A/N: Oof, sorry about the wait. This story's getting more and more difficult to write as we go along. It's not in "Point of No Return" difficulty land yet, but it's getting there. Anyways, thanks for the patience and I hope those of you who celebrate Easter had an enjoyable one.
Bulma's eyes slowly adjusted to her dark surroundings as she walked into the small home. Vaguely, she started to make out furniture that looked like it hadn't been used in decades. There was an abandoned table, and an ancient-looking bookcase against the wall that was gathering cobwebs. Even though her pace was steady, there was a slight tremor to her hand as she reached back for her gun again. She couldn't see anyone there, but she still felt eyes on her. She wasn't alone.
"Woman, what the hell is going on?" Vegeta demanded. The prince was standing at the doorway, both hands braced firmly on the doorframe. He was squinting as he tried looking inside. From his view, he still couldn't see anything, but that wasn't what was making his blood pressure rise. As soon as Bulma walked in through the door, it was like her ki signature dropped off the grid. Vegeta growled, paced a little more in paranoia, and then abruptly shouted out, "Bulma! I can't fucking sense you, so you better answer me before I rip this whole damn-"
"It's okay, Vegeta, I'm alright," she called back to him, even as she slowly pulled out her gun. Bulma gripped it tightly with both hands, and then took a deep breath. Her voice was loud and strong as she spoke. "Who's in here? Where are you?"
"I'm here, wondering what you're gonna do with that gun," that female voice said again, startling Bulma and making her shriek in fright. She almost fired her gun while spinning towards the voice. Squinting through the dark house, she made out the dark silhouette of a woman in a corner. Bulma cursed when the silhouette moved, and frantically backed up, tripping over her own feet and landing sitting down on the floor. She quickly recovered, aiming her gun right at the silhouette in front of her.
Just as Bulma was about to fire, a match was suddenly struck, lighting up the corner of a small kitchen and showing that the silhouette belonged to an older woman. She had jet black hair streaked white from her age, but her eyes were what caught Bulma's attention. Hard and intense, enough to rival Vegeta on his best day. The soft yellow light from the flame made her ragged features look formidable. The woman stared Bulma down for several tense moments, and then moved the match over to light a small lantern. She then shook the match to put it out.
"So, girl, you're willing to shoot a damn ghost, but not willing to shoot a human being?" the woman mocked.
"Now listen here, creepy old lady, I don't know who the hell you are, but you better start talking! What the hell is going on?" Bulma demanded as she got back up to her feet. She kept her gun aimed on the woman in front of her, the tremor gone from her hands now as she disengaged the safety.
"You're not a killer like your husband. We both know that."
"My husband isn't the only one willing to do whatever it takes to protect our family."
"That's true, but I bet he's the only one actually capable of following through," the woman snorted a bit. Bulma faltered a bit, but kept her gun steady. "Besides, I invited you here, into my home, so we can solve your little problem together. I reckon it'd be a show of good faith, if you put that weapon away."
It only took a few seconds before Bulma lowered her gun. She reluctantly tucked it into the back of her jeans, and then nodded. "Alright, there, I put it away. Now, who are you and what the hell do you know about what's happening?"
"To answer your first question, my name is Mia Xhao," the woman replied, raising up her lantern as she turned around. Bulma took a few hesitant steps closer to see what Mia was doing, and then flinched back in surprise when the older woman bent down and roughly flung open a hidden door on the floor. Visible dust rose up, and Bulma caught sight of stairs heading down into darkness. Mia turned back to her expectantly. "To answer your second question, we'll have to talk where no one can hear. Not even the dead. That's down here."
Alarms were going off in Bulma's mind, and she unconsciously took a step back. This all suddenly reeked of a trap, and she looked back towards the doorway, barely able to make out Vegeta's silhouette through the dark and heavy rain behind him. As though sensing that her eyes were on him, Vegeta called out to her.
"Woman! What is she talking about? What is going on?"
Bulma hesitated, and then looked back towards Mia. "Will Vegeta hear us?"
"Nope." Mia studied the indecision in the other woman, and then knowingly stated, "Tch. You don't trust the Saiyan not to start killing everything that moves if we're gone for even a few minutes, do ya?"
A thought along that vein had indeed been forming in Bulma's thoughts. She knew that her husband was more stressed now than he had ever been during all his years on Earth, and she didn't want to put him into a situation where he couldn't sense or hear her. And, truth be told, she was extremely uncomfortable being on the flip side of that situation too. If this was a trap, he wouldn't hear her if she screamed for him.
But hearing Mia question Vegeta out loud, it rid those thoughts from Bulma's mind completely. Quite frankly, it pissed her off. Mia didn't know the first thing about the man her husband was. Bulma glared at the older woman, before yelling out to her husband.
"I'll be right back, Vegeta!"
