Disclaimer: TMNT are owned by Eastman, Laird, and Nickelodeon
A/N: Holy crow, what happened to the last two weeks? Life attacked! Sorry for the delay, but it's finished! On to tween-Raphie!
Splinter rested his elbows on the edge of the roof, allowing the breeze to glide across his snout and cheeks. There would be rain later in the night, but his son of time to explore yet.
He was surprised how well the outing was going. For himself, there was a degree of enjoyment he had not felt on the surface before. In his younger years, he'd only taken the risk to venture topside in harsh winters when the sewer just could not support them. Back then, fear for his children had absorbed his energy. He'd never given his surroundings more than a passing glance in his haste to return to them.
Even when he had come to search for an appropriate place to introduce his sons to the world, the trip had been far from pleasant. Twelve years of secrecy and caution deemed harder to put aside than he had thought. He spent much of the first night within the shadows, edging out cautiously only to leap back at the slightest hint of trouble. In the end, though, he had found what he'd been looking for on the empty rooftops of New York City.
He supposed it was the overcast sky which made him feel more at ease than even his first trip with Leonardo. His eldest had been delighted at the adventure, too busy watching the traffic and practicing his vanishing techniques to notice his father's tension. And though the trip had been an uneventful success, the rat had been relieved to return to his familiar sewer tunnels.
His ears flicked as the shadow of his child joined him. He glanced up. Raphael already towered above him. True, all four of them had long ago surpassed him in height, but most of all was Raph. He was steadily inching past five feet and had to slouch to drop his arms onto the ledge. He peered past Splinter to watch the endless stream of cars beneath them.
"I fergot how huge it was…" he said with a sheepish grin.
Splinter dipped his chin. "Yes, it is quite large."
Raphael propped his chin on top of his folded arms, allowing the lights to dance across his eyes. Then, his gaze shifted to the sidewalk and bustling dots of humanity. His smile withered. The fingers peeking beneath his elbow curled into a fist.
Splinter frowned at the motion and lifted his eyes to the scowl he was seeing more and more. It troubled him. As a child, Raphael had been just as outgoing and fun-loving as Michelangelo. Now, as he neared his teenage years, his bright laugh had become rare, his natural aggression spilled out of the dojo, and he often clashed with his brothers. Especially Leonardo, seeming to find challenges and reprimands even when none existed.
He watched Raphael's eyes narrow at the people below, a deep-seeded jealousy sparking in his face. He set his hand upon the cool skin of his son's shoulder, drawing his attention from the street. Splinter gave him a small smile and cast his own frown at the crowd, baring his teeth a little.
Raphael leaned into his side. It was the closest thing the father got to a hug these days.
The rat lifted his nose. "Let them have their world, my son. Overcrowded and noisy and violent more often than not. They were given that domain." He gently turned the young turtle and swept his hand towards the silent rooftops. "But this one will be yours."
He grinned as Raph stepped away from him, studying this new world of shadows, one he had never seen even on TV. A fierce smile of approval appeared and the young fingers trembled with excitement. "Can we go out there, sensei?"
"As to that," Splinter waved for his son to follow him behind some AC units. He pulled two boards from beneath the rumbling casings and set one down near the ledge. He paced out a distance and set the other into place. "First, we must perfect your jumping."
Raph gaped at him. "Yer gonna make me train? Sensei, I can jump just fine!"
"Underground," Splinter said. "In the safety of the dojo. And have you jumped from one building to another before?"
"No…" Raph scowled, looking at the rooftop closest to them. "But it don't look that far."
"That is what Leonardo thought," Splinter said delicately. "Until he made it about half the distance." He made a few adjustments to the boards.
"Leo couldn' do it?"
"By the end of practice he was considerably closer. You have to build your strength, my son. Train your muscle, understand just what force is needed in order - Raphael!"
He whipped to his father, smiling nervously. "I was payin' attention." The rat's eyes narrowed and Raph went back to judging the distance to the next building. "It just ain't that far. I could make it."
