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The Demon King and the Half-Breed Hermit

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King Yemma's Office

Nearly every religion has certain beliefs regarding the afterlife, and all believers are certain that their beliefs are correct. King Yemma has no time for belief or disbelief, however; he has an afterlife to run and so long as his rules are held sacred, everything runs smoothly.

Those who lived virtuous lives go on to Heaven to be with their loved ones; those who lived without virtue are sent downward to their own personal section of Hell. Those straight-shot cases are not common, though, as most beings are a complex combination of sinner and saint. These souls are judged separately from the rest, their virtues weighed against their vices. If a soul was not horrible enough for Hell and not honorable enough for Heaven, they are instead sent to one or the other to await their sentence: being reborn to try again…because people never get it right the first time.

That was just the sort of soul Yemma found himself faced with ten years before. Ten years before, Old Earth was destroyed, and with it, the son of the Demon King who once conquered the planet. Piccolo Daimao once wanted only to follow in his father's footsteps, sought only to destroy the planet his father wanted to rule. That all changed, though, all because a naïve young boy saw the man behind the monster.

When Piccolo died to save the world he once loathed, his virtues outweighed his vices and he was sent to Heaven. Of course, the Namekian just had to raise a ruckus about being more useful in Hell. The very memory made Yemma's head ache. After all was said and done, the Namek wound up in Hell like he wanted…and that was the problem.

With Piccolo in Hell keeping the occupants in check, the ogres were getting lazy, and lazy ogres meant Yemma was paying them to sit on their collective asses. Something, the old deity realized with a scowl, had to be done about that blasted Namekian. He couldn't go back to Heaven—once sent downstairs, one couldn't simply waltz back upstairs again—what would be the point of having that impenetrable golden atmosphere if souls could simply fly back up to heaven whenever they wanted?! Piccolo couldn't be left in Hell, either, or the Ogres would continue to grow lazier and lazier, and if they got any lazier, the whole afterlife would come crashing down around Yemma's horned head!

Thus the ancient god found himself glued to a projection screen, watching the life of the big green pain in his ass, judging him a second time. After all, before souls could be reborn, they must be recycled, and before they could be recycled, their cases had to be reopened and re-judged all over again to determine what they should be reborn as. A lesser mortal would have been safely in the hands of one of Yemma's many ogre assistants, but not Piccolo—no, that Namekian numbskull had wreaked too much havoc to be trusted to anyone lower on the payroll. So far, Piccolo's new body was up in the air. He was too virtuous to be reborn a cat, but not virtuous enough to be a dog—too honest to be a snake or lizard but too big a smart-ass to be anything cute and fluffy—and no way was Yemma setting that pest loose in a human body! He'd caused enough trouble as an alien!

"Huh?" Though he'd been nodding off during the last several years of footage, Yemma lurched upward in his chair and rewound the tape. Onscreen, a flat-chested person with scruffy black hair lay locked in the Namekian's arms in a sleeping embrace, their black ape-like tail clumsily coiled around one bulging green calf. Yemma found himself thankful the IT ogres had set the projector to censor out nudity—the last thing he wanted to see was a full moon under a sickle moon—but he was not amused by the cartoonish drawing of his screaming face they used to block out the naughty bits.

The person onscreen was one he recognized from the first time he judged the Namek, but it never hit him just how much that person had changed over the years. In the last chapters of Piccolo's life, the eccentric half-breed mountain hermit had barely aged but had grown leaner and stronger. Before, Yemma had believed the hermit to be simply a rather reclusive member of the Earth's defenses; now, though, Yemma realized the person was not whom he'd thought they were. Despite the nearly flat chest, it was a woman; if he hadn't upgraded to HDR recently, he might never have realized the truth. With the video paused, he shuffled through the paper copy of Piccolo's file for answers.

"Hem," he muttered to himself as he thumbed through the door-stop of a file. "Piccolo hatched, Piccolo swears vengeance, Piccolo starved in the wilderness…ah, yes, here it is: Piccolo saved from starvation." A quick glance up at the screen verified that the woman onscreen was, indeed, the hermit who took in the starving Namekian child. "Aubergine, eh? Saiyan name, Saiyan tail, Saiyan hair…but only half-Saiyan? What's the rest of—" The question fell silent as his eyes lit on the answer; his blood ran cold.

"Hīrā-jin," he mumbled in disbelief. From appearances, the woman at the corner of the screen had little in common with the nearly-extinct race; despite these drastic differences, he could still see a few similarities. Her hair was pitch black, spiky, and scruffy, not sleek and ivory white; her body type wasn't nearly as elegant or slender as her predominantly effeminate brethren, but she had the same vivid eyes and long canine teeth. Those eyes and hair were why so many of her kind were killed—scalped, blinded, and left for dead to supply a vast black market with body parts that cured nothing but a heavy wallet. "She's half Hīrā-jin…how did I not realize one made it to Earth? How has she lived this long?! MAX!"

"You bellowed, Sir?" the unimpressed blond ogre grumbled as he trudged up to his boss' desk. Yemma fixed a dark scowl on the bespectacled ogre currently digging wax out of one pointed ear.

"I need a population report on a race called Hīrā-jin." Max heaved a long-suffering sigh, dug his smartphone out of his rumpled tigerskin trousers, and tapped away at the screen to pull up the data.

"Population is 139, Sir," Max replied in his almost monotone voice. "Their home world is long gone and that population is scattered across the universe, generally only mixed-breeds. That's a 52% decline from ten years ago and 89% over the last century. They're toast."

"Dammit!" Yemma's outburst didn't even make the ogre blink. "What about that one, Max?" He fumbled with the projector remote attempting to zoom in on the half-breed hermit but only succeeding in frustrating himself. "Bloody here!—what're her odds of survival?!"

"Approximately 27% if she has a decent protector—Earth does get invaded a lot…She's probably the only one in that galaxy. If she lives alone, she's toast, too." Clearly, Yemma realized with a dark scowl, it was time for another mandatory cultural sensitivity lecture for the office staff. Putting that thought aside for the moment, he flipped back to the beginning of Piccolo's file, snatched the cover page, and shoved it at the blue-skinned ogre still picking at his ear.

"Bring me that soul, STAT!" he spat. Max stared up with a deadpan expression.

"If you keep snacking between meals you'll get fat."

"I'm not eating him!" Yemma practically roared. That ogre was becoming more of a pain every eon; maybe, the deity considered with a snarl, he should reassign him to customer service. "Just bring me the damn Namek!"

"Grumpy, grumpy," Max groused scanning the strange little box-code on the cover sheet with his phone then walked away with his eyes glued to the screen. Without ever looking away from the screen he deftly sidestepped a sarong-garbed ogre carrying a ten-foot tall stack of paper files. "I'll be right back, don't get your horns in a twist." While he waited for his insubordinate subordinate, King Yemma pulled up Aubergine Vis' soul-file on the obsolete data-retrieval device connected to the projector. It seemed almost a year later, but Max finally returned with a familiar soul in tow watching him warily. "Anything else, Sir?" Max asked scratching his tiger skin clad behind.

"Yes, you're reassigned to customer service—and go find me someone who knows how to take orders!" Max rolled his glass-shielded eyes and walked away shaking his head. "As for you, Piccolo," Yemma growled down at the equally unimpressed Namekian and jabbed a finger accusingly at the muttering ogre slouching out of the room. "That's what happens when you take over Hell—the ogres become lazy and incompetent!"

"If you're waiting for an apology, you're not getting one," Piccolo rumbled up at Yemma only to freeze. The screen showed a familiar face—one he knew as well as his own but hadn't seen in years. Last he saw, her eyes were just as deep a violet as they'd always been, and the large, self-inflicted burn scar between her eyes was still healing. Now, years later, a long, wicked scar stretched from her hairline down across her left eye; the injury had rendered her eye foggy and most likely blind. What happened to her? He never saw such an injury after the battle with Majin Buu…she didn't travel the galaxy with Goku, Trunks, and Pan, so she didn't obtain the injury at the hands of one of the Shenrons or the multitude of alien races the bumbling trio managed to piss off. "Aubergine…did she…?" His expression and hesitance told Yemma everything.

