This is an answer to a challenge made by Kami Sama on the Anything-Goes-Fanfiction-Club ML.
Vegeta: A Cinderella Story
Once upon a time there was an elite Saiyajin warrior, who lived alone with his only son, for his mate had long since passed away. Still, they were a proud, happy family, for the father doted on his young son, teaching him the proper ways of an elite fighter. They would often spar together, for although the child was only a tiny little brat, he had been born with great power. The father knew that someday, his little Vegeta would be one of the greatest warriors in the kingdom.
But alas, tragedy was to strike this happy family yet again, and when the boy was only in his fifth year, the father grew very, very ill. The father knew there was no cure for his illness, and he worried for his small son, knowing that soon he would not be there to give Vegeta the training he would need. So before his impending death, he made arrangements for his son to be fostered to one of the most powerful warriors in the kingdom: Lord Frieza.
Young Vegeta was devastated by the loss of his beloved father, yet he never forgot what he had been told: A Saiyan warrior stands tall and proud, facing every challenge with honor and courage. So when the little warrior entered his new home to meet his new lord, he held his head high and his back straight, just like his father would want.
Unfortunately, what Vegeta's father had not known was that Lord Frieza did not like Saiyans, and so the poor brat's proud greeting was met with a haughty sneer of disdain.
"What's this?" he said, frowning down on the boy with a glare of contempt. "Why it's a scrawny little monkey!" he snickered to his two finest soldiers.
"I am not a monkey!" Vegeta retorted angrily, rage stealing over his delicate features. "I am a Saiyajin warrior!" His vehement declaration was met only with chuckles.
"Yes, that's what Lord Frieza said," Zarbon returned with a smirk. This was Frieza's most powerful warrior, a tall, elegant young man with fair blue skin and long green hair. Though Zarbon was beautiful on the outside, inside his heart was ugly with arrogance and vanity.
"Yeah!" Dodoria concurred with a laugh. "There's no difference, monkey!" Dodoria was a rather large, rotund creature, pink-skinned and quite grotesque-looking to the young Saiyan, yet even Vegeta could feel that his power level was extraordinarily high.
"Your duties will begin at dawn on the morrow, monkey," Frieza informed the boy coldly. "You will begin by serving breakfast to me and my men. Then there is laundry to be done, weapons to be sharpened, armor to be polished, and so forth. I will give you the entire list after breakfast. For now, I leave you to get settled and prepare for morning. You will sleep there," he said, pointing to a small cot beside an enormous fireplace. "One of your new duties is to keep the fire burning at all times."
The young Saiyan's heart was filled with fury at the humiliating indignity, but in the end, there was nothing he could do. By law, he now belonged to Lord Frieza, and Vegeta knew that he was no match for any of the three monstrosities before him.
So the years passed, and Vegeta served and grew into fine young man, swallowing his anger as best he could, all the while biding his time as his body grew stronger. He trained in secret, honing the skills his father had taught him, eagerly anticipating the day of his emancipation.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Now in this same land there lived a Saiyajin prince, the only son of the high king, Bardock, whose name was Goku. Prince Goku was the most powerful warrior in the entire kingdom, undefeated in battle… yet King Bardock was far from pleased with his son. For though the prince was certainly strong, Goku lacked the ruthless demeanor the king believed necessary for a true ruler to possess. The king feared his kingdom would fall to one of the neighboring kingdoms who were forever testing the boundary lines of their borders. Prince Goku remained unconvinced of the dangers around them. For many years the king despaired of the future of his kingdom should he perish and the good-natured prince inherit the throne. Then, one day, a possible solution finally came to him.
"We shall have a tournament!" he announced to the royal court. "Every eligible warrior in the kingdom will compete to see who is the strongest and most cunning. The winner shall become the mate to the prince and rule with equal authority by his side!" And so the decree went out to every household and was posted in every corner in land.
Lord Frieza and his men were overjoyed at the announcement, for they believed themselves to be the greatest warriors to have ever been born. The kingdom would be theirs for the taking.
When Vegeta heard the proclamation, he also grew extremely excited, for he saw it as his best chance to escape the clutches of his cruel master. Even if he did not win the Tournament, he might do well enough to catch the eye of another lord, perhaps even be asked to join the Royal Guard—he was certain he could make his proficiency known, if only given the opportunity. This would be it!
But he would have to train even harder than he had been, harder than he'd ever trained before in his life. It was going to be difficult, for with the Tournament coming up, his three tormentors were making extra demands on his time. He did manage to steal a bit here and there, by sneaking off into the forest on the pretense of going to market. That he finished quickly and early, leaving him nearly a full hour each day to commit to training—and with plenty of space to practice even the largest of ki attacks. The others would not notice; they were far too busy and completely absorbed with their own preparations.
So it happened that Vegeta was training in the vast clearing he had set aside for himself, deep in the heart of the forest, when he was suddenly discovered by a passing stranger. He had just charged up one of his best attacks and let it loose…
…only to have it go flying toward a large figure strolling along the edge of the clearing. The Saiyan didn't even have time to call out a warning before it struck, bright and explosive. Vegeta sucked in his breath in dismay, almost certain that he'd killed some poor, passing peasant, then quickly rushed over to his unwitting victim. The smoke slowly began to clear…
…revealing a tall, muscular man with raven-black hair spiking every-which-way, whose hands were tightly fisted and forearms crossed in an X-pattern before him—a classic ki block.
The man lowered his arms, and Vegeta suddenly found himself gazing up into the most beautiful visage he had ever seen. The man was absolutely gorgeous, his features finely-boned and exquisitely accented with long, dark lashes and perfectly arched eyebrows. And then he became nothing less than a divine vision as a smile abruptly blazed across his face with all the radiant brilliance of the heavens.
