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The Ninja's Guide to Surviving Summer Vacation

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New Yorkers, in general, are very blase when it comes to unusual occurrences. Mainly because anything considered “unusual” could fit neatly into three little boxes: Oh Great Another Publicity Stunt; That Asshole Needs To Stop Showing Off Their Element, We Get It, You Aren’t Special Dave; and, more often than not, I Can’t Really Explain It But It’s None Of My Business Anyways So I’m Going To Keep Walking And Hope I Can Get To My Yoga Class On Time For Once.
So a six foot tall man in a pressed black suit and sunglasses staring intently up at one of the windows of the apartment complex did not register as anything truly needing attention. A pink-tracksuit wearing woman with a blonde ponytail did not spare him a glance as she jogged around him on the sidewalk. If she had bothered to look at his face for two seconds, she would have gotten a deep-seated gut feeling that she’d definitely seen him before. And if she had looked for ten seconds, she’d recall seeing his likeness on a news site a few years back. And if she had stopped and thought about it for fifteen more seconds, she’d have won a large sum of reward money for turning in the FBI’s ninth most wanted criminal.
However, she was already late to yoga class. So those things did not happen.
The sun glinted of the man’s shades as he walked through the doors of said apartment building. The man, currently the ninth most wanted criminal in the States, known to his enemies (and friends, and, well, pretty much everyone) as Garmadon had come here for one purpose and one purpose only.
He reached the door at the end of the eighth floor. Deep red and nondescript, nothing made it stand out among the five other doors in the hallway. Garmadon fished out a piece of scrap paper from his pocket and double checked the address. Yep, this was the place.
He ripped up the paper and swallowed it, mostly just out of habit, before banging on the door.

x

“Feel the ground underneath your feet. You’re not feeling it, Kai!”
“Um, no offense, Sensei,” Kai said from where he was trying to balance on a pole. “But I don’t see how I can feel the ground if I’m not actually touching it.”
“That’s because you depend too much on what you feel with your body. Feel it with your soul.”
“Right. Soul.” He muttered, looking down.
“It’s easy once you get the hang of it,” Nya said, having stopped wobbling minutes ago.
“Yeah, Kai, just feel it in your soul. You know, the one next to your spleen.” Jay added helpfully. Kai stuck his tongue out at him. The freckle-faced teen reciprocated the motion.
“Try leaning to the left a bit,” Zane suggested in a genuine (not sarcastic) helpful way. Kai tried it.
“Whoa!”
Despite his efforts, he was the first to fall. One by one, the others followed, until only Zane and Cole were left. They others watched intently, like it was some intense Olympic sport, gasping when one of the poles wobbled even the slightest bit.
“Lloyd.” The blond teen looked up as the hand of his uncle-slash-martial arts teacher rested on his shoulder. “Come with me.”
He wanted to protest, because holy heck this competition was just starting to get good and he wanted to be there when Zane won (because he’d totally win. Not because Cole wasn’t any good, because he was, there was just something about the former that made him almost inhumanly perfect). Still, he agreed politely and followed Wu out of the room.
His uncle’s dojo was, undoubtedly, the coolest place in the city. A two story building situated just outside Prospect Park, it boasted one of the best martial arts programs in the state (as well as doubling as a really good tea shop, because profit had to be made somewhere). And part of it, Lloyd suspected, came from the acceptance of students using their elements in class.
They passed the junior class, where Dareth was attempting to get a bunch of riled-up elementary schoolers to sit still and listen to his totally-awesome, not-at-all-fake hero story. Lloyd bit his lip to suppress a giggle when he heard the teacher snap, “Stop levitating the prize box, none of you are getting treats if you can’t-”
Yeah.
He followed his uncle into his private office, taking a seat on one of the couches. Wu took the seat opposite him, pouring a cup of tea and handing it to him.
“Thanks.” Lloyd took a small sip to be polite and tried not to grimace.
“Too strong?”
“It’s a little...bitter.” he confessed.
Wu chuckled. “I’ll have Mystaké take another look at it. It’s supposed to be her new blend, nutmeg and cinnamon, for winter.”
Well, that explained the spiciness. Still, “Winter? We just got out for the summer.”
“Which gives us plenty of time to perfect the blend, doesn’t it?” Wu winked, pouring his own cup and downing it. “Wow, that is bad.”
Lloyd tapped his fingers nervously. “Um, did you call me here for a reason?”
Wu stood up and moved over to the sink. “Can’t I just have a chat with my favorite nephew?”
“I doubt it.” Lloyd said as he watched his uncle fill up two glasses with water.
“I suppose not,” Wu sighed. There was a faraway look in his eyes, some feeling Lloyd couldn’t place. Then he snapped out of it and handed him the water to wash away the aftertaste of the failed nutmeg-and-cinnamon blend winter tea before sitting back down.
Lloyd could feel his uncle staring at him with the eyes of a hawk. A peregrine hawk, ready to dive and attack at a moment’s notice. He swallowed.
Which was a genius idea, considering he already had water in his mouth and now half of it was going down his windpipe.
“Destiny-”
Lloyd started choking.
Wu took the glass from him as he coughed into his elbow. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” he gasped. “Sorry. You were saying something about destiny?”
“Yes, ‘something’.” He placed the glass gently on the table and changed direction. “You’re growing up so quickly, nephew. It seems as if just yesterday you were entering the ninth rank of ninjutsu, and now you’re about to enter high school.”
Lloyd really didn’t need the reminder. Middle school had been bad enough, but at least last year he was in the upper grade and the underclassmen didn’t dare pick on him. Now in two and a half months, he was going to be thrown to the wolves.
“It’s just high school,” he murmured, mostly just to reassure himself.
“You’re right. No need to be worried about that, nephew.” Wu pressed a panel on the side of the table, revealing a hidden compartment. Out of this compartment, he took a small metal briefcase, secured by the numerical padlock.
Lloyd knew what was in the safe: the most important, well-guarded secret in the world (well, after Area 51. There’s definitely something shady going on in there). Known only to him and his two family members and a few select government officials. The Scroll of Destiny, a prophecy written thousands of years ago that foretold the birth of someone with powerful elemental magic, an element only described as “green”.
All his school life, Lloyd had been bullied for having no elemental power. But he did. It was just a secret, for his own safety.
Now, if only he could figure out exactly what the green elemental power was supposed to be.

Chapter Text

A very long time ago, nothing mattered.

Most of this had to do with the fact that matter, which makes up basically everything in the universe, didn’t even exist yet. The cosmos was completely void.

Then one day, light came from an unexpected source: the Sun. (It was unexpected because it hadn’t been there previously.) Of course it didn’t just appear; someone had to put it there and that someone was a nameless entity from the next universe over who was very tired of watching his parents fighting. His parents were a dragon and an oni, and sometimes their fights got a little messy. Like, burn a village to the ground messy. Could one blame him for wanting an escape?

He loved the universe he created so, so much. The worlds were so quiet and peaceful - except for the red spot on Jupiter, and the white spots on Saturn, and really he should have paid more attention in atmospheric control class but he thought he did a pretty top-notch job. But his favorite planet was the third one. He planted seeds in the first one and it melted before touching the ground. He tried planting in the ninth one, but the ground was too frozen to do any tilling and the seeds just froze over as well. But in the third one the seeds didn’t just grow, they flourished, with trees towering high and valleys of flowers between every mountain. He found himself escaping to this place more and more.

He created people out of the mud, just because he was bored one day and thought it might be nice to have somebody to talk to. The first batch came out all wonky- their limbs too long, teeth too sharp, but they were good to have around until the next rainstorm melted them off. The second batch was a lot more improved.

These people didn’t dissolve with water, and they were a lot smarter, smart enough to ask him questions about things. But they were somehow lacking as well. If he was cold, he could just snap and a fire would be blazing. If he was hungry, he could just grow a fruit tree and eat some pomegranates. If the people were cold, they had to find a certain type of rock and hit it against another type of rock. And if they wanted to eat a pomegranate, they’d have to plant a pomegranate tree a year ago. It was kind of ridiculous. And they were ridiculous about it, outright refusing his help at times! Sure, don’t eat the food I made for you when all your crops froze over. See, now you’re dead ‘cause you didn’t eat. What did you expect?

(He couldn’t be faulted for being petty, he was still just a teenager at that time.)

The humans grew in population. They emigrated to new lands and the lands broke apart to separate them across the sea; and they developed, in culture, in linguistics, in spirituality. They learned how to support themselves, easier ways to make fire, and ways to store food so a sudden famine didn’t equal impending doom. And eventually, the entity- at just a little over four billion years later- had to return to his own universe.

Before parting, he promised humanity that he’d leave them with a gift. For a while, there was a lot of chatter about what miraculous present they’d get. A mirror that’d let you see faraway people? A cart that pulled itself?

To China, the answer came a day later. A baby girl, born to peasant farmers, which was completely unremarkable except for one detail: she glowed.

News traveled fast as other babies were born with strange features. While some parents paraded their infant around, others grew fearful of demons and threw their children down wells.

The glowing girl came to be revered as a deity and was offered a seat in the emperor’s court at four years old. Which was kind of a poor decision on the adult’s part, since she had the mentality of any other four year old and was more keen on drawing horses than listening to old people talk about tax reform. She did have one remarkable thing happen to her, on her thirteenth birthday. She passed out in the middle of the palace halls and woke up a few minutes later, acting strange. REALLY strange. According to historical records, every part of her glowed, including her eyes, and she moved as if she was a limp marionette being pulled by strings. A lot of people assumed she had been possessed, and a lot of people were right. She ran to the nearest wall and started writing on it, crossing some words out and stopping so most of the sentences were fragmented. It took only five minutes before she collapsed, but she managed to write out the prophecy of the most powerful element, the element of green.

Archaeologists weren’t really sure what happened to her, since accounts conflicted so wildly with so little proof of each one. Some said she died immediately afterward, since no human could possibly survive being possessed by a god. Some said the experience drove her mad. A few wild theories claimed she was assassinated by royals who feared her power. The optimistic believed she just moved back to the countryside and lived her remaining days as a quiet, unassuming sheep herder.

5000 years passed, which was more than enough time for magical superpowers to go from being “unique” and “interesting” to “normal, meh”. On the plus side, nobody threw their babies down wells anymore.

What was interesting, however-

“I’m sorry, I’m not detecting any traces of spiritual energy.”

Koko’s blood ran cold. “It’s still too early to tell, isn’t it?”

“In the second trimester?” The technician said dubiously, moving around the sonographic and the radiographic and the psychivisional machinery. “I’m sorry.”

Koko payed for the examination and went out to her car. The April wind nipped at her, but she didn’t bother to pull her coat tighter.

She unlocked her car and sat in it, not bothering to start it. Powerless, powerless, the taunt echoed in her mind. She gripped the steering wheel so hard her knuckles turned white. It was supposed to be a rare condition - rare enough that it always happened to someone else’s cousin’s dogsitter’s neighbor. Not to her child.

She started driving. She couldn’t go home yet, she couldn’t walk through the doors and face him with the news. So she drove around the city on autopilot, circling blocks and switching lanes mindlessly.

She stopped in a strip mall parking lot and looked up. The storefronts were covered in SALE! 20% OFF! and NOW LEASING! posters. There was a nail salon, a farmer’s market, a bargain store, a warehouse, and a liquor store.

A thought flashed through Koko’s mind for the briefest of milliseconds that was so awful and horrifying she immediately burst into tears.

She sobbed, as all the anger and fear and the guilt came crashing down on her. She couldn’t be alone now. The tears were blurring her vision, but she managed to get out her phone and dial his number.

He came a few minutes later, knocking at the window without a vehicle in sight. Koko unlocked the door and he slid into the passenger seat, looking worried.

“What’s wrong?”

Koko pushed the armrests up and moved closer, resting her head on his shoulders. Garmadon stroked her hair.

She broke the silence after a few minutes. “I’m a horrible person.”

“Morality is relative,” Garmadon said automatically, before backtracking. “Wait. Is this about the baby?”

“I thought…” a lump formed in her throat. “The baby’s not going to have any elemental powers.”

“Oh. Okay.”

How could he be so casual about this? Koko clenched her fist.

“It’s my fault, isn’t it? I knew I shouldn’t have taken that assignment in Beirut.”

“Hey,” Garmadon objected, “you didn’t know back then.”

“I was throwing up every morning!”

“And you just got out of the Helsinki fish poisoning mission! We all just assumed it was an aftereffect of the chemicals!”

“Oh my god-” she paled, “I exposed my unborn child to poisonous chemicals.”

Garmadon was silent for a minute. “There’s no scientific link to powerless people and being exposed to dangerous substances as a fetus.”

“There’s no link between powerless children and anything,” Koko sighed. Which was, unfortunately, true.

“Don’t worry.” Garmadon squeezed her hand. “You’re not alone, remember? We have each other. Till death do us part, and all that crap.”

“Don’t ruin the wedding vows,” she laughed despite herself. They hadn’t even done a real wedding, just found a back-alley guy who claimed to be an officiator (as well as an extraterrestrial expert, but that was another story). Garmadon payed the man a lot of money to just stand next to them and say a few pretty words about true love in a secluded alley. And then payed him extra to leave said alley so he and his “wife” (Koko wasn’t really sure if it was actually legal, but neither were half the things they did so...) could have a proper yay-we-just-got-married-makeout-session.

“Did you pick out a name yet?”

“I’m still thinking,” she murmured.

“I’ve got it. Montgomery.”

“I’ll...consider it.” Koko said reluctantly.

Lloyd Montgomery Garmadon was born on a sunny September day, just as the leaves were starting to turn red.

Garmadon was gone.

Koko hugged the infant to her chest and wow is this what happiness feels like? How can I love someone so quickly? Lloyd hadn’t even done anything except cry when the midwife gave him a shot, and she was already ready to stab anyone who would hurt him.

He yawned and opened his eyes, which were such a lovely shade of brown. Which was to be genetically expected, since his father was Chinese and Koko herself was half-Japanese. His hair was blond, too, which did defy the laws of genetics a little but Koko didn’t bother about it too much. Her own hair was orange, after all.

Five years ago, she would have scoffed at the idea of leading such a boring, domestic life. Now between daycare and doctors and dentists and working and going to college and trips to parks and in general just trying to keep Lloyd from putting stuff in his mouth, she wanted to punch her old self for ever thinking this would be boring.

Things got more difficult as Lloyd grew older. He stopped trying to scrape bubblegum off the subway, which Koko was eternally grateful, but now at four years old he was starting to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. Some were easy to answer and Koko was happy that her child had such a bright, inquisitive mind. The sky is blue because of the way sunlight refracts, rain comes from water droplets condensing in clouds, I don’t know why pigeons like bread, why don’t we go to the library tomorrow and find out? Then there were the ones about his father. Where was he? What was he doing? Did he not like them? Gracie’s dad didn’t like her, that’s why her mom left him. Did the same thing happen with his parents? Was his dad dead?

Koko wasn’t sure how to answer. She was quick to reassure him that his father was very much alive, and did love them, he just had to be away right now.

“Why?”

Koko couldn’t really explain the concept of crime syndicates to someone still learning very basic concepts of right and wrong, so she just ruffled his hair and told him highly sanitized stories of the missions they would go on. The bloodshed was always lightened, the targets were overexaggerated into cartoon villains and she might have stolen some plot elements from James Bond movies to make the stories more entertaining, but Lloyd adored them.

Then there were those questions.

“Why don’t I have powers?” he asked one day as they were making dinner. Lloyd was setting out the napkins and forks while Koko was dishing up the macaroni.

“I...don’t know.” She hesitated.

“Oh.” he frowned. “Stacy from school says people who don’t have powers are broken.”

“Well, Stacy-from-school is an idiot who doesn’t know anything.” she said sharply.

Lloyd gave her a perplexed look. “But everyone else said-”

“Look.” she grabbed his shoulders firmly, kneeling down to eye level. “There’s nothing wrong with you, okay? Don’t ever think you’re not as fantastic as anyone else, just because you can’t levitate or read minds. And if anyone makes you think that, you come to me or a teacher. Got it?”

Lloyd nodded, eyes wide. Koko hugged him. In the crook of her neck, he murmured, “you shouldn’t call people idiots. Mr. Daniels says that’s not nice.”

“Right,” she laughed and ruffled his hair. “I don’t want to be a bad influence on you!”

Still, he kept coming home with bruises that he insisted were from playing a little too rough. Not to mention putting himself in precarious situations to see if he could “unlock” his power. Koko kind of understood where he was coming from - before psychivisional machines were invented that read a person’s spiritual energy, there had been cases of people thought to be powerless discovering their power in later life. The most famous case she remembered reading about in high school was about Augustine Smith from the 1880s. He had spent his whole life thinking he didn’t have powers, then when he went for gallbladder surgery at age 60 the doctor who cut him up realized that all of his internal organs were made out of candy.

(The case became famous mostly because the doctor proceeded to eat said candy.)

Koko tried to dissuade him gently, even showed him the readings, but denial was a hell of a drug. He jumped off the balcony and broke his arm, tried to breathe underwater, and spent a good portion of one afternoon keeping all the curtains drawn to see if he could unlock some sort of night vision.

Needless to say, Koko got sick of this quickly.

The answer came from an unexpected source: a spam e-mail at five in the morning. She hadn’t even meant to click on it, she was going for the one right above it which said if she got the job at this history museum she interviewed for but her fingers slipped.

The flyer caught her eye mainly because it was really bad. Like, comic sans bad. But the first few lines intrigued her: Sensei Wu’s dojo and tea shop!! Martial arts classes for all ages and skill levels!!! Delicious tea made with natural ingredients!!!!

Martial arts? Now there was an idea. Lloyd was pretty athletic, he’d probably enjoy it. And it could be a good way of building self-defense.

After a quick google search to confirm that the place was legitimate (it was, and to her pleasure it had lots of glowing reviews) she decided to take Lloyd and check it out that afternoon.

The building was two stories tall, with the brown brick of city buildings mixed with the gabled roofs of traditional Chinese architecture. The styles did not mix well at all.

Koko walked through the door, Lloyd trailing shyly behind her. There were few people in the lobby, mostly just parents reading magazines. A teenager sat on a stool behind the front desk.

“Hello,” Koko marched up to him. “Is this where I find information?”

The teenager blinked, slowly. “D’ya wanna sign up for a class?”

“No- for my kid.” She pushed Lloyd out from behind her. He peeked over the countertop.

“Ri-i-ight.” he drawled, typing something into a computer. “How old is he?”

“Five.”

“And a half!”

“Five and a half.”

“Okay. He can do the junior beginner’s class. That’s every Tuesday and Friday, four to five-thirty. Classes are fifteen bucks, but each fifty dollars paid gets you a five dollar gift card to the tea store.”

“Today’s Tuesday,” Koko looked at the clock. 5:20. “The class is just finishing up, right? Can we go see it?”

“Sure.” he shrugged before picking up the phone. “Ronin- I need you to cover the front desk for a few. Yeah, it’s an emergency. No, I won’t pay you back. It’s your job.”

He stood up. “It’s just down this hall.”

He opened the doors to a gym that was small, but spacious enough to accomodate a good amount of kids. The floor was covered in mats and although there didn’t seem to be a lesson going on, all the kids were behaving well.

“Yo, Sensei!” the teen waved over an old man, who was in the middle of conversation with two other children.

“Dareth,” the man sighed, before turning to Lloyd and Koko. “You must be new. Are you interested in joining our class, young man?”

“Um…” Lloyd looked at the ground. Koko squeezed his hand encouragingly.

He nodded quickly.

“I’d be glad to have you in class.” the old man smiled encouragingly. “You can call me Sensei Wu.”

“Misako Garmadon.” Koko held her hand out. Wu shook it, but not before a flash of recognition crossed his face.

“I’m sorry, did you say Garmadon?”

“Well….” she wasn’t quite sure how to answer that. Not many civilians actually knew about Garmadon, and she wanted to distance herself as much as possible from her old family, which was why she had kept his name after the separation.

“Did you know my brother?”

“I might...sorry, did you say brother?”

“What?” Lloyd said loudly, making both adults look at him. Koko squeezed his shoulder.

“Sweetie, why don’t you go find a friend to play with?”

The five year old huffed, but he knew when he wasn’t wanted. Koko watched him pursue the kids Wu had been talking with earlier - a boy with a band-aid across his cheek, and a girl with dark hair in a short bob.

She turned back to Wu. “I didn’t know Garmadon had a brother.” The secret should have hurt her, but then again, she didn’t tell him about her family, so she supposed it was fair. “Do you keep in touch?”

“No, we aren’t on speaking terms.” He stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Are you friends?”

“Exes,” she shrugged, leaving the answer as simple as possible. “Amicably, though. We just had...clashing parenting styles.”

“I see.” Wu looked over at Lloyd.

Koko quickly changed the subject. “What style of martial arts do you teach here?”

“Oh, we draw upon all kinds of sources. Karate, kung fu, taekwondo, we dabble in eclecticism here.”

“I see.”

“I do teach spinjitzu, as well.”

“Really?” Koko blinked. Her martial arts knowledge may have been more kinesthetic than textbook, but even she knew that “the craft’s been lost for ages, how can you be sure?”

“It’s not lost! At least, not anymore. I’ve dedicated my entire life to finding and interpreting all of the old spinjitzu scrolls.”

“You found all of them?”

“I’ve found most of them.” he admitted. “Unfortunately, this place keeps me busy, so I haven’t been able to go to Japan in a while.”

Dareth walked by with a bag of wooden swords slung across his shoulder. “It’s always crazy busy around here! But, if you really wanna go, Sensei, just leave me in charge.”

“I’d rather not come back to a pile of ashes.” Wu muttered under his breath.

“But you’re just a teenager,” Koko pointed out.

“I’m not a teenager. I’m nineteen.”

“Exactly.”

Dareth opened his mouth to object, but another kid snuck up and tried to pull a sword out so he was distracted.

“He seems nice,” Koko commented as the teen ran after a laughing, sword-swinging elementary schooler.

Wu pinched the bridge of his nose. “He’s going to be the death of me.” But with an affectionate tone, he added, “He’s good to have around, though. Him and Ronin.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s the guy he was talking to earlier.”

“Let me guess, trying to take another break.”

Koko shrugged.

“I’ll have to talk to him,” Wu sighed. “But enough about that. I’m curious, what’s your power?”

