Disclaimer, in case it wasn't obvious. I don't own Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, or really any other property. Thank you.
The Long Road
Chapter 81: You're Already There.
It was still hard to look at it. The slightly-off colour of it, and the false sensations running through it were something he was growing accustomed to as well. The limb felt like it was a weight on his side, rather than the arm it was meant to be. A prize given to him for slaying the Namekian, Slug. It was a mark of his importance to the organization, a distinction he was already told to not forget by the doctors as they'd worked on him for weeks to restore him to fighting capabilities. Lights passed him by one by one, each one offering more lighting onto the new attachment as Gohan felt himself trying to withhold his anxieties about where he was going.
Turles was dead, and so was Paragus. He was the last of his kind in the universe now, not that he had any great attachment to it. The glares and stares he received by his inferiors were always able to be twisted into masks of fear or compliance by his own cold appearance. That was an important thing he'd learned from Turles, it was to keep yourself above your inferiors and beyond their complaints. He knew why Turles had opened up to him so much into teaching him how to behave and how to survive. They were the last of their kind, and his master had always seen a bigger picture than himself, dreaming of their species somehow returning in some form.
Gohan didn't care. Despite his elevation he knew full well he was exposed. He was a teenager with no friends, and no allies to speak of. He lived or died on the whims of Lord Cooler, and his cadre. His power was great, but that was the only thing keeping him alive right now. As long as they wanted, or needed him for something, anything, he'd be kept alive. Any prosperity he had would come from the same source. There was only one thing he needed to watch out for now that Turles was gone, and that was himself. Everyone else was a fucking problem, or someone he needed to deal with. He was going to live. He didn't survive… survive everything that was thrown his way just to die from some mistake onboard a ship, or because of a problem in a business meeting.
A metal hand reached up, pressing several buttons as he felt strange sensations running up his nervous system from the new limb. His senses could feel the touch, dulled behind every surface. The metal itself wasn't skin, and didn't feel like it when pressing against the surface of the buttons. It was a sensation of pressure in the most detailed form, each square-micromillimetre sent information through the arm and into him. It didn't feel like he was pressing the button. The limb itself was as detached from him, as he was from the organization that 'employed' him. He hoped one day it'd feel like his arm and hand, but for now the only real question was how much it was going to slow him down. He couldn't afford to be sloppy or slow, and that was still a big worry for him despite what the doctors had told him.
If they were wrong, he'd kill them himself. That was another important lesson he'd learn from his now deceased… father. Never let anyone cross you who you can destroy. He thought he'd gotten his message across to the doctors after his new arm was completed as well. Something akin to killing them slowly if they gave him something that wasn't what was promised.
Hissing, the door slid open, cracking in the middle and revealing the ship's bridge beyond. He used to get nervous when he came out here, either with Turles or with Paragus, but frankly he was very much beyond that now. He felt numb to it, even, more than just simply confident. Power was something that he had an abundance of, and it was his negotiation point. Looking past the crew aboard the bridge, the Armoured Squadron, and Cooler's empty hover chair, his eyes peered to the familiar sight of stars, only to see a world coming into view, mixed in its appearance, the super-terrestrial world barely had a lake on its surface, let alone an ocean. He could almost see the dust rising off of it.
Who the Hell wanted a piece of garbage like this? It'd take centuries of 'renovations', as they called them, to make this high-gravity rock worth anything.
"Where's Lord Cooler?" Gohan asked, his tone stiff and controlled as it always was, or as he tried to keep it since he took on his father's role in all this.
"Lord Cooler is busy in another meeting," Naiz responded, his amphibious head turning towards him as his large teeth showed, smiling in the light.
"When is he getting back in?" Gohan asked bluntly.
"When he feels like it," Doore was quick to add. "Buzz off."
"I was told to come here in a message from Steri that he wanted to contract me. I'm not here to demand anything, I'm here because there is supposed to be a meeting."
A glance was exchanged between his superiors as Gohan felt his patience beginning to wane. He was fairly certain he was stronger than Doore and Naiz, and he might have even had an edge over Salza as well. Power though, had to be used sparingly when in the shadow of a colossus like Lord Cooler. Yet more valuable advice from the recently departed. He needed to just stick around for his meeting until his master showed.
"Well, Steri only gives out messages for meetings that Lord Cooler requests. So, I guess you're just going to need to wait around," Doore said bluntly.
"Why not do something useful around here? Or are you all brawn and no brains?" Naiz smirked. "I've got some charts that need to be updated on the Lorven Expanse, and how the buyers want it divided up."
Paperwork, probably the thing he was better at than actually fighting, funnily enough. Spreadsheets, charts, balances and mathematics were a realm he understood quite well, in fact. It might have been a relief for him to perform the task, even while waiting for the meeting. With a shrug, he moved towards a station, looking over the display in front of him.
"Wanna unlock the terminal for me then, Commander Naiz?"
"For the charts. Sorry, was I speaking monkey? I apologize if it didn't come out in basic-"
The screen unlocked in front of him as the smirk grew on the other alien's face before he turned away from him.
"Save your own copy, I don't want to damage the original if it's wrong."
"Yea, I'll keep that in mind."
