Now, the only thing left to do was... everything. The Triad was in no shape to take on a crazed woman and her army of doubles. Knowing that their daughters would be in a position they had never been in, Hideyoshi and Mameha poured themselves into training the girls, including Jūban. Juneau was surprised at how clumsy the girl was.
"We don't train very much anymore," was Jūban's excuse. "Tachibana Rikka trained for more than seventy years, never giving up her training until she only had enough energy in her to get her replacement. And with each new replacement, there's that much more experience."
"But the body and mind are separate entities," Hideyoshi said. "Your mind may have been shaped to absorb your predecessor's memories, but your body was never molded into a vessel for hanate."
As such, Jūban ended up spending even more time in the dōjō with Hide. She often sat out sessions with Mameha, however, for a number of reasons. For one, First Mother had never recovered her ease around the ground after that strange gesture. Also, even Jūban's cursory knowledge of the principles and meditation, she knew far more than Mameha, having received five centuries of training instantaneously, whereas Mameha--and any other instructor--had to work with the mortal strictures of time and personal experience.
When routine came back to preside over them all, Juneau's mind began to wonder. Thanks to her upkeep of her tanden, Juneau didn't find her dreams hindered by guilt or passion--but that didn't keep Kato from doing laps in trackshorts around her mind. Even when she managed to keep her thoughts of him chaste, Juneau nonetheless found she was heartened to have him around. Something about his presence made her less anxious about the fact that he'd left at all.
In the dōjō, which they occasionally shared, Kato kept to his own discipline, largely concerned karate and aikido, as he lacked the proper "flair" for hanate. Juneau would steal glimpses of his shirtless body shiny with sweat as he executed stance after stance, movement after movement. If Hideyoshi was present, he offered Kato some pointers and even lugged his older, larger form around the dōjō in demonstration of some obscure form or other when the mood struck him. Kato was always gracious, bowing and executing Hide's suggestion without fail. It was all Juneau could do not to applaud him. She couldn't help it. She was brimming with desire at watching his muscles undulate that an outburst of sorts--any sort!--was required. She settled on smiling giddily, unabashedly. Which smile disappeared the minute Hideyoshi returned his full attention to her and smacked her in the hip with his paper fan.
The smack was a reminder--not so much to remember her stance and get back into form, but of Claire and Yuki's warnings, admonishments. Kato was bad news, according to them. But when she looked at him--how kind he was to the Ieyasu parents, and even the servant monks--and certainly the Triad themselves--she couldn't imagine a deceptive bone in his body. Deception was too ugly a fiend to seek shelter in his beautifully taut body.
It was into the tranquility of routine that Juneau sought to inject some excitement. A week after they had returned to Shokadō, she arranged a secret rendezvous with him. She didn't know what she expected out of it, but her heart, mind, and loins were all in conflict. She felt she was betraying her sisters, whereas she thought her sisters must be mistaken. As for her loins...
It would have been too suspicious if Juneau suddenly took a walk around Kamakura. More than that, it might have presented another opportunity for another of Kuban's goons to spirit her away. So she met him by the stone statue. She had slipped him a note--grade-school style. She was on the verge of giving up when he hadn't shown for ten minutes and was about to walk back to the room where her sisters were playing hanafuda cards when he finally showed.
"Sorry," he said. "I couldn't get away. Hide's in a talkative mood."
"When isn't he?" Juneau joked, suddenly feeling as foolish as any clandestine note passed around a classroom.
He was only three or so paces away, arms length easily, but he felt so close. Juneau realized, suddenly and forcefully, that they were alone. They had scant moments before someone would notice both of them gone. It seemed too short to do anything, too long not to. And yet, Juneau also felt a kind of disgust with herself for being so weak. But how could she not? He was beautiful.
A step closer, and the gap was practically closed. Now, Juneau did put her hand out, on his chest, spanning the space between them. Reaching out to touch him and also prevent him from coming closer. It was a compromise.
"No," she said now, wondering who she was talking to.
Kato wouldn't listen. He curled her hand into his and brought her closer anyway. "No?" His eyes were dark, darker than the shadows cloaking his face.
"Claire told me what happened... before."
"What happened... before?" The crease on his forehead deepened, a black gash.
"About the abortion. About your family, and mine." She had been looking into his face, adoring what she saw there, but she had to turn away.
