When Michelangelo lets his heavy eyes slip closed, there on the dented, mangled roof of the church, he dreams of the forest, and does not know why. He dreams of the light and a lake dyed golden by the rays of something too luminescent to be the sun.
And he dreams of her- there. With him. His mother and then somewhere are his brothers, his father.
They sit on the lake but won't fall through and the lights take his breath. And he drowns and chokes on the rays while she smiles at him.
And it warps.
Her face is cut and bruised and blood falls from her eyes like tears but she smiles while he suffocates on light. His brothers set aflame with it and it tears through the fabric of their being with a merciless penetration. He dreams of the light (it was something unreal, something so glorious and magnificent, golden and hot) that killed them and the lake they never fell into, and doesn't understand its meaning.
With the contradicting jingle- see, it's so funny how happy the melody is and he's trying to be but isn't- of his ringtone that slices whatever silence clung to the brisk night, now the only noise with the city far off, Mikey jolts out of the vision with something like a startled scream- a strangled gasp- that gets lodged in his throat and rips past it raw and hoarse. With the the scream us pain and with the pain are tears of something to inexplicably troublesome and incredibly infuriating; Michelangelo has no idea just where this anger is coming from now, and yet, in the very same moment, he does.
But that vision and-
He sniffs, roughly brushing tears away from a sticky face with his fist, the dull brightness of his phone, in contrast to the night lit by the city and the pale moon, blinding him for a moment.
Duzmorthanmachines: you okay?
MIKEY 3: yep. y wouldnt i be?
Duzmorthanmachines: Mikes, you dropped your chucks and jumped off the ledge of a building. Are you alright? Do you need food, cash?
MIKEY 3: Geez Donnie chill...im fiiiiineeee
Duzmorthanmachines: Even as a message I know that's a lie- liar.
MIKEY 3: Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh fine caught me
Duzmorthanmachines: I'll be there in five, sit tight k?
MIKEY 3: K….?
Duzmorthanmachines: Stop pouting.
Donnie was there in four minutes, with pork rinds, Orange Crush and Grape Fanta and a lopsided smile that said so much, too much, that Mikey was too exhausted to decipher in that moment- in the moment Don started up the van and parked it in the middle of a scrap yard.
And they let their chairs as far back as they'd recline and stare with a sort of emptiness up at the van's ceiling, feet propped on the dashboard.
Besides the occasional crunch of the pork rinds and the ruffle of the jumbo sized bag they share, it's quiet and leaves just enough of the space silence provided to be filled with all the thoughts they think and the wonders and fears. Mikey wants to speak them, in the confines of somewhere safe like this old beaten van, but he's become fearful of whether his voice would betray him or not, crack and crumble the instant he lets all those worries tumble out past his lips and into the air.
So he swallows it down with his soda and watches the ceiling with his brother. His brother that blew himself up and sits here like he just didn't.
His eyes, puffy and unmasked, squint thoughtfully above him, and only flicker to Donatello for a moment.
"D...how...how didja-" he gulps, and his eyes never leave from where they are risen, but he knows Donnie is listening still, "-did you know...know what was gonna happen 'n all- when you blew your robo-self up?" The question lingers and hangs there, Mikey wishes he didn't ask when he realizes why, when Donnie folds his hands over his plastron and sighs a no.
"...I didn't...didn't- I mean, there were tons of...of calculations and guesses, estimates...but'm...um, yeah, no I wasn't one hundred percent on that...one." he rambles, wringing his hands as he does, their gazes catch each other's in the same second and Mikey isn't sure if it's a love he feels, a pride or a vexation.
Maybe it was all three.
"Why…?" he croaks, all he can croak, and Don-? He smiles crooked and brushes Mikey's face with a soft nudge of his knuckle.
"I think you know, Mikes," he scoffs without anything meant by it, just a sad, small grin and a guiltiness to the gleam in his eyes; they'd match the over bright shimmer of Mikey's if not for lacking something lost and so very angry.
Through the night they tell puns to pass time, to distract and to transform this- if only for a moment, now- into something not so bad and Donnie says his shell is on fire through a broken laugh.
The murmurs fill the corridors and echo off the walls and floors. It's something toxic, the whispers that trickle out and string themselves about this place; Leonardo almost chooses to ignore them, if not for the fact that disobedience had to be spotted and uprooted before its poison spread throughout the Foot Clan.
It was, he had noticed perhaps the second they stepped into the headquarters, quite a change in power, in order and of all the many ways the Foot operated; the certain wary fear that lingered in the eyes of those ninja had unveiled some truth of their trepidation regarding Hamato Yoshi and his four warriors. That much was clear and yet somehow Leonardo could not become swelled with pride at that.
