A/N: This is an attempt at understanding, explaining and elaborating on the psyches of the Son family (a process that's taken the past seven or so months to complete). Videl in particular was probably the most difficult part of this story because on top of attempting to bridge the gap between who we knew her to be when we were first introduced and who she was at the end of the series ― in order to combine and build from the two realistically ― there was also the matter of figuring her out, not only as an individual but as a woman in a relationship (which is something we see very little of, GT aside). This said, I was able to portray these characters and their relationships in a manner that at the very least satisfies me, and since there isn't much else I can do beyond that, hopefully this can satisfy others as well!
Disclaimer: Dragon Ball belongs to the enviable Akira Toriyama, and I attempt no claim of ownership over his characters or his world. My words are all that are mine.
Updated: January 7th, 2013.
Here in Blue
"What are you doing out here?"
A sudden splash of light flooding across the floorboards, vaguely illuminating her left arm, she turns from her starlight contemplations to find the object of her musings stepping through the door, crowned in the filtering gold from inside.
With the glow behind him disappearing with a click and a wink, their eyes catch; hold.
"Just getting some air," she replies, her gaze fixated on his nearing form, but she can feel her face fall when she more closely inspects his own: Past the gentle curiosity, beyond the slight upwards curve of his mouth, she sees the somberness that everyone has been wearing — the expression everyone has been trying to mask — and while she knows, just as everyone else does, that it will fade away within a little while, the loss to dull into something akin to an afterthought, it's also a given that it will still exist in the places where the eye can't see; blooming untamed in the moments of solitude and reflection when no one else is around.
It's a sobering thought and her mind is flitting back once again to the events of the afternoon before she can help it; recalling her father-in-law's nonchalance as he had told them that he was leaving, that while he wasn't sure about the length of time he would be gone, he would be sure to drop in every now and again, and — in his usual way, as if abruptly leaving his loved ones behind for indefinite amounts of time was the most ordinary thing in the world (although, Videl reconsiders, in some strange way it really was) — "so long!"
She remembers how casually he had soared off, as if he would be away for several days instead of years, and she remembers (so distinctly) the chaos that had immediately ensued; all of the chatter and the shock, the confusion and the disbelief, and the resignation and the frowns that had painted each face of their gathered family and friends. Most of all, however, she remembers the expression her husband had made, the tears of her daughter and the mingled anger and heartbreak that had consumed Chi Chi in every way from noon till now — "Why?" she had earlier demanded, speaking to no one in particular as they made their way across the ocean and back home. "Why can't my husband just stay with me?"
And just thinking about the trembling shine to her eyes and her normally spirited face disappearing into her handkerchief makes Videl feel sick to her stomach all over again, fills her with the worries that have been exhausting her all night, and she can't stop herself from wondering whether or not there's a part in all Saiyan's like that; one which hungers for more.
Biting down hard on her bottom lip, Videl glances over at Gohan through her eyelashes and takes in the solid curve of his jaw, haunted by the dim, contrasting lights; the presently taut lines of his face; his conflicted, obsidian eyes ... She grimaces. It's irrational, of course, for her to suddenly feel so insecure, wrong of her to be thinking about herself and her husband when Chi Chi is currently mourning after her own, but she can't manage to push away the niggling doubts that have been threatening to overwhelm her all day.
Is Gohan happy?
Logic tells her that Goku is different — not only from Gohan but from anyone else she's ever known, the several Saiyan's included — and reason tells her that it's true. After all, she's seen it, witnessed time and time again with her very own eyes the odd, restless spark to his nature that almost seems to hold him to no person, place or thing. Even more, she's noticed the way he would sometimes look off, always so distantly, as if searching for something that she just could not genuinely comprehend. And Gohan has never done that — never has she once seen that same irrepressible wildfire inside of him, and never has he given her the impression that he wasn't satisfied with the way his life was unfolding — but still ...
Is he happy? Here, like this, with her?
The railing beneath her propped elbow and resting arm is rough even through her sleeves, her palm cold against her chin and her drumming fingertips touching like snowflakes on her cheeks, and Videl realizes (not for the first time) that despite all she knows, there is still much more that she doesn't about these people and their dynamics. As this familiar knowledge crashes down upon her — all of the unspoken questions she's ever had moving to rattle within the deepest spaces of her bones — she suddenly feels very tired.
