Seven Days Until Christmas
Authors Notes: I own your mom. That's all, though.
So, uh, I wrote this on my livejournal over Christmas but haven't posted it here yet. Sorry! Gaaah. I hope you enjoy it, as boring and undramatic as it is. When Leo narrates, people fall asleep. Like me. XD
Enjoy and thank you so much for all your kind help.
Seven days until Christmas, Leo starts to organize the decoration process.
They have a routine now, mostly thanks to Mikey's uncharacteristic enthusiasm for tradition during this time of year, combined with Leo's natural pragmatism. And every year, Leo begins the preparations. (Mikey gets so excited he forgets the sensible things, Donny has his hands and lab tables extra full, and Raph… well, has anyone seen Raph willingly hanging glittery snowflakes from the ceiling?) He cleans the living room, Mikey scurrying after him and making more of a mess than had been there in the first place. The boxes are brought out from storage. Only Leo remembers that over half of them are accidentally marked "Kitchen Supplies" in black marker on the cardboard flaps. He packs them after the New Year, so all the decorations and ornaments are already organized, layer by layer, still smelling of the peppermint candles Mikey tucked into the corners.
Raph likes the tree, though he's not opposed to swinging around the lair and hanging ornaments. Leo drags him from the dojo, knowing better than to take Raph's grudging reluctance seriously, and together they put the fake tree together. Sometimes they get a real tree, but this season's especially tight on money and so they do their best, each silent, to arrange the plastic branches naturally. Raph disappears afterwards; he always takes this activity as a warning bell to get his gift-picking done.
Master Splinter appears with tea. He seems to know, every single time. Mikey gleefully starts digging into the boxes while Leo takes a break and inhales ginger and orange spice. Don sometimes appears in the living room, dragging circuitry behind him, and sometimes not. This year he does, perching on the sofa arm and gratefully taking a cup of tea for himself.
They decorate the tree together. Even Raph, when he deigns it acceptable to reemerge, critically surveys the tinsel and hangs some on the branches. Mikey is bouncing off walls (literally, often) and Don is laughing at him, his project forgotten on the couch cushions. Leo likes the round baubles the best. He steals an entire box for himself and places them, content with the way the light from the television and Splinter's candles glimmers against their glass surfaces.
"Who's got the end of the light string?"
"Half of these aren't working—"
"Don't look at me, I'm not fixing them. That's what the extra three bundles are for, remember."
"My sons, do not forget the popcorn."
"Popcorn! I'll make some—I'll make extra, who else wants super buttery, cheesy, garlic—"
"That is so gross, Mikey. I want some."
It's the beginning of Leo's favorite week in the year. He reminds himself to adjust the grocery list to include eggnog, gingerbread, and candy canes. He wouldn't forget them, anyway, with the light freckling of snow across the city and the wreaths hanging from the street lights, but it's all about the ritual.
Six days until Christmas, Leo starts seeing the presents trickle into his bedroom.
Most of them make their way under the tree, but Mikey has the habit of prodding, picking, shaking, and studying each package with alarming perceptiveness. Just to keep some surprises, the others usually hide most of his in Leo's room—the only place he doesn't dare to venture, besides Master Splinter's room, which was abandoned as the years went on and Leo's punishments became more frightening than their father's. (Three years ago, Mikey had made the mistake of forgetting that and spent the night before Christmas Eve doing a three hour training session instead of baking cookies.) It's fun to tease Mikey that he's not getting anything, anyway. Even if they all know differently.
Others are just nice surprises that the brothers don't want anyone to know about, like the bonsai tree for Splinter that Don and Leo couldn't wrap. The catnip for Klunk that the cat would rip into if he sensed it. Even Splinter trusts Leo to tuck away the simple gifts he's chosen for his students, which Leo handles delicately, with care and the appropriate silence. Leo recognizes the wrapping from each of his brothers. Mikey's haphazard, overly taped gifts bundled in colorful paper and an abundance of ribbons. Raph's, unskillfully and modestly wrapped in newspaper. Don makes a scientific process out of it—neat, precise corners and minimum amount of tape. Leo's own are somewhere in the middle of all of these, with Mikey's paper and Raph's clumsy fingers and Don's efficiency.