“Telekinesis. It only works on certain metals, though.” To demonstrate, she took off her bracelet and made it float in midair. A few turns, then she held out her wrist and telepathically clasped it back on. “How about you?”

“Creation.” Wu took a rubber band out of his pocket. The elastic melted and distorted itself until he was holding a small bouncy ball in his hand.

“Impressive.”

“It’s very limited.” he said humbly. “What about Lloyd? Between Garmadon’s power and yours, the boy must have something interesting.”

“He...Lloyd doesn’t have any powers.”

“Oh. Well, that won’t be a problem here!”

That was it. No how terrible , or I’m so sorry for you , or I’ll pray for you . Just face-value acceptance. Koko liked him already.

Their attention was quickly caught by the trio, the older boy jumping up and down with his dark hair on fire until the girl dumped a bunch of water on his head.

“Nyaaa!” He stopped and wailed, “You got me all wet!”

“Don’t be such a baby,” the girl - Nya- sniffed, crossing her arms. Koko went over to the kids, ready to Adult(™) the situation out.

“What’s going on over here?” She knelt down to make herself less threatening.

“Who are you?” The other boy crossed his arms suspiciously.

“That’s my mom!” Lloyd said quickly, his eyes cutting worriedly between them.

“We were just playing, mommy, Kai didn’t mean to set his hair on fire!”

“Yeah.” Kai said defensively, toeing the ground nervously.

“What grade are you in, Kai?”

“Third grade.” He said quietly.

“I’m in first grade!” Nya added. “But I’m a lot smarter than my brother.”

“No you’re not!”

“Yes I am!”

“I’m doing harder maths than you!”

“My teacher lets me do advanced work!”

Lloyd looked up at his mother seriously. “We can go now.”

“Wait!” he was suddenly squished into a hug, by two siblings who seemed determined to get him to themselves.

“Bye, Lloyd!” Kai said. “You’re going to come back, right?”

“Idiot, why would he know?”

“He’ll start classes this Friday,” Koko said, feeling like the news would cause an avalanche. She wasn’t wrong.

When she finally - finally - managed to drag her son away from the clutches of the duo, it was already dark outside.

Lloyd loved going to the dojo, at least enough to put Koko’s mind at ease. While he practice-fought alongside his new self-proclaimed best friends, she could focus on her new job as assistant bookkeeper to the Museum of Society and History. (or, as everyone else called it, the MOSH).

Life settled down, especially as Lloyd grew older. Or at least old enough to understand that jumping off balconies had consequences and death was something to be respectably concerned about. There hadn’t been any special significance about the day it happened. Koko had looked up horoscopes and astrological charts, but at most she could just guess that the universe had just decided to play an arbitrary, deeply cruel prank on them that Saturday morning.

It was early morning, Lloyd still in his pajamas with the little rockets on them, eating cereal and watching the soulless cash-grab that was The New Animated Adventures of Fritz Donnegan . She started to chide him about getting crumbs on the sofa, but he turned and-

Wait, weren’t his eyes brown?

What a stupid question. A mother should know what her own son of seven years’ eye color is. But despite her memories, she couldn’t deny that the child in front of her had irises as green as spring leaves.

She froze as a cold shiver ran down her spine.

Lloyd knit his eyebrows together. “Mom? What’s wrong?”

“Get dressed,” she managed, her voice coming out strangled. “We’re going to the psychiatrist.”

“Why?”

“Just...do it.”

No one liked going to the doctor, especially on such short notice, so Lloyd was very cranky as they walked into the psychiatric office. Fortunately the day wasn’t very busy, so they only had to wait an hour before going back.

“A walk-in screening test?” The psychiatrist looked at her pages in disbelief. “That’s a little unusual.”

Lloyd was sitting on a chair behind a glass partition, kicking his legs and crossing his arms, not looking at all pleased to have wires taped to his person in various positions.

“It’s probably nothing,” Koko said.

“Okay, well…” the psychiatrist punched a few numbers into the computer. Then she pushed a button to turn on the mic. “I’m increasing the electricity now, sweetie, so you might feel a bit tingly.”

Koko tried to give him an encouraging smile. He did not return it.

The computer - just like every past psychiatric screening - was silent. Lloyd scratched at his arm.

“Please don’t move.”

Koko sighed. Maybe she had been wrong, this had just been a fluke, or a freak misunderstanding, or she was hallucinating. Maybe she needed to see a doctor.

“Ma’am? You might want to look at this.”

The readings were going wild, the once-flat lines shooting up and down in rapid succession.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before.” The machine started sparking, and the psychiatrist quickly typed in some things.

“Take the wires off!” She said over the microphone, perhaps a bit hastily. Lloyd did.

A single word blinked across the monitor - INCONCLUSIVE - and then the computer died.

For a few seconds, nobody moved.

Lloyd pushed open the door dividing the rooms. “Are we done here?”

“This is…” the doctor touched the computer gingerly. “Incredible. It has to be…”

“We’re done here,” Koko interrupted.

“No! I mean, you can’t go yet. I need to run more tests. If he’s-”

“He isn’t.” She said tightly. The gnawing fear that had started that morning had only gotten worse.

“What’s going on?” Lloyd demanded.

“Nothing.”

“Really? Because I saw you guys freaking out from over there, and it didn’t look like nothing.”

Sheesh, when did nine year olds get so much attitude?

“Try it again.” she insisted.

The psychiatrist hesitated. “Well, I would but...the computer’s completely fried.”

“Then we’ll go to another office.” Obviously this was a fluke. Their equipment was outdated, and faulty, and there was no way her baby was-

“You say this is your fifth screening today?”

“I…” Koko wrang her hands nervously. Beside her, Lloyd was kicking his feet in an office chair.

“And they all had the same results, right?”

“Well...yes.” Five other machines broken. She internally winced at the thought of paying for them.

“And is there a particular reason you ordered them?”

“His eyes.” she murmured

“Excuse me?”

“Look at them.”

He squinted. “Yes- I see them.”

Lloyd blinked. “What about my eyes?”

“Up until yesterday, they were brown. Now they’re green.”

There was a heavy silence.

“I’m sorry- my eyes are what now?”

The doctor passed him a mirror. Koko was silent, kneading the hem of her t-shirt. She had never been very religious (a fact that know struck her as completely ironic) but now she was wondering which spirit she ought to make an offering to.

“So,” Lloyd tapped his fingers after a few minutes of silence. “This means I’m the green ninja, right?”

“I suppose it does.” the doctor smiled.

“Cool.” he glanced over at Koko, who was still almost frozen, pale and fearful. “Does this mean we can go home now?”

It didn’t. Apparently there were rules that had to be followed when finding the subject of the most important prophecy, rules that involved calling national security and having them fly from DC to take pictures and fingerprints and ask lots of questions. Koko snapped out of her trance as a tall man in dark sunglasses asked Lloyd if he’d ever taken any sort of medication without a prescription.

“I took a cough drop last week. Does that count?”

“Hmm.” The agent wrote something down, his face remaining coldly neutral.

She tensed. Government agents never meant anything good. Standing up quickly, Koko grabbed Lloyd’s wrist and announced, “We’re leaving now.”

“I don’t think-”

“But Mom-”

“That’s enough. You have the information you came for. Now go back to your agency and don’t show up again.” She leveled a glare that could have melted an iceberg. One of the agents gulped.

That was one problem taken care of. Now for the other.

“Lloyd,” she said once they were back at home and after she’d checked to make sure nobody had snuck hidden cameras nearby. “I don’t want you telling anyone you’re the green ninja, okay?”

“What?” He looked disappointed. “Can’t I just tell my friends?”

“No.”

“They won’t tell anyone, I promise!”

“Absolutely not.” She knelt down and grasped his shoulders, holding him in place so she could look directly at him. “Look, baby, if you tell anyone- even one person- people will find out, and they will come for you, and they will kill you.”

His eyes widened. “I can fight them, can’t I?”

“No, you can’t. These aren’t the dopeheads on your Fritz Donnegan cartoons. They’re clever and strong and they’ll tear you limb from limb before you can cry for help. So if you don’t want that to happen, promise me you’ll never tell anybody.”

Lloyd swallowed and nodded. “I promise.”

“Good.” she hugged him.

“I don’t even know what it’s supposed to be,” he whined against her shoulder. Koko sighed.

“Okay- I’ll let you talk to Uncle Wu about it. He’s into that mystical stuff, he’d probably be able to help you out more than I could. But after that, absolutely no one.”

“Not a soul.” Lloyd broke away.

Keeping a secret that big wasn’t as hard as Lloyd expected. Sure, it got difficult when the girls and boys in his class started talking about each other like they were alien species sent to contact the other in a diplomatic mission that involved a lot of “going out” (to where was anyone’s guess) and “kissing” (or claiming to have kissed someone, anyway). He tried to stay as far away from that as possible, but it still stung when they found the girls’ list ranking all the boys in fourth grade and he was listed as second to last. Out of 200. Or when a new kid at the dojo asked him what his powers were after showing off some really cool-looking lightning tricks and he just shrugged with a half-smile. Those were the times when he felt like he would literally explode, the secret screaming to be let out. But if he did end up telling someone, it’d probably end up something like this:

“I’m not actually powerless, I’m the green ninja.”

“Really? Prove it, then.”

“Um, I can’t really…”

“That’s what I thought.”

So, there was no way to tell anyone he actually had some mysterious power. And he did spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the green power was supposed to be. Most of it was staring at plants, because hello, plants were green, that must have something to do with his powers, right? The logic was sound. And Uncle Wu tried to help out, too, as much as he could, although that mostly meant meditating. Lots of meditating.

He was sick of meditating, but he kept at it, because maybe- just maybe, if he concentrated really, really hard- he’d start to glow, or see the future, or a tree would just sprout up next to him.

And then there was his dad. As Lloyd got older, he started to understand that the stories his mom made up were just that: stories. (Especially after he saw Dr. No and From Russia With Love .) His dad couldn’t be a super-cool secret agent, because unfortunately those only existed in fiction. Real life just had deadbeats who left their wives even though said wife insisted that, “He does love us, he just can’t be with us right now. I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

“Did he run off with someone else?” Lloyd crossed his arms in annoyance. “Or what? Why can’t you just tell me?”

Koko pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.

He eventually got his answer, in a place nobody would expect: school. It was the first day of middle school, third period. History. The teacher was taking roll for the first day of class.

“Lloyd...Garmadon?” He looked up. “Like the Sons of Garmadon?”

“Her- what?”

“The Sons of Garmadon,” the teacher repeated, already bringing up an article about them on the projector. He continued excitedly. “They’re a transnational organized crime syndicate that started about thirty years ago when the Serpentine gang merged with the Skeletons, apparently under the rule of this Garmadon. It’s really fascinating, if any of you have an interest in criminology I’d definitely recommend you to check this out. Not a lot is known about them currently but...”

Stacey looked over at Lloyd. With the advent of middle school, she’d left behind her twintails and was wearing her hair flat-ironed straight. “Didn’t you use to talk about your dad being a secret agent?”

“Shut up,” he grumbled. Could the teacher just stop and get on with actually teaching them history? Preferably ancient, absolutely-no-bearing-on-one’s-personal-life history.

She shrugged and went back to her phone.

Lloyd hated to admit it, but his surname wasn’t exactly common, and it actually did line up with some of the stuff his mom told him.

He got out his phone on the bus and googled “sons of garmadon”. The first thing that popped up was a news article from last week that mentioned they might be responsible for some recent criminal activity in London. Then there was the Wikipedia article that was almost too succinct, with a red notice on the top that said this page is under strict lockdown . The third link led to a site with information about multiple criminals and crime organizations, both past and present. Lloyd started reading the article about the Sons of Garmadon.

There was the stuff his teacher said, about them being merged from two groups (and several smaller ones, apparently) thirty years back. And some more information, about how they were organized, along with a list of crimes they were confirmed and suspected to have committed. Drug trafficking, murders of politicians and actors, poisoning a fishery in Finland….Lloyd scrolled down. He didn’t feel fascinated, he felt sick.

The bus rolled to a stop at the corner to Stuyvesant. Lloyd grabbed his backpack and quickly exited, hurrying down the street to his apartment.

His mom was doing laundry when he walked in, transferring clothes from the washer and into the dryer.

“How was school, sweetie?”

“Fine.” Lloyd nudged off his shoes and dropped his backpack on the floor.

“Really? Just ‘fine’?” Koko tossed a lint sheet in the dryer and started it. The hum of the machine filled the room until she closed the closet doors. She met Lloyd’s eyes and smiled.

His insides twisted.

“Why don’t we have some cookies and you can tell me everything that happened today.”

“You made cookies?” Lloyd made his way over to the kitchen.

“My good friends at Nabisco made cookies.” She dropped a box of Oreo’s onto the table, then sat down across from Lloyd. “So tell me. What’s up?”

Lloyd bit into the Oreo. “Um…my teacher told me. About the Sons of Garmadon.”

He looked at his mother. She was pale, frozen in place with a cookie in hand, eyes wide.

“You know, don’t you.” He said flatly.

“I…” Koko set the cookie down. “I was going to tell you, I just didn’t know how….”

“Tell me what? That my dad’s a murderer?” This didn’t make sense. His mom was an accountant who watched HGTV and crocheted blankets for hospital babies during winter, she didn’t have some crazy mysterious backstory!

Did he even know his mom?

“You have to understand,” she tried, “Your father wasn’t- isn’t a bad man.”

“He killed people.”

“I killed people.”

The following silence was deafening. Lloyd couldn’t take this. He pushed away from the table and went to his room.

It was more of a glorified closet, with space for a twin bed and a desk crammed in next to it and not much else. A shelf lined the head of the bed, with books and comics and a reading lamp. A line of Polaroid photos had been tacked to the wall: blurry candids of him and his friends, pictures of dogs he found at the park, and one of him and mom last new year’s eve, red-faced and nearly frostbitten from standing out in Times Square, but both still smiling. The photo had been taken right after they’d gotten home from ringing in the new year, before they’d exchange gifts and spend the rest of the night feasting while shmaltzy romance movies played on ABC. New Year’s was supposed to be spent with lots of relatives, but as far back as Lloyd could remember it’d just been him and mom. And before today, he’d never questioned it.

There was a soft knock on his door. “Lloyd?” Koko cracked the door open hesitantly. He pulled his knees up to his chest.

He felt the dip in the bed as Mom sat down beside him. “I’m sorry. I should have told you earlier.”

“Did Dad leave you because of me?”

“What? No, sweetheart, of course not, why would you think that?”

Lloyd shrugged. His face felt hot and tight, like he’d start crying if he tried to talk. Talk about the suspicion he’d had for years, even when he thought his dad was just a regular deadbeat and not some criminal overlord who probably just wanted an heir to his empire.

Koko wrapped her arm around him, and he really did start to cry.

“I thought- hic- if he knew I had powers he- hic- wouldn’t have left us.”

“Oh, no.” Koko ran her hands through his hair. “No, baby, no no no no.”

She’d never felt anything like resentment toward her husband before. They had split on good terms, and despite knowing they’d most likely never see each other again their relationship had been so satisfying that Koko hadn’t needed to look for a new partner. She and Lloyd were satisfied enough, with just them and the lingering ghost of a memory.

At least, she thought they were.

Now she was starting to think different. If he were here right now, this wouldn’t be happening . Anger bubbled up inside her stomach, dark and icky. She hadn’t even felt this way when she was working two fast food jobs to support her student bills and a baby that cried all night.

She’d been absolutely blinded. Her ex wasn’t a rogue, or a free spirit, someone dark and mysterious who could do what he wanted without consequence. He’d left them. He left her, and, most importantly, he’d left his son.

“Forget about him,” she said aloud. Lloyd looked up.

Maybe that had been her mistake, constructing all those stories. She thought the stories would fill in the missing pieces of their family like a jigsaw puzzle, but all it had seemed to do was make the empty space more glaring. She had to fix this.

“Forget him!” she repeated herself, loudly. “Don’t think about your father, Lloyd, he’s not worth it.”

Lloyd’s face twisted in confusion. “But you said-”

“I know what I said! Listen to what I’m saying now!” She let go and shifted to face him. “There’s millions of people in the world, sweetheart. Don’t let the actions of one asshole drag you down.”

His mouth quirked. “Okay.”

“Good.” She hugged him again, briefly.

“I can’t believe you called Dad an asshole.”

“Hey, you know the rules, mister.” she poked him. “No PG-13 language until you turn thirteen.”

“Is that really PG-13?”

“In this house it is.”

Lloyd was silent for a minute, contemplating something deeper than the nuances of expletives.

“Can you tell me what really happened in those stories?”

“I will. Eventually.”

“Mom~” he groaned.

“When your sixteen.” she promised. She knew she was putting it off, but she couldn’t help herself. She did a lot of bad things that she couldn’t justify to herself, much less her own kid. “Now, how does spaghetti sound for dinner?”

Pretty soon they were both in the kitchen, him stirring noodles and her rolling meatballs. Just the two of them, like it always was.

Chapter Text

BANG BANG BANG.

He knocked again, harder. He did have the right address, didn’t he? Oh, if his informant misled him, he was going to-

The door finally slammed open, revealing, to his relief, a middle aged woman in paint-splattered sweats and a Run NYC shirt, hair pulled back in a messy ponytail.

“Koko.” He greeted. “You look great.” It was the truth.

Her mouth opened. Closed. She shook her head, pulled Garmadon inside, and shut the door.

“What are you doing here?” She hissed.

“Can’t I just stop by and see my wife?”

“We split up, remember? I’m not your wife anymore.”

“Details,” he waved his hand dismissively. “I still wanted to see you! It’s so lonely in Siberia.”

“So that’s where you’ve been hiding.”

“Hey- I’m not ‘hiding’ anything. I shared a meal with the chief of police last thursday!”

“Uh-huh. And how much did he pay you to take care of his opposers?”

“That’s irrelevant.”

Koko snorted and shook her head. “If you’re in trouble, I don’t want any around here.”

“I’m always in trouble,” he winked. She reddened and quickly scoffed. “But I swear on my mother’s grave that I didn’t bring any with me.”

Koko moved to the open window, expertly scanning the surrounding area before closing it. Garmadon took that as an invitation to move further into the apartment.

The place was small, and overpowered by paint fumes. White sheets were draped over the furniture and across the floor, giving the appearance of lumpy clay. The only splash of color was an aquarium on the kitchen counter, pink and purple and green plants wavering in the deep blue water. He tapped the glass.  A single betta fish darted around.

Koko picked up the paint roller from where she’d dropped it in the tray, and stepped up the stool to reach the top part of the wall. Garmadon watched as the forest green faded with every layer of white paint.

“The place looks nice.” He tried.

“It’ll look nicer once I’m finished.” A drop of white paint slid down the wall. She quickly smoothed it out. “Which, hopefully, will be next week. I still have to decide what color to paint this room.”

“Aren’t you already painting this room white?”

“It’s primer.”

“Oh.” Garmadon nodded, as if he understood. As if. “What color were you thinking?”

“Cream or beige.” She pointed at a row of samples on the countertop that, to him, all looked alike.

The tension was thicker than the paint fumes that had started to concentrate in the enclosed space. He attempted to make conversation, asking Koko about other future renovation plans, her work, have you seen any good movies lately? She kept her answers short in length and tone. No, just repainting; at a museum; not this year, no.

“So...where’s L-loyd?”

She blew her bangs away from her face. “I was wondering when you’d get to the point.”

“Yeesh. So cold. Did you honestly not believe I’d come this way to see you?”

“Hmm.” Koko stepped down and started to clean up the painting supplies. “No.”

He moved closer to her. She didn’t move away, simply keeping her arms crossed with a skeptical expression on her face.

“So...do you have a boyfriend or something?”

“No.” she brushed at her bangs, leaving a white streak across her temple.

“Me neither.”

“Oh, I saw those mugshots. I believe you.”

Garmadon cursed. So much effort had been put into keeping his identity anonymous, and all of that ruined by a stupid slip-up five years back.

“Did you really believe that mustache was a good idea?”

“Considering no one’s recognized me here, I’d say it served me pretty well.” Really, it was such an obvious rule of thumb: don’t let your mugshot look like you. “Now, about L-loyd…?”

A sly grin crept over her face. “Who?”

“L-loyd?”

“Say that again.”

“See, now I just feel like you’re making fun of me.”

Koko threw her head back and laughed loudly. “It’s Lloyd .”

“Potato, potatoh.” He let go of her and turned, as if he could spot him hiding amongst the sheets. “Where is he?”

“He’s still at the dojo.”

“That’s nice- wait, dojo? As in, martial arts dojo?”

“I don’t know what other kind there is.” She raised her eyebrows. “But, yes, he’s training in martial arts. Spinjitzu, to be precise.”

“What time will he be back?”

“Soon.” She shrugged cryptically.

 

X

 

“It’s your destiny, Lloyd. Now take the trash out.” The blond mimicked to himself and huffed as he dragged the oversized black plastic bag outside. He threw it in the dumpster, letting the lid close with a satisfying metallic clang as he kept ranting quietly. “Even though this is Ronin’s job, but apparently he thinks he’s too good for-”

“Are you talking to yourself? Wow, and just when I thought you couldn’t get lamer.”

Lloyd spun around and scowled. “Screw off, Chen.”

His former middle-school classmate just smirked. “Or what? You’re gonna tell your dad?” He stepped forward. “I’m sooo scared.”

Lloyd grit his teeth, not wanting to give Chen the satisfaction of a reply. “Or what about your mom? Didn’t you say she was a secret agent too?” He shook his head. “That’s just pitiful. And weird. You’re such a weirdo.”

Normally, the discovery that someone might be related to an infamous criminal overlord would be met with that person’s peers doing their best to avoid them. And for the most part, that was the case. Most of his classmates shunned Lloyd like he was romaine lettuce at a salad bar. “Most people”, unfortunately, failed to include bonehead cheerleaders who took it upon themselves to make sure Lloyd knew he was the most disliked person in school. As if he wasn’t already keenly aware.

“The ballet studio just called. They’re missing their prima donna.” Lloyd snarked, instantly regretting it as Chen’s face contorted into murderous rage. He closed the distance between them and grabbed his collar.

“You-” he started, growling.

Ahem .”

Both teens stopped to look at the new speaker. Cole crossed his arms, trying his best to look intimidating (which wasn’t that hard, since he was one of the beefiest sixteen-year-olds Lloyd knew). He’d changed out of his uniform and into casual clothes, ever-present headphones dangling around his neck.

“Is there a problem here?”

