AN: This is one hell of a depressing story, I'll say that right up front. If you're the crying type, you just might need tissues for this. I've had it half-done for ages, and I finally decided that it needed to be finished, so here it is. There's a miniature twist at the end, promise. The song is "Fly" by Celine Dion on the CD Falling Into You. I listened to it and I just wanted to write something for it. I don't own DBZ or the song.
Addendum: Some people have asked about a sequel, so I just thought I'd post that there is one. The title is 'In Remembrance,' and I am as proud of it as I am of this story (perhaps I'm a bit vain, but I am extremely proud of this particular fic). And thank all of you so much for your wonderful reviews!
The hallway was dark and silent, leading up to a dark and silent room. Inside that dark and silent room lay a dark and silent child.
A somber curtain of shadow seemed to have wrapped around the house itself. The sadness in the atmosphere was so thick you could have sliced it and served it on bread. And there was a good reason for it to be that way.
The illness had hit without warning only two months ago, but the damage had been done quickly, too quickly. There had been no treatment—the doctor hadn't even been able to identify the disease.
And now, Goten was dying, slowly wasting away from an illness that didn't even have a name.
In the living room, everyone was sitting together. In the past, they'd gathered together for many meetings in this room. In the past, they would have all been having a grand old time, talking, telling jokes, giving each other a hard time, and recalling strange stories from the past.
But this meeting was different. There was no laughter here this time. There was only a heavy silence, a sad silence rarely broken by the people sitting amidst it.
One by one, they went into the darkened room to see their friend for the last time. Some stayed for only a moment; others, for quite some time. Everyone who had gone in thus far had come back out in tears to cry on the shoulder of another.
Trunks had come back in only a moment before, crying but trying desperately not to show it. That hadn't lasted long, and he was now, surprisingly enough, leaning against his father, weeping softly into Vegeta's shirt. The Saiyan Prince actually seemed saddened by what was happening, though he wouldn't openly admit it.
But Gohan knew why. He'd seen Goten interact with the arrogant Saiyan when Vegeta didn't think anyone else was watching. The teenager had even seen Vegeta ruffling Goten's hair affectionately, though Vegeta probably would have killed him if he'd ever admitted to seeing it.
"Gohan, sweetie" ChiChi's voice broke through the haze that had descended upon the demi-Saiyan since the diagnosis. "Gohan, it's your turn. Goten…wants his story…" the mother's voice trailed off as she broke down again, crying on Bulma's consoling shoulder.
Gohan hadn't chosen to join the main crowd; instead, he was sitting in the corner, as far away as he could get from everyone else. This particular corner was shadow-draped, giving him maximum coverage. No one had bothered him, and that was how he wanted it.
He watched from his vantage point, eyelids lowered slightly over eyes that had long ago cried themselves out, mouth pressed into a thin line, posture tense. He had his long legs pulled up to his chest, chin resting on his knees. He looked angry, and truth be told, he was.
Slowly, he climbed to his feet and made his way across the room. It didn't help matters any that his feet felt like he was walking in 300 times Earth's normal gravity with five-ton weights tied to his feet. The door was right in front of him now…steeling himself, he entered the room.
Goten was tucked safely into bed beneath a thick quilt. The child was ghostly pale and almost skeletal. He hadn't been able to eat much, and it was showing. His dark eyes, once so alive with the excitement of getting into trouble, were now dark and empty and rarely lit up. Even his hair seemed to droop. The illness was draining every bit of energy Goten still possessed to the point that the child couldn't even move his arms very much, let alone sit up or walk around.
The room was filled with flowers and toys and stuffed animals that had been brought as last gifts to the dying child. An odd, indifferent corner of Gohan's mind, the part of him that was taking everything in and filing it away, noticed that there were no forget-me-nots, the flower Goten had always liked best. Then again, they didn't grow at that particular time of year. It desperately saddened Gohan that he couldn't even bring Goten his favorite flower before he died.
The child's head turned ever so slightly on the pillow to look at his visitor, and for one all-too-brief moment, two ebony eyes lit up again with a fiery happiness.
