Letting Go is Never Easy
Raphael smirked. The smirk softened a little as he turned out the light in the main room, taking one last glance at the lizard mutant on the couch before the darkness settled.
I watched the tender scene impassively. I knew it. In my heart I had always known. From the very first, I had sensed the change.
I returned to my room and lay face-up on the bed. For once I actually allowed myself to get lost in thought, no longer caring about my surroundings. After about an hour I sprang up and made my way to the dojo feeling restless.
I ran through some of my more advanced katas, but my movements were distractedly sloppy. Finally I growled quietly in frustration before punching the tree in the center of the dojo with all my might. I was careful not to make any noise. I did not wish to awaken any of my sons.
I sighed. I could always ask Raphael not to pursue a relationship. Best to do it now before he gets in too deep. I know that he would respect my wishes. My shoulders tensed and I swiveled slowly around. I softened a little and approached the small bookshelf, lifting the picture off of it delicately. My fingers brushed lightly over the figure of my beloved Tang Shen and I could hear her voice in my head: You have no right to inhibit their love, Yoshi.
My grip on the frame tightened and I whispered aloud to myself. "I have every right! I am his father! He is too young—"
Too young for what, Yoshi? Too young to have someone he cares about?
"Too young to be in a relationship! Too young to bear that kind of responsibility! Too young to realize the danger it may bring! Too young…" My voice sank to an almost inaudible murmur, "Too young to be pulled from his family in such a manner."
Pulled from his family? Or pulled from his training?
My finger tip traced Tang Shen's hair wistfully and I sighed. My shoulders drooped and I returned the picture to its rightful place. I padded softly to the center of the dojo beneath the tree and dropped into a cross-legged position. It wasn't long before I fell into a very deep state of meditation.
Her voice repeatedly echoed in my head: Pulled from his family? Or pulled from his training?
I sighed. Training is not all I care about, Shen.
Then what are you really afraid of? What is there to lose in allowing your son this opportunity for growth?
My eyes screwed tightly closed as I struggled to hone my focus. Raphael is only seventeen! He's still a child!
I could swear that I could actually feel her frustration as she went on. Hardly a child anymore, my love. Look at the challenges he has faced, the sacrifices he has made, the life he has lived so far. He is grown. He is his own. So I ask you again, Yoshi: What is there to lose?
A son. I confessed, my true fear finally coming to light. I belatedly realized that it wasn't Raphael whom I feared for, but myself. I was afraid of losing my son.
Then you would deny him happiness to keep him close to you?
I could feel a tear running down the side of my face even before my eyes opened. I voiced my thoughts aloud, "I love my sons, Tang Shen. I love each and every one of them. And as close as I hold them to my heart, I could never deny them happiness." I rose to my feet and trotted over to the shelf. My fingers gently gripped the framed portrait and I smiled down at it. "You always had a way of reasoning with me, my love." I hugged the framed picture to my chest and bowed my head.
I stood that way in silence for a minute or so before I finally put the picture down and with one final caress returned to my chambers. My heart was heavy. Raphael is young and I still do not believe he is ready for a relationship. But I will do nothing to stand in his way.
The following morning I worked my sons harder than usual in training. I wasn't doing it on purpose, it resulted more from my being distracted. I was so distracted, in fact, that I didn't realize I was paying more attention to Raphael than his brothers. I had already corrected his form more than five times. Not that that was unusual, Raphael was often sloppy with his form, but I didn't usually make him repeat every move until it was perfect. For Raphael, I had no doubt that such an assignment was pure torture. Still, it seemed to have worked, for on the next set of katas Raphael's form was much more precise.
I raised an eyebrow. Raphael seemed very focused this morning. Hmm. I wonder…
"Raphael, come at me." I commanded in Japanese.
His brothers exchanged confused glances and Raphael hesitated reluctantly.
My eyes narrowed. "Raphael, I said come at me." I instructed sternly.
Raphael nodded, drew his sais and charged. I dodged every movement easily and grabbed a kanabo from the rack on the dojo wall and swung it downward. He anticipated the movement easily and caught the club-like weapon with his sais. I swung again and he swept to the side, narrowly missing being hit by a few centimeters.
