(laughing nervously) Did I say the end of January? I meant early February! (sighs) Yeah… you ain't buying it, are you?

I'm sorry it took this long to get this part up. I totally spaced it! I mean, with Dead of Night, Suicide II, a new one-shot I've been trying to piece together, a new story that wants to make its way into print, plus this… you get the picture.

I'm really not good at multitasking. Heck, I ain't good at single-tasking! The only thing that gets these stories done is you, my readers and reviewers. That and the fact that I keep daydreaming about our beloved TMNT.

So, let's get this party started! I hope you'll like it!

Disclaimer: Muses, muses; where art thou, muses? I know. Working for the creators of the wonderful TMNT cartoon show… which I do not own.

&&&&&

Zero hour. Splinter raised his body off of his chair; stiff joints cracking softly as he did so, and made his ways to his sons' rooms.

By mere inches, Raphael's room was closer to the den then Leonardo's; therefore, he went to the red-clad turtle's door first. Gently knocking, Splinter waited five seconds before entering Raph's room. It wasn't like he had been expecting permission to come in, after all. Nor did he need it.

Inside, Splinter pushed the cluttered dishes at the door smoothly aside with his tail, not even sparing them a glance. Instead, he looked up, meeting the eyes of his ten-year-old son.

Raph was sitting up in his hammock, facing Splinter, both legs dangling over the side of his chosen berth. His arms were folded over his chest in determination.

Splinter knew this to mean that he was still angry, not that he refused to come out of his room. While this was normal for Raphael, it still saddened the rat.

Any good father wants their children to be happy. Yet it could be hard at times, especially when the thing that made the child unhappy was their brother, an equally beloved son.

"Raphael," Splinter started, "Are you ready to come out of your room now?"

The young turtle wrinkled his brow. "If I am, are ya gonna make me apologize to Leo?"

Despite what it may seem to appear to his brothers at times when they were playing, Raph was not dumb. None of the four were. They understood what was expected of them in situations like these.

Nodding, Splinter opened the door a little wider. "Yes, my son." Before Raph could refute, he added, "Leonardo will be apologizing to you, as well. And then both of you will explain yourselves to myself and your brothers."

Raph seemed to think about this. Finally he nodded. "Okay." Leaping down to the floor, Raph walked over to Splinter.

Together, they exited the room and headed over to Leo's. Half-expecting something to be wrong after all, Splinter rapped on his eldest son's door, waiting five seconds as he had with Raph.

But unlike Raph, there was an answer. Leo's voice spoke softly. "Come in…"

Opening the door, Splinter noticed that the dishes had been stacked up to the side of the room; Leonardo was placing the final plate on top of the pile.

Immediately, Splinter got a different feeling off of Leo than he had three days ago. He seemed… happier, content with himself. There was still a trace of anger in his expression, but not at his brother. And Splinter felt that underneath these emotions was a sense of guilt. Of what, he was unsure…

Besides this, Leo also appeared to be more worn. He looked like he'd aged, not physically, but spiritually. Such a conception was hard to picture tangibly, but was seen all the time.

It was not unusual with this son. Leonardo had always seemed somewhat more mature than his brothers. So why was it so odd now?

Suddenly, Splinter became aware of the fact that Leo was studying him just as intently as he had been examining him. He felt as if Leo was reading him, a trait none of the four had showed before. They knew how each other felt well enough, but they had yet to do so with such intensity.

Until now.

Such an ability was necessary to a ninja. It helped determine friend from foe. It was also useful to a family member, helping to see what a loved one was truly feeling. Yet it seemed so strange to appear in someone so young.

I shall have to watch for this… intensity.

Pushing his thoughts aside for the moment, he moved further into the room so Raph could be seen. "Are you prepared to apologize to your brother, Leonardo?"

Standing, Leo bowed slightly. "Yes, Sensei."

Yes. He has matured… When Leonardo was truly angry, he wouldn't usually let go of his ire so easily. He would calm down a little, but that was all. Though without dispute, only reluctantly would he give in.

Still, this was not the time to question such things. "Then do so."

