"Comin' in hot!"

Leonardo and Raphael sprinted to the open door of the van, and practically threw their father's limp form into it, pink laser fire sizzling through the air around their heads.

"Get down!" Michaelangelo screamed, yanking them into the van, and ducking as a laser seared past his ear, burning a hole in the tails of his mask. Leo kicked the nearest Kraang droid viciously from his place sprawled on the bed of the van, and quickly tucked his feet in as Raph slammed the door, just in time to catch the metallic hand of the next one as it reached for them. It grasped at the empty air like an angry metal spider.


Raph drew the door back a foot or so, threw all his weight into it, and slammed it again, severing the hand. It fell to the floor and lay still.

"DRIVE!" he roared.

"I KNOW, I KNOW!" Casey shouted, stamping on the gas as a hail of laser fire hissed angrily, heating the metal all around them.

Donatello leaned over their father's still form, trying in vain to listen for a heartbeat. Between the roaring, lurching, rattling van and the continued laser fire fading behind them, it was almost impossible. Grunting in frustration, he switched tactics, trying to feel for a pulse at Splinter's neck.

"Is he? –" Michaelangelo asked, wringing his hands.

"I don't know, Mikey," Donatello snapped, "Help me stabilize him, it's like bumper cars back here!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, did you want me to SLOW DOWN?!" Casey yelled frantically from the driver's seat. A trash can flew up and cracked the windshield, tumbling noisily over the roof.

"Can you two knock it off for TWO MINUTES?!" April shrieked. She leaned out of the passenger window, clutching a Kraang pistol and shot several lasers at their pursuers.

"Everyone's bein' so loud," Mikey muttered, hunched over miserably, trying to hold Splinter's head steady while Donnie worked.

"Hang in there, Mikey," Leo said, reassuringly, holding Splinter's legs so he didn't slide all over the van, "Won't be long n – "

His face was mashed into the side of the van as Casey swung a hard left. Everyone not strapped in tumbled to the right.

"HOLD him!" Donatello shouted.

Casey frantically grabbed April by the waistband of her shorts, left hand still on the wheel, trying to keep her from flying out the window. She continued to fire at the pursuing Kraang, oblivious. They heard a loud boom behind them, felt the van swerve in the concussive wake.

"That's for my father!" April shrieked.

With a wrench, Casey hauled her back inside. Her face was bright red and smeared with soot, and her bangs were smoking, scorched in the blast.

"Reign it in, Xena, you were almost barbecue!"

"They still tailing us?" Leo hollered up to the front.

"I could tell you," April snarled at Casey, "If I wasn't dragged back in here!"

"Really?! REALLY, APRIL!?"

Leo rolled his eyes.

"Keep him still!" he barked at Raph and Mike. Bracing himself on the wheel well, he carefully opened the back door of the van a few inches and peered behind him. A few Kraang droids were following on foot, backlit by the flaming wreckage of their craft, but they were falling further and further behind. Grunting, Leo wrenched the door shut again.

"I think we're losing 'em!" he reported.

"It's only a matter of time before they bring in air surveillance," Donatello shouted over the sound of the engine.

"Casey!" Leo shouted, "Find us somewhere to hide!"

"We running or hiding?!" he hollered, "Make up your mind!"

"HIDING," they all shouted.

"You're the boss!"

They all grabbed on as the tires screeched, and the van changed direction.

"Got a spot!" Casey hollered, "Hang on!"

The world seemed to spin in a dizzying roar, and suddenly, they were indoors, and a dim orange light was shining in the van. With a sudden screech that threw them all to the front of the van, they came to an abrupt halt. April leaped out immediately.

"April!" Donnie called, reaching for her in vain.

With a metallic screech, the entire van shuddered, and slowly they began to sink. They realized Casey had found a parking garage, and April was lowering them in the elevator. The orange light faded, until the only light came from the dash, and the elevator shuddered to a stop. Panting, April climbed back into the van.

"We're between floors," she gasped, "I thought it would help us hide better. Case, cut the engine."

Casey turned the keys and with a sputter, the van died, along with the little light they had. They all wondered briefly if it would ever start again. They had certainly put it through its paces.

As their eyes adjusted, they could see a very dim, red glow – probably an emergency light in the elevator shaft.

"Status," Leo said.

"Laser burns," Raphael growled, "Otherwise, one piece."

