Disclaimer, in case it wasn't obvious. I don't own Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, or really any other property. Thank you.

The Long Road

Chapter 83: The Last Gift.

Piccolo:

More weeks had passed since the Dragon's arrival, and there was no Gohan. Even with his own departures from the accelerated training with Pan, he'd come to find out there was no Gohan to resurrect. The others hadn't fully understood what happened when the Dragon was incapable of bringing Gohan home. He'd spent time in meditation, delving into the dark underbelly of the afterlife with his mind. Only it wasn't there anymore. What he understood as Hell had changed. In any of the lives he'd lived in this reality or the others, Kami, his other selves, it didn't matter… none of them understood what had happened to Hell. And the deeper he'd stared into it, the further he looked… the more confusing it was. Even in its new state, it was hardly a paradise, only taking on the look of one. It was still an agony for those trapped there, he already knew.

But whatever had been at the core of that nightmare, of the dry, desolate wasteland, was gone. It was gone, and so was Gohan.

The only ones who knew were Trunks, most of them anyway, and Junia. But even then, they only had shreds of light into what it was, at least the Trunks did. The Saiyan woman had been so quiet about what she'd seen. She did confirm what he already knew, Gohan was gone. Gone forever. Even with his harder edge while training his students, he'd not yet discovered what to say to her in all this. Her father wasn't just dead… he was gone.

"How did it happen?" his own voice played in his mind as he stood, looking at the emerging sun now overtaking the horizon. "How did it destroy the Hell that was?"

The sun's light was as loud as the ensemble of voices that had emerged from dozens of Trunks. Trees bristled in the wind and the yellow-tinted sapphire of the blue sky welcomed his sight. They had spoken of light, darkness, hate, rage, and themselves even, but they couldn't give a clear answer, beyond stating that the last thing they saw was Gohan tackling the master of the black glass. The beast with skin as red as blood, and yellow eyes that were grim reflections of everything they loathed, and themselves. Only Junia's voice had given him any insight at all.

"It didn't destroy it. It took it with it. It was always there, and it always will be."

Cryptic, but he could see in her eyes the scars of what was left behind. Vegeta knew about it as well, even the Saiyan Prince, despite not knowing was much as he did, was uncomfortable with the subject as it came up the last time he'd been there. They didn't even mention whoever the thing was by name, as if mentioning it was something that had power somehow. Even as his time as the Guardian of the Earth, Piccolo knew that might have been true even. Words could have power, even after the passing of such a presence.

Whatever Gohan had faced and overcame… to have left behind so much of a change to the fundamental part of Hell in the afterlife…

Turning away from the source of the light, Piccolo's eyes trailed to his ward and student, the girl he'd been taking care of since the moment Garlic Junior had been defeated. Had he been merged with his other selves at the time, he'd likely not done it in truth. His original mind and experiences had tried to defend the Earth by pursuing something he knew he couldn't do while the girl's mother was there. Now he knew, at least the Gohans he knew from other worlds, would have disapproved of the act. But he was already here, and so much work had already been done.

The girl was strong. Stronger than Gohan at her age most definitely. There was a warrior's spirit there, one which he was sure was born when she'd seen the battle between her father and Garlic. Whatever other issues from her childhood had been there prior to his taking her, which he was definitely sure there were, had created a mind which craved the sanctuary structure, focus and discipline. More than just strength however, he'd come to care about the girl and her fate. The Gohan of this world had met a terrible fate from the moment he and Son Goku failed to stop Raditz. Perhaps, even with him being gone now, there was a chance that what good had been there, and had been allowed to grow while he was on this planet, could live on in the girl here.

Which meant Piccolo would need to make decisions soon in terms of what to do with Pan, especially without Gohan returning. She would need a family which he couldn't offer. Returning her to her mother seemed… unwise. If for no other reason than he'd seen the damage Gohan had left behind in even the cursory investigation he'd done since. Admittedly, he'd not helped with that either. Worse, much of his work would go to waste. Which meant the only other home he would find with the girl was with her grandparents.

And that had further complications as well. That left questions as to how he'd been training her, or why. It also left questions open like why he'd not brought her sooner. It left questions like where her mother was. Even if he wasn't one to lie, there were consequences there that his prior mental state would have not bothered with answering, but he certainly couldn't go without touching on. Which meant that they were going to find more out about the departed Saiyan, their son, than they might have wanted to know.

