Disclaimer: I do not own the characters used in this story, they belong to Mirage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and related companies.
Very, very much inspired by U2's excellent song, 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own'.
Notes: This is set in the Mirage show, in the first series, after the turtles finish battling with the Shredder and then find that Splinter is missing. There are other references in here – some to past events from the series, and other are events I made up.
I realise I haven't posted a story in a fair few months – time flies! Apart from this, I have a couple of other stories in the pipeline. Feedback is most appreciated; in any case, hope you like it.
Title: Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
No one was talking. The TV set was switched off. Donatello's workshop was still. The only sounds that filled the lair came from the dojo, where Raphael had been alone for the past two hours. He had spent that time continuously pummelling the punch bag, screaming and shouting with each blow.
It had been three days since that fateful night. The turtles had defeated the Foot, and Leonardo had taken care of the Shredder. But, the celebrations were cut short when the brothers discovered that their Master Splinter was missing. Since then, the four turtles, with the help of April and Casey, had spent hours at a time scouring the city in search of Splinter.
Leonardo had insisted the four take a break that evening, as the brothers were all drained and in need of some downtime, as he put it.
Michelangelo was fast asleep on the sofa, thoroughly exhausted from the past few days. His sleep was deep, but the tell-tale frown on his face indicated that it was by no means a peaceful slumber.
Donatello sat on the floor in the living room, between the couch and the television. He was tinkering with a broken Discman, the unfortunate victim of one of Raphael's angry outbursts, but Donny studied the broken object half-heartedly. His mind was elsewhere.
Leonardo sat in one of the easy chairs, staring at the words on the pages in his book. He wasn't reading it - he hadn't turned a page in a good half an hour. Thoughts were running so fast through his head that they blurred to become one monotonous hum.
After two hours on incessant noise and activity from the dojo, Donatello and Leonardo heard one final cry before silence rung out through the lair.
The two turtles looked up from their separate projects, bracing themselves for whatever was about to follow. Minutes ticked by with no sign of Raphael emerging from the dojo, or even beginning his sparring again.
Donatello began to stand up, ready to check on his brother, maybe see if he was hungry or something, but Leonardo stopped him in his tracks. "I'll go," he said, his voice quiet and weary. Donny nodded, and Leo made his way to the dojo.
Inside, Leonardo was greeted with the sight of Raphael crouched on all fours on the floor, his head low and his eyes squeezed tightly shut. His breathing was fast and heavy, and drops of sweat glazed his body. Despite his sheer fatigue, Raphael still managed to growl, "go away, Leo."
Leonardo ignored the command and walked over to Raph. He sat down beside him and neither brother a word spoke for some minutes.
After having sufficiently caught his breath, Raphael broke the silence. "If you've come to lecture me, I don't need to hear it," he said hostilely. He was still leaning on his hands and feet, and still facing the floor.
Leo almost smiled. "You're completely exhausted, yet you still have just enough strength not to drop it."
The red-banded turtle manoeuvred himself into a sitting position, with his arm resting upon one bent knee, and the other leg curled beneath him. "Great," he said wryly. "Just what I need. A lecture in cryptic." He paused a moment, before he sighed. He wasn't in the mood for guessing games that evening. "I give. What is it that I haven't dropped?"
"The front," Leonardo said simply.
Raphael looked up suddenly, before he muttered something under his breath and turned away again.
Leonardo ignored the leer and continued. "Listen, you don't have to prove anything. Don's worried sick about Master Splinter, and I don't think Mikey's been sleeping since... since that night." Leonardo paused, and took a deep breath. "And me? Your fearless leader?" he scoffed, before turning serious. "I'm just plain scared."
Raphael shifted uncomfortably, then turned to look his brother in the eye. "What do you want from me, Leo? You want me to admit that I'm worried and scared too? You want to know that I'm not coping with this either? Do you want me to tell you I'm not as strong as you?" Raphael was almost frenzied, pleading for an answer by the end of his questions.
Leo shook his head. "No," he said calmly. "For one thing, strength is not the issue here. You're strong and I'm strong, but our strengths lie in different places. Secondly, you don't need to admit that you're worried, that you're scared, or whether or not you're coping. All I want you to know is, it's okay if you are."
The older of the two brothers took a deep breath and continued. "Right now, the four of us need each other. Mike needs you there for when he wakes up, so you can tell him to go back to sleep again. Don needs you to tell him not to lose hope. And I just need you."