"Present," Donatello reported tersely.

"Sprained wrist," Casey panted through gritted teeth, "Might be broken. No big."

"Don't move it," Donnie ordered, "I'll wrap it when I can. April?"

"I'm okay," she replied, suddenly calm, "I got a little 'sunburn' in the explosion, but it's fine. You okay, Leo?"

"I'm pretty banged up," he admitted, "But I'll be okay. I don't think I could run again, though. Knee's on fire. Mikey?"

"I gotta pee," Mikey whimpered.

They all listened to each other breathe for a moment.

"Splinter?" April asked, voicing the fear they all shared.

Donatello leaned over his father's insensate body, pressing the side of his head to his chest. They all waited in silence.

"Breathing," he announced, his voice cracking, "He's breathing. We did it."

He leaned back, and put a hand on Leo's shoulder, "We got 'im."

Casey whooped, and punched the roof of the van. Raphael buried his head in his hands and startling chuckling in a low voice. At least it sounded like he was chuckling.

"Keep it down. We're not out of the woods yet," Leo said, but they could hear the relief in his voice, "Time?"

There was a piercing glow as Donnie checked his T-Phone. In the dim light, they could suddenly see each other for a moment, and then, just as quickly, they vanished back into the ghostly, reddish dark.


Leo nodded. "We wait. We'll be more likely to avoid detection under cover of night. Raph, a few hours after dark, you and I will do recon, scout for activity on the surface. Casey, April, you see if you can siphon us some gas from the other cars down here. Mikey, you stay with Don and Splinter. Agreed?"

"Sounds good," Casey said, heaving a sigh of relief.

"He needs water, Leo," Donatello said, anxiously, "I think he's dehydrated."

"Anybody think to bring any?" Leo asked, wearily.

April opened the glove box, and rummaged around.

"I've got one juice box and a granola bar," she said, "But I dunno how old they are. Catch."

Donnie caught the juice box, and fumbled with the straw with shaking fingers. "Better than nothing. Thanks."

He cradled Splinter's head in his lap, punctured the juice box, and carefully squeezed a few drops of juice onto Splinter's tongue. His jaw worked slowly, lazily, as he swallowed laboriously.

"Nnnng," he groaned.

"Shhh, it's okay, sensei," Donatello said, softly, "You're safe. Just rest."

Splinter gave no further response, but they could hear his ragged breathing.

"Look at his face," Mikey said, miserably.

They eyed the long, seeping gashes over Splinter's muzzle, obviously infected.

"I wish –" Donatello sighed through his teeth in frustration, "I don't have anything I can…"

Leo put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, "It's okay, Donnie. We'll get him back to the farmhouse tonight."

Donatello gave a jerky nod, and deposited another few drops of juice onto Splinter's tongue.

"Right," Leo said, "We've got some time to kill. Donnie, keep an eye on Splinter. Raph, take first watch. Everyone else, try to rest."

"What, you want we should take a nap?" Casey said incredulously, "Fat chance."

Leo scowled. "If you can't sleep, just sit there and focus on your breathing. We need to be sharp tonight, not a jittery mess."

"Still gotta pee," Mikey whispered.

Leo sighed.

"Okay, Mikey, go pee, then try to rest."


Leo made eye contact with Raph, who nodded wordlessly, and opened the van door. Kicking the Kraang droid's hand into the dark elevator with vehemence, he reached up and in one smooth motion, clambered on top of the van. It buckled noisily as he leapt up to a better position. Mikey followed, stepping into the darkened elevator timidly. All was quiet again.

"Raph," Mikey hissed, noisily. He got no response.


"What, Mikey?"

"I can't go if you're lookin.'"

"I'm not lookin' Mike," Raph groaned, "Just go already."

Silence again.

"I can't. It's too quiet."

"Mikey, I swear…"

"Make some noise or something!" he pleaded.

"Do you want us to get caught?"

Silence again. Mikey whimpered.

"Uptown girl," Casey suddenly sang quietly, half under-his breath, "She's been livin' in her uptown world."

The remaining occupants of the van blinked and turned to stare at him.

"Then somethin' else about a downtown guy," he sang-talked off key, shifting his weight nervously, obviously not knowing the lyrics, "Then somethin' somethin' somethin', rhymes with 'guy.'"

"Woaahh, woahhhh, woahhhh," April joined.

