He wasn't hard to spot as he was the only human-bear hybrid waiting at SFO arrivals, and it had only been a year and a half.
He looked up from his phone, "Scar, you made it."
"Did you have any doubts?"
"Well, you know, after, uh."
"After what happened in Townsville last year?" I hugged him. "That was Mojo's fault, not mine."
"Still, that was wow. You really took on all three of the Powerpuff Women for almost an hour?"
"So they tell me. It really shouldn't count. Mom and aunties were taking it easy on me, cause family."
"I wish I had superpowers."
"You'll get yours in time, and you might not want them when you do. So, where's our aunt and uncle?"
"Another chef called in sick and he had to cover. She's dealing with a supervillian."
"Yeah, let's get your superpowers so we can help out. Speaking of powers, where's Shiro?"
"Your luggage didn't just gather itself."
"It wouldn't have." I looked over the oddly shaped pile. "Yeah, that's all of it, but I see a spot of white fur here."
The pile rearranged itself.
"Still the shy cousin? I guess you're leading us back to her place, Cub."
"Want to grab lunch somewhere?"
"I've had enough fast food, you know with Mom and Dad, but isn't Uncle's place on the way?"
"If we change buses."
"Any objection to bothering your dad at his work, Shiro?"
The pile of luggage just stood there.
"No objection then. Lead on, Cub. Which way to the buses?"
"They've got a BART station right in the airport now." He handed me a ticket.
I watched as the pile of luggage passed through the fare gate after us, but I didn't see Shiro's paw.
Later as I was watching Shiro keep the luggage perfectly steady around her on the moving train I heard a boy shout.
"Look! They do have bears in Frisco!"
Cub turned to him. "Do you like them? We made them ourselves."
"They look so real?"
"Come on Bobby." A woman I presumed was his mom took the boy from the train.
"You shouldn't lie like that. You shouldn't have to."
"Oh, who grew this fur for us?"
I looked up. "Wait, wasn't that Powell?"
"It's a new location. Our moms are the most famous residents of New York and Townsville. Shiro's mom is the second most famous resident of the Bay Area."
Uncle's face was on posters all over the new Teppan Yaki on the Pier.
"The line goes around the block. We can see Uncle some other time."
"No, we're family." Cub knocked on the back door.
An oriental man opened the door, then held it open for us.
Cub led the way upstairs and greeted several employees by name.
We had waited in the break room for only a minute when Ice arrived.
"Hi Uncle." I hugged him.
He waited for me to release him then replied. "Ice Bear is grateful that Scarlet came. Ice Bear would like to know if you have time for lunch."
"You're so busy. Just something to go would be great."
"Ice Bear has reserved a table in one of the private rooms. Ice Bear would appreciate if you stayed for a little bit."
Once we were in the room by ourselves Shiro piled my luggage by the wall and took a seat. Her green dress matched the shade of her eyes, the only spot of color on her body other than her white fur and black nose.
"Uncle, can you tell me why you've gathered us to attend high school together?"
He continued to prepare our meal. "Ice Bear's mate will explain. Is Scarlet disappointed?"
"Heck no. I mean I love my folks, but it's good to take a break from monster ground zero. Must be tough on Cub to give up the Big Apple though?"
"No, same here. New Yorkers like to think they're cosmopolitan, but California is much more accepting on non-humans, especially bears. That's why you three settled here, Uncle?"
Ice shrugged then put a plate of food in front of each of us. "Ice Bear must return to the customers. Ice Bear will see you three later at home. Is Shiro happy to see her cousins?"
She nodded at this. He patted her on the head and left.
"I so jealous of you Shiro. This is great stuff. The kids at my old school thought it was great that all I had was hamburgers and pizzas. Yeah, but not every night. How about you, Cub?"
"My parents are vegetarians and terrible cooks. The salads are okay I guess."
Then it was back on BART, a transfer at Powell to the Marin line and we finally arrived at Mill Valley Bart station.
I studied the scehdule. "It's a hour till the next bus?"
"We've got a ride." Cub waved to the Ranger cart which stopped next to us.
"Hi, Ms. Tabes."
"Look here, young lady. I run a clean park. This isn't Townsville. Your sort of roughhousing won't be tolerated."
"I'm sorry, I wasn't responsible, it..."
"Just joshing. You look great Scarlet." She took off her sunglasses and hugged me. "My how you've grown. Wait till you see how my boy Eddie's grown. I'll take you right to the cave so you can rest up, but be sure and drop by the Ranger station later. I'm sure he'd love to see you."
"Yeah, he and Shiro get along great these days. He's still shy around most folks though. Gives him more time to get that online college degree so he can become a full Ranger. So how are your mom and Griz getting along these days?"
"Mostly just monster stuff. The supervillians seem to pick on New York. Must be quiet in California?"
"Well, except when Shiro's mom takes off to go handle stuff on the other side of the Pacific. She's supposed to stay subsonic until she's five miles offshore."
