This story is set in the 2012 universe. Rated T just to be safe for brief violent scenes in later chapters.
Splinter removed the brown hooded cloak from his closet and wrapped the garment around himself, taking care that the sleeves covered most of his hands. He practiced hunching his shoulders a few times to decrease his commanding height. He knew he looked a bit unusual in the cloak, but he'd learned that most people never questioned the appearance of one they believed to be homeless. He concealed a tanto beneath the nondescript folds of the garment and emerged from his chambers. He would pull the hood up later, but until he was ready to leave the relative safety of the sewers, the thin cloth hung in loose folds behind his shoulders.
The aggressive pinging and rattling from the pinball machine instantly told him Raphael's location. He could hear Michelangelo chattering excitedly somewhere, but he couldn't discern what he was saying over the noise of the game machine. Donatello, typically, was silent, but the faint metallic, scorched odor wafting through the lair told Splinter that his tallest son was still working in his lab. He had devised an electrical grenade of sorts for their most recent encounter with the Shredder, and even though the ambush had ultimately failed, Donatello had been pleased at how the weapon had worked and had instantly begun manufacturing more.
The blue-masked Turtle appeared in the doorway of his room when he heard Splinter call, dangling a small bag in one hand while tucking a pair of kaiken into his belt. It felt strange seeing his son carrying the short daggers instead of his katana, but the gleaming twin swords were anything but inconspicuous.
"Are you ready to leave?" Splinter asked.
"Hai, Sensei." He slung the bag over one shoulder. Inside were a pair of baggy jeans and a too-large hooded sweatshirt that Leo would pull on before they emerged from the sewer. Unlike their father, the Turtles had never been comfortable in clothing – mostly because anything that effectively concealed their shelled silhouettes was inevitably at least two sizes too large. Even though the extra fabric didn't impede their movements too badly, they still felt hampered by the clothes.
"Sensei!" Michelangelo came tumbling out of Leonardo's room in his brother's wake, looking hopefully up into his father's face. "Can I come, too?"
The rat considered for a moment. "You may," he assented, nodding once. "So long as you can be ready in five minutes. Your brother and I are already prepared to leave."
"Awesome! Yeah, I can be ready! Hang on!" And he bounded off to his own room.
Leonardo looked at Splinter uncertainly. "Uh...Sensei...really?"
"With three of us, we can carry more food," Splinter replied practically. "And you have told me that Michelangelo has been getting better about his focus. This will be a good training exercise for him."
His eldest considered for a moment, then nodded in agreement. "As long as he keeps his paws off his T-phone," he said with a smirk. "Otherwise he'll be playing games on it all night."
"Michelangelo reporting for duty!" The orange-masked Turtle came running up and saluted smartly, his own small backpack slung over his shoulder.
Splinter folded his arms and gave his son an appraising glance. "Is your phone silenced?"
"And you have packed clothing?"
"You are sure you remembered pants this time?"
Michelangelo looked insulted. "Sensei!"
"It's a valid question," Leonardo pointed out.
"Hm. True," his younger brother conceded. He looked up at Splinter, blue eyes wide and sincere. "I have pants."
Splinter allowed a spare, amused smile to cross his face as he lightly cuffed his youngest son on the side of the head. "Raphael, we are leaving," he called. "I would like you and Donatello to stay home until we return." He waited until he heard the faint "Hai, Sensei" from the general direction of the pinball machine, then turned to go.
He paused briefly at the lair's hidden exit, tufted ears twitching for a moment or two as he listened to make sure the outside tunnel was empty, then slipped out into the darkened passageway. A dim puddle of yellow light surrounded them from the small lamp clipped to his belt. His two sons followed noiselessly, staying close to his side like twin shadows. He couldn't keep a pleased smile from his face. Almost from the very first days after their mutation, the Turtles had immediately and instinctively followed him. It had been a difficult task to teach the clumsily toddling young ones to follow silently, but when his sons learned a skill, they learned it well.
"Where are we going?" Leonardo asked softly.
"The Salvation Army first, and then St. Thomas," Splinter replied. He hadn't visited either food pantry in several weeks, so it was unlikely that he would be remembered. It hadn't taken him long to figure out where the homeless population of New York went to get donated groceries, and over the years he had developed a plan for going back and forth between different locations, changing the order every few months or so. If he he pressed his ears flat against his head, pulled the hood over his face, and kept away from direct light (and kept his tail curled beneath his clothing), any humans he interacted with remained oblivious to the fact that he was a giant rat.
His task had become easier over the past several months after he had finally allowed his sons to emerge into the overhead world. They could take home more food at one time, which meant fewer trips topside for Splinter. And since his nemesis had appeared in New York, he had all but stopped his trips to the surface altogether.
Truthfully, deep down he did not want his sons going up so frequently, either...but through a curious – or cruel – twist of fate, they had become guardians of the city against the growing threat of the Purple Dragons and guardians of Earth against the Kraang. The warrior of honor buried beneath Splinter's animal exterior could not forbid that the four Turtles abandon those whom they had chosen to protect; and the father in him could not deny his sons the joy of their new freedom. So he had chosen to trust in his sons' skill and provide guidance where he could...and bide his time until the inevitable confrontation.
The trio moved slowly and cautiously until they were several blocks from the lair, then increased their pace to a graceful, ground-eating lope. Splinter took a different route to the surface each time even though he had never encountered anyone. This time, he chose to take a run-down, drippy drainage tunnel. He held out a hand briefly to signal a halt and lifted his head, sniffing the damp air cautiously. Michelangelo's hand slapped against his outstretched palm in a high five, and he had to bite back an amused grin.
"Stay close," he murmured. "These passageways are stable but there is a good deal of debris underfoot."
"We know," Michelangelo replied in the same tone. "This is where we flushed Rad Brad and Xever down the sewer after we tricked them into following us down here. Isn't that right, Leo?"
"We're in the neighborhood," the older Turtle confirmed. "It was a few blocks north of here, I think. Near one of the bigger water mains."
Michelangelo walked beside his father while Leonardo brought up the rear. Splinter's steps slowed as he advanced. Although he hadn't been that way for a while, the corridor felt different. There was a fresh current of air coming from somewhere that seemed out of place. They had made it halfway to the next junction when a very soft click-whrrr reached Splinter's ears. The rat halted instantly, gripping Michelangelo's upper arm with one hand while slapping his other against Leonardo's plastron. Both Turtles froze immediately, hardly breathing.
Splinter had half a heartbeat to realize that he and Michelangelo were too far forward. Half a heartbeat to realize he did not have time to run. Half a heartbeat to save his sons.
The hidden charges in the passageway detonated with a blinding flash, the blast echoed by the sound of shattering cinderblock and crashing wooden beams. Splinter shoved Leonardo back as hard as he could, trying to throw him out of harm's way, and jerked Michelangelo against his body. He had just enough time to curl himself protectively over his son before the ceiling crashed down.