Disclaimer: I don't own the ninja turtles. cries It's a sad truth, but I'm dealing with it. One way I deal with it is by listing the stuff that I DO own. I own: Iganna, all the happenings of this story, the plot, this portrayal of Death (since I can't really own Death, and it would be creepy if I did) and this portrayal of the astral realm. So there!
And here it is: the LAST chapter of Bleeding Heart. I honestly can't believe I'm finished with this story, because it's seemed like there's always more to work on. But I'm finally done with it, and I'm glad. It's a real accomplishment, and I'm proud of myself for sticking with it, even if my updating schedule went all kablooey. A gigantic amount of thanks goes out to everyone who read and/or reviewed this story. Everything you've said has been great, and I really appreciate all of the support. Any tips you could give me would be great, and I'd love to hear from all of you in the future. Thank you, and here's some love to all of my 21 reviewers:
FF Demon, coldsunshin, BubblyShell22, Jerico Cacaw, Digmon Girl, Tewi, Pi90katana, Oni Mathier, LadyKatana45, Red Tale, Ted, Dierdre, Leonardo 15, Longing for Leo, bionicle-girl, Sewer Slider, AncientHistory, Janajyo, mac, greshunkai, Swallowraven.
I appreciate your support more than I can say. Thanks so much, and please enjoy the conclusion of "Bleeding Heart".
The atmosphere in the Lair was considerably lighter the next day. Now that Iganna was gone, as well as all concerns about Leo getting hurt again, everyone was in a better mood.
Don glanced up, smiling as Raph walked into the kitchen. "Morning, Raph," he greeted his older brother before turning his attention back to the small circuit board in front of him. "How are you doing?"
"A shell of a lot better than I was yesterday, that's fer sure," Raph replied, rifling through the fridge in search of breakfast.
"You're telling me. I still can't believe everything that happened yesterday. Everything Iganna told us, about her past, how she was able to get to Leo, how she disappeared…it's a lot to take in."
Raph growled as he threw a loaf of bread onto the counter. "That dame's damn lucky that that freaky whirlpool thing got to 'er before I did. Things wouldn't've gone nearly as nicely for her." He muttered a few more obscenities as he fixed himself some toast, then sat down across from Don. "So where are Mikey and Fearless?"
"As far as I know, they're both still asleep."
"Both of 'em?" Raph glanced at the clock. "It's 10:30. That ain't nothin' fer Mikey, but fer Leo?"
"Well, he has been through a lot in the past few days. And after what happened yesterday, it's no big surprise that he's a little tired." The brainy turtle looked up thoughtfully. "Although, now that I think about it, we did go to bed at about 11:30 last night, and eleven and a half hours of sleep is a lot for anyone."
"So do you want me ta get 'im up?"
"Yeah, that would probably be best. Help him down to the lab, too, please; I'd like to see how he's doing."
"No problem." Raph walked out to the main room of the Lair and quickly leapt up to the second level. Walking past Mikey's room, he stopped suddenly at the door. Don never said I shouldn't get Mikey up too. Grinning, he grabbed an old football that had escaped from the youngest turtle's room. He took aim, then launched the football at his brother's head. The resulting yelp assured him that his shot had hit its mark.
"Geez Raph, what the shell did you do that for!"
"'Cause it's time ta get up."
"So you football-ed me in the head!" Mikey demanded, outraged. "This from the turtle who was all "why can't ya wake me up tha normal way"?"
"Hey, normally I would definitely come in there an' just smack ya, but after that mold episode, I ain't settin' foot in there any more than I have ta."
Mikey grumbled as he heaved himself out of bed. "It was one little pile of mold. It's not like it was really hurting anyone."
"Says tha turtle that screamed like a little girl when some of it got on 'im."
The energetic turtle stuck a tongue out at his brother as he tied on his bandana. "Everyone's a comedian. Hey, what time is it?"
Raph rolled his eyes. If there was ever anyone born with a worse case of ADD, he had yet to meet them. "It's 10:30, bonehead."
"10:30! Aw shell, I'm missing Batman!" Mikey tore out of his room, nimbly maneuvering through the mess that would most likely cripple anyone else.
The red-banded turtle just shook his head and made his way down to Leo's room. Knocking on the door, he waited for an answer. When none came, he knocked a little harder, calling to his older brother through the door. "Hey, Leo, ya up?" Still receiving no response, he quietly opened the door.
Leo was lying in bed, not moving. Raph walked to his brother's bedside, making no attempt to soften his footsteps, yet Leo continued sleeping. That's weird, Raph thought, his brow furrowing. Leo's usually tha lightest sleeper of all of us. I guess Donnie's right; all the crap that's been happenin' lately must be hittin' him pretty hard. He reached down and laid a hand on Leo's shoulder, shaking him gently.
"Hey, Leo, up an' at 'em." When he still received no response, he shook a little harder, frowning slightly. "C'mon, bro, it's time ta get up. Rise an' shine."
At first nothing happened, but then finally there was a slight stirring from beneath the blanket, followed by a muffled word from the depths of the pillow. "…What?"
Raph sighed in relief, stepping back from his brother's bed. "It's about time, bro; I was startin' ta get worried. Don sent me in here, wanted me ta make sure you were still kickin'."
Leo sat up slowly, wincing from the pain in his side and knee. He rubbed a hand over his face tiredly. "What time is it?" he asked through a yawn.
"It's 10:30. Mikey even beat ya gettin' up, though he needed some help ta do it."
"10:30!" The eldest turtle's eyes darted to the clock, widening in surprise. "I can't believe I slept that late. Aw shell, I missed practice!"
Raph rolled his eyes. "Calm down before ya give yerself a heart attack, Leo. Sensei cancelled practice today, said we could prob'ly use tha break. 'Sides, it ain't like yer in any shape ta be practicin' anyways."
"Oh. Yeah, I guess you're right." Leo relaxed and reached over to his nightstand, grabbing his bandana and tying it on. "I can't say I don't appreciate the extra time."
"You an' me both, bro. How're ya doin'?"
The blue-banded turtle winced as he carefully levered himself to his feet, pulling himself up with the crutches. "I've definitely been better. My knee's killing me, my side feels like shell, and for some reason I'm still exhausted."
"Yer still tired? Bro, you were out like a light fer almost twelve hours. An' I know yesterday wasn't exactly restful, but compared ta some of tha stuff we've faced, it was a cake walk."
"I know, Raph. That's why it doesn't make any sense." Leo balanced himself on his crutches, then turned to his brother. "You ready to go?"
"You said Don wanted to see me, right?"
"Oh, yeah." Raph paused, looking closely at his brother, and he frowned at what he saw. Leo was a paler shade of green than he usually was, and he had the beginnings of dark circles under his eyes. It seemed like even his eyes were tired, the normally bright blue orbs slightly shaded. Lines were also beginning to take hold on Leo's face as well. Overall, Raph was disturbed to see just how worn down his older brother looked. "Bro, you sure yer feelin' okay?" Raph asked. He cleared his throat, trying to erase the concern from his voice and taking on a disinterested tone. "'Cause ya look like shell."
His older brother sighed and shook his head. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate your concern, Raph." He slowly began making his way out of the room, trying to accustom himself to the crutches. "As for how I feel…well, like I said, I'm just kind of tired. It's no big deal, nothing a good night's sleep won't fix."
Raph's brow furrowed as he followed Leo out of the room. Regardless of his brother's words, he couldn't shake the feeling that Leo shouldn't be this tired. 'Nothin' a good night's sleep won't fix', huh? Well, ya just got a good night's sleep, bro; so what's wrong?
"Does this hurt?"
"How about here?"
"Oops, sorry. Can you lift your arm?"
Leo rolled his eyes as he carefully raised his left arm, stopping when the slice in his side began to protest. Don's "checkup" had turned into a full-scale inquisition as his brother poked and prodded him, all the while asking him dozens of questions. So far he'd had his reflexes tested, sat through an examination of all his injuries, and had all the bandages on his body changed. It was closing in on almost a solid hour now, and Leo was bored out of his mind.
And it didn't help that Raph and Mikey were lurking in the doorway watching with amused smiles on their faces as Don abused him.
"Alright, that's good," Don approved, lowering Leo's arm. "Better than I expected, really. Are you sure nothing else hurts?"
"Except my tail, no."
Don's eye ridges instantly snapped together. "What's wrong with your tail?"
"It's numb from being sat on for an hour on this really hard, really uncomfortable examining table."
Mikey and Raph snickered as Don glared at their oldest brother.
"Very funny, Leo."
Leo reached out a hand and set it on Don's arm. "Don't think that I don't appreciate how…thorough you're being, bro, but I've been sitting here for almost an hour telling you how I feel, and I haven't even eaten yet. I'm starving and I'm starting to lose feeling below the waist." Leo's expression was exasperated. "We know my knee's dislocated. We know I got cut in the side. We know I got cut on the arm. We know all of this, and none of it has changed. So can I go now?"
Mikey turned to Raph. "It's kinda weird to see Leo taking orders instead of giving them, huh?"
"It's good for 'im," Raph grinned. "Keeps 'im humble."
"You know, I am just trying to make sure you're feeling alright, Leo," Don grumbled as he gathered up his equipment and stowed it in the various containers around the infirmary.
Leo sighed as he stood, wavering a bit before finding his balance on one leg and two crutches. "I know, Don. And I really do appreciate it. I'm just—"
"Sick of sitting around," Don finished for him. A rueful smile crept onto the purple-banded turtle's face. "I know. Go on, get out of here. Have Mikey make you some breakfast."
Mikey brightened at the mention of his name. "How do scrambled eggs sound?"
Leo made a face. "How about pancakes?"
The youngest turtle appeared to think about it for a minute before shrugging. "That works. We're out of most of the ingredients for scrambled eggs anyways."
"Then why'd you ask if he wanted eggs?" Raph demanded.
