Splinter staggered into the concourse and half sat, half collapsed in front of one of the trunks that he’d retrieved from his apartment years ago. The morning had been an unmitigated disaster, but they were finally down for a nap and he had a few moments to collect himself.
Too distressed to settle into proper mediation, he fell back on an old training crutch. Beginners in the art often resented all the tedious work they were ordered to do, believing that it was some sort of hazing process to remind them of their status, rather than a true part of their training. Physical labor worked the body. Cleaning and caring for the dojo and its equipment fostered respect and familiarity with the place and tools of their art.
But more than that, mindless, repetitive tasks, when you didn’t allow the mind to wander, were a form of meditation. Without the mental discipline required for more advanced techniques, it was often the only way for early learners to access the benefits of the meditative state. He was no beginner, but he knew that after this morning, he would not be able to relax by sheer force of will. And this was a task that needed doing. It made sense to do them together.
As he flipped open the trunk, he couldn’t help noting that he would soon need a way to lock it against his sons’ curiosity. At age three they were into everything. Then he banished the thought to be dealt with later as it would only serve to distract him now.
Carefully and systematically withdrawing the collection of weapons he’d brought from Japan, he fell into a familiar pattern of inspecting and cleaning each piece to maintain them for future use. As the actions fell into a rote pattern, nearly muscle memory to him, his mind relaxed into that peaceful state he so desperately needed.
~Early That Morning~
Splinter inhaled the scent of his tea, steaming out of a cup he’d reclaimed from his belongings years ago, the leaves representing what remained from his dwindling supply. He didn’t know what he would do when they ran out completely.
Sitting straight-backed under the young tree he’d planted here, he took his first blissful sip, making sure to savor the taste. Beside him sat his dented old kettle on the battery powered hot plate, both prizes from his pre-mutation possessions. Thank goodness for the wastefulness of the humans above who were always tossing out batteries that still had some use left in them. He took another calming sip. These restful morning moments were an indulgence to get him through the rest of the day.
The peace shattered in what was fast becoming a familiar refrain between Raphael and Michelangelo since they had become independently mobile and mastered speech. With a sigh, he stood and left the concourse, setting his tea in the kitchen before braving his sons’ room in one of the four little alcoves at the back of the station.
Drawing back the cloth that acted as door he stepped in to find Raphael chasing a crying Michelangelo in circles around the small space while Leonardo and Donatello stood, looking down, with snouts wrinkled in disgust, at their pile of bedding. The scent of urine hit his sensitive nose and Splinter guessed at what must have happened.
“Enough Raphael. It was an accident.”
Michelangelo ran to him, clamping onto his leg and Raphael stopped running to glare at him.
“He peed on me!”
“But not on purpose my son. You must forgive your brother.”
Raphael stuck his lower lip out in a pout, but didn’t argue.
Splinter took a deep breath, regretting it as the smell hit him anew. “It looks like we will be starting out this morning with a bath.”
“Yay!” The four cheers of joy somewhat alleviated the unpleasantness of his task as he gathered their messy bedding and led them to the bathroom.
Dumping the heap of blankets and discarded clothing in the corner, he pulled the old metal tub over to the sinks and turned on the water, waiting for it to warm without being too hot. While his boys loved water, they were particularly sensitive to temperature.
Once it was just right, he attached the old rubber hose to the faucet, letting the water drain out into the tub. Unable to wait, his turtles climbed or jumped in to splash around as the tub filled. As they jostled for space, he realized that they were almost too large to be bathed in the tub all at once. How was he going to manage having to separate them at bath time? A problem for the near future he supposed.
Tub full, he gathered the collection of discarded soap nubs and gently scrubbed down each of his children, leaving them to play for a bit as he rinsed out and washed their bedding with his limited supply of liquid soap in another of sink basins, draping the clean cloth over the toilet stalls to dry.
He spun around in time to witness a four turtle tussle tip over the tub. Out spilled soapy water and his sons. At least the floor had a drain in it. Using the faucet and rubber hose, he managed to rinse them down, but not without soaking himself in the process. With another sigh, he slipped off his yukata and hung it to dry with the rest of his laundry before toweling his boys down.
