Path of Most Resistance

Raphael, teenage mutant ninja turtle, made the journey home with a slight smile on his face as he thought of the kid Tyler and his mom. Shell! He hated kids, but he was going to make one exception; just one! Didn't want anyone to think he'd gone soft or something. As he gracefully leaped the rooftops in virtual silence he felt better than he had since… He couldn't even remember. Life had been hectic since he and his brothers had been forced out of their home. They hadn't caught a break even when they defeated the Shredder. Now they had to search for Splinter.

They would find Splinter. He had no doubt about it now. His first and continued reaction was to become angry and run out like a 'hot-head' as his brothers so aptly put it. He was frustrated and angry and looking for someone to blame. They hadn't found Splinter yet and that led him to believe that his brothers didn't care as much as he did.

"How can you sit around talking when he's out there somewhere?"

The turtle was lost in thought and he was putting a manhole cover over his head before he knew it. The sewers weren't the most attractive place to live, but for four mutant turtles and one mutant rat they were perfect. Raphael paused before the entrance and could almost feel the tension coming through the wall. They were all upset but Raph was the only one who really 'lost it'. Hey, it was his job to be a hot-head right?

"You're not the boss of me!"

Raph remembered the exasperation as he tried to get the kid to stop and do the responsible thing. It was like getting Michelangelo to sit still and meditate for a few hours. The kid constantly disobeyed him and ran off. The turtle shook his head as he entered the lair.

The turtle didn't expect any of his brothers to still be up. They were all guilty of staying up late, but Leonardo (the fearless leader!) stressed the importance of being well rested so they could continue to search for their Master. Raphael snorted as he saw his older brother disregarding his own orders. It had to be 2:30 AM and Leonardo was still staring at that goddamn map that hadn't helped anyone! The red-masked turtle was feeling generous so he decided not to say anything sarcastic or biting.

Still feeling that strange sense of calm Raphael headed towards his room to get some well deserved sleep. It's not everyday you actually win a clear-cut battle and save the day. It was black and white and that's the way Raph liked it. It felt good to do the right thing and meet a new friend. Tyler and his mom would be safe and those mobster goons would go down. He even had the experience of fighting blind. It was like one of Master Splinter's blindfolded exercises but with the thrill and fear of danger. The turtle smirked as he thought about it. It was fun.

"Feeling better?" Leo's flat voice asked.

The fearless leader finally pried his eyes away from the map and was looking towards his normally ill-tempered brother. Leonardo noticed something a little off about Raphael, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Shell, they might exchange a few civil words! The blue-masked turtle had hoped to hear sensei's soft pattering of footsteps next to Raphael's but again his hopes were destroyed. Raph hadn't found sensei. No one had.

"Ya know what? I am." Raphael answered.

"Good." Leo said with his flat voice.

"It's okay, go blow off some steam Raph. Maybe you'll find something out there."

Raphael was going to leave it at that, but there was something about Leo's voice that stopped him. Actually, now that he thought about it… When had Leo ever given into him so easily? His older brother was so goddamn stubborn sometimes and ever since Splinter went missing he went into his 'worry' mode. It wasn't a good mode for anyone (least of all Raph). It was infuriating to the red-masked turtle how calm Leonardo seemed with the situation. He was either mediating or staring at that map that still wasn't helping anyone. He'd calmly and perfectly remind everyone 'to never lose hope' or 'we'll find him soon'. Leonardo didn't even look that upset.

"Hey fearless, maybe you should get some sleep." Raphael suggested.

Was that his imagination or did Leo just twitch? Since when did Leonardo twitch?

"I will… soon." Leo said a little blankly.

"I'm tellin' ya bro, that map is crap. It's not gonna tell ya where Splinter is." Raph said with a laugh.

"I know," Leo said with that same eerie blank voice.

Leonardo had taken his eyes away from the map again and they were fixed quizzically on his younger brother. Something was different about him. Perhaps he should let him go out more often. Obviously it had done some sort of good.

"All right, what's up Raphael? Either you're planning something with Mikey or you hit your head a little hard." Leo stated.

To Leonardo's surprise his usually sulky brother gave a short laugh and patted him on the shoulder. Klaxons went off in Leonardo's head and his face hardened with suspicion.

"You can't go messing with these mob goons on your own. You're just a kid. You're gonna get hurt."

That kid Tyler had been so stubborn. Raph had to literally pick him up and take him to the police station. A minute later Tyler was back trying to get into trouble again. He was just one person, but he had made a promise. Who knows what would've happened if Raphael wasn't there to help him.

"I think I realized something." Raph admitted.

"And what's that?"

"Being hotheaded isn't such as great as I thought."

