Author's Notes: This is the very long Chapter 19 of the Damnation thread of Walking the Line, normally only found on my website. However, those who only follow Salvation might also enjoy it. Damnation Ch. 18 will be up on my website in a few minutes or so, in case you're confused as to why I'm finally returning to Splinter (who hasn't said much since WCBF and a little bit in the Interludes). This chap has lots of backstory and chibi turtles, so I think readers who haven't even glanced at Damnation will enjoy it. And maybe it'll even get some of you interested in the alternate thread. Enjoy, and please give feedback!
Umi no Uta; Song of the Sea
It was Splinter's long-established habit to utterly clear his mind before attempting sleep. Such a thing was necessary with four boys; but in Japan, visiting with the Ancient One whom he had previously only kept in contact with through letters, such a practice had slightly fallen off. At night, he found himself worrying deeply for his sons, hoping that the rifts between them healed, rather than grew sharper, in his absence. Such an extended period would show him that his sons could live happily without him—happily and safely. If, of course, they were in fact happy and safe. And knowing his sons, they were at their happiest when engaged in battle.
The sea here is different—it speaks to Splinter of a long-ago past, and another family, and a passage over a great distance to San Diego, before a train to New York. The sea rocks against distant shores, surrounding an island nation and cradling it like a boat. Its spray and sand are a build-up of memories, each drop to another. His life has come full circle to this place, the home of his first family, the birthplace of the sun and an existence in the sewers under New York, where his sons await. A place of hidden light, reminiscence of love. He recalls his beloved Yoshi, who cared for him, and the sweet-tempered T'ang Shen, with mother's white hands, silk and ivory in her skin and charcoal in her hair. His sons are crudely hewn to human eyes, yet they are beautiful to him, each with their own glances that remind him of four infants, who followed after him like ducks in a row.
But this night, another odd worry tinged his palate—one so strange, so outlandish, he couldn't help but automatically dismiss it and wonder at its feasibility all at the same time. He had attempted meditation on it, but his mind—normally such a disciplined, well-tuned instrument, capable of bending to his will and producing any chord, wandered into pins and thistles, obstructions along the path to sight. He knew too that sleep was the second meditation, the mind's way of sifting through random matters and attempting to make sense of them, to find solutions, to see humor in situations, to deal with problems and snares.
Tonight, a large snare lay tangled up in the neat rows of Splinter's thoughts: two cords interminably intertwined: his eldest, Leonardo, and second youngest, Raphael.
The sea here is different, because it carries the swell of events on back-currents, traveling on circuits throughout the world in waterways unseen. This ocean knows it was once vapor, and this vapor knows it was once trees and clouds and perspiration, sweat and blood, and breath, and tears. This sea knows it is at the beginning and end of a life stream—it knows it is memory, and Splinter's dozing, fitful mind places a dipper in its cool spray as it meets land.
When he had found his children, they were four infants of the same size. Yet he became aware, as they grew, that children do not develop along the same paths, and slight difference—when mutated—can become very, very large differences, especially for toddlers. It was these years that shaped his sons and slotted them into a pecking order amongst themselves, an order that needed organization, meaning, and responsibility—which their father readily provided.
In these years, Splinter had been deeply tempted to call Raphael the youngest of his sons. Raphael was small, and learned most things last of all his brothers—adventurous and needy, prone to going off and hurting himself, easily brought to tears, and for his constant crying, the others picked at his weakness on a strange, instinctual level. In some way, Splinter suspected they were attempting to toughen him up. Yet something in his little, sensitive son told him he couldn't be right, and so he watched closer—a little Raphael patting Donatello when he'd fallen and skinned his knee, getting a toy for Michelangelo when he seemed ready to have a tantrum, always hugging an emotionally distant and hard-to-understand Leonardo, who bottled up his emotions with as much fervor as Raphael broadcasted his own. Raphael's teeth grew in before Michelangelo's, and though he walked last of all of them, he was one of the fastest talkers—he and Leonardo picked up words with the voracity of a wild fire swallowing forest, babbling at each other in excitement. They said English words, Japanese words, their own words. Words they seemed to both understand. Raphael had the emotional intelligence that rivaled each of his brothers, though in most ways he was slow to develop—he toddled after Leonardo and Donatello, crawling while they walked, babbling for attention—and had a way of saying words to Michelangelo, waiting for the little turtle to speak. And so he became second-youngest, made aware of the fact, and throughout his life fell into the role like a puzzle piece.
At this time, Splinter had almost pinpointed Donatello as the oldest. He had an uncanny way about understanding how things worked—through his vision (rather than his ears, as Leonardo and Raphael seemed to learn) he delved into everything and discovered their inner mysteries. He had one day looked at his legs, stared for quite a while, then pulled himself up by the sewer wall—watching his limbs, he then struck out for what would be his—and all of their—first steps. He had been the first to experiment with his voice, though the first word belonged to Leonardo, who had an impeccable ear. Donatello understood circumstances and context and repercussions for actions very well—his was a logical mind, and was capable of working out complex situations much sooner than his brothers. Had Splinter aged his sons simply by how they developed, he might have placed Donatello in the top spot—his calm, intelligent, reasonable Donatello, always willing to fix and help and share. Had Splinter done it this way, he would have had an oldest, a youngest, and his middle twins—Leonardo and Raphael.
Had he come here to remember the dead or recall the living? Had he been too close to see them clearly all along? The sea water is bitter, tastes of salt, catches in his throat, carries weeds and sand and shell particles, flotsam of trash and algae. Memory is like ash, when he has not tasted it in so long. Life had caught him up, a stream of light, and the shadows had eluded him.
But it was Leonardo who chose and fought for the top role, who always took charge and reminded his brothers of the rules, who organized them for games, who steered them away from fights, who watched out for emotionally-volatile Raphael, who took the lead. And since he chose this role, Splinter came to an understanding with his son—that the oldest chooses to be so, chooses a place, and while Donatello was reasonable and intelligent, he did not choose to be an example. And so was born o-nii-san.
