Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Author's Note: Oh. My. God. Am I done? Am I really, truly finished with this chapter? Is it finally done?
Well, yes, it is. Finally.
Once again, I apologize profusely for those of you who were left waiting for months. My only excuses are my very mentally-taxing job and my own insane desire to continue to craft and mold this chapter until it was totally flawless. Now, after 9, 800 words, six months on hiatus, and an obscene number of complete rewrites, I finally think I have some semblance of what I imagined could be "perfect."
Oh, man. The moment has finally come. I hope you'll enjoy it.
CHAPTER TEN: A DANCE WITH DESTINY
Vegeta's body and soul were on fire.
Shimmering flames erupted from his every pore, licking at his skin and still-tattered clothing; his hair was a luminous halo of gold around his head. His muscles burst with adrenaline as he bounded towards his enemy with lightning speed and a mighty, animalistic scream. The rocky crust of earth below him gave way as he tore through the air like a rocket, opening a massive trench and kicking up a billowing wave of dust on either side. His heart felt like a molten ball of lead, heavy and scorching in the conflagration of his fury. By contrast, Lord Vegeta was as cool and inert as a statue, still smirking, his confidence unchallenged. Seeing this carved out what was left of the prince's doubtfulness, hollowed out his heart, and filled him with a terrible, blinding rage. His wrath consumed him and fed his insatiable need to try to destroy the man—no, the monster—in front of him. He wanted to crush his loathsome counterpart's skull between his hands, watch the bits crumble in his fingers, and grind all that was left to dust beneath his heels.
It was all a futile fantasy, of course. His abhorrent counterpart's wish had already sealed his fate, and he would not emerge from this fight the victor. Vegeta's certainty was unshakable, but so was his resolve that despite the insurmountable odds, he would never surrender to this inescapable defeat. He would fight until his very last, ragged breath, until every drop of blood had been leached from him, and until his Saiyan heart ceased beating.
Anything less was unacceptable—and utterly unworthy of his name and title.
A young prince stood beside the towering visage of his father, staring out into the expansive night as dozens of streaks of light tore through the sky into space. He gazed at them with a child's indifference; they were space pods, carrying the weakest of their people away from Planet Vegeta and to other worlds where they would not be a detriment to the thriving empire.
As crown prince of the Saiyan race, Vegeta could care less about them. Having been judged weak at birth, they were disposable. Perhaps a few of them would be strong enough to slaughter the inhabitants of whatever planet they were discarded on and could be retrieved when they had gained more power. But even then, they would be the lowest of the low, a disgrace to the true power possessed by the Saiyan elite.
At the tender age of four, Vegeta was the already the living, breathing embodiment of that power. He was already certain of this, and his father—King Vegeta—had only just finished impressing it upon the young warrior.
"Vegeta, you come from a strong bloodline and you possess the potential power to join the super elite of all Saiyans," the king had told him. "Never forget where you're from and train very hard, my son, because if you've proven yourself worthy, perhaps someday you will become a Super Saiyan."
The young prince listened, absentmindedly flicking his eyes towards his father. Perhaps he'd become the legendary Super Saiyan someday? Vegeta had to stifle an arrogant snicker. There would be no "perhaps." He'd achieve it! He was predestined to be the best, just like the poor, worthless souls being sent off to distant planets were fated to be thrown away like the common trash they were. He undoubtedly would become a Super Saiyan, and when he did, he'd rule the very stars that guided his destiny.
It was his purpose, his divine calling, his birthright.
"Vegeta," breathed the king suddenly. "Look at me, son."
The young prince grudgingly rolled his eyes up to glance at his father. "Hm?"
He was somewhat startled when he saw the serious look his father regarded him with. The king's brow was deeply furrowed; his mouth was a tense, thin line that stretched across his face. In the depths of his eyes, the young prince saw a dim, but intense flame of pride.
"Never forget where you came from, Vegeta," his father began again. "This planet was my conquest years before you were born, and so it was named after me. You were born of me, and so you also share my name. You both are unfaltering examples of Saiyan strength and fortitude."
Again, the young warrior struggled to suppress an exasperated sigh. His father could get quite long-winded, and it wasn't like this was something he'd never heard before. He turned his head towards the numerous streaks of light zipping into the darkness outside the window, not bothering to conceal his boredom with the subject. Still, he continued to reluctantly listen.
But his father fell unexpectedly silent. His pause was palpitant with mystery, and before long the boy gave in to his curiosity and glanced back at the older Saiyan. The king's stern exterior seemed to have melted away, revealing a troubling, sentimental expression. Vegeta blinked, his boredom briefly eclipsed by puzzlement. Finally, his father pushed out the words that seemed to be on the tip of his tongue.
"More importantly," he explained, "you are my son, and I—"
The king hesitated yet again, unable to breach whatever barrier was holding back his words. Finally, he knelt down and placed his palm upon the prince's shoulder. Vegeta's eyes dropped to glance down at it dismissively. When he turned his face upward again, is father's steely expression had abruptly reappeared.
"You are Vegeta, the prince of all Saiyans," King Vegeta declared, his voice as rough and cold as a slab of concrete. "Never forget who you are."
As he sailed through the air towards his grinning enemy, a deeply disturbed frown creased Vegeta's face. The memories suddenly flooded his head, cleared his mind, and cut through his rage like a river of fire; it fueled his rage and sped his rapid advance towards his doppelganger.
I haven't forgotten: I will not surrender. I will not show weakness, Vegeta averred silently. I will show this imposter what it means to bear the name of Vegeta, the crown prince of Saiyans!
The captive Saiyan's resolve was solid, but his name and position did not carry the same fulsome effect as they had all those years ago. Over the years, under the weight of Frieza's cruel servitude and his own excessive pride, they had grown rotten and hollow, until the words were merely ghosts of their former selves.
