So, after reading a number of different fics with relationships between the turtles, I started wondering about Leatherhead, the ever-forgotten part of the turtle family. Moreso than the turtles themselves, LH seems to be the sort of character who would be driven by more than familial love and loyalty; in short, he seemed to me to be a prime target for unrequited love. And the object of that love? Well, isn't it obvious, really?
Warnings: Slash, shonen-ai, non-graphic. No like-y the male/male love, no read-y the fic or leave-y flame-ys. Okay-y?
Disclaimers: I do not own the TMNT, Leatherhead, April, Casey, Splinter, the Utroms, Bishop, Baxter Stockman, the moon, the Buffalo Sabres, or the rights to the Coke logo. I am borrowing the Turtles & Co for the purposes of this story, and I enjoy the other things on this list. Please don't sue me for this usage – I write with the utmost respect and love for the characters even as I mess with them. This is not for profit, and not really even for attention. I write because I cannot do otherwise. This story found me, not the other way around.
All quotes, either italicized or as indicated in conversation are by Albert Einstein.
The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.
"I have you, my friend."
Leatherhead closed his eyes as those words floated through his memory. If his normal days qualified as emotional roller-coasters, trying to hold a primal beast's instincts in check, the last few had been nothing short of emotional sky-diving followed up by emotional getting-shot-out-of-a-cannon-ing. The mutant crocodile held a somewhat tremulous hold over his stability anyway; the last thing in the world he had needed was more to worry and anger him.
But fate was a fickle mistress, both cruel and kind. She had granted him immense intelligence and strength, permitted him to grow and develop among the heartfelt people of the Utroms, and had, in time, united him with the family of turtles who proved to be true kindred spirits. However she had also cast him from the Utroms, landed him in Agent Bishop's clutches, and rendered him liable to lose control even in he face of those friends he most loved and trusted. Leatherhead's life had not been easy, and it had not been boring. Indeed, he had spent forever swinging between extremes: family and homelessness, safety and torture, sanity and madness.
So he supposed it should be no surprise that it was the one his heart adored that had been struck down.
Leatherhead leaned wearily against the cold wall of the turtles' new lair. Even without opening his eyes, he could hear his friends sleeping, some peacefully, others not. In the center of the room where it was warmest, Donatello twitched fitfully upon a mountain of cushions and blankets. The others had insisted that the recovering genius be given the best sleeping arrangements, shooting down his every argument until the weakened turtle had given in, and then piling every conceivable comfort around him. The effects of the recent events on Donatello's system were unmistakable: shakiness had set in about an hour after the mutation's antidote had been applied, followed rapidly with fever and fatigue. The turtle who had stumbled from the containment unit, wholly himself again, had needed to be carried into his own home, nearly overcome by weakness.
"I should have anticipated this," the crocodilian scientist berated himself for the hundredth time. "Donatello would have seen it coming. The turtles have such an unstable molecular structure anyway, and he had undergone two drastic transformations due to foreign, corrosive chemicals being introduced into his system. Just as his body had finally surrendered to Baxter Stockman's 'accident' after flu-like symptoms, the cure would logically have a similar reaction once full in his bloodstream."
But the turtle's prognosis was good, he kept reminding himself. Leatherhead, not the medical genius Donatello was, could still assure the turtle's family that these after-effects would be temporary and that the mutation was cured. It had burned him to watch the turtles, Splinter, even Casey and April, to see the fear for their gentle brother naked on their faces. The flurry of activity upon reaching the lair, mainly concerned with settling Donatello comfortably and thereby stripping every stitch of cloth that could be spared to make up the "best bed ever" for him, as Mikey said, spoke volumes of the love and soul-deep worry in them all.
Even now, as the olive-green turtle slept fitfully, he was not alone. Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo had wordlessly agreed to stay by their brother, and the way they had been so silent after he had nodded off was heart-wrenching, as though they feared breaking him by making even the tiniest noise. They were curled up around his nest, inching close to one another in their sleep as though they could not rest without being certain that they were together again. Master Splinter, more troubled than Leatherhead had ever seen him, had refused to retire to his own room, instead meditating deeply in a chair positioned such that he would open his eyes to all four of his sons. The sensei, whom all had forgotten was rather beyond the normal span of years for one of his kind, had been distressed past what his poor heart could take, and it had showed in the weariness in his face until the calm of meditation claimed him. Casey and April, too, slept uncomfortably in chairs nearby. Everyone needed to be close, just in case.
