Disclaimer: You can go ahead and believe that I own the TMNT franchise if you want to. Of course, I will deny any ownership of the TMNT and all other related characters when you ask me if the first sentence is true.
Master Splinter's point of view
For quite some time, something had been troubling each of my sons. Raphael and Michelangelo had both confided in me what their troubles were, but my remaining sons would not tell me what was causing them so much distress and inner turmoil. It was for that reason that I decided to take matters into my own hands.
I was currently overseeing their morning practice session. Leonardo and Donatello were practicing their katas while Raphael was sparring with Michelangelo. Practice would be over in a few more minutes, so at the end of the session I would announce what I wanted them to do.
"Come on, Raphie, you can do better than that!" Michelangelo taunted as he ducked Raphael's punch.
"Until you actually try to hit me and stop dodging all of my attacks," Raphael hissed, executing a flawless roundhouse kick, "and how would you know if I could do better or not?"
"Didn't Master Splinter tell you it's impolite to make up excuses?"
Again, he dodged Raphael's attack,which incited a furious yell from his beleaguered sibling. "Hold still, will ya!"
A well-placed kick missed Michelangelo by mere inches. Just as Raphael began to spin around for another kick, Michelangelo knocked his legs out from under him, making him tumble abruptly to the floor. Michelangelo then placed his foot on Raphael's chest and smiled. This would make for an interesting end to their morning practice.
"Thank you! Thank you!" he called out, hamming it up for a nonexistent audience. Leonardo and Donatello stopped their katas momentarily, and there was no mistaking the traces of merriment on their faces.
"How much of a head start do you think Raph will give Mikey?" Don asked.
"Mikey will be lucky if he even gets a head start," Leo replied.
"Get yer nasty foot off of me! Ain't no telling where it's been!"
Raphael shoved Michelangelo's foot off of his plastron. As Raphael was getting up, Michelangelo decided to push his luck; proof positive that he just didn't know when to quit.
"Aw, what's wrong, Raphie? Don't tell me you're upset that you lost to me? We can't all be winners, now can we? Besides, Leo kicks your shell on a daily basis, anyway, so does it make any difference if I'm the one kicking it today?"
Raphael spun around angrily. "You got to the count of three to run."
The smile instantly left Michelangelo's face. "But I was just…"
"Come on, Raph, I was just teasing you!"
"You're not serious, are you?"
Michelangelo squeaked loudly and then ran away quickly. Raphael waited a few moments before he decided to give chase. As Raphael chased Michelangelo around the dojo, whenever it seemed as though Raphael had Michelangelo cornered, he would nimbly dodge or flip out of the way, laughing as he did so. At one point, he even made a horrendous face and stuck his tongue out at his brother. This did nothing to cool Raphael's anger as he proceeded to shout several very interesting death threats to Michelangelo. Leonardo and Donatello tried to continue with their katas, but that was proving to be quite difficult when their brothers were causing such a ruckus.
To put a stop to this foolishness, I loudly tapped my walking cane on the floor. An instant later, all eyes were directed at me. "Raphael, release your brother this instant."
He glared murderously at Michelangelo and reluctantly released him. Michelangelo sighed loudly and then smiled sheepishly at me. "Thanks for the rescue, sensei."
"Michelangelo, you are to apologize to your brother."
"What for? It's not my fault he can't take a joke."
Fixing him with a stern glare, I calmly said, "Michelangelo, it is not up for discussion. Apologize to him."
Michelangelo slowly turned to Raphael, smiling broadly as he gave the driest apology I have ever heard. "I'm sorry."
I shook my head, not at all pleased with Michelangelo's apology. Resisting the urge to sigh, I turned my attention to Leonardo and Donatello.
"Donatello, Leonardo, come and stand next to your brothers."
Obediently, they did as I requested of them.
"Your training for this morning is complete. However, there is one final thing I would like for all of you to do."
