Authors Note: I do not own the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or any of their companions. That responsibility belongs to...Nickelodeon? Yeah. Time will tell. Oh, and this story is most decidedly NOT Bound-verse. Please enjoy!
Wakarimashita = I understand
The Way of Fathers
Splinter flicked one ear forward slightly at the sound of the outer door to the lair opening, but he did not stir from the mat where he knelt. He was in his quarters with the screen drawn across the entrance, a clear indicator that he was not to be disturbed unless it was very important.
Footsteps, heavy though somewhat hesitant, approached and halted outside the doorway. Splinter's nose twitched delicately, confirming what his ears had already told him—this was not one of his sons. It was none other than Casey Jones. But still Splinter remained unmoving. His sons had left only a short time ago for some rooftop exercise, and he was certain they could not have gotten into trouble this soon. His eyes remained decisively shut. Casey would soon realize they were not at home, and be on his way. Usually the lair was filled with the noise of the television, sparring, music, and domestic activity, and although those sounds could be comforting in their own way, he cherished the periods of peace and quietude all the more because they were so rare.
He inhaled, then exhaled slowly, pushing his breath out starting at his very center, the hara, and imagining it spreading through each of his limbs before departing through his extremities with a pleasant tingle. Suddenly his ears flattened as a tapping at the screen caused a disturbance in the smooth cycle of his breathing. He recovered immediately and held fast to his focus, but before he could complete the breath cycle, Casey spoke from the other side of the barrier.
"Hey, uh, Master Splinter? Are you there?" he asked in a low, halting voice.
The rat's ears flattened again, his whiskers along with them this time, and his hackles stiffened slightly in irritation.
"My sons are not here, Mr. Jones," he responded firmly, his eyes still closed. "I am sure they will call you when they return." Although his tone of voice did not betray any of the impatience or irritation he felt, the use of "Mr. Jones" instead of the more familiar "Casey" should have been telling.
Splinter began inhaling again, confident Casey would take the hint, but this time he hadn't even drawn a full breath before the visitor spoke again.
"Uh, yeah, I know. That's sorta why I, um, came by." There was a pause here, as if Casey was waiting for Splinter to answer, but when he remained silent the man continued. "It's just, I was kinda hoping that, uh… I mean, I came by to see if… shit. I mean shoot! Sorry, that's not what I…man, I suck at this! What I really wanted to say, or I mean, ask you, was…"
Casey stammered on without getting any closer to making a point, and Splinter sighed in a long-suffering way. On second thought, perhaps it would be better just to get this over with. He rose and padded silently to the doorway, pulling the screen aside. Casey Jones went silent.
"Mr. Jones," he said in his most patient voice, "what can I do for you?"
Casey ran a hand nervously over his hair and fidgeted slightly, but at last he looked up and met Splinter's eyes. "Master Splinter, I'm sorry to interrupt an' everything, but…I didn't know who else to talk to," he said quietly.
Splinter studied Casey intently, and finally his fur smoothed as the tension in his muscles dissipated. There was no mistaking the sincerity or the worry in his demeanor. Splinter could do nothing but concede to the man who had stood by his clan and risked his life for them on so many occasions. Casey was family. Splinter could not turn him away.
The rat nodded once and stepped back slightly, more than a little curious about what could be bothering him. "Please, come in." He then lead the way into the center of his quarters and gestured for the man to take a seat on the floor where just moments ago he had been attempting to meditate. Splinter himself knelt on a cushion facing him, just as he would have if one of his sons had requested a talk.
Casey sat down awkwardly, trying to fold his long legs into a compact position, and Splinter watched him rearrange himself several times before he said, "Perhaps we would be more comfortable sitting on chairs." By "we", of course, he meant Casey.
Looking relieved, Casey followed Splinter's lead and perched on the end of a simple and somewhat angular loveseat while the rat settled himself in the armchair he often used for reading.
"Now then," Splinter said. "What is it you wish to talk about?"
