One sole turtle sat atop the roof of a red brick building. Shuddering, he pulled his legs up to his plastron, hugging himself for warmth. With a resound sigh, he let out a long breath, watching it hover in front of him for the briefest of moments before disappearing into the cold night air.
Disappearing, vanishing without a trace. An initial forced way of life now a habit. Which is why the young turtle had to question his being out on the building ledge, out in the open, under a bright neon sign, in the sight of humans.
Again he let out the breath he didn't even know he was holding and listened as the breeze played past his ears, whipping his bandanna tails about, red trails of crimson playing in front of his eyes, the color of blood. Blood he had almost spilled.
Twice now he had come so close to taking the life of a loved one. He had to question his sanity, no doubt his family already did.
I'm better than you, came a hiss from his brother, his brain reminding him of a conversation, no, a heated argument between himself and Leo. And he had never answered what was asked of him.
Why do you hate him? Raphael asked himself. No, it can't be hate. If it was, I never would have gone after him.
Taking in another shuddered breath, he purposely held it. Trying to distract himself, counting the seconds as they ticked past, until his lungs screamed at him, begging for relief. Once again, he slowly released the air he had been holding and watched with intensity as it vanished before him. Just like his brother.
Leo had vanished. Sent by his father on a quest to be a better leader, to grow, to prove he was ready to assume his position as head of the family. Only he didn't return. A year passed with no word and no clue as to where he was. Raphael hated that.
No matter what he had always felt the need to watch his brothers, protect them. Not because he was the leader like Leo but because he was the biggest. Biggest in stature, height, muscle, voice. He often saw himself as the last big wall of defense between his brothers and danger. Although, even he had to admit he was the one who most often was the reason for them being put in that position. A hothead, impatient, relying on brute force. He shook his head as he mentally scolded himself for his impetuous actions.
In that respect Leonardo was right. He was better than Raphael, a better leader, more level headed, taught to make the right decision at the right time. So why did it sting so much when his brother spoke the truth? Maybe because it was just that, the truth.
Letting his arms fall to his side, Raphael stretched his legs and brushed the snow off his body. Flurries were beginning to fall and he needed to get inside. Out here, the cold was detrimental to him and his family, slowing their movements until they fell into a deep hibernation.
With no effort at all, he gave a twist and stood on the rooftop, no longer facing the street, but his brother instead.
"How long have you been there?" Raphael asked, staring blankly ahead.
"Not long," Leonardo answered, a coat wrinkling in motion as the shoulders beneath it shrugged. "Where's your coat?"
Raphael looked at his arms for a moment, seemingly amazed that they were green. Amused, he watched the little white flakes as they landed on his body, the absence of color contrasting brightly to his darkened skin. It was easier than looking his brother in the face. "Guess I forgot it," he finally answered, his speech slurring as the cold began to set in.
Recognizing the change in speech, Leonardo walked over to his brother and quickly removed his own coat and placed around Raphael's shoulders.
In a stubborn response, Raphael abruptly shoved it off. "I don't need it," he insisted but even he knew better.
Leonardo rolled his eyes as he sighed. "Put the coat on," the leader tried once more only to once again be met with resistance. "You are so stubborn," his voice raised as he picked his trench coat up from off the rooftop, Raphael starting to stumble as he walked over to the door leading inside.
"So what?" he answered, heavy eyelids making it hard for him to see. "I don't need it."
"Just like you don't need me?" the leader questioned his voice right behind Raphael.
Raphael turned slowly, trying hard to keep his eyes open and focus on his brother's voice, a voice that sounded different from its usual authoritative nature. This one sounded so small, timid, hurt. At a loss for words, Raphael opened his mouth but nothing came out. He didn't know what to say. Instead, he didn't resist when strong arms led him inside the building and out of the cold.
The two made their way down the stairs of the building, taking it slow as Raphael focused on each step. He had stayed out, uncovered, for too long. He was asleep before they made it to the van in the back lot.
(several hours later)
Lids that seemed as heavy as lead weights finally forced themselves open. Raphael looked around, still sleepy, at the sea of green faces in front of him.
"Glad to see you're awake bro'" the youngest happily chirped. "Dude," Michelangelo placed a worried hand on his brother's shoulder. "You had us so worried."