"She hasn't died yet, surprisingly enough—that idiot said she has a 27% chance of survival but only if she has a decent protector." The Namekian only blinked, but Yemma could hear his heart pounding; that soul and the half-breed hermit were linked together, but to what extent, only they knew. Yemma knew they kept in contact until the Cell Games but after that neither had spoken to the other. "She doesn't have one, does she?"

"She doesn't need one," Piccolo snapped at the smug deity. "She's not a fighter at heart but she's not a weakling—she can take care of herself."

"Several thousand of her kind were the same way—pacifists who couldn't stomach violence but still supposedly knew how to defend themselves—they're all dead, killed by intergalactic headhunters for their hair and eyes. Your little half-breed is one of the last of her kind and possibly the only one in her galaxy so the headhunters will be getting desperate. Would you stake her life on those odds?" Piccolo had no answer, unable to do anything but stare through the solemn woman on the projector screen.

"What can I do?" he finally asked. "I'm no use to her dead and bringing me back to life would mean the return of the Black Star Dragon Balls."

"What sort of lesser god do you take me for?" Yemma sneered down at him. "Leave the Black Star business to me. MAX!" Once again, the blonde ogre trudged into the office scratching his behind.

"Yes, Sir?"

"I need an alternate rebirth form and an afterlife eviction form pronto—and why aren't you working customer service yet?!" Piccolo's eye twitched at the farce playing out before him; with any luck, he wouldn't have to see this place again for another few decades.





Next time: The Demon King!

Chapter Text


1: The Demon King

New Earth, in the shadow of Mt. Paozu

Sunset painted Mt. Paozu in shades of scarlet and crimson, and the sprawling forest around it hung heavy with shadows. Piccolo remembered the sight well though he'd never seen this particular version of it. He spent much of his youth on Old Earth in that very forest beneath that very mountain, maddeningly close to his nemesis but distant enough to evade notice. So many years were wasted in plotting, planning, training, and failing to exact his revenge on the boy who murdered his father…even more, however, were wasted in running from that boy's estranged half-sister.

Somewhere along the line, Piccolo must have taken a wrong turn. He'd been so sure this forest was uninhabited—that he'd be able to live here without being hunted down again—but the black-haired girl child watching him across the fire was proof that his certainty was misplaced. 

She seemed no older than he was, but the weariness in her dark purple eyes didn't match the youthful roundness of her face. Like that annoying brat who killed his father, she had a tail like an ape's, but hers was scruffy and black and clearly less dexterous. On the other side of the fire, she poked the embers with an already charred stick then checked the skewered fish and roots roasting over the flames.

"Who are you?" He'd asked once before, but she hadn't answered, choosing to hold the silence. "Why aren't you running away?" As though he hadn't said a word, she collected the roasting food and passed him the larger share.

"Eat," she said simply—the first words he'd heard her utter. "You're no threat to anyone sick and starving." Despite the admittedly awful taste of the roasted roots and burned fish, Piccolo gorged himself on the meager fare; if he'd realized fish tasted better cooked, he would never have pushed himself to the point of starvation to avoid the taste. "My name is Aubergine. Ka—uh—Go-ku calls me Aubrey. You can, too, if you want." Piccolo sniffed in disapproval.

"Never. I'm gonna kill that bastard—stay out'a my way or I'll kill you, too." The black-haired child arched one dark eyebrow at him and gave a skeptical snort.

"We'll see about that, Demon—perhaps you'll be more impressive without your ribs showing."

That one meeting in the forest led to several more, some by accident, some by design, and every time, Piccolo had to remind himself that Aubergine was the enemy—the sister of the brat who orphaned him. No matter how he tried, though, he couldn't quite connect the two siblings in his mind.

If not for their shared father, they'd have had nothing in common. Goku was rambunctious, naïve, and rather stupid, and had no qualms whatsoever about showing off his appalling strength. Aubrey was solitary, bristly, and an odd combination of passionate and cold, and she seemed content to simply go about her life without any contact with the outside world. She couldn't stomach violence—the first time they sparred, she landed only one punch then promptly vomited on his shoes—and until a cold April morning, he'd believed her to be a weakling without any sort of drive.

Many months had come and gone since Piccolo met Goku's sister in the forest near Mt. Paozu, and still she lived. The young demon had many excuses for her continued existence—she was feeding him, she wasn't a threat, she didn't seem to give two spits about Goku's fate—but those excuses never really felt right. Sure, she fed him, but hadn't his father killed people just for the lolz? Would his father have allowed her to live simply because she wasn't a threat? Was she really weaving an intricate deception, convincing him she wasn't a threat, and biding her time, intent on betraying him at the first opportunity? He had no answers. It was easier to be heartless on an empty stomach, and despite constant death threats, she still insisted on feeding him. Despite her stubborn refusal to fear him and her repeated attempts to poison him with her cooking, he still let her do so.

A series of loud cracks echoed through the forest, emanating from the dugout shelter Aubergine called home. If Piccolo hadn't been in the area, training, he might not have heard, and if he wasn't hungry, he wouldn't have investigated. It had absolutely nothing to do with concern for the infuriating brat—he couldn't care less if some crazy hunter shot her or a wild animal made a snack out of her! …but if she died, she wouldn't be feeding him anymore. Her cooking could kill lesser beings, granted, but it was better than starving, and he didn't look forward to starving again. That knowledge alone propelled him through the forest in search of the racket, and when he reached it, he skidded to a halt.

Aubergine stood silently beside a pile of stripped tree trunks and an even larger pile of split timbers. Right before his eyes, the girl he'd thought weaker than a baby bird grabbed a tree trunk, hurled it straight up in the air, and with several precise kicks, shattered it into timber. Piccolo stared in disbelief as the lumber fell neatly onto the pile she'd already broken up. He missed the moment her eyes fell on him, her lungs heaving from exertion and her flushed skin damp with sweat.

"Tired of living in a hole," she explained, the sudden comment startling him from his thoughts. She seemed completely unaffected by either his belief that she was weak or his shock at being forced to reconsider that belief. "Figured I'd build a shack."

A shack, she'd called it, but by the time it was done, it was more log cabin than shack. Over the years, that first cabin was replaced several times with increasingly larger and more efficient versions of the first though the basic design remained the same. Stone-paved floors were kept covered in a multitude of furs, hides, and rugs. The split logs of the outside were sealed with pitch and tar and thick clumps of moss grew between each log. Sheets of slate protected the roof. Even the windows—random bits of salvaged glass cemented together into mosaic panels more practical than attractive—were constant from home to home.

One more constant was the large wooden sofa in the front room, a sofa Piccolo spent many a cold night tucked into. Piccolo kept up his insistences for many years—stubbornly insisted that she was only alive because he saw no point in killing her, and even more stubbornly insisted that he didn't need her help, much less her friendship. Still, she continued to leave her door unlocked, continued to smirk knowingly when he crept through complaining of the cold or the rain, gave him the larger portion of every meal she cooked, and left it on the back stoop if he refused it. If not for her, he probably would have starved to death long before Goku ever became aware of his existence.

A plume of smoke danced over the distant treetops. Even at this distance, Piccolo knew Aubergine's horrendous cooking was the source of the smoke; as so often before, the thought made his stomach growl in hunger and turn in nausea all in the same breath. He'd been dead for ten years, though, and they hadn't spoken in much longer…could she have possibly learned to cook in that amount of time? He didn't hold out much hope. Regardless of the horrors that awaited him, he turned his toes toward the smoke and followed the stench of burning fish.

