If I had waited any longer with this story (say, the 16th), it would have been finished a full year after it was started. How's that for a delay?
This is just a little something to get myself back into the swing of things, especially since I haven't written a one-shot in well over a year. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own DBZ.
"A Father's Love"
Above a swiftly flowing waterfall, glimmering with the red-orange hue of the sunset, a white-cloaked figure hovered in the air, eyes closed in concentration. Its green, taloned hands were clasped in its lap as it maintained its cross-legged 'seat' in the air, the emerald skin a sharp contrast with the dark violet of its clothes. The updrafts from the waterfall caused the cloak to billow gently, and anyone who might have seen this figure would have been intimidated.
Piccolo had always been an intimidating figure.
Son Gohan shook his head from his hiding spot on the riverbank. Not to me! he thought happily. Piccolo-san's a great guy, once you get to know him. And he sure knows how to fight well.
His stomach rumbled at him, and the child rubbed one hand against it absently. And he makes really good marshmallows. I guess I'd better go up there and tell him why I'm here. I hope he's not gonna be too mad at me for disrupting his meditation. Disrupting: D-I-S-R-U-P-T-I-N-G. Gohan smiled to himself. He just learned the dictionary definition of that word a few days ago, in one of his lessons. His mom would sure be proud of him!
His smile faded when he remembered the purpose behind his visit.
Quietly he emerged from behind one of the trees and lifted himself into the air, keeping his ki suppressed so he wouldn't bother Piccolo-san too much. He might just want to spar with him because he cut in on his training time. Not that Gohan minded that. Any time spent with Piccolo-san was quality time. It didn't take him long before he was hovering level with his mentor. The boy gulped, opened his mouth to speak…
"Don't bother, Gohan," the Namek said in his gravelly voice. "I know you're there. You've been waiting for me to stop meditating for the last twenty minutes."
Piccolo cracked open one eye and watched as his young student sighed with relief. "Gosh, Piccolo-san," the boy exclaimed, "was I really that loud? Wasn't I suppressing my ki enough?"
The concern in the demi-Saiyan's eyes almost drew a chuckle from the Namek. "No, kid," he said gruffly. "You should know by now that I, of all people, will always be able to find you." Piccolo tapped one of his fingers to his forehead in explanation.
"I know that, Piccolo-san."
"Then why are you still trying to hide?"
The older warrior again suppressed a laugh as Gohan flushed a deep red. "Well, I'm not really trying to hide from you," the boy stammered after a moment. "I don't want Krillin or Mom to find me."
Piccolo snorted, opening his other eye and blinking. "Your mother can't sense ki."
"That doesn't mean anything! She shouldn't be able to pull a frying pan out of her pocket, either!"
The Namek winced in sympathy. He had only been threatened – never hit – with Chi-Chi's near-legendary frying pan once or twice, and that had been bad enough. But to have to live under the constant threat of that thing…he had no idea what it was like. And according to Gohan, his mother brained him with it several times a week. She had come far down the path from warrior-woman to housewife. "Point taken." He couldn't help but let the sympathy drip into his voice. "Why don't you want Krillin to find you?"
Gohan dropped his gaze to his feet, and the river below them. "He'll tell Mom where I am, and she'll make him bring me home."
"Did she threaten him with her kitchenware as well?"
Somehow, the image of Krillin being chased by a psychotic, pan-wielding Chi-Chi lodged itself in Piccolo's mind, and he did smile. "Then why are you out here?" he asked as he uncurled himself and stretched his legs.
"Mom an' Krillin don't want to bother you."
Makes perfect sense, Piccolo thought. I am not the Demon Lord for nothing. The thought brought a vicious smirk to his face, the corners of his mouth twisting up so his fangs were bared. "Good choice, kid," he told the boy. "But that still does not explain why you came all the way out here to hide. You could have suppressed your ki and stayed with Yamcha and his foolish female friend."
The frightening look on Piccolo's face made the boy flinch away from him, but he recovered soon enough. After all, it was Piccolo-san, and he would never do anything to hurt him. Even if he did spar rough. Gohan beamed at the thought. "Mom would find me there. She and Bulma are good friends, and she's not dumb."
The Namek snorted derisively. "Answer me already, kid," he said.
Gohan looked into his mentor's dark eyes and gulped. "I…I wanted to talk with you about Dad while I waited," he stammered.
