Growing Pains and Orange Bitters

Chapter One: these little earthquakes

By: Serendipity

Standard Disclaimer: I, unfortunately, do not own the Ninja Turtles and anything else that applies to them, really. Nor have I rented them.

Author's Notes: It is interesting how much fanfic I write that is spawned from phone conversations. I seem to encounter quite a lot of slash in the fandom, but I missed the kind that is just made of awkwardness, and denial, and teenage hormonal outbursts, and yes, even brooding. Therefore, I set out to make one of my very own, and of course, it's about Michelangelo. Go figure. One-sided Michelangelo/Leonardo. Also, weird dream sequences.

Shockingly, he'd never really dwelled on the idea of sexual maturity, and he'd never even entertained the thought of romance. He was far too masculine and hardcore for that, and he had his comic books and superheroes, not weepy romance novels or whatever it was people read when they felt in the need for the crazy world of soaps. Also, he was pretty preoccupied with the whole saving-the-world gig. Not to say he'd been completely oblivious of the subject: how could he, with Master Splinter being so engaged in his soap marathons and Dawson's Creek and whatever else middle-aged housewife show he was watching at the moment?

Also, they lived in New York and hung out at night. You'd have to be blind, deaf, and a toddler to be ignorant of sex in those circumstances. It'd be better to say that he'd never thought, really, of sex as it applied to him. Because it was too totally obvious that it didn't, and he never focused on stuff that wasn't important to his present life.

It came as an unwelcome surprise that while he might not be interested in the whole sex thing, Mother Nature and the almighty hormonal drive weren't on strike from working on him.

Okay, well, he'd be cool with this. He was a big boy now, and he knew all the failsafe methods of self-entertainment, courtesy of Playboy and some romance novels he'd snatched from April, via his mad ninja skills and a KFC bag. They were awful. They were poorly-written and boring and read like an ice cream commercial mixed with a lingerie ad with a heaping helping of Days of Our Lives. He felt they'd traumatized him for life and given him an unhealthy view of romance, and thought long and hard about telling April to burn all her books so she wouldn't be infected by the craziness. This idea was clearly suicidal, though, and so it was booted from his mind. Other than the bodice-ripper strangeness, sexuality might have been a welcome distraction from serious reality: hey, he welcomed all the distraction he could! Or at least he would have, if it hadn't come under the most inappropriate form in the world.

The whole hormone thing was sneaky. That is to say, it crept up on you gradually, bit by bit, lurked in the shadows, and then jumped on you, threw you to the ground, and beat you insenseless. It was rather like a ninja in that respect. An EVIL ninja.

Cupid, he reflected, was part of the Foot.

As it was, he wasn't entirely sure as to how he'd begun the whole attraction thing. It could have been at any point, because it was insidious, like mildew. It was strange to think of himself living a perfectly normal and healthy life, aside from the whole mutant ninja turtle thing, watching TV and playing Halo and defeating evil ninja hordes, when all the while this ticking time bomb THING was ever-presently expanding somewhere in the gland in his brain that Donny had mentioned once. It was weird, and it was awkward, and at some point, the whole thing had blossomed into fruition and made itself known.

Not only had it done this, maliciously intruding on his blissful and ignorant lifestyle, it had chosen the worst possible time for it to happen. Normal people didn't get strange inklings of where their interests lay during a fast-paced battle with robotic ninja after their blood. No, they usually got it over coffee or while staring dreamily into the sunset and reflecting about their lives. Other people were freaking lucky, he decided.

He couldn't remember just what he did wrong. He'd either struck an instant too late or had overestimated his opponent's weak point and became careless. Either way, the result was the same, and he ended up with the hilt of a katana thrust against his stomach with enough force to knock all the air out of his lungs. It might have even cracked ribs if he wasn't considerably armored in the chest region, something he'd been dizzily thankful for as he clutched at his stomach and wheezed and choked. He'd realized the mistake the instant his opponent's other blade lashed out at chest-level, with the intention of slicing at his hands and rendering him incapable of fighting. He remembered panicking stupidly about not being able to finish the latest Final Fantasy, something that really should have been the least of his troubles at that point.

Then there was a blurred movement of blue and green, and Leonardo's katana flashed into sight and knocked the enemy's sword away. In another swift, slashing blow, the enemy had other problems to worry about and he was saved from the fate of never being able to use hand-held video game controls.

He'd reached down for his dropped weapons and Leonardo had picked them up for him and their hands touched and he nearly fell over. Leonardo smiled and steadied him with his hand around his waist and said something, probably a crack about the whole clumsiness thing he was working, but Michelangelo hadn't really focused on that so much as the disturbing warm and tingling sensation that had sparked through him at the hand touch and the smile. He'd said something brilliantly witty in response to whatever Leonardo had said to him, grabbed his nunchaku, and decided that whatever that feeling was, it was a result of oxygen deprivation.

That conclusion would have been much easier to believe in if that incident had been the end of it. But of course it hadn't. That wouldn't have fit in with the whole turtle luck thing at all.

The next time it happened, they were out on a rooftop scoping out the surroundings in a generalized kind of way. That was to say, they hadn't encountered any criminal activity as of yet, aside from some cases of really bad hair, and one Purple Dragon wandering around stone drunk in that stage of inebriation that made people unable to communicate without pausing and slurring and stuttering.

This obviously wasn't a crime, it was funny. Funniness could never be criminal. It was down in the Comedian's Guide to Humor. Michelangelo wrote 'I Approve of this Scene of Public Drunkenness' on a post-it and stuck it on the guy's hairdo for the sheer fun of it. The whole night had seemed like it would be a cool one.