"Piccolo?" a groggy voice emerged from behind him.

Pan's frame started to move among the grass and bushes she'd been sleeping nearby. Her head drifted to one side as it always did when she first sat up, below a long, wide yawn escaped her mouth as her teeth were briefly born out before her lips parted to allow its escape.

"Training will start in one hour, find yourself something to eat first, and there is a stream nearby if you need water. Don't forget to boil it," he ordered.

There was no audible response as the girl nodded back to him, rising to her feet and moving towards the deeper part of the brush. Nothing here, or on this earth, was a threat to Pan any longer, outside of the warriors who trained on it which he already knew. One day, sadly, he knew her skills would be put to use to protect this world. The Earth had a way to be a magnet to things from the outside, drawing unspeakable horrors to it… as if each threat and monster were some kind of never-ending test which the cosmos had decided the planet would need to undertake.

"Piccolo?" her voice remerged, asking his name once more.

"What is it?" he was quick to respond, reminding her that wasting time wasn't a virtue he followed, though not following up with the needless warning to get to the point. She already knew that by now.

"When all of this training is over, what am I going to do?"

A deeper question than he'd expected. A flawed one, but he hadn't heard her ask him anything about a defined future for herself. It wasn't an out of line question or a stupid one, certainly. The training, even if it was no longer with him, would never be over. Improvement, and self improvement, were a necessity to everything he was teaching.

Still, he had to give an answer that could give some kind of satisfaction to the nature of the question.

"The training will never be over, even if it ends with me. You'll train the rest of your life. The day you cease training, is the day you cease being responsible to yourself and to others. As to what you're going to do? You're going to have a life after this. We'll talk about it after training today. There might be things which are hard to understand now, but will be necessary."

"For the training?" the innocence hadn't left her voice yet, despite everything. The endurance of her spirit was something he was surprised by. She was still shy about meat, despite him needing to almost force her to eat it to maintain protean for her to acquire the right nutrients for the training itself. He had a vague idea why.

"No," he admitted. "For you. For you as a person. Now go get something to eat. You're chewing through your time when you should be getting ready to chew through the calories you need today."

A blur of motion bristled through the trees a second later as Piccolo once more turned his attention to the emerging sun. The sky was becoming clearer, the light becoming less distorted by the angle of the light coming in through the atmosphere.

Minutes passed before he closed his eyes, entertaining into his meditation once more. He could sense something coming. He could sense multiple things coming. Distortions in the fabric of space and time. The next threats. Each one of them was hungry in their own respect, even if he didn't know what they were. All of them had an endless appetite. Piccolo couldn't read the future. He couldn't even read the present. But he could sense those disturbances.

And he could sense one now, very close by. Something new, which he'd never sensed before. It made his stomach twist. He immediately opened his eyes, not even fully grasping what he was sensing. His antenna twitched before he prepared to turn and almost run to see Son. This was bad. Everyone was going to need to be ready to-

A body collided with the ground like a meteorite strike, only condensed into one small area. His own heart stopped in place as he felt something cold reach up his back, intertwining with his spine as it slithered up his back before cool sweat formed on the edge of his brow without a conscious thought even. It'd come towards this space without pushing any power until the last few moments. Even now as his senses reached out, it was clouded in his mind. Dust swept past him in a great wave of force from the landing impact, as the side of the cliff he'd been standing near almost slipped from its perch. As the cloud of dust moved over him… Piccolo could see what it was for a brief second.

It had no face. He knew what it looked like. But he could see it. It had no face. There was nothing there, nothing he recognized, until the dust swept past in a rapid blink once more, and he could lock eyes with two obsidian orbs. It was impossible for him to describe. This was Gohan, or at least it looked like Gohan. The ki in the air was the same as when Gohan had fought Taro. Every identifiable thing Piccolo could see about him, told him it was Gohan.

But it was as if this man in front of him, was a mirror. A blank expression of something else, masquerading as the familiar. There were 2 layers of the world Piccolo could see in that moment. He could see the world they all saw, and the ki around it. But his eyes peeled back the outer layer of even that… and all he saw was something hollow. It was empty. Worse than empty. It was filled with a void that he couldn't even begin to describe. His cape billowed in the wind behind him as Piccolo felt his senses almost numb.

This couldn't be what he was seeing. It was impossible. How was Gohan here? He knew about what had happened, according to those that were there.

