This is a Christmas Gift-Fic for MTAngeli, who wanted to see Leonardo and Michelangelo and something "a bit lighter". She first blew me away with her 'Quality Time' fics, and I love the way she portrays our Turtles. She has also given me heaps of support and encouragement in the fandom. Thanks Angeli and a Happy Christmas!
The whole thing about his life, Leonardo thought, is that he was eternally the Mary-Fucking-Poppins:
"Practically perfect in every way."
And that was it, wasn't it?
His whole life was one endless long parade after another of being practically.
A week after the demise of Winters and it still scalded Leonardo like boiling water poured over fresh wounds. Raphael beating him.
In the end, very simply. Very easily. And his cheeks burned with the acknowledgement of that last point.
It embarrassed him, now, to think of the arrogance with which he'd taunted the Nightwatcher, not realising the manriki was a weapon the Nightwatcher was comparatively unused to.
When Raphael had drawn his sai, when he'd re-entered the battle not as a masked vigilante but as his resentful and frustrated brother, when he'd fully put his greater muscle weight into the fight – then, Leonardo had – fallen.
But that had not been the half of it. Like, how long it had taken him to figure out the five-fold path – well over the year he had been sent away for. That was an embarrassment he still hadn't fully overcome, either. Not only that, but he was supposed to have come back a better and more capable leader, and he just wasn't sure it had been accomplished – not if his performance last week had been anything to go by.
As the leader, he should be the best. It wasn't simply a matter of natural aptitude or the hours put into practice. It was his duty. If he owed them nothing else, then he owed them that.
He rubbed his beak with the back of one hand and then tightened the knot of his bandana, feeling slightly bleary, as he always did after a long meditation session. Like he'd been sitting underwater too long – forty or fifty minutes. He used to do that, at the Lake in New Hampshire. Let himself drift to the bottom and stay there long beyond what his brothers did; enjoying the sense of unreality he found there. That life was a dream, where there was no practically.
Wasn't meditation supposed to make him feel better, clear his mind of these types of thoughts? Only if you do it right, he thought sourly to himself. It had been much easier in the jungle.
He needed tea to ground him to the earth. Usually he had a pot sitting by, ready and waiting, but this day found him unprepared. As he stood, slightly giddy, a flash of colour and wetness filled his thoughts: the twin creak of his swords, their scream as they snapped; glittering and bright in the rain and his own shock, his own pause. Staring, disbelieving, at the broken stubs of his weapons. Caught, so completely unprepared that he had neglected to sense Raphael gathering all his might and power into the double kick that had laid Leonardo on the cement, helpless and the loser.
He left his room in a hurry, as though the ghosts of that night clung still to his ankles.
The den was quiet, a video game frozen in motion on the largest of the television screens in their mosaic arrangement. Donatello sat in his "office", patiently and quietly talking a customer through their computer troubles. Apart from that, the communal space seemed entirely bare, until the holler and whooping of his youngest brother rent the air, followed quickly by the hollow reverberations of a ball bouncing.
Michelangelo was shooting hoops.
And winning, Leonardo thought wryly to himself, fully aware of the impossibility of winning basketball against yourself. But little trivialities such as that never stopped Michelangelo; he never ceased reminding them of his basketball triumphs. As Leonardo descended the staircase leading to the shared space, he heard the rubber bouncing of the ball pick up speed, a faded 'ooomph!" as Michelangelo took flight and then the crash as the ball (and Michelangelo) connected with the goal post. His calloused feet touched the cement of the den as it happened and he felt the faint tremor pass through his toes. Then ball and Michelangelo came crashing back to earth and Leonardo's knees shook.
His head was almost clear by the time he reached the kitchen and switched the kettle on, filling a small pot with the fragrant green leaves he favoured. Low caffeine. He was going to switch to something completely decaffeinated – soon. Even such negligible amounts as this must have a negative effect on his performance. That and the cereal and milk he still indulged in occasionally. Eliminate it all. He'd have to keep a diary on his progress; see how rapidly things changed once those persistent, niggling little negative elements from his nutritional intake were gone.
"Heads up, bra!"
He had heard the whistle and whoosh of the air even as Michelangelo had pulled back his arm. He raised one hand; the ball struck his palm and stuck, sending a burning tingling shooting up his wrist.
"Niiiiiiiice catch!" Michelangelo sounded genuinely thrilled for him and Leonardo smiled as steam billowed out of the kettle spout. "Wanna shoot a few hoops?"
There wasn't a reason to say no.
Leonardo was surprised by this. There was usually always a reason to say no. He was going to practice, he had to meditate, it was time to study, he had to talk to Raphael, had promised to help April move some gear, was dying to sit down with a book, was off for a walk, thought he might do a little painting, wanted to chat to Don or Casey or Splinter or hell, even Raph, felt like watching a movie or a documentary, really wanted to upload that latest Rufus Wainright album to his mp3 player…
Today there was just none of that.
