Dragon Ball/Z/GT Fan Fiction ❯ Touketsu ❯ Point of No Return ( Chapter 36 )
Point of No Return
Vegeta knelt on the frozen stone floor. His body was constantly wracked with unceasing trembling, and hugging his arms around his exposed body accomplished little in mitigating the heart-stopping cold. His skin had paled further, and his lower set of fangs had come in. The red lesions that ran from under his shadow-rimmed eyes down his cheeks had begun to split. The slack, icy chains shackled to his wrists kept him tethered to the icy wall behind him. Ever since his second failed attack on his captors they had kept him chained to that wall. It felt as though a year had passed since that incident, but there was no way for him to know for certain; for all he knew, it could have been longer.
Things were as they had been. Zhernobog and his Kagemazoku soldiers would intermittently return to inflict their torture, cultivating his agonized thoughts. They would then slip back again into the shadows, leaving him to ruminate alone in the bone chilling cold. He felt as though he was constantly perched on the edge of death. Sometimes, he found himself wishing he would just die already.
"We won't miss you!"
His features tightened, and he closed his eyes. One could only miss something if they cared. If she didn't miss him, then…
No. No, that's bullshit. She didn't mean it, he asserted inwardly to himself as he battled back the poisonous thoughts. She didn't mean it. You know how sharp that brazen woman's tongue is. It's always been that spit-fire's favorite weapon. The corner of his mouth turned up a little in a wry smile, the cold temporarily forgotten as he focused on warmer memories of his wife. Hell, it's one of the things I like about you, woman. I rather enjoy our fights. Even if you're physically too weak to throw a punch, you make a decent sparring partner in other ways. He swallowed. Several ways…
He warmed a little more as he indulged in memories of his wife's body beneath him and the passionate love making that followed one of their spats. The comforting memories brought a small smile to his face before it quickly disappeared. Their last fight was different from all the others they had. Eyes still closed and his brow furrowing, he shuddered at the thought of how close Trunks came to death, and it was his fault. The terrible image of his teenage son from the future dying before him flashed through his mind, and he began to slip. The things he had said to Bulma before he left…Ages ago it seemed since he left her…
No, don't. Don't think of that. It was just another fight. What happened was bad, but Trunks was all right. The boy was strong - he would be all right. Vegeta gave a single, short nod to himself in affirmation, chasing away the terrible thoughts before they could manifest further. You're alright, son. When I get out of here I'll take you to that park you won't shut up about. I think you've earned it. I promise I will, Trunks. I won't be here much longer. Your mother will wait for me, she always has. She's stubborn like that. The fleeting notion that she may not wait for him entered his head. He pushed it away. Fuck you, Zhernobog. They'll wait for me.
…She'll wait for me. His mind drifted back to the feel of Bulma's warm, soft body against his own, and his soul began to pine with longing. He thought of Trunks and the way his son looked up to him with such adoration. He had never thought anyone could hold him in such high regard before this family of his happened. He wished to be back home with them. His face began to crack as he fought back the grief. Another chill tore through his body, and he shuddered. He rubbed his arms, and his eyes started to burn behind closed eyelids. He squeezed them tighter.
…I miss them.
He was ashamed to admit it to himself, ashamed to admit the powerful hold Bulma and Trunks had over him, but he couldn't deny it; he missed them. He hoped they felt the same. Could he ever get back to them? The unthinkable again entered his head: did they want him back? Like a person that dared to look down while walking a tightrope, he felt himself again in danger of falling. He realized right then and there that he had to stop ruminating on them. Like a siren's song, comforting thoughts of his family were actually drawing him further into the churning waters of doubt and despair. He would drown if he let his mind continue to wade out into those depths. If he was to survive and escape from this place, he couldn't afford to succumb to despair. He had to keep them out of his head…indefinitely.