Piccolo's eyes widened ever so slightly, and he blinked at the wistful expression on the demi-Saiyan's face. He was treading on dangerous ground here. "What about your dad?" he asked slowly, preparing himself for any number of bombshells the boy could drop on him.
"Why wouldn't he want to come home, Piccolo-san?"
Off the top of his head, Piccolo could think of half a dozen reasons. One, Son Chi-Chi. She would take his head off for leaving. Two, himself. Though that reason might be null and void now that Goku thought they were 'buddies'. He almost growled. It was no small effort to not equate the name 'Goku' with the verb 'kill'. Truthfully, 'slaughter' would have been more like it, since for all the trouble that man caused he would rend him limb from limb and leave his remains in strategic places around his own yard. Well, at one time he would have done that. Now he was uncertain.
If he had the chance to kill Son Goku, would he still take it?
Three, Vegeta. The instant Goku showed his Saiyan face on Earth, the other man would be all over him like flies on honey, trying to beat the secret of the Super Saiyan transformation out of him…even though Vegeta was currently nowhere near the Earth. Knowing both men, it wasn't very likely. But that did not mean it could not happen.
Four, he was bored on Earth and wanted a change of pace. Now that Frieza was dead, Vegeta taken care of and he himself no longer a threat (at this thought he felt a bitter laugh build up in the back of his throat, and he forced it back), there was nothing else for him to do. Goku had a son and a wife, but could the man actually be tied down to something once its novelty wore off? And if that were the case, what could have been done to hold his interest?
Five, he had business to take care of and issues to resolve…after all, he had just spent the last few months either in a body cast, alone on a spaceship, or fighting for his life, and the year before that he had been dead. Certainly he would feel confused, perhaps lost, and he would need time to sort himself out before he rejoined his family.
Six – and Piccolo hated to think of it, but told himself he must – he was dead. Something had happened to him by now, and he had died.
Piccolo schooled his features into a mask of calm that did little, he felt, to hide the turmoil roiling beneath his skin. He opened his mouth to reply, frowned when he found he could not, just could not tell his best friend and student that his father had either abandoned him or was scattered across the cosmos as space dust. He hadn't lost his nerve, but would Gohan appreciate his frankness now?
Probably not. He tried again.
"Gohan, it's not that he doesn't want to come home…more likely than not he's found himself in the position where he can't."
Piccolo watched Gohan's face fall and winced. Wrong answer. His explanation had sounded hollow even to him…he could only imagine what the boy had thought when he heard it. Son Goku, the Legendary Super Saiyan and savior of the world, who had somehow survived the destruction of the planet Namek, unable to return home? Not likely. And he could not hope that Gohan did not reach the same conclusion; the boy was too bright for that.
The small clearing was silent for a moment, save the gentle roar of the waterfall. After a while even that seemed to fade, leaving a curious hush in its place. Was it in his mind alone, or did Gohan share that lull?
Would the boy have even noticed?
Neither demon nor child could meet the other's eyes.
It was Gohan who finally broke the awkward silence. "Y'know, Piccolo," he said softly, "I keep thinking the same thing. At night, before I go to bed. I keep telling myself he's stuck somewhere, but if he could make it off Namek somehow, how much harder could it be for him to come home? He must've found a ship or something, right? Because he can't survive in space?"
The demi-Saiyan swallowed his voice with his words. "He'd be trying to come home if he could, he has to, because he still loves us an' all," he whispered now. "He has to, so Mom shouldn't be crying all the time." He raised his eyes as if pleading, a motion Piccolo noted but tactfully ignored. "Did you know that? She keeps crying at night for him, and he doesn't come. He's gotta be stuck somewhere, because I can't imagine my Dad forgetting about us…" His small voice trailed off.
Piccolo wished he had been the one to break the silence instead. Blast that man to the Kais and beyond, he seethed inwardly. No tact, not even for his son and his warrior wife. If I learn that he has spent the last year engaging in frivolity – or even in training – I will make him regret it. I told Gohan once I would never allow anything to happen to him…even if it means I act out a father's duties for his son, I will not break that promise. Gohan deserves better than this.
They both do.
The Namek nodded. "After hearing Porunga speak, I'm certain your father made it off the planet on a ship somehow…chances are, when the planet met its end (died, that small part of him Nail had become whispered sorrowfully) that ship was damaged. He's probably eating an intergalactic buffet out of food waiting for repairs to be made."
Gohan brushed one hand across his eyes hurriedly, trying his best not to let Piccolo notice the action. "Do you really think so?"
