This was originally supposed to be a one-shot, but I have since realized that it is much bigger than I thought it would be, in terms of depth and content. Sooooo.... Here we are- the first installment of a NEW tale, where we learn just HOW the boys got their masks, and why a certain turtle chose orange for his color....
The Color of Your Soul
It had been seven years since that fateful day when he had been splattered by the contents of the strange canister that left him in his current state. Likewise, that same day, he had become a “father” to four infant boys unlike any others in the world. All of them, rat and turtles alike, had grown and changed during the days that followed that bizarre accident, and it had not taken him long to realize that the task of raising the tiny mutant children would be immense. It would also mean living in secrecy and seclusion, for the humans would never understand or accept them- or so he believed. Eight years would pass before he would discover that there were exceptions to every rule, but for now, he was content to remain hidden in the dark and quiet recesses of the most inaccessible tunnels beneath the city streets.
Today was much like any other. He woke early, and began his morning ritual of meditation and a tea ceremony before making breakfast for the four youngsters. Food was often hard to come by, and he was forced to scavenge much of what they had, but they had never known hunger- he saw to that. He had learned how to stretch what little they had by making soups or using rice or noodles, just as he remembered his former owner doing when he was still alive. That seemed so long ago now, however, and he sometimes missed the peace and security of having a safe and comfortable home.
Today, as was often the case of late, one of them- the one he had deemed to be the oldest, judging by his personality- had awakened early, and joined him for his meditation in the small side passage the middle-aged rat had set aside as a training area. He had named the boy Leonardo, after one of his former master’s favorite artists. And much like his namesake, the child was precocious and bright, soaking up all that Splinter taught him with a determination and persistence that would have impressed most humans. He was also well-behaved and quiet- most of the time. Of course, like any young boy, he could become fractious and stubborn, especially when he quarreled with the hot-tempered Raphael, whom their father had reckoned as the second-eldest.
The young turtle-boy sat across from him on one of the other tatamis, and yawned as he began to follow the example of his father and teacher. “Good morning, my son. You are up early. Did you sleep well?”
The boy gave a formal bow, eyes lowered respectfully. “Hai. Ohayo gozaimasu, Splinter-Sensei.” The rat favored him with a smile, nodding. His eldest child was so eager to please, seeking his approval even in such simple things as speaking in the tongue of his master’s homeland.
They sat together for an hour, until the young mutant’s stomach rumbling told Splinter that it was time for breakfast. He chuckled as he rose and made his way into the space he had turned into a simple kitchen and dining room for their small family. Leonardo followed, and pulled a chair over to climb on to reach the dishes and set the table, all without being asked. While Splinter searched for something for the little ones to eat, he hummed an old Japanese tune he remembered from his days with his human master.
“Leonardo, please go and wake your brothers for breakfast.” He said, and almost immediately, the boy nodded and trotted off to do as bid. While he was off to wake the others, the aging rat set aside the pot and cup for his daily tea ceremony, and went about the task of preparing the morning meal.
Several minutes later, the eldest came back in with the other three trailing sleepily behind him. Raphael grumbled softly as he entered, shoving his younger siblings out of the way as he sought out his favorite seat at the table. Leonardo punched him for pushing little Michelangelo out of it as Raphael took it for himself, and the temperamental child growled and punched back. It might have devolved into a full-blown fight, but Splinter stepped between the pair to put an end to it.
“Boys! Tomeru ko! Stop this, now!” At once, the two paused and turned at his threatening tone, and they cringed and ducked their heads low in shame. Michelangelo, the “youngest”, stifled a giggle with a hand over his mouth, grinning at his brothers for getting into trouble. “That is QUITE enough of that, children. Now, let us all sit and enjoy our meal. Then we will begin your lessons for the day.”
All except Donatello groaned at the prospect of their daily lessons. Splinter had long ago decided that they would require an education, so that they could survive in the human world. Though intelligent, they remained mostly ignorant of the dangers of the world above them, and he feared that in time, they would seek to explore it as their curiosity and restlessness grew. Knowing this, he had determined that they should learn to understand human ways, to think as they did, and to learn the languages spoken by those who lived above them.
He had scavenged books wherever he found them, particularly books on language and arithmetic, basic science, and history. Of the four, he had discovered that Donatello- whom he considered somewhere between Raphael and Michelangelo in age- seemed the most eager to learn, often reading far ahead of what was asked. He seemed to have a natural gift for understanding complex and abstract ideas, a trait which Splinter appreciated, as the sharp-minded boy was often able to assist him in teaching the other three. Leonardo, too, was a studious child, though he was not so quick to learn as his younger brother. Still, he worked very hard, determined to master each new task to perfection. Splinter wondered what drove him, but he suspected it was simply a desire for his father’s approval.
