11 Hours Until Departure, Sacred World of the Kai's
"And here I was, hoping you'd decided to keep your old promise." Elder Kaioshin sighed at Gohan, Kaioshin, and Kibito as they stood atop a lavish, green hill. One of seemingly countless spread across the equally vibrant Kai home planet.
Gohan forgot just how beautiful a place it was. There seemed no end to the green fields, clear running rivers or the cloudless sky overhead. Spending so much time behind desks and books made him appreciate nature whenever he could. Even during times of crisis. The thought crossed his mind to go on a vacation here. Although, Elder Kaioshin possibly pestering Videl didn't sit right with him.
The first thing the old deity asked them where was the pretty girl his father promised years ago. Back when they were convincing him to unlock Gohan's potential the first time. Gohan hoped the matter of the girl wouldn't come up again. Judging by his slumped shoulders and the extra lines adorning his already wrinkled face, Gohan's wish was coming true. It only took this whole catastrophe orchestrated by a fellow Kai to make it happen.
"To think one of us could commit such atrocities," Elder Kaioshin shook his head, sounding older than Gohan had ever heard him before. "As loathe as I am to admit it, only the Dragon Balls could fix such senseless destruction thoroughly enough."
"Assuming they aren't all destroyed," Kaioshin spoke up from his right. Looking just as concerned as his elder. "Removing possible difficulties to their ambition. It's likely their informant Zuno is also dead."
"I knew Zamasu garnered some ill will towards humans," Kibito commented from Gohan's side, his eyes glued to the floor. "But to go so far? Madness, there's no other word for it."
"Not everyone can rise above their personal issues lad, Zamasu's fall does not reflect poorly on yourself. It only highlights your strength of character."
Gohan remembered how Kibito similarly didn't have a high opinion of humans either. At least, he didn't before. Zamasu going to such an extreme over similar feelings to Kibito's own must have disturbed the God. It hit too close to home.
Still, his elder's words seemed to make him feel better. His body, stiff as a statue after Gohan and his fathers account of events seemed to ease, just slightly. "Thank you, revered ancestor."
"Now then, let's get to the matter at hand," Elder Kaioshin's usual grumpy energy reasserted itself as he looked at Gohan and his father. "It goes without saying how I disapprove of your time travel antics. But, unless Beerus and Whis resolve the matter themselves, it falls to you and the others to stop Zamasu."
"So you'll help me get my old power back! Thank you so much, sir!" Gohan bowed in genuine gratitude, getting a soft scoff out of the old God.
"Amazing how different father and son are," Elder Kaioshin muttered, referring to how Gohan's father rushed out an excuse, waved goodbye, good luck then immediately left. Leaving Gohan alone to explain the entire situation. "I'll help you lad, but I can't guarantee it will make much difference."
"What do you mean sir?"
"What I mean is that you're a well already dug out. I don't expect you to have much left for me to draw I already haven't."
Gohan did not like the sound of that at all. "B-But sir! My dad said I should have more potential now than before!"
"Your father says and does a lot of stupid things, doesn't make them true," The God irritably snapped. "The fact of the matters is, I draw at all your hidden strength years ago. All you could ever attain. Another go won't change much, though it will pass quite a bit faster if its any consolation."
"But how can that possibly be? I've always had more potential to go, even after it supposedly getting unlocked!"
"My ritual, as I already told you, unlocks everything you have and then some. Everyone, even you lad, runs out of inborn power to unleash at some point."
Gohan felt deflated by this news. He hoped to reach a new, incredible level of power again, one good enough to let him help his father, Vegeta and most importantly Trunks. Being stronger than just Majin Boo wasn't going to cut it anymore. Even in the Room of Spirit and Time, would just a few months of fighting and training with Vegeta make any real difference?
A sudden reminder of Trunks' dire situation and his diminishing 12-hour deadline cut through his doubts like a blast through a mountain. After taking a deep breath to calm himself, Gohan gingerly removed his glasses and sat down on the grassy hill. Showing no signs of fear or anxiety.
"Then help me get as much as you can, I'll take care of the rest, sir."