Yet as he moved into childhood, Splinter noticed in Leonardo an odd conflict—Raphael fell further and further behind him in learning and development, a late-bloomer in all things, and yet Leonardo seemed obsessed with dragging his twin upward. He taught him Japanese, Spanish, French. He corrected his kata unflinchingly, with the automatic nature with which he corrected his own; and while Leonardo was patient and even-tempered with Donatello and Michelangelo, he seemed to place on Raphael the same strict expectations he had for himself. And while Splinter understood his son's somewhat desperate motivations and intentions, his protective side sprung to Raphael; he began to see that he would have to make it clear that Leonardo was older, and with that position came both power and responsibility. Yet the more he implemented this concept, the greater a bully he had on his hands. His calm, reasonable Leonardo hated one thing, and that was to see Raphael cry. He acted as though it was a signal of his doom.
His answer lay in Michelangelo. His charming son was normal, never the first to do anything, yet he figured out the way to get what he wanted even before he could talk. He didn't cry over every slight, nor did he get things for himself—charismatic in every action, attracted to bright colors, a follower of his brothers and still moving to his own beat, Michelangelo could have Splinter spellbound. He didn't dissect nor did he feel too strongly—he created, making drawings and patterns from mud, finding shiny refuse and making strange toys only he could understand. He was an outward child, taking in less than he projected, unlike Leonardo and Donatello. Michelangelo and Raphael were radio stations, and it was then that Splinter saw his two youngest, the clear patterns and order his sons had organized themselves by. So while Donatello and Leonardo walked and explored, separated from their brothers by the ability of their legs, Splinter placed his youngest together, and watched Raphael emerge as a little big brother, babbling words at Michelangelo, who clapped and laughed and eventually imitated him.
Perhaps Splinter wished his two littlest would crawl forever; he loved those weeks of Raphael and Michelangelo in their jury-rigged playpen, building things and baby talking—interspersed by real words from Raphael, who said them slowly to Michelangelo many times with a smile—while Splinter prepared meals.
The sea knows the comfort of its sound, its similitude to a million others and yet uniquely its own. It sounds like the wharfs that surround New York City, and Splinter dreams of home, of coming to know his sons, their unique personalities.
"Donatello. Him Donatello, hay?"
"Dah bah. Dah bah dey!"
Giggles. "Dob ah dey oh!"
Raphael rocked back, grinning. Donatello was leaning over the playpen, giggling at the renditions of his name—Splinter had no doubt Donatello understood more words than Raphael, but he spoke far less. Seldom would he express unless he could make a full sentence.
"Don-Don, Mi'ee try," Raphael babbled—he had trouble with his k-sounds, and they often came out like an h. He then stuck a three-fingered hand in his mouth and sucked on it as was his custom—a habit his father was trying to break him of, as he was a crawler in a very unhealthy environment. Splinter had once eaten off paws that had scurried through sewage all day—yet now, with his mutated brain, he began to make distinctions. When his sons ate clean food with clean hands, they took sickness far less often. And with the exception of Donatello and sometimes Leonardo, his sons did not yet make these distinctions. They loved dirt and sludge and mud and delighted in being filthy, so until they could move off their hands, his two grime-loving youngest would stay in a playpen atop a blanket in their burrow.
Splinter suspected that sucking on his hand was affecting Raphael's ability to speak clearly, and he had already tried numerous schemes to discourage it, from pulling the hand out every time he saw it to placing unpleasant tasting substances on his fingers, but the later upset Raphael so much that his father had stopped for a while, hoping his son would grow out of it before he could walk. This time, as Raphael again repeated the habit, Leonardo reached into the playpen and pulled the hand out.
"No, Raphi! Not good! Dame yo!"
This took Splinter by surprise—he left the bread he was storing and moved to the pen, pulling Leonardo away; he was too late, however, as Raphael had already begun crying, as Michelangelo watched, wide-eyed.
"Leonardo—you must lower your voice and not yell, or you will frighten your brother and he will not do as he is supposed to. See how upset he has become? He thinks you are angry. Remember—gentleness wins where force never triumphs."
Leonardo's face was rather stony, discouraging—his expression told Splinter too much, yet not enough. It told him he must continue to teach Leonardo the responsibility of his power, and yet he could not see his son's emotions. Leonardo frightened him, bottling up everything he felt, and giving no real implication of what he would do with the trapped energy once it became overwhelming. He seemed to hate Raphael's crying because he did not do it himself, yet somehow, after his little brother cried himself to sleep on many afternoons, Leonardo plopped down and curled up next to him—as though it were he that had cried out his frustrations, and not Raphael. They had a curious dynamic and not always a healthy-appearing one.
Splinter this day picked up his sobbing second-youngest and let him latch onto his neck. "Raphael—my son, you must try to understand o-nii-san only wishes to help you."
"Leo mad! Leo mad a' meeeee!"
Splinter lowered his voice to a comforting murmur; Raphael couldn't seem to handle anger directed at himself or anyone without crying uncontrollably—yet another habit Splinter would have to break him of.
"He does not mean to sound angry, Raphael. Quiet down now—you are safe with your father."
Splinter felt a plucking at his robes; he looked down, to see Leonardo looking up at him, with his serious, stony face—he was holding up his arms, reaching for something.
"Otouto—Brother. Brother!" he chirped, stolidly, making his demand rather clear. After a moment, with Raphael still crying full force into his shoulder, Splinter smiled softly, picked Leonardo up, and deposited them both in the playpen. Immediately, Leonardo tugged his little brother closer, hugging him as any other child would a stuffed animal after nightmares—and almost as quickly, Raphael settled down, hiccupping with the force it.
Michelangelo watched his siblings with wide eyes, after Donatello had sat down to tinker with a toy.
"Waphi!" Michelangelo chirrped, making Splinter gasp. Raphael was instantly cured of the hiccups.
"Mihee say, Mihee say—Daa, Mihee say! Hanasu, hanasu!"
Michelangelo appeared elated to say the least, grinning, and warbling his older brother's nickname while Raphael babbled excitedly for him.
"Waphi, Waphi, ahh-niii!"
Donatello put down his toy and clapped for their youngest brother with a gentle smile; he looked at Leonardo for confirmation of excitement and saw what Splinter saw—a frown.
