Black eyes bore into my own, glazed over with the stillness of death.


Lackluster black hair that spikes everywhere, limp as the hands fallen in the dust, coated with dried blood and crimson burns, palms raised towards the sky as it they're trying to draw a last bit of strength from the planet itself...


"Vegeta..."


It he has fallen, how can I stand?


I clench my fists and school the image away in my mind, somewhere that the pain will be less obvious, less burning and twisting in my chest. No time for burial, Vegeta died in battle like he's always wanted to, facing the sky. He will be mourned no more than I, not in this world, this hell. I suppose it's better this way, to end ourselves like warriors.


I press my fingers over his eyes and close the lids- he's growling even in death, unwilling to let life leak away from his body. Unwilling to give up.


Moving again.


Have to find another.


I'm next.


What have I ever really achieved now, after all of this pain and these endless fights? I'm asking myself this now, wondering what an impression I made on anyone here. What was the point? Have I touched anyone? No....the only thing of worth I've ever done was dying the first time.


Death is all I can give this time around, too.


There, I see a second one. He's short and bald, half buried in a pile of rubble, his skull crushed and eyes closed, still bent into an expression of absolute pain even in death. The human fighters never really stood a chance against those monsters, whoever they are.


'Good,' I decide, boots crunching the dust and glass beneath the tanned leather soles. My pants are tattered, shirt gone. There's a hole through my left shoulder- ignore the pain, the blood trickling in my eyes. Have to fight....'Less work for me.'


Another explosion, then a smattering of laughter as several buildings collapse in on themselves- they're still looking for me. They know that with me dead, the dragonballs will disappear. I curse myself- I have to live, this miserable world needs me. I'm living for a world that has never cared about my existance apart fromt the Dragonballs... Nothing else is needed. I will not be remembered when I join Vegeta, Kururin, Son in the dust.


If only we had been warned.... They just dropped out of the sky like dragons, destroying city after city until we realized what was happening. I can still see the looks on the faces of the others as we grouped, then flew to greet the trouble.


Shot down one by one...


There's Yamcha, now faceless, half his torso missing. It's enough to make my stomach churn... not much does that, really. These creatures are nothing but killers, there's no love in them. They remind me of how I was before Gohan, and his father.


Gokou.


"Damn them. If Son was here...if Gokou..." I whisper it like a prayer, it's the first time I've said his name outloud since he left us, it still hurts so much to speak it, and the merest mention of the name makes Gohan curl in on himself in silence.


Gokou. He failed us this time, no fighter took him away, just a tiny little bug, an insignificant speck of viral infection... The irony of it tastes bitter in my mouth as I stare down at Yamcha's form, brushing sweat and blood from my eyes. "Son, if only you knew... you left us just before we needed you the very most."


"Piiiiiiiikoro-saaaaaaaaaan~! Dokooooo da?!" A teasing falsetto voice meets my tilted, sloped green ears....It's the dark haired one, mocking me even now as I die, too tired and energy-sapped to regenerate, too heartbroken to escape. Sounding like Gohan, the boy...


The boy....


No, I can't die, it's obvious! I move under an overhang, catching my breath. Of course now, things come clear so easily when he's involved... Gohan! He's somewhere here in the city, like the others. Last I saw him he was bouncing across the pavement, crashing into a few buildings and disappearing under a cloud of dust and debris. Is he dead...? I have to know, I decide. I will at least die with that knowledge, I will not be denyed. My Gohan... my only....son....


I can't sense him, but he has to be somewhere.


He can't be dead yet.


I would know.


Another explosion echoes about me, through the ruined walls of the city, then a third. Fourth. Hotter. Closer. Here.


Light plays upon my face as a fireball bears down on me from above, filling the heavens with cold and sending fire into my chest. It's impossible to jump aside, pain is thrumming in my shoulder and icing my veins...


Darkness, and then....


********


Another pair of black saiya-jin eyes. Wide and staring, just like the first, but these are hazy, not lifeless. Asleep yet awake.


"GOHAN!!"


It was stupid to shout his name so loudly, I know that, but I can't help myself, my relief is so strong that I can almost taste it. I woke up seconds ago to find him next to me, curled in on himself with his head on my stomach, tears are still filling his eyes and sliding down his cheeks at uneven intervals. He's not dead..not yet....thank God.


Thank Kami. Whatever.


