A/N: I know this probably need a lot more proofing but I really want to update at least once a week so here you go. If you notice something feel free to PM me I won't be offended. And of course, all comments/feedback is greatly appreciated.
Turning to face his third son, Splinter squinted as he tried to clear his mind enough to understand the turtle's words.
"Wha…..I'm….I'm bleeding" he rasped.
Leo and Raph exchanged worried glances at their father's shaky speech.
Reaching up to touch his own temple, Splinter flinched at the sting of pain when his fingers met the sticky gash running across the side of his head. It was already drying, so they must have been sitting there for some time but he was too tired to figure out how long. He was weak and having trouble concentrating. His eyes, they just….they just seemed so…. so heavy and... The details of his self-evaluation hard for his mind to hold on to. Nevertheless he was sure, he knew he was suffering a concussion and possibly an infection from the cut. There was no telling how long he would be able to stay conscious enough to help his sons back home. Even in his mental fog Splinter felt a touch of panic at the thought, though his fatherly instincts took control as he tried not to alarm his already scared children.
"Oh, yes, I have had a little accident," he said slowly, carefully pronouncing each word and then offering Donnie a smile. "I will bandage it, " he paused "when we get home. I'm fine , my son, and there is nothing for you to worry about." Again he offered his son a weak smile before letting his head tip back to rest on the wall his eyes sliding shut. Not quite believing their father, it was quiet for several moments as the brothers waited anxiously for him to stir again.
"Um…sensei?" It was Leonardo
"Yes, my son," Splinter answered quietly without moving his head or lifting his eyelids.
Leo surveyed his younger brother's faces. Mikey had already complained about being hungry several times while Father had been asleep and Donnie's wide eyes seemed to be looking to him for answers, while Raph only scowled, a mask Leo knew meant his brother was scared. While part of him wanted to simply curl up beside them and wait as well; the responsibility, as oldest, to do something seemed to weigh heavily in that moment. What exactly to do though, he wasn't sure.
"How, um….should we….are you…," Leo stammered unsure of whether it was disrespectful to ask if his father had some sort of plan for getting them home. Before he could continue though, Splinter suddenly opened his eyes and began to shift his weight forward to stand. Splinter had heard the doubt and fear in his son's voice and felt the urgency of needing to move, needing to take charge while he still could, before he lay any more burden on his eldest young shoulders.
"My sons, we are going home, right now." He said in a commanding though a bit shrill voice.
At hearing his father give a directive, Leo sighed with inward relief and smiled widely, "Hai, sensei."
Mikey scrambled out of Splinter's lap and Raph and Leo offered their shoulders for their father to steady himself. Splinter finally got to standing, leaning heavily on the wall. Looking around he noted that they were in an unfamiliar part of the sewer, he cursed himself for bringing the turtles with him. He had wanted to use the supply run as an opportunity to train them on navigating in the labyrinth of tunnels. Before the collapse he had been instructing them on observing small landmarks but he wasn't sure how carefully they had been listening, as they were all excited and enjoying the rare occurrence of being out of the lair all together. To further complicate matters, they had run rather haphazardly to avoid the collapse. In his normal state, Splinter would have no problem leading them home, but with a concussion he would have to pray instinct would take over.
"We're up one level so if we continue east we should be able to avoid any workers who might be working on the collapsed tunnel. We'll go around and come down on the other side of it and then is a direct route from there to the lair, " he announced as much for his own benefit as for his children.
Pushing off from the wall his sons put themselves on either side of him and he took a few shaky steps.
Seeing Father upright and walking did wonders to relieve the young turtles' anxiety but the relief was short-lived. Suddenly overcome with vertigo, Splinter began to sway. Raph clutched his sensei's side desperately trying to keep him standing. As his vision blurred, the tunnel turned upside down and began to spin and it was sheer will that let Splinter shift his weight to avoid crushing one of his sons as he buckled to his knees. Before he could move again, waves of nausea racked his body. Face wrinkled in utter shame and distress he clinched his paw over his muzzle as he involuntarily and quite violently retched through his fingers releasing all the bile from his gut onto the tunnel floor.
Terror gripped each turtle child as none of them had ever comprehended that Father could get sick. His world no longer making sense, and the entire ordeal becoming too much Mikey collapsed in sobs. Donnie, himself deeply shaken, was next to Mikey instantly hugging his little brother and whispering that everything would be ok, though he didn't really believe his own words. Raph, meanwhile, stood completely frozen staring at their father, his own stomach turning weak and jumpy, at that sight of their father so distressed. No less stunned it was Leonardo that had managed to hold on to Father, keeping contact on his father's shoulder with his trembling hand and offering his silent support as he didn't know what else to do.
His sickness finally subsiding, Splinter caught his breath before dragging himself back against the wall and far from the mess. Sitting there for a few moments he breathed deeply while his sons stared, whimpered and waited. He was not going to be able to walk much less lead them home. Finally, looking to Leo who had never left his side, he whispered using his native tongue "Son, your family needs you now, I need you"
"Hai, Chichi, nandemo," Leo answered without hesitation and while noting that his Father's slip to Japanese meant the situation had just gotten more serious.
Splinter nearly lost his composure at the menacing guilt that assaulted his spirit as he considered what he was about to do. He wasn't sure if it was the right choice. Should he send them all back at once? He wasn't sure Leonardo could handle leading all his brothers at once they were already scared, hungry and tired and could distract him from navigating. But what if he sent Leonardo ahead alone and he never came back? That would kill him, he would never be able to go on. On the other hand, what if he passed out and died from infection, while his sons watched? He knew the unclean conditions did not bode well and that infection could quickly become deadly when one could not simply go to a hospital. What if his body was found and the city began searching the sewers for other mutants….. for his sons! Splinter's mind raced as he considered each worst case scenario and settled on FAILURE. It was all Splinter could think. He had failed his precious sons and didn't even have the presence of mind now to reason the best course of action for them. Trying desperately to calm himself, he walled the horrifying thoughts away in his mind in order to do what he must.
