Author Note: Yet another one-shot from SS! I was doing something mind-numbingly boring at work when the bunny bit me. It's quite a long one-shot, not to mention very strange! I've had some problems in uploading this fic, everything was bunched together and I had to go through the whole fic to seperate it, so if I missed anything, let me know and I can fix it.
This fic was beta read by the amazing Askre! If ya haven't already checked out his fics, do so pronto. I highly recommend 'Turtopia', which is one of my favourite fics in the fandom. But all his fics are damn good.
I woke up to a loud crash and a lot of cursing. A few years ago I would have jumped out of bed, grabbed my swords and gone quickly and stealthily out to see who was there, but these days I didn't have to. Raphael, drunk. As usual. It's been getting worse lately, but there's not a lot that I can do about it. At one point I thought Casey might be able to do something about it, he was as concerned as I about the booze, if not more so. He was there on the occasions when I wasn't. But my hopes in that direction came to nothing.
Another thud, followed by a groan and I decided to get up. I wasn't going back to sleep for a long time now anyway. It took me hours to drop off these days, too much going on in my head for me to just turn off. Might as well make sure he hadn't broken his damn neck this time.
Exiting my bedroom, I walked into the main area of the lair, sighing as I realised Raph was flat on his beak, trying to use the couch to pull himself back up. He missed his grip on it twice and rather than watch him struggle any more, I went over and helped him up, letting him lean on me as I guided him to his room. No way was I lifting him into the hammock and getting up again when he fell out, so I ditched him on the floor and dropped the blankets over him. It wasn't the first time
Going back into the main area, I looked over to Donnie's room. There was a light on in there and I could see the shadows flickering, indicating the computer was on. He must have heard Raph, but hadn't done a damn thing about it. Again.
This damn family is falling apart, I thought sadly, dropping heavily into the couch in front of the TV monolith. I glanced at the clock, wondering if I ought to call Casey or April, but it was too late. They'd be asleep and although they wouldn't complain if I woke them with my problems, I've done it too often to feel good about it. Time to handle things on my own.
Casey and April had both tried to help, but there was nothing they could do. Over beers in his apartment, Casey told me that he and Raph had argued badly. Casey had tried to talk to Raph about the amount he was drinking – Case never minded a few beers but Raph was going too far. Raph had gotten defensive and said that Mikey was the reason he drank. Casey asked how long he intended to blame his dead brother for his drinking and Raph went ballistic, telling Casey that he didn't need anyone telling how to run his life. Then he stormed out and never went back. I took a drink of my own beer and mulled over what he was saying. No matter what was said between them, Casey was still Raph's friend and he couldn't stand seeing my brother descending into his own personal hell any more than I could.
Without Casey keeping a tenuous brake on Raph, he just got worse, drinking alone somewhere I couldn't find him, coming back to the lair loaded, falling unconscious in his room or on the couch, waking the next morning, chugging coffee and aspirin, giving the punch bag a few desultory blows and disappearing out to do the whole thing all over again. He had changed. That aura of anger that was so much a part of his personality was turned inwards and he didn't even care enough to do something about it.
Because Raph was so obvious about his unhappiness, it was easy to overlook Donnie and were it not for the fact that Raph was gone so often I might have done. Donnie wasn't acting out or storming around. It took me long time to notice he wasn't doing anything. He barely came out of his room anymore, except to eat. When he spoke to me, it was only monosyllabic answers to my questions.
"How you doing Donnie?"
"What you working on?"
"You want to hang out, watch some TV?"
It was like beating my head against a wall. He wouldn't look me in the eye, stay in the same room with me if I attempted to start a conversation, didn't even seem to care that Raph was drinking himself into a stupor every night. He'd always been able to conceal his emotions better than any of us and now he was cold, cutting us off totally rather than risk sharing anything we felt.
Sitting on the couch, hearing the faint hum of Donnie's hard drive and the muted snores of Raph's drunken sleep, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. At one time I might have tried meditating, but it was just another thing that awoke memories I would rather forget.
I had been working out in the dojo, totally engrossed in my practice and blocking out every other distraction. I did this at the same time every day whenever possible, usually for at least an hour, sometimes as many as three depending on my mood. I figured I had been there for at least an hour and a half that day when I decided to call it quits, reaching for the towel before glancing down and realising my fingers were about an inch away from a giant snake. . .
With a yell, I snatched my hand away before hearing sniggers and realising I'd been tricked.
I turned to see my brother doing a bad job of hiding, laughing in the abandoned way that was so like him. "HA! Leo, shoulda seen your face! Looked something like this!" He pulled an expression of mock horror and I glared. Mikey had been playing far too many pranks of late and I was just a little tired of it.
"Ha ha Mikey." I picked up the plastic snake and threw it at him. "Very funny."
"Ah, come on Leo, lighten up!"
