was an obvious display of expense and power, meant to impress and intimidate. A massive conference desk constructed of ebony stone took up most of the room, bright colored tapestries from extinct worlds lined the walls, interspersed with the rarest of art pieces, the floor was tiled in alternating red and black checker pattern that made the room seem larger than it was.

Behind Frieza's throne, a flatscreen took up most of the back wall. Instead of spewing news feeds or stocks, it showed a real time map of the North Galaxy with all of the PTO owned territories indicated in red, and looked like an abstract work: an ever growing collection of glittering rubies afloat in a pool of darkness. As Vegeta watched, he could see more points of light turning into blood red gems. More planets purged, more lives lost, more money made, All to glorify this being who was cold as the depths of space.

The self proclaimed Emperor of the Galaxy reclined in his massive throne, glanced down at his large work tablet, then swiped images with one clawed hand. He sat up as Vegeta came forward, guarded by the massive general. Zarbon and Dodoria both stood at attention in response to the tyrant's shift in position, then relaxed visibly; an insult to Vegeta that indicated neither man perceived the prince or his guardian as a threat.

Vegeta gave a low hiss in the back of his throat. The hairs on his neck and tail rose up, a combination of fear and fury. Nappa coughed once, as a reminder.

"Ah, Vegeta, welcome back. I'm so glad to see you ... again." Frieza gave him a sunny smile, a horrid expression on his cruel face. It terrified Vegeta more than when the tyrant scowled, and put him on the defensive.

"Prince Vegeta reporting as ordered, Lord Frieza." Vegeta bowed low, along with Nappa, but he hated to do so. He drew in a shaky breath to steady himself for what was to come. Heu, how he wished he had taken that packet after all, then felt ashamed and weak for needing a crutch.

Breathe from the solar plexus. Look him in the eyes, and do not let him know you are afraid. Never let them know you are afraid.

When Frieza motioned for him to stand at attention, Vegeta stood at his full height. He wrapped his tail so tightly around his waist that it hurt, gave the bag of spoils to Nappa, then placed his hands behind his back and stood with his feet apart.

Frieza smirked at him, picked up a chilled carafe and poured himself a fresh glass of blue wine, then took a sip. "How was you mission? I ask, Vegeta dear, because your report was lacking on details of any sort, and I haven't received an update from you to date. Now, I thought you informed Zarbon that you were going to remedy this issue before we spoke. Zarbon, did you not speak to our dear Prince about this matter?"

"Of course I did, Lord Frieza, as per your directions." Zarbon bore his usual self-righteous look, obviously enjoying Vegeta's unease. "And, as I recall, he had promised to provide a complete summary." The vain teal man shrugged, than gave Vegeta a sly and calculating look. "Perhaps he was too busy."

"Well, I wonder what happened, Vegeta? It is unlike you to let your duties slip so..." That horrid smile faded a bit as Frieza brought the glass back to his lips and eyed Vegeta. "Was there a problem with this mission? Usually your wrap-up reports are quite specific, and well written too. It's almost as if you weren't doing them at all. But, that wouldn't be the case, now would it? I would hate to think that you weren't capable of all the duties of a mission leader."

"No, Lord Frieza. There was no problem. I'll do it the minute I leave. I promise. It won't happen again." Vegeta blanched, and suppressed a shudder. He did not mean to, but he looked back over one shoulder at Nappa, who stood impassive with his arms folded across his massive chest.

"Oh, I know it won't." Frieza leaned back in his seat again, the perfect image of control. The full wine glass dangled lazily from one hand as he swirled the liquid and stared at the young Saiyan, an amused expression on his face.

Vegeta watched the motion, and licked his lips. He was parched, but he would not beg for a drink. He did not want to give Frieza any more leverage. He was not sure what Frieza wished for him to say ... if anything ... and he did not wish to speak out of turn and risk further punishment. When the tyrant did not lash out or punish him at all, Vegeta broke eye contact and glanced down at his feet.

Frieza clicked his tongue, then sighed. "Well? I'm listening, Vegeta. Get on with it. I don't have all day."

Zarbon and Dodoria chuckled, as if Frieza had told the best joke ever. Vegeta scowled. Damn ass kissers.

He took in a shaky breath, licked his dry lips, then began. "The purge of Palaphel was successful, and all objectives were met within the time limit. All sentient life was extinguished, and natural resources untouched."

"Ah yes. That is what your report said, too." Frieza paused, and tapped his black lined lips with one finger in thought. He stood up, then padded around the massive table on his three toed feet; the claws clicked on the tiles as he moved towards the prince, resembling a predator stalking its prey. "I've examined the follow up schematics myself, since you were so terse in your wording, Vegeta. I must say, I am so glad that you are doing as told ... at least when you are on the clock. It seems that our last heart to heart sunk in, doesn't it?"

Such a casual mention for such horror. Frieza acted as if they had tea together, instead of beating the young Saiyan into oblivion, and then trapping him and burying him alive.

The low buzz in his ears returned full force, and the steel ball of fear rose up in his throat. His tail frizzed, even though it was wrapped around his waist, and he blanked out for a second. Nappa rumbled deep in his chest in response to Vegeta's distress and stepped closer to be by his side, but Vegeta did not notice at first.

"... Vegeta. Vegeta ... " Frieza snapped his lavender fingers under the Prince's nose. "Do you need a timeout? Perhaps you should return later when you can pay attention."

Vegeta blinked, startled to find the tyrant literally in his face, and recoiled. When had Frieza gotten so close ... what had just happened to him? "No, Lord Frieza. I - I'm fine."

"Splendid. This was the first solo you've gone on in a while. Perhaps if you're going to continue to behave, I can see to it that you will go out on more assignments. Would you like that?" Frieza leaned forward and spoke in a syrupy tone, as if he were an overindulgent parent speaking to a spoiled child.

"Yes, Lord Frieza," he mimicked, "I would like that."

"Now, do tell me all about it. I picked this one just for you, Vegeta, to help you get back into 'the swing of things' after your recent bout of bad luck. And I want to knew every single detail."

This again. Why does he care so much about the small things? What does he know about that world ... will he know if I'm lying? I don't want to say the wrong thing ... or not say the right thing, either.

He huffed in frustration and earned a sharp glare from Zarbon, then cleared his throat. His arms and legs felt numb, and his stomach lanced with pain. Beads of sweat gathered at his hairline and the top his lip.

"I made planetfall without any notice, and I met little resistance from the population. In fact, they refused to fight me after a while." Vegeta paused, and reviewed the mission in his head again. Certain parts seemed harder to recall. He decided it was best not to mention the dead Saiyan warrior; he was sure that Frieza had no knowledge of that ... or so he hoped.

"Oh really?" Frieza acted surprised; he raised one hand to his lips and widened his eyes. "Why was that, do you think?"

To one side, Dodoria started to cackle. Zarbon gave his compatriot a sideways glance, then crossed his arms and resumed looking down his nose at Vegeta.

Is he really surprised, or just messing with me?

"They just surrendered," Vegeta extrapolated; he knew that the Icejin wanted the gory details. "Many of the cities were in ruins already, but they were widely spaced over the surface of the planet. Those that were standing had no defenses. I was able to destroy them with minimal effort, but I think they gave up once they realized they stood no chance. Maybe it was part of their religion, too, because they said it was 'fated' and they wouldn't try and stop me from killing them. Cowards." The prince scoffed, then gave an exaggerated shrug.

"So, you're saying that the natives became noncombatants by choice?" Frieza swirled the wine in the glass and flicked his tail as he spoke in a lazy arc. His red eyes glittered and he kept eye contact with Vegeta, watched every nuance.

"Yes. My orders were to purge, and that's what I did. They dishonored themselves; they didn't even try to defend their homes. Honestly, Lord Frieza, it was too easy." Vegeta held up his head high and boasted, like when he was young and fearless and he had not yet learned to fear the Icejin. As Vegeta warmed up to his speech, he became more animated, and even forgot his nervousness, until Frieza spoke again.

"Easy, you say? Perhaps ... child's play? Of course it was, dear boy. I wanted you to come back to me in one piece." Frieza pointed one finger at Vegeta.

"You knew?" Vegeta growled, and his coal black eyes narrowed to slits. The tip of his tail lashed in anger. He felt humiliated; insulted that Frieza would demean him so. He was an Elite warrior, meant for challenges, not coddling.

Frieza ignored his question. "Tell me, what did you do after they surrendered?"

Vegeta tried to swallow, then stared at the carafe on the table, the empty glasses, and longed for a drink. His voice cracked as he continued. "I spared no one, of course."

"Of course. Please, do continue."

If Frieza wanted a show, then ... Vegeta would give him one. As he had with Raditz and Nappa the other night, he launched into a florid narrative; he allowed the words to pour out as he brought the mission to life again and gave the Palapheli a second life through his words. It was what Frieza wanted, perhaps, to experience the death and suffering of innocent people through Vegeta's eyes.

Vegeta described in detail the destruction, the deaths, the looting, every drop of blood shed, every death that he could remember, and then some that came purely out of his imagination in a urge to placate Frieza's insatiable desire. He did not mention finding a downed Attack Pod ... or (get off this world)... Well, there was nothing else to mention, was there?

Vegeta glanced off to one side as if disgusted, but in truth he needed to avoid those crimson eyes. He crossed his arms and thought for a moment. "I used my scouter to check for remaining energy signals and did a visual scan, but if I had checked each building I would have exceeded my time limit. Nothing could have survived. Pah! I took salvage as was my right before I torched their capital and made them watch. They died on their knees."

Vegeta kept up a brave face, but he was quaking inside. He had never lied to Frieza before. True, it was a lie of omission, but still a lie and if the tyrant ever found out there would be hell to pay.

He bobbed his head in a show of feigned respect and placation. "Please give me a challenge so that I may prove myself, Lord Frieza."

"Such a grand tale, my little prince!" Frieza opened his hands wide, as if he planned to embrace the young Saiyan, and wrapped his tail around Vegeta in a parody of embrace. If he noticed Vegeta's twitch, he ignored it. "

"Thank you, Lord Frieza," Vegeta whispered, and prayed for the meeting to end.

"You wish for greater challenges, do you? Well, I am not sure you deserve it after your recent antics, Vegeta. You have been rather willful as of late ... disobeying your teachers, shirking your duties, causing problems in public ... " Frieza counted off on his fingers, ticked off each point. The sudden change in mood unsettled the Saiyan.

"It was a mistake." At this point, Vegeta was not sure exactly which 'antic' he was apologizing for. "It won't happen again."

"I know." Frieza returned to his former sunny attitude. He reached out and ran his hand over the top of Vegeta's head, smoothed down his wild hair - once again the indulgent parental figure.

Vegeta reached the end of his will. He could not suppress his reactions any more, he shuddered at the touch, and took one step back. In response, Frieza gripped his chin in his other hand and applied just enough pressure so those black talons bit the skin but did not draw blood.

He wanted to vomit. Bile rose up in his throat as he sought to keep his expression neutral and to keep all traces of insurrection off his face, the traitorous memories of his grand lie - the secret that he would give his life to keep. He prayed that Frieza did not know everything - that he did not know about the fallen Saiyan - or (heu forbid) the Palapheli living crystals.

"Vegeta dear, did you take anything?" Frieza kept hold of his chin and forced eye contact.

"Yes." Vegeta spoke with confidence that he did not feel. Frieza had never cared about looting before, and Vegeta knew damn well that he had already mentioned salvage. Like himself, Frieza never forgot conversations. One misstep, one wrong phase, and it would all come undone. The Icejin's eyes bored into his.

"We are allowed to take salvage as part of our mission pay, if it is available." Vegeta quoted Zarbon's speech about mission parameters from when the prince was brought onto the Frieza Force two years ago almost word for word. He saw Zarbon scowl a bit, and laughed to himself. "I thought that was part of the protocol."

Saiyans have great memories (when they are not suppressing things) and can recall conversations from years ago, if they so choose. They are fast learners, have excellent memories, and can modify and invent new techniques with ease. It was also why they were so dangerous.

"You thought." Frieza sighed, and released Vegeta from his clutches. "That can be a problem. Bad things tend to happen when you monkeys try to think."

"I've brought some of the best pieces for you to keep," Vegeta offered to fill up the silence, and to keep himself from lashing out at the insult. He motioned to Nappa to give him the bag.

Frieza chuckled and held up one hand. "Oh, don't look so upset, Vegeta. I don't want any of your silly little trinkets. Keep them ... a child needs play things, after all."

"Monkeys and their shiny things," Zarbon said out of the side of his mouth.

Infuriated and at the end of his endurance, Vegeta pulled away from Frieza's touch and towards the safety of Nappa and made contact with his guardian. His muscles twitched and he had to use all of his willpower to keep from fleeing the room, screaming.

"Indeed," Frieza agreed, then crossed his arms and regarded Vegeta with a sardonic expression. "It's a shame you did not earn a bonus. However, you were within the time limit and you did meet all of the criteria. I suppose I will have to reward you for performing on cue, Vegeta. I do want to encourage proper behavior in you when I see it." He gave a placating smile, a benevolent king patronizing the 'little people'. "Zarbon, pay him."

"Right away, Lord Frieza," Zarbon said in his sycophantic tone.

When his tablet chimed a notification, Vegeta resisted the urge to check the amount. To do so in front of Zarbon might cause another argument. "Thank you, Lord Zarbon, Lord Frieza."

"You are dismissed. And Vegeta ... we will have to talk again soon, discuss your lesson plans. I don't want you getting bored ... you tend to get into trouble when you are. Dodoria, see them out."

Frieza released him with a wave of one hand, then turned his back and continued his previous discussion with Zarbon. Dodoria escorted them to the lift. The bulky magenta general said nothing, just grinned the entire way. Vegeta wrapped his arms around himself, went inside his own head, and blocked the concerned Nappa out.

Once home, Vegeta rushed into the bathroom, slammed the door behind him, and began to retch.

Nappa pounded on the door with one giant fist. "Vegeta!"

"Don't come in here," he snarled, drool and vomit on his face as he heaved up everything he had eaten during the last day. "Leave me alone!"

After a few minutes, Nappa came in anyways and placed a hand on Vegeta's back as he spit and retched. After his stomach was empty, he stood up, rinsed his mouth, and looked in the mirror. His face was blotched, and his eyes looked haunted. Now that it was over, he felt a little better ... but not much.

Nappa hovered behind him, his bulk filling up the small room, a worried expression on his stubbled face. "It'll be okay, ve'ho."

"No, it won't. Stop saying that!" Vegeta clenched his fists and howled at his guardian, because he needed to get out the stress, and he knew that Nappa would not lash out in return.

Nappa saw the embarrassment on Vegeta's face. "Ah ... I'll leave ya alone. C'mon out when you're ready, and we'll go have some noodles."

Vegeta gave a wan smile then turned away, his shoulders hunched. He felt miserable, small and lost.

Nappa returned to the living room, took a seat on the worn couch to watch the screen, and worried. How much physical and mental abuse could the prince take before he was permanently damaged? Although it was true that Saiyans thrived on battle, this wasn't physical combat. It was a grand mind fuck, and Vegeta was too young for it. He hated seeing the young prince being wounded in such a matter, and it was taking a toll, no matter how much Vegeta pretended otherwise.

After a while, Vegeta emerged from the bathroom, pale and quiet, but did his best to put up a good front and swagger. Nappa pretended not to notice the drawn expression, the droop of the young Saiyan's tail.

"Hey ten'ta ... you hungry," Nappa drawled. The mention of food usually did the trick.

"Maybe." Vegeta shrugged.

"What?" Nappa raised his thick, bushy eyebrows into an exaggerated parody of shock. "You don't want food? Maybe you are sick. Maybe ya should go lay down."

"I"m fine," Vegeta snapped, unable to see the humor in his situation. "Don't coddle me."

Nappa sighed. "Okay, no coddling. Let's go to the Shack and treat ourselves."

Thirty minutes later, Nappa and Vegeta sat in their favorite booth and dug into courses of hot soup, fresh crunchies, pans of greasy noodles, and steaming tea. In spite of his earlier nausea, Vegeta's appetite returned with a vengeance; he consumed everything that Nappa placed in front of him. While the prince ate, Nappa sent a quick cryptic message to one of his black market contacts, and requested a meeting later to go over some 'interesting items'.

"Feel better, Vegeta?" Nappa asked, after Vegeta finished off a fifth helping.

"Yes ... and no ..." Vegeta sat quiet for a moment. "I don't get it, Nappa. Why didn't Frieza punish me - not that I wanted him to! I blanked out in the middle of my verbal report. I forgot my write up."

"Speaking of that, ve'ho, give me your tablet. I don't need ya having an aneurism today." Nappa's mouth set in a thin line. "This is the last time that I'll do this for you. You need to take responsibility. I'll help, but you are the mission leader. We don't need a repeat performance. As to what Frieza's up to ... I think I know. You're ve'ho ee'ko Saiyanu and you're stronger than they are. Don't let 'em break ya."

Amaranth returned with their bill, a smile, and a generous bag of leftovers. "Here, take this home to Raditz. It's on the house."

Nappa chuckled, and gave her a toothy grin, then waved his tail in a salute to both her and Teff. "What would I do without you, Amaranth?"

"Starve," she said, and they both laughed.

Vegeta, however, did not. "Tch. Can we go now?"

"Lighten up, Vegeta. Our accounts are full and so are our bellies. You can't worry about what Frieza may or may not do right now. There's a time to fight and a time to recover. You need to learn to pick your battles, ve'ho, or else you'll lose the war." Nappa slid his bowl towards the young Saiyan. "Here, have the rest of my noodles while I wait for my contact to get back to me. Then we'll go off to the training halls, and you can get your daily run in, then you and me can train, just like the old days. Okay?"

"Okay." Vegeta allowed himself to be bribed by the promise of more foodstuffs and his favorite activities. "But I'm eating Raditz's takeout."

Chapter Text

Vegeta ran around the track, his limbs pumped furiously, his breathing smooth; he almost felt like he was flying. Ever since he was a young boy on Vegetasai, he had loved to run and feel the wind on his face, feel his muscles move, feel the strength in his body. Now, on FP-79, there was no sun, no wind ... except what he created through his own efforts. Still he ran, and for a while allowed his mind to go to autopilot and dream. He exercised on a daily basis: working out in the weight rooms, fighting Saibamen in the training areas, practicing his forms, or working with Zarbon and Dodoria. He always felt better when he moved and now, he could use it to scrub the ever present anxiety from his mind for a little while.

After an hour of running at standard gravity, Vegeta had a light sheen of perspiration on his small but muscular body, and he felt better for it. In order to tire himself out though, he needed to run under increased gravity, but the gym was not set up for it. After his warm up, Vegeta spent time working on the traditional Saiyan katas passed down through the royal family for generations, under Nappa's supervision. In spite of Frieza's criticism, the former Commander was the only individual alive who could teach Vegeta those skills. It helped to keep the two connected, and to keep a piece of Vegetasai alive for the young prince.

He also strove to perfect the skills he had learned from Zarbon, who emphasized more than brute strength. Vegeta strove for perfection; one day he would show up the effeminate teal warrior by beating him at his own game. Finally, he ended his workout with a long soak in the hot tub. He was the only one there, so he floated on the surface of the water, spread out his arms and legs and let the jets slowly rotate him. As he turned, he closed his eyes.

Unbidden, flashes of golden faces danced upon his mind's eye, then were gone. He could not place them or figure out why they made him feel so unsettled. He forced his mind away from his last mission, then focused his attention on those crystals instead ... turned them over and over again in his mind, felt the warmth on his palms and wondered where he could find out more about them without alerting Frieza, if that was even possible.

He knew the base held a massive library, but he had never been allowed inside. It was supposed to be available to all PTO officers, but he could not get in, and neither could Nappa, come to find out. Nappa was sure it was another form of discrimination to keep them suppressed. Knowledge was power, and the 'powers that be' certainly did not want Saiyans getting too educated, too uppity. Although a search on the subject would be just as obvious as walking up to the tyrant and handing the crystals over to him.

Vegeta sighed as he drifted, and allowed his imagination to run wild. In his reverie, he learned to unlock the crystals' secret, learned to control them. Perhaps with them in hand, he could harness his own power; unlock the inner strength of a Saiyan noble, and ascend ... just like the legends! He dreamed of untold power, of golden locks, of going up against his enemies and watching them crumble, and at last to see Frieza's hated face locked in fear as the life drained from him ... as the last son of the house of Vegeta exacted his revenge.

"Hey, ve'ho ... it's getting near dinner. We can hit the mess, then you can get your studies in." Nappa's gravelly voice cut into his fantasy. Vegeta's eyes snapped open to see his massive guardian crouched to one side; his hands rested on his muscular thighs and his thick tail waved in a relaxed arc. "Havin' some good thoughts?"

He realized that he had been smiling; at Nappa's gentle reminder, he grumbled. He felt so relaxed and warm, almost like in a womb, that he did not wish to leave. He wanted to float for a while, suspended, and be without worry. Then his stomach spoke up and emitted a long and painful growl and brought him back to reality. Now that he was back in his body, he felt the hollow ache of hunger, even though they had eaten no more than four hours ago.

"Really Nappa, studies?" Vegeta let a dramatic sigh escape then moaned and rolled his eyes, but made no effort to leave the bath. "Can't it wait?"

"Afraid not, Vegeta." The bald Saiyan shook his head once, then crossed his arms and stood. "You've been getting behind lately. It's time to get back to proper habits. Can't let those assholes disrupt things."

Vegeta felt a quick spike of anger, and he squinted his eyes as he stared up at his bodyguard. Getting behind, Nappa? Is that what you call it ... as if the recent events had been nothing, as if Frieza had not beaten him to within an inch of his life.

Nappa recognized Vegeta roiling himself up into a tantrum, and sought to quell it. "C'mon Vegeta. We can come back tomorrow, okay? Let's not miss dinner, and we gotta meet Raditz."

"Tch. Fine."


Despite their earlier agreement, Raditz was not in the mess line, nor did he make an appearance. Although Nappa would not admit it, Vegeta knew the big man was worried about the long haired youth. Lately, Raditz had been getting in scuffles more often than not; he was an easier target for PTO soldiers who wished to take out their grudges on the 'monkeys'. Nappa was physically terrifying, and Vegeta's power level was enough to intimidate most would-be bullies into avoiding him, so Raditz took the brunt of the abuse.

Nappa grew more worried as mealtime passed and Raditz did not respond to his messages, nor was he able to be roused on their group scouter frequency. "Damn it, Raditz, pick the hell up. Don't make me come and find ya!" he shouted into the built in scouter microphone, attracting attention from their fellow diners.

"Maybe he's ignoring us," Vegeta suggested, and shrugged as if he was not concerned about Raditz's lack of response. "Or he's pissed off that we made fun of Twinkletoes."

"Huh. Maybe. If he's not back home when we get there, I'm finding his ass and then I'm kicking it." Nappa cracked his knuckles, then stood and scanned the crowd once more, hoping to see the familiar mane of black hair. No such luck.

Good old Nappa, Vegeta thought.

Unfortunately for Nappa's state of mind, and his hair, Raditz had not returned home when they arrived. Upon making this discovery, Nappa launched into a colorful stream of invectives while he sent frantic messages to both Zarbon and his young charge, and pulled at his wild mohawk.

"Nappa ... you're going to go bald if you keep that up," Vegeta said, a gentle jab at his guardian.

"Ahh ... Don't remind me. Now take your scouter off, get that tablet out and get to studying, ve'ho. No more excuses." Nappa pointed one gnarled finger at Vegeta's usual study location. His expression was grim, and even Vegeta knew enough not to protest. Sometimes it was easier to comply ... or at least give the appearance of doing so.

For a while, Vegeta stared at the screen but did not process a thing. He was far too occupied with his own thoughts to pay attention. But Nappa did not notice because he also was preoccupied. Then their scouters emitted a chirp, an indicator of group communication.

"This better be him," Nappa growled, and attached the scouter over his large left ear. "Raditz, where the hell are you?"

The big man paced around the kitchen - three steps covered the entire length. He ran one hand through his mop of black hair. He did not notice when Vegeta picked his scouter up and placed it against his own ear to listen in.

"... I'm fucking pissed because I figured you were dead in a ditch, or ran into the Ginyus again. I've got somewhere to be later, and I need you to keep an eye on Vegeta. Now get your ass back here."

"Glad to know you're concerned. I can't come back, so stop bitching at me! I'm working overtime for Master Zarbon, and I already told you there was a chance I'd have to stay over. And I'm getting paid ... a lot. You were the one complaining about not enough funds in our group account." Raditz's tone was snippy, and took on a nasal quality  when he was irritated. His voice also cracked, none of which lent him any sort of authority.

"I can take care of myself," Vegeta offered.

"Eyes on your studies," Nappa admonished, and tapped one finger on Vegeta's screen. "Raditz, Lemme talk to Twinkletoes. Right now."

"Please, Nappa, not right now. And don't call him that! Look, I'm sorry I can't come back, I really am ... but I've got to go." An audible click indicated that Raditz had shut off his communicator.

"Damn it, that little ass disconnected on me," Nappa snarled in frustration. Raditz had been developing a serious attitude problem lately, and Nappa was not fond of it. He had enough attitude problems with the prince.

"What's so important you've got to leave again, Nappa?"

"I'm meeting my contact later to pawn those items, remember? Damn that Raditz ..."

"I'm old enough to take care of myself for a few hours without supervision; I've done it before." Vegeta presented what he thought was a valid point.

"Yeah, against my express orders." Nappa took off his blue scouter and glared at it, as if Raditz could feel his anger through the connection.

"I'll just stay here, watch the screen. I won't go running off." A lone Saiyan was easy pickings, and both Vegeta and Nappa knew it. But despite his objections to the contrary, he did not want to be left in the flat with only his thoughts and worries to keep him company.

Vegeta hated to admit that he, the most powerful of Saiyans, was still afraid to be by himself. But ... perhaps Nappa did not want a br'at tagging along behind him when he went off to do the 'adult things' that he and Raditz thought Vegeta knew nothing about. On that count, they were wrong. Vegeta wondered if Nappa was mad because he could not get drunk and visit his 'girlfriends' if he came along.

Nappa also did not wish to leave the prince alone. In spite of how self sufficient he claimed to be, Vegeta was still underage, unstable, and with a curious and rebellious streak. The last time that Vegeta had been left to his own devices, he had gone missing for several days, ended up terrified and injured and had never been the same since. Nappa still felt guilty about that one, he knew that something horrible had happened to his charge, even though Vegeta still refused to talk about it. Something that had involved Zarbon.

"Ah hell ... wrap up your studies, Vegeta. You're gonna come with me."

Vegeta managed to look offended, although he was relieved. "I said I'm fine... I'll just stay here and study." He gave Nappa a wide smile that showed his canines. It was supposed to make him appear trustworthy, but only made him look more devious.

Nappa gave a quick bark of laughter. "You? Study on your own? What do ya take me for, ve'ho?

A dark storm cloud of anger passed over Vegeta's face again. "You think I'm lying?"

"Vegeta ... Look, I'm gonna go to the Fighting Pits. You want to come with ... even against my better judgement." That last bit was said under Nappa's breath.

The Fighting Pits were one of several underground locations on FP-79 where soldiers could go to make bets on illicit matches, meet contacts, and make deals. Some of the best fighters regularly honed their skills in the pits, and several times a year, open tournaments were held. The rest of the time, the Empire turned a blind eye to the illicit activities. People needed outlets, after all.

When Vegeta had first found out about the Pits, he had begged first Nappa, then Raditz to take him for several months. Unfortunately, like most places on base, he was too young to go by himself, and his guardians refused to take him. It was probably a good thing ... but Vegeta did not see it that way. After a while, he seemed to give up on it, much like his interest in zenkai had seemed to fade.

In truth, Vegeta forgot nothing. He had not given up on zenkai, and neither had he forgotten about the only location where he could go and get his fight on without holding back. It might take years, but one of these days, he would get there. He would fight. He would win, and rake in the credits, and show them to respect the might of a true Saiyan!

At the mention of the forbidden location, he perked up and his anger faded like a distant memory. "Really?"

Vegeta broke out into a wide grin, a rare and true expression of happiness. He sat up straight, and his tail lifted and curled. At his display, Nappa smiled down at him, and patted him on the shoulder.

"Really, ten'ta. You've had a bad time of it lately, and I know you've wanted to go for a while. Maybe we can make a bet or two."

Vegeta got a sly look. "Maybe I can fight?"

"Don't push it, Vegeta." 


The Pits were housed in a large dome unconnected to the HomeBase facility, and was reached by over surface transport. The large arcade glowed bright white, and was filled with all sorts of soldiers, scum, mercenaries, business people - in short, anyone who wanted to wheel and deal came at some point to the Pits. Four caged rings allowed combatants to clash, and patrons to bet. A betting parlor was attached, along with a few trashy eateries and bars. The bright strobes flashed out at regular intervals; technically, it was outside the PTO's domain, but Frieza had his fingers in this pie as well ... he just usually could not be bothered with it.

Vegeta's excitement grew as the transport raced over the cold dead surface of the planet and kicked up the red dust. Once the world had been a thriving ecosystem, until the PTO had decided otherwise and annihilated all life. Most likely, it was a Saiyan purge crew that had done it. Vegeta wondered who they had been ... and felt a twinge of sadness that their reward for work well done was to die with Vegetasai.

The sleek vehicle ate the distance as it chased the setting sun, then settled into the coupling locks at the landing port. With a hiss, the doors opened and released its living cargo into the chaos. Vegeta and Nappa departed along with a dozen other sentients, most of them clad in different versions of PTO issued armor. No one paid attention to each other. He could see large crowds of people, all races, sizes and shapes moving about, could hear the roar of crowds and the buzz of conversation. This was where some of the most important business of the Empire happened. But Vegeta did not care about that. He wanted to see the fights, watch the matches. There were, according to Nappa, several levels of combat from hand-to-hand to Ki combat, and everything in between. One could make a small fortune if one had the timing and connections.

Entrance into the complex seemed unguarded - at least to the naked eye - but Vegeta knew that security here just wore a different face; authority had a blind eye, but the lords of the underworld did not. He scanned quick for cameras, and saw none. His scouter gave a odd chirp as they entered, and for a second he heard nothing but white noise, the eternal PTO chatter silenced. He felt the hair on his arms stand up as they passed the open gates and knew they had passed through some kind of force field. Overhead, a large sign proclaimed 'welcome' in several different languages.

Once past the barrier, Nappa seemed to relax. He kept his tail wrapped and the bag tucked under one arm in a casual manner, but Vegeta knew that anyone who drew within ten feet of them would be watched by the ever vigilant warrior.

No one paid much attention to them as they walked through the burgeoning crowd towards the betting cages and bars. Shouts and screams echoed, indicators of fights in progress, and three smaller domes blazed. In one, Vegeta could see and feel the concussive force of Ki blasts. His blood sung in response, and he wanted nothing more to go and test his strength.

Nappa placed a hand on his shoulder just as Vegeta picked up his pace. "Slow down, Vegeta, and just stick by me. This place can get ya dead quick, no matter how high your power level is. Speaking of that, turn your scanner app off. It won't do ya much good here."

As directed, Vegeta removed his scouter. He powered down the energy program and placed it into passive mode. At the mention of possible danger, he snorted and rolled his eyes. "Hmph. Bring it. I can take just about anyone here. You know I can."

"I don't care if you can, ve'ho. Ya don't know this place like I do. There's plenty of fri'va jik'hiu who'd love to fuck with us, just 'cause of what we are. Usually I love a good fight, but we don't want attention today. Don't need to spook my contact."

"Auggghhh ... If I can't fight, can we at least watch a match?" Vegeta grumbled, and placed his scouter back over his left ear. If he lost it, Zarbon would never let him hear the end of it.

Nappa rumbled his irritation, but kept moving forward. Each one of his steps equaled three of Vegeta's own, and forced the young prince into a trot in order to keep up. The former Commander scanned the crowd as he moved, always alert to his environment. Here, they were just two beings of no real importance in a sea of bodies, each person actively ignoring everyone else.

"Business first, then fun," he admonished.

"Seriously? What's the point of being here if I at least can't watch the fights." Vegeta griped and threw up his hands in frustration, then stomped after his stubborn guardian. He did not wish to get separated in this unknown place.

He and Nappa entered one of the unnamed bars: a dingy location with poor lighting and questionable hygiene. Flatscreens lined most of the walls and speakers blared out so much noise out that conversations had to be carried out at a low scream. The din hurt Vegeta's ears and made his head ring. How did Nappa stand it?

Nappa sauntered up to the bar, ordered an ale, then paid with a credit stick instead of his PTO card. Vegeta climbed up onto the stool next to him and watched as the two men exchanged gossip. The bartender pushed an overflowing glass of foamy brew towards Nappa, then turned away. He did not ask Vegeta what he wanted to drink, did not even acknowledge Vegeta's existence, and the young Saiyan felt a bit spurned.

"Nappa, get me a drink," he ordered, and put on his best authoritative expression. "I need to fit in." The worst that could happen would be that Nappa would shoot him down ... and he did.

"Nice try, Vegeta, but no. Let's grab a seat, the meeting's in a few minutes."

They found an unoccupied booth in the back. The table was dented and covered with stains and smears of something that may or may not have been blood. Nappa folded his great bulk into the back bench, placed the sack by one thigh, then set his drink down. The liquid spilled out over the surface and left a clean mark. Vegeta shuddered at that thought. When he sat down next to Nappa, he found that the seat, just like the table and the floor, were sticky.

"Ugh," he hissed, and his tail frizzed in unconscious reaction. His nose wrinkled from the smell, and he drew his lips back in a sneer. "This place is ... foul, Nappa!" He tried to wipe his hand off, but only succeeded in turning his palms brown.

"Yeah ... boy, this brings back some memories." Nappa took a swig of the foul brown liquid, then smacked his lips and sighed. "Welcome to the underbelly of the PTO, Vegeta."

"This is one memory I don't want to make," Vegeta grumbled. He had never wanted a bath so bad in his life. When Nappa chuckled, he bristled for a second, then realized that the older man was not criticizing.

To distract himself from the disgusting surroundings, Vegeta watched the screens. Three of them streamed the current matches, but only one interested him. He watched in fascination as the two combatants; one a tall and slender individual with green hair and blue skin who reminded him of Zarbon, and a stocky female with fuscia skin. Both individuals were airborne, and exchanged quick vollies of Ki attacks. The blue man flung a violet ball at the female; she blocked quick, and phased underneath the man, struck him with a quick wave, then teleported again, so fast that the camera had a hard time tracking the movements.

Teleporting again ... I've got to get Nappa to show me how, because Zarbon won't.

Vegeta became immersed in the match, observed new attacks and defenses and committed them to memory for later. He could imagine the flow of energy, how it would feel in his body. Vegeta was a quick study, and often only needed to see an attack once to replicate it. He could not wait to try some of them on Dodoria. Vegeta forgot that he was disgusted, and he also forgot why they had come until Nappa cleared his throat to alert him.

A small figure, clad in a dark robe with a hood over its face approached their table. The individual was short, perhaps Vegeta's height, and held a small glass of smoking liquid.

"Commander Nappa... it's been a while. May I join you?" The being spoke in cultured tones that carried quite well in spite of the noise.

"Okay, ve'ho." Nappa leaned to yell in Vegeta's ear, and placed his hand on the prince's shoulder. "This is a time where you watch and observe, okay? It's important that we don't screw this one up."

"What," Vegeta cupped one ear and yelled, partially to tease Nappa.

"I'm serious, Vegeta. This isn't a joke. One misstep here and years of work are gone. Understand?"

When Vegeta nodded, Nappa motioned to their contact to join them. The being took the bench across from the two Saiyans, placed the glass down, then leaned forward so they could converse. The individual exchanged a few words with Nappa, then extracted a small sphere from underneath its robe and tossed it into the air. The piece of tech emitted a visible pulse, then the roar of the surroundings faded.

"There, that's better," the contact said. "Not only will the dampener allow us to speak, but others can not overhear our conversation. Now ... I'm confused, Commander. Your missive indicated that we would be meeting alone."

The petite being pulled back the edge of its hood to make eye contact with the two Saiyans as a sign of respect. In Saiyan culture, avoiding eye contact was a sign of either fear or submission, and both were considered disrespectful. The movement revealed a dual toned face with dark lips, boned ridges over the brow, and blood red eyes. The shape of the skull indicated protrusions that were, upon further inspection, likely horns. The hand that extended in an offer of alliance was dark pink in color with black clawed tips.

"Frieza!" Vegeta could not help his automatic reaction. His eyes went wide, his tail frizzed out and started to lash. His muscles locked, and his stomach clenched into knots. He started to hyperventilate. "Gods, Nappa, it's Frieza ... you sold me out... how could you?"

Nappa kept his hand on Vegeta's shoulder, and applied enough gentle pressure to keep him in his seat but not enough to cause him pain. He ignored Vegeta's accusation of treachery.

"Ve'ho. Hst, Vegeta. Hey, look at me ve'ho." Nappa leaned into his line of sight. "This is why I didn't wanna bring you along, I knew you'd freak out. I need ya to calm down, and listen, and trust me! You're my prince. I'd never betray ya. Now take a look. This is not Frieza. Trust me. I wouldn't lead us into a trap."

The small female Icejin waited while the two Saiyans whispered to each other, watched the little one's fearful reaction. Alas, it was only to be expected from the Saiyans, as they had been treated terribly. As she waited, she sipped at the steaming drink until the boy calmed down.

"You can rest assured, young man, that I am not associated with Lord Frieza in any manner, although we look similar. You may call me Blizza." She offered a hand to Vegeta, shook it once, then relaxed her grasp. Her hand was quite warm. Vegeta had expected her touch to be scaly, and cold as ice. Then she shook Nappa's hand, hers was engulfed in his great paw.

"I'm sorry about that," Nappa began. "He's been having a rough time lately with Frieza. I shoulda warned you but there wasn't enough time."

Blizza waved one clawed hand to show that she was unconcerned. "Plans do change. Is this your son, Nappa?"

The giant Saiyan chuckled, and gave a rueful smile. "Nah. He's my charge. He's alright now, aren't ya, Vegeta?"

"No," Vegeta said, a bit off put that his guardian was consorting with what he considered to be the enemy ... but this was not his world, it was Nappa's.

Blizza gave a quick start, then leaned forward to get a closer look at the young boy next to Nappa. "Vegeta?  Vegeta, as in the prince, Vegeta?"

"Oh good, you've heard of me." Vegeta disguised his worry with bluster. Why did this Frieza look-alike know his name?

"Vegeta!" Nappa snapped. "Now's not the time to mouth off."

The small Icejin nodded her head once to hide a smile. She folded her small hands around the glass, and clicked one of her nails on the clear surface. "So this is the prince I have heard so much about. It's an honor to meet you, finally. You look a lot like your father."

"My father? You knew my father?" Vegeta leapt to his feet, his hands balled at his sides. The mention of his beloved ja'ta sent a spike through his heart. How dare this creature speak about the King as if they were best ge'tahu?

"Er, you could say that." She coughed once into her hand, then reestablished eye contact with the prince. "I met him once many years ago. He was a great man. Very honorable."

"When did this happen, and where was I?" Nappa's confusion was evident, and it made Vegeta feel on edge.

"It was before you and I met, Commander Nappa, back when the PTO first was negotiating with the Saiyans, back when we all thought Frieza was a good choice and before we all knew the truth about the Cold Empire. I met your father, young prince, when we were seeking to hire your people as independent contractors. He was a shrewd man with good head for business, but unfortunately Frieza had all of us fooled. If we had known then what he would become, perhaps we could have warned others away ... not that it would have mattered in the end." Blizza shifted in her seat and her tail, which she had curled under the table, thumped in annoyance.

"Why hasn't anyone done something, if you hate him so much," Vegeta snapped, and ignored Nappa's warning glance. His voice rose into a howl, and his body shook with barely contained fury. "I lost everything because of him!"

"Lord Frieza and his family are more powerful than anything we had seen before. We can't touch them. Just like you." Blizza's voice dripped with venom. "And now, everyone assumes that we Icejin are all just like Frieza: murderers and thieves. Well ... we're nothing alike, you hear me? We're not cold blooded ... well, we are, but not cold blooded killers, you see? You are not the only victim, Prince Vegeta. I am sorry for your loss. Please know that if we could have taken him out by now, we would have."

Vegeta locked his ebony gaze with the Icejin's ruby orbs. He wanted nothing more than to vent his rage on the cold creature, to make her pay for the sins of her brethren ... but then her words sunk in. If she spoke true, then she too was a casualty of Frieza's greed, and the Saiyans needed all the allies they could find. He huffed, then sat back down in his seat, diminished. He would not apologize though, a Prince never needed to apologize.

"Well, on to business, at any rate. Show me what you've brought, Commander. I'm sure you two don't wish to be here all night. Stars know I don't. This place makes my skin crawl," she chuckled, and Vegeta felt a moment of connection to the small Icejin.

On cue, Nappa placed the sack upon the table, opened it, and extracted the items for Blizza to inspect.

"Curious," she murmered, as she held up a parchment tube, extracted the contents, and rolled it out flat. "I don't recognize this writing. Where were these items from, Nappa?"

"Palaphel," Vegeta snapped, upset that Blizza did not even consider him. "These are my things, Icejin. I earned them."

"Vegeta, enough..."

"Well, I'll treat them with respect, young Saiyan prince." Blizza inspected everything, commented and asked the occasional question. She seemed quite interested in the parchments and jewelry, took out a small eyepiece and examined the small gems.

"We've got a few more things back home," Nappa said, "but this is the best of the lot."

"Hmm. I'm sure I can find a buyer for most of these items, especially once the planet is reformed and placed on the market. The craftsmanship is exquisite on some of these pieces. If you have anything else along this line, I'd be interested in seeing it as well. I'm planning to be on site for the next few days. In regards to payment ... I'll give you the usual price if that suits you."

"Good enough." Nappa reached out one paw, and they shook to seal the deal.

Blizza once again reached into her robe and removed two untraceable credit sticks, the preferred currency of thieves, rebels, and dissonants alike. She handed one to Nappa, then slid the other across the table to Vegeta. "Here's an extra ten for you, Prince Vegeta. Contact me if you have anything else to sell. Good evening, gentlemen."

The small Icejin wrapped the cloak around herself once again, then summoned the orb back into her hand. When she ran one finger over its metallic surface, the noise crashed back in with such force that it was almost painful. She nodded her head in farewell and took her leave.

Vegeta stared at the stick. He had never had his own money before, not like this. "See Nappa, now I have money to go bet with! Now can we go watch a fight? You did promise ..." He stared up at Nappa with big sparkly eyes.

"... Fine. Let's go. If you lose it, I'm not replacing it. Deal?"

"Deal."

Nappa clapped one hand on his charge's shoulder. "Alright. Let's go, before I change my mind."

Chapter Text

Nappa and Vegeta returned to the Residential Dome late during the sleep cycle after spending most of their evening at the fighting pits. Vegeta was in his glory as he watched the matches; he perched on a bench with a giant smile plastered across his face, his hands twitched as he imagined the strikes coming from his own palms. Nappa even allowed the prince to place a few bets. He did surprisingly well at first, but after a while the losses started to add up, and Nappa decided it was time to leave. They ate a quick and greasy meal then returned home. The next day they would take a trip to the commissary, shop without a budget, and fill their cupboards.

The lights were dimmed when they entered, and it was clear that Raditz had still not returned home. Nappa grumbled and sent off another round of messages, demanding to know the youth's location, but once again did not receive any replies. The big man sighed, sat down and kicked his boots off, then turned on the screen. Vegeta also removed his armor and footwear, and rubbed at his eyes. He glanced down at the study tablet on the table, and grumbled.

"Nappa, can I finish my lessons tomorrow," he pleaded, and hoped that Nappa would give him a pass this time.

"Yeah, that's fine. It's really late. Get to bed, Ten'ta."

Vegeta nodded as fatigue set in. He did not even argue about being sent to bed like a young child. "All right. And Nappa ... thanks for tonight."

Nappa looked up, surprised. The prince usually did not see fit to recognize and express gratitude. "Heh. You're welcome. Good night, Vegeta."

Once again, Vegeta had gotten out of studying, but he was too tired to count this one as a win. After such a stressful day, he was tired both mentally and physically. He curled up on the bottom bunk and fell asleep to the comforting sounds of the flatsceen and Nappa mumbling as the former Commander chased code on the Vegetasai tablet, and looked for hidden clues.

Vegeta woke up in the middle of the night; his heart pounded in his chest and sweat poured from his body. He had suffered yet another nightmare, but upon waking it faded from his mind, so he could not even give it a name. Yet he knew that something was coming, searching for him, and his life was in danger. The prince sat up, checked quick, and saw he was by himself. It was only a dream ... The flatscreen still blared comforting noise, and Nappa's loud snores let Vegeta know he was not alone.

He crawled off the lower mattress and levitated up, to see if Raditz had returned and had not wanted to wake him ... although the top bunk was his place. He wanted someone to groom him, comfort him, and tell him that he was being ridiculous to worry about dreams. No such luck. The bed was still made, untouched. He sighed, disappointed. Young Saiyans are often comforted by contact, and even though Vegeta was ve'ho ee'ko Saiyanu and a fierce warrior, he was still only seven. Nappa was his guardian and protector, but Raditz was his comfort person.

The prince pushed the curtain aside and looked out into the flat. No long haired adolescent sat at the table. He walked over to Nappa and stared down at him. The huge man sprawled over the yellow couch, his legs draped over the arm rest, one hand tossed over his eyes. His mouth hung wide open as he snored. When they were younger, Vegeta and Raditz had made a game of throwing objects into Nappa's mouth while he slept, but Vegeta was not in a joking mood at the moment. A strange melancholy had come over him.

He wandered to the bathroom to relieve himself and get a drink of cold water from the tap. He still felt muzzy, almost like he was not quite in his own body. The sense of someone watching was still strong, he could not shake it.

Perhaps someone had been in their home and had discovered all of his secrets. Maybe ... the crystals were gone! He squatted next to the toilet, pried away the panel and looked inside the small cubby. The bag containing the gems was still there, and Vegeta sighed in relief. See, you're just being paranoid. But ... what if they took them and left the bag? I should check and make sure.

Once he extracted the sack from its hiding place, Vegeta sat cross legged on the cold tiled floor, clad only his blue leggings and black sleeveless shirt, and opened the bag. He examined each stone with intent, not sure what he was looking for. Just like before, they emitted a warm glow from their centers when handled, almost as if they were responding to his touch.

It just wasn't fair. They were so beautiful, and Vegeta knew they were a key to greater things. With them, he could advance quicker and gain the power he needed ... but to keep them here in the apartment would be dangerous. To assume that Frieza was ignorant of them was even more dangerous. When he thought back on his report, he realized that Frieza had seemed very interested in the temples, and had asked several times if he had taken anything. Had he messed up by not including them in his review, and would he and the other Saiyans pay the price for his omission?

Maybe they could ask that Blizza; she seemed to know more than she let on. She had mentioned that she was on base for a few days and receptive to more sales. But could she be entrusted with items that might make or break Frieza's reign? Vegeta was not sure. What was her connection to the tyrant in the first place? What if it was all an elaborate ruse to gain their trust, take the crystals, and then to reveal them as traitors and rebels? Then, Frieza would probably run out of uses for his pet Saiyans.

Nine colored crystals; small things that Zukkon had given his life for, that his uncle Ji'ta had gambled everything for during the war; living things with Ki signatures of their own and he would have to let them go. It just was not fair.

One piece called to him: a rounded red gem, smooth and polished, the color of growing things. When he held it in his hands, his palms tingled and his chest felt warm. He heard echoed whispers, just like in the temple (don't think about that), multiple voices that made his head buzz. How was he supposed to know that taking them would cause so many problems? They were just pretty trophies to bring home after conquest ... but deep inside himself, Vegeta knew that was a lie. He had known, and had not wanted to leave them behind.

Vegeta did not know why he did it, but he kept that last crystal out, put the rest back into the hiding place, then put the grate back on. It was his, after all, and it had chosen him. Once enclosed in his hand, that omnipresent anxiety subsided a bit. It felt right to keep it. But ... where could he keep it safe and undetected?

When he was younger, Vegeta liked to hide items in the top bunk, and had called it his 'fort' ... although he would never admit to that out loud. He still stored items there that caught his eye: shiny things, little baubles, and lately his supplement drinks. Sometimes he also stashed things away that he did not want, like his study tablet ... although Nappa had wised up to that tactic quickly. For a moment, he considered storing his newest treasure there, then realized that would be one of the stupidest things he could do.

Fatigue washed over him. It was late and he was far too tired. Vegeta held the crimson stone against his heart and stood up, then returned to his bed, crawled back under the blankets and slept.

Vegeta walked through stark white halls lit only by diffuse illumination, cold and impersonal. His footsteps echoed as he trod carefully on the balls of his feet. These halls looked empty, still he felt as if he was not alone and kept glancing over his shoulder. He could hear whispers calling to him, beckoning to him. He followed until he stood before a forbidding portal constructed of the purest black material, but it stood open. This was where the whispers came from. He had been here before, but this time he was not afraid. He stepped over the threshold and ...

... stood upon the lush grounds of the temple lands on Palaphel. It was evening, and the sky was going dark. He heard bird calls and smelled the strong perfume of earth, water, and growing life. The grass came up to his ankles, covered his bare feet. Vegeta wriggled his prehensile toes and luxuriated in the feel of it. He could not help but to smile. Everything seemed to breathe in pulsing rhythm, like a giant heart. A pyramidal structure towered in the distance, a black shadow against the setting sun, and the whispers came from it. Out of the shadows came a figure clad in a giant cloak the color of rusted blood and wearing an elaborate headdress. Although he could not distinguish any features, eyes like blazing stars bore into him.

"Kahkensen." the figure said, and held out its hands. The voice was that of many beings at once; the memories, so carefully repressed, rushed back in a crash. But he was not afraid. Here it was safe.

