What if Vegeta had come to Earth before Bulma even met Goku?

Vegeta stepped out of his pod and was greeted by the sight of a young boy at least half a foot shorter than him pointing a red stick at him threateningly. He was too strung out from traveling (and from… what had happened) to do more than stare, and while he did so the boy cocked his head and remarked,

"Hey mister, you're not from around here, are you?"

The boy's name was Son Goku, Vegeta found out, and he lived here in the mountains by himself, keeping up his grandfather's house while his grandpa was dead. The kid made it sound like the old man was off on vacation somewhere, and that, and the incessant talking, made Vegeta think he was some kind of lackwit or village idiot. Without a village.

So just an idiot then. He was really strung out.

"Hey, mister, you sure don't talk a lot, do you?"

They were walking to the boy's cabin, where he had been invited to join him for lunch. ("My grandpa told me if I ever had a guest, I should be nice to them.") Son Goku was carrying a large fish over his shoulder and chatting amiably. Vegeta (who was by now mostly recovered from the traveling but not from… the other thing) had not felt obligated to contribute to the conversation up until this point. Even now, he did not know what to say in response to that. The silence stretched, and the other boy, predictably, filled it.

"What's your name, mister?"

Vegeta took in a breath to answer him, but a light, dizzying feeling filled his chest and seemed to suck all the breath out of his lungs. (Pristine white hands, now covered with blood.) He said nothing.

"I'm gonna call you Carrot-head," the lackwit said. Vegeta, not knowing what a carrot was, shrugged. At least it didn't sound like an insult. "So, Carrot-head, should we have fish stew, fish steak, fish skewers, or fish cakes?"

Vegeta shrugged again. Son Goku hefted the fish and stared up at the sky thoughtfully.

"I think I'll make fish stew. There's some carrots I found and even an onion, and you're a guest, so you should have somethin' special."

Vegeta swallowed.

Pale hands, dripping blood. Blood-red lips, smirking cruelly. Nappa… Raditz… and Zuki, who they had only found a month before. It had been too early to tell if the girl was carrying his child… and now it was too late to find out.

"You know," he purred, as Zarbon wiped the blood off his hands. "I think you might have loved her. She must have been something special to have made you defy me like that. You are never going to defy me again."

It was a promise, more than an order. Vegeta shook.

"Hey, Carrot-head."

The name was ridiculous, now that he knew what carrots were, but he seemed unable to find breath to object. He looked up from his bowl. Son Goku was studying him, head cocked to the side.

"Ain't you hungry? You ain't touched your food hardly."

Vegeta had eaten three bowls of the hearty stew. He looked down at his fourth, still mostly full. Yes, he didn't seem to have much of an appetite. He shrugged. The boy opposite him in the tiny hut leaned forward suddenly, and Vegeta reared back, nearly spilling the soup resting on his lap. Son Goku peered at him.

"That's a mighty impressive shiner you got there, Carrot-head. What happened to ya?"

Vegeta looked back down at his stew. The halfwit studied him a bit longer, and then went back to his stew, rambling happily about other things.

The black eye had long since faded by the time a car carrying a young, blue-haired girl drove toward the tiny hut.

I may continue this when my volumes of Dragon Ball get here. I'm still not fully moved in, so that could take a while. But watch this space for updates, anyway.