EDITED - 05/01/2014
This story is not A/U per se, but it diverges from canon at some points. This is basically what you should know:
- after Cell's defeat, Goku didn't speak to the others through King Kai. They never heard from him again directly.
- Vegeta has also died at the end of the Cell arc, victim of a Ki blast after his canon attempt at helping Gohan by getting Cell's attention away from their final Kamehame bout.
- Future Trunks did come back in time to deliver the heart medicine, but he didn't turn Super-Saiyan, he didn't tell anyone about his parents and who he actually was, and he didn't come back the second time to fight the androids.
- Kid Trunks is not a year older than Goten, but about five months.
- heads up for an OC main character, but don't let that send you away. I promise she's cool. :P
The rest you'll learn throughout the story. :D
It had never been a trouble, waking up early. He actually prefered it, since everyone still asleep meant he'd have at least thirty minutes just for himself if he was lucky, although that was never a trait he associated with himself. His body was more than accustomed to the odd hour as well, so that helped, a perk that came as a routine from when his father was still alive. Back then, it was the only time they had to train together before his mother insisted he'd study for the rest of the day.
Back then, he'd be up in a jump as soon as he acknowledged the outside world instead of his dreams, rushing through everything - breakfast included - so that he could have that extra minute with Dad, sparring, feeling like a man. But then again, back then things were also simple, weren't they? They fell in place without effort. Now… not so much.
Getting out of bed was a whole other thing, though. Why would he? Would his life be any different if he stayed in bed all day? If he wouldn't go out to the world, would the world really miss him? Probably not.
But there was a reason, in the end; well, two, actually. He kept them on his bedside table to ease the process every morning, in a round photo frame, clearly handcrafted, made with cardboard and uncooked pasta and roughly painted red. Not perfect, but then again, what was? Perfection had been lost so many years ago in his world, along with so many other things, in such a way that he didn't chase it anymore. It would be too hypocrite for someone like him.
His sister had been the one making the thing, a sweet little gift for his birthday some years ago. Well, his sister and his brother were the official manufacturers, but he knew better. His little brother's attention span wouldn't have permitted that much assistance on his part.
The frame contained his favourite photo of the two of them. Goten was three at the time, if he wasn't mistaken, so that would've made Mia about four and a half. He'd taken the picture himself with his mother's camera, a gift from Bulma that she'd used profusely back in the day to fill their house with snapshots of time and loving memories. They were all hidden in a drawer somewhere now, baring naked the walls of their living room, bedrooms, kitchen, and even bathroom. All of them minus only a handful; this one, the two he kept in his wallet, and a few others.
The most beautiful of smiles, big, amazing, warm, directed at him. He cherished the picture in its simplicity like the most prized possession in his life, even though, as he recalled it, he'd had to make an effort to get them in that particular mood that day. Not too much; it'd always came easy for him, making them happy.
He would do anything for those little faces, even get out of bed. It didn't make it any easier, though.
Staring at the picture, his eyes wandered through both their features and how much they'd changed over the years. His sister hadn't grown just in height, that's for sure. She had lost that round baby-face and was gaining a more refined look - her chin, her cheeks. More feminine and a lot like their mother.
She'd been his rock ever since he could remember, although he wasn't entirely comfortable with idea of it. It was just too much responsibility for a child to have - he would know - but nonetheless, it was his reality right now. She was like him, more reserved, her thoughts to herself. Sometimes he would catch a glimpse of what was going on in that head of hers - so smart and perceptive - and he was incredibly grateful for that, since there wasn't much sharing anymore in his family. He missed it deeply, so those moments became deeply precious over time.
His brother was a different kind, of course, his father reincarnated if there was even such a possibility. He loved them both so much, like they were his own - and in his mind they actually were - but he could never feel the same for Goten as he did for their sister. It was a hurt that'd never leave him…
He loved them both, sure, more than the world, more than he could ever think he'd manage to love something or someone, but it just wasn't the same. It wasn't completely comfortable as it was with Mia, as much as he'd tried to make it so. The little guy wasn't to blame, but at the end of the day, he just couldn't see him as just his Goten. Not when every day he he'd grow more and more to be an exact replica of their father, body and spirit. Some shitty brother he'd turned out to be...
How could you miss someone that's right in front of you? He tried his best to hide this betrayal from his brother; hopefully, he will never know.
Slowly, he sat up, brushing his toes on the fluffy rug while making an effort to be as quiet as possible. Goten slept like a rock and he knew it, but nevertheless, as he looked at that peacefulness, at that innocence, he couldn't help himself from keeping silent. Their room was so small - one closet, one bedside table between two beds - that the coziness would make any movement seem like a thunderstorm of noise, somehow.
The thin window was bringing in the first lights of the day, very dim still - his alarm clock if he ever need one. Automatically, he crouched on the space between their beds and began his morning routine of five hundred push-ups, a quick shower, and a cup of black coffee while watching the sun come up in the horizon.
The push-ups were stupid, since they didn't do anything for him physically - not at this gravity, at least - but he needed them mentally. It was his "training" when all other forms of training were not allowed anymore. "Look at what all the training got us!" his mother had said once. She meant his father, the absence of him and all the things he took along to Other World.