"Where is this place? I thought ... I thought I destroyed your world." Vegeta felt a bit confused, and his tail waved behind him as he looked into the blazing orbs.

"We know ... and it was the Ka of our people to move on to a new plane. But you have found your way here to us, now ... although you aren't ready yet. When you are, come and find us. We can teach you to break free of the chains that are binding you - "

Vegeta felt a sharp pulling sensation in his chest, as if someone was yanking him backwards.

"Where are you? How do I find you," he called, and reached out one hand.

The heartstone ... it will show ..."

He was jerked away, through the doorway, and it slammed shut.

"No! Wait!"

... and he woke up. Raditz loomed over him. The adolescent reeked of food, booze, perfumes, and other layered scents that Vegeta's sensitive nose could not identify. Another odor poured off of Raditz: that of fear. He looked stressed as well as smelled like it. His usually well kept mane was frizzed, the tip of his tail twitched and his shoulders were hunched up as if preparing for a physical blow.

"Tapa! Why did you wake me up," Vegeta cursed, and curled his lips up into a snarl.

Raditz clicked his tongue at the outburst. "You were yelling in your sleep. I thought you were having a nightmare again, Vegeta. Sorry."

"Hn. I was dreaming, and it was something important and now ... it's gone. Now I'll never remember." Vegeta sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Is it morning?"

"No. It's really late."

"Nappa's going to be pissed at you," the prince said in a snide tone of voice. He was sore that Raditz had not been around last evening to groom and comfort him.

"That's not really important right now, Vegeta. Did you and Nappa sell those crystals?" Raditz jittered from foot to foot; his behavior put the prince on alert.

"No ... I didn't know if I could trust Nappa's contact yet, that and I didn't want to bring all of our items the first time." Vegeta spoke in an authoritative tone, as if it had been his decision to contact, to sell, to not bring the crystals. "They're still here. Why?"

Raditz drew in a deep breath, then released it. "We have to wake Nappa up... I've got to tell you both something. It's really important."

He could tell that Raditz was worried, so Vegeta crawled out of his warm blankets. Together, they padded over to the sagging yellow couch where Nappa still lay in his yellow and black armor. He had not moved at all since Vegeta had stood over him earlier.

"Hst. Nappa." A crooked smile crossed Vegeta's face, and he used his tail to tickle the end of Nappa's nose. "Nappa. Wake up."

Nappa snorted once and his eyes snapped open to see both Vegeta and Raditz staring down at him. The hulking warrior almost levitated up into a sitting position, then grabbed his tablet and checked the time. A low growl emanated from him.

"Do ya see that?" Nappa yelled, and waved his tablet under Raditz' nose. "03:30? You'd better have a good damned excuse for being this late."

"Nappa, don't yell," Raditz interrupted, and Vegeta thought that the former Commander was going to put the adolescent through a wall right then. "Please, just listen. This is important! The crystals ..."

"What about 'em? And you better not be making shit up to get outta punishment."

"Nappa!" Raditz yelled, and his hair fluffed out, partially out of anger and partially out of fear. "Just listen to me, please. Our lives could depend on it! Look, I was on clean up duty earlier at Master Zarbon's place, and I overheard him talking to someone. He thought I wasn't listening - he's been distracted a lot lately - but that's not important. He was talking to someone on the vidphone, and I heard him mention something about Palaphel. So I stuck my head in to take a look, and I saw Frieza's face. He was bitching about having to do everything himself, that he shouldn't have trusted a monkey to do a man's job.

"I had to back out before Master Zarbon saw me. Later, he came and told me that our session was cancelled for today because he had to go offsite, and then ... he asked me if we had kept anything that Lord Frieza didn't know about. I think they're going for those crystals, and I think that when they don't find them, they're coming after us. We have to get them out of here before they show up ... Gods, I hope they don't punish us anyways. I couldn't tell you this over the comm, and I couldn't get out earlier. I'm sorry."

Nappa ran a hand over his face and groaned. "Well, shit. Wish I'd brought the damn things with us."

Vegeta hung his head. He could tell where this was going. He did not want to give up his stash, but that was the least of his concerns. Frieza would go to Palaphel, find out that the crystals were gone and know that he had lied. He began to hyperventilate at the thought of Frieza's wrath coming down upon their heads.

"Oh hey, Vegeta - calm down. Okay?" Nappa sat next to him, concern plain on his craggy face, and patted his back. "Sit down, ve'ho."

Vegeta collapsed on the couch, put his head between his legs and panted out of fear. "He's going to kill me."

"Breathe, ve'ho. It's gonna be okay, but we gotta keep it together."

"You can get a hold of Blizza. Right, Nappa?" Vegeta hated how pitiful he sounded, how vulnerable he appeared. It was his fault.

"Yeah ... Hopefully she's still on site. Even though it took ya two days to get to Palaphel, that was with the Attack Pods. We'd be fools to think that Frieza's gonna be gone more than a day, and we've already lost half of it."

Pointing out that fact did not reassure Vegeta in the least.

Nappa typed furiously on his padd, in hopes that it would reach Blizza in time, a quickly worded missive: "Dear friend, let's meet when you can. Lunch is on me."

"There, sent. Now, all we can do is wait."

"I hate waiting," Vegeta mumbled and felt even more miserable, if that was possible.

"Maybe we should get them out of here," Raditz suggested. "This is the first place Frieza will look."

"Yeah. Too bad it's the middle of the night." Nappa stretched his arms and legs out, then cracked his knuckles. His mohawk lay flat against his skull and his thin mustache was surrounded by dark stubble. He scratched his chin absently, then stood up. His vertebrae made popping sounds. "Ugh. I really need a bigger couch. This can't be good for my back."

"You could always use the top bunk," Raditz pointed out, and waved his tail back in the direction of the bed.

"Absolutely not," Vegeta griped, pulled out of his fear by the thought of Nappa intruding on his personal space. "I don't feel like being crushed during the night. Besides ... that's my place."

Nappa and Raditz exchanged glances.

"You don't own everything in here," Raditz pointed out.

"I'm the Prince! Of course I do," Vegeta replied. His eyes narrowed and became dark as a coming storm.

"Don't worry, we won't disturb your hidey hole, ve'ho." Nappa offered up a placation in hopes of diffusing the prince's ire. It was too dammed early in the morning to argue, and he had precious little sleep to deal with it. "There isn't shit we can do about it right now, so just ... go back to sleep. The minute I hear back, we're outta here. So you two be ready to move when I say so, okay?"

With that, Nappa flopped back on the couch and was asleep within seconds. Raditz followed his example, and crawled onto the shared bottom bunk. Soon after, he too was snoring.

Vegeta hated the thought of doing nothing while possible doom came their way, but what could they do? Nothing was open, and they had few allies on FP-79 or the rest of the galaxy they could turn to regardless ... thanks to Frieza. He jittered and paced for a while, but in the end just gave up and returned to the bunk. Raditz had sprawled out, so he placed one foot against the older youth's back and pushed.

"Shove over," he ordered, and received a sleepy grumble for his troubles.

The prince of a fallen people flopped down onto his stomach, angry and scared and concerned, tucked his hands under his head and huffed. Then his fingers encountered a smooth object, warm to the touch: the heartstone. He must have dropped it earlier during his dream.

When Vegeta cupped it in his hands, that red flame lit up. He stared into its depths for a while and watched the flickers. After a while, he felt a sense of calm wash over him, similar to Nappa's medicine, and he knew that everything would be all right. Reassured, he curled against Raditz for both contact and comfort, and slept without nightmares for the first time since the twisted game of hide and seek.


Morning came with no reply from Blizza. Both Raditz's and Vegeta's sessions had been cancelled, but they decided to go to the Training Hall to blow off some of their nervous energy. Saiyans did not deal well with waiting, and tended to solve problems through action.

They packed up their gym bags and stashed the crystals inside, then went off to the morning mess. Vegeta's calm mood lasted through breakfast - he almost could ignore being shoved around by men twice his size - and through the crowded commute to the Main Hub with the rest of the morning rotation. Once in the changing room, Vegeta placed his property in a locker, including his precious bloodred crystal. Who would think to check for them in the gym?

Nappa requisitioned a reinforced room with Ki shields, and the three Saiyans entered together. "It's been awhile since we trained together, heh boys? Might as well use the time for something instead of moping around."

The last time that both Vegeta and Raditz had been in the same room under Nappa's tutelage was on Vegetasai. Nappa had been the Master Trainer for the Royal Family, and oversaw the regime of the ve'hou, the Royal Guard, and also certain children of high ranking families. Raditz's family was low class, but Bardock had earned the right to send his children to an exclusive 'school.' That was where Raditz had met the prince, and where his fate had changed. Even then, Vegeta had outclassed both Nappa and Raditz in raw potential and talent ... a prodigy to bring the Royal Family great honor.

Now, three years later, Vegeta's power had risen dramatically. Soon he would be untouchable ... and both Nappa and Raditz feared the day when the young prince decided that he did not need them.

Like the old days, Nappa stood watch as they did sit ups, push ups, and squats. Also like the old days, they competed with each other in spite of Nappa's admonishments to keep the chatter down.

After a proper warm up, Nappa collected their scouters and instructed them to face off against each other. "Let's see what all that training with Twinkletoes has done, Raditz. Vegeta, play fair. No immediate Ki attacks. Now, begin!"

Even before Nappa dropped his hand, Vegeta entered his battle trace. He calmed his mind and entered 'now time' where all thoughts ceased and his senses heightened. Then he focused on his heart chakra, and began to pull in Ki. His aura flared and expanded outward, and a part of him noted the chirp from Nappa's scouter as his power reading increased rapidly.

"Nappa, this isn't fair, he's gonna pummel me," Raditz complained, but took up a defensive stance as well.

"Think like that and you've already lost," Nappa admonished, and tapped one finger on his brow. "Mind and body, Raditz."

Time slowed to a crawl. When Raditz started to move, Vegeta was already airborne; his aura expanded to envelop him in white majesty. "Stop bitching, Raditz. Act like a Saiyan warrior and fight me!"

Raditz made the mistake of hesitating. Without a thought, Vegeta closed in and assaulted the older boy with a barrage of rapid kicks and punches that Raditz managed to deflect, his face a white mask of fear. With a snarl, Vegeta leapt up and over to strike at Raditz's unprotected back, but the adolescent turned before the blow could connect. He crossed his arms to block, and the force pushed him back. The heels of his boots skidded across the floor.

The long haired Saiyan managed to avoid colliding with the force barrier, which would have delivered a jarring shock, but was not fast enough to avoid the incoming Ki strike that caught him off guard. Vegeta was just too quick.

Vegeta placed his palms together and focused. A yellow ball of Ki lept into being, a tiny sun that pulsed. Then the prince thrust both arms forward, fingers extended, and released the energy. It burst forth from his palms in a stream of light that struck Raditz in the chest and threw him against the shielding. Raditz did not have a chance to react; he fell to his knees, but did not fall unconscious. Raditz may not have been the strongest fighter, but he could sure take a beating.

Nappa stared in shock. He knew all of the prince's Ki attacks, and this one was not part of the boy's repertoire. He recognized it from the previous night, from one of the matches. Vegeta had learned it just by watching the one match. A chill ran down the old warrior's spine, but when he saw the proud grin on Vegeta's face, he swallowed the worry. He's just a child, Nappa thought. I should not be afraid of him.

Just then, his tablet chimed. Nappa checked the message and raised one hand. "Okay Vegeta, that's enough. Let's get cleaned up and go to lunch. On the way there, we'll analyze the match and see what you could have done different, Raditz."

Raditz groaned as he stood up. His ribs were bruised, but nothing that required a trip to medical. "Do different? Not fight Vegeta, for starters."

Vegeta snorted out laughter. "Tsk. I didn't even hit you hard."

"Vegeta, have some humility. Every warrior has strong and weak points, even you. Don't get overconfident. Understand?"

"Yes, Nappa," he replied, but the message was lost on him.


Unfortunately for Vegeta's nerves, their meeting with Blizza would not occur for a couple of hours. They had a decent amount of money from their earlier sales, so they whiled the time away by gambling, eating, and exploring. It was Raditz's first trip to the Unincorporated Zone, where anything could be had for the right price. The Saiyans remained close with Vegeta in the middle, although he liked to remind them that he was the strongest of the three.

On their way to the meeting spot, they passed by one of several bordellos that Nappa liked to frequent. He gave the occupants rueful looks as he walked past, but kept on going even when they called to him by name.

"Talk to you later, ladies," the giant Saiyan called, but kept going.

"So, Nappa, I'm going to be sixteen soon." Raditz turned to look at the females on display. Several winked at him and waved, and the adolescent blushed. He had been obsessing about woman more frequently, much to Nappa's chagrin.

"That's four years away, Raditz. I told ya I'd bring ya then."

"C'mon Nappa... I don't look twelve. Everyone says so, including Master Zarbon. Can't I just take a look in there?"

Nappa spluttered, and the veins stood out on his neck. "For heu sake, no! Even I think you're too young. And we've got ve'ho with us. Ya wanna set a bad example?"

"I'm not his Mah." Raditz groaned in frustration, but made sure that Nappa did not hear him.

Raditz had begun puberty early, a period referred to as po'mir'gar, or the Burning Time. It was an intense period of several years during which a Saiyan adolescent's main concerns were fighting, eating and sex - an out of control time that had the potential to be explosive and possibly dangerous if not channeled properly. It made Raditz short tempered and sometimes unpleasant to deal with.

"Talk to your girlfriends later," Vegeta grumbled, and snorted in derision.

Although he pretended otherwise, Vegeta did not understand the older boy's growing interest in the opposite sex. When he had asked Nappa about it, his guardian had told him that he was a bit too young for it to make sense, and not to worry about it. And now, watching Raditzs' awkward display, Vegeta felt embarrassed for him. What was so special about women?

"Just because you don't get it doesn't mean I have to suffer," Raditz snapped, then regretted it. He rolled his shoulders and sighed. "Can't I just go inside while you meet with Blizza?"

"Let it go, Raditz," Nappa growled, and locked one arm around the nape of Raditz's neck. "We can screw off later, after the deal is done."

"Bad choice of words," the long haired adolescent snickered, and reluctantly allowed himself to be dragged away.

They walked past the harbor where they saw ships coming and going, but nothing resembled an Icejin vessel: a rounded craft with many windows and multiple support legs. After a few minutes of watching, Nappa checked his chronometer and they departed for their meeting.

"Are we going to the same place?" Vegeta's tail puffed when he thought about the layers of grime, and the showers he would need afterwards just to get the smell out of his clothes.

"Yeah ... sorry, ve'ho. It couldn't be helped."

"Maybe we could try some other filthy dive," Vegeta suggested in a hopeful tone.

"They're all filthy dives," Nappa said, and patted Vegeta in sympathy.

"Hmph! You're going to love this, Raditz." Vegeta grumbled, and wrapped his arms around himself. "Makes our place look spotless."

"Hey, I clean  'that place', thank you!" Raditz huffed, then glared at the prince.

Vegeta sometimes liked to jab at the older boy, just to get a rise out of him. And he wasn't even sure why he enjoyed poking fun at Raditz so much.

Ten minutes later, they occupied Nappa's favorite back booth as they waited for Blizza to show up. Nappa sipped from a large flagon as he scanned the crowd. Neither Vegeta nor Raditz had gotten alcohol, in spite of all their begging.

"Can I have a beer," Raditz intoned. "It might help me blend in."

"Told you. You're too young."

"For crap's sake, Nappa ... we're in the friggin' black market, and you're telling me I can't have a beer?" Raditz rolled his eyes. "I could buy any drugs I want, hire a hooker ... and I can't have a drink. Where's the justice in that?"

Nappa growled a warning. "Look, Raditz, this isn't the time or place to get into it, okay? You really want a drink, we'll have one at home."

"Ugh. Master Zarbon lets me have a drink." He glanced sideways at Nappa, obviously hoping to guilt the large Saiyan by mentioning the teal General.

"Don't you start with me, I'm not in the mood. And the next time ya mention Twinkletoes, I'm breaking something." Nappa warned, and Raditz wisely chose to drop the subject.

"Can I have a drink?" Vegeta figured it couldn't hurt to ask.

"No! The both of you, stop asking! Nappa's starting to regret bringing you two!"

In a moment of solidarity, Vegeta and Raditz began to snicker, then to laugh. After a few seconds of tension, Nappa joined in, his laughter a deep rumble in his chest like thunder heard from afar. Things had been so tense between them that it was a relief to feel a sense of camaraderie.

Once again, they were ji'tach. For the first time in a long while, Vegeta felt like he belonged, like he was home. He forgot his fear and just existed: laughed and talked with Nappa and Raditz. It was nice while it lasted and the memory remained crystal clear for years. Even when he had lost most of himself, he could look back on this moment and recall what it felt like to be part of a family, to know that at least two people in the universe were willing to fight by his side.

But as time passed and Blizza did not show, the facade of joviality began to crumble for Vegeta. He kept glancing at Nappa, at the gym bag by the giant warrior's side, and he started to think that ... just perhaps ... their contact had run into trouble of her own or even worse, they had been sold out. He started to search the patrons, felt his hackles raise. At one point he saw a tall horned figure that he could swear was Captain Ginyu. But then, it could have been. After all, this was the 'illegal district' and the Ginyus likely had business they did not want Frieza knowing about either.

"Nappa, it's been over 45 minutes. Maybe she's not coming. What are we going to do if she doesn't?" The heavy ball of anxiety started to roll around in his stomach, and he fought the urge to vomit.

"Just give it some time, Vegeta. She's gonna show."

The longer they waited, the more time Vegeta had to think. And the more he thought, the more he convinced himself that something had gone terribly wrong. He shifted in his seat, his tail thumped a nervous rhythm on the back of the booth until he realized it and wrapped it around his waist. "What if Frieza knows? What if she's really working for him?"

Nappa grunted in response and stared into his third mug of ale. His face was grim, and a thin line of sweat had gathered on his top lip. He drummed his calloused fingertips upon the table and scanned the crowd as well. They were all vigilant - obsessively so - a survival trait that had served them well so far, but could be used against them as well.

"Look, ve'ho. You just gotta trust me, here. I've been doin' this for a long time. I've worked with Blizza for longer than you've been alive, before the PTO got their claws into us. She's gone outta her way many times to help me out when she didn't have to, and I trust her."

"Yeah, well, I don't." I don't trust anyone much, he reflected. Fear and suspicion had started to take hold. Vegeta worried that everyone was against him, ready to sell him out, including Nappa.

No, I can't think that way. If I do, I'll never be safe, never be able to trust my ji'tach ... and that's what Frieza wants. Nappa is my nava'ta. He'd never hurt me. He'd die for me. Vegeta whimpered, and pulled his knees up to his chest for comfort. His thoughts twisted and turned in dark circles. There's just no way out. I don't know what to do ...Ja'ta...why did you leave me here? At that traitorous thought, his mind skittered away, and he faded out, stepped to one side.

He was unaware that time had passed, but was jolted back to reality by Raditz's voice in his ear. "Wake up, Vegeta. She's here."

Had he fallen asleep with his eyes open in a crowded room, among possible enemies? That possibility terrified Vegeta as it meant that he had, once again, lost control and gone somewhere else. He blinked a few times then shook his head to clear out the fog. When he looked up, the tiny Icejin stood by their table.

"Apologies for being tardy." Blizza nodded in greeting, than took a seat and allowed her hood to pull back a bit. She tossed the silencing globe above their heads, and activated it. "I see you've brought some company."

"Was beginning to think ya weren't gonna show," Nappa drawled, and threw a warning glance at Vegeta to keep his thoughts to himself. "This is Raditz. He's my other ward."

"Nice to meet you, young man." Blizza extended one petite clawed hand towards Raditz in greeting.

Next to him, Vegeta felt Raditz tense up and heard him suck in breath. Although he had been warned in advance, the older boy still reacted negatively to Blizza's appearance. Like Vegeta's had, his tail frizzed out and his muscles bunched. Hearing about the Icejin and seeing her resemblance to Frieza were two different things.

"Nappa?" Raditz looked to the eldest Saiyan for guidance.

"Stand down, Raditz," Nappa said in a gentle tone. "Blizza's all right. You boys really need to trust me."

"Uh ... sorry..." Raditz stuttered, but kept his eyes down. His breath came in short pants, and Vegeta could smell a mixture of panic and aggression pouring off the long haired Saiyan. "It's just ..."

"You don't have to explain, I'm used to it." Blizza said, then she turned to Vegeta and bowed her head in a sign of respect. "Young Prince Vegeta, it is good to see you again. Commander Nappa tells me that you have brought some sensitive items for me to look at?"

Vegeta nodded. Raditz' emotion had bled over to him and triggered his natural urge to flee or fight, so he was twitchy.

"Nappa, show her." he ordered, as a prince should. If Blizza was a double agent, it was too late now.

Nappa brought out the sack, unwrapped the crystals, and placed them on the table. Blizza removed her scouter, opened the side, and made some quick adjustments. Then she picked up each one in turn and examined them in silence. Each crystal was a different color and a different shape, and each one flared into life when the Icejin handled them ... a blaze of energy that pulsed. She kept them cupped in her palms as she did so. No sense in giving a show to the rest of the bar.

"I haven't seen anything like this for quite a while. These are quite dangerous in the wrong hands, and will throw up flags throughout the Cold Empire. You should have brought them to me the first time around, Commander." She placed each of the eight crystals back onto the cloth and folded it up.

"Yeah, I know that now," Nappa said. "At first, we didn't think they were worth Frieza's time. We had no idea of what they were, only that they shouldn't be pawned like normal contraband. They're too different."

"But now Frieza's looking for them," Raditz muttered. "And they're going to lead him straight to us."

Blizza took a sip from her drink, then placed one hand on the sack as she spoke. "Oh, of that I'm sure. Lord Frieza hunts down anything that could be a threat, that could be used against him. The idea of these in the hands of Saiyans ... well, I am surprised that he has not taken them from you already."

"Good thing he thinks we're stupid, right?" Nappa grumbled. "Do you know what they are?"

"Hmmm." The Icejin tapped one claw against the side of her lined face as she thought. "Well, the easiest way to describe it would be to call them 'augmenters'. These stones can be used to boost Ki; the more power you have, the more you can amplify. The effects are cumulative, from what my research has revealed. And there are eight here ... I think you can do the math."

"Aren't you in danger if you have them?" Vegeta asked, and worried. He thought about the last stone secreted away in his possession. I should probably give this one to her, too, but ... I just can't give it up. Not yet. Besides, maybe she doesn't know I have it. But, that doesn't make sense. Wouldn't she say something to me if she did?

"Perhaps, but Lord Frieza would be foolish to confront me. He's not the only one with connections, and I have his father's ear. I wish you had told me about these yesterday; we could have saved a day cycle, and I could have been off world by now. If Frieza is en route to Palaphel ... we're almost out of time."

Creases lined Nappa's forehead as he frowned. "We couldn't take the chance. And for sure we couldn't talk about it over comm lines. Might as well set up a giant beacon pointing right to us. Can ya take 'em or not, Blizza? If ya can't, I've gotta move 'em elsewhere."

"Yes. Unfortunately though, I can't pay you. They are unsellable. The best I can hope for is getting them out of the Empire ... or destroying them." Blizza gave a sardonic smile that did not reach her eyes.

"Yeah. I know. Damn ... could'a used the pay." Nappa scratched at his stubble again.

"Destroy them?" Vegeta reached out, snatched the cloth and its contents right out of Blizza's hands. He ignored the dark look that Nappa gave him. He could not let this happen, could not lose what might be his only real weapons in the years to come. "You can't do that! They may be my only way to defeat Frieza!"

"Prince Vegeta, keeping them is a sure way to gain Frieza's attention. I would imagine that you would wish to keep your freedom, and perhaps your lives."

"I wish I'd never taken them. I wish I'd left them behind," Vegeta cried, and slammed one fist down. Next to him, Raditz jumped.

"If you had, they would likely be in Frieza's claws right now ... and then he would be untouchable. Fate works in odd ways."

"Tch! Fate! I'm sick of that word! Fate can find someone else to be its bitch."

"Vegeta, language," Nappa corrected, by rote. Vegeta ignored him.

"Let me take them, young Saiyan Prince. I can keep them safe. I give you my word." Blizza held out one hand, and - against his better judgement - Vegeta gave up his treasures again into the hands of the unknown. "Now, are there any more crystals?"

"No." Vegeta held his breath and waited. When Blizza seemed to accept the answer, he breathed a sigh of relief. He was not sure why, but Blizza did not seem able to sense the crystal's Ki signature over his own. That realization gave him hope.

"Well, I'll be going now. I'll be out of reach for a while, Nappa. If you need to, use our go-between again. I don't need to give Frieza any more excuses to single me out; I'm sure I'll be speaking with him soon, at any rate. A good evening to you, gentlemen."

With a bow, she stood and tucked the bag under her cloak and out of sight. She summoned her device back to her palm, then pulled the hood back over her face and melted back into the crowd.


Chapter Text

Vegeta watched Blizza slip out the door and join in with the masses, a tiny cloaked figure in a sea of bodies. They did not follow after her immediately; Nappa thought it best to wait a few minutes before departing. The prince gave a heavy sigh, and sunk into his seat. The crystals were gone and out of his hands, but his best chance had just walked out the door ... and he had let it happen. He felt relief and regret. Had they done the right thing? Nappa thought so, and so did Raditz. Of course, when Frieza showed up he could not punish them for what they did not possess, but Vegeta was sure the tyrant would concoct a reason to do so regardless. To reassure himself, he patted his breastplate where the red gem rested in its pocket.

After a few minutes, Vegeta grew impatient. He wanted to go home, where he felt safest. The Underworld had lost its allure. "I'm sick of being here, Nappa. I want to go. Now."

He wrapped his tail around his waist and stood to leave, expecting that Nappa and Raditz would do the same. He wiped the palms of his hands on his blue leggings, then wrinkled his nose in disgust at the dark smear left on the fabric. "Ugh ... I can't stand one more minute in this hellhole. What are we waiting for?"

Nappa finished up his swill, then wiped his top lip off with his thumb. He scanned the room, satisfied himself that it seemed safe enough, then nodded. "Alright, you two. Let's go. And Raditz, we're still not making any stops, so don't even ask me."

"Auuugghhhh ... This is so unfair." Raditz sagged against the seat and hunched his shoulders.

"Life is unfair," Nappa stood, then made his way for the door.

The three males wove their way through the throng, composed of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different species. Most were off duty PTO soldiers blowing off some steam, but others wore different outfits or had strange features that Vegeta did not recognize. When he asked, Nappa informed him that some were natives of worlds that Frieza had subjugated, but had allowed to remain 'independent' after swearing fealty.

"But it's only a matter of time before he takes them out, too," the big Saiyan stated in a sardonic voice.

"But Vegetasai was destroyed by a meteor," Vegeta objected. Even now, the words sounded false. The thought left a hollow ache in his chest. Part of him knew it was a lie.

"Yeah, a meteor named Frieza," Nappa grumbled. "I don't know that for sure ... but we'd be idiots to think otherwise. Think about it: how many of Frieza's upper ranks are from from worlds that also 'just happened' to suffer a fatal run in with a meteor? A lot, that's how many. And many of them are royalty, just like you. I mean, look at Twinkletoes. And Dodoria. And Mandari. And..."

"I get it," Vegeta snapped, then put his head down. He did not want to think about it any more.

They retraced their steps back to the terminal to take a taxi back to HomeBase 79, and the relative security of home, but a Saiyan was never truly safe under the PTO's jurisdiction. As they exited through the East gate, they passed the invisible barrier again, their mutual comm line clicked twice and Vegeta's hair stood on end. Once past, Nappa reactivated his scouter; Vegeta did the same, and looked at Nappa and Raditz to calibrate the scanner.

As they walked, they heard noises in the distance: a rising murmur of sound that indicated a large gathering. It came from the port where ships were docked. They could see many different spacecrafts, including Blizza's ship ... or they assumed it was her ship. If so, she had not departed yet. Something was happening; Vegeta could hear shouts, but he could not see what the problem was. He felt both curious and annoyed.

"What's going on," Vegeta asked, because he knew that his guardian could see over most people's heads. "Pick me up. I want to see."

"Don't think that's a good idea, ve'ho." Nappa rumbled, and placed a hand on Vegeta's shoulder to keep him close by. "There's a crowd near Blizza's dock, and I think I can see uniforms incoming."

"I said, pick me up! You'll do it now." Vegeta ordered, placed his hands on his hips, and glared up at the former Commander.

Nappa sighed, and against his better judgement lifted the Prince up. Raditz stood on the balls of his feet, his tail twitched at the tip as he tried to see what the commotion was about.

Vegeta cursed when he noticed the familiar forms of the Ginyu Force: they were unmistakeable. It must have been Ginyu last time in the bar! They had been followed in spite of all their caution.

Jeice, Ginyu, and Recoome had flanked Blizza and formed a triangle around her. The small Icejin stood still and her tail lashed; they appeared to be exchanging words. No one had made any hostile moves yet, but the fact that Blizza likely still had the crystals worried Vegeta. He still did not know where Blizza's ultimate loyalties lay, either.

Blizza tried to move, and they blocked her passage. Her tail whipped back and forth. Vegeta could not hear what they said, but the message was clear enough: this meeting was not Blizza's choice. She put her hands on her hips, and the cloak she wore swirled in a gust of power that pushed some of the onlookers back. The Ginyus did not seem affected. Instead, they started to laugh.

Then eight helmeted and armored men entered the clearing, energy weapons held at ready, and headed towards Captain Ginyu. Behind them, Vegeta caught a familiar glimpse of blue skin and green hair. Zarbon is here, and the Ginyus? He scanned for Dodoria, but could not see him.

"I think we should go," Raditz whispered. The adolescent stepped back, bumped into Nappa's side, and jostled Vegeta. The smell of fear poured off of Raditz in a thick miasma.

"Watch it," Vegeta snapped, more rudely than he needed to. The familiar voice of fear started to whisper to him.

The squad snapped to attention and formed two columns. To Vegeta's horror, a familiar horned figured glided through, parting the crowd in his wake as those who did not wish to be noticed fled. Others shouted and buzzed; this was the Unincorporated Zone, the PTO was supposed to have no sway over this area. Nappa tensed up and his shoulders bunched.

"Put me down, now," Vegeta hissed as his tail frizzed. He leapt out of his guardian's grasp before Nappa could comply. Just before he submerged into the sea of bodies, he saw Frieza stalk towards Blizza. This was bad. Very bad. Lord Frieza never got his hands dirty.

"Vegeta - "

"Come on, come on, come on!" Vegeta grabbed hold of Nappa's arm and yanked so hard that he pulled the giant man backwards a few steps. "If he catches us here, we're dead!"

An eerie silence fell as Frieza approached the other Icejin, so quiet that Vegeta could hear some of the exchange. Nappa ducked down so he no longer stood out, snatched up Vegeta under his arm and fled with Raditz in tow. Vegeta squawked in indignation, but did not struggle. He did not want to draw attention to himself, and Nappa could move fast when he wanted to.

They did not get far before Dodoria, Burter and Guldo cut off their escape route. The three Elites wore smirks as they crowded the Saiyans. Nappa skidded to a halt, dropped Vegeta, then Raditz slammed into him. The tall Saiyan emitted a deep growl that was utterly terrifying to most people ... but it did not have the desired effect.

"Leaving the party already," Burter said in a casual tone. "And we're just getting started."

"We're just passing through." Vegeta used the most flippant tone he could manage because he knew it would annoy the General. He was right.

"Make one move to flee, monkeys, and you're dead. Boss man wants to talk to you, and he doesn't want you three fucking off somewhere." Dodoria crossed his arms, an immovable barrier of flesh.

"One," Vegeta said through gritted teeth, and Dodoria raised an eyebrow at him.

"We wouldn't dream of it." Raditz knew better than to antagonize his foes, but he could not seem to help it - the appearance of the Ginyu force, combined with fear and embarrassment, made him more aggressive than usual.

"Shut up, Raditz," Nappa said through the side of his mouth. "Now's not the time for adolescent mouthing off."

Burter spoke into his scouter: "We found them, Lord Frieza. Would you like to speak to them now? ... Yes, Lord Frieza." He and Guldo exchanged wordless communication - in their own way they were a ji'tach as well.

"Let's go.". "That means all of you. Back to your quarters, now."

The tall blue Elite stepped forward, wrapped one hand around Raditz's forearm, and began to steer the youth. At Burter's touch, Raditz balked. He had not forgotten Burter's treatment from years ago, or the recent hair cutting incident

Some people had gathered to watch the festivities. Dodoria turned to them, placed his hands on hips and bellowed, "Nothing to see here! Move along!"

" ... Well, Blizza, slumming again? and dealing in illicit goods. Tsk tsk." Frieza's voice carried as the Saiyans were escorted to the taxi.

The Saiyans huddled together on one of the trams as it sped back to the Base. Vegeta sat in the middle. They had the transport to themselves ... and, of course, their escorts. Any passengers who had been present chose to exit the minute they saw Frieza's men. Burter and Guldo laughed and talked the entire way, as if it were an outing and not an arrest. Dodoria did not speak. He sat quiet with his arms crossed and stared at the Saiyans.

Vegeta did not complain that he was crushed between Nappa and Raditz. He was too busy worrying. He drew his legs up to his chest and focused on his breathing to combat the rising tightness in his chest. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

In response to Vegeta's heightened distress, Nappa placed one hand on Vegeta's head in a paternal manner and spoke in a gentle voice, meant to reassure a young and scared kit. "It's okay, ten'ta. Breathe."

Then he spoke in Saiyago: "Play dumb, Vegeta. You don't know a thing. They were just pretty things to sell."

Vegeta scowled, then spoke in his native tongue as well. Luckily, none of Frieza's goons had been exposed to the language. "I won't! He'll know I'm lying. And I'm tired of looking stupid."

"Well, he'll win if you get dead, ve'ho."

"Cut your chatter, monkeys. No cross talking." Dodoria pointed one thick finger in their direction. "Go ahead and test me."

"Two," the prince said, in defiance of the powerful General.

Dodoria cracked his knuckles and started to rise, likely to pummel them into oblivion. Nappa put on an exaggerated expression, and patted Vegeta on the shoulder. "Look, the prince isn't feeling well."

"I don't care if he's dying, no more talking."

"One day, Dodoria, I swear I'll beat you into a pulp." Nappa bared his teeth, and looked ready to pounce.

Dodoria snorted, then leaned forward to bare his teeth in a ghastly grin. "Yeah, sure you will. Lord Frieza only needs one monkey ... and you're not it, Commander Nappa. Now shut the fuck up."

Three, Vegeta thought.

They arrived back in the Main Hub, received their own personal escort back to the Residential Dorm, and then to their flat. Those that they passed stared. Snide comments followed them, whispered just behind their backs. Vegeta bristled in anger and humiliation; he could do nothing about it, and it ate at him. Instead of dropping them off, Frieza's right hand man barged in without an invite, followed by the two Ginyu Force members. Burter had to duck past the doorway to gain entry.

"All right, listen up." Burter clapped his hands together once, then rubbed them. "You are all under house arrest. You are to stay here until Lord Frieza calls for you, whenever that may be. And I do suggest that if you have any ... contraband ... that you should turn it over."

"Big words for you," Nappa growled, and elicited snickers from both Vegeta and Raditz. "We don't have anything else, Burter."

"See here's the thing: we can't just take your word for it. We have to check and make sure. After you, Guldo. You won 'Rock-Paper-Scissors' earlier." Burter gave a slight bow, one hand over his black and yellow chestplate. His red pupilless eyes sparkled with mischief. He then nodded towards Raditz. "Nice hair."

Guldo gave a chuckle, and blinked his inner eyes, then hollered in annoyance as Dodoria brushed past him.

"Toss the place," the pink being yelled, and began doing just that, for the hell of it.

The Saiyans looked on in horror as Dodoria and Guldo started to trash their apartment, beginning with the large yellow couch. Soon Burter joined in, and they could do nothing except watch. They were completely outclassed. Even Vegeta knew it, although it killed him inside to sit still and not fight.

As the three Elites continued their path of destruction, Vegeta grew more angry, and his self control slipped away. How dare these lackeys come into their territory ... no, his territory ... and mess everything up? When Dodoria pulled the bunk bed apart and started shaking things out = all of his personal things, his silly things - his small pieces of childhood, he flipped out. Damn it, he was still a prince. He would not sit still any more!

"Those are my  things, get your damn hands off of them." Vegeta yelled, as Dodoria dumped out his chosen trinkets from Palaphel, including a few stones, and jewelry. He had so few things that he could call his own. He no longer cared that he could not take the three of them.

"Haw haw," Dodoria chucked. "Look at that. He thinks we give a shit about what he wants. What you going to do about it, monkey prince?"

"That's it!" Vegeta screamed, his voice jagged with emotion. He stood with his feet shoulder length apart, his fists balled at his sides, his tail raised and frizzed. His aura flared as he shouted. Broken items began to swirl around him in a vortex. He felt the cool embrace of Ki run through his fingers, and he gathered a strike.

"Damn it, Vegeta - not in the house," Nappa yelled, but Vegeta ignored him.

Vegeta felt his feet rise from the ground. "Get OUT!" He shrieked, and concentrated Ki into his palms and -

he was face down in the blink of an eye, eating the floor. Guldo stood over him, one foot on the nape of his neck, and yanked his tail. Raditz winced in sympathy.

"Stay down," the short green being ordered in his gurgling voice.

"Let me up, you four eyed freak!"

"Bad manners. Say please." Guldo chuckled, then pulled his tail again.

Vegeta had undergone tail training, but when Guldo wrenched the appendage it was more than even he could handle. He fought not to black out. If he made any hostile action, he knew that Guldo would simply pause time again ... and again ... and again. He thrashed and sought to free himself, but Guldo did not release him.

"For shit's sake, it's enough," Nappa yelled. "Let him go!"

"Well, he did try to throw a Ki ball at us," Burter pointed out. "Oh look at him, kicking his little legs! Let him go, Guldo. I like to think he's learned his lesson. And it's not like he can really hurt any of us."

Guldo shrugged in assent, and released Vegeta. The prince scrabbled to his knees then inspected his tail. It hadn't healed right from the last injury, and now it throbbed with pain. I will kill you for this, he thought, and bumped Guldo to the top of his mental list of people to exact revenge against in the future.

Burter unfolded his arms, then observed the chaos they had caused. "All right, I think we're done here. We can't say here all day and babysit you three. There will be a guard outside, and if any of you so much put a foot outside your door, there will be consequences. Have a nice day, boys."

The three Elites walked out without such much as a word of sorry and left the Saiyans lives in disarray, again. Vegeta sunk to his haunches and started to gather up his belongings. He bit his lip, and felt warm blood in his mouth. Why is this happening to me?

Nappa and Raditz stood still, unsure of what to say as they watched their prince literally pick up the pieces of his young life. Then Raditz came and sat next to Vegeta, helped him clean.

"Vegeta. I'm sorry," Raditz began, and handed one delicate necklace to Vegeta. "I think we can fix it."

"Don't pity me, Raditz." Vegeta took the object stolen from a dead people and stared at it. Without warning, he jumped to his feet, and flung it as hard as he could. Then he just started to scream: a raw sound filled with loss, fury and agony that only a Saiyan could make. His aura swirled around him. Vegeta kicked the broken table out of his path, and smashed one fist into the nearest wall.

"Vegeta, c'mon. This isn't gonna help. You need to punch something? Here, fight me." Nappa placed one hand on Vegeta's shoulder to get his attention.

The prince's rage was terrifying, and Nappa knew that the only thing that would help was to allow him to take out his anger in a safe way - to direct Vegeta's rage into safer channels.

Vegeta spun and launched himself at his guardian, yelling formless sounds, and just began to pummel the older man. Nappa grunted when the small fists impacted his abdomen. He had braced, but the sheer force behind the prince's strikes still caught him off guard. But he blocked and redirected the prince's wrath, allowed Vegeta time to scream and howl and wear himself out.

After a few minutes of intense rage, Vegeta found that he could not keep up such intensity. He felt the aggression start to burn itself out. He stopped hitting Nappa and stood still with his head bowed, panting and exhausted. He felt burnt out physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Nappa waited for him to collect himself before speaking. The boy was just like his father. "You all right now, ve'ho? Ya get your fight on?"

"Yes." His body was covered with sweat, his hands sore, and he felt ... empty.

They assessed the damage - almost everything not nailed down had been destroyed - then began to pick up the mess together. No one spoke. What was there to say? Nappa and Raditz righted the bed, so at least the prince would have a place to sleep. Next, Nappa checked the sofa. The frame was cracked, and it sagged in the middle.

"Damn it! Why'd they hafta break my couch?"

"Well, you did say it was bad for your back," Raditz pointed out. Nappa just glared at him. No one had much of a sense of humor at the moment.

After a few minutes of silence, Vegeta said what they were all thinking about. "How long are we stuck in here for?"

"I dunno, ve'ho." Nappa shrugged and tossed broken dishes into the incinerator. "I guess when Lord  Frieza decides to bother with us."

I wish Frieza would just get this over with." The prince wrapped his arms around his torso in an unconscious gesture of self comfort.

As if fulfilling his wish, the door slid open to reveal Frieza standing in the doorway. He had not pressed the door enunciator. Behind the Icejin, six helmeted men with heavy artillery stood guard. Vegeta felt a bit insulted. What a joke. As if six idiots toting energy pistols could stop us if we really want to leave.

Frieza walked in, self assured as always, a tiny smirk on his face. He lifted one hand to his lips as he looked around the ruined apartment.

"Oh don't get up on my account, monkeys. I was just passing by," the despot said, as if the Saiyans had a choice. "You know, Vegeta, it just occurred to me that you always come to see me, and I have never returned the favor."

Vegeta felt his hackles raise. Now what game is Frieza playing? By rote, he stood at attention. Nappa and Raditz were by his side in an instant, flanking him.

"Well, isn't this just a cozy little place?" Frieza walked around, stepped over the broken items as he toured the tiny apartment. He stopped in front of Vegeta, and just stared at him for a few heartbeats ... seconds that stretched into an eternity.

Blood and Battle. He knows. He knows I've kept one, and he's come to collect it. Vegeta waited for Frieza to reach out, grab him by the chin and dig his claws in, pull his treasure from its hiding place ... But the tyrant made no hostile move towards him.

Frieza placed his hands behind his back, and tapped one foot. "Interesting choice of decor. Early primitive motif, is it?"

"Welcome to our home." Vegeta said. His tail still throbbed, his lip hurt, and he was just ... tired. Tired of the mind games. He resisted the urge to touch the crystal for comfort. To do so would probably be the end of him.

"Hmm. Well, might as well get down to business. I have to say that I am disappointed in you, Vegeta. You left information out of your report. You and I both know what I am speaking of, so don't try to lie to me. I have just had an unpleasant meeting, so it would unwise to test my temper. Now, do you have any more in your possession?"

How is it that Frieza's scouter hasn't alerted him? I don't understand, unless it blends with my Ki?

He could not be in Frieza's presence for much longer or he would break, and start babbling. The corners of his mouth twitched as he waged an internal battle. So, what was one more lie? At least he would live another day and have another chance to get his revenge.

"I don't understand, Lord Frieza. I brought you the best items when I gave my report. You said you didn't want them, so I sold them." It was not a lie ... not really. "I didn't think you cared about salvage."

"There you go ... thinking again."

"Um, I - I kept the prettiest things for myself." Vegeta backed up, not willing to turn his face from the unpredictable Icejin, and scooped up the items he had not brought to Blizza: baubles and beads and shiny jewelry, all things that would appeal to a 'monkey', he supposed. He held them up to Frieza like he was making an offering. "Here, you can have them, Lord Frieza."

He stood frozen as Frieza padded forward, stared at him with those cold blood eyes. Cold sweat oozed on his forehead and he trembled, but that was not unusual in the face of the tyrant. If Frieza could detect the crystal, his short and sad life was forfeit.

Frieza glance down at his collection, poked through with one clawed finger, then extracted a smooth colored translucent stone. It sparkled when he held it up to the light. Frieza placed it in one palm, closed his fingers around it. A slight breeze ruffled Vegeta's hair as Frieza expanded his aura and put a stream of Ki into the object ... as if Vegeta had been dumb enough to actually hand him one of the coveted crystals. After a minute, he clicked his tongue in disgust, and continued on to the next item.

As Frieza examined Vegeta's 'prizes', he began to chuckle, soft at first, then the noise grew in volume until it echoed from off the walls. "This is what you kept? Ahahahaha! You gave away the most powerful pieces and kept the rubbish. You are a little fool, Vegeta. I gave you far too much credit, my little princeling."

Frieza was mocking him, trying to provoke a reaction. Vegeta glared up at the Icejin; his eyes blazed with anger, but he did not speak. What could he possibly say, without revealing his deception? Better to be what Frieza expected. Vegeta lowered his eyes, and his tail drooped to the floor.

"Next time, Vegeta, perhaps you will remember not to take matters into your own hands." Frieza leaned forward, his eyes dead and cold, and he whispered into Vegeta's ear. "You have inconvenienced me. I have killed men for less. However, I hate to waste all the work I have put into you, my dear Prince. So let me make myself clear: do it again and I will gut you with my bare hands and use your entrails to decorate my office."

Vegeta could not speak. He was frozen in place, could say nothing when Frieza stepped back, straightened up, then beamed down at the prince.

"And I was worried. Sold them because they were sparkly. Haha!. Come along, men. Oh, Vegeta do clean up the place a bit, why don't you?" Still laughing, Frieza and his henchmen departed.

The Saiyans stood quiet for a moment, worried that they would return.

"What just happened? Am I the only one who thinks that didn't make sense?" Raditz asked. When no one answered, he sighed and continued cleaning up. "Nappa... do you think Blizza's all right?"

"Ah, Blizza's a survivor. She's been playing this game for a long time." Nappa replied, but still he worried. He did not want to compromise the Icejin by trying to contact her so soon - even assuming she had left the planet yet, or at all. "I think it's damn lucky that we're not dead. Let's stick with that for now."

Vegeta said nothing. He had not moved or spoke since Frieza left.

"Vegeta, you okay?" Raditz asked.

Vegeta did not respond; he had gone beyond his ability to cope with the lies and the deception. Without another word, he walked back to the crooked bed, crawled into the top bunk, pulled the blanket over himself and did not come back out for the rest of the night. No amount of coaxing or even outright bribes had any effect; eventually they just let him be and hoped that he would be better the next day.

The two older males spent the rest of the evening cleaning up the pieces of their lives and throwing the refuse in the incinerator. All of their contraband money from earlier sales, their safety net, would have to go towards household necessities.

"We're never going to get ahead," Raditz bemoaned.

"Yeah ... it's just the way they like us ... we're slaves in all but name." Nappa clapped one big hand on Raditz's back. "But they won't break us. We're too strong."

He looked towards the bunk where nothing could be seen of the Prince except for the tip of his tail hanging over the edge.

"At least, I hope so."

The next day, Vegeta hid in bed and refused to talk. He even refused food. Raditz tried to coax him out with promises of th'di and grooming. Nappa offered trips to the commissary and the Shack, and even to go for training, but nothing seemed to work. Vegeta refused to run, to spar, to eat. He remained curled in a ball, the smooth crystal clasped in one hand, his talisman. All they could do was wait for his normal temperament to show itself, and this skittish creature to subside.

It took days before Vegeta's appetite returned, and his natural snarkiness along with it. 'Traumatized' was not a word that Saiyans were familiar with, so they did not know how to help their Prince. Saiyans are resilient both mentally and physically, so Vegeta 'bounced back'. He began to wage internal war and took to carrying the crystal in the left breastplate pocket, it seemed to soothe him. But the hesitation remained in his eyes when once he was fearless. Vegeta refused to give in. They would not win. He would not let them.

Chapter Text

Vegeta padded down the hallway towards Mess Hall Three. He ran one hand through his freshly washed hair in an attempt to tame it. Without Raditz to groom him, it stuck out in all directions. Still, he walked with his head held up high and his talisman by his heart. After a week of normalcy, his confidence had mostly returned, along with his attitude.

Frieza had gone off world a day after their arrest and release; it seemed as if the tyrant had dismissed the Saiyans as simpletons, which both relieved and irritated Vegeta. It might have been another game to lull them into a false sense of security, but Vegeta needed the return of his routine and the resulting stability to recover.

He swiped the lift pad with his thumb and tapped his foot while he waited. Nappa stood by his side, a giant protective shadow that - most of the time - Vegeta drew some comfort from. Although his pride had returned, the slight hesitation remained, and the presence of his guardians was a touchstone that kept him grounded.

“I’m starving,” the prince complained, and his stomach rumbled in assent. “Raditz had better hurry up.”

Nappa checked his padd again. Earlier, he had sent Raditz a message about mealtime, and Vegeta had seen fit to put on an ‘addendum’ of his own before Nappa could stop him. “Calm down, ten’ta - Raditz said he was gonna meet us there. Did you really need to threaten him earlier?”

Vegeta sighed, and rolled his eyes. “I was just kidding, Nappa.”

Nappa raised an eyebrow. It was reassuring that Vegeta’s odd sense of humor had returned, but there was still a sharp edge to it.

“Telling him you’d hurt him if he was late doesn’t sound too funny.”

“Psht. He’s too sensitive.” Vegeta rolled his shoulders, then folded his arms in a casual manner.

Nappa sighed, the ever suffering parental figure. Sometimes, he wondered about the boy. They rode in awkward silence down twenty floors and joined by other soldiers also going for their afternoon meal.

“So ... It’s my birthday in two days,” Vegeta said, in an attempt to change the subject.

“I know, ve’ho. You’ve been reminding us for three days straight.” Nappa rumbled. “Like I could forget.”

Saiyans did not celebrate birthdays for the most part, although they did keep track of the passage of years. Vegeta eagerly awaited his sixteenth birthday: then he would be able to move about the Empire without needing his guardian. It was also an important time in a young Saiyan’s life when he or she was able to choose their life path, have a family, and given an official voice in councils. Sixteen was also the minimum age when a prince could challenge his father for the throne, or ascend to it ... not that there was anything left to rule over.