Trying to ignore his damp fur, he led them to the kitchen, where he discovered that his tea was now cold. He set it in the back corner, where the counters joined, intending to reheat it later. It wouldn’t be as good, but tea was too precious of a luxury to dump out. At least he’d had the forethought to set out a bowl of algae and worms earlier.
Helping each of his sons into high chairs that he’d cobbled together for them, he turned to gather their bowls and the chopsticks that they were still learning to master. When he turned back, he dropped everything as his heart leapt into his throat.
The young turtle was perched on the back of his chair, now precariously balanced on two legs, reaching out for a passing moth as his brothers watched with a mixture of confusion and fascination. The chair tipped and Splinter dove to catch his toppling child, skidding painfully across the hard floor.
Clutching the frightened little turtle to his chest, he stood and righted the chair, plopping his son back into it, mentally counting to ten as he did so. When he finally felt capable of speaking calmly, he unclamped his jaw. “Never stand in your seats. Do you understand?”
Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael nodded while Michelangelo cheerfully shook his head. He sighed again and retrieved their fallen dishes, filling each with a portion of food before distributing them to his children.
Leonardo was the most accomplished with feeding himself, having displayed admirable dexterity in manipulating his chopsticks. Donatello came close to matching him by virtue of eating with great care, even if it did take him almost four times as long as the others to finish a meal. Raphael would try for a few minutes before abandoning the utensils in favor of his hands, refusing to allow anyone else to feed him.
Michelangelo had no patience for such things, eagerly banging his hands on the side of his chair with mouth wide open as Splinter fed him. In his sons’ defense, algae and worms were not the easiest things to eat with chopsticks. He’d just finished placing the last bite into his youngest son’s waiting mouth when Leonardo and Raphael’s chairs began to rock as they shoved each other.
“Stop elbowing me!”
“You’re on my side!”
They both froze and their chairs stilled.
“There is no roughhousing at the table.” They both sank into their shells a bit at his tone and he found himself counting again as he set Michelangelo down. “Why don’t you color with your brother for a little while?”
Trepidation replaced with smiles, Leonardo and Raphael scrambled down from their seats to chase after Michelangelo. And Donatello would be eating for a while yet. He cleaned the dishes and left the kitchen to scrub the floor of their room, hoping it would air out and dry in time for their nap. At least he had some back up bedding.
He was just going out to retrieve it when he caught a glimpse of Donatello in the kitchen, examining the appliance electrical outlets with his chopsticks.
“Stop!” He crossed the distance in a fraction of a second, scooping up the startled turtle, chop sticks scattering across the room. “Never do that again.”
Donatello, still wide eyed with shock, nodded before glancing back at the outlet. “Why?”
As tempting as it was to answer ‘because I said so,’ he knew that was not the best way to handle to the cleverest of his children. “Because if the power is still on, you could electrocute yourself.”
Donatello nodded again, thoughtfully this time, and Splinter exhaled in relief. “So we have electrical power?”
Splinter actively resisted the urge to clap a hand over his face. One day he might appreciate Donatello’s inquisitive mind, but right now the boy’s curiosity was downright terrifying. “Possibly, but you are NOT to investigate it without my supervision.”
Donatello gulped and nodded a little too fast before scurrying off after his brothers. With a sigh, he knew that he’d have to watch that child carefully over the next few days to ensure the admonition took.
Gathering Donatello’s bowl and scattered chopsticks, he quickly washed them and set them to dry. It was quiet. Too quiet. Craning his head out to see into the living area, he found his sons, calmly coloring. On the back of Michelangelo’s shell. The little one stifled a giggle as his older brothers drew.
“Boys!” Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael immediately dropped their crayons and ducked their heads, abashed, while Michelangelo stood and twirled to show off their work. Splinter sighed and rubbed his temples. “Your brother is not an art project. You three sit on the couch and stay their until I tell you that you can move.”
