I lean over, panting heavily, as I brace my hands on my knees. My hair falls in a sweat soaked swoop to the ground. The clear air feels so good as I pull it forcefully into my lungs, but it comes with a sharp pain, too. I grin to myself, a smile that’s safe, because it’s hidden.

“You’re not quitting, are you Raditz?” The Namek’s gravelly voice cuts through my exhaustion, and I slowly stand, flipping my hair impatiently out of my face.

“Nope.” I drop back into a combat stance. A month of training, and I can actually give Piccolo a bit of a challenge, but I’m still not up to these guys’ level. But it’s a good workout for me, and I am learning lots of new stuff. Like the fact that Krillin is a complete pushover, regardless of his power level, but his wife will kick your ass in seconds flat and call it training. Of course, I’m Saiyan, so getting beat down does increase my strength, but it’s a damn painful way to go about things. Ah well, I’m nothing if not good at taking pain.

Piccolo blurs, and is suddenly behind me, but I anticipate the move and I’m already lunging back with my elbow, aimed for his abdomen. He’s too quick for that, though, and already he’s in front of me again, his foot connecting solidly with my jaw. Shit! Bit my own goddamn tongue! But I get a hold of his ankle, and twist my shoulders to bring him slamming into the ground. My vicious thrill of victory is short-lived, he brings me crashing down after him, and he’s suddenly up, straddling my chest and giving my face a real workout with his fists. Serious pain time.

But I’m learning to ignore it, bit by bit. Piccolo is by far my favorite to train with...he doesn’t go easy on you, but still, he fights in such a way that I learn from my mistakes. Sometimes all I’m learning is how to take a beating well, and keep on going, but that’s a valuable lesson. Other times, I’m learning how to anticipate, how to think faster than the other person can move. And when I’m feeling particularly pissed off at how much stronger he is than me, I’m learning that he can be a real bastard when you start insinuating he’s screwing Gohan. I smile up at green fists as they connect with my nose, and then turn my head to bite down hard on his wrist.

He bellows in surprise, and maybe even a bit of pain. I can taste his blood on my teeth and lips, it isn’t much like human or Saiyan blood. No coppery tang, a sharper taste. Kind of like cheap wine. As I take advantage of his shock at me for using such a patently ridiculous attack, I have to laugh. I heave my chest mightily, budging him enough to slip out from underneath, and turn to bring my doubled fists down hard onto the back of his neck.

“Your blood tastes like shit, Namek,” I taunt him merrily as the force of my blow staggers him onto his hands and knees. “Gohan ever complain of the way the rest of you tastes when he’s sucking you off?” I am outdoing myself today.

He’s up off the ground snake quick, and his black eyes are filled with fury. Uh oh. I have a strange premonition that this is going to really hurt- and then I’m flying backwards through the air. My entire abdomen feels like it’s caved in, squashing everything inside to a Saiyan stew. One, two...three...four, five, six...how many trees am I gonna go through? I lose count, but finally a rock outcropping provides enough resistance to stop me. Ouch.

I watch the arrival of the seething green alien with great pleasure. I may not be able to defeat him in battle yet, but I sure can push his buttons like nobody’s business. He lands in front of me, and I wonder if he’s going to continue pounding my already battered and bruised self. Ah, well, that last crack was particularly nasty, even for me. But instead he just stalks over to me and hauls me up by the front of my stupid orange gi. Man, I hate Kakarot’s workout clothes.

“You are a vulgar, tasteless, crude bastard. I would kill you if Goku cared just one little bit less.” He continues to berate me as he hauls me up into the sky, dragging me along behind him like a recalcitrant dog. He lets my legs skim the tops of the trees, and the slender branches act like a whip to my calves and thighs. Oh, too bad, the gi’s getting shredded. Hurts like a son of a bitch, though.

“You need a bath to wash out that filthy mouth of yours,” he growls, almost to himself, before dumping me unceremoniously into a lake from about 200 feet in the air. Ooh, this is going to hurt even more...I curl myself into a ball as I fall, squeezing my eyes shut. Yup, I was right, the splash down feels awful against my various cuts and bruises. Luckily the lake’s ice-cold, and my skin is already feeling pleasantly numb as I surface. This seems unfortunately familiar.

