A/N: Thanks to everyone who's been reading this story – it was written for a friend, but I'm glad to see more than one person seemed to get some enjoyment out of it. I hope you enjoy the last chapter as well. It ended up a lot longer than I intended, but I enjoyed writing it myself, so maybe that's not a bad thing. Anyway, thanks again.
Special note: … If you haven't figured out the age order yet, I can't help you.
Splinter imagined he was not the only one, either, who caught Leonardo's smile. And he was not the only one to note that Michelangelo was the one who had put it there—who could put smiles onto all of his brothers' faces, regardless of the preoccupations that the world threw at them. Splinter looked at the brilliant smile on Michelangelo's face and had to smile himself, because that was what Michelangelo did to everyone around him, whether they welcomed it or not. It was a gift and a blessing he would never forget.
"Hey, Sensei. Whatcha got there?"
With an old smile, a tired and nostalgic smile on his lips, Splinter turned to face his next to youngest, watching Michelangelo's face light up as the stack of paper was held out to him. Michelangelo took them and then he let out a laugh, the familiar sound calling all of his brothers into the doorway of the broken room.
"Wow! Get a load of these things."
"Are these pictures of ours?" Donatello asked, tugging a sheet or two out of Michelangelo's hands. Behind him, Raphael and Leonardo shared a look, bags of supplies strung over their strong shoulders.
"Hey, hold one up," Raphael requested, shifting his load. "Those've gotta be old as heck."
"Yeah, just look at these," Donatello said, fanning a spread of the drawings across his excited hands. "Where did you find these, Master Splinter?"
"Oh… around," Splinter said, bending down to retrieve his walking stick as Michelangelo flicked picture after picture to the floor.
"Boring, boring, boring—ah! Now here's a quality piece of art!" Michelangelo announced, brandishing a picture of a rainbow crocodile boarding a flying saucer. "Impeccable design, nice wardrobing on that croc—and look! The ship even has a Starfleet insignia for accuracy."
"Funny. I don't remember them using any flying saucers in that show," Raphael said.
"This one must be mine… hey, look, Leo. I bet I know whose this one is," Donatello teased, holding up a practically empty page for his brother to see. And if the shadows did not deceive him, Splinter thought he saw a little smile wind its way across Leonardo's face before his second son turned back to the scattered light of their ruined lair.
"Come on, guys. It's about time we got moving. We've got to get this stuff back home."
Home. In some ways, for Splinter, this would always be home. In other ways, home had been taken from them years before, when the tendrils of the Foot first brushed against their quiet subterranean life. But that was only a passing whim. True home was in these pictures, and the memories they inspired—true home was in the four faithful hearts standing beside him, beating just a little more brightly every day.
"Hey, Raph—guess what I just learned. Nothing's changed in ten years. You're still a crappy drawer."
"All right, knucklehead. You need a few good whacks to the skull before we load you up like a pack mule?"
"Pack mule? That's definitely your job, Raph. Brains before brawn, remember?"
Michelangelo ran, and Raphael ran after him, the fierce smile on his face belying his open threat. Donatello rolled his eyes and scooped the last of the forgotten pictures into his hands, setting off after his brothers at a rolling stride, and Leonardo turned back to look at his master, the shadows and the cult of memory softening the lines of his warrior's face.
"Ready to go, Sensei?"
Splinter smiled. "Yes. Yes, I am, my son." And he never looked back.