"Fine," she heard the prince snarl back. He had heard Mia's words too, and for the moment, would not give her the satisfaction of being right. Vegeta resumed his restless pacing, struggling to keep himself contained. "You have fifteen minutes. One second longer and I am finding a way in!"
"Guess we better hurry then. Don't want to keep your husband waiting," Mia nastily said.
Bulma bit her tongue, neither understanding nor liking the hostility the elder woman had towards Vegeta. But Mia was somehow gifted enough to keep a powerful, full-blooded Saiyan male from entering her home. There was no telling what else she was capable of doing, and so Bulma didn't retort. She just watched anxiously as Mia descended the staircase with one wrinkled hand holding the lantern over her head. With each step down Mia took, Bulma was left in a little more darkness. Finally, she summoned up her courage, and followed her down the stairs. There was no hand rail, so she kept both hands on the cold, stone walls on either side of her for balance.
Bulma was only slightly relieved to find that there was more light downstairs. They were in a large room completely sealed in stone, with lit candles on different shelves built into the wall. There were books on the shelves, and jars filled with things she didn't recognize. Regardless, it made her feel uncomfortable. In the middle of the room was a table filled with a mess of different books and gadgets. Mia stalked up to the table and with one swipe of her arm, cleared it off completely by sending everything crashing to the floor. She then set her lantern on the table.
"Got yourself one hell of a problem, don't you, Bulma?"
Bulma glared at her. "What do you know about it?"
"More than I ever wanted to," Mia grumbled, going over to a wall filled with shelves. She plucked out a few books, letting them topple to the floor while she searched for something. "I saw all of this coming a long time ago. Tyler and I both tried warning ya but it didn't do any good."
"What do you mean, you saw this coming?" Bulma demanded in bewilderment.
"I mean what I said. I saw it. I come from a line of practitioners."
Mia chuckled humorlessly before pulling out an old and dusty crystal ball the size of a basketball from the shelf. "Yep, that's what my family called it. We were all specialists in magic. It was in our blood. We could use our gifts for good or evil. I used my gift to do readings on folks wanting to see their future. Made my living that way. It's how I met my husband, Tyler." Mia placed her crystal ball carefully on the table next to the lantern, and then made eye contact with Bulma. "He died at the hospital, didn't he?" It wasn't quite a question.
"That's what I heard," Bulma reluctantly admitted, uncomfortable breaking such heavy news to a woman she didn't even know. "I'm sorry."
"Done told that idiot to have patience, and not to get involved just yet." Mia shook her head while staring down at the table. "He was a practitioner too. Could've used the bastard's help now, but he just had to rush it."
"Rush it?" Bulma asked, tilting her head in confusion. "What-"
"Listen, we're running out of time," Mia roughly interrupted, reaching for the crystal ball. She quickly wiped the dust off it. "I'm assuming you're more interested in stopping the spirits than striking up a friendship with me, am I right?"
Though she wanted more answers, Bulma couldn't argue with that logic. She leaned forward, trying not to sound too eager, but it crept into her voice anyways. "You know how to stop them then?"
"Oh, thank god," Bulma sighed in relief, allowing herself to feel a sliver of hope. "What do we have to do?"
"Simple," Mia held her hands over the crystal ball, and slowly, a clouded image began swirling. "Get rid of your biggest threat."
The two women stood in a tense silence for a few seconds, both of them watching as the image began to gain more detail. At first, Bulma didn't recognize the figure that started to form, but when more color came through, she realized she was staring at an image of her husband. Vegeta was sitting down against a wall, both of his knees drawn up a little bit. The prince was leaning forward, both hands clenching fistfuls of his hair, as though keeping that grip was the only thing letting him keep a grip on his very sanity.
"That's your husband upstairs. I imagine he doesn't get into that position when others can see, is that right?"
"This…is Vegeta right now?" Mia couldn't form a response before Bulma furiously yelled, "What the hell are you doing to him!"
"Me?" Mia snorted. "Honey, the only thing I'm doing to the Saiyan is keeping him out of my house. Fact is that he doesn't know if you're alive or dead right now. It's driving your boy a bit mad as you can see."
"I have to go talk to him and make sure he's alright," Bulma worriedly said, quickly heading back towards the steps. She didn't make it to the second step before her arm was seized in a hard grip.
"You can't," Mia ordered, leaving no room for argument. "Don't you see it yet, girl? Your husband is the threat that must be eliminated."
"What?" Bulma asked numbly, blinking a few times while she tried processing the words. But they didn't make any sense. She eyed the older woman warily, wondering if she was insane. "Vegeta's not a threat-"
"There's only one way this story ends, Bulma, and it's with you and both of your kids dead. Who do you think is going to be the one to deliver the death blows?"
"Well it damn sure won't be Vegeta!" Bulma yelled practically in her face, before yanking her arm free. She spun around and marched up the stairs, certain that Mia Xhao was off her rocker. She was about halfway up when Mia called up to her.