Not being allowed didn't mean he didn't do it, of course, behind the closed door of his tiny bedroom or somewhere else out of sight, but when one got used to training every day, at their intensity, it turned a habit that he just couldn't break. He had to do something, anything. To feel his body became a necessity given that he felt so little everywhere else. It was a special kind of hell.
Despite the rule, he had also managed to teach Goten, Mia, and Trunks how to fly and control their Ki. Every weekend after their Saturday lunches, he'd take them out to the woods to "play", making them spar with each other and teaching them new fighting and survival techniques. And every time he could, he would take Goten to fight with Trunks in the Gravity Room back at Bulma's. Mia didn't like sparring that much, so if she tagged along, she would do her own training or find some other thing to do, like helping Bulma out with something. She loved that.
The push-ups were quickly completed, preceding a boiling-hot shower and the mechanical preparation of his usual cup of coffee. Black like my soul... He rolled his eyes at his own thought, slightly shaking his head. He'd never been one for such dramatic bullshit.
As he walked to the small porch outside through the kitchen's side door, and sat yoga-style on the long wooden bench, he thought of how he'd automated himself through this process over the years. The same routine, every day, like a robot. It had been something he'd really cherished at first, something that had brought him the feeling of "familiar" when he'd lost the one of his father's presence. It had been his own time, his own moment before the day would become for the kids, for his mom, for the house. And the bills, and the groceries. It'd been a ritual, but now it was just a process, just another thing he did that brought him nothing. He didn't really enjoy anything anymore.
Apathy - a state of indifference.
They were the only exception, of course, his Buddy and his Pumpkin. He enjoyed them. As much as he could, anyway.
He was the man of the house now, his family's keeper, and it had naturally became his job to take care of them. No exception.
His mother... Sometimes it seemed like she existed in their house instead of living there, though maybe the view was the same through her eyes when she looked at him. They both fell apart all those years ago, but someone had to stand. Goten and Mia needed someone, so he couldn't break too. Though maybe he had anyway...
More and more so, he sat there looking at his coffee instead of the sun, thinking about swirling the liquid around the mug but too numb to actually do it. Once more, the idea of ditching the routine altogether popped-up in his mind, but he couldn't bring himself to let go of the little touch of balance it brought him. It was the thing he had to do before the day could begin, what told him to get up because he only had so much time to get ready. His little monkeys were the key in the ignition, but it still needed a turn to start up the engine.
Suddenly, he heard a sound to his right, and saw the blinds being opened from inside Mia's window. Chugging the rest of his cold coffee, he got up and went inside, placing the mug in the sink and starting up with breakfast. Toast, eggs, fried bacon, orange juice. Nothing fancy, but considering he'd never really learned how to cook, it wasn't half-bad. Luckily, Mom was still functional enough to cook lunch and dinner, though that'd been about it for very, very long.
One of his psychology books recognized in his mother the symptoms of what'd turned out to be depression: spending most of the day in bed, always crying. Something he was very familiar with - not only due to the many hours he'd spent studying that particular subject - but when he'd heard baby Goten crying with hunger, or when Mia had needed a diaper-change, and none of them were being attended to, he'd just had to do something. "Mommy isn't feeling well, Gohan. Can't you do it?" After a while, he'd just stopped saying anything and took care of it - of them, of the house. His depression had to wait and eventually he'd learned to manage it.
Mom was a little better now - thankfully - helping more with the kids and with the dishes, for instance, but there were still more bad days than good ones. There was only so much he could do for her, anyway, other than forcing her to abide by Bulma's suggestion of going to see a professional - an idea he'd supported with no hopes of it becoming anything more than just that, an idea.
"I don't need help! I'm not crazy, I'm just grieving." Grieving, yes, for the past seven years. Over someone he'd lost just as much and that had forcefully changed him. He couldn't even recall how he felt back then anymore, about himself, about stuff he remembered thinking was beautiful or inspiring. But now he knew - what he was, what he should be instead - he saw it so clearly. Whatever he'd been before had turned into this sedated, cracked shell of himself, orphan of both parents and father to two young children. He wouldn't complain, though; it was better than being dead.
"Good morning," Mia sung as she approached him.
"Hey, Pumpkin. You hungry?" Gohan asked very softly from the stove, embracing her with one arm and kissing her on the forehead. His other hand drew the sizzling hot pan away, protecting her from those nasty grease sputters.
"I'm starving!" she responded. Of course, her father's daughter. She sat down at the table.
"Do you know if Goten smelled the bacon?" As if he didn't know the answer to that; the boy would smell it from Satan City.
The little girl giggled. "Yeah, he's up." She served herself some food while Gohan plated the rest of the crunchy strips he'd just cooked, and sat next to her at the head of the table - his place ever since Dad had died.
"Did you sleep okay?2 he went on to ask, caringly as he curled a strand of hair behind her ear. She'd always let two of them loose from her trusty ponytail, divided at the center and falling from her forehead, though he had to admit, he liked it better when it was down. The same with Mom's, which made sense since Mia's was exactly the same: jet black and long and healthy.