Kato was nodding, though Juneau sensed no agreement in his embrace. If anything, he drew her closer. He said, "Do you believe them?"
He said it softly--but it was the same softness with which you could kill a kitten. Juneau rebelled against his arms, but let herself lose. Begrudgingly nuzzling up to his male musk, she said, "They're my sisters. Of course, I believe them."
"Yet, before you knew them, you would have never believed that they were your sisters."
"So somehow they had to prove it to you."
"Have they proved to you that what they've said is true?"
"You see?" he said, his voice silky in her ear. "They don't always know the truth when they think they do."
Juneau had to agree. Both of her sisters had believed things that turned out to be false. Without proof, Juneau couldn't be certain what Claire and Yuki held to be true was, in fact, the truth. "I guess," she said finally.
"If you're not sure, then let me provide you with some proof--of a different sort."
He kissed her again. He brought his lips to hers, brought his nose alongside hers, brought his chest up against hers. It was a moment and an eternity. Juneau wondered if she had stopped time. She could have stopped time! But she hadn't, or if she had, it wasn't intentional.
She pulled away. Again, she couldn't bring herself to look at him. "I'd better go back in." As if sensing her purpose, Yuki called out for her. When Juneau turned to say goodbye, she saw that Kato had already melted into the shadows.
Once more, she found herself taking to her studies voraciously, so much the better to forget about her troubles and her smoldering loins. She couldn't shake the feeling that they were running out of time. She just couldn't get used to being Time's keeper, instead of vice versa. Even if time was malleable, she was so very tired. She wished she could change things quicker and with less effort.
She brought this up to Hideyoshi a few days later when the late July heat made her irritable and her hanate movements sluggish for the molasses-thick humidity. She aimed for assertive and landed square on annoying.
"How will I be able to split realities if no one will teach me?" It was a pertinent question impertinent to her training, which she wanted any excuse to take a break from. Yuki, Claire, and Jūban (who had largely become a fixture at Shokadō, meditating and training with the others as if she were back in the fifteenth century) were with Mameha. "It's important, isn't it?"
Hideyoshi had been fanning himself in the shade with a paper fan. Now he stood up from a crouch and wiped sweat from his forehead with his open palm. "It is important, but how you learn it and who from is equally important."
Juneau had expected that he and Mameha were simply dragging the process out. But something about the movement of the wind through the trees, the sun hanging listless in the sky, the owl call before sunset told her a couple things.
Her time of training was coming to an end--soon. She had learned to trust her hunches, and that was what they were telling her now. Also, if neither of her honorable parents was going to teach her to split realities, then who?
Seeing the question on her face, Hideyoshi smiled, choking in his mirth at her pained expression. "My child, you do know that all the teachers of the past, present, and future are at your disposal, don't you? Seek the right one of them out and take your first step toward him. Now back to your stances."
"So it's a 'he'?" she asked, but he rapped her on the calf with his folded-up fan.
She lunged into her last stance, her foot falling into a sticky funk and refusing to budge, even with the promise of sweet potato ice cream after training. She was frustrated that this tiny kernel of Hide's had only managed to flummox her further.
Who was the right teacher? And where in time was he?
One morning soon after this conversation, Juneau was enjoying a hot shower and washing her hair for the first time in three days, when the loosening of her tense muscles gave itself over to an ingenious idea. It struck her hard right in the center of her forehead. She dried off in record speed, wrapping a towel around her body. She frenetically toweled off her hair before putting it up in a towel-turban and went looking for her sisters. They had just finished another long day of training, meditating, and coming to terms with the weight of the world on their achy, close-to-breaky shoulders. When she came back to their bedroom, her sisters saw the ear-to-ear grin on her face and were immediately suspicious.
"What?" Yuki asked, narrowing her eyes and raising her eyebrows. The glittering tear on her cheek rose minutely. Seated beside her, Jūban also looked up, giving Juneau a chance to see that out of boredom, Yuki had drawn a corresponding tear on the girl's cheek. Juneau though, If they kissed, the tears would be aligned, then forgot all about it.
"I just had a killer idea!" Juneau cried. "Yuki, you can bend matter, right? Make things intangible, right?"
"Yep," said the Chinese girl, "But I am not walking through walls just so you can get your kicks."
