AN. My second entry to DBZ-Friendshippy's March contest (I always do two! I love owning this club XD), the theme of which is arguments. Now, I've done my token Tien and Chiaotzu entry, now for another one of my favourites which is: Piccolo and Dende! Hoo-rah! Enjoy.
"Not there...not there...not there..."
The voice was a soft, hoarse whisper, the lips it emerged from barely moving, the face of the boy who spoke screwed up with concentration.
The sky was dark, the moon hidden by thick cloud, the visible stars glimmering weakly. The boy was standing by the edge of the Sanctuary hanging in the sky, his eyes clenched shut, his hand gripping tight to a wooden staff, the strong wind snapping his long, white robe. He was quite tall, around 15 years old, his skin smooth and green. His frown made him look much older than he was.
Brisk footsteps. An older Namek standing near him, watching with a concerned frown.
"Dende...what are you doing out here at this hour?"
The teenager's eyes slitted open, weary and glazed with concentration. He shifted his weight and nearly collapsed, catching himself and leaning heavily on his staff.
"I have to find them," he said. His voice was croaky, desperate, and yet vague. It seemed he had lost all sense of himself. "I have to, Piccolo. They're lost. They need me to help them. I...I have...I have to..."
Piccolo's eyes widened with surprise as Dende slipped down an inch, the four-fingered hands wrapped around the staff visibly tightening to prevent himself from falling to the ground. He had never seen the young Namek so unstable, so weak, so exhausted. Being Guardian was hard work, but Dende had always been sensible and balanced with his time, never letting it get the best of him. Now, however, his green skin was unhealthily pale, and Piccolo liked neither the tone of his voice nor the sound of it.
"Dende, you need to come inside."
Dende shook his head, swaying uncertainly on the spot. Piccolo noticed shudders twisting habitually through the boy's narrow shoulders, making his whole body shake. He liked the look of that even less than his voice.
"They're lost," Dende said again. "They need me to find them. I need to...to keep looking."
He shook his head sharply, trying to clear it, but his eyes were still unfocused and his posture was still unsteady as he bent his head a little and frowned.
Piccolo came forward and put one hand on Dende's trembling shoulder. The material of Kami's robe was thick, true, but Dende was tired and more susceptible to the cold because of it. His skin was cold, the slight muscles beneath (Dende was no fighter; he had nearly no muscle mass) shivering violently.
"Shh." Dende lifted one hand and waved it absently towards Piccolo. "I'm concentrating..."
Piccolo gaped in surprise. Dende had never spoken to him like that before. He paused, wondering what he should do, before closing his eyes and turning to Kami's knowledge. The old man's voice echoed in his head for a moment (him unable to control the inbuilt burst of hate and anger he felt hearing it).
Two boys, lost in a cave, too many places, too many corners, too many hiding spots. He'll never find them like this.
Piccolo's frown deepened and he spat mentally.
Don't give me that useless crap. Tell me something I can use to help him.
A pause, then: He needs to look for their kis. He'll never find them just by searching through the cave with his inner eyes. He needs to feel them.
Piccolo opened his eyes again, looking uncertainly at Dende. His eyes were open slightly, and did look as though he was focusing on something inside himself. They moved back and forth at seemingly random intervals, flicking in all directions.
"Dende, can you feel their kis?"
"No...not there..." A smile spread over Dende's face, but it held no amusement. It was an empty gesture. "Maybe they're dead."
Piccolo was horrified. Dende would have never said such a thing with a smile on his face at any other point. He cared deeply for the people of Earth, viewed them as his people, his children, and protected them as best he could. When one was hurt, or killed, because of something he could have helped to prevent he was usually devastated.
"Try harder," Piccolo urged softly. "Try to feel them."
A glint of something came into Dende's eyes. It looked out of place, foreign, an emotion from a distant place Dende rarely visited. Piccolo didn't recognise it as fury until the young Namek snapped at him.
"Leave me alone, Piccolo, I'm trying to work."
Piccolo felt the first stirrings of irritation.
"Dende, you need to rest. You'll never find them if you're so tired." No response from the younger Namek. Piccolo decided to use a tactic that had, in all the years Dende had been Guardian, never failed to inspire obedience. "Kami told me."
Dende let out a low, humourless chuckle, turning his back on the older Namek who he had adopted as his teacher.
"What would he know? He doesn't know what's going on here."
