Disclaimer - TMNT are property of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.
Who Comforts Splinter?
"Masta Splinta! Masta Splinta!"
For the first time in years, he woke with a strangled hiss. Sharp teeth bared themselves against the night, ready for battle. His claws curled as he pushed himself up to face an enemy who was not there.
Ragged breaths scraped against his thoughts as residual images warred for his attention. Men all around him. The bars which once offered security now imprisoned him. A beloved figure crumpled upon the floor.
Sewer air mingled with his sweat to dampen his fur. His nose twitched but sensed no danger. His whiskers quivered yet caught no threat. He looked at the gray, curved siding of the pipe where he spent his nights and sighed.
Memory. The bane of his transformation. More and more details returned to him through his dreams. Details dredged unwanted from a time when instinct had dominated emotion. All emotion but fear. With every passing night, the cruel death of his owner only solidified into the heartless murder of his father.
A cry of pain lingering in his ears was suddenly intermixed by the frightened call of a child. He straightened, looking towards the extension of his burrow. His eyes fixed not on the small television, or the low table, nor on the door leading to the training room, but on something much closer.
A huge pair of eyes peeping over the rim of his pipe.
His ears came forward, worried. "Raphael. Why are you awake?"
The six year old stood, his shoulders rising into sight. "Hadda use the toilet. Herdja cryin…"
Relief washed over him. "Ah."
The decision to move his children's bed from beneath his pipe to their own room down the hall had been greatly opposed by his own over-protectiveness. Two years later, it still bothered him that he could not simply peek over his bed to check on them. He missed watching them sleep, studying them when he was not stopping fights, foraging for food, or hauling Donatello away from the fuse box.
But the realist in him had recognized their need for independence and the move had been made. He rationalized that it was for the best. They were hidden deeper within the burrow and he retained the perfect outpost to defend them.
It was soon after this, without their presence, that his dreams had come bubbling up. He missed them terribly, but resigned himself to only enjoy those trips to the bathroom or to the kitchen which woke him.
He returned his attention to the present. "Yes?"
"Why were ya cryin'?"
He hesitated before lowering himself to his belly, chin resting on folded paws so he was eye to eye with his son. "I had a nightmare."
If possible, those massive eyes widened further. The young turtle threw a knee up and hefted himself over the lip of the pipe. "You have nigh'mares?"
"Of course, my son," Splinter said, drawing back. His son scooted through the straw after him.
"But you're not scared of anything'."
Splinter winced, unsure if he wanted his son to know just how frightened his was on a daily basis concerning all of their safety. Or was it better for their naïve view of him as a hero to last a few more years?
He heard the incessant chatter of a ghostly tazor. Saw Yoshi's chest rise into the air. A toppling feeling and the cage burst around him. Helpless. A man made of metal. A bright, downward slash. Blood on the wall.
The dull sound of death collapsing upon a wooden floor.
"I have known fear," he whispered. "The night my father died."
Cold laughter. Silence. Silence.
"Because I could not stop the monster."
He had lain upon his master's chest, content to wait forever to catch the familiar thrum of a heartbeat which never came. The following morning, the landlady's scream of discovery had terrified him. He had fled between her feet, down countless stairs, and into the rainy streets before any notion of his abandonment had occurred to him. His owner was gone and he was alone.
Instinct had made him run then. Self-preservation.
He feared that action more than the man of metal. He had run once. What would keep him from running again? From abandoning his precious - He blinked.
Raphael was staring at him, golden eyes mixed by hurt and confusion.
"What is wrong, my son?"
"You…you tol' Mikey monsters ain't real."
The rat blinked again. That had been just after the move. Michelangelo had become convinced of a monster living in the tiny space where they stored their toys. Splinter had put a quick end to this belief as he saw similar worries growing on the faces of his older three. He did not have room for five in a pipe which barely fit one.
