"Excellent work," Splinter said, returning their graded tests, "All of you have shown improvement."

Something about the way Splinter emphasized the word "improvement" made Raphael nervous. He greedily snatched Mikey's test paper out of his hands from across the table.

"Hey!"

"Aw maaaan," Raph groaned, and slid it across, back to Mikey, "Even Mikey beat me. I hate math."

The brothers were seated around the kitchen table, where they usually gathered to do their schoolwork. Every day, after training and a much-needed shower, they'd convene there to begin the day's studies, three of them trudging wearily, while Donnie practically skipped to get to his favorite part of the day. Lessons were usually cobbled together from books rescued out of school and library dumpsters, and sensei's own knowledge.

"It's not a competition, Raph," Leo sniffed.

"At least you didn't fail!" Donnie added, trying to be encouraging.

"Pfft. Says Captain Kiss-ass and his sidekick, Straight-A-Sally."

"Hey!" Donnie pouted, and Raph immediately felt guilty. Donnie had stayed up late trying to help him study, but it only frustrated him more, realizing how easily things came to his nerdy brother and how difficult it was for him.

"There's no need to be rude."

"Oh, bite me, Leo."

"Yame!" Splinter said, warningly, "Raphael, we have spoken about language."

"Hai, sensei."

"Now. I believe there has been an aspect of your education I have been neglecting."

"Cool!" Mikey beamed, "We're gonna learn the dirty stuff!"

"What's the dirty stuff?" Leo asked, looking nervous.

"Y'know," Mikey said, in a conspiratorial whisper, holding his hand to the side of his mouth, "S-E-X!"

"Ew!" Leo said, wrinkling his nose and turning reddish-green, "Mikey!"

"W-why d'you think that, Mikey?" Donnie asked, with a nervous glance at his father. Raph smirked. He had checked Donnie's browser history once, after he'd been up all night doing "research."

"Research," my scaly green tail.

"I dunno," Mikey shrugged, "'Cuz we haven't learned it yet and now that we're all double-digits we're like, practically official teenagers, almost. Besides, we gotta be ready when we're finally allowed to go topside and we're all knee-deep in bitches."

"Michelangelo!" Sensei scolded, horrified disbelief on his rat-like features.

"Sorry. When we're knee-deep in young ladies," he course-corrected with a sheepish grin.

"You're gross!" Leo scolded, "And you watch too much MTV."

"Like a virgin! Hee!" Mikey burst out in song, hopping up out of his chair and wiggling his hips at Leo, running his hands suggestively over his plastron,"Touched for the very first tiiiiiiiime!"

Donnie slapped a hand over his mouth and guffawed, with his little signature follow-up snort. His smile faded at a withering glare from sensei.

"You don't even know what that means," Leo snapped, ignoring Mikey's dancing and folding his arms crossly.

"Oh, like you do? Why don't you go ahead and tell us, Leo?" Mikey challenged.

"I could," Leo lied defensively, with a blush, "I just don't want to."

"Yeah, right," Mikey said triumphantly. He adopted a dreamy, musing expression. "I bet it's dirty, though. It's gotta be, it's Madonna."

"Where did you even learn that, hmm?" Leo asked, looking to get Mikey in trouble for embarrassing him.

"It was on 'I love the 80's!' It doesn't even say 'Viewer Dissection Advised' at the beginning, which means it's totally allowed, so eat a whale, tattle-tale!"

"You first, liverwurst!" Leo retorted hotly.

"It's 'discretion,'" Donnie mumbled to nobody, but Mike had already grabbed two empty drinking glasses off the dish rack and was holding them over his plastron like a cone bra.

"Cuz we are liiiiivin' in a material world! And I am a material girl!"

Raph shook his head. Like anyone was ever gonna wanna do S-E-X with a mutant turtle, anyway. Mikey could be so damn stupid sometimes.

Then again, this is the same Mikey who just kicked your ass at math. Yep - the one prancing around pretending to be Madonna is officially smarter than you. Now who's stupid? Loser.

