A/N: It's been a long time hasn't it? This piece is dedicated to MidnightHeir for making me do this (even if it was my idea). Thus our pact is complete! Don't get any crazy ideas that I'm going to write more... ;) Long live the tmnt fandom!
"I've traveled thousands of miles looking for an answer, only to wind up here, half way across the world, in the middle of nowhere."
It was cold.
He had felt the cold before. Winter was not unknown to him in the subterranean depths of an often times merciless and icy city. He knew how the cold could seep from the ground as if it were always there and would always be there to remind him; he could never escape that icy claw that reached up from beneath the ground. He could never escape. That was the city though. Leonardo knew that type of cold. He could deal with that cold. He had hardened himself to it as he had done with many things. Anything could be borne; any weakness could be expunged. The cold could be warded off with the heat of training or the heat of battle.
There had been many battles. Leonardo couldn't remember every one, but he knew there were many. Mock battles with his brothers in training, epic battles with another ninja clan, fights with aliens and monsters, genetic mutations, grand show fights to the applause of hundreds in the battle nexus, pathetic fights with gangsters who wanted a piece of the city; some of them no older than fifteen as they looked for something in this cold and cruel world. Was it a sense of belonging? Did they surrender to a cold new master because they wanted to feel like they had a place in this world?
Leonardo only scoffed at that. What would they know of not having a place? They were human weren't they? There was always a place for humans or imposters who could look like humans. There were many of these imposters and he was not simply talking about the Shredder or the Utroms. These imposters were those with human flesh that only housed a monster of a soul on the inside; or maybe they had no soul. He didn't know and he didn't care much now. He knew one such monster. Oh yes, he knew her well. He had only been thinking about his monster since her blade… no his blade in her hands had pierced him. There was no reasoning with monsters. Monsters had to be slain… but this monster was powerful--Leonardo hated to admit how powerful she was—and so he trained.
His brothers seemed to lack an understanding of this. Yes, they trained. He made sure they trained! Leonardo trained for the battle he knew was coming. She would not be content to let her enemies be in peace… nor was Leonardo! Enemies such as she must be eliminated. That was the only way to survive. The only way…
He should have brought more clothing, but he didn't expect it was going to be this cold. His father had said little of the journey. It had been cold inside of that ship, waiting and hiding from others. It was cold and long, but it was all part of the journey. Yes, that's what Splinter said. His father had told him the journey to find the Ancient One was just as important as finding his Hamato Yoshi's master. It was the Journey that mattered… the journey that would shape him.
Leonardo meant no disrespect to his master, but if the journey was so important and the destination wasn't… then why send him half way across the world with hardly a direction? He was only given a range of mountains near a city and from there either the Ancient One would find him or he would find the Ancient One. He trusted in his father. Of course he did! It was cold though… and he was so under prepared for this journey.
He did not expect the cold.
He had noticed it in his feet first. He never had a need to wear shoes or boots before… not that any fit him. He had walked on frozen pavement and snow before but nothing like this. He would take a step and sink into a foot of snow as the wind would bite at his skin and blow his coat around. It was pathetic really; what he brought. He had brought a simple coat and a hat. Turtles never really had much need to wear clothes or shoes. He remembered how his mask used to get hot and sweaty against his face… now it did little to combat the wind and the low temperatures.
He should have brought a better coat, but Splinter had been cryptic on what his 'journey' would entail. He never said snow… he never said…
It was the journey though… all in the journey. He could withstand pain and cold. He was a ninja! Of course he could! This was a test of the Ancient One. Leonardo didn't know why a master would choose to live in these forsaken ice-mountains and not the city. The city lacked the… spiritual nature of ninjitsu but if a mutant rat and four turtles could meditate and find some sort of… peace in a city of metal and noises then a master should as well.
Leonardo berated himself harshly. Was he complaining? Was he seriously complaining over a little cold? This was nothing! The cold was nothing! He could beat it with his will. He would not let nature bend him. He was a warrior and he vowed that nothing would ever bend him again. Not the Shredder! Not iher/i! Not his brothers' and father's pleads for him to slow down… to stop overtraining himself! And not a little snow!
