This is a fanfic co-written by myself and the author KaytheCricketed. It is surrealist, and therefore prepare for brain-breakage. We apologize in advance...only not really, 'cuz it's so much fun :) Let us know what you think!
Shape Without Form
By: Kay and Cait
Prologue painted lacquer faces- sanguine smiles so Surreal
painted lacquer faces- sanguine smiles so SurrealIt wasn't the dirty green circus tent that let Leo know he was dreaming. It wasn't the hanging porcelain clowns (missing mouths), the creaking rope of the highwire (now frayed) or even the rusty batons glittering darkly in the corner.
It was Donatello, without eyes.
"I see you're in remarkably good health for a Leichnam," his brother said. The circus bigtop was drenched in shadow, a permanent mark that settled in the air, and it made the pulpy rings around Don's empty eye sockets seem as purple as his mask. Leo's first thought, numbly detached, was that there should be more blood caked down Don's jaw. His second was that he must, must be dreaming. His brother had never known German (what little Leo himself picked up was from his travels, muffled curses and strange conversations in ships' cargo holds, nights of sleeping with salt in his mouth) and his brother never laughed like the air had been squeezed through a tube in his throat.
The porcelain clowns, they were bleeding, too. Leo could see the slick red like paint on the obscenely clean white. When he drunk his fill of their peculiarity, he turned and found Don was watching him, and yet very much not. But no, he was still watching. Waiting, poised on the edge of an upturned drum in a crouch Leo well-recognized, and watching. Weight from things that weren't even there.
"You're the one that looks dead," said Leo, and then he added, because it felt like it had to escape his voicebox or it would become lost somehow, "I'm dreaming right now."
A chuckle, air inflating and escaping. "If you pick up a dream, do you ever fall out through the bottom?"
Madness. There was no end to the tent, no top to converge; just a looming blackness, the highwire pale in its stretch. "I've never been here before," Leo said, trying not to look up but every instinct in him screaming to survey for threats from above. "I don't know how I got here. I have no sense of… time, space, direction," because he tried to find north and came up with a sense of misplacement, his internal compass cracked, a fine fissure that pounded in his head like a migraine, pain he shouldn't be feeling, "and you're not Donnie. You're not Donnie even a bit."
The jerk of Don's head to the side, a tilt that overcompensated, was almost violent. "Even a bit," Don echoed. "No. False."
"Faulty reasoning. None of the above prove this is a dream." His brother's entire body stiffened, twitched, and straightened unnaturally. Leo took a step back and felt straw prickle at his ankle. Wrong. All wrong. The way Don moved was eerie and unfamiliar. His brother's legs stretched down and hung above the ground, hovering, the rest of the body following in peculiar, rigid movements. The fact that Don no longer had an apparent need for gravity did not bother Leo so much, however, compared to the ruffled lace cuffs drooping at his wrists and ankles that Leo noticed. As if he'd torn away pieces from the costumes of the clowns and slipped them over stretched-tight skin. It's not grave robbing if they've never been alive, Leo's mind thought distantly, and he felt sick and pushed the thought away.
Leichnam. In German, it meant corpse.
More like Püppchen, Leo wanted to say. Like a doll. The lace was torn and brittle. So was Don.
His brother walked on nothingness, invisible strings lending to every step. "You're not dreaming. You think you are. This is not the real world. But there is a certain coherency, isn't there, to your thoughts? You're wondering why you can hear the animals in the back, feel the absence of wind on your face. In a dream, it wouldn't occur to you that things were missing. Perhaps… a vague sense. A shadow," said Don, coming close enough that Leo could see the raw irritation where the eye socket had been rubbed, recently. "You've become nothing but a shadow. If anything, your reasoning proves this is real. So you are false."
"If this were real," Leo said, "that would mean…"
"All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Leo back together again." Don laughed. "We're all having fun here. Is it so bad to fall into line? We've kept it straight for you."
