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."

We're finally past the awkward setup chapters now, folks - finally we can get onto the more entertaining stuff, the character reveals and plot thickening, and all that jazz. Also, NOW the writing is improving! As of this chapter, we learn some more about Sierra and Rio, and Tapion and Minotia get their time to shine.

Suggested Listening: Rush "Emotion Detector"


Another beautiful day was dawning in West City. The singing of winter birds filled the chilled air, dim sunlight warmed the streets, and mackerel scale clouds offered a teasing possibility of snow later on. Sierra felt an intense desire to murder all of it.

Morning. Why did she decide to handle today's errands in the morning? She hated mornings, hated the bright light, the noisy racket of the waking city, and most of all, she hated the deafening buzz of an entire population mentally bitching about having to get up for work. With a heavy, frustrated sigh, she knuckled one sore, gritty eye, soaking in the warm perfume of her coffee. Why must her intuition always be sharper after waking up? Why did she have to suffer her fellow humans' idiocy even more than usual just because she needed sleep? As always, she had no answers, so she just turned back to her shopping list.

A high-pitched squeal rang out in the hallway triggering a wince; not a moment later, a blur with salmon-colored hair streaked into the kitchen giggling the whole way. Once she'd thrown off the dizzy spell the sprinting child triggered she noticed another arrival—much taller and leaner with darker hair and embarrassed green eyes. Tapion, she recognized greeting him with a nod, the inexplicably young alien Bulma took in a while back. Sierra still couldn't understand how he seemed so young and so old all at the same time. He was yet another person in this strange household who made no sense to her.

"Good morning," Tapion greeted sheepishly guiding his energetic younger brother to sit at the counter. Minotia eagerly clambered up on one of the high barstools and was soon practically vibrating in his seat. Oh, to have that kind of energy again… "I trust you slept well?" For a moment, all Sierra could do was blink at the older alien, her face even more blank than usual and her eyes focused somewhere behind him. He winced, visibly nervous; she physically shook off her daze.

"I'm fine," she insisted simply then paused for another gulp of coffee. "He's fine. It's morning. I'm always like this in the morning. Mornings need to die."

"I…didn't ask if you were fine…?" Confused, he filled the tea kettle at the sink and put it on to boil. "I just—"

"If I've told'im once, I've told'im a thousand times," Sierra replied as though reciting something, her voice practically monotone. "Ya don't run around like a lunatic inside, an' you've gotta keep your voice down when others might be sleepin'. She looks like she's got a headache—all the noise is prob'bly makin' it worse. I should apologize. Wait, how'd she know what I was thinkin'? Did she seriously read my mind? I feel violated." Once it hit her what she picked up from him last, her eyes widened and she ducked her head to down another gulp of coffee. "Sorry," she mumbled glaring down into her empty cup. "I can't exactly turn that off even when I haven't just woken up, but relaying what I receive without permission is just rude. No offense…?"

"None taken," Tapion answered with a weak smile and passed her the coffee carafe. "I keep forgetting you can sense things…it just catches a person off-guard."

"So does wakin' up hearing Bulma brooding about Vegeta's snoring all the way across the compound," Sierra added gratefully topping off her mug. "Normally the Briefs' rooms are far enough from mine I don't twig to'em, but my…uh…" Her brows pinched together as she searched for the right word. "My range? Yeah, that works—my range of twenty-some yards explodes to twenty-some-odd MILES when I first wake up, an' it takes time to normalize again…'bout an hour, actually."

Tapion looked lost so she tried again. "Think of it like bein' able to easily hear the person next to you whispering versus hearin' a butterfly sneeze in Hong Kong…a really loud butterfly…with an incredibly annoying sneeze…while it's scrapin' its nails on a chalkboard." For a moment, all Tapion could manage was staring at her blankly, loaf of bread in hand, the fridge door wide open and his deep green eyes nearly as wide. "They're out'a jelly," Sierra pointed out to break the ice, "but Bulma's got some fancy organic peanut butter that's great on toast. That'll work, right?" He blinked, glanced inside the fridge door, and cautiously collected the jar of peanut butter.

"I really don't understand this ability of yours," he remarked cautiously, adding a jug of orange juice and a couple apples to his load.

"That makes two of us," Sierra muttered back. For a while, the two brothers conversed quietly, Tapion putting together a simple and light breakfast, and Sierra double-checked her shopping list. A short while later someone set a plate down in front of her—sliced apples and peanut-buttered toast—and a tall glass of orange juice. Blinking in surprise, she looked up at the man across from her; Tapion wore a teasing smile, one eyebrow arched. "Thanks," she said attempting to smile; it came out more like a cringe but he seemed to understand. "You didn't make much—I figured it was just you two. Plus I already ate." She answered his incredulous stare by holding up a crumb-decked paper towel smeared with peanut butter.