"What's that face for?"
Heartbeat catching as she starts with surprise, Videl turns to find her husband openly watching her, and as the realization of what she had again been thinking about drowns her, her shame swells inside of her cheeks.
Until now, ever since Gohan had told her the absolute truth following the restoration of the Earth and the defeat of Buu, they'd never had to worry about anything less than complete and utter honesty between them. Aside from sincerity being so intricately embedded in his nature and her very near nonexistent tolerance for anything but the truth, he had insisted on being unwaveringly open with her because despite him having his more-than-genuine reasons, and his secrets being more than his own to tell, he'd still regretted all of the lying and evading games he had played with her when they'd first met. In result, and with even more thanks to his unassuming naivety and her lack of tact, they had never had to even think about the rifts or insecurities that grew in a relationship when two people chose to build walls rather than tear them down.
But then came this: Goku leaving and the return of all of her unfounded doubts, which her reluctant pride and uncertainty has kept her from vocalizing.
In all honesty, she knew that Gohan was happy just as she was certain that Goku had been (and was) happy, too. The real question at hand — the one which relentlessly gripped her — was whether or not he was happy enough (because Videl can't help thinking that it just might be easier for a person to accept that someone was unhappy with them, pure and simple, than it would be to know that they just weren't enough).
"Just thinking," she answers too quickly, ignoring the way her hasty response makes the set of his eyebrows shift. "How's your mom?"
"Ah." His hand flies up to his hair and his handsome features twist with a melancholy and flustered sort of emotion that makes her regret having broached the subject. "Well, all right, I guess. Goten's with her right now," he supplies. "They're doing the dishes — you know how she is, keeping herself occupied — and she's finally stopped breaking the plates, at least." He reaches up to needlessly adjust his glasses (a recently acquired nervous habit of his) and whatever half-hearted humour he had been attempting to incorporate into his words falls flat.
"That's ..." but nothing comes to her. She bites her lip again, pushing several short strands of her hair behind her ear as a wave of sympathy rushes through her for Chi Chi. "That's good," she says but it isn't and she knows as much, she knows that he knows the same, but she doesn't know how she's supposed to say this.
He doesn't appear to know how either, and silence follows.
Flesh beading against the evening chill, Videl restlessly flips her hands over and examines them, mapping out the branching ocean lines as if they were constellations, and next to her Gohan leans forward; bracing his hands on top of the railing, his muscles shiver beneath the dusky blue of his shirt.
"Hey ..." she begins, but hesitancy has coated her tongue, languid and honeyed and thick, and vulnerability is palpitating like a living thing on her lips: Her voice has died.
Gohan, his eyes never leaving hers, his ears picking up what she hasn't said, turns: She's lost her breath.
Reaching out for her face, he brushes the calloused caress of his palm to her cheek, his thumb sweeping across the glittering flush dusted over her bone, and smiles; all heat and sincerity, tender encouragement and intensity, and her stomach swoops dangerously low.
"What is it?" he asks.
She clenches her hands into fists.
"I—" but Videl, a girl who's never paid much mind to boundary lines and has more or less always done whatever she pleased, a woman in love who'd privately sworn to never lie to the man her own father has discredited for years, realizes that she's lost her nerve. Her stare falters, focuses unseeingly on the line of bedsheets long forgotten and billowing as they hang at her side, and the grasp of her fingers falls slack. She hides behind her averted eyelashes. "It's nothing," she belittles, feeling the distance like a physical thing as his arm falls away, and her gaze flickers back up to him without intent.
All she can register is mingled shock and awe.
He looks a little bit lost: With his moonlight-coloured skin and his wide, black-hole eyes and the memory of his touch still smouldering on her cheek like a thousand slow burning coals, he looks a bit drifting and dreamlike and not entirely there, even while his feet are planted firmly on the ground. But then his eyebrows pull together, the tips of his hair ever so slightly sway, shadows slink like seduction across the slopes of his throat and his face, and he has never been more real.
Then, even though she knows that he has somehow just peeled her skin away, he's smiling again.
"You know you can talk to me, right?"
