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 80: The Void
Where… where am I?
There were horns blaring around him and the sound of a hissing engine next to him, hissing as its fluids leaked out of it and the whole front end appeared smashed. He was disoriented, but he could feel. There wasn't any pain in his legs, but the sensation was unmistakable, like a nerf bat had struck them. The smell of gasoline mixing with the fresh around him was divine. There was even the warmth of the… of the sun on his face. Everything was so bright and was so full of colour. The noises around him were obscene in their diversity. It wasn't shattering of stone, or high winds, of the sounds of anguished pain. Honks, swears, a volume of people talking, shouting, walking, opening doors… it was a symphony of life.
It was still hard to tell where he was. He knew this place was… a city, something he used to live in. This was the planet he used to live on, he could tell by the blue skies and the familiar smells and sounds. This was where he was from. This was his home. People, faces, names, they all started to feel associated with him. Beyond that, he could sense that underneath what sight could see. Energies, familiar ones, powerful ones. Hundreds of them?
"Hey! FREAK! Get out of the road!" one voice shouted. "People are trying to help here!"
Looking at the destroyed minivan that had hit him, he looked around the street itself, taking it all in, before looking at the man who'd called him a freak. It was hard, for a second, to remind himself that he wasn't where he'd been. If anyone spoke to him like that only weeks-… only… only weeks…
The weight of the time he was gone fell on his shoulders in that moment. No one had said anything to him, outside of Whis… in an eon. His own memories were there, and they were crisp and real, but they felt distant. Even just knowing the time and knowing what he knew. He could still see it. Reality torn open, the sea of blackened glass that only reflected back your own hatred… he saw Hell, even now that he'd escaped it.
"Asshole!" another shouted. "Would you just fucking get over yourself!"
"Get out of the way so people can help!"
"What is wrong with you?"
"Are you crazy or something?"
He was about to do something he might regret. Grabbing the van by the front of its ruined carcass, he flipped it off the road, scattering it into a tree in the park just to his side. The hotdog cart near it rumbled for a moment as the man behind the hotdog stand looked utterly horrified. The drivers and pedestrians who'd just seen him threw the mutilated vehicle, looked horrified. When he made eye contact with them, each one of them shrank.
Yea, that's right.
… … …
How small I've become.
The realization made him almost shrink away as he felt disoriented again. Taking his first steps on hardened, man-made asphalt for the first time in a half a million years, Gohan was moving under his own power, while being alive, as he stepped onto the cement sideway, hearing sirens blaring in the distance. He was tempted to just fly away. But he didn't know where to even go. He didn't even know when he was. Whis had told him he could botch when he was going back to. There were so many strong powers on the planet-
That name was familiar. And so were all the powers. They were all Trunks. There were a few powers there he recognized outside of that. His father, his brother, Vegeta, Tien, Krillin, Junia, and far away from everyone else… Piccolo. As he sensed some of those powers though, he was left reminded of something else. They were familiar to him more than the others because he could remember when they'd faced off against…
A wind swept past him as soon as the name… no, it wasn't a name passed by him. Suddenly his senses became hyper-active as his eyes scanned around himself, looking for some kind of ki, some kind of indicator. His eyes peered through crowds as if they weren't there, looking for any signs of it. Was the ground beneath his feet just the shatter glass of something he didn't understand? Maybe this was all a lie? He almost expected it to be. He never got out of there, did he? This was another trap. Another game. He half-expected something to happen to pull him out of his thoughts, to just distract him.
"Where the fuck are you?" he muttered to himself under his breath, feeling his eyes turn again, trying to find some sign of it.
For a brief second, he could see it. He could see past the lies. The blue skies were a swirling mass of chaos. Mouths opened up inside of them made of molten glass as red eyes peered through them. He placed his hand on a tree, feeling it on his skin as he tried to keep his mind together. It felt like the bark… real tree bark, was fusing with his skin. The grass beneath his feet was spreading up his legs. His body was dispersing into the air, turning into dust. Piece by piece he was being blown away into nothingness.
Piece by piece his body was torn apart. Scattered into the wind, broken down and chipped away. He wanted to scream but nothing would come out. The world around him felt like it was going to de.
