Disclaimer: The following is a non-profit fan-based... er... something or other. It isn't a parody, in spite of what this disclaimer might imply. Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z are owned by Funimation, Toei Animation, Fuji TV, and Akira Toriyama. Dragon Ball GT does not exist. Please support the official release.
Also, I blatantly stole this disclaimer from Team Four Star. Hope they don't mind.
Quick Notes: This story ignores the movies (most of of which don't fit into the main continuity anyway) and GT. As far as this story is concerned, the Earth has been at peace since the end of the Buu saga, and everyone who's died has died of natural causes.
Also, I had to make a lot of guesses and assumptions as to the aging rates of various races. If I got anything glaringly wrong I'd like to know for future reference, but as far as this story is concerned Saiyans age at roughly 2/3 the rate of humans, and the average Namekian lifespan is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 years (based on the fact that Kami was around 800 when he first appeared in Dragon Ball).
It was a quiet day of a peaceful epoch on the planet most commonly known as Earth. There was not a cloud in the sky, which was a beautiful shade of crystal blue, and a gentle breeze whispered throughout the well-tended gardens that adorned the Lookout.
The peace was briefly disturbed when a woman in an orange fighting gi appeared seemingly out of nowhere. In appearance, she was passably pretty but otherwise unremarkable; her black hair was pulled back in a tight bun, and though at first glance she looked to be in her mid-thirties the fine lines around her eyes and mouth hinted at an age that was much more advanced. She hovered for a second as if hesitant about her errand, but then gave a small sigh and landed, allowing her aura to dissipate.
Not even a second after her boots had touched down on the polished white tiles a green-skinned figure came striding out to meet her, cape billowing behind him. He halted several yards from her, and for a second they made eye contact, neither speaking.
The woman was the first to break the silence. "Dad's asking for you."
Piccolo nodded, once, and his eyes closed briefly in resignation. "How is he?"
"He's still fighting. But we think that it won't… it won't be much longer…" Her voice wavered, ending on a choked near-sob.
"Let's go." Piccolo was all the way to the edge of the Lookout when he realized she hadn't followed. Looking back with a mixture of curiosity and impatience, he saw that she had turned and was now facing the other Namekian, who had emerged unnoticed from the sanctuary.
"Dende," she said, eyes glistening. "I'm sorry—"
"It's okay, Pan," the Guardian told her gently. "Gohan knows that I'm bound to the Lookout. He contacted me telepathically last night. We've already said everything that needed to be said." He smiled reassuringly at Pan before looking behind her, locking eyes with Piccolo. "Now go," he said softly, though his gaze was intense. "Go, while you still can."
Piccolo gave a curt nod; he needed no further encouragement. Without speaking another word he leaped from the edge, and this time Pan was beside him, leading the way.
When they touched down on the lawn of the Son residence Pan gave a wistful sigh that, while quiet, did not escape Piccolo's sharp hearing. Looking at her, he saw that she was again blinking back tears. He did not try to comfort her, but remained silent; there was nothing he could say that would not make things worse. Instead, he looked toward the house as well. Once, this house had been her grandparents'. Now it belonged to Gohan's brother, who had taken him in when he grew too old and sick to care for himself and began to miss his childhood home.
Piccolo was mercifully left with no more time to think when the door burst open and Goten beckoned them hurriedly forward, looking relieved. Though Piccolo recognized his ki immediately, he realized with a shock that Goten's face was now lined, and there were more than a few gray streaks in his hair. He walked with a cane. It seemed that only yesterday he'd been the unfocused brat who'd made Piccolo swear never to take on another student again.
"He really wants to talk to you," Goten said as he ushered Piccolo inside, Pan following behind them. "I think it's the only reason he's held out this long. He's already said his goodbyes to the rest of us."
Piccolo barely noticed his surroundings as Goten led him through the house. There were other people there – friends, probably, or family, descendants of Z-fighters long dead – but Piccolo's focus was on one thing, and one thing alone. He could finally feel Gohan's ki, but it was weak, too weak. Even at such close proximity, that ki signature that Piccolo had always been able to hone in on, no matter the distance or the danger, was now barely detectable.
That alone should have been warning enough. When Goten showed him into the sickroom, however, he was momentarily shocked into speechlessness. He didn't even hear the door close behind him as he approached the bed where Gohan lay motionless, shocked at what had become of his beloved student.