“No,” Lloyd said, at the same time Chen said, “Yeah.”

“But it’s fixed now.” He corrected quickly, stepping away. “I should get home.”

He skedaddled, practically tripping over his own feet. Lloyd exhaled. “Thanks.”

“Mhmm.” Cole stretched. “Don’t think I didn’t hear your quip.”

Lloyd rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish laugh. “Right. Sorry.” Cole’s dad was some bigshot performing arts instructor down at the east end, and his son suffered the brunt of it.

“Prima donna’s for opera, anyway,” he grumbled. “If you’re going to be insulting, at least be accurate.”

“I thought you didn’t care about that kind of stuff,” Lloyd said.

“I don’t.” Cole said. “My dad is this close to sending me to music camp this summer. This close! Do you know what a nightmare that’ll be?” He shuddered. “Now I have to find something to do that’ll keep him off my back. It’s bad enough I had to be in the school play.”

“I thought you were a great tree.” He spotted Kai and Nya exiting the building and moved to catch up with them. “And don’t worry! We’ll make this summer awesome.”

“You got that right, green bean!” Kai said cheerfully. “It’s the last summer before I graduate, too, so we have to spend it right.”

“Right?” Nya snorted. “All you’ve done so far is hang around the pools.”

He shrugged. “I know how to have a good time.”

“He won’t even get in the water,” she turned to Lloyd and Cole.

“Hey, the others are out.” Kai interrupted. “Hey! Jay! Z!” He paused, then snorted at the accidental joke.

“Kai, if you ever put our names together like that again, I will murder you where you stand.” The freckle-faced teen smiled sweetly.

“Why are we murdering Kai?” Zane joined in. Despite it being June, he was wearing a sweater vest with a snowflake pattern, which combined with his eerily pale skin and icy blue eyes made him look like an exchange student from Norway. Which the others might’ve believed, if the sixteen year old hadn’t convinced them that he’d been born in the States (even though Jay swore he wasn’t born on this planet).

The others chimed in with their grievances, ranging from “appalling references to subpar musicians” to “he keeps stealing my hairspray!”

“Wow.” Kai sulked.

Zane tilted his head. “I do not think those call for murder.”

“At least someone’s on my side.”

Lloyd changed the topic. “So, Zane, what are you doing this summer?”

The ice elemental perked up. “I enrolled in an online course for ornithology.”

Cole laughed. “Only you would willingly go to school in the summer.”

Zane smiled in confusion. “I’m not really going anywhere, it’s an online class…” Oh. The others were giving him that look . He backtracked. “How about you, Jay?”

The fifteen year old squeaked in surprise. “Oh! Um…”
“Hold up.” Cole said. “Did you just squeak?”
“…No.” he answered, blushing through his freckles.
“Sure, Sparky.”
“It’s the rocks in your ears…Rocky.” Note to self: find better insult!
Cole snorted. “That the best you got, Zaptrap?”
He smirked. “Not even close, Dirtclod.”
Hazel eyes locked onto his rival’s dark gray ones.
“Alright, kids, play nice,” Kai interrupted jokingly. “Zap- sorry, Jay- I don’t think your parents want to see you get your ass kicked.” He pointed at a rusty car that belonged more in a museum than on the road.
“I’d fry him before he could touch me,” he mumbled, waving to let his parents know he saw them.
“Are you trying to say you could beat me in a fight?”
“I’m not not saying that-” the car honked. “We’ll finish this later.”

Jay lived way out in Long Island, a good hour drive one-way from the middle of Brooklyn. He waved good-bye to his friends and crawled into the back seat of the car, scooting over to make room for Zane. The other teen lived in the suburbs just outside Queens, so they often carpooled.

“Well,” Cole looked at his phone, “I should get home. See ya.” He waved and walked off, pulling his headphones over his ears.

“I should go too,” Lloyd said. “Bye, guys.”

It was only a twenty minute walk from the park down East 4th Street, fifteen if he speed-walked. Which he didn’t, since his legs were still sore from practice.

A fat grey tabby was lounging on the fire escape above the door.

“Sorry, Claudia,” Lloyd looked up, “I didn’t stop at the sushi place today.”

Claudia huffed irately. Her eyes seemed to say, Really? What was the point of staying out here all day, then?

“Isn’t raw fish supposed to be bad for cats, anyways?” he said, more to himself than the grumpy feline.

“Mrow,” Claudia replied. The window to her third-floor apartment was closed. Mrs. Dalloway probably forgot she was outside.

“Let’s get you home,” Lloyd shouldered his duffle bag and held his arms out. Claudia jumped in it.

He carried her up to her apartment, stopped to pet the other cats, and expertly evaded eating one of Mrs. Dalloway’s burnt cookies. Finally he made it to his apartment.

At first glance, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He knew Mom had taken a half-day at work so she could repaint the living room today. And it looked like she’d gotten it all done as well.

He toed his sneakers off and kicked them to the wall. Strange- there was a pair of men’s dress shoes against the wall as well.

He didn’t have much time to consider it before his mom called from the kitchen, “Lloyd? Is that you, baby?”

“Yeah, Mom!” He called back, starting towards the voice. “Is someone else- oh.”

The man at the kitchen table was someone Lloyd had never seen in his life. He looked nothing like the unkempt pictures he’d spent hours poring over- he was tall and slim, pale, clean-shaven with neatly combed black hair and brown eyes that almost looked red. The family resemblance was practically nonexistent. If Lloyd saw him on the streets, he probably wouldn’t have given him a second glance.  But sitting there, less than ten feet away, it was unmistakably him . The one person Lloyd would have happily gone through life without meeting.

“Hello, Lloyd.”

“...what the hell?”













Chapter Text

“How was class today, dear?” Mrs. Walker asked as Mr. Walker shifted the gear into drive.

“Fine, mom.” Jay shrugged.

“How about you?” She turned to the other teen. “Any big plans for the summer?”

Zane told her about the online class.

“That sounds exciting! Jay, don’t you think so?”

Jay groaned. “Mom, only nerds go to school when they don’t have to. No offense.” He quickly added.

“None taken.”

“Oh, come now,” Mrs. Walker said, “that’s no attitude to have! Learning is a lifelong process, after all.”

“She’s right, you know.” Mr. Walker turned around to face them. “And that’s why-”

An approaching car blared and swerved around them.

“Eyes on the road, Ed!” Mrs. Walker cried.

“What? Oh, right.” He shifted the car back into the lane.

“Honestly, dear,” she squeezed her husband’s arm, knuckles turning white. “You don’t want to spend this summer in a hospital, do you?”

“Right, darling.”

“What were you saying?” Jay interrupted. His dad looked back briefly through the rearview window.

“Your mom and I have been talking,” he started, before quickly slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The car behind him honked.

“City people…” he grumbled. Mrs. Walker continued for him.

“Anyways, we were talking about how we always drive down to Atlantic City every summer.”

Jay didn’t like how that was worded, as if there was something wrong with his family’s annual tradition of taking a three hour drive to spend a week in a dingy motel and going to the boardwalk every day.

“And we were thinking, instead of going back to the same place we always go, why don’t we go to Washington DC instead?”

“DC?” Jay had never been more scandalized.

“It’s an extra hour going down, yes, but it’ll be fun!”

“Seriously, mom? What’s even in DC?”

“There’s the National Air and Space Museum, Museum of American History, Museum of Natural History, the National Postal Museum…” Zane listed.

“So, all museums?” He frowned. “Can’t we go to both? Like, drive down and spend a week in DC and then drive back up to Atlantic City for another week?”

Mrs. Walker pursed her lips. “Both? That might be a little…”

“Expensive.” Jay finished, frowning. “Okay. We can go to DC. But I’m not going to the post office museum.”

“It isn’t-”

“Mom, just stop.”

Zane looked awkwardly down at his lap, the way one does when in a car with another family discussing something personal like finances. Or lack thereof.

Mr. Walker pulled up to Zane’s house, a two-story white building with dark gray trim. He exited the car, saying goodbye to Jay and thanking his friend’s parents for the ride.

“Don’t mention it, hon.” Mrs. Walker waved cheerily. “Have a good summer!” They drove off. Zane waved to the car as it got smaller and smaller, and only when it turned the corner did he straighten up and turn back to his house.

The creak of the front door echoed loudly across the house. All the lights were off, flooding the rooms in shadows and grayscale, save for the thin streak of yellow coming from the basement door.

He hung his backpack up and crossed the living room, making his way downstairs. While the main floors were mostly clean and minimalist, his father’s workshop was always loud, from the hum of machines, to the piles of tools and whatchamacallits, to the harsh glare of the bright fluorescent bulbs that made up for the lack of windows.

Dr. Julien was currently bent over his work table, deep in concentration as he tightened some screws on a small contraption.

“Father?”  Zane stepped off the last step.

The inventor looked up and broke into a grin, the crease in his temple relaxing. “Zane!” He took off his thick, magnification glasses and replaced them with more sleek, everyday spectacles. Then he frowned.

“What time is it?”

“Six oh five,” Zane told him, not moving from his spot. He folded his hands in front of himself. “Shall I start making dinner?”

“If you want to,” Dr. Julien shook his head, bemused. “How can I say no to your cooking?”

“I believe we have enough ingredients for calzones.”

“That sounds delicious,” he smiled. “I just need to put the finishing touches on this little guy, then I’ll be right there.” He held the half-finished contraption up.  

In contrast to the depressing barrenness of the living room, the kitchen was more lived-in. Dr. Julien wasn’t much of a cook, only coming up occasionally to make a peanut butter sandwich if his blood sugar demanded it, so Zane had fully (and gladly) taken up all responsibilities related to meal planning and preparation. While knowing how to make fancy Mediterranean dishes and homemade baked goods wasn’t necessary for survival, especially in the city where they could just use UberEats, the act of cooking was somewhat relaxing.  Mix the dough, take out the meat and cheese, chop the vegetables, and put it all in the oven. Wait an hour, and your rewarded with a delicious meal the whole family can enjoy.

 

X

“What the hell?”

“Lloyd,” Koko massaged the bridge of her nose, as if preemptively prepping for the inevitable migraine. “Language.”

Lloyd gave her his best I think we have a bigger problem here look. “What’s he doing here?” he demanded.

“Nice to meet you,” Garmadon said dryly. “Who are you again?”

Lloyd glared.

“Garmadon,” Koko’s voice sounded strained. “This is Lloyd. Lloyd, Garmadon. Now we all know each other.”

“I thought you’d be taller.”

Lloyd crossed his arms. “I thought you’d be...deader.”

Koko stood up. “I’m going to make dinner.” she said flatly. “Lloyd, sweetie, can you set the table?”

The teen exhaled, shoulders slumping. “Sure, mom.” Koko gave him a quick peck on his head, which he tried to protest was “uncool” but the barely suppressed smile on his face betrayed his true emotions.

“Alright, call me when the food’s ready.” Garmadon leaned back. Koko looked at him.

“I don’t think so. You-” she pointed with a wooden spoon- “are making the tea.”

“What?” he spluttered, embarrassingly close to falling out of his chair. “But I don’t even like tea.”

“Tough break. Now get your ass over here and start boiling these leaves.”

Lloyd had only seen his mother invoke her “adult-language-is-for-adults-so-it’s-okay-for-me-to-say-it-but-not-you” law a few times in his life. It was unsettling. Fortunately, Garmadon seemed to think so as well, because he (while grumbling) got up and fired up the stovetop burner.

Maybe if his mom was here, this wouldn’t be quite so bad.

And maybe he should learn to shut up before he jinxed everything.

 

X

 

Nya skipped the rock across the lake. It bounced twice before sinking under the water.

“Double score!” she fist-pumped. “Beat that.”

Kai wound his arm back like a pitcher and propelled his rock through the air. It landed in the the water with a loud splash, causing a duck to squawk and flap its wings. “Consider yourself beaten.”

“In what? It didn’t even skip!”

“No, but it went higher, and farther, and made a bigger splash.” He held up three fingers to emphasize. “What did your rock do again? Some fancy tricks.”

“I’ll show you some fancy tricks,” Nya growled, picking up another rock. With a little calculation and precision (and maybe some hydrokinesis, but only a teeny bit) she was able to make it skip eight times.

Soon they were engaged in all-out warfare, chucking rocks across the water and loudly proclaiming arbitrary victory, much to the chagrin of the waterfowl. Only when they were out of ammo did Nya sit down, panting. Kai followed.

The sun was going down.

“We should probably head back.”

“Mhmm.” Nya made no move to get up, instead running her fingers through the grass and ripping up a handful of blades.

“Is something wrong?”

She avoided his eyes, instead keeping her gaze focused on the lake in front of them. “Have you…” She hesitated, “have you thought about what your going to do in October yet?”

“Oh.” Kai grew pensive. Next October - a little under four months away - was his eighteenth birthday. Which, in the eyes of the state, would make him an adult. Or, as the social workers said, age out of the system.

“Hey, don’t worry about it!” he quickly plastered a reassuring smile on his face as he ruffled his sister’s hair. She batted it away.

“I think I have the right to be ‘worried’.”

“Yeah?” Kai stretched his arms out. Truthfully, he was a little worried as well. But,

“I already have a job. And hey, once I leave the orphanage I won’t have to go to school anymore. That way I can work more hours.”

Nya wrinkled her nose. “So your just going to become a dropout?”

“Hey- school is for smart people. Like you! Once you leave, or heck, maybe sooner, I’ll have a nice apartment just for us and enough money to let you go to Harvard or MIT or wherever.”

Such a declaration should have been met with overwhelmed gratitude. Perhaps some misty eyes too. Instead, Nya stood up, flinging the blades of grass back to the earth.

“I can’t believe you.” she turned away and stomped off.

“Wait - sis, wait!” Kai scrambled up after her as they navigated back to the main path. The sky was twilight-purple, slowly growing darker, and security was probably already making rounds, sweeping the park for troublemakers and homeless people.

They made it to the metro without incident and nicked into the orphanage just as the clock was counting down the last seconds of 8:59. The woman at the front desk looked at them in annoyance. Kai waved at her and smiled, victory on their side this time.

“See you tomorrow,” he said to Nya. The boys’ and girls’ dorms were on opposite sides of the building, so as to ‘prevent inappropriate fraternization’ or something.

“See you tomorrow.” Mad as she was, returning the phrase was something automatic.

There were six rooms in the girls’ hall, three on each side and divided by age. The infant room was always the most crowded, and loudest, with caretakers rushing in and out no matter what the hour was. Babies always cried, a lot, and it used to annoy Nya when the wails carried through the thin walls and kept her up at night. Then she learned what happened to babies who didn’t cry, and the screams grew a bit less obnoxious. But only a bit.

Her room was painted a pale yellow that was probably intended to be soft and cheery. Five bunk beds were lined up in a neat row, like military barracks, with lockers against the opposite wall. The overhead lights were on an automatic timer, but the other girls kept enough flashlights and battery-powered lanterns that the room was still well-illuminated when she slipped in. One girl looked up from her book, but quickly looked back down. Nya half-heartedly waved to her before going into the bathroom to take a shower.

If this were a movie, she’d have stood in the shower for ages, staring at the tile wall and letting the hot water run down her back. But this was real life, where washing up last meant all the hot water reserves were depleted, leaving her to shiver under the frigid jets of water as she stared at the graffiti markings on the wall that wouldn’t come off no matter how hard they had to scrub them. .

After five minutes, the water shut off. Nya scrubbed herself dry and changed into her pajamas before exiting the bathroom.

Her bunk was up against the wall, farthest from the door. It was also the most decorated. Technically, there were no limitations on decorating bunks (as long as you weren’t hanging anything obscene up, of course) but none of the other girls stayed around long enough to do that. Some of them were adopted, some of them found a distant relative in another state, and some of them - the teenage girls that came in with haunted looks in their eyes- just disappeared. Nya had been in this orphanage for a little over a decade, longer than most of the others combined, so there weren’t any objections when she replaced the standard navy bedding with something dark purple, or when she taped a Babymetal poster up on the wall (except from the head administrator, who did pull her aside to “discuss” how “dark and depressing environments contributed negatively to our mental states” but ultimately couldn’t do anything about it). So even if her space was small, and anything she didn’t keep hidden would invariably vanish through mysterious circumstances, it was still hers .

 

X

 

“Jay! Dinner’s ready!”

“In a minute!” He leaned into his DS, tapping the screen furiously. Just a few more seconds and he’d beat the level. “Come on, come on,” he muttered.

“Jay!”

He jumped, causing his avatar to miss blocking the final punch. KOed. Play again?

He threw the DS on his bed and went to the main room, which was a conglomerate of kitchen, living room, and dining room. Other kids complained about their apartments being too small, but they should try living in a camper.

“What are we eating?” Jay asked as he grabbed the forks from the cutlery drawer.

“Chicken pot pie,” Mrs. Walker answered. “Can you get your father?”

“Is he outside?”

“Probably. Somebody dropped off a Packard this afternoon, said she just inherited it from a deceased grandparent. The engine hasn’t run in a decade, but Dad’s seeing if he can’t try to fix it up before having to scrap it.”

“Sure.” Jay cut his mom off and went down the camper steps, jumping off the last one and letting his sneakers hit the dirt with a thump. Dust stirred and settled back down. Once upon a time, grass might have tried to grow here, but too many factors working against it made the feat near impossible. Aside from a small patch set aside to grow vegetables, most of the front lot was filled with assorted piles of junk. There was the ferrous pile, the non-ferrous pile, the electronic junk pile , the ready-to-sell pile, the ready-to-send-to-other companies pile, and at the very front, the drop-off-and-processing pile.

Which was exactly where Mr. Walker was, poring over the open hood of a car that looked like one good tap would disintegrate it. Jay didn’t think that much rust was even possible.

“How’s it coming?” Most vehicles that came to their lot were past the point of no return - crushed and mangled, burned from the inside out, even split in half. It was rare for an actual fixer-upper to appear.

“I still can’t quite get the engine figured out.” Mr. Walker closed the hood and patted it. “I’ll have to have your mom take a look.”

“Speaking of mom, dinner’s ready.”

“I thought I smelled something good.”

“From down here?” Jay wrinkled his nose. “I don’t smell anything.”

Mr. Walker laughed as he wiped his hands on his overalls, which only served to make them dirtier so he still had to wash his hands before they all started eating. Jay scarfed down the vegetable mix so quickly his mom chided him about choking hazards.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said suddenly, placing her fork down on her empty plate. “And I think we can do both Washington and Atlantic City if we try. Not a week at both, obviously, but if we cut the itinerary a little and only do the essentials, we could squeeze in at least three days at both places. How does that sound?”

Jay stabbed the crust, watching the flakes splinter. “It’s fine, I guess.” He frowned. “I mean, we don’t have to go to AC if you don’t want to. It’s not going to kill me.”

“Well, it’s your summer vacation.” His mom stood up and started the sink to wash dishes. “I want you to enjoy yourself, but I’d also like you to broaden your horizons a bit.”

“You can see the horizon on the ocean at the boardwalk,” he said bluntly. His dad chuckled.

“Ed…” she sighed.

“What? It’s true.” He stood up. “I’ll handle the dishes, you take a look at the engine.”

“Did you check the ignition coil?” Mrs. Walker asked as she wiped her hands on a dishtowel.

“‘Fraid so. Darn thing’s just old.”

“I’ll have a go, then.”

Jay helped to clear the table before escaping back to his room to finish his game. Like the other rooms in the trailer, it was small with every nook and cranny squeezed dry to make an effective living space. Half the space was taken up by a loft bed which had underneath it an assortment of drawers and a desk that folded up. There was a beanbag opposite the door and various posters of video games and comic book heroes taped to the wall.

The doors were paper thin and did practically nothing to block out noise, so he didn’t bother closing his before grabbing the DS and flopping down on the beanbag. He tapped back into the game, ready to replay the level a hundred more times until he was the undefeated champion.

By the seventh replay, he was more frustrated.

“Stupid game, just let me double jump!” He grumbled before once again being KOed. “Argh!”

“You okay?” A voice called.

“Fine, dad!” He threw the DS back up on the bed - not hard enough to break it, just enough to let it know that it had displeased him - and grabbed his phone.

help me im dying he typed out and hit send. The reply came seconds later.

Cole: What

Jay: Ive been stuck on this levl for hours !

Cole: oh

Cole: i thought it was a real emergency

Jay: IT IS -_- <</33

Cole: why’d u send me a broken heart

Jay: Y DO U THNK

Jay: ur so cruel

Cole: i can live with that

Jay: :O

Jay: wanna come over

Cole: at 7pm?

Jay: i meant tmrw

Jay: obvs

Jay: but if you wanna come over now i wont stop u

Cole: cant, i promised kai id spot him at the gym tomorrow

Jay: kai has a gym membership ?

Cole: no hes using mine

Jay: oh ok that makes more sense

Jay: u have a gym membership ?

Cole:  -_-

Cole: i have to go. See you later.

Jay: alrite bye

He switched over to Instagram and started scrolling down the feed, memes and shaky selfies from classmates mixing in with shots of food and tourist destinations from professional and amateur photographers. Someone from Hoboken had liked his last picture of the night sky. Situated so far out here, light pollution wasn’t that big an issue, and the stars had looked exceedingly brilliant last week. It was a pity his phone-camera hadn’t taken to capturing it well. He kept playing, switching between his phone and game until he heard his mom yell something about the hot water going fast. Jay scrambled up and made a mad dash for the shower.

 

X

 

The call came after dinner, after a strained ‘casual’ conversation that lasted until Lloyd took a hint and booked off to his room to work on his summer reading homework so the two could talk about adult stuff . Some strains of conversation still came in through his headphones (and okay, maybe he wasn’t actually playing music on them right now but still ), mostly just his mom telling Garmadon more stuff about her life to occasional Mmm and Really? Then the phone in the kitchen rang, and he heard someone pick it up.

Mild curiosity was the beast that forced him from his room to lurk with the shadows in the hall. He watched his mom, back turned, twisting the cord around her fingers while saying “Yes, of course, no problem at all...no, sir, I’ll get right on it, thank you…”

And of course his stupid dad (father? Voluntary sperm donor? eugh) was looking right at him while this was going on. He looked back stubbornly.

Finally, Koko hung the phone up, pleasant facade crumbling into a grimace.

“Who was that?”

She jumped and turned. “Lloyd! I thought you were in your- ah, no worries. It was just the museum.”

Lloyd frowned. “Why were they calling you? Did you mess up a report or something?”

