Warnings: Violence, profanity, references to rape and abuse. Vegeta is probably OOC to most people, but there's a good reason for it.
Author's Notes: I know I should be finishing Metamorphosis (as well as a host of other fanfics), but this grabbed ahold of me and refused to let go. But, unlike many of my other stories, this one is complete. And for all those people who were annoyed at my Japanese usage in Metamorphosis, this story has no Japanese in it whatsoever. (Unless you count "Saiya-jin" and "Kakarotto" as Japanese.)
Fanfic Notes: Few things in this world resemble the canon, just to warn you. Goku never goes to Earth (which may or may not exist) so he's still Kakarotto (yet there is no Planet Vegeta). Vegeta's young in this fanfic, around the age of twenty-three or so. That makes Goku still a teenager.
Summary: A Saiya-jin prince meets a young slave boy who is harboring a secret so vast that it puts the very existence of the world at stake.
Passport to Paradise
Vegeta had left his home alone, which was unusual, and
without his father's permission, which was unthinkable. He was the crown prince
of the Saiya-jin Empire, the one to inherit the throne upon his father's death,
untimely or otherwise. It was uncommon enough for members of the royal family to
travel beyond the gates of the palace, but to travel without a plethora of armed
guards and groveling retainers was practically unheard of.
Being trapped on the castle grounds had been incredibly hard on the young man. He sought adventure and knew he wouldn't ever be able to find that in a place he already knew inside and out. So, under the cover of night, he'd packed a small bag with food and clothing and left. He figured that he would take a year or two to see the world and then be back in plenty of time to marry and produce a little heir or two. The thought, as always, made him wince.
Unfortunately there were a few flaws in his plan. How would he be able to leave the castle in the first place with so many guards around? How would he know where all the action was? Vegeta never thought about these problems for very long, however, and assumed that the answers would come to him as needed. That was how life had worked for him so far.
Getting past the guards proved to not be that difficult of a task, which spoke ill of his father since they weren't as vigilant as they were supposed to be. The kingdom had been at peace with its neighbors for centuries and he supposed that one became quite lax when not expecting any problems. It wasn't an excuse for their less-than-stellar performance, but it was an explanation nonetheless.
He was on the road by early morning and had made it to the nearest city by mid-day. Unlike other royal castles and palaces, there was no city surrounding his father's. Instead there was a vast forest whose protection was greater than an army of thousands. It was thick and confusing; an enemy army would find themselves hard-pressed to discover a way out of it. There was an ancient elven enchantment woven into the very trees that confused all who entered with ill intentions. Since there had been no powerful sorcerers born in the land since the days of the elven prince Ilan, all knew that it was nigh on impossible to launch an attack on the Saiya-jin royal family and so none ever tried.
Vegeta couldn't help but to be a little sad about that. It made for a lot of incredibly boring days.
Once in Hillys, he quickly found the nearest tavern that seemed to cater to a rougher crowd. There were few places better to learn about what things there were to be discovered save for the gaming or pleasure houses. He figured that he could visit a few of the former if this didn't pan out, but would stay away from the latter since he wanted no one to know his true identity.
On a small side street off the main drag there was a tiny tavern known as the Horse's Head. Why, he didn't know, but he also didn't care enough to ask the proprietor about it. The lighting was more suitable to a cave than any sort of business -- the darkness lessened only by small oil lanterns hanging on the walls -- and thick, nearly impenetrable shadows gathered in the corners. There were several rough wooden tables scattered about, most of which containing warriors who looked like they hadn't bathed for months, if not years. Some of them even sported blood on their faces from a previous battle that had dried to a dark, nasty brown. Vegeta curled his lip in disgust and made his way to the bar.
"What do you want?" the bored human bartender asked. He was nearly as wide as he was tall, his stringy gray-streaked brown hair thinning on top. Listlessly, he swiped at the bar with a rag that was more gray than white, spreading the dirt atop the bar rather than removing it. Vegeta honestly felt that he would contract some sort of illness in this place, but decided to buy a drink anyway.
"Ale. Your best." He figured that it would be at least halfway drinkable.
The man's eyes flickered over his finely-woven cloak and the intricate silver tooling on the scabbard that sheathed his sword. "Ye look like you've got the gold," the man grunted. "I'll have to tap a new cask." Apparently the people who could afford "the best" rarely ventured inside the Horse's Head Tavern. And for good reason.
As he waited, a knife fight broke out behind him between a tall, gangly young man who looked scarcely old enough to even set food in the place and a man old enough to be his father. After a second glance, Vegeta came to the conclusion that they probably were father and son as they bore a strong resemblance to one-another. The son stabbed with little grace at the older man, missing by quite a distance. Then the father took a turn and stuck the knife in the boy's neck, leaving him gaping at him with incredulity as his hands came up to the wound. Slowly, he sank down to his knees and then sideways onto the floor, blood slicking his pale skin like water. There was a sudden stampede, then, as the other men did their best to get out of the tavern as fast as they could. The last thing any of them wanted was to be mixed up in a murder. Vegeta followed their cue, but not without one final look at the dying boy, his father standing over him with hatred in his eyes.
