-Author's Note-: Having experienced a few problems (both personally and technologically) all this time, I've decided to update The Strangest Thing. I know a lot of you would be disappointed if I forgot about TST altogether. Hey, it would be likely, seeing as how it's me we're talking about. But no worries; I will never forget about The Strangest Thing. And thanks to those who have reviewed and contributed to the over 200 reviews TST now has!
And before I forget, I'd like to personally thank DBZAngelX, Tellemicus Sundance, and TorankusuGohan for reviving my interest in this fic. Your friendly pokes really helped! I'd also like to thank Thomas Drovin for the wonderful fan art he made of one of TST's characters.
In any case, enjoy the chapter.
-Chapter 23-: Pan's Party (Morning)
-Subtitle-: Even More Realizations
The very next day…
A very groggy Goten was currently situated at a kitchen table at the Briefs' house – and for once, he wasn't there for sparring reasons of any kind, be it his own or his trainee. Accompanied by his father, he lifted his head from where it lay on the round wooden table every few seconds to let out a sigh full of yearning and desire. Goku couldn't grumble that much about these frequent, angst-ridden sighs – he too was dreaming of something hard to access…hard to acquire.
But what were they longing for, might one ask?
Their respective mother and wife's cooking, of course.
Chi-Chi had made sure her husband and youngest son were awake by the very first sight of the sun peeking through the pale violet skies at the break of day. And by 'making sure', she'd done everything in her absolute power to rouse them. Of course, being the immediate relative of such indolent Saiyans (only at daybreak, of course), she was most accustomed to their partial defiance at waking up, whether it was the occasional murmur of "Gimme a few more minutes, Chi…" or "Mom…you can still the stars out…much too early…", Chi-Chi had made it her goal since the day Gohan had moved from the house to remove them from their fitful slumber as abruptly and painfully as she possibly could. After noticing the first couple of times when she'd given in to her husband's pleas and let him doze for a couple extra minutes (a horrible blunder on her part), and agreed with her son's logic that since the stars were still out, it was too early to wake up (although how could the kid see the stars in the first place? His eyes were still shut), she was struck with the realization that if she didn't attempt to stir them on time, they might never decide to wake up.
Hence the reason why she often applied the law of frying pans to their thick skulls.
And after they'd gotten up with a shrill yell of soreness this particular morning, she punished them with the rather cruel sentence of no breakfast until they reached their destination – Bulma's house. The day for her granddaughter's party had finally arrived, and Chi-Chi was steadfast as to not let a single second go to waste. She was going to spend every minute she could boiling, frying, roasting, baking, grilling, or steaming various types of food – as the renowned chef de cuisine of their group, she was widely depended on for her rare skills in the culinary arts. As her daughter-in-law had reported just this morning, the number of people on the RSVP list had skyrocketed – many guests were coming, and she was determined to have them leave Capsule Corporation late tonight with full and satisfied tummies.
Put together with a number of the prestigious company's prized and esteemed chefs and caterers in the largest kitchen Bulma had to offer, the industrious woman set to work on the numerous platters, meals, desserts, and appetizers the party required while her husband and son remained in the dining room nearby, sulking in their agonized deprivation.
As if to put them out of their misery temporarily (to exchange it for some inquisitiveness, even), the voice of none other than a certain princess came to their ears. "Good morning, Chi-Chi…" Bra greeted politely, gazing at the rather impressive sight of the Son woman working on about five or six different trays at the same time with incredulous eyes. The welcoming smell of something rather high on the mouth-watering scale floated its way into her nostrils, and she grinned outwardly. "Wow – that smells really good!"
Chi-Chi turned around for a second to shoot Bra a small acknowledgment of a smile. In the next moment, she was heard verbally assaulting a nearby amateur cook. "You can't add too many dollops of whipped cream on those chocolate biscotti! Do you honestly want to give the guests an unnecessarily large fat intake? I'll have you know that I won't be held liable for heart problems!"
