Disclaimer: Now really, people. Use some logic here. If I REALLY owned DB/Z/GT, would I be writing fics for a non-profit website? Honestly.....though I do make it my goal in life to marry Akira Toriyama's son, if one ever happens to come along that's reasonably around my age.....~_^ That is, if my bud Tenshi doesn't get to him first, seeing as she keeps Toriyama-sama locked away in her closet all the time...

A/N: Well, it seems my italics aren't working AGAIN. *grumble grumble grumble* If you've read any of my other works, you'll know the process by now, but just in case you haven't, all thoughts which were supposed to be in italics will instead appear in ~these~. Annoying, I know, but the best I can do until I get access to a better computer. Gomen! This is my first attempt at a Piccolo POV. I'm not overly happy with the result, but hey! That's what you guys are for! Just click that little 'submit review' button and bombard me with all your good advice!! *hint hint wink wink* I just want to give one HUGE thank you to the three incredible authoresses whom I got to edit this for me. They are..... *drumroll and cheezy lighting* Tenshi Sasher!!!! *wild cheering from the crowd* RainyDayz!!!! *more cheering* and Chrystalline!!! (even though ya never really got back to my on this one, Chrys, I'm thanking you anyway!! ~_^) *still more cheering* Everyone give it up for these three loooooovely ladies!!!!! *standing ovations* Thank you, thank you...now on to the story.....*cringe*

Guilt and Pride

Dawn had just begun to break over the horizon. The sky was bathed in splashes of pastel colours, painting it in pinks, oranges, purples and soft grey. A few stars still glimmered faintly in the growing light, and birds began to stir from their nighttime perches to lift their songs to the skies.

Beneath the cool shadow of trees next to a small waterfall, a lone figure sat cross-legged, levitating a few feet from the ground, cape falling a few inches from the water's surface. The figure's green skin, defined pink muscles, pointed ears and solid features were reflected in the water, the image wavering each time the water was stirred. All was still, and the Namekian's eyes were closed in deep meditation.

Sensitive ears twitched at the soft, hesitant sound of feet scuffing on the lush layer of ferns and pine needles. Piccolo cracked open one eye to see Son Gohan standing just beyond the last row of trees, peering at him through a dark fringe of spikey bangs.

"Hey, Piccolo."

Piccolo's eyebrow ridges drew slightly together at the boy's voice, as it was heavy and laden with pain and fatigue. Though he may be of a different species, Piccolo knew it was not the kind of tone an eleven year old boy should have. He ran a scrupulous gaze over Gohan, noting the boy's rumpled, wrinkled clothing, and how his unruly mass of black hair seemed even more wild than usual.

"If you're here this early you better be ready to spar, kid." Piccolo declared gruffly, landing on the bank and tossing aside his turban and cape, the weighted clothing making a dull thud on the hard-packed earth. Gohan grinned, though the expression did not touch his eyes, which appeared to be completely void of light. That in itself was shocking; Gohan's eyes were always alive and dancing with curiosity. To see them so dull was...abnormal, to say the least. Piccolo's frown deepened in the split second before he launched himself into the air.

The two battled in silence, assaulting each other with various kicks and punches. Piccolo noticed with dissatisfaction and growing agitation that Gohan was only on the defensive, using just enough power to block Piccolo's attacks. All offensive moves on the boy's part were half-hearted and easy to fend off. Piccolo growled and landed a punch squarely on the boy's jaw.

"Come on, Gohan! You're not trying!" Piccolo barked, using the same commanding tone of voice he had when Gohan was only a four-year-old tenderfoot. Gohan stopped his backward flight through the air just short of colliding with the ground and flew back at his opponent, not pausing to rub his reddening jaw. Piccolo allowed himself a small smirk before bringing up rapid defenses to Gohan's attacks.

Whatever satisfaction Piccolo had had, however, soon vanished to be replaced by a dark scowl; the boy was moving on mere habit. His technique was perfect, but it was as if he were running on auto-pilot. Gohan's eyes were not only dark, as was their usual shade, but were murky and had a distinctive faraway look to them.

