A/N: Lengthwise, this is the biggest failure I've ever committed. This story was supposed to be eight pages long; needless to say, it's not. I also feel a little bad for Donatello, because his section is shorter than his brothers' sections. That's just the way it happened, though… the sections just got longer as I went through, and I don't have the energy to fix it now. He's still in everyone else's sections, though.
Premise: This story takes place during the fourth season of the 2003 4kids television series, ostensibly after Leonardo has returned from training with the Ancient One, rescued his family, beaten Karai and they've relocated from the old lair. While packing up the few things that can be saved, Splinter finds a treasure from earlier times that reminds him of anecdotes surrounding his sons' childhood.
Special note: As becomes obvious pretty quickly in this story, I've put the turtles in a different order age-wise than what I see all over this site. I don't know that there's an official order; either way, I've chosen a different one. For this story, Raphael is the eldest turtle, Leonardo is second, Michelangelo is third and Donatello is fourth. There are explanations for this in the text; and no, I won't change it on request. Sorry.
Warnings: None. It's a fluffy family story, all the way through.
Another moonless New York night.
Not that the moonlight would have made much difference down in the sewers. It was all the streetlights along Fifth Avenue could do to struggle down through the manhole covers, spearing the gloom of the city's silent underworld, and even they caught little more than glimpses of shadows. Five shadows, to be exact—five shadows bending and twisting their way back through familiar tunnels in as near as shadows could get to absolute silence. Which was fairly close; except for the ghost whispers of leathery feet on damp concrete, the flashes of skin flitting through the storm drains might have been a trick of the lamplight, nothing more.
Farther down and father in the shadows traveled, winding their way deeper into the tangle of pipes and catacombs that rested like the limbs of a great slumbering monster under the skyscrapers of the sleepless city. They didn't pause to breathe, or to rest; they didn't stop at all until they reached the mouth of a great opening in the dark, an ill-cut hole in the layers of rock and concrete. Then one shadow touched a spot on the wall, and the lights came up in the ransacked corpse of what had once been a dwelling, the feeble illumination barely distinguishing the lair's visitors from the piles of rubble strewn across its floor.
The shadow that was Michelangelo let out a low whistle, leaning back on his heels to take in the damage. "Did somebody get the license plate on that demolition team that went through here?" he joked, surveying the toppled pillars and fraying furniture that had once composed a living room. "We've gotta talk to the Foot about making house calls."
From the other side of the jumbled space, Raphael kicked a battered old saucepan, adding one more unnecessary dent to its pockmarked surface. "Not the first time, won't be the last," he grunted, twisting one fist in his palm. "Not until we take care of the root of the problem."
"We did, remember?" Donatello said, carefully inspecting the saucepan his brother had assaulted before tossing it back into the rubble. Raphael crossed his arms.
"Fine. I guess I meant the new root, then."
From his position at the center of the group, Leonardo looked up at the ruined ceiling, his eyes hardening with the memory of their most recent adversary. "Karai."
For a moment, that name was enough to settle the five shadows in their scattered formation, stirring the echoes of battle that were still buried amongst the rubble. Then Donatello shrugged, a handspring carrying him into the ruins of his lab.
"Well, there's nothing we can do about it now. Let's just salvage what we can from here and get everything back to the lake before somebody decides to check up on this place," he suggested, tossing aside a coil of open wires. Leonardo nodded.
"Right. Let's get to it."
With this final command, four shadows leapt into motion. From his place in the shattered doorway, the fifth shadow watched them without speaking. Then Master Splinter too began to move, heading toward the nook where his sanctuary had been, step by patient step.
"Aw, man! Just look what they did to the entertainment center!" The methodical silence was broken by an agitated crash, and a crushed television set toppled into the center of the lair, Michelangelo's shout chasing its heels. "There's no salvaging any of this."
Donatello frowned at him, vaulting up to land beside his brother and rescuing an unbroken screen out of the television graveyard. "Watch it, Mikey. I might be able to pull a few good capacitors out of these."
"Who wants a capacitor?" Michelangelo demanded, throwing his hands up. "You can't watch cartoons on that."