Startled (and frightened besides), the chef was a bit more careful with his tube of whipped cream.
Thoughts from the two Saiyans situated at the table rung in response to what was currently transpiring.
'…Bra?' The younger of the two Sons, a newfound energy arousing his quiescent blood flow, rose from his seat upon the recognition of the feminine voice. Ignoring the timid warnings from his wary father regarding a currently irritable woman, he was soon finding his way in the midst of the hustle and bustle in the room adjacent to where he'd been located before. Chi-Chi, as it was her nature to automatically detect her youngest son walk into the rowdiest of rooms, did not look pleased, needless to say.
"What did I say about coming in here, Son Goten!"
"Sorry, Mom…" he mumbled in accordance to her present mood – he'd do anything to mollify her in the hopes of somehow getting a bite of at least one of the hundreds of things she was currently producing. He caught the faintest smile of amusement from Bra, however, which he took lightly, certainly pleased that she was now okay and accounted for.
He had the decency to become aware of the fact that something was rather atypical with her today, however. In addition to her normally extravagant attire, she sported an uncharacteristically cheerful smile on her face…and instead of appearing as distant and apathetic as she usually gave the impression of being, she now seemed…dare he say…in rather good spirits for it being so early in the day. The sun's inviting rays filtered in through the closest window, adding a resplendent silhouette to her already appealing figure. He had to squint quite a bit to see her beautiful blue eyes dance in mild delight at his mother admonishing him.
He'd been correct about her when he sat beside her unconscious figure yesterday evening – she simply was radiant, and it wasn't just when she was in an insensible state.
Furthermore, it satisfied him to no end to see that she…was actually expressing some type pleasure regarding her first sight of him today.
Bra, who'd been grinning at him, now looked uncomfortable. It was quite unnerving, to tell the truth, to see him the first thing in the morning and not have any negative thoughts circulating through her mind. She awkwardly turned the direction of her current stare to view her trainer's mother, who, after scolding her son gently, had now returned to what most perceived to be her passion. "Um, Chi-Chi…I don't mean to interrupt, but whatever you're baking right now is really good."
"Oh, you mean the assorted fruit pastries?" Chi-Chi answered absently, scrubbing the skin of a few tropical fruits clean with a specially designed sponge. She then proceeded to head over to the nearest stove to sauté some of them. "They're in Oven 8 right now, and should be done…right about now." An unexpected, curt bell sounded at that precise moment, backing up her claim. Grinning, she placed each immaculate mango and papaya into an already sizzling pan with the utmost meticulousness. "Would you like some, dear? I'm about to check on them."
Bra flashed another dazzling smile in all of her eagerness. "Oh, yes, please! I haven't had anything good to eat since Tanith left…" Her shining countenance darkened in an abrupt manner as she felt her stomach insist, rather rudely, that she fill it up immediately. "Heck, I haven't eaten anything at all since Tanith left – I'm famished."
Chi-Chi looked surprised, while Goten seemed to deem it the right time to avoid eye contact with both females. "You mean to say that your mother couldn't endeavor to make dinner for you?"
The girl looked guilty, and her fingers suddenly found themselves involuntarily twirling numerous strands of full turquoise locks. "Well, no offense to Mom…but I'd rather go hungry for several weeks before I try any of her food again."
The Son woman gave a small laugh and led her best friend's daughter to the eighth oven, while Goten stared numbly after them, now greatly ashamed. 'Darn it…why didn't I think of getting her something to eat yesterday night?' he asked himself mentally, trying his very hardest to refrain from banging his head against the nearest oil-splattered wall. And why hadn't she said anything herself if she'd been so hungry? And what would happen if his mother ever found out what he did (or rather, didn't do)? Knowing her, it wouldn't be the end of the entire universe if he'd told her that he stayed in Bra's room the entire day to make certain that she was okay after her faint – but he'd be in for a lot more trouble than it was worth if she found out that he hadn't empathized with Bra food and drink-wise. He decided not to say anything to Bra about what happened yesterday – it unquestionably wasn't worth all the undeniable ignominy he'd receive once his mother caught word.