"I might lighten up when you GROW up!" I stomped out of the dojo toward my room. I wouldn't normally have been so short-tempered with him but a weeks worth of lousy weather had confined us pretty much to the lair and cabin fever was setting in. Mikey tried to alleviate it through jokes, I trained, Raph worked out and Donnie lost himself in his inventions and research, beginning to speak to us like we understood all the stuff he did. We would have got on each others nerves in those conditions regardless, but Mikey and his tricks were getting everyone even more wound up.
I managed to push my irritation aside for a while and meditate, clearing my mind of distractions such as being stuck in the lair with brothers who played stupid jokes or grumbled constantly or spoke only in garbled technojargon. By the time I was done, I was refreshed and clear-headed. For a few seconds at least. . .
Sighing, I realised that Mikey had done something to annoy Raphael and Raph had retaliated by breaking something rather than smacking him upside the head as usual. I was getting more than tired of it all by now. I was just hoping the weather would ease of soon and maybe we could go out on a training run and blow off some steam. I couldn't hear what was being said but I could identify Raph's gruff tones, Mikey indignant complaints and Don's voice, calm with the undertones of irritation that were always present lately when he was soothing an argument between two of us. I noticed it more when he was placating a situation between me and Raph or me and Mikey, but it was there even when I wasn't. I knew if I intervened, I wouldn't be so good at hiding my frustration.
And that's why I made a decision I'd regret for the rest of my life.
I spent another fifteen minutes in my room, avoiding the situation, hoping that just this once I could prevent playing the role of the bad guy, the heavy. After a few minutes the voices stopped but I spent a bit longer hiding out. I'd heard the elevator go up and assumed it was Raph – no one else was crazy enough to storm out of the lair when the streets were still awash with rain. That meant I'd end up waiting up for him and we'd have a fight, I'd go out after him and we'd have a fight, or I'd have to involve Sensei, who would wait up for him, Raph would blame me and we'd have a fight. I wasn't too eager to find out what had been going on.
When I finally did leave the room, I was mildly surprised to see Raph still sat on the couch, channel hopping. Don was sat at the computer desk, which in those days was still in the main area of the lair so Don could work and talk to us at the same time.
I frowned. "What happened?"
"I warned him what would happen if he didn't change that dumb ring tone," growled Raph, not taking his eyes off the TV.
Don looked up from what he was working on, screwdriver in hand. "You know how much Mikey loves that stupid download with the dancing chicken thing?"
I rolled my eyes. "Don't remind me."
"He was singing along!" Raph stabbed the remote with rather more force than necessary. "Some one calls and he didn't even answer it, just sang along with the stupid chicken!"
"So Raph threw it into the wall," said Donnie, the slightest hint of a smile on his face. I had to agree. That dancing chicken had been REALLY annoying.
"Had to be done," said Raph.
"So where did he go?" I asked.
Don and Raph exchanged looks. "I lost a bet," said Donnie. "I was supposed to go out on a pizza run, but I told Mikey if he went I'd have his phone ready by the time he got back."
"Oh, OK," I said, vaulting over the couch and sitting next to Raph. "Don, how do you always manage to avoid the pizza run in bad weather?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Don innocently.
"When it was your turn last time and the lights went strange but were fixed by the time I got back? Or the time before when all the TV's went on the fritz but you could repair them as soon as Raph went for the food?"
"Coincidence," said Donnie, just a touch too smug.
Master Splinter emerged from his meditation chamber and came over. "Where is Michelangelo?"
"Gone out for pizza Master," I replied.
"Hmm." Splinter glanced over at Donnie. "Raphael, did you break that device again."
"It's not mine Master Splinter, it's Mikey's." Raph neglected to tell Sensei how it had come to be damaged.
"And I trust that your brother took yours so you might keep in touch with him?"
Raph frowned and glanced at Don. "I didn't think about that. Did you?"
"Meh, he'll be fine." Raph waved an arm dismissively. "It's a pizza run, how much trouble could he get into?"
So we waited. And waited. And Mikey didn't come back.
Almost an hour later, we had given up any pretense of thinking of reasons why the pizza place might be busy and were trying to convince ourselves instead that he'd stopped off for some other reason. Mikey was easily distracted and who'd want to hurry back to the lair having been cooped up there all week? But none of our justifications rang true to our own ears and Master Splinter was glaring at the clock, looking grave.
"He can't have got into any trouble just going for pizza," insisted Raph, glancing at Mikey's now-repaired shell-cell guiltily for the third time in two minutes.
I stood up, suddenly angered by my previous inaction. "Master Splinter. . ."
The three of us took the elevator up to street level, as Mikey had, tracing the route he would probably have taken. I did a quick mental calculation. It was a fifteen minute journey through the back streets and alleys, maybe a ten or fifteen minute wait if he decided not to phone ahead for the order. He would be slower going than coming back, enjoying the exercise but not wanting the pizza to get soggy. The rain had eased up a little but it was still coming down.