"Whoa!" the man exclaimed, his ebony eyes sparkling brightly with amusement. "I think I sensed that just in the nick of time."
As relief surged through his body, Vegeta shook off his momentary astonishment, and then he felt his fearful concern warp rapidly into anger. "What were you doing traipsing through the woods like that, baka?!" he questioned harshly. "Were you daydreaming or something? Didn't you see that I was training here?"
The man blinked in startlement, his smile fading, his eyes widening ever-so slightly. "Uh… sorry. I guess I was kind of lost in my own thoughts. What are you doing training all the way out here, anyway?" he inquired, his brow creasing in puzzlement.
"Not that it's any of your concern, but I plan on entering the King's Tournament next month. This is the only place I can practice without any mindless interruptions—usually," he tacked on waspishly.
The man's face went completely blank at the mention of the Tournament.
"You have heard of it, haven't you?" he went on derisively. "Every warrior is supposed to attend—and by the way you managed to block my attack, I assume you are a warrior of some kind." Vegeta looked the figure up and down. The man was not dressed like any warrior he'd ever seen—no armor, no telltale signs of rank—but he was definitely built for fighting.
"I've heard of it," he said flatly, "and yes, I'm a warrior… but I will not be competing that day."
"Why not? Competition too tough for you?" he sneered.
The man's dark eyes narrowed. "I could take you easily enough," he countered matter-of-factly.
"Is that so?" A smirk, both feral and excited, curled Vegeta's lip. Training in secret, he rarely had the opportunity to fight against another actual warrior. "Well, why don't we just see about that?" The Saiyan watched as the man's handsome features kindled with a similar expression.
"Okay," he agreed with a nod. A second later their stances changed as they crouched in preparation of the battle to come.
It was glorious. Both warriors had the time of their lives as their bodies danced and twisted through the demanding rigors of combat. Vegeta was amazed at the artful skill of the man as he fervently met him blow for blow. Though he, himself, had not had much experience fighting against others, Vegeta had furtively studied Lord Frieza and his men as they'd trained. In his estimation, this man was one of the best he'd ever seen. Perhaps even greater than his own father. So great, that even he could not overcome him.
Vegeta's eyes opened slowly, painfully, to gaze up in dazed surprise at the man standing over him.
"Are you all right?" the man asked kindly, his dark eyes slightly tinged with concern.
His eyebrows slanted into a scowl. "I'm fine," he replied, somewhat peevishly, refusing the hand being offered to help him back up. He could very well climb to his own damned feet! "Who are you?" he demanded, once he'd stabilized himself, his fingers cradling his bruised jaw with gingerly care.
A wistful smile curved the lovely visage. "No one, really," he said softly, "but you may call me Kakarotto."
"Hn," he returned with a grunt. "Well, Kakarotto, for a nobody, you certainly can fight. I am Vegeta, and I am a Saiyajin warrior." His tone was full of pride and defiance.
"Yes," the man acknowledged, his smile growing in intensity, "I noticed. There aren't many of us left."
Vegeta's eyes went wide as the man casually unwrapped the furry brown tail from around his waist, then mentally cursed himself. He had not noticed. It had been a very long time since he'd seen another Saiyan. This Kakarotto was right; there weren't many of them left.
"Too many wars," the tall Saiyan continued, his inflection low and touched with sadness. "Too many died in too many wars. I pray we never have another."
"Hn. That is foolish and wishful thinking. Wars have always been, and always will be. We must protect what is ours."
Black, fathomless eyes considered him for a moment. "You sound like my father… yet I cannot help but think there might be methods other than fighting."
Vegeta said nothing, for he did not know what to say to that. The idea was utterly foreign to him. He was a warrior; fighting was everything.
Then those ebony eyes were on him again, perusing with painstaking deliberation, scrutinizing with meticulous care. "You are very, very good, Vegeta," he commented softly. "You have a good chance of winning."
The smaller Saiyan blinked, momentarily startled at the unfamiliar sound of praise. "I plan on it," he replied with as much determination as he could muster.
"You wish to become mate to the prince?" Kakarotto asked in that same soft tone.
A bark of laughter burst from his lips. "Now that would really be something! Can you just imagine the looks on everyone's faces if I suddenly became royalty? They would all have to bow down before me and call me Prince Vegeta!" His laughter rang forth again until it eventually faded into a light chuckle. "Heh, that would be amusing… but I have no unrealistic illusions about my life, Kakarotto. I intend to win, but I will be quite satisfied with a post somewhere—perhaps, if I'm lucky, to the Royal Guard. Hn, anything would be better than where I am now."
"And where is that?" he asked, after a rather significant pause.
"It doesn't matter," Vegeta said with a dismissive wave. "All that matters is that I do well enough in the Tournament so I can finally leave that hellhole."
The tall Saiyajin appeared to be examining him again, but for what reason, Vegeta could not fathom. Then the man nodded almost negligibly to himself, as if he'd come to some decision.
"I will help you, if you like," he offered suddenly, his voice gentle and polite. "If you don't already have a sparring partner, that is."
Vegeta was immediately taken aback. "Why would you want to help me?" he asked warily, his expression full of suspicion.
Kakarotto shrugged. "Because you're Saiyajin. Because I could use a good sparring partner, myself. Because I really had fun today. And because you have a chance to win and so I… I want to get to know you better."
Now it was Vegeta's turn to keenly scrutinize. His eyes swept leisurely over the man again. Broad, powerful shoulders, muscular arms and legs, beautifully chiseled features… Kami, how could anyone look that good? Plus he was a highly-skilled Saiyan warrior! Vegeta could not admit it aloud, but he wanted to spend more time with this dynamic Saiyan—he wanted to get to know Kakarotto better, as well.