Vegeta wanted desperately to deny it, but his tarnished name and position were all he had left. But what good had they done him? His entire life had been permeated with senseless loss. His father was gone, his planet decimated, and his entire race destroyed by the Arcosian tyrant. Despite this, the Saiyan king's words had echoed loudly in the prince's head. In those days, he had believed he'd been spared because it was his destiny to destroy Frieza, regain the glory his name had once held, and become the greatest warrior the universe had ever seen.
Everything in his master plot would have gone smoothly too, if it hadn't been for one small, unseen, and seemingly insignificant wrinkle: Kakarot.
The formerly proud prince of Saiyans lay crumpled in a bloodied heap inside of his space pod, panting and feeling pools of his own blood sink into the seat underneath him. Every cell in his body shrieked in unbearable pain. Vegeta had never experienced suffering like this—not even Frieza in his crueler moments could have achieved such an extraordinary measure of agony. But the multiple shattered bones, massive lacerations, and internal bleeding were nothing compared to the massive wounds that had been ripped through the prince's pride.
He'd been defeated.
Knowing this was anguish enough, but the most horrible part about it was that Vegeta had been defeated by lowly, third-rank, despicable excuse for a Saiyan warrior: Kakarot.
Vegeta had gone to Earth to retrieve the mythical objects called the dragon balls, intent on wishing for immortality. He had believed that he'd finally found the key to his destiny, which would enable him to finally defeat Frieza and become the strongest warrior in the universe. But then the Earthlings and Kakarot had intervened, and Vegeta's fate had suddenly been plunged into a sea of uncertainty.
How had it happened? It made no sense to the prince. He was the one who was predestined to possess the greatest power. He was the one who had the royal blood. He was the one who'd spent his entire life honing his combat and killing skills on faraway planets. But somehow, on Earth, all of those supposed advantages had crumbled to dust.
It didn't seem possible, but Kakarot had somehow found a way to cultivate energies beyond what he was born with: He could amplify his power and speed exponentially, he could sense the energy output of others without the need of a scouter, and he had compounded these attributes with an undeniable Saiyan resolve that rivaled Vegeta's own. It was remarkable, and the Saiyan prince had nearly paid for underestimating his opponent with his life. However, he hadn't forgotten his bloodline, his birthright, or his father's words.
"Never forget who you are."
Vegeta was resolute. He wouldn't give up just because things hadn't gone his way. He was the prince. He was the ruler of all Saiyans, including that detestable rogue Kakarot.
Vegeta's destiny hadn't stalled—it had simply taken him on a different path that he had expected. A temporary setback—that was all this was. His damaged body and pride would heal, and soon he'd be more powerful than ever. After all, if lowborn scum like Kakarot had managed a way to break the mold and achieve a higher power, then the prince of all Saiyans was certainly fated to do the same.
A grin slowly crawled up Vegeta's face. He felt the caked blood on his face crack and flake as his expression changed from one of agony to one of sudden, enlightened euphoria. He could become the one. He could be the one his father had spoken about, and the one Frieza so feared. Suddenly, the king's prophecy from years ago seemed closer than ever. With this new understanding, it was only a matter of time before the Saiyan prince would fulfill it.
He would become the legendary Super Saiyan. He would defeat Frieza. And when he and Kakarot next met, Vegeta would be sure to thank him before he crushed him underfoot like the worthless trash he truly was.
Vegeta reflected on that day bitterly. He had been wrong—about everything. That day, Kakarot had challenged his position as the greatest fighter ever born. Vegeta had naively thought it some divine intervention, meant only to show him the secret to tapping into his hidden potential. But every day since then the Saiyan warrior from Earth had chiseled slowly away at the very foundation Vegeta's self-assuredness had been built on. Kakarot's appearance in his life loudly announced the terrible truth: Fate was no longer Vegeta's ally. It had transformed into a terrible, cruel thief, and in the months that followed it had stolen everything from him.
Vegeta's family, his race, his home, and his hope for revenge against his enslaver had been roughly wrestled away. Everything he had ever cared for had been cruelly plucked from him, all while he was blindly chasing a futile, foolish dream to become the most powerful warrior in the universe and fulfill his so-called birthright. And now, even his lofty name and title was being claimed by another: A disgusting counterfeit who walked about wearing his own skin, flashing Vegeta his own cruel smile, and mocking him with his own voice. The Saiyan prince's longtime ambition had crumbled fantastically to pieces, while his loathsome counterpart in this world had taken his life and twisted it into some backwards, perverted nightmare.
But what does that make of me? Without my name, my royal position, my birthright—what is left? Without them—I have NOTHING!
Another infuriated scream ripped violently through Vegeta, filling his ears and the arena with his desperate war cry. The space between him and his adversary decreased second by second, inch by inch. His arm drew back, ready to strike. Remarkably, his opponent made no effort at all to block his punch. He stood fast, seemingly as unshakable and solid as a stone monolith, his voracious, hungry grin cracking widely across his face. The prince's fist plunged forward with purpose, his knuckles superheated with energy and aimed at his counterpart's detestable sneer.
He held nothing back, for he had nothing at all to lose. Hatred was all that was left of him.
Vegeta's fist connected with a thunderous, brutal crunch, his doppelganger's head snapped back, and an instant later the arena tore apart around the two warriors with explosive force.
The ground rippled with cracks, massive sheets of bedrock lifted into the air before crashing back down with a series of terrible reverberations, and a massive crater opened beneath the identical Saiyans' feet. Beyond the energy barrier, the excited cheers of Lord Vegeta's armies converged and created a deafening roar. With debris from his impact falling in steaming chunks all around him and a thick cloud of choking dust filling the air, Vegeta glanced hurriedly around for his opponent.
He allowed me to land that blow, he thought sullenly. He didn't even twitch!
It didn't take him long to find the identical prince, just a few meters from where he'd stood before.
