I wish to send credit to R.E.M(Everybody Hurts), Celine Dion(One Heart), Faith Hill(There You'll Be) and Enya(Only Time and Book of Days), whose song lyrics appear in this fic.

DBZ doesn't belong to me - I am merely borrowing the characters for awhile.

And on a side note: Doramu is the Japanese word for Drum(though it means something else in Namekian ^_^\/).

Here we go!

by: ~*Universe*~

"Hey," came the voice of a young man clad in a black business suit. His shiny black dress-shoes crunched over leaves and twigs. A few flecks of dirt clung to them as they swept gently, but eagerly, across the forest floor.

A turban-clad head turned slightly, and a white cape rustled against baggy purple cloth. Brown shoes shifted in the grass as a tall shadow fell across a nearby bush. A raspy baritone voice spoke up in response to the greeting, "Gohan...hey, it's been awhile! Where have you been, stranger? How's Videl doing?"

"Yeah, I know. Videl's as pregnant as a battleship and I've been busy with taking care of her and working." Tossing his briefcase to the ground, Gohan let his gaze rest on the Namek's back. He felt suddenly overcome with emotion, his voice trembling slightly, "You look just like..." He couldn't even say the name without choking up.

"You still haven't told me much about him." Came the cool reply.

"I know, and I'm sorry that I haven't." He bit his lip and lowered to sit heavily on his black briefcase. His dark eyes glittered with tears when he looked up towards his green friend, "...it's still almost impossible for me to say his name without breaking into tears..."

There was a soft rustle as the green figure turned. Piccolo's eyes peered down at Gohan's slightly sad expression. Piccolo's lips pulled into a straight line, and Piccolo's brow ridges drew together as shadows fell across a pair of aristocratic cheekbones, "I've never even seen a picture of him."

"Well, Doramu...let's change that right now." Gohan looked up at the familiar face and smiled over the lump in his throat. He pulled his briefcase out from under his rear end and flipped the clasps up. The briefcase popped open to reveal a large, black leather book with thick pages. Doramu lowered to sit indian style in front of his older friend, curious about the book being handed to him.

"Here. I think he would have wanted you to have this." Said Gohan. "I had it engraved to make it extra special."

Doramu took the book and carefully traced the gold letters engraved on the front, reading the word they spelled aloud, "Piccolo..." He pulled the cover open to reveal vibrant images of a tall green man with a face just like his own. Images of a man he could barely remember, but always loved. He felt himself smile as he traced a finger over a photo of Piccolo standing under a tree with his face turned towards a spot of sunlight filtering through the leaves, "...Dad..." A teardrop landed in the center of the photograph, right over the Namek's heart.

"Yeah..." Gohan reached over and squeezed Doramu's arm gently, "Your father was a great guy, Doramu..."

"Gohan." The Namek lifted his eyes to meet his friend's gaze with inherited intensity, "Tell me what happened to him...tell me everything."

He bit his lip, unsure if he could tell the tale. "Are you sure you're ready to hear this?"

Doramu nodded slowly as he gathered a small pile of wood and used a simple ki blast to ignite the fire. The flames leapt up quickly to illuminate the mild darkness, and the soft crackles kept the silence at bay. Not a word passed between the Namek's lips as the brief task was carried out. He gave Gohan a nod when he was ready.

Nodding back, Gohan stared into the fire and began to speak.


The sun shone brilliantly down on the desert through the wavering midday heat-waves. Not a gasp of wind grazed the area to offer relief. Twigs did not tremble. Leaves did not bluster across the ground. Puddles of water were as stationary as ice. A lone scorpion sat motionless on a rock, lying in wait for prey that never came. Everything was so still and silent.

So it wouldn't have come as a surprise if the whole world jumped in startlement when two pairs of feet began tearing over the ground. The scorpion was uprooted from its comfortable perch and fell to land upside-down between a pair of brown slipper-like shoes. Something purplish-red began to rain down all around, staining its black shell as it turned over and crawled under the nearest stone.

"Bleeding again already? Just how long has this really been going on?" A voice asked.

A tall green figure straightened while rubbing his lower lip where a thin line of purplish-red blood formed a trail down his pointed chin. He stood over six feet tall with a handsome face, pointed ears and a muscular physique. His intense obsidian eyes gazed out from below a pair of slanted brow-ridges, and his thin lips pressed themselves together in annoyance, accenting the triangular shape of his jaw. When he spoke, his deep voice came out in the form of a soft and scratchy-sounding rasp, "Just a few months, I suppose. It's no big deal. When people fight, they bleed. Simple as that. Why are you suddenly so interested in me bleeding, Gohan?"

The teenager placed a hand on the back of his neck, ruffling the short locks of black hair at the base of his skull. His young features flipped from concern to apathetic, "Nothing, Piccolo. It's just that it never took one punch in the teeth to get you to bleed before. For the past ten or so months now, I've hit you in the jaw countless times, and every time I hit you there, you bleed."

"So what!? C'mon Gohan! I'm not looking for a medical examination, I'm looking for a spar. Your training has been getting so far behind it's not even worth being funny." Piccolo snapped irritably. He was getting fed up with Gohan pointing out the stupid little things whenever they came up. People did get sick, after all. Even Nameks.

Gohan dodged the comment with, "Have you thought about seeing a doctor about it?"

"What, you think a foolish human specialist would know anything about a Namek?" Asked Piccolo as he folded his arms across his broad chest and regarded his friend with a scowl.

"Um, Piccolo? Bulma examined a Namek and sent everything she discovered to medical scientists so they could figure everything out." The younger man replied, rubbing the back of his head for another moment before crossing his arms. "It's just...this bleeding thing has been going on for months and it's starting to worry me."

Rolling his eyes mentally, Piccolo lowered his head and remained silent as he focused momentarily on the taste of blood on his tongue. He and Gohan had been sparring all afternoon, and his joints felt pretty sore from the work-out. As for the occasional fatigue...that happened to everyone. Didn't it?

Finally raising his dark eyes to look towards Gohan, the Namek rumbled, "Fine, I will go see one of your weak human doctors. I might actually get a laugh when he or she says everything is fine and I'm just under the weather." His tone darkened, "But...I'm not going to sit around all day. Either I go right in and right out, or I leave."

Gohan put his hands up. "Fine! Fine, anything you say. Just make sure you wear something other than what you have on now when you go in there." A dopey-looking grin spread across his lips, "No sense in scaring everyone any more than we have to. Take my advice and wear something you can take on and off easily, because doctors seem to like asking people to strip to their boxers..." He chuckled.

Piccolo curled his lip and narrowed his eyes, "Enough talk. It's time to train."

"Fine with me." Gohan dropped back into his fighting stance and proceeded to charge at his long-time friend.

And the poor scorpion had to run for its life all over again when the rock it was hiding under was kicked away by Piccolo's feet.

How did I let myself get suckered into this? Piccolo asked himself in annoyance while following Gohan off the elevator and down the hall to a black door at the end. When the door swung open he was greeted with sounds of coughing, talking, ringing telephones, clicking and clacking toys and the crisp smell of disinfectant.

Just about everyone's eyes turned to look at Piccolo as he entered the room. He was dressed in a tight black muscle shirt that showed off just about every curve on his upper body, dark blue jeans and black Nike tennis shoes. His antennae were held out of his face by a black backwards-facing baseball cap with the word 'Slug' written across the front.

Great, just great. The Namek thought to himself with his lip curling in irritation upon noticing that everyone was staring at him. He seemed to take enjoyment in the fact that a few people started shaking in their boots. Two women at the far end started to blush and burst into excited whispers while their manicured index fingers occasionally pointed his way.

"C'mon, we can go right on in." Gohan spoke up as he rushed ahead to follow a dark-haired nurse down another hall.

Too busy feeling annoyed, Piccolo was slightly surprised to rise above his thoughts and find himself standing in a clean white room with a tile floor and an examining table by the wall. He shrugged to himself, walked to the table and assumed the lotus position on top to wait for the doctor.

The wait wasn't long. About two minutes passed before the short Asian-looking man with black hair and thin-rimmed glasses entered the room. He was carrying a clip-board and a stethoscope dangled around his neck. The scent of disinfectant seemed heavy around him.

"Hi Dr. Takado." Gohan piped up as he hopped backwards to sit on the windowsill.

"Good morning, Gohan." Replied Takado with a rich voice, his attention quickly turning to the tall green man. He put his clipboard down on the counter, folded his hands together and bowed politely. "And you must be Piccolo. It's a pleasure to meet you and - "

"I'm not into exchanging pleasantries, doc. Just look me over and get it over with." Piccolo interrupted, tightening his fists until he felt his knuckles crack.

Dr. Takado glanced up at Gohan and sweatdropped before positioning his stethoscope in his ears. He took the other end and touched it to Piccolo's chest so he could listen to his heart and lungs. Piccolo cooperatively uncrossed his arms and allowed his long fingers to curl around the edge of the examining table while this was done, but the wrinkling of his nose was more than enough to suggest that he wasn't liking it one bit.

"Heart and lungs sound good to me." The doctor mumbled as he gestured for the Namek to lay down so he could continue the examination.

The paper covering the examining table crackled as Piccolo stretched out on his back. He let a small growl of annoyance when Takado started to palpitate his abdomen, but once again, he dealt with it in silent agitation. I still don't know how I let myself get talked into doing this...

Gohan kicked his feet idly while watching Piccolo get his blood pressure taken and his eyes and ears examined.

Dr. Takado finished the brief physical and spoke in a serious tone while pushing his thin-rimmed glasses up on his nose. "Now that the physical is done. I hear you've been having some strange physical symptoms. Would you please tell me about them?"

Piccolo sighed heavily, automatically crossing his arms as he stood up and leaned against the examining table. "I bleed easier than I should. I'm a fighter so getting hit isn't uncommon for me, but still, a hit to the teeth bleeds for hours. If I get nicked, it won't regenerate the way it should and..." He hesitated, glancing up at Gohan before continuing in a lower, more apathetic tone, "...My joints seem to ache more than usual after a spar, I tire quickly and I have bruises on my legs that don't seem to fade."

"May I see them?"

Heaving another agitated sigh, Piccolo unbuckled the belt on his jeans, undid the button, unzipped the fly and shoved the blue garment down. The ugly purple bruises on his legs glared back like a dozen accusing eyes, visible in even the darkest areas of skin. They looked like mosquito bites, only without the swelling. When he was sure Takado had seen enough, Piccolo yanked his jeans back up and re-arranged them properly.

Dr. Takado pondered what he'd seen for several moments while writing on his clip-board. He clicked his pen and tore off a piece of paper, handing it to Piccolo. "I think I'll have you get some blood work done." When Piccolo turned to leave, the doctor said, "Oh yes, and one more thing..."


Grinning, Dr. Takado handed Piccolo a small plastic cup.

This guy has to be kidding! The Namek thought as he sneered at the doctor and walked into the bathroom. Several minutes later, he came out with the cup full to the brim with slightly foaming clear fluid. The only thing keeping it from splashing was the lid.

"Is that enough or do you need more?"

"Er...that's more than enough, Piccolo. Thank you." Dr. Takado's eyes went wide at the amount for a moment before he carried it into a back room with the other urine samples that had to be tested.

"Good. Gohan, I'm outta here. Let's get this stupid blood test done so I can leave." Piccolo muttered tiredly, rubbing the back of his hand across his eyes. Shrugging, Gohan suppressed a laugh at Piccolo's behavior and hopped down to join him as he started to walk out.

"Thanks Dr. Takado. See ya later."

Piccolo walked out of the lab with a ball of cotton taped to the crook of each arm from more than one blood test. He said nothing to Gohan as they left the building and headed out onto the sidewalk. His mood had grown very dark, as he was not accustomed to being in so much physical contact with people. Especially not for a physical.

He hated it.

"Listen, Gohan. I'm gonna head home and meditate for awhile. All of this 'examination' stuff is giving me a headache." The Namek sighed after walking down the street and getting a number of odd stares. He didn't want to admit that he was exhausted and merely wanted to sleep.

"OK, Piccolo. Are you feeling alright?"

"Gohan, I'm fine. I just want to be alone." Said Piccolo. Seconds later, he powered up his ki and scared half the city as he flew towards his home on Kami's Lookout. Thankfully for him, Dende was staying inside and didn't come out to ask questions.

The next day, without anybody knowing it, Piccolo went all the way to the hospital for a bone-marrow test. After that painfully annoying and embarrassing endeavor, which consisted of him lying naked on a table while a massive needle was shoved into his hip-bone, he returned to the Lookout and slept for the rest of the day.

About four weeks passed before Gohan received a phone call from Dr. Takado. He immediately went to the Lookout to pick Piccolo up and take him back to the office. Piccolo didn't bother to change clothes this time, and charged right into the office while wearing all of his usual gear. Needless to say...his presence caused quite a ruckus.

"OK, you wanted me here, so I'm here. What's the problem?"

Dr. Takado put his paperwork down and sighed solemnly without offering any other clues to what he had to say. "Piccolo, you should sit down."

"I prefer to stand," Piccolo replied coldly.

The man removed his glasses and folded his hands on top of his desk. He looked up at the agitated Namek with his dark brown eyes, "Piccolo, your tests have come back. The tests, as well as your symptoms, all point to Acute Myeloid Leukemia. I don't know how you got it, or why, but by ignoring your symptoms you've allowed it to progress to it's advanced stage."

Piccolo's pointed nose wrinkled and his eyes narrowed. It was taking all the self-control he could manage to avoid lifting the doctor by the collar and shaking him until his brain was reduced to mush. He bore his gleaming teeth and hissed angrily, "So I have a disease..."

"Yes." Dr. Takado replied without blinking.

"OK then." Piccolo spoke down to the man like he was a little kid and planted both hands flat on the desk so he could push his face into the doctor's. Slightly enjoying the fact that he was making the man cringe a little, he asked, "Now, how bad is this...disease?"

"Well..." The doctor spoke in a soft, shaky voice, almost able to feel the intense energy vibrating from the Namek's every pore. "It's too far advanced for any treatment to work. All the chemotherapy and radiation would do is make you more ill without helping the disease. It's a cancer - "

"I KNOW what it is! I'm not THAT naïve!" Piccolo slammed his fist down on the doctor's desk so hard the lamp rattled. He could feel a knot of fear forming in his stomach and rising up towards his throat. He swallowed to force it back down and walked to the window, where he gazed longingly outside. "Tell me straight up, doc. If you can't do this chemo-crap, then what CAN you do?"

"Piccolo, there is nothing that I can do. It is too far advanced for any treatments to stop or even slow it down. I can order medication to help control the pain." Dr. Takado placed his pen down on the desktop and got to his feet. "It's terminal. I'm sorry."

Piccolo's heart froze. "So you're saying I'm going to die?"

"I'm afraid so."

He didn't say anything for a long time. His mind wouldn't work. "When?"

"Well," Looking down at the file on his desk, Dr. Takado used his glasses like a magnifying glass to read something. "There's no real way to know. Judging by how long your immune system has been fighting this, I'd say six months. Maybe less if it spreads and creates tumors on your other organs."


"If you control your pain, it's most likely you'll just go to sleep."

The air rushed from Piccolo's lungs. He felt like someone just thrust their fist into his ribs. His mind grinded to a halt. When Dr. Takado explained what he should expect as the disease progressed, he noticed his stomach wouldn't stop churning. He got a sudden urge to throw up. Half of what the doctor said went right over his head, he just couldn't focus.

The Namek swallowed and walked out of the office without another word. His ears were deaf to the voices of those around him. His eyes were blind to the surrounding world. His skin was numb to the coldness in the building. His nose no longer sensed the odor of disinfectant or vomit. His tongue no longer tasted the dryness of his open-mouthed gasps.

"Piccolo?" Gohan jumped up from his seat when he saw the green man walk out of Dr. Takado's office and bolt through the hallway.

Piccolo ignored Gohan's voice and headed into the restroom. The painful churning in his stomach nearly doubled him over. He rushed towards the wall and bent over one of the urinals. He barely had enough time to bend over the trough before his stomach violently ejected its contents. He felt numb all over, almost like the time when he took that blow to the head from Nappa so long ago. Not even throwing up made the numb feeling disappear.

Placing a hand on the cold wall to maintain his balance after the exhausting moment of vomiting, the Namek tried to regain his composure.

"Piccolo? Are you OK?" Gohan's voice seemed to come from the end of a long hallway. "What the heck are you doing!?"

Piccolo ignored him again for a few more seconds. He was shaking all over, but at least his senses were starting to return, a feeling very similar to waking up from a sound sleep. If this was a dream, he didn't have to answer. Dreams always went away, right? And nightmares...they usually ended before the most frightening parts.

When the day is long and the night,
The night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough of this life,
Well hang on

"Dammit, Piccolo!" Gohan's angry voice reverberated around the bathroom, "TALK TO ME!"

"What!?" Deeper and more menacing, Piccolo's response echoed throughout the room like thunder. "What the hell do you want me to say, Gohan!?"

Gohan glared up at the Namek and gestured to the greenish mess in the urinal, "Are you OK? What was that all about?"

Straightening, Piccolo faced his friend. He reached up to wipe a few glistening droplets of sweat from his brow ridges. "That doctor made a mistake...at least it feels like he did." He finally spoke, then turned his head and bit his lip as the knot returned to his stomach. His heart was pounding so hard he feared it would escape his chest and leap around on the bathroom floor like some wild Indian dancer.

"What did he say?" The human-Saiyajin hybrid asked while looking the green man in the eyes.

Don't let yourself go, everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong,
Now it's time to sing along

Piccolo looked everywhere he possibly could before meeting Gohan's eyes. "He says I have some blood disease with a long name that I don't want to mention." He turned his head to the side and spoke even softer, "The illness is already too far advanced to treat, and I only have six months to live, maybe less if it spreads from my blood to my organs."

Gohan looked and felt like someone stabbed him in the chest. He staggered backwards until his back hit the cold bathroom wall with a soft thud. All conscious thought was slapped from his mind, the only intelligible words he could find to say coming out as, "You...you're dying?!"

Solemnly, the Namek nodded his head with a loud exhalation of breath. A lump was rising in his throat, but he tried to ignore it as best he could. No...I can't show weakness now! I can face this...

"No," Gohan breathed, moving forward again until he was face to face with Piccolo. "No...this can't happen this way! You're too good, Piccolo! I can't say goodbye forever! I can't...I can't!" His face started to redden with each irate shout. "You can't leave me like this! You just can't! I won't let you! I'll force them to make you well again!"

"Gohan!" Piccolo's voice cracked. He grabbed the young man by the shoulders to quiet him down, "Gohan, don't be weak..." His sentence was cut off by the lump in his throat, which threatened to become tears. The heat of the lump traveled down his chest and up behind his face, but he forced it down. Only weaklings cried in the presence of others.

When your day is night alone (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (hold on)
When you think you've had too much of this life,
Well hang on

Reaching up, Gohan grasped fistfuls of Piccolo's majestic white cape. He stared up at the Namek's face for what seemed like an eternity before finally letting his arms slip around his neck. Sobs overtook him. He buried his face in Piccolo's shoulderpad. "I nearly went insane when I lost you before. I won't let you go again...not when you're a father, a mentor, a friend and a brother to me..."

Piccolo, rather touched by the teenager's choice of words, lowered his head and tolerated the embrace. Every other part of his conscious mind was uncomfortable with the sudden close contact. "Don't be weak, Gohan. You hear me?" When Gohan wouldn't respond, he grabbed him by the shoulders, "Stop your crying, it won't help anything! I need you to be strong."

Stepping back, Gohan shook his head almost angrily, "No. I'm nothing without you, Piccolo..."

"Nothing? NOTHING?!!" His eyes widened furiously, "I wasn't there with you on Namek when you went after the Namekian Dragon Balls, was I? I didn't get there to face Frieza until his first transformation, and you gave him a beating in the meantime. You call that nothing?!"

Gohan said, "I fought because I knew you were coming back! Because I wanted to show you that I was a good student."

"Then continue to show me before I decide to beat the lesson into you." Piccolo stated tersely. "Don't follow me." His cape rustled in agitation when he turned and loped out of the bathroom to fly away, leaving Gohan behind in the sudden silence.

Everybody hurts, take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts,
Don't throw your hand, oh no,
Don't throw your hand

Piccolo flew out of the city as fast as he could fly, becoming a white contrail in the cloudy sky as rain began to fall. He reached the desert in less than five minutes, releasing his ki when he could no longer see the city in the distance. Clouds of dust rose when his brown rawhide shoes touched down on the rapidly-moistening sand, punctuated by the rustle of his cape.

Immediately upon landing, Piccolo fell to his hands and knees in the wet desert sand. His green hands clenched into fists, each finger leaving imprints in the sand as he grabbed a handful in his grasp. Sitting up again, he closed his eyes, put his head back and let the rain beat across his angular green face.

"Why is this happening?" Piccolo asked the sky. His only answer was a distant flash of lightning and the somber rumble of thunder echoing off the mountains.

When you feel like you're alone,
No, no, no, you are not alone
If you're on your own in this life,
The days and nights are long
When you think you've had too much, of this life,
To hang on

Lowering his head again, Piccolo opened his eyes to see his reflection in a small puddle. The falling raindrops were distorting the image, making it look thin and sickly. He closed his eyes again, raised his fist and brought it splashing down into the lying reflection.

He felt lump in his throat return stronger than before. This time, however, the Namek did nothing to force down it's progress as it assaulted his chest, throat and face with a burning sensation. He felt his trembling lower lip curl itself downwards, he felt the inner linings of his nose grow moist and he watched his own vision blur.

Sobs, silent and secret, shook his body as he sat up and flung both handfuls of sand straight up into the air like an angry two-year-old. For the first time in his life he began to wish someone would come along and hold him in their arms. He was scared, cold, in pain and alone.

So alone.

Well everybody hurts, sometimes
Everybody cries, everybody hurts, sometimes

The rain beat down like ropes suspended from the sky. Piccolo continued with his emotional outburst. He sobbed silently as the rain poured down over his body, soaking him until he shivered from the cold and his clothes clung tightly to his skin. He lashed out at the raindrops battering his skin. He even sent forth a series of blasts that tore up the earth around where he was standing. No longer did he care if he was seen, just so long as something, anything, could fill the wound where the future and the rest of his life had been ripped away.

But nothing came; the desert and the angry storm were the only witnesses to his walls of stone coming down. The only sound to break the monotonous pattering of rain was an exhausted voice. A voice spent after the rage behind it died down:


But everybody hurts sometimes
So hold on, hold on, hold on,
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on,
Everybody hurts
You are not alone

At home, in his room, Gohan stood by the window and watched the rain trickle down his window-panes like tears; every now and then, the wind would blow the droplets directly onto the glass to make a gentle pitter-patter sound. His homework lay untouched on his desk, save for the few tear-stains that blotted the ink on his notes.

Piccolo...what is this like for you? Is your heart breaking the way mine is? Are you as afraid as I am? He asked silently. His only reply was a roll of thunder that reminded him of Piccolo's deep voice. Are you angry? Do you even realize how much I'm thinking of you right now?

"Gohan?" The door creaked open as an ebony-haired, dark-eyed figure clad in a purple kimono entered the room. She put her hands on her hips and regarded her son with a very stern look, "You should be studying."

Gohan's dark eyes drifted to look at ChiChi's reflection in the glass of his window. "Mom...I can't even think right now."

ChiChi reached a pale hand down to smooth a wrinkle out of her purple kimono before walking closer to her son. She reached up to put some order into his rebellious hair as she spoke, "You know you can talk to me about it. C'mon." Mocking a strict face, she continued, "Out with it."

Any other time, Gohan would have just looked down and said 'aw, mom!'. But this wasn't a time to laugh for him. Earlier that afternoon, his heart had been ripped out and used for a hockey-puck, then handed back to him. Well, that was how it felt to Gohan, anyway.

"Piccolo's sick, mom..." He said with a sigh and bit his lip as if admitting it was a lie. "Sicker than I ever imagined he could get..."

"Ugh, then don't go near him or you'll catch it too!" ChiChi replied before he could finish.

Gohan looked up, "Not like that!" He closed his eyes for a moment and opened them again when he could trust his voice not to crack, "It's something with a long name that he wouldn't mention. He's going to die..."

She blinked and inclined her head with a sharp frown. "Can't Dende heal him or something?"

The young man's hands closed into fists at his sides in slight anger. Dende could heal, yes, but even his powers had limits. "He can cure wounds, not diseases." His lower lip began to tremble slightly, "I keep feeling like it's all a mistake, or a sick joke..."

Just as all mothers do, ChiChi felt Gohan's pain as he explained the reason for his being so upset. Reaching up, she caught him up in a gentle embrace and patted his back softly. "Gohan...I-I'm sorry. How long have you known about this?"

"Since earlier this afternoon." Gohan whispered against ChiChi's shoulder.

ChiChi watched a streak of lightning splay itself across the sky, followed by a loud crack of thunder that shook the windows. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Just...hold me..."

And the jealous rain continued on, blurring images of a mother holding her son to protect him from his own inner storm.

Tien, Krillin and Yamcha were sitting outside in the sun by the Capsule Corporation buildings, just goofing around and talking about the upcoming fighting tournament. It was more for show than to give out a title, but there were still going to be some pretty big fights.

"So, are you entering?" Tien asked his friends while noisily sipping his cherry soda and neglectfully balancing his picnic chair on its back legs. His two normal eyes watched Krillin while the third one on his forehead wandered over to Yamcha.

"As soon as they accept entries, you can bet I'll be in." Krillin answered excitedly as he crushed his can and tossed it towards the garbage bin. The can hit the rim of the garbage bin, bounced off and glinted in the light as it clattered to the ground. "Nuts..."

"Of course! The ladies will need someone good-looking to enter, right?" Yamcha answered with a laugh.

"Yeah, right." Tien's three eyes rolled simultaneously.

All three of them fell silent when Piccolo landed with his cape flapping in the wind and his arms folded across his broad chest. The sunlight played off the different hues of his grass-green skin and deep black eyes, which held an apathetic expression. He regarded them all with his usual scowl before showing the most minimal signs of relaxing to a less imposing posture.

"Er...eh...hi Piccolo!" Krillin finally said with a fake grin and a peace sign. "What's up?"

Piccolo's lip curled slightly. "Nothing you need to know. Where is Gohan? He isn't home and hasn't come to see me."

"If he's here...I wouldn't know it." Yamcha replied honestly while crushing his silver can of root-beer and tossing it nonchalantly into the trash without missing. Krillin shot him a jealous glare and returned his attention to the tall green man standing in the middle of the yard.

Tien said, "If I see him, I will tell him you came."

"Don't bother. I'll wait." Piccolo offered a soft snort of annoyance, walked to a nearby tree and parked himself at it's base to wait for Gohan. The three friends found their conversation had died completely and all of their eyes were on the Namek like he was the most interesting thing in the world.

"It must suck to be him..." Yamcha muttered through the corner of his mouth and ran a hand through the black locks of his hair. He was growing it out again, and it was already past his shoulders.

Tien whispered back, "It is a shame."

"Who'd have thought something like that could happen to him?" Krillin spoke under his breath, holding a hand near his mouth so only the other two would hear.

Piccolo's large pointed ears were easily picking up the whispered comments. Hearing them caused a wad of anger to make itself apparent in the pit of his stomach. He gritted his teeth to ignore the three, but they kept up with their stupid pity-talk!

"Enough." Standing up, he glared at all three of them and growled, "I don't want your pity."

All three of the men jumped and looked over at the Namek while mentally kicking themselves for forgetting about his powerful hearing. Despite their efforts not to, they found their eyes looking Piccolo over for any signs of his illness. There were none; Piccolo's eyes were still just as sharp and clear as before, the veins still stood out on a few of his muscles and his voice still had it's steady, raspy sounding whisper.

"Sorry, Piccolo." Krillin finally spoke and sweat-dropped.

Yamcha looked down guiltily for a moment before raising his eyes to Piccolo again, "Wanna join us and chit-chat about the fighting tournament that's coming up?"

"Yeah, c'mon over, Piccolo! Of all things, fighting has to be your fave, right?" Tien asked nervously, silently praying that the tall green man wasn't planning to kick him into the next century.

Piccolo heaved a sigh of agitation. All three of them, Tien, Krillin and Yamcha, were all looking at him with this weird look in their eyes. They weren't aware of it, obviously, but it was still very irritating. Just one thing about me changes and everybody suddenly wants to hang around with me! What is up with THAT?

"I'll be joining the tournament when they begin to take entries, and so will Gohan." He narrowed his eyes at them, but when they still continued to give him that odd look, he added angrily, "And STOP with the pity party! If you're expecting to see me drop dead here, then you're going to be disappointed."

All three of them cringed and turned around to get back to their conversation. Piccolo growled in agitation and proceeded to seat himself under the tree. Several more minutes passed before he felt a presence and lifted his head to find Gohan finally dropping from the sky to come in for a graceful landing.

"Hey, Piccolo. I guess I missed you by a few seconds when I went into the valley to find you."

"No problem." Piccolo heaved himself to his feet and sighed mentally when he noticed Gohan's eyes had the same weird look as Tien, Yamcha and Krillin. It was like everyone could see the words 'I am dying' written across his forehead, and it irritated him to no end! "C'mon, let's start training. I want you to enter that tournament with me and win."

Gohan blinked as he looked up at his mentor. The tournament Piccolo was speaking of was in exactly six months. How could he speak of joining it when...

"Something on your mind, kid?" Asked Piccolo in a warning tone. He could almost guess what Gohan was thinking, just by the awkward gleam in his eye.

"N-no. Let's go." Gohan lied, taking swiftly to the air to avoid letting his thoughts plague his mind any further. Glancing back, he could see Piccolo hot on his heels, so he picked up speed until all that was left of his presence was a white contrail across the clear blue sky.

"He doesn't look sick!" Vegeta commented, having come out of the gravity room with a towel around his neck. He was shirtless and covered in sweat, his every bulging muscle glistening in the sun. His eyebrows were drawn into their typical frown and his lips slowly formed into a smirk as he looked at Tien, Yamcha and Krillin like pieces of dog poop he'd scrap off his shoe.