Mia looked up from her plate but just for a moment, returning her eyes down immediately. There was no answer for a while, as she chewed for too long on a buttered piece of toast. Ultimately, she decided to confide her thoughts in him. "Not really... I had trouble falling asleep."
Gohan smiled. It was to be expected, poor girl. "Anxious about school next Monday?"
She nodded in confirmation and he nodded too. Being homeschooled his entire life, he could only extrapolate the feeling, of course, even more so since one could only be under so much pressure when being practically self-taught of the curriculum, which was what'd happened ever since… well, ever since Mom stopped caring about it. The standardized national exams he'd take on occasion were a doozie, though. On his social ineptitude, not on his skills, since they'd all been no-brainers.
He'd taught his little sister at home too for her first year, but quickly decided that it just wasn't enough. Not that he wasn't a good teacher - because he was - but he wanted more for her and Goten, a chance at something better. He'd had his training back then to let out some steam, but what did they have?
It was too late for him, but maybe he could give them a shot at a social life, with friends and some kind of normalcy - as much has a half-Saiyan could. He told his mother it wasn't working out, and after much argumentation, he'd finally convinced her to let both Mia and Goten enroll in school in the city, starting next Monday. It'd be about an hour each way by bus, but they were game; Goten was very sociable, and Mia loved the city to pieces, so they didn't need further convincing. The satisfaction alone was proving enough to brush aside his own nervousness towards their new path.
"It's normal to suffer from anticipation," Gohan went on to say, "but you'll be okay. You're gonna try new things, and meet new people, and then come home and tell me all about it so I can have a life by proxy."
Mia laughed at his non-joke, just as he sensed Goten's presence coming into the kitchen, hugging his older brother around the neck from behind. It'd choke him if he wasn't used to and prepared for the kid's surprise attacks. "Good morning, Big Brother!" The endearing name tugged at the corner of his lips. "What are we laughing about? Did you tell a joke?"
Hardly. "Hey, Buddy. We're talking about school the day after tomorrow. How're you feeling about that?"
"It'll be a blast! Trunks is going too!" Goten cheered, planting himself on the long bench to his brother's left, just as the words "impending chaos" popped into Gohan's mind, just for a second.
"Yeah, I'm sure you'll love it. Now eat something before it gets cold," he told him, spreading a toast with a more than decent amount of blueberry jam - Goten's favourite - and handing it to his little brother. He then took some bacon for himself.
"What are we doing today, Big Brother?" the little boy asked.
"Well, since Bulma and Trunks are coming… how about we go fish our meal?" Two big ones would suffice, he reckoned, and Bulma was always late for their Saturday lunches anyway - always late, period - so they had plenty of time.
"Yay! I love fishing!" Goten shouted eagerly. Fishing: Big Brother catching the fish while they goofed around and got all dirty in the woods. What's not to love?
"Yeah, me too. Best way to say goodbye to our last week of freedom before school," Mia said grinning. She would love going to school, big drama queen.
"Oh, you poor thing," he joked, mock-pouting while shaking his head, but soon returning full attention to his breakfast. Maybe next time he'd try his eggs soft boiled instead of scrambled. Shouldn't be that hard to cook.
Goten's voice softened, a pinch of sadness to it, the bacon in his hand flying a little slower towards his mouth. "Can we pick up some flowers for Mommy? She likes flowers."
Gohan stilled, knowing very well how they worried too. They loved their mom - they all did - and she loved them too, though from behind those walls she erected around herself, but it all became that much harder to face when the repercussions of this eternal ache of theirs became so evident in the little guys.
For a very long time, his father had been the one protecting her. Not so much physically, since she could very well take care of herself, but mentally, internally, grinning in that way of his that would always make everything seem perfect and hopeful. It had been so for such a long time that maybe now she felt vacant of a replacement. It saddened him that she didn't see that replacement in him. "She'll love it, Goten," he told his little brother, ruffling his hair for the illusion of cheerfulness. "That's a great idea."
As they finished their breakfast, Gohan started doing the dishes, instructing the little ones to prepare the fishing gear and get ready to leave. Today he'd go old-school and asked them to get the fishing cane as well; he didn't feel like getting wet.
"Ready!" Goten yelled from outside the kitchen's window, pressing his nose against the glass and making one of his goofy faces. It made him smile.
"Okay, I'll be right there." He dried his hands and proceeded back to his room, grabbing his sneakers and sitting on the bed to put them on. He stopped for a bit before getting up; there was still one thing he needed to do.
Slowly, he stood up, eyeing the carpet by his feet while exiting the room and turning left towards his mother's. Staring silently at the door, a deep breath gave him a thread of confidence before knocking and entering the darkened room.
"Mom, we're going out, okay? Try to catch some fish for lunch," Gohan told her quietly as he sat on the bed, placing a caring hand on her leg. She nodded against her pillow as he continued. "I left you some eggs and bacon on the counter if you're hungry. We'll be back in a few hours." Chi-Chi grunted in agreement and he took off, closing the door behind him. It'd turn his stomach to be in that room for longer than he had to.
