Warning: spoilers abound, but are vague. Based on the new-tooniverse in conjunction with the new movie. Occurs sometime after Episode 78 (Exodus part 2) and before Episode 93 (Scion of the Shredder), and the first few chapters are set before Leo goes on his training trip to Central America.
Chapter 1: Karai the captive
Karai didn't look up as Leonardo carefully unlocked the door to her cell.
"I brought your dinner," he stated quietly, ducking into the makeshift prison and locking the door behind himself. He set the plate of food on the floor beside the prisoner.
Karai glanced up at him wryly. "Something besides pizza this time?" she asked, her voice cool.
"Actually, yes," Leonardo said, not meeting her gaze. "Chicken and biscuits. Donatello cooked tonight so everything should be edible."
"Mm." Obediently she picked up the plate and settled it on her lap, her expression unreadable. Leo began to retreat, to leave her to her meal. This was the routine. But instead of reaching for the plastic silverware, Karai looked up at her captor, tipping her head slightly to one side. This action caused her hair to swing over her shoulder with just enough of a silky shimmer to catch Leo's eye. He glanced down, blinked, and averted his gaze just a little too deliberately. Karai hid her smile.
"Stay and talk to me for a while, Leonardo," she said carefully. Leo frowned skeptically, but lowered himself to the ground facing her.
"All right," he said, his voice calm and even. "What will we talk about?"
"I have been here for ten days," she reminded him. "How long do you intend to keep me prisoner?"
Leo bristled slightly, his eyes narrowing. "Until it's safe to let you go," he answered.
"And when will that be?" she challenged, her voice growing whispery. She searched his eyes. "You and your brothers may be content to live out your lives underground, but I am different- I will not cooperate forever."
"I thought you understood, Karai- we'll let you go as soon as we can."
"We?" Karai sneered at him. "You mean, you. You're the one who saved me and brought me here. You're the one determined to keep me like a pet in a cage—"
"Karai." His voice was soft, but full of warning. "If you're trying to upset me, you really shouldn't waste your time."
Karai looked away. "I know," she said suddenly, letting her head drop forward slightly, imitating an abbreviated bow. "It's just… these tunnels. This… darkness. I do not know how the time passes. I do not even know where I am. It is… frustrating. You turtles-" she paused to force the disgust from her voice. "Do you really plan live your whole lives down in these sewers?"
"Yes," Leo answered plainly. Karai narrowed her eyes.
"I wonder how long you will live, if you are not killed by your enemies," she said, a whispery edge of sarcasm in her tone. "Many species of turtles, you know, have a lifespan of centuries."
"I hadn't thought about it," Leo replied honestly.
Karai smirked. "Do you ever wish that you were human?"
"Of course not." He sounded mildly offended.
"Hmm." Karai's lips curved in a victorious smile. "That is what I expected you to say. You are the only one of your brothers, after all, who fully accepts what you are."
"That's not true," Leo said gruffly.
"It is," Karai insisted. "You alone are fully at peace with your condition. The others-"
"We don't have a 'condition', Karai," Leo interrupted, his voice stern.
"Forgive me. I do not wish to insult you," Karai said soothingly. "I only meant to say that you seem to truly know who you are. You are at peace with your identity. And…" she looked up, searching his eyes, and spoke with sincerity. "…that is something I envy about you, Leonardo."
Leo blinked, caught somewhat off guard. Karai smiled, and raised her hand towards his face. Leo immediately drew back, out of her reach.
"I am surprised at you," Karai said in a low voice. "Your instincts are keen enough to realize that I am not trying to attack you."
"Around you, my instincts have been wrong before," Leo said darkly.
Karai considered that for a moment, and then met his eyes again. "I swear I will not harm you," she said, holding his eyes with the steely grip of her own gaze. "You have earned my respect," She reached towards him again, and this time Leo didn't move. "And," she continued, her voice dropping to a whisper. "You have aroused my curiosity."
Leo kept his eyes fixed resolutely on hers as her palm pressed lightly to his cheek. For a second or two she studied his lack of reaction. Evidently, she found something in his expression that she understood, because she smiled.
"I can hear your worries from here," she said. She patted his cheek twice and removed her hand, letting her fingers trail down to his chin as she did so. "I did not wish to alarm you or put you on the defensive, so I apologize."
Leo felt a wash of relief as her fingers left his face, and was caught completely by surprise when she touched his hand.
Automatically he jerked his hand away, and glared at Karai. "What are you doing?" he asked under his breath.
"I am sorry," she said carefully. "I did not realize—"
"Never mind," Leo said gruffly. "What do you want, Karai?"
She sighed. "I want to know you better," she said. "Give me your hand." She held her own hand out, palm up, and with reluctant resolve Leo placed his hand atop hers. Karai smiled briefly and held his hand with both of hers, familiarizing herself with its shape and weight. Eventually she turned his hand over, and brushed her thumb over the calluses on his palm.
"I know you've trained hard to become as strong as you are," she said at last. "But you fight with more than physical strength. You fight with mental strength—and moral strength, too. You understand that holding back often requires more strength than driving forward. That's what I respect about you."
She pulled his hand up to her face, leaning her cheek into his palm. She closed her eyes. "Sometimes, it is hard to hate you," she whispered, and, still holding his hand against her face, she turned slightly and pressed her lips against the heel of his palm.
Was that… a kiss?
Leo frowned and pulled his hand away from her. "What was that for?" he asked flatly.
"For…potential," she said, a bit breathlessly. "For the potential of a new relationship. For us." She looked at him with a completely serious expression. Leo stood up, still frowning.
"Your food's getting cold," he pointed out, heading for the door.
"Come back tonight, Leonardo," she said, just loud enough to be sure that he heard her. "Please."
Leo hesitated at the door, but thought better of whatever he was about to say and swiftly locked the cell. But he did glance at her one more time before vanishing into the maze of tunnels.
Once she was sure he was gone, Karai looked down grimly at her hands. They were trembling.