Even though the actual date did not matter much, Nappa had made a point to mark a day for Vegeta and give him something to look forward to. Usually, Nappa just took him out to the Noodle Shack or bought him new clothing, but it was less about gifts and more about making Vegeta feel special. Vegeta liked the attention it brought, and he looked forward to being spoiled ... although Raditz would point out that was a daily occurrence. This particular year had been difficult for the prince, and every year that he survived under Frieza’s rule was worth celebrating.

When they exited the lift, the midday queue overflowed into the hallway. Instead of joining in, they stepped aside to wait for Raditz and go together. Cutting in would cause an argument, and the Saiyans had been working hard to keep a low profile since their humiliating public arrest. In the past, any trouble usually resulted in them being banned from the cafeteria ... no big loss, really ... but with two growing boys, they could not afford to miss any meals.

“Where is he? I say we get in line and he can just sit with us,” the prince complained.

“It won’t kill ya to wait, Vegeta. It’s just a couple minutes.”

“It might,” Vegeta replied, lashed his tail once, then wrapped it around his waist.

What is taking Raditz so damn long? Vegeta fretted as he scanned the hallway for the familiar tall figure. The line moved forward agonizingly slow. Vegeta thought he would starve to death before they got to the counter.

Raditz joined them by slamming into Nappa’s broad back. After some joking around between the two, Vegeta sighed. “Really? I’m starving to death, and all you do is embarrass me in public? I want to eat before the Ginyus show up,” he snapped and was pleased when they stopped screwing off and followed him in.

Vegeta took one of the trays and tried to squeeze in between Nappa and Raditz for safety ... but as usual, he was jostled around by the other soldiers. He was sure it was on purpose. A meal in the cafeteria was not complete without at least one individual pushing the prince around, or issuing a challenge in the foolish belief that the littlest Saiyan could not or would not retaliate. Sadly, that tended to be true. Once, Vegeta had lost his temper and responded to the taunts with force. He had trounced the other soldier and sent him to medical, but Zarbon had gotten wind of it and taken their dining privileges away for ‘being troublemakers’.

So, Vegeta restrained from getting into fights in public ... but oh how he wanted to teach those cowards a lesson that he was not to be trifled with. And one of these days, if it was worth it, he might just take one of those low class PTO dogs up on it again. There was only such much the Prince of Saiyans could take.

Vegeta busied himself by scanning the room. He looked for a place to sit where they could have their backs to the wall, or at least away from the most active troublemakers, when the line finally moved forward.

Raditz was engrossed in his tablet, grinning like an idiot, and not paying attention to his surroundings. As a result, Vegeta jabbed a finger in Raditz’s ribs, causing the youth to look up from his padd.

“Hsst. Move it, Raditz! What’s so important you have to keep staring at your tablet?”

“Nothing ... you wouldn’t care about it anyways.” Raditz shuffled forward but kept his eyes down. The response just about guaranteed that the prince would have to take a look.

Vegeta tried to glance at the screen, and scowled when Raditz held it up out of his view, practically held it over his head as Nappa chuckled. He missed the playful look on Raditz’s face and went straight to pissed off. He felt his face turn red with frustration. “Are you mocking me? Let me see, right now!”

“You’re no fun,” Raditz sighed, and huffed.

“I am not here to entertain you,” Vegeta snapped. He did not see the humor in the situation, and did not like being reminded of how short he was.

Raditz snorted again, then allowed Vegeta to look at the images. It was just easier that way. “Fine, Vegeta. See? They’re just progress pictures that Master Zarbon has been taking of me over the past few months of training. Happy now?”

Vegeta saw numerous images of the adolescent in various poses and outfits: Raditz flexing, Raditz performing kata, Raditz doing stretches. Some of the positions seemed a bit strained, and made him feel ... uncomfortable, although he could not explain why. None of the stills really seemed to have anything to do with martial arts or combat readiness.

“Lemme see those, Raditz.” Nappa held out one hand, took the padd, then swiped through the series. With each new image, the former Commander’s expression grew more serious and he started to rumble deep in his chest. “I don’t like this. I’m gonna talk to Twinkletoes.”

“I think they look nice,” Raditz complained, and his tail twitched around his waist. The smell of upset came off of him and Vegeta wrinkled his nose. “Master Zarbon says they’re very tasteful. And it’s to keep track of my muscle development as I go through puberty. What’s wrong with that?”

“Hmph. Twinkletoes has never taken images of me.” Vegeta curled his lip in disgust at the thought of being alone in a studio with Zarbon. “... not that I’d want him to.”

“Of course not ... you’re too young.”

Vegeta’s eyes darkened. “I’m not - “

“I know, sorry. Sorry.” Raditz tried to forestall the storm.

“Speaking of that ... my birthday is in two days,” The prince gave a not too subtle reminder. Two days and eight years until he was free to do as he pleased without repercussions, no longer to be told he was ‘too young’.

“Yeah, Vegeta. We know.”

The queue moved again, and this time Vegeta did not have to shove Raditz. The trio moved forward and held out their trays to receive the daily allotment of slop, then moved out into the public area, alert to trouble. Ever since their public humiliation in the Mess Hall by the Ginyu Force, and the more recent house arrest, they were extra cautious. Once all three had picked up their drinks, they found seating together. Once again, Vegeta found himself in the middle, crushed by the two behemoths on either side.

“Why am I always stuck in the middle, are you trying to kill me?” he complained, and slammed an elbow into each man’s side, then placed his tray down. “Shove over.”

“You’re not always in the middle.” Raditz rolled his eyes, then shifted over. He began to eat, still scrolling through his tablet. “There, your Highness. Happy?”

“Don’t move too far from him, Raditz. We stick together for safety,” Nappa reminded, then began shoveling his food into his mouth. “Better eat, Vegeta. We’re low on supplies, so this has to last until dinnertime.”

Vegeta stared at his tray. He glared at the shapeless mass that squatted in the middle and swam in a dubious liquid, then sighed. It was true that Saiyans could and would eat just about anything, but that did not mean they had to like it. He wondered if the fare was better in some of the other mess halls, or perhaps they saved the worst food for when they noticed the Saiyans in line. Regardless, he was ravenous. He kept checking their surroundings as he ate, and thought about recent events ... but not too much.

Without warning, Raditz leaped up from his seat and knocked Vegeta’s tray with one elbow. Food spilled over the edge and onto the prince’s lap.

“What the hell, Raditz?” Vegeta was livid. Not only was food being wasted, but now his new clean clothes would be stained.

Raditz did not offer an apology; he climbed onto the top of the table, to the shock of their fellow diners: scattering trays, spilling drinks, and earning him curses from nearby hungry soldiers. His tail frizzed and stuck straight out; the acrid smell of fear came from him. His breath came in short gasps. Then he launched into the air, over the heads of men, and landed in a crouch, his eyes wild. Raditz dashed down the length of the cafeteria at full speed, then out the double doors.

The room went silent, and everyone stared as Raditz scrambled out of view, long hair trailing behind him. Vegeta and Nappa just stared at each other for a few confused seconds. What had just happened? Then they noticed another man rise to his feet as well, one of the several Elite warriors. He was a nasty individual who had come close to blows with Nappa in the past. He sprinted after Raditz, and was right on his tail.

“Okay.” Nappa stood up and pushed his chair back. “This isn’t good.”

“I’m coming with.” Vegeta was on his feet and moving before Nappa could tell him to stay put, but his guardian did not even try to argue. Anyone who harassed one Saiyan would have to deal with all of them, and Vegeta was itching for a fight. Besides, no one had the right to pick on Raditz ... except for Vegeta.

Nappa’s great strides ate up the distance as he barreled down the hallway at full speed. Vegeta took to flight, even though he was not supposed to fly in public places, in order to keep up. They were able to track Raditz and his pursuer’s Ki signatures with their scouters, but Vegeta could hear Raditz yelling as they ran into the bowels of Sublevel Ten. LIke most domes on FP-79, it was a maze of corridors that almost seemed made to confuse people.

“... Stay away from me!” Raditz’s voice echoed back. It had risen into the upper registers and sounded jagged with terror.

Vegeta and Nappa followed their scouters, and Raditz’s voice through many turns, and never seemed to catch up until they approached a T-intersection. “To the right, ve’ho. I think this is a dead end. Get ready to fight.”

“When am I not?” Vegeta grinned, and began to gather his Ki.

As they turned the corner, they heard the sound of running feet coming towards them. Then Raditz ran past them and actually knocked Nappa out of the way with his shoulder as he fled. His dark eyes were wide and blank with terror, as if he did not see them at all.

Right on his tail came the wiry blue reptilian Elite; head adorned with spikes, armed with sharp claws extended. He too ignored the Saiyans and ran past them in the opposite direction before turning another corner. It was such an odd situation that Nappa and Vegeta stopped and stared at each other for before turning around and continuing their pursuit.

When they located Raditz again, he had collapsed into the arms of Zarbon and was shaking. The blue Elite slid to a stop and crouched at the teal General’s feet, effectively cornered. There was nowhere else for him to go.

“Trictic, I can not believe what I am seeing,” Zarbon took one step towards the other. “Are you chasing this boy?”

He did not get an answer. Before Zarbon could react, Trictic rose to his feet in a fluid motion, and stepped sideways into a shadowed cubby just as Nappa and the prince approached.

“Zarbon, what the hell is going on?” Nappa shouted, and corded muscles stood out on the sides of his neck. His thick tail lashed in fury and he stalked up to the teal aide, fists clenched.

Vegeta stalked past his guardian, and glanced into the crevasse, ready to engage in combat. The small orb of Ki pulsed, and he held it up to illuminate the area. To his surprise, the space was empty. Trictic was simply ... gone. This doesn’t make sense. He didn’t go by us, or Zarbon. He should be here. He couldn’t have just disappeared, could he? When he checked his scouter readout to confirm, it showed only four Ki signatures. It was if the man had literally vanished into thin air.

“This is impossible,” Vegeta whispered. Behind him, Raditz began to sob; words tumbled out of his mouth as he sagged to the ground. Tears and snot ran down the youth’s face in a humiliating display that the prince could not bear to watch. He busied himself by trying to figure out how Trictic had slipped past them all ... in plain sight ... while Nappa and Zarbon conversed and Raditz cried like a bitch.

Finally, he could not stand it much more, and leveled a glare that was equal parts exasperation and embarrassment at the long haired youth. Then he scowled up at Zarbon; this was probably Twinkletoes’ fault, somehow.

“What the hell happened? Why was that Elite chasing him?”

“Not now, Vegeta,” Nappa held up one hand. Vegeta growled; he hated being ignored. Nappa might as well have patted him on the head and said: ‘hush up, the adults are talking’. “Care to fill me in, Zarbon?”

Instead of offering an explanation, or responding to Vegeta’s question, Zarbon flipped his damn braid and sniffed. “I wouldn’t know. Don’t worry, Nappa, I’ll have a word with Trictic, and then some.”

As if that made everything all right, Zarbon waved one hand in dismissal, then turned his attention back to the hysterical adolescent. It was obvious that the haughty general thought the matter was closed. Raditz did not appear to be injured, but Vegeta wished he would stop sniveling. A crowd was gathering and the last thing they needed was to appear weak.

Vegeta felt offended. He was sure that Zarbon knew more than he was letting on, and he could tell by the way Nappa rocked back on the balls of his feet and crossed his arms that he thought Zarbon was lying to them as well.

Nappa growled deep in his throat and looked as if he planned to break Zarbon in half. “What now? He’s not hurt ... but he’s not gonna go anywhere with you.”

“Oh please, Nappa, I can escort him home.” Zarbon sighed, then crossed his arms and allowed a tiny smile to cross his azure lips as he taunted the massive Saiyan: “Besides, I don’t think you’re a match for Trictic.”

“He isn’t, but I am,” Vegeta interrupted, tired of being disregarded. The thought of testing himself against one of the Elites made him grin as he stared up at both adults. It may have sounded like a boast, but it was true.

“Oh fine! Have it your way.” Zarbon threw his hands up in exasperation, then patted his student on one shoulder. “I want to know when you have arrived back, Raditz. Your safety is most important to me.”

Vegeta watched that stupid smile cross Raditz‘s face when Zarbon touched his shoulder. The prince suppressed a shudder. “Can we go now? You’ve made me miss my lunch.”

No one spoke until they were in the apartment. The entire way, Raditz kept looking around him as if Trictic would simply pop up out of the shadows. Vegeta grumbled under his breath about how hungry he was. He stomped in the door, went to the kitchenette, and began rummaging through the cupboards for something to eat. He grabbed a handful of uncooked noodles because he liked the crunch, sat down at the table, poured a glass of water and settled in to watch the show.

As expected, Nappa rounded on Raditz, and poked the long haired youth in the chest with one of his large fingers. ”Time to talk, Raditz. The hell was that about? Why the fuck was he chasing you all over Residential?”

“Come on, we just got back! I really don’t want to talk about this in front of Vegeta,” Raditz pleaded in a whining tone. He reeked of anxiety and adolescent pheromones. The combination of odors made both Nappa and Vegeta feel more on edge, ready to fight.

The implication - yet again - that Vegeta was not old enough and that he should be excluded set the prince off. He was still keyed up from the earlier chase, and the fact that he had not been able to blow off the resulting tension. By Blood and Battle, he was the strongest out of the three, he was Ve'ho ee'ko Saiyanu, and he hated secrets.

“Oh, what the hell? Why does everyone treat me like an infant? I have just as much right to know as anyone else.” Vegeta forgot about his snack. He stood up and stomped into the middle of the conversation. “Whatever you two have to bitch about, you can do it in front of me.”

“Language, Vegeta ... and not now.” Nappa turned his attention back to Raditz. “You’re gonna tell me about it whether you want to or not.”

How dare Nappa dismiss him? Vegeta’s eyes narrowed, and he uttered a low growl. Nappa and Raditz continued to talk over him - literally - and he did not like it one bit. He tried to interject, but neither acknowledged him. It was as if they had gone suddenly deaf.

“You will stop ignoring me, Nappa! I’m an Elite! I’ve leveled entire civilizations, committed genocide, eaten the flesh of my enemies! I am your Prince and I demand to be treated with respect. This instant!”

He stomped his foot, and flared his aura out in a show of dominance as he shouted orders at the two older Saiyans, ignoring the irony that he was throwing a tantrum. Both Nappa and Raditz stared down at him, a mix of anger and disbelief on their faces. Raditz looked like he was on the verge of tears again, and Nappa’s mouth dropped open.

“Shut up already, Vegeta!” Raditz screamed at the top of his lungs. All of his hair seemed to rise up. His tail frizzed out and lashed, and his face wrinkled in distress.

For a few seconds, no one spoke. Raditz bit down on his tongue, and had the wits to look ashamed.

Vegeta’s hackles rose. He felt his aura respond to his mood. He clenched his fists and hissed, launched himself at Raditz, and gut punched the adolescent with as much force as he could muster. He felt satisfied when Raditz fell to his knees.

“I am ve’ho! How dare you speak to me that way!” He raised his other fist, the red tinge of aggression began to eat his vision. He barely noticed when Raditz began to retch.

“That’s it!” Nappa grabbed hold of Vegeta’s shoulder, fingers dug into the flesh, and yanked him back. “Godsdammit Vegeta, stand down! It’s us against the galaxy ... against the universe! Do ya not get that? We’re ji’tach. Hell, we’re family.”

The imposing Saiyan glared down at Vegeta, then at Raditz. “If you two can’t get along, we’re lost. They’ll take us out one by one, and then ... no more Saiyans. We can’t let ‘em win. Look, Raditz, Vegeta’s our best shot at taking out Frieza. And Vegeta, Raditz does everything for you without question. We need each other. If you two need to fight - and it happens - go to the training room and solve it there. Got it?”

When it became clear that Nappa was waiting for a response, Vegeta rolled his eyes. He hated to admit that Nappa was right, and he would not apologize to Raditz. “Tch. I still deserve respect.”

“And when you act with honor like a Prince, instead of attacking your teammates for no reason, you’ll get it. And I’m not just sayin’ this to piss you off, ve’ho. It’s time to stop these tantrums. Okay?”

Vegeta crossed his arms, part of him wanted to continue to argue, to fight. Raditz got up, and stumbled off to the bathroom to fetch the cleaning supplies, then began to scrub his own mess up while everyone calmed down.

“Now Raditz, c’mon and tell me what happened. Ve’ho, why don’t ya go have somethin’ to eat. Have anything in the fridge.”

“Anything?” Vegeta raised his eyebrows. Nappa never let him eat until he was full from their supplies. “Ugh ... I know what you’re trying to do. Tch. Fine. But don’t bitch when there’s nothing left. You told me I could.”

In spite of Nappa’s grand speech, they were still treating him like a child. He raided the coldstore, and grabbed everything he could, partially out of spite. He wanted to listen in, but they had retreated to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and spoke in quiet voices. He considered putting his ear on the door, then decided not to bother. He was a prince, as Nappa had pointed out, and such things were beneath him. “Hmph.”

He had eaten his way through half of their meager stores when Raditz and Nappa emerged. He had not heard screaming or fighting, and at one point he heard Nappa laughing. Both males seemed calm: their tails relaxed, no frowns on their faces, their auras close. Vegeta looked up, curious, but would not beg for information.

“Hey, who wants Dish?” Raditz spoke the magic words. Two things could always calm down a stressed Saiyan: a good fight, and a good meal.

Th’di!” Vegeta shouted with enthusiasm. A home cooked meal was always better, and Vegeta had to hand it to Raditz ... he could make just about anything taste good. “Um ... I kinda ate all of the noodles.”

“What? The dry noodles?” Raditz flung open the cupboards and started to check the remaining supplies.

“Yes,” Vegeta said in a defensive tone. “I was hungry, and you made me miss lunch. And Nappa said I could eat anything I wanted. So I did.”

Nappa sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Aw, don’t blame Nappa for this.”

“I didn’t eat them all.” Vegeta offered up the last packet he had been gnawing on.

Raditz groaned in disbelief. “Augh ... Get your damn boots on, ve’ho. We’re going to the commissary. You can’t just eat spices.”

“We just got home.”

“Look, If you go with us, I’ll buy you more supplements.” Raditz pleaded. “After all, you are the strongest out of all of us.”

Vegeta thought about it, then nodded. “Deal.”

As they rode up the tram, Vegeta looked up at Raditz, noted the worried expression on the youth’s face as he kept checking the corners, hyper-alert to every sound and movement.

“So, are you going to tell us who that was? Don’t worry, we’re all keeping watch.” Vegeta gave a wide smirk. “Besides, let him try that when I’m around. I’ll end him.”

“Trictic.” Raditz voice caught as he shuddered. “Lord Trictic. And he’s been harassing me on and off for a while now.”

“Really?” Vegeta arched an eyebrow. “I’ve never noticed that.”

“Yes, really. You know, the galaxy doesn’t revolve around you, Your Highness.” Raditz spoke in a gentle tone.

Vegeta clenched his fists, an automatic response, then noticed Raditz’s expression, saw the slight grin and realized that ... perhaps ... Raditz was trying to be playful and not mock him. That, and Nappa’s speech about solidarity was still fresh in his mind. He sighed. “Don’t make me punch you again.”

Chapter Text

Vegeta, Prince of all Saiyans and almost eight years of age, sat at his table and downed one of his supplements. He was down to the last two, even though Raditz had just bought him a pack the other day. In spite of that, he was still starving. Come to think of it, he was always starving.

His jaw still ached from the earlier sparring session with Dodoria; the fight had not gone as well as he had hoped. He had used the new Ki technique that he had seen at the Pits on his ‘mentor.’  Although Vegeta did get in a surprise shot on the magenta General, he did not win the match. After his initial victory, Dodoria taunted him about their house arrest, about how they were all stupid monkeys, and Vegeta let his guard slip. Soon after he was pummeled into the ground in a humiliating manner.  He came out of the sparring room with a concussion, a busted lip, various sore body parts, and bruised pride. Nappa tried to drag him off for treatment, but Vegeta refused to give Dodoria the satisfaction of going to medical for such a petty injury. He was angry at himself for losing his focus.

None of the three had been given a mission since their arrest a week ago, When Nappa had complained, Zarbon had told him that they were ‘grounded’ for the time being, per Lord Frieza’s orders,  and to try again later. The loss of the resulting pay was taking its toll: their stores were empty, and Vegeta would not get any more supplements either.

Now, they had spent all of their extra credits accrued from their illicit sales to resupply their tiny flat, and had nothing left to show for it. Back to zero level, again. Like Raditz had said, it seemed they could never get ahead. And Vegeta knew it was his fault. On top of that, Raditz’s mysterious pursuer had vanished without a trace, and Vegeta had not gotten the chance to even the score.

Vegeta migrated to their new sofa to wait. It was yellow, like the old one, and had not been broken in yet. He sprawled out and turned on the flatscreen, the tip of his tail twitched idly. The couch smelled new; the familiar scents of Nappa and years of use were absent, of course, and it made him feel unsettled. That would have to be fixed.

He sighed, kicked his boots off, and wiggled his long toes. When Nappa got back from the commissary, he would beg the big man to take him to the gym to exercise. Vegeta could have gone by himself, but recent events made him wary to go anywhere without either Nappa or Raditz close by. He wriggled on the cushions in an attempt to break them in and get his own scent on them. Saiyans have sensitive noses, and certain odors were associated with comfort, with home.

The flatscreen droned news of the Empire spreading throughout the galaxy like a giant tumor, extending its cold tentacles into every corner. Trade stocks, commodities, politics ... boring things that did not interest the prince in the least.

He dozed, then jerked awake. His heart raced from fear and the taste of vomit in the back of his throat. He had been dreaming dark. A sense of foreboding - something was wrong. Then came a warm sensation in his chest, like a heating pad. At first he thought he had imagined it, but when he tucked one hand under his armor, he felt warmth coming from the crimson crystal.
 
The door slid open. Nappa ran in, and tossed a few sacks to the floor. His mohawk stood up in a tangled mess, and he looked both frantic and annoyed. He started to shout. “Vegeta, don’t ya answer your damn scouter? Never mind ... get up now. We gotta go.”

Vegeta sat up, now on alert, the dream still in the back of his mind. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Raditz. He’s in medical and he’s really fucked up.  Now move it, ve’ho.”

The smell of adrenaline was so strong that Vegeta could almost chew it. He forgot to be pissed at Nappa for yelling at him. Instead he snatched his scouter off the table, pulled on his white boots and gloves, and ran one hand through his hair.

Without any further explanation, Nappa herded him out the door, to the lifts, and up to the lobby of the Residential Dome. They hopped on the Main tram that took them to Medical. As the transport pulled into the depot, Vegeta looked at the Training building with longing, but he had forgotten his workout bag in the rush.

Raditz can’t be too bad off, can he? After all, he had been working with Zarbon, and everyone knows that Twinkletoes favors him. “Nappa, what’s wrong with Raditz?”

“I dunno.” Nappa’s mouth turned down as he spoke. He looked angry but Vegeta knew it was worry. “Medical just sent me notice that it was urgent.”

When they walked into Medical, Doctor Berra was not waiting for them - a bad sign - but Zarbon was, an absent look on his perfect face. Nappa started to growl the second he saw the teal man, and barrelled straight for him. with the prince in tow in case Nappa needed back up. Perhaps Vegeta would get his fight on after all.

“Zarbon!” Nappa roared in fury, his canines bared, and his aura expanded into a white nimbus. The few patients not being treated looked up as their scouters went off in unison. “What the hell did ya do to him. What kinda godsdamn training is this?”
 
Zarbon looked at the Saiyans, sniffed, and did not react to the hostility. In fact, he managed to look offended. “Nice to see you too, Commander Nappa. I’ve done nothing ‘to’ him; this isn’t from training. Perhaps you should ask more questions before jumping to conclusions.”

“You son of a ...” Nappa raised his fists. “I left him in your care! I should rip ya limb from limb!”

Before a fight broke out, Doctor Berra emerged and came up to the two men.  Her maroon scrubs were covered in various stains of unknown origin, her ebony hair had escaped its tight bun. She looked frazzled, but she nodded to them both.  “Commander Nappa, I see you received the alert.”

“Berra, what the hell happened? I got a message saying Raditz was in surgery?” Nappa towered over Berra and hollered his worry at the physician. When Berra took a step back, he realized that he was intimidating her. The Commander stepped back and lowered his Ki. “Sorry.”

The physician took a deep breath through her nostrils. “Yes, that’s true, Commander. When General Zarbon brought him in, he was so severely mauled that he needed emergency surgery before I could place him in a tank. He’s in the middle of a cycle right now.  Why don’t we go and talk in the back, and I’ll fill you both in on the details.”

With one manicured hand, she gestured to the recovery suites: semi-private rooms where soldiers recently out of the tanks could sleep off the results of the healing bath.

Vegeta started to follow after his guardian when Berra caught his attention. “Prince Vegeta, a moment, please.”

“Yes?” He folded his arms. He knew where this was headed, another lecture about his age, or lack thereof. “Nothing you say can shock me. I’ve seen death more times than I can count. I’m a Saiyan warrior, I’m the Prince. I won’t be talked down to, and I won’t be left out.”

“I understand that, Prince Vegeta, but I legally can only speak with his guardian. I’m sure you understand. I’ll have a nurse bring you some supplements and snack foods while you wait. Once I’ve cleared it with the Commander, I will fill you in as well.” Berra looked him in the eye and spoke to him in a calm yet respectful tone, as if he were an adult and not a meddling br’at.  It threw him off, and he complied, more out of surprise than anything else.

“Gentlemen, shall we?” Again, she gestured towards the back. Nappa and Zarbon glared at each other briefly, then Nappa deflated and followed along after the teal aide.

 After a few minutes, one of the medtechs brought Vegeta several chilled drinks, an assortment of fresh fruits, crackers, nuts and seeds. The smell of the rare foods made him drool. The crunch of the skin against his canines made him shiver, and the juices ran down his chin. He closed his eyes at the intensity of flavors, and forgot everything except eating. The nuts were salted, and made his tongue tingle. He ate the crackers with a savory spread, then finished off the cacao supplements.

Satisfied, he busied himself by watching the flat screen and perked his ears to see if he could hear any conversations. After a while, he started to grow bored. No one was looking; he began to wander around the waiting room, poked his nose into everything, stared at the desk clerk for a while until they became nervous, then wandered back to his seat in hopes that more food had appeared. No such luck.

After what seemed to the young Saiyan like an eternity, no one had emerged with an explanation. What the hell...They’re just leaving me out on purpose now. I’m not going to put up with this. It can’t be that hard to find him.

Vegeta made his grand entrance by kicking open the metallic double doors and stomping into the room where Berra, Nappa, and Zarbon held council. He stalked in, tail whipping, and looked down at the older youth who still lounged about with no obvious wounds. He titled his head to level a glare towards the doctor. “What’s the hold up? He’s healed. Let’s go.”

Ve’ho.” Raditz’ voice was so weak it almost could not be heard. He gave a weak groan, pushed the covers off, and tried to sit up.

“Stay down, Raditz.” Doctor Berra put one hand on Raditz chest and applied gentle pressure. “You need to rest a while longer. All right?”

“Yes, Doctor,” Raditz mumbled. It was clear he was still quite drugged up.

Then Berra turned her black eyes on Vegeta. Her expression was stern and her body language stiffened. Vegeta caught a quick whiff of anger from the petite female.

"Prince Vegeta, I need you to leave him be for now, he's still feeling the effects of the drugs and he needs to rest.” Her tone was stern and brooked no arguments. She still did not talk down to him, but he did not like it.

“What’s the big deal,” he grumbled, then addressed the physician in an annoyed tone. “He got hurt. So what? I've been messed up bad before, too. Why does he get special treatment? I'm the Prince!"

“Vegeta, enough.“  Nappa issued a warning that turned out to be unnecessary.

Instead of caving in, Berra turned and glared down at him. Any trace of her normally kind manner was gone. She gritted her sharp teeth, placed her hands on her hips and stood over him. She almost looked fierce.

"He was more than just 'messed up,' Prince Vegeta. He died. Do you understand?"

She continued to glare down at him. Right then, the woman’s wrath was scorching, and Vegeta felt small, almost intimidated. He was the first to look away.

“Yes, well… I'm out of snacks. You might want to do something about that." It was a terrible comeback. Vegeta knew he had lost that sparring match, and made himself look foolish. He turned away, face red with embarrassment.  

“I know you feel like you’re being left out, Prince Vegeta, but this is a delicate time for Raditz. His body just went through a horrible trauma, and he’ll need time to recover. I hope that you can understand that.”

“I’m not stupid; I understand death.” Vegeta grumbled. “And you can use big words with me.”

Berra’s eyebrows knitted. “I can only disclose details to his guardian, as I said earlier. But I can tell you that his mind and body underwent severe trauma. He’s lucky to be alive. Now, please have a seat. I need to finish up talking to Commander Nappa and covering care. It shouldn’t be too long.”

Vegeta did not respond. He stared at Berra for a long while, not sure what the woman wanted, or why she cared so much. She did seem to be sincere in her concern, but Vegeta had been fooled before. He lashed his tail once, then wrapped it around his waist and stomped back to the waiting room where he brooded.

What could have gone on that she needs to baby Raditz?  He obviously didn’t die, so why carry on about something that didn’t happen? I thought she said she understood Saiyans.

Zarbon came out first. The teal man wore a carefully sculpted blank look meant to give away nothing, but the hunched posture of his shoulders and his quick strides betrayed his aggravation. He passed by without a word to Vegeta, and walked out the door without looking back.

Soon after, Nappa and Raditz came out, accompanied by the doctor. Raditz was dressed in clean clothes and had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. His hair, still damp from his trip to the Medical Tank lay flat and defeated, much like Raditz himself. He shuffled forward, his eyes blank, his gaze to the ground. He looked small, a pale version of himself.

“... now, I recommend that he goes straight home and rests. There are still a lot of sedatives in his system. He should up and moving tomorrow, but I want to see him back here in the next few days. He should physically recover without problems, but we still won’t know about his mental state. That will take time, and it may be that there is still damage that we won’t see until later.”

“Saiyans are hardy, Doc. He’s gonna be fine after a little sleep. Right, Raditz?” Nappa wrapped one big hand around one of Raditz’s arms to keep the youth steady.

“I know, but he is not fully mature, Commander Nappa. We don’t know what the long term ramifications might be. Now Raditz,” she placed a reassuring hand on his arm, and Vegeta felt a slight twinge of ... what ... jealousy? Sadness? “You’re going back home now. If you’re having any pain, or if you just need someone to talk to, you can always come and see me. All right?”

 Raditz did not give a verbal reply. He just nodded his head, and wrapped the blanket tighter around himself.

“C’mon, Vegeta, let’s go.” Nappa gave the physician a quick nod of thanks, then guided Raditz out.

Vegeta followed, and they walked in silence to the tram.  He would have barraged Nappa with questions, but the big man wore a fierce scowl that indicated he was not interested in talking. Vegeta had hoped that his guardian would explain what the hell had gone on, but he was disappointed again. No one offered up any sort of explanation.  By the time they got back, Vegeta felt even more left out.

Once in the comfort of home, Raditz stumbled to bed and fell asleep almost immediately. Vegeta sat at the table while Nappa put away their supplies, left unpacked in the rush, and fiddled with his tablet for a while before deciding to press the issue.

“What happened, Nappa? And don’t tell me I’m too young. I’m going to be eight tomorrow.”

Nappa’s mouth pressed into a thin line and he folded his arms over his barrel chest. “Raditz was hurt really badly. He was almost torn apart. I get combat, but this ... was senseless.”
 
“Did Zarbon do this?”

“Nah ... He was jumped. But I’m sure Twinkletoes is connected somehow. And I’ll find out how. And I don’t want ya taking matters into your own hands. Just ... trust Nappa on this one.”

“... Fine.” Vegeta wrapped his tail and crossed his arms. What would it take to get people to stop babying him?

“I saw that tail, Vegeta. I’m serious here. Look, we’re ji’tach, and it’s us against the Galaxy, right?”

“Right,” Vegeta agreed, to avoid the upcoming lecture about team cohesion. It did not work.

“Maybe you should stop and think about being a part of the team, about being a good leader. We’re only as strong as our weakest fighter. So that means ya need to let him rest, okay? That includes cooking and grooming duties.”

“I get it,” The prince moaned, and rolled his eyes.

“I hope you do. Raditz is always doing for ya without question. It wouldn’t hurt ya to return the favor every now an’ then, ve’ho. Maybe take a minute and think what things would be like without him. There’s only the three of us, so we can’t afford to lose anyone. Okay, I think that’s enough lecture for now.” Nappa patted the prince on the shoulder, then retired to the couch to give him space.  

Vegeta huffed; he hated when Nappa tried to guilt him. He stood up, walked over to where Raditz lay shrouded among the blankets, and stared down at the adolescent who had been - for all intents and purposes - his caretaker since he had been taken from his home on Vegetasai. Vegeta had expected it, taken Raditz for granted. It was Raditz’ job to ‘do for him.’  As ve’ho, it was his right. ... Right?

Each time, after Frieza had fucked with him, Raditz had been there to take care of him and had not bitched about it.  Next, he thought about what it would be like if Raditz had gotten dead: no one to groom him, to cook, to comfort him when he needed it, no one to curl up with at night. Young Saiyans, even proud princes, needed contact and comfort along with structure and discipline; Nappa was not the ‘nurturing’ type.  

“Damn,” he muttered. He hated it when Nappa was right. Ji’tach meant sticking together, but it did not mean he had to coddle Raditz. Vegeta leaned in closer to the older boy, then poked him with one finger, in spite of Nappa’s warning. He just couldn’t help himself.

“I’ll kick your ass if you make me miss my birthday,” he whispered, then felt bad. But only for a moment.  

Chapter Text

" ... "I'll kick your ass if you make me miss my birthday." Vegeta leaned in closer and stared at Raditz. The older youth twitched once, but did not respond. He was far too drugged up.

As if he had heard the threat, Nappa cleared his throat and stood, then stretched his long limbs. "Hey ve'ho, now that he's out, I gotta get going. Stay here and keep an eye on him, would ya?

Irritation was clear on the prince's face as he turned to look up at his massive guardian. "I'm not his caretaker, Nappa. Besides, he's sleeping. And ... who's 'we'?"

Nappa shifted from foot to foot and scratched at his scalp. "Zarbon."

"Zarbon? You're working with Twinkletoes? By choice?" Vegeta spat out Zarbon's name as if the syllables left a bad taste on his tongue.

"Yeah. I don't like it either, but we gotta find Trictic before this thing gets any worse. Hell, he may already be gone, but we can't sit around on this. He fucked with the wrong people, and it's gonna stop. I don't care who I have to work with ... long as that jik'hi gets dead in the end." Nappa placed his scouter over his left ear as he spoke, then exited to the hallway before Vegeta could protest.

Vegeta blinked in surprise as he watched the door shut. Nappa had just walked out on him! This would not do; he would not be left behind like a weak child. He scrambled to find his boots, pulled them on, and ran out after the largest Saiyan.

"I'm coming with you, Nappa. I'm sick of being left out!" All it took was a quick burst of speed to catch up with the former General.

"No, you're not." Nappa halted and pointed one finger back towards their apartment. His tone indicated that he was not going to argue with the prince. "There's a chance Trictic may still be on Base. Who's gonna kick his ass if he goes after Raditz again and you're with me?"

"You're just trying to placate me." Vegeta crossed his arms and planted his feet, unwilling to turn back. "He'd be an idiot to stick around here."

Nappa sighed, then pinched the bridge of his nose. When he spoke, it was in that odd quiet tone he used when trying to keep an argument from spiraling out of control. "Look, right now the best thing ya can do to help is keep guard. I'm counting on ya, and so is Raditz. It's about ji'tach, ve'ho - we all do our part. Remember?"

"Yes, yes." Vegeta flapped one hand in a dismissive manner. "I get it. How long are you going to be gone?"

"I dunno, Vegeta. As long as it takes, I guess." The powerful warrior placed one gnarled paw upon the prince's shoulder. "Please, just trust good ol' Nappa on this; it's important. I'll make it up to ya later, ve'ho, I promise. We'll do you want; go to the Shack, get your supplements, just ... do what I ask. Just this once."

For a moment, the two stared at each other in silence, engaged in a battle of wills once again that Vegeta was destined to lose. He broke eye contact to contemplate his own feet. Nappa was just so damn good at making him feel guilty. "Tsk! I hate when you do that."

A quick smile twisted across Nappa's scruffy face. "Alright, it's settled. See ya later, ve'ho."

Vegeta turned his back on Nappa without replying and stalked back to their flat. He slammed his fist against the sensor with more force than he intended, and for a second, the door froze in the halfway position.

"Not now," he moaned, and waved his hand over the sensor again. When it slid fully open without any further problem, Vegeta felt relieved. He would hate to tell Nappa he had broken the door ... although Nappa was always worth a laugh when swearing.

The frustrated young Saiyan stormed back inside and glared at his environment. He usually felt safe in the small apartment, but right now ... he just felt trapped. Most of the earlier sympathy he had felt over Raditz's plight had dissipated as he contemplated a quiet night at home, doing nothing.

Curse that Raditz, always ruining things for me. If he wasn't so weak, I'd be out with Nappa, hunting. Now I'm stuck here, babysitting him. It's not fair.

Vegeta's noisy entrance aroused Raditz from his drug induced slumber. The adolescent mumbled in his bleary voice. "What ... Nappa left? Why? When is he coming back?"

"I don't know," Vegeta snapped, perhaps with more venom than he intended. 'He's going to fight and he's leaving me out of it, and it's your fault!"

Part of him issued the challenge in hopes that Raditz would grow angry, get out of bed, get in his face and give him a reason to lash out. However, Raditz did not comply with his wish; he gave Vegeta a hollow stare, then rolled over and pretended to sleep.

"Coward," Vegeta hissed.

For a moment, he considered defying his superior officer and going after Trictic on his own, but even the impetuous youth realized that it would be a poor idea. A lone Saiyan, even one as strong as he, would still be a desired target. What if he ran into the Ginyus alone? Or Dodoria? Or ... gods forbid ... Frieza himself. He knew that he would not stand a chance if that happened, and oh how he hated to admit that, even to himself.

Perhaps ... I'm the coward after all. No ... it's just bad strategy to go out on my own. Besides, I don't want Nappa to think that I can't handle being a team leader, or that I don't deserve the title of ve'ho. Having justified his inaction to himself, Vegeta huffed and flopped down on the couch, and prepared for a long and boring night.

When Vegeta awoke the next morning cycle, the flat was silent. Raditz still slept and the usual noise of the flatscreen was absent. He lay still for a moment, then checked his tablet. There were no new mission notifications or personal messages either. He was disappointed, but then ... what did he expect, really? He had no allies to speak of, only Nappa and Raditz. They were the only two in the galaxy who cared that he existed, and they had to care whether they wanted to or not.

Nappa had not returned; the couch that served as his bed was empty and showed no signs of use. Vegeta frowned, displeased. His day was already off to a bad start.

The prince tried to raise his guardian on their communal scouter frequency, to no avail. Nappa also did not reply to the barrage of increasingly caustic messages that Vegeta sent out. This only served to put him in a worse mood. What the hell is taking Nappa so long? He said he would return. So where is he? He better not have forgotten.

He dressed, then ran one hand through his snarled hair and stared at his reflection in the cracked bathroom mirror. Now he had gone two whole days without being properly groomed. Enough was enough. Vegeta stalked over and jabbed one finger into Raditz's ribs. In response, the older boy swatted his hand away.

"Hst... Hey, Raditz. Get up! Did you forget what today is, too? Nappa did. He never even came home last night and he promised."

"What?" The adolescent rolled over, opened one eye, and groaned. "Why isn't he back?"

"Hell if I know! I need to be groomed, there's nothing to eat in the house, and I want to get out. Now get up," Vegeta ordered, and poked Raditz again. He fully expected to be obeyed, not to put up with further protests.

"Cant you take care of it just this once," Raditz pleaded, in that annoying nasal tone. "Besides, Nappa told you not to bother me about it."

Any trace of sympathy that the young Saiyan felt for his injured comrade dissolved, and Vegeta felt his face turn red as his frustration grew. "I shouldn't have to! Get up out of bed, Raditz. Stop wallowing around and grow some balls. You're a Saiyan warrior. Act like it."

"Tch." Raditz clicked his tongue against his teeth, then gave a low hiss. "You have no fucking clue what's going on, do you? And I don't think you care either. It's always about you, Vegeta. What's so wrong with someone giving a damn about me for once? You're our Prince; you're supposed to stand up for your subjects, not berate them."

"What's the big damn deal, Raditz? I've been fucked up more times than I can count, not even counting what Frieza did to me. Why is everyone treating you so special? You're not broken! So you were dead." He rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner as he spoke. "I mean, we've all died at some point. It can't be that different.

Raditz mouth hung open, the hurt plain on his features. Then he curled up and hugged himself for comfort. He glared daggers at the prince. "This was different. You wouldn't get it."

"Try me." Vegeta growled in the back of his throat when Raditz broke eye contact and lowered his head. "Come on, Raditz! What could possibly be worse than what Frieza and his lackeys do to me on a daily basis?"

"You really want to know?" Raditz hissed.  "Okay, fine! That man violated me ... clawed me, bit me ... then he eviscerated me and left me to die covered in my own blood and guts, all alone. I had to grab my intestines up in my hands, wrap a towel around my waist and crawl out to find some help, and hope that someone would show up before I bled out. And you know what's even worse? H-he did it just for fun." Raditz began to weep, slow fat tears that rolled down his cheeks. It was somehow worse than when he wailed and sobbed. "Do you understand what that means?"

The raw display of emotion caused Vegeta to step back. He could not handle the intensity, and that made the prince feel uncomfortable. He blinked and thought while he waited for Raditz to stop sobbing.

"Why didn't you fight?"

"I did fight! Do you think I just sat there and let it happen? If I hadn't fought, I'd be really dead. For good!" Raditz finally stood up, towered over the prince, and started to shout. "He had some sort of poison on his claws and teeth, Vegeta. When he bit me, I couldn't move, and I was frozen. He ambushed me. He knew I was alone, hell he counted on it! I was so fucked up that they had to put my organs back inside. And then, I flatlined. Twice."

"Oh ..." Vegeta stared off as he processed the information. If Raditz had hoped for sympathy, it was not his lucky day. The prince tapped one finger as he thought. "Hn. What was it like?"

"What ... death?"

"Well duh..." Vegeta snorted."Did it hurt? Did you see anything?"

When he looked back at Raditz, the soft expression he usually associated with the older boy was gone, replaced by something much worse. Raditz's eyes were dark and haunted, as if a part of him had not returned to life.

"You're morbid, Vegeta. You know that? Look, ve'ho, this isn't some game, or a sparring match. I was fucking dead! All because some jik'hi wanted to see how much damage a Saiyan could take! I - I don't want to talk about this any more. I just want to forget it, okay?"

A wide smile spread across Vegeta's face. "If you died, at least you got zenkai, right? Let me check."

"Seriously, Vegeta? I don't believe you! Is that all you care about, some stupid power up?" Raditz wailed, and his tail lashed.

"Well, yes... that ... and everyone forgot what day it is." Vegeta replied in a matter-of-fact tone. He could not understand what Raditz's problem was.

"You are so fucking selfish!"

With a hiss, Vegeta narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists. "Watch what you say to me." When Raditz did not apologize or answer, Vegeta stomped one foot in growing frustration. "That's it! I'm sick of doing nothing. I'm leaving."

"You can't! Nappa will be pissed if you leave," Raditz whined.

"Nappa's not here, so what's he going to do about it? Look, I'm going insane sitting around. I need to run, to fight, and to get some damn food. And I'll do it with or without you. You can stay here and whine or you can come with."

Vegeta began to pull on his boots. Nothing that Raditz said could or would convince him to change his mind once he made a decision. Raditz knew this and so did Vegeta. In fact, he counted on it.

"You know I can't let you go alone, or Nappa'll have my head."

"I know." Vegeta's smile said it all. He perched on the edge of the couch and waited impatiently while Raditz dressed. After a few minutes, impatience got the best of him and he stuck his head into the small bathroom to yell at the older boy. "Hurry it up! I want to go now."

"Sometimes, I hate you, Vegeta." Raditz mumbled.

"What did you say?"

"N-nothing ... Let's just get this over with, okay? Where are we going?" Raditz sounded defeated and he did not make eye contact.

"The Mess Hall, the Training Hall and then the Noodle Shack. And maybe the commissary." As he spoke, Vegeta ticked each location off on his fingers.

With a quick intake of breath, Raditz shook his head once, then his entire body began to shake. The adolescent began to pant. He bent over and put his hands on his knees. "Not the training hall. Please, anywhere but there."

"Why?"

"That's ... where it happened." The long haired Saiyan pulled in on himself, and his tail twitched spastically.

In response to Raditz's obvious distress, Vegeta huffed and rolled his eyes, then folded his arms across his chest. "Don't be such a baby. Look, I'll just go there on my own if it's a big damn deal."

"No ... I don't want to stay here alone," Raditz whispered, and ignored the prince's snort of annoyance. Vegeta had little sympathy or time for others' weaknesses, and the older youth knew it.

"Listen," he continued, "I'd be willing to go to medical, but that's it. I'm supposed to check in anyways. While we're there, I can see how much my power level has gone up - we can get a more accurate reading. I know you're curious about that."

"Yes," Vegeta sighed, although he hated the thought of any more delays. "Fine. We'll stop by. I'll make that doctor give me some more supplements. And then I need to run."

"Her name is Doctor Berra, Vegeta."

"Whatever. Let's go." With that, Vegeta slung his gym bag over one shoulder and pressed the exit sensor. After medical, he would go to the gym, and Raditz would have no choice but to follow along.

Once outside of the apartment, Vegeta walked out without waiting, his head high and and his eyes forward. Raditz kept glancing over his shoulder and jumped at every noise. The smell of raw fear rolled off of him, and made Vegeta edgy in turn. When the lift arrived, he practically had to drag the older youth into the enclosed space.

"Stop worrying already," he ordered. "You're with me. He won't fuck with me, I'm too strong. Besides, there's no one in here."

"You'll never see him coming, Vegeta. He's an Elite for a reason."

"Well, I've got my scouter on, and unless he's invisible or can teleport, or some other stupid shit - I'll see him coming. Let him try it." Vegeta pressed the lift activator.

That must have put the older youth at ease because a slight smile crossed Raditz's lips, but his eyes remained wild and his fists remained bunched up for the entire trip. Vegeta also searched the shadows, in hopes of finding his quarry, but the elusive Trictic did not make an appearance - not that Vegeta expected him to. The man would be a fool to stay on Base and an even bigger one to approach Raditz when the prince was around. Still, one could always hope.


Chapter Text

Nappa rubbed the bridge of his nose as, once again, he and Zarbon scrolled through the last day's footage. Empty glasses and plates lay before them, a testament to a long night. Zarbon kept checking his tablet for updates, but so far the massive manhunt had failed. No being on or off FP-79 had seen or heard from Trictic, not that either man expected it would be so easy to hunt the other Elite down.

"I don't know what to tell you, Nappa." Zarbon sighed as he stood, stretched, then walked away from his deck in the Assignments Office. "Sprutt was damn useless sometimes, but at least he kept good records."

The former commander grunted a response, then stood as well. He was pissed off and tired, they had been at it all night and into the next day cycle as well.

"We've watched them several times, and I do not see him. As far as I know, Trictic can not suppress his Ki in open spaces, so we would see him passing through. We have cams on every exits, even the security and maintenance tubes ... If he had, we'd see an image, or else the PL indicators would have gone off."

"Yeah, but how do ya know he didn't just slip into a vent or something like that? Hell, if he can hide in the shadows, he can hide anywhere." Nappa walked around the mahogany desk, stretched his cramped limbs. Saiyans were not bred for remaining still for long periods of time. It made them jumpy and irritated.

"Believe me, Nappa, I know that. But every access point is well lit - on purpose - and unless someone smuggled him out ... I'm starting to think that he may still be here."

"This means nothing," Nappa snapped, and resisted the urge to take out his frustrations on the furniture. "We've taken far too long! He should be long fucking gone. I know I would."

"Well, like I said before, we've got Ginyu and his boys out hunting, and they're professionals. He can't have gotten too far. I've also notified all of my business contacts. He's going to run out of resources; his technique uses a lot of energy. If he shows up in storage, medical, or at any of the relay points, I'll know immediately."

"Wait ... you're saying ya control everything on this base?" Nappa felt slightly discomfited at the thought that Zarbon could watch his every move with the flick of one manicured finger over his tablet.

"Not quite," Zarbon tilted his head and gave the massive Saiyan a sardonic grin, "but close enough. I am Lord Frieza's aide and right hand man ... and who do you think does all of the detail work?"

"If that's true, why is it taking so damn long to locate him?" Nappa patience was almost gone; he leveled a glare and snapped at his superior. "I can't wait until we find his ass and execute him and be done with this."

In response, Zarbon twiddled with his hair but kept his expression blank. "This is a large base, Commander, and we're not just talking about FP-79, either. Trictic has resources, like I do. Believe me. I'm not enjoying this any more than you are."

Nappa growled deep in his chest. He hated Zarbon on principle, and could not wait to part ways again. None of this would have been necessary if it had not been for Zarbon's meddling in the first place.

Frieza's right hand man looked up, and arced one perfectly sculpted green brow. "Something to say, Nappa?"

"Yeah ... This whole clusterfuck is your fault! Trictic woulda never gone after Raditz if not for you. He coulda died, and you probably wouldn't care. You and your damn parties! What the hell happened there that put Raditz in his sights?"

Now that Nappa had started, he could not stop yelling. His tail lashed and his muscles tensed in preparation for the retaliation that was likely to come for confronting Zarbon on his own turf. But Nappa welcomed the change to lash out, to fight, to make someone pay.

