A/N: Well, it got away from me a bit, topping out at over 70 chapters, but I hope it was worth it. Splinter has been an amazing character to write, and I have learned more writing this fic I think than anything else I've done before. I can't give enough credit, thanks and hugs, to my two amazing beta-readers, Melody Winters and DuckiePray. Thanks also to GoddessHanyuu, for help with translations. Any spelling and translation mistakes in the text are entirely my fault. She did her best. :)
Thanks also to GoddessHanyuu, for help with translations. Any spelling and translation mistakes in the text are entirely my fault. She did her best. :)
Thanks to reviewers are at the end, as always. :)
Friends... this will likely be my last fiction for a while... probably until the fall. I will be posting a one-shot sometime this week, a fluffy little Splinter/Luci song-fic, but then I really must focus on my own commercial fiction, nonfiction and college work for a while.
However, I have no plans to abandon Fanfiction dot net. I will still be reading your many amazing fictions, and I will be writing over the summer. I hope to have Hero's Return ready to start posting in the fall. Until then, saraba (farewell), for now.
Epilogue ~Three months later~
The feeling of anticipation had been building in the Lair for hours.
I wonder if the lack of festivities around the Christmas holiday have made this an even more extraordinary occasion, thought Splinter, amused, as he watched his sons and daughters-in-law scurry about.
"Do you think we need more balloons over here?" asked Sierra over her shoulder.
Michelangelo nodded. "And another streamer… to match this side."
"Don't you think that's a bit of overkill, Mikey?" asked Don, grinning.
"Nah, you can never have too many streamers," answered Mike, climbing down from the ladder he'd been standing on to help Sierra with the decorations.
"Ann, you know ya shouldn't be stretching like that," scolded Raphael, rushing to his wife's side as she reached up to place the corner of the painstakingly hand-lettered sign.
"Oh, honestly, Raph, I'm pregnant, not crippled," Ann fussed.
The red-banded Turtle took the sign from her hand. "Go, sit."
"Honestly." Ann shook her head, but made her way over to the couch. She glanced at Splinter, who was sitting calmly in his armchair with Kouki's shell cradled against his stomach. The Turtle tot was watching the proceedings silently, wide-eyed.
"Will Austin be back soon?"
"I bet Luci will be happy to see you again." Ann leaned back into the cushions, watching Raphael. "You're hanging it crooked, hon. A little higher on this side."
"It is always good to spend time with friends," said Splinter, though his heart lurched at the mention of her name. It had been three long months since he and Michelangelo had left Lucille's home. Austin had stayed longer, wanting to spend as much time as possible with her mother. It had turned out to be a wise choice. Only a week after the mutants departed, Janey Abramson had passed peacefully in her sleep.
Austin remained in New Jersey for the funeral service and traditional cremation ceremony before returning home, but recently she'd traveled back to New Jersey several times to help her aunt clean out the little house in preparation for her move to the City. This was the first time Lucille had come to the city since her sister's passing.
"It seems to me you two were a bit more than just friends," said Ann.
"I promised Janey-san that she would always have a place with Austin's family," said Splinter mildly.
Ann glanced at him and chuckled. "Whatever you say, Master Splinter."
"Indeed." Splinter smiled.
The sound of the elevator descending had the room pausing, freezing in place. The doors slid open, revealing a red-headed woman carrying an enormous sheet-cake. The man behind her was so loaded down with brightly-colored bags and boxes, it was a wonder he could see where he was going.
A chorus of "Hi, April's" rang out, interspersed with "Hi, Casey's".
"Li'l help here, Raph," called Casey, muffled behind his burden.
"Whatsa matter, Case? Can't handle it?" Raphael grinned broadly, but relieved his friend of most of his load.
"I t'ink Ape bought out half da store," grumbled Casey good-naturedly.
"Oh hush," scolded April. She disappeared into the kitchen, and returned without the cake. "I just set it on the counter. Is that ok, Mikey?"
"Perfect, Ape, thanks. Hey, Donny, hold this ladder for me, will you?"
"Hello, Master Splinter," said April with a warm smile. "Ann, how are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," said Ann. "In spite of my husband's fussing."
"Ya gotta take it easy, Annie," said Raph gruffly, standing up from depositing the load of packages on a small table set up for the purpose.