Leatherhead felt a deep sigh rumble through his long jaws, but he held the sound in with the talent of his species. He would not trouble the family that so desperately needed their rest and recuperation. Especially Donatello.
It may have been Michelangelo who had made first contact with Leatherhead, drawing him into the turtles' family and demonstrating a patience and willingness to accept that the crocodile had not known since the Utroms. It may have been Raphael who understood what blind anger could do to a being who was otherwise compassionate. It may have been Leonardo who found a place he could call his own home, practically next-door to the turtles' lair but wide-ranging enough to suit his particular moods and needs, demonstrating a great capacity for insight and understanding from the turtles' leader.
But it was Donatello to whom Leatherhead had lost his heart.
Of course, it had not all happened at once. Unlikely love stories never do, after all, Leatherhead considered ruefully. His first encounter with the turtles had been so brief as to only instill in him the comforting knowledge that he could die knowing he was not alone in the world with these four living "brothers" to remember him. It was only later, having been liberated from Bishop's lab and at last instilled in a home of his own which would become his refuge that regular visits from the purple-clad turtle had begun to make an impression. Donatello was so unassuming, so humble, and yet so full of life and hope that it rejuvenated much of Leatherhead's world-weary heart. The other turtles had visited as well, but it was the scientific one that sought him for advice and assistance on their many shared projects, and he came to spend more and more time in the crocodile's lair. It had been a time of great change in Leatherhead's world, and his heart.
In the late hours of the night, long after his brothers would probably have gone to bed, Donatello would still be working, still pushing himself and his abilities, grateful for Leatherhead's lab in which to work without disturbing his family. He was not a demanding or bitter thinker as some intellectuals became as frustration overcome optimism in the face of a challenge; though he could be troubled by a difficult project, Donatello was easily returned to his content self by a friendly and sympathetic smile. His cleverness with making use of uncommon materials had taught Leatherhead much, the crocodile having been largely unfamiliar with the art of scrounging. Donatello was innovative beyond even the most free-thinking Utrom with whom the crocodile had ever worked; the turtle could solve dire problems elegantly and efficiently without breaking a sweat. His intellectual curiosity was boundless, and thus, Donatello had become an inadvertent expert in dozens of fields, from medicine and engineering to particle physics and genetics.
But in spite of his overpowering intellectual prowess, Donatello remained gentle and eager, and although Leatherhead was convinced the ninja never really required his aid on any project, he was grateful to have been asked for it. Without being told, the purple-clad turtle seemed to understand Leatherhead's need for company and activity, both of which drove his demons away and strengthened his sanity. So, although he might have been able to conquer the difficulties of dozens of problems on his own, Donatello brought them to Leatherhead, working with him and inadvertently teaching him the methodologies by which he had already fashioned a conclusion, all while respecting and appreciating every contribution the crocodilian scientist could add. But these were few and far between.
"Ah, the mind of Donatello. Men would kill for his intelligence, and the brightest of the human world would be astounded at the breadth and depth of his understanding if they could but see past his appearance. He should be lauded as the foremost scientist on earth, but he lives in a sewer and the only ones to benefit from his work are his family and friends."
Leatherhead fondly remembered when he had said something similar to the turtle after Donatello had again astounded him with an ingenious solution to a problem that had plagued them both for months. The purple-clad ninja's response had been entirely typical, and keenly indicative of things Donatello probably never knew he gave away to his friend. It was not, perhaps, the moment the crocodile realized his feelings for Donatello, but it was certainly the moment that cemented them.
"Your cognitive abilities are amazing, my friend. I doubt very much that any other in the world could see things the way you do."
" 'It's not that I'm smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer'," the turtle had replied without looking up. Then, as though he had spoken without thinking, he stopped fiddling with the gadget in his hands and blushed.
"Albert Einstein," Leatherhead correctly identified the quote.
"Well," and now the turtle did raise his eyes, "yeah. I mean, I'm not at Einstein's level, but I feel like if I can just keep pushing, maybe someday I'll get close. So…I try to keep that quote in my head when I get frustrated, a sort of intellectual battle-cry. It helps me, thinking that I'm working towards something so unattainable, but so awesome anyway."
" 'Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction'," the crocodile replied gently. Donatello had smiled warmly, and from that moment on Leatherhead's heart had no longer been his own.