"I've told you already. He works parties to earn extra income. I need extra assistance with set up, break down, and entertainment. I always pay him well, and I would think that you would appreciate the extra income, especially considering recent events."

"Parties, yeah ... Raditz is a Saiyan, not a fucking waiter. And he's not a toy either. What else are you having him do that attracted Trictic? It had to have been something more than a tea party, Zarbon. I know the rumors about you."

"Excuse me?" Zarbon's voice finally rose above conversational level. The slender teal warrior rose to his feet to face the screaming Saiyan head on, but still his expression showed none of the man's frustration.

"You heard me," Nappa snarled.

"What exactly are you insinuating, Commander? That I am doing something untoward with one of my underage pupils? You wound me." Zarbon narrowed his golden eyes. "Just because we're working together right now doesn't mean we're friends or that you can run off at the mouth. So think before you speak, Nappa."

Nappa huffed and paced, but did not dare to respond further for a minute. He did not trust himself. Instead, he used the advice he often gave to his prince in high stress situations: focus, breathe, don't let them get to you.

The two men stared at each other, both too stubborn to back down or apologize. After a few minutes of prickly silence, Nappa crossed his arms and grumbled to himself.

"Look, why don't we go back to residential again. I've been gone too long, and if he's here ... wait, you don't think he'd be stupid enough to go after the boys again, do ya?"

Just as Zarbon started to reply, the screaming started over Nappa's the scouter link.


Vegeta and Raditz walked out of the Training Hall side by side to return back to their flat, joking and laughing. After the good Doctor Berra had confirmed that Raditz's power levels had risen significantly, they had been eager to test his new abilities. To his surprise, and Vegeta's, the older boy seemed better able to hold his own during the match for a while, until Vegeta grew bored and ended it.

Raditz shifted his workout bag to his other shoulder, and grunted as his ribs protested. Both Saiyans had been scuffed up, but not enough to bother with a trip to medical. "I hate to admit it, but you were right, Vegeta. I do feel better. Thanks for making me go."

"I told you so. It always works for me." The prince grinned his crooked smile; he was still on an adrenaline high from their sparring match.

"I even caught you off guard," Raditz replied, and hoped that Vegeta would not suddenly turn sour.

"Even though I wiped the floor with you at the end," Vegeta countered and folded his arms, but his voice was free of the usual venom.

"Say what you want, I can take a hit," Raditz chuckled, and smoothed his long hair with one hand. He looked and felt more confident and relaxed as they entered the main courtyard. "Hey ve'ho, I was thinking. Instead of stopping by the Shack now, why don't we wait for Nappa and go as a family later, like we always do."

"Tch! Why should we wait for him when we haven't heard from him at all?" Vegeta huffed, then frowned. Was it possible that Nappa had forgotten what day it was? "Besides, I'm starving."

"Tell you what, we'll comm in and have it delivered. Amaranth will do it for us, especially if I tell her it's a special occasion and I promise her a big tip. We'll watch some screen, kick back, eat ... Sound good?"

Vegeta was angry at his guardian, but Raditz was right: it wouldn't be the the same without Nappa. The three Saiyans had gone to the Galactic Noodle Shack every year for his birthday celebration since their arrival on FP-79. It was tradition, and Vegeta was big on tradition.

"Oh ... fine. But you're grooming me. You've been slacking."

"Fair enough. Let's go home, ve'ho." Raditz placed one hand upon the prince's shoulder as they hopped on one of the trams.

During the transit back to Residential, the two younger Saiyans continued to talk in an easy manner that had not existed between the two for some time. Mostly they talked about zenkai, about the recent sparring, but certainly not about recent events. But Raditz still kept a wary eye out, just in case.

As they walked off the lift, Vegeta sent off yet another message to Nappa. He had not heard from his guardian for close to a day cycle and perhaps, although he would not say it aloud, he was a bit worried about the older man. Nappa was an efficient and ruthless hunter who did not get distracted from his goal. He should have returned, or at least sent a quick message. Had something happened to him? Had Zarbon done something to him? Vegeta glanced at Raditz, the left side of his mouth twitched in an unconscious tell of conflict, and he huffed.

"What's wrong, Vegeta?"

"Nappa still hasn't replied. He must be ignoring me," the prince fretted.

"I doubt that. He's probably just really busy. I wouldn't take it personal." In spite of his brave words, Raditz furrowed his eyebrows together and cinched his tail tighter around his waist.

"Tch. He could respond to me."

Raditz eyed the prince, but decided not to ruin the good mood. "Yeah, I hope he's okay, too. He should be - he's with Master Zarbon."

"Like that makes it better? Pft! Speaking of Twink - I mean, Zarbon, what is it you do for him anyways?"

Raditz gave an exasperated sigh. "I've been over this with Nappa already."

"Well, now you'll go over it with me," Vegeta commanded.

The youth drew in a steadying breath, then exhaled through his nostrils. "I help out at Master Zarbon's auxiliary parties."

Vegeta snorted as he imagined Raditz running around carrying a little tray with bite sized tidbits and topping off drinks. His stomach rumbled at the thought of food. "How humiliating for you."

"Hey, I don't hear you complaining when I use my earnings to buy your supplements, ve'ho."

Vegeta opened his mouth to argue ... then closed it with a snap. Raditz was right. He hated it when Raditz one-upped him. "Well, it's your responsibility, after all." He snorted and returned to the previous subject. "Why did Trictic go after you?"

Raditz stared off and did not reply immediately. Just as Vegeta was about to prod him, the adolescent let his tail drop as he shuddered. "I wish I knew. Maybe it's because I'm weaker than you and Nappa, because I'm an easy target. Doctor Berra says it wasn't about me at all though, not really."

"Funny," Vegeta snorted, "it sure seemed to involve you."

Raditz hissed, and he flicked his tail once, folded his arms and wrapped his tail as they stopped in front of their door. "That wasn't funny. Look, we've been having a good time, Vegeta. Can't we just keep doing that? Oh ... I think I heard the lift bell. I bet that's Amaranth. Just in time."

Vegeta keyed the code in, and once again the door froze. "Fantastic..."

As he re-entered the code, Vegeta thought about food: savory sauces, steaming grains, crunchy noodles with hot sauce, steaming dumplings, strips of grilled meat and brewed tea with sweetener. For one second, he let his guard down.

"I can't wait to - "

The door slid open, and Raditz squawked. Before he could react, something struck Vegeta on the back of the head with such force that he stumbled forward into the apartment and down to his knees. He saw stars and his vision blacked for just a second, enough for the door to slam shut behind him.

"Help!" Raditz started to shout. "It's Tric - Erk ..."

Beyond pissed, the prince sprung back to his feet, shook his head to clear it, and punched the exit sensor with his hand. It started to move, then froze in place again.

"No. You. Don't!" Vegeta shrieked, infuriated that he had been foolish enough to be caught off guard.

Over their group scouter frequency, he heard Raditz start to howl, a wordless panicked noise. Outside, he heard the muffled sounds of a struggle. Vegeta placed his wrists together, palms open, and charged his Ki. Without a thought, he blew a large hole through the portal; shrapnel flew out in a deadly spray, and the Prince of Saiyans jumped out to defend his subject.

"Raditz! Vegeta, the hell's going out?" Nappa's voice came over the scouter, but Vegeta was too focused to acknowledge.

In battle time, everything slowed to a crawl. The door blew apart, the pieces flew end over end, seeming to be suspended as he stepped through the frame and into the hallway, ready to engage.

Vegeta took in all the details of the scene in an instant: Amaranth stood with her mouth gaping in a scream, an empty container before her like a charm. Raditz sat on the floor, his arms extended, his face in a rictus of terror. A white wave of Ki exploded from his hands. Trictic stood, claws and teeth bared, his mouth open in a howl of pain as Raditz's attack struck him full in the face. The reptilian man shrieked in agony, then turned and ran down the hall, skittering like some loathsome bug on both hands and feet. His nails clacked on the floor as he fled.

"Trictic," Vegeta roared, his fangs bared, and his aura flared a brilliant white. "Fight me!"

The reptilian fighter did not reply, did not turn around, just fled like the coward he was. Vegeta shrieked in rage, and took after the fleeing Elite. He would not get away this time. Vegeta lifted into the air - to hell with the restrictions - and chased after Trictic, lobbing small yet powerful Ki balls at his back.

Vegeta hated to use such dishonorable attacks, but Trictic had already discarded honor when he ambushed them. But this was Trictic's element ... and Vegeta would have to take him down soon before the man escaped. The prince would not be able to use his strongest attacks in such close quarters, but he would make do, and he would make Trictic pay.

"Nappa," Vegeta yelled into his scouter as he gave chase. "Trictic's here! He's in Residential, on our floor, I'm passing Beta Lifts. Get here. Now!"

Although all of his strikes had made contact, Trictic did not stop nor did he acknowledge Vegeta's initial challenge. The Elite increased his pace instead, skittering from side to side in serpentine movements, seeking ... no doubt ... to reach a turn and disappear into nothingness yet again.

"You coward! Turn and fight me!" Vegeta pulled lightning into his hands and fired a superheated orb of plasma down the hallway. It enveloped Trictic in searing heat, and the man screamed in pain. The backplate of his armor cracked, and he stumbled, went down to one knee.

Trictic regained his footing quick, looked over his shoulder and hissed. His teeth glinted with venom, and his lips were coated with what probably passed for his blood. He was injured; his sides heaved with effort.

"Got you, you bastard!" Vegeta laughed in triumph, and closed the distance. Then he was forced to defend in turn as Trictic threw his own attack, hastily formed. It only took a second to block, but it was enough for Trictic to put on a burst of speed and step sideways into an alcove, unseen from further back.

His Ki signature vanished from the scouter's view, and Vegeta howled in blind rage, deprived of his revenge.

"... going on, Vegeta. Ve'ho, acknowledge..." Nappa was yelling, his voice contained a hint of panic.

"Blood and Battle! He's gone, that tapa jik'hi... when I find him I will rip out his entrails!"

By now, the sounds of combat and the resulting concussive blows had gained attention. Residents and fellow PTO soldiers had opened their doors to stare out in curiosity at the small Saiyan.

"What are you looking at," the prince screamed in frustration, and had to remember not to turn his wrath on them, to keep searching for his enemy. Breathe. Focus. Stay on task. He can't be too far away...keep looking. He just can't have gotten far ... he's too hurt.

A spotty trail of blood led around the corner, then disappeared, just like Trictic had. F'ri ... this can't be happening ... no one can just vanish ... but he did it to me. Again!

Deprived of his revenge again, Vegeta howled in futile rage.


Chapter Text

Vegeta stared into the alcove in disbelief, his lips back in a fierce snarl as his aura swirled around him still, his muscles tense and his mind still in battle mode. Every sound and sight was amplified, and he twitched with anger. "Coward," he screamed into the alcove, and his voice hitched. "Come back and fight!"

"...Ve'ho, Raditz ... come in...the hell's going on?" Nappa's voice boomed out of the earpiece and made him wince.

"He's gone again," Vegeta spat.

The connection hummed for a second before Nappa's reply came. "What'dya mean, gone?"

"He fucking disappeared, Nappa! Weren't you listening?"

Nappa grumbled, "Look, Vegeta, I'm almost home. Go back to the apartment, okay? Zarbon's heading your way right now, and I want ya back with Raditz. That's an order.""

"And let him escape? Not a chance! I'm going to find him and kill him. I swear it!" True to his word and against Nappa's orders, Vegeta kept searching, unable to give up the chase, even though he knew that any further effort was futile.

Vegeta never was one to accept defeat well, and as the realization dawned that Trictic was out of reach, he howled and lashed out with his Ki in a fit of temper. All the lights blew on the entire floor and plunged the hallway into utter darkness for a few seconds until the backups kicked in with a hum. Still not satisfied, he kicked one of the walls in spite, just as Zarbon approached, a severe expression on his teal face.

"Tell me this wasn't your doing, Vegeta." Zarbon indicated the damage with the flick of one hand. "Did you really think that blowing up Residential would help? And now I've got to send out Maintenance because you had a temper tantrum?"

"Trictic's gone and you're going on about the lights," Vegeta hissed.

Zarbon reached out, grabbed Vegeta by the collar of his breastplate and hauled him close so they were nose to nose. The General narrowed his golden eyes so they were no more than slits, then slapped him across the face hard enough to split his top lip. "You arrogant little monkey! Do you really think that you would be a match for one of Frieza's best men? Now where did he get off to?"

"Let me go," the prince spat, and pried at Zarbon's fingers. He refused to acknowledge the petty injury to his face. "At least I'm not sitting on my ass. I'm stronger than he is and you know it!"

"Have you not listened to a thing I have said over the years? Strength alone will not win a battle. Pah...I don't have time for your nonsense." Zarbon snapped, and cast him aside as if he were trash ... as usual, then took off down the hallway. Vegeta had not even told him where Trictic had gone off to.

"Arrogant asshole," Vegeta spat at Zarbon's retreating back. "Don't you dare bill me, I was cleaning up your mess!"

Zarbon did not reply, he did not even turn his head.

His ego bruised more than anything else, Vegeta let out a stream of colorful curses that he had learned from Nappa, and some that he made up on the spot. He knew the scouter link was still active, but neither Nappa or Raditz commented on his foul language. He took to the air, surrounded by Ki and knocked over any bystanders who were unfortunate enough to get in his way.

The inner security door was shut when he returned; he wanted to smash it down as well to vent his rage, but Nappa would throw a fit if he ruined both of them in one day. His mood did not improve when he stepped in something sticky.

"What the...?" He stared at the sole of his boot, and his lip curled in disgust.

The door slid open, and he stomped inside, still ranting. "That fucking coward! He ran away like the fri'va jik'hi he is ...at least I made him bleed. The next time that I see him I'm going to kill him and then I'm going to take - "

Raditz and Amaranth sat side by side on the yellow couch; both looked up as he entered. The youngest Saiyan blinked, and then blushed when he realized that the waitress had heard him swearing. Vegeta did not like to seem vulgar in front of others, it was not proper behavior for a prince. "Oh, sorry about that, Amaranth."

At the mention of her name, Amaranth waved one hand and smiled nervously. The top button of her blouse had come undone and her normally well styled white hair stuck out in all directions. "Hello, Prince Vegeta."

"Um ... why is the floor wet?"

"Sorry about that," Amaranth said. "When Raditz was attacked, I just panicked and threw the first thing I could find."

Vegeta blinked as he connected the pieces. "My soup? You threw my soup?"

"If it makes you feel better, it was mine," Raditz said.

Just then, Nappa returned. His chest heaved from exertion and sweat ran down his face and neck. He had flown at top speed the entire way from Main Headquarters through the maintenance tunnels in less than five minutes. Images of Raditz laying eviscerated in a pool of blood flashed through his mind as he pushed himself, and the large warrior was frantic when he rushed in the flat. If either boy had gotten hurt, it would be his fault for leaving them alone too long. When he found both unharmed, he released the breath he had been holding.

"Nappa!" Raditz stood up and went to greet him. "I'm glad you're back."

"You're okay." The massive Commander patted Raditz on one shoulder in greeting, then drew in a deep breath to center himself as he looked both of his charges over with a critical eye. "You're both okay, thank the Gods. And what the hell happened to the outer door?"

"Vegeta happened," Raditz replied, then held up both hands. 'Don't be mad at him, Nappa. If he hadn't, I'd be dead."

"Tch! That fri'va attacked me from behind and pushed me in the flat. I had to blast it down ... It was a strategic choice."

"Ah, don't worry about that right now. You two are more important than some door. Anyone hurt bad enough to need medical? You're bleeding, ten'ta..." Nappa asked, as he noticed the dried blood on Vegeta's chin.

"It's nothing." Vegeta wiped the blood off and shrugged.

Nappa eyed him, but chose not to respond. Vegeta could be very particular about things. "Well, what about you, Raditz?"

"No..." Raditz had just been assaulted twice in as many days, yet seemed oddly calm. "Amaranth showed up just when he was going to slit my throat. She threw hot spice soup right in his face, and he let me go. I even got off a good Ki blast too, before Vegeta showed up."

The youth grinned at first, then his composure started to fade as he realized how close he had come to death. "Oh gods, Nappa, what are we going to do now? He's going to keep coming after me until I'm dead... I know it!"

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Vegeta sniffed in disdain and growled to hide his embarrassment. "He'll never catch me off guard like that again. I messed him up really good, Nappa, but he slithered off into the shadows like the coward he is."

"Well, shit. He's gonna go to ground now. I'm gonna let Zarbon know." Nappa started to type on his tablet.

"Don't bother. I passed Twinkletoes in the hallway." Vegeta grinned crooked, then touched his split lip with the tip of his tongue.

"DId Zarbon do that to ya?" Nappa raised an eyebrow as he continued to compose a message. "Cuz if he did ..."

"Hmph. I've had worse in training."

Amaranth ran her fingers through her silky white hair to smooth it, and her nerves as well. She cleared her throat as she stood, then twisted her hands; the Saiyans had forgotten she was there. "Well, I should probably get going now. Teff will be be wondering what's taking me so long.

"Oh, right. Yeah, you do that ... Uh, I should probably pay you, right? Heh. How much do we owe you? You deserve a really big tip ... you saved my life!" Raditz gave an embarrassed chuckle as he extracted his credit card from a side pocket. When Amaranth's fingers brushed his, the adolescent's cheeks reddened. On impulse, he gathered the curvy waitress into a quick embrace.

At that sight, Vegeta snorted and rolled his eyes. Then he remembered about lunch - the rush of combat had driven the hunger away, but only temporarily. Now that the adrenaline had left his system, his stomach started to growl and he felt nauseous. Fighting always made him famished.

After Raditz released her, Amaranth swiped the card, then nodded her thanks. "Well, it's always interesting when I come here."

"Um, hold on, Amaranth. Maybe you shouldn't go back alone. I mean, you did attack Trictic. He might come after you now, too."

Amaranth shuddered at the thought, but put on a brave face. "It's okay, Raditz. It's not your fault. Uh, I'm going to comm Teff and let him know what's going on."

"Ah hell." Nappa scratched at the back of his head, and sighed. "Why don't we just walk ya back and save Teff a trip."

"What? Right now? I'm starving to death and you're letting perfectly good food go cold?" Vegeta stomped his foot in protest.

"Yeah, ve'ho. It's the least we can do. Look, we were gonna drop by later anyways." Nappa winked at him, but Vegeta was too upset to notice. "C'mon, let's get moving.

"Well, you're not screwing me out of my dumplings. They were out of everything at the mess this morning, and my lunch got ruined." Vegeta grabbed the package of steamed dumplings from the takeout bag and stuffed them in his mouth as they left their apartment.

Chapter Text

 


The trip back to the Galactic Noodle Shack was made mostly in silence, as each kept to their own thoughts. Raditz still looked over his shoulder, and Nappa stewed. Vegeta, of course, brooded about Trictic's escape. How was it even possible to hide your Ki, much less disappear? That, and why did Zarbon always seem to be one step behind? Was it done on purpose, or was there more going on? And Raditz ... well, he still did not want to see that his mentor was part of the problem.

Half an hour after Raditz nearly died, again, the Saiyans occupied their favorite table in the back of the popular diner, joined by both Amaranth - grateful for the escort back - and Teff, the bulky proprietor. Their table was loaded down with enough plates, bowls, cups and serving dishes to feed a small army, or three hungry Saiyans. Nappa had allowed the prince to order anything he wanted; Vegeta had taken full advantage of it, indulging in his love of all things sweet and savory. After all, he deserved it.

" - he took out a light, and then he just vanished. I will find him and finish it." Vegeta gestured with his eating sticks for emphasis as he retold the story again for Nappa and Teff's benefit. He was so involved with his story that he talked with his mouth full, and no one pointed it out.

"You should have seen it, Teff! After I tossed the soup at him, Raditz let him have it. Then Prince Vegeta blew that door to pieces and came screaming out! He looked like he was on fire ... that Trictic practically turned white, then just turned tail and ran." As Amaranth talked, she gestured with her hands as well, imitating Ki attacks. The tiered earrings she wore tinkled and caught the light and her silver hair swayed.

Teff folded two of his four arms over his ample chest and rumbled in amusement as he listened to his wife's part of the story and made the appropriate noises of worry and amazement. His other two arms smoothed the edges of his clean apron. "Dat sounds terrifying, Ammy."

"I would have been terrified if I had stopped to think about it. I still can't believe I threw soup at him. Hmm. Perhaps we can use that for a new slogan: something about how our soup is so good it can save lives? No ... perhaps not." Amaranth chuckled at the sour face Teff made, then stood. "At any rate, they were both very brave."

The graceful blue skinned waitress beamed at both Raditz and Vegeta, then placed one hand on each youth's shoulder. In response, Raditz blushed and the prince scowled. He did not like unsolicited physical contact from anyone except for Raditz and Nappa. "I was so scared ... but Raditz seemed so calm. You weren't scared, Raditz?"

"Not during the fight. I just reacted, did what my ja'ta always told me to do: 'when someone attacks you, hit them in the face.' I - I guess I was okay because I had someone else to worry about." Raditz glanced up at Amaranth, then chewed at his lip. His face still glowed red. "Now I'm worried. He's still out there, and you're in trouble because of me."

"You're sweet." Amaranth graced the adolescent with another smile and a wink before excusing herself to the back.

"The whole Galaxy is looking for him. He'll show up," Nappa reassured, and clapped Raditz on the back with one big hand. "Y'done good, Raditz. Ya didn't back down."

Vegeta had to agree; instead of cowering in fear, the older youth had finally stood up for himself. Zenkai often had that effect on a Saiyan: a boost in courage as well as fighting power.

As if to contradict Vegeta's opinion, Raditz flinched at the sudden movement then lowered his head in embarrassment. "Sorry, Nappa. Guess I'm still jumpy."

"Here you are, boys. Teff threw in some extras for you." Amaranth came back from the kitchen; she carried a large round tray on one shoulder, piled high with steaming dishes, sauces, and platters that she unloaded with skill. "And this one is just for you, Prince Vegeta. Happy Birthday! And you don't even have to share."

With a wink and a shimmy, she placed a large serving bowl filled with fried dumplings drizzled with a savory brown sauce and sprinkled with crisp seeds in front of the prince.

Vegeta bowed his head, embarrassed by the direct attention, but glad for it too. "Well yes, at least someone remembered without being reminded several times." He glared at Nappa, then at Raditz, but with less vigor than he usually put into it.

"Aw, hey ten'ta ... I'm really sorry. Zarbon and me got caught up in trying to find Trictic before things got worse."

Vegeta snorted. His already low opinion of the teal General had reached a new all-time low. "That didn't work, did it? You could have left a message ... And don't call me that in public."

"Sorry, Vegeta."

Raditz looked annoyed, his brows drew together. "I didn't forget, Vegeta. I was busy not dying. Otherwise it would have been my first priority."

When Vegeta glared at him, sure he was being insulted, Raditz held up his hands. "Have either of us ever forgotten before?"

"I guess not." While Vegeta was not looking, Nappa snuck a dumpling off his plate and popped it in his mouth.

"Hey, give us a break, ve'ho. It's been a rough couple of days, but we're here right now. We're together and we're safe. That's what matters, right?" Raditz said.

"Well, I'm going to find that fri'va tapa and finish kicking his ass for ruining my day and messing with my people." Vegeta pointed his tail in Raditz's direction as he spoke. "No one gets to fuck with you, except for me. And I'll be damned if we spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders."

Raditz smiled at the prince's impassioned speech, then reached out to pat the younger male once on his shoulder. "Thanks for defending me earlier, Vegeta. You actually do care, don't you?"

"Tch. Don't let it go to your head, Raditz." Vegeta rolled his eyes and twitched his nose at Raditz's public display of affection. But then, Raditz always had a soft, almost caring side to him that he claimed came from his mother, a low level soldier who had supposedly washed out of the Saiyan Army. Vegeta did not mind it most of the time, because Raditz was his main caretaker but damn he should not say such things in public. Vegeta the Warrior Prince ... caring? It was just too much.

Well, at least he didn't try to hug me, or something else equally humiliating. Then I would really have to hurt him.

"Hmph. At any rate, I'm glad you didn't get dead. Besides, who would groom me? Nappa sucks at it. I'd end up bald."

The former Commander just sighed, always the butt of the joke. "Okay, enough kidding around, you two. We've eaten our fill for now, so I think it's time to toast. Amaranth, would ya fetch the bottle?"

Every year, the Saiyans raised a glass together in memory of their fallen people and in celebration of their prince's life. It was another ritual, simple and solemn, that kept the three of them united.

On cue, Amaranth cleared the table of excess dishes, then walked to the back and returned with a chilled bottle on ice and three crystalline glasses. She placed the items in front of Nappa and stepped back with a smile, ready to give the Saiyans their space. "Teff and I will let you three be."

"Okay, listen up, you two. I know you've heard me say this every year ... but it's important. It's tradition."

"We know, Nappa," Vegeta and Raditz said in unison, but fell silent when Nappa extracted the bottle from its ice bath and held it ever so gently in one calloused hand, like one might hold a fragile child. The former Commander of Armies wiped the beads of perspiration from the outside. The liquid contained within was a deep ruby red: the color of blood, the color of both death and life, and a reminder of how fragile existence could be.

"Now boys, this bottle of Blood Wine comes straight from Vegetasai. It's from the Royal Winery, and is most likely the last of its kind. I smuggled it here myself... heh. Ve'ta m'yo gave it to me as a promise and a reminder. We're supposed to raise a glass in memory every year that we are under Frieza's thumb ... until ve'ho m'you is strong enough to fulfill his destiny." Nappa spoke in a solemn, almost revenant tone, and placed one hand upon Vegeta's shoulder. He had spoken these words on every birthday celebration, and looked forward to the day when he no longer needed to recite them. "I swore to keep ve'ho m'yo safe. I swore it on my tail. And I will not fail in this duty."

Nappa poured a portion of the precious alcohol into each tumbler, then gave one to Raditz and Vegeta. They all raised their glasses in tribute. Each Saiyan focused their Ki and infused their energy into the liquor. The liquid began to shimmer and steam in response, then to glow a crimson red, pulsating like a heartbeat.

"To Ve'ho Vegeta, Fifty-fifth of his Name. In celebration of his life, may he be stronger and wiser. Ih ta'fru, ji'tach, na'va! To the day when Frieza falls!"

As one, they cheered and clashed their glasses together and allowed their energies to mingle, then swallowed the warming liquid. When the ch'posh'ri went down Vegeta's throat, it felt like he had ingested a flame. His body began to tingle in response and he allowed himself a small smile because no one was looking. Perhaps it was the alcohol or the infused Ki, but he thought he could see the glowing bonds of fate that bound him, Nappa and Raditz together as a team, and kept them strong.

At that moment, he felt invincible. He would be their liberator, he would redeem his people and make his ja'ta proud, and he would make Frieza pay.

Vegeta looked at the familiar faces of his small ji'tach and felt an unusual sense of contentment. Instead of fighting it, he allowed the sensation to spread throughout his body. He was warm, full, slightly tipsy, and surrounded by people who would fight for him as he would for them in turn. Nappa and Raditz had continually sacrificed for him, in spite of all the abuse he had heaped on them over the years. And still, they believed in him, believed in the legend, in his strength. They were not just ji'tach ... they were family.

Only eight more years to go.


Lord Frieza tapped his fingers in a staccato pattern and sipped at his ever present glass of sweet wine. Occasionally, he glanced out the panoramic curved window as he bided the time until his tardy guest arrived. He did not like to wait, but yet he was so skilled at it. After all, a master strategist such as himself needed to have the patience and the foresight to execute long term plans with success.

The eternal chatter over the scouter frequencies washed over him as he contemplated the go board off to one side: an exquisite square platform carved out of ivory and inlaid with an obsidian grid. The piece was a family heirloom that Frieza had brought with him when he came into his own and ascended to Head of the North PTO.

Two bowls of playing stones sat off to one side; filled with a collection of shimmering black and white gems, each the worth of a small city, and anticipated his next move. One placement had the potential to change fate. Slowly and surely black would lose territory and the board would be filled with white: the color of snow, the color of ice, the color of his Empire.

Zarbon and Frieza had been playing this particular match both on the board and in real life for close to ten years; move and counter move as each sought the upper hand and played their stones. Partly, the game had been born from boredom, and partly to see, who could truly would claim the prize of influence and fortune. Oh, Frieza knew that in the end he would triumph ... of course ... but Zarbon gave him a challenge, to be sure, like none he had experienced since the early days with his father, King Cold. Then, the wager had been a friendly bet of a few million credits. Now, the stakes were much higher.

Lord Frieza would win. Lord Frieza always won.

He ran his fingers through the snow white pieces in his bowl, their smooth surfaces worn to a sheen by years of handling as he waited for confirmation that his next move had been executed. It would be soon, now.

One day cycle ago, Zarbon had hired out the Ginyu Force for unspecified reasons and usage of the power grid had increased. Chatter and communications had also increased exponentially as the base went into shutdown. One hour ago, the monkeys' communal scouter line lit up, but Frieza chose not to listen in. He liked the suspense. Next, the lights had flickered in the Residential Dome, and the generators had kicked in. Thirty minutes ago, Zarbon had sent in a maintenance request for Floor 6A, listing 'structural damage' as the main cause.

Yes, any moment now. Let us see just how much influence Zarbon has gathered over the years, and how far he will go to keep his pieces in play, to keep his territory.

He flipped through his tablet as he waited and reviewed missions both completed and ongoing. He noticed that his favorite monkeys were still on lockdown since their arrest over a week previous; they were sure to be hurting by now in so many ways. Frieza chuckled with amusement at the report that one of the Saiyans - Zarbon's 'pet project' ... pun intended - had been severely injured by an unknown assailant.

Click. Yet another liberty taken, one less avenue of escape left.

In his ear, his scouter chimed and the display lit up, indicating a moving target had gotten past the double doors and past his posted sentries, who should have alerted him by now. Frieza felt a flash of annoyance, and made a mental note to replace the guards, permanently. This simply will not do, I can not have shoddy work.

A quick visual scan of his inner sanctum revealed no intruders; no doors had been opened, no alarms had been triggered, yet his personal tech - the most advanced in the Empire, showed him that he had a visitor.

"Trictic, you can stop lurking about. I know that you're here." Frieza motioned towards one corner with one black clawed hand as a king beckons his subject forth.

At first, all Frieza noticed were glowing eyes in the shadows, then the Elite stepped into the direct light and back into the visual spectrum like the rays of a rising star suddenly visible over the horizon. The blue skinned Hachuujin took three steps forward.

Frieza allowed a slight curve of his lip to display his amusement. He could appreciate a dramatic entrance as much as the next being.

"Lord Frieza," Trictic rasped. He winced as he genuflected, and placed one taloned hand over his chest, a tell that showed he was in pain. When he stood, Frieza noted that he bore severe burns to much of his body, his black and silver armor was in tatters, and his skin peeled in some areas. The smell of acrid blood was strong, and smears of black ichor showed that Trictic had been in quite the battle. It was admirable that the man was up and moving instead of holed up and licking his wounds or taking a dip in the Medical Tank.

"I wondered when you were planning on showing up, Trictic. I am not fond of waiting."

"Apologies, Lord Frieza. I ran into that Saiyan brat." Trictic refused to mention the soup incident.

"I can tell," Frieza raised one hand to his lips to cover a smile. "Is it possible that the Monkey Prince was able to best one of my Elites? I hope that is not the case. Did you enjoy yourself, at the least?"

Trictic sighed, a rasping sound that indicated broken ribs, or worse. "Oh yes ... Zarbon should have let me play with his toys ... I think I may have been too rough; the boy told me that Saiyans can survive evisceration, so I just had to find out for myself. But I didn't kill him, per your instructions."

"Good." I want him alive, frightened ...to never know when the next blow will come.

"Give me the word and I will finish the job, Lord Frieza," the Elite whispered in his sibilant voice. "It would be a pleasure."

Trictic grinned wide, his rows of sharp teeth covered in dripping ichor and slime, deadly as he. Then he chuckled in a dark, wet tone that made the overlord think of a weeping sewer. Frieza had never liked Trictic much, but the man had his uses.

"That is not necessary. Now, if I were you, I would disappear, for a long time. Zarbon seems quite intent on tracking you down." Frieza reached into the breast pocket of his purple and brown armor, extracted an untraceable credit stick and tossed it towards the mercenary. Trictic caught it with one swift motion, like a predator striking its prey. "This should last you, if you can control your urges."

"Same arrangements as last time?"

"Of course. See to that you stay gone. That means no more attending your soirees, I am afraid. If you find yourself unable to do so,I will not be able to help you a second time. Do we have an understanding?"

"Yes, Lord Frieza. You are most generous." Although his movements were hindered, the reptilian man bowed low once again. The pointed smile returned to his face again, then he slid back into the shadows and faded from vision ... although not from Frieza's state of the art equipment.

"Excellent," the emperor whispered, reached one hand into the bowl of smooth white beads and placed one upon the board with an audible 'clack'. Only one liberty remained before capture, before black would be surrounded yet again, and extinguished.

"Your move, Zarbon."


 

 

Chapter Text

Vegeta ran down stark white halls on bare feet, limbs pumping furiously and breath coming in jagged gasps. He was searching for a way out, a place to hide, for safety.

Every corridor only led to another and another and another ... the walls lined with an endless procession of doors that refused to open when he rattled the handles, denying him escape from the terror that raged behind him ... the thing that pursued him with blood red eyes and jagged ebony claws. Sometimes it was so close that he could feel hot breath on his back.

No matter where he ran, it was always behind him, whispering dark things. The worst part of it was it knew his name.

Sometimes he managed to lose his hulking, faceless pursuer, but it always found him again, eventually. Vegeta knew it was herding him, sending him deeper into the labyrinth of his mind. He was in so deep now that part of him wondered if he ever could find his way out again.

It's right behind me, he thought, and fear whispered in his ear, an old friend also never far away. He glanced over his shoulder, only to find that he was alone, but not for long.

He stood still, shaking in terror. I'm trapped, I'll never get out ... I'm going to die in here ... and he began to despair. It would find him again, and he would lash out, only to have his attacks pass through the formless beast, as always.

Around the corner he heard a deep chuckle, the sound of claws dragging against the walls, slow steps that echoed. It was taunting him, mocking him, and he could not fight back. It came at him then: a huge black form that towered over him, blazing red eyes, jagged teeth and claws to rend flesh from bone, and it laughed.

"You can't escape from me," it taunted in a voice that sounded like boulders grinding together. "I'm always here, in your mind ..."

The tiles crumbled from beneath his feet; everything slid away as he fell backwards, upwards. It grabbed at him, and he felt those iron claws pierce his flesh ... Vegeta opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came out.


He woke with a start and a stifled shout. His heart pounded in his chest, and his muscles twitched. He was in a strange place, and he could not remember how he had gotten there. For a moment, he started to panic, then a familiar voice cut through the fog of his mind.

"Vegeta, you okay? You were doing that mumbling thing again." Raditz reached out, placed one hand on his shoulder to steady him. Concern was written on the adolescent's face, and his eyebrows drew together.

At Raditz's touch, Vegeta calmed down and took a few steadying breaths through his nose. Raditz was the only person he trusted enough to touch him, outside of Nappa. The pieces of the nightmare shattered and fell away.

Breathe. Focus. Assess.

"I was dreaming," he said, more to reassure himself than anything else. "I'm okay now."

"Are you?" Raditz narrowed his eyes, his lips formed a thin line, and he kept contact with Vegeta. "You've been odd lately, ve'ho. What's going on with you?"

"Nothing's going on," Vegeta replied, but it was not true. After years of calm, the dreams had started up again, not that he would admit it. He was too old to be afraid of the dark, wasn't he?

"Well ... If you're sure." Raditz trailed off, but the set of his shoulders and the twitch of his tail let Vegeta know that he did not quite believe it.

Vegeta rubbed his eyes to dismiss the last tendrils of dream and looked up at Raditz. The older youth had dark bags under his eyes, and his face was covered with a few days' worth of stubble. He had grown tall and filled in over the years, but he was still awkward from his recent growth spurt. He also looked like he had not showered or slept yet, and he smelled of booze and sweat. Vegeta's nostrils twitched at the pungent odor.

"Yes, I'm sure. So, when did you get in? You look like shit. Did you even get any sleep?" Vegeta hoped to change the subject and redirect Raditz's curiosity. He could be so damned nosy at times, and Vegeta did not want to talk about it, or let anyone know that he was unsettled.

"Late. Um, does it matter when, really?" Raditz's eyebrows drew together, and he crossed his arms and huffed. "Look, I'm up. You should be too, if you want to hit early mess and meet our contact. I took a shower at Master Zarbon's, so we've got the entire water allotment. So, let's get a move on."

"Hnn. I'll be pissed if we get there and he doesn't show up ... again. I hate that damn bar." Vegeta sat up and scratched his scalp as the pieces of his mind fell back into place. He allowed himself a leisurely stretch: arms, legs, tail, all the way to his fingers and toes. "I think we should get our own contact, Raditz. I know you've got the connections now."

Over the years, Raditz had continued to work for Zarbon and had become the Saiyans' best information gatherer. The long haired youth was actually quite good at it, and had his ear on many of the rumor mills. Raditz was the best out of the three of them with people, so Vegeta supposed it came with the territory. He suspected that Raditz performed other services for Zarbon besides 'entertainment', but he could not prove it. Did he really want to know? Besides, Raditz' supplemental income ensured that they were comfortable and did not starve - an insurance against Frieza's capricious moods.

"I don't want to step on Nappa's toes," Raditz pointed out. "Besides, we've had so many problems lately. Remember what happened in Port Sautee?"

"Tch! Don't remind me," Vegeta grumbled as contemplated their failed attempt to fence black market goods without a middle man. Saying that the deal had 'not gone well' was an understatement, and Nappa was still giving them shit about it.

"I can't believe that A'Cai blew us in like that," Raditz's tone was rueful. "I thought I could trust him."

"Right. So much for 'Zarbon wouldn't mislead us'." Before Raditz could start his squawking about not blaming his beloved 'Master', Vegeta turned on the water. "Can't hear you," he yelled, and smirked.

Vegeta allowed himself a leisurely shower, taking his time and using up most of their water in the process, a rare treat. He daydreamed as the liquid beat down on him, over the scars that already lined his back and shoulders from years of missions and years of discipline.

Once he had turned twelve a few weeks ago, both Zarbon and Dodoria had stopped his private training sessions. They claimed that they had no more to teach him, but Vegeta knew it was a lie. He suspected that it had nothing to do with his skill level, and everything to do with denying him any further growth opportunities.

So, Vegeta threw himself into his missions; he took risks and pushed himself hard in the hopes of zenkai, or at least relief from the frustration and the boredom. Saiyans needed new challenges and distractions, and Vegeta felt trapped. He needed something new before he started to act out. Today, he would do just that - and Nappa could not stop him this time.

Usually, the three of them went to the Unincorporated Zone together, but Nappa was out chasing ghosts: old rumors hinted at by the Vegetasai Tablet, of possible crash sites, power sources, survivors. Yet so far all of their efforts had come up empty. Vegeta had started to lose faith, to truly believe his people were dead - and that he was a relic of an extinguished past, much like the goods they dealt in.

Vegeta intended to stop by the Fighting Pits - not to bet, but to fight. He had been dreaming of it for years, but Nappa had blocked him from doing so in some misguided attempt to keep him safe.

Just four more years, and then I'll be free to do as I wish.

Pah! As if the Prince of Saiyans could not handle himself. He was one of the strongest fighters on the Base. Vegeta would have made the journey on his own, but he was barred from using off base transports because he was a minor. This annoyed Vegeta to no end, one of many insults he continued to suffer because of his age. That, and his height.

He contemplated his reflection as he ran tines through his wild black hair in a sad attempt to tame it, and wondered when he would not need a step stool to see the mirror.

Although he had grown during last two years, Vegeta was regularly mistaken for a child, and it pissed him off to no end. He had sent the last Frieza Force lackey who thought it was funny to ask where his 'mommy' was to Medical with a fractured skull and shattered spine. Hell, the man was lucky not to be dead. Nappa kept reassuring him that he would grow soon, but Vegeta secretly worried that he would forever be trapped in the body of a child, always looked down on (literally and figuratively) and never respected.

Now that he was older, Vegeta did not require Raditz to groom him every day. He was independent, able to do for himself. But he liked it, a lot. At the end of this day, he would make Raditz groom him extra, oils and everything. Just because he could. Being ve'ho did have its privileges.

After a while, Raditz rapped on the door with his knuckles. "Hurry it up, ve'ho, or we're going to miss breakfast. Oh, and don't forget; we have to stop by Medical for our yearly. Nappa'll pitch a fit if we miss it."

Vegeta groaned. The last thing he wanted to do was be poked and prodded. "Well, I don't see Nappa doing it. And he's not here to make us, is he?"

"He's already been... Just, do it, okay? It'll take ten minutes at the most. That, and you get to show off how powerful you've become."

"It's because you want to see your girlfriend, isn't it?" Vegeta could not help himself. He so enjoyed needling his caretaker ... and Raditz was an easy target. He smirked when he heard Raditz's exasperated sigh.

"Doctor Berra is not my girlfriend, Vegeta."

"She isn't? You sure spend a lot of time with her, then."

Raditz sighed again. "We're friends, ve'ho. I know, that's a foreign concept. Look, it's nice to have someone to talk to who isn't trying to either kick my ass or show me up. Come on, let's get a move on."

"I'm not ready yet." Vegeta hated to be rushed, and Raditz was doing quite the job of it. So, just to annoy Raditz further, he took his sweet time. "You can grab my armor if you're in such a hurry."

"I'm not your personal servant," Raditz huffed, but did as asked. It was just easier that way.

Because Vegeta could not see him, Raditz rolled his eyes. Most of the time, he and Vegeta were able to exchange good natured verbal jabs, but he never knew when the volatile prince would suddenly take something the wrong way. So he had learned early to roll and placate, and take the good times when they came, a skill he had learned from his Mah. It served him well, and kept him alive.

Vegeta's armor and boots were, as usual, thrown in a corner. Raditz shook his head, clicked his tongue once, and reminded himself not to let the younger Saiyan get under his skin. The adolescent was neat by nature; he was the only one out of the three who made an effort to keep the place tidy. The white armor was worse for the wear: dented and scratched, the Royal Symbol almost worn off, one of the yellow shoulder guards had snapped off entirely and the chestplate bore a large fissure.

The Frieza Force only allowed their troops two Battle Suit replacements a year; Vegeta had already gone through both due to growth spurts and battle damage, and they had several more months to go. He would have to repair it again and make do.

Raditz inspected the damage. He could do nothing about the shoulder guard without the missing pieces. The right chestplate was cracked in three places, but that was easily repaired with a polymer synthesizer pen. In order to use the tool, the pieces had to be aligned for a proper seal, but there were objects in the chest pockets ... Vegeta never got out of his hoarding phase. It was rather endearing, but saying that to the touchy younger male would ensure a beat down of epic proportions.

He found an old protein bar, a depleted credit stick, a handful of seeds, one broken canine tooth complete with its root that did not belong to the prince. Raditz raised an eyebrow at that last item. Why was Vegeta saving these things? Then his fingers brushed against a round object, smooth to the touch.

What the ... He extracted a polished red stone. At first, he did not think much of it: yet another pretty but useless bauble that had caught Vegeta's eye, until he noticed it start to glow.

This can't be what I think it is ... can it? I thought we got rid of them all. Heu, has the little idiot been running around with it all these years?

Raditz knocked, but there was no response. He opened the door and walked in to confront the prince, and possibly end up in Medical sooner than planned. "Vegeta, what is this?"

Vegeta had been daydreaming, and did not realize that he was no longer alone until Raditz spoke and scared the living hell out of him. His tail puffed up, an automatic response to being startled. Vegeta rounded on the older male and his lips drew back in a snarl.

"Get out," he snapped, ashamed of being caught off guard. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"I was trying to fix your armor while I waited, ve'ho, and I found this in one of your pockets. This is one of those damned Ki crystals, isn't it?" Raditz held out a familiar object: his talisman, his touchstone, his safe object.

"How dare you go through my things," he howled, and took an ill tempered swipe at the older male. Automatically, Raditz stepped out of range before the blow could connect. "You had no right!"

"I knew it! I can't believe you kept this, Vegeta! Have you had this with you the entire time? Please tell me you haven't." A complex mix of anger, worry, and fear came from Raditz.

"It's none of your damn business," Vegeta shouted, angry that Raditz had violated his personal space and his trust, then had the nerve to barge in without so much as a knock.

"Isn't it?" Raditz' voice rose as he began to shout in turn. "We've been in front of Frieza how many times? What if he had found it on you? Then we'd be nothing but atoms! Nappa's going to flip the hell out."

"It's none of Nappa's business either!" Vegeta felt his hackles go up, and the oily smell that all Saiyans associated with rage came off of him in waves. He growled low and his tail began to whip furiously, just seconds away from lashing out.

Raditz gritted his teeth, and his fist tightened around the gem. "You selfish little brat ... You really don't get it, do you? You're going to get us killed, and I don't think you care."

"What did you say to me?" Vegeta spoke each syllable in a quiet tone, instead of his usual howl. It boded bad things. "I am your Prince and you will respect me. Now give it back!"

He closed the distance, and grabbed Raditz by the arm, twisted it, making eye contact the entire time. His face went blank for a second, and that terrified Raditz more than when the prince raged.

"Look, I- I'm sorry, Vegeta. I was just trying to help." Against his better judgement, Raditz released the crystal into Vegeta's care and sought to diffuse the situation. It was a survival tactic that he had learned over the years; he knew that he stood no chance against the might of his prince when he was in one of those fugue states that seemed to be happening more often.

"Tch." Vegeta hissed, "Keep your opinions to yourself. Besides, you wouldn't understand."

Once in Vegeta's possession, the crystal began to glow and pulse. Soft crimson light filled the room. It grew warm against his flesh, and a sense of calm washed over him. That strange feeling of disconnect, of having gone somewhere else, faded and his thoughts cleared ... as they always did when he held his talisman and he was able to think logically.

Although It would have been nice if Raditz had shown some backbone instead of giving in, there was no point to beating the shit out of him. There was no honor in it. They were allies, after all. That, and Vegeta did not wish to hear Nappa bitch about an unnecessary and expensive trip to medical to reassemble Raditz.

Raditz released the breath he had been holding. For a moment he was sure that Vegeta was going to pummel him into oblivion. He hated backing down, but he also knew that sometimes diplomacy was the better choice - words over actions, another lesson learned from the 'soft-hearted' Gine. He could deal with Vegeta seeing him as weaker;  it was true, anyway. There were other weapons besides fists that were just as potent; it was something that Vegeta would never understand.

"Fine. Let's just get going." Vegeta pulled on his battered armor and boots, tucked his talisman in his chest pocket, and put on his scouter. With an imperial air, he turned on one heel and walked out the door.

As quick as it had happened, his foul mood was gone.

Chapter Text

The minute Vegeta stepped off of the tram and into the Main Commons Area, he realized that they had forgotten something important: their ill-gained wares.

"Tapa," he cursed, and stopped in his tracks. He had been so upset earlier about Raditz's unauthorized snooping through his personal private things that it had slipped his mind, and now he felt like an idiot.

Caught off guard by the sudden stop, Raditz slammed into Vegeta's back and nearly ran him over. Luckily, they had been the last people off, so no one else tripped over them.

"Watch where you're going," Vegeta snarled, more because he was angry at himself than at Raditz. He glanced about to see if anyone had been paying attention, but this one passed unnoticed.

Raditz huffed in frustration, always the one to blame ... even when it was not his fault. "Vegeta, what the hell? Why did you stop?"

"Damn it Raditz! We forgot our goods, and that's the main reason for this trip." Technically, that was not true, but what Raditz did not know would not hurt him. Once they were in the Unincorporated Zone, it would be easy to drag Raditz along to the Pits ... not that he could stop Vegeta even if he wanted to. "Why did you let me forget?"

"You're blaming me?" Raditz blinked a few times in disbelief, then raised both his hands in a defensive gesture, as if he could wave away the accusation. "Look, it's a simple mistake, ve'ho, nothing to get our tails in a twist over. We can just jump back on the tram, go back home, and grab it, no big deal."

The older Saiyan pointed back over his shoulder. As if it were mocking them, the tram shut its doors, powered up, and exited the depot before they could get back on.

That did not just happen. Vegeta turned red, scowled in displeasure, and stomped one foot. "Tapa! Seriously?"

Raditz could not help it; he started to smirk, then to snicker. Instead of laughing along, Vegeta did not find humor in the situation and punched Raditz in the arm. It was a half-hearted strike, however.

"Ow, the hell was that for?" With a click of his tongue and the shake of his long mane, Raditz stepped out of range in case another ill-tempered strike was coming his way.

"It's not funny," the prince growled. "Now we're going to be late for Medical. We'll miss our meeting, and Nappa will never let us hear the end of it."

Vegeta hated to be inconvenienced, and this was certainly one of those times - even though he had been just as much at fault as Raditz. Although he would never admit it. A prince was never at fault.

Raditz hissed and rubbed at his sore bicep. then began to laugh to diffuse the situation before Vegeta punched him again with more force. "C'mon ve'ho, lighten up. You've got to admit, it is kinda funny..."

"Maybe to you." Vegeta crossed his arms and huffed. He did not like being the butt of a joke, even one that he shared with someone else. Honestly, he was angry at himself for letting something so important slip from his mind. If he could forget the reason they came out, then what else was he forgetting?

You're thinking about it too much. It's probably nothing. And ... maybe it is a bit funny. But I'm not admitting that to Raditz.

With an exaggerated sigh, Vegeta ran one hand through his unruly black hair, then glanced over his shoulder again as if the tram would magically reverse its path just because he wished it so. "Look, we're already here. You just go to medical. I'll get on the next tram, double back and meet you there. It's no big deal, right?"

Raditz took a deep breath, then also looked over one shoulder - a nervous tic that had been in place for years now. "Uh ... I shouldn't let you go alone, Vegeta."