Leonardo sighed as he reentered the room with an armful of blankets, sending one mild glare in the direction of his squabbling siblings. "Let's stay focused, guys. Concentrate on the essentials."
"What could be more essential than television?" Michelangelo raised one hand, counting down on his fingers. "Food, sleep, TV—that's Mikey's pyramid of needs. Actually, the sleep's optional. A day without TV is like a day without sunshine, Leo—like macaroni without the cheese! Like Raph without the ugly—ow!"
A dull slap echoed against the ruined walls, and Master Splinter shook his head. Though his sons were out of sight now behind him, it was easy to guess who had interrupted Michelangelo's protest—easier again when a deep voice followed the echo.
"Can it, Mikey."
Raphael. But then, it had always been Raphael.
On feet that training no less than nature had made silent, Master Splinter picked his way across the once smooth floor, his gaze drifting from one desecrated object to another. The Foot had been thorough—Karai's anger had made her cruel, and those parts of the lair that might have been untouched by the battle itself seemed to have been deliberately pillaged. It was impossible to mistake the rage that had dug its claws into the solid rock walls of their home; rage that had left so little untouched in its wildfire burn.
"No way! Not my comics, too!"
"I've got a feeling your comics weren't at the top of Karai's hit list, Mikey."
No. But it was a symbol nonetheless of how complete the destruction had been. They would be starting from scratch again—as so many had already done in pursuit of this ancient enemy.
The chatter of his sons' voices faded into the background as Master Splinter stepped carefully over the fragments of the paper doors that had once protected his sanctuary. Just across the threshold, he dropped into a kneel, brushing the shards of Master Yoshi's crystal together with long, soft fingers. For a moment, the disjointed light lay deep across the broken glass, less a reflection than the fleeting memory of an image floating across its surface. Then there was a footstep behind him, and the illusion disappeared, banished by a change in the light or a break in the silence.
"Sensei? Do you need our help in here?"
Splinter glanced back to find Leonardo waiting beyond the tattered door, respecting the barricade even though it was no longer standing. Then he turned back to the disorder of his room, the torn cushions and rubbled stone, and shook his head.
"No, my son. This room I will do myself. Perhaps you should supervise your brothers. They seem to need your attention more than I do."
The old rat didn't have to look over his shoulder to know it was true—his keen ears could guess that the great squeaking suddenly resounding through the lair was Michelangelo careening unsteadily by on the remnants of something with wheels, and the racing steps after him would be Raphael, hot on his heels as usual. Leonardo's sigh confirmed his suspicions.
He could almost hear the grimace in Leonardo's voice as he turned to rejoin the fray, just another note in the mayhem of raised voices and rushing feet. Splinter allowed himself a smile. Then he returned his focus to the task at hand and swept the crystal fragments into his palm, a few keepsakes for his pocket before the rest of the sorting began.
Pile by wounded pile, Splinter worked his way around the room, setting aside what few of his meager belongings had escaped the wrath of Karai's soldiers. A tattered book, an orphaned vase… Splinter lifted one half of a broken teapot and sighed to himself. The creeds of his profession and the life of his master had taught him how little value objects held within themselves; still, there was no denying the small edge of sadness that came with each realization of another ruined possession.
It was the memories, not the things, that brought him regret—for this teapot, a birthday long since past. But then, memories could be rebuilt. Everything of true importance had escaped the assault. Or, not everything. Everyone. And the lively voices of his sons, more like music than conversation as they rattled echoes from the lonely walls, were reminder enough of that to help him put the broken pottery down.
Splinter smiled a little. Perhaps next year he would receive another teapot.
Under the steady passage of busy hands, the pile of objects to be abandoned grew in one corner of the room, stacked as neatly as their ragged forms allowed. Splinter passed most of them with hardly a glance, or a dismissive sigh at most. But there was one treasure in the room waiting to be discovered—a treasure that, once it presented itself, even Master Splinter lacked the discipline to put down.
