Woot! I have finished! I am going to miss this story! Thanks everyone for reading! Many many thanks!
Oh, strong language-- I forgot to warn about that... I'm not sure if I should change the rating, but if anyone thinks so, let me know.
TMNT belong to no one I know-- they are the property of one Mr. Laird and Mirage Publishing. Jun, Naoto, Asuka, Yuuto, the Jounin, and any others not associated with Mirage/TMNT are mine, and I am going to miss writing about them for real.
He was particularly good with this weapon. He found himself remembering how he'd demonstrated just how skilled he was by tormenting Buta one day, shooting small paper containers of pepper at the huge fool's face, to the amusement of his team and the displeasure of his Jounin, who had made him scrub the dumpsters as a punishment.
Tonight, however, it would be poisoned darts that would aid him in his quest!
Carefully he aimed the fukiya at the turtle. Dart in place, he drew in a deep breath-- and froze!
Something sharp pressed against his throat.
"Your next breath will be your last," a cold, hard, calm voice whispered in his ear.
"Leo! Leave him alone!"
Jun, frozen, grew dizzy-- he was still holding his breath he suddenly realized. As carefully as he dared, he expelled slowly, forcing himself to keep calm. Just pretend you're meditating he kept thinking, as he closed his eyes and concentrated on not upsetting whomever held the blade to his throat.
"Forget it, Don. She's sending children to do her work. It's time to send one back to her. Let her reap the consequences of her actions."
Donatello came into Jun's view, eyes hard as on the last few encounters-- but they were not looking at him. His voice was calm but stern, even as he relieved Jun of the fukiya, tucking it absently into his belt.
"We discussed this. He is my problem, not yours."
"What affects one of us affects us all, Don."
Jun, swallowing hard, felt the thinnest of slicing motions. Whether deliberate or the result of the young boy's involuntary movement, it happened nevertheless, and a thin warm trickle, barely noticeable at first, started to wriggle down between his shirt and his skin, tickling in a macabre way, even as a stinging sensation where the blade had moved against began to make itself known.
"Leonardo, I told you. He is my problem. I can take care of myself. I do not need my ani to fight my battles." Don's voice was firm.
Jun sensed hesitation-- a very brief hesitation-- in the one called Leonardo. Then:
"I have no idea why Karai is doing this, but it's time to put an end to this sick, twisted game. I am shidousha. As such I can't allow this to continue," he finally replied. Despite the perceived hesitation, there was no mistaking the cold determination in his response. Jun silently prayed to his ancestors without really forming words, his thoughts were so jumbled and frantic.
Leo, however, was adamant. This had gone on long enough as far as he was concerned.
"No, Don. He's a homicidal maniac stalker," Leo affirmed.
Don quirked a smile, eyes still hard.
"Yes, but he's MY homicidal maniac stalker."
"I will not allow this!"
"Why not? YOU have Karai. Why can't I have this one? I mean, yes, he's young and inexperienced and pretty puny-- he's not too bright, or else he would have taken the last two hints, though you have to give him credit for determination. He's unskilled beyond belief, though he has the drive. I guess you could say he's a starter homicidal maniac stalker."
Jun never felt so close to tears-- to REAL tears-- as he did listening the turtles discuss him as if he were nothing. Anger burned inside him, anger at himself, mixed with shame and fear. His life was nothing to them. The one called Leonardo was going to gut him like some worthless--
What did you expect? You are Ninja. Ninja kill and are killed. There is honor in death!
The imagined voice of his ego tried to encourage him, but Jun realized that he was in this position because of that ego.
"Mercy," he heard himself croak out. "I was not sent to kill Donatello. I was-- I was--"
Leo, now that the boy had spoken, withdrew his katana, spun Jun around, and faced him, right hand clenched tightly in Jun's tunic, almost holding him up to face him. His left hand still held his weapon, but down at his side and ready if needed.
