Serendipity: Shifting the Paradigm

BY : Ghost-of-a-Chance
Category: Dragon Ball Z > AU - Alternate Universe
Dragon prints: 680
Disclaimer: I don't own DBZ, any of its characters/devices, or any books/movies/song mentioned; no money's being made here. I DO own Sierra, Rio, Rowan, & all my OCs...and a very fat cat named "Heifer."

Hey again! No long author's note this time, yay! I will say this, though: this whole story is an exercise in "things aren't always what they seem. Not much of a trigger warning this time, other than severe chronic pain. This chapter dedicated to coffee...because, coffee.

  1: First Impressions
[AFI- “The Leaving Song Pt. 2”]

    “Remind me why I came out here?” Piccolo grumbled as he tailed Gohan, who was slowly flying over a vast forest. “I’m honestly seeing nothing but trees, and sensing nothing but animals.”
    “That’s what’s got me worried, Piccolo.” Gohan answered seriously, still glancing around below them in worry. “When I ran into you, I had just dropped Goten off at the Briefs’ for the weekend, and I’d sensed a small chi on the way that didn’t belong in this forest. And now I can’t find it...” Gohan’s brow was furrowed in worry. He might not know the person, but he’d be devastated if they died on his watch without him being able to do a thing about it. 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, till they neared a large clearing. Near the center, an ancient ginkgo tree had grown to an enormous size, surrounded by a blanket of its golden, fan-shaped leaves. There, propped against the trunk, rested what appeared to be a person a bit younger than Chi Chi, if that old. The soft breeze filtered through shoulder-length dark brown hair, bronze highlights and burgundy low-lights reflecting the dim sunlight. Dusky, cinnamon hued skin collected shadows in the dappled sunshine of the fading day. Her softly slanted eyes were closed, her head was tilted back, resting on the bark, and her legs lay straight out in front of her, one crossed over the other. She was most likely asleep, Piccolo noted silently. As he followed his student to the ground, though, Piccolo couldn’t help but sense that something was off...Something was VERY wrong with the situation.
    “Miss?” Gohan asked tentatively. She didn’t stir. Just as Gohan was about to panic, Piccolo noticed something lying across her lap, held tightly in her hands. 
    A cane. A straight walking cane carved of burled walnut, feathered to perfection, with what appeared to be a sturdy, and very heavy-looking steel grip up top.
    What had they gotten themselves into?
    Gohan noticed the direction of his mentor’s stare, and his expression grew grave with understanding. Piccolo melted into the shadows beneath a leaf-laden oak tree, knowing it probably wouldn’t go well if the woman awoke and found herself in the company of not only a teenaged boy, but also 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 Midwestern twang. Though common in the US, neither had heard it locally. She hadn’t opened her eyes, or even flinched. “Pardon?” Gohan asked the strange woman, bewildered.  “Get what over with?”
    “Take the cane...” she answered calmly, bitterly. “an’ crack open my skull.” Gohan flinched. She was so angry...but at what? Piccolo wasn’t used to such anger coming from women, unless they were like Chi Chi, 18, or Bulma...and something told him she wasn’t much like them. He drew a deep breath in through his nose, searching for a telltale trace of pheromones from the woman.
    So far he’d been able to keep quiet the peculiar talent that helped him read people so easily; Dende was the only soul who knew, as he’d recognized the signs on his own. The young Kami told him that the ability to read emotions by scent wasn’t unheard of among Namekians, though he’d never heard of one as young as Piccolo developing the talent. Fortunately, Dende agreed to keep it quiet; something told Piccolo that if word got out, the local law enforcement would start tailing him like crazy, and if Piccolo valued anything, it was being left in peace.
    “Why would I do that?” Gohan asked the woman, the shock wearing off. “I’m here to—”
    “—Ta help me, whatever.” Her dark eyes finally opened, and focused on Gohan. She hadn’t noticed him skulking in the shadows yet. Halle-Frickin-luiah. “Trust me, you WILL be helpin’ me...You’ll be savin’ me from a life of endless, increasin’ pain, and a lonely, agonizin’ death. You’ll be doin’ it ‘cause I’ve ASKED ya to,” she sighed, her shoulders slumping slightly. 
    Gohan stood there, dumbfounded, blinking. Piccolo’s expression grew grim. Despite being downwind, he caught not a single whiff that betrayed any emotion other than anger. He did, however, catch the scent of fresh aloe, coffee breath, and the sweet, warm fragrance of vanilla. Something was off with that woman...and whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Maybe seeing the son of the Demon King with her own eyes would elicit a reaction, he thought. Silent as the shadows he left, Piccolo stepped into a shaft of sunlight, his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes narrowed in annoyance.