"I had lived amongst some of the foremost brains in the galaxy for a time, and yet it is here, in this terrapin not even fully mature that I find the mind I have always sought. Baxter Stockman may be a genius, but he is barely a man, barely humane, devoid of all the feelings and joys of the heart. And Donatello is consumed with them such that he does not even see his own great potential, such that he is bashful in the face of the staggering power that could be his intellect if he ever dared push himself."
For Leatherhead knew from long experience that the gentlest of the turtles suffered from appallingly low self-esteem, that he regarded himself as somehow unworthy in the sight of his brothers and master. Many times, over a break and a cup of tea, Donatello had spoken of these doubts and fears, illustrating a heart that was as fragile as its mind was vast. The "brainiac" of the turtles always did his best, but it was clear that he felt that his best was never quite enough to serve. And along with fearing failure, he also feared isolation. Leatherhead understood quite well: Donatello would rather have been an equal amongst his brothers than a genius. Although the turtles treated him as one of them, the scientific mind that plagued him never seemed to feel that equality himself.
This shyness, this uncertainty, it all drew Leatherhead closer to his purple-clad friend. Here was a mind he could respect and appreciate. Here was a soul of light and loyalty and grace that could calm the storms of his own heart and illuminate his path to peace and stability. Here was a heart of bottomless affection and love and dedication to his family and friends, willing to break its every sinew for the sake of another. Here was a body that…
Leatherhead felt heat rushing to his face…and other parts. He wished upon all he held dear that his love for Donatello could be entirely romantic, emotional and spiritual like the courtly love of centuries prior. But he was undeniably a carnal creature in many ways, and it was only thanks to a trick of anatomy that the other side of his emotions remained hidden from the object of his affection. Nights spent working with Donatello were often completely sleepless after the ninja had at last retreated to his own lair, because Leatherhead could not rest peacefully after having been in such close, warm proximity to the turtle. The internal struggle the crocodile lived with to contain the beast within had helped him develop extremely potent self-discipline, and he had had to exercise it more than once in the presence of his young friend. Because there was no denying that Donatello, for all his sincerity and kinship, did not seem to display any symptoms of the affliction that had so consumed Leatherhead.
"Of course, I can hardly be surprised at that. The turtles themselves remain developmentally juveniles, just at the edge of true adulthood, and it may be that any mating behavior inherent to their species is delayed until then. But even beyond that, my heart tells me that Donatello may never quite see me as I see him. The biology is not in our favor."
It was as tragic as any story ever written by the Greeks or Shakespeare: the gentle, perfect individual who is at once oblivious and immune to the attentions of a suitor. Leatherhead could appreciate the irony of being overlooked at his size, but it still left him wanting. Another quote of Einstein's came to him:
"Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts."
The crocodile almost grunted and caught the sound at the last possible moment. He could not bear to disturb the sleeping family, even if he could find no rest himself. Leatherhead opened his eyes to return to watching over the others. He smiled slightly as Michelangelo began tugging at Raphael's foot like a teddy bear, and held back a snicker at the charmed expression that lit on the angriest turtle's face even in sleep. Leonardo had wriggled himself halfway onto the pillow-y pedestal upon which Donatello slept, and the blue-clad ninja had instinctively thrown an arm over his younger brother, seemingly protecting him even now, although Donatello's continued twitching would likely cast it off eventually. Casey and April remained motionless, as did Master Splinter. The lair was quiet, but Leatherhead's heart could not still itself.
Normally, he knew, at least one of the turtles would have woken, knowing in that uncanny way of theirs that he was troubled and still awake. But the strain of the past few days along with the long ride home from Area 51 had left them universally sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, and these two things could bury even a ninja in slumber. Idly, the crocodile wondered if Master Splinter was aware of his persistent wakefulness; he was certain the rat was also awake, keeping silent and watchful vigil over his sons.
"I would be curious as to his reaction were he to know of the feelings buried deep in my heart for his third son," Leatherhead contemplated. "But to say as much to him, even seeking advice or absolution, would forever change my place in this family. I am a brother to them, a brother in arms and a brother in our shared genetics, and I would not sacrifice that position for anything, even the darkest secret of my being. I love Donatello, but I need the turtles and their sensei as the ocean needs the moon to move it, and I would crack the world before I would disturb that. But if Donatello were in need of me, I would tear the heavens asunder and live without the moon."