10 Hours Until Departure, Capsule Corp HQ
Goku's shout cut into the usual calm of the night, reverberating across the area like an avalanche. His arms were fully outstretched, palms open and trained at the target of the technique. An Earthling sized robot, decommissioned by Bulma's father decades ago. Piccolo was the one to ask for it, saying how an object with the proportions of a living creature would improve Goku's training. Sucking a phone or toaster into the Mafuba jar was not the same as capturing a person.
As expected, the area just ahead of Goku transformed into a wild vortex of green, swirling energy. Opposite Goku was the robot, while the containment jar was right at Goku's left leg. Slowly but surely, the robot became a part of the twisting energy around it. It's vaguely Earthling shape bent into an unnatural, elongated form, trying to become part of the vortex itself.
Trying being the keyword.
Just from the amount of time it took for the vortex itself to appear, Piccolo knew it wasn't going to work. The apparent difficulty Goku had with shifting the robots physical form into a malleable state cemented his prediction. Still, he had to admit Goku's quick progress with the technique. Just an hour ago, creating the vortex seemed too difficult for him. Now? He was already halfway to mastering it.
With a loud thud, the robot fell halfway to the jar with Goku almost joining it as he gasped for breath and braced himself on his knees. It didn't keep the smile off his face.
"Good, that's a whole quarter of the way more than last time!"
"Indeed it is," Piccolo spoke as he approached him, lifting the robot back to place with a bit of telekinesis. With the same ability, he snatched a nearby water bottle and flung it to Goku. "A part of me was worried the bigger target would prove to difficult with our tight schedule but as usual," Piccolo smiled. "You're making it work."
"It's a pretty tough move," Goku commented after a mouthful of water. "Not the kind I usually use too, but we're kinda low on options."
"Indeed, it's possible Whis or Beerus know of some other technique. But Bulma's baiting them with food hasn't brought them back, this time."
"Fine by me" Goku stretched after emptying the bottle. "Beerus winning this for us would rub me the wrong way, y'know?"
"I'm curious to see what exactly Vegeta plans to do. Unless he's got another transformation or strategy to work on, I can't imagine how he'll become over a dozen times stronger in six months. Even if Gohan decides to join him."
"That's a pretty specific number, don't cha think?"
Piccolo narrowed his eyes at the Saiyan. "How do you mean? If your Kaio-Ken times ten hasn't worked with Blue, Vegeta has quite a gap to close if he intends to beat this Black."
Goku's stretching came to a sudden halt, followed by an awkwardly long, nervous chuckle. "Well, you see," He slowly brought himself back up to full height. "I sorta... haven't used it... at all..."
Piccolo continued to stare at him for a long moment. "May I ask why?"
"Well, y'know, I don't like to end a fight too soon."
It sounded plausible to the Namekian. Goku'd already done it once when Black invaded the present. Doing it again was well within the realm of possibility for the man-in-question. There were just two problems with this explanation.
"You also want to fight someone at their best," Piccolo casually pointed out, keeping his suspicion hidden. "From what you've told us, Black gets stronger the more he fights you. I'd think you'd want to see just how far he can go, within reason, of course."
"Uhh, well,..." Goku awkwardly glanced around, purposefully avoiding Piccolo's steady gaze. The Namekain noted the uncanny resemblance of father and son as he did it.
"Vegeta also mentioned how you went berserk when Black taunted you about Chi-Chi and Goten. I assumed you'd use your full strength on someone after that, even at the cost of enjoying yourself."
"I was pretty hurt when it happened though!" Goku suddenly got more confident, as if he'd found a sure-fire a way to squirm out of Piccolo's questioning. "There was this big hole in my chest! if I used the Kaio-Ken, I'd die!"
"Doesn't explain why you've purposefully avoided its use on your first trip to the future," Piccolo pointed out, already noticing Goku deflate. "The situation was pretty dire then too, but according to you, you refrained from using the Kaio-Ken with Blue."
Piccolo kept a steady gaze on his Saiyan friend, noticing the beads of fresh sweat pouring down the sides of his face. He could even hear his heart thumping loudly in his chest. Not even the Mafuba made it beat quite so quickly, and that could kill him. The dead giveaway was Goku's face, how he suddenly looked very old and tired.
He'd only seen that expression on him once before, very recently in fact. With the dots connected, Piccolo let out a breath he didn't know he was holding.
"You're afraid you'll permanently damage your body if you try it again."