They sullenly complied as he picked up Michelangelo and took him to the kitchen sink to scrub the crayon off his shell as best he could. He was just drying him off, again, when he could hear voices from the living room.
“No! You’ll get us in trouble.” Donatello.
“Let go!” Raphael.
Splinter set Michelangelo down and hurried out of the kitchen to find Leonardo clinging to Raphael’s arms with Donatello wrapped around his legs as he struggled off the couch. And then Raphael rammed his foot into Donatello’s beak and his second youngest son let out a heart wrenching wail.
Leonardo and Raphael looked down contritely as he swept up Donatello, holding up his face to examine the damage.
“I didn’t mean it.”
“I know Raphael, but your lack of intention does not ease your brother’s pain. You must be careful. Your strength is for defending your brothers, not harming them.”
Raphael frowned thoughtfully as Splinter turned his attention back to Donatello. It might swell a little but no serious injury would result. Thankfully, his years of martial arts training granted him an uncommon familiarity with basic injuries.
“There, there my son. It will be alright.” He patted Donatello’s shell as he carried him back into the kitchen. Running some cool water over a cloth, he placed the compress on the bridge of Donatello’s beak to ease the discomfort.
Maybe he needed to burn off some of their energy. Striding back out into the living, Donatello still in his arms, he called out. “Boys.”
They scurried over to him at the sound of his voice.
“We’re going to play a game called Simon Says.” After what was essentially a lengthy session of calisthenics, he finally released his exhausted children and let an increasingly fidgety Donatello slide off his lap. “I want the four of you to get in your chairs while I prepare lunch.”
Grabbing a few bowls, he rushed off to the storage room where he kept the algae tanks and worm tubs, careful of the delicate rigging that kept the lights over the algae, in the only room he’d successfully accessed some sort of power. He was by no means an electrician, but he’d managed to cobble a system together.
Scooping a bowl full of each, he returned to find Leonardo balancing on Raphael’s shoulders to reach his ceramic tea cup in the corner. Leonardo had just gotten his fingers around the rim of the cylindrical vessel when he’d entered.
“Wait!” The moment the word left his mouth, he knew it was a mistake. Startled, Leonardo began to juggle the cup, spilling tea everywhere as he fell backwards. Splinter darted in and caught his son as the cup shattered on the ground.
Leonardo’s eyes filled with tears and his lower lip began to tremble as he surveyed the mess. “Wanted to get you your tea.”
Splinter wrapped his arms around his son, taking a calming breath. “I know. I shouldn’t have yelled.”
“But the cup…”
“Is gone. It is just a thing. There are other cups in the world.”
Leonardo sniffled and nodded, only partly mollified. Casting a glance at the mess he would need to clean and the remains of his favorite cup, he helped Leonardo and Raphael into their seats and served them lunch, essentially the same as breakfast, which unsurprisingly progressed in a similar manner.
“No, Michelangelo, you have had plenty.”
Splat! He didn’t want to look but knew that he had to. Leonardo’s head was just poking back out of the shell it had retreated into. A furious Raphael wore Leonardo’s bowl and the remains of his lunch like a hat and Donatello, on the other side of Leonardo was just peeling Raphael’s bowl off his face.
Groaning, he stood up and gathered, Raphael and Donatello up under each arm. “Leonardo, Michelangelo, come.”
They were soon back in the bathroom, where he rinsed the food off a grumpy Raphael and a wailing Donatello while their brothers drifted in and watched. It was definitely time for a much needed break. As he finished toweling them down, he spoke. “It think it’s time for a story and a nap.”
“Donatello, would you like to go pick out a book?”
He stilled his remaining sons with a single look as Donatello, now fully recovered from his distress ran off towards the shelf of scavenged books. “You three will wait for me in your room.”
They nodded dejectedly and exited the bathroom. He returned to the kitchen to take care of the mess, dishes and broken cup, wondering what had happened to the leftover algae. He’d been sure there was still some in the bowl. No time for that now. His boys would be getting impatient.