Without any further contemplation, Vegeta accepted, and an agreement was reached. They would meet to spar as often as Vegeta could arrange for it, and Kakarotto would come whenever he felt the smaller Saiyan's ki in the forest. And so it began.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
The clandestine jaunts in the forest soon became the most important moments of Vegeta's life for a whole new reason. The learning and the training were still foremost in his mind, yet the smaller Saiyan soon began to realize that the thought of seeing the larger man was nearly as exciting as the thought of winning his freedom.
Vegeta had never known anyone like Kakarotto. The warriors serving under Lord Frieza were petty and vain, and when they fought, they fought dirty. Zarbon, at least, was a little more refined in his artifice, but Dodoria was a blatantly disgusting blob of underhanded depravity. Frieza was more openly direct, but none of them had any honor whatsoever. Kakarotto had it in spades. Kakarotto had more honor than even he, himself, Vegeta was mortified to discover. Some of his lord's nasty maneuvers had somehow wormed their way into his battle techniques without him even realizing. Yet Kakarotto's punishing fists were swift to admonish him for such foul trickery, and soon those shameful actions were completely beaten out of him. The larger Saiyajin was not only honorable, along with being strong and highly proficient, but he also had a kind, benevolent heart—something Vegeta found incongruent in a Saiyan so powerful, for the man was a ferocious demon in the heat of battle. And yet that kindness, that sweet pureness of spirit that abounded other times, he also found unbelievably appealing. Each day they met, he felt more and more drawn to the tall, handsome Saiyajin, the man's sparkling eyes and engaging smile utterly mesmerizing in their intensity. However, he still knew next to nothing about the man… and vice versa, he supposed.
They never talked about themselves, not the details of their lives, anyway. Both were simply content to train and spar and, if time allowed, partake in a bit of amusing play. Kakarotto was an extremely playful creature, always teasing, always laughing aloud so candidly, and Vegeta could not help but feel his onerous burdens ease whenever he was in the man's presence. Little did he know that Kakarotto felt exactly the same way.
That he did not discover until their final day of training before the Tournament. Vegeta felt the tension in the air very keenly; not only his own, but Kakarotto's, as well. It was totally nerve-racking to have all of your hopes pinned on one tournament, yet he could not comprehend why the taller Saiyajin was also anxious. As they finished their warm-up routines and moved into position, Vegeta finally broke the taut silence to inquire.
"Why are you so edgy today, Kakarotto? I, at least, have an excuse… or have you finally changed your mind and plan to enter the Tournament, as well?"
Black, cavernous voids lifted to engulf him whole, their inky depths teeming with a sadness and despair that made the smaller man visibly flinch when they inundated him with their severity. "No, I will not be fighting, Vegeta," he reiterated, his inflection strangely both soft and hard at the same time.
"Is it because… you already have a mate?" he finally dared to ask. He could think of no other reason why this exceptional warrior would not fight.
"No," Kakarotto replied, dropping his gaze, his voice hardly more than a whisper; and Vegeta's puzzlement exploded tenfold as he observed the man's inner despair grow even more terrible. He found himself moving inadvertently closer to the troubled Saiyajin.
"What is wrong, Kakarotto?" he queried, gently, laying a hand upon his warm shoulder.
The eyes rose to meet him again, and this time, astonishingly, they were shimmering with unshed tears. Yet the taller Saiyan merely shook his head, denying the anguish bleeding like a heart wound through the windows of his soul. As they stared at one another, Kakarotto's unspoken pain seeped into Vegeta's own traumatized spirit, striking a dull, harmonizing chord deep within.
"Vegeta…" he whispered thickly, desperately, and then the smaller Saiyajin abruptly found himself completely encompassed within the man's powerful embrace. "Vegeta," he repeated, his breath brushing lightly against his ear, "promise me… promise me that you'll win tomorrow!"
"Hn, of course I'll win, baka," he replied automatically, for if he'd had to think of something to say, he would have been utterly unable to do so. The other warrior's arms were large and warm, and they enveloped his body entirely. Vegeta's lashes drooped at the marvelous sensations that were currently radiating through him. He breathed inward, drawing the rich, musky scent of the man deep into his nostrils, deep into his lungs, deep into his awareness. Oh, Kami… when was the last time anyone had held him like this? Or at all? His arms circled tentatively around Kakarotto's waist; the tall Saiyajin was trembling like a hunted doe.
"What is wrong. Kakarotto?" he asked again, pulling him closely against him.
"I just… I'm afraid I'll never see you again," he confessed, rasping softly against his eardrum. "Tomorrow… tomorrow everything's going to change."
Vegeta's breath caught in his throat. Never see him again? But… why?
"What are you talking about? What makes you think we won't see each other after the Tournament?" he asked, drawing back just enough to peer up into the haunted shadows of his face. But Kakarotto refused to meet his eyes.
"You said yourself that you hope to find a post somewhere else," he muttered somberly. "Then you'll be sent off to some border town, while I…"
"While you what?"
"You just have to win, Vegeta!" he exclaimed, his dark eyes lifting to burn passionately into his own. "Win the Tournament and then you'll remain here… as mate to the prince."
"Hn. Do you really think they will allow someone like me to become mate to the royal brat?" he scoffed. "That is just a gimmick for the Tournament, Kakarotto. Trust me, they'll find some way to wriggle out of it. They always do."
"M—the king, himself, invoked the decree, Vegeta," he said sharply, his brow knitting into a frown, his tone interlaced with an underlying anger. "There will be no wriggling out of it."
"Perhaps," he agreed, his own brow furrowing with confusion as to the source of the man's anger. "But, Kakarotto…" Vegeta hesitated, doubt and apprehension shooting agonizing sparks down his spine. "Kakarotto… do you really wish me to be mate to another?"
