Preparations, Like Song
Disclaimer: I am armed to the teeth and ready to defend my right to own TMNT! ... armed with toothbrushes! Bring the lawyers on! (But I don't own it, yes.)
Author's Notes: This is just a ficlet I wrote when I was busy contemplating the future of the turtles. A lot of people have different opinions on who would be the "last" turtle, how they would all die, all that jazz. This is just mine. Spurred by the adorable image of a warm, cozy room in the mountains where Leo and a fattened, wizened Mikey would share tea and old fart jokes as it grew cold outside. Hope you enjoy - it's not meant to be sad, but rather just thoughtful. Thank you for any feedback or helpful criticism, too! You guys are the greatest.
The wind chimes are swaying again and that's how Leo knows it's going to be winter soon. The wind gets harsher as autumn begins its slow dive, whereas the spring is gentle and summer a stasis of sweltering heat. He sits on the porch of the farmhouse, the chair creaking whenever he leans his shell back, and listens to sounds. They're lovely. Sometimes they remind him of broken glass striking in the dark, which brings back memories of the city, of damp sewer and subway. Mikey had done well to pick them.
When winter comes, they'll have to insulate the house again. Tuck blanket stuffing into the windows and under unused doorways. Leo hums softly, striking on the bare traces of the notes echoing from the chimes, and as always, maps out the plan for their supplies. Winter means quilts piled up in the living room and Mikey writing notes to all the kids that live down the road, since the turtles have gotten too old to come outside and play in the snow. Leo marks all his envelopes for him.
He can hear them now, shrieking and giggling in the backyard. Mikey's keeping a sound eye on them. Always does. Mikey is their Grampa Mikey, their Gran Turtle. Leo only knows some of the names. He only ever observes the children with the same distant, affectionate expression, smiling at their pleasure and Mikey's far-fetched tales of youth and ninja escapades. His little brother waves large arms, his voice booming and grin weathered in wrinkles as he accounts for the devious Foot, the bewildering Time Mistress, the foolish Purple Dragons. The boys and girls with their colorful jackets and band-aids adore him. (Once, Mikey had asked. Leo never knows the words to explain that he's taken care of, watched over, and loved enough to last a lifetime. It's Mikey's turn and Leo revels, ever quietly, in seeing it finally come. Oh, his brother is going to be just fine.)
The sparrows are in the trees again. They'll be gone soon. Leo watches them with hooded eyes, his hands folded over his abdomen.
Shadow has been here and gone, not over a month ago. She likes the wind chimes, too. She's older now. Much, much older. Leo's seen her grandchild and although he's neither the features or coloring of a Jones (and never April, of course, to Leo's intense sadness), there are pieces of them all lodged in the stubborn set to his mouth and forehead. Even a little of his great-grandmother in his cleverness. Leo had made an exception and let the child sit on his lap, though it made his legs ache, and told him gently about good friends leading to warm hearths. He likes the boy. Raph would have been horrified by the idea of a kid taking on the burden of his name, but this little Raphael wears it like a trophy. It's… fitting.
He wonders if he'll see the boy again. The thought drifts, as it does every year, inconsequentially into the back of his mind. Leo only knows it must be close.
The leaves aren't red anymore, but a dark and burnt shade of brown. Autumn is good up here at the farm. Leo finds he likes the colors, the sharp chill of a morning, and the scent of spices that Mikey hoards in their kitchen spreading throughout the house. It's easier to hear in the stillness, as well, the sounds of his brother lumbering from room to room above him, still mobile despite difficulties. Leo doesn't take to stairs as well anymore, of course, and so he just imagines the bedrooms and attic. Perhaps repainted in Mikey's creative hands.
He closes his eyes and rests his chin on his plastron.
Mikey shakes him a bit later and Leo opens his eyes to the dimming of the sun and shadows spreading across the road where the children, their arms out like they are flying and sneakers fumbling, are going home. Mikey chuckles and settles his huge bulk (Raph would say he's let himself go, gotten fat, and he has, but he wears it gracefully and with proper age) down on the bucket upturned beside Leo's chair. "Was it a cool dream?" he asks.
Leo smiles faintly, patting Mikey's hand. "August. The year Donny accidentally stole power from half of the city trying to get the… thing, the large thing with the yellow buttons, to work."
Mikey laughs like thunder, slapping his knee. "Good dream."
The wind chimes twirl slightly, metal flashing in the fading light. Leo sighs, not unhappily. "Tea?"
"Of course. Tea and toast! I'll make you something you've missed. Come on, just tell me. You haven't asked for anything in ages. If you don't make requests, I'll just get rusty and the kids won't love me anymore for my cookies."
"Mmm. We can't have that, Mikey." Leo chuckles and pats his hand again, amused. "Something with chicken?"