Though age might have caught up with his younger brother, it had completely ravished Gohan, and in an unbelievably short amount of time. The last time Piccolo had seen him he had merely been graying; now every hair on his head was a shock of white. His skin was so pale it had taken on a grayish cast, and his once well-muscled body had been reduced to skin and bones. His breathing was labored, there were tubes running under his skin, and Piccolo's sensitive ears picked up a rattling sound every time his chest rose and fell.
But then he opened his eyes, and those hadn't changed at all. Those were the same smiling eyes he'd had at the age of five, when he'd first latched on to Piccolo's heart and refused to let go.
"Hey, kid." Piccolo didn't know why he still called Gohan "kid." He wasn't a child anymore, hadn't been for a long time. Still, it felt… right, somehow.
Upon hearing the old endearment Gohan gave a slight chuckle, which quickly turned into a racking cough. Not knowing what else to do, Piccolo placed a hand beneath his back with a grimace and eased him into a position that would hopefully make it easier to breathe. Gohan nodded his thanks.
Hey, Piccolo, he said telepathically as soon as the coughing subsided, and Piccolo realized with a further jolt that he no longer had the energy to speak out loud. Thank you for coming.
No need to thank me, kid, Piccolo replied, switching to telepathic speech himself. I promised I'd always look after you, and I'm holding to that.
Gohan only shook his head; he was smiling, though sadly. There's no protecting me from this. It's old age, and a disease I can't fight. I'm dying, Piccolo, and not even the Dragon Balls can bring me back this time. For a moment his eyes glazed over in pain, whether physical or emotional it was impossible to tell. I know you didn't want it this way, he added softly. You always wanted us to die together, in battle. But I think that this is for the best. I've lived a long full life, and I'm dying peacefully, surrounded by friends and family. He fixed Piccolo with a pleading look. Are you… are you okay with that?
Of course I am, kid, Piccolo replied, gently ruffling his hair. Of course I am.
Gohan breathed a sigh of relief, covering Piccolo's free hand with his own. Piccolo grunted but did not pull away; this might well be the last time he ever got to see Gohan again, and he wasn't going to waste it worrying about going soft.
I'm glad, Gohan said. I'm sorry I couldn't be the fighter you wanted me to be—
No, kid. Piccolo let out a breath of his own. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I forced you into the kind of life you never wanted to lead—
Don't. Gohan's hand was beginning to tremble. Please don't apologize. I'm glad you did. It was… for the best.
Don't you dare, Piccolo snarled. Don't you dare tell me to stop being sorry unless you're going to follow your own advice.
Gohan only smiled.
They stayed in silence for a few minutes before Gohan spoke again. Piccolo, you have to let me go. His hand moved, reaching up to grasp Piccolo's shoulder. I'm tired, he said. I want to rest. I'm ready to see Dad again, and Krillin and Trunks. Dad said that there's a whole plane of Otherworld where Earth's heroes go to train, and I'd like to see it before Dad and Vegeta leave it in ruins. He smiled, faintly this time. They're probably sparring as we speak.
I have no doubt, Piccolo replied. If Vegeta managed to keep himself out of Hell this time, that is.
Gohan looked at him intensely, dark eyes filled with concern; he seemed to have heard the doubt in Piccolo's mental voice. Death isn't the end, you know, he said softly. I'll see you too, someday. We'll meet again in Otherworld, I'm sure of it.
Yeah, Piccolo said dryly, even Namekians get old eventually. I'll die someday too.
Gohan gave a mental chuckle, but then his expression turned serious. Piccolo, I want you to promise me something. He took a deep breath, and then looked Piccolo straight in the eyes. Promise me you won't try to hurry that moment along.
Piccolo gathered his thoughts for a response, but Gohan cut him off before he could speak. I know that you'll miss me, and I'm going to miss you just as much. But I already went through hell and back to bring you back to life, and I don't want to see you throw the rest of your life away. Gohan took a few deep breaths, struggling to hold onto consciousness and get his emotions under control. Dad's gone, he added, and so is Uub, and Goten's getting on in years. I need you to help Pan defend the planet in our stead; she can't do it all by herself. And… I want you to look after Pan, the way you always looked after me.
Piccolo grunted. Pan was always pretty good at looking after herself. Much better than you were at the same age, as I recall.
True, but not even Pan can do this alone. Even the strongest of us sometimes need help. Gohan's eyes were now filled with tears. And when I was the strongest, you were the one who did that for me. You were always there for me when Dad couldn't be, and I never told you how much that meant to me. You're my best friend and you've been like a father to me; I love you just as much as anyone in my family, and I know you don't like it when I get all soft, but I had to say it, just this once. It'll kill me all over again if you give up on life. So promise me.
