I am so sorry for the long wait on this chapter. I am sure that I have lost a good amount of readers due to the long delay. I just finished my senior year and have been very busy for the past couple months. I also have been struggling with how to go about this final chapter. Thank you to everyone who is still reading this story and has helped it be my most successful story yet.
I do not own TMNT.
Hurried whispers dissipated into silence as the paper door slowly slid open. Thoughts quickly lost at the appearance of Mikey shuffling from Splinter's room, Leo's arm wrapped loosely around him. Mikey swallowed back the sudden fear that rose in his throat as his family's eyes burned into his skin. He shrugged off his brother's arm and ran his hands over his too-cold skin. His earlier confidence skittered away at the sight of his family waiting for him. Waiting to see if Leo had finally managed to figure out what was wrong with him. The sea-green turtle bit back his immediate scoff at the idea. How could Leo figure out what was wrong when he didn't even know anymore?
He felt Leo glance at him encouragingly. He saw Don shift uneasily as he threw quick glances between sensei and Leo. Mikey let his eyes shift away from his brother's concerned gaze to Raph's sharp eyes. They were waiting. Waiting for…what? What was he supposed to say? What was he supposed to do? He felt his mouth pull back in a defensive scowl at the prolonged silence. Why did it always fall on him? Wasn't he dealing with enough?! His thoughts darkened as his emotions pushed away his rationality. He just needed to think.
"What?" The word came out harsh, anger sharpening his words. Mikey forced himself to ignore the carefully hidden hurt in his brothers' eyes. Leo's mouth pulled into a tight frown as his previous warmth dissolved into his familiar stoic façade. He could feel his father's eyes watching him. Disappointment and concern tightening painfully around his heart at the sadness in Splinter's eyes. "Stop staring at me." Confusion flashed through his mind at his own sudden anger. Why was he so upset? Cold brushed teasingly against his neck and his eyes widened. He'd gotten rid of them though. Everything was ok. Why wasn't everything ok?! Leo put a firm hand on his shoulder in a silent warning. He still didn't trust him.
And maybe he shouldn't.
"Come with me, Michelangelo." Mikey ducked away from the swirling emotions in his brothers' eyes and numbly followed after his father. Relief calmed his rapid heartbeat as his brothers turned back to their own devices. The old rat led him quietly into the dojo before settling himself into the seated lotus. "My son, I worry for the darkness you cannot let go of. You fear it, yet you cannot bring yourself to let go of it. It gave you strength. Now you feel there is nothing else to you." The sea-green turtle looked away as his father motioned for him to settle onto a meditation mat. Splinter knew. His father had seen it.
"I don't know what to do anymore." Mikey ran a hand across his face subconsciously. Angry at the wetness smeared across his hand. "I can't control anything anymore. I tried to do all this but I don't know what I'm even doing anymore!" Splinter sighed at his son's harsh tone. His usual light, accented voice hardened and cold. Splinter longed to help his son. To relieve him of his newfound self-hate.
"My son, what do you see in your reflection?" Splinter gestured to the mirror on the opposite wall. Mikey frowned as he gazed into his own eyes. He watched in horror as his own eyes darkened into a cold glare. His own mouth stretching into a wicked smirk as the glass warped out of focus.. He blinked away the image and his reflection quickly returned to his own tired, horrified expression. Cold licked at his arms and he shivered against the whispering breeze. Mikey quickly turned to his own shaking hands. Strange guilt and terror tightening his chest as his heart hurriedly crashed against his ribcage. "Michelangelo?" His father's voice forced his spine straight and his expression neutral.
"I saw myself." His hands curled into fists against his wobbling words. "What else was I supposed to see?"
"What we see is what we feel and not what we are, Michelangelo." Blue eyes shifted to meet his own once again and watched as they stared mockingly back at him. Reminding him of the bruises coloring his brothers' skin and his attempt to end his own life. He stared at the dark, hopeless anger and fear in his own cold eyes. Mikey pulled his gaze away and let his head all in his hands.
"Or maybe it's both."
Cold wind brushed past him as the sun lazily sunk below the skyline. A cold shiver ran up his spine and shook his hand against the paper. Mikey hissed in annoyance as the pencil cracked under his grip; the colors darkening as he pushed farther into the page. His past promise to capture the splash of colors decorating the sky an easy excuse for leaving the lair. Mikey sighed at the crooked outline of the familiar skyline he had messily sketched across the paper. He pretended not to notice the visible tremble in his fingers as they wrapped around an eraser. He wanted to let go of everything. He was avoiding the silence. Avoiding the polite smiles and awkward imitations of his brothers. They didn't know what to do. They didn't know what he saw when he looked at himself.
After he spoke to Splinter he had immediately deflated under the expectant gaze of his family. . Why? What was he afraid of? They had forgiven him. He'd forgiven them. Anger cracked the pencil against his tightening grip. Why couldn't everything just go back to normal? He wanted his brothers to yell at him for playing jokes and to laugh at his overdramatic antics. He saw their tense muscles and the darkness circling under their eyes. Their constant worry that he wasn't ok. Their guilt that they weren't doing enough. The urge to laugh and joke just to ease his brothers' fatigue twisted against his resolve to not be a burden amongst his family.
Had this all been some pointless tantrum? He was the only one causing conflict now. It was all him. Guilt stung his eyes and smeared the colors of the sunset on his lap. Mikey had broken his family and didn't even have the courage to fix it. Why?! He'd talked to each of his brothers. He'd told them what was wrong. He'd shown he was as capable as any of them. But here he was, hiding from them; trying to distract himself from the fear of what his family would think after everything he'd done.
