Disclaimer: Nope, don't own it…promise.

A/N: Okay, somehow this story got erased by FF. I don't know how or why but it did. And I like this little fic of mine…so I reposted it. Here goes:

Exploring the Heart

I sit by my waterfall. At the moment all is peaceful and serene, but that wont last long. My meditation is interrupted earlier than usual, though I really don't mind it. I'm glad to see him, though my poor ears will take a beating nonetheless. His hair spikes with rebellious locks pointing in all directions, even though his harpy mother insists on attempting to tame it. He doesn't come into the clearing immediately, in fact he takes a long route around the waterfall and into a tall tree.

So, the kid thinks he can sneak up on his sensei? We'll see.

As of yet I haven't opened my eyes, twitched a muscle or made any other indication that I am at all conscious. He should know by now, after countless tries in the past, that he can't possibly catch me unawares. But no, he apparently hasn't learned yet.

"Mr. Piccolo!" He shouts and lands on my turban. "How are ya?"

Grunt. "Get off if you know what's good for you." I reply. I can't let myself sound as pleased as I feel.

He giggles and slides down my back, hanging on to the end of my cape. Kami, this kid is too much sometimes.

"So, been training much? You feel stronger, so I bet you've been working out really hard. Right?"

"Hm," I grunt, I'm really not the verbal type.

"Yep, thought so." He says and tries to stand on my knee and I finally open my eyes to glare at him. He laughs at the sight of me and pokes my chest. "Wanna spar?"

I smirk. "You sure that's what you want?" But the question isn't needed, we've both started our descend toward the ground. He knows me too well, even I can see it. I know him too, better than I thought I would ever allow myself to know another person.

He begins our little match with a blow to the head, but I dodge it easily. Throughout the battle it is obvious he is still a beginner, but he's so much stronger than when I first brought him here. Kami, has it really been three years? It doesn't seem that long but apparently I am simply loosing track of time. He lands a punch to the gut and I'm brought back to the present quickly.

-

"Wow." He says breathlessly as he falls on his back, completely spent. "You're really strong. Hehe, but someday I'll beat you."

"I doubt that." I say, though I know the truth. Some day he will be stronger than any of us, I know it. He looks up at the stars and I sit down on the grass next to him, but am mindful not to make the distance between us too close. I need my space.

He, however, has other thoughts. He climbs into my lap, ignoring my grunt of irritation, and points up to the sky.

"See those three bright ones, right there?" He points harder, then waits until I give in and look upward before continuing. "Those make Orion's Belt. You can see him all year long from here. Did you know that?"

By now I've learned to just let him talk and never answer his questions, unless he gets serious. He keeps going and going for several minutes until silence finally ensues. But I actually have something to say tonight, though normally I'd just let him go home, or pass out, without making a sound.

"See that one?" I ask, pointing a sharp-clawed finger directly up at the brightest star in the sky. He nods fervently and looks at me for my explanation.

"That one's the North Star. If you ever get lost, follow that and you'll end up back where you started." I say, lacking emotion as usual.

The kid smiles and leans against me until the sun is fully gone from the horizon, and with such sensitive ears I can hear his steady, sleeping breaths. I know he has to go now, but to be honest I don't want to remind him. I've not seen him in so many weeks I began doubting whether he'd ever come to see me again at all. Feh, why I care I don't know. It was only a few years ago I realized that my heart is more than just another muscle in my body. I'm still learning about all these feelings churning around inside me.

One word comes to mind…Love. What is it anyway? What makes some people able to love automatically and others have to learn it the hard way? The kid cared about me right away, but I had to get past hundreds of barriers before actually admitting to myself that I had feelings for the little runt. It took a couple of severe beatings and my own untimely death to finally do it, but it happened anyway.

I believe my problems with emotions comes directly from my father. He was effective in creating a hole in the soul of me, empty and void. I once claimed to be the demon king, the incorruptible evil. But not now. Gohan helped me see past the image I'd created and he made me into something better. Yeah, all in all, I'm glad for him…and his crazy antics.

"Get up kid, go home." I say gruffly, but Gohan never takes my course words to heart. Never did. That's probably why I like him so much.

"Can I stay with you tonight? Please." He begs.

"And your mother?" I ask, probably sounding a little more pleased with his question than I should.