He was painfully reminded why he had avoided attachments for so long. It was so much more agonizing to have something only for it to be ripped away. Wasn't that lesson learned when he lost his planet? His parents? His thoughts shifted to the multitudes of families he had destroyed. He remembered The duel death those people seemed to go through when they witnessed their loved ones killed in front of them. Their spirits always died first before their bodies followed. They were a constant reminder to not ever form attachments, yet here he was. Hell would be much worse the second time around, he realized. That is, if he wasn't here already. This torture would be less if he wasn't separated from the only two people he cared about. It would be less if they still cared about him.
They've weakened me.
"Frieza was right," he finally shuddered to himself, his head lowering and his heart breaking. "Family is a weakness…he taught me that. I used that same weakness to exploit my enemies again and again. How could I have succumbed to it? I knew better. I KNEW better, and I allowed it to happen-"
"Thinking of your teacher?"
Vegeta's eyes opened marginally, dread lancing through his heart. Otherwise, he betrayed nothing.
Zhernbog's armored, wraithlike body was kneeling down at eye level with the Saiyan while the other Kagemazoku stood around them in a semicircle. "This Frieza was a strong influence in your life, wasn't he?" Zhernobog asked softly, trying to make eye contact with him. Vegeta looked away. "I imagine he was," he continued. "He raised you. He also inflicted a great deal of pain on you." Zhernobog paused, studying Vegeta's profile. "Would that I could thank him."
Vegeta's head whipped back to Zhernobog, his eyes snapping with renewed fury. With a snarl he scrambled to his feet when the icy energy traveled up the chains, shocking him with numbing cold and suppressing the flare of energy. He gasped and the chains suddenly tightened and yanked him back up against the cave wall. His back connected with its hard, icy surface, and he bit his lower lip to prevent from crying out.
Zhernobog rose and approached the Saiyan. "Your foster parent was the catalyst behind your dark power. He made us aware of your existence and your potential. It was his actions that instigated the grief and rage that helped lead us to you, and it was his influence that nourished your dark, bestial nature. He is as much a part of you as the Oozaru."
Vegeta tensed, watching as Zhernobog reached out with the sharp, gauntlet-clad finger of his left hand to point into the center of his chest beneath his sternum. "He's here, dwelling deep inside with the beast you were born with." The curved talon of Zhernobog's index finger went underneath the prince's chin, guiding his head up. "Have faith. In time, we will draw them and their power out from you." Zhernobog held his right hand out to his side as it transformed into Tosho. Shivering, Vegeta looked askance at the glimmering weapon. His spirit died a bit more at the sight of it. He barely registered that the Kagemazoku were stirring when he saw a flicker of blue-purple light in the darkness that spread out from behind Zhernobog.
Impossibly, Vegeta paled even further.
Touketsu launched out of the shadows. Vegeta flinched, crying out in horror as the ghost-white doppelgänger swung its dark sword of dripping flames down over Zhernobog's right wrist. In a blaze of crackling indigo fires Tosho was lopped off, and the chains binding the prince suddenly went slack. Zhernobog shrieked and whirled around to face his assailant when he was immediately impaled by the dark blade. With a snarl, Touketsu swung upwards and flayed the demon's body before bringing the sword across through its bleeding, smoking form, shredding it into nothingness within the ensuing whirlwind of dark fires. The Kagemazoku had instantly swarmed him, and Touketsu attacked, felling one after the other.
Vegeta suddenly found himself tethered and defenseless in the middle of a war zone. He grasped the chains and pulled desperately, the chaos of battle surrounding him. Although weakened after Zhernobog was destroyed, the chains nonetheless held fast. "DAMNIT!" he screamed, his mind racing. That thing - that thing looked like him! It was him! What was happening?!
Touketsu glanced over his shoulder at the Saiyan before leaping some distance away, drawing the battle away from the compromised prince. The throng of demons rushed Touketsu as he planted his feet on either side. Crossing his forearms over his face, he quickly gathered power. His skin darkened, and the light pulsed throughout the markings and into the stone. Blue and purple flames erupted from his form, dripping to the ground before quickly whipping around him. It grew in size, catching the army of Kagemazoku within its destructive embrace and stopping just short of the horrified Vegeta.
