Author's Note:

I do not own the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or any of their companions. That honor belongs to Mirage.

The following contains some graphic violence, a smattering of bad language, and intense imagery.

Leo POV.
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Subtle
1. Fine or delicate in meaning or intent
2. acute
3. operating in a hidden, usually injurious way
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Subtle Edge

By KameTerra
With many, many thanks to beta reader R.R. Ten'ou!


I know what they must be thinking—I've gone mental. Crazy. Nutter. Off the deep end. A few cards short of a deck. Say it however you want. Maybe it's even true, I don't know. But is it necessary?

Goddamn right it is

There are five of them, threading their way through the quilted shadows of the damp streets below. A curtain of water vapor hangs heavy in the still air, absorbing small sounds and giving the street lamps those curious halos that make the light seem to stop abruptly—as if the shadows are solid. The asphalt is shiny with oil and pollution congealed there after the recent rain, and I know I'll have to watch my footing when I go down. If I go down.

Five is a rather unusual number for a team of Foot ninja, but I have no trouble tracking their skulking movements from above. Their actions tonight will determine whether or not I go down for a chat.

Anyone who knows me would say this isn't my usual style, prowling the streets after dark looking for . . . what? An opportunity? This is more Raph's thing. Or used to be, before my family was almost blown to smithereens trying to take out the Shredder once and for all. We succeeded—barely. But Saki's daughter, Karai, remains at large, and I feel my pulse quicken in anger at the very thought.

"Karai," I growl through clenched teeth, and even to my own ears my voice sounds harsh, grating—like the name was dragged across a file on its way out of my mouth. I realize I've been unconsciously fingering the still-fresh scar above my right collar bone, and I jerk my hand away as if it's been burned.

My brothers and my father know something's been bothering me, and they continue to ask me about it with annoying regularity, pleading with their eyes even when their questions go unanswered. Eventually, they'll be forced to draw their own conclusions.

That's fine by me.

What they don't know can't hurt them, and protecting my family from hurt of any kind has always been my primary objective.

When the ninjas below me turn the corner at the next intersection, I run lightly, swiftly along the rooftops until I have a clear view again. Ugh. They look just like city rats, the way they run low with their backs all humped up, and merely watching them makes the blood pound in my temples. It would be child's play to pick them off one by one as they move along the streets, and I relish the prospect, but caution requires that I wait and see what they do before committing. Since Casey and I blew our cover on that wild goose chase after Hun and the Purple Dragons, the Foot will surely know we're back, and I shouldn't risk an unnecessary scuffle right now.

So I guess I'll just have to hope I get lucky.

As I watch, the vermin approach a short alleyway, and what I see there makes me claw at the concrete ledge I'm leaning on. A manhole. Right near the alley entrance. I hold my breath in anticipation while the bastards scatter into the shadows, and I make the decision to begin the descent—just in case. The moisture has made everything a bit slick, but bare feet actually have an advantage there, and I manage to make my way down onto to a wide window ledge at the second story of a building across from the alley. Farther along the wall is a fire escape, which would be more comfortable, but I know the enemies are more likely to look there.

Several minutes pass in silence, and the only reason I know anyone is down there is because I have kept track of their locations. My legs begin to cramp up as I crouch, but I'm not worried. When they don't detect anything unusual, they'll come out to play.

There. One of the shadows shifted, I'm sure of it. I make sure to keep my eyes moving, scanning constantly—it would be stupid to let someone take me by surprise. One more minute, and one of the shadows comes to life and slinks noiselessly to the half-moon of the partially shaded manhole cover. He uses a crowbar and begins to pry the lid up. I suck in my breath silently, and reach into my belt pouch.

I just got lucky.

Whatever it takes.

The ninja at the manhole slowly eases the lid aside, and in a silent gesture beckons his companions forward. He doesn't even have a chance to react as a whirling disc of jagged metal imbeds itself into his throat. The resulting wet choking sound is barely audible from where I am, but it's music to my ears nonetheless. The body falls forward into the sewer, which is perfect even though I didn't plan it. A second shuriken, thrown a split second later, takes out the nearest security light a half block down.

I have just set the stage—now time for some action.

Master Splinter is always talking to us about honor, and I know he'd say there's no honor in what I'm about to do.

