The dazzling afternoon sun hung suspended in a brilliant blue sky. It beat intensely down onto the small clearing below; filling the mid-summers day with humidity so thick that it almost settled on your tongue. Looming shadows spilled out onto a luscious stretch of overgrown grass, cast by thick, twisting branches in their full bloom. A soft, warm breeze wafted through the atmosphere, caressing the surrounding foliage of the forest and whistling through the tree-tops.
Living humbly at the base of a mountain really did have its advantages. Mount Paozu had raw, unspoiled natural scenery that the family could admire by simply glancing outside their kitchen window. Their modest home was secluded by thick, dense forest. They chose to live away from the daily bustle of city life. There were no looming clouds of pollution over the horizon, no consistent, low rumblings of traffic, and no endless stretches of grey paving slabs. There was no money either, but if the small family were sensible enough they could just about manage to make ends meet.
The area they lived in was truly a sanctuary away from what was deemed to be 'A Normal Life'.
… But when had the family ever been normal?
Chi-Chi really was a country girl at heart. She firmly believed that out in the open was the best place to raise her children. She and Goku had literally given their sons the world as their back garden, teaching them to cherish the smaller things in life that others took for granted. Goku had taught his family to find awe and magic in things like the slow turn from winter to spring … Just having each other around had been a luxury in the Son household until recently.
You had to hand it to Mother Nature, the day really was serene. It was tranquil. It was perfect. It was… silent.
Peace, she had found over the years, was often just another term for 'a long stretch of silence'.
…Funny, how the majority of her most treasured memories had happened in the prospect of impending doom.
Perhaps peace wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.
Chi-Chi craned her neck towards Gohan's bedroom, where she could vaguely make him out through the open window. He was hunched over his desk, intently scrawling away on a piece of paper. His bedroom was silent, save for the steady, mechanical whirring of an electric fan. …Well, she had got what she wanted. Her husband had kept his promise- her son really had gone back to studying.
Since his father's death, Gohan was guaranteed to be found either obediently shut away in his bedroom or having a one-way conversation with Goten. His enthusiasm to train had almost, if not completely, fizzled out. The cheeky, carefree grin that used to light up his features had permanently slipped off. Instead he wore an uneasy, serious expression that made him look persistently on edge. Unsurprising, considering the way he had accelerated into demi-Saiyan puberty without a proper male role-model (who at least had the anatomy of a human) and the burden of self-imposed guilt constantly weighing down on his shoulders.
Gohan had taken over Chi-Chi's role as Mother Hen during her pregnancy. He had relentlessly insisted on her bed-rest, single-handedly taken care of nearly all the house-hold chores, and hadn't dared to touch his mother in case she broke. He had sat for hours and fretted over things no boy his age should: Did the family have enough money to support a baby? Should he go out and find work? Could he ever be to his sibling what his father was to him? … How could his parents have been so damn irresponsible? If anything, he should have been duly disgusted at the thought that his parents were even having sex.
Actually, he was.
The reason for Gohan's sudden change in attitude was heartbreakingly clear. He had explained it to his mother once, eyes downcast to the floor and voice cracking with a perfect blend of hormones and grief.
"…He told me to look after you."
It was essentially Goku's death wish.
Strange as it was, Chi-Chi hoped that the part of his father still heavily influencing Gohan would encourage him to break the rules once in a while, too. Turns out, the "delinquency" that she had been trying to protect her baby from was the very thing that kept him sane.
And she thought she had been glad to see the back of that squawking little purple dinosaur.
Wearily, the woman tore her gaze away from the back of her son. She briskly brushed herself off before making her way back indoors. Wary of tracking mud through the house, she slipped off her dainty shoes at the door before slinking barefoot through the kitchen. She neatly skirted around a particularly creaky floorboard as she headed upstairs, her feet softly padding on the wooden floor. The house was so… quiet. It really was disturbing.
Her eyes met with a set of gently fluttering net curtains as she pushed open her bedroom door. A small smile gracing her features, she wandered over to check on the newest addition to the family. Softly snoring, the baby slept bare-chested inside his crib, sprawled ungainly on top of peachy, cotton blankets. An unruly mane of jet black hair sprung out from his head in all directions, his tiny, rosy hand tangled in amongst the spikes. Chi-Chi bent over Goten and tenderly circled a finger over his pudgy belly, inhaling the enchanting scent of warm, clean baby. He was an exact miniature of his father- a complete carbon copy. She wouldn't have believed it if she wasn't seeing it herself.
