Disclaimer: Not mine! Don’t sue.
Bulma had only made it a few feet from the Son’s door when she saw Vegita arrive. Of course, he was too far away for her to see him but she could almost feel him through the bond now, even more intensely than before.
"Woman," he said, the moment he landed before her. "Why am I not surprised to find you here?"
"Vegita, if that’s the way you’re going to greet me…" Bulma replied, trying to cover her worry with anger.
"Admit it, when things are going strange somehow you’re a part of it."
Shaking her head, Bulma sighed. She really wasn’t in the mood for an argument right now. "Vegita, what are you doing here? I thought you were training with Trunks."
"He’ll probably be right behind me, knowing him. He’s as stubborn as you are sometimes. I came, if you must know, because I sensed….Kakarott!"
Bulma turned around, following Vegita’s line of sight. Goku stood there, beaming, Goten on his heels.
"Hey Vegita, long time no see."
Vegita, meanwhile, had an statement on his face which was the complete opposite of ‘beaming’. "Kakarott, you’re alive! But how?"
Goku shrugged. "I’m not sure, exactly. It’s all kinda blurry. Chichi was there, I remember. She did something…" He closed his eyes, searching for the memory. Bulma watched nervously; how would she explain things to Vegita if Goku remembered. Turns out she didn’t need to. Goku sighed. "I don’t remember."
Vegita had little trouble believing that. "That’s not surprising." He had gone from angry to satisfied, Bulma could see, from his I’m-going-to-enjoy-the-chance-to-beat-the-hell-out-of-you-Kakarott smile.
"Goku-san!" It was Trunks, landing not far from his father. Bulma watched as more greetings were conducted and more half-explanations made. Luckily everyone so far had seemed less pre-occupied with why it had happened than that it happened.
"Hey, since you’re all here," Goten began, "why don’t we have a party? We can invite Krillen-san and Juuhachigou-san and Master Roshi…."
"I’m not sure, Goten," Goku intervened. "Your mother isn’t well. Which reminds me, Bulma-san, what did she say to you?"
"Nothing important, Goku-sa," Chichi said from the doorway, arriving just in time to save Bulma’s skin. She seemed to have improved slightly, but she still needed to be supported on Gohan’s shoulders. "Just girl talk. Good morning, Vegita-san, Trunks-kun."
"Chichi-san, are you okay?" Trunks asked, running over to help Gohan.
"I’ll be fine. I can feel the senzu bean working. Now what was that about a party?" she wore an anticipatory grin on her face and Bulma wondered how anyone could look forward to preparing a meal for a group of hungry Saiyajins. Still, it took all types to make a world….
*Tonight, my child. Tonight…*
Despite the warm sunlight, Bulma shivered. It went unnoticed by everyone, though. Everyone, that is, except Vegita.
People, as a general rule, tend not to look up. It’s a human trait to keep your eyes straight ahead unless drawn upward by a beautiful sunrise or fighter jet.
Which was a good thing for Piccolo. It would have been interesting, though, to read how the media would explain a white-caped, green man flying through the air. But then again, Piccolo had very little concerns over what the humans thought or how they lived their lives. It wasn’t just a result of being the Demon King, working in Hell as a security guard. He’d always felt that way.
Except when there was trouble.
And trouble was an understatement for what was about to happen.
"I know why you’re here," Dende began the moment Piccolo arrived. "And before you start it wasn’t my idea to bring him back. I have nothing against it though," the little god added.
Piccolo smiled. Not so long ago, Dende would have been a little bit more respectful, a little bit more unsure of his decisions. Now he wasn’t just making his own decisions, he was backing them up. The little god was growing up and very soon Piccolo would have to drop the ‘little’ bit.
"What makes you sure I’m here about Goku?"
"Come on, Piccolo. You’re not the type to beat about the bush," Dende said. "But I have a feeling it’s not to do so much with Goku but Bulma’s ‘Heaven’s Gate’. Am I right?"