"No, I thought of something even better. Maybe you can apply it to a different problem, if you think of it in a different way. Yuki, if you can change something from tangible to intangible, perhaps you can think of being caught in time as physical, rather than temporal."
"Not following," Yuki said.
"Maybe there's a way that you can shake out of a time-lock... by making yourself intangible to it!"
Claire was incredulous. "Juneau, you are genius!"
"What can I say? I try..."
Even Jūban seemed encouraged by this. "I'm certain Kuban didn't teach any of the doubles how to do that! I know I can't..."
Yuki soon found that, with this in mind, she could, indeed, break out of Juneau's time-lock. "I got it!" she squealed triumphantly when Juneau tried for the third time to freeze her and she managed, for the third time, to break out after about a minute. But then her eyes brightened. "I think--I can't be sure, but I think it isn't about becoming intangible to time. It helps, don't get me wrong, but I think all of you can learn how to break out of a time-lock, too!"
Yuki explained, in the matter-of-fact, bossy way she had, that breaking out of a time-lock was less about being physically caught. "If you can undo one lock, I think you can undo them all. Time-lock's the hardest, because you don't know that time's passing you by. But there are subtleties. When Rikka had me trapped in time, and then when she released me, I remember seeing--not with my eyes, but with my mind. It was like my body stopped, but my mind simply went faster. I realized when I was out that I had had a world of thoughts in a split second--which isn't possible. So now I know that when I have thoughts that run longer than it would normally take to think them, I'm locked in time. Once you're wise to it, it should be easy to shake out. Juneau, hit me!"
Juneau stopped time around Yuki again. She was stopped for a full minute before disappearing and reappearing across the room.
"See?" Yuki cried defiantly. "I realized I was having like a minute-long thought in seconds. You guys weren't moving, my body wasn't moving--but my mind was like a train on a one-way track!"
"Sounds about right," Claire seconded.
"It totally reminds me of, like, 'Minority Report,' with the cars being driven by a mainframe computer. But if the driver could wrestle control away from it--"
"Got it, Yuki." Juneau was happy for her sister, but didn't want to waste time on movie plot elements. "Now, what about when Claire takes control of you?"
"It's similar, but different. This time, my body keeps moving, but my mind wants to stay put, stay open to Claire's voice in my head."
"My voice is in your head?"
"It's like I have you on surround sound. All the other voices in there shut up for a sec."
"You hear other voices?" Juneau was surprised.
" You don't?" Yuki asked with a straight face and such conviction that Juneau wondered if she didn't. "Anyway, I'm tuned into your voice, Claire, and my body does whatever you tell it, too. But I'm there, too. I just don't have any say. It's like watching a movie at a theater..."
"Yuki, can we focus? You and all this talk about movies..."
But Claire disagreed. "Movies are a wonderful metaphor for life. Let her go."
"Thank you, Claire." She stuck her tongue out at Juneau. "Anyway, when you're at a movie in a theater, you can clap all you want if it's a good movie, boo all you want if it's bad--but no matter what, the show goes on. That's what it's like when Claire's in my head. I'm in a movie theater watching myself do things I have no control over. But once I realize I've lost control, I could take steps to recover it. Then it'd be like watching a production in a playhouse. No matter how convincing the actors, how compelling the orchestra, how beguiling the set--if you have a heckler in the audience, you have to shut him up before the show can go on. And if the heckler gets violent, say, rushes on stage, emasculates the protagonist, and violates the damsel--the show can't go on!"
"What an imagination!" Jūban snickered.
"If I put myself back into the picture, I could wrestle control away from Claire, then jump away." She demonstrated now, and it worked.
"That's great," Juneau said heartened. "Now show us how."
And she did. Using Yuki's principles--and her movie-based analogies--Juneau, Claire, and Jūban all managed to break out of their respective holds. It took a little while and a lot of energy, but they got the gist of it.
Then they did one better. Juneau realized that though she and Claire regularly used time- and mind-bending to manipulate their respective elements, Yuki did not. "If I can stop time by manipulating its flow," she said to her sister, "then you should be able to manipulate matter in such a way that it stops."
"Like reverse telekinesis," Yuki agreed. So she set about mastering matter-locking, and the others set about breaking out of it. To celebrate their individual victories, they had ice cream and sake for dinner.