“You just had to see me half naked and wet, didn’t you, Piccolo?” I call up to him, grinning madly. Damn, but he’s fun to train with. But I guess he’s decided to play the stoic now, because he just frowns down at me. I swim leisurely to the shore, relishing the ache of my muscles. Piccolo’s waiting, sitting underneath a tree in that swami lotus position he likes so much. I walk over and flop down next to him, beginning the arduous task of wringing out my hair.

“You’d think a month of living with Goku’s wife would teach you some decorum and tact,” the Namek rumbles at me, but I can tell he isn’t really mad any more. He just likes to complain.

“Hey, if you can’t beat it into me, what makes you think Chichi’s going to do any better?” I return brightly. It was a big shock when I first realized her power level was puny as compared to Kakarot. I still had a hard time of understanding why he put up with her. Sure, she was spirited, and a good fighter for her strength, but she was such a nag. She genuinely did love him, though, and I think he returned it. Then again, I’m not really one to judge. I mean, the great love of my life had been Prince Vegeta, and near the end he was treating me like total crap. Maybe people in my family just have a need to be stepped on in relationships.

I sigh, leaning back against the tree, letting my hair fall to the ground to pick up some dead leaves and pine needles to add to its burden of sweat and lake water. “Have you ever been in love, Piccolo?” I ask seriously, wiping my lips and looking curiously at the blood there.

“Oh, not this again-“ he begins, but I interrupt.

“No, seriously. I’m not trying to fuck with you, really.”

He blinks at the perfect blue sky, and seems to be thinking about it. Of course, Piccolo always looks like he’s thinking, so maybe he’s ignoring me. “No,” he answers suddenly, “No, I don’t think so. I’ve loved people before...but that’s not the same as being in love, is it?”

“Nah, entirely different. Probably healthier, too,” I throw back, watching the clouds drift past.

“Well, I don’t suppose I could be in love anyways,” he adds. “Nameks are asexual.”

I look over at him in surprise. “You don’t just think being in love is about sex, do you?” I ask, a bit incredulously. I mean, this guy grew up here on Earth...wasn’t there this whole weird culture here around romance and stuff? I mean, they even had holidays for it!

He shrugs. “I don’t know, isn’t it? It seems like a very big focus for many of the people I know.” I gape at him, and wonder how the hell he’s perceiving folks. Who’s so interested in sex around here? I decide not to go down that road...at least not today. Probably my curiosity will get the better of me at some point, and I’ll ask, then regret it. But not today.

“Well, that’s part of it, I guess. But you can have sex without love...and you can be in love without having sex.” I ponder, struggling to think of a way of explaining being in love, wondering if Piccolo’s just getting me to talk to see what I’ll say. He can’t be that ignorant.

“It’s like...well, the person seems more important to you than yourself, is one part of it. You’d do most anything for them.”

“How is that different from a parent’s love for their child? Or close friendships?” His voice still holds little inflection, and the thought that he’s testing me becomes stronger. Then again, maybe I’m paranoid. After all, I’ve never really talked to Piccolo about relationships. Everything else under the sun, yeah, I was even starting to think of the guy as my friend, but not relationships.

“Well, you also want to be around the person as much as you can. You rarely get tired of them. Which is very different with kids, from what I’ve seen. Um...well, it’s also like the other person is something really precious to you. When they’re around, they make your stomach flutter, and you sort of lose track of other people. And there’s the physical aspect, too, though that doesn’t always mean sex. You just want to be close to them, touch them, hold them.” I sigh. I didn’t know this was going to be so painful to talk about. “But I guess...well, I think that’s only the first part of the relationship. I’ve never been involved with anyone for more than a year or so. Married people say things change the longer you stay together.” I laugh, thinking of Kakarot and Chichi. “Sometimes for the better, sometimes worse.”

The silence from Piccolo is indeterminable. I look over at him, wondering if he’s fallen asleep. Nope, he’s still staring up in the sky. “So have you ever been in love?” I ask again.

“I don’t know,” is his answer, and he sounds a bit troubled now. Guess that wasn’t a test after all.

“You want to talk about?” I offer, pretty sure he’s going to backhand me here at some point.

“Not really, no.” Well, that was easier than I thought. “So you were in love with Vegeta?”

I’m not surprised he figured it out...the Namek may be mixed up about his own feelings, but he’s sharp about other people’s. I’ve learned to trust his judgment, and to listen to him when he gives me advice about my own screwed up self.

