Hello, boys and girls, ladies and gents, plants and zombies, and everything in between. It has been a very, very, very long time since I've written anything for DBZ (we're talking like sixteen years) and I might be a little rusty, but watching the season finale of Team Four Star's DBZ Abridged put me in the mood to write a little something-something and today I bring you the first part of a fic I wrote over the past two weeks.

This story takes place following the conclusion of the Cell Saga and acts as sort of an alternate, what-if-there-was-no-Buu-saga continuation of the series. This isn't to say that I wasn't extremely entertained by the Buu Saga, but I wanted to give Gohan's character and the aftermath of Cell the gravity they deserved. That was really my only motivation for writing this. (That, and I wanted to play around with Videl's character a bit.)

Welp, that's about all from me. This story is actually complete already and I'll be posting chapters as I edit them. I wanted it to be a oneshot, but as usually happens with me, that didn't quite work out so I'll be splitting the story up as I go.

Thirty-Five Smiles to Forgiveness


Chapter One
The Boy Who Stares at the Sky

Videl could unequivocally pinpoint the exact moment her life began to change. It was the day she met a lonely boy in the woods.

The day had been overcast. It was the sort of day which comes and goes without much note. Pale clouds obscured the sky, muting the vibrancy of nature's majesty—not dark enough to promise rain but lacking the easygoing cheer of the sun. Videl and her father were in a small city a few miles East of Orange Star City. Or rather, Videl had to remind herself, Satan City now.

It had been five months since the defeat of the calamity known as Cell. Having become the most respected man in the world, her father was often called upon to make statements at important events, and as his daughter, Videl frequently accompanied him. This day had been precisely one such day. Her father had been invited to give a speech to the graduates of a local university and Videl had tagged along to affirm his popular image as a family man.

She stood nearby dutifully as he gave his speech and graced the auditorium with a smile when he'd joked about her attending the university in the future. It was a line he dropped at every college they visited and by now her reaction was automatic. After the ceremony, her father stuck around to sign autographs and Videl knew that following the autograph session he would be invited by the faculty to join them for drinks—the school's treat, of course. The routine was the same at every university they visited. Her father would give her a handful of zeni for supper and send her back to their hotel to await his return. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That day, however, Videl didn't feel like going straight to the hotel. It would be many hours before her dad would return and she didn't relish sitting alone in an overpriced suite room waiting for him. So, instead of returning to the hotel as instructed, Videl decided to do a little exploring.

The city wasn't large. It was really more of a glorified town situated at the edge of a mountain range and it didn't hold much to attract an eleven-year-old. Videl quickly grew bored of wandering the streets and turned her sights instead to the mountains. Even though it wasn't a particularly nice day, Videl was compelled to do a bit of hiking. So it was, she left the town behind and headed up the mountain.

There were no paths to follow and the foliage was dense and difficult to navigate but Videl stubbornly pressed on. It was this or boredom and she was well and truly sick of being bored. She continued to hike upward for a good hour and the further she walked the easier it became to maneuver in the thick underbrush. It wasn't often that she was able to enjoy nature so raw and untamed and she found herself enjoying the fresh scent of soil and the soft dragging of leaves on her skin as she pushed through branches and hopped over the occasional fallen tree.

Living in the city, it was easy to get swept up in the controlled chaos of society and the convenience of technology and forget the quiet power of the green earth that fed them life. Now that she was alone and surrounded by it, Videl could appreciate the solemn energy that filled the forest and she took some time to bask in it. There were spirits here. The forest had a lifeforce all its own which welcomed and beckoned her. Videl, young and daring and inquisitive as she was, obeyed its summons.

Her trek took her over the crest of a low ridge and deposited her in a sort of miniature glade surrounded by spiky evergreens. Here, the colorless veil of clouds had parted just slightly to allow a shaft of sunlight to fill the small clearing with golden light. Near the center of the glade was a fallen log upon which sat the last thing Videl expected to encounter so deep in the wilderness.