Eyes scanned over the documents he was examining, motioning his hand as he changed allocations and moved projections. The original summary had been wrong too, and was taking an optimistic view into account for how much they could capture the worlds for, and at what cost. Based on his own estimates, it was going to cost 7% more, and likely damage to the worlds would be greater. Restoration before sale could be excessive as well, which meant a higher sunk cost. They needed to take these things into account before just hiring thugs and taking out a planet, especially with the worlds themselves being listed as unknown quantities. Any world with a lurking power level of 15,000 or more could require Elites to take, and that was a bigger payout, and meant bigger fights.
These costs would only be erased if Lord Cooler himself actually was doing the job, and that didn't happen very often. There was a corporate empire to run, after all. The day-to-day operation of landing on a battlefield and vaporizing one's adversaries were left to underlings. Underlings like himself, in fact. That was even why his arms no longer were a perfect match for one another, by any means.
Doors hissed open as a figure strolled through them. His own dark eyes had already turned up, seeing gleaming armour from Salza strutting in first, his stance as arrogant as always. Behind him, came the true power. The King behind the throne, Lord Cooler himself walked through the threshold with an annoyed expression on his face.
"Four percent growth in a year where we've seen an 7% increase in costs?" Cooler's voice said coolly. "I hate having to pick out new corporate officers. The next time you find someone, Salza, remember that their performance reflects on you."
The blue alien stopped, looking back at Cooler nervously before nodding, his own posture cowed within a second. Clearly, despite the clean discussion they'd just had, Cooler had likely executed the underperforming executive for his lack of ability to provide whatever results Cooler had needed. Taking on those kinds of responsibilities willingly was a fool's errand for the overly ambitious, in his eyes. Turles could have been an executive too, but it just meant more responsibilities, and a chance of experiencing Cooler's ire for failure. A battle was more likely to be controlled, than the most powerful being in the universe's temper.
There was no addressing Cooler directly on his part, barring his salute, much like the others, when he sensed his master's mind somehow wandering to him. Red eyes hadn't even turned to look at him as Cooler looked out into the void beyond, his arms coming behind his back while he stood in front of the hovering throne which he normally resided in.
"I am to understand that your augmented limb was installed without any complications," Cooler remarked. "Or am I incorrect in my information, subcontractor Gohan?"
Well, the fact he was taking any time to examine his affairs outside of his immediate duties was concerning on some level. It meant he was looking at him for something, and he hoped it was just a job. The last thing Gohan needed was the honour of being promoted to some permanent contract, or worse, an executive role.
"It seems to be, I'm still getting used to it," he answered. "I'll be testing it on my next assignment, once a contract is offered to me for assignment."
"Well, how fortunate for you," Cooler said, turning his eyes sharply towards him, a stare as cool as his namesake seemed to pierce through him as Gohan felt himself trying to keep his own resolve in place, hardening it as he sensed his heart skipping a beat. "Do you know which rock is hanging in the orbit of this wretched star in front of us?"
Staring up once again at the dried husk of a planet, Gohan's eyes scanned it briefly once more as he recalled what he'd read on this ship's journey. It wasn't noteworthy enough for him to truly care, which meant it'd been shuffled to the back of his mind.
"Lobsar III?" he asked, his uncertainty piercing through the veil of his false confidence.
"No," Cooler said bluntly, his eyes turning back towards the void beyond. "This is the world of Ryst. It had been a project my father had taken the organization on, but the contract was left unfilled in his absence. The first anomaly had been with the first team, a low-level group of little importance had been dispatched for pacification. They weren't heard from again and had been assumed to be deserters of had been killed. I myself, dispatched a team here last year as an update, and they too have gone silent, but their pod's trackers are still active. They never left this world."
A sleeper, great. That was all he needed to deal with. These planets were annoying, typically they had some clown with a power level hovering between 20,000 and 50,000 just on the planet. In this case he could barely believe the planet was inhabited, but some readings even now as he glanced over the console seemed to indicate some measured level of civilization. It was a shame, really, clearing planets of anything beyond a few tribes was tedious, and even the contract itself was only worth a few trillion Sticks. That kind of financing was great for a planet with a low population and threat, but losing teams and losing time was always a big problem.
Briefly, he took note that this planet wasn't supposed to be colonized. That was after all, important.
"What's my contract rate for this?" he asked.
"Pathetic," Salza almost snapped. "Asking about how much you're going to make, when Lord Cooler himself has offered it to you?"
Hell, that was problem enough. The money didn't really matter, what mattered was making the boss happy. It was an instinctive response, he never wanted to get shafted, especially since he'd noticed how often their contract holders tried to hold out. But this was Cooler, the head of the Planet Trade.
"Forgive me, Lord Cooler, I did not mean to presume-"
"Your arm, Gohan, was quite the expense, and was taken care of on my orders. I suspect if we began tracking contract value and compared it to your completion rate, you'd still owe me a great deal after completing this venture," Cooler said, not even bothering to look at him once more. "So, in short, yes, I want this world pacified for the Dorodians. I would do it myself, but I wanted to see how you would handle it, Saiyan."