Leatherhead suppressed a shudder. The pain of the recent experience was heavy on his spirit as well, and he had been happily ignoring it for as long as possible. But still and all, he knew that when he did sleep he would dream of Donatello, not the being that held his thoughts most hours of the day, but the nightmare version they had so narrowly cast away scant hours before. Indeed, from the moment Leonardo had approached him for his assistance to capture and restrain the fallen Donatello, Leatherhead's heart had been so dark as to have died. To know that the love of his heart was contained within the prison they had built together, that he was so far beyond reason that he could not even recognize his own brothers and father, to watch him fall into savagery had rent his soul up and down – these things were soul-killers to the crocodilian scientist.
"I have been a monster, but I have always regained control. It has often been Donatello himself that returned me to clarity, even if he never knew it. It is thus fitting, I suppose, that I was the only one strong enough to manage Donatello in his own rage. When he escaped at Bishop's base, it was all I could do to hold him long enough for Leonardo to react, and I will never forget that deathly embrace for as long as I live. I have long wanted to hold him in my arms. But… Not. Like. That."
The words seared within Leatherhead's chest. He would have traded everything, his love for the gentle turtle, his own sanity, his own life, whatever would have sufficed, to bring Donatello back. He would have spilled every drop of his blood and gladly if it would help. But he, the scientist, second to Donatello but first amongst the Utroms, had been confounded and defeated by this most important crisis. Everything he had ever attempted, everything he had ever learned or achieved, they all paled in comparison to the importance of curing Donatello, and he had failed.
He could not howl his pain – he had done that many times before the decision to seek out Bishop had been reached, and not once did it help quell the torrent inside. But a tear slid down his scaly cheek and dropped onto his tattered lab-coat. It was a wound, a shame that would haunt him for a very long time.
"Even though I redeemed myself, even though I eventually took what Stockman had done and managed a cure, I failed Donatello first. Baxter may have complimented me on my intelligence, but he has obviously seen nothing of what Donatello can do or he would realize that we are both puny compared to his brilliance. If it had been me infected and so changed, I am sure Donatello could have saved me without having to resort to asking Bishop for help. We should never have been reduced to seeking aid from that man, should never have allowed Donatello into his power, although we protected him as best we could. I may have helped to save him, but I ultimately failed him."
Leatherhead fought the sudden feral urge that began in his midsection and threatened to overwhelm him. Bishop, his most hated enemy, and also the only one who could potentially reverse the mutation, had enjoyed his power over his foes. The agent of some heartless governmental agency had forced a deal with the devil on the turtles, had laughed in their faces at their pain. And…he had had the gall to order a lethal attack against Donatello, to authorize death to the turtle who would have spared his worthless life if their positions had been reversed.
"Because Bishop is a creature of no morals, no higher understanding, no feelings. He is everything Donatello is not, and he lacks all that Donatello is. It's no wonder…"
The crocodile felt his blood warm for an entirely different reason than rage. It was, in fact, the only cure he had ever found for the loss of control that crippled him.
"No wonder I have grown to love Donatello so."
The thought filled him to his core, washing the fury away. His mind skipped over the hours of frustrating dead-ends to the single moment of reward, the moment Donatello returned to himself. It had been largely guesswork built upon the foundation of Donatello's own theories, with specifics garnered from Stockman's information and research. But that sight, a turtle once more lean and true and sane, had sent Leatherhead's heart into the stratosphere. The sense that had flooded into Donatello's eyes as he returned to himself had been a godsend to them all. And when the gentlest turtle had stumbled, more vulnerable and helpless than he had ever been in the crocodile's sight, Leatherhead had been there to catch him. Had been privileged to cradle him and carry him to safety.
"I have you, my friend."
"Such small words," he thought sadly. "My spirit was singing that he had been restored, but I was and am still bound to hold the best of my joy inside my heart. And…to hold other things inside, too."
For there was no denying that Donatello, naked as the day he was hatched, looked a different creature than he did with his mask and gear in place. Though it effectively covered nothing, unlike human clothing, the turtles' customary attire gave an air of strength, the appearance of order, a deliberate donning of simple armaments to divide flesh from deed, heart from battle. Donatello, fully masked and complete with the usual bits common to the turtles, was confident, powerful, every inch a ninja. The Donatello who had fallen from the containment unit, every shred of cloth ripped beyond repair when he had transformed, had been softer, more rounded, though he had lost no muscle in the process. Leatherhead could no more explain the difference it made than he could describe the change in himself between wearing and not wearing his lab coat. It was a psychological distinction each of them made, a way of compartmentalizing themselves.