A boy was perched atop the mossy trunk, his right knee held to his chest by interlocked fingers and his face turned toward the sky. He wore a simple white changshan with black pants and black shoes and his hair was a curious pale blond that swayed gently in the light breeze. Videl's breath caught when she saw him. Under the single shaft of sunlight, he appeared ethereal, like an angel from a painting. He must have been close to her own age but his features had a softness that made his face seem almost timeless.

He turned from his vigilance of the sky to look at her when she entered and her gaze was immediately drawn to his eyes. They were the color of the mountains meeting the sea. All at once, she had a feeling like she'd seen him somewhere before, but she couldn't put her finger on where.

"Uh, hi," she uttered awkwardly, stepping forward out of the trees so that it didn't seem so much like she was spying on him. "I wasn't expecting to find anyone else all the way out here." She twined her fingers together uncertainly as she waited to see how he would react to her.

She read confusion on his face at her presence. Clearly, he was just as surprised as her to see another person on this mountain.

"Um…" she spoke again when it looked like he wasn't going to say anything. She wasn't sure what to say herself. Perhaps she should just leave. She was probably bothering him. "Sorry," she apologized. "You probably came out here to be alone and I'm disturbing you. I'll go."

She twirled around and made to find a new hiking path but she was stopped when he spoke.

"Hold on," he called. His voice was a little gravelly, as if he hadn't used it in a while, but his tone was kind. She turned back around to regard him curiously and he continued. "I'm sorry. You just surprised me. I don't usually see girls in the mountains." He brought a hand up to rub the back of his head and smiled sheepishly.

Videl studied him appraisingly for a moment and then made the decision to leave the tree line behind and approach him. In response, he hopped down from his log with a soft, "Hup," and held a polite hand out to her. "I'm Gohan," he introduced. "And you are?"

Videl was a little caught off guard by his formality. She wasn't accustomed to sharing handshakes with people her own age but she grasped his hand all the same and answered, "Videl."

The two children shook once and then released. Videl noted that Gohan's grip was quite firm and the skin of his palm and fingers was thick and calloused in the same places as hers. She looked down at her own hand briefly and flexed it once before returning her gaze to the boy in front of her. "You… Gohan," she spoke again. "Are you a martial artist?"

It was a rather blunt and forward question to ask someone she'd just met, but Videl had never been one to mince words.

Gohan's teal eyes widened in surprise but then his eyebrows fell low and he glanced away almost guiltily. "Not really," he answered. "I don't like fighting."

Videl's brow scrunched up in confusion and she pointed to his hand. "But you can, right?" she pressed. "You can't fool me. You have the hands of a fighter." She moved in closer and made a show of inspecting his face. "I feel like I've seen you somewhere before, too. Your face is familiar."

Gohan's cheeks flushed at her face's proximity to his own and he stepped backward to put some distance between them. He scratched the back of his head again and Videl surmised that this was his nervous habit. "Sorry, but I don't think we've met. I have a pretty good memory for faces."

Videl continued to scowl at him skeptically for a short time before finally backing down. "If you say so." She returned to her previous position and Gohan let out an audible breath of relief. "So, then, Gohan," she tried a different avenue of conversation. "What are you doing all the way out here in the mountains? Do you live out here or something?"

Gohan shook his head. "No, I'm just passing through," he confessed.

"Passing through, huh?" She cocked her head to the side and crossed her arms over her chest as she considered this. "Does that mean you're headed somewhere?"

To her confusion, Gohan merely shrugged and looked back at the sky. The clouds had yet to shift and the single shaft of sunlight bathed his face as if the lone beam were meant specifically for him. Videl had never met a boy so odd. He seemed less like a product of human society and more as if he were a part of the very forest itself. She didn't believe in auras, but he gave off a feeling of otherness, like he somehow existed outside the world she was a part of. It made her feel a little uneasy because she couldn't tell which of them was out of place here.

"So…what? You're just wandering?" She was getting a little tired of throwing question after question at him. Did this boy want to participate in conversation or not? "Don't tell me you're homeless."