My sons exchanged puzzled looks with one another, before redirecting their attention to me.
"I have noticed that all is not as it should be. That is why I want the four of you to stay here and discuss amongst yourselves whatever has been plaguing you of late." I paused, lifting up a hand. "Before any of you decide to protest, it is not up for debate. I have noticed that the four of you seem wary of each other lately. As brothers, you should never feel uncomfortable around one another. I am going to meditate now. Once I am finished, I will return to see if there has been any progress."
They bowed to me, and I returned the gesture. As I walked out of the dojo and towards my bedding chambers, I could clearly hear Raphael blaming Michelangelo for the events that had transpired only moments ago. Somehow, I was under the impression that this would take a while.
Raphael's point of view
"You just had to go and act stupid, didn't ya? You weren't satisfied with winning! No, you had to go and prove to everyone, once again, just how completely and utterly stupid you are!"
"I'm not stupid! And besides, like I told Master Splinter, it's not my fault you can't take a joke. I was just picking on you, and then you had to get all stuffy and mad about it. Laughter is supposed to do wonders for you, and you, my friend, are in desperate need of some. I mean, would it really kill you to lighten up every now and then?"
"You do enough of that as it is to last me a century and then some, so why should I even bother doing your job? Can't have two idiots running around here, now can we?" I grumbled angrily.
Mikey sighed and folded his arms across his plastron. I could tell he was irritated, but he wasn't the type to stay mad for too long. Give or take a few minutes and he'd be back to normal.
Leo and Don were already sitting down, having made themselves comfortable a little while after Master Splinter left. Mikey decided to sit next to Don. I guess he wanted to get as far away from me as possible. I could've sat next to Leo, but that was only going to result in trouble, so I sat as far away from the others as I could.
Silence settled over us. Did Master Splinter really expect us to act like adults and settle our differences? Fat chance of that ever happening! Of all people, he should've known that it was never a good idea to keep us in a room together, especially for long periods of time. This was only going to end in disaster. I just knew it…
Leonardo's point of view
When no one made a move to break the silence, I decided to do the honors. I cleared my throat and looked at each of my brothers. "It's obvious that we're not getting out of this predicament, so who wants to go first?"
My question was met with a resounding silence. Okay, maybe I should try a different approach.
"Mikey? Is there something you want to say?"
Mikey looked at me, then at Don and finally at Raph. There was a slight glare in his eyes as he stared at Raph, but when he answered me, he suppressed the emotion and shrugged his shoulders. "Nah, I'm good."
"Okay. Don, is there something on your mind?"
"Just the usual," he answered calmly. Looking at his face, there was no indication or sign that anything was troubling him.
"There ain't nothing wrong, Leo," he said in his usual gruff manner.
"Sure, go ahead and believe that if you want to," Mikey mumbled.
I knew where this was going, but before I had a chance to take action, Raph looked in Mikey's direction and bluntly said, "If you got something to say, Mikey, then just say it."
The silence came back, but it didn't last very long, for Mikey looked up and turned his attention to Raph. He was glaring at him again.
"Fine, I will. I'm tired of you acting like such a jerk. Leo's the only one who really confronts you about it, and I don't know how he does it. You're always acting like we don't care about you or that we lecture you just for the shell of it, but we don't! We're just worried about you, but if you keep pushing us away then you're going to end up alone and miserable! I for one don't want to see that happen, but…" he trailed off, staring blindly at the floor until he worked up the nerve to speak again.
"Forget it. I'm just mad right now and that means I'm saying stuff I don't really mean. Just forget I ever said any of those things."
Uneasy stillness once again settled over us. An emotional Mikey was never an easy task to deal with. I was about to try and console him, but Don did the job for me.
"You can't help the way you feel, Mikey. Nobody ever said it was a crime to express your concern for someone."
"What is this?" Raph said, his posture stiff and fairly vibrating with repressed anger."First Mikey has to add his two cents in and now Donnie?! I suppose you're next, Leo?"