"Well, not yet anyway." Krillin muttered.

"Shut up, Cue-ball Head! I wasn't talking to you!" The arrogant man snarled before turning his attention to the sky where Piccolo was just disappearing. Even I never would have thought someone like him...humph! He tore the towel away from his neck and brushed it across his brow to get over his momentary lesson in mortality.

"Vegeta, give him a break already." Yamcha sighed as he opened another can of soda and took a sip.

"I'm not going to break, Gohan. Come on!"

Gohan sighed and rushed full-force at Piccolo to continue the briefly interrupted spar. Piccolo blocked his hits, but not before getting nailed in the ribs with a kick. The wind knocked out of him, he dispatched Gohan and took a moment to regain the ability to breathe before taking his stance on again.

"Piccolo...don't you think you should take a break to catch your breath?" Asked Gohan softly.

Piccolo narrowed his black eyes to slits, rushed at Gohan and grabbed him by the collar, lifting him off the ground. "Listen to me, and listen to me good, Gohan! Don't start treating me any different than you used to. I may be sick, but I'm not sick yet. So stop acting like I am so we can train to join that tournament!"

Closing his eyes, Gohan cringed, "That tournament is in six months Piccolo..."

"I don't care if that stupid tournament is in six YEARS, Gohan! I want you to enter with me, and I want you to win." Piccolo lowered Gohan to the ground and stepped back to start the spar once again.

The sparring continued long into the evening. At one point. Gohan blundered a move so horrendously that Piccolo actually started to laugh at him for a moment or two. The sound was one like thunder echoing off the hills; distant, quiet, but there none-the-less.

After that, they stripped down to clean off and exercise in the river below the waterfall. Gohan sat under a gentle waterfall and watched Piccolo finish removing his clothing. His eyes were suddenly glued to the nasty-looking bruises dotting the Namek's long, toned legs, and he began to wonder if they caused any pain.

Gohan's eyes wandered up his mentor's body, but not in a homosexual way. He was simply memorizing the little things. Like the lazy way in which Piccolo's bare glistening back muscles rippled as he rotated his arms to loosen them after the day's work-out; the lazy way his antennae were falling across his face, which glistened with sweat; the way his muscles all worked in tandem as he performed a graceful handstand, then pushed off and backflipped to dive into the river below with a splash small enough to make Olympic gold medalists jealous.

"Show-off." Gohan chuckled as Piccolo surfaced.

Piccolo just glowered at the young man and allowed himself to sink beneath the surface for a very relaxing underwater meditation. That is, until he found a face about two inches from his. He snarled, swam to the surface and heard another splash behind him, followed by Gohan's laughter.

"So you think that's funny, Gohan?" The Namek sneered. "You're acting completely childish. Psh. Making faces underwater."

Gohan's face fell and he sighed, turning around so he could paddle himself to shore. Before he could move three feet, a large green hand came down on the top of his head and shoved him underwater. "Ack!" He gurgled and sputtered on the water while Piccolo snickered and swam to shore. After realizing who the culprit was, he began to laugh as well. He'd actually made Piccolo goof off!

When everything had calmed down and they were more or less dressed again, the Namek and the half-Saiyajin relaxed on their backs to watch the stars overhead. The sky was crystal clear, making the stars appear to be thousands of water droplets on a canvas of black velvet.

Gohan, lying with his hands behind his head like a pillow, finally spoke up to break the silence, "Hey, Piccolo? I have a question that I want you to answer honestly. Whatever you say will be between just you and I."

Piccolo, who was lying on his back with his arms crossed, rumbled without turning his head, "What's the question? It better not be anything foolish..."

"It isn't. It's serious." He shook his head. "Are you afraid to die?"

Shocked by the question, Piccolo turned his head to look over at Gohan. One of his slender antennae grazed the ground as he took a deep breath and sighed, "I'm afraid of dying, Gohan, but I'm not afraid to die."

His brow furrowed, "I don't understand..."

The green man sat up and lowered his head. He was still shirtless, so his pointed chin nearly came to rest between his clavicles when he lowered his head. "I'm going to become very ill and suffer a lot of pain before I die, Gohan. I may become so weak that I won't even be able to take care of my own needs..." He heaved a sigh and opened his dark eyes to look towards the sky. His Adam's apple bobbed gently up and down as he swallowed and licked his lips, "I just...don't want to be alone...I began my life alone and I don't want to end it that way..." He was thankful for the darkness, because it was hiding the tears that had managed to make their way down his cheeks.

Gohan sat up and scooted over to place a warm hand on Piccolo's cool shoulder. Tears were brimming in his black eyes as he imagined this man lying out in the desert, crying, in pain and alone. No, it just wasn't right! Piccolo had done so much for him! The teenager swallowed the sob before it could escape his voice-box and spoke, "Then...when you get too sick to care for yourself, come stay with my mom and I. We'll take care of you."

Piccolo opened his eyes and turned his head to look towards Gohan, his antennae brushing aside some of the young man's rebellious black bangs, "Are you kidding? Your mother wouldn't want me in the house with her."

"I'm going to talk to her about it...and tell her about everything you have ever done for me. She needs to know, Piccolo..." Gohan squeezed his friend's shoulder when he felt him shift slightly, not yet wanting to let go of him. "I know my mom pretty darn well. If she knew what a great guy you are, she'd want to help me tend to your needs later."

Piccolo faced forward again and closed his eyes, his lips stretching into a lopsided smile. It wasn't often that someone offered kindness to him so graciously, and he almost forgot how to accept it. "I'll think about it."

"OK. Lemme know when you make up your mind. I've gotta go study now...mom's probably having a fit." Gohan stood up and started to walk away, "Come by my house tomorrow. I'll have talked to her by then. Do yourself a favor and try to be nice, OK?" He smirked, "Bye!"

"See ya, kid." Piccolo replied as he watched Gohan fly away and disappear in the starry sky. Only after he was long gone did the Namek speak out loud once more, "You're the best friend I've ever had, Gohan..." He lowered his head again into the meditation position, "One like me doesn't deserve one such as you. I only hope that you'll be OK when I'm gone..." His expression hardened, "Feh...I'm definitely going soft."

"Gohan! Where in Earth have you been!?" ChiChi charged out of the house like a madwoman the moment she saw her son landing outside. Her bracelets jingled and she looked just about ready to spit flames from her nostrils, "You're getting behind in math and science! What are you thinking!?"

"I was spending some time with Piccolo, mom." Said Gohan. He straightened the wrinkles out of his shirt, which was buttoned wrong, and blushed when he realized how wrong that sounded. Especially since he looked like he just finished making out with a girl in the back seat of a car. He put it aside and went on, "We need to talk."

"You're darn right, we need to talk! Get into the house this instant!" ChiChi shrieked, pulling the door open further so Gohan could pass. She nearly gave him a swat on the behind as he passed, something she used to do when he was very little.

Gohan walked past his mother and stopped with his back to her. His fists clenched and unclenched slowly when he felt the heat of her eyes boring into the back of his head like a pair of lasers. Mother, I love you dearly, but this time I have to stand up to you... "Mom? I think what I have to say is more important than my homework. Please...it's important to me, and I need you to listen."

ChiChi's angry expression began to soften, despite her annoyance that he wasn't studying at that very moment, "Let's go sit down in the living room." She sighed and brushed the back of her hand across the forehead, the door clicking as she closed it.

Nodding, Gohan headed into the living room and sat down on the couch. ChiChi joined him. The couch creaked slightly in protest to the two weights sitting on it's cushions.

"Now, I know you don't like Piccolo...I'm sure he probably scares you, but you don't know him like I do." He looked down at his hands for a moment, closed his eyes and started to speak, telling the whole story of his friendship with the Namek. The battles they went through, the times when one or the other had been seriously hurt and the sacrifice Piccolo made during the fight with the Saiyajins.

ChiChi listened attentively, the way all mothers do, and her blue eyes watched the expressions her son made as he spoke. She could tell just how much the boy really did care about the Namek. When Gohan's voice finally went quiet, ChiChi felt as if she knew Piccolo more than she ever had before. It didn't make her trust him any more than before...but he didn't seem like a horrible child-eating monster either.

"Now, there's one more thing I need to talk about." Gohan spoke up after letting the effect of his story sink in.

Tilting her head so she could brush the dark bangs from her eyes with a pale hand, ChiChi replied, "Alright...shoot."

He took a deep breath, "Mom...when Piccolo's illness incapacitates him...I was wondering if you'd help me take care of him until he...he..." The young man couldn't bring himself to say the word 'die', "He told me himself that he doesn't want to be alone. If someone doesn't take care of him he's going to die cold and alone somewhere. I could go out to see him one day and find him dead in a cave, covered in ants and flies. You know as well as I do that he deserves better than that."

ChiChi lowered her head in silence for several long moments. She tried to imagine Piccolo weak and in pain. The picture wouldn't quite form. But she believed her son. If anything she'd be repaying Piccolo for saving Gohan's life.

Finally, she whispered, "Gohan?"


"Go into your room and shift a few things around." She answered.

Gohan blinked in the same air-headed way as his father Goku used to do, "Why?"

"So there will be enough room for the bed I'm going to order from the hospital tomorrow." ChiChi lifted her gaze to Gohan's and smiled softly. Even though she didn't like the idea of Piccolo living in her home, she was willing to deal with it if Gohan would be happy.

With his eyes lighting up, Gohan leaned forward and hugged his mother, "Thanks, mom! Really...thanks."

Nodding as she hugged back, ChiChi's smile turned to a grin. She fake-punched him in the chin. "Go on now. And then I want you to STUDY, do you understand?"

"Yes, mom." He flashed a peace sign, then hurried into his room and looked around for the best things to move. His eyes settled on the desk by the window. "He'd want to see outside...maybe even open the window to feel the breeze..."

Working quickly, Gohan removed everything from his desk and pulled it away from the wall. He scooted it aside until it was scraping the night-stand. Then he went to move his bookshelf out into the hallway. In doing all this, he was making quite a racket, but ChiChi didn't mind as she headed into her own room to sleep for the night.

Glistening dewdrops twinkled in the newborn light. The morning sun rose like a huge golden orb over the horizon. Animals began to awaken and crawl from their hiding places. Birds were starting to sing and farmers were coming out to work in their fields.

The sun gradually rose higher to illuminate some of the lush greenery by the waterfall. Its golden rays fell across a very prominent looking jade-green cheekbone. Equally green eyelids fluttered when the light bathed them. A small grunt of annoyance broke the songs of the birds as a pair of dark eyes slid open. Sharply-curved lips stretched into as brief a yawn as possible, flashing a glimpse of the sharp fangs hidden within.

Piccolo stirred and got to his feet. He couldn't catch his breath right away. This startled him. Was the disease affecting him already?

Stretching as he walked, Piccolo strode out into the sunlight and towards the stream for a refreshing morning drink - his equivallent to breakfast.

He stood at the water's edge for a moment to gaze at his reflection, which wasn't quite what it used to be. Though nobody else seemed to notice, he'd lost a few pounds. The tightest parts of his gi hung slightly loose. The Namek held his chin between thumb and forefinger, examining his face in the clear water. His cheekbones seemed a little more pronounced than normal; he hadn't noticed those changes lately because, well, it was a long time since he paid any attention to his reflection. Vanity wasn't his thing.

Piccolo knelt at the edge of the babbling stream and gathered some water into his cupped hands. The fresh liquid cooled his dry throat. He splashed what remained on his face and used a corner of his cape to dry off. Then he sighed and looked towards the sky, "I guess I can't put this off any longer..."

Flipping his cape over his shoulder, Piccolo prepared to take off.

A sudden jab of pain in his joints forced him to his knees. It felt like his blood vessels were filled with acid! Every part of his body was in pain! Pain unlike any he had ever known. Piccolo felt blackness pricking at the edges of his vision. The agony worsened. He crawled to the nearest tree and propped himself in a sitting position against it's trunk. Tears of pain streaked down his sweaty face as he sat panting through a gaping jaw, no longer caring what happened to him.

I have to put up with six months of THIS?! He thought bitterly. Then all went dark.

When Piccolo regained consciousness, he found himself curled up on his side beneath the tree he'd crawled to earlier. Judging by the sun, he guessed that he'd been out for at least an hour. At least the pain had sunk to a tolerable level. Most of all, nobody had come looking for him and found him looking like a weakling.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Piccolo shakily crawled to the stream and splashed some chilled water onto his face. Then he climbed carefully to his feet, gathered his energy and took off for the Son residence.

ChiChi was just finishing her breakfast when she saw a flash of green pass the window and glide towards the front door. She knew who it was, but the sudden streak still startled her and nearly caused her to drop her mug of tea.

Outside the door, Piccolo was just about to reach over and turn the knob when the door suddenly opened. He found himself looking down at a slightly shocked ChiChi. Damn! That woman must have had super senses or something!

ChiChi blinked when she looked up at the tall Namek(the top of her head barely reached the bottom of his chest), getting a good look at him for the first time. The sun was at his back, shrouding some of his features in shadow. His intense black eyes were clear and highly visible above his pronounced cheekbones. His slightly crooked nose came to a perfect point and had very small, narrow nostrils. Equally pointed, the tip of the Namek's chin rested atop the white collar of his shoulderpads. His upper lip curved in a sharp cupid's bow and seemed a little thinner than his lower lip, giving his mouth a boyish pout. His pointed ears stood out on either side of his face, two angular shapes to accent his strangely amazing features. ChiChi half-expected Piccolo's expression to show hints of anger or annoyance. So she was surprised to see his dark eyes broadcasting the sadness of a broken man without a future. She'd seen Piccolo's eyes enough to know this wasn't like him.

The woman blushed, He's actually kind of handsome...oh what am I thinking?

"Piccolo! Um...come on in. Gohan should be up in a little while. He was up late studying last night." She spoke nervously, pulling the door open further so Piccolo could come in. When he walked past, carrying scents of the outdoors with him, she closed the door and crossed her arms, "So...would you like to sit and talk?"

I can't believe I let myself get suckered into this deal. Piccolo thought bitterly and followed ChiChi into the kitchen. He perched himself awkwardly on one of the chairs at the table while she brought him a mug of water and sat down across from him with a mug of tea.

"I heard you were sick with something...Gohan says you didn't tell him exactly what it was, so I was wondering if you would mind telling me." ChiChi spoke softly as she stirred the contents of her cup with a small spoon. This feels like an interview...

Piccolo sighed and took a sip of his water, then settled the mug roughly back onto the table to meet her gaze. Awkward silence fell. He didn't like to talk about himself very much. There wasn't much to tell. The walls seemed to absorb his deep, scratchy voice as he replied, "It's called Acute Myeloid Leukemia, if I remember correctly." He moved his eyes away from hers and looked down at his mug instead.

ChiChi bit her lip and stopped stirring her tea, surprised at how soft-spoken the intimidating green man was - she could barely hear him at all. A momentary wave of emotion washed over her. "My...my mother died of that same cancer..." Her lips pressed together for a moment as bitter memories flooded her mind, "When she became too weak to take care of herself, I remember how I tried to take care of her. I was only about five at the time, so I didn't understand that she wasn't going to get better."

Piccolo listened silently, giving an occasional nod to show he heard. He stared at the water in his mug like it was the most interesting thing in the world. Good grief, he was terrible with conversations that didn't have anything to do with fighting! It took him ages to figure out which to question to ask next, "What..." He cringed inwardly at the sentimentality. It made him want to curl up under the table and disappear. "What was your mother like?"

Glancing up to make sure she heard right, ChiChi answered, "She was a very small, soft-spoken woman...I remember how I used to think she was a living porcelain doll. Her name was Ashi." She smiled softly and sipped from her mug of tea, "My mother used to cook all the time. The house always smelled like one food or another...so I'm sure I got my love for cooking from her, because my father is terrible at it. So what about you? Did you have a mother?"

The Namek's eyes became dinner-plates. He almost did a nose-dive into his drink. The reaction was almost exactly like the one he had when Goku called him 'Kamiccolo' so long ago. He promptly sweatdropped in embarrassment and replied, "Nameks don't have mothers...we don't reproduce the same way you do."

Oops...ChiChi sweatdropped too, "Oh...then how?"

"We regurgitate eggs that usually hatch soon after they hit the open air. Nameks are all asexual."

"O...K..." She took a gulp of her tea and asked, "Then what was your father like?"

"Evil." Was all Piccolo said in reply, "I never knew him...but he gave me every memory he had before coughing up the egg with me in it when Goku killed him. I'm sure you know the whole Piccolo Daimaou story..." He glanced across the table, "Daimaou was my father..."

Gohan woke up and turned over. The bed ChiChi ordered was sitting there next to the window, all made up and ready to be slept in. He sighed and staggered out of bed.

Piccolo's soft voice filtered down the hall. Gohan's heart jumped. He tip-toed up to the kitchen and peeked around the corner to find Piccolo sitting at the kitchen table, talking softly with ChiChi. Piccolo was staring down into his mug, his fingers looped around the handle, and ChiChi was stirring the contents of her mug while looking across the table at the green man. A smile spread across Gohan's face, making him look like his father.

He came! Thanks Piccolo...you don't know how much this means to my mom and I...

ChiChi gazed across the table at Piccolo, watching him twirl his index finger around the rim of his mug. Any other time she had seen him, he had looked intimidating or downright angry. But this time he to be getting more depressed by the minute. As if nothing mattered to him anymore. Even his onyx-black eyes lacked their usual glint, like he was about to burst into tears or cry out in rage.

Tentatively, in a gesture of silent comfort, ChiChi reached across the table and placed her small hand over Piccolo's large free one, which was balled in a fist on the tabletop. His skin felt like smooth leather, not quite like human flesh. The motion Piccolo's finger was making around the rim of the mug came to an abrupt halt. Instinct tightened his fist more than conscious will. His eyes shifted to the pale hand lying on his fist. Touching, that human thing again.

ChiChi felt Piccolo's fist flinch and close itself tighter like a turtle retreating into its shell. His eyes watered visibly. She chewed her bottom lip and stroked his knuckles with her thumb. He just didn't look right with such sorrow written across his face. Piccolo, you look heartbroken...

For once Piccolo wanted to accept the gesture of comfort with all the gratefulness that rose in his heart, but he didn't know how. His hand remained clenched under hers. ChiChi...why would you even want to touch me?

"Piccolo, there's something I'd like to show you" ChiChi whispered, sliding her hand from his. She got to her feet and turned towards the kitchen door.

Gohan's eyes widened when he realized he was going to get caught spying. He jumped and dashed down the hall to his mother's room, un-noticed by Piccolo or ChiChi as they passed. As soon as they walked by, he tip-toed down the hall, passed through the kitchen and headed out into the bathroom.

ChiChi headed down the hall to Gohan's room, pushing the door further open to reveal a bed someone recently slept in. Beside it, right next to the large window, was an adjustable bed with electric controls and bedrails. It was accessorized with crisp earth-tone sheets and pillows and a heavy hand-sewn quilt lay folded across the footboard. Since the window was open, sunlight streamed across the bed. A gentle breeze whispered in through the window, bringing in scents of the outdoors.

Next to the bed, Piccolo noticed, was a small rolling table with various medicines...medicines he should have been taking to prevent the attack of pain he'd had earlier. Everything was labelled in simple terms he'd be able to understand while in severe agony.

"Gohan asked me to have you stay with us when you get too ill to care for yourself. I wouldn't have said yes, but then he told me everything you two went through together...some of it moved me to tears and I realized he became so strong because of you. He made me realize you're not the man I thought you were." ChiChi smiled slightly at him, hoping he wouldn't be too mad by what she had to say, "I was also wondering if you'd like to start sleeping here so you can get used to this place."

Piccolo tore his gaze away from the room to look down at ChiChi's amused expression. The corner of his mouth curled upwards slightly, "I suppose I could try it for awhile. Never slept in a bed my whole life anyway." He blinked, lowering his head, "I...don't know how to thank you. You really don't have to do this for me."

ChiChi reached over and socked Piccolo in the shoulderpad, "You just did, big guy." She was alerted of Gohan's presence by clinking in the kitchen and turned towards the door, "Well, I've gotta go start Gohan's breakfast. You're welcome to join us."

"Nah, I think I'll just...hang out...in here for awhile."

"Well, OK. Call me if you need anything. And by the way...take some of your medicine before you get into too much pain, all right?" ChiChi spoke as if she had empathetically felt his pain. She smiled sweetly, bowed and disappeared into the kitchen to get breakfast started.

Piccolo watched her go for a moment, raised a hairless brow-ridge and walked towards the pool of sunlight to explore his new bed. He pressed his hand down on the mattress and blinked when he encountered something soft and cushion-like. Seems safe enough... The Namek crossed his arms, faced away from the bed and plopped his rear end heavily onto the springy softness.

The mattress protested by springing upwards. Piccolo's eyes widened and his mouth opened as he bounced completely back off the bed. He crashed down on his head between the wall and the bed.

"Oomph! What the!?"

"Are you OK in there?" ChiChi called from the kitchen.

"Fine!" Piccolo hollered back from his undignified position - clutching his head with pain tears in the corners of his eyes. The Namek sat up and glared at the offending mattress. He peeked over the footboard. Slammed his fist down on the softness and ducked. Nothing happened...except for the bed jiggling.

After the 'earthquake' settled down, Piccolo crossed his arms and hopped to his feet, eyeing the bed suspciously. He sat down again, harder than before. He didn't go flying this time. His lips curled into a smile as the mattress sent him bobbing up and down. Hey, this was kind of fun!

I could get used to this. He thought as the bed settled down again. He assumed the lotus position and took a look around.

Aside from the messy bed, the room seemed pretty clean. The desk was piled high with books. A few papers were neatly arranged next to an open book with a red cover.

Piccolo glanced at the complicated math problems in the book until his eyes crossed. As far as 'education' was concerned, he only had the basics, knowing very simple math and reading. If Gohan surpassed him in anything, it was definitely education. How can that kid stay sane when he has to stare at this all day long?

A wave of pain like the one before washed over him, snapping him from his thoughts. Without thinking, Piccolo grabbed one of the pill bottles and narrowed his eyes at the label. All he took the time to read was 'take for pain' before tearing the bottle open and dumping two of the red pills into his mouth. He swallowed them dry and waited in silent agony until the wave ebbed.

"I don't have time for this!" He growled, staring at the bottle in his hand. His eyes started feeling a little heavy. The world slowed to a calm stream of peace. "Maybe I should go train...after I rest for another moment anyway..." The Namek stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes as the pain medicine began to take effect. Lying on the soft egg-crate mattress gave him the feeling of floating on a cloud. He kind of liked it.

Meanwhile, out in the kitchen, Gohan had just finished scarfing down three plates of pancakes, two bowls of cereal, several pieces of bacon and almost a dozen hard-boiled eggs. He belched loudly, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said, "So, what do you think of Piccolo now, mom? Now that you've met him, anyway..."

ChiChi smiled, the dishes clanking together. She washed, rinsed and put them away. Her gaze drifted to the window when a butterfly fluttered past the glass, "He seems to be a pretty quiet guy...nothing like the monster I thought he was."

"Glad you like him now." Gohan chuckled. He stood up and took a last gulp of his milk. "I guess I'll go see how he's doing in my room."

"OK..." ChiChi turned around with a hand on her hip and shook a finger at him, "But you'd better buckle down and finish the homework you didn't finish last night, got it?" She glared at him with one of those motherly you'd-better-agree-or-I'll-smack-you looks.

"Yes, mom."

She smiled and turned around to finish with the dishes. "That's my scholar!"

Gohan trudged into his room and stopped when he noticed Piccolo was lying on the bed. His arms were crossed, his cape hung off either side of the mattress. He was scowling as if in meditation. The pill bottle he'd grabbed earlier was lying on the floor, having rolled out of his hand when the grip relaxed.

For a moment, Gohan's heart jumped to his throat at the sight of Piccolo lying down on the bed. The blood pounded through his ears and behind his eyes. He rushed over to peer down at his Namekian friend, thinking he died already.

Vague snoring quickly turned off the teenager's rush of adrenaline. He ran a hand through his hair and backed up to sink into his desk-chair. "Phew...don't scare me like that," was the only thing he could think to say for himself after acting so irrationally.

Maybe...maybe if I get him to rest and take his meds properly, he'll beat this... Gohan thought to himself. He tip-toed back to the bed, grabbed the fallen pill bottle and replaced it carefully on the table. I mean, come on! This is *Piccolo* we're talking about here. He's too strong for something like this...

~A few months later...~

Gohan was surrounded by golden light, and his hair flowed like a flame atop his cranium. His fierce eyes burned heavily with rage as he repeatedly swung his fists at Piccolo's face and chest. For the past several weeks, he'd been extremely uptight and angry. Angry at Piccolo for getting sick. Angry at himself because he couldn't help. Angry at the sickness that was taking his friend from him.

"Good! Excellent speed, Gohan!" Piccolo formed an X with his arms as he blocked Gohan's fierce punches. He winced as the repeated blows started to wear on his arms, which were bruising more severely than normal and turning several shades of purple. "Keep it coming!"

Gohan did as he was ordered and increased the speed of his punches until he could hardly keep up with himself. He finished with a flip-kick that pushed Piccolo back a few feet. Then he stopped to catch his breath and found Piccolo sitting on the ground, seeming totally exhausted from just trying to keep up with his student's punches.

Piccolo's illness was starting to become more visible than it had before. He had lost some weight, which was only evident by the way his clothes seemed a little more loose than usual. Stubborn as always, he still refused to rest when he was tired or in pain. Ever since the pain medicine had put him to sleep three months ago, he avoided taking it as much as possible. If the pain became excruciating, he would simply leave from wherever he was, find a secluded place and lie there alone until it passed.

Lately, however, the pangs had been coming with less warning, each one lasting longer than the previous. They made the first attack seem like a pin prick compared to burning alive. And to top it all off, his whole body was always encased in a dull ache that never seemed to disappear.

"Piccolo? Are you OK?" Gohan asked.

"I'm fine. I don't need you trying to pamper me every time I take a break." Piccolo snapped as his left lower eyelid started to twitch slightly. He could feel the beginnings of a pain coming on like a dull ache in his joints as he moved to stand. Before he could take off to escape, the pain slammed into him full-force and nearly made him black out. A very obscene word escape his mouth as his knees buckled and the world blazed white-hot.

"Piccolo!?!" Gohan cried out in shock when he saw his normally strong teacher collapse and curl into a fetal position. He raced to the Namek's side, "Piccolo! Are you alright!?"

"I'm...fine!!!" Piccolo growled with his face partially pressed into the ground as he tried not to sob with all his might. Tears of pain were trickling down his nose and onto the grass, which almost matched his green flesh. "Go away...Just go away...leave me alone..."

"No, I'm not going to leave you alone while you're like this!" Gohan lowered to sit next to Piccolo and took him up into his arms. Tears blurred his vision, a hot lump rose in his throat and his voice cracked as he spoke, "Piccolo...you never left my side when I needed your help. And I'm not going to leave yours when you need mine..." He looked down at Piccolo's agonized expression and the glistening tears that rolled down his face.

Piccolo spent a moment fighting the embrace until he realized it was something he had been seeking for so long. He gave in and allowed his student to hold him, almost blind from the agony blazing through his veins. Soft moans escaped his throat, barely audible above the blood rushing through his ears.

The half-Saiyajin closed his eyes as the tears in his eyes escaped down his face, Dammit...I'll train harder if I have to, I'll take better care of him...whatever he needs...just make his pain stop!

When Piccolo's sickening moans began to quiet, Gohan hefted him up into his arms and took off towards home. Piccolo was oblivious to being moved, his face firmly buried in the shoulder of his student's shoulderpads. It was the only way he could hide the shame of his own weakness.

ChiChi was working in the kitchen when she heard the door burst open. "Gohan! Piccolo! Lunch is - AAH!! What happened to him?!" She nearly dropped the food tray at the sight of the normally strong green figure trembling in agony in her son's arms.

"Pain. I'm gonna get his meds." Gohan answered tersely as he carried Piccolo into his room and gently put him down on the adjustable bed. The Namek shuddered and twitched when he was shifted. His head turned from side to side, his lips gaped briefly in a silent scream and sweat poured off his skin.

ChiChi blinked, not having a chance to reply. She went about setting the table for lunch, the dishes clanking gently as they were moved around and set down. Her mind locked on that horrible image of Piccolo trembling in Gohan's arms. Poor Piccolo...I hope he's OK.

Earlier that week when the duo was heading out to train, ChiChi had run head on into Piccolo without even seeing him approach. Because he was so strong and she had an armload of Gohan's books, the collision proved disastrous as everything in her arms nearly went flying. The Namek had helped her pick up the mess, though it was a rather awkward moment that allowed them to spend time in close contact with each other.

Ever since that day, they would exchange strange, awkward looks.

"Mom!" Gohan exploded back into the living room, wild-eyed with worry and interrupting her flashback. "His emergency meds are out! I'm gonna run into the city to get some more."

ChiChi swallowed as her thoughts were scattered, "OK...I'll stay with him. Go."

As Gohan left, ChiChi filled a metal mixing bowl with cool water, grabbed a clean rag and walked into the bedroom where Piccolo was trembling on the bed. His eyeridges were drawn together, his eyes were squeezed shut and tears of pain were trickling down his cheeks. He was in so much pain that he couldn't move. It was like his blood had become acid and burning him from the inside out!

ChiChi put the bowl down on Gohan's desk and plunged the cloth into the cool water. The water sloshed gently as she wrung the cloth out and turned to the bed. She lifted the cloth of Piccolo's turban away from his brow and pressed the wet rag gently to his sweaty forehead. He didn't move when the coolness seeped into his brow.

"Dammit..." Piccolo whispered as another pang began anew. More sweat gathered on his brow and trickled onto his temples like drops of dew on grass. His breathing was jagged and noisy, and it was a wonder he didn't hyperventilate with the way he was gasping.

"Shhh...it's OK..." The dark-haired woman breathed.

"No, it's NOT!" He growled angrily, "This hurts!"