"She knows where I am." He says, knowing I won't turn him away. How does he do it? He can read me like a book.

"Why you'd give up a comfortable mattress and pillow for the hard ground…is beyond me." I say, getting up and making my way toward the cave I use as a temporary den.

The boy is following closely behind me, but I don't mind it. In fact, he's attempting to walk in my footprints…literally. Why he looks up to me is also a mystery. Yeah, okay, I died for him. And I saved his butt more times than I'd care to count. Still, that doesn't change the fact that he has his own family to tend to. His father is a hero, always has been. He's gone off on another planet at the moment, but why not dote on him? Instead, he chooses a grumpy, green, former demon who was once bent on ruling the Earth. Who knows why? I don't.

"I like the company." He replies to my previous statement.

I grunt. He'd better not get all sappy, which he is prone to. It's rubbish I don't want to deal with. I'd better not ever get as sentimental as the brat is, that would be just too much. Yeah, I admit, I've changed. But I'll burn in the underworld before saying it aloud.

Gohan plops down by the fire I created and sighs contently, what's he so pleased with? Don't know, don't care. I'm just glad he's happy. He's not the same person without that stupid smile adorning his face. What I wouldn't give to call him my own son.

There I go again, getting all soft. Piccolo, snap out of it.

I cross my legs and sit on the ground in the opposite direction as both the fire and the boy. Will I ever get used to being needed? Being someone's role model? Kami, didn't see that one coming. In fact, a few years ago, I'd of blasted anyone who even dared suggest such a thing. Actually, I'd probably of blasted anyone who spoke to me. But, that was a few years ago. A whole lot can happen in a few years…actually, a lot can happen in just one year. Believe me, I know.

"Something wrong sir?" He asks, generally worried about me. Another stupid quirk he has, worry. He worries about me, quite a lot actually. He asks if I get lonely, if I've gotten hurt recently, if something's bothering me. I'd never admit it, not ever, but I like the attention once in a while.

"No." I say. Nothing is bothering me really, just the fact that we can't do this every night. Although at the time I wanted nothing more than to be relieved of the burden of "babysitting", now I'd give almost anything to have things exactly as they had been during training.

"Okay, you just seem sad…or maybe just tired. Are you tired?"

"Yeah, now go to sleep and let me rest." I say, but not as meanly as I once would have said it. I'm different, darn him. He did it and probably doesn't even know it. If only he knew the things I've done, the lives I've destroyed…maybe he wouldn't be so quick to idolize me then. But, I don't think I want him to know…ever. I like this, and to be honest I like him liking me. Kami, that sounds so ridiculous.

So here I am, in a cave with the boy who could very well grow up to be the strongest fighter in the cosmos. But who did he decide to befriend? Me. ME, of all people on this planet to admire he picks me. I'm probably the most unworthy of all. Actually, I know I am. If anyone else around here had their way I'd of been long gone years ago.

My attention snaps to my surroundings and down to my knee. He's using me as a pillow, figures. He always does this, apparently it dispels the nightmares he seems prone to. Nightmares, I remember them. I'd had them frequently before Gohan entered my life.

"Goodnight sir." He says, then scrunches into a ball. "See you…(yawn)…in the morning."

It didn't take but another two minutes before he was softly snoring. I could laugh at the sight of us. How ridiculous we must look, but no one will see us. If this makes him feel better, it's fine with me.

"Goodnight kid." I say, after making absolute sure he was fast asleep. I put my hand on his head, the closest I can get with affection, and think silently to myself. What if I had never met Gohan? What if I had never trained him? Or died in the battle against the Saiyans? How would my life be different?

Images of burning buildings came to mind. Would I have taken over the world? No, probably not. If Gohan had not fought I wonder if the Earth would have been saved from the Saiyans. And he certainly would never had ventured into space, save for my benefit. So, things would be too different to even try to imagine. Plus, I'd be as vengeful and angry at the world now as I was back then.

No, that won't do. I think fate stepped in and led him to me, or me to him…whichever the case may be. Either way, I think the two of us are a team. I think, maybe, we were meant to be a team from the start. Perhaps that's why Kami allowed for me to train with King Kai. Ha, training…that chubby old fart wouldn't know good training if he saw it.

