Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Author's Note: Dear, lovely readers and reviewers—I'm so monumentally sorry it took me so much time to get this chapter written, proofed, and posted. It was a struggle, for a number of irksome reasons that I will not rattle off here. I will only say this—this was a difficult chapter to write due to its subject matter. Thank you for all those who waited patiently. I'd typically say "Please enjoy!" but it doesn't seem appropriate given the violent, dark content and the tragedy ahead. You'll see what I mean when you read on. Thank you again for your readership—as always, it is appreciated.


CHAPTER NINE


Age 768

August10th

Gohan's aura flickered back and forth, from white to an intense golden-yellow, and then his hair began to stand on end and do the same. The boy's mouth opened and a nearly inhuman scream tore out of his throat; his muscles bulged to accommodate the new influx of energy that was suddenly coursing through them. A mighty gust of wind washed over the flat ground, creating a swirling cloud of dust around Kakarot's son. Finally, the dark irises of his eyes phased to a chillingly pale blue, like the surface of an icy lake.

Vegeta stood in front of the boy, flabbergasted at this unexpected sequence of events. The boy's power had increased momentously, fueled by his intense anger, grief, and hatred—but even so, Gohan's power level was still dismal compared to the heights the older warrior had achieved prior to his arrival in this dimension.

Despite his miraculous transformation, Gohan would still have no chance against the Saiyan prince. The boy was too fresh; he lacked the necessary control and discipline required of the Super Saiyan form, and he would not be able to maintain it for very long. It would probably not even require Vegeta to transform himself to take him down.

Probably…he thought uncertainly.

Again, that twisted, nagging tug of pity pulled on Vegeta's conscious. As the boy hurled his body towards the older warrior, the prince drew back another tightly clenched fist and swung at precisely the right moment. It collided with the boy's face with a sickening crunch, and a fine mist of blood erupted from the youth's lips. Gohan's crumpled body formed another trench in the dirt as it skidded across the rocky ground before finally coming to a stop. For a few moments, the boy was still, coughing up wads of blood, saliva, and the occasional tooth, while Vegeta glared down at him and prayed that this time the boy would not attempt to get up.

But despite the obvious pain, Gohan twisted his limbs under him and once again returned to his feet. Vegeta clenched his teeth as he watched the severely injured boy turn to face him again, preparing another futile attack. This time, however, instead of a punch or kick, Kakarot's brat attempted another tactic. He unsteadily raised both hands above his head, and a blazing ball of spirit energy suddenly materializing in front of his forehead, hovering there for a moment while Gohan gathered the necessary breath to shout the attack's name. Finally, he thrust his palms forward, rocketing the sizzling ball straight towards Vegeta.

"Masenko-HA!"

Vegeta was more than ready for the onslaught. He flared his aura in a protective layer around him, and then crossed both arms in front of his chest, blocking his most vital areas. The blast hit him dead on, but with a furious shout and a burst of his own energy, Gohan's attack amounted to just a few harmless sparks. The Saiyan prince lowered his arms, and was aghast to see that the younger warrior was already charging up a second blast.

"Goddamn it, kid!" Vegeta screamed urgently. "Stop this!"

Gohan's newly blue eyes still were ablaze with the rage than had consumed him, but a trace of desperation had leaked into his expression. Still, he fed his second blazing orb the required energy and sent it spiraling again towards the Saiyan prince.

"Masenko-HA!"

Vegeta cursed again, this time electing to dodge the blast with a flying leap instead of waste his own energy blocking it. He spun in the air, and landed almost directly in front of the younger warrior, who was wavering unsteadily on his feet. Vegeta wasn't sure if Gohan was trying to force him to finally end his pitiful existence, or if the boy's extreme rage and grief had blinded him to any other options besides mindlessly and repeatedly attacking his much stronger opponent, despite the consequences. Regardless of the sheer power of his sudden, terrible transformation, Gohan was running low on energy, unable to regulate how quickly it radiated from his transformed body. However, despite the inevitable outcome that was creeping ever closer, the savage fire of determination never left the boy's eyes.

