Serendipity: Shifting the Paradigm

BY : Ghost-of-a-Chance
Category: Dragon Ball Z > AU - Alternate Universe
Dragon prints: 1213
Disclaimer: I don't own DBZ, any of its characters/devices, or any books/movies/song mentioned; no money is being made from this story. I DO own my OCs...and a very fat cat named "Heifer."

Apparently, I forgot to upload most of this story to AFF! I'm fixing that...slowly...and I'm doing some half-assed editing to the posted chapters.

This chapter dedicated to coffee...because, coffee. Without it, the death toll in my town would spike every time I have to leave home.

Suggested Listening: AFI “The Leaving Song Pt. 2”


 

First Impressions

   “Remind me why you called me out here?” Piccolo grumbled as he tailed Gohan over a vast forest between West and Basiru Cities. “I see nothing but trees, and sense nothing but animals.”

“That’s why I'm worried, Piccolo.” Gohan glanced around below them in open worry. “I just dropped Goten off at the Briefs’ for the weekend, and I sensed a small chi that doesn’t belong in this forest. Now I can’t find it...” Gohan’s brow furrowed. He might not know the person, but he would be devastated if they died on his watch. A teenager he might be, but inside, he was still the same scared little kid who fought with all his heart and failed with the same. 

Autumn-clad trees passed by, some old, some young, then they reached a large clearing. Near the center was an ancient ginkgo tree grown to enormous size, and a blanket of its golden, fan-shaped leaves covered the ground. Somewhat lay propped against the trunk - a grown woman. The soft breeze filtered through her shoulder-length dark brown hair, and bronze highlights and burgundy low-lights caught the dim sunlight. Her skin, dusky and warm like cinnamon, collected shadows in the dappled sunshine of the fading day. Her softly slanted eyes were closed, her head was tilted back against the bark, and her legs lay straight out in front of her, one crossed over the other. As far as Piccolo could tell, she slept. As he followed his student to the ground, though, Piccolo sensed that something was off...something was very wrong with the situation, and though neither said a word, Gohan clearly agreed.

   “Miss?” She never stirred, and never answered. The boy shifted on his feet in the leaf litter, eyes darting back and forth between his sensei and the stranger. Piccolo's eyes, however, were focused on what lay across her lap, held tightly in her hands. 

   A cane. A straight walking cane carved of burled walnut, feathered to perfection, with a steel grip on the top shaped like a smooth river stone.

   What did they just get themselves into?

   Gohan noticed the direction of his sensei's stare, and his expression grew grave with understanding. Piccolo melted into the shadows beneath a leaf-laden maple tree; it probably wouldn’t go well if the woman awoke and found herself in the company of a teenage boy let alone a big, menacing, green alien. Gohan raised his voice slightly, softening the tone. “Are you all right, Miss?”

   “Just get it over with.” 

   Her sudden speech took them by surprise, as did the pronounced twang. Neither had heard that particular accent locally. She never even opened her eyes. “Pardon?” Gohan glanced over at Piccolo again as if suspecting he was mishearing her. “Get what over with?”

   “Take the cane,” she answered calmly, bitterly, “an’ crack open my skull.” Gohan blanched. Her face would never show it, but she was angry. Angry at what? Piccolo was not used to so much anger coming from women unless they were like Chi-Chi or Bulma...and something told him she had little in common with those women. That, unfortunately, left him with more questions and no answers. He drew a deep breath in through his nose and tested the air for a telltale trace of pheromones.

   So far, he was able to keep quiet the peculiar talent that helped him read people so easily. Dende was the only soul who knew; in fact, he recognized the signs on his own. The young Kami told him that the ability to read emotions 'by breath' was not unheard of among Namekians, though one as young as Piccolo developing the talent was unheard of. Fortunately, Dende agreed to keep it quiet. If word got out, Piccolo would never have any peace...and if he valued anything, it was being left in peace.

   “Why would I do that?” Gohan's voice drew his attention back to the problem at hand - that woman. “I’m here—”

   “—to help me, whatever.” Her dark eyes finally opened and focused on the kid. She didn't see him skulking in the shadows yet. Halle-Frickin-luiah. “You will help me - there's nothin' else you can do to..." She faltered, looked directly at Gohan, and for a moment, her eyes looked vulnerable. "...I...I asked you to do this," she reminded - as if anyone could forget being ordered to kill someone within seconds of refusing the order! 