Soon the whole van was making an absolute hash out of Uptown Girl. There was an unmistakable dripping sound, and they stopped for a second.

"Well don't STOP," Mikey called anxiously out of the dark.

"Uptown girl!" they all chorused, rolling their eyes, "She's my UP town girl, I'm in love with a – "

"I can't believe I'm related to you people," came a surly voice from above.


Splinter moaned fitfully. He felt shivery, and very, very thirsty.

He felt his beloved Tang Shen's cool, slim hand over his forehead, her fingers working through his hair. He moaned in relief at the contact.

"He's still really feverish," she said.

Splinter squinted…this wasn't right. Why was she speaking English? They never spoke English when they were alone together. And whom was she talking to? Had she called a doctor? Maybe the doctor spoke English?

His eyes fluttered open, and he found himself staring at a wooden ceiling. Where was he?

"Oh my Gosh," said the voice, "Guys! GUYS!"

There was a clammer of footfalls, and April O'Neil leaned in to his view.

"Master Splinter," she said, encouragingly, "It's okay, you're safe."

She was jostled somewhat as Donatello arrived next to her.

"Sensei," he said, relief printed all over his features, "How do you feel?"

"Your…brothers," he croaked, trying to quell the anxiety in his chest. Were they safe? Had they all made it? But soon all of his sons were surrounding him, and he felt many hands on his shoulders, his head, holding his hands. He closed his eyes, smiled – they had made it. They were safe.

"My…sons…" he croaked. His voice felt rough and painful from disuse. He was so thirsty.

"Water," he whispered. He tried to reach out to Donatello, but felt a twinge. He glanced down and saw that a patch of the fur on his arm had been shaved away, that there was now an IV taped to his bare flesh.

"I got it!" Mikey said, and Splinter heard his rapid footfalls fading.

"Use the sports bottle!" Donnie called after him, "So he doesn't have to sit up."

"How…" Splinter murmured, "How did you find me?..."

"When you found your way back to the lair it triggered the perimeter breach," Donnie said, "It went right to my T-phone. Of course, we had no way of knowing whether it was you or not, but we had to take the chance. And I'm so glad we did."

"When we found you, they had you surrounded, sensei," Leonardo said, "How did you evade them?"

"With…difficulty," Splinter breathed. They chuckled.

"I'll say," Donnie babbled, "By that point you were seriously ill…it's amazing you could even move, let alone run..."

Splinter thought back to his fight with Shredder. That fight, and his subsequent near-drowning, had very nearly finished him, to say the least of the infection that had taken root and raged through his body. It was only through dumb luck that he had survived at all, and awoken he knew not how long after, passed out in a sewer tunnel, half in and half out of the sewage. He had clawed his way to dry land, retched, and promptly passed out once more.

Through sheer determination he had struggled onwards over the next days, seeking fresh water and sustenance, resting and binding his wounds as best he could. When he felt he could manage it, he risked a trip to the surface to get his bearings. Many stores had already been looted, or had their broken windows boarded up. He found a convenience store that had already been looted – most people had stolen the food, water, and pricier items, and trashed the rest, but with patience and a small hand saw, he managed to break the lock that lead to the pharmacy section and stole some life-saving antibiotics to treat his infection. He hid there for days, recuperating, cleaning and dressing his wounds with whatever he could scavenge. When other looters arrived, he made himself invisible, clinging to the shadows, avoiding them. Only once he felt strong enough, did he attempt to make his way back to the lair, praying, hoping beyond hope that his sons had survived, had all made it home – and devastated to find it empty.

Soon, however, he realized that the Kraang were still making regular patrols, both above ground, and of the sewers, that it would only be a matter of time before he was discovered. He had to keep moving – but he kept checking back in at the lair periodically, hoping beyond hope that his boys were alive, that at least one of them would find a way to return, or to contact him from who knows where…but soon he had finished the purloined antibiotics, and the illness began to reclaim him, his wounds not yet fully healed, aggravated by his nomadic lifestyle and grimy surroundings.

He had been searching for more medicine when he was discovered by Kraang droids. He fled, ducking through back alleys, trying to shake them, but he knew he was weakened. His injuries were severe, not properly healed – he was ill, very ill, malnourished and dehydrated…He rounded a corner, knowing they were hot on his heels, when suddenly the van and its precious, impossible cargo had roared around the corner like a gift from heaven, and he realized two things: his beautiful sons, his boys were alive – and they were all about to die. He had reached out his arms to them, warned them away, told them to leave him and run…and then he felt the earth slide sideways underneath him as everything began to fade, heard the laser fire, the screaming, and then knew no more.

