One fine day, I decided to sit down and write a one-shot that would be oh ...say, 8 pages. 10 max. Yeah, well ... shortly after that I changed its working title from "Darkness" to "The One Shot That Would Not Die." I'm currently on page 45 and still going ... so now it's probably going to be about three chapters long.
Written in present tense, first person, which I've done once before but only for a small piece of romantic fluff - so given the nature of this story, it was a huge experiment. Honestly, I was just trying to get into Mikey's head...
Special thanks to Winnychan and Kalenthi; Winnychan for offering to beta for a complete stranger (thank you!) and Kalenthi for picking the excerpt up from my LJ and offering to do the same. With two such excellent writers sifting out my errors, I felt much more reassured about posting this.
Disclaimer: I don't own TMNT and I don't own a floor plan of the underground of New York. But hey, I tried real hard on that second one. In the end I just made it up.
Funny thing about explosions. They kinda take you by surprise and don't really follow any schedule. I mean, it doesn't matter what crafty ninja plan Leo comes up with … the ground bucking under your feet and a few tons of sewer water landing in your lap are gonna put a bit of a crimp in it. 'Course, being the perfectionist he is, he'll take it personally. You almost expect the guy to have this huge flow chart drawn up. With all those little arrows, you know? One that sends us to that little rectangle on the bottom right side of the chart that says "Plan E" in case of natural disaster.
I'm not sure what Plan E would be, but I have a good feeling I'm following it. Right now, I'm trying not to drown, because something seriously nasty has just gone on directly underneath our feet and now I'm falling along with a helluva lot of water. And I'm not the only one. I can hear Raph coughing and choking and trying to swear … he's getting farther way. And somewhere, I can hear Leo issuing orders for Don to snag Raph like he knew this was going to happen all along, only he didn't. You can hear it in his voice, that little snap of tension that says we're not gonna be undone by some stupid freak accident. Because he's Leo, and nothing gets the better of him.
The last thing I hear before I get churned under by a bunch of mud and filthy water is a heavy splash. It freaks me out, because I'm pretty sure diving into New York's newest natural waterslide isn't smart by anyone's definition. After that, I don't have time to think about it. The surface has just disappeared and I'm stuck in water I can't see through, banging against hard rock as I get sucked right down through narrow, newly made tunnels that have cracked open and I try so hard to come up for air, but there's so much muck and churned up water that it's like trying to inhale with a shower nozzle jammed in your face. And I'm falling a long way, which is weird. I mean, sure, there are a whole bunch of layers to find under your standard city sewers – aqueducts and old catacombs and such, and let's not forget the huge spooky underground area with all the damn monsters – but how far down and how powerful was that explosion to give us so much grief near the surface?
Wow, New York reporters will have a field day… Hope the guys clear out of the area long before they send workers down.
And then it occurs to me that they've got the easy part – because I, Michelangelo, am going through one hell of a hazardous descent. And once I stop falling, how the hell do I get back up again?
Assuming I survive the fall …
Okay, now I'm panicking. It doesn't help that when I break the surface fully, finally, take a gasp of air and go under again – I can't see. There is no light down here, wherever I'm going. I barely have time to process that when I stop banging into rock and go straight into free fall. Oh, shell. I have no idea how far down it is, I'm effectively blind, I don't know what I'm gonna hit—
--As it turns out, it's metal. And I land heavily along what feels like pipes, uneven and creaking underneath me because everything's unstable down here. I can't breathe; landed well enough I guess, but the fall knocked the breath out of me. My shell absorbs most of the damage but I can feel a rib or two go as I tumble. The water's still pounding down on me, and it's pretty clear I'm not going to end up staying here for long. My hand flails for purchase and I can feel the warp in the metal as if it's about to tear loose. I can't see anything, but I can hear just fine – the water falls a long, long way. I'd probably be screaming like a girl if I wasn't choking on a serious lack of air.
So, watch me scrabble to stay up here as long as I can. I don't wanna fall. That would seriously suck. Of course, staying up here indefinitely is … well, sorta stupid. But it's better than falling down there. Maybe I can follow the pipes along to somewhere a little less unstable. And find a tunnel, maybe… The sheer scope of having to get back to everyone else while in the dark is really not filling me with good cheer, but it's not like I have much choice.
I get my breath back, bit by bit, and bunch my knees together, balancing on the back of this huge, creaky pipe. The water is pouring down on my shell, and I'm ducking my head to try to keep my bearings. The logical thing to do would be to get out of the water's path and then work out where to go. The pipe is sloping just slightly upward, so I guess following it that way might be okay … or down? Which is better? I hesitate – and this is why you should never rely on me to make a good choice. Because while I'm frozen there on the pipe, something cracks and groans and shifts, and suddenly I'm not so much balanced on the pipe as I am swinging down with a whole section of it as one of the joins gives way.
It's still attached. Sort of. And now I'm clinging for my life, sliding down it bit by bit despite my desperate grip, all the while listening to the long, ghostly echo of water hitting ground solidly somewhere below. See? Have breath, will scream. Oh yeah … just listen to that girlish screech. I'm almost glad Raph is nowhere around to hear me. I know he'd never let me live it down.
There's a thump and the whole pipe shudders and I slide a few more inches. And then there's a hand, lashing out of the darkness to latch around my wrist. It's not very gentle, that hand – those huge fingers are practically grinding the bones together, and I can't help but scream some more out of sheer shock. So wasn't expecting that. But it's just in time, because the pipe section I'm clinging to gives way entirely at that point. There's a loud groaning of metal and that jarring squealing sound that'd make my hair stand on end if I had any … and then I'm hanging in the darkness, water raining down around me, this unknown hand clamped around my wrist to stop me from falling.