Casey was sitting stiffly forward on the edge of the seat, and an entire array of emotions passed over his face before he'd uttered a single word. He glanced up at Splinter, who nodded calmly, and after another moment's hesitation, he blurted it out.
There were many possible responses to this statement, but Splinter had no idea which one fit the situation, so he remained silent and waited for more information.
Casey stared down at his knees, picking lightly at some loose threads at the edge of a hole in his jeans. "She says we can't tell anyone yet—too early, I guess." His attitude was not one of ill-concealed joy, as might be expected if he was just looking for someone to spill the secret to.
It was not too difficult for Splinter to read between the lines. "And I take it that this was not… expected?" he asked carefully.
Casey merely shook his head. "I mean, we've talked about having kids someday, you know, kinda hypothetically speaking. But I was hopin' to get used to the whole bein' married thing first, wait a few years before thinking about kids. Or maybe, like, ten. I still feel like a kid myself most of the time—I can't—how can I be a father?"
Splinter had no answer for this—the same thought had in fact crossed his mind, though he would never admit it. "Casey…" he said, only a twitch of his tail revealing his discomfort, "Perhaps this is something you should discuss with April. I am sure she is experiencing many of the same doubts that you are."
Casey shook his head again, more adamantly this time. "I can't. We were both freaked when we first found out, but April…" he ran a hand through his hair again. "Let's just say she got over the shock much quicker than I did. You should see her—it's like she's all lit up from the inside, and I can't just, I can't take that away from her. An' I don't want her to think that just 'cause it's takin' me a little longer to get comfortable with…things, that I can't handle it, you know? I just…I'm not sure what…" He looked up at Splinter then, almost beseechingly. "My dad ain't around anymore—an' I thought, if anyone would understand what I'm goin' through, it might be you. I mean, you weren't prepared to be a dad, either."
Splinter was touched in spite of himself. He had always tried to be kind to Casey, and he was appreciative of the man's friendship and loyalty to his family. Especially for Raphael's sake, for he feared to think of how his son would have dealt with his own anger if he had not had one so like him for a friend. Thanks to Casey, Raphael had learned he was not the only one who had to constantly try and master his own emotions, or the only one who felt that every innocent in the city deserved his protection.
But Splinter had never stopped to think that Casey might view him as something of a father figure.
"Casey," he answered softly. "It is not wrong for you to feel confused and uncertain about this, even if April seems to have sorted out her own feelings much more quickly. It is apparent to me that you care very much about April, and this child, or you would not be here asking for my help."
Casey looked up at him again, as if trying to reassure himself that Splinter meant what he said, but he back down at his knees when the rat resumed talking.
"I cannot say this for a fact, but I do not think that anyone is ever truly prepared to become a parent. And those who believe they are will likely find they were mistaken."
Casey nodded in acknowledgment, his hands now locked on his knees. "Were you this, uh, scared, though?" he asked in a hoarse voice.
Splinter smiled, though Casey did not look up to see it. "No—but if I had known then what I know now, I am sure I would have been. When I found Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo, I did not know I would become a father to them. Perhaps if that possibility had occurred to me, I would have left them where I found them, covered in slime."
Casey still didn't look up, but the tension in his body seemed to ease slightly.
"Fear is a tool your mind uses to prepare your body for what is to come. It means you believe the cost of failure would be very high." Splinter was on firmer ground now—he could almost pretend he was speaking of ninjutsu. "A certain amount of fear is helpful, as long as you do not let it master you."
Casey nodded slowly. "I guess that makes sense." He looked up. "So maybe if I…try an' prepare for this, it won't be so scary, huh?" He remained silent for a moment, thinking. "April already ordered shitloads of books online, but to tell ya the truth, I've kinda been avoiding even lookin' at 'em. But I guess I could, like, start with skimming 'em, gettin' myself used to the idea that this is really happening."
Splinter repressed a smile. "I would say that is a very good idea."
