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A Family Gathering

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They held one every year, though Lloyd thought it was pointless. He knew it was mostly at his mother Koko’s insistence. She was the nicest person out there. Between saving the world and high school, Lloyd’s schedule was crammed. The same went for the rest of his missing family members: Uncle Wu, as the wise, old sensei of the ninja, had his own cryptic plans and tasks to do (none of which he would divulge before vanishing. Lloyd noted it was becoming more common these days--he used to take a trip once a year, back when they had all still been training to become full-fledged ninja. Lloyd supposed Uncle Wu simply thought they were all old enough to take care of the city--they were, but it still stung when he left unannounced, not that Lloyd ever admitted it) and his father, the one and only Lord Garmadon...well, let’s just say he wasn’t a well-known villain for no reason.

It was no surprise, then, that Koko had wanted the whole family to put aside one day of the year for a gathering. A day to catch up and actually see each other in person , as Koko liked to point out (“no butt-dialing your son!”). In previous years, Lloyd hadn’t exactly looked forward to it. Usually when Lord Garmadon came into the city, he left a path of destruction in his wake. However, after recently patching things up with his father, and undertaking his own “hero’s journey”, Lloyd was actually not anxious or nervous about seeing his father at this year’s family gathering. He was...even a little excited. But only a little.

This year, his mother, for one reason or another, had decided to host the family gathering outdoors on the beach rather than in their tiny apartment, like they had done every year. Lloyd wondered if she had some scheme in mind, some way to commemorate her husband and son finally being on good terms with each other.

Lloyd helped his mother set up the gathering: a couple of towels laid on the sand, a table and utensils for food, even a grill (Better late than never to act like a father, Lloyd thought). However, as Lloyd set the last plate onto the table, his mother came out from the car carrying another set of plates and utensils.

“Mom, we have enough,” Lloyd said.

Koko smiled at her son as she placed the extra utensils in a pile on the table. “Oh, I forgot to tell you, your relatives will be dropping by today.”

Lloyd stared blankly at her, freezing in his tracks. “My...relatives? You mean grandpa, the First Spinjitzu Master, who is dead ?”

Lloyd had some horrible vision of his grandfather’s ghost coming to visit them. He wasn’t sure it was what he wanted.

Koko shook her head, her eyes twinkling with secrets yet revealed. “You’ll see, Lloyd. I invited everyone this year. I thought it was about time for you to meet the others. I had to plan the day exactly , too, since everyone has different schedules.”

Koko paused, regarding her son fondly. Her voice dropped into a soft murmur. “You know, Lloyd...your family doesn’t only consist of me, your father, and your uncle. Family isn’t necessarily bound by blood.”

Lloyd considered her words, and then let out a breath in relief as he realized what she was saying. She meant the other ninja: Kai, Cole, Zane, Jay, and Nya. Koko wasn’t wrong--Lloyd did consider them his family.

“Oh, okay,” said Lloyd, shrugging. “I guess it does no harm to invite the others. I think it has been a while since we’ve all seen each other for more than an hour. Outside of business, of course. It’s hard to catch up when we’re busy fighting crime.”

Koko nodded and Lloyd went to help her set up the extra tables he only now noticed were packed into the car.

 

It wasn’t long before the first members arrived. As was typical of him, Zane arrived first, exactly on time, a grin on his face as he carried a 2 liter bottle of soda.

“Hello, Lloyd!” Zane said. “I brought a gift! I hear it is normal for normal people who are not robots to bring something to a gathering like this.”

“Oh, uh, you didn’t have to,” Lloyd said, accepting the bottle anyway. “Good to see you, Zane.”

Zane beamed. Before he could say anything else, there was loud bickering and the two ninja turned to see Kai, Nya, and Jay arguing loudly.

“Yes, well, I don’t see how that counts!” Kai was saying, waving his hands agitatedly around. “It was a practice round! It doesn’t count!”

“I still beat you,” Nya said smugly. “Practice or not, my win count is higher.”