Sweet relief floods through my chest as his own fills with air. "Gohan... Wake up, boy. You're alright. Wake up." I whisper, shaking him softly and sitting up, leaning myself against a solid concrete wall to keep the strain off my shoulder.


It was as if he was dreaming while awake, because I watch him focus on me and sob once in the back of his throat when he realizes that I'm alright. The kid's tail has grown back, I notice absently after scanning the sky for the two specks that would bring our downfall. It's laying behind him, curled like a snake, then jerks up as Gohan moves sharply.


It's odd what you notice when you're so agonized you can barely think.


"Pikoro-san..." He hiccups softly. Before I know it he's buried his head against my chest, sobbing into my good shoulder, scarecly noticing the gaping wound in his other through his blood and tears. "Pikoro-san! Pikoro-san...they... Vegeta...K-...Kururin... T-Ten..."


"I know." I tell him softly, curling my hand around the back of his head protectively, letting his spikey hair poke this way and that through my huge fingers. So small....His hair is soft, his mind is soft...he's too innocent for this, he deserves more than battle after endless battle. He shouldn't be here, I realize slowly, my heart jumping in my chest. He's the only one that will live. We can die, but Gohan can't.


"I won't let that happen." I whisper, pressing him against me and listening to his muffled sobs. Him, the closest thing to a son I'll ever have. "Gohan, we have to-Aaaahhh..." I cut myself off as his hand presses against my other shoulder. He pales slightly, his tiny hand now stained with my own blood, sticky, purple, inhuman. We're so different him and I, it still surprises me that someone as tiny and weak..no, strong as him could ever change my heart.


"Pikoro-san..." He whisperes, terror fillings his eyes. I know he's clinging to me, he thinks I'm all he has left, the only one.... He won't be able to stand losing his father and me as well, he's strong in body but is he that strong inside his soul? No, I decide...he'll be able to stand it. After all, I trained him... He'll harden bit by bit, the same way I did when I was young. He'll fight those damned Jinzouningen creatures.


That fills me with sadness, inexplicable, but there. It's hard to explain what it's like, to know that he'll be going through hell for the rest of his life and not being able to do anything about it.


Some demon king I am.


'No....I gave that up long ago, the title and the rights with it. I'm no demon king, I never will be again. I'm a Z-fighter...one of the last.'


He's always been soft, too dependant on people for his own good. I tried to fix that when I left him alone in the wilderness, but instead he just latched onto something else, and he's never been shaken free.


Me.


And whether I like it or not, I'm as attached to him as he is to me, he's my best and truest friend, my student, my family. "What...?" Gohan asks me, looking closer at my shoulder, peeling away my gi where it's been plastered to my skin with a mortar of blood and dirt. "You're hurt bad...!"


"Tch. It's nothing." Admit weakness to him? Never.


Before he can jump up, shout, or do some other childlishly foolish thing, I press my hand over his mouth, smearing my blood across his cheek, marring the skin. I regret it instantly as his pain-filled eyes do more talking then his mouth ever could, staring up at me.... like a a son towards a father...."Shut up. You'll show them where we are."


"B-but-" His protests make my heart twist. I have been his family for these past few months, I've talked to him. Trained less, conversed more, helping him through the death of his father in my own way. He knew what I was doing, he was happy to be with me.


Nobody has ever been happy with me before him. "Gohan," I tell him sternly, pulling my hands away from his face. "Whatever happens, you can't die. You're the key to survival, Gohan. You can train Trunks. You're a super saiya-jin, son of Gokou. Trunks will learn to fight and be your student, like you were mine. Show him how to fight. He won't be able to stay away from battle, you have to be there to make sure his first blood is spilled with a fighting chance."


"You'll...you'll be there too, Pikoro! I'm not done training, I can't fight without you!"


"Of course you can." I say scornfully. The explosions seem to be moving away, they must not know where we are. Safe for now, then. I would rather die here with Gohan then out there in the empty city, without anyone... "You had all the training I could give when Vegeta showed up."


"I need a sensei! I need a friend! I can't do it by myself, I'm not a super saiya-jin..."


Suddenly things are getting so blurry....my vision is going already. Damn. Not much longer now, then. "No...Trunks needs a sensei. You don't need anything but courage, and you already have that in spades, Son Gohan."


"Neither one of you need anything... Nothing that death won't take care of."


I leap up, hanging onto Gohan as if he were a jewel encrusted to my wrists, shielding him from the two creatures that appeared above us with my one good shoulder. "Who are you?!"


