Beta read by Sassyblondexoxo. Go read her fics!
AN: This is my second one shot; written out of a desire to understand why Splinter chose the names he did for our boys. Since Splinter rarely does anything without much deliberation, I imagine that he chose each name quite carefully. That thought, coupled with some research I did into what each name actually meant, is what inspired this fic. I only focused on one name this time, but I might write fics about the rest at a later date.
I hope y'all enjoy. :)
Warning: This fic contains spiritual undertones. I tried to keep it mild, but once you get to the end of this you'll see why the hint of spiritualism was necessary. Please forgive me if I in any way offend, gentle readers.
With a furious hiss and the sharp reek of sulfur, the match flared to life. Darkness was banished, sent scurrying away to huddle in pools of flickering black about dusty corners and beneath the dilapidated frames of furniture. Weakened by a sudden breeze too slight to be felt, the light stuttered fitfully, dimmed, and nearly went out. The gloom pressed forward in response, clawing eagerly for lost territory, only to slink sullenly away when the tiny flame reached matchwood and drew strength from the fuel.
Squinting night-adapted eyes against the glow, his sensitive nose wrinkled, he touched the flame to the nearest candlewick. As it caught and began to burn sedately, he quickly moved on to another, and then another. The fire was uncomfortably close to his claw-tipped fingers by the time he finished, but he never hesitated or made a move to strike a new flame. Matches were as precious as the light they provided, and must not be wasted.
Task completed, he blew out the flame, depositing the smoldering match end into a broken bottle set aside for just that purpose. In such trying times, when the lingering rainy season had turned almost every tunnel into treacherous obstacle courses of rushing waterways and slimy concrete, even these tiny bits of blackened wood would be valuable as dry tinder. Building a fire was proving necessary more often than not, for his charges were susceptible to cold and the nights had grown chilly of late.
Positioning the candles on the top of a rusted bookcase that served as his nightstand, he yawned hugely. Candlelight glinted off his sharp canines as he simultaneously sank to all fours and stretched, arching his spine in a rippling motion that traveled from the base of his neck to the tip of his tail. Body responding to the movement, his joints popped in muffled staccato bursts, muscles protesting the strain in the form of unpleasant twinges. His mouth shut with an audible snap as he bit back an answering moan.
His charges were growing at an astonishing rate, transforming in the span of a few short months from mute, bright-eyed quadrupeds to inquisitive two-leggers that delighted in mischief and incessant child-speak. He had spent most of the day trying to keep them entertained and out of danger, and to rescue them when, inevitably, they slipped from beneath his watchful gaze and toddled headlong into trouble. Only a few minutes had passed since they had finally all collapsed in fatigue, snuggled warmly together beneath a pile of tattered blankets, and he was now feeling the ache of exhaustion in every limb.
He sank into his bedding with a final yawn, scrabbling around as he fought to push the nest of newspapers and bits of cloth into a form that would cushion his tired bones most effectively. Finally satisfied, he pulled the single blanket he'd allotted for himself over his back and shoulders. Such a resting place wasn't very comfortable for his newly changed body, but it would have to do until he could scrounge up something more suitable for him and the children.
Feeling around at the edges of his nest, he searched until his fingers encountered the hard edges of a leather-bound book. Pulling it from its hiding place and brushing off the shreds of newspaper still clinging to its cracked cover, he opened it and smoothed down the yellowing pages with a care that bordered on reverence. He didn't understand how its original owner could have tossed it aside so carelessly, abandoning it to ruin down the murky depths of a storm drain, but their loss was his gain. This book was his most prized possession, the only thing of value and beauty he owned.
Mindful of his claws, he carefully turned a few pages until the flickering candlelight illuminated one of his favorite photocopies; that of a giant fresco painted nearly five hundred years ago. He smiled, his whiskers twitching in pleasure at the sight, and slowly swept his eyes over the tiny rendition. It didn't matter how often he looked at it, for there was always something new to be found amongst the riot of figures and intricate backgrounds that formed the painting. Some new glimpse that spoke of the artist's talent and eye for beauty.
He ran a finger across the flowing script that composed much of the second page, pausing briefly when he encountered a particular grouping of letters. This painting and others like it was what had first sparked his desire to read, so he could learn the names of those who could create such splendid things. Progress was difficult and slow, but through sheer stubbornness and a few lessons acquired while listening from the ventilation shaft of a nearby preschool, he was learning.
Tracing the letters with the blunt tip of a claw, he slowly mouthed out the name. At five syllables it was quite a mouthful, but fitting for one whose paintings seemed to hold a spark of the divine.
