Disclaimer: I do not own Dragonball Z. It and its characters are property of Akira Toriyama and Bird Studios, and were used without prior permission



Stormwinds



It's difficult to watch, sometimes.

He's just outside, training, and he looks so much like his father. Same orange and blue fighting gi, same flawless combat form, same determined set to his dark eyes. The only real difference is in their hairstyles. But hide their hair from view and they could almost be twins. A shame my Goku isn't around to see this. He would be so proud of our son.

Look at him out there, so focused on his training that he doesn't realize that lunch is ready. Usually, he can smell food when he's all the way outside even if the windows are closed, and is in here before I can finish setting the table. Sighing, I shake my head; this is going to be one of our rough days.

"Wow, honey! This smells great; I think you've outdone yourself!"

I turn away from the window and toward Papa, who has taken great care not to shake the house with his steps, and offer him a smile. A false one, and judging from the now worried look on his face, he knows it as well as I do. I never was very good at hiding my feelings from him. But I always try.

"Thank you, Papa," I say in my finest good-daughter voice. "Go ahead and sit down. I need to go and---"

"Sure thing, honey. He's still out there, huh?"

I don't bother answering, and simply walk out of the kitchen. Yes, my son is still out there, and that is certainly not a good thing. Not a good sign.

A powerful gust of warm wind blasts over me when I open the front door, and I have to squint against the force of its bursts as I make my way around to the side of the house. I glance up at the sky, to find a thick ceiling of dark clouds. Hmm. Warm, gusting winds, and black clouds . . . We're in for a storm. How wonderful.

I can't help but stop and watch him for a minute. He hasn't noticed me, yet, and is still practicing. It's a simple kata, but lovely to see nonetheless, and he performs it perfectly. Just like his father used to, before he died. Just like I used to, before I married. He executes every punch, kick, and block beautifully, and apparently unaware of the wind whipping viciously through his hair.

But I can only watch for so long. "Gohan-chan?"

He stops, and turns to face me, question in his eyes along with his usual sombreness. I hate that sombreness; it's out of place on a little boy like him. But I know that's useless argument. He's a teenager, now, just two months past fourteen. He's not little, anymore. I hate that, too.

"Yes, Kaasan?" he asks. "What is it?"

"Well, it's dinnertime, silly!" I scold mildly, trying to sound cheerful. "You got so wrapped up in things out here that you must not have noticed!"

My tone has clearly done nothing to raise his spirits, and he glances at the window. "I guess I did. I'm sorry, Kaasan. I'll be inside in a few minutes."

Oh, no he doesn't . . . "No, Gohan-chan. Not 'in a few minutes'. Right now."

"But Kaasan---"

"I said now."

He bows his head. "Yes, Kaasan," he says quietly. Or so I can assume from the movement of his lips; soft words are lost in the roaring of the wind. Head still hanging, he steps past me on his way to the house.

I close my eyes. Really, it's not so bad. He's listening, today. Maybe things won't be so rough, after all. On days like this, if I don't get him to come in right away, he'll keep on going until he drops from exhaustion. He never used to be that way, so obsessive---and over training, no less! A boy his age!

It's because of those horrible jinzouningen. I'd destroy them myself, if I could. They keep taking my sweet little boy away from me!

It's more than a relief to get back into the house. Such awful weather outside. Hopefully, the climate in here will be more hospitable, but it's always difficult to tell on our rough days. As it is, things seem to be going fine; Gohan-chan is sitting across from Papa at the dinner table, having a quiet conversation with him as they wait for me to join them.

Quiet. Always so quiet, anymore . . .

Even that gets to me sometimes. Oh, Gohan-chan was never a very loud child, except when he cried (which he doesn't seem to do, anymore), but nor was he ever so . . . withdrawn in the presence of his own family. He's only been back home for about a year, I know, but he should have adjusted by now. Those three years that he was gone have changed him, and not for the better. I wish that he would talk to me about them; I have the right to know what was happening to my own son.