His brother smelt like blood and oil paints. It was his own personal hell. Leo took a step back for the first time in years, retreating, but then a loud burst of music erupted into the air around him and sent his pulse skyrocketing up into the back of his mouth. He whirled, sensing rather than seeing, hearing the creak of rope and ready to act. "Don't worry," Don said behind him, bored. "It's just the bauble that broke the camel's back."
Leo glanced upwards. Above him, the trapeze came whirling down from space and came to an abrupt, shuddering stop in midair. He stared at it. Impossible. Strained, tension in the lines and bar quivering, as though weight rested on it—the music was gone, along with its motion, but it seemed, much like Donatello, to be waiting for something. Then it flew backwards, its invisible rider twisting the bar to dismount. Immediately the jarring noise began again, notes tumbling after each other unevenly.
The trapeze came to another halt, slanted in midair. Silence. Restarted, flowing forwards a few inches before jerking again, a harsh burst of sound echoing in its wake. Silence. It fell as if it had lost its rider, limp and useless.
The song was familiar in an awful, disorienting way. He took another step back. "There's no safety net," he said softly. He trained his gaze on the ground, but there was nothing to indicate a body. Nothing at all. Above, the trapeze creaked as it swayed gently to the music, bereft. Empty.
"You shouldn't say things like that," scolded Don. "You'll hurt my feelings. I built that."
"Master Splinter used to say we should use our bodies as weapons. What do you think, Leo?" The awful limpness of Don's head tilted to the side until it hit his shoulder, empty sockets crinkling. "If you could chew out your femur, would it make a better hilt? Your teeth a better guard? Would you throw yourself in front of the world for me, big brother?"
Leo took a step back again. "Yes," he said quietly.
"Are you leaving so soon?" Disappointment that sounded so familiar tightened Leo's heart. "Don't you want to wait for the others?"
"I'm just dreaming," whispered Leo. "I just need to wake up."
Don's hand swung into the air, a parody of a gesture of dismissal that ended up looking ridiculous. "Good luck finding that empty well, then."
Leo turned, not entirely trusting his back but unable to resist—every single one of his senses was ringing, telling him it was Don, but it wasn't—and ran. He kept low, eyeing the trapeze as it hovered, frozen. Ran past it. To the edge of the tent. On the far side, the main entrance had been sewn shut messily (with Don's blind hands, with clowns and no, don't think about it, one can't think in a dream, just get out) and that only left the walls. The canvas pooled on the ground at the bottom, green and muddy. He fell to his knees in front of it.
"You don't want to do that," said Don in his ear.
He yanked up the edge.
There, in the dark, Leo felt his mouths stretch into a silent scream.
He could hear himself think. Through a fog. 'No, no, no.'
Heels scratched on pebbles as he threw himself back, lurching back onto his shell. Scurrying. Oh god, he was going to be sick—bile, acid in his esophagus, muscles quivering—damn sick—that low hissing sound, had to be him, or maybe the universe deflating, heaving, wrong and flawed and reality like a sagging breath, old, distraught—
A crunch. Leo froze, shaking, and turned to see his brother rummaging around in the dirt. As he watched, Don picked up another peanut shell and put it in his mouth. Chewed loudly.
"Ah," said Don, as if he just noticed Leo's gaze (impossible), "I told you not to do that."
Above, the trapeze commenced to spin lazily in the air once more. But it was the music that blared with its arrival, and Donnie's waggling-fingered wave, that stayed with Leo as he felt something grab his ankle and yank him back through the edge of the tent.
Here we go round the prickly pear –There were, in this room, fourteen versions of Raphael, only one of which was real and even that was subject to some susceptibility.
He groaned and sat up, rubbing his head where he felt a heavy pressure as if he'd been hit with something big and hard. He very well may have been; he couldn't remember the last thing he'd done or seen. He opened his eyes, blinking to clear them and take in his surroundings through a fog. Then they focused.
The fog cleared. His eyes snapped open.
He was in a room that was mostly black, save for the mirrors in front of him. To his left, an empty chair. To his right…he turned. His brother, Michelangelo, wearing a waistcoat of brocaded velvet and a ten-penny top hat, sipping tea from a cup with a Crazystraw. He blinked. Blinked again. The vision remained.
