"If she's not here, Papa, then surely we have come to the right place for help," Brandon barely managed to whisper as he gazed up in slack-jawed awe at the four-story building that dominated Springvale.
Brandon was used to seeing multistory buildings in Charleston but none of them had flying ships gently settling down on their roofs. The machine seemed to glitter in the bright sunlight and threatened to blind him as he watched it land out of sight behind the high wall that topped the building. He turned to his mentor and savior, Lobo, to see that a relieved smile was on his craggy face.
"Is that like the flying machine you saw all those years ago, Master?" Shelly asked from Lobo's other side as she shot Brandon a look with her dark blue eyes.
"Yes but it was not quite that big," Lobo nodded as if answering a question no one could hear, "Alright, let's go see if we were directed to the right place.
"I think the pennants hanging from the building say we have," Gary's eternally sarcastic voice called from several feet behind them and this time, much to Brandon's displeasure, he had to agree.
Massive pennants, probably twenty feet long, dangled from the corners of the building facing the road they were approaching the town from. In the center of each pennant was a strange leaf with crossed swords overlapping in the foreground. They had all heard the stories for so many years that none of them had any doubt that the building was some kind of important place for Reilly's Rangers.
"I thought I taught you better than to make assumptions based off of what you think you know, Gary," Lobo reprimanded the youngest member of their party with a patient smile. "Let's go."
As Lobo began to walk to the gate leading into town, Brandon and Shelly shared another look when they saw how severe the Titan of Nitro's limp had become just in the last week. It was increasingly obvious that time was finally catching up with the legendary fighter. When they had set out for the Capital Wasteland four months ago, Governor O'Hara had privately told the three that Lobo was under no obligation to return once his journey had been completed. Their adopted mother, Mei, had been dead for nearly two years and all of the former slave children the couple had taken in were old enough to be on their own. The governor had said that Lobo had done enough for Charleston and he should be allowed to live out the rest of his life in peace.
Brandon shrugged at Shelly and hefted his heavy backpack, the back of which was draped with the scraggly fur of a black bear he had killed last summer for his right of passage, higher on his shoulders as he followed Lobo. It was winter and, while the cold wasn't nearly as bad at these lower elevations, the sun provided little heat. Lobo's three escorts, though the Titan was loathe to call them that, were sweating in the heavy crimson combat armor of the High Guard. The black highlights that accented the lines of the gear probably didn't help with absorbing every bit of heat that was possible. Their armor, combined with the assault rifles, 10mm pistols, and Bowie knives they all wore, had proven enough of a deterrent until they had crossed into the Capital Wasteland. Lobo had removed his own crimson armor for more comfortable wear. Brandon thought his father made a strange sight in billowy canvas pants that ended just a few inches above the ankle, sandals, and a sleeveless gray cotton shirt because no one he'd ever met wore sandals in the winter. A sense of melancholy settled over Brandon when the thought that this might be one of the last winters he would see Lobo walk in those sandals blanketed his mind.
Of course, his mind went blank the first time he saw her.
At first, he thought someone had sculpted an alabaster statue and placed it beneath the wide arch in the four meter high perimeter wall that marked the boundary into Springvale proper. Then the statue began flailing its arms about in a childish display of temper as a language he had never heard before began to fly from its mouth at the speed of an assault rifle on autofire. As his group came closer, details began to emerge. The statue was young, female, and had skin so fair she would have been the envy of every woman in Charleston. Her hair was blue-black, down to her shoulders, and braided in a multitude of tiny ringlets. Perversely, the first thing he noticed about her clothing was that she was barefoot but color rushed to his face as his vision rose past long, muscular legs to shorts that barely covered her bottom, up a firm looking abdomen, past respectable breasts secured by a cut-off sleeveless T-shirt, and it was only then that he noticed how well armed she was. There was a gun belt around her waist with what looked like a 10mm pistol holstered, a knife belt beneath that with a bone-handled blade in a sheathe just above her buttocks, but what really raised his eyebrows was the long blade sheathed across her back by a bandoleer. She suddenly cocked her head and turned from her argument with one of the guards to regard them with an intense gaze from her eyes... that seemed to flash golden as the light hit them just right. Her long, high-cheeked face, accentuated by full lips, was pleasing to the eye but there was something about the hard cast of her features that was deeply unsettling. It summoned a feeling not unlike that which he got the few times he had been bear hunting when he was a kid.