Touketsu's body continued to darken, and the whirling fires grew a cold blue as they retracted. The creatures were pulled in and rent to nothingness as the tightly spinning conflagration deformed over the top of the demon prince's dark form. The spinning cocoon of energy quickly grew white hot before suddenly disappearing, swallowed in the dark void of Touketsu's body. The light raced throughout the markings and into the stone in his chest, a blazing, pure white energy wreathed in a searing ultraviolet. He threw his hand out to the void before him.
"KUROKEI!" The shadow raced up his arm to be released in a blast of blackness encompassed with the brilliant energy. It detonated some distance away into the void - a massive black hole. The dazzling accretion disk of light spun around the enormous black sphere, distorting across its top as the implosion lingered. Vegeta suddenly found himself hoping the chains would hold as he felt himself being pulled towards the terrible energy. Gritting his teeth and gripping one of the chains tight, he put one hand over the other as he pulled himself close to the rock face. The spinning sphere, continually diminishing in size, pulled its ring of light in with it until it at last winked out of a sight.
All was quiet and dark once more. Although the bizarre implosion didn't appear to have had much impact on the supernatural envirornment, Zhernobog and the Kagemazoku were gone. Vegeta got his breathing under control and hazarded to look over his shoulder. The demon stood some distance away, its white skin standing out against the void and its back to him. "Shit," Vegeta hissed under his breath as he returned his attention to the shackles around his wrists. Like the icy stone wall they were anchored to, they had developed stress fractures in various points. He could feel a little of his energy return to him, an infinitesimal amount trickling through the weakened bonds. However, they still held tight. He renewed his futile attempts to free himself; powerless as he was bound, he was completely at that thing's mercy if it decided to attack.
"You can't free yourself of them."
Vegeta stopped when he heard his own voice behind him. He was almost afraid to look up…to see that face…
"Those binds are attached to the Kagemazoku, and the Kagemazoku are attached to me. You can't free yourself of them," it repeated.
Vegeta swallowed. Finally, he straightened and dared to turn around. He looked up at the hellish double looming over him, wishing to shut his eyes to the blood red ones that bore into him. Was this twisted reflection the result of Zhernobog's torture? Was this his future? Despair flooded his heart.
Touketsu crossed his arms and scowled. Well, I WAS thinking of something I hate. The portal brought him exactly where he had willed it to open, though it took some walking to bring him to the periphery that always seemed to drift away. With his walking came reflection. When Touketsu finally saw his former self chained to that wall, surrounded by the hated Kagemazoku and faced with the loathsome Zhernobog, he had recalled some of his torture. There was still much missing, however. He had acted on instinct when he cut them down. Now that he had a moment, he was compelled to seek out answers as he did with the Supreme Kai…and deliver retribution.
"I'm not much one for company," he finally spoke, "and I know you aren't either. I could try going elsewhere and just leave you here, but I trust that I was brought here for a reason. I chose to leave my old life behind, so this is my realm now. I don't intend on leaving." The corner of his mouth twitched into a sadistic smile. "We may have a valuable opportunity here. Some company and conversation could In fact do us some good." Touketsu found himself taking a perverse pleasure in watching the dread manifest on Vegeta's face. "I'm sure we can learn a lot from each other."
Constantly shivering from the ever present cold, Vegeta couldn't suppress the two-fold chill of dread and anxiety that began to flood his body. The tortures of this place were unending. Vegeta stiffened when the demon leaned down, its face now inches apart from his own.
"Do you know who I am?" Touketsu asked.
Vegeta's brow began creasing in anguish. His mouth tried to form words but they were getting caught in his throat; he couldn't bring himself to say it. Finally, he exhaled through his nose, his mouth becoming a thin line as he scowled. "Yes," he shuddered quietly, never breaking eye contact. His eyes narrowed. "I know you, creature."
Touketsu blinked at the familiar words, and his lips twitched into a smug smirk. "Do you know me well enough to anticipate what I will do with you once we're done with our little visit?"