There was nothing in the streets on the way and as the pizza parlor came into view, I hesitated. Might he have taken the rooftops? Or the sewers? Could he have taken a longer route? I cursed inwardly. We could spend all night searching for him.
"Knowing our luck, he's already at the lair eating our share of the pizza," muttered Raph.
I shook my head. "He would have called. Or Master Splinter would have. He's still out here, somewhere. Let's go to the rooftops, see if we can see him."
We hurried up a nearby fire escape and retraced our steps back to the warehouse where we kept the Battleshell, covering a wider area this time, jumping from building to building, our search hampered by the non-stop rain. Visibility was poor and Mikey was a ninja. I was beginning to despair of ever seeing him in these conditions. . .
"Leo. Over there."
Donnie's voice was oddly flat as he pointed. I glanced in that direction and went cold. In the alley directly below the building we were stood on, there was a single nunchuck. The bright orange band around one end had come loose and was soaking up water. Of the other, or their owner, there was no sign.
We leaped from the building, unmindful of what could be waiting for us, although we were immediately on our guard. Mikey would never leave a chuck lying in a dirty back alley, not voluntarily. Not unless he had to.
There was no sign of life in the alley and I bent and picked up the nunchuck, feeling oddly detached. Don went one way and Raph the other, both of them searching for signs of Mikey while I tried to work out what had happened, staring at the weapon and at the ground I had picked it up from, trying to figure it out. . .
The anguish in Raph's voice told me all I needed to know before I even went over there, forcing myself to hurry even though I didn't want to know, to see, because if I didn't then I wouldn't have to acknowledge the truth that I'd realised the moment I saw that discarded nunchuck.
There was a dumpster in the alley and Raph was knelt behind it, unmindful of the sodden ground. I approached, dread building up until it threatened to consume me. As I got closer I could see Raph cradling the head of our brother, who looked as if he might have been in a collision with a ten ton truck. The top of his head was missing, exposing bone and blood and something that might have been his brain. I didn't want to look closely enough to decide. Gore had run down his face, almost obscuring most of his headband, but the tails over his shoulder were still orange, telling us beyond doubt who it was. Otherwise I might not have believed it. He didn't look like my brother anymore, that much is true.
I heard Donnie approaching behind me, whimpering quietly. But Raph was still hanging on to Mikey's lifeless body and I knew I had to get them away from here, take Mikey with us and get back to the lair before we were discovered. I took a step forward and my foot kicked something. The pizza Mikey had been bringing home, the box swimming in water, pizza inedible.
A noise from nearby made me turn away from the sight of my brother. There was a person nearby, a girl of maybe nineteen, soaked through, wearing some kind of waitress uniform that was smeared with red stains. There was a name tag on one breast but I didn't read the name. It didn't occur to me. She was sat on the floor, staring at us through wide, red rimmed eyes.
"Can you help him?" she asked me pitifully.
I stared at her, my mind working too slowly to take in the significance of her presence. "What happened?"
She began to sniffle. "Some guys grabbed me on my way home from work and he just jumped in from nowhere and saved me from – from - " Her shoulders began to shake and she might have been crying, although it was hard to tell because of the rain running down her face. "But one of the guys had a gun and he was shooting at me – and he - " She indicated at Mikey. "He got in the way and then they all ran away! And I pulled him over here to keep him dry and he – he's going to be all right, isn't he?"
Belatedly, I realised that Raph must have found her with Mikey and knocked her aside, explaining why she was sprawled on the ground like she was. I probably should have made sure she got home alright, but her safety was the last thing on my mind. Which was appropriate, since it seemed to have been the last thing on Mikey's too.
"We'll take care of it," I said in a voice I didn't recognize as my own. "Leave."
"But - "
She scrambled to her feet and fled into the night. We never saw her again.
It was Donnie who approached Raph, managed to pull him away from Mikey and get him to his feet. Wordlessly, he guided Raph away from the spot, leaving me to struggle with the body of our brother. I knew it didn't matter how I carried him, intellectually I knew nothing else could hurt him now, but I was afraid of hurting him, a part of me refusing to believe the evidence of my own eyes, thinking if we could get him home, if I was careful, maybe everything would be alright. . .
A noise startled me out of my memories and I opened my eyes. For a second I couldn't place it – then it sounded again and I sighed. Raph, puking up his guts. I should know that sound by now. I've heard it often enough.
Raph wasn't this bad after Mikey died. He wasn't. It was after we lost Splinter that Raph seemed to just give up. After Mikey was killed, Raph went on a rampage, tearing through the thugs of New York with a vengeance, determined that whoever it was that killed Mike wouldn't kill anyone else. Did he get the guy? I don't know and neither does he. We were all too shocked to ask the girl who had attacked her and the uniform she wore was too generic for us to trace. There were worried talks about gang wars all over the news and when Master Splinter took Raph aside and pointed out that no amount of revenge would bring back our brother, Raph blatantly ignored him.