We chatted about the usual superhero stuff until she dropped us off in front of the cave and drove away.
"I'm amazed there isn't a big security service."
Cub took a key from his shirt pocket and opened the door. "Why? What good would it do against supervillians? And as for ordinary criminals, they don't stand a chance against Auntie."
"Well you two at least. I don't want to get shot."
"It's no fun."
"Not a scar on you, Scar."
"I've got my dad's old room. You two are bunked up in your dad's old room. The basement is for the couple of the house and off-limits for us."
"Sounds fair. You don't mind sharing, Shiro?"
She didn't reply, just took my bags to her room.
I waited for her to return. "Shiro, this isn't like you. I mean you've always been shy, but not this much."
Cub stepped between us. "Is there something you need to tell us, Shiro?"
She shook her head, grabbed a book, returned to her room, and closed the door.
"I guess she just needs her space. Scar, want to try some video games?"
"Are they any good?"
"Too tough for me to beat alone."
"This I got to see."
An hour later I put down my controller. "This is too tough for even both of us, but it looks like we've got help now."
Cub looked past me. "You want to help, Shiro?"
She nodded and picked up a controller.
Ten minutes later I was pushing the buttons as hard as I dared, but it was only a matter of time. Suddenly a Player Four joined and finished the final boss with one attack.
"You can't just spam out missiles. Use some strategy, as your mother taught me years ago,"
"Hi Scarlet. So you survived your flight?"
"I've seen the news footage of the attacks you used against me. Compared to that even if the plane had crashed it would've been nothing. I wish I could fly."
"It's still a pain carrying luggage. I keep a specially reinforced cargo container at the port, and it still slows me down."
"Aunt Buttercup," Cub turned off the game, "Uncle Ice said you'd say why we're here?"
"You two are here because I asked to borrow you two for a few years. Any second thoughts?"
"No, I'm chill, Scar?"
"No complaints. So what is it?"
"Let's talk about this outside."
"Is the house bugged?"
"No, of course not. I'd never allow that. It's just more comfortable."
We followed Buttercup a short ways into the forest then she sat down next to a tree and motioned for us to sit down also.
"So, what is it?" I asked.
There was a gust of wind next to me and Shiro was gone.
"What was that? Do you need to chase after her?"
"No need. She hasn't gone far. When I first got my powers I played a game of tag. It didn't end well."
"Buttercup hates Shiro!"
Buttercup looked up in the trees. "You know very well how untrue that is."
"Buttercup is embarrassed by Shiro!" Shiro's voice came from another tree. I hadn't heard her move.
"Hardly. I'd been a thousand times more embarrassing to myself and my family by the time I was half your age. Just look at the old news archives."
"Buttercup is afraid of Shiro?"
"My precious little snowflake if you think you've got it then bring it. You saw on the news what I did to Scarlet. You couldn't take a tenth of that. I don't fear you, I fear for you. That's why I summoned your cousins."
"What?" Suddenly Shiro was standing a few meters away.
"Are we going to a serious conversation or just play tag all night?"
Shiro shrugged and sat down next to her mother.
Buttercup grabbed Shiro and pulled her onto her lap. "I've got you now! You'll never get away."
"Uh, do you need us for this?" I asked.
"Just getting to that. Shiro, your isolation makes you vulnerable."
"Shiro is powerful."
"Do you feel powerful?"
"That leaves an opening. Somebody could step in and use your isolation to control you, to make you do what they want. Your cousins know that as exotics they attract attention from people who want prizes, not partners, right?"
"I don't know?" I turned to Cub.
"I do. I guess living with all the monsters in Townsville protects you somewhat. The real freaks in New York are humans."
"That's why I've called you two here. You can make friends. Please help my daughter make real friends in high school. Can you do that for me?"
"Sure, Auntie." "No problem."
"Now I had to promise to do certain things to borrow you two and here comes one of those things. And it is something that will embarrass you so much you'll turn pink, Shiro. But I won't let you escape. Can you two guess when I was the most frightened I've ever been in my life?"
"When you fought Mojo, Fuzzy or Him?" Cub asked.
"When you first got your powers?" I suggested.
"Nope. That was all more or less normal for me. I just grew up dealing with supervillians, demons, alien invasions. It was all the same. No, it was when I was just a year older that you three are now and found out I was going to be a teenage mom."
"Do the math Scarlet. Think of how old you three are now and how old me and my sisters are."
"Um, how did uh. I mean?"
"The brothers were people, so it made it okay, but they weren't humans so it made it safe. Or so we six thought. Nature and that unnatural Chemical-X had different ideas as to what was conceivable. I may be a hero, but I'm no role model. So part of the price of having you two here is that I have to educate you three so you don't follow our mistakes."
"And you'll train us to use our powers also?"
"Of course Charles. When evil people fail to lure they often turn to force."