Hello readers! This is my first time posting a story.

Please tell me what you think. Good? Bad? Meh? Anything I could have done better? What would you like more of? Less of? Should I break my hands so I can never type again?

Any comments would be appreciated. I hope you enjoy.

Recognition

Marco had a reputation of safe. I guess that's why he was chosen to accompany me. But reputations aren't always reality. Sure, he might be cautious. Over prepared? Yeah. But, if he needed to be, he was brave. Like when he first leaped into a fight against Ludo's army of monsters to defend me. Not very safe. He had no idea that I had the ability to fight for myself, but there he was being all heroic. Turns out he loved to fight. Just like me. He was up for a more exciting life. We made quite a team. I liked him already. Not like-like. Not yet anyway.

You realize some things when you've fought side by side with someone for a while. Fighting alongside someone is like dancing with them. You start to work together. Sometimes you lead. Other times you follow. You understand each other's strengths and weaknesses. You learn to anticipate your partner's moves. A lot of times you don't even think. You just move. You know the steps by heart.

Marco told me about a fighting style that is built around fighting as a pair. Capicola. One attacks while the other defends. The style was developed in secret by disguising the movements as a dance routine. That's how it feels, like we're dancing. And I really enjoyed dancing with him.

The frequent fights against monsters were also having an effect on Marco. Training in martial arts is not like actually fighting. In training you're restricted. You can't fight all out against a training partner. You can't deliver a full force kick to the neck of your sparring partner. You can't fully apply a pain hold designed to dislocate a shoulder joint. No eye gouging, no bone breaking, no throwing opponents from moving vehicles. Someone could get hurt. Or worse, someone could get killed. But against monsters who really intend to hurt you, there is no holding back. Marco knew that. And he gave them his all. Maybe Ludo didn't realize it, but every battle was forging Marco into a stronger, quicker, and better fighter.

He had long since surpassed his old rival, Jeremy. That boy was of little concern now. Marco felt silly and a bit of shame at the fact that he had let a kid, six years his junior, get to him like he had.

His sensei was shocked at how quickly Marco was advancing. After his tournament championship win, Marco thought for sure that he would be given a chance at his black belt. But his sensei said that they don't normally advance a student so quickly. Marco wanted to find a way to prove his skills.

Because Marco was advanced compared to other students, occasionally, he had private lessons with his sensei. And it was during one of these lessons that Ludo provided a solution to the problem. I was there watching Marco's lesson when it happened. Monsters ambushed us at the dojo. Two dimensional portals opened to block the front and back entrances. Monsters flowed out. How many total? Twenty? Thirty? More? We were trapped. When did Ludo get a second pair of dimensional scissors?

Normally we would fight them together. But it was time for Marco's big dance solo. This was his opportunity.

I told his sensei that this was a planned demonstration so he wouldn't jump in to fight. I can't believe that worked. Surely a fighting master would know a real fight from a sparring match, right? The fact that his dojo was now filled with monsters was also kind of a giveaway. Maybe he knew all along and just had confidence in Marco. Like I do.

We of course knew why they were there and that they would make attacking me a priority. They wanted my wand. But they were just standing there. They were waiting.

"Star, are you ready?"

"Nope."

"What? Why not? What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

"No, I'm just going to sit this one out."

"WHAT?! ARE YOU CRAZY?!"

"This is the chance you've been waiting for. We couldn't have planned it better than this. This time, this is your fight."

Ludo emerged from a portal last. He walked to stand at the front of his army and opened his beak to give the order to attack.

Suddenly, Marco turned and held up a finger right in Ludo's face. "Hey guys, before we start, un momento, por favor?"

Ludo and the monsters seemed confused, but looked at each other and shrugged.

"Okay, but make it fast. I'll just check my email." said Ludo.

Marco turned to me and said, "Um, look Star, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but your safety is more important. There are like..." Marco started counting."...four, five, carry the one, times two..." Marco mumbled as he finished doing the math in his head."...forty-two or forty-three guys depending on whether you count Two-head twice or not! What if I can't beat them all? You'd have to fight alone and we're better together."

Yeah. Yeah we are.

"I believe in you Marco."