Repressing the urge to sigh, I just stated the obvious. "Actually, I wasn't going to say anything, Raph. It's obvious that Master Splinter wouldn't do something like this unless he thought we were going to benefit from it. Maybe he's tired of us always fighting and bickering with one another."
"Hello, Earth to Leo. We're teenagers, not to mention the fact that we're males. You know what that means? It means we're going to argue and fight no matter what happens. It wouldn't be normal if we didn't. You don't have to be a genius to know that."
I glared at Raph. Why did he have to be so infuriating? For once, couldn't he stop being such a blockhead? Then again, that was a bit much to ask for, wasn't it?
"While it's normal for brothers to fight, we fight too much. We're supposed to look after one another. We're supposed to be one another's anchors, and yet we constantly push each other away."
"Look, this is all fine and dandy, Leo, but I'm not really in the mood for this right now. If you'll excuse me, I have other things I could be doing."
"Like what?" Don questioned quietly.
Donatello's point of view
Leo was right. Master Splinter would never do anything to harm us. This way just his way of trying to get us to open up to one another, but so far we weren't making that much progress.
Raph was already at the dojo's door, his hand resting firmly on the doorknob. "I could be watching television, listening to music, going out for a ride on the Shell Cycle or anything else besides being here."
"If you walk out of here, Raph, then those feelings will never go away. You're always going to feel angry about every little thing. Why is it so hard for you to just talk to us?" I asked him.
Quickly, he whirled around to face us.
"Because I'm not like any of you! It's not easy for me to just open up and spill all of my secrets, fears and insecurities to anyone except Master Splinter. He's the only one who really understands me. None of you even make an effort to do that. All of you think I like the way I am and that I find it fun to constantly be a pain in the shell, but I don't!"
He folded his arms across his plastron and glared at each of us. I never knew Raph felt that way. I knew that he wasn't always the easiest to talk to, but did he really think that we couldn't understand his feelings? Weren't we his brothers? Didn't that have any merit in this whole situation?
After his outburst, I shook my head in sadness. "It's ironic. Here you are voicing your feelings on not being understood, and yet you have no clue that I feel that way all the time."
"What?" he asked in shock.
I looked up at him and watched as confusion spread all over his face. It was almost like he couldn't comprehend my words from just moments ago.
"Do you have any idea what's it like being considered a personal handyman or doctor and nothing more? Day in and day out, I fix things around the lair. I invent gadgets to help us fight against the Foot, the Purple Dragons and the Mob. I take care of our injuries, but at the end of the day, who's left to take care of me?"
Some anger had crept into my voice, and I could definitely feel their stares upon me. They were my brothers and yet they had no clue that such feelings existed inside of me. Then again, how could they have ever known? I didn't go out of my way to express my discomfort nor did I complain about my place within the family. I knew exactly where I belonged.
"Donnie, why didn't you ever tell us you felt this way?" Leo questioned.
I looked over at Leo. Disappointment and sadness shone within his eyes.
"Would it have made a difference?" I calmly asked. "You're always busy training and perfecting your skills. Mikey's always reading his latest comic book, playing a video game, playing with his action figures, cooking or watching television. And Raph, he's always fighting with you or too busy with other things to even notice I'm alive. So tell me, if I ever voiced my opinions before now, would it have truly made a difference?"
"Of course it would have! You're our brother and nothing will ever change that. Don, no one could ever take your place."
As I continued looking into Leo's eyes, I could see the truth and sincerity within his words from earlier. It served as a small comfort, but these feelings couldn't be ignored or pushed aside so easily.
"I may be your brother, Leo, but do you truly know me? Do you know what lies underneath the façade that I present to all of you on a daily basis?"
When no one made to answer my questions, I sighed. Did I really expect them to understand my revelations? Did I honestly believe that this would change their feelings about me? When Mikey decided to voice his feelings a moment later, I couldn't help but feel a little relieved. Apparently, my words hadn't fallen on deaf ears after all.