Raphael smiled slightly at his brother's words. "Anymore sap and you'd pass as a tree. But thanks," he added sincerely.
Leonardo smiled back.
There was a pause, before Raphael further attempted to lighten the mood. "You know, if the guys walked in right now, they'd think we'd flipped or something – I mean, when's the last time the two of us were in the same room and not at each other's throats?"
Leonardo's smile faded ever so slightly. "Back at Casey's grandma's farm, I guess. The day you helped me get back on my feet, and get some new swords." The memory saddened Leo for several reasons. He remembered feeling quite miserable over those days. The Foot ninjas, the Foot Elite, and ultimately the Shredder, had been too great a challenge, and he had been defeated. He and his family had almost paid the price for his failure, and he felt he had let them down as such.
Raphael also recollected the day he and Leo spent together, crafting his brother's new katana in the barn. There was not a moment during that day that the two brothers bickered, which was rare. Raph regretted that he and his brother did not share such moments frequently, and he regretted even more that those moments when the both of them were friendly with each other often had black clouds hanging over them. And the memories of the battle with Shredder's Foot army were one of the blackest clouds of all time.
He wished he and Leo did not come to blows so often. Raphael, along with everyone else, felt that it was mostly his doing that caused the arguments. It wasn't intentional - it just happened, and he couldn't seem to control it. Since he'd been growing older, he was gaining the maturity to show some restraint, but it was a slow and tough process.
Raphael turned to face his brother with a serious look on his face, and said, "You and I, we're pretty similar, you know."
"I know," Leo said with a nod.
The two turtles were physically both the strongest of the brothers, which automatically caused quarrels, as they vied with each other to be known as the best ninja. Leonardo had proved this through his constant, dedicated ninjitsu training, and through valiantly leading his brothers in battles against street gangs, the Purple Dragons, and in those against the Shredder and his army of Foot ninja.
Where Leo was predominantly a ninja, Raphael was the warrior, who fought with fierce strength and guts. Perhaps that was where the clashes lied, in the fact that the two were similar in physical strength, yet their intentions and methods differed. Leonardo opted for the calm and tactful approach, whereas Raph was often rash, acting first and thinking later. He also used the means of action, and sometimes violence, to solve problems without first considering alternative options.
The two turtles were also dominant in comparison to Donatello and Michelangelo, which was another reason they were frequently at odds. Leonardo was the born leader, there was no questioning that. Only sometimes, as an assertive turtle, Raphael found himself challenging Leo's authority.
Some years ago, Splinter had used an age-old strategy to teach Raphael that leadership was not all it was cracked up to be. "A wise man once said, 'give a man what he wants to show him he does not want it.'" Those words would reverberate through Raphael's head, and that lesson be forever imprinted in his mind, for many years to come.
Master Splinter saw that Raphael desperately wanted to be the leader, but he was not sure Raph fully comprehended just what was involved. So, Master Splinter gave him the chance to see, and he gave twelve-year-old Raphael the power of leadership for one week. Leonardo understood Splinter's reasons, and was content to go along with it. Raphael started off with good intentions, as he always did, but he soon found it a tough week. By Sunday evening, he was happy for Leonardo to take over once again. There were few instances following that week when Raphael questioned his brother's authority.
The most valuable lesson Raphael learnt during that week was that protecting three brothers was not as easy as it looked. He fiercely protected his brothers naturally anyway, and he knew that could be a tough and trying task at the best of times, but the added weight of leadership and responsibility made it ten times harder. And that was without having to contend with someone like himself, as Leonardo did. Not only did Raphael ease off testing Leonardo's power as leader, but he held a little more respect for his older brother.
Somehow, Raphael felt it was time to let his brother know as such.
"Leo," Raphael began in a quiet, gruff tone. He was uncomfortable in situations like this, when he opened up to others, but he persevered. "I just wanna say I'm... I... you do a great job at being leader," he stammered. "I don't tell you it enough, but I really appreciate it. It ain't easy."
Leonardo sighed. "You thought you had it rough for a week when we were twelve? Try it four years later, full-time."
"That bad, huh?" Raphael asked, giving his brother a wry, sympathetic smile.
"Worse," Leo half-smiled back. "We're going topside a lot more now. And that's when I know about us going topside," he added, shooting Raph a look that made the red-banded turtle feel a little guilty.
