Disclaimer: This story is a fan work based on Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball series. I claim no affiliation with Bird Studios, Toei or FUNimation.
Face Up, Face Forward, Look Back
The sun sank quickly behind the mountains of the Eastern region, leaving trails of orange and violet in its wake. How is it, Gohan wondered, that barely thirty-six hours ago, the earth ceased to exist? He slowed down as he landed outside the Son residence. He had spent most of the afternoon in Satan City sorting out the logistics of his return to school. And if he was going to be in the city anyway, it seemed only logical for him to pay a visit to Videl as well. The two had spent a good hour talking, taking baby steps toward overcoming their newfound shyness with each other, before he had to head home for dinner. Thanks to his newly awakened powers, the flight to Mount Paozu was shorter than ever, which was fine by Gohan; the less time it took for him to get home, the more time he'd have that night to spend with his recently revived father.
As Gohan stepped into the house, half a dozen delicious scents flooded his nostrils. While his mother's cooking never failed to impress, it seemed Chichi had held nothing back in her culinary ventures tonight. "That you, Gohan? Dinner's ready, come grab a plate!" Chichi called.
He approached the kitchen, knowing full well what awaited him. Yet when he made it to the doorway, an unexpected wave of emotion rushed over him. There it was – Goku sitting at the table and stuffing his face, a pile of already polished off dishes stacked precariously next to him. Gohan's knees gave out from under him, and he braced himself against the wall for support. How long had it been since he'd walked in on this particular scene? He'd spent years wishing for nothing more, and now it was right in front of him, like something out of a dream or distant memory.
It's not a dream this time. My dad is here, he's alive. Oh, please, please let this not be a dream.
"Hey, Gohan!" piped Goku between mouthfuls. "C'mon an' eat! Your mom's really outdone herself this time; just wait 'til ya try the char siu!"
He swallowed in an attempt to regain some semblance of composure. "Y-yeah, looks great," he said, smiling despite the tremor in his voice.
"What can I say? I couldn't very well let my Goku's first dinner with the family after all these years be just some scraps I threw together, hmm?" Chichi asserted. She was humming as she dished out his food, Gohan noted, and her movements conveyed an aura of buoyancy. He hadn't seen his mother this happy in ages, aside from the night he told her Goku would be attending the Tenkaichi Budokai. Her mention of family drew his attention to something else.
"Hey, why isn't Goten eating?"
Chichi glanced over her shoulder. "Huh? Oh, he and Goku played all afternoon, and by the time I finished cooking, he'd conked out. Never thought I'd see the day, that boy sleeping through a meal. I guess he's still tired from yesterday."
Gohan blinked in surprise, then shrugged. He couldn't really blame his little brother for needing to catch up on sleep. Of course, it meant this wouldn't be their first official dinner as a family of four, but with Goku back home for the long haul, there would be plenty of time for sharing meals.
Together. All four of us.
There it was again, that misty-eyed feeling. It was almost enough to make him forget about the plate of food in front of him.
"Hey! Gohan! Didja forget how to eat or somethin'? Your food's gonna get cold!"
An hour and two mountains of dishes later, father and son traded their seats at the kitchen table for a soft patch of grass alongside the stream that ran past their house. Goku made a big show of stretching and gave a contented yawn as he leaned back. "Ahh, nothin' says home like Chichi's cooking! Do you know how hard it is to find a decent meal in the afterlife?"
Gohan ventured a sideways glance at his father, amused. "Well, Dad, considering that most of the inhabitants are dead, and even among the living it's hard to find an appetite that matches yours…" The pair burst into laughter. They hadn't shared a laugh like that since Gohan was a boy; the circumstances surrounding the few moments they had spent together since Goku's return had seen to that." Ah, how sweet it was to have Goku home.
As the laughter died down, a more serious expression crossed Goku's face. Still smiling, he turned to face his son, eyes rapt with attention. "Tell me about yourself, Gohan. I wanna hear all about what you've been up to all this time! How about starting with when you got to be so tall?"