I'm not sure what came over me at that moment. It was like right out of a movie or some terribly written, sappy fan fiction. I got close to Marco, stood on my tiptoes, and gave him a brief kiss on the cheek.

"For luck."

I would swear that I saw Marco's eyes turn into fireballs.

Buff Frog could see that we were finished talking and interrupted Ludo, who was typing something on a smart phone. "Master?" he said in his strangely eastern European accent.

"Hmm? Oh, you guys ready? Okay, just a sec." Ludo finished typing something and put then put his phone away. "Ahem... GET THE WAND!"

Every monster began to advance. Marco jumped in front of me and shouted loudly, "NO! If you want to get to Star, you have to go through ME!" Everyone paused. I felt warm. My heart raced.

Ludo seemed surprised. He was probably wondering why I would choose to stay back. The wand is an enormous advantage in battle. But Ludo is not stupid. He knows he has a better chance against Marco alone than against us together. If he defeats him, then I would have no backup.

A smirk appeared on his beak. How the heck did he manage to convey a smirk with a beak? This is a great mystery.

"Fine. GET HIM!"

They immediately tried to dogpile on him. Predictable really. Marco rolled out of the way and kneed one monster in the face as he stood up.

About half the monsters were tangled in the pile, and it would take time for them to pull themselves out. Marco got to work on the rest. Giraffe-man received a finger strike to the throat. It was such a big target. Two-head got a double ear cup. Their (its?) heads made the delightful sound of coconuts knocking together.

They tried to attack Marco three or four at a time. They have fought us enough to know that most don't stand a chance against Marco in single combat. Too many at once, and they get in each other's way. Marco deflected attacks into other monsters. He used Bearicorn's horn to make sure that Big Chicken's eggs would not be a factor.

When Man-arm threw a left hook, Marco used the follow through momentum to turn the monster's back toward him. Marco bent the reptilian head backwards, holding the alligator mouth closed with his hands. He used kicks to attack other monsters. When they tried to strike back, Marco used his leverage to turn Man-arm to take the hits.

Emmitt was more of a boxer. Cattle hindquarters made him a poor kicker. But with a powerfully built torso, he had punching power. But this wasn't a boxing match. When Marco went ground and pound, Emmitt had no defense.

Spikeballs tried a double overhand smash but missed and trapped two monsters underneath his mace-hands. Marco jumped on top of his maces and delivered a kick to the chin.

Eventually, Marco had worked his way through the monsters until only Buff Frog was left. He had been waiting.

Now, most don't realize this, but he was Ludo's top lieutenant for a reason. He's strong, smart, and a skilled fighter. In fact, based on his mannerisms, we have a theory that he had a monster military background. He'd definitely been trained. The reason Ludo sent him on solo missions so often was not just because he was loyal. He worked best alone. A one-on-one fight? This was where he shined.

"Very good! All other monsters beaten! You are great fighter! But you now fight Buff Frog! Shame you get far only to fail now!"

Buff Frog snapped a salute so sharp and fast, we barely saw his arm move. He punctuated his salute with a croak.

Just as fast as it appeared, the salute vanished and he was rushing toward Marco. The distance between them shrank quickly.

Buff Frog's strikes were fast. A straight left was blocked by Marco. Buff Frog followed with a front right kick which Marco blocked low. As he blocked he spun his body around to deliver an elbow to the solar plexus. With his opponent staggered, Marco tried a high round kick which was caught by the monster's left hand.

Marco quickly brought his left foot up and kicked Buff Frog in the chest. Marco was falling onto his back, but his right foot was free. As he hit the ground, he rolled to his left and dodged two foot stomps. Lying on his side, Marco swept his opponent's foot. Buff Frog was off balance. The monster didn't fall, but Marco had an instant to get to his feet.

Marco was backed up to the wall. Buff Frog ran towards him and led with a straight right. Marco ducked under and to the left. The monster's right fist buried itself in the wall. Marco took this opportunity to deliver two left hooks to the body before Buff Frog managed to wrench his arm free of the wall. As he freed his arm, he delivered a backhand which Marco blocked with his right.

Marco leapt up and wrapped his left arm around Buff Frog's neck from the back. He should have known that was too easy.

Marco locked his left hand into his right elbow. He applied as much pressure as he could, but his opponent just smiled. With both hands, Buff Frog reached behind his head to grab Marco by his gi.