"It's not just about us going to the surface now, it's everything we've encountered up there, from people judging us for what we look like, to facing the Shredder. And it's the fact that I have to be the one to protect us from it, and I can't. I tried to protect Donny one of the first times we were up there - he stopped a mugging and gave the lady her purse back, but she just screamed at him and ran."
"I been there," Raph said soberly. "Makes you feel like dirt, but I got over it."
"I think it took Don a little longer to get over," Leonardo said thoughtfully. "But it's nothing compared to battling the Shredder. That night on the roofs, when I fought him and the Foot Elite... I was terrified, because I knew if I didn't defeat them, they'd come after my family - and they did."
"Hey, you thought you were scared for us then, you wanna know how it felt seeing you crash through April's window?" Raphael clenched his fists at the recollection. "And by the way, Leo, we can look after ourselves, " he added irritably.
"I know," Leo said solemnly. "But that doesn't mean I don't have the right to be worried, or feel responsible, or have the urge to protect you, Don and Mikey. It's the big brother's birthright, I guess." He paused, then added, "it's kinda like the way you look out for Mikey the way you do."
"Yeah, well, someone has to," Raphael said defensively, before flashing Leonardo a knowing smile. "It's the birthright of the second-oldest bro - to help look out for the annoying, crazy youngest brother."
Raph paused, choosing his next words carefully. "You know, Leo, you may have certain responsibilities as the leading turtle here, but what you don't seem to know is that you don't have to try and be perfect."
Leo turned to his brother and said in a cross voice, "since when do I try and be perfect? Just because I practice hard at my ninjitsu skills doesn't mean I try to be better than everyone else or something."
"Aw, jeez," Raph muttered. "That ain't what I meant, all right?"
"Well, what did you mean?" Leonardo demanded defensively.
"Okay, you're mad, I know, but that came out wrong. All I meant was, you keep trying to carry everything on your shoulders. Right now, Splinter's missing, and you know we're all damn worried. So, you've been making sure Don's okay, and you've been trying to get Mikey to sleep, and now you've come in here, talking to me. This whole thing is affecting you as much as the rest of us, so you've got to take some time out for you, without worrying about everything and everyone else, y'hear me?"
"I... I don't know... it's just..." Leonardo took a deep breath. "I guess maybe if I feel like I'm helping you guys, I feel like I'm doing something."
"Yeah, I know how that story goes," Raphael said. "I've felt like I've been doing something for the last couple of hours, but I haven't really been doing anything, not anything that's going to make a difference to any of this. All punching the bag over there's helped me do is feel a little bit less hacked off. But has it helped find him? Nah.
"But talking to Don and Mike... maybe it'll raise their spirits, and that'll help," Leonardo said, not entirely believing it.
"You think? No matter what you say to Donny, he's only going to be all right when we find Splinter. And you've been telling Mike again and again to catch some z's over the past couple of days, but the only reason he's doing it now is because his eyes are refusing to stay open. It's a harsh truth, Leo, but you're not really doing anything to help. Just feels like you are."
"So you're saying that whatever I say to anyone has no effect on them?" Leonardo asked in confusion.
"I'm not saying that at all," Raphael said. "The reason you're not really doing anything is because you're only doing it just to feel like you're doing something. Jeez, try saying that fast three time," he added, chuckling. "See, when you talked to me just now, you made a difference. You got me thinking about a lot of things, and it's not only helped for now, but I think it will help me for after all this is over. You weren't doing it because you felt you had to do something, to take your mind off other stuff, but I think you were doing it because you really wanted to help me. And you did. And I hope I've helped you in return, as well. I think we've managed to show each other that we aren't on our own in all this, ya know?"
Leonardo looked up and smiled. "I understand," he said. "And you know something? If Master Splinter knew about this, I think he'd be very proud of us."
Raph nodded, grinning. "He'll know – he doesn't miss a thing, even if he ain't here right now. And yeah, about that... shall we keep this little chat between the two of us? It's all private and stuff, plus I've got a rep to keep up," he added with a grin. "If Mikey got wind of it, that I was actually being nice for a change... we'd never hear the end of it."
The oldest brother laughed and agreed.
A few minutes of contemplative silence passed, before Raphael spoke again, reverting back to his discomforted voice. "Look, Leo, you and I are both the same, both being independent and such, but anytime you need someone to lean on, I'm always here, okay?"
"Thank you," Leonardo replied gratefully. "And like I said before, the same goes for me."
"Thanks, it's good to know. C'mon, let's see how the others are doing." With that, the two brothers stood up and exited the dojo.