"Hi…big brother" Goten's voice was a hint of a whisper. That was all the louder he could speak anymore. "Are you…gonna tell me…a story"
"Sure" Gohan sat on the edge of the bed.
"Brother" Goten breathed. "I don't wanna die in here. Please" Tears were forming in the dull black eyes. It was the most heartwrenching thing Gohan had ever seen.
The teenager wavered for a moment, then made his decision. He carefully scooped his little brother up and took off out the window, up into the night sky. Goten's tiny hands held onto the front of Gohan's gi, but very lightly, as the child's strength was nearly gone. He could feel the heat from Goten's burning forehead right through his clothing.
Gohan flew over the forest for a while, then stopped and straightened up, crossing his legs so he could rest Goten in his lap. From this vantage point they could see all their favorite places, the places where they'd been happiest together—the lake, the hilltop, the caves that they'd secretly explored together, and of course, Goten's favorite, the big pile of dirt that was always conveniently transformed into a nice mud stew when it rained. The seven-year-old turned his head slowly so he could look down. "It's really pretty, isn't it brother? I see our spots."
"Yeah…it's pretty" Gohan swallowed the lump in his throat. "You know, I brought you up here like this once when you were just a baby."
"Really" Goten whispered. "Tell me."
"Mom couldn't get you to fall asleep. You wouldn't stop crying" the teenager actually smiled at the fond memory. "So I said I'd try. I picked you up, and I went outside, and I flew up right over our house, probably about this high. From there you could see for miles and miles. And I started telling you about the world. I told you that when you were older, we'd explore that world together." Gohan paused and actually chuckled. "Not only did you stop crying, you actually started laughing, like you understood me. Maybe you were agreeing with me or something, I don't know. But we stayed up there for a while until you feel asleep."
Goten sighed happily and snuggled closer. "That was nice. Can you tell me another story"
"That's why I'm here, isn't it" that lump jumped into Gohan's throat again, and he forced it right back down. "There's one story that I haven't told you before, but I think you should hear it." He felt Goten's head move slightly, a nod, and he began.
"Once upon a time" he began, suddenly aware that someone was nearby watching, though he didn't stop to check out who it was"there was a boy. He was eleven years old when something very very bad happened to him. And this bad thing made the boy very sad. Nothing could make him happy. He didn't laugh or smile or anything. He stayed like that for a long time. Then, one day, the boy's mother had another baby, a son. So the boy had a new little brother. At first, the boy didn't really like it very much. He didn't like the fact that his mother had to spend so much time taking care of the new baby. The boy was still very sad over the bad thing that had happened to him, and he didn't want to get close to his brother at all. Then, one day, something amazing happened."
Gohan stopped once again to try and fight the fist that was closing itself around his heart. Goten noticed and prodded him gently. "What happened"
"One morning, the baby started crying and wouldn't stop. The boy's mother tried everything, but nothing helped. Finally, she asked the boy to try and calm the baby down. The boy didn't want to, but he did anyway to help his mother out. He picked up the baby and sat down in the rocking chair. Almost instantly, the baby stopped crying. The baby looked up at his older brother and smiled. At that moment, the boy's heart went to his little brother." Tears began streaming down the teenager's face at the story, one of his own memories. "The baby became a light in the darkness for someone who had been through a lot of pain, and from then on, the boy promised that he would always take care of his little brother. And the boy found out that he could be happy again."
He stopped, unable to continue as he fought to stifle the sobs that were attempting to work their way up his throat. The child in his arms sighed. "I'm glad that the boy was happy again. It's a happy ending if everyone's happy."
But it's not a happy ending, Gohan thought bitterly, realizing that the someone who had appeared nearby when the story began was still there, but he still chose to ignore the presence. It's not a happy ending when that light in the darkness goes out. And that's what happening now. There are no more happy endings for us, Goten.Gohan thought bitterly, realizing that the someone who had appeared nearby when the story began was still there, but he still chose to ignore the presence.
In his arms, his little brother shuddered suddenly, then was still again. "Gohan…it hurts…"
Powerless, Gohan tightened his arms ever so slightly around the child. "I know, I know. But it'll all be over soon, Goten. It won't hurt for much longer."