“No! It’s not!” Kai said. “The game we played yesterday was just for fun! We weren’t competing!”

“Oh, my dear brother,” said Nya, “Every game is a competition when you’re playing against me.”

Kai grumbled under his breath as Jay patted him sympathetically on the back. “It’s okay, Kai. No one can beat Nya.”

Jay turned to her with a dreamy look on his face. “She’s the best.”

Kai grimaced. 

“What’s up, my dudes!” Cole was the last ninja to arrive, carrying an electronic device under one arm. “I couldn’t bring my mech since it’s in for repairs, but I did bring this!

Cole brandished his boombox around like a trophy. “It’s not a gathering without music.”

“Wait, but where’s the rest of your family, Lloyd?” Kai asked, surveying the beach. They were occupying some remote corner, to avoid the citizens and put distance between them and the evil warlord who liked to conquer the city. However, there currently was no evil warlord in sight.

“They’ll...be around,” Lloyd mumbled. “Uncle Wu likes to be late. And Dad...well, he has his own things. He’ll come in his own time.”

“Not late, I won’t!” a deep voice shouted from within the ocean. Something rose from its depths, a small mech shaped like a shark.

Lord Garmadon hopped off the mech and gave his son a massive hug. “It’s good to see you, Luh-loyd!”

“It’s Lloyd,” Lloyd grumbled, though without any real anger. “It’s...nice to see you, too, Dad.”

“Garmadon!” Koko scolded, rushing over to give her husband a lecture. “What did I say about no mechs! You don’t want to scare the citizens and get driven away, do you?”

Lord Garmadon waved his hand indifferently. “Eh, it’s just a small one. It’s not like I’m taking over Ninjago City or anything, right?”

Lord Garmadon grinned at the assembled ninja, as if expecting them to share his joke. Jay let out a nervous laugh. “Ha, ha, yes, funny.”

“Not until after this gathering is over, anyway,” Garmadon added under his breath.

Lloyd narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his father. “What was that?”

“What was what?”

“That. That last thing you just said.”

“I didn’t say anything.” Garmadon picked up the sack of frozen patties. “Now, who wants some burgers?”

There was a chorus of “me” and Lloyd decided to let it go. Today, he wasn’t the green ninja. He was merely Lloyd Garmadon, the son of Lord Garmadon.

Garmadon had just finished the first round of burger flipping when Wu decided to pop in. The ninja gathered around him asking questions, all of which he gave vague answers to.

Lloyd stood a little ways off from everyone (he had taken over the grill station), watching his family affectionately. Kai, Zane, Cole, and Garmadon had started a game of beach volleyball (They might have been cheating and using their elemental powers). Nya, Jay, and Koko were seated on one of the towels, chatting with each other, while Wu was refereeing the volleyball game (“Hey, wait!” Kai shouted. “That’s not fair! Garmadon has 4 arms!” Wu pretended not to notice).

“They look peaceful.”

Lloyd jumped, nearly flipping a burger into the sand. There was a young man standing to his left, his expression cool and distant. He had black hair that came to his shoulders, with a bright green streak on one side. 

The man noticed Lloyd watching. “‘Sup.”

Lloyd blinked at him. “Uh, this is a family gathering. It’s...not open to the public.”

The man slouched in his spot, his hands in his pockets. “And?”

Lloyd frowned. “And...you probably shouldn’t be here. Who are you anyway?”

The young man shrugged. Though his posture was casual, Lloyd saw something in his eyes akin to a brewing storm. “I’m Wu’s kid.”

Lloyd dropped his spatula. “ What.

“What do you mean ‘what’? That’s some rude way to greet your cousin.” The man put his hand out and one of the cooked burgers floated towards him. Lloyd could feel the gust of wind moving.

“You...you’re an elemental master?”

“Yeah. Wind.” The man made a show of demonstration, creating a small whirlwind in the palm of his hand. “The name’s Morro. I’m sure Wu’s talked about me.”