"If you're so sure about that, then how do you explain what happened to your son last night?"
Bulma froze. A chill went up her spine, before she turned back around on the steps and looked down towards the older woman, who was framed with the soft light of the candles behind her. It felt like she was looking down at a demon in hell. But, Mia Xhao wasn't the one who nearly beat her son to death the night before…
"That…was an accident," Bulma weakly argued in defense of her husband. "Vegeta didn't-"
"Mean to almost kill your son? I doubt the boy will ever 'mean it'. But if you think the spirits are not already thinking of how to force your husband into another…accident…you're dead wrong. You take your chances, girl, but if you're as smart as everyone says, then you know that I'm right."
Mia then withdrew back into the candle-lit stone room, out of sight. Bulma remained where she was for a moment, and then climbed up a few more steps to experiment. There was nothing keeping her there, no external force keeping her in. She was free to walk out to her husband, leave and never come back.
Instead, she went back downstairs. Mia was back behind the old table, no surprise in her features at seeing the other woman joining her again. She barely spared Bulma a glance before looking back down at the crystal ball in front of her.
"Vegeta is surrounded by darkness," she grimly muttered, waving one hand over her crystal ball. "It follows him every step he takes. It has for damn near twenty years. Take a look and see for yourself."
Bulma hesitated, and then reluctantly lowered her gaze back down to the crystal ball. Vegeta was still in his same position, but slowly, other figures began to take shape through the heavy rain. Dark shadows, disfigured silhouettes. First two, then four, and then more and more. They were surrounding the oblivious prince, staring at him with their hate-filled soulless red eyes.
As though sensing they were being watched, all the shadows simultaneously turned away from Vegeta and stared right at Bulma through the crystal ball. The image then swirled and vanished into darkness.
"Oh god," she whispered, horrified at what she had seen.
"There are millions of them. A real practitioner can sense their energy. I've sensed 'em since they first arrived on this planet almost twenty years ago. I knew they were coming years before the spirits even got here. Just chance that Tyler asked me as a joke to look into your future to see how Capsule Corp would expand. That's when I saw the darkness in your future. The hatred of these spirits is beyond anything I've ever seen. I know, because sometimes, I can glean thoughts from one of the spirits…" For the first time since Bulma had been down there, Mia's mask fractured with hurt.
"Your daughter is one of them now, isn't she," Bulma softly said, studying the other woman carefully. "My son says he's seen her."
"Yes, that's not surprising…she's hated your son his entire life."
"What? But why?" Bulma asked in bewilderment. "Trunks has never done anything-"
"-except be born. Your son's birth played a key role in all of this, though I'm not sure what that is."
It only took a few seconds before Bulma pieced it together, and then she closed her eyes and sighed. "Yeah, that's right. Trunks was the only reason Vegeta initially stayed with us. If he wouldn't have been born, Vegeta would've been long gone by now."
"Yes, and the darkness would've gone with him, sparing everyone on Earth from this rampage."
"Sparing your daughter too."
"Kegan doesn't matter right now," Mia snapped, her eyes flaring with intensity. "The truth is that these things are here now and they will never, EVER leave your family in peace. They ain't gonna stop until they've had their vengeance, and people will just keep on dying. Everyone who dies from their virus becomes one of 'em. It makes 'em stronger, and eventually, they'll drive the boy mad enough to kill you and the children."
"But Vegeta would never do that, unless he was possessed, and he's way too strong for possession," Bulma insisted, still refusing to believe it. "He loves me, and he loves our kids-"
"Of course he loves you and his kids. None of this would be happening if he didn't." Mia paused, watching how the younger woman's features took on a sick pallor. "I'm real sorry this happened to you, Bulma. You're a good woman. You're also smart and logical. Surely you see that there's only one way to make this all stop. Vegeta is dangerous and he has to die."
"No," Bulma whispered, faintly shaking her head. Then in a stronger voice, she added, "No. There has to be another way."
"There ain't no other way. This is all to hurt him. If the Saiyan's dead, they got no business here anymore."
"My friend said there might've been some kind of mineral that was used to bring them into our realm…maybe-"
"Even if that was true, it would take time to figure out how to send them back where they came from. They would never give you the time. It's not worth the risk. Sorry, girl, but his death is the only card you can play. Kill him, Bulma, and end this once and for all."
"I'm not going to fucking kill my husband!" Bulma shrieked, horrified with the mere suggestion.
"You have to!" Mia shouted back at her. "He can't die by suicide! Suicide might piss them off, make 'em think Vegeta one-upped 'em. They might keep going with the virus here on Earth, just to get back at him in the afterlife. It's too much of a risk. No, he has to die another way, a way that is painful enough that the spirits are satisfied with how much he's suffered. The only way I can think of, is if you kill him."
"He trusts you. If you betray him-"
"NEVER. You hear me, sister? I would NEVER do that to Vegeta! I love him-"
"You love him enough to die for him?"