He couldn't breathe. He started to hitch for a second until…
A hand grabbed his shoulder.
The world became alive again. The blue sky above appeared instantly. His fingers were in place along the rough tree-bark, and his feet stood on well-kept grass. The air he felt like was pulling him away, filled his lungs as he felt himself beginning to breathe. The hand on his shoulder was warm, and its grip was hardened. He half expected it to be a male's, but the digits were too small. Barely managing to turn his head, trying not to tremble, he saw another nightmare staring back at him.
"What the fuck are you doing out here?" she asked quietly. "Are you trying to get yourself in trouble?"
As she was speaking, he started to get a real look around. The sirens meant something. Emergency personnel were coming. People staring and shouting at him were civilians. The van he'd thrown off the road was a vehicle from someone who'd hit him. People were staring at him, which was never good. The last thing he needed was attention…
It was all coming back to him now. He needed to get out of here. He needed to get out of here now. Flying away would be stupid. He needed to get some distance first.
"No," he answered Videl, not being able to look at her as he spoke, he… he barely remembered her, but he knew there was a lot of pain there. "I can't think straight right now."
His voice sounded different than he remembered. It sounded weak and distant. The last time he'd said anything was to… Whis. Suddenly, he could see Taro charging him, his opponent's features obscured by his insanity, seemingly. His mind wasn't able to put the blocks in place, not in the right places. When he turned to face his opponent, he already wasn't there. He felt his breathing pick up as tension ran through him while staring into an empty space in the park.
I'm alive. Please. I've just gotta keep it together. They can't be here.
There was a grasping of his hand a second later before he felt himself being pulled, violently to one side. His feet picked up, following as he felt himself being dragged along. Videl was dragging him? In a blur of motion, the two of them ended up in an alleyway before she skipped up the walls, still dragging him as he went. Dumping him a second later on the roof, he felt himself continue to feel disoriented, his jeans slapped across the rough surface of the roof, but he didn't respond much more than that.
"How?" she asked him.
"How did you come back?"
A god sent me here.
How did you explain that to someone? What did she know? Videl, he knew this was Videl. He remembered… the scar. He reached up, touching his own face, feeling the familiar cut over his eye. Raditz had given him… no… not anymore, that had been healed, taken away. This was fresh, this was newer. The knife in the kitchen. The arguing, the fighting… he remembered it slowly coming back into form.
"Well? Why are you back? And why are you acting so fucked up? Are you alright? Because you seem like you're completely out of your mind."
That word hit him as he remembered. He remembered the warm bodies. The skin. It felt repulsive now. He could feel his excitement before. It was a cheap excitement, throwing his power around. It was a horrible realization as well. He'd not just been so petty and small back there. He saw worlds burning in his mind's eye. Beautiful worlds of marvelous colours, filled with people and beings who just wanted peace. He remembered smirking as they burned. Just as he smirked before…
Putting a hand on his face, his breathing picked up again.
"Fuck," he managed to whisper, before pulling it away and looking around where he was again.
He wasn't back there. He was here. He was here. He was alive. There were things starting to be pieced together when he looked back at her finally, seeing her blue eyes shooting through him. He felt almost lost for a moment as they turned red, and he heard a familiar chuckle behind it all. He knew them. They were the ones who survived him. One set of eyes were blue, the other was red. It was fitting, somehow.
"I, I just got back," he told her, looking off to the side to take in a view of the city. "I don't know what time it is."
"It's 10 am."
Not what I meant.
"It's complicated," he then told her. "You really don't want to know how I got back. I was dead. I'm not now."
There was the sound of something flicking a second later. He ignored it at first before there was a soft noise that followed. Looking up again, he saw a cigarette held between Videl's lips as she took a drag on it, exhaling a few seconds later. The smoke drifted into the air before vanishing into the wind. The smell was overwhelming almost, just because he could finally smell again. The most obvious question was when did she take up smoking, but he really didn't need to ask that, and he didn't need the answer either.
He sat there for almost what felt like a lifetime, but it must have just been a few minutes.
