Kubo was starting to wish he asked for more English lessons when he was younger.
Well, in his defense, he never imagined he'd actually go to America. How was he supposed to know his father's family lived over there? Though they were Japanese, they never really talked once they moved to America. He had no experience with American culture, outside of trends and media…
At least he'd get to meet the rest of his family. That much he was excited for.
So here he was. In an American town, unsure of what to do. The bus stop wasn't exactly that--just a bench outside a row of trees. Once the old bus had pulled away he had no idea what to do. He couldn't get reception on his phone so he started walking. He was thankful again for how light his shami
He had just passed a sign that said, Welcome to Gravity Falls! so he was probably heading in the right direction.
After lots of walking, Kubo got a phone call. He didn't even know this place… had any service. It seemed very out of the way.
“[Is this Kubo?]” Someone with an American accent spoke in Japanese. He didn't recognize the voice.
“[Yes, I'm Kubo. Who is this?]” He responded warily.
“[Kubo, I'm so sorry. This is your--your cousin. There was a miscommunication, we're not in Gravity Falls right now.]”
Kubo stopped walking.
“[Then what am I supposed to do? I don't know anyone here.]” Kubo was beginning to panic. Well, more so than before.
“[I know. We're so sorry… do you know any English?]”
“[Yes. Enough to pass, I think.]”
“[That's good. In Gravity Falls, there is a place called the Mystery Shack. The man who owns it, Stan Pines, is a family friend. He'll take care of you until we get back home.]
“[I have to stay with a stranger?]” Kubo gulped.
“[We're so sorry. We'll get back as soon as possible. There's signs for the building everywhere, you should be able to find it easily. It's not too far of a walk.]”
“[I'm sorry. We'll be back within a week or so if we can!]”
“[Okay, okay… Goodbye.]”
“[You can call this number whenever you need help, okay? We love you, the time just--]”
“[I understand. Goodbye.]” Kubo hung up without waiting for a response. Yes, that was rude, but he was upset. As promised, there was a sign for the “Mystery Shack” on a phone pole. With only a vague arrow pointing down a street to guide him, he continued the journey.
By the time Kubo got to the Mystery Shack, he was sweating heavily and tired. ‘Not too far a walk’ his butt! If he dropped dead he wouldn't be surprised.
Kubo watched as two kids his age played tug-of-war with… was that a jacket? while another boy stood by and clapped. Kubo smiled to himself and headed to the front door of the shop.
When he walked inside, it was apparent this was a gift shop. A ding of a bell made his appearance know to whoever was inside the building--which looked like no one. Kubo stood in the walkway on the worn ‘welcome’ rug and took in the… very weird, obviously fake attractions.
“One minute!” A voice called out. Kubo slowly walked into the shop, switching hands with the case of his shamisen. Bad day to wear his father's jacket, it seemed.
“Welcome to the Mystery Shack! Home of wond--” A very old-looking man stepped into the shop with a cheap suit and an eyepatch over his glasses. When he saw Kubo, they both paused.
“Um… hello.” Kubo gave a shaky smile. He hasn't really… used English with native speakers. He knew more than he gave himself credit for but… not much was coming to mind.
“Oh. You're not a customer.” The man grunted, sounding disappointed. He flipped up the fake eyepatch and squinted at Kubo. “Oh, hey, you're that, uh… that, uh, Kyle kid.”
“Gesundheit. Your aunts told me about you! Welcome to Gravity Falls!”
“You're Stan Pines?” Kubo was less than impressed. Family friend? In other circumstances, Kubo would run away and warn the police about a pedophile in the woods!
“That's right! Mr. Mystery, or whatever.”
“Uh… yeah. My--my cousin told me I'd be staying… here until she came home.” Kubo spoke slowly. English didn't feel too awkward in his mouth yet it still felt unnatural. He'd usually use it in school to insult people under his breath, it was weird using it so… openly.
“That's right. You'll have to share with--”
“I can't believe you were willing to rip my jacket just so you could put a patch on it!” Kubo heard loud complaining before the door opened again. When he looked behind him, he could see the three teens he saw outside coming in. They were all very red from the sun, though two of them had jackets on. Well, he was wearing one too, he couldn't judge.
“It's a cute patch!” The one girl defended. A boy with a blue and white hat made a fade at her.
“Uh, guys?” A boy with spiked hair spoke up. “Customer.”
Immediately, the boy and girl who had been arguing shut up. They looked related, Kubo noted. Twins, even.