A snarl tugged at Vegeta's lips. Was this what his victims had felt like when he toyed with them? He hated himself. "How about you stop playing with yourself and you tell me?" he growled.
Touketsu scowled and straightened. "I wish to kill you. I loathe you and your weakness."
"The feeling is mutual," Vegeta spat, his scowl hardening. "Bastard. I thought I had left it behind me. I thought I left you dead on Namek. But you've always been right there behind me, haven't you? Following me around like a fucking shadow."
Touketsu matched Vegeta's scowl. "And you dared to look back on the shadow, didn't you?"
"It's hard to ignore something you know is there, even if it's not standing right in front of you," he told him levelly.
"Yes, that's clear," Touketsu accused, an edge to his voice now. "Somehow that shadow behind you demanded more of your attention than the light that was right in front of you." Vegeta's brows drew together and Touketsu snorted in derision. He shook his head and began pacing in front of Vegeta as he reflected aloud. "To think I envied you, before I realized who I once was. I envied your rumored power, your skill, your title. Then, I realized how weak you were," he sneered, shooting Vegeta a look of contempt. "I thought that weakness was because of your family. They appeared to control you. After Zhernobog, I was through being weak and subjugated. I wanted power. I wanted nothing to do with your life OR your attachments." Touketsu looked away. "The boy in particular I couldn't stand to look at."
Vegeta's scowl was immediately wiped off his face, his brows drawing together in fear. He stopped breathing. "…When…when did you-"
"The woman though," Touketsu continued, a small, wistful smile tugging at his lips. He stopped pacing and looked sidelong at Vegeta, one eyebrow quirking up in masochistic amusement at the growing horror on his own face. "Ah, the gorgeous little woman from Namek. Huh, she was a difficult one to shake. I envied the attention you garnered from her. I envied how much she cared for you. I envied you so much…that I found myself being tempted to take your place, in spite of my resolve to sever ties with your life." Touketsu looked away, his expression thoughtful. "The boy eventually did grow on me-"
"You stay away from them," Vegeta spoke dangerously.
Touketsu looked to the chained prince. His expression of sadistic playfulness melted away into a somber one. "A little late for that," he told him quietly.
Vegeta stilled, his brows furrowing. "What did you do?" he whispered, his voice weak with dread. Expressionless, Touketsu said nothing. Vegeta snarled and lunged at the demon, pulling at the chains that held him back. Arms still crossed, the oni nonchalantly stepped backwards out of his reach."WHAT DID YOU DO?!" Vegeta screamed, the weakened bonds unable to suppress the passion that was suddenly flooding his being.
Touketsu placidly watched Vegeta's reaction. "Hm. You care for them. Don't you, Prince Vegeta?"
Vegeta faltered. A lifetime of experience demanded he never reveal weakness to an enemy. Family was a weakness, and weakness could be exploited. But…this was him. Was he himself the enemy? If something happened to them…Terror gripped him at the very thought.
Touketsu searched his eyes. "Come on, Vegeta," he coaxed. "You can be honest with yourself, can't you? Come now. Look at me. Look me in the eyes and tell me."
Shivering, Vegeta straightened, his brows drawing together. "…Yes," he whispered hoarsely. "Yes, I do."
Several moments passed. Touketsu nodded. "I know, Vegeta." he told him quietly. "I realized this myself…only too late."
Vegeta's heart was slamming in his chest, his body gripped with tension. He fought back the tears of rage that threatened to well in his eyes. "Did you hurt them?" He demanded anxiously.
Touketsu just shook his head. "Fool," he said softly. "You didn't know what you had-"
"DO YOU REALIZE NOW WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND?!" Touketsu shouted, silencing Vegeta. "I now know how we came to be here. You thought they took away your power. You blamed them for your own weakness. You fucked up and you fucking RAN!"
"I had every intention of returning!" Vegeta shouted back. "I've been trying ever since I've been trapped here! I WISH to return!"