It was Vegeta's job to wipe out that determination, he decided. The prince glanced back at his doppelganger, whose intense eyes had never left the pair since the conflict began. Although far away, Saiyan warrior could see the malicious smirk creasing his counterpart's face. It was more than obvious that he was enjoying the spectacle, and it made Vegeta's heart erupt with a fresh burst of hatred. The feeling turned the edges of his vision red, spread through his body like wildfire in his veins, and exploded from his skin in a golden aura that matched Gohan's.

Vegeta couldn't hold it back any longer. Despite the terrible disadvantage it was to reveal his Super Saiyan transformation before he faced his double in combat, he couldn't beat back down his anger. It was anger that had been building since he'd arrived in this horrid, twisted world.

The prince felt his skin grow taut over his expanding muscles, saw the torrents of light that erupted from his form expand and wash over the ground around him, and felt a terrible scream rip from his throat. In front of him, Gohan's ice-blue eyes grew round with fear. Around him, the crowd of Planet Trade soldiers cried out in surprise. Behind him, the sadistic smile on Vegeta's doppelganger's face wavered slightly.

The prince stood straight and tall in the center of the arena, his transformation complete, and his heart a heavy block of steel. His newly-blue eyes flickered back up to the quivering boy in front of him. Gohan stared back with disbelief and horror.

"Last chance," Vegeta whispered through tightly clenched teeth. "Stand down and acknowledge your defeat."

The boy's eyes grew slightly wider still, the futility of this continued struggle made painfully apparent. For a moment, Vegeta thought that Gohan would finally come to his senses and obey his command. But then the child's face twisted again into an angry grimace, and he snarled and drew back his hand, a fresh burst of energy pulsing between his fingers.

"I won't!" he howled defiantly, even as he staggered backward to avoid his opponent's advance.

Vegeta shot forward at unimaginable speed, grasped the arm that Gohan held aloft, and then pivoted and twisted the arm painfully behind the boy's back in one swift, fluid motion. Kakarot's son cried out as a sudden pain and pressure burst into his shoulder.

"I didn't want to have to resort to this, boy," the Saiyan prince lamented as he lifted his free hand into position above the boy's neck. "But you didn't listen."

Gohan was suddenly struck with the realization of what the older warrior intended to do to him, and he began to struggle despite the additional anguish it caused him. However, Vegeta's grip was iron-tight, and the boy was helpless to stop him. The Saiyan prince knew he would take no pleasure in what he was about to do.

"Vegeta," the child suddenly gasped. "No, don't—"

The boy's desperate pleading was abruptly cut off as Vegeta brought down the heel of his hand on the back of his neck with crushing force. Gohan's aura immediately dissolved into nothingness, his eyes and hair transformed back to their original shade, and his now limp body hung from the one arm Vegeta still held aloft. The older warrior drew back the hand that had struck the boy slowly, his lips closed into a tight, thin line. Then he released his grip on his rival's son, and let the still body drop to the ground with a thud.

The cheers and shouts that had erupted from the surrounding crowd moments prior fell utterly silent. Vegeta's eyes scanned the young Saiyan's motionless form, holding his own breath while he searched for a sign of Gohan's own. He'd only hit the boy hard enough to knock him out for good this time—he never had the intent to kill him.

Finally, when the child's body twitched a fraction of an inch and the Saiyan prince saw little waves of dust being disturbed by the boy's lingering breath, he felt a twinge of relief. Kakarot's kid had undoubtedly proved that he was a tough little brat—albeit a reckless, suicidal one—but now he was down for the count and Vegeta could move on to his ruthless counterpart.

The prince's gaze slid up towards the edge of the arena, where his doppelganger was still perched in his lofty throne. Lord Vegeta's face was filled with a sickeningly satisfied expression, his fingers interlaced in front of him as he watched the duel play out. The identical Saiyans' eyes met, and Vegeta did his best to keep his expression completely free of pathos, despite the maelstrom swirling wildly in his head.

His own untethered emotions were the least of his worries, Vegeta realized. His doppelganger didn't seem very surprised to have witnessed him turn into a Super Saiyan. Could it be that he was still confident in his victory due to the wish the Eternal Dragon had granted him? Still, his massive increase in power and change of appearance should have incited some kind of reaction from his enemy. As the two identical warriors continued to stare intensely at one another, Vegeta searched for but found no sign that his counterpart was at all disturbed.