"I know...Gohan's getting you some more pills. He'll be back soon." ChiChi spoke as soothingly as she could while re-moistening the cloth and brushing it gently over his handsome green face to cool some of the fire behind the agony. "Let me help you until then..." Piccolo didn't say anything, so she took his silence as compliance and gently placed her hand in his as she began to speak, "Just talk to me..."

Piccolo didn't speak, but his fingers did close around her hand as the pain started to increase again. He felt her thumb rub across the back of his hand and swallowed. Never in his life had anyone ever offered to hold his hand while he was in pain, and it meant as much to him as being held in someone's arms.

"Don't think, Piccolo. Just say whatever comes to mind." ChiChi put the cloth down and let her pale hand come to rest on his forehead, just below the cloth of his turban. She could remember touching her mother's forehead the same way when she had been in pain for the same reasons. "Don't think about the pain..."

"Cliff...overlooking the ocean..." Piccolo breathed through clenched teeth, no longer caring about anything anymore. At this point, he would do anything to be rid of the pain. "It's huge..."

ChiChi blinked and tilted her head when she saw tears roll down the angular terrain of his cheekbones, "OK then...what color is the cliff?" She asked as she brought her free hand around to brush the tears away. They felt strangely warm against his slightly cool skin.

Piccolo turned his head from side to side a few times, the frown on his brow deepening as the battled the pain. When he spoke, it was almost a sob, "White..."

"What about the water?" She lowered her voice to a whisper so she wouldn't agitate him further, and unconsciously started to stroke the his green brow.

"...silver..." His hand tightened around hers, the frown on his brow lessening with each pass of her gentle hand along it's furrowed surface.

"And the sky? What does it look like?"

"I...I can see the whole universe..."

ChiChi smiled halfway as she listened to Piccolo's soft voice. He was describing the painting on the wall across from the foot of the bed he was lying in. Eternity was the title of the picture, which was very surreal and very beautiful. Gohan had bought it from a street merchant years ago, having said it gave him great things to daydream about.

The pain was starting to fade from Piccolo's face a little; his breathing had calmed down a bit and he wasn't frowning as fiercely as he was before.

ChiChi allowed her hand to move from his forehead to his cheek, her thumb brushing away the tears that were falling. "Anything else?"

Piccolo slowly shook his head no, keeping his eyes closed. "Afraid..." He took a breath and opened his eyes to find ChiChi looking down at him worriedly. "I...I don't want to die..." The Namek continued to talk softly, and the dark-haired woman continued to listen.

Ever since she had let Piccolo live in her home, ChiChi had found herself growing more and more attached to him as a friend. He rarely had much to say, but every time he met her gaze or walked into a room she was in, he would say a million things all at once without even parting his lips. She looked forward to taking a mug of water out to him every afternoon when he sat down in the grass to meditate. It brought her great enjoyment to see the look on his face whenever she gave him a pat on the back or touched his arm in passing.

Ever since he had started staying with ChiChi and Gohan, Piccolo found ChiChi's annoyance level was much lower than it had been when they first met. He was starting to look forward to his afternoon meditation every day, just because she would always bring him a mug of water and ask if he needed anything. Sometimes she reached out and touched his arm or patted him on the back for no reason at all. Though he would never really get used to being touched that way, he had come to like it more than he thought.

A breeze blew in through the window, ruffling ChiChi's bangs and the papers on Gohan's desk. ChiChi bent over to shut the window, the motion bringing her face a scant inch from Piccolo's. When they realized how close together their faces were, both froze and stared at each other silently.

Up close, his glistening obsidian eyes were one way mirrors, allowing him to gaze through while preventing anyone from seeing the light within. She stared into them as if they were the most captivating thing in the world, trying to find where he hid within the cold darkness.

Up close, her dark eyes were like clear windows lit up from behind, allowing her to see out while others gazed in. He stared into them as if they were the most interesting thing in the universe, able to see her smiling as she stood in the warm light.

ChiChi's breathing seemed to speed up for a few seconds as the shock of the closeness wore off, and her gaze drifted towards Piccolo's parted lips. Without knowing or fighting what was coming over her, she brought her hand up and tenderly stroked his moist lower lip with her fingertip. It was softer than she ever imagined it would be, and he did nothing to stop her from touching him this way.

The pain was shoved completely from Piccolo's mind when he felt her fingertip brush across his lower lip. She had touched him in many ways before, but never like this, never this intimately. He could feel his heart starting to beat faster as the caress began to awaken something. His mind started to race a mile a minute as emotions that didn't match his limited emotional vocabulary began to awaken.

As the moments passed, ChiChi found her face moving closer and closer to Piccolo's. Her pale red lips parted as they grew closer to the warmth of his, following the source of his breath. The Namek's eyes fluttered nervously, his breath caught in his throat and his lips started to tremble. ChiChi's eyes fluttered shut as her lips came within an inch from his and -

The door slammed, shattering the moment by setting off another wave of pain in Piccolo's body. "Ungh! Grrr!!" He squeezed his eyes shut, grimaced and turned his head, and ChiChi straightened back into an upright position to face whoever had come in.

"I'm home!" Gohan called. He dashed into the room with a paper bag in hand, and tore it open in his haste to get to the pills. When the bottle was freed, Gohan tore off the lid, dumped two pills into his hand and handed them over to Piccolo. "Here, take these."

"Gohan, he can't even move right now." ChiChi whispered. She took the pills from Piccolo's hand and placed them gently between his parted lips. Then she supported his head with one hand and held a glass to his mouth with the other while he drank to swallow the pills. "Sit with him for awhile. I need to get the dishes done." She didn't give Gohan a chance to reply, she hurried out of the room and into the kitchen so she could turn on the water. Steam rose from the sink as she shoved dirty dishes in and started to wash them, letting the clanking noises drown out her sobs.

Why did I try to kiss him? How can I be falling for him when I still love Goku? Is it wrong to have these feelings for more than one person? Why is this happening!? Her mind was spinning a mile a minute, almost faster than she could follow. The main question she kept asking herself was, Should I let this continue?

In the meantime, Gohan had pulled the covers up over Piccolo and helped him out of his weighted gear to make him a little more comfortable. The pills were taking full effect, and the Namek was more than a little drowsy, the side effect he really hated.

"Gohan..." Piccolo whispered.

He turned, "Yeah?"

"I'm thinking of having a son..." Piccolo's voice started to fade as sleep began to win him over. His long fingers dented the material of the sheets as he slipped a hand up the front of his body and allowed it to rest on his chest, "...I...I want to understand the one emotion I never thought I could feel..."

Gohan moved to Piccolo's bedside and put his elbows down on the mattress, not having a clue what he was talking about, "I'm not stopping you, Piccolo..." He swallowed the hot lump in his throat. It still hurt to think of what was happening to his friend. "Are you sure he won't be born with your illness?"

Nodding slowly to answer the question, he turned his back to Gohan as he rolled onto his side to sleep for awhile. Just before he did so, he allowed a small opening in the back of his throat to release a sticky substance which he quickly swallowed. Knowing his regeneration system was going to be hard at work to divide the cells in a matter of hours, Piccolo was confident that he would be regurgitating an egg by the next morning.

Just before falling asleep, Piccolo caught a glimpse of the calendar. A smirk crept across his lips when he realized the next day was going to be the ninth of May.

Gohan awoke early the next morning and yawned, looking over at Piccolo. He did a double take, then blinked and sat up to confirm what he saw. Piccolo's entire throat was swollen like he swallowed a football. He was sound asleep and breathing noisily through an open mouth.

"Piccolo?" Gohan climbed out of bed and reached over to shake his teacher, "Piccolo!"

Piccolo's eyes popped open to glare at Gohan, "What?" He whispered hoarsely. The Saiyajin-human hybrid gestured to his own throat. Piccolo reached up to feel the bulge beneath his green skin. Less than a second later he felt a contraction ripple up his throat. Instinct told him he was 'in labor'. He smiled his rare, lopsided smile and said, "It's OK Gohan...It's my son."

"Cool! How old is it going to be when it hatches? I mean...some of the hatchlings I saw on New Nameksei looked like they were a year old or more when they hatched..." Gohan sweatdropped.

"This one is going to start from scratch, Gohan." Piccolo turned his head and leveled his dark eyes with his student's. "He'll have everything I never did. But with his own soul, his own memories and his own life..." He trailed off. Another contraction made him catch his breath.

Gohan lowered his eyes slightly, "When will the egg hatch?"

"Almost as soon as I cough it up, which is right about..." Another contraction, this one stronger, "...now." Piccolo struggled to his feet. He quietly started out of the room without donning his cape and turban. "Gohan...this isn't going to be a pretty sight, and it's going to be over with very quickly. So do yourself a favor...let me do this alone."

Gohan nodded slowly and waited for Piccolo to leave the house. He grabbed his cam-corder. Piccolo, do you really think I'd just sit here and miss something like this? He thought as he followed the Namek into a clearing in the woods, remaining hidden with his power low.

Unaware he was being followed, Piccolo sought the comfort of the cool morning air. The squeezes in his throat were getting stronger and more frequent. He felt the joints in his jaw loosening. It wouldn't be long.

Piccolo chose a large tree in the clearing. One of the most beautiful places he knew of. Predators wouldn't get in without being seen, the air stood still and everything was silent. Surrounded by life - it was the perfect place to give birth. He began meditating with his eyes still wide open, staring blankly towards the sky as powerful contractions forced the egg up into the back of his throat. Sour, slippery liquid collected in his mouth. He swallowed it to lubricate the egg's path. More contractions. Powerful, painful ones. The Namek retched and gagged for several moments. Still unaware of Gohan's presence as he doubled forward, clutching his throat in pain.

Gohan cringed in the shadows, but remained silent. He watched as Piccolo's jaw suddenly unhinged like a snake swallowing prey. Except everything happened in reverse. Piccolo's white fangs gleamed in the light of the rising sun. A yellowish-gray shape glistened in his throat. Gohan shuddered as he watched Piccolo's sharp fangs grip the eggshell. His jaws worked independently to "walk" the large object forward. He stopped to inhale several times.

Finally, Piccolo bent forward and allowed the egg to drop out into his arms. Large quantities of greenish slime followed. He spent the next few moments panting hungrily for air, his mouth completely deformed. Then he straightened and snapped his jaw back into it's hinges, returning his mouth to its original shape.

As Gohan watched through his camcorder, the egg changed from gray to white as it dried. The moment the egg was dry, several spider-web like cracks opened along it's mottled white surface, making a sound much like a crackling campfire.

Images of the hatching egg were reflected in Piccolo's glistening black eyes. His heart squeezed itself in anticipation. He didn't expect the apprehension creeping over his nerves. What if the child was deformed? What if he was perfect? How would he take care of him...he didn't know how to be a dad! Nobody ever taught him anything about being a parent!

Finally, the eggshell fell away to reveal a tiny, helpless Namekian child that looked like he should be rushed immediately to an NICU. If he'd been human. For Nameks this was perfectly normal.

The baby's entire body was covered in egg-goo. His eyes were plastered shut and his little antennae were shriveled into his forehead. Amazingly, he wasn't green at all. His bulging eyelids, lips, ears and fingers were an ashen purple hue. The rough patches that speckled some of his muscles were a chalky grayish-white. The rest of his skin was pale and ashen, like grass covered in dust. His gaunt extremities were all ice-cold to the touch.

Piccolo stared at the unmoving creature laying in his palms. What if he was stillborn?

"Live, little one." He wiped some of the egg goo from the child's mouth and nose, "Please live."

For several long moments, nothing happened. Piccolo's pleas went unanswered.

Suddenly the baby's tiny jaw gaped and relaxed. He made the motions of breathing without moving air. Then his lungs caught on. His chest rose and fell for the first time. Again. And again. His thin arms flailed and his legs kicked. He squirmed against Piccolo's hands and released his first weak cry. His gaunt body grew warmer and his delicate little antennae lengthened to a more natural position. Chalky grayish-white became pink. Sickly purple became green. Pale ashen green darkened to a soft green hue. With each passing moment, his color became more Namekian in nature as oxygen flooded his bloodstream to feed the hungry, half-suffocated cells in his body.

Piccolo just watched his newborn child come to life. So helpless, so precious, so small. Something stirred in his heart. He curiously lowered his large index finger to touch one of the child's tiny hands. They were so small his fingertip covered the palm completely. Wrinkled fingers, perfectly formed in miniature, opened to accept his touch and grasped tightly. The baby's almost impossibly large black eyes peeled themselves open, and the father and son locked eyes for the first time.

It was love at first sight.

When Piccolo first looked into his child's eyes, his entire world fell into place. This was his life now. His lower lip quivered. This feeling...this joy...was so new to him. He could do nothing but stare at the tiny living thing in his arms. His life came from mine...

"My son, don't be afraid. I...I'm your dad." The new father finally whispered. Supporting the baby's head with one hand and his body with the other, Piccolo closed his eyes and pressed his lips to his child's tiny forehead. "I name you Doramu...my hope." He found himself laughing and crying at the same time. "My son! I have a son!"

Still unseen, and shaking all over from the amazing sight, Gohan turned from the scene. He snuck back to the house and hid the cam-corder under his bed. Piccolo sensed Gohan anyway, despite his attempts to mask his power...and didn't care. He was still too captivated by his new son to think of anything else.

And so began the life of Doramu.

"You mean he coughed up an egg just like that?!" ChiChi snapped her fingers to emphasize her point.

"Apparently so," Gohan replied, keeping the pretense of not actually seeing the egg being 'laid'. "I think Piccolo will make a great father, mom." He started to pace around, hoping Piccolo was OK. It had been almost an hour since he had seen the amazing moment of birth.

"AAH! Gohan! Get into your room and study! You've wasted enough time already with your wandering around!" ChiChi suddenly cried when she remembered her son's precious homework. Sometimes, she really became annoyed with the way Gohan liked to put off his education so much. For one, she didn't want him to be mentally like his father.

Gohan's eyes became dinner-plates in reaction to her explosion, "Yes, mom." He put a hand on the back of his head, made a face and headed into his room to study.

Not long after Gohan had gone into his room, ChiChi heard the door open and looked up to see Piccolo walking in with something naked and green clutched gently to his chest. Doramu was so tiny that his father's careful hands covered his head and body completely. He also looked so angelic with his tiny, wrinkled hands resting on his cheeks as he slept.

"Hi, Piccolo." ChiChi spoke softly to avoid waking the baby as she stood and walked closer to get a better look. Piccolo didn't speak, but he nodded to her and moved Doramu away from his chest so she could see him better. The preemie-sized baby squirmed and yawned to reveal a toothless mouth. ChiChi smiled, looked up and asked, "May I hold him?"

Piccolo hesitated for a moment almost as if he was ready to put his precious new life down just yet. "Hold him close to your chest. The sound of a heartbeat comforts him." He kept his strangely glittering eyes on ChiChi's face as he carefully handed the seemingly weightless newborn over to her. He watched as ChiChi smiled down at the child with heavily-lidded eyes, placing one hand under his tiny rear end while holding him close with the other, just like she had been told to do. The baby's miniature fingers fanned out against her purple kimono, and he opened his eyes briefly to peer at who was holding him.

Watching ChiChi hold his newborn son reminded him of the day before, of the same gentleness he experienced when she had brushed her fingertip across his lips. The feeling made his heart well up and brought a lump to his throat. Moisture gathered in his eyes and made them seem shinier than normal.

ChiChi could feel Doramu's throbbing heartbeat vibrating against her chest. The miniature Namek hiccuped and smacked his lips, but he remained soundly asleep. She giggled softly at the sound and lifted her eyes to the new father's glistening ones, her heart swelling as she wondered how he managed to survive all alone when he was this small. "What's his name?"

Feeling suddenly trapped in her gaze, Piccolo parted his lips and replied slowly in a whisper, "Doramu." The wave of strange emotions grew too strong for him. He turned his head slightly to break free and took a deep breath.

"He's beautiful, Piccolo." ChiChi handed Doramu back to his father, amazed by the softness Piccolo was displaying as he placed the child carefully against his chest.

"Thanks." Piccolo replied. He headed slowly into the living room and seated himself in the lotus position on the floor, staring down at his child like he was the most fascinating thing in the world. ChiChi watched him for a moment, the way he ever-so-gently cupped the back of the baby's head in his palm as he held him.

Memories of the kiss that almost happened the day before came to her mind, and she closed her eyes with a sigh. Could she really allow herself to love another the way she loved Goku? Was it right or wrong to do so?

ChiChi's thoughts were interrupted by Piccolo's scratchy voice, "I need something to pour small amounts of fluid and a glass of water for Doramu. Maybe a spoon or something...anything that won't make him choke."

She cleared her throat, shook her head to clear her mind and grabbed what Piccolo had asked for, substituting the spoon with a large eyedropper. Her hand brushed against his as she handed him the glass with the eyedropper bobbing on the surface of the water. "Here."

Piccolo took the glass and looked quizzically at the eyedropper. His eyeridges drew together and his eyes rose to meet ChiChi's with a silent question. She chuckled and showed him how it worked, "You just squeeze this end while it's in the water, then release and let it fill..." The water dripped slightly as she moved the now-full eyedropper above the level of the water, "When you want to release it, you just squeeze the end again like so." She demonstrated by emptying the little tool, then handed it to Piccolo.

The Namek shrugged, put the glass down and filled the eyedropper the way he had been shown. Then he carefully inserted the tip just past the barrier of Doramu's tiny lips and squeezed the bulb at the end. Doramu started to suckle on the tip of the eyedropper, swallowing the water as it was fed to him.

ChiChi watched Piccolo and Doramu together, completely amazed by this gentleness Piccolo was displaying. He still acted and looked pretty apathetic, but the simple way he carefully made sure the child didn't choke, and the gentle way he held him all showed the love he had for the young one. In watching him, she felt her feelings rise again, like a swelling in her heart. Each time it came around, it became harder and harder to ignore.

Doramu stopped swallowing when he'd had enough, and Piccolo put the eyedropper aside so he could cradle the baby close to his chest once again. "Sleep now, Doramu. I will keep you safe." He said with no emotion while gazing down at the small green visage that mirrored his own.

The phone rang, so the momentary spell ChiChi had fallen under was broken as she rushed to pick it up. "Moshi-moshi?"

"Hi, ChiChi? This is Bulma. Is Piccolo there?"

"Yes, why?" She answered.

"Tell him that help is needed at the Capsule Corporation. Bring yourself and Gohan too...don't tell him this, but we're really throwing him a surprise party...just like we do every year." Bulma's tone was mischievous, though slightly muffled by the phone. "Only this time, the plan is to make some memories."

ChiChi chuckled softly and whispered, "You know he's going to hate it."

"Exactly. See ya there, I gotta go!"

"Bye." She hung up, then looked into the living room. "Something happened at the Capsule Corporation, Piccolo. Bulma called to ask for help. Do you mind going down there with us?"

Piccolo sighed and rolled his eyes, gracefully uncurling into a standing position with Doramu cradled in the crook of his arm. His cape rustled in agitation from the movement, then settled, "I guess."

"Great. Sit tight while I get Gohan." ChiChi disappeared into the back room and carefully whispered the plan to Gohan. Both tried hard not to smile as they headed back out to the tall Namek and his son.

"Hey, Piccolo? Mind if I hold the kid for awhile?" Gohan asked, holding his arms out hopefully. He grinned when Piccolo wordlessly placed Doramu into his arms, and he held him close the way he had seen his mentor hold him. The tiny infant opened his eyes and stared in wonder at the half-Saiyajin that was making faces at him. Gohan just grinned, "Wow! He looks just like you! Gootchie goo!"

So much for his little nap... Piccolo thought as he followed Gohan and ChiChi out of the house. He had to carry ChiChi when they flew away, but for whatever reason, he didn't really mind it anymore.

"They're coming!" Tien shouted from the window. He kept a close watch on their powers. There was another small power, like a spark near flames, but there wasn't time to speculate.

The others, consisting of Bulma, Mr. and Mrs. Briefs, Krillin, Yamcha, Trunks and Vegeta, all proceeded to find a hiding place. All except for Vegeta anyway; he was to be the diversion for the surprise.

Huffing in annoyance, Vegeta proceeded out into the front yard. He stood there with his legs planted firmly and his arms crossed, a cocky smirk pulling at his lips. The Saiyajin Prince could care less about the stupid party, but he would willingly take any opportunity to piss Piccolo off. He figured that it pissing Goku off didn't work, he'd go after the Namek.

Oh great, what does he want? Piccolo's pointed nose wrinkled when he saw Vegeta bleeding arrogance in the yard. Just about the only thing that guy was good for, in his opinion, was the fact that he didn't treat him any differently after learning of his illness. But that didn't make him any less annoying.

"So, the green freak cometh..." Vegeta spat in a voice vibrating with cynicism.

"What do you want, Vegeta?" Piccolo asked apathetically. He let ChiChi hop down from his arms, which he crossed as soon as he possibly could. The simple act of flying left him out of breath, his sculpted chest heaving for several seconds as he stared the smaller man down with black eyes.

Piccolo's shortness of breath did not escape Vegeta's keen eyes. "So it's true...feh. Bulma has some..." He sneered and nearly blew the whole surprise, "...foolish training equipment she insists on bothering me to show you. Something to do with...er...weights and gravity. Oh just follow me and lets get this over with!"

Behind Piccolo's back, Gohan and ChiChi looked at each other, trying not to laugh.

Piccolo's mouth curved up in a smirk, "I guess the others were too weak for it."


Piccolo followed Vegeta towards the building. Neither spoke.

They were almost there when Vegeta suddenly disappeared in a flurry of vertical lines, reappeared behind Piccolo and gave him a shove him into the house. The Namek, not expecting the sudden shove, tripped through the door and planted his feet to avoid falling. "What the He - "


Piccolo's eyes became dinner plates at the shout. Thinking it was an attack, he jumped immediately into a fighting stance. Then a ton of confetti and balloons rained down, coating the entire room and everyone in it with rainbow colored bits of paper or rubber. Piccolo promptly facevaulted with his feet in the air. He spent a few moments grumbling while he was down.

And Krillin caught the whole thing on his brand new cam-corder.

Every year! Every single freaking year, this happened! And every year, he hated it. As if putting an exclamation point on the end of it, every one but Vegeta started to sing horribly off-key, "Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Piccolo! Happy Birthday to you!"

"Yeah, yeah! Geez, don't you people have anything better to do?" A confetti-covered Piccolo moaned, sporting a huge sweatdrop. This was humiliating!

"Of course! It's your birthday. C'mon..." Krillin laughed softly, "And...what's with the little one?" He turned the camcorder towards Doramu, who was squirming in Gohan's arms. It didn't take long for the tiny Namekian baby to start crying the typical soft cries of a newborn.

"He is my son. His name is Doramu. I hatched him this morning" Piccolo stated simply. He took the small infant from Gohan and held him gently to his chest. As soon as Doramu heard and saw his father, he quieted down. Piccolo's attention turned slowly to the camcorder in Krillin's hands and his lip curled, "Would you mind getting that thing out of my face, Krillin? Or do I have to destroy it like the last four?"

Krillin's pupils turned to pinpoints. He quickly lowered the camcorder and turned it off. "Sorry. Hey, why not show the little guy off? Here, if you don't wanna do it, I will. You can trust me."

Piccolo bore his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. He nearly gave the poor human a serious tongue-lashing. Then he sighed in resignation for the time being. Showing new children off was just another human thing he needed to become accustomed to. "Fine, but if he gets hurt, then so will you. Got it?" He gently handed his precious child to the short man.

"Eh...don't worry about a thing, Piccolo. Doramu will be just fine with me." Krillin put his camcorder down on the mantle and held his arms out to accept the tiny child. He cradled Doramu gently in his arms, smiling as he turned and headed into the room where Bulma, Mr. and Mrs. Briefs and Yamcha were hanging out.

"You had better hope so." Piccolo muttered, then reached into his belt. He popped a pain pill into his mouth when he thought nobody was looking. He'd finally discovered that taking the prescription at the times specified did actually work, though it left less warning for when a major pang was coming. But at least his entire body wasn't encased in a constant dull ache anymore.

"Now you've resorted to popping pills eh?" Vegeta snickered from the shadows, where he'd been standing like a fixture for the past several minutes. He still found it to be a serious wake-up call to his own mortality, the knowledge that a force like Piccolo could succumb to something as simple as a sickness.

Piccolo curled his lip upon realizing he'd been discovered. He glowered at the arrogant Saiyajin. "Stay out of my business, Vegeta." His cheek twitched. A dull ache started to encase his hips. He knew what was coming and there was no escaping the situation to be alone.

"What are you going to do if I don't?" Vegeta smirked, unaware of Piccolo's pain. His thick eyebrows drew into their usual jeering frown, "I guess you can't stand getting weaker."

Baring his teeth, Piccolo pointed his finger at Vegeta's face, "Listen...here...you..." His sentence cut off when the pain overwhelmed him. This time it spread up his spine and into his skull. "Grrr! Just leave me alone!" His voice went from harsh to hoarse. He turned away, grabbed his left hipbone and hissed angrily.

The humor left Vegeta's face when he saw Piccolo stagger forward a few steps and place his hand on the wall to remain standing. Piccolo panted as sweat poured out from under his turban and gathered around his neck. A low groan escaped his throat, the kind of sound only unimaginable pain could bring about. Pain someone had to feel to understand. And the whole time, the Saiyajin prince watched in dumbfounded silence. Unable to believe he was watching this warrior was succumb to pain right there in front of him.

Deciding to preserve some of Piccolo's dignity, Vegeta walked forward, slung the Namek's left arm over his shoulder and walked him out into the yard near his gravity machine. Nobody would see them there. He leaned him against a tree and walked a few steps away, keeping his face hidden to hide the shock. He really is dying...I...I can't believe this! Vegeta thought silently, tightening his fist while Piccolo tried to get ahold of himself. First Kakarott, and now the Namek! Who will be next? Me? His eyes widened at the thought of catching whatever Piccolo had. Foolish! Cancer isn't contageous. He grew angry with his own stupid thought.

But it still frightened him.

"Tell me something, Namek..."

"Now what do you want?" Piccolo breathed as he rested against the tree. Trying to regain his composure. Droplets of sweat dripped off the end of his nose and glittered in the light on their way down to the ground. Some landed in his eyes, making them sting.

The Saiyajin prince crossed his arms, tightened his thin lips and narrowed his coal-black eyes, "Why did you have a child if you're not going to be around to raise it? It makes no sense!"

The Namek crossed his arms and flipped his cape over his shoulder, still breathing hard. The pain finally began to ebb. He leveled his eyes with the back of Vegeta's head and answered coolly, "There are many reasons, Vegeta." He started towards the house.

"Name one." Vegeta sneered. He kept his back to Piccolo so he wouldn't see that the arrogant look was gone from his expression. For an instant he actually looked concerned for the Namek. The expression dulled back to apathy. Only the wind was fast enough to be a witness.

Piccolo sighed aloud. He was tired of Vegeta's crap. "To leave a legacy that will lessen the pain Gohan is going to feel when I pass. There, happy?" When Vegeta didn't speak anymore, he headed inside to be closer to his child. Ever since the moment he and Doramu made eye contact for the first time, they established a very close bond. A bond that allowed them to feel each others' presence when they were close enough together. It let Piccolo know his child was...not too happy at the moment.

Krillin met him halfway with a wailing Doramu in his arms. "I uh...think he missed you."

Piccolo looked at him like 'well, duh!' and gently took the baby into his arms. While he was handing the baby back to Piccolo, Krillin dropped the remote that operated the camera. He reached down to pick it up without noticing the red light on the camcorder coming on.

"Well, I'll let you calm him down. Come join us when you're done so you can blow up your presents." The short man grinned, waved and walked out of the room to hang out with Yamcha. He passed ChiChi along the way. They only exchanged a brief conversation no longer than 'did you find him?' and 'yeah'.

"Feh." Piccolo sat down in the lotus position, cupping Doramu's head in the palm of one hand and his tiny body in the other. He stroked the top of the baby's tiny head with his thumb and didn't notice ChiChi standing in the doorway behind him. "Shhhh...Don't cry," He whispered in pure Namekian. "Father is here now, small one. I will guard you against your fears."

"Waaaaaaaaaah!! Waaaaaah!" Doramu's cries started to fade. Piccolo's familiar slow heartbeat and deep voice instantly comforted him. He opened his huge eyes to stare up at his father. The dark orbs glistened with complete love and trust. A look that said, 'I trust you with my life'.

A rare, naturally lopsided smile formed across Piccolo's lips when he saw his child looking at him like that. "Someday, Doramu..." His smile sobered, "Someday soon, I'm going to be gone from you...and I'm sorry to leave you. I'm pretty sure you don't even understand a word I'm saying right now...you're only a few hours old...but still, if you somehow remember this moment, I want you to know that I..." He trailed off, feeling the urge to throw up and cry at the same time. Now he knew the name of this...feeling...that drew him to care for his son so much, "...that I love you, my son."

He brought Doramu closer to his chest and held him there, "I want you to grow up a better person than I was. Don't isolate yourself...don't make the mistakes I did in my lifetime." He sighed heavily and gazed down at the tiny, helpless Namek, "You'll make a fine man someday...I wish I could be here to watch you grow up. But at least I know you won't be alone once I'm dead and gone. I live with some good people. They'll raise you well."

Without really being aware of it, Piccolo was rocking Doramu gently from side to side, all the while looking down at the newborn's large eyes. He didn't really know why he was pouring his heart out to this child. How would he remember it?

Doramu cooed softly and grasped the edge of his father's cape in his tiny hand. The slight rocking motion was putting him to sleep. It wasn't long before he gave off quiet little sighs of contentment.

Piccolo shifted one of Doramu's tiny antennae, which was about as big around as the tip of a dull pencil. The appendage twitched at the touch.

"...Piccolo?" ChiChi's voice came from the doorway. She walked further into the room and sat down on the floor mat next to Piccolo, her eyes soft and glistening with emotion. This definitely wasn't the child-eating monster she always imagined. Somehow, some way, the lonely green man had wormed his way into her heart.

Piccolo blinked at ChiChi's sudden presence. She'd seen everything, he knew it. He shifted uncomfortably on the spot where he sat, "Yeah?"

