|Equal and Opposite Reactions
"Whoa!" The small boy leaped to one side, narrowly evading the large green fist that had been aimed at his face. Instinctively, he raised his arm to block the violet-clad leg that sliced through the air and toward his neck; pain vibrated dully through the limb, but he tried not to think about it. He couldn't afford to think about it, as a blurry rain of blows threatened to turn his skin from its pale peach colour to black, blue, and every unhealthy shade in between. Dodge, dodge, block, dodge, block . . . He was actually not doing too badly, this time. Maybe he was starting to get good at this fighting thing, after all---
A fist slipped through his defenses, and struck him in the ribs, hard. He cried out as his body sailed backward to slam into a large rock and reduce it to pebbles. Choking on dust, and in a great deal of pain, he lay still in an attempt to recover. What he wouldn't give for a break right about now . . .
"Get up, boy!" came his teacher's harsh voice. "Don't be so weak; I didn't hit you that hard!"
Still coughing a bit, the boy struggled into a sitting position. "But Piccolo-san . . . It really hurts. Can't we take a break?"
Piccolo-san scowled down at him, standing rigidly with his arms at his sides in a stance that would have been intimidating to most people, but one to which the boy had long-since grown accustomed. "I've told you several times to stop this infantile behaviour, Gohan. An enemy isn't going to stop a fight because you get hurt. Now, get up."
"Please, sir?" Gohan tried, his eyes wide and beseeching. He'd noticed over the last few weeks that Piccolo-san had started to treat him a little nicer while they weren't in the middle of a sparring match, and he thought that maybe Piccolo-san was starting to like him. If he were, then maybe he would grant an extra rest. "Just a short one? Then I'll work twice as hard, I promise!"
Piccolo-san let out a quiet---and sort of annoyed---growl that Gohan had grown to realize meant that he had gotten his wish. "Fine, kid. Have your break. But you'd better work as hard as you say you will afterward. You'll be no use at all against the Saiyajin if you stay the way you are."
Gohan grinned. "Thank-you, Piccolo-san! I and I will work extra hard! You'll see!"
With only a brief "hmpf" to acknowledge that he had spoken, Piccolo-san turned away, the gust of wind created by his swirling cape blowing yet more dust into Gohan's face. Gohan coughed again, and rubbed a few grains out of his eyes; when he could see once more, he noticed that Piccolo-san was several yards away, "sitting" in the air, meditating, as he often did.
Disappointed, Gohan sighed. He'd been hoping that Piccolo-san would sit near him so that they could talk, but that obviously wasn't going to happen today. Not that it happened much, anyway; Piccolo-san wasn't exactly the talkative type. And while Gohan would normally try to strike up a conversation despite this, he had learned not to disturb his teacher during a meditation. Unconsciously, he prodded his bruised cheek; the punishment for his last attempt had yet to fully heal.
Gohan had, for the past several weeks, sought to solve the complex puzzle that was his teacher, and though he'd met with a measure of success, he was continually frustrated. He'd heard stories about Piccolo-san from his parents, Mommy saying that he was the most evil creature in existence, while Daddy kept insisting that Piccolo-san was not nearly as bad as in the past. From his own experience, Gohan had found that his father's portrayal was more accurate; Gohan may not have known Piccolo-san in the past, but his teacher wasn't that bad. Harsh, yes, and pretty mean most of the time, but not all the time . . .
At the beginning of their training, Piccolo-san had been as vicious a person as Gohan had ever met---except for Raditz, of course---giving him little warning before initiating a spar, and calling him all sorts of things that Mommy would be horrified of, were she ever to hear them. That was changing, slowly---too slowly. Still, it was something. Piccolo-san had hardly even called him a brat in ages . . .
"That's long enough, kid," Piccolo-san's gruff voice startled him. He looked up to see Piccolo-san standing over him again, arms folded across his broad chest. "Get on your feet. Now. And remember to make good on your promise."
"Yes, sir!" Gohan barked nervously, hastily climbing to his feet and adopting a defensive crouch. Boy, when Piccolo-san agreed to a short break, he really meant short; it had barely been five minutes.
All such thoughts vanished from Gohan's mind the instant Piccolo-san's fist lashed out, and he poured all of his concentration into the spar. Into his training. He would have to try and figure things out some other time.