"Never could put anything past you, Dende," Piccolo said. "You knew I was coming, didn’t you?"
"Yeah, of course. We both know the Gods wouldn’t allow a bending of the rules just to have Goku back in their lives. That would be just too perfect."
"Maybe not," Piccolo replied. "Even the Gods like happy endings."
"That’s not gonna be the case, is it, Piccolo-san?" Dende eyes showed his foresight. He could practically smell the trouble in the air. Piccolo frowned. So much for trying to break the news gently.
"Fine, I won’t hold back. Freeza’s soul has escaped. And you won’t believe where we think it is."
Everyone was there, crowded into the small lounge room of the Son household. It amazed Gohan that they could all fit but at the same time it was testament to his father’s character that so many people had showed up to commemorate his return.
Beside the table, Krillen-san was showing Juuhachigou-san the finer arts of making a sandwich with all the available ingredients. Goten, as he had been all day, was trailing after their father, hanging on his every word. Gohan couldn’t blame him though. At least Gohan had grown up with a father, had has his teachings and example to base the rest of his life on. But his younger brother never had the chance to even know their father. And now here he was, the best example of a father figure Goten, or anyone else for that matter, could hope for. No, Goten’s behaviour wasn’t unusual in the least.
He continued to scour the room. Master Roshi and Yamucha seemed to be involved in some sort of drinking game involving listing all the different names for certain female body parts. Gohan decided he didn’t want to know. Beyond them, in the kitchen, Chichi was cooking up a storm. She had recovered well during the day and was now back to her normal, active self. Only sometimes, when no-one was looking, a strange look came upon her face, as if she was looking into the future, to her own demise. It worried Gohan immensely but he felt that mentioning anything would only make things worse.
Time dragged on. Finally, at about midnight the party began to die down. Juuhachigou and Krillen helped a drunken Roshi and a barely conscious Yamucha home. And that was when Gohan noticed Vegita and Trunks in a corner, faces serious.
"Trunks?" Gohan asked as he approached. "Is something wrong?"
Trunks bit his lip and furrowed his brows before he replied. "Okaasan is missing."
Out of the corner of his eye, Gohan saw his mother’s face go white. "Okaasan," he said. "Do you know something about this?"
"I should have said something earlier," she confessed. "I’m sorry. It was one of Bulma’s machines that I used to bring Goku back. That’s what made me sick."
"Why didn’t you tell me?" Goku asked, visibly hurt.
"I didn’t want you to worry. And I knew Bulma-san wouldn’t want anyone to know, either. You see, she used it too and I think it did something to her."
Vegita banged his hand against the wall, making the whole house shake. "Curse it! I knew something was the matter; I could almost sense it. Dammit!"
Trunks, who was by now well used to his father’s temper, instead moved to stand before Chichi. "Please, Chichi-san, can you tell me what you know about Okaasan?"
Chichi smiled a wan smile. "You’re such a polite boy, Trunks. But all I know is that she was acting strangely; distracted, almost as if she had two personalities."
As it always happened in a crisis, Goku took the role of leader and displayed more than his usual intellect. "We need to get help on this one. Maybe we could start by finding this machine and…."
Everyone in the room turned to Vegita. "What do you mean ‘no’?" Goku asked.
"I will find her. She is my mate," he said. It occurred to Trunks that the words should have sounded possessive but instead it seemed the closest thing his father could make to a declaration of love.
"Vegita, wait!" Gohan cried. But it was too late. The Son’s lounge room window was broken and Vegita was gone.
Bulma returned to herself to find she was in the middle of the forest. Her chest was heaving as if she’d been running but for the life of her, she couldn’t even remember leaving the party. In fact, she’d been feeling strange ever since that morning. And the more she thought about it, the more she realised she’d been feeling strange since the morning before that, when she’d used the Heaven’s Gate.
Where am I? she wondered.
*In the forest, child. I have brought you here to tell you something.* It was that voice again.