Up close, Jun could see, despite the faint streetlight, the details of the turtle's face-- the texture of his skin, so reptilian, and yet the expressions were more human; a small vein twitched just above the brow ridge; the narrowed, almost golden brown eyes, glared into his with such fire that he was reminded of sharply of a time when Buta had faced him down over some imagined slight.
Only these eyes had seen Death. Jun could not shake that impression, no matter how hard he tried. He belatedly realized that Buta had nothing on this Turtle when it came to such fire.
The mask did nothing to soften the look of this ninja warrior. If anything, it was more frightening that this strange warrior worn one. Jun found himself fascinated despite his predicament.
Then Leo gave him a small shake and pulled him closer, almost nose to nose. He could feel Leo's breath in his face.
"Then why were you sent?" he clipped out, and the sight of such anger so close to him was the final straw that broke his ego's back.
"I was sent to prove my bravery!" he shouted out, frightened by the sight of his captor. "I was sent to just touch him with the coup stick! Then I would have proved that I was ready... that I wasn't a child... that I was... I was..."
Without thinking, he pulled the coup stick from his belt. The action was mistaken by Leonardo, and with a sudden movement that Jun's mind had trouble comprehending, the Turtle knocked the stick from Jun's hand, sending it spinning into the air. Without releasing Jun, the katana then came into play!
The coup stick fell to the ground in two pieces.
Jun stared, with horror, at his Jounin's most precious artifact. It lay on the ground, the dark wood color offset by the lighter shade of the inner core, the feathers slowly soaking up some remnant fluid on the filthy ground, the beads scattered.
And Jun began to cry. He cried heartbreaking tears of realization and shame. He had been so stupid, so arrogant. His father and mother knew what the Jounin had assigned him to do. He suddenly remembered forgotten words from when he was just entering the dojo, words of advice from his father:
Your ancestry does not make you a ninja. Only hard work, determination, and willing obedience will determine if you will follow in the ways of the warrior.
He had constantly warned him against pride. But with his training he had allowed a distance between himself and his parents. He had not wanted it said that he was treated differently because of their position-- and yet he had, as he had entered his teen years, traded on his ancestry, on his parents' importance.
And now, he had not only brought shame and disgrace to his family, he had cost the Jounin-- the one man willing to give him a chance, despite all odds-- he had cost him a precious, one of a kind family heirloom.
He felt as broken as the coup stick.
"Let him go!" a female voice called, and three Foot silently landed before Donatello, Leonardo, and the still sobbing Jun.
Leo's sword was again at Jun's throat, while Don's Bo appeared as if by magic even as he took a stance between Leo and the three Foot.
But the three of them held out their hands in a show of their weaponless state.
"We are not armed. We are not ninja yet," Asuka said, stepping forward hesitantly. "What Jun says is the truth. Our Jounin assigned Jun the task of 'Counting coup'. He was supposed to touch the one called Donatello with the Jounin's own coup stick, and we were to witness it. That is all!"
"Yeah, except for Jun's stubborn determination to prove himself better than anyone by trying to kill the Turtle," Naoto said, his friendship and loyalty unable to prevent his slightly derisive tone of voice. "The Jounin specifically ordered Jun to not attempt to kill anyone."
"We're none of us to handle weapons outside of the dojo," Yuuto affirmed. "But Jun... well, he thought..."
"He didn't think if he kept attempting such a deadly task," Leo snapped, but Don waved Leo down.
"Let him go, Leo. Now."
Reluctantly, the "leader" obeyed his brother. Jun crouched down on the ground, hugging his knees and trying to stifle his sobs.
Don turned back to the others.
"I knew it was something like that," he said thoughtfully. Then he turned to where Jun still rocked himself on the ground. Don squatted down next to him, and gently encouraged him to look at him.
"Even if you had tried to touch me with that stick, I still could have-- and probably would have-- killed you," he said seriously and sternly, locking eyes with the boy. "I do not like to kill. I kill when I have to, and I do not glory in it. A true warrior does not count bodies like the Lakota counted coup. That was the whole point of the exercise. Anyone can kill. A true warrior can touch his enemy and escape, letting that enemy know that Death was that close at that time."
