AN. My entry into DBZ-Friendshippy's April contest, the theme of which is Sleeping. I saw a picture in my head before I wrote this, a picture that's been drawn before, and so instead of drawing something unprofessionally, I decided to write it. And, voila :D Enjoy!
"I'm really tired..."
The boy's voice was soft, quiet, exhausted, and his head dropped onto his chest for the umpteenth time, only to jerk back upright.
A complete contrast to the boy's voice, this was low and gruff, impatient and short. His arms crossed tight over his chest as he bowed his head, staring into the dark, his pointed ears twitching as he picked up the soft sounds of movement from behind him, almost lost under the crackling of the fire.
"But it's cold..."
"Go to sleep, brat!"
A barked order that made the boy quail.
"B-but, Piccolo-san, it's too cold. If I go to sleep I might not wake up."
Piccolo growled softly to himself, then uncrossed his arms and twisted his torso, his narrowed eyes resting on the trembling boy hunched beside the fire.
"I...I read this story once," Gohan said, flushing under his teacher's disbelieving gaze. "And this guy went to sleep when he was really cold and he never woke up and his friend said he died of hypothermia and if you're cold you shouldn't sleep."
Piccolo hesitated for a moment. The boy had spoken so quickly it took him a second to figure out the words and the meaning behind them. Once the total message registered he let out a low, long-suffering sigh and turned around completely, facing the fire for the first time since it had been lit.
"You're not going to die of hypothermia," he said wearily. "It's not that cold."
"B-but I can't feel my fingers or toes," Gohan said. "It's really cold up here, Piccolo-san. Can't we sleep in a cave for once?"
Piccolo fought back his own feelings of irritation. By Kami this child was such a pampered brat. How had he ever managed to survive by himself for six months? It had to be some kind of miracle. Now, only one month into their training together, he couldn't shut up about how cold it was getting.
"No, we cannot," he said, bitingly. "Exposure builds stamina. If you're cold get closer to the fire. If your hands are cold put them in your armpits or between your thighs, where the big arteries are. Your blood will warm them. If your feet are cold curl up into a ball. Now swallow your whining and go to sleep!"
Gohan flinched backwards then, uncertainly, inched closer to the fire. His hands crept up and tucked into the opposite armpits. He was still trembling, and his eyes were full of fear when he looked up at his father's enemy, the one who had taken him from everything he had known and thrown him into an environment he had never experienced before. He shuddered suddenly, and ducked his head to avoid Piccolo's judgemental glare.
To his surprise some feeling started to creep back into his hands, warmth spreading through his fingers, and he couldn't stop himself from saying, "It's really working. How did you know that, Piccolo-san?"
Another weary sigh. What would it take for this boy to understand? Piccolo didn't want to discuss his past, especially not with a spoilt brat like Gohan. But the honest curiosity in the child's voice caught him slightly off-guard.
"Because I've lived outside a long time, kid," he said, without even realising he was going to. "And you pick up this kind of stuff."
Gohan nodded once, before hunkering close to the fire. His shivering was easing off and his exhaustion was picking up again. It had been a very long training session that day, with Piccolo throwing him off several high cliffs in an effort to inspire flight. He had only managed on the last time; all the times before the green man had caught him bare inches from the ground, gripping him by one ankle or wrist with one four-fingered hand, glaring at him with disapproval.
"Why'd you live outside, Piccolo-san?" he asked quietly, his tiredness overcoming his commonsense. At no other point would he have dared to ask such questions of this strange and foreign man.
Piccolo looked at him, his eyes narrowed. There was no softness in his face, no caring in his eyes. There was a warm spot deep inside him, a growing centre of caring for this young, half-Saiyan, but he didn't...no, he couldn't show it on his face yet. Finally he shrugged, averting his eyes, turning his face to the side.
"Not many people would take me in when I was a kid," he said. "And those that did usually died. I've never really liked living indoors anyway. I've always been living in places like this."
"Where...did you sleep?" Gohan asked. His head was dipping now, his chin resting on his chest. His eyes were still open, but only just, and his eyes were glazed and unfocused. Piccolo didn't allow that softness to steal into his face, but for the first time in his entire life it really wanted to.
