Chapter Thirteen – The Way Home
Raph catches Leo shooting sideways glances at him all day, but he doesn't return them. It isn't until after dinner that he gets up the guts to go to Leo's room and knock on the door.
The answer is instantaneous. "Come in."
He slides in, closes the door softly behind him, and remains standing against the wall. "Got a minute?"
Leo is sitting on the bed, a shoebox full of carved figures beside him. Another, unfinished figure is in his hands, but at Raph's words he tucks it into the box with its brethren. "Sure."
Raph's eyes follow Leo's hand to the box. "You've been busy."
"No," Leo says. He leans over in the opposite direction to place his knife on the shelf, then returns to center, sitting erect and regarding Raph levelly. "This is what I do when I'm not busy."
Raph shakes his head at the distinction. "You've made a lot of them, anyway."
Leo shrugs neutrally.
Raph crosses to the bed, looks into the box, and picks up a figure at random. It's a squirrel.
"You can keep any that you like," Leo says. He, too, picks up a carving and turns it between his fingers. "I - wasn't trying to bribe you, the other day. I just wanted..." He sighs and replaces the figure in the box. "The things you wrote in the letter. I always knew."
Raph's hand tightens around the squirrel. "Knew what?"
"That you wanted more than you let on." Leo watches Raph carefully.
"Yeah, well." Raph jams the squirrel back into the box, causing the other figures to rattle and knock against one another. "Never mattered much what I wanted."
"But it should matter," Leo says. He draws his crossed ankles closer to himself and looks at Raph intently. "Because now we can have some of those things." He points to the box of carvings. "Because of this money. And we should all have a say in how it gets spent."
Raph takes a step back, folding his arms uneasily and fixing his gaze on the floor. "Look, Leo... it ain't really about the money. I think that's not what I said when this thing started, but I was wrong then. I wasn't focusing on what's important. I got carried away and... I really don't need that stuff."
It's a long moment before he can raise his eyes from the floor to his brother's face.
Leo is smiling at him. "It's okay to stop thinking that way. I like doing this. I'm not going to -" The corner of his mouth quirks up a few more degrees "- 'bail'."
Raph's mouth draws down, a reverse mirror of his brother. "Don't do it for me, Leo. You know I hate handouts."
The smile slips from Leo's face, and he looks away.
Raph shifts, leaning over slightly to try to read his brother's expression. "What?"
Several seconds tick by before Leo answers. "You know," he says, "Master Splinter told me something a few weeks ago. He said that I tend to - to do things for people. To show I care."
Raph watches Leo through narrowed eyes, trying to decide whether he's serious, until Leo looks back at him with a question in his gaze.
Raph answers it with a question of his own. "You needed to be told that?" Leo only looks at him blankly. "I mean, you didn't know?"
"It doesn't make sense," Leo says, and Raph decides he's completely serious. "What other way is there?"
Raph relaxes his pose, his arms swinging down to his sides. "Y'know, Leo," he says. "Maybe sometime you oughta just hang out with us. Not training, or working, just doin' somethin' stupid." He shifts forward, jutting out an accusing finger. "Seems like y'ain't done much of that since ya got back."
Leo sits, pinned by that pointing finger. "It's been longer than that."
"Yeah, no kidding." Raph drops his hand, turns, and falls heavily onto the bed.
It seems to take eons for Leo to respond, but when he does, the answer is one that's worth waiting for. "Did you have something in mind?"
"For starters," Raph says, because he sees how a simpler answer could be misinterpreted, "I kinda had in mind that it wouldn't be a one-time thing."
From a tiny twitch in Leo's expression, Raph can tell his point has been made. "Okay. I get it." He shifts, trying to make the leap from the general back to the specific. "Do you want to... um..."
Raph waits, curious what Leo might offer as an example of purposeless fun. But when "um" turns into a blank gaze that travels around the room, seeking inspiration, Raph takes pity on his psychotically responsible brother, and throws him a suggestion.
"Donnie wants me to listen to something on the radio with him," he says. "You could join us."
Leo's gaze refocuses, snaps back to Raph. "What is it?"
Raph shrugs expansively. "Hell if I know."
For a moment Leo looks doubtful. Then a smile spreads slowly across his face, as though he's just discovered a delightful new facet of living. "I'd like that."
When they get downstairs, Don has propped the radio on a disemboweled console, and is turning the dial, trying to get a signal.
"What is this again?" Mike asks, from his place on the floor. Leo notes that Mike has had the foresight to bring a blanket to lie on. He wonders if he should go back upstairs for his own, but Raph's presence behind him holds him in place.
"A radio play," Don says, adjusting the antenna. "It's a collaboration between NYU's theater department and their campus radio station."
"A radio play?" Mike makes an expression of disgust. "Dude, didn't those go out sixty years ago?"
"Evidence would suggest otherwise," Don says. "There."
The static resolves, and a smooth voice announces the name of the show.
Leo stretches out on the floor, as the narrator begins to set the scene. Mike immediately throws a corner of blanket over his carapace, and uses him as a backrest. A rapid tapping vibrates through the cool concrete.
"Am I late?"
"Right on time, Sensei."
