Fandom: Dragonball Z
Publish Date: 1/30/2003
Disclaimer: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, I do not own DBZ.
At the sound of the bell ringing, the twenty or so children all but flew out of the classroom into the hall, where they joined the veritable flood of elementary school kids. The hallway exploded with the sound of laughter and conversation.
Few noticed the one lone child walking slowly out of the classroom, and even fewer noticed that the child’s demeanor was far too unhappy for one who had just gotten out of school for a weekend. His eyes were downcast, and his chin quivered slightly. His steps were slow and dragging.
"Hey, Goten!" someone called, but the noise failed to penetrate the child’s gloomy countenance. Finally, the speaker ran up and punched him hard on the arm. "Are you in there?"
"Huh?" Goten lifted his head and blinked owlishly at the purple-haired boy who had mysteriously appeared next to him. "What did you say?"
Trunks sighed in exasperation at his best friend’s perceived thick-headedness. "What’s with you? It looked like the lights were on, but it didn’t look like anyone was home."
"Sorry," Goten replied dejectedly, letting his head and shoulders droop even more. With his gravity-defying hair and blue sweater, he looked like some kind of bizarre flower, one that was wilting beneath the threat of winter.
Goten’s unusually somber mood wasn’t lost on Trunks. "What’s wrong?"
"Nothing!" the dark-haired chibi shook his vehemently and took off running towards the door that led to the playground. "Come on! Let’s go to your house and have a snack!"
Trunks watched his friend run out the door, startled at the sudden change in Goten’s mood. Strange…but hey, that was Goten for you. "Yup. He’s okay." Shrugging it all off, he took off out the door and into the air, hot on Goten’s heels. The two chibis raced for Capsule Corporation.
Bulma watched the children devour their after-school snacks—chocolate chip cookies. She noticed something slightly out of the ordinary, though. Trunks was behaving normally enough (he’d gone through twenty-one cookies and six glasses of milk in under five minutes). Goten, on the other hand, was acting very strangely—he’d just barely started his third cookie, and was still on his first glass of milk. There was something dreadfully wrong with that picture, and her trained mother’s eye didn’t miss it.
When Trunks finally proclaimed himself done (in other words, when Bulma took the cookies away) and jumped down from his seat, Goten followed suit and also hopped down from his chair, leaving his sixth cookie on the table; he’d taken but a single bite out of the dessert.
"Trunks, why don’t you go see your father in the Gravity Room for a while," Bulma shooed her son out of the room, but stopped Goten from leaving. "I need to talk to Goten for a minute."
After minor protest, Trunks lost the argument, and was sent towards the Gravity Room. Goten was left with Bulma, who pulled him into a nearby living room. He was somewhat unwilling, and far less than cooperative, but eventually she won.
"All right, kiddo, what’s the problem?" Bulma asked amiably.
"Nothing," was the flat reply.
"You’re not fooling me."
"It’s fine. Just a little problem at school."
"What kind of problem?"
Goten sighed, apparently realizing that he wasn’t going to escape this room until he told her what had happened that day at school. "We got an assignment."
"Are you having problems with your homework?"
"Nope. It’s what the assignment is," the chibi looked miserable, a rare occurrence for this particular child. "We’re supposed to write a paper called ‘Why My Father’s the Best.’ It’s a contest that the whole school’s doing. The best ones get read at the big ‘sembly next week, when all the moms and dads are there to watch the classes do plays and songs and stuff. But…" Goten’s chin quivered. "…I don’t have a dad…"
"Oh, sweetie…" Bulma gathered Goten into her lap and rocked the sniffling chibi gently. "You have a dad. He’s just not around anymore. He had to go away."
"He’s dead," Goten said flatly. One lone tear finally escaped from his eye and inched its way down his cheek; he wiped it away with the back of his hand.
"Well, yes, he is dead," she admitted. "But you can still write about him."
"How can I write about a guy I never met?" Goten challenged.
"I’m sure Gohan would help you if you asked him," Bulma pointed out.
It was as if a light bulb clicked on over Goten’s head, spilling the light of brilliance down on him; the chibi’s face scrunched in thought. After a minute, he looked up at Bulma. "I think I have an idea…could you help me instead of Gohan?"
"If I can," she replied, relieved that Goten seemed to be feeling better. "What’s the plan?"