Leonardo, of all his sons, was the most willing to share—he had no toys he seemed to consider his own, very seldom got angry if he had to wait to be fed, did not desire constant attention, and, strangely, never threw fits. He had aged in a peculiar way, as though he had missed a stage—and as Leonardo grew, Splinter would always feel as though he had blinked and something in his oldest again eluded his notice. But today, Leonardo declared his almost-two years loudly, and it would have made Splinter smile if it hadn't been so startling.
"Mine! Boku no otouto!"
His oldest wrapped his arms around Raphael's shell, making his little brother blink away from his babbling. His voice had been loud enough to risk scaring Raphael again—yet for once, the little turtle was so surprised he didn't even start crying.
"Mine!" Another declaration, even louder, making Michelangelo and Donatello watch with wide eyes—this was the closest Leonardo had come to sounding upset in a very long while. Splinter did not want to discourage him; so seldom did his oldest express himself that it seemed unfair to stop him in this, such a desperate feeling of ownership over his twin. A feeling that sometimes made his father wonder again, at the differences between nature and choice. They did indeed look much alike, but in growth so different; so often Raphael became the shadow of Leonardo months earlier, like a moving picture book, a creature of memory, yet with an ever-changing, expressive face, picking up all the emotions his brother had dropped or hidden along the way. This time he smiled—Raphael always seemed to enjoy when his brothers talked as much or felt as much as he did, because they were the only two things he could do well.
Splinter reached in and tried to lift Leonardo out of the playpen, but his little, strong arms remained clamped on his brother.
"NO! Mine—Boku no!!!"
"Leonardo, I need you to come out of the pen and walk around like Donatello again. Your brothers shall see you walking and wish to do it too, just as Raphael's talking has inspired our Michelangelo."
Leonardo looked from Raphael to their father.
Donatello had covered his ears by this time, but continued to watch the situation with eyes that understood more than the bearer let on.
"What is the matter, my sharp Donatello?"
Donatello took a deep breath, as though, amazingly, contemplating his answer.
"O-nii-san is loud. Just like Raphi."
Splinter smiled, then looked to his oldest.
"Raphael cannot walk yet, Leonardo. He will learn, just as you did."
Leonardo had a determined look; he pulled himself to his little legs and started walking, almost gracefully, around Raphael, who watched him silently.
"Raphi walk!" It was a command—an order. Splinter was painfully aware that Raphael was slipping into being a late-bloomer, but he never knew that his sons may have guessed it too. He wondered at his own behavior—perhaps his actions had given it away, had made it seem there might be something wrong with Raphael, some weakness—or did they, as rats did, sense it, like an odor, a weak link among them, that small vulnerability?
Normally he would not have watched—he would have pulled Leonardo out, put his foot down, and that would be it. But his sons were always telling him things, always hinting at who they really were, who they were starting to become. So he knew when to hang back, when to be silent and observant, and let his children tell him the story through the poetry of their actions.
Raphael had not yet even tried to walk. He had never once pulled himself into a standing position by the things around him, which even Michelangelo had done several times, and which Leonardo and Donatello had been doing for months. He had learned to crawl fast and well and stuck with it—the pragmatic sort, it seemed, who stayed with whatever worked best for him. Splinter had begun to be uneasy—he knew from the length of their legs that their new bodies were meant to walk upright, just as he did, and Raphael would get in far more trouble being so close to the ground in sewer tunnels. If they had safer and cleaner lives, a safer and cleaner home, then Splinter would not have minded, perhaps, that his son developed at such an odd pace—he would have let the child move at whatever speed he wished, only pushing occasionally when he felt he needed it. But Raphael must learn to run fast and soon to evade crocodiles—he must learn to jump and climb after, to avoid toxic spills and floods—he must learn to slink and dart immediately following, to outmaneuver humans. Splinter needed his son to walk perhaps as much as Leonardo needed to see it.
Raphael watched his brother with interested eyes, as though he knew precisely what he was about, and didn't seem to be buying. Smiling at Leo, his hand drifted towards his mouth as he observed, but Leo's little digits swung out immediately, hitting the hand away.
"No! Warui! Bad, Raphi! Walk! Kike!"
Raphael looked from his hand to Leonardo. "Hihey?"
"Kike! K! Kike! Listen a'me! Walk!"
Walking was like the K sound—Raphael could omit it and still get what he needed because he was still understood, so he didn't comprehend why he needed to learn it.
And it was then that Splinter knew his son Raphael. He knew he would have to teach him by making necessity very clear—his second youngest was not the type to follow blindly, to accept dogma, to do without questioning. He walked—or crawled—a lonely path, and would deal with his obstacles in the way that made the most sense, in the way that he believed worked the best. He would not take orders without knowing why he must carry them out. And Splinter marveled. He had thought that perhaps Raphael might be slow, or behind, or slightly off.
But he had only been waiting for a reason to walk.
And so Splinter set out in making everything abundantly clear to Raphael, with negative associations and pain, if he must. He began to pretend he couldn't understand a word if it omitted the K. He placed small objects on the ground that made constant crawling painful on the hands, until Raphael learned to avoid them. He lowered the playpen walls, but refused to lift Raphael out when he wanted to play with his older brothers. The child was stubborn, gave him glares, moped and cried, looking confused, and sucked on a sore hand more and more. Michelangelo began walking. Raphael was left alone in the playpen, staring at his siblings walking about the burrow.
Then one day, without warning, Raphael began to cry. He didn't fall asleep. He didn't take any food. He refused a bottle. He didn't scream, or talk, or babble—he didn't seem to want attention, or comfort—he leaned against the wall of the playpen, huddled into himself, while tears drizzled incessantly from his eyes, inconsolable. During the day, Leonardo sat near to him constantly, or reached over the wall and patted his shell, speaking in lower tones.
"Raphi, walk. We walk, 'kay? You walk, we can play. Walk, play. No cry. Nakanaide."
And during the day, Splinter too would often sit by the pen, rubbing his son on the back, wondering if he would ever run out of tears, when the exhaustion would set in, but it never did. He did not know what to say—reminding Raphael that he did what he did so he would walk had only deepened the child's confusion.
Then, at his wit's end, Splinter began to speak, as he would to an adult, not knowing how much his son would understand, but praying that his desperation and fear for Raphael would get through.