Again, Piccolo thought irritably, glaring down at Gohan's slumbering form. The boy was curled up near the dying remnants of the campfire, trying to stay warm against the chilly desert night. Fragile creatures, children were; they, unlike himself, were vulnerable to the petty extremes of temperature. Again, I let it happen. What power has this boy over me that I allow myself to become soft?
To the outside observer, it would have seemed a small thing. Just a tiny extra break, not worthy of troubling the mind. But, in actuality, it was more than that. Far, far more.
It was the boy's plaintive voice, his pleading eyes. Once, these things had no more effect on Piccolo than an insect bite, but now they burned into him like a high-powered ki blast. And they made him relent. Nothing had ever accomplished such a thing before.
Piccolo---the Demon King---did not relent. He did not.
And yet the boy had done something to him, with merely his presence. Had sparked some strange and greatly undesired change in him. It was the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen.
Piccolo had had plans for the boy. Certainly, preparing him to fight the Saiyajin that would be arriving in a few months was the top priority, but there had been matters beyond that to consider. Gohan was powerful, freakishly so, and though Piccolo would not stoop to allowing another to do his work for him, there was benefit to having a strong ally. When the boy's growing attachment to him had first become apparent, Piccolo had, despite his disgust, originally thought to use it to his advantage, to permit the boy to trust him, weaken his ties to his father. If nothing else, there would at least be someone to take up the cause of vengeance against Son should Piccolo ultimately fail. But despite these intentions, Gohan was still pure. Untainted. Exactly the same.
It was Piccolo himself who was changing.
A low growl escaped Piccolo's throat, and his eyes narrowed at Gohan as the boy turned away from him, and sighed contentedly in his sleep. That brat was ruining everything. He was in the way, growing into a larger and larger obstacle each second he lived. And obstacles were not to be left standing.
They were to be destroyed.
The plan had been doomed from the start, Piccolo saw that, now. He'd been wasting his time. Wasting his time training a child instead of himself. Gohan's power would have been helpful, true, but not absolutely necessary if Piccolo concentrated on improving his own skills, and escaped this river of new . . . feelings . . . that the boy had somehow forced into him when he hadn't been looking.
Slowly, silently, Piccolo extended his palm toward the child's sleeping body. Time to build a dam at the river's source.
A soft golden glow grew in front of his hand, forming into a palm-sized ball of ki. A small blast for a small boy, aimed directly at the heart.
Gohan shifted again, once more turning to face him; the ki-ball's illumination flickered over his face, casting it in eerie light and shadow. He looked so innocent, so trusting, with his eyes gently closed and his dark bangs brushing over them, his tiny mouth open ever-so-slightly to aid his breathing. Completely unaware that he was about to breathe his last.
He should have been dead already. Instead. Piccolo found himself hesitating for some inexplicable reason, merely staring at him. Angrily, Piccolo shook himself. What was wrong with him, lately? He'd killed children before, and it had been easy. Now more than ever, he knew that Gohan must be eliminated; the feelings he'd generated were a weakness. Piccolo would allow no weaknesses.
His hand twitched, and he let the blast go.
The blast struck, and a small portion of the night sky flashed for an instant before settling again, though a touch lighter that it had been a moment ago. And warmer as well.
The campfire, all-but extinguished seconds earlier, blazed with new life, tongues lashing haphazardly at the air; it had been reignited.
And Gohan was unharmed.
Piccolo pulled his hand back, and stared at it as though it had committed the worst treason, certain that he hadn't moved it. Instinct. If it had moved, then it must have been instinct; there was simply no other logical explanation. But what sort of bizarre instinct would prevent him from killing? He was a demon; killing was what he did, what he was quite literally born to do.
Sleepily, Gohan half-opened his eyes, and looked at the freshly restored fire. As Piccolo watched, the boy scooted closer to the blaze, smiling blissfully. The boy's eyes slowly blinked shut, and he mumbled a few words that sounded suspiciously like, "Thank-you, Piccolo-san," before falling once more into slumber.
Thank you, indeed, Piccolo thought bitterly. Instead of destroying Gohan, he'd made him more comfortable. Some demon king I am. I can't even bring myself to kill one little child.
