by KC

Disclaimer: I don't know who owns Dragon Ball Z. Probably someone with a lot of money now. I would hope they overlook this poor dishonorable student and pay more attention to counting those piles of green.

Other Info: Goku never left with the dragon, Vegeta never cut his hair, and everyone's alive. In other words, GT is silly and wasn't made by the artist and I don't consider it cannon. Also, the love scene has been edited to lie within 's guidelines. The original scene can be found on my journal.

Further Info: This was written for a DBZ Big Bang Project that unfortunately came to nothing. Since I couldn't find any more information on the project after the community disappeared, I've decided to post it here in parts.

Prologue - 23 years ago

Denduluri was a glorified mudball, more ocean than island, with little in the way of natural resources. Still, it was on Freiza's list of planets to cull, so Vegeta merely cursed the waves splashing his pod as it floated in the middle of an empty ocean. Was all the life beneath the surface? He hoped not. He'd killed underwater civilizations before, and he hated holding his breath and diving down for miles. Worse, he hated swimming towards light thinking it was a sign of civilization and instead finding a bioluminescent orb on a gigantic set of fangs. "Hey Vegeta!" Nappa called from his own pod several meters away. "Yes, Nappa?" he grumbled.

"Think there are sea monsters out here?"

"The only monsters here are us," Vegeta said.

He grimaced against the vicious green sun beating down and tried to measure the distance between it and the horizon. He thought that it was sinking, but there was no way to be sure. Sunsets could last for years on some planets. He hoped it went down soon and that the night was cool but not icy.

He tapped his scouter, scanning the planet for dry land. To his relief, it also found a large energy source on the planet's largest island, most likely a city, but it lay hundreds of miles across the sea, so he grabbed the open entrance of his pod and started flying, tugging the pod behind him.

"Aw," Nappa said at his shoulder, pulling his own pod. "I hate it when we have to carry our ships."

Vegeta snorted. "I don't want my only ticket off this dump swallowed by a giant fish. Took us forever to find it last time."

"That fish was worth it, though," Nappa said. "Absolutely delicious. I still remember it."

"We'll make time for dinner," Vegeta promised. "But I don't think the fish here will talk, not if the civilization is on land."

"Nuts. I always like it when dinner can talk back," Nappa said, flashing a predatory grin. "Think Raditz is here yet?"

A streak of fire across the sky caught both of their attention. Vegeta followed its path down the horizon and nodded to himself. They had landed split up before, and knew to meet up at the area of strongest energy.

"Looks like he's just in time for the show," he laughed.

By the time they arrived at the beach, the sun had set and his arms felt stiff from dragging his pod behind him. He let it settle in the red sand and sat on top, resting from the long flight. Nappa did the same, flopping down and enjoying the warm breeze. The pink clouds were long and wispy, coalescing and blown apart by the wind, and the night sky was covered in thousands of stars.

Vegeta hated stars when he wasn't in his pod. In space, stars lay flung out over vast distances and spawned within glowing, glittering clouds of dust, passed by comets and flares of cosmic debris. Viewed from a planet, however, they were a flat map that he couldn't touch. He felt like he'd been thrown out of a river when he should have been sailing with it.

"Nappa?" he asked suddenly.

"Yeah, Vegeta?"

"Can you see our sun from here?"

Nappa fell silent. Vegeta always asked that whenever they looked at the stars. It was a question he always dreaded but one he took great pains to answer honestly. Every time they were assigned a planet, he looked up its distance from Saiya. The search called up bitter pangs of regret and loss, and he did his best not to think about it long.

"No," he answered truthfully. "We're too far out."

Vegeta didn't answer. Nappa often wondered what the loss of their race had done to the young prince. He was still so young, scrabbling against Freiza's hierarchy to keep the older warriors from brutalizing him. Any youthful joy or childish wonder had long since been beaten out of him. A huge part of him had died when torn away from his father, and then to know that he was one of only a scattered handful of Saiyans, a useless prince of a dead world...

The boy hid his emotions well, masking them with a cold numbness. He only smiled in battle. He never cried. He showed anger less and less, hiding it when it might be used against him. He absolutely never showed fear and did his best to hold back any cry of pain. Stoicism was Vegeta's only defense against their employer. Freiza bored of toys that didn't cry.