Chi-Chi, still chattering excitably with Bra about how fantastic and superb tonight would be (her voice had begun to resemble a fervent chipmunk's, if the animal had a voice for speaking), slipped on some oven mitts and pulled out a baking tray filled with a considerable amount of various cookies and muffins. "D'you see anything you want to sample especially, Bra? You may try one cookie or one muffin if you'd like. I can't spoil you before you even get breakfast, you know."
The princess sighed in acquiescence. "Fine…but there are so many different types! They all smell so good…I wouldn't even know where to begin my choice!" She gazed at the different colored muffins and cupcakes with futile longing in her eyes, currently at a loss for words decision-wise. A noise captured her full attention and diverted her away from the yummy delights, and she found herself staring curiously at Goten and Goku (the latter had snuck in after he hadn't heard a pan striking his son's head as a reprimand for even venturing in the kitchen in the first place), who were both gazing enviously at the tray of unattainable goodies. She scowled darkly – they always acted like this in the presence of some sort of food, didn't they?
…But this situation could be turned around in her favor. She smirked. "Actually, Chi-Chi, it's not such a hard choice…I'll just pick one of these." She immediately went for the item that Goku and his son had been drooling over: the freshly-baked white chocolate and lemon-flavored muffins. "Thanks! You're the best!" she chirped, keeping the mischief in her voice to a bare minimum.
A rather pleased Chi-Chi beamed and turned away to do some more of her work – never noticing that her two Saiyan relatives were now gazing in slight covetousness as Bra slowly and deliberately picked over every delicious and scrumptious crumb, licking each of her fingers clean of the lemony filling inside the muffin in a painfully unhurried fashion.
"…You're one cruel woman," Goten finally told her after a long pause, and his father at once nodded in agreement, still ogling the muffin in her hands hungrily.
She smiled devilishly and plucked a white chocolate chip from the pastry and slipped it into her mouth, letting it dissolve slowly while she softly moaned, "Oh, I must have died at least three times and went to Muffin Heaven… It's so…" She paused at this point, searching for the right word to reel them in. Figuring any word could do the job well enough, she merely added after the right pause, "good…"
Goku looked as if he were about to pass out from it all, and those sounds his rival's daughter was currently producing certainly weren't helping to placate his hunger. "Bra…you wouldn't be that mean…would you? I mean, we haven't eaten at all today…"
Bra let a few thoughts of reconsideration circulate through her mind before sighing in surrender and breaking the remaining half of the muffin in two. They were no fun, simply put. "Daddy was right…it is fun torturing you, Goku. But are you two sure that you really want some?" They could both only manage to nod with great big puppy eyes. She sighed again and handed half of the previous half to Goku, who devoured the muffin upon feeling it within his hands. The next action she did was to walk up to Goten, asking him in an earnest manner, "Are you sure?" After all, Chi-Chi probably wouldn't approve of them eating sweets so early in the morning.
Goten groaned in annoyance. What was wrong with her? "Seriously, what don't you understand about – Umph!"
Bra had just shoved the entire remainder of the muffin into his mouth with two of her fingers, a mischievous smirk now on her facial features. "Gotcha." She winked playfully, but began licking the lemon jam off of her fingers pensively as she now looked intently at both Sons. "Enjoy…both of you, I guess," she added, staring deliberately at Goten before she turned to leave the room altogether.
Goten chewed thoughtfully and swallowed, staring after the blue-haired girl's receding figure in what could be perceived as slight curiosity and uncertainty. The biting hunger that had been plaguing his entire morning had mysteriously lifted from his mind; it seemed as if that one small action by Bra had completely annulled and voided it. "What was that all about?"