Then her eyes settled more firmly on Lobo since he was the least armed with only his old, massive warhammer slung from his back, and those eyes widened in disbelief. She started toward them with determined strides and ignored the shout of both of her fellow gatekeepers. Lobo stopped in his tracks as one of them called for her to stop even more forcefully.
"Mei! Goddamnit! Why're you flippin'?"
"Stop right there!" Shelly, always so protective of father, put her hand on the butt of her own 10mm as the girl stepped closer. She was stopped from drawing only because Lobo held his hand up in a silent order.
The girl with the same name as their deceased mother stopped a few feet in front of Lobo.
"Are you the Titan of Nitro?" Mei asked in a clear, strong voice that betrayed not a hint of nervousness.
"I am called that, yes," Lobo answered slowly, obviously unsure of who this strange girl was.
Brandon could not stop his cry of shock when the girl dashed to Lobo so fast that she left afterimages in his vision. Gary's Zephyr blood let him react far faster than Brandon and Shelly but even he was only a few steps to Lobo when they all realized she was merely hugging him around the waist. She was tall for a woman, maybe four inches below six feet, and her head barely came up to Lobo's chest. Lobo, used to the affections of his many adopted children, returned the hug softly.
"Thank you," Mei mumbled into his shirt and then did the oddest thing. She inhaled deeply for several seconds, made strange huffing noises, and then exhaled slowly. "Yes. You're definitely not a cube."
"Why are you thanking me, young one?" Lobo asked as he looked down into a suddenly beaming smile.
"Because you saved my haha," Mei's smile turned into a shit-eating grin. "She'll be so surprised to see you!"
"Your what?" Lobo asked in confusion.
Mei rolled her eyes, "My mother. Try to keep up, Lobo!"
The familiar way that the girl spoke to Brandon's father helped ease the tension among his guardians but that was replaced by growing confusion.
"You mean... Katya said she had no children! You couldn't possibly be her daughter!" Lobo exclaimed, his shock reverberated through the others.
"Her and father are Awakened! All of my brothers and sisters are too! Some of us just grow a lot faster than normal. I'm only ten years old!"
Brandon's jaw dropped and he thought that Lobo did an admirable job of keeping a neutral expression on his face. Most people would probably place her from 16 to upwards of 19 but certainly not prepubescent.
"Bullshit! Even Zephyrs don't age that fast!" Gary squawked in alarm, to Brandon and Shelly's shared amusement, as the girl put on another unbelievable display of speed and was suddenly right in Gary's face.
"Don't be a fuckin' pendejo, Daddy-O," the girl still had that grin on her face but there was something different about it now. She sniffed Gary and the grin turned into a shy smile. "You smell nice. Don't be nervous. You guys are safe now. Ma'll make sure nobody fucks with you. C'mon, you guys look beat. We'll get you registered and I'll take you straight to haha."
Lobo gestured for his three charges to follow as he let the strange girl lead him by the hand to the two guards who had turned back to throwing a pair of dice against one side of the arch.
"Brucie! Register these four as Tanner guests!" Mei shouted belligerently to the guard with the close-cropped dirty-blonde hair.
"Don't call me Brucie, Lil' Moonie!" The guard scolded her with a scowl but obliged her by straightening from his dice game and moving over to a computer console built into the arch. "Alright, what's your names."
The four out-of-towners gave Brucie, who Brandon could only assume was a Ranger by the symbol on his armor's chestplate, their names while the unnamed guard began a conversation that caused the blood to rush to Brandon's face.
"Have you managed to convince your father that you're old enough to fuck Brucie yet?" the young woman's hair was nearly as dark as Mei's but her eyes were a deeper brown and her skin was actually the tan one would expect of a lowlander.
"Annabelle!" Brucie barked from the computer console. "You guys are all done! Please get her out of here before her daddy comes and chops my man parts off! You're my witnesses! It's these two! I didn't have anything to do with it!"
The two girls shared a giggle and, bizarrely enough, the one named Annabelle winked at Brandon.
"You're going to just let us in this town with all our weapons and escorted by a girl that says she's ten?" Gary asked in disbelief though Brandon noted that he kept his distance from Mei.
Brucie and Annabelle shared a look before collapsing into each other's arms as they laughed themselves half to death. Brucie looked as though he were about to speak when he caught Mei's furious pout and that just set him off again. It was Annabelle that finally regained her composure enough to speak.