Don took Jun's arm and the two of them rose from the ground. The young ninja, eyes still on the ground, made his way to his waiting friends. He knelt down and gathered what he could of the coup stick as tenderly as if it were a family member.
How stupid and prideful and foolish and childish he had been! Warriors, true warriors, had wielded this stick and proved their worth. He had failed.
"Now, I suggest you all head home," Don's voice reached Jun's ears. "And Jun!"
The young ninja in training looked up with a watery gaze at Donatello.
"Don't try that again, or I shall have to do something about you. And thanks for the third weapon."
Then Leo and Don jumped in the van and were gone.
"Oh, this is rich! THIS is RICH!"
All four involuntarily jumped as the most unwelcome of voices intruded on their situation. Frantically looking around, they tried to find an escape-- but with an explosion of smoke pellets, the quartet were momentarily blinded.
Coughing, rubbing their eyes, trying to group up to flee, they found themselves at the mercy of Daichi.
"I can't WAIT to tell the elders about this!" he gloated, piggy eyes glowing with such joy. "You four will be gutted for fraternizing with the Mistress' enemies!"
He advanced on Jun, towering over the still emotional boy, until his garlicky piggy breath nearly caused Jun to vomit.
"Of course," he said lowly, "I could be persuaded to keep my mouth shut. I could make sure that my team hears a different story."
"You're team? Where are they? Why would they believe you over us?" Asuka challenged, tired of this bully. "Our Jounin will believe us!"
Buta's piggy eyes turned towards the slender girl, who stood with more bravery than she felt.
"Why would anyone believe you when you hid from the Jounin the fact that Jun-kohai had deliberately gone against orders?" Daichi laughed loud and carelessly, heedless of anyone overhearing. "From the sounds of it, you've also lost several weapons! You think the Mistress is going to be happy about THAT? Especially when she learns to WHOM they were lost to?"
Jun glared at Buta.
"I'll tell her that it was all my fault. I won't allow the others to be punished for my stupidity!"
Yuuto, Naoto, and Asuka stared with surprise at their friend.
Jun was going to-- what?
But it mattered not to Buta. He gazed at them all now, openly laughing at the helpless quartet.
"It won't matter! She will punish you all! You foolish children, the Mistress is the daughter of Oroku Saki, the greatest and most terrifying leader the Foot have ever served! She is his daughter through and through! She will not believe such a 'noble' tale!"
Though they wanted so to prove him wrong, they also knew that they stood little chance. The Jounin might believe them, even though they'd concealed from him the truth of these past weeks-- but they also knew the Mistress did NOT tolerate failure. All four clearly recalled her words from the last time.
They exchanged defeated looks, then turned as one to Buta/Daichi.
"What do you want?" Jun managed to ask, squaring his shoulders, standing tall, and prepared to pay the price to keep his friends from trouble.
The Jounin, when presented with the remains of his precious heirloom, held his temper as a true Master should. He listened to Jun's story of being not only unable to complete the task but of his and his team's having to have been "rescued" from the Turtles by Daichi, who had come upon the scene in the nick of time. The evil, bloodthirsty turtles were prepared to kill the foursome though they were unarmed, but Daichi had stood his ground and, despite being outnumbered (as his team had not caught up with him), he had rescued them from Certain Death.
The Jounin carefully studied their faces, but though this story did not speak to him of being truthful, they stuck to it, and were determined to accept all punishment for failing the Jounin.
So it was back to scrubbing toilets. Everyone's toilets. Other teams were celebrating at their expense, for the disgusting menial task of seeing to so many bathrooms were the responsibility of Jun and his team for the next six months.
The Jounin noticed a change in Jun. The "fire" that used to set his soul apart was missing. The Jounin did not miss the bragging, the haughtiness, the insolence cloaked with obedience of old, but he did miss the true spirit of Jun. For despite this child's failings, the Jounin had recognized early on that Jun would be one of the best Ninja ever to serve the Foot-- provided he could reign in his ego.