"So that's how you knew about the jam." Tapion chuckled shaking his head. "Well, you fooled me." He glanced down, silently considering the plate he set up for Sierra, then his little brother's plate. "We…don't eat much," he admitted carefully sliding most of the plate's contents onto his brother's plate and pouring them both a cup of hot green tea. "It's been a long time since we've both had a regular three square meals a day—longer than you'd believe—and our appetites haven't quite picked up yet." That, Sierra decided with a smile that never surfaced, would be changing soon…hopefully starting tomorrow. "I really appreciate you helping my brother with his studies, Miss Stone," Tapion remarked, eager to change the subject to something less loaded. "How's his progress?"

Sierra gave a half-shrug, her eyes brightening just a bit. "Minotia's a bright one," she answered reaching over to ruffle the boy's ever-fluffy Mohawk; on noticing Tapion's horrified cringe and sensing Minotia's embarrassment, she diverted at the last moment and gingerly patted him on the back. Strange…she saw Tapion petting the younger's hair all the time, and once in a while she even caught Minotia tugging on his older brother's bangs, but otherwise, hair seemed to be off-limits to them—theirs and everyone else's. Maybe their culture had some sort of thing about hair? If it was a culture thing, she sympathized with them for the discomfort; after all, she and her two sisters existed in a constant state of culture-shock with the country they made their home in, even years after they left the US. Where were they from, anyway? Anytime her intuition tried to fill in the gaps, she just heard "coconuts," and that couldn't possibly be right.

"He's even brighter than my niece Rowan was at that age," she continued in hopes of clearing the tension. "If he keeps working as hard as he has been, by the time the next fall semester starts up, he should be ready to enroll in a regular school—Trunks' an' Goten's would prob'ly be best."

Still a little uncomfortable over the barely-averted taboo, Tapion was caught off-guard. "What? Why's that?"

"Well," Sierra muttered glancing sidelong at the boy already focused on his toast again. "I'm not speakin' for all of humanity, seein' as we're not all the same but in my experience kids tend to be little shits." Minotia perked up at the unfamiliar word, instantly curious; Tapion shot him a warning frown.

"If I ever hear that come out of your mouth," he warned the younger sternly, "you're not sitting for a week." Sierra winced, realizing she slipped up. The young boy wasn't her niece—he wasn't raised by a single mother who cursed like a sailor, an aunt who could tell exactly what sort of trouble he was plotting and called him on it, another aunt who was halfway unstable and thought they were all off their rockers, and a grandmother with a bad habit of leaving knives lying around willy-nilly.

"Sorry," she mumbled into her coffee. "Make that 'ill-mannered miniature terrorists.' Better?" Tapion gave a husky chuckle at the mental image and nodded. "My sisters an' I had to change schools a lot after our parents divorced," Sierra explained. "Ma stayed in the US an' Dad came back to Japan—the custody arrangements had us bouncing back and forth every year. Rio an' I are pretty dissimilar on the surface but there's enough resemblance for people to realize we're siblings; Cor looks nothin' like us so she always suffered the most hazing. It's common for new kids to get harassed, but when the new kid's visibly different even from their own family it's even worse…an' from what I've seen, Asian schools tend to be even more cliquish than US ones, prob'ly because of the deeply-ingrained distrust of foreigners." Realizing she was rambling, she cut herself off with a head shake and returned to her point. "Minotia an' I've been getting' him caught up to his peers, so he should be able to test into the same grade as Trunks and Goten, and having a couple local kids on his side should deter the worst."

The conversation lagged. Tapion silently considered her warning and contemplated the possibility of Minotia being bullied just for being different. During the war with the Kashvar he feared for his brother's future, then when they were separated, sent to opposite ends of the universe, he feared for Minotia's life. Now the young boy's future was looking bright and his life was unthreatened…now Tapion worried for his happiness in this new world that so reluctantly took them in.

A sudden movement startled him from his thoughts—the spout of the tea kettle clinked against the rim of his cup, his confusing companion topping off his cup. "Thanks," he said lifting the full cup in salute. He wasn't sure of it, but something about the softening of her eyes made him think she smiled back at him. "What've you got planned today?"

"Errands," she answered blandly topping off Minotia's cup as well and giving the boy a teasing wink. "Mostly grocery shopping, gotta hit a couple of the specialty shops Downtown." She turned the list toward him and he glanced over it, carefully picking through for words he recognized. Even if he couldn't read it all there was still a lot there—how on earth would she manage to carry everything on the list, especially with her back and joints in the condition they were? Unbidden, he recalled something else Downtown—a familiar noisy establishment that promised to facilitate communication between cars and their owners. Even more reluctantly, he recalled the sight that continually drew him back to that establishment—a spunky high-class woman with big green eyes… He cut himself off. A married woman, he reminded himself viciously, forcing himself to picture the rows of piercings lining the outer edges of her ears. Married and rich. Not available. Still…

"Could you use a hand?" he offered with a hesitant smile. He only wanted to help—it had nothing to do with the pretty shop owner—right? "Bulma's been teaching me to drive and I could use the practice. And, well, not to mention…" He pointedly glanced over at his younger brother; Minotia was already bored with the grownup conversation and fidgeting in his seat even more than before. The little guy looked like a tiny fluffy-haired bundle of repressed energy about to burst. "Cabin fever," Tapion mouthed to Sierra in explanation, and she nodded in complete understanding. Being winter, it was too cold for Minotia and Trunks to spend a lot of time playing outside, and that cut back on the boys' opportunities to work off their boundless energy.