Goku looked momentarily surprised at the statement, even ready to deny it. But something in Piccolo's expression must've told him it was okay to admit it. They'd spoken about this already when Goku admitted the illness to him in privacy. So, instead of awkwardly denying it or fumbling around it, Goku simply plopped down on the ground.
"Kaio said it would stick if I used my ki recklessly again," He sounded old and tired too, Piccolo noted. "I'd stop getting stronger, y'know?"
"I assumed," Piccolo sat down as well, crossing his legs a meditative pose. "Still, I wouldn't think it would bother you so much. You're not usually one for worrying about what ifs."
He chuckled awkwardly. "Yeah, but I don't know. Something about this just bugs me..."
Piccolo knew quite well what he meant, even if Goku couldn't find the words to say it. They were alike in that way, not great with expressing doubts or fears. Piccolo was simply more... intelligent in acknowledging this part of himself while Goku was simpler in his thought process'.
"It's understandable why you'd be worried about this. More so than anyone else I know, the prospect of not getting stronger, of testing yourself is a frightening one to consider."
"You don't know the half of it, I don't know what'd I do if I couldn't train anymore..."
"You'd find something else to occupy your time."
"Sure, and I do really like hanging out with Goten and Pan and all that stuff. But," He sighed. "I don't know..."
"If would be enough to replace training and fighting?" Piccolo finished his train of thought, smirking at Goku's surprised look. "Take it from someone who got over this years ago, you'd do just fine."
"What'd ya mean?" Goku asked, looking a little better now that his curiosity was being peaked.
This time it was Piccolo who sighed, feeling they should continue their training instead of losing time on this. But Goku holding back was a practical concern, as much as a personal one. Solving it along with helping him master the Mafuba could just guarantee their victory and an end to this latest mess.
Crossing his arms, Piccolo double checked no one else was around to hear this before he started. "When Gohan fought Cell, I cursed myself and my own weakness. I could do nothing but simply stare in awe and fear at his and Cell's powers. I felt useless and for a while, it pushed me to train harder than ever. Gohan even joined me for a while, the recent events incentivized him to not let up and for a while, we kept at it."
"Goten changed a lot, with a baby brother, mom and studying to do, Gohan eventually stopped coming. He was happy and comfortable, which was fine by me. What wasn't," He tried to recall his feelings from then. "Was I hit a plateau. Nothing I did change much anymore, not even a couple of tries with Vegeta. I knew I'd reached, more or less, my limit," He grinned. "That infuriated me for a long while."
"But eventually, maybe from getting comfortable myself, or from joining back with Kami again, I started to... cool off. Accept things. That fighting drive left me, my punches and kicks were replaced by meditation, spending time with Dende, helping around your house, enjoying my old stomping grounds," He smiled. "Then taking care of that little ball of energy you call a granddaughter."
"You really don't miss it?" Goku asked, looking at him as if he'd grown a second head. "For reals?"
"For reals," He nodded. "I'm fine with helping out when I can, like tonight for example or getting my hands dirty if no one else is available. But honestly? Looking back on my fear and anger for losing my edge? Feels like just some necessary growing pains, you wouldn't imagine all the other things I'd miss if I stayed like that."
"And you were pretty serious about fighting then..." Goku acknowledged, looking calm and even thoughtful as looked at the sky. Piccolo wasn't one hundred percent sure, many things about Saiyan's and Earthlings still confused him to no end, but he seemed to feel a sense of ease from his old friend.
Eventually, Goku rose back to his feet, looking like he'd just finished his massive meal from Chi-Chi all over again. "We should get back to training, can't win without me nailing this move, after all."
Goku almost turned around to enter the necessary stance before looking back to Piccolo and grinning like an idiot. "You know, I'm real glad you and I became friends."
Piccolo smirked back. "As am I Son, as am I."
Another change I forgot to name last time is the gang being aware of the Pilaf gang being kids, they were the ones to steal the DBs in Yamcha & Ox-King Save the World, after all. So, no Pilaf gang hanging around Capsule Corp in my version.
Goku's apparent refusal to use KK always bugged me in the show, so I decided to root it in something character specific. I can very easily see even a simple guy like Goku get freaked by an illness that'd hit him where he hurts most: his fighting ability. It was a cool concept that sadly wasn't done for more than just a little slice of life episode and I felt Piccolo was an appropriate choice to help nudge him along to a resolution.