Disclaimer: I do not own Dragonball Z.

Author's Notes:  I know, I know.  I'm supposed to be working on the next chapter of "The Soul."  And don't think I'm not still working on it.  This one-shot just wouldn't get out of my head, and it came together so quickly.  I just couldn't resist.  But I AM working on chapter 33 of "The Soul."  I am.  It's just taking a little longer to write, and what with exams and all.  I'm hoping to be able to update a bit more frequently this summer, but I can't get my hopes up.  Oh, well.  Hope you enjoy this one-shot, though.  As you can see, it's set during the later Buu Saga.  I've rated it for minor violence, mostly because I've gotten suggestions before for upping the rating to a story because of realistic descriptions of injuries.  Blame Toriyama for making such a violent creation, and making it so enjoyable.  Anyway.  In one part, I used dialogue from the manga, mostly because I didn't have my DBZ tapes with me to look at the exact dialogue.  And I like the manga dialogue better.  But when I wanted to include another scene, I found, to my dismay, that the scene wasn't even included in the manga.  So I found a copy of the episode and watched it online (when my roommate wasn't asleep), but I didn't want to go back and copy the dialogue before.  That's the reason for a few discrepancies.  Enjoy!

A Planet United

The Saiyan Prince got up painfully to his feet.  He knew he was dead, but he felt so much more than dead.  His corpse may have been sturdier than his regular body, but he still shuddered at the thought of internal damage as bone and muscle slid past each other painfully.  He could barely use his arm anymore, and his neck felt like it had practically been severed.  Who knew if a dead body could heal on its own?  And would it matter anyway?

Vegeta had honestly not expected to survive this long.  He'd died before, after all.  And that was just against the weakest Buu.  The Buu that was now getting its butt kicked in by that little punk Buu.  'And how are there two, or even three, Buus again?  Wouldn't the loss of the fat Buu just turn it into the gray Buu that we saw in fat Buu's mind?'  Vegeta shook away this train of thought.  It was unproductive and just gave him a headache.  He didn't need a headache when he was already bleeding from the scalp.

Yes, Vegeta had been fatalistic going in to this battle.  Of course, the only alternative had been to go to Hell, and he hadn't exactly been keen on that idea.  Spending an eternity in a place where he'd run into Frieza and Kami knows who else?  Vegeta opted for non-existence.  He had no illusions that he would just get lucky.  He didn't get lucky.  That was for people like Kakarrot, who had destroyed Frieza the first time he met him.  Who had gotten shipped off to a nice planet and was enabled to live there in relative peace, instead of being enslaved to a sadistic tyrant from early childhood.  Whose power came naturally – easily.  Whose constant work and training always ALWAYS paid off, and could show himself to be the hero, even when he wasn't strong enough.  Yes, Vegeta had come to terms with Kakarrot's superiority.  It had taken him twelve long years to accept what he already knew, but with it brought a peace of mind instead of a sense of failure.

However, Kakarrot's luck looked to be running out for once.  His Super Saiyan 3 (and just how many of these ridiculous levels are there) had failed.  In fact, Kakarrot had gone completely to his normal form, even after that minute of agony that seemed to stretch into eternity, or at least half an hour.  'And just when I actually wanted him to be stronger,' Vegeta thought ironically.  Goku had now floated to the ground, with a confused and troubled expression on his face.  Not exactly what you want to see in the middle of a battle.  For in battle, Kakarrot was a genius.  And now it seemed he was fresh out of power, and ideas.

'Think, Vegeta.'  Vegeta's mind raced.  He knew he didn't have enough ki to fight Buu, even when he was at full strength.  His attacks had been mere insect bites to the monstrosity.  Kakarrot was alive, but his power was affected negatively by this.  It seemed that the living body took up twice as much power as the dead body, and therefore made Super Saiyan 3 unstable and impractical.  Perhaps if Vegeta had enough time to train, he'd be able to reach level 3, but there was not time.  Not even the Room of Spirit and Time could help, since it had been blown away with the rest of Earth.  The fat Buu's power was dwindling fast.  It was mostly a stall for time until someone came up with a plan.  It seemed to be brains, and not brawn, that would win this fight.  Fat Buu was a strong idiot, Mr. Satan was a weak worthless idiot, and Kakarrot, who usually had the perfect strategy against any opponent, had come to rely too much on superior strength.  'Well,' Vegeta thought with dark humor, 'I certainly haven't had that attitude in a while.'