Sliding his fingers under the page, he lifted his hand and supported the minuscule weight as his eyes slid languorously over the painting one last time. He made a move to turn the page… only to be stopped by a sudden rustle from beyond the thin plastic curtain that divided the single room in two.
His ears folded back against his head as he froze, hoping against hope that it was merely one of the children turning over in their sleep. He had come to care deeply for his charges over the course of these last few months, but at the end of a hectic day he was tired and stressed, and desperately needed just a little time to himself before he could sleep.
Despite his fond wishing, however, the furtive noises from behind the stained brown and orange divider continued unabated. Sighing in weary annoyance, he pushed himself into a seated position and attempted to muster up the energy to see what waywardness they were getting into now.
He needn't have bothered, though, for at that moment the source of the sound poked his tiny head beneath the curtain. Face scrunched up in comical reaction to the light, his pupils contracted to mere pinpoints, he slowly sidled under the dangling edge of plastic. It slid across his shell as he crawled, creating little rasping sounds as it caught briefly along the rough scutes of his carapace, only to sway erratically as it fell free. He pushed himself up onto his hind legs, rocking back on his heels as he fought to maintain an upright posture with the solemn determination of toddlers everywhere.
Blinking wide eyes as his vision adjusted, he clutched one of the blankets to his chest, cradling the worn material as if it were a favorite stuffed animal. "Sp'inter?"
Some of his irritation faded and his ears once again pricked forward, taking in the sight of the little one hovering anxiously at the entrance, as if uncertain of his welcome. He could smell the distress rolling off his charge in an almost palpable fog, his thin lips trembling with the effort of holding back tears.
Splinter knew what the problem was, for only one thing could cause this normally fearless youngling such upset, but he nevertheless nodded in acknowledgment and said, "What is it, child?"
Clutching his blanket tighter, glancing fearfully over his shoulder as if anticipating an attack, he gulped and tremulously replied, "Bad Thing."
Despite his incredible physical growth and rapidly expanding intelligence, the child was still very young. He hadn't yet grasped the fundamental difference between reality and fantasy, and this recurring nightmare --that of an immense figure with glowing red eyes, its body bristling with thorns, menacing him from within a tower of black glass-- held a bone-deep, irrational terror that had sent him scurrying into Splinter's makeshift chamber on more than one occasion.
Suppressing a sigh was difficult, but Splinter managed for the little one's sake. He lay back down and shifted in his nest, arching his body enough to allow room for a diminutive form. Lifting his blanket in a beckoning gesture, he smiled slightly. "Come here, then."
His charge broke into an immediate, wide smile, an expression full of relief and emerging baby teeth. He scrambled forward and nearly fell in his haste, but recovered by latching on to Splinter's instinctively outstretched arm. The rat pulled him up onto the mass of paper and cloth, where he then proceeded to pull apart the carefully positioned nest to create a comfortable hollow for his domed shell. This ensured that Splinter no longer had enough support for his legs, which began to ache fiercely in response, but as the child drew his blanket about his small shoulders and happily settled into the depression, he found he didn't mind so much.
Splinter drew his own blanket over them both and closed the book, his desire to read in peace forgotten, and fixed his charge with a serious expression. "What have I told you about the Bad Thing, child?"
"I's not real," he answered with equal gravity.
"Exactly. Ill dreams come from here," he tapped him lightly between the eyes, smiling when his charge giggled and covered his face with his blunt, tri-fingered hands, "and while they are frightening, they cannot harm you."
The little one seemed to consider this, his eye ridges drawn together in thought, before nodding slowly. "'Kay. But-" he cocked his head to meet the rat's gaze, his expression one of apprehension, "-but maybe Bad Thing don't know i's not real."
Flawless logic from a child's perspective and extraordinarily articulate for one who had achieved sentience less than half a year ago. Thanks to Master Yoshi, Splinter's own progress with speech had been facilitated by a lifetime of immersion in language. The meanings of many words had been stored within his brain, but inaccessible until the mutation that had expanded and altered his neural pathways. With the information now open to him, it had only been a matter of memory recall and practice.
The children had no such advantage, but they'd been compensated in other ways. Their memory retention was nothing short of miraculous, and it seemed as if they only had to hear a word once before it was ingrained into them forever. Already they were stringing words together, hammering out complete sentences that were the cornerstones of conveying complex thought.
Heart swelling with strange pride at their accomplishments, Splinter paused, cocking his head to one side and musing on how best to respond.