"Good point," Sierra whispered almost conspiratorially then at regular volume added, "I'd love the company an' was plannin' on hittin' the sweet shop on the way back. How soon can you be ready?" Sure enough, Minotia's sea-green eyes widened and fixed on her in excitement.

"Did you say sweets?" he asked with a big toothy grin. Tapion laughed low in his chest, and right before Sierra's eyes, he reached across the counter and ruffled the boy's hair.

Sweet Sue's Body Shop was more than just a car repair business. It was a place of raucous laughter, good music, and equality. In a world where mechanics tended to mislead, overcharge, and talk down to women, many female car owners were reluctant to take their vehicle in for work without dragging along a man to run interference. 'Sue's' was owned and operated by a woman, and staffed by mostly women; they refused to put up with the gender-bias in the car industry and their business flourished because of it.

Normally, the shop was loud and full of energy; this wasn't a normal day, however. It was winter break—the first winter break since Rowan's aunt Sierra went missing—and the holidays were right around the corner. The normally spunky redhead tried to focus on her task, another detail job on a completed repair, but her mind kept wandering. Wax on—where was Aunt Dai? Wax off—would she come home for Christmas? Polish fender—why hadn't she shown up yet? Spray mirror—Kami told her Sierra was still alive, but she hadn't asked again lately; what if something happened?

The last song faded out over the radio, replaced by a mystical, synthesizer-heavy tune. The rippling notes, based loosely on a bright pentatonic scale, sent the fine hair on Rowan's bare arms standing on end. It felt, she realized sadly, like a familiar hand smudging black grease off her cheek or smoothing a dusting of flour from her stubborn hair.

'When we lift the covers from our feelings
We expose our insecure spots.
Trust is just as rare as devotion -
Forgive us our cynical thoughts.
If we need too much attention,
Not content with being cool,
We must throw ourselves wide open
And start acting like a fool.'

Across the bay, Rio stilled, bent over the front bumper of a newer model SUV with a whining-slash-humming transmission; in open dread, she craned her neck to catch the song over the speakers.

'If we need too much approval
Then the cuts can seem too cruel.'

There was no doubt—she knew that song. "Tomorrow's Friday," Rowan muttered into the windshield of her project. Rio's eyes slid closed, pained.

"Family Friday," the older woman elaborated earning a glum nod. "I miss'er too, Roe…I miss'er too." Rowan said nothing, but to her mother, that nothing spoke volumes of something. Rio steeled her nerves, forcing herself to remember what Sierra's absence was doing to their family. They were falling apart—Rowan was falling apart—and that infuriated Rio beyond reason. Anger, after all, was a safer alternative than the worry and fear she would otherwise fall prey to. "Twila!" she shouted toward the office. A moment later, the bubbly blonde receptionist swept out into the bay, big blue eyes practically sparkling; the very sight made Rio feel even crankier. "Turn that off." Twila halted, confused. "…please?" the mechanic added under her breath, glancing pointedly over at Rowan.

"I thought you liked this one," Twila protested softly.

"Yeah," Rio admitted gruffly, "but my sister loves it. If she weren't still being a pouting child, we'd all be gathering tomorrow to stuff ourselves silly."

"Family Friday," Rowan explained when her mother fell silent. "On the first Friday of every month, our family gathered at someone's home for a special meal, never fail, no matter how rough things got. With Aunt Dai gone…" She, too, fell silent.

"You gals haven't gathered since she went missing?" Twila summed up in open concern; the mother and daughter nodded. "Have you still heard nothing? Maybe…maybe she's…"

"Oh, she's alive alright," Rio cut her off shortly. "When she took off, she dumped a key in our mail-slot—a key to a storage unit with instructions on how to deal with her crap. By the time we made it out there, she'd changed her mind an' the lock." Twila cringed. "She's alive a'right, the sulking twat, an' she's gonna get my boot up'er backside when she finally comes crawlin' back." Twila backed away from her seething employer, glancing nervously to Rowan; the younger woman held a hand up to her head and twirled it in a 'yeah, she's crazy' gesture.

"Right," Twila mumbled hustling out of the room, "change the song, got it." As her high heels clacked noisily away, Rowan turned to her mother with an openly scolding expression.

"It's okay to admit you're scared, Mom," she insisted low enough the other mechanic wouldn't hear. "I'm scared for her too. Your sister's missing, your twin sister—no one's expectin' you to be strong." Rio shot her a warning glare, one honey-brown eyebrow arched up to the edge of her loud pink hair scarf.

"Do you think she's dead?" she demanded.

"I know she isn't," Rowan protested.

"Same here. You're her niece but I'm her sister—I don't need the friggin' twin thing to know she's sulking. Besides," she grumbled returning to the transmission, "as her sibling, it's my job to kick'er ass when she needs it."