What small relief finally striking down Kakarot's brat had granted him was suddenly swept away, replaced suddenly by another wave of lingering doubt. His doppelganger's lack of reaction to his transformation supported the grim prediction that Vegeta would lose this fight.

I can't win, because he can't lose, he thought, and for a moment he almost forgot that the person he was looking at was himself. That goddamned coward…why'd he have to make that wish?

Vegeta's eyes narrowed dangerously, as he allowed his thoughts to sink into a dark place within his consciousness. It was the very place in his mind that had created the smirking monster in front of him—the counterfeit, cowardly version of himself—who had forced him to beat a nearly defenseless Gohan into unconsciousness, and who was now seemingly unfazed by their impending battle. He saw a flash of his nightmare from last night: Bulma's head cradled in his hands, and her lifeless eyes staring back into his. The prince blinked the horrible vision away and settled his gaze on the ruined body of the child in front of him. He imagined the pain that Gohan has suffered at his doppelganger's hands, and remembered the agony he'd endured for years under the cruel rule of Frieza. Once again, Vegeta was struck with how uncannily his counterpart now resembled the Arcosian tyrant in both position and infinite cruelty. It disgusted him knowing that somewhere deep within him, there was the possibility that he could have just as easily gone down the same path. Anger and utter hatred bloomed in Vegeta's heart, fueling his body and flooding him with new strength.

I may die today, the Saiyan prince thought resolutely. But I'll be goddamned if I don't rip off a piece of him and drag it down to hell with me when I go.

For many lingering moments, the two identical Saiyans stared at one another, each unwilling to be the first to say a word or move a muscle. Even the crowds of hundreds of soldiers surrounding them remained completely noiseless.

Finally, Lord Vegeta's wicked smile widened slightly, and he nodded as if accepting the outcome of the fight he'd just witnessed. Vegeta watched his every movement carefully, knowing that this would be his last chance to observe his opponent before they would ultimately clash. Still silent, Lord Vegeta lifted his right hand, his palm upturned, and pointed his index finger towards his counterpart. The captive prince watched as his doppelganger curled the finger back towards himself slowly several times. He scowled at the silent command for him to approach, but then reluctantly stepped forward.

"No!"

Before Vegeta could take a few strides, his doppelganger suddenly called out. The prince grimaced again in annoyance, but stopped his advance. Again, the two identical Saiyans stared at one another with sharp, heated glances.

Finally, Lord Vegeta clarified: "Bring the boy too."

Vegeta paused once more, glancing momentarily back at the unconscious child behind him. Throwing his counterpart one more loathsome look, he leaned down and grasped Gohan by a wrist, and then shot off the ground and flew both of them across the arena. He landed a few meters short of the edge of the shimmering wall of energy that separated him from Lord Vegeta and his numerous soldiers. The prince noticed—with a bit of satisfaction—that many of the alien creatures shrank away as he sauntered up towards the wall, dragging the unconscious Gohan along with him. They obviously feared his Super Saiyan transformation—but was it because they had seen it before, or because it was something entirely unfamiliar to them?

Despite his insubordinates' obvious fears, Lord Vegeta's expression appeared languid.

With a grunt, Vegeta tossed the body of Kakarot's boy towards the edge of the arena and glanced expectantly up towards the brink of the energy barrier. His blue-green gaze met once again with the dark irises of his counterpart, and the air seemed to crackle between them.

"It's over," Vegeta announced, his voice loud enough so all those around him could hear. "The boy is defeated, and now you have no other excuse to put off facing me."

A chorus of whispers rippled across the crowd, and his doppelganger's eyes narrowed. The self-appointed lord over the Planet Trade raised his hand, and the murmurs fell silent once again. Vegeta felt the unease in his stomach reach an unprecedented level as his counterpart smiled and delivered his next command.

"Retrieve him," Lord Vegeta demanded, gesturing towards the unconscious boy.

Two soldiers stepped through the shield and grasped Gohan's limp body by the arms, dragging him towards the edge of the gigantic ring of energy. A third alien hastily punched a code into a keypad he held in his fingers, which allowed his comrades to pass back through the barrier with the child in tow. They unceremoniously dropped Gohan face down in the dust in front of the pedestal of their master. Lord Vegeta scowled down at Kakarot's brat for a moment, before his dark eyes glided back upwards towards his identical counterpart within the ring. Vegeta scowled right back, but declined the urge to say anything.