Gathering up their fresh bedding as he entered the room, he quickly formed it into a nest and let them get comfortable before realizing that Donatello had selected a coverless third grade general science textbook to read for story time.
“Read the chapter on geology daddy.”
His brothers groaned as Donatello and Michelangelo crawled into his lap. Well, he’d let Donatello choose. This might have been embarrassing, as he was still working on his own English skills, but less than a sentence in, as usual, his impatient Donatello took over the reading of it.
The other three were out before the end of the first paragraph, but Splinter had to sit patiently with Donatello through the entire chapter before the child would set the book down and cuddle up with the rest of his brothers. Splinter crept out of their room, replacing the book on the shelf before returning to the concourse.
Splinter’s cleaning trance was shattered by his sons voicing echoing through the lair.
“Get back here!”
Michelangelo and Raphael. Again.
Cringing, he set down the kama he’d been working on and left the concourse. At the door to their room stood Leonardo and Donatello watching Raphael chase Michelangelo around the lair. Seeing both of them covered in green vomit, he finally figured out what had happened to the leftover algae. He’d have to keep the bowl father away from Michelangelo in the future.
“Enough!” He caught both speeding boys by the waist, hoisting them, grateful that he’d never bothered to put on a fresh robe after this morning’s debacle. “Leonardo, Donatello, please go back to sleep.”
Leonardo looked stricken, but willing to comply. Donatello, however, crossed his arms stubbornly, in an action Splinter was more used to seeing performed by Raphael. “It smells bad.”
Of course. The vomit. More bedding to clean.
“Then please find something to do quietly while I clean your brothers.”
Leaving the other two to their own devices for the moment, he washed himself and his children, again, noting that the first round of soiled bedding had yet to dry. Would it be dry by tonight? If not, what would they sleep on? The couch? He’d deal with that problem when he had to. Now, he needed to deal with the mess in their room, again.
Exiting the bathroom, still carrying both disgruntled boys, squirming to get free, he realized that he didn’t know where the others were. “Leonardo? Donatello?”
A quick inspection of the living area and kitchen yielded no results. Clang. The concourse? The weapons! Still carrying Michelangelo and Raphael, he dashed up the steps to see Leonardo, clumsily swinging around kodachi.
“No!” He nearly dropped his sons, instead awkwardly dumping them on the ground by the tree, as he rushed over to snatch the short blade out of his son’s hand. “You must never touch any of these without my express permission and supervision!”
Leonardo flinched away from his father’s uncharacteristic yell and he herded them out of the weapon-filled concourse. Then a distraught Donatello came rushing out of the storage room, clutching to his chest the box to his chemistry set, a coveted gift that Splinter had rescued for him from a dumpster, mostly intact. The faded illustrations of happy human children on the cover reminded Splinter of books from the mid twentieth century. He’d hoped being older would render it more sturdy, than most of the modern toys he found for them.
“What is the matter my son?”
“The calcium hypochlorite made chlorine gas.”
Then the pungent, bleach-like odor hit his nostrils as a greenish-yellow cloud began to emanate from the storage room behind Donatello. Without hesitation, he grabbed up all his boys and fled past the turnstiles into the subway tunnels until he could no longer smell the toxic cloud.
Gently setting his children down, he leaned his shaking frame against the subway wall and sank to sitting position. How long would it be before they could safely go home? He still had the weapons to put away and their bedding to clean. What would he do with them in the meantime? It wasn’t safe out here. What made him think that he could do this? It was a disaster. Why was he even trying?
Then there was a weight in his lap and he looked down to see the smiling, freckled face of his youngest. “Love you daddy.”
And now Donatello was curled up beside his brother on Splinter’s lap. “Sorry daddy.” The ‘s’ sound whistled through the gap in his teeth as he spoke.
Raphael plopped down beside Splinter and uncharacteristically leaned into his father, not saying a thing.
Leonardo took his hand. “Daddy, you ok?”
He gathered his boys together into his arms, holding them tightly to him. “Yes. I’m ok.” This. This was the reason why he was and would always be their father.