And then there was Raphael. He was a difficult child, to be sure, often balking when told to do anything that he could not see a reason for. He would frequently toss down his pencil in frustration, complaining that the task was stupid or pointless. He disliked math especially, and growled that the numbers didn’t mean anything, and were a waste of time. Splinter supposed it was because he suffered from some kind of learning problem that made such lessons more difficult, but he saw little that could be done about it except to forge on and try to be as patient with him as possible.
The youngest, on the other hand, was clearly less interested in practical studies. Some days, it was all Splinter could do to keep his attention on his lessons. He would catch the boy doodling on his paper instead of working, or look up to discover that the smallest turtle had simply wandered off to do something else, his assignment unfinished and forgotten. He was certainly bright enough, and indeed, he appeared to have a creative streak, but keeping him focused on his studies seemed next to impossible.
On this particular day, Splinter decided that they had finally earned the right to wear the kamen, or mask, of a genin, the first rank of the ninja. Since he had no clan of his own, nor had he ever officially belonged to any clan- being a rat- he had decided to let each of them choose their own colors, something he felt would give them a sense of individuality and pride, while reminding them of the honor and responsibility that went with the gift.
After they had eaten their fill and put away the dishes- including washing and drying them, for Splinter was steadfast in insisting that they clean up after themselves from the time they were old enough to do so- the rat pulled out a thick book and opened it to their current subject, which was addition and subtraction of large numbers. He went to a drawer in an old file cabinet in the living area, which he’d scrounged a little over a year before, and pulled out several sheets from a pack of paper, along with four pencils. He handed them out to each of the boys, and pointed to the open book. “Today you will learn how to use larger numbers when adding or subtracting. This is important, so listen to the instructions carefully and pay attention.”
As always, Donatello leaned forward eagerly to take in everything he said, and made little notes on the edge of his paper. Leonardo also sat at rapt attention, looking from his father to the book and back, his brow ridges furrowed in concentration as he tried to understand. Raphael, on the other hand, soon grew irritated and finally scrunched up his paper and threw it across the room toward the trash-bin. Splinter noted mildly that the boy’s aim was impeccable, and wondered if he would prove as accurate with a weapon when the time came.
“This is stupid,” Raphael grumbled. “Why do we have to do this? What are we supposed to use it for? It’s just a bunch of numbers that don’t even mean anything!” He folded his arms, slumping back in his seat with a pout.
Splinter sighed, shaking his head. Somehow, he had known the stubborn child would need coaxing. “You are young, but you must learn how things work in the world above if you are to survive. I will not always be here to help you, and so you must learn to do things on your own- such as knowing how to keep track of your food and other necessities. These numbers are not meaningless, my son. Here, let me show you.” He turned and padded toward the large wooden cabinet that served as their pantry. He pulled out a bag of rice, frowning when he saw how little was left. He would need to go to the streets and acquire more soon. He cleared a small area on the table and dumped a large pile of rice onto it, then took out a bowl and a pair of chopsticks etched with images of dragons, and placed the bowl on the table before Raphael.
“Now, imagine that the numbers there are these grains of rice. The larger the number, the more grains you have, correct?” He looked over at the rebellious one, and Raphael nodded reluctantly. Splinter glanced slyly toward the other three, and found that all three were watching him attentively for once. Even Michelangelo was looking thoughtfully down at the pile of grains, perhaps connecting them to the problems he had been attempting to solve. The rat smiled to himself, realizing that he might have finally found the means to hold the youngster’s attention.
“Good. Now, what if you needed to know how much rice you have, so you could make sushi rolls? Suppose each roll needs a hundred grains; how many rolls would you have here? How would you know, unless you count them?” He placed the chopsticks in front of the young turtle and smiled at him, gesturing to the bowl. “Count out one hundred grains, and you will have one roll. Keep doing this until all of them have been counted. Then tell me how many rolls you would have.” He turned to the other three, and nodded to their pages. “Each time he counts out a hundred grains, write it down. When he is done, I want you all to add them all together and see what you have. I will be in the family room having my tea while I wait for you. Leonardo, come and get me when he is done.”