And, like every other soft quality he was developing, it was all the boy's fault. Gohan wasn't afraid of him, anymore; rather, he respected him, trusted him---even liked him, and it was affecting his thought processes in the worst way. After spars where he had knocked the boy unconscious, Piccolo felt the slightest twitch of concern that he would have called parental in nature had he thought that his own sire would have cared about him. And he allowed Gohan extra rests, more time on his regular ones . . . sometimes, he even sat near the boy, and listened to his inane, incessant chatter. If only Gohan would stop such actions, Piccolo could get back to normal . . .
But how was that to be done? It had just become annoyingly clear that he couldn't simply kill the boy and be done with it. What else could he do? There had to be something. There had to be some way . . .
Some way to make Gohan hate him.
"Wake up, brat." Piccolo did not shout this, but his voice was hard and unyielding. He stood over Gohan, glaring coldly at the boy, whose small face wrinkled, and one eye opened, drowsy and confused. "I said wake up."
Gohan's other eye opened to match the first; other than that, his expression did not change. "P . . . Piccolo-san? Wh-what . . ."
Piccolo kicked him sharply in the side, sending him rolling across the ground as a cry of surprise escaped his lips. As Piccolo had planned, that had certainly gotten the boy's attention; he quickly pushed himself onto his knees, one hand supporting his weight, the other holding where he'd been struck. A pained expression filled his eyes, clearly more emotional than physical.
A small stabbing sensation hit Piccolo in the chest, but he didn't allow it to show on his face. So the boy felt betrayed. Good. No reason for concern; this was what he'd wanted. Soon, there should be no ridiculous attachment about which to worry.
All that was evil help him, he would regain his true self.
"Piccolo-san . . . wh-why did you . . . Y-you never . . ." Gohan tried uselessly, his voice high, and trembling.
"We've been wasting time," Piccolo cut in sharply. "Or I should say you have. If you want a rest anymore, you'll have to earn it. And if you keep at the pace you've been at these past few weeks, you're going to be even more tired and sore than usual come nightfall. It's not good enough."
The wounded confusion in Gohan's eyes deepened. For a moment, he was silent, but quickly regained his voice. "B-but Piccolo-san . . ."
"But nothing. Discussion time is over. Stand up and prepare to fight me. I won't tell you again."
Gohan lowered his gazed forlornly to the ground. "Yes, sir," he mumbled, grudgingly climbing to his feet and sinking into a defensive stance. Though he was obviously trying to hide it, his face still bore an upset expression; the boy had no talent in suppressing his emotions.
Before the look in Gohan's eyes could stab him again, Piccolo shot his fist out toward his face. Gohan blocked it clumsily, leaving his stomach open to a vicious kick. He flew backward, twisting in the air to right himself, but Piccolo caught him in the middle of this action and slammed him face-first to the ground.
"And just what was that, boy?" Piccolo demanded, waiting for Gohan to pick himself up. "Do you call that a defense? I didn't think even you were that lazy."
Had he been any less experienced a warrior, Piccolo would have missed it; the boy sprang at him with surprising speed, nearly catching him with a punch to the chest. He blocked the blow with a jerky motion of his arm, and took a small step back as Gohan instantly whirled about in an extremely potent-looking roundhouse kick. For a split second, he felt a stirring of pride---so the boy had learned a thing or two, after all; his attack had nearly caught him off guard---but he quelled it. No attachments.
Piccolo's counterattack was brutal. First a hard punch to Gohan's cheek, then another to his abdomen, followed by a rough kick that sent the boy tumbling to the ground. Piccolo watched with a lack of emotion as his pupil rolled to a stop and lay unmoving. For a moment, he waited for him to get up, but when still no movement came, he stepped over to the boy and prodded him with the toe of his shoe. Piccolo frowned, disappointed. Unconscious. In the first exchange. He really had been too soft on him before.
Gohan's face twitched, and a barely-audible whimper forced its way through his lips. Groggily, he sat up, one hand rubbing automatically at his cheek. He must have noticed Piccolo's shadow over him, for he refused to lift his head, and he mumbled apologetically, "I'm sorry, Piccolo-san. I got careless. I'll do better next time, I swear."
"You had better. There is no excuse for you to be knocked out so early in a fight," Piccolo rebuked, having no trouble crushing the bit of concern he'd felt a moment ago; being cold was easy when the boy wasn't staring at him.