But she still can't speak, all she can do is blink, because his words have inspired within her the strangest sensation of falling, his actions have made her heart race, and she can't exactly remember why she's been so halting in telling him.
"It's just, you've been somewhere else for most of the day, and every time I've talked to you, you just haven't really—" but he breaks off when her only reply is her owl-like stare, hand in his hair as he carefully chooses his words. He's trying to find something in her expression that she can hardly guess at and it's all she can do to just return his gaze because being confident and honest and shunning vulnerability isn't an easy thing to when you're not scowling and people aren't afraid to look (but then, of course, Gohan had never really been afraid to look).
"You've just seemed to move farther away every time, so ... I just wanted to—to say it, so if there was anything on your mind ...?" He trails off again, stumbling and blushing and adjusting his glasses, although this time it isn't to find words but to give her the option of offering her own, and she can't figure out how she's supposed to lie when everything about him is so movingly earnest.
"Gohan ..." she whispers, swallowing down her heart and her urge to shake him (can't he see that she's just being stupid and ridiculous and insecure, and that she only needs to sleep it off and get a grip and talk some sense into herself?) but she's taken a step forward, set her shoulders, steeled her resolve to speak: "I've just—" but damn it, she can't. She just can't say it.
He moves closer too.
"You just what?" he asks, each syllable a faint rumble in his low and purposefully even tone, complexion threatening to become impossibly bright as she slowly lets him in and in and in, and his words construct two paths before her; two unraveling opposites paved from the decision she would make.
Objectively, it's an easy one to determine — One: She throws caution to the wind and presses on, allowing the conversation to take them where it will and accepting the ending result, or Two: She assures him that, truly, she's fine and he's just being paranoid, before striding back into the house where further discussion would be out of the question and the topic (hopefully) forgotten. But as Videl stares up at him — knowing that if she were some sort of hopeless romantic she would have sworn that she saw the universe stretching out inside of his eyes — she decides that it really is a simple one to make after all.
"Your mom is so strong."
"Wha—?" he begins, his whole body reflecting and reacting with his surprise, but her unexpected sentiment only fazes him for a moment before he's returning with a neutral reply. "Yeah! My grandpa used to be a Martial Artist himself, which you know, and he ended up passing what he knew onto my mom — so she could protect herself, I think it was — but my dad probably had a lot to do with it as well. Her reason for entering the tournament was because she knew he'd be there, after all."
But Videl waves an impatient hand, and his face is already giving the impression that he knows what it is she's going to say before she can even speak.
"She is," she agrees, "but that's not what I meant."
Gohan deflates: He folds his arms, slumps against the rail, lifts a weary hand to behind his lenses, and because it's impossible for her to take her words away, she does the only thing that she can and presses a reassuring touch down the hard, exhausted slope of his spine.
"I figured as much," he mumbles after a long moment, his admittance slightly muffled by his still raised arm, and he gives a slight shake of his head. "I know, and you're right," he sighs, "But this isn't the first time."
(This isn't the first time that she's been unintentionally left behind.)
And she had already known this, heard all about the adventures and battles and the mingled glory and loss, but this feels different in comparison to all of those faraway tales that are so often told with reminiscent grins and very little grief because dragon balls and time have each dulled the impact of the situations; eased the involved hearts and minds.
Returning to her earlier position, placing her chin upon the strained frost of her knuckles, she sighs. "I can't imagine what it would be like to continuously go between having and wanting the person you love," she says, and her forehead creases. "Waiting because you care too much not to, even when they're always—" but she pauses, wondering if she's being too insensitive on the matter and unable to figure out how to continue.
Mirroring her, his shoulders rising as he leans on his forearms, Gohan finishes for her: "Leaving."
And her head snaps over so quickly that her neck prickles and burns, but she hardly feels it and he gives no indication that he even caught the action.
"In all of the times that he's been away before now," he carries on, his voice constructed entirely of fragments, all murmurs and solemnity and soft, "The reasons for it have either been that he's died or that he was just unable to make it home for a while. But sometimes ..." he shifts, uncomfortable but fixed as he pushes on. "Sometimes, even when he was here, he wasn't. Mentally, I mean. Sometimes he was just so concentrated inside of his head — chasing something, thinking of new ways to push himself to his very limit, waiting for the next challenge that would test him on his every level — that it was kinda like he'd left all over again." He furrows his brow and corrects himself, "No, not left. It's more like he'd never completely come back," he corrects, and Videl can only blink because despite all that she missed in the time she didn't know Gohan and the rest, she still can't help finding a sort of truth in his words.