That lack of emotion worried Nappa. How much of it was a mask and how much of it was encroaching madness? He'd seen Saiyans that had lost their minds. On bad nights, usually when they'd gone too long on Freiza's ship without a mission, he could see the touch of madness burning at the edge of Vegeta's eyes. The prince could fall silent for days, staring at nothing on the wall. Drinking, whoring, gambling, the usual entertainment on Freiza's ship-he never partook. He sat still and moved too deliberately, too self-aware.

Did Vegeta simply miss his family? So did Nappa and Raditz, and neither of them were in danger of going insane. His culture? He'd been too young to know it all that well. His place in the universe? Nappa sometimes thought that maybe Vegeta missed the chance to actually be a prince as opposed to having the royal title tacked on like a cosmic insult.

Or maybe as Vegeta grew older, he felt the weight of responsibility to a world that he'd failed. If Vegeta ever felt guilt, though, he never let it slip to Nappa or anyone else. To the rest of the ship, he was the strongest of the young warriors, the most aloof of the prisoners, and the most ruthless in battle.

A streak of light warned them that Raditz was coming. Standing, they both waited for him to bring his own pod to the beach and catch his breath. Without a word, they all lifted into the air and flew to the distant red glow on the horizon. They landed in the center of a ring of mud huts with dozens of aliens slithering along on eel-like bodies. Dressed in shells and kelp, the natives stared at the three newcomers in open wonder.

"Hey, Nappa," Vegeta laughed.


"Looks like we're getting seafood after all."

To their annoyance, the slaughter didn't take long at all. There were no champions, or if there were, none that stood out long enough before being cut down with the rest of them. On other planets they got to hear brave speeches about how the hero would save the day, sometimes the way the local gods would aid the people in their battle, or even witness a civil war spurred on by their decimation only to have the winners realize they had been horribly deluded and that the Saiyans didn't care who they killed. These eel people died too fast to do anything, and soon the planet was quiet.

Watching their victims strut or cringe was one of their few pleasures to break up the monotony of Freiza's ship. Different planets reacted in strange ways, and once in awhile they surprised the Saiyans. This easy death was different but unsatisfying.

Radditz held his slab of meat over the fire, roasting it the way he preferred. As he turned it over, he quietly laughed to himself.

"What're you thinking of?" Nappa asked.

"Just remembering a few planets ago," Radditz said. "The ones that worshiped us."

Nappa chuckled with him. "The fanatics."

The memory was hard to erase-no other planet had reacted that way. On a world of treacherous cliffs and steep valleys, the throng of birdlike creatures had watched them methodically destroy whole cities, slowly moving towards their aeries. To the Saiyans' surprise, the whole race had gone to meet them in ceremonial feathery robes. As they approached, they heard the last words of the priest telling his flock that the day of fiery consumption had at last come and that they should meet their end calmly with dignity.

Silent, Vegeta had watched them kneel down, heads bowed, waiting for his blast as if he was a god. He had hesitated. For once he had no idea what to do.

When Nappa had raised his hand, however, he stepped forward and swept his strongest ki bolt over them, leaving nothing but ashes in a second. It was the only time a race had knelt before him, and Nappa and Radditz never mentioned it. There had been no amused laughter, no toying with their prey, and Vegeta had ensured they couldn't even dine on their bodies. It was a strange respect the prince had given them, and not one they felt comfortable asking him about.

"What's that?" Vegeta asked, startling them both.

As one, they all stared at the gray spaceships coming down from the clouds. Their blocky shapes were silhouetted by the lights along their fins, and as they landed, squashing the huts, the smoke from their engines swamped the land like fog. The Saiyans stood, hoping for a real fight.

The ships lowered long landing ramps, and out walked several buglike creatures with long antennae. The one in the center had a cape affixed between his shoulder spines, marking him as the obvious leader. His joints were segmented and his jaw clacked when he spoke.

"I am Lord Reagel," he said, his antennae waving towards all of them. "I am commander of the Budoven fleet. Who are you?"

Instantly Vegeta's mood improved. Budoven. Freiza complained about them often. Galactic parasites, they ruined any planet they touched. Freiza would be pleased to know that they'd destroyed a whole fleet of them and saved the planet for a client.

"I am Prince Vegeta," he said, laughing. "And we are your death."

The commander's head was on the ground before the rest of them knew what had happened. A second later, the Budoven's guns were drawn and the battle was met.

Present Day

Bones snapped and crunched audibly as they ate. Goku never ate like this at home with Chichi, cracking the bones and sucking out the marrow. She called it rude and disgusting, and he always watched the bones go into the trash with some regret. After hunting one of the many dinosaurs roaming the forest, however, there was plenty of marrow in its bones to make up for the loss. Rich, meaty, and smooth, nothing was better, especially when the bones were thick.