"Seriously? I'm not a child, Raditz. I can be unsupervised. Besides, It doesn't make sense for both of us to leave. You can get those damn tests out of the way while you wait. Speeds things up." Vegeta started towards the platform to wait for the next transport.

"Bad things happen when we separate," the older youth said, and shook his head. "I don't think it's a good idea."

"Pah, don't be such a baby." Vegeta scoffed, and waved one hand in a dismissive gesture. "Look, I know what you're going to say, Raditz, and I'll be fine. I'll be a good boy and I won't cause trouble. Besides, I can't have an escort for the rest of my life; it's humiliating. People are starting to laugh at me."

"You're our prince, Vegeta. You're supposed to have a bodyguard," Raditz pointed out.

"Tch. If that's the case, then Nappa is really slacking on the job. Look, no one will know. I'll just go straight home and come back." Vegeta flashed a feral grin, then turned on one heel and returned to the platform to wait for the next transport, leaving Raditz to stay or follow as he chose.

Raditz stared up at his prince, a look of conflict on his clean shaven face. He opened his mouth, then shut it, and walked back into the Commons. Vegeta took a deep breath through his nostrils. He had expected Raditz to argue, make a scene, and was relieved when the older male did not.

After a few minutes of annoyed waiting, the next tram rolled into the depot and disgorged its passengers, clad in various themes of the ubiquitous Frieza Force armor. No one paid him much attention.

True to his word, he sat in the back and kept to himself. Saiyans were usually regarded as barely tamed animals, and most of the rank and file left them alone. Vegeta listened to the PTO chatter coming over the scouter and kept his eyes open for potential trouble. Ever since the Trictic incident, he had remained extra alert to his surroundings: on edge and ready to react, even though Trictic himself had not been seen or heard from in years.

Trictic ... it seemed that the man had literally vanished into thin air. Raditz refused to talk about the events, even when Vegeta had pestered him. Both Zarbon and Nappa had developed a convenient case of amnesia when asked about the Elite and his whereabouts. No one would give him a straight answer and this frustrated Vegeta, he did not like loose ends, especially those that could hide in the shadows.

A Saiyan warrior was always on alert and ready to fight, but the Prince of Saiyans could and would not live his life in constant fear, it was draining and eventually dulled the sharp edge of awareness. So, he had to relax ... but not much.

It certainly would help to know if there was a reason even to worry any more. One of these days, he would corner Raditz and force the older male to tell him the truth about what had really happened. Perhaps, even later today if things went smoothly. Vegeta scoffed at that thought.

Things going smoothly ... what were the chances of that?

He made no detours, and headed straight for their apartment. Vegeta did not wish to give their contact any reason to end their meeting, or worse: refuse to work with them in the future. He tossed the heavy cloth sack over one shoulder and slapped the exit button with one palm, then caught the lift. He kept one eye open at all time, but the hallways seemed deserted. He allowed himself a moment to breathe.

Perhaps things would go smoothly, after all. But then again, perhaps not. He never had very good luck.

The lift stopped at the Residential Dome's main floor and headed towards the depot to complete the round trip and rejoin Raditz. The older youth was probably sitting in Medical right now, hitting on that doctor and making a fool of himself. The door slid open with a 'ding', and Vegeta emerged. He checked both directions for potential problems. As he did so, he heard another lift door open, and recognized the familiar voices of Jeice and Burter as they exited. The Ginyu Force members were laughing and joking as always.

"Damn it, not now," he muttered. "This is the last thing I need!"

Normally, the hot tempered prince relished any chance for combat, but he was in a hurry; messing with the Ginyu Force would most certainly delay him. He hissed out a curse in frustration, turned on one heel, and headed in the opposite direction. His Saiyan pride screamed at him not to turn tail and run like a coward, but he had to make the meeting in time. Knocking skulls could wait until later.

Please don't let them see me. Please don't let them see me. Nappa will kill me if I'm late. Please don't let them see me ...

"Oi! Whatcha got in the bag, monkey?" Jeice's heavily accented voice stopped him in his tracks. "Anything good?"

Any hopes of fleeing undetected were dashed. Vegeta's tail puffed up around his waist, and he hunched his shoulders in defense as he prepared mentally to fight or flee. His muscles bunched as the sharp tang of adrenaline flooded his mouth. Vegeta tightened his grip on the bag and spun to face his opponents and assess the situation; his spirits sank as Jeice, Burter and Recoome sauntered towards him with wide grins on their faces.

Great. There was no way in hell that he could take on all three of them at the same time. Raditz was right ... he should not have gone alone. But then, having Raditz would not have been any help either as Vegeta would have to worry about him as well.

He probably should have fled, but his pride would not let him leave. Instead, he stood his ground as the three mercenaries closed the distance, came towards him, and blocked his path.

"Let's see what you've got." Burter was one of the tallest people in the Frieza Force, and he liked to use his height to intimidate others. The blue skinned warrior towered over Vegeta, who only came to his waist, and snatched the bag out of the young Saiyan's grasp. He moved so quick that Vegeta could not follow, and did not even have a chance to resist.

"They don't call me the Blue Hurricane for nothing," he chuckled. He slapped Jeice on the back, then held Vegeta's contraband far above his head.

"Quick and nimble!' Jeice replied, with a toss of his long white hair. "C'mon, let's see you jump for it, monkey!"

"Ugh..." Vegeta rolled his eyes at their buffoonery. He could have 'jumped for it', but he refused to add fuel to the fire. Instead, he crossed his arms and stood his ground. "I'm not playing your stupid game. I am a Prince and I deserve respect!"

"Oooo! He's a prince! Hear that, boys?" Recoome held up his hands in a mincing manner and pranced around in great bounds. "I'm the Prince of All Saiyans!"

All three burst into another round of raucous laughter. Vegeta felt his cheeks flush. How dare they mock him? There was not much he could do, though. He could not fight, not if he wished to avoid a trip to a Medi-tank and make the meeting on time. "I don't have time for this nonsense."

"But we do," Burter spoke in a scratchy voice. "Catch, Jeice! Go long!" With a casual toss, he lobbed the bag toward the red skinned man, who took off down the hall to intercept the throw.

To Vegeta's horror, they began to toss the goods ... his goods ... back and forth over his head, just out of his reach, laughing the entire time. This was the second time today that someone had taken his things without his permission, and it was getting old. He knew they were trying to humiliate him by pressing all of his buttons and goad him into action, into initiating a fight that he could not win. Well, he would not give them the satisfaction.

"What's the matter, prince? Let's have a little fun, aye? You're far too serious for someone so young. Catch, Recoome!" Jeice smirked. He was well known in the barracks for his excellent overhand throw; in fact, he had a Ki technique centered around it.

That was it. Vegeta decided that he had had enough. He gritted his teeth, a growl started low in his throat and he felt the whisper of Ki in his mind. He welcomed it like an old friend. And they call me a child! Some honorable warriors they are. I will not give them what they want. I will not leap about like a circus animal.

Recoome caught the bag again in one of his meaty hands, and gloated as he tossed it about with no regard to its contents. "Come on, monkey! Play with us."

To hell with honor ... they certainly have none. If they want to play dirty, so be it.

"You asked for it." Vegeta moved quick. In one swift move, he lunged forward and punched Recoome in the nuts.

The large man's eyes bulged out and his mouth pursed into a tiny 'o' as he grabbed his groin and bent over in agony. A tiny squeal issued from his lips and he dropped the satchel to the floor. Jeice and Burter froze for a second; had that just really happened?

"Didn't see that coming, did you?" Vegeta snickered, and snatched up his bag. He hoped that nothing important had been broken.

"Get 'em," Jeice howled. Both he and Burter moved at the same time to grab hold, but Vegeta had already phased out of their grasp, and their fingers grasped at empty space.

A part of him knew that Burter could catch him in an instant, but still he had to try. He hoped that they would be confused by his decision to flee, that it would give him enough time to make the tram.

Vegeta took to the air, and hightailed it towards the depot as fast as he could fly, but allowed himself one quick glance behind him. To his astonishment, none of the three were in pursuit. What the hell was going on? Burter was more than fast enough to stop him. In fact, all three of them could. He decided it was better just to keep moving and not question. Perhaps they were letting him go because they had met their objective: just to fuck with him. If so, mission achieved.

"You cheeky monkey," Jeice called, "You're just lucky we have an important meeting ..."

Once it was clear they were not going to give chase, Vegeta stopped worrying. He skidded to a halt at the entrance ramp, and managed to jump on just before the doors slid completely shut. As one, all of the passengers turned and stared at him.

"What are you looking at?" he snapped, then quieted. For some reason, fate had given him a respite. He was not going to press his luck further.

His scouter chimed, and Raditz's voice crackled in his earpiece. "Vegeta? I thought I heard the Ginyus ... What the hell is going on?"

"Nothing. Just ran into a distraction, but I've got it under control. I've got our things." Vegeta took a seat when the doors shut and the transport lurched into motion.

"Damn it ... I knew I should have come with you."

"Tch... stop worrying, Raditz. It's unflattering. I'll be there soon, so you'd better be done flirting. I don't want any more delays." Now that the tram was underway, Vegeta allowed himself to relax a bit.

Raditz sighed - it was clear he wished to say something further but chose not to. Vegeta was glad... he was not in the mood for it.

Vegeta sighed and took a seat, then inspected their contraband. Nothing appeared broken, a small blessing, but then even shattered materials from extinct cultures could still fetch a large sum on the black market. Each piece represented a shattered life - and tragedy always sold well. He tucked the bag under one arm and finished the trip in silence.


Chapter Text

Vegeta exited the tram in a hurry, bag slung over one shoulder, and dashed across the Main Commons until he noticed people staring. Then he reduced his speed and continued at a leisurely pace. A prince should never seem out of control. The whisper of Ki and the rush of combat had left his body and left him cold, as usual. He regretted having to run away, and knew that in the future the Ginyus would give him hell about it.

It doesn't make sense that they let me go. What am I missing here?  Vegeta shook his head and decided not to waste further thought on it. He had enough to worry about.

Every year, the three Saiyans went to Medical for their mandated physical exams. The checkup was one of the few things that the Frieza Force insisted on and also paid for, and Vegeta hated it with a passion. Not only did he dislike the process because it meant that someone would have to lay hands on him, but he would also have to go into the Testing Booth: a small reinforced enclosure that set off his claustrophobia every time. He always emerged shaking and covered in sweat.

For the past three years, Doctor Berra served as their personal physician, so she administered the tests. She was the only being who was willing to work with Saiyans on a regular basis, and she treated them with respect. She also knew that Vegeta hated closed in spaces with a vengeance, and tried to make him feel as comfortable as possible.

Although he would never say it, Vegeta appreciated the doctor's attempts to reassure him. No other member of the medical staff, or the Frieza Force in general, made any effort to treat him as an intelligent being and not just a savage. Berra was thoughtful and polite, had never talked down to him or treated him as a child. Perhaps Raditz was right and Berra did have their best interests in mind. That, or she was one of the best actors that he had encountered in his young life.

He entered the Medical Building with his contraband intact and his pride still smarting. He strode up to the desk where the maroon clad day receptionist stared at his tablet and blatantly ignored the prince's presence. After a minute of impatient waiting, complete with foot tapping, Vegeta lost his patience. He slammed one fist down on the surface of the desk, causing the white skinned man to jump and raise his violet eyes to meet the prince's black gaze.

"You will tell me where Doctor Berra is. Right now," he demanded.

"Do you have an appointment," the man droned in a disinterested tone, then dared to look back at his padd.

"Oh for gods' sake," Vegeta hissed, and bristled with impatience. "You know  who I am. You know I have an appointment! And you had best not try to delay me further. Tch ... Forget it. I know where the exam room is. Thanks for your help."

Vegeta's voice dripped with sarcasm; he dismissed the man with a regal flick of his tail and marched towards the back rooms unescorted. He ignored the yells of the receptionist as he kicked the metal double doors open and walked in as if he owned the place.

Once in the back corridor, he headed towards the exam rooms to find Raditz. It did not take long to locate him; Vegeta could hear the female doctor and Raditz talking and laughing ... laughing, as if they were the best of friends.

"I still can't believe you told Ginyu to step off, Berra." Raditz baritone voice carried through the hallway. "His face was priceless! I thought he was going to spit out his drink."

Berra responded with a slight chuckle. "Well, I may not be a Ki user, but that doesn't mean I don't have some pull around here."

"You should be careful, though. Ginyu's not one to mess with."

"Oh, don't worry, Raditz. I'll be careful. I know how to handle men who like to bluster." Berra's tone was warm and relaxed. She was talking to a friend, not a patient at the moment, and for some reason the casual exchange lit a fire in Vegeta's chest. He felt a stab of jealousy; the older youth had no problem in talking to others, making connections, and avoiding trouble. It was almost ... un-Saiyan like, and Vegeta sometimes hated him for it.

Vegeta entered without a word, his face void of emotion. Raditz sat on the exam table, his body language relaxed and his tail unwrapped. He was grinning, but the expression faded when he noticed Vegeta. He coiled his tail back around his waist, exchanged a quick glance with Berra, then sat up straight. "Eh, Ve'ho."

"Eh," Vegeta grunted his reply, then allowed a small smirk to twist the corners of his mouth. "Am I interrupting something ... impotent?"

"What?" One of Raditz's eyebrows rose and he scrunched his face up in confusion. "You mean, something important? The word is important, Vegeta."

"No... I said the correct word the first time."

As expected, Raditz took in a quick breath and his eyebrows knit together - all indicators that he was annoyed. To her credit, the red skinned doctor did not respond at all.

With a drawn out sigh, Raditz ran one hand over his face. "Very funny, Vegeta. Hate to disappoint you, ve'ho, but we're just talking to each other. We're friends. That's what friends do."

"Hn. Is that another word for flirting?" Vegeta was starting to enjoy the banter. It was fun to watch Raditz's face turn progressively redder.

"Ugh. Vegeta, enough already. Please. You're embarrassing me. We're just friends. That's it," Raditz sighed.

Vegeta did not reply at first, he just smirked. He loved to poke fun at Raditz; sometimes the older Saiyan could be such a pushover. And he was always good for entertainment. "Tch. Whatever, Raditz. Just make sure to flirt on your own time."

"I - I'm not ... oh, j - just forget it. You can think what you want ... you will anyways." Raditz trailed off, and turned his head. "Sorry about that, Berra."

"Don't worry about it, Raditz." The diminutive physician smoothed out her lab coat, then tucked a few errant wisps of hair behind one ear as she turned to greet the prince. She held out one hand in welcome, as if the previous awkward exchange had not occurred. "Hello, Prince Vegeta. It's good to see you again. Why don't you have a seat? I'm finishing up with Raditz right now."

I bet you are, Vegeta thought, and felt that odd jealousy again. "Well, I'm here under protest." He scrunched his nose and crossed his arms. Most of his trips to the Medical Bay had not been his choice.

"I understand." Berra gave him a cheery smile. Her kind manner reassured him, in spite of everything. He wondered if the woman had some kind of latent Ki ability that she used to manipulate emotions, to make people trust her more. That thought made him nervous, and spiked his anxiety. He huffed and twitched the end of his tail.

"I know you're not fond of exams, Prince Vegeta, so I'll try to speed this up for you. It should only take fifteen or twenty minutes at the most."

Because it was in her nature to reach out and establish contact, Berra placed one manicured hand on his shoulder. Vegeta startled and jerked away. Even after years of knowing the doctor, he still did not like it when she touched him. Immediately, he covered it up by clearing his throat and scuffling his feet. He was sure no one was fooled, though.

"Here. Hold this." Vegeta handed the sachel into Raditz's care, then perched on the edge of the cot. He was still too short, and his feet dangled off the edge.

"All right. I just need to check the basics, draw some samples, and get an update on your resting and active Power Levels. The usual routine. Requirements, you know. If I may?" The woman had the decency to wait for Vegeta to give verbal confirmation before she started.

"Fine. Let's get this over with. I don't want to be late," he commanded, and allowed the doctor into his personal space.

With quick and kind efficiency, the small physician - but still taller than Vegeta - hooked up a set of wires to his temples and collarbones, then began recording his vitals. The cables were similar to those used in med tanks, and he would wear them throughout the exam. He hated the feeling of being measured and judged, and perhaps being found inadequate. Because he was uncomfortable, his tail still bristled slightly. Vegeta forced himself to take a deep breath.

"So, ve'ho, what happened with the Ginyus?" Raditz interrupted his thoughts. The older male knew that Vegeta was anxious, and sought to distract him. "You should have let me go with you. Nappa's going to piss himself if you got hurt. You didn't ... did you?"

Vegeta grumbled, and shrugged. "Do I look injured, Raditz? Look, they just wanted to mess with me, slow me down. I don't know why. I did punch Recoome in the balls, though."

They both shared a laugh, then Raditz grinned in approval. "Serves him right. I've wanted to nut shot him for years, but we'd better watch our backs extra now."

"Seriously, Raditz? When don't we?"

"True."

As they spoke, the diagnostic machine made a series of clicks and hums while Berra watched her tablet. After a minute, she nodded. "Everything looks good, Prince Vegeta. Now I'll just need to collect a few samples, if that's all right with you. Please stand on the plate here for your weight check."

"Hmph." Vegeta stood up, then stepped on the metal panel in front of him. While she waited for the results, Berra took a hair follicle from his scalp and drew a blood sample to test for diseases, parasites ... anything that he might have picked up during numerous missions. She also checked his body parameters and entered them into his file. Nappa would receive a copy of the data, and he was sure - so would Lord Frieza.

"Thank you. Let's see ... You're coming in at 49 inches, your musculature is well defined, but you are still underweight. Although you've grown in the past year or so, you're still a bit behind for your age and species."

"Ugh ... don't remind me!"

"I'm going to need to speak with Commander Nappa again about this. Are you still taking your daily supplements?"

"Yes, of course I am ... when we can afford them," Vegeta growled, and ignored Raditz's angry glare.

Berra clicked her tongue in sympathy as she typed details into her padd. "Hmmm. How many do you take daily?"

"One or two."

"Well, for the time being, I want you to increase it to five a day. That's in addition to your regular meals, of course. I want to see you gaining more weight."

"Five," Raditz moaned. "How are we ever going to afford that?"

"Is that an issue?"

"These things aren't cheap, Berra. The Force only provides us with three meals a day, and ve'ho is eating all of our extra income."

Vegeta huffed, insulted. "Stop your whining, Raditz. It's your duty to provide for me!"

"I'm trying," Raditz growled. "It's not easy to keep you fed, ve'ho."

"Ahem." Berra cleared her throat. "I can always put in a request to Headquarters about providing the supplements for you. Anything which is essential for basic health should be covered."

"Would you? Thanks so much, Berra. That would be a great help," Raditz replied. His use of her familiar name without a title did not escape Vegeta's notice.

"Yes, thank you. What do I owe you, Doctor?" Vegeta could not help it. He was not on a first name basis with the woman, nor were they 'friends'.

"Why nothing, Prince Vegeta. As I've said for years, it's my duty to ensure that all of my patients are in the best of health. And I take my duties seriously."

Mollified, Vegeta just nodded. He never knew how to handle kindness.

"Now that we have our baseline, let's get you into the Booth and check your Ki levels."

In most cases, a scouter was the only equipment needed to gauge Ki levels, but they tended to malfunction or break when reading the rapid increases that Elite soldiers such as the Ginyu Force, Zarbon, and Dodoria could produce. The Testing Booth was a specialized room, similar to those in the training facilities, that could handle the higher outputs safely and give accurate readings.

When he thought of going willingly into that tiny space, of the walls closing in on him, Vegeta started to sweat. He drew a stuttering breath and bit down on his lip. Even after all these years, the fear was only a thought away. I will not panic. I am a warrior. I will not let anyone see me like this.

"Do you need to take a moment?" Berra's eyes were kind. She knew about his fear of tight spaces, had for years. She had never teased him about it, or made a big deal about it, and Vegeta was grateful for that.

"No. I'm fine." Vegeta shook his head, wrapped his arms around himself for comfort, and walked into the booth on his own. I am not a weak child. This will not defeat me.

The inside was made of smooth unreflective metal that absorbed sounds. The sterile air carried no scents. Cold fluorescent lighting illuminated the space, but only seemed to make it look smaller. Vegeta closed his eyes again and began his mantra: breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Just breathe. He placed one hand over his heart, felt the pressure of his talisman against his flesh, and imagined the calming energy flooding through his body, warming and centering him.

To reassure himself, he opened his eyes. He could see both Doctor Berra and Raditz through the small round window. "See? I can get out any time I wish."

"All set in there?" A tinny voice came over the speaker system. "Good - I'm going to take a base read, so just relax for a few seconds. Then I'll activate the shielding and we can get started."

After a few panicky seconds, Vegeta heard a high pitched hum that meant the machine was powering up. His skin tingled in response, and the walls took on a blue shimmer that meant the shields were active.

"All right, Prince Vegeta - we're live. The floor is yours. Don't hold back."

Focus. Breathe. Flow. Vegeta grinned. He still loved to show off.

He closed his eyes, lowered his hands to his sides, and concentrated. In his mind's eye, he saw a tiny ball of glowing energy pulsating in time with his heartbeat. In an instant, it expanded out from his heart chakra in one great pulse and enveloped his entire body. It felt like he was on fire, but it did not burn him. He welcomed it in. Every hair on his body stood on end as the Prince of Saiyans focused inward.

A cool breeze caressed his skin as the fire ignited in his breast, then exploded outward from his core and surrounded him in a white aura. He ceased to be a slave to fear, a prisoner of circumstance. There was no emotion, no thought, only pure energy. His feet lifted off the floor as he raised up, surrounded and supported by his own raw power, and a sigh escaped his lips. It was the most intimate thing Vegeta had ever experienced. He did not realize it, but tears gathered in the corners of his eyes from the pure joy of it.

It never occurred to Vegeta to suppress his power level on purpose, to tone it down in an attempt to fool the Powers that Be. His pride would not allow it. He was ve'ho ee'ko Saiyanu, and he refused to hide.

But, as with all things made of bliss and power, he could not remain this way forever. When his feet touched solid ground again and the energy bled from his body, he felt small and lost.

"Thank you, Prince Vegeta. You're good for another year." Berra's voice echoed through the room and pulled him out of his reverie, back into real space and time. The door already stood open for him to make a hasty escape. Vegeta emerged, feeling hollow still.

"What's my reading?"

"Your Active Level is 12500 - a 500 unit increase from last year."

"That's it?" Vegeta hissed in dismay. "I've been working my ass off for years."

Raditz glared at him, then hissed: "What do you mean, that's it? I could never even hope to see that kind of power, ve'ho!"

"Big damn deal," Vegeta snapped. "A fat lot of good it does me now."

King Vegeta's Ki level had been 10,000, and for years, the Prince had sought to equal it, to make his father proud. Now, the realization that he had finally surpassed his beloved ja'ta did not give him any joy. He was not the equal of Zarbon, or Dodoria, let alone Frieza.

"A fucking beam of sunshine, as always, ve'ho." Raditz's Power Level had topped out at 1200 when he was only eight; a child prodigy who had shown great promise early on but had not lived up to his potential. It was still a sore subject for him.

Vegeta narrowed his eyes and ignored Raditz's comment. "Are we done here?"

"Yes, of course," the good doctor replied. "I'll send a report to your guardian, Prince Vegeta. Now, I want you to keep up with your supplement regimen. You should be entering puberty in the next few years, and I don't want you going into it at a deficit."

Vegeta grumbled at the reminder of his epic lack of height. Raditz and Nappa both towered over him. In fact, almost everyone on the Base did ... except for Guldo. But Nappa liked to remind him that his father had been short as a young man, too. Instead of making him feel better, it just pissed him off. He hated when Nappa placated him.

"It was good to see you again, Prince Vegeta. Oh, and Raditz? If you make an appointment, we can talk more about your tail."

"Okay, Doctor Berra. Thanks!"

Vegeta did not speak until they were across the Commons and heading towards the private transports. Then he turned a suspicious eye towards the older male. "What is that doctor going to do with your tail? Is that code for something?"

To both his and Raditz's surprise, Raditz burst out into laughter, and grasped his sides in mirth. "Bwahaha! Code! You're too much, Vegeta!"

Chapter Text

Vegeta stared out the window of the speeding transport and fretted. Usually, he admired the stark beauty of bone white land and pitch black sky, but not now. He was too nervous to appreciate the view. Instead, he jittered one leg up and down with such rapidity that it made the seat shake; several patrons murmured their discontent.

Several sent angry glances in his direction, but none dared to actually say anything to him. One ebon glare complete with bared teeth was enough to silence any protests.

Except for Raditz, of course. The tall adolescent leaned over and bowed his head so that he could speak with Vegeta. "Ve'ho, can you not? You're shaking me off the seat, and you're making me nervous."

In a moment of pique, Vegeta turned his black stare on his fellow Saiyan. He did not respond for a few seconds as he struggled between the need to assert his dominance, and the desire not to draw too much attention to themselves.

Then he grumbled, but did not stop what he was doing. The anxiety was too much, he had to move, and he could not pace the small cab effectively. "We're going to be late. I swear to the gods if we miss this ..."

At that thought, his stomach began doing slow flips. He had to choke back the bile that rose in his throat and threatened to spew forth. No amount of slow breathing seemed to do the trick, or reciting his mantra, not even playing with his talisman. Oh, how he wished that he had brought some of Nappa's medicine packets with him, the ones that put a warm calm blanket over his senses.

The last few years of his life had been a glut of emotions, stress, and constant mental and physical battles. Frieza continued to increase the pressure on the young prince in an attempt to mold him from within and without; and Vegeta, being Vegeta, continued to fight for all he was worth. Not even Raditz or Nappa knew all of the things that Frieza had said or done to him. The psychological warfare continued unabated; Vegeta had little escape from outside of sleeping, fighting, and (sometimes) the drugs that Raditz brought home.

He could have told them, let them in, but he was too proud, as always. Pieces of his memory had gone missing, and he could not tell anyone. He was the strongest of them all, he should not need any help. His face turned pale as his lunch threatened to make a hasty exit.

Raditz noted his obvious signs of distress, but did not make a public fuss about it, much to Vegeta's relief. "Well, shaking the car apart won't help us get there quicker. I still think we should have waited for Nappa to return."

"Hn. Well, waiting never did us any good. Nappa's gone for at least a week, and I want to get my payment before someone else fucks it up. If he didn't want us to meet the contact, he wouldn't have left his tablet behind. Besides, the planet's going on the market, and you know they'll want anything premium. Hell, we earned it."

They lapsed into silence that lasted for the rest of their journey as each was caught up in his own worries. Neither wished to share.

The pub was already crowded when the two Saiyans walked in and scanned the dimly lit common room. This was their first meeting on their own with Nappa's mysterious contact, a being known only as "Skitter" - to both Raditz' and Vegeta's amusement. The younger Saiyans knew him by sight, and scanned the room for his willowy form.

"I don't see him," Vegeta hissed. "He's already left, I just know it." Anxiety exploded in his chest and spread through his body like a deadly blossom. Every moment that they held onto their ill gotten goods increased the risk of trouble, and after his last run-in with the Ginyus, Vegeta knew they would not just take his things and call it a day. No... payback would be a bitch.

"Don't panic yet, ve'ho. We're only a few minutes late."

"I'm not panicking! Has he said anything? Check the tablet."

Raditz sighed, and did as asked. "There's no new messages, Vegeta, but I can't just contact him, you know."

"Why not? Why the hell do we have communicators if we can't use them to communicate? After this, we're getting our own guy. I'm tired of relying on Nappa's old and busted things."

"Okay, ve'ho." Raditz raised both of his hands up, a gesture of placation that seemed to be second nature. "We'll figure it out later."

"Fine," Vegeta huffed. "If we can't send him a message, why don't we just ask the barkeep if he's left. That seems simple enough."

Raditz mouth dropped open; he stared hard for a few seconds before recovering his composure. "... You really don't understand how this works, do you? We can't just wander up and ask."

"Why the hell not?" Vegeta hated the cloak and dagger act. He just wanted something to be straightforward, for once.

"Just ..." Raditz squinted and crinkled his eyebrows, then glanced around the crowded room. "Just trust me on this one, ve'ho. I deal with these kinds of people all of the time, and they're really fickle. One wrong more and you can kiss years of work goodbye. And let's face it, Vegeta. We can't afford to lose any allies, no matter how dubious they are. It's a lot of talking and negotiating, all things I know that tax your patience. Not everything can be resolved by hitting it."

Vegeta grunted. "Negotiate this," he mumbled, and clasped one fist. Almost anything could be resolved if hit hard enough. It was the Saiyan way.

The bar proper squatted in the back of the tavern, foul and dingy, the plexiglass top dented. Patrons of varying species perched on stools in various stages of repair, nursing their drinks. Smoke from nicsticks, blunt, and gods knew what else writhed in fetid clouds near the ceiling and created a haze that make his eyes smart. The place stunk of smoke, sweat, and secrets.

In short, nothing had changed in years.

When Vegeta and Raditz entered, everyone glanced up, assessed them, then pretended to return to their own cups. No one wanted to get involved in someone else's mess if they did not have to. The barkeep fixed his black eyes upon them. He folded two of his four arms and regarded them with a sneer. He was the same species as Teff, but the two could not be any more different. Where Teff was jovial and personable, this being was pinched and radiated an aura of malevolence.

"Let me do the talking, Vegeta," Raditz cautioned as they made their way towards the bar.

"Tch. You think I can't handle it?"

"Of course you can, ve'ho. But they know me here."

Vegeta raised an eyebrow. He should not have been surprised. "In this bar specifically, or in the Unincorporated Zone?"

"Both, actually. I've been doing a lot of work for Master Zarbon lately. They won't give me any real shit ... fucking with me is like fucking with Master Zarbon, and no one really wants to get on his bad side."

The evocation of the teal aide's name made Vegeta twitch, and the knowledge that Raditz willingly associated with him - still - made him twitch again.

"You know that Tinkletoes is just using you, right?"

"He's not using me, Vegeta. I'm his assistant. It's just part of the job."

"Riiiiight." Vegeta drawled, then rolled his eyes. " 'Assistant'."

Raditz gave Vegeta a dark look that the prince gleefully ignored. "For now, let's get a drink and sit down. We're attracting attention just standing here in the doorway."

With casual indifference and a sense of assurance that Vegeta did not normally associate with him, Raditz strutted up to the bar. The older male had filled out, and cut an imposing figure with his long mane and broad shoulders. He towered over most individuals and dwarfed Vegeta, of course. An adult Saiyan could overpower most beings if pushed, but their reputations as savages with hair trigger tempers tended to keep most people at bay ... except for the occasional asshole who wanted to prove a point. Such situations usually ended did not end well for the provoker.

Raditz leaned on the counter, nodded to the taciturn barkeep, and ordered a beer. Vegeta clambered up on one of the rickety old stools next to the older Saiyan, just so he could be at eye level with them. As they waited, Raditz made stupid small talk with the owner, laughed and joked about current events.

Because Vegeta was all about the life of a warrior, he was not used to thinking of Raditz as competent. However, as he watched the long-haired male interact with the cranky tapster, Vegeta had to admit that not only did Raditz seem to be in his element, but he exuded an odd sort of charm. Raditz had people skills, and Vegeta ... did not. It came with the territory of being Zarbon's bitch, Vegeta supposed, but it still annoyed him that Raditz was capable of things that he was not.

As expected, the bartender did not ask Vegeta if he wanted something to drink, did not acknowledge him at all, and that rankled the prince. Even after years of coming to this hellhole, Vegeta got no respect. Irritated and insulted, he scanned the room yet again.

"Where is he," Vegeta grumbled, and crossed his arms over his chest. Nervous tension ate through his body and made him jumpy; when he realized he was swinging his feet, his cheeks flushed, and he glanced around in embarrassment. Way to make myself seem mature...

The barkeep poured a draft with practiced ease, then slammed the cracked stein down in front of Raditz, and the foam spilled over the rim onto the counter. He made no attempt to clean the mess up. "That's 20 credits. And tell Zarbon his shipment is in."

Raditz pulled a cred stick from one of his chest pockets, checked the balance against his tablet, then slid the narrow cylinder towards the man, who pocketed it. "Here's fifty. Keep the change."

The man grunted, but did not say 'thank you' ... not that Vegeta expected him to. With a dismissive grunt, he turned his back towards the Saiyans in favor of his usuals; it was obvious their exchange was complete.

Raditz took a sip of the foul liquid, managed to keep a straight face, then tipped the mug in Vegeta's direction. "Believe me, Vegeta, you're not missing much."

Well, that was true. The last time he had taken a sip off of Nappa's beer, he had immediately spat it out. "I didn't want any. Besides, how can you drink that swill?"

Raditz shrugged. "I've drank worse on missions, ve'ho. We all have. Anyways, they'll get pissy if you don't order. At least the alcohol is sanitized - it's a safer bet than the food. If you want, I can order you something to eat."

The thought of what type of food might come from an establishment such as this gave him pause. Vegeta had eaten the flesh of fallen enemies and still cringed at the thought.

"Ugh. I'd rather eat my own arm."

"You sure?" Raditz grinned in good humor. "I hear the fried rat is excellent."

"Hmph. As if I'd lower myself. You can yap with the locals later on. I want a good seat to watch the door." Vegeta punched Raditz in the arm, a good natured exchange common for Saiyans, then hopped off of his stool. When he felt the soles of his boots stick to the floor, he scowled.

Their usual booth in the back was occupied by a gaggle of off-duty PTO soldiers with shifty eyes who hunched over their drinks when the Saiyans approached.

"I think you're in our seat." Vegeta spoke in a regal tone.

"Don't see your name on it," said one of the men, and laughed along with his cohorts. It was obvious they were on their way to drunken oblivion.

Vegeta growled, and clenched his fists. All he wanted to do was punch someone, and this arrogant piece of rubbish had just moved to the top of the list.

"Are you deaf? Ve'ho m'yo asked you to move. I suggest you do so. Now." Raditz loomed tall, folded his arms and fixed them with his best warrior's scowl. Raditz could be intimidating, on occasion. For added measure, he waved his tail in a lazy arc for all to see.

Once they realized what they were up against, the men offered up half-hearted apologies and grabbed their drinks. As they scuttled away, they sent evil glares over their shoulders and mumbled, called them 'monkeys'. Normally, Vegeta would have retaliated, but here and now, their reputation worked for them, instead of against. The two took the seats so recently vacated and faced the door.

"Look at this, Raditz. I told you they never wash anything." Vegeta pushed an overflowing ashtray to one side and pointed at a marking on the dirty surface: the familiar symbol of the Saiyan royal crest. "I drew this two years ago, when we were getting rid of the Pate-sai contraband."

Raditz nodded in agreement, then took another sip from his drink and coughed. "You don't have to convince me, Vegeta. I know this place is disgusting."

"Well, Nappa never believes me. Says I'm being oversensitive."

"Yeah," Raditz mused, then rolled his shoulders. "Nappa's got a hard-on for this hellhole. Me ... I deal with it."

"Well, when we get our own contact, we're getting a new meeting place. One where they understand how to use fucking soap." Vegeta shuddered, and resisted the urge to draw his legs up against his chest to avoid further contamination. "I need a shower, dinner, and a good grooming after this."

Ten minutes into their vigil, Skitter had not yet shown his face, and Vegeta started to fidget again. He drummed his fingers on the table while Raditz nursed his drink. When Raditz wandered back up to the bar to refill his piss water and chat up the other patrons, Vegeta snatched up Nappa's tablet and obsessively checked it while he waited, to no avail.

Thirty minutes later, it was clear that they had missed the window of opportunity. People were starting to stare and whisper behind their hands. The beings driven from their seats could be seen at the bar, pointing and talking rapidly.

Raditz eyed the activity, and the tip of his tail twitched once, twice. He shook his black mane and pushed his mostly empty swill aside. "Uh, I think it's time to leave soon, ve'ho. It's obvious he's not showing, so there's no reason to stick around."

A rolling mountain of flesh came towards their table, a cigar clasped between his black lips. His furred hide was barely covered by his dented black and silver armor. He spoke in a grating voice that sounded like distant thunder, and jerked one clawed hand towards the exit.

"Hey, nothing personal, but the bossman says if you're not gonna buy anything else it's time to get the fuck out. People got business to take care of." For emphasis, he folded his hands together and cracked his knuckles in a rapid series of snaps. Conversations faded away as the other patrons started to take notice.

Vegeta rose to his feet and fixed the man with his best intimidating glare. In the back of his head, power whispered in its seductive voice. The oily scent of hostility rolled off of him, and the pupils of his eyes widened. He was itching for a good brawl to release the internal turmoil he felt. It would be so satisfying to feel the crunch of bone beneath his fists and watch the crimson spray of blood.

"I will not be ordered around."

"Let's just go, Vegeta." Raditz spoke in a level tone. He rose from his seat and placed one hand on Vegeta's shoulder. "Now's not the time or place to fire up."

"Why not? This is the perfect place for it. Is it that you're afraid of a good fight?"

Raditz scowled, and looked to one side. "Look ve'ho, you have to understand. This is where both Nappa and I do business, and we don't need to be banned on top of losing our payday. Okay? Please don't screw this up for me."

"F'ri'va," he spat. Damn that Raditz for being sensible. As much as he wanted to be in charge, and not to back down, Vegeta knew that choosing his battles was the better choice. Making enemies here might cause problems later on, and he would have to listen to Nappa and Raditz bitch.

He just was not in the mood for it, he decided. Besides tussling with such weaklings was beneath him. But he had an image to keep, so he glared up at the bouncer.

"Count yourself lucky," he hissed. "Come on, Raditz. We've got better places to be."

As if it had been his decision to leave all along, Vegeta swept out in a regal manner, leaving Raditz to follow in his wake.

Chapter Text

"Hey Vegeta, where are you going?" It only took Raditz three steps to catch with his errant prince. "The transport is the other direction."

"Yes, I know that. I'm not an idiot, Raditz. I'm going to the Pits and I'm making our profit back." Before the older male could protest further, Vegeta cut him off. "Don't bother arguing. I should have gone on my own years ago. Fuck Nappa and fuck the rules."

"He's just being cautious," Raditz offered up, in hopes of putting off another royal tirade. It did not work. "And I am not looking forward to explaining to him why you 'borrowed' his tablet without asking."

"Pah! Stop defending him! I'm tired of him sitting on my tail. I can take on just about anything they've got, and Nappa knows it. I'm not a baby," Vegeta spat. It was totally ridiculous that he could raze planets and extinguish life, but could not go off base on his own, unless for a mission. "What's to lose? I'm already here. So I do a few fights, rake in the credits. What could go wrong?"

Sometimes, Raditz could not believe the things that came out of Vegeta's mouth. With a long suffering sigh, he rolled his eyes and shook his long mane, then mumbled under his breath: "With you, ve'ho, anything."

"What was that?"

Raditz faked a coughing spat, but smiled behind his hand. "Er, n-nothing. Vegeta."

"I thought so. Besides, we have no idea when we can offload the goods, and I need my supplements. I'll go do it myself if I have to. I'm going to make my own fortune. You can come with, or you can crawl home on your own." Before Raditz could change his mind, Vegeta put on a burst of speed and made a straight line for the Fighting Pits and for his imminent victory.

During the day cycle, minor bouts ran in one smaller dome. They were petty matches with unknown and beginning fighters, but it was a place to start. Even then, it was ablaze with spotlights and the site could easily be found from orbit. Vegeta thought it odd, since the Pits and Unincorporated Zone itself were supposed to be a secret. During the prime time hours, all four domes would blaze with life and rock with force, swelled to capacity with screaming patrons and spectators.

The big fights occurred during the night cycle: Ki matches that featured ongoing champions from around the galaxy; where millions of credits could be earned on one waver, and a fortune could be made or lost in an instant. Some of the Frieza Force Elites moonlighted here for extra income. Every year cycle, a specialty tourney was held, with a purse of 20 million credits and bragging rights. It was a massively popular event that drew crowds and their money from all over, and was televised throughout the North Galaxy. Only the best fighters could enter, those who had earned the right.

Someday ...I'll be in that ring, and I'll take that title. That will teach them all to look down upon me! Perhaps, if I'm lucky, I'll achieve the Legend, and make them all pay for mocking me.

The familiar double barrier surrounded the Pit entrance; it was similar to the one they passed when first entering the Zone proper, and Vegeta was not sure why they even bothered. No one ever checked them for weapons, or confiscated any if they were found. And he, like so many others in the Force, did not need to carry weapons at all to protect himself.

Rumor had it that the Unincorporated Zone had existed long before Frieza remade FP-79. Before terraforming, it had been a hub of activity where every illicit desire could be bought and sold. It was also ignored by the corrupt officials of the Galactic Patrol. Because the site served a practical purpose, it had been left untouched when the purge teams razed the world of its native population and erected the sterile military domes in their place.

As they approached the gates, Vegeta found it difficult to suppress his excitement. Finally, after years of waiting, he was here as a combatant and not a spectator! Two hulking beings dressed in a combination of Saiyan polycloth and old style armor flanked the entranceway. They sported sleek new scouters and regarded everyone with cold suspicion. They held large maces in their hands, the ends electrified. One good whack could disable most beings, perhaps even a Saiyan on an off day.

Well, perhaps not, Vegeta reflected. They were intimidating and able to take on the common rabble with ease, but certainly no match for the Prince of Saiyans. Even on his worst day.

But then, Vegeta had to remember that most of those who came to fight - even those who worked for the Frieza Army - were not Ki users. If they were, they had pitiful Power Levels. They were whom the guards were meant for, not him.

As they passed through and entered the main dome, he felt the hair on the nape of his neck and tail stand up as the scan assessed them and found them acceptable. The guards side-eyed them, but did not speak or halt their progress. Vegeta was sure that they would be watched closely until they left; Saiyans were a rare sight now, and they tended to attract notice even if they kept to themselves.

Many large viewscreens lined the walls. They would blaze into life once the evening matches started, displaying names and statistics: current and historic. All active fights would also be shown for those unable to find seats in the rings. At the moment, all but one were inactive.

"Let's get you signed up for a match, Vegeta. They don't know you here and they'll try to give you a hard time, so let me do the talking. It'll go easier."

The Fight Director looked up from behind his booth and fixed the Saiyans with his one good eye as they approached. The other was concealed behind a patch, but Vegeta was sure there was nothing wrong with his vision. He scratched the back of his thick neck, leaned forward, then nodded to Raditz in a familiar manner.

"Hey, Mengo," Raditz returned the casual greeting.

"Well, well. The big rollers aren't here yet. So, what's the occasion? Are you finally going to fight?"

"He's not. I am," Vegeta interrupted.

"Really?" The orange skinned man looked Vegeta up and down, curled one lip, then deliberately addressed the older Saiyan. "Raditz, I'm surprised. Y'know we don't let kiddies fight in the Pits. You should take your son and find ... oh, I dunno, a more wholesome family activity."

He broke into a craggy grin, yellow teeth chipped, leaned forward and reached out to pat Vegeta on the head.

"Uh, ve'ho, don't - " Raditz did not get to finish his warning.

"I am not a child, and he is most certainly not my father!" Tired of being dismissed and patronized, Vegeta reacted violently. Without thinking, he grabbed the man's arm, twisted it and pulled down, then stepped in close so they were nose to nose. He bared his teeth and hissed while his tail lashed. Heat poured off of his small frame.

"Oh gods, Vegeta ... what are you doing," Raditz howled in frustration.

"I am an Elite warrior, I am the death of worlds! You will let me in or I will break every bone in your body!"

"Let him go, Vegeta," Raditz moaned, and facepalmed. "Are you trying to get us kicked out of here too?"

Vegeta seriously considered kicking Raditz's ass along with the smart mouthed clerk.

Instead of being intimidated or offended, the Fight Director calmly removed his arm from Vegeta's grasp and stood to his full height. He smiled wide, and laughed as if Vegeta had told him something amusing, instead of threatening his life. Apparently, he was used to being menaced.

"Are you laughing at me?" The odd reaction caught Vegeta off guard, and he faltered. What was wrong with this man?

"Son, if I had a credit for every time someone threatened me, I could buy this planet ten times over! I could have you tossed out for this, you know, but I like your attitude. 'I am death'..." he chuckled, then cracked his thick neck. "Okay, Mister Death. I normally don't let children in, but I like your attitude. You've got a set on you, that's for sure."

"I told you, I am not a child! Now, put me in the Ki ring." Next to him, Raditz breathed a sigh of relief, and his posture relaxed. Vegeta glanced up at his comrade, and the corners of his mouth twitched in amusement.

"About that ... here's the deal. Since this is your first fight, you'll be in the martial combat ring; no fancy shit, no energy blasts, no flying. Just fists and feet. Prove to me that you can play with the big boys."

"You can't be serious," Vegeta griped, and continued to glare up at the Fight Director. The tendrils of anger began to stir in the back of his mind again. His tail puffed out, but remained around his waist. He so wanted to give this arrogant bastard a taste of his power. "I am not some commoner who scuffles in the dirt."

"I don't care if you're Lord Friggin' Frieza himself. My arena, my rules." Mengo spread out his arms wide, as if he were embracing the entirety of the Pits. "If you don't like it, you can get the hell out. I've got a hundred other men who can take your place."

"Ve'ho," Raditz placed a hand on Vegeta's shoulder, then patted once. The gentle touch served its purpose, pulled his attention away. "It's just a qualifier round. You can do this in your sleep, right? Win this, and we can make our payday back. Besides, when did you ever turn down the opportunity to give someone a beat-down?"

Stupid Raditz ... making sense again.

This was clearly Raditz's world, not his, and he was at a severe disadvantage. The thought of Raditz being better at something was a hard pill to swallow, but it was becoming clear that he had left the safety of his circles behind and fallen into Raditz's sphere of influence.

Because he felt unsettled and annoyed, Vegeta shifted from foot to foot. "Tch. Fine, whatever. Now stop wasting my time and let me in."

"Glad we understand each other. Entry fee is fifty. You'll fight a random opponent, and like I said, this is hand to hand only." Mengo held out one beefy hand, palm up, for his payment. "You'll be round six, so watch the board. When I call your number, be back here in five minutes, or you'll forfeit. There's no refunds, so be prompt. Prove yourself, and I'll bump you up the tiers. Good luck."

"Luck has nothing to do with it," Vegeta replied.

Vegeta and Raditz stood in line and waited to place their bets along with the rest of the unwashed masses, much to Vegeta's dismay. He was constantly assailed by various noxious odors that he could not seem to avoid, even when he buried his nose into the crook of his arm. For some reason, Raditz seemed unaffected. The tall Saiyan stood impassive with his arms folded over his chest and his eyes scanning the crowd in a casual manner. He seemed so comfortable, whereas Vegeta was already twitching. He envied Raditz's easy manner and apparent ability to allow things to roll off of his broad back.

He played with the credit stick in his chest pocket, a leftover from their last contraband deal, and thought about the numerous times he had come here with Nappa. That was a better time, a simpler time ... and Vegeta allowed his mind to drift back.

When Vegeta was nine, he and Nappa had watched the championship fights together from the preliminaries to the final bout. That was the year that Jeice took the title. It was a fond memory that held a secret place in Vegeta's heart, but it had only served to fuel his desire to prove himself. Nappa could not seem to discourage him and he really did not seem to want to either. There was only so much 'keeping a low profile' that any proud Saiyan could take.

Raditz broke into his pleasant reverie by tapping him once on the shoulder. "Give me your stick, Vegeta, I'll do the betting. Think of it as 'supervising'; you're relegating the boring work to me. It'll go easier. Besides, they know me here, and won't give me any shit."

"Huh. Do you know everyone around here?" Vegeta raised one eyebrow and the left side of his mouth curled up.

"Pretty much. I often meet clients for Master Zarbon - "

"Ugh... I'm sorry I asked!" Vegeta flapped his hands at Raditz in mock distress. They stood in silence for another minute before Vegeta spoke up again. He did not want to seem ... ignorant. "Hey, Raditz ... can I bet on myself?"

Raditz chortled. "Heh heh ... of course, ve'ho. No one would take you seriously if you didn't."

"Good. Here ..." Vegeta gave his stick into Raditz's care. "Bet it all. I want to clean up."

After wagering everything on both of their sticks, the two Saiyans returned to the prep room. They sat on the benches, along with the others waiting for their turn to fight milled about; a sad lot of varied beings who, like Vegeta and Raditz, were likely down on their luck as well. They could see the ongoing fights, and for the most part, Vegeta was not impressed. The prince cast a look up at his companion, and sighed. His fight was an hour away, and already he was bored to death. To pass the time, he paced in tight circles around Raditz.

I hope this isn't the best they have to offer here ... I could have defeated these fri'vau when I first left my natal Pod!

He scanned the room, assessed any potential challengers, and found them wanting. Weaklings, all of them! He resisted the urge to snicker. Although he knew he could likely take them all, only a fool underestimated his opponents.

"Hey Vegeta ... you want to watch from the crowd while you wait?" The long-haired Saiyan was always quick to respond to his prince's mercurial moods. "It might be better than sitting here."

"Hell no. Like I give a shit about some weaklings slap fighting." Vegeta crossed his arms and stood. "This is insulting. I thought you said you had connections."

Raditz huffed, and his tail twitched. The scent of annoyance came from him. "I do. But you can't expect to join the Elite Ring on the first go. You have to work your way up ... Ah, heads up, ve'ho. We've got company."

With his tail, Raditz indicated four beings clad in varying styles of armor, from the common Saiyan polycloth to an assortment of furs and chains. The men approached them in a wall of bulging flesh and sneers, clearly intent upon defending their turf ... or what they thought was their turf. It would not be so for long, after the Prince of Saiyans was done with them.

The ring leader, a dark green lizard covered in scales and scars and sporting a massive spiked tail, stepped in front of the crowd. He placed his taloned hands upon his hips and stood firm. The other three fanned out, and all focused their malice upon Raditz, of course.

