What do you cherish the most, Vegeta?
The light vanished, but the whispered question remained.
When his excruciating pain subsided, Vegeta slowly opened his eyes. The thought briefly went through his mind that he must have dreamt it all. An illusion, a nightmare, a twisted game of madness that his twisted mind had conjured up. Every part of him desperately yearned to set his gaze on his sleeping wife in the bed they had shared for nearly twenty years, to cement his reality and go back to the way things had been.
Unfortunately, his luck had never been that good.
He blinked several times, squinting and forcing his eyes to adjust to the darkness he was in. It was cold, and yet, he felt nothing. Looking down, Vegeta raised his hands up, but he couldn't see them. Clenching his hands into fists, the prince was startled when he realized he couldn't feel his hands at all. Patting his torso, instead of the sensation of touch, he felt nothing. Frantic, he tried touching his face and his chest, anything at all to ground him, but it was like trying to touch still air.
It's no use, Saiyan. You have lost your body, by your own volition. Your ashes are already lost in the wind, what little remained.
It was the same soft voice that had posed the earlier question right at the moment of his death. Vegeta looked up, but there was no sign of anyone else there with him. It was like the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, but with endless stretches of black instead of white. The prince glanced around in confusion and growing anxiety as all the details came back to him. This was no illusion, and there would be no going back to how things used to be. His sacrifice was real, and so was his death.
Vegeta recognized the rough voice as his own, but his tone was unfamiliar, even to him. He sounded as lost as he felt. His soul was supposed to have been destroyed, ravished painfully, his essence gone from every realm. The fact that he was still sentient was terrifying. Was his eternal punishment about to begin, or had he failed to protect the only three people he had ever loved?
You don't what? The voice may have been soft as a whisper, but it had steel behind it.
"I don't understand," Vegeta forced himself to say. If he truly had no body, why did it feel like he had sand in his mouth? "What is happening? Where am I?"
You are in the Black Gateway, the voice whispered in his mind. The only ones who come here are those who have suffered the most brutal and painful deaths…or those who have caused them. They get justice, or they get punishment. There must always be a balance to nature.
Vegeta's vision focused, and he suddenly saw Piccolo, Dende, and another elderly Namekian materialize in front of him. What caught his immediate attention though was the little girl in Piccolo's arms. Emotions rapidly overwhelmed him, one right after the other – shock, relief, and finally, fear.
"Bra!" he yelled, his voice forceful again. No one reacted to him.
They cannot hear you, the voice explained. They cannot see you either. Rest assured, the girl is safe. The dark avengers brought her to this realm to hide her from you. It would have likely killed another child. Your daughter, however, is blessed with unrealized magical abilities, so she survived.
"Take her home, right now," Vegeta growled. "This is no place for a child! Take her back to her brother and mother!"
You're in no position to be giving orders, Vegeta. If I turn you over to the beings that await past this gate, you will be destroyed. Then you will be truly dead.
The prince remained quiet for several long moments. Hope was a dangerous thing, something he had skirted around almost his entire life. He either knew or he didn't. He either succeeded, immediately or with some time,or he didn't. To hope was to surrender control to external beings, factors, the sheer randomness of the universe. Vegeta was not a man who surrendered control easily. Vegeta was not a man who surrendered anything easily.
But he had learned a thing or two over the twenty years he had lived on Earth. Being a husband and raising two children was impossible without yielding control. And he had to yield it now. He was at the end of the line now, and there was no going back. He had lost everything; his family, his life, even his body.
Hope was all he had left.
"If you turn me over?" Vegeta hesitantly asked.
I should turn you over. Do you agree?
Do you say that because you mean it? Or do you say it in the selfish hopes that it will save your family?
"I say it because I mean it," the prince asserted. He was grateful he couldn't be seen in his form, because he had never felt more defeated than when he added, "My hopes for my family mean nothing. There is nothing I can do for them now."
You're right, Yona replied, making Vegeta look up in surprise.
My Namekian brethren have pleaded on your behalf to end this.
"Yona," the prince breathed, realization dawning on him. "You're the powerful Namekian magic practitioner Dende told me about. You invented all of this."
I didn't invent this. Dark avengers have existed long before you and will continue to exist long after you. Evil cannot be fully conquered, and there will always be cruel beings who will receive their final justice here. I merely created the opening between the realms, granting the dark avengers access to cross over.
There was silence for some moments, before he softly relented.
It was a mistake. In the passage of time, Dende is nothing but a boy, but he is wise beyond his years. He has made me see my role in this. They say the path to hell is paved with good intentions. My intentions were true, but my powers were not put to good use. Millions of Earthlings have perished because of it.
Vegeta listened quietly, his sights trained on his daughter as Yona spoke. Bra was resting her head on Piccolo's shoulder, fighting sleep, as she had done many times in his own arms. His girl was stubborn, just like him.
"You'll close the gate then?" he tentatively asked.
It's already closed.
Relief flooded him. If he'd had his body, he would have dropped to his knees.
"Thank you," he exhaled, his breath filled with raw gratitude.
