Seboll was back the next day.  He planted himself in front of the Prince and grinned.

        “Can I help you?” Vegeta asked in irritation.

        His brusque tone didn’t seem to bother the kid. “Guess,” he said excitedly, then, just like before,
didn’t wait for an answer. “I get to guard you.”
        One of the Prince’s eyebrows raised. “Oh?” he asked.  He turned on his scouter. “And from whom?  Small, annoying children?  I do seem to have a problem with them lately.”
        The insult went right over Seboll’s head. “Bad guys, of course.” Seboll spoke as if it were the most
obvious thing in the world.
        Vegeta’s mouth twitched again and his eyes lost some of their flintiness. “Bad guys?  And how high is your power level?”
        Seboll’s spirit dampened a bit at that. “Well…” He let it trail off.

        “Let’s just see, shall we?” Vegeta hit the button. “Hmm.  312.  Not all that bad for a squirt.”
        “Hey!” Seboll protested. “How high is yours?  I think mine is pretty good!”
        “Oh, seven or eight hundred.  I haven’t checked in a while.”

        Seboll’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped.

        “You were saying how you would protect me…?” Vegeta prompted.
        “Well, maybe you’d have to protect me,” Seboll said with a resigned sigh.
        Vegeta heard alarm bells. “Protect you?” He laughed cruelly. “And do you think I would?” He stopped laughing and fixed Seboll with a sharp scowl.
        Seboll looked up. “No,” he said softly. But I’m only saying that because I know it’s what you want me to say.
        The only outward indication Vegeta received the telepathic message was a slight widening of his eyes.  He did not respond in kind, but stepped forward and looked Seboll right in the eyes. “Well, I wouldn’t,” he snarled. “You get any idea that I would out of your head.”
        Seboll looked shocked, then accepting. “Yes,” he said, bowing his head. “Your Highness,” he added
        Vegeta studied him through hooded eyes.  Seboll appeared to believe it.  And that was the important
        Seboll was also examining Vegeta.  He didn’t understand the Prince’s attitude.  He was not nearly as callous as he pretended.  But if wanted to pretend he was…
        “So you’re guarding me?” the Prince inquired.
        “Yes.  I’m training, but I will be a good guard.”
        “A competent guard?  What a novel idea.”
        “Yes, Your Highness.” Seboll remembered something the Prince had said earlier. “When I’m guarding Your Highness, no small, annoying children will bother you.”
        The Prince’s eyes betrayed his amusement.  Seboll wasn’t quite sure what he said, but he was glad to have gotten a smile—or a glint of amusement—out of his Prince.
        “I’m glad to hear that.” Prince Vegeta’s tone was almost gentle.

        Seboll began trailing the Prince everywhere the latter went.  He didn’t precisely ask, but Vegeta never sent him away, so he didn’t stop.  To Seboll’s credit, he never tried to initiate friendship with the
Prince; still, his perseverance was amazing, considering Vegeta demeaned and belittled the boy
every chance he got.
        Vegeta realized he was getting more and more attached to Seboll and told himself every day that he needed to break off their acquaintance, but every day he didn’t. He knew it wasn’t fair to keep risking Seboll’s life like that, but he so wanted a friend, he kept on.
        “My prince,” Seboll said one day by way of greeting.
        “Guess.  My power level’s gone up.  I’ve been training.  Will you read it?”
        Vegeta shrugged and clicked the scouter on.  When he read the number, he swore aloud. “530!” he exclaimed.
        “Surprised?” Seboll grinned. “I thought so.  See, I’ve watched you in training, then I would do what you did when I got home.  ’Cept my brother isn’t training, so he’s really easy to beat.”
        “You…copy my training?”
        “Yes, if that’s all right.  I just want to protect you in case something happens.  Is it…is it all
        Vegeta hated being put in positions like that.  Be merciful, or too mean?  Either way, he could lose Seboll.  Fortunately, he was saved from answering by Seboll’s own chattering. “Uh-oh, you’re going to be
late for training if we don’t hurry.  Come on—maybe we can learn something new today.” And he took off without waiting for a reply.  Vegeta couldn’t help sighing in relief.