We eat dinner in near-silence, since the most likely direction that the conversation might take was somewhere I would rather not tread. At least not until a good day. The sound of the gales rattling the windows is almost the only thing to hear. It's not the way things should be when three people are in the same room.

Gohan-chan finishes first, of course; he eats more than even Papa, but does it so quickly. Must be a Saiyajin thing. His father was the same way. He pushes out his chair, and surprisingly enough, begins to clean up his own dishes. It's not something that he often does.

"Thanks very much for dinner, Kaasan. It was wonderful, as usual," he says politely, carrying his many plates over to the sink. "I've still got some time, so I'm going to go back outside and do some more training . . ."

That obsession again! "You most certainly are not! Haven't you noticed how dreadful it is out there? It's going to storm soon, and you'll catch cold."

He looks down, refusing to meet my eyes. His voice is clear, yet unsteady as he argues, "Kaasan, it's not that bad out. I've been out in worse---I've had to be. And I've hardly ever gotten sick. I'll be okay . . ."

"That is not the issue, here. Training is almost all you do, anymore. I don't think it will kill you to take a night off!" I snap, my temper rising. Gohan-chan never used to argue with me; he always used to do as he was told, was always a very dutiful child.

Gohan-chan mumbles something under his breath that sounds like, "It just might . . ." I don't know; my hearing isn't as good as all that. But he looks up at me, suddenly, eyes set stubbornly. "Kaasan, please. We've been through this fifty times. With the jinzouningen out there, I have to . . . I'm the only one who can . . ."

I thrust myself out of my chair, and Gohan-chan takes a step back. "One night, Gohan-chan. One night. I don't think it's going to make a life-or-death difference. It's bad enough that you fight those things at all---"

"ChiChi, honey, maybe you should calm---"

"---Not now, Papa!" I growl, never taking my eyes off of Gohan-chan. I continue with only that as an interruption, "All the time, you're going after them, leaving me worried sick, and then you come back home half dead! Can you honestly expect me to support something like that?"

"Kaasan!" Gohan-chan shouts. He actually shouts. At me, of all people. It's so startling that I can't speak. He, however, doesn't seem to have this problem, but his voice is at normal volume now, though tense, and almost apologetic. "I'm sorry. But . . . but you know what they do, out there. I can't just let them . . ."

I cover my face with one hand. This is just getting to be too much . . . "Gohan-chan, not tonight. Just go to your room. I'm not in the mood for anymore arguing; do what I say."

"Kaasan . . ." he begins, but then I hear him sigh. "Fine."

I wait until I hear his door close before I take my hand away from my face and slump back into my chair. He never used to be so difficult. Maybe the three years he was gone have something to do with it, or maybe it's just a teenage thing . . .

"Are you okay, honey?" Papa's voice, hesitant and gentle.

I keep my face averted. For Kami-sama's sakes, I'm on the verge of tears; I will not let him see that. After a minute, I finally manage to answer. "No, Papa, I'm not. I'm not okay."

It's impossible not to hear Papa's footsteps as he comes around the table, and he puts a huge, warm hand on my shoulder. "I know this must be hard for you, ChiChi. But Gohan is no longer a baby. Things like this are going to happen."

The words almost make my tears flow, but I stop them; I'm not weak enough to just burst into sobs over something like this. "I know he's not a baby, Papa. But he's so different, now . . . I just want my little boy back. The one who hid behind my leg at the sight of a bee, or would run up to me and giggle, showing me the baby squirrel that he caught. The one who would always proudly show me his homework, and give me a hug before he went to bed every night . . . You can't tell me that that's wrong."

"No, honey, that's not wrong," Papa soothes, rubbing my shoulder. "It's just normal. But you can't stop him from growing up, no matter how hard you try. That's the hardest thing about being a parent. Remember, I had to let you grow up, too."