&&&&&

Raph had to fight what his jaw was inclined to do, keeping his mouth closed instead of hanging so far open that it could pass as the cave of a dragon.

Leo wasn't as bad as holding as grudge as Raph was, but he still seemed to be giving into this way too easily.

For a moment, Raph wondered if his brother was being extra polite to earn points with Splinter, but, as he watched the conversation progress, he eventually dismissed the idea. Leo had been looking at Splinter so strangely there for a moment, so detached; that wasn't something you did when you were trying to skate by from a parent's wrath.

Yet the moment passed. Leo looked more cheerful once again, as he had when they had walked in the room. That happiness was also kinda weird, but Raph knew that even his levelheaded brother could experience joy. He did and had before.

Just not as much anymore.

And then Leo agreed to apologize. No pause; he was willing. Now Raph was really confused. While he followed Splinter's instructions almost like they were written in stone, he didn't know Leo to give in that quickly.

But he looked so much happier than usual… Raph let it slide.

Walking over to him, Leo looked a little embarrassed for a moment. "Raph… I'm sorry about fighting you. It was over something so stupid, after all. Not something worth beating up each other over, anyways." The discomfort faded from his face. All solemnity now. "Besides, you're my brother. Even if you get on my nerves a lot sometimes, I shouldn't fight you like I would…" he trailed off in thought; "like someone who truly deserves it."

Silence passed for several seconds. This apology was unlike anything Raph had ever heard before. Heck, from the look on his face, Splinter hadn't been expecting it either. You could tell that those words had come from deep within Leo, deeper than the blue-clad turtle had ever dared to show.

Raph wondered what would make him say them now. Even if he had spent every second of his time in his room thinking about this, he couldn't see Leo feeling that much remorse over this. He seemed to be apologizing for something more…

Leo suddenly got a smirk on his face, one that couldn't stop from turning into a grin. "Of course, that doesn't entirely mean that it won't happen again."

That was more like Leo. Raph put on a grin equal to his brother's. "Yeah, I kinda figured that. I mean, if you don't start the fights, I probably will."

Splinter sighed, then muttered, "Kids…"

Remembering that he too had an apology to make, Raph put his hands behind his back. Even though he'd told himself that he'd say sorry if Leo was willing too as well, Raph felt better about doing it now. "I'm sorry too, bro." He said. "You're my brother, not my enemy. I guess I shouldn't act like yours, huh?"

Leo nodded, grinning. Raph could see he knew what was coming, so he said it. "But that don't mean I ain't gonna act like it from time to time."

Splinter shook his head, muttering again. "I pray not…" Then he raised his voice to a normal tone. "Now that that is settled, I believe you have some explaining to do."

"Okay." Leo said. "Can I please just put these dishes away first, Sensei?"

"You may, Leonardo." Splinter shot Raph a look. "And I expect yours before bed tonight."

Raph nodded sheepishly. As Splinter left, he couldn't help but stick around. He watched as his brother went back over to the stack of dishes, carefully lifting them, holding them against his plastron. "Hey, Leo?"

Waiting until he was closer to the door, Leo responded. "What?"

"What were we fighting over. I can't really remember."

Leo turned a little to look him. Raph noticed he was embarrassed again. "You don't wanna know."

"Yeah I do."

"Raph, I just remembered myself a little bit ago. It was really stupid."

Frowning, Raph moved out into the hallway before turning back to face Leo. "So? What was it?"

After a few seconds, he heard a sigh. Then Leo mumbled something, but Raph couldn't quite hear it. "What?"

This time, Leo said it loud enough. "Over what's stupider; the Power Rangers or the Butt Ugly Martians."

Raph shrugged. "That's easy, the Power Rangers." Only after he said that did he realize what that meant. Jeez, that was stupid.

Nodding at Raph's comment. "I know. I said the Butt Ugly Martians. But let's not get into this again."

Still shocked that it had been something as lame as that, Raph quickly agreed. "Sounds good to me. Wait, are we gonna have to tell this to Mike, Don, and Splinter?" He asked, fearing the reaction they'd receive. "Can't we just say it was over somethin' like… us tryin' to be better than one another?"