That was just an elaborate ruse to lull him into a false sense of security.

Raphael was making the pretense of standing watch to placate Leonardo, who was watching Donatello and Michelangelo banter on about some useless debate about Windows, smiling like some benevolent god upon his children. Which, Michelangelo decided, wasn't unnecessary deification or any hint of any un-paternal and non-platonic interest at all. It was just the way it was, and probably was the same with older brothers everywhere.

Anyway, the night sky was muddy black like it always was in the city, with the one sliver of moonlight to give it a chip of white. It looked like someone had nicked the sky with an exacto blade. The streetlights were on full blast down below, but this high up they just gave the impression of light, silhouetting Raph and Leo with something like a thin, white pencil line and tracing the contours of their muscles. His eyes stuck on that line like it was a magnet and followed the path from shoulders to chest. Leonardo's skin had a faint silver sheen to it, and it was kind of like stone-polished dark green.

Calling him 'like a statue' would be way too cliché, not that staring in some kind of crazed fixation at his brother's abs was helping his sanity plea much. Come on Mikey, cut it out, he told himself, it's just muscles, I have muscles too. Pretty awesome muscles, if I don't mind saying so myself, which I don't, because I'm cooler than the new Coke. Why don't I just appreciate my own muscles like the king of awesome that I am, and look away before I freak out Leo. Come on eyes, I command you to move! The power of Mikey compels you!

Leonardo turned and his obsession-causing muscles shifted fascinatingly and he said in his concerned, brotherly voice: "You okay, Mikey? You've been staring off into empty space for ages now."

With effort, he brought his gaze up to Leonardo's eye-level and laughed. "Empty space? No way, dude. If I wanted a look at that, I'd just stare at Raph's head. No space emptier'n that!" He tried really hard to believe that something about Leonardo's voice had made the disturbing tingle run through him again, because it was a cold night out and who knew how bodies reacted to the cold. His abused logical side kept screaming at him that his nether regions totally wouldn't react like that to cold, but he ignored that dose of reality. Who needed it? Donny could have it all.

Raphael said something. Once again, his focus was totally off and he didn't get what he said, but the others seemed to find it pretty funny. He was busy searching the streets for any signs of crime with a desperation borne of distress. After all, New York was supposed to be a crime capitol. Where was all that crime and chaos when it could be used as a distraction? How could crime just take a break when he needed it to show its dark underbelly? And crapola on a crumpet, he was now praying for some gang violence.

Around that point, the denial phase began to die a slow death. Something was definitely wrong with him.

When they arrived at the lair, Michelangelo made a beeline for his room. It was his haven, his Batcave, his Fortress of Mikey Solitude and Entertainment. He was pretty solidly sure that no one would bother him until the time came for one of Master Splinter's long and involved training exercises, and it was a long way from dinner. This gave him maximum private time to collect his thoughts and to try and pin down the whole possible 'lusting over his brother' problem. This was obviously not a dilemma that could be solved with tabletop gaming sheets and action figures, and no way did he want any written account of this to be used against him.

There was only one option left to him. Meditating. This was usually the forte of Master Splinter and Leo, but he was willing to try anything at this point. And anyway, the whole meditation business was supposed to clear the mind and be relaxing. He couldn't see any problem with clearing the mind and relaxing. It would only benefit him to be not thinking of anything, because he was still getting horrible flashes of muscles in the moonlight.

Obviously, this required incense. He rummaged through the boxes in the hall closet and came out with a double handful of scent-encrusted sticks with names like 'champak', 'sandalwood', and 'patchouli', whatever kind of smells those were, and stuck them in blobs of play-dough in a large circle on his floor. He had to shift a lot of the stuff that was on there, such as his comic book collection (circa 1983, 1987, and 1994,) a stack of action figures with legs and arms snapped off that he never got around to salvaging, and some melted waxy-looking thing that might have been a candle or some melted firecracker.

One of the superhero action figures posed heroically atop the broken junk heap, one arm raised in a kind of mock tribute.

"We who are about to die salute you," Michelangelo told it gravely, then arranged his body in the awkward psuedo-lotus position and began to meditate as best he knew how. This was a weighty task, since he really didn't know how to meditate very well at all. It usually made him extremely bored, then restless, then narcoleptic. At that point in his life, he had a Pavlovian response to meditation: it would make him very paranoid that at some point, out of nowhere, a walking stick would descend from the heavens and whack him on the head.

Pretty soon, the stench of the combined incense sticks hung murkily in his room, as thick and dense as swamp fog, and he decided that the burning pain in his head was either an incoming epiphany or a godawful migraine brought on by whatever ungodly witch-perfume Master Splinter had slathered on the incense. It felt like he'd been sitting there for the span of an eternity, taken a brief break for Armageddon, waited for the universe to restart, and then lingered in champak-scented Hell for another eternity. In reality, he grudgingly supposed it had been at least an hour. A wasted hour, he decided, an hour that could have been happily spent killing brain cells on the playstation or even going through weapons drills. A wonderful hour, full of glorious potential that had been utterly wasted by this strangeness.

Michelangelo decided he'd had enough meditation for one lifetime, and stood up. The first thing he noticed was his room, and the changes it had gone through. It was still an awful, tasteful dump, but red satin tablecloths were now draped smartly over most of the heaps and over his bed. Cream and crimson candles burned seductively in every available corner, and for some reason an evocative scent was whimsically trailing through the air. It actually smelled like black olive pizza and the faint remnant of the New Age store scent left behind from his attempt at inner reflection. The action figure was seated at an organ-grinder's cart, pointing at the doorway as a strange tune clinked and plinked away.

