"Are you certain you will not change your minds?"
Splinter questioned his two quieter sons.
April had recently taken up Asian cooking classes, and had invited Casey, Splinter and the guys over for dinner, intending to create a full Japanese meal, or, as Raph had cynically pointed out, to be her guinea pigs.
"No thanks, Master Splinter. I, uh, want to complete another set of katas before bed," Leo fumbled.
"And I'm, um, on a roll with my new invention. I hate to leave it...but tell April thanks for the invite" Donatello lied through his teeth.
Splinter smiled, recalling how April's last Oriental concoction had disagreed with the two of them.
"You don't know what you're missing dudes!" Mikey piped up, wriggling about like an excited puppy.
Oh yes we do, Don and Leo's looks plainly spoke.
Raphael, Michaelangelo and Splinter left, and Leo and Donny went back to their "katas"-watching tv, and "invention"- reading.
Leo heard a distant growl of thunder as he settled on the couch and collected the remote, not used to the sensation of being in complete control of the tv; Mikey or Raph usually had that covered.
Don heard the thunder in his room, and glanced up warily from his book, hoping it wouldn't develop into a storm. He wasn't sure if his brothers were aware of it, but thunder made him very nervous.
It had for as long as he could remember, but he assumed they figured he'd grown out of it. Leo faintly heard the rain start, and hoped Splinter and the others had already reached April's apartment.
He glanced around the dim room and got up to switch on a couple more lights.
The thunder growled again, closer, and Donny tried to ignore it.
Leo listened as the rain increased its intensity, and frowned as a streak of lightning interrupted the television reception for a second.
He hesitated, then decided to switch it off to be on the safe side.
The thunder rolled in the distance, sounding just like a bowling ball running down an alley.
Donny took his book into the living area and sat in one of the battered armchairs.
Leo looked at his brother oddly. "You ok, Donny?"
"Uh, yeah, I'm fine. Why?"
Leo pointed to the chair arms, where Donatello was gripping them so tightly his knuckles had practically turned white. Don looked down, and released his hold, slightly embarrassed.
Lightning flashed, and Leo began to count the seconds to the thunder clap.
"One thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three, one thousand and four, one thousand and fi-"
Thunder sounded so loudly that they could feel the floor tremble, at the same instant Donatello leapt the coffee table to join Leo on the couch.
Leo was surprised, to say the least, at his brother's sudden swan dive.
"Donny! What's wrong!?" he said, holding him by the shoulders.
Leo shook him, realizing he was trembling.
Don took a deep breath, trying to get hold of himself, and looked at Leo, who was watching him with concern.
"I'm still petrified of thunder!" he admitted, cringing as the thunder rolled again.
Leo put an arm around his shoulders. "It's ok Donny. It won't hurt you..."
Leo realized that was a pretty stupid thing to say to someone who was well aware of the fact.
"That's a big help Leo!"
Leonardo grinned. "Hey, at least it distracted you for a second!"
Lightning and thunder flashed and crashed, the rain beating down heavily.
Donny inched as close as possible to his big brother, heart pounding, and Leo cast about for a diversion.
He figured just talking might be the way to go.
"Hey, do you remember what we used to do during a big storm? We'd pull the blankets down from one of the top bunks and hide in the bottom one, all four of us."
"Yeah, and Splinter would try to tell us it couldn't hurt us, it was just rain and thunder and lightning. You all grew out of it except me", Donny quavered, shuddering as the fire and brimstone went on, seemingly directly overhead.
"It's alright to be afraid of things Donny. It has nothing to do with age", Leo said soothingly, pulling a blanket over his brother's shaking knees.
Donatello resisted the impulse to pull the blanket over his head.
"Well what are you scared of, besides snakes?" he questioned, nervously looking up as lightning streaked.
"I'm going to find a flashlight," Leo said, ducking the question and standing up.
"What do you want that for?" Don asked, sticking to his brother like fluff on a duckling's bottom.
Leo realized he must really be distracted to ask the obvious like that.
"In case we have a blackout," he stated lightly, pulling a skinny blue flashlight from a kitchen draw.
Donny swallowed a yelp as the thunder crashed yet again, praying it would pass over soon, and pointed out that it had no batteries.
"Remember? Mikey took them out, to use in his remote control car, and after he ran it over Raph's foot three times, Raph tore the batteries out and flushed them down the toilet."
Leo cursed under his breath, recalling the scene as he put the useless thing back.
An instant later, the loudest crash of thunder they'd ever heard almost gave Donatello a coronary, and everything went black.
Leonardo felt his blood run cold, and his heart raced.
He tried to reach out to his hyperventilating brother, but the darkness engulfed him and he felt like he was drowning, pinned down and unable to move.
He tried desperately to control his breathing with an ancient Zen technique he'd been taught, to no avail.
"Donny...." He managed to whisper.
"Leo! What's wrong?!" Don gasped, momentarily shocked out of his own fear in concern for his brother.
"Darkness....I can't breathe...can't move" Leo panted, feeling his knees buckle and would have hit the floor had Donatello not grabbed him under an arm and by his shoulder strap.
He carry-dragged him to the couch, wrapped the blanket around him, and dashed to Splinter's room to find a candle, barely noticing another roll of thunder, praying he'd find one; Splinter had mentioned just the day before he was almost down to his last one.
Donny frantically pawed about, latched onto a stub of candle, lit it, burning a finger tip in the process, and hastily delivered it to Leo, who'd gone pale as a grub.