"Must be stronger for that to work, Marco!" he shouted as he threw his opponent across the room. Marco was able to twist his body in the air to land on his feet.

Sometime during the battle, several weapon racks had been knocked over. Buff Frog picked up a staff from among the scattered weapons near him. Across the room, Marco did the same.

Marco went on the offensive first, poking and using the reach of his staff to maintain distance. Keeping both hands on his staff, Buff Frog used the wood between them to knock the attacks to the side.

Buff Frog made a quick low strike to Marco's right leg causing him to drop to his knee.

Buff Frog shifted the staff in his hands and now held it at one end in a baseball bat grip. "Batters up!" he shouted.

Marco held his staff at a shallow angle above his head, gripping it at the bottom, but using his palm to support the top. Buff Frog's swing skimmed along the length of Marco's staff over and past its target.

Thanks to his follow through, the monster's back was exposed. Marco gripped his staff with both hands to strike at his opponent's back where he had landed punches earlier in the fight.

"Sooprize!" shouted Buff Frog as he used his left foot to mule kick Marco's staff between his hands. The wood snapped cleanly in two leaving Marco with a stick in each hand.

Buff Frog continued rotating after his attack still holding his staff in a baseball grip. He brought the staff down at Marco in an overhead strike. Marco dodged by leaping back just out of the reach of the staff. It struck the floor in front of Marco with a loud crack.

With Buff Frog still holding the end of the staff, Marco trapped the other end of the staff under his right foot, then stomped on the middle with his left, breaking the monster's staff in two.

Using the stick in his left hand, Marco managed to make Buff Frog retreat a few feet. Marco then kicked the broken off half of his opponent's staff behind him.

Wielding the remaining end of the staff as a baton in his right hand, Buff Frog swung horizontally. Bracing his stick along his left forearm, Marco blocked the strike with a loud clack. Then a second. A third.

Marco swung the stick in his right hand overhand but the attack was blocked by his opponent's weapon. Marco quickly released the grip on the stick in his left hand and used his now free hand to grab his opponent's stick. Using his right stick as a fulcrum, Marco wrenched the stick from Buff Frog's hand.

With his opponent now unarmed, Marco went on the attack. Buff Frog blocked the strikes with his bare forearms. Marco pressed his advantage backing Buff Frog against a wall.

A quick jab strike was caught by Buff Frog in his left hand. With Marco holding the other end, the monster brought his right hand down on the stick, again breaking it. The wood was now too short to be an effective weapon. Marco retreated.

"Haha. Marco getting tired!"

He was right. I could see the sweat on Marco's brow. He needed to end the fight soon. Marco had already fought and defeated dozens of other opponents. How long had the fight gone on already?

"You are not only one who get stronger! Buff Frog also learn from battles!"

Marco charged at his opponent and threw the piece of wood in his right hand at Buff Frog's head. From that far away it was easily dodged. Marco continued to run.

The stick in his left hand was thrown next, this time at Buff Frog's groin. It was blocked low. But he was closer now. This was Marco's opening. Buff Frog's head was unguarded.

Marco jumped at Buff Frog's head and performed what looked like a heel kick with his right leg. Even Buff Frog wouldn't be quick enough to block it. Not this close. But, oh no! I could see it. Marco wasn't far enough to his left. His kick was going to miss! Buff Frog knew it too. He smiled.

But Marco wasn't going for a kick. The back of his knee made contact with Buff Frog's neck. That by itself didn't have the power to hurt him, but Marco bent his knee and wrapped his calf around the left side of his opponent's neck. His momentum from the jump carried the rest of Marco's body over Buff Frog's right shoulder. He kept his calf in place and suddenly Marco's thigh was against the right side of Buff Frog's neck. Then he managed to get the back of his left knee over his right foot. He was latched on and hanging upside down on the monster's back.

Marco knew he didn't have the arm strength to choke Buff Frog out. He was going to use his legs! The strongest muscles in his body!

Marco performed a sit up and grabbed his right shin with both hands. He needed more strength. He started pulling his right leg tighter.

Buff Frog couldn't reach Marco with his left hand. With his other hand, he reached over his right shoulder. Marco pulled his arms and body back tighter. He was just out of reach.