Dorodians were lazy and useless. They wanted this planet on a platter and didn't want to do any work for the resources. Well, he checked over the scans again. Estimated population of 105,000,000, mostly living underground and with an inhospitable environment. Truth be told, he didn't get why someone would want to mine a rock like this when it was in its current state anyway. This planet would take days to pacify, if the fighter, or fighters, on the planet was strong enough, it could even drag out for several days more. Every hour in orbit was a loss of more valuable time elsewhere, and more valuable contracts elsewhere that would be easier to collect on. So how was he going to handle it?
Without another word, Gohan strode out of the bridge's space and back into the corridors, heading towards the centre of the ship. Doors opened once more as he came into the docking back.
Guards and operators stared at him nervously as his eyes peered around the room. They all knew he had a job to do already, clearly.
"Subcontractor, we were hoping that-" he snapped his fingers at the first one speaking and pointing his hand towards him.
"Get the doors open and maintain an atmospheric bubble."
"You're not authorized to-"
There wasn't a reason to continue to speak with someone being this uncooperative when he had a job to do. Opening his palm, a flash of light appeared. Only a shrill shriek escaped the underling's lungs as the purple skinned creature was annihilated. Smoke mixed with vapour poured up from where he stood, oozing into the air with a greasy bile hanging around it. Turning his eyes to the next operator, Gohan kept them dead set on him.
"Now," he ordered. "Open the doors and maintain the bubble. Or do I need to make another example?"
"N-no sir," came the quivering response from the pale grey creature, it's large black eyes staring back at him with the kind of fear that could be born from an imminent death.
He almost laughed, as truth be told he wasn't far away from this creature in its position in life.
The shell-like structure above him began to separate, shedding the barrier of protection they all had while passing between the distances between planets and stars. With the artificial atmospheric field however, his ascent upwards offered him protection from the vacuum beyond. There had been more than a few deaths he'd seen in the emptiness of the void, and that wasn't the death he'd wanted to see for himself. Eyes bulged, a desperate, flailing form hanging in the endless void, with dying or dead eyes filled with panic. That wasn't a fate he was going to walk through. No, he'd not die in space, alone like that.
Turning his attention to the near-barren rock which had been commissioned to deal with, Gohan carefully started to break the seals of power within his body. Energy flowed through his body, streaming from his centre out to his limbs as he let his power resonate through his form. Energy burned through the joints in his new limb as he sensed it come alive, artificial nerves registering the energy coming through it, simulating his former flesh and bone. The air around him began to slowly burn around the edge of his skin as a dark purple aura flashed around him, beginning to shine its ironically dark light into the void.
Sometimes to prove your worth and survive, despite a lack of ambition, you needed to prove your word. Hoisting his hands to his sides, energy crackled around his fingers as he felt his body trembling. Sparks of energy crackled around his shoulders as he started to breathed in and out heavily, hearing his own voice vibrating through the soup-like air around him, heating into a near-plasma like substance as he started to growl, his energy coming to its maximum flare for the power he fed into it. Energy peeled off his body like he was shedding it like outer layers of invisible skin before he thrust both hands forward.
A flash of violet appeared in front of him, but he could peer through his own ki as he unleashed Ryst's fate. The Cataclysm had been set loose. The planet nearby was hit, its surface bulging outward as its entire outer-mantel rippled like a pond which had a stone thrown into it. Its surface went from one of placid, worn dust, to fire and molten rock, before it tore itself apart, the beam finishing its job, pooling inside the molten core, and exploding within. A might blast of purple appeared at the heart, shattering through the already traumatized outer layer of the planet as the world of Ryst died in front of him. Its people died.
He was too far away to hear their screams. He was too far down his own journey to care. He idly felt like he could feel someone watching over his shoulder however, almost approvingly as he peered at the familiar scene. This had been the first day he'd destroyed a planet. It'd not been the first day he'd killed a world however. Silence fell all around him as he floated there, as the light from his attack slowly faded from the heart of where the planet had been, now just the mess of splintered, broken rock and molten slag spinning around where it had once been whole.
He cost them 10% of the contract by blowing up the planet. But he remembered… he'd also made them 17% more by the amount of time they'd saved. Cooler had taken note and promoted him from subcontractor to an employee, a full Elite, with benefits and a permanent salary. He remembered how much more comfort his living arrangements became. It was a relief at the time and it felt like he could breathe.
All it'd cost was 100,000,000 souls. It was just another step down his road to Hell. His heart started to race as he peered at it… seeing it for what it was.
He'd killed Ryst, he'd murdered its people and destroyed the world. But his own fate was sealed long before he came here. All so he could live another day, and live more comfortably than he had before. Looking down at his hands, the familiar first augmented limb of his teenage years, and his true hand reflected back at him. These were the hands of a monster.
"How right you are, Gohan," an all too familiar voice said from behind.
Eyes shot open as Gohan sat up in bed. He was breathing in and out heavily as he tried to keep his head on his shoulders seemingly. The air was cold against his skin, very cold. Shaking his head slightly, he realized it was wet. His hair was soaked into as well, as was his face. It was sweat, and it was cold. Reaching up with his hand he wiped the offending substance away as he just sat there, trying to hold onto any thought but what he'd just remembered. When his eyes turned to look out the window, he could see a familiar star in the sky. The sun was peering through, warmth from direct contact with the rays hit his leg, half-hanging out of the bed as he just felt some relief come over him.