The baby was also incredibly strong, much stronger than Gohan had been at that age. Goten had practically been practising his Kata in the womb. Chi-Chi absentmindedly rubbed a particularly swollen mark on her stomach from the following morning, watching the child twitch in his sleep. Slowly, her eyes drifted from the infant to the window.
It was then that she noticed.
Determined little bite marks had been gnawed into the wood of the windowsill and all over the sides of the crib, a clear sign of frantic teething.
How could she have been so stupid?
Reprimanding herself, she clenched her teeth, trying hard to suppress the rage bubbling up inside her stomach. She dragged the cot away from the window and into the centre of the room, examining the vicious teeth marks sunken into the wood. They had been etched in deeply; no amount of sanding would ever be able to repair the damage.
Hands planted firmly on her hips and the corners of her mouth downturned, she drank in the baby's innocent expression. He was blissfully unaware of the damage he'd caused and was still sound asleep. Suddenly, an alarming thought struck her. She hesitated on the spot for a second, before doing the bravest thing Chi-Chi had ever done in her life. Plunging her finger into the teething demi-Saiyan's mouth, she swept his gums for splinters, praying that he didn't bite down. As irony would have it, Goten had inherited more than just his father's good looks: Goku's complete lack of common sense.
A familiar, dull aching spread throughout her chest.
"You're your father's son, alright." She whispered, wiping a soggy finger on her dress.
Chi-Chi reached out and tenderly brushed aside a fat spike of Goten's hair that fell shadowing over his face. Then she momentarily left the room, only to return minutes later with several large, empty cardboard boxes stacked inside each other. Determined, she held her breath and swung open the double doors to her bedroom cupboard. Bending down gracefully, she began to sort through the jumble and disarray of dusty items inside. She unpacked bags, scooped up objects littering the floor and unhooked clothing from hangers, tossing them unceremoniously over her shoulder and into the boxes behind her. Satisfied at the empty, clear space before her, she embarked on a whirlwind military mission throughout the rest of the house, intent on repeating the process.
Chi-Chi was never one to procrastinate. She often invented lists of things to do to keep her days occupied. Overworking was a habit she indulged in; she used it as a systematic approach to working out her stresses and frustrations. …Besides, she had a good excuse. The house degenerated into chaos all too quickly behind a Saiyan.
However, this job in particular had needed doing for a very long time.
Chi-Chi had made peace with her husband's death a while ago, if anything just to stay strong for her sons. She had braced herself against the sorrow, forcing herself out of morning with mental, and sometimes physical, slap in the face. She hadn't been ready to go through the emotional process of sorting through Goku's belongings until now. It was time to stop him lurking at the back of the cupboard. Life had to go on.
What the hell was that?
Gohan's control slipped. He easily crushed his pen between his fingers, sending sharp shards of plastic skimming across the tabletop. Snapping his head up in alarm, the boy instantly tuned his sharp Saiyan senses to outside the sanctuary of his bedroom. Throat dry, he locked protectively onto Goten's ki and waited nervously for the next noise forewarning an assault. He prayed with everything he had that it never came.
A second, louder crash resounded throughout the empty halls of the house.
Fight or flight? … Fight or flight?
He chose to do both.
The boy launched himself from his desk, leaving papers swirling and scattering in his wake. Steadily powering up, he scampered towards the window, preparing to drive heroically through the glass and confront the attacker head on.
A powerful voice broke forth from the back of his mind, its firm tone, not unlike his father's, carrying reason through the thick clouds of anxiety.
A warrior is calm.
Bracing his feet against the ragged carpet, Gohan barely managed to stop himself from crashing straight through the windowpane. He ended up with his forehead pressed against the glass, palms planted flatly against his bedroom wall and his broad chest heaving in anticipation. Coiled like a spring, he was tense and ready to attack. Roving his eyes erratically over the garden, he scoured desperately for the enemy.
What he saw outside wasn't Cell, but it was just as disturbing.
A small sigh escaping his lips, Gohan relaxed each of his bulging muscles one by one. He allowed a minute to recompose himself, squeezing his eyes shut and turning momentarily away from the window. A still silence fell like a blanket over his bedroom once again. Gohan indulged in the calm it bought, like a welcome embrace from old friend. The sea of nausea in his stomach subsided as he filled his brawny chest with stuffy, summer air. He supposed, even after all the trauma, he never fully appreciated precious minutes of peace until after they were shattered.
… As always, it never took very long.