Master Splinter seemed to age years in minutes after we returned to the lair, Mikey's body in my arms. After we buried him, Splinter fought to hold the family together. He tried to draw Donnie out of himself, tried to calm Raph's anger and despair, tried to talk me out of my feeling of failure. It did little good, but for Sensei's sake, we attempted to respond. Then one morning, five months after Mikey was killed, we found him in his room, dead. That was when things really started going bad. That was when Raph buried his pain in a bottle. That was when Donnie moved the computer and the tools to his room and cut himself off from us, even from April, who I thought he might confide in even if he couldn't talk to us. I thought that maybe we were too close to the situation but he might open up to her – but it was a futile hope. He just wasn't interested in company of any kind. Maybe he thought if he didn't let himself care for anyone, maybe he couldn't get hurt again.
There was another retch and I grimaced. Raph hadn't made it as far as the bathroom, by the sound, hadn't even made it out of bed. Either I cleaned up after him tonight or left it for him to do himself in the morning. Neither option was appealing. I glanced over to his room and out of the corner of my eye caught a glimpse of movement at Donnie's door. Don was looking out, mostly hidden in the shadows but definitely there. For a moment I thought he was going to go to Raph's room, help him out or even come into the main area of the lair to talk to me – but he vanished back inside his own room and the light from the computer started flickering again. He was back at work.
What the hell did he work on in there anyway? Once upon a time he made me laugh, proudly showing off his latest brainwave. It was the expression on his face more than anything. The stuff he came up with was genius, well advanced of what someone of his age should have been able to come up with, but there was always that look when he revealed them to us, surprise mixed with satisfaction, as if he couldn't quite believe he'd pulled it off. Yeah, good to remember that look, after the last look that Donnie gave me.
I wished I hadn't thought of that. It had been so long since Don and I really spoke that I could sometimes forget the last time he actually uttered a full sentence in front of me. The old Don would never have been so mean, but I guess he's changed. Why not? We all have. Still, whenever I remembered it, I felt a flush of hurt and sorrow.
It was over a year after Mikey was killed, maybe seven months after Splinter died. I had been wallowing too much on my own misery to take much notice of what had become of them. Then one day I woke up and realised it was time I got on with life. Yeah, I still missed them, but I was dishonouring them by acting this way. Mikey loved life and would have hated to see anyone else unhappy. Master Splinter would have expected me to pull myself together long before now. No more self pity. It was time to get on with things.
There was the usual pang as I passed Mikey's room, but I forced it away, heading for the kitchen. Raph was up already, sat on the couch watching something about monster trucks. This was before he fell out with Casey, before he started avoiding the lair.
"Morning Raph!" I said cheerfully.
Raph grunted and took a swig of beer. I frowned. It seemed early to start drinking. And then it occurred to me; I'd seen him doing this every day when I woke up. I'd seen, but I hadn't noticed.
I wanted to give him a lecture. Instead, I forced a smile. "You want breakfast? I'm thinking bacon and eggs."
"No bacon. No eggs. Haven't been for months."
The smile was in danger of escaping my face. "I'll go get some then. It's about time we began eating properly anyway."
"But - "
"I said I don't want any!"
"Fine. I'll see if Don's hungry."
Raph let out a snort of humourless laughter and had another huge swig of beer, slamming it on the floor in front of him and belching. Frowning, I went over to Donnie's room and entered. He was scowling intently at his computer, muttering under his breath.
"You want some breakfast? I could - "
"No! I'm busy!"
Stung, I left the room and stood outside his room for a moment. The only sounds in the lair were the tapping of keys and the roar of the TV. For the first time, I was able to leave my own grief behind and see just how far apart we had become, how unhappy my brothers still were. There had to be something I could do. I thought back to when Mikey and Splinter were alive, how we behaved then, what had been different. Back then, we had been able to talk to each other, been able to laugh. . .
That was it. They had been able to laugh. If I could make them happy, if I could do something that would make them forget their troubles just for a few minutes, then maybe things would begin to get better.
I tried, I really did. But Donnie wouldn't look up from his work long enough for me to amuse him and when he did emerge for meals, he would look right through me whenever I tried to make a joke. Raph just grunted or looked blank at every pun, ignored me if I did something I thought for sure would make him laugh. It became something of a mission for me. I was irrational with it. I thought that if I could get them to laugh or smile, just once, then maybe everything would be alright.
When nothing worked, I got more desperate, raiding Mikey's room for his practical jokes, the plastic bugs he 'accidentally' left lying near Raph's things, the invisible ink pens he swapped with Don's – even the snake that pissed me off so much on the day he died. Nothing. Don didn't so much as smirk when Raph spied a bug and jumped, he barely even noticed when the pens he wrote quick notes with were as good as useless. By that time, Raph was barely noticing anything and it was around then that I spoke to Casey about how concerned his drinking was making me.