The answer was immediate, with no doubt. "Yes."
"You love him enough to make your kids die for him?" Bulma opened her mouth and faltered at the last second. "You love him that much? More than your son and your daughter?"
"It's not – you can't – you can't quantify –"
"It's a simple yes or no, honey. You either take the Saiyan out yourself, dish out your own punishment so the spirits leave you, your kids, and the rest of Earth's population alone. Or you do nothing, and let this happen."
The crystal ball swirled back to life, like there was a sandstorm inside the glass raging to break free. It cleared up to show Trunks' broken and bloodied body sprawled out at Vegeta's feet, with Bra not too far away. Bulma could only see the prince from behind while he stared down at his children. Finally, Vegeta turned around to face her directly, his eyes lost to madness as he raised a glowing hand up in her direction. The image then swirled out of sight.
Not able to watch anymore, Bulma turned around, went over to the staircase, and then sat down on the bottom step with a completely distraught look on her face. She removed her Capsule Corp baseball cap, rubbing her forehead with her free hand. She would do anything to protect her kids, but kill her husband? She could barely even stand seeing Vegeta in pain. Her brilliant mind was racing for a different solution when Mia spoke again, her voice softer.
"Mother to mother, let me tell you, I had a similar choice back in the day. They warned Tyler and me to stop trying to get in touch with you. They threatened our daughter's life. My girl had nothing to do with any of this. We tried to outsmart them, and we lost. Losing Kegan destroyed me and Tyler for a long time. Don't make the same mistake I did. The future is never set in stone. You can still change how the story ends, Bulma."
"Yeah. I can," Bulma quietly agreed, releasing a deep breath as she gathered up her resolve. She put her cap back on, determination in her features. "And I will."
Meanwhile, back in Capsule Corp, Goku was trying his absolute best to soothe a very upset little girl. Bra had woken up a minute ago, exhausted, scared, and utterly inconsolable. She wanted Bulma, and she wanted her now. So when Goku told her that her mother wasn't there but would be back soon, Bra promptly burst into tears while she threw a fit, screaming that she wanted Bulma. Goku was hands-down the world's most talented fighter, but he was sorely unequipped to fight this battle.
"Hey, I know!" Goku exclaimed, trying desperately to calm the little girl down. Bra's face was bright red while she continued bawling, and he could feel her ki rising fast in response. "How about I get you something to eat? That'll make you feel better, right?"
"NO!" Bra shrieked with a pitch inherited from her mother. "I WANT MY MOMMY! NOW!"
"I know," Goku gently said, scratching his head in utter confusion. "She'll be back soon, I swear-"
"Hey, what's all the screaming about?"
Bra and Goku both looked over, barely making out Goten coming into the dimly lit bedroom. To Goku's shock, Bra almost immediately started pulling herself together at the sight of her brother's best friend. She had always been fond of Goten, having a small crush on the teenager who always showed her kindness and played card games with her.
"Nothing now, it seems," Goku answered, eyeing Bra thoughtfully for a moment while she rubbed at her eyes. "Bulma and Vegeta left to take care of some things. Did you do what Vegeta asked you to do?"
"Yeah, I need to talk to you about that," Goten muttered. He glanced over at Bra and offered her a smile. "Hey, do you want to see Trunks?"
"No," Bra immediately replied, still brushing at her tears.
"You scared of him?" Goten knowingly asked. Bra nodded, and he nodded back. "Yeah, I'd be scared of him too. But he's back to normal now and he won't hurt you. I promise he won't. You trust me?"
Bra nodded, before meekly asking, "Will you come with me?"
"Absolutely. Come on, let's go."
Goten extended his hand to Bra, and she quickly got off her bed and went over to him, gripping onto his hand tightly. Goten motioned for his father to walk with them, and Goku did as they left Bra's room and walked down the darkened hallway.
What do you think you're doing, Goten? Goku asked his son telepathically. The teenager was surprised hear real anger in his father's mental voice. You know the condition Trunks is in-
She can handle it. Besides, Trunks DOES want to see her, and it's not like you were having much luck handling her. They need each other right now.
Goku shook his head. Vegeta's probably going to kill me for this, but alright. Now, where are the Dragon Balls?
Yeah, about that…I got three of the Dragon Balls, and then they just randomly turned to stone.
"They WHAT?" Goku practically shouted, startling both half-Saiyans with him. Goku quickly forced a friendly smile on his face as he looked down at his friends' daughter. "Sorry about that, Bra."
"Well, we're here," Goten announced, easily distracting Bra when they stood in front of his best friend's room. Trunks had taken as many pain killers as he dared, and was now sitting up in bed, dealing with his injuries like he'd seen his father do thousands of times- just sucking it up and moving on. He and Gohan had been in the middle of a quiet conversation, when they both looked over. Trunks straightened up a bit at the sight of his little sister, while Goten gently nudged her forward.
