When Leo wakes up, he thinks he's dead.
Understandable. He's in a white room, he can't feel his body, and the last thing he remembers is being on a spaceship, pointlessly trying to run away from the exploding power core.
Then an Utrom is hovering over him, asking him how he feels.
He feels relieved. He didn't want to die.
Later he feels angry, useless. He should have died. They all should have died, and it would have been his fault.
He's been given a second life (or is it a third life, now?), but he doesn't know what to do with it. He's not a leader. He's nothing.
He avoids his brothers on the Utrom ship. He avoids them at the farmhouse. He avoids them in the Lair. Then he goes away from them for eight months.
While he's on his way home from the long journey, cursing every mile for the damn ship to go faster, they almost die again.
Now they're on their fourth lives, and Leo can't believe how lucky he is, to get so many chances.
He can't believe how stupid he is, to need so many.
From death, new life. From endings, new beginnings.
This time, he's going to get it right.
Mike sleeps soundly in his own bed, and wakes to a new day.
They've graduated back to sparring with weapons.
Raph kneels on the side, next to Don, and watches his brothers with a practiced eye.
Leo's strikes are precise, efficient, and they're not weighed down by overcaution.
Mike fights with his usual easy confidence, drawing out his opponent and then attacking weaknesses with lightning speed. He's making full use of his talent and training, blending them seamlessly and moving so smoothly he looks untouchable.
But Leo really is better than he used to be.
In the end, Mike yields.
But from the look on his face, it's impossible to say that he lost.
On his way to breakfast, Mike notices that there are four shadows on the wall again, each with its owner's name or initial inside.
In a few months, maybe, or a year, he and his brothers will draw over these shadows, adding another layer. And they will step back, and laugh about how small they used to be.
He thinks of their original shadow-wall, the one the Mousers ate. Then he shakes his head. He can't go back. But he can carry the past with him as he goes forward.
He bounces into the kitchen.
After breakfast, Raph lingers at the table, tracing his finger over a blank page of the notebook and wondering how he's going to keep himself occupied now that the Lair is mostly in order and life has gone back to normal.
The lights go off.
"Damnit!" Raph shouts.
"It's just me!" Don shouts back.
"Some warning would be nice!" Mike calls from upstairs.
"You're a ninja!" Don replies. "Deal with it!"
The lights go back on.
And they stay on.
Raph wanders out to the main room. Don is sitting on the floor, dismantling the generator.
"What are you going to do with it now?" he asks, after watching the deconstruction for a few minutes.
"I'm not sure," Don says. "A car is more convenient as family transportation, but a motorcycle is more fun."
"Decisions, decisions," Raph says.
"I'm not immune to persuasion," Don suggests.
Raph laughs. "Hey. As long as it's fast."
Don smiles at his work. "Oh, it will be fast."
Leo moves aimlessly around the Lair, purposely staying away from his brothers.
They've welcomed him back to the family, but not to his old place in it. And if he is not in that place, not near them, not watching over them… he doesn't know where he is.
He finds himself in the doorway of Mike's room.
"Hey, bro," Mike says. "What's up?"
Leo hadn't been intending to enter, but Mike's greeting is clearly an invitation, and a moment later he is sitting on the bed, beside his younger brother, watching him play with the wooden cat Leo had carved in Japan.
"How are you?" Leo asks. It isn't any kind of answer to Mike's question, but then, he doesn't think Mike was really looking for an answer.
Mike looks at him quizzically. "How should I be?"
Leo makes a vague gesture. "Well, about the ghosts, and about… um..."
"It's good," Mike says. "I'm fine."
Leo falls silent, studying his knees.
"What's on your mind, bro?" Mike asks.
"I… I don't know what to do now," Leo admits. "You guys have told me what you don't want me to do, but when I ask what you do want me to do, no one will tell me."
Mike walks the cat across his palm. "Well, what do you want to do?"
"Mikey –" Leo's fingers clench, as he struggles to explain the source of his frustration. "I don't want anything for myself. That isn't – I –"
Mike looks at him. "There's seriously nothing you want?"
Leo shakes his head. "No."
"Geez." Mike gazes across the room. "All those times we asked you what you really wanted to do, and you said you only wanted to take care of us… we thought you were just trying to score points with Master Splinter or something."
"No," Leo says. "You guys are everything to me. I can't imagine wanting anything else."
"Man." Mike turns the cat over in his hands. "Kinda makes me feel like a selfish jerk."
"Never." Leo lifts his hand to rub Mike's shoulder. "I like seeing you happy." With his other hand, he gestures to the little carving. "Do you like it? I'm sorry I couldn't bring you anything better…"
"No," Mike says, turning the cat upright and looking closely at the details of its face. "It's awesome." He turns to flash a smile at his brother. "Hey, you know what you should do?"
Leo frowns. "What?"
"You should make more of these things," Mike says. He holds out the wooden toy. "You could sell them. It would be good money."
Leo takes the cat, and looks at it uncertainly. "How could I sell them?"
"Oh, good question." Mike pretends to think very hard. "Hey, don't we know someone who owns a store for neat stuff?"
Leo smiles slowly. "You know," he says, "I think we do."
They've been working on the new Lair for five weeks now, slowly turning it from a shelter into a home, and Splinter finally thinks that it is worthy of the name.
And he thinks that he was wrong about another thing.
His three younger sons could have built a new home, without their eldest brother, but it would not have been good for them. It would have been difficult, and painful, and the end result, Splinter feels sure, would not have been anywhere near what they have achieved as a whole family, as an unbroken unit.
Learning to live together again has been hard, too, but his sons have been managing admirably. They are reaching out tentatively, finding their places, stepping into them a little more each day.
And, as they step forward, as they move around one another, Splinter steps back. His sons are eighteen now, nearly adults, and it is time for him too to learn to let go.
Splinter smiles to himself.
Learning does not stop, and life goes on.
Mike steals a sheet of paper from the spiral notebook, folds it into an origami house, and props it on the shelf by his bed, along with the little wooden cat.
So he'll always remember that home is not a physical place.
And it doesn't matter whether his walls are made of wood, or stone, or paper.
What matters is that as long as he keeps his family in his heart, they are always as close as the next room.
And there is always a door.