"I am taking it easy. And that sign is still crooked," grumbled Ann, but she was smiling.
"Dis is quite da shindig, huh?" remarked Casey, grinning. "When're we gonna get dis party started? I'm starvin'."
"As soon as the guest of honor arrives," returned Ann. "But if you're hungry, Casey, Michelangelo has a huge tray of snacks on the table in the kitchen."
April shook her head as the man disappeared toward the promised food. "Honestly, he's a bottomless pit."
"He's no worse than the rest of them," returned Sierra, coming over to join the little group. "We're so glad you could come, April."
"We're honored that you've invited us. So, will Austin and Luci get here in time for the party?"
"They should arrive at any moment," Leonardo answered, sliding an arm comfortably around his wife's waist.
Kouki shifted on Splinter's lap, leaning forward and stretching his arms toward April.
"Ahhhh!" he declared solemnly.
"Well, hello, Kouki." April knelt down. "May I, Master Splinter?"
"Of course, April." Splinter relinquished the baby.
The woman gathered him up with a smile. "Hey there little guy. How are you?"
Kouki reached up, winding his fingers into her hair and tugging experimentally. He patted her cheek with his other hand, exploring her face as if fascinated.
"He's so much like his dad," said April.
"He really is." Raphael grinned. "He likes ya, Ape."
The woman shot Raph a glare, and Splinter chuckled.
"He does seem to have an… affinity for you, April," he said.
April glanced at Splinter, startled, and grinned ruefully. "Not you, too."
"I think none of us will ever let Donny live down his teenage crush," said Leonardo.
"Wait, you mean Don had a crush on April?" asked Sierra.
"I think we all did, at one time 'r another," said Raphael. He settled on the couch next to Ann, sliding an arm comfortably around her shoulders. She turned to look at him, one eyebrow rising.
"Aw, come on, Annie." Raphael laughed. "We were teenagers, an' she was da first girl we evah met."
"Thankfully, my sons were far too young for Miss O'Neil, and I am blessed to have her as another daughter," said Splinter calmly, eliciting a deep blush from April.
"All right, if you're all quite through," she said, pretending annoyance.
"Yeah. She's my babe, an' don't any o' you mooks evah forget it," joked Casey Jones, sidling up to her.
Splinter chuckled. The light-hearted teasing made it easier for him to suppress the anxiety that was threatening to rise up. So many questions had troubled his attempts at meditation, but one made concentration impossible.
What if she has changed her mind?
He shook his head. Worry only invites trouble. I must be prepared to accept whatever Fate brings.
The elevator rumbled once more, and the assembled company turned expectantly. Austin stepped out, carrying Skylar. Splinter stood up as a second figure followed her into the room, but to his slight disappointment, it was not Lucille, but Beverly.
"Look who I found," said Austin, smiling.
Leonardo went across the room to meet his sisters-in-law. He gave Austin a bow of greeting before turning to Beverly. She smiled brilliantly, shifting the bundle in her arms to her other hip.
"Isamu," she said softly. "Wake up."
A very sleepy little boy lifted his head, blinking.
"Le-o?" he murmured.
"Hi, Buddy," said Leonardo. "Come on in. How'd it go, Bev?"
"We're official, Leo. The judge signed the papers. He's ours."
"I'll be right back, Leo. Could you take Skylar for a moment?" asked Austin.
Leonardo gathered his niece into his arms, and put his free arm around Beverly's shoulders, guiding her into the main room where everyone waited.
"Hey, big guy," said Mikey, waving to Isamu.
"Here, Mike." Leo passed Skylar to her father.
She squealed, grabbing his mask tail.
"Thanks, Bro." Michelangelo grinned widely and bumped noses with his daughter. "You had a long trip with Mommy, didn't you, Sky?"
"Donny?" Leonardo looked expectantly to his younger brother.
Donatello nodded. He went to April, who held out his son. Taking Kouki gently, he came to stand next to Beverly. The pair faced the family, beaming proudly.
The elevator doors slid open once more, and Austin hurried into the room, holding one end of a rather large package. Lucille followed closely, puffing slightly.
"Sorry, everyone," she said. "I'm afraid Austin's choice of gift was a bit more awkward than I'd anticipated."