Gohan tilted his head back towards the window. He outwardly winced as he witnessed a flock of flustered birds flee from the tree-tops, just as unsettled as he had been a minute prior. His mother had finally lost it. She stood proudly in the centre of the garden, surrounded by piles of tattered looking junk and worn looking clothing. It was as if she'd moved the entire moth-eaten contents of the attic outside. … Well, he'd seen her do stranger things.
Scrutinising her curiously, Gohan looked on from the relative safety of his bedroom as his mother assembled empty card-board boxes into a neat row. Her face was rosy and flushed with heat, and sweaty strands of hair stuck firmly to her forehead. He also couldn't help but notice that she was barefoot outside, something she usually scolded him for. Open-mouthed, Gohan watched in complete bewilderment as she lifted the fabric of a discoloured t-shirt to her nose, her eyes glazing over as she inhaled the scent.
His attention was diverted from the bizarre behaviour, however, when his interest was drawn to a familiar, garish looking gi poking out from the bottom of a heap. Gohan's eyes widened in surprise as everything became clear, the impact of shock taking a clean punch to his gut. He bit his pearly, pointed teeth into his plump bottom lip, unintentionally piercing the skin. His mother was sorting through his father's old belongings, probably throwing them out to make room for Goten. …Something he wrongfully assumed would never happen.
On closer inspection, he found that the items carpeting the garden were easily distinguishable; some of them were poignantly attached to distant memories of his childhood. Memories he'd forgotten he even possessed. The more he focused on particular, scruffy items of clothing or certain misshapen objects, the more he remembered and the more vivid the memories became. Gohan swore he could almost smell him: raw and earthy and-
Gohan stopped himself; he didn't want to deal with that right now.
Gulping down the stubborn lump rising in his throat, he mentally willed himself to believe that getting rid of the 'clutter' would be a good idea, however sentimentally attached he was to some of it. However oddly comforting it was to see it lurking in the back of cupboards like a ghost of his father. …. They might even be able to sell some of it if Dad had kept it in good enough condition; he always used to dent things unintentionally with his strength.
Story of their lives.
Gohan's blood ran cold at the thought. However many times he thought he had successfully let go, something always came back to haunt him. He even half expected a sturdy hand to reach out and clasp his shoulders in reassurance. Brooding was almost like a crime against Son-philosophy. This was just another step in moving on, right? It was probably what Dad would have wanted.
But it didn't mean that Gohan wanted to stick around to see him being boxed up for the last time.
Saying yet another private goodbye to his father, Gohan decided to leave his mother to it. He stalked back over to his desk and began to collect the crumpled sheets of paper that had drifted to the floor. Keeping things neat and orderly was another habit he had picked up from Chi-Chi during the months of his father's absence, almost like a form of baby-proofing. As he retrieved the basic wooden desk chair he had knocked over during his blind panic, he noted with a degree of internal horror that a profound crack now down ran down the middle of the seat. It looked as though it would be the last battering the chair was ever going to take before giving out completely.
He wrestled with his morals. He should probably own up, but his eyes were already scouring the room for something to cover the damage with. He quickly covered the crack with a pile of textbooks. It looked suspicious and his mother's trained eye would probably see through the disguise instantly, but it would have to do.
With his learning resources put to a better use, the boy wandered down the hall towards his mother's bedroom, intent on checking on his brother. Despite still being young, the irony was never lost on Gohan that Goten must have been conceived during the week his father had given him an uncomfortable, hurried and botched explanation on the birds, bees, and the contraception they used to prevent hybrids. That was one conversation he would never forget. Thank God for reproduction diagrams.
Irony had a funny way of working out for the Sons. Wholeheartedly, Gohan was thankful that his father had shamelessly neglected his own advice, however irresponsible it had been at the time. The baby made the family feel whole again and gave Gohan the company he craved. The day Goten was born, he suddenly became the missing piece of their jigsaw and everything kind of fell back into place. Honestly: the timing, Goten's appearance… it was if the whole thing had been planned. Perhaps Goku really could do anything.
Gohan swung open the door, a small smile gracing his features. His eyes met with a set of gently fluttering net curtains-
…Before widening comically in shock at the scene before him.
Goten stood in the centre of the crib, determinedly supporting himself on chubby little legs. He was gnawing enthusiastically on the wooden frame, chewing his way through the safety bars with ease. The wood was saturated and swollen with drool, damaged beyond repair. For a brief moment, the baby locked eyes with his brother, acknowledging his presence with a faint, contented gurgle. Horrified, Gohan swopped down and plucked Goten from the nest of cotton blankets. A frustrated wail followed a wet popping sound as the baby's mouth detached from the crib.
