So what have we learned today, kids?
The One Who Could Make A Difference
Mike opened his eyes. It was dark around him, but he was lying down on a fairly soft and comfortable surface, underneath a warm blanket.
For one long moment, he was uncertain of where he was. Then, everything came back to him: Shredder and Splinter, the world without a Mike, the different fates of everyone there... Klunk. Klunk!
He reached out for the light switch. With an audible click the room went from dark to light, and Mike sat straight up in his bed, noting to his immense satisfaction that it was, in fact, his bed. When he threw away his blanket, his hand didn't go straight through but instead flung the entire thing away and across the room, where it spread neatly over the huge pile of Justice Force comics that Mike had promised Splinter he'd tidy up as soon as he felt better.
He took a quick glance around the room and saw that all his things were there; from the autographed picture of Silver Sentry on the wall to the toy mouse on the floor that originally belonged to Klunk but had moved into Mike's room when it became clear that Klunk thought it was much more fun with a simple piece of paper on a string.
"I'm back!" Mike announced. "Back in my body and back in my world, and there's absolutely no place like home!" He chuckled and jumped out of bed -- and then noted that he was feeling much better. His muscles didn't ache, his head felt clear, and his fever seemed to have vanished.
"Whoa," he said. "Looks like a trip to an alternate reality is the best cure for a bad case of the flu..." he paused, thinking. "Nah. It'll never catch on," he decided, before running out of the room at top speed.
The living room was dark as well, but when Mike switched on the light, he saw to his joy that Klunk was lying on the couch, sleeping peacefully. In two enormous jumps, Mike was over by the couch and had scooped the cat up in his arms. "Klunk! My bestest buddy in the whole world! Come to daddy!" he said, holding him close.
"Mrrow...?" said Klunk, obviously sleepy and confused as to why his "daddy" was suddenly acting like this.
"I'm the luckiest Turtle in the world to have a cat like you!" said Mike while cuddling him. "I know I don't say this enough, but I love ya, boy! I'm so glad I've got you!"
Klunk didn't seem to have the faintest idea what Mike was talking about, but slowly started to purr as he was being petted.
"What are you doin' out of bed?" said Raph, stumbling into the living room and looking about as sleepy as Klunk. "Geez, Mikey, what's with you? All day you drive us bonkers with your 'poor me, I'm sick' routine, then ya finally fall asleep, and then when the rest of us try ta get some shut-eye as well, you decide to get up at -- " he glanced at the clock -- "four-thirty in the morning to declare your love for the cat?!"
"Raph, you know something?!" said Mike, turning around, still with Klunk in his arms. "You woulda made an awesome Battle Nexus champion!"
"...Huh?!" said Raph.
"Yeah! You could start a martial arts school for children or something. Oh, and I can give you cooking lessons if ya want!"
"...Huh?!" Raph repeated, clearly not managing to think of any other answer.
"Oh, I just visited an alternate reality where I didn't exist and you were great at making lasagna," said Mike as a means of explanation, feeling just how wonderful it was to be seen and heard by his brother, and of course have his brother know who he was. And the feeling of Klunk in his arms just made it that much better.
"...All right. Fine. Whatever. Look, that disease has clearly got ya hallucinatin' or something." Raph walked up to Mike and gently grabbed his shoulder, turning him around to face his bedroom door. "Why don't ya go back to bed, and we can talk more about, uh, me makin' lasagna tomorrow."
"No, you don't understand! Klunk died! "
"Not surprised, if he was eating my lasagna. C'mon, I'll tuck you in."
Mike was about to answer, when he saw Leonardo and Donatello both emerge from their rooms, looking halfway confused and halfway annoyed.
"What --" Leo began.
"Hey, Leo!" Mike called, interrupting him. "Your alternate self was a major jerk! But yours was cool, Donny! You were patrolling the city with Casey and kickin' major shell wherever you went!" He paused. "Wait, why was Leo a bigger jerk in that other reality when almost everybody else were that much cooler? I mean, I know I kinda intruded on him, but he didn't even wanna hear me out!"
Leo took on long look at Mike, then turned to Don. "Get Master Splinter," he said. "Mike's gone cuckoo."
"I don't know why I'm surprised," Don muttered. "I've been expecting this moment for years."