"Look," Bulma said out loud. "I don’t know who you are but I know how you got here. I’m sorry, I think it was my fault. But if you want, I can try and fix what I’ve done."
*Why would I want that? There’s so much work I still have to do for you.*
"What work? I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I just want to go back to the party, ok?" she asked. Reasoning with it seemed like a good start.
*I’m going to show you the truth.*
Bulma felt her patience slipping. "Look, I’m getting sick of these games. What truth?"
*This.* And with that simple word the forest around Bulma faded to black and she found herself in her bedroom back at Capsule Corp. The room was dark but some moonlight shone through the window, casting an eerie silver glow over everything.
My bedroom? How did I get here?
*This isn’t your bedroom, child.* the voice whispered to her. *This is only the image of your bedroom that exists in your mind. And this is a memory of yours.*
Confused, Bulma peered into the darkness. There were figures in the corner, hidden in shadow. One was crouching on the floor, weeping it seemed, but she couldn’t quite tell. Another figure stood above it, apparently hitting it.
What is this?
She did so and saw what her eyes, initially, had refused to believe. The figure on the ground was herself. She was crying, trying to withdraw further into her own body. Standing over her was Vegita, his eyes cold, striking her again and again with his fists. The Bulma before her did nothing, only pleaded for him to stop. But it was obvious her pathetic pleas were in vain.
Gods, no. Bulma told herself, gazing in horror at the scene before her. This never happened. Vegita would NEVER hit me. I would remember.
*Are you sure?* The voice cooed at her in such a way that made Bulma think it wasn’t THAT unhappy at her position. It was enjoying it too much and Bulma made the decision not to trust it, whatever it was. *Haven’t you heard of repressed memories? And Vegita is personally responsible for millions of deaths across the galaxy. Do you doubt that he would have the ability to do harm to one such as you?*
He wouldn’t, I tell you. Not to me. He would rather die than lay a hand on me or our son. This isn’t real. Bulma tried to turn away from the scene before her, but because it was in her own mind, that was impossible; like trying to wake yourself up out of a dream.
*This is YOUR mind, not mine. I can’t answer this.*
Then why did you bring me here? Who are you?
*I’m just someone trying to help, that’s all.*
Then I want to see my husband; I want to speak to Vegita. Let me out of here, she cried silently in her mind.
*I can’t let you go. Not until you are saved, until the goal has been achieved.*
And what goal is that?
*Together, child, we are going to make the monkeys pay.*
Vegita found her a long way from the Son’s house. As he landed he automatically put up a ki shield against the rising cold; strangely, it seemed even colder in the forest than it was in the air. Then again, it had been a strange night.
As he searched, Vegita had cursed himself for not saying something earlier. He had watched, worriedly, as Bulma made her way through the crowd at the party, polite to everyone but at the same time, distant. At no point did Vegita see her stop to have a decent conversation with anyone; something totally out of character for her.
All his life, Vegita had listened to his gut instinct. Now was not a good time to break out of the habit; now that it involved Bulma.
He watched her for a brief moment after he landed; for once the desire to go in, full out, didn’t arise in Vegita. That worried him more than anything - that his instincts wanted him to hold back.
Physically, though, it was his Bulma. She was wearing the same royal blue pants suit she’d had on for the party and though her hair seemed a little out of place, it was that same, telltale aqua colour. There was nothing to indicate that she might not be herself.
Except for her face.
She stood, like a statue, eyes closed. But with his keen Saiyajin senses, Vegita could see her eyes moving behind her closed eyelids, as if she were dreaming. Warily, Vegita stepped up to her and grasped her arms. To his amazement, she was like ice. It was a cold night, but it was not freezing.
"Woman, can you hear me?" he asked. No response. "Bulma! It’s me, Vegita. Can you hear me?"
"I can hear you just fine," she replied, suddenly opening her eyes. But there was something dreadfully wrong. They weren’t the right colour.
They were red.
She laughed and the sound of it chilled Vegita to the bone. It was wrong, all wrong. Bulma’s laugh was warm and musical. This one was empty, almost evil.
