Disclaimer: Don't own turtles. I just like to write about them! ;)
A/N: Direct quotes from "Grudge Match" are in itallics. This piece is slightly metaphorical. Just look at the title. It's pretty obvious to me, but then again I wrote it. These little one shots aren't going in any paticular order so expect me to jump from season to season.
A soft sigh echoed in the dimly lit room. The room only had one occupant who did not mind the small golden flames that shone softly throughout. He gently removed an intricate piece of decorative armor that was strapped to his left leg. He examined it and then set it down gently on the bench he was sitting on. He took two ceremonial swords out of their sheathes and eyed them critically. They were the same size and shape as his normal double katana, but the hilts and the alloy the blade were different.
They were not his. They were his possessions (as they were given as gifts along with the armor) but the room's single occupant felt no attachment to them. He would never try them out in battle and thus the swords were obsolete. They were decoration just like the armor. What good could this armor do anyway? It covered the shoulders, half the plastron, and then there was the obscure and random part on his left leg. It had no true purpose. It could not stop another sword from piercing flesh. It could not prevent legs and arms from being broken, cracked ribs, or various other injuries. It could not stop death.
Leonardo picked up the strange piece of leg armor and observed it critically. It was beautiful and expertly crafted, but the teenage mutant ninja turtle was having a difficult time finding any value in that. He knew his brothers would disagree with him.
"I'm all for training but I think you're going a little overboard."
Leonardo wanted to tell them it wasn't just the training and the brooding. It wasn't just pushing himself beyond exhaustion and his 'new attitude'. He wanted to tell them many things, but every time he tried something else would come up. He trained for them. Didn't they see that? He was setting the example. If they could just try and take things seriously maybe next time…
That's what it was all about; next time. There was always a next time. His younger brothers always seemed to be lulled into a false sense of security and invincibility. Their lair was in the sewers. Who would possibly want to go looking there? It was dark, maze-like, and the stench was terrible. No. No one would find them. Even if they did they wouldn't be able to get in. Donatello was a genius and he could make machines to protect them from anything. They shredded Shredder! They could take anything on and make jokes about it while we're doing it. They can rush into any situation without thinking and still come out unscathed because they were just that good. Oh, and if something does happen they have their fearless leader to protect them!
How many times did Leonardo have to remind them to always be on guard? How many times did he have to force them to go to practice? How many times had he seen their attention wander? When would this stop being a game for them?
So he trained whenever he could, hoping that maybe this time the others would join him. He knew they never would. It was his burden. Was he asking too much for them to lighten it a little bit? Maybe they could do an extra practice session every other day? Was it too much?
"I said AGAIN!"
Leonardo took off the rest of his frivolous armor and sat in the dark. His eyes shot to the door when he heard soft footsteps. His brother Raphael stood in the doorway with his arms crossed and a smirk on his face. He was still in his strange armor. Neither of them spoke for awhile and Leonardo didn't mind. Sometimes silence was the only way to keep from screaming at his brothers.
"Hey bro," Raphael finally said.
Leonardo didn't want to get into a conversation with his hot-headed younger brother right now. It was getting too predictable. Raphael would demand to know what the shell was wrong with him and where he developed his 'new personality' and then Leo would make some biting comment. Raph would get mad and then he wouldn't think. He'd say something particularly hurtful without realizing it and Leo would force himself not to flinch and just absorb it. Raph would storm off and Leo would slip into the shadows.
"Leo if I have to attack you one more time I'm going to really attack you!"
Leonardo also didn't want to instigate an argument by not saying anything. He inwardly sighed.
"Hey Raph, shouldn't you be with his greatness, the Battle Nexus Champion?" Leonardo asked smugly.
His red-clad brother clenched his fists and raised them towards the heavens in an almost mockingly helpless gesture. It was this that told Leo that Raph wasn't really angry with Michelangelo winning the rematch. He knew that Raphael was glad that Mikey was still alive. No matter how many times Raph smacked Michealengelo he still wouldn't let anyone else do it. They were close. Leonardo slightly envied how close his other brothers were to each other. Even Donatello (who always seemed to be speaking in a different language) could communicate with the others better.