The book was small and slight, and it had worked its way to the deepest layers of destruction, so that when Splinter turned his attention to his toppled bookcase there was only one bright red corner visible beneath the tumble of torn pages. The color, uncharacteristic for his shelf, was enough to pique Splinter's curiosity; enough so that he dug it prematurely from the pile, being as gentle as he could with the well-worn tomes that had fallen almost protectively across it.
When at last the book came free of its fellows, one look at the cover was enough to put a smile on Splinter's aging face. It was an old, crumbling coloring book—one that had been meant for Michelangelo, if the very young Justice Force posing on the cover was any indication.
Dust and a long life crammed between the volumes of his meager book collection had made the pages sticky, as he discovered on trying to pry it open; and in spite of how gently the old rat pulled them apart, the binding disintegrated in his hands the moment that the edges began to separate, sending a flutter of multi-colored pages all over his halfway cleared floor.
Master Splinter set the skeleton of the book aside, sighing a little as he bent to collect the tapestry of pictures now spread around his feet. But it was not a tired sigh. And had there been anyone watching from the ruins of the doorway, it would have been impossible to miss the way he lingered in his collection of the pages, brushing fingers that time had made soft over these memories in physical form.
The pictures had no signatures, but they didn't need them. Everything about them was a signature in itself, a truer impression of the artists than any child's scrawl would have been.
The first had been neatly colored within the lines, with realistic colors for the superheroes and landscape decorating what an imprinted title proved to be the first page of the coloring book. Everything in the picture was based around a flat effectiveness—it lacked dynamic colors and there was no expansion on the provided forms, but it was as true to reality as simple crayons and simpler fingers could manage.
Master Splinter smiled. Why his youngest had been the first to use Michelangelo's coloring book, it wasn't hard to guess. Donatello had always been something of a particular child.
Between the panting breaths that betrayed his exhaustion, the young turtle responded to his name, throwing his staff again into the sequence of twelve strikes he had been practicing. Splinter blocked each one with the body of his cane, his gaze flickering between the blows and the wide, determined eyes staring back at him between bands of sweat-marked blue. Splinter sidestepped a finishing thrust and tapped Leonardo's leg with his cane, watching as his pupil's knee buckled and he nearly lost his balance.
"Correct your stance. Again."
Leonardo opened his mouth as though to reply. But whether he thought better of it or simply lacked the air to form words, in the end the young turtle said nothing, only adjusting the bandana that was old enough to be showing signs of wear. Then Leonardo began again, his breaths growing sharper as fatigue kept pace with him.
Splinter nodded to himself. Exhaustion meant his student was trying his hardest. And the speed of his breathing meant it was nearly time for someone else's lesson. If only he could expect a similar work ethic from his other charges…
Over Leonardo's shoulder, Splinter took account of what his other sons were doing. At the moment, all three were splayed out on their stomachs around an enormous pile of blocks; it was perhaps a larger pile of blocks than seemed strictly necessary for three or even four young turtles, but his sons had shown an aggravating inability to share in the past. Raphael and Michelangelo were still in the early stages of constructing what looked like little more than a pair of haphazard jumbles—perhaps unsurprising, given the brief time since Raphael's own lesson and Michelangelo's short attention span. But Donatello, for his part, was working on a pyramid almost taller than his seated head, each side a mix of different color patterns.
"What's that ugly thing supposed to be?" Raphael asked, pointing a rude finger at Michelangelo's construction.
"It's a sculpture of you, Raph," Michelangelo answered with a grin, ducking the fist that missed his head but managed to topple his blocks on its way back home.
"Hey!" Michelangelo shouted, distracting both Splinter and Leonardo with the force of his outcry. The little turtle wrapped his arms around the scatter of blocks and pulled them into himself. "Now I've gotta start over."
"Try it, and I'll pound ya into turtle soup," Raphael threatened, waving a fist at his brother. Then he turned back to his own sculpture with a heavy glare, snatching a yellow block from the group pile.
As it happened, Donatello had been reaching for the exact same block. Splinter saw his eyes widen beneath his purple bandana, chubby baby hands pushing him to his feet.
"Raph, I need that block," Donatello said, holding out his hand. Raphael got to his feet as well and held the block over his head, using his superior height to keep it out of Donatello's reach.
