The Actions That Follow
A Samurai Jack AU
A swift strike to the abdomen, and the boy fell to the floor.
"That's the match, Jack moves on to the final round!" hollered the martial arts instructor, who moved to raise the victor's arm.
His black hair in a traditional top knot, Jack approached his fallen opponent, helped him to his feet, and they bowed to each other. The loser rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, then the two boys grinned at each other. Jack then went to meet his parents, who were cheering him on in the stands. The parents of all the students enrolled in the youth martial arts class to watch their children compete in a scrimmage tournament.
Jack Senshi was arguably the best student in the class, which his performance in their monthly brackets reflected that, yet the boy remained humble. He was polite and friendly to everyone, eager and attentive towards his sensei's teachings, and did his best to assist his classmates. Having been homeschooled by his parents in a traditional Japanese household, Jack was raised on old bushido ideals of honor and righteousness. His parents brought him up on a modest income, raising him with love and care. They taught him how to be respectful to others and to always do what was right (although he often found himself contemplating what the right thing actually was). Although he never attended public school, he was not a sheltered child. His parents trusted him to never stray too far, but he liked to explore around the neighborhood and occasionally meet people; he sometimes would play with kids his age, but usually he wandered about on his own. A boy of eight years old, Jack's careful upbringing instilled in him a quiet maturity well beyond his years, and he got along with kids and adults alike.
But not everyone Jack has ever met has had good intentions, as he's learned on multiple occasions. He still had to deal with playground bullies, who pilfered his beloved ball one day until Jack outsmarted them and took it back. It would be a couple weeks before he would ever go back to the playground again.
A much more impactful incident would be when he went to the park with his family one evening, and they were approached by a couple of hooded men. They growled orders to hand over valuables, and revealed the sharp instruments they had been concealing. Jack's Mother hugged him protectively, but his Father calmly stepped forward.
He spoke; "You have chosen this path, life works in strange ways. I will give you a new choice. Leave here now and live. Or stay, and face your destiny."
The men stood there, looking both shocked and confused, until one sprang into action and lunged at Jack's Father. He swatted the assailant's blade away and sent him flying forward, landing with a skid. The other attacker could hardly register what happened to his partner before Jack's Father was hitting him with a left hook, followed by a gut punch and an uppercut that put him in a complimentary position on the ground. Soon after, Jack's parents enrolled him in the local community center's youth karate class. Jack was disappointed at first that his Father wasn't going to teach him himself, but his Father explained that he had to worry about providing for is family.
And so, Jack excelled in his new extracurricular for the next couple years, garnering the praise of his instructor and his peers...all except for one.
One of his fellow students seemed to scorn him for his reputation, and would harshly rebuke him whenever he would try to be friendly. She was easily the next best student behind Jack, and she was his opponent in the final match.
Jack could see her sitting in the stands with her Mother, awaiting the next match. Ashi gave him a cold look whenever their gazes would meet, but that was nothing compared to the vibe he got from her Mother. She looked like a much older version of Ashi with longer hair, and cold was apparently the natural look of her expression; not once had Jack ever seen her crack a smile, even so much as a slight grin to anyone, even her daughter. Jack liked to watch the other children run to their parents after their matches. While he hated that their tournaments sometimes got competitive, he felt better seeing his opponents showered with praise or comfort, whatever the results. But he never saw that with Ashi's Mother. After every match, Ashi would sternly walk back to her Mother and receive no form of affection. Instead she always gave some sort of critique on Ashi's performance, nitpicking little things she did wrong; even when Ashi won, which was more often than not.
Although, she never won the whole bracket, that was always Jack's place. He always felt a little bad seeing her be scolding for losing, but he knew it would be worse if he just threw the match on her behalf. It wouldn't make her dislike him any less. Still, he hated to be instrumental to someone else's suffering, even if it wasn't really his fault.
But those feelings had to be pushed aside for now, as the instructor called out for the two competitors to step into the ring. Jack's parents wished him luck, and he stepped onto the mat.
This was the one.
This would finally be the day she beat him. For two years they had been going at it in the finals, battling for supremacy of their karate class; and every time, HE emerged victorious. It drove her mad.
Sure, she was still by far one of the best students in the class. No one else could beat her, but that didn't make her feel any better. Second best wasn't good enough, at least not to her Mother. Perfection was all that mattered to her, in anything Ashi or her six sisters did. Having been in strict private schooling all their lives, their Mother gave them just enough freedom to pick an extracurricular activity they wanted to do, but on the grounds that they excel in it. Her sisters had gone with things like horseback riding, dancing, or playing instruments; besides their hairstyles, it was they're only individuating traits, since Ashi and her sisters were septuplets. As such, they were treated as a collective most of the time, and did everything together. Their chosen activities were the only things they did by themselves.