But the effect of it had been everything but rational.
"Had Donatello appeared in my lair devoid of his usual vestments, I might well have confessed my heart to him. That openness, that intelligence, that bright spirit shines through more clearly when not hidden behind the mantle of a warrior. I dare to think that I might have shamed myself before them all had he not been so weak and helpless as he was," the crocodile thought. Though he would relish the sight of his Donatello so unclothed, so beautiful, a somehow purer version of his usual self, Leatherhead was glad he was unlikely to ever see him so nakedly vulnerable again. He might not be able to resist and keep his heart at a quiet roar a second time.
A sudden, shaky breath drew the scientist's attention as it cut through the quiet lair. His turtle was awake. In a silent blur, Leatherhead was at his side.
"My friend? Are you well?" he heard his voice ask, concerned and expressive. The change Donatello wrought in his poor crocodilian heart was great indeed.
"C…could I..," the turtle half-whispered, half-gasped. He squeezed his eyes shut and a drop of sweat ran down his beak. Swiftly, Leatherhead laid a gentle hand on his domed forehead.
"You have a fever," he diagnosed. "But not dangerous. I'll bring you some medicine and water." He registered the turtle nodding gratefully before rushing off. His heart was hammering even as he drew a glass of water from the filtered supply in the kitchen area; his turtle finally, genuinely, needed help that he alone could provide.
"Hey…Leatherhead…I…," Donatello murmured as he saw him return.
"Don't try to speak yet. Give me a moment."
With a delicacy that would have surprised any but the turtles' family who knew him well enough, the giant crocodile carefully kneeled down on the blankets, avoiding the other three turtles sprawled about. He put one strong arm under Donatello's shell, slowly raising him to an almost-sitting position from which he could drink. The olive-skinned turtle needed no urging; he took the two offered pills with a shaking hand and sipped the water urgently against his obvious discomfort. Leatherhead held still, supporting him, relishing in the sensation and yet aching for the situation that had made his love so needy.
"I just…I wanted to say…thanks. You saved me, I know it."
The words froze the crocodile in place. Feverish, weak as a kitten, yet there was the customary spark in Donatello's voice that had crept into his heart and claimed it so long ago. Though dulled with exhaustion, the turtle's eyes were clear and sure.
"I am thankful that I could be of some service to you," he replied, returning to his own habitual formality as a defense against his pounding heart. "I am," and here some of the secret pain he had held in broke loose, "deeply sorry I could not help you sooner. I should have seen, should have prevented…"
"You couldn't have," Donatello interrupted with a strained smile. "Don't worry about it. You were there when it counted."
"And yet most of the work that was the saving of you was your own. Baxter Stockman had nothing even close to what you had already developed. I just put them together – you, I am certain, could have done so much faster and more skillfully than I."
Leatherhead closed his eyes for a moment against the shame that still burned. Yes, he wanted to confess his feelings to the turtle reclining in his arms. Yes, he wanted to earn a place in that turtle's life that was exclusive and enduring. Yes, he wanted to find out how…biologically compatible they were. Yes, he wanted Donatello to love him as he was loved. But more than anything else, at the moment, he would settle for knowing that Donatello would return to himself, would be healthy again, would regain his mind and his heart once more. Everything beyond that was pure fantasy.
" 'Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.' "
The crocodile's eyes flew open to a smiling face. He felt his throat stopper closed and he could only nod in understanding. Albert Einstein. It was Donatello's way of telling Leatherhead that he knew he would be all right. That he knew what his friend had done to save him. He knew.
" 'I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious,' " the crocodile demurred with a slight smile.
As Leatherhead carefully lowered Donatello back to his nest of blankets, surrounded by still-sleeping family, Leatherhead felt his smile stretch all the way down to his toes. The turtle was already slipping back into slumber, but those few moments had reminded him why his heart was given, why he was so full he felt he must burst. The olive-skinned genius who now rested in peace, fully aware that he was safe and loved by every soul in the room, was everything. Leatherhead returned to his own watchful position, alight with a love that would in all likelihood remain the secret of his life. It mattered little. He knew where he belonged, and he would remain there always.
This was the family of his heart, and Donatello was the light of his soul. And so would it be until his dying day.
Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.