Rainy Day Friends

by KC

Disclaimer: I don't own the Ninja Turtles or Usagi Yojimbo and co.

Pairings: Usagi/Leonardo

Warning: Slash, violence, crossdressing.

Timeline: takes place after the Battle Nexus Championship but before we discover Shredder isn't dead. In the Usagi world, it takes place not too long after Usagi's lord has been killed and he starts wandering. Therefore, the rabbit and the turtle are nearly the same age. If you're a rabid Usagi fan and you know I'm pulling that approximation out of my butt, please cut the story some slack.

From the rumbling thunder overhead, Leonardo knew he only had a few more minutes before the rain caught up to him, and he paused at the rooftop's edge to scan the street and alleys beneath him. Looking through the white glow of the streetlamps, he frowned when he didn't see any manhole covers nearby. His own fault for going beyond their usual training area, but he was tired of running around the same old rooftops and desperately wanted something a little different.

Thinking he might have missed an entrance to the sewer in the deep shadows, he quietly made his way down the fire escape and landed on the ground just as his communicator beeped. Bracing himself for a lecture, he flipped it on with a sigh. "Yes?"

"Hey, Leo," Raphael said. "Splinter says you need to come home. Storm's about to hit and they say it might snow."

"I'm already on my way back," Leo said and hoped his brother wouldn't ask where he was.

"You're still topside," Raphael said, spotting the building behind him. "If you were coming back, you'd already be underground."

"I just noticed the clouds, Raph. I have to find an entrance first."

"...you're lost." A delighted smile started to creep over Raphael's face.

"I am not lost." Leo glanced around the alley and sighed. No manholes. Dammit, where was he?

"You are so lost!" Raphael's laughter echoed through the lair and over the communicator. "No wonder you usually take all of us out training. You can't find your own way back."

Lose track of the streets just once and they'll never let you forget, Leo knew. "Yeah, I always get lost every time you get grounded."

"I'm not grounded!" Raphael snapped. "I just can't leave the lair and it's not my fault 'cause Mike--"

"He's grounded, too," Leo said. "Look, I gotta go if I wanna avoid the storm."

"Just hurry up." Raphael looked over his shoulder as if someone had called his name. "Aww, Splinter's getting on my shell again. Later."

Hoping that Raphael would forget about him being lost and realizing he probably wouldn't, Leo snapped his comm back onto his belt and looked around again. Thunder rumbled overhead accompanied by a flash of light. The storm was almost on him and he braced himself for rain.

He'd dodged purely on instinct before he realized what nearly hit him, a throwing star embedded deep into the brick wall next to him. It vibrated from the force of the throw. His swords were in his hand as he faced the alley behind him. His eyes widened.

The flash and rumbling hadn't been lightning and thunder. A dimensional gateway had opened and Usagi was stumbling through, one hand pressed against his side and blood welling over his fingers. Crimson stains spattered his white fur and clothes and with his good hand he carried one sword pointed at the ground in exhaustion. Even his rabbit ears hung low against his back. As he came through, he turned and slashed, blocking another throwing star from somewhere inside the gate. For some reason, the gate didn't close when Usagi was clear. Held open by unseen forces, it shimmered like water in the moonlight of Usagi's world. After a few seconds, Leonardo spotted the horde of ninja chasing him.

Leonardo sent two throwing stars back through the gate, catching one ninja in the throat and another in the thin eye-slit of his mask. His next star hit another ninja in the face, this time so close to the gate that Usagi had to hold one hand up to stop the blood from spraying his eyes. Now there was no time for anything but swordplay. With one hand helping Usagi back, Leonardo killed two more as they stepped through, their bodies trampled beneath more ninja as they plunged forward. They had to come one at a time, but as Leonardo retreated with Usagi at his side, he knew it would only take a few minutes before enough came through to overwhelm them.

"I don't know what you did, Usagi-san," Leo said through gritted teeth as he stabbed one, only to block a strike from the next ninja before the first had even fallen. "But you really pissed these guys off."