"Wherever I could," he said. "Usually in places like this. I never bothered with a fire though. There wasn't much point."
"What if it rained?"
"I got wet."
Gohan giggled tiredly, and Piccolo felt one corner of his mouth twitch up. He shook his head and forced his lips flat again, cursing himself internally for daring to show even a hint of amusement. Stupid, sleepy child. No one else had ever been able to make him smile like that. Smirk, yes, but never smile. And out of real humour too. Damn this boy, for infecting him with his weakness.
The boy in question mumbled out another question, but his exhaustion blurred his words together so that not even Piccolo's superior hearing could figure out.
"What was that, brat?"
Gohan's head twitched up, his eyes blinking a couple of times. They focused on Piccolo's face and the older man felt a jolt when he saw the affection there, something so small he doubted the boy was even aware of it. He had never seen that look directed at him before.
"I said what happened if it started to snow?" he asked, then giggled tiredly.
"It doesn't snow here," Piccolo said shortly. "Not even in winter. It doesn't get that cold, I told you."
"What?" Piccolo couldn't growl the way he wanted to. He almost sounded encouraging.
"Is it true you're only a coupla years older than me?"
Piccolo blinked in surprise. He hadn't expected that question. Of everything the boy had ever asked of him, that was not an avenue they had ever even looked down.
"Yes," he said, unable to think of anything sufficiently biting or cold to say. "I'm four years older than you."
"So you're eight and a half?" Gohan said. His eyes were now fixed on Piccolo's face, sparkling in the light from the fire, his lips curled up in a smile.
"You're really big for an eight year old," Gohan said, and giggled again.
"I grew up fast," Piccolo spat, feeling a strange sense of shame. It wasn't his fault he was this size. He had gone through a very advanced adolescence, that was all, progressing through most of his growth in the first three years of his life, his demon background and the pressing need for revenge forcing him to reach the physical and mental age of about 18 at two and a half.
"That's too bad, Piccolo-san," Gohan said, and now his face was solemn again. "It must've been hard not having a real childhood."
Piccolo was suddenly furious. What right did this spoilt little brat have to judge his childhood? How dare he say something like that? Insolent little whelp!
"Shut up and go to sleep!" he snapped, before turning his back on the fire once more and crossing his arms, ducking his head as he fumed. He should have known better than to talk about his past to this irritating child. What did he know? He may be smart for his age, but he knew nothing about Piccolo and why he was the way he was. He didn't have the right to talk like that.
He was surprised from his anger by Gohan's soft voice, murmuring apologetically as one hand twisted into his cape.
"I'm sorry, Piccolo-san. I won't do it again."
Piccolo didn't turn back around. If anything he hunched further forward, shrinking into himself. He wanted to snap, wanted to whirl around and bat the boy away, but at the same time he couldn't quite find the strength to do so. Gohan was now the only person in the entire world to date to apologise to the demon, and he had been so sincere about it. He had never heard that tone directed at him before. It was a feeling he thought he could grow to like.
"Go to sleep, Gohan," he said, not realising he had used the boy's name for the first time. "Tomorrow we're going to perfect your flying."
Gohan didn't release his grip on Piccolo's cape. Piccolo twisted his head to look over his shoulder, watching as the boy gently tugged the thick cloth towards him, curling up beneath it, letting out a soft sigh as he relaxed and fell to sleep. Piccolo hesitated, considered pulling the cloth away, letting the boy sleep without anything like a blanket, then reconsidered. Let him use it for tonight. It wouldn't hurt in the long run.
He turned his head back to the front, sighed wearily, then focused on sending himself to sleep, his head bowing even further forward, his eyes sliding closed, soothed without realising it by the soft, steady breathing of the boy asleep behind him. Yes, he could get used to the sincerity of the boy, the honesty in the interest that he showed. He wasn't putting it on, he really did want to know about Piccolo's past, about his life, and that was touching if nothing else. These thoughts concerned him, confused him, but before he could dismiss them from his mind, he had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep.
AN. And there we have it. Just a short little blah that spilled from my fingertips. I've written a lot today, I'm really quite proud of myself :D (pats on the back). Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it, if you didn't then...well...sorry?