“As you all know,” the Principal hopped up onto his wooden box, overlooking the students and teachers, “the annual school dance is coming up soon, isn’t that just exciting? Now, as always, there’s no pressure if you can’t find a date, but it would make the experience all the more memorable!
“In other words,” interrupted Ami, who was brushing her hair and looking at Daisuke with a smug smile, “All the dateless losers can hang out together at the loser’s table, where they can mope over not being cool or beautiful enough to be asked out by anybody. I’m not about to call out names, but I know a certain somebody won’t be getting any dates any time soon.”
“I just know she’s talking about me!” Okuni growled out, clenching her fists tightly and gritting her teeth, trying to refrain from punching her roommate in the face.
“Relax, Okuni,” Jimmy patted her on the back, “What makes you think she’s talking about you in particular? It could be anybody, like Tetsuo or Yota, they’re definitely not getting any dates in time for the dance. What about you, Eizan? Who do you plan on going with?”
“M-Me?” Eizan stuttered out, not expecting to be put on blast by his own best friend. “I… uh… you see…”
“You’re not planning on going alone, are you?” At the lack of an answer, his friend grinned, beginning to tease him, “Hah, that’s priceless! But I’m not surprised, I always figured you’d marry a rice ball or something.”
“No, It’s not like that!” the boy pathetically whined out, disgusted at the mere thought of touching, let alone, marrying the bane of his existence. “I’ll find a date, I just haven’t figured out who, yet.”
“I got an idea! Why don’t you go with Oku-” Jimmy was cut off as the mentioned girl grabbed him by his collar and gave him a death glare.
“Finish that sentence, I dare you.”
The boy wanted to argue back, perhaps say that it didn’t need to be out of love, or anything, but looking into Okuni’s expression of ‘try something funny and you’ll regret it’, he realized he would need to choose his next words carefully, lest he gets out of this with a broken arm or two.
“I… I mean... who thinks a dance has to be about romantic stuff and dumb courtship rituals? I was just saying, maybe we could all go together, as like friends? Nobody ever said that dates have to be… date dates, like the lovey-dovey kind.”
“Well, I think-”
Ami, insulted at Jimmy’s remark, scoffed at him before turning back to her hair, combing it while chatting with Daisuke about their ‘plans’ for the dance. Gross, just gross.
Okuni, on the other hand, let out a giggle and dropped Jimmy back on the ground, forgetting why she was upset in the first place.
"I… I wouldn't mind going together, you know, platonically speaking," Eizan mumbled out, a slight blush on his face. "But it's up to you guys. If you want to find actual dates in the romantic sense, then go ahead, I'll find somebody."
"Are you kidding? Of course we'll go with you, we're like three peas in a pod, right Okuni?"
"R-Right, who needs d-dates anyways?" She sputtered out, her face turning redder than a beet.
“Alright, we’ll go together then.”
“Man,” Jimmy groaned, brushing some dust off of his sleeve, “Why does romance have to be so complicated and convoluted? I bet the teachers don’t have to deal with the kind of pressure that comes with trying to find someone to go to the dance with!”
But he couldn’t be any wronger.
A couple of feet away from the three, a rather short man fidgeted nervously, watching a certain girl in the audience with a love-sick countenance. His name was Kubo and his crush on Kita was so astronomic that it would put Twilight and any other otherworldly teenage romance novel to shame.
So why did he feel so nervous asking her out? Maybe it was because she could do better with literally anybody else? He knew that self-deprecation wasn’t cool, but at this rate, it was nothing more than a fact that she could do better than him. He was pathetically short for his age, standing at only 4’11, his skinny build only serving to make him look even shorter. Heck, even some of the students he taught were taller than he was and most of them were only ten years old!
That’s not to bring up how indescribably boring he was, either. He knew what they all said behind his back, how they thought he was so tediously dull as a teacher and as a person in general. It stung, it really did, but it wasn’t like he could force them to like his teaching methods or like him, that was all personal opinion.
What hurt even worse was that he couldn’t even change himself to fit their wants and needs, he could never bring himself to change how he acted or his behavior? Why? Well, it was a perplexing reason that most wouldn’t understand. He didn’t like change at all, it always made him feel weird on the inside as if something was missing. He had heard that there was also good change, but for Kubo, all change was bad change.
But maybe now he could change that. Maybe if he managed to ask Kita out, who knows what would happen? Maybe the universe would be kind to him for once and she’d accept? While that possibility only felt like a dream to him, it was still a possibility, was it not?
His two feet started to make their way towards her as if they had a mind of their own and were refusing to work against the logical side of his brain, which naturally wanted to abscond the scene entirely.
Love was such a weird state of being, it made you do strange things that you would never do under any other kind of influence. But with love, it was different and somewhat scary. But a good kind of scary, like the kind you get when you go to a Haunted House, even though Kubo hated haunted houses and other spooky things, never wanting anything to do with them. Sometimes it felt like he hated everything and that he was the personification of doom and gloom, forever being an example of-
“Oh, hello, Kubo-san.”
Kita’s voice jerked him out of his thoughts. Great, he really did walk all the way over here, now he had no choice than to ask her out and get flat out rejected. The Principal continued to monologue about this and that in the distance, but Kubo couldn’t hear him over the sound of the fluttering heart in his tiny chest. Come on, say something, idiot!
“H-Hey, K-Kit...a..” he foolishly stumbled over his words and managed to flush harder than Okuni did a few moments beforehand. What are you doing, you insane clown?! Talk to her, speak to her like a normal human being!
