Life could be cruel.
Leonardo reflected on this fact as he stood atop the roof of the brownstone apartment building, looking out at the bright lights of the city, his bandana tails whipping out behind him in the cool evening breeze. The smell of rain hung heavy in the air, the dark clouds above brightening occasionally with flickers of lightning accompanied by the low growl of thunder.
Leo was unconcerned by the approaching storm, his thoughts on a different night many months ago…the night he and his brothers had raced across these very rooftops on their way to investigate an explosion downtown. They hadn't known at the time that their lives were about to be changed forever. The deep wounds caused by the unfolding of that single event were still visible in the scars that they all carried. Scars that were both seen and unseen. Scars that had begun to fade, but would never be gone completely.
It seemed to him that his family carried more than their fair share of scars.
It was something he had thought about a lot in the last couple of months, as his body had slowly been healing. He'd listened to his brothers describe what it had been like while he was gone, finding the story more difficult to listen to than he had thought it would be. His family had suffered tremendously, and even though the whole horrible ordeal was behind them now, each of them would carry the memories with them as surely as they carried the scars.
It was a heavy burden to bear at times.
Movement at the edge of the roof caught his attention, and he tensed, reaching behind him with one hand to grip the hilt of one of his blades. The reaction was an automatic one, and as soon as his mind caught up to his instincts he immediately released the hilt of his weapon and dropped his arm. A moment later a familiar form emerged from the heavy shadows, pausing for only a moment before steadily approaching.
"So you got my message," Viz called in greeting, his gray fur glinting dully in the flickers of lightning. "I wasn't sure you would."
Leo nodded, greeting his friend with a warm smile. "I got it. Though I have to say, you freaked Casey out a bit when he found the envelope on his window sill. Even more so when he realized who it was from."
Viz shrugged, coming to a halt several paces away, his dark eyes gleaming. "Do you know how many nights it took wandering the city before I finally picked up his scent and tracked him home? I was about ready to give up."
"Well I'm glad you didn't," Leo replied lightly. "It's good to see you Viz."
Viz grunted. "And it is good to see you as well, my young friend. Last time we parted you did not look so well. I was worried you would not survive."
Leo grimaced slightly, running one hand absently over the raised scar on his right forearm. The area was still tender to the touch. "I almost didn't," he answered softly.
Viz nodded in understanding, his expression turning curious. "And what of your family?" he asked. "I had expected them to be here with you tonight. After everything that had happened I did not think they would like you meeting with me alone."
Leo shrugged, offering his friend a wry smile. "They didn't," he answered honestly. "But I asked them for some privacy, and they agreed." He didn't bother to mention exactly how reluctantly his brothers had given that agreement, nor the fact that he was sure they were somewhere close by, watching, ready to leap to his aid should he need it. Leo trusted Viz completely, but he knew his family would never be able to fully share in that trust, even after what the gray wolf had done to save him from Alpha. Only Leo truly understood just how much that act had cost Viz.
"How are you doing?" he asked pointedly, looking the gray wolf up and down. Viz hadn't looked all that great himself the last time Leo had seen him, but any new scars he carried were now hidden beneath his thick fur. Or perhaps even deeper.
Viz cocked his head to one side, considering the question. "I am as good as can be expected," he finally answered, his tone even but traced with an undercurrent of lingering pain he could not hide. "I buried Alpha somewhere where his remains will not be found. I will miss him, but will remember the good times we had together and try to forget the bad. It is all I can do."
Leo understood only too well. Viz wasn't the only one struggling to put the past behind him and move forward.
"I found Talon shortly after leaving you and your brother," Viz went on, subtly shifting the conversation in a different direction. "He was badly injured and was almost taken by Karai's soldiers. We've been holed up in a warehouse by the East River ever since, allowing our wounds to heal." He paused, shaking his head slowly, his expression distant. "I never did find Two Toes. I fear Karai may have captured him."
"She didn't," Leo stated quietly. "He's dead. He went after Mikey and Donnie and ended up falling down a drainage shaft. Even if he somehow survived the fall, he would have been drowned in the rapids below."
Viz looked startled for a moment before letting out a deep breath, his gaze dropping to the surface of the roof. "I see," he replied, the barest hint of regret in his voice.
Leo didn't share in that regret, but he didn't say anything. He was glad Talon was still alive so that Viz would not have to be alone, but he could not bring himself to mourn for Two Toes. The black wolf had hated him with an unexplained passion, and after learning how close he had come to killing Casey, not to mention Donnie and Mikey, Leo couldn't help but feel relieved that the violent creatures was no longer around to threaten those he cared about.
"That is it, then," Viz stated softly after a moment of silence. "There is nothing left to tie us to the city. The wolf gang is over. Most of the leaders have been apprehended by the police, and the rest scattered." He released another long sigh, lifting his head to gaze out over the city. "I think it is for the best."
"Yes," Leo agreed quietly. "You still plan on leaving then?"
Viz slowly nodded, turning back to face Leo, his expression serious. "It is not safe for us here anymore. Karai still searches for us. I have seen her soldiers on several occasions, and when I went by the old warehouse it reeked of their scent."
"She's nothing if not persistent," Leo agreed grimly. "Where will you go?"
Viz shrugged. "North. Over the border, I think. There is a lot of wilderness where we can easily remain hidden from human eyes. We will leave tonight. I only wanted a chance to say goodbye before going."
