4

Change is inevitable. It is also powerful for change can create opportunities, destroy routines, inspire hope, and instill fear. Avoid it or embrace it. Reject it or accept it. Regardless of the choice, change will happen. It is a phenomenon that can affect everyone. Even mutant ninja turtles and a mutant rat ninja master.

Over the years, change had matured four teenagers into adults and aged their father in a well-respected elder. Physically they were different, yet their personalities and behaviors had remained pretty much the same because change also selective. Master Splinter, for example, still watched his soap operas, meditated, and drank copious amounts of tea. Yet the wisdom that he had obtained in his lifetime seemed to shine in the silver of his fur and his stooped body leaned a little more heavily on his walking stick. Even though his vision was starting to fail, he looked with pride on each of his sons.

Unsurprisingly, Raphael had become the largest of the four. The angst displayed by the third child was not a phase he had outgrown. Raph's rage at twenty-two was still as common as it had been at sixteen and the only way he had ever learned to deal with it was through vigorous workout. Thus, the countless weight lifting sessions and rounds with the punching bag had packed large, solid muscle onto his six foot two frame. More often than not, the red-banded turtle's anger was a result of an interaction with the eldest.

Daily exercise had shaped an impressive physique for Leonardo as well. However, despite his constant strive for perfection, the chosen leader could not surpass his brother in size. So, shorter by just two inches, the katana-wielder had to rely on his speed and flawless techniques to win a match against the sai-wielder. Their frequent brawls could set watches and the rest of the family had learned to ignore them for the most part. When not fighting or practicing katas, Leo would most likely be found in his room meditating in an attempt to escape the chaos of the lair, the peace of which was usually disrupted by a certain orange-banded turtle.

Michelangelo, it seemed, was not capable of letting go of childhood completely. He had, to his father's relief, learned when to act seriously, but the jokester still read comic books, watched cartoons, pulled pranks, and played video games until all hours of the night. No really seemed to mind (except when they were the victim of one of his infamous pranks) as his bubbly personality was what kept them all from sinking to despair at times. He had definitely earned the title "baby of the family" as he was the shortest at five foot eight. Training sessions kept him relatively fit, but Mikey's love for pizza and junk food stopped him from turning what he insisted was harmless baby fat into more defined muscularity. Whenever Leo started dropping hints about weight loss, the youngest would usually scuttle off to the laboratory under the pretense of assisting his second oldest brother.

Donatello had tried banning Mikey from his lab. A minor explosion caused by the meddling curiosity of the jokester was supposed to have been his last straw. But then Mikey had looked at him with those big puppy dog eyes and the resident genius couldn't stay mad at him. Besides, he liked the company and he really did need the help sometimes. At five foot ten, Donnie was lean yet strong enough to hold his own in battle. Like Mikey, he typically did the minimal amount of training that Splinter required, but his devotion lay in scientific research and engineering mechanics. The bo-wielder's persistent tinkering had done great things for him and his family so they left him to his work, interrupting only when they knew he had gone far too long without either food or sleep.

Yes, the members of the Hamato clan had all changed in some way, but far more was left unchanged. Team practice was held daily while group meditation was a weekly ritual. They continued associating with their human allies Casey and April. Baxter Stockman was still a nuisance, Karai remained a threat, the Purple Dragons never disbanded. When nighttime fell, the four ninjas would surface to protect their city. For them, it was just a routine.

On one of these ordinary patrols, change decided it had been inactive long enough.

Master Splinter gave no second thought to his sons leaving that evening. He had simply waved them off as they exited the lair, wishing them safety just like he always did. It was only two hours later while arranged in a meditative position that he began to feel uneasy. Whispered of danger, pain, and panic began to threaten his peace of mind. With each passing minute, they grew in intensity and just as the old rat rose to go find his sons, the door to their home burst open suddenly. Feeling his heart drop through the floor, Splinter couldn't help the sob that escaped his lips as he stared at the sight before him. Carried carefully and gently between his brothers was a bloody, broken Leonardo.

Pushing past their father, the three rushed their sibling into the infirmary and laid him on the cot. Donatello moved quickly around the room as he gathered necessary supplies all the while ordering Michelangelo to inform Splinter about what had happened and issuing instructions to Raphael on how to keep the eldest breathing. For an entire night and into the late morning the genius, with help from the hot head, worked to repair his older brother. At that point, Splinter refused to stay out of the room any longer and took up a vigil by his son's bed. Two days later, Leo opened his eyes. Three minutes after that, he announced that he couldn't feel his legs and no matter how hard Don tried, no matter how many prayers whispered or tears shed, there was nothing that could be done.

One week later, Master Splinter gathered his pupils around Leo's cot in the infirmary.

"My sons, these last two weeks have been long and full of many emotions," he said, looking around at all of them as he stood at the foot of the bed. "Anger, sorrow, fear, hate, and disappointment. Yet we must not let ourselves be burdened down by this incident. We must continue forward."

He paused for a moment, staring at his hands which were folded on top of his walking stick. "I have meditated on this for many hours. The decision that I have made is not one I considered lightly. Because of the life that we live, this family requires a leader."

Splinter stopped again, meeting Leo's gaze as he lay propped up into a sitting position by several pillows. The blue-clad terrapin's eyes shone with sadness as realization set in. He nodded at his father, keeping his silence. Apologetically, the mutant rat lowered his head.

"From now on, that leader is Raphael."