"Even if you did manage to do anything to that one, which is harder to do than it looks, her mothers and father would probably skin you alive within the hour. I've seen it. Not a pretty sight. Does that explain our carefree natures, Gary-kun?" That predatory grin that Mei had blessed them with spread across both Brucie and Annabelle's face. Gary visibly wilted under those stares despite the fact that he was a bloodied fighter in his own right.
"Shut the fuck up, Anna! Why'd'ya always have to scare all our guests!? C'mon, Lobo, we'll take you to the guest house to drop off your bags first."
"Good luck!" Brucie called out as he and Annabelle settled back down to their game.
"Did she say mothers?" Shelly whispered to Brandon but Mei beat him to the reply.
"Yeah, she did! I have three mothers! Don't make a big deal!"
Brandon shrugged at the bewildered look Shelly gave him and pushed her wide-brimmed hat down lower over her eyes.
"Try to keep your jaw closed and your ears open. This place is odd," He told her and she nodded slowly in acceptance of his point.
The town proved just as strange as the guards and their enthusiastic guide. Every person was armed with some form of firearm or blade but there was a relaxed and friendly air about them all. It seemed as though Mei was well known and liked judging by the number of times she was yelled at or stopped by passerby. Brandon, Shelly, and Gary all came to a halt when a ghoul stopped Mei, picked her up by the hips, and spun her around several times despite her indignant shrieking.
"You're embarrassing me, ojisama! Not in front of the guests!" Mei actually seemed embarrassed when the ghoul put her down.
In their travels to the Capital Wastes, the trio had seen a number of ghouls but never had they seen a human so physically familiar with one. It was unsettling and endearing at the same time.
"Oh, ya know I can't help gettin' happy when I see ya, Lil' Moonie," the ghoul, Gob, ruffled her hair with a smile on his cadaverous face.
"Hey, Rachel. When are we gonna run away from your crazy old daddy!?" Mei leaned over to a smaller figure that had been hiding shyly behind the ghoul and Brandon's jaw did drop open this time.
It was a ghoul child. A ghoul child that couldn't have been much younger than Mei's own proclaimed age of 8. She was dressed in a cute little white sundress with pink flowers on it and had actual skin. It was even fairly smooth, for a ghoul, but still looked oddly textured and was a dark gray color. The oddest thing was the full head of dark brown hair that cascaded to her waist.
"Soon as I get as big as you, cousin!" the ghoul-child chirped in an adorably normal voice before ducking behind her father again at their slack-jawed scrutiny.
"We've gotta get back. We just came for her check-up. Tell yer father that we're still on for poker ta'night. Reiner's streak is gonna end for sure!"
Mei laughed and backhanded Gob on the chest, "You know that Ma gets mad when father plays with you guys!"
"So does Venus but you don't see that stoppin' the old Gobber, do ya?" Brandon's eyes bugged out when the ghoul leaned in to give Mei a kiss on the cheek. "You're too good of a kid to have come out of your mama, Moonie! I'll see ya later!"
Mei waved until they rounded the corner where a sign read "To Megaton" and then turned to fix them a glare, "Yes, ghouls can have children. No, it's not weird to touch or kiss one. Close your mouths and don't make it a big deal. You look like a bunch of freams."
"What the fuck is a fream?" Gary wondered aloud and Mei, predictably shouted back.
"Someone who doesn't fit in!"
"How good is that girl's hearing?" Shelly wondered as they put even more distance between her and them.
Mei led them down a street with a sign above it that read "Tanner Drive" and to the first single-story home on the right. It was a small home with two-bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room but it was dry, warm, and had running water. They stowed their gear with the exception of their sidearms and followed Mei to the back of the large building that dominated the town's center. The quartet from West Virginia found a very familiar site waiting for them. In the middle of a concrete lot was a massive Circle of sand where a pale figure in camo pants and a cut-off T-shirt was leading two dozen men and women in practicing a kata.
"There's no way to hide you! So just be cool! I can't wait to see the look on her face!" Mei stage-whispered to them as they came closer to the taller, muscular woman that had the same coloring as her. "Okāsan! Look what I found!"
The woman turned to fix eyes that were much darker than her daughter's on the small group and her lips parted in a subconscious expression of delight before she turned back to her students.
"Junior! Take over!"