Mikey grinned at him and uncrossed his legs. He was sitting on thin air. "Hiya, bro," he chirped, and the words echoed strangely in the chamber. Room. Whatever.
Raphael took in a deep breath and exhaled. Obviously he was dreaming; this just happened to be the kind where you knew you were dreaming, but weren't aware enough to wake up. He had those some times, mostly following on the heels of a day where he'd been forced to meditate with his brothers and Sensei.
Alright. Fine. He was dreaming. He could do this. Just play along.
"Sup," he grunted, and hauled himself to his feet. He wobbled unsteadily for a moment, then shot a glance to Mikey who was suddenly translucent except for his wide smile. Raphael froze.
Well. That was different.
"Where am I?" he asked, eyes sliding to the left where the tallest mirror stood. Michelangelo chuckled, reappeared, and slid off of his "chair", moving to stand beside Raph and slide an arm across his shoulders.
"You're here, dude."
"Where the hell is 'here'?"
"Anywhere you want it to be."
Raphael turned to look at him and protest, and it was then that he realized – Michelangelo was missing his eyes.
A deep, deep shudder ran through his body and he jerked away, vibrating.
"You…you don't have eyes," he said, monotone.
Mikey laughed, and it bounced off of all the walls until it seemed to be coming from every direction. "Don't I?"
Something was tugging at the corner of Raphael's mind. Something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Mike turned, lifting empty eye sockets until his face was a mockery of emotion, black hollow holes and a broad white grin.
"Don't just stand there," he said, from somewhere far to Raphael's left. "Look around."
His hands (too smooth, missing the scars) grasped Raph by the shoulder and pushed him in front of a mirror. In it, Raph saw himself next to the vague, flickering shadow of Mikey in his waistcoat and the floating cup of tea. He looked everywhere but the mirror, hoping to convince himself that now was the time to wake up.
"Come on, Raphie. You're not scared, are ya?"
Just the words to make Raphael do whatever had been set forth for him as a challenge. No, Hamato Raphael was not scared right now.
Hamato Raphael was terrified.
But he looked at the mirror anyway. He squinted, trying to find anything unusual about it other than what was being reflected back already. There was nothing there, whereas he'd been expecting something just a little bit…more.
"This is yourself," Mikey said, and Raphael heard an old phonograph scratch.
"No shit Sherlock. It's a fucking mirror."
That laughter again, and this time is came from above. He tried not to think about it, and let himself be led to the next mirror in the row. Immediately the picture in this one changed, and he saw a night sky full of stars. They twinkled, spun, fell, doing their thing like they had for billions of years. Something in him twinged.
"Wha-" He cleared his throat and tried again. "Whas'that?"
Mikey – what was left of him now – made a strange clucking sound with his tongue. "That's your dream, Dude. Your aspirations."
Mikey's shoulders reappeared and shrugged then faded out again, leaving the feeling of his hands on Raph's shoulders but only his smile visible.
This time, somehow, it took forever to reach the next mirror. It was no more than three feet away, but they walked for what must have been close to a mile. Michelangelo hummed. Raphael's blood was chilly.
He walked smack into the pane of glass and rubbed at his nose gruffly while Michelangelo giggled.
"What the…why the hell is it here now? Where was it thirty seconds ago?"
Mikey's smile drifted over and sat on his shoulder, breathing nothing down his neck. "Right here. You just didn't want it to be."
"This makes no fucking sense. How do I wake up?"
"You can't. You're trapped."
Raphael whirled, throwing a punch at the big white grin as it bounced away. "Like hell I am," he snarled.
Michelangelo reappeared with a rapid suddenness that made Raphael take a step back. He – had he eyes – would have looked almost sympathetic. His tea bubbled over in its cup.
"Dude. I'm your brother. I wouldn't lie."
His mind playing tricks, that's all it was – his mind playing tricks. Raph shook his head, pinched his arm, did anything he could to wake up and avoid the mirror beside him. It was no use. Michelangelo just "sat" there, sipping at his straw with an eerie sort of calm.