Where to even begin? What to even say? He opened his mouth, but only a pained gasp emerged.

"Don't try to speak, sensei," Donatello said, gently pressing him back into the pillows, "We'll talk soon."

Mikey returned with a sports bottle full of water and handed it to Donatello. He held it low, angled the plastic straw towards Splinter, who drew a deep draught of cool, clean water, and sighed in deep relief.

"Rest, Master."

He heard his eldest's voice, and turned towards it, tears shimmering in his eyes. He had feared the worst, thought Leonardo dead and gone, he and possibly all his brothers.

"My…sons," he sighed. He turned the other way, and saw April and Casey also standing there, smiling at him warmly.

"My…family," he amended.

He closed his eyes, and rested.


The days passed quickly. Between the antibiotics, IV fluid, and Donatello's medicine, remarkably reverse-engineered from the mutagen that had transformed them, Splinter was feeling stronger in a few days than he had in a few months. And yet, nothing could heal his worry for his family, worry that gnawed at him day and night. As soon as he felt he could travel safely, he summoned his sons and their friends to the living room.

"My sons," he said, seriously, clutching a cup of tea, "We can no longer remain here. It is time for us to be on the move."

"Booyakasha!" Mikey crowed, punching the air.

"It's payback time," Raphael said, pounding one fist into the other, "They aren't going to know what hit 'em."

Splinter raised an eyebrow, and turned on his impetuous son.

"You intend to fight the Kraang?!" he hissed.

Raphael gave Splinter a confused look.

"Heck, yeah! The Kraang, Shredder, and anyone else stupid enough to get in our way. That's what you said, right?"

"No," Splinter said, firmly, and set his tea down firmly. It clanked so hard, they thought for a minute he'd broken it. "No it is not, Raphael. I said it was time for us to leave."

There was an awkward silence.

"Master, you mean we're…not going back to New York?" Leo asked, incredulously.

"That is correct, Leonardo. We do not fight - we flee."

"Flee?" Raphael repeated, incredulously, "Flee?! "

"You mean a retreat, right Master?" Leo supplied, hurriedly, "A tactical retreat to regroup, gather our forces, and then –

"No, Leonardo. I mean we run. Run far, run fast – fade into the night, and never look back."

Leonardo's eyes were wide, and he and Donatello glanced at each other nervously. This wasn't like Master Splinter…

Raph smashed a fist into the door frame, and some grit drifted from the ceiling.

"No way, sensei! New York is our home! Besides, after what Shred-head did to Leo? After what he did to you? How can you even think about running?!"

"You think you know what you are saying, Raphael but you do not," Splinter said, rising slowly from his chair, with a steely glare.

"Oh, I don't?" Raphael roared, "We're just supposed to slink away like cowards, with our tails between our legs, is that it? Maybe you're the one that doesn't know what he's saying!"

"Raph, take it easy, man," Michaelangelo pleased anxiously. But there was no deterring him now.

"What about the people that need us?" Raphael kicked a nearby coffee table in his temper, upsetting the lamp that rested there and cracking it.

"What about honor?!"


Splinter straightened up, and suddenly seemed to loom over them, the fury gleaming cold and bright in his eyes.

Without warning, he stepped forward and lashed out at Raphael. Stunned, Raph reached up to block, needing to shift to defend the next blow before he could even register what was happening.


"Sensei!" Donatello cried, reaching a hand out.

"Stop!" Mikey begged, wringing his hands.

April and Casey stood rooted to the spot, horrified and cowed by Splinter's unseeing fury.

Leonardo leapt forward and caught Splinter's next blow with the crook of his arm, hauling backwards with all his strength.

"Master!" he pleaded, "Sensei, we – "

Splinter swatted him away with a blow to the plastron, as if he were nothing more than a fly. Leo stumbled back, tweaking his bad knee, and landed in Donatello's waiting arms.


It seemed to be the only thing Splinter could say. Raphael was struggling to defend himself, refusing to go on the offensive, but it was taking all his skill simply to evade. His eyes grew wide with fear. In a series of lightning fast moves, Splinter had backed him to the wall. Raphael raised his arms up to cover his head, and shut his eyes, refusing to attack, ready to accept whatever punishment Splinter was about to deliver.