What a fucking nightmare… though… not really. It wasn't even a nightmare until the end. It was just what happened. He could still remember the dying purple light in the core as the molten rock cooled in the vacuum of space. He made that nightmare long before he dreamt about it.
Before he could think any further on it however, he realized something very important.
This wasn't his room. Where the fuck was he? Not that he even had his room anymore… Garlic had annihilated his home, and he had no room waiting for him back with Kakar- with his dad and mom. At least not one they were expecting to be filled. White walls, standard furnishing, white dresser- a picture which was turned down. It was a start, reaching over he picked it up before looking at the woman and the girl in it. Ah…
Yea, he knew where he was now.
It was extremely uncomfortable in a way when he realized he was sleeping in Videl's room. He didn't even know for how long. He didn't even know what date it was. Everything he had was either going to have either been seized, or was in the process of being repossessed by now. And there was still unfinished business. He needed to see his parents… and he needed to find Pan and Piccolo. This was his chance to pull his life back together. At least, the life he'd been living. The life he had was not going to get pulled back into place until he found a way to escape the clutches of the Hell he'd been in.
There was no chance he was going to get thrown back into that pit. That was what real misery looked like, not just the dying every few days, or the losing of time, or the madness that was stemming from that nightmare that wouldn't end, but the toxicity of what surrounded it in every way. He wasn't going to go back to be steeped in whatever that place was.
I am NOT going back there. I am going to find a way out. I don't care what I'm going to need to do, but I am not getting sent back to Hell.
Vague memories of emptiness after his… final death, felt like they were just beyond his reach. An eternity of being separated from himself, an eternity of a void, of nothingness, mixed with all that hatred and loathing and everything vile at the bottom of the afterlife. And that was not including the year of fire, torment, and a barren wasteland of misery and torment. No, no he was not going back there. But before he could do anything about anything…
He had a feeling if he moved to where Goku was, he'd find his mom. And if he went where Piccolo was, he was going to find Pan. The truth behind the latter fact made him more than angry to even think about. It'd been a rage that had almost overtaken him on that rooftop, it sweltered and boiled like magma bubbling to the surface… and she'd been right when she'd told him not to act on it. Videl, that was. She'd been right to tell him not to fly off when he was so out of it before. And he needed to take care of things first. Rushing out there and confronting Piccolo couldn't be at the height of his priorities, even if Pan was with him. Whether it took hours, or a few days, there were things he needed in place first.
And that also meant keeping his power in check and not doing something crazy. Having his dad and mom find out about Pan would be… a distraction, he couldn't deal with right now. He needed to take care of one thing at a time. He needed to keep his head clear and keep himself together. He'd been… apart for too long. Staring down at his hands, he almost expected to see the familiar, synthetic arm he'd once hand. He could feel it under his skin, a memory merging with his present as he could almost see the joints interconnecting with synthetic muscles. The arm which cost billions of lives, both in taking them, and the price paid for them. It was only now, that he saw it was his own life that also paid for it.
Standing at his full height, his legs stretched painfully before he strolled towards the exit of the room, seeing the side-bathroom of the apartment. Peering out of the other passageway, he saw a small, sparsely decorated living room. On the couch there was a figure laying there with a blanket over it. He already knew who it was, given where he was. Instead of making an approach, he stepped into the bathroom, looking around it before his eyes turned to the mirror. His eyes looked into themselves, seeing past his outward appearance… he looked into the void behind the centre of his eyes and immediately felt his heart starting to race, seeing behind them, what could not be seen.
"I've got a devil on my shoulder… And I just can't sink any lower… You've got a DEVIL on your shoulder…"
For a brief second, his eyes flashed red as the void stared back at him through the glass. In the back of his sight he could see a familiar, hulking figure looming over him from behind.
"I've missed you Gohan. What a wonderful experience. To be alive again, in the real, living world. I can smell the fresh air. I can taste your saliva. Oh… that sensation of self-disgust and fear… you have no idea how much I've longed to reunite with you…"
The voice was familiar and made his skin crawl. The fact that he was pretending he was somehow apart of him made it even more disgusting. He could feel his teeth almost grinding against one another behind his closed lips as they pressed together as he repressed his renewed anger. It wasn't an Devil on his shoulder. It was an Imp on his shoulder. His eyes met with the phantom ones he could see in the mirror, seeing the grin across that thing's face. He knew all too well what connection it was. The one he'd decided to share with this freak to save the world from another one. He'd not even thought that it could be kept alive like this.
Inside himself, he searched through his inner self, looking for the parasitic connection, but being unable to find it within seconds as Garlic's large hand moved up, shaking his finger.
"Uh uh uh, now let's not go about trying to change the course of your little deal with us. Babidi, don't you remember him? He used his magic to make our little connection work. I just wanted to make sure you knew there I'm here, Gohan…"
Its hands moved down, pressing against his shoulders… and he could almost feel it as its head loomed down from behind, still looking at him through the glass as its long, drawn out smile became even lazier, and sicker by the second.