Since the door was open, Gohan stuck his head into Goten’s room and tapped on the wall next to the doorframe. "Whatcha doing, Squirt?"
"Nothing!" Goten jumped a mile, then slammed a book down on top of the papers that littered the top of his desk. "Just—sitting here!"
Gohan quirked a brow in obvious suspicion, but he did not press the matter any further. If there was some little thing that Goten absolutely needed to keep secret, then he wouldn’t prod. The kid deserved some privacy as much as the next person, didn’t he? Instead, the teenager simply said, "Well, stop sitting there and come on. It’s time for dinner."
"YAY!" Goten cheered, jumping out of the chair and running across the room. He jumped onto Gohan and clambered up his brother’s back to sit on his shoulders for their trip down to the kitchen.
At dinner, though, another aspect of Goten’s unusual behavior manifested itself. The meal, being ChiChi’s handiwork, was delicious, of course. And Goten was a Saiyan, the son of Goku, so traditionally he would dig in and not stop until someone risked losing a hand to pull the food away from him. But the chibi only ate three servings of each food before running back down the hall to his bedroom, where he closed the door behind him.
Gohan and ChiChi were left alone at the table. They were both startled when Goten had asked to be excused so soon, and they were both equally shocked when he headed back to his room instead of going outside for a while, as he usually did. The watched the chibi’s retreated back in surprise as he left, and when the sound of the door closing made its way to their ears, they turned to look at each other in confusion.
"Maybe he’s sick," Gohan suggested with a shrug. There had to be some explanation. After all, it was incredibly unlike Goten to not eat. Sure, three servings of every food on the table might have stuffed any normal person, but for Goten, it was near starvation.
After about thirty seconds of pounding on the door, it finally opened, and Vegeta glared down at him. "What do you want, brat?"
"Hiya, Vegeta!" Goten bubbled, completely oblivious to the Saiyan Prince’s attitude—just as his father had always been. "Is Bulma here?"
It was on the tip of the Prince’s tongue to say ‘no’ and slam the door in the far-too-cheerful chibi’s face, but the woman had magically appeared next to him as, he’d discovered, she was apt to do just when he was about to do something she would never approve of. Especially to the offspring of the third-class baka.
"Ready to go, kid?" she asked with a smile, obviously aware of Vegeta’s irritation, and really not caring one way or another.
"Uh-huh!" the chibi skipped inside, past the aggravated Vegeta, who stormed off towards the Gravity Room to train.
"Are we gonna finish today?" Goten asked, jumping up and down.
"We should," Bulma replied, amused at the child’s enthusiasm.
He took a seat beside Bulma at the kitchen table and began shuffling through a small stack of papers. "Is Trunks doing his on his dad?"
"No. He refuses to do the essay. Says his dad’s the greatest on the planet, and he doesn’t think he should have to justify it to anyone if they don’t already get it," she chuckled indulgently. "This really is a great essay, Goten. I bet you win that contest."
"That would be nice. I hope Mrs.…um, Mrs. Teacherlady likes it…" Goten looked down at the mess of papers on the table. "And I hope Gohan likes it too…"
It was reading time in Goten’s classroom, and the chibi was thoroughly engrossed in the story his teacher had given him to read. Around him, several of his classmates were goofing off, earning themselves sharp reprimands from the teacher. Goten just didn’t understand that. The stories were wonderful. It was amazing where a person could go with the right tale. Now he knew why Gohan liked to read so much. Thinking of Gohan brought an idea into his head. Maybe tonight, I can read a story to Gohan instead of him reading one to me! He’ll be really proud that I can read him a whole story!
The idea was very exciting to the chibi. His mind immediately went to work to try and decide which of these newfound tales of his would be used to entertain his brother that evening. So intense was his thought that he didn’t notice the teacher standing next to his desk with a smile on her face.
"Come with me for a minute, Goten," she said, then turned and walked to the back of the room before exiting through the door into the hall. Goten hesitated for a moment, then slowly got to his feet and followed her out. In the true manner of first-graders, most of the boys jeered and laughed at what they perceived to be the misfortune of their classmate, and called after him, asking what he’d done to get himself in trouble.
Goten went out into the hallway, where his teacher was standing with the school principal (and that made the chibi really nervous!), another teacher, and another student that Goten didn’t know.