Carefully making his way into the hallway, Leo concurred. "Normally, I wouldn't want to lie to them, but in this case, I think it might be wise."

They were silent on their way to the kitchen. Placing the plates in the sink, Leo turned, him and Raph about to go and tell their family their 'reasons' for beating each other up. But as they faced away from the sink, they saw dinner there on the table.

Splinter must've managed to find some edible meat, for they were having turkey sandwiches with mayonnaise. It smelled delicious.

Normally, Raph would've put this into the back of his mind for now, anxiously waiting for dinner. But the look on Leo's face made him change his mind.

He didn't see anything all that extra special about this meal, but Leo was staring at, eyes nearly as wide as platters. The blue-clad turtle swallowed; bit his lip.

"What?" Raph asked.

Leo snapped out of it. "Nothing." He said quickly.

But his stomach had a different answer. It growled, sounding as if he hadn't eaten in days.

Raph laughed. "Ah… so the great Leonardo wasn't gonna wait, huh? What, were ya plannin' on sneakin' a bite?" He asked, playfully slapping his brother's stomach.

But Leo winced.

Fun forgotten, Raph cocked his head. "Hey, you okay?"

Leo nodded. "Yeah, just fell out of my bed last night and landed on a book. Kinda hurts."

A little suspicious, Raph kept his eyes on him. He hadn't heard any noise from Leo's room last night…

Then again, Raph tended to sleep like a rock.

Without evidence to go against his brother's testimonies, Raph let this too slide. Done in the kitchen, he and Leo went out to the den, ready to tell their brothers and Sensei what had 'truly' happened.

Aware of the two's clashing personalities, they bought it.

&&&&&

Occasionally, Leo would turn his head to watch Mikey and Donny playing in the living room. He and Raph had to clean up the entire kitchen first, as a punishment, before they could join their brothers.

From what Leo had understood, his two youngest brothers had been rather bored in their absence. But they didn't seem to mind waiting. In fact, they seemed overjoyed just seeing him and Raph again.

Back on the streets, he'd certainly missed them, as well as Raph and Master Splinter. It was nice to be loved.

Turning his attention back to the kitchen, Leo climbed up on a counter to dust off the top of the refrigerator. He was doing basically every job that could be done in this part of the lair, leaving Raph with the dishes.

While that might have appeared to be an unfair tradeoff, Raph truly had his work cut out for him, washing three-day's worth of dishes for Leo and himself, not to mention the plates from dinner.

Never had turkey sandwiches tasted so good. Leo had surprised his whole family at mealtime, going back for seconds, and thirds. Usually, Master Splinter barely had enough food to quench Michelangelo's appetite. Luckily though, this time he'd been able to find a fairly large turkey; there were even still a few leftovers.

The outside of the refrigerator spotless, Leo proceeded to get down, preparing to clean out the inside. This was the kind of job that got rather sticky. The young turtle started to look for a rag, wetting it down when he found one.

As he did so, his eyes lingered back over to his playing brothers. He didn't do this over and over again in the natural way a child lingers, seeing someone having fun while he's busy. No, he was perfectly fine with this. Leo considered this punishment also for something else Splinter didn't even know he'd done.

Leo watched them carefully because he was curious, not to mention a little anxious.

Upon leaving, he'd forgotten all about meals being delivered to their rooms. A while back, Splinter had stopped slipping them under the doors, instead having Mikey and Don take them.

One, if not both of these brothers, knew he'd been gone.

At first, Leo tried to think of another explanation; like maybe they took them to his room and, if they didn't fall for the pillows-under-the-blankets ruse, believed he was in the bathroom.

So why were the plates empty when he got home?

That's how they were, after all. They'd been eaten out of; a few bits left-over that would be hard to get or remaining as if the eater had been full. Of course, hungry as he was, Leo had eaten those upon arriving.

But now his guilt had found a new layer. Someone had covered for him. One of his little brothers had known he was gone and had done their best to make sure no one had found out.

He felt grateful to that brother. Leo was tempted to run up them and ask who it was, thank them and say he was sorry for leaving.

However, that wouldn't work too well if the first brother he asked hadn't been the one to do the deed. While he deserved to be found out, it wasn't something he looked forward to.

