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 Post subject: Bugging Out
PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2012 8:11 pm 
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Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:02 pm
Posts: 21
Bishop never gets bored.

A very long time ago, someone told him that only boring people get bored. Bishop has never forgotten that. Of course, he's also never forgotten many other, less useful aphorisms that take up valuable space in his brain. He makes a mental note to speak to Stockman about the possibilities inherent in the latest research for memory-erasure (a topic that Bishop has been aware of for some time, but which only recently came to the surface of the simmering caldron of 'popular culture', and that means that someone somewhere is about to make both a great deal of money and a poorly-designed consumer product for the purpose) and then sets aside his internal monologue about his memory to once again try to steer his roach-like camera into range of the quiet conversation going on in the kitchen.

"Roaches are supposed to be able to move quickly, Stockman," he says through gritted teeth as he navigates with ridiculous slowness across the rough brick ceiling of the turtles' "home".

"Roaches are also equipped with lightweight exo-skeletons and a conspicuous lack of recording equipment," Stockman returns airily. "You wanted spy-bots, and you got them. Don't blame me if the design is poorly executed with the materials at hand. I've told you a hundred times, if you'd let me have access to some of the alien technology you have buried in that ridiculous bunker of yours, I could -- "

Bishop cuts him off. It's an argument Stockman has made before, and it gets more tiresome over time. He returns all of his focus to his task: step two opposing feet forward into the uneven cement mortar, test that the grip is secure for those two feet, shift focus to the next pair of feet, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. If the footing is uncertain, he has to back up and try to navigate around the problem, sometimes by reversing as many as 17 steps before he can find a new path in the brickwork. It has taken him the better part of an hour to navigate his way out of the space just above Donatello's room and get to the point where he can observe Leonardo and Splinter having some kind of quiet conversation in the kitchen. Their voices, however, remain too low for his microphones to pick up. "Stockman!" he barks out abruptly. "Make sure our extraction team has pin-head microphones, and give them instructions to scatter as many as they can throughout the turtles' den when they retrieve Michelangelo!" He cuts the mic off before Stockman can respond with any whining. Step, test, shift. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

And then Raphael and Donatello burst in through the front door. Both of them are bleeding.

Bishop tenses, swiveling the little camera around to scan the area behind them for threats. Nothing is visible. He checks on Splinter and Leonardo again. From their expressions, and the way they don't leap into action, it seems that this kind of bloody and noisy homecoming is only slightly alarming.

There is a long, silent moment after the two bloody turtles disappear into Donatello's bedroom. Bishop continues to swivel the camera's focus between the kitchen (Splinter sits down after a moment of consideration; Leonardo dutifully gets up and fetches additional tea) and the bedroom door (no sound drifts out, though the door is half-open) while he considers which location is likely to give him actual, useful information. He calculates that the odds of this are 74% in favor of Splinter's location, using a complicated internal algorithm that includes Donatello's tendency to speak in half-sentences when he's excited versus Splinter's desire to have all options spoken out loud and weighed for suitability, and puts the roach-camera into motion again.

Before he's gone very far, Raphael comes out of his brother's bedroom and closes the door behind him. Bishop congratulates himself for making the correct choice, and continues to move toward the kitchen. He won't get there before Raphael, but at least he will be able to hear what's going on.

Step, test, shift. Repeat. Repeat.

* * * *

"Raphael --" Leonardo begins to stand again. He was alarmed, though not really surprised, to see that they were both bleeding when they got home. Truthfully, he was mostly just surprised that both of them were still on their feet and moving under their own power. But the long silence hasn't done anything to make him less nervous.

Raph isn't interested in his brother's obvious unease. "We got any ice?" he asks no one in particular, yanking open the freezer to check for himself. He shoves some of Splinter's foil-wrapped cake slices aside and grabs an ice tray that is mercifully filled. "Hand me a towel, wouldja, Leo?"