“You… want... uhh…” Stop being so stupid! She’ll never accept your non-marriage proposal if you keep stuttering all over the place. Right. Taking a deep breath, he attempted to ask her the most dangerous question of all. “Doyouwanttogotothedancewithme?!”
There, you gutterbrained buffoon, you finally did it. But what have you done, exactly? Just because you asked her doesn’t mean she’s obligated to say yes! She’ll tell you no, then you’ll go to your dorm and cry about it for god-knows-how-long because you’re that pathetic. At this rate, you almost want her to tell you no because she could do so much better than just a boring teacher. At least she makes teaching fun.
She was going to reject him, there was no doubt about that, he thought. Still, he had to hold onto some hope, right? Perhaps she would-
A voice called out from the other side of the room, one which was all too familiar for Kubo. ‘Please, not now. Not him,’ he begged whatever deity or deities were up there, hoping that he was just hearing things.
The students around him began to back away, staring at the looming shadow and whispering amongst themselves, some even putting themselves in a defensive position, ready to strike if a Katana Student or even the Principal himself dared to show up. However, the Principal would be a piece of cake compared to the person Kubo hoped wasn’t coming through that door.
But he had to tempt fate, of course.
A large and muscular figure walked through the door, clad in tight fighting black clothing. His hair and beard bore a striking resemblance to Vlad’s, though he seemed to be half a foot taller than the Russian ninjutsu teacher. All in all, he towered over the student and teacher body, including Kubo, who had started to shake at the sight of the monstrosity.
Speaking of which, they made their way over to Vlad and gave them a tight hug. “How’s it hanging, bro?”
“Bro?!” Kubo shouted out, though quickly silenced himself, trying to remain as invisible as possible in the confused crowd of first and second-year students.
Vlad, on the other hand, cocked his head, more confused than anything else. “Emil? What are you doing here?”
“What? Can’t a guy pop into his older brother’s work and see how he’s doing every now and then?”
“I would appreciate a call beforehand, thank you very much. We were in the middle of an announcement, one which was… uh… very important.”
“Heh, you’re funny,” Emil replied, slapping Vlad on the back as they got a good look at the place. “So, this is where you work? It’s... a little shabby. I heard that Katana has heated toilets, why doesn’t Shuriken get the same treatment?”
“Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”
“Such a shame,” the man muttered. Looking around, Vlad’s brother spotted a small figure within the swarm of students and bemusedly began to walk towards them, “Well, if it isn’t little Turtle-Boy!”
Kubo winced, realizing he had been spotted and would have to speak to them. He really desired to ignore the guy but knew that it wasn’t an option. Getting lost in a labyrinth, having your precious trophy stolen, and your dear sister getting hired at Katana of all places were all things he had dealt with and faced, but this encounter somehow managed to be the worst of all of them.
He took a deep breath and turned around, looking at the man with a forced smile on his face, trying to seem amicable. “Emil.”
“I didn’t know they let toddlers work here,” Emil let out a loud chuckle at his joke and ruffled Kubo’s hair, “So, Smallfry, I see that you haven’t grown an inch, unlike me, but that’s because I don’t spend my time teaching a bunch of snotty children and reading obscure manga.”
“Hey!” Kita snapped at him, “What’s your problem?! Leave Kubo alone!”
“Oh, Kita,” the man sneered, “I haven’t seen you since college. What’s a pretty girl like you working at such a second-rate academy? Didn’t you use to work at Katana? Did you get fired for not being ‘substantial enough’ for them?”
“It was more like I quit,” she snarled, staring down the brute with the fury of a thousand suns, “you’re one to talk, however. Aren’t you one of those freelancing couch-surfers? Would make perfect sense on why you decided to crash here out of the blue.”
“Touche,” Emil bantered back, crouching down to meet her at eye level, “You are a lot more feisty than I remember, Kita.”
“But I’m not here to harp on our past, old friend,” he continued, setting himself upright, “I heard you were all in the middle of some important business when I made my debut. Again, terribly sorry for the interruption, but might I add, what is this business? Does someone need the help of a strong hero like myself?”
Nobunaga spoke up, “We’re hosting a dance! Everyone’s gonna bring their special someone with them and there’s going to be food and music! And did I mention food?!”
“A dance, huh?”
A devious smirk crossed Emil’s face and he spun back around towards Kita, managing to shove Kubo to the side.
“I know we might have gotten off on the wrong foot earlier,” he advanced, a little too close for comfort for the lady, “but I would like to apologize for my unorthodox behavior earlier. Who would ever dream about working at Katana, anyway? All those bratty little kids and their temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, Shuriken is disciplined, I can already tell. So, with that little misdemeanor out of the way and apologized for, I humbly request to be your date for the dance.”
Kubo, who was slightly dazed and confused, instantaneously snapped back to life after hearing Emil say that. He shook the rest of his disorientation off and ran over to them, panicking. “What?! No!”
The brother of his co-worker looked at the boy smugly, knowing that in the terms of romantic gestures and courtship, he was more than a match for them and had won by a landslide.
Kita, on the other hand, looked at her two options, Kubo or Emil. Which should she choose? Were they expecting her to make a choice right now? She had a clear choice in mind, but would it be appropriate to say it out loud and hurt someone’s feelings, causing unnecessary drama? Maybe she should...
“Yes, we’ll see!” she repeated to the man, growing frustrated.
“Very well,” Emil huffed, turning around and heading for the open sliding door. He turned back around, a malicious look on his face, “but you better have an answer for me, soon.”
Kubo watched him, dumbfounded and even more worked up than before. Okay, so she didn’t tell Emil yes, but she didn’t exactly tell the man no, either. If she had outright accepted his offer, then Kubo could just let the disappointment overtake him and move on. But now there was a chance she could accept the original proposal, as unlikely as it was.