“You’re...my cousin.”

“Yup.”

“I didn’t even know I had a cousin!?”

“You do.” Morro shrugged, taking a bite out of his burger. “Ah, it’s been so long since I’ve had real food.”

Real food ?”

“Yeah.” Morro took another bite. “College takes a toll, you know?”

“Is that where you’ve been the last few years?”

“Well, no,” said Morro. “I’ve actually been dead for the past thirty years.”

“Morro...you’re clearly not a ghost.”

Morro shrugged, his look turning forlorn. “For thirty years. Like a shitty romance novel vampire.”

Lloyd could only watch, speechless, as Morro finished the rest of his burger in a few bites. He suddenly realized this was what his mother had meant earlier. His cousin...who he did not even know existed. As Lloyd watched, Morro downed a glass of water, wincing. There was something oddly familiar about the young man, something that Lloyd could not quite place. He recalled an earlier memory, from his very earliest years in high school, of a younger man who looked a lot like Morro--

“Wait!” Lloyd said, startled at his realization. “You used to bully me at school for my dad being my dad!”

“Hm.” Morro hummed, idly cleaning dirt from under his nails. 

“He’s your uncle???”

“Yeah, but no one cares about that,” said Morro, still examining his nails. “Being his kid is infinitely worse.”

Lloyd felt like tearing his hair out. “WHAT.”

Morro looked up and patted his young cousin on the shoulder. “Thanks for taking the brunt, cuz. ‘Preciate it.”

“And just when I thought this family couldn’t get worse ,” Lloyd grumbled.

Morro gave him an easy smile. “Don’t worry, you won’t be seeing me around, not after today. I’m only here today on the request of Koko. And also Wu, but I don’t take orders from my old man. After today though, I have to get back to the basement. Wu won’t let me out for another year.”

“WHAT?”

Morro patted Lloyd again, though it felt more mocking than sympathetic. “Thanks for the food, cuz. I’ll go introduce myself to the rest of the kids.”

Morro gave him a little wave before launching himself gracefully into the air. Lloyd could only stare with his mouth open, both in shock at his newfound cousin and at the adept way Morro used his elemental powers.

“He sure is something, isn’t he?” a new voice said, sounding faint yet majestic somehow. Lloyd did not want to turn around, fearing another long lost cousin would reveal themself, but the voice continued. “I’ll let you in on a little secret: you’re my favorite grandson.”

Lloyd felt like crying. There was no way the person behind him was who he thought it was. He was dead.

“Hey, Lloyd!” Kai called out, having finished the game. “Did you know Morro decided to join a gang? He’s kinda scary. I didn’t know you even had a cousin!”

“Well, neither did I,” Lloyd muttered as Kai and Zane made their ways towards him. They stopped a few paces away, with Kai’s mouth opened comically.

“Woah, is that…?”

“The First Spinjitzu Master,” said Zane, confirming Lloyd’s suspicions. Lloyd sighed, knowing a headache coming. As he turned around, there was a loud noise, and a large portal opened up in the sky above his grandfather.

What is going on today!?” Lloyd exclaimed in distress. From the portal, a few dragons and oni dropped in (literally. They fell from the portal hole and landed neatly in the sand, stirring up clouds of dust and panic among the closest Ninjago citizens).

There were two dragons and two oni. Lloyd had never met one before, though he knew the tale of his grandfather being the son of a dragon and an oni. In fact, Lloyd was pretty sure they lived in a different realm .

“Hello, Lloyd,” the wizened man in front of Lloyd said. He had a large hat obscuring his face but Lloyd caught wisps of white hair in a braid. He was dressed in a black gi, one that bore a strong resemblance to the clothing Wu and Garmadon liked to wear.

“You’re...you’re supposed to be dead ,” said Lloyd, saying the first thing that came to mind. He shifted his focus to the creatures behind the First Spinjitzu Master. “And they’re supposed to be fighting to the death! This was supposed to be a simple family reunion! Why is EVERYONE here!? This family is a nightmare!”