It's a burden sometimes, to hear something that makes so much sense. But Gohan-chan is my only child, and it's more than that he's growing up. He's growing away from me. I wouldn't be very surprised if he just decided to leave one day rather than stay here and try to put up with me. I never mean to start yelling at him like that, but this whole jinzouningen mess is so frustrating. And it's the only quarrel that we ever have. Maybe I should be glad that there's only ever one issue between us, since there are others out there who have it worse. But the issue is such a big one . . .

I shake my head, and gently remove Papa's hand from my shoulder. "I'll just clean these up, now . . ." I say, rising from my chair with my still half-full plate in my hands.

Papa lifts an eyebrow. "ChiChi, honey, you really should eat . . ."

"I'm not hungry," I interject, not wanting to hear anymore. I glance toward the door to Gohan-chan's bedroom. "I lost my appetite."

And that ends it. I scrape off my unfinished dinner into the garbage and move over to the sink, where Gohan-chan's many dishes are neatly stacked. Through the window, I stare at the sky, overrun by the thick stormclouds. Technically, there are still a couple of hours of daylight left, but it's so dark out now that it may as well be night. A single tree, its trunk slender and weak, breaks off and is carried away in the violent gales, perhaps lost forever . . .

I don't even need to look at my hands to wash the dishes; it's automatic, an action I could perform in my sleep. Dunk them in the water, scrub them off, set them aside so that they can dry . . . Very simplistic, really. What isn't simplistic is why I can't take my eyes off the coming storm. It's somehow become almost hypnotic. That's such a silly thought. Why would I find I storm so fascinating? I've always hated them.

Most likely, I'm just in need of distraction. The thoughts I have after an argument are never good ones (guilty, angry, and frightened would be better descriptive terms), and so I try to find some way to avoid thinking for a while. A glance over my shoulder tells me that Papa has left the kitchen, probably gone into the living room and now leafing through a book, as is his habit whenever I don't want to talk. Well, good. I'd rather be alone right now, anyway . . .

Alone.

Funny. Being alone isn't something that I'm used to wanting. All of those times that I would yell at my Goku, and fuss over little Gohan-chan, it was because they had left me by myself. I hated it. It was almost as if I were simply an inconvenience, or an afterthought at best. Who wouldn't be angry over something like that? Never had I thought that I would ever really want to be alone.

And it's not as if it couldn't happen. Papa is getting on in years, and there isn't any real telling how long he's got left, despite his good health. And Gohan-chan keeps fighting the jinzouningen, so his lifespan is even more uncertain. And again, there's the possibility that he might simply leave. He's found cause to stay away from home before . . .

A rumble of thunder jolts me back to attention, and I realize that I've likely been washing the same plate for several minutes. Absently, I set it aside, and dry my hands on a spare dish towel. There are still more dishes to clean, but I can take care of those later.

I need to talk to Gohan-chan.

The sky roars again as I make my way down the hall, and a flash of lightning catches the corner of my vision. I would almost think it was an ominous symbol if I believed in such things. Though I can't help wondering . . . Nevermind. I'm just being silly.

I rap softly on his door. "Gohan-chan? Sweetie? I want to talk to you."

No answer. Is he ignoring me? Is he that angry?

"Gohan-chan?" I ask again, a bit worried now. And still no response. My stomach knots up; maybe he really did . . .

My mind doesn't even register twisting the knob, but the door opens. Gohan-chan's bed is neatly made, his bookshelf is the very image of tidiness, his desk is flawlessly organized. It's almost surreally perfect, save for one thing.

Gohan-chan isn't in it.

I bolt into the room, looking about frantically, and notice that his window is wide open, the curtains whipping around in the breeze. I lean on the sill and crane my neck to search for him. I can only hope he's not left the yard. "Gohan-chan?"

Another peal of thunder, and a near-blinding burst of lightning. But it's actually proven useful; during the brief illumination, I manage to catch sight of a figure on top of the roof. It must be Gohan-chan. But what on Earth is he doing outside?