He'd ought to have been, some dark place in him whispers with a menacing leer, because if he was feared then no doubt he was skilled in their eyes. And still, despite that, Leo feels something crawling under his skin, as his feet hit softly against the ground, against the floors of the corridor he walks down.
He feels, just now in this instant, a heaviness- a heaviness of everything like filth and everything like pain and an anger.
It boils hotter as the memories and familiarity fester into a sickness, an ash he tastes.
And Leo's grateful for the solitude he's gotten for now, in these halls and (Splinter had matters to attend to, alone in private with the witch, and Raphael hadn't left the infirmary, Donnie by his side with a reassuring smile that never reached his eyes because god, it couldn't ever reach his eyes or their eyes because-) everything just doesn't fit right in the slots and corners of his mind.
He pushes the thoughts around, watching the floor and the pattern of his feet in a haze, the quiet muffled wonders of uncertain soldiers fading into a blur, hidden in the background. And, in this haze or past it, Leo's eyes catch her- Alopex, in the darkness of an old hallway, one that held a woeful affinity to it, and from where he stood, Leonardo could make out the familiar lines of her face, the similar glimmer of a frightful distaste that flickered past her eyes. They looked haunted; at least from what Leo could make out, they did. Haunted by the reminiscence of a cruel thing: being now where you once were but altogether holding a different purpose for it.
This, Leonardo can never truly erase from the empty and cold parts hidden away in his mind, is the place where their nightmares intertwine, blend and become one. This, he will never forget, is where they were stripped of everything and violated like beasts and-
-and yet here they stand, in separate intersecting halls with the same heavy emptiness swarming in them.
Their eyes meet and Alopex breaks into a smile shy and not entirely forced, despite its lack of warmth. It was something sad and Leo thinks his must match perfectly, as he raises his weary head higher, shoulders setting sternly and not very much hunched like they had been before.
"It's funny…" Alopex says with a strained edge, like the words got trapped somehow, "...that you and me- we're….here now, but…" her voice, and its echo, trail off somewhere down the corridor and Leo closes in with another step, his gaze faltering to their feet, toes curling.
"It's different now- than before, I mean," he finishes in a rush, his words toppling over each other.
They don't talk about it and neither does anyone else. Just like they don't talk about all those years they missed- lost- a piece of them or how he averts his eyes from Donnie and grows flushed with a vexing type of thing when his brother makes light of it and corny jokes to ease the tension.
In more than one way, something in Leonardo says heartily with a breezy laugh, he's learned a lot from Mikey.
But now, unlike it has been for months, it's just him and it's just her. In the silence of a hallway, cleared from curious ninja and even colder now.
"He'll make you chunin," Alopex surmises with a light airiness to her, a soft sigh as she hugs herself, ears flattening against her skull.
Leo knows but he scoffs and snuffs and turns his head away, a grin lopsided and doleful easing its way into his features "I don't know, Alo...he...I'm not...I'm not...not-" and a sigh long drawn breaks him off, hers and his mingled into one big exasperated huff. "I'm not ready, Alopex…" he murmurs, sounding as much of his age as he's ever sounded- the softness of his pain penetrating Alopex tenderly, slowly, "...not ready for this, wasn't...wasn't ready for that and I- I can't let Father down, dishonor his...decision."
He rakes his hand over his hand and lets it slide back down to cradle his arm; even that movement is poised and naturally thought out and Alopex watches his face, watches every worry and insecurity pass through his eyes, her own swimming with the frustration of uncertainty and the filthiest feeling that went in tow.
Somehow they wind up sliding to the floor, legs folded and knees drawn up, pondering heavily in their shared, dirty, guilty silence.
The police sirens wail and a battle cry surrounds the city, making the darkest parts a war zone.
He's staring at himself in a broken rear view mirror, with Donnie asleep beside him. He stares with wide eyes haunted by things Mikey could understand in a measure and not in whole. He'd seen horrors. But not like this.
Not so raw and so vulnerable, not broken quite like this and returned half a...a soul or something. He feels like his is, maybe just a little. Part way, Mikey knew the blame belonged to something far more sinister than he's ever encountered face to face- or ever will- this darkness. Nobody knows where those beasts linger; April looks tirelessly for it, through scrolls.
So it's hard to blame that guy when he wasn't anywhere in sight. But it was easier to blame someone who was.
And, sometimes, Michelangelo hated that, in his wide spectrum of emotion and feeling, that he had finally found true hatred, true disgust. The kind that lingered and ate, and ate away.