Gohan nodded sullenly. "Yes, Piccolo-san. I . . . I just need a minute . . ."
"Too bad. You've not earned it. All these 'minutes' that you've needed are the reason you're in this situation to begin with."
Gohan's gaze lifted, and his tiny mouth opened to protest, but he froze, and then clamped it shut. Without a word, he regained his feet, positioning himself, surprisingly enough, into an offensive posture, rather than a defensive one.
And so the sparring continued, Piccolo being much harsher than usual. Time and again, he batted Gohan aside, hurled him into rock formations, and stiffly ignored his periodic whining about needing a rest. Only when he successfully landed a solid blow---in this case, a ki-enhanced punch to Piccolo's jaw, which actually hurt a little---did Piccolo finally grant his request.
Piccolo turned away from him and sat, arms folded, waiting for the boy to put some distance between them. But, to his shock, the waiting was in vain.
"Phew!" Gohan wiped his forehead with the back of his fist, and contentedly flopped down next to him. "That sure was rough. Am I doin' better now, Piccolo-san?"
Piccolo didn't answer, distracted as he was by his own thoughts---not that he would have answered, anyway. The boy was still talking to him, in that same casual . . . friendly tone that he always used. The stupid kid had no idea how to properly react to the abusive treatment he was receiving. What an impossible little creature.
"Well, I hope I've been doin' better. I really am tryin', just like you told me to," Gohan continued after a moment, unfazed by the lack of response. "I know I'm not that good, yet, and it'll be a long time before I ever might be as good as you, but I'm gonna work at it. Mommy always says that I'm smart, and learn things fast, so . . ."
The boy went off on a tangent, either not realizing or not caring that Piccolo was paying him little attention; he would probably go on talking even were no one present. Piccolo knew that he should punish him for this, but was well aware that hitting him had absolutely no effect. If it had, Gohan would have figured out how to shut his trap a long time ago.
"Shut up," Piccolo snapped; words were far more effective for some reason.
Surprised, Gohan stopped in mid-sentence, mouth still open. He blinked a few times, then shrugged somewhat dejectedly. "Sorry."
With the ensuing quiet, Piccolo finally had time to properly analyze what had just happened. He'd been harder on Gohan today than he had been in over a month, and yet nothing had changed. No hatred . . . not even any fear. If anything, it seemed that the boy had grown even more friendly. He was just chock-full of improper reactions. What was it going to take to get this kid to hate him?
"Hey, Piccolo-san . . ." Gohan started; he didn't seem to understand the concept of silence.
"I told you to shut up, brat," Piccolo growled.
"I know, but---"
Piccolo had had enough. "And I meant it. If you keep bothering me, I'll kill you just like I killed your father!"
The words got an instant reaction. Gohan paled, and stiffened, face frozen in disbelieving shock. His body was so rigid that Piccolo was certain nothing could ever move it, and over time the heat and sands of the desert would work their magic of preservation, making eternal the look of horror in a hollow relief of bone and flesh.
Hmm. Of course the boy's father would be the perfect nerve to touch . . .
Somehow, Gohan managed to come out of his near catatonic state; his lower lip trembled, and his dark eyes began to shimmer with unshed tears. "Y-y-you? But . . . but I thought that . . ."
"Well, obviously you thought wrong. Not an unusual occurrence," Piccolo pounced on the opportunity. If anything could make the kid hate him, this would be it.
Gohan fell silent of his own accord, but continued to stare at him. He looked hurt, as if . . . well, Piccolo couldn't come up with a comparison. Expressions of physical pain, he understood. Expressions of panic, of anger, of fear . . . those were commonplace. But the way that Gohan was now regarding him, he did not have words for. And, for some reason, he did not find it entirely pleasing. The boy had never looked at him like that before.
How much time passed, Piccolo was unsure, but it felt like a great deal. Neither he nor Gohan spoke, for reasons that were separate, but not completely. Gohan, however, was the one that finally broke the tableau.
"I . . . um . . . I guess we should start sparring again, Piccolo-san . . ." The boy frowned, as though he thought he'd said something wrong. He corrected himself a second later. "Piccolo-sama, I mean."