"You're not gonna give up on Goku, are you?" Aubergine's voice stilled him in his tracks, and he stood silently considering her question. He was no longer a child—though he couldn't explain it, three years of training himself to death had made him mature physically if not mentally. Aubrey was starting to mature outwardly as well, and he suspected she would appear a teenager to the world. He knew the truth, though…she was older than she looked despite her understated bust and unimpressive lack of curves. With every passing season, Piccolo found himself more and more distracted by her, and with every passing day, he halfheartedly contemplated calling off his vendetta against her brother.

"Never," he finally answered, the now husky tone of his voice making her eyes avoid his and her cheeks flush slightly. "He killed my father—he's the reason I exist, the reason I've suffered in this world—I cannot let that go—I won't let it go—and nothing you say will change that!" Dark purple eyes hesitantly met his, their owner almost sad.

"I was sent here to protect him—to keep him safe," she reminded softly. "If I allow you to harm him, how can I face our father in the afterlife?" Piccolo scoffed, staring venomously out the bottle glass window facing Goku's home.

"How can I face mine if I let the brat live?" For a moment, Aubergine stared out the same window contemplating a plume of smoke in the distance. When had family ever done her any good? When had family been anything more than an impediment? Bardock was her father, but he sentenced her to life on Earth—Raditz was her brother, but he treated her like an outsider in their home—Kakarot was her brother, too, and the brother she'd sworn her life to protect…and he left her behind without so much as a goodbye, all to seek adventure with a stranger.

"Let me talk to him, Piccolo," she asked without turning from the smoke in the distance. "Maybe I can reach him…maybe neither of us need greet our fathers in shame."

A week later, Piccolo found her bruised and bloodied from taking her frustrations out on an innocent grove of trees, her eyes wild and her teeth bared in anger and hurt. She gave up everything to protect that selfish little brat—gave up her entire life to protect his!—and he forgot about her entirely. After years of wasting time on a brother who didn't understand her Aubergine was through…why protect family who won't do the same?

The reek of burnt fish stung Piccolo's nose but the acrid stench was as comforting as it was dreadful. It brought to mind memories both good and bad—memories of snowy nights in the cabin, summer mornings by the river, long sparring sessions in the fields, occasions when Aubergine's fried fish came right back up seconds after swallowing—why, he wondered not for the first time, did he focus so much on pushing the eccentric woman away? Why was he so insistent that they remain at arms' length even after she renounced her duties to her brother and declared she 'didn't care anymore?'

Some memories with her, Piccolo looked back on with a smile, others a cringe or a scowl, but the worst of them left him cursing himself like never before. After all, he'd decided over time, he ruined everything—why expect himself to not ruin the friendship he'd always needed most?

"I don't understand." Piccolo refused to acknowledge Aubergine though she reached out for him. Many years had passed since he met the half-breed hermit and almost as many since he and the half-breed finally gave in to the tension between them. Many a time they'd sparred in the fields only to wind up down in the dirt clawing at each other's clothing and rutting like animals. Piccolo knew she cared for him more than she would admit; that was alright, though, because he felt the same way.

The years had been good to him. He grew stronger, faster, and wiser than his father ever was. He made friends, made mistakes, made choices, and made promises—enemies turned to allies, allies to comrades, and a few of those comrades even became friends. The years changed him, and he sometimes wondered if for better or for worse. Though he once wanted nothing more than to destroy or enslave the world, he instead saved it—many times—and would continue to save it until he breathed his last.

This new foe, however, made that last breath seem right around the corner. Cell was unlike anything he'd ever fought before, and even if he could convince that bastard Kami to join with him again, Piccolo doubted he could beat the bug. Chances were he'd die in the battle but he'd go down fighting…and when that time came, he wanted Aubergine as far away from him as possible. It was hard enough dying in the arms of the young pupil who befriended him; dying in the arms of the woman he loved would be unbearable.

"What's not to understand?" he sneered instead of admitting his fears. "I'm done—I'm sick of your bullshit, your whining, and your hypocrisy! You can fight but you won't," he snarled at her, inwardly wincing when she flinched away. "Cell could take over the world for all you care, so long as you don't have to fight! For God's sake, you wouldn't even fight to save your own brother!"

Though the accusation was unfounded, it hit home. Tears welled in Aubrey's eyes; she shook her head in silent denial. She'd never given up on her brother, no matter what she told Piccolo—if she'd given up, she would never have stayed so close to the Son household, would never have shown up every time Earth's strongest gathered to offer her healing hands. "Piccolo…" He left without another word, hating himself every step of the way.

The cabin was mere yards away now, and the burned fish stench was stronger than ever. All around him, Piccolo could see evidence that things had changed. The grass was overgrown because her goats were left wandering about instead of staked to leads in the overgrown grass. Her chickens and geese were looking fatter than ever and surrounded by several hatchings' worth of chicks and goslings—evidence she rarely took advantage of the eggs and meat. The cabin's unique windows were caked with dirt, the roof was missing tiles, the front door stood ajar but there was no cat or dog snoring on the sunny stoop…this was not the way he remembered her living. Fearing the worst, that she was hurt or even dead, he scanned for threats and darted to the cabin's front lawn.

She was alive. Through a window formed from what looked like soda bottle bottoms, he could see the half-breed woman standing before a pot-bellied wood stove staring into space. Her hair was long overdue for a trim, the longest bits gathered into a thin tail at her neck, and the rest was more ragged than he'd ever seen. The cloudy violet eye nearest him was hung with shadows and stared vacantly through the fish slowly turning to cinders in the frying pan. Traces of salt shone from her scarred and slightly hollowed cheek. Only twice before had he seen her shed tears and both times, it was his doing…surely, he reasoned bitterly, these tears were his fault as well.

Something happened in the time he'd been gone, and from the looks of it, it wasn't anything good. What happened to her? Why was she letting the place go when she'd been so proud of it before? Perhaps it was his ego talking, but Piccolo couldn't help but wonder if this happened because he left her alone, defenseless, and friendless in a world she'd never wanted to call her own. At the time it'd seemed the right thing to do—the only thing to do—but that certainty had long faded into disgust with himself.

He should have known the crazy woman wouldn't listen! He'd warned her away—pushed her away—heartlessly murdered her faith in him and fed her a pack of lies, all to keep her safe…but she showed up anyway. When Earth's defenders gathered to face off against Cell in his demented tournament, they found Aubergine waiting with an exceptionally sour look on her face. Before Piccolo could get a single word out, she stalked away from the group, leaped up onto one of the tall monoliths lining the edges of the arena, and stubbornly ignored him. Despite her attitude, he followed her—she dove off and took flight, he followed her—even as the arena faded away behind them, he still followed her. Finally, he tired of following…it was time to lead.

"Aubrey!" The nickname—the name she'd offered and he'd refused to use even once—startled her. She ground to a sudden halt mid-air, slowly drifting down to the ground again. She turned to acknowledge him, shaking in both anger and hurt, and seemingly oblivious to the tears streaking down her cheeks.

"Fuck you, demon-scum!" she shrieked back at him even as he lit down and stalked toward her. She had known for years that he wasn't a demon—had learned shortly after he did that he was, in fact, as alien to the planet as she was—but in her rage, it was the only thing she could put into words.

"What are you doing here, Woman?!" Piccolo demanded harshly; she went to bury her fist in his jaw and he grabbed her wrist, squeezing until she cried out in pain.

"What—I've always—done!" she ground out with venom in her eyes. "I'm fighting for my home!" His grip loosened, she wrenched herself free and threw punch after punch at him. "I can fight!—I do fight!—I sit on the sidelines, I patch your asses up, and I watch you go right back out again every single time! There's more to fighting than breaking bones—I fight by healing them!" Time and time again her fists rained down on his chest and shoulders, her breath shuddering into frantic sobbing.

When the impacts ceased to sting and she seemed more intent on grabbing him than hitting him, Piccolo caught her fists and waited for her to calm down. He'd never seen her so worked up before—more often than not, she seemed to not care about anything enough to lose control—and in seeing it now, he knew for certain he went too far. "I hate you," she croaked even as her fingers dug into his tunic and her knees grew weak and wobbly. "I hate you, Piccolo! I'll never forgive you for this—never!"