“Kids! Meet your new sibling!” Stan put his hands on his hips. All three teens gave him a confused look before looking to Kubo.
“Um… hello.” The boy with the spiked hair and red jacket slowly waved. Kubo waved back. He wasn't sure who was more confused.
“It's the nephew of a friend I was talking about.
“Stan, you never told us about anyone.” The boy with the hat raised an eyebrow in suspicion.
“Didn't I? Well, he just came in from Japan and his family isn't here so he's gonna be sleeping here for a week or so.”
“Whoa, Japan? That's so cool! Hello!” The girl smiled brightly. “I'm Mabel! He's Dipper--” She pointed at the boy with the hat. “--and that's Norman!” at the boy with the red jacket.
“I'm--I'm Kubo.” Kubo almost felt embarrassed about his accent now. He sounded nothing like the other kids… ‘Mabel’ looked very excited, but ‘Dipper’ still looked suspicious.
“But Norman's here, there won't be much space.” He looked over at Stan.
“Tough luck, figure it out. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go ward off the IRS.” Without another word, Stan left. Kubo wasn't sure if he felt reassured or more worried now that he was alone with kids his age.
“Uh… what do we do now?” Norman whispered to Dipper.
“Oh! Oh! I know some Japanese!” Mabel raised her hand like she was in class. She concentrated for a bit before speaking in very shaky Japanese. “[Uh, hello! We are happy to meet you!]”
“[That's very kind of you.] Thank you, but I can speak English.” Kubo smiled at her. She stared at him for a long moment and he had to break eye contact first.
“... Should we show him where to put his stuff?” Norman whispered again.
“I'd like that.” Kubo smiled hopefully.
“Here, I'll show you!” Mabel enthusiastically took Kubo’s free hand and pulled him away from the gift shop. Kubo gave the two boys a look of fear as he let himself get carried away.
“Mabel! You can't just do that!” He heard Dipper shouting after them. Kubo had to be careful not to knock his shamisen on the stairs he was pulled up, but he found himself smiling in the end. If this stranger could be happy, so could Kubo.
“Here's our room! It's kinda cramped because Norman's here for the summer, too, but we'll make space!” Mabel spread her arm out at a small, make-shift bedroom. There were two beds on opposite walls, and a sleeping bed spread out beside the one on the left. The left side of the room had lots of books and Polaroid pictures. The right side of the room was very, very colorful.
“Thank you.” Kubo smiled again. He tried shaking off her hand but she didn't get the hint. He shrugged off his bag and placed his shamisen case down.
“You can put your stuff here! Oh, is that a guitar? Can you play?” Mabel guided Kubo to what he assumed was her side of the room, the right side. Kubo vaguely heard the two boys entering the room, but Mabel's insistent questions muffled other noise.
“Mabel, you could let go now.” Dipper rolled his eyes and sat on the bed on the left. Norman sat quietly next to him, giving Kubo a curious look. Since Mabel had been holding his hand so much, the sweat between them let Kubo get his hand free.
That's probably the grossest escape I'll ever commit, he decided.
“Dipper! Dipper! He had a guitar!” Mabel jumped excitedly. Kubo smiled sheepishly.
“I wouldn't exactly…” he started before Dipper spoke up again.
“Mabel, you're making him uncomfortable. Stop talking about his guitar.”
“It's not a--” he tried again, but now Mabel interrupted.
“I bet he can play really, really good!”
“Um, I tell stories?” Kubo tried.
“EVEN BETTER!” Mabel squealed. Kubo winced at her loudness, and Dipper complained again. Norman looked amused but almost embarrassed.
Kubo stopped bothering to answer. Instead, he carefully took his shamisen out of his case and played a note that made the room go quiet. Kubo felt a smile grow on his face.
“If you must blink, do it now.” Another note. The three teens stared at him in wonder, none noticing how the paper in the room fluttered or Kubo’s bag started moving.
“Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear… no matter how unusual it may seem.” His story-telling voice was fun to do, and Kubo liked how easily it got everyone's attention. When Kubo realized the danger of continuing the story, he stopped playing.
“... As I said, it's not a guitar.” Kubo explained with a smile. After a few moments, Mabel burst out clapping, Norman following suit. “Though, I can play guitar, too.” He added.
“He's perfect, Dipper! He's so mysterious !” Mabel ‘whispered’ to Dipper. Kubo tilted his head back in laughter.
