A Friend in You

Chapter Four

Insanely enough, the only thought that managed to penetrate the boy's terrified mind as he fell through the air, arms and legs pinwheeling wildly, was that at long last he was going to see his father again. He squeezed his eyes shut, waited in horrible anticipation for the bloody splat that would follow when his body struck the ground...

It never came.

Instead strong arms reached out, caught him up as easily as if he were but a sack of flour. Sobbing, Gohan clung tightly to his rescuer, his body shaking erratically from the overpowering realization of just how close he had come to death.

"Honestly, Gohan," a voice cut in irritably above his whimpers. "Did you think I was lying when I said I wouldn't let you fall?"

Gohan's head snapped up; the tears continued to stream down his face unhindered. "Mister Piccolo...?"

"Indeed," the demon returned. He spoke in a tone that expressed utmost disgust – yet, Gohan could still recognize the underlying concern in his mentor's voice.

"You saved me," the boy said when they were both perched safely on the ground.

"Yes, and I'm beginning to regret that I did," Piccolo snarled. The demon's perpetually grumpy demeanor seemed to have returned in full force. "You'd think that after nearly falling to your doom you'd actually remain a bit subdued; but no, of course you go right along blabbering – "

"Stop it," Gohan said. "You can stop pretending you don't like me, Mister Piccolo. I know the truth now." He grinned, and in that moment Piccolo was infuriatingly reminded of his arch-rival.

"And what," he snapped, hoping to find a reason to wipe the obnoxious smile from his pupil's face, "would ever give you that idea?"

The smile didn't go away. "It's easy," Gohan explained. "Back up there when you rescued me. You called me 'Gohan.' You've never done that before."

"C... come again?"

"When you rescued me," Gohan repeated. He spoke as if trying to explain to a small child, which needless to say didn't do a thing to improve the demon's ill humor. "You called me 'Gohan.' Before it was always 'boy' or 'whelp' or 'brat,' but never... never Gohan. Never my real name..." Suddenly the boy sank to his knees, as though overwhelmed with pain.

"What's wrong?" Piccolo cried, wondering if perhaps the boy hadn't suffered some sort of injury after all. Rushing forward in what could have almost been deemed a protective gesture, the demon began to examine Gohan.

Gohan promptly held up a slightly wavering yet steady hand, signaled for Piccolo to stop. "No... no, it's okay," he said, as Piccolo looked on helplessly. "It's... it's just" – he raised his head, stared up at the demon with tear-glistening eyes – "it's just that I'm so happy!"

For long moments Piccolo did not speak. Then he reached out – no longer self-conscious or hesitant – and ruffled his pupil's tufted, unkempt hair. "You know what?

"So am I."