Waking with a start, Leo jolted to his senses, the cracked images of Shredder and the fight beginning to fade, yet leaving him slightly uneasy. For a moment, the eldest did not recognise his surroundings, but as he tried to sit up, he found a weight across his chest was leaving him unable to do so. He opened his mouth to let out a cry of distress, but as his panic stricken eyes darted about the gloom, Leo caught a glimpse of emerald and he relaxed.
Just another nightmare, he cursed mentally, the pain slowly subsiding.
"You alright?" Raph whispered from beside Leo, his arm around his elder brother's front a comforting barrier to stop Leo from jolting his still healing body during the night.
"Usual." Leo whispered back, resting his head against Raph's shoulder, "The fight, Shredder and darkness." However, despite the dark dream, Leo was smiling at a completely different thought- what Casey would say if he walked into the room to see the Fearless leader curled up with the Hothead for comfort. If that happened, Raph would find the constant teasing of "cuddle buddy" a blessing.
"Don't worry, I'm here." Came the gentle voice of his brother, and Leo nodded into Raph's skin.
"I know." Leo cracked open an eyelid and noticed that the room wasn't as dark as he originally perceived. In one quick movement, Leo knocked Raph's arm from his torso then shoved his directly younger brother off the side of the bed and onto the floor so that the eldest could move away from the wall and sit up. "You let me sleep in!" Leo accused before demanding, "What's the time?"
" 'Alf eight." Came the grumbled reply, causing the elder of the two to curse out loud. Sure, he needed the sleep, however he used to get up between five and six in order to ensure everyone would be as ready to train as he was. Seeing his tension and desperation to get up, Raph stood and placed a hand on his brother's shoulder, "Wait, fearless. You're still healing and need the rest- doctor Don's orders. No one is expecting early morning training." He gave Leo a hand to stand, another of Donnie's orders, as he continued, "But if it counts for anything, I was having a nice sleep too. Up until someone-" he cast Leo a joke glare, "Elbowed me in the ribs. Now exercises."
When the scientist of the family had told Raph that he needed to help Leo get up and do some leg exercises a couple of days ago, Leo had been determined to remain stubborn and ignore Raph's help, however after the first night of nightmares and awaking with a scream on his lips and his knee burning, he welcomed his brother's assistance. The whole sleeping together thing just helped Leo to pass the night peacefully and also meant that Raph didn't have to be in and out of his own bed if Leo needed him. But as far as everyone else on the farmhouse was concerned, Raph was being the night comforter, not the snuggle buddy to Leo and that was enough for them to feel as if Leo was making progress and their strong leader was back. What was sitting at the front of everyone's mind was that if Leo didn't suffer from any more relapses, they would be returning home soon.
As Raph put Leo through the series of gentle exercises to build up his muscles and improve his movement of the limb, the eldest allowed his mind to wander over the darkness of the void which had come so close to drowning his spirit.
Leo could now feel fragments of his torture from his own memories rather than imaginings based on the video clip, and these were now key parts of his nightmares, but at the end of the day- he continued to remind himself- he was still alive and breathing, as was the rest of his family and they were all moving away from the horrors of the invasion together, as a family. He was also becoming much more steady in his movements, now being able to walk without help from a fellow turtle, only requiring his walking stick, and his stamina was slowly returning.
Donnie gave Leo daily check-ups and attempted to psychoanalyse him, but the latter Leo would not allow, knowing his younger two brothers needed their pillar of support back, so they could not learn of the things he had told Raph. If anything, Leo was now most determined to make up for his self-centred concerns which had been slowly pulling him down since his awakening. Raph had opened his eyes to how selfish he had been and no matter what pain he was still enduring, Leo was certain his younger brothers wouldn't need to fuss over him anymore. Then it occurred to him.
"Raph, I think I need to tell the others." Raph looked up sharply.
"I need to show April and Casey that video and explain why I haven't been the leader they expected when I woke up…" Raph just continued to stare at his brother, his look completely disbelieving.
"You weren't the 'leader' because Shredder and his goons… tortured… you." The word came out in a low tone as if it pained Raph to even admit what his brother had gone through. However, Leo felt his was seeing the situation clearly.
"How will they ever trust my judgement again if they believe I will just break down at any point?" Leo's tone was firm and calm, "I won't tell them about the past… you know…" Leo faltered but quickly regained himself, "But I know what I need to say to get their trust once more."
Raph's look clearly read, you're-an-idiot-and-I-don't-agree-but-you're-leader-so-what-the-shell.