ChiChi looked down at Doramu and smiled, brushing her trembling hand against the crown of his soft green head. Causing him to squirm gently against her touch. "You know that I loved Goku, right?" She met his gaze, then turned her eyes back to the baby, "That hasn't changed...but...he's gone and..." She bit her lip in preparation to change her life, "I-I think I've fallen in love with someone else."

Piccolo's hairless brow-ridges drew together. Confusion rose in his mind. He narrowed his eyes. What was she hoping to accomplish by talking to him? He didn't know squat about romance! "Why are you telling me this? Shouldn't you be telling this to the person you have feelings for?"

ChiChi lifted her gaze to meet Piccolo's, "I'm telling him right now." She smiled when he gave her a sharp look, "Ever since the incident yesterday, I realized how I felt about you. You're so good with Gohan and...your new little one...you aren't what I thought you were. I just can't keep ignoring my heart like this."

Piccolo felt that strange tug on his heart and began to understand what it meant when he compared it to the one he felt with Doramu. Though they weren't quite the same, they were more than just a little similar. He ducked his head, closed his eyes and rumbled, "Are you sure it's true emotion and not just pity?"

"Pity and love are two completely different things,." ChiChi whispered back. She boldly reached over and used her hand to raise his chin so she could see his dark eyes once again. There were tears in her eyes, "I remember Gohan telling me that you didn't want to be alone when you started to get sick." Her pale hand brushed softly against his cheekbone, causing him to nervously tighten his lips, "You need to be loved at least once in your lifetime."

Taking a deep breath to control the swell of emotions lumping in the back of his throat, Piccolo opened his eyes and glared at her, "ChiChi...I don't know if this is a good idea. It can only end with you in pain." His voice faltered. He averted his gaze, "I don't know what you see in me. I'm just a monster who pissed a lot of people off and - "

"And that was the past. This is now." ChiChi put her other hand on Piccolo's face and smiled again, silencing him with her steady gaze, "You've changed completely since then. I can tell you have a good heart."

The Namek gave her a blank look. "I don't know how to love."

"You love Doramu. I heard you say so."

"That's different!"

"Not by much." ChiChi glared at the tall green man sitting beside her. Then she softened, "Ever been kissed before?"

"No." Piccolo lifted his obsidian eyes to meet her sapphire ones.

They both went into the same trance that came over them the day before. ChiChi reached up and stroked his lower lip with her thumb. She moved her face gently closer to his. Piccolo froze, not knowing what to do. He wondered if she realized touching his mouth made his ears tingle...it was the most bizarre feeling he'd ever encountered and he didn't know why. His eyes widened when the woman's soft mouth covered his own.

The world exploded with color and sensations. Piccolo remained frozen in wide-eyed shock. ChiChi's lips molded his to her will. He felt her tongue enter his mouth - hot and moist, but he couldn't move. Suddenly his throat squeezed in on itself much like it did when he gave birth to Doramu's egg. His body stiffened. The tingling in his ears spread down his spine like a lightning bolt. It turned his bones to jelly and his brain to mush. Then it faded behind a shroud of content bliss.

ChiChi ended the kiss and moved away. Piccolo continued to stare stupidly at her with eyes like dinner plates. He was flushed from the neck up and panting hungrily. He could still hear the pounding of his heart as the blood rushed through his ears and pulsed behind his eyes. He was nervous. Very nervous. It was the first time anyone had ever dared do such a thing, and he didn't know how to react. Man, I hope nobody walks in on us while I'm acting like a weakling...

"Did that feel good?"

Piccolo gawked at her. He would never know he just experienced something similar to an orgasm. It almost frightened him...yet he liked it. No wonder humans like to kiss so much...

He answered her as soon as he remembered how to talk, "Um...uhhhh...y-yeah..."

ChiChi just giggled at his expression and fixed her glistening eyes back onto his, "C'mon, let's go get your presents open."

Piccolo shook off the last after effects and frowned, "Feh. Must I participate in that farce?"

"You do when you're the center of the party."

He sighed in annoyance and unfurled to his full, towering height, both arms still holding Doramu close to his chest. "Fine, let's get this humiliation over with."

Still smiling, ChiChi placed a hand on his arm and turned, disappearing into the other room. Piccolo stood there in silent contemplation for several moments. Slipping out while nobody was looking would've been easy. But blowing presents up was rather fun. He snickered to himself and headed into the other room.

Little did he know that when Krillin had dropped the remote, he accidentally activated the camcorder. Everything Piccolo said to his son, as well as ChiChi's little confession and his reaction to the surprise kiss, were caught on film forever.

Piccolo stared down at the brightly colored parcel in his hands. There were ribbons and bows in garish colors all over it, making him want to disintegrate it before the colors disintegrated his eyeballs. He resisted that urge since everyone was watching and irritably tore the paper off to reveal a medicine case. One eyeridge went up.

"It's to keep track of your meds, Piccolo. My dad made it." Bulma smiled, hoping that Piccolo wasn't planning to blast it. That's exactly what he'd done last year, when she'd given him some new clothes. He'd taken one look at garments and incinerated them on the spot.

"Eh...thanks, I guess." Piccolo surprised everyone by putting the gift aside, only to have another one handed to him. It was wrapped in metallic green paper with a purple bow.

"That one's from me, sweetie!" Mrs. Briefs tittered from her spot on the couch, "Go on, open it up."

Piccolo was almost afraid to see what she'd given him. His 'fear' was confirmed when he tore the paper off and pulled a black thong out of the box. A sweatdrop appeared on his temple and his eyes crossed. He sneered at the meager little piece of cloth. Yamcha got a great snapshot of the look on the Namek's face while he was holding the garment. Everyone laughed, except for Piccolo. Even Vegeta.

"Ahem..." He reduced the thong to ashes with his eye-lasers and picked up a small, plainly wrapped gift. No label to tell who it was from, so he shrugged and sliced the paper off to find a thick black scrapbook with pictures of himself, each taken in tournaments from years ago. The last paper page was blank so pictures from the upcoming tournament could be put in. Assuming he'd live that long, anyway. There were also several plastic pages in the back - which would later on house all photographs with him in them.

Piccolo glanced around for any clues as to who'd given him this gift. He noticed Vegeta avoiding his gaze. Smirking a little, he shook his head and put the book down to explore later. He picked up the sloppily-wrapped gift from Tien and Yamcha, looked at it for a moment, then tore it open. Inside was a black baseball cap with the Grinch printed on the front. An inside joke that had Tien and Yamcha laughing like idiots.

"Try it on." Yamcha said, leaning over Krillin's head to grab some excess wrapping paper and throw it out. He personally knew Piccolo would never wear the hat, but the look on his face as he opened it was priceless!

Piccolo curled his lip. He complied for the moment by sweeping his turban off and putting the hat on backwards. "There, happy?" He kept the hat on long enough to have his picture taken and satisfy everyone, then took it off and replaced his turban. The new hat soon became a pile of ashes on the floor. Piccolo reached over for Doramu, who was dozing on the couch next to him, and picked him up.

"Hey, turn this way and face him this way too, Piccolo. Let's get a picture of you two together." Tien spoke as he snatched the camera from Yamcha. "C'mon! One good pose..."

The green man rolled his dark eyes and looked down at Doramu. He cupped his son's head in one hand, held his body in the other and turned him so he was facing the camera. Tien snapped the shot quickly and the baby Namekian squirmed a little from the bright light.

This is humiliating! Piccolo looked up with a sneer. Yamcha jumped onto the couch beside him, flashed a peace sign and had another photo taken. He really started to look annoyed when everyone surrounded him to have a group shot taken. Vegeta really had to be goaded to join in. The picture would come out to show several smiling faces with two scowls mixed in.

Bulma jumped up after the picture was taken and flipped on the stereo. Loud rock music burst from the speakers and blasted all around the room. The group all started dancing - except for Piccolo and Vegeta, who stood off to the side and grumbled irritably.

"Wha- hey!" Vegeta shouted in protest when Bulma grabbed his hands and twirled herself closer to him. Then she pulled him into the group and annoyed him into at least swaying along with her to the beat. He didn't look too happy, though.

ChiChi walked up to Piccolo and took his hand, drawing him towards her, "Come on, it's a slow song next." She pulled harder when Piccolo shook his head, "Oh, come on Piccolo, live a little!"

"But...I don't know how to - oof!" Piccolo nearly toppled into the woman when she tugged the front of his cape and literally dragged him into the dancing group. He stood there rigid as a soldier, blushing furiously, his mouth drawn into a jagged line. Three massive sweatdrops appeared over his head.

ChiChi just laughed and slipped Piccolo's arm around her waist, took his free hand and placed her other hand on his arm. "Loosen up! Now you just sway like this," she shifted her feet back and forth.

The intensely blushing Namek, still wearing the embarrassed expression, had no choice but to follow along. Good grief, the woman barely came up to his chest and she was pushing HIM around! But he did loosen up eventually, moving like this was kind of nice. He linked his fingers through hers the right way and took the lead - if he'd already made a fool of himself he might as well go all the way.

Closing her eyes, ChiChi let her cheek rest against Piccolo's chest and smiled, "You're not half-bad at this."

"Feh." Piccolo grunted. He did take a small pleasure in his embarrassment when he glanced over to see Vegeta in the same boat.

The Saiyajin met his gaze and rolled his eyes, agreeing silently. Then he raised his arm and twirled Bulma around, making her smile and laugh in delight. Piccolo imitated Vegeta's motion and raised his arm gently. ChiChi picked up on what he was doing and allowed herself to be twirled an arm's length away. Piccolo placed a hand on her lower back and dipped her(a trick he saw on television, no less!). His white cape drifted down around them. ChiChi glanced up in time to see his lips stretch into a sly smirk. His ebony eyes had a roguish gleam.

Trunks, ever-sneaky with the camera, caught everything. He was snapping pictures like crazy.

After the music was turned off, Piccolo got out of there as fast as he could. The noise wasn't bothering him too much, but it was bothering Doramu. Plus, he was aching all over and wanted to be left alone.

In the meantime, Trunks walked into the room and noticed the camcorder was on. "Now how did that happen? Hm..." He turned it off, picked it up and re-wound the tape so he could watch what it filmed while unattended. He made a face and ran into the room where Tien, Yamcha, Bulma and Gohan were sitting around. He jammed the tape into the VCR and turned it on so he could listen as well as watch.

"Are you OK, Trunks?" Tien asked, looking at the purple-haired youth with his third eye.

"Yeah...but check this out." Trunks pointed to the screen where Piccolo was talking to Doramu. ChiChi appeared in the picture almost as soon as he took his finger away from the screen.

Gohan, Yamcha and Tien all went quiet and watched the screen in shock. Gohan almost fell over when he saw his mother kissing Piccolo. He didn't know whether to laugh or be grossed out. Finally he just laughed. Yamcha reached over to pat his back, "This is a good memory to keep."

"That is soooo sweet!" Bulma put her hands together under her chin. Her blue hair bounced against her neck as she turned and grinned at the others, "Let's save this tape and start a new one...just in case he blows up the camera."

"Good idea." Yamcha commented, popping open another can of soda. He reached under the VCR for one of the blank tapes and handed it over to Bulma. She grasped the black rectangular object and shoved it into the waiting compartment. Then she lifted it to her face and turned it on to make sure everything was in working order.

"Guys! Get that cam-corder ready! We're gonna get Piccolo real good this time! Be ready to run afterwards!" Krillin called from the living room.

Everyone looked at each other and grinned. Then came a mad dash for "ammo" and stampeded for the door. They all met in the yard where Piccolo was meditating; Doramu was in ChiChi's care at the moment so he could spend some time alone.

Bulma, safe inside with Doramu, worked the camcorder to capture the sneak attack about to happen. Though she considered it to be a childish prank, it still sounded as if the outcome would be pretty funny.

"Bulma, Gohan and I are going to get set up at home. Let Piccolo know when he settles down."

"Okay, ChiChi!"

"See ya later!"

"Bye, Gohan!"

Piccolo watched Gohan take off with ChiChi. He knew the others were there, but he didn't have a clue as to what they were doing. So he ignored them like he always did while they started passing brightly colored objects to one another and gathered behind the bushes. Yamcha put a hand up to keep everyone hidden while he peeked over the leaves.

Piccolo remained as he was, unmoving. Yamcha, now sure it was safe to attack, stood up from his hiding place and waved his hand. The others all straightened behind the bushes and snickered, taking careful aim at the unsuspecting Namek.

"NOW!!!!" Yamcha cried.

"Huh!?" Piccolo jerked his head up just in time to see brightly colored objects rushing at him from all directions. "Oh - " The Namek never got to finish his sentence. A handful of rubbery things came from random directions and exploded wetly all over his skin and clothes. Now soaked, Piccolo jumped up and snarled. He flung a few blasts to destroy the second wave of water-balloons and made several nasty death threats. The guilty group of people laughed and ran for their lives to signal the party was officially over.

It's a good thing birthdays only come once a year! Piccolo thought angrily as shook some water off his skin and clothes. Every year they found some obnoxious prank to play, whether it be an oddly placed bucket of water that somehow escaped his notice, or the squirt gun in the face that happened last year...and then there was an incident involving fly paper that he'd rather not recall...

"Are your eyes still closed?"

Piccolo frowned, his eyes firmly shut. He was standing in the hallway at the Son house, his weighted gear all piled up on the couch behind him. He wondered what the hell Gohan and ChiChi were trying to pull. "Yes, ChiChi, they've been closed since you told me to close them."

ChiChi patted his large green hand. "Just checking."

Gohan grabbed Piccolo's other arm. He stuck his tongue out at Piccolo's face. No response. Good, he wasn't cheating. "Okay, here we go."

The Namek rumbled wordlessly. He just hoped they didn't run him into a wall or something equally embarrassing. All three shuffled down the hallway and turned. Gohan darted out in front and led him through the door.

Piccolo wound up bumping his forehead against the top of the doorframe anyway. He growled at the offending obstacle. ChiChi's hand let go. Gohan scooted away.

"Okay," ChiChi watched Piccolo intently, excited to see his reaction, "You can look!"

Straightening his posture, Piccolo opened his eyes. Doramu squirmed around inside a brown bassinet set up against the wall between the foots of Piccolo's and Gohan's beds. A large cedar rocking chair gleamed in the corner, giving the room a fresh forest scent. Baby clothes and cloth diapers were laid in neat piles on top of a tiny dresser under the window. The clothes wouldn't fit Doramu now, but they would in the next few months.

The green warrior didn't know what to say. He looked from Gohan to ChiChi and back, then over at the bassinet. These people just gave him all this without him asking. He wasn't expecting such kindness. "I...don't know what to say. It's nice...I...hmm."

"Here, go sit in the rocking chair."

Piccolo did as ChiChi told him. He could tell someone adjusted the chair for his specific height. It allowed him to sit down without his knees sloping upwards. He rather liked knowing someone went to all the trouble just for him.

"Perfect size! The wood's pretty strong too, so it won't break on you if you sit down too hard." Gohan held the chair steady while Piccolo put his bottom on it. He glanced back and saw his mother swaddling Doramu in a soft white blanket.

Piccolo twisted around in the chair to follow his student's gaze. "What's up?"

"Nothing, it's OK." ChiChi was already upon him with Doramu cradled in her arms. She handed him to Piccolo. "Now you just push with your feet and the chair will rock. All babies love to be rocked and this will let you hold him and rock at the same time."

Blinking, Piccolo let his back rest against the chair's backing and flexed his legs. The chair rocked back. A few false starts later he'd established a nice, gentle rhythm. Doramu fell asleep almost instantly. Piccolo watched, amazed. He stopped rocking and the baby instantly scrunched his face up, only to settle down again once the gentle motion resumed.

Amusing... the Namek chuckled to himself, if I didn't have Doramu I would've been insulted by such gifts. As long as nobody else sees me using this thing I think I'll be all right.

A hand came down on his shoulder, breaking the spell. Piccolo found himself staring up at Gohan's smiling face. Scents from the kitchen gave him an idea of where ChiChi disappeared to. He felt Gohan's hand lift from his shoulder. "Well, looks like dinner will be here soon. Happy birthday from my mom and I."

Gohan was almost out the door when Piccolo called out, "Hey, kid..."



Gohan smiled. He faced forward and continued down the hall. Piccolo relaxed fully into the wooden rocking chair, fixed his gaze on the window and resumed his earlier rhythm. He looked down at Doramu and tears blurred his vision. They were quickly blinked away and shoved down under his iron control.

Why all these emotions all of a sudden? I didn't give a damn before. Now my heart swells every time they give me something I don't ask for. I don't get it...is my brain getting sick? Piccolo shook his head at himself. He focused solely on the soft creaking sounds the chair made with each rock.

Honestly, this isn't half-bad. Maybe my life still matters after all. That thought made him smile again. He looked down at Doramu in his arms and caressed the top of his tiny green head. The baby stretched his wrinkled fingers and cooed softly. Thank you, Doramu. You gave my life purpose again. Something to live for.

Who can say where the road goes,
Where the day flows?
Only time...

ChiChi was awoke to someone clinking in the kitchen. It wasn't uncommon for Gohan to wake up and grab a snack in the middle of the night. But he never made a sound, except maybe to shove a drawer shut or accidentally drop something.

Almost on cue to give away the next clue, the clinking stopped and the faucet hissed. Now ChiChi knew something was up, because Doramu wasn't crying and Piccolo never got up in the middle of the night for anything.

Sighing to herself, she climbed out of bed and donned her robe on the way to the kitchen. Just as she thought, Piccolo was facing the sink and downing a glass of water. He wore nothing more than a pair of primitive "underwear". The meager garment was the same color as his gi and resembled a sumo wrestler's sash.

And it left very little to the imagination.

ChiChi couldn't help but drink in the sight of his near naked body, she'd never seen him in anything less than his fighting gi. For the life of her she never imagined Piccolo having...one hell of a body. He was pure muscle and bone, not one ounce of fat anywhere. His endless legs stretched out from below a very firm butt. His upper body looked rock-hard, sloping into the soft curves of his neck and bald green head. Sick or not, the sight of him standing in the kitchen was one of the sexiest things she'd ever seen in her life.

And who can say if your love grows,
As your heart chose?
Only time...

Piccolo finished drinking and laid the glass gently in the sink. Oblivious of ChiChi's presence, he placed his hands flat on the counter and sighed a bit, letting his head hang. He was shaking all over and covered in a layer of glistening sweat, having awakened from a nightmare he'd rather not remember.

ChiChi couldn't stand to see him that way for a moment more. She stepped daintily into the kitchen. "Piccolo?"

He turned quickly as if an attacker just called out his name. Glistening streaks created vertical patterns beneath his eyes, mostly originating from the inner and outer corners. Had he been crying?

"ChiChi...what are you doing here?" Piccolo asked, not at all embarrassed at being seen in his state of undress.

Who can say why your heart sighs,
As your love flies?
Only time...

"I live here." She smirked and brushed a lock of black hair from her face. Her hair was down, hanging like waves of raven's wings against her purple robe and ivory neck. "What are you doing here? Are you all right?"

Piccolo blinked a bit and turned his head to avoid her gaze, aware that she seemed able to read his feelings by looking into his eyes. For some reason he thought she looked pretty with her hair down. "I had a nightmare." He admitted slowly, allowing his shoulders to hunch. "And I couldn't fall back to sleep, so I got up." His tone hardened, "Why?"

And who can say why your heart cries,
When your love dies?
Only time...

ChiChi's shoulders rose and fell as she shrugged. She reached up to wipe the tear streaks from his cheeks, "I was worried, that's all. Thought maybe you needed help with something." His expression softened a little at her touch, something he still hadn't gotten used to. She smiled a little and gave one of his antennae a playful flick, "I can help you get some sleep, if you want. I'll be in my room while you think about it."

The warmth of her hand retreated from his face before he could formulate a reply. He watched her disappear into the hallway and blinked in amazement. One touch and his emotions raced all over again. All he could hear was his heart throbbing at a higher pace than normal to drown out all other sounds of the night.

Who can say when the roads meet,
That love might be,
In your heart.

ChiChi barely had enough time to sit down on her bed before she realized someone else was approaching her room. She looked up to find Piccolo's imposing form standing in her doorway. Even though it was dark she could see his eyes glittering dimly. She smiled and patted the mattress beside her. "Come on over by me."

Piccolo hesitantly walked forward and stopped at the foot of the bed. He crossed his arms expectantly. "Well?"

ChiChi giggled and grabbed him around the waist, using a simple martial arts move to knock him facedown onto the bed.

And who can say when the day sleeps,
If the night keeps all your heart?
Night keeps all your heart...

"What the?!"

"Will you just relax?" She laughed and placed her hands gently on his muscular shoulders. His hard muscles were like rocks against her fingertips and palms. "You're all tense. Here, just settle down." She began to knead them like dough. Piccolo hissed through his teeth and rolled his shoulders. ChiChi felt him start to relax almost immediately. Her focus shifted to his back, long passes of her hands following the length of his spine, still amazed by his physique. It seemed so human, yet so alien at the same time. "Hey, Piccolo? Mind if I ask you something?"

Piccolo, who could feel his eyes growing heavier as the massage continued to relax him, replied with, "Yeah?"

Who can say if your love grows,
As your heart chose?
Only time...

"What does the name 'Doramu' translate to in English? Gohan told me yours means 'off-worlder' or something like that in your native language...and I'm curious." She moved her palms in small circles between his shoulderblades. The pressure caused a few of his vertebrae to pop and crackle back into alignment. "What does it mean?"

And who can say where the road goes,
Where the day flows?
Only time...

Turning onto his side, Piccolo smiled against his arm and answered in a single word, "Hope."

"Hope...what a beautiful name." ChiChi smiled and slid her hand around to his smooth chest. The hard muscles twitched at the new contact. She lost herself in the different textures of his taut leather flesh. Her hands wandered unwarranted to his washboard stomach.

Piccolo blinked at the hands feeling all over his body. It felt...strange. Suddenly she was kissing her way down his back. Being kissed on the mouth was one thing. But down his back?

ChiChi returned to her senses when Piccolo loudly cleared his throat. She blushed and scooted away, embarrassed by her actions. "Oh! Oh dear...I-I'm sorry! It's just that it's been so long since I was with someone. I miss having another warm body next to me in my bed when I sleep."

Who knows?
Only time...

Piccolo pretended he was already asleep so he didn't have to react to ChiChi's comment. He waited until her breathing signified she was asleep before allowing himself to scoot closer, press himself gently against her back and experimentally wrap his arms around her sleeping form. The warmth of her soft body and the fresh floral scent of her hair wasn't as bad as he thought. "It's fine, ChiChi, don't worry about it." He whispered against her hair. Then, too tired to move, he relaxed and fell asleep right there.

For just a moment, ChiChi awoke to feel the Namek's strong arms wrapped around her body. A smile crept across her lips as she drifted back to sleep.

Who knows?
Only time...

A few months later, ChiChi was washing the dishes when she happened to look up and see Piccolo standing outside. The wind was playing on his cape, causing it to swish and swirl like a flag. He seemed so calm and collected like he was meditating while wide awake and standing up. Doramu dozed peacefully in the crook of his arm - dressed in a pair of overalls. One of many outfits given to him on Piccolo's birthday.

Doramu had grown a little in the past few months. Gone was the gauntness of his newborn days, he was a cute, chubby, babbly little guy. He wasn't quite old enough to sit up and crawl yet, but he was getting there. Oftentimes, Piccolo would look down at him and find it hard to believe he was once the gaunt, helpless little thing that hatched just a few months previous.

While Doramu grew stronger, his father weakened. Signs of illness were becoming visible on Piccolo's features and body. He'd lost a lot of weight, enough to make his clothes hang more loosely than before. His cheekbones were more pronounced than they used to be, his muscles had shrunk a little and his thick neck no longer fit snugly inside the collar of his heavy shoulderpads. He tired much faster while training, sometimes so much so that Gohan had to carry him back inside, and he was beginning to spend a lot of time alone in quiet contemplation.

Like he was now.

Dishes clanked together as ChiChi put them all down into the sink to soak for awhile. She dried her hands off, untied her apron and walked outside to stand next to Piccolo. Not a word left her mouth. She stood there with him in the wind, having learned there were times when he wanted quiet and times when he wanted to speak.

Piccolo finally took a deep breath and spoke when the passing breeze died down, "Do you know what today is?"

"Friday." ChiChi answered instantly.

He shook his head and smirked slightly as he inhaled the scents of the outdoors. Then he sighed and his nostrils flared, "That too, but it's also D-day."

"What?" She frowned and looked up at him in confusion.

"It's Death-Day." Piccolo turned to face the dark-haired woman. His eyes gleamed a little and he showed ChiChi a thin, lopsided grin. The first one she'd ever seen from him. His teeth were all perfectly straight and intensely white. The fangs gave it character.

Why did the dark, mysterious ones always have the most beautiful smiles?

"The six months are up. I was supposed to be dead by today." He chuckled bitterly, "Looks like I'm on borrowed time from here on out."

"Oh," ChiChi reached up and touched his face gently, feeling him give the slightest recoil. Tears welled up in her eyes as she leaned up to kiss him softly. Piccolo closed his eyes and parted his lips to accept her kiss, but did nothing to kiss her back. No intense sensations came up this time. He figured it was a one-time fluke.

Doramu stirred in Piccolo's arms, yawning as he opened his huge eyes. One of his tiny hands grasped his father's gi top. He shoved three fingers into his mouth and smiled. His smile widened when he realized his movement got his father's attention.

Piccolo held Doramu up so they were nose to nose, just watching him smile and listening to him babble. He could literally sense the little one's giggly emotions like bubbles rising in a champagne bottle. "He seems so happy...what could make a child so happy?"

ChiChi watched them together, smiled and said, "I think he's just happy to be alive." She giggled. The wind played with her black hair, "He learned it from you."

Gah...this is getting overly-sentimental. Piccolo thought silently. He smirked at ChiChi's comment. To change the subject, he whispered, "That tournament is in one more week..."

"Yeah, I know. There's ads for it in every other commercial on TV these days. And I keep getting flyers in the mail..." She rolled her eyes and smiled, taking Doramu's hand when he held it out towards her. "What do you think of all this? Hm?" Her tone changed to cutesy as she babytalked at the baby Namek. Then, growing serious again, she said, "Well, I have to go prepare breakfast. Do yourself a favor and take a day off. You look like you need rest."

"Humph!" Piccolo snorted, "I'm fine, ChiChi."


Piccolo landed a hard left hook on Gohan's jaw, knocking him down. "C'mon Gohan! You can do better than this! Don't be weak." He taunted, stepping back and regaining his fighting stance. A thin trail of blood was dribbling from the corner of his mouth, the result a hit he'd taken in the teeth earlier. He could taste the coppery substance on his tongue whenever he licked his lips.

Gohan rubbed his face and sat up, "I think I need a break." He grinned stupidly like his father used to do. When the Namek glared at him, he jumped up, tried to hip-toss him and wound up getting slammed back into the ground. The glaring eyes bore down upon him, but he just laughed, "Almost got you that time..."

"Enough. I'm not here to play games. This tournament is important to me, Gohan. I won't have the strength to fight any more after it's over." Piccolo stated plainly and matter-of-factly.

Blinking, Gohan stood up and the humor left his face. He had yet to completely accept what was happening to Piccolo. It still caused him great pain to be reminded of it. Piccolo meant the world to him; if he hadn't met him, he'd have never become the fighter he was today. "Sorry...just trying to have a little fun."

"Fun?! FUN!!!?" Piccolo bore his fangs and snarled, lifting Gohan off the ground by the collar. He brought himself face to face with the young half-Saiyajin, growling almost directly into his ear. Shaking, Gohan gulped and tried to squirm away. Then Piccolo leaned over next to his ear and whispered, "Gotcha." He let Gohan go and smirked at the look on his face.

Gohan rubbed the back of his neck for a moment before it sank in. He'd been had by Piccolo! Piccolo played a nasty prank! "Yeah..." He laughed, "You got me!"

In the house, ChiChi listened to the brief laughter while holding Doramu. She smiled and pointed to Piccolo while speaking softly to the baby, "Yeah, that's your daddy..."

"Ahhgah." Doramu gurgled happily.

"He's gonna fight in a tournament tomorrow. Yeah, he is!" She bounced him gently on her hip the way she did to Gohan when he was a baby. "I just hope he can stay in the whole tournament...he doesn't look too well today."

Giggling, Doramu clapped his hands together and watched the activities outside. A trickle of drool was running out of the corner of his mouth and pooling on his bib, which had the words 'Spit Happens' printed on it. He grabbed the bib and shoved a corner into his mouth. His way of saying he wanted water.

"Hey, don't eat your own drool, silly!" ChiChi laughed at his efforts and took him into the kitchen so she could feed him with the large eye-dropper. Doramu had learned his water came from the eye-dropper, so he always tried to reach up and squeeze it himself whenever he could. His hands were too uncoordinated to grip it. ChiChi chuckled at his attempts and helped him squeeze the bulb.

Outside, Piccolo and Gohan punched each other out and stood, panting under the hot sun. Piccolo signaled for a break and sat down. Sweat was pouring off his face and neck in such copious amounts that dark circles had formed around the underarms and neckline of his gi. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to finish the tournament anymore, but he did plan on being there anyway. Even if it killed him. One last good battle was all he wanted.

"Are you all right?" Gohan asked worriedly as he sat down beside his mentor.

"Would you stop worrying about me every time I decide to take a break?"

"...sorry." He touched his index fingers together guiltily while listening to the Namek pant for air.

Piccolo brushed the matter aside and looked up towards the sky with a sigh. He licked his salty lips and took a slow breath, "Gohan...if we end up competing against each other for some reason or another, I don't want you to hold anything back or let your feelings get in the way. I'm going to be ruthless in there, and I'm not going to break off like I do in training." He turned his head to fix his intense gaze on his student and best friend, "Do you promise to give it your all?"

Gohan looked up and brushed a few strands of his rebellious hair away from his eyes. "I promise...but I want you to promise me something too, Piccolo." He met his mentor's gaze.