Only a week home, after all.
Leonardo supposed he could say he needed to go practice. Let's face it, he needed to go practice.
But for the life of him – he just couldn't be bothered.
No. Just couldn't be fucked.
Michelangelo mistook the smug smile that suddenly crept up his face at that thought to be a challenge and began to hop from foot to foot, bending at the hips and hunching his slender shoulders forward. "Oh ho hooo, I know that look. That's the get-ready-for-in-my-might-I-shall-smite-thee-down-like-as-though-thee-were-no-mort-thaneth-some-squishy-icky-BUG look. Well, bring it on, bro. So far, I'm the undefeated champ of the Hall of Ninjustice, with an awesome and undefeatable one hundred to ZERO, baby!"
"Working. Over here!" Donatello had covered the mouth-piece with one hand and was frowning at them from across the room.
"Sorry, Don," Leonardo apologised though he hadn't been the cause of the disruptive noise, then looked down at the ball in his hands. Okay, Mikey. Why the hell not?
Leonardo's feet swished over the cement as he moved towards the court they'd painted in the corner, picking up speed rapidly until finally he was in a run, moving over the white marks to slide into position in front of his brother, dribbling the ball from hand to hand.
"Undefeated champ against who, Mikey?" he teased, and then wished he hadn't.
Michelangelo hesitated mere seconds before moving into a defensive posture, shadowing his brother's every move, blocking fervently. "Against anyone who steps up! Just try me, bro, just try."
Mikey didn't need to tell him that 'playtime' had dropped off in Leonardo's absence. That the family matches they played to relax when the excess of kata repetition had them forgetting or bungling moves they'd done since they were six years old had dropped down to just two players. And then, when Mikey had no more been able to persuade one or the other of his brothers to spare time to a game or two, just the one.
It was an unbearably poignant thought, his youngest brother commentating a match he played against no one as he dodged, ducked and shot and a second later, Leonardo let him capture the ball.
He'd get it back in a moment, but for the time being he chased Mikey across the court, making a grab or two for the ball as it passed swiftly between his brother's hands. Mikey spun, his shell suddenly in Leonardo's face, bent at one knee and propelled himself from the cement, throwing the ball high into the air. Leonardo paused and gasped at the streaked lightning of the shot, watching as the ball found its mark, falling neatly through the hoop.
Mikey hit the cement, knees bending to absorb the shock, then shot straight back up into the air, one fist punching hard toward the ceiling.
"Yessssss!" he crowed shamelessly and Leonardo shook his head. Okay, no more going easy. Clearly, the number of times Mikey had played by himself outweighed the disadvantages of having no opponent.
He threw himself into the game full-hearted as Mikey caught up the ball again and began to block with fierce dedication. Mikey dribbled, feinted, spun and dribbled again. By the time Mikey made his second throw and scored, Leonardo was out of breath. Actually out of breath. He began to wonder if maybe he had really underestimated his baby brother.
"Is that all you got, bra?" Mikey's playful voice was anything but mocking and Leonardo found himself grinning openly as his intercepted the ball and spun, just as fast as Michelangelo, with just as much power.
He dribbled across the court and towards the goal, really quite aware of how much harder this was playing on a one-man team, no Donatello or Raphael to pass to; having to really remember not to just automatically shoot the ball outwards after ducking and waving out of Mikey's grasp, but to hold onto it and keep going. He was almost there, almost at the hoop, already feeling the jump tingling in his calves, when Mikey got control of the ball, a shrieking "woooooot!" echoing against the bricks of the lair as it bounced and he caught it, leaping upwards, one hand fisting on the thin border of the hoop as the other slam-dunked. Mikey's heels tapped the back of his shell then swung downwards and up again, his toes now almost making contact with his plastron and Leonardo couldn't help but gape at the raw athleticism his baby brother displayed…
… so easily.
And then Mikey was sailing back down towards the ground in a controlled fall, landing heavily and catching the ball once more as it reverberated up from the stone, bouncing it back down and catching it, hand by hand, grinning at Leo guilelessly. "Seriously, Leo, is that all you got?"
Leonardo shot forward, his gaping jaw snapping shut. But Mikey had played more than he had, simple as that. Any command he took of the ball was short-lived; Michelangelo wrested it back after only a slight battle.
Strangely, it didn't seem to matter. Once he got control of his breathing, he no longer felt so out of breath and began to settle into the rhythm of the game. There was no life or death in basketball – certainly not one-on-one basketball, played in the den of your family home, against your younger brother. The difference between perfect and practically diminished and blinked out. Leonardo could feel the strength in his legs as he pounded across the court, the way their trained muscles propelled him forward; unused to this strange activity but obeying him nonetheless. He moved almost as fast as Mikey (how it had always smarted, those things he had to strive for that his brothers had naturally; Raphael's strength, Michelangelo's speed and Donatello's intelligence), enjoying the way the still air of the lair suddenly picked up speed and hurtled past his head as he ran. A couple of times he turned mid-step so abruptly that the straps of his bandana smacked around into his face. After the second time, with Michelangelo's laughter echoing off the bricks, free of spite or anything but genuine amusement at the sight, he pulled it off and tossed it off to the side where it skidded to a halt on the bare cement.
