Chi Chi watched Goten's reaction carefully when Gohan gave him the news. She'd returned to work after the phone call, and who knows where Piccolo flew off to. Either way, neither of them knew how to tell the four-year old, and so they just plain didn't.
"My…father?" Little Goten asked as he looked up into Gohan's ecstatic face.
"You're gonna love him," Gohan said. "He's the happiest guy around."
"But…" Goten eyed him, perplexed. "I already have a 'Piccolo'."
Piccolo's back was turned to them, but she saw his ears twitch. The warrior seemed more disturbed at the news than she was.
Gohan started laughing. "Well, you can have both." Then he looked over to Chi Chi, totally undaunted by her lack of enthusiasm. "He said he was going to stop by Master Roshi's first, and then Capsule Corp, before he came home," he said. "And he also told me that the nameks were gathering the dragonballs as we speak to wish him back to life."
Piccolo spun around, his eyes open in horrified surprise. "WHAT?" he barked. "You mean he's coming back permanently?"
Gohan nodded, unsure what to make of the namekian's reaction. Chi Chi knew what to make of it, though. For some reason, the thought of her dead husband coming back unsettled her as well. She found her eyes scanning the immediate surroundings; the new two-story home, the little four-year old boy who was all smiles and emotions, her attire, and resulting job that had given her a sense of self…
Then she realized what was bothering her. Everything had changed in the past five years. The place he was coming home to was no longer his home. The woman he was coming home to wasn't the Chi Chi he once knew. The life they lived now was productive and forth-going, not distracted and stagnant. How was she going to let him back in? After all this time? And at the same time, who was she to lock him out? He was her husband…
Then as if in answer to her thought, Goku materialized right next to Gohan with a halo over his head. He wore the same old orange gi. "Hi guys!" he waved, his eyes disappearing in his smile. Same spiky hair, same carefree manner, same everything…
"DAD!" Gohan went up and bear-hugged him, and for all her hesitation, Chi Chi couldn't deny that the moment was touching. "Gosh. It's so good to see you!"
Goku pulled back and looked appraisingly at his oldest son. "Wow, Gohan. You're almost taller than I am," he smiled. "And strong too."
"I've reached a third level!" The teenager just blurted out, smiling at Goku's honest reaction.
"Really? You're kidding! That's GREAT!"
Gohan laughed heartily, too happy to do anything else.
Goku turned and saw Piccolo, who to Chi Chi's surprise seemed just as closed and distant as when he'd first come to them; arms folded stiffly across his chest, his eyes narrowed to the point of closing, the muscles in his jaw twitching…
The namekian's expression seemed incredibly strained. "Hello, Goku."
"Who ya got there?"
Chi Chi hadn't realized that Goten had been hiding behind Piccolo, with both fists wrapped tightly in the warrior's pant leg. He hesitantly peeked his head around and when he saw Goku looking at him, he ducked back.
Goku chuckled, and squatted down to Goten's eye level. "I heard about you, little guy," he said tenderly. Goten blinked at him and then up at Piccolo.
Chi Chi thought that Piccolo's eyes seemed unbelievably pained. "It's alright, Goten," he said quietly.
Goten hesitantly stepped out from behind Piccolo and Goku reached up and tousled his hair. "Wow. You look a lot like me. Lucky kid."
Goten smiled a little, and looked shyly at his feet.
Goku laughed, and then noticed the house. "Is…is this our house?" he asked stupidly, in awe of the large, two-storied structure.
Gohan nodded. "Piccolo got a job that was able to pay for it. Mom was real glad."
"Wow." Then he laughed. "I bet she did appreciate it. She always wanted me to get a job." At her mention, Goku scanned the area for his widow. When he found her leaning against an old totem Gohan had whittled, he startled. The smile seemed plastered on Goku's face while a myriad of other emotions danced in his eyes. "Chi Chi…" He got up and walked over to her, taking in her clothing, her hair, her body… Her stomach felt like it was tying itself in knots.
The compliment, and the sincerity behind it would have flattered her beyond belief, had she been the same person as when he'd left. Instead, his flattery almost offended her. "I've changed, Goku," she said, unsure what her intended effect was.
Goku's eyes hungrily fixed on her and after a few seconds, he flushed, laughing nervously. "Yes, you have." He hooked an arm around her waist, and looked over to Piccolo, who, for some reason, looked as though he were about to explode. "Well, Piccolo," he called out, hugging Chi Chi against him. "I owe you big, my friend, for helping to raise Gohan. I wouldn't have had anyone else do it. Now that I'm back, I guess you're off the hook," he said giddily. "You're the best!"
Chi Chi felt the blood rush to her cheeks. He can't just dismiss him like that! Piccolo's face opened and closed in an intense, but unidentifiable expression, and he spun his back to them, and sprung up into the sky without a word.
