Splinter never woke up screaming from nightmares. His sons did, more and more often now. They had been thrust into a life of violence too early, and though they could keep a stiff upper lip during the day, at night they were forced to face their fears, and Splinter was up at least once a week helping one or another of his sons calm themselves enough to sleep. They thought that because he never awoke with terror on his lips that he did not have nightmares at all.

He thought he might prefer the screaming.

At least then he might be able to sort out reality from the dream world more thoroughly. From what he could gather, most of his sons' worst dreams were about events that had happened to them, enemies they had fought, battles fresh in their minds or ones long over. He thought it might be a comfort to go from the frenetic madness of the battlefield to the calm quiet of his room. That way he would know the dream for what it was.

His own dreams were more subtle than that.

The worst one, the one that had him up tonight meditating at three o'clock in the morning, was almost more a memory than a dream, and that was the most horrifying thing about it.

It was really a simple dream. It consisted only of himself, gathering up his four sons and placing them in a coffee can. The main difference between the dream and the memory was that these turtles were not the tiny red-eared sliders he had found fifteen years ago, but his sons as he knew them now: proud, strong warriors who trusted him and called him father. That was the only difference. The color of the can, the stench of the sewer, the feel of the ooze, all was as he remembered it. Including his thoughts.

Rats, he knew, were more intelligent than humans gave them credit for, but he had been a genius among rats. Able to mimic his Master's movements and turn them into ninjutsu; able to feel a kind of loyalty and sense of family enough to have the desire to avenge his Master's death; able to plan ahead far enough to think of gathering up four baby turtles and taking them to his burrow where he would be well fed for days.

And this was the thing that made him wake, suddenly and sharply, breathing hard but not crying out, unable to go back to sleep and unable to forget the thought of eating his own sons.

He took another breath, and another, focusing, purging his mind of thoughts. When that did not work, he talked to himself in the privacy of his mind, telling himself that it was a perfectly natural thing for a rat to do, and that once he had awoken that next morning and the effects of the ooze had set in, he had never once thought of eating them again. Concepts like "child" and "protector" and even "father" began vying for space in his brain, and he was no longer an animal but a thinking, rational being.

He never dared to check on his sons after these dreams. Seeing them in the morning always brought with it a sense of normalcy, and he wanted to pretend that he was working himself up over nothing, that he did not need those extra hours of meditation to calm himself, that the dream did not bother him.

It was the only thing Splinter ever lied to himself about.