"He won. He won Leo!" Raphael growled.
"He'll never let us live this down," Leonardo sighed.
"Leo, you've got to do something!" Raph pleaded.
The words were innocent enough, but they made the eldest turtle's heart begin to race. He kept his face composed and without emotion. He felt an emotion closely resembling fear trickle through his blood like poison. He pushed it away as he always did.
"What can I do Raph? He won. I knew he would." Leonardo answered.
When Michelangelo initially won the Battle Nexus Championship Leonardo had not been surprised. His youngest brother was the natural athlete of the family. There were times when even Leonardo couldn't keep up with him. That was… if Mikey was focused. Mikey had the potential of being the greatest ninja out of all of them, but he simply thought it wasn't important as such things like video games or TV.
"I brought you up here to clear your mind Mikey. Focus on what's important."
"Like going home?"
Leonardo was afraid that Michelangelo would never learn this lesson. One day it would get him killed… It had almost happened this day. He was not present to see most of the beating that his little brother took, but he knew. It had fueled him with enough strength and rage to defeat the three Levron warriors that stood between him and protecting his family.
"Yo Leo, wake up. I've been talking at ya for awhile now." Raph said.
The eldest brother berated himself for getting lost in thought again. It seemed he wasn't without his flaws as well. He had vowed to exorcise every single of them.
"Sorry Raph, you know me; always thinking. What were you saying?" Leonardo asked.
"I was sayin' that I'm glad Mikey is okay. I didn't think he was going to survive…" Raph admitted.
"Weren't you telling him how glad you were that you'd get to see him being mashed to a pulp?" Leo raised an eyebrow as his brother laughed.
"Well it was fun at first, but then I started to get worried." Raph laughed.
"He just needed to focus," Leo stated simply.
"No, like pushing yourself beyond your limits. To a place where there are no limits. To be so focused, so ready, that nothing and no one will ever catch you off guard ever again."
"Um, we still talking about me here?"
Leonardo shook his head. He was proud that Mikey had been able to find his focus briefly, but he knew it wouldn't last. Mikey was happy the way he was. Mikey was happy.
"You know, Mikey told me something about how he beat Kluh." Raph added.
"What did he say?" Leonardo asked with genuine curiosity.
"Well except for the play by play recap of the entire fight," Raph growled. "He said that you told him something about only having each other in this life or something like that and that if one of us fell we all fell."
Leonardo remembered his speech perfectly. The words had come from his heart—they were the sparing few that he allowed to escape. Leonardo had a feeling that his youngest brother would need those words. He was right. Raphael laughed and shook his head as he mulled over the words again.
"Mikey said you were being sappy again like that one time at Casey's Grandma's farm," Raphael laughed again.
"It wasn't meant to be 'sappy'." Leonardo said roughly.
"Don't tell Mikey but I kinda liked those words." The younger brother admitted.
Leonardo's astringent attitude eased slightly and his stoic grimace softened. The tension in his body that had kept his posture perfectly straight and always on guard melted like ice. He slumped forward and rested his head in his hands. Raphael froze for a second and wondered what he should do. Ever since they got back from defeating the Shredder Leo had been distant. Raphael knew he just needed space to deal with everything so they all decided to give it to him. When he'd stare off into space for hours they would never press him to do anything. It would go away with time.
The problem was that it wasn't going away. It was getting worse. First his older brother was just depressed. It wasn't until he recovered from his injuries that he started his never-ending practice sessions and attacked anything that could possibly be a threat. Leo didn't plan much anymore. He attacked with a ferocity that reminded Raphael of himself. Leonardo was different and the red-clad turtle had no idea why. Sure, that evil…witch Karai (whom he trusted despite what EVERYONE said!) stabbed him with his own katana, but they were okay. No one died and at least he finally knew where she stood.
"All right, that's it! You and me are having words about this attitude you've been having lately!"
Raphael moved aside the ceremonial armor and sat down next to his brother. Perhaps it was time for that overdue conversation.
"Whatcha doin' Leo?" Raphael asked.
"Nothing." Leonardo answered.