Splinter fetches a battered metal box that holds some of the more commonly used medical supplies in the house. He holds out one hand. Raphael, sighing in resignation at parental attention, drops into the chair next to Splinter and allows his injured hand to be cleaned and disinfected and wrapped in a bandage. He does not make a sound while this is going on -- too much pride -- but he does sigh in relief when Splinter releases him and he can finally apply the makeshift ice pack that Leonardo has expertly (of course) put together for him.

"It's gonna be okay," he says abruptly. He doesn't bother to clarify if he means his wrist, his relationship with Don, or the situation generally. All three are equally important right now. All three are going to be less important in a minute, when he gives them the news. "So I was talkin' with Donnie out there -- "

Leonardo almost manages to stifle his snort of disbelief at his brother's definition of what happened in the tunnels.

" -- and he's pretty sure that there's no way that we can get that bomb, or whatever it is, out of Mike on our own."

Splinter, who had been washing his hands in preparation for a trip to Donatello's room with the medical supplies, abruptly comes back to the table. His attention is sharp on Raphael.

Leonardo, too, is looking at his brother. "He's in a bad place right now. His self-confidence is shot. After everything that's happened, can you blame him?"

"I'm not arguing that," Raph allows, frowning at his ice pack. He gathers his thoughts, almost ready to say more, but Leonardo takes advantage of his hesitation.

"My point is, we've got to have faith in him. He'd never say so -- he may not even realize it consciously. But he needs us to believe in him. I think, right now, he needs it more than ever."

Raphael looks up to level his brother a look of thinning patience. "That's a real heart-warming speech, Leo. But, I'm sorry. I don't buy it."

"No?"

"No. What he needs from us right now isn't blind faith. No matter how bad you might wanna give it."

Leonardo bristles at those words and doesn't bother to hide it. His response is stiff with disapproval. "I never said my faith in him was blind."

"Yeah?" Raphael maintains eye-contact steadily. "Maybe you just don't realize it consciously."

"There is no need to be an ass," Leo growls, speaking slowly. "All I'm saying--"

"I hear what you're saying, already. I heard it the first time!"

"Fine!" Leo throws up his hands and begins to pace angrily. "What do you think he needs, then?"

"I think we need to listen to him. Hear the words coming out of his mouth and try and wrap our brains around them, no matter how hard it is."

That shuts Leo up. He slows down to give Raphael a piercing look, but doesn't stop pacing completely.

Raph hunches forward. The tense moment of challenge has passed, leaving him free to drop his gaze and fuss with his bandages as he continues. "Haven't been real good at that lately... listening to what he says. I got in the habit of tuning him out, maybe. That has got to change."

"Okay, look. I'm really glad that, after beating each other bloody, the two of you found time for a heart-to-heart--"

Raph mutters under his breath, "Wouldn't call it that."

"No, really! You want to listen to what he's saying. And that's great. Long overdue." Leo whirls to face Raph and gestures sharply. "Except, this time -- what he's SAYING is that he can't help Mike!"

"Yeah, Leo. It sucks, but everybody's got limits."

"This is NOT one of Don's limits!" Leo stabs his finger into the surface of the kitchen table. "It can't be. Mike needs him -- we need him!"

"Leonardo!" Splinter says sharply. It is not a tone he often uses on his eldest. "Sit down, and listen to Raphael."

Obedient and miserable, Leonardo sits in the chair facing Splinter.

For a long moment, Splinter simply studies Raphael's face, so intently that the turtle begins to wonder if he is guilty of something, and his sensei is waiting for him to remember it. But then: "It is true, then. Donatello will not be able to perform this surgery?"

Raphael shakes his head. "He went to talk to Leatherhead, even, thinkin' the big guy might have some ideas. But LH was the one to point out that we just...can't. The equipment doesn't exist, the surgery's never been done. Ever. Don'd kill Mike, trying to get past his plastron."

"No..." Leo whispers. "No, it can't be..."