So what did Vegeta have that Goku didn't have?  They were both experts in battle, and had been for years.  But, while Goku's expertise had come mostly from instinct, Vegeta had the benefit of years of tactical training.  Frieza had been training him to become a military leader, and Vegeta had learned well.  He'd read enough… been lectured enough… studied enough examples… all things that had been all but useless since after the fight on Namek.  'But it's all I have left.  It's all WE have left.'

Still staring at the Buu fight, yet not really seeing it, Vegeta raced through possibilities.  His mind seemed to block out the pain of his many injuries, just like in the old days.  Just like in the old days…

                                        -----

The Saiyan Prince got up painfully to his feet.  He shuddered at the thought of internal damage as bone and muscle slid past each other painfully.  He could barely use his arm anymore, and his neck felt like it had practically been severed.  Who knew when Frieza would allow him to crawl into a rejuvenation tank?  He had the nasty feeling that it wouldn't be any time soon.

A fist came seemingly out of nowhere, sending Vegeta crashing back to his prone position.  The young teenager would have growled in pain and defiance, if the urge to vomit wasn't so powerful.  He took a few deep breaths to regain control, not daring to meet the eyes of his hated master.  He knew that Frieza would read the hate that his eyes held, and he needed just a minute to get it under control.  'Survive at all costs.'

The silken rasp of Frieza's voice filled his head, too close to his ear.  Frieza was bending over him, grabbing his hair, and all Vegeta could do was take it and hope that he lost consciousness soon enough.  "Now, my dear little prince, do you have any idea as to how you got in this mess?"

Vegeta bit back his shame and remained silent.  The truth of it was that most of the wounds he was suffering from were not caused by Frieza.  The bitter tang of defeat lingered in Vegeta's mouth as he remembered his most recent mission.  He'd been stupid… reckless.  He'd gotten too cocky and played around too much.  But the youth couldn't understand how such a relatively weak race had managed to catch him like that.  Sure, it was supposed to have been a challenging mission, but he'd had greater challenges before.  Yes, he'd made some mistakes, but nothing that was supposed to have been fatal.  Were the records for that planet inaccurate?  Had the scouters malfunctioned?  Had Frieza done it one purpose?  Vegeta didn't understand it, and it was frustrating him to no end.

His train of thought ended as a sharp kick came crashing into his side.  He felt something give, and knew that one of his ribs had probably broken.  Now he really hoped to lose consciousness, so that he would have to be carried to the rejuvenation tank.  He didn't fancy the long walk through the corridors to the medic lab – corridors that were filled with soldiers that would just love to take advantage of his weakened condition.  No, he didn't look forward to that at all.

Another kick – one with a bit less force – rolled him so that he was laying on his back, looking up at the ceiling, and then into the red soulless eyes of his tormentor.  One look told Vegeta that this beating was different.  Usually Frieza looked like a sadistic child at play when he was kicking Vegeta around – one of those children that dismembered their dolls for fun and pulled the wings off small insects.  Frieza wasn't smiling, though.  This wasn't play.  This was punishment, and Frieza was being serious.  It made Vegeta even more afraid.

The youth realized with a start that Frieza was actually waiting for an answer, and his patience was starting to wear away.  Struggling to use a throat that had been severely hurt from being gripped by a tail, Vegeta croaked out the words, "Because I failed a mission, Lord Frieza."

Frieza's eyes narrowed as he stared at the bleeding Saiyan at his feet.  "And do you know why you were defeated?" he said, his tone a bit colder.

Vegeta's mind raced for an answer.  Nothing seemed to work.  Finally, in desperation, he settled on one.  "Because I underestimated the local technology?"

Another sharp kick to the ribs let Vegeta know that he hadn't provided the right answer.  Black and red spots were starting to cloud his vision, and he felt his hoped for blackout creeping up on him.  But it was not to be the case.  Even as he hoped for peaceful oblivion, his warrior instincts clung on to consciousness.

"Get up."

Vegeta's eyes widened at the sudden change in tactics.  Frieza usually enjoyed to keep him in this humiliatingly vulnerable state, and would keep kicking him down if he dared to get up.  'Perhaps he just wants to see me struggle first,' Vegeta thought grimly.  The prince didn't see the point in it, and simply lay there, conveying defiance even in his weakened and shameful state.

