People jostled him on all sides, but none paid any attention to him. It wasn't that they couldn't see him, but he was not fully a part of their world, and he knew they would forget him immediately; the thought gave him a little regret. He was also surprised that Pan had seen him. Maybe it was because of her Saiyajin blood, or maybe because she was getting old, aging like a normal human despite her mixed ancestry, and would soon be choosing her own of the many possibilities that lay beyond life.
As he walked away from the arena, he walked in a golden haze of memories not harsh or painful, but warm, comforting. Some of the memories were among his most treasured: memories of his children and his friends, of joys and victories and reunions, all the many things that had taken place over the tournaments that he'd attended while he was alive. On this warm, peaceful afternoon, even the harsher memories took on a soft, blurred edge and no longer held any pain. Maybe it was death that had washed away the sting of old regrets, but Goku had never been a person to drown in sorrow even while he was alive.
He felt a brief ache to part once again from the world he loved. But all things that existed in this world eventually would come to the other, and all that was wonderful about the Earth was out there, somewhere, waiting to be found. Raising his eyes skyward one last time, he grinned in a fit of whimsy and sent out a mental call for Kinto'un.
Was it his imagination, or was that a golden blur in the sky? Goku shaded his eyes with one hand, and laughed in childlike delight as the cloud swooped down towards him. Just like old times, he thought, springing lightly onto it, and somehow he wasn't surprised to look down and see his grandfather's staff in one of his hands. All things come full circle, he thought, and took a long, last look back at the crowd of oblivious humans jostling in and out of the arena living their lives, experiencing their own small victories and defeats, their joys and sorrows, without being bothered by the equally petty battles of gods and aliens that had once gone on among them.
Goodbye, my beautiful Earth, Goku thought, and turned away, smiling.
That voice it couldn't be. Goku turned and for an instant he didn't recognize the middle-aged man leaning against a tree, watching him. Then it clicked into place: the spiky black hair (streaked now with gray, but not much gray; Saiyajin were a long-lived race); the stocky, powerful body; the piercing black eyes; the quirky smile playing about his lips.
"Vegeta!" Goku laughed, and then put a hand behind his head in confusion: "But how can you see me?"
Vegeta pushed away from the tree and strolled towards Goku, no trace of hurry or surprise in his face or his bearing. It might have only been days since they had last seen each other, not decades. "Odd ... I just had a feeling you'd be here, Kakkarotto. I've been waiting."
Up close, Goku could see the fine lines around Vegeta's eyes and mouth that had not been visible from farther away. Not all of them were frown lines, and that made him happy. Still, in some way that he could not explain, seeing the signs of age on his former rival's face was strange and almost disturbing, in a way that seeing his granddaughter as an old woman had not been.
Vegeta folded his arms. "Well, no need to stand around all day, Kakkarotto. Are you ready to go?"
"Go where ...?" Goku asked, before the light dawned. "Vegeta ... you're not planning on coming with me, are you?"
"Hmph. I've been training hard since you left, Kakkarotto. I hope you have, too."
"Vegeta ..." Goku laughed. "Don't you know where I'm going? You're not old yet. It's not time for you to leave."
"Kakkarotto," Vegeta said, and another crooked half-smile quirked his face. "Even death can't knock sense into your thick head. Haven't you learned by now not to argue with your prince?"
"Come on, Vegeta. It's not me that you're going to have to argue with. You have a life here. A family."
Vegeta shrugged, and though his cocky expression didn't change, a shadow passed across his dark eyes. "I've had a good life, Kakkarotto. I've seen my children and grandchildren grow up ... and grow old, much more quickly than myself. I have even seen my great-grandchildren become young adults. I like it here ... maybe as much as you did. But Bulma died a few years ago ..."
He hesitated. Goku started to say something sympathetic, then hesitated, and was silent. He'd never heard the prince speak so much about himself. Obviously the intervening years had changed him in subtle ways, and Goku found himself suddenly eager to find out how much the prince really had changed. Eager to talk to him again. To spar with him again.
"Bulma is dead," Vegeta went on after a moment. "And really, though the sentimental fools would claim otherwise, my children have their own lives and there is little place for me with them. This world moves at a different speed than the one where I grew up. I could stay here and watch my great-grandchildren grow old ..." He shrugged, and looked away. "Not that I care one way or another," he added, though his previous words had belied that statement.
Goku said nothing, and after a moment, Vegeta looked back at him to find that Goku had put the staff away and extended a hand.
Vegeta raised an eyebrow.
"You can't ride on Kinto'un unless you're pure of heart, or holding onto me," Goku said.
Vegeta winced, and with that familiar expression of distaste, the years seemed to fall away from him.
"Must I?" he said.
Goku shrugged. "It's up to you, but it's the only way this will work."
"I can fly, idiot."
"You can't fly to where we're going."
"Aargh." Vegeta gripped Goku's forearms, firmly, in his strong hands maybe even a little more firmly than was really necessary to hold on, and when he smiled, he smiled one of his very rare full smiles, with both corners of his mouth. "Like this?"
"Just like that," Goku said, and lifted him onto the cloud.
"Kakkarotto ..." Vegeta said, as Kinto'un started to rise. "There is one thing I ... would like to know." He paused, while Goku waited with uncharacteristic patience. "Bulma ..." Vegeta began, then broke off, and looked away.
"Is Bulma where we're going?" Goku said. "Is that what you want to know?"
Vegeta didn't respond.
"Vegeta," Goku said softly, and smiled at his rival, his friend. "It's an infinite universe. Anything you can imagine ... anything you could possibly want ... is out there somewhere."
"That's not an answer," Vegeta grumbled.
"Yes, it is. I think you'll see eventually that it's all the answer anyone ever needs."
On the ground far below, several passersby looked up, startled, at the brief flash of golden light from the sky, blazing quickly and then gone like a shooting star half-glimpsed from the corner of the eye, rare and wonderful and gone before it could be fully registered on the brain. A few people started crying, and a few more started laughing, but none of them would have been able to answer, if someone had asked them why.