I look down at Gohan and wonder if I was ever that young. He was born into innocence and purity, as all children should be. Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to him so forcefully. I never possessed the innocents that youth should hold. My innocents was ripped away from me even before my birth. That is something unforgivable, and I still have a burning hatred in my soul for it being done to me.

But hatred is hard to hold onto with this little person chasing after you with a heart of gold. Darn kid, doesn't even have a clue what he does to me every time he says stupid things like "You're my best friend" or "You're so cool" or "I like you Mr. Piccolo, no matter how grumpy you are." Sentimental rubbish is all it is, but still effective.

My hand is resting on his head and a cool breeze makes its way into the cave. He shivers, huddles closer to me and I finally realize the fire has gone out. So I blast the pile of sticks again and allow my cape to drape over him. He's content now, smiling slightly as he sleeps. Yes, I would like very much to call him "son".

-

I didn't sleep, as is my custom, but meditated placidly until the sun rose. The boy stirred and finally opened his eyes. He looks around, confused at first, but then realization hits him. He turns his head and smiles upward at me.

"Mornin' sir." He says. He gets up and stretches, something he's learned from me I'm sure.

"Can we go fishing?" He asks, a little more eager than usual. I nod briefly and follow him out the cave entrance.

As we make our way down the slope and toward the embankment he keeps turning and looking at me, as though to make sure I'm still behind him. He's acting a little strange, I wonder what's wrong.

We make it to the pond but he doesn't undress and jump in as usual. He stands there, then he turns and looks up at me. His face is sly, he's hiding something. I wonder what it is. He pulls something out of his pocket and hands it to me.

It's a card. Odd, why would he give me a card? On the front of the envelope are the words "To: Piccolo, From: Gohan". I stare at it for at least a full minute without a word or movement. What is this for? Why is he doing this?

"Open it." He says, visibly becoming anxious.

So I do. Inside was brightly colored cardboard paper with pictures and words on it. It read "To a special Dad on his Special day. Hope this father's day is one to remember forever." But below that was a child's handwriting and in crayon no less.

"Dear Mr. Piccolo,

I love my Daddy very much. But he's been gone for so many weeks it feels like he may never come back. So, if you don't mind, I want to give you this Father's Day card that I had picked out for him. You're my very best friend, and my sensei, and like my own daddy. You're here when my real dad can't be, and it means more to me than you can ever know.

So I was wondering if you wouldn't mind pretending I'm your real son just for today. And if that's okay with you, I was going to pretend that you're my real daddy too.

Your friend always,

Gohan"

When I finished, I read it again for good measure. Did the kid really think this way of me? I mean, I knew he liked me really well but this…being his father? Is that an insult to Son, or is it just a compliment to me? Either way, I didn't care. I'd thought so much about his being my son I never realized he wanted the same thing…well, while Son is away at least.

"Say something sir." Gohan said.

"Thanks kid." I finally manage, swallowing hard because of the lump that has firmly taken root in my throat. "It's nice."

He grins then smiles. "Great. I was hoping you wouldn't be mad."

"No, not today." I say, I actually sound amused.

"So, want to go fishing now?" He asks, pulling off his shirt and pants.

"Go ahead." I say, I never really fish with him anyway. I just meditate while he swims himself to the point of exhaustion.

Once he enters the pond I look over the card again. No one has ever, ever gotten me a present before. No one has ever really cared about me enough to bother. But Gohan does, he'd even wished me a happy birthday a few months ago. How he knew when it was is beyond me, but he wished me luck all the same.

If only I could find the appropriate names for these emotions. Trust, kinship, love, brotherhood, fatherhood. They all seem to work. I'm not good at this, I've barely even begun exploring such feelings I would otherwise of deemed "foolish". I can hardly take control of my own emotions much less try and name them. I still have much learning to do.

SPLASH. Water drenches me from the waist up. I hear Gohan's mirth from the embankment and smirk in his direction. It's not like anyone will notice anyway, why not give him a taste of his own medicine just this once.

So I dive in, after loosing the weights, and succeed in startling Gohan enough to dunk him. He's surprised at first, then ecstatic that he'd managed to make me "goof off" as I had always put it. Somehow though, I don't mind it very much today.

Besides, this is my Father's Day.