"I am sorry...to bring you into this," Usagi gasped, struggling to stand.

"Don't be ridiculous," Leo said. "At least now I can tell Raph I wasn't late 'cause I got lost."

A metallic clang on the ground caught his attention and he spared a glance at a dead ninja's outstretched hand and the tiny ball of spikes in his palm. Caltrops, he realized, small spikes designed to cripple foot soldiers and sometimes horses, and about as honorable as kicking dirt in someone's face. Except these ninja were using small bits of metal only an inch long.

"So long as we're all playing dirty," he said to himself, shoving his weight against the one in front of him and driving him back a few steps, just enough time to reach into one of the little compartments in his belt. Several little tricks lay concealed within, but this particular pouch was sewed into the section behind his shell. It had to be for his own protection. The caltrops Donatello had welded were made of long steel roofing nails.

Instead of dropping them, he flung them at the walls so that they ricocheted and fell to the floor several feet behind the fight, right at the gate's entrance. Cries of pain followed and suddenly there were only two or three immediate opponents. Everyone else was on the ground in shock.

That didn't stop them from trying to throw stars or use poisoned knives, but blocking those was easier than deflecting cold steel inches from his face. He was about to grab his friend and make a break for the rooftops, hoping the ninjas' sudden disorientation of being in New York would give him time to escape. Instead another gate opened behind him. Even as he turned, time seemed to slow. This gate was different, black and smoky, spiraling at the center and revealing what looked like a traditional Japanese house with paper doors and a handful of candles. Peaceful, calm, it provided an obvious escape from their predicament.

He looked down where the gate touched the ground. Thick black smoke leaked between the interdimensional boundaries and curled along the cement like tendrils, blocking their way out. Leo shook his head to clear it and time sped back up again. There was no way to escape without going through that gate, and he wasn't about to try it.

"Usagi," he said, "can you make another gate out of here?"

"Yes, of course," Usagi said, wincing as he spoke but already taking out a piece of chalk. He eyed the black gate but didn't question Leonardo's refusal to use it.

One by one, he drew each symbol, slowly drawing the portal to the Nexus. As he chanted, Leonardo covered him, killing two more and keeping an eye on the creeping smoke until the gate finally opened. He pushed Usagi through and followed after. For a moment it stayed open, giving him a window to the alley as rain poured on the blood on the ground, on the smoke curling towards the gate like something alive. He swallowed once as it came closer, raising up like a snake preparing to strike.

And then the gate slammed shut. He hadn't realized the smoke had actually come through until he saw it fading into nothing. Breathing out, he looked down at himself and realized he was soaked. He'd been so focused on fighting that he hadn't even noticed the rain.

"Are you all right?" he asked, turning his attention to Usagi.

"I'm still alive," the rabbit said, grimacing as he sat up. "Though I could use a doctor to sew me up."

"Hopefully there's one here." Leonardo offered his hand and helped him back to his feet, and despite his friend's mild protests, he put Usagi's arm over his shoulders to help him walk. The maze of streets in the Nexus looked as intimidating as they had during his first visit, especially in the dark. A few torches held aloft like lamps provided the only light.

"You know this place better than I do. Where should we go?"

"Down this way and to the left there is an inn. I'm sure the innkeeper will be able to fetch a doctor."

Even with directions, Leonardo needed Usagi to point out the inn. Few buildings had signs, and even those that did were utterly incomprehensible to him. The inn's sign showed a hand holding an unlit candle. How that meant room and board was beyond him.

When they were finally settled in a room, Leonardo helped Usagi lay down in the bed and then closed the shutters on the window while they waited for the doctor. He doubted anyone had seen them arrive, but he didn't want to take the chance of someone catching a glimpse of them now. If the ninja after his friend knew about gates, then they might know about the Nexus, which meant they might have spies in this world already. Although he knew Usagi despised what he called ninja treachery, Leonardo understood it very well.