"Raph, go to sleep before you say things you regret." Leo laughed and rubbed his eyes.

"I'm serious Leo, I think I finally understand how you feel and let me tell you it is frustrating!"

"Yeah, now if only someone could do something about that." Leo smirked slightly.

"Don't push your luck!" Raph warned.

Leo turned his head to look back at the map or rather look through the map. There was no way that he was actually looking at that map. His whole body was still and tense. Raphael didn't worry that much. This was all a part of Leo's classic 'worry-mode'. At the risk of sounding like Mikey, Leonardo really needed to lighten up. Shell! Did he just think that? How could anyone be in any sort of good mood when their sensei was missing? Wouldn't his brothers be just as worried as he was? Splinter was their father too. They all struggled to hold it together; everyone but Raph. Raphael felt a stab of guilt go through him. It was easy to storm off and vent but it was much harder to do what his brothers were doing. Either way the result was the same.

It sort of reminded him of something Master Splinter had always said. When faced with two paths always take the one that is hardest. Leonardo probably had that code inscribed in his soul. He always had to do things the hard way!

"Raph is there something else or are you going to stare at me all night?" Leonardo asked with his vacant eyes still glaring through the map.

Raphael seemed to create the most difficult path, but did he walk it? Guess it was time to find out.

"Leo, are you feelin' okay? I mean besides ya know…" Raphael trailed off.

Raphael fully expected his older brother to mutter some gross understatement like, 'I'm fine,' or 'don't worry about it'. That was what Leo did right? Those were the easy answers for Leo or maybe they were hard. The red-clad turtle couldn't really tell. He wasn't his brother.

"Uh! What does it take to get through to you? It's too dangerous. You wanna get—"

The eldest brother wistfully and slowly tore his eyes away from the useless map. Did Leo just twitch again? Of course it was late and he could be seeing things. Leo wasn't really known for twitching uncontrollably. His eyes made Raphael uneasy. Leonardo looked afraid. The Fearless Leader, afraid? Was Splinter's absence going to destroy them all? If Leo was breaking then what would happen to Don or Mikey? Shell, what would happen to him? The not-so-cute nickname was usually just to tick his brother off, but there were times when Raph simply needed to believe it. Times like when their father was missing and no one knew where he was.

"I'm not ready," Leonardo uttered with a hint of desolation.

It had taken a long time for the eldest to speak and when he did Raphael was even more confused. He was committed to taking the hardest path and so he finally tried to understand his brother further. One epiphany apparently wasn't enough for the night. Why did he have a feeling he was going to regret this?

"Ready for what?" Raphael asked

"He trained me…" Leo sighed softly. "Every day preparing me for this."

Did Leo take a class in cryptic? Raphael was starting to get annoyed and when he got annoyed that led to either broken electronics or a bruised brother. 'Path of most resistance!' Raph admonished himself.

"I'm not ready." Leonardo repeated and rubbed his eyes.

"Maybe it's because you should be sleeping. " The younger brother said.

All right, maybe that wasn't the best thing to say in this situation. What? He never said he was good at this kind of stuff! Still… He owed Leo for all those times he rushed off and wouldn't listen. The red-clad turtle had to deal with Tyler for one night and it was hard enough. He was surprised Leo hadn't killed him yet.

"Of course, that will solve everything." Leonardo said with a dead look in his eyes.

Damn it, this was getting downright strange. Raph's last comment was usually a cue for Leo to snap back with something sarcastic and biting. Was Splinter's disappearance hitting the Fearless Leader harder than usual? 'Of course it is, idiot!' Raph berated himself.

"How do you search an entire city?"

"Raph, why are you still here?" Leo asked, closing his eyes.

He looked tired. His whole posture was slumped but he was still tense. Raph searched for an adequate word to describe it. The word hit him like a blow to the stomach. Defeated; Leo looked like he had given up. That couldn't be it… Could it? Leonardo was the one always telling them that Master Splinter was still out there even when Raph or any of his brothers started to doubt. Leo wouldn't even let them have doubts.

"Probably the same reason you're still up," Raph answered, crossing his arms.

Leonardo didn't respond and Raphael was about ready to give up. There was the hard path and then there was Leo's path. That was the one with a sheer drop off and there was no way down unless you wanted to jump and it most likely led to nowhere. Raph wasn't going to jump off any cliffs anytime soon. Leonardo wasn't the type to share his feelings all the time. Raph almost laughed. He and his brother finally had something in common besides family and ninjitsu.

"All that karate stuff don't mean nothin' if you can't see!"

Raphael was starting to get a little worried now. The room was completely silent and Leo still had that lost look. Then suddenly the look was gone and Leo looked at him directly. It looked like Leonardo was about to give him a lecture. Raphael almost smiled. He must have been imagining things. Leonardo was fine.