Vegeta, your actions in the end were true, and brave. I waited to see how selfless you could be. I wanted to see if you could answer the call not once in your life, but twice, for your loved ones. The love your wife and son have for you is pure and absolute. You also have friends who deeply care about you. Your daughter's adoration in particular is deep. Her love pulled you from the grips of the dark avengers.
"I knew I heard her," Vegeta muttered, more so to himself. He hesitated, before asking, "So…if you won't turn me over…"
I did not say I wouldn't. The steel was back in Yona's voice. Justice must prevail and emotion cannot overrun that. The truth is also that you have committed much evil in your life. The rage you invoke in the dark avengers is more than deserved. They will have you, Vegeta. They will destroy you.
Vegeta took a deep breath of acceptance. That was no surprise to him. He nodded, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to see his daughter anymore, lest he drive himself mad in his final moments.
"So be it."
However, that does not mean they need to have you right now.
When Vegeta's eyes opened again in surprise, it was as though he was floating through time. He saw his daughter graduating from high school, and celebrating with their family and friends without him. He saw Trunks getting married and having a son who was his own spitting image down to his spiked black hair and his fierce glare, a boy Trunks named after him. He saw an elderly Bulma laughing happily with her grandchildren from both Bra and Trunks. He saw it all as though he was right there with them, yet with the sensation of flipping through a photo album.
There is no sense of time here. The past is here, the present is here, and the future is here. You're seeing the future, continuing without you. However, the future is constantly changing with the decisions we make.
With that, he saw himself entering next to his elderly wife. There were some streaks of gray in his dark hair, but aside from that, he looked exactly the same. Vegeta watched himself take a seat next to Bulma, scowling as the grandchildren scrambled over him.
You can have it, but not without a price.
"What do you want?" Vegeta asked, his voice guarded even though he felt hope surge within him.
What you cherish the most. Your power. You will live out the rest of your days, without your superhuman strength, without your cherished power. You will lose what makes you Saiyan. And when you die, you will pass here once more, and they will have their vengeance. What do you say?
"I say that you're wrong."
"It's not what I cherish most," Vegeta's voice was steady, with acceptance. He reflected on all the blood, sweat, and tears he had given, the extraordinary toil he had gone through. All of the pain and suffering. So much suffering, so much death. In the end, he had found so much more, things that he had never imagined, things he had never deserved. A wife, a son, a daughter. Acceptance, friendship...love.
He didn't need to hesitate as he added, "Not anymore."
Vegeta panicked as the white light consumed him again. He could suddenly feel again, pain ripping through him as he was blinded. He screamed, feeling like he was being torn apart.
Godspeed, Prince of Saiyans… and remember, we'll always be watching.
Vegeta started awake, blinking rapidly. He immediately sat up, patting his chest, then his legs. He was real, he was solid, he was alive. The prince breathed out slowly as he looked around his bedroom he shared with his wife. Had it all just been a dream?
"Oh, good, you're awake," Bulma said, startling him as he looked over at the entranceway where she was strolling in. "I'm glad you finally got some sleep. Do you want some breakfast?"
Vegeta just stared at her blankly. "Bulma?"
Concern flashed over her features as she studied her husband. "Yeah, are you okay?" she asked, coming over so sit on the side of their bed. She barely had sat down when he grabbed her, pulling her into a tight hug. Bulma blinked in surprise, her concern only intensifying even as she returned his embrace. "Vegeta? You're kinda worrying me," she admitted.
"I'm fine," he finally said, pulling away from her. He swallowed heavily, trying to regain his composure, but he was overwhelmed by emotion. He stared into her eyes, and took a deep breath. She was here, she was real. He took another breath. "Just… a bad dream."
"Well, hopefully it starts to subside soon," she told him with a smile. Bulma leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Come downstairs, get some breakfast with me and Bra. Eating will make you feel better. Remember we need to go with Trunks to check out where he'll be dorming this fall."
"Right," he breathed. Trunks hasn't started college yet. The clock has been turned back. He instinctively tried doing a ki sweep, then realized that he couldn't. Even so, he could hear his 5-year-old daughter's cartoons on downstairs and could hear her laughing. It had all been undone. The trauma, the fear, the deaths…nothing but his own memory now.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Bulma persisted. His gaze on her was intense and unwavering.
"I am now," he said, reaching up one hand to her face. She was gorgeous, and the emotion of it all was threatening to overwhelm him.
Bulma was a little bewildered, but still smiled a little through her confusion. "Man, must have been one hell of a dream-"
Vegeta cut her off with a passionate kiss, pulling her closer to him. He had no words for his deep gratitude, and he knew now that what had happened was no dream. He couldn't sense or even feel his power at all. He knew without even trying to test his ki that it was gone. But in that moment, it didn't matter. He would die for her and their children a thousand times, sacrifice everything he had. Being Saiyan wasn't related to his physical strength, he finally saw that now. It was always about his honor and his pride, and his family was all of that and more.
As she deepened their kiss, he had never felt stronger in his life.
So sorry for the huge delay in this, had to take a break from writing/fandom for a while (years now!), but it always bothered me not to have finished this fic. I hope this gives a little more closure. Thanks all!