In response, Raditz took his place next to Vegeta. The older Saiyan drew up to his full height, shook his long mane, and folded his arms across his broad chest. In turn, he bared his teeth and fixed them with his best warrior's scowl. When he wanted to, Raditz could be intimidating, especially to those who only knew Saiyans by reputation as ruthless destroyers.

"Wondered how long before you monkeys would show up in the ring." The creature opened his maw to reveal jagged teeth; the odor that issued from his mouth reminded Vegeta of rotting meat, and he fought not to gag. "We've been hearin' for years about you savages. We're lookin' forward to takin' you down a peg."

The navy skinned brawler dared to poke Raditz in the chest with one claw and chuckle. His cronies all snickered, but Raditz did not move a muscle.

Raditz tilted his head to one side, then unfolded his arms to place one hand upon Vegeta's shoulder. "Is that so? Today's your lucky day. But, you won't be fighting me, you'll be facing my prince. You should say your prayers now."

The giant warrior did not speak for a minute out of shock. Then he cawed laughter, looked down his long reptilian snout at Vegeta, and crouched on his haunches in a placating manner. "Ooo ... scary little monkey child. What you gonna do?"

"This," Vegeta replied.

Before the boastful reptile even had time to reply, Vegeta leapt up, performed a powerful roundhouse kick to the fighter's skull, shattered the jaw. Teeth and blood flew out in a spatter of gore. His heavy body sagged to the ground, unconscious. from one blow. Suddenly, the other three gained a healthy respect and backed off. Raditz broke into amused laughter.

"Hey!" Mengo came running over, waving his arms in wide arcs. "No fighting in the prep area - save it for the ring. Any more monkey business and you two are out of here - no refunds."

Vegeta stood over the slumped body, a wicked grin plastered across his face. "Don't worry. There's plenty more where that came from."


Chapter Text

From the first second that Vegeta set foot in the arena, he knew he was home. Sure, this was a throwaway fight; only drunkards and those with nothing left to lose bothered to watch them, but he was finally in the Pits and not in the audience. Today he would enter the fray by his choice - and his choice alone - not as a tool of destruction. Today he would fight for the sheer joy of it, as a true Saiyan warrior should, in command of his destiny. The fact that he would get paid was just an added bonus.

The combat ring was an octagonal structure with entrances on opposing sides. From them, the combatants met in the middle and determined their fates. A chain link fence surrounded the field and could be either electrified or combined with a force barrier if need be. Rows of seats encircled the entire circumference. There, spectators could meet and greet one another and cheer on their favorites. During prime time, vendors wandered up and down, hawking drinks and cheap yet tasty food.

When the five minute klaxon sounded, Vegeta and Raditz made their way back to the prep area to check in. Afterward, Vegeta was sent to the north entrance to wait until he was called; he would not get to see his opponent until they were in the ring. This did not worry him. Nothing in these beginner rounds could ever hope to touch him.

He claimed that Raditz was his 'manager,' and the long-haired male was allowed to accompany him. As they waited, Raditz offered up advice, which he listened to with half an ear. He was far too riled up, too excited to really pay attention to anything but the pulse in his chest and the desire to win.

"Vegeta, remember: this is just a qualifier round. Don't do anything flashy. Just win and we can move on."

As he started to pace, he clenched and unclenched his gloved fingers in nervous anticipation. "Are you telling me to slack off? That's an insult to our Saiyan heritage."

Vegeta replied with less enthusiasm than usual. He was already jittery from the building anticipation of the upcoming battle. Well, not that there would be much of one, but the day that he did not mentally gear himself up was the day he would meet his end at the hands of a better-prepared enemy.

"No, what I'm saying is that we don't want to reveal just how skilled you are right now. We want to keep something back for the tournament fights, an element of surprise. Let them underestimate you, just think of it as a strategic choice. Trust me ... I know what I'm talking about."

"Tch. It still feels like slacking."

Raditz blinked, then took in a long breath. "It's not, ve'ho. You don't have to go full strength into every fight."

"Now, you sound like Nappa. Where's the fun in that?"

Before the tall Saiyan could reply, a ring assistant interrupted their conversation and gestured towards the ring. "You're up. Go up the stairs and wait until called to the middle."

"Kick his ass, Vegeta. And, good luck," Raditz said, then flashed a victory sign. As if there were any doubt about the outcome.

"I don't need luck. I have skill." As he walked up the steps, Vegeta made sure that his talisman rested securely in its pocket and his tail was firmly wrapped. Then he tugged at both of his gloves, an unconscious motion that he performed before every battle, whether in training or on the field. He could hear the hum of the speakers, the chatter of the screens, and the murmur of the small crowd. Here we go ... finally.

The Ringmaster stood in the middle, microphone in hand. He was clad in a loose set of ceremonial red robes trimmed with black. He raised his hands in the air so all eyes focused on him, then spoke in a sonorous voice that carried through the entire dome.

"May I have your attention, please! Welcome to the last qualifier of the day, folks. If you wish to bet, this is your last chance!" He pointed in a dramatic fashion to the North entrance, where Vegeta waited like a coiled serpent, ready to strike. "In this corner ... Standing at a petite 49 inches, weighing in at 70 pounds, we have our last challenger of the day, Bejita no Ouji! Let's see if good things do come in small packages."

Vegeta winced as the Ringmaster butchered his name, but chose not to point it out. When the man made the crack about his height, Vegeta snarled. I'm adding you to my shit list, he thought.

"And now, in this corner, coming in at a whopping 88 inches and 350 pounds - all solid muscle - is our resident martial champion, Sorghum! Our regulars know and love him. He is the master of fisticuffs, and any newcomer who wishes to make his name in these rings must get past him." Louder cheers this time, and a few calls of 'get 'em, champ'.

As the Ringmaster spun his hype, Vegeta scanned the stands. What a pitiful turnout. The daytime crowd consisted of perhaps two dozen or so beings in various states of inebriation. At the mention of their champion, they broke into enthusiastic cheers. At his name, some had dared to jeer ... and he clenched his hands into fists. He was not here to win a popularity contest, but just to qualify and get on with it. Still, the lack of respect got under his skin.

"Fighters, come to the center," the Ringmaster called in summons.

They approached one another and met in the middle. The man, if that word could be used, was a giant who could have challenged Burter for a height contest. It was as if some malevolent god was having a laugh at Vegeta's expense. In other words, it was a typical day.

Sorghum was not one of the earlier wannabes who had approached Vegeta in the waiting area. Those cowards had run off with their tails between their legs, and Vegeta did not blame them. Muscles lined the veteran's body, spikes lined his cheeks, forehead, and forearms, and his magenta skin was coated with darker spots of color. He wore no armor; he was bare-chested and clad in only a pair of tights that left little to the imagination.

Nappa would approve, Vegeta reflected, and the left side of his mouth twitched. The massive Saiyan Commander preferred to battle without the restriction of his armor whenever possible, much to the prince's chagrin.

As was proper for the beginning of any sparring match, Vegeta nodded to his opponent and was shocked when Sorghum only scoffed in return. To add further insult, the Ringmaster did not correct him. So much for honor! Storms gathered in the prince's onyx dark eyes, and he felt the caress of anger in the back of his mind.

Unbidden, he heard Nappa's voice rise up from his subconscious. "Don't let him get to ya, ve'ho. If ya fight angry, you've already lost."

Sorghum flexed his rippling biceps, popped his pecs and leered down at Vegeta. "I thought I was fighting the big guy with the ridiculous hair. Not a little monkey like you."

Yes, of course. The inevitable insult. It took all of Vegeta's will not to lash out for the slight, and end the fight before it started. Instead, he bit down on his lip so hard that he tasted blood.

"Sorry to disappoint you," he growled. "A 'big guy' like you should be able to take me, right?"

Sorghum reminded Vegeta of a larger version of Dodoria when his lined purple lips split open like a fissure and he cawed laughter. He even sounded like the General. "I'm gonna enjoy pummeling you, brat."

I've heard that line before.

"If you can lay a finger on me," Vegeta said, then sunk into his fighting stance for larger opponents: center of gravity low to the ground, feet spread wide for a stable base. He broke into a grin of his own, bared his canines. His ebony eyes sparkled, and he motioned to his adversary. "Bring it, if you can."

"Brave words from our challenger," the Ringmaster crowed into his microphone. "But can he back it up? Fighters, take your places, aaaand - Begin!"

Vegeta paced the ring, eyeing his massive opponent in the first seconds of the match. He was bred for this, for the thrill of the fight; it was in his blood. As he circled, his senses became sharper and his body started to flood with adrenaline in preparation for the clash to come.

The champion raised his fists up to defend his face, then took a few jabs. He began to pace, moving his position, never staying in one spot. It was clear from a few seconds of observation that he was a boxer and most likely a straightforward combatant. He was also a solid cylinder of muscle, and as such was also likely able to take a punch and stay standing.

As they started to assess one another, years of training with Zarbon easily came to the forefront of his mind. This should be simple. Come in low, get inside his reach, move rapidly, and - above all - try not to get hit. Saiyans were tough, but Vegeta did not relish the thought of eating one of those giant fists. This was going to be easy, though. Perhaps too easy.

Faster than he would have thought possible for such a giant being, Sorghum came at him, rolling forward like a moving mountain of flesh and roaring. Tapa, he was fast! His breath reeked of garbage and Vegeta had to suppress the urge to gag. Was this part of his attack? One of those giant mitts swung through the air and missed by inches. it probably could have crushed Vegeta's skull if he had remained in place.

Hn. No feints, no misdirection, just a simple strike. How disappointing. Vegeta dodged the initial attack with ease. Sorghum might have been a juggernaut, but he telegraphed all of his moves.

It was time to dance. Breathe. Focus. Flow. Vegeta entered effortlessly into his battle trance; time slowed down and stretched out. The crowd hooted and cheered their favorite on, but Vegeta no longer heard them. They did not matter anymore, only the ebb and flux of the fight. At last...The corners of his lips curled up.

The magenta-skinned warrior grunted in annoyance, then immediately lobbed a second punch with his left hand; another powerful blow that would devastate if allowed to make contact. He was quick, but not quick enough to catch the Prince of Saiyans off guard.

My turn.

Vegeta dropped to his haunches and came in fast towards Sorghum's powerful core, so quick that the titleholder had no time to react other than to pull his guard in. With his superior reach and strength neutralized, Sorghum was rendered ineffective for a few seconds, but it was all that Vegeta needed. The battle was already won.

Years of fighting superior opponents had taught Vegeta to strike hard and fast. He lunged forward and dealt what should have been a crippling blow to the man's solar plexus, followed by two rapid shots to his sides. Vegeta might have been small, but he hit hard too.

By all rights, the spiky fighter should have folded in on himself. Gut shots tended to do that, and a full force strike from a Saiyan was usually enough to disable enemies on the field. Instead of collapsing, Sorghum just grunted, took one step back to steady himself, and did not go down.

What the HELL? And I thought Raditz could take a hit. Vegeta blinked, and fell out of his trance. He was sure that he had put all of his strength into his attack. How was that man still on his feet?

"Surprised, monkey? They don't call me the champ for nothin'," he drawled, then launched a crushing blow downward.

Vegeta dodged out of instinct, and the spikes on Sorghum's knuckles grazed his skin, leaving cuts along his face and neck that were more annoying than crippling. His face turned red in embarrassment, and he was glad that neither Zarbon nor Nappa were watching this match. Not only had he been overconfident but he had lost his focus. If he had been anyone else, his skull would have been shattered.

Stop screwing up, he chided himself. Focus! Show him the might of a Saiyan warrior! Raditz would never let him live it down if he got pummeled by this simpleton. He mentally shook himself, took in a breath through his nostrils, and released it through his mouth.

Once again, everything seemed to slow down to the prince's eyes, a snapshot in time: the behemoth's mouth stretched wide in laughter, arm cocked back, bicep tensing as he wound up to release a vicious right hook. Sorghum shifted his weight onto his leading leg, moved forward and rotated his body to deliver a devastating blow.

The Saiyan dropped to the ground, out of range, and the punch sailed overhead. He tucked into a shoulder roll that took him past and behind his opponent in one fluid move. Next, Vegeta rose to his feet and drove the heel of one booted foot into the vulnerable back of the knee; first the left, then the right leg. Without a pause, he kicked the man in the backend to unbalance him and knock him forward.

Sorghum's eyes bulged, and he roared in surprise when he realized he would not be able to regain his balance, that he was going down. He was forced to drop his guard to catch himself before face-planting on the mat.

As the so-called 'champion' collapsed, Vegeta vaulted up and over his broad back, twisted in the air and landed in a crouch so they were face to face. Before the downed boxed could attempt to stand again, Vegeta flashed his teeth in a wicked smile. Then he punched Sorghum in the throat, delivered an open palm strike to the nose, and an uppercut to his jaw - all in rapid succession.

To his credit, the battered fighter did not lose consciousness immediately. With his eyes watering from the pain, he roared in denial and tried to regain his footing. Dark blood oozed from his nose and mouth as he tried to raise his great bulk to one knee ... then he fell forward onto his face and did not get back up.

The entire fight had lasted a total of two minutes, at the most.

"Tch." Vegeta stood, then prodded the man with his toe. There was no response. Good. That's what he deserves for laughing at me.

There was stunned silence for a few seconds as the referee approached and squatted next to the fallen being. He held two fingers against Sorghum's throat to check for a pulse, then tried to rouse him. It did not work, the champ remained unresponsive. The crowd began to murmur in discontent as they waited. The susurration of coming violence made Vegeta's hackles stand up.

"Don't bother counting down," Vegeta commanded. "He won't be getting back up any time soon. I think you need a better champion."

The referee narrowed his eyes as he stared up at the small Saiyan, his mouth in a thin line of disapproval. "What did you do to him?"

Vegeta sighed and rolled his eyes, then crossed his arms in impatience. What kind of weaklings fought in the martial ring? If this was the best they had to offer, then his path to the top was locked in. "I hit him. Hard. What do you think I did? Now declare my victory so I can move on to the real matches."

People began to shout, and some to throw things as they grew tired of waiting for a final decision. So it was with reluctance that the pink-skinned referee rose to his feet, grasped Vegeta's gloved arm in one hand and raised it up into the air for all to see. Vegeta could not help beaming with pleasure.

"I present your winner, Bejita no Ouji! Keep your eyes out for this talented young man in upcoming rounds!"

Instead of cheering his success and lauding him with praise, the displeased throng lapsed into silence, broken only by the occasional angry mutter. And really, what had he expected? Then, someone dared to throw a drink; it collided with the fence and sprayed its contents into the ring, followed by other refuse. "Go home, monkey! We don't want your kind in here!"

Vegeta snarled in rage at the crowd. It was a fair fight! How dare these peasants mock him? It would be so damn easy to kill them all, and they had no idea. He wanted so bad to give into the dark whispers, to walk past that door and let instinct take him over ... but he could not afford to lose any more sources of income. He gritted his teeth, clenched his fists into tight balls, and stalked out of the octagonal ring without a backwards glance. He stomped down the stairs back into the prep room where Raditz waited, drumming his fingers on his arms.

Even when he was out of the ring proper, Vegeta could still hear shouts and name calling coming from the stands, and he had to resist the urge to run back and lob a few Ki balls into the mob, just to teach them not to insult a Saiyan's pride. Then he thought about Nappa and Raditz bitching him out for it, and changed his mind. Sometimes, they were no fun at all.

Raditz came up to meet Vegeta, a smile on his face, but it faded when he noticed the prince's expression.

"They said the 'M' word," Vegeta hissed. Even after hearing it for years, it still got under his skin. "They're lucky I don't just take the whole fucking lot of them out."

"Ah, ignore them, Vegeta. Wasting them is beneath you. Why bloody your hands? Besides, it's just a qualifier. All that matters is you won."

Raditz was right - it shouldn't have bothered him. Yet the slur stung, reduced him to the moment when, as a young boy, he had first heard someone call his father a 'monkey' ... the moment when he realized that the Saiyans were not regarded as noble warriors, but as the scourge of the galaxy.

"Let's get our damn credits before I kill someone," Vegeta snapped, and started off towards the Director's booth. He marched straight up, tapped the polyglass with his knuckles. "You can put me in the Ki ring now, and give me my winnings."

Behind him, he heard Raditz sigh, and he jabbed an elbow into the taller Saiyan's gut, just out of spite.

For a few seconds, Mengo did not respond. He concentrated on the screens behind the desk, his head wreathed in thick clouds of smoke. He took a long, leisurely drag off of his cigar as he typed information into a tablet. Vegeta was sure the man was delaying on purpose, and he banged on the glass with his fist.

Finally, the Director looked up from his work. He opened the windows and blew smoke out of his wide nostrils. It billowed out in a noxious cloud and into Vegeta's face. He started to cough, and suppressed the urge to growl. "Congrats, Kid. But don't think you're jumping rank just because you're good. You're going to have to start at the bottom and work your way up, just like everyone else. No exceptions."

"Oh for gods' sake! I'm not some fucking newb. I've been fighting since I could walk!"

"That's great," Mengo said, and placed a few untraceable cred sticks into Vegeta's waiting palm because the betting window had closed. "Then you'll have no problems. You or Raditz can leave your contact information with me and I'll let you know when your next match is. Oh ... and here's a word of advice. Don't take your opponent down so quick; it tends to piss the crowd off. And, well, if the crowd don't like you, you won't get too far. See you around."

Mengo slid the reinforced window shut, ending their conversation. The evening matches would not begin for another five hours, and since Vegeta was not fighting in them, he did not wish to stick around. The childish days of watching from the sidelines were over.

Instead of feeling victorious, Vegeta suddenly felt hollow, He wanted nothing more than to be back in his stupid little apartment, eating th'di, and getting groomed. It was a childish urge, he knew, but he could not seem to stop the thoughts. "I want to leave now, Raditz. I'm starving. If we get back first, we can put Nappa's tablet back and he won't be any wiser."

"Maybe, ve'ho. But it's not likely," Raditz sighed, and shifted the bag of precious goods under his other arm. "Let's go home."


Chapter Text

During the ride back to Residential, Vegeta rolled his credit stick in the palm of his hand. He replayed the fight in his mind and dreamed of the glorious future - and the large prizes - that were sure to come. Soon he would be able to buy what he wanted without needing to beg Nappa for money: food, entertainment, all the supplements he could drink, something to wear that was not a threadbare hand-me-down, and eventually a bigger place to live. If everything went as planned.

Of course, their winnings had not been as much as he hoped, and Raditz had needed to restrain him else he would have marched back in his fury and strangled that clerk for daring to cheat him. But Raditz, the long-haired voice of reason, had talked him down.

"You have to remember, It's only your first bout, ve'ho," he reassured, one hand on Vegeta's shoulder while he twitched. "The purses will get larger once you're in the tournament, and the credits will roll in. You'll see! There's no point in making enemies with the staff. We've got more than enough between the two of us for a trip to the Commissary after we drop off the package and Nappa's tablet. Afterwards, I'll cook, we can curl up, and I'll use those new oils. Okay?"

With a half smile and a twitch of his tail, Raditz led Vegeta away with promises of fresh prepared th'di, and copious amounts of spoiling. Vegeta hated that the tactic worked on him, that Raditz could play him… yet it worked every time.

"Hmph," he snorted, then stomped off and flicked his tail in annoyance, leaving Raditz to follow in his wake. "That clerk is just lucky he closed up for the night. If he tries it again, I'll gut him."

Speaking of supplements, he would have to make sure that doctor had remembered to send in a request to the Commissary. Vegeta did not trust anyone outside of his ji'tach to keep their word, even if Raditz did, but Doctor Berra had not given him a reason to think she would not follow through. But he had not survived this long by blindly putting faith in others' promises.

He clicked his tongue in annoyance and resisted the urge to grumble out loud. Vegeta knew that if he mentioned his suspicions, he would open himself to a whining tirade from Raditz about how Doctor Berra was their bestest friend in the universe, and how could he possibly be worried, and he was just being paranoid … basically, it translated to: 'I've got a giant crush on her and don't ruin this for me, Vegeta."

Stupid Raditz and his stupid hormones.

After a quick check of their surroundings, because one could never be too careful, Vegeta settled back into his seat and allowed his thoughts to drift back to what was in his control. He had more than enough between Raditz's and his earnings to make an unscheduled trip to the Commissary without a list and not count every credit, a rare occurrence.

Instead of picking up rations, he would fill a cart with foodstuffs the Saiyans normally could not purchase: fresh fruits, cuts of meat fried in fat, handfuls of crunchy noodles, savory nuts and seeds, homemade sauces with bite and zest, peppers so hot they burned the roof of your mouth! Sweet pastries with cream, fresh berries, roasted flesh charred on the outside and still bleeding when cut, thick cream stirred into black tea and dosed with cane, and takki with its rich buttery taste that flooded your mouth when you popped them with your canines... Savory roots roasted in garlic, sweet ripe melons in citrus juice. Heu m'yo.

Vegeta's eyes were half closed as he fantasized about the upcoming menu, and what to have Raditz prepare first. His mouth started to water, and he had to remind himself not to drool like a punch-drunk idiot.

Realistically, his spoils were nowhere near enough for such a glut of gastronomical delights, but it was nice to pretend for a while. Most likely they would use the credits for staples, supplements, and supplies - the 'Main Three', as Nappa called it - and then whatever was left over for treats. It just didn't seem fair.

It's my money. Not Raditz's, not Nappa's. It's not from our damn missions. I earned it, so I should have the right to spend it as I like. Besides, I'm ve'ho, not them. The hell with what they say.

An atonal chime rang from the speakers in the small cabin and startled Vegeta out of his own thoughts. Instantly, his heart sped up, his muscles tensed and his breath quickened, readying him for combat. But there was no enemy to engage; he had become so caught up in his daydream that time had completely slipped away and they were back at the Main Hub.

His cheeks colored a bit as he realized that the other passengers were staring at him. Embarrassed, he looked down at his clenched fists and slowly forced each finger to uncurl. He took a hissing breath through clenched teeth, glared at each man, and dared them to open their mouths, to comment.

Go ahead. I dare you, he thought.

But no one took up the challenge.

With a resigned sigh, the Prince of Saiyans turned his back on the peasants and left the tram. Part of him expected to hear the murmurs, the insults, but none came. Honestly, he was glad. He would have taken out the trash if necessary - but he really just wanted to go home.

"You've been quiet Vegeta," Raditz said as they walked down the ramp and hurried to catch the next tram back to the Residential dome and their small apartment. He did not see any reason to point out how jumpy Vegeta was. Hell, they were all jumpy. "What were you thinking about?"

Pft... As if Raditz did not know already.

"I'm making my list for what I'm getting from the Commissary. Don't forget, you promised me th'di. I want it to have real meat for a change - not those crappy protein cubes - and daikon root, and ginger, and savory broth..." Vegeta shut his mouth when he realized that he was rambling on like an eager kit. Such behavior was behind him now, or should have been.

They did not have to wait long for the transport to Residential this time, a small favor that helped take the edge off. As usual, the two Saiyans made their way to the back and put as much physical distance between themselves and the other soldiers as they could manage.

Once settled, they kept their heads down and tails wrapped. Raditz kept their precious loot tucked underneath one arm, where it could easily be mistaken for a gym bag. With a loud hiss, the servos disengaged and the transport jolted forward once, left the station behind, then began to build up speed. Vegeta had made this trip so many times in his time on FP-79 that, if he wished, he could describe every centimeter of track, every scrawl of graffiti and refuse that lined the way.

After a few moments of quiet, Raditz bowed his head down so that he could speak to Vegeta without being overheard. "I know you're looking forward to using your money, but we shouldn't blow it all on food, Vegeta. What we made was nowhere close to what we would have gotten from selling the contraband. I don't want to be flat broke when we explain to Nappa that we missed the meeting. If we have something to give him, he might not break our necks for screwing up."

"Tapa m'yo ...Thanks for reminding me, buzzkill." Vegeta growled. Sometimes, he swore that Raditz enjoyed ruining his day.

For a blessed moment, Vegeta had forgotten about the failed portion of their trip to the Unincorporated Zone. With Raditz's unwanted reminder, the reality of the situation reasserted itself. Nappa was not going to be pleased, and it had not been their fault ... not really. A few minutes should not have made a difference.

"Tch. What the hell is with that guy anyways, have you heard from him yet? Anything at all?"

Raditz shook his long mane and clicked his tongue. He did not bother to check his tablet again. There was no point. "Still nothing. We're boned."

"Ma'tapa! That son of a whore screwed us out of our payday, and now we'll have to listen to Nappa bitch about that too." Vegeta shook his head, seeking to dislodge the fog that seemed to have taken up permanent residence when he was not active. "Damn it, Raditz. Why did you let me forget?"

"Don't look at me, ve'ho. We've been over this already. It wasn't anyone's fault, and arguing about it won't fix it. Let's just let it go. It'll be bad enough with Nappa at our throats; let's not do it to each other, too. And this isn't the place to talk about it." With his tail, Raditz pointed towards the other passengers.

A few tense moments passed as the Saiyans actively ignored each other. Vegeta crossed his arms and tried not to look like he was pouting while Raditz stared out the window, his dark eyes focused beyond.

Raditz thought for a moment, then took in a deep breath and turned to look at his prince. "You know ... you've been forgetting a lot more lately. Maybe you should stop by and talk to Doctor Berra about it? We'll be the quad."

With a bad-tempered scowl, Vegeta snapped at his ally and caretaker. "About what? I just got a physical today. Remember? Look, if there was something going on, I damn well hope that doctor would have found it - "

"Her name is Doctor Berra, Vegeta." Raditz spoke in a unamused tone. "I know you know her name, so why do you keep calling her 'that doctor'?"

"Well ... She is a doctor, right?" With a sly grin and the raise of an eyebrow, Vegeta punched the taller male in the ribcage - a light tap among Saiyans that would have put a lesser species on the ground - a playful gesture that Raditz misinterpreted.

Instead of smiling, or punching back in a good-natured exchange, Raditz's eyebrows drew together and a scowl crossed his pointed features. The expression made him look old, weary. It did not suit him. "You don't have to be an ass about it. She's done nothing but help us. Would it hurt you to be grateful for once?"

The exchange was meant to be playful and should have helped to remove tension between the two high strung adolescents. Instead, it backfired and only added fuel to the fire. Vegeta's light mood soured quick, and he scowled. The left side of his mouth ticced, and he growled low in his throat.

"Oh, whatever! Look, I don't have time for your juvenile crushes, Raditz! There's nothing wrong with me, outside of dealing with idiots on a regular basis." Vegeta leveled his ebon glare at the long haired male, then narrowed his eyes.

Raditz did not offer up a reply. His back stiffened, and he turned his head to stare back out the window. Even without the changing body language, Vegeta knew that Raditz was upset, and part of him really did not care. He was mad that Raditz had insinuated that it was his fault, that he was the problem.

"Oh, don't get all butt-hurt, Raditz. Gods know I've said worse things."

Unseen by his prince, Raditz rolled his eyes in frustration and shook his long mane ever so slightly. For a few seconds, the pungent scent of anger came from him, mixed with a darker and heavier scent of fear. "I - I'm just concerned, ve'ho. It's my job, right? You've haven't been sleeping well, and you've been under a lot of stress lately. Hell, we've all been stressed ... and - uh - that sort of thing can fuck with you."

"Tch! I'm a Saiyan warrior, not some mewling infant. I don't need a nursemaid, and there's nothing wrong with me." The young Saiyan spoke with more venom than he had intended, and surprised himself.

Who are you trying to convince? Raditz … or yourself?

"Okay! Okay! Sorry I said anything, Vegeta. You're right, of course. Just ... forget it." The older male refused to make further eye contact and instead chose to keep his gaze elsewhere. His body turned to one side and his tail drooped lower, an indicator of submission to his prince's indomitable will. As always, Raditz was the first to back down from a fight, or was there a reason he was backing off from the subject?

Vegeta felt the corner of his left eye twitch in an uncontrolled muscle spasm. He side-eyed his companion, as worry began to creep in, an insidious poison that threatened to undermine his confidence. "Hn...have you and Nappa been talking behind my back?"

"No!" Raditz snarled, hunched his broad shoulders, and shifted forward in his seat. "For Gods' sake, Vegeta! What would we have to talk about, anyways? It's not like we're keeping secrets from you. You're our Prince. You need to trust us! Like Nappa always says, we're ji'tach. That matters to me, to Nappa, and it should to you too."

They lapsed back into uncomfortable silence, neither sure how to respond. Vegeta cast black glares around the cabin, wishing for nothing more than to be back where he felt safe, where their every move would not be scrutinized and they would not be judged for what they were. Sadly, Vegeta could go back to his flat, but he could never go home again.

When he had first been placed in Lord Frieza's 'care', he had been overwhelmed by the size of the domed Base where most of the active PTO soldiers lived and worked on their downtime. It was always busy, filled with hundreds of different alien species - many of whom had also lost their homes and people to Lord Frieza's military juggernaut.

As a young kit, Vegeta had been overwhelmed by the crush of bodies, the staggering variety of languages and cultures that he was thrown into without warning and expected to navigate on his own. It was a terrifying experience that he had been unprepared for.

Before Frieza came, Vegeta was a member of the Royal Family of Vegetasai, and as such had lived his first years in palatial splendor. It also meant that, until he came to live on FP-79, he had limited contact with large groups of people. The press of sweaty flesh, layers of odors and sounds, flashing lights and colors overwhelmed his Saiyan senses. None of Frieza's goons, or Frieza himself for that matter, seemed to understand or care.

For the first week or so, Vegeta had been housed at the top of the Residential Dome, where the Elites kept their homes. Instead of the opulence that he had expected as Prince, Vegeta was shocked to discover that his accommodations were nothing of the sort.

The Crown Prince of Vegetasai, strongest in generations, was given a small closet at the end of a hallway, instead of his own suite. The tiny room had been stripped of all furnishings except for a dresser, a desk, and a small cot. The bare walls, painted a depressing gray, contained one small window that looked out upon the stark white dust of the planet. It had reminded the little Saiyan of bones ... which was apt, since this world had died and they were now living on its corpse.

Vegeta had been thrown into the chaos of life on FP-79 with little ceremony. He was subjected to the whims of Lord Frieza, who treated him like a favored pet sometimes, and others he was tossed to one side like a forgotten toy. His only distractions were his talks with Frieza, and the harsh training regimen with Zarbon and Dodoria. Frieza had said that he needed to be 'trained up' and 'to forget bad habits' that had been taught to him on Vegetasai before he could join the Elite forces as he had been promised. Those 'bad habits' included his individuality and sense of honor, apparently.

He had been lied to; he was not part of the Frieza Force Elite, and as each day passed he was beaten down, insulted, used. When Nappa and Raditz had shown up two weeks later to guard and guide him, Vegeta's hopes were crushed. The young Saiyan royal had hoped that his father was coming to bring him back home as he had promised. He had lashed out at Nappa in hurt and fury, then felt bad about it later. Not that he would ever admit it.

Nappa, the former Commander of Armies of Vegetasai, was his Honor-father, his bodyguard, and the man whom Vegeta had known and trusted all of his short life. Once he was over his initial anger, the big man was an oasis in Vegeta's confusion. Nappa represented safety and a connection to his world, to the life that had been taken away from him.

But as Vegeta grew older, he started to pull away from his guardian and sought to make his own way. Nappa seemed to want to keep him under his thumb; this rubbed Vegeta's fur the wrong way. It felt like Nappa did not trust him!

Maybe he's right, the voices of self-doubt whispered. Maybe you aren't worth it ... your father abandoned you, Frieza seems to have lost interest, and you can't even remember simple things.

"Shut up," Vegeta whispered, and shook his head. A lump rose in his throat, and his stomach knotted up.

"What? I didn't say anything, Vegeta."

He did not know that he had spoken out loud; he jumped when Raditz replied. To cover up his nerves and sour worry, he twisted his features into the ever-present scowl and huffed. "Never mind. I just want to get home before Nappa lights into us, and get some sleep."

Oh gods... what was he going to tell Nappa? The giant commander would probably be livid that they had lifted his Padd, but the big oaf had left it behind. And what were they supposed to do, sit on expensive and time sensitive contraband? It was pretty much public knowledge for anyone who cared to look that the Saiyan squad had taken the Cruton purge job. Crews often undercut each other, and stole contraband as well, especially from primo places like Cruton.

Vegeta did not want any more reasons for people to pay attention to them, and running around with the goods was like waving a giant glowing flag with arrows pointing at themselves, screaming, 'Here I am, please come and rob me."

All he wanted to do was get home without incident, put Nappa's tablet back, and forget about the day's fuck-ups, which included his unresolved run-in with the Ginyus. He would love to forget that one, but Vegeta was quite sure that his past minor victory would come back to bite him in the ass.

Like an animal worrying a bone to get at the marrow, Vegeta's thoughts kept returning to those troublesome lapses; he played with his talisman, smoothing the warm surface with one finger. What if Raditz was right, and he was forgetting too much? What if he was losing his mind? What if, what if...

No, don't think this way. It's got to be all that stress. Maybe I should take Raditz up on that sleep powder. He could not afford to second-guess himself, to show weakness, to even give the faintest breath of life to the innermost fears that hid just below the surface, waiting behind closed doors.

Lost in the corridors of his mind, Vegeta did not pay attention to his surroundings. Not only had he arrived at the Residential Dome, but he had taken the lift up to their floor, exited and pulled ahead of Raditz, all with no conscious thought on his part. So, he was both shocked and horrified to see the familiar forms of Guldo, Recoome, Burter and Jeice lazing about in the hallway, leaning up against the wall next to his apartment door as if waiting for a friend. The fact that Ginyu himself was not present gave him little comfort.

Oh Gods, I did it again ... I blanked out ... his breath hitched in his throat. Breathe, just breathe...

The Ginyu Force fanned out when they saw Vegeta turn the corner, large smiles plastered on their hated faces, a hellish welcome committee to celebrate his stupidity.

"Well, if it isn't the Monkey Prince," Burter rumbled, and took a step forward. His pupil-less red eyes glinted with malice as he peeled his thin lips back in a wicked grin. He extended his clawed hands wide in a mockery of welcome. "We never finished our previous discussion - you so rudely took off on us."

All the hairs on his body rose up and his lips drew back into a feral snarl in an automatic response. Before he could think not to, Vegeta looked over his shoulder to find Raditz and if he was far enough behind, to warn him off. Vegeta unwrapped his tail and began to flick it like a signal flare, in hopes that Raditz would see the signal to get the hell out. There was nothing Raditz could do in this situation besides get fucked up.

Unfortunately, Raditz did not get the message in time. He turned the corner, then stopped dead in his tracks when he noticed their 'company'. The older male's angular face blanched at the sight of their nemeses; his crooked tail puffed out straight behind him and went stiff, then he froze in place. It was too late, though. They had seen him.

"Get out of here," Vegeta yelled, but it was too late.

As if Vegeta's call had released them, the Ginyus moved quick and surrounded him on all sides, leering over him and laughing. Vegeta felt his pulse start to race; he began to pant as anxiety blossomed in his chest. He had been a fool to think that they had forgotten or forgiven the earlier slight. Now it was payback time, and he had allowed them to ambush him because he had blacked out.

"Welcome home, monkeys," Recoome said and cracked his gloved knuckles. It sounded like small explosions and made Vegeta jump.

A sinking feeling of hopelessness began to creep through him and threatened to paralyze him. Yet, a detached and emotionless part of his mind analyzed and checked for avenues of escape, then whether to fight or flee. A lump rose in his throat. He was encircled on all sides, outclassed and outnumbered. In short, he was fucked. He could not take on one of the Ginyus, let alone four.

He was not going to make it out of this encounter without something broken, but he could make it out with his pride still intact. He was not so sure about Raditz's fate, however.

Once again, Vegeta flicked his tail in a futile attempt to get Raditz's attention, to snap him out of his fugue. By Blood and Battle, Raditz, what are you doing? His lips pulled back into a frustrated snarl when the long haired male continued to stand in one spot.

It probably would not work, but perhaps if he stalled them long enough, Raditz would pull his tail out of his ass and get the hell out of there.

"Do you always greet people at their door, or am I just special?" Vegeta drew himself up to his full height (which, granted, was not much), crossed his arms, and planted his feet. He plastered a haughty expression upon his face and sniffed. "I am a Prince, after all, so I suppose it's only appropriate to have an escort. How are your nuts feeling, Recoome?"

The red haired giant scoffed and exchanged glances with Burter, and then Jeice. "You monkeys never know when to shut up, do you?"

Vegeta shrugged, an efficient motion that indicated how much he did not care. Move it, Raditz, he screamed mentally. At last, Raditz got the damn message, the f'ril. He began to backpedal, and make his way towards the lifts and hopefully safety.

"I'm sorry I wasn't in the mood to play with you earlier," Vegeta spoke in a casual tone, as if addressing an inferior. He took a step towards his apartment, towards the Ginyus, and away from Raditz. "Places to be, people to kill. You know how it is."

Recoome chuckled, a nasty sound that sent chills down the prince's spine. "Well, you'll make time for us now, won't you."

"I'll put you in my schedule," Vegeta drawled and grinned even wider so that all of his canines showed. He knew that every word that came out of his mouth would only make it worse, but he would rather be beaten to death than willingly surrender.

The mercenaries stepped in closer and crowded him into a small space. At least they were paying attention to him now. Numerous taunts came to mind, all of which would earn him a beat down of epic proportions. Then Vegeta shrugged again.

Why not? I don't they're allowed to kill me, and perhaps I can get zenkai out of it. Then I can rub it in their stupid faces. Vegeta, Prince of Saiyans, decided to make his stand, useless as it might be.

"Is Frieza not paying you enough that you need to rob me? You lot must not be very good at your job."

"Too bad your mouth is bigger than you are, short stack," Recoome purred, then reached out and pushed him with one giant palm. Vegeta rolled with the motion, but did not take a step back."This would hurt a lot less if you'd just given us what we wanted."

"Yeah, well, I'm bad at following directions."

"Haw haw," Recoome cawed. "You gonna come quietly, or are we gonna do this the hard way?"

"Do I get a choice?" Vegeta stared up at their hostile faces. The memory would remain frozen in his mind for a long time - the epitome of his existence - that grown men went out of their way to torture him for no other reason than for their own sick pleasure.

Vegeta was from a warrior race, a proud race. Years of indoctrination by Frieza and his cronies had not managed to crush his spirit. This treatment was just ... senseless. He already knew that he could not touch them. He would probably regret it, but he just had to ask, had to know.

"I don't understand. Why are you doing this?"

As expected, his query elicited a chorus of laughter and snickers: Guldo's gurgling nasal sounds, Burter's rasp, and Recoome's booming guffaws.

"You mean, outside of hitting Recoome in the jewels? No reason, really. You just need to learn your place. You're not welcome here, and the sooner you learn to shut up and do what you're told, the easier it will go for you and your band of stinking primates. Lord Frieza doesn't care what we do to you. And you think you can get one over on the Ginyu force? Think again. Payback is a bitch, monkey boy."

"You tell 'im, Burter." Jeice shook his voluminous white mane in agreement. then patted Burter on the arm to gain the blue man's attention. He pointed down the hall; both Burter and Vegeta turned to see Raditz finally trying to flee. "Oi, grab the fluffy monkey!"

"Right!"

Faster than Vegeta could follow, the self-proclaimed 'Blue Hurricane' sprinted down the hall, and into Raditz's face. Raditz gave a surprised squawk when Burter gleefully tackled him. "Gotcha!"

"Get off of me, you son of a bitch," Raditz howled. He lashed out with fists, feet, even his teeth. Against most opponents, Raditz was a capable fighter. His natural strength and ability were more than enough to give him an upper hand, but not against the Ginyu member. The tall Saiyan fought back with all of his strength; it did not make a difference ... but at least he tried.

Burter was taller, stronger and faster, and wrestled Raditz to the ground with such force that the Saiyan's thick skull smashed against the floor with a loud crack. Then the Elite mercenary pried the coveted bag from Raditz's hands and tossed it into the air.

"Thanks for the loot, monkey. You'll stay down if you know what's good for you." Burter stood, and placed one massive foot onto Raditz' back, pinning him face down.

Before Vegeta could jump into the fray, he was grabbed from behind by Recoome in a bear hug, his arms painfully pinned against his back and his chest compressed so it was difficult to breathe. He shifted his weight to strike out at Recoome's instep, but the red haired behemoth squeezed so hard that the breath was forced out of his lungs, and his vision whited out for a second.

"Move, and I'll break something," he hissed in Vegeta's ear. "Give me an excuse."

He looked at the leering faces that surrounded him, laughing and taunting, and knew that his luck had run out. Cha'le had turned her back. Raditz was down, Nappa was gone, and he knew that if he yelled, no one would respond. No one was coming to help him. He could run, but Guldo would just stop time. It was time to fight.

"I will never bow to you!" Vegeta howled with the last of his breath. His Ki flared out in a bright golden ball of force that blinded the Ginyus. The lights flickered for a second as the concussive power interrupted the grid.

A few doors cracked open and other off-duty soldiers looked out, curiosity on their features. When they saw the Ginyus, all of the doors slammed shut. Vegeta had not expected any of those weaklings to get involved; minding your own business was a basic survival tool in the PTO, especially when the Ginyus were involved.

For a second, Recoome lost his grip. Vegeta lashed out behind him with a vicious elbow strike, then tucked and rolled back to his feet. His tail lashed, his hair raised up, and his hands were claws. He hissed like a caged animal, and gathered his Ki once again, orbs of destruction that he flung at his enemies in quick succession.

This time, the lights went out, leaving them in the dark, and pieces of the ceiling crumbled and fell. He knew that Ki use was forbidden in Residential; Zarbon would punish him for inflicting structural damage - once he was out of medical - but Vegeta did not care. He could fight in pitch black just as well as full light.

It might have worked on lesser skilled fighters, but the Ginyu Force were at the top of the Elite Tier for a reason. They were stronger than Vegeta could ever hope to be. One lone Saiyan had no hope to gain the upper hand, no matter how hard he fought. Vegeta knew that, logically, but just as he had years before when in front of Frieza - cowed and beaten and without hope - he could not, would not, give in.

Time slows, warps, changes in the blink of an eye. A strike to his face snaps his head back, his jaw cracks, he sees white again, and shakes it off. Blink, they are upon him, blows raining down, his limbs grabbed, his body twisted, howling laughter. Something cracks, a wet snap, and white pain explodes.

Years of training left him then as he fought tooth and nail like the savage he was always accused of being. There was no reason to hold back any more. They might kill him, but at least he would go down with his dignity intact.

This too shall pass. I will remember each blow, each word. I will have revenge. They can't break me. They can't break me...

" ...hey mates, we'd better let up on 'im. We can't beat 'im so bad that he ... remember ... don't forget to ..."

Someone grabbed his tail, and his body screamed in pain, the final insult, He blacked out, mercifully, the limits of his small frame surpassed. When he came to, there was a horrid buzzing in his ears, like a hive of insects had built its nest inside his skull. Every nerve was a klaxon of horrible pain, on fire and yammering a message of distress. He thought someone was speaking, but it sounded like they were whispering or shouting from across the planet.

"... Oh gods oh gods oh gods! Vegeta, wake up... I've got to ... "

Rough hands, jagged knives of agony as bones grated and clashed against each other, bringing a blinding white sear of pain. Blotches of light and dark as he opened his eyes and tried to focus, eventually becoming Raditz's face.

Vegeta came to cradled in his comrade's arms. His body yelled, his ears still rang, and he wanted to vomit. Gods, what happened? Something stung his eyes. Slowly, he brought a hand to his pounding head. When he brought it back and tried to focus, his fingers were coated in a sticky red fluid, and he could smell a sharp metallic odor.

"Heh. Is that my blood?" He smiled, a faint gesture.

"You'll be okay, ve'ho, just let me help you. I'll get you to Medical ..."

"Don't - we can't afford it..." Vegeta whispered, then faded away again.

Blackness ate him, took him into its cold and familiar embrace. Before his eyes, the door yawned open wide, and this time he gladly walked inside.

Chapter Text

"Ma'tapa ...what was I thinking? There's nothing here either. I shoulda known better." Nappa sighed, then ran one hand through his thinning mohawk. A few wiry black strands came free and he glared at them as if they had personally done him wrong, then released them to tumble down into the void below.

The proud General perched at the edge of a steep ravine like a massive bird of prey. His forearms rested on his thighs as he stared down at the wreckage below: four Saiyan Attack Pods that had been smashed and burned almost beyond recognition. From this height, he was not sure if the damage was due to a rough landing or some other cause. But if the past was any indicator, it had been done on purpose to prevent their occupants from escaping.

Nappa had come to the Shishka System because the old purge Mission logs had led him to this desolate and scarred world. The planet had probably once been full of life, until the Saiyans came along. No, until Frieza came along and had decided this world was worth more dead than alive.

Nappa stood and felt his knees pop as he did so. Then he stepped forward, off the cliff, and descended towards the ground in a controlled free fall. He was in no hurry; no one cared about this hellhole any more. Nothing moved across the ruined landscape, no beings called it home. Everything was dead, silent, lifeless. Except, perhaps, for the mining facilities gutting the surface and tearing gaping holes into the mantle to extract the precious life blood of the dying world.

LIke so many other planets before it, this one had been 'cleansed' of life so that the PTO butchers could follow behind in safety, strip it down to a husk, and wholesale it. The job had been done by a Saiyan purge crew, according to the old records that Nappa had managed to get his hands on (illegally, of course). This time, the trail had led here: to FP-319, a now barren world, razed clear. The sky was blood red ... just as Vegetasei's had been … red as spilled blood. The irony was not lost on the eldest Saiyan.

The former Commander of Armies had been chasing ghosts through both time and space for years, in the vain hope that he might find someone alive. Each time, all he found was the corpses of his comrades - many of whom he had trained and fought with - who had been slaughtered like animals. And each time, Nappa felt a small piece of himself die with them.

Five years. Fourteen planets. Some failed missions, some rumored refugee sites ... everything had been a dead end.

The ji'tach who had taken this assignment had come here in good faith, expecting to be rewarded for hard work. This was back in the days when Frieza had seemed to be their savior bringing goods, foodstuffs, work, a way off of Vegetasei, and away from growing civil unrest. Most of the crews had been Low Class warriors seeking to earn their way up the ranks. It had been a fantastic idea at the time, almost too good to be true ... and it was.

Nappa touched down at the crash site. A quick visual scan showed that, as suspected, the Pods had been rendered useless: gutted and burned, their metal frames warped and twisted by the intense heat. Only their homing beacons, sealed up in nearly indestructible containers, survived to tell the tale. And it was that message that Nappa had followed.

With one gnarled finger, he clicked the subroutine engager on his scouter. Nappa, quite the hand with customization, had programmed in several unique subroutines himself to assist in his search for lost crews. With it, he could detect both Pod indicators and open scouter channels, along with the direction and strength of the signals. The information was passively displayed on his blue eyepiece; it came in quite handy during missions, but there were no threats here to worry about.

Once activated, four weak signals led him away from the dead Attack Pods and to another slaughter field. Here, he found four desiccated corpses, Saiyan corpses. He did not need his scouter to tell him that they were long dead.

The four male soldiers lay crumpled around an extinguished fire pit. Old charred bones from their last meal could be seen in the coal black ashes and bottles lay scattered about, some still with their contents intact. Their cold bodies were covered in open wounds and dried blood, their armor had been shredded, all signs of battle and to be expected.

What Nappa did not expect was that their faces had been obliterated: their features scorched off to the skull. All of the warriors also showed the distinct marks of Ki attacks. He could still smell a faint tang of ozone even after all this time.

The damage looked like it had been done yesterday, since the arid atmosphere and the lack of rain ensured that the bodies did not rot. There were no insects to feast upon the flesh, no microbes to break them down, only unrelenting heat.

It looked as if they had been caught unawares. There was only one reason that a Saiyan ji'tach would let their guard down: if their mission had been completed and all threats nullified. Even then, it meant that it was done by someone powerful enough to take out four seasoned Saiyan warriors so quickly that they were not able to respond in time, to defend themselves. Or, even worse, it had been done by one of their own team.

This was just like all the other sites he had uncovered: loyal Saiyan troops destroyed. Not only had they been massacred and mutilated, but their bodies had been left behind … which meant their spirits had been trapped in the dead flesh, unable to leave, unable to rest and be reborn.

Whoever had done this had left the shattered bodies behind on purpose.

"Ah hell..." Nappa's frown grew into a teeth-baring snarl of utter frustration. His muscles twitched with the desire to strike out, make someone pay for this final insult to a once proud race.

Over the years, Nappa had heard rumors about the utter genocide of his people from the lips of common soldiers and in the mocking tones of Frieza's lackeys. Whispers that any Saiyans who had not answered Lord Frieza's summons to return back to Vegetasei seven years ago and survived the destruction were subsequently hunted down and slaughtered by opportunistic bounty hunters seeking to make a pretty profit. He had come upon trophies in the back-world markets: Saiyan skulls and severed tails offered up like trophies alongside pelts and furs. It made him sick to think about it, and he had ended many peddlers' miserable lives as a result. yet, not matter how many necks he snapped, it could not bring them back.

He had not wanted to believe it; for his sake, for his people's sake, and for the sake of his prince. Yet it was true. Each find confirmed the truth, made it more real. There were likely no survivors left now, except for him and the boys … Frieza's personal trophies. If there were any Saiyans remaining, they were too well hidden.

Heu grant that Frieza hasn't found them all. Nappa offered up a silent prayer. Not that the Gods ever paid us much attention.

Nappa shook his head in sorrow, and once again tugged at his thinning hair. He did not even realize he was doing it. Unbidden, a growl began deep in his throat and vibrated throughout his body. Overcome by emotion, his tail came undone and lashed behind him, his aura flared an angry white, and he howled for their loss - a wordless dirge for a lost people. Because he was alone, he allowed himself to rage unfettered, until the anger burned off and faded into the background as dull embers ready to be rekindled when needed.