He chuckled to himself at the solution to the problem of Raphael’s protest. Not only would this help teach the boy patience, but it would keep them all occupied for quite some time, and sharpen their math skills as well. Not to mention give him a bit of peace and quiet while they were busy answering the question. He was surprised a few moments later when he heard the soft scrape of a chair on the floor, and then Michelangelo’s cheerful tones as he pattered across the kitchen.
“Here, I’ll help! It’ll go faster if we both count!” The smallest of the boys said in a chirpy voice. Splinter raised a brow at the ingenuity and helpfulness of his youngest. He heard the distinctive clatter of dishes being jostled, then Leonardo’s sharp, “big brother” voice.
“Mikey! He told Raph to do it! We’re supposed to be adding each bunch together.” Leonardo sounded flustered that his little brother was doing his own thing, rather than obeying the order he’d been given. The rat sighed as he began his tea ceremony in the living room, realizing that the youngest child had thought of a way to make the problem easier, even though it had meant circumventing his command. It was so very like him to seek out the simplest solutions to life’s difficulties. In a way, it was an admirable quality, though not one he wished to encourage often.
“So what?! It’ll take too long if we have to wait for Raph to do it all!” Clearly, he had other things he would rather be doing.
“I agree. This solution is better. I don’t want to be here all day!” Donatello had to add his own opinion, of course. The rat heard Leonardo’s annoyed humph as he realized he was outvoted, and the kitchen settled into a soft drone of voices as the two boys counted out the rice grains. Splinter chuckled again. Yes, they were learning quickly- and it was past time he began their training in earnest.
By the time he heard Leonardo’s soft steps approaching to tell him they were finished, he had long since finished his tea, and was seated comfortably in an old, worn recliner reading one of his favorite books of poetry. When he felt the soft tug on his kimono, he turned to regard Leonardo with a bushy brow raised in mild amusement. “Yes?” He asked. “Are you finished, my son?”
“Hai, Sensei. But Mikey cheated- he helped Raph with the counting.” Splinter let out a sigh of resignation, and frowned. Though he could not fault his oldest son’s honesty, he did not understand the boy’s need to tattle on his brother. Certainly Michelangelo had not completely obeyed him, but he saw no reason to punish him for being creative by helping his brother at the task he’d been given. It was simply in the child’s nature to think of the obvious solution to a tedious and dull situation.
“Leonardo, I never said that any of you COULDN’T help him, only that you were to put each group together and write down the result. I think you should be less concerned with HOW it was done, than that the task has been accomplished.” He replied, his tail thumping in mild agitation against the floor. It was as close to a reprimand as he felt the young mutant deserved, though from the look of embarrassment on the turtle’s face, it was enough. Leonardo had caught the chastising tone in his voice, and knew he’d erred in snitching.
“Now, come and let us see what you have found, hmm?” Splinter set aside the book and rose from his seat, following the smaller mutant back into the kitchen. He arrived to find the other three all looking up at him expectantly. Two bowls sat on the table, each with a small pile of rice in it. Raphael snapped to attention, while Donatello scribbled furiously on his paper, evidently working problems from the book. The old rat smiled to himself, pleased by the boy’s eagerness to learn. Michelangelo, not surprisingly, was playing with the rice he had counted, pushing the tiny grains around on the table to form shapes- he saw a crude horse, a cat, and even a turtle formed from the rice. He chuckled to see such creativity from his smallest child.
“We finished, Master!” Raphael said, looking up at him anxiously, no doubt wondering what Splinter would think of their efforts. “I got two hundred eighteen, and Mikey got one hundred sixty-four. That’s three eighty-two all together. Did we do good?”
The old rat nodded. “Yes, my son, I am most pleased. Now, can you tell me how many sushi rolls you would have?” He waited patiently for the boy to answer, wondering how he would handle the left-over portion.
“Three- and maybe one smaller one left over. Or we could pull out enough rice to finish the last one.” Raphael said, brows furrowed as he tried to decide how to use the remaining grains.
Then the youngest piped up excitedly. “Hey, if we took some from the three whole ones and the one left over and made ’em all smaller, maybe we could make enough for five of ’em! Then we’d all have one!” Splinter was surprised by the suggestion; though he had never considered Michelangelo the brightest of his sons, on occasion his flashes of intuition and ingenuity bordered on brilliance. He felt a surge of pride in the little turtle’s solution, for it showed both a gift for overcoming obstacles through creativity, as well as a generous nature for wanting to share everything equally.