Finally, Lord Vegeta's eyes narrowed treacherously, and he slowly rose from his throne, staring down at his double with unmasked distain. His right hand moved upward, unclasping his flowing red cap from the pads on his armored shoulders, and he let it fall uncaringly behind him as he descended the platform. His minions watched with widened eyes and gaping mouths as their supposedly undefeatable leader strolled towards the edge of the energy barrier towards his doppelganger from another world. Vegeta felt a massive swell of adrenaline flood into his veins, quickening the pace of his heartbeat and strengthening his senses.

It was finally time. No more waiting; no more anticipation.

The Saiyan prince watched as his armored adversary came closer and closer, his eagerness ever increasing—when suddenly, Lord Vegeta's stride came to a halt next to the unconscious form of Gohan.

Vegeta felt his entire body stiffen, but he was careful not to allow his face to betray even the slightest expression of alarm. His fiery gaze never left his counterpart as the identical Saiyan's hand reached down and grasped the boy roughly by his mess of black hair. Lord Vegeta hoisted the body of the helpless Gohan so that the child's face was level to his own, flicked his eyes back towards his counterpart, and smiled again.

"Remind me," he mused, his tone laced with an unveiled malice. "What was it that you told the boy about me last night? That I won't kill him because I enjoy seeing his fear more than it would please me to end his life?"

Vegeta's breath caught in his throat, and the familiar sense of dread twisting his insides returned again. "What—you—"

"It seems you don't know me as well as you think you do," Lord Vegeta interrupted, his cold, mocking words not even attempting to mask the evil glee that was written across his face. "You didn't know that I was listening in on your little conversations, did you?"

Vegeta sucked in a desperate, hot breath through clenched teeth, feeling his body begin to hum with a sudden influx of rage and energy, cursing himself for having been so naïve and stupid as to fall into such a simple and obvious trap. He should have known there was some strategic reason that his doppelganger had imprisoned the two captive Saiyans together in the same cell. The prince felt the air around his form begin to reverberate with heated molecules and sparks of lightning, but he pressed his lips together and remained silent as his panic dug its claws ever deeper into his gut. Lord Vegeta sneered and continued his speech when his identical counterpart offered no reply.

"Well, that was certainly an imaginative collection of sentiments you told him," he explained with yet another detestable, undeniably evil smirk. "But the truth is much simpler: With Kakarot gone, he wasn't there to watch me destroy everything he loved. There was no use in killing his half-breed brat. His death had to have purpose; it had to have meaning."

The Saiyan prince watched in horror and disbelief as his counterpart shifted his grip and gently cradled Gohan's head in both of his hands. The boy's knees grazed the rocky ground, but his body was still limp as his enemy's grasp slowly tightened. Vegeta wanted to shout—he wanted to scream—but nothing he could do would change what he knew was about to happen.

"So I kept him alive," Lord Vegeta went on, glancing downward at his small, powerless captive, his gloved fingers tracing the edges of the unconscious boy's slack jaw deliberately. "I was just waiting until the opportune moment to end him."

A surge of terror swept through Vegeta as he watched his doppelganger's grip tighten again, his fingers twisting cruelly into the hair on the back of Gohan's head and into the tender flesh of his bruised chin. He fought back the impulse to throw himself into the energy barrier at his cruel captor, knowing such an action would be futile. Lord Vegeta's eyes flickered back up, and he locked eyes with his identical counterpart, baring his teeth in a malicious grin.

"And that moment—"

Vegeta wanted to close his eyes, but despite the increasing trepidation rising in his throat—he could not look away.

"—is now."

Lord Vegeta flicked his wrists, and there was a sickening crunch. Bone ground against bone; flesh twisted and tore in impossible directions.

An instant later, Gohan's limp, lifeless form dropped again to the ground, his head lolling to one side at a grotesque, unnatural angle. Vegeta felt the blood drain from his face as he sensed the child's life force flicker out, the last ember in a fire that had burned so brightly, for so short a time.

Gone…just like that.