Goku came to stand right next to Goten, both of them watching as Bra hesitantly approached her brother.
Did you see them turn to stone?
Yeah. Goten scowled. That's not good, I'm guessing.
No. It's definitely not good. Something must have happened to Dende and Piccolo…
Can you IT over to them?
No. I can't sense them.
What are we going to do, Dad?
I don't know.
But how are we going to wish all those people-
I don't know, Goten. Stay here with Trunks and Bra, Goku ordered. I'll be right down the hall.
He made eye contact with Gohan, motioning for him to step out so they could speak in private. Gohan got up and left the room with his father while Goten settled himself against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest.
Oblivious to that exchange, Trunks was staring at his sister anxiously. He wasn't much better at expressing guilt and regret than his father, but he had to do it now. Though it wasn't technically his fault, he hated himself for hurting his mother and his sister. He frowned a bit while Bra studiously examined the bandages on his upper body.
"What happened to you, Trunks?" Bra quietly asked as she finally made eye contact with her brother. Trunks shrugged carelessly, ignoring the pain that flared up when he did.
"Dad didn't really like what I did to you and Mom." Trunks forced a chuckle.
"Oh." Bra's lips pursed a little as she added, "I kinda didn't like it either."
"You scared me," she softly admitted.
"I know. I'm so, so sorry, Bra," Trunks admitted, clenching the bedsheets at his side tightly to keep his voice steady. Much like she had cracked seeing her father hurting, Bra rushed over to Trunks' side, climbing up into the bed with him and hugging him around his neck as tightly as she dared. Trunks sighed in relief, putting a hand on her back.
"The bad people got you, didn't they?" Bra whispered. "They said they would."
Trunks pulled back enough to look at his little sister in confusion. "Wait, what?"
Bra nodded grimly, her blue eyes briefly skirting over to the side. She abruptly hugged her brother again, and he put one arm around her in comfort, thinking she was frightened. Truth was, Vegeta hadn't taught her enough about telepathy for her to communicate secretly with her brother. But Vegeta had taught both of his children the basics of his true native language, and she used that now.
"Yazen samil," she whispered into her brother's ear.
A mixture of anger and hatred rushed over Trunks, but he kept the emotion off his face and kept his ki steady. Even though Bra couldn't communicate with him telepathically, the reverse was not true.
They're here? Trunks translated, wanting to make sure he didn't misunderstand. Bra nodded against him. Can you see them? Bra nodded again, her grip on him tightening. Trunks glanced around his dark bedroom, seeing no one else aside from his best friend and his sister. The short hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end though. It suddenly felt hot and stuffy in his room. Trunks looked over at his best friend, quickly relaying to him what was going on. Goten stiffened, clenching his fists tightly.
Show me where, Trunks ordered.
Bra hesitated, before slowly loosening her grip on her brother. She then looked over her shoulder, and pointed at the shadows lining the wall.
As soon as she did, all of the flashlights inside Capsule Corp ruptured, and the entire compound was blanketed in darkness. Goku and Gohan were just down the hall, not even ten feet away, discussing feverishly what to do about the Dragon Balls when the flashlight in Gohan's hand practically exploded. Neither had time to react before lightning flashed outside and the door to Trunks' bedroom suddenly slammed shut, trapping two teenagers and one little girl inside.
And then all three of them started screaming.
"Your time is up!" Vegeta screamed. He swiped at his face with his forearm to clear up his vision while he squinted inside the dark, open doorway of the Xhao home. "Bulma! Where are you? What's going on?" he yelled. When the prince got no answer, he growled and pulled one hand back. Bright blue light suddenly fired up in the palm of his hand, practically lighting up the entire street. "BULMA!" he shouted again, desperately straining his senses to feel any sign of his wife.
In doing so, however, Vegeta's attention was suddenly diverted back towards Capsule Corp. He had a sinking feeling that something was wrong. He hesitated, resisting the urge to go find out. He couldn't leave Bulma there. No, he had to get his wife and then get back home to check on his kids. Frantic now, the prince spun back around to face the doorway, and raised his power while he drew both hands back now. Sparks of electricity shot up around him as he ascended to Super Saiyan 2 and beyond.
"Vegeta!" The prince hesitated a second, his power tapering off when he heard her. "Vegeta!" This time Bulma sounded closer, but she didn't sound like she was inside the house. Vegeta cocked his head to one side, trying to sense her.
"Woman! Where are you?" he loudly demanded.
"I'm right here!"
Vegeta looked over just in time to see Bulma running around the side of the house. He instantly dropped his power as she ran up on the patio, relinquishing his ki as she ran up to him. The prince didn't resist as she threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Vegeta returned her embrace, bringing his face down against her shoulder in relief. He only held the position for a couple seconds before pulling her off him.
"Are you injured?" he demanded, sweeping his gaze over her body.
"I'm alright, but what about you? Are you okay?" Bulma asked him, putting her hands on his shoulders while she looked him over too.