Mikey had taken to discreetly avoiding his brothers. Spending as much time as possible outside the lair or inside his room. A new anger ran beneath his skin. This wasn't what he wanted. This couldn't be what he had worked so hard to prove to his family. He didn't want everything back to how it was before. What did he want then?!
Respect. The word carried a finality and confidence that he desperately longed to possess. He had seen the awe in his sensei's face when he easily defeated Leo in training. He'd watched as his brothers fell apart under his sharp words and parted for him where he walked. "That's not respect!" Colors smeared as his eraser tore at the thick paper.
Mikey hated the fear in Don's eyes and the betrayal in Raph's. And the deep shock and anger that darkened Leo's eyes against him. Mikey angrily wiped his eyes as he saw his leader steel himself against him. Had he apologized? Had he apologized for making his own family see him as a threat? Mikey winced at the pain shooting through his jaw and he realized he'd been grinding his teeth. He forced himself to relax against the harsh onslaught of memories swirling his vision. Shame and disgust rose in his throat. Why did he have to become that to get respect?
I finally did what I set out to do. And I can't even finish it! His pencil gave a final crack before snapping in his hand.
A chill swept through him and he realized the sky had darkened while he'd been lost in his thoughts. Blue eyes sadly looked at the unfinished sketch in his lap. The shaky lines and sloppy blending circling around the large rip in the middle of the page. His legs shook slightly as he stood, blood rushing into them after sitting for so long. He let his gaze sweep over the flashing lights and busy street below him. He shivered against the cold and turned to start the slow return home.
Mikey felt his heart smash into his ribcage as he was suddenly wrapped in a tight embrace. Familiar red caught his gaze and he struggled against the tight arms slowly pulling him away from the edge of the roof. "Yo guys, I found him!" Mikey vainly tried to pull his face away from his brother's shoulder as he heard the other two approach. "What were ya thinkin', Mikey?!"
"I'm thinking that you need to learn about personal space!" He gave his brother a hard shove and angrily walked over to his fallen art supplies.
"Why didn't you say anything about leaving?! You've been gone for hours! You think you can just leave and not tell anyone?! What if you-" Mikey stood from gathering his supplies at his brother's sudden halt. Emotions clouded Leo's brown eyes as he angrily glared into Mikey's own. Immediately realization dawned on him as guilt and terror washed over him. His fingers curled in self-loathing. He didn't deserve their concern when he'd put them through everything he had. He'd been avoiding them for the past week! His sketchbook fell as his strength left him.
"I'm sorry." He turned away from his brothers and wiped his eyes self-consciously. "I messed everything up and I wanted everything to be different. I hurt you guys and sensei and even when you guys tried to change I just avoided everything." Two hands steadied his shaking shoulders and he stared wide-eyed into Don's warm brown eyes. He caught sight of the faded bruise on his jaw and tried to pull away but Don kept him firmly in place.
"Mikey, do you know why we all came running over here? Why we've been searching for the past 2 hours to find you?" Raph and Leo watched Mikey shrug tiredly, his gaze set firmly on the ground. "It's because we love you and you're our baby brother." Mikey's eyes fell on the numerous half-healed cuts and bruises decorating Raph's emerald skin and the exhaustion clear in Leo's eyes. He didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve any of this! "Mikey, nothing you do will ever change that."
"Hey!" He jumped as Raph suddenly pried his hands open. Mikey blinked at the broken pencil cutting into his palm. He inwardly groaned at having broken yet another pencil. Raph was in front of him. His eyes dark with anger and worry. "Stop doin' that, would ya?!"
"Stop doing what?" He mumbled defeated and far too tired to stop his body from shaking against the cold breeze.
"Stop pullin' a Leo on us!" Mikey's mouth twitched at his oldest brother's annoyed glance at Raph's choice of words. "Stop with the broodin' and self-blamin'. We all forgave ya already and are just waitin' for you ta forgive yourself." Mikey blinked in confusion.
"But I don't deserve your guys' forgiveness. I was up here avoiding you guys! I can't even finish what I started!" His voice rose with anger as he tried to express the dark emotions tightening in his chest. Raph's expression softened as he shook his head.
"Bro, it's us that don't deserve forgiveness." Leo nodded in agreement. Raph moved aside as Leo pulled Mikey's chin up so he couldn't look away.
"We haven't been the brothers that you needed. You already apologized for what you did and yet we haven't even made steps to move forward. You're our baby brother and you always will be. But we know we let that title become everything you were. We've all seen that you are just as strong and smart as the rest of us." Mikey smiled as his chest loosened as his brother's words. "The only one who hasn't seen it yet is you." Mikey nodded and let go of the hatred that he'd let settle in his chest. He'd tried so hard to make his family see he wasn't useless that he'd lost what he had wanted in the first place. He had let himself get overwhelmed by anger and loathing.
He wiped away his tears in embarrassment until Raph wrapped an affectionate arm around him. "And stop doin' that. It's ok ta cry, Mikey." Mikey laughed and his brothers relaxed at the sound. Mikey snickered at the slight shine in Raph's amber eyes.
"It's ok to cry, Raph." Mikey repeated, a tired smile letting him finally breathe again. Leo chuckled against his own watery smile as Raph gave Mikey a familiar smack to the head. The familiarity of it setting them at ease. Don smiled as he picked up Mikey's forgotten art supplies.
I can't believe this story is over. I hope that you are all happy with the ending. I tried to show that there is no easy fix and even though Mikey thought everything was ok didn't mean that he had truly forgiven himself. Thank you to everyone who reviewed and stayed with me all through this story.