Beta read by the insanely talented Reluctant Dragon. Go check out her fics!
The sheets had cocooned around my legs sometime during the night, constricting my movements as I clawed my way out of unconsciousness and arrowed upright in bed. Choking off the scream that bubbled up in my throat, I lashed out in instinctive panic, twisting and flailing until the cloth released its grip on me and fluttered to the floor. I scrabbled backwards until my shell hit the wall, my whole body shaking as if in the grip of a grand mall seizure.
The moan that slipped from between my trembling teeth had a staccato edge that echoed strangely in the dark confines of my bedroom. It unnerved me in a way I couldn't describe, and I clamped my jaw shut with a snap so quick it was almost painful. I felt childish, trembling in the dark as I fought back the urge to whimper, but there was little I could do right now to salvage my dignity. The nightmare was too fresh, the memory of it still playing across my mind in vivid, screaming Technicolor.
Mikey surrounded by a dozen of the Shredder's robotic soldiers, battered, outgunned and so tired he could barely defend himself against their inhuman strength. His cynical eyes suddenly wide and full of fear as they came at him in mass, his expression for an instant so like the child he used to be. "Donny! Donny, I-"
Leo still twitching in his death throes, his body an island in a lake of blood. Raph expending the last of his strength to crawl towards him, calling out his name so piteously that the sound of it seared my heart like acid.
And finally my own voice, numb with shock and devoid of inflection, sounding out a quiet lament for the dead, "My brothers. My poor brothers…"
Eyes pricking with sudden tears, my throat grew so constricted that it actually became difficult to breathe. I coughed in a futile effort to clear away the ache, and accidentally knocked over my alarm clock as I compulsively reached out and fumbled for the lamp cord. The old-fashioned clock fell to the floor with a clatter of bells as my fingers finally hooked around the beaded string. An instant later my room flooded with light, and my shoulder muscles loosened in relief as my pupils adjusted to the sudden glow.
I swiped a forearm over my eyes, leaving a streak of warm wetness across my skin, before drawing my legs up and crossing my arms over the tops of my knees. Resting my chin atop this self-made cradle, I inhaled a thin breath and waited for my throat to unknot, my bloodshot eyes gazing into the middle distance.
God, I hated this. How many times must this memory repeat itself before it stopped torturing me?
It had been nearly three months since that patchwork receptacle for two minds bent on vengeance --that twisted creature we had christened the Ultimate Draco-- had banished my brothers and me to the farthest corners of the multiverse. Through a series of fortunate and almost miraculous events, we had eventually managed to defeat him and return to our proper timeline. No one else in my family seemed any the worse for wear after our trials, but my nightmares had begun that very night and had continued to sporadically plague me ever since.
My brothers had helped as best they could, but they couldn't understand the reason behind the frequency and intensity of my night terrors. Unsurprising, since I had glossed over or completely omitted a great deal of what had happened. A part of me felt guilty for keeping such secrets, but I nevertheless did nothing to enlighten them. They didn't deserve to be haunted, too.
Only Master Splinter knew the whole sordid tale. Always so aware of us and our shifting moods, it had only taken a couple of days of false cheer and stifled screamsin the night for him to realize that there was far more to my 'adventure' than I'd let on. Determined to get to the bottom of it, he had called me into his room one evening and bade me to sit with him. As I sank to my knees in wordless compliance, he had busied himself with igniting a series of candles, until his grey fur lightened to silver with highlights of gold.
Breathing in the scent of warm wax and candle smoke, surrounded by the comforting familiarity of my father's chambers, I soon felt my resolve crumbling with all the finality of the Teton Dam. He didn't even have to say anything to prompt me, for only a few moments had passed before I bowed my head in submission and told him a story.
I told him about a world brought to its knees by Shredder's unspeakable cruelty, our once vibrant city transformed into an Abaddon of mangled buildings and hopeless, dead-eyed citizens. I told him a family, torn apart by pain and loss; of Splinter, decades in the grave, and of April, transformed by war into a grizzled shadow of her former self. I told him of Raphael and Leo, locked in a bitter, endless feud, and of Mikey, who no longer understood the concept of laughter.
And finally, I told him how I had killed them all.
I usually have a hard time recalling battles in any detail, but I could remember the final downfall of the Shredder with crystal clarity. And so I described every aspect of my plan and every act of bravery on their part, down to their final words and moments of life. I did not have to lift my gaze to Splinter's face to know that my tale hurt him, but I nevertheless pressed doggedly on, determined to leave nothing out. It was the only way I knew to honor the memories of those who were almost my brothers, those who had trusted me enough to follow me into battle at the cost of their own lives. A Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one.
My voice trailed away as I finally ran out of words, leaving me hoarse and teetering at the edge of an emotional precipice. When I finally mustered up the courage to look at Master Splinter directly, I was dismayed, though not surprised, to see tears welling up in the corners of his eyes, his ears lying flat against his skull. It had taken a great deal of effort not to reach out to him then and apologize, to beg forgiveness for killing sons that were never his. I somehow managed to stay silent and still, however, determined to wait patiently for the recrimination I knew I deserved.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when Master Splinter suddenly took a steadying breath and reached out to me. He ran a hand across my brow in a gesture reminiscent of my childhood, back when he had the power to banish my fears with a single touch, and whispered, "I am proud of you, my son."