“Well,” she steepled her fingers. “They were wanting me to go to Shanghai to pick up some artifacts.”

“Shanghai?” Garmadon and Lloyd both echoed, glancing at each other briefly. Lloyd looked away quickly.

“Seriously?”

“The person who usually does pickups is on leave right now,” she explained. “And I’m the only one in the staff who can speak Mandarin. They thought it’d be….useful.”

Useful and suspicious was more like it. Lloyd crossed his arms.

“When do you leave?” Garmadon asked.

“First thing in the morning. They already arranged the flight, so now all I need to do is pack and find my passport and find a sitter and-”

“Whoa!” Garmadon grabbed her arm and squeezed it. “Relax.”

Koko closed her eyes and breathed out. Lloyd felt like he was intruding on something.

“It’ll be fine,” he kept talking. “In fact, why don’t I help you? There’s no need to stress out about finding a sitter when I’m here.”

“Yeah, no.” She shrugged him off. “You forget I’ve been a single mom for fourteen years. I know where to find a sitter on short notice.”

“Or I could just stay home by myself?” Lloyd suggested.

“No!” both adults chorused.

He huffed. “Fine.”

Koko started calling some of the agencies, saying I know this is sudden but I just need...yes I KNOW your policies can you please just...your last minute fee is HOW much again? Then hanging up and getting into the same conversation with the next one.

Finally she had run out of options.

“Oh, dear,” Garmadon said, not sounding at all concerned in the slightest. “If only there was someone willing and able to watch your child while you galavant across China for work-related reasons.”

Koko held up her finger. “No.” Then dialed the phone again.

“Hello, Mrs. Dalloway? I know this is late, but I need a favor. This is Koko, from the floor above you?...Misako? Remember, I helped you with your cleaning two months ago?...Right, well, I’m going on a business trip so would it be okay if Lloyd stayed at your place? I’ll pay you...oh, dear...oh, dear, sick, you say? That’s quite unfortunate. And you’re sure he can’t stay?...Well, thanks anyway.”

“Is Mrs. Dalloway sick?” Lloyd asked as soon as she hung up, half hopeful because that meant he didn’t have to eat those disgusting burnt cookies and half guilty because Mrs. Dalloway was a sweet old lady whose only crime was making disgusting burnt cookies.

“No, it’s her cat- what’s the gray one that’s always getting outside? Caligula?”

“Claudia.”

“Right, well, apparently Claudia’s been a little sick.”

“Oh,” Lloyd frowned. A thought occurred to him. “Mom? Sushi isn’t poisonous to cats, is it?”

“Well, it’s not fatal, but it’s not exactly ideal either. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.” Irony sure was a pain.

Garmadon cleared his throat.

“Still no.”

“Oh, come on, Koko, what reason have I given to you to not trust me? Besides murder and tax evasion.”

“I can think of some.”

“You’re not so innocent.”

Koko crossed her arms defiantly. “At least I try.”

“Can I stay with Cole? Or Zane?” Lloyd inputted, feeling that he should at least have a say in wherever he’d be shipped off to.

She hesitated. “I’m sure they have plans. And I wouldn’t want to impose…”

“You’re right, you don’t. And you wouldn’t have to when I’m right here .”

Lloyd rolled his eyes and went back to his room, getting the feeling that this conversation wouldn’t be over anytime soon. He tried reading some more of his assigned book, but between the stuffy language and the fact that his parents were talking about him just outside it was hard to concentrate.

He was just getting to the part where the main character sees his father’s ghost when his door opened. Lloyd looked up to see his mom in her pajamas.

“Hey, sweetie. I’ll probably be gone before you wake up tomorrow, so I wanted to say goodbye.”

He closed the book. “Did you find a sitter?”

Koko pressed her lips together. “No. But-”

Mom .”

“I know this isn’t ideal, but some things in life aren’t.” She pulled him into a hug and whispered, “Besides, I’ve laid out some ground rules, and he knows not to go against anything I say.” Then, releasing him, she returned to normal volume. “I love you. And I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

Koko smiled before disappearing into the hallway, letting the door close gently behind her. Lloyd immediately flopped down on his bed. His eyes landed on the Fritz Donnegan poster taped up to the opposite wall, the one from the third live-action movie. The hero stood on top of the spacecraft, holding up his fist and poised to take on the evil alien army singlehandedly. The franchise’s tagline was emblazoned at the bottom: Fear isn’t a word where I come from .

If Garmadon thought he could waltz back into his life at the same time his mom left, then fine. Lloyd just had to be prepared for anything that came next.


















Chapter Text

The valley gently sloped from the base of a purple mountain. Lloyd wriggled his toes, feeling the soft, dewey grass under his feet. A stream coursed through the middle of the field, the water as smooth and clear as the sky, a weeping cherry tree by the bank.

He leaned back, putting his arms up behind his head and closing his eyes. The grass and dirt were pillow-soft. Above him, sunlight warmed his face and danced through the pink and white petals. It was peaceful.

Then it stopped.

Lloyd opened his eyes. Although the skies had been completely clear a minute ago, the blue had now given way to dark grey clouds, the ground completely shadowed over.

He stood up. The once-gentle breeze was now a forceful gale, almost knocking him over and ripping his jacket from his body. The article of clothing blew over the tree, which was now completely bent over from the wind, to the edge of the valley where the forest was.

Lloyd ran after it- as best as he could with the wind pushing against him, arms up to shield his face and heels digging in the dirt to avoid being blown away.

He was almost there-

Then the ground opened up beneath him.

He shouted in surprised as he fell, deep into the darkness, farther and faster, the shadows enclosing around him.

He was falling.

And he wouldn’t stop.

He did stop, eventually, and had the good luck of landing not on Earth’s molten core but on a medium-firm mattress bought at a discounted price during President’s Day. He jolted up, heart still racing from the sensation of falling.

It only took a few breaths for his heart rate to return to its normal BPM. No shadows, no storm. No giant hole. That had just been a bad dream.

Lloyd got out of bed and went through the motions of a morning routine. Brush your teeth, put on jeans and a t-shirt, comb your hair, make your bed. Normally by this time he’d hear his mom in the kitchen, pulling out cereal boxes or, if she was in the mood, egg cartons. But the silence only served as a harsh reminder.

He crept into the living room cautiously, unsure of what he might find. The house ransacked? Probably. Garmadon sleeping on the couch?

He stopped. Garmadon was draped across the couch, eyes closed and with a serene look on his face that contrasted with the way his fingers gripped the handle of a pistol. How he snuck that up through security, Lloyd didn’t want to know. He’d seen enough school PSAs and television specials to give him a wide berth as he tugged on his sneakers at the door.

“Wheryougoin’,” A voice slurred behind him. Lloyd stiffened.

He turned around. Garmadon sat up, stretching and still holding the firearm. He gave Lloyd a pointed look and repeated. “Where are you going?”

“Out.” Lloyd answered cryptically. He paused, ready to exit, but then added. “You know, you really shouldn’t sleep with a gun. It’s dangerous.”

Garmadon just smirked. “Oh, this?” He raised it, muzzle pointing at the ceiling above, and pulled the trigger. Lloyd’s eyes widened in panic.

“Bang.”

A small blue flame lit at the end of the barrel.

“See? It’s just a decoy. Damn good one though. Now, are you going to tell me where you’re going?”

“Like I said,” he opened the door, “ Out .”

He did feel a little guilty about being so short with his dad, but the guilt was quickly short-lived. Besides, he couldn’t have him tailing him or anything now. Last night he’d texted his friends and told them to meet him at a certain cafe this morning, due to reasons he’d “explain there”.

He wasn’t surprised to see Zane, punctual as ever, sitting perkily in a booth and tapping away at his computer. What was a surprising sight was Cole, opposite him, who wasn’t sitting so much as slumped onto the table and almost dead to the world.

“Hey.” Lloyd slid into the booth next to Cole and poked his arm. “You alive?”

“Nngh,” came the reply.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” He looked over at Zane. “I’m getting us some coffee. You want any?”

“No thank you,” he answered without looking up.

Lloyd went up to the counter to order the drinks, coming back with two cups of coffee and a water bottle. Cole grabbed his and drank the contents in one gulp.

“Sheesh, did you stay up all night watching netflix?” Lloyd joked. Cole made a face.

“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Right.” Lloyd shrugged and leaned back. “Well, you’ll never believe who came to my house last night.”

“Is this the news you were talking about?” Zane looked up. “Shouldn’t we wait for the others?”

“Nah, Kai’s gonna take forever to get here,” Cole said. “Was it Freddie Mercury?”

“That is not possible.” Zane shook his head.

“I know. That’s what makes it unbelievable.”

“It was my dad.”

Both of them froze. Zane blinked slowly and started typing furiously.

“Are you sure it was him?” Cole peered into his coffee cup, frowning as if he hadn’t been personally responsible for the content’s quick disappearance. “I mean, it could be an imposter or something.”

“How the hell should I know? He left before I was born,” Lloyd shrugged. “Mom seemed convinced, though.”

A gasp sounded from behind him. “Language!”

Lloyd turned. “Oh, hey Kai. Nya.”

The auburn haired ninja squeezed into the edge of the booth, his sister sliding in on Zane’s side. “Z, you’re not corrupting this innocent child, are you?” He teased.

“Siberia.”

Kai blinked. “Uh?”

“That was Garmadon’s last known location.” Zane looked up. “Based on satellite imaging dating back eight months ago. Oh, hello Kai.”

“Hi,” Kai shot back. “What’s going on?”

Lloyd gave them the rundown of events.

“So let me get this straight.” Nya said. “Your dad, who’s like the FBI Top Ten-

“Number nine,” Zane inputted helpfully.

“-snuck into America, evading secret agents and TSA officials and the imminent probability of life in Alcatraz just to see you ?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

Kai and Cole shared a meaningful look, while Zane quickly explained to Nya that Alcatraz had been closed since the 1960s and ADX Florence would be a more plausible modern penetitionary.

“Doesn’t that seem kind of…”

“Suspicious?” Cole finished, scratching his neck and trying to supress another yawn. “Look, Lloyd, I don’t wanna rain on your parade or anything, but this might be a bit out of your league.”

“Out of my league?” It was all the blond could do to resist smirking. If they only knew. “I should be able to handle a little criminal overlord.”

Cole punched him, miles softer than his true strength. “Dude, you can’t even beat me in an arm wrestling contest. I hate to break it to you, but you’re fighting a losing battle.”

“That’s not fair,” Lloyd laughed, “you’ve got super-strength!”

“Exactly.”

Nya leaned forward. “Still, you should be careful. Your mom isn’t letting him stay in the apartment, right?”

“She kinda...went to Shanghai.”

The others were silent. Finally, Zane spoke up. “I am not sure I completely trust this arrangement.”

“Yeah, no duh,” Nya crossed her arms and leaned back. “Don’t worry, Lloyd. If you need a place to crash, I’m sure Cole’ll take you in.” She gestured with her thumb.

“Why are you pushing me under the bus like that?” Cole complained.

“Because you live in a fancy apartment and the orphanage doesn’t have a sleepover policy,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Okay, but still-!”

“It’s fine, guys, really,” Lloyd said insistently. “I don’t think he’d come all this way just to murder me in my sleep. I’m just going to keep an eye on him until Mom comes back.”

“If she comes back,” Kai muttered darkly. Nya glared at him.

“Aw, man, it’s too bad Jay couldn’t be here,” Cole grinned. “He’s totally going to flip out when I call him.”

“You do that.” Kai moved to stand up, Cole leaning across the booth and grabbing his arm.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Come on!” Kai whined. “It’s like, barely nine am and I just ate breakfast!”

Cole ignored him and looked at Nya. “You wanna come to?”

“Sure,” she shrugged. “No time like the present, and all that crap.”

“Smart choice. How about you, Zane, Lloyd?”

“Where are you going?” Lloyd asked.

“The gym.”

“Thank you for the offer, but I already made plans to go to the library today.”

“Suit yourself,” Cole said. “Lloyd?”

“I think I’ll just go home and see if dad’s been mailing ricin to the president or something.” At their worried faces he quickly added, “Which I’m sure he hasn’t.”

“Okay,” Kai relented. “But be careful. And call us if anything comes up.”

Lloyd gave him a thumbs up. “Will do.”

They parted.

The elevator up the apartment was barely a minute, but to him it felt like a century - each tick of the clock seemed to be agonizingly slow. Sure, Lloyd had been nonchalant and confident in front of his friends, but Cole was right: If Garmadon was here for nefarious purposes (and of course he was, who was he kidding?), Lloyd would be about as useful as a puppy in stopping him.

The elevator tinged as it came to a stop, doors sliding open. Lloyd unlocked the door quietly and looked around as he toed off his sneakers and kicked them against the wall. The house was just like he left it that morning, except for the distinct lack of people.

It was empty.

His gaze landed on the kitchen telephone. He could do it. Turn Garmadon in to the authorities, collect the reward money, then sleep in peace knowing the world was rid of one more evil person. With no one around to stop him, he silently padded across the floor, picked up the receiver, and whispered.

“Hello, operator? Can I have the number for-”

A hand wrapped around his right arm. Lloyd froze.

Garmadon leaned down. “Ordering a pizza?”

“I…” His heart felt like it was going to burst out of its chest cavity. “Y-yeah.”

“Really, now.” He plucked the phone out of Lloyd’s hands. There was a fizzle, a pop, and finally a low buzz of static.

“...You broke the phone.”

He put the phone back into its cradle.

“Mom’s not gonna like that.”

“I’m sure Koko has more important things to worry about.” Garmadon shrugged casually. “Now, I’m hungry. You have steak, right?”

How could he be so flippant about that? Lloyd thought angrily. No, calm down, calm down. He’s trying to get you riled up. Don’t play into his hands.

“We have sandwich bread. And peanut butter.” The blond replied flatly.

“I can’t believe I came back to America for this.” Garmadon grumbled under his breath. Lloyd pointedly ignored him while he spread the peanut butter over the bread.

“What’s with that crappy knife?”

He looked at the stainless steel utensil. Nothing seemed wrong with it, so he was a little confused to what Garmadon was getting at. “What do you mean?”

“It’s all...not sharp. How do you expect to stab anything with that?”

“It’s a butter knife?”

“Pfft. Lame.”

Lloyd was very tempted to throw the butter knife into his face. Don’t play into his hands, don’t play into his hands , he repeated in his head like a mantra. He slid the knife into the sink and bit into the sandwich.

He had to keep his guard up constantly, he reminded himself as Garmadon finally selected a package of fish sticks from the freezer and began eating the contents raw. Lloyd’s face curled up in disgust.

“That can’t be good.”

“It’s not much different from sushi, is it?”

“Doesn’t it taste gross, though?”

“Kid, you don’t survive in the Arctic tundra if you’re preoccupied with how things taste.”

“Huh.” Lloyd looked down thoughtfully.

“So I heard you met my younger brother.” Garmadon said, changing the subject.

Lloyd nodded. “Yeah, he’s...wait did you say younger ? How old are you?”

“That’s...classified.”

“No, seriously, Sens...Uncle Wu looks about thirty years older than you.”

“Does he, now.” Garmadon rolled his eyes. “Wu was always so melodramatic. Let me guess, he grew a long white beard just to complete the perfect image of a martial arts teacher.”

“Are you older than fifty?” Lloyd pressed

“I told you, that’s classified.” He grumbled. “Where is my brother, anyway?”

“Uncle Wu’s been in Japan all summer.”

“Makes sense. More archaeology, I’m presuming.” He looked at Lloyd’s suspicious face and rolled his eyes. “Kid, he was on the team that found the lost scrolls of Spinjitzu. All the martial arts nuts I know won’t shut up about him.”

“Oh...I guess that makes sense.”

“I can’t believe how much New York has changed over all these years.” Garmadon mused. “It’d be nice to see the rest of the states.”

“Yeah, it would.” Lloyd answered cautiously.

Garmadon side-eyed him. “So, what do you say?”

“...Well…” he hesitated.

“Come on, it’ll be fun. Just imagine it: Two guys, one car, the open road, and everything from Chicago bars to Vegas casinos.”

“I’m fourteen .”

“Fine, we’ll go to Disneyland then.” Garmadon shrugged. “But if you’re not up for it, that’s understandable.”

Lloyd felt relieved.

“We can just stick around the city. There are some folks in Attica I’m just dying to meet.”

Or not. Garmadon was smiling calmly, looking for all the world like he was about to win a huge poker game. Lloyd hesitated. So much for not playing into his hands.

“I’m up for it.” the words felt heavy leaving his mouth.

Garmadon grinned. “Fantastic. We’ll-”

“On one condition,” he interrupted firmly. “My friends come too.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

“That’s my offer.” he crossed his arms, hoping it could hide his wildly beating heart. “Take it or leave it.”

Garmadon tsked. “Fine, then, but keep it to five. My car only has so many seats.”

Lloyd let his arms drop and sighed internally. Was this a trap? Obviously. But if Garmadon controlled the court, at least Lloyd could throw in a wild ball.

It was a good thing he only had five friends.




Chapter Text

Mrs. Walker always said that sunny Saturdays were best spent waking up early, going outside, and living life to the fullest. Jay thought that was a funny way to say “sleep until noon and play video games until your eyes go numb”. Which was what he was currently doing, curled up on his beanbag with his DS in hand, gunning down zombies while his mom hummed a cheerful tune in the kitchen.

His stomach growled, and it occurred to him that it was almost one and he hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. Or lunch, technically. Jay put his DS down and stepped into the kitchen, opening up the cupboard.

Mrs. Walker startled. “Sweetie, you’re still in your pajamas!”

“Yeah, I know,” Jay grabbed a bag of chips and closed the cupboard door.

“Oh, don’t take those into your room, you’ll get crumbs everywhere,” his mom admonished. “And chips are hardly a proper meal, you need a sandwich and some fruit at the very least.”

She gently forced her son to take a seat at the small table, muttering about the self-destructive habits of teenagers. Jay rolled his eyes inwardly. He loved his mom, he really did, but sometimes she was a little-

His cell phone buzzed. Jay looked at the screen, a little mystified since the Caller ID was listed as UNKNOWN. Probably just a sales call.

He tapped the answer button. “Hello?”

“Hey, sparkplug.”

“Cole?” Jay frowned. “Did you get a new phone?”

“What? No, I’m using a payphone.”

“Do I want to know why?”

“I just lost my phone, you dork - but whatever. Listen, this is going to sound totally crazy, but the wildest thing happened today- hey, you’re alone, aren’t you?”

“What? Dude, I live in a camper, of course I’m not alone! Can’t you just tell me?” His mom was giving him a suspicious glance, so he shook his head and mouthed don’t worry about it .

“Okay, but this is totally gonna make you freak out.”

“I’m sure it will,” Jay answered sarcastically as he took his friend’s advice and went outside. He jumped onto the picnic table, positioning himself so that he was facing away from the trailer. “Fine, now I’m alone. So tell me!” There was a desperate plea to his voice. Jay hated that, but it sucked being left out of the loop when all his other friends were hanging out. It wasn’t like his dad could just drive him to the city every day, and bus tickets added up fast.

“Lloyd’s dad came back.”

“Really? Good for him.” His mind put two and two together. “Wait, you mean-”

“Yep.”

“And he’s here?”

“Yeah.”

“And Lloyd hasn’t been, like, murdered or kidnapped or anything like that?”

“I don’t think so.”

“That’s reassuring. So he’s not with you now?”

“Nah, he went home already. But he promised to call Kai if anything came up.”

“And you’ll call me.” It wasn’t a question.

“You got it,” Cole affirmed. “Okay, I gotta go now. Call you later?”

“You better.” Jay said, as threateningly as he could muster. The other teen just laughed in return.

 

X

 

“Please tell me this is my last rep.”

Cole raised an eyebrow. “You do realize every time you speak, you have to do two more, right?”

“Come on, bro,” Kai huffed as he sat up. “We’ve been at this for hours. My arms feel like spaghetti. Look.” He raised his right arm and let it flop back down unceremoniously. “I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to do that!”

Cole rolled his eyes, but threw a towel and water bottle at him. “Alright, I guess you can have a break. Five minutes.” He backed away.

“Where are you going?” Kai opened the plastic bottle and dumped half the contents over his head.

“Uh, the restroom? Hey, I think Nya’s on the second floor, why don’t you see how she’s doing?”

“Sure,” he said, as Cole hurried off - in the opposite direction of the restrooms. Which meant he either had serious navigational issues, or something else was going on.

Kai’s money was on the latter.

He gulped down the rest of the water, chucked the bottle into the trash can, and traced his friend’s footsteps.

Cole was in the main lobby, talking to someone at the front desk. Kai was too far away to hear what they were saying, but he could clearly see the other guy shaking his head.

Weird , he thought as Cole’s shoulders slumped. He wanted to march over and demand to be told what was going on. But he stayed rooted in place, frozen even as Cole turned around and caught his eye.

He walked towards him. Kai had to be tactful about this.

“What was that about?” he managed. Tactfully .

“Nothing. Just...asking where the restroom was.”

 

X

 

“Now this road’s full of toll booths and traffic is insane, but if we cut across this road here, we should be able to cut down our time by at least fifteen minutes.” Garmadon tapped a thin, almost invisible line on one of the many open maps and atlases currently littered across the floor. Lloyd squinted at one map, trying to make sense of the squiggly lines that seemed to start and stop erratically.

“Can’t we just use a GPS for this?”

Garmadon sighed. “Sure, and while we’re at it, why don’t we sew homing devices into our shirts?”

Lloyd narrowed his eyes. “Fine, we’ll do it the old-fashioned way.”

The older man pointedly ignored him. “Then this interstate will take us to Anaheim in about six hours, and that should give us a couple days in Disneyland before we drive back.”

“And what about the return trip?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when it burns,” he shrugged.

“That’s not how that goes…”

“Does it matter?”

He huffed.

“Why don’t you go ahead and call your friends? Tell them we’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

“At dawn.”

“Dawn?”

“Do you always repeat what other people say? Because that’s very annoying.”

Lloyd bit his lip and shook his head. “No, I - usually people get at least a 24 hour notice when they’re invited on weeks-long road trips.”

“It’s only two weeks.” Garmadon pointed out.  “And what would they need the heads-up for? It’s not like they have anything else to do.”

“Can’t we at least wait until noon?”

“Ugh, fine. But no later!” He shook his head, grumbling about how this would throw them all off schedule.