“Yeah. It was a long time ago. I thought I was going to spend my life with him...pretty stupid of me, all things considered.” I can’t keep the self-recrimination out of my voice.

“How so?”

“Well, he’s a prince, isn’t he? I may be a first class warrior, but I’m sure as hell not fit for a prince. The classing system is bullshit, anyway.” I chide myself for changing the subject, even as I continue, fiddling with the tatters of my pants, “I mean, look at my brother. He’s worlds more powerful than me, and he was tested at third class!”

“What does class have to do with your affair with Vegeta being doomed?” Piccolo never misses a trick.

“Well, Prince Vegeta is so strong. So ideal. Just what every Saiyan would wish to be. I’m...well, I’m not. Not strong, not smart, nothing. He was just lonely, I think, and I was the only other Saiyan around, besides Nappa.” I wonder why I’m pouring out my heart like this to the Namek. Maybe because I feel like it’s safe; who’s he going to tell? He probably doesn’t even understand half of it anyway. Or maybe it’s just because I need to talk, need to tell this to somebody, and he’s the closest person. I don’t know. Right now, I don’t care.

“Why did you think you would spend your lives together, if he was just lonely?”

“Well...” I force myself to think back, really remember those first few months. I had never been sure of Prince Vegeta’s feelings, but there had seemed to be something there. “It was different, in the beginning,” I start slowly, the words almost physically painful with the flood of memories they bring. “He seemed like he really cared about me. I don’t know if he loved me...he certainly never said he did, but then that’s not really our way. The Saiyan way, I mean. He sought me out, though, chose to spend time with me when he could be doing something else, sparred with me. I suppose I would have been considered extremely subordinate, if there were any other Saiyans alive to care. I chased him all over the place, it was like I was in heat, I didn’t care that he could beat the shit out of me, I just wanted to touch him, be near him. Damn, those first few months, whenever we were away from base we’d be screwing like mad!” I laugh, but the laughter hurts, sets its barbs in my throat.

“But slowly, the gap between our power levels increased. His power just grew and grew, it was amazing! But me, I had to work for every little bit. Not that I didn’t...I trained constantly! But I could never catch up with Prince Vegeta, and he knew that. He started becoming...colder, I guess, less affectionate, less easy to reach. And I started becoming afraid to face him, afraid to touch him, look him in the eyes. Things just sort of ended, and we never said a word to each other about it. Except...”

I take a big gulp of the cool air, bring my knees up to my chest and lower my forehead to touch them, hiding my face in my hair. I will not cry, I will not cry! Of course, I do, but at least Piccolo can’t see. He remains silent, anyway. I feel impossibly weak, but in my new life, that’s hardly a revelation. I am impossibly weak. I keep my shoulders from trembling, keep talking to stop myself from sobbing. Hope my voice isn’t shaky.

“Except once, I went to give my report to him. I’d just cleared off some planet or other...he was staring out the window at the sky. He was so beautiful standing there, everything came back to me, and I-“ I stop, taking time to get a hold of my voice again. “I walked up to him, tried to take him in my arms, the way we used to. I thought it was stupid to throw away something like that just because of fear.” I swallow audibly.

“He was furious. He grabbed my hand and twisted it, breaking my wrist. He then proceeded to beat me, screaming at me, ‘Don’t you EVER touch me again!’ I couldn’t-I couldn’t fight back. I was in the regen tank for three weeks after that. By the time I woke up, he was gone, off on some mission. I never spoke of anything but business to him after that. Even when he sent me to go get Kakarot.”

I can’t help myself, and the sobs pour out of me. I keep them silent, but my back and shoulders shake, betraying me. I hope Piccolo doesn’t look over at me, I can’t stand for anyone else to see my disgusting frailty. If he were to laugh at me, or worse, to offer me pity, sympathy, I think I really would leave this mudball, just hurl myself into space and see how far I got. But he does none of these things, and I’m left alone with my sorrow. After what seems like hours, I finally get some control back, and wipe my eyes on the ragged remains of my pants, lifting my head.

He’s looking at me. But he doesn’t say anything, just keeps looking at me with eyes I can’t read. I respond the only way I know how, and spit out bitterly, “Well?”

“It seems you have had some difficult experiences,” Piccolo says, his voice as opaque as his eyes. I’m grateful.

“Yeah, being in love sucks,” I offer as my one bit of wisdom I’ve gleaned from my miserable life.

Part Four | Back
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