"I don't wanna leave you, big brother" Goten said suddenly in a raspy whisper. "You can't come with me when I die, and that's what makes me sad. You and Trunks and Mommy and Bulma…none of you can come with me. I'm gonna be by myself." That impassioned speech left the child panting for air.
Something moved within Gohan, and he found an answer to comfort both Goten and himself. "No you won't. You'll be with Dad. He's probably waiting for you. He'll be there."
"I believe it."
"Okay…I love you, Gohan."
Goten shuddered again, and this time, when he stopped moving, he did not speak again. Gohan looked down at the still form of the child that had brought joy back into his life, and saw that Goten had fallen asleep. It was a slumber that Gohan doubted his little brother would ever wake up from.
The nearby presence chose that moment to come close enough for Gohan to finally identify who it was without having to read the ki signature—the person came into view and spoke. "That was beautiful, Gohan. I know how hard that was."
"Yeah…" the teenager's voice trailed off, and he moved his arm a little bit to look down at his little brother's face. Goten looked peaceful, with the tiniest of smiles on his small face. "Gods…he's really gone now, isn't he, Piccolo"
"Yes, he is" Piccolo's voice actually seemed…sad, somehow. "I'm sorry, kid."
"I hope he's with Dad" Gohan remarked softly, not taking his eyes from his brother. "Then they'll both be happy, together. I know they'll have lots to talk about."
Piccolo nodded, but wisely remained silent, choosing instead a wordless comfort by sending his very-real sympathy down the mind-to-mind link that had developed between him and his student over the years of friendship and training they'd shared.
Gohan nodded, but said nothing more.
It was three days after the funeral before Gohan would even get out of bed, and nearly a week later before he'd venture outside of the house. Everyone had tried to console him, but he couldn't be comforted. Nothing mattered anymore. It was like he was moving through a living dream—going through the motions of living, but not really realizing any of it. The entire world was a hazy blur that he couldn't make sense of in his mind. And for some reason he preferred it that way. It kept him from the harshness of reality, allowing him instead to linger within himself.
Two weeks after the funeral, when the real world was finally beginning to set back in, Gohan gathered himself together and went to his Goten's grave. They had buried Goten on top of a hill where he and his older brother had often gone to play or talk or train or whatever else they decided to do. It had never really mattered what they did because they were together.
The sun was warm against the teenager's back as he knelt before the small mound of dirt that covered his little brother's body. There were several bouquets of flowers decorating the site, placed there by the old group. Actually, a few of them had offered to come out here with him, but he'd refused. This was a pilgrimage he had to make by himself.
He suddenly wished it was the season for forget-me-nots, Goten's favorite flower. Goten had always loved forget-me-nots; every year, he would go out and pick bouquet upon bouquet of the tiny blue blossoms for his mother. It only seemed fitting that someone should give Goten some, but it just wasn't possible at this time of year.
They'd been keeping a sharp eye on him since the death, so this was the first chance Gohan had really had to be alone. But strangely, he couldn't even remotely begin to summon up tears.
Gohan didn't know how long he sat there for, but when reality clocked in again, the sun had moved a good distance across the sky. It was probably getting late. Steadying himself, he rose to his feet and turned to leave. "Goodbye, Goten. I hope you're happy somewhere."
The wind picked up out of nowhere and blew past Gohan. The breeze carried a sound on it.
Laughter. Two laughs. A man's and a child's.
Two very familiar laughs.
Gohan froze as the wind died down again, leaving the silence once again. For a very long moment, he didn't move, not sure what to think. Then, slowly, he turned back to his brother's resting place.
There, on top of the gravestone, was a sprig of tiny blue flowers. Gohan moved slowly back towards the tomb and picked up the miniature bouquet.
Fresh, as if they had just been picked.
Another long, silent moment passed while Gohan stared at the flowers in his hand. But…it's impossible…they don't grow at this time of year…how…
Then, ever so slightly, he smiled.
The breeze picked up again, bringing along a single voice that came into Gohan's mind and seemed to fade away like an echo, taking with it most of the mental and emotional pain he'd been subjecting himself to over the past couple of weeks.Don't forget me, big brother…
Don't worry,I won't forget, Gohan vowed, looking up at the sky.
I never could.