Bushido?

Bullshit. Been there, done that.

Train hard, Master Splinter always says. Learn to fight, infiltrate, kill—but not at the cost of your honor. I have to smile grimly at the irony of that one. I used to proudly proclaim I was a ninja with honor—but all I can do now is embrace ninjitsu with all of its darker implications. What I do may not be pretty, but then most necessities in life aren't.

I know one of the Foot ninja is buried in the loamy shadow practically below me, and I instinctively check that my katana are clear in their scabbards before dropping down to the street. I land in a crouch, and immediately swerve low and to the side as a whistled rush of sound to my left indicates a steel edge cleaving the water-thick air. Simultaneously as I dodge, I reach behind with my left arm to draw one sword, and the blade hisses quietly, a snake about to strike as I pull it free of the scabbard.

He's quick, I have to admit, but he would have done better to wait until he knew precisely where my head was before taking a swipe. Now I know not only where he is in the darkness, but exactly how his weapon is positioned. I instantly lunge forward, my left hand on the grip of my weapon held in straight out in front of me, and my right braced behind the pommel for leverage. I time it perfectly, and as I hoped he was slightly off balance from the missed swing.

I scarcely feel any resistance as the steel slides smoothly into the opaque blackness of the thug's body—I must have impaled him in the gut or the blade would have encountered bone. I hear a grunt and an abrupt expulsion of air as my sword penetrates, but before he can begin to go down, I release him from the bite of my weapon with a quick jerk and roll to my left.

I still can't see much, but I hear the clang of his weapon as it drops, and then the dull thud of his body hitting the pavement. From the sound I doubt I have anything more to worry about from him, but one can't be too careful. Cautiously, sword at ready and still in a crouch, I edge over to the fallen filth. My eyes adjust momentarily, and I can see that he's on his back. His hands are clasped on his abdomen where dark blood erupts thickly, slowly from between gloved fingers, and I know that means I scored the liver. His hands are already beginning to shake and shock won't be far off, but it could take hours for him to bleed out and die with that kind of wound.

Now, we can't have that, can we?

The ship shuddered as missiles slammed into it, boring their way through to its innards. Everyone pitched to the side at the impact, like chessman on a tilted board, and Karai slipped over the precipice, falling before she had a chance to register her predicament. I managed to stop myself from following her over the edge, and I reached out and grasped her wrist. It nearly wrenched my shoulder out of place, but I had her—

Fury like a hot whirlwind of desert air blasts over me, and from a sheath at my left side I draw a tantō—a weapon I have begun to carry for these clandestine missions. Crouching over the dying man, I drive the dagger with all my hatred behind it through the sternum and straight down into his heart. This time it is bright red arterial blood that rushes to escape, splashing hot on my hand, and the body convulses twice more before all movement ceases. Wiping the tantō on his clothing, I sheath it and then drag the body further into the shadows.

Two down.

There's no time to waste, so I hug the edge of the building and move smoothly through the contoured shadows until I'm no longer directly across from the entrance to the alleyway. I know I have to leave the protection of the deepest shadows and cross the empty street. Sheathing my sword, I take a few short running steps and leap into a series of forward flips that advance me halfway across the street. Then I transition smoothly into a forward roll before leaping at an oblique angle into the far shadows.

There I pause, panting from sheer adrenaline, and wait to see if my movements will spark a reaction. A noise, sharp and clanging from the far side of the alley entrance tries to entice me, but I recognize it as a probable diversion and remain still. Once again drawing a sword, I proceed carefully towards the alleyway, expecting an attack. I am not disappointed.

This one comes at me from the darkness almost dead ahead, but I'm ready for it. Truth be told, I'm almost too ready for it. All of my senses are heightened and every muscle is tensed in anticipation of sweet violence. I hold my sword loosely in my left hand, ready to change grips if necessary, but instead of standing my ground and taking a defensive stance as my attacker might expect, I continue moving forward.

The high-tech train car rocked gently from side to side as it hurtled at high speed down the subway tracks, adding an additional element of instability to an already chaotic battle. Lead here by a false threat against our home and family, my brothers and I had nevertheless joined the scuffle and helped free Karai from Bishop's prison. Upon her release, she immediately launched herself at the tall man whose movements were inhumanly catlike, only to be disarmed and restrained.