“That is a most clever solution, my son. You see, Raphael, there are always ways to use the knowledge and skills I teach you for something good. I understand your frustration, shonen, but you must not give up just because something is difficult. We must always strive to do our best in all things, for that is what makes us strong. It is what gives us courage.” He patted the head of his emerald-skinned son, looking down at all of them affectionately. “Now, I believe this lesson is finished- let us go to the dojo and begin your kattas for today. And when we are finished, I have a special gift for you all.”
The four little ones looked up at him with excited faces; it wasn’t often that they received gifts or treats of any kind, living as they did, so the promise of something special was cause for joy indeed. He sometimes wished that he could provide a better life for them, but theirs was by necessity a solitary and hidden existence, with few of the luxuries that even the poorest humans of the city above often enjoyed.
“A treat?! What is it?” Little Michelangelo jumped up from his chair, the rice-pictures he’d been making on the table already forgotten. He bounced excitedly in his eagerness to know what Splinter had in store for them. The other three gazed expectantly at the aging rat-man, Raphael fidgeting with anticipation, while Leonardo simply waited in patient silence, his shamrock-green face beaming happily. As always, Splinter was glad the children were so easy to please. Donatello stared at him with intense curiosity and concentration, the wheels of his mind clearly turning rapidly as he considered the many possibilities of what the gift might be. The child had a mind as keen as any the rat had ever known, an intelligence that far outstripped his brothers. Splinter was certain that one day the boy would be a formidable warrior indeed with such an intellect to use against his opponents. He decided to watch the boy carefully for signs of callousness, to steer his mind toward beneficial and principled pursuits. He knew all too well that a sharp mind turned toward dark purposes could turn cold and cruel.
“Be patient, my son. You will see AFTER you have finished your training for today.” He patted the enthusiastic little turtle on his head, wondering once again from whence the seemingly endless supply of energy came. The boy sometimes seemed to have no limits to his excitement and joy in even the simplest of things. At times, it was as if he was the living embodiment of happiness. He was, in many ways, the complete reverse of his brother Raphael, who often seemed troubled and angry for no reason he could discern. He supposed it had something to do with jealousy of Leonardo, for the perceived favoritism of the eldest. In truth, Splinter loved them all equally, though in different ways. Each had unique gifts, and though he might sometimes praise one over the others for a special accomplishment, he would never deny any of them a share of his affection. Yet Raphael seemed unable to see that.
He led the four into the area he had turned into a makeshift training room, furnished with items he had scrounged from an old, closed-down gym. There was a large mat on the floor, a balance beam, a set of small weights, and a sparring post. He had also managed to salvage some of his former master’s weapons and other items from his home years ago. He showed the boys the moves he wished them to learn, and then watched as they began to practice them. As usual, the eldest was intensely focused, taking his time and performing each katta perfectly. His desire to excel made him a natural leader, and Splinter had already begun subtlely testing him, grooming him for the role of future head of their small family.
Donatello tried hard as well, but with less success. He seemed less suited for the rigors of physical exercise, his main asset being his sharp intellect. However, the old rat knew that there would come a time when any or even all of them would have to defend themselves, so he insisted that even the least apt of his sons learn the necessary skills of combat. The boy never complained, taking even this as a challenge to be overcome- and in some ways, he proved to be as capable as any of them. He would often study the patterns of movements of his brothers, and use that knowledge to find ideal opportunities to strike. He was nothing if not efficient and calculating.
Raphael, on the other hand, was all that the other two were not. Tough, strong, and instinctive, as determined to prove himself worthy as his brother Leonardo, yet with a wild and unpredictable streak that made him difficult to control. At times, his temper seemed almost vicious and brutal, and many were the occasions when Splinter had been forced to pull him off of one of the others before he did his brothers serious harm. He competed constantly with his older brother in all things, and physical exercise was no exception. Yet in this, he seemed to have found his place, for the discipline required kept his wild mood swings from becoming more of a problem than they might otherwise be.
As he oversaw their efforts, Splinter found himself surprised at the ease with which his youngest seemed to learn the new technique. As undisciplined and unfocused as he was, the smallest turtle far outshone his brothers in natural ability. Where even Leonardo required many attempts to learn and perfect each new move, Michelangelo soaked them up like a sponge, even adding a few of his own on occasion to create new combinations that made him difficult to beat, in spite of his smaller size. His energy and agility made him a truly gifted student. Now, if only Splinter could keep the boy’s attention….
1 post • Page 1 of 1
Only good and fantasy stuff.