Her feet pounded hard against the pavement as she ran along the dimly lit, empty street. The pouring rain soaked through her clothes, but it was not the cold water that chilled her, it was him.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw that he was still chasing her, but at the moment, the distance between the two of them was increasing. The raven-haired girl rounded a corner and put on a new burst of speed. A moment later she spotted a darkened alley and, after chancing another look behind her, entered it – running straight into a rock solid body.
The force of the impact knocked her to the ground with a cry of surprise. The young woman looked around helplessly, knowing that running was out of the question and hiding was impossible. Her only chance was to attack him and pray to kami that he'd be caught off guard; it was a long shot, but it was all she had. With a surge of power she leapt to her feet and threw a hard punch at his head.
With lightening fast reflexes his hand shot up and caught her fist. He smiled sadistically as he crushed her hand with a sickening crunch. She screamed in pain.
"Now, now," the young man said with an evil chuckle, "that wasn't very nice." Then he pulled her forward by her destroyed hand and drove his knee into her stomach.
The woman fell to her knees, gasping for air and clutching the bloody lump of flesh and bone that had once been her hand; her attacker stared at her with cold ruthlessness in his eyes. His foot lashed out and sent her through the wall of a warehouse that made up part of the alley.
The dark haired woman rolled onto her stomach and gingerly pulled herself to her feet, warm, sticky blood flowed into her eyes from a long gash across her forehead. She hastily wiped the blood away with her good hand and tried to get her bearings.
"Looking for someone?" a harsh voice whispered from behind.
She spun and looked up at him wide eyed with fear. A vice-like hand clamped around her throat and lifted her off the ground effortlessly. Her one good hand struggled franticly to loosen his grip, but to no avail.
"W…why are…you doing…th…this?" she gasped. "I thought…you…lov…ed me." The already dark room was growing darker as she fought to stay conscious.
He felt his lips begin to pull back into a familiar sneer, but stopped and then looked around in confusion. Something wasn't right.
'Kill her!' an angry voice commanded. He felt his hand start to tighten around her throat and her eyes bulged out as the pressure built.
But he didn't want to do it and with a surge of will power his hand began to open again. He wouldn't listen to that voice, not again, not anymore.
The dark haired warrior's eyes snapped open, his face slick with cold sweat and his chest heaving.
For a long time he lay in bed staring at the ceiling and trying to push the nightmare away. It took a while, but eventually it retreated far enough from his conscious mind that he could once again go about pretending it had never existed. With a tired sigh he rolled out of bed, quietly pulled on the training shorts which had landed on the bedside table when they were hastily discarded the night before, and then snatched up a small bottle as he walked to the other side of the room and opened the door to the balcony.
It was raining and he breathed in deeply, enjoying the smell of the wet grass and trees as his body began to relax after the nightmare while he sipped the water from the bottle.
Time slipped by unnoticed until two tan arms slid their way around his waist and up his chest as something very warm pressed against his lower back. He smiled but continued staring out over the city at the stormy, early morning sky.
After a minute or two, he felt something tiny push against his back from the middle of the warm spot and started to chuckle.
"I guess he must be an early riser, huh?"
"She will be no such thing," Pan replied, giving his arm a light smack to let him know that he shouldn't even suggest such things.
"Care to make a wager?"
"On which part? The early riser or the she?"
"Either. Both. I'm confident I'll win regardless," Akira said as he glanced over his shoulder and smiled at her.
"What do you want if, by some miracle, you do win?"
"Same thing I always want," he laughed as he reached back and gave her bottom a light pinch.
"You're such a guy," she said with mock disgust as she rolled her eyes. The conversation lapsed into a comfortable silence and then Pan quietly asked, "The nightmare again?"
"It wasn't too bad," Akira replied quickly, "and it's been over a month since the last one."
"I thought Bulma said they would stop eventually."
"She said she thought they would stop eventually, but at least they're not as frequent anymore and I'm not stuck in them like I used to be."
"It's been five years," Pan pointed out.
"Better to have a few nightmares every once in a while than live them like he did." There was no need to specify which he Akira was talking about.