The figure walked out of the dust cloud, a tension underneath the heel of every step, and in the frame of his shoulders. There wasn't a void, not that he could see any longer. There was rage. He knew Gohan well enough, every version of Gohan well enough, to see that in his posture. There weren't any words even before he stopped in front of him.

"Where. Is. She?"

The nature of his arrival said it all. Piccolo still couldn't shake the unnerving feeling of all it. It felt like some kind of monster was wearing Gohan's face. He found his voice when confronted by this thing as it tried, and almost successfully, stared him down.

"You're going to tell me where you've been first," Piccolo responded, letting steel come into his voice even if he could sense the gulf between them. "Because you were beyonddead."

A hand grabbed his cloak a second later, and Piccolo could sense the sizzling heat coming from the hand. He could sense the remnants of all the darkness which Gohan had consumed in his fight with Taro to try and save this world. He could feel how hot his anger was, it was barely under control, boiling away the surface of his appearance almost as his lip curled into a vicious sneer.

"I'm not dead anymore, that's what matters. You don't need to know where I've been. Now where is my daughter."

"She's getting food. She'll be back for training short-"

Distorted. That was how Piccolo felt as his guts almost shot through his neck and out of his body as he felt a hand punch land from Gohan's free hand, his other hand almost holding him place by his cloak. It'd not been delivered to send him flying, or gain distance. It'd been made for maximum impact, maximum damage. Piccolo felt his entire body go numb. Even without transforming, Gohan was now well past him, even in this merged state.

A noise slipped through his teeth before Piccolo tried to just breathe after the impact had occurred. Gohan's hand, smoother than his own final breath before the impact, gently released his cloak as Piccolo tried to even remain standing. The first strike had been a message, delivered with more authority than any words. There wasn't a response from him to it beyond what his body would allow before he finally collapsed to one knee, his breathing finally resuming as he almost fell in on himself. Fresh air filled his lungs, but it felt almost tainted by the presence of the man now beginning to carefully, but briskly pace in front of him.

"Training? Piccolo, that's so thoughtful. You know, maybe if I'd wanted my daughter to be trained, I'd have done it myself. Did you think of that? Or, better yet, I'd have asked you," his words were pointed, quick, but unnervingly calm, yet somehow barely hiding the fury they concealed.

This wasn't Gohan, not really… it was just his anger. An anger Piccolo could sense growing with every footstep and every word out of his mouth, restrained by a façade which only added more pressure to the rage threatening to explode at any moment.

"She needed to be trained… for the world… Anyone with her potential… has a responsibility… to help this planet… and protect herself and her home-"

His very speaking caused his counterpart to stop in front of him, kneeling down to his level as he spoke. Piccolo couldn't break eye-contact with him. He could see his own reflection in Gohan's eyes. He peered into the mirror that showed him… almost a distorted view of himself. It wasn't the weakness, or crumpled form he could see in those eyes… it was the disgust.

"And yet you didn't think for a moment that I wanted to protect her from that? Didn't you? Did you think I wanted my daughter to be left to face what I've seen?" his voice finally was letting the anger seep into it. "Did you think I wanted her to walk down my path? Is that it? To face the horrors that I've seen? Every time she fights, every time she throws a punch, she takes a step down a road to something you can't even see."

Now the realization was coming, slowly to Piccolo's mind as to why all this anger was here. It wasn't some mutation from where ever this spectre had been. It came into a frame which Piccolo knew was wrong… but was from the perspective of this creature's anger.

Gohan believed he was condemning Pan to Hell, by training her, was the implication.

"She's not going to use that strength to harm people, Gohan," Piccolo managed. "She's going to use that strength to defend them. She needs to do this."

A hand grabbed his cloak again. Before Piccolo could react, or even realize what was happening, his body was ripping through branches and the bodies of trees. The sonic waves around him exploded twice as his frame was carried through the air, breaking the sound-barrier before he came to a sliding stop. His cloak was annihilated now, and he managed to slip it, and his turban, off as he picked himself up, trying to focus his own ki for the fight he knew was coming.

Walking through the brush as if he hadn't just burst after him, Gohan's anger was prevalent again, this time even more so. He must have really thought he looked cool and calm, but instead he looked like a mad-man. A possessed monster. Idly, Piccolo wondered if this was what it was like to have been his victim across the stars. Sadly though, he doubted it. Most of Gohan's victims would have seen a man barely giving them any attention or disdain. They would have died to someone who saw as little problem killing them, as a landscaper cutting the grass.