Restraining the baby's thrashing legs, Gohan tried to jostle Goten into a more comfortable position as he howled in displeasure. It wasn't in Gohan's quiet nature to be firm, but-
"Goten!" Gohan snapped, silencing the restless infant immediately, "You shouldn't chew on your bed like that. Where are you going to sleep now?"
Goten's eyes grew wide in response, the area around his mouth shimmering with glistening saliva. The naïve expression plastered on his young, cherubic features made him look like the very picture of innocence. How could he stay mad at that? Gohan reached out a bulky hand and tenderly wiped away the dribble sliding down the baby's chin.
Balancing his brother on his hip, Gohan walked over to the window, purposely ignoring the little indents engraved into the windowsill. The odd pair looked over the garden in quiet companionship, the calm atmosphere occasionally punctured by contend gurgling as Goten suckled on his fist, oblivious to his mother's erratic behaviour and the symbolism the boxes in the garden possessed.
"She's clearing out his stuff today." Gohan said allowed, half directing the statement at Goten.
The teething demi-Saiyan burbled in a vague response, fixatedly chewing on his tiny hands. Sighing, the older hybrid stepped away from the window and returned to his bedroom. He plopped the squirming child down next to him and lay flat on his stomach. Reaching out a strapping arm, Gohan began to sweep the darkness under his bed. Gently brushing aside a stolen copy of his father's gi, he pulled an old storage box into the light. Dust swirled airborne as Gohan flipped open the lid of the container and lifted out a few of his old, furry friends. Bidding them farewell, he deposited them on the floor alongside Goten. It wasn't much, but it was the best he could do.
His brother definitelyappreciated the effort. He latched onto a dishevelled teddy-bear's ear, grinding his gums enthusiastically against the matted fur. Smiling and revealing teeth that looked sharper than they ought to be, Gohan remembered that he used to be quite partial to murdering the odd soft toy himself. Sweeping the uncharted territory below his bed once more, he grasped at an abandoned felt-tip pen before swinging himself upwards. Firm muscles bulged lightly under the skin of his toned arms as he reached for a battered baby book resting on the counter above his head.
A streak of maturity had struck Gohan like lightning after the Cell Games. Yet again, circumstance had forced him to grow up before his time. Keeping half an eye on Goten, the boy leafed through the pages of the baby book, stopping with his thumb on the section entitled 'Teething'. Gohan noticed, not for the first time, that he and his mother were more alike than people realised.
The book was old, left over from when he was a baby: a time before the world Saiyan was even fathomed, let alone a part of their everyday dictionary. Often, the pages were covered in neat annotations left in his mother's curly handwriting. Question marks dotted sporadically across pages and tidy lines crossed through irrelevant information- the most humorous correction being a whole section about newborn hair-loss hidden under uncharacteristically turbulent scribbling. Notes were paper-clipped or taped to certain pages, contradicting the information in the book and recounting tales ranging from excelled or delayed development to excessive eating habits. Reading back on it, it looked as though it was a miracle Gohan survived.
In his own scratchy handwriting, the hybrid in question was about the join the tradition and correct the ages stating when a baby should start teething. It was too late; it was already done. Closing the book, he noticed the lettering on the inside of the front cover for the first time: "My baby was born with a tail!" Next to the sentence was a small, surprisingly accurate sketch of what his father used to look like as a boy, complete with used to be his signature furry appendage. Wistfully, Gohan snapped the book shut.
After hauling himself off of the carpet, Gohan returned Goten to his demolished crib, pleased that his distraction had worked. He left the soft-toys to the mercy of his brother, ignoring their pleading, glassy stares as he strolled out of the bedroom, considerably cheered up. Having found a new pen, felt-tip would have to do, the boy restlessly tried to return to his studies, conveniently hiding the new crack in his chair under his buttocks.
Groaning as his eyes scanned over a page of equations, he battled with the warm, stuffy air in his bedroom, trying his hardest to concentrate. It didn't take long before his pen swirled off the page, doodling inane sketches in the margin and tracing the patterns of his drifting and conflicting thoughts. Despite not wanting to go through the pain of watching the final, physical remains of his father disappear forever, once was definitely enough, he couldn't seem to chase what was going on outside from his mind. It was almost as if he was missing something monumental.
It was such a nice day outside, why shouldn't he go outside and try to enjoy it for once?
But wouldn't mother get angry that he's neglecting his studies?