"Juunana-gou...and Juuhachi-gou..."


They have the most nightmarish smiles when they bear down for the kill, calm, loathsome, hatefull... They are no more than numbers. No more human than I. I hear Gohan let out a sob of fear and feel his hands clench around my shoulder before a last, desperate idea shoots into my mind. Taiyoken won't work on mechanical toys, but maybe...


"MASENKO!" I scream suddenly, throwing my empty hand down towards the ground, and in mere seconds we're engulfed in dust and chunks of stone from the blast. Below me, land disappears and peels away as a massive crater forms in the remains of the city- apparently it broke a few gas lines, because another huge explosion shoots up in front of me, making me turn away from the heat, seeking a safe path of escape.


Gohan goes limp in unconciousness, blood leaking from his forhead as I leap up and shoot away. Above the ground, I get my bearings and speed south, antannea bobbing in the wind.


Blood trickles down into my eyes as air rushes around me, licking at my skin and tearing cruelly at the burns and abrasions all over my torso, I wipe the dripping liquids away and wonder if I dare to look behind me. Are they following me? No time to find out but I'm sure they are. Fine, let them follow, I'm almost there-


I peak over a rim of snow-capped mountains and down through the thin air into the forest thriving on the ground far below, woodlands that stretch away as far as I can see. Cover.


Now I'm in, threading between the trees, miles and miles disappearing beneath me in a few seconds flat, almost there, almost safe.


Stop. Glance around. Nothing.


"Gohan...." I whisper again as I nearly fall to the ground, kneeling under one of the trees and setting him down. He's blood-stained, his skull dripping against my gi. An injury, but nothing life-threatening, he'll be alright.


A narrow smile threads onto my lips as I brush his hair away from the wound.


'If I die, he'll be alone. Can I do that to him? Can I really leave him here, just a kid, as the only person who can stop these creatures?' I wonder silently, unwilling to put my student into that much pain. He never knew it, but ever blow to him was like a blow to me as well, while sparring with him I had to force myself to be harsh, and when he gave up, cried, bled, it felt like a part of myself was doing the same. Gohan.


Inspiration! I press my hand to his arm, just above his wrist and take a deep breath. It's easy enough, my nails cut through his flesh like butter, and I lift them to my own skin, breaking the surface in a moment.


Gazing at his face, I press our arms together. He is asleep, I am awake, but now I'll have part of him to carry with me into the battle, and that means more than anything in the world to me. Yet...he'll have a part of me with him, even if he doesn't know its.


"Gohan... my brother, blood and heart." My fingers are dark against his skin as I press them against his wound, purple and red mingling and dripping down my palm, different colors, but just as warm. "You said you wouldn't be able to fight without me. Well.....I'll always be with you. Inside you, sleeping with the power you'll harness someday."


Enough. Jerking my hand back, I sigh softly and turn away from him, willing the fear of my heart. This death is my last, and it sentances the others to the afterlife- yet how can I let myself live? No, I'll fall with the others. I'll not run away, not Pikoro.


His head and arm, something has to be done about those....Easy. A quick rip and the rest of my shirt is stripped, and I pull it into long pieces, soaked with my own blood. A moment passes easily and I tie them around his head as best as I can, then tying a second one to his arm to stop the bleeding.


His face blurs before my eyes and I leap straight up, shooting back the way I came.


If I'm going to die, I'll die where the others fell.


**********


"To think, our information states you to be one of the strongest on the planet." Juuhachi-gou purrs in my ear, her voice like poison. "And it turns out that you're nothing, nothing at all."


A grin spreads across my face, feral and uncontrolled, blood seeping into my eyes and pouring from my nose and mouth, but I grin just the same. It's strange, like something inside me doesn't care... Gohan is safe, there's nothing more these creatures can do to hurt me. Gohan is all that matters. "Monster. You'll never win."


"We already have." She hisses, and in a moment there's another hole in my stomach, making me choke for air that doesn't want to slide into my lungs. "You have great tolerance, namekusei-jin, but you are only flesh and blood in the end."


Darkness, only me, my mad grin, and my wheezy breathing. I fall to my knees with both hands to my stomach, and whisper. "I would rather...spend a day in flesh... then a lifetime..... as a .....machine......." Falling again, falling into nothingness, not afraid at all...


This death is forever.


'Sayonara.....Gohan.......'