"You wished to be ME!" Touketsu roared, stunning Vegeta into silence. He stepped up to the prince. "That's right. You wished to be me. You think I don't know you, fool? I remember what was in your heart and mind that night. You believed your family weakened you. You were a goddamn Super Saiyan and you believed yourself stronger before you met the woman and stayed on Earth. You damned them to hell! You actually believed you were stronger slaving away under that BASTARD'S REIGN!" Livid, Touketsu gestured towards his own monstrous form. "HERE'S the result of your beliefs! SATISFIED?!"
"I never intended any of this!" Vegeta shouted passionately, his cowed and horrified expression undermining the strength in his denial.
Touketsu shook his head in disgust at himself. "You are so unwilling to relinquish control. It's the reason why you couldn't ascend when that third class dog had no problem. Yet, you yielded control to your most useless, worthless thoughts. Thoughts that do nothing to serve you. The Kagemazoku, Zhernobog - you invited them in with your weak mind!" To Vegeta's growing alarm, Touketsu's body began to darken and the light pulsed within.
"You believed you were so much stronger before the woman and the boy, as though that old life before them was worth living AGAIN! You chose to stay frozen in that damned place rather than walk away from it!" Touketsu's brows began to furrow in anguish over what he had thrown away, furious tears of loss welling in his eyes. "I had a chance to fix your fucking mess, and your goddamn bullshit beliefs and shit guidance lead me astray! You pulled us off the path and so far down into that darkness that the last bit of light we had was snuffed out! YOU DID THIS TO US!" He roared. The dark demon's body burst into impassioned, dripping flames, the fires momentarily flaring red. The prince stepped back until he was almost against the wall.
Touketsu flexed his fingers into a claw, the shadow and energy racing up his arm into Svaroken. "I wished to die! We should die! I want YOU to DIE!" Eyes wide, Vegeta stiffened when the point of the dripping, curved weapon was brought up to his throat, his chin tilting up when the sword made contact. "I can't STAND your weakness," Touketsu sneered, his eyes bleary with tears as he again surrendered to the madness. "The weak die, do they not? Is this not merciful of me then? To liberate you of your weakness?"
Vegeta grit his teeth against the sensation of the blade's poisonous fire dripping down to burn his throat and chest. It only made sense that in the end he killed himself. His thoughts went to his family and the terrible knowledge that he was unable to protect them. The toxic fires dripping over his flesh fueled his self-hatred. He squeezed his eyes shut. This was how all those other people felt…
"Do you still believe your attachments are to blame for your weakness? Or can you finally accept responsibility for yourself before I END you!?"
"Vegeta's eyes opened, flaring as his self-hatred reaching a boiling point. He locked eyes with himself. "Can you?" He hissed. Touketsu's hateful expression tempered. "You blame me for poor guidance," Vegeta shuddered in the cold. His eyes narrowed. "You didn't have to listen to me."
His gaze intense, Touketsu stared Vegeta down.
Why can't I take her?
He knew why: it was because of Vegeta. He wouldn't allow him to take her when she was unwilling.
A voice called out that he could make things right. He could gather the Dragon Balls and wish them back. However long it took, he could do it. He could change course. He could start over. Things weren't as they seemed.
He raised a trembling hand and aimed at the village below. Through the agonized screaming in his head, far in the back, a faint voice implored to gather the orbs again…
Touketsu blinked. He had ignored that voice. Several times he had ignored it. That voice…was it?…
Vegeta's eyes slid closed, and he scowled. "You didn't have to listen to me," he repeated softly. His scowl deepened. "Just…just don't hurt them," he whispered, hoping against hope that he hadn't already.
Touketsu's expression hardened with resolve, and he pulled the dripping, crackling sword of dark energy back.
"Please. Please, just don't hurt them."
Touketsu swung the blade down hard.
One chain was shattered, quickly followed by the other. Vegeta flinched and opened his eyes in surprise. He looked down at his wrists to see the shackles shatter and disappear into shadow. He looked back up at his demonic self quizzically when suddenly pain ripped through his heart. He clutched his chest and in the next instant a corona of blue and purple energy wreathed his form. Vegeta cried out in agony as the energy that Zhernobog had been cultivating up to that point began to be released, infusing every cell in his body. The next thing he knew, an ice cold palm slapped over his eyes and he was quickly pushed up against the wall behind him.