"I dunno. Everyone always wants eggs." At Raph's snort Mikey's expression became confused. "Don't they?"
"Hate ta break it to ya, Mikey, but no," Raph said bluntly. "We just ask fer 'em 'cause none of the rest of us can cook an' ya never make anythin' else."
The look on Mikey's face was horrified. "You mean…all this time, we've been living a lie! You guys don't like my eggs!"
Raph sighed. Here come tha hysterics, he thought. "No, Mike, we like yer eggs, it's just—"
"I've been letting my brothers' taste buds wither and die! My culinary skills are beginning to stalemate!"
"That's "stagnate"," Don supplied.
"Right, that too." The orange-banded turtle's face immediately took on a determined expression as he hit his fist into the palm of his hand. "But no more! From now, on our culinary lives shall live again! Come, to my sanctuary!" With that, Mikey charged out of the infirmary and made a beeline for the kitchen. A few seconds later his brothers could hear him rifling through the contents of the cupboards before he hollered a question back at his oldest brother. "Hey Leo, how do banana and marshmallow pancakes sound?"
"Raph…" Leo turned to glare at his younger brother. "I swear I am going to kill you for this."
"Hey, I didn't tell him ta make you freaky pancakes, I just said we sometimes get a little tired of eggs."
"While we appreciate you making the effort, Raph, you might have done it a little more tactfully," Don reprimanded lightly as he helped Leo out to the living room.
"I don't do tactful."
"We're all well aware of that, but that doesn't mean you couldn't try once in a while," Leo grumbled as he sat down on the couch. "Now we get to deal with eating whatever comes out of that kitchen."
Mikey's voice rang out once more. "Who's up for gummi worm sushi for dinner?"
Both Don and Leo glared at Raph, who raised his hands in front of him protectively.
"It ain't my fault!"
After spending several minutes discussing the state of Leo's health, and wringing a grudging apology from Raph, Don was able to convince Mikey to postpone his culinary adventuring for a time when everyone was healthy again. While the three oldest turtles would have preferred to throw out the idea totally, they knew that putting it off was the next best thing; with Mikey's attention span being what it was, there was every chance that he would forget about his cooking experiments on his own.
Mikey was now engrossed in a self-set challenge: the youngest turtle wanted to see if he could break his old record for how fast he could read a season of Justice Force comics. Raph, meanwhile, was engaged in a workout in the dojo, paying some much needed attention to his neglected weight set. And Don was looking for Leo.
"It figures," the brainy turtle mumbled. "It just figures. First, I can't get away from him when he's hurt. Now, I can't even find him."
"Ahgh!" Don whipped around to face his oldest brother. "Leo! Where the shell did you come from!"
Leo looked puzzled at his brother's reaction. "The kitchen."
"Oh. How on earth did you manage to sneak up on me on those crutches?"
The blue-banded turtle grinned slyly. "Ninja stealth, Donatello. Silent as the shadows."
Don snorted. "Naturally. Did you need something from the kitchen?"
Leo shrugged. "I was feeling a little dizzy, so I grabbed something to eat."
That caught Don's attention. "Dizzy? Are you alright?"
"Don, calm down. It was just a little dizzy spell, I'm fine," Leo assured his anxious brother. "Nothing's happened since, and I feel fine."
Don looked at his brother carefully. "Well, if you're sure…it's just that you look a little under the weather today, bro."
"Trust me, I know. Raph pointed that out several times. I'm just a little tired."
"Alright. I'll be in my lab working on some modifications on the Shell Cells if you need me."
"Sounds good. I'll be in the living working on a painting. I'll let you know if I need anything."
Leo spent the next three hours engrossed in a painting. He was hard at work trying to capture Raph in the middle of the dojo, a focused expression on his face as he practiced an attack on a training dummy. Finished with the base sketch, he set down his pencil and studied the picture. He then got to his feet, intending to get the paints from his room, but he never got that far. As soon as he stood up, another wave of dizziness hit him hard, disorienting him. He tried to maintain his balance, but he knocked his crutches over instead. Suddenly inexplicably tired, Leo managed only one word before his legs gave out and he collapsed back onto the couch:
Splinter sighed, his tired eyes opening as he once again gave up on meditating. It was now nearly impossible to calm his spirit sufficiently to detach from his body and enter the astral plane. Even light meditation, the novice's step of clearing the mind, was a challenge; his thoughts refused to settle, no matter what he tried. Splinter abandoned his current endeavor at inner peace, choosing instead to focus his thoughts on his sons. After Leonardo's collapse the other day, his eldest had steadily gotten worse. His dizziness remained, as did his fatigue, and he became weaker each day. Despite this, he still sought to continue on with his normal life; after spending so much time bedridden because of Iganna, Leonardo refused to spend anymore. But his defiance only lasted so long, and now, three days later, he was confined to his bed. At first he stayed up to read and talk, but eventually he spent all of his time sleeping. And now, Splinter thought sadly, I am losing the rest of my sons as well. As their brother's health fails, they fall apart from me…and each other.
No one was handling Leonardo's decline well. Raphael's anger had long since breached its breaking point, and the lawbreakers of Manhattan were paying the price. Daily reports of dozens of gang members being found beaten and tied up could be seen on the news, though as the days progressed, the reports dwindled, for fewer and fewer crooks wanted to risk the attacks their fellows had suffered. Splinter's rebukes of his son's actions did nothing to deter them, and merely kept him away. He was rarely at home; he stayed in the Lair only during the daylight hours that forced him inside and was gone before dusk had barely kissed the sky and the sun had only just sunk below the horizon. And even when he is home, he is not truly here, Splinter mused to himself. His second oldest son would lock himself in his room, loud music blaring through the walls. The only person he would see was Leonardo, whom he would sit by for hours before storming out of the Lair. Splinter glanced in the direction of Raphael's room, sighing; why, my son? Why do you refuse to find comfort in your own family? Why are you convinced that it lies beyond the bounds of our home? Despite Splinter's numerous efforts to reach out to his son, Raphael refused all advances, burying his pain inside.
Donatello, for his part, was working himself to the point of exhaustion and beyond; he too spent countless hours by Leonardo's side, changing bandages, administering antibiotics, and checking his IV. When Leo had become too weak to eat, Donatello had suddenly produced the IV bags; no one asked how he had gotten them, and he didn't offer to supply the information. And whenever he wasn't caring for his brother, he would sit for hours pouring over medical books and files he located on the Internet, desperately searching for anything that could help him help his brother. Dark circles were a permanent fixture under his eyes these days; the only sleep he got would be during the few hours when his body, pushed dramatically past its limit, would simply shut down, dropping him wherever he sat. When things got to this point he could be seen most often slumped across his desk, notes and medical research filling the computer screen. But despite Donatello's efforts, Leonardo's condition worsens each day. Splinter sighed tiredly. And Donatello fades right along side of him.
And Michelangelo…you fear you are losing your brother, and so you are losing your light. There wasn't any more laughter in the air, no cartoons on the television, and no jokes to liven the dead silence. Michelangelo wasn't eating and he hardly slept as he watched his brother slowly slip away. The youngest turtle spent most of his time sitting on the couch, staring vacantly at the blank television screens. He refused to go anywhere near the dojo, refused to train or even meditate, all of those activities reminding him too much of the brother he was losing. Yet in spite of Michelangelo's concern for his brother, he even kept away from Leonardo's room. For brief moments, when he couldn't be found on the couch, he would be haunting his brother's doorway, wavering on the threshold but never entering.
Despite the grief of the others, Splinter took Leo's worsening the hardest. For any parent, watching their child suffer is a horrible torment, and the old rat reflected this fact. More gray hairs joined the ones he already had, and he moved slower than normal. I have tried to hold my family together, but my sons' ways of grieving, their anger and pain, drives them from one another. Splinter could easily recall the many attempts he had made to try to keep his family whole. He would gather his sons to sit down and talk, but it would always end the same: Raphael would storm off again, masking his fear and pain with rage; Donatello would lock himself away in his lab, fixing broken appliances as he couldn't fix his broken family; and Michelangelo would become more and more lost, seeking comfort from his brothers where there was none to be found.
Splinter shook his head, a sudden burst of anger flaring in his heart; I am the jonin of this clan, I am the father of these lost children, and yet I have failed them. After his advances were continuously shot down, he was shamed to say that he too had given up, retreating into his room and spending his time in meditation. Yet even the peace that meditation might have granted was denied him; the pain in his heart and the echoing pain from his sons continued to cloud his mind. The old rat sighed as he abandoned yet another try, and instead rose to make some tea, reassuring himself with the one saving grace that he had managed to find in his attempts at meditation:
He could still sense Leonardo's spirit. And as long as he could still feel his son, there was still hope.
Don pushed back from his computer desk with a sigh. This was the third time his eyes had crossed as he tried to read; too tired to focus, they were now openly rebelling against him. He closed the webpage angrily, shutting down the computer with quick movements. He was mad again; that seemed to happen a lot lately. The littlest things would set him off. But right now…he was mad at his family. He was angry with Mikey for always wanting comfort from him, when that was the same thing he wanted and wasn't getting. He was mad at Raph for never sticking around. Don was even slightly resentful of Splinter; he had expected their sensei to hold them together through this…but when he thought about it, it would be hard for anyone to keep them from falling apart, especially when some of them wanted the distance. Raph seemed to think it made him weak to reveal his true emotions, and Don was afraid of it hurting more to talk about what they were going through. Mikey was the only one of them that wanted to talk through this. The brainy turtle sighed. With so much time and silence around the Lair, he'd started analyzing his family and himself, trying to discover why they always pushed each other away in times like these. He knew that he wanted distance from Leo because he felt like he was failing his brother every time he found him in the same shape or worse than before. Mikey wanted to stay close to his brothers, but they always pushed him away. Raph, Don supposed, wanted distance because he couldn't do anything to help his brother, and he couldn't take not doing anything, so he left to find ways he could help. The purple-clad mutant felt another surge of anger at the thought of his hotheaded and often absent brother; what had happened his promise of not continuing to stick him with all the medical work?