The doctor finally arrived, an odd person who vaguely resembled a bear and didn't bat an eye at treating a rabbit under a turtle's care. Usagi winced through the stitches and settled down a little as bandages were wrapped around his waist. Leonardo kept a close eye on the medicine and needles but nothing seemed amiss. Only when they were alone again did he start to relax.

"Again, I must apologize," Usagi said softly, laying still and watching the candlelight play on the ceiling. "I did not intend for you to be dragged from your home."

"I never regret fighting by your side," Leonardo said. "When you've rested, you can tell me who those ninja were and why they were after you."

"Aren't you going to sleep as well? I doubt they followed us here."

Leonardo wasn't worried about them so much as he was about that dark gate and their unseen would-be benefactor, but he didn't want to worry his friend. "Better not to take that chance. I'll be all right."

Usagi fell asleep before he could argue. Leonardo watched him for a few minutes, then reached around for his communicator. Suspecting it wouldn't work, he flipped it on anyway and saw nothing but static. There was no way to let his brothers know what had happened. Even though he knew the symbols for a gate, he could never remember the chant, and even if he did, he couldn't leave Usagi behind.

How had Usagi managed to open a gate right in front of him? How had that black gate opened so conveniently? If Leonardo wasn't paranoid by nature, he would've taken the offered escape. He sighed and leaned against the wall, watching Usagi sleep.

It didn't seem fair to him. Usagi was roughly his own age and equal to him in terms of raw swordsmanship, but he had already left his master, served a lord until the lord's death and now wandered the countryside. Whereas Leonardo felt confined to his underground home, sheltered from nearly everything. Even though he'd killed Shredder and regularly fought remnants of his clan to protect his family, he knew Usagi simply had more experience than he did. Sometimes he wondered how the samurai could even consider him an equal.

For the next day and a half Usagi slept, waking only a few times. Leonardo patiently watched over him, hoping the innkeeper would also patiently wait for his payment. He never left the room and kept a constant ear out for any noise, but he knew enough to realize Usagi had brought them to the Nexus during its off season. Without a tournament, hardly anyone appeared on the street, which made his job easier as he watched through the slit in the window, looking for the little inconsistencies that would betray a ninja in disguise. As night fell, he watched the street by moonlight.

"Still on guard?"

With a smile, Leonardo shut the window completely and looked at Usagi. "Of course. Don't you know we ninja never sleep?"

"I might come to believe that," Usagi said as he sat up, rubbing the bandages around his side. "The ones after me seem more than mortal."

"Who's after you?" Leonardo asked, coming to sit beside him.

"I am not certain," Usagi said. "I have never seen their clan before and they are surrounded by familiar ninja of other clans, as if they use them as a disguise. Even through their masks, it's impossible to see their eyes. This last attack...I was not sure I would escape."

"How long have they been after you?"

"Only two days," Usagi said. "But I had not had any sleep since their first attack. They pressed me constantly."

Footsteps down the hall made them fall silent, but as the sound disappeared into another room, Leonardo relaxed and looked back at his friend. "I'm surprised you had time to create a gate to my world."

"But I didn't," Usagi said. "The door already existed. You did not open it?"

"No, it appeared behind me," Leonardo said. "Someone else had to have opened it." The same person who opened the dark doorway, he thought. "Listen, when you came through, did you see anyone--"

A light scratching sound, almost identical to mice running along the floor, caught his attention. Wordlessly he got to his feet and went to the window, barely opening it a crack. Nothing moved along the moonlit street, but within the shadows of the inn and the numerous little shops along the opposite side of the street, black shapes moved close to the ground. Between them he spotted little white flashes of sparks before a small red glow revealed their silhouettes.

"Dammit," he whispered, closing the window. He stepped close and held one hand down to Usagi, who took it and stood with a wince. "Think you could open a gate back to your world?"