"My son—I know you are not ready to walk. I know you are nowhere near ready, because whenever you are ready to do anything, you do it passionately and throw your entire heart into it. You know yourself like none of your brothers comprehend their own spirits. I know this is terribly unfair to you, and if I had any other choice I would let you crawl until the day you felt ready to move on. But Raphael, we live a dangerous life. Your brothers can now all climb and hide swiftly at the slightest alarm. They can all accompany me while I scavenge for our food, and slip into hiding places—while you, Raphael, are trapped. You cannot even climb over these small walls that surround you, and you have never tested your legs with your own weight. You must try, Raphael. I must push you because you are so vulnerable, because… because I wish for you to live. I cannot bear to lose you, my strong little son. You understand me—I can see it."
It was true—Raphael looked up at him, amber eyes over-bright, but he showed that Splinter's words, more than just the tone, had had an effect. He had a large vocabulary. He knew what Splinter meant by "live." He now knew that walking wasn't the end of a strange process, but a means to other ends that he hadn't understood before.
Later that evening, Splinter felt a small plucking on his robes as he prepared dinner, and looked down, expecting Leonardo. He gazed, and saw Leonardo's smiling face.
But no. It couldn't be Leonardo. Leonardo's front teeth were completely grown in, as were his incisors, and he never grinned with such gleeful abandon, as though happiness were the only emotion he had ever known, his entire heart thrown into that one feeling with all the passion of…
The playpen was empty.
The song of the sea knows it was a lullaby for his children, many a year ago—it has recorded them, and he can hear their voices. Rain to ocean to tears. He misses them suddenly, and mourning his dead Yoshi does not soothe the feeling. As though his master's ashes float upon the surf, he feels the presence growing closer, all of his life curving into an infinite snake. It implores him to watch his sons again, and listen to their stories, and the truth will find him. The story is endlessly changing. Leonardo and Raphael. A truth he may have been too close to see, a picture formed of speckles.
Splinter awoke, disoriented for a time, before he recalled where he was. Too many years living underground, and now the rustle of trees, the break of water—the home of the Ancient One. He lit a candle and, as though summoned, his strangely-proportioned host appeared in the doorway to the guest room.
"Spintah-san, yooh are sinking lotsu about dis, eh? Dat Foot ninja got yo fur up in a knot."
Splinter found it amusing that the Ancient One didn't speak to him in Japanese unless it was a matter of vital importance because, as his host had explained, "I needs to pactisu my Egirisu, Spintah-san." Splinter could not help but think of how his sons—Michelangelo in particular—would accept the Ancient One's humorous accent. He could see his youngest mimicking him the moment a door closed, and Raphael chuckling deeply, perhaps imitating the old, fat walk while Donatello egged them on with ideas, all while Leonardo hid his smiles thinly, before breaking down and laughing. He could see the looks that his twins would exchange in these moment, as though surprised they were getting along so well. It had not always been so. He had once been unable to separate them, incapable of cutting through the bonds that stuck them together, somehow—too close. Something in that closeness had finally rotted them inside, ate at a piece of their souls—had made a maddened perfectionist of Leonardo, and fashioned an irrational rage within Raphael—and turned two twins into foes, mirror images at war, a mockery of self-hate.
"It is an outlandish claim, and backed by no proof whatsoever… and yet, I feel I would be a fool to dismiss everything I have heard out of hand. There is a grain of truth to this, and I must sift through many grains to find it."
"And yooh do not sink going to yo home is da best road, Spintah-san?"
"I have been finding meditation on this matter difficult, Ancient One. I am… greatly disturbed."
"I know yo son, Leonaado. He is good boy—demo…. Too pahfect, Spintah-san. Sink he bettah dan his otouto—dere isa darkness in dat, in hem. He have uh pride, an a darkness, an heeden sings in hes heart. He have uh secret, Spintah-san. Yooh be uh careful, ne? He a daaahk kumquat."
This was not an assessment Splinter had expected—he had known, of course, that Leo's meeting with the Ninja Tribunal had gone badly and he had not impressed the Ancient One, who had insulted his proud son, called him out on his feelings of superiority, and had left him lying in the dust, like a failure. The lesson had been humility, and Leonardo had not taken away enough of it from the encounter.
"Sleeping help, Spintah-san. Oyasumi," and blew out the candle. Splinter had no choice—like a child—but to do as he was told. The trees rustled again, the waves cradled the shore, the island, the world.
He feels a weight in his lap, and perhaps it is the forceful, yet tenuous power of desperate wishing, that he gazes down and finds a bright-eyed son cuddled in his lap. This one is perhaps four, wearing a ninja mask of bright red, and still he can almost see Leonardo's face in it, despite the differentiating colors. Leonardo is ocean, and Raphael fire, quelled by his brother's force yet never done smoldering beneath the earth's crust, ready to explode and encroach upon the sea with more land, and more still, upon which further tangles of vegetation shall grow, drawing fish out onto the land, a force of transformation—waiting for its time, for a plate to shift, some cataclysm, and its explosion is both a start and end of worlds. Yet the sea is constant, unchanging, unflinching. It will be there to quench and cool the fire, reduce its power with a sizzle and a hiss, and gently return to that infinity again, uncaring as the spark grows dim. The fire is evanescent, and it speaks of death—it despairs, because the water shall be there forever, a crushing force incubating and weighing down on it, a deep pressure.
Yet fire is at the core, the center of the Earth, and the oceans will dissipate without its gravitational power holding them in place, letting them float into the cold vacuum of space, lost and powerless. So are his sons, ocean and fire, a dance of power unseen, movements a ballet of invisible forces. There is no one to know for sure who came into being first, nor who will be standing last, fore neither can exist without the other, and when smoke swirls over the surface of water, they seem at last a pair of strange twins, partners in unseemly semblances.
The sea knows it is the oldest storyteller, and Splinter must learn from its wisdom—only Leonardo can tell him his story, only his sons know the song of their lives. He must go to the source, the edge of the world, mouth of all rivers.
Raphael's voice, kanata kara, from far away—
"It's rotting inside of me."