"I'm fine, but I think we should get going soon," Vegeta urgently said, glancing away in direction of the compound. "Did you find out anything useful while you-"
He choked on his words when Bulma suddenly turned his face back towards her and kissed him. Vegeta's eyes widened in surprise; it was extremely rare that Bulma showed him this kind of affection outside of their home, and this hardly seemed like a good time or place. In fact, the way she was kissing him didn't feel right at all, and he didn't know why. Finally, he figured maybe she just needed comfort from him right now, and he could oblige her for a few seconds. He closed his eyes and opened his mouth to deepen their kiss, instinctively pulling her closer against him.
A few seconds later, Bulma breathlessly pulled back from him. Vegeta was staring at her in confusion as she cradled his face in her hands.
"I love you, and I need you to trust me, okay?"
His stomach tied up in knots. Something about the way she said that was completely wrong. He opened his mouth to respond, when a wave of dizziness suddenly overcame him. Vegeta shook his head rapidly, taking a step back from his wife. Slowly, his golden hair faded back to black against his will as his strength began to vanish.
"What the hell?" he growled, shaking his head again in confusion. He squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to keep it together, but he was getting dizzier by the second. The prince swayed a little on his feet, prompting Bulma to grab onto his armor to steady him. But as soon as she touched him, Vegeta's legs gave out and he fell to his knees with only his wife keeping him from collapsing altogether.
"I'm so sorry," he heard her saying. Vegeta forced his eyes open to find his wife on her knees with him. When he saw the guilt on Bulma's face, he knew.
"You…you did this to me?" Vegeta ground out through his teeth in a mixture of disbelief, hurt, and betrayal. Bulma was whispering in his ear for him to trust her, but he couldn't make out the words anymore. He didn't want to make out the words. With all of his remaining strength, Vegeta roughly shoved her back away from him.
"Touch me again and I'll fucking kill you, traitorous bitch," he seethed with a venom he hadn't used in decades, his dark eyes burning with pure hatred. He had been poisoned a few times while working for Frieza, and he immediately recognized the sensation. He was on his hands and knees now, struggling just to breathe. Despite his warning, he felt Bulma's hands on his back. He had no more strength to push her away as he finally collapsed and fell into darkness.
"What the hell did you do to him?" Bulma angrily demanded. With Mia's help, they had both managed to carefully bring the unconscious Saiyan inside the house and take him downstairs. They had laid him down on the ground, and Bulma was kneeling next to him while she glared at the older woman. "You said that spell would just weaken him physically, not knock him out!"
"It shouldn't have been powerful enough to knock out a human, much less a Saiyan," Mia snapped, coming around on the other side of the prince. She held out one hand in front of Vegeta's face for a few seconds. "Ah, there's the reason. The boy is weak and sick."
"Sick, sick how?" Bulma worriedly asked, holding one of her husband's hands. "He has that virus?"
"No he doesn't, but his system doesn't feel good. Small wonder this spell brought him down. If I'd known, I would've given you a much weaker spell."
The wind suddenly howled outside, loud and furious enough for them to hear it even from where they were. The fire from the candles lighting the room all flared up, and Vegeta unconsciously twitched, his brow furrowing. Mia and Bulma both looked up towards the ceiling as they listened to the raging gusts above ground.
"The dead bastards are pissed that you're both in here with me now, and they can't hear what we're talking about," Mia knowingly said. "We don't have much time." She looked back down at the man sprawled out between her and Bulma, and massaged Vegeta's temple. The prince stirred a little. "Rise and shine, darling."
Bulma gently rubbed the side of Vegeta's jaw while he came around. His body wanted nothing more than to rest. He couldn't recall a time when he'd ever been more exhausted. With considerable effort, he squinted his eyes open and settled his gaze on Bulma.
"Hey," she greeted him, offering him a strained smile. Vegeta blinked once, and then his eyes focused with an intense rage that was frightening. Bulma saw it and put her hands on his shoulders to keep him down before he could regain his strength. "Listen to me, Vegeta. I did NOT betray you, so get that thought out of your head right now," she firmly told him.
Vegeta exhaled furiously through his nose, before roughly batting her hands away. "You fucking poisoned me!" he hissed.
"I didn't poison you!" Bulma shot back. "Mia can't take down the shield around this house to let you in, without letting the ghosts in too! The only way you could come inside was if you were weakened. I'm sorry I had to do it that way, but you would've never let me do it if you knew."
"The other alternative I gave Bulma was to simply kill you outright," Mia chimed in. She was standing back at her table now, one hand firmly on her crystal ball. "She refused to do it. You ought to thank her."
"Yes, my wife is just so damn considerate," Vegeta snidely remarked as he pulled himself up so he was sitting. His movement was sluggish at best. Bulma instinctively tried to help him, but he growled in warning, giving her a look that could have killed.