"No cursing at work!" The way-too-cheerful reminder from the front office make Rio and Rowan turn beet red, the first from embarrassment and the second from trying not to laugh. "That's a Zeni for the swear jar, Sue!" Rio uttered a barely intelligible snarl then, face pinched in a scowl, shouted to the office,

"Ass ain't a curse! It's a donkey!" Twila gave a derisive 'uh-huh, right.' "Fine! My job's to remind'er she's out of line, that work for ya?!" Twila's response—a laughing 'yep!'—drew another growl from the cantankerous mechanic. "She's gonna get that swear jar jammed up'er ass at this rate," she grumbled over at Rowan.

"That's two Zeni! Do I hear three?"

 In the future, Sierra realized grimly, she needed to find another butcher who sold bulk steak. Normally this one was her go-to—the most meat for the best price in all of West City—but it was situated right across the street from an all-too-familiar body shop. Before her sudden flight, this was convenient, an encouragement to stop in and harass her sister and niece while out running errands. Now that sister was cursing a blessed blue streak about Twila's 'swear jar' and peppering those curses with Sierra's name and threats of bodily harm. If that wasn't a threat to Sierra's safety, she didn't know what was. Thus, here she stood almost cowering in the corner of the meat market, nervously watching out the window while the butcher filled her order.

"Wait," she muttered glancing around the small shop and counting the mohawks. "Where's Tapion?" Minotia pointed out the window at the body-shop with a sheepish smile; the bottom fell out of her stomach. Tapion stood outside the door, leaning against a lamppost and pretending not to watch the goings-on of the body-shop, an amused and somewhat dorky grin tugging at his lips. She face-palmed; that poor kid had no idea what he was getting into. Determined to at least warn him, she rapped on the window, startling him half out of his skin.

"Sorry," Tapion muttered as he ducked through the door, his cheeks nearly matching his hair. "I got distracted."

"I can see that," Sierra deadpanned. "So. Did you manage to satisfy your curiosity or need I make you eat my cane?" He cringed, easily recognizing her warning and protective stance. "They're my family," she explained bluntly before he could get the question out. "The gorgeous redhead's my niece Rowan; the cussing heathen's my sister Rio."

"You're hiding from them, aren't you?" he asked dryly.

"Damn straight. You should hear what's not comin' out of'er mouth." Opting against reminding her to tone down the swearing around Minotia, he glanced warily back to the shop—or more specifically the kerchief-clad brunette arguing vehemently with a blonde bombshell in high heels.

Rio—the lovely woman's name was Rio. Funny, though, he'd never seen her behaving so belligerently before. In all the times he'd found himself in Downtown and stopped to watch the shop's occupants a while—purely out of boredom and curiosity, of course—he'd seen all sorts of sides to the lovely mechanic. He saw her start sponge-fights with her daughter, crack her head on car hoods, drop heavy tools on her feet without flinching, and trade hand tools with other mechanics by throwing them. He'd heard her laugh, complain, curse, and sing, and once he even heard her cry out in fear for reasons which eluded him. This was the first time he'd ever seen her mad enough to spit, and the sight bewildered him. "So that's why you volunteered for hauling groceries—you felt like gawkin' at my niece."

"Wh-WHAT?!" he sputtered whipping about to face her in disgust. "That child?! Don't be absurd, she's young enough to be my—" He cut himself off, recognizing the smug look on her face. "You knew I wasn't watching her," he accused.

"After what led to her birth," Sierra answered airily, "it's better to make certain. We never expected Rowan's father to do everything he's done, and not one of us would risk making that mistake again. Rio couldn't handle a repeat." Sobering, he turned back to the window, gazing into the shop through the gaps in the traffic. "We three sisters all have different strengths," Sierra remarked coming to stand beside him. "Cordelia has a heart of gold under all the crazy and she could make a rock burst into bloom. I'm stubborn an' independent an' smart enough to know that's not always a good thing. Rio got the most valued gifts of all, though." She turned to fix a serious eye on Tapion. "She's strong an' resilient, an' she never stays down long…and she's beautiful."

"She is that," Tapion admitted softly, his hand lifting to press against the glass. "She's also off-limits…and even if she wasn't, she's out of my league." This statement confused Sierra but she opted to not dig for answers; that was, after all, almost as rude as speaking someone's personal thoughts aloud without permission.

"It's nothing personal," she pointed out lightly. "If Rio won't talk to ya, it's because you don't have ovaries—she doesn't trust men." He fixed an incredulous stare on her. "There's no harm in looking, Tapion, so long as you keep out of sight…and definitely out of throwing range." Right before their eyes, the other mechanic on duty—a tall, well-muscled woman with a black pixie cut—shouted something. Rio snatched up a socket wrench from her cart and threw it right at her coworker like a knife—the other caught it mid-air and flashed Rio a grin and a thumbs-up gesture—Rowan cheered the toss, holding up an imaginary scorecard and proclaiming the throw a '10 for accuracy.'

"Throwing range," Tapion winced watching the hilarity unfold. "Right."