A young man, nearly as tall as Mei's mother, with skin just as pale as Mei's jogged up to take his master's place. He had light brown eyes that flashed golden in the early afternoon light and his hair was blue-black.
Mei's mother, the legendary figure that the people of Charleston still referred to as Hel, walked up to Lobo with long confident strides. Lobo extended his arm for the traditional handshake but Hel ignored it in favor of wrapping her arms around his waist and lifting Lobo off his feat in a bearhug of monstrous power. When Lobo laughed, Brandon and adopted siblings shared soft smiles. It was the first time since their mother had died that they had heard Lobo laugh.
That, in and of itself, was almost worth the trip.
"I'd say his skeletal-musculature density is probably thirty percent above homo sapient norms. Definitely one of the Iron Men from okāsan's stories."
"We really shouldn't be in here, guys."
"Don't be a fuckin' panocha, 'Stasi. Momma said we should learn at least one new thing everyday. This big bastard is like a bazillion new things!"
"It's terribly rude though."
"He smells like he just matured sexually but Lobo-san said he was seventeen!"
"Stupid. Not everyone grows as fast as Junior and 'Stasi and Mei! Shit, most of us don't even grow that fast."
"Fuck! I think he's waking up!"
"Lay a patch!"
"Oh, no, you little nosy fuckers aren't escaping this time! You're gonna wait right here and apologize to Brandon-kun when he wakes up."
"Someone's got a crush!"
"Wha-?" Brandon groggily sat up on the bed and tried to blink his eyes into focus as someone sing-songed in the bedroom he and his siblings had taken for their own.
He resisted the urge to cover himself once his eyes did clear to reveal five people in his room and none of them were his family. Mei waved sheepishly from her place blocking the doorway while the four smaller figures in front of her hung their heads in an effort not to meet his eyes. Brandon had removed his shirt and pants to sleep in his underwear but the scratchy blanket he had carried all the way from home had somehow wound up on the floor at the feet of the children in front of Mei.
The smallest couldn't have been any older than six but he was obviously the bravest as the boy raised his head to fix him with Mei's golden-brown eyes. His head was shaved except for a short Mohawk that, combined with his dark brown skin, gave some credence to the stories people told about the lowland savages. His face was calm and had a gravity that was disconcerting coming from such a youthful person.
"Are these more of your brothers and sisters?" Brandon asked slowly, flushing at the way Mei started after being caught staring at his chest.
"Unfortunately, yes," Mei placed her hand on the Mohawk'd boy. "This is Adam." Next came a girl that could have been Mei's twin except for hair that wasn't quite as dark. "Anastasia, but we call her 'Stasi." The next girl had golden skin, those same strange eyes, and reddish-brown pigtails. "May." The last was an extremely muscular boy that was nearly Mei's height with dark brown skin and close-cropped dark hair. "Nathan."
"Hi," they all shyly and, in the cases of Nathan and May, sullenly greeted him.
"Now, apologize for examining him like a rat."
"But he's so fascinating," Adam's eyes seemed to shine as he stared hungrily at Brandon. "This is the first time I've been so close to an Iron Man. Father, Ma and okāsan are hogging the Titan and everyone else is monopolizing the Zephyr and the Healer!"
"Give it up, Adam, fuck. You talk more like momma everyday," Nathan swore and fixed Mei with a scowl when she slapped him in the back of the head.
"You know Ma doesn't like you cussin' up a storm!"
"Fuck you, Moonie! You cuss just as much as I do!"
"Get your asses out of here before I kick them!" Nathan was the first to try to flee from Mei's threat and got booted in the ass for his trouble.
A stream of rapid-fire... something flew from Nathan's mouth and Mei fired back as the others hustled out of the open doorway. The two siblings ended their verbal spat with middle fingers that Brandon knew the meaning of. Mei shook her head when her last brother departed and turned to him with a grin that was mildly unsettling.
"Sorry about that. Those four are as thick as thieves and are always getting into trouble. I'm amazed father hasn't beaten the hide off their asses." Mei poured a glass of water from a pitcher on a nightstand and handed him the tin cup. "It's rad-free. Drink up!" Brandon took the mug with a nod and drained it. It was cool and didn't have grit in it but definitely wasn't as tasty as water from his home. "Lobo-sama sent me to wake you up. He said that you'd sleep through the party if we let you."
"Yeah! When momma heard that you guys brought Lobo, she started organizing a party right away. Momma's company makes a lot of money so we can afford all the stuff you need for a town-wide celebration. Any excuse momma can find, she'll take. It sends Ma up a wall but momma brings in a lot of caps so she can't say much."
"Aren't your momma and your ma the same person?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Mei rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly, "Most of the people in this town are Rangers or Ranger families so they're used to what we call our mothers. Father's father because there's only one but we have three mothers and we couldn't all just go around calling them whatever. It can get confusing. So we call our mother Katya, don't call her Hel or she'll get pissed, okāsan. Then there's Ma Wolf. She's the one with the golden skin and the white hair. You won't miss her. And Momma Evie has one real eye and one cyborg eye. Don't make a big deal when you see it. Got it?" Brandon's head was reeling from the information overload but he nodded dumbly. "Good. I'll be waiting outside. Get dressed. There's plenty to eat and drink and lots of games to play!"
Brandon's eyes narrowed and his heart began to beat a mile a minute as Mei paused in the doorway with her back turned to him. It provided an excellent view of her long, toned legs and curvaceous bottom. He averted his eyes upward only to find that her head was twisted to watch him as he leered at her. The odd girl smirked and winked at him before disappearing on silent feet.
"What the fuck?" He groaned to himself and took a minute to flop back on his mattress as he let his heartbeat return to normal.
Almost ten minutes later, he emerged from the house into a scene straight out of the Town Center in Charleston. Strings festooned with tiny lightbulbs had been stretched across the street down the length of Tanner drive. At least one long table had been set up in front of each house and several grilles were smoking in the middle of the street. The smells of food were almost enough to distract him from the stream of humanity that had arrived to fill the space. Conversation and music created a din that was a little shocking considering how quiet the town had been earlier in the day. Brandon looked up and realized that the sun was beginning to disappear below the horizon and, given that it was winter, it would probably be full dark soon enough.
"I told you we had a lot of friends! Momma loves getting them together! Come on, she wants to meet you!" Mei actually grabbed Brandon's right hand and began dragging him with a surprising amount of strength.
If she's anywhere near as strong as her mother, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.
Mei weeded her way through a crowd that was occasionally dotted with children of various ages that shared her golden-brown eyes. All of their skintones ranged from really dark brown to the milk-pale of Mei. Each of them walked with an almost predatory gait though and seemed to size him up before their faces settled into a stunning cheerfulness that was positively infectious. Brandon was soon brought face-to-face with what he suspected was the source of that cheerfulness.
"Ah! There he is! Come here and let me have a look at who Mei can't stop gushing about!" The woman that spoke stood up from behind the table she was stationed at with a baby that couldn't have been older than one in her arms. The olive-brown skin and curly brown hair they shared said it was hers. Brandon did his best not to stare at the faint red glow of the eye staring out from a socket ringed by faint scars but she obviously noticed. "Oh, you can look at it. I don't mind. It's much better than when it first happened. Between the Wanderer, Horace Pinkerton, and me, at least you can see the rest of my pretty face!"
Brandon had to admit that, for someone that had to be getting close to 30, she was very pretty even with the fake eye.
"You did a good job, ma'am," Brandon replied with a nod of his head as he kissed the back of her offered hand.
"Ma'am? Oh, he's cute, Mei. You were right. Kinda quiet though but so was your Dad when we first met. What do you think, girls?"
Two other women and a female ghoul sat at the table with this bundle of maternal energy. The two women had children in their arms that shared features of momma Evie while the ghoul had one that was obviously her own.
The woman with the big scar down her left cheek and jaw shook her head, "He's kinda big, ain't he? And he lives so far away."
"Yeah," the ghoul woman spoke in a normal voice just like Gob's daughter. "I don't know if I'd want Rachel to set her sights on someone that lived so far away."
"You guys need to calm down," the dirty-blonde woman scowled slightly, "Mei's only ten, for the love of God. You're embarrassing her!"
"Oh, shove it, Hopper. You'll see when Illyria gets a little older. She'll have all the boys after her and one of your few joys in life will be paying her back for all the embarrassing things she did and said to you."
"Momma!" Mei wailed and Brandon turned to see that her cheeks had developed into two massive spots of bright red. "Lita-san, Venus-san, don't feed into momma's crap."
All four women erupted into laughter and momma Evie took her seat again. She placed a bottle filled with milk into her baby's mouth and gently rocked it as she looked at Mei with a fond smile.
