More fluffy sugar chibi stuff. I think it's all I'm good for. Someone even meanly said so recently-- and at first it hurt, but then it pissed me off. Embrace the chibi!

TMNT is not mine-- not even that terrible "Fast Forward"-- otherwise it'd be much better and that robot cop would be scrap metal...

Big Brother is Watching

"Where you been?"

I opened my tired eyes to find a curious little face peering at me, almost nose to nose. It showed how exhausted I was; I had not heard Leonardo creep into the room, or even feel him climb into my bed.

"I was out gathering food," I replied, holding the blanket up so he could get under it. He willingly and quickly snuggled into the space next to me, and I tucked him in, one-handed.

Frankly, I was surprised by his visit. Of the four of them, he slept the soundest.

Or so I thought.

"Why's you late?"

I had almost started to drift off, when that interesting and eye-opening question startled me wide-awake.

Late?

Yes, I had been late. Since the turtles had become more active, I had had to limit my time scavenging to when they were asleep at night. I dreaded each and every trip away from the four toddlers, and it was by sheer willpower that I blocked my parental mind to the myriad of possible dangers and disasters that could befall them in my absence.

Ever since that incident with the attacker who had invaded our home, I had been extremely reluctant to go out, yet we needed food! I could not allow them to go hungry, despite my fears. So I had made sure that I NEVER went out while they were awake. They, too, had not liked my leaving them alone after that time, and I was quick to notice it. I could not put my children through such worry. After that horrible time, it was hard for me to get away to find the food we so desperately needed. The Turtles were very aware, even after barely falling asleep, if I had left our home-- many times in the aftermath of that period I was pulled back by the panicked crying of four babies.

So, the forages became even more difficult-- I had to wait later and later, and it was still difficult-- I worried the entire time I was gone.

Eventually, things settled down, and I was able to leave at earlier times.

Until now.

I looked at this little turtle, illuminated in the soft glow of the night lights that I had managed to install for safety's sake. His face was serious-- almost comical. He appeared to be awaiting my excuse with the expression of one so much older ready to pass judgment on the story of one so much younger.

"How do you know I am late?" I responded. For an answer, he sat up, turned, and with a bit of a stretch and struggle, managed to get the little glow in the dark alarm clock I had found and managed to get working. Then, turning to me, he pointed a chubby digit at the twelve.

"You's home by this number alla other times," he informed me, the seriousness of his voice rather charming even at this hour. "Tonight you's home at this number." And he pointed to the two.

I raised up in bed, and took the clock from him. I had been teaching them their numbers using this clock as well as the one in their room, but for Leonardo to actually notice the time...

"When did I leave, my son?"

He pointed to the ten.

He was right! I had left around ten that night. The Turtles had gone to bed early after an exhausting day, and the weather had been perfect for me to go out. But he was also right in that I was usually home by midnight.

Tonight, however, there had been an extraordinary amount of salvageable goods, and I had made several trips to and from the source, stockpiling what I could in a safe spot underground near the manhole, then risking more and more trips back to see what else I could find.

Then there had been the need to carry it all home. I did it in stages. Rather than carry some all the way home and travel all the way back, this time I carried what I could a distance, and then fetched the rest. It made for a lot of work, but in the end it would have taken me longer to carry it all the way home, and then trek all the way back. As it was, I loaded my little wagon as full as I could. I had made it into the Lair by two with the last of the supplies-- and then crawled into bed without putting them away.

And he had known?

"Ever since the bad man came, I been helpin'," Leonardo said, interrupting my thoughts and reading my mind. "When you goed out one time, I woke up an' I looked at the clock. An' I got up and goed to the bathroom, an' I seen you was gone. An' I was scared a bit."

"Just a bit?"

He nodded vigorously.

"Yes. But I knowed you was getting food, an' I tried to not be scared. You said the bad man is gone, and you always tells the truth, so I had to 'member that. Then, you came home, and I saw it was you, and I goed back to bed. And I saw on the clock the number."

I put the clock back, and lay down again, thinking of what he had revealed.

Leonardo, watching out? He is only three...

"I'm the ani," he said, again as if reading my mind. "You said so. The ani is apose to watch the brothers."

I furrowed my brow, trying to remember when I had said--

And then it came back to me. I had caught Leonardo and Michelangelo playing "ships" in the bathroom. The tub was running (but fortunately not plugged and overflowing). Water was all over the floor, and the two were trying to pour more onto it from a toy bucket because it was not deep enough for the newly acquired bath toys to float.

"Who started this?" I demanded, and Michelangelo, with a nervous gulp, admitted that he was pouring water on the floor.

" 'Cause the toilet is too small and the ships doesn't float good, and you said to not play in the toilet, so I getted the water from the sink and put it onna floor wif my cup."

Then I turned to Leonardo.

"I helped him," he said, after a minute, also nervous. "Cause he's too short to turn on the tub, and the sink was hard to reach alla time. He held out the bucket that he had tried to hide behind his back. "I used this 'cause the cup was too small."

I could feel my tail slowly lashing at this revelation.

"Why were you helping him?"

He grinned an innocent grin.

"You always says to help Mike 'cause he's the little brother and I'm the big brother."

"I mean help him to stay out of trouble, not get into more," I replied, not in the mood for three-year-old logic. I had a lot of mopping to do, and it did not make me happy. "You are the ani, that is true, but it is the ani's responsibility to keep his younger brothers from harm. He helps his father by watching out for the younger sons. Someday, he will be the father--"

Yes, that lecture, delivered by a rather cranky father to a three-year-old while said father was quickly trying to mop up the mess, came back to me. Afterwards I had regretted speaking to a toddler so-- I had assumed that the words were lost on him, so I felt bad when he sat so sad and quiet in the living room later, merely watching while his brothers played on the floor.

"Why are you not playing?" I asked.

"'Cause I'm watchin'. I'm watchin' 'em to make sure they doesn't get in trouble."

I had thought that I had corrected that misunderstanding that day.

But here, in my bed, was a toddler who had taken it upon himself to watch his brothers while Father was out of the home. I turned my head on the pillow and looked again at my small son.

"Oh, don't worry," he said, misinterpreting my gaze. "I don't tell the others! They would be scared, even Raph. So's I don't tell 'em that I'm watchin' 'em."

I cuddled him close to me in response. It was late, and I was tired despite this surprising turn of events. I would think about it more in the morning.

"Thank-you, my son," I said, as he snuggled in closer. "Thank you for being a good ani."

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I come back late from a night out with Leatherhead and Professor Honeycutt. We have found a secluded place where we can stargaze and chat about things. Since our move to Central Park, there have been many nights like this.

Even before I enter our new home I know what I will find, and I am not disappointed. On the couch, dozing despite the televisions being on, is Leonardo-- keeping watch.

I can almost hear that three-year-old voice as I switch off the many sets and gently nudge my son.

"Go to bed, Leonardo. I am back home now."

" 'Kay-- night, Father," he mumbles, rising with his eyes barely open. He bows, then heads off to his room.

"Good night, my son. And thank you for being a good ani."