It was strange having another person close at hand. Hell, it was strange to exist. Despite not existing for much of his sentence, he almost felt like a void was more comfortable than being inside his own skin now. To not exist at all might have been a better ending than to exist in where he was.
"Hey," he said, before gesturing to her. "Do you have a spare?"
Without thinking seemingly, she pulled out the small package before tossing him a cigarette. He took it himself, having not taken up the habit himself, he placed the nicotine delivery system between his lips before lighting the end of it with his finger. Taking in the taste, which was awful, he just wanted to calm his nerves for a moment to give himself room to think. Smoke filled his lungs as he pulled in the essence of what this thing was, before he exhaled. Freshly remade lungs absorbed the chemicals before he expelled what was left over.
He didn't cough, before he did spit a second later, as if reflexively. Sitting on a rooftop in the middle of a city, with a woman who hated him. That's where coming back had brought him. It was better than Hell, certainly.
Welcome back to being alive, Gohan.
"Thanks," he offered, perhaps for more than just the cigarette even.
The pause in his thoughts followed as he felt his life coming back together for him, brick by brick. His mom and dad were worried he was certain. As soon as his dad sensed him flare his power at all he was going to get a visit. He had his other obligations to work out as well. It was a conversation he didn't even want to have with his dad when he saw him. He didn't want to tell him he was such a fuck-up that he'd been… left… in a void for a half million years. He didn't want to talk about anything he went through. He didn't want to remember anyone. He wanted a fresh start, but he didn't want to reincarnate. He wanted to be himself, but he wanted to be free of all the things he could feel dragging him. It was still dragging him.
Nightmares like Broly, Garlic, Taro, Jane… Janemba-
His eyes scanned the skyline instinctively at the thought again, looking for some sign of it. Even thinking its name seemed dangerous. The last of the beasts he'd been put in a cage with to destroy. Each one of them was leaving another mark on his soul.
"You look like dog-shit for a man who just came back to life," Videl told him bluntly.
"Yea," he admitted, offering nothing that resembled resistance to the comment. "I feel like dog-shit, even."
There were so many uncomfortable things to say, but she'd kept them to herself. The last time he'd been alive she'd been a total mess, even before Garlic got to her. The memories were vivid as he remembered her pushing herself to the extremes that she could for a power she'd never possess. He remembered the hate-sex they'd had, and how disgusted she was with him every time they woke up. He remembered… he remembered when he found her crucified. The only thing that mattered in that moment more had been-
His eyes peeled forward, looking past Videl towards the distance as he sensed where Piccolo's power was.
Why did you take my daughter, Piccolo?
It wasn't just a mess to cleanup. It was something darker than that for him. He felt real anger in that moment as he flicked the cigarette away, starting to pull himself up, feeling his power returning to his limbs as a clarity fell over him. The clarity of the world that could be pieced together by anger. It was important that he not flex his power, not right now.
"Don't," she responded. "Whatever you are thinking about, don't."
Blinking, he looked at her, seeing the worry on her face. It wasn't even worry for him. It was clearly worry for someone else. Did she know him so well? Sadly, she probably did. She'd lived with him. She'd seen him for what he was. Beyond the problems of their first encounter, beyond his shame, she'd seen him with the mask off more than anyone. She knew what he was at his core.
"Alright," he said, letting his anger subside, even if temporarily. "…"
He stalled, trying to say something, anything, as a wave crested inside of him of something raw and painful. It wasn't the pain of being alive, it was the pain of realizing just how badly he'd maimed all of it. He saw the damage he'd done to her in its entirety for the first time in a long time. You couldn't fix something like that. It felt empty now as he realized he'd promised her all the time he'd just fix things. How did you put a person back together?
I've never been able to even put myself back together.
"I'll fix this. I don't have time to say anymore. I'll fix it-"
"Stop. I told you, I don't want you to fix it. I don't want you to fix anything. I don't even understand what's happening or how you're here… You scare me."
The gods had a sense of humor sending him here, and letting her be the one to find him. Maybe it was a kind of cosmic justice, maybe there was a lesson here to be learned. Maybe it wasn't anything and there was just a random series of events. But after seeing all he'd seen now? He couldn't believe the latter. Whatever these things were, beneath the surface they were endlessly complex and unknowable, but they had a grander plan which he couldn't touch on. Whis sent him here for a reason, to this time, and this place.
"Videl," he said, his tone almost unknown to him, trying to find it within himself to say what came next. "I… thank you, for being here. I needed someone. It's… you don't know."
When she turned her attention away from her cigarette, she stared back at him in a kind of disbelief, maybe even with a set of fear. No, she was looking for some kind of understanding. Neither of them would find the understanding he knew they both needed. Only he caught a bit of understanding from him, he knew it, she seemed to realize it. How much she empathized, he didn't know given all that he'd put her through.
Ironically, that feeling of being very small never left him. Every time before he looked down on her, for being weak and struggling with her demons. Now he was staring up at her. The irony wasn't lost on him as he did. Maybe that's why he came here, that's why here was here and now. It wasn't making anything up to anyone. In the minutes he'd been on this roof, he'd felt more humbled than the entirety of the nightmare he'd experienced to get here.
"And. I'm sorry."
"… A…are you okay?" she asked, looking confused. "Sorry for what?"
"Everything," he admitted, his voice straining. "You'll want to head off the roof in a minute here… There are going to be others coming to see me."
She seemed at a loss for words, though she didn't move, instead, letting the ashes from the edge of her cigarette fall to the ground on their own, she was just looking at him, and there wasn't relief, or the emotion he expected. She looked sad, but perhaps not even for herself. She seemed sad for him. He tried to give a reassuring look in response, a smile, but it was just a twitch of his lip. His self-confident, cocky smile was gone, he knew that.
"It hurt," she said, her own voice sounding almost distant, he didn't understand. The apology hurt? Telling her to leave hurt? What- "Whatever happened to you. I remember even from the last time I saw you, when you were still dead. Something happened since then. You don't look right. Something's wrong, but I don't need to know. But I know that look. I've seen it before."
Yea, so have I.
What was left unsaid, even in his mind, was it was the look she had on her face the night his experiment to fix Videl had come to an end. In a way, it might be where she was now. He was never a complete person, not after what had happened to him. But all of this, even being in the middle of this life as it was, it was all hollow. That was what it had showed him more than anything as he became one with it in those moments before his final faceoff. That's what happened when he became one with it before they were scattered to the ends of infinity together.
The dream he'd experienced in the void. The endless dream. The one which had clouded his memories until someone real had touched him. Was that the void? The dream that left him without a mind, without a self. He felt his vision darken for a second as he sensed something behind his own eyes and he almost felt himself trembling. The void, it wasn't just emptiness. It was him. And worst of all, that was what it was to be Janemba.
You are me. And I am you.
He could feel himself splitting in two, he could feel his body breaking away as all that was left was him, before he filled the void, like a star in the night, until he simply faded. It was the light. It was the darkness. It was all his hatred and anger and envy. It was all that pain. It soured all the light and warped it. He knew its touch even now that he was away from it. The hollow feeling… it… it was because he'd been left behind.
Something horrible rose up inside of him as he started to tremble. It wasn't power, or strength, or something come to dominate a world or destroy civilizations. It wasn't being the butcher of the Galaxy or being the one to break the back of an immortal. It was hisfear. He was afraid. He was afraid of where he'd been. He was afraid that he'd been left behind. He was afraid of himself. He was afraid the nightmare wasn't over, that it'd never be over. He was afraid of the void.
A trembling hand made it to his face as he felt his chest quaking. There was a choke he couldn't hold back as he shut his eyes and felt the sob escape his chest. He couldn't even run away because there was nowhere to run. His body wouldn't stop shaking as he felt himself losing his grip on it. Falling back down against the side of the barrier around the edge of the building's roof, he couldn't help it anymore. Even with his eyes shut, his hopes of somehow concealing what was happening failed him as tears slipped from the cracks between his eyelids.
There was a painful sensation in his chest. Real pain, a real body experiencing it… but where that pain went to now was the part that felt empty.
He was crying, and he couldn't understand why. He wanted to run but he didn't know where. He wanted answers but he couldn't look. He wanted this place to be real but he didn't even know what that meant anymore. He wanted to look into the void again… if only so he could find where he'd been left.