"Iono," his father almost immediately replied (his mouth was still quite full with the muffin at this point), under the blind assumption that what Goten had just wondered had been directed to him. He now swallowed and looked solemn. "Hey, d'you think your mother would let us eat a decent breakfast now?"
Goten shrugged. Who cared about breakfast? The end of the world was now here, he realized, and one insignificant meal wasn't going to delay it any further. He and his best friend were heading right for their deaths as soon as the latter decided he wanted to show his face. How ironic it was, however, the half-Saiyan reflected, ignoring his father's fruitless wishes for more food, that of all days, Bra Briefs had chosen this day – the day after she'd fainted out of extreme fatigue, the day that he might never see the sunlight again – to be in a good mood! Well, he wasn't going to take it for granted.
His eyes met his mother's in the midst of all his many ponderings, who'd been watching the entire scene with Bra and the muffin curiously. Now caught in the act, a luridly red blush forced its way into her cheeks, quite unlike anything her son had seen. She sheepishly turned back to her work, concealing her flaming visage from her son with her hands. "…Oh!"
"Something the matter, Mom?"
Her face only managed to grow even more scarlet. She whirled away to stir her penne pasta at a better angle (conveniently away from her son's view, one might add). "Never mind me, dear. I'm fine…"
He raised an eyebrow, staring at her warily. Yep - something was definitely wrong with her. He'd been conjuring the worst possible punishment that he and his father would receive for venturing in the kitchen in the first place - a furious yell towards the two of them because they'd accepted sweets from someone (which was a definite no-no in their household), maybe a few whacks with the nearest frying skillet…
"Goten, you came a bit early."
Startled, he turned around to view his best friend, fully dressed in an immaculate outfit, standing right behind him. The normally pinkish hue of one's cheeks when he or she is healthy had been completely washed out in the lavender-haired Saiyan's face, which gave the suggestion that he hadn't slept very well the evening before. "Heh…you're really that nervous?"
If anyone could believe that Trunks' already pallid face could have lost even more color at that moment, they were rightly justified in considering so. His countenance was now an incongruous twist of Chi-Chi's unnecessarily rosy one. "Goten…getting Pan to put on that dress your mom made her, and being in the same room with her when she finds out that it's all been a set-up…it's like telling all the little kids in the world that the Tooth Fairy doesn't exist and that they've all been living a delicious lie their entire life. How are we going to do it?"
The younger half-Saiyan merely shrugged again. "Pan's not easy to convince, I know; but we can still get her to put the dress on…at the cost of our lives…" He glanced at his watch (that was situated on a now quivering arm) at that precise moment. "We'd better get going, Trunks. Videl will be expecting us soon – maybe she even made us some breakfast."
"That's all you ever think about, don't you?"
"Mom didn't make anything today. Don't you think it's reasonable for a person to be hungry?"
As they bid a small farewell to Goku, the two young men made their way out of the kitchen, passing the tiny room the younger had been located at with his father upon their exit out of the prestigious manor…completely unaware of the flustered individual that was standing not five feet away from them.
Safe. Bra let out the single deep sigh she'd been waiting to release upon catching her first glance of him this morning. She leaned against the wall and pondered over her options. This was not good…not good at all. If she'd been rude and obnoxious to him and had somehow become…attracted to him, maybe she could snap out of her physical attraction to him by acting nice to him – perhaps it would even force her to grow indifferent about him. It was for one reason that she'd stuffed the muffin in his mouth earlier – she found that all too frequently, her eyes kept straying away from his face. This magnetism to him had grown to the point that it was physically excruciating to move her eyes away from his arms…or his chest, until she'd had to force herself to do something to take her mind away from it all. She now swallowed heavily, her hands involuntarily rising to pat her face subconsciously. 'I'm feeling kinda…kinda…weird. It's too warm in here…' Maybe she was coming down with a fever…but that didn't make any type of logical sense at all. She was a half-Saiyan – how could she become sick?
She recalled how he'd been ill the first time they'd re-met each other not so long ago. Maybe she could entertain the prospect of being under the weather.