Pan nodded and then grunted as a foot or hand gave her an unexpected kidney shot. "She's a bit jumpy today; maybe she'll be ready to join us out here sometime soon."
Akira rolled his eyes. "I think he will be waiting a few months still, don't rush him."
"Easy for you to say, you're not the one who looks like she swallowed a basketball and gets kicked all night."
Akira turned and looked his wife up and down appreciatively. "You look beautiful," he whispered, meaning it. He reached out and ran his hand along the smooth skin sticking out of her shirt and smiled again as what felt like a foot pressed back against it. "Why don't you go take a bath, that usually calms him down, and I'll make breakfast."
She smiled at the idea and headed into the bathroom while Akira turned and looked back out at the city.
It had been five of the best years of his life, occasional nightmares aside, and he couldn't help but wonder if it was fair that he was allowed to enjoy it.
After the battle in the other timeline, he and the other Z Fighters who had been seriously injured were flown back to the remains of West Capital. From what he'd heard, he and Krillin had nearly died before they were placed into the healing tanks on the time machine, and the rest were only slightly better off.
Trunks had gone and explained the situation to Hercule and then the time traveling Z Fighters had rushed back to their own timeline in order to insure the possibility of resurrecting anyone who might not make it. It turned out that this was an unnecessary precaution as – against the odds – everyone pulled through one more time.
They were greeted joyfully by their families when they returned and those who needed it, or even looked like they might need it, were fussed over greatly as they were nursed back to perfect health.
A few weeks later, Bulma, as well as a few of the other Z Fighters, returned to Kanata's timeline with several boxes of capsulized supplies to help the war-torn planet get back on its feet. Mirai Hercule gratefully accepted the help and, from what Akira had heard, the planet would probably be getting back on its feet shortly. Bulma had informed him that his future counterpart was considered to be the second coming of Mr. Satan in the eyes of many, particularly one little girl who'd been reunited with mother and brother when the Arlean's human slaves found their way back to the remains of West Capital. Akira was glad that his other self, despite being the biggest bastard he'd ever met, had done some good in the end.
With the fighting resolved and the other timeline on its way to recovery, the Z Fighters – but mostly Bulma – had set about fixing the mess the Arlean had made in their own timeline. The deceased dictator-to-be had left nearly a dozen pregnant female insectiods (as well as many more who had not conceived) behind when he was killed and for a time they had lived on some enclosed Capsule Corp. property away from the large populations of humans. This was a temporary solution, however, as eventually something would have to be done with them. The answer came as a bit of a surprise to everyone when King Kai suggested that they be given the opportunity to relocate to the New Planet Namek.
The Nameks were more than willing to accept the freed slaves and their children and quickly went about teaching them to farm and take care of themselves. Many of the children of the Arlean grew to be relatively powerful warriors and eventually helped settle a larger area of the still-wild New Namek. In only five years the two species were quickly growing into a tight knit society that lived in peace both with each other and with the planet around them.
Trunks and Icalla were married two months after the return from the other timeline. Icalla, having now had her fist taste of being the significant other of one of Earth's protectors and going through the wait-and-see-if-they-all-lived with the other family members, actually moved the date up several weeks. She apparently decided that she would not allow any more aliens, clone armies, or kami-knows-what-else to try to make her a widow before she was a bride.
It was, of course, a beautiful wedding. Bulma, Chi Chi, Videl, Valese, and Marron cried, while Pan came close but refused to give in. Vegeta was careful to keep a bored expression on his face the whole time, though Pan would later tell Akira that she thought she saw him wipe at an eye (Vegeta claimed that Bulma had used too much hairspray and that the fumes had nearly blinded him… and then calmly explained that anyone who disagreed with his version of events would be unrecognizable when he was done 'sparing' with them). Kumo made quite the handsome ring bearer, though he gave many in the crowd quite the fright when half way down the aisle he decided that walking wasn't enough and floated the rest of the way, dragging Icalla's niece (who was the flower girl) into the air with him and through a couple of flips. Goten had tried to apologize to his friend, but Trunks just laughed and said that it was important to have funny things like that in weddings.