"Sounds boring," Raph commented wryly.
The blue-clad ninja turtle looked up with exasperation at the other. Raphael only grinned at his brother and his hand twitched slightly. Normally he would playfully punch his older brother, but he had stopped doing that. He didn't want to accidentally graze the shell-wound. None of the brothers knew for certain how painful it was, but when they saw Leonardo grimace in agony whenever it was touched they knew to avoid it at all costs. Their brother was in enough pain as it was. They didn't want to make it worse. Now that Raph thought about it none of them had really touched Leonardo unless by accident or by some stroke of luck in their training. Now he was too distant to even consider any sort of contact.
"I wouldn't start rubbing my shell yet. We have a lot of work to do."
"So Leo, I was thinking. At the next Battle Nexus we have to make sure that Mikey goes down. Big time." Raphael said.
The younger turtle struck his right fist against his left palm to emphasize his words. Leonardo glanced sideways at Raphael and smiled slightly.
"That's a long time from now. Are you sure you can live with him that long?" Leo asked.
"If he so much as whispers the words Battle Nexus I swear I'm gonna kill him." Raphael said roughly but with great affection. "That idiot. Leave it to him to make my life even more miserable."
A strange glint came to Leonardo's eyes and Raphael felt his hopes rise. Maybe Leonardo wasn't as lost as he thought he was. There was some of the old Fearless Leader left in there and not just the scarred warrior he became.
"You know Raph…" Leonardo said with a smirk. "Technically if the Levrons didn't tamper with the Battle Nexus rules Mikey would've been eliminated."
Raphael's eye ridges shot up in surprise and delight once he processed this. In his elation he forgot the taboo on touching Leo and grabbed both of his brother's shoulders. He shook Leonardo as a triumphant grin broke out on the hothead's face.
"Leo, Leo! You're a genius!" Raph exclaimed.
"That's Donatello," Leonardo rolled his eyes.
"Whatever bro, you saved me from having to admit that Mikey is the real Battle Nexus Champion!"
"But he is the Battle Nexus Champion. He still beat Kluh!" Leonardo argued.
"You won the Battle Nexus Championship on sheer dumb luck. Emphasis on the dumb part."
Raphael let his brother go and stood up. He paced around the room with excitement. He thrust his hands in the air like he had just won the Battle Nexus rematch.
"It's that dumb Mikey luck kicking in again!" Raph laughed.
"Raph, I don't think—" Leo protested.
"Trust me Leo, you'll thank me for this!" Raph interrupted.
"He still has that medal. Do you think that'll make a difference to him; especially if he won the rematch?" Leonardo reasoned from where he was sitting.
Raphael stopped in his tracks and his face broke out into a scowl.
"Damn! I forgot about that." Raph cursed.
The gears in Raphael's mind started to turn faster and faster and a satanic smile broke out on his face. He laughed evilly and Leonardo was immediately worried for Michelangelo's safety.
"We hide it," Raphael gasped out. "And the trophy."
The room was thrown into silence as Leonardo's eyes widened. He knew that Mikey would shove this Battle Nexus rematch in their faces for the rest of their lives, but even that would be better than the fallout from hiding Mikey's beloved trophy and medal. Leonardo raised his hands and shook his head.
"No way Raph." Leo immediately refused.
"But LEO!" Raph whined. "You know I'll end up killing him if ya don't help me! What would you rather see: An emotionally distraught and whiney Mikey or a dead Mikey?"
"I'd have to say dead Mikey," Leonardo laughed.
Raphael glared at his older brother, but felt a rush of joy go through him at the sound of Leo's laugh. When was the last time Leonardo truly laughed? He thought he forgot the sound. It was good to hear it again. He'd get their Fearless Leader back to normal in no time!
"But you don't need to train Mikey. After all you're the champion!"
That's it! That's the way he could maneuver Leo into helping him! Their leader had been after them to train harder like a rabid dog. This was just too easy!
"Leo," Raph said calmly. "Stop and think about this for a second." Leonardo rolled his eyes but kept listening. "Mikey hasn't been training much has he?"