"I think…we will leave this subject for another day," Splinter said, his weary, long-suffering expression partially obscured by his palm, "What I was referring to, are the arts."

The boys looked at each other dubiously.

"Like…martial arts?" Mikey offered, putting the glasses back in the dish rack. Raph made a mental note not to drink from those. It'd be too weird. "Cuz…we're already gettin' pretty good at the ninjutsu."

"I am referring to more creative, cerebral art forms, Michelangelo," Splinter tried again, "You have honed your bodies, become strong fighters…but you are all named after great Renaissance artists, great thinkers. It is my wish for you to be as well-rounded as your namesakes. You are each to select an art form and explore your artistic gifts in your free time. And no, Michelangelo," he added wearily, as Mikey's hand shot in the air, "Burping the alphabet is not an art form."

Mikey sadly put his hand back down.

"I will give you a day to contemplate what you might like to study."

"Yeah, uh," Raph said, raising his hand even as he was already speaking, "What if we don't got any 'artistic gifts?'"

"Have," Donnie corrected automatically, and Raph shot him a dirty look, "But Raph's right. I mean, I like a good opera as much as the next turtle, but…that doesn't mean I can sing one."

Raph rolled his eyes. Don could be such a snob sometimes. "Ooo, look at me, I listen to fat people howling in a foreign language for fun, I'm so cultured." Whatever.

"I mean," Donnie continued, "Mikey's the one that can draw."

"Oh hey, yeah!" Mikey said, a smile growing on his face as if he just remembered, "Hey, um, sensei? Can drawing be my arty thingie?"

"Yes, Michelangelo," Splinter nodded, "Drawing would be fine."

"Oh come on!" Raph whined, "Mikey just gets to doodle superheroes in his notebook like always?! That's not even work!"

"Making art doesn't have to be a chore, Raphael," Splinter chided, "Many people derive enjoyment from it."

"What kind of art do you do, sensei?" Leonardo asked, his eyes wide. Raph rolled his eyes again. Clearly Leo would want to do exactly whatever it was sensei did. Why did his brothers have to be extra annoyingtoday?!

Splinter gestured behind them to the scrolls hanging on either side of the dojo entrance, where brush-painted kanji hung with words like "Discipline," and "Honor."

"I practice traditional Japanese brush calligraphy."

Raph's eyes widened. Woah. He had no idea sensei had made those. He figured he'd always had 'em, or bought 'em in a store when he was still human, maybe.

"You made those?!" Mikey cried in awe, echoing Raphael's thoughts, "Woaaah! That's so cool!"

"Dibs!" Leo shouted, "That's what I wanna do. Can you teach me, sensei?"

Raphael sighed audibly. Kiss-ass.

"Of course, Leonardo," Master Splinter beamed serenely, and Raph scowled, wishing that just once he could be the favorite, even just for one day.

Donatello made eye contact with Raphael, and Raph could see he was about as thrilled with this plan as he was.

"Well?" Mikey prompted, nudging Donatello, "What are you gonna do, D?"

"Like I said," Donnie said, frustratedly fiddling with his bo harness, "I have no idea. I'm not really a creative type. I'm more into facts and figures, machines, computers…"

He got a funny look.

"Huh…maybe…"

He trailed off. He was always doing that - trailing off in mid-sentence, or randomly blurting something totally unrelated in the middle of a conversation. It was like his brain was too busy to stay in one place, so it wandered all over.

Actually, when they were really little, they all suspected Donnie might be the dumb one, because he never really paid attention, and he always had this dazed, distracted expression on his face…sometimes his lips would be moving slightly, like he was having a conversation with himself, and you'd have to call his name a few times before he'd snap out of it.

One day, though, when Splinter announced a new book to read, Donnie calmly announced that he had already finished it.

"You've already read this book?"

"I read all of them. Even the ones under your bed. Can we get more please?"

Splinter blinked.

"Those…those are Shen's books."

"I know. They had her name in 'em."

"…her college books."

Donnie nodded absent-mindedly, already distracted by the broken television he'd taken a shine to.

"They are also in Japanese."

