Bad Places 3: Ruin
Disclaimer: Ninja Turtles belong to someone else. Not me.
Summary: Last in the Bad Places trilogy. As nightmares walk NewYork's streets, Leonardo continues to lose himself in his warped genetics and growing bloodthirst.
Painting became a substitute for murder. A splash of blood from his enemy's throat, a stroke of black paint along smooth stone. He curled the brush as he would his sword, creating a solid line that tapered at the end. Sheltered from the winter snow by the restaurant's awning, and with only the city's glare to see by, he created a soaring dragon in arcs and quick strikes. His joy came not in the design, since the owner had decided what shape the dragon would take. Instead he delighted in the creation, in sending the dragon out of the brush and onto the wall while imitating the precise cuts that his sword would make.
In the months after their return to New York, painting also became his refuge. His family had no idea that he'd turned this into his outlet for slaughter. They suspected that he hadn't crushed his instinct to kill, but they didn't know he'd channeled his precision strikes into strokes and graceful sweeps. That his sword, re-shaped into a brush, still danced in his hand, and that paint, in the shadowy light, was the same color as blood.
Finally the dragon was finished, frozen around the door and windows of the restaurant. He stood back and stared at it, pleased at first, but little by little he saw imperfections, saw that he should have raised the front arm a little higher, opened the mouth a little wider. The smooth strokes looked like splatters, as if he'd sliced someone's throat and turned them so that the blood sprayed the wall. He'd wanted to replicate one of the calligraphy dragons in his master's scrolls. Instead, this dragon looked messy. Childish.
"Might as well of used crayons," he muttered. He hoped his brothers never saw it.
His shellcell beeped. He dropped the brush in the mottled duffel bag he carried everything in and glared at the little green transceiver. Raphael had made him promise not to drop it, but the blinking green light in the corner told him that the device was showing his brother exactly where he was and it annoyed him. With an exasperated sigh, he flipped it on. "Leo here. What's up?"
"Hey, Leo," April said. "You done over there?"
"Just finished," he said, kneeling and zipping the duffel. "And I thought we talked about these interruptions."
"I know, and I'm sorry," she said. "But I need to go shopping and the stores'll be closing soon."
"Well, I am finished so no harm done," he said lightly. "Did you need something?"
"Yeah," she said slowly. Ever since he'd come home, she needed a few minutes to relax around him again, to reassure herself that he was still Leo and not the thing twisting around in his genetics. "You're almost out of paint and you need new brushes. And I need more office supplies and a new register. Casey just ruined this one."
Faintly he heard Casey's voice squawk in protest, but April ignored him. Leo nodded once. "You need to hit the store?"
"Yup. Do you mind? You're the closest and everyone else complains if they have to carry everything."
No wonder she was calling, he realized. He was her only option. "No problem. I'll be there in a couple minutes."
Slinging the bag over his back, he made sure everything was secure and the shellcell safely in his belt before using the fire escape in the alley to reach the roof. The rooftops were easier to cross than running through the streets trying to avoid the people that came out in this neighborhood at night. Most of the ones who did lurk around at night already knew about the freaks that ruined their fun, but he wasn't in the mood for a fight. The last thing he needed was to arrive at April's place with blood on his swords.
A few minutes later he landed on her rooftop and tossed his duffel bag into the closest window. She was already waiting for him on the front step, so he dropped down and perched on the window so he didn't have to sit in the snow, making sure she heard him so she wouldn't be startled.
"You ready?" he asked.
"All set. Let's go."
The only reason four turtles, one rat and one nervous human allowed April to walk alone at night was if she was not really alone. While she strolled on the sidewalk, just beyond the lamps and lit windows her escort followed out of sight. Silent and invisible, he shadowed her as their footsteps disappeared in the light January snow. And although he enjoyed getting out of the lair once in awhile, trudging through the ice on errands was not exactly leaping over rooftops and playing the ninja version of hide and seek with his siblings.
Leonardo didn't mind very much, though. At least his murals and these occasional errands got him out of the lair and away from his brothers and father. He knew they were just concerned for him, but their constant questions and attempts to bring him back into the family were making him withdraw even further into his room, sketching out ideas for his constant commissions. He was grateful for the amount of work April managed to find for him, even if it meant that he kept a brutal schedule.
As they walked through the snow, they passed his murals on several shops and other buildings. A large Mexican flag with an oversized eagle and cactus decorated one side of a grocery store while an angel hovered protectively over soldiers on a church wall. A new age shop that displayed pentagrams and sterling skulls in its windows also showed off the horned god and goddess on either side of its front door. He remembered struggling to get the faces just right, flipping through the various pictures that Donatello found online and printed out for him.
He had no idea how much they cost. April handled every last detail for him and since he let Splinter decide how things were spent, money never passed his hands. He preferred it that way. Not knowing let him paint without feeling guilty. No matter how often he was told his work was good, he couldn't believe it. Sometimes he admired how he shaded a wing or sculpted a line, but most of the time he saw only smudges, lines that were too bold, an arm drawn too long or one eye slightly lower than the other. He didn't want to see them in the daylight. It was bad enough looking at them at night.
Ever since coming home from the farm, they all noticed that despite Donatello's gene therapy, the only improvement they'd seen in him came in the form of behavioral changes. He ate almost normally now, slowly regaining lost weight and eating a few more things beyond soup and apples. He hadn't retreated into his memories of Stockman's game for months. The hundred different sounds in the lair, the water in the pipes beside his bed and the electric hum of Donatello's machines, no longer overloaded his mind. Although his differences still set him apart, at least he wasn't turning into that thing anymore.
He kicked at the deep snow and gave up trying to walk through it. There were few enough people outside that he could risk following April on the sidewalk where the snow had been cleared. He shivered as the snow came down harder.