“Hey, hey, calm down, Lloyd,” said Kai. “I’m sure this is a mistake. There’s no way these are real dragons and oni, and that’s just some old dude.”

“It would be cool though,” pointed out Jay.

Lloyd ran his hand down his face in a show of exasperation. “I’m pretty sure they’re real , Kai. I think my mom sent invitations to literally everyone in my family.”

“Father…?”

The adults (save for Morro. Lloyd had no idea where he had gone) had finally arrived. Wu and Garmadon stood near them, their faces mirroring each other in surprise. The First Spinjitzu Master nodded his head at them.

“Koko invited me,” the founder of Ninjago said softly. Lloyd was starting to learn he was a very soft-spoken man. “I thought it best to drop by at least once to see my grandchildren.”

Garmadon cleared his throat. “Father...it’s good to see you.”

For once, the evil lord of destruction looked awkward and unsure of himself, his abundant confidence dissipated. Lloyd supposed even adults were still somewhat intimidated by their parents, especially if their father was the First Spinjitzu Master.

Lloyd took a few steps back, letting Wu and Garmadon reunite with their father. His friends were busy hounding the dragons and oni (the oni...looked like they were holding themselves in check, which was good. Lloyd was not keen on saving Ninjago City today).

Lloyd needed a timeout. A huge one. This was way too much for him. He decided to slink off to the other parts of the beach, hoping to mingle in with the “normal folks”. 

However, he was followed by his mother, who always seemed to know what his mood was at any given point in time.

“Hi, Mom,” Lloyd said. “This...was a good surprise. I didn’t know they’re still alive.”

“Well, I don’t know about your grandfather...I think he has his ways,” Koko said. She laughed and Lloyd couldn’t help but crack a smile. His mother always brightened the atmosphere.

“Do you want more food?” Koko asked.

Lloyd nodded. “Sure.”

He followed her back to the table, grabbing some food and drinks, before they headed to the towels on the sand.

“At least it’s quiet here,” Lloyd joked. As soon as the words left his mouth, another portal opened and Lloyd cursed himself. He should have known the day was far from over.

From the portal, a woman stepped out, with gray hair, wearing what looked like an archaeologist's outfit. She had on glasses and looked older than Koko.

Koko stood up and the two women faced each other, sizing each other up as if they knew each other. Lloyd stood up hesitantly, tensing.

“Misako...is that you?” Koko said, her voice betraying her surprise.

Lloyd raised an eyebrow. He had never heard of this “Misako” person before, and he liked to think he knew all of his mother’s friends. Maybe Misako was a friend from... before.

“It’s been a long time,” said Misako. Her eyes zoomed onto Lloyd. “Is that...your Lloyd?”

Koko nodded, gesturing to Lloyd with a hand. “He’s grown quite a bit, hasn’t he?”

Lloyd frowned. “What do you mean by ‘your Lloyd’?”

His question was answered soon enough as someone else stepped out from the portal, looking unsure and hesitant. He was dressed in a ninja’s gi--a green one, in fact. He had light blond hair and his green eyes swept the place before settling on Lloyd.

Lloyd found himself staring at his own twin. “Uh.”

The doppelganger stared back warily. He looked tired.

“I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t care to know,” he said, shaking his head. His eyes looked haunted, as if he had lived a million years already. “My mom asked me to take a trip with her. A family trip, for some family bonding. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was not this. Well, whatever. This can’t be worse than having my father’s evil version come back to kill me.”

The lookalike approached Lloyd and stuck his hand out diplomatically. “Hi, I’m Lloyd. But you probably already guessed that. I’m from a different realm.”

The Other Lloyd frowned. “You... do know about the existence of other realms, right?”

Lloyd nodded mutely.

“Okay. Good. So I don’t have to explain that.” The Other Lloyd looked around curiously. “Nice beach. I don’t think I’ve dropped by much in my own realm. We get really busy saving the world. It doesn’t leave much room for breaks.”

