WHAT A BASTARD IS

by debbiechan

Disclaimer: I don't own DBZ. I don't own my two kids either--but they do my bidding, as do the characters in this story….Ok, to be honest, my children and these characters usually run off and do whatever the hell they want.

Warnings: Some cursing here and there, some references to sex--not much. This story is the cleanest one I've written so far.

A/N: This story is something of a sequel to "A Father Again" (a Vegeta identity crisis one-shot) and something of a prequel to "Curse the Future" (a Turo identity crisis one-shot) and "No One Else" (a Raditz identity crisis one-shot). My stories weave through the canon timeline, and although you don't need to be familiar with anything but DBZ itself to place them, it would be nice if you read all my stories.

The Child is the Father of the Man;

I wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety. William Wordsworth

Bra was born one spring morning, right in the family dome of Capsule Corporation. Bulma had designed one room so that her surgeons would have the most up-to-date obstetrical equipment handy and she herself could have all the comforts of home. Bulma's previous delivery of an over-sized, half-alien baby had been a scary complicated ordeal, so, taking no chances this time, the doctors scheduled a caesarian section.

Vegeta did not think it strange that his wife should have her own private team of obstetricians (upper-caste females of many worlds were attended by experts of all kinds), but he did find human rituals surrounding birth baffling. His presence was expected during the surgery (he refused to attend the gory procedure) as well as required for the first hours of his wife's recovery (he sat on the bed near Bulma's feet). He was expected to hold the baby after she was washed (he did this) as well as comment on her appearance (he said she looked like six pounds of uncooked hamburger and Bulma and her parents had laughed).

For several days, huge bouquets of brightly colored vegetation and packages addressed to Bra Vegeta Briefs arrived at CC by the dozens. Bulma's mother would breeze in every few minutes to show off an odd little toy or pink (it was always pink) item of baby clothing, and then she would whisk the gifts away to another part of the house. The nurse entered the room just as often to check either Bulma's or the baby's vital signs, until Vegeta threatened to strangle her with her own blood pressure gauge. "The baby's fine, you're fine, we're fine," he had argued, until Bulma agreed to dismiss the obstetrical staff and curtail the nurse's duties to diaper-changing whenever Bulma wanted to sleep.

Unlike Trunks Vegeta Briefs in a West City hospital fourteen years earlier, this baby required no tail amputation. Bulma said that Bra suckled more lightly than Trunks had, was gaining weight at an average human rate, and that all the CC scientists' preparation for another Saiyan-human hybrid had really been "much ado." By all indications, Bra was no different from any ordinary human baby.

A few weeks after the birth, Vegeta realized that he must have been extremely tense and vigilant for months because he was now feeling himself relax. He would be able to concentrate on his training without wondering if something weird and difficult was going to be demanded of him.

"Stay," Bulma said one morning as Vegeta was about to leave for a sparring session with his son.

"The boy needs to reclaim a regular schedule," Vegeta said. Bulma had designed a soundproof room so that the baby's cries wouldn't wake family members at night, but because of psychic abilities blossoming with puberty, Trunks was sensing all his sister's random spikes of hunger, discomfort, and raw baby need. At dawn, when Vegeta rose to train, Trunks was often asleep, as exhausted as a new mom.

"Please?" asked Bulma. "Gohan and Videl are visiting this morning and they're bringing their little daughter. Don't you want to see the world's only other part-Saiyan girl meet her new little bitty friend Bra? Don't you want see Gohan? You haven't seen him in ages!"

"Gohan can find me in the gravity room if he wishes. All these visits to meet the baby--they're all the same."

Bra was making gurgling noises in her bassinet, and Bulma leaned over to pick her up. "Getting bored in there? Want to meet another baby Saiyan girl today?" Bulma cupped her baby's head with one hand and held the cloth-diapered rear with the other. "You're getting bigger every day. Oh Vegeta, is it really so unbearable to just stand there while I introduce our new baby girl to the world?"

"All you do is describe over and over the moment the doctor held up my bloody, squirming daughter for you to see. And not only that, you've begun to dwell on the story of the boy's birth as well."

"Look, men have battle stories. Women have birth stories. We tell about how brave or foolish we were--women are usually both. We tally stuff like how many hours we labored, how many pushes it took to get the baby out, how many stitches if there was any tearing--"

Vegeta held up his hand, fingers pressed together as if to launch a Big Bang--only his face was wincing. Bulma couldn't tell if the gesture was meant to silence her, because he looked somewhat like a boy raising his hand in school. She opened her robe and nestled the infant against her breast to nurse. "Seems like you would be a little curious to know more about what happened with Trunks' birth. You were in space and missed it all."

"I don't need to hear all the anatomical particulars."

"I didn't think Saiyan warriors were squeamish."

"I am not squeamish. It has been my observation, however, that human females are squeamish. Extremely so. Why do they--why do you tolerate such a vulgarity as birth?

I don't see gestation tanks as beyond the aptitude of human scientists."

Bulma grinned. She'd known Vegeta long enough to know what grossed him out--not eating a dumpling after it had been dropped on a floor. Not popping a dislocated bone back into its socket. Buu's innards, yes. Slimy things that reminded him of Buu's innards, yes. Vegeta didn't like snakes and worms, and he'd made it clear that full color biograms of his preborn daughter disgusted him.

"What some people call vulgar other people call natural," Bulma said. "Some mothers are into the whole natural thing. No pain medication, nothing to speed up the birth. But yeah, I think most women would agree with you that birth is pretty vulgar. Lots of slime involved." She winked at Vegeta then turned her attention to the infant in her arms. She patted the downy bluish hairs on the mostly bald head with two fingers. "Fetus-growing tanks like on your planet, though--that's so unnatural."

Vegeta's arms folded in front of his chest. "Unnatural? Surely you're not going to tell me that humans don't pursue technology."

Bulma laughed. "I'd be the last person to argue against the values of technology. But look at it this way--all the soldiers on Frieza's ship had weapons, right? But those weapons could never match the power that you, a Saiyan, could channel out of your own hands. Your body is the source of all your strength and power. A woman's body is like that. It's got a purpose--to grow babies and nurture them. Some machine may sustain a baby, but …" Bulma's voice softened, and she turned her gaze from Vegeta to Bra. "Whatever your technology did to create stronger, faster, smarter Saiyans who could conquer more worlds, that technology killed something too."

Bulma moved a fold of bathrobe away from her nursing baby's face. Bra's eyes were open--dark blue irises intent on her mother's lighter blue ones. "I wonder who of your people suffered more, Vegeta--all those Saiyan babies who weren't held by their mothers or all those Saiyan mothers who didn't have babies to hold?"

She hadn't meant to make him angry, but as soon as she turned her gaze to him, she saw that he was. His lost world was a sore subject, and on other occasions he had told her that she didn't know a thing about suffering and had no right to even use the word. Here Bulma had brought up Vegetasei and used the 's' word all in the same breath.

"Vegeta?" She expected Vegeta to either launch into a defense of his home planet's superior ways or, if he was really angry, to leave the room without saying a word. He did neither.

