Word Count: 1,729
I do not own TMNT.
It was a rainy week in New York, one of the wettest in years. The clouds cried upon the city for days on end, bringing a torrent of water, trickling down the street and cascading down drains. Everything was dark with the dampness, and the sky remained a constant smoky gray, the sun never daring to show it's face. Miserable residents hurried through the rain with upturned collars and ducked heads while teary-eyed tourists watched from hotels and bemoaned at their poor luck.
Even deep below the city, in winding labyrinths of pipes, the effects of the rain were evident. Tunnels were overflowing with drainage, churning in a mad race underneath the streets. Subway stations flooded over and travel by train made nigh impossible. For New Yorkers, it was a crippling thing, to have the subway nonfunctional. Businesses all over received weary phone calls reporting those who could not find a way to get to their jobs. Truly, New York had not seen anything like it for quite some time.
Not so far below an old apartment complex, an abandoned subway station was currently buzzing with activity. A strange family moved about with purpose, clearing items from shelves and packing boxes. An old rat carefully rolled up dozens of oriental rugs, his delicate hands having just the slightest shake to them. Meanwhile, his four sons and daughter were working to clear the rest of the station.
"The television's unhooked," Donatello called out from the pit. "Raph, Mikey, can you haul it to the truck?"
"'Course," the red masked turtle replied. He came over and hoisted up the old tv, then tossed it to Michelangelo. Michelangelo caught it with a bit of a backwards stumble, but once he recovered he was dashing towards the garage.
"Nice toss!" Mikey crowed, his voice fading as he disappeared. Michelangelo squeezed the television in next to other pieces of furniture that were being stowed inside the van. "I think the van is loaded as full as it can be dudes!" Mikey announced, running back into the living area.
Leo appeared from behind his old bedroom door, putting down the bedframe he was carrying. His phone buzzed and he quickly checked it. "April just texted saying she's coming down with her car to help us in an hour," Leo said.
"Great, I think we got most of it," Donatello responded. "Although I don't think we can save the stove or the refrigerator."
"They're practically scrapyard material anyways," Karai suddenly butted in, appearing from the kitchen. "I looked at them and I have to say, I think that my father deserves better than this shit. I mean, I run the Foot Clan. That basically makes him clan royalty, right? We should install a jacuzzi at the farmhouse."
"He doesn't need a jacuzzi," Leo sighed, rolling his eyes. "But speaking of him, where's father?"
"Packing up the dojo," Donnie sent a slightly concerned glance in the direction of the room. "Maybe someone should go check on him...just in case."
"I will!" Mikey was up in an instant and dashing towards the dojo. Leo and Donnie shared an amused glance.
"Will he ever slow down?" Leo asked, shaking his head.
"No," Donnie laughed. "But that's why we love him."
Mikey, brimming with energy, bounced as he entered the dojo. For a moment he paused, a bit thrown off by the lack of decor in the room. The dojo felt wrong without the old musty rugs, the smell of incense and the racks of weapons. He shivered a little - an empty dojo was just unsettling. A slight flicker of relief struck him when he spotted Splinter in the corner. He brushed off his thoughts and made his way over towards Splinter, who was slowly packing old photos into a bin.
"Hey dad! You need any help with that?" Mikey asked cheerfully, kneeling next to the mutant rat.
"I am almost done," Splinter said in a cracked voice that Mikey still couldn't get used to. "If you would like to help you may take the photos off that shelf." Splinter gestured to his right. Eager to be useful, Mikey dashed over and started to snatch photos off. He grabbed several group shots of him and his brothers, but his hand paused when he reached a picture with Splinter in it. Raph was scowling (as per usual), Leo and Donnie had pleasant smiles, and Mikey was grinning like it was the best day of his life. Splinter was standing with two of his sons on either side. An easy smile lit his face. The picture was nothing special. He couldn't recall there being any occasion. Yet the photo stirred a sort of nostalgia in him.
Mikey missed the days when his sensei could smile without a trace of pain in his face, without a ghost of weariness hovering behind him. The youngest turtle rubbed his thumb over the glass.
"Going through photos can provoke old memories and desires," Splinter's voice was right behind Mikey and the turtle nearly jumped out of his shell. He fumbled with the picture for a second, nearly dropping it.