Eventually Casey let out a relieved breath and sat back a little, looking more at ease than he had since entering Splinter's room. Then he looked up again. "Thanks, Master Splinter," he said simply.
Splinter inclined his head. "You are welcome, Casey. And allow me to be the first to say… congratulations," he added, his eyes twinkling.
Casey smiled back. "Yeah, thanks. Hopefully by the time April says it's okay to tell everyone, I'll be as excited as she is."
"I have no doubt you will be." Splinter remained quiet after that, expecting Casey to depart, but after a few awkward moments ticked by with no indication that he was ready to go, the old rat spoke up. "Is there…anything more you wish to discuss?"
"Uh, no, not exactly. I mean, not discuss so much as, uh, ask, I guess." He looked up tentatively, as if looking for permission.
Splinter nodded his encouragement.
Casey cleared his throat. "Those books, I'm sure they'll be useful 'n stuff, but I don't know how those peoples' kids turned out. Maybe they ended up as crack dealers, or in prison or something, ya know? But I think…uh, I think yours turned out pretty good—I mean, it ain't your fault you had to raise 'em in the sewers. So uh…" A very slight flush was beginning to creep up the man's neck, and he kept his eyes averted. "I was sorta hopin' you could give me some tips. Just, somethin' to maybe get me started in the right direction?"
Splinter sat frozen in his chair, not even twitching a whisker as he absorbed Casey's request. Advice on raising children? Splinter had no idea how he would go about raising a child in the world of humans. When he had first found the hatchling turtles, he had not thought about what skills they would need to survive as adults, or their emotional development. Those things had come later, after he had had some time to think about the future. In the beginning, he had merely latched on to the only way of life he knew— family, loyalty, honor…martial arts. And because Splinter himself had had an honorable Master, he had taught his sons to live by the same tenants.
Gradually, unintentionally, he stumbled into the role of Father, finally putting a name to the relationship that developed between himself and these four strange, helpless, utterly endearing creatures in his care. Family. They were family. And he did his best for them. But somehow, every rule he had ever set for himself with regards to raising them, every single one, had been broken at least once, and so had every expectation he'd ever had about what fatherhood would be like. His children's lives formed a mosaic in his mind, each memory making up a piece of the story that, when viewed as a whole, looked seamless. But he could examine each individual fragment at will, like running a finger over pieces of tile—some familiar and worn, polished smooth from frequent handling, others strangely textured or irregular in shape, and some with edges so sharp he pulled back in surprise, startled by the pain they brought even after so much time had passed.
Yet no matter how independent they became, they were still his children. He could look at any of his sons as they stood with weapons drawn in stubborn defiance of their enemies, so full of strength and confidence, and still see small, sticky hands reaching for him, seeking solace or comfort or reassurance. When he watched Donatello working on new inventions built of Utrom technology, he saw a child playing with his first set of Legos, eyes bright with possibilities. When he watched the teenaged Raphael shut himself away in his room, trying so hard to convince his family he could deal with everything on his own, he also saw the child who snuck away when Michelangelo was sick only to return hours later with a melty but otherwise unspoiled ice cream sandwich for his brother. When he saw Michelangelo engrossed in one of his many, many comic books, he recalled a time long ago when there had been only one such book, an extremely tattered and watermarked specimen, and how his other three sons had begged Michelangelo to "read" it to them over and over again, preferring his ever-changing version to Splinter's. And when he looked upon the responsible, skilled leader Leonardo had become, he remembered the youngster he'd found on his knees in the dojo late one night, forbidden katana cast beside him like broken spaghetti as his blood darkened the mat below.
"Leonardo! What has happened!" Splinter rushed to the child's side, breath frozen in his chest, and seized the arm that was clearly the source of the broken red river making its way to the floor. After several seconds of panicked examination, he let out the breath he'd been holding. It was a deep cut, certainly, and it was bleeding freely, but it did not appear to be life threatening, as long as it did not become infected.