Much to Vegeta's chagrin, Lord Vegeta had not been knocked asunder, though the colossal effort behind the strike had driven him a few feet down into the rocky terrain. His boots had opened up twin trenches as he'd slid backward and they stretched out before him like open wounds in the Earth's crust. Lord Vegeta's hadn't escaped unscathed either; his head had whipped back violently and there was a bright smear of blood already dripping from the corner of his lips. The blood shed proved that while Lord Vegeta was supposedly undefeatable, he was not completely invulnerable to injury.
Does—does that mean that there is still hope for me? Vegeta thought as his gaze fixated on his enemy, his eyes widened, his senses peaked, and his outstretched arm trembling slightly due to the colossal force of his punch.
For another moment Lord Vegeta remained as still as a statue, as if frozen in the moment he'd been struck. But then he slowly lowered his head, and a soft but unmistakable sound escaped his bloodied lips: A wicked, haughty laugh.
The noise only stoked the fire of wrath and desperation within Vegeta. He clenched his throbbing fist and gnashed his teeth, resisting the terrible urge to lunge forward and attack again. He rooted himself to the spot and bided his time.
Lord Vegeta tilted his head back and laughed again, the maniacal sound echoing up towards the heavens. He hopped lithely out of the holes he stood in, stood upright, and wiped away the trickle of blood that poured from his mouth with his gloved hand. As he did, Vegeta could clearly see that his counterpart's confidence—and his smile—were seemingly unaffected by the blow he'd delivered. The captive prince felt his heart begin to sink rapidly as his doppelganger flicked the final bead of blood away from the corner of his mouth with his tongue, narrowed his eyes at his enemy, and then spoke.
"Pathetic," he jeered gleefully. "Wasting so much energy on one punch—when you already know you can't win!"
The last word escaped Lord Vegeta's lips as a mighty scream, and he leapt towards his enemy with a vicious hatred in his eyes. Vegeta instantly sprang up to meet him and the two princes clashed in midair with cataclysmic force. His body exploded into a barrage of punches and kicks, each too quickly executed for the eye to see. The sheer force of their bombardments shook the ground below them; their twin Super Saiyan energies electrified the air around them and sent a shower of sparks flying with every new onslaught.
The warriors' attacks, however, were each countered by his enemy with fluid celerity. Vegeta reacted swiftly to his enemy's frenzied assaults, fighting through the searing pain in ribs every time he moved to block one punch and then use his free limbs to lash out in return. They floated airborne for several minutes, sonic booms punctuating their frequent screams each time one of them attempted to hammer the other back to the ground, but none of the massively powerful blows either one of the two Saiyan princes met their targets. Every time Vegeta attempted to crush his adversary's face with his fist or the heel of his boot, his counterpart anticipated the movement and dodged at the last moment. Similarly, every attack aimed for his body missed its mark, and for the time being, it seemed that he was able to escape the myriad of crushing blows Lord Vegeta was throwing at him.
Vegeta's frustration heaped on top of his terrible fury with each wasted blow. He caught a flash of Lord Vegeta's face again, and the detestable smirk he had grown to hate so much was once again visible. While Vegeta stewed in his near constant fury, it seemed his double was once again flaunting his hubris. The inferno in his heart grew hotter, and the prince thought that his fiery rage might burn him alive from the inside out.
Blow upon blow rained down incessantly, but neither Super Saiyan could hit his mark. In his exasperation, Vegeta realized that he and his doppelganger were identical in more ways than one: Not only did their appearances match, but their martial arts techniques mirrored one another almost exactly. Neither of them could easily gain the advantage on the other; they too effortlessly anticipated each other's attacks. It was as if they were trapped in an eternal dance with death.
He had to do something unexpected.
With another howl, Vegeta lashed out a super-heated blow, hoping once again for the chance to smash his counterpart's loathsome sneer to pieces. However, his enemy moved with unimaginable speed to first grasp his counterpart's fist in one hand, and then counter the forceful punch with his own. Vegeta whipped up his free hand and captured Lord Vegeta's rapidly approaching fist, mirroring the identical Saiyan's block of his own attack. The twin warriors strained against one another, locked in the other's grasp, and each unable and unwilling to be the first to back down. Again, the soldiers surrounding the makeshift arena burst to life with cheers, jeers, and jubilant shouts. Vegeta clenched his jaw, ignoring the noise that echoed around him and the growing firestorm in his chest, and focused his intense glare on his enemy. Lord Vegeta's face—only inches from his own—creased with another wicked grin, and he appeared to stifle a chuckle.
"Perfectly predictable," he scoffed, as if he knew exactly what his double was thinking.
Vegeta didn't reply. Instead, he surged forward and smashed his forehead against his doppelganger's skull. His counterpart cried out in pain and staggered back a few feet before blinking bewilderingly at him, stunned. The Saiyan prince's mouth curved up into a smug smile.
"How's that for predictable?" he shouted, before he rushed forward again, his aura streaking like the jagged edges of a ribbon behind him. He drew back a tightly clenched, iron fist in preparation to strike his enemy down.
Lord Vegeta's reaction was swift; his leg swung up in a deadly arch, the toe of his boot aimed for his opponent's chin. Vegeta saw his doppelganger's weight shift, and he instantly knew what was coming. The Saiyan prince shifted his trajectory and leaned back just as his counterpart's white boot sailed past his face. Another moment later, a sizzling ball of energy tore through the air towards him, and it was too late to escape it. The mass of light collided with the Saiyan prince's torso and knocked him roughly backward, the heat from the blast burning a hole through his already ragged armor. His skin instantly blistered and turned an angry red hue. Agony burst to life within his chest as he felt several ribs break and dig into his flesh upon impact with the earth. Vegeta fell to one knee, clutching his chest, and gasped as the air was driven from his lungs. He desperately tried to inhale, but his aching lungs protested with an agonized shudder, and he coughed. As he did, a frothy, thick substance bubbled up his throat and filled his mouth.
Its metallic taste was unmistakable: Blood.
The hot, sticky liquid began to pour from his lips, staining his palms crimson, and still more gurgled in this throat, making each new breath a desperate struggle for air. It was a clear and dismal sign that one of the Saiyan warrior's lungs had been punctured.