"What?" He sounded distracted. Bulma wondered if he was angry over something other than her Saiyan technology remarks.

"You don't have to stay. I'll tell Gohan you're in the GR with Trunks."

Standing at the door, Vegeta looked as if he'd forgotten something. He stared at the towel he was holding in one hand, then lifted his gaze to the spot on the rumpled bed where he had been lying only minutes earlier, and finally his gaze landed on Bulma's breast where the baby was nursing.

Bulma smiled and patted the top of her very full bosom. "Don't worry--the baby's only borrowing them. You'll get them back."

Vegeta acknowledged that comment with a slight smile and a huff of exhaled breath and seemed to snap back to himself. "I'm going to wake the boy," he said. "Trunks needs to learn to tune out distractions. If we practice meditation today, he may discover that ignoring psychic signals from his infant sister is no different from hanging up the phone on a salesman."

Bulma was going to say that she didn't like that analogy, but Vegeta was already out the door.

In the gravity room, Vegeta noted that Trunks wasn't having any problem distilling thoughts into a single stream. The boy was relaxed and focused. Had not the initial setting of fifty times Earth's gravity required the boy to exert some effort to hold his head up and keep his spine straight, he would have meditated himself right back to sleep.

A strange thing kept happening, however, every time Vegeta tried to meditate. He told himself it was a deviation from his routine, the simple act of speaking to guide his son's thoughts, that was tripping him up. "Focus on your sister's ki," he told Trunks, "feel the weight of it and imagine that it is a three dimensional object in your field of perception." Vegeta wasn't used to hearing himself speak during warm up exercises. He and the boy had maintained a largely quiet routine for years now, but because Trunks' psychic abilities had so quickly outgrown a teenager's typical powers of concentration, such crude and drastic instruction was necessary. "Little by little set the object down. It is at the bottom of your field. It makes no noise. It is unimportant. You can walk away from it."

As Vegeta said these words, the ki signature held in his senses became louder. It became more important. It dominated his field of perception. In the gravity room, he was more aware of his tiny daughter than when he had been standing right in front of her.

Not again.

Vegeta recognized this odd effect. In his grueling first attempts to become Super Saiyan, he had discovered that the more he tried to ignore a distraction, the more assertive that distraction became. Some fifteen years ago, the distraction had been a small, deceptively insignificant ki belonging to a certain Bulma Briefs. A human signature with voluptuous emotions. A ki that was now replicated in miniature, snuggled next to its original, and pulsing with contentment. Vegeta could feel the baby's head on Bulma's chest, the little body riding his wife's breathing. His own body felt drawn to the scene with the same strong desire to protect he had been feeling ever since Bulma told him she was pregnant.

Vegeta knew what to do.

Don't make a combatant out of a emotional bond. Acknowledge it, yes. The feeling is there, like foreground. Just make it background. Let your mind wander.

If Vegeta had learned anything in his years on Earth, it was that emotions were not as debilitating as he had once feared. They could be dealt with. If he did not ignore them, they could be inhabited as one does a familiar room. His mind could walk around a particular emotion--say, anger--as if it were a large obtrusive piece of furniture. It did not have to be engaged.

Let your mind wander.

An intellectual challenge often succeeded at diminishing a distraction, so Vegeta decided to think.

First, he tried to think about training Trunks. Although Vegeta's eyes were closed, he could sense Trunks meditating perfectly beside him. No challenge there. The boy was going to catch up with his new psychic aptitude sooner than Vegeta expected. Next, Vegeta tried to think about his own training. What new, taxing, and impossible goal could he set for himself?

His role was clear; it had always been; there had never been any deviation from his purpose in life. Vegeta was a warrior. It did not matter that at different times in his life he had fought from different motivations; he had always fought. His role was as manifest as the contours of his body, as distinct as the muscles in his arms and legs.

What had the woman said about her own body and its own manifest purpose?

Just let your mind wander, Vegeta.

Here was an intellectual challenge, after all. Vegeta had never understood human females, the whole inefficiency of their emotions, the flimsiness of their bodies. They seemed built for reproduction, in the way that birdnests are made out of fragile twigs or delicate eggshells house embryonic life. What else were such weak beings good for? His own woman seemed an aberration of sorts--she had that unusual intelligence. It had proved useful in battle, and it was lively company when the rest of the world bored the Saiyan prince.

What was it Bulma had said about holding a baby?

Oh yes, that ridiculous statement implying that his people had been evolutionarily stunted by the development of gestation tanks to replace Saiyan wombs. Hadn't he explained to her once about how Saiyan females were needed in the army? Saiyan women had been brutal, callous fighters. Earth women--a different species altogether! Bulma was so "touchy-feely" (was that the peculiar human phrase?), as was her mother.

Coddling was for the enjoyment of these women and not for the benefit of those being coddled. A true Saiyan did not need to be fussed over and brought little cakes. A true Saiyan baby was perfectly capable of surviving on its own shortly after birth--what was it Nappa had told him? The babies were fed simulated Saiyan milk after emerging from gestation, but their newborn teeth could catch and kill food.

Vegeta had never been carried the way his children were. He had never been held that way. Not until he came to Earth, that is--the day the capsule exploded and he found himself lying in the rubble and then being lifted by soft arms.

Go mind--wander away somewhere else now.

And it was while Vegeta's mind was wandering that his past came back to him with a clarity he had never experienced before.

"My prince." The hefty, mustachioed Saiyan dropped one knee to the floor and bowed. Vegeta, attempting a pose of majestic detachment while gazing out the window, pretended not to notice him.

The big man spoke again. "You sent for me, my prince?"

Vegeta thought the man looked funny prostrating himself that way. His other guards were much more graceful when it came to court gesticulation, but Nappa seemed the most sincere about it. He was the prince's favorite servant. He was easy to read, easy to manipulate, and often very funny.

"Get up," Vegeta barked, in as commanding a voice as he could manage, given that he was only five and his vocal cords were not yet as powerful and resolute as the rest of him. "You're going to take me to the desert quadrant today. That place with the monsters that live inside rocks. I'm going to kill some monsters, like the soldiers who train there."

"But my prince, we're supposed to ask your father's permission before venturing beyond Vegetashima."

"That's no longer true." Vegeta turned his profile to the window. The large round opening in the wall showed a vast expanse of white sand and pink sky. Ocean waves roared from an unseen distance, and great birds cawed melancholy calls to one another.

Vegeta was about to tell a big lie, and he affected a mildly annoyed voice. "You really don't keep up with briefings at all, do you? All army bases are within jurisdiction of Vegetashima now, and that means the one in the desert quadrant is just like palace property, and I can go there whenever I feel like it."

Vegetashima, in the northernmost quadrant of Vegetasei, was a densely populated landmass surrounded by the planet's only sea. Vegetashima was also the world's dullest place--at least to Prince Vegeta, who knew the island better than any other part of his father's kingdom. The biggest cities were here--bastions of Tsufurian technology acquired when Vegeta's forefathers conquered those weak-bodied and feeble-spirited people so many ages ago. And the palace was here--a tall, metal-walled construction on a bluff facing the shoreline. The austere building was known the galaxy over for its sheer size and impenetrability, as well as for a scary illuminated symbol floating over the palace's center courtyard; this giant red royal crest of Vegetasei could be seen from space.

The prince had toured space more than he had traveled about his own planet. He had been to the desert quadrant only once, a quarter moon ago. King Vegeta had addressed the generals of gathered armies in an open-air arena, and the prince, as always, had been by his father's side. It had been hot there, hotter even than summers at the palace, and so dry that much of the prince's hair fell into bangs over his forehead. Even the king's royal flame of hair seemed to droop a little in the arid clime, and the prince could see his father willing his own ki, by almost imperceptible twitches in his face, to push the spikes of hair erect. The prince didn't bother to do the same. Although more powerful than his father, Vegeta didn't yet possess the skill to manipulate his own hair like that.

"These are your generals," his father had said, in the sonorous, quiet voice that meant he was speaking to the prince and no one else. "When the time comes for your moon initiation, these Saiyans will be the ones to fight you."

"Otousama, I can take them all now. And without going Oozaru."

"Yes, yes you can," the king had said. "But the custom is older than you are, and all Elite boys wait until they are thirteen standard before transforming their first time. Besides, I will need those years to devise a plan so that you don't kill all my best generals on that day."

The prince had chuckled, even though the king's expression remained unchanged.

Standing before the palace window overlooking the sea, Prince Vegeta crossed his arms and fancied that he cut quite a figure, silhouetted against the sunlight. "The king," said PrinceVegeta to Nappa, the captain of his guards, "knows that I am the strongest in the universe. And he doesn't even need to be wearing his scouter to know that. The whole planet will feel my power when we fly to the southern hemisphere. I would go there by myself, except it is improper for the prince to travel without at least one Elite servant."

"And you need me to show you where the army base is."

"That too. A prince does not need to bother with geography when he is the strongest in the universe." Vegeta could not keep his voice from revealing the tiniest bit of excitement. "Do you know where the monster caves are?"

"Yes, I do, my prince. The creatures are called the desert yaraki, and they live under the sand, not in caves."

"Whatever. I dislike biology as much as geography. You shall dismiss your men for the whole day. I don't need any other guards. They will only get in the way, and their terrible smells will distract the monsters."

"Yes, my prince."

And so they went, the prince and his servant, both knowing that they were in express violation of the king's rules. Neither believed that the other felt absolutely blameless, yet both were casual about their infraction. They were two court favorites and figured no one would tell on them once their absences were known. As for the king, he would no doubt be angry, but Nappa and Vegeta had both been in his presence the other day during a weasel tournament--the king had very loudly opined that it was the sign of a good racing weasel if it bucked and squirmed in the starting gate. And King Vegeta had smiled in the direction of his own son when he added, "Such is also true of an Elite Saiyan."

Over the Burokuri Sea, the prince would have flown at top speed had not Nappa suggested that, in order to throw off scouters, they glide at very high altitudes. "We don't need folks gathering to cheer and bother us when we're hunting yaraki, my prince." Once they reached landfall, Nappa insisted that they walk some intervals between gliding leaps (again, to avoid detection by the army). It was mid-day and disappointingly late for Vegeta when they arrived at their desert destination. But Nappa assured him that they would be killing monsters before nightfall.

The prince was much gladdened when, after a couple hours of blasting raw ki energy at random hillocks, he and Nappa uncovered a whole nest of yaraki. As rocks and sand sputtered into the sky, twenty or so clay-colored, serpent-like beasts scuttled on their many short legs in all directions across the desert--the longest ones five times the length of a Saiyan head to toe, even a big Saiyan like Nappa.

"Why, they must be babies!" exclaimed the prince and snatched one by the tail with both hands, only to have the creature escape easily and pirouette over his head. The snaky beast spun in a blurry series of curlicue motions before diving, snout first, into the sand, where it disappeared.

Nappa was still laughing, head thrown back, when the earth surged, throwing both Saiyans off balance. Vegeta and Nappa took to the sky just as the mother of all yaraki exploded out of the ground. It was the size of a four-story palace spire, and it attacked--spitting a thirty-foot stream of purple vapor directly at the prince. Vegeta dodged the current with a cry of delight, and Nappa shot several times at the beast as it whipped about and then hurled itself underground once more.

"She's coming back up," Nappa warned, and sure enough, the mother erupted from the sand and charged Vegeta again. This time the prince fired a Blue Bomb Supreme (his best new attack) before it could even open its mouth, but the beast flipped away from the oncoming blast.

"Behind you!" yelled Nappa, and Vegeta was knocked to the ground by a yaraki tail as the beast buried itself again.

"They're fast! " Vegeta's voice was breathless and his cheeks were glowing. "Is the spit poisonous?"

"A little corrosive. Might melt your clothes if catch a blast."

All the yaraki were hidden now, so it took some haphazard blasting to stir them up again. The little ones didn't spit far, but they were faster than their mother, flailing across the sky like ribbons before corkscrewing into the ground. Vegeta was soon yelling from frustration because he couldn't blast one. Nappa landed the first kill, then the second, which he sat beside to disembowel while the prince chased after the rest. Vegeta targeted the beasts from a flying position for a while but soon discovered that he could better anticipate where they would re-emerge by standing on the ground and listening for their rumbling burrowings beneath the dense sand. The hunt enthralled the prince the way no workout in the place gymnasium could; even wrestling three-tooth water dogs back on Vegetashima wasn't this fun! By early evening, the prince had shot the heads off ten young yaraki and blasted their mother into two gory sections.

"No need to use more firepower than necessary, my prince. The brains are delicacies, and now you've mushed them all up."

"I do not understand why Otousama doesn't take me hunting here," said Vegeta. His white boots were splattered with yaraki blood, and some close calls with spit had fissured tiny holes in his chest armor. "These beasts are as quick as any prey on other worlds."

The vaguest shadow of apprehension passed over Nappa's face. "Perhaps the king does not want you to deplete creatures of our own planet. Another expedition like this one, and there would be hardly any yaraki for the Saiyan soldiers to chase."

"Oh. Then I think I have killed enough of them."

"I suggest we borrow an army aircar if we are to make back to the palace in time for dinner."

Prince Vegeta agreed, but only because he wanted to bring back a yaraki carcass for his kitchen servants to prepare, and hauling one of the animals home would've required that both he and Nappa carry it. Crown princes of Vegetasei did not shoulder their own kill. Nappa told Vegeta to wait in the desert, because the prince would surely be recognized by the soldiers, and Nappa would jaunt over to the nearest barracks and request a car. A high-ranking palace employee, he would be given one in a snap after a perfunctory DNA scan.

"Just be quick about it, Nappa. I'm hungry."

"My prince, you should've had the liver of that last kill when I offered it. Very tasty and full of minerals."

The prince's bottom lip jutted forward. "You disgust me. If you weren't such a brute and in better control of your appetite, you could wait for dinner. No telling what sort of parasite you've picked up eating that creature raw." Truth be known, the prince didn't care about parasites so much as he preferred his meat spiced and tenderized in exotic soups made just for him by the grand chef.

Nappa nodded in a way that was somehow both deferential and amused. "I'll be right back, my prince."

But of course, he wasn't right back. Vegeta knew that Nappa liked getting out of the palace as much as he did. He could not remember a time when Nappa was not his guard, but the old Captain had once spent many years training soldiers, possibly as this very base, and was now no doubt yacking it up with some old comrades. All Elite Saiyans did a stint of training soldiers, and Otousama had said that the prince would as well, perhaps shortly after his moon initiation--although Vegeta could not imagine anything more tedious. Except geography.

Darkness never fell completely on Vegetasei, but the prince's shadow was long against the desert sand. Vegeta knew from his lessons that a second sun was still shining broad daylight at the palace. His tutors should be happy--he'd given them the day off. Random facts drifted through his head as he watched the landscape darken. The full moon, which inspires the Oozaru transformation, happens once every seven Vegetasei years, thirty times in the lifetime of an Elite Saiyan male, somewhat fewer times in the shorter life span of a lower caste female. Beyond those numbers, all the prince really knew is that he had never seen a full moon. When the next one happened, Vegeta, still a child, would be shut away in palace somewhere while the adults celebrated.

Eons ago, before the conquest of the Tsufurians, the Saiyans did not hide their young from the moon. What a wild life it must have been. It was a time before gestation tanks and genetic engineering and all the other Tsufurian tricks that helped the Saiyans become such a feared and magnificent people. Saiyan parents, not institutions, reared their own back then, and Vegeta's tutors speculated that weak clans became extinct because a strong cub would kill weak parents, maybe the whole village, when it went Oozaru. "A ridiculous waste," Tutor Horen had said, "it would be like an Elite being born to a third class mother today. No, a third class could not even bear an Elite and survive the birth, let alone the child's first moon."

Did those wild Saiyan clans populate this very desert--living off uncooked yaraki? Did they roam about without elastic armor or boots--naked with their tails unfurled behind them? At the thought, Vegeta curled his own brown tail around his waist. It was undignified to hold it loose, and Nappa was forever reminding him to wear it like a proper Elite warrior.

Vegeta felt a strong urge to sit on the ground, but he resisted it. Princes stood proudly, no matter how tired or hungry they were, and (Vegeta scanned the desolate horizon with increasing annoyance) even if there was no one to see. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and promptly uncrossed them when he felt the stickiness of yaraki gore on his armor. Perhaps he could find a river to bathe--no, this was the stupid desert. Perhaps he would take advantage of the army base after all. They would have hot food and a change of clothes--no, the soldiers would make such a fuss over unannounced royalty, and the business about army bases being the same as palace property would be revealed to be a total lie, even though Vegeta suspected Nappa knew the truth. No, no--walking to the base would just be awkward, so Vegeta stayed put. Then for some odd reason he couldn't place, he felt forlorn.

Vegeta was quite sure he had not felt that way before.

Then he realized that being alone, without even a servant to fawn over him, was a rare experience. "I'm bored," he said, renaming the feeling. He pulled off his armor, gloves and sweaty shirt, lay those items next the mound of dead yaraki, and began to walk in the direction opposite the army base.

"You've got to try this," said the Saiyan with the cropped, thatchy hair. "It's the best part. Makes your lips a little numb but mmmm, spicy!"

"Get that slimy shit away from me, Toma," said the female Saiyan. She slapped the hand holding the yaraki liver away.

"Are you full-blooded Saiyan or not? Afraid a little poison is going to burn your lips off?"

"It was Celipa's kill, so she should eat it," spoke a third Saiyan. He appeared from behind a large mound of sandy horizon as he walked toward the others. This soldier had the longest hair Vegeta had ever seen on a Saiyan. It hung to his knees in jagged black spikes.

"It wasn't a real kill," said the female. "The thing was worn down to near death by whoever was hunting it." She was sitting on a lopped-off yaraki tail while her thatchy-haired companion conjured a tiny ball of white-hot ki on his forefinger and sliced it through the rest of the beast. "Oh give it up, Toma. Haven't you eaten enough lizard gut for one afternoon? Raditz, did you find anything?"

"It's like a whole battalion was shooting up the place. You should see the craters. No sign of a pod and still no trace…." The longhaired Saiyan lifted his head and noticed Vegeta staring at them. "…. of any alien life form."

The others turned to look too.

"A child!" exclaimed the female. The word seemed to disgust her as much as yaraki liver. "Is this one of your brats, Toma? Because I'm not flying him back to the academy if it is. I've done enough shit work today, and I'm first in line for mess hall. "

The Saiyan with his hand inside the yaraki carcass pulled it out and licked his fingers while staring at Vegeta. The realization seemed to land on his features at the exact moment it hit the female.

"Holy shit," said the female, "it's the little prince." She clamped her hand over her mouth.

Toma slammed the back of her head with his open palm. "Stupid bitch, cursing in front of royalty like that." He dropped to a full bow. The female, who had been knocked to the ground, rose on her knee to imitate Toma's bow.

"Raditz," she growled to the third Saiyan, "bow, Raditz, bow."

Raditz looked at the kneeling soldiers as if they'd gone insane. "What are you doing? That half-naked runt isn't Prince Vegeta!" He pointed to his own head and shook his forefinger as if firing ki-bullet after ki-bullet into his own brain. "The hair! The hair! It's fake! The kids all fake their hair like that!"

Prince Vegeta laughed. He seldom laughed out loud at the palace, where court life seemed to require lots of whispering and subterfuge, but here, in the wide desert, before these silly third class soldiers, it felt good to laugh.

"What are you cackling at, little bastard?" said Raditz.

"You," said the prince. "You're a fool. Check your scouter if you don't believe me. I am your prince."

Raditz eyed Vegeta with suspicion and pushed a button on the device over his ear. A tiny pip pip sounded, and the soldier's eyes widened. "My--" He was kneeling on the sand before he could finish the phrase. "My prince!"

"Oh get up, the lot of you," said the prince. "I should execute you on this very spot for such disrespect, but I need you to answer some questions for me."

The three Saiyans rose, casting sideways glances at one another and not daring to look at the prince. Vegeta had seen soldiers up close before, but only when they were dressed up and parading about in exhibition for his father. He thought these three looked fabulously authentic in their grimy armor. The tall one with the big hair wasn't even wearing pants--not regulation pants, anyway. He wore black shorts and some sort of metal ring around his left thigh.

"You, Raditz," said Vegeta. "What were you talking about when you said kids fake their hair?"

"My prince," began Raditz, looking at the ground. "Saiyan youth around here like to imitate the royal style. They…they make it stand up like yours with various artificial implements. They shave their hairlines."

Vegeta noted for the first time that Raditz had a suspiciously royal-looking brow. He wondered if maybe this one was an Elite. "Who are you? State your name and rank."

"Raditz, Son of Bardock, third class, crew Red Ember."

"Why did you call me a bastard?"

"Forgive me, my prince. I should not have presumed--"

"No, no. What is a bastard? Tell me what that is, so that I might know how grievously you have insulted me."

There was stunned silence.

"I…uh, a bastard is…." Raditz began. "I'm not sure what a bastard is exactly, my prince. It is just a name that is used to insult people."

The female furrowed her brow and seemed annoyed by these remarks. "If I may, Prince Vegeta," she said in a self-assured tone. "A bastard is a Saiyan whose parentage can not be verified. Perhaps Toma can explain further, since he's a bastard himself." She didn't smile, but the prince was fascinated by the audacity of this woman. She didn't seem to fear him at all.

Toma cleared his throat. "My prince, there are clans in this area--as no doubt an educated young Elite as yourself is aware--who do not reproduce by selective genetic means. Many third class children are born outside the genetic refinery, and there are no records kept as to who fathers who. If a male Saiyan takes a mate, and that mate…uh… gives birth…uh… without her mate's knowledge and permission, then that child is called a bastard."

"Anyone's parentage can be verified with a simple cell sample."

"That's true, my prince."

"A bastard is any Saiyan born to a female instead of being gestated in the refinery?"

Toma looked miserable and eyed the female Saiyan for help.

This time Celipa did smile. "Not exactly, my prince," she said and flashed a look at the longhaired Saiyan that Vegeta could not identify. "Go, Raditz. You give it a shot. His Highness requires an explanation."

"Don't look at me. Am I a sex education teacher?" Raditz threw up his hands and turned to the prince, looking him directly in the eye. "Listen, Prince--"

Vegeta was so startled (here was another audacious one!) that he actually took one step back as the barelegged, crazy-haired soldier continued to speak to him in the most casual way any third class ever had:

"When I was your age, I was way mixed up about all this stuff, and I didn't have a father who was going to bother explaining any of it (here, Vegeta heard Celipa stifle a laugh), but once I got to tech school, some real nice teachers there explained the facts of life to me just fine (Celipa was starting to make involuntary gagging and coughing sounds). Now, I'm sure your father--excuse me--our king can tell you all this stuff or find you a proper expert who can, but you're not going to get very far with three ignorant soldiers here. If there is any other way we can be of service to you, my prince, please tell us." Raditz raised his arm across his chest in the military salute of Vegetasei and tapped his shoulder with the blunt edge of his outstretched palm.

Vegeta was taken aback. He wasn't quite sure if he should respond to the salute, because, technically, he wasn't in the army. He settled for folding his arms in front of his chest and jutting his chin forward. "Very well. Who of you here is the commander? I will continue speaking with the commander alone." Vegeta was guessing the leader was the female.

The female spoke. "There's no commander here. We're all ensigns from different squads. We were sparring on a mountain back there--just messing around for exercise--when Raditz here picked up something odd on his scouter."

Vegeta pushed a button on his own scouter and scanned the three for their power levels. The longhaired one had an astonishingly high level--almost on a par with Nappa's. Maybe he was an Elite.

"You're not a third class," the prince said to Raditz.

"Your pardon, prince, but I am. That power level you're getting is right on. I am very strong and getting stronger all the time. I could probably take on an Elite, no problem." The soldier even managed a cocky expression as he spoke those boastful words. None of the prince's guards had ever dared look at him that way. Something Saiyan inside Vegeta stirred at the challenge.

Raditz held Vegeta's gaze. The soldier's face was guileless, open, and yet supremely confident. Vegeta sensed that the man did not mean to humor him.

Yes, the prince was quite certain that the man's eyes were daring him to a fight.

At that moment there was a noisy mechanical roar overhead. An army aircar halted with a jerky sound and hovered unsteadily above the group. All Saiyan left hands rose to check communication lines on their scouters, but only the prince heard the dispatch:

"My prince, forgive my tardiness. All aircars on the base were being inspected at the moment I requested one. I snagged this old girl from the officers' garage, and I've already loaded your kill on it. Your armor too. You frightened me for a moment there, Prince Vegeta. I didn't think you would walk so far just to play in the sand."

"Enough, Nappa!" snapped the prince. Sometimes the old captain's familiarities grated on the boy's nerves. Why did everyone in the palace insist on worrying about him? Was he not the strongest in the universe?

"That's the ugliest vehicle I've ever seen." Raditz was squinting in the direction of the aircar as desert wind blew his hair behind him; it reminded Vegeta of his father's royal cape, only it was all long black hair. "I didn't think the army used clunkers like that anymore," said Raditz.

"My guardsman is here," Vegeta explained to the soldiers, even though he knew they needed none. He was trying to imitate what he'd see his father do when taking leave of ministers or generals. "Your service to the throne of Vegetasei is acknowledged."

All three soldiers raised their arms to their chests, and this time Vegeta returned the salute. He knew it was improper, that only properly initiated Saiyan warriors saluted, but he doubted these ruffians knew this piece of imperial etiquette. They were probably reared by their own mothers, thought the prince as he rose into the air to meet Nappa's craft.

On the ride home, Vegeta considered that life in the army might not be so dull as he'd once imagined. The soldiers he'd seen today were as stupid as most palace courtiers, but they weren't glum or phony. Commanding a bunch of soldiers might even be a task worthy of his superior faculties. Ever since Vegeta could remember, those around him had been oblivious to his superior intelligence and had treated him like a child--a prince but a mere child.

"Nappa, tell me what the word bastard means."

"A bastard is someone who--no matter what he does or doesn't do--always makes you want to kick his ass."

Vegeta resigned himself to the fact that Nappa's definition was the clearest he was going to get that day. "That Raditz third class with the hair, then," said Vegeta, "is definitely a bastard. I should like to spar with him. Will you arrange it?"

"There are rules about this sort of thing, my prince. No one is allowed to touch a son of the royal line except another royal or an Elite, so that definitely rules out your sparring with a third class."

"I don't care. I'm bored out of my mind fighting with you and the other guardsmen. I want to fight someone who hasn't known me since the day I crawled out of the gestation tank, and those disposable Saibamen don't count. Get this Raditz palace clearance and have him come serve me."

"It's not that easy, my prince," said Nappa, but Vegeta argued the issue until Nappa agreed to petition palace security for a revision of guard qualifications. Too many sons of retired Elite generals coveted guard positions, so, for appearances' sake, a formal audition for a new post would have to be arranged. Letters could be sent to army bases announcing the strange new policy and requesting that their strongest apply. "Just make certain the king knows what you want, and it will be done," said Nappa. "I'll tweak every rule in the book to let you have your way, my prince, but I can only defy royal convention up to a point."

"As if you don't enjoy it," said the prince. "You got to play in the sand today."

Vegeta was quite happy. He'd landed a very big monster to bring home and show off to the kitchen staff, and it appeared that he was going to get a new guard--an interesting one who didn't have that cowering look so many servants at the palace did.

When the aircar swept over Vegetashima at last, one of the planet's two suns had already set and the other was casting a soft orange glow over the island. It was dark enough, though, for major constellations to be visible in the night sky. Vegeta and Nappa (with a dead yaraki wrapped around his hulking shoulders like an exotic scarf) flew out of the aircar as it continued to sputter in a dizzy pattern over the shoreline.

"Worthless piece of inventory," said Nappa. "I need to retire this model." Then Nappa zapped the aircar into a zillion pieces. The metal pieces rained onto the black ocean, where they sparkled on the waves like stars.

It had been such a fine day. Prince Vegeta could barely finish his monster stew before feeling enormously sleepy. He went to bed still wearing his yaraki-stained pants.

The prince had not been asleep for very long when the hum of his bedroom doors sliding open made him sit up. He was vaguely aware of sand falling from his hair to his bare shoulders. Then the lights came on, and he blinked himself awake.

There stood King Vegeta, eyes blazing and jaw clenched. He must have come straight from court, because he was in full regalia--sparkling armor, red cape, white gloves and boots, the huge royal medallion hanging over his chestplate. The prince could detect the faint fragrance of the kitchen on the king. Maybe his father wasn't so angry if, before bursting in on his wayward son, he had stopped for a snack?

Then the king opened his mouth, and the prince was quite sure that his father was as furious as he had ever seen him.

"You idiot! I thought you were supposed to be the cleverest pupil Horen had seen in a hundred years! The blasts--the ones you shot while killing desert lizards--they registered on scouters all over the base!"

The prince thought his father was going to strike him as he often did during their formal matches. Even though the prince was faster than the king, when the king did land a blow, it was merciless. Vegeta's arms flew up in a defensive posture, but then the king stared at him in such a condescending way that Vegeta lowered his arms.

"Nappa told me everything. I should have expected such stupidity from him but you! Frieza's envoys were at that base. You've shown them your full power, you stupid little show-off!"

"But Otousama, I show my full power all the time. When we spar--"

"When we spar," the king roared, "everyone assumes the larger power surges are mine!"

That last word reverberated off the walls of the prince's room. Vegeta thought he felt the whole palace shake.

There was a long silence as the king lowered his gaze from his son's face and began to scan the bedroom as if he'd never noticed it before. In a far corner, the prince had arranged a pile of velvety pillows to be a monster cave. When King Vegeta spoke again, he seemed to be addressing the pillows.

"I am bound, by galactic treaties, to certain duties, most of them political, many of them ridiculous, but the one duty no one challenges, not even the Kold Empire, is that of a sovereign to be the first and last defender of his world. I rule from here, from Vegetasei. You, even as a prince, you are not bound here."

"But I thought--"

"You thought what? That you could defy your king? The Icejin are a race of slithering, manipulative cowards. Their lizard lord needs our raw strength for their schemes. I have long kept them from being alerted to our true potential, and here you go flaunting your power like-- " The king's hands clenched into fists at his sides. "Why do you think I only took you hunting off-world, far from civilized planets and the detection of Frieza's scouters?"

Vegeta narrowed his eyes. "Why didn't you tell me we were supposed to be hiding from Frieza? This is your mistake, not mine."

King Vegeta's eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open at his son's impudence. His fists rose, both trembling before him as if he were steering an out-of-control vehicle. The prince waited for the blow, but it didn't come. When the king spoke, his words sounded measured with great self-control. "The king…does not…make… mistakes. We are not hiding from Frieza. There are many things you have yet to learn, boy, about patience. An Elite Saiyan never allows an adversary to know his true strength. A king waits for the right moment"

King Vegeta's face still looked very angry, but he did a strange thing. He actually sat down, right there at the foot of Vegeta's bed so that he was eye-level with his son. His eyebrows a severe black v, the king stared at the prince. Vegeta knew he was witnessing an act of magnificent restraint.

"My ministers have already begun to receive communications from Frieza's ship about your little display in the desert today. At my next meeting with that lizard abomination in a quarter moon, there should be more than enough unpleasantness for me." The king exhaled a hard sigh, but the lines of his face did not soften one bit.

"I will explain to Frieza that your power bursts were anomalies, and that is not far from the truth. No matter that you carry the blood of a thousand Saiyan kings in your veins, you, Prince Vegeta, are still a brat. You will have to wait many years before you know your own strength, and even after your power reveals itself to you, many more years will pass before you know how to wield it to the greatest advantage." The king lowered his voice the way he did when he did not want servants to overhear. "But know this now, little prince of Vegetasei--Frieza does not determine our destiny. The Saiyans are the strongest in the universe, and we negotiate from a position of strength."

The prince had heard these platitudes before. But there seemed to be a strange distress in the king's face tonight, something more unsettling than anger over an errant son. "I will become the Legendary, Otousama," said Vegeta. He did not intend the words to be a boast; he felt as if he were reassuring his father somehow.

"Not if you are purging planets for Frieza. Crown princes of Vegetasei do not kill for other heads of state like common mercenaries."

"But Otousama, I want to purge planets. I will never get any stronger chasing little animals out of holes in the sand."

The laugh that exploded from the king was so loud the prince jumped. After the king composed himself, there was no longer any trace of that strange distress in his face. And he looked significantly less angry. "Nappa told me you killed twelve yaraki."

"Eleven. Nine of them were babies, Otousama. But one was as long as my surf-boat, and one was a mother beast as big as the palace."

"Interesting," said King Vegeta, "how you can produce plain facts and still manage to tell a complete lie. Yaraki do not grow as big as you say, Vegeta. You may make a fine statesmen yet."

"Is a statesman a warrior too?"

"You'll be a warrior before you're a statesman, brat. After your moon initiation, when you enter the Saiyan army, you'll get to use your fine talents in battle. You should be a commanding general within no time. I've never heard of any other Saiyan who killed even a single yaraki on his first hunt."

"Why do I have to wait? If I am as talented as you say, Otousama, why can I not join another army? My talents would serve--"

"You serve me, not the Kold Empire."

"What's wrong with letting me serve missions for Frieza? I would bring honor to Vegetasei. The whole galaxy would be amazed by my exploits and fear the Saiyans more than ever!"

"Missions for Frieza? A waste of your potential. The Saiyan scientists who cooked you in your gestation tank would weep like Kannasan girls. An Elite child's place is in the court. Those imbeciles on Frieza's ship do not know how to show proper respect to the throne of Vegetasei."

The king rose from the foot of the prince's bed and tossed his billowy cape back with his arms. He wasn't so tall as Nappa, but standing there, arms crossed, light glinting off the purple medallion at his chest, the king looked taller than any other being in the universe to Vegeta.

"You are the Prince of All Saiyans. Do you want one of Frieza's sallow lieutenants telling you what to do? What planet to vanquish and when to bow to his lizard lord? You'll learn to fight soon enough, but other things--like how to be a king, how to represent your Saiyan people--these things you can only learn here, on Vegetashima, in the court of your own world. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, Otousama." The prince bowed his head slightly in a gesture of genuine respect. He did not understand half the things his father had told him, but he would mull over them and figure them out. Vegeta knew that he did not want to make his king so angry again.

"Sleep now. I've ordered the guards to wake you before dawn. Tutor Horen has many assignments for you to make up."

"Yes, Otousama."