Piccolo barely stopped a flinch at the change in honorific. He'd gotten used to the more familiar term, had passed it off as nothing after the first few days of it. That Gohan had shifted away from it was almost startling.
But that was what he'd wanted, Piccolo reminded himself. A familiar term meant that the boy liked him. Stifling it was a good sign.
"About time you took this seriously," he declared frostily. He shoved away the uncomfortable thoughts as he stood.
And as he trained the boy again, in fierce exchanges, he kept reminding himself that the child's wounded countenance, and change in honorific did not bother him.
They did not bother him, at all.
Gohan groaned through all the aches in his body, though most especially his legs, since he was using them at the moment. Normally, after a hard day of sparring, he would just let himself collapse next to Piccolo-san---no, no, Piccolo-sama, he corrected---and drift off to sleep. But he couldn't do that, not after what he'd learned today. Being around him just didn't feel safe, anymore.
And so he made sure to be further away from Piccolo-sama tonight. Far enough away so that he could barely see him even if it were light outside instead of nighttime. Gohan didn't want to look at his teacher right now if he didn't have to.
He dropped the sticks and rocks he was carrying into a pile, and knelt to organize them so that he could build a fire. Miserably, he rubbed at his eyes, though he didn't really know why he tried to stop himself from crying. He used to cry all the time; it was normal, and he'd never been terribly ashamed of it before. And anyway, it wasn't like he didn't have a good reason.
Once organized, he shot a small ki blast to set the sticks ablaze. He warmed his hands over the crackling flames, silently hating how the desert got so cold at night. How could Piccolo-sama enjoy living out here? During the day, it was sweltering, and during the night, it was freezing. It was a wonder that Gohan hadn't gotten sick from the drastic fluctuations in temperature.
But such was far from being one of his concerns, right now.
"I don't understand," he whispered, though no one was present to hear him. It was a habit he'd fallen into during his survival training, where he'd had nobody to talk to except himself. "Piccolo-sama . . . Daddy . . . It doesn't make sense."
To anyone else, this reasoning would have seemed illogical, Gohan knew that. After all, Piccolo-sama was really mean to him a lot of the time, very brutal. But somehow, he simply could not reconcile what he knew of his teacher with the person who had killed Daddy. They were just little things, like the times where Piccolo-sama didn't tell him to shut up---not answering, or anything, just not driving him away---or the time or two that Gohan could almost swear he had felt the corner of his cape dropped over him on an especially cold night (when he was pretending to be asleep, of course). Why, last night, he had even restarted the campfire . . .
"When . . . when I first woke up with him, he . . . told me that Daddy had sacrificed himself to save me . . ." he continued softly, trying to untie the tangle of his thoughts. "I just thought that meant that . . . that Raditz got him. Piccolo-sama never said that he was the one who . . ."
Gohan sniffled and wiped his hand across his nose rather than his eyes, though the tears now began to flow. He'd thought he had found a friend in Piccolo-sama, his first one that wasn't part of the family. But now . . . Now, he wasn't sure what to think of him, and he knew that was wrong. A person would know who was a friend or not.
He stared at the fire for a long time, mesmerized by the way the flames leaped and danced as though they were playing some wonderful game, before he spoke more. "I wish I could just . . . just ask Piccolo-sama about it. About why he did it. But . . . I'm kinda scared to talk to him, right now. What if he really meant it this time, that he'd kill me if I kept buggin' him? I don't wanna die . . ."
The rest of the night, he spent in silence. Heat from the fire dried the damp, salty trails on his cheeks, but could not so easily rid him of the awful thoughts that tyrannized his mind.
Another one of their spars.
Piccolo sidestepped Gohan's kick, and immediately slammed him into the ground. The boy wasted only a fraction of a second before springing back to the offensive. But the blows were wild, and ill-timed. Though over the past four days, Gohan had shown technical improvement, he now lacked the focus that used to serve him at least adequately, if not well. His mind was obviously not in the fight. One aspect without the other was useless, and Piccolo would have to find a way to get the kid to combine them, or this whole thing would be a waste.