Lloyd called Cole, listening to it ring for a few minutes before a curt female voice answered. “We’re sorry, the number you are trying to reach is currently unavailable.”

“Weird,” he muttered before trying Kai’s. Fortunately the other picked up on the first ring.

“Lloyd!” he sounded worried. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he cut in quickly, casting a sideways glance at his dad lounging on the couch. “Uh, my dad was wanting to take me and some friends on a road trip. Do you wanna come? It’ll be more fun with more people, you know.” He added quickly. Kai picked up on what he was saying.

“Oh, yeah. Fun .”

“So you’re in?”

“Course I’m in! Just give me the signal and your dad is history .”

“Thanks,” he sighed. “Could you ask Nya too?”

“Sure, no prob.”

“And Cole, if you see him. I tried calling him earlier but-”

“He’s with me.” Kai interrupted.

“He is? Oh, great.”

There was some muffled talking on the other end of the line, then Cole picked up.

“So, a road trip? How far are we talking about, here?”

“Mmm, to California.” he answered. “So, all the way west.”

“You forgot Hawaii,” he pointed out.

“Look, if you want to drive to Hawaii, be my guest,” he snarked. “Are you in or not?”

“Of course I’m in, dude. How soon are we leaving?”

“Tomorrow at twelve,” Lloyd told them.

He called Jay next.

“Wassup?”

“Hey, Jay. Um, this might sound a little weird, but-”

“Let me guess. Your dad came back.”

Lloyd paused. “...Yes.”

“Are you wondering how I know? That’s a secret. Maybe I’m a psychic.”

“Or maybe Cole told you,” he rolled his eyes.

“Touche, dude.” Jay huffed.

“He’s taking all of us to California- well, me, Kai, Cole, and Nya. I haven’t asked Zane yet. You wanna come too?”

“Hang on.” He put his hand on the receiver and looked up. “Mom, Dad, can I go to California?”

“No!” Mrs. Walker cried from her position at the oven.

“Sure,” Mr. Walker said at the same time, without looking up from his newspaper.

They exchanged pointed glances.

Jay bit back a groan. “I’ll call you back later,” he told Lloyd before hanging up.

Last was Zane.

“I take it the purpose of this ‘road trip’ is not purely recreational,” he mused after Lloyd had finished explaining the situation. “And the others are going to protect you.”

“Yeah - I mean, I can take care of myself, but safety in numbers and all that.”

“Is everyone else going?”

“Pretty much. I still have to hear back from Jay, though.”

He could feel his friend hesitating. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to,” he added quickly. “I know you’ve got schoolwork, and stuff-”

“I will go.”

“Really?”

“You are my friend, Lloyd. If there is any trouble, I want to be there with you.”

“Thanks,” he nodded.

 

X

 

Mrs. Walker was scrubbing the dishes with a fury so intense, one would have thought the plates had personally offended her.

“Come on, dear,” Mr. Walker stood up and grasped his wife’s hand gently. “Let the boy go have fun with his friends. Weren’t you just saying last night you wished you could give him a real vacation?”

“Yeah, Mom,” Jay turned towards them, bringing his knees up and hugging them. “Besides, it’s just California. You know I’ve traveled further than that before.”

She closed her eyes and nodded. “I know, sweetie. I just…” she looked at her husband. “Help me, Ed.”

Mr. Walker nodded in understanding, before winking at Jay mischievously. Then out loud he said, “You’re mom has a right to be worried. Any number of horrible things could happen to you out there. You could get bitten by a rattlesnake, like the one I saw out in the yard today. Or get in an automobile accident, like the six hundred that occur in the city every day.”

“You’re not helping,” Mrs. Walker tried to look petulant, but her mouth quirked upwards.

“Please, Mom?”

“Fine,” she pulled him into a hug. “Just promise me you’ll be safe.”

Jay paused. “I will, Mom.”

It was already dark when he called Lloyd back. “My parents said I could go!”

“That’s great!” Lloyd was in his room, an empty suitcase and a pile of clothes on his bed. “Zane said he was coming too, so that looks like all of us.”

“You said noon tomorrow, right?”

“Yep.” The fourteen year old paused, cracking open his door and peeking out for a quick second before closing it. “Hey, you think your lightning is strong enough to knock out a grown man?” he whispered.

“Uh, hold on.” He heard some muffled movements, then some crackling sounds, before Jay came back. “I’m not sure if I can knock someone out, but I can reach fifty thousand volts easily - NO MOM, I’M NOT DOING ANYTHING ILLEGAL - is that enough?”

“That’s good,” Lloyd nodded. “I don’t want you to kill anyone, just be prepared if my dad, you know, tries anything.”

“I can’t imagine why that would happen,” Jay sniffed. “Well, I guess I better start packing. See ya tomorrow.”

“See ya.” He heard the click signifying Jay had hung up and looked over at his own suitcase.

 

X

 

“This is your car?” Lloyd couldn’t help the suspicion that crept into his voice as he stared at the sleek black Mercedes-Benz SUV.

“The papers are in the glove box.” Garmadon unlocked the remote and opened the passenger door, gesturing inside. “You can check them if you don’t believe me.”

After rifling through papers for a few minutes, Lloyd was able to come to the conclusion that legal documents were made to be as indecipherable as possible. Besides, if the car had been pinched, well, that would just be another conviction. He just had to be sure he wasn’t convicted as well. Could the judge find him a willing accomplice if he said he was extorted?

Probably.

Garmadon leaned against the back of the car aloofly, his eyes scanning the street behind his shades. The street was crowded and busy, like New York normally is, but like a hawk he was able to pick out some teenagers with luggage on the other side of the crosswalk chatting as they waited for the crossing signal. Two males, one female, he counted. The oldest male was tall and lanky, Asian, his hair spiked and dyed a reddish auburn with dark brown roots and a faded scar running across his eye. The girl must have been his sister. Her face was rounder, but she had the same high cheekbones, the same pointed nose, the same crooked smile. The last kid was somewhere between them in height, stocky and dark-skinned, his dark hair pulled into a messy half-bun. He had a pair of headphones around his neck and a - was that a freaking walkman clipped to his pants?

“I think your friends are here.”

Lloyd leaned out of the passenger side window and waved. “Guys! Over here!” Then he leaned on the horn, making Garmadon flinch and a passing pedestrian curse at them.

The light changed. He hopped out of the car while Kai, Cole, and Nya ran across the street.

“Hey!” Kai swept him up in a hug. With his face close to his ear, he murmured, “Just give the signal and your dad is barbecue.”

Lloyd looked over his shoulders at Garmadon, who raised an eyebrow.

“Aren’t you going to introduce your friends?” His lips curled around the last word like it was venomous.

“Haha, right.” Lloyd rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh, this is Kai and Nya, and Cole. Everyone, this is Garmadon.”

“Please, call me Mr. Garmadon.” Spiky Hair, Headphones, and Round Face - did they really expect him to go to the trouble of memorizing everyone’s names? Stared at him.

“Come on, guys, you can put your stuff in the back.” Lloyd directed them to the trunk. At least they were light packers. “Zane and Jay should be here soon.”

As if on cue, a rusty old junker swerved to a stop, coming incredibly close to knocking Garmadon over.

The driver cranked down his window. “Sorry ‘bout that!” Then he turned around.

“Now, you’re sure you’ll be safe?”

“Dad…” Jay groaned. Then his eyes widened. “Dad! The brakes!”

“Right!” Mr. Walker cheerfully adjusted the stick. Jay inhaled and stepped out of the car, dragging the briefcase his mom might have insisted on over-packing. He had hoped he could just be dropped off, but no, his parents just had to insist on meeting the adult in charge.

If only they knew who that adult really was.

Jay suddenly felt a lot lighter - literally. Cole stood next to him, having picked up the heavy luggage with one arm.

“Thanks,” he smiled.

The other teen shrugged. “No problem.”

Jay ran over to the others - or more specifically, one other. “Nya! How’s it going?”

Cole blew his bangs out of his face and muttered to himself.

Meanwhile, Garmadon was being attacked.

“So you’re Koko’s husband? It’s nice to meet you.” Mr. Walker grabbed his hand and shook it heartily. “I have to say, this is a surprise. Koko never talked about you.”

“We assumed she was a widow. Do you live far from here?”

“Yes,” he recovered quickly, withdrawing his hand and straightening his tie. “I live overseas for work. This is my first time back in the States for a few years.”

The adults continued talking, the Walkers pressing questions while Garmadon lied confidently. Jay looked over his shoulder at them.

“Think I should make them leave?”

“What? No. This is great.” Lloyd answered. Edna was lecturing Garmadon on pie crust recipes, and the criminal’s awkward face was priceless.

“Now, if you really want to spice things up, add some sour cream and-”

“Mom, Dad, shouldn’t you be going now?” Jay interrupted.

“Of course, dear, we won’t keep you long. I was just telling this kind man how to make a good blueberry pie.”

“Fascinating stuff, isn’t it?” Mr. Walker said, playfully ruffling his son’s curls.

“Quite.” Garmadon looked at Jay in the same way a cobra might look at a juicy frog. “And who might you be?”

“I-I’m Jay.” he stammered.

Mr. Walker slapped him on the back. “Well, we’re off. Take care of our son for us, Garmadon!”

“Son?”

Jay watched his eyes flick between himself and his parents -  who, for all the time they spent in the sun, were still noticeably paler than him. He rolled his eyes inwardly - honestly, you’d think adoption was a foreign concept.

“Of...course.”

Mrs. Walker squeezed him into a hug. “Be good, dear.”

“I will, Mom.”

“Make sure you mind your manners.”

“No problem.”

“And don’t forget to eat your vegetables! I don’t want to hear about you catching scurvy.”

“Got it.”

“And you did pack enough underwear, right?”

“Mom!” Jay could feel his face burning. Nya bit her lip, trying - and failing - to hold back her laughter.

Mr. Walker clapped him on the shoulder. “Have a great trip.” Then, voice low, he muttered, “and do remember to call us, or your mother might call the national guard.”

“Yeah, Dad, I’ll call you every day. Don’t worry,” he laughed. After one last, not-so-quick hug, his parents finally relinquished and drove off.

“Finally. Are we all ready to go?”

“Not yet,” Lloyd looked at his watch. Thirty seconds to twelve. “We still have one more coming.”

“Right.” Garmadon looked past him into the vehicle. “This friend of yours- is he super pale, blond, wears sweater vests?”

The ninja turned around and shrieked.

“God, Z,” Kai yanked open the door, almost doubling over in laughter. “You almost gave me a heart attack!”

Zane tilted his head and placed a hand over the older teen’s heart. “Your heart rate doesn’t appear to be abnormal. Are you experiencing chest pain?”

“Ah, forget it. How long have you been here?”

“Two minutes and twenty three seconds.”

Lloyd shook his head amusedly. “Alright, I already called shotgun so you’ll have to move to the back.”

“When did you call shotgun?” Jay demanded.

“Uh, just now?” Lloyd said, as if he were pointing out the obvious.

After a slight tussle, everyone eventually settled into their respective places: Lloyd and Garmadon in the front, Jay and Nya in the middle, and Zane sandwiched between Cole and Kai in the back.

“Now are we all ready?” Garmadon said impatiently.

“Yes?”

He rolled his eyes. “What’d I say about the questions, kid?”













Chapter Text

It had been six days, three hours and forty-seven minutes since Garmadon had last eaten.

The guard punched him again. He snarled, spitting the blood out of his mouth.  “You call that a hit?”

His arms were chained above him. He had lost feeling in them days ago.

Another guard entered the room, looking almost identical to the first one. Or maybe the blood loss was just affecting Garmadon’s vision. They talked in rapid-fire Russian, too quickly for him to try translating, before the new guy took out a key and unlocked the chains.

His arms dropped to his side unceremoniously. He wiggled his fingers in an attempt to get the blood flowing again, but before any significant progress could be made the guards grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and dragged him out of the room.

Out of the small, cold cement room and into a slightly bigger, cold cement room. Sheesh, you’d think that a crime boss almost as good as him would have better taste. Soviet cold war bunker chic was so 1991.

He was thrown onto the floor.

“Garmadon,” a new voice hissed from the shadows. “Enjoying your stay?”

“Pythor.” he spat. “You always treat your prisoners this well before an execution?”

“Of course not.” Pythor stepped forward. In the dim light of the underground bunker, his features were mostly hidden by shadow. He crouched down, mouth curling up in some garish facsimile of a smile. “But I’m willing to strike a deal with you.”

Deals and promises weren’t something exchanged around here. The only payment you could trust was in blood. And cash. Garmadon’s eyes narrowed.

“What’s in it for me?”

“I’ll forgive this little...mishap. And let you live.”

Living sounded nice. There still had to be a catch, though.

“All I’m asking you to do is bring me the green ninja.”

Yep, there it was. “You want the green ninja?”

“Someone like that running around...it’s best if we take care of the problem soon. Bring him to me.”

“Do you even know where he is?”

“Oh,” Pythor beckoned one of the guards forward. He took a picture out of his pocket and dropped it on the floor in front of Garmadon. “I don’t think it’ll be that hard for you to find him.”

The photo was a slightly blurry candid, of an orange-haired woman and a blond child in a shopping mall. The child was completely strange, but the woman - he’d recognize her anywhere.

He looked up. “Dead or alive?”

“Any way you want.”

 

X

 

Get the kid to California, they said. It’ll be easy, they said.

Garmadon was almost feeling nostalgic for the torture chamber.

“Can you stop reading, Zane? Your making me sick!”

“How can my reading make you sick?”

“Ugh!”

“Are we there yet?”

“Stop touching me!”

“You’re in my space!”

“Your music’s too loud!”

“I have to use the bathroom!”

He just had to do it the hard way, didn’t he?

“I’m serious, I really need to-!”

Garmadon glanced back in the rearview mirror at the scrawny, freckle-faced kid. “We just stopped ten minutes ago.”

“I didn’t have to go then!”

“Move your elbow!”

He gripped the steering wheel so tight his hands turned white. “If everyone doesn’t shut up, I will turn us around-”

“STOP THE CAR!”

Garmadon slammed on the brakes. A car swerved around them, blaring its horn.

“What is it?” he snapped.

Headphones pointed to a green turnoff sign. “There’s Hersheypark.”

“Did you say Hersheypark?” Lloyd twisted around. “Dad! We have to go.”

“We are not going to some goddamned chocolate Disneyland ripoff.” Garmadon rolled his eyes.

“Please?”

“I said no, and that’s -”

The kids started chanting. “Her-shey-park, Her-shey-park, Her-shey-park, Her-shey-park-”

“Alright, fine!” Garmadon stepped off the brake and eased into the cutoff lane. “This better be some damn good chocolate.”

 

X

 

After taking what seemed like forever to find a parking spot, they finally made it past the turnstiles and into the main entrance. Jay made a beeline for the restroom while everyone else congregated in the plaza.

Nya grabbed a map from one of the kiosks. “We have to ride the coasters,” she insisted.

“No freakin’ way!” Cole protested. “We’re in chocolate world, we need to eat some chocolate!”

“Or make some,” Kai added excitedly.

“We could see the birds,” Zane said quietly, pointing to a poster for the zoo.

“Are you nuts? Who goes to Hersheypark to look at birds?”

“I like birds,” he shrugged.

“What’s this about birds?” Jay asked, appearing almost out of thin air.

“Nothing.”

Garmadon interrupted. “I don’t care what you do, but you have three hours to do it.”

“Use the buddy system!” Kai added quickly. “And meet back here by six.”

This could be his chance. Jay fidgeted with his scarf and sidled up to Nya.

“Hey, you uh, wanna be buddies?” Dammit Jay, why’d you make that sound so awkward?

Fortunately, Nya just grabbed his wrist - her hand, on his wrist! - and dragged him off, shouting about a triple-tower-something. Jay hoped it had nothing to do with the frightfully tall structure he was being tugged towards. Maybe this was a mistake.

He turned around and mouthed, Help .

“Have fun, you two!” Cole waved, smirking. Traitor . Then, “I’m going to chocolate world, who’s with me?”

“That’s the make-your-own candy bar place, right?” Kai nodded. “I’m in.”

“And me.” Lloyd turned to Garmadon. “Can I have twenty dollars?”

“Why?”

“It’s okay, I’ll just use the money Mom got for child support.” He deadpanned. ‘Oh, wait…”

“Fine.” Garmadon handed over two tens and watched them leave.

How annoying. He’d be glad to finally get rid of them. But for now, at least he had a few hours of peace and solitude.

“Sir-”

He startled. Oh, yeah. Forgot about the other kid.

Said kid was staring at him curiously. Garmadon narrowed his eyes. Something seemed...off about him. And not because he was wearing a snowflake-patterned sweater vest in July. Now that was just tacky.

“Well,” he sighed. “Are we going to the zoo or not?”

The kid blinked slowly and smiled.







Chapter Text



Lloyd was in heaven.

"Thirty dollars!" Kai fumed. "That's the charge? For making your own chocolate bar? What a ripoff!"

A very expensive heaven.

"You didn't expect it to be free, did you?" Cole pointed out bemusedly.

"Well, no, but look at this!" He picked up a large candy bar from a display. "Seventy dollars, that's just ridiculous!"

“All the stuff here’s gonna be overpriced,” Lloyd pointed out.

"Or maybe," Cole plucked the candy from his hands and turned it over. "We look for chocolate that doesn't have solid gold leaf."

"That's fair."

Fortunately for the trio, there was no shortage of sweets nearby. Giant lollipops, bags of colorful popcorn, and of course, chocolates of all sorts were crammed onto shelves as high as the eye could see.

Lloyd squinted. Down at the far end - could that be? He could practically hear angels singing as the light shone on it- he ran over.

"Guys! Check this out!" He shouted as he reached a group of slat-wood kegs. A chalkboard sign above them read Miniature Candies - 2 for $1.

The three exchanged excited glances before practically diving into the barrels.

“What’s the taxation rate?” Lloyd cried as he dug through the small candies.

“Seven cents to a dollar!...Or three? I have no idea!”

“Look at this!” Kai held up a red bar decorated with flames and red X’s. “Chili pepper chocolate. I thought this stuff was only available in Japanese snack crates!”

Several minutes filled with anguished economic calculations later, the three dumped several armfuls of sweets on the checkout counter.

“Tell us when we reach fifty dollars, will you, Anaya?” Kai flashed her his most charming smile. “We’re on a budget.”

Anaya - a pretty twenty-something year old with a heart-shaped face and dark hair pulled back in a bun - smiled back, although it failed to reach her dull gray eyes. She scanned the first chocolate bar.

Only ninety more to go.

Cheer up, Anaya , she thought to herself. Only fifty more years of this, then you can finally relax in the cold embrace of a grave.

 

X

 

Why was he doing this again?

"That was fun!" Nya skipped ahead of him, grinning like they hadn't just narrowly escaped a death machine. Jay's heart was pounding heavily, although he wasn't sure if it was from the free-fall or just how beautiful the girl looked in a Nirvana t-shirt and gym shorts.

"Nya..." He started.

"Yeah?"

"You...uh, I mean, nevermind." He flushed. How hard could this be? Just tell her, just tell her, this is your chance to say you-

Nya quirked her eyebrows. "What's up?"

"You're really...." Amazing. Incredible. Fantastic.

"...hungry." She finished.

"Yeah. Wait, what?"

"I'm hungry," she repeated, pointing to a kiosk. "Want to get some fudge?"

"Oh. Sure!"

Well, that could have gone a lot worse, he thought with relief.

Could have gone a lot better, too.

“Free samples, free samples,” A woman yelled, holding a plate of fudge and wearing a dress that looked much too uncomfortable in the hot weather. “Fresh from the oven! Come try our new recipe.”

“Can I have one?” Jay asked.

“Of course,” the woman held the tray out. He picked up a square.

“No!” Nya yelled as she slapped his hand. The next thing he knew, the fudge was on the ground.

“What the-”

“Sorry,” her face flushed. “I panicked. Plus I didn’t feel like stabbing you today.” She pointed to the sign. NEW FLAVOR - PEANUT BUTTER NUTELLA FUDGE. (WARNING: CONTAINS PEANUTS).

“Oh.” Jay’s eyes widened. Was the world out to kill him today?

“Come on,” she gestured to the stall, smiling in that phew-close-call kind of way. “Let’s get something that won’t require an epipen.”

They placed their order - salted caramel for Nya and peppermint swirl for Jay - and, after humoring yet another of the latter’s selfies, found a nearby bench to sit on while they munched on their treats.

As they ate side by side, he risked the occasional sideways glance to his crush. Lots of people would have looked like a mess after running around in the hot sun (himself included), but Nya was still able to give Aphrodite a run for her drachmas. Her warm golden skin glistened in the day’s light, her black eyes sparkled like they held the stars, framed by thick eyelashes and her hair - it was on another level, curling ever so slightly and framing her face perfectly, with a small bun on the side that had come loose and was now more ponytail -

“You can stop staring.” Nya said bluntly.

Jay’s face burned. “I’m not staring.” He looked away.

Nya frowned at the rest of her fudge, not because she disliked it, but because there wasn't anything else to frown at. It wasn't like she couldn't pretend not to know why her friend acted so weird sometimes. But why right now, when she was all sweaty and her hair was frizzing like crazy?

"Do you want to do the Sidewinder now?" She asked in an attempt to change the subject.

"Ugh, not after eating," Jay groaned, clutching his stomach. "I'll get sick."

"Coward."

"Hey, I'm not the one who suggested it." He stuck his tongue out playfully. Nya reciprocated the motion. For now, at least, things were back to normal.



X

 

"...able to reach a diving speed of up to 240 miles per hour, or 386 kilometers per hour, making them the fastest animals in the world."

Garmadon checked his watch. Snowflake had started up an impromptu tour group back at the reptile house (or more accurately, his encyclopedic babbling had attracted some curious onlookers) which had followed him through the snakes, mammals, and finally, birds, where Garmadon had spent the last twenty minutes learning everything he didn't want to know about the flying pests.

Not that he was impatient or anything.

He checked his watch. One more hour to go.

"Because of their high speed, peregrine falcons have evolved several features, including a third eyelid to protect their eyes from debris while still allowing them to track their prey when diving, as well as tubercles in their nostrils that protects their lungs from the rapidly advancing air pressure-"

Maybe some food would shut him up?

"Peregrines are cosmopolitan, which means they can be found on every continent except Antarctica - or New Zealand - and are increasingly nesting in skyscrapers of urban-”

"Hey, Snowflake!" He elbowed his way through the crowd, definitely not knocking a child to the ground.