Don wished that Raph had held to that; it was getting harder each day to go take care of Leo, harder to maintain a professional detachment when there was never any improvement, just a worsening of his brother's condition. That was why he spent so much time looking for answers on the computer, because it was time he wasn't spending watching Leo get paler and frailer. Don often wondered why he did it; they all suspected Leo's current state was because of Iganna, and he sure as shell wouldn't find anything that could help Leo with that on the internet.
But it was better than doing nothing, right?
A shock suddenly ran through him. No, it wasn't…because he was doing nothing. None of this was doing anyone any good. He couldn't believe that it hadn't occurred to him before, but he was just like Raph…they both felt helpless, so they turned away from their brother and family to problems they could fix: Raph went to pulverize punks because he couldn't attack the one responsible for their situation, and Don repaired mechanical things because he couldn't repair the rift in his family. The revelation staggered him. He had always seen himself and Raph as the most different from each other, and the knowledge of this connection was mind-boggling.
Don stood, wincing at the protestations of joints stiff from inactivity. He had to get his brothers back together. He may be better at fixing objects, but that didn't mean he couldn't try to fix people for once. He'd start with Leo, and he knew just how to do it. Another thought had come to him: why not try what we did last time? The last time Leo's life had been balanced on the edge, the whole family had talked to him to draw him back from that edge. Don had gone first that time, and he would do so again; once he did that, he'd go to his other brothers. The turtle set off for Leo's room, determination firming his steps.
He slowed slightly as he reached Leo's room, then entered. Quietly sitting down in the chair next to Leo's bed, he took hold of one of Leo's hands. With his eyes on his brother's pale, unguarded face, he began to speak.
"Hey, Leo; it's me, Don. Heh. Sounds just like last time, doesn't it? Feels like it too, bro, at least from where I'm sitting. I don't know what stories to tell you this time…so I suppose I'll just start by saying I'm sorry. It shouldn't have taken me this long to realize I was doing things wrong. But I'm trying, bro; I'll do better. We'll make it through, just like we did last time…"
Don dove into his memories, his tone light as he retold shared moments. It would work. It had to work…he'd make it work. He'd talk himself hoarse if it meant bringing Leo back. His brother, his family, was worth that and more.
An hour had passed by the time Don's voice was nothing more than a croak. He'd talked almost nonstop, reliving good and bad times with his unconscious brother, remembering victories and defeats, times of joy and sadness. The purple-banded turtle stopped for a break to rest his tired jaw and study his brother, but Leo didn't look any different. Don's shoulders fell. The analytical part of his mind knew better than to expect any improvement so soon, but the emotional part of him had hoped things would fix themselves as quickly as they had last time.
Don yawned. His long nights (and days) were catching up with him despite his best attempts to stay awake. He vaguely tried to recall the last time he had slept; I think it might have been for a couple hours sometime yesterday. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had an entire night's sleep. Resting his arms on the side of his brother's bed, he wearily laid his head on them. I'll just rest for a couple minutes, then I'll go get Mikey and Raph and Master Splinter…
And we'll fix Leo…
And everything will be alright again…
As the exhausted turtle began to slip off to sleep, thoughts of his family, whole and reunited, floated through his mind; and he soon found that couldn't tell where his hopes ended and his dreams began.
Mikey wandered through the Lair, feeling like a stranger in his own home. It was so quiet; it felt like he was the only one there. But he wasn't; almost his entire family was home, and yet here he was, all alone. He sat back down on the couch; it seemed to be the place he spent the most time. It was comfortable there, and it brought back memories of how things should be: watching a movie with his family, laughing and joking. He remembered why he liked spending time here; it was right in the middle of the Lair, right where he could always find his family. From here, he could watch Leo and Raph spar, he could see Don in his lab, and he could spot Master Splinter in the kitchen making tea. Mikey slowly realized something; that was why he kept sitting here, hour after hour, day after day. He kept waiting for his family, kept hoping that if he sat here long enough, he find them…they'd come back.
Come back…when they should be here in the first place. I'm supposed to be the "youngest", so why am I the only one willing to face this? Why aren't my big brothers willing to stay around? We all know Leo's in bad shape, so why can't we stick together? I don't want to lose anyone else…He was inexplicably mad at his entire family all of sudden. Mikey's anger, normally dormant, ignited; he wanted so badly to have someone to blame and be angry at, just so he could for once feel something other than fear and sadness. He was mad at Leo for not getting better, even though he knew it wasn't his brother's fault. He was mad at Don for shutting himself off from the rest of them. As for Raph…he was mad at Raph for never being there. It hurt Mikey that Raph, the brother he was closest to, couldn't be bothered to care for him or the rest of the family. And yet, he knew that this was how his brothers coped. Mikey even felt anger towards his sensei for not holding the family together. And he was mad at himself too. He had always managed to be a kind of glue in his family; when his brothers fought, he kept them together by redirecting their anger with a bad pun or a practical joke. When Leo and Raph were once again at each others throats, Mikey would attempt to dissolve the anger and play peacemaker. But now he didn't have the heart to do so, and no one else was holding up their part either.
Mikey sighed. Their family always seemed to suffer whenever a piece was missing. They had always kept together before because of all the parts of their family working like a well-oiled machine. Leo provided the calm, level head and the decisions and kept them grounded; Raph was the force and the spark, balancing Leo and moving them forward; Don was the brains, always having some gadget to get them out of a mess and acting as the balm between the older brothers; and Mikey tried his best to ensure his brothers stayed his brothers, to make sure they stayed young and weren't just ninja, and didn't forget how to laugh. And behind it all was Master Splinter, holding all the pieces together with his calming love and support. All the ingredients were there, so why were they falling apart?
What's happened to us? Mikey wondered miserably. We've all lost each other, and Leo's not even dead…
Mikey's tears returned in full force. Self-loathing filled his stomach as he sobbed. As hard as he tried, whenever his thoughts turned to his oldest brother, he could never keep that hateful word from his mind. Yet. More prevalent than the fear that haunted him at the thought of losing his brother was the hate he felt towards himself right now. Every time he thought about Leo, his traitorous mind always supplied that one word. He felt as though he was betraying Leo every time those three small letters echoed in his head; it felt like he was already letting Leo go, but that was something that he refused to do.
Mikey stood, propelling himself violently from the couch as he swiped the tears off of his cheeks. He suddenly felt an irrepressible urge to be with his brothers; he missed them so much it hurt. But what hurt even more was the fact that he was missing people who were right there; his brothers were all still here, were all still alive, and yet had become so distant that it was almost as if they were no longer with him. Mikey tried to be as mature as his brothers, but right now he needed his big brothers. He headed to Leo's room, driven by a certainty he couldn't explain that his brothers would be there.
He just hoped he still had three of them.
As he reached Leo's door, he paused, the familiar fear of what he would finding stopping him in his tracks. But with a deep breath, the turtle managed to propel himself into the room. Upon entering, he was surprised to see Don sleeping in a chair beside Leo's bed. Mikey couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Don anywhere other than in front of his computer chair. As he walked up next to his brother and stretched out a hand to shake him awake, he stopped, because he also couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Don asleep. Looking at his older brother, Mikey came to a decision. We've waited this long to talk; a little while longer won't hurt. The orange-banded turtle grabbed a chair and settled in next to Don, scooting close to his brother and grabbing a hold of Leo's hand. I'll just wait for Don to wake up, and then maybe we can go look for Raph. He gave a large yawn. Or maybe I'll just close my eyes for a bit too. Like they always say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
He copied Don's position, and was asleep within seconds of his head hitting the edge of Leo's mattress.
Raph trudged home through the sewers, kicking at anything that crossed his path and grumbling under his breath.
"Stupid Purple Dragons….buncha wastes of time. Freakin' amateurs an' a buncha sissies."
This was the first night that Raph had come up empty on his search for lawbreakers to pummel. For the past two nights he'd gone out with Casey, and there was never any trouble finding a group of crooks to pound on, for lowlifes were everywhere in New York; robbing grocery stores, getting into gang fights, and attacking women in lonely alleys. Raph had enjoyed their late night activities. They stayed out all hours of the night, since with Leo ill and Master Splinter trying to help his son, Raph was fairly unmonitored. While part of him enjoying his freedom, part of him hated it; he didn't want the price of having some space to be his brother's life. So he would shake off the thoughts of Leo and concentrate on the good parts: with no supervision, he and Casey did as they pleased. The pair turned nocturnal, which, given their lifestyles, wasn't that big of a change. They would head out at dusk and normally stay out until two, handling every crime they came upon. And once most criminals were in bed, they would conduct sweeps of known Purple Dragon hideouts, busting in and attacking while the thugs were still unfocused from sleep. Raph enjoyed it, because a fight meant that he didn't have to worry himself sick wondering if he now had only two brothers. Every other time he did, so the "exercise" was a welcome distraction. The pair would then congratulate themselves and stumble back to Casey's place to sleep for most of the day. But now, as reports of the wave of attacks on criminals circulated the news, those who weren't behind bars were laying low, which meant that nothing had happened tonight. Casey hadn't even wanted to head out, telling Raph that they'd be better off taking it easy for a change.