"Yes. Of course." It doesn't really matter. "Winter's coming soon."
"So soon?" Disappointment creases Mikey's face and it makes him seem much younger than he actually is. "Well, well. What little bird told you that? It's still only just edging into October."
"The sparrow did," Leo tells him. "We'll get it early. I can feel it… We'll need to stock extra next time we order food."
"Yeah, yeah. Alright, Leo. Say. Say, we should go to the mountains."
"Mountains?" He thinks inexplicably of Japan, whom he hasn't seen in years. Snow-capped ridges of rock and earth, laden with greenery and mist. "The objective is to escape the cold, Mikey."
His brother flashes a grin. "I'd like to see another mountain. We could set up a tatami mat room up in some lodge and drink tea, make fun of mythology, and tell old fart jokes while we watch the fountains outside freeze over."
Leo hums. "That was a great year."
"They always are."
He really does think about it. "I don't know, little brother. My bones are pretty settled this time. Maybe in February?"
"Aw, spoilsport. You just need to eat more."
"I did like the view… Maybe in February. You should go either way, with or without me, if you get the chance."
Mikey just knuckles him gently in the shoulder, careful as always. Once, he would've just smacked Leo with abandon, but that's stopped four years back. Leo keeps very still these days, so as not to jostle his spirit inside of his shell and body. Sometimes it feels like it will simply float away. Mikey knows, like Mikey eventually knows everything; he's gotten wise, in a slick and free way Leo's never managed. The closer Leo gets to becoming air, the more Mikey seems a mountain.
He likes to see that.
They watch the sky and trees for a while longer in silence, comfortable in a way only time has afforded. Mikey's learned the skill of sitting in one place and Leo's discovered relaxation, and together they've managed to fit together perfectly in that way, finding more in common than they would have admitted to twenty years ago. They still talk plenty, of course. But they don't need to. When they do speak, it's often about the seasons or, more likely, about Donny's peaceful companionship or Raph's stubborn streak that never quite failed to dissipate. Memories about Ape, about Case, the way Don never did learn to use an oven properly and how Raph was all worn leather by the end, except for his eyes, which held a hint of softness that slipped into the dark. Fewer times, because oddly enough it hurts more despite the longer length of time, they share recollections of their father.
But today, the wind chimes are warming up for a dance and Leo simply squeezes Mikey's hand the best his strength will allow. This, too, is a good memory to speak about later.
Leo has already written his letters, three in all, to the people left in the world that matter most to him. They're bundled with an old mask tied about them, in the drawer that smells like mothballs beside his bed. He's made the proper arrangements for when it happens. Mikey does most of the work, anyway, being more dexterous. Leo hasn't been able to do more than brush dirt from his brothers' grave markers for years, running his fingers where once he would have bent and properly done things. He trusts, wholeheartedly, they understand.
He's not waiting, especially. He's ready, but it's not an urgent matter. Leo had stayed long after perhaps he should have for Raph, and then for Donny. Now he's only staying for himself. Mikey is going to be just fine. Mikey has years and years ahead of him yet—plenty of stories to tell townspeople who love him relentlessly, plenty of recipes to collect, gardens to wreck, and mountains to visit. He's going to be okay. Leo has pounded every piece of care and comfort, love and trust, support and exasperation that he contains in himself into his brother, steadying him for anything.
"I figure, you guys always waited for me to catch up, anyway," Mikey told Leo once, a long time ago when they stood before the fresh dirt of Don's resting place. Tears smudged across his face with residue mud, but his gaze was clear, smile trembling but loose. "I have things I want to do. I'm old, but I'm not gone. And I figure, none of you would begrudge me, you know? However long it takes… You think they're okay with that, Leo?"
Leo had squeezed his shoulder silently. Yes. Yes, they understand.
"Still," Mikey had said, raising his face to the sky, "it'll be nice to be home, when it happens."
The wind chimes grow louder as the season continues. Mikey begins to book passage up north, somewhere in Canada. He'd originally wanted to go overseas to Norway, maybe, but Leo can't think of a frigid sea without some dull wariness. He's taken too many hard journeys that way in the past. So they keep to the land and toast to their imminent trip with tea cups, ginger snaps, and flaky baklava. The days taper down and become closer to the deadline, but then they've always done that.
Sometimes at night, Leo opens his window and stands in the cold, gazing off against the line of trees surrounding them. When his dreams are old things, nearly alive, reaching out with phantom fingers.
Perhaps in the spring, Leo thinks, he will teach Shadow's grandson about time—how to slow down and stay where you are, breathing inaudibly, as it swirls about you. And if Leo can't, if he's found a nice place to settle, then there is a story that Mikey knows about four brothers and a chasm they learned to laugh across…
It is, like all of Mikey's stories, a good one.