Author's Note:

I do not own the Ninja Turtles or any of their companions. That honor belongs to Mirage.

As always, I welcome any comments. Enjoy!

By KameTerra

Leonardo stood poised in the center of the warm glade, his katana returning glittering shards of sun to the azure sky. Eyes closed, he inhaled slowly, deeply—letting the vibrant energy of the late summer day permeate his every pore and fill his being before channeling it out through the bright columns of his blades. With the whispering breeze and the softly crooning insects as his instrumentals, he began the dance.

He moved slowly, deliberately about the grassy clearing, every part of his body acting in fluid synchrony with his gleaming weapons. The ninja sought to become one with his surroundings—he imagined his katana as flowing water, his limbs as supple branches bending in the breeze, and his skin as velvety leaves. Gradually, as the dance captivated him and increased in speed, he no longer had to consciously think about the movements but just allowed them flow from him like liquid through a funnel.

Then abruptly a coarse and unnatural sound punched through the barriers of his mental sanctuary, bringing him harshly back to reality.

"Hey, Leo, you comin' or what? We're all starvin' over here!"

Blinking, as if just waking up, Leo squinted at the sun almost directly above. He hadn't realized it had gotten so late. He straightened up and turned towards the direction of the voice. His three brothers were some distance away under the shade of a sprawling oak, and they had already begun to sift through the contents of a large basket filled with food. Or rather, Raphael and Donatello had—they were refusing to allow Michelangelo to get anywhere near the food, swatting him back every time he got too close.

Raphael was gleefully hording all of the sweets, piling them in his lap while shooting cruel grins at Mikey. Donatello was claiming all of the chips with a distinct air of self-righteousness. Mike, meanwhile, was frantically pleading with both of them while repeatedly trying to swipe some of the more choice items.

"Down boy, bad Mikey," said Raph, rapping Michelangelo's knuckles sharply with the pommel of a sai when they came too close to a parcel of brownies. Rubbing his hand and shooting his brother a look of pure loathing, Mike shifted his body slightly and risked a glance at Don's growing pile of salty crunchy delicacies.

"Don't even think about it," Don said warningly. "You might as well be projecting your thoughts above your head like a movie, they're that obvious."

"C'mon Donny, pleeeease dude, I swear I'll help carry next time!! I'll . . I'll bring everything back to the house myself!"

"Huh," snorted Raph. "Sure, when all the food and drinks are gone and everything's light as air, then you'll help. Nice try, dufus."

"Look, it's not so bad," said Don reasonably, firmly. "There's plenty left." He leaned over to dig through the picnic basket, and came up with a bag of carrot sticks.

He held them out to Mikey, dangling the bag enticingly and speaking as if to a small child. "Here you go, have some of these. They're nice and crunchy! Mmmmmm!" he said, trying to make the vegetables sound like a prize find.

Raphael laughed helplessly, and Mikey glared malignantly at the usually benevolent Donatello. "Very funny," he said scathingly. Then, ignoring both Raphael and the proffered bag of carrots, the orange-clad turtle considered his next move.

"Hey, hey Don," said Mike suddenly, eyes lighting up, "I know, I'll be, like, your indentured servant when we get back to New York! Yeah, I'll . . . I'll do whatever you want—I'll help with all of your projects, I'll go on salvage runs for you, whatever you want, all in exchange for some measly barbecue chips, and maybe some Cheetohs and popcorn . . ."

Don crossed his arms over his chest and raised his eye ridges at his younger brother.

"One week," he said in an uncompromising tone.

Mikey's shoulders sagged at this, but he looked from Don's eyes to the chips spread out on his lap, and sighed resignedly.

"Okay, deal."

Don passed him some chips accordingly, but Mikey wasn't about to give up there. He stared pitifully at the meager rations in his lap before looking up at Raphael, turning the full force of his wistful blue eyes on his cruel, greedy, red-masked older brother.