“Thank you. Maybe I'll tell you the rest of my story later on.” At this, Dipper finally seemed to get his wits and he coughed.
“Sounds like an interesting story,” he said casually. Kubo laughed even more.
“I think so, too.”
In which Kubo shows off his origami skills.
Kubo was pleasantly surprised to find good company in the ‘Shack. The twins were exciting to be around and Norman was very down-to-Earth. They were all patient with his lapses in English, too, which was great. Even Mabel's bad attempts at Japanese were endearing and a nice reminder they actually welcomed him.
The only thing he didn't like was the heat, and Stan Pines.
Though the initial creep factor had worn off, the musician had a bad feeling about the Shack’s owner. It felt like he had something to say every time he looked at Kubo and yet said nothing. It was bothersome.
Stan immediately put Kubo to work. Dipper had warned him never to show Stan his shamisen skills to avoid being put on display, and Kubo took that advice to heart.
“This… is the most boring thing on the planet,” Dipper sighed from behind the counter. Kubo nodded in agreement. He had been pretending to sweep the floor for about twenty minutes now, even though it was clean enough.
“Uggggh, not only do we have to work today but we can't leave ? It's not like the door’s busting open with customers!” Mabel dramatically swung her arm to gesture to the door, fanning herself quickly with the other hand.
“This sucks.” Norman agreed simply from the stool beside Dipper. Kubo had long since wrapped his jacket around his waist to leave himself in a black tank top--even then, his skin was covered with sweat. He pulled out another stool from behind the counter and sat on the side opposing the other boys.
“What can we do?” Kubo sighed and rested his chin on his hand.
“Melt?” Dipper suggested glumly.
“Maybe so.” Kubo fixed his ponytail to be tighter. He glanced at the counter and picked up a receipt from the pile of unused ones and started folding it. Dipped and Norman watched in interest.
“Whatcha looking at over here?” Mabel dragged her stool over and sat slightly too close to Kubo. He ignored her for a moment, focusing on the careful folds.
“This dragon,” he said with a smile when he finished. He held up the receipt, now folded into an amazing dragon. It seemed almost impossible to be, but there it was.
“I--what? How did you do that?” Although Dipper had been watching the whole time, he looked confused. Norman was smiling.
“You're gifted,” he said softly. Kubo nodded in appreciation and placed the dragon on the table.
“Whoaaa! That's magic!” Mabel practically had stars in her eyes.
“It's origami. How you say… paper folding. Do you know it?” Kubo already had more receipts in front of him, working on a new creature.
“Yeah! It's so cool!” Mabel looked very intently as Kubo’s hands worked.
“Mabel had a phase for it a couple years ago,” Dipper said with a nod. He seemed hellbent on finding out the secret to Kubo’s intricate designs, but found himself with no answer two creatures later.
“It's a very important tradition, to my mother's family.” He placed the finished beetle down next to a paper monkey.
“How did you even--there is nowhere near enough paper for any of these.” Dipper pursed his lips. Norman laughed.
“Let him have his secrets, Dip.” He patted Dipper's shoulder.
“I can show you how to do it.” Kubo offered. Immediately, the three teens nodded, at attention. Kubo smiled proudly. He could always impress people with his skills but he never really had anyone to show them to. He gave everyone an equal piece of receipt and slowly showed them what to do.
Mabel didn't make anything he made, but she made stuff. Dipper got too frustrated with how it worked and left it on the table, watching Norman instead. Norman did exactly what Kubo did but got a less than impressive model.
“Dipper, you can't over think it too much. It's not as mystical as it may seem.” Kubo said gently, seeing how upset Dipper was.
“It has to be! It's not the weirdest thing we've seen.” Dipper crossed his arms to his chest.
“... You believe in magic?” Kubo asked, genuinely hoping for a yes. The three kids paused and immediately started denying it, on varying levels of believability. “I'm not going to judge you. It's a yes or no, do you believe in magic?”
“Do you? ‘Cause I think we could be pretty magi--” Mabel started a pickup line that Norman interrupted.
“Don't tell anyone?” He asked softly. Kubo nodded enthusiastically. Norman nodded, a smile growing on his face at Kubo’s excited reaction.
“Gravity Falls is full of magic! And weird stuff that may be magic or just plain weird!” Mabel explained as she leaned toward Kubo. If she leaned more, her stool would buckle beneath her, so Kubo gently pushed her back into place.
