The Measure of a Turtle
Timeline: Just after TMNT (2014)
AN: Just another glimpse into the angst that I have somehow focused on Raph to suffer. Don't know WHY I keep coming back to him. I think it's because he's just so... lost... but he hides behind a bubble of hostility to keep others from finding out how deeply his emotions (and self doubt) actually go.
Master Splinter shuffled into the room, his worried gaze casting about for his four sons. Usually the room was in utter chaos. Donatello would be typing away and offering running commentary on random topics. Most of the time, no one is listening. Leonardo would be practicing some variation of katas or performing maintenance on his weapons or clothing. Michelangelo would be either playing music or skateboarding, occasionally swooping by his brothers to annoy them but always quick enough to escape their wrath. They yell and berate him but secretly, they enjoy the lively respite he brings to the tedium of being underground.
But the three brothers were strangely absent at the moment.
The only one who was still in the lair was Raphael, who was staring into the large reflection pool where the storm drains empty and fill the deep channel with fresh water. Donatello installed a filtration unit on one end, making the brick lined pool into a place to bathe and swim.
Though now that April was a part of their lives and could visit at any moment, it would be wise to change bathing habits. Maybe set up screens around the pool to allow privacy. Don't need any embarrassments or trauma. Especially for four nude teenage turtles. Save perhaps, Michelangelo. He would probably enjoy the shock value.
Splinter gained Raphael's side, knowing his son could sense his presence as soon as he entered the room.
"What troubles you, my son?"
Raph sighed, a motion that made his massive shell rise and fall as if the world was in upheaval. Even in a large domed room, he seemed to take up all the space. He chewed on his tongue a moment, contemplating how best to phrase what had been eating away at him.
"Am I not good enough?"
Splinter frowned. "Good enough?"
"To be leader," Raphael said, casting a glance to his adopted father. "Am I not the biggest? The strongest? Shouldn't I be the one in charge and not Leo?"
"Leonardo has worked hard to gain the knowledge and experience it takes to be leader," Splinter said carefully. He knew such thoughts had been plaguing Raph for some time. It was only now he was voicing his objection to the one person who could change the status quo.
"But, shouldn't the oldest get to be the leader?" Raph asked, internally wincing at the sound of his petulance. But he couldn't help how he sounded. His voice was coming from a place long since ignored and festered with indignation and lack of understanding as to why he had been overlooked for such a pivotal role among his brothers.
"No, I don't believe Michelangelo has the maturity to handle such a thing." Splinter stroked his whiskers, imagining the disaster that would undoubtedly be caused by Michelangelo's childishness.
Raph opened his mouth to offer a retort but his father's words sunk in.
"Wait. What? Mikey was born first?"
Splinter offered a soft noise as memories resurfaced. "I had been in the laboratory for a few weeks before the four of you were brought in. April's father placed your incubator close to my cage and for several days, I waited to see what would come out of the eggs. I had never seen such strange objects before. Then one day, there were strange sounds. The eggs began to move." Splinter offered a tender look to Raph. "You were ready to be born."
Raph blinked, unsure how to respond to this revelation. Emotions weren't his strong point. Well, the non-violent emotions, anyway.
"One egg in particular was active, nearly rolling around in an attempt to crack open. To my surprise, a head erupted, quickly followed by a shell and limbs. As soon as he was free, Michelangelo crawled everywhere. Constantly moving. Searching. Exploring."
A low chuckle escaped the rat as he spoke. "April's father picked him up to examine him and Michelangelo bit him."
"He bit him?" Raph's eyes went wide. He couldn't believe Mikey would be so bold.
"As much as a newborn turtle can bite." Splinter clarified. "He placed Michelangelo in an aquarium, which would serve as your home for the next couple of months. Michelangelo did not appreciate being alone and nearly made a rut with his frenzied pacing and only calmed down when Donatello was placed in the aquarium with him."