Not for the first time, he wished he had proper names for his charges, so that any words of comfort or wisdom he might give would have more meaning. But though he had spent many nights contemplating names he already knew or had heard on the street, nothing had seemed suitable. The children, his children, were special, inimitable in more ways than one, and names commonly used today seemed so… drab, mundane, and virtually meaningless in comparison. And so, though he feared he was doing them a disservice, he had nevertheless held off naming them, determined to search until he found monikers worthy of his little ones.
He shook his head in an effort to rattle away distracting thoughts and looked down at the child, who had begun to fidget, his beak wrinkled in an impossibly adorable expression of impatience. Splinter had to bite back the urge to chuckle in reaction.
"Then the next time you dream of the Bad Thing," he answered, "you must stand up to it. If you confront this nightmare creature and tell it that it is not real, it will eventually lose its power over you." He ran a hand across his charge's brow, smoothing away the wrinkles of distress with that single, simple touch. "Remember what I have told you before; the only way to conquer your fear is to face it."
The young turtle still seemed doubtful, but the sharp edge of his unease had been dulled by exhaustion and the familiar safety of the candlelit room. "'Kay," he said. He rolled over on his side, drawing the blankets more closely around himself. "But do I haveta tonight?"
This time Splinter did laugh; a gentle sound that colored his next words with quiet amusement, "No, child. Tonight you will sleep deeply and without dreams, and awake refreshed in the morning."
Splinter nodded once. "I promise."
The child smiled, reassured by the conviction in the elder's tone, and then yawned hugely. He closed his eyes and reached out, burying one hand into the coarse warmth of Splinter's fur. After a moment, he murmured sleepily, "Love you, Sp'inter."
Splinter, who had been surreptitiously reaching for his book, froze at those simple words. Whiskers twitching furiously, he slowly turned his head, fixing a wondering gaze on the child. For a long moment he couldn't move, simply watching him as his breath slowed in sleep.
Although the sense of responsibility that had originally driven Splinter to adopt the children had long since blossomed into something much more profound, he was almost certain he had never expressed those feelings aloud. So where had his charge learned such a phrase?
And why did hearing it make tears burn in the back of his eyes?
All thoughts of reading once again forgotten, Splinter blew out a shaky breath and licked his fingers, carefully reaching over his charge and snuffing out the candle flames one by one. Cloaked in darkness once more, he curled his body around the slumbering child and listened to the soft sounds of his breathing.
As he waited for sleep to claim him as well, he found his thoughts drifting back to the fresco he had recently studied. One of the passages in the book had explained the origins of the painter's name, as well as a short description of it's meaning: 'He who is like God'.
Although Splinter had always liked the name and thought it eloquent, he had been put off by its purported meaning. He wasn't sure he could believe in an invisible, omniscient entity that held the power of creation itself. More importantly, he wasn't sure he wanted to believe; for if it were true, then the torture and loss of his beloved Master Yoshi could not be blamed solely on the depraved undertakings of men. This all-powerful entity would have had to play a part… and what kind of God would allow such an evil thing to happen?
Disturbed by these deliberations, he inhaled the lingering scent of warm wax and smoke from the extinguished candles. Seeking calm and serenity of mind, he thought of his children. How their boundless curiosity inspired frustration and the occasional spike of terror; yet ensured that his days were never boring. How one of the four would often leap onto his back and use clumps of fur as handholds, hauling himself upwards to wrap small arms around his neck in an unexpected embrace. How they filled the filled the room to bursting with their energy and frequent laughter, ensuring that Splinter smiled often for no reason at all.
Taking care of them was difficult, and loving them came with the possibility of future pain, but he found he could no longer envision life without them.
Was the loss of Master Yoshi worth the life he lived now? He wasn't yet wise enough to answer that question, but perhaps the idea of God could be looked at in another way. Not as a deity who manipulated lives in a cold game only it understood… but possibly as a giver of unexpected gifts.
Splinter's mind flashed back to the child's unassuming declaration of love. He smiled in the dark, his heart suddenly light with an emotion he could not name. He was still unsure about the existence of a deity, but the name was well suited for the little one lying beside him. His own giver of unexpected gifts.
'He who is like God.' Yes, that would do nicely.
Resting his head on his forearms, Splinter closed his eyes, his numerous aches and pains fading as sleep frayed insistently at the edges of his waking mind. But before he yielded to its urgings, he whispered to the child, who was nameless no longer:
"I love you, too, Michelangelo."