Raphael knew that ploy too well to fall for it completely, but he rolled his eyes and grumbled, "Oh, for Chrissake here, fetch." And he tossed an item from his lap out into the grass. Mike leapt after it like a happy puppy as Don's shoulders shook with silent laughter.

Leo had to smile their antics. He knew Don and Raph were just giving Mikey a hard time to amuse themselves. He was sure Mikey knew it, too, because it wouldn't have been too hard to steal some of the food if he really wanted to. They were all ninjas, after all. But what would be the fun in that? After they made Mikey suffer for a while, Leo knew all the food would be shared.

Some things never changed.

"I'll be over in a minute, save something for me," Leo called to them.

He could have kept on going with his exercise—for some reason, he didn't feel the least bit tired from it—but he realized that he was looking forward to hanging out with his brothers today. This was a rare chance to spend some time with them the way he liked best—free from his responsibilities as leader, free from danger, free to joke and laugh with them. Free to be their brother and nothing more.

Feeling relaxed and happy, Leo stood a few moments longer in the clearing, enjoying the rare gift of being able to stand full in the warm embrace of the sun. As he stretched his limber muscles, the turtle reveled in the feeling of being young and fit and at peace. He breathed deeply of the perfumed air—of sweet grass, sun-baked soil, and just a hint of pine wafting in from some hidden ridge.

He looked around him at the almost unbelievably vivid colors of the Massachusetts summer landscape. Even the hues of his brothers' masks seemed especially intense, matching the clarity of their surroundings. The day was pleasantly warm, the leaves and the grass effusively emerald, but the tingling breeze ordained that soon the greens would transition to rusts and golds before fading to the monochrome grays of winter.

But not today, Leo thought. Not just yet.

Finally, with a feeling of happy anticipation, he began to walk towards his family, the grass threading between his toes and the plumed seed heads tickling his knees with each stride.

Tickling his knees . . .

No, tickling just one knee . . .

That wasn't right.

Slowly, the smells of summer faded and the colors leached away, like paints swirling down a drain. The feelings remained a while longer, however, and Leonardo was loath to let them go, so he kept his eyes closed against the unwelcome pull of wakefulness.

But the gentle, featherlike sensation against his knee persisted, and slowly the reality of the world settled back on him in the form of stiff joints and aching bones.

Leo opened his eyes to see a young child standing at his knee, delicately tracing his skin with moth wing touches as he sat in the overstuffed armchair. The child was looking down and did not yet know he was awake, and Leonardo smiled as he did every time he saw her. He used the opportunity to appraise the girl, noting the long lashes of her downcast eyes, the poutiness of her lips that would have boys fawning at her feet when she grew older, and the red-gold shade of her fine hair that perfectly matched the color of the sun rising beyond the window pane.

Three generations, and April's red hair still shows through, he thought with satisfaction.

"Good morning, Child," he said softly to her.

She looked up at him with wide blue eyes. She was still dressed in warm pajamas, and he noticed the residual sleepiness that clung to her.

"Does your Grammy know you're awake?" Leo asked her gently.

She solemnly shook her head.

"Do you want to sit with me for a while?"

She nodded, and reached up to him as he pulled her gently up onto his lap. His hands, with their massive digits and arthritic knuckles, made her seem even smaller and more delicate by comparison. She snuggled closely up against his plastron, and he hooked an arm securely around her.

They sat quietly and comfortably together for a time, the little girl slowly running her fingers along the grooves between the scutes of his plastron. She was still waking up, he knew. So was he—he hadn't intended to fall asleep in the chair again, but it was becoming harder and harder to resist sleep when he grew tired. Gone were the times, as in his dreams, when he could move about with grace and ease. These days, getting his body moving in the mornings was the hard enough, especially during winter. His joints resisted most painfully then. If it weren't for the athleticism born of a lifetime of keeping fit, he knew he'd be less mobile still.