I had to fight the grin that threatened to turn up the corner of my mouth. I had him right where I wanted him. For a split second amidst the chaos, Raphael's laser-green gaze stared directly into mine. Everything slowed. I swung once more and as I did so, one of my hands released the kanabo and went straight for a pressure point. My red masked son's fiery eyes narrowed and as my hand propelled towards him, he swept down. I was puzzled by this action because it put several of his more vulnerable pressure points within reach. It wasn't until after the kanabo had been kicked out of my hand and landed with a mighty thud that I realized Raphael now had the advantage.
But just because he had the upper hand, didn't mean he was about to risk losing it. Before I could so much as pull back my hand that had been reaching for his pressure point, Raphael grabbed it and used every ounce of his strength to propel me into a flip. Once he had me on my back, he pointed his sais at my face. His brothers stared with dropped jaws.
"Very good, Raphael." I praised.
He smirked and tucked his sais back in his belt. And like a venomous snake, I struck. My fingers pressed against his pressure point. Raphael seized and fell to his knees. I chuckled. "Do not allow an enemy's praise to distract you, my son. They will take advantage of your distraction."
Raphael looked over at me exhaustedly. "Hai…Sensei." He gasped out.
A voice from behind me made me turn to face my other three sons.
"No offense Raph, but how did you pin Sensei?" Leonardo asked disbelievingly.
I smiled a little at them and answered for Leonardo. "You brother had several advantages, my son. First, he was able to sense what my moves would be before I made them. He has seen me use the kanabo before in the past. What was most important, however, was that he sensed that I was purposely manipulating him so that I could gain the upper hand through a trick move. Tell me, Raphael, how did you realize what I was attempting?"
Raph sat up as best he could. "I—I…It was the way you swung Sensei. Your left hand was the one applying all the force. On your previous swings, you'd used both sides equally. I guess I just realized that since your left hand was swinging the kanabo, your right hand would be trying something else."
I smiled. "Very sound reasoning, my son. You are in very good focus today." I went over and picked the kanabo up off the dojo floor. A smirk spread across my face as I turned to my other three sons. "So who's next?"
All three of them paled.
About an hour and a half later, when all four of them were completely exhausted, I called it quits. "You are dismissed, my sons."
They all sighed in relief and headed for the door.
Raphael turned to face me with a rather confused look on his face. His brothers also turned towards me with stares of curiosity.
I lowered my voice slightly to a less admonishing tone. "I should like you to remain for a moment please." Raphael looked almost fearful. I sighed. "There is a matter I wish to discuss with you in private."
Michelangelo's eyes narrowed and he smirked. "Oooh, you're in trouble!" He taunted and I sent him a very hard reprimanding glare.
"Michelangelo!" I said loudly, making my youngest son jolt fearfully. Donatello and Leonardo stiffened, sending a worried look in Raphael's direction. I looked at each of them in turn and said sternly: "Leave us, all of you. I must speak to your brother."
Leonardo nodded and urged the other turtles to go with him.
As soon as they were gone Raphael returned to the center of the dojo and bowed respectfully to me. "You wish to speak with me, Sensei?"
I placed a hand on his shoulder and gripped tightly. My voice was hard. "Yes Raphael. There is a very serious matter to be discussed." I couldn't stop some of my own sadness from slipping into my tone.
If it were any of the others, they probably wouldn't have noticed. But this was Raphael, the most emotional of my sons. He heard the change instantly. "Sensei?" He asked, unsurely.
I took a deep breath. Sensei. I repeated to myself. Raphael hasn't called me father in a very, very long time. I realized. That realization left a bitter taste in my mouth as I went on. "I—I witnessed the moment you shared with Mona Lisa last night, my son."
Every muscle in his shoulders visibly tensed and I could feel them quivering beneath my fingers. Not wanting to linger too long in this moment of suspense, I went on. "Do you…have feelings for her, my son?"
There was a long, slow moment of tortuous silence before Raphael finally nodded and stammered, "I have—feelings—for her Sensei. I'm just…I don't really…that is to say…"
I drew enough from his words to complete the thought, "You are not yet sure what they entail."
He let out a grateful sigh. He seemed pleased that I had understood what he was trying to say. But I still was not mollified. "My son, do you intend to pursue a relationship with Mona Lisa?"