UP NEXT: The story of Aubergine - "The Half-Breed Hermit"

Chapter Text


2: The Half-Breed Hermit

Just another boring day, Aubergine mused, viciously kicking a fallen fruit from one of the osage orange trees nearby. Another day walking the boundaries, the cliff, forest paths, and creeks, all to distract herself from boredom. The world existed in a constant state of flux—it was the very nature of life to change. Now, though, it seemed time stood still, and had done so for a good ten years. Ten years…She forcibly searched for a happier memory—something, anything to distract from the destruction of Old Earth, and the events that followed. Twenty years, thirty years, forty….

'Fine,' she admitted silently with a particularly violent kick, splitting the pungent green fruit into chunks. 'Life sucks, life's always sucked, and it will continue to suck until it's over.' Brushing her spiky black fringe out of her clouded eye and back behind her left ear, she fought memories of the few times in her life that hadn't sucked…times when she and her half-brother had at least tolerated one another's presence…times when she and the planet's resident Namekian warrior sparred till her training field was painted in burgundy and violet blood...the times before he turned on her, shattering—

"NO!" she barked angrily, sending another hedge apple sailing through the air. "He's gone—no point in rehashing the past. Just focus..." Focus on what? She sullenly glanced over at the reconstructed Mount Paozu, where her only living family resided. Not that she really knew any of them well...Chi Chi made certain of that.

Damning the burning in her dark violet eyes, she turned from the mountain, following her usual path along a cliff side littered with caves. Piccolo had called those caves home...rather, their counterparts on Old Earth. Though their innards were identical, he'd never seen these caves. He'd spent no rainy days meditating there, no cold nights ruminating by a fire in their stony depths. On Old Earth, those caves would still carry a sweet scent of grass, spring water, smoke, and mysterious unknown herbs. These caves never sheltered Piccolo; they smelled only of dirt, mildew, and bat guano.

She woke with a start, suspiciously searching the dim cavern around her. A campfire flickered by the entrance, filling the space with a smoky fragrance of oak, pine, and dried moss. Along one wall, young Gohan lay curled up on a pile of furs, out cold. She'd felt the presence of another, but where were they? No, not they...he. She shivered in the damp air, going over her last memories. That moron Raditz recognizing her...their nephew's abduction...Goku and Piccolo finally, briefly on the same side...Goku...being...

Her chest ached in a very non-Saiyan manner that had nothing to do with the ribs Raditz cracked or the lung he bruised. Her half-brothers were both dead—the only family she'd ever had, killed by the very being she'd spared from starvation all those years ago. Piccolo...the name reverberated in her thoughts like an oath. So much for peace and much for life without bloodshed.

"He won't stay dead," the sullen warrior pointed out as he slunk into the cave, arms laden with firewood. "Those friends of his won't allow it...not with two more of his kind on the way." Her dark purple eyes darted to his; this was only going to get worse.

For a moment, Piccolo seemed torn between two paths; his brow furrowed as he settled by the fire. Finally, briefly, he met her eyes; within them, she saw the child that she met years before and fed beside a fire much like this one. "I'll not ask your assistance, Aubergine," he muttered lowly, black eyes burning her own before retreating to the fire. "Not when I've given you no reason to assist me." She scowled. They practically grew up together; hadn't that ignorant demon learned anything about her?

She had family, but what good had they ever done her? Bardock's weakness was the reason she'd been born and his job was the reason she'd been orphaned. Kakarot's head injury was the reason she was marooned on this primitive planet and his ineptitude was the reason her solitude was stolen away. Raditz' refusal to take no for an answer was the reason she was forced to decide between violence and letting her nephew die. Granted she never landed a single punch, thanks to her detestable emotional weakness, but she tried, dammit. Gohan's complete and utter uselessness was the reason she was completely and utterly the last living child of Bardock the Visionary. Family had never been a blessing, only an impediment. Piccolo, however...

She stalked toward the fire, settling beside him with her tail across her lap. As always, his eyes were drawn to the scruffy black fur; as always, he wrenched them away, scowling in the opposite direction. Never once had Piccolo allowed her to come to harm, even when she broke down on the battlefield without landing even one hit. Nor had he ever condemned her inability to stomach bloodshed.

He shot her a confused glance when she laughed lowly. "That's cute," she smirked, giving him an admittedly feeble sock to the arm that only stung her knuckles. "After all these years, you  still  think you have to  ask ." He hesitated, countenance blank as he searched hers.

"Your brothers—" She cut him off with a shrug.

"—are dead." She stared soberly into the flickering flames. "No amount of anger or resentment will bring them back. We've got bigger things to worry about...Kakarot's harpy is now a widow." As the two lapsed into a silence as familiar as their own heartbeats, the air crackled with tension and unspoken promises.

Shaking herself from the memory, Aubrey stalked further from the cliff's edge. Not an hour later, she reached an equally familiar field bordered with trees and scrub grass. Again, as every time before, she recalled the day Earth's defenders returned from Namek. Two were left behind on the dying planet, replaced by a horde of displaced Namekians, many with serious injuries.

At first, she couldn't believe what she was seeing; how could so many people simply materialize on her property at the same time?! Despite her confusion, she raced through the crowd of Piccolo look-alikes, seeking the real Piccolo—the living, breathing, and infuriating source of chi she could have sensed light years away. Finally, she found him, bleeding out among the multitude of other wounded and the overburdened Namekian healers tending to them. Ignoring the curious stares she was getting, she skidded to her knees, laid her palms over his heart, and called on her gift.

A murmur of surprise rippled through the crowd as a bright white aura surrounded Aubergine and Piccolo, her pupils swelling and swallowing the irises and whites of her eyes in solid inky black. Near frantic with worry, she watched for any sign of recovery, panting with the effort of healing him. When his eyes finally opened and focused on hers, her lungs shuddered to a standstill. As the last wounds faded from grass green skin, pitch black receded from suspiciously shiny violet eyes. Unnoticed by the crowd around them, Piccolo's eyes softened, echoing the sentiment in her own.

The next day, when only they remained, Aubrey and Piccolo took to the still blood-stained field. Sparring as only they did, they fought tooth and nail from the first moment of sunrise to the first chill of coming dusk.

With the sickle moon standing guard, they finally gave into the connection they'd fought practically since the day they met. In the bloodied grass, attended by a symphony of crickets, Aubergine and Piccolo became one. No vows passed between them, nor any promises or confessions—neither was any good with words, and actions always spoke louder. As dew began to fall, and as they caught their breath, Aubrey stared defiantly at the moon above, promising all manner of horrors if the gods dared to come between them again.

Aubrey cursed her non-Saiyan side, her throat tightened in hurt. She'd never really fit in with the true Saiyans, back home on Vegeta-sei. After all, she was a bastard and a half-breed—the unexpected result of a drunken hooker binge after Bardock's mate died and left him saddled with a young boy. He'd never spent much time with her, much less told her about her mother's race. 'Your mother was a whore,' he snapped when she asked him. 'That's all she was—She's dead, and that's all you need to know.'

With no name, species, or helpful details, Aubrey had begun blaming her mother's 'inferior race' for everything that made her stand out. True Saiyans had spiky, thick black hair, a proud brown tail, and black eyes that could strike fear into the strongest warriors. Her hair was stubborn enough, but not nearly Saiyan level of stubborn. Add in her unnatural black tail and ugly non-black eyes the purple of the bitter egg-fruit she was named for, and she never fit in. It went beyond the visible, though. She had a 'pathetic' inability to stomach violence, 'sappy' emotional tendencies, and her strange innate healing ability—though frequently commandeered by her Father's fellow mercenaries—was nothing a true Saiyan would ever need! Obviously, they were all weaknesses of her mother's kind, and all weaknesses were to be denied and eradicated.