"Watashi wa manabimashita." Donnie replied, "Sore wa muzukashī kotode wa arimasendeshita."

The broken television he'd been toying with fizzed, and sparked to life.

"Yatta!"

He smiled at them in satisfaction, showing the gap in his teeth, as they stared back in stunned silence, their faces illuminated by the snow on the television screen.

They never thought Donnie was stupid again.

"There is no rush," Master Splinter said, and Raph was snapped back to the present moment, "As I said, you can take the day to think it over."

Raph didn't need a day. He already knew he was screwed.

The next morning found Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo stretching in the dojo, preparing for their morning training.

"Where is your brother?" Splinter asked without preamble, as he entered the dojo.

"Dunno," Mikey said, "I knocked on his door this morning but he didn't answer."

"Maybe he fell asleep in the lab again?" Leo ventured, "Do you want me to check, sensei?"

"Sorry! Sorry!" Donnie called in reply, the sound of his feet slapping from the hallway. He poked his head into the dojo. There were dark circles under his eyes, but he had a thrilled, manic expression they recognized all too well - he had invented something.

"I was up all night," he babbled, deliriously, "I have something cool to show you!"

Without another word, he disappeared again. Seconds later, his frowning face poked back into the dojo.

"Well, come on!"

Sighing and shaking his head with a smile, Master Splinter lead the way, and the others followed, Leo frowning dubiously, and Mikey and Raph bringing up the rear, sharing a quick high-three at delaying their grueling workout for another few minutes.

Donnie flung himself into his computer chair and wheeled it over to his console as they entered the lab. "So I did a little research on the internet last night."

Raph snorted. But sensei gave him a warning look, so he plastered what he hoped was a perfectly innocent expression on his face.

"Actual research," Donnie drawled, making annoyed eye contact with Raph, "Into modal counterpoint! And I programmed the computer, to do…this!"

Beaming, he pressed a key, and suddenly the lab was flooded with a series of electronic beeps, clicks, grinding sounds, and…

Raph squinted. Wait…it made a sort of…sense? Actually…

"See? It's a Bach fugue! I used these old dial-up modems and I programmed them to play it! It's the "Little Fugue" in G minor, actually, BWV number 578."

Raphael had no earthly clue what this meant.

"Counterpoint is exactly like coding! It has all these rules, and so long as you follow them, it makes music! So I downloaded this music program, and here, I wrote my own variation…"

He clicked another button. The modems ceased their racket, and harpsichord music streamed forth - impossibly complex, layers interweaving and overlapping…it was like listening to math. Raph felt an odd sense of panic hearing it, and he looked at his little brother like he was seeing him for the first time. How did he even make sense out of all of this? How could anyone think so many things all at once, and hear how it would all fit like that? Is this what he was doing when he was sitting there coding, or programming, or whatever he called it? Is this what went on in his head when he was staring off into space, mumbling to himself?

Raph felt a nervous sweat prickle his neck and his armpits. He'd never been more aware of the gulf of difference between himself and Donatello.

Damnit. I am the stupid one.

The music finally finished.

"Hm," Donatello muttered, stroking his chin, "That should have been an F-sharp at measure seventy-two. Sorry, I dunno how I missed that. Stupid. Let me just…"

He started typing away, and Raphael found himself bubbling over with rage.

Stupid?

He was sitting there calling himself stupid?

Like any of them knew an F-sharp from a hole in the ground. Like Donnie wasn't already perfectly aware that he was some kind of super genius.

Now he was just rubbing it in.

But even as he thought it, Raph came to the even worse conclusion that Donnie wasn't the type to rub it in…wasn't the type to brag. He had said it casually, lightly…like this wasn't even work for him - like he wasn't even breaking a sweat.

"Excellent work, my son," Splinter said, patting Donnie's head affectionately, "Most impressive. But there is a time for everything, a time to work, a time to sleep…and now, it is time for training."

"Hai, sensei," Donatello said, still squinting at the monitor, "Let me just…"

But sensei just smiled, and dragged his rolling chair away from the computer. Donnie giggled, still reaching for the keys, then finally gave up.