"I think so," Usagi said softly. "But it takes time to open a gate to somewhere other than the Nexus."

"Time we don't have right now," Leo said. "They'll find us soon."

"They're here?" Usagi asked. "Already?"

"They don't know where we are," Leo said, helping him to the door. He looked out to make sure they were alone before leading him down the hall to the back door of the inn.

"That's good," Usagi said. "We have time to escape, then."

"No, it's bad," Leonardo said. "They probably don't even know this is the inn. But at least we're on the second floor."

Several windows lined the hallway but he found one that led out onto the roof of the next building. Once he helped Usagi over the windowsill, he put his arm around his waist and jumped with him over the short gap between buildings. Halfway across the wooden roof, something exploded behind them. Usagi looked over his shoulder and gasped. Orange light outlined the walls and windows as flames tore apart the wood and paper inn, sweeping quickly through the rooms, engulfing the handful of sleepers who woke screaming. More screams came from other parts of the street as other fires sprang up, slowly drenching the small village in flames. So this was why Leonardo thought it was bad that ninja must search for them.

"I'm gonna find a place to set you down," Leonardo whispered. "While I lead them away, make a gate out of here."

"I will not abandon you!" Usagi whispered harshly, furious that Leonardo had even suggested it.

"I'll come back in a few minutes," Leonardo assured him. "Promise. Just make sure you've got our ticket out when I do."

Two more rooftops over, he helped Usagi climb down to a small shack leaning against the wall and then brought him to the ground. There was no time to pick the lock. He simply kicked the door in and set Usagi down inside. Before the samurai could say anything, he disappeared back into the street. To Usagi's eyes, he melted into the moonlight.

Now that he could move freely, Leoanrdo climbed back onto the rooftops and lay flat along the edge, surveying the street. Despite the damage, he gave a small smile. Usagi's enemies had made a serious error in indiscriminately firebombing the village. Bright red flames lit the night, giving him a perfect view of the black-garbed ninja on the ground. Counting them, he winced at just how many had followed them.

The faint beating of wings and a glint of steel were his only warning. Too late, he leaped out of the way but a knife's edge caught his left arm running from his elbow to shoulder. Stifling his cry, he clutched the bloody wound to keep it from opening further and looked up. His eyes widened as he saw his enemy, a huge bat with curved knives along its wings wheeling around in he sky and coming back for a second strike.

"No one told me about ninja bats," he muttered.

Drawing his sword with his left hand, he stood and waited for the bat to dive, swooping over the roof in a black blur, wings thrust forward like scythes. When Leonardo was sure the bat couldn't turn, he threw himself down in front of it, dodging beneath its claws and shearing off a wing.

Shrieking and spraying blood, it hit the edge of the roof and fell to the ground. Cries of alarm rang through the street and Leonardo stood back up. Even though he could still move his injured arm, he didn't want to risk a sword fight right now. That left him only one option. Injured or not, he needed to give Usagi time to create their way out. He slid his sword back into its sheath and climbed down the rain gutter, slipping on his own blood and hitting the ground.

The ninja, frustrated at not finding their target, came towards the small shop he was hiding behind. Waiting until they passed him, he stepped out of the shadows and beheaded the first one, slashed the next one's back and stabbed a third as he started to turn. At his scream, the rest of them turned and saw Leonardo dashing across the street and leaving three bodies in his wake. Enraged, they gave chase, yelling for backup.

That's it, Leonardo thought. Just keep following me.

He came around a building that hadn't yet been entirely engulfed in flames. He couldn't swing up into them with one hand, but he could duck into one of the windows. Fire filled most of the wood and paper room but it hadn't yet reached the window, and with a deep breath he plunged into the flames, rolling and coming up on the other side of the room, throwing himself clear through the opposite window. Burning ash and bits of paper followed him out but he was mostly unscathed, though he had to cut off the burning ends of his mask.