Who was he kidding? What chance did he have against Emil? He lacked the self-confidence and charisma that the other seemed to possess so effortlessly. Why should he have any faith that she would pick him?
Dejected, he mumbled out a quick ‘goodbye’ to her and left the room. He wasn’t even sure if the announcements were done yet, but he couldn’t stand just sitting there next to Kita, let alone in the same room as her! Besides, those papers weren’t going to grade themselves.
The three kids watched Kubo make a panicked beeline for the door, following Vlad’s brother, also confused over the events that had just transpired.
“Do you think he’s okay?” Eizan asked his friends. “He got really nervous when that guy started talking to him, maybe we should go and ask if-”
“Nuh-uh!” Jimmy answered back, crossing his arms over his chest, “The last time we tried to help him, he ended up giving all of us two tests instead of one! ‘If this doesn’t invigorate you, then you’re hopeless’ and blah blah blah. I refuse to study that hard again!”
“Jimmy, this isn’t about the tests or what we get or don’t get in return! It’s about helping others, even if we don’t get recognition or a reward for it. Don’t you like that good feeling you get when you make someone happy? Like helping Kubo get his trophy back!”
“Eizan’s right, we should see if anything’s wrong, but on the flip side,” Okuni grabbed Eizan, “if this ends up with us getting any more tests or assignments than what should be required, I will make you regret it. Mark my words, Kaburagi.”
“I-I read you loud and clear, Okuni!”
She put him down and dusted her uniform off. “Good, let’s go.”
It was a dreary day for poor Kubo. Grading papers would usually calm him down, but today it only served to remind him of his situation and how this was him. He was nothing more than a lowly ninjutsu teacher, one that couldn’t do a successful sneak attack if his life depended on it, unlike his co-workers. Heck, he was positive that even Mrs. Clean could do better than him when it came to performing the techniques he told his students about.
He truly resented himself, wondering why he had to be so frail and weak. It wasn’t fair that he had the agility skills of a mere toddler, while Vlad had the body of a professional athlete and Kita could merely use her looks to take advantage of her enemies. Even Emil, as much of a creep as he was, still got more respect from everyone that he did and probably would ever get.
He flipped over a piece of paper reading ‘MY VERY GOOD AND GRAT ESSAY’, did these kids even try? Most of them couldn’t even get past the first page without butchering the English and Japanese language with incorrect word usage and misspellings. Maybe he was being too harsh on them, most of them did have a general idea of what they were supposed to write about, regardless of the occasional misplaced modifier or dangling participle.
Then there were people like Yota, who didn’t care about the topic at hand or grammar. With so many grammatical errors filling up the page, it astounded Kubo that the boy managed to even spell his name right.
Tossing the paper onto the ‘Pass’ pile, he started to sigh deeply before a knock on the sliding door caught his attention. Mustering up all of his strength, he managed to mutter out a weak “Who’s there?”.
“It’s us, Kubo-sensei.”
Oh great, it was one of his students, and judging by who it was, they probably had Jimmy and Okuni with him as well. It wasn’t like he had anything against Eizan, not in particular, but the last thing he wanted to deal with right now were students with redundant questions he thought he already covered in class.
“If it’s about the essay, I-”
“It’s not about the essay!” Eizan’s chipper voice called out, “Can we please come in?”
Kubo tried to contain his sigh, “...Oh, fine. Just make it quick, alright?”
Eizan slid the door open and walked in, Jimmy and Okuni in tow. Looking around the room, he turned back towards Kubo and started talking. “We wanted to make sure that you were alright. When that guy started talking to Kita-san, you got really nervous and then left, did something happen?”
Oh. Go figure that somebody would pick up on that. He just wanted to slink away, surely the three had something better to do than bother a miserable teacher, didn’t they? Still, they were the only ones in the school who had bothered to ask him if he was okay, so maybe they’d understand. At the very least, Eizan would understand.
“Something like that, I guess,” mumbled Kubo, “Truth is, I know Emil.”
“We’ve known each other since college, though we were never on the best terms with one another, as he tended to make things complicated for me. He would belittle me and say that my interest in teaching Ninjitsu was nothing more than a ‘stupid, childish folly’.”
“Why would he do something like that?” pondered Okuni as a small frown made its way across her face.
“I don’t know, he was kind of a jerk to everyone around him,” Kubo continued his explanation, which was slowly shifting into a rant, “But that’s not even the worst part. Just when I thought I had gotten rid of him, he drops by the school out of the blue and is apparently Vlad’s brother as well! I always had a suspicion they were related, but I figured it was nothing more than a coincidence. Now, I’ll probably lose the girl of my dreams, along with any of my authority and respect, to him!”
“What auth-” Jimmy started to say before Okuni elbowed him in the stomach, “Ow!”
“Don’t worry, Kubo-sensei, we’ll help you win over Kita-san!”
“How exactly are you going to do that? The dance is tomorrow night!” the teacher questioned. It was nice that they wanted to help him, but what could three ten-year-olds possibly do in one measly day? “I appreciate your concerns, but I’ll be fine. Besides, she probably likes him a lot more than she does me at this point…"
"That's not true!” Eizan argued, “She likes you a lot, I just know it! At least let us try!”
You know what? It wouldn’t hurt to let them try, would it? While there was a chance that it could completely backfire on all of them, it was better than just giving up, wasn’t it?
“I suppose I don’t have anything better to do tonight,” Kubo muttered to himself, jumping off of his chair and checking the stack of papers. All of them were graded now, so it wasn’t like he could use that as an excuse. “Alright, what’s the plan?”