In the few instances where she's observed her father-in-law, he's always been the same: Always at the center of everything, always the one everyone turns to, always wearing the grin that reflects off of every surrounding face and lights up the room — Always happy, as any eye could tell, and always radiating obvious affection for those around him. However, that's what made him and the whole situation so confusing and all of her questions sprout: She just couldn't understand how someone who was so genuinely happy could just leave with hardly a second thought, or how someone who so clearly belonged could still wear the air of someone only borrowing space — Could it really be that she's right? Is this just not enough? Is it his pure, Saiyan blood that makes it impossible for him to see anything else in the face of something or someone physically greater than himself?
But for Videl, at least, it's impossible to know.
"After dad learned about who he actually was, not an Earthling as he'd always thought, and especially after he became a Super Saiyan, I think he became more connected to his Saiyan nature," Gohan continues after a moment of collecting his thoughts, solidifying her assumptions. "His desire to fight, how his excitement was always bigger than his fear when he found himself faced with an opponent even stronger than himself, his eagerness to see how strong he could make himself just so he could know what he was truly capable of — It was always growing, and even though he's essentially the same as who I've always known, he's kind of been changing all of this time too, I think. Although I was too young to recognize it then, of course. Not to mention," he further adds, wearing an even deeper frown, "That in the seven years he was dead, if he wasn't participating in an Other World tournament then he was more or less spending every moment of his time training, so as happy as I know he's been to be back, I think that returning to a life where fighting consists of a spar between him and Vegeta or myself, or Goten when he could push him into it, has been dull."
Videl is beginning to see where Gohan is coming from, but yet, even so, she finds herself almost wishing that she wasn't. This new understanding, gathering into a small, tight ball at the back of her throat, turning and turning and turning inside of her stomach, helplessly sinking like a stone, isn't sitting well with her at all.
"Does he not realize what it does to people — to your mother — when he's gone?"
"Maybe." And then, to her astonishment, Gohan laughs; a short, reluctant little thing that bursts from his lips and then dies, sounding affectionate but mostly sad. "Probably not. Dad ... He, well, he's really one of a kind. He doesn't see things, like life and death and distance and time, in the ways everyone else does, you and I included."
He turns then, looking in that strange way that makes her feel as if he's staring straight down to her bones, and attempts to relay everything he's saying through more than just his mouth.
"What he did today — I really don't think that he even saw it as leaving. More like, he's going to be gone for a while, but he'll be coming back just as he always does, even if it takes a year or seven, and that instead of this being a separation, it's just another step towards—" but he pauses, his arms crossing again, and when he speaks his words are thoughtful and slow. "Well, I guess another step towards power. To his strength and his limit, if he even has one. And this doesn't bother him, I think, because he knows that we're all going to wind up together again at some point in time, regardless of when or where or how."
But Videl still finds her lips pressing together, bowed at the middle, pulling down, and although she doesn't mean to sound accusatory, it comes out when she speaks anyway: "Your mom doesn't see it the same way."
"No, she doesn't," he agrees, his expression twisting as his eyebrows compress with a composed sort of misery. "Even though we all — although," and there's a small grin here, "Mostly my dad — drive her crazy on a regular basis, she just wants to have her family together. It's all she's ever wanted. Together and safe." He's leaning on the railing again. "Every time dad returns she hopes she won't have to say goodbye again and that we'll all finally get that typical family life she's always wanted us to have and believed we should. But she knows."
A fleeting wind quivers against the fabric of her dress. The clatter of dishes and murmurs bubble out from an open window. She wants to close the distance, press herself against his back, wrap her arms around him and bury her face between his shoulder blades and sink so far into him that she never has to leave.
(She doesn't move.)