"It can be!" Raphael's voice is harsh. He's just spent the better part of an hour watching his big-brained brother have a nervous breakdown over this subject, and he doesn't want to watch it again, but he really doesn't want to watch it happen in slow motion while Leo wrestles with it. His family needs to accept this new truth, so they can figure out what to do next. And they need to accept it fast. "There's nothin' we can do! Bishop fucked Mikey over royally, and we aren't gonna make it better by taking saws to Mike to dig out some piece of something that might blow up at any second!"

"Language, Raphael," Splinter admonishes absently. His finger traces a pattern printed on the outside of his teacup; his eyes follow the tracing like he's looking at someone else's fingernail on the thin porcelain. "We will...simply have to think of something else. If Donatello says he cannot do this, then he is most certainly correct. Another solution will have to be found." A blink, and the teacup is gone. Porcelain shatters against the far wall.

Raphael leans back in his chair, slowly. Splinter's eyes have not moved from his fingers.

Leonardo, though, leaps out of his chair at the same moment that the porcelain breaks. His gaze swings between the broken cup and his father. Am I the only person in this family who doesn't want to smash something right now? he wonders. It's all the more terrible because Splinter's face is so utterly calm, like a mask.

Abruptly he turns on his heel. "I'll be in the dojo if anyone needs me," he manages to get out -- it's hard to talk around the sudden, choking sense of fear that everything is going wrong all at once, and again. Nothing's been right since Mike disappeared, and even getting him back didn't make anything settle down, even for a few minutes! Leonardo would give a great deal for a day -- even an hour! -- where everything was back to normal again.

Something falls from the ceiling. A roach, probably. It wouldn't be the first time. Living where and how they live, roaches are a sadly consistent fact of their lives; they do their best to make the lair inhospitable to vermin of all kinds, but it's not possible to seal them out completely. Leonardo's hand lashes out to swat at the bug as it falls.

"Ow!" his yelp is more of a warning than an actual sign of pain. Something hard skitters off to the side, behind the couch. "What was that?"

"A roach, stupid," Raphael sneers. "Never seen one before?"

"But it didn't feel the same." Leonardo has batted aside dozens, possibly hundreds, of roaches in his life underground. This one felt different.

Raphael and Splinter both watch with dull curiosity as Leonardo bends over gracefully and plucks something up off the floor. They can't tell what it is. But they both see the moment when his stance changes. He goes from being a teenager to being a ninja in a heartbeat. "We've been compromised." He turns and stalks back to the table, his entire body tense, and shows them what he holds.

It looks like a roach. Except that a roach's carapace was never so flatly painted, and a roach's feet were never so obviously made up of miniature climbing claws. And a roach never looked at anyone with a tiny camera lens.

The lens swivels between the three mutants for a moment. Light reflects off of it as it moves.

Then Leonardo turns and drops the thing into the disposal of the sink. He flips the switch.

"Are we sure that wasn't one of Donnie's little toys?" Raphael has to ask.

"It wasn't. He hasn't had time lately, and you know he would have told us if he'd done it before." Leonardo is certain.

So is Splinter. "That thing stank of the place where Michelangelo was held captive. It is Stockman's work," he says firmly.

"How many others are there?" Raphael has his weapons in his hands. He doesn't remember pulling them free. His eyes scan the high ceiling, looking for any flicker of movement.

"It doesn't matter. Even if it was the only one, it's enough. We've got to go," Leonardo turns to Splinter. "Sensei?"

Splinter closes his eyes. To once again have to flee from their home, and for such cowardly attacks, galls him. But his son is correct. Their security has been totally compromised, and their home is no longer safe. He takes a deep breath. "Go, my sons."

They are in motion before the second syllable has left his mouth, swarming up the stairs to their sleeping brothers. Leonardo heads for the closest door. "I'll get Don -- you get Mike. You know where to meet us."

"Yeah," Raphael grunts. They don't dare say anything else -- who knows if another one of those filthy things is hanging around, hearing every word they say? He runs to Mike's room and throws the door open. "Mikey! We gotta go, bro. Bug out!"