The eldest sat up straighter and eyed his younger brother suspiciously. He knew exactly where this was going. Since when did Raphael get so good at blackmailing? That was Mikey's department.
"And you know his excuse, 'the champion of the multi-verse doesn't need to train!'" Raph mimicked his youngest brother.
Leonardo lowered his eyes and glared at the floor. The hardness slowly found its way back. It always did.
"Stealing the medal is not going to make him train more." Leonardo said gruffly.
"That's where you're wrong bro!" Raph said ecstatically.
'Huh?' Leo thought. Wrong? How could he be wrong? Nothing could make his brothers train more. Nothing could force them to help take the burden off. Why was Raph so sure then?
"We steal the medal and Mikey is automatically going to know it was me. He'll go running to you to get it back for him. He'll be laying on that Mikey charm so be on your guard. You can't give in to him! You then inform him of your busy practice schedule. You know all of those katas ya have to do… You offhandedly suggest that if he practiced with you it would go much faster..."
"Are you saying I should black-mail Mikey?" Leo asked seriously.
"Yes!" Raph exclaimed.
Leonardo angrily stood up and crossed his arms. Raph backed off a bit and the smile on his face faded slowly. Damn it! His brother was reverting back to that embittered and scarred warrior again. No, he wasn't going to back down from this fight. He didn't back down from anything. Okay okay! He admitted he liked this new Leo sometimes. The way his older bro didn't even think twice about going after the Purple Dragons was exactly like the red banded turtle's attitude. Shell! He caught Leo coming back from a night with Casey Jones of all people. Leonardo the hot-head... It was tempting to leave him be. Shell it was funny how Raph and Leo started to say the same things at the same time!
"I shouldn't have to blackmail my own brothers to TRAIN!" Leo hissed.
"Calm down Leo," Raphael said sedately.
"I am calm." Leo glared and frowned.
"No you're not bro."
"I think I know my own state of mind Raphael."
"Trust someone who knows Leonardo." Raphael shot back.
"Because you know so much about it!" Leonardo growled.
Raphael glared and clenched his fists. If Leo was looking for a fight then he'd get it. They said Leo was turning into him? Fine then, bring it on! No one was going to take the 'angry hot-head' title away from him! This wasn't the Leo he knew. As much as he liked this new Leo he wanted his brother back. He wanted the responsible, protective, pain in the ass brother back.
"About attitude bro? I know everything about it!" Raph smirked and dared his brother to refute his statement.
His older brother snarled and picked up the small piece of leg armor. Raph wondered for a second if his enraged brother would chuck the small piece of metal at him. Leonardo just looked at it with a look of disgust.
"This armor is useless!" Leonardo whispered with scorn.
"Try saying that to Mikey Leo and you'd have a huge argument on your hands."
"It has only one purpose—to protect its wearer. But what happens when the wearer is careless? They forget that armor has weak points too and it can be cracked. They forget that the armor cannot protect them from everything! The armor has failed in its one purpose, but there was no way it could possibly have succeeded." Leonardo said in an almost horrified tone.
"Do you hear that? That is the sound of your defeat. Soon it will be over. First for you and then for your pathetic family."
Raphael blinked and tried to wrap his mind around what Leo was rambling about. It had to be important somehow. He had to keep Leo talking. This was one battle he was not going to lose. The odds were against him, but he wasn't backing down. The younger mutant turtle wracked his mind for anything that could possibly be an appropriate answer to whatever the shell Leo was talking about.
"If Mikey can focus enough to beat Kluh after getting the shell kicked out of him then anything's possible." Raph said confidently.
"You still don't understand do you Raphael?" Leonardo asked in a hollow voice.
The urge to give up was getting stronger. Why did Leo have to make things so goddamn difficult? He was a freakin' bouncy ball going from angry to depressed in two seconds flat. His older brother sat down on the bench and let the leg armor clatter to the ground. The candlelight flickered slightly and Raphael was at a loss. He sighed and sat next to his brother again. All right, time for a new strategy. Let's try the 'I'm worried about you' tactic.
"Leo, what's wrong?" Raphael asked.
