Warning for slash and angst.
She didn't smile at the sight of the two Foot guarding the door, though it did amuse her. Their prisoner had stopped being a threat days ago. Even if he had the will to attempt an escape, he would never have the strength.
But her father insisted. Underestimating their enemies had been their downfall too many times, and if they didn't learn from those mistakes they were no better than animals themselves. She and her father disagreed over certain things - not the least this very prisoner and their methods in dealing with him - but in that they agreed.
She approached the door and the Foot moved, each to one side, both giving her matching nods of respect.
Karai twisted the bolt to unlock the door, and she moved in.
He was dull, green and limp on the floor. For as fierce as they were in a fight, as deadly as even the weakest of the four, this one seemed remarkably small. A rag that had been wrung out and tossed aside.
Of course he was smaller than he had been. He who was the largest of his brothers would now be the thinnest. The Foot fed him enough to keep his heart beating, but no more, and she would have guessed that perhaps twenty pounds of him, twenty pounds of thick muscle, had melted away in that cell.
She moved in and crouched. He smelled of stale sweat, of urine, of blood and the sharp antiseptic they were gracious enough to apply to his wounds. There was another odor, a musky scent she was growing to despise, and though she could remain stoic through the torture itself, the aftermath made her nose wrinkle.
She spoke, her voice a rich echo in the stone room no bigger than a closet. "Tell me, are you able to walk?"
For a moment the limp body held still. Breath was the only movement shuddering through it.
After a moment those breaths grew deeper, and after a sharp inhale his face lifted from the stone and his eyes opened.
She waited, but the creature made no attempt to speak. With patience she repeated her question. "Are you able to walk?"
Expression etched over the green face, shallow changes that grew slowly deeper. She watched with interest, imagining that when a sculptor carved faces from rock they were revealed in much the same way. This statue was the very embodiment of confusion. Not a human face, but furrowed brow and mouth curved downward the same as a human might show.
She sighed and reached out, taking the creature's wrist and measuring the strength of its pulse.
His hand was limp when she lifted it, but almost instantly the muscles twitched and tightened, and he pulled his arm back.
She smiled. "You have strength, then. Good. Pay attention: you are being released."
The confusion melted back into blankness.
She understood. "This is not another trick. We are finished with you. You are broken, and broken things hold no use for us."
Amusingly enough, the turtle's mouth tightened and his eyes grew sharp. He was trying to argue, to prove her wrong. Oh, there was strength in this beast. Her father had overestimated the damage they had caused.
But not by much, and she was content to follow his instructions. She ignored the weak glare coming from her prisoner. "We will bring you water, and a small amount of food. We will drive you to what street you name. But we will not carry you to your brothers. I would suggest you gather what strength remains in you."
Brown eyes, so oddly human in that foreign face, followed her as she leaned in closer.
Acting on her own behalf, careful though she knew the guards behind her wouldn't dare listen in, she spoke in a whisper near the creature's head. "Your brother will not understand. I know that. But give him this message from me." And without even a grimace, she kissed the beast against the edge of its wide mouth.
The body shuddered and tried to draw away, but she rose from her knees before he could manage the insult. She moved to the door, but before opening it again she looked back.
It was always sad to see a warrior brought so low. This one, he wasn't the artist his brother was. He was rough. A brawler more than a ninja. This one could best many Foot, and had when they captured him. But he was sloppy, his style was nearly nonexistent, and his temper completely out of control.
Still, he was rare enough in the world. He was a warrior like his brothers, like the Foot. Like Karai herself. He was strong. He would be strong again. But he would be weak for a long while after this, and his weakness would prove his family's undoing.
In that she pitied him. In his inevitable fate as the chink in his family's armor she sympathized. But she showed the creature no mercy. She followed her father's instructions, she directed his tortures and saw to his wounds. She commanded her Foot in actions that could easily be seen as lacking honor.
She did so to prove that she wouldn't be, like him, her own family's weakness.