"Needs to do this?" Gohan asked, not skipping a beat. "Needs to? Well, that's a funny way to put it. So, you abduct my daughter, who I left with her mother. You train her to kill-"

"Fight."

The correction earned Piccolo another strike, this one dropping him to his knees again. He didn't even see the blow that landed on him, before a boot kicked him back, his body skipping across two rocks before plunging into the sizable stream which they'd been using as a source of water. He pulled his head out immediately, looking to gain air before a hand grabbed the top of his head, forcing it back under immediately. Water almost flood into his nostrils and lungs as he only averted taking in a gulp of liquid instead of air by the fraction of a second. Muffled through the water, he could hear his attacker.

"You trained my daughter to kill, how many fights have you seen where everyone ends up alive so far?You let her live out here with you, like she's some kind of fucking animal. Is that to toughen her up, Piccolo? Well? Is it? I kept my daughter safe. I kept her safe from the monsters. I came back from the dead to keep her safe. She never needed to be what Iam. And you've dragged her down your road of good intentions? For what? I should have been here to defend her from you."

Ripping his head out of the water, Piccolo managed to take in air before he found himself jetted out of the water as well, crashing into a tree and rolling onto his side. Immediately he scrambled to his feet, seeing Gohan only standing in front of him. The surface of the water behind Gohan reflected back around him, as if the reflective surface was some mirror into another world. Piccolo peering into it briefly, and could only see a devil standing in Gohan's place.

"You're… not listening," Piccolo managed, before deciding to tell Gohan the truth and hoped he would snap out of what he was doing. "She's being trained to defend the planet. She's not being trained to kill. And even if she was, you know she wouldn't end up like you. She's too good for that."

His world turned black as Piccolo felt the fist land a moment later, his face almost breaking into his skull before his back crashed against the size of a tree.

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Pan:

Panic.

That was what Pan was feeling when she'd felt the first expressions of raw energy outside of Piccolo's control roll through the area. Her ki detection skills had been honed by months of training, and what she was feeling was dark, and terrifying. The scale and scope of it made her have a headache, and that was before the raw feeling in the pit of her stomach started to gnaw away at her. Her first instinct was to run at sensing it. But she could sense Piccolo, and she could sense his power fluctuating rapidly and in a way which she'd never imagined it could. He'd been the strongest fighter in the world to her, even when she sensed the other warriors he'd told her about across the world, they never felt as real to her as Piccolo was.

Even as she felt the rush going through her, trying to push her to flight, even as she felt the waves of ki and force rolling through the forest all around her, both subtly and obviously, she began to find something in herself. She'd been left aside when her father had died in front of her. She'd been helpless when her mother was nailed to a piece of their home. She'd been helpless when Piccolo took her here to help her train to be strong enough to make sure that people couldn't threaten her anymore, even people like Piccolo himself.

Courage subdued panic. Despite her own hands shaking, she burst into the trees, rushing towards the powers where they were. Hopping between logs and the brush, she came to the first long drag of destruction. Bursting down the causeway of destruction caused by the pure power of the bodies as they'd ripped through the first, Pan felt her heart racing as her pace of motion became greater and greater. Piccolo was her friend, and even if she couldn't make a difference, she had to be there for him. She couldn't just let him die like this.

When she arrived in the clearing, she saw Piccolo's body propped against the side of a rock. Ripples were going through the ground as each fist landed, the attacker was laying into the green man without any kind of consideration. It was a reckless abandon of anger and she could feel it in every strike. It mixed with the blackened ki that sparked off each fist strike. It made her stomach twist with uncertainty and a sense of her soul being chipped at just being around whatever this was. There was purple blood everywhere, and she knew if she didn't do something now… she'd just be here to watch.

Energy crackled across her fingers, golden and purple energy scorching along the ground as she gathered up her strength, just like Piccolo taught her. The wind picked up around her as her hands guided the energy in a familiar way into her palms, letting it take on the properties she'd been trained to. It was to focus her own energy through the gateways within her body, centring int where it would be needed, and then releasing the power into the form of the attack.

Her eyes never broke from the scene unfolding in front of her as she felt her breathing pick up. It was hard to control her emotions, but she finally kept her panic in check. She wasn't afraid. Her eyes met with Piccolo's as his head slumped to one side after another vicious punch. They told her to run, saying with their look more than he could with words at the moment. The figure looming over Piccolo like the spectre of death paused, clearly sensing her as well and seeing Piccolo's gesture.