"Who are you?" he demanded, shaking her. "What have you done to her?"
The monster - and Vegita knew now that it was a monster, for all that it had Bulma’s body - laughed again. "Oh Vegita, we’re going to have such fun with this!"
"How do you know who I am, monster?"
"Ah, her mind is mine now. I know everything," the monster hissed as Bulma’s body began to glow golden. To power up. Vegita stepped back, disbelieving.
"It’s not possible…"
"Thanks to me, it is. Strength lies in the mind, Prince, and hers is an untapped resource. I could feed off it forever," she took a step forward to close the gap between them and Vegita gasped at the power rolling off her. The monster leant forward and whispered, "And even if I didn’t have access to this mind, do you think I would forget the one who betrayed me, o Prince of the Saiyajins?"
It all fell into place for Vegita.
That laugh, those eyes, that voice….
In all of his nightmares - and some would have made the strongest warrior cringe - he could never have imagined this. No, this was the kind of thing so horrible, one pushed it away once the thought occurred.
Freeza was alive. Freeza was in Bulma’s body.
The two separate thoughts combined like a match in gasoline. Explosively, anger coursed through Vegita’s veins. He powered up to Super Saiyajin and found himself falling just short of Super Saiyajin 2. And still there was more anger, more reserves of fury just waiting to be directed at something.
But he was cut off, stopped short by the monster’s laugh. And he knew why the monster was laughing, because the same thought had occurred to him.
There was not a thing in the galaxy he could do about this.
"Well, it’s nice to have the opportunity to see you at Super Saiyajin," Freeza said, pulling Bulma’s perfectly shaped lips into a smile. "But what’s that saying; ‘all dressed up and nowhere to go’? Perfect for this situation, wouldn’t you say?"
"Freeza," Vegita fumed, sweat breaking out on his forehead. "I will find a way to make you pay for this, you son of a bitch. Mark my words."
"And how will you do that?" taunted the monster, levitating off the ground as if to remind Vegita just how far out of reach his wife was. "I have news for you, traitor. You may not be able to hurt me, but I can still hurt you. She never told you about her new powers, did she? Pity that. Still, she could never have used them as well as I can."
And with that, he/she lunged forward, one hand wrapping around Vegita’s neck. He never even had the chance to breathe in before he was pushed against a tree, the hand around his neck choking the life out of him. In any other circumstance he would have been able to fight back, even against one as strong as Freeza. But the hand belonged to Bulma and something in his mind wouldn’t allow it. It was a barrier to his physical anger but not his mental one. Inside he was screaming for blood.
"Let. Her. Go." he managed to gasp out.
Freeza ignored him, digging his nails into Vegita’s neck. The Saiyajin could feel the trickle of his own blood down his neck but knew that nothing Freeza did to him on the outside was going to be able to equal the pain of the rage inside.
"I’m going to let you in on a secret," Freeza whispered, moving in close. Bulma’s soft blue hair brushed against Vegita’s skin and he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to cry or scream. "It’s unbelievably…liberating…to rape a person’s body. But I’ve recently discovered there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as raping someone’s mind."
Vegita opened his eyes, as difficult as it was. He was right, he couldn’t fight this. But he could still help her. "Fight him, Bulma," he gasped. "I know how hard it is, but you have to fight. Not for me, but for yourself."
"Fool!" Freeza cried, landing his first punch in Vegita’s stomach. "She can’t hear you. She’s lost in a nightmare of my creating; quite a good one if I do say so myself. Now you two will have something more in common." The monster laughed at his own joke but the sound made Vegita sick. That and the fact that he could now taste his own blood in his mouth. As if on cue, Freeza punched him again, even harder this time.
"Gods, Bulma!" he ground out, casting his eyes to the sky as if asking for a miracle. Not that he felt he deserved one, but simply because this was beyond bearing...Another punch landed, then another. If this kept up, Vegita thought, there wouldn’t be much left of him in the morning except a pile of broken bones and beaten flesh.