He stores some of them in his chest and places the others carefully in the closet underneath his extra tatami mats. Then Leo calls April to make sure she's been able to procure that comic book Mikey's been drooling over, thanks her, and makes another mark on his list of things to do. Christmas Eve, he will put these leftover gifts under the tree for his brothers, after Mikey and Don have crashed on the sofa after a marathon of holiday classics, Raph slumped in the armchair, eyes hooded and smirking despite having suffered through the typical Rudolph jokes.
Mikey is making ginger snaps in the kitchen. Leo goes to "make tea," and coincidentally snatches samples from the first batch fresh out of the oven. They talk about the menu for Christmas dinner, Klunk winding between Mikey's ankles and Leo's obediently lowered fingers. Mikey makes a plea for no training this week and Leo pretends to consider.
(He isn't planning on practice, anyway. Much.)
Five days until Christmas, Leo can hear the radio in Don's lab belting out carols in between radio talk shows. A welcome substitute from classic rock. Some of the songs, he recognizes from CDs that they've given Don over the years. Raph can hum a pretty good baritone with the classics, Mikey makes up his own lyrics, and Leo enjoys the familiarity of the music and its good memories, but it's always been Don, over all the others, who loves a good Christmas song.
He interrupts Don, who is elbow-deep in wires, with a cup of coffee for his brother and green tea for himself. "Donny?"
"Give me another twenty minutes," Don mumbles, rubbing at his cheek, "and I'll fix whatever it is."
"There's nothing." Actually, there's the blender which may or may not have jammed itself into combustion, but Leo isn't going to tell Don that. "Also, I'll remind you that I refuse to waste any of your ridiculously expensive coffee. If it's made, you have to drink it all."
"What ridiculously expensive—" He pops his head up. "Oh."
They sit together, Donny claiming the spinning computer chair and Leo gingerly hunched over on a pile of books, and drink. Don explains the how he's coming along in restoring that new game counsel Mikey's been wanting that they procured from the junk yard. Leo drops hints here, then there, that Don shouldn't overwork himself, nor should he go hunting for new parts. (Part of this is selfish; he doesn't want Don to find anything Leo might've already bought for him for Christmas. They've all had this problem before.) Partway through, Don puts in a CD. Alvin and the Chipmunks. Alvin wants a hula-hoop.
Leo runs his gift ideas for Raph by Donny—who has an uncanny understanding of what Raph would enjoy, and always has, and is willing to share that precious judgment. Leo has given up guessing what Raph might like. Sometimes he hits the target, other times he doesn't. He wants to hit the target, though, and so Don adjusts his aim when it's a little off.
Leo finally understand how this works, after many repeated years of the same revelations, over and over. For Leo and Mikey, gifts are unable to be anything but personal. Each is heavy with thought and meaning. Mikey's creative. Leo's a soft touch. It's Don and Raph that find that same connection through the seemingly less personal items—for Don, a screwdriver can mean just as much as a sketch, and for Raph a magazine subscription to something he actually likes can say just as much as hand-hammered shuriken. It's about knowing your brother, sort of, and showing that. Same emotions. Different ways to send the messages. Together, speaking quietly to each other, they somehow get everything they wanted to say out right.
It's interesting how the parallels of their family intertwine like a web, each brother connected to every other in a multitude of ways. Leo would map them, if he could. Maybe he already has, somewhere inside the tangle of his arteries, pathways he knows by breath and beat.
After he keeps Don's head out of metal for a few hours, Leo goes to discuss their Christmas party plans with Master Splinter. They have to send out the invitations. He has to make another teapot. The floor is cold on his feet, some whisper of chill coming through the nooks and crannies in the lair, but the rest of him is warm.
Four days until Christmas, Raph starts mellowing out like an icicle thrown into a frying pan. Leo enjoys this part the best.
He knows Raph likes Christmas most of all, too. The bowls full of cookie dough and frosting that Mikey leaves on the counter. The lax training sessions, the runs through the city that grow slowly more lethargic, more peaceful, more prone to gazing at bright windows full of happy families instead of creepy alleyways. Even if Raph complains about the cold, the fuzzy treehuggers, and the hyper ball of energy that Mikey becomes—well, Leo knows he doesn't mind half as much as he claims. Christmas makes Raph's dark eyes softer, his grin sharper with something besides maliciousness. He likes to watch It's a Wonderful Life, scoffing at the man: "You wanna see problems, whackbag, you should try dodgin' ninja out to kill you because you're green an' have a shell."