Maybe because it pained him to see but a fragment of the woman that was once his wonderful mother, strong, full of life. Or maybe because, after all the nights he just couldn't bring himself to ignore her sobbing in that very room, after all those times he'd had to force his body to walk in there and hold her while she cried herself to sleep, the room's gravity had changed. There was too much weight to it now, a haven turned wasteland, a piece of hell on Earth as far as he was concerned, but one he couldn't just blow to pieces and reconstruct, as much as he truly wished. And he wished it really badly.
It wouldn't make a difference, anyway. The darkness wasn't in the room itself but in the absence of its light. Either way, he couldn't stay.
In a few minutes, fishing gear dangling from his shoulder, they were walking through the wide green pastures of their mountain home, heading for the lake through the nearby forest. Every Son man and woman worthy of that name knew Mt. Paozu and its thick forest like an extension of their house, and Gohan had made sure his little guys were no exception.
The first trees were just a few feet away when Goten asked, whispering as if Mom could hear them from all the way back in the house, "Can we go now, Big Brother?"
"Just a little bit more," he responded.
There had been a time when he'd feel terrible sneaking around like this, but he just couldn't care anymore, even if his mind would still remind him on occasion that it was wrong.
He'd tried to reason with his mother, back in the day, right about when Trunks and Goten had learned how to walk properly, which the Saiyan blood in their veins had reduced to about six or seven months old as opposed to the normal - meaning human - twelve. Every single argument he could've thought of, every rational fact, every explanation, as feeble as it might've been, he'd defended it with fervor but she wouldn't budge. Her babies wouldn't be fighting in any way, shape, or form, and that was final.
For some time he'd respected her wishes, but his mind would race mercilessly through the consequences of that path, and they soon became just too overwhelming to discard. Who they were, what they were, was enough for them to be at risk. Hell, it was the whole reason their father had decided to stay in the other dimension. Dad's whole existence was enough for him to be in danger - not to mention his family and friends, and the Earth itself - and for that and that alone, he needed to at least be able to defend himself.
That realization was the tipping point for the young Saiyan: at the very least they'd have to be able to defend themselves, to learn the basics, to master the indispensable. Like he was, and their dads, and Piccolo. He would see to that up until the point he felt satisfied that they could hold their own until help arrived. It was his ultimate goal, and if it took going around his mother's back and feel like a damn backstabber for the rest of his life, so be it; their safety was enough incentive. He just hoped all the lying didn't affect the little ones too much, even though, at the end of the day, he did find it a small price to pay.
A few steps into the forest, the trees were now capable of holding their secret, so he gave the green light. "Okay. You can go now."
The youngest half-Saiyans cheered in unison and took up to the sky while Gohan continued walking, since their objective wasn't to get there fast. They had plenty of time, and every moment the little ones had to train using their Ki was welcomed, even if they'd long mastered flying in all its forms and speeds. Couldn't hurt to polish up on some things, he reckoned. "Work on your direction shifting, guys," their brother shouted from the ground. "Goten, watch the trees. I'm not making up excuses for a black eye again."
"'Kay! Whoa!" As if the forest had heard him, a mammoth of a tree instantly sprouted to its full form right in front of the little guy, and he missed it by an inch. Gohan could only sigh, running a hand through his hair as he searched his memory for the excuses he'd already used. Had they gone with "tripped on a rock" already? Well, it was best to make something up after he'd seen the injuries, he guessed. If it was just a scratch, they could simply cover it up.
After a while, the low rumble of the waterfall made it to his ears, indicating they were getting close. When they arrived at the clearing, the kids started shooting loops in the open area above the water as Gohan made way to the margin and prepared his stuff, sitting down on the soft grass.
It was crowded today, the lake. Green damselflies hovering above a fringe of reeks, a family of deers quenching their thirst on the other side of the mirror-like plane that shone under the high sun - the specks almost seemed made of gold. A pack of squirrels rustling in the tree closest to him, not to mention all the other bugs, lizards, rabbits. Mt. Paozu's usual gang minus the bigger, more dangerous ones, but those would normally stick to their place on the other side of the mountain.
The wind blew harder for a second, disturbing a flock of colorful birds that painted the sky along with the ephemeral rainbow that was produced by the mist, and sending a deep-blue butterfly his way to rest atop the wicker basket that held the fishing supplies, right next to him.
He saw it. He felt nothing.
Every little detail of that perfect picture was so obvious to him, that testament of life and how magical it could be if one payed enough attention, but it didn't comfort him with its purity as he knew it should. His brain told him what he should be feeling, but he guessed he was failing that particular test once again. All of this should be making him happy, it should be making him smile like an idiot and thank the heavens for being a witness to this, a part of this. It only made him grow awkward and misplaced, scolded by his own mind for not doing what it ordered.
It was all so incredibly breathtaking. It was all lost on him. Pity...
"Hey, Gohan! How about this?" Mia got his attention from above, so he zoomed in on her figure.
"That's good," he told her, a perfect loop. "Now go zig-zag through that line of trees over there. Both of you, as fast as you can."
With a stereophonic, "Okay!" they complied, excited, buying Gohan a good chunk of peace and quiet while he kept watching them carefully for flaws to address later. They showed no issues, as expected, and after half an hour or so, they rushed over and touched down right in front of him.
"Can we go spar now, Big Brother?" his little buddy asked.