“It’s all a matter of using reverse psychology,” Okuni chirped, “act less… you and act more like, I don’t know, someone interesting and cool? Someone you’d want to get to know more, a person that’s fun to hang out with!”
“I see, what about samurai legend Taira Mamoru? Legend has it that he was the greatest swordsman in all of Japan and that his sword was called the ‘Dragon Destroyer’, though it was just a fancy name for his katana, which he was pretty good at using, considering he’s said to be the greatest-”
“Rule number one,” Jimmy interrupted, “if you want to sound cool, you gotta drop the long-winded stories and get right to the point. People don’t talk to you just so they can hear the entire history of something, you catch my drift?”
“But I like telling stories!” Kubo whined, “Am I really that narrow-minded of others’ patience and ability to pay attention? Yes, of course! How could I be so boneheaded? Didn’t I listen to anything Shakespeare said about how brevity is the soul of wit? I need to stop monologuing and-”
He paused, turning to see the trio staring at him, unamused. “Right, sorry. I’ll try to be less talkative. Wait, I could’ve gone into a full-blown tirade about being more subtle, but I didn’t, hah! Perhaps this whole ‘being cool’ thing is going to be easier than I thought.”
Kubo struck a goofy dance pose, one that seemed straight out of the age of Disco. “Yeah!”
“Perhaps…” Eizan grimaced, along with Okuni. Jimmy, however, was grinning like an idiot, trying to refrain from howling with laughter. Shaking his head and trying to clear his brain of the mental image, Eizan turned to his friend, jumbled words and sentences trying to become a coherent thought in his mind, “So, Jimmy, what’s the next rule of cool?”
“Well,” the boy thought, looking at Kubo’s bright orange sweater, “his wardrobe could use some modifications, and now I’m sounding like Ami.”
“But not to worry, I got the perfect thing for him.”
“Do I have to wear this?” Kubo complained, eyeing the denim jacket on his body with disapproval. He was also wearing a black t-shirt with a lunging tiger on the front, its monstrous, unrealistically-large teeth making him feel uncomfortable. But he wouldn’t say anything about it, that’s not what cool people did, right? “I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I believe that pants are meant to be worn as pants, not as jacket substitutes. Also, your room is incredibly messy, I suggest that you make an effort to clean it.”
“Hey, I don’t come into your dorm and tell you that your room is messy!” Jimmy protested, sprawled out on his bed, “Besides, this jacket is all the rage! It’s practically the definition of awesomeness and self-respect!”
“I think I prefer my sweater over this, even if it does itch a little,” he pouted, pulling at the oversized denim outfit, "This jacket and shirt make me look like someone I’m not.”
“Isn’t that the point?” Eizan asked.
“I guess, but-”
“Ignore those weirdos, Kubo-sensei,” Okuni spoke up, giving him a warm smile, “You’re still yourself at heart, just with a fancier outfit that I think Kita-san will find very attractive.”
“You do?” Kubo couldn’t help but blush upon hearing Kita’s name. He looked back at his new clothing, “I mean, these clothes do make me look… well, less like myself, which is what I assume Kita wants. Fine, I’ll wear the pants jacket.”
“Good choice,” Jimmy commented, “Now, there’s only one more thing to do before you’re ready. If you want to act like a truly cool person, you need to learn how to speak like one, which is where I come in. I have my work cut out for me, but I will make you sound the epitome of radical.”
The rest of the day was spent with Jimmy giving Kubo a crash course on how the kids these days talked and acted. It was all a bit baffling at first for the latter, but he did his best to memorize and understand the terms and phrases that were being thrown at him. If being a good friend and potential boyfriend to Kita required this much effort, then so be it.
“Alright,” Jimmy began, stretching his arms, “now that we’ve all got a good night’s sleep, it’s time to put your new skills to the test!”
“Do we have to start so early in the day?” Eizan complained, rubbing his eyes, “I’m not used to waking up this early when I don’t have school.”
“Yes! The dance is tonight and my dude here needs to be able to win the heart of anybody he wants with his undaunting confidence and groovy personality!” Jimmy turned towards Kubo, “Now, let’s begin. Pretend you’re talking to the girl of your dreams. What do you say to get her to like you?”
“Um, okay,” Kubo mused, trying to channel his inner cool kid, “Yo, girl, how’s it hanging? You wanna go to that totally radical dance with me? I’m such an interesting guy, I like to party like a rockstar and lay down them sick beats, that’s how cool I am.”
“He’s ready,” Jimmy said to Eizan and Okuni, who rolled their eyes in response.
Back at the dojo part of the school, most of the students and faculty were getting ready for the dance and setting up both decorations and last-minute dates. Numerous paper lanterns and streamers were hung from the ceiling, giving the room a more vibrant appearance. However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
“What do you mean you fell out of a tree and broke your leg?!” Ami yelled angrily at her phone, “I don’t care if you were trying to perform one of your ‘sick tricks’, you were supposed to help perfect my dance moves, now I don’t even have a dance partner! ‘Oh, I’m still coming’, not as my date you’re not! I can’t be seen with a loser that’s stuck in a wheelchair or on crutches!”
She slammed her phone shut as she groaned in frustration. Why did this have to happen today of all days? Serves her right for playing around foolish boys that her daddy would disprove of.
“Let me guess, that was Daisuke,” a voice said, making her jump. It was Marcos, looking as serious and mysterious as ever, “Such a shame about his unfortunate accident, one that I had nothing to with, no sirree! I wasn’t the one who pressured him to do dangerous stunts on a rickety old tree if that’s what you’re thinking! Heh. But since you’re not going with him anymore, I thought that maybe-”
“I’d rather go with a rabid wolverine.” She dryly responded, ignoring Marcos’ hurt look. Checking her flip-phone again, she sought out any kind of distraction to her immediate social troubles. To her dismay, her life-long companion did nothing to ease the pain in her soul, so she put her phone away, letting out a harrowing sigh.