"I wouldn't have said it if I didn't mean it." Unspoken (and unnecessary) were the words, you should know that by now. But Piccolo could not find it in himself to be irritated with his student when Gohan was so miserable. His brow creased ever-so-slightly. Son, he swore, you had best not prove me wrong!
The two warriors hovered above the waterfall for an indeterminate period of time, saying nothing and expecting nothing to be said. The roar of the water was noise enough for them. Gohan stared at the bottom of Piccolo's gently-waving cloak, almost terrified to lift his eyes much higher than that, else the Namek would notice how puffy and red his cheeks had become, how many unspilled tears his eyes held. No, he would rather hide the proof that he could not control his own emotions. With his own father gone, he did not want to make Piccolo-san upset. Piccolo was the only father he really had.
The Namek caught the wisp of thought and hid his grimace. No boy should have to worry about whether or not his father cared for him. He'd had enough of that nightmare when he first contemplated his relationship with Gohan and the new outlook on life the boy had given him – he had come to the conclusion that even if his father, the Demon Lord, had not been killed, he still would have been unfit to grovel at the man's feet. Small comfort, though…he had never, ever worshipped his father the way Gohan worshipped his. All Goku needed to do was call the boy, and his adoring son would come at a run. Did he not realize how much he truly meant to the boy?
Piccolo was mildly surprised when he caught the dying glow of the setting sun on the water below. Had they been speaking for so long?
"Piccolo-san," came Gohan's quiet voice, "it's getting dark out. I'm gonna need to get going."
Apparently so. The Namek nodded. But I should say something, he thought, quiet even in the recesses of his own mind. It would not be wise to let him go home to his mother like this. An image of a pan-wielding Chi-Chi forced itself into his thoughts again, and he grimaced. That woman would hunt him for the rest of his natural life (and beyond) if anything happened to her son while he was in his care.
"Mom's gonna ask where I was. Is it all right if I tell her I was spendin' time with you?"
"She'd know if I said I was with Krillin and I really wasn't and then she'd get mad at both of us – "
" – and I can't say that I was with Tien and Chaozu because I can't find them even when I go looking for them, and I can't lie to her because she's my mom and – "
Piccolo's steadily rising voice shocked the boy from his babbling. Gohan raised his startled gaze to meet Piccolo's, and whatever response the Namek would have given was lost when he flung himself at him, sobbing hysterically. Piccolo was unprepared for it and about as comfortable with it as a cornered mouse watching a cat, but when the child you swore to protect above all else leaps at you in tears, what can you do? Gohan latched himself onto the front of Piccolo's body and buried his face in the soft cloth of his cloak, and Piccolo awkwardly hugged the boy to him.
"Oh Piccolo-san I miss him so much why did he leave why couldn't he just kill Frieza and leave with us why couldn't he come home why won't he doesn't he love me an' Mommy or doesn't he know how much we need him?" Gohan wailed loudly into the white fabric, both with his voice and in his mind. "Piccolo-san, it hurts!"
When did I begin to care? The Namek lowered his head until his lips were level with the child's ear, and he whispered, "Of course it does. And it will for quite a while." I'm so sorry I have to be the one to tell you this, kid. "But Goku did what he thought was best. He wanted to be certain Frieza would die. If he does not return, it is for a reason." While Piccolo paused to choose his words, the world held its breath, and a small boy opened his swollen eyes. "He is still the same Son Goku I hated with my first breath, believe me. He was the beginning of the end for me, kid, when he died without regret, without hating the creature that killed him remorselessly. He cared for everyone and everything, even for the demon sent to murder him." He made a noise that would have passed for a short laugh had it come from any other being. "He cares too much. And that is how I know he still loves you. You are his son, and he will not stop caring about you until all of reality ceases to exist."
Foolish! Piccolo hissed, immediately cursing himself for being so soft and sentimental, but when he lifted his head and looked down at the child, he saw that it did not matter. Gohan had fallen into a restless, hiccupping sleep.
Chi-Chi paced the kitchen obstinately, heedless of the steaming dinner she threatened to upset each time she stomped past the table. Gohan was supposed to be home by now! It was already after dusk, and the sky was nearly black without the moon and only the faint light of the shining stars. "Should I call Krillin again?" she wondered. "I think he's lying to me…Gohan's probably sitting down to dinner with him inst-yahh!" The woman's words were cut off with a yelp when her door was flung open and a large, intimidating figure took its place.