When she left the beast to his confusion and strode down the corridor to see to his feeding, she didn't have a single second thought about what she left behind her.
Don blinked, and when he focused his vision on the screen in front of him, he was surprised to see the bright colors of the Greetings From California! screensaver Mike had insisted on downloading.
He reached out with a heavy hand and pushed the button on the bottom of the monitor. The palm trees dissolved to blackness.
"Hey," came the voice that had roused him again.
Don looked over his shoulder and saw Mike there, a strained smile on his face and two steaming cups in his hands. "Hey, Mikey. From Splinter?"
Mike nodded and stretched one of the mugs out.
Don took it and breathed the fragrant, sweet steam. Splinter had been compulsive with his brewing lately. He was convinced that their lack of sleep and ever-growing fear were wreaking havoc on their immune systems, and the tea seemed to be his way of helping when meditation failed.
His stomach protested, but Don sipped the tea all the same.
Mike stood, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He cupped his mug in both broad hands, staring at it.
Don smiled faintly. "You want to sit?"
Mike moved to Don's narrow bed instantly and dropped down.
Don turned his chair to face his brother. Mike was the best of all of them when it came to keeping optimistic. He did his best to lift his brothers' spirits, but in return he seemed to cling to them more and more. He couldn't stand being alone.
Mike smiled after a moment. "You can go back to what you were doing."
"I think I lost track of what I was supposed to be doing hours ago." Don rolled his shoulders, wincing at the tug of tight muscles in his neck. "Where's everybody?"
"Splinter made us this. He's shut up in his room now." Mike shrugged. "Leo's out in the tunnels again."
Don frowned, but pushed it aside while Mike was watching. "How long until nightfall?"
"Another hour. April and Casey are on their way. She called about ten minutes ago."
He hadn't even heard the phone ring. Don sighed and stood. "Well. If we're going to be out all night again we'd better have more than tea."
"Gonna cook?" Mike grinned.
Don motioned towards the door. "No. I'm going to sit there and make suggestions while you cook."
"Thought as much." Mike moved past him to the door and out.
The lair stretched out beyond Don's cramped room, looking wide and broad and empty. Silence and stillness made the air heavy. The unused television, the closed doors that hid Splinter and Leo from them…
Don hated coming out of his room. At least in his room silence and solitude were normal. Out there in their lively family space it was jarring.
He followed Mike through the living room, past the wide table where a large map lay flat and open, scarred with marker detailing the places they had already searched. Beside the table, haphazard on the floor, their packs sat. Water bottles would have to be refilled, batteries changed. All to insure that nothing would take them from the search until the sun began to rise in the morning and they had no choice but to hide underground again.
Just the sight made him tired, but that map with the blacked out chunks of the city haunted his thoughts whether he was looking at it or not. He saw it in his dreams.
He saw a lot of things in his dreams.
"So what is it you're suggesting I make, genius?" Mike looked back from the kitchen when Don's stops slowed. When he saw where Don's gaze was his smile faltered, and the hands tying his favorite apron around his waist slowed.
Don forced his attention back to his brother.
Mike turned back to the kitchen. His hands fell to his sides, the apron hanging untied around his neck. "Donnie…"
Don went to him, hearing the strain in his voice. He slipped his hand to Mike's shoulder and squeezed. "We'll find him."
"But." That was a rare word coming from Mike. "What if we don't?"
Don swallowed, grasping Mike's arm. "We will."
"It's been weeks."
Mike turned back, his eyes bright and searching. "I just want to know. What if we never even know?"
Don shut his eyes and let Mike go, sagging back against the counter. He swallowed again as unpleasant heat rose in his throat.
Weeks. It had been weeks, and their enemies spread out far and wide. Any of a hundred people could have taken him anywhere. And if he were dead, some random stupid accident, God only knew how long a corpse could lay in some hidden corner of New York City before it was found.
April had been keeping her eyes open at work, given the grim task of finding out if some zoo or science lab or university might be harboring some new discovery.