The move gave him time to find cover in the shadow of a woodpile made darker because of the flames in front of it. Although the sheer heat from the burning wreckage around him was almost unbearable, he forced himself to wait until the ninja split up to look for him in the calmer parts of town not yet caught in the conflagration. Once he was certain the path was clear, he darted across the street and made his way back to the shed he'd left Usagi inside. When he opened the door, he nearly walked into Usagi's sword.

"Leonardo-san!" Usagi lowered his sword and breathed out in relief, leaning against the wall to support himself. "I was starting to worry."

"No problem," Leo said, closing the door. "They're not very good."

Usagi reached out, traced a finger down his bloody arm and stared at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Okay, so they're not bad either," Leo conceded. "Can we go now?"

With a nod, Usagi turned and gave the final few words of the chant. The gate swirled open and they stepped through into a forest so thick that the tree branches blocked out the sun. To Leonardo's surprise, Usagi started to back up as if to return through the gate but the portal closed off suddenly, leaving them in the damp air. The only sound was that of a small brook nearby. Not even crickets or birds sang in the darkness.

"This is insane," Usagi whispered. "We should be on Lord Noriyuki's lands, not here."

"Where's here?" Leonardo asked. Inwardly he thought that a spooky forest was much better than a burning village, especially when bat ninja might dive out of the sky at him. He just hoped Usagi's world didn't have ninja that tunneled through the ground.

"The Tangled Skein," Usagi said, looking around as if afraid they were being watched. "Ghosts and monsters lurk inside this forest."

"Well, now a turtle and a rabbit lurk inside, too," Leonardo said. "Which way?"

"I am not certain. I've only been inside once before and I was in no condition to see where I was going."

"Then I guess we can just follow the sun." Leonardo turned slightly and put his good arm around Usagi, helping him walk. "Hopefully we'll find a town after we get out."

"I admit," Usagi said, "being rid of those ninja is a welcome chance of pace, even if we must walk through this forest for it."

As they walked on and no monsters attacked, Leonardo decided he liked the forest, although he didn't tell Usagi that. The tall buildings of New York were fine and he even liked the sunny woods around Casey's farm house, but this forest felt calmer, quieter. In the forests back home, sunlight spread through the branches like a wide net, dangerous for a mutant turtle. Here, the shadows covered him safely. Only the wind and water made noise so he knew he would hear or sense anything before it came close. Monsters and enemies could appear anywhere, but here he felt ready for them.

So when he heard the leaves rustling on the ground not far behind them, he had already begun to help Usagi lean against a nearby tree. From Usagi's look, he knew why they were pausing and he drew his swords even as he used the tree to stay on his feet.

"What do you think it is?" Leonardo whispered. "I don't know the local variety of spirits."

"You have your own variety of spirits?" Usagi asked. "I didn't think any ghosts would linger amongst those stone fortresses of your home."

"New York is full of ghosts," Leo said. "You can't get away from them."

He drew one sword with his good arm and waited for their stalker to present itself. Now that he was looking, he clearly saw the dry leaves rolling as if something crawled beneath them, skittering over the ground like a snake. He thought he spotted a white flash now and then, but it was so quick he couldn't be sure.

As it came closer it moved faster until it finally charged toward him in a rush, leaping up in the air amidst an explosion of leaves. White claws and a white kimono dazzled his eyes and he slashed blindly, feeling his sword connect with something. There was a shriek and a splash of blood on the ground, then nothing.

"Where did it go?" Leonardo asked.

"It disappeared into the branches," Usagi said, pointing with his sword at a white shadow flitting among the leaves. "It's a hanya, a female demon. It will hound us until we can't fight back."

"Then we just kill it before that happens."

"In our condition?" Usagi said. "I don't know that we can kill it on our own--"

"We can," Leonardo cut him off. He didn't know why, but the thought of admitting that they could use some help felt like an even worse proposition than fighting the monster one-handed. Master Splinter had taught him to trust his instincts when he suspected unseen enemies and that black gate from before had not appeared from nowhere.