Just as suddenly and furiously as he had attacked, Splinter seized his son, drew him violently to his chest, and sank to his knees. The room went deathly still except for Raphael's frightened panting, and the racking, heart-breaking, terrifying sound of Splinter's sobbing.

"Honor," he choked.

They all looked away involuntarily – this was something they had never witnessed, should not witness, something not meant to be seen. They knew their father had feelings, was not a robot – they had, perhaps, seen his eyes mist over with pride, loss, or relief – but had never seen him so compromised. It had been drilled in them from such a young age that a ninja must always control his mind and body, must always be able to find balance.

There was nothing balanced about Splinter now. Raphael's cheeks were almost as red as his mask. He had no idea how to respond.

"What has my precious 'Honor' cost me?" Splinter asked, his voice a ghostly, hollow whisper. He was barely audible, murmuring into Raphael's neck. "Kuso!"

Leo flinched involuntarily, and felt Donnie's grip tighten on his shoulder. They had never heard their father curse – not once. Donnie wanted the floor to swallow him whole. It was wrong, all wrong. Splinter was back. It was supposed to be okay, now.

Splinter finally released Raphael and knelt on the floor, his shaking fists grinding into his furry knees as tears streaked down his face, wetting the fresh, poorly healed scars there.

"Was it my honor that swelled my foolish head with pride, that made a mortal enemy out of a friend? Was it honor that cost me my beloved Tang Shen, my beautiful Miwa? Cost me my dojo, my country, my name? My humanity?"

He looked up at Leonardo, eyes rimmed with red, his voice breaking.

"Was it honor," he spat, "That covered my beautiful sons in scars? That nearly took – "

He turned back to Raphael, who staring at his sensei in mute horror. He raised a hand to caress his hotheaded son's face, a hand with slender, human fingers ending in rat-like claws. He seemed to be unable to speak further, closed his eyes, shook with silent sobs.

"Sensei," Raphael whispered helplessly, his eyes wide.

"'Honor' demandsthat you fight, my son?" Splinter said, his voice shaking as he trembled on the floor, "'Honor' demands that you lay down your lives for this world? Ie! I am your father. And I demand that you live."

He pulled his frightened son into his embrace once more, tears sheeting down his ruined face.

"You are my sons. And I demand that you live," he repeated, his voice cracking.

Michaelangelo didn't seem to be able to help himself anymore. He ran forward, flung himself on the floor, and wrapped his arms around Splinter and Raphael, burying his face in his father's fur.

"My sons," Splinter moaned, turning to embrace Michaelangelo, "I thought I had lost you. My sons."

Donatello drew closer, hesitantly. Splinter reached for him, and took his hand, pulled him close. Donatello knelt down, still grasping his father's hand, and placed his other on Mikey's shell reassuringly.

Leonardo stared at the floor. He wanted to join them, wanted to embrace his family again. But something held him back – something stubborn and unrelenting.

"My son," Splinter murmured, sensing his hesitation, "I am so sorry. I have failed you the most."

Leo's faced burned, and he turned away, unable to meet the eye of his sensei. Misinterpreting his son's reaction, Splinter continued, desperately.

"I filled your head with fine, noble, lofty ideas…with bushido," he spat, "with honor. I did nothing but burden you, yoke you with responsibility far beyond your years. I told myself it was because I loved you," he choked, and Leo swallowed the lump forming in his throat, "but it was hubris, my son. Vanity and hubris. I want nothing more now than your safety, your happiness. Please - can you forgive me?"

Leo crossed the room, limping slightly, and held his hand out to Splinter stiffly. Gingerly, Splinter took his hand, and allowed himself to be helped up from the floor. Michaelangelo didn't seem to want to let go, and ended up clinging to Splinter's robe like a security blanket. Raph put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, and he finally released his grip.

Splinter stood and faced his eldest son.

"Oto-san," Leo said formally, "There is nothing to forgive."

He gave a stiff bow, inclining his head slightly, then met his Master's gaze once more. Splinter's eyes widened, and Donnie and Raph shared a furtive glance.