"I don't like sparring with you, Goten," their sister said. "You're too crazy!" Well, truth be told, Mia didn't like sparring with anyone, but she had a point there. Both Goten and Trunks were incredibly energetic, and their sparring sessions were intense if that word could ever be an understatement, but at least the little Prince kept it down a notch when he got paired up with his sister. That hadn't happened in a while, though, but only because Mia's training was drifting away from the boys'. He had other plans for her in that regard.
"We'll do it in the afternoon when Trunks gets here, okay?" Gohan said.
"Why?" Goten extended the word in an indecent whining fit, a trait his big brother recognized immediately as his weapon of choice when trying to get his way. As usual, it wouldn't work on him.
"Because it's not fair that you have more real training than he does, now is it?"
Goten smirked, something he'd picked up from Trunks, surely, since the resemblance was undeniable. "But we should have the advantage. You're our brother."
It made him smile. "You have the advantage that I love you a teeny-tiny bit more." Goten pouted, not convinced, as his brother continued. "Look at it this way. We have each other, he doesn't have anyone."
The little guy was now visibly sad, poor thing, shoulders slouching, features softened. "You're right…" Trunks was his best friend, his conjoined twin separated at birth, as they used to joke about. Goten's Saiyan heritage might've demanded more training, more strength, but there was no doubt in his mind that his little Buddy would never continue that journey if his lavender-haired brother could not take it by his side. Ever.
"He's our brother too," Gohan went on to say, "and as such, we'll wait for him before beginning any real training." He really meant it; from the bottom of his heart, he had three siblings. Trunks was clearly adopted but fully and indistinguishably loved as one of them. An honorary Son.
"I never thought of it that way…" Mia said quietly, eyeing the grass beneath her.
"Now why don't you two go look for those flowers you talked about for Mom?" he told them, eyeing the sun's position for an assessment of the hour. "We have to get going soon." He'd already caught enough for lunch, though an extra little one couldn't hurt.
"Okay," both kids shouted before running away towards the back of the clearing.
A few minutes proved enough to get him another smallish fish, and with a few perfectly mastered moves, he gutted and prepared them all for cooking - it was less messy to do it here other than back home. Finally, he propped the pieces for transport, standing up and shouting for nowhere in particular. "Mia! Goten! Let's go!"
In a heartbeat, they dashed his way with a substantially-sized bouquet, constructed from a wide array of multicolored flowers and a few leafy fillers. Mia held it out, visibly proud of the arrangement that was obviously hers. "What do you think, Gohan?"
"It's beautiful, Pumpkin. She'll love it."
As they returned home, a long snake-like cloud that originated from their outdoor grill caught his attention, indicating that the fire his mother had prepared in advance was ready for the fish. He spotted her through the window, absentminded expression as usual while standing by the stovetop. He could smell the rice and the veggies from here.
The trio walked through the kitchen door and Goten jumped right up to their mother, eager little hands handing out their gift. "Hi, Mommy! We picked these for you."
Mom smiled warmly through a worn out expression. "Thank you, Baby. I love them." She took the bouquet and gave it a sniff, inducing the proudest of grins on both his brother and sister. They always felt so elated by Mom's happiness, even if it'd be just a thread of it, just for a second.
She then opened the top cupboard and took out a green vase, filling it with water. "Can you please set the table?" she said. "Bulma and Trunks should be arriving soon, and you still have to go wash up."
"Yes, Mommy," both Mia and Goten sung at the order, going for the china cabinet to address it while Gohan stepped back outside to take on the grilling. The coals were already red-hot, so the whole process would only take a minute of two, he assessed. At least with the way he'd cut the fillets, thin rather than thick. Just in time, since he could sense Trunks' Ki not too far away.
He displayed the pieces of fish millimetrically over the cast iron, vacantly watching their pink hue turn milky white within seconds. The particular rumble of Bulma's sedan made his awareness from a distance not too long after, so he started stacking up the things on the designated platter, walking inside just as the vehicle halted to silence on the other side of the house. Placing the goods on the table, he proceeded to the front door, opening it all the way. "Hey, guys."
"Hey, Gohan," Trunks casually threw his way alongside the customary fist-bump - their personal greeting - and entered the house past him. Bulma cracked a smile at the scene, as always.
"Hey, Honey," she said, immediately maneuvering for her mandatory hug. "How're you doing?"
"I'm okay. Come on in."
The little Son Saiyans came running and happily jumped Bulma for a group hug, just as she crouched down to meet them. She sighed at the tightness, as a professed hug-aholic would.
Trunks was taking off his coat and backpack, handing them to Gohan to place on the hanger by the door. He saw the boy press his lips together and throw an amused look his way, one of complicity and understanding, since nothing was truly out of reach when one could fly, of course. It was their little theater for his mother, and Trunks seemed to enjoy it a tiny bit more than he probably should, the little devil. Gohan winked, earning a grin in return.
Taking a few more steps inside, the pair came to a halt by the sight of Mia, hugging herself and shifting her weight in a clear stroke of anxiety that brought along Gohan's curiosity more than his worry. Trunks was the one to ask, "What is it?"