The attack came suddenly. Screeching and dragging her claws against the bark of the dead tree she perched in, the demon stared at Leonardo for a moment with empty eyes before opening her mouth and spewing white threads at him. Rolling forward, he dodged them and came up at the foot of the tree, which he began to climb. It was not easy with one hand nearly useless and the other holding a sword, but the trees of the Tangled Skein grew bent and twisted, their branches thick and warped at odd angles just right for jumping up into.

If the hag could have felt fear, she would have frozen in surprise. Her prey usually didn't try to attack her. But she merely turned and tried to trap him within her threads again, climbing towards him over branches like an animal. When he came too close, she crept back out of his reach.

He wouldn't be able to kill her in a straight fight, he decided. Stifling a pained wince, he brought his left arm deliberately up into the sticky threads. The force of them surprised him and he slipped backward, his left arm hitting a lower branch and becoming stuck as if bound. He tried to yank it free, but the moment she saw that he was trapped the hag rushed forward, her claws and fangs coming straight for his face.

His sword met them and sheared her hands off in the same stroke that took her head. There was a final scream and her body fell through the tree, turning to smoke before she hit the ground.

"Leonardo-san!" Usagi cried, unable to see him. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Leonardo called down. "Just give me a moment."

He couldn't simply pull his arm free. He had to cut it loose, and in doing so he realized that the hag had done him a favor. Her threads covered his bleeding cut better than a bandage could. Once he could move again, he carefully made his way down and walked back to his friend.

"Are you all?"

Usagi nodded. "I am begging to feel like a lord protected by a vassal," he said. "I normally am not so useless."

"You're not useless," Leonardo smiled, helping him stand again. "If you weren't here, I'd have no idea what I was doing."

"If I wasn't here, you would be safe at home," Usagi said.

"I'd rather help a friend than stay at home. Now which way were we going? I lost track during the fight."

"Follow the sun," Usagi said. "This way."

Both of them were glad to leave the forest before the sun set but walking along the road on a moonlit night felt too vulnerable for both of them, even if they were surrounded by unhaunted forests. Just because they had not met any trouble again did not mean the ninja had stopped looking, and they counted themselves lucky to find a hot springs Usagi had visited before nestled well off the trail.

"There is an inn not too far from here," Usagi said as Leonardo helped him sit on a large boulder. "But no doubt any nearby inns will be watched. We would be better off hiding."

"There are worse places to hide," Leonardo said, appreciatively looking over their surroundings.

The night air was cool, making the water around them steam, and the pale purple flowers here bloomed in the moonlight. Unlike New York where the city lights drowned the stars, here the stars sparkled across the whole sky. If they both weren't wounded and hiding from ninja hoards, he would have considered this a paradise.

Usagi slowly disrobed, leaving his swords close at hand, and eased into the water. He didn't allow his stitches to submerge, but even soaking halfway felt good. As he adjusted to his spot on the edge, he raised an eyebrow as he watched Leonardo remove his knee pads, ankle wraps, wrist wraps, swords and an assortment of shuriken.

"How is it you wear less," Usagi smiled, "but take twice as long to take it off?"

"Because I don't want any of this to get wet," Leonardo said, placing the last shuriken on the pile before slipping into the water as well. Finding a place to sit, he let the water come up to his chest and tried not to sink entirely below the surface, gasping in surprise.

"First time in a hot spring?" Usagi asked.

"I don't even take hot showers too often," Leo said, eyes shut. He lowered himself a few more inches and groaned. "Oh wow, it's even warmer further down."

Usagi laughed. He'd never seen his friend so relaxed. "And I thought you ninja were always alert and on guard."

"There's nothing around but a couple of those weird lizards over there," Leonardo said, never opening his eyes. "We can relax for now."