The day Splinter decided his sons were two big for one bed was an organic one—Michelangelo, who had been pushed out onto the floor by a kicking Donatello, had hit his head, and chaos reined during the night, following his youngest son's screaming and disorientation. He had been considering it for some time—Raphael and Leonardo both spoke of nightmares, yet being in the same bed, they never came to their father for comfort—they clung to one another and fed the terrible dreams like poison, keeping their contents secret from him, protecting one another from help. He used their size as an excuse, and fashioned bunks for them. It was an enjoyable project, all his four-year-old sons chiming in, bringing nails and tools and wood and laughing. They did not seem to understand what they were building, except perhaps Donatello—who, bless him, held his tongue.
Leonardo and Raphael never received a separation well, and there would be many in their lives to overcome. Splinter felt a pain in his heart each time he must inflict this life-saving lesson upon them—it felt like cruelty, but they must grow up, to be their own people, to learn to look outward, and not be reliant on their twisted reflections.
Splinter made them a concession, placing Raphael in the bunk above Leonardo, in deference to the latter's fear of heights—he should be safe in bed at least, even if he must face that fear in the rest of the world. He wanted them to still be aware of the others presence, to hear one another's breathing, and feel each other's movements, so the transition would not be so jarring. He placed a guardrail on Michelangelo's bunk, knowing the pain of falling out of bed would be with him for a while yet, and let his sons help him place on the old linens and pillows, before he allowed them to explore their new sleep area. Michelangelo was a bundle of excitement, jumping up and down from his mattress to the ground, doing flips onto Donatello's bed below his own—his happiness was infectious, as Donatello set out testing the nails and weight support, examining the ladder, sanding down imperfections. But it was Leonardo and Raphael that Splinter watched, and he was nervous at what he saw.
Leonardo accepted this change with docility, revealing nothing—he leaned against the wall, sitting in the dark cave made by the bed above him, his knees bent. He looked older than he was, resigned. Raphael, meanwhile, stood awkwardly by, observing the scene with a disturbing new quiet.
"Raphael—you should go up to the bunk above Leonardo's."
Raphael gazed at him, with wide amber eyes. "Why?"
'Why' was Raphael's new favorite word—he said it incessantly, questioning absolutely everything his father said, forcing Splinter, sometimes nearing the end of his patience, to explain the necessity of every order. Splinter had learned already the inefficacy of "because I said so."
"Because you need to get used to it, my son."
"Because you will be sleeping in it."
"Because you are all too big for one bed."
"Why not two beds?"
"Because you shall outgrow that too, very quickly."
Raphael blinked, digesting this. He could be very articulate, and absorbed words, as he always had, with the efficiency of a sponge. Leonardo was now watching out of the corner of his eye—they were clearly his questions just as well.
"I don't want to." Also a favorite phrase of Raphael's—though he typically had good reasons, and his father had learned to listen before he dismissed them. Raphael often asked why, and he expected whys in return.
"And why is that, Raphael?"
"It's gonna be cold."
"We have extra blankets for that, Raphael."
"It's gonna be quiet."
"You will be in the same room with all your brothers, and o-nii-san is just below you, see?"
"What if… what if the ceiling falls down?"
Splinter quirked his head, and gazed on at his child. He never heard imaginings like this out of Raphael's mouth—they were somehow too abstract for his stolid, realistic son. Michelangelo was the one for wild flights of fantasy, Donatello could think of any course in any situation that could go wrong or right, and Leonardo had a well-hidden morbidity, influenced by what he read. Raphael was practical. He knew ceilings seldom fell for no reason and without warning—hopefully.
Leonardo's reaction told Splinter more than Raphael's statement had, as the child rolled jerkily off his bunk and came towards his little brother, pulling him away by the arm. Splinter made a sharp gesture for Leonardo to desist, and watched them both carefully—Raphael, afraid, and Leonardo, veiled apprehension.
"You are hiding something from me, my sons. Leonardo—let go of your brother and allow him to explain his fears."
A look passed between them—Splinter had a suspicion they knew each other's glances better than he did, and that was a disadvantage—but he could have sworn the message in his eldest's eyes was a warning.
"Raphi just saw a tunnel caved in, that's all. And the subways make the ground shake sometimes. So… so he thinks there's a chance it might happen again. That's okay," Leonardo explained, a wonder of articulation, but defensive.
Splinter smiled slightly at Raphael. "And you believe sleeping next to o-nii-san will protect you?"
Raphael gave him a slightly incredulous look; his next gaze at Leonardo, admiring, told Splinter very clearly his answer: O-nii-san can do anything.
Splinter often feared that it was Leonardo's linguistic abilities—the way he was constantly perfecting them, and always speaking other languages—that made him seem so powerful. He could argue any situation, and seldom lost his nerve or his reason. He could logic like a child 6 years older than himself. Yet that power was the way in which he bullied Raphael—he was amazing and could vindicate himself of anything, work the truth around to serve the moment best, while Raphael's feelings always broadcasted the truth for him. It was true that Raphael had some degree of strangeness—a result, perhaps, of being so backwards, so unimaginative, always doing what worked instead of the conventional way or the enjoyable way. Leonardo hid this strangeness, bullied Raphael until he pushed negative feelings inward, where they met succor, an enlarging secret that led to further strangeness, and the cycle continued on.
Splinter knew this, now his sons were seventeen, but he had been too close then. He had always known Leonardo was a bully, but had never seen all the intricacies, or his reasons. Leonardo bullied so he would then be needed—he hurt and then received his brother when he was the only person to turn to, for the reason of a malady that rested partly in the imagination, a grotesque doll come to life.Leonardo hid Raphael's growing strangeness and thus his own fears. He needed to be needed.
Splinter came to their room to check on his sons after they had gone to bed, and stopped short. No lump indicated Raphael and, sighing, he reached towards Leonardo's covers, tugged them back, and looked, torn between trepidation and affection, at his sons tightly twisted together in sleep, Leonardo's legs wrapped protectively around Raphael's knees. He knew that to attempt separation at the moment would cause a scene and wake all four of them, so he slipped out again, oiling the wall with his shadow.
The next morning, Splinter took them aside individually, away from the knot of secrets and fear they nestled between them. He started with Raphael, still the easier of the two, who was far less adept at hiding things. Later he would learn to transform emotions into anger, effectively hiding much of what really bothered him—at four, however, he was a constant pinball of feelings, ever in motion, with range and speed on his side as well.