Then I left the snake in the guts of a computer that Don was working on while he made himself a meager meal of soup and sandwiches to eat in his room. Childish, yes. But like I said, I thought if I could just make one of them smile, it might snap them out of it, make them realise there was more to life than circuit boards and beer.
There was a few seconds peace as Don went back into his room. Then I heard the yell.
I turned as he stormed up behind me, expecting his usual good nature to win through, maybe for him to throw the snake at me and tell me I wasn't funny, a rueful smirk giving away his lack of real irritation. Worst case scenario, he'd tell me to stop bugging him and go back to his room. Or so I thought. The look on Donnie's face made me pause, the grin on my face wilting. He looked like Raph during the worst of his outbursts. I'd never seen that look on Don's face before.
He strode up to me and shoved the snake against my plastron. "Leonardo."
I reached up and took the snake. "Uh, yeah?"
"And now we're agreed about that. . ."
"You are Leonardo. You're not Mikey so stop pretending that you are!"
My mouth dropped open but Don never saw it, turning and leaving me standing there, that stupid snake clutched to my plastron. It felt like he'd sucker-punched me. Don couldn't have hurt me more if he'd taken his bo and slammed me with it. I hadn't intended to try to take Mikey's place, not at all, but as soon as Donnie pointed it out, I knew that's what I'd been trying to do.
I turned around to see if Raph was watching, if maybe he would tell me that Don was overreacting, but he was staring at the TV as if he hadn't even noticed the confrontation, the ever-present beer bottle resting against one leg. I thought he hadn't heard, but that was the night he and Casey argued and it made me think that maybe he heard everything and agreed with Don.
That was the last time I tried to make them laugh.
I leaned back on the couch again and closed my eyes. I wanted to meditate, but I wasn't able to after Mikey was killed. Every time I tried to clear my mind, all I could see was his lifeless body. Guilt, that was what lay at the root of our problems. I couldn't meditate because I kept thinking that if only I hadn't been meditating that night, maybe I would have gone out with Mikey to the pizza parlour and maybe I would have been able to save him. That was my guilt.
Don's guilt because he got Mikey to go out instead of him.
Raph's guilt because he smashed the shell-cell that might have alerted us to Mikey's plight.
I sighed and spent a moment wallowing in my guilt and shame and sorrow, thinking I would give anything to have that moment back, to go back and do things differently. I would give anything at all. . .
And then a feeling of calm came over me. It was as if I had just been meditating, but of course I hadn't been able to do so since my brother died. I opened my eyes and blinked in confusion.
I was in my room, sat cross-legged on the floor, a candle in front of me. The candle was lit, half-burned. I was totally disoriented. A second ago, I had been in front of the TV and now I was in my room? Had I fallen asleep and sleepwalked back to my room? But if I had, why the candle?
Reaching out, I snuffed the candle and stood, looking around my room. It wasn't the way I had left it when I got up to look after Raph. The stack of joke books I had liberated from Mikey's room during my pointless mission to cheer up my brothers was gone from the shelf. My katana weren't in their customary place where I keep them when I sleep, nor were my pads and belt. I looked down and got a nasty shock. I was wearing them. Reaching to my back, I touched the pommel of the katana, strapped to my back. When I got out of bed, I hadn't bothered putting them on. So how was it I wearing them now?
I walked out of the room, my head spinning. What the hell was going on? I was so engrossed with my concerns about my mental state that it was a few seconds before I realised that Raph and Don were both sat in the main area of the lair, Raph channel-hopping and Don sat at – the computer desk?
"Don, when did you move the computer back in here?"
Don gave me a look of confusion. "It's always been here Leo. Is your headband on too tight?"
I approached them, wondering if this was some elaborate joke they were playing on me, retaliation for all the dumb practical jokes I had played on them. "What's that you're fixing?"
"Shell-cell, what does it look like?" Don paused in his work, genuine concern on his face. "Are you feeling alright?"
I suddenly realised this was the most words Don had spoken to me at once in – well, in a couple of years. "Shell-cell?" I said, sounding dumb even to my own ears.
"I warned him what would happen if he didn't change that dumb ring tone," growled Raph, not taking his eyes of the TV.
A sudden bolt of deja-vu hit me. I'd been here before, I just knew it. And I knew just when too.
Raph turned and gave me a look that mirrored Donnie's. "What do you - "
"It's Mikey's," said Don.
My heart sped up. "You threw it into the wall because he was singing along with the dancing chicken," I said, my voice sounding far away.
"Had to be done," said Raph, frowning.
"And he's gone out on a pizza run without a shell-cell," I continued.
Raph and Don nodded, beginning to look nervous. "I didn't think about that," said Raph, glancing over at Don. "Did you?"