With reverence and an odd gentleness one would not expect from such a brutal man, Nappa gathered up the broken bodies and laid them side by side. Then he collected their personal property. Because their faces had been obliterated, he checked their tablets to find out their identities. Later, he would add their names and ranks into his personal logs of death.

"Choi. Achoccha. Kabok. Kohlra," he intoned, his voice was barely above a whisper.

Nappa remembered each and every soldier that he had fought with over the years. He had an excellent memory … but as the names and faces added up, he began to wish he did not. Each dead warrior weighed him down, so that now he carried thousands upon his broad shoulders. Eventually, their combined weight would crush him.

Now, armed with their names, he was able recall their faces. All were young warriors who had shown great promise, and their loss was a bitter pill to swallow. Now, only he would remember them. They might have been disposable to Frieza, 'only' Low Class fighters that no one cared about, but Nappa would mourn for them. They had deserved a better life and a better death, instead of being tossed aside like refuse.

They deserved to be free, and Nappa could grant them that. He could grant them release.

Nappa closed his eyes, drew in breath, and focused. A ball of purifying fire leapt into existence and hovered just above Nappa's scarred palm, growing and spinning, a tiny sun that would atomize flesh and bone. He allowed it to grow until it pulsed between his fingers like a brilliant blue gem, then exhaled and released the Ki sphere. It instantly consumed flesh and bone, vaporizing the bodies in a flash and leaving behind only lightened outlines in the dark, scorched soil.

"Choi. Achoccha. Kabok. Kohlra," he repeated, a litany of loss and pain. "Au ji'ta'or na'va, M'eh j'ho'kir au."

For a moment, Nappa stood in silence with his head bowed as a sign of respect. Everyone said that Saiyans were cruel and heartless beasts of war who cared nothing for their fellows, but that was not always true. Certainly not for the General, who carried his people's memories. To the outside, he was a ruthless murderer who could and would kill in an instant with no regret. He would go to his death putting forth that image ... but in his deepest heart he felt remorse at their loss ... especially senseless loss like this.

They were killers, yes, but they were not animals.

As he had so many times before on so many battlefields, he put his comrades to rest in a blaze of fire, ended the journey they had begun a long time ago, and committed their names to memory. The fallen had no family to tell of their end, and no legacy to pass on. There was nothing more he could do, no reason to stay and dwell on the past.

"I'm sorry, ge'tahu," Nappa said. "I really am."

Outside of twisted and useless wiring and a few ruined circuit boards, there was nothing worth salvaging from the Pods. In dismal spirits, Nappa collected the remaining tech, then turned his back to the gravesite and took to the air. It was time to go back before Frieza noticed he was gone longer than expected, to return to FP-79 and his miserable existence. He could not and would not call that sterile hive 'home.'

Once he touched down next to his own Pod, the hatch opened automatically. Nappa was so tall that he practically had to crouch to climb inside of the chamber. He settled into the padded and molded seat with little room to spare and triggered the hatch. Not for the first or the last time, he wished that the damned things came in more than one size. He had lost track of the number of times he had bashed his kneecaps over the years.

The onboard lights reactivated once the hatch closed and the seals engaged. Before he engaged the onboard computer, Nappa reconnected his location scrambler into the main board and turned it on. The small piece of black-market machinery responded with a high-pitched chirp and a green light began to pulse like a blinking eye. Any data sent to the main computer would now give a false readout ... if anyone bothered to check.

Although Frieza probably would get a laugh out of his extra-curricular activities, Nappa did not want the tyrant knowing about his personal business. That damned lizard already had enough control over their lives.

"Welcome, General Nappa. Please enter destination co-ordinates," the pleasant yet atonal voice greeted the former Commander. Sadly, that voice was often the only company he had for weeks at a time.

Nappa drummed his fingers against his biceps as he thought. "Umami System, Planet Frieza 82. Set slow burn. I will not be entering stasis. However, set an alarm for ten minutes before entering planetary orbit."

"Confirmed, General Nappa," the computer replied. "Ready to begin launch protocols at your command."

FP-82 was a waystation satellite that, instead of being purged along with its planet, had traded hands with minimum bloodshed. The natives were allowed to maintain a sense of independence in exchange for heavy tithes and the knowledge that they were no longer masters of their own fate. They had readily agreed in the face of Frieza's armies on their doorstep. Nappa supposed he couldn't blame them; they were weak creatures, after all. And hadn't King Vegeta agreed to the same thing in the beginning and accepted Frieza's lies?

Perhaps the Saiyan people might have been allowed to live if they too had rolled over and become passive slaves, but no self respecting warrior should be forced to accept such a fate. Well, except for Nappa, Raditz, and Vegeta … who had done just that. They too had been lured in with false promises. Once they had seen the truth, it was too late to run.

"Begin launch," Nappa commanded, then settled in for the ride.

Nappa usually programmed in a stasis cycle, but he was an hour away from his destination. There really was no point to it for such a short period; the drugs always made him feel sluggish even after the anecdote had been administered. Besides, he could use that time to fully check out the scouters and tablets, pull any information from them that he could, and log the data before pawning the components.

He could sleep after picking up some cheap supplies and selling off any spare parts. The commissary always overcharged the Saiyans, although they denied such a claim, of course. FP-82 was four hours away from HomeBase, and that would give him enough time to rest and recuperate.

Because he was on an 'unauthorized' trip, Nappa had maintained communication silence on both his scouter and his tablet. Both the scouter and his ship contained trackers, but he had jamming devices for both that effectively made him invisible to the prying eyes and ears of Zarbon and Frieza.

But it also meant that he was unable to check up on his charges while away. Nappa hoped that the two had not managed to destroy anything or piss off the wrong people during his absence. The two adolescent males tended to attract problems, especially Vegeta. That boy needed to learn some patience and humility. As he grew older, he was becoming more and more willful.

Gods help me when he starts his Burning Time! Raditz was bad enough ... but ve'ho has an attitude as wide as the galaxy, and refuses to listen to me. How am I gonna keep him from getting himself dead?

Nappa fretted - he always fretted - as he removed the chips from the damaged scouters. Each one would have saved dated incoming and outgoing communications, if they had not been damaged beyond recovery, and he could check their last communications if he so desired. Part of him wanted to see who had sent them to their deaths. Part of him just did not want to know.

The tablets were standard PTO issue, cheaply made, and still in use. One was the ji'tach group tablet, and the other four were personal units. Three out of the five were too damaged to even power up. Without better tools, Nappa would not be able to do much more than break into the initial subroutines. Not that there was anything urgent to be found ... just dust.

But that did not matter, because both scouter and tablet components were hot commodities in the underground, useful to those who did not wish to work within the Cold Empire's watch. Nappa loved the irony of building communication devices that were untraceable using the PTO's own technology.

Still, it was worth checking.

Each Attack Pod had compartments that soldiers could use to store personal supplies such as water, food, and other needs that might not be available on a conquered world. Nappa took out a filtered bottle, drank it in two gulps, ate a few protein bars, then tossed the scouter units into his mission bag. He needed to check the padds out for functionality so that he knew which ones he could sell, and which to save.

It was then that Nappa noticed that ... somehow ... he had brought along the wrong tablet.

"What the hell?" In his large and weathered hands, Nappa held the group assignment tablet. He knit his brow in disbelief and blinked his eyes. Granted, it was almost identical in appearance to his personal unit, but never before had he made such a colossal error. And he felt a bit foolish for not having noticed earlier.

Ah, I must be losing it - because I'm fucking sure that I took my tablet and put it in my go-bag before I left. I wonder if forgetfulness is catching. Although I bet there's another reason ... and its name is Vegeta.

As if it would change anything, Nappa turned it on. The familiar PTO logo showed up, followed by a stream of details: mission summaries for both Vegeta and Raditz, payments made, distributions, charges made to the group account, and notification of 'shore leave' - a euphemism for mandatory time down, often a punishment levelled against the Saiyans to keep them in line.

He was quite interested to see that for the last five day cycles, there were no active mission assignments for Raditz, but several 'requests' from Zarbon - not that the green-haired suckup ever asked for Nappa's permission - but no assignments for the prince, and only one purge in which the boys had participated together. Granted, they were on 'vacation,' but the lull in activity worried Nappa. He did not like it when things were quiet.

Nappa felt his blood pressure rise. Not only had Vegeta and Raditz not been working, but they had spent group funds without clearing it with him first … not that they could, since his damn tablet was back at the base. At least they hadn't figured out his personal codes ... gods help him if they did.

The only official completed mission listed on the group assignment log was the Cruton purge. Several crews had been in competition to win that assignment: a more delicate operation focused on cleansing the native fauna, but leaving all natural resources untouched. It was a prime setup for a salvage operation - if it could be completed in time - and likely to generate a hefty side paycheck for the victors. The Prince had built a reputation for himself over the years of being an expert at such assignments; rare items from the Palapheli job were going for exorbitant prices in some auction houses.

Winning their bid meant that goods needed to be fenced and contacts notified and here he was, light years away, with the group padd instead of his personal unit. Nappa was sure that the boys had not waited for him to return. Doing so would have been a risk, even if it was the sensible thing to do. And he was damn sure that Vegeta had pinched his tablet. That boy had no filter, did not know the confirmation codes, and was too arrogant to wait.

If they had arranged a meet and not followed protocol, it could compromise Nappa's tenuous relationship with his contact, if not end it altogether.

"Ma'tapa! Boys, I'm going to wring your necks when I get a hold of you!" Nappa yelled at the top of his lungs, even though no one was listening, and resisted the urge to plunge his giant fist into the walls. He had no desire to float back to the base.

Oh, how Nappa wanted to raise up those two little idiots on their scouters and chew them out. But ji'tach business was not for public consumption, and the scouter frequencies were as public as you could get. That, and he wanted to smash their skulls together in person a few times and hope that some sense would be knocked into them. Not likely, though.

Nappa was a reasonable Saiyan, but still a Saiyan nonetheless. The blood of warriors ran through his veins, and there was only so much he could take.

He could understand Vegeta going against his express orders. Vegeta, who believed that Nappa was an idiot and that he as ve'ho had the gods-given right to do as he pleased and damn the consequences ... but Raditz? Nappa had honestly thought the older youth had a more level head on his shoulders, and would be the voice of reason.

"Well, guess I was wrong," Nappa grumbled. Somewhere along the line, he had developed a habit of talking to himself. It never occurred to the giant warrior that perhaps he was placing far more responsibility on Raditz than he could, or should, carry.

Prince Vegeta was the most stubborn child that Nappa had ever met with during his life, and he had trained literally thousands of youths over the years of his long career. Even the King himself, a notoriously obstinate individual, had shown more self-control than his impetuous first born.

Well, that was not exactly true either. If the rumors were correct, those whispered in the most secret of places, the King of Vegetasei had met his end at the hands of Frieza himself in an insane and suicidal bid to challenge the tyrant in personal combat. Nappa would not have put it past him; in the last few days before his departure, the king had become notoriously unstable, and unwilling to listen to counsel. And now, look where they were.

Nappa rumbled in frustration as he stewed alone. And there was nothing he could do about it; if the boys had set up a meet, then the damage was likely done. He did not want to risk contacting them and alerting the Powers That Be, nor could he do any more than yell if he did reach them.

With a string of vitriolic and useless curses, Nappa tossed the pieces into the storage compartment, slammed it shut, then folded his arms.

With nothing else to do except steep in his anger (and where would that get him), he lowered his head against his bulky chest, closed his eyes, and dozed off. A wise soldier took any chance to rest that he could. And Gods knew he was going to need all of his patience when he dealt with the two younger males.

Breathe. Just breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. With sheer willpower, Nappa forced the thoughts out of his mind and was soon asleep.

Chapter Text

"Vegeta ... Come on, ve'ho - sit up."

Vegeta regained consciousness inside their small apartment, slumped over at the kitchen table. He had no idea how long he had been out; it had seemed like an eternity wandering around in the void of his mind. Raditz's voice, tinged with concern, pulled him out of his head and back into reality. Once he came to, he wished that he had remained behind in the dark.

He was freezing, and tremors shook his slight frame. Every fiber of his body screamed in agony; his chest felt like a planet rested on it, as if he was still in Burter's vice grip. He could not seem to catch his breath, so he was forced to pant.

"Raditz - I - "

He tried to speak, but the words turned into a coughing fit that sent jagged knives through his torso and turned his vision white. After it passed, Vegeta looked down at his hands. They were covered in a fine mist of blood, bright red splotches across the palms of his white gloves.

"That's not good," he mumbled and greyed out once again, only to feel hands upon him. The touch felt like fire, pulling at his limbs. Memories of the beating at the hands of the Ginyu Force flashed before his eyes: quick snapshots of senseless agony that reminded him of his helplessness... and it was happening again. Vegeta panicked and instinctively lashed out. "NO! Get your hands off of me!"

"Ah! Stop it, Vegeta," Raditz hissed. A dark bruise started to form on his right cheek where Vegeta's fist had made accidental contact. "There's something really wrong. We've got to get your armor off so I can check. Now stop fighting me, and help!"

It's just Raditz. Not the Ginyus. Thank the Gods. Vegeta lowered his eyes, ashamed that he had lost control and embarrassed that - for once in his life - he was too hurt to fight. With the older male's assistance, Vegeta tugged the cracked white chestplate over his head and then pulled up his blue undershirt. The simple movement of lifting his arms was torturous and he ground his teeth together while bright sparks danced before his eyes.

Breathe. Focus. It's only pain.

Vegeta was no stranger to pain, yet this seemed to be an entirely different level. How could a simple fist fight have done this? He glanced down and saw a dark bruise spreading along his right side. His ribs were broken, at the very least.

"Ohhhhh, tapa m'eh," Raditz mumbled, and his brows knit together. "This might hurt, Vegeta. Try not to hit me again, okay?" His voice dripped with sarcasm that, for once, went unnoticed by the distracted prince.

When Raditz touched his right flank, Vegeta discovered a new level of agony. It took all of his will not to pass out again. Unbidden and unwanted, the subtle whisper of panic began in the back of his mind. Another coughing jag rendered him speechless, and then he could only grumble in response. He did not have breath for much else.

The frown on Raditz's face did not help matters any. The long-haired Saiyan drew in a quick hiss as he continued to examine the injury, then licked his lips. Next, Vegeta began to get angry. It was a reassuring and empowering emotion, a safer place than the deepest well of fear. "What the - gasp - fuck are you making faces for?"

"Ve'ho, this is a serious injury. I - uh - I think your lung is punctured."

"Feh! I've had worse," Vegeta snapped. "You're just being a baby. I'll just walk it off. I won't let those fucking Ginyus have the satisfaction of seeing me limp to medical!"

Vegeta shoved the older male away, and out of his personal space. He chose to ignore the hurt look that flitted over Raditz's face. Raditz was always getting butt-hurt about some damn thing or another.

"Vegeta, you can't walk off a punctured lung, for Gods' sake! You can't even stand up without coughing. This isn't a contest. You need to go to medical!"

"We can't - gasp - you know that - gasp - Just ... fix it!"

Raditz stared at him, his eyes wide. Then he shook his long black mane and ran one hand over his face in a gesture of pure frustration. "Sometimes ... you expect way too much from me! There are some things I just can't fucking fix, okay? Your lips are turning blue. We're going to medical whether you want to or not."

"With what money? This wasn't a training injury."

"Auggh ... I'll find a way to pay for it. I always do, right? Besides, Nappa will murder me if you die on my watch." Raditz snaked one arm around Vegeta's waist to support him. "Now stop being an ass and get up."

"Get off of me! I'm not a weakling, I'll walk on my own!" Vegeta hissed in anger and pushed Raditz's hands away. To prove his point, he tried to stand. The movement set off yet another spasm, this one worse than the last. He clutched the end of the table until his hands went numb and waited for the fit to pass. "Besides we were just there earlier today."

Even though speaking made it worse, he bitched to distract himself. That, and he still could not miss chance to needle Raditz and share the pain. A sly smile curved the corners of his lips. "Maybe we should just move in. I bet that would make you happy, right? You can see that Doctor all of the time."

"I can not believe you're snarking at me." The tall youth stood to his full height and crossed his arms over his chest. His tail lashed in irritation as he glared down at his prince, his mouth a thin line. "Perhaps I should let you pass out, then I'll just carry your ass to medical."

"You'd like that. I should - " Vegeta found himself almost to his knees as he clutched his chest and hacked out more blood. The lack of oxygen was starting to make him feel lightheaded.

Maybe, Raditz is right. Maybe I am really that fucked up. The hell is wrong with me? It was just a damn fist fight...

Their argument was cut short by a loud buzz that repeated in three short bursts: the door enunciator.

"What now," Raditz moaned. With one hand, he tugged at a thick strand of his long black locks. "I'll get it."

Like I have a choice.

Vegeta closed his eyes and tried to find that elusive calm Nappa always went on about to ignore the physical distress, but it was so damned hard to focus. It did not matter, though. He needed to stand up and put his armor back on. He refused to walk out the door without any protection on his back. Now that he was extra vulnerable, anyone with a grudge could have a go at him. That, and his precious talisman rested in his pocket.

Vegeta did not remember taking the verdant gem out of its secret place, but he found himself clutching it in the palm of his hand. For a second, his body felt warm and the pain lessened to a dull yet manageable ache.

"Uh, come on in, Master Zarbon." Raditz spoke loudly, a warning that gave Vegeta enough time to put away the crystal and plaster a neutral expression across his face.

The teal aide took two steps inside their tiny apartment and glanced around, his heavy-lidded eyes taking in everything, judging them. His silver earrings jangled as he tilted his head to one side, looked up at Raditz, and sighed.

Tapa... This is the last thing we need.

"Ah good," Zarbon drawled. His gaze came to rest on Vegeta. "I see you're in. It does save me the trouble of chasing you down."

"Too bad we're leaving," Vegeta hissed through clenched teeth. He wrapped his arms around his midsection and met the General's golden stare. Through sheer willpower, he managed to stay upright without wobbling. "What did you want?"

"Ve'ho, please..." The subtle tang of worry came off of Raditz, and he could not help but glance back at Vegeta.

One of Zarbon's finely shaped eyebrows rose up, then a sardonic smile curled across his lips. He rolled his shoulders in a casual shrug. "Well, I might as well get to the heart of the matter since you are so busy. I have received numerous reports of structural damage to this floor, along with complaints from the residents about fighting. Am I safe in assuming that this is your handiwork?"

Vegeta narrowed his eyes and leveled a venomous glare at the Master of Assignments. Zarbon knew damn well who was responsible - he would not have been here otherwise so soon after the event. Hell, the Ginyus and he had probably already had a laugh about it and distributed his hard earned contraband amongst themselves.

"I - I can explain, Master Zarbon," Raditz stuttered. He always stuttered when nervous, it was his tell.

"Oh? I'm listening." Zarbon's tone indicated a mixture of boredom and amusement. He spun one hand in a 'go-on' gesture.

"The fucking Ginyus jumped me," Vegeta snapped. He stood with his head high and fought to keep from passing out and suffering further indignities. He would not give that pompous dandy the satisfaction. " So I defended myself. Take it up with them."

"You know that fighting is not allowed in the Residential Dome, Vegeta. I'm going to have to write you up, of course." Zarbon turned his head to glance back into the hallway, where the backup lights had kicked in, then returned to Vegeta's battered and bruised visage. "Someone has to pay for all the damage, as I'm sure you know, so I'll be sure to send the bill to your guardian."

"Oh gods, please, you can't tell Nappa! Please, Master Zarbon. Can we talk about it later? I've got to get Vegeta to medical, he's really hurt."

"That isn't my problem. Perhaps he should have chosen to take his personal problems to one of the training rooms we provide for just such a purpose." Zarbon, that arrogant fuck, was getting off on this! And just when Vegeta had not thought it possible to hate the ass-kisser any more.

"Um, Master Zarbon - can we please talk about this outside?" Raditz pleaded, and stepped out into the hallway in a vain attempt to keep the rest of his conversation from Vegeta's ears. It didn't work. "I'll pay for it all: the costs of the repairs, for the medical expenses. Just, please don't tell Nappa."

Zarbon did not respond at first. Vegeta imagined the preening fool flipping his braid about and purposely dragging it out just to spite him. The seconds dragged on, each an eternity of misery for the young Saiyan.

Oh for heu sake, Twinkletoes ... hurry it up.

"I'll do whatever it takes, Master Zarbon. I'll pick up extra shifts. I'll ... do the specialty party at Zunni's. You know I'm good for it."Even though Raditz spoke in a low tone, Vegeta could still hear every word. If he had not been slowly suffocating, he would have been far more intrigued. Later, he promised himself.

"All right. I'll see to the paperwork, and I will let you know the total. And honestly, Vegeta, no other soldier causes so much damage on a regular basis. Be glad that I don't bring this matter to Lord Frieza's attention," Zarbon sniffed, then paused and waited.

Vegeta leveled a glare in the blue man's direction. Clearly, he was waiting for a show of gratitude for his generous display of kindness. Well, he'd be waiting a long damned time.

"Thank you, Master Zarbon. I owe you." Raditz, however, had no issues with groveling.

Zarbon's chuckle sent a chill down Vegeta's spine. "Your concern for your Prince is so very touching. I wonder if he realizes how fortunate he is. We'll speak later, Raditz."

Raditz came back inside, his face a blank mask. Vegeta had the decency to pretend that he had not heard the entire conversation. "Come on, ve'ho. I'm taking you to medical now. Don't argue with me."

Vegeta was glad that Raditz did not offer to assist him. It would have been the final insult to his pride. Raditz did stick close to his side, however, in case he wobbled. Together, they left the apartment hallway and made their way towards the lift and ignored anyone they encountered.

The hallway showed obvious damage, yet already a maintenance worker was making repairs, another indication that Zarbon had spoken with the Ginyus before coming down to harass them. Hell, the last time that Nappa had put in a complaint to fix their broken door, it had taken over a month for someone to take care of it.

On the elevator, away from prying eyes, Vegeta sagged against the metal wall. He was shaking again, so he raised his Ki to warm himself and rubbed his arms. He side-eyed his comrade and continued to pretend nothing was wrong. And who knew, maybe if he pretended long enough, it might come true.

"How in the hell are you paying for this, Raditz? What kind of parties are you going to? What could you possibly be doing?"

In Vegeta's mind, he imagined Raditz running around in a skimpy maid's thought made him smile a bit, but the amusement soon faded in the face of the continuing fire in his chest. How much could being a glorified waiter and errand boy pay?

Like everyone else on base, Vegeta had heard rumors that Zarbon ran with an unsavory crowd on his downtime; that the teal prince was part of the extensive underworld circles that dealt in everything from illegal drugs to flesh to stolen artifacts, and everything in between. Vegeta knew that Raditz often acted as a go-between for many of Zarbon's less than reputable contacts, and he had often joked that perhaps the older Saiyan did more than party tricks... but did he really want to know if that were true?

Raditz shrugged off the question. "I said, don't worry about it, okay? We're a team, Vegeta. I've got your back..." He trailed off, leaving the implication of guilt unsaid. "We can never seem to get ahead, can we?"

"Are you blaming me?" Vegeta's temper flared, and he snarled. Then he broke into a coughing fit so severe that he collapsed to his knees. He barely noticed when Raditz helped him back to his feet.

It was the longest fifteen minutes of his life. The trip to the Main Hub took an eternity and at the end, Vegeta was barely aware. In his head he chanted his mantra: One foot in front of the other. Keep moving. I am an Elite, and I will not let them see me fall.


Chapter Text

Nappa shouldered the large sack full of supplies as he stepped off the escalator and started towards their small flat. Lines of worry and irritation creased his forehead and his jaw ached from clenching his teeth.

As planned, he had made a quick pit stop at one of the outworld way stations not under direct PTO control to restock their stores. He had bought some healing salve - on Base, the green gel was controlled with an iron fist - a case of dehydrated protein strips, and vitamin tablets. The purchases had used up most of the remaining credits in the group account. The boys had drained it nearly dry, another thing that he was going to give them a tongue lashing about. He had left specific instructions not to touch their mutual funds.

"Why do I always expect 'em to listen to me? Heh. I've gotta stop talkin' to myself."

The eldest Saiyan took in a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, then exhaled slowly ... the mantra he always preached to Vegeta. Becoming angry would not do any good, and he needed to calm down before he dealt with his charges. Although Nappa wanted to rant at them, he had to remember that he was the role model and to resort to base urges would probably end in violence.

Besides, Vegeta did not tend to respond well to coercion or aggression. He was arrogant, headstrong, and unstable. Nappa hated admitting that last bit, even to himself, but it was becoming more and more obvious every day.

As each year passed, the young noble lost himself piece by piece. A Saiyan who lost his self control and ability to reason became nothing more than a raging beast, driven only by instinct. All Saiyans were at their core primal beings, but were taught to harness their base urges under the guidance of their Elders.

And Nappa had tried, by all of the Gods how he had tried to teach the last Prince of Saiyans the necessary mental and physical control, how to properly channel his energy and wrath into constructive channels. But years of being beaten down on all sides by Frieza, by Zarbon and Dodoria, by the Ginyus ... the list went on. Any soldier with a mouth and an opinion had rubbed the three survivors raw, exposed nerve endings and worn them down to almost nothing.

This was true for Vegeta most of all. The venom of the entire PTO seemed aimed at him and nobody, no matter how much discipline they possessed, could come out unscathed.

If he could have, Nappa would have taken all of the assaults upon his broad shoulders in place of his prince, to uphold his oath to the Crown and keep Vegeta safe so that he could reach his full potential. But somewhere along the line, Vegeta had stopped accepting his help and pushed him away. It hurt him to the core to watch his Honorson lose himself, and to be able to do nothing to stop it.

The boy was just like his father, and Nappa feared that if he kept it up that he would meet the same fate at the hands of Frieza - if the rumors could be believed. And if that happened, Nappa's life would be worthless.

He shook his head once to clear his thoughts and really notice his surroundings, and that something was a bit off.

The day cycle lights on the sixth floor were dimmed, and the backup lamps on. How odd! The Residential Dome itself had not been blacked out, and the main floor well lit. Further down the hall, some of the overhead fluorescents flickered and hummed as if having a fit. The lighting had always been fickle, but this was more than an electrical tantrum. Probably another power surge, which meant dwelling in the dark until the maintenance crews got off their asses.

So Nappa was surprised to see that several of the lamps had brand new covers. He wondered what the special occasion was, since Maintenance rarely fixed anything outside of a gaping hole that would compromise the infrastructure.

What the hell was going on? Nappa's thick eyebrows knit together and he rumbled low in his chest.

Fresh scorch marks pocked the metallic gray walls: new additions layered on top of old dents that had gone mostly untouched since the infamous Trictic incident almost five years ago. The distinctive tang of ozone still lingered in the air, faint yet still able to be detected by the Saiyan's acute senses. He was not sure if it was from the blown lights, or something more violent. If there had been a recent fight, it probably involved Vegeta and that was never a good thing.

Closer to their apartment, he found a work cart filled with tools and cleaning supplies and the walls and floors showed obvious damage. Several ceiling plates had been removed. An open ladder stood in front of his door and one of the maintenance crew was hard at work. Sparks hissed and spluttered as the overalled being wielded an arc welder with precision. If Nappa was not so damn sure that his wards were somehow involved, he would have stopped to marvel at the sight of someone actually doing their job.

"Hey," Nappa shouted, "what the hell happened here?"

The man stopped welding and glared down at Nappa, his goggled eyes comically enlarged. He shrugged and flicked off the burnt edge of an active nicstick. "Power surge. I don't know anything else. I just do as I'm told."

"Power surge, nava m'yo," Nappa grumbled. He had not expected a straight answer, and was not disappointed. "Hey, while you're at it, fix the godsdamed short in the door servos!"

"Sorry buddy, that's not on the list. You want something done, you'll have to file a request at the Main Office, just like everyone else." With that, the man pulled his goggles down and went back to work.

"Asshole," Nappa snarled and suppressed the urge to knock the ladder out from under the man's feet. Instead, he punched in the entry code with more force than needed, and the double door slid open with a sputter.

Inside the tiny apartment, the lights were off and the gravity set to standard. He waved one gnarled hand over the illumination sensor; at least that still worked. Nothing seemed out of place at first glance, yet he could smell that faint metallic tang again, and he could hear a repetitive ticking sound that put him on edge.

Several opened packages of jerky and calorie bars lay scattered the kitchen table, along with partially drank bottles of water. One had tipped over and the contents had spilled over the edge, drip ... drip ... drip, like a metronome.

"Vegeta? Raditz? Where the hell are you," Nappa called out.

When neither youth spoke up, Nappa stuck his head behind the privacy curtain separating their sleeping space and then into the tiny excuse for a bathroom, looking for them even though his scouter showed what he already knew: the boys were not home. Those two idiots had likely buggered off to avoid being bitched out for stealing his tablet.

Speaking of tablets, neither Vegeta nor Raditz had responded to any of his earlier messages. Not that he had really expected them to, although he had hoped that Raditz would show some responsibility. So much for that. Well, he could run all over HomeBase and look for them, but chasing his tail would be more productive.

Just on a hunch, he pinged his personal datapad. In a fit of sensibility, one of the boys had left it behind on the kitchen table. Luckily, none of the water had spilled on the device.

A quick check of his most recent messages showed several from the group tablet, but nothing from the prince or Raditz. To make matters worse, he found that they had tapped into his private subroutines that contained information and codes for Skitter, his illicit contact.

Nappa drew his lips back in a primal snarl. His tail lashed in barely contained frustration. Not only had those little jik'hiu arranged for a drop off - masquerading as Nappa - but had then missed the meeting time. Next was a request for confirmation that changed for each meet-up and not providing them was a breach. The last message from Skitter gave distress codes, sent when either party felt the meeting had been compromised. There were no re-up instructions.

This was bad. Very bad.

Skitter was sketchy under the best circumstances, and their last group interaction had not gone smoothly. And now... those fool children had compromised years of work. Nappa knew it was futile, but sent out an emergency missive anyway and felt his heart sink when it bounced back. That meant that Skitter had discarded his tablet and there would be no second chance.

There was nothing more he could do, outside of rage until they saw fit to return or he hunted them down and murdered them. Well ... not really. Nappa would never dare to do actual harm to his prince, even if he really wanted to.

Vegeta was damned lucky that he was ve'ho; such blatant insubordination in the old days on Vegetasai would have been cause for severe disciplinary action at the hands of his superior officer. But the Prince of Saiyans believed that he was untouchable ... and that was true where Nappa was concerned.

Stymied, Nappa stormed around their living quarters for a while, swearing profusely to blow off steam. He calmed down a bit when he realized he was doing what he always scolded Vegeta for: throwing a tantrum like a young kit. With a huff, he stomped to the coldstore and opened the door. The cooler was mostly empty except for an old bowl of grains that had seen better days.

What the hell had the boys been eating? At least they had not drank all the gods-damned ales! He popped the cap with one fingernail and drained the first one in two gulps.

After two more beers, he felt better. After two more in rapid succession, Nappa had calmed down ... a bit. He unpacked, and restocked. Then he sat down and placed the scavenged mission tablets on the table and just stared at them for a long time, unmoving. Each one represented a life, snuffed out and forgotten. Nappa shook his head then, took another swig of his ale, and sighed.

Well, at least there was one upside to Vegeta and Raditz not being home. Nappa could put the memories of his fallen comrades to rest in private and not have to put up a callous front, for a while.

He hooked up each fallen Saiyan's tablet, one at a time, to his own personalized deck then downloaded their information into his master files. Name, rank, mission histories all added to the growing list: a tally of dead names and faces that he repeated out loud. It was not much, but it was his version of a shrine.

Nappa dared to hope that someday, when Vegeta was ready, he could show his prince that he had searched for his people, that each proud Saiyan warrior had been accounted for and that each one's life essence had been released to be reborn again ... if Cha'le, Lady of Fate, were kind.

The last Commander of Armies would never admit it out loud, but the loss of his home world and people had wounded him to the core and left deeper scars than any battle ever could.

The tally now came to sixty-five: ji'tachu, rebels, soldiers and even children that had been sent to conquer faraway worlds, spanning across seven years and thousands of light years; all slaughtered and tossed aside like garbage. Now, only Nappa remembered them, or cared.

Each time he added another name, another piece of him died. Nappa wondered if anything would remain by the time Vegeta reached his full potential, ascended, and exacted his revenge ... if he ever did. Nappa wondered if it was even worth it, if the legendary Golden Warrior was just a childish tale that he had been telling both the Prince and himself to keep their sanity intact.

Such morbid thoughts did not help matters any. Nappa continued to drink until all the bottles were empty. After a while, his eyes began to bother him. He shut off the lights, sat down on the misshapen couch that had somehow become his bed, and brooded in the darkness.


By the time they arrived in the Main Hub, Vegeta had lost consciousness several times, then blacked out completely. When he awoke, he lay prone on an examination table, stripped down to his britches with Raditz and Doctor Berra hovering over him, which meant that Raditz had carried him the rest of the way. He would have been more mortified by this insult to his Saiyan pride if he was not so fucked up.

Doctor Berra examined his wounds with her usual kind efficiency and did not ask unneeded questions. Vegeta did want her to treat any other injury besides his punctured lung; he wanted to remember the pain, not to brush it aside like a coward. But in the end he gave in, too injured to put up a good fight.

After a dip in the Medical Tank, Vegeta always emerged ravenous. So they had stopped by the Shack to grab some takeout, then decided to stay. After all, they were in a galaxy of trouble already. What were a more few credits in the grand scheme of things? Besides, food was always an excellent bribe. What Saiyan didn't love food?

Vegeta stuck his hand into one of the bags and took out a dumpling. The hot morsel burnt his fingers, but he barely noticed it. "Have you heard anything from Nappa yet?"

"Not yet. He hasn't yelled at us over the scouter, and I haven't gotten any irate messages, so I don't think he's on Home Base yet. Maybe we'll get lucky and get back home first."

"I doubt it," Vegeta muttered darkly. "We never do."

"A positive attitude, as always." Raditz gave a dim chuckle, then dared to tap Vegeta once on the shoulder in a gesture of solidarity. "It could always be worse. We're full, and Amaranth gave us those leftovers. We've got enough for a couple of meals. That ought to make Nappa smile ... after he beats us bloody."

"Maybe he'll kick your ass, but he doesn't dare touch me," Vegeta boasted. It was one of the few benefits to being the Prince of Saiyans.

"Thanks for reminding me, ve'ho. You're a ray of fucking sunshine, as always."

"You're welcome," Vegeta said, without a touch of humility. They rode the tram in silence for a few minutes before Vegeta spoke up again. "What the hell do you do at these parties, Raditz? You must be the most well paid waiter in the universe."

"My Gods, can't you just let it go? Oh wait ... it's you." Raditz grumbled. He scratched behind one ear and exhaled slowly through his nostrils. "Look, ve'ho, I said I'd take care of it, so you don't have worry about it. You never have before, so why start now?"

"You always bitch that I'm not interested. Now I am, and you're still bitching. Make up your mind."

"Stop eating the food, or there will be nothing left." When Raditz tried to snatch the container away from Vegeta to distract him, the younger male bared his teeth and turned to the side.

"Tch. I can just order you to tell me what's going on, Raditz."

"Ve'ho, I've told you before. I - uh - I'm not just waitstaff or muscle. I'm an entertainer as well."

"Ohhhh ... is that what you're calling it now?" Vegeta grinned and popped another dumpling in his mouth.

"As I was saying," Raditz growled, "I perform traditional Ki dances - "

"With or without your clothes on," Vegeta interrupted. His sardonic attitude had quickly returned along with his health. Unfortunately, the damage to his body had not been enough for zenkai; the Ginyus had made sure of that.

Raditz huffed, exasperated. "I'm showing off our proud Saiyan heritage for an appreciative audience, showing them that we are a noble people with a rich culture, and not just stupid monkeys. I thought you'd be pleased by that."

"The thought of you making a fool of yourself in public doesn't 'please me.' We're a proud warrior people built to fight, not prance around in our underwear, for Gods' sake! You're making me look bad."

"Ah... I see..." The tall youth's eyes narrowed and his mouth became a thin line. "And for a moment, I thought you were concerned for me. I should have known better. Let's drop it, okay? We've got other things to worry about right now. Like how pissed Nappa's going to be."

"Speaking of pissed, I hope that Zarbon kept his word and didn't tell Nappa." When the lift stopped and the doors slid open, Vegeta hesitated before he stepped out, glanced both ways down the hall and checked his scouter. He did not want to be jumped again.

True to his word, Zarbon had put in an immediate request for the repairs. Vegeta was relieved to find the broken lights replaced, the blood smears long mopped up, and most of the structural damage erased. The teal aide may have been many things, but he certainly was efficient.

The apartment was dark and quiet when they walked in. For a moment, Vegeta dared to hope they had gotten away with it.

"Guess we made it in time." Vegeta sighed with relief, a simple gesture that not so long ago had caused him extreme pain. He was exhausted; weary in mind, body, and spirit. He just wanted to lay down and allow his mind to rest as well before the next assault came.

"Welcome back. I've been waitin' on ya."

Heu m'yo ... they're in the apartment now!

Vegeta started violently. His scouter had not gone off, so he was caught completely off guard. His tail unfurled and frizzed. In an instant, he surrounded himself with Ki and pulled twins balls of flame into his palms. He would not be taken down so easily this time!

"Stand down, Vegeta," Nappa ordered and turned on the light by the couch. He had suppressed his Ki. His face was grim, his brow furled. He smelled like anger and alcohol.

"Nappa? Gods, you scared the hell out of us!" Vegeta disappated the brilliant orbs. His heart raced, the pulse loud in his ears. He had almost launched an attack in his own home, at one of his own, His face flushed red, and he felt foolish.

"So, boys, how was your week?" Nappa spoke in a casual tone. Before they could respond, he continued. "Y'know, a strange thing happened when I was out. I couldn't find my tablet in my go-bag. You two wouldn't happen ta know anything about that, would ya?"

Vegeta and Raditz stared at each other, mouths open and at a loss for words, quite an unusual occurrence for the prince.

"Um..."

"Tapa m'eh, he knows. We're so dead," Raditz whispered.

Nappa leaned forward so that his face was in the light. He did not look not happy. At all. The smell of cheap beer was so strong it blotted out every other scent. A sea of discarded empties lay scattered across the table, evidence of a binge. "Well? I'm waitin'. And this better be good."

"Um, Nappa ... are you drunk?" Raditz twitched his tail, and infectious nervousness radiated from him. He hated dealing with Nappa when the older male had been drinking.

"Don't try an' change the subject! Now whose idea was it?"

Vegeta panicked, and pointed an accusatory finger at Raditz. "He did it."

"What," Raditz squawked. "You miserable spoiled little shit! This is the thanks I get for bailing your ass out?"

Nappa stood up, all seven feet of him, his hands balled into fists. The veins in his neck popped out as he shouted. "This isn't a game, boys! You two are in a world of shit!"

Vegeta's eyes became dark holes and his tail began to lash. He ignored Nappa and focused his attention solely on Raditz. When he spoke, it was barely above a whisper. "What did you just call me?"

Raditz should have recognized the warning signs, but he had reached his breaking point. You could only push a Saiyan so far before they lashed out. Although he was the weakest of the three, he was not weak, damnit!

"You heard me, Vegeta! I'm not your servant." Instead of backing down, Raditz slammed his fists on the kitchen table. "You can clean up your own mess this time!"

Vegeta's eyes narrowed to pinpricks, and a curious tingling sensation spread through his limbs. Without another word, he launched himself at Raditz full force, struck the older male in the chest and knocked him off balance. They landed on the floor in a twist of swinging arms and legs.

They rolled around like beasts, seeking to pummel each other into oblivion, smashing up the furniture and breaking the couch ... again. Luckily, both were too angry to use their Ki; they just tried to break each other.

"Damn it," Nappa expanded his aura out in a white flash and bared his teeth in a rare display of dominance towards his wards. The strong odors of anger and aggression came from him as he forcibly pried them apart. "Knock it off, you idiots!"

Vegeta and Raditz continued to glare at each other as they panted from exertion, snarling and growling. The prince's small body trembled from the blind rage that had swept over him; it felt like he had gone somewhere else, stepped to one side for a few seconds ... and for a moment he had just needed to strike out. He could not get his revenge on the Ginyus, so Raditz was the next best thing.

"Feel better?" Nappa asked.

"No," Vegeta snapped. He touched his newly split lip with the tip of his tongue and winced. Raditz had gotten a few lucky hits in.

Nappa remained between the two, physically separating them while they calmed down. "That's enough. We're supposed to be ji'tach, a family! Now, let's try this again, boys. Whose brilliant fucking idea was it to arrange a meet without me?"

In a fit of pique, Raditz pointed at the prince. He had squatted down, still panting from the exertion. His right eye already had swollen shut, new bruises covered his arms, and one of his shoulder plates had broken off. "You can kick my ass later, ve'ho, but it's the truth."

"Yeah ... I figured. It's got your name written all over it, ve'ho. What made you think you could pull this off?" Although he was pissed, Nappa crossed his arms and gritted his teeth. He was usually the one most in control, but his patience was almost at an end.

"It's not our fault. We were there; he didn't show." Now that the adrenaline rush had started to wear off and he was back in his own head, Vegeta felt a little bad about using Raditz as a punching bag. But not bad enough to apologize.

"Arrghhh..." Nappa grabbed a handful of his black hair in frustration as he ranted. "You're damn right, he didn't, and I don't blame him! He was expectin' me, ya didn't have the ciphers, and ya were late. Ya know what you've done, Vegeta? You've fucked up years of work in five minutes! Skitter was the only one willing ta deal with us, and now he's disappeared. For good. Now I gotta make another contact, and that's if anyone's gonna give us the time of day after this giant cluster-fuck!"

"He's just being a bitch, Nappa! It's not like he's never seen us before. Besides, Raditz said he could get us a new contact. A better one. We don't need him. Right, Raditz?"

Raditz shook his head, and waved his hands. "Oh Gods... keep me out of this one, Vegeta."

The eldest Saiyan finally had enough. With one giant step, he towered over Vegeta and pointed one finger at the prince in an accusatory manner. "I should smash your thick skulls together, mebbe it'd knock some sense into ya! And don't try to push this off on Raditz."

Vegeta shrunk down instinctively, feeling small and vulnerable. But he put on a glower and stood straight again. "What are you going to do, Nappa? Hit me? I don't think you've got the balls."

Nappa growled low in his throat and dug his nails into his palms to keep from striking out at Vegeta, even though he deserved it. That boy was pushing it too far. "You ungrateful little br'at! I'm out there busting my ass for us ... for you."

"Doing what? If you were with us instead of joyriding around the galaxy doing Gods' knows what, then we wouldn't have needed to do it ourselves." With a snort, Vegeta crossed his arms.

"Vegeta," Raditz whispered, "maybe you should lay off."

Nappa stood silent for a few seconds, and just stared down at the boy he had pledged his life and soul for in disbelief, then sighed and scrubbed at his face with both hands.

"Okay. You wanna know what I've been doing, ve'ho?" Nappa turned, stalked off to his private drawer (which the boys had pawed through to take his tablet) and took out out all the items he had collected over all the years. Then he pulled up the hidden subroutine where he kept the dead and pushed it towards Vegeta. "Here. You wanna get into my personal files? Go ahead. Take a good look, ve'ho."

Vegeta stared down at the objects, confused. He poked through them with mild disinterest. "I don't get it, Nappa. Why do you have these things?"

"These are the only things that remains of the Saiyan race, outside of us three. I've spent years searchin' for any sign that someone survived, escaped the 'meteor' and all I found is death, Vegeta! We're it! I'd thought that maybe when ya got older, you'd wanna know what happened to your people. Ya oughta know that they didn't just go missing in action; they were killed and left to rot."

With a click of his tongue, Vegeta thumbed through the names and faces of fallen warriors. He had never met any of them, did not even know their names, but how could he have? For a second, he felt lost and guilty, as if somehow he had personally failed them. Then he got pissed. Anger was always safer.

As if any of this is my fault.

"It's just a bunch of useless junk, dead people's stuff. I can't do anything about it, so why should I care?"

"You should care, Vegeta! You're the Prince."

An odd buzzing sensation crept over him, spread through his limbs and numbed his mind. A detached expression came over his face and he looked up at Nappa, who was waiting for some response.

"They died because they were weak," Vegeta said, his voice flat.

"What?" Nappa blinked in disbelief. "Heu m'yo, that's Frieza talking right there ... He's fucking with your head, ve'ho, and you're lettin' him."

Vegeta rolled his shoulders in response. It was almost as if he was standing in the background, not quite aware of what he was saying. It was not the first or last time that would happen. "What do you want me to do? Do you want me to cry? Well, you'll be waiting a long time."

"That's it, Vegeta! I'm done!" Nappa screamed, unable to keep his temper any longer. "You don't care ... I don't care. You can take care of yourself, if you're so damn strong. I'm outta here."

For a moment, Vegeta thought his guardian was going to follow through on his threat, but he need not have worried. Instead of lashing out, Nappa grabbed his tablet off the table and pushed it over. All of the trinkets scattered to the floor, much like the lives of dead. Then he turned on one heel and stomped out of the apartment with another word, leaving the two younger males to stare at each other in stunned silence.

Nappa had left. He did not come back, nor did he send a message. Never once, in the entire time the three had been together, had he just left them like that.

Raditz exhaled a shaky breath. He always felt on edge whenever Nappa and the prince argued. "Wow ... Good job, Vegeta."

"Oh fuck off, Raditz."

"Why did you have to say those things, ve'ho? I think you broke him."

"Hn. He'll be fine." Vegeta feigned indifference, but he felt extremely unsettled. He was not sure why he had pushed the older male's buttons like that.

"Maybe he won't," Raditz whispered. "And maybe I won't either. Well ... I've got to get going. Thanks to you, I've got a black eye and I'm messed up. Master Zarbon's going to be pissed, too. Now it's going to take me hours to get ready for work ... You know, to pay for everything."

Raditz did not wait for a response. Just as Nappa had, he walked out the door without further comment, leaving Vegeta alone in the trashed apartment, among the ruins of their lives, the Prince of Nothing.

Chapter Text

"Fine! Leave! I don't need either of you anyway," Vegeta shouted in defiance. He snatched up the nearest object at hand and lobbed it at Raditz's departing back.

The cracked dish bounced off of Raditz's worn armor and shattered into razor-sharp shards that cut into the older male's exposed flesh. The tall Saiyan did not turn in response to the assault, nor did he say a word. Even worse, he did not so much as twitch his tail in reply. Instead he ignored Vegeta's outburst, mashed his fist against the exit pad, and marched out.

Vegeta clenched his fists tight and fumed in impotent rage. For a few seconds, he battled with the urge to run after Raditz and shout at him to come back and fight like a true Saiyan warrior should, then sensibility won out. To do so would be beneath his station and give Raditz all the power. No, he would not chase after the Third Class like a kit chasing after its mother's tail. Not the Prince of Saiyans!

Just in case Raditz decided to Saiyan up and come back, Vegeta crossed his arms and impatiently tapped one white-booted foot while grumbling to the empty room.

After a minute or so of huffing in annoyance, it became clear to Vegeta that Raditz was gone. He was disappointed, to say the least. He had hoped for a chance to vent his frustration further, but he should have known better. Raditz did not have the sack for it, and always chose to leave instead of fight ... the coward.

He stalked around the flat for a few minutes, still feeling prickly and worked up. In a fit of bad temper, he kicked some of the items that had not been destroyed in the squabble around - just for good measure - until it dawned on him just how childish he was behaving.

Then he stopped and looked around, really looked around. The takeout had been spilled, chairs snapped, Nappa's treasures scattered about, cushions and pillows lay about like broken bodies.

Dammit... he'd lost control, again. Their lives were in literal ruins but this time they had done it to themselves. No ...Vegeta had done it to them. Oh, how the Ginyus would roar with laughter!

Now that his anger had started to dissipate, Vegeta was left behind to deal with the consequences of his actions, something he was not fond of. There was no Nappa or Raditz to tell him what to do, or to do for him either. No one to help clean up his mess.

And where the hell is Nappa, anyway? How dare he disappear like this, ignore me? I'm his Prince. He's not going to get away with ignoring me!

Vegeta pulled out his tablet from his breastplate pocket and fired off an irate message to Nappa, to no avail. He extracted his scouter from under a pile of rubbish where it had fallen during the fight, placed it over his left ear, and powered it on. He ignored the military chatter on the general frequency, then changed to the private channel their jitach used. He fully intended to rip into Nappa, tell him to get his tail back here right now ... then thought better of it.

Nappa is probably just sitting around, getting more drunk by the minute and waiting for me to cave in, call him, and beg him to come back. Well, I'm not giving him the satisfaction. I don't need any fucking babysitters to keep watch over me.

Vegeta tossed the scouter down, then surveyed his domain with a smirk. "Screw those guys! Now I can do what I want. I deserve some peace and privacy. I am the Prince, after all."

His stomach rumbled as if to scold him. Well, there was takeout - whatever remained - and it was all his. No Nappa to nag him, no Raditz to bitch about chores, no noise.

Perfect. Right?

For years, Vegeta had wished for a space to call his own. His entire life had been structured from the moment of his birth; even when he was by himself, someone had always been nearby. Working for the PTO was no better: crammed into a tiny space fit for one soldier and hovered over by Nappa and Raditz, no room to move or breathe. He had chafed under the restrictions that kept him from independence.

Now that he was alone and had finally gotten what he wanted, Vegeta did not quite know what to do with himself. So he turned on the screen to the tittie channel that Nappa would never let him watch for background noise, and not to fill up the silence. He sat on one of the chairs that had survived, and gleefully ate the rest of the leftovers, Including all of the dumplings. Nappa would never be the wiser, and it served him right for leaving.

The minutes ticked by in slow motion, the food long gone, and still no word came from Nappa. The screen chattered meaningless syllables. The occasional tics and other sounds started to grate on his nerves. It made him jumpy. He kept expecting people to jump out of the darkness, people like Jeice ... Burter ... Guldo ...