After the battle in the other timeline, Krillin decided that enough was enough and settled into fulltime retirement, except when something exciting – like an annual tournament or when his daughter brought home a new boyfriend – rolled around. During these times he would show why, despite his age, he was still one of the strongest fighters on the planet (though his ranking seemed to slip every time a new saiyan child was born). For the most part, he and Eighteen simply enjoyed their peaceful days on the island, him working on his tan, her looking exactly the same as always.
Uubu and Bra had been together for five years (though Uubu probably would have preferred to have been a bit quieter about it), and had caused quit a stir when Bra had announced that she was going to move in with him. There were questions about why they never bothered getting married, since they were going to live that way anyway. The general consensus was that Uubu didn't want to upset Vegeta (though living together seemed more likely to do that than getting married) and Bra didn't want her mother breathing down her neck about wedding plans so they just agreed to skip that part. Pan hypothesized that they had actually eloped and simply weren't going to bother telling anyone, but Akira felt that Bra wouldn't be willing to keep quiet about something like that.
His disbelief hadn't kept him from floating the idea past Trunks, though, and the lavender haired saiyan had gone and asked Uubu about it. Unfortunately, all he'd gotten from Goku's protégé was an uncommitting smile and a hasty retreat. Akira supposed that it probably didn't matter, they lived like they were married, so whether it was on a piece of paper or not was more of a technicality than anything… though he suspected Vegeta wasn't too happy about the arrangement. Still, even Vegeta didn't make too much commotion about it anymore.
And then there was he and Pan. A little over a year and a half after the war with the Arlean they had gotten engaged and then married a short time later. Pan taught at her grandfather's dojo and occasionally took some time out of her schedule to do a little crime fighting as her father and mother had done before her. Akira worked at Capsule Corp. helping with the testing and design of law enforcement equipment (it was generally accepted that anything that could take a low level ki blast could handle a few bullets here and there). He was well aware of the fact that the job was a bit pointless, and that he probably wouldn't have been given it if he weren't family, but it was a good way to kill time in between martial arts tournaments and gave him a reason to spar with Vegeta on a fairly frequent basis. While Vegeta still hadn't caught up to him in terms of raw power, even after five years, Akira was still unable to defeat his adopted father when they battled with even power levels.
He really had everything he could have asked for in life and then, during the most recent Tenkaichi Budoukia Pan had informed him that she was "late." After she explained exactly what it was she was late for, and just what the meant to him, he had promptly gone out and lost spectacularly to Kumo in the opening round. He dimly remembered walking out to the ring, and was relatively sure he'd said something to the little boy before the match had started, but then he'd caught sight of Pan over Kumo's shoulder, and the next thing he knew he was sprawled out on the grass and the little boy was doing cartwheels around the ring. Had he not been so busy running back to his wife to hug her and swing her around in excitement, he would have been pretty upset with himself for making such a poor showing… Vegeta and Kumo certainly would never let him forget it.
And now, here they were, only a few months away from becoming parents. It was frightening, and exciting and left him feeling a bit ill whenever he really thought about what the little bulge (that was quickly becoming not so little) in Pan's stomach meant. Life was good. Life was scary. And it wasn't really supposed to have happened this way.
Even after five years, he couldn't believe he was living the life that he woke up to every day. It didn't seem fair, somehow, that his future self had gone through hell and back, and Akira was reaping all of the rewards for Kanata's hard work. Not that he would trade with Kanata, but there were times when he wondered what had become of his future self. Did he still think it was worth it? Was he with his Pan… or alone?
Akira shook his head and gave one last look out at the city which history had originally decreed should have been a bombed out graveyard and whispered a prayer of thanks to his other self and then he headed inside and began cooking breakfast for three.
The other future, just after the War for Earth
Pain ripped through Kanata's body as his life force exploded from his body and then there was nothing. The pain was gone. The Arlean was no longer writhing in his arms. There was nothing but white all around him.
For a moment, Kanata was disoriented, but then the light faded and he found himself standing in a long line of clouds for the second time in his existence.
He shook his head and sighed, or at least tried to. The shaking of his head moved his entire body. He looked down at himself and saw that he was no longer himself, or at least was no longer in possession of the body he usually associated with himself. He, like those around him, was nothing more than a fluffy white cloud, hovering a short distance above the ground.