Just as he took one step to the side to begin turning to look at her, Pan attacked, knowing any chance to doing anything was depending on striking first.

"MASENKO!"

An explosion of crackling power launched forward as the orb launched itself forward in a fiery cascade of light. Only when the figure completely turned to face her, after the attack had been released, did Pan's throat constrict as she realized instantly who it was. Her jaw dropped as her insides twisted again, this time with confusion, uncertainty, and prominently regret. What was happening? Did she just really… attack… but how?

She saw him die, or essentially watched him die. And that energy. It was so… vile. It made her skin crawl. She could still almost taste it in the air.

When the energy attack connected with her… father… she saw the almost orange-energy at its core expand before blasting outwards. Her own arms threw up in front of her as she defended herself from the concussive force of the attack before the world seemingly turned into a hurricane of destruction. Her own aura flickered white around her as she remained in place, trying to keep herself together as she did what Piccolo taught her, beginning to sense inside the cloud of debris for any signs of what had happened.

The dust and smoke from the blast still rolled around her in the after-effects of the explosion. Her eyes darted around, looking to where her ki-senses weren't, trying to catch a glimpse again of what had been killing Piccolo. The smoke in front of her divulged the target. It wasn't moving at lightning quick speeds, or roaring in attack. The lone figure walked through the plum towards her, and she felt her stomach finish dropping through the bottom of her intestines as he looked at her.

It was him. She knew it was him. He didn't look hurt at all. She could still see the purple blood on the edge of his hands and knuckles. Her own heart was racing as she tried to know even what to feel or understand what was happening at all. Confusion, just as before, was running rampant in her mind. She knew Piccolo said her father would return, but like this? Why? And his energy.

From behind as he was beating Piccolo, she saw a monster, something ruthless, almost mechanical, and completely without any kind of mercy. But here… the look on his face. It was her dad again. It was the same look he had when he was looking after her. She wanted to see him, but she was afraid of him. He'd not said a word to her, and slowly as he stood there, she could see the person she remembered coming out. Kneeling down in front of her, looking over his hands for a second, seemingly taking in the blood from her friend, he looked back up at her and gave a small, brief, uncomfortable smile.

It was a smile that looked older than he was, even Pan recognized it in her young age. It was weathered by something, like a rock worn down by the wind over eons, but it was genuine. It was real.

"Dad?" she finally asked, her own voice strained, though still a part of her was looking for Piccolo behind him. "Dad, is that you?"

There was something that… paused when she asked him that. There was a conflict behind his eyes, and she wasn't fully sure why. But she wasn't sure of anything that was happening. A small part of her wondered if any of this was even happening? Was this another dream? A nightmare? Somewhere in-between?

"Yes," he finally answered, his tone strained, the struggle to remain in control clear in his voice. "Yea, it's me."

The answer was something he was afraid of almost. It was something she realized she was afraid of. Neither of them moved a muscle after he answered. The wind blew gently past the two of them, as if in contrast to the vicious destruction which had been laid out over the minutes passed. All of this destruction was because of him. All that hatred she felt when she arrived was him, but now it was just gone, and she didn't understand why.

It was like looking into a mirror for her. Was he afraid because she was afraid? Her first instinct was to not even ask what happened and just hug him. This was the man who'd always tried to look out for her, even before t was revealed he was her father. He'd died for her, and she knew it. But she wasn't that girl anymore, she was someone more. She'd lived in the forest, she'd ran with the wolves, and she trained to save the world. Her dreams were her prison and her escape, her fears and her hopes, and she could decide what to do in them. Just like she could decide to do what she needed to do now.

"You hurt my friend."

"He's not your friend," the response was instant, and she could see her father become immediately bristled at her words, as if it was some kind of challenge. "Friends don't take you away from your family for this."

"… He had a good reason though-"

Something angry emerged as she saw him look over to where Piccolo was laying. The dust had cleared and she could see her mentor's broken body as her just lay there, almost lifeless. His head was crooked to the side and purple gore dripped from his nose, lip, brow, and body. When she looked back at her father, she felt the anger he was directing towards her, but inversed.

"Why would you do that?" she shot immediately, shoving him to no effect. "I don't care what you think! Look what you did to him!?"

"Pan, I'm trying to protect you."

"I can protect myself."