        The King watched carefully.  The Prince’s heart was not in his training today.  Still, he was doing
remarkably well: giving out bruises and burns and getting hardly any in return.
        The session ended when the trainer went down and didn’t come back up.  Vegeta put his hand to the man’s throat, then relaxed his grip.  He did not have to kill his trainers, just get them to the point where he
could.  Vegeta got up and started to fly away when he spotted the King. “Your Majesty,” he said with a
slight nod.

        King Vegeta nodded back.

        “I require new trainers.”
        The King’s eyebrow raised.
        “I beat these ones too easily,” Vegeta explained. “They are no challenge to me whatsoever.”
        King Vegeta pretended to consider it.  He’s finally taking an interest in his training, he thought. After
all this work, he’d finally conditioned his son. “All right.  I’ll get one.  What’s your power level?”
        “973, Your Majesty.”
        973, the King rejoiced inwardly. In an eight-year-old! “Then it will have to be an Elite,” he
mused. Then, curtly, “You are dismissed.”
        Prince Vegeta nodded. “Thank you, Your Majesty.” He stood up and walked away.
        The King kept his emotions under tight control.  Still, he was extraordinarily pleased that the Prince
was finally getting harder, angrier, better.  He was getting better.  And that was what all fathers wanted
for their sons, wasn’t it?

        Seboll had watched his Prince train.  Impressive didn’t even begin to come close to describing it.  It
was overwhelming, dazzling, astonishing…Seboll didn’t have the adjectives to depict it.  The Prince’s aura
had fairly crackled with power, had become almost incandescent.  And his fighting style had stunned
Seboll.  Unpredictable and volatile—he had been truly amazed the trainers had landed any hits at all.
        Seboll had instinctively followed Prince Vegeta from the arena.  Now, he realized that he was keeping pace with the Prince and was following him, unwittingly, as if he had always done this. “Your Highness?” he ventured.
        “Do you—do you like fighting?” What an asinine question, Seboll realized.  Still, he wanted to know.  The Prince was incredibly powerful, but he didn’t always seem to take pleasure in it.
        Prince Vegeta seemed to actually consider it. “Yes,” he finally answered. “I do, and I do my best.  I don’t see why—” Then his eyes widened and he shut up quickly.
        “Why what, my Prince?” Seboll asked politely.
        “Nothing.” Prince Vegeta’s tone brooked no argument whatsoever.

        Seboll nodded, a bit disappointed.  The Prince was about to confide in him.  Why had he stopped?  What did I expect? he made himself think. That I would become his confidante, just because I follow him
around like a puppy?  Fool!

        “Why are you here?” the Prince suddenly asked.
        “Oh.” Seboll grinned slightly. “Well, Papa doesn’t really have time for me when he’s working.  And you’re close to my age…I figured it couldn’t hurt to try and hang around you.  Besides, you’re so strong…maybe it will rub off on me.  I think I would like that.”
        Prince Vegeta didn’t respond, although he began walking a bit faster and his tail began lashing from
side to side.
        “I was watching you train, and you’re so strong.  You picked up those techniques so fast, and—”
        “That’s enough,” the Prince said savagely.  He spun and face Seboll, grabbing the younger boy’s shirt and pulling him up so their eyes met and Seboll was forced to balance precariously on his tiptoes. “You will never say anything like that again.  Ever.  I trust I won’t have to repeat myself.” But, strangely enough, the words were not spoken cruelly. His voice was unsteady.  The Prince almost sounded worried.  But what could he possibly be worried about?
        Puzzled, all Seboll could do was nod and surreptitiously try and smooth the wrinkles out of his
shirt when Prince Vegeta finally released him. “Yes, Your Highness,” he said meekly.
        “Good.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but…

        …“Prince Vegeta!” a strange voice called.
        The Prince turned on his heel to face the guard. “What?” he asked, his voice one of a person barely
able to restrain from violence.
        The guard faltered slightly, but bowed and delivered his message. “Your father wants you, Your Highness.”
        Prince Vegeta growled deep in his throat, but nodded and started for the throne room.
        Seboll automatically trailed the Prince, considering the interchange that had just occurred.  What had the Prince meant?  Why couldn’t he admire his Prince?  Actually, the question was, why couldn’t he vocalize his admiration?  The Prince had said not to say anything.  He was just a child, but he knew he didn’t like this word game that he seemed to have been dragged into.