Frieza's voice was joltingly formal and cold, for once without the usual mocking edge.  "I have a lesson for you, Vegeta.  Now, if you want to remain an ignorant punching bag for the rest of your life, then just lay there and go to sleep.  If, however, you wish to actually learn something, you'll get up and face your master like a soldier should."

The words cut Vegeta to the core, playing at his pride.  Ignorant punching bag.  That was something he could not allow.  He knew that Frieza was still his superior in strength and battle experience, and knew more about strategy than anyone alive.  He knew he would have to learn from Frieza in order to defeat him, no matter how many hoops he had to jump through.  Slowly, agonizingly slowly, ignoring the sharp protest of bone and muscle, he got to his feet.  For a brief second, as he watched Frieza's tail swish from side to side, he expected the horrible appendage to knock him against the wall.  He braced for the blow that didn't come.  The words that followed made a much more powerful impression on him than any blow.

"So, you think you were defeated by advanced technology.  Perhaps it seemed that way at first, and perhaps it was the most obvious cause.  But that wasn't the root cause.  You made a fatal mistake out there, little one.  Do you have any more guesses as to what it was?"

Vegeta bristled against the insult to his size, especially coming from one his own height, but he quickly swallowed the growl forming in his sore throat, shook his head, and listened.

Frieza shook his head in amusement at one he considered an errant child.  "You've forgotten some of your first lessons in the art of planet purging.  Your youth is no excuse for it.  So I will give you a refresher course.  Are you listening, Vegeta?!"

Vegeta's eyes, in the typical teenage response, had started to become glazed over in the advent of a lecture.  He snapped back to attention.  "Yes, Lord Frieza."

Frieza frowned, wondering again why he was bothering to teach the youthful prince, or even keep him around.  Pushing aside these thoughts, and making sure Vegeta's eyes were alert and focused, he continued with his lecture.  "You know that during the initial attack on a planet, the best strategy is to his the central location of the power head-on, whether it be the government capitol, a technological center, a military base, or even a grouping of powerful independent warriors.  That's the source of leadership on the planet.  That's what the locals are going to rally behind.  You may think that a simple plebian race is nothing to be worried about, but you're wrong.  The most dangerous thing in the world, besides me of course, is a planet united."

Frieza had Vegeta's full attention now.  The prince had never heard the tyrant speak of his victims with even this much respect.

Frieza continued, pleased at Vegeta's attentiveness.  "You give a planet enough time, and they'll become indestructible.  Even a group of pre-iron age cave dwellers can take down a non-elite squadron with the right opportunities and little luck.  But mostly their success relies on unity and a common purpose.  You can't allow them to unite.  Do whatever you can to take away their leadership and their power.  Use any means to bring them into chaos.  Once a planet is in chaos, you know your victory is ensured.  That's why we keep records on planets.  So you'll know how to attack – what to attack.  Because if you allow them their power, they can take down an elite like you.  Remember that, my little prince.  A planet united can do anything."

Vegeta stood there, processing his lesson.  Before he could even think to apply it to his own dead planet, a fist came out of nowhere, striking the back of his head.  Finally, he was wrapped in the dark oblivion he'd craved.

As Frieza strode back to his throne, Zarbon walked out of the shadows and called some guards to take Vegeta to the medics.  He stood over the young unconscious prince, noting the nasty cut seeping blood on the back of his head, matting the coarse hair.  "That was a pretty strong blow, Lord Frieza.  I hope it doesn't make him forget his lesson."

Frieza accepted a glass of wine from a servant, already growing bored now that his favorite plaything was asleep.  The sight of oh-so-arrogant prince bleeding on his throne room brought a dark smile to his lips.  "He'll remember, Zarbon.  He remembers everything I tell him."

                                       -----

'A planet united…'

For once, Vegeta was grateful for the flashback to his past.  He'd been ruled by the terror of his past and Frieza for far too long.  Now, he would use it.

A planet united.  They didn't have a planet anymore, but they had a way to get it back.

And they certainly had a leader to rally behind.

"This is bad.  He's going to lose."

At Goku's words, Vegeta made his decision.  "Kaioshin!  Dende!  Are you watching this with the crystal?!  Do you hear me?  Answer if you can!"