Fortunately the second tavern he visited proved to be of more worth. It was larger and cleaner. He no longer felt afraid that prolonged exposure with the tavern's patrons would be hazardous to his health.
He ordered a drink and took a table in the thick of things. There were several lively conversations going on around him, but no one spoke of anything he wanted to hear.
The large party closest to the door vacated their table and left a mess of mugs and bowls upon the worn wooden surface. A young man who looked barely out of childhood exited the kitchen with a tray and began to clear the table. Vegeta's dark eyes watched him with curiosity, his face betraying none of his interest as his father had taught him. He was taller than he was (most people were) with thick black hair that was arrayed over his head in a typical Saiya-jin fashion that paid no mind to rhyme or reason. His dark eyes remained focused completely on his task, never rising for a moment to scan the tavern. When he turned around to head back to the kitchen, Vegeta discovered why. There was a small tattoo on the back of his neck, three circles overlapping in the center. It was a sign that the boy was a slave, probably the spoils of some fierce war. For him to show the slightest bit of interest in the comings and goings of the tavern's patrons would have spelled disaster for him.
He saw him a few more times that night, his eyes always downcast and his movements always methodical. The last time he was only a table away from where he sat, close enough for the prince to see the play of muscles beneath the skin of his arms as he worked. When he turned to head back to the kitchen on that occasion, he caught Vegeta's eyes. The boy froze like a deer that had been stumbled upon by careless youths and time seemed to slow to a crawl. Vegeta did his best to memorize every feature of his face in the short amount of time he had to do it in.
"Excuse me, sir," he said very quietly with a lightly accented voice that was pleasant to the ears. He hurried to complete his job. As he was crossing the open space between the bar and the next nearest table, a boisterous patron bumped him and the tray went flying out of his hands. In an instant, the red-faced Saiya-jin man tending the bar swooped down upon him and began to hiss something in a low, frightening voice. The boy's eyes widened and he began to rapidly clean up the mess. The tavern-keeper grabbed his upper arm the moment he stood up and dragged him into the kitchen.
Knowing that he was a slave, the boy's punishment for his mistake (even though it had not been his fault) would be severe. To be so clumsy would reflect badly upon the tavern-keeper. People would say that he did not know how to train his servants. Leaving his only half-finished mug of ale on the table, Vegeta quickly exited the tavern and circled around the back to where he thought the kitchen would be. Hearing the sound of a deep voice shouting, he quietly made his way over to the edge of the building and crouched beside it.
"You pathetic piece of trash! I ought to send you back to Fendan and get my money back!"
The boy's voice was high with terror. "No, please, I beg of you!"
There was a short silence. "You have one more time to mess up. One more! Then it's back to the stable for you. Now turn around and take your punishment like a man."
By the sound of the boy's crying, he knew that punishment wasn't something that anyone would submit to quietly. Vegeta carefully moved so that he could see into the small yard behind the tavern. The boy was standing shirtless, his hands braced on a rickety wooden fence. From where he crouched he could see his back and the ghastly shape that it was in. Lash marks old and new crisscrossed his flesh so that scarcely any of it remained unmarked. Vegeta's fist clenched with barely restrained anger that someone would harm another living being that way. It was one thing to inflict injury on the field of battle, but entirely another to dole out pain to one who hardly deserved it.
Before he could even consider the consequences, Vegeta was over the fence. He stood between the boy, who had turned his head to see what was going on, and the back door. Behind him came a small gasp of surprise, then frantic, almost incomprehensible, pleading for him to leave before Grott came back, but the prince ignored him and remained exactly where he was.
The door opened and Grott returned, a bull whip in his hand. "Who the hell are you?" he asked, attempting to the hide the whip behind his back. The hooded cloak Vegeta wore successfully hid his features in shadow.
"What right do you have to beat him? He's barely older than a child."
"As his master, I have all the right in the world. Go see the king if you want to dispute it."
The sad thing was, Vegeta knew that he did, indeed, have the right. It was an old law, but it had not been repealed. Fortunately few people still remembered that slavery was still legal in the kingdom of Saiya, but there were always a few who loved to uphold traditions.
"And while I do so, you'll add more scars to his back." The words were on the tip os his tongue to say that he could do what he wanted since he was the prince, but he held them back. "How much do you want for him?"
Grott gaped and the boy stared with wide eyes.
"How much? He's hardly worth a thing."
"Then you should be grateful to be rid of him."
He made a show of considering Vegeta's offer. "Twenty gold," he said suddenly, fully expecting the younger man to laugh in his face. Much to his astonishment, Vegeta pulled out a small leather purse and began to count out twenty gold damars. It was a small fortune to a commoner, but merely a trifle to the prince. Grott held one up to the light, apparently checking for forgery, noting with some relief the visage of King Vegeta the Tenth on one side and the royal seal -- an anchor crossed by a sword -- on the other. "Go get yer things, boy, or they'll be out with the other garbage come morning."
