Author's note, two things that need mentioning.
One: I haven't abandoned Rurouni Kenshin. I'm just reclaiming an old obsession. ::grin:: You'll still get samurai fics from me.
Two: Though this opening scene focuses on Leonardo, I wanted to say that this story isn't particularly about him. It just … begins that way. He's definitely my favourite character … but I love TMNT for the family aspects. If I can manage it, all the brothers will have a strong part to play.
Uh, three (okay, I can't count): I definitely haven't written TMNT fanfic in 15 years. ::looks sheepish:: So I would love some constructive feedback. Okay?
- Prologue: Prelude to a Dream
Leo crouched on the rooftop, hidden in the shadow of the chimney stack, and stared down at the fenced off construction area below. Two months had been enough time for newly condemned, half-destroyed buildings to be torn down and the rubble cleared, but there was still a lot more to be done. The mystic changes that the … demon Shredder, he supposed … had wrought across the city had faded as the creature's power had, but that didn't change the fact that the physical damage done had been all too real. As ninja, he and his brothers could strike from the shadows and fade again, leaving little mark to the surroundings. As dragons –
He still had difficulty with the idea, sometimes. Things had gotten very strange. In many ways, he was glad they'd been able to move on so easily. Events had shocked everyone. The Foot hadn't shown their faces since then; neither had Bishop. Even the Purple Dragons were keeping a low profile. It was as if some kind of universal time out had been called. Leo knew why, of course. In the grand scheme of things, his family remained intact and able to move on. Mostly everyone else they'd dealt with – at least where their enemies were concerned - had great losses to recover from. He had no doubt they'd be hearing from them again soon.
After all, that was why he was here. Wasn't it?
The young ninja let his eyes linger on the deserted construction yard for a few more moments, searching for the ambush that had to be there. He could find nothing. Which meant nothing. But even so, he was so much more perceptive now than he had been. He should have been able to detect some trace of his enemies. There was no way – none at all – that she would meet him here alone, no matter what the message had read.
She hated him far too much.
If Raph knew what I was doing ...
Leonardo sighed and rose to his feet. He reached a hand back to grip the hilt of one katana, almost for reassurance.
This is not going to end well.
Then he dropped silently down off the roof.
She'd chosen to meet him here because it was fitting in many ways. Here was the site of their final battle with her namesake. And here was the last time she'd seen him. Any of them, actually. She'd left the turtles and the old rat alone for the past two months, not out of choice but necessity. The Foot Clan had suffered greatly in the wake of the demon, their numbers greatly reduced, the headquarters all but destroyed; to strike at an enemy while in the grips of such vulnerability was madness.
She had made the decision to wait. Bide her time. Let them think that their uneasy alliance had somehow dispelled her desire to avenge her father's exile. Let Leonardo think he had impressed her with his threats and demands. He had spared her life at the last, and she'd spent countless moments since imagining how she might make him regret it.
In none of her half-formed plots for revenge had she arranged a meeting like this; that she would sit, cross-legged on a floor and just wait. But then, things had changed. Greatly.
The words were cool, carrying across the shed with the same dark humour he'd used the last time he'd uttered them. He was behind her. Despite everything, she smiled. He was good.
There was the sound of wood clattering across the floor to fetch up by her foot. Thin and broken; two halves of an arrow.
"Got your message," the turtle added wryly.
Karai lifted her head at the sound of his swords being drawn. "We have played out this scene before, Leonardo," she said. "But this time, I have launched no attack on your family. Will you attack without knowing why I have asked you here?"
There was silence.
After a moment she stood up, making her way through the darkness to the stand, lighting the candles she'd placed earlier. She moved carefully, feeling his eyes track her across the room suspiciously. She was wearing no armour; wearing nothing more than the simple uniform she'd worn in the days before her father's exile, her hair held back from her forehead with the same red band. It must surprise him. But she wasn't here as the Shredder. It was possible, she thought, that she would never claim that name again.
"Must run in the family," he said at last, more casually. "Your father sent his messages the same way. I don't appreciate being shot at, Karai."
"You are more than capable of defending yourself against an arrow," she countered.
"Just tell me what you want."
She swung around to face him. Leo was a silhouette in the candle light, swords held warily at his side; flame reflected on narrowed eyes in the darkness. She had taken him by surprise. Even now, she knew, he was expecting attack from her Foot ninja. It occurred to her that he was well aware how stupid a risk he'd taken just by coming here –and yet she'd known he would, if he thought he could meet her alone. Noble, predictable Leonardo. Wanting to believe the best of her, despite his hostile words.