For a minute, I consider calling out to him again and telling him to get back into the house. But no. Gohan-chan does nothing without a reason, so there's got to be some strange logic behind this. Which means that there's no other option but to go out there myself. Not exactly the best prospect in the world, but . . .

Carefully, I crawl out the window, the side-slits in my dress making the movement easy and the pants that I wear beneath it protecting my legs from any possible splinters. The ground is still hard, what with the rain having not yet arrived; hopefully Gohan-chan and I will both be back indoors before it gets muddy.

I bow my head against the wind as I walk toward the outbuilding at the side of the house. The outbuilding has a pitched roof, unlike the house, which is a dome. Makes for better sitting, I suppose. Though why he would want to sit up here, especially at a time like this, is a mystery to me. Too many mysteries. Don't I even know my own son, anymore?

"Gohan-chan?" I call once more upon reaching the outbuilding. Now, how to get up there . . . Ah, yes. That will do.

It's not a difficult climb, standing on the window sill before pulling myself onto the roof. Nothing really, since I've kept myself in good shape over the years. I stumble a bit as I stand, mentally readjusting my balance for the slope. Lightning flickers, and I can see Gohan-chan's face, stuck in an expression somewhere between seriousness and amusement.

"Kaasan . . . what are you doing up here?" he asks.

I move to sit beside him (my goodness, these shingles are so rough; how can he stand sitting on them?) before I answer, with a raised eyebrow, "Don't you think it would make more sense if I were the one asking you that question?"

If decent light levels weren't so sporadic, I would be certain that he flushed in embarrassment. "Yes, well . . . I just came out here to think about . . . things."

"In weather like this?"

He shrugs, and turns to face forward, his eyes closed and an odd smile on his face; his hair is tossed about mercilessly in the gusts. "I like the storms."

There's nothing I can say to that. Such a strange statement. Especially when he used to be scared witless by thunder as a little boy and would hurry over to huddle in my lap. I miss that kind of thing, but I suppose it's best that he's no longer a fearful person.

"Kaasan, I . . ." he speaks around the thunderclaps, ". . . I'm sorry. That I shouted at you at dinner. I shouldn't have done that."

"Well, no, you shouldn't have."

He glances up at me. "I'm not in trouble for that, am I?"

I can't stop a little chuckle at the worried expression on his face. Just like the normal child that I wish he had a chance of being. "No, sweetie, you're not in trouble."

Gohan-chan relaxes visibly, and turns outward again.

Confused, I ask, "What are you staring at?"

He nods toward something. "Nothing much, really, just that little tree over there."

I follow the direction of his nod, and my eyes come to rest on the tree. It looks almost identical to the one I saw while washing the dishes (which I really ought to get back to; that water has been sitting for a while, now), but for one difference. Where the other tree had broken off in the fierce stormwinds and tossed about like a twig wielded by a child, this one was still intact. Bending under the force of nature, but not breaking, not being destroyed.

"Quite a tough little thing," I comment, trying to get our conversation moving again. Though Gohan-chan doesn't answer, I can sense his agreement. "So. You came out here to think. What were you thinking about?"

A few raindrops splash off the top of my head. Just a light patter, as of yet. Nothing worth interrupting the conversation over. Of course, we will have to go back inside before the downpour gets too heavy. Gohan-chan can talk all he wants about not getting sick, but I'm not taking that chance.

"Nothing specific. Just life in general." He doesn't seem to have noticed the rain. "You know, how to handle it, what kind of choices I should be making . . ."

"Like in regards to the jinzouningen?" I honestly don't mean for it to sound bitter, but it does anyway. And it ruins the nice talk we've been having. Sore subjects tend to do that.

Gohan-chan sighs in exasperation. "Kaasan . . . do we really have to go through this again?"

