Summary: Set during Dende's first year as Guardian, and his first experience of winter. More specifically, the extended winter nights. Piccolo's POV.
Long shadows cast themselves across the ground. The trees planted in set rows waved gently back and forth in the cold air. A cold wind blew across the high lookout, making the lone figure's cloak snap and sway.
He ignored this, crossing his arms tighter and bowing his head. His meditation was too important to give it up now. He wouldn't be distracted by such miniscule trifles. His ears twitched at the sound of footsteps on the hard, cold ground, but he ignored that as well. His eyes clenched shut, his mouth tightening into a thin line.
Soon, however, came something he could not ignore.
The voice, soft, almost whispered, resounded through him, shattering his concentration the way the whistling wind and footsteps could not. He opened his eyes and unfolded his legs, trying to control his irritation. He didn't like being disturbed.
"What is it?" he asked. His voice was harsh, sharp. He was never one to mince words, but he regretted his harsh tone as the young Namek flinched back.
"I-I'm sorry to disturb you," he stammered. "But I-I-"
Piccolo frowned. Dende had never been frightened of him before. He had always been cautious of his words, true, and careful in his actions, but had never been so obviously scared.
"What is it, Dende?" Piccolo asked in a gentler tone.
"I'm frightened," Dende finally managed to say. He was trembling, his hands clasped together in the centre of his chest. His antennae waved back and forth.
"It's...so dark, Piccolo," Dende said in a quiet whisper. "I can barely stand it."
Piccolo looked around him. True, the sun was low in the sky and night was approaching. But what of it? As it was winter, the sun did rise late and set early, slowly shortening the day to only a few hours. It was now four in the afternoon, and already the sun was sinking.
He returned his gaze to Dende. The young Namek was trembling even more violently now, spasms racking his small frame. His eyes were fixed on the sun as it dipped lower and lower, sending out the golden bars of light which accompanied every sunset.
"Why are you frightened of the dark?" Piccolo asked. Dende didn't answer, but let out a low, desperate moan as the sun disappeared and the sky began to darken. Piccolo uncrossed his arms, bending down on one knee so he was level with Dende. "Answer me, Dende. Why are you frightened?"
Dende's eyes flicked towards him, then back at the glowing section of horizon where the sun used to be.
"Nameks live by light," he said in a shaky voice. "Dark is...unknown to us."
Piccolo frowned slightly. Memories flashed through his mind. A permanently bright sky. The two suns that were orbited at different rates so the planet was never in darkness. A village of Nameks, rejoicing at another harvest brought on by the constant sunlight. These images, these memories, were not his.
He growled as he forced Nail's memories from his mind. Dende looked at him, then back to the horizon. The sky was growing steadily darker, stars appearing like tiny pinpricks in the sky. Piccolo put one hand on Dende's shoulder and pointed to them.
"Look. The sky is never completely dark. There is always some light."
"It is dark," Dende said, shivering. "Dark and cold. Piccolo, I don't understand. Why is now so different?"
Piccolo almost slapped himself on the forehead. Of course! Dende had never experienced winter before.
"Because," he said in a low voice, "there are different seasons on Earth. This is winter. It comes around every year."
"Every year?" Dende asked, hopelessness and horror in his voice. "I'll never survive! I have to call the elder, he will find someone more suitable to be Earth's god."
He made to run off, but Piccolo grabbed him. His hand easily wrapped around the youngster's forearm, ceasing his movement.
"Don't," he warned. "There is no one better suited than you, Dende. You are Guardian of Earth now. Don't back out because of three months of night."
Dende shivered as he cast another look up at the sky.
"It presses down on me," he whispered. "It's everywhere. It's hard to breathe, Piccolo. I will not survive three months of this."
"You must," Piccolo said. His gaze was trained hard on the young Namek, his eyes narrowed. Dende was still staring at the sky, cowering under the threat of darkness.
Piccolo sighed silently to himself. Dende didn't look around, didn't move except for his constant trembling. Tears were starting to run down his cheeks, splashing down his clothes and onto the hard, cold ground of the lookout.
Piccolo let out a more audible sigh, then drew the child towards him. He carefully put his arms around the young Namek, unsure of how to hold one so young, so small. Images flashed through his mind again, and for the first time he thanked Nail's influence.
He crossed his legs again so he was floating in mid-air, Dende secured on his lap. The young Namek didn't look around, only nestled closer to his warmth. His trembled lessened, but didn't stop.
"You shouldn't be frightened, Dende," Piccolo said softly. "You have no need to fear anything."
"It's so frightening, though," Dende whispered. "There is so much that can happen during the night. Can't you feel the danger, the threat?"
"I feel no more danger than I do during the day," Piccolo said. "There is as much threat during the day as during the night."
"The night shields so much," Dende said quietly. "There is no way to see, no way to sense what is happening. You must simply trust that you are safe, although there is no way to tell it is so."
"Dende," Piccolo said. "You are a child of light. I understand that. You must learn, however, to tolerate the night. It can be beautiful too, in all its mystery."
Dende shuddered, his hands gripping tightly to Piccolo's cloak, his small hands twining in the heavy material. "I can't," he whispered, curling up into a tighter ball in Piccolo's lap. "It's so hard."
Piccolo's lips twisted in a wry smile. He bent his head and looked down at the Namek in his lap, seeing only the crown of his head and his antennae above his loose clothing.