Piccolo knew that look well. Gohan's thoughts were far from where they should have been, that much was clear, as Piccolo landed yet another punch. Their location was a mystery, though Piccolo strongly suspected them to be centered within the boy himself. It appeared that Gohan's thoughts were concentrated on a battle raging within his mind, not on the one currently at hand.

Piccolo had seen the expression before; the same bewildered, lost look that seemed to lurk within the depths of Gohan's eyes. Gohan had come to him on several of these occasions, and the routine had always been similar. Usually they sparred, though Gohan had always been more attentive than this. Other times they merely sat on the ground while Piccolo waited, trying not to grow impatient, for Gohan to speak of what was so obviously troubling him.

The situations had varied, from a young Gohan's fears about the approaching Saiyans to how to help his mother as she grew depressed during Goku's absences. Each time, just being able to get his muddled thoughts spoken and out of his troubled mind had helped Gohan enormously. The few times Piccolo had leant his own sarcastic suggestions Gohan had simply laughed and hugged him (shoved away immediately, of course), the mere act of confessing his problems out in the open having lifted a tremendous weight from his shoulders.

"Get with it, Gohan!" Piccolo snapped as he sent the boy sailing through the air for the umpteenth time. All the while, however, he studied Gohan's face, carefully noting every detail.

Gohan's expression had become darker than Piccolo had ever seen it, features continually twisting in brief flashes of changing emotions. Piccolo could almost see the different thoughts dart about through the boy's mind as he struggled with whatever he was facing inside himself.

Though Gohan tried his best to hide it, Piccolo knew all too well what the boy's emotional battle was about. Son Goku's death had occurred not quite one month ago, leaving the wound of his loss still fresh and painful for those he'd left behind. Everyone who had known Goku over the duration of his life was suffering, though it was without a doubt that it was Gohan who had been hit the hardest. Several memories whipped through Piccolo's mind, each one recalled with perfect clarity.

Cell, rendered injured and defenseless, within Gohan's power to be destroyed. Son's frantic command to destroy the monster before he healed, and his confusion at his son's outright disobedience. The cocky, Saiyan confidence that had danced in Gohan's eyes as he scoffingly ignored his father and allowed Cell to rejuvenate. Cell, expanding to a monstrous size, laughing insanely...and Son, eerily calm. The horror stricken faces of the Z-senshi flashed before Piccolo's eyes, each one separately, as they realized what he was about to do. And lastly, the desperation which had claimed Gohan as his father disappeared, and the realization that the cause of Son's death rested directly on his own shoulders appeared in his ebony eyes.

Piccolo had watched the grief; but even more so the guilt; grow ever more evident in Gohan's being over the past few weeks. He had been expecting this meeting for some time now, waiting for the boy to confront his guilt and come to terms with reality. Perhaps now that he was here, Gohan was finally ready to take the fist step towards acceptance and healing.

Eventually, Piccolo lost his patience. "Gohan!" He barked, "I know perfectly well you can do better than this! A peaceful situation gives you no excuse to slack off. You're not concentrating even a fraction as much as you did fighting Cell! Now concentrate!"

At that, Gohan's head snapped up sharply, eyes narrowed and livid with pent up anger uncharacteristic to the boy's usual cheerful demeanor. The demi- Saiyan snarled, flaring into his ascended form, fists clenched and crackling with power. His expression was fiercer than it had ever been before. Surprise flickered across Piccolo's face for a brief second at Gohan's abrupt and dramatic switch of emotion. He barely regained his composure in time to block the boy's fist as it flew at the Namekian's face in Gohan's new-found fury.