… It was probably best to keep away when she was acting so strangely anyway (If his father had taught him anything about women during the week before the Cell Games, it was that.)
Chi-Chi waggled her pink, naked toes in the yellowing grass, feeling its rough dehydration nestle against her feet. A genuine smile twitching upon her lips, she raised her prickling cheeks skywards and indulged in a brief, cooling breeze. Content, she freed her professional bun from its restraints, hands clawing through a tumbling waterfall of streaky raven. Peacefully, intentionally, she tore down the walls of melancholy silence with a loud, merry and off-key hum drifting from her lips.
Years, decades, of nail-biting (an awful habit she never liked to admit) worry and furrowed, angry brows had taken their toll on the woman, making her look a good few years older than she really was. However, today her rare, relaxed posture and unusually calm disposition made her stand out like the odd, wide eyed and love-struck beauty she had been during the Budokai all those years ago.
Chi-Chi's ears perked up as she heard the tell-tale temperamental creaking of Gohan's bedroom window. Squinting against the bright light of the sun, she directed her gaze upwards to watch her son contort his body and shuffle through the open window, the wood of the windowsill protesting under his weight. Obviously, he'd lost his touch at sneaking out.
Playing her usual role of the concerned mother, Chi-Chi raised a sceptical eye-brow and twisted her sweet smile into a smirk.
"You could have just used the door, you know." she remarked, her voice coated in sugar and dripping in sarcasm.
"I wasn't escaping!" Gohan rushed "I was just-"
"Relax," Chi-Chi bit off his explanation, more than happy to let the matter slide "It's such a nice day. Why don't you come outside and help me for a while?"
Completely taken aback at his mother's easy-going attitude, Gohan gracefully descended down onto the grass. Whatever was up with her today, he decided that he wasn't going to push its boundaries. Her mood swings weren't uncommon, she could snap at any moment. Besides, he was technically sneaking outside when he should have been studying indoors; something past experience reminded him that she usually went ballistic over.
And so he sat down.
Nervously plucking and twiddling dry blades of grass, Gohan silently watched as Chi-Chi neatly stacked and folded Goku's clothing with the swiftness and casualness that she would stack and fold the laundry. Awkwardness hung in the air between them, both desperately wanting to say something but both equally having nothing to say.
Finally, Gohan tried to break the tense silence.
"Are you sure you wanna throw all this stuff away?" he broached uneasily, as if he could be snipping the wire that detonated the bomb instead of defusing it.
No, she wasn't sure that she wanted to 'throw all this stuff away'. Yes, she really was trying to deceive herself that she didn't feel guilty and that this was just another necessary chore to complete before the end of the day.
…Not that she was ever this chipper when she washed the dishes.
"Well, he's not going to be coming back, is he?" she snapped defensively in reply "Here, fold this."
Bending her arm to search behind her, she patted the ground until her hand met with the texture of scrunched material. Unaware, she gripped the cotton and handed the article to Gohan. He shook it out helpfully, smoothing the creases until it revealed itself to be a pair of bright blue boxer-shorts. A childish giggle erupted from his lips. Despite trying her hardest suppress her own giggle and disapprove of his immature reaction, Chi-Chi soon found herself laughing alongside him. Finally, the thick tension in the atmosphere swirled off.
"…It's pretty quiet without him here, isn't it?" Gohan remarked as the mirth died down, silence settling around them once again.
Chi-Chi paused before answering him, choosing her wording carefully. She cast her weary black eyes towards a wild, ample hawthorn, as if the plant held her answer like some kind of secret. She stared unblinking at the bush's tiny white flowers, watching as the delicate petals floundered desperately, clinging to the shrub for dear life as they were ruffled by another gust of late afternoon breeze.
As she had tried to teach Gohan through an overbearing education, not every problem they faced could be solved with their fists. They were going to talk about this, whatever it was. They were going to punch out of the smothering silence together. She just needed to choose the right technique to tackle the topic.
Death. They had all dealt with it before, her baby son, now on the cusp of puberty, had even dealt it literally. But they'd never had to deal with it like this.
"… You don't have to be… if- if you want to keep anything-"she motioned distressed towards the scruffy pile of worn clothing, exasperated that they were the half-hearted words that came to her out of the infinite number of possible things she could have said to try and make things right.
"He didn't have much, did he?" Gohan said, looking down upon his father's belongings. There really wasn't much of interest there, just a collection of gaudy hats and tattered, patterned sweaters that looked as if they had been out of fashion the day they were bought… especially that bright yellow one that said POSTBOY on it in gaudy purple letters. … But it wasn't as if Gohan knew much about fashion in the first place.