"Sensei!" Mikey stammered. "Don't creep up on me like that!" Splinter let out a chuckle that turned into a bit of a cough. Mikey hovered a little closer to his father, a worried expression on his face. Mikey placed a hand on Splinter's shoulder until the coughing died out.
"So," Splinter said in a thin tone. "What are you thinking about?"
"Oh," Mikey cast his eyes down at the picture in his hands. "Just..remembering. When was this anyways?"
"Ah," Splinter fondly took the photograph out of Mikey's hands. "This was when you were seventeen. April was taking a photography class and had a very nice camera. She offered to take our picture with it. Raphael had just lost to you in Mario Kart." He pointed at Raphael's scowling face.
"You remember that?" Mikey stared at Splinter in awe.
"Of course," Splinter rumbled. "How could I forget the reason for such a displeased face?" Mikey's face broke out into a grin.
"We should show some of these to April!" Mikey suggested chipperly. "Look at all our little teenage faces! Raph was so angsty. And I was the most annoying thing on the planet! Hah, Don was so awkward. But Leo hasn't changed much."
"Photographs are very valuable stores of memories," Splinter nodded. "I would not want to lose them."
"Man, I didn't realize how old we're getting," Mikey sifted through some more photos.
"You are not very old Michelangelo," Splinter shook his head. "You have a long time ahead of you." Mikey paused at the comment and glanced over at Splinter. The atmosphere quickly dropped into something more somber and Mikey put all the photos back into the bin.
"And you sensei?" Mikey asked quietly. "You have a long time ahead of you too, right?"
Splinter stopped and his tattered ears twitched. He looked over at his youngest son with tired eyes that didn't have quite the same glitter they used to. The scars of too many battles lay hidden under his robes. A slight limp in his right leg, a tight chest and missing teeth from years of dental neglect were only a few of the marks of a hard life on him. A final battle with his lifelong enemy had finally broken him, and no longer could he keep up with his sons' antics.
"I am not sure," Splinter sighed softly. Mikey's face fell into an forlorn expression.
"Don says the cough isn't serious…" Mikey fiddled with his fingers. "He's reading up on some physical therapy stuff too."
"Mmm," Splinter hummed. "I am glad to have such caring sons." For a while the two of them continued to pack away photographs in heavy silence. Mikey's fingers glanced over photographs of a younger, healthier Splinter, with a mischievous glint in his eyes and and smile on his face in each photo. Splinter didn't smile very much these days, and that made Mikey's heart sink a little in his chest. The last of the photographs were put in the bin, and Mikey helped Splinter back to his feet.
"Thank you," Splinter rasped. "The dojo is cleaned out now. We should bring the bins to the van."
"...Splinter?" Mikey prodded hesitantly. "Things wouldn't be the same without you."
"Change is constant," Splinter stated. "I will not be around forever."
"I know, but it's just...you're a really great father, you know that?" Mikey gushed out. He was starting to feel a tug in his chest, a familiar feeling of sentimentality. "And I'm sorry that you've had to fight so many battles with us. You really deserve better."
"Michelangelo," Splinter's eyes softened. "I would not want anything else than what I have been blessed with ; four extraordinary sons and a beautiful daughter. I could not be more proud of you."
"I love you dad," Mikey said, a warm smile lighting up his face. Mikey knew that he and his brothers had said that phrase too little, but now with the waning time left for Splinter, Mikey felt a strong need, a strong impulse to say it again and again - because life was far too short and if he didn't say it now he may never get another chance.
Mikey's breath caught up in his throat when he saw Splinter smile in return - not a forced, pained smile, a smile meant to cover up suffering. It was genuine, with crinkled eyes and a uplifted cheeks. It was the most relaxed and untroubled Mikey had seen him in years. The cold atmosphere of the empty dojo seemed to transcend into nothingness and was replaced with a rosy mood. Splinter said no more - only came forward to wrap his arms around his son. In that moment, and with that smile, Michelangelo couldn't have been any happier.
A few months later, Splinter would pass on peacefully, silently, on a crisp fall evening. He would lightly nod off in a rocking chair on the patio of the old farmhouse after months of a cough that grew worse and worse. His sons would find him a few hours later.
And when they did, they would find him smiling.