"Raphael—perhaps it is time we spoke about good and bad dreams. I have always thought you had very earthly dreams, ones that might frighten you, but that one can still reason away. Yet somehow I sense that dreams which were once common are now recurring, an obsession of your mind."
Raphael watched his father for a moment, digesting. "What does obsession mean?"
Splinter smiled—another one for his son's repertoire. "It is the act of being unable to stop thinking about or doing something."
"So… so, obsession of the mind is something I can't stop thinkin' about?"
"Yes, my son. What do you find yourself thinking about very often?"
Raphael thought for a long moment. "Umm… not stepping on bugs. When I walk around, I don't like stepping on bugs."
This was a strange confession from the child who thrilled in getting dirty, squelching around in mud and sewage, and who seemed to fear very little, as his imagination rarely ran away with him. The rather disgusting nature of stepping on insects couldn't be the reason.
"And why is that, Raphael?"
Raphael seemed to hunch into himself. "Mikey said if I stepped on them, they'd get back at me. I thought it was dumb, and then a whole bucket load of these little white wormy things attacked my h-head." As though the very memory were terrifying, Raphael's shoulders quivered, and tears welled in his eyes.
Splinter tapped his chin—the sewers could be rough, but he could not find it in himself to believe that hundreds of maggots simply fell on someone's head just after such a convenient prognostication, unless a scheme was involved.
"But Leonardo can protect you from this insect revenge, Raphael?"
Raphael smiled a bit through his tears and nodded fervently.
"I see. And this cave-in—did your brother speak truthfully? Have you become afraid that the ceiling will fall after seeing that?"
Raphael's eyes shifted around—he was not yet old enough to fully understand the ramifications of saying Leo had been incorrect, but he was also not an adept liar.
"No… had a dream the ceiling fell down and that's how the wormies'll get me… but Leo keeps me safe. They live in the walls, I've seen them. I think the ceiling cracked that one time they fell on me."
Splinter blinked, sadly. His son's fears both made sense and filled the child with confusion. The one non-practical element was Leonardo, who couldn't possibly protect his brother from a cave-in simply by being in the same bed, but Raphael had been driven to believe it through a series of associations—go to o-nii-san when scared, receive protection from maggots, and thus from cave-ins that produce maggots.
Splinter moved on to his oldest, watching his son closely. He had a definite dislike for their secrecy—it scared him, hid from him the story of his children and the ways for him to help them.
"Leonardo. Your brother is vulnerable to your suggestion and frightened. You must not encourage his fears."
Leonardo watched him steadily, unresponsive other than a respectful nod.
"Do you understand what I mean by this, Leonardo? You must tell him to sleep in his own bed, no matter what you may feel. If you are frightened"—
"I'm not scared, sensei."
"I think that you may be hasty in saying that, Leonardo. Do not deny your own fears."
Leonardo's gaze was steady and silent—he was a piercing, mature child, who could quake his father's bones.
"Leonardo… the maggots. Did you drop them on your brother's head from above? Answer me truthfully."
The child did not answer with anything more than a flicker of the eyes—his father had the sudden urge to whack him.
"And last week—the dead rat? Do not attempt to lie."
Leonardo pursed his lips together, but it was all the answer his father needed. The old rat sighed.
"Why would you do such terrible things to your brother? He thinks you are amazing, Leonardo—you do not wish to live up to this?"
The child shrugged, appearing listless. "I just… wanted him to like me…"
Splinter sat up straighter, looking hard at the child. "Raphael loves you, my son."
"Supposed to protect him," Leonardo mumbled. "How'm I supposed to be big brother if he's not scared of anything?"
Splinter sighed again, then reached forward with a clawed hand, and pulled Leonardo's chin up so they could look at each other. "So you tyrannize, and force strange fears on him with these odd tales and make yourself the demon killer? Leonardo… someday, when you are old enough to understand how important your brother is to you… you will regret bullying Raphael."
Leonardo froze at this, absorbing the words carefully. He had never been called a bully before that day.
"How come?" he asked, clear-eyed and curious.
"Because someday he will stop trusting the things you say to him, even when they are true, even when you say things to help or protect him. He will always remember a brother who hurt him and took advantage of his trust. That he believes your words is a sacred power that you must use wisely and virtuously, my son."
Leonardo glanced away, unable to look into his father's eyes; he seemed suddenly very much older. "But… it makes him so happy."
Splinter was taken aback; never before did he feel he knew his oldest so little. "Leonardo. Terrorizing your brother will not lead to his happiness"—
"He likes it when I protect him. He thinks he's special."
"Leonardo… your brother is very vulnerable. Of all of you, he walks the closest to danger—I am frightened for him, my son, and I require your assistance. Do not make protecting Raphael harder for me by giving him strange fears—protect him from the many real things that threaten us, and do not break his trust… Or I fear that we shall lose him."
This achieved Leonardo's full attention.
"Lose? I wouldn't lose him. He's not a… a sock."
If the situation wasn't so serious, Splinter might have had to bite back a smile.
"Not that kind of loss, Leonardo. When you lose a sock, it is still… still somewhere. I mean a kind of loss where—where Raphael would cease to be anywhere we could understand."
Leonardo appeared defiant. "Everything is somewhere."
Splinter sighed. "When you step on a bug—where does it go, my son?"
"It doesn't go anywhere. It's still right where I stepped on it. It can't go anywhere anymore," Leonardo protesting—yet somehow he did not appear confused.
"Yes, my son—but it is no longer thinking, or feeling."
"Then—then it's asleep."
"Nor dreaming, my son."
Leonardo opened his mouth slightly, blinked, then closed it. He swallowed.
"That wouldn't happen to Raphi."
"Leonardo… that is what I mean by loss. And it happens very easily. If your brother cannot trust you when you are older, he could very well disappear. And you would not have him any longer, or ever again."
His son blinked a bit longer; this appeared a bit beyond his immediate comprehension, so great and so terrible an idea. Forever was a concept his children had not a full grasp of yet. Then his arm lanced out, as though drawn by a sudden force, and hit the table; he half-rose; his eyes looked slightly wild, wide open and strange.
"No—no—no, no, no"—
Splinter reached out a hand to calm him. "Leonardo… I say this because I want you all to live, to be safe—and that is so hard in this world we inhabit—it is so hard, my son, and so easy to be lost…"
"It was just a buncha stupid maggots!"