"Where did you go tonight anyways?" Leonardo asked. "I should mark it down on the—"

"Map?" Raph asked with a sneer. "Trust me, the map is bogus."

"We need to mark down where we've searched…" Leo's voice trailed off as he seemed to get lot in thought.

"Things that are alive tend to move, bro."

"Right..." Leo conceded hesitantly.

The room was silent again. Why wasn't Leo pushing to know where he was? Maybe he wasn't fine. Maybe he was just pretending. Maybe—

"So are you going to tell me or are you going to bed?" Leonardo asked.

Questions like that usually pissed the red-clad turtle off, but not this night. Maybe it was something in Leonardo's voice or something not there. Where was that infuriating haughty attitude? The leader didn't even seem that curious. Raphael told him what happened anyways. Maybe it would make his brother laugh. Raphael told him about Tyler and the mobsters that were after him. He told him how the kid ticked him off (leaving out the being punched three times in the face part) and how he and Tyler saved Tyler's mom. He even told Leo about being blinded.

"I never thought I could kick so much shell without being able to see. That kid helped a lot. Never thought all that blind-fold training would be so helpful."

"Sensei is wise." Leonardo said.

"You'll never believe what I said to the kid." Raph said with a laugh.

"You admitted you actually like kids?" Leo guessed.

Raph snorted and rolled his eyes.

"No, this is better. I told him to think about his actions before he stormed off like a hothead."

Raph almost erupted into laugher after admitting that. He couldn't control the broad smile on his face or the humor in his eyes.

"Can ya imagine? Me saying that."

Raphael finally let loose his laughter and the lair echoed with it. Raph examined Leo's reaction, hoping for some sort of amusement or shock. There was neither. Leonardo's eyes were drifting back towards the map, but he stopped himself. He forced himself to look at his brother again. He half-smiled and put his hand on his chin.

"Maybe you are maturing?" Leonardo suggested hopefully.

Raphael laughed at that statement and at the turtle who would even suggest it. Leonardo laughed half-heartedly and quietly after awhile and Raph smacked him on the shoulder. Leonardo blinked slowly and looked at his brother seriously.

"Does that mean I can start acting like you?" The older brother asked and though Raph was sure it was a joke there was a little doubt gnawing at him.

There was something strange about the way his older brother asked. When Leonardo joked his tone got lighter and he had a wry smile. Maybe Leo was just tired and he couldn't muster enough energy to give his usual enthusiasm. Yeah, that had to be it.

"Don't think ya could handle it bro," The red-masked turtle laughed back. "You'd drive yourself insane."

"You're probably right…" Leo trailed off and his tired eyes looked towards the map again. "It'd be nice though."

"Hah, not for you. You'd have to give yourself lectures."

"You could do it." Leonardo suggested.

Raphael laughed again. This had been the best conversation he'd had with his older brother in weeks. Leonardo hadn't joked much since the Foot attacked him.

"No way, I'd be right out there with you, bashin' heads."

Raph was surprised when Leonardo let out a high-pitched laughing and didn't stop. When did his brother get to be so strange? A minute ago he was all gloom and seriousness and now he was laughing like Raph had just said the funniest thing in the world. Maybe Leo was having delayed reactions or something.

"That would mean," Laughter. "That Mikey," more laughter. "Or Don would have to lead."

Leonardo fell into more laughter. Raph shook his head, but the thought of Michelangelo trying to lead the team was amusing. Shell, the thought of anyone leading the team and acting like Leonardo was comical.

"I am Green Vengeance."

"Mikey would make us dress up like super-heroes and call us the Green Avengers or something." Raph chuckled, remembering his incredibly dumb comeback to the mob-goons.

"And Don would make us learn tech-skills instead of ninjitsu." Leo said.

"Instead of fighting the Foot we would hack into their database!" Raph added.

"Or fix the toaster,"

"The TV,"

"The VCR,"

"Make us assemble our own shell cells,"

"Play chess,"

"Send computer viruses to the Purple Dragons,"

"Repair the Battle Shell,"

"Treat our own injuries,"

"Make us all wear purple." Leo concluded with horror.

Raphael gave Leonardo an equally horrified look and reached up to touch his bandana.

"You've got a sick mind Leo," Raph admitted.

"It's nothing compared to what Mikey might do though…" Leo added with a smirk.

"We are so not going there," Raph warned.

Leonardo yawned and blinked a few times. He looked at the clock and it was nearing three in the morning. He wasn't too concerned. It would be very difficult to search New York in daylight without being seen. There was nothing stopping any of them from sleeping in. It didn't matter. They weren't going to find Splinter tomorrow or even the next day. The blue-clad turtle sighed quietly and rested his head against his hand.