Nevertheless, he found himself reaching for the battered corner of a chunky, green book as soon as the words left his mouth.
"We had little more than the clothes on our backs when we first got married," Chi-Chi began to recount, past memories sailing past her pupils "My castle burnt down the day we were wed, and so we lived off the last of the Ox-family fortune and Goku's old prize money. I guess it's the same now, we never really bought much more than we needed… and we never needed much. The house was basically empty until you arrived."
"Hey-"Gohan cut in abruptly, half afraid his mother would scold him for interrupting but curiosity getting the better of him "Wasn't this mine?"
He turned over the book in his calloused hands, examining the aged cover. 'Basic Maths, ages 5+' was printed boldly in shiny red text on the front cover. It had belonged to Gohan when he was about four, around the time when Radditz had travelled to Earth and attempted to kidnap him. …The year when the near endless onslaught began.
"Oh yeah, I remember these!" Chi-Chi began again, a nostalgia coating her voice "I originally bought them for Goku!"
She stretched her arms to reach for a similarly shabby paperback and smiled when she leafed through its ruffled pages. Laughing, she handed the book to Gohan.
"I was concerned that he couldn't read or write very well, and I was foolishly trying to push him to get a job in the city. So, I decided to try and build on his basic skills, we didn't have much money at the time. I was surprised, actually. He was better than I thought he'd be, considering the way he was taught to read and write by Roshi and despite his awful handwriting. … Of course, the studying didn't last five minutes."
Gohan opened his mouth to question how Goku had learnt to read under Turtle School, unaware that Master Roshi even knew how to teach anything other than martial arts. Chi-Chi, seeing the question coming a mile off and regretting that she had even said anything in the first place told him quite sternly that he didn't want to know.
Knowing better than to press the issue, Gohan began to flip through the pages of the literacy book he had never seen before. His mother was right; his father's penmanship was awful. The letters were an illegible spider's scrawl across the page and black ink was splattered and smudged in the corners of the paper. He winced at the thought of what his mother would do to him if his workbooks ever looked like that. Clearly, his father got off lightly.
Tilting his head, Gohan tried to read what looked like a writing exercise, squinting hard to try and decipher the unenthusiastic squiggles sprawled under a patronising heading entitled 'Introducing Me!'
"My name is Goku. I am 19. I live with my wife. My faveorite things to do are traine and --- Chi-Chi."
"What does this say?" Gohan asked curiously, jabbing a powerful thumb on the violent scribbling between (what he could guess as) the words 'and' and 'Chi-Chi'.
After having to read (and re-read) the string of sentences, his mother's rosy cheeks suddenly turned a very vibrant shade of red.
…"Spar with." She replied, before quickly licking her thumb, flipping over the page and handing the book back.
Swiftly changing the subject to ensure no more questions, Chi-Chi remarked on how hot the weather still was. It was true; the light wind had died away a while ago, leaving the muggy air hot and humid. Overly cheerily for somebody who looked so frazzled under the heat, she chirped something about lemonade and began to sway towards the house, her voice containing a singing high note.
Gohan watched his mother's bare feet turn a dusty brown as they landed on the grass, a visible spring in her step. Staring through the spotless glass of the kitchen window, he watched her figure dip behind the door of the fridge and linger in the artificial coolness, busying with chinking glass pitchers and ice-cold cups.
She never agreed with fizzy drinks.
…Perhaps the heat really was getting to her.
With a mental shrug, Gohan returned to prodding the items scattered around his knees. He lifted up a dated cream jacket that shrouded a shallow, clear plastic container. Taking a shifty glance at his mother through the window- just in case she had decided to snap out of her dreamy mood and revert back to her usual tetchy self, lemonade did sound wonderful now that it was mentioned- he tossed the jacket aside and eagerly dove in to inspect the box's contents.
His mind still occasionally marbled by naïve spirals of childish anticipation, he found himself slightly disappointed to find that the box didn't hold some sort of gleaming treasure that children often fantasise about finding hidden away in the depth of their attic. Although, knowing his Dad finding some sort of ancient magical artefact up there was probably half possible. Instead, as he unwrapped the carefully scrunched protective tissue-paper, he was greeted with an old family photo album.