Vegeta gasped when he felt his face burn with cold before going completely numb. The skin blackened, the effect crawling down his throat to his chest, and he felt the air leave his lungs. A chill overcame him as the fires were drawn out, and his eyes rolled back behind Touketsu's palm. It took only seconds, but to Vegeta it felt like an eternity before his demonic self released his hold. The blackness receded, and Vegeta's skin returned to its previous pallor. The Saiyan prince slumped back against the wall in shock, shuddering as he gasped for breath. In a daze, he began to slide down the wall before a strong hand gripped him by the upper arm, hauling him back up. Touketsu pulled him close.
"You felt that, after I destroyed those bonds?" Disoriented, Vegeta looked up at Touketsu. "Remember it," he hissed, giving Vegeta a shake. "Fortunate for you that Zhernobog didn't get any farther. Now, I've taken the edge off for you, but it can always return. It's a part of you - it has always been. Recognize it when it's coming, and to hell with whatever crap Zhernobog may have told you. You have dominion."
Their eyes still locked, Vegeta began to straighten. Breathless, he nodded. "I understand."
Touketsu's eyes softened slightly. He had decided there was something in the prince worth saving after all. "I've learned something, Vegeta. We were always destined to serve. Be sure you serve those that are worthy of you. Frieza wasn't worthy of you. Zhernobog isn't worthy of you. Your resentment towards Kakarot isn't worthy of you." He looked him dead in the eye. "Do NOT allow yourself to succumb to the promise of power. It will enslave you." Touketsu released his grip on Vegeta's arm and turned away, taking several steps forward before stopping. He stood unmoving for a moment before he spoke again. "There's something else you should know," he informed Vegeta, barely giving his counterpart his profile. "Our father did come back for us."
Behind him, Veget'a eyes widened in shock "…Wh…what?-"
"It cost him his life and our planet, but he did. You don't have to ever forgive him, but I just thought you should know. In the end, he tried to rectify his mistakes."
For some reason Vegeta didn't doubt his words. All of a sudden he felt some of the weight in his heart lift; he hadn't even realized it was there until it was gone. Still facing away from the prince, Touketsu held his right hand out before him. Vegeta looked on with some trepidation. What was the unpredictable oni doing now?
Touketsu closed his eyes and focused. It had been the most difficult decision for him to step away, but he did it. Now that he was here, safely away from them, he shouldn't be able to go back. That was exactly what he wanted. So…could he do this? Could he pinpoint his family throughout space and time when every fiber of his being was screaming at him to stay away? Hatred helped him open the portal on more than one occasion. Could he feel anything as intensely as he did hatred? Was he capable of an emotion as powerful as that? Behind his closed eyes he saw a pair of blue ones, followed by another. Both were as vacant and lifeless as still oceans.
Loss. It was the pain of loss. It was all he had, and he used it. His brows drew together in pain as the darkness washed over his body. He allowed himself to be immersed into the maelstrom of powerful emotions tearing through his being in that moment...he let it all in: Loss. Regret. Remorse. Self-hatred. Anguish. Longing. Desire...
The dark light laced throughout his body. "One last time," he whispered to himself. He opened his eyes. "Kuromon." The darkness raced up his arm, and with a soft whoosh of gentle fire the portal was opened. He saw her. Oblivious, she was standing out on a balcony some distance away, her back to him and almost out of sight to the right. His heart soared with overwhelming relief at the sight of her. Even before stretching out his senses onto the other plane he knew that Trunks was nearby, sleeping. He quickly looked away when he felt his heart begin to break. He released a shuddering breath. Thank you, Kakarrot.
Touketsu stepped away from the swirling vortex and turned to face Vegeta. He pointed towards the portal. "Do as our father did and return to your family," he spoke quietly. "They miss you."