Despite his discomfort, Raph had listened to Casey and headed home. The Lair had become his least favorite place to be lately, and as such, he'd spent as little time there as possible. There's no place like home… Raph mused darkly as he walked into the Lair and made his way to his room. He immediately grabbed his headphones and cranked up the volume on his boom box. Loud heavy metal music flooded his ears, and hearing someone else's anger helping to take the edge off of his own. A few minutes into the song he realized that he couldn't feel the familiar presences of his brothers in their normal places. Raph winced at the thought of his brothers as he slowly sat up and turned off his music. Since Leo had kept getting worse, none of them had felt like smiling, much less laughing, so Mikey's attempts at lightening the gloom had been quickly shot down. And without jokes and antics to help himself and others, Mikey had retreated into himself. It prob'ly didn't help that his other two bros blew him off. Me an' Don ain't exactly been model big brothers. Don's been too wrapped up in Leo, an' as fer me…I've been too wrapped up in bein' angry about Leo. Raph sighed and started pacing. Leo…what the shell is it about you that holds us together? Why the shell is it that without ya around, we're fallin' apart? He growled. An' what the shell's wrong with me? Why can't I keep it together, keep us together? The angry turtle's pacing slowed until he came to a stop. 'Cause I ain't even been around. I ain't even been tryin' ta keep it together; I've been too pissed an' been out bustin' skulls too much. Well screw that. I can fix this now. Better late than never, right?
His mind made up, Raph quickly made his way out of his room, heading for Leo's. But what he saw there stopped him in his tracks.
Leo was still lying on his bed, still quiet and motionless. But for once he wasn't alone. Don was sitting in a chair beside Leo's bed, arms on the mattress and head propped up on his forearms, fast asleep. At his side was Mikey, who had brought another chair up to Leo's bedside. The youngest turtle was also asleep, with a tight grip on Leo's hand and his head resting against Don's. Raph smirked. Looks like I'm the last one to tha party. He quickly fetched a chair for himself and a blanket, and spread the blanket across his brothers' shoulders. The thought of waking them didn't even cross his mind. Despite his nearly constant absence, he had at least noticed that both Don and Mikey only slept when they couldn't fight it anymore; Don because he'd constantly be searching for a "cure", and Mikey for fear of his brother not being there when he woke up. Guilt continued to rumble in Raph's stomach. Raphie old boy, you've been one shell of a big bro lately, he berated himself sarcastically. The closeness seemed to do all three of them some good, because Don and Mikey looked more peaceful than he'd seen then in days, and even Leo looked better; Raph hated to get his hopes up, but he could swear there was a little more color in Leo's face. And from the looks of things, this was the best sleep either of his younger brothers had had in far too long.
Raph yawned. Come to think of it, I ain't exactly been gettin' my beauty sleep either. Dragging his chair next to Mikey's, he plopped down heavily, snagging a corner of the blanket for himself. He gently slung an arm around Mikey's shoulders and laid his hand on top of his younger brother's and Leo's, settling his head in the crook of his arm. Sighing gently, he closed his eyes. I'll just nab a quick nap, then wake up Don an' Mikey an' apologize fer being an idiot. Just for…a couple…minutes…
The tired turtle soon joined his brothers in deep sleep, the four of them sleeping more peacefully than they had in years.
"My sons…my sons, it is time to wake up."
Splinter gently shook his three youngest sons awake, smiling as they grumbled and stretched their ways into awareness. The Ninjitsu master had been attempting to meditate once again after a cup of tea when suddenly his mind had cleared. Startled by the sudden ease with which he could contact the astral plane, Splinter had quickly searched for information, then decided to investigate the cause. He discovered that he could no longer feel the cloud of pain from his sons that had blocked him the past few days. And oddly enough, he sensed all four of their presences in Leo's room. When he opened the door to his eldest son's room, the sight of the four of them sleeping together, just as they had as young turtle tots, had brought a smile to the old father's face. Leo was laying on his bed, with Don, Mikey, and Raph lined up beside him. Don had stretched out an arm so that his hand was on Leo's chest, and his other arm acted as a pillow. Mikey was using Don as his pillow, and was holding onto Leo with one hand and Raph with another. Raph had an arm around Mikey's shoulders, his hand just touching Don's shoulder and the other hand firmly in his youngest brother's grip. As much as he had wanted to let them sleep, or even just take a picture of the touching moment, there was now a need for action.
Mikey rubbed his eyes, giving a wide yawn. "Dude, did I sleep through practice again?"
Splinter smiled ruefully. "No, my son. But we have things we must do if we are to help Leonardo."
All three of the younger turtles were instantly wide awake, glancing at their big brother before focusing on Splinter and listening intently to what he told them. Through his meditation, Splinter had been able to discover that a connection still lingered between Iganna and Leo, and explained that the remaining connection was what was threatening Leo's health.
Raph shook his head. "We just can't seem ta get rid a this broad, can we?" Glancing towards his brothers and sensei, he took in a deep breath. "Look, I…I'm sorry, guys. For the way I've been actin' lately. I ain't even been around, an' I shoulda been. An' I've only just noticed we're all fallin' apart."
Don and Mikey both squeezed Raph's hand in understanding. "I'm sorry, too," the brainy turtle apologized. "I've been so focused on Leo that I've been ignoring you guys."
"It's okay, bro," Mikey said. "If I hadn't been avoiding Leo's room, you wouldn't have had to do it all yourself."
"Same goes fer me," Raph agreed. "I told ya we wouldn't leave that to ya all the time, an' I never stuck to that."
"As you all can see, this is no single individual's fault. In the matter of our family's state as of late, we all share the blame. Though I saw you distancing yourselves from one another, I had thought to let you go, hoping that you would eventually realize that you needed the strength of each other. But you all strove so hard to be strong, and rather than burden each other with your pain, the three of you have tried to bear it alone. But pain such as this is too much for anyone to carry by themselves. In sharing pain, you will find it diminishes rather than increases." Splinter looked at all of his students. "But the time for talk has passed. We now must act. I will venture to the astral plane to release your brother. Which of you will join me?"
"I will, Master Splintah," Raph said, speaking up before his brothers. "I'm supposed ta be the leadah when Leo ain't around, an' I ain't been doin' that lately, so I'll do it now." He looked at Don and Mikey. "I'll bring Leo back, I swear."
Splinter nodded his approval. "Very well. Michelangelo, Donatello, you will remain here and watch over Leonardo. Raphael and I shall return as quickly as we can."
The turtle and his master soon sank into meditation, then deepened their concentration, tracing the paths from their bodies to the astral plane.
Splinter walked out of his door, soon joined by Raph. He nodded to his son and the pair set off, following the feeling of Leo's spirit. Several minutes later, they reached his spiritual form, far from his entrance to the astral plane. Splinter gazed at Leonardo's manifest state. His eldest son's spirit, seen so often in their lessons in meditation, was normally so bright, so vibrant, so full of life. Now all that remained was a bare fragment, thin and hollow, producing little more light than a will-o'-the-wisp. He cursed the woman who was destroying his son just as he cursed the action he knew he had to take. He knew this was the only way, yet he didn't know what effect it would have. A sinking feeling in his heart whispered of failure and loss, but he quelled the voice. Leonardo was his son, and as a father he was duty-bound to protect him. The strange woman they had dealt with was somehow still hurting his son, and indirectly, his other sons; even in death, she harmed them and was tearing them apart. He would allow this woman to haunt his family no longer. Looking up, he caught Raphael's gaze; it was time. They created replicas of Leo's katana with their minds, focusing on the injured turtle, and raised them above the thin thread. Splinter closed his eyes for a brief moment, then nodded and plunged the blade down, sensing that Raphael had done the same.
As soon as the swords touched the strange thread, they were met with resistance. The thread bent slightly but did not snap. Splinter narrowed his eyes; they had not cut through, which meant Leonardo was still at risk. He looked up at Raphael, whose worry and fear were clear in his eyes. The old rat searched his son's gaze, looking for the spark he sought…Ah, there it was. Beneath the fear, beneath the worry and pain and confusion, there was what he sought: Raphael's anger. It seemed that no matter what situation they faced, it was the one thing his son always held to; it was a fire that could not be quenched. Splinter had realized long ago that his son's joy in battle stemmed not from a love of violence, but almost an excess of the innate desire for life that made up every creature; the indescribable something that caused a dying animal to bare its teeth at the hunter, that made a defeated soldier refuse to bow under immeasurable odds, that drove a spirit to cling to life and snarl unending defiance at Death. That passion for life overflowed in his son, and the fate that denied Raphael of such a full life was what fueled his anger. It often seemed to Splinter to be more than just anger, but also a refusal to bend or be broken. Now it was both; Raphael refused to lose his brother, and his anger burned clearly at the woman who, even in death, was making that a distinct possibility. Splinter drew his gaze out of the depths of his son's.
"Raphael, do you remember the many things I have told you about controlling your anger, my son?"
Despite their situation, a smirk curled at the edges of Raph's mouth. "Yeah, Sensei, I remember."
The turtle was flabbergasted. "Say what?"
"We forged these swords out of love, and hope, and a desire for justice, and I cautioned you not to allow your anger to temper the steel, for anger can defeat a warrior. Now I see that I was wrong to do so. Your anger now stems from fear for a loved one and a desire to protect them; in such anger, one can only find strength. Your anger now burns at the thought of losing Life, at the thought of your brother's light going out, and at the obstacle that blocks the future; in such anger, one can only find hope. Your anger now is a justifiable force, one in which we will find our victory. Let us recreate our blades."
A slow, dark grin grew on Raph's face. "You got it, Master Splintah."
As Splinter watched, Raph cast away the sword he was using, and, closing his eyes, drew forth his new katana. This sword was quite literally aflame with his son's anger, and the flames almost burned too brightly to bear. They raced up and down the length of the steel, licking at Raph's hand; but even when the fire began to spark across Raph's body, he wasn't burned. His angry and defiant spirit was too much a part of him and too strong now to be bound by the laws of any plane. Splinter nodded his approval and set his own blade aside. His also burned with fire, though it was decidedly less volatile than Raph's; for though Splinter too was angry at this woman for threatening his family, that was the only anger he channeled. Raph had drawn every drop of anger that he felt and pushed it all into his mystical weapon.
Splinter eyed his son's weapon, sensing easily that the anger that fed it was not entirely because of this woman. "I see we still have progress to make in controlling your anger, my son."