Gohan grinned sheepishly. "Well, the biggest growth spurt happened about… what was it, three years ago? It drove Mom crazy. I outgrew clothes so quickly, she stopped trying to keep up and made me go to Piccolo whenever I needed anything new – which was approximately every other week, mind you. And when he caught on to how frequent of a thing this was going to be, he started making me fight for my clothes. Not a bad idea on his part, helped me get used to my size and all, but man, he really made me work for it."
Goku chuckled. "That sounds like Piccolo, all right."
"Yeah. Whenever I brought Goten with me, I had to make him swear not to tell Mom about the fighting part. As far as I can tell, that's one of the few secrets he ever managed to keep. Shy as he can be around other people, at home he's a real chatterbox." He cocked his head thoughtfully. "Although, in retrospect, he might very well have blabbed to Mom and I just never found out because she didn't care enough to say anything…" He trailed off for a moment.
"You know, Mom really changed after you died. For one thing, I didn't have anything to do with Goten's training until about a month ago." His eyes darted in Goku's direction, anticipating what was sure to be a priceless reaction. "Apparently, all those afternoons I was in my room doing homework, he was learning to spar from Mom."
Goku's response did not disappoint. He sat bolt upright, jaw dropping to the ground. "Ch-ch-chichi?" he stammered. "The same Chichi who threw a fit every time I said 'training' and 'Gohan' in the same sentence? Goten learned how to fight from your mother?"
"I know, crazy, right? I was pretty shocked when I found out, too. Some things never change, though. Goten said she was really upset when he turned into a Super Saiyan in front of her."
An astonished chuckle escaped from Goku's lips. "Ha! That sounds more like the Chichi I remember. But what about you? How'd you feel when he showed you?"
Gohan flushed, a little bit embarrassed by what he was about to admit. "Honestly? I was a little bit angry, and maybe even jealous for a minute. Becoming Super Saiyan had been such a struggle for the rest of us, but it came so easily for him, you know?"
"Huh." Goku collapsed back onto the grass, still slightly dazed." Quite a generation, these little guys." He turned his face toward his eldest son. "So how 'bout the books? I take it your mom wasn't as crazy with him about the studying thing, either."
"Nah. Come to think of it, she didn't nag me nearly as much as she used to, either. I guess one scholar in the family was good enough for her? And… right after Cell I kinda buried myself in my studies, like I was using it as an escape. That might've worried her a little bit. But after a while I realized that I genuinely enjoyed my studies, as long as they weren't getting in the way of something bigger. And for a really long time, they weren't." Gohan bit his lip nervously. "Dad… I hope you aren't too disappointed that I didn't continue training as rigorously as back then…"
Goku rested his hand on his son's shoulder and smiled. "Gohan, look at me. I know sometimes it takes a bit of a reminder, but I get that you aren't me, and I don't expect you to be. I am so proud of the man you've become. And to have done it all on your own, taking care of your mom and your brother… I'm sorry I wasn't there, but it makes me so happy to see that you grew up to be such a strong young man."
Gohan's expression relaxed, his lips curving to form a smile that mirrored his father's. That was all he needed to hear, and more.
Time seemed to slow down for father and son in that little patch of grass by the stream. They sat together for a long time, gazing at the stars and reflecting on the years that had passed. Chichi finally summoned them back to the house, reminding them that the hour was late, and they would have plenty of nights such as this ahead of them. It was a new era, a new earth – and this was only the beginning.
Author's Note: I have this theory that out of Goku's family members, Gohan is the one for whom he has the strongest… I don't know, affection? I think he certainly loves Chichi and Goten in his own special Goku-ish way, but his marriage to Chichi was something that happened to him rather than something he chose, and Goten was already a little person by the time Goku entered his life. Even though Goku missed out on a lot when it came to Gohan, Gohan is still the baby he raised, the kid who adored him, and the power he helped nurture. He was genuinely proud of Gohan, both as a child and as a man, and I think Gohan is the one Goku would've looked forward to catching up with the most upon his return, which is where this fic fits in. As always, comments and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated!