A/N: Piccolo and Gohan grow closer while attempting to master the sacred art of flying. Takes place during the Saiya-jin saga, in which our two favorite Z Senshi are training to take on the baddies in the form of Nappa and Vegeta. Quite fluffy by my standards, but I had fun writing it. Enjoy!
"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive; and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
A Friend in You
Jagged streaks of violet rippled and slashed along an otherwise undisturbed night sky, giving the impression of a painting that had been gradually torn apart. A cloud of dust, propelled by gentle winds, came to settle across the broad expanse of desert lying below. Only a few hours ago this arid wilderness had been the earthly equivalent of hell: a harsh, blazing wasteland, scorched endlessly and without mercy by the sun's rays. Later, though, when the sun at long last retired – no doubt to devastate countless other lands – darkness fell, and a blessed coolness followed. It was at that time that the jagged streaks appeared in the sky, gilding it as a wooden frame would a photo. To any stargazer they would have resembled lightning bolts, but not in the sense that they were frightening. If anything, they seemed benevolent and comforting.
Coupled with the evening stars, the scene could have almost passed for romantic. The only thing lacking now, for reasons only a handful of people in the world would ever know, was a full moon.
It was for this fact that Piccolo was wildly grateful.
The demon continued to float in midair with his legs crossed, meditating while keeping one eye always on the child sleeping on the ground below him. Since his concentration was occupying two places at once, however, he supposed it couldn't really be called meditation. Babysitting, more like, he thought bitterly as he watched the boy shift spasmodically in his sleep, whimpering a silent appeal for protection against unseen specters.
"Pathetic," Piccolo murmured to himself, though deep in his soul he knew it was not true. Son Goku's whelp – he refused to call the boy by his real name, which was Gohan – may have appeared to possess a fragile, easily shattered exterior, but lying dormant within was a beast so terrifying, so overwhelmingly powerful that Piccolo often shuddered to think of it. He knew for himself; he'd been witness to both times the monster behind the child's innocent façade had burst loose, broken free of its bondage as a slave removes an iron collar.
And I'm trying to harness this power, gods help me.
Piccolo smiled wryly despite the bleak thought. Once he got the brat's strength under control – and there was a way, of that the demon was certain – then he and Gohan would have no problem eradicating the threat that was due to arrive in three months' time.
The demon would have dwelt further on this encouraging thought but for the wracked, high-pitched sobs of the boy, who was now half-awake and convulsing in pain, begging for help in a strangled voice. Piccolo snarled in annoyance, toyed with the idea of leaving the brat to mewl by himself. Yet he knew Gohan had good reason to do so – the child had contracted terrible sunburns during their sparring session that afternoon, leaving him drained and feverish. Even now, with the cool, crisp winds blowing over his body, the burns had not improved.
"Daddy... please, help me..."
Piccolo's eyes narrowed contemptuously as an unfamiliar emotion passed over him. Well, maybe not completely unfamiliar, he reasoned. He had been feeling it for quite some time now in these past few months, particularly whenever Gohan made fond mention of Son. It frustrated the demon to no end that he couldn't identify these feelings, couldn't put a name to them. It frustrated him even more to think that he should experience any sort of emotion around Gohan that wasn't an automatic desire to throttle the little brat's neck.
Gohan's moaning grew worse, so much that he lost track of his thoughts. Checking a sigh, Piccolo swooped down to where the boy lay. He knelt by his side tentatively, as if Gohan's condition was contagious and the demon feared to catch it.
"Where does it hurt, boy?"
Gohan raised his head slowly, as if to do so exerted every ounce of his strength. For a moment his eyes seemed to gaze straight through Piccolo, unseeing, unrecognizing. Then he blinked, and they misted over in tearful relief. "Everywhere," he whispered.
Piccolo said nothing. He tore off a section of his cloak, dipped it in a gourd of water sitting nearby, and began to wipe off the child's face and forehead. Earlier, he'd simply instructed Gohan to use the water jug himself whenever the pain of his burns became too great (which was quite often, and had very nearly drained the gourd of most of its water), but now that the boy proved too weak to do even that...
As Piccolo continued to cool Gohan's body with the wet cloth, he grew more and more conscious of himself. He – the one known as the Demon King, the Incorruptible Evil, whose very name sent throngs of humans into a mad panic – was actually tending to an infant as if he were no more than a... than a nursemaid! It was insulting.
Still, there was no other way around it, he argued with himself. If he didn't minister to Gohan, then the brat would most certainly die, and along with him would die any hope of defeating the Saiya-jins. Firmly convinced that it was for this reason alone he did what he did, the demon left the cloth to soak on Gohan's forehead. He rose to his feet and began to trudge away, fully intent on returning to his meditation.
"Wait, Mister Piccolo..."
Piccolo paused, turned to look behind him. Gohan's eyes, which had for the most part remained closed while the demon had been bathing his body, were now open, communicating with him pleadingly. "Please... please sit with me."
Piccolo stared; the request had seemingly left him at a loss for words.
"It's just for a little bit," Gohan said, sensing his reluctance. "Please... just till my burns feel a little better..."
Piccolo remained silent for long moments before he finally gave in and nodded. "A... all right." He sat down in the dust next to Gohan, feeling awkward and clumsy – and then, angry at himself for allowing such mental vulnerability.
"Thank you," Gohan rasped. In spite of the agonizing pain he must have been suffering through, he smiled brightly at Piccolo.