The trio shuffled back to the loaner aircar weighed down with enough meat and produce to feed at least fifty humans…or, in this case, five Saiyans. The sheer volume of food astounded Minotia, who responded by gleefully asking his brother and tutor all manner of questions about the Saiyans, all the while grinning. The longer Sierra and Tapion worked to jam everything into the trunk, the more obvious the problem became: a familiar prickling feeling on the back of her neck, coupled with a sharp pain in her chest and jaw. She visually scanned their surroundings, searching for answers, and sure enough, she found them.

Two adult females, both petite and elegant, both with sleek black hair and almond-shaped eyes nearly as dark. Locals, Sierra realized without a doubt - even if they were blonde, blue-eyed, and could have passed for Californians, their body language and the lilt of their speech left no doubt. They stood on the sidewalk outside a local eatery, openly staring at Minotia and Tapion.


Sierra saw where this was going and she didn't like it. "This is wrong," the taller woman hissed to her friend, hiding her bad manners behind the supposed language barrier. Please. Maybe Mandarin would have worked but Japanese? They were in Japan for cripe's sake—how could anyone make it as far in this city as Sierra and her family did without knowing the local lingo? "Those two are aliens! They shouldn't be here! How dare they stand there laughing like their very presence isn't an insult to this city?! We have too many aliens here as it is!" The last vehement impression stopped Sierra cold.

"Hush!" the shorter woman warned her companion, visibly uncomfortable. "They might hear you!"

"Let them hear—they won't understand anyway, right? That woman—" She paused for a derisive sniff. "She is Gaijin. She won't understand us and the aliens are no better." Gaijin. The word—spat like an insult—brought a tic to Sierra's left eye; if only she wasn't used to this sort of bullshit by now. Something had to be done.

One moment Tapion was struggling to wedge a bag of whole pineapples into the last open space in the trunk. The next he heard Sierra whisper something to Minotia: get in the car. Concerned, he studied their surroundings as his little brother clambered into the back seat and buckled up; two women stalked toward them, the taller one with hard eyes and the shorter embarrassed.

A sharp reprimand tore Tapion's attention away from the approaching threat—a reprimand he only recognized as such by the volume and tone as the words were entirely foreign to him. "Dios mío, no puedo creerlo!"^ Sierra fired at him at a dizzying speed, jabbing a finger accusingly at the piled boxes stuffed into the trunk. "Yo pensó que deje la cocina prendida! Señora Briefs me va a matar!"^ she finished off with a rather vehement snarl that looked entirely out of place on her face—a face that rarely showed much in the way of emotion. He couldn't help wondering if she accomplished the expression by trying to smile.

Bewildered and slightly horrified as the confusing woman continued unabated in her undecipherable rant, Tapion looked around for explanation but found none; instead, he noticed that the two women were stopped in their tracks, cringing openly. The strangers exchanged a glance, visibly sharing a wordless conversation, then stalked over to them.

"Hey! Back…off!" the taller one ordered scowling at Sierra; as she expected, the elegant aggressor spoke forcibly slowly as though trying to make a child understand her. "He did…nothing…wrong! Go…home!" Sierra stared her down, noticing with silent pride that the shorter was gently holding Tapion by the shoulder as though trying to comfort him. That one had some heart, even if she lacked balls. "Sure…he's an alien…but that…is not…his…fault!"

"Yes, he is alien." The two women openly gaped at Sierra, dark eyes wide in shock at hearing her reply in their own tongue; they exchanged a stunned glance before turning back to her again. She stared the aggressor down, her theatrical scowl replaced with her usual nearly blank expression with the addition of an arched eyebrow. Granted, her Japanese was more stiff and awkward than Rio's, but she knew she was getting her point across. "He is your neighbor, friend of Mrs. Briefs. Next time you feel like judging him, remember to mind your Face."** Tapion repeatedly glanced from the two women to Sierra and back again, completely lost. She, on the other hand, felt a bit smug for having read them properly; they had, indeed, assumed she didn't speak their language.

The taller woman scowled accusingly down at her. "You understand us?!" she spat in perfectly natural Japanese. "How dare you eavesdrop and accuse me of poor manners!"

"Of course I understand," Sierra replied with a no-nonsense shrug. "I am from Ginger Town. I was not intentionally listening in – your voice is not as quiet as you think it is." The taller woman seethed, embarrassed at being caught off-guard, then opened her mouth to fire off another protest. "Oh right," Sierra added offhandedly, this time in English, "You thought I was being cruel? I told him I left the stove on."

The shorter woman snorted into her hands, trying and failing to hide her giggles. Her taller friend, finally, was quiet—all anger and disgust gone from her eyes and only surprise and confusion remaining. Tapion turned bewildered eyes to Sierra as she eased the trunk closed and made her way to the passenger seat. "What a beautiful sound," she remarked as he folded himself into the driver's seat.

"What sound?" he asked blankly.