"Donnie, no one should ever have to feel that way. I won't try to hide the fact that your words hurt me, but I can't blame you for having those feelings, either. I've felt that way plenty of times myself, so I can totally relate to not being who you truly are. Every day I play the part of the clown just for you guys. I try so hard to make life around here brighter for everyone, but it's never enough. None of you think I'm capable of being serious or doing anything on my own. I appreciate how you and the others go out of your way to shelter me and protect me, but…"
He trailed off for a moment, took a deep breath and then continued speaking. "How am I ever going to learn from my mistakes if you guys constantly hover over me and try to guard me from life? I'm not a child anymore. Whether or not you guys like it, you have to let go. There are some things that I have to learn on my own, and I can't do that if I don't have any support from the people who matter most to me."
"Guys, what happened to us?" Leo questioned quietly. "We used to be inseparable and now we're falling apart at the seams. If this is any indication of our future, then is there any way to change it? Is there any possible way we can go back to the life we once knew?"
There was no mistake about it. We'd drifted apart and now we needed to correct the problem. The only problem, though, was how could we fix this? We weren't facing an enemy; instead we were facing ourselves. I forgot who first coined the phrase, but they were right when they said that sometimes you could be your own worst enemy. In our case, it was so true that it hurt.
"Simple. We grew up and drifted apart. None of us really have anything in common except that we're brothers and we practice ninjistu. No matter how you look at it, we can't go back to the past. What's done is done. It's only a matter of time before we completely drift apart, anyway."
Each of us looked in Raph's direction. His glare was gone and so was his resistance. He'd now seated himself next to Leo. Did he realize just how harsh and cruel his words sounded? Did he truly think so little of our bond with one another?
"We're not going to drift apart! That's why we're here in the first place. We need to work out our problems and start acting like a family. There shouldn't be all of this 'you don't understand my feelings or you don't care about me, so I'm just going to suffer in silence.' None of us should have to suffer in silence!" Mikey all but shouted.
Michelangelo's point of view
We were going around in circles. We could talk until we turned blue in the face and still wouldn't come up with any answers. Donnie and I had openly mentioned our feelings, but Leo and Raph weren't saying anything. It was frustrating! How come they couldn't tell us their feelings? It wasn't that hard. All they had to do was open up their hearts to us. It's not like we were going to criticize or condemn them. So just this once, why couldn't they stop shouldering their burdens alone and let us help them?
"Leo, Raph, why do the two of you always feel as though you're alone?" I questioned them.
The two of them exchanged looks with one another and then turned their attention back to me. It was Leo who spoke up first.
"It's not that I feel as though I'm alone. It's just that I'm always worried about all of you. I know the three of you are quite capable of looking after yourselves, but it still doesn't stop me from worrying. All I do is think about everyone's safety and wellbeing. I don't want to wake up one morning to find out that I've failed all of you. That's why if I seem to come off as too overbearing and protective, it's because I just want the best for the ones that I'd give my life for. I don't say this too often, but I do realize and understand that I need my family more than ninjistu. Ninjistu will be around forever, but none of you will be."
"But if you feel that way, why don't you try to make the best of your time with us? Tomorrow isn't promised or guaranteed, especially for us."
I glanced at Donnie and couldn't have been prouder. He'd taken the words right out of my mouth.
Sighing in irritation, Leo looked away from us. "I know, but sometimes I feel like there's no point. I mean, it's just like you said, Don. With everyone being so preoccupied with their own things, I just tend to keep my feelings to myself. The last thing I want to do is burden any of you with my worries or problems."
Raph punched Leo in the arm and then glared at him.
"Weren't you listening at all? We don't need you to be our protector, mother hen, or leader! We need you to start acting like a brother!"