All trace of anger instantly evaporated from the man's handsome visage, and his eyes softened, melting into dark pools of raw, liquid emotion. The arms around his body squeezed tighter. "No," he whispered softly, breathlessly, his bottom lip lightly aquiver. "Oh, Kami, no…" And then his mouth descended, enveloping Vegeta's with a wondrous warmth and wetness that surpassed anything he'd ever felt before.
Vegeta became boneless within the man's taut embrace as his strength abruptly vanished, stolen away by a single kiss that filled his whole mouth, that filled his whole being, with the sweet, warm miracle that was Kakarotto.
Before he could even think of responding, the exquisite warmth was gone. Vegeta nearly collapsed as the tall Saiyan withdrew, his eyelids snapping open to see the other warrior slowly backing away, tears glistening like diamonds in his round black eyes before escaping down the smooth planes of his face.
"Win, Vegeta!" he whispered softly, soulfully, a wealth of fervent hope swirling brilliantly amid the dark despair that was his voice. "Win!" And then he was gone, as well, streaking into the morning sky as if shot from a cannon.
Vegeta stared after his retreating form in stunned bewilderment, a lump of aching dread lodging painfully in his throat.
I'm afraid I'll never see you again…
No. That could not happen. He would win tomorrow, but he'd be damned if he would become mate to some spoiled prince, gimmick or no. He wanted Kakarotto, and no other. He did not know what sort of fell shackles were binding the tall warrior, but he knew that they would deal with them. After the Tournament.
Yes. First he must win his own freedom. Only then could he focus on winning Kakarotto, as well.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
The Saiyan warrior believed he was as ready for the Tournament as he would ever be. Kakarotto had helped to strengthen and hone his fighting abilities far better than Vegeta could have ever done on his own. All he had left to do was finish his regular chores in the morning, and then assist Lord Frieza and his two idiotic cohorts in their preparations for the event—hopefully for the last time.
Upon waking the next day, Vegeta completed his tasks swiftly, yet thoroughly, making sure Frieza's purple armor was in perfect condition so no reprimands or delays might occur. Then he returned to his corner by the great fireplace and, after adding a few logs and stoking the flames up high, he knelt down beside his bed and pulled a large, wooden box from beneath its rickety legs.
He lifted the lid carefully, almost reverently, for it contained everything he owned in the whole world. There wasn't all that much, nothing that held any real value to anyone else, but to Vegeta each item was priceless. First and foremost among his treasured possessions was his father's armor. This he drew out and set before him on the thin mattress of the cot. The armor was pure white, with wide red shoulder guards and a small red family insignia etched proudly over the left breast. It gleamed brilliantly under the firelight, for Vegeta had always kept it buffed and polished to honor his father's memory—and in anticipation of this day. All for this day.
"The House of Vegeta will shine again, Father," he vowed softly, solemnly, as he fingered the black body suit sitting in the box.
His father had been a taller, larger man, yet both the armor and the body suit were flexible; they would fit him just fine. The question was: Would he fit them?
Hn. Only one way to find out.
Slowly, Vegeta undressed, removing the old, worn clothing of the virtual slave he had been, and then, for the first time, he stepped into the sleek, black body suit, stretching it over his body, and poking his tail through the hole at the back. He was right; it fit him well enough. The suit felt light and comfortable against his body, almost like he wasn't wearing it at all; it felt more like a second skin than a piece of clothing. A soft, supple pair of white boots came next, along with a matching set of gloves. These were his own, recently purchased with money long saved. Then his hands reached for the armor, itself. It slipped easily over his head and settled snugly around his torso—not tight, like it must have on his father, but it did not slide around. He had no mirror to see how it looked on him, but that was all right. It made him feel more like a proper warrior; it did not matter the actual appearance. He doubted he could look as masterful and intimidating as his father had, anyway. Besides, it was his skill and power that—
"Oh, my," a crisp voice drawled languidly from behind him. "Just look at our little monkey boy, Dodoria. Doesn't he look positively adorable in that get-up?"
Vegeta inwardly winced at the snide, deriding tone of Zarbon's deceptively polite voice, yet he immediately turned with haughty dignity to face him and his blubbery round sidekick. The two warriors stood just inside the entryway, each clad in their finest armor, their facial expressions highly amused and openly mocking.
"Yeah," Dodoria concurred with a scoffing sneer. "Playing dress-up in Daddy's armor, boy? Heh, if you ever grow another foot, you might just look like a real warrior someday."
"Is there some special occasion, Vegeta?" Zarbon inquired with a smirk. "You couldn't actually be thinking of participating in the King's Tournament, now could you?"
Dodoria snorted loudly and crudely. "Didn't think he was that stupid! A runt like him will be slaughtered!"
"It is you who will be slaughtered," Vegeta hissed angrily at the large, pink blob, unable to contain his rage a second longer. "Both of you! If chance happens to pit either one of you against me at the Tournament, then beware… for my memory is long and my wrath deadly!"
Zarbon's smirk merely broadened. "What makes you think Lord Frieza is going to allow you to go anywhere but to market? Do you believe your duties can wait for such ridiculous fancies?"
"The King's decree was to every eligible warrior!" Vegeta returned vehemently. "Now, unless you see some imaginary mate there in my bed, I believe that includes me! Even Frieza would not defy the king!"
And then a wave of darkness abruptly washed over the enraged Saiyan and he dropped heavily to the ground. Blackness loomed ominously as pain and swirling vertigo plagued his head. Kuso… someone had struck him!
"Defy the king?" a soft, rasping voice echoed menacingly from somewhere behind him. "You're right, Vegeta… that is something I would never do."
The Saiyan felt the cold, familiar sensation of his master's tail twining about his neck, then he was being lifted into the air. His feet dangled several inches off the floor. Oh, Kami…
The blast of ki came hard and fast, burning through his father's armor, searing through the flesh and bone of his chest… yet the pain did not register until several moments later.