"Okay, okay. I'm going."

He yawned, and hopped up out of the chair, turning to Raph expectantly.

For a moment, Raphael just scowled back at him.

Traitor.

They were supposed to be in this together, supposed to be hating this whole "arts and crafts" kick together. Now he'd gone ahead, like always, and blown all the rest of them out of the water with his towering genius, with his great big brain, bursting with -

"Um, Raph? You're kinda…blocking the door."

Startled, Raph hopped awkwardly out of the way before he could think to do something cool or menacing and scowled at his feet, as Leo and Mikey snickered together.

Great. Laugh it up. All of Splinter's perfect little star pupils.

What was it Mikey said once? All the good ones end in "O."

Once, and only once, they had gotten into a food fight while sensei was out. Mikey had flung a slice of pizza at Raph's head. He had ducked into his shell, out of the way, and when he looked behind him, the pizza had stuck to the wall, and was slowly sagging its way down, leaving a greasy trail of cheese behind it.

It had seemed funny at the time…they all laughed. But now, as they walked back to the dojo, Raph dragging his feet, he felt his anger sagging slowly into misery, exactly the way that piece of pizza slid down the wall.

He did what was required of him in training, but no more…usually he and Leo pushed themselves the hardest, Leo to impress sensei, and Raph to beat Leo…but today his heart just wasn't in it. When they moved into sparring, he blocked, defended, but barely attacked. Leo kept giving him funny looks, waiting for his usual onslaught, but it never came.

"What's with you?" he hissed, glancing at sensei out of the corner of his eye, "Quit doggin' it."

"I'm not doggin' it," Raph growled, and attacked just to shut him up.

Later, in the showers, he grimaced as he listened to Mikey cycle through the works of Madonna.

"Come on, Vogue!" he sang into the bottle of body wash, "Let your body goooo with the flowwww! Why am I sooooooo good at singing, you guys? Hey, maybe that should be my arty thingie!"

"Stick to drawing," Leo teased, throwing a sponge at his head. Mikey whapped it away with the bottle and it bounced off of Donnie's head, who laughed, caught it on the back of his foot, and flicked it back to Leo.

"Hack!"

"Ey!" Leo said, catching it on his ankle, and kicking it back to Mikey.

"Sack!" Mikey finished, catching the sponge and kicking it from foot to foot, "Oo! Or dancing! Hey, Raph, maybe you're a ballerina! Heh heh!"

He flicked his foot and sent the sponge flying towards him. Raph let it bounce off his plastron and hit the floor, shooting Mikey a murderous glare.

"Or not," Mikey mumbled, hastily capping the soap and resuming his shower, "Sheesh."

Once they were clean and dry, they reconvened at the kitchen table, where sensei was waiting for them.

"For Michelangelo," he announced, and handed him a small bundle tied with string. There was a book at the bottom titled enthusiastically, "Everyone Can Draw!" Its pages were slightly warped, as though it had gotten wet. On top, was a sheaf of fresh, white paper - Raph's eyes widened. He had no idea where sensei had found such pristine paper. And on top of that, a little plastic box which rattled slightly when Michelangelo took it from sensei. It looked like it was filled with pencils, pens, and erasers, only lightly used.

"Wow! New stuff!" Mikey beamed, his eyes wide, "Thanks, sensei!"

"You are very welcome, my son," Splinter smiled, "Now, for Donatello…"

He reached into the sleeve of his robes and withdrew a few cassette tapes.

"I think you will enjoy these."

"The B Minor Mass," Donnie said, reading the covers, "And selections from Handel, including the Royal Fireworks Music. Cool! Thanks, sensei!"

"Perhaps they will provide you with new inspiration…after you have taken a nap," Splinter said, with a warning note in his voice, "I don't want you staying up all night anymore."

"Hai, sensei," Donnie said, sheepishly, "I just got excited."

"What about me, sensei?" Leo asked, grinning eagerly.

Splinter smiled, and turning, took the potted bamboo plant off the kitchen counter and handed it to Leonardo.