This is wrong, Chi Chi thought. This is very, very wrong. Then as if in echo to her mind, Goten suddenly filled the clearing with an ear-piercing wail.
"NO!" He screamed, the tears already choking up his helium-pitched voice. His little legs raced after the green warrior, even though he couldn't have possibly caught him. "Come back, Piccolo! Don't leave!" He tripped and fell, only to roll back on his feet and scramble frantically up the nearest tree. "You can't go!" he cried, clinging to its branches. "You can't…!"
Chi Chi's eyes watered immediately. Gohan flew up and tried to console the sobbing boy as Piccolo's form disappeared over the nearest row of mountains.
"Wow…little guy was really attached to him," Goku said in wonderment.
You have no idea, Chi Chi thought remorsefully. And again, subliminal alarms were sounding in her head. There was more to Goku's return that wasn't right. If she could only pinpoint it…
"I missed you, Chi Chi," he said as he wrapped his other arm around her and locked her in his admiring stare. It triggered memories, and soon shreds of reasoning started to flutter through her mind.
She was familiar with the way Goku was looking at her. It was the way Piccolo had been looking at her for the past four years, in some silly mockery of male lust. She never did get his hu…mor…
Pieces of their conversation played back, the memory of his deep, masculine voice tickling her ears. 'my sire…untouched by Guru's magics…I understand…everything…'.
Her breath caught in her throat.
"What's wrong?" Goku asked, his brow furrowing slightly.
"You," she said, bewildered, and then met his eyes solemnly. "You don't belong here."
Chi Chi had left immediately after getting her closure with Goku. She headed in the direction of a horrible power that had flared up minutes after Piccolo had left. It wasn't long before she found him in the hollow of a small cave. When she set foot down, the namek looked half-crazed. Of course he would be teetering on insanity's edge, she thought painstakingly. He thinks he just lost his family.
He was crouched down on all fours in the gravel, his trembling hands imbedded in the dirt as if to sunder the very planet apart with his brute strength. His head hung heavily between his oscillating shoulders, and she could hear a heart-bleeding blend of whimpers and rasps emanating from his mouth. White-hot energy blitzed and sparked off him like a loose cable in the rain, and she wondered if he even knew she was there…
"Piccolo…" she whispered.
His head slowly lifted, his fanged teeth clenched tight, the muscles in his jaw jumping in spasms… His face creased in anguish when he saw her, and water stood in his eyes. It looked as though he was barely containing an explosive, destructive energy.
"How…can he just give me a family," he choked, his voice a raw and low rumble. "only to take it away after five years?"
Her breath hitched, and her eyes stung. He had to know that Goku was out of the picture… "Piccolo-"
"My soul…aches…for all of you," he stammered on, as if every word were his last. "I was there when Gohan reached a third level," he growled, his eyes wet with hurt. "I was there for Goten's first step…his first word," he choked. "And you!" His gaze rested on her then, grimacing in unease. "I can't bear the thought of him touching you!"
Chi Chi could have told him then that he hadn't lost them. That they were his, and Goku was sent packing. She could have reassured him with her words…
But words couldn't even begin to portray how she felt. Feeling a sudden surge of aggression, Chi Chi marched up to him, and grabbed his face with both hands. His shimmering eyes widened in surprise as she uprooted him from his spot, and outright bulged when she kissed him.
He gasped against her lips, the shock of it making him fall back on the floor of the cave. It wasn't enough. He went from anguished to confused, so before he could ask, she pinned him bodily and kissed him again.
Piccolo's form went instantly rigid, like a possum in the path of a bobcat. So she worked the lip lock passionately, moving over him until she felt the light touch of his fingertips on her sides, and he hesitantly...slowly began to kiss her back.
But it wasn't until his warm, heavy arms curled around her completely and his mouth became as desperate and frantic as her own, that she was finally satisfied that all of his negative energies had dissipated.
The quick patter of his heart thumped against her palm on his chest, and she released him so that he could speak, running her lips along the curve of his jaw instead.
"I…" his speech was slurred, and she looked up as his eyes rolled into the back of his head and closed. "…don't… understand."
She exhaled against his throat and traced a finger along his collarbone. "Everything I have, and everything I am, is because of you, Piccolo," she whispered, "I had a choice, and have made my decision," she breathed, feeling her own tears tickle her cheeks in warm, wet lines. "I love you."
A small moan, and he hugged her so forcefully then that it nearly chased the breath from her lungs. Then she felt the tingling sensation of his talons as they combed against her scalp, pulling her into another kiss.
Her lids fluttered shut, but not before she caught the moisture leaking out the corner of his eye. It's okay, green man. I know you love me, even though you can't bring yourself to say it, she thought as she basked in the warmth of his embrace and the taste of his kiss.
That can come later.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Continued in GOKU AND BULMA