"You didn't hear it?" she teased as he carefully backed out of their parking space; the two strangers still stood on the sidewalk, the taller blatantly staring at them even now. "It was halfway between an earth-shattering rumble an' birdsong—the sound of a paradigm shifting an' a mind opening." For a time, Tapion focused on the road, every now and then shooting sideways glance at her.

"I think I understand now." His remark was sudden but not unexpected, and she gave a slight head-tilt in encouragement. "This whole time, I thought you were slipping when that happens—that you get so upset you lapse into your native language or something. You aren't…are you." It wasn't a question.

"My native language is English," Sierra replied with a hint of tease, "same with the rest of my family. I took Spanish in school because my Gran'pa wasn't a native English speaker an' did slip when he was stressed, an' in the US, you're more likely to need Spanish translation than French, German, or any of the other options on offer. I started on Japanese classes when my parents started talking divorce in case they opted for shared custody." A faint snort of laughter bubbled up her throat. "I don't lapse—when that happens, it's happening because I intentionally switched. If people don't realize you're griping about them, they tend to be more uncomfortable than angry at you, and they're too awkward to confront you over your lapse of manners."

"You hide your bad manners behind words others won't understand?" Her only answer was another eye-smirk. "That doesn't explain why you led those two women to think you wouldn't understand them."

"You can blame my father for that," she shrugged, glancing up into the rear-view mirror; Minotia was dozing off, apparently worn out from the excitement of the day. Of course, the massive sugar rush from their visit to the sweet shop probably left him a bit worn out, too. Kids. "When I was a child, he read to me about a great philosopher—a man named Socrates who worked to right the ignorance of others by revealing that ignorance to them. Socrates would ask for a person's reasoning for their belief, pick it apart and show them where it was flawed, apply that flawed reasoning to other topics to prove it was flawed, then piddle off knowing he managed a hard day's work."

"You were trying to follow that example?"

"Of course not," she deadpanned. "Socrates was sentenced to death because he drove people insane. I didn't try to convince that woman she was wrong—I behaved in a manner she expected, let her make a fool of herself, then when she was comfortable, I yanked that high horse right out from under her ass." Tapion glanced nervously up to the mirror to make sure Minotia wasn't learning anymore new words. "She's probably not entirely convinced," Sierra continued saying nothing of his concern. "It's not an easy thing to change a mind, after all, but I know she'll be thinking about it for some time. Maybe she'll start to wonder if she may have been wrong." For a time, the only sounds in the car were from the road, traffic, and Minotia's soft breathing.

"Those women weren't picking a fight with you." Sierra stilled at the solemn tone of Tapion's voice. "I could see it in their eyes and in yours—they were staring at usyou weren't their concern."

"No," Sierra admitted as the car eased to a stop at a red light, "I was just an irritant - the aliens in their city were their real concern. Apparently, West City has a problem with alien invasions or something…naturally, some people are going to assume all aliens are like the ones who invade, never realizing their city is protected by aliens." He glanced over, his eyes unreadable.

"You did that to take their attention off of us," he confirmed softly and glanced up in the mirror to check on his brother again—still snoozing. "You didn't have to do that."

"You see that boy back there?" she countered glancing pointedly over her shoulder at Minotia. "This is his world now, and it's a world full of possibilities and adventure. Someday he'll start seeing the dark sides of everything an' he'll have to rely on his own strength to keep himself from falling. For now, he's young—he's just a child. If given the choice between butting my nose in where it doesn't belong an' watching that sweet smile fade, I know what my choice would be, every time." Tapion studied her silently, searching her face for any sign of deception and finding none. "The light's green," she added without ever breaking eye contact.

Her sudden comment—accompanied by an arched eyebrow—startled him from his scrutiny. Sure enough, the light was green and a series of loud honks were blaring behind their car. "Thanks," he muttered correcting his oversight with a sheepish smile. It was echoed with another in her eyes, but this time that smile came with a faint twitch of her lips.

"Anytime, Starman. Anytime."

Hours later, the groceries were put away, much of the prep-work for tomorrow's dinner was complete, and Sierra was holed up in her bathroom looking for relief. Even after wrangling a hand from some of the Capsule Corp. cooking-bots, Sierra was exhausted, stiff, and sore—so sore she felt like she went five rounds with a ten-foot-tall sumo wrestler on steroids. She just wasn't used to the sort of work that went into huge family meals anymore…her body was just too deteriorated to manage it all without protesting every moment. Even so, she refused to give up, refused to call it off. At least Tapion and Minotia volunteered to help out tomorrow and she had access to a few of the Briefs' cooking bots; any bit of work she could delegate was a bit of work that wouldn't wear her joints to uselessness.

She left her life behind—abandoned all hope, expecting to find a peaceful death in the autumn-clad forest outside of town. Instead, she found another family, a family who had yet to demand anything of her, offered her the job tutoring Trunks because she insisted on not freeloading, and only ever asked what they could do to help her. Thanks to them, she was hurting less and the onset of her illness was slowing; thanks to them, she had a second chance to do things right. These strange, impossible, wonderful people took her in—they helped her, they sheltered her, and they put up with her unreadability, questionable manners, and disturbing knack for seeing right through them, and all without ever expecting a single word of thanks.