    “We’re not going to kill you.” Gohan startled at his mentor’s sudden speech, and looked back at him. “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.” Her voice was soft, almost forlorn as 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’d spoken almost to herself. 
    “What do you mean?” he asked lowly, narrowing his eyes at her. Something was definitely not right.
    “I’m already a problem for anyone who gets involved with me, in any fashion…Family, friends, even strangers. I’m a problem what should be corrected...and the only way to correct the problem is to remove me from the equation. ’S the only way it’ll work...” She trailed off. Gohan turned to his friend, seemingly horrified that anyone should think of themselves in such a fashion. Piccolo snorted in annoyance. 
    “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 empty 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 be setting soon. They had to hurry to deal with that woman, and Gohan had to hurry home, or Chi Chi probably take another whack at killing the Demon King’s heir. 
She never succeeded in even bruising him, of course, but it was irritating nonetheless…especially since he’d never be able to just shrug it off without taking his frustration out on Egypt’s pyramids again…and as much enjoyment he got from freaking out the locals by stacking them on top of each other before he left, they couldn’t handle too much more than what he’d already put them through training for the Saiyans’ arrival. Of course, if he tried preventing the housewife from attacking, or even remotely defended himself, she’d get hurt…Then, Goku would be after his head. Again. God almighty, he was getting a headache just thinking about it, he realized with a scowl. Sometimes 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 now 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 began forming in the corner of one eye as she staggered to the ground. She fairly collapsed onto her side, panting in the dry grass. “Miss?!” 
    “S...Spasm....” she bit out, fighting the urge to curl up into a fetal position. It never helped anything…and it was just plain humiliating to be cowed by the pain like that. 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, toward the middle. “It’ll...pass...MIERDA!” she swore, her silent endurance of the pain ending. Her body curled into a quivering ball despite all her attempts to resist the degrading posture.
    “Wait...I may be able to help you, Miss.” Gohan said gently, moving to crouch behind her. He carefully singed the grass under his palm with a controlled energy burst, and held his palm in the charred remains, warming the skin and muscles. “Where is the pain?” 
    “D…Don’t….bother…” Gohan intuitively tugged her hand away from her back with his cooler one, eyeing the spastic muscle she’d been covering.
    “This'll hurt a little, but it will help.” he soothed, gently moving his warmed palm from the cinders to her back. Her breath caught, a scream dying in her throat, and that rogue tear threatened to fall as the heat relaxed the muscles. Piccolo watched silently, as her agony slowly faded to pain, and finally, 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, nearly anointed with a tear only a moment before, was dry. Her eyes showed no sign of their previously watery state. Gohan stood quickly, offering her a hand up. 
    “Thank you," she admitted quietly, forgoing his help up and using her cane to push off. Her tone showed embarrassment as she tried to reassure him. “Ya didn’t need to do that. They usually just run their course in about a couple minutes when they’re that bad. Ya didn’t have to help me.” Like Hell, he hadn’t, Piccolo thought with a growl, quickly becoming irritated with the woman. She was rude and stubborn…probably proud, too…Never a good combination.
    “Are you done, yet?” Piccolo asked, his low voice revealing his irritation at her. 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 with a glare, limping a few steps. “I can still walk.”
    “We can see that,” Piccolo dismissed bluntly. “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, come to think of it,” he smiled sheepishly at his mentor, glancing pointedly at the darkening horizon. “I’ve gotta bunch of homework waitin’ at home… I’d better go straight there. Can you carry her to Bulma’s?” Piccolo scowled at his student, and snorted slightly. Manipulative little punk. He was up to something; Piccolo could practically see the gears working in the boy’s head. He approached her, fuming all the way.
    “Ma’am, he’s going to have to pick you up, okay? If you start hurting, please let him know. Be gentle with her, Piccolo-san.” Gohan added under his breath, knowing Piccolo would hear him loud and clear. Piccolo huffed, resisting the urge 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 had made her audibly acknowledge it. Even when he picked her up more roughly than he probably should have, she hadn’t so much as whimpered. Of course, he'd been practically dismembered before without a single tear…humans were so WEAK.
