The Footsteps that Follow
Disclaimer: I don't own TMNT. I just like to say, "Bossanova."
Author's Notes: 2003 cartoon-verse, I suppose. Prologue to a four or five part fic which isn't supposed to make much sense yet, so no worries. I wrote this a while ago, actually, but I've only now taken it back out, dusted it off, and had some parts rewritten. It still reads a little awkward to me, but the next part should feel more natural. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy! Sorry if the idea is insanely cliche so far, but things will be more complex later, as well as more interesting.
Again, thank you so much for reading!
Prologue: Five Doors
In the end, it all came down to trust.
That's what Leonardo thought, at that time, in that place. There was a door in the gray mass of clouds, its brass knob the only trace of anything resembling a sun in sight. Leonardo stared at that glint, tarnished gold on white, until his entire vision tunneled down and he felt his fingers touch the grain of the wood. It was important that he did so. It was important that he reach it in time.
There was a door in the gray mass of clouds and Leonardo didn't know why, didn't have the time to ask questions. They were here, in him, on him, a disturbing brush of nothingness against his plastron—there, again, a slicing pain that shot through his skull and set his teeth against each other. Parasitic. He shook his head and felt the door, hard against his hands, and didn't hesitate.
It all came down to trust. He could just hope he was up to the job.
He pushed it open and then he was gone. And so were they.
When Leonardo woke up, he was in his room and he wasn't alone.
"Donny?" His voice came out hoarse, unexpectedly. Leonardo grimaced and touched his throat. It felt dry with the repercussions of sleep and strain. Beside the bed, sitting comfortably in a chair, his brother glanced over the top of a large black-bound book and smiled.
"How are you feeling?"
Leonardo shook his head, but immediately phantom pains shot their way from ear to ear. He groaned and rubbed his face, groping blindly for the sheet that had been draped over him and pushing it away. "Like I've been on the wrong side of half the Foot clan. What happened?"
Don carefully bookmarked his page with a scrap of paper, heaving the book off his lap with little effort despite its size. "You don't remember?"
"No." His mask wasn't on—Leonardo squinted at the bedside table and found nothing. "Where are the others?" They hadn't been with him, he didn't think. Hadn't been caught up in whatever it was. He would remember something like that and the serenity in Don's face reassured him, but he still felt the need to ask. He couldn't hear anything outside the room.
In fact, he couldn't hear anything inside the room except his own heartbeat pulsing extraordinarily loud.
"What's going on?" he breathed, already going for his swords. They weren't in their customary position, though, and one quick sweeping glance around the room confirmed their absence. In the chair, Don—and not a single noise, Leonardo thought in slowly crawling panic, not a breath, just stillness in every way and that oddly gentle smile still on his face—
"You need to calm down," it said. "I'll tell you exactly what happened. That's what I'm here for. That's what I've always been here for, remember?"
The wall hit Leo's shell hard, but he didn't notice. Better, anyway, to put some distance between him and that thing masquerading as his brother. Now that he had the opportunity, Leonardo cursed himself for being fooled. It just looked so much like Donny. The casual way its legs folded underneath the chair rungs at the bottom, the reverent way it held the book in its lap, all of it Don, all of it perfect down to the electrical burn scars on the tips of his fingers and patient smile. It even sounded like Don. Leo crouched down at the opposite wall and carefully felt behind the small bookshelf in his room for the dagger he should have hidden there.
"Things don't work that way here," the thing said, observing him. "Look, if I promise I'm not doing anything to hurt you, but am in fact trying to help you, will you stop looking for sharp, pointy weapons?"
"No," Leonardo said flatly.
"No negotiation?" It seemed amused.
"What are you?" There was something even wrong with the air. Leonardo tried to focus on the thing that looked like Don, but he couldn't look straight at it. He knew it was there, but the more he tried to stare the harder it became to pinpoint it. But somehow, instinctively, he knew it was every inch a pattern of his most intelligent and gentle brother. Without sight, he could map out the scratches he knew would trail across the shell that blurred in his vision. He rubbed his eyes furiously, but the soft, butter-yellow light of the lamp and the warmth of the bedroom was doing something, messing with him. The brickwork on his shell was reassuringly solid. He swallowed.