Was it because he'd destroyed his body as his last act on Earth? Or was it simply because he wasn't deserving of keeping his body this time around?
If he remembered correctly, Vegeta had gotten his body back, even after self destructing, so the latter seemed the most likely… but Vegeta had also been borderline evil at the time, so there was a chance that his lack of form was simply because no one had seen fit to rescue his flesh before it was incinerated.
He floated higher into the air and looked down the line leading to the palace; he was going to be waiting for a while.
As he hovered in the line, slowly inching his way towards his punishment, he continued to ponder his situation. Why had they taken his body (if that was really the case), but had allowed Frieza, Cell, and every other villain Goku and company had ever defeated to retain theirs? Did you need a body to be punished in Hell? He was certain he'd seen a few clouds floating around down there during his short visit… but clearly there wasn't a hard and fast rule that said you had to lose your body when you died, even if you'd been "evil."
He turned the subject over and over in his mind as he slowly moved forward and then a suddenly he was in front of the great desk with King Yemma peering down at him.
Perhaps they had taken his body because they feared he would pound the large ogre into the ground and then wonder off. Was such a thing possible? He was stronger than Yemma, of that he was certain, but it couldn't really be that easy, could it? A part of him wished he had his body back so he could find out.
Yemma stared at him for a long moment and then sighed, "Akira, Akira, Akira, it's been a while and you've been busy."
Kanata remained silent, waiting patiently for the verdict he knew was on its way.
"Don't you have anything to say for yourself?" the judge of the dead asked curiously.
"What should I say?"
"You could start by explaining your actions, this is a trial of sorts after all," King Yemma said as he leaned back in his enormous chair.
"I killed a lot of people so I could bring back the ones that were important to me… plus a few that I just didn't like."
Kanata's eyes narrowed, or at least it felt like they did, he wasn't completely certain that he had literal eyes anymore. "Why are you asking me all these questions?"
"I'm a judge, how can I pass judgment if I don't have all the facts?" King Yemma asked with a small smirk that didn't move past his large red lips.
"You didn't ask questions last time," Kanata pointed out, "you just sent me on my merry little way."
King Yemma leaned forward and placed his elbows on his wooden desk and then cracked his knuckles thoughtfully. The sound was like a rolling wave of thunder echoing through the room. "Last time you hadn't had anything to do with 741,564,321 deaths. The situation is a little different."
Kanata was quiet for a few seconds and then asked, "That few?"
Yemma shot his a reproachful glare and shook his head is disgust before saying, "So, the question still remains, why? Why kill so many people to bring back a handful? You killed about 35 million people for every ONE you were trying to revive, doesn't that seem a bit…" he paused for a moment, searching for the right word, and then settled on, "idiotic?"
Again Kanata was quiet, considering the question and then said, "I would have killed 800 million more, if it would have done any good."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Does it matter? You already know what you have to do," the saiyan cloud retorted.
"Oh?" the large ogre sat up straight and tightened his tie with a quick, easy jerk. "Since you seem to know so much about my job, perhaps you'd care to enlighten me as to what my decision has to be?"
Kanata would have looked confused, if it was possible, and it showed in his voice. "You're sending me to hell, right? I mean, I'm probably one of the biggest mass murderers to come through here in a while…"
"You might be surprised," King Yemma countered with a smile.
Kanata shook his whole cloud body in annoyance. "Whatever," he grunted, "I still killed plenty of people and they all deserve justice. Just do you're job and send me where I belong."
The red ogre shrugged and snapped his giant fingers at an aid who hurriedly handed him a folder with the word "Akira" clearly printed on it. The folder was stuffed to the point that odd pages fluttered out of it as it was passed and still more spilled out when it was opened and King Yemma began glancing through it. The aid quickly rushed about the room retrieving the escaped pages, Yemma kept reading without seeming to notice how much information had fallen out.
As he read, Kanata could hear him mutter, "…interesting…" every couple of seconds as he ran a hand through his thick, black beard. The saiyan sincerely hoped that the ogre didn't take this long with the majority of the cases that came before him, because it didn't seem like anyone would ever reach their final resting place at this pace.