"Y-yes sir." He picked up his discarded shirt and quickly darted inside the tavern without a moment's hesitation as if someone had already gotten rid of them when he wasn't looking.
Grott and Vegeta regarded each other silently. "Why do you want 'im? He isn't strong enough for anything beyond very basic labor."
"My reasons are my own."
A knowing gleam appeared in Grott's muddy brown eyes. "He's right pretty, though. I saw you had yer eye on him as he worked. I would expect that he would be as good a pleasure slave as any."
Vegeta's expression hardened. "Did you use him this way?"
"Me?" the look on his face was one of disgust. "No sir. I don't stick my dick in little boys. Now little girls are an entirely different matter, you understand."
The imagery was enough to make him nauseous. "Get out of my sight before I change my mind and kill you anyway." Grott, thinking that he'd made a joke, started to laugh, but one look from the prince caused him to break off abruptly. The disgusting man returned to his tavern without another word, passing the boy on his way out. Very suddenly he and Vegeta were left all alone and the prince had no idea what to do with him.
"You can do whatever you want, boy," he said casually. "I won't force you to serve me."
He turned around to face him, his long onyx tail wrapped tightly around his leg in unease. Vegeta was relieved to see that his thin, yet muscular, chest was unmarked. He found himself following with his eyes the narrow trail of dark hair that began just below his navel to end somewhere beyond the waistband of his simple brown pants. The sight abruptly vanished as the boy pulled on his shirt. For a brief moment the boy looked as if he would say something, but had changed his mind.
"Well, go on."
"Why did you help me?" He was honestly curious. No one had bothered to help him before and he'd thought for a long time that all the people who would help were dead, crushed by the beasts that had come from the east. He forced himself to stop this line of thinking before he began to mourn once more.
"You only dropped a platter, and that was after someone made you lose your balance. That ass acted as if you'd poisoned his only son." Vegeta's eyes grew shadowed as he remembered the sight of the boy's back. "You shouldn't have to be punished that way anymore."
Figuring that the boy would never go with him, he headed for the gate he'd bypassed earlier in favor of making a dramatic entrance. His hand was on the latch when the boy spoke again. "I can't walk around without a master."
"What?" the prince said.
"My tattoo... Everyone knows what it means. I'll be called a runaway if I walk around freely."
To be forever labeled as subhuman... It had to be a fate worse than death.
"If I say that you can come with me would you do it?"
"You're my master now."
"That's not an answer," he said even as he knew that it was the only answer the boy could give. The moment that money exchanged hands, Vegeta had destroyed any chance of having an ordinary relationship with him. They would forever have that transaction hanging over their heads. Sighing, the prince wondered if he had done the right thing. "What's your name?"
"They call me 'boy'."
"I don't care what those who considered themselves your master called you. What did your parents name you at your birth?"
To give one's true name was a sign of great trust. Vegeta then realized that he had not given his own and was telling the boy whether he wanted to or not that he desired control over him. "I am Vegeta. You are?" He whispered something, his face turned to the ground. "You're going to have to speak up in order for me to hear you."
"Kakarotto," he said shyly. "My name is Kakarotto."
"Alright then, Kakarotto, we will be on our way. I don't want to dally any longer near this place. It stinks of jackass." Vegeta started off, fully expecting his new companion to follow. When he glanced off to the side and didn't see him, he stopped mid-step. A larger body bumped into him, not expecting the sudden stop. "What are you doing?"
"I'm sorry, Master," Kakarotto quickly apologized. "I wasn't watching where I was going."
Vegeta turned around to face him. "When we're together you are to walk beside me as my equal and not like a stray dog seeking a kind hand to feed him."
"And you're to call me Vegeta," he commanded, even though he got a secret thrill each time the boy called him by that title.
"Yes, Master, er Vegeta." The prince smiled very slightly at his mistake and the boy soon followed.
"Good. Tell me, Kakarotto," he began as they started walking again, "do you know of any good adventures?"
"No, real adventures. The kind that a man like myself can get himself into."
"No, Vegeta, I don't. If I may make a suggestion?"
"You should head over to Fisher's Cove. The sailors there often tell tales of things that most people can only imagine." It went without saying that he thought himself a part of the "most people" category.
Vegeta nodded, his mind made up. "Then we'll go. Do you need any supplies for the trip? Clothing and such?" His sharp eyes looked him over, noting that he could do with a new pair of clothes and a pair of shoes that didn't look as if pieces were falling off with every step. "Nevermind. You probably wouldn't have told me anyway." The embarrassed blush on Kakarotto's face confirmed his assumption. "I'll buy you new things whether you want them or not. When people travel in my company I would rather they not look like beggars."
"I'm sorry!" he said immediately.
"It's not your fault. Stop apologizing for everything." He couldn't help directing an exasperated look at Kakarotto who, once he'd seen it, opened his mouth to apologize again. The prince sighed and shook his head, knowing that it would take more than a gentle admonishment to cure the boy of his tendency to take the blame for everything. One important question sat at the forefront of his mind. Would he be able to endure long enough to get anywhere with him?
Only time would tell.