"Um…thanks?" he said, curiously, "Sensei - you remember that we were doing brush-painting, right?"

"Of course, Leonardo," Splinter smiled serenely, "And for that, you require a brush, do you not?"

Leo frowned, then his eyes flew open as he looked down at the bamboo plant.

"But…your plant," he said, sadly.

"I can always find another," he soothed, patting Leonardo on the head.

Raph scowled, and scuffed his toes on the floor. Great. Everybody got new presents.

"Now, Raphael," Splinter said, turning to face him, "Have you decided what branch of the arts you will be pursuing?"

Raph felt his face get hot, realizing that everyone was looking at him waiting for him to answer. He just shrugged noncommittally.

"Hm. Perhaps you would like to study with one of your brothers?"

Raph's scowl deepened. Like hell he would. He had no freakin' clue what Donnie did to make that music, and he couldn't bear the idea of Mikey being better than him even at drawing…all Raph could do was a stick figure. And he'd rather pull out a tooth than do Leo's foofy, kiss-ass brush painting. Besides, Leo would just give him that look, like he was tryin' to steal his thunder or somethin'.

"This is dumb," Raph muttered, seditiously, "I don't wanna do it."

Leo's eyes widened, and Raph looked away, scowling. He knew he was pushing the limits.

"Raphael," Master Splinter said, evenly, "Everyone is doing this assignment. You as well."

"It's super lame, though. Can't I just, like, do extra training or somethin'?" he whined quietly.

Splinter scowled, and opened his mouth. Raph knew that look. He was about to get scolded, maybe even get flips for being insubordinate, which was a fancy word for mouthin' off.

But just as suddenly, sensei closed his mouth again and regarded him contemplatively.

"Hm. Very well," he said, "Dojo."

"What?!" Mikey cried, "No fair!"

"What do you care?" Don asked, rubbing his eyes sleepily, "You're just doodling in your notebook anyway."

"Nuh-uh!" Mike pouted, and held up his book, "I've got a real book and everything! I'm totally gonna be a real artist and draw like…fruit and naked people and serious stuff! If we gotta do art stuff then Raph should, too!"

"You," Splinter said, indicating Donatello, "Bed. You," he jutted his chin at Mikey, "Draw. And you," he jutted his chin at Leo, "Take out a sheet of paper and a pencil, and practice the kanji for 'Student.' When I return, you can try it with my brush, and then we will make you a brush of your own."

"Hai, sensei," they all chorused, with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Master Splinter swept off towards the dojo, and Raphael followed reluctantly. He bowed as he entered the room, Splinter already waiting in the center of the dojo with his arms folded behind his back. He turned to face Raphael.

"So. You wanted to train. Let us train. Show me the Five-Point Strike kata."

Raph felt nervous. It sounded like sensei had something else in mind, but he didn't know what. Taking a deep breath, he sank into stance, and focused on a point across the room. Moving swiftly through the kata, he exhaled with each sharp, decisive motion - Kick, punch, punch, step, sweep!

He glanced nervously at his sensei, awaiting feedback.

"Mm," he replied, "Again. This time, add two front kicks at the end."

Raph felt his stomach start to tie in knots. No corrections? No adjusting his form?

No, he knew his form was good. Maybe he did it too fast? Sensei was always telling him to slow down, to focus the energy in his strikes.

He returned to his starting position, took a deep breath, and sank into a crouch again. Taking extra care to let his breath motivate each gesture, he launched himself into the kata: Kick, punch, punch, step, sweep, right front kick, then changing legs in midair for a left front kick!

"Mm," sensei said enigmatically, "Again. Just the Five-Point Strike, no front kicks."

Raph scowled. Was he going to say anything? Or just watch him do it over and over and make him keep guessing what he did wrong? Did he flub something with the kicks?

Sulking, he stomped back over to starting position, and performed the Five-Point Strike kata once again, an extra little hiss at the end punctuating the sweep, as he pictured sending Leo crashing to the mat.

He stood, put his hands on his hips, and rudely waited for sensei to say something.

"Good," Master Splinter said, already moving out of the dojo, "Repeat that pattern."