"I just ..." wonder how much effort it must take for her to get through the day, acting as if everything's okay when it isn't. I just wonder how she's able to look at all of the reminders of him throughout the house — his clothes, his pillow, the pictures of him framed on the walls, his seat at the table — when she knows he's somewhere she doesn't know, doing something she can only guess at, feeling and experiencing things she probably won't ever completely understand; knowing all the while that she can love him with her whole heart and he can feel the same but urges and nature will probably continue to take, and take and take, him away.
Videl knows that Chi Chi is many things (hot tempered, stubborn, prone to moments of irrationality and with a tendency for somewhat violent of outbursts, even if only in words) but she's a lot of other, better things too, which is something Videl's come to understand over time.
She is strong, so strong in so many different kinds of ways, and powerful, passionate, entirely unwavering with her love. She goes out of her way for the ones she holds dearest, protecting them from anything and everything she possibly can, and even when there isn't an agreement on the matter and it's done only grudgingly, she's still there, standing at their sides, welcoming them back. Moreover, even in the moments that her desire for the ones she loves to be safe, comfortable in their place, and happy clash with judgement (to make for some not-so-pleasant memories and encounters) there is always some good intention drifting beneath her actions and words.
She's a fighter — not exactly in the same way as the rest of the group, but one all the same. Wearing her worry lines, callouses and scars from losing and losing her most important boys for everyone to see; pushing her children so that they could have every chance and opportunity and success available in all of the world; going on, even after each shattering tragedy, as vivacious and headstrong as she's ever been — And Videl admires this about her mother-in-law, about that rough-around-the-edges woman whose heart's as big as the worries she's had to bear, more than she could ever hope to express; and she knows that were she to be in the other woman's position, made to constantly watch Gohan's retreating back the way Chi Chi has had to with Goku, she just wouldn't be able to stand it.
"You just what, Videl?"
He's studying her, taking in every miserable fleck of her irises and line to her frowning mouth, and his voice, sunbeam warm and endlessly patient, cements the lump that has been flickering inside of her throat.
Staring firmly at the broad swell of his shoulder, pulling the folds of her sweater more tightly around her shivering body and feeling remarkably insignificant, she speaks: "I just ... wonder."
"You say she knows and I think you're right," she says, wetting her lips and reaching for her wedding band, determining it a safe place for her gaze. Twirling the ring around her finger, glittering and humble and very gold, her flesh remembers his touch as he had placed it upon her hand, her eyes remember the look in his own as he had uttered his vows, her body remembers the promises in the nonexistent spaces between them as they had pulled one another close, and her heart remembers the taste of his love and his lips ... She swallows. "But I just wonder if it really makes a difference."
And his steady, mournful gaze gives the impression that he's contemplated the same thing before.
"I just don't think," she whispers, "That this is one of those things that gets easier with time."
He still doesn't reply and the sounds of their breathing — of the creaking planks as he shifts his weight, of the ever so slight whispering of fingernail against fingernail as she plays with the top button of her sweater — swell, as tangible as the blood swimming beneath her cheeks.
"Do you agree?" she asks, abrupt. "With your father."
Gohan sends her a curious, side-long glance. "Hm?"
"That in the big picture, years away don't count for much if it's only temporary," she elaborates, and comprehension dawns.
"Well," he says, rubbing at the back of his neck and looking as he usually does when he's pouring over one of his books or grading a report, "I understand where he's coming from, but no, I can't say I do."
Taking a deep breath through her nose, her ribs expanding and pulse hammering and bones melting with relief, she casts her gaze around for a distraction — And finds herself looking at their home just next door; at the window of Pan's room where she can see the curtain twirling like ribbons and the wispy ends of dreams, all fairy tale and sea foam white as it shields her sleeping daughter, lost in her pillows and blanket and the mazes of her mind ... Their daughter.
And so, releasing her bottom lip, she asks the question that has been exploding and imploding inside of her all day: "Are you happy?"
Gohan starts. His eyes widen, blinking largely at her from behind his frames as his shocked mouth opens and closes on his reply. This repeats several times, and despite her ever rising chagrin (and temper with it) she somehow manages to school her expression, bite down on her tongue and smother both the frigid glare and sharp words she can feel rising, as they always do in her moments of discomfort.
Turning to directly face her, he finally speaks, bewildered and quiet.
This time, she can't keep the scowl off of her suddenly burning face and unleashes on him one of her most impressive glowers.