“Something interesting better happen soon.”
To put it lightly, Kita wasn’t enjoying herself. Not only did she not know where Kubo was, but Emil had made a wide variety of flirtation advances towards her, trying to seem ‘sophisticated’ in her eyes, though she fancied punching him in the face. But she didn’t, not wanting to start anything between Vlad and his brother. Vlad made him out to be a nice guy, even though she knew he wasn’t, but she didn’t want to get in the middle of that.
“So, there I was, face to face with the giant man-eating bear,” Emil began another one of his bogus stories, “standing on two legs, the creature towered over me, looking more like a fuzzy ogre than a creature of the forest.”
“Sure,” Kita mumbled, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Maybe she should get up and look for Kubo? Any excuse at all to get away from this creep show! She could’ve just said no in the first place, but she didn’t, and now she was stuck with some loser freak. Hopefully, her hero would show up soon. “I just-”
The sliding door slammed open, and out came her knight in shining- wait, was Kubo riding a skateboard? And what was he wearing? Was that a leather jacket of some kind?
He wheeled toward Emil and her, popping a miniature ollie as he landed. He looked the two of them dead in the eye, smirking as he skidded to a stop on the wooden dojo floor.
“Is this guy for real?” Emil asked, arching his eyebrows in bewilderment as he stood up. His height towered over the wannabe-skater boy, whose breathing hitched for a small second, though they continued to stand their ground.
It was endearing, at least to Kita. In her eyes, despite his physical prowess or lack thereof, Kubo was never one to give up and succumb to the odds, especially when it came to the things he thought mattered most, like her.
This was all her fault, wasn’t it? She was indecisive about her choices, a lesser-known weakness of hers, and now because of her, pointless drama was unraveling right before her eyes and she wasn’t sure if there was anything that could be done to lighten the situation or remedy it.
What kind of mess did she get herself into?
“I’m very real, my… my dude!” Kubo barked back, “That’s ‘sides the point, I'm just here to hang out with my homies and show off my cool threads, yo. Since when did you become such a tight-shirt-wearing… guy?"
“Cool threads? You mean the clothes that make you look like an utter weenie?” Emil snickered, restraining himself from bursting out in hysterical laughter, “Where’s your sweater? You know, the one that makes you look like an overgrown walking traffic cone?”
Kubo bristled with rage, trying his darn hardest to not give in to his tormentor’s insults. “You better be quiet or I swear I’ll-”
“You’ll what? Pop another wheelie? Use more outdated slang and limbo to try to ‘intimidate’ me, because that totally works in real life? Face it, you can’t change who you are, Kubo. Remember that. Seriously, what is with that jacket?”
“It’s an ugly jacket of denim and suffering, that’s what it is!” Kubo pulled the jacket off of him, slamming it onto the ground and stomping it repeatedly with his feet, “I am done with your bullying! I am SICK and TIRED of you RUINING MY LIFE!”
A crowd of concerned onlookers had begun to watch the scene unfold, wondering why the man was ranting so badly.
“What did that jacket do to him?”
“I think he needs to relax and meditate a little. Maybe he should take a nap, they always make me feel better when I accidentally stray from the path of true happiness, which is based on the ideals of sleep.”
“That’s nice, Choki, but-”
Ignoring Jacques and Choki, Vlad pushed his way past the small crowd, approaching the three adults. “Uh, you alright there, turtleboy?”
Upon hearing that demeaning nickname from one of his supposed ‘friends’, Kubo stopped in his tracks and slowly turned towards Vlad, calm fury burning in his twitching eyes, “What did you just call me?”
“I was just-”
“This is all your fault, Vlad!” the jacket was all but forgotten as a new, more urgent, target was sought out and found, “You and your dumb brother! Why do you defend his actions? Do you even care about what he’s done to me? He’s not even a teacher or a student, he has NO reason to be here!”
“Kubo, I didn’t mean-”
“You know what? If you still refuse to parent your own sibling and would rather keep on letting him do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, then fine, have it your way. But just know that this is the last time anybody makes a fool out of me, Kubo Utamaro.” With those spiteful last words, the teacher departed from the group, abandoning the skateboard and jacket on the ground. “Peace.”
He headed right for the door and into the hall, letting out a depressed sigh as he continued on his way, not noticing the three kids watching him.
“This is all our fault!” Eizan groaned out in a hushed whisper.
“All OUR fault, Eizan?! Nuh-uh, It is neither your fault nor my fault,” Okuni started before pointing a finger at Jimmy, “It’s JIMMY’S fault! He’s the one who ruined Kubo-san by forcing him to be someone he’s not!”
“Hey! If I didn’t intervene, he would’ve given up entirely! So it didn’t work out the way we hoped, we still tried to do something good, isn’t that all that matters? Secondly, I didn’t force ‘Kubo-san’ to do anything!”
“Manipulation then! It makes no difference!”
“Okuni’s right, we should’ve left Kubo alone and let him figure his problems out himself. Who are we to act like we know everything about society and how one should act? We’re only eleven!”
“Ouch, not only have I been stabbed in the back, but now I’m getting the old ‘I told you so speech’, and from my own roommate, no less!” Jimmy grumbled to himself, falling onto the floor dramatically, “I’m just saying, messing up is a part of being young, even in our teacher’s case. What is he, twenty-five, twenty-eight? Despite how boring he is, he’s pretty young to be teaching such an uninteresting class. He’ll rebound, eventually, it’s not like he’s in his thirties, like Vlad.”