"I hope you don't mind, Donny," said Austin, a little shy. "Mother bought this rocking horse for me when I was a girl. I thought the children would enjoy it."
"I know they'll love playing on it, Austin," said Donatello.
"It seems appropriate," said Lucille, helping Austin set the horse down. "That it should bring joy to your new family, as it did to you as a child, Austin."
"Thanks, Aunt Luci."
Splinter's breath caught as Luci met his gaze. Beside her, Austin smiled. She took Lucille's hand, and led her over to the Rat.
"Sorry, Splinter. I didn't mean to keep her away for so long," she said with a grin.
"You traveled well, Lucille-san?" asked Splinter.
"'A journey of a thousand miles is like one, to he who travels for love'," she responded.
Splinter glared at Michelangelo, who had the grace to blush, but Lucille giggled, dissolving his annoyance with his son.
"Now that we're all assembled," said Leonardo, smiling. "Shall we begin?"
"Yes, my son." Splinter nodded.
"Donny," said Leo, turning to his brother. "This family has changed and grown so much. From the time we met April," He turned, nodding to their friend. "To Mikey bringing Austin home for the first time…" Leonardo gave his sister-in-law a smile, and Splinter's heart swelled with pride.
Our family has changed and grown, he thought. Reaching over, he took Lucille's hand into his own. She glanced at him, and smiled, squeezing his fingers warmly.
"Today, the family is growing again," continued Leo. "We've come together, as family and friends, to welcome into our clan a son. Don, when you first brought Isamu home, I thought he didn't belong here." He met his brother's eyes steadily. "I was wrong. He does belong here. He's one of us now, and we pledge, as a family, to do whatever you need us to do in supporting you and Beverly in raising both your boys." He put one hand on Donatello's shoulder, and brushed the other lightly over the little boy's head.
Isamu looked uncertainly at Donatello, then back to Leonardo.
Leonardo nodded. "Welcome to the family, Isamu Hamato."
Splinter felt Lucille shift beside him. He watched as Raphael and Michelangelo stood. Raphael approached first.
"Yeah, Donny. We're family, no matter what," he said gruffly. "An' dat goes fer you, too, little guy." Raphael ruffled the boy's hair, eliciting a giggle.
Beverly nodded, tears standing in her blue eyes.
"That's right. Uncle Raphael," she said softly into the boy's ear.
Raph stepped back and Michelangelo approached. "Just remember, Micro-dude, I'm the best uncle." He grinned, before turning to Don.
"Ya done good, Donny."
Michelangelo stepped back, and Donatello slid his free arm around Beverly's waist. "Thanks, all of you. Adopting Isamu wasn't an easy choice, but," he glanced at Bev. "I know it was the right one. We couldn't have asked for a better family."
He looked to his father expectantly, and Splinter smiled. He made his way to the young family. Donatello's expression was a mixture of joy and shy pride. Beverly leaned down, presenting Isamu to Splinter.
"My son." Splinter laid his hand on Donatello's arm. "And my grandsons." With his free hand, he brushed a palm over Isamu's dark hair. "You have brought me much joy."
"Sp-intah!" Isamu grinned widely. He pointed. "Mrs. Ap-il. Casey. See-ra. Lu-ci. Ann. Raph-el. Mi-ey. Aw-stin. Le-o," he recited.
"Your family, Isamu-kun," replied Splinter smiling.
"Thank you, Father," said Donatello, bowing a bit awkwardly with Kouki still perched on his arm. The Turtle boy giggled, reaching for Splinter's whiskers.
"Let's get this party started," suggested Michelangelo, grinning widely. "I made your favorite, Micro-dude! Chocolate cake!"
"Cake?" Isamu perked up considerably, grinning. He twisted to look at Beverly, then Don. "Kouki cake, too? An' Sky-ar?"
"You got it." Michelangelo beamed.
"Now, Mikey, don't go filling them up with sugar…" Donatello protested, but Splinter saw his mouth quirking in a grin.
The family surged almost as a unit toward the kitchen. Only Lucille and Splinter remained in the main part of the Lair.
"Are you coming, Sensei?" asked Leonardo over his shoulder.
"In a moment, my son," replied Splinter with a smile.
Leo nodded and disappeared into the noisy fray.