No response from the bed. With a groan, Raphael remembers that Splinter gave Michelangelo something to help him sleep. He flips on the overhead light so he won't trip on any of Mike's traps, then blinks in surprise at the cleanliness of the room. Mike hasn't had the chance to undo all of the cleaning that Leo did while he was gone.

From Don's room comes the sound of his genius brother coming out of sleep in a startled panic, and Raph grins tightly to himself. That sounded like it hurt! He rips a blanket off Mike's bed and examines it for any creepy crawlies before using it to scoop his brother up and toss him over one shoulder. "Sorry, bro. You aren't gonna like this when you wake up."

By the time he navigates his way back out to the landing, Raph can hear the front door opening. Leo and Don are gone, heading out into the tunnels to a hiding place that the family scouted out years ago, just in case of such a need. "Sensei? You still here?"

No answer. Raphael frowns into the darkness, fiercely debating his options. Would it be worth the risk to take one of their vehicles? The van was easy enough to rule out. Long-term parking in this city is a nightmare, not to mention costly. He has hardly any cash on hand. What about the Sewer Slider? He doubts it has enough gas left to get them very far -- not unless Don had filled it up, which was unlikely, since Raph had been the one to drain the tank. It's fast and fun to drive, but such a gas guzzler...

Suddenly Raph realizes that the cost of fuel isn't the biggest issue. A slow creep steals over his skin as he considers the likelihood that Bishop or Stockman would have bugged their vehicles. They're both way too smart for comfort. Of course they would try to track all the most obvious ways his family might use to make a quick getaway.

"Damn. Better get comfortable, Mike... Looks like we're hoofing it." He readjusts his brother's weight on his shoulder and tries calling out again, "Sensei?"

"A moment..." comes the old rat's muffled reply.

Raphael isn't comfortable with that response. It's past time to vanish. He pads back down the hall, following the direction of his master's voice, and is quite surprised to find Splinter lingering in the room they use for counsel and mediation. He is dropping the bell-shaped head of an old brass candle snuffer over the many burning candles, moving methodically from one to the next. The fountain in the corner still bubbles and elegant scrolls of calligraphy hang from the walls.

"Sensei. There's no time for this. We gotta bail."

"It's almost done."

Raphael blows out an impatient breath. "What does it matter, if they've found us? We might be better off if the whole place burns..."

The rodent tosses the snuffer onto a low wooden table and lets it land with a metallic clatter. Raph catches a glimpse of his father's pain, though it may be a trick of the guttering candlelight. Splinter's grief is gone by the time he fully turns. "Perhaps you are right."

"We'll be all right. Nothing we haven't been through before."

"That is true." He starts forward, tail lashing, ears pressed low. "Of all the homes we have made and lost, this one suited me the best."

Raphael glances over, matching his father's stride. "Just wait. I bet the next one's even better."

* * *
It's not bad, as far as hiding places go. A long-forgotten space underneath one of the city's largest banks, it might have started life as a tiny onsite office for the construction company that built the subway platform nearby, and then been forgotten when the work when done.

It's not great, as far as hiding spaces go, either. Leo struggles with the jammed doorknob, trying to hurry before the sound of the subway train gets louder. The door isn't visible from the platform, but there's always a chance that someone might catch a glimpse of them through the window of a particularly long (and stopped) train, and he can't afford that right now.

The knob gives way at last. "Get in here, quick!" He reaches out and snags Don's shoulder, dragging his brother after him.

The room is small. It isn't meant to be a long-term stopping place, but just a room where they can catch their collective breath and figure out what to do. Splinter found it for them, after the chaos of losing their first home, and they all agreed that this was the place they would meet up if they needed to do it again.

Leo does not let himself dwell on how they have actually been driven from their home once more. He pulls a penlight from his belt and examines the room for a moment. It is as small, and as empty, as he remembers it. Even the roaches and rats have found nothing to inspire them to stay in here. "Are you okay, Don? Sit down. No, here, away from the door -- are you okay?"