“Uh, so...you’re me, but from a different world,” said Lloyd.

The Other Lloyd nodded. “Yeah.”

Misako and Koko made their way over. Misako hugged the Other Lloyd before ambling off with Koko to get food and refreshments. Lloyd finally connected the dots.

“Oh. Oh . Misako is your mom?”

The Other Lloyd nodded, looking a little sad. “She is. I don’t see her often, if at all. She’s an archaeologist and she’s always busy uncovering history in one place or another. And, like I’ve said, I’m extremely busy myself. I’ve already saved the world, like, thirteen times. Well, not me personally each time, but me and the other ninja.”

Lloyd nodded his head slowly. “So...in your world...you also have Zane, Cole, Jay, Kai, and Nya? And Sensei Wu? And your father...is he…?”

“Lord Garmadon,” the Other Lloyd confirmed. “The one and only.”

“And he’s evil?”

“Yup. But...he’s a good dad,” said the Other Lloyd. “He can’t help being evil--it wasn’t his choice. But he’s always been there for me when it counts and always has my back. He taught me how to be a ninja for a while, too.”

“I wish my dad was like that,” said Lloyd. “All he cares about is taking over Ninjago. He lives in that volcano over there and only visits when he’s ready to take over. Today is an exception.”

The Other Lloyd shook his head, kicking at the sand with his foot. “Yeah but...mine is gone now. He may have been my dad, but he still did a lot of damage over the years. Even more recently, I had to fight his evil reincarnation. That was...most unpleasant. But your dad is still alive. There’s still time for you to talk to him.”

“Well, we did get to know each other better recently,” Lloyd admitted. “We had to team up together to save the world.”

Lloyd paused. “Man, still, I’m so jealous of your relationship with your Garmadon...”

“Oh, you mean the way he’s actively tried to murder me on live tv even while knowing exactly who we are to each other?” the Other Lloyd asked skeptically. “Or the way that I had to be the one to send him to his death before he was revived as a different person entirely?”

“Uh…,” Lloyd grimaced. “Shutting up now.”

“Nah, but you’re right. It’s hard being his son. I’m just glad I got to know him before he was gone. And I’m glad you got to fix things with yours.”

Lloyd nodded, his gaze wandering towards his father, who was talking with his mother. “So, how’s your mom like?”

The Other Lloyd shrugged. “I love her a lot. She’s my mom and she cares. But...she’s never here. I’ve gone by for so long without her that it feels weird when I do see her. I’m pretty sure I’ve been with my dad for far longer than I have with her. How’s yours?”

“Mine is the best,” Lloyd confided. “She’s always supportive and basically never yells at me. She’s never gone away, either, to my knowledge.”

The two Lloyds looked at each other before speaking in unison, “Koko is better.”

Lloyd cracked a grin at his counterpart. “You’re not too bad.”

The Other Lloyd shrugged. “I guess it is nice to talk to someone who also had to single handedly save the world and has a whole load of daddy issues.”

Lloyd winced. “Well, about that...I did start it, the end of the world thing.”

The Other Lloyd blinked at him. “You...what. You...actually started the destruction of Ninjago City!? I spend every season fixing all the mistakes and you just went and started the problem?

Lloyd backed up. “Uh...”

“And you still have the audacity to be here complaining about your family when both of your parents are ALIVE and actually here for you!”

Clearly, this other version of him had some issues to work out and Lloyd did not want to be here for it.

“I had to suffer when I was a child! I was like, idk, eight? Wait--don’t tell me...do you even have the prophecy here?”

“Prophecy?”

“Yeah! About the green ninja! And how he was destined to defeat the dark lord!”

“Uh, yeah, no, we don’t have any prophecies.”

The Other Lloyd let out a long huff, crossing his arms. He narrowed his eyes. “How old are you, other me?”

“Uh, I just had my 16th birthday earlier this month.”

“No, I mean for real.”

“Sixteen???? I don’t understand.”