Suckling a small red slice on his finger from where he had jabbed it on one of the album's razor sharp corners -not even Saiyans were invincible to paper cuts- he flipped through the pictures lovingly glued inside of the book. There was nothing overly interesting about them, only old baby photos he'd rather not come across again. However, as the book became blank and unfilled he found a ragged brown envelope slid neatly between the pages. 'Goku discovers camera' was marked in tidy blue ink across the front.
Now he felt like he was snooping.
Curious, Gohan slithered the envelope out. Wincing at the steady tearing sound that resounded throughout the otherwise quiet garden, Gohan eagerly ripped the packet open. Several old Polaroid photos fluttered freely down into his lap. After gathering them together as quickly and subtly as he could, he began to leaf through the blurry photographs.
Now Gohan definitely felt like he was snooping.
Most of the images were shaky, and often had a smudgy finger shadowing in the corners of the picture. … But what he could make out made his mouth hang agape in surprise.
It was like a window into their world. Nearly all of the photos were of a young and carefree Chi-Chi, her hair loose and hanging around her slender waist like it was today, all of these years later. Her eyes were bright and merry, her skin sun-kissed and peachy and there were no faint, sagging lines of worry crinkling around her lush, burgundy lips. There were pictures of Chi-Chi curled like a cat, sound-asleep on the sofa … Chi-Chi with flailing arms outstretched, running to catch up with the person working the camera… Chi-Chi hovering over the stove, draped loosly in one of his father's gis and hair matted, tenderly slaving over a simmering pot of delicious something-or-other. There was no doubt over who had snapped these photos, and yet they seemed so passionate and fond. Loving. Almost like the way Goku saw her, but did his dad see anyone like that?
The stubborn lump in Gohan's throat resurfaced as he thumbed to the next photo. It was an odd picture, one of Goku with his untameable hair tamed, wild tufts stuffed inside a backwards baseball cap. His father was happily sucking on an ice lolly, staring bewildered into the camera and looking caught off-guard by the flash. Syrupy blue was smeared around his mouth making him look, well, almost as adorable as Goten. He looked so young there, so… innocent… so much less powerful but just as imposing, his magnificent aura and personality clearly caught on camera. Like the bud of a blooming hero.
Gohan quickly rubbed away a free tear snaking down his face. He didn't cry, not anymore anyway.
He swapped the poignant photo of his father it to the back of the stack, revealing the next one. And just like that, Chi-Chi was suddenly behind him at a very wrong time. The photo underneath was a cheeky photograph of his mother coving her bare top half from the camera, her other hand pushing violently into the lense. She wore a very familiar livid expression, and he could just tell that the words coming out between her gnashing teeth were definitely along the lines of "I'm going to kill you," … or perhaps a little more obscene.
Gasping in horror, Chi-Chi snatched the photos back, mortified. That was definitely NOT how she wanted her son to see her. Arching a slim eyebrow of disapproval, she pocketed Goku's sneaky photo and fixed a freezing onyx stare on her son. Gohan braced himself, unleashing a comic gulp and preparing for an onslaught of ranting and raving. He'd potentially detonated an explosion of emotion not even Goten could sleep through.
She cast her icy eyes down onto the photos clenched in her palm, and her pupils immediately warmed again. Visibly letting Gohan's… interest… go and unleashing her embarrassment in one long sigh, she began to chuckle nervously.
"I honestly have no idea what happened to that camera," She laughed "I probably crushed it in rage. Goku sneaking around and taking those pictures got really damn old eventually."
Gohan tittered tensely in agreement, relief obvious in his laugh and more than used to having to tread on eggshells constantly.
"… He loved us." Chi-Chi began on a seemingly irrelevant tangent, casually passing a glass of fizzy drink to Gohan and quietly gathering her bravery. She didn't quite make eye contact. "He might have had a funny way of showing it, but he did, just as much as he enjoyed combat" she ploughed on, afraid that if she didn't make this small speech to her son now, she never would and the awkwardness hanging in the air between them like unfinished business would continue growing like a chasm "What I'm trying to get at is that he's not staying dead just so he can party in the afterlife. Actually, no, what I'm getting at is that he doesn't want you to be him, and neither do I." She noticed Gohan squirm in discomfort out of the corner of her eye. "One of him was enough. …You shouldn't carry that burden on you at twelve, I-"
She never got to finish her butchered, yet important attempt at a motivational speech. The tears Gohan had been fiercely holding at bay all day had finally broken through their dam and were now rolling freely down his cheeks. Attempts to try and sort this out like adults abandoned, Chi-Chi instinctively scooped up her son and cradled him close, dully realising at the back of her mind that it was the first time she had properly hugged her son in… a long time. Steely, she resolved that she wouldn't cry too, whatever will power it took.