Don is oddly quiet. His hand trembles, briefly, as he pulls it away from Leo's grip and slides down the wall. The events of the last few days have caught up with him with a vengeance, and he feels like he might be going into shock. When he finally does speak, he says the first coherent thing that he can manage: "You know cults use a technique of interrupting R.E.M. sleep as a way to break their targets' wills and make them accept their most illogical premises, right?" His voice is shaking.

"Rest, if you can." Leo rubs the sore spot on the side of his own face. "Try not to punch me the next time you wake up."

"I'd be sorry, but I'm still not sure you're not a nightmare manifestation of my subconscious," Don self-consciously feels the knuckles of his right hand with the fingers of his left. "This has got to be a nightmare, right?"

Leonardo pulls his hand away from the bruise and settles it onto Donatello's shoulder, firm and reassuring. "Not yet. We're alive, and we're still together. If that changes, ask me again."

Donatello doesn't reply except to give a wordless grimace and look away. Leo's grip shifts and he gives a surprised blink, spotting the gap in his brother's teeth for the first time.

"Look at me," he commands.

Don looks up, but keeps his mouth pressed into a flat line.

"Show me," Leo requests in a gentler tone.

"No," Don refuses sullenly. His lips barely stir as he speaks.

"Are you going to -- I mean, is there anything we can do--?"

"Please just let it go," Don pleads wearily, shrugging away from Leo's touch. He lets his head against the dank concrete wall and closes his eyes. "It's superficial.... the last thing we should be worrying about, honestly."

"Okay," Leo flashes his palms in surrender and backs away. "You're right. I'll drop it."

Donatello mumbles something. It sounds vaguely like gratitude, but it's hard to tell because he's fading fast.

For the first time, Leo really believes what Raphael told them, when he said that Don couldn't do the surgery. He looks at Don -- sliding into sleep with a frown on his face, and blood still caked in the corner of his mouth -- and really sees him. Don is exhausted, stretched and pulled and twisted to the breaking point.

He's not fit to change a lightbulb right now, really.

Leo can't settle down with this knowledge. So he paces in the tiny space for a little while. His hand flicks up to the Eggtooth in his bandanna, then drops again. There's no way to know if the signal itself is enough to give them away, and there's no point in risking it now. All he has to do is wait, and the rest of the family will be along.

Waiting is very hard, though. He clenches and unclenches his fists and does not let himself think about any of the material possessions that they've just lost, or how hard it was to gather those things in the first place. Leo knows none of the things are important. It's just a trick his mind plays on him, to distract him from the worry over his missing family members.

A subway train grinds to a halt just past their hiding place. Leonardo listens intently through the door for any threat that might use the noise as a cover. Even when the train starts up again and moves away, heading down the tunnel, he keeps his attention on the door.

He feels very vulnerable and unprotected right now.

The penlight starts to fade. Leonardo turns it off, wondering how hard it will be to scrounge up more batteries. The door to their hiding place can be opened a crack -- just enough to let in some light, not enough to be obvious to any casual glances -- but he's too keyed up with worry to let it stay that way for long.

Open the door, pace, close the door, pace. Repeat. Leonardo shakes his head at his own nerves, but cannot seem to stop. He steps carefully over Don's outstretched legs as he paces. His brother has not moved, not even a twitch, since he fell asleep. When he wakes up, Don will be distraught over the loss of all of his hard-won tech, though his more old-fashioned tools are actually the biggest loss to the family right now -- Leonardo snarls briefly to himself, walking around in the stuffy darkness of the closed room, at the thought of how hard the entire family had worked to gather those hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers and the like. With proper tools and some hard work, they could fashion another home for themselves. Without the tools, there wasn't much they could do, no matter how hard they worked.

The pacing has helped to bleed off some of the adrenaline rush at last. Leo stands in the middle of the small room and closes his eyes. He doesn't dare settle to the floor in a traditional meditative pose, but he can still apply his training and extend his senses outward, now that he's slightly calmer.

He draws in a breath, lets it out slowly. His awareness expands.

Donatello, sitting against the wall facing him, is only fitfully asleep -- more exhausted than relaxed. Leo brushes his consciousness across his brother's, then turns away. Don is at least safe and accounted for right now. Everything else will have to wait.

Leonardo has not forgotten the hard lessons of his time at the farm. He is wary as he casts his senses outward, sending out the barest tendrils of himself into the search for the rest of his family. It feels like the first time he ever climbed out of a tunnel and stood in the open air of an alley -- he feels too small and too hyper-aware of every possible danger.

Luckily, he doesn't have to reach very far. They're close! he realizes. It jolts him back to himself, and he reaches for the door just as it begins to move under the pressure of a hand outside.

"We hadda go the long way," Raphael says tersely by way of a greeting as he pushes inside. Splinter is right behind him. "Couldn't get through that south tunnel with Mike."

Leonardo feels almost all his tension fall away at the sight of them. Of course, the south tunnel is narrow and there's no way Raphael could have maneuvered through it with anyone at all, much less one of his shelled brothers, draped over one shoulder!

Raphael pauses, then carefully lowers Michelangelo to the floor up against Don. "Here. It ain't comfortable, but at least it's dry and outta the way." He tugs at the blanket a bit, managing to spread it over both of his sleeping brothers. Donatello, without waking, turns and fits himself against Michelangelo. Most of the strain fades out of his face, and he's finally, really, asleep.

"Well," Raph turns and looks at his sensei, then his brother. "What do we do now?"

Leonardo hesitates. It would be easy, so easy, to step back into the role he's held for so long, and start laying out a plan with the expectation that it would be followed. But he glances at Splinter before he speaks. The master's eyes are hooded and thoughtful. And something reflected in those dark eyes, something that Leo isn't sure of in the low light from the almost-closed door, makes him stifle the impulse to simply lead. Instead he says, "That's up to you, Raph. What do you think we should do?"

That was totally not what Raphael was expecting, and it's obvious. His own expression sags slightly as he remembers his new role, too. But only for a second. Then his jaw firms again. He's new to leading, yes, but he's not stupid, and he knows an excellent resource to turn to when he needs some help with crap like this. He folds his arms and gives his brother a level look. "I think you should tell us what kinda plans you already had, in case somethin' like this ever happened. 'Cause I know you've thought about this." I sure as hell didn't, because I expected you to be here, is the clear subtext. Raph doesn't mind. He wasn't in charge the last time the family had a bug out drill, and he hasn't had time to think through all of the plans and ideas that he knows have been stored away in Leo's head. He's not bothered by the idea that he doesn't have all the answers.

Still Leo pauses, and checks Splinter's face before he agrees. "I've thought about it, yes. There are a few places we can go, though not as many as I originally planned. Bishop is likely to know about two of them, maybe more, if he's gotten to the point where he can invade our home."

"Yeah, yeah, you don't hafta walk us through all the options, Leo," Raph is getting impatient already. His shoulder hurts, and he drops his arms so he can try to stretch the pain out of it. "Get to the point. What's the best place we can go, now, when we're down by two turtles and we only have the weapons you and I were carryin' when we walked outta there?" Reminded, he turns to his sensei. "What about it, Master Splinter? You got any weapons on you?"

"Only myself," Splinter shrugs, and glances down at his walking stick. "And this."

Raphael hesitates in his turn, long enough to consider the living weapon that his father is capable of being when it's needed. "Right. Okay, so we're not too bad off there."

"We're not too well-equipped, either," Leo says firmly. "You were right that we're two turtles down. And Mike's not going to get better with just a good night's sleep." I'm not sure Don will, either, he thinks, but doesn't say. His earlier confidence in his brother's ability has been badly shaken, and he's come around to thinking of both Mike and Don as wounded at the moment. "We need a place where we can rest in safety, and have access to enough food and water and anything else that we might need."

"April's place?" Raphael guesses.

"Or perhaps the farm?" Splinter adds, though it's clear that he doesn't think that's the right answer.

"Neither one is safe," Leonardo shakes his head at these suggestions. "If Bishop can get to our home, then we have to assume that both of those places are compromised, too. We need to call April and let her know, but we can't go anywhere near her or Casey. In fact, we can't go near anyone or any place we're familiar with right now. We're only attracting danger that way."

"Spit it out already, Leo," Raphael growls. He's growing even more impatient with every second. "Where are we going?"

Once again, Leo hesitates and looks at Splinter. "Sensei -- we need to get to the Battle Nexus," he says finally, with obvious reluctance.

Splinter is surprised. "The Battle Nexus?" he echoes. "Why there, my son?"

"Bishop can't get there," Leonardo's most important point comes first. "Or if he can, the Daimyo can control him. And the House of Healing is our best shot at getting some kind of treatment for Mike."

Splinter's expression grows troubled. "My sons, this may not be an option for us. There are things about the Battle Nexus that I have never explained to you."


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 Post subject: Re: Bugging Out
PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2012 9:00 pm 
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Canon

Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:02 pm
Posts: 21
Splinter now paces slowly across the width of their tiny hiding place. He is trying to decide how best to explain what he knows about the Battle Nexus to his sons, and it is not easy information to sum up.

Leonardo and Raphael trade looks, and agree wordlessly: they need to sit down for this. Leonardo sits next to Michelangelo, and Raphael next to Donatello, and they wait patiently, shoulder to shoulder with their sleeping brothers. None of them realize how much they resemble four very much younger turtles when they do this. As children they often sat this way, lined up against a wall and sharing one ragged blanket across all of their skinny limbs while they waited for bedtime stories or instructions from their father.

It was really not so very long ago, Splinter thinks.

He wrenches his thoughts firmly away from the urge to nostalgia, recognizing that this is not the time for such things. "My sons," he begins at last, "there is one thing you must know before anything else, and it is this: the Battle Nexus does not actually exist."

Raphael stirs uncomfortably. "Uh, sensei -- not sayin' you're wrong or anything, but...we've been there. All of us. It exists."

"And that is exactly what you must unlearn, Raphael," Splinter says firmly. "We were there, yes. It existed at the time, yes. And it also existed when I visited it alone when you were younger, and it will exist again when it is time for it to exist. But right now, at this moment, it does not exist."

"Is this one of those things that only Don can understand?" Raphael glances at his older brother, and it's only his obvious bafflement that keeps his expression and his tone from being disrespectful.

"Listen!" Leonardo hisses back. His attention is wholly on Splinter right now.

Their sensei takes up his explanation. "The Daimyo and his son, the gyoji, all of the attendants and shopkeepers and healers we spoke to while in the Battle Nexus -- they are real beings. But they exist on a plane of being that is far beyond what our mortal forms can cope with. They have bodies of almost pure energy, and they have no need for food or sleep or any of the other things that our bodies require. But they do need something. I do not know what word to call it. Perhaps it is the power of thoughts. Perhaps it is the shared energy of mortals. Whatever it is, this is why the Daimyo hosts the Battle Nexus Championship. Once every three years, by our counting, the Daimyo makes his realm, which is made of energy, into something solid that can be used to support the bodies of mortals."

"Magic," Raphael mutters in disgust. He slumps back against the wall. The thin veneer of patience is cracking, allowing his earlier and more natural feeling to show again. "Of course, it had to be magic." His voice is low enough that Splinter will give him a pass on it, he's sure.

In fact, Splinter's tail lashes around once, a half-circle of irritation, before the rat can resume his story. "This is why beings from many different worlds are able to meet and compete in the games. Did you notice that none of the warriors needed special equipment to breathe? Yet some of them came from worlds where the air we breathe is poisonous. And some come from places with stronger, or weaker, gravity than ours. The Daimyo makes this work, so that all warriors can compete as evenly as possible."

Leonardo is both fascinated, and disappointed. He does not let either emotion show in his face or his posture. "So that's not going to work."

"I did not say that!" Splinter's voice is sharp enough to get their attention wholly back on him.


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