"You can rest, Dende," Piccolo said, gently supporting the young boy. "I will be here when you wake."
Dende's tremors eased off a bit more, and he laid his head on Piccolo's chest. Piccolo allowed his smile to become warm, affectionate, as one hand lightly trailed up and rested on the young Namek's head. He tried to curse Nail for this emotion he was bestowing on Dende, but knew that it was pointless.
The love he felt for Dende had grown in the past few months, welling inside him as he taught the new God the ways of the Earth. He had used Kami's knowledge to help the boy figure out how to run the lookout, and relied on Mr Popo's help more than once. He had grown to love the boy much as he had grown to love Gohan. The warmth inside him as he held Dende close to him was unmatched by any.
What did I do, he thought to himself, to deserve such wonderful students?
The answer didn't come, but he didn't expect it to. He hadn't done anything good or wonderful in this world, yet he had been blessed with a little half-Saiyan who was stronger than anyone on Earth, and a young Namek whose power now protected the entire Earth.
"Thank you, Piccolo," Dende whispered. Piccolo glanced down at him, surprised. He had thought the child was asleep.
"You don't need to thank me, Dende," he said, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Dende raised his head, and Piccolo saw that he was only awake by sheer willpower. The moon bathed his face in a gentle, silvery glow, highlighting the left side of his face.
"No, I do," he whispered. He nestled his head back on Piccolo's chest, his hands still gripping the heavy material of his cloak. "Thank you. The dark...is not so frightening when you're here."
Piccolo smiled. He shifted so the child was nestled closer to him, his arms cradling and comforting the young boy.
"Sleep well, little brother," he whispered, and he wondered if Dende knew it wasn't Nail talking.
"You too, Piccolo."
Ah, so he did know. He was a smart kid. Piccolo's smile widened, and he bowed his head slightly. He lowered himself down until he was sitting on the ground, his arms still wrapped tightly around Dende. He used one hand to grab his cloak and throw it around them, before putting his arm around Dende again. He could feel the slight smile on the younger Namek's face, and matched it with one of his own.
His head bowed deeper as sleep started to overtake him, drifted into the darkness. He felt Dende's breath deepen and slow, his trembling stopping completely. Their breathing was in unison, each inhale and exhale matched perfectly.
Piccolo smiled quietly to himself as he drifted deeper into sleep. He cradled Dende closer to him, his eyes sliding closed. How ironic it was that he, spawn of the darkness, was the sole source of comfort to Dende, a Namek child who had only known light.
Dende let out a contented sigh, shifting slightly in Piccolo's arms.
"Hush, little brother," Piccolo murmured, and Dende stilled.
Piccolo's smile widened, and he felt sleep take him.
This was how Mr Popo found them in the cold morning light. Piccolo's cloak was wrapped tightly around both of them, shielding them from the constant winter breeze. Piccolo's head was bowed low, so when Mr Popo first saw him, he thought the Namek had simply fallen asleep outside again. It wasn't until he got closer that he saw Dende's antennae, only just visible under the hem of Piccolo's cloak.
Piccolo stirred slightly, his grip on Dende tightening. He opened his eyes and raised his head slightly, before glancing over his shoulder to Mr Popo.
"Shh," he whispered. "He's asleep."
Mr Popo backed away a bit, staring at the older Namek like he'd never seen him before. Piccolo turned his gaze back to Dende, a small smile touching his lips. He jostled the sleeping boy gently, his smile widening at the soft discontented murmur from him.
"Wake up, little brother. The sun is up again. It's light."
Dende shifted in Piccolo's arms, burrowing his head deeper into the older Namek's chest. Piccolo jostled him again, this time eliciting a more active response. Dende sat up in Piccolo's lap, rubbing his eyes. His entire demeanour brightened when he saw the sunlight, a wide smile breaking over his face.
"It's morning, Piccolo," he said, wonder in his voice. "It's not dark anymore."
"Of course not," Piccolo said. "In winter the nights get longer, but day will always come, even if only a few hours."
Dende twisted in Piccolo's lap, putting his arms around the older Namek's neck.
"Thank you, Piccolo," he murmured. Piccolo smiled, his arms easily encasing Dende as he returned the hug.
"I will always be there, if you need me," he said quietly. "Don't hesitate to ask, even when I'm meditating."
Dende pulled away, hesitated, then pressed a gentle kiss to Piccolo's cheek. Piccolo froze, his hand going up to his cheek. Dende stood up and ran towards the lone building, smiling widely at Mr Popo as he passed. Piccolo looked after him, smiling.
"Sleep well?" Mr Popo asked, approaching the Namek warrior.
"Yes," Piccolo said shortly, his smile disappearing. He stood up and strode to the edge of the lookout. "My meditation was interrupted yesterday; I need to catch up."
"Of course." Mr Popo sent Piccolo a knowing look, which he ignored, then headed back towards the house.
Piccolo floated near the edge of the lookout, his legs and arms crossed tightly. He bowed his head, then lifted two of his fingers and pressed them lightly to his cheek. His smile widened and he closed his eyes as he started to meditate. Upstairs in the building, Dende watched Piccolo meditate, the same slight smile on his face. With a contented sigh he turned away and started watching over the Earth, taking his position as Guardian.