He nestles his head into the crook of his arm, and listens.
Splinter divides his attention between the play - almost as good as his stories - and his sons. Leonardo is lying still, his eyes closed, but the pattern of his breathing shows he is still awake and listening. Donatello sits facing the radio, attending to the drama as though he will be quizzed on it later. Michelangelo's gaze roams around the room for most of the first act, his hands fidgeting with the blanket. Eventually he produces a piece of chalk and starts sketching on the floor, until Raphael silently demands the implement and begins systematically defeating his brother in consecutive games of tic-tac-toe.
Splinter recenters himself, closes his eyes, and senses again the web of energy that connects his sons.
It feels looser now, more comfortable. Six weeks ago the lines were taut as violin strings, as his sons held tight to what they thought they had lost. Now they are relaxing, finding the confidence to move away from each other, secure in the knowledge that their brothers are still there, and that they can always follow the lines home.
There is slack in the web, and it hangs in gentle curves, like a net. Not a net that restrains, but one that catches when a daring soul reaches too far, buoying them up so they can reach again.
There is room to grow, and a safe place to land.
And that is all a father can wish for his sons.
"So, Leo," Mike says, the next morning at breakfast. "The article is coming out tomorrow. Sure you won't tell us what's in it?"
Leo calmly retrieves his toast. "Patience is a virtue, Mikey."
"Yeah, I know," Mike replies, "but it takes too long. Can't you give us just a little sneak preview?"
Leonardo smiles like his namesake's painting, and Mike knows it's going to be a long day.
The day turns out to be not entirely boring. In the evening, while Mike is debating whether he should try to pry Don away from his computer so he can play more video games, or whether he should attempt to cajole as many brothers as possible into a game of ninja tag, Raph barges into his room with an intriguing request.
"Hey, Mikey," he says. "Will ya loan me fifty cents?"
"Loan you?" Mike raises a brow. "How're you gonna pay me back?"
"I won't punch you in the head."
Mike considers this. "I charge interest."
"I won't punch you in the head twice."
Mike regards his brother critically. "You drive a hard bargain." He sticks out his hand. "All right, it's a deal."
Raph sticks out his hand too, but palm up, and the only thing he'll let Mike put in it is two quarters.
On his way out of Mike's room, quarters in hand, Raph hears his name being called. He sticks his head through Don's doorway to see what's up.
Don wordlessly tosses him something, and he reflexively catches it in his free hand.
"Yeah?" he says. "What's this?"
"Press the button," Don advises.
Raph thumbs the biggest button on the device. Immediately, alarms begin shrieking all around the Lair.
"What the fuck, Donnie?" he shouts over the ruckus.
"I have a remote for the alarms," Don replies, loudly and unnecessarily. "Just a test, Sensei," he adds, as Splinter appears, his face poised between parental wrath and protective fury.
"Where the hell's the off switch?" Raph demands, but then he finds it and the only ringing is in his ears.
"Donatello," Splinter says, opting for wrath, "while I greatly appreciate your skill at building things to protect and improve our home, your habit of testing them without warning is becoming disturbing."
"Sorry," Don says, catching the remote as Raph tosses it back to him. "Next time I'll give notice."
Splinter makes a 'hmph' noise, and stumps back downstairs, his cane clanging against the metal stairs.
"Hey, Donnie," Mike says, "what else does that remote do?"
But Leo drags him away before Don can give him any ideas.
The next morning, Raphael rises early and hits the streets.
The chill autumn wind makes his clothes sit a little more comfortably on his skin. His casual saunter and the gray fog make him invisible to the few passersby.
The red newspaper box stands out sharply in the colorless dawn. Raph spends a moment contemplating the bold headlines through the scratched window. Then he feeds his quarters into the slot, and takes a paper.
By the time his brothers get up, he's leaning nonchalantly against the wall outside the dojo, pretending to be fascinated by the day's breaking news.
"I paid for it, it is my own!"
"I said I'd pay you back!"
Leo rolls his eyes heavenwards, and wonders whether he'll be able to sneak past without being dragged into his brothers' argument.
The heavens reply, and it's a no.
"Leo, Raph has the paper and he won't let me see it!"
"Why the sudden interest in current events, Mikey?" Leo asks. He attempts to find a path into the dojo, but Mike is managing to occupy all parts of the doorway at once.
"Hey," Mike says. "It's not my fault if I have to read a newspaper just to find out what my own family is doing."
Leo contains a sigh, so his brothers won't know how long he's been suffering. "Give it to him, Raph."
"No, no," Raph says, clearly enjoying being able to hold the paper out of his shorter brothers' reaches. "Let's wait 'til we're all here."
"We're all here," Don says, plucking the newspaper from Raph's upraised fist. Splinter has materialized too, and as Don searches for the article he makes no suggestion that perhaps Leonardo's public humiliation could be postponed until after training.
"Here it is," Don says, and he clears his throat and begins reading. "'On a recent visit to antiques shop Second Time Around (176 Bleeker Street, Manhattan), I couldn't help noticing a leather-bound book on the sales counter. No rare first edition, this book instead invited visitors to comment on the handcrafted wooden figures displayed nearby. Many of the comments spoke of workmanship and artistic originality, but interspersed with these were stories of fortuitous rendezvous, unexpected windfalls, and disasters averted. More than one of these tales suggested that the totem-like figurines possessed mystical properties.