Her father had warned her not to talk to vagrants. He said they were always after something. Videl didn't think Gohan was the sort of person he'd been referring to, but she supposed being a kid all alone in the woods made him some kind of a weirdo regardless.

Gohan chuckled as if she'd said something funny. He quickly shook his head. "No, nothing like that. I don't have a destination but I'm not really wandering either. I just…like being outside. I feel connected out here."

Connected to what? Videl wanted to ask, but she didn't. This kid was already strange and she had a feeling that whatever answer he gave would only make him seem stranger. Really, she probably shouldn't be talking to him. He was some oddball kid in the woods and she was the daughter of Hercule Satan, the world's savior. There was no reason to waste her time on a country bumpkin.

And yet, Videl didn't leave. Something about Gohan was magnetic. She liked the way he focused his whole attention on her and let her direct the conversation. He clearly didn't know who she was and she found she was in no hurry to tell him. As the daughter of the world champion, it wasn't often that she was treated like just another person. Perhaps it was for this reason that she deigned to continue their conversation, asking, "Don't you have any friends? It must get lonely wandering around in the mountains all by yourself."

She supposed the question could be interpreted as being rude, but Gohan didn't seem to take it that way. Rather, he appeared surprised by it. He raised his chin and placed a hand under it thoughtfully. Apparently, it was a question that garnered consideration, though Videl couldn't personally conceive of it being a difficult thing to answer. "Friends… huh…" he thought out loud.

Videl's brow furrowed again. Seriously, what a strange boy. "You know, people your age who you enjoy hanging out with?" she prompted. Surely, he had friends. Everybody had friends.

He lowered his hand and his eyes fell downward to meet her own once again. He was no longer smiling but he wasn't frowning either. His face was neutral. To her immense surprise, he shook his head. "Well, I do have friends, but they're more like family friends. If you mean solely in the sense of people my own age, then I guess I don't have any."

Videl's mouth opened in shock. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. How could there be a person who didn't have friends? She herself preferred to keep a small friend group but she at least had Erasa and Sharpner. "Are you serious?" she demanded. "Not even one? You're joking!"

Gohan shook his head. "'Fraid not," he said easily. "I haven't had much occasion to meet people my own age. But it's alright. I don't mind."

Videl shook her own head violently. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "No, no, no! That's all wrong. You can't just not have friends! What about birthday parties? What about going to the mall and seeing movies? Don't tell me you spend all your free time just sitting in the woods by yourself?"

Gohan watched her get worked up with wide eyes. Clearly, he didn't understand what the big deal was. He crossed his arms over his chest and seemed to think for a moment as he watched her, then, all at once, he dropped his arms and without changing his expression asked, "Then…will you be my friend?"

Videl sputtered in surprise. "Huh?" she asked inarticulately.

Gohan just smiled and repeated, "Would you like to become friends?"

Alright, so she had heard him correctly. She gathered her wits and gave him an incredulous look. "You want me to become friends with some random kid I found in the forest? Are you nuts?"

Gohan's smile didn't falter. "Well, sure," he answered matter-of-factly. "It's not like there's any kind of special process to becoming friends, right? You just do it."

Videl was floored. Seriously, Gohan was the most space-brained, oddball kid she'd ever met. He wasn't anything like any of the other boys she knew. Maybe he really did come from a different world. Perhaps she'd stumbled upon some mystical forest gateway between dimensions.

Gohan pulled her from her musings by holding his hand out to her once more. "What do you say?" he prompted. "Friends?"

Videl could have turned around and marched right out of that weird clearing with its equally weird kook of an occupant. It's what she'd normally do on any other occasion. But despite his strangeness, Videl was intrigued by the lonely boy in the woods. Something told her that by taking his hand, a new path would open in her life. This was one of those chance encounters you see in movies and read about in books. If she walked away, her life would carry on the way it always had, but if she took his hand; agreed to be his friend; her horizons would broaden just that little bit. It would take her one step away from normal—one more step from the vapid, silly kids at her school and into a larger world full of mysteries.

She took his hand.