"Oh, yeah? Well, finders keepers, losers weepers, Donny," Raphael taunted, his expression smug. "And I got it first. You gotta use another one."
"I can't'!" Donatello's voice was rising in volume and pitch with every word, drawing even more of Splinter's attention in his direction. The little turtle pointed at his towering pyramid, stomping one futilely angry foot. "I need one more yellow to finish this side, and that's the last one. Give it to me, Raph!"
Raphael did not give it to him. Instead the oldest of the turtles lifted one foot and gave Donatello's sculpture a hearty kick, sending the multicolored blocks skidding across the concrete floor.
"Now you don't need it, do ya?" Raphael sneered.
"Raphael!" Splinter scolded—but he was too late. The damage was done, and it was only a matter of seconds before Donatello burst into tears, running across the open floor of the practice area to bury his face in Splinter's robe.
Leonardo lowered his staff and turned to glare back at Raphael, a less intimidating form of the look Splinter himself was giving his eldest son. "Raphael," he repeated, patting Donatello's shoulder with his empty hand. Michelangelo danced to his feet, jeering his brother with an extended tongue.
"Way to go, you big bully. Raph made Donny cry—again!"
"It's not my fault he's a great big baby," Raphael growled, swiping at his nearest brother with a partial fist. But Splinter had closed the distance by this time, and he caught Raphael's hand mid-swing, bearing down on his son with eyes that were suddenly sharp.
"Raphael, this behavior is unacceptable. Apologize to your brothers. And as you are clearly suffering from an excess of energy, perhaps you would like to do another round of meditation in your room until supper is ready."
"Busted!" Michelangelo sang out. Leonardo crossed his arms over his chest, moving to stand next to Donatello at Splinter's side. But Raphael didn't budge.
"Who's apologizin'?" Raphael challenged, glaring back at his father with equal force. But Splinter knew too well that arguing with Raphael was a zero-sum game, and he turned his attention to Donatello instead, pressing a soothing hand against his shell. "Come, my son. It is time for your lesson in any case."
"No!" Donatello shook his head hard, his expression crumbling under his renewed unhappiness. "I don't want a lesson, Master Splinter. Not after what Raph did to my blocks!"
The anger that was still running rampant through Raphael's eyes found his tongue again. "See—Donny's nothing but a big baby!" Raphael accused, rounding on his youngest brother again. "He doesn't want a lesson. He just wants to play with his widdle blocks!"
"Shut up, Raph," Leonardo said, putting himself in front of Donatello. "Stop picking on him."
"Make me, teacher's pet!" Raphael yelled—then he saved his brother the trouble and launched himself at Leonardo, sending them backward into a squabbling, shouting pile.
"Raphael," Splinter scolded again, but his voice was barely audible in the chaos of angry voices and flailing limbs that had suddenly filled the lair. Michelangelo hooted as he jumped out of the way of his wrestling brothers, one fist in the air.
"It's a fight! Fight, fight!"
Donatello was still yanking on Splinter's sleeve. "Master—"
Splinter did not often raise his voice to his children. When he did, the effect was immediate. Silence settled like an avalanche over the instantly still forms of his sons, as Donatello clamped his mouth shut and Leonardo and Raphael froze in their sparring tangle, two sets of eyes staring up at a tired old rat with a turtle-sized headache.
Four turtles, to be exact.
"Raphael," Splinter began, earning a hard swallow from his eldest son. "I believe I asked you to meditate in your room. Perhaps you would like to begin now."
He stared the young turtle down, watching the defiance slowly creep from Raphael's face until his son pushed himself away from Leonardo and stalked into his room. The door slammed behind him, and his master sighed, his gaze flickering between the blue masked turtle who remained on the practice ground and his orange-banded brother. Leonardo hung his head, not even waiting for a lecture.
"Sorry, Master Splinter."
Michelangelo just grinned. "What? I didn't do nothin'."
Splinter shook his head, unsurprised if not impressed with his next to youngest's attitude. Then he turned his stern eyes on Donatello, who was still clinging to his shirt with wide, tear-filled eyes.
