"There are some things that people were just never meant to find out."
Trying to ignore the tears that threatened to mar his vision, Splinter raced through the dark streets as quickly as he could. The letter he had clenched in his hand was the only thing that kept reminding him that this was the worst possible time to be overcome by his feelings. His son needed him. And if he had been too blind to see it before, he certainly was not going to ignore this now.
"I don't mean to make you feel bad, but the look on your face hurt more than any cut."
It had only been a few hours before that Splinter had noticed the strange markings on his son's forearms. Quiet observation proved them to be scars, but they looked far too neat to be simply the haphazard souvenirs of battle. A rather unsettling thought had entered his head, and the more Splinter dwelled on it, the more certain he was of the facts.
"I know you'll never understand why I do it, and I know that it's not the smartest thing to do, but that was just another reason to hide behind the smiles."
Pausing at a dark corner to catch his breath, Splinter leaned against a wall and willed himself not to sob. Though his body tried to tell him that he had to stop, he couldn't do that. If he was too late, too late because of a short pause for his own sake, then who knows what might happen? He had an idea, based on the letter, but he couldn't permit himself to go down that road.
"I'm sorry, Sensei. I can't explain myself. All I can say is that it was hard to keep hiding behind smiles. Maybe this was a sign that it was time to stop hiding."
After a few harsh pants, Splinter pushed himself off the wall, thinking he heard someone approaching. He needed to keep moving. He was only a few blocks away from the park described in the letter. Coming across a human would only complicate matters, and he certainly didn't need anymore complications.
"Do you remember the place where you used to take us on picnics? I missed those days. I guess I just wanted to feel like that."
He had never taken his son for the cryptic sort, but Splinter could only view that line as a clue as to his whereabouts. What would he find there? And why was the entire letter written in the past tense? Seeing the park come into view, Splinter doubled his speed, no longer caring if he was seen now that his destination was within sight.
"I never expected it to be you to see that side of me. I expected it to be one of the guys. But you… I'm sorry. I don't think it's possible for me to face you, knowing that you know."
The humidity clung to Splinter's fur as he sped to where he remembered taking the boys when they were young. As he neared the spot, he saw something lying on the ground. His heart squeezed itself into his throat when he realized that it was the dim outline of a shell.
"People say that this sort of thing is a cry for help. But it's not. This had nothing to do with anyone else. This was just my way of dealing with my own problems. I never meant for my cries to be heard."
The tears fell as the normally-agile Splinter stumbled as he approached the figure lying on the ground. Falling to his knees, it was all he could do to crawl towards his shadowy son, somehow recognizing the hoarse whimpers that reached his ears as his own.
"I know I can't ask you not to be angry or disappointed. And that's why I won't. I'll just… go."
Crying, Splinter placed a wavering hand on his son's shoulder, feeling another indescribable emotion well up within him. Inside, he felt hope. And that was because, on the outside… he could feel Michelangelo's shoulder trembling. His son wasn't dead. He may have felt that way, but he wasn't actually dead.
Trying to pull himself back together, Splinter leaned his forehead against Michelangelo's head, feeling the turtle shake with his own sobs. "Please don't tell me you're crying," Michelangelo whimpered. "I feel bad enough as it is."
"Michelangelo," Splinter gasped out, "had I possessed less restraint and had been in better physical condition upon receiving your note, my emotional state would be the least of your worries. As it is, be thankful that I have neither the desire nor the ability to be outraged." His words would have ordinarily been accompanied by a touch of wryness, but it was all he could do to kneel there in the grass, holding his weeping son.
At length, Michelangelo seemed to finally find the strength to raise himself into a sitting position. Splinter eyed him worriedly, but said nothing. With the slightest trace of anger in his voice, Michelangelo croaked out, "I wasn't gonna kill myself, you know."
Observing that his son still hadn't looked at him, Splinter looked down for a moment. Though it may have been his own wishful thinking, it sounded as though Michelangelo was telling the truth. "In that case," Splinter asked, "why would you commit harm to your own body?"
No answer was offered for a long time. Finally, blinking away a fresh store of tears, Michelangelo turned to look at his father. "Life's supposed to make you feel alive. All I felt was numb. Numb about the stuff that the bad guys were doing to the world, numb about the fact that the world I care so much about can't accept that I exist. When you're hurting, your mind flashes with the things that make life worth living. I wasn't cutting myself because I wanted to die, Sensei. I cut myself so I could feel alive."
He looked away again, looking a little dazed. "I don't want to die. I never struck a vein, I never got addicted to it, and I never dared myself to see how deep I could make the cut. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's something that helped. I knew that it's considered bad, and I knew that people would think there's something wrong with me if anyone ever found out. So maybe there is something wrong with me if I'm not happy with being numb. Donnie's got his machines and Raph's got his fights and Leo's got his training. They risk getting hurt with those things all the time, but they do it because it keeps them happy. A kid can only live vicariously through comic books for so long."
For a moment—only a moment—Splinter was at a loss. He didn't know what, if anything, he was expected to say or do in this situation. He had seen enough on television to know that cutting was apparently a phenomenon that many teenagers experienced, but he had never realized that it wasn't simply a fad that occurred among Others. It was a real occurrence, and Michelangelo proved that it did come with its own sort of logic.