“I have magic to show you.” Kubo didn't explain. Instead, he jumped up from his chair (totally not almost falling in the process) and went up to the shared room. He came back down with his bag and his shamisen.
“... Your guitar is magic?” Dipper asked.
“Dipper, it's not a guitar.” Kubo reminded him with a roll of his eye and a chuckle. He raised his arm and played a strong note. Again, the shop went silent. Instead of his serious storytelling, he decided to play a fun tune. The kids waited for anything to happen but got no response. The second they looked confused, Kubo started playing for real.
Paper flew from his bag and into the air. While minding the low ceiling, the pieces spun together in a tight circle of flashing colors. Then, some pieces shot down to the counter where the kids sat. Dipper quickly sat back, surprised, but Norman and Mabel sat closer to watch.
As Kubo played, the pieces of paper formed themselves into a few things. A blue wyvern spat white fire at a red samurai, who dodged it easily and cut off the beast’s head with a sword. But then, two heads grew in its place. The samurai rose his sword again, posed to attack, when Kubo heard some footsteps from upstairs.
Almost immediately, all the papers fell. The colorful figures fell back into paper sheets which Kubo frantically shoved in his bag. The other kids helped him too, not questioning his panic. Kubo had just shut his bag when Stan walked into the shop.
“I heard music. You kids aren't having any fun in here, are you?” Stan eyed the four suspicious-looking teens. They all smiled as politely as they could and gave out no’s, with varying believability. Stan stared at them for an uncomfortable amount of time before shrugging and walking to another part of the building, mumbling about teens and their shitty music.
The teens let out a collective breath.
“... You have magic here, too?” Kubo quietly asked the kids. Norman smiled sheepishly and looked away, while Dipper became guarded. Mabel nodded, her eyes as wide as they were when he started the origami.
“Yes! We can show you! To the Mabel Mobile!” Mabel sprinted out the front door.
“But… the sho--what's a ‘Mabel Mobile?’” Kubo looked at the two boys, confused. Norman and Dipper gave each other a knowing look before walking to the door.
“It's the golf cart.” Norman explained with a giggle. Kubo nodded in understanding and followed behind, excited for his first adventure ever with friends.
Kubo was happy the teens showed him their side of Gravity Falls. Mostly keeping a safe distance from floating eye-bats, going to a closed path to make fun of some gnomes… his favorite part was seeing the cat. Sure, the cat was larger all the kids combined, absorbed all light around it, and when Norman stepped on a stick, they found it had thousands of glowing eyes…
Yeah, that was pretty cool. Most things they saw in their one-day journey wasn't violent, unlike a lot of creatures Kubo was around back home.
By the time they got back to the Shack, the sun was going down. Kubo was the first to notice the sun going down and the only one who insisted they head home immediately.
“Are you sure you're okay?” Dipper matched his pace with Kubo (who was walking very fast, especially when climbing over logs) to ask him quietly enough.
“Yes. Yes, I will be.” Kubo was too focused on go, go, go .
“Are you sure? The moon doesn't rise too fast here. Are you a werewolf?”
“No. They don't turn with the moon.” Kubo glanced up at the sky and at the waning light. He bit his lip. “We need to move faster. How longer?”
“The Shack isn't far away, it's straight ahead.”
“Is the door open?”
“It's unlocked, yeah.” As soon as Dipper nodded, Kubo bolted ahead. Dipper paused for a moment, looked back at Mabel and Norman, then followed after him.
“Why are we running?!” Norman yelled.
“Because he is!” Mabel groaned dramatically.
By the time the three broke the tree line, Kubo was anxiously waiting inside the Shack. He perked up when he saw them and yelled at them--first in Japanese, then in English.
“Hurry! Hurry! Before he rises!” Kubo waved them over. He stepped out of the way when the other teens came bursting in.
Mabel was the first to fall, though she caught herself on the banister. Dipper and Norman weren't so lucky, groaning in pain on the floor. Kubo jumped over them to shut and lock the door behind them, locking all five locks.
“Kubo…” Dipper groaned after finally untangling himself from Norman. They sat on the stairs together, leaning on the other for support.
“Yes? Are you okay?” It was obvious how the boy was anxious. He wrung his hands and paced by the door, looking out the window occasionally.
“Sure, but are you..?” Norman gave him a worried look. Kubo stopped his pacing.
“Me?” He repeated.
“Yes. You. What's wrong?”