Now that ego was not only reigned in, it seemed to have been killed.
The Jounin also noted that where once the foursome made jokes and snide (yet supposedly private) comments about Daichi, there was now not one mention of his name-- not even the well-known (to the Jounin) nickname of "Buta".
The other trainees also noted that Jun-tachi had altogether stopped their "Buta jokes". However, as the story had gotten around that Buta-- that is, Daichi-- had saved them from being killed by the Mistress's mortal enemies, they put it down to gratitude.
"I don't mind scrubbing all the toilets in this building," Yuuto said one day, as the foursome took care of their own communal bathroom, "but I do wish that we could get some better cleaner. I'm getting housewife's elbow from scrubbing so hard!"
Naoto and Asuka laughed as they continued their chores.
"I just wish I could have some better kneepads," Asuka noted, straightening up briefly and trying to crack her back which was aching from being hunched over so many bowls for so many hours. "And I wish I could get a massage. I swear, the other day when I got out of bed, I couldn't straighten up for ten minutes. Chizuko saw me from behind and called out to me 'Sobo', saying she mistook me for her grandmother."
Laughter echoed in the large room.
Naoto shrugged even as he applied his brush to the next toilet.
"I just wish we could be free of Daichi-senpai," he muttered. "I would gladly scrub toilets for the rest of my life if I could be rid of that pig."
The others sobered for a moment, agreeing that living as his secret slaves was hardly worth the effort-- yet whenever they thought about telling the truth, some inner fear prevented them.
Jun ignored the chatter of his friends. As he scrubbed the filthy "throne" of Buta, he tried to focus on the feces rather than the burning shame of his failures.
He had allowed his overblown pride to get him involved way over his head.
He had led his team into danger.
He had constantly disobeyed his jounin and arrogantly assumed that, at fifteen, he was wiser than the adults.
He had been responsible for the destruction of his jounin's family artifact.
He had tried to prove his bravery by taking on someone a thousand times more skilled than Buta would ever be.
Yet he had "tied" himself to Buta because he was afraid of him.
He was in this situation because, at the heart of it all, he was afraid.
Staring at the filth-encrusted, dripping brush, the words of Donatello suddenly came back to him, sharp and clear as if he were standing next to him...
"I remember when Mike tried to prove his bravery by touching YOU with a coup stick."
"So, after six months, what do you think they'll make us do?" Yuuto was asking, when he noticed the stares of Asuka and Naoto-- who were gazing past him as if there were something dangerous looming up behind him. With an involuntary shudder, he turned to see a grinning Jun--
"... So I had to fight the two Kame ninja to rescue Jun and the others," Daichi was wrapping up (yet again) his tale of bravery and skill to the adoring underlings who actually thought he was "something special". "I wasn't able to do more than escape with the kids, but I'm grateful that I was able to do that much-- though it burns that I couldn't-- What the HELL??"
Something cold, slimy, smelly, and wet had touched him on his beefy neck. The underlings he had been impressing with his tales of heroism were now staring in shock at what they had just witnessed.
Buta, squirming and twisting to get one of his overly huge arms behind him to find out what was soaking his back, turned just in time to catch a brief glimpse of Jun running-- RUNNING-- with something in his hand, something that looked like a stick...
... or a brush...
His piggy hand came in contact with a large chunk of something soft and wet, smashing and smearing it into the folds of his neck as he tried to identify it, finally bringing his hand back before his eyes. Staring at the appendage, he took in the color and smell. Involuntary gagging sounds were escaping him, though he still was unsure about why.
First one of the youngsters, then a few more, started making strangled, tortured, snorting sounds, desperately trying to keep from laughing as they began to realize what had just happened.
Buta, alternately staring at the disgusting stuff on his fingers, then at the kids who were now beginning to find it impossible to keep their laughter at bay, then back towards where Jun had fled the scene, stood with his mouth open and his brow furrowed.
Finally, the message pierced his piggy brain...