"You're leader." Was all he said, bringing smile to Leo's face and together, the brothers stretched off but as they were about to head downstairs, Raph paused. "A leader needs his mask." He smiled, holding out the blue bandana which Leo did not feel worthy for just over a week ago. He took it and tied it up tightly. Depth, stability, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence and truth. He thought. Yes, he was back.
"That's sick, man." Casey muttered as the video cut to black, his face oddly pale, showing that even the big, tough vigilante was deeply shaken.
April didn't say anything but her fists were tightly clenched, the knuckles as white as Casey's face while stray tears cut tracks down her face.
The group was sitting around the kitchen table, Leo at the head with April and Casey to one side, the T-phone in front of them, while the other turtles sat on the opposite edge.
"Why- why did you show us that?" Casey asked the leader in blue bluntly, knowing how the other turtles had hidden the phone when Leo first awoke, refusing to let anyone know what had happened to Leo.
The eldest turtle shrugged.
"We're a family, and because of that, we don't hide anything." Raph caught his eye, but Leo ignored the glance, continuing as if nothing had passed between them, "You've both seen how we- especially I- have been acting since the invasion- or not, in my case-" he added light-heartedly, bringing sad smiles to his brothers' faces. "But you'd have seen that-as April put it- I seemed, broken." April's eyes shot up, her mouth open with an apology, but the leader raised a palm. "Not going to lie, but she was right for a time. What you just saw was subconsciously filling my mind with doubt and guilt, like how I couldn't defeat Shredder and he then went on to… hurt Sensei. I feel like I owe you all an explanation and an apology." All eyes were focused on Leo, absorbing every word their leader had to say.
"I've come to realise I've been so focused on my own metal battles I've forgotten what everyone else went through. April, you saw your dad mutated," the red head bowed her head sadly, "Casey, your family were missing," Casey's usually cheery eyes turned dark and sad, "And of course, you saw what happened to Sensei and our home destroyed." Leo looked at his brothers, "I should have seen what you guys saw, and for that I'm sorry, however we need to move on." All the sad gazes became determined, each pair of pupils putting aside their personal feelings to focus on the mission at hand, "Clearly I'm not quite ready to go into battle yet, but we need to get ready to return to the city. No slacking off from training like the last few months, we need to get ready as those aliens are going have total control over the city when we return and Shredder will be there too. We have a massive battle ahead of us, so training is a must." Leo took a breath, "I just want to say that how I've been acting lately is shameful. I know that now, it was just… the void…" The words got stuck in his throat and he hated his show of weakness. Focus. He cursed, "When I awoke, I couldn't feel much but pain, guilt and failure, and that consumed my mind, leaving an empty feeling, a void." He saw his family's eyes show confusion but also acceptance, they understood how hard it was for Leo, and this understanding gave the leader the strength to finish. "Each day I'm slowly getting the usual sensations back, the memories of the void are fading away allowing me to continue like before the invasion. Because of this, I can assure you that I am determined never to go back to that frame of mind as it wasn't just me who was suffering." He met all of their eyes, "We have a city to save, and as long as we remain united as a family, we can save the city."
Reaching the climax of his speech, Leo ran out of words, but thankfully, everyone else had plenty.
"That's what I'm talking about!" Casey cheered, holding up a hand for a high five on three which Leo gladly returned.
"Let's save the city, Bwoy!" Mikey shouted, jumping out of his seat and hugging his eldest brother tightly.
Donnie and April shared a smile and gave Leo thumbs up while Raph moved to his directly older brother's side and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"You were right." He muttered so only Leo could hear, "Good going, bro. it's good to have you back."
The blue masked turtle smiled at his joyful family, they had seen much suffering lately, but they were overcoming it. The dark clouds were fading to pure blue skies and the hollowness of the void was slowly being filled with hope. Oh, sure, Shredder would pay, but Leo was in no hurry. He was healing and his family and team trusted his judgement once again.
Their enemies could break their bones and shatter their spirits, but as long as they were a family nothing would hold them down for long. How did Leo know that? Because that was what had happened to him and with the help of those around him, he was healing.
He was escaping the void for good, and he had a mission to complete.
Leonardo, the fearless leader, had returned.
Oh my word, I did not want to end this story, but I hope you all enjoyed.
Thank you everyone for all your support throughout this and here I must put my goodbye to you all.
I know I said before about leaving and I came back, but I NEED to write my novel and me writing FFs is not helping my task, so I am leaving all FFs for the time being. I want to thank all you wonderful people for all your help and support throughout my stories and wish you all the best in your own writing. I will still be reading FFs, just not posting them myself unless I get a nagging idea which I HAVE to write or else burst like Mikey's head in the episode 'Slash and Destroy'! ;P
You guys are the best.
For what may be the last time: