Summary: A little one-shot inspired by the current season cartoon. Mike/Leo centric.
Disclaimer: I do not own the turtles. I make no money from this.
Credits: To Magda for the beta read.
He was thinking about fear. Curled up, knees to plastron and a nunchuck clutched in his right hand, he was considering, very seriously, the thing he was most afraid of.
Everyone had a worst fear. Raph had a terror of bugs. Leo, in childhood, had a thing about heights. Donnie was scared of failing. For Mike it was something a little less tangible.
"Damn, is he ever gonna give it a rest?" Raph demanded, his exclamation startling Mike for a moment. Standing shoulder to shoulder at the edge of the practice area, Raph and Don were carrying on a conversation. Mike glanced over, but he did not stir from his spot near one of the pillars. He returned his attention to his inner thoughts.
His greatest fear, the thing that gave him the worst nightmares, was change. Of all his family, Mike craved stability the most. When stuff happened, like losing their home, he took it hard.
"Just leave him be," Don said, his tone cautionary. "He'll stop when he's ready."
But when the people around him, the ones he relied on, started acting differently well … that scared him. He needed them to be the same – to be recognizable. His fingers curled tighter around the weapon in his hand, the wood biting into his palm. He could hear the zing of swords from nearby, the weapons slicing through the air as the series of complex katas continued far longer than they should.
"Instead … of standing and staring … why don't you get down here and practice," a harsh voice snarled from just out of sight. The sounds of the workout didn't so much as pause.
"No thanks, bro," Raph refused directly. Don shook his head and kept his place by Raphael.
Mike stood up abruptly, and turned away from the practice area.
"Mikey?" Don called, concerned.
"I'm goin' to my room," Mike mumbled in response, walking away.
On the lofted bed in his room, Mike's body twisted and low groan escaped from him as his sleep was disturbed."What is the opposite of dark?"
In his dream, Mike blinked at the flickering flame. He was sitting on the floor in their practice space, but the rest of the lair was completely black. A single candle sat on the floor, and beyond it was Leo. Leo's expression was deadly serious.
"Light," Mike offered hesitantly. Leo nodded a little, and Mike smiled. "Hey, are we playing word association? Like, I say 'geek' and you would answer 'Don'?"
"No, Mikey. We're not playing," Leo stated firmly. "Now listen. Without light, there would be no shadow."
"That's deep," Mike interjected, resting his chin in his hands.
Each time, Mike battled the nightmare with whatever he had available. Tonight the weapon was humor.
The reflected flame in Leo's eyes grew brighter, filling the iris with a ruby glow.
"It is light. What it is -- where it is -- that creates the shadow," Leo went on, his voice roughening to a painfully familiar growl. Mike could feel his heart begin to pound. "Light brings the shadow to life, so to speak. In order to understand the shadow, you have to understand the light." Leo's wide mouth curled back in a sneer. "But better yet is to kill the light. Cut it to pieces. Ravage it and live in the dark."
Mike perceived that Leo had drawn his blades an instant before the candle flame vanished. Utter darkness surrounded him, and low terror crawled inside.
"Time to practice, Mikey." Leo's voice floated out of the black, possessing some new quality as it drew a shiver from Mike. Red eyes opened and gleamed at him – eyes like the Shredder glaring out of the dark.
A rush of air, and the sensation that any move he made now would be much too late.
Gasping, Mike came awake with a start. Cold sweat coated his skin, and he peeled the sheet away with trembling fingers. He sat up, and stared blankly at the floor before leaping down. He landed in a crouch and straightened to step over a pile of comics to reach for his desk lamp. Pale golden light brought the room into focus, and Mike began to breathe easily again. Just a dream – an admittedly weird and unpleasant dream.
Knowing that sleep would be a long time returning, Mike snatched up a comic from the floor and found a place to settle in and read.