"Are you sure you're feeling up to this?" it asked, almost concerned. Leonardo repressed a swell of anger and gritted his teeth.
Whatever this thing was, it wasn't Donny. Leonardo knew his brothers, had yanked them away from trouble long enough that he knew the sight of his brothers better than his own blood splattered on the sidewalk. He'd loved them, done things for them that—and it wasn't Donny. Not really. Not… quite.
"You," Leonardo said. "Stop looking like him."
It shrugged sheepishly. It was a gesture Leonardo recognized from several late nights of badgering Donatello to actually get a real six hours of sleep. "Can't, kinda. That's sort of your department, Leo."
"What are you talking about?" He thought about inching towards the door, but somehow Leonardo knew with dreadful certainty that everything outside in the lair would be just as in here—a stillness, a quiet. It should have chilled him.
"You want the factory explanation or the Hallmark card version?" the thing asked.
Leonardo exhaled. It was getting harder to stay on edge with this—what was it? A warmth he'd felt before, once, a long time ago. The smell of Master Splinter's incense thick in the air, baked pizza in the kitchen warming in the oven. Everything so quiet, but not dead. "Whatever it is, make it quick," he said, slumping against the floor and wall, rubbing at his forehead. It still ached. "And make it good."
"You were attacked. You know, if you would just wait for us to help you for once, there'd be a lot less of this bedridden stuff," the Don doppelganger said, the worried edge to its voice almost realistic enough to make Leonardo smile. It dumped the book on the bed, the mattress groaning as though under an unbelievable weight. "Do you remember any of that?" When Leonardo didn't answer, it shrugged. "Well, I'm not surprised. You'll get pieces later. The point is, you were given a choice."
"Who attacked me? Where?"
"You might have been able to hold them off long enough," it continued, ignoring him. "But we don't know the future anymore than you do. For obvious reasons."
They didn't seem to obvious to Leonardo. He opened his mouth to say so, but the Don figure narrowed its eyes—in the way Donny did whenever Mikey accidentally broke something in the lab that had taken six months of work. It wasn't a good look. Leonardo settled back down warily.
"Good," it muttered. "Now, you were given a choice. You took the best option open to you—an escape route your enemies hadn't expected. In some way, you knew what it was. You still do, in fact. You just haven't reached deep enough to figure it out yet. But when you took that route, you did it full well knowing the repercussions of that choice and you just had to trust yourself."
"Good grief, Leo, do I interrupt you when you say something potentially ambiguous?"
"That's usually Raph's job."
"Exactly." It glared. "Keep it down in the front, please?"
"Is this what going insane feels like?" Leonardo asked, staring.
It wasn't entirely reassuring. "You haven't told me anything yet," Leonardo said, but he sighed and reigned in all the patience he could muster. "Fine. So I made a choice and now I'm stuck… here. Wherever here is."
"You decided to trust yourself to get out of this mess on your own. But you should've known better." The Donatello smiled. "One lesson you've never learned to our satisfaction, brother, is that you're never alone."
"You're not my brother," Leonardo said quietly.
"No. But I am part of you, Hamato Leonardo."
"What does that mean?" Frustration bubbled up inside of Leonardo; he stood and stalked out of his room. "Where am I? What is this pla—"
He stopped, frozen in the middle of the lair, and felt his heart hammer inside of his chest. "This," Leonardo said weakly, "this isn't… this isn't home."
Don's hand touched his shoulder hesitantly. When the comfort wasn't shrugged aside, it clasped him fiercely. "No, it's not. Do you know where you are now, Leo?"
Leonardo didn't answer. Instead, he stepped down into the center of the lair where, hovering over the floor, there were four doors suspended. Their brass knobs shimmered under the strange hazy light that enveloped everything and, almost without thinking, Leonardo stepped forward and reached as if to touch one.
Don stopped him. "I wouldn't do that just yet," it said, firmly grasping Leonardo's wrist in midair. Leonardo didn't attempt to take it back; he just turned and stared, shock in his eyes, faltering. Don's face softened at the sight of it. "Look, you'll be on your way soon enough. At least let me give you some pointers, right?"
"There was a door," Leonardo murmured, gaze unfocused as if he were looking at something far away or just in front of his face at the same time. "I was meditating. They came and there was nothing to do, I was alone, and I thought I heard Master Splinter but time was running out and then there was a door—"
"You have to complete five tasks before you return, Leo. Five doors. Four here and then the last one lies below. You have to name them."
"Name?" Leonardo shook his head violently, feeling sluggish. He took his wrist back from Don with a firm yank, warily eyeing the imposter. Except now he had a vague idea of what was happening and if so, it wasn't so much an imposter as something else. "Look, if it's my own head, can't I just hop through another door and get there? Why is my own brain testing me?"
"So you're remembering," it said in approval. "And it's not our fault you're lost and don't know the way."
"This isn't like when I was lost before. After Shredder…" He stopped, unable to finish the memory, faint as it was, of the cold rain on his bruises. The farmhouse. His brothers leading him back like a child, putting out their hands and waiting for him to reach out again. He hadn't been aware that time, not like this.
"No," Don said, heavily. "It's not."
"Just a guide," Don said, flashing a quicksilver smile. "A representation in your mind. You wanted someone to guide you, didn't you? To tell you what's happening? To blend your rational thoughts with what's going on, make sense out of it enough that you can manage it. Someone who knew what was what, someone you could rely on when things were crazy. You wanted to wake up to a familiar face and yes, Leonardo. You wanted your brother. You wanted Donny, didn't you?"
Leonardo shifted uncomfortably. "Well," he said, mouth feeling dry. "It's not everyday I have to hear blatant honesty about myself straight up like that. From myself, no less."
Don grinned and clapped him on the shell. "Hey, what are manifestations of your spiritual facilities for?"
"Apparently for making me crawl back into my shell."
"Leo," the Donatello said, "you're the one who made the choice. You knew when you opened that door, you couldn't go back without going through all the rooms. All you have to do is enter each one and then give us our names. You only get one chance to make it right, Leo. One chance to fix yourself. Then you can just… go home."
"I don't understand," Leonardo whispered. He didn't feel broken enough to be fixed. Was his own mind keeping secrets from him? "This is all crazy."
"Does it matter?" the thing that looked like his brother asked, gently. Leonardo shook his head, closing his eyes in exhaustion that was far more mental than physical, most literally in that sense.
"No. I want to get home. If this is the only way…"
"You'll be fine. Everything will be okay," Don murmured. "I promise, Leo. You've listened to me before, now it's time to listen to me again."
It wasn't Donny, but they were Donny's words in Donny's voice and that was enough to settle something that churned in Leonardo's stomach. He took a shuddering breath and opened his eyes again, turning to look at it.
"Why you?" he asked, one final question, born out of curiosity and an urge to stay out of the four rooms as long as possible. He could feel something behind each of those doors; something bleak, something alien, something terrifying. His headache echoed the sense of movement behind each of them, a dreaded droning. He tried to ignore it. "Why you and not… why not Master Splinter?" If there would ever be a guide, Leo thought that would've been it.
Don laughed, crossing his arms. "Leo, this isn't a job for the father. Fathers are there to see you through to the best of the world they can get you. I'm just here to see you to the end."
Leonardo considered that. "Okay. So got any last advice?"
"Think about what we are to you, Leo. That's all."
"I always do," he said softly. "If you're part of me, you know that."
"Not about what we mean to you. What we are to you," Don insisted.
Leonardo thought about that and, when no further clarification came, sighed. He reached out and took the first door's knob in his fingers and twisted.
He turned to say goodbye to Don, a rote and automatic gesture that belonged to years of doing the same whenever he left the lair, and he half-expected Don to be smiling back at him but instead the image his mind made was solemn. Dark eyes. Worried eyes. Don when things were at their worst. If it had actually been Donny, Leo would have stopped, would have reassured him and sat him down at the kitchen table to talk over green tea…
But this wasn't Donny. This wasn't some minor problem or concern. He didn't say goodbye. He just turned back and pushed the door open.
And then Leo stepped out into a field of thorns and thistle and cold ice.
End of Prologue