"No, Leonardo… it was a terrible, terrible thing to do, for such reasons. You shall see this someday, if not today. But I must help you begin in that understanding. Your brother is precious, because his strengths so easily can become weaknesses in the wrong hands. Yours are hands that know him best, and you twist your knowledge into harm—and someday you will twist too hard and he will see you, Leonardo, and you will lose him. You are very, very old for your age, and I fear you shall always be. That gives you power, and you must not abuse it."
"I… Master Splinter… I don't want him to… to go away. I wouldn't make him go away. I like him."
"You must not love with hands that crush, Leonardo."
Raphael is perhaps the only thing his son Leonardo has ever liked strongly. Splinter has known Leonardo to love many things—his family, and honor, and martial arts, and reading—but to like, really like, is a feeling always reserved for a person nestled down within Raphael that perhaps the rest of them cannot see. Family is not made up of friends one would choose, yet Splinter wonders about his twins—they are magnets, and had they not been brothers, we wonders what they would have been instead. He knows, steadfastly, that they would not be strangers. Nor enemies. Perhaps not even friends. They are used to occupying categories for each other that most social creatures have, but their family does not and never can—friends, rivals, infatuations, obsessions, scapegoats, mirrors, admirations, longings, commanding and possessing, fighting and sharing, tangled together in a knot, interwoven lives and minds, their personalities tied to one another. They have made each other, playing brother's mother, bequest of the mind.
The sea is mother of memory and tomorrows, and it knows his sons—amphibious beings, they, like all creatures, come from water, but in a much less distant memories; Splinter wonders if, in the white blur of memory's shadow, they recall a whirl of animal liquid, the dizzying spin of smoke-like reflections on glass walls, in the way that perhaps some might remember the somnambulistic singsong sanguine world of the womb.
He wonders why his twins cannot seem to live without hurting one another; was there something in that water world, some sense of oneness they possessed, that they crave again, and that his other sons somehow evolved beyond? A jolt in the DNA processes, that haphazard, accidental blast, unprecedented and unasked.
They push at the barrier between skin and skin, living bone and shell, puzzling at the imperfect mirrors they have made of one another, smoke and water, melting mirrors and frosted ice. They are used to occupying other roles for one another, two personalities whom sewers cannot contain, outlets into which frustrations and dreams and furies can be released, to tear apart and reflect back, endlessly refracting woes.
Splinter had seen his eldest cry perhaps once of twice in the child's first ten years of life, and never in the presence of the others. Leonardo seemed incapable of revealing tears to his brothers, unwilling to allow them to see his weaknesses, and Splinter, understanding the child's need to have his transcendent strength—especially with a twin who could look so weak—allowed him to cry and have nothing more said about it.
When his sons were ten, and Splinter had the den to himself why his sons were out playing near the lair, he one day heard the door bang open; Leonardo rushed in, hardly recognizable but for a flash of blue—he was covered, nearly head to toe, in mud. Automatically, Splinter snatched up a towel, wetted it, and made a cursory scrub of his son's face, to see his expressions—wide water tracks smeared the child's cheeks, and more tears spilled over after his face was half-clean.
"Leonardo—what happened? Are your brothers safe? Where are Raphael and Michelangelo?"
"W—with Donnie," Leonardo stammered, then sniffed; he sounded as though he had repressed a sob. "Raphi's f-fine, I promise."
Splinter smiled comfortingly and wiped a gob of mud from off his son's arm. "The mud wallowing is a sport normally reserved for your younger brothers. What made you decide to take it up, my son?"
Leonardo was silent, abashed and cringing his teeth; Splinter tipped his eldest's chin up and made their eyes meet.
"M-Mikey was playing around and made a joke about Raphi being like our sister or something, and Raphi got mad—and he and I got in a—a fight, and I threw him in the mud and Donnie and Mikey were laughing, and I tried to get him out and he—he"—here Leonardo burst into tears, incomprehensible for a few moments, before continuing—"he said he wished—wished I'd disappear! And he meant it! Raphi hates m-me, Master Splinter! Why d's he hate me?!"
Splinter was taken aback, but masked it; he supposed he had been waiting for another upset since the pigeon died. "Leonardo… I doubt that is true. I doubt it very much. Raphael loves you, like none of your brothers. He must have been truly upset to say such a thing… he has been holding onto his emotions much more since… since his pet. You know this, Leonardo. He has become… strange, since then." He stopped himself from saying stranger—it was often too easy to confide in Leonardo his worries, because the child seemed so much older; such confusion could be dangerous, and Splinter curbed it.
But Leonardo could sense it too. Raphael had always had an obstinate streak, always done things his own odd, backward way; yet since the death of his bird, and the toxic shock poisoning, and no longer allowed his rodent and avian companions—nursing having been one of the few things he and he alone was really good at—he turned inverted, sullen and macabre. Splinter had found stacks of torn-out obituary sections from moist newspapers, magazine clippings of cows struck by foot-and-mouth disease, pictures of dead, bloodied children in terrorist-stricken countries, hidden in Raphael's sheets or under his pillow. All the images of peoples' faces had been scribbled over with hunks of red crayon, with enough force to drive holes through the paper. The child had collected bloodied feathers and hunks of animal fur, decayed flowers, the dried husks of dead flies found in spider webs, and secreted them in strange places around their home.
Self-hatred came into Leonardo's light brown eyes. "Because of me. He's weird now 'cause I killed his stupid bird."
Splinter held his son's cheek, felt a tear travel over his claw on its way to the ground.
"You and Raphael are more similar than you know—you must use that to learn compassion, Leonardo, rather than contempt. You are strong where he is not, but the reverse also applies. The strength to cry is perhaps as important as the strength not to."
Leonardo swallowed hard, drying his face. A tumult sounded from outside the den door, and Donatello and Michelangelo tumbled in, as though released from a canon—his youngest talked with the rapidity of a warbling sparrow, while Donatello quipped here and there, thoughtfully building momentum. They seemed to be discussing some childish invention; when they saw Leonardo, however, they swerved out of the room, exchanging glances.