He thinks, maybe it's because he was at his highest when everything fell- he wasn't ready, he didn't understand. But he can't see who's staring back now, because there's just something too muddled about the image.
Ten Years Prior
"Yuku watashi no musuko o okonaimasu! Very well done, Leo-bo...You have much improved since our last spar- go, gather your weapons, yes?" the dojo is silent besides the commendations and well-rooted counsel, but the air is filled with the excitement of a child and the pride of both a father and a teacher.
And Splinter watches with a beatific gleam as his son races out of the dojo and into his room to collect his training boken.
The pride of a master- of a sensei- is one of quietude, a silent praise that slithers out in a gentle aura of something like a dull autumn light; it was shining, but not overmuch, not as though to blind the student of imperfections yet to be corrected and molded.
The pride of a father, though-? Splinter almost chuckles at it- the overwhelming swell of bursting joy founded by adoration and awe and all the lovely things that come with watching your child grow and love what they are doing in the meantime. It was like a burning fire, a summer's scorching afternoon sun that symbolized a father's pride- that symbolized Splinter's pride.
When Leonardo scampered back, his bokens clanking against one another as he tried to walk moderately, controlling his exhilaration Splinter's heart swelled with that pride. Like a true ninja, like a warrior, Master Splinter had thought with both a gaiety and a glum sense of guilt.
It was, after all, the way of the clan, but he had been slightly remorseful, still. What good had honor and what good had the clan and ninja- what good had they done? But leave him without the love of his life, trapped in this reality without answers. The last he wished was for his sons to meet similar fates because of it again. He already had lost one somehow.
Still, when he gazed upon his son- only a child, only twelve- he knew that he could see clearly now how much Leonardo wanted it- this burden, this life. He was not sure yet about his other boys.
His little Michelangelo; the boy was undoubtedly skilled and likely held the most natural talent out of all his brothers. Soon, Splinter thought with a smile, his son may surpass Leonardo, for he acquired their talent and even more energy. Still, he had not yet possessed the determination and unrelenting desire to push his body and mind. And he did not enjoy killing very much- for honor or otherwise.
Donatello was unique. He was lithe and liable, he could master the bo better than most men could. But he was...his mind was...it was his greatest gift. And often Splinter lamented the fact that he could not reach his son- not on that level. Splinter did not know what to make of it. It was difficult because ninja were poised, their minds were clear.
Still, he was proud.
A father is always proud.
Leonardo kneels before a throne meant for someone else- for something else- before his father, his master with his heart not completely fixed and overfilled with something troubled. He remembers kneeling here before and the memory stabs at the composure he keeps. And Leo takes a deep inhalation, his lungs filling till it burns of something more painful than before.
Respectfully, he keeps his eyes to the floor, fingers curling; and in his gaze, Leo catches the reflection of himself in his blade, washed clean of the blood of his enemy, brewing a sensation in him.
His blade. It was his and he's kneeling before his father with pride and disgust raging wars in his mind and something deep like his heart. And it's so quiet Leo worries his father would hear that battle and pick the feeling for him.
Still, Master Splinter sits on that throne with his face laxed, and almost jovial about this that it leaves Leo feeling dirtier than he likes to admit, within himself.
"My son…" is the gentle call his father chooses to draw him out of his anxious ponderings of doubt, drawing his eyes up too, to the blade, that sits in arm's reach, at his sensei's feet, "..we have done a good thing this night," he tells like he's already seen the thoughts of his son laid out there on the floor before him. And with a tender sigh he lifts the blade and bestows it on Leonardo, "You have no need for doubt."
Leonardo swallows hard, a jerked nod bobbing his head, his eyes lifting to meet his father's, "I understand, father."
"Totemo yoi," his father commends, standing now in front of Leonardo, "Because I have a mission for you- your first as chūnin."
Raphael knew that things were so much more different now that he and his brothers had grown. And together they saw the world for how it truly was and Raphael grew to face more challenges that he could not punch his way out of or scream at or impale with the sharp end of his sai- nor could he even pinpoint them, sometimes, for that matter.
But as brave and as fierce and as strong as Raphael could be there were things that scared him breathless. Because he had seen these things, the kind that would leave people without a soul- all that casualty, all those fights- with a sturdy indifference to him, a steadfast coldness to it, turning his eyes away in the name of honor. He had been cleaning off his sais since fifteen and he got used to that.
But he's here now, he's here now limping in a laggard gait down the Foot chambers, the stitches pulling on his leg, an abhorrence lurking in him. This anger, it bites at everything he's been brought up on, the foundation of his integrity.