Juuhachi-gou raised a sculpted brow as she felt the life leaving the figure at their feet and turned to her twin, cool eyes looking almost surprised. "He died smiling." She said quietly, a frown on her face. They wanted to cause pain, not pleasure, and this namekusei-jin had defied them to the end. Even Vegeta had been scared... "I wonder why."


The other jinzouningen shrugged carelessly, wiping a bit of blood off his brilliantly colored scarf as he dismissed the question as unimportant. "As you said, he's a mere mortal made of bone and meat. Who understands them?"


"I don't know."


Silence for a moment as they stared at Pikoro, watching the blood slowly stop flowing, watching him grow cold as the sun began to set overhead, bathing the ruined city in sickly red light. "The boy is in the forest, alone." The dark-haired one finally spoke.


"Shall we kill him?"


"No." Juunana-gou smiled, kicking pale dust over Pikoro's form. "If he goes now, we won't have anyone to entertain us."


"He wasn't a problem today, no fun at all. He's too weak to even provide us with a vestige of entertainment." Juuhachi-gou muttered, looking up from the carnage and brushing strands of her hair out of her eyes.


"He'll get stronger sooner of later." The black haired teen said softly. "And when he's ready, he'll be our toy."

*********


Gohan opened his eyes and found himself staring into the leafy undergrowth of a dark forest, smoke drifting through the leaves from a wildfire somewhere or another.


Cold. He turned sideways and stood up wearily, his head throbing and his throat burning.


Aching. Empty. Alone-.....


....alone......


"Pikoro-san?!" He whispered, breath catching in his chest with terror. Where was he?! "Pikoro....?"


Before he had known when his mentor was safe without understanding how. They were tied, best friends Gohan was sure, even if Pikoro never mentioned it. Now... Something in the back of Gohan's mind didn't feel right. Unreal.


The boy lowered his hand to his arm, stared down at the wound, covered in purple and red. He couldn't sense any ki, nothing but his own...nothing.... No, masaka.... 'I'm the only fighter left on the planet.'


Yamcha, Kururin, Vegeta. He could handle that. Tenshinhan, Chaozu, their ends could be dealt with. But not him, not.....not.... not Pikoro...how could Gohan fight when he was so....


....alone.....


"PIKORO?!" The half saiya-jin cried brokenly, his voice cracking with strain. No ki anywhere. Pikoro's was completely gone from the face of the earth. "NO!" Gohan managed to sob, falling to his knees in the dusty forest, smoke wrapping around him like a funeral shroud. Tears were running down his cheeks, smeared with dirt and blood. 'Anything but this. Anything but....' "PIKOOOROOO-SAAAMAAAA~!"


Impossible to bear, it felt like he was turning inside out, and for a few seconds nothing filled his mind but a raw, burning sensation of loss, lonliness, and power.


Trees rustled overhead, the only witnesses as Gohan's hair flickered golden and his eyes turned to emeralds for the first time ever.


The saiya-jin boy fell to his knees and sobbed.

*******



A voice called out from the neverending whiteness that swirled every which way, marred only by a dark-colored cloud, the soul of someone or another. "Oy! Pikoro!"


With those words, the tiny puff of obscure existance pulled together, and a now semi-transparent namekusei-jin turned, and found himself face to face with another man, transparent as well, with a pair of brilliant white wings set upon his back. "S-...Son?"


"It's been a while, ne?!"


Gokou didn't look anything different than Pikoro remembered, his face and smile, the spikey, cheerful hair precisely as he remembered it- except for the wings, of course. Those were certainly new. "...yeah..."


"The jinzouningen got you too, huh? I wish I had fought them, it's not fair at all..." The saiya-jin sighed quietly, looking like a child who had been reprimanded just before stealing a few choice cookies off the counter.


Pikoro nodded slowly, still staring at his dead friend, his mind slowly clicking the puzzle pieces into place. "I'm dead. The dragonballs-"


"Yeah, Pikoro. Enma's waiting just through that door-" He pointed to a gabled archway that Pikoro was sure hadn't been there before. "I...I asked to see you before the others." Gokou said quietly, his voice shifting to a suddenly serious tone. "Just to say...thanks and all."


"Thanks for what?"


"For....taking care of Gohan."


The namekusei-jin was silent for a moment, then nodded shortly and folded his arms. "Thanks for...letting me."


Gokou nodded. "Pikoro, I never thought we'd end up like this when I first saw you at the Budoukai all those years ago. Funny how things turn out, ne?"


"I don't find it funny at all."


"No.....I suppose not."


