Bad Places 2: Rebirth
Disclaimer: Ninja Turtles belong to someone else. Not me.
Summary: Slowly recovering from returning from his bad places, Leonardo is confronted with an enemy from the past.
Blankets and light. As he woke up, he winced and dug his face further into the first, away from the second. He didn't bother fumbling for his mask since he didn't think Raph would win the argument today. "Go away."
From the doorway, Raphael laughed. "I know you came in late, but you've had plenty of sleep and you swore you'd keep up your training."
"An' I did," Leo said, his voice muffled by the cloth around his mouth. "Paint cans."
"Paint cans?" Raphael's voice turned thoughtful. "April did mention something about that. Twelve of them?"
"Twelve boxes," Leo clarified. "Six five-gallon cans each, upstairs and onto the street. It's more than you make me do, so lay off."
Raphael's voice came low as he figured the weight. "A gallon's like four pounds, so that's twenty pounds each, times six is a hundred twenty, times twelve..." He whistled. "Wow, not bad. Okay, you can skip today. But it's ten o'clock, you might as well get up."
Was I this annoying? Leo wondered. He grabbed his pillow and flung it at his brother, and he heard him grunt from the impact.
"What the hell?" Raphael rubbed his face and picked the pillow up from the ground, surprised at how heavy it was. He turned it over and a huge anthology of Toulouse Lautrec posters fell out from the case. "Y'know, some guys are satisfied by normal porn, but noo, overachiever big brother's gotta be classy about it..."
The next thing that hit him was a book without a pillow to pad it, and he took the hint and left, though he did not turn the lights off. Leo groaned and sat up, heading to the doorway to switch off the lights and then flopping back on his bed. After a moment, he sighed. No use, he was awake. He reached under the bed and drew out the first mask that he touched. All of them were his old blue bandanas newly modified for his photosensitive eyes, covering them with black cloth to keep out the light. With it situated on his face, he saw the world in the murky twilight that was most comfortable to him.
Across from his bed, the wall was clear of any displays or shelves and clean save for the rough outlines of a Manhattan skyline at night he wanted to try. He still had to get a ladder he could sit on, and all the right brushes, and probably a few dropcloths if he didn't want to do something on the floor to hide paint drippings, and God only knew what his family would say about the paint fumes.
"Probably that I'm getting high," he mumbled.
If anyone had told him that in half a year, he'd be a sought after muralist and skipping practice to work, he'd have thought it was pipe dream. But after one nervous breakdown, a living nightmare in Stockman's pocket dimension of specially engineered killers, and attacking his whole family, things had gotten remarkably better. The urge to kill was no longer so strong and slumbered so deeply that he could force it down even when fighting. He had relearned how to fight and leave his enemies merely wounded. He no longer lived only for his family's use and that weight of responsibility didn't leave him crushed under its weight.
There were drawbacks. He moved as fast as the light he could no longer stand, but he had only a fraction of his former strength. Despite the regular sparring sessions with Raphael and the amount of strength he was required to generate, he was a weakling compared to his brothers. He didn't miss his strength much, truth to tell. They were the better brawlers. He was the better killer and took some comfort that in their most recent fights, he was still the one protecting them. Of course with Stockman dead, Shredder long gone, and other lesser thugs quickly dispatched, they didn't need much protecting.
Downstairs they were cleaning up breakfast. He wasn't hungry, in fact he was rarely hungry even now, so he left the light off and retrieved his books from where Raphael had left them, then lay back down. A dog-eared page marked where he'd left off halfway through the poster book and he opened it up, using his pillow to lean upright while reading. He didn't so much read the text as he read the pictures, deciphering lines and shapes and designs. With little light, color was harder, but he made do.
He could have been reading for minutes or hours. He always lost track of time when left alone in his room, so when Raphael came back, he wasn't too surprised to see him. His brother was good about making sure he had at least one meal per day. But when he looked up, his brother looked less indulgent than usual, more concerned. More like he had the weight of the family on his back, and for that Leo felt both relief and guilt.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
Raph paused, then shook his head. "April just came down. I think you'd better see this."
The old style posters forgotten, Leo frowned and stood. "Is she all right?" he asked as he moved to pass him.
"Yeah, she's good, just a little shook up." Raph grabbed his arm before he walked out. "Leo...be careful. She's a little emotional right now."
Six months, and she was still nervous around him sometimes. She could front for him, obtain supplies for him, even joke around with him, but she had seen him covered in blood surrounded by the bodies, dead or screaming, of his victims in the street in front of her shop and she couldn't forget. He sighed and looked down. That they were dead was regrettable, but he did not regret killing them and they all knew it. Coupled with his eyeless masks... Leo nodded. That bridge was still being rebuilt. "Just keep yourself between her and me."
They came down into the tv room, clean for once, where April was sandwiched on a couch between Casey and Mike while Donatello and Splinter both bent over the small table. When the two leaders came in, they instinctively moved back a few inches to let them see several black and white photos of April in front of her shop during the day with more photos of Casey knocking over gang members in alleys. Leo glanced over them and picked up the handwritten note, nothing more than a red symbol with the Japanese kanji that made up one name.