Leo knows it's really starting to sink in after he catches Raph giving Mikey a noogie in the kitchen for holding back on the cake batter and raisins. Raph's bellow holds more laughter than anger. He's got flour streaked across his shoulder. Leo knows better than to linger because that would just spoil things, so he keeps the image tucked away and leaves them be.
By the time the actual day comes around, things will be easy. Things are never easy with Raph except for now. Raph's mood is too good to be spoiled and Leo's willing to let things slide more than usual. Last year, they shared hot cocoa late after the others slept and spoke of past memories, toy cars and coloring books. Leo finds himself anticipating a similar night. (It doesn't seem fair that most of his wishes aren't things the others can buy him—his list, they complain, is ludicrously short. If only they knew the truth.)
Sensing his good mood, Leo recruits Raph for grocery shopping duty with him that night. They dress warmly—scarves over their faces, coats buttoned to the top, mittens and heavy boots. No one will stare at them this season for looking out of place. They're still cautious. The mart used to be a gas station and no one is there save for an old woman pulling out all the milk containers in the cooler. Raph throws in Debbie cakes and a six pack that has no business lingering among the eggnog and ham and stuffing. Leo turns a blind eye.
"Running a little late?" the cashier asks, smiling. His hat is filled with buttons and holly sprigs pinned to the bill.
"Right on time," Leo says. "Down to the hour."
Raph mutters, "Control freak." The he takes both of the heaviest paper bags into his arms.
They walk home, Raph kicking snow up at Leo's heels. The lights are all on and glowing around the store windows, a little snowman lit up on the corner by the barber's store (his family, Italian, has been there for as long as Leo can remember). Their breath comes out in white puffs. "Don't get much nicer than this," Raph says, uncharacteristically open to conversation. "Even Mikey can't complain 'bout this spread."
"Wanna bet?" Leo asks dryly.
"Aw, I'm already broke as it is. Shell no."
"Mikey's damn boxset nearly cost me an arm an' a leg."
"You don't need that arm," Leo promises. "The leg, we'll have to talk about."
"Damn. Is that an insult or a compliment?" Raph wonders, and then he laughs, kicking up snow against Leo's coat again and soaking the hem. They duck into the shadows of an alley, and Leo wishes his hands were free to throw a snowball for the first time this winter.
Three days until Christmas, they have their party. It's even better than last year, what with Mikey running off and nearly getting himself run over three times. Silver Sentry comes bearing fruitcake, Angel has a haircut that makes her look less like a girl and more like a woman, and the Professor and his friends chat about Aristotle with Don. Mikey's gone all out, the dinner looks and smells fabulous. It's all homemade, down to the whipped cream on the pie.
His brother's fingers are burnt and he's a little loopy. Leo keeps an arm around him for the first half hour, steering him away from walls, affectionate and bemused. After a while, though, Mikey ducks out of his hold and all is normal.
The backwash of the portal to the Nexus comes about ten minutes late. Leo bows to Usagi and the Daimyo, startling in surprise when a tiny head of red with shy green eyes pops up behind them. Then the child is tugging at his belt, Usagi chuckling at them both. "This is where you live, Leonardo?" the Daimyo's son inquires eagerly.
Leo pats his head, smiling worriedly.
It's a good dinner. The dishes will be murder, but it's worth it. Usagi is a little worn around the edges, but the warm lights seem to strengthen him, and after a few cups of tea he's trading stories with Leo of their latest exploits. He gives Leo a tiny calligraphy set, beautiful and delicate, wrapped in yellow silk. In return, Leo gifts to Usagi a leather-bound edition of The Art of War , which he knows Usagi will love. They speak quietly of gratitude, then friendship, then, as the night wears onward, the ethical differences between ninja and samurai. The debate is fierce, but not heated. Usagi touches Leo's arm whenever they begin to laugh at the same time.
All too soon, it's over. Mikey's bad impressions of television evangelists fade as he begins to sway sleepily. Raph and Casey are already snoring, the six pack a vague memory—or an empty one on the floor. April is patting Angel's hair, the superhero stealing more cookies, and their homeless friends are the first to bid goodbye and return to the cold. Don props his chin up on his elbow, watching everything unfold with tired but happy eyes. The child has long fallen asleep, a tuft of auburn peeking from beneath a blanket on the sofa. One of Leo's bokken is clutched in his fingers, along with two of Mikey's action figures.