When he finally scored Michelangelo cheered for him. Actually cheered, bouncing from foot to foot and fluttering his eyes in a ridiculous way, his voice pitched higher in some misguided attempt at femininity. "Awesome! Oh wow! Like totally freak me out, I mean right on! Leo sure is number one!"
Leonardo gazed at his brother, punching his hands back and forth like pom poms, and shook his head slowly, his eyes wide and serious with the very sincerest pity he could muster. Then he shot the ball at his brother's head.
Michelangelo dodged and caught, the rubber of the ball just barely grazing his beak, and began his dribble. "Whoah! What gives, Leo!" he exclaimed, his voice puttering with amusement.
"Just making sure you still got something in there you feel you need to protect."
"Okay dude, you've done it now. This is war."
By the time the score was five-two, Leonardo had practically accepted the game was not going to be his; unless Michelangelo suffered from a sudden and serious loss of interest. There was no chance of that, he mused, the grin hadn't left Mikey's face the whole game. Obviously, having a real live opponent beat playing alone. They were both slick with sweat, prompting an automatic 'ew' from Michelangelo every time they connected, and Leonardo's calves and quads were tingling. Variety of exercise required in order to keep challenging the muscles, the thought passed through his head, and it has to be good for the reflexes. He spun, his shell slamming into Michelangelo's plastron, feinted and took off down the court, a grin suddenly lifting his mouth. Michelangelo would piss himself laughing if he revealed how even in the middle of a heated basketball match, he could still figure out how to train.
When he made the dunk, bringing his score up to three, he unexpectedly shot a fist into the air. "Yeeeesss!" He ignored the glare Donatello in his alcove shot over at them at the sound and spread his arms wide, basking in the triumph.
Michelangelo dropped into his cheer routine again, this time high-kicking with some seriously out of time arm choreography:
"Leo! Leo! He's our hero!"
Leonardo shut his eyes and lifted a hand to his forehead.
"That doesn't even rhyme, Mikey!"
"Dude, it's a cheer. It doesn't have to. Drink break."
"Whatever." Leonardo padded to the end of the court and took the bottle Michelangelo held out to him, having a swig. The water wasn't cool enough down his throat, but when he squirted some onto his burning face, it was like Balm of Gilead, slippery and luscious. "If I see you next time the Nicks Girls get up, I'll make sure you have something equally distressing to think of every time you open up Playboy. Maybe Raphael in a schoolgirl uniform or something."
Michelangelo snorted a jet of water out across the court and choked rhythmically. Leonardo merely raised an unsympathetic eye ridge and lifted a hand, silently inquiring if Michelangelo required a whack on the shell. His brother shook his head, still spluttering with laughter.
"Bro. " Michelangelo wiped his eyes and shot a look up towards the door of Raphael's room on the floor above. "You have one sick, sick, sick mind."
"I learned from the best, Cheer Captain. Your ball."
He would have to do this more often, he ruminated, his barely dry sweat cooling beneath the movement of air around his body as he ran after Michelangelo, feet tingling as they pounded the cement. Especially if he wanted to beat Mikey next time. The kid was good. If he dedicated this much time to his sword training, Leonardo wouldn't lick him every time they did alternative weapons sparring.
He shook the thought off and concentrated on capturing the ball. It's just a game, he reminded himself. It was kinda nice, actually. Just to be playing a game. No wonder Mikey was so dedicated to the practice. Enjoying the strength and power of his body without thinking about how the next move might save the family.
Just save your score. He mentally prodded himself. Mikey was just a little too good to slacken up any.
The odds were just even enough to make things interesting. Had Mikey orchestrated it that way?
As he chased his brother across the court, Mikey crowing exuberantly and completely free of malice, he was struck with the creeping and sickening feeling Michelangelo was holding out on him. Giving him a fighting chance. Michelangelo had played alone too long – even the announcements of his fake victories were made in the transparent hope someone would challenge him to a 'real' match. Still, he shouldn't be going easy on Leonardo. Mikey knew he hated that. No matter what. For any reason. It spurred him forward with renewed ferociousness, prompting Mikey to head into a concerted defence, whoah-ing with no small amount of shock but recovering with admirable tenacity.
No, the battle really was this close. Leonardo was practically winning. Practically.
And as Michelangelo spun into the air for a reverse slam-dunk, hooting so high Donatello on the other side of the den yanked off his earphones and sent them flying across the cement slabs in disgusted frustration, Leonardo crouched down and set an intent eye on the falling ball, determined to catch it, determined to shoot, determined to fight –
- and never so glad to be losing.