"Donatello," Splinter started, his voice softening. "It is time for your lesson. Please—"
"No!" Splinter stopped abruptly at the outburst, swallowing back his words as Donatello pushed away from him, wiping one arm across his eyes. "I don't wanna practice, and I'm not gonna practice!" Donatello cried. And with that, the little turtle scampered away across the lair, slamming the door to the bathroom behind him.
Michelangelo whistled, jumping up to sit on the back of the couch and swinging his feet back and forth. "Donny's in a mood again," he crooned. Splinter shot him a short glare, and Leonardo smacked his brother's knee.
"Leonardo." The young turtle straightened at his name, looking almost sheepishly up at his exasperated father. Splinter closed his eyes. "I must deal with Donatello. Perhaps you could prepare Michelangelo for his lesson."
"Sure thing, Sensei," Leonardo said, looking a little relieved at the opportunity to redeem himself. Then he cocked his chin toward the practice area, glancing at his remaining brother. "Come on, Mikey."
"Dun dun dun! It's one on one with Master Leo!" Splinter turned away and headed toward the back of the lair, listening as Michelangelo leapt from the couch to land at his brother's feet. "Come on, Leo. Teach me something way cool. Like a double-roundhouse back flip with a leg sweep!"
"Let's just start with your kata, Mikey," the older turtle said, using a tone Splinter was certain he himself had taken with his most energetic son.
"Oh, man—for a minute there I almost forgot how boring you are, Leo."
That was the last of their conversation Splinter overheard before he knocked on the bathroom door, clearing his throat to summon his youngest son.
"Go away!" Donatello yelled through the door. "I'm not coming out for my lesson!"
Splinter sighed, leaning back against the wall and listening for movement on the other side. "Michelangelo will take your lesson. I have not come about that. I have come to ask if I may lend you an ear."
There was a shift within—Donatello standing up, most likely—before the silence resumed. Then the door creaked open, just an inch, and without looking over Splinter could imagine Donatello's purple-framed face checking his expression through the crack. The old rat kept his gaze on the far wall. At last Donatello slipped from the bathroom and put his face into Splinter's stomach, reaching stubby arms around his father's waist.
"I made that, Sensei," the little turtle said, and Splinter could feel two damp patches of tears forming against his robe. "I made that all by myself, and Raph broke it. He always does. No matter what I make, it always gets broken. It's not fair."
Splinter put a hand on the young turtle's shoulder. "I understand your disappointment, Donatello. But the world is not without chaos—everything that is once created must be destroyed in time. The only solution is to create again."
Donatello looked up at him skeptically, and even his mask couldn't hide the wrinkles covering his forehead. "Not the blocks," he said bluntly, fisting six fingers into his master's shirt. Splinter swallowed his sigh.
"No, my son. Not the blocks. Come."
With that, Splinter led Donatello back across the lair and past the practice area—he would have to remind Michelangelo about his back stance later—until they entered his room. The little turtle watched curiously as his father rustled under the pile of sheets and pillows that served as his nest, digging out a coloring book and a set of children's crayons. Donatello looked dubiously at the book's cover.
"This is for Mikey," he guessed, pointing to the Justice Force in their heroic poses. Splinter shook his head.
"I am sure Michelangelo would not mind lending it to you for the time being," he returned gently. Donatello hugged the book to his chest, gripping the crayons in one tight hand.
"What about Raph?"
Splinter gave his son a look. "You do not need to worry about Raphael. I will deal with him." Then he laid a hand on Donatello's head, smoothing the creases of his bandana with a quiet hand. "All you have to worry about, my son, is continuing to create, no matter what the world may do with your creations."
This made Donatello smile at last, and he tucked his chin into the coloring book, keeping his eyes on his feet as he spoke.
"Um, Sensei? I think I'm ready for my lesson now."
Splinter chuckled. "I am certain your brothers will be pleased to hear that. Come—let us relieve Leonardo of Michelangelo, shall we?" And he walked out with one arm around Donatello's shoulders, leading the young turtle who had not quite torn his eyes from the coloring book yet.
End Chapter 1