Her own anger bubbled more furiously as she felt her breathing ticking up by the second. She punched him, angrily, hitting him in the cheek, again to absolutely no result. His own eyes intensified for a brief second.

This was it. This was their reunion? This was what it was like to have her dad back? Was this… was this what her mom saw her dad be like? The thought was unsettling and she just wanted to cry before he stood up at his full height, eying Piccolo. She felt her grief turn to panic again as she realized what might happen before he once again turned his attention back to her.

"That's the problem," he said back to her before reaching out with his hand. "Come with me. I'm going to take you home."

"No," it was her turn to respond.

"You don't get a say in it, Pan. I'm your father and you're coming with me."

"What about him?" Pan fired back immediately, pointing at Piccolo. "Are you going to hurt him more? Is that why you want me gone?"

The darkness returned for a moment as her father didn't look at her, instead looking back at Piccolo with an intent she knew had to be murderous. It wasn't the father she'd known, and her fears seemed vindicated in that second. But there was a pause when he turned to look back at her, and she knew there was some kind of conflict there. She didn't understand everything, she didn't understand why he was so angry at Piccolo.

"If you come with me, I promise I won't hurt him more."

There were things unsaid in what he was saying. When she looked back at Piccolo again, she realized that if he was telling the truth, she was still not going to see Piccolo again. This whole part of her life was coming to a close, and she could sense it all around her. It'd been terrifying when it'd first started. Now, it was the only peace she'd ever felt. It'd been chaotic and dangerous, but it'd also been what gave her something new to hold onto, and it'd evolved into the stability she knew now.

Her father was here, and was familiar yet different. It was a dark mirror of the man who'd died for her. But she also knew that there wasn't a choice but to go with him. He had the power, and he was making the decision. The only decision she had was if her friend would be okay. When she looked back up in his eyes, she tried to remain fierce, like the wolves she'd run with at one time. She wasn't just a little girl, she couldn't let that be the case. The black eyes she stared into were more predatory than she remembered.

They were more like the wolves thank she'd realized before. She could see now, what she couldn't have seen before.

He side-eyed Piccolo a second later, she could sense the disdain and violence that seemed prepared to re-emerge, before he turned his head back towards her. A reluctant hand extended towards her, not reluctant to embrace her, but reluctant to do so and leave behind the object of his hatred. Just like she'd left so many others behind, her mother, her father, 17, and the wolves, she was going to leave Piccolo behind, and she didn't know what the future held.

Taking her father's hand, she felt the tension in his hand, like it was threatening to snap. There was a pulse of something else as he fingers brushed over the purple splotches of Piccolo's blood. She could sense how… fragile her father was? He made eye contact with her again, and behind the wolf, behind the predatory survivalist eyes, she could see the truth of it. He was afraid, just like she was afraid, even if it was for other reasons.

He'd hurt her friend, and she couldn't just forgive him, but she could see just how afraid he was.

She wanted to say she'd missed him, that she loved him, or anything, but it was confused, hidden behind her own defensiveness and anger over what she'd just come across. Even at her young age, her own concerns weighed on her.

Neither of them gave voice to a single word for almost a half a minute, but it felt like an eternity, as if years were passing by the second. This was her father, and he was a stranger… and she couldn't understand it. Inside her own head, at the last second, she almost thought she heard a single phrase echo through the trees around them, whispering on the wind. It chilled her to the bone, she didn't even believe she heard it, even as her head turned to listen to it whip around her.

You are me… and I… am you.

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Gohan:

When her hand grasped his, he almost felt like he was going to break. This wasn't the Pan he'd left behind. The innocent nature he'd tried to protect felt dulled, blunted by her experience in the wild. It was everything he never wanted her to experience. He had no desire for her to be a fighter, or be stuck in life-or-death struggles. He'd tried to shield her from all that. The same way he'd tried to shield her from the mother he'd… not intended to leave with her. He could still remember shielding her from the Dead Zone, fighting back against the darkness with her.

When he was in Hell, one of the lingering things that kept him going was the idea he could return to keep her safe. Now here she was, covered in the cuts and bruises of a warrior in training, scabs healing on her arms and hand from small cuts she'd suffered. He couldn't turn her away from being left to the world. After all, he'd left her behind. You couldn't fix people once they were damaged… he knew that. The urge to finish the job with Piccolo was still there, but he knew it wasn't something he could do regardless. That green monster had pulled his daughter into the forbidden life he never wanted for her. She was scarred, but not left so badly wounded that she might not recover.