Raph's expression was sheepish. "Prob'ly, Sensei."
The old rat shook his head in exasperation. "It shall be a lesson for another time. Come; let us try again."
The pair reclaimed their previous positions, and once again raised the swords. Splinter caught Raph's eye and nodded, giving him the signal. Both weapons hit the thread at the same time and once again, it resisted. But this time, something else happened; a shudder ran through the thread and an echoing shriek began to build in the air. Just as Raph and Splinter thought that their ears would burst with the sound of it, the thread snapped, cutting off the haunting cry. The flames from the swords suddenly leapt from the blades to the broken thread and raced along the length of it, burning the entire thing to ash.
"Yes!" Raph cried.
Splinter sighed in relief, a heavy load lifting from his shoulders. However, as he turned to look at Leonardo, that load quickly returned. Leonardo's spirit, instead of strengthening or at least steadying in its light, was wavering. Its form was still weak, its hazy quality becoming more pronounced. "No…"
"No? No what?" Raph asked. He followed his father's gaze. "Leo!" The turtle nearly flew to his brother's side. "What's wrong with 'im, Master Splintah!"
"I do not know, my son, but I fear that it is a result of our actions."
"What? But that was s'posed ta help 'im, not kill 'im!"
"I know, Raphael. But that woman's hold on Leonardo has weakened him. His body and spirit have been forced to tolerate her attachment for a while, and such an abrupt separation may have shocked his core. And with your brother already being weak from her attack and her draining of his energy over the past week, we may have only made things worse." Splinter's shoulders sagged, fear and sadness etching harsh lines in his face. "I feared that something like this could happen, but it was the only way to rid her from our lives for good. I am sorry, my son, but…we may have acted too late."
"No! He ain't gonna die! I ain't gonna let him die!" Raph dropped to his knees and grabbed Leo's spirit by the shoulders. "Leo, come on! Ya gotta fight this, bro! There ain't nothin' holdin' ya back now, so if ya wimp out on me I know it's all just you bein' stupid! We've worked too hard ta keep ya with us to have ya kick off now." He shook Leo, gaining no response. "Come on, Leo! I will personally kick yer shell if ya give up! We've finally got a chance ta beat this broad once an' fer all, an' ya can't pass that up. We can't lose ya, bro; we'd fall apart. We're already fallin' apart. I don't know how ta be tha leader, Leo. I know I've given ya crap about it, but it just ain't in me, at least not yet. Come on, bro, just…just fight."
The words seemed to find Leo, because his head moved slightly and his eyes opened to mere slits. "Raph…?" he whispered.
Raph smiled in relief. "Yeah, bro, it's me. Just hang in there."
"Raph, I'm trying, but…it's hard. I'm…just…so exhausted…"
"I know, bro, but ya gotta hang in there. Just get back ta yer body an' I promise you can sleep fer a week."
"I…can't, Raph. I can't get my mind to focus on…the way back."
"Leonardo, you must," Splinter said. "Your body is waiting for your spirit, my son. All you need to do is follow the call. I shall help you." Splinter closed his eyes, and a bright light began to emanate from him.
"What's goin' on, Sensei?" Raph asked.
"I am expanding my spiritual energy, Raphael; I shall go ahead of you so that you can find your way, and this light shall act as a beacon" The rat sighed. "Your brother will need it, as well as the energy that emits from it, for his spirit is weak; he may soon begin to lose his connection with his body because of the distance between it and his spirit."
Raph glanced back at his brother. Leo's eyelids were still partly open, the eyes behind them tired as the elder turtle tried to focus on his brother. His spirit kept blurring softly out of focus, and more of him vanished each time he flickered; it was almost as though he was on a beach and each wave was carrying more and more of him away. As Raph met his brother's gaze, he could tell that Leo had heard Splinter's words, because fear was clear in his eyes. But what really scared Raph was what he read in Leo's eyes right below the fear:
Leo knew Splinter was right.
He knew he was losing his connection to his body, to the real world, the world of the living. He knew his strength was waning, knew that he may not have enough strength left to make it back.
Leo knew that he was dying.
"No." Raph's entire being shook with the force of his denial. "NO," he repeated, refusing to believe what was staring him in the face. The truth hadn't been spoken, but it was still there, hanging in the air like the lingering remnants of a bad dream, like the hateful stench of blood that one could never quite clear from the air: they were losing Leo. "You're better than this, bro; you're stronger than this. Ain't no way you can just give up. Ya gotta fight."
"Raph…" Leo's voice was little more than a whisper. "I've been fighting. I tried to get back…but I'm just too tired."
"So that's it? Yer just gonna give up!" Raph's fear quickly turned to anger; it was safer to be angry, because it left no room for fear and pain. "Great. The 'Fearless Leader' is just givin' up 'cause he's "too tired". What the shell am I s'posed ta tell Don and Mikey, huh? That their big bro, big, tough Leonardo, died 'cause he was too much of a wimp to fight?"
"Why can't you understand?" Leo's voice strengthened for a moment. "It's not that I don't want to fight, Raph…I don't want to leave. I want to stay, I want to go back home."
"Then find your way home, Leonardo," Splinter said. "Your brothers are waiting for you. My son, I know that you can overcome this. Your strength of spirit has always been great. This is a battle you must fight."
"Sensei, I'm sorry, but I've tried."
"Then try again." Splinter's voice was firm, his tone the one that the turtles never dared to argue with. "I am your master and teacher, Leonardo; I have trained you for years, raised you from an infant. I know you and your brothers as well as I know myself. I know your weaknesses, and I know your strengths. You can win this battle, my son. Your strength lies deep within, and you must gather all that you can. I shall return to the physical plane and will guide you back to your body from there. Raphael shall help you here." Laying a hand on Leo's head, he locked gazes with Leo. "You fought your way back once, my son; now you must do so again."
"…Yes, Master Splinter." Leo's voice was quiet, but despite his words, Raph wasn't sure if he truly heard agreement in them. As Splinter turned and began his return to the physical plane, Leo stopped him. "Sensei, wait."
"Yes?" The rat turned around, his tired eyes deep with emotion.
"I…I love you, Father."
Splinter's eyes began to glisten with tears and a wave of overwhelming sadness crossed his face as he looked at his sons; he seemed to sense what lay behind Leo's words. And though he wanted to deny the present situation, he would not risk his last words to his eldest son. "And I love you as well, my son." He turned back again, firming his voice once more. "I shall see you both at home." His proud form, bent slightly in grief, was soon out of sight.
Leo sighed, the air little more than a breeze. "Home…that sounds so nice right now…"
"Then go back home, bro," Raph pleaded, desperation softening his tone. "Just fight a little longer. Please."
His brother turned weary eyes on him. "Raph, I've got nothing left to fight with."
The blank admission froze Raph's heart. Leo had always been their rock; he was always the one who never gave up. No matter what, he would always fight to the bitter end; he, like Raph, didn't know the meaning of the word "surrender". To hear his older brother say that he was finished, that the end had been reached, drove the truth home like nothing else could.
"No…" The denial came again, almost an automatic reaction, a last defense that was quickly failing. "No…" His refusal of the truth was weaker this time; looking at Leo, Raph knew that he himself hardly even believed it anymore. Tears began to form in his eyes. "Leo, no…"
"Oh, Raph," Leo whispered, sadness covering his features. "Please don't. Please don't cry, bro." With a shaking hand, he reached up to weakly wipe away a tear on Raph's face, before his hand fell heavily to the ground, his energy spent. "Come on, Raph, you never cry. It's alright, bro, it'll be okay…"
"How the shell is it gonna be okay?" Raph demanded, his voice thick with emotion. "Yer dying, Leo, that ain't okay!"
"Raph, I'm not the only brother you have. You've still got Mikey and Don, and Master Splinter. You'll be alright. You're strong; you'll be a good leader for the others."
"I don't want ta be the leader!" Raph cried. "I want you ta get yer shell back home, where you belong! Just try harder!"
Leo only sighed. "Raph, please. I don't want to say goodbye when you're angry."
"I don't want ta say goodbye at all."
"Neither do I, but…" Leo's words hung in the air, the end of his sentence clear to them both: "but I don't have a choice". He sighed, locking his eyes with his brother's. "I love you, bro."
Raph closed his eyes, the tears beginning to press heavily against his eyelids. He'd never thought he'd lose any of his brothers this soon; he never thought about it all, mainly because the thought of life without any of his family members was incomprehensible to him. His mind raced; there was so much he wanted to say, so many things he still needed to tell Leo. But what did he have time for? He had to at least say what was most important, and he would. "I love you too, Leo. An' I'm sorry fer everythin'. I-"
"You don't have anything to apologize for, Raph. Just promise me you'll watch over Master Splinter and the others. Especially Mikey; he'll need you to get through this."
Tears began to fall down Raph's face now, soaking his mask despite his efforts to wipe them away. "I promise." He gripped Leo's hand. "I'm here, bro."
"I know…" Leo's words were even quieter now, his eyes drifting shut. "You always have been…"
As Raph watched his brother fade more and more out of sight, it occurred to him in a distant corner of his mind that crying wasn't so bad. In fact, a small voice remarked, it rather helps. It's something to hold to when there's nothing else you can do, no way that you can help. It's one thing you can do when you're helpless…
That last thought broke through the numbing shell of pain and hopelessness that was quickly encasing Raph at the thought of his brother's death. If there was anything Raph couldn't handle, it was inactivity, helplessness. His pride wouldn't allow him to stand by as Life went on; he had to be right in the midst of it, rubbing elbows and knocking heads with Destiny and Fate themselves. He remembered suddenly why he hated crying, why he never took part in the activity. Crying meant giving up without a fight. Crying meant you'd lost hope; you'd given up on trying. Crying meant that Life had dragged your shell into a fight and wiped the floor with you. Crying meant you were beaten and you knew it. And Raph was never one to admit defeat.