The monster tried to get his hands between Marco's leg and his neck. But his hands were too thick and the leg too tight.

Buff Frog tried to reach back below his right shoulder. He could reach him there. But the instant Marco felt the arm brush his back, he released his grip on his shin, threw his arms back and pinned the monster's right arm behind him with his elbows.

Buff Frog's air bladder was being constricted. He was struggling for breath. He tried to bring his right arm forward to try to join his left's attempts to pry Marco's leg away, but it was trapped. Marco's leg was somehow tighter.

I could see what was happening. Marco was using the monster's strength against him. His attempts to move his right arm forward were pulling Marco's whole body. But with his legs locked securely in place, the action was actually choking and twisting his opponent's neck.

Buff Frog had to get Marco off him. So he stood and tried smashing his whole body back first into a wall. The wall splintered and caved. He pulled himself up again, but Marco was still attached. His forehead was covered in blood.

I know that scalp wounds always look worse than they are. The scalp bleeds so easily. I was scared for Marco. At that moment I almost ended the fight with my wand. But I stopped myself. Marco could win if he just hung on a little longer. I had to keep faith.

Buff Frog tried again. This time turning his body and smashing himself back first into the floor. Still Marco hung on. The monster needed to try again, but he couldn't get up. He rolled onto his front. He attempted to push himself to his knees with his left hand, but his strength had left him. His arm trembled with the effort. Marco was still clamped tight. Seconds passed like hours. And for the first time since the battle began, Marco spoke.

"WILL YOU PLEASE JUST FREAKING PASS OUT ALREADY?!"

And with that, Buff Frog slumped.

Marco scrambled off and assumed a fighting stance, just in case the monster was playing possum. But, there was no movement. Marco approached cautiously and rolled Buff Frog onto his back. And there it was. A tell tale sign of life. His chest was steadily rising and falling. Good. Marco didn't want to kill anyone. He had won.

Almost.

Ludo.

But Marco didn't need to worry. Hand to hand combat is not Ludo's strength or style. Ludo walked over to Buff Frog's unconscious body, grabbed his shirt collar, and began to drag him to the nearest portal. Some guys just know when they're beaten.

Marco fell to his knees exhausted. I rushed to his side and wrapped him in my arms. I didn't care if I got his blood everywhere. He needed me.

"You did it, Marco. You won."

A quick spell stopped the bleeding.

The monsters eventually all dragged themselves through the dimensional portals. Ludo and Buff Frog were the last to go through. Buff Frog roused long enough to give an unsteady salute from his prone position followed by a weak croak. From the other side of the portal, Ludo looked at Marco just before the aperture closed. There it was, the faintest of beak-smirks. How does he do that?

The slow clapping started until it grew to full applause. I helped Marco to his feet and we turned to see his sensei wipe a single tear from his eye.

He removed the black belt from his own uniform and held it out to Marco in both hands. When he accepted it, his sensei gave a solemn bow which Marco returned.

We were talking as we were walking home.

"Thanks for letting me handle Ludo's guys. But please, never ever do that again!"

"You're welcome. I knew you had it in you. You were incredible!"

He's smiling. So cute.

"Congratulations on getting your black belt. You must have wanted it pretty badly to fight that hard for it."

"Actually, during the fight I kinda forgot that that was what I was supposed to be fighting for."

"Really? What were you fighting for then?"

No answer.

"Well, before today, you wanted to impress your sensei to get the belt. Why did you want it so much?"

"I guess I just wanted a little confirmation that I've accomplished something. I think I wanted someone to say that I was good enough to have it."

"Aw, Marco. You don't need a belt to know that. And don't need anyone to tell you to know how awesome you are!"

Marco just gave me the warmest smile. "Thanks Star. Actually, I think it means a lot more to hear it from you."

I felt hot again. What's wrong with me? Oh look, we're holding hands. When did that happen? Is he blushing? I think he's blushing. My heart is beating so fast. What's happening? Um...

"Hugs!" I shouted as I threw my arms around his neck and rested my chin on his shoulder.

I'm not sure how long we stayed like that.

"Marco?"

"Hmm?"

"Why would a martial arts style be named after ham?"

┬┐el fin?