"I know what you’re thinking," Freeza told him, adding in a few kicks for good luck. Never before had Vegita believed his mate’s body could hold so much strength. But at the same time he was forcing himself to see Freeza’s body in Bulma’s place; if only for the sake of his sanity, so that he would be able to look her in the eye’s again after this. The pain was unbearable now, and Vegita could barely see a few inches in front of his face, much less see his enemy.
"Don’t worry, my prince," Freeza told him, finally letting his body sink to the ground. "I won’t kill you yet. There’s so much left for me to do; exercise my creativity, you know. You’ve only begun to know the meaning of the word pain, Saiyajin no Ouji."
With that final threat ringing in his ears, Vegita surrendered himself to blessed oblivion where thought meant nothing and monsters couldn’t possess the only thing you’d ever loved.
They found him sitting against a tree, head slumped as if asleep. Well, that’s what Trunks would have thought if it weren’t for all the blood. It surrounded his father, turning his navy shirt black-red. But there were so many wounds and bruises, Trunks could never have figured out where it was all coming from.
"Father!" the boy cried, rushing ahead of Goku. Behind him, in Gohan’s arms, Chichi-san gave a little gasp at the sight.
"Father, can you hear me," Trunks asked, couching beside his father’s body. Nothing was making sense; no creature on earth, save one, was strong enough to defeat his father so miserably. And even though Trunks could feel the resonant energy of a change to Super Saiyajin still in the air, there wasn’t a single bruise on Vegita’s knuckles. He hadn’t even landed one punch.
Goku-san came to a rest beside him. "I can still feel a pulse; we need to get him a senzu bean. Now."
"What could have done this?" Goten asked, disbelieving.
"I don’t know, otooto," Gohan said as he and Chichi approached
Bring him here, a voice said into their minds. Trunks could tell as they all lifted their heads simultaneously.
"Dende?" Gohan asked, remembering the sound of his friend’s voice.
We have the answers you’re looking for. And I can heal Vegita-san. Even in the circumstances, hearing that made Gohan grin. He could still remember the time Dende had flat out refused to heal Vegita. But they were all very different people back then; especially Trunks’ father.
That was enough for Goku. With a half-smile and a hand to his forehead, he and Vegita were gone. Gohan felt a sudden lump develop in his stomach; the last time his father had done that, he had been gone for a long time and the memories weren’t always so easy to erase.
Silently, he took his mother in his arms and, with Goten by his side, followed Trunks up to Dende’s house.
When they arrived there the little God was already doing his work on Vegita in the courtyard. A soft glow created by Dende’s hands seemed as bright as sunlight in the night’s darkness. Trunks watched vigilantly as his father’s cuts and bruises healed. When he was done though, Vegita did not wake up.
"Dende?" the boy asked nervously.
The Namek looked up. "He’s healed, Trunks. Don’t worry, he’ll be just fine."
"Then why hasn’t he woken up?"
"Perhaps I should start from the beginning, eh?" At the sound of Piccolo’s voice, everyone spun around.
"Sensei," Gohan said and Piccolo smiled that the term of respect had not been lost in the past years.
"Gohan, even under the circumstances…it’s good to see you," the Namek told him. "But the reunion will have to wait for later. We’ve got a problem; a big one."
"It has to do with Bulma, doesn’t it?" Chichi asked.
"You could say that," he replied. "Now, as some of you may or may not know, yesterday Bulma perfected something she’s been working on for a while; the Heaven’s Gate. Technical jargon aside, it opens a door to the afterlife by harnessing the power of an individual."
All eyes turned to Chichi. "Yes, that was how I brought Goku back. But I had been…told to, I suppose."
Dende returned from having put Vegita down on a bed inside the temple proper. "It’s true; the Gods wanted Goku back on earth for a purpose. It’s only now that we realise what it was."