“Bro,” said the Other Lloyd who looked like he was either ready to burst into flames or burst into tears, “I’m physically 17, chronologically 13, and mentally a fucking wreck.”

“Wow, that’s.... Wow.” Lloyd had no clue what to say. Suddenly, his previous problems seemed very insignificant.

“So,” the Other Lloyd said, trying to fix the mood again. “When did your mom show up?”

“What do you mean?”

“...” The Other Lloyd’s mouth formed into a thin line. “Don’t tell me...she raised you. Like, raised you from the very start.”

“Uhh, yeah? That’s what Moms do?”

The Other Lloyd made a small noise from his mouth, half cry and half shout. “...Good for you.”

Lloyd shifted uncomfortably in his spot. “Anyway, so, uh, how’s saving the world like?”

“It’s okay. I mean, it’s not like I have a choice. There’s such a high risk, though, and I’m always afraid I’ll lose someone important one of these days.”

Lloyd nodded knowingly. “Yeah, just very recently, I had to embark on my own dangerous journey. I lost my arm at one point and was like, oh no!”

The Other Lloyd stared at him, his eyes darting from his face to his arms. “You...lost your arm?”

Lloyd moved the arm in question. “Yeah, it surprised me, too, and then I remembered, oh yeah, I’m made of plastic.”

“Excuse me?” The Other Lloyd was staring at him strangely.

“Yeah, I just stuck it back in after I found it.”

“Wait, you guys lose your arm...and just... stick it back !?”

“Yeah, we’re Legos.”

“You’re WHAT?

“Legos...you know...plastic toys? It takes a lot to kill a Lego, you know.”

The Other Lloyd threw his hands into the air. “You know what? I’m outta here. I can’t deal with this nonsense.”

He stormed off, mumbling something darkly under his breath about Legos.

Lloyd watched him in silence, unsure of what he had said wrong. He wasn’t lying about Legos being hard to kill...once they lost a body part, it was simply a matter of time until a new part was found to attach back in.

Lloyd sighed and sat down. It was not long before someone else approached him. Again.

This time, it was Uncle Wu, who merely sat next to Lloyd in companionable silence, sipping on a steaming cup of hot tea (where he had gotten the tea from...Lloyd had no clue).

Wu was silent for a long moment before he spoke up. “You know...your father...he’s hated for more than just his destruction and desire to take over the city.”

“Oh. Oh no.” Lloyd swallowed. This was looking to be like a very bad day. “Who did he kill?”

“What? No.” Wu offered him an amused smile and sipped his tea. “He’s just a terrible neighbor.”

“Before he decided to take over Ninjago,” Wu said, “He was a horrible neighbor. He was almost constantly yelling or putting on some sort of show. He kept accidentally calling the neighbor’s cell at 4 in the morning.”

“Let me guess,” said Lloyd, chuckling, “He accidentally butt-dialed them.”

“That’s correct. And when asked why he wasn’t asleep at 4 a.m., your father would reply, ‘Oh! I’m so glad you asked! Let me tell you what Lloyd was up to.’”

Lloyd smiled in spite of himself. 

“Your father may be flawed, Lloyd,” said Wu, “But he loves you and cares about you. You’re the most important person to him. He just...has trouble showing it.”

“Yeah,” Lloyd admitted. “You know...after meeting the other me, I think I’d consider myself lucky. Dad hasn’t tried to kill me so far and I didn’t have to watch him die, either.”

Lloyd looked out at the chaotic mess that was his family, at the other ninja building sand castles and the adults swapping tales and food.

“But?” Wu prompted, reading Lloyd’s expression easily.

“It’s just...for years it was just me and Mom. And then you came along and told me to be a ninja. And then I meet my dad in person, and it’s like, oh, here’s my small family. But now...I know there’s so much more.”

Lloyd smiled, his mouth breaking into a fond grin. “I know that I’ve got a whole bunch of people out there who care about me, even if I’ve never met them. And I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. They’re my family.”