"We have bigger things to focus on, lovebirds. Can you stand, Saiyan?"
Vegeta scoffed in disdain. "Of course I can! Miserable old wench," he sneered as he pulled himself back up to his feet by sheer strength of will. His legs still felt shaky, and he had to keep one hand firmly on the stone wall right next to the steps, but he was standing.
"Watch how you talk to me," Mia warned, fixing Vegeta with a cold look. "As far as I'm concerned, you're the reason for all of this. Bulma might not be willing to see you die, but I don't mind putting the option back on the table."
Vegeta's jaw started twitching in rising rage over the threat, but he forced himself not to slaughter the female in front of him. She still was helpful to him, and he didn't know the full extent of her powers. "Fine. But if you threaten me again, I'll rip your heart out and have it for dinner," he swore, making sure she knew that he was capable and willing of following through.
"Duly noted," Mia deadpanned, turning her attention back to her crystal ball, frowning in thought.
She didn't trust the Saiyan one bit, and in fact hated him for the hell that had descended on her own family. But when Bulma made one final heartwrenching plea to exhaust every possible option that would keep her family alive and intact, Mia found herself unable to shoot the younger woman down. Though her marriage with Tyler had never recovered after Kegan's death, she remembered how good things had been back then. Her family life with her practitioner husband who was also a brilliant scientist, and their equally brilliant teenage daughter, had been very much like Bulma's life now with her alien prince husband and their hybrid kids. Unconventional, very different, but still perfect in its own way. Even though her head still said that the solution was still Vegeta's death, her heart couldn't deny Bulma's request.
It was a huge risk she hoped didn't blow up in their faces.
"Alright. Bulma says that there is a legend from another planet that might explain this further. Something about a mineral that opened a gateway to our realm. Since Bulma's gotten a watered down version, I want your version, boy. So come here and put your hand on the crystal ball, so I can see exactly what you know."
For a few seconds, Vegeta didn't move from his spot at the wall. At first, Bulma thought he was just being stubborn. But then she realized that he was trying to gather up strength for the short walk. She took a step towards her husband to help him, but Vegeta was still pissed off at her and he cast her a dark glare. Bulma rolled her eyes in exasperation, shaking her head. She did nothing but watch as Vegeta finally shuffled over to the table. When he got there, he used one hand to lean his weight against it, and put his other hand on top of the crystal ball.
As soon as he did, Mia's head snapped up in surprise. "You're a practitioner?"
Vegeta scowled. "I'm a what?"
"A practitioner. You have it in your blood. I can sense it. Have you ever been able to sense or hear the dead?"
The prince shook his head, knowing that he would've gone insane working for Frieza with that kind of ability. Bulma's eyes widened in realization though. "Our daughter Bra, she's said a few times that she can hear the ghosts," she said, briefly making eye contact with her husband.
"Hmm, yes. It feels dormant in Vegeta's blood, but it's there. Very possible it was passed to the little girl and she has naturally tapped into the ability, even if you yourself never did. Children in general are always more receptive to the dead, but a child practitioner can make direct contact without even trying."
Neither Bulma nor Vegeta said anything to that. They were both disturbed and uncomfortable with that kind of burden on their young daughter's shoulders. Seeing that, Mia put her hand over Vegeta's on the crystal ball and closed her eyes in concentration.
"Yes, I see," she finally murmured in concentration. "And you located the mineral while working for the alien named Frieza. Yes, I remember sensing this alien once on Earth."
"Yes. He was the one I gave the mineral to."
"What happened to it after that?"
"I don't remember."
Mia frowned and opened her eyes, making direct eye contact with Vegeta for a few seconds. "Yes, you do. You know the truth. Tell me, because we don't have much time left."
"What the hell are you talking about?" the prince peevishly demanded. "This happened decades ago. I fulfilled my assignment and then-"
"And then what?"
"I moved on to the next damn assignment."
Vegeta opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He blinked a few times, trying to bring up the memory of that time as both women stared at him expectantly. He was eighteen at the time. That was true. He had done his assignment, reported back to Frieza, handed the mineral over. And then…the prince shook his head. The next assignment he could remember with clarity was when he was nineteen.
"Nothing noteworthy it seems," he grumbled. "I can't remember what happened after that."
"You do remember. The memory is there and it contains the truth. But for some reason you're repressing it."
"I'm not repressing a goddamned thing," Vegeta seethed, offended by the suggestion as he yanked his hand off the crystal ball. His voice started escalating as he yelled, "If I'm telling you I don't remember, then I don't fucking remember!"
"Vegeta," Bulma started, reaching out and touching his arm. "Calm down-"
"Don't tell me to calm down!" Vegeta screamed at her, pulling free of her grasp as he turned on her with growing rage. "Stupid female, this is all your fault! You should've just done what she wanted and killed me, ending this once and for all!"