Vegeta's mouth hung agape in horror and shock; he could not rip his wide-eyed gaze away from the still body of Kakarot's dead son. He tried to remind himself that this was not the Gohan he knew—that the one from his dimension was still alive and well—but it didn't ease the sickening churning in his stomach.

Gohan was dead.

Kakarot's boy was dead, and Vegeta had watched his own hands commit the vicious action. He felt suddenly numb, and visions of his own son—both young and old—suddenly invaded his thoughts and filled him with a terrible, potent sense of loss. Even as he continued to stare at the now-still body of Gohan, the Saiyan prince was struck again by the strange, tumultuous sensation of grief. It filled him, made him fragile, and turned his insides violently.

I hate feeling this way, he lamented as he struggled to keep hold of his sanity. I hate him.

Across the protective barrier, Lord Vegeta lifted his head and laughed maliciously.

"You should see your face," he snickered carelessly, as if he'd just played a simple prank on his identical counterpart. "It's truly priceless."

Vegeta finally glanced back up towards his adversary, his jaw taut and his eyes rimmed red with rage. As he spoke, he trembled under the colossal weight of his fury.

"You goddamned bastard," Vegeta whispered hatefully. "The kid deserved better. He was a Saiyan."

Vegeta seethed, ripples of energy beginning to crackle up and down his body as his grinning counterpart stepped lightly over Gohan's lifeless form, chuckling again to himself.

"Just be thankful that you knocked the boy out cold before I did it," Lord Vegeta breathed, clasping a fist in his opposite palm, and squeezing to incite a series of cracks from his knuckles. "He got a quick, clean death—I was feeling merciful."

Vegeta felt the floodgates of his rage beginning to buckle. "You know it was never about mercy—this is all part of a sick game you're playing."

His counterpart's malevolent smirk widened as he grew ever closer, but then he paused just before the tips of his boots crossed the energy barrier. The two identical Saiyans' intense gazes bore into each other, one burning with the fires of rage, the other filled with predatory intent. Finally, Lord Vegeta cocked his head to the side, his onyx eyes narrowing dangerously at his furious captive and his confident sneer unyielding.

"Of course it's a game," he said, his gaze darkening. "It's always been a game."

Vegeta felt the beginnings of a furious snarl begin to rise in his throat, but he painfully swallowed it down, forcing himself to stay silent. Yes, it was true, however unbearable the truth was. The countless conquests, kills, and genocides Vegeta had committed over his lifetime had been a sick way of entertaining himself. A mere game, where the lives of everyone around him were simple pawns for his amusement. Of course, now he felt differently. But here, in this cataclysmic, backwards world, where everything he recognized, save for himself, had been destroyed, the perverse sport continued. Gohan was only the latest victim. Vegeta clenched his jaw so tightly that he thought his teeth might shatter. The captive prince wanted to pretend that Gohan's untimely demise hadn't bothered him—that the son of his greatest rival was no one he'd formed any kind of sentimental attachment to—but it simply wouldn't be true. His wicked counterpart knew that, and he was exploiting it with carefully calculated cruelty. Lord Vegeta wasn't letting the colossal power his wish had given him cloud his strategic mind with the mist of egotism. It was a disgusting, undeserving waste of the young half-Saiyan's life, but by killing Kakarot's brat, his doppelganger was planting the seeds of a psychological assault against his enemy long before he ever threw a punch. In this twisted little game, Lord Vegeta was playing each card he had with unmatched precision—while his captive's hand was utterly empty.

Goddamn him, Vegeta thought bitterly. I'll—

Suddenly, an alarm rung inside the prince's skull—an invisible echo that only he and a few others were gifted enough to sense. His vengeful, violent thoughts ceased for a moment, giving way to a flash of surprise before he realized what was happening and braced himself. Meters away, the identical Saiyan's power level abruptly skyrocketed to incredible heights. Lord Vegeta's leering grin widened maddeningly, until it was finally eclipsed by a massive shout that rose out of his throat, filling the air with his earsplitting scream. Vegeta kept his eyes locked on his counterpart, as the dark glare of the other Saiyan suddenly transformed to a chilling, cold blue. An enormous shockwave burst out from his body, crumbling the ground at his feet and racing outward in every direction. It sent the masses of trembling solders stumbling backwards in a mad dash to put a safe distance between themselves and their tyrannical master. The air around Lord Vegeta's body began to shimmer with heat and an effervescent, brilliant golden light. The glow washed over his armored figure like waves, leaking from his skin and transforming his hair to the familiar golden-blonde hue that distinguished only the most powerful warriors from the rest of their race.