All in all, it was all very unusual. It was freakin' weird.

Suddenly, the door swung outward, framing his visitor with a halo of brilliant, golden light that could never have come from the halogen lamps of the lair. Leonardo stood there, a hand on his hip, a fedora perched jauntily on his head, and a smooth and debonair smile that was entirely alien to his face. "Michelangelo," he said, as if he was tasting every vowel of his name on his tongue, "I've come to take you away from all this."

In a normal reality, Michelangelo would have either screamed and scrabbled for safety or cracked up laughing. Instead, he batted his eyes in dismayed coquettishness and fawned. "Oh heavens, Mr. Leonardo," he crooned in a terrible Southern Belle accent, "Thank goodness you came! That horrible Sheriff Splinter said he was selling the ranch, and me and the chickens have nowhere else to go!" As if on cue, he heard a series of faint clucks from behind his closet door.

Leonardo entered the room with the leisurely near-swagger that was the trademark of romantic heroes everywhere, and Michelangelo took the time to notice the drifting fragrance of some sort of prototype masculine cologne as his older brother stopped half a foot in front of him and fixed him with a look that involved great, melting-chocolate eyes and a big, gushy smile. "I have the battleshell all ready to go," he whispered huskily, as if stricken with desire, "We can be in Utah by the morning."

"I love Utah," Michelangelo said, "But whatever will the neighbors think?" Meanwhile, his conscious mind was trapped and screaming in this strange Gone With The Wind puppet body that seemed liable to sprout a gown and boobs at any conceivable moment. Utah? It screamed in rage, You don't know anything about Utah! Isn't that some flat cornfield wasteland? What are you going to do in cornfield wasteland? And why does Leo smell like Tommy Hillfiger and Old Spice? Make the madness end before he does something impossibly bizarro crazy!

"Frankly, my dear," said Bizarro World Leo, "I don't give a damn."

Suddenly the imperious ringing of church bells sounded out, and glorious organ music piped from an unknown source. A glance backwards told him that it was coming from what used to be the organ grinder's cart: now it was a miniature pipe organ, sounding out beautiful, mellow notes. His action figure was stuck in the pipes, pointing at him in what looked like recrimination.

Leonardo knelt down on one knee as fog machine smoke trailed wispily around him, framing him in romantic mist. "Michelangelo Percival Garcia Hamato," he intoned elegantly, "I say Hamato only for lack of an actual surname…will you do me the honor of becoming my bride?"

No! No! You don't have the ankles for skirts anyway! You are manly and macho! Walk away before the pipe organ turns into something else! And you don't have any middle names! "I do declare, sir," he giggled, as his mind filled with unspeakable horror, "I do believe I shall faint!"

At that point, Michelangelo ripped himself out of REM cycle with a shrill, piercing scream, unafraid of whatever walking sticks hovered menacingly in the real world to attack him there. His room was fogged with thick, fragrant smoke. He screamed again, for lack of anything better to do or say.

The door swung outward in identical force to his horrendous dream door, and there, framed in the thick, smoky light, stood Leonardo. "What's going on in there?" he asked, concern evident in every syllable.

"Get away from me, you romance novel bastard!" he screamed, totally obscured by incense smoke, "I refuse to feel the love tonight!"

"What?" Leonardo asked, completely nonplussed. Somewhere in the hallway, footsteps rang out as his other brothers rushed on the scene to perform what was obviously a search and rescue mission that required the Jaws of Life. They stopped at the door and were mystified by the billowing clouds of sandalwood and patchouli.

"Mikey? Mikey! Don't worry, I have the fire extinguisher!" Donatello yelled from the edge of the doorway, brandishing the nozzle menacingly at the smoke. "If you can hear me, say something!"

"I'm cool, guys!" Michelangelo called from his smoky prison, glad no one could see his expression, "I'm, uh…meditating," he added lamely. "It's helping me relax," he said, inserting a question mark at the end, as if unsure about its results.

There was a period of silence as his brothers allowed the import of this statement to sink in.

"You're meditating?" asked Leonardo in sheer disbelief, "In your own free recreational time?"

Donatello raised the nozzle again and aimed it like the barrel of a gun in the general area of the room. "All right," he said in a deep and serious tone, "Whatever evil alien life form you are, show yourself and tell us what you did with the real Michelangelo."

"And tell us why you wanna burn his room," Raphael added, "I mean, you wanna get rid of all the garbage, I can see that, but you could've just asked."

"Oh, ha ha. Veerrry funny, Raph. Yeah, your rapier wit stops me dead in my tracks," Michelangelo replied. With a sense of growing horror he realized his legs had fallen asleep and were now afire with the dreadful pins and needles sensation. He didn't want them walking in before, but now it was, like, a mission objective to Keep Them Away. If they found out about the legs being asleep, he'd have to suffer shock-inducing finger jabs, and that would just put the cherry on the top of the humongous crap-cake that was his day.

"He mentioned something about romance novels," said Leonardo thoughtfully.

"Is he burning them in protest?" asked Raphael. "Man, Mikey, we understand your pain about not landing Prince Charming, but don't take it out on the books! You gotta get a hold of yourself, bro! Join a support group or something!"

"You really should control those violent urges, Mikey," said Donatello, and Michelangelo pondered the benefits of just ignoring the uncomfortable pins and needles jabbing in his legs in favor of launching a frontal attack.

"How much incense did you use?" asked Leonardo as fog rolled out in a continuous carpet from the room.