Splinter smiled and shook his head, cursing his own blindness. While Donatello excelled in words and numbers, Leonardo mastered in training, and Michelangelo achieved the finesse of control of his own muscles, Raphael's skills were sometimes overlooked. Unfortunately, it was his aggression which gained Splinter's attention the easiest, but he had a memory unlike his brothers.
Splinter could see how his son reacted to the world around him, silently taking it all in. Every lesson, talk, and mistake was carefully filed behind his striking eyes, ready to be called on in a moment's notice. And while his learning may have been a hair slower, his mistakes were rare and never repeated. His temper was his only consistent flaw and even that was expressed slightly different each time he succumbed to it.
Because he learned from every missed step, every faulty kata, and every punishment he'd received. And he kept score of every promise which had been made to him or that he had made.
Memory. The bane of Splinter's existence. The greatest ally of his strongest child.
He pushed himself into a sitting position and drew his son onto his lap. Raphael watched him close, still waiting for an explanation. Splinter debated within himself, unsure how much he should reveal to such a young mind. His sons would hear the story someday, but together. Not like this.
"What your brother feared did not exist, my son, as I said. But there are other kinds of monsters in the world. This monster was actually a man. A bad man that I could not fight."
"You were scared of him?"
"For a moment," the father lied.
Raphael's frown deepened. "How coul' ya only be scared a momen'? When I -" he sucked his breath back and coughed. "When…Mikey gets scared, s'like he can't move."
"And Donnie…" Raphael added quickly.
"And what of Leonardo?"
His son's shoulders wilted a bit. "Leo's like you."
"Then I'm sure he knows your fear as well."
Raphael scowled and tucked a fist beneath his chin. "But…we can't do nothing' if we're too scared to move. Right? If the bad man comes back?"
Yoshi struggled to rise. Splinter was frozen.
His father died alone.
"Correct. If you allow fear to hold you down, it will consume everything." Splinter cocked his head. "But, it can also be useful."
"Well, fear keeps us alert and aware of potential danger. And knowing our fears allows us to work past them, to overcome. We cannot escape fear, but we can draw enough strength from it in order to protect the ones we love. It helps us understand ourselves and better what we find."
"So…if we're scared for just a little bit, we can do anything?"
Splinter chuckled. "That is not what I said."
The child paused, working through his father's words. "If something bad does happen… even if we're scared, we can do enough to help."
"If needed, yes, you can help." He pushed back, lifting a stern finger. "But only if you completely understand the situation. To recklessly jump into a fight is foolish and dangerous, do you understand?"
Something flickered in the young eyes and a small smile touched his mouth. And Splinter swore he heard the world click into place for his son. A glittering defiance rose past innocence and ambition. In an flash, Splinter saw a shadow of the warrior his son would grow into. A defender. A protector. A proud fighter with an aptitude for finding trouble. He was torn between awe and apprehension to witness such an epiphany in one so small.
Then it was gone, filed away, leaving a six-year-old with a crooked smile and a scraped elbow in its wake. Raphael looked up at him and his grin faded.
"Can I help ya fight if the bad man comes back?"
Splinter chuckled and hugged him close, kissing the top of his head. "Perhaps when you are older. I do not want you to think on this now. It is far away, Raphael."
"Are you still scared?"
The dream would return, he knew that well. But as he sat in his straw, within his strange home, with his son in his arms, Splinter also knew he was blessed. He had four strong sons who were growing stronger by the minute and were eager to explore their world, prepared to take the bad along with the good. The bitter with the sweet. The pain with the joy. They would face it together and with him.
Yoshi's fate would not be his.
"No, Raphael. I am not afraid anymore."
* Ah, mush. It's Christmas time and I'm a sentimental fool, it's true! Sap is good this time of year, yes? I hope you enjoyed it! Reviews, please? Puppy eyes…
** I know Splinter defended Yoshi but I skipped that detail since I wanted it to be more about him feeling powerless. Sorry to Splinter fans!