"No, Raphael. You can't just yet."
His red-banded son took a step back. "Sure can. Look, I'll show ya!"
But he had already taken off. His feet slapped over the asphalt, he pushed from the ledge, and Splinter's heart stopped as his son soared upward, began to descend…
And disappeared between the two buildings.
"Raphael!" Splinter slammed into the ledge, terror clutching him as he searched the alley below. He panted, not seeing his son on the cement. His eyes lifted higher.
Hanging from the lowest ladder on the opposite fire escape, was a beaming Raphael.
He sung his legs, singing, "I made it!"
Splinter all but collapsed. He blew out a sigh of relief before fury overtook his brow. "Raphael! Get back up here this instant!"
Raph's smile deepened. "Yeah, yeah," he said as he began to climb the ladder sideways.
The metal groaned against his movement.
He froze, eyes fixed on his father in alarm. A breath passed the rat's teeth.
The ladder let loose. It shrieked and rattled as the young turtle's weight drug it down. Raph clutched the rungs, his head bouncing wildly. Then, years of rust and misuse screeched the ladder to a dead stop. Raphael was thrown to the ground, his shell cracking off the pavement.
Splinter was over the ledge, using his own fire escape to descend. He rushed to his son, but then noticed his shoulders were shaking. Raph's teeth flashed as he looked to Splinter, upside-down, laughing.
"How's that fer luck, sensei?"
"Raphael! That was the most…what on earth…you could have…"
His son tilted his head and watched him sputter into silence. Splinter took a breath and let it out through his nose. He folded his arms. "Not quite far enough, wouldn't you agree?"
Raph grinned and tucked his hands behind his head. "Yeah. Maybe I need a little more practice."
"I'm glad you acknowledge that," Splinter said, shaking his head. "Come, we're returning to roof."
Raph rolled to his knees and stood, following his father up the intact fire escape. "Sensei? You won't tell Leo I fell, will you?"
He glanced back. "I don't see how it would come up. Why do you ask?"
The turtle cleared his throat. "No reason."
In other words: I'm gonna tell him I made it.
Splinter sighed heavily, helped his son onto the rooftop, and promptly rapped him over the head with his walking stick. Raph let out an indignant cry, which the rat ignored. "I hope you realize what a dangerous and ridiculous action that was. There was no reason for you to put yourself in harm's way just to prove you could do something Leonardo has not. Now, before we resume your training, I want you to promise you will think things through before acting upon them."
Raph gingerly rubbed his head. "Yeah, yeah. Sure, sensei."
"My son, this is serious. If you don't take your actions under consideration, the consequences could be disastrous. If anything ever happened to you…"
His speech faltered and he blinked, startled at the tightness in his throat. He coughed. "I could not bear the…" He coughed again and Raph's eyes widened. What was wrong with him? He'd scolded Raphael on his impulsiveness hundreds of times before.
He glanced at the alley beneath them. It was just too close, my son. Can't you see that?
Then, he felt arms wrapping about his thin shoulders. Raphael said nothing and Splinter allowed the silence to close around them. Raphael never responded to lectures and being scolded, at most he waited patiently as the words crashed against his chest and fell to his feet unheard. But he'd caught the fear in Splinter's voice, and that he responded to instantly.
And though they said nothing, Splinter understood what thrummed in his son's wild heart.
Don't worry, sensei. I got it.
He wasn't sure what "it" was. The jump? What his father was trying to say? Life in general, perhaps? It didn't matter, Splinter supposed, for there wasn't the slightest trace of regret in his son's face. He doubted there ever would be. Raphael didn't bother with things like that. Not when it came to his own safety.
Oh, Lord, Splinter feared the teenage years.
* Ending was a little mushier than intended…oh, well! There it is, guys! I hope you liked it! Thanks, everyone! Please let me know what ya think! See ya around!