Goddamn him…he thought with a fresh burst of hatred igniting within his heart. Goddamn him to hell…goddamn everything…
"On your knees before the true prince of Saiyans," Lord Vegeta teased mercilessly, crossing his arms and landing a few meters in front of the wounded warrior. "Right where you belong."
Vegeta fought against the pain, silently cursing his luck and his despicable counterpart, but he was growing increasingly disheartened. He would still fight with all of his strength, but the ominous reality was beginning to weigh down his thoughts and cloud his mind: Inevitably, he would lose this battle. His dance with death would come to a thunderous, painful end. It was predestined, written in the stars, and no amount of luck or effort on his part would change that. His fate was inescapable.
"Never forget who you are."
Vegeta squeezed his jaw shut as his father's voice rang out again in his head. His father's position and their somewhat distant relationship aside, the prince couldn't understand why he'd hung onto that single phrase for so many years. Why did the words of a dead man, and a warrior so much weaker than himself, matter at all to him? Perhaps remembering his royal blood—his inherent power—was all that had kept him going when he was in supposedly hopeless situations like this one. But this time was different: This time, Vegeta wasn't fighting against any other force but himself.
He is me, and I am he, but how? Vegeta marveled. We both share the memory—we both remember the words—how could we have turned out so different? Who is the real Vegeta?
The prince glanced up at his counterpart, who was still malevolently smiling down at him. He couldn't allow his doppelganger to see the dark revelation slowly unraveling within him, so before his doppelganger could utter another insult, he spat out one of his own.
"Prince of all Saiyans," the captive prince reminisced bitterly. "You're not even worthy of that title!"
Lord Vegeta chuckled darkly. "More worthy than you."
Vegeta felt another fresh burst of anger and humiliation spark within him, giving him strength despite his pain. Screaming, he dove forward again, twin balls of energy sizzling to life in his palms. He hurled the two blazing orbs with all of his strength. His counterpart released a thunderous shout, deflecting the blows with his forearms and a mighty burst of energy. Undeterred, Vegeta advanced again, his fists cocked back.
Lord Vegeta's reaction was swift; he flipped backwards, bracing the palms of his hands against the gravelly surface of the ground and plunging both his heels towards the oncoming Saiyan's chest. Vegeta realized his mistake too late and barely managed to shield his injured torso by crossing both his arms against the blow. He cried out in pain as he felt the massive force knock him backwards, but managed to regain his balance and land on his feet a few meters away from his grinning opponent, breathing heavily from his efforts. Lord Vegeta stood before him, triumphant and snickering.
"You should give up and beg for mercy now. You might as well be fighting a god," he sneered proudly.
Vegeta returned his doppelganger's chuckle with another defiant glower. His ribs throbbed with fresh pain, but he refused to allow his counterpart the pleasure of knowing how desperate he truly felt
"Last I checked, gods don't bleed," he snapped. He watched with satisfaction as Lord Vegeta wipe his forehead and scowl at the red stain that streaked his arm. "And if you think you're comparable to a god, you've become even more delusional than I ever thought I could be."
"I believe you're the one suffering from delusions," Lord Vegeta countered. "Why continue to fight when you have no chance of winning?"
Vegeta breath was labored, but his words were sharp and pointed. "That has never stopped me before, and it will not now."
His doppelganger laughed heartily again. "Admirable," he mused. "But pointless. There can only be one, true Vegeta, prince of Saiyans, and it will not be you."
"It won't be you, either, even if you do win," Vegeta snapped, not even attempting to reign in his tongue. He shook with fury, but his eyes grew suddenly brighter as he spoke: "Because you've become more like Frieza than anything else."
Lord Vegeta's gleeful sneer suddenly vanished and was replaced by a loathsome snarl.
"I won't be likened to that worm," he hissed dangerously. "He was beneath me."
Vegeta's eyes widened. His adversary's abrupt and unexpected change in tone and demeanor advertised plainly that Vegeta's words had struck a nerve. This was good—perhaps he could gain an advantage by waging a psychological war too. He might live just a little longer, and that sliver of time was all he needed to keep his hope alive. The prince immediately zeroed in on the root of Lord Vegeta's irritation and hurled more insults in his doppelganger's direction.
"Do you tell that pitiful lie to yourself often? That you're somehow greater than he was?" Vegeta shouted, hoping to needle his enemy with his words. "Fool—you're no better than him. Kidnapping the children of your enemies and then exterminating their home planets, killing a helpless captive only for the sport of shocking your next opponent—face it, if your goal was to copy Frieza's every move, you've done remarkably well."
Vegeta's eyes blazed into that of his opponent. He could see that his words were having the desired effect. His enemy just needed one more push before he lost his cool edge.
"You're no true Saiyan. What Frieza did, is all you've ever done," he continued, not bothering mask his scornful tone. "You think you're greater than he is? No, you've merely become an extension of his hand—just another sick perversion of his will, and nothing more!"
For a moment, it looked as if Lord Vegeta was ready to explode. Another stream of blood flowed down his face. He dabbed at it once again with his glove, but only succeeded in streaking red across his eyes like some kind of gruesome war mask. Still, he didn't make any move to attack. Finally, the self-appointed lord took a deep breath and seemed to stave off his fiery temper.
"Compare my methods to his if you wish. But I am—in every conceivable measure—greater than Frieza ever was, or ever could have been," Lord Vegeta declared, his sureness unyielding. "And I would know."
Vegeta scoffed. "What makes you so confident?"
Lord Vegeta cocked a self-assured eyebrow. "Who do you think killed Frieza in this universe?"
The captive prince felt his blood suddenly turn to ice in his veins. His double's insufferable smirk reappeared as he felt the realization begin flood him, filling his face with unmasked astonishment.
"That's right," Lord Vegeta confirmed, grinning madly. "I. Killed. Frieza."