Blinking in disbelief, Vegeta stepped towards the portal before stopping short. He looked back at Touketsu. "What will you do?"
"Does it matter?"
Vegeta's brows drew together. "Yes," he told him emphatically. "You're me. You're just going to stay in this place?"
"…Unless I can figure out how to move beyond it…yes."
After a moment Vegeta replied. "Perhaps we both can."
Touketsu's eyes flashed before narrowing in warning. "You had better."
They gave each other one last lingering look before Vegeta turned and entered the portal. It closed behind him, and Touketsu was left alone. This was the least he could do: he could give his family the better part of himself. With a heavy sigh, he sat crosslegged on the cave floor, his hands resting on his knees. He looked up at the icicles and stalagmites surrounding him like the bars of a cage, and he gratefully accepted his captivity.
He lowered his head and closed his eyes. "Don't screw it up this time," he murmured to himself.
Bulma was looking up at the sky, half clouded with the Kagemazoku's lingering influence. Trunks had since gone to bed. He had turned in early; it was as though his spirit had been tapped out. There was a break in the clouds, and Bulma resumed stargazing as best she could. Mostly gone now, a few of the scattered remains of the moon could still be seen drifting among the glittering stars. Bulma swallowed. She felt as broken as the moon now was, her soul as scattered as its body. Her counterpart in an alternate future must have felt this way, raising her son alone in a dark, bleak world. Bulma began to register a curious rush of cool air and a faint susurrus behind her, like that of an autumn breeze. She frowned in bewilderment for a moment before turning around.
Vegeta stepped out of the vortex that quickly closed behind him. The warmth of this new environment almost took his breath away; it was jarring to his senses after being absent from his life for so long. He blinked. He could scarcely believe it. He was home. He was standing in his darkened bedroom right next to the bed he shared with his wife. Then, just as she was turning around, he saw her out on the balcony.
Bulma couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Vegeta," she breathed.
It was him. It was actually him. He was naked and shivering, and she could see how pale he was even in the darkened room. Without another thought she instinctively rushed to him, grabbing the comforter off the bed on her way. She quickly wrapped it around him and hugged him close. In a daze, he stood there unmoving for several moments as she hugged him. Finally he blinked, and he returned her embrace. He couldn't believe he was seeing her again…feeling her. She pulled away from him to take his face in her hands and finally see her husband, wincing a little when she felt his ice-cold skin. Their eyes locked on each other, and Vegeta drank in the sight of her.
Bulma froze: That pale face, those markings under the eyes, the fangs peaking out from a slightly open mouth.
One look into that face brought it all back. She felt all the air go out of the room and she abruptly released her hold on his face. Quite against her will, her eyes hardened, draining of all warmth as she took a step back from him.
Vegeta blinked in bewilderment. He was immediately taken back to the night he left, but not even then had her eyes looked so cold. His brow furrowed. There was a lifelessness that looked completely wrong on her face; it was as though she was someone else. What did he do to her? To Trunks? What did I unleash on them? All at once, those unthinkable thoughts that he had been grappling with when he reflected on his family were confronting him again, now impossible to ignore. After everything he had endured and seen, after spending possibly years alone with nothing but those demons to keep him company, all he wanted was her. He wanted his family. He wanted the only people who had ever really known him and accepted him…and she was rejecting him.
"Bulma?" he asked quietly. She didn't reply, her cold, blue gaze unwavering. Vegeta felt Tosho being driven into his heart again, its dreadful iciness spreading through his veins. His face, already tense with pain from the torture he had endured for so long, fractured further. If he wasn't dead after all that torture he was quickly being killed now. Please. Please tell me this isn't so. Fear creeping into his heart, he clutched the blanket around him. Stretching out his hand, he took a small step towards her.
Bulma stepped further back out of his reach, her cold eyes unchanging. She wrapped her arms around herself as though to ward off the chill that was coming from within. She couldn't bring herself to get any closer to him. She was being repelled almost against her will. Goku told her he had left for their best interests. Why did he decide to come back then? Why did he have to come back?