"Um," said Michelangelo guiltily, hardly visible in the perfume cloud.

"Jeez, you must have used something like twenty sticks to get this kind of result," Donatello said, sounding both disgusted and somewhat admiring, "Could it have killed you to use all the same kind? It smells like someone dropped a bomb in the perfume aisle at Macy's."

"It smells like burnt dead dogshit," said Raphael in his usual tactful and eloquent manner.

"That must be the sandalwood," said Leonardo.

"Look," Michelangelo said, mired in the olfactory equivalent of a nuclear bomb, "I like it, okay? Is that okay with you guys? It's a new experience. It's different and unique. I'm trying something new," he continued as the last of the incense burned into golden embers in their Play-Dough holders, "I read a New Age book and thought this looked cool, so…maybe I overdid it a little on the incense. I could have added too much, who knows. But I gotta say, my soul feels minty fresh and sparkling now."

They stared at him. He stared back, secure in his relative invisibility.

His legs were now capable of bearing his weight, so he leapt to his feet and clung to the door. "Well, it's been great seeing you guys, glad to know the whole neighborhood watch program is still up and running, thanks for your support, and have a good night. I'd totally talk to you guys and invite you in for tea, but I don't think I can find it right now, so…yeah. LEAVE MY BATCAVE!" With that, he closed the door in their faces.

"Incense," he heard Donatello groan from behind the door, "It's going to take forever to get that smell out of there. We're underground in a small space, and what does he do? He fills it up with stench."

"Look on the bright side," Raphael said, "If we ever need to meditate, we won't need to burn anything. We can all just go to Mikey's room."

There was no questioning it. He liked Leo a lot. Like, in the like like sense, not the normal and healthy: 'Oh, he's my brother and I love him in that comfortable and fraternal and completely platonic way.' It was in the way that turned his guts to mushy liquid whenever he walked by, the way that filled him with strange and self-conscious paranoia. The way that made him constantly check for spinach in his teeth, and kept him awake at night agonizing over it until three AM, tending a monster headache and snacking on Doritos until he fell into a hazy kind of sleep. That whole romantic attraction thing was like a very bad virus.

Suddenly, Leonardo was everywhere. Of course, that was true in a very literal and totally non-metaphorical way, seeing that he had to live with him, but aside from the obvious, he seemed to be on his mind a lot more than anything else. The only thing that had previously been on his mind so much was the wonderful world of comic books, but even it took second place to Leonardo now. That was insanely blasphemous.

He could be doing something as commonplace as washing dishes when he'd focus on something really stupid about his brother. Like, wondering if he was polishing his swords now and running something like a mini video reel of how he looked when he did it: gently and fastidiously, with his fingers running down the length of the blade in slow strokes and his brows furrowed in concentration. The way he smelled like oil afterwards. Those thoughts would lead to places he didn't even want to speculate: he spent his time thinking in broken fragments that he'd hastily end before they went too far. Of course, with frightening single-mindedness, his brain always returned to the same place.

Michelangelo was absentmindedly drawing doodles of Superman on his sketchpad in blue crayon when a hand came out of nowhere and gave him a light smack on the head.

"Auuugh!" he dropped the paper and crayon like they'd come straight from the oven and spun to face what was obviously a malicious attacker. It wasn't, of course, it was just Leonardo staring at him like he'd grown two heads, clearly curious as to why his younger brother was acting like a neurotic flea.

"Hey man, no ninja stuff when I'm drawing. I gotta tune into my inner Picasso, and I can't do that when you're zipping around and popping up out of the shadows. It's, like, bad for the sympathetic art vibrations," Michelangelo said, trying to sound righteously affronted.

''Yeah. Uh-huh. Sure," Leonardo said, sounding unimpressed. This was because he didn't comprehend the delicate nature of genius.

"You can ruin a whole picture like that! One minute, you're coloring in the Mona Lisa, then some dude comes up out of nowhere and BAM!" he made an exaggerated hand movement, "ALL GONE! The work of years, ruined! It's important, you know. Gotta respect an artiste's space." He congratulated himself on how totally natural and calm he was being, faced with the vision that was Leonardo. Then he subtracted all of his points for thinking like that.

"Well, Picasso, training starts in three minutes." Leonardo's eyes narrowed as he looked at the drawing in his sketchbook and he let out a sigh. "Oh, no. Please don't tell me you're trying to dress us all up as superheroes again."

"Huh?" he glanced at the book in his hand and noticed that, while what he'd been drawing was clearly attired in a Superman outfit and flowing cape, it was also obviously not the ruggedly handsome Clark Kent. It was completely recognizable as a mutant turtle with twin katanas, hovering in mid-air in a heroic pose. "Oh. Ha ha. Yeah. Whoops," he said quickly shutting the book and hiding the evidence, "Artistic license, bro. Can't mess with artistic license."

Leonardo made sort of an indifferent noise and turned to go immerse himself in his obsession: training in ninjitsu. Michelangelo watched him go with an insanely stretched out goofy grin that would have been a dead giveaway had anybody been watching.

When it was clear that he was alone, he opened his sketchbook, yanked out the SuperLeo, and crumpled it into a little ball, calling himself an enormous idiot the whole time. It was leaking into his sketchbook now! Nothing was safe! Nothing was sacred! Very soon, it would take over something else that he treasured in his life, swallowing it like a great sucking blob of dark goo. He tried to throw the picture away, but ended up tucking it under his bed. It was a good picture, anyway. Michelangelo liked the flowing bandanna particularly. It added a nice touch.