Vegeta listened, feeling the fires of rage rekindle in his heart, slowly melting away the cold sting of the initial shock. It made sense, he supposed. After all, Trunks never existed in this universe, giving way for someone else to do away with the Arcosian tyrant. But he had assumed that it had to have been Kakarot, as it was meant to be in his own dimension before his son had intervened. His curiosity temporarily overwhelmed his rage, and the prince found the will to speak again.
"How do I know you're not just pulling my leg?" he finally demanded, whipping a finger towards his over-confident doppelganger. "If you're as great as you so readily claim, just how did you kill Frieza?"
Unsurprisingly, Lord Vegeta was all too happy to oblige.
"It was always meant to be, just as our father predicted, just as I always foretold." Lord Vegeta's eyes flashed dangerously, and his maddening grin grew wider. "It was always my destiny. As for how I killed Frieza—well, it went something like this."
The self-appointed lord abruptly threw his arms wide, and with a massive shout released a wave of energy that rippled outward with impressive force. Sheets of rock disintegrated under him, opening up a chasm that stretched out rapidly beneath his feet. Vegeta braced himself to avoid being blown across the crater by the massive shock wave, his muscles pulled taught and his energy flaring in anticipation of attack. The seconds seemed to stretch into eternity as the injured warrior racked his brain for something to do that would give him even a shadow of a chance of living through the next few minutes.
Lord Vegeta continued to scream and float upward, his power level also surging towards new, unprecedented heights. Suddenly, the identical warrior's hand snapped up and surged forward, his fingers outstretched and his thumb tucked into his palm. As his doppelganger's grin stretched wide, Vegeta's eyes grew round with horror, for he knew very well what was about to happen.
Shit…he thought, his heart filling with dread.
Lord Vegeta bared his teeth in a predacious grin. "BIG BANG ATTACK!"
A massive beam of energy ignited in his extended palm, surging towards Vegeta with terrible destructive force. He tried to rapidly scramble out of the way, but his injury hindered his speed. The Saiyan prince sprung off the ground an instant before the blast would have obliterated him completely, but unfortunately he was not free from the danger of the explosion that followed.
There was a thunderous boom, a powerful surge of wind and heat…and finally Vegeta saw the world exploded around him, blinding him with a brilliant burst of light. He whirled away from the explosion, retreating to the top of the energy barrier's massive dome while trying to catch his breath.
That was too close, he thought to himself.
Far below him, a small mushroom cloud had formed where he'd been standing seconds earlier. As Vegeta watched, the dust cleared to reveal a massive crater, and on the ground near it, his ever-smirking doppelganger. Lord Vegeta's eyes were fixed on him.
"That didn't hurt very much!" he taunted, unable to resist the urge. "And you expect me to believe that dismal display was enough to destroy Frieza? Don't make me laugh!"
His doppelganger appeared undeterred. "Trust me," he hissed. "When this is over, you won't be laughing."
Suddenly, Lord Vegeta's aura exploded under him like a bomb. Cracks instantly webbed across the rock on which he stood, but he was already in the air. He rocketed towards Vegeta with unimaginable speed, streaks of dust trailing on his heels and evil glee shining in his blue eyes.
Vegeta narrowly escaped a powerful punch that whipped past his head and countered with a swift knee aimed at his enemy's solar plexus, but regrettably missed when his target abruptly spun out of the way and behind him. Vegeta twisted around as well, but as he did another devastating stab of pain shot through his chest. His injuries made him slow, and as he attempted to turn and counter his enemy's advancing blow all his eyes could register was a deadly arch of blue, white, and gold. A massively powerful kick struck him squarely in his injured ribs, sending him rocketing to the ground bouncing painfully across the rocks like a stone skipping across the surface of a lake. Finally, he skidded to a stop on his stomach, groaning in agony and coughing up another puddle of blood.
As he wrestled with the pain, a vivid memory flickered to life. Vegeta sensed his enemy lingering nearby—and heard him speak. But he was suddenly caught in the throes of his own memory, and it wasn't his doppelganger's voice he perceived.
"My, my…what do we have here? A fallen prince?"
That voice. That god-awful, dreadful voice. Vegeta twisted his head in its direction, while every cell in his body screamed in agony. As he grimaced, Frieza approached him, smiled pleasantly, and continued.
"It pains me to see you like this Vegeta," said the Arcosian, his voice like the cruel flick of a knife. "I don't know why, but I still care for you enough to put you out of your misery."
The Saiyan prince's eyes grew wide as the alien tyrant's foot slammed down on his chest, grinding dirt and grime into his open wounds. He could do nothing as Frieza leaned down and grasped him by his armor, lifting his head and shoulders ever so slightly from the rocky ground. Vegeta's half-glazed eyes flickered up into the face of the vile creature that had taken away everything from him: His home planet, his father, his race, and now his dignity lay in ruins, smashed completely by Frieza's malice. The Arcosian wicked smile haunted Vegeta's every memory. And now he grinned cruelly down on him one more time.
"Goodnight, sweet prince," the Arcosian tyrant sneered delightfully, as he raised his hand, prepared to shove his fingers through Vegeta's face and finally end this macabre spectacle.
Then—a sudden wind appeared and an abrupt change swept through the energies lingering on the field of battle. A massive, but strangely familiar life force suddenly swooped down towards them, settling only meters away. Vegeta turned his head again and could barely comprehend what he was sensing.
It was Kakarot. That lowly, half-wit scum he'd tried so desperately to defeat on Earth—he had somehow increased his power so much since then, that it seemed completely impossible that his was the same force Vegeta was sensing.
He heard Kakarot declare something to Frieza, and the Arcosian roughly dropped him to the ground and turned to face his newest enemy. Vegeta didn't hear what his tormentor said in reply; he was reeling with a sudden, simultaneously brilliant and horrible realization.
Kakarot had achieved it—he was a Super Saiyan.