They wouldn't get that word—tomorrow, they'd get something better—something much more tangible and far less trivial. Tomorrow, after all, was Family Friday, and she couldn't wait to show them her gratitude; sometimes, when words get in the way, the best way to express one's gratitude is through the stomachs of those you'd thank. Tomorrow…ah, she reminded herself scattering a couple handfuls of Epsom salts in the bottom of the filling tub, but that would be tomorrow. Tonight she was hurting far more than usual due to all the running around and prep-work she muscled through, on top of her usual chores.

The cursory pre-bath scrub over with and the deep oval-shaped soaking tub slowly filling, she took a moment to ground herself. Standing before the tall mirror, she forced herself to take in everything it reflected—stooped posture, wide hips and slight paunch, silver stretchmarks along her dusky breasts and soft sides. She turned, contemplating the traces of once-thick scar tissue barely visible above her full rear—those scars on her lower back were from the long-ago hernia operation intended to repair her back injury. All the surgery accomplished, however, was tangling up her nerves and permanently scarring her muscles. Again, she turned to face the mirror, her eyes drifting up to meet their reflections.

"Sierra," she addressed herself, contemplating the whole image. "That's you…yer not perfect an' yer not impressive…yer broken an' weak…" Realizing where the supposed grounding was going, she stilled herself with a stern glare. "Yer broken but still strong—you've survived worse'n this an' you'll survive even more. You'll continue to heal, an' you'll thrive, even if it takes yer last breath."

Breath…the word was so innocuous but it brought with it a memory: the Kamis' Lookout, a sinus migraine, and a crotchety, arrogant Namekian warrior. As miserable as she was, she didn't even bother taunting him with hidden insults that time; she just outright called him a whiny bitch and told to "go get laid before people start throwing chocolate." In the moment between her suggestive jab and the bellowed protest sure to follow, Piccolo's lungs heaved in his attempts to center himself, his narrow nostrils flaring in fury. That small movement, merely a widening of airways, sparked an inexplicable reaction—the Namekian stilled, all his fire fizzling out and leaving his face practically as blank as hers. Her fun ruined by his refusal to fight back, she stalked through her door and locked herself in the small room Dende offered for her use.

Shortly afterward a hesitant tapping sounded at her door. By the time she reached the doorway, the cause was gone. Only a tray on the floor proved anyone was ever there – a teacup, a small steaming tea kettle, and an infuser of loose leaf tea with written instructions in jagged, nearly illegible writing. The tea, she came to find out, tasted noxious but it wiped her headache out completely, along with the sinus trouble causing it. Dende had no idea what she was talking about and Mr. Popo wouldn't say a word. That left only one possible culprit but it made no sense. Even now, she couldn't quite see Piccolo capable of anything more than begrudgingly tolerating her. Still, the memory remained the same—a deep breath, a start, then an obvious expression of "Oh!" If he was responsible for the tray - for helping her without being asked - she would find it very difficult to despise him like she felt she should.

Forcing her mind off of that memory—and especially off of the way he kept at least thirty yards between them when Gohan came to take her home, nodding in an almost respectful farewell—she looked down at her reflection again. "This is yer fault," she accused jabbing a finger into her lower belly somewhere in the region of her uterus. "This all because'a you an' yer damn hormones. You're fixed, you're not supposed to be distracted by men, even men who can take what I throw at'em an' dish it right back in spades. Your…fault," she finished off with two more stout pokes; her body's only response was a faint jiggle reminding her she wasn't quite as thin as she once was. 'Screw you too, belly fat.'

Finally, the tub was full. After tossing in an extra palmful of Epsom salts and a small white clump of powder, she gingerly lifted one leg over the side of the deep square tub to test the water. The movement made her hip grind in its socket and her back tighten, triggering a pained hiss; she leaned on the wide tiled rim of the tub for support while she waited for the ache to fade.

Okay, she decided with a quiet whimper, maybe she needed to rethink this. Careful of her still-screaming back and pelvis, she stooped down to sit on the wide ledge—so far, so good—lifted first one leg over and lowered it into the water—then repeated the process with the other. A short wait later, she eased herself off the ledge and slowly sank into the steaming water—water smelling like sweet vanilla thanks to the bath bomb.

A groan halfway between bliss and agony ripped from her lungs at the heat sinking into her weary, aching bones; with every passing moment, she could feel her joints loosen up and the spasm in her back weakened. Still, something wasn't working out—the tub was too compact to stretch out in, like all other tubs she'd seen in this country, but sitting to soak was putting pressure on her hips. Perhapshm, maybe. Carefully, she squirmed around in the tub trying to find a more comfortable position. Finally, she found it—sprawled on her belly along the tub's raised seat, both legs bent upwards and her feet and ankles sticking up out of the water, her arms folded along the edge of the tub, and her head pillowed on them. This position was highly undignified and if anyone were to barge in they'd wind up getting an eyeful of her generous backside, but for the most part, the sorest bits were underwater. Besides, she was soaking for her health; who could honestly care about dignity when immersed in steaming scented water?