"What pattern?" Raph asked, bewildered.

"Five-Point Strike; Five-Point Strike with two added front kicks; then Five-Point Strike again. Then rest for one minute, and start again. Continue until I return."

"But sensei, I - "

"You wanted to train," Splinter replied, in a warning tone of voice that clearly indicated he was through explaining, "So train."

Raph scowled as Splinter swept from the dojo.

"Now, let us see about this brush, Leonardo."

So. That's what this was, then. Busy work. Just something to keep him occupied while he paid attention to the brothers that actually mattered.

Raph felt his eyes stinging hot. He didn't know what he expected. He had refused to do the assignment, after all. This must be his punishment.

Wiping his eyes brusquely, he sank into position again.

Fine. At least he didn't need to embarrass himself in front of his brothers. Splinter must have finally admitted it was a lost cause, finally realized the truth - he really didn't have any "artistic gifts." This is what he was good at - what he was good for.

Fighting.

He launched himself relentlessly into the kata, losing himself in the rhythm, putting all his hurt and anger and wounded pride into each gesture:

Kick, punch, punch, step, sweep!

Kick, punch, punch, step, sweep, kick, kick!

Kick, punch, punch, step, sweep!

Then stomp, stomp, stomp back to starting position, take a deep breath, and sink back into a crouch to start it all over again.

As he worked, he could hear snatches of what was going on out in the kitchen.

"Hold still, Leo," Mikey was saying, "I can't get the shape of your head right."

"Sorry," Leo replied distractedly, then, "Are you sure, sensei? I feel awfully bad."

"It is only fur, Leonardo," he replied, "It will grow back. Besides, I certainly think I have enough to spare, don't you?"

Leo giggled, and there was a metallic snipping sound of scissors, and then a clatter as they were set on the table once more.

"There we are. Now, we fold it into the newspaper, like so…and tie it into a bundle. Go ahead - that's right, tighter. Good. Now we boil it."

"Boil it?"

"Yes. It cleans the hair and helps to straighten it. Once that's finished, lay it out on this strip of leather, comb through it carefully to line up all the hairs, and make sure they are all even with the straight edge. When that's finished, call me, and I will come and help you."

"But that means he has to move," Mikey objected.

"You must learn to draw from your memory as well, Michelangelo. Don't you know what your own brother looks like?"

Mikey giggled.

"I am going to go check on Donatello."

Raph felt an aching sense of loss. They were having fun out there, and sensei had even given Leo some of his own fur to make his stupid brush. Even Donnie got to lay around in bed doing nothing, at least.

Raph forced himself to continue practicing, but the motions began to feel dull, robotic, and heavy.

After what felt like hours, when his limbs were aching and trembling from effort, Master Splinter finally reentered the dojo.

"Yame," he said, "Kneel."

Exhausted and sad, Raphael knelt obediently, staring at the tatami mat beneath his knees.

To his surprise, Master Splinter crossed and knelt down in front of him. Raph saw he was carrying a spiral notebook and a pencil with an eraser. The notebook was red, and seemed lightly used - he must have got out of a school dumpster. "Math" was written on the cover in black marker, and there were little doodles of skulls and stars and band names on it. At least it wasn't a girlie notebook this time. His last notebook had "I heart N*SYNC" scribbled all over it. He had tried to cover it with permanent marker, but the indentation still showed through.

"An old silent pond," Master Splinter said, serenely, "A frog jumps into the pond…splash! Silence again."

Raph squinted. Was that, like…some kind of riddle?

"That is a haiku," Master Splinter explained, answering his silent thoughts, "A famous haiku, by the great poet Bashō."

"That's a poem?" Raph said, dubiously, "Just those couple'a sentences?"

"Like many things in life," Master Splintercontinued, his face strangely grave, "A haiku is very brief…and is more beautiful for it."

He looked away for a moment, his jaw working. Raph always wondered what he was thinking about when he did this. After a moment, sensei cleared his throat and turned back to Raphael.

"It has a very specific format - five syllables, then seven, then five again."

"I don't get it," Raph said, wrinkling his nose.