Finally Raph gave in to the inevitable. "Alright. Fine. I'll look in your damn mirror. But then what happens? Can I wake up?"
"All mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe…" Mikey sang, by way of answer. His waistcoat had gained a pocket watch.
Raphael sighed, grit his teeth, and turned.
His mouth opened, but he'd lost the ability to scream. He stood, frozen, while the mirror shattered and sliced at him as a razor-sharp dust. Dimly, detached, he thought – I can smell. Why can I smell? There's popcorn…and there's blood. Not s'posed to be able to smell in dreams.
Michelangelo, cackling, threw a handful of confetti over his head as he finally disappeared with a resounding pop.
Violent Souls, but onlyHe had two pieces of canvas between his hands and a needle tucked into his wristband. For a moment, Leo stared at his lap. The thread was thin and white, and as he watched, the tapeworm slid out of the clumsy stitches and pooled on the floor.
He kicked it away with his toes in disgust. Another dream. The same dream? He wasn't sure.
It was very quiet. Leo put down the scraps carefully beside him and stood from the chair. He left the needle where it was. He'd blinded men with less and it comforted him somewhat to feel the metal, a cold sliver jammed between his pulse and the wrist guard. But thinking that, Leo's mind immediately leapt to Donnie's hollowed eyelids and he shuddered violently. The straw smelled like mildew. The chair had been uncomfortable, but standing was equally so.
He was in the lion's cage. The door was gaping open, however, and the bars were just a fraction wide enough that Leo imagined the big cats slinking between the metal structure, butter through a keyhole. He wondered how he got to be here and how long he'd been staring off into the darkness with the stitching clutched in his fingers. Then he shook if off. There was no existing form in a dream while one was awake. Only appearance and disappearance; never a space between, frozen, as if waiting for someone to press the play button on an old VCR. In his mind, Leo saw himself as lifeless as Donnie had been. A doll slumped in a rocking chair, placed delicately like a marionette. Waiting for the soul to flee back into it for a while longer. He closed his eyes and banished the eerie thought.
'I'm only dreaming.'
"Have you ever tried to build a reason out of fables?" Don said softly, from beyond the cage. Leo opened his eyes and met the lacking pair a few feet away. He had to remind himself it wasn't real for a moment, so deep was the answering jolt of concern and fear.
After this, he smiled faintly. "I never took you for buying into the idea of myth over science, Donnie."
"No, but rather… science developing from myth. The urge to prove oneself true. A claim to reality." Don slid down the bars with a sigh, his plastron scraping against the steel. Bone to alloy. "When Fenrir swallowed his snake brother, their father sent them to bed without supper. I sometimes wonder if the snake still churns inside of him."
Leo scanned his memories and found no connection. Alarm bubbled hot inside of him. 'I know nothing of Fenrir. How…?'
"Where am I?"
Don hummed. "I did a test. I broke open the belly of the wolf and then I sucked out his intestines. Gave them to Mikey. For jump rope. I found nothing. No matter how much you cling to a brother, maybe he still slips away in the morning? Or does he melt into you, become a part of you? Maybe I took too much from the creature."
The sense of unease blossomed into full out wrong running like a river down his spine. Leo shuddered and drew back. "Donnie… what's happening here?"
"Bidden things, I suppose."
Leo felt the bars of the cage and, imbedded deep into the metal workings, ran his fingertips along the gouges there. Teeth. Lions came to mind, but the marks were too flat. He squeezed until his hand hurt and then felt despair come evenly after the pain that shouldn't exist at all. He tries to think about what he remembered last; where in the day or night he'd shifted into this nightmare. He found a sea of nothing.
Don gently put his hand over Leo's. They twined fingers between the bars. It was not, Leo thought, his heart pounding fretfully, exactly right. Not exactly safe.
"Oh brother, brother," sing-songed Don quietly. "What a bother, bother. Aren't you going to finish making your blindfold?"
Leo fought a wave of revulsion. "No," he said.