Raphael then trailed in, a mud-caked trickle, almost unrecognizable himself—he watched the ground as he walked, half shame-faced, and half misery. He went toward the kitchen, towards the sink and the dishes, eyes retracted and glazed, impenetrable.
"Raphael," Splinter beckoned, stopping his son before he could fully retreat into mundane chores and escape from him, "you will come in here and speak with o-nii-san."
Raphael tossed a fork into the sink, half-turning. "I don't wanna speak. I'm never gonna talk again!"
Splinter banged his cane into the ground. "Raphael! Here! Now!"
Raphael pushed himself forcefully away from the counter, and almost trotted towards his father and brother, as though preparing himself for a jump and afraid be may lose all the bravery he needed for the feat. His eyes met Leonardo's for an instant, shot through with regret.
"I'm sorry…I didn't mean it. Really."
"Don't lie—you're not good at it," Leo murmured, full of deep-seated venom. He was hurt, and wanted dearly to hurt back.
Raphael's muscles tensed, and his body went rigid—he seemed to be teetering dangerously between tentativeness and rage. "I'm not lying! I was just—you laughed at me."
"So what—you just want me to go away? You want me to disappear, just because Mikey makes some joke about you?"
Raphael came back in strength. "Why don't you ever tell them not to laugh at me? Why don't you ever stand up for me?"
Leonardo balled his hands into fists; he went to looking away into a flurry of action, gesticulating for half a second before restraining himself, something straining just under the surface of his eyes.
"Why d'you have to cry about everything? What if you're crying and some human sees you because you're not thinking? What if we're fighting and someone hits you? What if other people make fun of you? You think they'll care when you start crying? They'll kill you, and you'll die, and then you'll disappear! So much for your stupid wishing! That's why ninjas don't cry, Raphi!"
Splinter banged his walking stick into the ground. "Leonardo, that is enough!"
"You said I'm supposed to protect him! How can I if he won't listen to me?"
"Why should I listen to you if you laugh at me?" Raphael countered, before their sensei could answer. Tears had sprung back into recently reddened eyes. "You're… you're just a jerk! Mikey puts bugs in my bed and holds me under sewage and makes jokes about me being a girl and locks me up with spiders, and you throw me in the mud and you all laugh at me! I don't do that to you! I always—I always tell them… tell Mikey… to stop—when…" He stopped and burst into tears. Michelangelo and Donatello hovered at the edge of Splinter's sight, peeking into the room from the doorway—they were glancing at each other with slightly guilty expressions. Leonardo had taken a step towards his younger brother, an arm upraised; he seemed to notice the others' presence very suddenly, and let the arm drop.
Splinter heaved a sigh. "Leonardo—you are the eldest of your brothers. You must stand up for your convictions and help impose justice, not hurt your brother with the group. Why would you laugh at him of you hate to see him cry?"
Leonardo's face was stony. "To make him get used to it, even if it hurts. People call things like us who live in sewers 'freaks'. If he thinks we're mean, he'll be a goner up there."
Raphael wrenched his hands down from his face; it had turned to rage with the suddenness of a spreading forest fire. "You're not supposed to be like them! You're my brother! I don't care what other people think a' me!"
Leonardo blinked, as though mulling over what that logically implied—Raphael cared about what he thought of him. Raphael was a bundle of mysteries, always hiding under tables and doing pedantic, repetitive tasks, dull-eyed and fathomless. His eyes flashed with fire now, revealing—perhaps mostly to Leonardo—hidden thoughts, a hidden being, stashed away under layers of insecurity and doubt and hurt, just as Leonardo froze himself under coldness and fear.
"You're crying because I laughed at you? I… I don't get it. You said you wanted me to disappear."
Raphael's eyes, though full of tears, remained lit, brightened and angry, but the anger focused inward, as though he peered into a looking glass.
"I wish I'd disappear," he said through clenched teeth, scrubbing the tears off his face with a strange violence. "You think I'm just a… a crybaby—at least I don't lie all the time and act like nothing bothers me, like I'm some sorta statue"—
Leonardo made a sudden grab at him, fists flailing, but Splinter caught him up.
"I'm not a statue! We can't all be like you, Raphi! You're the one who goes nuts and holds onto your dead birds and reads obituaries—if you weren't so crazy maybe I wouldn't have to be some sorta statue, you ever think of that?"
They gazed at each other for a long moment then, before shame and a look of sickness slowly washed over Leonardo, as though he'd said something without thinking. He opened his mouth as to speak again, but too late—Raphael's fist swung out to hit him in the face, before their father deftly caught it, and put an end to the situation.
"Raphael! You shall not strike your brother in anger, no matter how hurt you may feel."
Rage flecked his son's eyes; for the first time he had reacted with violence rather than poisonous words, in the way Leonardo had against him. "He lied. He told me I'm not crazy—he always did."
"Raphael—you know yourself that it seldom happens that one says what they mean when they are angry. Leonardo meant it when he said you were not insane—he said it then because he loves you, and he is angry now also because he loves you. You must learn to see this, my son."
Raphael's next comment was pointed right at Leonardo, louder too, to encompass his brothers hovering in the doorway. "That's how you act when you love someone, huh? And I'm the crazy one."
It was a strangely wise phrase out of his second-youngest's mouth, who had descended so long into silence over the last year, and would stay silent for many years more.
I wish I'd disappear.
The sea loves with hands that crush, a mother and a companion, dragging down with deadly, breathless gravity. It will give Raphael his wish, that guttering fire that sparks into life and vanishes just as quickly. Those opaque eyes, and moments of passion and loyalty, insane strength, flitting through his father's life, a sight at the corner of his vision, warming their family with his strong, silent presence, with honest tears and sincere rage and righteous anger—everything they think but never say, the letters of his movements and expressions. He is the unsubstantial—wishes and tears and dreams and fears. He is real—a solid person on a couch, a half-smile, the slash of a sai, the voice taking orders for pizza. He is both unremarkable and amazing. As Splinter meditates and sleeps, he sees his strong son, his wallflower, the last child, the late bloomer, the listener and watcher, the shadow and rock and heart of their family who defies the definitions his other sons possess. The child who can easily be leader, and the baby, and middle son—the fighter, the unsettled, the restless, the unfathomable.
The son whom the Foot has told him he has lost.