The sparring match raged on at this intense level for nearly half an hour, Gohan on the attack this time, features contorted with emotions which seemed out of place on his normally smiling face. The golden energy aura surrounding him fluctuated with his emotions, faltering for a few seconds, then blazing upwards as Gohan began a new rain of attacks. Beads of perspiration dripped down Piccolo's neck and back, making his clothing cling uncomfortably to his skin. He moved swiftly to one side, breath rasping slightly, to avoid a particularly vicious kick from Gohan's end of the battle. Under any other circumstance, Piccolo would have allowed himself an almost sadistic grin; fighting at this intensity was exhilarating, even if his opponent was far above him in power. Yet the memories which had been plaguing Gohan's mind were still there, becoming clearer and more visible as the minutes ticked by.

Gradually, Gohan's attacks grew less aimed and more frenzied, almost desperate. Though his power did not wane, punches became wide swings, kicks landing far from their mark to pass harmlessly through empty air. Finally, Gohan ceased his attacks completely, aura fading as he returned to his regular state of being. He dropped silently from the air, landing slumped on his hands and knees in the dirt.

Piccolo hovered before him, arms crossed, watching the boy before him intently despite the emotionless mask which set his features. Gohan was hunched over on the ground, clutching tufts of raven hair so that veins stood out beneath his knuckles. Piccolo waited in silence as Gohan raised his face, eyes wide and frightened... they held a look that would remind one of an abused puppy about to be struck by its master. When he spoke, the boy's voice cracked and wavered with unshed tears, and was filled with a deep, aching guilt.

"I killed him, Piccolo-san!" Gohan's face was contorted with grief. "I killed him the same as if I'd blasted him myself!" Gohan's voice shook, and tears glistened threateningly in his eyes. Still, he continued, shaking his head angrily, eyes haunted with unwanted memories and guilt.

"If it was just me that was suffering I could almost bear it, but it's not as simple as that! Kuririn, Bulma, Yamucha... I've taken away one of their best friends - forever. Even Vegeta's acting differently; he's not so cocky and confident anymore. But that's not the worst of it." Gohan turned his face away, though not before Piccolo saw the tear slide down the boy's cheek. Gohan drew a few shuddering breaths before continuing.

"Every night I can hear mom crying. It's always quiet, like she doesn't want me to hear her, but that just makes it worse!"

Piccolo grunted, knowing this was true. Once, after sparring, Gohan had invited him to come for supper, and Piccolo grudgingly agreed. When they arrived at the Son household, ChiChi greeted them at the door, causing Piccolo's eyebrow ridges to lift slightly in surprise.

She had leaned wearily against the doorframe, dark circles under her eyes and hair beginning to straggle loose from its bun. Even as Piccolo took all of this in, ChiChi's features changed to a mask of false cheerfulness as she ushered them into the house. Her attempt to make it appear as though everything was fine was painful even to Piccolo, and he didn't even particularly like the woman. He could only guess how much this was adding to Gohan's guilt, but he knew it must be of enormous magnitude. He was soon snapped out of the memory, however, as Gohan's trembling confession continued.

"It's like she's trying to protect me from something that's my fault in the first place! I never see her smile anymore, at least not genuinely. Even though she acts like everything's normal when I'm around, you can tell it's just a cover if you look at her eyes. I can't explain it; they're... empty. It's like all the life that was in them was scooped up and tossed out the window when Dad died."

Gohan stifled a choked sob, hands clenching into fists spasmodically.

"And it's all because of me!! Mom's lost her husband for the second time now, and it's all because I was too stupid to kill Cell when I had the chance. I thought I was so grown up when I learned how to turn Super Saiyan, I thought I was invincible. But I was wrong...I haven't changed one bit! I'm still the same stupid little kid, careless and immature. I'm just a stupid little kid, and now Dad's dead!!"

Gohan spat out the words, slamming a fist into the ground, easily breaking through the rock and soil. Black brows were drawn together in a dark scowl, though a thin trail of tears leaked out from the corners of tightly closed eyelids. He seemed to have forgotten Piccolo altogether as the words flowed from his lips. "How could I have been so arrogant?! Dad's gone forever! He won't be coming back this time, and it's all my fault! It's all my fault!!"