"He wouldn't want us to still be mourning like this." She hushed motheringly, soothingly stroking Gohan's thick hair and her chin starting to dimple with emotion.
"But I miss him." Gohan sniffed weakly in reply, suddenly sounding much more his age and fat tears rolling down his sharp cheekbones.
Chi-Chi was about to open her mouth to reply, feeling her tolerance against her own tears about to snap too. But she noticed the silhouette something small and spiky streak past the window. Momentarily distracted from Gohan, she lost her train of thought. A small "Urrr…" sound escaped her lips mid-sentence, leaving just enough time for her son to tilt his watery expression up at her in confusion.
Suddenly, Goten threw himself out of the front door and crashed to his knees, grazing his supple, peachy skin. Determinedly, he began a mad dash across the lawn on his hands and knees, hell bent on escaping into the colourful forest.
Not unkindly, Chi-Chi pushed her other son aside and scampered speedily after Goten, closing swiftly in on the baby with surprising speed. After taking a moment to soak the situation in, Goten clicked inside of Gohan's head. Scrambling to his feet, Gohan breezed past Chi-Chi with a sonic speed and made a heroic dive for his younger brother, landing on Goten like a hawk. Heaving the struggling baby upwards, Gohan handed Goten back to Chi-Chi, who hushed the baby immediately. Like everyone else, Goten was just a little bit afraid of her too.
Frowning in concern, Chi-Chi sat the youngest demi-Saiyan on her lap whilst Gohan hovered behind her, looking bewildered and hopeless.
"Now Goten," She tried sternly, hoping to get any sort of indication from him as to how he managed to get downstairs and out the door so easily "How did you get outside? And what do you think you're playing at?!"
But the baby didn't even meet her eyes. He just sat there, fluffy stuffing foaming like a beard around his lips and tugging fearsomely on his mother's loose hair with both pudgy, yet powerful hands.
Suddenly, Gohan boomed with laughter, doubling over with a fresh, lighter batch of tears streaming out of his eyes. That was really the most exhilarating thing that had happened in a long time. Since when could Goten do that? Chi-Chi collapsed into a surprised mirth alongside him, peeling with laughter like bells. It resounded thickly through the tree-tops and throughout the walls of the house.
Lovingly, Chi-Chi picked up a bright yellow baseball cap and stuffed Goten's wild hair into it, thick tufts sprouting out of the gap in the back. After fishing around for another photo album, Gohan plonked it down and opened it in front of Goten, pointing at Goku. The recent effects of laughter still fizzed in his blood… and it felt good.
As always, Goten had the perfect timing.
The dazzling afternoon sun hung suspended in a brilliant blue sky. It beat intensely down onto the small clearing below; filling the mid-summers day with humidity so thick you could almost taste it. Looming shadows spilled out onto a luscious stretch of overgrown grass, cast by thick, twisting branches in their full bloom. A soft, warm breeze wafted through the atmosphere, caressing the surrounding foliage of the forest and whistling through the tree-tops.
Gohan sat quietly at his desk on a battered wooden chair that looked as though it could fall apart at any moment. Battling with the stuffy summer air, he ran a thick hand through his cropped, dark hair and listened to his mother's low grumbling downstairs. No doubt she was slaving over lunch. Groaning, he flipped the page in his textbook and sharpened his pencil, ready to start on a fresh set of equations.
It was such a beautiful day outside; it was such a shame he had to spend it cooped up indoors.
A loud scream of exhilaration ripped through the atmosphere, stopping Gohan's train of thought dead. Damn, he was close to finishing that question. Irritated, he gazed out of his window, and came face to face with Goten swinging like a monkey through the tree-tops, ruffling all the bird's tempers and escaping a very irritated, and charging, wild boar. Following another deafening scream, this time of horror, a booming crash shook the walls of the house.
"Goten! What the HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!" echoed from downstairs, pursued by extreme worried ranting and raving.
Turning away from the window with a sigh, Gohan resumed his homework.
He didn't even bat an eyelid.
A/N: The End!
Chi-Chi needs way more love in this section I think, so I tried to make her less like a screaming harpy and more... normal? Tell me what you think.
Un-beta'd. I tried to correct all the typos, but by the time I had read through the entire thing about ten times my brain kinda filled in the blanks. So, if you find any glaring mistakes, feel free to point them out.
Reviews are lovely!
Thanks for reading ^_^
(Oh, and obviously I don't own Dragonball Z, etc etc etc)