My strategy forces the ninja to slow his momentum, and he blocks my first downward slice easily with his katana—standard issue, apparently. Our swords still locked for the moment, I lean most of my weight into him before suddenly releasing pressure, and he involuntarily moves into the kick I aim at his midsection. He's knocked back but not down, and even as my foot comes back to the ground, I'm drawing a second sword with my right arm. In one fluid motion the oiled blade slips out and slices diagonally downward, connecting with the ninja's flesh between the neck and shoulder, and bisecting several inches of muscle before contacting bone with a sodden thunk.

Bishop handily fended off my brothers' sequential attacks one-handed, but I saw my opening and disarmed him with a swift scissor-catch of my swords. The way was clear, my blade committed with an upward stroke to taking his head—the only obstacle in the way being . . . Karai's head. But the steel never completed its arc, instead halting almost of its own accord before it could taste the flesh of her slender neck—

Keeping downward pressure on the steel already renting the ninja's body, I cross my left arm over my right and bear down for extra power as I step into him with another kick. The power of it sends his body away from me, and I drag the tip of my sword down across his chest with all my might as he falls back, extending the chasm begun at the neck all the way to the lower right side of the torso. From the newly hewn canyon crimson rapids burst free, and I see at once there will be no need to expedite Death's inexorable advance.

Three down.

I drag the body towards the wall, leaving a dark smudge like a squashed mosquito where he fell, and I can't help thinking that's just what he was—another blood-sucking parasite. Then I press myself against the building, listening. Seconds tick away, and everything is quiet. For all I know someone is just around the corner, waiting for me to step out—but I'm not in the mood to play mouse. Throwing caution to the wind, I step slightly away from the wall and sprint as hard as I can past the corner and out into the alley entranceway. There I pause briefly before proceeding cautiously into the yawning mouth of the alley itself, every sense keyed to the utmost.

Nothing. No sound.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch stealthy movement towards the back of the alley, but before I can react something launches out at me from the vicinity of the dumpster on my left. I manage to deflect a blow from the ninja's katana, but the impact knocks me back a little and I scramble to keep upright on the slick asphalt. As I regain my footing I can hear the light slap of running feet coming towards me at me at two o'clock from deeper in the alley, but rather than becoming concerned I merely become incensed.

The one from the left is on me again in a heartbeat, and I engage him briefly, deftly parrying several successive and inexplicably uncouth swipes from his sword. Once I've had a chance to evaluate his style, I intentionally leave an opening and succeed in drawing a low right-handed thrust. My deceptive posture was carefully planned, and even as he begins his strike I'm pivoting into his body until I'm my shell is practically against his chest. I pin his blade down with my right sword—it will only hold for fractions of a second, but it's all I need. With my other blade, I swing over my right arm and neatly sever the ninja's sword arm above the wrist before finishing with a powerful upward slice from my right blade to the rear, scoring his neck and practically decapitating him.

Aware that the fifth and final ninja is upon me, I crouch and spin, sweeping out with my leg, but he leaps nimbly to avoid it—or she, I guess, once I've gotten a better look at the slight figure.

We were falling—cast prematurely from the Shredder's blimp on our way to save the floating city of Beijing. My brothers tugged the strings on their packs almost immediately, opening the wings of their gliders, but I had seen something else—something far below that made me tuck my arms close to my sides in hopes of making my shape as aerodynamic as possible.

This one is more cautious, and she circles me smoothly while watching for an opening. I stand at ready on the balls of my feet, and when she makes a move I sidestep lightly and try for a lightening-quick kick. To my surprise, she blocks it and feints to the side, drawing my focus long enough to get in a kick of her own which lands perfectly, impacting my right hand and sending the sword clattering to the ground out of my reach.

Oh, she didn't just do that.

I heard Don call out to me, commanding me to deploy my glider, but I was getting closer to my target. Just before impact with the roof of a skyscraper I reached it, and grabbed Karai tight around the middle even as I pulled the cord on my pack—

My eyes narrow in hatred as rage like acid rain lashes my body, branding innumerable sizzling tributaries down my flesh.

Never again.