It ended up with everyone gathering in the living room to hear Mike's story about his experiences. Raph, Don and Leo did so with various expressions of disbelief, but Splinter merely listened in silence, nodded a few times and shushed Raph, Don and Leo whenever they tried to interrupt Mike.
"And, uh, after that I woke up in my own bed," Mike finished. "And I just had to go and see Klunk." He gazed fondly at the cat who had curled up next to him and fallen asleep again. "And then Raph came and was sarcastic, and, well, you know the rest."
Leo, Raph and Don exchanged glances.
"That's... some dream, all right," said Leo.
"It wasn't a dream!" said Mike, feeling a little insulted. "It really happened! I was there, in another world..." He couldn't resist a little Wizard of Oz reference here, and began pointing at the others. "And you were there, and you, and you, and you... "
"Get real, Mike," said Raph. "It was a freaky dream that yer sickness left you as a farewell present."
"Probably brought forward by the fact that you felt poorly treated and unwanted before you fell asleep," Don supplied.
"Yeah. I'm sorry I called you annoying, Mike," said Leo. "You'd just been getting on my nerves all day, and... well, it just slipped out. I didn't mean anything by it, you should know that. No point in letting a silly little dream --"
"It wasn't a dream," Mike repeated stubbornly. The glorious mood he had been in was starting to fade, and he felt... what? Disappointed, somehow? He comforted himself by reaching out and petting the sleeping Klunk.
"But it must have been," said Leo. "There's really no other explanation for it. I refuse to believe that there's a world out there where you don't exist and this family is better off for it. Mike, we need you! All right, maybe you bug the shell out of us sometimes -- or a lot of times -- But... come on? Which of us can say that he doesn't occasionally get on the nerves of everyone else?"
"Master Splinter," said Mike dryly.
"...Okay, I'll give you that one," said Leo, grinning sheepishly at the amused glance the rat gave them both. "But the rest of us? Raph keeps flying off the deep end and going off on his own and endangering us all..."
"Yeah, and Leo keeps playin' teacher's pet and nags everyone half ta death at least once a day," said Raph, nudging Leo with his elbow.
"And I tend to lock myself away with my inventions and research and computers and ignore everyone else," said Don peaceably. "If it hadn't been for you, Mike, I'd probably never even have left my workshop. You're the one who keeps dragging me out of there and forcing me to socialize -- and at the end of the day, I have to admit that usually I'm happier for it."
"Right," said Leo seriously. "If it hadn't been for you, we'd all have just given up on each other a long time ago, and just gone our different ways. You're the glue that keeps this family, this team together! We shouldn't even have to tell you this, it's so obvious." He took a long, deep breath. "So will you please admit that it was all just a stupid dream and couldn't possibly have happened?"
"It wasn't a dream," Mike insisted. "It just... it just wasn't."
Leo opened his mouth to say something more, but Splinter stopped him.
"Please... leave us alone for a while, my sons," said the rat, looking at the three Turtles. "Try to go back to sleep. We will talk more in the morning."
"Technically, it is the morning now," said Don, glancing at the clock, which had now just passed six AM.
"Well, hey, since we've been sittin' here and listenin' ta Mike's story for over an hour," said Raph, "does that mean we get to skip the nine o'clock morning practice? Just askin'," he added hurriedly at Splinter's look.
Leo stood up without a word and left for his room. Mike knew that his blue-clad brother generally got up around this time and was just pretending to go back to bed so that Mike and Splinter could talk in private, and felt oddly grateful for it. Raph and Don looked at each other, raised themselves and headed off for their rooms as well.
For a minute or so, the living room was silent apart from the soft purring of Klunk.
"It wasn't a dream," Mike finally said, looking down.
"Perhaps not," said Splinter. "Does it really matter whether it was or not, though? No matter where the spirit counterparts of Shredder and myself came from -- be it some other realm or simply your own subconscious -- they still had something important to tell you."
"'Everyone matters, for worse or for better,' huh?"
"That is one way of putting it," said Splinter, not seeming to get the obvious "Kermit the Frog" reference. "But I'm not quite sure if you see all the ways this was shown to you. Examine the story you have told us a little further... does nothing strike you as peculiar there?"