She said nothing, just looking at Trunks, and then at the floor, and back at Trunks. Gohan wondered what, indeed, was it, but his sister cleared the confusion not too long after, walking slowly towards the little guy until such a close proximity that made him twitch a nervous step back.
"Umm… Mimi?" Trunks managed to say, but the answer to the unspoken question came in the form of a hug around his neck. Gohan saw a fierce blush take over Mia's cheeks just before she hid her face against her arms, a matching tone taking over Trunks' as well, while his shocked hands hovered about.
In the very next second, Goten dashed over and embraced them both, saying, "We love you so much, Trunks," with such deep intensity that promptly connected the dots for him. The whole prior conversation about Trunks being all by himself, about him being their brother more than their friend or an outside extension of their household. It might not have been so when Dad was still alive, but if the Briefs had became anything to the Sons over the years, it was family, no doubt about it.
If Bulma's sanity hadn't rubbed off on his existence, if Trunks' undying energy hadn't charged him up when he'd needed a boost… He didn't even want to think about any other scenario.
Trunks just wide-eyed his mother as a reaction but she was useless, hand on chest, touched by the scene in front of her and most likely on the verge of tears, since they would always come free and easy for her. Nevertheless, the boy was clearly uncomfortable, so Gohan decided to come to the rescue, ruffling Goten's ever-messy hair. "Come on, guys. Let's go wash up for lunch, okay?"
The trio unbundled and headed for the bathroom to the sound of his little brother's cheers, chanting words of joy for the impending meal, as he always would. Trunks and Mia followed him closely, smiling but still so incredibly embarrassed, poor things.
A face came to mind from out of nowhere, one he hadn't thought about in ages but that belonged to a name he'd never forget. He'd only been with her that one time they'd met, right before the Games, but he remembered her blushing in the very same way after he'd saved her from drowning. Only she snapped at him instead of being all nervous and mortified. Now, he realized why she'd reacted that way, since he hadn't been too careful with his hand placement when diving behind her into that river, but back then he'd been utterly oblivious.
Lime… so fiery and passionate. He wondered where she was right now.
That melancholy stuck with him through the most of their lunch, but the random chit-chat and overall feeling across the table brought him back up to the normal level of nothing - neither happy nor sad. Well, not entirely, since these get-togethers were the highlights of his week, so the scale was slightly tipping upwards today. A much appreciated relief.
Being basically alone with kids day after day had made him kind of glad to hear adult conversations, for once. If his two little creatures had taught him anything these past seven years, was that stay-at-home parent should be a well-paying job, benefits including routine psychiatric evaluations and paid vacations.
Mom would mostly communicate through grunts and one-words, nowadays - at least when Bulma wasn't around - so he'd often find himself longing for the voice of an actual adult, and since he'd sadly realized that the local TV news anchor wouldn't engage in a conversation with him, Bulma's visits were welcomed and cherished. Even more so when she'd bring along her bulky red files labeled "top-secret", holding the latest Capsule Corporation's R&D endeavor.
She'd always ask for his opinion on something or another, and he was glad to give her one, if only to turn the gears inside his head once again and think about something challenging for a change. It was supposedly some great feat, what he'd do, upstaging renowned engineers and physicists, seeing things they'd never even consider while so young and with no other academic background other than the one his home studies had provided. She'd call him a prodigy, a genius, but he didn't see it. Or if he was, then anyone could be one just like him, surely.
"Gohan?" Trunks called from his place at the table, next to his mom. "Can we go play now?"
The older Saiyan looked over at the wall-clock. Yeah, it was time. "Sure. Let's go."
Things just went so quiet whenever the kids went out the door. Too quiet, she'd say, but sometimes her brain did welcome the break.
The two women talked over tea for a good hour or so, after they'd left, catching up on their week's activities - mostly Bulma's, of course. She'd always try to bundle up a good amount of gossip from around the office so she'd have plenty to share with Chi-Chi come their Saturday lunches. It made her so happy to see the younger woman smile like that - giggle even - whenever she relayed something new and juicy about the hottie interns and their reality-show dramatics.
In the midst of all the hurt, they still felt so comfortable together; the sisters they'd never had. What a gift it was.
"So…" Bulma began, casually while recalling a thought of earlier that morning. Trunks' school was just about to start, but how about Gohan's? "Have you and Gohan talked about what he'll do now that he finished his high-school curriculum?"
Chi-Chi took a sip at her tea. "I haven't talked too much to him about it, but he's going to get a job."
Bulma frowned, her gut reacting accordingly. How she hated when her friend made her decisions final regarding Gohan's life. It was bad enough when he was a little boy, but Chi did have a mother's right back then, she guessed. But he was a young man now, a legal adult. When was he to choose his own path if she kept tracing it for him? "What kind of job?" she asked.
"I was thinking the mines. Those behind the mountain."
Bulma almost dropped her cup, a hard clink echoing through the silence when it clashed against its saucer. The… the mines? Her scandalized lips gapped, her lungs felt tense and out of breath at the same time, pure shock toning down the words that boiled violently in her heart. "You can't... be serious…"
"I am. With his strength, we should be able to make good money."