Every Saiyan child's power level was measured at birth. The subsequent number marked them for either life as a lowly castaway or as an elite member of the Saiyan army. It wasn't supposed to be possible to usurp the system—and one's own destiny—and grow in strength beyond what was expected of your class. As a member of the super elite, Vegeta wholeheartedly believed that he was always meant to be the strongest of his race. Until the prince had come to Earth and discovered the possibility of energy manipulation, he had no idea that those born so low could have the willpower to increase their strength and battle on the same level as an elite warrior. What he learned on Earth was so much more than just how to sense energies without the aid of a cumbersome scouter: It was that an individual had the power to increase his power exponentially despite how they had been judged at birth. They had the power to change their destiny for the better—to change their fate. And if that was true for Kakarot, whose power was so pitiful that he'd been sent to another planet to perish, then that had to be true for Vegeta as well.
At the time, the Saiyan prince truly believed that what he had discovered meant that he would become powerful enough to fulfill his father's prophecy. He would gain the strength he finally needed to rise above Frieza's tyrannical rule and crush the Acrosian tyrant to the ground like he so deserved. He would achieve vengeance for his father, his planet, his people, and most importantly, for himself. That was his purpose—his destiny.
For a short time in the Saiyan prince's life, the impossible had seemed possible.
But it was all just a cruel illusion weaved together to give Vegeta false hope. The happy conclusion he'd clung to had backfired, and once again, it was Kakarot who had come out on top. Now the lowborn Saiyan stood above him, defending him as he lay bleeding in the dirt. Despite this, Vegeta struggled to lift himself enough and tell Frieza exactly what he was facing, if only to see the fear flood the Arcosian tyrant's face, and nothing else.
He would still have his revenge, even if it wasn't in the way he had imagined.
"Frieza!" he shouted, abruptly interrupting the tense exchange between the two warriors. "You fool, you just don't get it, do you?"
Frieza's head whipped around like that of a snake's about to strike. Kakarot's eyes flicked downward worriedly.
"Vegeta, save your strength," warned the other Saiyan warrior.
The prince scoffed at the notion. "Shut up, Kakarot!" Then he turned back to Frieza, feeling both waves of satisfaction and blows to his pride with every word that poured readily from his lips. "You're not going to want to hold anything back, Frieza. Not against this one. You see, he is what you fear more than anything else in the universe. You're dealing with a real Super Saiyan."
Frieza's reptilian eyes widened slightly.
"Yes, you heard me," Vegeta continued triumphantly. "The legendary warrior—even mightier than you! He stands before you now."
Kakarot's eyes darted from the Arcosian menace and back to Vegeta's trembling form on the ground. "Vegeta, stop…"
But the prince was too caught up in relishing Frieza's imminent downfall to listen. "Just wait—you're finally about to get a taste of true fear!" he shouted towards the Arcosian tyrant, smiling widely as he released the last words of his tirade. "One that you have long deserved!"
Vegeta tilted his head back to laugh, but as he did, he saw the slightest flicker of movement.
Then a flash.
Then nothing but searing pain.
Vegeta's body slammed back against the Namekian dirt, a fresh new hole burned straight through his chest—through his heart. The warrior realized quickly what a colossal mistake he'd made, and gasped in horror as his vision quickly grew hazy and dark. Threads of panic began to weave their way through his body, riding on the crest of each wave of intense agony.
Oh god, no, he thought desperately. Not now, not before I've watched Frieza die! Not before I've had my vengeance!
Above him, Kakarot was screaming rather uncharacteristically at Frieza. Vegeta felt like telling the sentimental Saiyan to shut up again, but now he knew he only had a few breaths left, and he couldn't waste them.
"Kakarot," he rasped weakly, and immediately the other Saiyan ceased his cries and stared down at him. "Listen to me."
The warrior from Earth was clearly horrified—and undoubtedly allowing his feelings to govern his behavior yet again, just like he had done on Earth. Surely he would do it again, and there would be no chance that Vegeta's revenge would be achieved, even after his death. There would be no retribution for the cruel deaths of their parents, their planet, or their race if Kakarot let his heart make all the judgments for him. The Saiyan prince simply couldn't allow it to happen.
For too long, his life's goal had been to achieve enough strength to defeat Frieza and take his place as the strongest being in the universe. The dream of destroying Frieza—and to fulfill his destiny—had possessed him since childhood, morphing into his only source of motivation to continue on. It was what kept him alive when death seemed inevitable, gave him strength in moments of weakness, and maintained for him some semblance of sanity in this mad world. Vegeta was wholly consumed by the possibility, however miniscule, that somehow, someday, the mighty Frieza would finally fall, and that he—Prince Vegeta—would be the one to strike the final blow.
Now it was abundantly clear that no such event would come to pass, and the responsibility had to be bestowed upon someone else.
Vegeta shakily glanced up towards the blurry figure standing beside him. Kakarot would be the only Saiyan left.
The last Saiyan.
The last hope.
"You goddamned fool," Vegeta whispered slowly. He tasted iron in his mouth and felt the warmth of blood slip through his lips; it trickled down one side of his face, staining the ground on which he lay red with his ruined legacy. "You have to stop acting so sentimental. You have to harden your heart."
The other warrior's face twisted into a grimace. "I can't do that. I could never be as cold and unfeeling as you, Vegeta, not even if I thought it make me stronger. Now please, save your strength!"
"Stop it, Kakarot! Your pity is the last thing I want!" Vegeta snarled as he struggled not to choke on the fluid quickly filling his lungs and throat. "You have to put aside your petty attachments and your mercy. Then you might—might actually stand a chance!"
"Stop it, Vegeta! You have to conserve energy—running your mouth won't help anything!"
"No! You have to listen! You have to know what he did—what Frieza did—" Vegeta realized as he spoke that some of the wetness on his face was caused by tears and not blood, but he didn't care any longer. He prevailed through the pain, even as his body protested with spasms and hitches of breath that hindered his speech. "I need you to know what happened—to Planet Vegeta, where we were born. It's gone—destroyed—that's true, but not because it collided with a giant meteor. It was Frieza! Frieza did it. After we Saiyans served him faithfully—and blindly followed his every last order, he betrayed us!"