With that, the boy buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking with broken sobs.

Piccolo regarded the boy's hunched form, knowing he should do something, but at a complete loss of what to say. He knew that for the moment, his regular gruff responses would be of no help, possibly causing more harm than good. On the other hand, Gohan had to be somehow snapped from the state he was now in. If he continued to beat himself with his guilt, he would only harm himself further. Piccolo had to do something, but what he could do was very difficult to plan. Eyebrow ridges drew together once again as he wracked his brain for something to say that would calm the weeping boy before him.

~He really is just a child,~ Piccolo thought to himself. Gohan had never been given a normal childhood, forced into maturity far beyond his years. He had been hardened over the years by battle, near-death experiences, and the loss of close friends. He had witnessed far too much, suffered too much pain, and had born far too much responsibility for a boy of barely eleven. He had been forced to deal with more in only a few years than most adults ever would in a lifetime.

And yet, Piccolo could still see the pleading, desperate look of a child deep within Gohan's eyes. Despite the deprivation of a simple childhood, Gohan really was only a boy, looking for the answers to things he could not comprehend, and desperately seeking comfort in those older and wiser than himself.

~Like me. ~

Piccolo snorted, though at the same time it created a sense of wonder. It never ceased to amaze Piccolo how Gohan, adored by everyone, had chosen him to befriend and trust. Over time, much against his stubborn instincts, Piccolo had grown to appreciate, even enjoy the undying admiration Gohan held for him. Gohan knew Piccolo as no-one ever would, or could, for that matter...always standing by him no matter what everyone else though of the distant and anti-social Namekian. Piccolo was not about to abandon the boy now, now when he needed him.

Piccolo quietly sat next to Gohan and, swallowing his own pride, and pulled him into his lap. Without opening his eyes, Gohan curled up, pressing his face into Piccolo's shirt, clenching the purple material in both fists. All the years of trying to be stronger, of bottled up emotions and ageing beyond his years fell away, leaving the small, bewildered child exposed to the world. Gohan's sobs grew louder, and he clung desperately to Piccolo as if he too would vanish were he to let go. A dark, wet blotch grew on the Namekian's gi as Gohan's tears continued to come unabated.

Piccolo waited while Gohan continued to cry, letting the boy release the pain and guilt he had kept inside him since the Cell games. Normally he would have sharply commanded Gohan to stop whimpering like an infant and have scolded him for showing such weakness, but he knew now was not the time for harsh reprimands. Not yet, anyway. He had up until now been unable to help Gohan with his burden...for a while, Piccolo had not even wanted to help him, as it would confirm how soft he had become over the years he had known the boy. Now, however, even this was pushed out of Piccolo's mind. He was not about to deprive Gohan the opportunity to release his guilt simply because of his own awkwardness. For once, Piccolo let him cry.

Gradually, Gohan's sobs quieted down and the boy lay limply in Piccolo's lap, head resting on the Namekian's muscular chest. His breathing evened out, save the occasional quivering breath or hiccup. Piccolo then grasped Gohan's shoulders and pushed the boy back, holding him so their eyes were level. Piccolo's gaze was firm and commanding, though not harsh.

"Listen to me, Gohan." His tone was stern, and though it was not scolding, it left no room for argument. "You can't do anything about the past. What's done is done." Gohan dropped his eyes, but Piccolo jerked his chin up to meet his stare.

"No, look at me! Hear me out, kid." Gohan bit his lower lip, but his gaze did not waver. Piccolo smirked inwardly in approval.

"You have a responsibility now, Gohan. It is your duty to take care of and protect those whom your father left behind, especially your mother. You have an obligation, one that you must be strong enough to carry out."

Piccolo's lip curled slightly, razor-sharp fangs glinting in the growing light.