"Am I in trouble?" Goten asked softly and somewhat fearfully. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Oh, no!" Mrs. Teacherlady (for the life of him, Goten still couldn’t remember her name!) laughed. "Actually, it’s quite the opposite!"
The principal then addressed both Goten and the other student, a girl who looked to be a year or so older than he was. "You two are the winners of last week’s essay contest. Both of you are going to read your papers at the parents’ assembly tomorrow."
The older girl smiled shyly and nodded, but Goten’s expression changed from confusion at his summons to the hallway to a look that was partially happy, partially surprised, and partially horrified.
The principal said a few more things, then left with the other teacher and student. As Goten’s own teacher was starting to head back into the classroom, Goten grabbed her hand and pulled gently so as not to pull her over. "Mrs. Teacherlady, I can’t read my paper at the ‘sembly!"
She looked startled, apparently taking no notice of the way he had addressed her. "Why not?"
"’Cause it’s not quite right!" the chibi protested. "And ‘cause Gohan’s gonna be there! He and Mommy are coming to the ‘sembly!"
"Sweetie, calm down," she shushed him gently in her most soothing voice. "Your paper was wonderful, and it was right. Just a little different. It’ll be fine."
Goten pounded on the door. It felt like he was doing that a lot lately. "Bulma!"
Trunks opened the door and gave his friend a measuring look. "Uh…are you sick or something?"
"Where’s your mom?" Goten asked in a panic, ignoring the jibe as he rushed past Trunks and into the Capsule Corporation entryway. "I need to talk to your mom!"
"What’s going on in here?" Bulma poked her head into the room; she smiled at the two children. "Stay out of trouble, you two—"
"Bulma, I won!" Goten yelled, running up and wrapping his arms around her waist. "I won! My paper won the contest!"
"That’s great, kiddo!" she gushed, but she was cut off when the chibi rushed on.
"No, it’s not great!" Goten wailed. "I can’t read it in front of all those people! And Gohan’s gonna be there! I don’t want him to hear it! He might think it’s bad!" He looked about a hair away from bursting into tears. "Would you come to the assembly so I have someone to look at if they make me read it?"
"I’m going to be there anyway," she replied calmly, ignoring the confused look her own son was giving her. "It is a parents’ meeting. I’ll be sitting with your mother."
Goten nodded reluctantly. "Okay…"
The school auditorium was full of people, mostly adults with younger children scattered her and there. A dull roar of conversation filled the room, punctuated by the occasional sound of a baby crying.
Goten peeked out from behind the heavy curtain that was draped in front of the stage. His eyes scanned the crowd until he found the small group of people he had been searching for. Gohan, his mother, Bulma, and Vegeta were all there, of course, though Goten didn’t know by what magic Bulma had gotten Vegeta to come. He was surprised, however, to see that a few more of the old gang had joined up for the occasion: Krillen, Eighteen, and Yamcha were present (unbeknownst to Goten, they had been invited by Bulma, though she hadn’t told them for what reason they were there).
A little less surprising was the fact that Videl was there as well, and from the look on both her face and his brother’s, she was teasing Gohan about something. Since her flying lessons, she’d become more and more a part of the Son family, and more a part of the old group as well. Not that it bothered Goten any. In fact, he had sort of adopted the teenage girl as his older sister. She was fun to have around, except for the fact that whenever she was around Gohan, his mother would always start squealing about grandchildren and stuff like that. Goten just didn’t get it. What he did get was that a whole bunch of his friends and family were out there, just for him.
At the moment, though, the large group of his friends was far less than comforting. Truth be told, it scared him almost to death. He wished that the room was void of people; then he would be able to read the paper just fine. There was nothing scary about reading an essay to an empty room, and Goten would do that quite happily.
His essay was clutched tightly in his white-knuckled fist. The words, typed in neat lines on one of Bulma’s computers, glared up at him, a silent mockery of his nervousness and his stupidity in writing the dumb thing in the first place.
The curtain was pulled open so suddenly that it made him jump; he watched as the principal stepped up to the microphone on the stage and began speaking. He thanked all the parents for coming, and talked for a few minutes about this and that. And then he explained the essay contest to the audience, and how each child had been given the assignment to write a paper entitled ‘Why My Father’s the Best.’
Out in the audience, Gohan felt stricken. "Oh, no…poor Goten…I wonder why he didn’t tell me about this…" A couple of seats down, Bulma smiled to herself, but said nothing.
The principal then announced a name, and a girl of about nine came out on the stage to read her winning essay. Still worrying about his little brother, Gohan tried very hard to focus on the story of the girl’s father and why she thought he was the best in the world.
Backstage, Goten was growing more and more nervous. He didn’t like being in front of big crowds all by himself! And as he listened to the girl’s essay about her father, he looked down at his own paper with a feeling very similar to embarrassment. Her essay was a million times better than his. No way he could read his paper now—everyone would laugh at him!
That panic gave way to decision, and he looked around frantically for an escape. His eyes fell on a door, and he made a break for it, crossing the tiny backstage space and pulling the door open—
—and running right into his teacher.
She looked down fondly at the child. "Where are you off to?"
"I’m leaving!" the chibi yelped; he tried to rush past the woman and escape the awful fate that was awaiting him on the stage, but she caught his wrist and pulled him back. He squirmed, though without using his full strength—he didn’t want to hurt her! But the teacher wouldn’t let him get away; she grabbed both of his arms and held firm.
"Goten!" she pleaded, but Goten was shaking his head feverishly. "Goten, sweetheart, why don’t you want to do this? Why are you so against it?"
The chibi looked at her for a minute, through wide, innocent eyes. "I can’t read it in front of all those people…and Gohan, too…" One slow, genuine tear slid down his face. "And that girl’s paper was a ton better than mine…" His eyes dropped. "I can’t. They’ll laugh at me. And what if Gohan doesn’t like it?" He suddenly looked panicked, and his wide eyes only made his frightened expression that much more childlike. It was a sight that would have broken harder hearts than that teacher’s.
"Sweetie, sweetie," she whispered soothingly, giving the child a hug. "You’ve told me a little bit about this brother of yours, and I had the pleasure of meeting him when he came in with your mom for your conferences." After wracking her brain a bit, she’d remembered Son Gohan accompanying his mother for almost all of Goten’s school functions. Though his father was gone, Goten certainly wasn’t lacking a male role model or a father figure. "And let me tell you something—if your brother is as great of a guy as you told me he was, then he’ll love what you wrote. Just go out there and read it to him. Nobody else."
"Are—are you sure they won’t laugh?" he asked suspiciously.
"Positive," she affirmed.
Goten squirmed a little more, then nodded slowly. "Okay…I’ll do it…for big brother…"
"All right!" she gave him one more squeeze, then took his hand, and they headed for the stage, where the girl was just finishing reading her paper. The sound of applause drifted into the backstage area, and a moment later, the girl’s proud father appeared on the stage to accept a plaque.
"They have another one waiting," the teacher whispered to Goten, who was shaking like a leaf in a windstorm. "Go out there and tell them who they need to give it to."
On stage, the principal was starting for the microphone, but Goten’s teacher waved him backstage. After a brief discussion, she went out on the stage in his stead, straight up to the microphone.
"The second winning essay was written by a child in my first grade class," she explained to the masses. "This is a little different from the rest of the papers we got, and let’s just say it was quite the eye-opener. He’s going to come out and read his paper now, but he’s a little nervous, and he’s very shy, so everybody be really nice, okay?"
There was a round of chuckles from the audience, who for the most part seemed to realize that she was saying that more for the benefit of one frightened little first grader standing backstage than for anyone else. Smiling, she strolled back into the wings.
A second later, a very nervous-looking child stepped out onto the stage, with a few pages clutched in his hands. He stared at the audience through wide, sable eyes. Finally, those eyes came to rest on the cluster of his friends and family—more specifically, on his older brother. It was obvious that Gohan had very nearly come out of his seat when he’d realized who the other winning essay was.
‘Read it for your brother,’ his teacher had said.
Swallowing hard, Goten walked up to the microphone and looked up at it. It was a very tall microphone, and Goten was a little short for his age. He looked at the audience, then turned his head towards the wings. "Mrs. Teacherlady! I can’t reach!"
The crowd collectively laughed as the teacher came out and dropped the mike stand until it was short enough for Goten to reach. Then she exited stage left and settled in to watch the show.
"um…hi…" Goten said in a shaky voice. Everyone was watching…just as he was about to run off the stage, he heard a soft whistle that only ears as sensitive as a Saiyan’s would have been able to pick up. He looked around for the origin of the sound—and finally realized that Bulma was trying to get his attention. She gave him an encouraging wink and smiled. "Um…first, I hafta thank Bulma, ‘cause she helped me with this, and she let me type it on one of her computers. Thanks, Bulma!"
Her smile grew a tiny bit bigger, and so did Goten’s confidence. Taking a deep breath, the chibi glanced down at his paper and began to read.
"I know this paper is supposed to be about my father. But I never met my dad. He died before I was born. So instead of a father, I had a father figure, and that’s who I’m going to write about instead. His name is Gohan, and he’s my big brother."
Out in the audience, several jaws dropped, one of them belonging to a certain teenage demi-Saiyan.
"For as long as I can remember, Gohan’s always been there. When I was a baby, Mom says that when he would pick me up, I always stopped crying. He was my first word, too!
Gohan took me exploring in the forest and mountains by our house. We checked out lots of scary caves, but it was okay because Gohan would protect me from the monsters. He taught me to fish in the lake in the woods. When I hurt my knee, Gohan would kiss it and make it all better, and then give me a piggy-back ride to make me feel happy again. He always won the tickling contests though. When I had scary nightmares, I crawled into bed with him so I wouldn’t wake up Mommy. And Gohan was the one who could scare away the monsters under my bed and in the closet and in the toilet so they wouldn’t eat me."
By now, the audience was tittering with laughter. Goten jumped mile at the sound and blinked a few times. He’d been so engrossed in reading the essay that he’d all but forgotten that they were there. A look at Bulma, who was giving him two thumbs up, renewed his confidence. He grinned and looked back down at the paper and started reading again.
Though Goten didn’t notice it because he was looking everywhere but at his brother, he didn’t see the indescribable expression on Gohan’s face. Nor did he see that Gohan’s eyes had taken on a very distant look and a very peculiar shimmer to them.
"When I got a little older, Gohan taught me martial arts, just like Daddy taught him when he was a kid, but he was never really hard on me. Sometimes he would let me win. Gohan’s really strong and really tough, and he’s really smart, so he can help me with my homework. He’s almost as smart as Bulma!"
The audience laughed again, and Bulma shot Gohan a triumphant glance; he tore his eyes away from the stage for the second it took to give her a wry look, then returned his sights to his brother.
"But most of all, Gohan never, ever lets me down. He answers all my questions if he can, no matter how silly they can get, and if he can’t, he usually tells me to go ask Mom, because she knows everything. Moms have that power, you know. Gohan will always read me a story or take me outside to play hide-and-seek or just let me sit on his lap while he does his homework. And he tells me stories about Dad whenever I ask. Some of them are really funny because he tells them to me with lots of funny faces and uses weird voices for the different people. Then he tucks me into bed and I go to sleep."
A collective ‘aww’ erupted from the crowd.
"I know a lot of kids who complain about their big brothers and big sisters, but I can’t say anything bad about my brother. He’s been my role model for my whole life. That’s why my big brother is the best in the world. I love you, Gohan, and thanks for everything."
Goten jumped again, this time at the thunder of applause. He looked around with wide-eyes for a minute, then turned his head to look backstage at his teacher. "Can I go off the stage now?"
"Just a minute," the principal strolled out and pulled the microphone back up to a normal adult height. "I was told that Gohan was going to be here tonight? Would he please come up here?"
Unnoticed by most was the fact that Goten’s face went about two shades lighter and swallowed hard at those words. He paled even more as he watched Gohan stand up and crawl over a few people to get out into the aisle. It didn’t take but a few seconds for the teenager to get up to the stage, where he happily accepted the plaque. Then he turned and knelt down to look the chibi in the eye.
Goten gulped again. "Did you…like it?" he asked nervously, as though afraid of the answer.
Gohan grinned; his eyes took on that odd glitter again. "It was wonderful. I’m so proud of you, squirt…" He seemed to lose his ability to speak at that moment.
A brilliant smile, as bright as day, crossed Goten’s face and he jumped at Gohan for the biggest hug the chibi could muster, not even noticing the fresh round of applause he was getting. He also failed to notice something damp on Gohan’s face.