"What promise is that?" Piccolo asked simply.

"Don't die..."

"Gohan..." His dark eyes softened slightly and a hot lump swelled in the back of his throat, "C'mon, kid, you know I can't promise you that." Gohan sniffed and looked down, only to be surprised by Piccolo reaching over to drape an arm around his shoulders. "I know it's hard...and it hurts, but you have to let me go, Gohan. Everybody dies, some sooner than others, and you have to accept that."

"I don't want to accept it!" Gohan hissed insistently. "You deserve better than this..."

"You're probably right, but life's a bitch and then you die. Simple as that." The Namek muttered cynically. Shadows fell across his angular cheeks as he grew serious and regarded the youth beside him with intense eyes, "Gohan, I don't want you to bury me when I die."

Gohan looked up with his eyes crossed and his eyebrows drawn together. "Don't want to be buried? What are you talking about?" Then he blinked and seemed to get the idea, "Why not?"

"Because I hate being enclosed, I hate being cold and I don't want to become a rotting pile of something that insects or animals will chew on." Piccolo shifted his gaze away from Gohan and looked towards the sky. "So don't put me in a tomb, underground, or do anything that involves just covering me up." He was speaking of death as if he would be trapped eternally in a body that ceased to function, but continued to feel.

The teenager sneered and pulled away from the arm wrapped around his shoulders, "If I can't bury your body, then what do you want me to do with it?"

"Simple." A gleam came to the green man's eye, "Burn it and let the wind scatter my ashes."

"So that's it? You want me to just erase what's left of you?"

Piccolo looked up at the sky. "You won't erase me, Gohan. You'll just help me return to the dust from which I came."

Gohan jumped to his feet and scowled, feeling a sudden knot of anger wrench tight in his chest. He felt as if talking about death would bring the fate around sooner and he wanted to stay with Piccolo for as long as possible. "Let's not talk about this anymore, OK? It feels...morbid."

"It's life, Gohan."

The half-Saiyajin bristled, "No...no it's not! I just don't want to talk about you dying, Piccolo! I can't stand to even think about it!"

"You're being foolish!" It was Piccolo's turn to get angry, "Denying it the way you are is making you weak!" He got to his feet and flipped his cape over his shoulder. "Gohan, listen to me. Denying my fate is like Vegeta denying the fact that he can be defeated. If you don't face it now, it'll cause you ten times the pain later."

"I don't care!" Gohan forced a stream of power through his feet and rose a few meters into the air. A throbbing vein appeared on his forehead, "Do you realize how powerless I feel each time I see your face and know that I can't save your life!?" He waved his hand dismissively, "No, of course not. You're too busy thinking about that stupid tournament!"

Piccolo felt his eyes burn. He walked up to Gohan and slugged him in the stomach, knocking him out of the air. Gohan took flight again, making an attempt to escape, but the Namek easily caught his angry student by the ankle and wrestled him to the ground.

"Get off!" Gohan snarled, struggling against the weight pressing down squarely on his back. A pair of knees dug painfully into his kidneys. He cried out. "Piccolo!! Get off me!"

"Gohan! What are you afraid of!?" The Namek snarled, bearing his weight down to force it out, "Tell me before I rip it from your throat!"

The question came like a stinging slap to the face. Gohan just about snapped. Focusing on the power that oozed from every pore in his body, he felt strands of his hair rise. He passed the barrier of normal power. A golden aura erupted as he exploded into Super Saiyajin. The shockwave he generated was sufficient enough to toss Piccolo off.

Piccolo flipped over, landed delicately on his feet and lowered into a stance. A pale aura surrounded his outline like a ghostly mist as he prepared to fight Gohan off again.

"You wanna know what I'm afraid of?" Gohan breathed the words in an acid tone. His brilliant turquoise eyes bore into his mentor's black ones. He walked forward a few steps, still surrounded in the golden aura of his anger, "I'm afraid of living without you. Your life is mine, what else is there after you're gone from me? Let that simmer in your thick skull for awhile, you green bastard." As soon as the words left his mouth, he took off and disappeared over the hills.

Piccolo stood there like a statue, too surprised and shocked to give chase for a second time. Gohan's words stung him. Coming from a foe those words wouldn't even phase him. But from Gohan...that was another story. He growled to himself and lowered into the lotus position for a round of meditation. His focus was solely on one question: Why won't Gohan accept what is happening? What is it that makes him fear life without me?

Half an hour passed without Piccolo moving from his contemplative position. A small buzz went off in the back of his mind as he sensed an approaching power, but he chose not to look up when a shadow fell over his form. He already knew who it was.


"What is it, Gohan?" The Namek replied coolly.

"Sorry for getting so upset. I was just mad that you saw right through me. I didn't mean what I said," Gohan's expression sobered as he extended a hand towards his mentor, "Friends?"

Piccolo's dark eyes slid open to focus on the slightly scarred hand. He smirked and slapped it away, his version of a handshake. "Water under the bridge, kid." Then he got to his feet, towering a good head-and-shoulders over his student, "Ready to resume training?"


Tien flexed his arm as he tightened his wristbands. Yamcha slowly tied the belt of his gi into place. Krillin put his foot on the bench and went about tying the ties on his boot. None of them said a word until the door opened to reveal Piccolo and Gohan.

"Wow...he's still alive?" Yamcha whispered from under the shirt he was pulling over his head.

"He's tough." Krillin whispered back, "Believe me..."

"Yeah, I know." Yamcha said back as he brushed his hair and put it into a ponytail so he wouldn't be hindered by it later. "But look at him...should he really be - "

"Hello Piccolo, Gohan." Tien interrupted Yamcha's sentence as he stepped forward to Piccolo and Gohan, "How are you doing?"

Piccolo's only reply was a scowl as he walked to a secluded spot and sat down to meditate, making last-minute mental preparations for the upcoming tournament. Gohan just waved and grinned excitedly, "I'm doing great! Can't wait to get out there and show off my moves."

Krillin just laughed, then looked to the door at the tall blue-eyed man with a stubble-covered double chin, mustache and curly black hair that had just walked in. "Oh great...look what just walked in."

"You're all going down, punks!" Mr. Satan taunted, then barked a laugh as he walked to another part of the locker room to get ready. The sound of obnoxious training music began to blast through the area as he 'warmed up'. "Cell may have beaten me, but he used cheap tricks! I'm ALL REAL!"

"Get a life." Yamcha muttered while spreading some grease over his skin to make it seem more shiny than normal.

Piccolo gritted his teeth as the loud noise of Mr. Satan's music grated on his nerves. He took a dose of pain medicine, then rubbed his temples and tried to tune out the annoying racket. It didn't work; an intense pang soon overtook him, causing him to double forward and growl.

Tien noticed Piccolo's discomfort and moved to his side, placing a hand carefully on his white shoulderpad. "Are you OK, Piccolo?"

"Just...gimme...a sec..." He breathed while keeping his sweaty face hidden. The others noticed Tien standing with Piccolo and headed over to see what was going on, but Piccolo stood up and growled at them all. "Will you STOP freaking out whenever I feel a stupid pain!?! It's getting old!"

"Sorry..." Tien mumbled, then walked out to the main arena where the tournament was going to take place. He could see ChiChi, Doramu, Trunks, Bulma and Vegeta in the stands. Vegeta had tried to enter the tournament, only to be disqualified for going Super Saiyajin during the qualifying matches.

Yamcha, the next one to be yelled at for trying to help, joined Tien a few seconds later, followed by Krillin. Gohan and Piccolo came out together a few minutes later, followed by Mr. Satan and a tall man with a braid and mechanical goggles.

"Get out of my way!" Mr. Satan pushed past the man with the braid. As soon as he walked out into view, the crowd started to cheer him on. He seemed to drink the attention in like a sponge, pumping his arms into the air and beating his chest like an idiot.

Gohan ignored Mr. Satan and blinked over at the guy with the braid, "General Tao is here too? Golly...I wonder who else will show up..."

Piccolo was too busy tuning everything else out to even care about the conversation. Sounds echoed in his ears, camera flashes blinded him and the world seemed to be swimming. He was in so much pain he nearly rose and left the arena. His pride, however, prevented him that luxury. So sat in silent agony while the others chattered excitedly, waiting for the tournament to begin.

The announcer said something over the microphone, but Piccolo didn't even hear that. He did manage to stand up and nod when the name 'Ma Jr.' was called, but other than that he tried to move as little as possible.

Krillin was the first one to fight, and he beat Mr. Satan with ease by kicking him out of the ring. When Mr. Satan tried to sneak back in to continue the fight, he got disqualified from further competition. Amazingly, the crowd cheered for him anyway. And all the while, Krillin stood there like 'oh please'.

General Tao ran the moment he saw Gohan in the same ring as him. That made Gohan the winner of that match.

"Humph. Even Cell was more entertaining than this!" Piccolo commented from the sidelines while shaking his head. "Weaklings..."

Yamcha went up against a tall, skinny ninja, beating him with no problem. Tien fought another man similar to the ninja, also winning.

Piccolo was the last one to take part in the first round, and he could barely get into the ring, but he managed, looking majestic as ever with his white cape and shoulderpads. The little man he was going to fight took off running as soon as he saw the green man in the ring.

Again, the annoying announcer spoke up, making the next line-up. Yamcha wound up fighting Tien, Krillin wound up fighting Gohan and Piccolo was allowed to sit out for one match since there weren't enough people to give him a competitor. It was a good thing too; he needed the rest.

"Well, looks like we're gonna have to call this a 'spar for real', eh?" Yamcha commented as he took on a careful stance before his friend Tien.

Tien rolled all three eyes and tightened his fists until his knuckles cracked, "Yes, I suppose. Give me your best." He lowered into his fighting stance while watching his opponent.

The tension mounted as both men stared each other down without blinking. Glistening sweat began to trickle down their faces from the harsh sunlight. All around them, like waves crashing against a distant shore, was the dull drone of voices in the crowd.

Finally, Yamcha inched forward and started the match with a surprise high-kick that knocked Tien on his rear. Turning around, Tien hip-tossed the handsome young man to the ground and buried his elbow in the hollow of his gut. Yamcha gave a yell of pain, and his ponytail flew as he tried to sweep Tien. Leaping up to dodge the quick move, Tien spun around, extended his leg at the last second spin-kicked Yamcha to the ground. Yamcha got up and the two started a hit-and-block routine. He was once again sent to the ground with a hand wrapped firmly around his ponytail.

Various cheers and boos went up, depending on who was rooting for who. The voices of ChiChi and Bulma came clear above everyone else, though what they were saying was lost in the distance.

"C'mon Yamcha..." Tien hissed through blood-stained teeth from an uppercut he received earlier. The sweat on his brow stung his third eye as he eased back into a stance, muscles tense and eyes focused. "You're being sloppy!"

"I'm just getting warmed up," Yamcha rolled to his feet and scissor-kicked Tien in the jaw, not taking the time to see how his move affected his opponent. He landed and looked around at the suddenly empty ring, "What the..." He couldn't find Tien anywhere!. "Where - "

Two Tiens grabbed Yamcha by the arms and tossed him out of the ring, only to both be grabbed by the belt and dragged out too. The match was declared a tie, so both would continue on.

"Good match, Yamcha." Krillin patted Yamcha on the back as he passed, and flashed Tien a thumbs-up.

Yamcha coughed, "Thanks...hey Tien, I thought you said you weren't gonna do that here. Never trust bald men..." He grinned.

Krillin and Tien sweatdropped. Piccolo just growled at the 'foolishness'.

Gohan hopped up into the ring and waved to Piccolo. Then he grew serious an turned towards the center, waiting for his opponent. Krillin's bald head gave off a bright sheen as he stepped onto the cold stone tiling and walked towards his competitor.

This will be no problem for Gohan... Piccolo thought with pride as he watched Gohan start the fight with a small Kamehameha that Krillin easily dodged.

Gohan was very intense, muscles tight and glistening. He narrowed his eyes on Krillin and waited for him to make the next move. Krillin came to a halt in front of Gohan and took on a similar stance. The only thing to disturb them was the wind that ruffled their clothing, and for a time, nobody in the arena made a sound.

All of a sudden, Gohan disappeared in a blur of vertical lines. He reappeared behind a surprised Krillin and dug his knee into the base of the smaller man's spine. Krillin was knocked forward several feet and teetered precariously on the edge of the ring. He managed to save himself by performing a quick whip-back that landed him about six feet from his previous location.


"YAAAAH!!" Gohan flew straight for Krillin, who cartwheeled aside at the last second. He turned around with a sharp kick that connected with the back of the bald guy's head, creating a sickening thud. Krillin saw stars and his vision flashed. Down he went, and Gohan lowered his guard. "Krillin! Are you OK?"

Krillin recovered his senses and jumped up, smashing his foot into Gohan unprotected gut. Gohan grimaced in pain as the wind was knocked briefly from his lungs. He leapt up to begin a very intense hit-and-block routine with his opponent. The force of Gohan's punches were shoving Krillin towards the edge of the ring, despite his efforts to keep his footing. Krillin tried to fight back, but a surprise kick below the belt brought him to his knees as the world exploded with bright lights and pain.

Every movement made pain shoot through the apex of his thighs, forcing him to signal that he couldn't continue. Gohan linked an arm around Krillin's waist to help him walk out of the ring. The smaller man accepted the help and leaned on his winning opponent.

"Whoa! Hey Krillin! How's the jewels?" Yamcha asked with a small chuckle as Krillin was helped to sit on a bench

"Don't...ask..." Krillin answered in a voice about two octaves higher than. Gohan sweatdropped apologetically and offered him an ice pack. The bald man took it and promptly sat with it pressed firmly between his legs.

"We are next, Piccolo." Tien announced after reading the roster on the edge of the ring. "Are you sure you are OK to compete?"

Piccolo wanted to say no, that he just wanted to lay down and die right there, but he wanted to finish this tournament. Without speaking, he nodded and flipped his cape back as he headed up into the ring. He unintentionally made a small show of removing his cape and turban while Tien entered and stood in front of him.

Tien noticed Piccolo taking his cape and turban off, and blinked. Piccolo never took his weighted gear off unless he needed extra speed and strength. To do it this early could only mean he was weakening by the hour.

"Good luck."

Piccolo nodded, "You too." Then he eased himself into his graceful stance and waited. He was sweating heavily and trembling, his body aching all over. Part of him was wondering if he was really supposed to be standing where he was. The other part, however, won the entire inner argument by reminding him that it was too late to turn back.

Neither of the two men moved for quite some time. Piccolo's tremors were very noticeable in the stillness as he lowered one arm into a ready position. Tien matched the motion of readiness and kept his eyes his opponents moving limb.

It was Piccolo that made the first move. He launched forward and buried his knee in Tien's gut. When Tien doubled over, the Namek brought his elbow down on the other man's exposed spine. The triclops gagged from both impacts and pushed the heel of his hand into Piccolo's face, shoving him back. As soon as he could regain his footing, he was leaping towards the green man, a fist drawn back. Piccolo caught the oncoming fist and Tien found his own momentum being used to smash his body painfully into the stone floor.


"Pathetic? I'll show you pathetic!" Tien got up and started a rapid hit-and-block routine, which Piccolo was easily keeping up with.

A blast of pain shot across Piccolo's consciousness as he fought to keep Tien's punches from hitting him in the mouth. He lost all sense of what he was doing and seemed to become the monster he was before he met Gohan. The rest of the match was all a haze that made no sense, and when Piccolo managed to rise above the veil of pain, Tien was K.O.ed on the floor with bruises all over his body.

Saying nothing in regards to what he'd done, Piccolo slowly walked out of the ring and sat down alone to catch his breath. Nobody in the audience made a sound for the longest time as Tien was rushed out on a stretcher. He was alright, just unconscious, but the paramedics wanted to check him out anyway. If they had known Piccolo's condition, they would have labeled him unfit to fight. But of course, as always, he made such a fuss over the blood tests designed to look for steroids and other drugs that they gave up and let him compete.

Gohan sat worriedly next to Piccolo, not even daring ask if he was alright for fear of getting a fierce retort. Instead, he watched his Namekian friend swallow another pill and grimace. He was sweating so heavily that dark circles were marking the underarms and neckline of his loose-fitting purple gi. My God...he looks so weak and tired. What is he trying to prove by staying in this tournament?

"Grab a towel and hand it to me."

With a nod, Gohan obediently grabbed a towel off the bench and tossed it to Piccolo. "Anything else I can do for you, Piccolo?"

"No, I'll be fine in a minute, Gohan...just let me rest." He answered softly, catching the towel one-handed and using it to wipe the copious amounts of sweat from his face and neck. Leaving the towel around his neck, Piccolo lowered his head to meditate while the pain pills began to take the edge off his agony. He soon sank into a soundless void that didn't lift when the announcer called out the next match.

"Piccolo, wake up. Hey! You're up against Gohan." Piccolo was awakened from his reverie by Krillin patting him on the back. Had he lost consciousness? It was possible; he couldn't remember anything about the match between Gohan and Yamcha, and he usually remembered everything from every match in a tournament. "C'mon, someone's gonna suspect pretty soon!"

"Enough!" Piccolo uncurled into a standing position. He scowled at Krillin as he tossed the towel in his face and walked slowly past him to step gracefully into the ring. This my last fight... He thought as he approached the center of the massive stone floor and looked around to memorize the arena one last time.

Gohan watched Piccolo stand there in silence, still awed by his presence. Even though the Namek looked like he was going to keel over at any second and his eyes had lost their energetic luster, Gohan knew he still had a lot of fight left in him.

"Gohan..." Piccolo extended his hand and placed it carefully onto Gohan's shoulder, "I want you to give me your absolute best. Hold nothing back." He smiled ever-so-slightly and squeezed his student's muscular shoulder, "Good luck, kid. Whatever happens, just remember that I'm proud of you today."

"Thanks!" Gohan smiled back, "Don't hold back either, Piccolo. And good luck to you too." He said as the hand withdrew from his shoulder. He quickly backed up, took on his fighting stance and waited. Piccolo did the same, and they both locked eyes as the match officially began.

Abiding by Piccolo's wishes, Gohan emitted a shrill cry and charged the Namek full force. Piccolo side-stepped the attempt and turned around to catch the young man with a backfist. With his nose smarting from the hit, Gohan ducked below a forceful uppercut and rolled forward to smash the heel of his hand into his mentor's jaw.

They froze in that position for several heartbeats. Then a rapid hit-and-block dance began and traveled all over the ring.

Piccolo could taste blood on his tongue, and his arms were horribly bruised from the repeated blows. He was fighting just to stay conscious, the pain in his joints growing almost overwhelming. Gohan kept coming and coming, just like he'd been taught, but his punches weren't jarring his vision like they normally would.

"Gohan! You're holding back!" Piccolo shouted as he caught Gohan's wrist, palm-punched him in the face and knocked him to the ring floor. He jammed his toe between the half-Saiyajin's ribs and snarled, "What did I tell you about holding back!?"

Gohan growled and rolled to the side, pushing the Namek off his ribs. He blurred from sight, reappeared behind Piccolo and faked a kick. While Piccolo's face was turned to the foot, he buried his fist between the Namek's shoulderblades, "Not anymore..."

"Better..." The Namek grimaced at the pain as he regained his balance, turned and charged at Gohan again. The kick he attempted missed, and he felt his leg being wrenched out from under him. He looked up just in time to see Gohan coming at him with his eyes ablaze and his fist pulled back. He planted his palms in the stone and pushed off, launching himself straight at the oncoming body. Gohan's world exploded with pain as the soles of Piccolo's feet smacked full-force into his face.

Up in the audience, ChiChi watched the match nervously while bouncing Doramu on her knee. She didn't want Gohan to get hurt, but at the same time, she was worried about Piccolo's health. Even from that distance, she could tell he was in pain.

"Be careful you two..." She whispered.

"Baka!" Vegeta yelled towards the ring when one of the combatants blundered a move and got knocked down. His hair seemed to bristle as his shouts became more obscene and jeering. He didn't seem to notice when the people around him began muttering angrily.

"I'm sure everything is under control down there." Bulma chided, then cupped her hands by her mouth and cheered the two on.

Down in the ring, a sickening thud rang out as Piccolo's body impacted the ground. He was very slow to get up, and he swayed on his feet when he did. Everything was swimming around him. He could feel the blood rushing through his ears and hear the loud echoing thud of his own heart pounding. His mouth was filled with the musky taste of blood. His vision was blurred and double.

Gohan waited in silent tension for his mentor to make a move. He eased slowly into his fighting stance when he saw the Namek doing the same, but something wasn't right.

Piccolo's eyes were glassy and moist. His head was pounding to match the pulsing muscle in his chest. Gohan's movements left trails across his field of view, sounds echoed in his ears and the air felt suddenly stuffy. He could feel a pang coming on, one more intense than any he had ever felt before, and realized he couldn't catch his breath. The world flickered as his strength gave out and forced him down to one knee.

A resounding gasp went off throughout the audience, though Gohan's seemed to be the loudest of all. "Piccolo!?"

"Unh...don't stop...now..." Piccolo forced himself back to his feet, having lost all sense of where he was and who was with him. He swayed drunkenly, his eyes fluttering and his head hanging. A cold, black void closed around the agony surrounding him, and his body toppled forward with the slowness of an ancient redwood. The impact created a thud that seemed to reach every corner of the arena.

"Piccolo!!" Gohan sprang forward to kneel at the Namek's side, only to gasp in horror. Piccolo's half-closed eyes were rolled back and his tongue lolled out limply against the stone floor. His green face was locked in a rictus of pain, even while he was unconscious. The half-Saiyajin lowered his cheek to the green man's mouth and closed his eyes in relief when he felt faint wisps of warm air. "Still alive..."

Yamcha and Krillin seemed to materialize out of nowhere, having escaped Gohan's notice as they approached. All three of them surrounded the Namek's unmoving frame, calling his name. A few people screamed as Vegeta flew down from the stands and joined he small crowd in the ring.

Have they no dignity!? The Saiyajin prince seemed to vibrate with annoyance, and he was the first to speak in a sensible manner after a time of watching everyone stand there like idiots, "You baka! Don't just stand there and stare at him!" He pointed a finger at Piccolo's unconscious form, his expression changing from annoyed arrogance to something unreadable. "Get him out of here!"

Yamcha and the others sneered at Vegeta while Gohan bent down, placed one hand under Piccolo's back, the other under his knees and hefted him up into his arms. The Namek's head and arms hung limply, and his body was like a deadweight in his student's arms. He didn't move, not even a twitch, as he was carried towards the edge of the ring.

Before Gohan could get very far, he heard the slow rhythmic sound of skin-on-skin behind him. He turned slowly to find Vegeta standing there with his expression intense, his legs planted and his body motionless. The only parts of him that moved were his hands as they came together, again and again.

After a moment of shocked silence, Yamcha walked up beside the Saiyajin prince, faced Gohan and joined in, clapping at the same rhythm. Krillin did the same. It continued for several minutes until a few people in the front row audience started to stand up and clap along with the three in the ring. The standing and clapping gradually spread around to the entire front row. It grew louder and louder as more people joined in, and the entire arena was soon filled with the deafening sound of strangely coordinated applause.

Gohan felt a lump swell in his throat and tears welled in his eyes as he met Vegeta's strangely subdued gaze, watching as a small smirk curled the corner of his mouth. When he looked down at Piccolo's face, he saw his eyelids twitch and watched as a brief smile cracked through the agonized grimace. Even while unconscious, he knew the pandemonium was directed at him.

As the roar of hands coming together continued all around, Gohan carried Piccolo out of the ring and headed towards the arriving ambulance with Yamcha, Krillin and Vegeta close behind.

Everyone met at the hospital where Piccolo had been taken. Most of them were stuck in the waiting room, but ChiChi, Doramu and Gohan were allowed in to sit with the ailing Namek, who was pretty upset to wake up in a hospital. His complaining and cussing could be heard all throughout the ward.

"Quit touching me with that stupid equipment!" He growled at the nurse that was trying to check his blood pressure, "Now!"

"Sir, please calm down." The nurse begged after managing to make him sit still long enough to take his blood pressure and writing the numbers down on her clipboard. "Right. I'll be back." She put the clipboard under her arm and walked briskly from the room.

"Piccolo, it's OK. We're getting you out of here." ChiChi whispered, handing a still-crying Doramu to his father. Piccolo took his screaming son into his arms and pulled him close to his chest, soothing away the tears. He made it a point to hate hospitals from that moment on, especially when the nurse walked in with a wheelchair.

"Sir, if you just sit down here, I'll wheel you out and the ambulance will take you home."

What Piccolo did next made Gohan smile and shake his head.

"I'm not leaving his place in that thing like a little weakling." Sneering, the Namek glared at the wheelchair and snarled, "I have legs, and I prefer to walk."


"I said: I prefer to walk." Piccolo extended his hand and blasted the hell out of the wheelchair, reducing it to rubble on the floor. The only wheel to stay intact spun on its edge and tipped over like a dropped coin. The Namek proceeded to stagger ever-so-slowly past the mess and the frightened nurse. His cape and turban materialized out of nowhere as he walked, and he smirked at the others when he reached the entrance. "I'll see you at the Son house." With that, he gathered what little energy he could still muster and flew away.

Back in the hospital, the nurse had gone after Piccolo's medical records to sign off his discharge. She blinked and her curly red hair nearly went straight when she saw what the records said. "This guy was fighting in a tournament with an end-stage terminal illness!? No way..."

A few weeks went by. The days seemed to run together for Piccolo as his health deteriorated. His muscles were starting to shrink, he was losing weight and pain was becoming more of a constant as each day passed. He was too stubborn to admit that he was getting too weak to get up out of bed and walk around without assistance. It wasn't uncommon to hear him fall or find him sitting on the floor, completely out of breath.

ChiChi watched Piccolo hobble through the living room and into the kitchen, laying a hand on the wall like an old man with severe arthritis. Instead of his gi, he was wearing a pair of Goku's pajamas, which consisted of black flannel leggings and an unbuttoned blue flannel shirt. They didn't quite fit. But they were easier to keep clean and more comfortable.

The woman looked away when Piccolo slumped breathlessly into the chair next to the couch. She continued rocking Doramu, who was dozing in her arms. "Piccolo, I don't know why you refuse to ask for someone to get you something. You need to save your strength."

Piccolo panted for a few moments before turning his head to scowl a little. Then his expression softened, "I'm not going down as a weakling if I can help it." He leaned forward and struggled to get up, putting a hand out to stop ChiChi when she got up to help. "I'm not an invalid, ChiChi. I can get out of a chair."

ChiChi sighed at his bull-headedness and resumed rocking Doramu. She watched Piccolo as he grasped the arms of the chair and used his hands to 'walk' himself into a standing position. He fell back into the chair twice. Watching him was agony. He finally gathered enough strength to push himself up. Once he was on his feet, he wheezed for breath and limped towards the room he shared with Gohan. Stopping twice in the hallway to rest before finally making it through the door. The distance was less than ten feet and he was completely exhausted from walking just that short way. He knew full well it was because the disease was spreading into his lungs. Why else would breathing seem so difficult?

"Hey, Piccolo." Gohan spoke without looking up from his studies. He didn't like watching him struggle over a simple act like walking.

As usual, Piccolo didn't answer. He nabbed a pill bottle off the bedside table. With shaking hands, the Namek tried to open the small container, but his coordination had really deteriorated. His spindly fingers merely slipped off the flip-up lid. Open, dammit! After fumbling with it for several minutes, he growled his frustration and flung the bottle across the room. It hit the wall above Gohan's head and shattered, causing pills to go flying everywhere.

"WHOA!" Gohan jumped out of his chair. A few pills landed in his unruly hair. "Hey! What the hell was that for?!"

"The damn thing wouldn't open!" Piccolo hissed. He grabbed a random pill off the desk and shoved it into his mouth. "Stupid pill bottle..." he lowered his gaze to his own hands and closed them into fists. They used to be such strong hands, with them he could pulverize anything. Now they couldn't even open a weak plastic pill container. What would he lose next?

Gohan began to rescue the little blue pills that had taken flight a few seconds ago and put them in a pile on his desk. "You need to start asking for help, Piccolo." He reached over and took his Namekian friend's hand, "I'd be glad to take care of anything you needed."

Piccolo eased himself into bed and stared up towards the ceiling while still clutching Gohan's hand. His other grasped the oxygen mask, which he held to his face. He breathed deeply from it like a smoker inhaling smoke fumes. It took a long time to get enough air for a full sentence. "Gohan...do you remember when you asked me if I was afraid to die, and I told you I was afraid of dying, but not death?" When the young man nodded, he continued, "What's happening to me now is exactly what I meant." Piccolo rolled onto his side and closed his eyes as angry thoughts raged through his mind. "It's in my lungs, Gohan. I can feel it."

"Piccolo..." Biting his lip, Gohan reached over and gently pulled the blankets up to Piccolo's shoulders. He smoothed them down over his mentor's frail frame and squeezed his arm gently through the material, "That's why your friends are here to take care of you. Not just your needs, but you too."

"Gohan?" Piccolo whispered.


"Shut up. You talk too much."

Blinking, a little hurt, Gohan got up and left the room, ignoring his pencil as it rolled off his desk and clattered hollowly to the floor. He went out into the living room where ChiChi was giving Doramu some water and sat down next to her. "Piccolo seems so angry...all I did was let him know I was there for him and he bit my head off!"

ChiChi nodded slowly in understanding and offered to let Gohan hold Doramu. He gladly took the little baby into his arms. She handed him the eyedropper and said, "He's just frustrated that he can't do the things he used to. I'm sure he feels like he should be out training or something."

Doramu hiccuped and giggled as Gohan put the eyedropper down to hold him up high. "Why is he so weak all of a sudden? I mean...he was fine until just after the tournament..." He looked down at Doramu, momentarily fixated by his huge black eyes. "...he hasn't been the same since he collapsed out there on the stage. I still haven't gotten him to tell me what caused it."