I know I should try to get in close, where it's possible to use my superior physical strength to the best possible advantage. I charge abruptly at her, leading with my shoulder, and as I had hoped she's too thrown off by the seeming stupidity of the attack to do more than step out of the way. The momentum sends me some distance before I fall, skidding forward on my plastron and giving me the extra seconds I need to prepare for her approach. She slips up behind me, eager to do some damage before I have a chance to get up, but I'm waiting for it. I twist and kick out at her legs, sweeping them out from under her. She goes down hard on her back, and I roll forward swiftly if not gracefully, giving silent thanks for my kneepads as I skid over broken glass.

Unfortunately, she landed with her weapon on the other side of her body from where I am, so I simply cast myself on top of her form in hopes that my close proximity will inhibit her ability to fend me off. She throws up a knee as I come down and catches me square in the plastron, a maneuver which would be very effective under normal circumstances but which, either from adrenaline or because I'm a turtle, I barely feel.

She tries to squirm out from under me, punching, kicking, twisting, but I ignore the blows and manage to pin her arms. Luckily my left hand, the one that didn't get kicked, is at her sword arm, and still grasping my own weapon I manage to apply pressure to the correct spot on her wrist until she drops her blade. Still not letting go, I twist until I feel the snap of breaking bones. Then I release her wrist, and punch her hard on the side of the head, momentarily stunning her.

I sit up slightly, and reposition myself so my knees are weighting down her arms. Opening and closing my right fist rapidly, I try to speed the return of sensation lost when she kicked me. After several seconds, I figure it's good enough, and I draw my tantō. Her mask hides her face as well as her eyes, so I can't see her expression, but I assume she sees the blade because she suddenly renews her struggles. I hit her again to subdue her so I can complete my task quickly, and she remains conscious but ceases struggling. Instead, she begins crying, her breathing like that of a wild thing caught in a trap—panicked yet hopeless at the same time.

"Please, please spare me," she sobs out brokenly, quietly. "Mercy!"

Mercy. I roll the word around as if it's a piece of candy in my mouth, trying out its sound and texture and familiarity. Nothing. I spit on the ground, as if the action could dispel the vile taste of the word.

Where has mercy ever gotten me? Almost dead, that's where, and my family along with me. The former would be regrettable—but the latter is simply unacceptable. All the chances we had to kill Karai, to kill so many of our enemies, only to spare them, give them another opportunity to . . . to what? Hurt us, rip at us like hyenas snatching stealthy mouthfuls here and there—but it's only a matter of time before there's nothing left.

My heart hammers and my knees grow weak with almost erotic desire at the thought of having my hands around Karai's delicate neck—of squeezing until the trachea collapses and arteries pop and sinews compress and bones are ground into powder—until her clouded eyes stare blankly at the only truth left to see—that of her own mortality.

But even as bad as I want that . . . Christ . . . I'll resist the impulse, and instead she'll learn the only kind of mercy I have left in me—immediate and final acquaintance with the subtle edge of my blade.

And anyone else who wants to hurt my family, anyone else I even suspect would mean them harm, will get the same treatment, so help me god I swear they will.

I regard the ninja beneath me as she pleads, then I calmly press my left hand down on her forehead.

What is it that's said about mercy?

Oh yeah—it's for the weak.

The dagger glides across her throat as smoothly and serenely as an ice skater on a pond. The liberated blood doesn't seep out passively, but seems instead to leap hungrily up to the gleaming steel, as if eager to consume the blade itself.

It's not easy overriding a whole lifetime of training in the code of ethics I was taught to live by, so I've had to distance myself—focusing on the hate, the injustice, the anger—feeding it as dry kindling to the furnace of my body until I'm roaring with it, blistering and peeling with it, until any residual thoughts of compassion or honor are completely incinerated. Wear out my body, shut out my family, my friends—whatever it takes so I can complete the necessary but ruthless tasks that I could never ask any of them to do.

I'm not a fool. I know I won't be able to protect my loved ones forever, so I'll push them as hard as I can, while I can. All the better if they hate me for it—it'll only make it easier to shut them out of this new cold mechanism that pumps blood like oil through the sterile machine of my body.