A particularly clamorous roar of thunder shakes the roof under us, and my stomach drops, just for a second. Even Gohan-chan looks a little startled by it, hands braced against the shingles, eyes watching the sky warily as though searching for a bad omen. I do have to admit, that came at an almost uncanny moment.

But I shake of the surprise quite quickly. Things like that have never frightened me very much. "Gohan-chan." I wait until I have his attention before I go on. "Yes, we do have to go through this again. It's important. You spend so much of your life preparing to go after them, and you may well spend your life literally against them. You can't keep putting yourself in danger like that."

"Kaasan," he begins, his voice a study in patience, probably learned from listening to me. "Don't you think I know the risks? I'm not foolish, and I'm not ignorant."

"Maybe not, but that doesn't make what you're doing any more sane." The rain is coming down harder, now, but at this moment it can't stop us from continuing. "With the way you come home most of the time, it's hard to tell whether or not that makes a difference."

Gohan-chan bows his head in thought, and not even the heavy rain can slick down his hair. "It might not; I don't really know. And I know that my fighting the jinzouningen upsets you. And I really am sorry about that. But . . ."

"But?"

He straightens, squaring his shoulders as another flash of lightning briefly overtakes the sky, and his expression is that of his father when he was at his most serious. "But . . . I just can't let it keep happening. If I were the same person that I was when I was little, then we wouldn't be having this conversation; there'd be no way I could make a difference against the jinzouningen. But I do have that chance---only a small chance; I admit that---so if I don't try . . . Well . . . I know what that makes me. I was that way for three years, and it was awful. I won't do that again."

I don't want it to make sense. I really don't. Because allowing it to make sense would mean that I condone an action that could very well kill my only child at any time. Logic doesn't care about such things, though, and it seems to be winning out. But there's something more than logic . . .

"You know, Gohan-chan, you sound just like your father."

He blinks, and not from rainwater getting in his eyes; he's confused about how to react. In all truth, I'm not quite sure myself. Resembling his father is certainly not a bad thing, but Goku is rarely a subject either of us can bring up and stay happy. Finally, Gohan-chan lowers his chin a little, and I do believe there's a slight flush of pleasure on his cheeks.

"Gohan-chan." My voice is again that of a stern mother. "Just don't let this jinzouningen mess completely take over your life. You've been neglecting everything else lately."

He nods slowly, and I almost sag with relief. I know that I can't stop him from going off to fight, however much I might want to, but as long as I can remind him that there's still more to life than that, things might very well be all right. At least, as all right as anything can get, these days.

Gohan-chan lifts his head at last, staring straight up into the sky as though realizing for the first time that it's raining. To be honest, I'd kind of forgotten about that myself, though I can't imagine how. The downpour has soaked right through my dress, and maybe even straight into the bone.

"Good Kami-sama!" I say, not without a hint of humour. "What are we still doing out here? In a storm like this, of all things! Let's get back inside."

I make a move to get down from the roof, but Gohan-chan puts a hand on my shoulder. "Here, Kaasan, let me help you."

Before I can inform him that I am quite capable of getting down myself, he slides one arm around my back, and the other under my legs, lifting me easily. He floats carefully down to his window, letting me climb inside first and then doing so himself.

I take a minute to wring out my hair, which is down, now. The ribbon must have come off outside. It doesn't matter; I have others, and probably wouldn't want a mud-slicked one back, anyway. "I've got an idea. Why don't you ask your Grandpa to help us make some hot chocolate to get the chill out of our bones." I reach over and close the window. No point in letting any more unnecessary moisture get into the house. "But take off those muddy boots, first."

"Right, Kaasan." His boots quickly tumble to the floor, and he's gone almost in a hurry. A fourteen-year-old in a hurry for hot chocolate. Not something one really expects.

One last glance out the window. I can still see that slender little tree, surviving against nature's ferocity. It's stronger than it looks, and I'd lay a bet that it will still be standing come the storm's end. Some things can't be broken.

With a small smile, I just shake my head, and go to join Papa and Gohan-chan in the kitchen.