They turned, Pikoro following Gokou through the gates of the afterlife.


********


Gohan dragged himself through the undergrowth, too exhausted to fly, but too focused to reach his destination- he couldn't quit now- and then, suddenly, there it was before him. His home for years....


He found himself flashing back to the vales and mountains Pikoro had inhabited. 'Home.'


Too worn out to make it inside, he collapsed silently on the thin, hard porch, and slept.


*******


"Gohan-chan, ohoyo..." A voice threaded through his mind, soft and sweet.


"Kaasan?"


"You're awake!"


Gohan sat up, wiping his eyes, surprised to find them free of blood and dirt. His mother was there, dressed in a black shroud, her eyes red and tired. "You're alright, my baby....you scared me so..." She squeaked softly, sitting down on the bed next to Gohan. "Tell me what happened...I think I should know. Bulma is here....tell me, who...who was..."


"Everyone."


".....e-....every.... Even Pikoro?" Seeing Gohan's miserable nod, Chi-chi's eyes filled with tears again. "No...Gohan, no..."


In a few moments she was in her son's arms, clinging to him as if he was the last person on the face of the earth.


Gohan stroked her ebony hair back, gazing down at his mother with eyes that were far to old and experianced for his youthful face. He had already done his crying... Not the others needed him. "It's okay, kaasan...shh....just... I've got to tell Bulma."


The blue-haired woman was on the steps waiting for him, Trunks nestled in her arms, as if she had known he would be there before he thought of it himself.


Gohan stared at the back of her head, unsure of how to proceed. 'How do I tell her?' "Bulma~" He started to speak, as Chi-chi appeared in the doorway, her black robes fluttering in the breeze. She wasn't done mourning her husband, even so many months after the death. Gohan was beginning to worry if she would ever let go...


Bulma gazed up at him brokenly, eyes already filled with tears. "I know, Gohan. The way he looked as he left...I know. I knew he wouldn't come back to me. I just....it's so hard...." She managed to say, before desolving into helpless tears.


The boy nodded to his mother in the doorway, and Chi-chi wrapped an arm around Bulma's shoulders, pulling her inside, while Gohan retrieved Trunks from her arms and stood on the porch as the fading daylight leaked across the land.


The sun was setting on the old ways. Everything would be different now. Nothing would ever be the same....


"Trunks," Gohan whispered, glancing down at the boy in his arms. "Your father died today. My mentor is.... gone, too... And... and you know what?" pausing a moment, Gohan settled down and let the tears drip freely down his cheeks as he stared at the sinking sun. "Pikoro-san told me... He told me to train you like he trained me."


"Glay...." Trunks cooed softly, disturbed by Gohan's tears, though the words the older boy spoke made no sense to him. Gohan wasn't supposed to cry, Trunks knew, what made him sad made Trunks sad as well, and he sniffed softly.


"I can't, though. Trunks, if I train you, you'll just....you'll just be killed... Like them. Another casualty on our list of losses. I don't care if I die, but I don't want to make you a target too... Pikoro-san...he wanted me too, but....I just....can't...."


"Gaaahaa?"


Silence for a few moments, as the cicadas kicked their song into the dusk and filled the air with humming. "I'll make a deal with you, okay Trunks?" Gohan sniffed, wiping the salty stinging water from his eyes and lifting Trunks up untill the child was level with his face. "If you really are your father's child, you'll want to train. You'll ache to fight. And when you ask me, I'll be there to teach you the ways my mentor taught me."


"Kaaa..."


"But until you ask, Trunks, you'll stay normal, and stay safe." A sob broke that, and Gohan shivered violently, then clutched Trunks against him, making the younger boy coo curiously. "You'll have to be a kid for both of us now, because whether I like it or not...I've got to be big now."


"Kylapth...." The lavender haired child purred as Gohan curled his tail around his arm and shielded him against the breeze. A tiny fist waved in the air, wielding the power of his father with the gentle smile of his mother.


Gohan bit his lip sharply and tried to smile bravely at the baby. Someday he would tell Trunks about them all, tell him of the fighters until he knew them as well as Gohan had. He would tell the boy everything and keep their memories alive...but first...."I've got to fight them now. I swear to you, Trunks, that I'll be alive to teach you to fight, too. I swear on it."


The sun sank down below the mountains, and they stayed there long after, sitting in the cool mountain air and watching the stars rise until well after midnight.


After all....this was the first day of the rest of their lives.