"How else will you get up on the highwire?"
"I suppose I won't." He stepped back, tearing himself from Don's grip. Fought the urge to keep backing up until he was somewhere entirely different. He felt determined to get to the bottom of this, but equally so a familiar sensation warning him back from it, sixth sense developed from years of pulling little brothers back from hot stoves, steep edges, and rusting nails. He wanted to wake up. He wanted confirmation it was just a dream (of course it was, had to be). He wanted Mikey there and Raph lurking on his edge of sight, but most of all, he wanted Don's gentle gaze back.
The tapeworm had curled itself around the chair legs. Leo gave it a wide birth.
"I'm saving the lion so Raphie can eat it," Don called after him. "He's always hungry like that. What do you eat, Leo?"
"Rice and fish," responded Leo, bending. He tried to fit through the bars of the cage, but the seemingly wide gaps suddenly appeared much smaller. He pulled away before his carapace was squeezed until cracking, and then turned towards the door. "And you?"
Don ignored him. "Fish and fish. Never sweets. Did you really dislike them or were you convinced of their ill morals? You always think you know what's best. But if it's advice garnered from respected, other sources, how can you know it's the best? Maybe you limit your own potential. Eat potatoes instead of fish. Eat your tendons."
Leo pushed the door further open, watching it swing. He silently left the cage behind him, then paused again in the black pitch surrounding them.
Don's breathing was a mere rasp. "You think you're going to wake up. Everyone thinks that… for a while. But you're home, Leo. Won't you rest with your brothers?"
"I'm going to get out of here," Leo murmured with conviction.
It was enough of his brother's characteristic, melancholy kindness that Leo took a pause. "You?"
Don pressed a hand to his face, thumb drifting over Leo's temple. Then he took Leo's wrist. "If you will not stay for me," he told Leo despondently, "then stay to share the lion. Do you ever wake up and think he killed you that time, after all?"
'Who?' Leo was going to ask, but then Donnie constricted his grip and the needle he'd forgotten punctured through flesh. Except then it was not a needle, but his sword, and even Leo couldn't tell which hand it was that fell to the floor first.
He had the idea that he was falling with it, yet dangling, and Don was saying, "If you just learned to swallow it, we'd all be better off…"
This is cactus land-One single spotlight shining down on the old, creaky phonograph sitting on the stool – the sole piece of furniture in the room. Everywhere else, pitch black. Raphael stared at it, shoulders in a tense and painful slouch. He closed his eyes and it began to turn.
I'm dreaming, he thought. Again.
"Alright, Mikey," he called in submission to the darkness. "You can come out and play if y'want now."
Nothing. That, he found, was almost more disturbing than his empty-eyed brother with the megawatt grin. Instead, to answer him, the phonograph's handle began to turn slowly and grind its ancient gears. There was scratchy static, and then sound…coming from everywhere other than the big brass horn. It sounded like…something from the forties? What the hell was this shit?
"Lavender blue, dilly dilly…lavender green! If I were king, dilly dilly, I'd need a queen! Who told you so, dilly dilly? Who told you so? I told myself, dilly dilly. I told me so…"
The machine made a sick grinding sound then came to a halt. Nothing happened; he held his breath. When he lifted an arm to touch it, the music began again. A shiver ran a violent path down Raphael's spine, and he shifted with the effort of it. When it passed, he clenched his fists until they turned pale.
A voice, one he recognized, joined in the song. "If your dilly dilly heart feels a dilly dilly way and if you'd answer yes…in a dilly dilly church on a dilly dilly day, you'll be wed in a dilly dilly dress of lavender blue, dilly dilly…" Michelangelo sang, coming from the shadows with a flourish. He bowed to Raphael and seated himself in mid-air. Raph said nothing, but watched with furrowed brows as he lifted up his hands and began to play an invisible piano.
Three fingers, he thought. How do you play chords with only three fingers?
"Why is it always you, Mikey?" Raph asked, glaring at up him. "Why not Donnie? Or Leo?"