I'm still screaming, by the way. Well, what else am I gonna do?
"Mikey!" Leo's voice. "Stop screaming and give me your other hand!" He's yelling at me, trying to be heard over that thundering water and falling pipe and my own flailing scream. For a second it doesn't really sink in – and then I realise that the person crushing my wrist to death is in fact my big brother. So relieved. I'm not alone. How he got here I'm a bit confused about, but hey … I've long since given up trying to work out how he manages half of what he does.
And once I realise I have company, reality reasserts itself and I realise his position can't be all that good either. His face is close to mine but he's hanging on to a wrist, and I'm trying to work out the logistics of that – he's upside down. What's he doing, hanging on to the broken pipe with his toes?
I swing a bit uselessly for a second, and then I grit my teeth and swing my free arm up in the darkness. Leo catches my other wrist a bit more gently this time, and just for a moment we both hang there, listening to the last descent of the broken section of pipe. It occurs to me he must thrive on this last minute rescue thing … and then I also remember that we're both effectively blind right now. He probably wouldn't have known where I was until I screamed. Who says panicking isn't useful?
"Okay, listen to me." He's hanging upside down in the middle of the great underdark, weighed down by a half-hysterical turtle in the middle of a bunch of pipes and water and rock that are conspiring to kill us both off, and Leo still manages to sound like he Has A Plan. "I'm going to swing you back up to the pipe."
Well, I never said his plan had to be a good one. I stare wildly upward. "The pipe's broken!"
"Not all of it," he yells back. He doesn't have any choice – the water is still loud, dropping down in a heavy waterfall right next to us. At least I'm out of its direct path now. Something warm drops onto my snout – a drop or two. Great, now he's spitting on me. Thanks a bunch, Leo. "We can't get out of here like this. I need you to hold your own weight for just a few seconds. Can you do that?"
Translation: Leo needs to be right way up before he loses his grip. Yeah, I get that. So I nod, and then remember he can't see me anyway. But it doesn't matter – before I can say anything, I'm swinging in the darkness with a speed that's vaguely unsettling. My stomach lurches. Only way he can get that speed straight away is if he kicks off of something, so …how the heck are we not falling? Maybe we are and I haven't noticed … stupid thought, you know. But the moment it enters my head I get real dizzy.
And it really doesn't help when Leo swings us back the other way without a word. It's like some big trapeze act, only nobody can see us. Heck, I can't see us. I have this bizarre image in my head now of a bunch of blind people at a circus, trying to work out what's going on from the random creaks and dramatic music. It almost makes me laugh, except for the fact that what's left of the pipe suddenly makes this tortured groaning sound.
I'm sure I hear Leo swear at that point. You know, that freaks me out more than the pipe. But then his grip gets so crushing for a second I give a yelp, and I get a bunch of confused impressions in the dark as he wrenches me up, half twisting himself …
…and then he lets me go.
I sort of react to that with half ninja, half Mikey reflexes. I know what he's doing, and my arms automatically spread out, trying to focus on where that pipe is in the dark. And yeah okay, I'm screaming again. Maybe I'll try and pass that off as a survival reflex – 'But Leo, I was just making sure you didn't lose me!' – but at least I'm not as stupid as Raph likes to call me. I can hear the steady fall of water off to my left, and I know that was where the broken pipe length was. Leo's aim is good. I'm up above and descending fast, and hey … my reflexes have always been totally awesome. Can't keep us Battle Nexus Champions down, you know.
So there I go, landing with total catlike grace on the pipe. Balance, straighten, pose! I bet I never looked better.
Then the pipe gives under my feet.
You know, I'm so glad it's dark and nobody can see that. I jump again, trying for a piece of pipe that isn't falling. Land and slide and realise, as the shuddering gets worse under me, that the whole thing is coming down any second now. And—and where the heck is Leo? I hope he wasn't—
--clinging to the pipe join that just fell. Oh, shell. I'm not scared. Hell with that. I'm terrified. He can't have fallen, he can't have left me here—
I have to remember this screaming thing. Clearly, it makes me a target. He hits me at that point. Not a punch, just collides with me and knocks me off the pipe. I'd be freaking about that, only the impact has just reminded me that my ribs are feeling none too good, and the pain that claws its way up my side robs me of any notion to do anything else. I think I manage a faint squeak.
And then his arm snakes around me and holds tight, and he speaks calmly into my ear. "It's okay, Mikey. I've got you."
Oh, I so cannot resist. Especially since I'm squeaking right now. "You've got me?" Lois Lane, eat your heart out. "Who's got you?"
He says nothing. Of course he says nothing. Leo probably doesn't get the whole Superman thing. But it's not like I care that much right now. He's warmer than the pipe was, and we are definitely not falling to our doom. We're swinging, actually. Leo was carrying a grappling hook earlier; all part of our cunning plans for the evening before the earth so kindly upended underneath us. So I squirm a bit in his grasp and latch my hands around his neck so he can free up his arm, because I know he's gonna need it.
Well, this is cosy. Can't help it. I snicker against his plastron. Hi, my name's Michelangelo, I'll be your damsel in distress for the day! I can just tell he's looking down at the top of my head with a baffled look. It comes out in his voice, this sort of odd note as if he's trying to work out what I'm thinking. Oh, he probably thinks I'm in shock. I'm not in shock. Of course I'm not.