Blinking in surprise, Usagi glanced in the direction Leonardo had nodded slightly towards. Sure enough, two tokage lizards were walking several yards away into the brush. Usagi just shook his head slightly. His own dairokkan, his sixth sense that warned him of danger even in his sleep, was fully developed, but Leonardo's ability to know what was going on around him seemed even sharper than that of other ninja Usagi had met. He knew that Leonardo's master was well versed in many disciplines, but sometimes the family's abilities bordered on the unnatural.

"Are those all the weapons you were carrying?" Usagi asked.

"Hmm?" Leonardo glanced at the small collection beside him and shook his head. "I've got a couple more in my belt but I can dry them off later. Do you carry anything beside your swords?"

"Just a tanto," Usagi said. "I am always amazed by how many sharp objects you ninja manage to hide. And you do it with hardly any clothes at all."

"Y'know, I never thought about it," Leonardo said. "Even in this world, I must look really out of place."

"Not entirely," Usagi said. "Although you don't look like a ninja. Perhaps simply a consummate warrior."

Leonardo stared at him for a moment, then looked back at the water. The webbing around his arm had dissolved and he had to rest his injured arm on the stone above the water. "It'll probably be best if I steal something to wear in the next town we come to," he said softly. "So I won't stand out."

"That won't help much," Usagi said. "Your eyes alone make you stand out."

A moment of silence passed before Usagi realized how that sounded and why Leonardo wouldn't meet his eyes, and he started to speak quickly.

"I mean, you don't look like a farmer trying not to be noticed by city officials, and you don't look like a samurai, not even a wandering ronin, and you don't look like a ninja because the mask doesn't really hide anything," he said. He hesitated for a moment. This wasn't helping. "Try to get something with a hood. Like a priest's robe."

A smile slowly crept onto Leonardo's face. "I don't think it'd be good for my karma if I stole a priest's clothes."

"True," Usagi nodded with his own laugh. "The gods would probably frown on that."

"It's strange, we never give it much thought back home. The few times I've had to wear something, I hated how it felt. It's harder to move."

"You see?" Usagi said. "Consummate warrior."

"Not compared to you," Leonardo said, working out the last crick in his neck before sitting straight and gazing at his friend. "You've probably fought far more people than I have."

"Don't underestimate your own skill. It was you who defeated the daimyo's son, and I have heard of your other victories when I pass through the Nexus on occasion." He noticed the embarrassed self-consciousness on Leonardo's face and half-smiled. "And at your young age, too. Quite remarkable."

"I'm not that young," Leonardo snapped, then sighed when he realized he'd been baited. Like Splinter had lectured Michelangelo once, if you have to protest that you are not too young, then you are. "It doesn't matter. You've been through more than I have."

Usagi held still for a moment, remembering his training under his sensei's tutelage, then his short service to Lord Mifune before the battle that left him a wandering ronin. It seemed like a lifetime ago but truly it had happened all within a blur of a few years.

"You told me once that you've flown beyond the stars," he said. "Your experiences are different but hardly less significant."

Unconvinced, Leonardo just shook his head. It would be unseemly to argue further.

"I didn't have time to ask before," Usagi said, resting one hand on his wound as he spoke. "And later I was too injured to ask. Why did you want me to create a new door when that other gate was open?"

"You mean when you first found me?" Leonardo said. "I don't know. It was too convenient. Even though the world beyond it looked safe, every instinct told me it was dangerous. And then that black smoke, the way it moved was almost alive. I didn't trust it."

"You would rather have fought all those ninja than take offered help?"

There was no hesitation. "Yes. I wouldn't be surprised if whoever opened that door also had something to do with those ninja. In any case, I'd rather not be indebted to someone I don't know."

Usagi nodded once. Generally a good idea, but he had been saved a few times by strangers. He knew Leonardo's brothers often called him paranoid. This was probably just a taste of that paranoia. "Are all ninja so wary of trusting others?"

A small smile spread on Leonardo's face. "Always. We don't live very long if we aren't cautious."

