A young Vegeta finds that his worth under Freeza's rule does not lie solely in his strength.
Vegeta had grown up as little more than hired muscle, and that little more was for his rarity as one of the last of a race. Though Freeza's favorite flanking guard was comprised of Zarbon and Dodoria, as much for their aesthetic contrast as their strength, some of his clients could be better impressed with a different sort of show, and to be chosen as an alternate was a high, high honor.
The first time this happened to Vegeta, he had been just past the stage of rapid Saiyan adolescent growth where his bones felt like they were growing faster than his skin could stretch over them. He had been ordered to appear before Freeza, which was a not infrequent occurrence, but Nappa had been very strictly ordered not to show his face, and that was odd. Still, Vegeta went, his bearing at that point more princely than thug-like, and he stepped through the doorway with his chin in the air and his shoulders thrust back. Zarbon greeted him with a hasty set of instructions and a frown that said Freeza was playing a game he did not like, and Vegeta stood poised to take advantage of whatever had ruffled the pretty boy's feathers. He was to stand near Freeza and look strong, but not intimidating, and he was not to scowl in his usual manner, but be pleasant, was he capable of that?
"Why, yes, Zarbon, sir, I can be pleasant," he said with a perfectly pleasant smile. Zarbon frowned deeper and continued with his instructions. Vegeta was not to make conversation, but if asked direct questions he must answer with something brief that would do honor to Freeza and the same time do honor to their guests. Guests. That meant customers, and that meant Vegeta was being shown a rare form of acknowledgment: not just anyone was allowed to be present when guests were onboard. That explained Zarbon's displeasure, and it made Vegeta throw up his chin even higher and thrust his shoulders back even farther.
The meeting turned out to be very dull. It went on for hours, during which he was expected to stand basically motionless, making eye contact with no one and not scowling. But he was Prince Vegeta, and this was nothing, so he did it, and passed the time by wondering which gambling pool he'd put Nappa's credits in once he got out of here. He had passed his protector and nursemaid in strength a year or so ago, but he had not quite broken the habit of showing his power over the man in other matters, and using Nappa's paycheck for his own amusement was one of them. Actually, many of the things he bought with the money he made were indirectly for Nappa anyway, but the childish affection he had always felt toward the man was beginning to pinch, and he wasn't planning on buying anything for him this cycle.
His thoughts were interrupted when the meeting finally broke up. The leading buyer made small talk with Freeza, and the being's… wife, Vegeta thought, drifted away from the conversation and glanced at him. She was deep blue and had four eyes, two in the front of her face, and two smaller ones on her temples. They gleamed like red jewels, and her body shape, if you discounted the color and imagined the tail with fur, was very Saiyan-like. He knew this, because there was very little of her body left to the imagination; and Vegeta, with all the discipline of the Prince he was starting to forget how to be, very definitely did not stare.
But she must felt his attention on her anyway, because she sauntered right up to both of them and raked their bodies with her eyes, her intentions very clear. Zarbon, who was used to this, merely smiled politely, but Vegeta couldn't help the warm flush rising from his neck to his cheeks. This made the woman laugh, and she leaned forward and whispered something in his ear that made his tail bristle and his pupils shrink. Still, he was… he was a Prince, and… and he was supposed to be polite, not…. Well, anyway, the thought of doing anything even remotely sexual with Zarbon, even if it also involved a beautiful woman, made him ill, and he seized on this thought to pull him out of his brain fuzz and say something bland and polite, still carefully not scowling. The woman pouted, and seemed about to say something else, when her husband called to her and she turned away, flicking her tail at him flirtatiously as she walked away.
Zarbon chuckled, and since the guests were gone Vegeta let go the scowl he'd been holding back and trained it on the other man. This only made him laugh more, and he flicked his hair behind his shoulder, chin in the air.
"You were smart not to take her up on it," he purred. "Especially considering I'd never do anything like that with you."
That Zarbon's thoughts mirrored his own was abhorrent. Vegeta sneered. He was about to say something biting in return, but Freeza waltzed up to them at that moment, and they both snapped to attention.
"I bet you're wondering why I asked you here, my little prince," he said to Vegeta. It was not technically a question, and so Vegeta was not supposed to answer it. He showed a small defiance by saying,
Freeza's eternal, feline smile grew slightly. That was all he ever did when Vegeta was subordinate to him, smile wider and wider, until the prince crossed some invisible line he could never predict and things got ugly. The smile never went away, though. Smiling, Freeza said,
"Though I was conducting my talks mostly with Andrades— the portly gentleman with the cape— the one I truly needed to convince was his wife, for she holds all the real power on their planet."
He stated this as though that was all the explanation needed. Vegeta did not allow his non-comprehension to show on his face, but both men could tell it was there nonetheless. Freeza's smile turned indulgent.
"Dodoria, while a capable warrior, is not, shall we say, the prettiest paintbrush in the box. Andrades' wife is an aesthete, and having such an unlovely thing around would surely have soured her on the deal. That, my little prince, is where you came in. And you did admirably, I might add. She has a thing for innocents."
The compliment, as any praise issuing from Freeza's mouth, was double-edged. Vegeta tried not to let his distaste show on his face, and he knew he was not successful when Freeza's smile deepened fractionally. He left as soon as he had permission to do so, and resolved to go straight to his bunk and stay there until someone dragged him out. Halfway there, however, the other meaning to Freeza's words penetrated his mild horror.
That Dodoria was ugly was common knowledge; even the man himself cracked jokes about the deadliness of his very appearance. And Zarbon was widely recognized as the most beautiful warrior on the ship, far outshining even what few females there were. Zarbon, therefore, was the natural choice to impress a woman who was impressed by beauty. That Vegeta had been chosen to flank him meant…
He veered off course and went to the armory, the only place on the whole ship with a mirror. He stood there, staring at himself, ignoring the cowering sycophants that pawed and simpered at him, eager to get in his good graces. He stepped toward the mirror until all he could see was his own face. Slowly, almost painfully, he eased the scowl from his face. His habitually unpleasant expression, he knew, was equal parts disposition and genetics. His severe eyebrows were as much a trademark of the royal house as his flame-shaped hair. But when he was not actively scowling he looked merely serious, and as he tried to look at himself as another might (as a woman interested in beauty might) his expression softened even further until he saw it, for the first time:
He was handsome.
Not beautiful like Zarbon, certainly. But attractive. The realization startled him so much he dropped his face back into the scowl without thinking, and as he strode out of the armory he backhanded one of the assistants into a wall.
He resolved never to smile again.
Critique is most welcome, on this and any fic; I'm just not sure how well I got things across on this one.