Raph could see Mikey freaking out being separated from his brothers. Even at a young age, he needed constant companionship. Though Raph figured now Mikey needed supervision more than companionship. The smallest turtle enjoyed testing boundaries.
"Then you were born," Splinter said, bringing Raph from his thoughts, "where Michelangelo immediately climbed on top of you. But you were in no mood to play, so you bit him."
Raph laughed. Yeah, he could see himself biting Mikey. What he had thought was his youngest brother being a brat, was actually the oldest trying to throw his weight around. But if Mikey was the oldest and not the youngest, that meant...
"Leonardo had great difficulty in breaking out of his shell." Splinter's gaze was distant, remembering a time many years ago. "April's father checked over the shell, but did not interfere. This was something Leonardo had to do on his own."
"So we watched. And waited. April's father standing near the incubator and I standing up in my cage to watch through the glass. Two expectant fathers, waiting to welcome a son."
"Leo was...last?" Raph asked.
"It took some time, but he was finally able to hatch." Splinter smiled fondly. "When he was placed with his brothers, he would not move. Even when Michelangelo climbed over him. His hatching had exhausted him. He was weak and tired."
Raph stared out into the crystal clear water of the deep pool. It was hard to imagine Leo being small and weak.
"The three of you took it upon yourselves to stay with him, sleeping beside him. Or in Michelangelo's case, on top of him. By the next morning, his energy had returned and the four of you played until April appeared. Her father had given her permission to name you, and one by one she picked you up, loving on each of you and giving you the names you would carry into adulthood."
"What, Mikey didn't try to bite her?" Raph asked, half jokingly.
"No, you did," Splinter said with a smirk. "Even at such a tender age, you didn't appreciate affection."
Raph offered a hum of agreement. He has never been the 'touchy-feely' kind.
"April gave you names while her father placed the colors on your back so he could tell you apart."
Raph paused. April had given the turtles a copy of the videos she had recorded as a child, allowing them the chance to see their younger, non-mutated selves. Mikey had dubbed them 'baby movies' and swore he was the cutest.
But Raph wondered something.
"If April had yet to name us, and her father hadn't given us our colors, how could you tell us apart? We looked the same in the movies."
Splinter offered a smile that was loaded with adoration. "My son, I watched over you as you were being born. I did not need paint upon your backs to tell you apart."
Raph remained quiet, unsure what to say.
"I placed Leonardo in charge because I believe he has the ability to lead," Splinter said, returning to Raph's original question. Splinter mentally berated himself for the trip down memory lane. He was getting nostalgic in his dotage. "Each of you have strengths and weaknesses. Where one is weak, another is strong. You each compliment the other. I know you have doubts to Leonardo's leadership, and the two of you have shared friction over this decision, but I stand by my reasoning. Leonardo's strength is tactics. Placing the safety of his brothers first and foremost. He has worked hard to earn such trust."
Raph lowered his head. He had a tendency to fly off the handle, speaking louder with his fists than actual logic. His strength was in his size and muscle. He didn't always see the bigger picture, focusing only on what was in front of him. His brothers had suffered injury because of this. Many times.
"But make no mistake, my son," Splinter said, placing a gnarled hand upon Raph's heavily muscled arm. "All of you have potential to lead. Unity is your strength. If you wish to lead, you must first learn to take orders. A good leader knows when to exert authority, and when to consider another's."
In the distant came the sounds of the returning brothers. By the whines, Mikey wasn't allowed to carry the pizza boxes.
"Patience, my son. All of you are destined for great things. But, in their own time," Splinter said before turning to see what the other three turtles had brought for lunch.
Leo appeared holding four pizza boxes. Mikey kept step, eyeing the boxes with a hint of disappointment. Donatello was trailing behind, his attention focused on a handheld device that clogged with numbers.
"Come on, Man! Just once, stop being a meanie and let me order what I want." Mikey pouted as Leo sat the boxes on their dining table.