The love and acceptance I heard in his tone had been too much to bear. My eyes had flooded immediately, and I didn't resist in the slightest when he gripped me by the forearms and drew me into his embrace. Burying my face against the soft warmth of his shoulder, my hands fisted in the folds of his robe, I had sobbed openly for the first time in nearly a decade, his soothing voice washing over me like the tide.
It was a long time before I finally found the will to stagger off to bed, and I slept without nightmares that night. I soon discovered that I wasn't to be spared for long, however, for only a few more evenings had passed before I was forced to relive the memories again.
I wish I could say I was shocked by their abrupt recurrence, but that would have been a lie. While residual guilt no doubt played a part, the eternally analytical part of my mind, which strove to derive patterns and order in all things, had long since drawn its own conclusions. Conclusions I could not bear to voice to Master Splinter, for fear of the contempt I might see in his eyes.
The Time Scepter, which the Ultimate Draco had used to banish us, was not the mere tool he had arrogantly assumed it was. While not a living thing, it was far more than an inanimate object, possessing an intelligence that was as ancient as the multiverse itself. Instead of transporting us to places of 'suffering beyond time and space', as our enemy had wished, it had weighed its options and sent us… elsewhere, until we would be needed again.
Our destinations may have been chosen at random, but considering all the places it could have sent us, something within me rejected this notion. It seemed far more likely that it had drawn its information from our own minds, perhaps going so far as to delve into the deepest desires within our own hearts. This supposition shook the very foundation of my beliefs, and I wanted to purge it from my thoughts like a poison, but I couldn't ignore the pattern…
Mikey was given the chance to play superhero and to save the day on a grand scale, as befitting his flamboyant nature and big heart. Raph was treated to a high-octane adrenaline fest, where he finally got the chance to show off his talents and to earn the glory he craved. Leo helped save a dynasty on Usagi's world, convincing others of the honor of ninjitsu even as he moved freely and accepted in the sun.
These were all positive experiences, to a greater or lesser extent, and mine was the only one that didn't seem to fit the pattern. But once I forced myself to look at it objectively, even it made a twisted sort of sense.
All my life I had battled with insecurity; that sick, creeping suspicion that I was a superfluous entity within my own family. Intellectually I knew it wasn't true, for they both loved and needed me, but the emotion still remained, unmoved by my own attempts to exorcise it. My reclusive nature and mechanical proclivities, coupled with the disconcerting way my brothers' eyes tended to glaze over when I spoke, probably didn't do much to help my self-image.
Regardless, that personality flaw was what made the pattern fit. For it was in that place of horror and death I finally, truly, understood just how essential I was to my family.
I had hated that glimpse into our possible future, and I still ached from the loss of my not-quite-kin, but as terrible as it sounded, a dark and hidden part of me had reveled in the knowledge. It had felt… good to know without a doubt that I was such an integral part of the team. God help me, the epiphany had soothed a rough patch on my soul like a balm.
"I guess we really needed that level head of yours."
I groaned at the sound of Mikey's rough, emotionless voice and buried my head in my folded arms, doing my best to block out the light. I could only hope that my theory was incorrect, because if it wasn't, then the selfishness within my own heart was a staggering and frightful thing. Even worse than that, however, was the knowledge that the grim future I had seen could still come to pass.
My intellect was my own worst enemy during these times of doubt, for could I see the possibilities all too clearly. Perhaps my disappearance would not be the catalyst, but it could still be triggered by something seemingly far more benign.
Over the past year I had spent an increasing amount of time locked in my lab, my thoughts swimming with mathematical equations, mechanical designs and new theories in quantum mechanics. As ludicrous as it sounded, I felt like I was on the cusp of something great, some world-changing discovery that all my research and theories had been gravitating towards. I couldn't discern the true shape of it yet, but the notion still taunted me, like a Will-o-wisp flitting at the corner of my eye, promising me a vision of it if only I turned my head to look.
It was getting easier and easier to get lost inside my own head, for this desire to understand was as enticing as a siren song. The temptation to sequester myself in my lab and not come out until I had a revelation was already strong, and the feeling only increased with each passing day.
I have heard of cases where the wives and children of scientists would abandon them because they could no longer handle the intensity of their dedication… and in some instances those scientists had barely seemed to notice. The thought of ever being so consumed was difficult to imagine, but I knew better than most how insidious obsession could be. It sneaks up on you gradually, stealing your time away bit by bit, until suddenly you're standing in the rubble of your former life, watching in befuddlement as your family goes up in flames.
Growling in helpless anger at the ominous turn my thoughts had taken, I reached down decisively and retrieved my bedding. I curled up on my side and pulled the sheets over my head, strangely unwilling to turn off the lamp. The trapped air rapidly growing stale from my breath, I inspected the darkness behind my eyelids and thought of my brothers, both the living and the dead. But most of all, I thought of patterns.
If my theory was correct, then my fears for the future could not be so easily discarded. Especially not by someone like me.
The one whose deepest desire involved seeing his family in ruins would be capable of anything.