Reaching out with his other hand, he grasped her shoulder before kneeling down in front of her, his eyes not leaving her this time. Behind her, he could almost feel the darkness moving around his vision, polluting the scenery of the damaged forest around him. All his fears seemed to be dragged up in the shadows, but he knew he needed to be strong for Pan. If for no one else, he needed to be strong for her.

He wanted his reunion with Pan to have been special. Not to be this. He couldn't even bring himself to hug her, not like he imagined he would have when he suffered through the fires of Hell… or… or when he'd…

Something bubbled to the surface of his mind. A fragment… a fragment of a billion shards of glass. It was like something that'd he'd lost… something he'd lost in his mind. A sliver of time… it was if a shard of himself was trapped within it… reminding him of a lost time he never knew he experienced. He could remember himself tumbling through the darkness of eternity, flailing in all directions, spinning endlessly in the night without end… and he could remember one of the few spots of light that kept him from being dragged into the final layer of the poisonous, unending nightmare around him.

It'd been Pan.

There was a hard blink on his part before he stood back up at his full height.

"Come on, let's get you home."

When the words slipped from his lips, he could see something crack behind the glass which seemed to surrounded his estranged daughter. It was a common fear, seemingly. The fear of going home, the fear of judgement, or of facing the past. The shame wore on him even more knowing that his daughter, a child, felt the same anxiety that he did. His counterpart had been right.

You're already there.

The familiar words from earlier stung freshly, even now.

Where he was now looked more and more like the Hell he'd escaped from. Only this Hell wasn't a prison of deserts, grey sand and fire. It wasn't a prison he couldn't escape with an endless yellow sky, and all the evil in the world trapped beneath his feet. This was a Hell which he'd helped build for himself. It was the Hell he'd turned the lives of the people he cared about… the people he loved… into. The shame of it was buried under the same coping mechanisms he'd flexed in his life. He needed to get through this, with her, and he needed to get moving forward.

This might even be among the last times he ever saw her. The little girl he'd felt saved his soul in many ways, was damaged from simply being linked to him at all. The final thing he could ever want would be to see her hurt, and this time he'd make sure that didn't happen. Even if it killed him.

Again.

In the trees he could see faceless creatures emerging, but they weren't really there. They were the shadows of whatever Garlic was choosing to manifest for him. He could see them like reflections of his insecurities emerging one after another while he looked past his daughter.

His aura lit up around him, and Gohan kept hold of his daughter before his body plunged upwards into the sky.

Maybe this was all a dream. Maybe it was all another shard… all trapped in his own mind as everything he loved was polluted, or his worst fears came to life. Or… this was now his life. What he feared wasn't a fantasy.

Looking down at his daughter as his body shot through the clouds, her hands grabbing hold of him, he felt her embrace him for the first time since… since he'd died. His throat restricted, it contracted inwards she felt him fighting back the want to stop flying and hug her back. He knew what he was in that moment.

He was poison, and if he acted on his instinct, if he acted on what he wanted to do, he'd only further ruin any chance of the one good thing he'd left behind in the world to have the life she deserved. He wasn't going to let himself get in the way of that.

The far became near as the world swept away beneath him, closing in on the all-too-familiar city. He was so close now.

When his feet touched ground on the balcony he'd been aiming for as his body blurred into place, the sun was setting behind him again. Pausing, he turned to look at it, feeling Pan shift against his leg for a second, disoriented herself. He didn't pay any mind to it as the nearest star was caught in his eyes, pushing towards the horizon. Pushing towards the end of the day, the end of the light here. A beautiful orange splashed into red and pink across the clouds. All the shadows in the forest, all the nightmares around him felt left behind, even if it was only a momentary reprieve.

You could never run far enough. Just like you could never outrun the fire-storms in the nightmare he'd come from prior to this. And just like you could never pull yourself from the darkness… and just like how the time never ended.

But right now, he could sense the brief… small reprieve. In front of him was the sunset, and behind him was the resolution he knew he needed to see.

The light was warm… it was so inviting. He felt like he just wanted to bathe in it forever. He even closed his eyes and just breathed. Idly, he wondered if this was the Heaven he'd been denied. Not an eternity of it, but doing this right now, standing here away from his demons, standing in the sunlight with the person he'd tried to protect his whole life. Even if he couldn't have the reunion he wanted, she could at least have the reunion she deserved.

