XII

Break time was over. Time to get back to business. Cell had burst from the lab's "ceiling" out of the mountain in a rage, his expression familiar.

It was the same one he'd had when he'd thought he'd lost me on that island chain. The frustration of a guy who believed himself to be a god, only to find he couldn't accomplish a simple task he'd set for himself.

I would not wait for him to bring the fight to me. Instead, I whipped around in a large arc to confuse his mad lunge, and delivered a kick to his rear with all my strength. Maybe I was just imagining the planet crying out in pain from such force. Maybe not.

Completely unfazed, the Prototype spun around to fight me directly. Then there was no time for thought, only for dodging, blocking, and countering.

He was strong. Maybe not as strong as his "Imperfect" form had been when I first laid eyes on him, but he still held a major advantage over me. An advantage I would have to take away, if I wanted any chance of winning.

With our first major exchange complete, Cell allowed himself to drift backwards in a feint that didn't fool me for a second. As I watched, he raised his hands into an odd frame around his head.

I thought "Solar Flare" milliseconds before he yelled it out. He meant to blind me so I couldn't fight back, like he'd done during that horrible day at the islands.

It wouldn't work a second time. That kind of move leaves the user wide open to a knee-hammer directly to the gut with the arms up like that. His chest gave way like sludge to my assault.

"Solar Fla-AAGHH!"

Not bad, I smiled to myself.

That was my mistake.

As Cell rocked back, he managed to stop his backward motion using his immense Ki, then reached out and grabbed my leg as I dodged left. The mountain range whirled around me as Cell spun me around like a lasso before heaving me to the ground below. I'd felt worse, but I could feel my strength ebbing rapidly.

It wasn't just the wound- he'd done something else there when he'd grabbed my leg.

No time to worry about that. I quickly back flipped to my feet as Cell swooped down from the skies for another grab. Worse, he seemed even faster than before.

Missed again! Now the Prototype was talking the offensive, firing off massive energy waves as he closed with me. And there was nothing I could do to stop it!

Banishing that thought, I launched myself into the air again, coming at Cell with another barrage of kicks that cracked the air.

He laughed mockingly as he dodged every one of them and socked me in the face, back to the ground, followed up with an elbow slam from above for good measure.

I was done for. I could see him landing and stretching his hands, out of the corner of my damaged eye. As I figured he might, the Prototype began to boast as he closed with me and clasped his hands over my head.

"Soon, #18... we will be one... and then it will just be a matter of choosing our objects of vengeance for what was done to the original Cell. All of them will pay for what they did to us, to our superior race... that impudent child Gohan will be the first to go!"

Just let it end. If what he said was true, I would barely have any say in the matter once we fused. Maybe I wouldn't even be alive.

And so what? I'd get to see #17...Mica... again. I'd be free of the guilt and the pain that I'd been exposed to since my innocence had died with Mikiko. I could already feel my essence bonding with another, but I didn't open my eyes. I just kept my ears open, not by choice, to hear his obnoxious gloating.

"I had no idea that you were this weak, #18. Perhaps your power is not as great as the doctor's computer projected. I may actually have some trouble with Gohan and Vegeta. So... maybe I'll start with Krillin."

Krillin?

A new train of thoughts aligned themselves in front of me.

To get to Krillin, he'd have to enter my home.

If he entered my home, he'd find my daughter, Marron. She would die without even knowing why or how.

She wouldn't know it was because her mother was a weak coward who couldn't face the truth.

She would be killed by a woman who looked enough like her mother to fool her innocent eyes. She would call out lovingly, warmly, to Super #18... right before the fusion smiled back and butchered my family along with the rest of the universe.

My reflexes took over. I didn't even remember jutting my right arm out, or aiming it directly into Cell's open mouth as he talked. It just happened. I opened my eyes and saw my greatest enemy. I charged, retaining my full tactical knowledge of his movements.

And Cell was sent flying to a far mountain. I relaxed, dropping to the ground as I exhaled. He'd be back soon enough, at full strength and probably mad enough to destroy the planet.

Let him come, I thought. I'd never felt this way before. I was jazzed, hyper like a human who'd drank too much coffee. Only this time, the energy stayed with me. Was this the way that Saiyans felt all the time? To have this... insatiable desire to defeat their enemies, burning in their veins? No wonder they'd defeated us.

The Prototype returned, looking as angry as I could picture him. I expected a full-on attack, disregarding the fact that he needed me alive. Instead, he spoke down to me in an inquisitive tone.

"#18... why are you doing this? You know that they will never accept you."

Wrong. He wasn't talking to me. He was looking for my weakness, looking for my number and file.