Finally, after hearing the word 'interesting' nearly a dozen times, he could take no more of it. "What? What is so damn interesting? Just make your judgment already!"
King Yemma looked down at him and rolled his eyes. "You mortals are far too impatient," he grumbled, "Do you really have some pressing engagement that I'm keeping you from? You're dead, sit down and shut up."
Kanata opened his mouth to tell the ogre exactly what he thought of the judging of the dead process and its judge, but found that no sound would escape his little cloud body.
Yemma smiled wickedly, "You didn't think I got this job just because I'm big and fast, did you? Right here, standing before me, even if you had your body you'd be as week as a newborn unless I said otherwise." For a while he continued to smile down at the fuming, but silent, cloud and then set the folder down. "You saiyans have always been tough cases, Vegeta might have been worse the second time around, but you're a close second.
"You saw all of your friends and family die, and blamed yourself, unfairly, I might add… so any crimes you committed right there could have gone down as grief induced insanity and some leniency might have been shown for them, but you… you took insanity to a whole new level. It's hard to think someone went temporarily insane for a decade, but you make me almost want to believe it… almost.
"The fact is, you knew exactly what you were doing. You knew the consequences of your every action. You knew what would happen to Earth, you knew what would happen on every planet you stepped foot on, and you knew what the ultimate consequences would be, probably even hoped for a one way trip to the Home For Infinite Losers."
Kanata couldn't make any noise, but he could still roll his eyes or at least roll his vision, he wasn't quite sure if he actually had eyes or not anymore.
"Up until a week ago, you were an easy case. You die, I send you where you belong, both of us are happy. But then you had to take a little trip through time…"
The saiyan was now growing confused once again. Where exactly was this all going, anyway?
"According to your file, every single person – and then some – that you killed in this timeline, you saved in the other. You saved your friends. You saved Cypress. You saved all of those planets that you would have conquered for Heata. You saved millions of humans who would have died in Dasala's conquest of Earth. You saved the Nameks. You even had a hand, however reluctantly, in saving Dasala's children and the poor mothers of those children. So tell me, what do you think that means?"
Kanata couldn't answer, so he gave his best approximation to a shrug.
"Would you say that everything evened out?" Yemma asked, leaning back in his chair and stroking his beard once more. "That the scales measuring the good and evil in your life are balanced because you saved the lives you took?"
"Would you say that you're even a bit of a hero for going through all of this? For making it so that history was changed?"
Kanata didn't shrug this time. No matter what he'd done elsewhere, he'd still taken millions of innocent lives, allowed his friends to die while he cowered in the mountains, and lived a rather… unsavory life while working for Heata. He wasn't a hero, not in his book anyway.
"I'm no hero," he said, surprising himself both by the fact that he could speak once again and the fact that he had spoken. "It doesn't matter what happened over there, I killed a lot of people and justice needs to be served."
"Well, at least you've finally got your head on straight," Yemma glanced down at the cloud and chuckled, "well, you know what I mean. So then, how do I judge you? Are the lives you took more important than the lives you saved even if, technically, they're the same lives? Does the fact that you saved all those lives mean that the lives you took in this timeline don't count because you didn't kill them in a different reality? Do you see the problem I'm facing?"
"If you're having trouble making up your mind, I can tell you where to send me and then you can get back to doing your job," Kanata offered with a voice that carried a scowl, even if his face couldn't.
"And you think you should be allowed to make that decision? The person who hates himself more than he hates the creature who orchestrated the deaths of his friends should decide his eternal fate?" The large ogre smiled, closed the folder, and once again leaned back in his chair, causing it to creak under the strain of his enormous weight. "Sorry, I'll have to pass on your offer."
"Then make your decision."
King Yemma closed his eyes and sighed. "Have you ever heard that the single greatest act of love a person can show is to lay down his life for another? It's amazing the transgressions that selfless love can cover up. And yet, that sort of love is so hard to find. Can you selflessly love a woman? Or a pet? Or even a friend? A lot of people might say yes, but if that woman, or pet, or friend betrayed them over and over, chances are their love would vanish sooner or later. Even strong love between husband and wife often times has unspoken conditions to it. 'You must be faithful,' 'You must love me,' 'You must fix my gravity machine when I tell you to.'