"You should get some sleep Leo," Raph suggested.

"I will," Leonardo replied.

"Anytime soon?" Raph crossed his arms.

"Yeah… I just have some… stuff to do." The eldest trailed off uncertainly.

"Leo, whatever it is I guarantee it can wait till morning."

Raphael was five seconds from dragging Leo straight to his room. The eldest looked away in deep thought.

"I keep saying that, but I can't think about it in the day-time. I won't allow myself to." Leo said with the blank look again.

Raphael was going to go crazy with all the mood swings that his normally collected brother was going through. Maybe the pressure had finally gotten to him and his brother snapped. No, that couldn't be it. Mikey or Don would've noticed by now. Leonardo was always his annoying self during the daylight hours. It would take a lot more to make their Fearless Leader snap.

"Master Splinter, where are you?"

"I'm not ready…" Leonardo repeated.

"Leo, we thought we defeated the Shredder and then he nearly killed us all. Were we ready for that? Maybe not, but we survived. We came back to can the Shredder for good, but were we truly ready?" Raph asked.

Leonardo did not answer the question but Raphael definitely had his attention.

"Sometimes ya have to be rash and not think about it 'cause no matter how ready or unready you are something's gonna happen that you didn't plan for and you'll have to do something. When Saki threw Master Splinter out that window none of us were ready. But did that stop you from trying to catch him?

"Are you saying I have to be more like you?" Leonardo asked incredulously.

"It wouldn't hurt shell for brains," Raph said smugly.

Leonardo finally looked directly at his brother and his mouth twitched slightly. He looked lost, but as if he had found some unexpected help that he was wary of accepting.

"It sounded like he was saying goodbye." The blue-clad turtle whispered.

"Huh?" Raphael asked, confused again.

"When he told me to leave him; it sounded like he was saying goodbye."

The normally hot-headed and now extremely tired turtle didn't know how to respond to that. He hadn't been there with Leo and Splinter. He was glad that Leo had shown up when he did though. His older brother hadn't really been too forthcoming on what Splinter had told him.

"I don't think he's coming back." Leo whispered in disparaging acceptance.

A myriad of emotions shot through Raphael; fear, anger, shock, dismay, pity. Damn it, Leo wasn't supposed to just give up! That wasn't Leo. That wasn't anyone in this family.

"Hold it Leo, are you saying that because you really believe it or because you're tired and stressed out?"

Leonardo paused to consider Raphael's words but couldn't form an answer to the question. Raphael put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it in an unusual display of affection.

"Ya know what I think? You've been doin' this night after night and your driving yourself crazy. Sleep works miracles, trust me. I mean look at Mikey. He sleeps all the time and look how he turned out…" Raphael smiled when Leo rolled his eyes at him. "All right, bad example."

"He'll still be gone in the morning." Leo stated.

"And all of us will still be trying to find him. Are ya going to go to your room or do I have to kick your sorry shell over there?"

"I'm going, I'm going." Leo finally acquiesced.

The eldest slowly made his way to his room and Raph watched him critically. He was going to make sure his older brother got some sleep. Raph crossed his arms as Leo stopped to look back at him.

"Hey Raph, do you think things will be different tomorrow?"

"Yeah bro, you'll feel better." Raph replied, but he answered the wrong question.

Leonardo paused for a second and then continued towards his room.

"Goodnight Raph," Leo said softly.

"Goodnight bro," Raphael responded.

Leonardo hid the sadness on his face as he walked into his room. He knew that tomorrow things would go back to the way they were. This strange late night conversation would be forgotten and Raph would go back to what he did best. The eldest would struggle to keep his family from losing hope he already lost and Splinter would still be gone. He wasn't ready to lead his brothers without his sensei's help. All of his training and sensei's lessons rushed through his mind. All of that time Master Splinter had spent fashioning Leonardo to take care of the family once he finally passed away (that was a common theme that Splinter never hesitated to remind Leonardo and only Leonardo) and he still couldn't accept it.

At least he had this strange memory to hang onto. Perhaps in the morning he would be able to laugh about it. Raph would probably wonder what the shell he was thinking and strongly discourage Leonardo from telling anyone else or perhaps pretend like it never happened. Yes, it would be best that way for both parties. Shell, this was probably some crazy dream anyway. It was hard to believe Raph trying to get some kid to stop and think before acting. He may be a teenage mutant ninja turtle whose sensei was a rat but this was a little farfetched.

"Whoa there quick draw! You better take a breath and think before you act. You can't just go stormin' off like a hothead… Hey, listen to me. Hothead..."


"Nah, just something my brothers trying to tell me."