Piccolo snapped. In two steps he was at Dende's side, one hand wrapping tight around a trembling upper arm as he yanked the boy around to face him. Fear flashing briefly in Dende's eyes, but it was gone before Piccolo could recognise it or use it to draw back his anger. All he saw was a teenage boy, glaring at him with undisguised fury.
"You should be bloody grateful that you've got Kami's knowledge to help you," Piccolo said in a soft, violent voice. In his experience this tone was far more frightening than if he shouted, and caused the opposing party to back down faster.
Not this time. Dende glared at him, seemingly ignoring the hard grip on his arm.
"He doesn't know everything," Dende spat. "He doesn't know how I do things!"
"He was the Guardian of Earth successfully for over 100 years," Piccolo growled. "You're an insolent whelp if you think you can do this without any help from him."
"He did fine without any help from the other Guardians." Dende's tone was brutally sharp. "I'm doing what I need to do. I don't need his help."
Piccolo's other hand rose before he could stop it. It struck Dende hard across the face, before gripping his other arm and shaking him slightly, lifting him up to his toes. His hands closed so tight over the younger Namek's upper arm that his nails broke the skin, sinking into the flesh. Dende was completely still in his grip, his slight muscles lax, his head facing to the side that Piccolo's slap had forced it. There was a long pause, and then Dende turned his head back to the front and glared at the taller Namek.
"Let go of me," he said in a low, furious voice. "I have a job to do. I have to find those kids."
Piccolo couldn't react for a moment. His fury was paralysing. Eventually it was all he could do to release his tight grip Dende's arms, the Guardian landing uncertainly on his feet, tottering to the side before steadying himself with his staff. Blood ran down his arms in thin streams, soaking purple into the white robe he wore. Piccolo turned silently on his heel and stormed off, his hands curled into tight fists, his teeth gritted, fuming about what he saw as an inexperienced, insolent child who had turned away from his teacher's guiding hand.
His anger didn't break until he got back to his room and started to wash his hands. In the soft light from overhead he could really see the bright purple on the green of his skin, dripping into the pristine white sink beneath his hands. He stared, and instantly felt a deep regret. He had, in his younger days, often lashed out at people. He had struck Gohan during the year they had lived together numerous times out of training sessions, even though he had (at that point) been steadily growing to care for the boy. And now he had slapped Dende, shaken him like a rag-doll, and his blood was caked beneath his nails.
"Shit," he said, the word soft and brutally intense.
There was nothing he could do for now. Dende wasn't going to forgive him so easily. He would continue to search until he found the lost boys or collapsed from sheer exhaustion. And he wouldn't react kindly to Piccolo's presence to make sure the latter didn't happen, not after their brief but vicious disagreement. In allowing himself to lose control of his temper, he had also severed the only chance he had that the boy he helped care for didn't further hurt himself.
He growled softly to himself, furious at his own stupidity, but was sensible enough to realise there was nothing he could do about it. He would go to bed (it was nearly three in the morning, an ungodly hour if there ever was one) and try to resolve matters in the morning. Hopefully Dende would get some sleep and be more reasonable.
He settled into bed (he had grown accustomed to actually sleeping on a bed now, but still preferred a mattress the approximate firmness of a slab of rock and used his cape as a blanket) and stared upwards. The ceiling was a vague, white glow above him, and he traced idle patterns with his eyes. Sleep eluded him persistently.
Two hours of lying motionless and mentally beating himself up passed in silence, until soft footsteps alerted his sensitive ears. He sat up, supporting his weight with both hands, his eyes narrowed so he could see who had entered his room. This was unnecessary (he already knew who it was) but a natural reaction.
"I...I couldn't...find them..."
Dende's voice was so soft, almost breathed, that even Piccolo had difficulty hearing it. The boy was standing in the doorway, his staff abandoned somewhere, swaying precariously on his feet. His eyes were downcast, brimming with tears that glimmered in the faint light.
"I looked and looked...but...I couldn't find them..."
Dende came forward and fell onto the bed sideways. It was as though his muscles had just given way the moment he had come close enough. His shoulder connected with a hard thud. Piccolo stared in shock as the teenager slowly curled into a ball and started to cry.
"Dende, are you alright?"
"Th-they were co-co-counting on me a-and I f-f-failed," Dende sobbed, turning his face into the hard, bare mattress of Piccolo's bed, clutching at his shoulders. "They're d-d-dead, I ju-just know it!"
Piccolo gaped for a moment at the sobbing, trembling Namek on his bed, then tentatively reached out one hand and put it gently on Dende's shoulder. Instantly Dende launched at him, wrapping his arms tight around Piccolo's midriff and pressing his face close to Piccolo's chest.