This has to be a dream, I thought. I fell asleep on the couch and this is all just wish fulfillment. And if it isn't?
"It feels too real," I sad to myself, ignoring the expressions my brothers wore. I thought back to that night – this night. We had waited about an hour before we went out looking for Mikey and by then it had been too late. But if we were to go out right now, we might get to the alley where he met his death before he did, be able to save him.
This is real. I don't know how this happened, but this is real, the chance to save Mikey's life. . .
"Come on." I raced for the elevator, glancing impatiently over my shoulder when my brothers didn't follow immediately. "Come on guys! Mikey's in trouble!"
To their credit, they didn't question me, just dropped what they were doing and hurried over to the elevator. The doors seemed to take an age to open and before they did, there was a voice behind us.
"My sons! Where are you going?"
I turned. "Master Splinter! I have to go after Mikey!"
It was strange, seeing Master Splinter again. The three of us buried him and now he was standing before us, looking the same as he always did. I felt a wave of love for my Sensei and realised just how much I'd missed him. It was something that sometimes I overlooked, because Master Splinter's death in his own bed seemed irrevocably linked to Mikey's senseless murder. Thinking of Sensei always reminded me of the way Mikey had died.
Master Splinter scrutinized me and I looked back, wide-eyed with desperation. He had to let us go. He just had to. And if he didn't – well, he wasn't going to stop me, no matter what.
"Thank you Sensei." I took a few steps over to him and surprised him with a hug. He looked both confused and pleased. Then I went after Mikey, Raph and Donnie following without a clue what I was doing.
We took to the rooftops, me leading and Raph and Donnie following. Just like I remembered, the weather was treacherous, the surfaces slippery. Usually if we were out on the rooftops there was a lot of showing off, flips and the like, but even if I hadn't worried the hell out of them, there was little we could have done.
We were almost there, the alley where we found Mikey that night – this night – when we heard the shriek. Immediately I put on a burst of speed, not knowing if that was the sound that drew Mikey there in the first place or if that was the girl he saved horrified that her protector had just lost the top of his head.
I paused on the rooftop edge and glanced down, half expecting to see the lone nunchuck I had seen the last time I lived through this night. It wasn't there. Hope welled in my chest as I heard the sounds of fighting in the alley and as I looked, a thug stumbled backward into my line of sight, tripping over his own feet and falling on his ass. That had to be Mikey. There might be only seconds before the gun was pulled and he got between the girl and a bullet.
I jumped down from the building, using the fire escape. Don and Raph were right behind me, realising immediately what was going on. I might have some explaining to do when this night was over, but if Mikey lived through it this time, I'd think of something.
The scene in the alley was one I'd envisioned a thousand times, yet was nothing like I thought it would be. I'd imagined two or three guys, Mikey taking them down easily and then one of them pulling a gun. There were actually eight of them, wearing gang tattoos that I didn't recognize. Newbies maybe, trying to make a name. The way Raph tore through the gangs after Mikey died, there was no way to know if they ever did get any territory. Probably not. My hot-headed brother can be pretty vicious when he wants to be, or he could before he began drinking.
If we can change things, maybe everything changes – maybe Don won't shut himself away, maybe Raph won't start every day off by getting drunk, maybe I won't need to try to be Mikey. . .
Four of the thugs were down already and two of them had closed in around someone I couldn't see. Before the three of us could make a move, they both fell backward, stunned. As they fell back, I saw the one person I never expected to see again. My brother, Mikey, alive. For now.
In spite of the situation, I felt jubilation well up inside me. This time, I wasn't too late. This time, we could help him.
Fighting down the urge to run over to my brother and hug him, or to shout at him to run away, I unsheathed my katana and rushed at the two guys Mikey had knocked away. Knowing that these were the guys who had killed Mikey – would kill Mikey, if I didn't do something – made me feel a lot less merciful than I might have been normally. I slashed them both deep enough to cause serious blood loss, making them both decide they'd had enough and collapse. Mikey looked startled to see me, even more so when in the midst of battle, I found time to shoot him a grin. I was just so damn happy to see him!
Behind me, Raph and Don were making short work of the two remaining on their feet. I turned to check on their progress, saw all of our opponents were down and gave in to the impulse I'd had since seeing my brother and engulfed Mikey in a hug.
"Shell Leo, what got into you?" Mikey didn't sound too perturbed by my behaviour though.
"I'm just glad you're alright," I said, but that feeling of happiness was leaving me, replaced with unease. Something was amiss, I could sense it.
The girl, whom I'd forgotten about until then, crept out from behind the dumpster, where in another life she'd pulled Mikey to keep him out of the rain. She stared at us, eyes wide, hair stuck to her face by the rain that still came down around us. "Who – what?"
Don put his bo away and approached her. "Are you alright?"
"I – yes. Thank you. I'm alright, I think. Those guys. . ." She swallowed hard. "Thank you."