What the shell was he doing? Was he just going to sit here and watch his brother die?
Raph swiped at his eyes, scattering his tears. "Alright, Leo. Ya wanna go home? Then we're goin' home."
"Just 'cause you've given up doesn't mean I have. I'm gettin' yer shell home even if I hafta drag it all the way there. I promised Don and Mikey that I'd bring ya back, an' that's a promise I intend ta keep."
"I haven't given up," Leo protested, opening his eyes.
"Then prove it," Raph challenged. "Promise me you won't give up."
Leo's eyes met Raph's, exhaustion filling them. He gave a feeble nod. "Alright, Raph, I promise." Closing his eyes again for strength, the battered turtle struggled to lift himself to his feet, but his tired body refused to cooperate. "Raph, I can't move…"
Raph was filled with the desire to punch something at seeing his brother so weak. Next to him, Leo was physically the strongest of their brothers, but now he couldn't even move on his own; Leo's attempts to stand had only resulted in feeble twitches of his limbs. "Then I'll move ya. Yer not Mikey, so I know you don't weigh that much." Raph repositioned himself beside his brother and carefully slid his hands and arms under Leo. As soon as he was sure of his grip, he stood slowly, letting his brother's weight settle into his arms. Chills ran down his spine as he looked at Leo; his brother's spirit was now so faint that Raph could see the outline of his own arms through his brother. Wrenching his gaze from his brother's body, Raph looked up; a bright light was shining like a miniature sun on the horizon. "Look, bro, there's Master Splintah; he's waitin' fer us just like he said. It's the same line as all those cheesy movies Mikey's always watchin': "go to the light"." Raph grinned, glancing down to see if his brother had gotten the joke.
But Leo was staring behind him, his gaze focused on something else. "There's a light back there, too…"
Raph turned, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, and sure enough, another light glowed from behind them; but it was closer. He could feel a kind of passiveness emanating from it, a force telling him that sleep would be so much easier. He could feel it drawing heat from him, trying to lull him into the sleepy stupor that cold always caused him and his brothers. And he could especially feel its pull on Leo. Raph snarled at it and quickly turned back to face Splinter's light. "Not that light, bro, that's the wrong one."
He set off walking immediately, tracing the paths back to their bodies with determination. At first it was simple; Leo hardly weighed more than a thought, and Splinter's light warmed him, chasing away the chill from the light behind. But every moment, it got harder; with each step he took he could feel the pull on Leo increasing. When he risked a glance over his shoulder, the light was still there, just as close even though they had moved closer to Splinter's light. Leo was still staring back at the cold light, lying limply in Raph's arms. The hotheaded turtle gave his brother a little shake. "Hey, come on, Leo. That ain't the light you wanna be lookin' at."
Leo nodded slightly, the motion quickly translated into a shiver. "Raph…is it c-cold in here t-to you?"
"What?" Raph looked behind him, then down at his brother, who was trembling lightly in his arms. "Shell." He hugged Leo closer. "It's okay, bro; we'll be somewhere warm soon." Raph moved faster, speeding his pace up to a jog. He threw glances over his shoulder every so often, and each time he looked back, the cold light was there, following them. Its feeling had changed now; the suggestion of sleep was becoming more of a demand, and the cold was coming in faster waves. Leo's shivering deepened until he was vibrating steadily in Raph's arms. "Shell again. Alright, hold on, Leo, we're sprintin' now." Tightening his grip on his brother, Raph broke into a run. Any thought of how stupid he felt running from a ball of light was quickly banished; Leo had grown even colder and more transparent, and his shivering was getting worse.
After a few minutes that felt like hours, Raph finally reached Splinter's light, and in front of them laid the glowing doorway that was Leo's entrance and exit to the astral plane. Raph heaved a sigh of relief. "Check it out, Leo; we made it, bro." Kneeling carefully, he gently laid his brother on the ground and sat down beside him, leaning back on his elbows. "And not ta call ya fat or nothin', but yer a lot ta carry this far an' I'm takin' a break."
"Slacking on the job, huh?" Leo's words were still quiet, but Raph was gratified to find that his brother's voice was a little stronger. Even better, his shivering had nearly stopped.
"Hey, yer the one that's supposed ta be the fearless leader, takin' charge an' doin' everythin'. I'm just backup."
"…No, you're not." Leo turned his head to the side to look at the red-banded turtle. "You're more than just my second-in-command, Raph. You're my brother. And if it wasn't for you…I wouldn't still be here."
"Sure ya would. Ya just-"
"No, Raph. I wouldn't be here. I was just so tired, and…" Leo looked away, shame evident on his features. "I would have let go."
Raph's anger flared, and he opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly snapped it shut again. I ain't got no right ta yell at 'im, Raph realized. Looking at his brother, he was amazed that Leo had lasted even this long. Raph sighed and clapped Leo on the shoulder. "It's alright, bro. You've been through shell lately, an' ya wouldn't a been failin' anyone if ya had let go. Ya held on till I got here, an' that's all I care about." He heaved himself to his feet and started helping Leo up. "Now let's get outta here. This place is startin' ta get borin'."
The words had barely left Leo's mouth when a sudden gust of icy air knocked both of them back to the ground. Raph recovered faster than Leo and catapulted to his feet, turning around. "What the shell?!"
Behind them stood a tall, dark-robed figure, its face hidden in a cowl and its hands and arms lost in the voluminous folds of the sleeves. Raph narrowed his eyes. He didn't know how or why, but the figure before him carried the same feeling of that cold light earlier. The red-banded turtle shifted slightly to the side so that he was standing in front of his brother, keeping his eyes on the figure before him. "Who tha shell are you?"
Raph couldn't tell for sure, but judging by the way the opening of the cowl turned towards him, the figure was staring straight at him.
"I am here for your brother."
The turtle narrowed his eyes and tightened his hands into fists. "That ain't what I asked, but at least that answers my second question of "what do you want"." Raph maintained his position. "Sorry, but Leo's got an appointment back home, so we'll just be leavin' now."
"I think not." The specter met Raph's glare without flinching. "Regardless of your desires, mine have precedence. You asked who I am; I am Death. And as I have told you, I am here for your brother."
Raph paled at the realization of what was going on, but stood his ground. "Tough shell. You can't have 'im. Leo ain't dead."
"That is because I have not taken him yet. Your brother has been lingering between life and death. I have sensed his soul wavering, passing more and more into my realm. I waited to see what would happen, but I have waited long enough. He is now ready to pass on, so I am here to collect him."
"No way. We got rid of the connection between Leo and Iganna, and I'm takin' Leo back home."
Death paused, tilting its head to the side in apparent confusion. "Connection? What connection?"
"The connection I had with Iganna Triolini." Both Death and Raph turned to look at Leo as he spoke up, pushing himself into a sitting position. The blue-banded turtle met Death's gaze fearlessly. "She had powers of a supernatural nature, which she used on me. And somehow, even when she died, those powers maintained a bond between us. That's the only reason I'm here, there's nothing else to cause my death."
"I see." Death fell silent for a moment before speaking again. "I remember that woman. She is one of the few souls that I have taken before they had truly died."
Both Raph and Leo stared at Death in surprise. "That was you?" the older turtle asked. "You were the pool of blood that took Iganna?"
"Yes. You must understand, I do not normally act outside of my restrictions, but that woman had caused many problems for me. She brought about the premature deaths of many people, but because of the damage done to them, I had no choice but to take them regardless."
"It's not my time to die either," Leo said. "Iganna's death is no longer pulling me to my own. I think you've made a mistake."
"There is no mistake. I did not take you earlier because it was not your time; your soul was only felt in my realm because it was connected to the soul of the woman I took when she died. But now your soul has become detached from your body, and you are felt in my realm because it is your time, not the time of that woman. I do not decide who is to die, nor when, but I know the form and time of every mortal's death. And your soul is now calling to me."
"Alright, I dunno if this'll work, but it's worth a shot." Raph walked forward and placed himself before Death, firmly in between the specter and Leo. "Ya listened ta Master Splintah, so maybe you'll listen ta me. Leave Leo alone. He ain't ready ta go yet; it ain't his time."
Death shook its head. "Child, you presume much. I acquiesced to your teacher because he was right, not because I was being compassionate. You cannot cheat Death."
"I ain't tryin' ta cheat ya," Raph protested. He glanced back at Leo, an idea forming in his mind, and faced Death once more. "I'll make ya a deal. We both want Leo's life, right? 'Cept the way I see it, ya don't gotta kill 'im ta get what ya want. A life's really just energy when ya get down to it, right? And I know Leo ain't got much left in him. There ain't much left ta take before he'd…be gone. So here's the deal: whatever ya need from Leo, take from me. It's a fair trade."
"What?! Raph, no!" Leo tried to struggle to his feet. "It's not your fight, and I won't allow it! Don't you remember what Don said? About holding on to ghosts?"
The red-banded turtle swiveled around, glaring at his brother. "You ain't a ghost yet, Leo! An' how tha shell can you say it's not my fight?! Yer my brother, an' we have always fought tagether, not just you an' me, but all four of us. An' now yer tellin' me "you won't allow it"? Well, that's too damn bad, bro, 'cause I don't give a shell what you think about it."
Death cocked its head to the side, seeming to consider Raph's proposition. "Do you know what you are doing, child?" Death asked Raph. "While it is true that there is not much energy left in your brother, there is still his life energy."
"What the shell is that?" Raph asked, turning back to face Death.
"Life energy is the spark that drives a life, and that is largely what I take when I claim a soul. It is no small amount of energy. Do you still wish to make this offer?"
Raph nodded resolutely. "Yes. I don't care if it's a lot; I can take it."
"Raph, don't be an idiot!" Leo was on his hands and knees, panting after a failed attempt to rise. "I am willing to die if it's my time!"