Mike ignored him, instead twirling around in an impressive mid-air somersault to land in front of his brother. His neck elongated into a snake like form, leaving his eyeless, grinning head at the end, and twined once around Raphael to rest an inch from his face. Raphael jumped back an inch.
"Hamato Raphael," Mike leered at him. "Tell me everything you know about the tooth fairy."
"Uhh…" Raph, obviously prepared for a different kind of question, faltered. "She comes around and leaves money for kids who lose teeth and put them under pillows."
"It's also a load of bullsh–"
"Now tell me everything you know about Santa Claus."
Now Raph thought he knew where this was going. "He's a story. He's not real. He was made up by adults to give kids a reason for being good around the holidays."
Mike's long neck did a double twist and his head wound up upside-down, pressing closer to Raph with his huge smile. "That's not what you thought when we were kids. Remember?"
Raph did remember. How he was the one who always vehemently told his brothers to shut up and go to sleep, or Santa wouldn't come. How completely helpful he'd been around Christmastime, not even daring to fight with Leo – not for hope of presents, but because he wanted that little bit of magic in their dreary, dripping world so desperately that he'd been willing to do anything it took to coax it into their home.
Mike pressed closer. Raph could hear the gears inside him rattling when he took a breath. "Now…how did you feel on the day when you found out all of that was a lie?"
Raph furrowed his brow and shoved Mike's face away, hard. He looked at the walls. "Betrayed," he said finally.
Mike laughed and clapped his hands in delight. "Yeah! You cried that night, as I recall. Big, bad Raphie. Couldn't handle a little white lie."
Raph snarled at him and turned to go. "I've had enough of this bullshit. I'm waking up now." But he knew by now that was no use.
Mike did, too. He cackled ecstatically and flew into the air, doing a 360 as if he were on a skateboard, and landed in front of Raphael to block his path. Raph shook off the coating of glitter that had come from his brother.
"Now, what if…" Mike's neck suddenly sucked back into his head with a slurping sound and then a pop. He cupped Raph's cheek and Raphael blanched. "What if you thought that all the betrayals were done, that now you'd grown up and had put that stuff behind you?"
"I'm not listening to this."
Mike pressed on. "What if all you knew was a lie, and you were just biding your time until the day when you realize there is-"
"No," Raph spat, shoving Mike's hands away, hard. "That's not–"
"God!" Mikey finished, laughing gleefully. "Nothing! No higher plan! No reality! No sure devices! Everything up in the air with no morals guiding it. Shit don't happen for a reason, Raphael, as you so often like to think. Now what do you say? Now what do you say?"
Raph was on his knees now, choking in deep breaths. It felt like all the air from the room was being sucked out, and he felt dizzy. "Nothing. You ain't getting a word out of me. I'll wake up! Im'a find Leo! This ends now!"
Mikey was dancing around him in circles, and the old phonograph was back; He-
"–lavender green! Then I'll be king, dilly dilly, and you'll be my queen!"
- let out a roar of rage, and stood to break that damned machine, but Mike was there first. He launched himself onto Raph's back and slammed him to the floor, plastron first. Groaning, Raph tried to turn but Mikey's thighs held him fast.
"Say it, Raphie! All your hopes and dreams, I wanna hear 'em! I want you to say them out loud for me, just once!"
Raph was close to swooning now. "You ain't gonna win this one." He grunted when Mike drove him down into the floor with more force, a hand pressing his skull to the concrete.
"Come on now, say something. You know I hate to lose." All air was escaping his lungs now.
"Nike!" Raphael finally gasped, chest heaving with the exertion, gagging on his own spit. "Nike! Nik-Mmmg!"
Mikey smiled, his fingers shoved deep into Raph's throat to silence him. "Ah ah ah," he tsked into Raph's ear, moving close to whisper and slide his tongue along Raph's cheek. Raphael felt his vision going black as he swirled violently down into unconsciousness. Before he slumped he saw Mikey smiling, tasted the sweetness of his rotting fingers, heard him say, "You know Master Splinter doesn't like it when you cuss."
Then blackness – out – like a light.
the end of the prologue