"Of course, very soon I will be king," he heard Frieza comment offhandedly.
And then he was sailing through the air, through stone and mortar, until he finally hit the ground. Then he tumbled haphazardly over dust and dirt and green plants that thankfully aided in bringing his sprawling body to a halt. It was then that the pain hit him.
He would have cried out, but the pain was so brutal, so harrowing, that he could only lie there and gasp for air as warm, coppery blood began seeping into his mouth. But his lungs could not seem to get enough.
Oh, Kami, no… no…
He could not fail now… not when he was so close! He had worked… so hard… his plans… his dreams…
A Saiyan warrior stands tall and proud, facing every challenge with honor and courage.
Father… I'm sorry… forgive me…
Kakarotto… you were the only one… the only one…
Moisture gathered unbidden to his eyes, stinging with shame, falling with despair. He wished… oh, Kami, he wished…
Vegeta's lashes closed over the scalding tears of disgrace, allowing the anguish to consume him, letting the physical agony rip through his being unchecked and unchallenged. The wound was too great; he knew that without a doubt. The pain was too severe and the blood flowed far too freely. Frieza had outright killed him for his brash presumption. He had not expected that. Yet his soul tarried still as his body slowly, agonizingly, began shutting down.
Every breath he attempted to draw was shallow and laborious, and was plagued by less and less success every excruciating second. Hn… yet the pain was actually starting to wane…
The voice was soft and soothing, but sounded so very far away.
"Vegeta… open your mouth…"
"Open your mouth this instant, you baka, or do you actually want to die?!"
Vegeta winced through his suffering, for the soothing voice had suddenly turned painfully shrill. There was a firm pressure pressing against his lips.
"I said, open up!"
Vegeta forced his lips to part, blindly adhering to the high, commanding voice, for he had no more strength to resist. Something small was shoved forcibly to the back of his throat.
He choked and he gagged, but he did finally manage to comply. And then the most astonishing thing happened…
The pain vanished. Completely.
His eyes blinked open, hesitantly, bewilderedly, and Vegeta suddenly found himself peering up into the largest, bluest pair of eyes…
"There, now," the woman said matter-of-factly with a nod of self satisfaction. "Told you so, didn't I?"
At first, Vegeta could only stare at her in amazement and confusion. The woman was extremely beautiful, with silky long hair that matched her aqua-blue eyes almost perfectly. She was dressed as if a princess of the royal court, in a dazzling gown of blue satin and silvery sparkles. She smiled at him, warmly and yet smugly, as if she knew she was royalty and her mere presence should impress him.
It did not.
"Who are you?" he asked finally, pushing himself up to a sitting position. "And how did you… heal me?" The woman rose up haughtily to present herself before him.
"I'm Bulma," she declared with a lofty air, "and I am your Fairy Godmother." Then the woman cast him a bright, knowing wink. "Pretty good for my very first live rescue, don't you think?"
The Saiyan merely blinked at her a moment and then climbed steadily to his feet.
"That was a senzu bean I gave you," she went on proudly, unrestrained mirth twinkling in her eyes. "I just knew you would need it someday! Was I right or was I right?!" The woman paused, as if expecting him to actually answer such a ridiculous, self-serving question.
"Well? Aren't you going to thank me or something?" she inquired sharply, when he said nothing at all.
"What for?" he countered evenly.
"What for?! Why, for saving your life, that's what for!"
"Hn. I never asked you to do that."
Her large blue eyes grew even larger. "Um, hello! You most certainly did!" she informed him hotly. "You made a wish, there, buddy! Remember? Well, here I am! And I've done a damn good job so far, too!"
"If you say so."
"If I say so?!" she shrieked. Vegeta had to force himself not to visibly flinch at the horrendous sound. "You'd be a rotting corpse right now, mister, if not for me! Just you remember that! I deserve some respect for that, not to mention looking after your ungrateful little ass all these years! You think it was a picnic, trying to soothe that bastard's temper?! Why you—"
"Are you through, woman?" he broke in smoothly, arrogantly. "Because I have a tournament to win."
The woman gaped at him in openmouthed astonishment. "Why does this surprise me?" she said finally, throwing her arms up in the air in a gesture of futility. "You've been a filthy-tongued jerk to just about everyone you've ever come across! I guess I simply got my hopes up after seeing you with that nice Saiyan boy this past month. Well, isn't he going to be in for a rude awakening after—"
"What do you know about that?!" he hissed in fury, his eyes suddenly ablaze and in her face.
"You want the rest of your wish or not?" she returned with an indignant arch of her brow.
"What wish?!" he growled in frustration. "I did not—"
"You're going to be late," she said crisply. "If you don't leave right now, that is."
"What?" Then realization dawned. "Kuso! Out of my way, woman!" In a flash of brilliant ki, he was streaking off into the sky.
Bulma shook her head in disgust. "Well, you certainly don't deserve this," she said with a sniff, "but I am your Fairy Godmother."
Her hands dug deep into the folds of her glistening gown and, one by one, drew forth seven small golden spheres.
"I'll see you happy if it kills me, Vegeta," she muttered darkly. "Hn. You too!"
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Through angry, hooded eyes, Kakarotto glared down into the arena at the long line of participants awaiting the official start of the King's Tournament—warriors and fighters from all walks of life, from the highest nobility to the mangiest rabble who'd crawled out from Kami-knows-where. All of them suitors… of a kind. His suitors.
"Goku," he heard his father call from his cushioned throne in the center of the royal box. "You should take your seat so the Tournament can begin."
Kakarotto chose to deliberately ignore his king for a moment, but then he spoke, coldly, and just a hair before the action might be considered treasonous. "I am here, Father, here to observe this vile atrocity you've orchestrated to decide the fate of my life… but I'll be damned if I will sit there on that bloody pedestal like the shiny trophy you have turned me into!" he said with a seething snarl, refusing to even look at the man.