Mikey sketched off a salute. "Anytime."
It suddenly occurred to me what was niggling. She had said the first time around that Mikey had got between her and a bullet. None of the guys we had fought had gone for a gun. Surely that would have been the first course of action.
I turned to the guys Mikey had knocked out originally, seeing the spot where I had found the nunchuck in my minds eye. Beyond that were two thugs, one down and out, the other recovered and scrambling in his buddy's pocket.
"He's got a gun!" I yelled, too far from them to do anything.
The guy swung the gun up and I shoved Mikey aside, into a wall. Raph still had his sai in hand and he threw one at the guy. It hit the arm with the gun, skewering him and knocking his aim askew. His finger tightened instinctively on the trigger and a shot rang through the alley. Overcome with dread, I turned and looked at Mikey, expecting to see the sight that had haunted my dreams for so long – but he was pushing himself away from the wall, giving me a look of confusion. I broke into a relieved grin. He was alive.
I had the moment back and I changed it.
I turned back, expecting to see Raph going medieval on the thug who had fired at us. Not that the guy was a threat anymore, not with a sai sticking out of his arm. But what I saw knocked the grin off my face in a hurry. Raph wasn't even looking at the guy. Instead he was staring, horror etched into his features. I followed his gaze and felt my heart drop into my stomach. Don was standing with a hand clasped to the side of his neck, but even from where I was I could see the blood spurting. The bullet had hit him, torn an artery.
"Oh no. . ." I clenched my fists, unable to move to help him. I couldn't believe I'd screwed up so badly. I'd been trying to save my brother, that was all, I hadn't intended for another to be hurt instead. . .
"Donnie!" Mikey shoved his way past me, undoing his headband as he did so and running over to Don. Don gazed at him, mute pleading in his eyes as Mikey wadded the material against the wound. It wasn't going to be enough. Nothing was.
Mikey caught Don as he fell forward and Raph moved to help him, that look still on his face. I couldn't move still, couldn't help them. All I could do was stare as Don's life bled out of him. I hadn't saved anyone. All I had done was trade one brothers life for another.
As Donnie's eyes slipped closed, Mikey imploring him to keep fighting, I closed my eyes to block out the sight and turned my head up to the sky, feeling the rain run down my face. I kept remembering my thoughts while I was sat on the couch, just before I suddenly realised I was back on this night, in my own room. I would give anything to have Mikey back, anything, anything at all. . .
"THIS ISN'T WHAT I MEANT!" I screamed up at the sky, letting the rain wash away the tears that had started from my eyes. . .
And suddenly realised that my face was dry.
I opened my eyes and blinked. In front of me was the half-burned candle, still lit. I was sat cross-legged in meditation pose in my own room.
I had the moment back.
This time, I didn't bother to question, didn't look around the room to wonder what was going on. I leaped to my feet, not even bothering to extinguish the candle, running out of the room and jumping down from the upper levels. Raph was sat channel-hopping and Donnie was sat at his computer desk, fixing Mikey's shell-cell.
"You two stay here!" I raced for the elevator, ignoring their startled queries. It was on its way up, me inside, before they could even get off their seats. Once topside, I raced as fast as I dared to the alley. It occurred to me that maybe this was some kind of hell, that I was destined to live the night my brother died over and over and screw up every single time. I already screwed up twice. But if Donnie wasn't there, nothing could happen to him. And now I knew where the gun was, who wielded it.
This time, maybe I could get things right. And if I didn't, I still had to try.
The shriek sounded again as I approached the alley and this time I didn't pause to check the situation. I'd been here before. I didn't need to. Instead, I used the fire escape to leap to the ground and saw the two thugs Mikey had just hit stagger backwards. Again, I slashed at them deeply enough to put them out of the fight, but this time there were two guys behind me that Raph and Don weren't taking care of. I turned and leaped at them, sensing Mikey right behind me following suit. A flying kick knocked the first guy out and I heard the sounds of a scuffle nearby as Mikey took on the final guy standing. I didn't have time to look around and check on his progress though. Instead, I jumped the guy I just knocked flying and headed for the guy who I had seen shoot Don. I was fighting insane confusion. My mind was telling me it had been no more than ninety minutes max since that had happened, yet at that moment it hadn't yet happened. And wouldn't. Donnie wasn't there. But in another life he had killed Mikey and I wasn't going through that again. I wasn't losing any more of my brothers, no matter how often I was able to go back.
The thug had just opened his eyes when he found a katana at his throat.
"Oh God!" His body stiffened and his eyes went wide with terror. "Don't kill me! Please, I – I'm begging you! Please don't kill me!"
"Why not?" I stared down at the man who had murdered my brothers – would murder at least one of them, if I didn't stop him. "You killed my brothers. Why shouldn't I kill you?"
"I didn't! I didn't kill anyone, I swear! Please!"
"Leo. . ." Mikey's voice was filled with worry. "What are you talking about? Where's Raph and Don?"