A couple minutes after hiding the evidence, he appeared at the dojo and attempted to look vigorously normal.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Raphael, staring at him as if he'd caught the plague, "You get lockjaw?"

"I resent that," Michelangelo said through his frightening, shining grin, "You're just jealous of how handsome I am when I smile. It's great. You should try it sometime. Turn your frown upside down!" he added with unconvincing cheer.

"Who turned you into a Stepford Wife?"

"I am not a wife!" he shrieked with more force than was strictly necessary. Noting Raphael's surprised look, he decided that now was the time for clever evasive maneuvering. "Oh, look! Weapons!" he said gleefully, and ran over so to appear completely overcome by the sheer coolness of their weapons rack. The fact that he was looking more at the rack itself than the actual weapons kind of detracted from the whole thing.

He let out a silent cheer when Donatello finally pulled himself from the grip of Technology and arrived on the scene for their afternoon sparring session. Finally, he thought with a measure of grim anticipation, something to achieve the whole 'clearing the mind' goal. Meditation hadn't worked, reading hadn't worked, and the latest Sega game hadn't worked at all. So far he was able to briefly escape the encroaching urges of his hormones through sheer testosterone-laden exercises. This worried him. It seemed like such a Raphael thing to do. Something about the whole 'fighting for stress relief' struck him as a step towards the long road of masochism.

Leonardo paired off with him. This didn't bother him aside from the usual reaction of: 'Oh god, the slave driver has come for me!' Fighting didn't really kick off those strange attraction pulses. Or at least, not any more than some other activities he could name. There was really nothing fun or romantically charged about a fist to the gut or a roundhouse kick to the back, or at least not at that moment in his life. If his sexual preferences were getting as warped as they were right now, he gave it only a matter of time before he started getting turned on by blood and pain. And then it would be the whip fetishes. Oh, god the whip fetishes and leather! It burned the mind to think of!

"Focus," snapped Leonardo, and he caught the kick just in time, ducked under it and attempted to get through his guard with an arcing right hook toward his unprotected chest. Leonardo just grabbed his fist with one hand and yanked him forward to meet with an uppercut to the stomach that made him see stars.

He broke free and rolled to a standing position, circling as he got his breath back. "Hey, ow," he said with a grin, "I'm awake, Mommy, I don't want to go to school." Leo didn't look amused, which was only to be expected. He took a moment to thank whatever providence was responsible for them not practicing with the weapons at that time: getting struck with a fist was a lot less painful than the flat of a blade. The whole sword-smacking thing was a worrying trait that must have developed under the cane-whacking of Master Splinter.

The next punch from Leonardo came without even a muscle tightening to signify his attack, which was pretty much par for the course as far as his surprise attacks went. Michelangelo took the blow and the one immediately following that, an almost mechanical sequence of hits aimed precisely, of course, at the chest and jawline. It was obvious he was pulling on the second one and Michelangelo took shameless advantage of that, moving into the blow and executing a perfect kick to Leonardo's side, knocking him back a few paces.

This left an impasse as they came to a good old fashioned stand-off, and Michelangelo paid a studious lack of attention to Leonardo's breathing patterns and how his skin looked when it was sweaty. Screw taking it easy during practice, he couldn't get suitably and thoroughly distracted from his little problem if Leonardo wasn't playing right.

"Don't worry, Leo," he said, trying for the tones of intense smug-itude that so ticked off his brothers, "I'll go easy on you. I know you're intimidated because, see, I'm the Battle Nexus champion! I-" he dodged the inevitable blow to the head with a surge of giddy relief. He was getting angry! He would start being freaky Leonardo-style serious! Michelangelo was happy about this, and it frightened him to some extent. But not enough to let up on the good old sparring ritual of taunting his opponent.

After a few rounds of getting pummeled mercilessly, he began to doubt the wisdom of that idea.

Michelangelo jumped backwards, keeping out of kicking range, and stayed at the edge of the mat. Leonardo kept on waiting for him to make a move. After a few minutes, he said so with a certain amount of frustration. Michelangelo made it clear that he knew what was expected of him, he just didn't care.

"Attack? Oh, no, no sir. I like it here," he said, feeling jubilant in his ability to tick people off, "No one punching me, no kicking, no beatings of any sort! I think I'll bring out some popcorn," he added, and jumped up as Leonardo took things in his own hands and charged him.

Michelangelo sprung in the air and grabbed Leonardo's shoulder so as to flip over his shell, but all of that went horribly awry as Leo, apparently expecting that method of escape, used both his arms to grab him and slam him down, shell-first, on the floor. He took this in stride, kicked Leonardo's legs out from under him, and prepared to stand up and go forth into battle mode once more.

Then, Leonardo rolled on top of him and pinned him to the floor. As far as moves went, it wasn't really the most devastating in the whole ninja arsenal. In fact, it wasn't even the best choice of moves to use against him, since he was mind-bogglingly slippery and full of dexterity.

Of course, there was another force beyond pure tactics at work here, and it was making it really hard for him to breathe right. Leonardo shifted slightly, enough to clamp his legs more tightly against his sides, pressing skin against skin. Michelangelo could actually feel his pulse. This wasn't doing wonders for his own, which was racing back and forth in his chest like he was on some drug.

He was suddenly hugely and uncomfortably aware of just how close their bodies were: how he could hear Leo's breath coming out in short, halting bursts. So, he did something very stupid. He struggled. It was just pure instinct. Even though the better thing to do at that point would be to take advantage of the fact that Leonardo hadn't yet secured his arms, he squirmed in pure panic at being caught underneath him, panic at the heady rush of sensations that flooded him with insane speed.