“... [No one's really worried about me before, outside my mum.]” He muttered. Mabel gave him a confused look but said nothing. Kubo cleared his throat. “How about, uh, how about another story?”
“Is this the time for a story?” Dipper raised an eyebrow. Kubo didn't answer. Dipper sighed and got up, going upstairs with Norman. Mabel waited until Kubo started up to follow.
Kubo shut the door behind them all. The kids sat on their respective beds and Kubo picked up his Shamisen. He never felt so… unhappy to use his instrument. But since he made them all run after him, it was only even.
His displeasure was obvious in his voice--normally eccentric, it was now flat and serious. He told them of the Moon King, and of his family's curse. Not everything, no, but a lot. More than he's told anyone.
He told them the story about his grandfather's powers--a man who used the moon as his alternate form, who could see all just based off his existence.
He told them about his mother and his aunts. About the dangers the night held for him. He started to talk about his eye but stopped himself.
“... That's why you go to bed so early.” Mabel whispered. Kubo nodded. With a few more strums, the papers flew back into their container and Kubo fell back on Mabel's bed.
“It sucks.” Kubo confessed. He pushed himself back up again. He was waiting for the predicted pity, for the questions, or even the ridicule… but it never came. He knew he made the right choice by telling them.
“What about your family here?” Dipper said carefully. “Not that--you don't have to answer that.”
“It's okay.” Kubo nodded and brushed his hair out of his face. “It's my father's family, they, uh… I don't know, I don't think they knew about my mother. Who she was.”
“And you have to live with them?” Dipper frowned. Kubo shrugged.
“Family is family.” He sighed.
“Is that what happened to your eye?” Mabel asked suddenly. The room went silent for a moment, Norman and Dipper staring at Mabel with a look of, ‘shut up!’ Kubo instinctively moved the hair back in front of his eye, his face flushing.
“... Yes.” He whispered. Even after getting so comfortable with the other teens, he'd never feel less self conscious about his missing eye. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said this much.”
“No, no, we're… We're glad you trust us.” Mabel put a comforting hand on Kubo’s shoulder. “You don't have to hide your eye, you know.”
“I always have.” Kubo shrugged.
“... I have just the thing!” Mabel jumped off the bed and pulled out a yellow bag from beneath it. Kubo watched her in interest, ignoring Dipper's grimace.
With an “ah-ha!” of success, Mabel took out a small box. She poured the contents on the bed.
“[Butterflies?]” Kubo stared at the plastic pieces. “Um, what are those for?”
“They're butterflies! It's a type of bug!”
“Those are bugs?” Kubo didn't catch on.
“No, like… they're shaped like butterflies. They're hair clips! See?” Mabel put one in her hair to keep it out of her face. Kubo nodded slowly. The clips looked very cheap and childish, but he wouldn't say as much.
“I don't…” Kubo started to protest.
“Tell you what,” Dipper said before walking over to Mabel's bed. Kubo gave him a confused look. Dipper gave him a mildly uncomfortable smile and took off his hat. He used his hand and moved the hair away from his forehead to reveal a birthmark.
“Dipper?” Mabel's confidence waned for a moment.
“It's in the shape of a star formation. The Big Dipper,” Dipper explained.
“Yeah. Yeah, it is. I hate it. If you keep your hair out of your face tonight, so will I.” Dipper's face was red and he shifted from foot to foot. Kubo smiled and nodded.
“I can do that.”
Mabel smiled and showed Kubo how to use the clips. Though it wasn't exactly complicated, he pretended to be clueless because of how happy Mabel looked pinning his hair back. Dipper did his himself and sat back down on his bed to be comforted by Norman. Kubo smiled while he watched Dipper lean against Norman.
They look like a couple, Kubo thought to himself. When Mabel was done, she looked proud of herself. After that, business as usual. The teens talked and Norman made popcorn for them to eat. Although Kubo was mostly quiet, he laughed at Mabel's jokes and listened intently to Dipper's theories that he didn't really understand.
He hadn't stayed up through the night like this before. It was too dangerous. Even now, it was, but it didn't feel like it. He felt safe in their company.
When the teens finally agreed to sleep, it as essentially morning. The three were asleep almost immediately--at this point Kubo thought it was funny how Norman had his own sleeping bag and yet never used it. Kubo took out the hair clip and stared up at the ceiling.
Thank you for giving me this, Kubo thought. He didn't know who he was thanking. Thank you for this opportunity.