"All those thoughts buzzing around in that head of yours… you have no idea how precious they are to me. To us, Gohan… I just wanted to let you know that you'll never be alone Gohan. No matter where you go, you'll always have me looking out for you. You'll always get to share those experiences with me. Aren't. You. Excited?"
Without raising his ki, Gohan's body flexed, shoving the hands back as he saw the giant step back, seemingly surprised he'd had the ability to shove him back. It made his insides crawl with disgust. There was nothing he could do about it now, but he wasn't so pathetic that he didn't have some defenses against what this perverse parasite was doing. Just another burden he was going to need to deal with. Another thing on the list.
Get the Hell away from me. If you think this is a one-way street, you're wrong. Just remember that, Garlic. I can make your life all the worse, if I want.
It closed its eyes again, a smile growing again, overtaking its formerly shocked and irritated features. The arrogance of this thing was enough to make him want to shatter the mirror.
"Of course. I just wanted to remind you that I have my first-class tickets. The best seats in the house. Every second of torment, happiness, pleasure… well, remember… those moments belong to me now as well."
When his form faded away, its voice passed by him one more time.
"If I had any idea how much of a greater devil than me that you'd become, Gohan, I'd have never challenged you all those years ago… Dabura, myself… that thing you destroyed… we're nothing in the face of what you are. You're the King of the Devils, aren't you?"
There was no need to retort. He was left standing there, his frame was left static as his eyes peered at the shower, where Garlic had been standing behind. Even inside himself he refused to flinch in fearing of breaking. Nothing was going to change, was it? It was all going to just linger behind him. All of those deaths. All of his crimes. The nightmares of the things he'd returned to this planet to find himself pitted against. It was all going to drag him back there…
Into the deepest part of his mind, he pushed his thoughts to give them the isolation he craved for them to have. One thing came to the top of all of them. He had found a way to survive his whole life. No matter what the cost, he found a way to make it out the other side. The only time he'd not was… Pan… or… when…
He could remember his body bursting into light, feeling the outer shell of what he was cracking as he was ruptured, bursting through the very fabric of the afterlife-
Unless I do something. I'm not going to let this be it. This isn't my destiny.
Walking over to the simple stall, he turned the nozzle for the water, seeing it burst out of the showerhead a moment later. The seconds he waited for the water to heat up, to start seeing the familiar steam rising from the stall felt like an eternity. When was the last time he had a shower? When was the last time he'd done anything normal? Stepping into the stall a second later, he almost quivered with the sensation, bracing himself against the tile as soon as he stepped within the confines of the time stall. He closed his eyes as he felt it washing away the sweat that had built up over his dream…
It was like it was washing away a layer of filth. In a small part of his mind, maybe it was washing away the blood that was on his hands, if only for a second. Within this chamber he could dream while awake, and maybe dream of a future where he could escape all of it.
Exiting after his cleanse was completed, the familiar routine he used to follow began. Drying his hair, preparing to-
Toothbrush wasn't his, the deodorant wasn't his, and just about everything here wasn't his. He'd already taken the liberty to use her soap in the shower. Was he really about to use Videl's toothbrush? The answer was… no. It wouldn't have bothered him, but he knew it'd bother her. After the rooftop, Hell, after what they'd been through before, even giving her a bit of grief was… more than unjust, even for him. Taking a brief look around the apartment he found his clothes in a dryer, slipping into them. It was strange that his jeans and shirt, preserved and restored from the day he'd died, had been with him this long. They'd almost become a second skin to him at this point, following him from life, into death and back. When he had the chance though, he was definitely going to get a change of attire.
A new life, a new set of clothes.
Walking back through the living room, he paused as he stopped in front of the couch, looking down towards the sleeping frame that lay there. Even in her sleep, he knew all too well already, she looked like a woman haunted him. His shadow had been cast over her now, just as it was in life while he'd looked down at her.
The night on the rooftop, the rain… the inhumanity he'd displayed, and his lack of compassion, along with his own self-satisfaction, manipulation and cruel entertainment. As Garlic had been his first 'victim'… Videl might have been his last. The first one he'd hurt had been born of… survival. The last one he'd hurt had been born of all the worst things that he'd turned into to survive. He'd already apologized, there was nothing more to say that wouldn't be vain or born of some kind of desperate attempt at forgiveness.
It wasn't goodbye, not yet. He intended to see her one more time. After he found Pan. Before he could find some way to save himself from the Hell that was awaiting him, and from the Devil that had reminded him that he was on his shoulder, as well as all the other fucking problems in the universe like a God acting like he was going to play some part in events to come, he needed to save his daughter.
No, it's not my daughter. Her daughter.
If he just left now then he suspected she'd be left wondering where he went, even if she didn't admit to it. Looking around for something to add a note of some kind, he strode into her tiny kitchen, finding a loose notepad and a pen. Taking up the writing utensil and pressing it to the page, ink formed the lines of the local language, almost forgetting to not write in the alien glyphs that had been the familiar language of his childhood. The note was simple.