"Oh, Brandon, I wanted to apologize for my other kids. They're just not used to having new people visit that they can relate to. We still don't have as high a percentage of mutations like your area does so they're curious. I'll make sure they don't bother you much during your stay. Mei, go get him something to eat before you take him to see his father. That boy looks like he could eat a whole brahmin."
"It was nice meeting you, ma'am, ladies," Brandon bowed slightly to the entire table and hurried away as they began to giggle and express delight at his politeness.
"I'm so sorry, Brandon-kun. Momma is almost as embarrassing as my haha." At his look, Mei laughed. "That's what you call your mother when you describe her to someone that's not family. I know. I know. Japanese is confusing. Don't make a big deal out of it."
Several minutes later, Brandon found himself forgiving all of the eccentricity that becoming involved with the Tanner clan and the Rangers entailed after finding himself the proud owner of a plate filled with four brahmin burgers and potato salad. The potato salad was a strange orange-red color and the sauce for the burgers was brown but it was all so good he didn't care one bit. He was amazed that Mei's own plate was just as full and she had shrugged at his raised eyebrows. Together, they walked to one of the less crowded areas and that was where they found Lobo standing off to the side as half a dozen people argued in front of him. One of them was Hel herself while the identity of the two on either side of her was not hard to figure out. The woman with the pearly white hair that flowed halfway down her back had golden skin, amber eyes, and was massively pregnant. On Hel's other side was a stocky man with salt-and-pepper hair and those freaky golden-brown eyes that half the young people at the party seemed to sport.
"What's going on?" Brandon asked after swallowing his latest bite.
"I'm glad you finally woke, son," Lobo clapped him softly on the back. "The Rangers have accepted the contract. They're giving us three quads and that airship we saw when we came in. Some of Katya's children want to join as auxiliaries. Katya is firmly against it."
"How many siblings do you have?" Brandon asked Mei in bemusement and she seemed to take him seriously as she chewed in thought.
Mei swallowed and casually said, "Twenty-seven."
Brandon choked on his own piece of burger and Lobo helped him out by nearly slapping his lungs out of his back. When his coughing fit was over, he looked at his father with wide eyes.
"It's true. Apparently, something about Lee's seed makes a woman predisposed to multiple births. And something about Rachel's body makes her predisposed to multiple births."
"That's right," Mei crossed herself and sighed, "Most of us live but usually there's at least one stillborn. Especially with momma. It's always risky when she gets pregnant. But God always gives even when he takes. Momma's kids are all scary smart even if they don't grow as fast as me and 'Stasi. Oh, shit! Brandon, whatever you do, don't be intimidated. Look him right in the eye when you talk to him."
Before Brandon could ask what Mei meant, he looked up and saw Mei's father coming to him. He had heard stories about the man since they had come into the Capital Wasteland. Most of the stories involved him cheating Death. They said that he walked in Death's shadow so that it could never touch him. Brandon knew the things they said about his own father and he also knew that Lobo, despite how invincible he might seem, was still flesh-and-blood. Now he was on the other side of the larger-than-life looking glass and found that he was just as susceptible to being awestruck as anyone. The man's eyes flashed golden as he and Ma Wolf approached. Ma Wolf had a hand on her swollen stomach and her other arm was entwined with Mei's father's. Brandon straightened his spine and did his best to meet the Walker's eyes as the two stopped in front of him.
"You can call me Lee, Brandon, and this is my wife, Wolf, but everyone calls her Ma these days."
"You can call me Ma, too, Brandon. Lobo's told us a lot about you and your siblings!"
Brandon shook Lee's hand, looked him square in the eye, and tried not to wince at the crushing grip. He returned it as strongly as he could and thought the man nodded ever-so-slightly in respect, "It's nice to meet you, sir." Ma extended her hand too but Brandon turned it to place a chaste kiss upon the back. "A pleasure, ma'am."
"Oh, he's got good manners, doesn't he, Mei?" Ma asked innocently, her own amber eyes twinkling as she watched her daughter squirm beneath her scrutiny.
Lee's brow furrowed as his eyes darted from his wife, to his daughter until they finally settled on Brandon's face.
Don't look away! Don't look away!
Brandon began to sweat when Lee leaned forward in their direction and it was only then that he realized how close Mei was standing to him. Lee's eyes widened fractionally and his hand went to the big knife at his waist. The head of the Tanner household didn't draw his blade; instead, he idly thumbed the hilt as he studied Brandon anew.