The severity of the mere thought… It… It just… No way. Not Gohan, that boy was a genius! It'd be like asking Goku to work in an office somewhere, or Vegeta to run a daycare centre - which, although hilarious, would be just plain… well, wrong! It was making her cheeks catch fire, her throat to burn right along. No! Gohan would be the one finding the cure for cancer, he'd be the one coming up with the Unified Field Theory, or the world's first superconductor, or finally achieve cold fusion. He was… He had to be more than his brute strength!
"From the minute he was born," Bulma was finally able to spit out, teeth near gritted, "you said he was going to be a scholar. You've made him study every single day of his life, subjects years ahead of his actual age. How can you even…? He's a genius, Chi, how can you even consider this?"
Chi-Chi pressed her lips together, refusing eye-contact to anything but the cup between her hands. "Well, life doesn't always turn out the way you wanted, does it?"
It struck her dumb, words arrested in her mouth like she actually forgot how to Bulma. "I can't... believe you right now, Chi."
"Look," the other defended, "it is what it is and you've got to provide for your family."
And that was it, the thing that brought her back full force, because as valid as it was, that statement was so incredibly amiss it actually hurt. Her eyes narrowed, her hands fisted atop the wooden table. In the eye of the storm, calm and quietly, Bulma told her the truth she'd failed to see all these years. "He's not your husband, Chi-Chi."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" the other snapped.
"He didn't marry you. He didn't have kids. He has all this responsibilities that shouldn't be his in the first place, and you're telling me you're gonna make him work a hard and incredibly dangerous job just to make good money?" Bulma snapped right back, locked horns against the injustice of the whole concept.
"Not everybody is as wealthy as you…"
"We are not going down that road again, Chi! You know where I stand on that matter. You're too proud to accept any help from me and that's fine, but Gohan shouldn't have to suffer because of it."
"He has to help his family."
Even more? Dammit, Chi… "It's your family! Yours and Goku's."
The china rattled when Chi-Chi smacked the table. "Don't you say his name!" Bulma couldn't really tell which one had spoken louder under that tortuous shout, hurt or love, but a mash-up of the two was taking liquid form over her deep black eyes, painting them brighter with a coat of shimmer and a fire she hadn't seen in a while. A long, long while.
It made her sigh, soften her speech, soothe her heart and her mind. "I know you're hurting," Bulma told her. "We all are. But he's… God, Chi, he's destined to more."
Chi-Chi kept silent, looking to the side.
"If you ask this of him, he'll do it, Chi-Chi. You can't do that, please." There was no thread of a doubt that Gohan would take this too upon his shoulders. If it'd make his mother happy, if it'd make things easier on the kids, even if just a smidgen, he'd commute to hell and back, everyday for the rest of his… She shouldn't call it "life".
"He's my son, Bulma."
"You gave birth to him, but he's my son too. You know that." There was no denying it, since she knew the other woman felt the very same way about Trunks. They were both mothers of four, though one had suffered the excruciating torture of popping out a Saiyan a little more than the other. One lavender-haired demon had been enough to make her cringe at past dreams of a second child, so three could only be described as heroic, in her eyes. Then again, Chi-Chi had always been the stronger one - the strongest woman on the planet. It seemed ironic, nowadays.
"It shouldn't be like this," Bulma went on to say. "We have to help each other out and try to do the best for our children. Gohan included." She'd tried so many times to make her see it in the past. Namely when it came to money, since she knew Goku's championship prize was running thin, but that stubbornness felt like a brick wall against Bulma's will. No argument had ever been enough to crack at that pride.
Maybe that ridiculous trait came with a princeship instead of the Saiyan blood in one's veins, as she'd assumed initially. She kept forgetting that Chi-Chi was just as royal as Vegeta was, even if she didn't keep shouting it to the four winds at every opportunity. "Look," she continued through the silence, "the little guys are going to school in the city. I think Gohan should go to college there too."
"We can't afford college," Chi simply stated.
"He could get a full scholarship. For sure."
That word caught the other's attention, making her peek suspiciously back at Bulma. "Are you positive?" she spoke softly, half-defeated but hopefully considering it.
"Yes, I am. He would finish super quickly, and then he could get a job. A good one. He'll work for me back at Capsule."
Chi-Chi's faint scowl deepened instantly. "I don't want him to have a job there just because you're his family."
"Are you kidding me? With that brain? How many times have I brought along notes or projects for him to give me his opinion on? I need him at Capsule. I've been saying it since he was seven."
After a moment of staring, the younger woman only sighed, which felt like a good thing, even if she couldn't be sure whether it came from lack of better arguments or of strength to keep fighting. She couldn't care this time; Gohan's future was too important, worth more than just a few steps back into that dark recession Chi-Chi had been trying to leave behind. Her sister would thank her in the future. Bulma held the other's hand on hers and they looked each other in the eyes. "You know I'm right, Chi."
"Our little miracle", she recalled the words, ones that had left Chi-Chi's lips oh-so-many years ago during an afternoon tea on this very table. Not right after she'd been told of Raditz's visit and all the new information he'd brought along, since Goku's death and Gohan's abduction had been too overpowering to even allow her to function properly, but afterwards, after Frieza even, if she wasn't mistaken.