Promise me! Gohan had sat up slightly, and was now actually gripping the front of Piccolo's gi with both hands. I'm not going to go until you give me your word. His dark eyes were filled with anguish, and his hands had started to tremble violently. Please, Piccolo. I'm in a lot of pain here…
He wanted to refuse. Before Gohan, there had been nothing for him but to seek Goku's death; after Gohan, there would be nothing but to seek his own. Life without Gohan was the life of futile solitude he'd led when he still called himself the Demon King, a long Namekian lifetime with nothing but loneliness ahead.
But Piccolo was no longer someone who thought only of himself. He could not deny Gohan his dying wish.
Gohan's body relaxed immediately. He unknotted his hands from Piccolo's gi and allowed Piccolo to ease him back onto the bed, smiling with that damnable Son grin he'd inherited from his father.
Thank you. Already his breathing was evening out, becoming shallower. Could you tell the others to come back in? I want all of you to be with me when… when I go…
Of course, kid. Gohan's smile widened, and he slipped into unconsciousness.
When Piccolo opened the door, every eye in the room immediately turned to him. Now he took the time to notice who else had come to see Gohan off: Goten, his head in his hands; Pan, rubbing his back even though she was crying herself; Android 18, fixing the door of the sickroom with her unnerving ice-blue stare; a blue-haired teenage boy who had her eyes. There were a few others as well, and even though many bore features of the original Z-fighters, Piccolo recognized almost none of them. All had been born in his lifetime, and, with the exception of 18, those he did know were showing unmistakable signs of age.
He truly felt his longevity settle over him then, and it weighed on his soul more severely than even his heaviest training clothes had ever weighed on his body. He would never love anyone as he had loved Gohan, but even if he did allow himself to get attached again, anyone he cared for would grow old and die before Piccolo developed so much as a wrinkle.
Everyone was staring, waiting for him to speak. Piccolo shook himself. "He's sleeping," he said. "I don't think that he'll wake up again. But he wants everyone to be with him right now."
Nobody said a word. All stood as one, some of them picking up chairs on the way, and made a silent procession into Gohan's room. Gohan was sleeping peacefully, looking more at rest than at any previous point during his long illness. They gathered around his bedside, Goten and Pan each taking one of his hands, willing him a peaceful passage into Otherworld as his chest rose and fell, rose and fell…
…rose and fell…
Dende didn't say a word when Piccolo landed on the Lookout, hard enough to crack a few of the tiles. For a moment he only knelt there, fists clenched so hard his hands shook, desperately fighting the burning in his eyes.
Then, footsteps. A hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Dende standing next to him, the tears running freely down his own face.
"Piccolo," the Guardian said softly, "he was my friend too. And I know it's not your way, but if you ever need to talk, I'm here." He withdrew his hand.
A few more minutes passed in silence. Somehow, he found the strength to stand.
"How's Pan?" Dende asked, somehow knowing exactly when to withdraw.
Piccolo grunted. "Goten's looking after her. She'll be fine." Seeing the way Dende was looking at him, he let out a sigh. "All the same, I'll check on her in the morning."
Dende smiled at him, the first genuine smile he had seen on the other Namekian's face since they had first learned of Gohan's illness. "I think… I think she'd appreciate that. As would Gohan." Dende let out a sigh, gripping his staff as he looked out over the Earth he had sworn to protect. "Will you come back inside tonight?"
"No." Piccolo hovered into the air, crossing his legs. Dende, recognizing the dismissal and Piccolo's need to be alone, retreated quietly back into the sanctuary.
Sighing, Piccolo closed his eyes, cleared his mind, and prepared for his first day in a world without Gohan.
A/N: You know how sometimes, a story idea just grabs you? Well, this one grabbed me by the throat, picked me up and wouldn't stop shaking me until I wrote it down.
Part of the inspiration for this story was reading someone else's fic in which Gohan died of an illness and Piccolo outlived him, but the story didn't go into any detail about Gohan's death, and it started me to wondering how they would say their goodbyes. It also occurred to me at some point that, given the long lifespan of the average Namekian, barring a death by violence Piccolo will likely outlive everyone, with the possible exception of Dende.
I'm considering posting a sequel, depending on the response to this story. (No, this is not my way of begging for reviews; I'm just not going to bother if there's no interest. If even a few people are interested, that will be sufficient for me.) If I do, it'll be more of a straightforward action/adventure story centered around Piccolo and Pan, but what happened here will definitely feature.