Sucking in a deep breath, Mike tightened his grip on his weapons. He came up from a crouch, a blur of furious motion as he flew forward. His attack repulsed by flashing blades, Mike spun left. A gleam of steel out of the corner of his eye, and Mike leapt, twisting his body in mid-air. He landed, throwing himself down and out of the way of a vicious kick.
No time to pause and consider his next move, Mike rolled right. It wasn't the best choice. A katana narrowly missed his arm, and he froze with the tip of the blade a bare inch from the juncture of shoulder and neck.
Panting, Mike raised his eyes to meet those of his brother. Leo stared back. Once, Mike could have said what was behind his brother's eyes – now Leo was just a frowning steel box. Closed up and closed off.
"Again," Leo ordered, drawing his sword back and giving Mike room to rise to his feet. Exhausted and almost shaking, Mike dragged himself upright, bracing his shell against the wall at his back.
Leo's head swiveled towards the speaker, and his expression only grew colder. "He needs more practice," Leo disagreed forcefully. Mike, too, looked at Master Splinter – his expression registered his relief at his reprieve. Leo had been kicking him around the practice area for hours – this following the regular workout with their sensei. There wasn't a part of the orange-masked turtle that didn't ache. Mike wanted nothing more than to spend some quality time flat on his shell.
"It is enough, Leonardo," Splinter reiterated, his tone even but his expression unrelenting.
Mike's eyes moved back and forth between the two. Would Leo back down? Mike's body tensed, prepared for whatever would happen next. Something had slipped under Leo's ever-present calm and control, and it rattled around in there. It made him reckless … moody …
A feral snarl answered the Sensei, and Leo spun on his heel. He jumped lightly up onto the ledge surrounding the training space, and charged for the elevator.
No one stopped him.
Wincing, Mike pushed off the wall and crossed the practice area. He needed a hot shower and a meal – in that order. He gifted Master Splinter with a reassuring smile as he passed, but it didn't reach Mike's normally warm and cheerful eyes. Forget Leo, Mike thought, rubbing his shoulder. Forget this new Leo who was just a little bit too much like Raph, only without the humor that made Raph easier to live with.
Positioned with his back to the ledge, Leo ignored the lights of the city. His focus was turned inwards as the past replayed.
His hands curled into fists, his palms itching for his katana.
The last moments before the explosion … The pain of his brothers' injuries beating at him … Pulsing inside of him just as powerfully as his own wounds. Their deaths only a moment away.
Leo's brow furrowed in a dark scowl.Much too kind …
His eyes squeezed shut, and Leo gave in to the temptation. In a flash, the twin blades were in his hands. He moved into the kata without thought or consideration. His body knew what was required to keep the agony at bay. Spinning, he pushed himself further. Here, at the very edge of his physical ability, there was momentary peace.
But it wouldn't last. His practice faltered, the blades wavering in his hands. The weight crept back over his form, driving him down to the surface of the rooftop. The tarpaper scratched at his legs as Leo knelt.
Guilt. It was guilt that crushed his spirit and made him wish … fleetingly and yet another thing to hide in his secret heart … that he were someone else. If he could be someone who didn't feel compassion ... If he hadn't taken the time – the precious seconds – to save Karai … Anything might have happened, but it was his kindness that had nearly caused the deaths of those he held closest.A good heart …
Leo surged to his feet, denying his Master's voice inside his own head. It was his good heart that brought them to the edge of destruction. His fingers tightened on the hilts of his swords. Blowing out a harsh breath, Leo shifted into a fighting stance. If he pushed harder – if he took the new coldness inside and nurtured it – then it would never happen again. If he erased his essential nature …
As the grace bled from his movements to be replaced by savagery, Leo felt his calm return. He would complete his practice here, away from the others. They didn't understand what needed to be done. They couldn't comprehend that only by removing all weaknesses – could they be safe.
And he would do anything … anything at all … to keep them safe.