"Mikey, for the last time, you can't have sausage and onion with hot sauce!" Leo sighed, rolling his eyes.
"Dude! It's delicious!" Mikey protested. "Totally my fave!"
"Two words, Mikey," Leo said, giving Splinter a smile before turning his attention back to his orange clad brother. "Colic-turtle."
"Man!" Mikey whined. "That was only once."
"Every time." Raph supplied, joining his brothers and father at the dinner table so Leo could serve them and remembered the occasions Mikey had been allowed his favorite toppings. And every time, he had been awake all night. Groaning in pain. Unable to sleep. Unable to rest. Cranky. Foul tempered.
And very gassy.
But Leo had stayed with him. All night. Giving him something to soothe an upset stomach. Humming softly while Mikey dozed. Keeping the smallest turtle company and comforting him when his stomach ached. Taking it upon himself to watch over the smallest brother.
It never occurred to Raph to do such a thing. As far as he was concerned, Mikey brought it on himself. He should have learned from the previous dozen or so incidents. But, Leo had stepped up. Watching out for Mikey while he suffered through the night.
"Master Splinter, the lady in 1C left another jar of peanut butter for us," Leo said, opening the jar and taking off its seal before handing it to his surrogate father.
Splinter sniffed deeply, savoring the smell. The brothers may have their preference (and obsession) with pizza, but Splinter preferred peanut butter. Chunky or smooth, it didn't matter to him. As long as there was peanut butter and bread, all was good in the world.
"Dude, you get pepperoni. No different than sausage," Mikey continued, accepting a plate with two slices from each steaming hot pizza.
"Actually the spices and preparation is vastly different," Donatello said, finally looking up from his electronics to join in the conversation.
"Whatever," Mikey said, taking a bite. He sighed dramatically as he chewed and muttered, "This would taste better with onions."
"Dude, we have to be around you and those onions," Donatello scoffed, accepting his own plateful of sauce and cheese nirvana. "Remember, my room is next to yours. Takes days to air the place out after your onions."
Mikey smirked. He loved torturing his brothers.
"No onions," Leo said, finally serving himself.
It just occurred to Raph that when Leo served them in such a manner, he always made sure their portions were equal, and always served himself last.
Putting his brothers first.
Raph never did that. When it was his turn to get food, he grabbed what he wanted and began eating.
Maybe it's time he started following Leo's example? Put the others first. If Raph really thought about it, that was Leo's strongest attribute. Willingness to put others ahead of himself. Take care of his siblings, though he was technically the youngest. Keeping them safe and protected, even from their own mistakes. Selfishness had no place in a leadership role and Leo carried the burden with dignity and grace.
Raph realized that though he was biggest of the four, his temper did not make him a good leader. He was brazen, short tempered, and though he was loathed to admit it, he was often a bully toward his brothers. That thought made a bad taste in his mouth, and it had nothing to do with chocolate and pineapple toppings.
He hated bullies, and here he was, guilty of the very thing he detested. No wonder Master Splinter didn't chose him to lead. The power probably would have went to his head and he would have been insufferable.
But no more.
He vowed at that moment to be a better brother. He had no illusions he and Leo would suddenly see eye to eye, but he could make an effort to listen. Not be quick to judge or lash out. To think before he acted.
Only then would he be able to step up and take charge in case Leo became unable.
Raph was pulled out of his thoughts by an errant slice of pepperoni. Mikey's voice rang in his ears.
"Heads up, Raph!"
Leo and Donnie paused, knowing such a thing usually earned a loud rebuke, but Raph merely pulled the pepperoni off his nose and popped it into his mouth. He smiled to himself when his brothers exchanged looks.
Perhaps controlling his temper had another pro. He could keep his brothers off balance, maybe even give them some good natured torment. They had given him plenty of grief over the years. Besides, keeping them on their toes would help in their training.
Master Splinter would agree.
When he finished making his sixth peanut butter sandwich.
What can I say? The rat grew on me.