Leonardo had always bowed deeply to their sensei, sometimes bending almost ninety degrees to the floor. Leo had always bought heavy into the "respect" and "discipline" aspect of their training, had always hero-worshipped Splinter, put him on a pedestal to such a degree that it was something of a family joke. How often had Raph teased him when they were younger, accusing him of being a kiss-ass, dubbed him "Splinter Junior?" But something had shifted during their months of separation.

"I see," Splinter said, softly. "This family has been without its father – but not without its leader. I prayed to be reunited with my young boys, yet tonight, I meet, for the first time, a young man. This trial by fire, it has burned away the last days of your youth, Leonardo."

He placed a hand gently on his son's shoulder. His eyes were rimmed with red, full of pride, and also, remorse.

"I am sorry for it."

"I'm not," Leo said, simply, not breaking his father's gaze. Understanding passed between them, flowing like water, or electricity. They had seen each other at their darkest hour, and Leonardo knew now that the boyhood days of hero worship were over. For the first time, he and his father looked into each others eyes and saw not heroes – saw neither an idol nor a prodigy – did not see an extension or reflection of themselves – but truly saw one another, as mortal men – real individuals, capable, yet also culpable – fierce, yet flawed.

"You are no longer a boy," Splinter said, his voice breaking. Slowly, delicately, he collected Leonardo into his arms, "But you will always be my son."

Leo allowed himself to be embraced for a moment, then wrapped his arms gently around his father.

"Oto-san," he murmured gratefully.

"I am so proud of you," Splinter murmured. He drew back and placed a claw under Leonardo's chin, "But I have always been proud of you."

He turned to address his three sons, who knelt respectfully across the room. "I am proud of all my children. You have done well, remarkably well."

He turned, and nodded his gratitude to April and Casey as well, including them in his praise. Casey grinned.

"Good to have you back, Master Splinter," he nodded, "So. What's the real plan?"

"'Real plan?' I told you. We run." Splinter replied immediately, without hesitation.

Casey blinked, and made eye contact with April uneasily. He'd clearly been hoping that this latest emotional outburst would have knocked the "sense" back into sensei. No such luck, apparently.

"I finally have my family back," Splinter said, his voice growing in strength, "The last time Oroku Saki stole my family from me, I was devastated. I fled to America, built a new life, with you, my sons – yet still, he plagues our steps, and not only he, but a new threat: the Kraang. They have tried to take my family once again, and they very nearly succeeded. Kesshite futatabi! Never again. We go to ground. Avoid major cities, make our way somewhere quiet and deserted."

"But…" Donatello interjected, "The world is –"

"I care nothing for this world," Splinter spat, harshly, "I care only for my family."

Donatello's eyes flew wide. He sat back on his heels again, and stared at the floor, worry creasing his brow.

"I once thought as you do now," Splinter continued, "It was I who taught you this way – that we have a duty, a sacred obligation to this world, no matter the cost. I was wrong, my sons. Nothing can justify such a cost. It was arrogant to think we could stem the tide of fate. And I cannot – will not lose you again. We go to ground, seek what peace we can, and if a day of reckoning is to come, it will find us together."

"But," April interjected, and withered under Master Splinter's determined gaze, "What about my Dad? And Casey's family?"

Splinter's expression softened.

"April. Casey. I cannot ever thank you enough for what you have done for us, for my family. You have sheltered us, healed us – not only in body, but in spirit. But we cannot stay. And we cannot find your family. The risk is simply too great. You are welcome, of course, to go with us – but my sons and I are leaving."


Leonardo's voice was calm and assured. The whole room turned to look at him, as though they'd forgotten he was standing there.

"We hold position here," Leonardo said, calmly, "We find April and Casey's family. Once everyone is safe – we make a plan. And then, we fight."

You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Leonardo had never so openly defied his father's orders.

"My son," Splinter said, and they couldn't help but note, with growing unease, the growl he barely managed to conceal, "Have you heard nothing I have said?"

"Ie, oto-san," Leonardo said, firmly, "I say this not because I haven't listened – but because I have heard everything you have said."

He crossed to his Father in two even strides, and placed a hand on his shoulder. Even though Splinter was taller than Leonardo, by at least half a foot, something in his carriage made Leonardo seem taller.

"I have listened to your words from the time I could understand them," he said, firmly. "Your words made me. When I'm lost or afraid…"

He placed his other hand over his plastron.

"Yours is the voice I hear. I was in the dark for a long time. We…"

He turned to address the room.