"It's a simple question, Gohan, and it only requires a yes or no answer," she replies coolly, helpless at how inept she was in these sort of situations.
She hadn't dealt very much with the emotion of insecurity before him, but from the moment she'd met Gohan at the scene of that mysteriously foiled robbery until sometime between being killed by Buu and then wished back to life along with the rest of the world, she had found herself dealing with it frequently; sometimes because of something as silly as a comment of his on her hair (such as when she'd realized that he may not see her as a girl and that for the first time she actually wanted someone to) to the wide divide between their powers (because she had always tried so hard to make herself strong, to do the right thing and help so that she could truly be worthy of everyone's attention and praise, only for him to literally swoop in out of nowhere and surpass everything she had ever accomplished without the least bit of effort) and even down to his character (he was strong, kind and selfless — everything that she had ever aspired to be — and yet he was incomparably gentle, with none of the ice or arrogance she herself had once held). But things had changed since then, since she had given up on continuously comparing herself to him and allowed herself to fall in love with him, and moments of that uncomfortable, belittling emotion had dwindled into few and far between; however, this was one of those moments and it had been recurring on and off all day.
"All I'm asking," Videl continues, her now somewhat hesitant and only half-blazing stare plummeting as she tries her best not to notice his still astounded face, "Is whether or not you're happy. Satisfied with where you are and what you're doing and who—" but she falters, her throat unbearably tight and feeling her very smallest. "With who you're ... with every day."
And before she can comprehend what he's doing, his body heat is glowing against her front and his hand has lifted, the long reach of his fingers splaying out across her crown in a simple, gentle caress; his eyes impossibly tender, the smile on his lips so slight and sincere, she has to wonder when her naive boy became so comfortable with comforting her.
"Of course," Gohan promises her, too close and not close enough, and all she can do is swallow and attempt to take in what he's said until an abrupt flash of ... something flares across his face and they both freeze, his gaze intensely inspecting her own. "Why?" he returns. "Aren't you?"
Whatever it was that had been warping inside of her stomach shatters, and Videl — her stomach fluttering; eyelids strangely sensitive; breath inexplicably heavy — returns with a level, loaded stare.
"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't," she assures and his expression clears to the one before, so meltingly soft, as the ferocity of her relief submerges her.
"Then what brought this on?"
"You're my husband, Gohan, and you're Pan's father," she says, faint in her ardor, "And I just — I want to know that I won't ever have to wake up or come home to see you leaving or already gone, all right? I want to know that you're ... that you're happy," she stammers, "Because when you're not, I find it hard to be too."
She leans forward, pressing her face into his chest, taking in the scent of clothes and the solidity of him that feels even more substantial than the world, and finds herself unable to look at him.
It's quiet for several seconds, the only sounds registering in her mind being her own erratic pulse and his strangely deliberate breaths, and then he's moving; winding his other arm around her and pulling her as close as he possibly can.
"Oh, Videl ..." she hears him whisper and the heat of his mouth filters through the strands of her hair, kindles against her scalp, as the foolish doubts that have been plaguing her mind ― bruising her ribs and continuously swallowing down and down and down all day ― finally break apart and billow away.
She supposes that it should make her angry that he can affect her like this ― that one word or action can have her almost withering into nothing because she knows that she's strong and she knows that she doesn't need to depend on anyone or thing ― but she isn't. She isn't because she loves him and it feels as if she can breathe again and really, maybe being a bit defenseless in front of the right kind of person is actually okay.
"I can't believe this is what's been bothering you all day!" he marvels, his astonishment complete, and embarrassment has her curling her hands around the fabric of his shirt. "But this isn't something you have to worry about, Videl. I'm not leaving. This is ..." but he trails off, and she knows that he's concentrating. "This is one of those things I don't think my dad or I will ever see eye-to-eye on," Gohan finally finishes. "He's happiest when he's fighting, and that's what always ends up taking him away, but I'd rather be here, with you and Pan and the rest of our family. Going to work, even."
And everything inside of her constricts, that dreadful burn snaking behind her eyes and nose.
"Absolutely," he says, and he lowers his hand from the top of her head to clasp one of hers, holding it above the rhythmic beating of his heart.