"Hang on," he says finally. Like I can do anything else. Leo, master of ninjutsu, meditation, driving Raph nuts and The Obvious.
But it's okay. He has good qualities too! Like … I know there's no way he'll let us fall. And my ribs hurt... and let's face it, it's been a hectic few minutes. Now my heart rate's slowing down, all I really wanna do is hold on and wait for him to get us down somehow. We're not staying still. I'm not sure, but by the way we're moving, I think he's finding places along the wall. At one point I heard the hiss of something and I'm pretty sure it's rope, as he braces against some unsteady place and tries to work out where to go next. But I still can't see a thing. Leo's more used to working without sight and all … I'm hoping that counts for something.
Of course, when we finally do go into freefall, I panic again and wonder if maybe the rope gave. But Leo isn't saying anything and his other arm is wrapped around me again, so I figure this is deliberate. And then we land in mud and water and go sliding, but that's definitely solid ground underneath all the dampness. It's slippery, but it's safe. More or less. I can still hear water pouring down, getting slower now. It's going past us. So he's found us a ledge or something. I hope it's enough.
"Are you okay?"
Yeah, I'm lying and we both know it. But I'm just achy and sore – not like anyone can do anything about it. I have nothing much else to say. I'm too busy getting all my nerves back under control so I can act like a ninja turtle again. You know. As opposed to a total and utter wimp. Why does it have to be so dark?
The water stops not too long after that. We're still getting damp over where we are – some sort of splash back, water drifting in the air like really light rain – but that stops when the waterfall does. It couldn't last forever; there's only so much water to drain downward from where we were. Like a giant underground bathtub or something.
We're sitting with our shells to stone, getting our breath back and listening to the water taper off. I know Leo had a brief 'look' around … well, I heard him walking around really tentatively. He found the edge, and he backed right away from it. From the feel of it, Leo says a lot of the ground has been washed away, and there used to be a lot more of it … the ground beneath his feet apparently slopes real suddenly and then cuts off. I don't want to think too hard about how he found that out. We're both safe where we are, relaxing. I'm beginning to feel every bruise I took on the way here. And my ribs … it hurts to breathe. Makes me wonder how I managed all that screaming earlier.
I think Leo's reading my mind. He asks after a few seconds. "How hurt are you?"
Kinda think he's noticed the hitch to my breath, somehow. I think about shrugging it off, but I suspect that will just earn me one of Leo's knowing silences. I'll end up telling him anyway just to stop his damning lack of words. So I admit it. "Aching all over. And I think my ribs are bruised or something."
"Bruised or broken?"
I consider that. Breathing hurts, but the only real stabbing pain I got was when Leo slammed me off the pipes. "Bruised. I'll be okay."
He sighs. Gives me the warm fuzzies, you know? I know what Leo's like. Worries about everything. Wonder if the whole 'being stuck with brother someplace dark' is anywhere on those imaginary flowcharts of his. He's wondering how to get us out of here, I bet. It's not just us I'm worried about, of course. Once it sets in properly that I'm not going to fall to my horrible doom any time soon, I work up the courage to ask.
"Don and Raph?"
"They're okay," he tells me. "Raph didn't go under as fast as you did and Don never fell to begin with. Hopefully they're making their way back to the lair by now."
Of course. Don fished out Raph – that's the last thing I remember Leo saying. It'll be a mess up there, but if they can manage to get around it and find their way back to Master Splinter, then they're probably gonna pack up the Tunneler and come looking for us. That's a nice thought. I wonder how they're going to manage it, and then I remember. And then I panic, because when I fish around in my belt, the only thing I can find are my nunchucks. I've lost everything else in the fall.
Then there's a flicker of green light, and I finally see Leo's face, giving me one of his rare smiles above his open Shell Cell. The light is spitting and fading, and it doesn't take a genius to know the Cell is dying. Too much in the way of water and heavy impacts on the way down, I guess. Unusable. But …
… Light. I'll never take it for granted again, I swear. Even the faint light from the Cell is so sweet.
"It's okay," he says. "They can track us with mine. I think the tracker still works unless it's crushed."
So now I'm grinning like an idiot, because everything will be fine now. Don and Raph will probably come down here in an hour or so with the Tunneler, and then we can just go home and I can have a shower and then go to bed for another day or two. Don will tell us all about his theories on the sewers upending on us, and Raph will scowl a lot. Because he's, y'know, Raph. Heh.
Leo's looking at me in the faint light, and he's checking me over with that look of concentration that says he's taking inventory. I wonder how bad I look. Sure, I took some bruises, but I'm not bleeding or anything. Leo's gotta be as bruised as I am, anyway. He's staring at my snout with an odd look, and I have no idea why. I think that pretty much came through with no problems. I was too busy covering my face half the time.
I run the back of my hand over my snout self consciously and pull it back to inspect it in the light. And … okay, I am bleeding. I mean, that's blood on my hand. I don't remember getting hurt. Leo leans back with a soft sigh and the light from the Cell finally dies. I hear him shut it with a snap, and realise his sigh sounded relieved. Which I don't get. I'm bleeding, and he's happy?
It takes a few seconds to click. My fingers run all over my face and I find no injury, and then I realise. That blood's not mine. Leo didn't spit at me before. He was bleeding at me.
Well, so much for relaxing. Oh yeah, Leo. Thanks so much. It really does freak me out, because it's so dark and he could be sitting there with half his arm torn off or something and I can't see a thing. And of course he'd say nothing. I don't bother accusing him of hiding it. We all know what Leo's like by now. I just reach over and latch onto his shell, pulling him close and I put on my very best Mikey-means-business voice. "Where are you hurt?"
He's silent for a second. I actually think he's surprised. And then he says, "It's a scratch. It's really not that important—"
"Just a scratch?" I flail at him. Flailing's good. Oh, I'm upset now. "You're spattering blood on my face and it's just a scratch? Tell me where! How bad?"
He sighs again, and this time it's the sound of the insufferably patient. Insufferable, anyway. "Look, Michelangelo—"
Mimicry is a gift, I swear. It shuts him up. But then he surprises me – I feel his fingers back on my wrist again, and then he works down to holding my hand. There's this second of sheer panic. I'm seriously expecting him to gravely state he's lost a leg or something. Well, maybe not. I mean, I'd have noticed by now. But instead he just holds my hand for a couple of seconds, and then pulls it down to lay flat against his leg in the dark.
"Feel for yourself," he says gently. "I can't show you. I mean it, Mikey. It's not that bad."
Well, here I am patting my brother down in the dark. There are so many bad jokes that can be made, I swear. But I keep my mouth shut, letting him move my hand along the muscle. I can feel the gash in his upper thigh, but it's not wide and it doesn't seem very deep, even if it is long – goes down past the knee. The blood has already stopped flowing. He must have torn it just before he caught me the first time. Probably on the broken pipe, now that I think about it.
But he's right. He's not bleeding to death or anything. Wow. For once, Leo says it's just a scratch and actually means it. Film at eleven.
"Are you satisfied?"
There's some faint amusement in his voice, and I grin at him in the dark, even though he can't see me. "Gee, Gramma Leo, what fat thighs you have—"
Leo has really good aim in the dark. Did I mention that? But he's gentler than Raph when he smacks me in the back of the head. Heh.
I hope Raph's really okay. Don too.
"Come on." Leo's standing, and I blink in the general direction of his voice. "If you're feeling well enough to make bad jokes, it's time to move."
"Why are we moving?" I'm confused. I'm also getting a sudden sinking feeling. "This place isn't gonna collapse or anything, is it?"
"I don't think so, Mikey," he says reassuringly. "But we need to see if we can find our own way up."
I don't get it. Wouldn't it be safer for us to just stay in one place and wait for rescue? I mean … Don! Tunneler! Dramatic saving of lives that makes Rescue 911 look lame! Well …lamer…
"We can't rely on Donatello tracking us down," Leo adds, as if he knows exactly what I'm thinking. "They might have been cut off from the lair. He might not be able to make it back to track us for a while. Raph …might need rest."
The pause there tells me that Leo's not one hundred percent certain on Raph being okay. Which figures … he would have dived after me before he could find out for sure. He's worried. Which makes me worried. Of course, last thing I heard from Raph was a whole bunch of words that'd curl Casey's ears, so... that's a good sign.
"They'll be fine, Leo." Reassurance can work both ways, right? I reach out a hand blindly into the dark, and he takes it again, pulling me carefully to my feet.
Leo's silent for a moment. And then he says, "Yeah. Probably. But … I have to tell you." He pats me on the shoulder. "Even if Don is back at the lair right now getting all his search and rescue gear together, he'll probably come after us on foot."
"Ground's too treacherous," he murmurs. I hear a small crack, and I jump. "That …whatever that explosion was, it cracked right through a bunch of stable ground. I don't think Donny will risk the Tunneler. It's too heavy. It might do too much damage."
I don't understand for a second. And then I realise he's right. Trying to tunnel with heavy machinery through ground that's just been shot through will all kinds of cracks is just asking for trouble.
Well … crud. Guess that means a long wait either way.
There's another crack, and I flinch again. Leo's hand is gone from my shoulder. Uh …"Leo?"
"Keep talking, Mike." His voice is … wait, he's climbing. That's what the crack was. He's got his shuko spikes on. Good thing one of us managed to keep his stuff. He could have warned me, dammit. Doesn't he know my nerves spook easily?
"I can't see you." I can hear his methodic climb up the stone. Guess he's looking for an out. Taking it slow. "So let me know where you are."
"Oh, I gotcha." I can't resist teasing. "Don't wanna feel alone?"
"Mikey…" He sounds vaguely exasperated. "Would you prefer it if I lost you?"
Well, when you put it like that. I give a weak laugh. "Heh. So … how far do you think we fell?"
He's quiet for a second. I don't mind. I can hear the tapping of those shuko spikes across the rock, so I know exactly where he is. Leo is Mr Concentration – he's trying to find us an out. But I know he's giving serious thought to it. "We're not too far down," he says finally. "Not if there's still piping in this area."
"Far enough though, huh."
"You got any food?"
He laughs. Now that's nice. He doesn't do it often, and when he does it's to make fun of me. "I'm afraid you'll have to go hungry for a while."
Oh, that's not a good concept. "How long are we talking here, Fearless Leader? Hours? Days?" I'm feeling hungry already. "Weeks?"
"I seriously doubt it will be weeks." The patient tone is back in his voice again. That's right, Leo. Humour your baby brother. "Though it might be more than a day. No more than two."
"Two days?" I'm squeaking again. "You want us to starve for two days?"
"Wanting isn't the word I'd use for it." He's moved across the surface of the rock, not up. Guess he's doing the round tour before searching higher. "But finding us will be complicated. That's why we move. If we can get to better ground, we'll be easier to find. And maybe we can meet Don and Raph half way. We can survive two days, Mikey."
He chuckles again. "I'll buy you ice cream when we get home."
I snort and cross my arms. "A likely story. Pity you didn't stash some chips in your belt. It's not like you didn't bring everything else. Man, you're like a boy scout."
"Not quite a boy scout?"
"Not quite everything," he says wryly.
"Huh. What'd you forget?"
He goes silent for a minute or two. I can hear him up higher now; got to the end of our ledge, I guess. So up he goes another few feet and starts searching the next area. Kinda like one of those little space invaders in reverse. See, I didn't need the sudden image of an 8-bit Leonardo making small retro arcade sound effects and shooting lasers at me …
"Michelangelo." He sounds irritated. "What are you laughing at?"
"Nothing." Nothing he'd understand, anyway. I'm still grinning like a lunatic. That image is gonna keep me entertained for ages. "What did you forget?"
He's quiet again. I think he's trying to work out whether I'm laughing at him or I just snapped. And then he speaks so softly I almost don't hear him.
Smile drops right off my face. "You…how can you forget those?" They're strapped to his back, for god's sake. It's not like he would have drawn them to fight an explosion. How can he—unless he deliberately—
"I took them off, Mikey. Don probably has them now."
I try and piece that together. I mean, Leo and his swords are inseparable. I can't work out why he'd deliberately throw them aside. So I'm quiet as he continues his search work, looking for an exit that may or may not exist. Something we can get through without too many problems—
--and then I realise. My 'chucks fold nice and neat under the belt, pressed close to my plastron. But Leo? I have a horrible picture in my head now. Of my big brother diving in after me, trying to maneuver through those thin underwater cracks and bolt holes with two hilts jutting up above his shoulders. He couldn't have done it with the swords. He'd probably end up wedging himself but good in one of those little tunnels. Drowning, instead of following me out …
I blink at the note of triumph, and peer in the general direction of his voice. I can hear the shift of his body as he nestles somewhere high up, so I make my way carefully over to just beneath him. "Just give me a few seconds, Mikey. I'm gonna see if this goes anywhere."
"Sure thing," I say, and then hesitate. "Uh … Leo?"
I shift from one foot to the other. "I just wanted to say …thanks. For … coming after me an' all."
"Can't leave you alone in the dark." He's smiling. I bet he is. It's okay. Guess that's his version of you're welcome. His voice is a little distant … he's down his little hidey hole, poking around. I think that's a good sign.
I don't hear him for a while after that … well, I can hear him shuffle. He's sounding very muffled now. As long as he's still moving so casually, he's okay. I stand around at the base of the wall and try not to let it get to me that I can't see a thing.
At least he warns me this time. The rope unfurling and dropping over my shoulder doesn't make me scream, it just makes me jump and nearly fall over my own two feet. Thanks so much.
"—this tunnel feels really smooth." He's holding the rope for me, nice and sturdy so I have a way up. "It's not very big, but I think it's a waterway."
"Does that mean we're gonna get wet again?" I ask sourly.
"Maybe, but I don't think so. It's dry." He gives me a hand over the edge, and then puts a hand on my shell. "Don't sit up. You'll smack your head."
Have to grin at that one. I guess that means Leo already did. He's right … the rock does feel very smooth. It's not man made, but it doesn't have to be. If this has been worn away by water, then there's an entry point above us somewhere.
And going up is a good thing.
The tunnel's really tight in places. Sometimes there's crawling space and sometimes we're flat on our stomachs, worming our way through the gaps. The big problem is our shells – if we were human, we wouldn't have a problem. But we carry a bit more bulk.
Either way, my face keeps running into Leo's feet. You know, that's icky at the best of times … I mean hello, we run around in sewers barefoot all day. But Leo smells of sewage and sweat and blood, and even though I know he's not bleeding anymore that still makes me feel queasy.
"Yo, Leo. Can't you go any faster?"
"No," he says shortly. He's stopped completely, and I start wondering if the worst has happened and the tunnel's just too small. I can hear him shifting in the darkness, and I know he's flattening right down. Great. Time to be uncomfortable again.
There's some very nasty scraping sounds. Apparently nails on a blackboard have nothing on a shell scraping past solid rock. I wince. Not only because Leo's shell has been damaged enough in recent times, but …in a few seconds I'm gonna be going through the same thing. Be nice if we were like hermit crabs or something. Just slip out of our shells and drag them after us …
…hah. Ninja crabs, no way. "You okay, Leo?"
"Give me a second …"
I'm half expecting to hear a dramatic pop, but the scraping just stops. Leo sighs in the dark. "That's a tough one. But I think we're almost there."
"How can you tell?" I ask innocently. "Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?"
Apparently that was worth a gentle foot shove to the face. Well okay, I deserved that.
"The air smells different. More dirt, less stone." He's quiet for a second, then adds, "I think I can smell …sewer."
My turn to try and scrape through that tiny hole. Ohhh, my poor shell. Actually, my poor ribs. This hurts. "You sure…" My breath hitches. "That's not just us?"
I hate this tunnel. I hate being hurt. I hate being lost. And of course, I'm really kinda sick of not having any light. "Does that mean we're back to normal sewers?" I ask hopefully.
He doesn't say anything. I keep edging forward, and nearly jump when I feel his hands on mine, guiding me forward. Oh. Apparently this was the end of the tunnel. We can stand again. Not that I'm going to for a few seconds. I take my hands back to fold my arms over my plastron, willing that extra pain to go away.