That night Vegeta dreamed that he was on Frieza's ship and yaraki were erupting from portholes in the walls, bursting through the metallic floors, zipping around and spitting their purple caustic spit at Frieza's men. The prince was laughing and laughing, holding his sides as the foolish warriors tried to dodge the creatures. The spit disintegrated Frieza's men into black stains on the floor. Yes! How dare any of them tell the prince of Vegetasei what to do!

Months later, when he did indeed become a soldier in Frieza's army, Vegeta began to have regular dreams about the yaraki. Sometimes he was chasing them across the bright sandy landscape of Vegetasei; other times the snaky creatures were wrecking Frieza's gloomy ship. The boy seldom dreamed about life at the palace. After miserable days onboard ship (where disrespect for him was worse than what Otousama foretold) and miserable days off-ship (so many tedious murdering assignments), it was pleasant to fall asleep and escape to that adventure in the desert quadrant.

As the years passed, though, the yaraki grew more aggressive in the dreams. Harder to kill. They would wrap around Vegeta, squeezing air out of his chest until he woke up with a gasp. Or a current of purple would strike him dead center at his heart. And he would look down and watch as his own body melted away--white gloves dropping to the floor as he lost arms and hands to a fleshy puddle of himself. Some nights he managed to kill the beasts. Some nights he ate them.

Even after Frieza was dead and Vegeta lived on Earth, the prince still dreamed about the yaraki. Bulma had the nerve to ask him one morning on the Capsule Corporation lawn what had he been dreaming about the night before. He didn't tell her, of course, but he did remember the clay-colored worms that had turned purple and white and morphed into the shape of Frieza himself. Then, surprisingly, when he began to share the woman's bed, there were no more monsters in his sleep. The yaraki became trophies again, and Vegeta was showing his catch off to the chef, or sitting on a stool in the kitchen while the pot of desert lizard simmered.

For a time, when Vegeta had become Super Saiyan and was fighting Dr. Gero's creations, there were no dreams to remember at all. In the Room of Spirit and Time, where being itself was a dream, Vegeta's warrior ego did not allow nightmarish visions any reign over that cold, boundless landscape. Any monster that reared its head there was promptly slain and kicked to pieces with Super Saiyan might.

The dreams came back after the defeat of Cell.

Vegeta didn't think at all about his dreams in his waking life. Nightmares about the yaraki didn't wake him, but if Vegeta trained too far into the night and forgot to eat dinner before coming to bed, he would dream that both his hands were bringing a steaming bowl of yaraki soup to his lips. Sometimes he woke up with his mouth opening against Bulma's bare shoulder.

And about the time that Vegeta started to train his own son Trunks, Nappa reappeared in the dreams. Yes, Nappa, faithful servant. The man Vegeta himself had slain after Kakkarot felled the old warrior during that first Earth battle. Nappa had gaped in horror before being murdered by his prince (the crippled fool did not realize he was being honored with his prince's mercy!) but that was not the face Vegeta saw in his dreams. In the dreams, Nappa was smiling and holding out a gelatinous piece of liver. "Try it, my prince. Tasty and full of minerals."

A great weight rolled off Vegeta's body, and he opened his eyes.

"Dad?"

Trunks had set the gravity in the room to normal, and Vegeta found himself floating mid-air in a sitting position.

"Dad? I'm sorry to interrupt your meditation, but Gohan's here and he wants to us to come out on the lawn and watch his baby walk. Mom said something about how you have to see it because you would know what's normal for a Saiyan."

Vegeta realized that he must have meditated almost the entire morning away. Great, he thought with irritation, my training sessions have become like the Namek's. For a fragment of a moment, Vegeta wanted to ask what Trunks had been doing all the while--no doubt the boy had sneaked out of the gravity room to socialize. Then he decided not to pursue the matter and followed his son outside the building to the southern veranda.

There was where Bulma's mother kept a little forest of potted plants. Most were knocked over now. Black potting soil and a few large pieces of terra cotta littered the paved area and made a trail onto the lawn where Gohan's quarter-Saiyan infant daughter was toddling around on chubby legs.

"Damnedest thing I've ever seen," Bulma was saying. She held her own blanket-swaddled baby in her arms. "Trunks didn't walk until he was almost a year old, and that's about right for a human baby. Look at her go. Pan is only five months old."

"Baboooo!" said the tiny Saiyan-human hybrid and pulled a daffodil out by the roots.

"I flew when I was three," Trunks said. "The day my dad threw me off the balcony. Maybe if we just try throwing her up in the air some--"

"Trunks! Don't even think about it!" Bulma was barefoot in the grass and wearing very scanty denim shorts that were diverting Vegeta's attention from the walking baby. "Vegeta, is this a Saiyan thing? How old were you when you learned to walk?"

"I don't remember," Vegeta said. "And I don't know much about Saiyan children. I've told you before--such things were not the concern of my tutors on Vegetasei."

"You've got to remember something," Bulma said. "I just don't want to be surprised if my little Bra starts running laps around the building next week."

"Oh, I guess you'll just have to accept whatever comes your way," said Videl. "I've heard each Saiyan baby in the Son family has been a little different from the previous one." The Earth female who had married the son of Kakkarot was wearing a peaceful expression. She was a fighter, Vegeta remembered, and was probably proud of her offspring's physical precocity. There was something different about the female--oh, her hair was cut in a new style. A very short, smooth helmet of black hair. Vegeta was startled for a moment when he saw a Saiyan female's face, with its similarly cropped hair, superimpose over the Earth female's. Then Celipa's face was gone.

"Oh right, right," Bulma was saying. "I'm supposed to take it all in stride if Bra levitates out of her cradle next week and goes Super Saiyan!"

Vegeta was blinking. Was he still in a trance? Was he seeing ghosts?

"Trunks, Vegeta," said Bulma in her most commanding voice. "Shower and change. Mom's catering a gigantic lunch."

Vegeta and his son were wearing only their training shorts and athletic shoes. Curiously, although he hadn't exerted himself this morning, Vegeta felt sweaty and drained.

"No, no, no, the boys don't have to change," came a twittery feminine voice from inside the house. "No need to get fancied up if we're dining outside in this beautiful weather." Bulma's mom poked her blonde head from behind a screen door. "Gohan, will you be a love and fly the patio furniture down from the balcony so we can eat right here among the…?" The woman noticed the disaster her youngest guest had made of the flowerbeds and potted plants. "Oh my."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Briefs," said Videl. "I can re-pot them all for you. It's just that Pan gets so excited when I put her down to walk."

"Oh sweetheart, think nothing of it! My precious Pan is a toddling genius! Just be careful she doesn't cut herself on those thorny roses on the trellises. Oh, the breeze is so nice here, and the sunlight is perfect! And you (Mrs. Briefs pointed to Vegeta) and you (she pointed to Trunks) do not have to get dressed at all. Why, the two of you are lovelier to look at than my roses!"

Trunks rolled his eyes. Videl stabbed Gohan with an elbow and said he'd have to take his own shirt off to complement the scenery. Gohan blushed beneath his dark-rimmed glasses, and then levitated with effortless grace towards the balcony. When he stepped on the lawn again, he was balancing eight wicker chairs, a large lawn umbrella, and a circular table on one hand. "Where do you want these, Ma'am?"

Vegeta thought Gohan looked like a Saiyan in human disguise.

"My guys really need to wash up," said Bulma. "They stink, Mom. They were training all morning."

"No, we--" Trunks closed his mouth even before his father shot him a look. The boy's intuition was becoming very acute. It occurred to Vegeta that Trunks might have sensed his father's visions this morning.

Bulma's commands always superseded her mother's, so Vegeta headed for the shower. It would be a respite, a cold wet sanctuary. At least, Vegeta's showers always started cold--a few minutes of water hitting hot Saiyan skin that maintained a body temperature some significant degrees above a human's, and the bathroom became a sauna.

Clouds of steam began to obscure everything--Vegeta could not see the soap-dish as he reached for it. He had never relied much on his vision, though--more on his keen smell, hearing and warrior intuition. Water roared and more mist rose. Usually Vegeta's shoulders felt sore in the shower; this time he missed the familiar aches abating under the gentle pressure of the water. He didn't relax, because, oddly enough, he was already relaxed.

Vegeta half-expected some of his visions from the morning's meditation to materialize again, but they didn't.

Showers often reminded him of Bulma--her floral scents, their rendezvous here, and the time he'd yelled at her like a servant to bring his clothes and she had yelled back that she had a name and it was Bulma. Damn it, why couldn't he just dream about her every night? Why did his days have to be a reliable continuum of activities in one timeline while his nights were strange, irrational replays of a long-ago life and a long dead planet?

Bulma had asked him once: How much longer are you going to continue to blame yourself for the destruction of your world?

And did he still blame himself? If he hadn't run away that day, Frieza's scouters would not have picked up his amazing power surges as he shot at yaraki. Frieza would not have known of the potential of the Saiyans. Vegeta would not have been conscripted into the lizard's ranks. The king would not have led an attack to retrieve his son from Frieza's ship. Frieza would not have killed his father and, perhaps as an afterthought, blown up Vegetasei.

The one good thing about his dream life had been that, until today, the dreams didn't invade his waking life. Now, after this morning's very lucid waking dream, was his past going to start stomping around like a noisy brat and annoying him all the time? The last thing he needed was the ghost of Nappa popping up around every corner of the house.

Vegeta took his time drying off and dressing. Maybe if he took long enough to put on his socks, the visitors would just go away. He considered escaping to the GR again, but the place might demand more meditation of him. Where was there to go? Hadn't he already made the decision long ago that he was going to stay on this planet of eerie Saiyan look-alikes? Well, they were not all look-alikes. He and Kakkarot were breeding a new line of promising part-Saiyan youngsters. Someone needs to train that child of Gohan's, he thought as he slid into a t-shirt. And teach her about her heritage so she doesn't turn into a soft ningen like her father. He found himself wondering when his own daughter would start walking.

"Hey Dad, are you ready?"

Trunks stood at the door with wet hair. No amount of ki could dry his hair after a shower--unless he was in Super Saiyan form. And the boy couldn't will his own hair to stick up in a flame shape if the world depended on it. That hair, Vegeta thought, was all Bulma's. It was too eerily beautiful to be a boy's hair.

"Are you OK, Dad? I know Grandma's going to drive you nuts and all, but the eats are good, and I bet I can make Pan fly."

Vegeta looked at his son. "You saw my vision, didn't you?"

Trunks hesitated. He ran a hand through his wet purple hair. "Uh, yes I did."

"How much did you see?"

"Not much, but it looked really fun. I didn't know you had any real happy memories of your planet. You always made it sound like it was all strict royalty stuff."

"Could you see pictures? Faces?"

"Sometimes. But mostly it was like with the baby. I just felt what you were feeling, and every now and then I would see some movement. Like--whoosh!--those snake things you were chasing were fast! And you were real proud of yourself when you shot them."

"What was the last thing you saw?"

"Um… I think it was…oh yeah! It was the food. You were eating something really tasty in your dream thing, and I got hungry myself because I hadn't eaten breakfast yet, and so I left the GR. You were kind of into it, so I didn't bother you." Trunks looked guilty. "I did do some forms after breakfast, but not any real training. I'll make it up after Gohan leaves, ok?"

"Yes, yes, after Gohan leaves," said Vegeta.

"Wow, Dad, can you smell that? Grandma ordered cannoli with chocolate chips! Catch you outside!"

And the boy was off in a flash.

Vegeta could smell the cannoli. He was deep inside the CC family dome, but he could hear the cacophony of company: ice cubes crackling as lemonade was poured over them, female voices overlapping one another in excited exchanges, the little brat child knocking some silverware off the table.

Interesting that his son had not only inherited Saiyan hearing and other physical senses but also some deep emotional sensitivity that Vegeta himself did not possess. Maybe it was a human thing. Maybe it was an amalgam of human things and Saiyan things.

Vegeta reached out with his senses and tried to pick up something other than smells or sounds from the party outside. There was Gohan, a strong Saiyan presence, and Trunks, also strong--their warrior power registered as plainly as if Vegeta were still wearing a scouter. There was Bulma (contentment) and the baby (asleep). The rest of the ki signals seemed familiar but scattered. Oh, that was Bulma's mom (speaking of scattered). Dr. Briefs had joined the party now (he was stubbing out his cigarette in the grass). And there was the daughter of Gohan (yanking the life out of another garden plant).

Led by the smells of food more than anything else, Vegeta walked down an aisle until he stood at the door that opened into the garden veranda.

Bulma did not insist he attend these sorts of events, but he usually came, ate, hovered on the periphery of all the human foolishness. They talked so much about nothing, told and retold events of their lives as if those trifling episodes mattered.

He was supposed to have been a king and in charge of the destiny of so many.

A memory resounded: Kings do not make mistakes.

No, Otousama, everyone does.

And just like that, Vegeta knew he was not going to have hallucinations of the past. No ghosts of Nappa or the king. He could sense something that was more tangible than any vision settling in his consciousness.

It was not true that the past was one place, revisited only in darkness and dreams, and that the present was somewhere else. Both places were here; both were part of him.

And that noisy world eating lunch on the lawn--it would not exist for Vegeta had he not run away from the palace that day. Towards what destiny? There was no running away from even memories anymore.

Vegeta stood, for a moment, in the shade of the awning.

Bulma spotted him and gestured for him to come try the cole slaw. She was cradling the blanketed baby in one arm and with the other, she held out a heaping bowl of the crunchy stuff she knew he liked so much.

Vegeta stepped into the sunshine.

END

A/N: LisaB is not only my beta but an "erudite fangurl" who helps shape my DBZ visions and makes writing about cartoons a meaningful past-time. She rocks! Thanks, LisaB. Without you, being a DBZ fangurl wouldn't be half as fun! Thanks too to Manzai, Bardockgurl, and Denmark de la Croix for putting up with my compulsion to tell these stories. debbiechan