Struggling wasn't the brightest idea, because all that did was make Leonardo pin his arms down to keep him from trying to jump up, and that caused panic to spike right into desperation. At that moment, he really didn't care if Karai came in on an iron-clad dragon that spat liquid fire and ate metal, followed by an innumerable legion of Karai-bots armed with rocket-launchers. As long as SOMETHING got Leonardo to stop straddling him, he would worship the very ground whatever that distraction was walked on.

"You know," he said, his voice coming out at a much higher pitch than usual, "I'm, uh, I think that's it for me. I give up. Seriously, I give."

Leonardo blinked at him stupidly, but did not, Michelangelo noted with growing frustration, release his arms. "You're not fighting back?"

"Nope. No, I think I used up my defensive maneuver quota. Yup, definitely all used up. No way to be replenished in sight. Gee, it would be really awesome if I could just get up," he hinted strongly.

"Not that easy, Mikey," Leonardo's eyes narrowed.

"Easy? Easy? What? I surrender! I'm done for! Finito! The end," he cried desperately, trying really hard not to shift or otherwise move while Leo was on top of him, "Do you need me to sing Yankee Doodle? I could so sing that for you, bro. With a hat on. Just get off! Seriously! You're totally cutting off my air supply!" He tried an impotent, half-hearted shove and ended up getting his arms an inch off of the floor. He was somewhat conscious of Donatello and Raphael watching in total befuddlement, but it was really hard to concentrate on anything but his situation and the jittery, tense voice screaming "Trapped! Trapped!" inside his head.

"Leonardo is correct, Michelangelo. In combat, your enemy will not accept surrender. Your training must reflect the situations you are likely to encounter," Master Splinter said, finalizing his doom.

"I don't remember any member of the Foot being this heavy," Michelangelo said, determined to argue his way out of it.


"Dude. If Hun sits on me, I'm going to worry more about my organs getting crushed by my broken bones."

"Michelangelo!" snapped Master Splinter, "No more talking!"

And there he was, being pinned and straddled by his illegitimate crush, who seemed capable of boundless patience and possessed of the ability to double his own weight, and it looked like he was in no hurry to get up any time soon. In fact, it looked like he was happy to stay there, on top of him, all day. And if the situation was different, he would have been totally and strangely happy with the concept. As it was, Michelangelo was ready to damn the practice of sparring to the very lowest pit of the abyss.

What followed was what he chalked down as one of the most horribly awkward experiences of his entire, short life. He struggled, writhed, bucked upward repeatedly with a sense of horrific embarrassment and eventually resorted to whining in between futile, muted struggling.

"Pleeease," he whined for what felt like the seven-hundredth time.


"Seriously! Seriously, I really need to get up right now!"

"There is no reason you need up that badly."

"You have no idea."

"Not until you actually start trying, Mikey. You're just fidgeting around! This is not a game!"

"My GOD!" he finally snapped, "What is WRONG with you people? Let's just pretend I'm dead right now, okay? I'm gone! There's a katana sticking out of my ribs and my blood is spilling poetically out onto the floor! There is no way, I say, no WAY in any world or any strange transdimensional universe that a Foot, or a Purple Dragon, or the Shredder, or…I dunno, even Bishop would drag this fight out this long! I would not be here, okay? I would be gone! Get off right now! Get OFF!"

With that, he drew upon his reserves of pent-up frustration and annoyance to achieve a higher level of strength and with a huge shove that involved him nearly shooting up from the floor, managed to dislodge Leo. Before he made any other sudden movements, Michelangelo jumped backwards a few feet and edged away, bumping into Donatello as he did so and nearly knocking him over.

"Geez, what's up with you?" Raph asked in his usual surly way.

Michelangelo was not in the mood for the dulcet tones of Raphael's prodding. He was too busy attempting to get himself back to the good old Mikey groove of calm, serenity, and sugar-highs, and there would be no distraction when that mighty task was at hand! There would be only soothing thoughts of the Justice Force. This called to mind Leonardo dressed like Superman and he shook his head as if to dislodge all disturbing thoughts from his brain. "I'm fine!" he insisted, backing up in a new and brother-free direction, "I just…really need to go to the bathroom! The call of nature is strong in this one! Yeah! And that's why I really wanted you off of me, too!" he pointed accusingly at Leo, "Because I wanted to go to the bathroom! Okay?"

Leonardo just stared at him.

"So…off I go," Michelangelo said, looking convincingly desperate, "To the bathroom. And when I come back, I will train some more! Yes," he added, and fled. In his wake, his very puzzled siblings conveyed their befuddlement with expressions and shrugs. Michelangelo ignored this. He would go to the restroom, he would pull himself the jolly fuck together, and training would resume as normal, because there was totally nothing wrong with him.

"There is something horribly wrong with me," he muttered indistinctly with his head under the bathtub faucet. Cold water gushed from the spigot, onto his head and into his mouth and eyes and he watched it swirl into the drain. The beginnings of what felt like an impressive stress headache were starting up.

He wasn't the beam of scary super-genius that Donatello was, and he couldn't pass for intellectual even in bad light, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to know that what he was feeling was plain out Not Right. It was pure and undiluted sexual lust, which was weird and awkward enough, but having it focused on his brother? Dude, that was the guy he'd stolen cookies from and took baths with! And that last line did nothing at all to help the situation. He turned the faucet off, for it was clear that it was no longer helping, and went in search of enlightenment.