Worst of all, he started to feel lonely. Vegeta wished that Raditz was there to groom him, for Nappa to grumble and rumble about, for company of some sort. As much as he hated to admit it, he still had not managed to overcome the social need that all young Saiyans had: to be part of a group, and it pissed him off.

I don't have to stay here. I'm not a baby, I can leave if I want. I can go to the Training Room, the mess hall. Hell, I can go to the Unincorporated Zone if I fucking want to! Nappa's not here to stop me.

He reached into his breast pocket, not even really aware he was doing it, and removed his talisman. The surface had been rubbed smooth over the years of being handled, and the touch soothed and relaxed him.

In the end, fatigue won out. With food in his belly, the warmth from the stone, and the after effects of a good rousing fight, Vegeta wanted nothing more than to sleep. He crawled into the lower bunk, which still smelled like Raditz, pulled the covers around himself like a cocoon, and held the gem to his heart.

As his eyes closed, gentle heat radiated out and spread through his body like a pulse. Just before he gave in to sleep, on the edge of consciousness, he swore that he felt a comforting hand placed upon his head, but he was out before he could think about it more. Darkness beckoned him, and Vegeta fell into its grasp.

He did not dream. It was a blessing.

Vegeta awoke to a full bladder and an empty stomach. He stumbled bleary eyed into the bathroom to do his business, and when he emerged he noticed the silence. He was still alone, and the apartment was still in shambles. There were no messages, of course, from either of his teammates.

Raditz was probably still at 'work', but where was Nappa? He should have been back by now. His brows knit together as he powered up his scouter.

"Nappa." Unspoken worries gave his voice a sharp edge. Vegeta waited for a reply, and grew angry when his steadfast guardian did not answer. "Nappa, answer me! That's an order!"

For the first time ever, Nappa did not respond to a direct order from his prince. In fact, there was not even a crackle to indicate the connection was active. Nappa always answered. What if something had happened? What if he had run into, say, the Ginyus? They would crush the giant Saiyan like a bug.

Don't even think about that, don't give it life. His thoughts slid sideways as plausible denial kicked in. The big idiot will be fine, he's just pitching a fit. When he gets in, I'll give him hell.

Vegeta scowled, yanked the scouter off his ear and glared at it, brow wrinkled. Was the damn thing even working? It was an older model with a green viewscreen that he had been given when 'taken into Frieza's care. It was scratched, dented, used ... just like Vegeta felt.

"Godsdammnit, Nappa." Disheartened, Vegeta threw the device to one side to lay among the wreckage.

Vegeta waded through the mess as he made his way to the shower, and pretended not to notice it. The only thing that had escaped the destruction was one chair with his armor. The yellow couch (Version 2.0), however, had not fared as well: it had been twisted into a misshapen lump.

He made sure to tuck the red crystal back into its pocket before entering the bathroom and shutting the door, even though he was the only one there. Next, he stripped down to his skin and checked himself over for wounds, an automatic habit. He could find no visual record of yesterday's fight; the med tank had done its job. Unfortunately, it had not been able to heal the kinks in his tail, or the scars in his head.

He stepped in and turned on the water full blast. It flattened his spiky hair against his skull and dug sharp hot needles into his skin. The other two were not here to claim their water allotment, so he could take his time, let the rhythm clear his thoughts.

The peace did not last. Flashes of his futile battle with the Ginyus sprang into his mind's eye; once again, he could see their leering faces and hear the taunting laughter as they pummeled him.

Why are you doing this ...

You're not welcome here ...

You don't belong ...

No one wants you here ...

Then his thoughts turned to his quarrel with Nappa, his mustached face painted with fury and hurt.

It's just junk ...

Y'should care, ve'ho ...

That's Frieza talkin' ...

You don't care, I don't care ...

Heu, why did I say that to him, why did I push him like that when he was just doing his job?  Vegeta pressed his forehead against the cold tiles and squeezed his eyes shut. Damnitall, Nappa's right. I should care. They're taking everything from me piece by piece, and I'm letting them. I can't let them win. I won't ...

He must have lost track of time again because when Vegeta snapped back to reality, he was chilled to the core, his teeth chattered, and the water ran ice cold. He turned the faucet off and warmed himself with his Ki until he stopped shaking and his lips were no longer blue. He wrapped in a thick warm towel and exited to the common room, expecting to find the apartment still empty.

Raditz sat at the kitchen table, repairing the damage done to Vegeta's armor. Their fight had finally done it in; the spider web cracks over the stomach had finally developed into a yawning fissure, and the right epaulet drooped.

He had picked up the rest of the furniture, swept the mess, and placed each of the fallen objects on the dented table surface. He looked exhausted, used up. Dark circles ringed his eyes, he appeared immaculate with every hair in place, and he smelled like he had bathed in a pool of cologne. Yet, there was a dark undercurrent of additional odors that were being masked.

"Eh, Raditz."

"It's about time, ve'ho. I was starting to think you drowned in there." Raditz's voice was dull and listless, but the slight tinge of sarcasm was present.

The initial relief Vegeta had felt upon seeing Raditz dissolved quick. He ran one hand through his unruly mane, now a snarled mess. "There's no warm water left."

In response, Raditz made a rumbling noise in the back of his throat. "It's a good thing that I didn't plan on showering here."

Vegeta wrinkled his nose in distaste and waved one hand in front of his nose. "Tch. Well, maybe you should. Whatever horrid perfume Twinkletoes hosed you down with stinks."

Raditz puffed up in annoyance, his hair seemed to raise up. He raised one plucked eyebrow and exhaled slowly through his nostrils. "You know, I don't have to fix your armor for you. I'm doing it as a favor. Perhaps you could show a little gratitude?"

The two Saiyans stared at each other for a few seconds, neither speaking, neither giving in, then Raditz raised a plucked and shaped eyebrow and exhaled slowly through his nose. It sounded to Vegeta like he was deflating.

"Speaking of gratitude, I'm soooo glad that I came back after working all night, just to find this place still trashed ... still. Not that I expected you to pick up. And in case you were wondering, all of the structural damage has been paid for. Nappa will never get a bill - will never even know it happened. So you're in the clear. You're welcome."

"I'm not the only one who was wrecking things," Vegeta snapped and crossed his arms.

That level of guilting was something that Nappa usually employed to make him feel like shit, and he hated it. Any sort of comeback would only make him look just like the entitled little br'at that Raditz accused him of being. But now, he refused to say thank you on general principle.

"Speaking of Nappa, I still haven't heard from him. I'm pretty damn sure he's ignoring me."

Raditz looked back up, said nothing for a few seconds that dragged on for what felt like an eternity. His eyes looked hollow, and a chill ran down Vegeta's spine. "Yeah? Well, I don't blame him."

"I - "

"Just listen for once, instead of talking over me! You really hurt him, Vegeta. Sometimes the wounds you can't see are the ones that fester. You ought to know that better than anyone else."

Vegeta ate all of the snarky comments that had sprung to his mind. Raditz was right - and he did feel a little bad about sticking a knife in Nappa's pride, belittling his guardian's efforts. If someone had done that to Vegeta, he would have thrashed them.

"Crap," he muttered, turned his head, and picked up one of the many artifacts Nappa had collected over the years - a small necklace adorned with the teeth of some unknown animal - and held it in his hands. This represented a life, he realized, and death. One by one, he picked each item up and examined them. A strong sense of melancholy washed over him. Was this really all that was left of the Saiyan race. a few trinkets and tablets?

Raditz did not take his chance to gloat at winning an argument. Instead, he picked the worn piece of armor that he had dropped during their verbal sparring match, and went back to work on the broken shoulder piece, reattaching it piece by piece. "It's finished. It'll be ready to wear in a few minutes, but you'll need a replacement soon."

Vegeta gave a quick nod to show he understood. Damn ... he would not be able to get a replacement for several more months. He scowled at that thought.

Raditz stretched, popping noises came from his joints. "Try not to get in any more fights, Vegeta. There's only so many times I can fix it before there's nothing left."

"Right." It's not like I tried to get into it with the Ginyus. "Um - thanks."

"Don't mention it, ve'ho." With a casual wave of his hand, the tall adolescent stood, went into their shared dresser and rummaged around, then pulled out a wrapped package. He flopped down onto the lower bunk, the springs made a groan of protest that Raditz ignored. With a practiced hand, he poured some dried leaves into a small strip of paper, rolled it, then lit it with a small ball of Ki.

Vegeta's eyes widened in surprise, then anger. He was not stupid, he knew what that herb was. "What do you think you're doing, Raditz?"

"Smoking."

"I know that," Vegeta snapped, and his tail lashed once. He clenched his fists and stalked towards the older male. "The hell's wrong with you? You can't smoke that in here, Nappa will be pissed if he smells that shit."

"He's not here, is he?" Raditz leaned back on the mattress, inhaled, then blew out a cloud of thick smoke that curled lazily around his head.

Vegeta's nostrils twitched and his lips pulled back in disgust. "Fah! That smells like shit. How the fuck can you smoke that?

"Sometimes I need to relax, Vegeta. You're not the only one who wants to forget." Dark bags ringed Raditz black orbs, almost as if he had been punched. When he met Vegeta's angered gaze ... he looked hollow, like a piece of him had gone missing. That unwanted thought sent a chill down Vegeta's spine.

"You want a hit? It'll make you feel better." Raditz offered the burning stick to Vegeta.

The young Saiyan's scowl deepened. As if he would ever stoop to such a thing! "Fuck no, that's a filthy habit. And I don't want to be dependent on anything."

Really, Vegeta? What about that gem you always carry with you?

"Suit yourself. Me ... I just want to forget for a while." The older male rubbed one hand over his eyes, scrubbed at them, then took another deep drag off of his joint. He looked old and used up, he stunk of many unnamed things that Vegeta did not wish to know about, and then when he shifted to get more comfortable ... Vegeta noticed that his tail, the symbol of Saiyan pride, was shorn bare. Now there was no pretending that Raditz was just a waiter carrying drinks for the PTO Elite. No,the truth was so much darker, and Vegeta was not sure if he wanted to know.

He stared, dumbfounded, for a good minute without speaking. In truth, he was unable to find the words. A Saiyan never shaved his tail willingly. Such an act was a punishment and an insult to one's honor.

"Heu m'yo, your tail," Vegeta whispered in a horrified tone. "How could you let Twinkletoes do that you? You shouldn't let him treat you like that!"

"Some of us don't have a lot of choices, Vegeta. The bill from your fight had to be paid and you weren't going to take care of it because you're the [rince. So, better me than you. After all, I'm just an expendable Third Class, right?"

Vegeta did not like the bitter scent that rolled off from Raditz and overpowered all other smells; nor did he like this side of Raditz. It was a new and unsettling change and it made his tail puff up in nervousness. He never liked it when he could not predict his teammates' actions.

"I'm ... going to go to training. You want to come with?" Vegeta offered. He wasn't used to seeing Raditz so worn.

"No. I've been beaten down enough for one night," Raditz said in that hollow tone.

"Fine then," he sniffed and pulled his repaired armor over his head. "I'm leaving. It reeks in here anyway."

Raditz did not acknowledge that he had heard Vegeta speak. He did not move, he just took another drag and continued to stare at the underside of the top bunk while a thick cloud of rank fumes swirled around his head.

Even though Vegeta had so longed for company, he chose to leave and go out on his own rather than watch Raditz fade away. That would be worse than being by himself.

The Prince of Saiyans put on a brave face and walked out his door, ready to be ambushed. When it did not happen, he breathed a sigh of relief. See? They've forgotten about you already. They have much better things to do than harass me. Besides, they got what they wanted ... to humiliate me. They'll let me be now.

If only that were true.

Chapter Text

The nasty smell of weed followed Vegeta as he left the apartment. Already the secondhand smoke had started to make his head feel fuzzy and the odor had infused his hair and clothing, to his irritation. He hated the stuff, hated it when Raditz smoked in the apartment. But most of all, he hated the altered feeling that indicated something outside of his control was influencing him. He did not want to lose his edge. He already suffered enough lapses, and the next might kill him.

He clenched and unclenched his fists to help relieve the growing anxiety in his body. It felt like live wires were under his skin, sending buzzing ripples of electricity through his flesh - a discomfiting sensation. Without meaning to, he turned back to look at their door, the metal surface dented and discolored from years of abuse. Raditz did not come after him.

Tch. What am I waiting for? Enough sitting around, feeling sorry for myself. It's time to run, time to fly, time to fight.

Vegeta did a quick check of his immediate surroundings, both visual and with his scouter. He had learned his lesson the hart way. All clear. He released the breath he had been holding in through his nostrils and headed towards the floor lifts to start his day. He had not eaten breakfast, and his stomach complained hollowly. There was nothing to eat, and he really did not relish the thought of a solo trip to the mess hall.

A grown Saiyan could go for days on his own reserves, fighting non-stop. Vegeta himself had done many purges where he was not able to rest or eat for over a day. One simply did not stop in the middle of a job if one wished to get paid. That did not mean they liked it... just that they could.

I'll worry about that when I get back. I'll make Raditz get off his ass and come with me, even if I have to drag him.

The mental image of dragging a stoned Raditz down the hallway by his long mane made Vegeta chuckle.

He exited on the Main Floor, along with other soldiers heading towards the trams to start their day of slavery in the Galactic Frieza Army, a sea of multicolored flesh and scouters headed out to conquer. The walkways were always full of beings coming and going at all hours, whether during the wake or sleep cycles. It was both reassuring and nerve-wracking to be surrounded by everyday people, just one of many anonymous faces. Vegeta made sure to keep alert, his eyes always scanning the faces around him and testing the scents in the air. A part of his mind tracked the larger power readings moving about, but none seemed to be reacting to his presence. Good...

It seemed that the Ginyus were not interested in a rematch today, or anyone else that Vegeta would need to worry about.

He almost made it onto the station when a teal hand clamped down on his shoulder and caused him to jump. His heart nearly exploded out of his chest and it took all of his will to keep his tail from frizzing out and standing up straight in pure fear. He pulled his teeth back into a feral snarl, an instinctive response to being startled. He spun around on his heel and crouched.

"And just where do you think you're going?" Zarbon's smooth voice washed over him like a crashing ocean.

Vegeta froze in place; his mind scattered into a million pieces. He was not the mighty Prince of Saiyans, Elite warrior and prodigy. At that second, he was a frightened child confronted by a hated bully. Heu m'yo ... did I just blank out again? Did I forget something? He wouldn't just ask me for the hell of it. Would he?

"Um ... I - I ... " To his horror, Vegeta started to stutter. He could not seem to get the words out. That was all he needed, was to appear even more like a slack-jawed idiot in front of Frieza's sadistic aide.

"Well?" Zarbon huffed. He folded his arms over his tan and white armor and tossed his head ever so slightly. The lush blue cape he wore rustled, as if he were generating his own wind, just for the effect.

"To see... Lord Frieza, of course." Vegeta enunciated each word carefully as he watched Zarbon's face for clues. What else could it be, after all?

Zarbon's deadpan expression did not alter. He clearly was not buying it. One green eyebrow crawled up his forehead and he clicked his tongue in disapproval. "Oh, really? That's odd, Vegeta, because the penthouse is in the other direction."

One manicured hand jerked backwards towards the Housing Dome.

"I thought the summons was to his office," Vegeta fabricated and put on a confident bluster that he certainly did not feel.

He stared into those hated golden eyes and wished that he could put them out with hot needles. Oh, he so wanted to give Zarbon a piece of his mind: about treating Raditz like a servant, like an animal, like a plaything ... have a princely rant about it, and make it look good.

But where would that get him? Beaten, scorned, busted down to nothing, assignments taken away, no food? Zarbon had him by the balls and Vegeta knew it. That son of a whore - If Zarbon's people even had mothers. He bit his tongue to keep the words from spilling out past his clenched teeth.

"I would hate to think that you were lying to me. Or perhaps you've just forgotten how to read your tablet? Go ahead. I'm waiting." Those silver earrings clacked together as Zarbon tilted his head and flapped one hand in Vegeta's direction.

It was true. A personal mission request, from Lord Frieza himself. Vegeta's face flushed a bright red in embarrassment.

Tapa m'eh... How did I miss this? Did Raditz know it was there, did he neglect to mention it to me out of spite? He wouldn't do that to me... I'm his ve'ho.

Dazzling white teeth flashed out bright in the evil grin of a predator ready to pounce. All Zarbon needed was fangs. "Oh, don't answer that. I'll just escort you there myself, so you don't get 'lost' again."

The hand remained on his shoulder, and the fabric of Vegeta's shoulder pad groaned in protest under the applied pressure. There would likely be indents left, another stressor for the already overtaxed fabric, and he would not be able to request a new chestpiece for several more cycles.

Vegeta side-eyed Zarbon. "Er ... thank you?"

"Hmph. You know, I am growing tired of playing monkey herder, as if I have nothing better to do with my time than chase you down." Zarbon pushed Vegeta out ahead of him and continued to speak ever so casually in a cheerful tone, like he might use with a chum. "I'm starting to think that you were purposely disobeying a direct summons from Lord Frieza. Your favor in Lord Frieza's eyes only goes so far, and you are plumb out of people who are willing to fix your mistakes for you."

Zarbon's obvious reference to Raditz made Vegeta sore. The image of the older Saiyan's shaved and nicked tail infuriated the young prince, but now was not the time to get into an argument about it. Zarbon was likely to decide that the bill was not taken care of after all ...

"Oh, and don't bother to complain to Lord Frieza that your buffoon of a guardian didn't get notice. That's because he didn't."

They rode up the lift to the penthouse level in silence, tension thick enough to slice, and Vegeta was marched down the hall to the ostentatious double doors. The two guards snapped to attention as Zarbon approached. They placed their hands over their hearts, saluted, then opened the doors. Both were hulking beings dressed in red and gold armor, each could bench press a small Pod with ease. They leered at Vegeta, and whispered to each other, then plastered nasty smiles across their faces.

"You'll wait right here until you're called," Zarbon ordered as if he were a disobedient child, and poked one finger to Vegeta's chest. "And you two, don't play with Lord Frieza's toys."

With another wicked sneer, he flipped his braid over one shoulder and entered the Icejin's domain, alone. Vegeta was left behind to wait like a commoner under the scowls of the guards, and wonder it the command to let him be was for real ... or just another veiled promise of violence.

Vegeta puffed up to make himself look bigger, cinched his tail tighter around his waist, and placed his hands on his hips. He glared up at the two beings with his obsidian stare; he would not be intimidated by his lessers. The Saiyan knew he was stronger than the both of them, and they knew it too. In spite of the fancy armor, they were not Elite soldiers, just rank and file that had the luck of the draw to get door duty. They were not expected to defend Frieza's domain; they were only for appearances, sort of like doorknobs, but with lesser intelligence.

But Vegeta did not taunt them or push his luck. He kept silent, senses alert for any movement, and waited. There was a time when this waiting game - and it was a game - would have driven him crazy, but he had learned some small modicum of patience. Yet still anxiety ticked in the back of his mind. Instead of giving in, he focused on his breath and willed himself to stillness.

"Do come inside, Vegeta." Frieza's voice cut through the false calm, sharp knives that raked at the young prince's spine.

Zarbon hovered at the threshhold, an unforgiving majordomo, his face unreadable. He walked in, took his time, and pretended that he was a king entering his own throne room, one noble coming to another. He passed Zarbon by with his head held high, not allowing any sign of his internal turmoil to register on his features.

All the Gods of Battle and Blood, please give me strength. I can not lose it in here. He was not religious, per se; the Saiyan Gods had never seen fit to listen before ... but at this point it could not hurt.

The tyrant reclined in his hover pod and had his back to the door, an indicator that he did not consider Vegeta to be a threat. More mind games.

Vegeta entered the wide sitting room, decorated in understated artifacts, escorted by Zarbon. Behind him, the heavy doors slammed shut with finality. Vegeta swore that they had been programmed to make that noise, just as an additional level of intimidation. As always, he grudgingly lowered himself to one knee and gave the traditional salutation.

"Prince Vegeta reporting as ordered, Lord Frieza."

Frieza did not reply. He continued to look out the bay window that dominated most of the room, one hand wrapped around a fine crystal wine goblet, as always.

Vegeta was forced to remain in a position of supplication, on his knees. The seconds ticked on, each one a tiny eternity of humiliation, yet the Icejin did not acknowledge him. Breathe. Focus. He would not speak out, lose face with complaints. He managed to remain in that position, eyes downcast, until Frieza deigned to turn his hoverseat  around.

"Ah, Vegeta. I did not see you there at first." Frieza pursed his black lips and tapped the stem of his glass. "I am so glad that you decided to reply promptly to my missive. Do rise, and come stand next to me."

One clawed hand gave a languid wave, indicating that Vegeta should join him. He did as he was told, and managed not to jump when that hand descended to rest on his shoulder.

"My guardian isn't here to approve any solo missions, Lord Frieza." Vegeta could feel Zarbon glaring daggers at his back, and he allowed himself an internal smile. The teal aide would likely get a chewing out for not following orders, even though he had.

"Oh my, I was unaware that I needed to report to the General as to my wishes. Do forgive my manners. It shan't happen again. Now I might have sent the request to General Nappa, except that you were the only Saiyan available. I'm sure you have nothing else more important to do, so I asked Zarbon to clear your schedule for you."

"Thank you, Lord Frieza." By now the obeisance fell from his lips easily, meaningless syllables to fill urftp the silence.

Why does it matter that I'm Saiyan?

"It's a lovely view, isn't it?" The dictator paused to sip from his goblet, then held it out for Zarbon to refill. The tall warrior fetched a phial and filled the glass without a word. At least Zarbon was somebody's bitch.

Vegeta was uncertain if Frieza was speaking rhetorically - something he did on a frequent basis - so he chose to keep quiet and bobbed his head in reply. It was often best to let Frieza do the talking. Saying the wrong thing could lead to anything from a cuff across the face for speaking out of turn, to being stripped of food rights, to ... well ... Vegeta knew that there were far worse things than missing a few meals.

"Tell me, Vegeta, what do you see?" Frieza looked down at him, an indicator that he was looking for an answer this time.

Is this a test? Vegeta stared out at the panorama and racked his mind to find the right answer.

Before his eyes, the Cold Empire sprawled out like an invading species, engulfing the bare surface of the purged world and covering it in cold fingers of metal and concrete. Ships buzzed back and forth, shining insects that traded in goods and death, both the lifeblood of the PTO. Beyond the horizon, the sky was dark and cold due to the lack of atmosphere. The far away suns appeared like bright pinpoints through a dark cloth but did not provide much warmth.

"Well? I'm not talking out loud for my health."

Vegeta decided to play it safe. "I see ... HomeBase, my lord, the seat of the North PTO. Your empire." He snuck a quick glance at the pale purple face, at the cruel red eyes that sat below the bone white horn ridges. He did not say that he saw destruction, hopelessness and loss.

"Saiyans are so literal. No imagination." Zarbon spoke in an aside, as if Vegeta was not standing right there.

"Do shut up, Zarbon," Frieza ordered, and Zarbon's jaw dropped. Clearly the teal aide had expected to be praised for his wit, not chastised.

"We can only expect out of the poor child what we put in," Frieza purred and moved one hand to caress Vegeta's ebony hair as if he were a prized pet, a horrible parody of Raditz's grooming.

In response to the touch, all of his muscles locked up and his breath started to come faster. It took all of his concentration to keep from shaking. Focus. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Don't move, don't react ...

"Now Vegeta, you can do better than that. I want you to look again, really look. Do you know what I see?" Those dagger fingers pressed against his skull, and Vegeta squeezed his eyes shut.

"No, Lord Frieza. Please teach me."

"Good boy. I see my Empire, of course, but I also see it as an extension of myself. Thousands of worlds, millions of ships, billions of sentient beings, each one a part of my body and will, all acting as one ... and I am at the center. The mind of the PTO, as it were."

Just when Vegeta thought it could not get worse, Frieza's hand came to rest upon the nape of his neck, and the claws grazed the surface of his skin ever so slightly.

The hairs on Vegeta's entire body stood up in automatic response and Vegeta froze, like prey under the paw of a hunter ready to pounce. His breathing came in short spurts as he fought to control himself. He bit the inside of his cheek, tasted the metallic tang of blood, but he did not cry out. Nor did he respond outside of a curt nod because he could not have spoke if he wanted to.

"But, you see, the body can only function properly if each and every piece, every cell, every drop of blood does its part. If something is not working right, or is diseased, this affects the whole."

Vegeta dared to look up at Frieza, floating in his chair, a mad dictator who thought he could control everything. He really IS insane! The young noble's eyebrows knit together, and ice ran down his spine.

"I'm not sure I understand, Lord Frieza."

"Oh, it's simple, really. Even though my subjects are under my control, there are plenty of chances to make something of yourself, to prove yourself worthy of being part of the whole. So, you would think that only a fool would throw away that chance to earn greatness and make a name for himself. Now, you are one of my star pupils, Vegeta, an example of applying yourself. Well, except for that small snafu of a few years ago, of course."

"Thank you, Lord Frieza." Vegeta cast his gaze back to the floor so that Frieza would not see the look of horror that crossed his features. Whenever the Icejin took a personal interest in him, it never seemed to work out well.

"But there are people who just won't get with the program and continue to defy me, think they can 'go it on their own' ... as it were. Ungrateful fools who scoff at the opportunities provided to them by the PTO to advance themselves. They are the disease, and they need to be cut out, removed, in order for the Empire to grow. And, that's where you come in, my young protege. I want you to find this disobedient little cell and persuade him to come back to the fold. You can do that for me, can't you, Vegeta?"

Since the mission to Palaphel five years ago, Vegeta had gone out of his way to keep his head down and his tail wrapped to avoid any undue attention. Come to think of it, that was the last time that Frieza had sent him out on a 'mission just for him' ... and it had nearly cost Vegeta and the rest of the Saiyans everything.

Vegeta could smell a setup, and did not even need his sensitive Saiyan nose to do so. He wracked his brains to figure out what he had done recently to put himself back on Frieza's shit list. How could he get out of this with all of his body parts still attached? Was there even a point in trying to?

Frieza cleared his throat, and Vegeta realized that he had drifted off and not responded.

"... Yes, Lord Frieza. May I ask a question?"

"Of course," Frieza spoke in a lazy tone, an almost bored expression on his face, as if waiting for Vegeta to bury himself with each word.

"Why not send someone more experienced?" The words rolled off his tongue, and he wished to grab them, stuff them back before the damage was done.

"Are you questioning my judgement?" Frieza went from calm to seething in a second. The hand resting on Vegeta's neck applied pressure and the nails bit in. "Vegeta, I have decided that you are the best ... man ... for the job. This is not child's play. You are a Prince, after all, and should be suited for more than just mindless destruction - unless I've seriously misjudged your potential for all of these years. I would hate for that to be the case ... I hate wasting my time."

The implied threat did not go unnoticed by the young prince. Not that it was really all that 'implied'. Vegeta knew his favor with the fickle tyrant often was on a razor edge. One wrong move or word... Tapa, he hated being so damned helpless!

"It's just one little disobedient Low Class soldier and his band of lackeys. You can handle that. Besides - I think that you are uniquely suited to bring him back into the fold. You and he have much in common. In fact, I think you are the best chance of helping him to see the error of his ways."

Zarbon gave a small chuckle from behind. Vegeta started; he had forgotten that the blue skinned advisor was still there, lurking.

"It's simple," Frieza continued. "Prove your loyalty and your usefulness, show me that you are the adult you wish to be, and I will make sure you are properly rewarded. Bring him back or make sure he isn't able to bother anyone. Ever again."

Now Vegeta knew that Frieza was up to something. He did not trust himself, so he just let the old training kick in. He bowed his head, gave the salute in hopes that a little lip service might please. "Lord Frieza, I would be honored to take this personal mission, but my guardian isn't here to approve it. I should probably talk to Nappa about this."

"Tsk tsk," Frieza tutted, and the undertone of amusement was clear. "Vegeta, you are my ward. Informing Commander Nappa is just a formality. You are mature enough to handle this without a grownup by your side, aren't you? What is it you always like to squawk at every chance? Oh yes ... 'I am not a child'. " And Frieza cackled with glee.

That jik'hi, playing the pride card. He had been outmaneuvered, again. Vegeta scowled. To say 'no' was not an option if he valued his skin.

"I've already taken the liberty of preparing a Pod for you. Relevant details of the mission will be sent to your tablet. I look forward to reading your report when you return. You are dismissed. Zarbon, escort him to the Launch Pad. I don't wish for him to get ... lost. Again. And Vegeta, do come back."

With the flick of a wrist, Frieza spun his hoverpod around so that his back was to the prince, but Vegeta gave a salute anyway. He knew that there were cameras everywhere, and any sort of disrespect, even that 'unseen' would earn him punishment. He would bow his head and bite his tongue like a good boy, but Frieza could not control his thoughts ... or could he?

"Let's go," Zarbon cooed and gave him a rough and unnecessary shove.

Vegeta narrowed his eyes and wrinkled his lips into a quick snarl, but that was all he dared to do.

"Terrifying," Zarbon drawled. "I wouldn't want to be on your bad side."

Vegeta directed a baleful stare at the aide. He had never hated the man more than at that moment, and that was saying a lot.

Vegeta was escorted directly to the Launch facility with no detour. They did not even stop by Equipment for basics such as food and water. The two did not speak one word; Zarbon spent the entire time with his nose in the air as if he was afraid to be seen with Vegeta in public.

Zarbon spoke with the purple-skinned launch tech briefly and handed her a chip - presumably from Lord Frieza's hand - then turned on one heel without speaking to Vegeta. His cloak fluttered out behind him as he took his leave.

"Wait," Vegeta called and chased after him. "My assignment details still aren't here. I'm not going to be sent out without a briefing, am I?"

Zarbon, the Master of Assignments, did not turn his head. He kept moving forward, and Vegeta was forced into a trot to catch up with him.

"I am not involved with Lord Frieza's personal projects. You will have to wait. I know that is not your strong point. You can find your way to your ship, correct?" And he swept away before Vegeta could answer, leaving him to fume in silence.

Dock Master Pere watched the tense exchange, but made no comment as usual. In all the years that Vegeta had worked with her, she had never taken part in PTO politics. Her webbed hands flew over the controls with precision, entering in the coordinates.

"All right, Prince Vegeta." She nodded her bald dome in his direction. "Your Pod is programmed and ready to leave when you are."

"Can you give me any details at all?" Vegeta hoped that she had not been ordered to silence by Zarbon just out of spite.

"Let's see ... your trajectory is to the Flann system, fourth planet, which is unnamed. Total travel time two standard days with the option of cold sleep. I'd recommend it, it can get pretty dull in that little Pod. You are launching from Tube Seventeen."

What backwater system was he being shipped off to now?

The walk down the launch tube towards the yawning sphere seemed to take forever, each step an eternity. Although he had mostly managed to get his fear of getting into the small vessel under control, he still had to consciously force himself to relax.

Breathe in, breathe out. Count each step. That's all that exists.

Vegeta settled into the padded seat, still riding the fine edge of anxiety, strapped himself in with the body harness, then performed the necessary preflight checks. The fact that he had been unable to stop by his flat or Equipment for supplies worried him, but there was nothing he could do about it now. Zarbon had made sure of that.

Once outside of the atmosphere of FP-79, the pull of gravity released him and he was able to disengage the harness to sit in better comfort. It always made him feel smothered.

Instead of going into cold sleep, per the suggestion of the onboard computer, he spent the next hour listening to the open ji'tach channel and obsessing over his tablet for the promised mission specs. Clearly, Frieza was still fucking with his head.

"Nappa! Raditz? Somebody answer me!" He fought to keep his voice level, and not sound desperate. Hell, he'd take talking to Raditz's stoned ass right then.

The lack of communication from his ge'tahu only served to make him worry more. After one more check of his scouter's internal components to see if it was malfunctioning, he could only conclude that he was, truly, on his own.

"Computer, initiate sleep cycle," he grumbled and succumbed to a state akin to death.


 

"You have arrived at your destination, Prince Vegeta."

Vegeta swam to consciousness with little effort and no physical ill effects. It disturbed him that he could lose entire days in that manner in the blink of an eye. It reminded him too much of the fugue states to which he had become prone to. He checked the chronometer: fifty-eight Standard Hours had elapsed.

"Computer, status report."

"You are in orbit of Planet XG23-F4. The atmosphere is breathable, potable water is present, and gravity is twice Standard Units. No discernible electrical signatures or emissions are detected that would indicate sentient life on any level. Atmospheric re-entry ready to begin at your command."

He grunted in response to the update. The oddly feminine voice had become almost like a friend over the years and hundreds of missions that he had performed. How sad was that?

Vegeta looked out the front window at the spinning globe below - a blue and green planet that sparkled like a gem against the black backdrop of empty space, an oasis of life. His target lay below, hidden ... somewhere, and he still knew nothing about his target.

I swear, if I'm going in blind ...

When he powered up his tablet, he found a blinking message waiting for him. Vegeta felt a wave of relief wash over him, and he realized he had been holding his breath.

"Finally," he said to himself in an exasperated tone. "Some damned information."

 

MISSION BRIEFING


Planet Flann: Class M world. Atmospheric mix: nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen. trace gasses. Gravity: 2.0 Standard. Satellites: Zero Civilization grade: Zero. Ki readings: negligent

Mission time: Not specified

Goals:

1) Locate AWOL soldier 2) Extract or exterminate target 3)Exterminate any associates

Relevant Mission details:

Target is known to associate with active pirate groups

F-4 is suspected as a temporary base of actions

See attached personnel file for details


When he tapped the link with the tip of his finger, it pulled up a standard mug shot taken of all PTO soldiers upon consignment into the Galactic Frieza Army. They were never flattering, and often several years out of date.

Vegeta stared at the image of his target: a muscular male with dark spiked hair, long bangs, a cocky grin on his face, and a dark complexion that Vegeta had not seen since Vegetasai. He wore the standard issue green scouter and blue armor with dark gray accents. The picture was from the shoulders up, but slap a tail on the man and he could easily be a Saiyan.

It can't be ... There's no one left. Nappa's been searching for years... he's checked, I've checked, hell ... we've all checked. With a growing sense of dread, he scrolled down to the personnel data file, afraid of what he might learn.

=====================
Rank: Private Second Class

Name: Turles

Species: Saiyan

Last known Power Level: 1700 - Low Level Soldier

Previous Alliance: Saiyan Army

Prospects for advancement: none

Status: Defunct
====================

Vegeta's heart stopped. His face turned white and he started to shake, his breath came in quick gasps as he started to hyperventilate.

Oh Heu m'yo, f'ri! ... There are survivors, and Frieza has me hunting them!

He lowered his head and forced himself to breathe slowly. After a few minutes, the panic began to subside as the anger set in. Frieza, that matapa ... has set me up to fail, again! I swear ... if it's the last thing I do ... I will get him back for this.

"Nappa, come in. I'm ordering you to answer me!" He managed to keep his voice level, in case Frieza and his cronies were listening in, looking for a laugh at his expense. He would not give them the pleasure."Nappa, answer me ... please..."

His reply was nothingness, the cold void of space, and Vegeta despaired.


Chapter Text

Vegeta's Pod entered the upper layer of the atmosphere, a thick miasma that buffeted the frame of the small ship without mercy and pressed his small frame against the restraints. The hull started to glow, first a dull red and then as it heated through the spectrum to a bright white. Inside, the young Saiyan began to feel the effects of the descent. Drops of sweat broke out on his forehead, beaded up, and rolled down his brow to obscure his vision. He wiped the liquid away with one gloved hand, huffed, and slapped the environmental control with a closed fist to start up the cooling process. After double-checking his harness buckles for what felt like the umpteeth time and ensuring the landing program was active, Vegeta settled in and crossed his arms to wait. There was nothing else he could do at that point except wait since he was now figuratively and literally blind.

Dark clouds surrounded the tiny vessel in a smothering blanket so thick that Vegeta could not see past the surface of the round plexiform window that covered most of the hatch. Inside the cabin, klaxons blared and the lighting dimmed as power was diverted to the hull. The lack of visibility only served to raise his anxiety levels; he reminded himself that he had done this plenty of times before - in worse conditions - and he had no reason to worry. Just breathe and focus, breathe and focus..

He had programmed for a soft landing, as not to sent up a giant warning when the ship crashed down like a meteor. Anyone with eyes or ears within twenty miles would have notice, and he did not want that. The element of surprise was a valuable tool, especially since he did not know any information about the mission, outside of the target.

No, not just any target… a fellow Saiyan that Vegeta was being forced to coerce back into servitude if he valued his own life. What a cruel trick to play; the Prince of Saiyans, reduced to a hound of the Empire, doing Frieza's dirty work for him. It made the young royal want to vomit. The first survivor he heard about since losing his world, and he was supposed to do what... Drag him back by the tail? Kill him?

Vegeta would rather be damned before he would kill one of his own, no matter how reprehensible they might have become. But could he blame them for bailing and going out on their own, giving Frieza the big 'fuck you'? Honestly, if Vegeta could, he would do the same. But he knew damn well that he could never get away with it. Frieza would never let his pet Saiyan go. He would be hunted down full force, dragged back, and ... well, he would probably find that death would be a kinder alternative to the hell Frieza would rain upon him for fleeing.

The strongest of all Saiyans was a slave in all but name.

"Warning: surface approaching. Slow burn jets initiated. Brace for touchdown in in five .. four... three... two ... one ..."

The ship shook and tossed something awful as the thrusters kicked in to slow the downward fall to a comfortable level before it struck. Soft, nava m'yo, Vegeta thought as the vessel slammed into the ground and shook him so hard his teeth jarred in spite of the restraints. Hell, if the fugitives did not realize he was on planet by now, they were fucking oblivious.

"Landing cycle complete. Atmospheric gasses are within acceptable limits; hatch may be disengaged at your discretion, Prince Vegeta. Welcome to Planet XG23-F4"

Vegeta grunted in response and took a few seconds to let the ringing in his ears stop. The PTO was not big on treating its soldiers with respect, so he never understood why the onboard computer was programmed to be so polite. It was another useless mystery that he would never solve, along with such things as what the grey cubes in the mess hall were actually composed of, and whether or not Twinkletoes plucked his eyebrows.

He activated his scouter app to scan for nearby power levels; the thing had been useless during the landing and it continued to be so. Something in the planet's atmosphere must have a dampening effect and he found no readings. At all.

Just as a check, Vegeta scanned himself and discovered that his reading was muted as well. Good to know. The left side of his mouth twitched once as he turned the useless thing back off for the time being. It was great for someone trying to be stealthy, but also good for someone wishing to hide.

Not for the first or last time in his career, Vegeta wished that he did not need a scouter to detect power levels. Granted, sometimes he thought he could feel ki on his own, but more often than not it was in his head. Saiyan legends told of warriors who could sense their opponents' life force just by concentrating. Now wouldn't that be a wonderful skill!

Not only was the scouter useless, but Vegeta could not seem to get a comm line out either. Even the PTO general line, the strongest signal in the galaxy (and it had to be to reach the far lying worlds of the PTO) was essentially nothing but garbled static. Unless there was another reason that he could not reach his ji'tach… something more sinister perhaps.

"On my own in every way. Figures." Vegeta clicked his tongue and sighed. "Well… time to stop screwing off. Computer, open the hatch."

With a hiss, the hatch swung open to allow Vegeta his first up close and personal look at the fourth planet. Thick mist rolled into the interior in great billows and made it difficult to see more than a few feet. Foreign sounds, a riot of them, assaulted his ears at once: screeches and hoots, cracks and pops, howls of unknown beasts. The air itself was thick, damp, and smelled of wet vegetation with a hint of foetid rot.

Once his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, Vegeta crawled out and stepped out onto the spongy ground. The textured soles of his boots sunk into the soft dirt with a moist 'squish' and released a horrid smell that was thick enough to chew. He had landed in a dense forested area full of thick ropy vines, patches of marshy land, big leafy trees and moss-covered ground cover. But the computer had chosen a small area free of large flora to land in. Was this a natural occurrence, or had it been cleared out by sentient life for such a purpose?

An optimistic check of his surroundings showed no obvious life forms. The background noises had started up almost immediately, which meant that the creatures here were not off put for too long by new their environment. Perhaps they had gotten used to the purported comings and goings of the pirates.

Vegeta sniffed to pick up the ambient scents: stagnant water, living plant matter, the faint tang of decay, and the remaining odor of burn from the Pod's scalding hull touching down - still sizzling a bit. He opened his mouth slightly as he sampled the air on the back of his tongue. A Saiyan's sense of smell was very sensitive and was often better than sight at detecting problems. And this place, well, it reminded him of a rotting trash heap. The thick green sky did not help matters any.

"Why the hell would anyone choose to stay here," Vegeta muttered, already in a bad mood. He slapped at a bug that dared to land on him, bite him. The chitinous creature splattered under the force and left a bright splotch of orange fluids smeared across his palm. "Ugh…"

He squatted down, wiped his hands on the ground, then took a few sips of bottled water - at least there had been a few in the Pod - and waited to see what response there would be to his arrival. Had anyone been paying attention or able to monitor incoming ships? If so, did they care, or was this just another means to mess with his head and get him away from HomeBase? All these questions with no answers.

Vegeta decided that a bit of caution could not hurt, so he tried to cover up his Pod with some of the abundant vegetation. Sure, it would not fool anyone close up, but a scout on an aerial flyby might not notice.

It was difficult to remain in one place to observe; he wanted to act, to move out, but he was a stranger here and the enemy held all of the advantages. He could not afford to screw this mission up … he needed to be smart about it.

So … what would Nappa do in this situation? He could hear his guardian's gravelly voice in his head reciting the basics: "Ya gotta check for hostiles, scout the perimeter and then ya set up a base camp. Next, find some water and somethin' ta eat. Ya might be on planet for a while, and ya don't wanna starve to death."

Vegeta had no idea where the other Saiyan had hidden himself, or the resources at his disposal - if he was even on planet. Unfortunately, the surface scans did not show any artificial structures that might be a good place to begin.

After he powered down the computer and secured the Pod, Vegeta pulled his Ki inward and took to the air to scout for useable water and possible food sources. He decided to leave his tablet in the Pod; he did not wish to lose it and be without any possible means of communication. Besides, it wasn't working worth a damn here.

Close by his camp, he discovered a small running stream. Moving water meant less chances of contamination and stagnancy. He set down next to the bank, scooped up a handful and sniffed it. A quick taste confirmed what his nose had told him; it was safe to drink, if a little brackish, so he filled up the bottles he had taken from the ship. Saiyans possessed excellent immune systems and could drink questionable water with little consequences. If necessary, they could go up to five days without water, but he did not want to test that limit.

Good, one less problem to worry about..

The prince used his scouter to take a compass reading - another of many useful subroutines that Nappa had programmed in - and then headed in the direction where the scan had detected high concentrations of metals. Most likely, it was a ship since there were no recorded civilizations on this world

He kept his speed low and remained under the tree canopy, a simple way to avoid being visually spotted from the air, even though he just wanted to speed off full tilt. Nappa would have his tail if he did such a rookie thing. Vegeta made sure to keep breathing as he tried to suppress his Ki, something that went against his very nature and something that he had struggled with over the years. Nappa insisted that stealth was sometimes better than strength. And Nappa was usually right about such things.

Speaking of Nappa … how dare he keep ignoring me! When I see that giant monkey I am going to rip his head off and shove it straight up his ass!

The familiar rise of anger flooded his system. It comforted the young noble and kept his mind occupied, away from worries. Anger was always his safety net, his place of power, and sometimes also his downfall.

I've got to stay on task… I can't afford to lose my focus

Vegeta pulled his thoughts back to his known target: another Saiyan, a seasoned adult of indeterminate years. Most Saiyans had tended to lose count of their age after they were conscripted into the Army, or later into the PTO. Besides, time counts were different on each planet. But Vegeta knew his age. He knew exactly how many years, days, hours remained until his majority at sixteen. Once past that landmark, he would be free to move around without a giant, hairy kit minder sitting on his tail. He could not wait for that day! The thought of some freedom, no matter how small, cheered him a bit.

The forest, dense and lush, continued onward as far as he could see. As he flew, Vegeta saw wildlife both large and small, and learned that this world was a haven for biting insects. Soon he was covered in tiny itchy bites; he did not dare use Ki to drive off the pests and perhaps compromise his presence.

Well, unless they already knew he was on planet, and then he was just suffering needlessly. Knowing the whims of Cha'le, the capricious Goddess of Fate, and his personal luck… all bad… that was likely the case.

At least there were plenty of raw organic materials and freshwater. This world might fetch a good price on the market, at least for oxygen farming. Vegeta wondered why it had not been claimed or explored further. Maybe he would claim it for himself, try and make a few credits? Or was there something here that made Planet Flann not worth the trouble?

The atmospheric interference with electronics certainly was not a big selling point. Also, it was out of the way and not convenient to any PTO hub. Hell, it gave the wild frontier a run for its money. Perhaps it was not worth the effort, after all.

As he flew over a large body of water a large head shot out from beneath the surface. Its huge jaws were filled with dagger sharp teeth and snapped at him. Its many eyes glared. The creature did not register on the scouter, but Vegeta saw it coming at the last second. He managed to veer off sharply and dodge. The gaping maw snapped closed with a wicked "snap", and just missed the tip of his tail. He could feel the hot blast of air and smell the rotting remains of previous meals on the beast's breath.

Heu … Battle and Blood … What was THAT?

Vegeta soared up out of reach, yet still the monstrosity continued to bite at him. Its mottled skin was coated in some kind of slime, the odor of muck rose from it, and made Vegeta gag. He covered his mouth and nose with his glove. On instinct, he curled his fingers up to gather his Ki, then thought better.

You lucky bastard ... you'll live... Today. But once this is done, I'm coming back here just to hunt you down and make you pay.

The watery beast, denied its meal, roared at him in frustration. Vegeta flicked it off, a crooked grin on his face. "Not today," he crowed, and continued on. Was this the dominant life form, huge slimy reptilian creatures? Well, at least there was something to eat. If he could get past the stench.

Above, the sky darkened and the booming sound of thunder could be heard in the distance. Oh great. Rain. But soon, Vegeta realized the canopy was too thick to allow a good soaking. The giant blue leaves thirstily drank up the moisture before it could reach the ground below in great quantity.

When he was younger, he might have stopped to look, touch, smell, and enjoy the chance to be free of his metal prison. But, Vegeta did not have time for a vacation. He needed to find this Saiyan fugitive and figure out what was really going on. Frieza never ever did anything for just one reason, even though humiliating Vegeta was a common one.

Part of him did wish he could abandon his mission and soar into the dark sky, to dance among the roiling clouds spitting rain and fire, to be tossed asunder by the wind and revel in the sheer joy of it. The tempests on Vegetasai had been fierce and legendary. Because it had rained so infrequently, they were a great occasion for celebration. Storm dancing was something he had only heard about but never had a chance to do ... and now he never would, not on his homeworld.

Vegeta would never ride the drafts, dodge the lightning, chase other Saiyans and feel the rush of his blood as he risked his life in the torrents. Besides, there was no one left to dance with.

Don't think about that. Just … don't. He shook his head, pushed the feelings aside, stepped sideways and let the numbness descend over his mind like a comforting blanket ... dulling and smothering.

He wove through the lofty trees, some so tall that their limbs became lost in the sky, some dense and squat with a multitude of leaves. A memory tickled at the back of his mind of flying through another forest at high speed … but for some reason he could not recall anything urther, and the thought slipped away as the miles ticked past. He made sure to catalog any landmarks he found because the jungle seemed to blend into one big canvas of greens and blues. It would be so easy to get turned around, but he could just summon his Pod if need be. And wave a giant flag letting everyone know where he was.

Chirp! His scouter chimed in his ear, then spewed a stream of data across the green eyepiece: mineral deposits detected. Once again, Vegeta was grateful that Nappa had added the extra apps. Resource detection was an essential task during a purge to ensure they received the biggest payout. Clients did not seem to like it when their precious world was trashed by giant rampaging apes.

When he came within a few hundred feet, Vegeta settled onto a large branch the diameter of his torso to observe. The scouter still did not find any Ki signatures and he still had not seen any sentient life. So far, so good, or was he flying into a trap?

Glad that no one was watching, he moved from branch to branch by leaping the distance between them until he could see what was pinging the scouter. The Ginyus would have laughed their asses off for sure. "There goes the monkey, swinging through the trees…"

An old ship lay in ruins. Its hull was twisted and scorched, some parts had broken away and scattered about the landscape. Ropy vines had spread over most of the exterior, blurring its profile. Small red berries, bright as drops of blood, covered the rear ports. It was oddly beautiful.

Insects chirred and clicked, larger animals called back and forth. All seemed to be normal noises, nothing that would indicate any trepidation. He leapt down, and the soft ground absorbed the impact with no noise. As he approached, he kept a careful watch.

Up close, it was evident that this spacecraft had not flown in a very long time and had suffered a rough ending. It was a small scouting model that could seat two people, and had not been in use for over twenty years. The front window was long gone, and the console had been stripped bare. In fact, all useable items had been scavenged.

Other vessels of varying makes and models were scattered about, an interstellar junkyard of sorts. All had been gutted and in different stages of being reclaimed by the forces of nature. Someone intelligent had been at work here. Two scuttles on the periphery were more modern issue, and some of the marks seemed to be more recent. In fact, there were a few paths winding among the thick blades of sagebrush that had been worn down to the dark earth.

Suddenly, it felt as if someone was watching him. Vegeta hunched down on instinct and ducked out of sight behind one of the shrubs, then scanned the area. Nothing. Yet, this was their turf; they could be right on top of him … or just overhead … and he would never know.

A lump began to rise in his throat, and it felt like a dagger had been thrust between his shoulders. Vegeta licked his lips, his mouth had gone dry. His quarry was near, he could feel it. He selected one of the newer foot trails that went in the same direction as the largest reading, and followed it.

The path led through a thick patch of brush that surrounded a rocky ledge overhanging a natural alcove. Underneath rested a working corvette; it was a older PTO model that shows signs of heavy use - pocked hull and cobbled