"See, that's tha problem, Leo," Raph said, looking at his brother seriously. "You might be willin' ta die, but I ain't willin' ta let you go." Returning his gaze to Death, he set his jaw. "Alright, I'm ready. Let's do this."
Despite Leo's cry, Death reached out a long-fingered hand for the red-banded turtle. Raph braced himself, but he couldn't truly prepare for what happened. The touch was like being stabbed in the gut with ice, the feeling engulfing him like a wave. Raph couldn't remember ever being so cold. The second wave of it knocked him to his knees. The third and fourth quickly numbed him, and he lost count after that. Everything hurt, everything was so bitingly cold, and he just wanted to sleep…just like Leo had…
The icy grip dropped him, sending him crumpling onto his side, and everything rushed back.
"Raph!" Leo struggled over to his brother, pulling him into a rough hug. "You idiot! I told you not to do that!"
"Yeah, well, when have I ever listened to ya?" Raph groaned, the breath coming out of him in wispy puffs, burning through his heaving lungs. Looking up, he saw the glowing specter in front of him. It was brighter now, shining with the energy from Raph and pulsing in time with his racing heart. A luminescent hand still hovered inches above him, and Raph struggled to find his voice. "Are—are we…even now?"
The specter paused for a moment, then drew its hand away. "Yes. For now, all debts have been paid. You have my word that I will not touch you or your brother."
"All debts?" Raph asked, slowly regaining his breath. "What…are ya talkin' about? The only one…I know about…is this one."
"This is the third time your family has denied me of your brother, and the second time you have had the audacity to openly refuse and confront me. First, the time of steel three winters ago; then, more recently with the woman of the bleeding hands; and now, when your brother was caught between lights."
"What are ya…?" A light suddenly clicked on in Raph's mind. "The 'time of steel'…three winters ago…that's when the Shredder came back, right? But we didn't—naw, we did. When we talked ta Leo, we took 'im back from ya, didn't we?" When the specter nodded, Raph continued. "The woman with the bleeding hands…Iganna, which was when Sensei told ya to back off. An' stuck between the lights…the lights were you an' home, weren't they? You an' Life."
Death nodded again. "Most see me as darkness, as an end; but I am just as much a part of light as my counterpart Life is. Without Light, Shadow cannot exist. And without Shadow, there is no proof of Light's existence."
"That's beautiful. D'you all-powerful types sit around thinkin' this cryptic crap up?"
"Raph!" Leo admonished, shock and dismay evident in his tone.
The specter stared at Raph for a moment, then shook its head in rueful disbelief. "It continues to astound me just how much disregard you have for who I am and what I am capable of."
"Oh, I hold plenty of regard fer ya," Raph assured Death, slowly sitting up. "An' any other time I might be worried. But you promised we were square, an' I'm too tired ta give a crap 'bout much of anythin' right now."
Death fell to studying Raph. "Few have ever caused me as much trouble or stood in my way like you and your kin have. Many count themselves lucky to escape me once; and yet you attempt it three times. More shocking is that you have succeeded each time."
Raph heavily levered himself to his feet. "Look, pal, we ain't tryin' ta step on yer toes or piss anyone off. We're just stickin' tagether, like a family's supposed ta. We don't let anyone go without a fight."
"This I know well. And for that you have my grudging admiration. Few dare to challenge me, and even fewer have the will and abilities to succeed. But do not think to be so lucky in the future; Death cannot be denied, and such a trade as this one will most likely not appease me next time. All lives are pledged to me from their beginning, and all must pay what is owed." Death's eyes focused on Raph like lasers. "Just because you have eluded me thus far, do not think you are immune or untouchable. Your brother is mine, as are you and the rest of your family. Do not forget that."
Raph met Death's stare with his own, his chin jutting into the air. "I don't plan to. But I ain't gonna run around scared outta my shell 'cause of ya either. I ain't ever lived that way, an' I don't plan ta start now. Yer inevitable, an' I know that, but till it's my time, my family's time, we're fighting ya every step of tha way."
Death smiled. "I can ask for no less. Any victory is dull and joyless without a fight."
"Have ya got a book of this stuff? A big collection of witty sayin's?"
The specter in front of him raised an eyebrow. "I have called a truce with you and have not claimed your lives, but I have not named you "friend". It would serve you well to have a care for how you speak to me."
"Yeah, yeah. Ya don't have ta worry 'bout me thinkin' we're pals. If I don't see ya fer another fifty years, it'll be too soon. And don't expect any invites ta birthday parties, either."
Death threw back its head and laughed. "I hardly think I would know what to do with myself if I were surrounded by your entire clan for any great length of time." Death's voice resumed a rueful tone. "And now I shall bid you farewell, and leave you with some "witty sayings", as you deem them. Take care, Raphael, and fear no shadows. Remember to hold to the strength in yourself and your family, and to treasure the lives of all. You work hard to save the lives of those dear to you, and I hope that you will also strive to spare the lives of those around you; as I have said, no victory has any merit without a worthy struggle to the end. And finally, you would do well to learn some respect for your elders."
Raph matched Death's grin. "I'll work on it."
"You do that. Now leave; you have lingered too long in this realm, as have I. And as a goodwill token, I shall aid you."
Raph suddenly found himself flying backwards towards his doorway as Death abandoned his grip on him. As he neared the glowing portal, he shouted back towards the figures he left behind. "Ya promised! Remember that; you promised!"
After Raph disappeared back to the physical realm, Death slowly turned to look at Leo. "I believe that he was speaking to us both."
"I believe he was. Would it do any good for me to apologize for my brother's behavior and words, Zetsumei-san?" (translation: end of life, death)
The giant specter chuckled. "No, Leonardo, I cannot expect you to apologize for your brother's actions. Nor do I need you to; it is rare for me to find any souls to commune with that do not fear me. It is a delight to meet some like that throughout my travels, even if they lack the proper respect for authorities."
"Respect for authorities has never been one of Raph's strong points."
"I've noticed." Death cocked his head to the side, staring at Leo. "I sense a curiosity within you, Leonardo, concerning me. You have a question you wish to ask."
"Well, yes, Zetsumei-san, I do, but I don't want to presume too much."
Death chuckled again. "Your brother presumes more than he should, while you hesitate to presume anything at all. The balance in the universe will never cease to amaze me, I expect." The specter sobered. "Do not fear to address me because of who and what I am, Leonardo. I believe that you have earned the right to ask your question."
"Thank you, Zetsumei-san. What I wanted to ask was...will I see you again soon? Will you be coming after one of my family?"
The dark-robed specter sighed. "You most definitely make your question count, Leonardo. I am afraid, however, that I cannot answer you. Every person that I meet in cases like these asks me that question, but I cannot answer, because it is not for mortals to know when their time, or the time of others, will come."
"Oh." Leo fell silent for a moment. "Well, then may I ask another question?"
A smile was evident in Death's voice. "You may."
"What do you look like?"
Death froze for a moment, then began to shake slightly. Leo was worried that something was wrong, when the shaking suddenly turned out to be a chuckle, which soon erupted into delighted laughter.
"In all my years," Death said as its laughter died down, "all these many eons, I have never been asked that." With that, Death reached up and pulled down the hood of its robe.
Leo's eyes widened slightly. He had been expecting a fearsome figure, but what stood in front of him was far from that. Death's hood had fallen back to reveal the venerable face of an old man. His age could hardly be measured, let alone guessed at, and deep wrinkles covered his face. He had short, neatly trimmed hair, a salt-and-pepper dabbling of gray and white. But what surprised Leo the most was the man's eyes, for his were a soft brown of unimaginable depth. The turtle could see stars being born and dying, civilizations rising and falling, and life cycling throughout the years within those eyes. Yet they were also soft, kindness and peace shining from within them. Without the fear generated by Death's name, without the menacing presence that was expected to surround him, Leo thought Death seemed to be gentle and kind. "You're not anything like I expected you to be," he said softly.
The old man smiled. "I know. All expect me to be a faceless ghoul beneath this robe, or a skeleton, or the haunting figure of a loved one, and as such, none have ever asked to see what I look like. But I am not the terrifying specter with a scythe that everyone expects me to be. I don't bring death out of vengeance; I bring it merely as an conclusion, an end to a life and a time to rest."
Leo nodded slowly. "'Don't fear the reaper'," he quoted with a smile.
"Exactly. And now I must say farewell. I fear that if I keep you here any longer, your brother will see fit to return and lecture me some more, and I feel that I have had all of him that I can manage for now. Go, Leonardo. I will not hinder you any longer, but you must make your way back on your own." Death drew back a ways, putting distance between himself and Leo.
Leo gave a silent sigh. The coldness had eased away, and he no longer felt the full force of that terrifying pull from Death. But he was still left to face one undeniable fact: he was weak. Even without the biting cold, even without the numbing urge to sleep, Leo was still very tired. He seriously wondered whether he could make it to the door. And yet…didn't he owe it to his family, especially Raph, to try? After all Raph's done to save me and give me this chance, how could I just throw it away? Leo shook his head. I can't. Raph asked me to try one more time; so here's my one more time. Taking in a deep breath, Leo slowly gathered all of his strength. With a mighty effort he managed to make it to his feet, and silently congratulated himself for the small victory. He paused for a moment, then began walking to his door, the five feet seeming like five miles to his tired body. Leo stumbled several times, his feet and legs seemingly indignant about the workout they were being put through. Upon reaching the glowing portal, he leaned against the doorway and sighed. He turned his head back behind him at the sound of light applause.
Death stood there, a small smile of admiration on his face. "Well done, Leonardo. I am reminded once again why I have failed to gather any of your family, and you especially. Just walking may not seem like a large feat, but trust me, you have much to be proud of. You were farther gone than many have been, and yet you have fought harder than all of them."
Leo bowed to Death slowly. "Thank you, Zetsumei-san."