"It seems," Piccolo said, "that by opening a door to the afterlife Bulma didn’t open just one door but two. You see, ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are more like flip sides to the same coin; they’re not really separate worlds. So when Bulma opened the door, she may have inadvertently opened a door to hell and let something…someone…out. We think that something may have taken possession of her body."
Trunks shuddered at the thought. Previously, he had been amazed by his mother’s genius; now he was only worried for her wellbeing.
"That makes sense so far," Goku said. "But I get the feeling that you’re holding something back, Piccolo."
The Demon King shot a look at Trunks as if to gauge what the boy’s reaction would be. He seemed to decide that, as the son of people like Vegita and Bulma, Trunks was probably a lot stronger than he looked and continued. "I think the someone may be Freeza."
"No!" Trunks and Gohan cried, while Chichi fell to her knees in shock.
"She…he…was the one who attacked Vegita, then?" Goku asked. "That would explain why he seemed to put up no defence."
"That’s right," answered Dende. "Which is why I’ve decided to keep Vegita in an induced healing sleep. He won’t be of much help in this situation, I’m afraid. It’s bad enough that Freeza is back, much less…well, you get the idea. Perhaps, by the time he wakes up, Bulma-san will be back to her old self"
Trunks nodded acceptance. He could imagine what it would have been like, to have been his father earlier that night, confronted with his worst enemy and his greatest love. Maybe it were better that he had no part in the coming events.
"I can sense her…them," Goku said suddenly, a distant look on his face. "She’s leaving Capsule Corp. and heading south. I can’t imagine where Freeza’s taking her."
"And what would he want from Capsule Corp?" asked Chichi of no one in particular. "If he’s got any intelligence he won’t tamper with the gate."
"Trunks, your mother still keeps a few dragonball radars, doesn’t she?" Gohan asked.
"Yeah, but I don’t know why. We haven’t really felt the urge to use them lately. But it would be possible to collect the balls at this stage."
"By the Gods, he’s doing what he originally set out to do," said Goku in amazement. "Immortality. Freeza’s going to collect the dragonballs and wish for immortality, the way he was going to back on Old Namek!"
"We have to stop him." Dende’s eyes were wide with fear. Like many of the others, he remembered Namek like a vivid nightmare that didn‘t fade with the sunrise.
"I’ll go first," Goku said. "If I can’t stop him…and that’s a big possibility here…then Gohan, you can follow me. I know you’ll be able to do it, if you have to." While he said this, Goku made sure not to meet Trunks’ eyes. He knew why, too - in essence, they were planning the death of Okaasan. The only chance they had of reversing things, as far as he could guess, would be with Freeza’s co-operation. In other words, it was death or nothing. Still, wasn’t she already gone? And even if they had to…there were always the dragonballs.
The possibilities ran around in Trunks’ head until he felt sick. He wished he were just a little more like his father; less thinking, more action.
"Until that happens, Gohan, take Goten and Trunks with you to Capsule Corp. See if there’s any way of fixing what’s happened. Don’t worry about me…if I have to go back too, well so be it," Goku’s voice was so accepting Chichi wasn’t sure whether or not to beam with pride or break down crying. Goku, I love you so much it hurts. Why can’t you see that? "I’m going with you."
Six eyes turned to her. "Chichi…" Goku began.
"I’m not staying behind. Not this time. If it gets too dangerous you can leave me somewhere safe, if you have to," she argued. "Otherwise, I want to be there at the end. I’ve become stronger since you left."
For a change, Goku didn’t see anger in her face, only determination combined with something close to…fear? Sorrow? The result was enough to convince him.
"Okay, Chichi. But the moment something happens I want you to leave. Promise me."
"Good," Goku gave one final look towards his sons. He secretly prayed that this wouldn’t be the last time he ever saw them; that he would have the chance to see his youngest son grow up. Even maybe see his eldest son get married. Outwardly, he wore that half-grin of an optimistic boy who was out to change the world. He took Chichi up in his arms. "Let’s go."
* * * * *
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