"It's one thing to grieve, but something completely different to wallow in your own self-pity. Keep whimpering if you want to, but it certainly isn't going to help you. What do you think your father would do? Would he sit here feeling sorry for himself when there were people who depended on him? Who needed him? You know he wouldn't. You owe it to the people who have been hurt to comfort and protect them."

Gohan winced at Piccolo's words and jerked his chin from the Namekian's grasp, hiding his face with his hands once more. His balled his hands into fists and pressed them against his eyes in attempt to force down the tears he knew were coming.

"I know Mom needs me, Piccolo-san," Gohan said, his voice small and despairing. "...but I can't! Every time I see her it just reminds me that I was the one to cause her all of this pain. How can I help her, or anyone, with something that's my fault in the first place? I wish I could be more like Dad; he always knew what to do, and how to make it better..." Gohan's voice trailed off, and he lifted his face to meet Piccolo's gaze, eyes now glistening with tears of frustration.

"But I'm not him! I don't know what to do! Dad was always a hero, helping and saving everybody." He gritted his teeth an turned away. "I'm no hero. I'm a murderer."

Piccolo drew in his breath sharply and clenched Gohan's shoulders tightly, his eyes boring into Gohan's own.

"Stop it, Gohan! You made a mistake, but that doesn't make you a murderer! You father died to save you, to save everyone, and was happy to do so. Do you think he would want you to live your life like this, after he had sacrificed so much for you?"

Gohan bit his lower lip and shook his head in answer.

Piccolo's stern expression softened ever so slightly, and though habitual instincts told him to shove the boy away and chide him on showing such weakness, Piccolo found himself speaking, the usual growl gone from his voice.

"You don't have to bear this alone, Gohan. Everyone will help you, just as you will help them. You will get through this; Son would want you to be happy."

Gohan raised a curious eyebrow as Piccolo bared his fangs for a split second after speaking, the Namekian's face a mask of intense irritation.

~Kami, you cursed old man!! ~Piccolo growled inwardly at the third voice in his mind.~ I hate it when you take over like that! ~

He was quickly brought back to reality, however, as Gohan flung his arms around Piccolo's neck. Piccolo let out a startled grunt.

"Thank you, Piccolo-san." Gohan whispered, and Piccolo felt a wet drop splash onto his muscled neck.

Strange emotions flooded through Piccolo at that moment, though the most dominate was an urge to protect this boy through thick and thin. He was the closest Gohan had to a father now. All emotions Piccolo had always refused to feel, he now found himself bathed in, and for some bizarre reason, he didn't mind. Awkwardly, Piccolo wrapped his arms around the boy's small frame, and Gohan clung to him even more tightly at the returned embrace.

This only lasted for a brief moment, however, before Piccolo's brain took over again.

"Kid," he said gruffly, "I can't breathe." Gohan laughed - a sound Piccolo had not heard from him in a long time. He released Piccolo from his strangle-hold, eyes shining with gratitude and adoration.

Piccolo stood up, placing a hand on Gohan's shoulder. Before he knew what was happening, the corners of his mouth twitched upwards in a smile, and his eyes glowed with approval.

"C'mon, kid." He grunted, "Your mother will throw a fit if you're not home in time for breakfast."

He caught a glimpse of Gohan's face as he turned away, one that caused his smile to broaden ever so slightly. Gohan was still grieving, as he would be for some time to come, but his eyes now held hope. For the first time in nearly a month, Piccolo saw him smile.

A/N: Well, what do you think? *cringes at all the shouts of "booooooo!!" etc.* Yeah, yeah, I know....not overly great, but like I said, I'm new to writing from Piccolo's perspective. It was surprisingly difficult...I'm used to grieving widows and arrogant Saiyan princes, so this was more of a challenge for me ~_^. Anyway, I'm open to any comments or criticisms you might have, as I'm not overly fond of this fic but wanted to post it anyway. =P Once again, big thanks to Rainy, Tenshi, and Chrys for helping me out on this one. Thanks, girls!!!! Big bags of chocolate chip cookies for all of you!!!