The first time it happened he'd stayed in his refuge, the bathroom, for as long as he could convincingly pretend to be heeding the call of nature. Afterwards, practice was an elaborate and intricate dance as he tried to elude Leonardo's attacks and keep him, at all costs, from ever pouncing on him again. Still, he couldn't stop everything, and once in a while he'd end up on his back on the mat, his breathing and heart rate doing all kinds of funny things and his mind going completely and embarrassingly one track.

Not to mention that Leonardo looked unbelievably good when he was sparring.

That thought didn't occur to him.

At least, not any more than five times a session.

This always ended in the only way it could. He would dash madly for the bathroom to hit the showers first, and demanded that he be given first rights out of everyone for his cold showers.

"Cold showers?" Donatello asked in complete disbelief. Raphael and Leonardo had similar expressions.

"Yeah. So?" he'd demanded rebelliously.

"Mikey, you hate cold showers," Raphael said, as if reminding him of some pivotal fact of nature, such as the sky being blue or Master Splinter being a giant rat.

"No, I don't," he'd denied heatedly, "I happen to LOVE cold showers. The best thing you can do with water is make it ice cold and BATHE in it. I hereby dedicate my life to taking them. That's how much I love cold showers. Because I love them just that much."

"But…" Donatello tried to object.

"Cold showers are GOD," he'd snapped, and slammed the door on their confused faces.

The little subversive element in his brain that told him what Leo didn't know couldn't hurt him and that he might as well enjoy it was totally not helping. In fact, it was making it completely impossible for him to focus on the actual fight, what with one section of his brain neatly set aside to perform interventions for the alien, dangerous part that wanted nothing more than for Leonardo to jump on top of him. This, he informed himself angrily, was sick, and he would not in any way allow his budding libido to cripple him in this way. Of course, the fact that he said this constantly like some warped little mantra while being completely owned in sparring was completely coincidental.

When he left the bathroom it became clear to him that Master Splinter had noticed this, too. "Michelangelo," he said in his stern Ninja Master voice, "You have been increasingly distracted lately. May I ask what is diverting your focus?"

His brain froze, as it often did whenever Master Splinter asked him a question that was a lead-in into either a lecture or some form of punishment. It offered unhelpful one-liners, like: "You can ask, but I don't think I can tell you because it would endanger our agents in the field", "The important question of which is better, Pepsi or Coke," or even: "Well, it's obviously all Raph's fault."

"Uh," he sputtered out intelligently, "I don't know."

Fortunately this was a token response for him, and didn't sound nearly as strange or incriminating as: "Nothing! Nothing is distracting me! I am perfectly focused, alert, and not looking at my brother in any strange way! AHAHAHAHA! I leave now!" That would have been devastating, and he would have had to go in hiding for three years in the dankest bowels of…probably Chicago. As it was, he plastered on his plastic smile of 'I know I'm in trouble', because that was the easiest expression to go for and it could just mean that he fiddled around with someone's stuff again.

Master Splinter gave him a look that could probably burn holes through stone.

Michelangelo knew this technique well. Master Splinter was going to stand there with his rock-melting gaze, silent and patient and appearing quite prepared to simply sit there for hours waiting for him to get on with the rest of his explanation. This usually made them buckle after no more than two minutes of what was essentially The Staring Match of Doom.

But he would not buckle. He would not fold. He was unmovable and implacable in his determination not to talk.

"I am firm and resolved," he said with a depth of maturity never seen before in him, "And I will not stand for this craziness, nor will I stand for any more of these ninja mind games! I have replied to your question and I will hear no more on the matter! Now, if you'll excuse me, I must find the cure for cancer and stop world hunger!"

This was how the situation played out in his ample imagination. In real life, he stood there, sweating under his master's iron gaze until a row of unintelligible words flowed out. They went something along the lines of: "Mfwuh gurble mazoo."

"I am sorry, Michelangelo, but I'm afraid I didn't hear you."

The laser eyes stared deeply into his soul. Michelangelo rummaged around for a suitable explanation to present itself, hopefully one that didn't make him out to be a complete moron or a brother-lusting fanatic. Usually, he lost focus because of some new video game release that had taken over his free time, which he never really admitted to his father anyway. If he could just look sheepishly hangdog enough, maybe Master Splinter could actually buy that. It was worth a shot, it was believable, and it was much better than the alternative of hanging there in anguish until he might be persuaded to reveal something that he honestly didn't know the reaction to.

"Well," he said under his breath, "I'm, uh…there's…there is that new game I've been wanting to play." He said this with the right amount of reluctance, and since he was nervous and terrified enough on his own, he didn't even need to add that in. It worked perfectly, which was a little bit insulting, actually. Did they really think he could get so fixated on the new Final Fantasy or Battle Ravage that it could drive him to meditation and cold showers? But then again, it was best not to look the gift Master Splinter in the mouth. Better a long and mind-numbing lecture on the virtues of concentration and focus than…whatever result that he'd find if he admitted that Leonardo's physique was really starting to affect him in ways that bothered him in the middle of the night.

In the end, Splinter revoked his Playstation and other such game system privileges for a week, and consigned him to extra training bouts with Leonardo. He wanted to scream. In fact, he did scream, because it was a fitting response even if he wasn't plagued with craziness, and hoped that Master Splinter didn't notice the extra edge of panic in his voice when he did so.

He didn't. He gave him a look that condemned melodrama and went, ironically, to watch Dawson's Creek.

Leonardo just laughed and slung an arm around his shoulder. The gesture made Michelangelo freeze in complete disorientation, as if that touch just flung him out of reality and into some strange pocket universe. He stood very still, as if the slightest move would cause some strange shift in the atmosphere.