    “Hang on, Ma’am.” Gohan grinned, disbelief registering on the woman’s face as they lifted off. Rising up toward the clouds, they caught the updraft and took off toward the western 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, begrudgingly 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…she hadn’t hidden those emotions he realized grimly, seeing her apathetic mask back in place. She hadn’t hidden her emotions at all. She’d beaten them back down....suppressed them to the point of feeling nothing, and revealing nothing…and she’d done it all with an unsettling ease. She was no novice at smothering her ability to feel. He could tell, plain and clear, as though it were scripted across her brow in bright neon lettering.
    Despite his discomfort at the expected emotional, teary response to what had to be a wondrous sight to an earthbound human flying for the first time, that emotionless, apathetic gaze made him uneasy…Very uneasy. 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 that was different from themselves, or not to their understanding. Yet when he came into the light and approached her without the comforting cloak of shadows hiding his inhumanity from her, she’d shown no shock, fear, or any sign of the usual spazz attack that most people had when they saw him for the first time. It was unreal….There’s no way she could have accepted him at first sight…absolutely no freaking way. 
    There had to be something wrong with that woman…Something was dreadfully wrong.
    The two fighters paused in their flight, having reached a good altitude to travel at. The Sons’ home was in the exact opposite direction they had to take that woman. “I’ll see you tomorrow after school, ‘kay, 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. Once had been enough. 
While he was still very young, before his showdown with Goku at the Martial Arts tournament, he’d been fighting his father’s influence, and trying to find some reason to spare the human race. He hadn’t been born with the dark heart of his sire, after all, and even the memories imprinted from his father suggested that humankind could not be all bad. Then he’d found that group of rough characters in pursuit of a stranded motorist, and he’d come to her aid. With them knocked unconscious and no longer a threat, he’d expected her to thank him for saving her. The pepper spray the shrieking woman had doused his eyes with wasn’t quite the response he’d expected. Piccolo fought the urge to rub at his eyes…They burned just thinking about it.
    “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, warning the kid of his impending demise if he didn’t.
    “You don’t have to,” his passenger answered dryly. “Surely you’ve got better things to do.” Piccolo stared at the woman, stunned that she’d just shot the kid down with no remorse. Was she as irritated at him as he was?
    “Ah, nonsense,” Gohan replied cheerfully. “I got nothin’ better to do tomorrow…no school tomorrow!” Gohan turned to take off, but turned back, remembering something. “Hey…we never got your name! Mine’s 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 though she’d drawn curtains over her eyes. 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 as he took off for the road to his parents’ cabin. 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.
    “You needn’t have been rude.” Piccolo remarked lowly, keeping one eye on her face, still facing the horizon. “He’s just a boy.”
    “'Just a boy?'” she repeated dryly. “Don't be absurd. He's young, yes, but he's no child—something stole that from him." As her thoughts turned inward, she never noticed Piccolo's reaction to what she'd said—or rather, the knowledge she shouldn't have had. "It’s easy enough to not think about strangers you’ve never met; once you’ve met them, and know them, it becomes increasingly difficult to let them go. He's kindhearted and a good soul; letting him any closer would be cruel.” Her eyes were weary, and he thought he could see pain in their depths. She shivered a bit from the rapidly chilling air, and unconsciously leaned into Piccolo’s neck for warmth.
    Piccolo silently considered her words as they lifted higher above West City, approaching Capsule Corp as the sun sunk below the horizon. Her words left a sour feeling in his stomach, as did the emptiness of her voice. He knew that even when he left Capsule Corp, she’d still follow him, if only in his thoughts. Her empty eyes would stare back when he closed his, and her dark words would echo in his mind during meditation. He hated someone having so much control over him, especially someone he didn’t even know; it was enough to turn his stomach. 
Too bad he couldn’t blame the stomachache on Chi Chi’s cooking this time.

( * )

Hmmm...did Sierra really accept him at first sight, or did she simply feel nothing at all? If she did accept him, why? If not, why has she suppressed her emotions so severely? And how the heck did she know about Gohan? Curiouser and curiouser...Next time, Bulma's on the case, Piccolo's antagonistic, Vegeta gets a shock, and Sierra opens up a little.

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