His thoughts must have distracted him, though, for Gohan slipped under his punch and delivered one of his own, hard into Piccolo's gut. More surprised than injured---though his stomach did ache a little where the blow had been struck---he staggered backward, warrior's instincts calling for him to be prepared for the follow-up strike. But he quelled that impulse; this was Gohan, who never remembered to press his attack. And indeed, this time was no exception. The boy was on his hands and knees, panting in exhaustion. A rain of sweat coursed down his pale face, pasting his normally stiff locks to his forehead with the intensity of super glue.
After a few seconds, Gohan lifted his gaze, and his eyes, though they had always been the deepest black, reflected a darkness only recently acquired. A darkness only four days old. The boy swallowed once between heavy breaths, then pushed himself to his feet. He turned and limped away, the training session over by unspoken agreement.
Such behaviour did not suit him, Piccolo mused. There was something wrong with the kid if he didn't just brush off all the harshness and bother him with attempts at pointless conversation. Truth be told, a part of Piccolo had believed that Gohan would keep doing such things anyway, despite what he'd said. It wasn't as though it was the first time he had threatened the kid's life (not even close, in fact), but Gohan had always simply grinned and giggled at those times, knowing better than Piccolo did that the threats were empty. Now, the boy seemed like a completely different person.
Piccolo frowned and took up his meditative posture. What did he care, anyway? This turn of events was positive; he'd finally found a way to get the blasted kid to stop treating him like a friend.
He had gotten what he wanted, so why couldn't he be happy about it?
Slowly, the outside world faded around him, and the only senses that remained with him were those of hearing and ki. Wind soughed quietly across the arid landscape, insects scurried across the earth, and sand swished as a small child's fingers drew lines in it . . . The small child's ki was as powerful as ever, even a little more so, but felt somehow disheartened and subdued. Yet there was still no hatred, oddly enough.
All was still for several moments, until a hesitant movement broke it. Piccolo payed it no outward mind, but wound up focusing upon it internally. Footsteps so quiet that no human could have heard them accompanied Gohan's ki as it approached him. Both halted in front of him, fairly close, but still out of arm's reach.
"Um . . . Piccolo-sama?" Gohan asked, voice soft with uncertainty.
Somewhat surprised, Piccolo opened one eye. Gohan hadn't spoken to him since he'd revealed the truth about Son's death. The boy looked both curious and sad, face set in a sort of half-pout, hands repeatedly wringing themselves. He seemed to be fighting the urge to look at the ground, as though he feared punishment for his actions. And normally Piccolo would have punished him, for he'd interrupted a meditation, but at the moment he was too intrigued by the fact that Gohan was talking to him again.
Growing exasperated with the way Gohan was standing before him and not saying anything, which he so obviously wanted to do, Piccolo snapped, "Out with it, boy, if you've something to say. If not, I'd suggest you leave me alone before I decide that this break is over."
For the briefest instant, a weak smile tugged upward the corners of Gohan's lips, but his face quickly regained its seriousness. "I . . . I've gotta ask you somethin', and most of the time when I used to ask you stuff, I didn't care if you answered or not, but this time, I really want you to."
"What you want has no bearing. I'll answer if I feel inclined to do so."
"I mean it!" Gohan demanded, eyes narrowing and mouth twisting into a snarl, a rare and unexpected display of his inner fire; Piccolo had expected the boy to meekly bow his head and half-mumble his question. That he'd instead gotten angry was actually quite pleasing, a sign that just maybe the kid had developed a backbone.
Piccolo shrugged. "Fine. You want an answer that badly, I'll give you one," he said offhandedly, like it was no big deal.
Gohan jumped a little, seemingly confused that he had acquiesced, however nonchalantly. The boy regained his composure quickly, though. "And I want the truth, too. No lying."
For once, Piccolo couldn't stop it; he smirked at Gohan's tenacity.
"Piccolo-sama . . . Why . . ." Gohan's voice caught, but he swallowed and started again. "Why did you kill my daddy?" He paused, features fully drawn with sadness. Softly, he repeated, "I want to know why."
Piccolo's first instinct was to toss out a barbed, sarcastic reply, but the expression on the boy's face, as it often had over the past few weeks, stopped him from making one. Why he cared, he had no clue. After all, he'd done the greatest harm to him already; a little extra would not matter in the least.
Finally, Piccolo realized that he had been silent for several moments, and Gohan was regarding him with an odd combination of impatience and sorrow. Well, he'd promised the kid an answer.