"Pain and exhaustion caused it." ChiChi reached over, placed her hand on Gohan's shoulder and gently whispered, "He's starting to die, Gohan. You'd think that dying is the moment when the body stops, but it isn't...it's a long mental and physical process." She lowered her hand to his arm and squeezed it gently, "You need to start thinking about saying goodbye to him while you still can. If you don't, you'll never forgive yourself for the rest of your life, and I know because I didn't say it to my mother when she was dying. Even though I didn't understand what dying was back then, I didn't tell her goodbye when my father asked me to. That is a mistake that I really regret."

"But mom...I don't want to lose him. He's the best friend I've ever had! He told me that loving someone sometimes means letting them go...but it hurts..." A tear brimmed in his dark eye, glistened in the light and trickled down his cheek. He'd been crying a lot lately, mostly into his pillow after Piccolo fell asleep.

"I know." ChiChi brushed her knuckle down his cheek, hurting because her son was hurting, "But you have to. It won't be long before he'll start saying his goodbyes in his own way." She looked down at Doramu, who was patting Gohan's arm and slurping on three of his chubby little fingers, "Or maybe he already has. I think - " She fell silent when a shadow fell across the floor in the hallway.

Gohan and ChiChi both looked towards the shadow to find Piccolo staggering into the living room and towards the kitchen. ChiChi got up and hurried over to assist him when she saw him grimace in pain, knowing where he wanted to go. He hung onto her with one arm while she guided him through the den and out towards the kitchen where the door leading to the bathroom was located. His breath came in ragged gasps as he tried to keep moving forward, but even with ChiChi's help, it was too tiring. He grasped the back of a chair at the kitchen table, dragged it out and dropped himself heavily onto the seat.

"I'll get the door." ChiChi left his side and hurried across the kitchen and around the corner to the back door. "Be right back."

Piccolo bore down and struggled to get back to his feet so he could walk as soon as she returned. The pressure proved too much for his bladder. He felt a warm stream start gushing steadily from between his legs and soak into the pajama leggings. His eyes widened and he lowered back onto the seat in shock as the entire contents of his bladder emptied all over him, the chair and the floor. He buried his burning face in his palm and grimaced as it started rolling off the chair and pattering noisily to the floor, completing his humiliation. Tears stung in the corners of his eyes, and he wished he could disappear between the cracks in the floorboards. There had been no warning, and no control.

"Piccolo, I've got everything set up and -" ChiChi stopped and blinked when she rounded the corner to found him struggling to get out of a soaking wet chair. "Oh..." She put a hand over her mouth, her heart aching for him as she hurried to his side and took hold of his arm to help him up, "C'mon, let's get you cleaned up."

Once on his feet, Piccolo yanked his arm from her grasp, bore his fangs angrily and growled, "I can walk by myself. Just go get me something dry to put on." He turned from her with another growl and staggered towards the bathroom, the dripping pajama bottoms clinging to his legs as he moved.

"OK." ChiChi grabbed the soaked chair and pulled it the rest of the way away from the table so it could dry. Most of the puddle on the floor had seeped between the floorboards, but a few spots were still wet. She was able to temporarily cover it up with a towel.

Gohan looked up when his mother walked past him and towards the hall. He blinked, "Mom? Everything alright?"

She bustled past him with something black tucked up under her arm and flashed a brief smile to keep the secret, "Everything's fine. He knocked the water jug over when he sat down to rest. No biggie." Her cheeks turned hot as she rushed back through the kitchen and paused just long enough to overturn the water jug, which was empty already.

Piccolo was just standing there, staring at the sky, when ChiChi emerged into the daylight. Even as he stood there in soaking clothes, his body was trembling in rage. To be weak was one thing, but this was something he would never live down. Especially since ChiChi had seen the whole thing happen.

"Piccolo?" ChiChi inched closer to the angry Namekian and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Are you sure you're alright?"

I had no control...none! I can't believe this happened in front of her... Piccolo narrowed his eyes and turned his face away from her with a small snarl. He was clearly embarrassed.

She sighed at his lack of an answer, laying his dry clothes and a towel over the clothesline on her way over to the well. The old crank creaked as she pulled up the bucket full of water and carried it over to the wide barrel nearby. The water splashed as it was dumped noisily into the barrel, and the woman made repeated trips to the well until there was enough water to bathe in.

Piccolo didn't say a word as ChiChi lit a fire around the barrel to keep the water warm and headed back over to where he was standing. "Here, let's get you out of those wet clothes. I'll help you." She led him towards the water barrel and had him lean on a nearby tree while she pulled his pants off, revealing a pair of legs that had gone from muscular to average size, and hung them up to be washed later.

The Namek still didn't speak as he was helped out of his pajama top, led to the barrel and gently pushed to sit in the relaxing, warm water that came up to his chest. His sensitive ears could pick up the sound of distant animals in the forest, though the sound was quickly drowned out when ChiChi dipped a rag into the water, coated it in soap and began to gently scrub his back.

"I know you're mad right now, and I understand. I won't tell anyone...it's OK. These things happen." She reached over and brushed his antennae back like they were locks of rebellious hair as she splashed his back to rinse the soap off, "Maybe it's time to get a urinal so you don't have to get up and walk so far. You can tell Gohan to leave the room while you 'go' if that helps."

The Namek stared at his lap and bore his teeth as small tickling rivulets of water ran down his chest and arms. "A little while ago, I sorta...broke a bottle of pills. Gohan found the pills that went flying and they're in a pile on his desk." He admitted.

"How did you manage that?"

"I threw it across the room." Piccolo passively tilted his head, closing one eye as ChiChi scrubbed gently behind his long, pointed ear. He tilted his head the other way and closed the other eye when she moved to the other side. Then he leaned over and splashed himself in the face to rinse off, no longer minding that she was mothering him. As much as he hated to admit it, he liked it when she would go out of her way just to help him without being asked, even though he would often refuse.

"That's one way to do it." She smirked, dropping the washcloth in his lap. It floated there against his stomach as she said, "Hold this while I get you back on your feet so I can scrub your legs."

The water rippled gently as Piccolo's hand came up and yanked the rag under the surface. He braced his weight on the side of the barrel and pushed himself up while ChiChi's careful hands came to rest on his hips, supporting him. When he was sure he was steady, he handed her the rag, crossed his arms and stood with his legs apart while she lathered the washcloth and started to scrub his legs. While she was scrubbing, her elbow bumped the soap, causing it to fall into the cloudy water and disappear.

So this is what it's like to have a mom. Piccolo thought cynically. He grunted and his cheeks turned a little purple when he felt her wash up between his legs. Egad! She has NO shame does she?

ChiChi dropped the rag into the cloudy water and splashed his legs to rinse them off. "OK, that's that. I'll turn my head while you get out." She turned her head and closed her eyes.

"Whatever." The purple faded from Piccolo's cheeks as he turned to grasp the side of the barrel and climb out. His foot came down squarely on the forgotten bar of soap, causing him to slip and flap his arms up and down as he teetered. "Gah!" He finally shot his arm out to grab at the side of the barrel, but wound up grabbing ChiChi's arm instead. Because she wasn't ready for such a sudden movement, she lost her balance as well, and both fell into the barrel with a massive KER-SPLASH!

A dome of water splashed straight up and came back down to land in the exact place it was launched from. Piccolo found himself sprawled out on his back as the water came down to splatter all over him. ChiChi was lying on top of him, glaring daggers with her chin on her palm and her fingers drumming against his chest. Her kimono was puffed up from the water getting underneath, the bun had come out of her hair and her lips were twisted into a sneer. She growled and spit a mouthful of water in Piccolo's face.

Piccolo couldn't stand the sight, even though he tried to keep a straight face. Something started as a small noise and a trembling in his chest. Then it grew to a vibrating rumble and finally exploded into a full-blown belly laugh.

ChiChi growled and reached up to sweep the wet hair out of her eyes. The sound exploding from Piccolo's chest finally registered and she blinked, staring at how different his face looked when it wasn't serious. She was so used to seeing him scowl that hearing him laugh seemed almost foreign.

Then she looked down at herself, scowled and splashed a handful of water in Piccolo's face. "THIS WAS MY BEST DRESS!!!" She splashed him a second time for good measure.

"Ack!" Piccolo shook his head, choking on the liquid thrust into his mouth. There was no way he'd stand for that! He sent a small wave splashing back at her. ChiChi shielded her face the best she could. Then she turned around and splashed him again. Piccolo dashed another wave in her face. Pretty soon they were flailing around, splashing wildly at each other while yelling and carrying on. The waterfight continued until half the water was seeping into the grass and the fire had been doused out. Both were clinging to each other, soaked and laughing like idiots.

It was a side of Piccolo that ChiChi had never seen, and would never see again.

Not a word of the previous event was spoken between Piccolo and ChiChi when it was over. They helped each other to stand and step out of the barrel. Both got dried off. Piccolo climbed into some dry clothes and then they returned to the house.

The explosive sound of Doramu's crying and Gohan's attempts to calm him greeted their entrance. Doramu's little face was contorted into the most amazing look of infant anger one would ever lay eyes upon. The expression was so similar to Piccolo's face whenever he was enraged.

"Uh oh! Somebody wants his daddy!" ChiChi cooed.

Gohan looked up when he saw his mother and Piccolo entering the room together. He was a bit shocked to see them holding hands, though he pretended not to notice their slightly dishiveled appearances and said, "Yeah, he's been like this for almost ten minutes. What were you guys doing out there anyway?"

The dark-haired woman grinned and winked at the Namek, "Taking a bath."

Piccolo eased himself onto the couch next to Gohan without a word. He took his son into his arms, held him close to his chest and murmured wordlessly to him. The teenager watched in amazement as Doramu stopped crying almost as soon as he saw his father's face, heard his voice and felt his touch.

"How do you do that?" He asked.

"Nameks form a special bond the first time they make eye-contact with their newborn children. Kind of like imprinting, but deeper. He and I can sense each other when we're in the same room, just like I can sense someone's power level. That's the best explanation I can give you." Said Piccolo as he stood Doramu up by the armpits so he could bounce on his knee. "When I was born, there was nobody there for me to imprint on...that is probably why I spent my life in such an isolated way. Because I began alone, I lived alone and got used to it."

Gohan blinked a little and looked towards his mother. Piccolo had just opened up a little and given a small peek into what made him who he was! Before he could ask any more questions, the Namek slowly rose with Doramu in his arms and staggered into the bedroom. He just barely had the strength to hold the child anymore, having to make a very conscious effort not to drop him, and it took him nearly ten minutes to reach the room.

Once in the room, Piccolo rocked Doramu gently in his arms as he sat down on the edge of the bed. He watched the child's black eyes, eyes that mirrored his own, glisten in the light. "My son..." he whispered while settling down on his back with the baby on his chest. He loved to just watch the little one smile and move around, so alive and healthy. "There are so many things I wish I could be there to see you do. To see you take your first steps...hear your first word...watch you throw your first ki blast..." A shaky sigh escaped him, "Though I won't be there, I'll be in the blood that pumps through your veins and the power that courses through you." He smiled lopsidedly, which caused Doramu to smile too and flash the two teeth he had in his lower jaw. "Every breath you take is mine, Doramu. I think..." He smirked as he wondered why he would talk like this to a child and not to someone who could respond properly. "...I think of all the achievements that I've done...you're the best one of all..."

"Ga?" Doramu's little antennae rose and fell like a comical shrug. He flashed another open-mouthed baby smile as he met his father's gaze and grabbed one of his antennae like it was the most interesting thing in the world. The heaving of Piccolo's chest sent him rising and falling like a boat on a choppy sea, and the little 'ride' was making him giggle.

Piccolo smiled again at his playful son and brushed his hand across the top of his small head, "Doramu, there is something I'd like you to do for me after I'm gone..." He pressed his lips to the child's brow, his voice growing quieter because the baby was starting to fall asleep, "Live, my son. Just live. That's what I want you to do. I'll be proud of you just for that."

Doramu gurgled softly as an impossibly huge yawn overcame him and curled up on Piccolo's chest to take a nap. Piccolo reached over and raised the bedrails on each side of the bed so the baby wouldn't fall off. Then he curled his arms around Doramu's small body and gazed over the foot of the bed at the painting on the wall. It was the one he had described to ChiChi that one time when his pain meds had run out.

There was a bright orange-red star near the center that was brighter than everything else. As he grew closer to sleep, the stars flashed and allowed the broken pieces of his past to shine the light of hope across time. The red star, his future, glowed brighter than the other objects painted all around. He felt a strange new hope while gazing at the painting, though he didn't know why. All he knew was that someday he would travel to that star.

He fell asleep while wrapped with that new hope, and his mind settled into a slow churn of peace.

Not long after Piccolo had fallen asleep, Gohan came into the room to finish studying when he saw the precious moment. Piccolo was smiling in his sleep with his arms around Doramu, who was also asleep. Doramu's head was up under his father's chin and he had both hands pressed together as if he was praying.

Gohan's heart took a picture, freezing that moment in his memory forever, and he smiled as he sat down to study.

Moonlight streamed through the open window and across two occupied beds. Piccolo was lying on his back with the blankets all kicked off. The chilly night air left his weak frame shivering. Gohan lied on his side, an arm folded under his head, watching his friend tremble in restless slumber. In the moonlight he could only make out the curve of his bald head and faint glints from his bared teeth.

Finally the teenager couldn't take it anymore. He climbed out of bed, pulled the window shut and then drew the covers up over Piccolo's quaking body. He lowered a hand to his green friend's forehead. Scalding hot.

Gohan sighed and staggered to the kitchen for a large bowl, cool water and a rag. He carried it all back to his room, putting the bowl down next to the bed. Dipping the rag in the bowl, Gohan wrung out the excess water and pressed it to the Namek's sweaty brow. Piccolo frowned at the coldness pressed just above his antennae. He groaned, trying to squirm away.

"Hey, Piccolo, you have a fever." Gohan remoistened the cloth and replaced it. The white rag contrasted greatly against Piccolo's sweaty green skin.

Piccolo grunted weakly. His eyelids trembled, but he stopped squirming away from the cold compress. He breathed heavily while Gohan rubbed the cool cloth all over his neck and chest. Not liking the treatment one bit.

The Namek growled low in his throat. He finally opened his eyes. The dark, endless pools of obsidian were glazed and wild. Their gaze was unfocused, no intensity in them at all as they stared through Gohan's face at something unseen.

His voice came out hoarse, "Stop...you have to...concentrate...he's powering up."

Gohan raised a thick brow, "Who?"

"He's...he's...Na...ppa... you have to get away...take Doramu. He's too strong, we...we have to wait for Goku. He...he's..." Piccolo's eyes fluttered and his voice faltered. He seemed to be somewhere in a mix of the past and present; he couldn't tell if he was awake or dreaming. In the moonlight his face appeared more gaunt than it actually was.

Gohan took the rag away from Piccolo's head and dropped it back in the bowl with a quiet splash. The Namek was delirious, but trying to convince him that Nappa's presence was a delusion would have been more catastrophic than going along with it. "No, I'm not going to run this time. Nappa doesn't scare me anymore," he climbed onto the bed next to Piccolo, curled an arm around his shoulders and rubbed his arm through the blankets, "I'll keep him off your back. You just rest, OK?"

Piccolo didn't answer, he'd fallen back to sleep. He breathed erratically through his mouth. Gohan kept holding onto Piccolo's frail frame, not daring to let sleep claim him. He thought, he really, seriously thought, that he was going to die right there. Each time Piccolo exhaled, Gohan willed him to breathe again, as if it was his will and not the Namek's that kept those lungs filling with air. When that heaving green chest fell he was terrified it wouldn't rise again. Relief flooded him each time it did.

Sunlight streamed into the window and across Piccolo's face. The Namek stirred, opening his now-clear eyes to find Gohan fast asleep next to him. Gohan was curled up in a little ball, cold from sleeping without a blanket. Piccolo felt his expression soften a little.

He stayed up all night to watch over me. Maybe...maybe their help isn't so bad after all. Piccolo rolled onto his side, using his left hand to drag the blankets out from under Gohan's legs. He pulled the sheets and comforter, warm from his and Gohan's body heat, up over the sleeping teenager's body. Gohan relaxed against his green friend's warmth. In sleep, the half-Saiyajin's face had lost all sign of worry and wore an expression of boyish innocence. Just like his father.

Piccolo allowed himself to smile. He rubbed his gaunt hand through Gohan's smooth black hair, "Sleep tight, kid."

From that morning on, Piccolo didn't complain when people tried to help him.

You can run
And you can begin
In a place
Where you don't fit in
'Cause love will find a way

"Piccolo, wake up!"

Green eyelids lifted sleepily, squinting in the morning sunlight coming through the window, "What...ChiChi?"

She leaned over and smiled, "I'm going to get you up out of bed...you have to see this!"

When you're down
You can start again
Turn around
Anything you're in
Love will find a place

A few moments later, ChiChi was pushing Piccolo into the living room in a wheelchair. Piccolo hated the chair, he felt like it made him look weak, but he tolerated it anyway. He saw Gohan holding Doramu, grinning like an idiot. "What's this ruckus all about?" He sneered, "Gohan holds Doramu all the time, so what's so special?"


If you got...

Gohan put Doramu down on the living room floor. Doramu quickly pushed himself up onto his hands and knees and crawled clumsily towards Piccolo. Gurgling happily the whole way. ChiChi clapped her hands together and giggled.

One heart you are following
One dream that keeps you wandering
Love lights your way through the night
One wish that keeps you trying
What's your silver lining
Love lights your way through the night

Piccolo blinked. He leaned over to peer down at his tiny son. His eyes looked almost as awed as when he saw Doramu hatch. "He...he crawled."

"Now you know what all the fuss was about." ChiChi lifted Doramu off the floor and sat him in Piccolo's lap.

Piccolo hugged the baby immediately, not caring who saw. "I'm proud of you, my son...real proud."

Doramu stuck a finger into the corner of his mouth and babbled up at his father. Piccolo smiled when he saw that innocent love directed only towards him. He patted the baby's head and tried to put him on the floor, but couldn't muster the strength to lift him safely. Gohan came to his aid.

You can fall a thousand times
You can feel like you've lost your mind
But love will find a way
And a minute
Can change your life
And a moment can make it right
Love will find a place

"Wanna go back to bed?"

"No...I think I'll stay up for a while and watch him..."

ChiChi rubbed the back of his neck, "Okay, call us if you need something."

But Piccolo didn't raise his voice once. He spent almost an hour watching Doramu crawl. The baby didn't need to depend on everyone to get around anymore - at least in the house. Piccolo had just witnessed Doramu leaving the last part of his newborn life behind. The Namek warrior closed his eyes and shook his head, finally able to accept the fact that his days as a fighter were over.

If you got...

"I shouldn't feel bad at a time like this. You're going through so many new and wonderful changes, Doramu." Piccolo said softly. He was changing too. While Doramu was gaining new abilities...Piccolo lost more each day. He found it a startling contrast, how opposite their lives were moving. Him beginning his death and his son beginning his life.

One heart you are following
One dream that keeps you wandering
Love lights your way through the night
One wish that keeps you trying
What's your silver lining
Love lights your way through the night

Piccolo chuckled to himself at the comparison. His eyes drifted to Gohan and ChiChi eating breakfast in the kitchen. Then he looked down at Doramu again. The baby was crawling towards the bright red ball near the couch. He turned his gaze again to the two in the kitchen.

"They're my family now..." the Namek whispered to himself. Yes, it was true, he'd been accepted fully into a household with people that..cared about how he felt. That wanted to be around him. That...loved...him.

Piccolo could do without the mushy stuff. But he liked being accepted, now that realized he was the one afraid to share of himself. It was always his choice to sit off alone while everybody else enjoyed themselves. Who would want to talk to a large, intimidating green alien anyway?

These people did.

No more isolation, no more lonliness no more silence...no more rejection.

Everybody needs something to hold onto
Everybody needs something to hold onto...

Without another thought, Piccolo managed call Doramu over and scoop him up into his lap with shaking hands. The baby giggled happily. He clung to his father's flannel shirt.

Smiling, Piccolo unlocked the wheel locks and pushed himself into the kitchen - much to the surprise of ChiChi and Gohan.

If you got...

A few seconds later found a very bright-eyed Piccolo sitting at the table, telling stories and gesturing. Gohan was laughing, he couldn't believe this was the same stoic-faced, introverted Piccolo he knew. ChiChi glowed in delight at the sudden change in his demeanor. Doramu banged his high chair with a spoon and squealed to "add to the conversation".

For the first time in a long while, the sounds of a happy family emenated from the Son house.

One heart you are following
One dream that keeps you wandering
Love lights your way through the night
One wish that keeps you trying
What's your silver lining
Love lights your way through the night
Love will find a way...
Love will find a way in your heart.

Time passed again, but one day seemed to run into another, until they all became one fluid mass of seconds, minutes and hours.

Tiny glistening ice chips crackled together and shifted as an invading spoon was plunged among them. A pale hand lifted the spoon to a pair of dry, slightly cracked green lips resting below a thin nasal cannula tube. The lips parted just enough to accept the contents of the spoon, and a pair of gleaming fangs briefly glittered in the light before the lips closed again.

ChiChi waited for Piccolo to swallow before offering him some more ice-chips, but he turned his head and said, "No."

"No more?"


"OK..." She put the bowl and spoon down, then reached for the chapstick. Using gentle care, she spread some of the soothing medication onto his constantly-peeling lips to keep them from getting too dry. While ChiChi was doing that, Piccolo grasped her free hand with his weak, skeletal one. He'd been doing that a lot lately, just reaching out to hold her hand for no apparent reason. She smiled and grasped his hand back, using her free one to rub his arm, "Something on your mind?"

Piccolo didn't answer, except to stare into her face until he finally shifted his legs around and muttered, "My feet itch..."

"Want me to rub some lotion into them?"

"Yeah...I guess."

"OK." ChiChi reached for the bottle of skin lotion, moved to the foot of the bed and pulled the sheets up to expose his long-toed feet. She squeezed a bit of unscented cream onto her palm, rubbed her hands together and started to massage it gently into his skin, making sure it got all between his toes. She repeated the process on the other foot, rather enjoying the subtle intimacy of giving him a foot massage.

The reason his skin kept drying out was because he was drinking less and less water. Ice-chips helped a little, but he was getting to weak to swallow even those.

When ChiChi finished rubbing the lotion into Piccolo's feet, she went back up to the head of the bed, brushed his antennae back and placed a soft kiss on his forehead. "There, all better." She straightened out his oxygen tubing and adjusted the bed to sit him up in a reclining position just as someone knocked on the door. "Yes? Come on in!"

The bedroom door swung open to reveal Vegeta, who was scowling as always. ChiChi blinked a little in surprise while Piccolo turned his head to look at his visitor with dully glistening eyes.

Vegeta blinked as he got a dose of mortality much larger than the rest. Piccolo was completely bedridden. He looked strangely small in the bed with the blankets covering up from the waist down. His pajama top was open to reveal a ghost of the physique he once had, and his hands looked like bones with green skin stretched across them. His antennae hung limp in whichever direction they chose to fall, like listless plant stems. A thin nasal cannula tube ran across his upper lip, draped over his ears and joined back together under his chin. The tubes were attached to a silver tank propped up against the wall in the corner.

Despite that, Piccolo managed to softly utter a smart-assed remark, "What do you want, Vegeta? Can't you see I'm busy here?" Then his cracked lips pulled into a nasty smirk.

Vegeta snorted as ChiChi quietly left to let them be alone, and walked closer to the bed. "Too bad! I came to see if you were dead yet." He answered sarcastically. "You look like shit, Namek."

"Better than what you look like." Piccolo retorted weakly, "Arrogant monkey." Then he noticed the Saiyajin was wearing his pink Badman shirt, "Hey...I thought you hated that shirt..."

"Foolish slug, the idiot woman insisted I put this on to amuse you!" Vegeta sneered back. Then they both chuckled like it was the funniest thing in the world. When they calmed down, the Saiyajin prince proceeded to do the hardest thing he could ever do: he put aside his pride. "I didn't come to trade insults with you, Namek. I came to say goodbye."

Piccolo blinked slowly to make sure he'd heard right, and his Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. "What possessed you to want to say goodbye to someone you never really had anything to do with?"

"Respect," Vegeta replied as his face lost all expression. Even his frown disappeared, leaving his brow strangely smooth, "Several years ago, you took one of Nappa's blasts for Kakarott's brat. I saw the look on your face when you did it, and I could see how much you cared for him..." He ducked his head, not accustomed to speaking his feelings in such a way, "I'd never be able to do such a thing for anyone...damn Frieza...it's all his fault!" One of his hands came to rest on the bedrail, which was raised. "And...you've beaten Kakarott. Even if he did come back, it was more than I could have done."

Piccolo raised his trembling hand and placed it over Vegeta's. He looked him right in the eyes, one warrior to another, and said, "Believe it or not, I didn't feel any better when I did. In fact, I felt respect for him because of the choice he made."

Vegeta sighed, growling under his breath as he moved his hand away from Piccolo's touch and the bedrail, which was now warm where he had been gripping it so tightly. The Namek's skin didn't even feel like skin anymore! It was like...like paper, something unnatural. Something he didn't want to touch.

Secretly, Vegeta feared he would catch what Piccolo had if he touched him or stayed near him for too long.

"I respected Kakarott too...but..." his muscles bulged as he pointed a finger at Piccolo's face, "If you see him after you die, tell him I'll still find a way to beat the hell out of him when I get there. Got it?"

"Not a problem." Piccolo smirked as Vegeta turned to the door, exposing the huge letters on the back of his shirt that spelled out the word Badman.

Before leaving, Vegeta looked over his shoulder and snickered, "Oh, by the way...your brat is growing up to be just as ugly as you. Take care."

"I guess Trunks is lucky then." Piccolo whispered back with another smirk.

Vegeta just laughed coldly and walked out, slamming the door as he went through. His smirk faded as soon as he was outside, and he paused to look over his shoulder at the window to the room where Piccolo was staying. He swallowed slowly and blinked. "Oh, who am I kidding?" He turned away from the house with a somber expression and said, "Die well, Namek. Die well." Then he zoomed off and disappeared over the trees.

Back in the room, Piccolo sighed to himself and lowered the bed a little to rest, spending about ten minutes in total silence. All of a sudden, he felt something strange and his eyes flew open to fix on the corner of the room nearest to the door, where a figure had suddenly just appeared. The Namek blinked several times as his eyes wandered over the orange gi, the dopey smile and the wild crown of black hair.


"Hi Piccolo!" Goku walked closer to the bed to stand where Vegeta had been standing. He blinked and scratched his temple as he eyed the sick Namekian man's frail body. His thick eyebrows drew together. He, too, was surprised to see his friend look so sick, "Gosh, Piccolo...you don't look so good..."

"Gee, what gave you the first clue?" Piccolo rumbled cynically, "So what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be pissing off some angels or something?"

Goku blinked and stared at the ceiling. "Angels? Nope, haven't see any. I don't think they pee anyway." He mumbled blankly with a shrug. He linked his hands together behind his head and grinned, "Anyway, nah. But if you can see me, then that means...well..."

"What? Now?"

"No! Hehehe...no!" He sweat-dropped and frowned, his normally docile expression becoming serious. His hands lowered from their position behind his head and returned to his sides. "But you're getting closer. I don't know how you managed to survive so long. Judging by how sick you look, you shoulda been dead a month ago."

"Feh..." The Namek let his head drop back onto the pillow and smirked, licking his dry lips. Then he blinked as he remembered something and piped up, "Vegeta was just here. Told me to let you know he's going to get your ass when he drops dead."

"Typical Vegeta. Too bad he can't beat me, huh?" Goku grinned innocently and flashed a peace-sign. "He'll be so disappointed when he realizes how it is when his time comes. It's not what people expect. Like the fact that if you still have a destiny, you can come back whenever the opportunity presents itself. It's cool, a whole bunch of people went back this morning!"

"Don't spoil the surprise any more for me, okay Goku?" Piccolo took a deep breath and closed his eyes, "My leaving is going to tear Gohan up, and I don't know what to do..."

"He'll come around eventually. Always has and always will." Goku glanced at something invisible behind him, "Woops, I gotta go. See you soon." In the blink of an eye, the Saiyajin had disappeared as if he was never there. Piccolo's mind was too foggy to comprehend how or why Goku had appeared, and he slowly drifted off to sleep while pondering it.

He slept so deeply that he didn't wake when ChiChi came into the room, sat down and took his hand.

"Piccolo?" She tried gently, but he didn't reply. All he did was snore softly as if deeply asleep. He was breathing through a gaping mouth, and a small puddle of drool had collected under his cheek.

Sighing a little, ChiChi placed a hand under Piccolo's head to support it and turned the pillow over. She lowered his head back into place, gently pushed his jaw shut and used a corner of her apron to wipe the saliva from his cheek. He didn't move once throughout the process.

"There we go..." ChiChi whispered while squeezing Piccolo's frail shoulder gently through the blue pajama top, talking to him as if he could hear her and respond, "Comfortable now?" She started to rub his arm and pressed a kiss into his papery cheek. "Good. Sleep tight...I'll be back later to check up on you again."

And Piccolo slept on...

Three nights later Piccolo woke up to quite a bit of pain all through his joints and in his stomach. For three days he'd slept without waking, and then the pain hit. He heard Gohan's steady breathing in the bed right next to his. Waking him up would be easy. But he didn't feel the need. He could get through this on his own.

Piccolo tore the oxygen tubing off his face. A breeze blew into the window, carrying scents of the outdoors.

He wanted to go outside.

Piccolo slowly shifted his legs out from under the covers and planted his bare feet silently on the wooden floor. He shivered, it was cold, so he took the quilt off the foot of the bed and wrapped it around his shoulders. Now there was just the matter of walking. Piccolo soon discovered his legs were too weak to support him. Spots danced before his eyes. His first step in weeks sent him sinking right to the floor.

No way...not giving up...

So he crawled just like he saw Doramu do. Slowly edging himself forward until he could slip out the front door.

Piccolo collapsed on the grass, gasping and covered in cold sweat. The pain increased. Veins popped out on his forehead. He tried powering up, sometimes that helped him blow through a bad pang. Gentle energy waves stirred the grass around him like ripples in a pond - that was all he managed.