"I'm going to hold you to that," she returns and his chest shakes with laughter, another hot breath scattering like stardust over her hair.
"I'd hope so," he responds, tilting forward to press his lips to her temple, and his affection sends shivers tumbling all the way down to the very base of her spine. Still, he sobers in the next moment, when the weight of their conversation comes back, and a new, near-urgency forms with his words. "But try not to worry too much, Videl. This isn't going to kill us. Goten — well — I don't really understand it myself, but I think that when it comes to this kind of thing, he and dad have some sort of understanding. Even though they didn't get to meet until he was already seven, that day at the tournament ... It was so easy for them. The acceptance came so quickly, and maybe," he says, thoughtfully, determinedly, "Maybe it's because of that — because Goten lived without him before he lived with him — that he can handle this so well. I don't know. I don't think I'd get it even if I asked, but I still think that if there's anyone out of us who can honestly accept this part of dad, it's Goten. He'll be fine," he concludes, only confidence in his tone, and when she pulls the memory of his reaction to his father leaving from her mind, she can understand why. Still, this isn't enough and she knows that he knows this too.
Straightening her body, pressing her palms against his chest, she clenches her jaw against his heartbreak that's manifested itself inside of her over the course of the day — the shared ache that had rooted itself beneath her skin and stretched: every time he'd fallen silent and every time his back had bent, every time he'd tried to anchor his mother and every time he'd lied; smiling at Videl, squeezing her arm, telling her he was all right even as his bones seemed to grow more and more hollow.
She needs to know that he isn't just saying this for her benefit — beyond even sense, needs his word — and watching him, she thinks he might be able to feel that just through the way her hands have curled into fists against his shirt.
"What about you, Gohan?" she asks and his eyebrows pull together again, his touch moving from her back to grip at her waist, and the angle his chin dips creates shadows that make it hard to focus on any one part of his face.
"I'm fine," he answers, steady and solemn, "I promise. I just didn't expect what happened today, and it ... I wasn't myself." She wonders if he realizes it when his fingers tighten around her, but she chooses to keep the question to herself instead of breaking whatever spell has taken hold of him. "I learned a long time ago — after Cell, when he decided to stay in Other World rather than come back and possibly put us in danger — who my dad really is. He'll chase a battle, but he has his reasons. He always his reasons, even if I can't agree or relate or understand, and he had his reasons for what he did today. I respect him too much not to respect that, but I guess it's one thing to say that and another for it to actually ..." he closes his lips into a line, and she can feel the heat of his thumbs through her clothes as they shift. "I lied earlier when I told you I was fine, but I mean it now. After all, it's not like he's dead this time, right?" The beginning of cheer enters him now: "He may have left but it's not like we aren't going to see him again. I mean, if we really need to, we can just follow his ki since it's already powerful enough that we can sense it without having to try."
This revelation stuns Videl into silence. With how chaotic the day had turned, she hadn't even thought to consider this but reflecting on it now has her wondering how she could have neglected such a vital detail. Still, her carelessness aside, she can't pretend that there isn't something soothing in what Gohan's said and she thinks it might make the whole situation just that bit more bearable.
"I'm sorry I haven't been honest with you," he finishes, but she only sighs, the sound trailing into a reluctant, sheepish smile.
"Don't," she murmurs, reaching up to smooth his shirt at his shoulders. "When it comes down to it, I guess neither of us have been very truthful today. But I'm happy you told me this. To be honest, with everything that's happened, I guess I forgot that even if your dad won't be with your family, he's still here. Still, though," she says, worrying her lip, tightening her grasp, "It's not the same. What about your mother?"
A pause, and then: "She''ll be fine, even if it doesn't seem like it now. She's strong," he gradually replies, and in spite of realizing that this is said in part because Gohan doesn't know what else to tell her, Videl knows that this is still the truth.
"A fighter," she adds, momentarily overwhelmed with respect for the woman, and her husband finally, sincerely smiles.
Another silence — serene, resigned — and crickets sing.
Hushed: "Let's stay like this for a little longer. Don't let go."
"I won't," and he places a finger beneath her chin, takes a soft breath, guides her to his mouth.
— & —
A/N: If you choose to favourite this, please don't do so without leaving a review. :) Thank you!