Vegeta felt his heart implode. To be so close to salvation, only for it to slip through his fingers. His absolute fears, the thoughts he valiantly fought against while imprisoned, were true: she was done with him. Somehow, without even being aware, he had destroyed that singular source of light that had ferried him out of the dark waters of his past. It was gone. Finally, all at once, what little strength remaining left him. In defeat he sank to his knees, his eyes locked on hers and his arm still slightly outstretched. He released his hold on the dark blue comforter, letting it pool around his waist. His hand lowered until it dropped in defeat.
He didn't want attachments because of the pain their loss could bring. He didn't want an enemy to use what he cared about against him. He realized, right then and there, he was the enemy. All along, it was him. Without even intending to he had destroyed his family like he had so many others. He always knew he'd go back to Hell, but that cold place showed him it would be worse the second time; he would be forever cut off from their light and energy. It was the worst agony he could have imagined…until this moment.
"Bulma…not you," he rasped, shaking his head. "Not you. I always knew where I was destined to go, I just refused to think about it. I can't deny it anymore. I deserve it. All of it. I know this." His faced cracked. "But not you and Trunks. Not you."
Something began to stir in Bulma's heart. A drowning man. Did she have the strength to save a drowning man? Could she be the stronger of the two when necessary? Could she keep her own head above the waters while she pulled him to safety? Or would he simply drag their family down into the depths again to drown together? Bulma remained frozen where she was.
"Bulma, I'm sorry," he rasped, still desperately searching her dead eyes for life. He continued to spill out his heart as only a dying man would. "I didn't realize what I had. I never meant to unleash this on you. You don't deserve any of this. Neither of you deserve this." He swallowed. "I don't want you with me," he said heatedly, tears welling in his eyes. "I don't want my family in Hell with me. My second time in Hell, separated from you both - it will be worth it. It will be worth having had you both in my life. I'll gladly live forever there without you both if only I knew you and Trunks were in a good place." He shook his head in grief for his family. "I'm sorry for what I did to you…to Trunks…from the very beginning. I'm sorry for everything, I…" His strained voice cracked, his face contorting in anguish. He dropped his head before leaning forward on his hands, bowing before her. "I'm so sorry," he sobbed.
Bulma rushed to him, dropping to her knees and wrapping her arms tightly around him.
Shocked for a moment, Vegeta returned her embrace. He clung to her as though she was a life preserver, burying his face in her neck. After everything he had been through, he didn't care at all how vulnerable he appeared. His other half had always known him, after all. "Bulma," he shuddered, overwhelming relief flooding him.
"I love you," she whispered in his ear before sobbing, "We missed you so much." Vegeta tightened his hold on her as he squeezed his eyes shut, Bulma rubbing his back comfortingly. She finally pulled away and looked into his eyes for a few moments. Hesitantly, she placed a hand upon the side of his face. Her thumb ran gently over one of the curious wounds that trailed from beneath his eyes to the bottom of his jaw, studying his countenance as she did. His hand came up to rest over hers.
"He got me out of that hell," he finally spoke. "He…he lead me back to you."
Bulma looked at him, a quizzical expression on her face. "Who?" she asked quietly.
Vegeta looked back at her with uncertainty for a moment. He wasn't really sure how to answer that. "…Me."
Bulma's brow's drew together in confusion. Then, realization slowly dawned upon her as she studied his haunted eyes. She knew to whom he was referring. She continued to stroke the wound on his cheek with her thumb, feeling the wetness of the tears that collected there before a hint of grief flitted over her features. She leaned forward, and Vegeta's eyes drifted closed. Bulma placed a soft kiss on his wounded cheek, forgiveness and gratitude in the gentle gesture. She pulled away, her face inches from his as she brought up her other hand to cradle his face. They studied each other for a moment before Vegeta closed his eyes, sighing into the ensuing kiss as he allowed her warmth to at last chase the cold away. They continued to hold each other close when they finally parted. Even as Vegeta held her however, he couldn't deny it:
There was a part of him left in that place.