I wipe off the tantō once again, then the sword. The sword doesn't come completely clean, though—some of the blood has coagulated on the frigid steel, but even in the near-darkness a fragment of a reflection bounces back at me. Is it because of the shadows and the distortion, or does my face really look like that? The eyes so flat . . . dead, like those of a fish left drying on the shore. If it weren't for the cobalt band surrounding them, I'd swear they were somebody else's. My stomach flips unexpectedly and I look away, attempting to banish the image from my mind.

As I stare down at the ex-ninja beneath me, my eyes unfocused, I notice vaguely that something doesn't look right. Suddenly my vision sharpens, searching. What is it, what's different? There. I grasp the fabric of the uniform, pinching a fold of it up between my thumb and first finger to study it. What the shell? Where's the Foot logo? These are definitely Foot ninja—the uniform is identical save the absence of the mark like a bloody footprint over the chest. Did the rest of them have it? I close my eyes, trying to remember exact details, and my heart lurches infinitesimally when I remember stabbing the first one's chest.

No logo.

I open my eyes and stare at the ruined throat glistening darkly with viscous fluid. Suddenly things click into place, and I feel my hands begin to shake and bile rise up in my throat.

This was a training mission. No way were these experienced Foot ninja—that's why I was able to defeat them with barely a scratch! Christ, they were probably hardly more than kids. The management would never be so foolish as to send new recruits down looking for us.

Fighting panic, I attempt to convince myself that it makes no difference—that even if these ninja weren't trying to find our lair, even if they were new recruits, they would kill all of us without compunction given the opportunity. They made their choices, and not one of them is worth even a scab on the toe of one of my brothers or my Sensei.

But even as I tell myself these things, I become aware of the cloying, copper-sweet scent of blood all around me, and it begins to infiltrate every pore, every cavity with its thickness until it's coating me like tar. Still holding my weapon I scramble desperately, jerkily off the body, crawling on my hands and knees over the gritty slimy alley to escape the oppressive stench. I don't get very far before it becomes nearly impossible to breathe. My lungs fill with blood instead of life-giving oxygen, and the pressure of it increases and spreads to my chest, stifling the very beating of my heart as I flop helplessly on the ground.

I'm sure I'm dying.

Maybe I'm even okay with that.

As my vision begins to grow dark, though, I can think only of my father, my brothers—and unbidden come images of all of them lying broken around me instead of the Foot ninja, of their intemerate life-blood mingling with the unspeakable filth clogging the alley.

No, no! Not while I still live!!

The clarity of that thought stabs through the wall of my coffin, and with my remaining strength I manage to grasp my sword in both hands and press the flat of the blade against my forehead.

Eyes closed, I focus on the truth of the cold steel against my skin, striving to make it the only reality I know or want to know. Gradually I can feel myself melding with the weapon, becoming cool and rigid, reflective and devoid of consciousness, until I am one with the blade.

Until the only thing that can warm me is enemy blood enveloping the steel in its fluid embrace.

Until I am numb once again.

Then finally, miraculously, I am able to draw a breath.

As I greedily suck in oxygen, I weakly lower my sword and sit up. The turmoil in my mind begins to recede, but the turmoil raging in my abdomen doesn't and I lean forward onto my hands and retch over and over again, evacuating every remaining particle lingering in my stomach. When my gut is thoroughly purged, I fall back exhausted, breathing raggedly and trying to recover my strength.

Fucking panic attacks. I wish it wasn't like this every time.

I stand up shakily, sheath my weapon, and spit to try and get as much of the foul taste out of my mouth as I can.

Next time. Maybe next time I'll be able to pull it off without having an attack—

Or maybe this is just the way it's going to be.

So be it. It doesn't change anything.

I'll go to hell I know, if such a place exists. But better that than the hell on earth I would have to endure if I lost my loved ones.

So let them keep their lives, their honor

Their souls.

I've already traded mine.


Finis

A/N: Okay, so it was actually very painful for me to write Leo like this. But the thought came to me while watching season four of the 2K3 series that if it hadn't been a cartoon and therefore G rated, Leo might have gone down this darker path.

Of course, I like to believe that if he did, he'd still snap out of it eventually. :)

Thanks for reading! Comments of any kind are always welcome.

-KameTerra