"But my son," Splinter finally replied, putting a hand on his shoulder, "that is what you are. Whatever you may like to believe, you are a 'kid.' An extraordinarily skillful and unique one, perhaps, but you are still young. Are you really so eager to live that you would do something so risky just for a glimpse at what makes life worth living? Why not simply immerse yourself in those things instead of doing something self-destructive that may shorten your lifespan? Careful or not, mistakes are always possible."
Slowly, Michelangelo turned to gaze at his father. "But I do. After I do it, I always come out and pull a prank on somebody, or crack some kind of joke, or something. The smiles don't seem so hard after things are put into perspective." When a long time passed without Splinter saying anything, Michelangelo asked, "What are you thinking?"
"Quite simply," Splinter responded, "I am thinking that if pain is what makes you feel alive, I will have to put you through a much more rigorous training program." The initial shock gone, Splinter managed to let a small bit of humor creep into his voice. Michelangelo gave him a tiny smirk before looking down, but Splinter was intelligent enough to know that this was not resolved.
"Michelangelo, you are my son. While you try my patience on several occasions, that is only further proof of my fatherhood. I can understand feeling embarrassed about admitting such a thing to me, but if you claim to have known that this activity would be looked down upon, you would have done well to ask why. While I cannot claim to know firsthand why society thinks the way it does, I would be able to offer you my own beliefs on the subject. As for what you choose to do in response to my beliefs… that is for you to decide on your own. Yes, I still consider you a child. But you are my child, and I am no foolish old man who believes that you will remain so forever. You will grow into an adult, and perhaps you may find yourself in a position where you will be looking after the well-being of those younger than you. You can do as you wish, but if that time were to ever come, I want you to remember tonight. Remember my fears and my concern. Remember the way my heart raced against you when I first found you here, fearing the worst. Remember how a father reacts to knowing that his son is engaged in potentially harmful behavior, no matter how 'careful' he claims to be. If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself in the position of a mentor, then you will know why life is worth living. It is worth living because of the people you love… and the people who love you in return. No matter how numb you may feel, we continue to exist, and we will continue to laugh at your jokes and open our hearts to you."
Splinter watched as his son's eyes filled with tears. Michelangelo closed his eyes and looked away. Splinter was unsure whether this action was indicative of shame or if he was simply overcome. Hoping that it was not the former, as that had not been his intent, Splinter lowered the hand he had on Michelangelo's shoulder, softly proclaiming, "Whatever you choose to do after tonight, I will worry. But that is simply because it is one's responsibility to worry about those one loves."
"Then you must really feel alive, huh?" Michelangelo choked out. "If life's really supposed to be about loving?"
With a small smile, Splinter told him, "My heart beats, and it breaks… but it never stops beating. Such is life, and such is what it means to truly feel alive. It is not about tactile stimulation, but about keeping your mind and your spirits in the right place."
It took him a moment, but Michelangelo was eventually able to look at Splinter with a lopsided grin. "In other words, you're right and I got everything wrong. Why am I not surprised that this conversation turned out this way?"
Splinter's complacent smile remained on his face as he answered, "Such words would make me think that you have long foreseen this conversation occurring. In that case, you lied to me. You claimed that you feel unable to face me, and yet you have allowed me to speak to you on such a serious matter. I take that as a sign of strength."
"Strength," Michelangelo remarked sarcastically. "Right. You don't tell anyone that I was bawling like a baby, and I won't tell anyone that you were, too." Splinter offered a small chuckle, though he didn't verbalize an agreement. He didn't need to. Michelangelo surely knew enough to know he should be able to trust his father.
They said nothing else for a long time, simply sitting besides one another and listening to the sounds of traffic from what seemed like miles away. After some time, Michelangelo silently stood. Splinter followed suit. Still looking out into the darkness, Michelangelo quietly said, "This is why I came here, you know. Because I missed this. Being a kid and just sitting around with the guys, sitting around with you. Long before we started worrying about the Shredder and about hostile alien takeovers. When life was supposed to be simple."
"It is still so," Splinter replied. "Only after much turmoil can one truly appreciate peace." Michelangelo seemed to consider this before turning around and beginning to head home. Splinter followed behind wordlessly.
They didn't speak until they were back underground. "I can't promise I'll stop," Michelangelo warned. "At least, not right away. Knowing that you know… that might make me think twice about it." When Splinter said nothing in response, Michelangelo looked at him curiously and asked, "Does that disappoint you?"
"Yes," Splinter answered truthfully. "But I do not expect for such a pattern to suddenly dissipate overnight. For now, you are safe, and I hope you have learned that the next time you begin feeling numb, you can invite me to a stroll through the park. It will be much easier on my nerves."
"…I was scared, Sensei."
"I know, my son. As was I."
"Are things going to be different now?"
"Things are always different with every passing day," Splinter replied. "But one thing will never change." Placing a hand on Michelangelo's arm, he said, "You are my son, and I am your father. And the power of that bond will only grow stronger for every obstacle we face and every secret we may uncover. Nothing will ever change the fact that I love you, Michelangelo."
Tears welled up in Michelangelo's eyes once again. He looked down at the hand Splinter had put on his arm, and in doing so he caught a glimpse at the scars that Splinter had seen earlier that day. Splinter followed his gaze and lowered his hand, tracing along the marks that marred Michelangelo's skin. Instead of commenting on them, he slipped his hand into Michelangelo's and continued to walk, much in the same way he had led him home when he was a child.
"I love you too, Sensei."