"Don't say that! You think I could live with myself knowing that I let these damn things win, that I handed you over to them so they could torture you in the afterlife? You think I can go through losing you again, Vegeta?" Bulma shouted back at him. Vegeta angrily looked away from her, but Bulma was having none of it as she grabbed him by the jaw and turned his head back, forcing him to make eye contact with her. "Well I can't and I won't! My kids will have their father and I will have my husband, and I won't hear a word that says otherwise, you hear me?"
Vegeta reached up and grabbed her wrist. His grip was tight for a few seconds while he stared at her, but then it gradually relaxed. He pulled her hand off his face, maintaining his hold as he lowered their hands. Bulma sighed in relief when Vegeta released her wrist to properly take her hand into his in a sign that was forgiveness, apology, and acceptance all at the same time.
"Alright," the prince relented, turning back to the other woman in the room with them. But Mia didn't seem to be paying attention to him or his wife. "What can we do about these mem-?"
"Quiet, both of you," Mia interrupted. Her hands moved over her crystal ball, and she couldn't keep the concern off her face as she stared down at it. "Something ain't right here."
"What?" Bulma asked, not liking the look in the other woman's eyes. She came up next to Vegeta, gripping his hand tightly while she looked down at the crystal ball. It was currently showing black swirls, like trapped smoke. "What is it?"
"Their anger is rising the longer you're both down here…"
"What are they doing?" Vegeta demanded. "Tell us, now!"
Instead of telling them, Mia moved her hand to either side of the crystal ball and showed them what had transpired just a short time ago.
Goku and Gohan immediately raced down the hallway back to Trunks' room, with Gohan reaching the door first. He immediately delivered a kick hard enough to decimate the entire compound, but the door had no give and he promptly collapsed as a result. Goku wasted no time and slammed his fist against the wooden door, but when the wooden door didn't budge, he resorted to instant transmission – only to find that he couldn't get inside the room. All the while, he heard Bra, Trunks, and Goten screaming for bloody murder on the other side as all three of their ki signatures dropped. There was the sound of glass breaking, and an animalistic, inhuman howl filled with rage.
"LET THEM GO!" Goku screamed, slamming his fists into the door with powerful blows, to no avail. Meanwhile, Gohan shot back up on his feet and tore into a spare bedroom, bursting through the glass window and instantly appearing outside of the window to Trunks' room. He tried with all his might to break in, but the glass had no give. However, he could still see inside as lightning flashed behind him. What he saw made his blood go cold.
Goten was suspended in midair in the middle of the room, his legs thrashing desperately as he clawed at something that was wrapped tightly around his throat and strangling the life out of him. Gohan couldn't see what it was, but he could see how tight the grip was on his brother's throat. Goten's shirt was violently ripped open from behind as deep burns started appearing on his back. He tried to scream out in agony, but that only made his asphyxiation worse.
Trunks and Bra were on the floor, with Trunks protectively covering his little sister. He tried a few times to get up to help, but he was still weakened and was easily overwhelmed by a powerful, invisible force that kept him in place, helpless to do anything but watch his best friend be tortured right in front of him. A shadow flashed over the window and then Gohan couldn't see anything else. He powered up and frantically started trying to tear his way inside to save his brother, ripping his knuckles open again and again.
The entire compound was rocking from the presence of the spirits in Trunks' room and from Goku powering up right outside of that room. The Saiyan was down on one knee, powered up just a notch under Super Saiyan 3 while he pulled both of his hands back. Gohan sensed it, and in alarm, tapped into his telepathy with his father.
Dad, you can't, you'll kill all three of them!
The thought had barely flashed across Goku's mind when there was a thud in Trunks' room, and then everything inside was silent. Gohan instantly burst in through the window while his father simultaneously knocked the door to Trunks' room right off its hinges. Bra was bawling, clinging to her brother while Trunks stared at his best friend in blank horror. Goten was sprawled out on his back, unmoving as Gohan and Goku both rushed to either side of him.
"Is he alive?" Trunks weakly asked, unable to sense any ki from his friend. Goku and Gohan didn't immediately answer, which made Trunks snarl furiously, "Answer me now, goddamnit! Is he alive?"
"Yeah," Gohan responded, his face and voice grim as he and Goku both checked his little brother. Goten was only taking in short and shallow breaths, and his pulse was weak. But he was alive.
"There's blood," Goku commented, trying his best to stay level-headed. Inside though, he was fuming. "I can smell it."
"It's his back. Let's turn him over," Gohan said.
Between him and his father, they both gently rolled the teenager over so that he was on his stomach. Goku and Gohan felt chills crawl up their spines at what they saw. At the Xhao residence, a horrified Bulma grabbed onto Vegeta, unable to handle the sight more than a few seconds. Vegeta unconsciously pulled her close against him, but he couldn't look away. There on the crystal ball, burned raw into the flesh on Goten's back, was a simple, cryptic message:
STAY OUT OF THIS – FINAL WARNING