"My name is Mikiko!" I shouted back to the bloated creature, who seemed to shake more with every syllable. "I'll choose what I want to do... like my brother wanted! And I choose to destroy you!"

It was that feeling again, that provoked such a strong reaction from me. It felt so liberating to say my name, not my number. Not an artificial human!

Cell simply dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "It makes no difference. You are what you have always been... inferior!"

He'd left his large chest open again. It screamed out to me "Attack!".

The Prototype had barely recovered from that blow when I slammed my arms downward in a hammer blow to his statuesque head. He dropped like a bag of rocks.

Cell moved slower and slower as the fight and the night wore on, his movements becoming more and more sluggish to me. Finally, I saw the last opening I needed, and fired a thick beam towards his front side. He clapped his arms together in response, generating what I'd feared from the moment I started fighting- a Kamehameha Wave.

The beams collided, lighting up the night sky like some sort of reverse solar eclipse. I'd seen this before, in one of my data banks. A recording of two Saiyans engaged in a massive standoff of a Kamehameha and a purple beam attack that Vegeta was known to favor.

I'd studied the end of that recording enough times to know what would happen next. The problem was, Cell probably knew as well. What could I do differently, so that this time, the Kamehameha would lose?

By not engaging it in the first place.

The Prototype was still pushing his beam forward incessantly when I zipped out from under the weight of the beam. As the two gargantuan blasts caved in on each other into the mountain, Cell began to realize I wasn't beneath them when I caught him in the back, draining all my reserves into this one hit. I heard a distinct cracking sound.

Then he fell. His figure passed out of sight just before a final detonation obstructed everything from my sight.

Little by little, it faded. He was gone.

As the moon rose, I let all the tension that had been building up inside of me with one last gasp, and surveyed my surroundings. The surrounding mountains lay in ruins once again. They'd remain there, in peace, until another battle for the life of the planet threatened them.

The lab was ruined.

Tentatively, I glided down to the massive pillar that was the remains of the data core. In an odd way, I was thankful. I'd never want to review the images I'd witnessed today. But on the other hand, no else would ever see those same images. All memory of the fragile girl Mikiko was buried with me, now.

The question was, what would I do with it? What was there left for me?

I remembered that moment when I'd been on the verge of surrender, the energy flowing through me when I thought about Marron and Krillin in danger.

My...family. When I looked deep inside, I could tell that that's what Mikiko had always wanted to experience.

It was almost midnight. With one last glance at my birthplace, I soared up into the sky, arcing my hands down into a bowl around the ruin...

And fired.

- - -

EPILOGUE

11:34. The stars were out, surrounding the moon. Yet, to me, darkness had enveloped the couch I sat on. The TV was the only other illumination as it shined in my tired eyes.

Marron's eyes were cast down at the floor to my left. I didn't see any tears yet, but it was only a matter of time.

"Daddy...", she whispered, "Is mommy coming home?"

I slid over to her, finally realizing that I couldn't put it off any longer. I'd have to tell her that I didn't know whether #18 was ever coming back. She'd gone off for periods of time like this before, but never for so long. Had I really ticked her off that badly? She could be so temperamental sometimes. Now my only wish was to undo what had happened today.

Maybe I could ask Shenron...no. If she was ever coming back, I couldn't force her.

"Daddy?"

It was time. Taking a deep breath, I began on a compassionate tone when the door swung open.

"Mommy!"

#18 stood in the doorway, her already ripped clothing being torn further by Marron, who now clung to her leg as though afraid she might leave again. I had to fight to urge to cling with her. Instead, I focused on her face. Her eyes.

There was something new there. A new respect for us that she'd never had before.

I managed to catch my breath, open my mouth to speak. "#18, where have you-"

She shushed me. But for once, it wasn't harsh. I nodded in understanding. It was time to put Marron to bed. Maybe tomorrow she'd tell me what had happened to her out there.

Relaxing at last, I slid down into the sofa like it was a bed as the two of them walked upstairs.

Or... maybe the day after...

Yes...

- - -

A/N: I hope you've all enjoyed this, my first fanfic on this site. At least, as I much as I've enjoyed writing it. Thanks to everyone for the superb reviews when that creative spark was fading, especially Meg. You all rock.

In case you're interested, I've written one other DBZ fic in the past that addresses Vegeta's time on his home planet when he was younger, and covers his slow descent into evil.

Depending on the feedback I get from this, I'm either writing that one for my next project, or a short comedic one called "The Word". I'll check back in a week or so.

Any questions you have will be answered in the Author's section of my next fic.

Finally, I leave you with this...

"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!? I DON'T CARE ABOUT CAPPUCHINO!!" -Son Goku

{:^P