"We have been through this, my son—"
"And I have sworn an oath to obey my king and serve my kingdom!" the prince cut in angrily. "I have accepted my fate as a dutiful son should, Father, but I don't have to like it! And I shouldn't have to degrade myself further by being put on display like some prized stallion on the auction block! Can you not, at least, spare me such public humiliation?"
"The people expect to see you," the king reminded him softly, after a slight pause. "It will inspire them and the warriors who will fight this day."
"Shall I go down so they can inspect my teeth?" he snapped.
"I have already assented to this abomination, my king!" he hissed venomously. "Please do not further test the bounds of my loyalty!"
The pause was much more significant this time. "As you wish," King Bardock said finally.
"None of this is as I wish, Father!" the prince shot back bitterly. His eyes scanned the row of warriors below yet again, almost frantically, for he did not see Vegeta among them.
Where was he? Why was he not here? Kuso… he just HAD to come. He had to fight and he had to win. Vegeta had to be the one to become his mate. Winning the Tournament was the only way that could happen. Kami, Vegeta…
He had never known anyone like him. Such fire, such passion, such a forceful, single-minded drive! Kakarotto knew that he was far more casual and easygoing in nature compared to the dynamic little Saiyan. Vegeta's whole life was unswervingly focused toward this one, pivotal moment. So then why wasn't he here? What could have happened to him?
Fear and anxiety gnawed brutally at his gut, for he knew Vegeta would not miss this tournament for anything. Something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. As if to confirm his mounting trepidation, an omen of colossal proportion chose that moment to break over the world around him. The sky went suddenly, inexplicably, black. Darkness loomed ominously, as if night, itself, had descended to warn the anxious prince.
The people looked at the sky with varying degrees of astonishment and alarm, but the darkness waned and light was restored before true panic could set in. Yet they were all still gazing warily upward when a figure, illuminated by the dazzling radiance of ki energy, gracefully dropped from the sky to land before the line of warriors. Kakarotto's breath caught in his throat.
The figure was splendidly adorned in a tight, dark-blue body suit and fine armor, armor of the purest white with accents of burnished gold. White gloves and boots capped sculpted, muscular limbs that moved with nimble elegance as the wearer regally took his place in line as a contender. The prince could not help the beaming smile of wonder and relief as he drank in the sight of the resplendent warrior.
Perhaps the omen had in truth been one of good tidings.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Vegeta stared down his opponent as best he could manage, his eyes cold, his mouth twisted into a feral smirk. Still, it was far more difficult than he would ever admit, for Lord Frieza had been such a cruel, intimidating figure practically his whole life. The fact that the sadistic lizard had blown a hole through his chest but a few hours ago was more than a little unsettling. But he had already made it this far…
His first few fights of the Tournament had been swift, and rather easy to win. It wasn't until the higher rounds that the battles became harder, and the warriors more skilled. Yet he had done well. More than well. He had actually survived to the final round. And best of all, he had been given the glorious privilege of pounding both Zarbon and Dodoria into the ground. For that, alone, he could live out the rest of his days in sublime satisfaction.
Yet still Frieza remained.
The Saiyan had already proven himself to be a warrior of considerable stature. Whether he won this round or not, he would not have to worry for a good position. But he wanted to win.
And not only for Kakarotto.
He wanted to defeat Frieza. Pride demanded it.
"My, my, Vegeta," Frieza crooned with mocking deliberation. "You've done fairly well for a corpse. However did you manage it?"
"Long story," he returned sharply, smugly. "Magic bean. Annoying fairy. Though she did replace the armor you destroyed. My father's armor." His voice dropped low, almost to a growl. "I will never forgive you for that."
"And after everything I did for you," the pale creature said with a deriding pout. "What an ungrateful little monkey you are."
"Win or lose, Frieza, I am free of you forever!" he declared in malicious triumph.
"But will you survive long enough to enjoy it?" he countered with a smirk, his long, reptilian tail sweeping lazily behind him. "I think not."
Dark eyes narrowed. "We shall see." And then his fist was buried deep within the vile lizard's gut.
Frieza's eyes nearly bulged out of his skull with pain and astonishment. He had been quite surprised, not only to see his little ward walking and breathing, but to see him defeat his two top-ranking men. Still, his displeasing observations had not prepared him for the strength and speed that was now Vegeta. As the breath left his body, he realized in an instant that he was not facing the filthy, soot-covered monkey that served him breakfast every morning, he was facing a true Saiyajin warrior—just as the boy had first proclaimed himself all those years ago. There would be no room in this for trifling or error.
Frieza grit his teeth firmly together and retaliated, swinging his tail around to savagely reprimand the brat for his galling presumption. Yet the maneuver was swiftly blocked by the nimble Saiyajin, and then countered with a smashing kick to his ribs. Once again, astoundingly, the air fled from his lungs.
Vegeta grinned with wicked mirth and pounding adrenaline as it surged gloriously through his veins. This was battle at it's finest. This was what he had been born to do. His fists continued to pummel the foul creature responsible for destroying his childhood, for trampling his pride. He could never reclaim the first, but today, the second would be fully restored!
His former master fought well, pulling every dirty trick in his arsenal as he went, but Vegeta was prepared. He had fought better, had learned and trained with the best, this whole invigorating month. Through inhuman strength and unprecedented skill, Kakarotto had forced him to become more than he had been, more than he had ever hoped to become, and had revitalized his fighting spirit with the power of his bright, scintillating soul. He was going to win this. No possibility remained that he would lose, especially to this loathsome creature.
The Saiyan twisted in the air, bringing his heel crashing against Frieza's torso, knocking him backwards. Before the lizard could even think to recover, Vegeta's knee was ramming into his already injured abdomen. Then his fingers laced together to drive viciously into the back of his thick skull. Frieza went down. Hard.