Raphael's eyes flashed and he drew away from my grip. "I—I—I'm not…I…"
I leveled a hard stare at my temperamental son and finally he deflated. All the walls that Raphael surrounded himself with came crashing down and he spoke his heart to me.
"I want to." He confessed.
I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and nodded. I had presumed as much. Now came the hard part. "I had assumed that you would."
Raphael looked up at me warily. No doubt he heard the stiffness in my voice. "You do not approve?" He asked flatly.
I sighed. "I am your father, Raphael. I am concerned. You are so young. I worry that you may not be strong enough to carry such weight on your shoulders."
"My brothers and I have carried the weight of the world on our shoulders, Sensei." Raphael responded plainly.
I shook my head. "But you are still just a child."
He straightened and stared straight into my eyes. "I'm not a child anymore."
I couldn't help it. I pulled him into a tight embrace. "You will always be a child in your father's eyes." My voice grew quieter. "I suppose I am being an overprotective father, Raphael. Or perhaps I am just being selfish. But I do not want to let you go. I do not want to believe that you have grown up or that you can now lead a life of your own because I do not want to face the fact that I am losing one of my sons."
Raphael allowed me to hug him for quite some time, for which I was very grateful. It was no secret that Raphael did not like long bouts of physical contact. We stood in silence until my red-masked son pulled away.
His emerald green hand tentatively came to rest on my shoulder and he stared up at me once again. "You'll never lose me Father. I'll always be your son."
I smiled widely at him and pulled him forward to place an affectionate kiss on his forehead, something I hadn't done in quite some time.
"EW! Sensei!" He exclaimed, wiping his forehead furiously.
I laughed for a few moments before my expression sobered. "If there is ever anything you need, my child…"
Raph grinned. "I know, Father. Thank you."
I raised an eyebrow. "For what, my son?"
"For taking in four little mutant turtles."
I smiled and reached out to stroke the side of his face gently. "I love you very much, Raphael."
His voice was lower than a whisper and I was thankful for my sensitive ears. "I love you too, Father."
Later that evening my sons went out on patrol. This was the first time all four of them had gone on patrol since they'd rescued Mona Lisa. Up until today they had been doing split patrols, which meant two going one night and two going the next. That way there were always a couple of them here to keep Mona Lisa occupied.
But tonight she was restless. I decided to keep a watchful eye on her, since this was her first time being in the lair without any of my sons around. I think she wanted my company because she constantly turned to make sure I wasn't going anywhere. As I sat on the couch and turned on one of my favorite soap operas, Mona Lisa came over and joined me. When the commercials came on she tapped my shoulder and I turned to her. She gestured to the clock on the wall and I sighed.
"You seem very impatient for them to return." I stated.
Mona just frowned and pointed at the clock questioningly.
I sighed. "There is no way of knowing what time they will return, little one. It depends on what goes on up there."
That didn't satisfy her. She pouted and began to gesture to me. I wasn't very well versed in sign language, but I did my best. She motioned, 'How can you just let them go?'
I sighed yet again. "It is never easy. But I must force myself to accept the fact that they are no longer children. I can no longer be with them one hundred percent of the time. I can't protect them as much as I would like to."
'You are not concerned?' She asked, her brown eyes flooded with confusion.
"I am always concerned. Over time I have learned that being concerned does not make time flow any faster, nor does it get them back any sooner."
Mona seemed to gnaw on that for a moment before she finally nodded. 'So we must let them be free because they serve a greater purpose than just being there for us?'
I smiled and nodded.
Mona Lisa smiled dimly back, her eyes a little more understanding. Calm spread between us as we both suppressed our concern. Right now there was nothing we could do but wait patiently. The atmosphere grew peaceful. After the soap opera was through, I glanced over at Mona Lisa.
On one of her earlier days here at the lair, she had asked me about the purpose of meditation. Since then I had found that she enjoyed meditation and so she often joined Leonardo and I during our daily sessions. Now I think it could serve as a good distraction. "Would you care to meditate with me, Mona Lisa?"
She nodded and I couldn't help but smile. Her energy was similar to Michelangelo's but she applied it differently. She tuned it into a very fine focus with ease, whereas Michelangelo was a little more wild and rambunctious.
We entered the dojo and settled on the mats in silence. Both of us were deep in meditation when a loud yell startled us both.