"Think of your kata you were just practicing, and listen again. As I speak the poem, picture yourself performing the kata in your mind."

Raph sighed, closed his eyes, and imagined himself in a ready stance.

"An - old - si - lent - pond," Master Splinter said, emphasizing each syllable.

(Kick, punch, punch, step, sweep.)

"A - frog - jumps - in - to - the - pond."

(Kick, punch, punch, step, sweep, kick, kick.)

"Splash! Si - lence - a - gain."

(Kick! Punch, punch, step, sweep.)

"Huh," Raphael said, opening his eyes, "Okay, I get it. It's like, the words match the rhythm of the kata."

"Exactly," Master Splinter smiled. He handed Raphael the notebook, and he took it dubiously.

"I suspect, Raphael," he continued, "That you have a singular gift for haiku."

"That I - wait, what?!" he asked, with a note of panic, "You want me to - "

He lowered his voice, glanced out the dojo door where Leo and Mikey were chattering away happily as they worked.

"You want me to write…poetry?" he hissed, in a shameful whisper.

"Yes."

"Like…actual poetry?" Raph repeated, aghast, "Like, hearts and flowers, 'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou' crap?"

"The subject of your haiku is entirely up to you. It can be about …oh, I don't know. Fighting, or motorcycles, or," Splinter grimaced, "Pro-Wrestling. It is entirely your choice - I will not censor you."

"No way," Raphael said, flatly, "They're gonna laugh at me."

"No one will read your haiku except me," Master Splinter continued, serene and undeterred.

"But - "

"Raphael," Master Splinter said, standing smoothly, "If you wish to leave this dojo, you will need to write me one haiku. And one every day hereafter. You will give me your notebook each night, and I will return it to you each morning. This is part of your school work, now."

Raph groaned, and opened his mouth to protest, but sensei fixed him with a challenging glare, and Raphael knew there was no arguing with him.

Begrudgingly he took the notebook and pencil, and opened it to a fresh page.

"Mm."

Master Splinter swept out of the dojo.

"Ah, good. Now, we need to trim the hair so it is all the same length…then we can roll it, and tie it with the thread…"

About an hour later, Raph trudged out of the dojo, notebook in hand.

"Well done, Leonardo," Splinter beamed, holding up several brush heads all tied together in a long string, like fish on a line, points starched. "Once the bamboo we cut has dried, we can choose the best one, fire the end, and then glue it in place."

"Look," Michelangelo interrupted, eager for praise, "I drew Leo while he was working."

"Quite good! When you are shading, Michelangelo, always remember which direction the light is coming from. This will show you where the shadows are meant to fall."

"Hai, sensei!"

There was a noisy yawn, and Donnie trudged down the stairs, rubbing his eyes.

"You were going to wake me up," he said to the room at large, accusingly. He was always grumpy when he first woke up.

"You needed to catch up on your sleep," Master Splinter said, firmly, "Now. Put your things away, and we will have lunch. Then you can have some free time before our afternoon studies."

"Hai, sensei!"

As casually as he could, Raph dropped his notebook on the table for sensei to collect, and set about grabbing the dishes to set the table.

"What's that?" Mikey asked, pointing at it.

Damnit.

"Instead of his art assignment, your brother is doing some extra Math homework," Splinter replied, taking the notebook from the counter before Michelangelo could get too nosy.

Mikey gaped in horror.

"Extra training and extra math homework?! Dude - you should just hang out with me and draw!"

Raph shrugged nervously, and rubbed Mikey's head as he passed by.

"S'aright. I gotta practice."

Gathering the rest of their things, Master Splinter went to store them in the dojo as Leo and Raph set the table, Donnie poured them all milk, and Mikey set about making them sandwiches for lunch.

Once he was in the dojo, no longer able to resist his curiosity, he opened the red notebook and checked Raphael's work…it had been erased and re-written many times, and he could see little hash marks in the margin, where he'd been counting the syllables…but his heart sank at the bitter fruits of his son's labor.

This is so stupid.

I am not like my brothers.

I don't have a gift.