"Simply a result of living the way you do," Usagi said with a hint of disapproval in his voice. "In the shadows."

"Ninja treachery has its place," Leonardo said, using Usagi's term for it. "Your friend Lord Noriyuki, I imagine he has spies in his employ."

"That's different," Usagi argued. "Those are spies, not ninja."

"Ninja don't always run around in black outfits and hide in the rafters," Leonardo said with a laugh. "A good disguise is sometimes better than not being seen."

"You mean how a beggar may go unnoticed?"

Leonardo nodded. "Whatever won't attract too much attention. Servants are always a good bet, no one really notices them. Of course sometimes a more elaborate disguise is needed. If the room is filled with courtesans, best to look like a courtesan."

A slow smile spread over Usagi's face. "It is hard to imagine you as a courtesan."

"Hard but not impossible?" Leonardo asked. "I don't know whether to take that as an insult or a compliment."

"Ah, well...I meant..." Stammering, when he saw Leonardo's teasing smile, Usagi glowered . "You just watch. One of these days you might have to play a female."

"I doubt it," Leonardo said. "With my looks, I usually do have to hide in the rafters."

Finally accustomed to their voices, the crickets around them began chirping, reminding them of how late it was.

"I suppose we'd better get some sleep," Usagi said. "We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."

With a sigh, Leonardo reluctantly climbed out of the hot springs and began the long process of re-arming himself, drying off the handful of shuriken he'd kept with his bandana. "I'll keep watch first."

Usagi shook his head. "No, I will stand first watch."

"Usagi, you're injured--"

"And how much sleep did you get these past few nights keeping watch over me?" Usagi asked. "You were always awake when I woke up."

"I got enough," Leonardo said, wincing at how defensive he sounded. "Master Splinter taught us a trance that let's us rest and recuperate better than a full night's sleep."

"Good," Usagi said with a triumphant grin. "Then rest so you may relieve me in a few hours."

Outmaneuvered by his own logic, Leonardo just grumbled as he finished putting his weapons back. "You're sure you won't fall asleep?"

"Don't worry, I'll be fine."

Since they couldn't build a fire, Leonardo had to stay close to the hot spring. The night air was cool enough to keep him awake if he moved too far away, so he settled for sitting up against one of the larger boulders surrounding the water and holding one of his swords in his lap just in case.

By the slight drop of his shoulders, Usagi knew his friend was asleep. Or in a trance, although he wasn't sure how that worked. He eased out of the hot spring and sat a few feet away, curiously looking over him. Now that he had the chance, he noticed the multitude of scars crisscrossing his arms and legs. Some of them were long and thin, obviously sword slashes, but a few looked like puncture wounds, perhaps from a spear or sai, and a couple of burns showed on the back of his hands. Usagi winced in sympathy at those. They didn't look too severe but he must have suffered to keep his full mobility, exercising them as they healed.

He sighed and looked up at the stars. Leonardo had traveled among them in flying spaceships, battling alien armies and dueling invading warlords for the fate of his planet. He'd even defeated both the warlord Oroku Saki and the Daimyo's son. Leonardo's skill with a sword impressed him and he longed for the chance to fight him in the Battle Nexus tournament.

That his friend was a ninja complicated their relationship but did not automatically preclude it. Still, he didn't not understand how Leonardo, such an honorable fighter, could willingly sully himself with deceit and trickery. His family used their techniques for good, but they were not samurai. He also remembered Leonardo's discomfiture in the presence of lords. Leonardo hid it well, but he always found a way to slip away from large groups. The only way he would be comfortable in the house of a lord was if he really was hiding in the rafters.

The thought brought an image of several people taking part in a tea ceremony and having to pass a cup into the ceiling for him. Usagi smiled and shook his head. Leonardo somehow reconciled honor with treachery and frequently tested his skill against the galaxy's most dangerous fighters. Sometimes he wondered how Leonardo saw his own life as a wandering ronin. Provincial and boring, perhaps?

TBC...