"That was my life's purpose, kid. I was born for no other reason." That was as true a statement as any.
Gohan bit his lip, and his dark brows knitted in bafflement. "Really? But you were helpin' him against Raditz---" Piccolo noted that Gohan shuddered upon mentioning that name. "---I could hear stuff, when I was inside the spaceship . . ."
"Temporary arrangement, nothing more. And your father knew that." Piccolo somehow felt compelled to explain things further, though he owed the boy nothing else; he had answered the question.
"Oh . . ." Gohan whispered, lowering his eyes. At some point, he had moved closer, within relatively easy striking range. Something seemed to have put him enough at ease to move into such a potentially dangerous position. "I . . . I have another question, Piccolo-sama. And I really want you to answer this one, too . . ."
For the sake of appearances, Piccolo glared at the boy in annoyance, though he was curious as to what else Gohan might ask him. He waved his hand in a condescending manner for him to continue.
"Did you like it when you killed Daddy?"
Piccolo blinked; that certainly was a loaded question, and he found himself unsure of how to respond.
The day was clear in his mind, as though it had been yesterday rather than over seven months ago. First two fingers pressed to his forehead, ki forced and concentrated through his one remaining arm . . . Son had been directly in front of him, holding Raditz in a bearhug, both of them easy targets. Yes, a thrill had moved through Piccolo at the same intensity as his ki, as he'd fired the makkankosappo and watched it tear through the chests of new enemy and old enemy alike. Yes, he'd felt a great satisfaction when Son's body had dropped to the ground and did not move. And yet . . .
"No," he said at last. "I did not." During the act which brought about the end of Son's life (however temporarily), Piccolo had indeed been pleased. But when his longtime rival had actually died . . . there had been nothing. No feeling one way or the other, just an emptiness.
Piccolo watched Gohan's face go through various emotions: a series of blinks which indicated confusion, then a frown which indicated thoughtfulness, and then, most surprisingly, a contented smile.
"Good," the boy nodded. "That's what I was hopin' to hear." He skipped over the sands and flopped down next to Piccolo, resting his head on his leg. Instinctively, Piccolo shoved him away, but he simply scooted back into the same position.
Piccolo rolled his eyes, but didn't push him off again. The stubborn kid would just keep coming back, anyway. And besides, this really wasn't so bad as long as no one else would see it. And so he settled for a bit of sarcasm. "Just like that, huh? Not even going to ask why I didn't enjoy it."
Gohan looked up at him from a crooked angle, all smiles. "Nope. I know why."
"Do you? Care to share the theory with me?" Piccolo asked in smug disbelief.
"You're just not the kinda person that likes killin' people," Gohan responded confidently, as though he were stating the obvious. "You've done it sometimes, but you just don't like it."
Interesting point of view, Piccolo had to admit. And, if he were to be honest with himself, one not all that far from the truth. Through all of his killings, he had never really found pleasure in them. He did not regret them in the least, but he hadn't enjoyed them, either.
"Is that right?" he countered a moment later. "Don't think I'd get too torn up snuffing you out, kid."
Gohan just giggled. "Yeah, you would. But you'd never kill me, anyway."
The latter statement was true enough, but Piccolo had his doubts about the former. Sure the kid was okay to be around, and it was kind of a nice change to be in the presence someone who did not fear him or try to kill him, but still . . . And yet the fact that he even considered that Gohan dying might upset him was proof that something inside him was different. Maybe it wasn't a good difference, but it was there and seemed unlikely to be erased. He guessed he would just have to live with it.
Piccolo abruptly took to his feet, sending Gohan tumbling across the ground with a startled yelp. "That's enough of this, kid. We've got work to do. Get up."
Gohan took a moment to vigorously rub sand out of his hair before he kicked himself up into a defensive crouch, grinning. "Right, Piccolo-san. I'm ready."
So, the old honorific was back. It wasn't really that bad a term, Piccolo reflected as he lunged at the boy, who skillfully blocked, yet still ended up on the defensive end of the next several blows. And these blows were no lighter, no more merciful than the ones thrown before. Just because his pupil . . . and perhaps even friend . . . had resumed his displays of kindness, it didn't mean that he would lighten up, not even a little bit.
They both deserved better than that.
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