"And thank you, Leonardo. I am sure that the memories of this day will keep me entertained for a several years to come."
The blue-banded turtle blushed slightly. "Raph does have a tendency to make an impression on people."
"That he does. And on that note…" Death walked over to Leo, who felt a twinge of rueful envy at how easy the action was for him. The old man then laid a gentle hand on Leo's head, and a wave of power flowed through him. Leo glanced down and was shocked to see the wounds gone from his body. And if he concentrated, he could even feel the pain vanishing from his dislocated knee back in the physical plane. The turtle looked back up at Death, a question in his eyes.
"Consider it a goodwill token," Death said, smiling.
"Thank you, Zetsumei-san," Leo said gratefully, bowing deeply. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
"Most likely as greatly as I do, for it is also insurance for my health and sanity; were your wounds to prove fatal, I doubt that I could survive facing your brother again so soon." They both laughed at the admission. Death smiled again and reached around Leo, opening the door for him. Turning Leo around, he gave him a small push of encouragement through the portal. "Be well, Leonardo. I know that we will meet again." His voice took on a wry tone. "Though for both our sakes, I hope it is not any time soon. You and your family bring far too much excitement into an old man's life. Goodbye, Leonardo Hamato."
"Goodbye, Zetsumei-san. And thank you." With that, Leo strode through his doorway, making his way to the physical plane as the door shut softly behind him.
Don tapped his fingers together nervously. Raph and Splinter had been "gone" for an agonizing fifteen minutes before Splinter had returned. The rat had told Don that his brothers would be close behind him, but that had been another fifteen minutes ago. The brainy turtle was getting more and more anxious by the minute.
Mikey was no better. In fact, the younger turtle was a basket case, certain that his brothers had been sucked into some sort of astral black hole. He even proceeded to explain this theory, in great detail, to Don and Splinter until his tired sensei had sent him on a mission to the infirmary for extra bandages and painkillers. The old rat had then made his way to his room, attempting to determine what was taking Raph and Leo so long.
So now they were still waiting. Don glanced at Raph, but there was still no movement. He looked back at Leo, but his condition was still the same as well. Suddenly, his oldest brother gave a large shudder. Don froze as Leo's breath caught in his throat then slowly flowed back out. Don gave a sigh of relief, comforted by the fact that his brother had kept breathing until he realized something that nearly stopped his heart:
Leo had never breathed back in.
"Leo!" Don darted to his brother's side, hand reaching automatically for a pulse. Several heart-wrenching seconds later, there it was; a feeble throbbing underneath his fingers that was growing weaker every second. "No!"
"Don, what's wrong?" Mikey came flying around the corner, his trip to the infirmary interrupted by Don's shouts. "Is Leo okay?"
"No, he's not, he stopped breathing and I'm losing his pulse! Get over here, Mikey; I might need you to help me with CPR. I'm going to try just mouth-to-mouth resuscitation first, but if that doesn't work, do the chest compressions like I showed you and I'll take care of the breathing."
"You got it, Don." Mikey took up a position next to Leo's inert body.
"Alright, here goes." Don tilted Leo's head back and began to breathe into his mouth, counting to himself as he did so. One…Leo…Two…is he going to die?...Three…where's Raph? I thought he was supposed to fix this…Four…Leo just can't die…Five…what are we going to do? He stepped back. "Mikey, five compressions, now!" The youngest turtle quickly stepped up and did as he was told.
"Don…hey, Donnie…" a weak voice spoke up. "Give a turtle a hand?"
The purple-banded turtle's head whipped around, and his eyes widened at what he saw. Raph was waking up! "Raph!" Don sped over to his brother's side, helping him to stand.
Mikey also spun around to see his older brother. "Raph, you're back! What happened? Where's Leo?"
Raph gained his feet shakily, his normally dark skin pale and his breathing uneven. "He's comin', Mikey. Jus' give it a sec."
"We don't have a second, Raph!" Don protested. "He stopped breathing and his pulse is dropping!"
The hotheaded turtle laid a hand on Don's shoulder. "It'll be alright, Donnie. Just get me over there."
Don helped Raph over to Leo's bed, gesturing for Mikey to step back. Raph took up his youngest brother's position, performing the chest compressions with shaky arms. "Come on, Leo," Raph said, breathing heavily. He gritted his teeth, dismayed at the weakness in his arms. "You…promised, bro. An' I'm gonna help ya keep that promise…if it's tha last thing I do." A tingle spread up from Leo's body into Raph's hand, and as the red-banded turtle recognized the feeling attached to it, he gave a final hard shove to his brother's plastron, pushing with all his might.
Leo took a deep, gasping breath as his eyes flew open, his hands flying up to grab Raph's wrists. Raph sighed with relief and collapsed into Don's recently vacated chair, breathing nearly as harshly as Leo. "You sure as shell…took yer time in gettin' back here, bro," the hothead commented as he tried to regain his breath.
"Yeah, well…after Zetsumei-san met you, I had a few things…to apologize for," Leo quipped.
"Leo!" Mikey and Don both rushed at their older brothers, burying Leo and Raph in tight embraces.
Don pulled back first. "What happened, you guys? Did something go wrong?"
The older turtles glanced at each other. "It's a long story," Leo said. "Get Master Splinter and we'll fill you in."
Twenty minutes later, the rest of the Hamato family was brought up to date. Don and Mikey were amazed at what had happened, Splinter was distressed after hearing about Raph's behavior, Raph was sore where Splinter had hit him with his stick for how he treated Death, and Leo was laughing about Raph getting hit.
As his chuckles died off, Leo nudged Raph. "Hey, bro, I've got a surprise for you, compliments of Zetsumei-san."
Raph narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "What kinda surprise?"
Leo just smiled and began to unwrap the bandages around his side. When he pulled away the final layer of wrappings, there was nothing on his side but a thin scar, well-healed. The turtle grinned at the commotion that resulted and explained what had happened. "Zetsumei-san decided he wanted me healthy when I returned. It seems that he had had more than enough quality time with a certain red bandana-wearing turtle."
Everyone laughed at that comment, though Splinter looked dismayed. "Raphael, did you truly speak in such a fashion to Zetsumei-san?"
"Well, yeah, but it's no big deal. He didn't care, said he was glad ta meet someone who wasn't scared of 'im." Raph smirked, glancing at his brothers out of the corner of his eye. "Apparently all the people he meets are a buncha stiffs."
All the turtles groaned and laughed at the joke, Splinter joining in reluctantly. Leo shook his head. "That was awful, bro."
"Hey, it got a laugh outta everybody, didn't it? It couldn't've been that bad."
"Raph, we're all sleep-deprived and high strung," Don pointed out. "We're not exactly a hard crowd to push into hysterics." He shook his head ruefully. "A woman who can transfer injuries, a swirling vortex of death, and a nice long chat with Death himself, during which he is not only convinced to spare our brother's life, but to heal him as well. How exactly do we get into situations like this?"
Mikey grinned as he stole Raph's line. "It's just the old turtle luck working true to form!"
A couple hours later, the Lair was quiet again. Don and Mikey had helped move Raph's hammock into Leo's room after Raph had complained that he was too tired to make the trek into his own room. They had also decided to move two cots into the room as well, the four of them spending the night in the same room for only the second time in years. Splinter had bid all four of his sons goodnight, surprising them all by planting kisses on their foreheads before he retired as well. The four turtles had stayed up to talk for a while before Don dropped off, quickly followed by Mikey.
Leo and Raph continued to chat a bit before they too decided to call it a night, dwelling briefly on Iganna.
"I can't believe someone could be driven to do that," Leo commented softly. "To hate people that much, to willingly cause that much pain to others."
"Yeah, well, not everyone has yer heart, bro," Raph pointed out. He hesitated slightly before speaking again. "Listen, Leo? Don't let what happened get to ya, okay bro? Don't let it affect ya like what happened with Karai did."
Leo reached over and gripped Raph's arm, squeezing it gently. "I won't, Raph, don't worry. Things with Karai were…are complicated. What Iganna did, her betrayal hurt, but she'd never gotten as close as Karai so in a way, it wasn't as bad. I just still wish that things had turned out better. If I'd never agreed to help her, none of this—"
"Stop it, Leo." Raph grabbed Leo's hand with his own. "Don't go blamin' yerself again. There was no way ya coulda known what she was really like, and we're all alright. Everythin' turned out fine. You trust people a lot, Leo, but after what happened with Karai, ya started actin' like that's a bad thing, except it ain't. Just 'cause a couple people ya trusted turned on ya, it don't mean everyone will. Like Donnie said, not everyone we help is gonna be another Casey or April." He punched Leo affectionately in the arm, then laid back in his hammock. "Just…don't stop carin', bro. Remember what Mikey said, there are still some good people in this city."
"Thanks, bro." Leo watched his brother as he fell asleep, smiling as the hothead's snores began to float through the room. He thought about his brother's words, about Casey and April, their homeless friends, Leatherhead, Professor Honeycutt, and all the other people they'd helped. Raph's right. Even if there's people who don't appreciate us, or who would fear or turn on us, there are still people who make it all worth it.
"I'll remember that, Raph," he said softly, his whispered words echoing around the quiet room. "I'll remember that, I promise. I won't brick up my heart again. I won't close my self off from all of you ever again."
Gazing around the room, his thoughts turned to his younger brothers and his sensei in the other room, and he smiled gently.
"Don't worry, Raph; I'll never stop caring."
A/N: OMG, HF, I'm done! XD I can't believe it! And this monstrosity is 38 pages long! I have had so much fun writing this story, and I absolutely love where it's gone. I'm proud of how it turned out, and I love the support everyone has shown for it. I really hope it was worth the time and the wait. I've already got several more story ideas lined up, and I'll be posting a little list of those on my profile, so check that out sometime in the next couple of days if you want to. Other than that, I've got nothing left to say except thank you, I love you guys, and please review:D