Much like his apology, adding anything else seemed at best, vain. Walking back into the living room, he left the pad on her sidetable before opening the door quietly, and shutting it behind him. Walking down the corridor of the middle-class apartment building, lights passing by him from overhead, he was left feeling a sense of finality to all of it. Perhaps this was the resurrection he'd expected. Not just waking up some day after an eternity of darkness, but instead a walk through the light into something new. If only the something new part of all of this had been true.
Stepping into the elevator, the ride down was left with him looking out to the city outside. Glass covered the outside of his descending trip, leaving him only with a vision of a morning filled with the rising sun across a sea of smaller, multi-story buildings. Satan City, looked somewhat familiar. It'd changed since the last time he was here however. A lot of cities probably would have, given some of them had been battlefields over the passage of recent years.
"HAHAHAHAA! However much power you gather, it won't be enough to kill me!"
This city was the grave of one of the monsters worse than himself, as sad as that was. A creature born to one of the men who damned him.
When the elevator stopped on the ground floor, it wasn't hard to simply walk ahead, passing through the final corridor before he came to the glass entrance of the building, and simply stepped out into the world. People were already in the street, already walking about their lives, going to work, going to school, going to whatever destination the day would bring them. It was almost overwhelming. All the talking, all the different motion, and all of the… life around him. It was enough to make him feel disoriented.
It felt like he'd stepped outside of the familiar. The very familiar. It was as if being in an empty place… alone was where he was meant to be. One woman almost bumped into him, before slipping past him, giving him an annoyed look for standing in the foot traffic. Whichever way he wanted to go; he'd have to pick it now.
"Use your senses, my friend. You already know your path is being picked for you."
The venom in his thoughts pushed back the demon in his mind, but there was truth in what it said. When he looked up, he sensed a familiar power. Oddly familiar, at that. Briefly, he expected to see his father, or Vegeta, or anyone looming over him. But on a nearby apartment building, Gohan sensed a power all too familiar, the one which had resided in BRASS before. A cape billowed in the wind along with a green tunic. The strange helmet he adorned atop his head was… a painful sight. Firstly, why the fuck was he here? Second of all, why the fuck was he wearing something so ridiculous? It had to be a Gohan from another reality, that much he already knew, but how had he come back to life throughout all of this mess?
Did this guy come from a reality where I'm mentally retarded?
It left another uncomfortable question though.
Did they wish him back because I couldn't be?
The idea of people getting some replacement for him felt… off-putting. Perhaps because he knew what he himself used to do once someone had outlived their usefulness. Everyone had been replaceable. But even a cursory glance of his feelings did bring him some relief. Goku and Chi-Chi would never wish to have some copy of him here to replace him, not on purposes anyway.
Despite the visor of his compatriot, he knew they'd made eye contact, and reluctantly Gohan began moving with the crowds, walking down the street as he looked for somewhere quiet. The last thing he needed right now was a lot of noise going on, or powers flaring. He needed to keep control of the situation. That was the only way he was going to make his way out of all this and start moving towards what he wanted. Sidestepping into an alleyway, he hopped up the side of two short apartment complexes in a lightning quick motion before appearing on the roof of one, already waiting for his counterpart to appear. He knew he would, he could already sense the disturbances in the air around them, placing his other self right in front of him… now.
In a blur, the ridiculously badly-clad copy made its appearance in front of him.
He was even talking like an idiot. The pain between his ears was fury-inducing when he heard him get called that, as if this fool were larping as some kind of hero.
"Take off that ridiculous helmet," he ordered bluntly. "I'm not in a good mood, and I'm not exactly in the mood of being called citizen."
There was a pause for a few seconds before the gloved hands moved up, peeling the helmet away revealing what he knew lay beyond the mask. It was himself. There was no scar, and his hair was different, spiking upwards more. His eyes were also, despite looking determined and annoyed at the moment… softer. It was the look of someone who'd not been dragged through the galaxy on the edges of a wave of death and destruction. Did this boy grow up with his parents? He had to have. Even standing next to him, he could almost feel the Goku radiating off of him, despite it being tempered by his mother's pragmatism. Hiding his envy, Gohan still felt like he could reach out and grab him, wanting to take whatever life he'd had for his own. Chillingly, he could hear the words from beyond… from hundreds of thousands of years earlier, whisper through his mind.
You are me. And I am you.
He felt afraid for a moment when he heard that, feeling himself regress back to the last moment he looked at himself like this. He couldn't see how those words were true at all either way. He wasn't this child of a man. He just shared his shape.
"Alright," the man responded back, his tone hardened and trying to avoid giving him any sign of insecurity. "It's good to see you again, Gohan. Everyone was worried that you'd not make it back to the world of the living."
Yea, this definitely was the one in Brass from before.
"Is Brass back with you?"
"No," Gohan answered. "Junia made it back though, if you want to see her, she's with Vegeta and-"
"Any reason why you were prowling after me?" he cut his other self off bluntly. "Not that I don't appreciate people checking up on me, but I was going to get back to things on my own time."
"You were going to leave mom and dad in the dark for how long?"
"It was where I was heading next until someone showed up on a roof."
"You know Videl?"
"Ah, the last secret. I can feel your heartbeat beginning to pick up. The surge of adrenaline. Panic… hatred. It's all at the tip of that power I love. So. Much."