And his brother's weapons are strapped to him still, leather-torn and carrying his scent softly.
He's not dead, something in the back of Raphael's head reminds him, just lost.
Yet somehow neither seem to sit right in Raph, in his heart now. Because he knew what it felt like to be surrounded by the aching notion of everything broken,and everything that was alone and, somewhere deep down, lost.
That pain, like any kind of agonizing thing, didn't fit well on Mikey, to be deserted because of a belief, because of his love and his heart being big enough to cover the sins of everyone else. And Raphael feels a sickness crawling up his throat that threatens to claw its way out in a scream till it rips out hoarse.
He should call someone; Casey would get this anger. But something in Raphael feels confined now, like he's apart of a secret now and he can't get out.
"Day one…" he mutters to himself as he shuffles, wincing at the effort, "...and we're already a mess."
And as he thinks on it- on this- (because he remembers how empty he felt when Mikey jumped and could paint the weeping darkness that swarmed his big eyes the moment he dropped his weapons to the rooftop and it makes Raphael want to die remembering it that way) he bites his lip, holding back the tangled chaos of frustration and emotion and tells himself he's just overwhelmed.
It's a lie Raph doesn't have time to bicker within himself as he passes a room, doors closed to conceal familiar voices muffled and quiet.
And something draws him to it, the door, the sounds that slithered out to call him as he stands supported by the wall with brow ridges rutting together; it calls out louder and louder till Raphael is against those doors, breaths heavily against them as the words become clearer and-
"...only five, my son- any five. Do not let one escape. We need not leave evidence there and you are to eradicate the warehouse after," comes a stern order, the edges of each word dipped in a bitterness.
"Hai, fa-father." comes the reply, the utterance and its fringes holding an apprehension.
"I know, my son, that I have chosen well."
-he's stuck outside the doors, hand pressed against it; in a fear Raphael is trapped there. And every designation feels like poison against his flesh.
Because maybe this is just...wrong. He doesn't- didn't- want to win this way. If it meant becoming the monster, the enemy. Then again, things don't always go as planned.
"Where's Donnie?" Leo asks conversationally once Raph closes the door to the room, watching the way his brother moved; when Raphael was angry he moved swift and unsteady, one of the many nuances Leonardo could pick up in an instant- or in this instant, when Raphael followed him down the halls to this room.
"He's out, I think- needed air, shell's hard to break into or somethin'," he grumbles in turn, and Leo folds his lips in, eyes softly closed as he scrapes over the flat side of the blade, nodding slowly.
And, between them, it is quiet after, the only sound gently created by the cloth brushing softly against the katana blade and the distant noise of light footfalls outside their door. This quietude they share is only broken by Leonardo's heavy sigh, the exhalation deep and pensive as he looks up to his brother.
"I know you heard what father told me so why don't we just get this over with, Raph," he drawls, some kind of brittle strain to his plea, "Please…"
And Raphael becomes indignant with it, Leo's nonchalance in the way he carried himself- in the way he treated this, as if none of mattered now that they won. The thought sends a taste of something acrid in Raphael's mouth.
But stands there, focusing his eyes on the worn dresser he leans on.
"So we're really doin' this, huh?" his words are accusatory and they bite hard, from the way Leo's eyes avert to his katana that he polishes smooth, on the edge of the beds they were given, "W-we're jus'...jus' gonna go in a follow orders blindly 'cause father's sure they ain't the good guys?" his voice breaks with a desperation that catches Leo in that instant.
"We're not blind here, Raph," he argues, voice low and apathetic, eyes all the same, "We know who they are, their motives, things have gotten out of control-," and standing Leo places his katana down on the bed, stepping to Raphael, "-it's time we fix it. As soon as possible."
He waits- waits for Raph to respond, to say one thing that could solidify his point. And Raphael swallows down his indignance for the sake of that.
"Leo," he says, grinding it out to keep that ire under something sober, stepping closer, "We make that kind'a move an' what are we, huh? What's that supposed make us?! Why...why're we even doin' this, Leo- now?" he hisses, voice kept low and that rage churning uneasy in his veins as his brother scoffs- a mocking sharpness to the ends of it- arms folded and Raphael purses his lips in, fingers curling around his belt tightly, digging into the leather.
And Leo makes his stance firmer, a stubbornness about him and in the coolness of his gaze. But Raph finds a measure of doubt in them, tucked far and buried deep, and he smirks then, lips curling smugly as he leans back on the heels of his feet assumingly. "You ain't gotta clue do ya, Leo?" he snickers, snorting presumptuously as his brother's features change into something vexed, gnarling with some bridled kind of infuriation.