Her shoulders slumped, and her gaze fell to the ground, her eyes harder and colder than the half-frozen turf beneath their feet. Gohan stood in silence, dumbfounded, and blinking. Piccolo’s expression hardened; though he was downwind, he caught not a single whiff that betrayed any emotion other than anger. He did, however, detect the scent of fresh aloe, coffee breath, and the sweet fragrance of vanilla. Something was off with that woman...and whatever it was, it felt dangerous. Maybe seeing the son of the Demon King with her own eyes would elicit a reaction. 

Silent as the shadows he left, Piccolo stepped into a shaft of sunlight with his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes narrowed in annoyance. “We’re not going to kill you.” Gohan looked back at him as if he was surprised by the declaration. “The Briefs can deal with her, Kid. She’s not our problem.” The woman looked straight at him now, blinking once. So, she knew he was there, after all. For some reason, though, her earth brown eyes showed no surprise—no emotion at all, really—and her scent didn’t change a note. The acrid stink of fear was completely absent, though he was well downwind of her.

   “That’s...what I’m tryin’ to fix.” She looked to a nearby anthill and the tiny crumbs of material rustling as the ants moved around inside. Piccolo’s ears perked slightly, to catch what she said almost to herself. 

   “What do you mean?” he asked barely above a growl and narrowed his eyes at her. Something was definitely not right.

   “I’m a problem for anyone involved with me...and problems should be corrected." She turned back to the anthill again; what was so fascinating about those bugs? "The only way to correct this problem is to remove me from the equation.

Gohan turned to Piccolo, horrified that anyone should think of themselves in such a fashion. Piccolo snorted. Fighter or not, Gohan was still just a boy.

   “Well, whatever you are, we’re not killing you.” The woman turned to him without decipherable emotion in her empty brown eyes. Piccolo forced back the thought that entered his head at the sight and attempted a glare. “You’re coming with us.” The woman stared at him with her soulless eyes for a moment longer, then shrugged, and lifted her cane, letting it find its footing in a crook created by two roots. 

Piccolo turned in the direction of Capsule Corps, looking off into the now cloudy sky. The sun would set soon...they needed to deal with that woman so Gohan could hurry home. If he kept getting home late, Chi-Chi might take another whack at killing the Demon King’s heir. She never even managed to bruise him but it was irritating nonetheless…especially since he couldn't take his frustration out on Egypt’s pyramids anymore. As much enjoyment he got from freaking out the locals by stacking them on top of each other before he left, the structures couldn’t handle much more after his training for the Saiyans’ arrival. 

He was getting a headache just thinking about it; humans just weren’t worth the trouble they caused. 

Piccolo glanced back upon hearing a gasp of pain. The woman had made it from the ground to a somewhat standing position and was leaning stiffly on the trunk of the tree with her eyes clenched shut and her teeth gritted, her breath coming in gasps and pants. 

   “Miss? Are you all right?” Gohan asked fearfully. A tear formed in the corner of one eye as she staggered to the ground. She collapsed onto her side, panting in the dry grass. Piccolo...did not expect this... “Miss?” 

   “S...Spasm....” she bit out, fighting the urge to curl up into a fetal position. It never helped and it was humiliating. She forced her arm back through labored breathing, tugging her dark brown shirt up and placing her hand over a small area on her lower back. Old, shiny scars crisscrossed newer, larger ones at the small of her back, cold and hard against the soft warmth of her skin. “It will - p-pa-- -mierda!” she swore. Even this...blank woman, it seemed, could only take so much pain before showing it. Her body curled into a quivering ball despite all her attempts to resist the degrading posture.

   “I may be able to help you, Miss.” Gohan crouched beside her. He carefully singed the grass under his palm with a controlled energy attack and held his palm in the charred remains until the skin and muscles warmed. “Where do you hurt?” Piccolo wanted to call him an idiot and tell him to use his eyes, but he held his silence.

   “D-Don’t…" She choked on her protest, then tried again. "I'll..." Gohan called her bluff and tugged her hand away from her back with his cooler one; the spasming muscle was almost visible under her thin skin and centered right amid the worst of the scarring.

   “This will hurt a little, but it will help.” Gently, he pressed his cinder-warmed palm to her back. Her breath caught - a scream died in her throat - that rogue tear quivered in place as if threatening to fall - then, slowly, the heat soothed the damaged muscles. Piccolo watched silently as her agony slowly faded to pain, then to a dull ache. When her breathing regulated again, she tugged her shirt back in place and began the torturous process of dragging herself to her feet. Her cheek, threatened with a tear only a moment before, was dry. Her eyes showed no sign of their previous watery state. Gohan stood quickly, offering her a hand up. 

   “Thank you." The words came out like an obscenity, and she used her cane to push off instead of accepting his help. She was embarrassed...and angry. “You didn’t need to do that. I would've been fine...you didn’t have to help me.” 

'Like Hell, you would have.' Piccolo growled under his breath. This woman was quickly landing herself on his bad side. She was rude and stubborn, and probably proud, too; that was never a good combination. “Are you done, yet?” Piccolo demanded. Gohan turned back to the young woman with an empathetic smile. 

   “If you don’t mind my carrying you, we can get there pretty quickly.”

   “My legs ain’t broke,” she retorted and took a few hobbling steps forward. “I can still walk.”

   “We can see that,” Piccolo dismissed. “We’ll get there faster if you don’t.” Gohan gazed curiously at the glaring contest the two adults were having. Something was up...and he had a vague idea of what it was. It was about time, too, he thought in amusement.

   “Actually?” He smiled sheepishly at his mentor, glancing pointedly at the darkening horizon. “I forgot, but I’ve gotta bunch of homework waiting at home. I’d better go straight there. Can you take her to Bulma’s?” Piccolo scowled at his student and snorted. That manipulative little punk; he was up to something; Piccolo could practically see the gears working in the boy’s head. He stalked toward the woman, fuming all the way.

   “Ma’am, he’s going to have to pick you up, okay? -Be gentle with her, Piccolo-san,” Gohan added under his breath. Piccolo heard him loud and clear and huffed, tempted to just throw her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. She grimaced as he lifted her, and clutched her cane to her chest, fighting the pain. On the inside, Piccolo was pleased. He could tell she was in pain and had been in pain since before they arrived, but only the muscle spasm made her audibly acknowledge it. Even when he picked her up more roughly than he probably should have, she never so much as whimpered. Then again, he had been dismembered before without a single tear. Humans were so weak.

   “Hang on, Ma’am.” Gohan grinned. Disbelief registered on the woman’s face as they lifted off. Rising up toward the clouds, they caught the updraft and took off toward the northern edge of the forest. A brief flicker of emotion shone in the woman’s dark brown eyes as they passed through a low-lying cloud tinged pink, orange, and silver from the setting sun. In his peripheral vision, Piccolo saw her eyes start to glisten; he silently, sourly prepared himself for a show of sappy tears. Surprisingly, though, those eyes steeled themselves, and every emotion was shuttered safely inside, hidden from prying eyes. 

   No, he realized grimly, she hadn’t hidden those emotions. She beat them back down - she suppressed them to the point of feeling nothing and revealing nothing, and she did it all with unsettling ease. She was no novice at smothering her ability to feel, and it was as obvious as if it was scripted across her brow in bright neon lettering.

   Despite his discomfort at the expected teary response to what had to be a wondrous sight to an earthbound human flying for the first time, that emotionless, apathetic gaze unsettled him. Humans were emotional creatures by nature—especially the women—and his carefully stoic demeanor was usually met with discomfort and fear. The vast majority of humans feared anything different from themselves, or which they didn't understand. Yet when he came into the light and approached her without the comforting cloak of shadows hiding his inhumanity from her, she showed no shock, or fear, or any of the usual responses he was used to. It was unreal…there was no way she could have accepted him at first sight, absolutely no way. 

   There had to be something wrong with that woman, he decided; something was dreadfully wrong with her.

   The two fighters paused in their flight, several hundred meters above the surface. The Sons’ home was in the exact opposite direction as Capsule Corporation. “See you tomorrow, Piccolo?” he grinned. Piccolo simply nodded in affirmation. That boy would have some explaining to do tomorrow…and Piccolo intended to pound some sense into him. This whole situation was simply absurd. Piccolo did not help lost women roaming in the wood. “Miss?” Gohan’s voice broke Piccolo from his momentary reverie. “We’ll come by to check on you tomorrow if you don’t mind.” An urge to clobber the boy hit the Namek, twisting his expression into a grimace. 

   ‘Shut up!’ he growled telepathically and tacked on a warning of the kid's impending demise if he kept talking.

   “Surely you’ve got better things to do.” ...and the woman shot Gohan down without a moment's hesitation. Piccolo stared at her, trying like before to suss out what she felt; was she as irritated at Gohan's meddling as he was?

   “Ah, nonsense,” Gohan countered as if nothing was at all awkward about the situation. “I've got nothin’ better to do - no school tomorrow!” Gohan turned to take off then looked back. “Hey…we never got your name! I'm Gohan, and this is Piccolo.”

   She just stared at him, apathy rolling off of her like mist. She was retreating into herself again; Piccolo could see it as clearly as if she drew curtains over her eyes to keep out the world. Seeing that Gohan wasn’t moving to leave, she begrudgingly responded, “it’s gettin’ dark; you’d better get home.” Gohan blinked a few times, then smiled wryly, and nodded. 

   “Well, whatever your name is, ‘bye. See you tomorrow.” Nothing more was said, and he took off for his family's cabin at the foot of Mount Paozu. Sadness seemed to bleed into the woman’s eyes as she watched him go, and Piccolo could have sworn he heard her sigh. It took longer than before, but her emotionless mask fell back into place as Piccolo resumed his flight to West City.

   “He means no harm.” Piccolo kept one eye on her face, still facing the horizon. “He’s just a boy.”

   “'Just a boy?'” She scoffed. “Don't be absurd. He's young, yes, but he's no child. Something...stole that from him." Her thoughts seemed to turn inward and she never noticed Piccolo's reaction to what she said—or rather, the knowledge she should not have. "He's a good and kindhearted soul; letting him any closer would be cruel.” Her eyes were weary, and Piccolo thought he could see pain in them somewhere between the layers of her mask. 

She shivered a bit from the rapidly chilling air and unconsciously leaned into his neck for warmth; perhaps it said something about his mood that he let it happen without any complaint. Something stole that from him...how could she know that? 

Amidst Piccolo's ruminations, they reached the airspace above West City, and just as the sun sunk to the horizon, they landed on the manicured turf outside Capsule Corporations. Almost immediately he dumped the woman on her feet and swept inside to hunt down someone more accustomed to the insanity of humanity. 

This woman, whoever she was, confused and irritated him. Her words left a sour feeling in his stomach, and her falsely emotionless and empty expression and voice nagged at him like a splinter under his skin. Though it rankled, he knew when he left Capsule Corp, she would follow him, if only in his thoughts. Her empty eyes would stare back when he closed his, and her confounding words would echo in his mind during meditation. The idea of someone he didn’t even know holding that much control over him was enough to turn his stomach. Too bad he couldn’t blame the stomachache on Chi Chi’s cooking this time.

In the entryway, the woman watched Piccolo vanish around a corner, unable to catch up to him but too tired to keep standing around in the yard. She took in a deep, frustrated breath through her nose and sighed it back out, then paused at a familiar smell. Sweet, verdant, floral, and earthy...a garden? Blooming, at this time of year? 

She looked around for guidance—or, perhaps, someone to tell her to stay put—then followed her nose to the source of the smell. It led her to a massive atrium set up as a sort of greenhouse or garden. The source of the scent filled the empty space behind a multi-level fishpond: a thicket of beautifully maintained Camelias, and the prized Minato-No-Akebono cultivar no less. No wonder she smelled them all the way in the front hall.

She settled on the bench before the pond, and her every joint protested in chorus. Once the pain spiking through her body faded to a dull, throbbing ache, she stilled and took a moment to just breathe in the sweet fragrance of the soft pink blossoms.

Sometimes, breathing took everything she had.


 

( * )

 

Curiouser and curiouser... Next time, Bulma's on the case, Piccolo's antagonistic, Vegeta gets a shock, and our strange new friend opens up a little.



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