Vegeta didn't agree, and he let him take the bones without argument, favoring the internal organs instead. He was still finishing the creature's heart, steaming in the cool night air, and licking the blood from his fingers. It was the blood that Vegeta savored, often describing it in terms reminiscent of a milkshake, and he ripped off a hunk of flesh to lap at it before devouring it in a few bites.

Sighing in satisfaction, Goku tossed empty shards of bone over his shoulder onto a growing pile. More and more of their nights were spent like this, fighting each other in the morning, hunting in the afternoon, eating and enjoying each other's company in the evening. They had never agreed to meet each other and never discussed what days they would come together. One would simply join the other as he trained.

No one ever came looking for them on these nights, either. It was too dangerous to come within miles while they sparred, and no one wanted to join their hunt for dinner, not after Piccolo had come to check on them once. Goku chuckled.

"What's funny?" Vegeta asked from the other side of the campfire. He sat just far enough for the flames to cast a flickering glow over his face, leaving the rest of him in shadow.

Goku tossed another chunk of wood on the fire to give them more light.

"Just remembering Piccolo that one night," he said. "I didn't mean to gross him out, but the face he made was funny."

"Mm." Vegeta nodded once and fell silent again.

Why talk? Humans treated dinner like it was some kind of social get together, and Goku had picked up that annoying habit. Only after long years and super Saiyan patience had Vegeta's silent treatment finally sank into Goku's head that the prince didn't feel the need to speak. Goku tolerated the silence for Vegeta's sake, but he preferred the irritated grumbling that he usually drew out of him.

"I still wish the boys would join us," Goku sighed. "They don't know what they're missing."

Vegeta rolled his eyes, a habit of his own picked up from Trunks. "They're too human. They prefer fancier meals, with spices and sauces and things like that."

"And cooked," Goku said, grabbing a piece he had staked over the fire. He never had to compete with Vegeta for roasted meat. The prince preferred it raw and dripping. "Is this how Saiyan elites would eat?"

A knife twisted in Vegeta's heart. He didn't like to think about life when he wasn't the last of his race. He eyed Goku. One of the last two, he thought, although he couldn't fully convince himself that Goku, his Kakarrot, was really a full Saiyan. There were so many things about his culture that he'd forgotten and would never experience, especially not with this amnesiac low bred warrior who had taken too well to human culture.

"If we were off world or hunting," he said with a nod.

"Did Saiyans ever use tables?" Goku asked.

Vegeta shrugged. "Rarely, on formal occasions. I never saw it. I was too young to dine with the nobles."

Goku looked at him through the fire. Vegeta thought he masked the pain well, but Goku always caught the tell-tale cracks in the mask. The tightness of his jaw, the rigid posture, the hooded eyes as he stared into nothing. Vegeta clamped down on his emotions like a vice, calling it soft heartedness that had to be done away with. That violent repression of his feelings told Goku just how strong those feelings were. But he never called him on it. The prince put himself through enough pain without adding to it.

Finally the meal was finished. Goku picked over the last bones as Vegeta stripped the last bits of flesh from the otherwise clean skeleton. The campfire snuffed out in its own ashes, leaving a thin trail of smoke that rose up, then drifted to the ground. Rain, Goku recognized. He'd learned how to read the natural signs around him to tell the weather, and the smoke told him they didn't have long before the clouds rolled in. How long had they been eating? Dew was starting to form on the grass.

"Wanna head in?" he asked. He didn't think Vegeta would agree. Only rarely did the other Saiyan mind being caught in a downpour.

As expected, Vegeta shook his head and got to his feet, walking away towards the trees. Goku kicked dirt over the campfire to bury it, covering it completely, then followed. He often wondered why Vegeta insisted on coming deeper into the forest, and he imagined it was for the same reason Chichi insisted on turning off the lights before sex. Vegeta used the thick canopy of branches and leaves to block out the stars and moon.

Not that the darkness mattered. Both of them shared the excellent night vision of their race. Vegeta picked a spot beneath a lush tree and sat down, pulling off his top and tugging off his boots. Goku joined him, shedding his own clothes quickly. He never hurried Vegeta into disrobing faster. He enjoyed watching the other Saiyan peel off the tight stretchy fabric and deliberately lay it aside. Vegeta was deliberate in everything he did, and the way he prepared for their nightly trysts had all the elements of a ritual or ceremony.