The teen looked surprised. "Gar - Mr. G?"

What, had he forgotten he was there?

"Why don't we get something to eat?"

"I am not-"

Several people were glaring at him for interrupting (including a woman kneeling next to a wailing child. How did that child get on the ground? Some mysteries will forever go unanswered.) Good. Now they could go bother someone else.

"Come on," he put his hand on the back of the kid's neck and steered him towards a nearby cafe. The crowd, sensing they had just lost their precious guide forever, dispersed rather quickly (albeit grumbly).

They got some food and sat down at a table.

"Finally." Garmadon tore a bite out of the sandwich. "I'm starving."

"My name is Zane."

"What?"

"You called me snowflake earlier, so I assumed you must have forgotten."

"Didn't forget. Just don't care."

He responded by taking another bite of his salad. Garmadon hoped he wasn't one of those vegetarian types, but his hopes were getting lower by the second. He couldn't imagine voluntarily giving up meat. Who'd  want to live without bacon?

He finished his hamburger. "Do you have the time?"

"Five thirteen," he answered automatically without looking up.

“So we’ve still got another hour,” he grumbled. Zane opened his mouth.

“We are not going back to the birds.”

He closed his mouth.

“In fact, no more animals. Period.” Personally, if Garmadon never saw another falcon for the rest of his life, it'd be too soon.

“But we’ve still got the insect exhibit- “

“How old are you, kid?”

“Around sixteen.”

Garmadon rolled his eyes. What was up with teenagers and being vague? He grabbed a napkin and wiped the hamburger grease off his hands. “Can I give you some advice?”

“No.”

“If you keep getting this excited about birds and bugs and all this crap, you’ll never get a girlfriend. You don’t want to be single forever, do you?”

“Aren’t you single?” Zane said slyly.

Garmadon was offended. “I was married!”

“Past tense,” he muttered under his breath. Garmadon generously decided not to murder him.

He eventually convinced the kid that it would be more worthwhile to spend their remaining time at the gift shop instead of ogling the invertebrates, although Garmadon swore he bought the unsettlingly realistic falcon plush just to spite him. Standing in line to buy the damned thing took way longer than it should have, so, with little time to spare, they rushed back to the courtyard.

It was 5:57 when they arrived at the designated meeting spot, with nary another person in sight. A lecture in punctuality would surely be needed.

"If your friends don't show up in the next minute, I'm leaving without them." He grumbled, only half-lying. Honestly, he only needed the one, the others would probably be fine if he left them.

Zane was silent, seemingly ignoring him as he squeezed the bird plushie. Then he perked up, head snapping to the right. "They're here."

Garmadon followed his line of vision. Headphones and Spiky Hair were ambling towards them, with Lloyd slung across the taller one's back, spacing out and giggling.

"Where'd you get the LSD?" Garmadon asked dryly.

"It's just a sugar high," Kai rolled his eyes as he shifted Lloyd.

"Right, 'sugar'. Sure."

"I told you not to eat all that candy at once, but did you listen. Nooo." Cole muttered. He still had his bag of mini-sweets, having only eaten a few and electing to save the rest for later.

"Let me see one of those," Garmadon ordered. He'd had to suffer for three hours, so he deserved some chocolate.

Headphones handed him an almond bar, which he unwrapped and popped into his mouth. It tasted like chalk. He gagged. This was the great chocolate America felt was worthy to build a theme park after? What a joke. He should give everyone here a taste of Mexican chocolate, then this hellhole would shut down in an instant. Which didn't seem like a bad idea.

He filed that idea in his brain, right under popularizing the idea that tomatoes belong in fruit salads .

But that was something to work on later. “Are we all here? Good. Let’s go.”

Nobody moved.

“Uh, we still need Jay and Nya,” Cole said.

“Right.” Garmadon looked at his watch. 6:02. “I’m sure they won’t mind staying behind.”

Kai ignored him and said to Zane, “I like your bird.”

“It’s a Peregrine Falcon. They’re the fastest animals in the world.”

“Wicked. You see any other cool animals?”

Zane nodded. “Lynxes, snapping turtles, hawks and owls. Did you find any interesting chocolate flavors?”

“Yeah, I got a few chili pepper-flavored ones! We saw a gold one too, but it was wayyy too pricey.”

“Who would eat gold?”

“Who would eat fish eggs? Rich people are weirdos. No offense, Cole.”

Cole shrugged. Technically it was his father who was well-off, everyone just assumed he bestowed his son with hefty allowances and lavish gifts. Which, hello, not true.

The others arrived in the nick of time, Nya bouncing with excess adrenaline and Jay’s hair standing up from static energy.

“Never again,” he murmured to himself, “never again.”

Kai patted him on the back sympathetically, receiving a mild shock in return.

“Come on, the Storm Runner was fun!” Nya argued.

“Fun? We shot up the hill. That’s not supposed to happen!”

“It is if it’s a launched coaster.”

“Wonderful. Great. I hate it.” He looked at Lloyd. “What happened to him?”

“I don’t want to know.” Garmadon picked up the fourteen-year-old by the scruff of his neck and inspected him.

“Hey!” Lloyd hiccuped. His pupils were so dilated, his irises were black. He laughed again. “Put me down, I can’t fly!”

“You’re sure nothing else was in the sugar?” Garmadon asked.

“I’m like...ninety-nine percent sure,” Kai confessed.

“Good enough for me.” He slung the kid over his shoulder roughly and started walking.

“No, don’t take me to Azkaban, I gotta return the ring to Mordor,” Lloyd yawned.

Kai followed behind them, ruffling his hair. “Okay, you do that.”

“Mmm.” His eyes fluttered. Wow, he was crashing fast. “I gotta be the hero...gotta save every...one….”

“Okay, bro.” Kai nodded amusedly. “You do that.”



























Chapter Text

It took a little over half an hour to get to Harrisburg, with them only having to stop once when someone woke up and realized eating ten pounds of chocolate didn’t combine well with riding a moving vehicle.  

Lloyd looked up at the towering hotel, partly apprehensive and partly relieved they wouldn't have to sleep in a dingy alleyway like he’d suspected. 

The lobby was just as fancy as the hotel front, all gilt tables and suede chairs nobody was sitting in. Lloyd and his friends looked out of place in their shorts and t-shirts. 

"Welcome to the Susquehanna Riverfront Hotel, do you have a reservation?" The receptionist glanced up at Garmadon. "I'm sorry, sir, I have to ask you to take your sunglasses off."

Garmadon took off his shades and folded them slowly, placing them in the front pocket of his suit jacket. "We'll take the penthouse, darling."

"Do you have a reservation?" She repeated, eyes flickering to the teens suspiciously. Jay had found the complementary peppermint bowl and was currently stuffing as many as he could into his pockets, while Nya was trying to determine if the potted fern was real by tearing off the leaves. Lloyd gave her his best totally innocent smile. 

“That won’t be a problem.”

“I’m afraid it will,” the receptionist pointed out, pulling up a new tab on her computer. “Our penthouse suite is already booked for the next six months. We do have an executive suite available, will that work?”

“No.” Garmadon leveled her with a cold stare. “We’ll take the penthouse. If there’s a problem, you can call your manager.” He paused. “And don’t think about pressing the alert button.”

The receptionist’s hand froze under the desk. She wavered, then slowly withdrew and picked up the phone.

“Good girl.”

“Mr. Lancaster?” She spoke into the telephone nervously. “I’m sorry to bother you, there’s a man here with some kids...no, I don’t think there’s any danger, but he says he wants the penthouse suite...I know, sir, I know.” She covered the receiver and looked at Garmadon.

“We can’t-”

“Tell your manager that Mr. Gadoan is making the request.”

“He says his name his Gadoan, if that makes any difference...are you sure?...there’s already two people in that room, should I have them relocated?...yes, sir, understood.” 

She hung up, looking dazed. “Your room will be available shortly.”

“Excellent,” Garmadon flashed her a grin. 

“I can’t believe you extorted someone for the penthouse,” Lloyd said as they were in the elevator.  

“No one was harmed, so it’s technically not an extortion.”

Lloyd shook his head.

The elevator dinged and opened into a short hallway with a single door. Garmadon extracted the key card and opened it.

A minute passed. 

“What are you waiting for, an invitation? Move it!” 

They stepped into the room.

“Oh,” Jay looked at the high-vaulted ceilings, the floor-to-ceiling windows, the plush sofa, full-sized kitchenette, 4k TV...this one room was bigger than his entire house. And there were still three doors leading to other rooms!

“Wow.” Kai agreed.

Cole, who had grown up in an extravagant apartment and was much more accustomed to this style of living, just dropped his suitcase on the couch. 

Garmadon opened the first door. “If you need me, I’ll be in here. Don't need me.” He slammed it shut and locked it. 

“Oh, for the love of -” Lloyd ran his fingers through his hair exasperatedly. Kai patted his shoulder supportively. 

“How’re we doing sleeping arrangements?” He asked in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“Already called dibs on the sofa,” Cole said quickly. 

“Okay, Nya and I will take the third bedroom.” 

Nya crossed her arms petulantly. 

“I call the sofa, too,” Jay said. 

“Okay,” Lloyd chewed his lip. “I guess that leaves Zane and me to the middle bedroom.”

The others disappeared into the suites, leaving Jay and Cole in the main area. 

Cole looked at Jay. “You can take the sofa. I brought a sleeping bag.”

Jay rolled his eyes. “It’s a pull-out sofa, dork, it can fit two people.”

“Yeah, if one of them doesn’t snore, and talk in his sleep, and try to kick people.” Cole unrolled his sleeping bag. “I’ll take my chances on the ground, thanks.”

Jay shrugged and made the bed, flopping down on the soft mattress and pulling out his phone to charge it. 

“There’s still plenty of room up here,” he pointed out as he opened Instagram. “You absolutely sure you don’t want up here?”

“I’m sure.” Cole stood up, taking his headphones off. “I’m going to take a shower.”

Jay hummed in response, eyes fixed on his photo album. He had taken over a dozen pictures at the park, mostly with Nya, and now he had to decide which would be the best to post. 

He narrowed it down to three - Nya posing victoriously after the most dangerous coaster, a selfie at the front gate, them on the bench eating the fudge - when his phone buzzed. 

“Hey, Dad,” he answered. “I was going to call you in five minutes, I swear.”

“Oh, do you want me to hang up so you can do that?”

“Haha, very funny. Is Mom there?”

“Right here, dear.” Mrs. Walker joined in. “How’s the trip going? Are you having fun?”

“Yeah.” Jay told them about Hersheypark and the rollercoasters. “We’re in Harrisburg right now.”

“In a hotel?”

“We got the penthouse suite.”

“That sounds fun. We’ll let you go since it’s getting late - don’t forget to call us tomorrow. Preferably before 8 pm.”

“Got it. Love you guys.”

“We love you too, sweetheart.” 

The call ended just as Cole came back, his damp hair falling over his eyes and down the back of his neck. He sat cross-legged on the makeshift bed and casually fiddled with his walkman, as one of his short sleeves slid down his shoulder.  

Jay stared.

“What?” Cole looked up.

“You were wearing a tank top and sweatpants, and now you’re wearing a different tank top and sweatpants.”

“So? They’re comfortable.”

“Does that mean you sleep in your clothes, or go out in your pajamas?”

Cole threw his pillow at him. Jay caught it with his hands and face (mostly the face). He set the weapon to the side, glancing down at his phone as an idea struck him.

“Hey, your phone’s still lost, right?”

“Mhmm,” the other teen said. “ I’m completely techless. Ready to go live with the Amish.”

“They’d make you give up your walkman.”

Cole looked horrified. “Never mind.” 

“Anyways, do you want to use my phone?”

“No, why?”

“So you can call your dad.”

Cole suddenly became very interested in the music player. “Not really. He’s probably busy, anyways.”

“Oh. Okay.” Jay hesitated. “I guess I’ll take my shower now.”

He returned ten minutes later, wearing his favorite pjs with thunderclouds. Cole coughed. 

“You’re going to sleep in that?”

“They’re called pajamas,” Jay said defensively. “You should try them someday.”

“No, I mean…” Cole gestured to his throat. “Isn’t that a choking hazard?”

Jay touched his scarf. “It hasn’t killed me yet.”

It probably would have if he slept with it wrapped around his neck, but Jay wasn’t an idiot. He actually slept holding the fabric like a security blanket, but it’d be a cold day in hell before he told anyone. Even his friends.

Especially his friends. 

 

X

 

It was past midnight. Lloyd stared up at the ceiling, listening to Zane’s soft breathing from the other bed. The day had been too weird - too surreal . Like a dream. If he fell asleep now, he’d probably wake up in his own bed back home, with his mom making pancakes before she left for work, and his dad nothing more than a nonexistent thought in the back of their minds. Lloyd wasn’t sure he wanted to wake up, which was why he couldn’t fall asleep.

Plus, he still had a ton of sugar in his bloodstream. 

After twenty minutes of tossing and turning, Lloyd threw the covers off and got out of bed. He glanced over at Zane, but the guy could have probably slept through the apocalypse, so he didn’t stir when Lloyd tiptoed across the room and opened the balcony door. 

The spacious veranda wrapped around the side of the building, accessible via all three suites and furnished with wicker chairs and tables. Lloyd leaned over the railing, looking down at all the matchbox cars and the huge river a couple blocks away. 

“Go back to bed, kid.”

Lloyd started. 

Garmadon was sitting in one of the chairs, reading a book. Lloyd tried to read the cover, but it was in Chinese. Disappointment surged through him, which he quickly stamped out. He didn’t care what kind of books his dad read. 

Garmadon turned the page. “Didn’t you hear me? I said go back to bed.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be fine. Children need eight hours of sleep.”

“I’m not a child,” Lloyd crossed his arms. He hated how whiny he sounded, and, even worse, the yawn he couldn’t stifle at the end. Garmadon raised his eyebrow.

“Fine,” he conceded reluctantly. “I’ll go to bed if you go to bed too.”

He’d been out here long enough, he supposed - from this location, there were thirteen places someone could spy on him, to make sure he was staying on schedule. Because if word got back that he wasn’t….

“Alright.” He dog-eared the book and tossed it aside. In the building across the street, he could see the curtains fluttering in the window of a dark room. Maybe sleep wasn’t such a terrible idea. 

 

X

 

Lloyd jolted awake. “What the-”

An incessant wailing sound was coming from just outside the room, like a fire engine had made its way up to their suite. 

Zane sat up as well, looking perfectly well-rested, and got out of bed. He closed the door as he left the room, slightly muffling the aggravating noise.

Lloyd rubbed his eyes and fell back down into the mattress. 

The door slammed open.

“Come on, kiddo, time to wake up,” Garmadon ordered, holding the blaring alarm right next to his ear. Lloyd looked at the time.

Six am. He had to be kidding, right?

“Die,” he grumbled as he ducked under the pillow. Garmadon rolled his eyes and bodily dragged him from the warm bed, depositing him in the main room with a bunch of other sleepy, befuddled-looking teens. 

“Breakfast at six fifteen. Anyone not ready by then will just have to go hungry until lunch.” With that said, he strolled out of the suite, slamming the door behind him. Nya narrowed her eyes.

Lloyd collapsed into Kai and moaned, “Kill me.” Kai patted him on the back.

Cole looked like he was going to pass out any second. Jay had his eyes closed and was mumbling unintelligibly. In fact, only one of them had woken up completely. 

“There should be coffee downstairs at the breakfast bar,” Zane suggested helpfully. That simple promise was the only motivation they all needed to sleepily get dressed. 

Nya hastily changed into some shorts and a t-shirt and snuck out the door while Jay was trying to tell Cole about the wonders of different clothing varieties . Her socked feet padded softly down the hall, into the elevator, and tiptoed to the back of the hotel. She might not be an investigative genius, but watching CSI: Los Angeles on the rec room tv after curfew had taught her some things. Like how high one could turn the volume up before a staff member came to investigate. Or how, if a hotel is involved in something underhanded, the most shady actions take place by the pool. 

Her hunch was correct. Garmadon was leaning against the picket fence surrounding the pool, talking into a - was that supposed to be a cell phone? Nya hid behind the corner, back pressed against the wall, fingers digging into the cracks of the weathered bricks. 

"...be watching the senators today," Garmadon was saying. "There's too many players, but as long as the ball gets on the infield I think they can make it."

What was he talking about?

"I have to go. The game's about to start. I'll call you after it's over." 

Nya peered around the wall. Garmadon shoved the communications device in his pocket and started walking- straight towards her. She turned and fled. 

Nya made it to the breakfast lounge with seconds to spare, grabbing a plastic cup and filling a fourth of it with coffee as well as grabbing a croissant before jumping into a chair next to Jay. 

"What's up?" She said casually, biting into the pastry and decidedly not looking up when Garmadon entered the room. The last thing she wanted was to be the body they found floating in the pool. 















 












Chapter Text

Jay was having a great dream (one that involved him, Nya, a rainbow with hidden treasure at the end, and a monocle-clad narwhal) when he was rudely awakened by a leprechaun cop car arriving to arrest the narwhal for tax evasion. The cornered narwhal grabbed both of them and jumped off the rainbow, yelling you’ll never take me alive! Jay screamed.

“Hey!” Something was shaking him. He bolted upright, head slamming straight into that something. 

“Ow,” he moaned, clutching his head. His ears were ringing. Cole was in front of him, hands on his temples. 

“That’s the last time I try to wake you up,” he grimaced. 

“And just why would you do that?”

“You tell me. You know you’re supposed to wake up when an alarm goes off, not start yelling in your sleep.”

“What...oh.” As the throbbing in his forehead subsided, Jay realized the ringing sound he heard wasn’t internal. The shrill sirens were somebody’s morning alarm going off. Someone who only had a short time to live once Jay found them. 

"Gods, your head is so hard." 

"You're one to talk," he retorted. 

The door to the last bedroom opened and Nya came in, rubbing her eyes. Kai's arms were wrapped around her shoulders with his knees dragging on the ground. 

"Nnngh," he said coherently. 

"If you drool on me I'm gonna drop you," Nya warned. "Jay, can you please turn off...whatever's making that racket?"

"Why do you think it's my fault?"

"You do kind of have a track record…" Cole pointed out. Jay rolled his eyes. 

"So I forgot to put my phone on silent mode one time."

"We got banned from that monastery for life!"

"Those monks were so mad," Kai laughed sleepily. "It was hilarious." Nya let go of his arm, causing him to fall to the floor. “Ow.”

The ringing sound was becoming louder, to the point where Cole was half-expecting the hotel staff to throw them out. Garmadon walked into the room, fully dressed in his formal suit and tie. (Jay wondered if he had any pajamas, which led to an image of the old man in an anime kigurumi. He shook that particular mental picture from his head fast.) 

"What are you all standing around for?"

They shrugged. "You know."

"Just hanging out."

"Enjoying the sunrise."

"I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!"

Garmadon opened the refrigerator and took out the alarm. "Where's Lloyd?"

"Why the refrigerator?" Kai stage-whispered. 

He ignored him, instead shoving open the door to the middle bedroom and pushing Zane out of the doorway.

“Good morning,” he greeted the others cheerfully and receiving equally pleasant replies such as hmm and ughh

There were a couple of thuds and murmurings coming from the room before the blasted alarm finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, finally shut off and the last of them was dragged out to join the fun. 

After some blunt instructions to be dressed and downstairs within the quarter hour, their tormentor vanished. It took a lot of effort (plus the promise of caffeine - they’d have to remember to thank Zane later) but they eventually got dressed and went to the breakfast lounge, sans Nya who was off doing...something else. Girl stuff, probably. 

The buffet was quiet this early in the morning, with only a few pairs of senior citizens up and about, sitting at tables and drinking their coffee silently. Lloyd grabbed a paper plate and went down the food line, dishing up some scrambled eggs and toast. Cole piled his up with fruit, while Kai all but shoved his way to the cappuccino machine and Zane dropped some waffles into the toaster. 

Jay, meanwhile, had found something even better: a line of dispensers, all filled with cereals of varying sugar levels. 

“Awesome.” He ran down the queue, pressing every lever until his bowl was filled with some sort of hybrid sugary monstrosity. He lifted his creation up triumphantly. “Look at that! I’m a culinary genius.”

“You forgot to leave room for the milk, dork,” Cole said, appearing beside him. He stabbed a piece of cantaloupe and ate it. 

Jay looked down. As much as he hated to admit it, Cole was right. But he couldn’t toss any out, wasting perfectly good food was the cardinal sin of teenage boys. And he wasn’t about to eat the stuff dry. 

“Drat. Hey Lloyd, you want some of this?”

Lloyd’s face looked almost as green as his sweater. “I think I’ll pass.”

“Okay, it’s your loss.” 

They found a table and sat down. 

“Has anyone seen Nya?” Lloyd asked. “I thought she’d be down here already.”

“She’s probably off doing...whatever it is girls do.” Jay surmised. Kai rolled his eyes. 

“Very astute, Sherlock. And can you not do that ? It’s disgusting.”

“Wha’s wron’ wiff id?” Jay asked. He had found a way to circumvent his problem, but the solution involved filling his mouth with cereal and then drinking some milk, to pretty much everyone’s chagrin.

“Everything,” Cole said. 

Jay swallowed, but before he could think up a decent protest Nya slid in next to him, holding a croissant and looking harried. “What’s up?”

“Hey, where’ve you-”

“Girl stuff,” she said quickly, before cramming half of the pastry into her mouth and swallowing it in two seconds. Jay shot Kai a smug look. The latter rolled his eyes. 

“Lloyd, I need to talk to you.”

“About what?”

Garmadon appeared in the door.

“Not now,” she muttered. 

A pile of leaflets dropped onto the table, grinding all conversation to a halt. 

“Uh, what’s all this?”

“Tourist brochures,” Garmadon answered, pulling an extra chair up. “You didn’t think you’d be staying at the hotel all day, did you?”

Cole picked up one labeled Harrisburg and Surrounding Counties: Points of Interest while Lloyd grabbed Historical Landmarks in Pennsylvania’s Capital

“Anything interesting?” Nya asked.

“There’s a Revolutionary War Museum, a Civil War Museum, an Art Museum-”

“Yo, she said interesting,” Jay interrupted. “Everything you said is the exact opposite of that.”

Lloyd felt a tinge of annoyance. “You could look yourself.”