Eyes wide with growing understanding, face suddenly glowing crimson with embarrassment, mouth twisting into a snarled grimace of disgust and vengeance, Buta came to life.
"DAMN YOU, JUN! I will KILL YOU!"
The chase was on!
The head start was just enough to keep Jun on the move, though he was leaving a trail of water.
Past the various people who populated this warren, past the high and the low, past security, cleaners, tech people-- past his own father!-- Jun ran as no one could run!
He dodged, twisted, leapt, and used the athletic skills and tricks he had striven to perfect in the dojo. He was fast, but he knew that despite his size, Buta was not slow.
Mind racing, he planned out where he would flee for safety. He just had to get there without being--
"FUCK YOU JUN! I WILL KILL YOU! YOU PIECE OF WORTHLESS SHIT!"
Jun dared not even look over his shoulder. He could hear the protests and reprimands, the sound of people being plowed into, the (at one point) outright yet ignored command of a senior Foot to "Stand down", and knew that Buta was in piggy pursuit.
Right turn down the narrower corridor. The various signs on doors were blurs to Jun as he ran.
Left turn. Left turn. Past his own dormitory, where his teammates were standing in the doorway, cheering him on with cries of "Go, Jun, GO!" even as the roars of his enemy reached their ears. Right turn. Left turn. Down the fire stairs, three at a time, out the door to the next level. Right turn. Left turn. Right turn. And all the while he made sure that his trail could be followed; the floors and walls were here and there daubed with whatever remnants the brush still held, a trail of water and feces acting as "this way to Jun" arrows to lead Buta in the correct direction.
Suddenly he was in the correct hallway. Pausing, catching his breath, he turned and listened. He had to time this just right. He knew that he ran a greater risk than simply Buta catching him, but he had to do it. It was the only way to prove himself to the Jounin.
To prove himself TO himself!
Soon the growing sounds of a still cursing Buta alerted the young Foot in Training that it was go time. With a twisted grin and a surprisingly light heart, Jun waited and waited for Vengeance to come into view.
Buta, seeing Jun standing there displaying the brush as if he were poised with a katana, skidded to an abrupt halt (and nearly landed on his backside; the floor was slick).
"Curse you and your entire family, kohai!" he spat out, slowly approaching the boy. He leveled a brown-stained finger at Jun. The muscles of his arm stood out, visually reminding Jun of Daichi's strength. "Curse your whore of a mother and your worthless bastard of a father! You will pay for dishonoring me like this!"
"I think not, Buta-chan," Jun grinned a naughty grin at the taller person. As Daichi stood there, momentarily shocked by the double insult, Jun wagged a finger at him, as if admonishing a small child. "Do not point your unwashed finger at me, it's not polite. And do not call me 'kohai' again."
Snorting like an enraged bull, eyes blazing with blind anger, Buta charged.
Jun sprinted down the fancy corridor, Daichi hot on his heels.
There's the door! There's the door! I just hope it's not locked!
Karai's special chamber. The last time he had been there, it was packed with many people, and Karai sat in judgment on her throne. But today, Jun knew, was the monthly report, and his Jounin would be with others of equal and higher rank, reporting on the progress of various activities.
With a crash Jun hit the door, throwing it open and startling the group of people seated around the table. Eyes darting quickly, Jun spotted his Jounin at the far end of the long table, and he raced towards the startled man as fast as he could.
Sliding to a halt on his knees, he bowed to the now standing Jounin, presenting the brush to him as if returning from battle with a treasured trophy-- a Lakota warrior, presenting his coup stick to his Chief.
"You BASTARD! I'll have your fucking balls--" Jun, bowed down in complete respect for his elders, wished with all his might he could have seen the look on his enemy's face.
Daichi stopped as if he had hit a wall. His feet were immediately rooted to the spot as he saw the various members of Karai's staff glaring at him as if he were someone to be killed on the spot. Though his frantic brain commanded him to beat it out of there, his body refused.