Piccolo felt a sensation right then – one he'd never experienced before in his life – a sort of warmth that coursed through his chest, eased his anxiety. He began to calm down and then, without meaning to, thought that he should very much like to see Gohan smile again. Promptly upon realizing this the demon flushed a deeper shade of green, attempted frantically to clear his mind of such sentimental nonsense. He avoided the boy's gaze.
"...Do you ever feel lonely, Mister Piccolo?" Gohan suddenly asked.
Oh, gods. Here comes yet ANOTHER stupid discussion about nothing, Piccolo thought, the alien emotions disappearing in a flare of annoyance. The demon could not for the life of him understand what Gohan saw in babbling on and on about things that, in the long run, wouldn't benefit him in any tangible way. Only yesterday the boy had launched into some ridiculous spiel about guardian angels and how every person on earth supposedly had some dead being watching over him from above. It was when Gohan said "I bet you have a guardian angel too, Mister Piccolo!" that the demon's patience had finally snapped and he hurled the brat into a mountain. Someday, Piccolo promised himself, he was going to stamp that nonsense out of the boy for good. "No, I don't," Piccolo responded to Gohan's question coolly, inwardly praying that that would close the discussion once and for all.
It didn't. "How come?" Gohan asked, furrowing his little brows together in curiosity.
"Because," Piccolo returned irritably. "Now would you please shut up and go to sleep." It wasn't a request.
"How come?" Gohan repeated. Damn the little bastard's persistence...! "Tell me."
"Because I don't believe in that sort of rubbish!" Piccolo snarled. He glared at the boy, hoping his furious stare would deter further interrogation.
Gohan did hesitate, but only for a moment, and soon he was advancing into his next query. "Uh, but..."
"Don't you ever wish you had someone to talk to?" With this Gohan inclined his head slightly, glanced meaningfully at the demon.
Piccolo opened his mouth, then thought better of it and closed it – apparently struck speechless for the second time that night. Grasping clumsily for a scathing reply or perhaps some form of death threat, the demon finally managed to follow up Gohan's question with: "You're here, aren't you? What with all that jabbering you do – "
"No, before," Gohan gently interjected. "Before... before I met you and all this stuff with the Saiya-jins happened. You didn't have any friends then?"
Piccolo sighed heavily in frustration. "There was no need."
"Oh... well, that's okay." Gohan smiled brightly, and Piccolo felt that accursed warmth tingle in his veins once more. With an obvious effort, the boy rose to his feet, wrapped his small arms around the demon's waist. "I'M your friend now, at least!"
Piccolo bit back a startled yelp at this unanticipated move, stared down at Gohan in confused bewilderment. Fortunately for the demon (or perhaps not so fortunately) Gohan had also buried his head in his chest, so the boy couldn't see the stunned expression on Piccolo's face.
The demon's first, immediate instinct was to shove the brat away, deny vehemently that they were even casual companions, much less friends.
But he found he couldn't do it. Such behavior would upset Gohan, tear his heart in two – and for some unfathomable reason Piccolo didn't think he could bear to see the child unhappy. That, and also because he realized (to his untimely horror) that he was actually kind of beginning to enjoy the feeling of being hugged...
"Oh, and don't feel bad," Gohan whispered in a small voice before the demon could get a word out. He looked wary, as if he were about to confide in Piccolo a great secret. "I didn't have any friends then, either."
"You... didn't?" Piccolo asked before he could stop himself. What the hell, you baka! Mentally he kicked himself for playing down to the boy when he would have done better ignoring him.
"No," Gohan said, and the demon noticed a faint glimmer of tears in his eyes. "I dunno why, either. I think it was the tail." Slowly he let go of Piccolo, indicated with a shaking hand the fuzzy Saiya-jin tail protruding from his backside. "It scared people away, I guess. At my preschool, even. The other kids always avoided me." He fell silent for a moment, and when he spoke again his voice was tinged with sorrow. "Some of them teased me. There were even a couple of times when they..." He trailed off, unable to continue.
"Did they hurt you?" Piccolo spoke so softly that he might well have been whispering.
Gohan faced him, twisted his face into what was undeniably a very fake smile. "Only a little." Then he put his head into his lap, as if he were going to cry any moment and didn't want Piccolo to see the tears. "I don't wanna talk about it anymore."
Anger stirred within Piccolo despite himself. "I don't understand," he snarled. "How could Son allow you to be treated this way? And his own son, of all people...!"
"Oh, Daddy didn't know," Gohan remarked dismissively. "I never told anyone. You're the first. Hey." He lifted his head, stared at Piccolo with such intensity that the demon began to feel uncomfortable. "You're upset about that, aren't you? Then that means you really do care about me!"
"Please," Piccolo snorted, though inwardly he was alarmed to see how quickly the boy was catching on. "And you shouldn't dwell over what happened in the past, anyway. It's stupid."
"But..." Gohan's mouth creased into a puzzled frown. "That's what you're doing, isn't it? Aren't you always wanting to do what your daddy before you wanted you to? To kill my daddy?"
Piccolo scowled. "That isn't the same thing – " he started to argue.
"Yes, it is," Gohan pointed out. "You told me it was his last wish for you, and since then you've been trying your whole life to do what he wanted."
"Well, I did it," Piccolo growled softly. "Son's dead. And when the Saiya-jins are dead, too, you can bet I'm going to try and reclaim the earth for myself." As he spoke, however, he found his conviction in this belief faltering more and more.
Gohan sniffled dejectedly. "Even if your best friend asked you not to?"
"I am not your friend," Piccolo replied flippantly. He waited for Gohan to make some incessantly whiny comment, but the boy simply rolled over on his back, said no more. It filled the demon with overwhelming relief, yet also – strangely enough – an immense sadness.