“What does being thirty have to do with anything?!”
“Come on, Okuni, everyone knows that once you hit thirty, it’s all downhill from there, just ask any office worker.”
“Right, because you totally know what being thirty feels like and you’ve totally worked in an office-”
“Stop arguing!” Eizan growled out, trying to keep his voice as low and possible, “Who cares whose fault it is?! Childish fighting like this isn’t going to solve anything or fix this mess that we made. Yes, we. We’re all responsible for this, even you, Okuni.”
“Man, I can’t believe that even after all of that, you still think you can fix this. It’s over, Eizan, we can’t do anything, just throw in the towel!”
“It’s not over, Jimmy,” Eizan began, looking at where Kubo had stormed off to, “but we’re not the ones that’ll be able to fix it, only Kubo can.”
Kubo had no idea where he was going, but he couldn’t care at this point, wanting nothing more than to be left alone in his misery. Or at least he thought he did.
The city of Tokriohama was strangely silent as he made his way downtown, save for a couple of passing cars and produce trucks. Usually, on trips like this, he’d take in the scenery and unique architecture of the buildings, but not today, his mind was too focused on ‘other things’.
Wait, was that building in the distance what he thought it was? On closer inspection, yes, he had indeed wandered far enough to get there. But on second thought, maybe he wasn’t even wandering, perhaps his mind subconsciously knew where it wanted to go. But did he really want to face her, right now? When he was at his weakest?
Yes, she’d understand, she always did.
Pushing open the door to the dojo, he looked for the person his heart longed to see, it didn’t take long to find her.
The aforementioned lady stopped practicing with her husband when she heard his voice and turned around, her overjoyed expression quickly turning into one of bewilderment. Right, he was still wearing that ridiculous outfit, no wonder she was confused.
“It’s… It’s a long story,” he started, looking down at ‘his’ shirt, “but… can we talk? If you’re not too busy, that is.”
“And then I left,” Kubo huffed out as he finished retelling the story to his sister. It actually felt good to get it off of his chest to someone, especially one he knew cared about what he had to say. “You… You don’t think this makes me look like a ‘weenie’, do you? On that note, my sweater doesn’t make me look like an overgrown traffic cone, does it?”
“No, Kubo, of course not,” Nika gave a comforting smile, “Still, you should never take anything Emil says to heart. You know that he’s only trying to get under your skin, no matter what you say or do. He’s that kind of person, mean spirited and awful, along with being a nasty creep.”
“I know, trust me, I know. I just can’t believe I took his bait and made myself look like a complete idiot in front of everybody. Those kids only wanted to help me out, but I guess being an actually interesting person isn’t in my nature.”
“You’re an interesting person, Kubo! You just have different ways of showing it than everyone else! Besides, I think it was very brave of you to call Emil out like that, it’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it?”
“I think so,” Kubo mused, thinking back towards his college days and how he used to be so submissive to the jerk that just so happened to be Vlad’s brother, “Still, it’s not like I can go back and fix it.”
“Sure you can! It’s never too late, Kubo.”
“But what do I-”
“Just be yourself. You don’t need to act or be anybody other than who you are right now. Emil might not like you, but who cares what he thinks! The people that truly matter in your life are the ones that love you unconditionally, even if you don’t lead the most interesting or extraordinary life.”
Kubo knew what he had to do to make everything right, he could only hope that he wasn’t too late.
At the school dojo, the dance-party was in full swing. A few students were dancing, others milling about by the refreshments table, where a wheelchair-bound student with his leg in a cast was desperately trying to convince his former partner he was still eligible for her.
“Come on, Ami, please-”
She ignored Daisuke’s pleas, getting herself some punch instead.
Oh, to be young and in love. Kita silently longed for that type of relationship, when it didn’t involve unnecessary stalking or gross ‘complements’, and one didn’t have the fear of ending up in a dead, loveless marriage that only ended in divorce years later.
It was a time that she missed, but of course, she couldn’t live in the past forever now, could she? She’d eventually find her high ground once more, but right now, just for this moment, she wished she could change how these events, purely of nothing more but cosmic fate, worked out.
At least she had a little time away from Emil, who was away, talking to his brother about this and that. It seemed that Kubo’s words had fallen on deaf ears to the two of them, even though Vlad did seem a little more uncomfortable in Emil’s presence, the slight grimace on his face as they talked being an indication of that, though the other didn’t seem to notice.
Maybe with Kubo out of the picture, she could safely reject Emil’s advances? He would still throw a huge temper tantrum, she was sure of that, but with Kubo out of harm’s way, the man wouldn’t take his anger out on someone who didn’t deserve it. Still, there were the students to consider as well.
It was all a mess and she didn’t know what to do. If only-
It was his voice. But why? What was he doing back here? It didn’t matter, he was here now, wasn’t he?
Turning around, she saw that her friend was back in his old sweater, having ditched the ‘unique’ tiger t-shirt for something way more ‘him’ in her eyes.
“Kubo, there you are! Are you okay?” she asked, glancing at him once more and taking in the familiar sight that she didn’t know she missed until it was gone, “You yelled at Vlad and Emil and then you… just left.”
“I’m okay, in fact, I’m better than ever! I just needed a little pep talk from a family member of mine, that’s all,” he let out a goofy giggle that could defrost the coldest of hearts, “Still, did you miss me? I sure hope you did.”
“Yeah,” she smiled genuinely, “I missed you more than you’ll ever know. Still, can we talk?”
“About, you know,” she pointed towards Emil, who was still too busy arguing with his brother about the best borscht brands to care about what was going on around him, “ him.”
“Oh. L-Listen, if you really like him, then go be with him,” Kubo stuttered out, trying to not seem jealous of the whole situation, “I like you a lot, I do, but... I’m not going to stand in the way of your happiness.”
“I don’t like him!” She snapped back, frustrated, “That’s just it! I like you and only you!”
“But you said-”
“If it’s about the ‘we’ll see’ thing, I only said that because I didn’t want you getting hurt, Kubo,” her voice became softer as she spoke, “You might not have talked to me in college, but I was there, I saw the horrible things Emil did to you. I should’ve said something then like how I should’ve said something yesterday, but I never did. I was just worried that he’d find some way to take the anger out on you, like some kind of sick and twisted abuse.”
“I really should've said ‘no' right then, and I'm so sorry for not doing so. But that’s in the past now, I suppose,” Kita bent down and got closer to Kubo, their eyes meeting, “I know this might be a bit late, but is your invitation to the dance still valid?”
Before the starstruck Kubo could respond, however, the biggest drama queen in the known universe just had to make his appearance known.
“YOU SON OF A-”
Kubo let out a terrified squeak upon seeing Emil storm over, but before he could dive behind Kita for protection, the other man had already grabbed him, throwing the poor teacher onto the hard floor. The partygoers stopped dancing, watching the scene unfold before their very eyes.
“Emil, stop!” Kita snapped, drawing out her shinai in the blink of an eye, “Leave him alone, you monster!”
“Stay out of this, girl,” came the gruff reply as they walked over to Kubo, who was managing to slowly pull himself back up. With a swift press of his leather boot, he pushed his target back onto the floor, “Pathetic, absolutely pathetic. And yet, you speak so much. Too much, if I say so.”
“Please, stop,” Kubo whimpered, cowering in fear.
“Stop?! STOP?! WHY?!” Emil picked the boy up by his shirt collar, staring them down, “You think you can just take my girl, my win? You’re nothing compared to me, Kubo. I thought we already discussed this back in college, friend.”
“I’m not your friend,” Kubo spat out, his anger and rage rising by the second, “and I said it before, I AM NOT SCARED OF YOU ANYMORE!”
“Oh, is that right?” they let out a chuckle and dropped Kubo onto the floor, “So, turtleboy thinks he can threaten me and get away with it, huh? Then let's see how this little worm does against me in a real ninja duel!”
A ninja duel? No, no, no! This would go horribly wrong, even Kita knew that, judging by the horrified expression on her face, even though no words came out. But all around Kubo, people were chanting “Fight! Fight! Fight!”.
“Fight! Fight! Fight!” the Principal was getting in on it too, well, he was, until they noticed Zumichito looking at them disapprovingly, “Oh, right. Maybe you two… shouldn’t fight? Perhaps there’s a way we can solve this diplomatically! Fancy a card game or two?”
“A card game, huh?” Kubo pondered, “Well, I’ve always liked playing Karuta as a chi- Hey!”
He was interrupted by being shoved out of the way by Emil.
“Listen, Gramps, I don’t know what kind of backward school you run, but in my Motherland, we settle fights honorably, not with some pansy card-”
“Don’t talk to Principal-san like that, he deserves respect, way more respect than someone like you.”
“Wow, Kubo, you’re totally right! I can’t believe I’ve been so stupid and blind! Is that something else your brain-dead sister taught you? It’s no wonder you two are siblings, with the number of brain cells you both share, which is zero, you’re practically indistinguishable!”
If Kubo was mad before, no word could describe how enraged he was right now. He gritted his teeth, trying to hold himself back from strangling the man right then and there.
“How dare you say that about her, ” he began, twitching with the seething rage and passion of a hellbent dragon, “you know NOTHING about her, you don’t know her like I do and you NEVER will. All you did was hit on her and make rude comments about her, ones that she never deserved. Fine, I accept your offer, if only to save her honor.”
He looked back at Kita, a pitiful look in his eyes, “I’m sorry, Kita, but I have to do this, I just have to do this. For her.”
She said nothing back as if she understood his motives. Nobody was going to say anything bad about his sister and not have him do something about it.
“Alright then,” Emil mused, somewhat entertained and amused, “One, two, three, go!”
Before Kubo could do anything, his target had disappeared in the blink of an eye. Great, just great. The old disappear and strike tactic, one of the oldest tricks in the ninja training book. He’ll lose, for sure, but he protected his sister’s honor.
But then Emil jumped back out at him, like a cheesy jumpscare, one that he fell for. With a panicked shout, he instinctually threw his fist at Emil’s face, which would prove to be a fatal mistake.
It made contact with the man and sent them flying onto the ground, sure, but when they got up and spit out a tooth, Kubo could only see murder in their eyes. “You’ll pay for that, you runt.”
And then the real fight began and ended, in only a mere few seconds, Kubo being picked up at the speed of light and thrown against the wall, pain shooting up like a flamethrower was being used on him as well.
Groaning, he tried to get himself up, but the horrible pain in his arm and leg prevented him from being able to, leaving him in a vulnerable position.
“And Emil is the winner!” the Principal announced, holding up Emil’s hand, who took it away, walking towards the wounded Kubo, “Wait, where are you going?”
“I’m not finished with him yet.”
“The fight’s over, Emil. You won, leave him alone.”
“I won, Kita, but that doesn’t mean I get to leave him alone, when did we agree on that?”
Oh no. Kubo’s panic increased as he tried to move, even though his sustained wounds meant he stayed exactly where he was. He looked up at the looming figure, pleading for mercy, “W-Wait! I’m sorry, please don’t-”
“Quiet!” Emil snapped, grabbing Kubo tightly, “You don’t know when to quit, do you? So I’m going to teach you a lesson, one you’ll never forget.”