Vegeta heard the god's reply, "Yeah… I hear you… but…"

"Good," Vegeta interrupted his very un-godlike stuttering.  "Now go to New Namek and collect all the dragonballs."

Dende's hesitant voice began, "Why?..."

"Don't waste time!  Hurry!  There's no time left!"

Frustrated by the gods' hesitance and thinking his plan out clearly, Vegeta was none too thrilled to hear his rival's voice.  "Vegeta… what are you doing?  It's too early to use the dragonballs."

'And it'll be too late if Buu kills us both,' Vegeta thought caustically.  "Kakarrot… how many times have you saved Earth?"

"What?  Why are you asking all of the sudden?  Uh… how many times was it again?"

Despite the annoying fact that Goku didn't truly appreciate the enormity of what he was saying, Vegeta, for once, enjoyed the clueless quality of Goku's voices.  'He really has no idea.'  "Sometimes…" Vegeta began, "Let the Earthlings be responsible for themselves…"

                                                        *****

Frieza stared in disbelief at the crystal ball in front of him, ignoring the comments by the various inhabitants of Hell that he barely tolerated.  He was only watching because Buu had been spotted on the Grand Kai's planet, which was definitely a part of the afterlife, and he wanted to know if he would be 'graced' with Buu's presence in Hell, or if Buu would stay alive and simply destroy Hell altogether.  Frieza didn't enjoy his continued existence, but he at least valued it enough to keep up with battles for the entire universe. He even had the uncomfortable wish of wanting the Saiyans to win.  Well, if that didn't prove that he was in Hell, he didn't know what would.

"What'd he just say?" one of the demons spoke up as the crystal showed Vegeta saying something under his breath, too low for any sound to pick up.  But Frieza knew what he said.  He'd read Vegeta's lips for mumbled protests and treasonous mutterings long enough.  Yes, he knew what he said.

"A planet united…"

If he wasn't so disturbed, Frieza would have burst out laughing at the absurdity right then and there.  The Saiyan was using the training – HIS training.  And to save the universe, instead of ruling or destroying it.  'Perhaps I did hit him in the head a few too many times.'

The crystal ball began to shift scenes back and forth as things of importance began happening all over the place.  The others were bewildered at Vegeta's plan.  Of course.  The others didn't see the value of such a force wielded effectively.  And none of the others had tasted the power of the genki dama.  It was a masterful plan, one that Frieza expected from one he had trained so meticulously.  Frieza began to hold his breath, watching the newly-revived Vegeta put aside his arrogance and plead with the people of Earth to send their energy.  Frieza fully expected to see the end of Buu right then and there…

…until it didn't happen.  The planet wasn't united.

Frieza saw the flaw in the plan immediately.  Vegeta was too untrustworthy for people to rally behind.  It even showed through his voice, through what Frieza could tell was Vegeta's version of heartfelt pleas but sounded more like patronizing barked orders.  Vegeta knew the "planet united" theory from an outsider point of view, and knew nothing of how an insider would handle it.  It didn't matter how "good" (Frieza sneered at the thought) Vegeta had become.  His training would follow him to his grave and beyond, tainting him forever.

"Vegeta is a master tactician," Frieza spoke up.  "His plan is excellent.  Except for one thing.  He put his faith in a plebian race from out of the dark ages.  I finally get to see those monkeys fry!"  And this time, he did laugh.  However forced it was.  He just hoped that his own students had been in Hell long enough to forget.

As events began to unfold, and as the planet Earth began to rally behind the combined efforts of the Saiyans and the loud-mouthed human… indeed, as the genki dama grew larger and larger, and as Buu disintegrated into oblivion, Zarbon looked over at his scowling old master and smirked, knowing Frieza's bluster was just a cover-up.  'Yes,' Zarbon thought, 'he remembered everything he told him.'

                                                               *****

Trunks sat on the edge of the Lookout, still dazed from the whirlwind of events that seemed to have ended abruptly.  Everyone was still gathered around Goten's dad, that Goku guy.  Even Goten was clinging to his now-living mother and father, as if they'd disappear if he took his eyes off them.  'The baby,' Trunks thought, though he still couldn't resist a few clandestine looks to where his parents seemed to be having a serious discussion.  Trunks sighed.  The fact that they'd both been dead – heck, the fact that he himself had been dead – still hadn't sunk in yet.