Finally relaxing, Sierra reached for the bath-stool beside the tub and collected her phone from the seat. A moment later her favorite music streaming app was pulled up and a much-beloved song filled the small tiled room with clear synthesized notes. She thought of her family—of her niece and sisters and her mother and father, both now lost. She remembered Rio's furious tantrum in the body shop, remembered every silent cry that never left her sister's lips.

She thought of her new family, too. Gohan—at first glance, he was naïve, but he possessed an inner strength that contradicted that impression. Dende—he was young but bore the weight of the world on his shoulders…and he was determined to figure her out when even she didn't understand herself. Tapion and Minotia—the two brothers were even more out-of-place in this world than she was in this country, and she could sense that she would soon be seeing much more of them. The Briefs family—they took her in, gave her shelter, and no matter how bristly she got or how often she unintentionally bruised Vegeta's ego, they insisted on encouraging her and supporting her. Piccolo

Piccolo. Of all the new names and faces she was slowly figuring out, that one still confused her, the owner a puzzle she struggled to untangle. Of all the people in her new circle, he was the only one she was consistently unable to get an accurate reading on. His thoughts were his own and his expression betrayed his feelings as little as her own did, but she doubted that was for the same reason she was unreadable. Unless she stifled her emotions, a defensive habit developed after years of dealing with Rio and Cordelia's drama, she felt everything—hurt, happiness, fear, anger, all those irritating human emotions—she felt them as deeply as any other but they rarely made it to the surface. She simply wasn't very expressive, cursed with near-constant 'resting bitch-face.' Then there was that irritating bit about how smiles tended to come out as cringes...

Piccolo was equal parts confusing and infuriating, and her inability to read him drove her up the wall. He didn't pity her and he obviously didn't like her; on the surface, he seemed entirely indifferent to everyone and everything, and perhaps that was why she felt so determined to razz him at every opportunity. Then again, there might be another reason - remembered impressions that still tickled from the recesses of her memory. Worried black eyes—strong, careful arms with rough skin—soft, warm fabric that smelled like spring—

No, she insisted silently, she was being ridiculous. Sure, his personality was just the sort she tended to be drawn to in friends. His serious nature and sobriety triggered behaviors she rarely indulged in - behaviors like starting fights, teasing people, and being an absolute smartass just to get a rise out of him. In that way, she realized, she was very much like her Auntie Constanza; the main difference was she didn't prank people to kingdom come, she just insulted them.

Perhaps someday Sierra and Piccolo could grow a little closer, maybe they might even become friends, but more than that was off the table. She sighed. More…that was always off the table, no matter whom she considered. She wouldn't make Rio's mistake; she wouldn't let her family suffer because her need to be needed outweighed her right to be respected. Love was a four-letter curse word—she wouldn't spread that sort of crap around her life any more than she would spread fresh manure on her kitchen table.

The song was almost over—how long did she spend lost in thought? She shook her head, the very tips of her sleek brown hair trailing across the surface of the water with the movement.

Right to the heart of the matter -
Right to the beautiful part.
Illusions are painfully shattered
Right where discovery starts -
in the secret wells of emotion
buried deep in our hearts.

Lost in the fragrant steam and the warmth of the bath, she gave her worries to the words spilling from her lips.

"Feelings run high…"



^ "Dios mío, no puedo creerlo! Yo pensó que deje la cocina prendida! Senora Briefs me va a matar!"- I just can't believe it, I think I left the stove on - Mrs. Briefs is going to kill me! (No, she didn't actually leave the stove on, she was making a point.)

* Gaijin – According to my research, essentially this is a Japanese term used for non-Japanese and foreigners – a way of saying someone is "other" rather than "us." Because of Japan's exclusionist culture and borderline xenophobia, many non-Japanese consider the term to be incredibly rude, bordering on a racial slur. Just as many people, however, insist that it's entirely harmless and not meant in offense, and some consider it a compliment. (Historically, it's been used to allude to the wealth and power of westerners and their businesses.) That all said, there's a more polite term – gaikokujin – which is considered neutral and formal, and used more commonly. In this scene, the rude woman is clearly not using the term without intending offense, considering her body language and tone, and Sierra quickly picked up on that.

** There's a possibility I've gotten this off a little, but my research supports this – if anyone with solid non-anime experience with the Japanese culture notices I've made an error, please do let me know and I'll correct it. The concept of 'Face' is central to Asian culture, similar to the Western concept of 'Self' – Westerners tend to focus more on their own self-respect and the opinions of those who matter to them, while Asian cultures put more emphasis on the respect of others. In this case, Sierra's reminding the woman to 'be polite to avoid losing the respect of others.' Lastly, I recently read an article stating that on average poor manners in public are becoming much more common in Japan. Normally the woman's rant would be more likely to be witnessed in 'rude countries' like the US, but in every country, there are people who refuse to let manners and courtesy get in the way of their attitudes. -_-'

Both sets of lyrics are from RUSH "Emotion Detector."



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