"I'm glad you found me," Leo stated honestly. He stepped closer to Viz, looking up into the wolf's face. "I said it before, but I want to say it again. Thank you. For everything." The words were as inadequate as always, but Leo couldn't let Viz leave without letting the wolf know just how much he appreciated everything his friend had done. As awful as the past months had been, Leo had no doubt they would have been a hundred times worse without Viz.
The gray wolf smiled slightly, reaching out with one hand to grip Leo's shoulder. "I will accept your thanks only if you will accept mine. The circumstances were not ideal, yet still I am glad to have met you and to be able to call you friend. You are a brave and honorable soul, Blade."
Leo opened his mouth to correct Viz, but then just as quickly closed it again. He wasn't Blade any longer, but he was done denying the fact that he once had been. The name had been given to him by Viz, and in a way it would always be a part of Leo now, the good and the bad.
"I should be going," Viz continued. "Talon is waiting for me, and we hope to be well clear of the city before dawn." He paused, sniffing slightly at the air before letting a lazy grin stretch the corners of his mouth. "Besides, our close proximity is making your family…" he paused, as though searching for the right word, before ending with a simple, "…nervous."
Leo let out a soft snort. "I have no doubt," he replied dryly. "They've become a bit protective of me of late."
Viz chuckled, genuine warmth in the sound. "I am glad. At least I will know you have someone watching your back."
Leo nodded, smiling slightly. "Always," he murmured, briefly glancing out into the still shadows around him where he knew his brothers quietly waited.
"Goodbye my friend." Viz stated, releasing Leo's shoulder and taking a step back.
Leo swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. "Goodbye Viz," he replied softly. "I hope we will meet again someday."
"In this life or the next," Viz acknowledged, nodding to Leo one final time before turning and striding toward the edge of the roof. Leo watched him until he disappeared into the shadows, unable to deny the sharp loss he felt at seeing the wolf go. With their lives, true friends were somewhat hard to come by, and he regretted having to say goodbye to one now.
Turning his gaze back out across the city, Leo waited patiently for his brothers to join him. He didn't have to wait long. They approached silently from behind him, but still he knew they were there, just as he knew it was Raph who laid a hand on his shoulder before his brother even spoke.
Leo nodded, his gaze still locked before him. "Yeah," he murmured quietly, surprised to find he meant it. In the past months he had thought about Viz a lot, all the time doubting he would ever see the gray wolf again. Then Casey had brought him the note, and Leo had been undeniably excited at the chance to meet with his friend one last time. He knew he would miss Viz, but at least now he had some sense of closure. He was surprised by how much that meant to him.
A flash of lightning lit up the dark city in a sudden spray of light, and the following boom was loud enough Leo could feel the vibrations of it rock through his body. As one they all looked up into the dark clouds looming above, both awed and humbled by the power of the building storm.
"We should probably get off the roof," Donnie stated evenly. "I'm not keen on becoming fried turtle."
Mikey let out a loud snort. "Dude, we've survived foot ambushes, explosions, giant mutated wolves trying to rip out our spleens…" He made a dismissing gesture with one hand. "No way in shell we're taken out by lightning. Fate likes us too much!"
Leo turned to gape at his brother, for a moment unsure if he had heard Mikey correctly. Fate liked them? After everything they had been through that statement seemed the very definition of absurd. And yet, as he allowed his mind to process the rest of Mikey's words, he couldn't help but admit his brother had a point. They had gone through more than most people would ever have to face in their entire lives, and yet they were all still alive. They were all still together. That was no small thing.
He supposed in the end it all came down to perspective. One could look at all they had been forced to endure and conclude that life was cruel. Or…one could look at all they had survived and conclude that life was good. In that moment, Leo felt more than a little envious of his youngest brother's natural ability to look at everything on the bright side.
"April called and invited us over to her place for pizza and a movie," Mikey went on, completely oblivious to Leo's thoughts. "What do you say, Leo, want to go?"
Leo stared into Mikey's hopeful face, considering the offer and finding that it appealed to him. It seemed like forever since he had been to April apartment, and the truth was the lair was beginning to feel a bit close and stuffy. Getting out tonight had been nice, and Leo wasn't yet ready to go back. He was a little tired and sore, but not overly so, and he figured he could relax and rest just as easily at April's house as he could at home.
"Yeah Mikey, we can go," he replied, before adding "but only if you text April and ask her to pick up some ice-cream to go with the pizza."
Mikey let out a whoop of excitement, and Donnie and Raph both grinned widely, their eyes shining with unconcealed excitement. They crowded around Mikey as he fished out his phone, arguing loudly over what type of pizza and ice-cream to request, completely ignoring the next boom of thunder that sounded loudly from overhead. The first drops of moisture escaped from the dark clouds, splattering down onto the rooftop in a prelude to the deluge that was soon to come.
Leo watched his brothers for a moment before tilting his head back and closing his eyes, reveling in the feel of the rain against his face. There was something about thunderstorms that he had always liked. Maybe it was the display of raw power nature put on for all to see. Or maybe it was the way it drowned out the nearly constant noise of the city, replacing the smell of tar and oil and old food with something fresh and clean. It was invigorating, filling him with a sense of renewal and hope.
He decided it was past time to take a page out of Mikey's book. Tonight he would be surrounded with family and friends and good food.
Tonight…life was good.
Wow. You have no idea the emotions that ran through me as I typed those last two words! Phew, this story has been such an exciting journey for me, and I only hope you enjoyed reading half as much as I enjoyed writing! I will take this final opportunity to thank everyone who has followed, favorited, and reviewed this story. I cannot tell you enough what a huge encouragement every single one of you has been to me!
Until next time….