Refocusing himself, Gohan needed to make sure he kept everything to a minimum now. He knew his stare must have intensified as the other Gohan now clearly looked more nervous, even if he was trying to conceal it. The real problem was he was probably still too stupid to back off. Worse, he would have suspicions from now on, and would try to interact with her. All of these fighters pried, didn't they?
"We've had our run ins."
"Looks like you were staying at her place."
"It looks that way. What do you want, exactly?"
"Videl was my wife," the other Gohan said back bluntly. "And from who I met the other day, she most definitely wasn't doing very well. So, I was wondering if everything was alright. Are you two alright? I know it's not my business-"
Wife? What the Hell? Why the fuck would he know her at all? This was some random woman I met. Why did I meet her of all people? It doesn't make any sense.
Fate. Was that what that was? He was destined to meet her regardless? Given how many timelines Taro had gone though… maybe it was fate. All those worlds, thousands of them, with his parents, Vegeta, Bulma… And it meant that his game was going to be up if this guy got too involved. How long was he going to be around? Was this permanent?
"It's not," he cut off. "I don't want you around here, or her. Do you understand?"
"Because I said so."
"Man, you're really just as bad as everyone's hinted at, aren't you?"
Stepping forward, Gohan almost snapped, he almost reached out and grabbed his enemy. In fact, he almost let his power flare, which would have been the worst idea he could think of. The explosive nature of the comment made him almost slip over an edge he did not want to. However, there was the underlying reality of what was said as well. Everyone seemed to hint he was bad? Well, what great bonds he'd formed amongst his loving family. All that time in Hell and to hear that they thought he might have deserved it, along with the others, was great to find out.
"You don't know me," Gohan finally said, his tone unable to completely hide how angry he was. "Who are you, exactly? What did you go through to get here? Did someone kill the people you know? Was it Brass? Taro?"
"Taro," he answered bluntly. "Brass did me in, but-"
"How sad for you. So, I guess you weren't as strong as I was then. Remember how I stopped your friend, Brass? I think you were along for that ride. Remember how I fought Taro to a stand-still? Well, maybe my being as bad as everyone said, helped me get ready for that. Maybe you should start thinking of that, before you walk around playing fucking dress-up, and stalking me. Thought of that?"
That was it. The eyes averted downward and away as his other self put his hands up defensively. It was a near relief on Gohan's part as he felt himself almost relax, seeing the replica cowed by his remark.
"Good, now fuck off," he said, turning about. "You better not be sticking around long either."
Preparing to leave, to take flight for the first time in this new life of his, Gohan froze in place as he heard the remark that almost snapped the chains holding his anger in place.
"You hurt her," came the response.
In front of him, he could vaguely see the image Garlic in the distant glass panes of a small apartment complex, clapping and laughing as he felt it reverberate through him. Turning about, sensing death almost following in his motion, he locked eyes with the once-more defiant other self.
"That's why you turned on me just now. That's why you intimidated me and wanted me to stop looking. You've done something. You're hiding it."
"He certainly does seem smarter than you, doesn't he?"
What was worse was it was all true. Just like that he was laid bare and he didn't even have a response to it beyond more violence. And more violence, intimidation, or threats weren't an option. He didn't even want to speak, Hell, that seemed like it was just going to make things worse. He really could use something like a cigarette again. Anything just to draw off the edge of the anxiety he was feeling. If he were back in the PTO he'd already be itching for a combat stim just to take off the edge of what he was sensing in that second.
"… Yea," he finally answered. "I did."
It was the first time he'd told someone else, aloud, the truth behind that ill-fated move on his part. The confirmation seemed to bring his double no comfort however, who just gave him a look of disgust mixed with pity. It was ironic, considering he knew just how much stronger he was than this gnat. He was being pitied by someone who couldn't match up with him in a fight to save his life.
"That's all I wanted to know," he responded back finally. "We're leaving in 7 days, by the way. All of us time-traveling goons. We're getting placed back where we belong, or some close approximation of it, at least those of us who are alive. I'm not going to be involving myself in your business."
"Then why the fuck did you show up here to cause trouble?"
"I wanted to see what this world was going to leave behind. I wanted to know that Videl, and everyone else was going to be okay. My Videl is dead. I was hoping this world's would have had a better life. I dunno, I was hoping for closure. I knew something was wrong even before you came back a couple days ago. I knew how people talked about you, always having caveats and excuses for whatever they had to say, that you weren't like me at all. I had just hoped something better was waiting out here. Looks like I was wrong."
"Don't act so self-righteous," Gohan snapped back at him. "We're more alike than you think."
"That's where you are wrong," he responded. "I wouldn't be the kind of cruel bully you are. And I wouldn't hurt the people around me the way you have."
It was laughable. He could see it now, the irony of this universe. To be talked down to by his morally superior self. Why did he even bother engaging in it? He was already so mad he could barely see straight, but it was humorous that someone who he used to be said they couldn't be alike. Perhaps they both saw in the other things they didn't want to see. Did he dare explain it out to him? Yes, if only to be as cruel as he was envisioned as being.