After years of fighting to be acknowledged by her father, her half-brother Raditz, and the multitude of Saiyans around her, she finally got a chance. Kakarot—born to Bardock's second mate—was to be shipped off-world for his infancy tour in a fortnight. Bardock had religiously avoided the communal nursery, knowing all-too well that he may never see his son again. It was a risk all knew, but none spoke of—it was expected for warriors to send their young out to conquer their first planet as mere babes. On the surface, it was an obligation that they should be proud to fulfill; under the pretty labels, though, lurked the dark truth of the multitude of infants who'd never returned, who'd never even made it to their intended planet alive.

Bardock was anything but sentimental—he was Saiyan! He was ten feet tall, made of steel, and packing serious heat, with a pair of brass balls to boot, just like every other Saiyan Aubrey knew! Naturally, when he called her to his quarters one evening, packing for yet another mission, she was shocked at his reasons.

"Aubergine," he asked lowly as he buffed a chest plate set idly. "Do you remember your mother? No, I suppose not…you were only a babe then, barely teething. Sit." Respectfully silent, she lowered herself to the floor beside his chair, automatically reaching for a polishing cloth and one of his boots. At first, he seemed surprised at the gesture, but a wry smirk quickly hid it. "What I am about to tell you must never be spoken of again, or it could easily be the end of you. Clear?" She nodded, only halfway focused on the chore she'd assumed.

"If your mother had not found herself afoul of a headhunter, and had not sought me out for protection, I'd never have known you were born. I can only imagine how she wound up conceiving, what with most of her trade being sterilized upon hire, but it's no matter." Vindictively eyeing a particularly annoying blemish on the armor he held, he spat on it and began scrubbing with renewed fervor. "I cannot tell you what she was, only that in certain backwater systems, the eyes and hair of her kind are highly valued as supposed 'miracle cures.' Well, not the whole eye, technically, just the retinas." Aubergine startled, turning inquisitively at him.

"Miracle cures?" she asked rather bitterly. "Cures for what? Strength?!" A warning glance drew a mumbled apology.

"I don't know the details…I just know she was being hunted, and I turned her away." Blasted non-Saiyan sentiments, she thought, swallowing around the boulder in her throat. His words shouldn't mean a thing to her! "I reconsidered…but arrived too late. She'd been beaten, blinded, and scalped, and left for dead; I promised I'd keep you safe, and I have."

"But…but Sir!" He flinched at the name; he'd insisted, of course, but to keep her at a safe distance. Momentarily he abandoned his work, for the first time in years lifting the child onto his knee. She should be almost Raditz' age—they were only three years apart, but she was maturing far too slowly. Though they'd never been exactly what he'd call 'close,' he had never had the heart to completely push her away. She wasn't entirely Saiyan...she didn't understand the distance Saiyan children expected.

"Aubergine," he muttered, awkwardly petting her hair. "I kept you from joining the service for your own sake. Frieza's mercenaries aren't known for honor; if there was a market for Saiyan organs, my kind would have met the same fate as your mother, in a heartbeat. I only wish you safe."

"Yes, Sir," she mumbled, blinking rapidly to dispel the tears fighting to escape.

"Chin up, Brat," he smirked, tickling her with his tail until she laughed. "I have a mission for you—one of utmost importance. Your brother Kakarott is to be sent on his infancy tour, to a planet called Earth; you will travel ahead of him, and protect him." His gut churned at the lie, but he soldiered on. "I leave the next day on a long mission, and may not return for a cycle or more. When my mission is through and I am able to return..." He forced a smirk in place. "I'll come collect you myself. Until then, you must stay on Earth, with Kakarott."

She studied him silently a moment, as though she realized what he was trying to hide from her. Not for the first time, Bardock wondered if her mother's kind could somehow detect lies.

"You're leaving us there." The words held no trace of reproach, only sadness. "You've seen how your mission ends, haven't you...Papa..." He held his tongue, struggling for a gentler way to explain what he'd seen; there was none.

"Aubergine," he answered seriously, "Time is up for Planet Vegeta; the Saiyan race will fall. I'll die a warrior, but I'll be damned if my children die with me."

One year later, Aubergine lay in an empty field staring up at the sky, yearning for her father and fearing she wasn't strong enough to protect her baby brother. Twelve years later Goku took off on his first adventure without even saying goodbye.

"Screw this!" Aubrey spat suddenly, startling a flock of sparrows from a nearby tree. "Nothing's changed, nothing's happening, nothing's ever going to change or happen—I'm going home." For the first time in years, she cut her walk short, angling through a washed out gully toward the rural cabin she called home. She was alone on that New Earth but she was alone on Old Earth as well. She liked it that way—alone, she was untouchable, nothing could hurt her and nothing could break her!

…what a load of bullshit.

UP NEXT: A long-awaited reunion - "The Games we Play"


Chapter Text

3: The Games We Play

When Piccolo broke Aubergine's heart she swore she'd never forgive him; in the years that followed, it never once occurred to him that she might not have meant those words.

In the years following the Cell Games she continued to stand in defense of their home; every time some malevolent power threatened their lives, she stepped up to the plate and volunteered her healing abilities. When that wasn't enough, she exhausted herself trying to defend those who couldn't defend themselves and more often than not, she took a serious beating for her efforts. She knew how to fight and she wasn't a weakling, but Piccolo knew the truth…no matter what horrors she endured she had no heart for fighting. Though she was nearly as powerful as he was, she froze up, pulled her punches, and couldn't seem to make herself hurt others even when lives were on the line.

When the Saiyan hybrid simply sat on the sidelines and healed the wounded, she emerged unscathed; when she was backed into a corner and forced to fight for the weak and wounded, she resorted to acting as a living shield and couldn't always stop to heal herself. Many battles left taunting reminders behind—scars she'd never borne before—but she refused to erase them and wore them with a bitter pride. Every scar was worn like a badge of honor, a scornful reminder to her former lover that she was not a weakling. With every new scar, Piccolo regretted his words more.

No matter how many years went by, no matter how many foes the team vanquished, no matter how many times Aubergine was wounded in the defense of the planet she'd always defended, she never spent any more time with Piccolo than necessary. He tended to find himself high on the triage list but once his wounds were healed she'd stalk away to the next patient before the black fully faded from her eyes. She never spoke to him unless he spoke first, she never subjected herself to his company unless he was broken and bleeding, and she never ever gave him another chance to hurt her again. Even if she had, though, he wouldn't have had the heart to do so.

Startled by something unseen and unheard, Aubergine's mismatched eyes tore from the blackened fish fillets to the window, darting around the landscape outside to search out the source. Piccolo wasn't sure whether to be disappointed that she'd only just noticed his chi or curious at her cautiously hopeful expression. The moment came crashing down around him when she visibly shook some sense into herself and stormed back over to the stove. In a fit of rage, she snatched the cast iron skillet off the stove stormed to the open door and heaved it out into the yard with an unintelligible screech.

The scalding metal connected with Piccolo's face, triggering a loud bellow of pain. When he finally got the worst of the charcoal and grease out of his eyes, Aubergine stood frozen in the doorway with her arm still extended from the throw and her long sharp eye teeth bared in a stunned gape. Neither spoke—neither moved—in the back of his mind Piccolo felt gritty cooking oil slither down his clenched jaw. Ignorant to the tension crackling in the air, a gaggle of free range geese and hens strutted over to pick at the charred fish only to turn up their beaks at it. Funny…even the poultry thought her cooking was shit.

"Pic……lo?" Aubergine stammered paling and backing away. "H…How…you're…you're…!"

"Dead?" he supplied dryly. "It didn't stick." A long tense silence stretched between them, a multitude of emotions flashing unhindered across the woman's scarred face—emotions she would never have allowed to show before he died. She'd changed, alright, and he suspected for the better. Of course, that suspicion was entirely reversed a second later when she bolted. "That's new," he grunted. He waited only long enough to shed his turban and mantle and scrub his face clean on the former, then gave chase.

As he tore through the grassy pasture after her, a predatory smirk split his lips; for the first time since the Cell Games, he really, truly felt alive.