On this rooftop, he felt himself falling back into it. There was a shadow encroaching on him from every direction.
Only something warm came onto his shoulder again, followed by a hand hooking under his, before fingers pressed into his hand, grabbing it and interlocking its fingers. It was silent otherwise, but… there was a sensation that maybe he wasn't alone. When he opened his eyes, he briefly expected to see it staring back at him. None of its energy was here.
There were pigeons on the rooftop.
It was a summer day.
There were no clouds in the sky.
His body could feel the warmth. But the only thing he felt… below the base sensations of his skin, was the hand holding his. It was the only real thing to him in that moment preventing him from collapsing in on himself.
There were no words coming from this other presence that was here with him, but through their hand he could feel their heartbeat. It was the heartbeat of a better person than him.
Something had been wrong since the second she saw him from the window. That much Videl could tell. She knew Gohan for who he was. He was a controlling creature that tried to bend everyone to his will. Even when he was fighting others, she saw the raw determination was for him to control much of his own fate. She'd seen him do it even while fighting that thing that had destroyed the mountains and nearly killed everyone. She saw it when he came to save her from what the demon had done to her in her home. He'd refused to let her die because he'd willed it to not be her time. When he'd… … raped her, it was all for his own amusement and control. She knew who he was.
Even when the night came with the knife, where she'd tried her best to harm herself or him, when she'd cut him and he'd taken flight, he left because she'd done something that was outside of the range of what he'd wanted. Every second she'd seen him since his return, Gohan had no control. When he flipped the car, or when she reached out to him in the part. Something was deeply wrong when she had to drag him to the rooftop. Even when they were speaking, he'd been distant, not assertive. He was fragile. When he'd thanked her for being there, she could tell why.
If she'd not been there, he'd have fallen apart. It was a crazy thing to think about. She could see it. She could feel it. She'd been the only thing holding him down to Earth. Something had to have happened while he was dead, something tremendous. She knew about the fights with that monster, Broly, and she'd known about the fight with that demon. The demon still haunted her own memories. But what she saw from Gohan was the look of someone who'd been haunted the way she was.
Empathy and sympathy were not what she'd wanted to feel when she saw the man who'd ruined her life start falling apart in front of her. She wanted to think it was good. It was something well-deserved for what he'd put her through. For all she'd suffered. For the humiliation he'd put her through. For the ugly pain that had been inflicted on her. For leaving her with a daughter who… who she wished she could have been a mother to, and wished had been born of love.
But all it'd been was her observing the pain she might have understood more than many others to see him completely collapse. She never expected to see Gohan of all people turn into a wreck the way he was. He was oblivious to the world again. It was something she felt… like she'd been through. Only she'd been there alone. No, that'd not been true.
She'd had Pan.
It was ironic. When she'd fallen apart in the past, it'd been her daughter who'd been there to take up the burden to stand by her. When he seemingly tried to repossess her, she'd not understood that he was trying to give her… their daughter, something closer to what a child should have. Now she had no idea where Pan was. All she could see was the man she hated in many ways getting what she always wanted him to.
And she hated it. She hated that this was who'd she'd become. Worse, she knew this wasn't who she was. Even Gohan had recognized that when he'd saved her from Garlic's crucifixion.
The woman I hurt is still there.
How he knew that she didn't know. But he had been right. Knowing how dangerous it was, she didn't care as she decided to not let him be alone. For what little it was worth, she sat next to him, hooking her arm with his and grabbing his hand, locking her fingers around his, hoping her feel a grip in response. It took almost a minute as she heard him sobbing before she felt his fingers respond to hers. She couldn't tell him it was going to be alright, or that he was a good person somehow. She knew one of those was a lie, and the other she couldn't divine on her own.
There was a heartbeat she could feel through his hand as she just held onto his hand. Without a word, just continued to hold on as his sobs got weaker, trying to keep tears from her own eyes, remembering her own pain, but sensing the despair in her counterpart's emotion. There was one thing she felt she had to say. It wasn't about the painful apology she'd been given, or about his current state. It was a reminder.