"Ya mean apart from Stockman being a good guy, or Raph cooking, or --"
"Nothing so specific, Michelangelo." Splinter smiled. "Even though your brothers in that reality were making the best of their lives, they did, from what you tell me, lack something very important that you and your brothers have, and always have had, in this reality."
"Trust." Splinter held up a hand as Mike started to protest. "I noticed it particularly with the alternate Leonardo. His Raphael and Donatello had clearly grown apart from him, no longer needing him as a leader. I do not think he quite understood that."
"...he was being a jerk because he missed Don and Raph?" said Mike dubiously.
"I would rather say that he was trying too hard to protect them from things they could probably have dealt with themselves. Since he learned of your presence in the manner he did, my guess is that the Leonardo in that reality has taken it upon himself to 'keep an eye' on his brothers, obviously without their knowledge."
"He was spying on them?"
"Effectively, yes." Splinter met Michelangelo's eyes. "Without you to act as a catalyst between him, Raphael and Donatello, I believe that the Leonardo of that reality was not able to get close enough to his brothers that he ever learned to completely trust them. If the Raphael and Donatello of this reality somehow went out tomorrow and got themselves the exact same lives as you described, Leonardo would worry, true, but he would also trust them enough to let them handle things on their own."
Mike blinked. He hadn't thought of it like that. "So... the alternate Leo was just being... overprotective?"
"Such would be my guess," said Splinter. "My son, you must not start thinking of yourself as less important. You saw yourself that things were very different without you around."
"Coupla real big things were really for the better, though," said Mike, feeling like he should point that out. "Still... I don't think I'd swap, when it comes down to it. Not with Klunk dead in that other reality." He shook his head. "Y'know, it's kinda weird, but when those two spirits came to take me to that other world, I sorta thought it would be like in all those movies... you know, when the guy finds out that everything is much worse without him."
"That is hardly realistic," said Splinter with another smile. "I doubt you would find anyone who has not made his fair share of bad decisions or suffered his share of bad luck that affected others in a negative way. All I can suggest is... take a look at the ways our reality is better, and keep on doing your part to keep them so -- and then take a look at the ways our reality is worse, and do all you can to better them. One person cannot save the world single-handedly, but he can make a difference if he so chooses."
"Hey, yeah," said Mike, and to his big relief the feeling of joy was returning to him. "I've seen the potentials in others... I can probably help them achieve 'em here in this reality! I can help Raph set up a material arts school, or if he doesn't want to, I can do it myself, and I can ask Angel if she knows any kids who might need it, and I can help April and Casey out if they want it, and Donny could... uh, Master Splinter?" he cut himself off.
"Who are you winking to?"
"You turned around and winked to someone. But there's nobody there. Who was it?"
Splinter chuckled. "Just a few invisible friends. Please, tell me more about these ideas of yours, Michelangelo."
On a slightly different plane, unseen and unheard by almost everyone but still capable of seeing and hearing everything around them, two spirits returned the physical Splinter's wink.
"Thank you," said the rat's spirit counterpart. "We will take our leave now. Michelangelo has very clearly made his choice. He chose well, just as I knew he would."
"And of course, he hasn't so much as realized that he has made the choice," said Shredder, as the two spirits turned away and walked out of the room, leaving behind an eagerly chatting Michelangelo and a patiently listening Splinter. "He probably still thinks that the choice he was to make was whether he was to live or die. Honestly -- 'virus might mutate into something more deadly,' indeed."
"It might have done," said Splinter. "It was certainly within the realm of the possible that it could have done. I never said it would have done, or even that it was likely to."
"You do realize," said Shredder, not without a hint of amusement in his voice, "that we are still talking to each other as if we were two different persons, even if there is no-one present to uphold the deception for?"
"Indeed," said Splinter. "In my -- well, in our defense, this 'appearing as two separate beings' deception can be difficult to let go of, once you get used to it."
And as they vanished from the sight even of the keen eye and perceptions of Splinter, his spirit counterpart and the spirit counterpart of Shredder merged together to become one single spirit. For a moment, this spirit looked like a bizarre mix of rat and man, but then it changed, took on other and definitely more turtle-like qualities.
The spirit took flight, moving up through the ground and to the surface, where the sun had risen and New York was getting ready for a new day. The turtle spirit looked wistfully at the cars and people moving about before flying further up, above the highest rooftops and up in the clouds.
"I have done.. what I could," it said to itself in a decidedly female voice. "It will be up to Michelangelo now... Hopefully Splinter will manage to temper his enthusiasm enough that he does not try to do too much, in too short a time span."
And the spirit hovering above the clouds was not that of Shredder or Splinter or anyone else belonging in this particular reality.
Once, a very long time ago, and in another world similar yet different to this one, the Turtle named Mei Pieh Chi, and affectionally (by some) nicknamed Venus de Milo, had been a part of a Turtle family much like the one she had just left behind.
It had all been a mistake, a strange flux of reality. She should never have existed, and it didn't take long for the natural laws of reality to correct their mistake and make it so she never had existed. Only thanks to sheer force of will had she managed to still exist on some plane, as a wandering spirit without a world, a home, or even a proper body to call her own.
She had never existed, and she never would.
She could still, however, make a difference, put her mark on the world, even if it was in small ways.
Venus allowed herself a small smile. Even in her own world, Michelangelo had always been the Turtle with the most potential -- potential he kept wasting because he was too lazy, too irresponsible, too flighty to make good use of it. But Venus had always been able to see -- and even more so, since she became a wandering spirit and began travelling between worlds -- that inside the immature and childish goofball there lived a person -- a caring, compassionate, creative and talented person -- who really did have the power to change the world around him, if he would just assert himself a little more.
Sometimes he just needed a little push in the right direction, or to get some perspective on things.
And if she had managed to give him that... then she had managed to make a difference, despite her non-existence.
Now... well, there were other worlds out there, other worlds in which a subtle (or not) guiding hand might be needed. Perhaps she should return to that Michelangelo-less world and guide the Leonardo in that reality a little -- he seemed to need a little outside guidance.
And after that... well, who could tell?
Nodding to herself with some feeling of satisfaction, Venus picked up speed and flew higher and higher until the world vanished below her.
[b]THE[/b](ever-lovin', blue-eyed) END![/b]
Author's notes: And as you probably realize now, the titular Turtle Who Never Was wasn't Mike after all -- it was Venus de Milo, the female Ninja Turtle from the Next Mutation series; hated by all the fans, ultimately declared non-existant by Peter Laird and having all references to her removed from all official sources.
I'll answer the question before anyone thinks of asking it: Why didn't Venus appear as herself in front of Mike? Why this Splinter/Shredder act?
Well, for one thing --think about how Mike acted around Venus in the Next Mutation series: constantly hitting on and flirting with her. Venus was trying to prove a point, but she would have had a harder time doing so if Mike had kept calling her "babe" and "mutant hottie." (I don't actually think that the New-Toon Mike would have done this; he was never the "horny teenager" that NM-Mike was... but Venus couldn't know this for sure.)
For another thing, the "Shredder" act was done deliberately to provoke a reaction; look at how it's "Shredder's" trash-talking on Klunk that finally snaps Mike out of his funk and gets him to take a firm stand. In fact, looking at the things "Shredder" says in that scene, and everywhere else in the fic, a lot of it doesn't hold up to closer examination. Look at his speech after the "Silver Sentry" scene: One moment, he says that Silver Sentry made a big difference before and after the adventure with the mind-control bugs... but then he goes on to say that most of the people the superhero rescued afterwards didn't matter in the last. Come on, either Silver Sentry did make a difference, or he didn't! But "Shredder" was just out to provoke, and the statements didn't need to make any sense as long as they had their desired effect.
But of course, if Shredder had been the only "guide" on the alternate reality trip, it couldn't realistically have played out the way it did. A second spirit was needed -- one that would be there to be supportive and make sure to point out some important things that Mike might have missed otherwise. Hence, the "Splinter" identity.
No, I don't know where Venus learned to do that. Let's just say she's been a spirit for a long time and has worked out how to do a lot of neat things.
In case you, like Splinter, missed the obvious reference: "Everyone matters, for worse or for better" was what Kermit the Frog sang in his own It's A Wonderful Life- spoof, It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie:
Everyone matters, everyone matters,
Even the weakest of the weakest
Can change the course of history.
Everyone matters, for worse or for better,
The world would be so different
If there never was a me./