"Fine," the sleepy turtle muttered as he unsuccessfully tried to bat away his brother's arm. "M'fine."
"NO you're not," a stern voice interrupted. "Raph," Leonardo continued. "What you did was totally careless. Not only did you put yourself at the risk of being discovered, but you also put our family at risk. I mean honestly," he began only to be stopped by a firm hand on his arm. Turning around, Leonardo looked to see Donatello, his eyes warning him to stop. With a flick of the hand, Donatello pointed to the kitchen, Leonardo following, passing Master Splinter who was on his way out with a cup of hot tea.
"What?" Leonardo hissed as they were now alone in the kitchen.
Donatello folded his arms and rolled his eyes as he answered a somewhat sarcastic sound to his tone. "Do you think you could wait until he's fully cognizant before the two of you begin your daily argument?"
"We don't have…"
"Yes you do," Donatello once again interrupted his older brother. "That is all the two of you do anymore." The brainy turtle lowered his arms and let out a breath of frustration. "Your nothing but accusatory towards Raph and he's always on the defensive. What has gotten into the two of you? You've never been this bad. You guys can't even be civil to each other."
"It's a little hard to be 'civil'" Leonardo made little quotes in the air as he continued. "…to someone when they hate you."
"Or when they say they're better than you?" Donatello raised his eyebrows at Leonardo's blank expression. "He told me, well," he reconsidered. "More like he was punching at the bag and muttering to himself and I happened to be within hearing distance. Did he really say that he hated you?"
"No," Leonardo's voice softened as he sat down at the table, head in hands. "I asked him why he hated me so much and he never answered me. He never even denied that he hated me." He looked up at Donatello, waiting on the smart one to come up with the solution to this particular problem. Nothing.
"I wish I had an easy answer to this Leo," Donatello said as he sat at the table and placed a reassuring hand on his brother's. "All I know is that the two of you have to talk this out. If not, the situation is just going to get worse until there is no solution."
Two days later, Raphael was sitting in the same spot on the couch, a blanket wrapped around him and one more cup of hot tea in his hands. He was nursing a very bad cold from being out in the wet snow.
Donatello and Michelangelo on their way to get pizza and Master Splinter meditating Leonardo cautiously walked over to his sick brother.
"Hey Raph," Leonardo greeted cautiously as he sat down in a chair next to his ailing brother. "You want another cup of tea or anything?"
Raphael gave a grunt and a shake of his head. His head hurt and his throat was sore. He just wanted to be still and quiet. He sat there silently until he realized Leonardo's eyes hadn't left him. "What?" he managed to croak out.
Leonardo eyed the floor, his fingers twisted and untwisted around themselves as he worked up the courage to ask the question once more. Truthfully, he was afraid of what the answer would be. "You never answered my question," he looked up. "From that night on the rooftop."
Raphael's eyes went back to his mug.
"Do you really hate me?"
It wasn't the question that pulled at Raphael but the tone of his brother's voice. Leonardo was always the confident one, cool and leveled headed under pressure, fearless. But now, he sounded like nothing more than a scared little boy. Slowly, the sick turtle turned his head and looked sorrowfully at his brother, his head hanging down. A feeling of guilt soon built up in Raphael's gut. "I don't hate you," he finally managed to croak out.
"I'm sorry," Leonardo looked up and stared his brother in the face. "I never should have said I was better than you. I didn't mean it."
The two sat in stony silence for a few seconds and then their gaze faltered as they returned to staring at nothing.
"You are better than me," Raphael finally admitted. "You're a better leader than I could ever hope to be," he broke the silence and then raised his tea mug to his lips. It had gone cold. "I'm sorry too," he whispered with an obviously sore throat.
Quietly, Leonardo took his brothers mug and walked into the kitchen. Soon after, he returned and sat next to Raphael on the couch and silently offered the warm drink. "yuujin?" he asked as Raphael took a careful sip.
"Always," Raphael nodded, his voice cracking, but not from illness.
"Forever," Raphael answered once more. He didn't even notice when Leonardo took the cup from his hand as it almost dropped. His eyes had already closed as he drifted off into slumber, his head now resting comfortably on his brother's shoulder.