…She was doing it again – she was thinking about him! Why was everything either openly or implicitly related to him today? She blinked twice, fighting back the unaccustomed droplets of saltwater that were threatening to spill from her eyes all at once. "W-What's wrong with me…?" How could one day…one night, to be exact…cause her mindset about him to change so drastically? She glanced in at the calendar that lay on the wall across from her, observing today's date. Just as she'd expected – it wasn't that time of the month yet, so there wasn't any valid justification why she would be experiencing such strange, unknown hormonal changes as this.
Was it because he'd shown that he cared…about her, even though she'd treated him like second-rate trash this whole entire time? She realized that she hadn't been exactly grateful for him furtively training her; she hadn't been aware of the potential dangers he would face if he ever got exposed to her father. But he'd sacrificed his fears just to make sure that she was rigorously schooled in the strict tenets of discipline and self-control…which was why she decided, upon his exit from her room late last night, that she liked him.
But when she thought of 'like' yesterday night, what had she meant? Did she mean that she just didn't mind his appearance around her that much anymore, or had she meant that she was furtively growing fond of him?
And if it was the latter…was it such a bad thing to be keen on him?
She blinked away the tears that had been putting her cold exterior in jeopardy, her brow knitting in thought. She needed to sit down – and fast.
Ten minutes hadn't even elapsed since Trunks and Goten had left the former's house – they reached the latter's brother's house in no time flat, it seemed. They abruptly cut off the ki that had been aiding their flight and landed smoothly on the front steps of Gohan's house, where Trunks nervously sounded the doorbell. The two half-Saiyans waited unwearyingly for Gohan's wife to make herself present, and make herself apparent she did. Videl opened the door upon the very first sound of the bell and admitted her guests inside her house with a furtive nod, telling them in a wordless message that Pan was already awake and had been expecting them.
"I'm glad you two decided to show up after all," she whispered, leading them into the sitting room, where the two boys sat down. Still standing before them, she met each of their blank, expressionless gazes with narrowed blue eyes. "I was beginning to think that you'd decided to chicken out on the whole thing." When she was answered with naught but silence, she rolled her eyes and advanced to the foot of the stairs, where she requested the presence of her only child in an aberrantly earsplitting yell.
Goten was the first to snap out of his expressionless state. Glowering at his smug sister-in-law as the younger girl decided to descend the stairwell in obedience, he groused outwardly, "Sheesh, Videl! Are you trying to make us deaf?" He gave a backwards glance toward Trunks, who was steadily growing paler and paler with each subsequent step Pan left behind her.
The blue-eyed woman shrugged in clear apathy the instant her daughter wordlessly passed her to join her uncle and friend in the living room. "Next time, you'll know that it's rude not to answer a woman when she tells you something." She turned on her heel in righteous anger and began to leave their sight, presumably heading towards the kitchen. "No breakfast for either of you."
Pan, who had mutely joined her uncle at his place in the living room, frowned at his sudden eruption. "As if I haven't had enough yelling today, Goten!" Her scowl only magnified considerably in size as she observed the lavender-haired Saiyan that was situated beside her, his face and personality akin to an opaque ghost. "And what's wrong with you?"
Goten stared at her warily as she persisted to question his best friend about his unusual silence. She was perceptibly in one of her many bad moods…and he wisely decided to refrain from uttering 'Happy Birthday' or anything to that effect in her presence. That would be tantamount to telling a slightly more feminine girl that her hairdo wasn't complementing her clothes…and why did her mother suddenly make her mind up to abstain from making them any breakfast (quite cruelly, he might add)?
Conversely, why was Bra acting atypically agreeable today? Her previous actions toward him had so thoroughly complicated their entire relations to each other that he'd reached the wise conclusion that it was best to stop thinking about her and direct his thoughts to something of more importance. But it was all in vain, as he soon apprehended – why had she abruptly exchanged her haughty and condescending manner for a more pleasant one?