Vaguely noticing that everyone was looking up to him, that even Raphael had fallen silent, Leo squashed his shudder. Death was supposed to be permanent, it was one of his most comforting thoughts. Once an enemy was dead, he didn't have to worry about them anymore. But if they could come back, what was the use? Worse, if they came back, what could you do to stop them again? He took a deep breath. "We don't know much about humans, " he admitted, "but do they usually get back up after losing their head?"
Casey shook his head with a half-hearted smile. "Not usually."
"It's obviously a challenge," Donatello said. "That they could've done anything and we couldn't have stopped them."
"But..." Mike said. "Could he really be alive? I mean, we all saw his head come off."
Splinter shook his head. "We cannot take the chance. We know the Shredder dabbled in sorcery. I would not put anything beyond him until we know otherwise."
"It's best if April and Casey stay here," Leo said, knowing better than to ask if they'd let themselves be followed. "If they don't know you're gone, we might be able to catch them when they come looking around. Raph, you and I can go right now. Everyone else should stay here until we come back."
Once he had his swords and Raphael his sais, they left the lair, moving through the sewers most of the way. Raphael found himself fighting to keep up with his brother, who occasionally stopped to let him catch up. As they reached the manhole cover, Leo couldn't help a smile.
"You're skimping on your training," he said. "You're slowing down."
"Am not," Raph said. "You're just faster." He climbed up the ladder and tipped the cover up a few inches, checking for anyone in sight before he went up. Leo came after him, shielding his eyes with one hand as he headed for the shadows between April's shop and another. Raphael set the cover down and joined him in heading around to the back.
"Your eyes okay?"
"They're fine," Leo said. "Just really bright out here, that's all."
"I thought the masks fixed that."
"I can go out in sunlight," he said. "I just don't like it."
They picked the lock on the back door and went in, locking it again and dragging a heavy table in front of it. They went around each door, sealing it, but they didn't have to bother with the windows which now had heavy, elegantly curved bars protecting them. Once the shop was secure, Raphael stretched (he had done most of the dragging) and glanced at the kitchen.
"You hungry? I didn't get to lunch before Mike hit it."
"Not really." Sitting on one of the counters, Leonardo took out one sword and began sharpening it in what Raphael recognized as a nervous habit. "Those photos were only a couple of days old, and they were mostly at dusk."
"Yeah, you saw her new earrings, too?" Raph asked. He dug out a frozen pizza and prepared it for the oven. "Man, she must love him to wear those things. They look like candy corn."
"Casey's taste notwithstanding," Leo said, "they've only just started surveillance. They don't know how often we come by. If they notice they're not here, they're going to try to break in."
"Should just be a bunch of regular foot, right? I mean, the worst we'd get is the elite, and I think we could handle them now."
"Yeah..." Leo's voice trailed off as he started sharpening his other sword.
With dinner on its way and nothing left to do but wait, Raphael sat down beside his brother. "You're worried."
"What if it is him? What it he found a way to cheat death?"
"Then we kill him again."
"How do you stop something that's died before?" Leo asked. "I cut off his head once."
"If it's him," Raph pointed out. "They could be lying. Maybe it's his, I don't know, twin brother or something."
Leo didn't look up or stop sharpening. "I hope so. I don't like the idea that death might not be permanent."
Raph didn't ask why. He knew. After six months of taking over responsibility for the family, for protecting his brothers, knowing that if he killed an enemy they would never come back was a cold comfort. Regardless of the loss of life, their death meant they would never threaten his family again. He glanced at his brother. No matter how fast or precise Leonardo was, he needed the same protection, and sometimes even closer supervision.
He hadn't told Splinter how Leonardo still woke up in the middle of the night thinking that the stream's gurgling downstairs was the sound of demons roaming dark hallways, or how he sometimes slowed in his practice routines, coming to a stop for several minutes before realizing where he was, what he was doing. How he had to be reminded to occasionally eat, or that he'd snuck a bottle of valium from Donatello's loot from Stockman's lab. Raphael tolerated that only because he rarely saw the bottle's contents decrease and because he knew those were the nights Leo woke up halfway through regardless.
But all things taken together, he seemed to be improving. He didn't relish killing as much as he did fighting, he didn't break into hysterical laughter anymore and he didn't roam the lair every night to make sure they were all safe, trusting Raphael to do that instead. Most of all, the weight of protecting his family wasn't crushing him anymore. He took care of them in a crisis. Raphael took care of them the rest of the time, and Leonardo's breakdown had convinced their other siblings to train more. Spread out like that, the weight was manageable. For both of them.
Note: I'm afraid there's no way I can update this as quickly as the first story, being swamped with classwork no matter how much I put it off and a thesis that refuses to be written. But Gaiman's Coraline to guide me and faith to sustain me (and your reviews to help see me through), I'll get everything done, including this.