And he did not get up.
It took the Saiyan a moment to realize that it was over, that he had finally defeated the terrible tyrant who had been his master for so long. So caught up in the battle was he, that it was not until he heard the deafening roar of the crowd that he realized he had won the Tournament. He stood alone in the center of arena, panting heavily, looking dazedly up into the stands as the people wildly inundated him with praise and applause. Then, at a nod from the king, the king's herald stepped forward, a rather short man, with a round, clean-shaven head. The crowd immediately stilled.
"Hear ye! Hear ye!" the herald began in a loud, conveying voice. "Having satisfied the precepts of royal decree, by demonstrating incontrovertible strength and skill as a warrior, Vegeta, of the House of Vegeta, has proven himself to be a worthy mate to the royal heir, Prince Goku!"
A clamor of cheers whooped and hollered all around them. Vegeta could only blink in stunned shock as the king's herald raised his arms for quiet and then continued.
"The crowning and rituals will take place one week from this day! So on behalf of his majesty, King Bardock, I now present to you the future prince of our kingdom, Vegeta!"
Pandemonium erupted once more, rolling through the arena like thunder, reverberating through Vegeta's benumbed mind with staggering force. Oh, Kami… they were serious! They were actually going to make him a prince! To become mate to the royal heir!
His gaze leapt anxiously to the royal box, to the imposing figure of the king draped in purple robes of majestic splendor. It was too far to see his face clearly, to make out his expression. He could not see the prince at all, or at least, he did not know which one he might be. And then he didn't care. It didn't matter, for he did not want him.
Shimatta! How does one reject a royal prince, anyway? Prince Goku was speculated to be the greatest warrior in the kingdom. Vegeta thought he just might find that out if he publicly refused the man. Honor would dictate no less. Or the king might just outright execute him. The decree had called for all eligible warriors. The Saiyan tried to recall the precise moment his heart had become ineligible. Kuso… he would have thrown the final bout if he'd thought the prize actually legitimate.
Yet Kakarotto had wanted him to win—had wanted him to become the prince's mate. Why? Even if it kept him here in the capitol, that fact alone would separate them forever. Oh, Kami… what was he going to do?
Kakarotto… he had to see Kakarotto again before he decided anything. Shimatta! He had to get out of here! Now! Before it was too late to do anything about it… if it wasn't already.
The Saiyan turned on his heel, striding swiftly and briskly toward the changing rooms. He didn't take to the air, not yet, that would make his intention all too clear, and far too soon. Let them believe he was merely going to rest, to get cleaned up. He didn't want the entire Royal Guard chasing after him before he even had a chance to escape. Through the archway, past the baths, toward the nearest exit. His pace quickened, his stride lengthened, and then he was outdoors again, outside the arena. Now he took off, finally, streaking like missile, keeping as low to the ground as possible to avoid notice from those he was leaving behind.
Kuso! He didn't even know where to start looking.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Kakarotto could not help the grin that was plastered stupidly, possibly permanently, across his features. Vegeta had won.
Good Kami, of course he had won! Vegeta was a phenomenal warrior—he had known that since their very first battle. It had only been his own anxious fears that had caused such self-torturing doubt.
"You seem rather pleased," he heard his father exclaim from his seat, surprise plainly evident in his tone. "Do I take it you actually approve of this Vegeta?"
"Yes, Father," he replied softly, turning toward him, the silly grin still in full command of his features. "He is exactly what I wanted. It appears that Kami has favored me this day."
"He is a fine warrior," the king agreed. "I believe I fought alongside his father, once, a long time ago. I was not aware there were any of his noble lineage left. I am more than pleased; not only is he Saiyajin, but he comes from an ancient and honorable house."
"Your Majesty," the captain of the Royal Guard interrupted with a crisp bow. "Forgive the intrusion, but I have just been informed that the future prince is nowhere to be found."
The grin abruptly cracked and then vanished into oblivion. "What do you mean, Yamcha?" Kakarotto questioned roughly.
The black-haired captain turned to regard him, his expression softening considerably as he took in the sight of the prince's devastated visage. "I'm sorry, Goku," he said gently. "My soldiers have searched the changing rooms and the bathhouse, but have yet to locate Vegeta. No one seems to know where he is."
"Do you think something has happened to him?" the king asked. "Surely his disappearance cannot be intentional."
"Shimatta!" the prince abruptly exclaimed. "He doesn't know! I never told him!" Kami, could it really be possible…?
"Goku?" his father queried in confusion.
"Do not worry, Father. I will find him," he said, determination threaded like steel through his voice. And with that, the prince took to the sky, heading in the only direction he knew to take, toward the only place he knew he might find the fiery Saiyan. If he was right. If Vegeta actually cared for him…
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Deep in the woods, on the edge of the clearing where he had trained in secret these many weeks, Vegeta paced like a caged animal. He was frantically trying to figure out what to do. He could return to the arena, or show up at the palace and make up some lame excuse. It wasn't like they were offering him some truly horrible thing. Kami-sama! To be a prince! To one day rule the entire kingdom! That was far more than he had ever dreamed possible. Yet Kakarotto was even more than that.
His eyes fell closed as he remembered the feel of soft, silken lips gliding sensually against his own, the taste of warm honey slipping over his tongue as the man slowly explored his mouth. He would gladly sacrifice everything he had to experience that sweet divinity again.
Oh, Kami, where was he? This was the only place Vegeta knew to look for him. Hn, and now virtually every person in the kingdom knew what he looked like; he couldn't exactly go blindly searching for the man. But would Kakarotto know to come?
Vegeta held his ki at a moderated level to avoid attention, and yet not so low that Kakarotto wouldn't be able to feel his presence should the other Saiyajin seek him out.