Green cheek pressed to matching grass, the Namek bore his teeth and tried to sit up. The damned cancer eating through his body wouldn't let him. He never told Gohan or ChiChi...but he suspected the disease was spreading into his abdominal area. It was hurting him a lot lately. Sometimes he even felt lumps in his stomach. Right as he thought about it the pain hit him in the gut like a punch. He growled.


A fluctuating power woke Gohan from a dead sleep. Terror struck him the instant he spotted Piccolo's bed empty. Did he die and his mother removed the body? No, no, only the quilt was gone. He heard Piccolo's growls through the window, grabbed two emergency pills, snatched up his bedside water bottle and dashed outside.

"Here," Gohan unceremoniously thrust the pills towards Piccolo's mouth and held the bottle to his lips for him while he washed the pills down. He screwed the top back on and sat down in the grass next to his Namekian friend, frowning angrily, "What are you doing?"

Piccolo seemed confused for a moment. Though pain twisted his face he still replied, "Trying to...go home...to the desert...take me home..."

Gohan chewed on his lower lip. He wondered if this was the end. Would Piccolo be alive when he brought him back? Or was he asking this so he could die near the place where he hatched?

"Gohan," Piccolo seemed to sense Gohan's hesitation. He put his head back and stared up at the stars shining above. "It's not time for that yet. All I want is to sit on one of my cliffs for a while and enjoy the air. That's all...take me home."

That produced a chuckle from deep in Gohan's throat. Relief loosened his tongue. "Okay then, I'll take you." He wrapped the blanket more securely around Piccolo's bony frame. Then he gathered him up in his arms -his weight nearly insignificant- and flew the short distance to the desert where Piccolo trained him. The place where his whole life began again in a new direction.

Gohan landed on top of the cliff where he and Piccolo camped right before Nappa and Vegeta showed up. He leaned Piccolo up against a conveniently placed boulder and sat down next to him. He watched Piccolo direct his gaze up towards the stars and the Milky Way cutting a misty swath across the sky. His eyes seemed particularly drawn to the constellation Scorpius, which glistened up in the southern sky. Sometimes he saw it through the window next to his bed when he woke up during the night.

"Piccolo, can I ask you a question?"

Intense ever-changing eyes moved away from the sky, "Shoot."

Swallowing, Gohan asked, "How do you manage when you know you may not wake up the next time you fall asleep? Doesn't that bother you?"

"Feh," Piccolo snorted, "It bothers me a lot, Gohan. So I just don't think about it. Think of it this way: Yesterday's gone and tomorrow isn't here yet. But I still have today...I still have this moment. I don't worry about the future anymore...except for Doramu's." He smiled softly and went on, "But I think he's in good hands." The pain medication finally started kicking in. Piccolo relaxed and resumed stargazing. Unmindful of Gohan's eyes studying him each time he breathed too loud. He knew Gohan was going to say something corny any second now. So he nipped it in the bud by changing the subject. "You know...as long as I've been alive...I don't think I ever appreciated the stars...just look at all of them."

"Yeah. Stars are amazing. They're all light years away, so the light you see may have left some of those stars over a thousand of years ago. Our lifetimes are just a flash of lightning compared to the age of a star. They last for billions of years." Then he went on to explain weird concepts like the Big Bang, what galaxies, black holes and nebulae and a bunch of other astronomical terms that went right over Piccolo's head. But the Namek listened anyway, oddly interested.

Piccolo smirked over at the teenaged half-Saiyajin when he finished. He reached over and ruffled his hair a bit, "Some lives are even shorter than a lightning bolt compared to the universe. But how long you have doesn't matter, it's what you do while you're here that's important. A person can live two years and change the world...or survive for a hundred and not do squat. Which would you remember?"

"The one that changed the world. Like you did for me." Gohan saddened. He leaned back against the same boulder as Piccolo. "But it's not fair. You're so strong and now...you barely made it outside. I don't want to remember you all sick and in pain all the time."

"Then don't."

"Easier said than done." The youth muttered.

Piccolo's eyes flickered sleepily after that. The pills were definitely taking effect. They always put him to sleep. He knew he'd go right back into his unconscious state if he fell asleep here. "Gohan...I'm going to sleep. Don't move me until the sun's up, okay? I want to...feel it...on my skin. It'll warm me up too."

"Sure thing."

Gohan sat back and watched Piccolo's head lower and his eyelids drift shut. His jaw relaxed and he started breathing noisily through his teeth. Less than a second after he fell asleep, the horizon brightened. Pink, orange and red...and then gold as the sun peeked into view. It flooded the land. Piccolo's coloring seemed to improve once the sun fell across his skin. Over the past few weeks he gained a weird yellowish cast, but the sunlight quickly erased it.

"When someone is dying, they start letting go a little bit at a time." Gohan remembered something his mother said and realized Piccolo was letting go of the only home he knew during his time on Earth. If the desert was Piccolo's home...then Gohan would make sure it became his resting place after he died. I'll do the pyre out here somewhere...maybe in the field where he trained me. Yes, he'd want that.

"It's a beautiful sunrise, Piccolo." He reached over and pulled the blanket away from Piccolo's body. Then he gently opened his pajama shirt so the sun could bathe his green skin. The sickness had ravaged Piccolo's form completely - he was skin and bones. His body resembled the old Kami's without the wrinkles. Gohan couldn't help but rest his ear against Piccolo's frail chest to hear his heart beat.

"Mm?" Was the only response Piccolo gave.

"Shh, it's OK. Just rest."

Gohan waited until the sun was fully up. He reached over and shook Piccolo's unconscious frame. No response, he was out again. He closed his eyes and settled his hand across the smooth baldness of the Namek's head. "Yeah, you just rest and save your strength, big guy." Quietly, he lifted Piccolo into his arms, secured the blanket and flew home. Piccolo never moved during the trip...except to grunt once and mumble something unintelligible as Gohan placed him back on the soft mattress.

"Where on EARTH have you two been?! Shame on you! Piccolo is too sick to be fooling around outside!"

"Mom!" Gohan spun to face her and raised his hands. His cheeks and the bridge of his nose turned slightly blue, "Really, it's okay...Piccolo wanted me to take him out. He made me wait until sunrise before I brought him back. It was weird, he started out saying he wanted to go home."

ChiChi crossed her arms with a frown. "Well, since you're up, go wait in the kitchen and I'll fix you breakfast as soon as I've taken care of Piccolo."

No use in arguing. Gohan slinked past his mother and a sleeping Doramu and entered the kitchen. ChiChi moved to Piccolo's bedside. The Namek's lips were curled into a definite smirk. His pajama shirt was gaping open and the blankets were wrapped sloppily around his long body. "And you..." ChiChi began buttoning the buttons on Piccolo's shirt, "...gave me quite a scare...I thought somehow you ran away from us." As her hands worked the buttons, she detected a lump in his stomach. With careful pressure she discovered three large masses just below his navel. Piccolo's hairless brows drew up in pain. ChiChi stopped pressing down and cupped his cheek, "Why didn't you tell me it spread? You've been hurting all this time and wouldn't tell us..." She yanked the quilt off his body, pulled the blankets up to his chest and slid his hands out from underneath so she could lay them at his sides. Then she slipped the nasal cannula back into place and draped the tubing over his ears. "You're getting ready to leave us, aren't you?"

No response, save for his soft breathing.

ChiChi picked his hand up and stroked his fingers, "I'll call the others this afternoon. I think it's time to let them say goodbye to you." She leaned down and kissed his cheek. "I'll be back to check on you and Doramu after I've taken care of Gohan."

Gohan picked his head up off the kitchen table when his mother appeared. His brow knit at her worried expression, "Mom? What's wrong?"

"It's Piccolo," She opened cupboards and pulled out different pots and pans, preparing what she needed to start breakfast. "When I fixed his shirt...I felt huge lumps in his stomach. Hard lumps. The cancer spread from his blood to his other organs. It's probably all over his lungs and kidneys too. Gohan," She lit the stove and cracked an egg over the frying pan, "I don't think Piccolo will be alive this time tomorrow. He's really weak. I couldn't wake him up. I think this was his last little burst of energy. It's all downhill from here."

"That's impossible! He was talking to me just fine out on the cliffs!"

"I know, that's how it goes. Looking at him now I don't think he'll make it through tonight." ChiChi kept her eyes on the pan. She just couldn't make herself look at Gohan's sad eyes. "After breakfast I'm going to call the others and have them come over to say goodbye."

Biting his lower lip, Gohan stood up. "Send breakfast to my room. I'm going to sit with Piccolo so he won't be all alone in there."

ChiChi just nodded her head. What else could she do?

Piccolo hadn't moved at all when Gohan returned. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open. He breathed audibly as though sound asleep. The same way he breathed for the three days he slept non-stop. His antennae drooped to his face like lifeless plant stems.

Except for his cheekbones becoming a little more pronounced, his face hadn't changed at all, even as the illness slimmed his body down. Gohan always feared Piccolo would get so thin he'd be unrecognizable. But his face remained almost unchanged.

Gohan sighed some. How would he manage once Piccolo died? He just couldn't picture life without Piccolo there to guide him. He grabbed a swab off the bedside tray and placed it under Piccolo's tongue to absorb the excess spit welling up in his mouth. "I know you'd hate to be caught drooling on yourself...I hope you don't mind." He used the same swab to moisten Piccolo's lips so they wouldn't dry out.

Gohan glanced over at Piccolo's bedside table. There sat the book of poems he thought he misplaced the afternoon before. He noticed a piece of old string sticking out the bottom. It marked a page near the middle of the thick book. Gohan lifted the book from the table and flipped it open to the marked page. A poem by John Donne. He read it aloud:

"Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure: then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die."

He finished and looked over at Piccolo's sleeping frame. That's strange...I never pictured him reading. Much less a book of old poetry. I wonder if he understood its meaning. Heck, I barely got it. But if he marked the page he must've understood it. Or was he hoping I would find this and understand it. Is he trying to tell me something?

And Piccolo slept on...

Krillin, Yamcha, Tien and Bulma sat quietly next to Piccolo's bed, all of them silently watching the slow rise and fall of his chest. The comatose Namek was lying flat on his back with his head turned to the side, a washcloth resting under his cheek to catch the saliva that occasionally dribbled out of his half-open mouth. To keep his fingers from getting stiff, his flaccid hands had been shaped gently around a rolled up towel that was lying across his stomach.

"Uh...gosh..." Krillin finally spoke, "I really don't know what to say to you, Piccolo. Except that I...uh well...I really respected you, and I hope things turn out alright for you...eh..." His voice faded as he looked towards the ground and sighed, shaking his head. "I'll see you around..." He couldn't stand this scenery anymore, and left to go out into the living room with a tear in his

Bulma simply sniffed, touched Piccolo's hand and left to go into the living room. Trunks was already out there with Gohan, ChiChi, Krillin and Doramu. Nobody said a word when Bulma walked over to Trunks and buried her face in his shoulder. Tien and Yamcha came out a few minutes later with solemn expressions.

Not wanting Piccolo to be alone, ChiChi went into the room, sat down by the bed and took his hand. She stroked his fingers like she would pet a kitten and leaned over to press her lips to his forehead. "Your hand is cold..." She switched from stroking his fingers to rubbing warmth into his flaccid hand while whispering, "I love you." Tears formed in her eyes, "And I want to thank you for coming to us in the most precious time of your life. You changed my son's life as well as mine. You're a very good, kind and loving man, even if you don't realize it." She kissed his hand as her lower lip started to quiver, "I'll miss you..."

The hand ChiChi was holding slowly moved, the thin fingers closing around hers. ChiChi blinked and turned her head to find Piccolo looking at her. His lower lip quivered through his struggle to bite it into stillness. Then his face started to contort, a sob escaping him despite his attempts to stay composed. His eyes welled up and gained a glittery sheen. The windows, those dark, tinted windows, were thrown open and all of his agony blazed through.

Never in her life had ChiChi ever seen Piccolo show so much emotion, and she felt more tears rushing to her eyes. "Piccolo...it's OK to cry...it's OK. Here..." She put her arms around the ailing green figure, hugging him to her chest. She settled his head gently on her shoulder and felt his tears begin to soak into her collar. "Let it go, it's OK. I'm here, you're not alone in this anymore."

Piccolo squeezed his eyes shut. He gritted his teeth, trying to swallow the pain. He was afraid of leaving everything he knew behind. The unknown frightened him. He didn't want to leave Doramu without a father. The pain just would not be contained!

"ChiChi..." Heaving sobs shook Piccolo's body. He grasped handfuls of ChiChi's kimono and cried into her shoulder like a frightened child. "I'm afraid, ChiChi...I don't want to die!" His normally cool voice came out in a shuddering bellow. Every wound on his soul, every hardship, every secret dream and every moment when he had repressed his emotions came out as he cried. All his walls were down, his soul naked and exposed in ChiChi's arms. "I want to see my son grow up! I want to see Gohan become a man! I want to see his wife and children! I want...I...I...want to live! I want to live, ChiChi...I want to live...please, I want to live..."

"Shhh...I know, I know...." ChiChi just kept holding him, rubbing the back of his head and listening to him pour his soul out to her. "It's alright...shhh..." She rocked him gently back and forth, humming softly into his ear to comfort him. Piccolo's sobbing eventually faded to whimpers, then fell silent. He relaxed his grip on her kimono, but kept his arms around her so she'd hold him a little while longer. There was comfort in the feeling of her heartbeat and the warmth of her body so close to his own. The solace he longed for the day he found out he was dying.

Gradually the tremblings in Piccolo's body ceased. He felt suddenly calm, as though his tears had washed away all the fear and pain like rain cleaning the earth. A new light shone in his dark eyes, those walls that fell were staying down.

"I...I understand now," Piccolo picked his head up, antennae erect, as though just realizing something for the first time. His eyes were wide and strangely innocent. He stared into ChiChi's sapphire eyes and spoke, his voice strangely awed, "I love you..."

Closing her eyes for a moment, ChiChi swallowed hard as a lump swelled in her throat. She pressed a kiss into Piccolo's forehead, his tear-stained cheek and finally his lips. Piccolo framed her face with his hands and kissed her back, hard. His lips made love to her mouth like hers had done to his at his birthday party. Their passionate kiss seemed to last a blissful eternity, laced by mingling tears. It left ChiChi breathless when it ended.

"I love you too..."

Piccolo gazed up at her for several moments. He was so...so tired. His eyes drifted shut and his body relaxed as he rested in her arms. He let his arms slip free of her back and hang wherever they fell. ChiChi lowered his large, frail form gently back into bed and pulled the covers up so he wouldn't catch a chill. Then she hurried into her own room and burst into tears as the impact of the whole event hit full force.

Gohan heard his mother sobbing and carried Doramu with him as he sought to find out what was making her cry. "Mom? What is it?" He asked while keeping Doramu's hands out of his mouth.. The baby had already made a mess of his naturally messy hair.

"Piccolo..." She sniffed, "He woke up while I was there. He broke down into tears and told me to hold him..." She took Doramu from Gohan and held him, feeling Gohan's arms wrap around her, "I saw his heart open...I know it did!" She sniffled, "He told me he loved me..."

Closing his eyes, Gohan swallowed the lump in his throat at the thought of Piccolo finally opening his soul to love and pressed a kiss into his mother's hair, "And he meant it too, mom."



"You have to go in there and tell him it's alright for him to go. Piccolo is suffering, Gohan, and..." More sobs caused her voice to crack as she brushed a few strands of dark hair back away from her face, "...I think he wants you to give him permission to die."

"No!" Gohan shook his head as his voice cracked, "No...I can't...he means too much to me..."

"This isn't about Piccolo, Gohan. This is about you. You have to tell him it's all right to pass on. He's tired and he's in pain, and he's waiting for you to tell him he can go..." ChiChi shifted Doramu in her arms so he couldn't grab the buttons on her kimono and kissed his cheek gently, "I know how much you love him, Gohan. So show him by letting him know he can go in peace."

Gohan closed his eyes for several moments as tears dotted his eyelashes like dewdrops on a spider's web. His voice wavered as he spoke, "He...he's tired, isn't he?" He nodded, answering his own question, the realization coming over him slowly as his tears stopped. "I think he'd like to rest..."

ChiChi nodded slowly and cupped Gohan's face with her palm, then followed him to stand in the doorway to his room as he sat down at Piccolo's bedside. He didn't speak, but he clutched one of the Namek's thin hands fiercely, noticing immediately how it was cold like ice.

Gohan remained utterly silent, and he squeezed Piccolo's hand until he felt a response. He turned his head to find Piccolo looking up at him with sleepy, tear-filled eyes. The young man was about to speak, but Piccolo spoke first. Gohan couldn't hear it, so he leaned closer until his ear was just a scant inch from the green man's lips.

"Gi..." Piccolo whispered. He knew why Gohan was there, but he wanted to have one last shred of dignity so he could present himself to his student as a teacher.

Nodding, Gohan walked to his closet and retrieved the purple garment along with the shoes, belt, turban and cape that went with it. He returned to the bed and started by taking Piccolo's pajama bottoms and socks off, briefly exposing the diaper that had been put on to keep him clean. His long, bare legs and feet were carefully eased into his gi pants and shoes. The teenager moved to the head of the bed and eased his ailing friend's arms out of the black flannel shirt, trying with all his might to ignore how thin he'd become. Gohan carefully supported Piccolo's neck as he slid the purple gi top over his head, pulled it down and tucked it in; he started to cry softly when he realized how tightly he had to cinch the navy blue belt in order for it to fit. His tears continued as he carefully guided the heavy shoulderpads over Piccolo's head, lowered it into place and lifted his legs to get the cape under him properly. Their eyes locked when Gohan gently brushed Piccolo's shriveling antennae back and carefully settled his turban into place.

Piccolo looked more like himself while he was dressed, even with his head pulled back against the pillow because he didn't have the strength to handle the turban's weight. His eyes followed Gohan as he touched the button on the bedrail to make the head of the bed sit up so he could breathe easier.

Gohan...you're so good to me. I wish I could thank you for everything you have given... He thought as he slipped an arm around his student's waist and pulled him closer.

Gohan found himself pressed against Piccolo's chest with an arm around his shoulders and a hand on the back of his head. After a moment of shock, he brought his arms around to return the embrace. He could hear the Namek's soft, shaky breathing whispering across his ear.

"Daisuki." Piccolo whispered.

Gohan's heart swelled at the word, and he started to cry as he buried his face in his mentor's shoulderpad. "I love you too..."

Piccolo smiled sadly and rubbed his hand through Gohan's hair to comfort him the same way he had been comforted earlier. It reminded him of a time, long ago, when he had touched the boy's hair while he slept. "What is your mission, Gohan?" He whispered commandingly. "Say it!"

"To...to give you my permission..." He sniffled between sobs.

The Namek nodded slowly, "I'm listening. Proceed."

"Piccolo...I..." Gohan hesitated for a long time, biting his lip fiercely until he nearly drew blood. "This body doesn't want you anymore, so...kiss it goodbye." The pain was like a jagged knife ripping through his heart. He wondered for a moment if someone really had stabbed him in the chest, "Just take it off like an old pair of clothes and leave it behind. There's so much more you can do with that rare, powerful soul of yours."

Piccolo's eyes fluttered, his lips parted and his body twitched in Gohan's arms as he slowly lost consciousness once again. Even while unconscious, he turned towards the sound of his student's voice, a good sign that he could still hear and understand what was being said.

"A rare man like you didn't deserve to live alone the way you did." Gohan sobbed softly as he listened to his dying friend breathe softly. "You're the best friend I've ever had, Piccolo...and you never left my side when I really needed your help. So here I am, repaying your kindness by being here when you need me most." Slowly, he turned his head to meet Piccolo's half-closed eyes, cupped his face in his palm and continued as he lowered him back into bed, "You're my hero and you always will be. I love you, my friend, and I promise you'll never be alone again, because I'll never forget you." He fell silent and controlled his sobs when he felt ChiChi's gentle hand on his back.

"It's OK..." She whispered against his dark hair, "He heard you...I could see a small glimmer in his eye as you spoke."

Gohan bit his lip silently and pulled himself out of her embrace. He walked quickly from the room and into the hall so he could spent a few moments alone with his pent-up pain. ChiChi let him go and turned her attention to Piccolo, who looked so small in the bed. He seemed to fill it to the brim when he first slept in it, and now it seemed as if the bed overwhelmed him.

"I'm here now, Piccolo. It's ChiChi." She rubbed his arm gently, but there was no response, not even a twitching of the eyelids. "Gohan will be OK...he just has to cope." Lowering her face gently to his parted lips, she pressed a kiss to his mouth and laid her cheek against his forehead, "Did I ever tell you what an amazing face you have? I remember the day you showed up after Gohan asked me to meet with you and..." her soft, comforting talk continued until evening began to set in and she had to leave his side to fix dinner for the others.

And Piccolo slept on...

Gohan was standing by the window like a sentinel, staring out into the night. For some odd reason he felt too restless and antsy to lay down for more than a moment, so he'd spent the entire night watching the Piccolo sleep.

After everyone had left, Gohan decided to remove Piccolo's cape and turban to make him more comfortable. He left his gi and shoes on because Piccolo refused the pajamas. The purple material hugged close to the Namek's skin, a myriad of violet folds and wrinkles. The shirt had slipped partway off, leaving one delicate shoulder and half his chest naked. He slept with his lips parted and head turned slightly to the right, one hand on his chest and the other draped over his belt. His form was swallowed by the soft mattress and sheets. The pillow cradled his slender neck and bald head.

Piccolo's breathing was weakening, sometimes he would stop completely, and his pulse had become very faint. He was also starting to look eerily like the pale, helpless thing Doramu had been right after he hatched: His eyelids, lips, ears and fingers had all begun to take on a sickly ashen purple hue from lack of oxygen. The vibrant, rough patches that speckled some of his muscles had gone from pink to chalky grayish-white. The rest of his skin was pale and ashen, like grass covered in fine gray dust. His antennae had shriveled and shrunk into his forehead. His extremities were all ice-cold to the touch.

For the umpteenth time in an hour, Piccolo stopped breathing and seemed to become even more pale as his condition deteriorated. He awoke slowly, opened his eyes and emitted a watery half-cough before starting to breathe in shallower breaths.

His mind gradually grew aware of everything: the sound of ChiChi and Doramu's sleep-breathing, the small amounts of light filtering in through the window, the faint scents of flowers placed by his bed, the dry taste of thirst in his mouth and the numbing coldness coming over his skin. Mixed in all that was a strange feeling of calm, like all the pieces of a gigantic puzzle had just fallen into place.

Through the corner of his eye, he could see someone standing by the window. For a split second, he didn't recognize who it was, having to speak his name out loud to see if the person would respond.

"Gohan?" The voice escaped slowly, almost in a moan.

Alerted by the voice, Gohan turned from the window to find his friend wide awake. He felt his throat well up as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed. He pulled Piccolo's shirt back up over his shoulder, smoothed it down and tucked it in tight so it wouldn't slip off his shoulder again. Then he massaged the Namek's chest in attempt to make breathing a little easier.

"Yeah, it's me." Whispered Gohan as his hand continued its gentle circular motions between Piccolo's pectoral muscles, right over the throbbing area of his heart. That weak throb seemed almost non-existent, like an exhausted traveler looking for a place to rest. He could also feel how much a strain it was for him to keep breathing. "I'm here, Piccolo...it's OK..."

Slowly, ever so slowly, Piccolo's sleepy onyx eyes fluttered shut and drifted back open. He maintained eye-contact with his student for the entire five minutes of silence that transpired between them. The only movement in the room was Gohan's hand as it swirled in gentle circles, denting the leathery green skin and soft purple gi material beneath it.

After a time of staring at Piccolo's painfully cracked lips, Gohan reached across the bed for the glass of water on the table. Instead of using the eyedropper, he substituted his fingers, dipping them in the water and brushing them gently over his mentor's lips to moisten them. A lump lodged in his throat as he watched Piccolo look up, smack his lips and part them to ask for more. He re-moistened his fingers, placed them against the Namek's mouth and watched as he slurped individual droplets from his fingertips like a hungry child until the dryness in his mouth was relieved.

When Piccolo murmured wordlessly to say he'd had enough, Gohan put the glass back on the table, wiped away what dribbled down his chin and met his gaze again, "Are you uncomfortable anywhere else?"

"My hands." He whispered, "Cold."

"OK, I'll make it better for you." Gohan sat back down, grasped one of Piccolo's deathly cold hands and began to massage the warmth back in. The same process was repeated on the other hand until both limbs were comfortable. Nothing he did would stop the inevitable, not even a comforting hand massage, but it let him forget what was about to happen for a few moments.

Not once did Piccolo's eyes stray from Gohan's face as he was cared for. His love for the young man shone clear in the onyx depths, like a flame that never burned there until that moment. Gohan saw the way Piccolo was staring at him and felt his throat clutch up. His mentor had never looked at him that way before, with such love and trust. It was the same exact look he had seen in Doramu's eyes whenever Piccolo would hold him.

With tears streaming down his face, Gohan asked, "Anything else I can do for you, Piccolo?"

The Namek was silent for a long time, gazing at his student with glassy eyes. He didn't want their physical contact to cease. His cracked lips parted slowly and his chest heaved up and down a few times before words no louder than an exhalation came forth, "Hold my hand..." As he spoke, he opened his fingers and slid his hand towards the warmer one gripping the bedrail.

"You bet." Gohan reached down without question and gripped Piccolo's skeletal green hand tightly. He felt him squeeze back, though his hand wasn't as strong as Doramu's.

"Piccolo...are you scared?"

Piccolo closed his eyes and shook his head, "Not anymore."

Gohan forced himself to smile, "We had some great times together, I think...I just wish there could have been more." He squeezed his eyes shut to stem the tears trying to pour out, but was unsuccessful.

"Feh." Piccolo raised his other shaking hand up to brush the tears off the teen's cheeks, "It's okay to cry, kid. It took me a long time to learn that myself, but it's okay. Don't ever hold your pain inside like I did." His thin fingers cupped Gohan's cheek and moved away to wipe off the trail on his own cheekbone. "Tch, now you've got me started..."

Looking down, Gohan spotted the few streaks on Piccolo's pale emerald face. He wiped one off with his index finger and, compelled by an odd urge, placed his finger in his mouth. Then he showed another shaky smile, "I find it amazing that the tears of two so very different races and people taste exactly the same."

The ailing Namek licked the thumb he used to wipe Gohan's face with, sniffed and chuckled through closed lips at how stupid he made himself look. His eyes were shining. The laughter disturbed his aching joints and made him twitch, but he didn't mind. The pain felt so far away, like he wasn't fully attached to his body anymore. "Gohan, we're not as different as you think..." Piccolo's eyes fluttered, a strange tiredness overtaking him. He dozed off for several seconds and started breathing through an open mouth.

Gohan gasped, "Piccolo?"

One dark eye slid open. Then the other. He smirked, "I'm...still here, kid."

Relieved, Gohan whispered, "We aren't that different at all. We may look different, but inside we're pretty much the same."

"Yeah." Piccolo's soft voice, now so weak it was barely audible, grew serious again. He stared directly at Gohan's face. Keeping his thoughts together grew difficult, finally all he could think to say was, "Gohan...thanks for showing me what it's like to really live..."

Gohan lowered his eyes to Piccolo's hand and squeezed it gently. "No problem, Piccolo."

Dark eyes twinkling, Piccolo smiled in amusement. "I don't know why...I just called you 'kid'. You've grown up immensely over the past several months. To me...you're a man now. Not a boy, Gohan. A man. And I'm damn proud of you. Don't ever let anyone tell you differently." Then his voice cracked and his bottom lip showed a faint quiver. "My biggest regret is not being able to see Doramu grow up." He sniffed, "Gohan, promise me you'll take care of him. Please, don't ever let him isolate himself like I did. I want him happy...all the time...never to worry about old enemies popping up. Teach him everything I taught you. Be there for him." Fresh tears trembled in his eyes. He gripped Gohan's hand tighter, "This is important, Gohan. I want your word."

Grasping Piccolo's hand tighter, Gohan looked fiercely at his mentor. "I'll tell Doramu everything when he's old enough. He'll know who you were...I promise, Piccolo. You have my word...as a man. You have my word."

The tension left Piccolo's face. He blinked away his tears and nodded. Now I know it's all okay. I can go in peace...everything I needed to do here is done. His eyes drifted to Gohan's young face. The years had matured his appearance, but Piccolo could still see the frightened little boy Gohan once was. He patted the teenager's hand affectionately, "Hey. You'll be okay. I know you're in pain now and it'll hurt like hell once I'm gone. But it will pass once you accept the fact that I'm not physically with you anymore. If I don't wake up tomorrow, or if you're not here when I go...I want you to remember that I...I wasn't scared...or hurting..."

"Shhh, don't talk so much. You're tiring yourself out." Gohan leaned against the bed, still holding onto Piccolo's thin green hand. He'd already made a silent pact with himself. He would sit up next to his mentor all night if he had to. He didn't want to miss his last breath.

Nothing more was said between them as they sat there in silence, which was only broken by Piccolo's quiet breaths. Gohan stayed at his side and watched him. How calm and dignified he looked with his fighting gi still on. He could feel his grip trembling, tightening and relaxing intermittently.

"Piccolo..." Tears trickled down his cheeks as he started trying to make up every excuse he could to keep him from dying. His voice fell silent when Piccolo turned his head in a slow, mechanical fashion and fixed his gaze on something outside the large open window.

Piccolo watched a gold butterfly land on the windowsill and flutter its gilded wings. Rays from a brilliant red sunrise began to filter across the sky, and the red orb shone like a jewel of incomparable worth against the scintillating galactic hub. Every star in the heavens grew in radiance until the entire galaxy blazed in all its glory despite the sun's glare burning down. The light didn't twinkle or grow dim, even when his eyes tired out and blinked.

"The sunrise...it's amazing..."

"It's - " Blinking, Gohan looked over his shoulder at the window, which displayed nothing more than the usual stars that were always out at three in the morning. The constellation Scorpius hovered just above the horizon, right near a bright section of the Milky Way. In its center glowed a red star with a name that started with an A, but he couldn't remember it at the moment.