First the top, then the boots, then the pants. Then Vegeta always paused, sitting slightly curled on the ground. Even in the dark, he never looked Goku square in the eyes when they lay together. Sometimes Vegeta even closed his eyes, pressing his hand against his mouth to keep himself quiet. Goku had never asked why. He didn't know about Vegeta's past with Freiza, but there were some things he didn't dare ask. The way Vegeta closed himself off whenever the conversation turned to his old boss warned Goku off, and he told himself to stay satisfied with the knowledge that Freiza had hurt him so bad that he never wanted to speak of it.

Especially not when there were far more pleasant activities to enjoy.

He crawled to Vegeta's side, taking in the scent of his hair, nuzzling cheek to cheek. Goku didn't act this way for anyone else. Tentative like two animals meeting for the first time, Goku used his body language to ask permission, creeping over him and guiding them both down flat. The forest floor provided a rough mat with twigs and stones and dry leaves crunching beneath them, but he felt more at home here on the bare terrain than in his bed at home.



"I'm tired."

That was all that had to be said. Vegeta only admitted such where no one could see him. The hunt and the sparring hadn't worn him out, but the quiet years on earth let him relax, come down from years of heightened awareness. He had lived constantly wary for sneak attacks, and now that he no longer lived with that chronic paranoia, he felt all the stress and tension finally working out of him. It made for sore muscles and aching bones as he grew used to feeling safe. It also made him anxious, confusedly wondering why he was angry before he realized it was because his instincts sought out danger where there wasn't any.

So tonight Kakarrot would go slow. No mindless rut but first careful exploration of his prince's body. Bruises he didn't care about. He couldn't feel those. But Saiyans healed quickly and his fingertips searched for the new shallow cuts left by ki bolts, mapping them before they vanished back into his skin. It was easy to tell the new ones from the old. The new scars were spider thin, small and barely raised. The old ones...

He brushed the thick, raised scars on Vegeta's shoulders, ignoring the sharp intake of breath and the angry warning growl. Vegeta might bite, but never deep enough to really hurt him. Goku thought that Vegeta appreciated his acknowledgment of the old wounds. In the bare starlight that left the night a dark, dark blue, the scars looked like silver wisps along Vegeta's skin in the tight close formations so reminiscent of Freiza's claws.

Bending over him, kissing, then licking as if he could lap the scars away-Vegeta breathed in and tensed, arching his back slightly. Goku smiled. Their bodies were hardened by callouses and injuries, but somehow Vegeta managed to stay sensitive to the touch. He wished they had their tails. He sometimes toyed with the idea of wishing them from the dragon, but how to explain to everyone else that he was willing to risk the destruction of the earth just to see Vegeta writhe and lose his self-control?

When the others asked why he spent so much time in Vegeta's company, he didn't tell them. Vulnerability masked behind brittle pride, raw love and anger that had scarred over. He would never tell them. It was his secret, a royal secret, and he would cherish Vegeta in private.

Vegeta's ego was horribly fragile. He knew if he teased him, his prince was blush furiously and never open up again. And he couldn't risk that, especially not now as he waited-

There it was. Goku felt it at the edge of his senses, an electrical tingling that touched his mind, withdrew as if afraid, then tentatively touched again. He closed his eyes to better feel Vegeta's emotions flickering at the cusp of his awareness. Power lurked there, like a hawk trying to land on a treacherous cliff face, brushing the rough stone with its feather tips. Goku held still, waiting patiently as Vegeta let himself trust enough to settle safely down, firmly curled against Goku's strength.

The first time he had felt it, he hadn't known what it was. Only because he'd known in his heart, instinctively like an animal, that this was Vegeta had he not whirled to attack it. Later on the other Saiyan had explained that it was part of mating another Saiyan, a feral affection that demanded a dangerous trust, like two eagles clasping talons in the air and plunging in ecstasy, trusting the other to let go before they slammed into the earth. Vegeta had tried and failed to hide his blush as he explained, furious with himself for showing weakness. Goku had grinned and hugged him and made a fool of himself to assuage his ego, and from then on he fought not to betray that trust.

The tingling sensation faded slowly, loathe to leave. Vegeta could deny it all he liked, but Goku knew better. The prince was coming to enjoy the vulnerability with him, baring his throat to Goku's fangs and coming away unscathed time and again.

A royal gift, the only one he had to give, and one that Goku handled delicately, terrified what his clumsy, powerful hands might do to it.