Leo rubbed his arm and then returned the glare. "And you're one to talk! It's not like you're always the most considerate or thoughtful brother, either, now are you? Nine times out of ten you're not even aware of our feelings! Most of the time, you're too busy fighting your own problems to even notice that we're going through difficulties of our own!"
"I may not be considerate or thoughtful, but at least I don't isolate myself from the others. If they need me as a brother, then I'm there for them. Unlike you, you always try to be a protector and nothing more!"
"That's why you and I can't get along! We're exactly alike and before you even ask me how that is possible, you're guilty of doing the same things I do on a daily basis. In battle or outside of battle, you're always on guard, trying to protect us!"
"And that's supposed to be a crime now?! Well, excuse the hell outta me for trying to show you and the others that I really do care! You don't have the slightest clue what goes on in my head, so don't even start with me, fearless leader. Every time one of you gets injured or comes close to death, I nearly go insane with grief and worry! Just like that time I thought you were going to die when the Shredder attacked you… I would've gone crazy had you left us, so don't you tell me anything about not being aware of how you or the others feel!"
A huge smile spread across my face. This was going to be interesting. "So you DO care about us. And here I thought you'd never admit it. Is there any chance that we can manage to hear you confess that you love us?" I questioned mischievously.
"What is the world coming to? Our hotheaded brother just openly admitted that he cares about us?" Donnie said, joining in on the teasing.
"Raph just admitted that he cares about someone other than himself… I think the apocalypse is coming!" Leo mocked lightly.
We were trying so hard not to laugh. Raph's eyes widened considerably when he realized that he'd just spilled some of his most private feelings to us. It's not that we tricked him into confessing how he felt about us; he'd said those words on his own. I just decided to tease him about it and so did the others. Wanna know how he looked?
He looked like an owl. I mean, just picture it. Raph with those huge eyes, sitting on a tree branch hooting and then his head would spin around. The mental picture was too much for me. As I fell into a fit of giggles, Raph recovered from his shock and grabbed me in a headlock.
"Think that's funny? You won't be laughing for much longer! I still owe ya from practice, anyway!"
I was too weak from laughter to even move. My brothers were also paralyzed from their amusement. Somehow, I managed to get free from the headlock and then it was a brotherly free-for-all.
We were one big mass of arms, legs, shells, and heads when Master Splinter reentered the dojo. He cleared his throat and we all looked up at him. I'm sure we made quite the sight. Four teenagers acting like five-year-olds.
During the brawl, Leo's bandana ended up sailing clean across the room while mine's was turned completely backwards. Raph was comfortably sprawled across Don's plastron, while I had Don's legs pinned to the ground so he couldn't wiggle away. That wasn't stopping him from using his arms to try and get me to release his legs. And of course, poor Leo was stuck at the bottom of the pile. I bet being squished by Don wasn't exactly fun either. Even if we did look ridiculous, it felt good to be acting stupid with my brothers.
"You may all leave if you'd like."
"If you don't mind, sensei, we're going to stay in here for a little longer," Leo managed to squeak out, sounding as if he were wheezing while he weakly waved one hand in the general direction of Master Splinter's voice.
"Yeah, we still have a few things to work out," Donnie said in between catching his breath, his bandana being partially on and off head, as he promptly tried to swat at me with his arm again.
"This may take a while, sensei, but we'll leave as soon as we're done having fun… I mean, discussing our problems," I answered him, ducking from Don's near hit as I tried to wiggle my arm out of Raph's grasp.
"There won't be too many injures, unless you count the fact that Mikey suffers from brain damage," Raph said cheekily, his bandana was just a bit crooked, as he tightened the hold he had on my left arm.
Master Splinter shook his head, mumbled something about kids being kids and then walked out of the dojo. And he couldn't have been more right. With the lives we lead, we needed to start cutting loose a little more. It wouldn't kill us to do that, now would it? Maybe we wouldn't always be able to deal with our problems, but at least we had each other and that was all that mattered.