But Ashi didn't know what she wanted to do. All she ever looked forward to was the rare times when she could get away from her stifling family. Occasionally, her Mother would leave for a few days to parts unknown, she never told them where, But Ashi had ideas. She often thought of her Father, who left before she and her sisters were born. Maybe that's who her Mother was leaving to see? Not that she would tell them anyway.
But when her Mother was gone, Ashi and her sisters were left in the care of one of her "business associates"; Ashi never knew what they did, only that her temporary guardian was an extremely large, built woman. She never dressed very feminine either, you might think she was a man at first glance. She showed about the same level of interest in the girls as their absent Father. She lay on the couch most days and watch television, only moving occasionally to feed the girls, wake them, or put them to bed. Ashi wondered if her real Father would've been the same way.
Those days, with no parental figure lording over her, Ashi would lay down in the backyard, feeling the blades of grass caress the sides of her face and body. Gentle touches she wasn't provided elsewhere. The breeze kissed her face, and the sun bathed her in a warm glow. While her sisters played with dolls and other toys, Ashi cherished her brief moments of solitude. But she was hard pressed to find an activity that incorporated that kind of relaxation (yoga wasn't something competitive; her Mother would never go for it), so instead she played off her frustration and discovered martial arts. It was a healthy way for Ashi to blow off steam, and it was something she could impress her Mother with. It was something she could be good at.
And she was. For her first year of the youth karate class, she dominated the other students. She thought this would make her stand out in her Mother's eyes, and for a while, she seemed...satisfied with Ashi. She was pleased that Ashi had finally found somewhere she could be the strongest; weakness, after all, was unforgivable. Failure would not be accepted. Everything was finally looking up for Ashi.
Then he came.
The boy with the top knot: Jack. When the instructor introduced him to the class, she didn't think much of him at first; he just looked like a kid who wanted way too much to be a samurai or something. But she watched as the days went on, how he readily soaked up the instructor's teachings. She saw him doing well, and she began to feel threatened. This random kid comes waltzing in one day, two loving parents by his side, and suddenly he's top student. Just wait until their first scrimmage tournament, THEN he'd learn his place.
But much to her disbelief, the opposite happened. Ashi faced Jack in the finals of their first monthly bracket, and lost. She was devastated. And her Mother wasn't about to offer any support, only pick apart Ashi's performance more than she already would.
The worst part about it was that everyone loved him. His parents were visibly supportive, their peers showered him with praise, even the instructor made his affection towards Jack apparent. Everyone used to look to her as the star pupil, but now she was pushed to the wayside by this goody-two-shoes. He was so pleasant and humble about all of it, it disgusted her that anyone could be so perfect; she was determined to knock him down a peg or two.
Things had gone on like this for at least a year now; Ashi fought her hardest to be the best and impress her Mother again, only to be beaten once again by the new kid. All of her sisters were still the best at what they did, but Ashi was always runner up. It made her feel weak, and she hated it.
But that was all about to change; this was their final scrimmage tournament of the season, and if she came out on top, she would be the top ranked student until next season. She had never trained harder in her life. This was her moment.
With a stern glance from her Mother, she took a deep breath, and stepped onto the mat.
"That's the match, we have our winner!" hollered the instructor.
Ashi lied there on her back, completely unsure of what to do next. All of her training, her progress, her passion; all of it amounted to nothing when pitted against that boy. He had it all: two parents that loved him, the support of his mentors and peers, and now the title. And Ashi, she had nothing.
Suddenly, a hand reached over her, offering to help her up. It was Jack, who smiled sheepishly, trying to be a good sport. Instead of taking it, she slapped it away and got up on her own. His smile turned into a frown as she glared at him.
For the first time in a while, Jack spoke to her, "Why do you hate me?"
Ashi was taken aback at first, but then regained her composure. "Someone has to", she replied coldly, and walked away, leaving Jack to ponder what she just said.
He couldn't think for long before his parents approached him, congratulating him on his victory. His Father lifted Jack onto his shoulders, and his Mother told him they were going to have a special dinner to celebrate. Jack was happy to hear this, but couldn't ignore Ashi's dejected expression as he and his parents left the building; he hated watching someone else be miserable, and wished that he could be a friend to her. Similarly, Ashi hated watching Jack be carried around in praise of his victory; it made the loss that much harder to accept. Now she would have to wait until next season to get another chance.
Both children left the tournament feeling unfulfilled, and neither knew that this would be the last time they'd see each other for a long time.