Somewhere nearby, Vegeta heard Frieza snicker. "Hmph. This old story again?"
The Saiyan prince ignored the arrogant alien's comment and continued tearfully, his pride tossed aside in order to bequeath Kakarot with his last desperate wish. "Frieza disposed of our race like common trash—wiped us from existence—so that now, we are all that remain. They're all gone—your parents, my father, the king—we Saiyans were growing in strength and numbers and Frieza feared that soon a Super Saiyan would be born among us. It terrified him."
The anguish was unbearable now. Every nerve inside was on fire with pain, tendrils of darkness masked the daylight, and yet Vegeta refused to give in. He wasn't finished. He hadn't spoken the whole truth yet. For years he had hidden it, kept it buried underneath his hatred and contempt, but now that he was dying, someone had to know. He dug his fingers deep into the soil, gripping the earth as if it were the only thing keeping his soul anchored in the corporeal world, and continued.
"You think you're here to defend your friends, to defend this planet and its people, but I'm telling you—you're here for a higher purpose, Kakarot," Vegeta sobbed sorrowfully. "You're here because defeating Frieza is your destiny. I thought it was my own, but I—I was wrong. You're here because you were always meant to be the one."
Kakarot looked awestruck. "Vegeta…"
Finally Vegeta reached out a trembling hand towards his former enemy—and newfound savior.
"I'm begging you, Kakarot! You must defeat him—please!" He cried desperately. "Frieza must be eliminated—and he must die by a Saiyan's hand!"
The Saiyan from Earth looked for a moment as if he would say something in protest, but then he closed his mouth in a tight, thin line. A shadow of understanding had fallen over his eyes, and finally, he nodded curtly in silent agreement.
The last of his energy utterly spent, Vegeta's hand fell back into the dirt besides his body. His heart fluttered in one last futile effort to keep itself alive, the last breath of air respired from his lungs, and the last glimmer of light dimmed and died within his eyes.
There, he thought groggily. It's done.
Vegeta's entire reason for living was given to another—one he reviled beyond measure. But the Saiyan prince had faith that somehow that Kakarot would fulfill his last request, and as the darkness closed in around him, Vegeta felt strangely at peace.
As he bit back the waves of agony that ignited with every heaving breath, Vegeta remembered that moment with a convoluted mix of bitterness and sentimentality. He wondered if Lord Vegeta could recall that day too. His doppelganger was still nearby; he could still hear his detestable voice and his footfalls as he approached the injured Saiyan.
"I don't know what happened in your pitiful dimension," Lord Vegeta was saying, "but here, Frieza didn't die on Namek. Kakarot failed, despite having become a Super Saiyan, and then promptly disappeared. That's when I took my destiny in my own hands and made my wish. But you already knew that, didn't you? Kakarot's brat told you as much."
Vegeta heard his enemy's footfalls grow closer, and looked disdainfully up at the approaching Super Saiyan.
Lord Vegeta grinned down at his counterpart. "What he didn't tell you was that while I was off planet taking over Frieza's branch of the Planet Trade, his father King Cold was busy repairing the bastard. It wasn't a few hours after I'd returned to Earth when they both turned up here, thirsting for revenge against Kakarot. Imagine their surprise when they found me instead!"
Don't have to, Vegeta thought, remembering his own surprise as years ago he had unknowingly watched his own son abolish the Arcosian tyrants. His enemy came nearer still, clearly biding his time. The prince scowled and struggled to his feet.
"I became a Super Saiyan that day," Lord Vegeta boasted proudly. "Neither Frieza nor his moronic father stood a chance against me. And neither will you."
The captive Saiyan prince clutched his aching ribs as he arose from the ground. Vegeta knew what his doppelganger was doing—Frieza had done it—even he had done it himself plenty of times before. He was reveling in his impending victory, gloating and mouthing off as much as possible before he cruelly dispatched his enemy. The Saiyan warrior felt another surge of futility fill heart, as he stood to face his cruel oppressor. Even though he appeared stoic, inside he was desperately clamoring for some semblance of hope. Similarly, on the day he had been murdered by Frieza, he died praying for one last miracle: Not to survive—but to pass on his destiny to someone else—someone previously so unworthy it would have seemed laughable before.
Someone his doppelganger apparently had forgotten.
The seconds seemed to stretch into eternity as the injured warrior racked his brain for something-anything-to throw at his opponent. Finally, Vegeta bared his teeth and snarled in his opponent's direction.
"And what of Kakarot?" he asked knowingly. "If memory serves me correctly, should have confronted you when you arrived back on Earth. Where was he while you slaughtered the Arcosians?"
His wicked doppelganger's eyes narrowed, and suddenly the molecules in the air surrounding both Saiyan warriors began to buzz with a sudden increase in energy.
"Kakarot was—it's unimportant," Lord Vegeta snapped, his voice audibly strained with anger.
"He was never the type to stand down and watch his enemy fight his battles for him," Vegeta declared, feeling the slight tug of a smirk on his lips. "In fact, I'm willing to bet that he even tried to help you."
Lord Vegeta's nostrils flared; all trace of his malevolent sneer was wiped from his face. He momentarily paused his approach, and Vegeta's heart leapt up into his chest again, thumping hopefully against his broken ribcage, but he ignored the pain as he continued.
"That's it, isn't it?" he asked, chuckling at the absurdity of it all. "Even when he knew everything you'd done and everything you were planning to do—that clown was still willing to join forces to beat Frieza and his father. And when it was over you betrayed him."
A moment of tense silence stretched between the two warriors. The air between them was palpitant with the intensity of their shared memories, their strange, misplaced reverence for Kakarot, and the identical Saiyans' extreme hatred for one another. Finally, Lord Vegeta spat out a few bitter sentences, and it was not to deny his counterpart's claim.