He took the minuscule candle from Donatello as though it were a life preserver, staring at the tiny beacon cupped in his hands and trying hard to get his breathing back under control.
Don knelt on the floor in front of Leonardo, swallowing hard at a thunder crash, trying to establish eye contact with his brother.
He was shaken by Leo's sudden and intense panic, badly unnerved by the storm, and he wished with all his heart that the rest of his family were there with him.
But they weren't.
Leonardo looked up from the candle into his brother's eyes, registering the mixture of fear, but mostly concern.
Leo took a deep breath and let it out slowly, realizing he'd had a panic attack or something close to it.
"Donny...I'm...I'll be alright," he said, so softly Don had to lean in close to hear him over the pounding rain.
Don looked him over doubtfully.
Leonardo's breathing was almost back to normal, but he was still pale, and the hands clutching the pathetic candle still trembled slightly.
Donatello touched his way to the kitchen and back, pressing a glass of water on Leo, and gently relieved him of the candle that was threatening to let it's melted wax overflow.
Leonardo never removed his eyes from the dim light as he took a couple of half-hearted sips of water.
Donatello drew in a deep breath.
"What just happened Leo?" he asked carefully, sitting next to him, placing a hand on Leo's shoulder, and feeling almost annoyed as lightning and thunder performed a duet.
I've got better things to worry about at the moment than a miserable storm.
Leo drew comfort from the small physical contact.
"I'm afraid of darkness", he stated simply.
Donny felt slightly confused, even though what he'd just heard was the truth, otherwise Leo would not have reacted the way he did.
"But...but what about at night? Or when you go to bed? How..."
Leonardo clasped his hands, which had stopped shaking, and tried to think how to answer.
"It's...it's hard to explain Don. At night, there are lights, it's never complete darkness. Same as when I get into bed. There's a light right there, if I want it, and I control it.".
"But like tonight, a blackout, I can't do anything about it, and it's like the blackness is going to suffocate me."
He put his face in his hands as Donatello's mind raced, dissecting what Leo had just told him.
It's some form of scotophobia, fear of the dark. What a terrible thing to deal with. Why didn't he ever say anything?
Don ached for his brother, knowing full well what it was like to have such a deep fear of something that couldn't be controlled.
"Some great Ninja I turn out to be, shaking in my boots just cause the lights go out," Leo said with a low bitter laugh.
He'd disgraced himself tonight, behaving the way he had, and said as much.
Donatello shook his head and took his brother's, their leader's, hand.
"Leonardo, no. What did you say to me before, when I, also a trained Ninja, was 'shaking in my boots', just cause of some of nature's fury? 'It's alright to be afraid of things', you know that, or you wouldn't have said it to me", Don said firmly, looking at his brother's shadowed face as the candle flickered.
"But I'm supposed to be the leader, the cool-headed one. The one who looks out for his little brothers, and isn't supposed to show fear!" he said in a voice thick with shame, almost sobbing with self-loathing.
Donatello put his arms around him as Leo fought down the sobs, unconsciously stiffening slightly at a roll of thunder.
Leonardo caught it, and felt even worse as he recalled Donny's terror at not the darkness the storm had caused but the noise that went with it, and having to deal with a flipped out brother at the same time.
"Donny! Are you ok? The thunder..." he asked, straightening up, drying a few stray tears that had escaped with his mask tail, and searching his younger brother's eyes.
"Yeah...I am. I actually forgot about it when I was watching you. See, you did distract me after all!" Don joked, and was glad when Leo managed a smile too.
The storm was beginning to pass over. Leonardo was happy about that for Don's sake, and Donatello hoped the power would be restored soon for Leo's sake.
They sighed and looked at one another.
"I'm so glad you were here with me Don. I would have completely lost it without you", Leo said softly.
"Goes for me too Leo." Don said, equally softly.
Leonardo sat silent for a minute then began laughing.
"We're lucky Raph isn't home! Can you imagine? He would have carried on at us worse than the storm!"
Don grinned. "Maybe that's what we needed."
He thought for a second about their hot-headed brother, and wondered what fear Raphael had tucked away inside.
And Mikey. The Goofy One. He probably would have put on a one-turtle impersonation night for them.
Maybe we wouldn't have revealed these fears if they were all home, Leo thought.
Splinter would have simply set a meditation exercise. "Mind over Matter" he would have reasoned.
The thunder was now just a distant growl, but the rain still beat down steadily.
Donatello eyed the candle critically. In his opinion it only had a couple of minutes before the wick fizzled out and left them-or more precisely, Leo-in pitch blackness.
Suddenly they were flooded with brightness as the overhead lights popped back on. Leonardo let loose a huge sigh of relief, and they both chuckled at themselves.
Inside each felt as though he knew his brother just a bit better after what they had suffered together, and respected one another all the more for the fear they'd shared.
"Thanks for being here for me Leo"
"Thanks for being here for me Donny".
Splinter, Mike and Raph returned much later, having decided to wait out the rain at April's.
"Heh, would ya look at this," Raph grunted, grinning, as he wandered into the living room, leaving wet turtle-prints behind.
Mikey and Splinter joined him and looked at Don and Leo, sound asleep on the couch, leaning against each other, a small puddle of melted wax on the coffee table.
Mikey smiled at the sight. "Looks like the dudes had a quiet night on their own!"