…Mood swings. That had to be the only justification for all three of these females' abnormal conduct. His mother experienced them all too frequently, as well…and even endearing Marron had caught many a horrendous case of the doldrums throughout his friendship with her.
Girls…they were just one puzzling enigma after another.
He turned to his niece and broke off her mini rant of how boys could and would never learn anything. Taking a deep breath, he initiated the beginning of the lie he and Trunks had prepared just the day before. "Hey, Pan…did your mom ever tell you about the costume party that one of the girls at school is having tonight?"
True to form, the newly-turned sixteen-year-old didn't seem all too intrigued. Already slightly angered that he had interrupted her, she replied to his innocent question rather coldly. "…Do you actually think I'd be interested in wasting my time at some rich, preppy girl's place?"
Her uncle visibly cringed but decided to remain on the offensive. Everyone was literally depending on him and Trunks to correctly fool the girl into going to the party, but how could they possibly think the implausible feat achievable when Pan was always the one deceiving others, not the reverse? "But it's not a popular girl's party, Pan. Marron told me it was one of the girls in your grade…a Printa?"
A somewhat cocked eyebrow of curiosity told him that his lie was only beginning to sink in. Pan made up her mind to recline in her seat, eying her uncle in suspicion. She didn't deem it possible that the fiery-minded girl, the late Orange Star High's renowned school-skipper and troublemaker, would want to hold a social gathering and invite their fellow classmates (half of whom hated her for her renowned skills in mischief). "Printa's having a party?"
Goten nodded in affirmation, secretly proud of his skills. Having always expressed a strong dislike for most of the school's attendants (she termed them as shallow and superficial beings), Pan had only picked a few select people to call her 'acquaintances'. He'd been conscious in the fact that the roguish girl in question was always seen around Pan back when they were all situated at Orange Star, but he'd been playing his chances on making her the 'party thrower' for the so-called 'costume party'. It wasn't right, he reflected, to make his niece put something as abominable as a dress on, but it was about time Pan received her just punishment for always deceiving and playing jokes on others. The fact that he'd been handled as a useless puppet (back when she'd wanted to steal one of Bulma's prized spaceships) still scalded him frequently, and he'd been waiting for a chance to exact his revenge. "Yeah, she's having a party. A costume one, so I've heard…right, Trunks?"
Still as pallid as anything, Trunks offered a meek nod. "Y-Yeah…" He gulped deeply and wondered how Goten was handling the entire situation so smoothly. Well, if the younger half-Saiyan could do it…why couldn't he? He swallowed again and began afresh, color smoothly finding its justified place on his face just as he produced his utterances. "Yeah, Pan. That loudmouthed friend of yours is having a party tonight, and word around the street is that it's a formal theme. So that means that the girls are required to wear dresses or gowns, while us guys have to wear suits."
An excited Goten caught on just as easily, able to work off of his best friend's own addition to the lie. "Yep. Of course, everyone's excited about the whole event…even your parents. Your mom even had mine make you a dress – aren't you the lucky one?"
Rolling her eyes and deciding to simply disregard their blatant lies, Pan seemed too adamant to be won over by such simple tactics. "I'm not buying it, Goten. Why would my parents, namely my father, want me to go to Printa's party? He hates people like her, remember?" Crossing her arms, she smirked in triumph. "It's not so hard to pick out your storytelling, you know."
Goten and Trunks merely exchanged wary glances with each other, the air around them pregnant with impassable suspense. Convincing her to accompany them in the cobalt dress Chi-Chi had personally seamed would be much harder than what they had previously envisioned.
Providentially for them, they had until seven o' clock in the evening to do so.
Ending Note: Thanks for reading the next chapter of The Strangest Thing. You'll notice that it's a lot shorter than most of the chapters before it. I know, I know; but I've been through a lot in the past few months. I'm going to have to say that they're all going to be like this if you want more updates, unfortunately (I don't know when I'll be updating this next, but I know I will finish it).