The lair empties slowly. As the portal closes and the last of the guests trickle out, Leo ushers Don and Mikey to bed. They're sagging in their seat. He leaves Raph on the sofa, but when he comes back, he finds Splinter gone to bed and Raph picking up crumpled cups from the table. Leo joins him and they clean the majority of the mess within half an hour. The details, they leave for tomorrow morning. Leo will wipe the furniture down and pick up the kitchen after he wakes.
Raph falls asleep in the armchair again before they're fully done. Leo pauses to drape a blanket over him, then finishes cleaning and shuts off the lights.
Two days until Christmas, the place is a hectic mess. A rat race to get last minute things done. Leo wakes up before the sun would rise, does his kata, takes a shower, and then makes tea. Then he washes the huge mound of dishes in the sink. Don comes in part of the way through, stumbling towards the coffee machine, a manic gleam taking over his gaze. He'll spend the day frantically putting together the last of his homemade presents—Leo knows from experience—and being suspicious that the heating's not working. He gives the dishes a guilty glance.
"Go on, I've got nothing else to do," Leo tells him. He doesn't have to say it twice. Don is gone, with the entire coffee pot, within seconds.
Raph won't be up until ten. When he is, he'll bounce around impatiently, nothing to do but feeling like he should be doing something with all the activity around him. He'll hide out in the dojo. It's Mikey, stretching with a groan as he enters about an hour later, than helps Leo with the tail end of the drying. Then they wipe everything down, sweep the floor, and take out the many trash bags left over from the night before. Mikey sticks Post-It notes on the leftovers, warning which ones should be eaten first.
"You know Donny will steal the caramels, anyway," Leo murmurs, watching him from the table. Mikey rolls his eyes.
"Dude, he's welcome to. But none of you guys will touch the fruit salad unless I give you some freakin' limitations."
"Why do you make it, then?"
"Two words: April. Cream. On her nose."
"That's more than two words." But he chuckles, remembering the image fondly. There are few things the brothers like more than seeing April laughing for whatever reason, even at herself.
The day is filled with last minute errands and the things they always seem to forget. Leo loses himself in the business of making things just right. For lunch, he remembers to drag Donny out for sandwiches.
On Christmas Eve, Leo finally puts up his feet. Metaphorically.
Everything is done. The lair is clean and sweet-smelling and glittering. The presents are ready to be put under the tree. The candy is in the bowl on the coffee table. Dinner is scrumptious, enough leftovers remaining to last them throughout the actual holiday and well into New Year. It's the one night of the year Leo doesn't have to worry about Don working himself into bone-deep exhaustion, Raph running out to wreck havoc on the streets of New York, or Mikey being anything other than Mikey.
They watch holiday flicks on the huge array of television monitors. Leo sits on the floor, leaning against the sofa where Mikey inches forward with the pillow clamped in his arms excitedly. Don has a book he's long abandoned in favor of watching, pressed shoulder to shoulder with Mikey. Raph steals the far end of the couch, his feet up on the coffee table. Master Splinter is in the armchair, gently pulling at his whiskers and cleaning them.
Leo could close his eyes and point out every detail by heart. Raph's mask draped across the sofa arm. The way Don stretches his legs until his calves pop every few minutes. How Mikey taps out the music by rote with his knuckles on the cushions and no one would know if they weren't watching very, very carefully. His father's long, careful pull and drag, nimble fingers smoothing fur.
He could close his eyes, so he does.
Much later, after everyone else has gone to bed, Leo places the presents under the tree. He places them haphazardly; all the better to dig around and guess and exchange, he's learned. When he's done, he surveys the room with something not entirely unlike pride. Because he's not tired yet, he picks up a book and settles himself by lamplight, ready for a long haul.
He hears Raph well before his brother enters. Raph knows stealth like the back of his hand; he just prefers not to employ it. Especially in his own home. Sometimes Leo envies him for that.
"You still up?" he asks, leaning in the doorway.
"For a while," Leo replies mildly. "I've already checked. Mikey's worn himself out too hard to stay up and Don's taking his first full night for the week. You?"
"Depends. Got any hot cocoa?" Raph asks with a lopsided grin.
And Leo grins, too.