Rubbing at his eyes, Mike headed for the fridge. He had decided on a snack – a full stomach might make him relax enough to sleep. The shower had eased his physical woes, but his brain was still buzzing. Only one small light burned in the kitchen over the stove. The rest of the kitchen was shadowed and quiet.
Pulling open the fridge door, Mike blinked at the bright interior. After a moment's consideration, he began loading the counter with ingredients. Bread, mayo, mustard, deli turkey, two kinds of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion … As he placed the assortment of food on the counter, Mike was still turning over things in his mind.
He had never doubted Leo. Not once had Mike ever questioned Leo's fitness for the position of leader. They were different, sure, and Mike sometimes thought his brother was wound too tight – but he never wondered why it hadn't been him.
But now, everything was different.
Shutting the refrigerator, Mike moved further down the counter and opened the knife drawer. A varied selection of blades gleamed up at him. He selected one, and started slicing the tomato. When he had a collection of thick slices he licked the juice from his fingers, and dropped the knife in the sink.
Layering the ingredients, Mike considered what could be done to snap Leo out of his current state. Everyone had tried, in their way, to make a dent in Leo's new armor. It was like everyone else was on a different frequency – like Leo couldn't even hear his own family anymore.
The monster sandwich complete, Mike put everything back in the fridge. He turned around, intending to eat at the kitchen table … and found a familiar figure standing on the other side.
"Let's go, Mikey," Leo ordered, his eyes cold and determined. Mike frowned, and set down his sandwich on the table. Mike pulled out a chair. Leo's expression hardened still further.
"Where?" Mike asked, preparing to sit down.
"Practice," Leo said, leaning forward to rest his palms flat on the scarred table.
"I've already practiced," Mike retorted stubbornly. He searched Leo's eyes, but it was like a stranger lived there now. Mike could feel himself getting angry. What the hell was Leo's problem, anyway?
"You're not done yet," Leo snarled back. He pushed off the table, shoving it into Mike. Mike stepped back, his food forgotten, and his hands went automatically to his weapons. A sneer bloomed on Leo's face as he noted the move. "Come on," he challenged, ready and willing.
"I don't want you here," Mike said, his voice surprisingly hard. Leo's eyes widened a little. "I want Leo. My brother, Leo. I want him back."
"I … Mikey …" Without the tough-guy growl, Leo seemed to return to a hazy version of the brother Mike remembered. For a moment, it was all clear to Mike – Leo's pain and sleeplessness were laid bare. "I'm still here, Mikey," Leo sighed, his eyes dropping to the tabletop. Mike rounded the table, his hand out to touch – to comfort.
The blue masked turtle raised his eyes, and Mike faltered, his fingertips bare inches from Leo's shoulder. Everything Mike had seen a second ago was gone behind an icy curtain. Vanished.
"I have to do this," Leo stated harshly. Mike's jaw tightened with frustration as he ground his teeth together. His hands, balled into fists, shook with the desire to strike out and slam that expression off of Leo's face. To force his real brother to return, through violence if necessary.
Leo, feeling Mike's anger like invisible waves against his senses, braced himself for a blow. It didn't matter. He could take whatever his brothers chose to dish out. His nerves hummed with a tension that was nearly pleasurable.
The clock on the kitchen wall ticked out the seconds. As Leo watched, the rage leaked from Mike's form. His hands went slack, his dark eyes softened, and the grim line of his mouth turned unspeakably sad.
Shifting to step past Leo and out of the room, Mike felt a hard hand catch his bicep, restraining him. Not turning his head to acknowledge Leo, Mike hesitated to wrench himself free.
"I will do whatever I have to," Leo whispered fiercely, his breath caressing Mike's cheek.
"To keep us safe," Mike added. "Yeah, I think I get that, Leo. Tell me something, bro," Mike's head swiveled to meet Leo's gaze. "Who's gonna protect us from you?"
Leo's fingers slipped away, and Mike brushed past to exit the kitchen. Leo stood alone, his expression shadowed as he turned away from the only light in the room.