In the years since Piccolo's death, Aubergine experienced no shortage of nightmares. Some brought him back to life only to die again in her arms; others revived him only so he could attack her, scalp and blind her like her mother had been, and leave her to die. Worst of all were the nightmares where he came back to life, saw how broken she'd become over his death, and proceeded to prove just how weak she'd really become. It wasn't a new fear at all. Saiyans, after all, were notorious for their ability to suppress any and all emotion and kick every ass around while doing so—Saiyans had no tolerance for weakness of any sort. She was only half-Saiyan, though—her other half was a half-told secret that died with her father, a race that was far too sensitive for their own good and probably deserved to die out because of that weakness.

How could Piccolo be alive again?! How could he have found her here on New Earth, much less at the very moment she found herself lost in memories of the bizarre courtship they'd lived out for so many years?! Her eyes streamed with a constant flow of tears—weak tears—blurring the landscape as she fled in disgrace.

Piccolo's steadily pounding footsteps grew closer by the minute—any moment and he'd catch her. Even as she pushed herself to her limits and ran like the very devil was after her, though, those footsteps gradually slowed and fell behind. By the time she reached a familiar sparring field—the New Earth equivalent of the field she and Piccolo once spent many an afternoon painting with blood then christening with other fluids—she could no longer hear any sign that she was being followed.

Though her instincts screamed that the silence was a trap, she staggered to a halt, bent double and panting for breath. She hadn't been pushing herself in her training since he was killed, after all; several times that oversight almost got her killed, but what did it matter? Piccolo was gone—her lover, her nemesis, her friend—he was dead but she still lived. As hurt as she was by his betrayal, losing him hurt far more. A sudden breeze whipped her hair forward; a split second later, a hard heavy body tackled her from above and pinned her to the scrub grass.

She knew it was a trap. With her mind running light years a minute, Aubergine stared in horror down at the mangled turf, wondering which of her many nightmares would come to life. The dead man who died twice? The vengeful demon out for blood? The arrogant warrior intent on putting her in her place? Her mind frantically analyzed everything around her—every sound, sight, and smell, and everything she could feel—desperately trying to find the threat before it found her first. A low, graveled chuckle near one ear, however, made it painfully obvious that she'd forgotten a nightmare.

The lover who forgot he broke her heart. Shit. That was one of her least favorite nightmares! "G—UH!—Gi'off!" she growled at him, her blind eye unknowingly meeting one of his. "Go back to Hell, a—!" A clawed fingertip gingerly traced the scar bisecting her cloudy eye; she shuddered and struggled anew.

No matter how hard she struggled, she never expected him to actually release her—back when they'd played this sick game as lovers—before he betrayed her, before he died—he'd never have released her until she surrendered herself to him. Some might have found it odd that the normally stoic Namekian had a playful side—granted, it was more sadistic than playful, but who's counting? Aubergine was sure his comrades, his friends, would never have recognized the man he became when they were alone…of course, most of his friends didn't even recognize her until the fifth or sixth healing, so they probably weren't the best judges of character.

"Aubrey." The long-awaited nickname against her neck stilled her, but his suddenly slack arms ground her thought processes to a dead halt. She remained face-down in the grass as his weight vanished from her back; while she still struggled to process the unexpected occurrence, familiar arms—corded with lean muscle and rough with scaled patches—gathered her from the grass and pulled her upright and against an equally familiar cloth-draped chest.

This, she realized in complete and utter befuddlement, was not among the many nightmares that plagued her for years. Angry Piccolo she could handle—violent Piccolo, whatever—Piccolo crawling into her arms and dying all over again, she might even be able to handle that. This Piccolo, though? This warrior who seemed content to simply breathe her in, as though he'd missed her more than the very blood in his veins? This Piccolo made no sense—this one made her worried, afraid, angry, sad, hurt, and happy, all at the same time, all the stupid worthless emotions her father's race had disdained.

One moment Piccolo was simply holding his estranged companion, simply breathing in the charred green smell of her and marveling at the chance he was given. Next thing he knew, he found himself flat on his back in the grass and Aubergine kneeling over his midsection with her rough hands clamped around his neck. Both her eyes had turned solid black just as they did when she healed, but no white aura accompanied the venomous snarl on her lips.

"Who are you?!" she demanded sharply. "Answer me!"

"You know who I am," he reasoned trying to puzzle out her change of heart. There was no point in fighting to break loose—she wasn't strong enough to keep him restrained. "I—"

"Wrong…answer." As her fingers tightened around his neck a strangely familiar feeling overtook him—the feeling of his chi being sapped away. He'd had his strength drained before, first by the Androids and again by Cell, but Aubergine had only ever given him strength; it seemed in the time since their separation began, she also learned how to take that strength away. Now she stood a chance against him. "Try again—Who are you?!" His answer—barely the first syllable of his name—was cut off by the grip on his neck tightening, yanking, and slamming his skull back against the turf. "Liar! He's dead!—Piccolo's dead, you can't be him! You can't!"

As her anger eroded into despair the drain on his strength weakened to a trickle then faded entirely, and at the same time, the black faded from eyes spilling over with tears. The hands wrapped around his throat weakened and fell away, and Aubergine slumped back on her ankles, her entire body shaking. "You can't be him," she insisted hoarsely. "I can't lose…can't lose him again…"

"It's true," he swore sitting up. "I'm back—I live—" A punch to his jaw cut him off.

"If that's true," she spat, "Why now?! I called the dragon for you—tried to have you brought back—you refused! Why have you come now, Demon?!" His tone gruff, he gave her the answers she demanded—told her that the Black Star Dragon Balls would have returned with him, that King Yemma found a way around it, and lastly, that he was given another chance at life if only to fulfill an important mission—he had to protect the last Hīrā-jin in their galaxy. The name of her mother's race only earned him a blank look; did she even know what she was? When the story was wrapped up she was finally looking more like herself: her eyes were hard and her brows were pinched and drawn down, her lips were a sour flat line, and her nostrils flared in annoyance.

"No." With that one word, she lunged to her feet and stalked off in the direction of her cabin. Wait…what? It took a moment for Piccolo to process the strange occurrence, then he stood and gave chase.

"No?" he asked walking alongside her.

"No," she confirmed emotionlessly.

"I don't follow you." Dark violet eyes rolled to the heavens and she shook her head.

"Go back to Hell, Namek," she ordered without emphasis. "I don't need protecting—I can take care of myself." By the time he figured out how to answer that, how to argue that she did, in fact, need protecting, they'd reached her cabin and she'd shut the door in his face. A jiggle of the handle told him it was locked, and examination of the door frame and woven mud mat revealed the absence of a spare key. The back door, likewise, was locked and key-less. Granted, he could gain entry into the cabin without effort—a well-placed masenko would demolish the lock and the door—but he knew better. He made that mistake once and found himself out in the cold eating raw fish and humble pie for an entire month; she didn't burn a single meal that month, probably to spite him.

Of all the ways he'd anticipated their reunion going, this was not among them. She swore years ago that she hated him and would never forgive him, but the state of her home and life had given him hope that she simply lashed out. Perhaps, he considered solemnly as she began slamming things around in the kitchen in another attempt to cook lunch, those hopes were entirely unfounded. It changed nothing. He vowed to protect her—vowed to keep her safe—and that vow still held whether she hated him or not.

Hours later, a soft click from the back side of the house drew him from the tree he'd been meditating under. For the first time in years, a covered dish of food waited on the stoop for him.

…it was even more awful than he remembered.

Chapter Text

4: Scars Are Proof We Will Survive

Over the next few weeks, the half-breed hermit and her guardian fell into a strange, if comfortable, routine. Piccolo would keep watch, train, meditate, and occasionally fend off visitors intent on welcoming him back to the world of the living. Aubergine would walk the boundaries of her territory, spend a few hours training, pointedly ignore Piccolo's presence, and butcher perfectly good meat and produce and leave the larger portions on the back stoop. They avoided one another for the most part—every time they were together, they wound up arguing, so why punish themselves?—and in doing so, they actually managed to get along pretty well.