“You can’t do that!” Eizan shouted from the crowd.
“Really? And who says I can’t? A bunch of wannabe ninjas? Oh, that’s rich, really, it is. I’m sorry you have to find out this way, whats-your-face kid, but I do what I want when I want. That’s just how I roll.”
Kita growled, reaching for her shinai, but stopped when Vlad put his hand on hers, whispering something.
“And now, I’m going to break every bone in your tiny and pathetic- UMPF!” Emil’s threat was cut short when Vlad barrelled right into him, freeing Kubo from their grasp and also managing to pin his sibling on the floor.
“You will do no such thing, brother,” Vlad snarled, holding the man down with brute strength that could only come from someone who ate borscht regularly, “I have let you get away with stuff for far too long. I let you come to this school out of the blue and with no previous acknowledgment, I let you run around and insult my co-workers, I let you harass Kita, but no more! I want you OUT!”
“Just… go. Don’t make me use force.”
Emil grunted, shoving his sibling off of him and headed for the exit, “Fine, but you better watch your back, Vladimir, and especially you, Kubo. I will be back and there will be nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Is that so? Just try us!” Jimmy shouted before getting into a defensive position with the rest of the class. Emil rolled his eyes and left, leaving behind a deafening silence, save for the cheesy disco music playing in the background.
“Somebody should take a look at Kubo-san,” the Principal muttered, “He seems to be badly injured.”
Waiting had never been so agonizing for Kita and Vlad, who were being forced to wait for Zumichito to finish checking over Kubo and his wounds. Time seemed to crawl like a sleepy slug as the two talked about this and that, trying to keep their minds off of the events that had transpired hours ago.
After what felt like countless hours of boredom and anxiety, Zumichito came out, carrying with him a small clipboard, “I have-”
He wasn’t able to finish as the two immediately bombarded him with, “IS HE OKAY?!”
“Don’t worry, Kubo-san will be fine, his arm and leg are sprained, not broken,” the groundskeeper and semi-nurse responded, “You can see him if you like, but he is a little crabby, especially about having to take some painkillers.”
Kubo whined, trying his best not to fidget in the temporary casts for his arm and leg. He felt constricted and trapped, even with the painkillers dulling the pain. He should be thankful both of his injured limbs weren’t outright broken, which was what Zumichito told him, but he wasn’t sure if he was that lucky overall, he didn’t feel fortunate.
When the door opened, however, he felt his mood brighten a little. “Guys!”
“It’s good to see you, Kubo,” Vlad said, ruffling the boy’s hair, “are you feeling any better?”
“I am now that you guys are here,” he said, giving a small smile, “but my leg and arm are killing me, even with painkillers, and I can hardly move because of these casts. Other than that, I’m peachy. But… Emil’s gone now, right?”
“He won’t terrorize you again, Vlad made sure of that.” Kita’s voice darkened significantly as she finished.
“Thanks, Vlad, really, I-”
“No, Kubo, it is you I should thank,” the older man began, “If it wasn’t for you, I would still be enabling my brother’s bad actions and letting him do whatever he pleased. But you showed me that sometimes you need to put your foot down, regardless if the person is related to you or not. And, about the turtleboy name, Emil had told me that it was just an affectionate nickname for you, I had no idea how awful it made you feel. I’m terribly sorry.”
“It’s okay, I understand. You were still there for me when I needed it most. When I was on the floor and Emil was closing in on me, you couldn’t possibly know how terrified I was, I wasn’t even sure if I’d live to see the sun rise! But you… you saved me.”
“You saw that?” Vlad asked, surprised.
“Yeah, I did. I might’ve been in an awful lot of pain, but I still saw it,” Kubo hugged Vlad as best as he could, “Thank you.”
“And Kita,” the boy looked towards her, “I know the dance is over, but do you think that maybe sometime we could… you know… when I’m all better-”
“I’d love to.”
Outside the room, the trio intently listened to everything being said.
“Well,” Eizan began, “all’s well that ends well?”
“I guess,” Okuni blushed, “I’m still disgusted by the prospect of myself falling in love, but they’ll make a cute couple, I’m sure of it. Besides, don’t they remind you of us a bit? How we all have our disagreements on things and we can be mad at one another but when we really need it, we’ll always have each other’s back?”
“Aww, come here!” Jimmy hugged the two of them tightly. They quickly hugged him back, laughing and all around enjoying the company of one another. Now, that’s teamwork!
Despite the shared happiness and joy, the same could not be said for another school in the district.
Deep in the city, a harrowing building stood, thunderclouds swirling around it. The sound of a crow’s caw could be heard in the distance and a feeling of dread and fear seemed to make its home at the bottom of one’s stomach.
Inside the Principal’s ‘office’, which looked more like a scary throne room, the dean of the school and another man, none other than Emil, were speaking to one another, discussing important… ‘business topics’.
“So, you’ve come to us, have you?” the Principal asked, smirking, “I’ve seen your skills, young one, and let me say, I’m impressed. At Katana, we don’t practice mercy on our opponents, you were ready to rip him limb from limb before you were interrupted.”
“Wait, you know about that?” Emil asked.
“Of course, while some of us like to be more obvious,” they spat out before motioning to two hooded ninjas by the door, “the real Katana agents are always watching, spying on and collecting data of those Shuriken Frauds. We’ve seen everything, Emil, your brutality will come in handy at this school. But do not let your brother get the better of you again.”
The man nodded, before shaking hands with the giant caricature of nightmares.