"I, I didn't even feel it, at first," his son said hollowly as Splinter pressed a handful of his robe to the cut. "I was just…trying them out, when I looked down and saw the blood…"
Now that he knew his son was not grievously injured, the father's worry was replaced with righteous anger, for Leonardo knew the rules—practice weapons ONLY, until Splinter told them otherwise. They weren't ready, and if he needed any proof of that, this was it.
"The blades are very sharp—you are lucky it is not worse," Splinter said severly, biting back further reprimand. There would be time enough later to discuss Leonardo's disobedience; taking care of the injury must come first. "Come with me."
He started to rise, but Leonardo did not make a move to follow him. Instead the turtle remained crouched, staring intently down at the dark gleam of fluid spread like a liquid shadow before him. "This is it, isn't it," he said softly.
It was not spoken like a question. And eager as he was to see to the wound, something about his son's words, spoken in that odd, flat tone, made Splinter pause. He furrowed his brow and lowered himself beside the youngster again, still holding pressure on the cut. "This is what?" he asked.
Leonardo's face was still downcast. "This is what I'll be doing, if we fight—besides in practice, I mean. I'll be cutting people open."
Splinter's anger cooled as he looked upon his son, knowing the truth he faced was a difficult one. Though Leonardo always did his best in training, right now it was little more than a game to him, as it was to the others, and Splinter allowed it to be so, knowing that mortality was a concept too distant for youth to take seriously. But tonight, child or not, Leonardo had glimpsed something in the depths of his own blood that even youth could not deny.
"Yes," Splinter answered gravely. Then he reached out with his free hand and gently tipped the turtle's face up, noting the grayish cast to the usual green of his skin, and the anguish in his dark eyes when they finally connected with his. "But only if they are trying to cut us, Leonardo. Only if it is a choice between our blood, and theirs."
He held his son's gaze for a moment longer before letting go of his chin, and just before Leonardo looked down again, Splinter saw in the sheen of his eyes and the puckering of his brow that he was fighting back tears. And as hard as it was to do when one of his children was in pain, Splinter refrained from any contact beyond the pressure of his hand over the cut and simply let him be, sensing that it was too early for comfort—his son needed a chance to work things out on his own. And work them out he did. Leonardo was not completely successful at holding in his emotion, as evidenced by his tense, shaking shoulders and soft, shuddering breaths, but after a short time he swallowed and grew calmer, eventually clearing his throat and scrubbing his undamaged arm across his downcast face. Then he nodded as if to himself, and drew a long, steady breath.
When at last the turtle looked up, something in the set of his jaw, the glint in his eyes told Splinter that his son had grown up right before his eyes.
"Wakarimashita, Sensei," Leonardo said gruffly.
Only then did Splinter move to comfort him, putting an arm behind his shell and drawing him close, his spirit glowing golden with pride even as his heart mourned a childhood lost so young.
Leonardo was not yet nine years old at that time, but from that day forward, he had approached training with the seriousness of one who knew that the "game" they were playing would one day be for blood.
Three days after the incident, after a good deal meditation and thought on the issue, Splinter had begun instructing his students in the use of real weapons, for Leonardo was not the only one who had faced a difficult truth that night. He had come to see that it was not his sons who were not ready for the next step—it was their father.
Splinter knew now that part of being a parent was watching your children make poor decisions, or say cruel things, or have their hearts broken, or face death… and still somehow see the toddlers you had once held in your arms. He would do anything to protect his children. The hardest part, he reflected, was knowing when not to.
At last, Splinter knew what to say to the man sitting before him.
He cleared his throat lightly, and looked up to meet Casey's expectant eyes. "I am honored by your request, Mr. Jones." This time, he used the surname out of respect. "I do not know if it will help, but the best wisdom I can offer you is this: When your children are small, do not be afraid to hold them close. As they grow older, do not be afraid to let them go."