The child's fingers continued to explore his plastron, now moving along artificial grooves carved into it during some dimly remembered battle. He stroked her downy hair with his gnarled hand, and she looked up at his touch and smiled shyly. Then her fingers moved along his shoulder and slowly over the familiar texture of the rim of his shell.

He marveled at how much children had to learn in a short amount of time—how their minds started out like stiff-dried sponges, greedily soaking in knowledge that came from everything around them. Visual, olfactory, tactile knowledge—all of it equally important. The girl's hands never stopped moving, exploring, learning. She felt the grainy surface of the exposed bony plating on the edge of his shell where a portion of the scute had been gouged off long ago. That battle and its aftermath he remembered clearly, though most times he chose not to dwell on such things.

Then her eyes caught on something else, and she leaned across his chest to his other shoulder. She frowned thoughtfully as she traced his leathery skin—first along the angry lines of a double slash over the once-muscular shoulder, and then fingering an irregularly puckered oval above his right collar bone.

"What are these, Uncle Leo?" came her whispered, childish voice.

"Those are scars," he answered simply. "From old battle wounds."

She looked up at him, obviously trying to process this new information.

"Scars," she repeated softly, trying to familiarize herself with the word.

And there was another miracle. A human child, with so much potential contained in such a small body, was born without any knowledge of scars, or regret, or suffering. She looked questioningly up at him, and he couldn't resist kissing her smooth forehead.

Leo explained, "When you get hurt, like when you fall and scrape your knees, sometimes the injury is deep enough and it leaves a scar to remind you of it."

"Does it hurt to get them?" she asked curiously.

"Yes," he answered honestly. "But most of the pain goes away with time."

She resumed her tactile exploration for a while before asking, "Do any of them still hurt?"

Leo thought seriously about how to answer; then he gently took one of her small hands and pressed it to the left side of his neck. She felt with her fingers, then peered in close to see the pale thread of a scar, barely visible and certainly not as textured as the others she had found. The child wrinkled her nose doubtfully.

"It's not very big," she stated in the high-pitched little voice that he found irresistible.

"No," he agreed. It had been a token injury at best—no stitches necessary, no time off from training. Just a few butterfly strips and that was it.

He took her hand again, and this time he placed it flat on the center of his plastron, over his heart. The he covered her hand over with his own and held it there.

"The hurt stays in here," he said, looking into eyes as round as saucers and as innocent as new snow.

He released her hand from under his, and she put both chubby arms around his neck. Then she tucked her head in close in the hollow of his shoulder and kissed the thin scar. He held her to him for a long moment, feeling the warmth and softness of her, her downy hair tickling his chin. Then she pulled away to look at his face.

"That should make it better," she said confidently, and he could only nod in response as his throat burned and his eyes filled with emotion.

If only things were that simple.

He pulled her in for another hug, and then she snuggled back down alongside his arm. She yawned, growing sleepy again, but from her next words it was obvious she was still thinking about everything.

"Will I have battle wounds, too, someday?"

"No, Child," he answered, tightening an arm around her.

"But will I have scars, someday?" she asked.

"I'm afraid you will," Leo answered gently, cuddling her closer. "But they're not so bad. Sometimes, even if they still hurt here," he tapped the girl's chest, "you don't mind so much because they help you remember things."

She looked up at him and smiled before leaning her head against his chest. He rubbed her back gently and gradually he felt her small body relax and her breathing become slow and even.

Only then did he allow the memories to own him, and tears coursed down his face as past events played like a home movie in his head—choppy, muted, grainy, but bittersweet with emotion that would never fade. Every memory was precious, and he didn't want to let go of a single one. Not ever.

Even if some of them still hurt.

He sniffled slightly, feeling foolish and hoping April or Casey wouldn't suddenly come downstairs looking for their wayward granddaughter and find him like this.

Glancing back down at the precious child he held, he felt inexplicably comforted. Just looking at her warmed his soul.

"You didn't ever know your Uncle Raph," Leo said out loud to the now-sleeping child.

"But I'll make sure you get to. He and your Grampy were great friends . . ."