"All of us have been in the dark. For far too long. Not anymore. No more hiding. I know now what we need to do."

He stepped back, placed a fist in the palm of his hand, and bowed curtly to his father once again.

"Arrigatou gozaimasu," he said simply, "Thank you for your wisdom."

Without any further words, without waiting for a reply, he turned and addressed his brothers, still kneeling wide-eyed on the floor.

"Donatello, you're with me. Go get the med kit and bring it to the kitchen. You need to reassess sensei's injuries, see if they need any further treatment, and give me a long-term prognosis. I need to know how long until he's combat-ready. Your best guess," he added, holding up a hand to stymie Donatello's objections.

"Raphael, you're with Casey and April. Get all the information you can about their families. Last point of contact, other relatives, places they might hide, anything you think would be useful. When the three of you are done with that – we need to shift bunks. The master bedroom is the largest, so put all four of us in there. Move the full-size to the second bedroom for Splinter. Casey, you've got the third, and April's fine where she is. Mikey, how are we on rations?"

There was a beat where Mikey just stared at him, slack-jawed. Raph elbowed him.

"Eggs," Mikey blurted, then stammered on, "Got – we got eggs. Y'know, from the – chickens but we're low on pretty much everything else. I think we have some Spam? Maybe I could – "

Leo sighed, and held up a hand, "Omelets it is. Tomorrow, you take April and the van on a supply run."

"Um," April said, awkwardly rubbing her upper arm, "Leo I'm…we're…kinda low on funds."

Leo paused, weighing this, then sighed.

"Change of plan. Mikey, after dinner, make a list. April, you go late tonight. Bring Casey and Donnie. Break in, take what we need, leave what we can afford, and keep track of what we owe. And don't be seen."

Casey and Donatello eyed each other warily across the room, contemplating their joint mission with April.

"I've got bigger fish, guys," Leo barked, and they quickly turned their attention back to him, "Work it out, and do it quick. April drives and keeps lookout. Donnie, surveillance, alarms, locks, in that order. Casey: you're in, out, and gone. Look, I don't like adding B&E to your resume either, but we can pay our tab when the world stops ending. Raph, early morning, once they're back, you and I'll bag some game."

There was a pause.

"Hai?" Leonardo addressed the room. It wasn't a question.

Donatello was the first to stand. "Hai, taichou."

Mikey and Raph stood as well. Mikey's knees were a little wobbly, and he almost tripped. Raph threw out an arm to catch him, and had the good grace not to mention it.

"You're the boss, Boss," Mikey said, his voice sounding young and shaky.

"Whatever you say, Fearless," Raph said, nodding respectfully.

"O Captain, my Captain," Casey saluted with a sarcastic grin. April punched him in the shoulder, and then smiled gratefully at Leo, her eyes shining with gratitude.

"Thank you," she mouthed.

Leo nodded at the person he'd come to call his sister, a determined expression on his face.

"We'll get them back," he promised her, and then addressed the room at large. "And then we're taking back our city."

Turning to his father, he gestured to the kitchen.

"Oto-san," he said, "Join me for tea? We have a lot to discuss."

Splinter regarded his son with in amazement, realizing that however politely worded, his son had just given him an order. There was an awkward pause as everyone waited for his reaction. His son, his uchi-deshi, his strong right arm…they were all standing here before him in one person, and yet this was also someone new, somehow. He was at once so familiar, as near to him as the beat of his own heart, and yet, it seemed as though he was meeting this young man for the first time. And as desperately as he wanted to protect him, to protect all of them – as dangerous and deadly as he knew the mission that lie ahead could prove – Splinter knew he couldn't order him to run anymore than he could have ordered a mountain.

"Hai," Splinter replied.

With that simple syllable, it was sealed – the family was united once more, yet forever different. Everything wonderfully whole; the same, yet never the same - never again.

Leonardo placed an arm around his father's shoulders, guiding him to the kitchen.

"We missed you, sensei."

Splinter eyed his son, gratefully, proudly. He felt a little embarrassed by his outburst earlier.

"I am sorry you had to see – "

Leo held up a hand and smiled, firmly stemming his father's apology.

"Let's have Donnie look at you," he said tenderly stroking a hand over his father's fur.

The kitchen door softly swung on its hinges behind them. As if a spell had broken, they all immediately set about their separate missions, like a well-oiled machine.