"W-where are we?" Pan asked as her hands released him, stepping back.

He didn't want to say it. Because it would be acknowledging that they'd arrived where his daughter most feared. And because despite everything… he never wanted… this to be his departure from her life, again, even if it was the right thing to do.

"…"

The sliding door at the edge of the apartment opened as he sensed movement, and the fractional ki behind it with its senses up. He didn't want to turn away from it at all. He was afraid to look at Pan, or at the other person. Perhaps it was ironic that he'd come to fear Videl more than Pan had before. The irony wasn't lost on him.

"You can't keep coming here like this," he heard her finally say. "Gohan, you need to…"

Turning his head finally, he saw her, he saw her frozen in place as she looked not at him, but at the thing he knew she'd lost after his death. There wasn't much he could do for her. She'd been right about that before. He couldn't just will things into being fixed like he'd imagined he could before. He couldn't just fix the past, or heal people's mental wounds, or make someone love him. The closest he ever came to anything like that was when he'd started to protect the people who cared about him.

And even that became ash.

But this…

This was something he could do, not just for Videl. He could do this for Pan. Pan might even be able to do something which he struggled to do his whole life, even now. Pan might be able to face the fear he knew she had. And after this, maybe… maybe she could learn to become the person she'd been before. He wanted that to be the case.

He could hear Pan, he heard her well enough to know he didn't need to look. Her breathing was erratic, and Videl's was as well before she looked back at him, her eyes beginning to well with tears as she still held herself back. They were all afraid, weren't they? They were all afraid of each other in their own way. Doing his best to try and hold his emotional distance, he even felt his own breathing hitch as he placed his hand on the back of his daughter, urging her forward.

"This is the home I told you about," he managed.

"Pan?" Videl asked, her tone mixed with concern, fear, and something he'd heard in his own mother's voice the day she'd first seen him. Despite the hardened outer shell, despite trying to move on from, Videl loved her daughter. "Pan is… is that you?"

There was a murmuring from the girl before Gohan looked down at her from where he stood. A murmur escaped her again before he saw her feet stumble forward, one step after another. The draw was too strong, even for her own fear. Despite everything, he knew this was the most worthwhile thing he'd ever done. Blinking hard, he tried his best to keep his own eyes dry as he heard Pan say what he was afraid she'd never say again.

"Mom?"

He didn't want to watch anymore, but he held firm as Videl closed the distance to her daughter, grabbing her desperately and pulling her into herself. There were no words coming out of either of them, only half words and noises, before he heard the choked sobs of reunion. The strangled noises of a kind of healing that Gohan had experienced before himself, but could no longer understand… a healing he didn't believe he could benefit from anymore.

But even still, somewhere, somewhere deep inside himself, he felt perhaps he too mended. An incomplete patch, a half-finished weld… But it was something.

When he blinked again, he did feel something wet roll down his cheek before he finally turned away, looking towards the dying light of the sunset beyond.

He couldn't fix Videl, and now he couldn't fix Pan, but he did the only thing he could for them. There was only one last thing to do for him. He'd speak with Videl, and then he would just… walk away. It wasn't a gift to do so, it was the only thing he could do to let them live their lives. No fighting, no being condemned, just a simple life for them.

It might have been the only selfless thing he wanted for anyone now. And he might be able to actually achieve it. Videl had found the power to forgive him. This was the least he could do.

()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()

Authors' Notes:

Oh man, where have I been?

Well, I've been ravaged by a horrendous career during COVID. Providing solutions to businesses during a supply-crisis was impossible. I basically dealt with the company I worked for, pouring my life into it for 10 years, slowly coming undone around me. I was under enough stress that I almost had a nervous breakdown and thankfully was laid-off by them after going over the situation with them after I had an event.

I'm doing better now! I've started a career on Youtube, which may or may not work out, we'll see. Sadly, I can't share the channel with all of you yet, as I don't want it affiliated with my work here. But I can say that it's going okay, at the very least. Okay enough that I got this chapter finally done. I hope it's up to your standards, I've got some ring-rust when it comes to writing.

I'd go on about how I was so stressed I couldn't write, or any such things, but it'd just not be helpful. The point is, I am back, I am writing again, though I AM working 7 days a week now on my own company. So updates will still be slow, but I do intend on continuing these.

Thank you for everyone reaching out to me regarding if I was alive, or what the status of my health was. I appreciate it, sincerely.

Don't worry, this long road's not done yet friends.