"I know you would, because it's what I did. It's what I did for over a decade, 15 or more Terran years. I killed people you know, my underlings, and anyone who got in my way. I did it from the time I was a child, because I was sent into space by my uncle to become a proper Saiyan Warrior. I learned my lessons well, starting with when he punched my eye out,"Gohan said, his speech almost frothing in the last moment. "Or when I had my arm torn off while defending one of my foster-parents. I know you'd be exactly as I am, if you just took a few different steps on the path. Let me guess, you got raised at home? Did you have mother and father there to coddle you? Did you have a warm bed, and an inviting home? Or were you near-starving on worlds, slaughtering the locals to save yourself, and cooking them to eat for the night. I know exactly who you are, Gohan. I know who you'd have to be."
Finally, the silence came between them, though neither of them broke their gaze this time. There was no compassion or compromise between the two on what Gohan knew was their first, true encounter with one another. They were both left disappointed. They were both left with nothing to say now, beyond knowing that they despised one another. This was nothing more than an illusion for both of them. Despite his different nature, his counterpart had a miserable future awaiting him as well, didn't he?
His wife was dead and gone as was his family, his world ruined. He would go home to a new world, or an old one, which was foreign to him but familiar. The only difference in their fate, was in this new world he'd have a future outside of Hell, he would get a chance to go to a life beyond one of suffering an eternity.
Gohan however, knew his own fate.
Just as they were both preparing for their final departure, only one final thing was said…
"I'd tell you to go to Hell," Gohan's double said slowly, putting his helmet back on and just staring through him. "But I think you're already there."
This was going to be a bit longer, but I just think this is a good stopping off point for this chapter. No need to spread things out with too many concepts, going over too many things. I feel this all thematically fits into the mold of what I wanted. His past, his present, perhaps even his future. I don't want to make things too dwelly for too long, but I really think this chapter and Chapter 80 kinda hit the right stride for the setup of the next few chapters. Chapter 82 I think is going to be the homecoming, and maybe him having to deal with the other problem in his life, though we'll see.
It's "Nice" to have Gohan alive again, lmao. At least for me as an author, I dunno how "nice" it is for Gohan. XD
I also really liked giving the closer to canon Gohan the last word after he hears Gohan's angry rant, pointing out to him that maybe he's not going to Hell in the future. He might already be in a Hell of sorts, now.
The infamous reviewers page returns, lol
AngryShadow01: Answered by PM.
Perfect Carnage: Answered by PM.
Blades of Fury: Answered by PM.
NotASaiyan: Thank you! I really do love the story myself, so continuing it is something I always want to do. It's just not the easiest thing in the world to write, lol.
Sigmakleim: Answered by PM.
ThePowerfulKira: Answered by PM.
Narelclollie: Answered by PM.
KagariAsuha: Answered by PM.
CuriousMonkeyBoi: Answered by PM.
Heseltine: Answered by PM.
Sekhelmet: Only very select things get discontinued, and if so, there are reasons why. :)
MaximusSJ: Answered by PM.
Guest1: In some ways I think he's gentler, and certainly was around Videl and probably others. In other ways he's not. He's desperate, and honestly, scared. I think Gohan's been put in a corner and he's realizing it. That's not… great, but it does give him a dynamic for the next bit about how he tries to deal with it. Sadly, I don't think his perspective has evolved for the better because of Janemba. I think that really traumatized him, just as much as Hell did. Gohan's a wreck if I'm being honest :|
Austin-Flare_potter: Responded by PM.
Bonism: Answered by PM.
ThomastheTMC: In a sense you're right. What Janemba did to Gohan and Junia is pretty extreme. It's something he's going to have to live with forever, and that's before counting his consciousness being thrown into a void he can only vaguely remember for over a half a million years.
Guest2: I think these two could grow closer, but it won't be romantically. Gohan/Videl won't happen in this story.
Super Mystic Gohan: He still is helpless. I think even in this chapter his helplessness was put on display, it just wasn't as paralysing.
Karma: You caught on to Videl in this one. Her strength to overcome is what allowed her to help herself, by helping him. Though I think Gohan in his more rational moments is pretty far away from understanding the pain of his victims. He does and he doesn't. He does, but at the same time he wants to escape the consequences still. He put others in cages, basically, and now that he's in one he's just too desperate to get out to fully swim in that ocean, though the guilt is present.
Guest3: I have been staying well, outside of the fact that they ruined one of the few animes I still enjoyed recently. It even bummed me out to anime as a whole, as there is an undercurrent in Manga and Anime that is just I think, increasingly becoming a problem, but oh well. I got Dragon Ball still, lol.
Silas: Last chapter was more about Videl than anything. She's great in this.
Guest4: People who don't understand what I'm saying about Power Levels are not going to get responses after this chapter, as this is the last time I'll explain it.
The power levels, in the show, are whatever they need to be to build the result the author wants. That's why Power Levels are useless. They are a tool for the audience to get invested. If you think they actually function on any scientific level, then professional wrestling is real. Power levels are just a means of making marks, mark-out. That's all it is. It's the same mechanism used in Pro Wrestling to build up people using the concepts of different tiered heels and faces. Stop being a Mark.