Too many options in too big a world. The odds that they might just never know were better than Don wanted to believe.
He brought his hands to his face, wiping at tired eyes. His head bowed, and nightmare images that filled the blackness whenever he shut his eyes crept over him.
But Mike was there a moment later, warm and close. "I'm sorry, Donnie. I didn't mean…we'll find him."
Don accepted Mike's hug, leaning into his brother and after a moment bringing his hands around to hug him back. But that closeness, the press of a body against his that wasn't the one he was used to, just made his breathing that much more ragged.
"Hey, it's okay." Mike held him tightly.
Don swallowed. "I miss him."
"I know. We all do. And you know something? He misses us too. We'll even get him to admit it when he gets back. Bet you money we can force it out of him."
Don drew a breath that shifted into a faint sob. He swallowed and held in a lungful of air, and let it out slowly. When he spoke, though, the despair was still there. "I didn't realize, Mikey."
Mike pulled back, sad eyes studying him.
Don returned his gaze, almost earnest to get the words out. "I didn't realize how much. It sounds…cold, I know, but…"
Mike reached up and slipped a finger over Don's cheek, under his eye. It came back wet. "It doesn't. We're not supposed to realize it, Donnie. We shouldn't have to think about what it would feel like to lose one of us."
Don shook his head. "But it's different with him and me! I feel so…so guilty, because I should have known. Because…"
Mike studied him. "Because he slept in your room."
Don nodded. It had stopped being secret almost as soon as it began. "I thought it was just something fun. I thought because we'd probably never have other options. I thought it could have been any of you three - there wasn't anything special about him that I saw. Nothing that…"
Amazingly, Mike smiled. "Don't feel guilty. You love all of us. It doesn't speak badly of you that you thought we'd all be equally special to you."
Don swallowed. Something in Mike's easy understanding was chipping at his control, making him slip further into the emotions he tried so hard to avoid. "But it isn't equal."
Don sniffled and scrubbed his palm under his eyes again. "You know?"
Mike smiled, gentle and sweet even if it didn't have half the joy his smiles held before any of this had happened. "I saw your face when you looked at him. You didn't know it in your mind, but…you knew it in your eyes."
Leave it to Mike to put words out there that Don hadn't ever thought to say, but that rang so true when they were spoken that he might have said them himself. Mike got too little credit, even by Don, because he seemed so childish. Naïve. But he was so perceptive about his brothers that it was sometimes scary.
Something in Don warmed to hear it. His emotions had been so up and down lately. Even back when things were fine, when the days were ordinary, he had been less than certain about his feelings. To hear Mike speak was validation that what Don felt was real.
As if the dreams that kept him awake most nights, and the heaviness cramping his chest, weren't enough validation.
He couldn't be as selfless as Mike. He didn't just want to know. He wanted their family to be whole again.
He wanted Splinter to stop brewing tea and walking with that slow hunch. He wanted Mike to stop panicking if at least one of his brothers wasn't in sight. He wanted Leo to stop patrolling the tunnels during the day, exhausting himself in some futile hope that there was some clue they hadn't found in their searches.
He wanted the curl of a warm, hard body beside him at night. Even more than he wanted the muffled laughs and the quiet moans, or the heat and the pleasure and the rare talks afterwards. He wanted to open his eyes in the morning and roll over and take a few slow minutes to study the face beside his.
Most of all, he wanted to go back in time one month and grab himself by the shoulders and shake him, yell at him, for not realizing what he had right there beside him that he wouldn't appreciate until it vanished.
At that moment, he wanted a lot of things.
Then, shattering Mike and Don's sad talk, disrupting the stillness of the den, bringing Splinter out of his cloister in his room, a cry came from outside the front door leading into their home.
A cry so loud, so harsh, that Don would think of it later as a scream. He couldn't push away the thought, as they charged to the door to follow the sound, that there was something more to add to the list of things he wanted -
He wanted to never hear Leonardo scream that way again.