So she had made sure he would come. The closest warriors that could come to her aid were by order a full two blocks away. She truly was, for the first time, alone.
"Fight me," she said suddenly.
He blinked at her. "What?"
"It's not that confusing, is it Leonardo?" She drew the katana from its place by the candles, dropping the sheath to the ground.
"No. It's predictable. But …" He gestured around the dark shed uncertainly. "Like this?"
She took a breath. "I offer you a simple bargain. Fight me. There is bad blood between our two clans. There always will be. But I have hurt your brothers enough in the past, and the Foot badly needs time to recover. Eventually, you know we will war again, and I wonder now whether the further damage we do will be …affordable.
"Unless we settle things here and now." She stepped forward. "An honourable duel, Leonardo. If you win, the Foot will no longer seek vengeance against your family for the sins of the past."
"And if I lose?"
Karai lifted her sword and met his gaze with a level look. "Then I will settle with merely taking your life. Either way, your family would be safe from me."
A pretty, rehearsed speech. Not the truth. But she needed this.
Please, Leonardo. Take the bait.
"Ah! Aahhh! I'm on fire!"
The shriek was accompanied by glass shattering and then the sound of a heavy splash as a body hit the water. Splinter twitched an ear, glancing up to the thin door that separated him from the rest of the lair. Normally, such a scream might be cause for concern…
"Jeez. Way to go, Mikey." Donatello sounded exasperated. "Maybe next time try that stunt without the dinnerware?"
There was a faint snort from Raphael as melodramatic sputtering came from the pool. "You think that's bad," he said smugly, "Wait 'til Leo comes home and finds what's left of his candles."
Splinter tried to picture exactly what Michelangelo could have been doing, and then gave up. There were some things better left unknown. He smiled faintly and relaxed once more, settling back to his knees on the tatami mat.
It was late, and Leonardo had yet to return from his run. This in itself didn't worry him as much as it might once have done. All of his sons had proven time and again they could look after themselves, and the lair had been stifling for many of them in recent days. Splinter was not about to assume the worst if his eldest son was an hour behind schedule.
And yet, there is something...
He bowed his head in concentration. Something small, subtle, had escaped his attention. He examined the dread that rose to mind when he thought of Leonardo's absence, following it like a small piece of frayed thread until he made a faint connection with the bright flare of his son's spirit. He was sure. Somewhere in the city, Leonardo was fighting.
Splinter frowned. It was inevitable in their travels that any of his sons would become embroiled in a fight, and Leonardo did not seem particularly troubled. Why, then, did this touch off such concern within him?
"—see what the problem is, I'll just tell him that Raphie-boy here wanted to be juuust like his big brother – hey!"
This time the splash was much bigger. The sound of water spattering heavily over the metal walkways shook Splinter out of his thoughts. He sighed. Apparently Raphael had followed his brother into the pool.
Enough. He drew the door aside, stepping out into the main room. Donatello was still sitting at the table, head hunched down as if he was trying to pretend very hard that the bodies flailing in the water didn't belong to anyone he knew. Splinter paced along the walkway to stare down at the two of them, tapping his stick once, deliberate, on the metal to get their attention.
Raphael surfaced immediately, one arm snaked around Michelangelo's neck in a stranglehold, wicked grin intact. "Sorry, Master Splinter. I'll keep him down."
"Hey! That's not—"
"Leonardo is late," Splinter said patiently.
Michelangelo subsided into thoughtful silence. Raphael frowned. "Only just. He can take care of himself."
"Even so…" Splinter paused, searching for the right words. Of all of them, Raphael was least likely to believe in a premonition. And it was true; whatever Leonardo had chosen to involve himself in, he would no longer do so recklessly. But …
Something. He realised. He hadn't …remembered something.
"Sensei?" There was a brief touch on his shoulder as Donatello joined him with a soft smile. Perceptive. "I could do with some air. I'll go look for him."
Raphael muttered something darkly and reached up with one powerful arm, swinging himself up over the edge of the walkway with ease. "Sure, whatever. I'll give you a hand, Donnie."
Splinter bowed his head in appreciation, as Raphael turned and grudgingly hauled his younger brother back onto dry land. "Thank you, my sons."
"Any idea where he went?"
No solid idea, but for the faint impression of dust and great, yellow machines, surrounded by concrete. Splinter hesitated.
"Your last fight as the dragons," he said at last. "Try there."