"I still can't believe you make me work out in this weather," Leonardo grumbled, beginning a familiar conversation. Both of them knew he wasn't really upset, but it gave him the chance to vent. And a way to talk without April worrying that the conversation might take a darker turn.
"Quit complaining," she said, hiding her smile as she tugged up her jacket. "There are artists who'd kill to have commissions year round."
"But painting in this weather? My brushes are cracking, the paint is freezing, and I don't like being stuck in the snow for hours very much either," Leo said.
"I thought you artists were happiest when you're suffering for your work."
"Oh sure, it's great suffering. It's so much fun I'll drag you with me next time so you can enjoy being cold and wet, too."
"You should be happy," April said. "Do you know how hard it is to get commissions for a muralist who refuses to be seen? Most people like watching the design go up on their wall, you know."
"I don't think I've had a single spare night," he said.
"Four murals and I've only been back for a couple months. I'm lucky one of them was an abstract bunch of lines or I probably would've dropped dead."
"It can't be..." April fell silent as they passed a young couple hurrying home. As soon as they were out of earshot, April continued. "It can't be too much. Splinter would never let this interfere with your practice."
He didn't answer for a moment. Splinter was so eager to get him out of the house and away from any sense of obligation that he wondered if his master would let his training lapse a little. Life didn't seem nearly as demanding as it had before and there had to be some explanation for it. He spent less time polishing and sharpening the weapons, spent more time flipping through his art books, and was surprised to occasionally sleep in after a long night of painting. Then again, he was usually nursing sore muscles and bruises from regular sparring with his siblings who didn't pull their punches just because he was a little weaker...no, they wouldn't let him lapse. But he did seem to have a lot of time to himself, which probably meant that Splinter and Raphael were handling some of the family chores and duties that he used to perform. On one hand he felt like he was neglecting his responsibilities, but on the other hand he didn't miss waking them all up in the morning.
"I think Master Splinter's going to ask me to do something on his bedroom wall," he half-complained, half-bragged. "He just hasn't made up his mind what it should be."
"Look on the bright side," she said. "At least you won't be painting in the cold."
"At this rate my hands are going to fall off."
Several streetlamps along the next block were broken so he could walk a little closer. Their destination, a string of department stores that carried among other things new brushes and paints to replace his worn out supplies, was only a few more blocks ahead. Normally he would wait on the rooftop for her to finish shopping, before accompanying her back home where she'd run any new commissions by him.
A sudden high pitched hum made him look around, but he didn't see anything nearby. Leonardo frowned and shook his head quickly, trying to clear it. "That's weird. Can you hear that?"
"Hear what?" April titled her head up.
"It's like...almost like static electricity." He shook his head again, trying to clear it. "It's getting pretty loud, actually."
"No, I don't hear anything," she said. She took her hands out of her pockets and stretched out her arms, then touched her hair. "But I definitely feel something. You're right, it's like static. Look, I've got a couple strands floating."
"Wait." He put a hand on her arm, interrupting her. For several seconds they stood quietly as she watched him. The only sound was the snow landing around them and the streetlamp beside them flickering. He looked up at the block ahead and tilted his head as if listening carefully. "Something's wrong."
"What is it?" She looked up but she didn't see anything. If she hadn't known how sensitive his hearing had become, she would've thought he was playing a joke on her.
"I'm not sure." He tried to get rid of the ringing sound again but it only seemed to grow stronger.
And then they both heard a long, high-pitched screech not too far away. It was joined by several others, some human, some not, and as the screams came closer, they heard the scratches of claws on the icy pavement as something ran towards them.
"You hear that, too?" he whispered, hoping maybe he was just going insane again.
"What was that?" she gasped, taking a step back. "Leo, what was that?"
"I'll answer later, run!" He grabbed her hand and turned, leading her down the dark street. Behind them, the scratching and screeching grew louder until neither of them turned, afraid of what they might see.
"This way!" He pulled her to the left, ducking into an alley with a fire escape. A quick leap brought it down and he sent April up first, following after her until they were on the roof. She turned to ask him something but he shook his head and whispered, "no, don't talk. Stay quiet."
He knelt at the corner and peered over the edge. A handful of people ran by but there was no time to save them. Leaping and biting their human prey were Stockman's creatures, their familiar howls and cries echoing over the screams of their victims. Beside him, April covered her eyes and turned away, unwilling to watch, but he stared in morbid fascination as his old enemies ran through the street.
Sight wasn't important in Stockman's dark dimension so he'd never had the chance to actually see them. Feeders, brownish humanoids with claws and fangs, loped along, slashing people apart with ease. All around them, running on the sides of buildings followed what he had called screamers, pale four-legged creatures that seemed to be all stomach and jaws. A young man slipped on the ice and immediately screamers descended on him like spiders, covering him for a few seconds as his shrieks died and blood sprayed in all directions.
Now that he had a chance to watch them, Leo could see the vague team work they used. True, they quickly turned on their injured whenever the opportunity arose, but the feeders led the way, wounding their prey while the screamers swamped the fallen. Without narrow hallways to confine their movements, nothing could escape their claws.
April knelt down next to him, covering her ears so she wouldn't have to hear the slaughter going on beneath them. He didn't care about the screams and scratching, but the static hum seemed to drill into his head. It turned so loud that it sounded like wailing and started to hurt. He looked at April but she didn't seem to hear it at all.
He didn't know what made him look up at the rooftops surrounding them. He could barely hear anything over the static, and the monsters below were screeching loud enough to drown out any other noise. Still, he remembered that screamers and feeders were not the only monsters he'd faced in the game, so he was not surprised to see the demon leaping over rooftops, mouth gaping wide, white eyes focused entirely on the two creatures in front of it.