Raphael zipped up his sweatshirt on his way into the dojo, leaning through the open rice paper doors and calling, "Sensei?" It was only a moment before his father emerged from his rooms, arms folded in the sleeves of his favorite maroon robes, and Raph hurried to say, "Sensei, can I borrow the nunchucks?"
Master Yoshi raised an eyebrow at the middle child, amusement glinting in the warm brown of his eyes. "What's this? Unless I am mistaken, you have no patience for the nunchaku. Neither do your brothers."
"Well, it's not for me. Or them." Raph rubbed the back of his neck. "You know how I've been working at the rec center?"
"Your community service, yes."
Sensing a paperthin sheet of ice to his father's tone at that little reminder, Raph blurted, "Well there's this kid, he takes a karate class there three times a week. And he's awesome, sensei, he's my age and he's just a skip away from his black belt. We spar together sometimes and if he wasn't so scrawny he could probably take me."
"Oh? For you to admit as much, he must really be something."
"Well, I mean, he's a complete goofball, but put him on a training mat and all that wacky energy gets channeled into martial arts. His form needs some work, but I think that's just 'cause he's bounced around so much." His father invited him to sit with him on the tatami mat, and Raphael promptly folded his legs into a proper kneel. Master Yoshi was invested in his tale at the very least, and while Raph wasn't used to such expansive storytelling, the interested look on Yoshi's face gave him all the courage he needed to continue. "He's in foster care. He's gone back and forth from New York to Jersey about half a dozen times, so he's had like three different teachers- "
"He must have had to work very hard," Yoshi said quietly, and Raph nodded. "New York has laws against the ownership of nunchaku, I believe. Yet he managed to pursue weapons training?"
"Well, the last time he lived in Jersey was a few years ago, and he lived a few hours downstate, so he had a different class. The sensei he had then gave him a practice set, and taught him for about six months before he moved again."
"And all this moving around is...?"
Raph folded his hands kind of too tight, so he wouldn't say something stupid. "It, uh. He only jokes about it, but I think he's had really rough luck. Bad places, bad people."
He was staring hard at his knees when he felt his father's hand on his shoulder. "I sometimes forget how compassionate you are, Raphael," the man said fondly, and Raph felt his ears burn. Master Yoshi chuckled and, after an affectionate tap against Raph's cheek, drew his hand away. "I must say, from what I've heard of him- and what I've seen of his influence on you so far- this boy seems a much better friend than your previous ones have been." The ones who got you arrested, he didn't feel the need to add, and Raph let go of a breath he was holding. "Is he the friend you asked me yesterday for permission to invite over this afternoon?"
"Yeah. He'll be here soon, I just- the nunchucks?"
After a long moment, Master Yoshi rose, and Raph didn't; staring hopefully after his father as he strode to the cabinet on the far side of the dojo. "I will need to see that he's as skilled as you say. These are weapons, not a toy," the man warned, as he withdrew the compact red and gold chainsticks. Raph climbed to his feet, grinning.
"That's okay by me. He'll probably have his practice set on him, anyway, since I told him we had a dojo. You'll see what I mean. Thanks, dad."
He was on his way out the door when his father called, "What is the boy's name?"
The question was inevitable, obviously, but Raph still felt blindsided. He steeled himself with a hand braced on the door, then turned to face Master Yoshi because it was the respectful thing.
Prepared for the shadow of grief that entered his father's eyes, and burned like coals at the bottom of his own heart, but not ready for it. Never ready for it.
Trying a smile, Raph added, "But I call him Mikey."