"Mei is very precocious. She can't help that," Lee sighed and smiled fondly at one of his oldest offspring, "But as mature as she might seem physically and mentally... well, sometimes mentally," Lee chuckled at the affronted noise his daughter made before he continued, "Emotionally, is a far different story. She can be hurt very easily. I don't like it when my daughter is hurt, comprende?"
"I don't know what that means, sir. I can assure you that I would never knowingly hurt Mei. She has been very kind to me and mine. I will not forget that."
The two held each other's gaze for a moment more before Lee's face parted in a smile that exposed slightly longer canines than Brandon thought was normal.
"You'll do. C'mon, Mei, maybe you can talk some sense into your brothers and sisters."
"We'll talk later, Brandon. Maybe you can fill me in better than Lobo about my old home. I can see why Mei likes you. You're just like her father."
"Ma!" Now Mei's entire face was cherry red but she grinned at Brandon as she went with her parents.
She's got long canines, too. Weird.
"You did well, son. Just try to keep it in your pants until we're sure the contract is airtight," Lobo chuckled at Brandon's own strangled cry of protest.
"Papa! I'm not going to do anything!"
"I saw the way you looked at her at the gate, Bran. You might be able to fool yourself but you could never fool me."
Brandon took a huge bite out of his burger and turned away from Lobo's big, stupid smile. "Where are the others?"
"Gary got talked into knife-throwing with some of the Rangers and a bunch of Wolf's kids are playing Five-Finger Fillet with Shelly since she heals like they do."
"Kids," Brandon shook his head in faint disgust.
Lobo chuckled, "Yeah, kids."
The argument had apparently reached a head because Ma Wolf, Lee and Mei were coming back to him. Mei was removing her knife belt and draped it over his shoulder before handing him her plate.
"Uhm, what's happening?"
"Something stupid but I gave up trying to stop Rachel and her legion of doom from doing stupid things years ago," Ma Wolf sighed tiredly and settled her head in the crook of Lee's shoulder.
Brandon watched as Hel backed up until she was nearly touching the thick stone of the perimeter wall. Junior, 'Stasi, and an unfamiliar boy with a high-spiked Mohawk and golden skin, faced off against her.
"What are you doing, Mei?" Brandon asked in concern.
"I want to go back with you. I wanna see where Ma comes from so I'm going to have to kick okāsan's ass."
Brandon thought his tongue was going to fall out of his mouth as Mei winked at him before jogging up to take her place in the line of her siblings preparing to fight their mother.
"Is she serious?" Brandon asked, turning to Lee.
"C'mon, you little assholes, your kāsan doesn't have all fuckin' night."
As one, the four children attacked their mother. The melee was fast and hard to keep up with even through Brandon's trained eyes. He winced as someone was tossed a dozen feet to crash through a party table. There was no ruckus raised among the partygoers besides several of them wandering over to watch the fight between mother and children. It was madness.
"Papa, I'm starting to worry."
Lobo, as usual when people were engaging in hand-to-hand combat, was utterly engrossed even as he asked, "About what?"
"I heard the stories and I think we'll have a good chance of winning the war now even with so few of these Rangers but-" Brandon's face twisted as Mei took a brutal straight right to the jaw only to bounce right back with a flying knee that hit nothing but air. "-I don't know if Charleston will be the same when they're done."
Lee laughed and turned his head to fix him with those golden eyes, "Oh, it won't be the same. It will be much more fun."
To Brandon's astonishment, when Mei looked up and grinned despite her bloody mouth, he actually believed it.
cube- a normal person
kāsan- very casual form of okāsan reserved for blood relatives (or at least that's what I understood it to be. Japanese honorifics are hard. Lol.)
If anyone wants to have a bit more closure with other characters mentioned in the story, let me know via reviews or PM and I'll post an appendix or something of that nature. With so many secondary and tertiary characters, it's definitely hard to write an epilogue that's not Lord of the Rings long. Heh.
I hoped everyone that stuck with the story to the end enjoyed it. I know the directions I take with stories are not always the ones people want but, in the end, I think that's what makes reading fanfiction so exciting. The unexpected journey that an author can take one on.
So, one last time, thanks for walking with me!
P.S. Couldn't have done it without you, 'Juicy!