"I couldn't s-save them!"
Piccolo froze for a moment, then awkwardly put his arms around Dende, his hands rested on a heaving back as more tears soaked into his shirt.
"Dende, calm down," he said in the gentlest voice he could manage. "Don't beat yourself up. They're probably not dead, you know. They're probably just sleeping in some dark corner where you can't see them. You look again in the morning, I bet you'll find them."
"I'll find th-their b-b-bod-bodies," Dende wailed, shaking his head violently. "They're d-dead!"
"No they're not." Piccolo wished he sounded more sure. "Just rest, Dende. Sleep if you can, but if you can't then at least just lie down and close your eyes, okay?"
Dende didn't answer for a moment, didn't even move, then slowly lifted his head and met Piccolo's eyes. His were filled with tears and a terrible fear.
"I...don't think I...can..." he whispered, his voice hitching as more sobs fought free. "It hurts...I le-let them down..."
"You haven't." Piccolo was now surprised by the ferocity in his voice. He lifted one hand and wiped away the tears still streaming down Dende's cheeks. He was glad that Dende didn't flinch away from his hand, even though the print of it was still there, stained a light purple where he had slapped the younger Namek.
"No. I don't know how long you were standing out there, but you've looked so hard you've totally exhausted yourself. Can't you feel how tired your body is? Can't you feel how much it hurts?" Dende lowered his head, flinching a little. "You can't do anything else, not with your will so stretched. Rest. Lie down and close your eyes."
This was a command, and Dende was so tired he automatically obeyed, his hands still curled into Piccolo's shirt as he lay on his side, his head tilting down. Piccolo nodded, then said in a slightly softer tone, "Now try to sleep, Dende."
Dende's eyes were already closed, but he took a deep and shaky breath. Piccolo watched closely, ready to berate the boy if he stirred again or said he couldn't do it. He was pleased that he was trying, and was even happier when, ten minutes later, Dende's breathing naturally calmed, slowed and became regular, and the remaining tense muscles in his arms and gut relaxed.
Piccolo reached out and gently smoothed his hand over Dende's head. The skin beneath his hand was smooth, much paler green than his own, and icy cold. Piccolo turned, stretched his arm to grab the lightest cloak he owned. He draped it gently over the sleeping boy at his side, smiling slightly. Then he drew his own, heavier cloak over his body, lay down on his side, and watched the boy sleep. Within moments the sound of those soft, regular breaths (subconsciously he was reminded of the six months he lived with Gohan, and how comforting sound of the boy's breathing had been) had lulled him to sleep.
When he awoke it was light, the sun shining through the window and reflecting glaringly off the white marble. He sat up, shielding his eyes, then noticed that the bed beside him was empty. He frowned for a moment, wondering why this would be strange, when a jubilant laugh rang through the Lookout.
"I found them! Piccolo, I found them!"
Dende sprinted into the room, jumping onto the bed and grabbing Piccolo in a tight hug. Piccolo stiffened, then unhooked Dende's grip and pushed him away a little. The teenager was practically jumping for joy, a wide grin spread over his face, his eyes alight. Piccolo felt a hint of nausea touch him as he noticed the purple bruise on the boy's cheek.
"What?" he managed.
"I found the boys, the ones who were lost," Dende said, and let out a little laugh. "They were hiding, just like you said! I managed to put clues so they could find their way out."
Piccolo understood the words, they did sink in, but he didn't react beyond a slight smile.
"Good," he said. "Now get off my bed."
Dende laughed as he jumped off Piccolo's bed, running from the room shouting, "Mr Popo! Mr Popo! I found them!"
Piccolo watched after him, his smile widening a little, before he got out of bed and pulled on his heaviest cape. The weight on his shoulders was comforting and he stretched the muscles of his arms a little as he left the room, leaving the cape Dende had slept beneath crumpled to the side, the only sign that the teenager had slept there at all, and a pleasant reminder of a truly unpleasant night.
AN. I let this stew in my computer for like a week, read back on it, and didn't find anything I could improve. Then again, I've had a very long and tiring week, I'm absolutely knackered, I'm going to go have a shower and then go to bed as soon as this is posted...therefore, I don't really mind if there's improvements to be made. I did my damnedest XD I hope you enjoyed it, feedback is always appreciated, please, oh please, review and tell me what you think. I love getting reviews, it's always such a pleasant surprise :D