"I need you to go back to the lair and bring back my medicines and supplies, it will help with the sickness and then we will go home, everything will be fine" he spoke with exaggerated calmness, still in Japanese.
Unsure his voice wouldn't crack, Leonardo simply nodded.
"If you go east in that direction," he tilted his head slightly indicating the tunnel on the left " you'll soon come to a split junction. Veer to the right there, you'll go a long way, eventually you will run into the Canal St. tunnel you are already familiar with, from there you know how to get home." Pausing to look at his eldest, " I showed you how to look for the markings and how to know where you are, and how to avoid the humans, do you remember?"
"Um…yes, I remember"
"Good, I want you to take Donatello with you." Hearing his name Donnie looked over at his father and older brother and was simultaneously scared and proud that he would be included in the mission.
"I have been showing Donatello how to mix the herbs, Donatello, come to me my son"
Holding Mikey's hand Donnie walked and then kneeled next to his father's side, "I'm here Father"
"Do you remember our lessons on the medicines?"
"Umeboshi, the peppermint leaves and the ginger?"
"Yes, Father I know what to bring," the young genius knew his Father meant for him to mix the herbs to help with throwing up and infection. Donnie had been happy to play assistant doctor the last time Raph had been sick and Father had mixed the various concoctions. Father had said it would be good for one of his sons to know the medical crafts and that Donnie's curious mind was well suited for the task. However, then it had felt like just a fun game that meant he got to spend special time with Father, now it didn't feel like a game at all.
"Raphael, Where is"
Raph jumped at his named being called but quickly joined his Father and brothers, "Yes, Master"
"My young warrior, I need you to stay here to protect your little brother."
For a moment, a twinge of anger bubbled inside the second oldest. It felt like perhaps his father was giving him the babysitting job just to placate him, why shouldn't he go with Leo or even instead of Leo if he was such a warrior?
"Raphael, Raphael are you listening?" Splinter said with a harsher edge to his voice breaking his son from his thoughts.
Raph snapped his head to look at his Father, and the sight of his Father so weak, made him instantly ashamed. "Yes, Father, whatever you need"
"If anything happens, if anyone comes, you take your brother and hide, do you understand, protect your brother, protect yourself, do you understand?"
Looking into his Father's eyes he felt like he was being given a kind of silent permission to do whatever was necessary to protect his brothers. Raph nodded seriously, nothing before feeling quite as right as the task at hand.
"What about me Father, What do I get to do?" Mikey chimed in feeling like he was somehow being left out.
"You, little turtle, have a very important job. You get to keep your Father company while we wait. Can you tell me a story?"
"Yes, yes, I can do that, but I'm not sure which one, there are so many good ones."
"Well, I'm sure Donatello and Raphael can help you decide and then you can surprise me while I speak with your brother, ok?"
Knowing they were being dismissed Raph and Donnie let themselves be led by Mikey to the side of the space where he excitedly tried to choose the story that would make his Father the happiest. Only half listening both the middle son's eyes lingered on the unintelligible conversation between their big brother and Father.
Leaning in very close to his son's ear. Splinter whispered, "One more thing you must promise me, Leonardo"
"If you return and something has happened, if I'm …..if the medicine doesn't work, I want you to take your brothers back to the lair and never come back here again. "
Leo gasped horrified and drew his head back to look at his Father. "But, I…what about you, we could never leave y…"
With a surge of strength, Splinter grabbed his son's shoulders with a quick shake and fixed a stare in his eye, "Your duty is to protect your brothers, you must promise me"
Leo couldn't help the tear that slipped down his cheek, he had never heard his father's voice like this before.
"You dare dishonor my wishes," the curt words hurt Splinter as much as Leonardo, he hated how unfair it was to lay this burden on his son at such a tender age but he had known long ago that life would not be easy for his children. He had to know they would leave him if needed. He had to be sure Leonardo would leave him beyond if it came to that. "Promise me," he ordered again.
"On your honor"
Leo found himself looking deep into his Father's eyes and with a bit of surprise saw his own pain reflected there, Leo swallowed, a bit of his innocence lost forever, and then willed his face to become a mask of resolution. Determined to be the strength his father wanted and needed.
"I promise. I promise on my honor."
All his energy drained, Splinter let his arms fall limp from his son's shoulders and tilted his head back once again to the wall.
"You will be a great leader my son, I love you."
Standing Leo whispered, "Rest now Father, I won't let you down"
Splinter knew his son was more scared than his words let on, but he also felt an unexplainable assuredness in his son's abilities, despite his youth and was able to rest just a little.
Leo motioned his brothers to join them again, the three coming over immediately. Donnie hugged his Father who told him he loved him and to stay close to Leonardo, while Raph and Leo exchanged a silent big brother understanding that little brothers be protected no matter what.
Then taking Donnie by the hand, Leo turned to walk down the tunnel that he hoped would lead back home. Turning over his shoulder he looked at Raph standing arms crossed by their Father who had Mikey in his lap. For a reason he couldn't explain to himself, he tried to freeze the image to his mind's eye, before calling, "Don't worry, we'll be back soon." Stepping into the dark tunnel with Donnie by his side, he used the image to propel his feet forward into the unknown.
So if you got this far, I'm curious, how old do the turtles sound to you, I have an idea in my head but I'm wondering if that's coming across without me explicitly stating it. What else? suggestions welcome.