“Alright. Give me one, then.” He snatched up Current Events and Attractions

“We could go to the State Capital,” Cole suggested a few minutes later. Garmadon shook his head. 

“Vetoed. Could you try finding a spot with more government officials?” 

“Riiiight.”

Lloyd bit his bottom lip, a this is why people usually pre-plan their trips itching on his tongue. 

“What about the - cover your ears, Jay - what about the fire museum?”

“A fire museum?” Kai leaned back. “Sounds lit. I’m in.”

“Of course, you’d be.” the decidedly-not-ear-covering Jay sighed. “But as far as museums go, I guess there could be worse.” 

At least he wasn’t going to a postal museum. There was that, at least.

The fire museum was only a couple blocks away, so they decided to walk the twenty minutes on the road parallel to the river. Along the street, colonial-style houses were lined up neatly in their red brick and tawny stucco. Had it not been for the Mazda parked on the side, Lloyd could almost imagine Paul Revere was about to turn the corner on horseback to warn them about incoming redcoats, or George Washington leading a battalion. He started humming unconsciously. 

Nya caught on after a few bars. “I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal, tryin’a reach my goal, my power of speech unimpeachable-”

“Only nineteen but my mind is older,” Kai joined in loudly, “these New York City streets gettin’ colder, I shoulder every burden, every disadvantage I have learned to manage…” He nudged Lloyd.

“I don’t have a gun to brandish, I walked these streets famished! The plan is to fan this spark into a flame but damn it’s getting dark so let me spell out my name! I am the...!”

“A-L-E-X-A-N-D,” Zane added, “E-R, we are meant to be a colony that runs independently.”

Garmadon looked at them like they’d just sprouted cauliflowers from their heads. “The hell are you singing about?”

“Nothing,” Lloyd smirked. “You wouldn’t get it.”

“I AM NOT THROWING AWAY MY SHOT!” Jay screamed, causing a passing couple - most likely tourists, judging by their pink fanny packs - to look at them disapprovingly. 

“Hey, yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry-!” he poked Cole.

“No way,” the teen said flatly.

“Come on!” 

“Fine.” He sighed, murmured something under his breath, then said in a low, not-really-singing kind of quick mutter: “Andiamnotthrowingawaymyshot.” 

At least he could see the museum across the street, so he wouldn’t have to deal with much more impromptu street performances today. He pushed the button for the crosswalk impatiently, automatically grabbing Jay’s neck before he could dash across.

“The road is empty!” he protested. “You really want to just stand around for no reason?”

“I think avoiding death by vehicular manslaughter is a perfectly fine reason,” Zane pointed out. “If you were to cross the street, hypothetically, and a semi-truck suddenly sped through, you would be killed instantly and we would suffer adverse psychological effects such as trauma, grief, and survivor’s guilt.”

“Speak for yourself,” Garmadon said. 

“Aww, are you trying to say you’d be sad if I died?”

“I would be sad if you died.”

“In other words,” Kai leaned over just as the red hand switched to a white pedestrian, “don’t be a jaywalker .”

 “Oh, ha ha. Very funny.” Jay said sarcastically. “Never heard that one before, Kai Santos .”

They crossed the street and entered the Victorian building. A man with a red buttoned shirt emblazoned with PNFM 10 greeted them. 

“Hi there! Welcome to the museum.” he eyed the rather large group. “I assume you have a reservation?”

“We don’t.” Garmadon said. Why was everyone so obsessed with reservations? “Is that a problem?” 

His tone might be threatening to a person of lesser fortitude, but the fireman just waved them in. “Not at all! We just need those for guided tours, but if you don’t have one you’re still free to look around on your own.” He pointed to a sign reading Adults - $7, Seniors - $6, Students - $6. “That’ll be forty-three dollars. Cash or card?” 

“Card.” He slipped a billfold out of his pocket and procured a pitch-black credit card, which the other man scanned using a handheld device. It beeped in confirmation. He opened the door to the exhibits.

“Have fun!”








Chapter Text

“Have fun!”

Fun wasn’t quite the word Jay’d use to describe the place - interesting as it may seem, it was still a museum, and still reeked of the classic museum aura of having rusty old artifacts encased behind glass to just be looked at. He wasn’t like Zane, who stopped to meticulously read every plaque no matter how unimportant the information was, or Lloyd, who was mashing buttons on the replica telegraph machine. Well, if he wasn’t going to enjoy this, he might as well take some pictures for instagram. Jay positioned himself in front of one of the wax statues and snapped the first selfie. 

“Want to take a photo with me?” He asked Nya, who was standing next to one of the old water pumps with Kai.

“No thanks,” she smiled apologetically. Then, to her brother, “You think this stuff still works?”

Kai’s eyes gleamed devilishly. “Should I test it?”

Nya looked at Garmadon, then up at the ceiling. Just like she thought, a fire alarm was stationed right above them. “Light it up, bro.”

Kai followed her line of vision and sighed. “You know, if you need a distraction, all you had to do was ask .”

“Please?” She put on her best puppy eyes. Kai couldn’t resist those, and she had her fair share of ice cream to prove it. “You’ll be my favorite sibling-”

“I’m your only sibling,” he cracked his knuckles. “But sure. Fire!

Speaking an element’s name was far from required to bring them into existence, but the teenager always did have a flair for the dramatic. The spark sputtered to life in his palm, slowly growing from the size of a candle’s flame to a burning fireball. The alarm awakened, along with the sprinkler system. 

“Aw, seriously, Kai?” Lloyd yelled as the indoor rain drenched his hair. Two firefighters slammed open the door, one carrying an extinguisher. 

“What’s going on in here?” One of them demanded.

Kai waved sheepishly, closing his other hand to extinguish the flame. “Oops, my bad. But hey! At least your equipment works!”

Firefighter no. 1 dropped his extinguisher. “The statues!” he ran over to them in distress. The second one clamped her hand on Kai’s shoulder. 

“Son, I’m gonna need you to come with me.”

“Yeah, sure.” He said fake- somberly.

“Thanks for that,” Nya whispered as he was marched past her. Kai shot her a look that was simultaneously no problemo, anytime and you so owe me for this .

She’d buy him an ice cream later.

“And you, sir,” Firefighter no.2 said to Garmadon, who so far had been doing a pretty good impression of bored NPC. “Are you this kid’s parent?”

Garmadon looked at her flatly. “Do I look like his parent?”

She waved her hand. “Parent, adoptive parent, field trip chaperone, whatever, are you in charge here?”

“Unfortunately,” he muttered before following them outside. Nya didn’t want to know where they were going, by all accounts it was probably worse than the principal’s office. She upgraded her promise to two ice creams. 

Lloyd ran his fingers through his wet hair. “I can’t believe you saved the exhibits only,” he complained, gesturing to the dry telegraph machine in front of him. 

“They’re artifacts, I couldn’t let them get ruined.” she shrugged and leaned against the wall, taking her phone out. 

“I followed your dad,” she said after a few minutes. Lloyd’s head snapped up. 

“You did wha-”

“Shh, don’t look at me!” she whispered. “He was outside, talking to some guy. Said something about senators.”

“Oh,” Lloyd frowned, concentrating on pushing the buttons. “You don’t think he’s talking about politics, do you? He said he wanted to avoid the capital building.”

“I don’t know,” Nya bit her lip. It felt like she was trying to solve a puzzle with no reference picture and pieces that were flipped upside down. Endlessly frustrating and nigh-impossible. 

“We need to get some sort of leverage.”

“I agree. In theory,” Lloyd said. “But what kind of leverage?” 

“I’ve got an idea.”

Lloyd waited for her to explain further, or add something like I’m going to need your help . But she left off with that. 

Of course, it wasn’t like he could be much help anyway. Stupid useless green power. 

Kai and Garmadon returned, along with the firefighter, who had her mouth set in a thin line and looked like she had popped several blood vessels. 

“We’ll be leaving now,” Garmadon said, causing a ruckus of already? I’m not done reading this… .

The firefighter jabbed her finger into Kai’s chest. “Don’t forget what I said.” 

“Haha, of course,” Kai grinned, although he looked a little pale.

 

X

 

“What did she say?” Lloyd asked once they were outside. 

“Oh, she just threatened to charge me with attempted first-degree arson. And then she told me all the penalties for it. Like fifty thousand dollar fines, ten years in jail, the death penalty .” He shivered. 

“Technically, you should only get the death penalty if somebody died,” Zane pointed out. 

“Thanks for the info,” Lloyd said. The pedestrian light went on and they crossed the street, to where exactly he had no idea. It wasn’t like they had made any plans after the museum, although in hindsight they probably should have. 

He jogged up to his dad. “Where are we going now?”

“South. We’ve still got time to kill before lunch, thanks to your friend’s stunt.”

“...what about after lunch?”

Garmadon twisted his mouth into a warped smile. “That’s a surprise.”

They ended up going into an art museum eight blocks down, under the threat that if any of them were to make trouble Garmadon would personally make sure they’d never be able to use their fingers properly again (staring rigidly at Jay when he said it). Jay swallowed and quit complaining. 

At the very least, the museum did have air conditioning. Lloyd was grateful for that as he stood under the vent in one of the side rooms, where the walls were peppered with primary school crayon drawings of Picasso’s self portrait. The student on the bottom left definitely had a promising career in forgery. 

He looked around. Jay was sulking because one of the guards had caught him using flash photography on a painting, while Cole was laughing at him. Kai and Zane were trying to figure out what a twisted wooden sculpture was supposed to be. And Nya was…

Nowhere.

Red lights flashed through Lloyd’s brain. He thought back to their conversation at the firehouse, her softly-whispered warning laced with paranoia. Garmadon hadn’t found out, had he? Actually, where was he, anyway?

“I got rid of him.”

Lloyd’s head snapped up, relief overcoming him. Then it was replaced by something else. “You killed him?”

Not that he particularly cared if he died, of course. The man was a monster. He simply didn’t want his friends to bear the moral burden of murder. Yeah, that was it. 

“No!” Nya shook her head quickly. “I just broke the lock on the men’s restroom. We’ll be able to talk freely now.”

“For a minute. You know he’ll just break the whole door, right?”

“A minute’s all I need.” She had the same serious, scheming look she did when the timer was ticking down on a robotics competition and she had less than a minute to run a line of commands or repair a glitch. “Listen, I’m going to steal your dad’s credit card.”

“You’re going to what?” Lloyd blinked. “If you need money-”

“It’s not about the money!” she hissed. “The cards probably linked to an offshore account. If I can get my hands on it, I’ll be able to pinpoint its origin.”

Lloyd hesitated. “That’s a good plan, but….”

Nya raised her eyebrows. “But?”

“There’s just the whole problem of, y’know, how exactly your going to trace it,” he pointed out. “Not to mention pickpocketing a professional thief is going to be extremely difficult.”

“I’ve got a plan, okay?” She said. “I just need you to play along when I start.” 

Lloyd was silent. 

“Can you do that?”

“...yes.” As much as it went against his better judgement, he found himself acquiescing. 

“Thanks.” she smiled thinly, shifting her gaze over to the drawings. “You know Picasso was inspired by an Algerian teenage girl?”

“Really? That’s interesting.” He didn’t have to look up to know what caused the rapid shift in conversation. 

“If your done ogling the artwork, it’s time for lunch.” Garmadon said. 

“Finally!” Jay shoved his phone into his pocket. “I’m starving.”

After much walking and arguing, they ended up going to a small upscale Mexican diner. Lloyd kept waiting for Nya to do something, anything really, but she acted relatively normal throughout the appetizers. When the waiter came out to take their orders, Lloyd just looked at the menu and quickly said the first thing he saw (although he didn’t think he pronounced it correctly - was it say-vitch or seh-vitch-ay?)

He was so focused on watching Nya that he didn’t notice when she slid a salsa bowl over to him, at least not until she kicked his shin. He jumped.

ACT. NORMAL. She glared at him, before quickly laughing at one of Jay’s dumb jokes. Normal. Right. 

At this point, he couldn’t even tell what was normal anymore. 

Lloyd grabbed some chips and tuned in to the conversation, which had since turned into Kai recapping an episode of something that happened last week during his part-time job. 

“So I’ve got like, ten people in line, my co-worker’s taking her fifth break in the last hour, this kid at the counter is trying to convince me he’s old enough to buy a crate of Budweiser.” He paused and took a swig of his diet coke, just like a veteran recounting memories of a long-forgotten battle. “So I said, look, don’t even bother trying to show me a fake ID, I know for a fact you’re not twenty-one, screw off, I’ve got customers.”

“You didn’t actually tell him to screw off, did you?” Zane asked.

“Nah, ‘course not. It was more along the lines of ‘please move along.’ But the kid is still trying to argue with me, and this guy waiting in line is looking like he’s about to either take the kid out or buy the beer himself. He steps forward but then - get this - and then this five year old comes running around the corner and straight-up smacks into the counter. And he falls down, and I’m thinking holy crap, he’s dead .”

They gasped.

“But the little kid’s mom is just around the corner - he was fine, by the way - and apparently she’s ALSO the mom of the kid at the counter. So she sees him up there, with the six-pack up on the register, and she goes absolutely feral. Started screaming loud enough the whole store could hear, grounds him for a year, and threatens to take his Switch away permanently. Then the little one started crying because he needed stitches-”

“I thought you said he was fine,” Lloyd interjected.

“He was fine, he just needed stitches. So they had to leave to go to the ER, and I finally start ringing up the next person in line, and my coworker finally comes out, looks around, and she’s like, ‘what’d I miss?’

They laughed. 

“Did they ever come back?” Zane asked. Cole took the moment of distraction as an opportunity to steal some chips. 

“The mom came back a few days later and thanked me for properly dealing with her ‘degenerate offspring’.” He air-quoted the last two words just as the waiter brought out the entrée, using his power to telekinetically set the plates down in front of them. 

"Can I get you anything else?" He asked as he wiggled his fingers, eager to show off his anti-gravity skills a bit more. "A refill of chips, perhaps?"

"No, thanks."

"Alright," his shoulders slumped. "Have a good meal, then."

Lloyd almost considered asking for more iced tea, out of pity, but the waiter levitated the empty queso bowl into the kitchen with a grandiose hand movement and left to greet the next table. 

He speared a shrimp with avocado and popped it into his mouth. The ceviche was pretty good, sweet cucumbers blending with acetic red onions and a hint of cilantro for a burst of flavor. There was too much chili pepper, though, although “too much” in his case could basically be interpreted as meaning “any at all”. 

The conversation had lulled to a halt as the teens dug into their meals. Garmadon leaned back in his chair, nonchalantly sipping an electric blue drink that probably would have caused the kid in Kai’s story to lose all his fortnite games if he’d tried to order it. He glanced at the clock on the wall. 12:06. They had just less than three hours to finish eating and get to the island. 

Underneath the table, Lloyd nudged Nya again. She minutely shook her head as she swallowed her limonada. Not yet

 

Chapter Text

After a very fulfilling lunch plus dessert, they were all in good spirits. Except for the waiter, who had taken their check with a charming smile and was now dropping the book on the table with a disdainful sniff. 

“Wow, what’s his problem,” Jay muttered once he was out of earshot. Lloyd picked up the booklet and took out the receipt.

“Dad,” he groaned, “you didn’t tip.”

“Oh, right,” Garmadon said. “I forgot you were supposed to do that here.”

“It’s written right here .”

“How remorseful.” He stood up remorselessly. “But it’s time for our next activity.”

The “next activity” was, apparently, walking across a pedestrian bridge that led to the big island in the middle of the river. The bridge was steel and low to the water, with criss-crossed beams and crowds of tourists going both directions. An old-fashioned red and white riverboat chugged down the river next to them. Lloyd waved. 

“Who are you waving to?” Zane asked. 

He shrugged. “The people on the boat, I guess.”

“Oh.” The older teen stopped and gave the ferry a short wave as well. 

(It would remain unknown to both of them, but inside the ferry a seven-year-old was waving back at them despite her mother’s pleas to turn around and sit right in her seat).

They finished crossing the bridge and Lloyd realized what the other secret activity was. Unless Garmadon was planning on walking past the giant sports complex which seemed to be the island’s main attraction.

He didn’t.

“Baseball?” Jay said, echoing everyone’s thoughts. “You’re taking us to watch a baseball game?”

“It’s America’s favorite sport, isn’t it?” Garmadon said drily. “Now get in line. And get rid of any firearms you have.”

The line was short, thankfully, due to the fact that none of them had even thought about bringing a gun on the trip. Plus, since it was the middle of the day and not a major game, the stands were only a quarter full. 

Lloyd ended up sitting in between Jay and Nya, who elbowed him hard and pointed to the scoreboard. 

Oh. Senators. That was the name of the home team. 

Frankly, he felt disappointed. 

Once they were all settled in comfortably, Nya leaned over him and tapped Jay on the shoulder. “Hey, Jay, Cole, what’s better, baseball or cricket?”

They answered immediately. 

“Cricket.”

“Baseball.”

The question was a match being dropped into a puddle of lighter fluid. Which was exactly how she planned it.

“Dude, nobody here even knows what cricket is,” Cole pointed out.

“Well, it’s not my fault you hate fun.”

“Baseball is fun!”

“Yeah, but cricket’s way better!” 

They continued arguing, with others chiming in to add their own two cents. Mostly on Cole’s side, since none of them had seen a cricket game either. Except for Garmadon, who smartly decided not to get involved. 

The game started with the pitcher throwing a curveball. The batter hit the ball with a resounding crack, causing it to fly into left field. Nya stood up.

“I’m going to get some snacks. You guys want anything?”

“Popcorn!” Jay said. Kai nodded in agreement

“Can we get cotton candy?” Cole added. 

“Sure.” she squeezed her way to the edge of the row. “Can I get out?”

Garmadon raised his eyebrows. “Didn’t you just eat?”

“Yeah, but that was a whole hour ago.”

“Fine,” he grumbled, uncrossing his legs and moving them aside. “But I’m not paying for anything.”

“Don’t worry, I brought my own money.”

Nya made her way up the bleachers to the vendor stalls, where she bought lidded boxes of popcorn and sealed bags of cotton candy and also a giant paper bag so she could actually carry everything. It took up all of her forty dollars, but it would be worth it.

It had to be worth it. 

She went back down. The game had been put on pause while a video of a dog chasing bubbles played on the screen, which had added fuel to Jay’s argument because “this sort of thing wouldn’t happen at a cricket game!” 

“Extra points for baseball, then,” Cole shrugged. Jay crossed his arms and pouted, but even his pride couldn’t deny the advantage of cute animal videos playing intermittently at any sport. 

“Excuse me,” Nya cleared her throat. Garmadon shuffled to the side slightly. 

This was the moment. She took one step, brushing closely against him, then practically threw herself at the ground, grabbing Lloyd and bringing him down too. 

“What the-” he yelped as he was forcibly pulled to the ground.

“Oh my gosh, Lloyd, are you okay?” She exclaimed loudly, fingernails digging into his arm. 

“I’m fi-” The nails dug deeper. “ Ow , my arm . I think it’s broken .”

“Too much!” she whispered.

“I mean, sprained.” He held up his wrist and grimaced. “I need a doctor.”

“You’re fine,” Garmadon rolled his eyes. 

“How can you be sure?” Nya said dramatically, hugging Lloyd protectively for added effect. “What if it’s...what if it gets infected? He could die .”

“Who’s dying?” Kai jumped in worriedly.

“Nobody’s dying!” Garmadon snapped. “Just put some ice on it, you’ll be fine.”

Zane perked up. “You need ice?”

“No, Zane.”

He deflated. Lloyd kinda felt bad about it, so he held out his drink. “I mean, could you maybe make this colder? It’s kinda hot out here.”

“Absolutely!” he beamed and reached for the plastic cup, creating a layer of insulating frost on the inside that would keep the contents cool while not freezing the owner’s hands. “Is that good?”

“Thanks.” Lloyd smiled. 

Nya picked up the bag of food - luckily she had the foresight to buy the snacks in closed containers, so nothing got spilled. She passed out the popcorn and cotton candy before sitting back down, the card weighing heavily in her pocket. 

Phase one: get the credit card was a success. Now on to phase two: tracking the source. 

Nya racked her brain for any possible ideas while the game played on. The crime shows weren’t very helpful in how they traced information (most of the scenes just had the main detective say, “I have the criminal’s bank record, so I know she’s in Geneva right now! I must go to Switzerland in disguise to apprehend her! Valentina, why don’t you ever call me?”)

She could build something...but she wouldn’t even know where to begin with that. Take it to the bank and ask them to run it for her? Yeah, she could imagine how that would go down. Hello, I’m wondering if you could tell me all the personal information about who this belongs to, no it doesn’t belong to me, wait why are you calling the police?  

The police? That idea was scrapped as soon as it came up. They were never any help.

The opposite team scored a home run. The clock reset for the fifth inning, the red numbers ticking down slowly. Garmadon shifted in his seat. The sudden movement almost made Nya’s heart lurch up to her esophagus. 

Whatever she was doing, she had to do it fast. 

 

X

 

The game ended on a decisive (although not disappointing) loss. Luckily by the eighth inning, Nya had been able to come up with another plan. 

Back in middle school, she had taken advanced computer engineering as an elective. On the first day of class, the teacher showed them a computer that functioned as well as a butterfly on methamphetamine. It shut off at the most inopportune moments, the cursor moved across the screen without the mouse, and the screen glitched like a bad video game. And their first assignment, as students, was to fix it. 

Nya had tried everything. She modified an antivirus and plugged it in. She attempted a hard factory reset. She even downloaded a worm on purpose in the hopes that the old and new malware would kill each other off.  But her efforts, along with the ten others in the class, were fruitless. By the end of the hour, they had all given up. 

That was when the teacher opened the modem disc and took out - of all things - a chocolate chip cookie. 

“Remember, kids,” he’d said, “Sometimes the solution won’t be clear at first glance, but when you look at the problem from another angle, the answer will be right in front of you.” 

The students had erupted into shouts of anger. 

 

“Where are we going for dinner?” Jay asked once they were back at the hotel. “Oh! Can we get one of those cheese and steak sandwiches?” 

“That’s Philadelphia,” Cole said. 

“How are you still hungry?” Garmadon asked, sizing up the fifteen year old as if trying to determine how many grams of food he could fit per square inch in his person. “And no, you just ate dinner.”

“Popcorn doesn’t count as dinner,” Lloyd said, ignoring Jay’s mutterings that it should. As much as he was inclined to agree, he had to be the responsible one. “What would Mom say?”