Given Goku's real provenance, meaning the fact that the two of them weren't even of the same species, Gohan's life could be biologically labelled as no less than a gift from the heavens, back then. And to find out that this was a prodigy of a child, brawn and brain combined with a heart of gold...
Somewhere along the line she'd stopped being a mother to him - a complete one, at least - but surely it hadn't been on purpose. The love was still there, but sometimes that alone just wasn't enough, was it? "We'll talk to him when he gets back," Chi finally said.
Bulma smiled. "Thank you."
The four Saiyans returned to the Son household just as the night's shadows started to paint the sky with reds, oranges, and purples. Today's training had gone smoothly, even if the shredded pint-size training gis would suggest otherwise.
Luckily, Bulma - always the helpful co-conspirator - had long stockpiled an industrial amount of them back at her place, ever since training clothes of any kind had been banned from their home. Well, maybe not banned, but new ones were not to be purchased, and the old rags had quickly became forgotten and unmended, and eventually too small for the ever-growing little runts.
Trunks would always smuggle one for each on his backpack, which they'd bring along to "playtime" with a couple of snacks and water bottles. The little boys had never minded to change right there in the woods, eager to rush through the annoying step to start sparring and fooling around. Mia had done the same for many years, though she now prefered to find a tree she could hide behind. She was becoming a young woman, he painfully reminded himself, and given her heritage, it'd surely be coming around sooner rather than later.
Gohan looked closer at the three of them, walking and skipping and giggling a few steps in front of him. Trunks was about the same height as Mia, although just over a year younger, and Goten came only a few inches shorter than both of them, not counting his mane of a hair. The inseparable trio, his little Prince, Pumpkin, and Buddy; brains, reason, and heart, respectively.
He'd always wondered why neither of them had been born with a tail such as himself and their fathers, but he reckoned it'd been simply due to chance and a recessive trait of their genetics. But what did that even mean, exactly? They didn't seem to carry any practical differences when it came to power and all that jazz.
The only one he could pinpoint would be Mia's lack of passion when it came to anything physical - physical improvement, physical encounters, physical straining - which was a recurrent feature of the basic male Saiyan, as far as he could tell. Maybe her strength was simply not of the physical kind, hence why he'd tailored her training to Ki manipulation and protection - shields and the sort.
Being the first half-breed himself, Mia was the first girl, so they just had to figure things out as they went, he guessed. He just hoped that having the tail gene inside him was what made his different heritages feel disconnected, somehow, like they didn't mix entirely. The kids shouldn't have to feel this way when they grew older.
Soon enough, they entered through the kitchen door, the calmness within ruthlessly butchered in a matter of seconds due to ... well, the mere presence of kids. Plain and simple. After a couple of hugs and kisses to their mothers, still sitting at the kitchen table, Gohan instructed the little ones to wash up before settling down to watch TV, and they ran inside to comply.
"Hey, Gohan," Bulma called then. "Come sit here with us."
He did so without a second thought, even though their faces were now scrutinizing his own, he noticed. Bulma was the one doing the talking. "We were wondering... how would you feel about going to college?"
His eyebrows reacted immediately, flying upwards with the unexpected topic. He knew full well about their financial situation, all the way to both Bulma's and Grandpa's regular offers to help them out, along with the subsequent denials from his mother. No money to spare meant no possibility for college, which accounted for one of the reasons he hadn't even thought about it in years. The other being he just hadn't cared enough to do so. "We can't afford it," he responded bluntly.
It somehow only made Bulma more excited. "I know for a fact that the Orange Star Private University offers full scholarships to top-grade students such as yourself. Everything included. You wouldn't have to pay a single zeni."
"I... don't know," he told her, sparing a glance towards his mother. "I haven't thought about it."
"Well, we've been talking and, if it's okay with your mother…" She paused, turning to Chi-Chi and then back at him. "I'd like to take you there for a visit on Monday."
Mom nodded at his inquisitive gaze, so he responded with a shrug. "Sure."
It was like all the bottled-up enthusiasm exploded out of her. "Great! Oh, my God, we can go see the courses they offer, and mark down when you can go take your admittance exams. They have a great football team, so maybe we can go check them out too. Go Tigers!" she cheered with a giggle. "I can show you all around the place! It is my alma mater, you know? And then we can…"
He found it harder to fall asleep that night. Pick a course, select a path… Didn't one have to have an actual life first in order choose what to do with it? Maybe it would be easier to just get a job. It would certainly help his family more.
When was the last time he'd actually thought of the future? He was thinking of the kids' all the time, sure, wondering, worrying, planning, but his? Things were always the same everywhere he looked, be it ahead in time or inside to where his spirit used to be. Everything always seemed so arid and dormant, so… what was there to choose among nothing?
He tried not to think about it anymore, mainly because he was tired from the long day. Any decisions would be dealt with on Monday, hopefully over ice-cream.
Easier said than done.
As writers, we are often inputting our own personal experiences into writing a piece, and as I read story after story of how Gohan felt after his father died, I never came across this option that speaks so loudly to me. It's not just him being okay or him just hating his father and/or himself, but the in between. It's a whole special kind of hell when you are lucid enough to realize that you do not feel, or at least not in the way you did or the way you perceive as "normal".
Your honest opinions are welcome. Please review!