"I don't think so," he says. "That smell will travel a long way. But … maybe closer than we thought. Are you all right?"
"Nothing a pizza and a hot bath wouldn't fix. Just gimme a second."
He doesn't say anything. I know he's standing right next to me – his fingers have settled down to rest on my shoulder. Leo's worried. But there's not much anyone can do about some sore ribs. And of course, it can't escape Leo that now we're standing in a place we can't see, that we don't know the layout of, that we don't know where the exits are or in fact if there are any exits. Finding our way up is going to be hard. I can hear a clicking sound in the dark, and I think Leo's opened up his Shell Cell. Trying to coax more light out of it, maybe.
I can feel moisture on my elbow, which is weird. This new place we're in has a certain damp air, but I don't recall sticking my arm into anything. I lift my arm to sniff at it, and cringe. It's blood. Must've picked it up in the tunnel. "Uh, Leo? You're bleeding again."
"I know." Leo sounds calm. "Just scraped it on the stone, that's all. It'll be fine."
I glare in his general direction, secure in the knowledge that he can't see me anyway. "Not if you keep pulling it open it won't. Can't you bandage it?"
Oh. Duh, stupid Mikey. It's not like we even have bandages, and that cut is way too long for our masks to be of much use. Well, that's fine. I get to my feet stubbornly. I think I'll do the strenuous work from here on in. Can't have Leo spilling his blood everywhere.
"So …" Peering around is a total waste of time. I still can't see a thing. "Where to now?"
I can hear him tap at the walls, which is my first clue we even have walls. So I turn away from him and stretch my hands out, walking tentatively. I hit something hard, which makes me flinch a bit. But then I realise that's what I wanted; a solid surface. Running my hands over what I've found I realise something else: manmade. Bricks. And if Leo is just over behind me tapping …
Sweet. We're in a passage. This makes me feel much better. Passages go places. Leo's come to the same conclusion, I know. So I don't bother stating the obvious. I just ask him, "Which way?"
He's silent, and I know he's trying to work out in his head which way the lair would be from here. I have no clue which direction we're even facing …lost track a while ago when Leo was playing spin-the-turtle.
"This way," he says finally.
"That's great. Which way is this way?"
His fingers brush against my arm, then reach down to take my hand. "This way. Come on."
I let him tug me down the passage. He's right - the ground beneath us is dirt. It's not very clean dirt by the feel of it squishing between my toes … it's damp and feels kinda slimy, and I wonder if the 'sewer' smell is just the run-off that's managed to make it down this way. I don't know how high the waterway tunnel took us … it went forever but it wasn't very steep. Maybe only ten feet. Maybe fifteen. Not more than that.
I stick by my first statement though: passages are good, and a helluva lot better than some crumbling ledge in the middle of no man's land. I keep the fingers of my left hand trailing over the wall beside me so that we keep going straight. From the faint scraping sound I can hear every now and again, Leo's doing the same on the right. Seems like this corridor is just wide enough for a couple of turtles to have a nice evening stroll.
I'm just a little behind my big brother, my hand in his, and I pay attention to the bricks I can feel under my fingers. The walls aren't in real good repair – the brickwork is uneven and I can feel gaps where it's broken down. I stub my toes on a fallen bit of masonry at some point and yelp and nearly fall into Leo. It's stupid. I have bruised ribs, and now my toes are hurting.
After that, I'm even more careful. At least we're not going too fast … Leo might want to get home, but he's taking this real easy. We can't afford mistakes in the dark.
Well, I guess this is the boring part of the trip. We walk. We stop to get our bearings. Occasionally we find a whole bunch of debris that we have to climb over – that's never fun. Time goes by. I wonder what time it actually is … we left the lair just before midnight. No way to find out. We find a couple of branching paths to the corridor, and that stalls us every time, because the best we can do is guess. I think Leo might still have a vague sense of direction, although he's hesitating more and more, so maybe not. But I hope so.
Every now and then he'll ask how I'm doing. He doesn't talk much more than that. Probably too busy stressing about leading us to our doom, or something. I mean, it's possible we're just walking in circles, and he knows it. But he never lets go of my hand. I wonder for a second if maybe he likes knowing he's not alone too. And that makes me grin. Well, why not? Leo's not that much older than I am.
Heheh. Guess it's up to me to take his mind off things.
"I was just thinking of ways to pass the time," I say cheerfully. "Any games spring to mind?"
"I'm sure you're about to suggest some."
Ooh, he's been taking lessons in sarcasm from Raph. I grin in the dark. "I guess I Spy is out…"
That gets a small laugh. "You'd guess right."
"How about …uh …" I founder. "…Tag?"
"Tag," he repeats slowly.
"In the dark. Here."
"Blind Man's Bluff?"
"What?" I am the picture of innocence, I swear. "You got a better idea?"
"How about Follow the Leader," he says wearily.
"Ouch. You know, Leo, I've been meaning to talk to you about these so-called puns of yours—"
His hand wrenches at mine roughly and I stumble forward with a yelp before he lets go. Leo hits the ground with a heavy thud. That was … really surprising. I drop to my knees next to him and find his arm after a few blind tries, latching on as he struggles up again. "Dude! What happened?"
He mutters something so quietly I can barely hear him. I mean, he seems to be okay. Gets back up and I can hear him brushing the dirt off self-consciously. That's when I realise what he said.
And I grin. "Say that again, Leo? I can't hear you."
"You heard me," he mutters.
"You tripped." He tripped. "Over your own two feet?" I can't believe that the Enlightened One here tripped. I'm snickering in the darkness.
"Over rubble," he snaps back, sounding vaguely guilty for some reason. He takes my hand again and stalks off, half-dragging me behind. "I'm not perfect, Mikey."
"Chill, Leo. It's not the end of the world." I'm still grinning, though I'll never admit to it. Well … not to Leo, anyway. Raph and Don might get a good kick out of this later. Heh. "We already knew that. Remember the mines you accidentally—"
I stop in my tracks then, effectively jerking Leo to a standstill. My left hand, practically on automatic by now when it comes to touching the walls, has just closed on metal.
He's quick to realise I didn't just stop talking for the sake of self preservation. "What have you found?"
I don't answer for a second – I want to make sure. I feel along the metal; it's warped and rusted and I can feel something flaky. Peeling paint, maybe? It travels up the wall. It feels a little dented in places, but … I reach past it and pat at the brick, and find what I was looking for. Rungs.
It's a ladder.
"Bro?" I'm smiling in sweet relief. "We got a way up."
Leo gives a sigh. "That's good."
"This one's on me. I wanna see where this goes."
He doesn't argue the point. I found the ladder, after all; I get first dibs. Well … that, and the ladder feels so old that I bet there's broken rungs and all sorts of problems with it, and I'd kinda prefer Leo didn't find another way to start bleeding at me again. So I'll make sure it'll hold us, first.
"Just be careful," is all he says.
His hands shift to gripping the ladder for me, and I hoist myself up onto the first rung I can find. It creaks a bit under my feet, but it holds steady. There are broken rungs: some slanting to the side, and some missing completely. This thing is old. This whole place is pretty ancient, though … I have to wonder where we are. Catacombs or something. I remember Don saying something once about the amount of stuff down here – like old post routes or something, and passages between hospitals, but I think they'd be higher up than where we are. It didn't really interest me back then. I'm sorta wishing now that I'd paid more attention.
The ladder is still climbable, though. I take it real slow. I don't want to get hurt either, and I really don't want to give Leo a reason to mock me for falling.
As it is, I smack my head on the ceiling pretty hard. Ouch. Ouch ouch.
"I'm all good." Nothing a couple aspirin couldn't fix, anyway. I put a hand to my head for a bit, and then I reach up and feel above me gingerly. I can feel the depression in the ceiling – there's a trapdoor or something here. But it's not budging.
Not yet, anyway. I brace on the ladder, fishing one of my nunchucks out of my belt. I'm hoping the trapdoor isn't moving just because it's been a while since anyone used it, and not because it's padlocked on the other side. I mean, it's probably not the end of the world if it is locked … we could keep searching and find another way up a bit later, maybe. But I think we've both been stumbling around in the dark a bit too long.
There could be light up there.
Light is a good motivator. It's why I bunch the nunchucks in one hand, and slam the ends up into the edge of the trapdoor, and duck my head away from the shower of dust and flakes that waft down on me. Oh yeah. Nobody's been here in a while. I keep it up, cracking the grips up in a pattern around the edges of the trapdoor, trying to loosen it up a bit.
Down below, Leo coughs once. Oops. Suppose I should've warned him. "Sorry about that, Leo."
"It's okay," he says wryly. "I guess I should have expected that."
I grin, and then tuck the 'chucks away in my belt and shove at the trapdoor again. This time I can feel definite give … but it's still not moving. Maybe something's on top of it. I hook a foot under one of the more solid rungs and reach up with both hands now, balancing carefully. Okay, Michelangelo. Strength is good, right?
So I push up, hard. I can feel my ribs protest, but in light of the fact that the trapdoor is creaking open, I'll ignore that. What I'm not prepared for is the sudden dumping of rank water on my face. Given the way we ended up down here, it kinda makes me panic … I flinch and cover my face, and then promptly lose balance and topple backward.
…Damn. Guess I'm falling after all. Well, at least I'm not screaming this time. I feel Leo's arms brace under my shell and then we both fall in the dirt. The jolt to my ribs isn't as bad as it could have been, but still … ow.
"Mikey?" He sounds worried. I think I ended up yelping after all. "You okay?"
I'm feeling water on my legs and I kick a bit, before I realise there's really not that much of it. It's practically just dribbling down from above. Oh, of course. The trapdoor's shut again, so no more water.
"Yes. Fine." I cringe as I roll, getting off my big brother so I can stop pushing him into the dirt. "We can't go that way."
He's quiet for a second. Then he says thoughtfully, "No. If it was flooded, you wouldn't even be able to lift that trapdoor."
Right. Okay. I'm an idiot. Not that I'm gonna say that out loud. So instead, I offer a hand for him to take with a sheepish laugh. "Guess we're both even in the falling stakes, huh?"
He doesn't say anything to that. Does take my hand, though, so I pull him up with a faint wince. His hand is nice and warm; the water is freezing. Makes me shiver more. But he's right … maybe there's just a puddle of water collecting above the trapdoor, but much more than that and the water would be too heavy for the trapdoor to lift.
Guess I'll just have to grin and bear it, or something.
"Do you want me to open it?"
Leo sounds tired. It's gotta be what …five in the morning by now? And we're both kinda bruised and stiff. I think about freezing water raining down on my head, and then I think about Leo's leg. Easy decision. "Nah, I'm cool. Just startled me for a second, is all."
"Okay. Be careful."
"Sure thing, Mom!" Heh. Up the ladder I go. I hear Leo scuffing around in the dirt beneath me, and then he takes hold of the ladder again. I think he's afraid it's going to come off the wall. Which is a possibility, I guess. I brace for impact, and shove at the trapdoor again, eyes squeezed shut. Icy water splashes down on my head and shoulders. Cold! But this time I don't freak out and keep my grip. And Leo's right …after a few seconds, the water stops coming.
I push the trapdoor all the way up and listen as it topples back into dirt, leaving us a way up. Awesome.
Still dark. Not so awesome.
It takes me a second to get the courage to crawl up into this totally new space. There's muck everywhere …mud and what feels like leaves and definitely small pools of water that stink. I'm shivering by the time I get up onto my own two feet.
There's a faint creaking sound as Leo comes up the ladder. He's taking it real slow. I wonder why, until I remember all that water would've dumped down the ladder as well. He's just making sure he doesn't slip.
So I crouch next to the open trapdoor with my hand held out carefully in mid-air. "I'm right here, bro."
"Thanks." His fingers catch at my hand, and I help him up into the new area. We're definitely getting closer to civilization if there are dead leaves down here … but there's still no light, so we're either still in catacombs (maybe?) or in parts of the sewer that have long been closed off. And leaves can be carried a long, long way in water.
He doesn't answer. Just puts a hand up on my shoulder. I can't help shuddering a bit – the difference between cold Mikey and warm Leo is a little too much. I open my mouth to ask him where next, and instead I end up saying, "I'm tired."
The minute I say it, I realise: more than tired, I'm exhausted. All my aches and pains, and all this walking, and all this cold … I just want to sit down and sleep.
"We should keep going," he says doubtfully. "Just a little longer."
"Why?" I smile in the dark. "Are we there yet?"
"No." See, he is tired. Leo's the serious one, but even he can usually tell when I'm joking. "But we should push on as long as we can."
"You said yourself this could be more than a day," I argue. "We've been walking for hours, Leo. You know we have to rest some time, right?"
He's quiet. And his hand is still on my shoulder, and I'm beginning to notice he's actually leaning a little on me. He's exhausted too, and yet he wants to keep going. Man, I thought I was the one who didn't like the dark.
So I hunt for some logic to throw at him. "You know, Leo … the longer we go without sleep, the more we'll make mistakes. I don't really wanna end up heading the wrong way or maybe falling into someplace bad when we've come so far."
Aha! I felt that little flinch. His hand tightens for a second on my shoulder, and then he sighs. I feel a bit guilty, because of course he took that as an accusation of his judgment being less than sound … but Leo will deal. And we both know I'm right.
"All right," he says. "But let's at least find drier ground. I don't want you getting sick."
Yeah well, the feeling's mutual and all. Besides, if there are puddles on the ground here, then that means water came through here not that long ago. Waking up to a flash flood would be less than ideal.
"Sounds good," I say. "Which way now?"
He's silent long enough to make me nervous. I mean, I'm probably expecting too much of Leo to be some walking compass zeroing in on the lair, but the notion that we're always getting just that little bit closer to home is very comforting. I really hope he isn't about to open his mouth and tell me he has no clue.
His hand drops away off my shoulder. And then I feel his fingers latching onto mine. "This way," he says softly.
Off we go again.
There's no wall to keep track of, so we're a little awkward to start with. I think Leo's angling to find one, because he's sidestepping a bit and being very cautious where he puts his feet. The small puddles and the mud are cold and disgusting, and I try not to think too hard about what else we might come across. Eventually, Leo finds something that I find kinda cheering – not a wall, but it's definitely a step up in the world. Literally.
"Containing wall," Leo says. "This is split level." I hear him climb up, and then he guides me up over the edge. I think we only go up about four and a half feet. Where we are is much more dry. This isn't mud. This is concrete.
Leo finds the wall after that, no problem. It's in much better condition than the ones below us. Seems we've found a walkway that runs next to a drain or a canal or something. Which would normally seem promising, but I still don't think we're in any place even vaguely familiar.
Still … we're out of the mud. I scrape my feet clean against the edge of the walkway and lean against the wall, closing my eyes. "We're stopping now, right? Just for a couple hours, right?"
"For a couple of hours," Leo agrees reluctantly.
That gives me pause for a few seconds, because … he's acting more of a slave driver than usual. I mean, there's nothing wrong with resting here, is there? But I hear him shift and slide down the wall, stretching his legs out. I guess I can put it down to that sense of responsibility … he just wants to get us home.
Still, something's nagging at me just a little bit. I'm not sure what. So I narrow my eyes, and squeeze his hand gently. "Hey, Leo…"
"Sorry, Mikey." He tugs me down next to him, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. "I don't mean to say you can't rest. I'm just…"
He is nice and warm. I snuggle up to his side and let his body heat chase some of the cold away. "Just worried about the guys?"
I grin in the darkness. Leonardo and his big brother act strike again. I snake out an arm and settle it comfortably across his plastron. "Just a couple hours, then."
"Agreed." I think he's smiling again. "Now get some sleep, cold one."
Don't need to tell me twice. I have me a Leo-pillow, and I'm gonna use it. Doesn't take long to just let go … I think I count maybe two or three times Leo breathes in …and then I'm gone.
The next part is already written. I just have to iron out the kinks - I wrote a lot of it when I really should've been sleeping, so potentially the story got away from me a bit...
Hope you liked it, though. Feed the nice author?