"Kakarot was a colossal fool, but at the very least, he was a lucky one. It was only because I'd already used my energy to defeat the Arcosian trash that Kakarot managed to get away from me in the first place," he snapped, his gaze distant and his voice as sharp as the edge of a knife. "If I'd been at full power, Kakarot would have died by my hand—just like he was meant to!"
Something about that explanation didn't make sense. Lord Vegeta's words were hollow and lifeless; his laments seemed to go deeper than a simple missed opportunity. Vegeta stared again at his opponent's eyes, which were dark with memory and self-loathing. The prince's eyes widened slightly as a slow realization trickled into his head.
"You're lying," he whispered in amazement. "You—you let him go."
Lord Vegeta froze. "What. Did. You. Say?"
Vegeta's head was reeling with the sudden revelation. His doppelganger felt just as betrayed by fate as he did. His life too, was characterized by an immeasurable sense of loss. His father, his planet, and his people had been wiped out, just as Vegeta's had been. In fact, until the critical moment when Lord Vegeta had decided to wish for endless victory in battle, they had lived virtually parallel lives-including the day their lives were lost at the hands of a cruel Arcosian tyrant. It was on that day that they had forsaken pride and bequeathed Kakarot—the most unlikely person imaginable—with their race's tragic legacy, their greatest fears, and their unfulfilled hopes.
They had given Kakarot everything—and he had asked for absolutely nothing in return.
Vegeta knew now that they both were endlessly haunted by Kakarot's untimely demise. Both were unable to cope with the fact that neither of them had the chance to prove their superiority against their one and only rival. The identical Saiyans both knew that even in death, the kind-hearted warrior's actions and achievements seemed to mock them from afar.
That was why he had been the sole focus of Vegeta's violent obsessions from that day onward. Apart from being the only other living, full-blooded Saiyan, Kakarot was the only person alive who truly understood him. It was why he so desperately wanted to destroy him, but when the time came—even in this universe—he could not.
"You hesitated," Vegeta clarified breathlessly. "You couldn't finish him—so he got away. And you never got a second chance."
The resurgence of the poignant memory did little to quell Lord Vegeta's wrath. He was still frozen to the spot, but his entire body reverberated with rage, and his aura swelled around in with the impressive force of a small cyclone. His blue eyes were as bright and wild as a beast's, and he stared at Vegeta with such burning detestation that the other Saiyan could practically feel the heat creep across his skin.
"You—you shut your mouth!" he finally screamed, as he abruptly rocketed forward.
Lord Vegeta swung a vicious right hook aimed towards Vegeta's head, but the captive warrior caught his fist in his palm. With a harsh cry, his doppelganger tried to jab him in the jaw with his other fist, but again Vegeta seized in his own fist before the blow reached its intended target. The twin Saiyans strained and their golden auras exploded around them as each jostled for control. Lord Vegeta's eyes were reddened with sheer rage, but as they both struggled against one another, he cracked a sadistic smirk.
"You will regret this," he avowed, his voice sinking to a dangerous low. "I will make you suffer. I will make you beg for death!"
Vegeta felt a sudden surge of fiery defiance swell up from beneath the strange calm that had gripped him moments ago. If he was going to die now, he wouldn't die quietly.
"Do your worst, bastard," he said, and then he spat a mouthful of his own blood contemptuously towards his counterpart. "It won't change the truth."
Lord Vegeta's furious roar was deafening as he wrenched one of his arms free. Vegeta barely had time to react before his counterpart's elbow savagely smashed into his face. The sudden strike sent the Saiyan prince flying backward with a stream of blood gushing from a fresh gash above his eye. Half-blinded by blood and bright, pulsing stars, he barely retained his foothold as the massive force behind the blow nearly sent him sprawling into the dust. Quickly, Vegeta crouched and smashed one clawed hand into the ground in order to halt his slide backwards. His fingers ripped a long, jagged scar in the rock, but finally he came to stop and glanced up, already anticipating the next assault. Sure enough, his seething counterpart stalked after him, a viciously crazed expression marring his face.
"You say I'm like Frieza, but you are like Kakarot: Weak and sentimental!" Lord Vegeta hissed through clenched teeth. "And no matter what you do, however you try—your story will end the same as his! You die!"
Vegeta felt the warmth of his own blood streaming down his face and pooling beneath him on the ground.
Like...Kakarot? he thought disbelievingly.
His jaw clenched tightly as he sucked in another agonizing breath. His bones and flesh twisted together inside him. He couldn't move. Lord Vegeta paused a few feet away, snarled down at him, and then delivered a swift, cruel kick to his chin that sent him sprawling back and gasping in incredible pain.
Maybe it was meant to be this way, he thought dismally.
Perhaps it was his destiny—however unceremonious—to conclude all the painful chapters of his life here, in this twisted nightmare world. Maybe he was always meant to be killed by the mirror image of himself. He'd always been his own worst enemy. It was both terrible and poetic.
"Never forget who you are."
Vegeta grimaced in pain and annoyance. His father's wretched voice again—as if Kakarot's ghostly memory wasn't enough to haunt him, he also had to suffer being tormented in his last moments by his father's immortal words. They ignited a multitude of questions within his head, and he had spent the majority of this battle desperately trying to ignore them. However, one in particular had been hanging on the edge of his frayed consciousness for far too long.
Who am I?
The injured Prince blinked away the bursts of stars and blood and looked up into the identical face of his approaching doppelganger. He remembered the night before, when he had adamantly averred that he had acted according to his name and title. That he knew exactly who and what he was.
But now Vegeta was no longer sure.
More importantly, he no longer cared.
Additional Author's Note: I know, I know. It's an abhorrently mean cliffhanger, but it seemed most appropriate to end at the climactic moment when Vegeta realizes that he has lost his sense of self. When he finds it again, he will be a changed man.
Please, please, please, tell me what you think. I poured so much of myself into this chapter, so I'm so eager to hear your comments. And lastly, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart, for being patient and understanding while I figured this out and tried to make it worthy of your readership. My gratitude is infinite. I appreciate you all so very much. Thank you.