But when he caught sight of the Mistress, slowly rising from her chair at the head of that table, he dropped to his knees as if poleaxed, and prostrated himself.
The silence was only broken by the quiet gasps of Jun and the piggy whistling snorts of an equally winded Daichi.
The one word, spoken by Karai, was like the crack of wood being split by the most skilled of judo masters. Jun knew that command was addressed to his Jounin-- Karai knew even the lowest person's responsibilities.
"Mistress," the Jounin bowed. "Young Jun has just completed a task of bravery, in the tradition of my Native ancestors." Eyeing the toilet brush, he inwardly sighed. "Though, perhaps, not in the traditional way."
Karai gazed at the two youngsters on the floor.
"He is your son."
"Hai, Mistress," the cool and quiet voice of his mother responded.
The sound of expensive high heels clicked closer to Jun's head.
"You may rise."
Jun carefully raised up into a respectful kneeling position, eyes down, staring at the shoes of his Mistress. It did not surprise him that she was dressed for a business meeting, but it was a shock to be this close to her. Briefly he wondered if she would kill him herself for violating the sanctity of her chamber. Perhaps she would order his mother to do the job; he was sure he'd read somewhere that in the past such things took place.
A pair of tabi-booted feet quietly appeared next to Karai's polished shoes; the quiet murmur of a whispered report filtered down to Jun. A stray word or two let him know that she was being informed of the entire chase.
Then more silence.
The silence was the worst part of waiting for death. He would rather hear a command just before so he could prepare himself.
"Put that one to work with the cleaning crews," she finally said to someone. "He has the makings of an excellent ninja, but he needs more time to develop his humility. Perhaps six months of servitude will speed it along."
Jun waited to be taken away-- only to hear the sniffled apologies of Daichi as he was escorted from the chamber.
"Now, as for this one," came his Mistress' voice, as the heels walked away from his view. "He is to clean up the mess he has caused today. Then he is to return to his regular training."
"As you command," the Jounin bowed, nudging Jun with his foot. "Obey."
Jun quickly rose, bowed, and immediately secured the necessary items for the daunting task.
Yet he had never been so happy in his life to scrub.
A few months later:
Down by the waterfront junk yard Don cheerfully gathered more items. He liked this place because he constantly found something useful.
And he certainly needed something useful. Since these strange large mutations had broke out, he and the others had been busy with trying to keep the City safe. He was certain that he was close to figuring out a way to stop the mutations.
Mentally cursing Bishop, he absently rubbed at the still sore cut he'd received several weeks ago. It alternately itched and throbbed, and nothing he or Splinter put on it seemed to be helping. Still, it wasn't getting any worse.
Leo, he knew, was keeping watch. His brother had come home from Japan so much more his old self, yet Don could still see that Fearless Leader had more of a hard-edge lurking underneath. He had matured-- well, he was more mature than he usually had been; Don suspected that Leo had hatched out of the egg already "old".
Sorting through an interesting pile of various and improperly disposed of electronics, something brushed up against his shell.
"Mike, I don't have time for your games," Don absently said. When the familiar snicker of his brother did not reach his ears, he turned-- but no one was there. As he drew out his Bo staff from its holder, a strong breeze sprang up and wafted across the dump, rustling various things, sending a discarded plastic bag sailing out of the darkness. It came into contact with his arm as it floated by, brushing it with a soft tickle, then vanishing into the dark.
Don relaxed. Just the wind.
Later, when he met up with his brothers at the moving van, Raph let out a surprised chuckle.
"Hey, Don! I see Mike tagged you," Raphael teased, as he spied something sticking to the shell of his usually alert brother. "Aren't you a bit old to be pinnin' 'Kick me!' notes on people, Mike?"
"I didn't do it," Mike automatically said-- as he usually did-- while Leonardo pulled the large yellow post-it from his brother's shell and read it.
It didn't take the stern look that crossed Leonardo's face to clue Don to the truth as to who had pulled this prank.
Silently, Leo handed the post-it to Don-- who managed NOT to smile too much as he read the words "Jun was Here".