Lucille chuckled, making her way over to him.
"Splinter. It is so good to see you."
"You have an amazing family, Hamato Splinter-san," she said softly.
"We are most fortunate," he replied. On a reckless impulse, he held out his hand. "Will you join us, Lucille-san?"
She paused only a heartbeat before a smile grew, lighting her face so that the lines of strain and grief melted away. She slipped her hand into his, her palm fitting neatly against his own. "I would be honored."
A/N: This... has been quite a ride. This fic was a year in the making... and might not have happened at all without the encouragement of the readers and reviewers who made this series such a joy to write. I doubt I can truly do Splinter justice with my limited skills, but I hope that in some alternate reality where Heroes exist, that he will accept this as a tribute, and smile.
Doomo arigato gozaimasu, Thank you so very incredibly much, to my amazing beta readers, DuckiePray and Melody Winters. These gals have been with me every step of the way, supporting, encouraging, cajoling, and in general just being awesome supporters and friends. I am blessed, and honored, to exchange beta with them both, and to call them my friends.
Be sure to look up Duckie's amazing series, beginning with Of Hope and New Faces, and soon to continue with Refuge. And look for Melody Winter's upcoming Splinter origins fic. Beta-reading her story strongly influenced my view of Splinter, and though I didn't think it was possible, made me adore the Rat even more.
"Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones."
So, thanks to all those who took the time to read and review and make this fic so incredibly satisfying to complete:
DuckiePray for the first review, the first read as one of my epic beta-readers, and for... well everything. For being an amazing author and a good friend. There will always be room in the bomb shelter for you. ;)
GoddessHanyuu for such nice reviews and for help with translations and spelling of Japanese words. Enjoy Japan and return to us safely! :)
Official Aburame Shino for foreshadowing with "DUN DUN DUNNNNN" LOL And refusing to forgive me. ;)
ice around the moon for "Looks like Isamu has found a new mommy aka Raph" which near made me fall out my chair giggling. o.o LOL
SmileyDJingles for looking forward to this story
Reinbeauchaser for neglecting her virtual animals to read ;)
Pinguin1993 for reading, and for creating such a fascinating AU universe in her own fics... Update soon! :D
candelight for lighting the way. *hugs Sister-friend.
Leonardo1885 for cracking ribs laughing at Mikey. ;)
It's Lazy Mel (Melody Winters) For hours of reading, ranting, laughing... For everything. Love you, Girl.
BlackShuriken for reading and reviewing
SilverDragonStar for a thoughtful review
Sasami1 for a nice review
sweetprincipale for reviewing :)
Ramica for coming along for the ride.
mariarosa for excitement :)
Scotia60 for enjoying seeing Hun tormented
Laughter's Tears for such nice reviews
Amy Hamato for wanting to cuddle Splinter... awwww :)
Peachy-Keen for making me laugh with her air violin. ;)
Fyrefly for stopping by. :)
ZathuraRoy for being happy for the Hamatos. :)
TigerToa for calling Splinter a "fantastic patriarch" AMEN, sister.
Allithea for "we need some trouble"... Hope you got enough! :)
LeonardoMystic for liking Leo/Sierra fluff and calling Leo an a$$ for the way he acted toward Isamu, which made me smile. He really was... ;)
little red crayon for random chats, sharing ice-cream, and keeping Mikey entertained so I could write. ;)
artychick7 for wanting more violence. LOL
Reepicheep22 for reading and reviewing :)
AlyssaFelixa for hearts, exclamations and excitement :)
graad for nice reviews :)
Kyaserin Marii for finding time to read. *hugs* Kat.
Margui for reading and reviewing :)
Linzerj for "almost" feeling sorry for Hun
christi for calling me "evil" Thank you! LOL ;)
Greenhemoglobin for "Splinter's got the fever!" which made me LOL
Scribe of Turesa for reading and reviewing.
chips and ice-cream for wanting a parachute :)
beastwarsmaster for guessing Ann was preggers.
Espree for offering Don advice for dealing with parents ;)
CourtneyLReed for wanting more focus on Raph and Ann
Meganechan720 for recommending an awesome book, The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler :D
Soului for a thoughtful review
StormOftheWinter'sEyefor being sad over Isamu. :(