There was a flash before her eyes as she felt his ki linking her with hers. It felt like an infection passing from him to her for a second, like it was reaching out for the only thing it knew was real. She could sense it. She could sense the emptiness. It was oddly familiar, even if it was far beyond what she'd ever expected. Was this what he was feeling? Was this the pit he was staring into? She couldn't look into it. She'd stared into the abyss herself and not found its bottom. Perhaps… Gohan had.
Unthinkingly, she rested her head on his shoulder, as if they were people who had been close by choice. It was a perversion of the truth, a horrible reflection of what they really were as she just held onto him, listening quietly to what he'd gone through without words. Someone else might have said they were there for him. It was strange to be that person, to be the one here for him when this was happening. If there was a god, or gods out there, perhaps they were crueler than she imagined them to be. To find this common group with the monster who'd hurt her so badly, it was uncomfortable to her. This was the man who'd killed apart of her. She didn't know if she could ever love herself, or someone else because of him.
But perhaps he now was in the same place she was. It was bittersweet. In fact, it was just bitter. Two broken people on a roof was all that was up here.
She opted for silence. Even as his sobs quieted and all he did was hold her hand, even as the sun started to descend in the sky, the odd sensation of the common path they walked, the path he'd first dragged her down himself, became open to her for the first time. She dared not look at him, for fear that her own break would happen. In this moment she could remember her own fear when he'd given her that awful ultimatum. She remembered how much she wanted him to hurt her later, as if it would help her rekindle her hatred, or feel something.
I want you to hurt me.
Yea, I can do that.
The words played out in her head as she remembered how far into the pit that she herself had delved into.
She didn't know how long they stayed there, but by the time the sun had become a glimmer on the horizon, a red and pink display at the edges of sight, she could feel that Gohan had fallen asleep next to her, his hand finally relaxing. Decoupling her own felt like it would have been awkward in that moment. Instead, she just let herself look at the retreating sun.
As strange as it sounded, for the first time in a long time, she felt strong.
Probably not the reintroduction people were expecting after all this time, but this is a portion of the chapter as it was originally planned. More or less means 81 is going to be the other half once that is released. Janemba is such a reality for Gohan and Junia because they were apart of him. Gohan himself is severely traumatized, more than Junia is, as the reality sets in and he starts to regain his memories. Janemba isn't just some fight that happened, it's something that happened to Gohan. It's very damaging to him, as he really interacted with the very nature of evil in the universe, he met an elder god more or less in a cosmic horror universe, it's hard just to get over that.. Don't worry though, chapter's like this won't be frequent. I think just after Hell, and Janemba, being alive again, and not being able to fully put himself back together, he needed this moment. I also think Videl did as well.
So! I am sure many of you have questions! I'm going to try to go over this because I want to make sure people understand why TLR hasn't gotten much attention this year, there are a lot of reasons why.
1: My personal and business life have been very hectic this year. I still don't know how the latter will do by the end of the year, there is a chance I may end up unemployed for the first time in my life, which would be trash. I hope that's no the case. But it's added a lot of stress to my life.
2: As strange as it sounds, The Catalyst and Being Alive, both being stories with darker edges to them, aren't nearly as depressing as The Long Road is. Writing out this chapter over the last couple weeks was quite painful for me. Not because I don't love TLR, I love it more than any of my other stories, but because I try to get into the heads of the characters I write. Gohan is a trainwreck of a human being. I love him to bits, but writing him puts me in a really dark place. And right now, given everything that's going on, writing TLR puts me in the wrong headspace to deal with the other parts of my life. I can write The Catalyst, even for all its tragedy, and not really get the same vibe. Part of that is because the long game for that story has a much more upbeat portion to it and ending. The same thing is true for Being Alive. I can't really say the same for The Long Road, even though it's messaging is important.
Much like my other stories updated recently, I'm not adding a reviews section to this particular chapter, just because it's been like, 7 months since it was updated.
I can say The Long Road will be worked on. The story is NOT discontinued. There is still a lot of work to be done on it. I know this is frustrating to some readers, and some readers may not want to stick around for it. But it is there.