Piccolo...that light you see isn't a sunrise. Do you even realize...? The idea that Piccolo didn't realize he was about to die gave the teenager some comfort, though it wasn't enough to stop the tears. "Yeah, it is. Mind if I watch it with you?"

Piccolo took in a slow, jerky breath. His ashen lips barely moved as he replied, "I'd like that..."

Nodding, Gohan walked to the other side of the bed and curled up next to Piccolo, haunted by the sound of his breathing. Piccolo continued to gaze dreamily at the window, smiling slightly at a rising sun that wasn't really there. Gohan settled his head on Piccolo's gaunt shoulder and patted his chest affectionately.

The moment Gohan turned his gaze away, Piccolo's eyes fluttered sleepily, it was getting difficult to stay awake. Through the window before him he still saw the luminous star. The more he watched it, the brighter it became. Then, just like Dr. Takado said, he went to sleep. The image he beheld continued its sweep across his mind like an endless dream. Stimulating his memories. Toying with his senses. Filling him with peace.

"Hey, Piccolo?" Gohan started to speak, only to stop when he looked down and caught sight of the Namek's unconscious state. He looked just like he did before - eyes half closed and mouth open. So gaunt and vulnerable. "Piccolo?" But calling his name didn't rouse him this time. He was actively dying. Everything had shut down. Consciousness, awareness, emotions...they were slipping away like sand in an hourglass.

All Gohan could think to do to comfort his Namekian friend was to hold him close and wait for the inevitable. So he put his arms around Piccolo's frail frame and pulled him gently to his chest, holding him protectively. One arm cradling his head and shoulders. The other resting on his chest. He rocked back and forth, back and forth, rocking him gently to his death. Piccolo was fragile and helpless in Gohan's arms. Like a newborn, right down to both arms draped in a criss-cross pattern across his stomach. Gohan lifted Piccolo's left hand by the wrist. No resistance. The hand just dangled, tapered fingers inert. He laid the hand across Piccolo's chest and settled his own on top of it.

Of all the changes taking place, it was the sudden quietness that frightened the teenager the most. He'd expected noisy, labored breathing or gurgling. It didn't happen like he anticipated - there was no sound at all. Piccolo wasn't struggling and his face showed no pain. His mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water, making just the movements of breathing without actually taking in air. He'd do that several times and then take a small breath. Just like Doramu after he hatched. He was forgetting how to breathe.

No wonder he slipped back into unconsciousness. Not enough oxygen. He was painlessly suffocating.

Gohan closed his eyes and sobbed convulsively, overwhelmed in the silence. His voice came out strained, "I'm holding you in my arms right now, Piccolo, and I'm not going to let go. I'll protect you..." He pressed his lips to his mentor's pale brow and started to whisper directly into his ear, "Doramu loves you...my mom loves you...and I love you...take that with you, OK?" Tears fell freely down his face, his voice lowering to a hoarse whisper, "Thank you. For every kindness you showed me. For training me when I was little. For being the best friend I've ever had. For understanding me when no one else would. For existing. Thank you for everything." Don't go! Don't leave me, I can't stand this pain! his mind screamed, despite the comforting words coming from his mouth. He closed his tear-swollen eyes and pressed his forehead against the side of Piccolo's face. "I'll tell Doramu everything. He'll know how much you loved him. He'll know you."

Piccolo didn't give any indication of hearing anything Gohan said. His jaw stopped spasming. The movement of his chest slowed. He rumbled each time he exhaled. Little hums from deep in his throat as the air passed over his relaxed vocal cords. It was still comforting just to hear his voice again.

Then his breathing halted entirely.

Gohan felt his teacher's ki suddenly drop to nothing. He clutched him harder. Tears flooded down his cheeks. "Don't go, Piccolo." He begged, "Please don't go."

Piccolo gave no response; he was beyond comprehending Gohan's words. He breathed once more, in and out softly through his mouth. No more breaths followed. His heart faltered to a halt.

Gohan's eyelids opened wide at the sudden silence. He stared down at Piccolo's face, watching his pupils dilate as his brain died. The twin ridges adorning his forehead showed a mere fraction of his usual frown, making his brow and the bridge of his teardrop nose seem unnaturally smooth. The bottom half of his irises were still visible under his lowered eyelids. Death clouded them like someone closing the door between a brightly lit room and a dark hallway. His jaw was relaxed and his cracked lips parted to expose the tips of his menacing fangs. It was an ugly and unnatural expression. Nothing at all like the scowling Piccolo everyone knew.

"Piccolo... Hey, Piccolo?" Gohan jostled Piccolo's shoulder and patted his cheek. Piccolo's head lolled back against his arm, limp and heavy. "No...no, no...no, no, no! I'm not ready! I-I-I can't do this yet!" Gohan blubbered mindlessly as if talking could keep his beloved friend's spirit from escaping him. "Breathe...or...or...blink your eyes! Please just one more breath...one more blink. Just one more, come on." He settled Piccolo's head on his shoulder, placed a hand on the back of his scalp and started rocking back and forth. The green man's listless arms dangled uselessly, his ashen hands brushing against the bedsheets and Gohan's leg. "...I-I'm scared, Piccolo! I don't know what to do... You always knew what to do! I'm lost now...what should I do? What do you want me to do?" He prayed for a reply, waiting in tense silence for one to come.

Something is still throbbing somewhere. It has to be Piccolo's heart. It just has to be!

But minutes passed and the man in his arms didn't twitch, didn't breathe, didn't make a sound. When Gohan finally realized the throbbing he felt was his own heartbeat and not Piccolo's, he felt as if all the strength in his body fell into the floor. He settled a hand across Piccolo's broad back and buried his face in his shoulder.

"No...Piccolo..." the teenager began to sob so hard that Piccolo's frame was the only reason he didn't collapse onto the sheets. He held his mentor's lifeless body for what seemed like an eternity. Rocking back and forth. Rubbing his back and neck. "Come back..."

ChiChi opened her eyes and blinked, awakened by the sound of Gohan's cries. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and yawned, "What is - " Her voice choked off when her gaze fell upon the way her son was holding Piccolo. A lump lodged itself in her throat. She lifted one of Piccolo's hands and felt his wrist for a pulse. When she didn't find one, she kissed his knuckles and stroked his long fingers.

"Gohan." ChiChi draped Piccolo's hand across his chest and touched Gohan's shoulder, "He's gone, Gohan."

Gohan squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth, silently wishing that he could die too so this pain would disappear. Piccolo's head felt heavy and cold against his shoulder. He dug his fingers into the Namek's clothes and ignored his mother's attempts to comfort him.

ChiChi saw that Gohan was unreceptive to her solace and removed her hand, letting him go ahead and cry the pain out. She rubbed Piccolo's shoulder. "Did he suffer at all in the end?"

"No. He didn't even know it was happening." Gohan replied stonily. He carefully let go of Piccolo's still form, a hand supporting his head as he guided his body to lay back down on the bed and placed his arms gently at his sides. He couldn't believe the end had really come, even as he watched how the Namek's head slumped lifelessly to the side on the pale pillow. Gohan laid a hand over the top of Piccolo's bald green head and sighed, his face wet with tears. "He...he said he saw a beautiful sunrise. Then he just took a deep breath and stopped breathing. No pain, no fear. Just...peace. It was so quiet...he just went to sleep. That's all...he's sleeping...he's sleeping."

ChiChi nodded. She was relieved that he didn't suffer the same agonized death her mother had. ChiChi traced the outline of Piccolo's brow ridges with her fingertips, pushing them back into their more natural frown. Her gentle touch dropped to his eyelids and closed them. She let her hand drift to his cracked lips, a finger pushing gently from above and below to close them. It brought back memories of the day, so long ago, when she had caressed his lower lip while he was in pain. She remembered a lot of things...

Seeing him up close for the first time when she opened the door for him. His sad expression when she took his hand. When she ran into him with all the books and his hands moving to pick them up while he shyly avoided her gaze. A smirk as she offered him a mug of water while he meditated under a tree near the house. How gentle he was after bringing Doramu in after hatching. The funny look on his face at his birthday party and the kiss she gave him later. Him holding the thong like a toxic animal and looking ready to kill someone. When she taught him how to dance at the party, how funny his face looked and the smirk he wore as he smoothly twirled her. Feeling his arms around her in bed that one night. The image of his form standing outside with his cape blowing in his wind. A flash of his rare smile when he turned to face her. His performance at the tournament and the blasting of the wheelchair. Images of him laughing and their idiotic waterfight in the tub. The way he cried in her arms after begging her to hold him.

ChiChi returned to the present and gazed at the Namek's calm expression. With his face adjusted properly, Piccolo appeared to be asleep, and if she wasn't mistaken, she could have sworn the his lips were pulled into a faint smile.

"He looks so peaceful now." ChiChi curled up beside him in the bed, placed an arm around his waist and another around his neck, pulling him protectively close to her chest in a motherly embrace. She stroked his cheek and rubbed his hands, instinctively trying to bring him comfort. "Goodbye Piccolo..." A few of her tears landed gently on the pillow below her cheek.

Goodbye. The word made Gohan lose the urge to hear anything else his mother might have said.

He walked over to Doramu's crib, picked the sleeping baby up and held him, even as gazing down at his face brought the painful tears up to the surface. "Doramu..."

Doramu stirred in Gohan's arms, his lips gaping as a huge yawn overcame him. Then his eyes popped open and wandered around the room until they came upon the larger version of himself lying in bed. "Da-da!" He gurgled, smiled and pointed to his father, never realizing that his eyes were closed forever. "Da-da!"

The dark-haired man broke down and started to cry when he realized what the baby in his arms was saying, "Yeah...Doramu. Da-da...Piccolo's your da-da..." He pulled the infant close and held him the way he had held his mentor in his last moments. "Da-da..."


It had been thirty minutes since the most influential person Gohan would ever know slipped out of his life.

Gohan sat next to the bed, staring down at his friend's body. Piccolo was just lying there with his hands folded across his navel and the sheets pulled up to his waist. ChiChi did wonderful job of cleaning him up so he smelled nice and fresh, but nothing could erase the sickly discoloration of his skin. He did look a little more like himself with his cape and turban on.

Gohan remembered sliding the weighted gear onto Piccolo's body. It wasn't at all like the time he helped dress him while he was alive, there had always been resistance, hands tugging here and there to help. This time those movements were absent. Gohan almost couldn't go through with it. But he was glad he did.

"Someone pick up...please..." Gohan groaned to himself. He ran a hand through his hair while keeping the cordless phone pressed firmly to his ear. He needed to call someone and tell them Piccolo died. But who? The answering machine wasn't working at Krillin's place, so he hung up and dialed another number.

A phone rang long and loud on its forgotten table in someone's living room. Because of the odd hour, it was allowed to ring for ages until a bleary-eyed Vegeta, dressed only in black jockies, finally stomped over and snatched it up. "Whoever this is had better have a damn good reason to interrupt my sleep!" He snarled.

On the other end, Gohan sighed noisily in half-relief, half pain, "Vegeta...it's Piccolo. He's gone..."

Vegeta's eyes widened and his grip on the phone tightened. Madness! He licked his thin lips and paced a few steps, his wild hair brushing the low ceiling as he tried to find something snide to say. All that managed to escape was a harsh, "When did he die!?"

"Half an hour ago...said he saw a sunrise, then stopped breathing."

"Humph!" Vegeta hung up without saying goodbye and tossed the phone onto the couch. Running a hand through his stiff hair, he walked back into the bedroom where Bulma slept soundly. Who would protect her if something happened to him? Vegeta shook his head and found himself doing something he never did before - he bent closer to Bulma's sleeping face and pressed his lips gently to hers. Bulma smiled in her sleep and turned over.

"You are my queen...I will always protect you."

Vegeta left the room and headed out onto the balcony. He stared at the sky as light from the sunrise fell across his face. For a moment, he even spent a moment admiring its beauty. It was bright orange with hints of purple and red higher up. How glorious it is... Then he turned his head towards the Son residence and tried to locate Piccolo's power level. There was nothing, not even a flicker. He...he really *IS* gone. I...I can't believe it!

Humbled by his own mortality for the first time in his life, the Prince of the Saiyajins bowed his head.

And shed a single tear.

"Goodbye, Piccolo."

When I think back on these times
And the dreams we left behind
I'll be glad 'cause I was blessed to get
To have you in my life.

Piccolo's still form was lying at the top of a huge pile of wood. The grand liquid whiteness of his cape was spread out neatly beneath his body like a blanket. A pillow propped his head up just enough to keep his mouth from falling open, making it look as if he had just settled down for a quick nap. His gracefully-formed hands were carefully folded one atop the other on his navel, appearing so thin and fragile that a single touch would shatter them into a million pieces. The rest of his body looked the same way, though ChiChi often commented he looked as young as he was when he first encountered Goku.

Gohan couldn't believe how limp and heavy Piccolo's body was when he'd carried him to this place. Any other time he'd carried him, there was always some resistance. The limpness had almost frightened him into forgetting the whole idea of what he was going to do.

He looked up at the cliff he brought Piccolo to a little less than twenty-four hours before he passed away. Yes, what he said was true. How long you had didn't matter as long as you made the most of it.

Gohan hovered beside the wood pile where his friend was lying, stroking one of his green hands. Tears were blazing trails down his face. "Piccolo, I know you probably can't hear me anymore...but...I hope that, wherever you went, you found peace. Nothing will be the same without you, at least to me it won't." He put his head down and briefly marveled at the differences in skin color and hand size. "I'll always miss you. How will Doramu ever know how wonderful you were?" A sob choked his voice, "How will he know?"

When I look back on these days
I'll look and see your face
You were right there for me.

No one else was around to hear what he was saying, not even ChiChi. She'd made it clear she didn't want to watch Piccolo's body burn - to her it was barbaric. But Gohan insisted on respecting Piccolo's wishes. Until then he didn't realize the real reason...he could've slapped himself when it came to him.

Piccolo wasn't afraid of being chewed on by insects or animals. He just didn't want to be put in a place where his student would come to mourn all the time. It was his way of saying 'move on.'

Gohan turned his gaze to Piccolo one more time to seal the reality of his death into his consciousness.

The sun was shining directly onto the Namek's face, allowing no shadows to fall upon it. His frowning brow ridges cast sharp lines above the curves of his closed eyes. The cracked terrain of his lips were pulled into the tiniest smile one can get away with, for once able to rest in their natural position. With the way he was always scowling, nobody could ever tell he had a heart-shaped mouth.

He looked so serene that way, with his face to the sun, an expression that not even sleep could bring about. Gohan knew that, for the rest of his life, he would remember Piccolo's face looking that way. So calm and...beautiful. Piccolo was beautiful in his own way, not just for his appearance, but for what he transcended to become the person he was.

In my dreams I'll always see
You soar above the sky
In my heart there'll always be
A place for you for all my life.

The young man sniffed, slid his free hand into his pocket and produced the photograph of everyone taken at the birthday party so long ago. He placed it face-down on his dead friend's navel and shifted his graceful hands to lie on top of it. A sigh laced with tears escaped him. He cast a last glance at the green figure, passed a gentle hand over his green brow and whispered, "Piccolo-san daisuki," He hadn't said that in years. He punctuated it with a quiet, "Rest in peace."

I'll keep a part of you with me
And everywhere I am there you'll be
And everywhere I am there you'll be.

Only one breath of wind bore witness to him as he floated away from the pyre and lowered to the ground. The silence was disturbed by the gurgle of liquid hitting a hard surface as the half-Saiyajin spread kerosene over the outermost edge of the pyre.

Gohan hesitated after throwing the empty canister aside, sighing silently to himself. He held his palm out towards the wood. Then, glancing at the Namek's corpse a final time, closed his eyes and said, "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust..."

Well you showed me how it feels
To feel the sky within my reach
And I always will remember all
The strength you gave to me.

He continued to chant the phrase in a low whisper as he shot a small white blast that ignited the ring of kerosene. The pyre was soon surrounded by a ring of fire dancing around the base, black smoke rising straight up towards the distant blue sky.

Not a sound disturbed the peace around the area as the fire grew. Dew drops stood still on unmoving blades of grass. The trees seemed frozen with their leaves hanging limp in mourning. Even the animals were silent, not moving a whisker as the dark-haired man stood before the orange blaze.

Your love made me make it through
Oh, I owe so much to you
You were right there for me.

The flames were soon roaring over the wood surrounding Piccolo's body. A soft crackle sounded when edges of his cape started to burn. His head dropped back against the wood when the pillow burned away. Tiny flames formed a halo around the cloth of his turban. His clothes caught and began to flicker with orange brilliance, occasional pieces of burning cloth being swept up into the rising pillar of smoke.

Just before Piccolo's skin burned away, the flames thickened and shrouded him from view. The roar was deafening and the column of flames burning over the body turned blue as it was reduced to bones. Gohan caught a glimpse of the skeleton when a piece of wood fell away, but the blaze quickly returned to fill the gap.

In my dreams I'll always see
You soar above the sky
In my heart there'll always be
A place for you for all my life.
I'll keep a part of you with me
And everywhere I am there you'll be.

Gohan turned his face away from the burning pyre and closed his eyes. For a moment or two he could see those old times as clear as day: The day Piccolo took him away to be trained. Piccolo's cold glare when he tried to invite him to his birthday party. The look on his face before he faded away after taking that blast from Nappa. Several moments where he caught the green man in the middle of meditation. Those times at the lake when they went swimming or stargazing. The moment when he held Doramu for the first time. That hilarious moment when he unwrapped the thong at the birthday party. Several moments in the tournament. His face when he saw Doramu crawl for the first time. Those last days in his room, especially the day he opened his soul.

'Cause I always saw in you
My light, my strength
And I want to thank you now
For all the ways

Out of all the memories Gohan had of his beloved friend, the most precious one was when Piccolo died. Watching him take his last breath was like watching Doramu take his first. Same moving jaw, same silent gasps and the same sense of awe. The only difference was one breath signaled a departure while the other signaled an approach.

Gohan still swore Piccolo was semi-conscious when he slipped away. He would never forget his eyes changing from fierce to faraway. He died in the same silent way he always lived. So quiet and peaceful - and without pain.

You were right there for me
You were right there for me,
For always.

'Life is all just a big inhalation. It begins in a gasp and ends in a sigh. But you, on the other hand, came out talking and never will shut up 'till you're a pile of bones underground.' Piccolo had once said with a grand show of sarcasm. At the time it was said, Gohan was pretty angry, but now it made him smile because it seemed so true.

In my dreams I'll always see
You soar above the sky
In my heart there'll always be
A place for you for all my life.

Six months; that was how long Dr. Takado said Piccolo would live. But, stubborn as he was, Piccolo hung on for eight months. Eight months of experiencing his pain, anger, joy and sorrow. Eight months of watching him change from a hard-hearted warrior to an open, caring person. Eight months of watching him grow weak and die.

Gohan sighed and shook his head as the fire slowly died down. Now all that remained of Piccolo were memories, photographs, videos, and Doramu.

I'll keep a part of you with me
And everywhere I am there you'll be
And everywhere I am there you'll be.

The half-Saiyajin teenager opened his eyes and lifted his head as tears poured down his cheeks. And for a moment, as he stared across the sweltering valley, he could see Piccolo walking into the distance with the wind blowing in his magnificent white cape.

Piccolo's true last breath had finally been taken. Not in a whimper, not in a sob, but in a blaze of glory. His image disappeared behind ribbons of smoke that rose into the sky. The last glowing embers flared against the wind, taking a final gasp before they slowly flickered out.

There you'll be...

Trails of smoke rose from where the last embers in the campfire had just fizzled out. Time seemed to restart as the wind came through to scatter the ashes.

"...now you know you had a great dad, Doramu. And that he loved you..." Gohan's voice fell silent and gave way to the sounds of the forest. His lip was quivering and tears were streaming down his face, but he had told the entire tale without stopping for the first time since Piccolo died.

Doramu lifted his head as tears brimmed in his eyes, his mind finally filled with the knowledge and love of his mysterious father. He was about to speak when a smaller green form, dressed in overalls, waddled out of the bushes and tripped over a raised root. He hit the ground hard and started to wail in frustration, "DA-WAAAAAHHHH!!"

Doramu's arm shot out to help the little one up. "Awww, it's alright, little guy."

Startled by the other presence, Gohan wound up on his back. He sat up again, shook out the cobwebs and fixed his eyes onto the sobbing Namekian baby that Doramu was holding. Thinking he was seeing things, he blinked, then lifted his gaze to Doramu's face in surprise, "Who...?"

Doramu grinned at the child in his arms, held him close to comfort him and gently wiped the miniature tears away, "This is Mandorin. He's my son." He pointed to the book lying open on the ground and smiled again, "Hey, Mandorin? Lookie here...that's your grandpa, Piccolo."

"Your...son?" Gohan blinked in disbelief at the miniature Doramu/Piccolo sitting in the Namek's lap. The overalls he was wearing were a little too big, often slipping off his tiny pink-muscled shoulders and falling down to reveal the top of his cloth diaper. "He looks just like you!"

"Naturally! It must run in the family!" Doramu barked in lively laughter and held Mandorin under the armpits to stand him back up. He gave him a gentle pat on the butt to nudge him forward. "Go see Gohan." He grinned. The baby giggled as he wobbled unsteadily on his feet from the nudge. When he had enough balance, he waddled up to Gohan and grabbed his leg to stay upright.

"Go-go!" He babbled, trying to say Gohan's name.

Lowering his eyes to the baby's oversized ones, Gohan felt tears well up to blur his vision. He reached down, picked Mandorin up and stared at his face. It was hard to believe Doramu was ever that small. "Hey, Mandorin...you're sure a cute little guy..."

"Budduhfwy!" Mandorin babbled happily, following an orange butterfly with his eyes. He reached towards it when it came close enough, and it landed gently on his thumb. The butterfly seemed to show no fear of the child at all, fluttering its wings instead of flying away whenever its perch moved.

"Mom always spoils him." Doramu shook his head playfully and got to his feet. Though he wasn't as tall as his father had been, he was close enough for the difference to be missed. "Speaking of, she should be telling us that dinner is ready in about five, four, three, two, one - "

"DINNER!" ChiChi's voice called from the edge of the forest.

Gohan burst into laughter at the knowledge that his mother still hadn't changed. Even though she was only cooking for one, she still had to yell about it. His amusement level really grew as he realized his mom was in for a big surprise, because he wasn't supposed to be home for another two weeks.

"Well, better not keep her waiting." The Namek smirked as the wind caused his cape to rustle along with the trees surrounding him. He turned briefly as a thought struck him right in the back of the head, "Do you ever wonder where your dad and my dad
are right now? Where their souls might have gone?"

"Yeah, sometimes." Gohan patted Mandorin's head playfully, "They're probably travelling together and exploring places nobody else has ever seen. If they're not at each other's throats, anyway." He smiled ruefully. "I guess we'll never know."

"Feh." Doramu 'harumphed', "Anyway, we should get going."

Nodding absently, the half-Saiyajin watched a spot of sunlight dance over a group of tree roots. The tree he was looking at happened to be the one Piccolo was standing under in the first photograph Doramu had seen of him. "Go on ahead. I'll catch up later."

"OK. See ya soon. I can't wait to see the look on Mom's face..." Doramu flashed a fangy, naturally crooked grin. He waved briefly before turning and started up the path leading to the house. Not a sound punctuated his footfalls as he followed the same path his father used to take. He was Piccolo in every way, but with his own personality, his own memories, his own soul and his own life.

Gohan watched Doramu go for a moment, then lowered his eyes to Mandorin. In the child's eyes, he could see Piccolo as he once was; turning to smirk at him as the wind blew his white cape around like a pair of wings. The image of Piccolo seemed to turn and walk away, not looking back, not slowing down and not stopping. So alive, powerful and immortal...

"Go-go!" Mandorin cooed and clapped his hands to break the spell. The startled butterfly on his thumb promptly took off and fluttered above a nearby bush as its previous perch was shoved into the drooling well of a mouth. Gohan followed the butterfly with his gaze for a few moments, realizing that through telling Piccolo's story, the gaping wound in his heart had finally stopped bleeding. At last, after being cleaned and soothed, it could begin to heal.

He could still see that image of Piccolo walking away and realized that everything was finally OK. After nineteen years of pain, the storm in his soul was calm, he could finally face the fact that Piccolo was gone.

"Goodbye..." he whispered, finally able to let go.

Many hours later found Doramu standing atop the desert cliff, silhouetted by the rising sun. It looked red at first, but turned gold as it climbed higher. Doramu opened his eyes, held out his fist and uncurled his willowy fingers. Rose petals - red, white and yellow - fluttered off his palm and drifted gently across the ever-changing desert sand like multicolored snowflakes.

I know him now...I know everything. He loved me. He gave me everything he never had... He looked up, Dad, I forgive you for not being here. I'm okay. Everything you wanted for me has been realized.

Suddenly a breeze came along and stirred Doramu's cape. He glanced down and watched the rose petals blow away. For a moment he swore he saw Piccolo step up beside him to watch the sunrise. The image quickly faded, but the young Namek could still feel his father's presence all around. He smiled into the sunrise with tear-filled eyes.

"I love you too, dad. Thank you for my life."


One day, one night, one moment,
my dreams could be, tomorrow.
One step, one fall, one falter,
east or west, over earth or by ocean.
One way to be my journey,
this way could be my Book of Days.

Ó lá go lá, mo thuras,
an bealach fada romham.
Ó oíche go hoíche, mo thuras,
na scéalta nach mbeidh a choích.

No day, no night, no moment,
can hold me back from trying.
I'll flag, I'll fall, I'll falter,
I'll find my day may be,
Far and Away.
Far and Away.

Way out in the blackness of space, a rippling wormhole yawned open. From it came a large, silver wedge-shaped ship containing the first human beings to colonize Eitai, a planet roughly six hundred light years from Earth. One of the most distant yet. Thanks to modern-day space technology and the discovery of wormholes, a trip that would have taken several lifetimes in normal space only took eight months in the void of hyperspace. Eight long months in boring, featureless oblivion.

Cipoclo stood on the observation deck, his palm pressed to the clear glass between him and the vacuum. The stars glowed all around, brilliant and untwinkling. Off to the left, a large blue and white planet the size of Jupiter twirled gently on its axis.

The ship turned towards the planet and fell into orbit. A reflection of Antares, Eitai's brilliant red sun, glided across the panoramic window Cipoclo was peering through. The young man narrowed his large eyes in its brilliance to watch the gorgeous landscape stretch out below. A pale sea sparkled far out into the distance, a silver-blue sheet against the dark horizon. Beautiful ivory mountains rose up in the distance. Lush unnamed vegetation in all colors and shapes grew everywhere, just waiting to be discovered and explored.

Suddenly, he stood perfectly still. He thought he saw reflections of a gold butterfly flitting across the window. It reminded him of Earth, the home he had left forever, and a pang of bittersweet sadness stung his heart. He felt as if he left something important behind, something he should have brought along, but he couldn't remember what. With the sorrow came the excitement of exploring places no one had ever seen. Of moving on to bigger and better things. Things he looked forward to do with Kugo, someone he had been friends with his whole life. They'd worked hard together in order to take this journey, to finally realize this lifelong dream, and he was determined to enjoy it.

"Hey, Cip!" Came a voice from behind, interrupting his thoughts, "The ship is going to land at any second now. Are you ready?"

"Feh." Cipoclo pressed his forehead to the cool glass and swallowed, causing his Adam's apple to bob gently up and down. He watched the butterfly flit about for some time before answering softly, "I don't know, Kugo...I guess." His raspy voice trailed off and he lifted his head with a faint snort. "I feel like I'm leaving something behind that I should have brought along, but I don't know what it is. It also feels like everything is right, that all the pieces are in place at last. Y'know what I mean?"

Kugo's dark dredlocks bounced gently as he linked his hands behind his head and said simply, "Nope!" Then he smiled, his large, dark eyes lighting up with naive innocence.

Cipoclo chuckled. Kugo always made him laugh. "Neither do I. Heh, I already brought everything I need along with me anyway. Dimwit." Turning to face his tan-skinned friend, the tall young man reached up to sweep his short green hair back and smiled. The two longest strands fell right back into his face. Light from the stars filtered through the window and fell across his face as the golden butterfly faded out of his memory.

Kugo glanced out the window and smiled, "We're landing! Are you ready to go? C'mon, get by the hatch and be the first one out!"

"Chiiiiiiiiiiiill out, Kugo, you are way too hyper." Cipoclo took a deep breath, turning his head to watch the rough silver door unseal itself with a loud hiss. It lowered mechanically to become a ramp that gently touched the pale dirt. A breeze from the warm air of the planet blustered in, ruffling Cipoclo's rebellious green hair gently against his collar and forehead as light from the planet's star illuminated his and Kugo's faces.

Before them rose a crimson sun that hung like a massive jewel of incomparable worth against the shimmering galactic hub. The whole sky was lit up with glittering points of light that barely twinkled, even with the sunlight burning down. It grew brighter the longer they watched it.

Something about it was familiar, Cipoclo could have sworn he'd seen a view like this before somewhere. A lump swelled in his throat at the beauty. Man, days like this make me feel glad to be alive...

"Hard to believe that after all this time, our trip is finally over," Kugo commented, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

The taller teenager faced his friend. His dark eyes gleamed. "I know, but it was a long time coming."

Kugo flashed an innocent smirk, "So...what now?"

Cipoclo turned around, chuckling, "Live, Kugo. Just live." Then he jumped off the ramp and slammed his brown boots down into the soft soil. The first human footprints on a new world they helped discover. Cipoclo stood triumphantly at the foot of the ramp with his arms crossed. He stared off into the horizon as pale dust swirled around his purple leggings. This was the place he'd been drawn to for longer than he could remember without ever knowing why. He closed his eyes, grinning, it didn't matter now. He was home.

The sun rose higher, swallowing him in its glare.

One day, one night, one moment,
with a dream to believe in.
One step, one fall, one falter,
and a new earth across a wide ocean.
This way became my journey,
this day ends together,
Far and Away.

This day ends together,
Far and Away.
Far and Away...

~*The End*~