"I'm fine Raph." Leo muttered.
"Do you think I'm stupid Leo?" Raph asked with annoyance.
If Leo didn't take that bait then he obviously wasn't 'fine'. Leonardo was silent and sulky. He opened his mouth as if to speak but then quickly closed it. It was a gimme insult and Leonardo let it slip away. His brother was more lost than Raph originally thought. He was getting his brother back.
"Leo, you're going to tell me what's wrong and you're going to do it now." Raph glared at his brother.
"Why?" Leonardo asked with his eyes glaring at him from slits. "Why should I even bother?"
"Cause I want to know." Raph said obviously.
"Yeah right," Leonardo said bitterly.
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't want to know." Raph stated, not phased by Leo's bitterness.
The blue-clad turtle looked away in disbelief.
"Do ya think this is easy?" Raphael asked irritably. "Do ya think I'm doing this cause I'm bored or something?"
"No," Leonardo conceded sourly.
"Then tell me!" Raphael ordered.
"Why should I bother?" Leonardo shook his head sadly. "It's the same every time. I try to explain and then something else comes up. It's trivial anyway."
Raphael put his hand on Leo's shoulder and forced his brother to look at him.
"I'm listening now bro." The younger turtle said softly and the older sighed.
"Raph…" Leo sighed in misery. "Please just leave me alone."
"No way Leo. I'll never leave you alone."
Raphael looked at his older brother with a rare look of compassion. Leonardo met it but then looked away. He looked indecisive and hesitant.
"All we have is each other…" Leonardo murmured.
"If one of us goes down, we all go down." Raphael finished.
It was sort of depressing to think about, but it was true. They were a team. Everyone contributed in their own little ways to create this perfect functioning unit. A single blow could devastate the entire team. Was this a good or bad thing? They were so close, but could that closeness destroy them all? Was that why the eldest was distancing himself?
The indecision in Leonardo's eyes finally cleared and he closed them in remembrance. He was back on the Shredder's ship.
"I failed you guys. I couldn't get to Master Splinter. I couldn't do anything. I was helpless. I—"
"You were kinda busy being impaled by a sword Leo. No one blames you for—"
"That's the point Raph. I was the first to fall. It was my fault. I trusted… I'm always the stupid one. I fell for Saki's lies. I trusted…"
Leonardo trailed off. He wouldn't say that name. He tended to avoid words that started with K.
"Leo, it's not your fault. We survived didn't we? We got our shells kicked, but we're all okay."
"We should've died Raph. No one knew the Utroms would save us."
"There wasn't any other choice Leo. We all agreed."
"I know, it's just—"
Leo's soft and miserable voice was drowned out by the sound of Michelangelo laughing as he and Donatello entered the dark room. Michelangelo posed like his statue in the Pavilion of Past Champions and Raphael couldn't help but growl at him. Michelangelo was still in his ceremonial armor with the pendant around his neck and cape trailing behind him.
"What? No warm welcome for the Battle Nexus Champion?" Michelangelo grinned.
"Shut it Mikey!" Raph snarled.
"You're just bitter 'cause I won when you thought I'd lose!"
"Believe it or not Mikey not everything is about you!" Raphael clenched his fists.
"Oh but today it is for I am Battle Nexus Champion!"
Leonardo laughed bitterly to himself and shook his head.
"Well done Mikey. I knew you had it in you." He congratulated and walked off.
Michelangelo beamed under the compliment and Raphael smacked him upside the head.
"Hey! No hitting the champion!" The youngest complained.
"You idiot," Raphael grumbled. "Leo, wait!" He called after his brother.
Leonardo did not even slow down. He kicked the piece of leg armor that was on the floor as he headed out the door. Donatello and Michelangelo exchanged confused looks while Raph watched helplessly as his brother walked away.
"What was that about?" Don asked.
"Leo's just being Leo." Michelangelo shrugged it off.
"Raph?" Don asked with curiosity.
Raphael just shook his head sadly. Why were there battles he could never seem to win and why did he keep fighting them if he lost every single time?
"In this life we only have each other. If one of us goes down, we all go down. Now focus!"