        “Your Majesty summoned me?” Vegeta asked, kneeling, glad to hear his voice was perfectly neutral,
betraying none of his present anger.

        “Yes.  I’ve found a trainer.”
        “I’m ecstatic.  I’ll meet him tomorrow, then, unless there’s a pressing need to meet him now?”
        The King apparently didn’t notice his impudence, much to Vegeta’s relief. “No.  I just thought you would like to know.”
        Your overwhelming concern for my feelings touches my heart, but he didn’t dare articulate those words.“When I’m training is fine, Your Majesty.”
        “Good.” The King seemed inordinately pleased. “Who is that?” he unexpectedly asked, pointing at Seboll.
        Vegeta felt his blood run cold.  Now was Seboll’s trial.  The boy’s life depended on Vegeta’s performance. “The son of a guard, Your Majesty.  He claims to want to protect me.” His voice was
completely impartial.
        The King laughed—a singularly unpleasant sound. “I assume you’ve disabused him of the notion?”
        “Many times, Your Majesty, but he persists.”
        King Vegeta shrugged. “It happens.” Then he looked closely.  Vegeta knew he was looking for signs of affection towards the guard-in-training from his son.  Vegeta was careful to keep his face disinterested.
Apparently he satisfied the king, for he continued, “Don’t depend on him.  You’re dismissed.”
        Vegeta nodded, stood, and left, heading directly for his private chambers.
        “Your Highness, I—”
        Vegeta turned to Seboll and looked at him coldly. “You will be summoned when your presence is again appreciated.”
        Seboll nodded. “Yes, Your Highness.” He bowed his head and left.

        Vegeta stalked into his quarters and summarily emptied them.  He wanted to be alone while he considered his relationship with Seboll and what to do about it.  He sat cross-legged on his bed and his mind went immediately to Seboll’s praise. “…You’re so strong…maybe it will rub off on me.  I think I would like that.”
        Vegeta was still amazed that Seboll would say such a thing, especially in front of witnesses.  He was
either insane or suicidal.  Or maybe…
        Vegeta paled and his mind began racing.  Could Seboll not know the consequences?  How old was he—four?  Something like that.  Vegeta hadn’t had friends for the past three years.  That would have made Seboll one when it started…and he didn’t know what could happen to him.  He didn’t know he could get killed for hanging around.  That was the only explanation.

        But how could Vegeta tell him the truth?

        In the end, he didn’t.  He began to avoid Seboll, taking irregular routes and dodging his normal hangouts.  Then, one day, Seboll appeared in front of him as he sat in the garden, absentmindedly forming ki balls and launching them.
        “Excuse me?  Your Highness?” Seboll added quickly.
        Vegeta looked over, a bit startled. “Yes?”
        “Is my presence appreciated yet?”
        “I beg your pardon?”
        “You said I would be summoned when my presence is again appreciated.  I was just wondering if that would be any time soon.”

        Vegeta stared at him.

        “Even if it isn’t, I would like to be allowed back in your presence.  I would still like to train under
        “You consider this training?”
        “Well…if not training, practice.  Your Highness.”
        Vegeta shook his head in disbelief.
        Seboll misinterpreted it. “Oh, please, Your Highness. I won’t be a bother.  I can be quiet, you know.  It’s just…I, well, I like you, and I want to hang around.”

        Vegeta let his breath out slowly.  He’d avoided Seboll for a week, and the boy still wanted to hang
around.  He had to admire the kid’s persistence, if nothing else.  He looked into the earnest face and,
against his better judgement, nodded. “All right.  If you want to follow me around, you may, provided you
are quiet.  Mindless drivel—” he fixed Seboll with a hard look— “bores and bothers me.  I take it we
understand each other?”
        Seboll grinned. “Thank you.  Your Highness!”
        Vegeta nodded again. “Come.  It’s time for my training.”
        Seboll nodded and soundlessly trailed after him.