"But giving up your life for a stranger? That's a bit different, isn't it? How can you expect that stranger to be faithful to you? Or to love you? Or to fix your gravity machine? They can't, they probably won't, and they most likely don't know how. And yet, you gave up your life for a couple thousand of them, didn't you? Sure, your friends were involved, but you could have ended it without them if you'd chosen a more cloak and dagger approach to your final battle and they had the ability to flee to their timeline if they needed to. The only people you really and truly died to save, were those few remaining humans on Earth."
"I died for revenge," Kanata pointed out.
"After a decade of military training, surely you learned of other forms of attack that didn't involve announcing your presence to the army that had you hopelessly outnumbered. If you'd wanted to, you could have snuck into Dasala's palace and killed him – you look just like all of his guards after all – but had you done that and then ended your life, you couldn't guarantee that the remaining population of Earth would be safe from any clones who weren't completely dependent on him for life. You had to insure that all of the clones were taken care of as well, didn't you? You died for a bunch of people you didn't know, and that was ultimately where you found redemption," King Yemma smiled as the last words slipped past his lips.
Kanata took an angry step forward and pointed at the large ogre. "You can't do this! This isn't justice! This isn't what was supposed to happen!" And then his eyes widened at the sight of his hand, which began to shake.
"I didn't have very much to do with this decision," Yemma smiled, glancing to the side as a group of people, and one Kai, popped into existence, "if you want to blame someone, blame yourself – you're good at that – or, more appropriately, blame…"
Kanata stopped listening and turned towards the new arrivals as well, his eyes widening at the sight of one in particular as his throat suddenly constricted. He took a hesitant step towards her, but stopped, looking down at his feet and seeing his face staring up at him from the shining marble. He didn't deserve this, it wasn't right.
But he wanted it. So much that it hurt, he wanted it.
"They say," Yemma said to no one in particular as he looked out over the line of clouds waiting to here where they were to be sent, "that Jouten loves all of creation, even the most vile of villains, and calls into the darkness for all to return to the light… most don't heed that call, but a few – the lucky ones, maybe – find that they aren't quite the lost causes they envisioned themselves to be."
Kanata, now Akira once again, didn't get a chance to wonder at the large ogre's words before he was enveloped in the hug he hadn't even been able to dream about in what seemed to have been a lifetime. Tears ran down his cheeks, passing over scars that no longer mattered and splashed down on the shiny tile.
"Welcome home," Pan, his Pan, whispered as her lips found his.
A/N: Finally. This chapter was one of the toughest, I think. Mostly because Kanata's eternal destiny was hard to argue out. I knew I didn't want to send him to hell (this story was sort of a story of redemption, after all), but at the same time I was kind of stuck. I mean, can you punish someone for killing a bunch of people, even if he saved them later? And do sins/good deeds in other timelines count against/for you? I felt a bit like John Kerry, voting for something before I voted against it! (Ah, politics, the art of using a lot of words to say nothing at all) Still, this was how I wanted things to end, and I think this might be better than my last epilogue which I hated with a burning passion. I don't hate this one, so that's a good thing. Anyway, I'm done, and that's what counts. I think this was it for me in the realm of epic DBZ stories. I might do a one shot or maybe a very short chapter story (a Vegeta-Bulma get together has intrigued me a little), but no more of this length (at least I can say that I wrote the longest DBZ story on this site, for the moment anyway). I'm too burned out on DBZ to write anything of any substantial length again. And certainly I'll never do an OC story again (especially in dbz where they have to come in as demi-gods to even have a chance of competing physically with anyone). Most likely, once I've recovered mentally, I'll write for a different section, Naruto, Psychic Academy, Kenshin, Starwars, anything but dragonball Z… for now, at least.
Thanks for all the support and for hanging in there as the wait time between chapters grew longer and longer. Seriously, your reviews are the only reason this story went anywhere. Thanks.