For a moment she did not recognize the outline standing in her doorway. Then, when the being it belonged to moved farther into her kitchen, her heart stopped pounding staccato and she scowled. "You!" she snarled in her most venomous voice. "What do you think you're doing here? I demand that you leave my house at once!"
Piccolo shot her a withering glare but said nothing until he turned to one side and revealed her sleeping son, gently but firmly cradled against his body. The boy's cheeks were puffy and streaked with tears. Chi-Chi's mouth dropped open. "Oh," she exclaimed softly, calming down immediately and losing much of her bluster. "I…ah…his room is just up the stairs, on the right."
The Namek brushed past her without a word, and after the quiet swish of his cloak she heard nothing until he padded back down the stairs a few minutes later, sans Gohan. The woman could see the dark splotches across the front of his normally pristine cloak. Water or tears? It did not take a genius to figure out which.
Chi-Chi sat down at the table and laced her fingers together. She was rarely in the company of the Namekian warrior, and never alone with him. She was out of her league and rather nervous. What would she say to him? Well, she thought, I suppose I can say nothing and just show him out the door, but that wouldn't be polite. I should ask him if he wants something to eat or drink. She eyed the dinner table and all the food she had prepared critically. Though I doubt he'll want any of it. Sigh. I should at least be grateful to him for bringing Gohan home!
She caught Piccolo staring at her and forced back the urge to shiver. Oh please don't say anything, just leave and show yourself out! she prayed.
To her surprise, the Namek chuckled and relaxed ever-so-slightly. "I know where the door is, and I don't eat."
Chi-Chi was at a loss for words. "How…" she began to say. "How did you…I didn't…what…"
In response, Piccolo tapped one talon to his temple and smirked. "If you think loudly enough, I can hear you without reaching." His guttural voice carried clearly through the room, though he spoke quietly, and the woman was glad he had not chosen to growl at her. "Especially since the stronger your emotion is, the stronger the thought that accompanies it." He bit down a derisive laugh at the horrified expression on her face. He could hear her now…oh, Kami, he heard it all! "I do, however, need to speak with you, whether you like it or not."
One of Chi-Chi's hands flew involuntarily to her mouth. "Is it Goku?" she gasped.
The expression on the Namek's face was inscrutable. "Not in the way you're thinking," Piccolo told her. When the woman's face fell, he frowned lightly. This will take longer than I expected…
Piccolo stayed until the young woman's tears ceased, and without so much as a by-your-leave he departed through the door neither he nor Chi-Chi had bothered to close. Had he paused at the window, he would have seen her staring blankly up the stairs, in the direction of her only son's bedroom. The woman had received a nasty shock, for she had not realized how much her young child had picked up on, and how much Goku's absence truly affected him. She would need to speak with the child on her own, as well.
He did not have the social grace to explain such a situation tactfully, he decided. But he had tried, to the best of his ability, and he would do so again if he thought Gohan needed it. At least the boy was able to vent. He needs no harmful emotions now.
"Feh." His stomach knotted with concern for his student, but he ignored it.
Piccolo allowed his ki to swirl around him as he took off, softly illuminating the yard. My meditation is supposed to be for training, he thought, not for reflection. "Though tonight will be an exception," he added aloud.
On his flight back to the waterfall, he twisted his body so his back faced the ground, and he was left staring up into the sky. His gaze followed the stars, so far above him that their faint glow was discernable only in the mountains, where the Son family's kitchen light had not the effect of a large city on the view of the heavens. The Namek's eyes searched the vast darkness for something – for what? Can you honestly expect to find Son Goku among the stars, Piccolo? he chided himself.
The warrior sighed and flipped onto his stomach, his cloak whipping out behind him. As the wind's cold fingers brushed along his cheeks, he shook his head…perhaps at Son Chi-Chi's emotional outburst, perhaps at Gohan. Perhaps at Son Goku, simply for being himself.
Goku, don't you dare prove me wrong, Piccolo warned the Saiyan, as if there was even the slightest of possibilities that the man would hear him. I cannot take your place, even if Gohan wanted me to. He needs his father, not his father's former nemesis. For his sake, find it in yourself to return.
The Namek spent the rest of the night staring off into the distance, reflecting upon Gohan's words.
Why wouldn't he want to come home, Piccolo-san?
He's gotta be stuck somewhere, because I can't imagine my Dad forgetting about us…
For both Goku's and Gohan's sakes, he hoped Gohan was right.