Piccolo could barely recognize the woman she'd become and often found himself shaking his head in disbelief. She spent most of her time patrolling her property for trespassers but put very little effort into her training. Though she kept plenty of livestock—chickens, geese, goats, even an ox—she still rarely ate anything but fish. Her garden was well-stocked but anything not grown for the livestock was routinely ignored. Chores were neglected, training was neglected, repairs and maintenance were neglected…everything that didn't involve trespassers was more or less neglected.

As if that all weren't odd enough, her personality seemed to have changed, too. She was prone to long silences from the time he met her and more likely to hold her tongue than to speak her mind, but she rarely went a whole day without speaking; now she was going on a whole week of unbroken silence. Her expression rarely changed from the blank mask she'd assumed after she locked him out. Every day, Piccolo found more and more changes in the woman he grew up with…every day, he wondered if those changes were his fault.

The biggest change, however, wasn't apparent until the afternoon of the third Saturday day. As every day before, she spent the first couple hours of the day training then took off to walk the boundaries again, starting at the foot of Mt. Paozu and hitting all the old familiar landmarks along the way. Then he felt her energy spike without warning. It took him a matter of moments to reach her—out by the caves so similar to the ones he used to call home—but the danger was already over. A heavily scarred reptilian humanoid hung from Aubergine's grip, its laser rifle abandoned nearby. Right before Piccolo's eyes, she sapped away every last bit of the frantically pleading creature's energy, her black eyes merciless. A last wheezing breath later, she flung the withered corpse to the ground.

The eyes that met Piccolo's were entirely emotionless—one a familiar pitch black, the other more greyed than black—and a deep gash-like burn from the laser weapon split her right cheek. Without a word she brought her right hand up to her cheek; by the time he reached her side the white glow and the wound had faded entirely and her eyes had begun to change again.

"I don't need protecting anymore," she reiterated darkly as her dark purple irises broke through. "I can take care of myself." Without another word, she took aim at the corpse and incinerated it with a single controlled chi blast, and while the remains smoldered into ash, she continued on her way as if nothing had happened.

As her outline faded into the distance, Piccolo stared down at the abandoned laser rifle. He'd only been gone ten years…how could she have changed so much in so little time? Clearly, her attitude change was only the tip of the iceberg. Before, she could barely bring herself to fight even when lives were on the line; now she was able and willing to kill without much provocation.

Piccolo had no doubt the creature was a headhunter—some being from another planet intent on cashing in on her hair and eyes for a quick, if illegal, paycheck. Could it be, he wondered, that she'd been faced with such a situation before? Could she have been fighting off head-hunters the entire time he was gone, nay, even before he died? The wound on her cheek—similar in angle and position to the scar across her other eye, though smaller and lower—troubled him more than he cared to admit.

He needed answers. With a last look in the direction Aubergine went, he took to the skies; it was time to pay his respects to New Earth's young guardian.

"Got any sevens?" a chipper female voice asked as Piccolo lit on the lookout's tiles.

"Nope, go fish," Dende replied. With an 'aw, man' of disappointment, Pan added another card to her already sizable hand. Twenty years old and attending college and she was still just a big kid…clearly, she took after her grandpa more than anyone expected. Across from her, Dende glanced shyly at her over the cards fanned out in his hands; about time the little guy grew up, Piccolo thought to himself. "Hey, Piccolo! I wondered when you'd show up!" The name startled Pan and she turned wide, excited black eyes his way; the warrior counted down the moments it took for her to decide no, she wasn't dreaming, and react. She sucked in a deep breath.

"Mister Piccolo!" she squealed launching herself at him, her cards flung haphazardly every which way. Muddy red streaked his cheeks as the demi-Saiyan tackled him, flung her arms around his neck, and fairly choked him. Clearly, he realized with a scowl that didn't at all match the warm and fuzzy feeling in his gut, she still worried he'd suddenly vanish from existence again. Those bloody Son kids really knew how to worm their way into your heart.

"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled at the young woman hanging off his neck like a monkey. "Get off already." Her grin didn't fade at all as she did just that, dragging him over to Dende by the collar of his mantle. "This isn't a social call—I need answers." Dende scrutinized him a moment, ink black eyes solemn. It seemed, Piccolo mused silently, the young guardian hadn't only grown up on the outside.

"Better head home, Pan," Dende told the demi-Saiyan with a wry smile. "I'll see you next week, right?" Pan pouted and complained a moment about being sent home—something about 'mid-terms coming up'—but she complied no less. After subjecting her grumpy godfather to another tackle hug and giving the blushing sputtering guardian a big squeeze as well, she took off toward Mt. Paozu. Dende watched her vanish into the distance, his cheeks slightly pink.

"You're kidding, right?" Piccolo drawled startling the younger Namek.

"It—It's not—!" he protested gesturing wildly, the pink in his cheeks darkening to muddy scarlet. "I—I—We're just!"

"Save it." Seemingly realizing he wasn't going to accomplish anything by pleading his case, Dende fell silent and avoided his elder's eyes. "I'm sure you already know why I was sent back…and why I'm here."

"Y-Yeah." Dende rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "King Yemma told King Kai and King Kai told me—You were sent to protect the demi-Hīrā-jin living by Mt. Paozu—Aubrey, right? I never realized she was the only one of her kind in this galaxy…I guess I was too focused on her being half-Saiyan."

"Something tells me she knows less about it than you do—she didn't recognize the word at all." Piccolo led the way along the outer edge of the Lookout, keeping a close watch on Aubergine's energy.

"As for why you're here," Dende continued hesitantly, falling into step beside his elder. "I assume it's got to do with the hunters after her...and…that…scar." His eyes darted away nervously. Piccolo waited. "It wasn't long after the old earth was destroyed and the new one created, maybe a few months…I'm not sure how, but someone got the word out that one of her kind lived on this planet, probably during the Grand Tour. In a matter of months, she had more hunters come after her than in the entirety of her life on Old Earth. One got lucky—caught her sleeping…well, drunk actually."

"Drunk?!" Piccolo snapped. "What was she thinking?! You don't get drunk with assassins at your door!"

"She wasn't thinking, Piccolo," Dende pointed out sternly, "She was grieving. You weren't there—you died and you didn't come back! The others respected your wishes and didn't collect the Dragon Balls, but she didn't know - she thought we abandoned you! She broke into Capsule Corp, stole the Dragon Radar, collected all seven on her own, and demanded Shenron bring you back!" The younger Namek winced at the memory. "Being ordered around like that left him grouchy for a month. When you wouldn't cooperate with being sent back—insisted that your living would be the earth's undoing…" Dende trailed off, unconsciously slowing to a halt.

"She fell apart." Big black eyes met Piccolo's and their owner nodded gravely.

"Disintegrated. Aubrey saw you die too many times, Piccolo—Buu killed you, Dabura, Cell, and Frieza nearly killed you, that Nappa creep killed you…You were the only one she considered a friend, and she felt—" Suddenly he cut himself off, shook his head as though to clear the cobwebs, and started walking again. "She's had to learn to live without you, Piccolo; she's not the woman you left behind. I get that King Yemma wanted you to protect her—or at least wanted you out of his hair—but you can't just expect everything to be the way it was before…it's not."

Piccolo thought over the younger Namek's words for a moment, concerned at what Dende wasn't saying. It was obvious that there was much unsaid, much held back, but what on Earth—Old or New—could be so horrible that the guardian couldn't speak of it? Instead of acknowledging these suspicions aloud, Piccolo addressed a completely different one. "She can't see out of that eye, can she?"

"No," Dende answered with a troubled sigh. "It's completely blind…at the time, it was all I could do to heal her other injuries. I've offered many times since, but she refuses every time." He shook his head, partly in concern and partly in disgust. "She wants to keep it—says it's proof she survived the attack and will survive others like it."

"I could heal that, you know." Piccolo refused to accept or decline the offer, instead, turning to glare at the horizon with a derisive snort. Blood trailed down his thick brows and into his eyes, but he refused to acknowledge it. It was only a flesh wound—nothing to worry about, considering his father had an entire child punched through his chest—but the damn brat across from him wouldn't quit annoying him about it. Thinking he wouldn't notice if she was sneaky enough, Aubergine tentatively reached out for the small gash on her companion's forehead; before she could make contact, though, a clawed hand closed around her wrist in a painful grip.

"Don't. Touch. Me." Piccolo's warning was barely above a growl, but as always, Aubergine was unimpressed by his tough-guy act. Perhaps it was a matter of his age or his admittedly squeaky prepubescent voice? She pulled away, and when he released her, she grabbed a burning branch from the dying fire, shook out the flame, and offered it to him.

"Burn me." Her order stunned him, confused him, to the point where he was unable to do anything more than blink in disbelief. "I'll show you—just burn my arm." For a moment, Piccolo felt torn, confused, and unaware that his inner dilemma showed plainly on his young face. The little black-haired brat was just like any other brat on the face of that godforsaken planet—she was just another obstacle he had to overcome to follow in his father's footsteps—so why did he hesitate? Why did the thought of harming her, even with just a small blister, disgust him? He had no answers.

Fed up with his silence and refusal, Aubergine rolled her eyes and chucked the branch back into the fire. "Fine," she grumbled, "then just watch." Right before his eyes, she held her left arm out over the fire. Flames licked along her tawny skin, each one making her flinch and whimper. Piccolo's hand shot out seemingly of its own accord and he swatted her arm away from the fire.

"You idiot!" he swore, his black eyes halfway between frantic and angry. "What were you—!" He really should have expected the roasted fish she jammed in his mouth to shut him up. Ugh…her cooking really was terrible.

"Just watch," she reminded shortly, her right hand hovering over the burns on her left arm, fingertips just barely touching them. Right before Piccolo's eyes, Aubergine's eyes changed—black spread from her pupils outward until it swallowed up every single speck of iris and white—and a soft white glow spread outward from her hand. The glow surrounded her arm and her burns began gleaming silvery white, then like some strange magic, they receded into her flesh as though they'd never been there. Once her skin was again unbroken, the glow vanished and the black began to slowly fade from her eyes—eyes fixed seriously on his own.

The young Namekian found himself incredibly creeped out by those solid black eyes and instead focused on her newly healed arm. He saw the mess of nasty burns—saw with his own eyes how her skin was blistering and red—but the skin before him now was completely unmarred. In disbelief, he found himself tempted to poke the inexplicably healthy skin, but her knowing smirk dissuaded him. "You can heal people," he acknowledged instead.

"Much worse injuries than that, too," she proclaimed seriously. "My father said it was a gift of my mother's people." Her eyes grew uncomfortable at the admission and she turned to stare into the flames. "I wouldn't mind." Piccolo considered her words silently, his right eye twitching from the feeling of blood drying down the right side of his nose.

"Don't heal it all the way." She looked up, one black brow arched in confusion.

"What?" The young Namekian snorted and gave her an 'are you stupid or something?' look.

"Just stop the bleeding—don't heal it all the way," he clarified slowly as though talking to a person of low intellect. The irritation in her expression was worth it. "If it scars, it'll prove I'm strong—that I'll survive anything!" Aubergine rolled her eyes again but held her hand out to his forehead, the very tips of her fingers gingerly touching his skin; he felt every single one of them, heat spreading outward from all five points of contact. As her eyes turned solid black again, and the same soft white glow surrounded her hand—nearly blinding him—a strange feeling replaced the heat of her skin, something almost like slipping into a cold brook on a hot day. A barely visible shiver ran through him, but he didn't let it show in his face.

"I hardly think a little line on your face proves you're King Shit," she drawled as the glow faded away. He couldn't fight the feeling that she was staring right into his own with those creepy black eyes, but with no visible pupils, he was left guessing. When she pulled away, he reached up to feel around, and sure enough, the wound was still there, only scabbed over. "Still. Whatever you've got to tell yourself, I guess." Growing tired of her company, Piccolo lunged to his feet and prepared to stalk away into the forest again. Before he could get far, though, her voice stopped him in his tracks and brought an angry blush to his cheeks. "If that scar means you're strong, does the one on your ass mean you're a chicken?"

A sudden noise tore Aubergine from her sleep. She lurched upward gasping, her eyes already solid black and her hands outstretched to drain whoever was stupid enough to attack her in her own bed. Upon finding only her incredibly fat and lazy tabby cat curling up on the windowsill next to her head, she felt rather silly.

As the black drained from her eyes, she scrubbed her scruffy bangs back out of her face, considering the dream that woke her. She was used to Piccolo featuring in her worst nightmares—after all, it was his last glorious death that brought those recurring nightmares to life—but the latest dream was nothing she'd ever dealt with before. Piccolo was glad to see her, so glad he took up residence on her property and watched over her by day. When night fell, an army of headhunters appeared out of nowhere, all intent on reaping her saleable organs for their own gain…and Piccolo, unwilling to simply stand aside and let her die, was killed.

"No," she insisted aloud as the fat orange cat hopped down to her bed—the impact sending a protesting groan through the old box spring—and lumbered up to stick his ass in her face. (Granted, he simply wanted to groom her hair, but even for a cat, Tangerine was all ass.) "That's not going to happen…he's not stupid enough to stick around." Tanny let out a protesting wowr and glanced pointedly up at the window.

The tired woman swept her bangs out of her dead eye again and stared out over the landscape. Between the mortared chunks of salvaged glass, a glimpse of movement under the nearest tree caught her eye—something long and pale rustling in the breeze—dancing like linens drying on the line. Piccolo's cape, she realized with a halfhearted frown at the Namekian warrior levitating above the dew-dampened grass. Moonlight painted his skin with silver and a faint golden aura surrounded his still form. Torn between solemn and sullen, she lifted her fingertips to the mortared glass, watching the stoic being meditating near her home.

Piccolo wasn't stupid enough to stick around where he wasn't needed…so why was he still there?

( * )


Chapter Text

~ Just an author's note with update ~


Soft hiatus beginning now for writing on account of IRL difficulties. For the last couple months everything story-wise I've written has come out like "See Spot Barf" and it's taken a ridiculous amount of effort to even reach THAT level of mediocrity. I'm not gonna subject people to that, especially not you beautiful, wonderful readers who have stuck with me through the worst. (Slow updates, "just-fixed-a-typo" updates, Blocked, Kimber know, really awful stuff that makes readers want to choke writers.)

This is NOT the aforementioned Grief Hiatus. No one's dead (despite Granny Chance's best attempts to the latter) and the impending grief hiatus is still impending - I just need a friggin' break from pretending my arse isn't on fire from stress. IF, by some miracle, I can manage to transition the ideas in my heart and head into their intended fiction, I'll post them. In the meantime, I'm still apparently capable of flinging crappy sass-posts over on Tumblr, reading others' fiction, and leaving anonymous reviews when a story to touches my heart.

In the future, when this story gets going again, you can look forward to: Aubergine finally attempting to NOT poison Piccolo with her cooking, an appearance by an old friend-and-foe, Piccolo reminiscing about his past with the half-breed hermit, and Aubergine catching him completely off-guard. You may even see Piccolo reluctantly give Tamarind attention and be subsequently cat-adopted.

When this whole hiatus-causing business is over and I'm capable of writing on a regular basis again, I'll remove this note from my stories, but keep in mind that the hiatus will extend to "Full-Scale" if one of the two relatives dies before then. (again, uncle of cancer, Gran of age-deteriorated health) Meanwhile, be sure to support other writers on this site and please take time to enjoy life for a while.


Hope everyone has a great holiday season (or, if you don't celebrate, a lovely December) and with a little luck I'll be back to irritate y'all on a regular basis by January.