Again, Vegeta couldn't cast his eyes away as the ever-shifting tables turned.

They were both Super Saiyans now—supposedly equal powers, readying themselves for the battle that would solidify just one of them as the true prince of Saiyans.

As Vegeta watched breathlessly, his doppelganger completed his transformation, the atmosphere around each of them buzzing with the unimaginable power of their combined energy. The other Super Saiyan took a step inside the energy barrier, then another, the buzzing shield yielding to him before snapping back into place and confining both warriors inside. Lord Vegeta's newly-blue eyes zeroed in on his captive with a wolfish, wicked voracity.

"Your move," he hissed mockingly. "May the best Saiyan win."

Vegeta's felt his glare grow as sharp as a razor's edge, but his trademark smirk reappeared despite his dismal chances of victory and the horrors he'd seen.

"I intend to," he promised as he coiled his body inward, ready to spring into action at any moment.

Lord Vegeta mirrored expression without hesitation.

"Likewise," he replied curtly, crouching in preparation for his own attack.

For a single, solitary moment the Earth seemed to cease its revolution and time stopped. No wind blew past them—even dust particles that had been kicked up ceased to move, suspended in air as if it had frozen like ice around them. There was no sound, only the feeling of Vegeta's own breath as it entered and exited his lungs; the only noise the faint beat of his Saiyan heart. The crowds of armored soldiers around the arena dissolved into the background, and his focus narrowed on his doppelganger, his senses at their ultimate peak. He and his counterpart were utterly still in that instant—twin statues in a motionless world. Then—a fire sparked in his brain, the eruption triggering a succession of red-hot jolts to race through his nervous system, jumping from synapse to synapse and electrifying his limbs. Muscles strained and tendons grew taut. Adrenaline surged and endorphins pumped. Vegeta's racing heartbeat became deafening, the only sound in his ears.

And suddenly, an inhuman, thunderous scream tore from his throat, the massive outburst of sound igniting an explosion of energy under the Saiyan prince's body. The blast propelled Vegeta off the ground and towards his ruthless counterpart at unbelievable speed. His furious roar overcame the drumming of his frenzied heart; his fists clenched and grew heavy with the weight of his immeasurable rage.

Every millisecond became an infinite, never-ending moment as he flew through the air towards his doppelganger, and Vegeta relished each and every one of them.

After all, they were destined to be his last.


Additional Author's Note: Sorry for the mean cliffhanger. At 4,700+ words, I didn't want to add any more onto this chapter—and I also thought it would be cool to have the fight in the tenth installment of the story.

For those of you who may wonder why I killed off Gohan: I don't hate the character. In fact, I really enjoy Gohan's character, and I understand and appreciate what he symbolizes. Gohan is very much like his father; he represents hope, new beginnings, and inherent goodness. That is why I had to kill him. Vegeta had to see all those things die in order to change. Additionally, I wanted to draw parallels between Trunks's death at the Cell Games and Gohan's death at Lord Vegeta's hands. I wanted Vegeta to see his former self as a monster. Finally, Gohan represents Vegeta's last tie to Goku, and I had to severe all those ties in order to force Vegeta to look at himself with an untainted eye. Much of Vegeta's own identity is based on being Goku's second fiddle, especially after Goku ascends, and he's haunted by that fact even after the other Saiyan dies.

So, what is left of an obsessed man when you wipe out all traces of his obsession? When there is no one left that he has any attachment to, no person to impress or intimidate, and nothing to lose, what does he do?

He must look inward.

He must adapt.

He must overcome.

But will it be enough?

You'll have to wait until the next installment to find out. The tenth chapter is currently being written, but it will be another long process. Fight scenes intimidate the hell out of me, and so I'm taking as much time as I need to achieve perfection.

Please, if you have comments, leave a review. I'd love to hear what everyone thought of this chapter.

As always, thanks ever so much.

~Roseblade