There it is again, glistening ever so slightly to the light of his candle. The specular luminance displays so clearly the reflection of his thoughtful demeanor. His eyebrows momentarily pinch together, giving his customarily cheerful countenance an uncharacteristic look of weariness.
His mind wanders to earlier events of that day in little snapshots of the moments that mean the most to him:
Seeing his eldest son for the first time in seven long years…
Gohan! I can barely recognize you! You're a giant!
Meeting his youngest for the first time…
Goten runs headlong toward him, all smiles and giggles. He lifts him up into the air. Goten's as light as a feather.
Do you want to be an airplane?
His tittering laughter rings throughout the surrounding atmosphere. Goku can't stop thinking about how he could have possibly allowed himself to miss this for even a moment's time.
The fond memories recede from his thoughts. He begins to contemplate notions that he had chosen to leave in the dusted-over, untouched corner of his subconscious thoughts. Now that he has delved into the unknown, he can't stand to pull away from it. He must sort these things out. He needs to finally realize how he truly feels.
What if he had chosen differently?
Another memory resurfaces. He can see ChiChi's face as clear as day, every last detail of it, down to the smiling crinkles around her eyes and the shimmering tears spilling down her flushed cheeks. He can see it again, his sober reflection in her onyx pupils. His face is ashen. He's speechless, and he can't seem to understand why she would be so sad. After all, hadn't he just informed her that the old Kai had granted him life, and that he wouldn't be leaving Earth anymore? He feels painfully aware of how fragile he really is. He grasps onto her arms to steady himself. He can't stop his hands from trembling. He forces a smile.
That's if you still want me!
A constrained laugh trails his words. The laughter of his family and friends informs him that they've taken it as a joke, but it isn't a joke. He's being truthful. For the second time in his life he truly feels scared because deep down he is asking himself a very tough question, and he is expecting ChiChi to grant his worst nightmare merit.
But she doesn't react in the way he had suspected. She hiccups and begins to pull his dominant hand up to her velvet-soft cheek. There is a subtle, upward twitch of her lips. Her eyes smile at him.
Upon hearing her response his heart skips a beat. Those are his safe words. Whenever she says them together he knows that everything is going to be okay. Without knowing it, she answers his question. He feels a fluttering sensation in his stomach. The happiness is overwhelming. Nevertheless, her warm tears are now running down his hand, reminding him of her pain. His doubts and guilt immediately resurface.
ChiChi, did you cry like this the whole time I was gone?
His voice still has the disguise of a lilting cadence, but this time the question cannot possibly be mistaken as a joke. For a moment, all is silent, and it is as if the world has frozen still.
The memory fades and reality swarms back in as it always does. Shadowy figures flicker and dance along the walls and the ceiling overhead. He reaches out and touches the object before him. It is warm, yet it is cold to the touch.
A lone tear makes its courageous journey down his cheek. It slips to the gonion of his mandible and travels along the contour of his angular jaw-line.
"Is that how it was… frozen…?" he mutters.
Soft feet tread airily upon the floorboards. A pair of silent eyes watch from the hallway. Goku ignores his quiet spectator and reaches for the object with a quivering limb. He then outstretches his opposite arm and wraps all of his stubby, calloused fingers around it. He is incredibly agile, and he can perform acrobatics with spectacular precision, yet he is afraid of dropping this. He very slowly and gently sets it in his lap. The solitary tear makes a splash on its delicate surface. A floorboard creaks. The shadows of the room scatter about Gohan's emerging silhouette. He sits beside his father and says nothing.
After a moment, Goku speaks up, "Son, do you know how much I love you?"
He can hear the breath hitch in his eldest son's throat. "Of course, Dad!"
"Do you think your mother does as well?" he asks earnestly.
Gohan glances at the object cradled in his father's lap. "Without a doubt."
Goku's fingers curl up into tight fists. His knuckles become stark white.
Gohan twiddles his thumbs apprehensively. "And Goten does too."
Goku exhales a slow, unsteady breath. "Goten doesn't even know me, because I wasn't there for him when he needed me."
Gohan shakes his head in disagreement. "Goten knows all about you, Dad. Every day you were his bedtime stories. You were his guardian angel. You were there for him in his heart and in his mind because you were there for me inside my heart and inside my mind."
Goku's lips twitch upward into a slight smile. "Thank you for that, Son."
Gohan extends his arm outward toward his father. "Can I see that?" he asks.
His father gives a slight nod of his head. "Of course," he murmurs, handing the object over to his son.
Gohan runs his fingers down the side of the wooden frame. "I love this picture," he says timidly. "Mom put it up on the mantelpiece after your funeral. She would say that it was the only family picture that technically had Goten in it because it was taken right before…"
"Did you know…?" Gohan mutters hesitantly, "that… she would kiss it every night before going to bed, and that she would tell you she loves you too. So, yes, Dad, I know for a fact she knows how much you love her. She never questioned it. Nobody did."
His father tries to be strong, but his resolve comes crumbling down like a castle built on sand. "I question myself every day. I don't know if I've made the right decisions. I can't stand to have put you all through so much pain… I…"
More tears make their silent journey down his cheeks.
"Hey, Dad?" Gohan says, reaching out an arm to hug his father.
Goku laughs a little bit thinking about how ridiculous he must look. "Yes, Son?" he replies, returning the warm embrace.
"Do you know how much I love you?"