"Father didn't make this decision with you, he made it with me," he rushes out harshly, "And unlike you, Raph I'm trying to fix this, to make the Foot what it was-"
"When, Leo?!" Raphael's burst then disrupts him, swelling that anger, "When was the Foot ever...ever good?! They took you...th-they warped you, tortured you, what is there to make good, Leo?!" he pants out, "This-" Raphael points at his feet, "This's a house full'a soldiers trained to kill! Not...not wit' honor, bro; nah, they just kill 'cause it's all they know-"
"And what makes us so different, Raph?!" Leo screams, getting vicious in every word he spit out.
"We have honor, Leo…we ain't nothin' like them-!"
"It's an espionage, Raph," Leonardo shouts back, cutting into Raphael's words with a ferocity, "Not an assassination."
And Raph snorts, something hurt and pained in the way he does, shoulders trembling with the laugh and with the vexation of this- they way he got when he couldn't understand, when he was afraid to comprehend it. He wants to know but doesn't have a clue how to ask. And he gives it up in a long breath, his vision cloudy.
"Five captives, eradicate the building," he recounts on mimicry, lifting his head to meet Leo's stare, "Sound like an assassination ta me, Leo…"
And everything is so off in their atmosphere that when he laughs again, sharp and bitter, it sounds too unfamiliar and broken.
Because they've fought- him and Leo- but never about this; Leo always had the right answer, knew where to go without cracking. And even we he didn't he found it, somehow again.
So Raph shoves his way past his brother and throws on his over sized jacket.
If there was anything more burdensome than being hungry- scratch that, starving- it was complete inability or utter lack of motivation to provide food and cure said starvation.
Fortunately for Michelangelo he could whip up something awfully good these days (Woody never gave up on unleashing those hidden culinary talents among many that Mikey kept buried) and he wasn't feeling particularly sluggish either.
He could cook, he was beyond motivated and-
-and, well, there was just no food.
And so Mikey finds himself in quite the pickle with a gurgling stomach and the actual fear of starving to death. On top, of course, was the dreadful disgusting feeling of anger and the ugly truth of abandonment that he faced.
Not entirely, though, had Michelangelo felt deserted. He had at least seen Don.
Nevertheless, still, he had felt very much alone.
And if anything, he had wondered if, by some measure, he was somehow at fault in this; he didn't toughen up, didn't fight harder to be strong.
He sniffs, the cold air biting at his flesh, ripping into his skin under his coat, and sniffs and sniffs again, now overtaken by a sensation like grief or something like a pitiful, helpless sorrow. And he finds himself wandering the church, searching for a sort of comfort in the emptiness it held, until, outside of the church he finds- there it sits on a frozen patch of glistening snow- a box of pizza, and six full bags of groceries with a little note attached to the box.
From one Amigo to another- take care Mikesters. Stop by anytime little dude, okay?
He smiles brightly, eyes beaming wetly down at the sheet of paper, flapping in the wind, and it grazed the paper, but never took it; he wouldn't let it. And it was faint...but if you were as close to Michelangelo as the paper he clutched in his gloved hands was...well, you'd see a smile.
The dojo, in it, is the hot scent of sweat; it's fresh and it clings to the mats like it clings to their skin- Leonardo and Karai's. The heat swarms them and their panting breaths push out into the air of it.
Karai slides her tanto into its holster with another breath, her bangs sticking to her forehead, beads of the perspiration rolling down in tendrils, her eyes slowly roving over to where Leonardo stands, wiping the sweat off his hands, off the end of his blade.
"So, he has made you chunin; I have heard," she murmurs quietly, gaze falling to the tatami beneath her.
And Leo nods stiffly, his muscles aching in protest from a rather intense spar with her, her skill manifested in the way he winced at the effort , joints cracking.
"And you are to lead a mission…"
Again, another curt nod, no eyes shown, no words, no smile. Because Karai did not deserve that from him.
"Well," she starts off, unsheathing her weapon to strike, that he catches and blocks with his own, "He chose wisely."
In the reflection of her tanto and the one of his katana, Karai makes out the faintest ghost of something- perhaps a semblance- of a smirk, filling with satisfaction.
In the alley fallen, frozen rain makes soft pings off the fire escapes, trickling down onto the ground, into the holes dug in them, going slick against the dumpster Raph pulls his sai out of, his vision blurred and contorted.
It's red and it's all he sees, and he comes down from this rage with pained breaths and wheezes, intertwined with broken whimpers that falters as he trembles, seeing his breath fade into night.
Curled in his fist is a shirt and on that is blood and everything, everything, everything he feels- amongst every emotion and every fear-