Garmadon almost choked. "So Koko's a health nut now? That's new." 

"We should put it to a vote," Cole said. "All in favor, raise your hands." 

Everyone's hands shot up. 

"Democracy points to yes,” Kai said.

“This isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship, and I say no.” 

"Anarchy!" Jay cried. 

"There's a vending machine downstairs if you're that desperate."

Nya slipped her fingers inside her pocket for the hundredth time, double-checking to see if her prize was still there. If she wanted to pull this off without dying, she'd need some help. 

"Come on," she grabbed Lloyd’s elbow and dragged him into her room, shutting the door after looking behind them. 

"What's up?" he asked cautiously. He sat down on her bed, since Kai's was a messy pile of sheets and blankets.

"I got it." 

"Okay," he nodded. Then, "What now?"

"Now I'm going to jump off the roof."

"Sounds good- wait. What?! "

"Or more accurately," she paced around the room. "I'm going to make it look like your dad pushed me off the roof. Then the police will come, I give them this, they'll realize who he is and boom, we'll be home free."

"I'm still concerned about the whole jumping off the roof part." 

"That's where you come in! You'll be catching me."

"Okay. Cool. Nice." Lloyd nodded. "How?"

"Meh, I haven't figured that out yet," she shrugged. "But a trampoline would work."

"We're a bit short on trampolines."

"I'm sure you'll figure something out. In the meantime, get your dad to go to the roof once the sun goes down."

Waiting was the hardest part. They joined the others in watching some cheesy b-movie playing on tv, about a human girl trapped in a town full of zombies. Of course it ended with her kissing the cute zombie, thus forfeiting her humanity for the sake of true love or some crap. Lloyd thought it was stupid. Why would anyone throw their life away just to be with someone good-looking? Nya was inclined to agree, although her complaint had more to do with the fact that the characters had hooked up just for the status quo, without any significant prior interaction. When the sequel started playing, she stood up and made an offhand comment about needing a break from “all this chauvinistic nonsense ”. (It was the best excuse she could come up with. Not that she didn’t care about feminism - woo, go women and all that jazz - she just thought there were more important things to care about than their depictions in old films.) Thankfully, they bought it. Aside from Lloyd, Jay was the only one who acknowledged her with a wave of his hand, the others too engrossed in the opening scene of the alien invasion to care. 

The stairs leading to the roof were on the floor below them, so Nya had to go down in order to go up. 

The cold night air blew into her face, making her wish she was wearing something other than a tank top and pajama shorts. The sky above was a hazy gray, past dusk but not quite night, with a few satellites forming their own modern constellations. The city had lit up for the night, the lights reflecting on the river. It was beautiful.

It was also very, very far down. 

“Hello.” 

She whirled around. 

Garmadon stalked towards her, hands stuffed into his jacket pockets, looking for all the world like having a nighttime rooftop conversation was part of a daily routine. 

“You better have a good reason for bringing me up here this late.” He drawled slowly, letting the threat linger in every syllable. Nya steeled herself. 

“I know.” 

His expression didn’t change. “Figured as much. Let me guess, Lloyd told you?”

She started to nod, but caught herself. “You won’t get away with this.”

“I won’t get away with this?” He stepped forward, smirking. “How cute. What other cliche phrases did TV teach you? How dare you? You’ll pay for this ?”

Nya edged back. Come on, Lloyd , she willed silently.

“While you’re at it, why not add I’ll stop you with the power of friendship ?”

“I-” Her foot hit empty air. For a split second she hovered on the edge, looking down at the street below her. Crap. Garmadon had cornered her to the wrong side. 

Then the second past, and gravity took over. 

She didn’t have time to scream before somebody caught her by the front of her shirt. 

“Credit where credits due, though, it was a clever plan,” Garmadon continued talking casually. “Framing me for murder? Pretty ingenious. If you hadn’t slipped up earlier, I might not even have noticed.”

“S-slipped up?” It was getting hard to breathe. 

“If you want to cause a distraction by tripping, putting all the food in spill-proof containers is a big red flag. Then again, it’s not like the poor orphan girl could bear to actually waste food, right?

She shut her eyes tight. “Are you going to drop me?”

His grasp loosened a little bit -just enough for her stomach to plummet - before tightening again. “Do you want me to? Just so we’re clear, your friend’s on the opposite side with all of our pillows,” he added. “Convenient to have something to land on when I attempt to kill you, isn’t it? I’m sure those police will see those pillows as quite a stroke of luck.”

They would have been moved out of the way, Nya wanted to protest, but her mouth didn’t seem to want to open. She swallowed back a pathetic whimper. 

Garmadon pulled her up and tossed her aside. She hit her shoulder, hard - but all things considered, it could have been worse. She still had her ultimatum. 

He held up the black card. "You really didn't need to go through all that trouble, though. It's only triple- encrypted, you don’t even need a key."

"How did you-" she was absolutely certain nothing had touched her side, but somehow, Garmadon had procured the card from inside her pocket. 

"You were close. Don't give up." He said condescendingly, pausing by the door. "Maybe you'll get lucky next time." 

He shut the door behind him. 

Nya waited for a few minutes before cautiously opening it. Nobody jumped out at her or tried to smother her, so she went down the stairs - slowly at first, then faster and faster until she was all but flying out the door. 

"Lloyd!"

"Nya!" He dropped the blanket he was holding. "Did it work? It didn't work, did it?" 

She shook her head and laughed hysterically. (Near-murder experience does that to you.)  

Lloyd furrowed his brows. "Uh, you okay?"

"I'm fine!" Nya said quickly. "Your - he saw through me, though. The plan was a bust."

"Oh. That's too bad." He surveyed the ground, which was littered with sheets and blankets, and mumbled "Now we have nothing to sleep with, either…."

"We can ask the staff for more, can't we?"

"I guess so."

Nya helped him fold the blankets up and carry them to the basement (might as well save housekeeping a trip). They dropped them by the door. 

“Sorry,” Nya said as they headed back to their room. 

“Why?”

She stopped. I couldn’t do it.  

Lloyd patted her on the shoulder. “Hey, you did your best, okay? I would have been surprised if you had succeeded, though.” He paused. “Not that I don’t believe in you or anything, it’s just, you’re fifteen, he’s an all powerful demon lord , there’s sort of a gap in experience levels.” 

She snickered. "Demon lord?"

"You know what I'm trying to say!" He was laughing too. Maybe tonight had been a failure. Maybe it had blown up directly in their faces. So what? There would be plenty of other nights. 

 









Chapter Text

“How come nobody recognized you?”

“Hmm?”

“Back there.” Lloyd leaned against the window, chin propped up in his hand as he watched the trees passing by. “At the hotel, or the sports stadium, or anywhere in the city.”

“Were you expecting somebody to recognize me?”

“Well...yeah.”

“Hmm.” He said noncommittally as he shifted into the next lane for the exit, taking a moment to flip off the Jeep honking at him. 

In the back, Cole was dividing up what remained of the candy bars. “Anyone want the chili flavored one?”

Kai grimaced. “Already tried it. Not doing it again.”

“I think I’ll pass.” Nya added. Lloyd and Jay both agreed. 

“Can I try it?”

Everyone looked at Zane. He blinked. “What?”

“Dude, you-” Kai sized up the blond teen, who was wearing loafers that would have been considered out of style in the 1940s and holding a half-finished knitting project in his lap. “Are you sure?”

“What is the matter?”

“No, do it.” If any smile could be classified as “pure evil”, Jay’s certainly was. He held up his phone. “This oughtta be good.”

Cole handed him the candy, along with a water bottle (just in case). Zane unwrapped it and popped it into his mouth. Everyone stared at him intensely. He chewed.

And chewed.

And swallowed. 

“It tastes fine,” he said finally. 

“No way!” Kai shook his head in disbelief. “There’s no way you could have eaten it when I-”

Nya sniggered. “Maybe you’ve just got a sensitive tongue.”

Jay narrowed his eyes. Friendship be damned, he wasn’t about to let a white person become the group champion of spicy food tolerance! He shoved his phone at Nya. “Cole, give me one of those.”

The reaction was instantaneous. “ Motherf-! ” He spat the candy out, mouth burning up in pain. “Ow ow ow ow ow! ” 

“Water?” Zane held out the plastic bottle. Jay grabbed it and gulped half the contents in one swig. 

“Told you it was hot,” Kai said to Nya. 

She rolled her eyes but smiled, holding up Jay’s phone. “I’m definitely putting this on YouTube.”

“What- hey!” Jay yelped, lunging across the divide. “Delete that! I’m gonna lose all my street cred!”

“All your what now.” Cole said flatly, drowned out by the girl’s cackling. 

“It’s too late! I’ve already texted the video to me!”

“You wouldn’t!” Jay gasped. “ Think of the children!

The three in the backseat looked at each other in confusion as lawyers were threatened to be hired. 

“Yeah, not sure what’s going on here,” Kai commented. 

Cole leaned his head against Zane’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it too much. You’ll explode your mind and end up with as many brain cells as them.”

“Hey!”

Lloyd laughed. Garmadon rolled his eyes - he’d long since given up on trying to keep them quiet and docile. 

“It’s the mugshot.” He said after they had exited the crowded interstate and into a back road. It was a simple equation: less cars, faster travel time. 

 “Hmm?” Lloyd turned to look at him. 

“I have facial hair in my mugshot. It changes the perception of the face dramatically, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Works on security cameras as well.”

He pictured the man beside him with a bushy, long beard. Or a handlebar mustache, one he could twirl between his fingers while plotting devious schemes. Both were too weird. “No way.”

“Seriously. I can show you if you don’t believe me.”

“No. I believe you.” 

They drove a bit more, punctuated by random bits of conversation and tic-tac-toe and “spot the vegan bumper sticker” games. 

Lloyd turned around. “Dad says we’ll stop at Columbus for lunch, then head off to Indianapolis.” 

Jay’s stomach growled. “How far away is it?” 

“We’ll arrive at lunchtime.” Garmadon answered cryptically. 

“It’s thirty minutes,” his son added helpfully. 

“Thank you, Lloyd .” 

Garmadon rolled his eyes. Lloyd smirked and turned back to the window, taking in the scenery. Trees, asphalt, grass, and was that a mangled opossum-

Someone screamed.

Garmadon grabbed the door as the car was flipped through the air by the force of the explosion. Shit! Did he get double-crossed? Why was he not surprised? And why was the fucking door not opening?!

He finally managed to yank open the door, rolling away just before the vehicle could crush him. The once shiny black Mercedes-Benz slammed into the ground in a crumpled heap. Garmadon cursed. No way the rental shop would give him a refund now. He sat up, demonstrating more colorful vocabulary as his back screamed at him. He grit his teeth and wiggled his toes. They responded normally, which meant at least he hadn’t broken his spine. Just badly bruised it. 

He surveyed the area. Whatever had caused the explosion had ripped a giant hole in the front right side of the car, and the kids were sprawled out in the grass. Kai was standing up, looking slightly dazed with both his knees scraped up badly. Jay had been thrown on top of Nya. (Although whether it was by accident or protective instincts was anybody’s guess.)

“You okay?” He gasped. 

“M’fine.” She was squeezing the first two fingers on her left hand. Jay opened his mouth to question her, but something warm and wet dripped into his eye. He wiped it away and his fingers came back red. He whimpered. Nya patted him on the back, then quickly went back to holding her fingers. 

Cole and Zane were fine. A little banged-up looking, but nothing unmanageable. And the most important one….

Garmadon shot up. “ Where’s Lloyd?! ” 

The others looked at each other, wide-eyed and alarmed as they realized the youngest of them wasn’t there. 

“Search the area!” Kai yelled. They had landed a few hundred yards from the road, so Lloyd had probably jumped off nearer. A nagging voice in his head whispered something about the proximity to the blast zone. He shoved that thought deep, deep into the back and chain-bolted the door shut.  

“I found him!” Cole shouted, waving his arms and pointing across the road. Everyone dashed across it to the other side. 

“Oh gods,” Nya clamped her hand over her mouth. 

Lloyd was lying on the ground, staring up at the sky. Although staring probably wasn’t the best way to put it, since that would imply he was actually looking at it. His green eyes were glazed and lifeless. Garmadon knelt beside him, a strange and very unpleasant feeling knotted in his stomach. 

Lloyd’s eyes fluttered as he let out a weak cough. “D-dad….”

Garmadon jerked up. “You’re alive! Don’t talk, you’ll be okay.”

“...m’arm hurts…” he mumbled. 

Garmadon looked down. “It looks fine.”

“Um,” Cole piped up from the other side, looking pale as a ghost. “I don’t think he was talking about that arm….”

“What-” Jay peered around him. He froze up, then barely managed to take a few steps back before throwing up. He could see the jagged edges of bones jutting out from Lloyd’s right shoulder, the skin flayed open and the muscles torn and so much blood everywhere it was all over the grass and it wasn’t stopping - .

“Get out of the way,” Garmadon said, his voice calm but with a dangerous edge to it. He took off his suit jacket and pressed it against the open wound to stem the blood flow. “Who has a phone?”

Jay raised his hand. 

“Call the ambulance.” 

Jay nodded shakily. 

Now!

He pressed down harder. Lloyd couged again. Gods above, how can he still be conscious?

“‘S’it broken?” He managed to wheeze. 

“...No.” It wasn’t a lie. Technically.

“Good...don’ wanna broken ‘rm.” He muttered. “That’d suck.”

Garmadon rolled his eyes. “Will you stop talking already?”

The ambulance sure was taking its sweet time. 

Eventually the ambulances arrived, sirens blaring, followed by two police cars. Garmadon grimaced. 

Two policemen pulled him aside while the EMTs set to work on his son. One was tall and bald, the other short and with curly hair. 

“What happened?” 

“A bomb went off.” Their faces would have been almost comical under different circumstances. 

“A bomb?” The taller one repeated disbelievingly. “Are you sure?”

“You got any better explanations why my car has a giant hole burned through it?” 

The shorter one muttered to himself and scribbled something down on the clipboard he was carrying. “Can you-”

“‘Scuse me, are you the kid’s father?” One of the EMTs interrupted.

“Yes.”

“We’re takin’ him to the hospital now.”

“I’m coming with you.” He started to follow him, but the short policeman grabbed his wrist.

“Sir, we really need-”

Garmadon grabbed the man’s arm quickly and twisted it backwards until he was wincing. “ Don’t stand in my way,” he hissed. 

Nya watched him jump into the first ambulance just before the doors slid shut. Jerk. “Is he seriously leaving us behind?” 

“You’re all going to the same place,” remarked a cheerful redhead paramedic in a way that was not as comforting as she’d probably intended. She had a huge smile plastered on her small face, which was slightly unsettling, and she’d been much too happy to reset Nya’s broken finger. Another EMT had taped gauze over Kai’s knees and put a bandage over the cut on Jay’s head (he’d still need stitches, but it wasn’t as bad as he feared) and was currently trying to assess an uncharacteristically resistant Zane.

“I know the name of the current president. You do not need to treat me,” he insisted, pulling away. 

The EMT held up his flashlight. “Look, kid, I just want to make sure you don’t have a concussion.”

“I do not have a concussion,” he continued to insist. 

The EMT eventually gave up and ushered them into the back of the ambulance, after retrieving their mostly unscathed luggage from the back of the car. There were cabinets lining one wall and a bench crammed into the other, a cot in the middle and a seat facing backwards. The two medics climbed into the driver’s seats. 

“Can you put the sirens on?” Jay asked, sitting cross-legged on the cot. The vehicle was going a measly forty-five miles per hour. 

“Are you dying?” The girl said cheerfully. 

Jay sulked. Nya patted his shoulder while Kai walked over to the cabinets and opened one of them.

“Hey, don’t mess with that! And sit down!” The male EMT snapped. 

Kai ignored him (in that he didn’t sit down. He did shut the cabinet - there hadn’t been anything interesting, just spare oxygen masks.) 

“Do you think-” he started. 

“Lloyd’ll be okay,” Cole said firmly. 

“You don’t know that.” The mental image of his little brother deadly still, struggling to breathe and bleeding all over was ingrained into Kai’s head. 

“He’s a tough cookie, okay?” Cole reasoned. Miraculously, his Walkman had survived, and none the worse for the wear save a few scorch marks. 

The ambulance reached the hospital and the kids were ungraciously kicked off at the emergency room entrance, the boy grumbling and the girl waving and yelling, “Bye now! Don’t forget to wash your hands! Germs acquired in hospitals are responsible for ninety thousand deaths a year!”

They shuddered and went inside. Thankfully they didn’t have to look to hard to find Garmadon, since the man was currently arguing with the secretary at the front desk. 

“Sorry, sir,” she stammered, flustered. “We can’t have visitors during operation, it might cause the doctors to mess up.”

“What kind of hospital are you running if the doctors can screw up that easily?” His voice was raised irately. The mousy woman looked like she was about to sink into the ground. 

“It’s a standard procedure….”

“Whatever.” He saw the other kids enter the building out of the corner of his eye. They rushed up to him, questions coming sharp and fast. 

“Is Lloyd okay?”

“Are we going home?”

“Is he going to die?”

Garmadon held his hand up, waiting for the queries to dissipate. When the teens eventually quieted, he answered. 

“No.”

“That’s helpful,” Cole said, crossing his arms. 

The secretary cleared her throat. “Are you asking about the boy they just took back?”

“Yes!”

“He’ll be fine, don’t worry,” she smiled assuredly. “Now, you’re the others from the accident site, right? Do you still have your tags?”

They held up the little paper squares the medics had tied to their wrists. The secretary scribbled something down. “You two with the white cards, you’re free to go,” she gestured to Cole and Zane. “The rest of you, put your names down here, and a doctor will see you soon.”

“How soon?” Jay asked as the clipboard was passed to him. 

“It might take a while,” the secretary admitted as she collected his green tag. “But think of it this way. The longer you have to wait, the less likely it is that you’re going to die.”

Jay swallowed. 

The hospital had been nice enough to put them up in a nearby hotel, so Cole and Zane volunteered to take all the luggage there via shuttle. The rest of them tried to get comfortable, well as comfortable as one can get in a waiting room with one person coughing every two minutes and a fussy baby. Garmadon kept pacing the room. Eleven steps to the wall, eleven more to the aquarium, and back again. 

Kai was idly watching both tvs in the room, one playing a European soccer game and the other playing Doc McStuffin reruns. Nya picked up a magazine, put it down, picked it back up, put it back down, and repeat. Jay drummed his fingers on his chair anxiously. 

Waiting was the worst.

Jay was the first to go back, since a head wound was considered slightly more urgent than a broken finger or skin abrasions. The nurse charted his height and weight and asked if he had any allergies before smearing a numbing gel on his forehead, then the doctor came in and sewed it shut. Nya got an x-ray and Kai had his knees looked over and re-bandaged. They were done in less than ten minutes, just in time for the other two to return from the hotel. 

“Hey,” Cole said, eyes flicking to the spot above Jay’s eye. The fifteen year old had to stop himself from reaching up and scratching it - the stitches would dissolve on their own, but the scar running through his brow would be there for a while. “Did they, um, say anything about Lloyd?”

“No,” Nya sighed. “They won’t let us go back, either. Family only.” 

“That’s stupid,” Kai glared over at the unsuspecting Garmadon. “How does that guy count more as family than us? We’re the ones who’ve known Lloyd the longest. He probably doesn’t even care,” he added bitterly. 

“He does seem agitated,” Zane cocked his head as he watched the man glaring at the tetras. 

“Whatever. Like that makes up for fourteen years of not caring at all.”

“Can you guys stop fighting?” Jay snapped. 

“We’re not fighting!” 

Jay stepped back. Everything was too much - the lights, the harsh antiseptic smell, the scrubs and latex gloves and general sense of despair. He had to get out of here. He pressed his scarf against his face and ran. 

Someone called out after him. He ignored them and skidded through the doors, running until he found a secluded place by some rosebushes on the side of the building. He sank to the ground, hugging his knees and gasping for air. Stupid hospitals stupid doctors stupid stupid stupid-  

Tears were threatening to leak out of his eyes. Whenever he got like this as a kid - and he did a lot - his mom always used to give him a hug. It’s okay, you’ll be okay. Can you take a deep breath for me? Count to five.  

One

The mulch underneath him definitely wasn’t meant for sitting on.

Two

Someone must have been using this spot for their smoke breaks, judging by cigarette butts on the ground.

Three .

The sweet smell of the roses was interrupted by the more pungent odor of pesticides. 

Four .

He could hear the cars on the highway nearby.

Five

Feeling a lot better, Jay went back inside. The others had left the room, and when he asked Garmadon about their whereabouts the man just pointed to the sign for the cafeteria. 

Garmadon watched the kid skip off to eat lunch - dinner? It was almost five o’clock and he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Not that he needed to, he could go up to several weeks without eating if something more urgent came up. Like if Lloyd died. 

Because that would mess up the plan, of course. 

The door opened and a tall, dark-skinned woman stepped out. “Gadoan?”

Garmadon stopped. “Are you-”

“The surgery was successful,” she smiled. “Your son is resting now. Would you like to see him?”

A million snarky responses coursed through him. What kind of question is that? Duh. No, I’m here for something else. But it felt like a weight was lifted from his lungs, so all he could manage was a nod. 

“Alright, come with me then.” The surgeon led him down the brightly-lit halls and up the elevator to a dimly-lit room.  A nurse was checking over a machine using the little sunlight that peeked through the cracks in the curtains. And in the bed, covered in bandages and looking so incredibly small ….

“He’s on anaesthetic, but it should be wearing off soon,” the doctor whispered. “Jeff, you got those painkillers ready yet?”

Jeff gave a thumbs up. “IV’s all hooked up and ready to go.”

“Good job,” she nodded in satisfaction. “We’ll give you a few minutes alone.” And with that, they left. 

Garmadon found a swivel chair to sit down in. 

“Hey, kid,” he reached out and brushed away the blond locks out of his sleeping face. His eyes fluttered and cracked open.

“D...dad?” he mumbled drowsily. 

“You did good, kid - Lloyd.” Garmadon swallowed. Lloyd reached his hand out and he grabbed it tightly. “You’re going to be okay.”

“Please don’t...leave.”

“I won’t.”

The painkillers kicked in a few minutes later, and Lloyd drifted off again while Garmadon stayed where he was, still holding his hand while thoughts raced through his head. 

What was he going to do now?