"We're right here," said Raph's voice from the shadows. I grimaced. They'd followed me. So much for my instructions as leader.
"What are you doing here? I told you to stay home!"
"We were worried when you went tearing out of the lair," said Don. "What are you doing?"
"This guy." I jabbed with the katana and was gratified to see him wince, trying to move his head further away, impossible thanks to the concrete floor. "He's going to go for his buddy's gun. Shoot at us."
"Put the katana down Leo," said Mikey from behind me. "He hasn't done anything to us."
"Not yet! But he will!" I wanted to lash out with my weapon, bury it in his throat and make sure he couldn't hurt my brothers ever again. But something stopped me. He hadn't done anything yet. Should I take his life because of an act that hadn't happened when I did?
"Where's the gun Leo?" asked Raph.
"That other guy has it, under his jacket," I said.
"Then we just take it and no one gets shot." Don approached us and I had to force down the urge to shove him away. The image of him trying to staunch the blood from his neck thanks to the thug at the other end of my katana was still vivid.
"Don't get too close to him Don," I said, not taking my eyes off the guy on the floor.
"It's OK Leo," said Donnie, obviously trying to placate me. "I'll take the gun and we can leave these guys to the cops. Mikey, just keep an eye on those other thugs."
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and turned my attention away from the guy I had assumed was the main threat. The guy nearby him, the one who had the gun, was sitting up, weapon in hand, aiming in our general direction. Donnie was closest to him, Mikey off behind me to the left, Raph behind the gunman.
I raised my katana from the guy on the floor and took a step in the guys direction. Before I could attack, there was a gunshot and I froze. I'd failed. Again.
Some leader you are. . .
I looked down and realised there was blood all over my right arm and the floor nearby. Too late, I was too late, I'd screwed up again and what if this time I didn't go back?
I closed my eyes. . .
And opened them, expecting to see the candle, my room, find myself having just finished meditating. Instead, there was an expanse of ceiling above me and I realised I was lying down in the lair.
I sat up in a hurry and looked around, wondering if I screwed up my last chance. I was back in the lair, lying on the couch and I groaned, covering my eyes. I'd fallen asleep on the couch, dreamed the whole thing and any moment Raph was going to come stumbling out of his room for his first beer of the day and something to clean the puke off the floor, while Don shut himself away in his room and refused to speak to us and Mikey and Splinter lay in their graves, still dead. . .
"Bro! You're awake!"
I turned my head and gaped. I couldn't help it."Mikey?"
"Who else?" Mikey had just emerged from the kitchen, a bowl of popcorn in hand. "How's the arm?"
"Arm?" I glanced down, belatedly realizing my right arm was throbbing madly. There was a large bandage covering it, wrapped tightly around the bicep. "What happened to my arm?"
"What, you hit your head too?" Mikey grinned and threw some more popcorn into his mouth. "That explains a lot."
"Michelangelo!" Master Splinter emerged from the kitchen behind him, carrying a cup of herbal tea that he carefully carried over to the couch and handed me.
"Uh – thank you Sensei," I said in confusion.
"HEY DONNIE, RAPH!" yelled Mikey. "HE'S AWAKE!"
"Not so loud," said Splinter with a wince.
I stared at them, the tea cooling in my hands. It was – surreal. When I was woken in the night, my brother and Sensei had been dead. Now they were having a conversation in front of me. Truly an odd sight.
Raph leaped down from the upper levels, Don close behind. "Hey bro, glad you're alright." He smirked at me and I eyed him suspiciously.
"Are you sober?"
Raph gave me an odd look. "You've been acting weird ever since Mikey got ya with that snake. Running off after him, fainting at the sight of blood. . ."
"Keeled right over, splat!" Mikey grinned at me evilly. "Wuss!"
"Hush you two," said Don absently, taking my arm and checking the bandage. "He had just been shot."
"I got shot?"
"It was just a graze really," replied Don.
"I got shot?" I gazed at Donnie as the pieces fell into place. "You're still alive?"
Don frowned. "Uh, last time I checked."
I hugged Don with my good arm, startling the hell out of him. "We're all still alive!"
"Why wouldn't we be?" Raph frowned thoughtfully. "It was just a bunch of punks. We've been up against worse."
I debated explaining and decided not to. Bad enough I could remember a life where Mikey was dead, a moment when Don was killed, why burden them with the information? Instead I shrugged. "I guess the gun freaked me out."
They let it go, although I saw Sensei shoot me some probing looks as the evening went on, my brothers alternately solicitous of my injuries and teasing me for passing out. I didn't care about that. I'd already lived through one life with my family fallen apart. But getting that moment back had made everything all right again, even if I had screwed it up more than once. I didn't know what the future might hold now that I'd managed to change the past somehow. But with my family complete again and everything right in the world – that was one moment I wanted to hang on to.