Like any child, he feared the punishment he'd really receive if he were. Leo knew that most of the time his brothers thought that he got special treatment, or something. But that wasn't true. Splinter did treat him the same way as he did the rest of his sons, the same way a good father would treat any of his children. Equally, as it seems fit.

Good behavior was rewarded; bad behavior was penalized, to the degrees of the wrong deed's nature.

The reason why it seemed like Leo always got off easier. But in truth, his mistakes were made to a lesser degree; he was careful in nearly all aspects.

But this was a big mess-up. Bigger than anything Raph or Mikey combined had ever done. Leo's punishment would outrank them from one to five if he were found out.

Sighing, he turned back to his kitchen duties, worrying about Splinter discovering where he'd truly been these past few days; feeling guilty for leaving his family; upset over the stupid things he hand Raph had fought about over the years. Especially now that he'd had a taste of what kind of real threats were out there in the world.

Yes, it was good to be back.

&&&&&

Leo and Raph finally finished their job; it was about a quarter to nine when they were done. There was still a little bit of time to play, but Leo wasn't as in to the games they played as he would have normally been.

Donny watched his eldest brother a good chunk of the time, when he wasn't busy secretly plotting revenge against Mikey for his singing, along with Raph's help. When they played tag, before Splinter caught them and reprimanded them, he noticed how tired Leo was, like he'd been doing a whole lot more work than cleaning the kitchen.

At one point, Mikey had tripped while trying to tag him, thus accidentally pile-driving into Leo's stomach.

The action had hurt their brother more than it should've.

But then, before he and Mikey could return with a board game, while Raph, not wanting to play Candyland, was looking for another game, they returned to find Leo sleeping on the couch.

Sometimes, Don knew from experience that a full stomach could make you sleepy, but this was a little odd.

Splinter had taken Leo back to his room, putting him to bed. Don couldn't help but notice how filthy and cut Leo's feet were. He wondered just what his brother had been doing these past three days…

When Splinter returned, he told his remaining awake children that it was time for bed. Ten o'clock was their normal bedtime, after all.

In bed for only ten minutes now, Donny had been thinking about the oddities of tonight when his door opened. And there, rather expectedly, stood his younger brother in the doorway.

Mikey made his way to Don's bedside, the older turtle sitting up in his bed as he did so. It was getting pretty ridiculous; Mikey wanting to bunk with one of his brother's so often. He was ten years old now!

"Not tonight, Mikey. You gave me shell pains last time and-"

"Don't worry, bro." Mike grinned. "I just wanted to say you were right."

Don blinked. "About what?" There were a lot of things he told Mike that turned out to be right.

"Remember? You told me that Raph and Leo don't hate each other. You were right. I mean, did you see how nice they were tonight? They didn't fight at all."

Nodding, Don too grinned. "Yeah, it was kinda nice, huh?"

They remained in silence for another few seconds. Then Mikey turned. "Night, bro."

"Night."

When Mike shut the door, Don laid back in his bed. His thoughts turned away from his suspicions then. Like his little brother, he liked the brighter sides of things much more.

&&&&&

After leaving Don's room, Mike went to Raph's, telling him goodnight after talking to him for a little bit. For once, the red-clad turtle's temper didn't interrupt their nice conversation.

When he was done there, Mike tiptoed to Leo's room, opening the door just a crack. Leo didn't wake, but Mikey wanted to be careful.

He was so happy that Leo was back, him and Raph. Things were much more fun with them around, especially when they weren't fighting.

Done with making sure his brother was still in his bed, Mikey whispered through the door; "It's nice to have you back, Leo. G' night."

Closing the door, he went back into his room. He didn't even need to turn on the nightlight, which hadn't always been used to chase the darkness away. Up 'til now, it had been a reminder of his brothers' love.

But that seemed to fill the air around him tonight.

&&&&&

End- Part 1 of the story! Yay! Too bad that happy feeling doesn't last forever. But if it did, I wouldn't have a Part 2!

When I kick this up again, and I have no idea how long that will be, the turtles will now be twelve years old.

So, did you like? Please leave me a review! Oh, and have a pleasant day!