I'm afraid I'll never see you again…
A shiver of anxiety traveled unbidden up his spine. What would he do if that actually occurred? Oh, Kami, surely he would—
Vegeta whirled, sensing a sudden, brilliant upsurge of ki. And there he was, standing in the middle of the clearing as if he'd been waiting there forever, smiling. His smile was marvelous, dazzling, and instantly heated every blood cell within the smaller Saiyan's body.
"Kakarotto," he murmured softly, reverently, and then he was moving toward him without thought, as if magnetically drawn. He stopped just before him, quickly searching the man's exquisite features.
"You're here," the tall Saiyajin said quietly, his smile deepening. "I had hoped you might come here."
"Did you see?" Vegeta questioned bluntly. "Were you there?"
Kakarotto nodded. "I was there. You left."
The smaller warrior snorted. "You were right. They had no intention of wriggling out of it. They actually expect me to mate with the royal brat!"
"And that's a bad thing?" he countered, tilting his head to the side.
"Hn. How the hell should I know? I never even caught a glimpse of him."
"But you'll become a prince. For such wealth and power a person would do much. You've already passed the difficult part. All you have to do now is accept."
"You sound as if you actually want me to mate with the brat," he said, his inflection low and impassive. "You wanted me to win, Kakarotto, and I have, just as I told you I would. Now, tell me why it was so important to you."
"I think you'll make a splendid prince, Vegeta," he said, deliberately ignoring the demand, the warm smile never faltering.
"I don't give a damn about becoming a prince!" he growled back angrily. "None of that would mean anything without—if I didn't—oh, kuso!" he spat out helplessly, his eyes dancing away, no longer able to meet Kakarotto's bright, fathomless gaze.
"If you didn't what, Vegeta?" he prompted, his smile growing tender and more sedate.
The smaller Saiyan wordlessly counted the blades of green grass at his feet for several long minutes. Then, so very, very softly, "If I didn't have you."
Dark orbs of shimmering onyx rose to fervently implore. "What is all of that to me if I don't have you to share it with, Kakarotto? I… you are all that I really want. I don't want some spoiled brat of a prince… I want you. I want you to be my mate."
The large warrior stared at him for a seeming eternity, his round black eyes slowly filling with glittering tears. "You are all that I want too, Vegeta," he whispered quietly, his voice thick and husky with overwhelming emotion.
For a moment, Vegeta stopped breathing. "Then why do you keep pushing me toward that pampered royal brat?" he questioned sharply, his own eyes growing far too moist for comfort.
"Because, Vegeta," Kakarotto replied softly, his smile quavering slightly, "I am that pampered royal brat." A tear broke free to trail painfully down his cheek.
Vegeta blinked, uncomprehending.
"Just not all that pampered," he expounded in a near whisper. "Kakarotto is actually one of my middle names; there's quite a long list, you see. Now you know why I couldn't enter the Tournament. Can't compete when you're the damned trophy. And you wondered why you couldn't see me… Would you have been able to show your face under such degrading and humiliating circumstances? To have the entire kingdom gawk at you like the highly-prized whore you've suddenly become? All of those warriors, Vegeta… all of them competing to win me—me! My own father sold me off to the strongest fighter in the land! Kami, it could have been anybody! Did you get a good look at that thing that came in second?! Oh, Kami… oh, Kami, Vegeta… if you hadn't won, I don't know what I would have done. To commit treason is punishable by death. But, Kami… I think I might have done it anyway…"
Vegeta could only stare at him, his eyes wide and his breathing agonizingly shallow.
"That's why I offered to help you," he went on, his voice still low, his expression somber and stained with tears. "You were the first warrior I knew of competing in the Tournament for some reason other than me. Plus, I could already tell you were likely good enough to win the whole blasted thing. As I told you, then, I wanted to get to know you better. And then I did…
"Kami, Vegeta! I wanted you so bad it hurt to look at you sometimes!" he suddenly exclaimed, passion and fervor straining his voice with voracious need. "Yet what I wanted didn't count… I was to be auctioned off to the most skilled warrior. So I did everything within my power to make damned sure you would be the strongest and the most skilled. And you were… you are… Oh, Kami, Vegeta! I love you so much! You are everything I have ever wanted in a mate!"
"Why didn't you tell me?" Vegeta asked finally, his voice thick and full of wonder.
"I don't know… pride, comfort, cowardice… I was enjoying our time together far too much to risk losing it. When the proclamation went out, I no longer wanted to be Prince Goku. When I was with you, I didn't have to be."
Vegeta fell silent for a long, pondering while, as the prince anxiously awaited his reaction. Then the smaller Saiyajin heaved a deep, alleviating sigh.
"What are you going to do, Vegeta?" he asked, his body strung taut with tension.
"Well, I don't have much of a choice, now, do I?" he said evenly. "I hear that treason is punishable by death, so I'd better come up with some lame excuse for my absence and return to the arena. Being a prince can't be all that bad, though you haven't exactly painted a very pleasant picture. Still, as long as I don't have to serve breakfast or polish any armor, I think I can manage to tolerate it. Also a consideration, is the rather annoying fact that I don't seem to want live without you. I suppose you'd call that love. I wouldn't know much about that. Perhaps you can explain it to me after the crowning and rituals next week. By then we should—"
His words were broken off, abruptly, by the sudden pressure of satin-spun lips claiming his own with ardent enthusiasm, a warm, velvety tongue stealing between them to lovingly caress the sensitive inner hollows of his mouth. Vegeta closed his eyes and gratefully allowed the sweet invasion, his arms lifting to enfold the handsome prince within a tight embrace of sheer Saiyan possessiveness.
And they lived happily ever after.
"You're damn right, they did!" Bulma said, folding her arms with a satisfied huff.