"Hey, don't worry, Mikey. I'll go easy on you," Leonardo said, obviously joking because he never let up on people. The big jerk.

He smiled unconvincingly and tried not to worry about that whole skin contact thing. "You think going easy means you'll only break half my bones. I'm going to die! I just know it!" he went on dramatically, "Excuse me, I'm totally gonna have to buy an insurance plan for this."

Leonardo grinned. "Or you could just get moving," he said, sounding full of ruthless anticipation, "Practice starts in five minutes."

"Yes, dark master," Michelangelo groaned, "I'll get the Iron Lady ready." When Leonardo took his arm off of his shoulders, he still felt its weight as he turned to go warm up.

It wasn't too bad, all things considered. When they sparred, he let himself open for kicks he normally would have blocked, moved just a second too slowly so the blows would connect, just to get the jolt of pain to clear his mind. It was more of a self-punishment than he let himself admit. Not that he didn't fight back twice as hard: he launched offensive strikes made of a flurry of blows, ducked and dodged and strained his agility to keep from getting too close. Too close was close enough for a headlock or tackle, within arm's reach of his brother was No Man's Land. He probably looked like he was fighting off a wild animal: something with a roaring maw of teeth and wild, angry eyes, not a perfectly disciplined fellow ninja with no weapons.

The fights lasted longer than they used to, with him dancing just out of range and launching the obligatory assault, and Leo drawing him in to force him into combat. Eventually, he accepted defeat when he thought enough time had passed that the Slave Driver would let him surrender.

Leonardo gave him a strange look, which he pretended not to notice, when they were done.

He then paused and looked like he wanted to say something, but Michelangelo shoved his way into the silence with a demand for take-out after the misery he'd been made to go through, and this seemed to reassure his older brother enough that he didn't say whatever he'd been thinking. In fact, Michelangelo made a point to be obscenely boisterous, from ordering Chinese with a horrible Mexican accent to getting into an insult match with Raphael.

Later, though, he took dinner to his room and ate in the quiet, listening to the muffled noises of his brothers talking outside. He felt very tired, which was strange. It wasn't like he'd done anything out of the ordinary.

The brief confrontation with Master Splinter had led him to a realization that hadn't quite hit him up to that point. It wasn't quite an epiphany, because epiphanies struck him as things that were really deep and hardcore and world-changing, like: 'Oh my god! The key to my evil arch nemesis' revival was standing before me all along, in this canister!' or even 'E equals MC squared!' No, this one was totally and blaringly obvious. It was just hard to see its entirety because it was so enormous.

No matter what, he couldn't tell anyone.

He'd thought of it before, obviously. Thought about keeping it all an embarrassing secret, like wetting the bed or sleeping with a nightlight. (Which he still had to do, because he couldn't sleep without the lamplight keeping the shadows from his bed.) But that had been more of a vaguer, instinctual desire. Actually having a situation come up where the whole mess could slip out in front of someone had just ignited the candle of recognition in his head. Suddenly, he had horrible thoughts of what could happen if he'd told anyone, from Master Splinter on down to even Donatello. Their reactions in his head ranged from shock and disgust to outright anger, in the most blown-up and trainwreck-syndrome way possible.

There was no way, he thought, this could ever be taken lightly, or even treated like, say, Leo's fear of heights. No matter how hard he tried to wrap his mind around just coming to anyone with the problem, it always came up as an inevitable disaster. Michelangelo was fairly sure that the homosexual aspect, by itself, would be fine with everyone. After all, they didn't have room to judge. But piled on with the whole 'I want to have sex with the brother I've been raised alongside of for fifteen years?' One more layer of possible sickness to contemplate.

The mental scenario he was picturing included him going to Master Splinter or Donatello, (Not Raphael, because who in their right mind would spill heartfelt anything to him, and not Leonardo, not ever,) and standing there as this horrible spotlight focused on him. Like those little desk lamps they shone in people's eyes for a 'Good Cop/Bad Cop' routine, only there were no Good or Bad cops, only a very puzzled father/brother. Then, after a few torturous minutes with him standing there dumbly in the paralyzing glare, he'd tell them about his problem.

At this point, his mind desperately tried to insert some humor. Like cop cars screaming, steam pouring out of ears, dramatic screaming or even his confession prompting everyone in the room to keel over and die of an immediate heart attack. Something, anything to dramatize it, to make it larger than life. Make it funny.

The problem seemed to be that the situation just held no humor, so even attempts to force it in just made it even worse. There wasn't any drama in his imagination, but then again, there wasn't anything there. His mind just refused to conjure an image, a definite image of what would happen next. There was just this mingled, vague cloud of fears: being held at arm's length, being sent away, Master Splinter somehow being Disappointed. And then, if he told Donnie, what if he just didn't know what to do, either?

He felt, like some horrible but definite premonition, that if his brothers knew, none of them would ever talk to him or look at him the same way again, and he didn't want that in a way that went bone-deep. It was a visceral rejection of even the concept. There was no way he could talk about this, no way to get help from the others. The simple and stupid epiphany of 1+1 equals 2. Duh.

The stress headache was kicking in. He'd never had one before six weeks ago. Five weeks ago they were a hazy possibility. Now, he kept aspirin alongside of his Tootsie Rolls in his homemade hollow comic stack, and had to dry swallow because Master Splinter kept an eye on what food he brought to his room after an incident with an ant colony and the Dr Pepper spill of '99.

He used to hate the taste of any medicine, liquid, pills, tea or the weird herbs Master Splinter managed to dig up. Aspirin stuck to his tongue and choked him, but he didn't really mind. It felt right, kind of, for it to taste bitter.