"'Asked about the provenance of these provocative pieces, proprietor April O'Neil replied that they were the work of a local teen who preferred to remain anonymous. I was, however, able to secure an interview with the mysterious artist, who asked to be identified simply as "Carver".'"
"'Carver'?" Mike groans. "That's the best you could come up with?"
"Shut your trap, Turtle Titan," Raph returns.
Don continues reading.
"'On the phone, Carver is quiet and well-spoken, very much the sensitive artist type.'"
At this point, Donatello has to stop again while Raphael laughs uproariously. Leo buries his face in his hands.
"Please continue, Donatello," Splinter says, when everyone besides Raph feels that the laughing has gone on long enough.
"'He admits to having no formal artistic training'," Don reads loudly, "'but his passion and dedication are clear, and his natural talent apparent. Still, he remains humble, seeming genuinely surprised by how warmly his work has been received. "The pieces always sell out," O'Neil reports. She describes Carver as a disciplined artist, but says he is kept busy by his schoolwork and other hobbies.
"'In response to a query on his choice of material and subject matter - realistic animal statuettes carved from found wood - Carver replies that he has always felt a strong connection to the natural world. His goal, he says, is to help the buyers of his pieces find a similar spiritual link through decorating their homes with objects made from, and representing, elements found in nature.'"
"That's not quite what I said," Leo mumbles.
"'The conversation'," Don continues, "'then turned to the stories of good luck patrons experienced after purchasing one of Carver's works. Asked if he believes his pieces are magical, Carver replied, "No, I don't think there's any magic in them. But I do believe that art inspires us. If my carvings help people to find their own strength, and create positive energy in their world, then I'm proud of that."'"
He falls silent.
"Is that it?" Raph asks.
"That's it." Don folds the paper back and passes it over.
"I think that's enough," Leo says. He can feel his face turning red. He will never live this down.
"Relax, Leo." Don slings an arm around Leo's shoulders, and guides him into the dojo. "It's the Arts section of the Post. Who else is going to read it?"
It isn't the who else that Leo is concerned about.
After practice, Raph extracts the page with the article from the newspaper. He and Mike take turns reading the short piece and making jokes about it which are funny primarily to themselves. Don ignores them, taking the rest of the paper for himself and seeing if there's anything else interesting in it. Leo leans against the counter, eating his cereal and silently taking the abuse.
Finally, Raph tears the article from the page and tapes it to the fridge. "This is for posterity."
"Thank you," Leo says. "Maybe someday you guys will do something worthy of the refrigerator."
Raph and Mike gape at him. Then they burst out laughing. With Leo, this time, and not at him.
Don pulls out another section of the paper, folds it up, and sticks it in his belt.
Later, while waiting for his computer to compile a program, Don pores over the stolen insert. It's a furniture circular, and some of the items advertised in it might eventually come within his family's financial reach.
He looks again at the amount of money April is holding for them, and circles an inexpensive sectional.
A message pops up in the corner of his screen, telling him April has signed on. A moment later an IM window blinks into existence.
I was hoping you'd be on.
He tucks his pencil into the side of his mask, and bends his fingers to the keyboard.
I sold Leo's dragon.
Don hesitates before replying. April hasn't previously felt the need to report individual sales to him.
What, the big one?
The response is so hasty that it contains typos.
Yes, the big one. Donie, I sold ot for $200.
Surely that number is a typo too.
He sits back in his chair.
The message blinks unnoticed. Don is too busy doing some fast mental math. 85 percent of two hundred, plus what we already have...
He snatches the pencil from his mask, recircles the advertised sofa, and scrawls We can afford this. D.
He leaves the insert in the kitchen. By the end of the day, there are five initials on it.
The evening is uneventful. Don doesn't know of anything else worth listening to on the radio, and Mike can't be persuaded to play anything because "I'm working on my masterpiece, Raphie. Art connoisseurs everywhere will wish they had one on their refrigerator."
He tries Leo next. He finds him sitting in his room, reading a book.
"Can't think of any more animals?" Raph says.
"Box is full," Leo replies.
Raph considers suggesting that the two of them run over to April's to deliver it, but the morning fog had promised evening rain, and he doesn't feel like going out. He casts about for something else the two of them might do.
Inspiration curls into him. "Hey, Leo," he says. "This thing you do now when you meditate… will you teach me?"
Leo sighs, closing his book around a finger. "Raph… It's not that easy. It takes -"
"Yeah, I know," Raph says. "Patience, hard work, yada yada." Leo still looks skeptical, so Raph slips into their odd dialect of Japanese, the language in which Leo first learned to trust. It's the best way he knows to express his sincerity. "Brother… will you teach me the first lesson?"
Leo studies him, and for a moment Raph expects to be chastised for his incorrect grammar. Then Leo lets go of the book and slides to the floor, beckoning Raph to sit with him, and answering him in kind. "The first lesson," he says, in their mother tongue, "is stillness."