But he knew what would happen.  Things may have changed for Gohan and Goten, but everything was just the same for Trunks.  Soon they'd go back to Capsule Corp, his father probably not going with them.  His mom would get upset, his dad, when he came back, would just yell right back, and Trunks would just go to his room, hating that his parents ignored him and hating the over-attentiveness of his grandmother.  Then there would be the usual training, where he would never be good enough, and he would never learn what he'd done wrong in the fight with Buu.  His father would never tell him.  And…

"For someone who was just brought back to life, you don't look too happy, brat."

            Trunks's wide blue eyes traced their way over to his father, who had sat next to him.  Trunks had been too caught up in his own thoughts to notice.  "I was just thinkin', Papa."

            Vegeta's eyebrows raised in surprise.  He had never pegged his young son to be the introspective type.  The battle must have done more to his son than he'd realized.  Bulma must have suspected something was wrong, seeing as how she'd practically shoved him over to the boy.  But he agreed with the woman.  There was no way he was going to let this boy turn out as clinically depressed as the future version.  Besides, fate had decided to give him a second chance, and for once he was taking the hint.  Vegeta put aside his own problems and merely focused on Trunks.  "And what exactly were you thinking about?"

            Trunks shifted uncomfortably at his father's new-found attentiveness.  Sure, Trunks knew that his father cared for him, but he'd never shown it this overtly.  It was… nice.  But it would take some getting used to.  And Trunks didn't exactly know how long it would last.  He hadn't even expected it to go beyond that first hug Vegeta had given him on the battlefield.  Taking a good look at his father, Trunks decided to take advantage of Vegeta's attention while he could.  Who knew when he would be able to again?  And a question was really bugging him, something that neither his mother nor his grandparents could answer.  "Why did that work?"

            "What do you mean?" Vegeta prompted, stopping himself before using the word "brat" as his usual sentence tag.

            Trunks frowned.  "Why did that genki thing work?  It doesn't really make sense.  I mean, it was made up of the power of all the people who couldn't beat Buu individually."  Trunks blue eyes pierced into Vegeta's black eyes.  "I couldn't beat Buu.  I tried really hard, and I fused with Goten and everything, but I still couldn't do it.  Gohan couldn't do it.  And you…"  Trunks shut his mouth, realizing what he'd been about to say.  If there was anything to get Vegeta mad, it was reminding him that he'd not been strong enough.  That was enough to get you killed, or at least maimed.

            Vegeta's lips curled up slightly in a half-smile at the boy's cautiousness.  "No, I wasn't strong enough to defeat Buu.  No one was, not even Kakarrot.  But you've already answered your own question."  Vegeta met the blue eyes and held them.  "You said that no one was able to beat Buu individually.  That was it.  Buu couldn't be beaten individually, no matter how much we would have like to.  But remember this lesson well, my son.  There is nothing more powerful than a planet united.  Not even a fusion could equal the effectiveness of an entire planet united for a common goal and under a powerful leadership.  That's why Earth was brought back early.  It is the most powerful asset we have."

            Trunks looked down thoughtfully.  "So, the people of Earth united under a common goal – to kill Buu – and thought they were uniting under Satan-san's leadership, but it was really under Kakarrot.  And that's why Buu was defeated."

            Vegeta nodded.  "Trunks, you just grasped a lesson that's taken me years to learn.  I'm proud of you, my son."  Then he gave a mockingly stern look.  "But listen here, brat.  I may call him Kakarrot, but he's Goku-san to you.  Your mother would skin me alive if you started talking so much like me."

            Trunks's grin grew even wider at the light rebuke.  "Yes, papa."

            "Now," Vegeta stood to his feet, motion for Trunks to follow him.  "Let's get your mother and go home.  I'm starving."

            Trunks's grin reached its limit, and he jumped up and joined his parents. 

            The group was already beginning to disperse, each person and family craving a return to the normality of home.  Even Vegeta, usually so separated from everyone and everything.  The Saiyan who had kept himself separated for all of a decade from the first home he'd known since the destruction of Planet Vegeta.  The Saiyan who had sacrificed everything when he'd realized that he actually cared about this planet.  The Saiyan who had finally claimed the planet as his home and counted himself among its people, unleashing its force from dormancy, and securing its safety. 

            This Saiyan – Vegeta – was ready to go home.