“So. This is our last day together, before you return home.” The little old woman studied the boys – young men – standing in front of her, pleased with what she saw. She deliberately let the silence lengthen, but they didn’t move, maintaining their respectful stances. “When your grandfather Mori Shintaro called and requested that I come out of retirement and take you for training, I was reluctant to do so. But he is honorable and persistent, “she smiled crookedly. “And I eventually agreed. I am pleased to say now that I do not regret that decision.”
“Thank you, Sensei.” They murmured.
“You have learned all there is to know about the physical arts of ninja.” She continued abruptly. “It is now up to you to maintain your conditioning and refine your techniques. You are now about to embark on the next part of the path towards balance between mind, body, spirit, and heart. ” Her shrewd dark gaze landed on the eldest boy, who returned her look steadily, his clear blue eyes calm and knowing. “Rocky.” He bowed slightly in acknowledgement. “Ah yes. The oldest, the leader, the mind. Mori Shintaro named you well, for you are still as calm and steady as the mountain. You hove an uncanny ability to think-assess-react. That is a strength. But even mountains are every changing and evolving, especially when fire burns deep. There will be moments when you will need to rely on instinct and reflex, and follow your passion, your heart, and not your mind.” She hid a smile as the 23 year old’s brow furrowed slightly as he absorbed her words, but he did not question further, just as she had expected.
Unlike his brother, Colt merely inclined his head slightly in respect and acknowledgement. Although extremely similar in build and body, Colt’s hair had darkened to a sandy brown where his brother was blonde, and had green in his hazel eyes where Rocky’s were more blue. His gaze was respectful, if a bit wary and challenging, and even at a stand still energy thrummed through him. Sensai’s smile widened.
“The middle brother, still as wild and reckless as the spirit of the animal of which you are named after. Even young colts grow up though. Channel that restless energy and spirit into a purpose, someone or something, and you will truly be free as the wind.” She said cryptically. “Together, you two are opposite ends of a balance, two sides of a triangle. You are stronger together than apart.”
“Our brother Michael has taken a different path.” Rocky said quietly, though there was a hint of humor in his voice. “Our grandfather named him true when he chose Tum Tum. He is on a journey – spiritually and physically – to become a sumo wrestler here in Japan, and has goals of becoming a professional chef back home.”
Colt couldn’t help his laughter, poorly disguised as a cough. Their baby brother had grown like a weed in all directions, now out weighing and topping both of his brothers by a good two inches at 6’4. Luckily for everyone, he was still the same sweet Tum Tum at age 18 that he had been at age eight, with the same obsession with all things culinary.
Luckily, Sensei laughed too, for she had met Tum at the beginning of the summer and been charmed by the young giant who still stashed jelly beans in his pockets. “Your paths run parallel right now, but they may cross again in the future. You will always have the connection of brotherhood,” she said cheerfully, before sobering once more. “But this particular journey that I speak of involves the two of you specifically.”
“Pardon, Sensei. But do you mean college?” Colt frowned, tensing slightly. He and Rocky would be going into their senior year of college at the University of Washington when they returned, both on sports scholarships. They had made plans for after school, but hadn’t yet discussed them with anyone but each other. How did she know?
“College. Life. Your fates are intertwined, like strands of rope.”
The brothers exchanged a glance. The ‘strands of rope’ concept was a familiar one, that their grandfather had begun when they were ten, and reiterated each summer with their training. Only, he had always told them that the two of them, along with Tum Tum and Mori himself, made up four strands of rope – ‘mind, spirit, body, and heart’. At least, they had always assumed that he had meant the four of them…
Rocky shrugged one shoulder, the barest movement. Colt relaxed and smiled politely.
“Thank you for your tutelage this summer, Sensei. It has been remarkable and invaluable.” He said, bowing with his hands resting flat along his thighs. Rocky followed suit. “We will remember your words and advice.”
“Our flight leaves soon, and we have yet to pack.” Rocky finished smoothly. “By your leave…?”
The shrug was one of a number of signals that they had developed over the years. It meant ‘smile and nod, we’ll figure it out later.’ They had used it most often after one of their grandfather’s obscure lessons about listening to the sound of the flowers, or being like a stone in a still pond. It was easier than trying to decipher whatever lesson their teacher was trying to impart at the moment.
Sensei sighed, hiding her amusement. They would understand soon, although it would not be an easy lesson for either of them. “Go on then.” She said, waving them away. “It has been my honor and pleasure, young ones. Be safe going home.”
They bowed again and left silently.
“Well, that was weird.” Colt burst out as soon as they were back in their room.
“She was one of Grandpa’s teachers.” Rocky shrugged. “Kind of goes with the territory.” He zipped his duffle bag shut, having already completed most of his packing that morning, and threw himself back on his bed.
“Yeah ,but what about that stuff she said about our fates are intertwined?” Colt frowned, dumping his pile in his bag and yanking the zipper shut as well.
“I wouldn’t read too much into it.” Rocky yawned. “We’re brothers, plus we’ve been training together since we were five.” He let a ghost of a smile appear. “Ive been trying to get you to stop following me around everywhere since we were seven. I still haven’t managed it, so I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that you’re not going anywhere.”
Colt’s pillow flew with startling accuracy, hitting his brother in the face. “Love you too, Rock.” he smirked at the other boy’s sputtering. “And you’re right – I’m not. Someone has to make sure you act your age once in a while. Especially after graduation.”
Rocky rolled his eyes and threw the pillow back. “You’re my little brother, idiot; I’m supposed to look out for you, not the other way around.”
“Younger, not littler.”
“Whatever.” They both were well aware that most people mistook them for fraternal twins, despite the ten month age difference.