Title: 21
Author: vashsunglasses
Rating: K
Summary: One-shot. Age is relative. Splinter knows that more than most.
Disclaimer: The TMNT are the property of Mirage.
Note: This is something I've had at the back of my mind for a while...

It was his sons' eighteenth birthday and more than anything he wanted to be able to celebrate it with them. Really celebrate it. He watched their carefree antics and once again swallowed the envy that danced around the corners of his vision. As his body had slowed down more and more each day that task had gotten harder and Leonardo...

He sighed as his eldest son glanced curiously in his direction. A small smile was all it took to deflect the attention off himself again. He had trained his sons well, almost too well. It would only make things more difficult for them if they knew.

They had suffered enough.

But hadn't he suffered as well? After everything, hadn't he suffered? Still suffered. More and more he found a disconnect between his body and mind. The thought of it kept him awake at night long after even Raphael and Donatello had gone to bed.

He was only three years older than his sons.

He had celebrated his own twenty-first birthday mere weeks ago, though no one had so much as mentioned the number. Michelangelo had joked about trying to fit one hundred candles on the cake and it had hit him like a katana. He'd begged tiredness and retired to his room after that.

His sons were singing a song together with the radio and he thought back to his own eighteenth year. He had spent it worrying about his fifteen year old sons who had finally grown enough to face the foot clan on their own. His sons, on the other hand, had spent most of their time making jokes and watching television.

When he was fifteen he had run himself ragged trying to corral four pre-pubescent twelve year old boys who had wanted to get into everything. He'd been at wits end while they thought of nothing beyond the next game of 'let's escape from Splinter'.

At the age of twelve he was most concerned with educating his nine year old sons in the knowledge of the upper world. Little had they realized that the lessons he taught so easily during the day had been hard won with intensive study the night before. Even to this day they had never questioned it. It was as if they thought he was born with all the knowledge he would ever need when in reality he had scrambled to stay half a day ahead of them.

At the age of nine years old he had thought only of providing material comforts for his six year old charges. At six was the constant fear of the three year old turtles dying of starvation. At three... Splinter sighed again, lost in his thoughts of that terrible first year.

Leonardo touched him on the shoulder breaking his chain of thoughts, "Master Splinter, are you ok?"

He looked up to see all of his sons watching him with concerned expressions on their youthful faces. And although he hated himself for it he struggled even more with the anger that welled up inside him at their ignorance. The anger at the unfairness of it all.

He bowed his head and used meditation to push his feelings aside once more, then looked up at his sons and said, "I am tired, my sons. Perhaps it is time for me to retire to my room for the evening."