Nothing would bend him. Nothing would destroy him.
He tried ignoring the pain as his numb legs and feet trudged through the snow that just got deeper. No matter how much ninja speed, stealth, and grace… he could not walk on top of snow. No one could… no wait there was a movie… his youngest brother made him watch a movie where someone walked on top of snow. He tried to think of a name and when he eventually gave up he realized he hadn't been moving. He was just standing there and thinking while he was freezing.
That wasn't good.
He needed to keep going. He was exhausted and cold… oh yes he was cold. He couldn't feel his feet and he knew that would prove to be a problem soon enough. He needed to find somewhere to rest… a cave maybe? He could barely see anything but white. The wind had picked up and was kicking up fresh powder that stuck to his green skin that briefly melted and then refroze.
He should have come more prepared.
He was always preparing… always training. In the end… you were never prepared; just like on Saki's ship just like when she begged him not to chase after him. She begged. That monster never begged and yet… Leonardo wasn't too stubborn to admit that he had been surprised then, but surprise was pushed to the side by desperation and need. His brothers had needed him. Saki needed to be sopped before his evil could infect other planets. His father had a vision after all.
Leonardo fell forward into the deep snow with a grunt as he landed on his hands and knees.
He was exhausted and the cold wasn't helping. The numbness was creeping up his legs. Why didn't he bring more clothing to protect him from the cold? He didn't know it was going to be this cold. No one told him… there was no foresight. You never knew what to expect… Never.
No! If you trained hard enough you could fight against the surprise! His training prepared him for anything… even the cold.
He took a few long and painful breaths that rattled in his throat and then coughed slightly as the wind continued to whip at his coat and skin. A low growl escaped his throat as he pushed himself to his feet. He could do this! He just needed to find shelter. How hard could that be?
He had survived the ambush by the Foot didn't he? He had been poisoned. He had been stabbed. He had done so many things and now here he was… The great Leonardo to be brought down by this cold? He could almost hear a lesson and a tidbit of wisdom running through his head about trying to fight against nature. You always lost…
Not this time though.
How did one 'flow' with the cold? It was impossible. Nature was harsh and brutal but it put on that front of beauty. Leonardo would never trust the façade of beauty ever again. Jade pools of clear crisp water could hide a monster beneath… a snake. He would never trust nature again. Never.
The turtle whirled around as he looked for something. A cave, an overhang, a rock face that jutted out so he could protect himself from the wind somewhat! All he saw was the blanket of snow and the wind. It had to cease eventually. The initial part of his journey had almost been pleasant.
Japan was as beautiful as he imagined, but then it reared its ugly head and showed him this. There was nothing kind and welcoming about it anymore. This was the home of his master's master and even it was against him. Everything was against him and his brothers. He had to protect them. He had to look out for them… didn't he? Of course! They needed him.
Why was he here then?
The Ancient One of course. This Ancient One that was supposed to teach him something new… and whatever else Master Splinter expected. Did he think that another Master would 'put him in his place'? That's probably what he wanted… probably wanted his prize pupil back… He wanted the Leonardo who would not disobey. After all… Splinter had told him it wasn't the student's place to decide when the lesson was learned…
Leonardo shook his head as he battled the fresh wave of guilt. He had struck his Master! His father! Accidents happened! Yes, he knew this! But he had never…
Did Leo really lose control or had he surpassed Splinter? Didn't Master Splinter say he had to learn from someone else? Someone with greater skill. Had he really surpassed Master Splinter?
He couldn't think in this cold, but that's all he could really do! There was no one to talk to. It was just him, nature, and his thoughts. Nature didn't talk back. She just howled at him and bit at his skin.
He needed to find shelter. Leonardo looked around one last time before he finally found something that looked like an overhanging of stone. He trudged his way through the snow and tried to fit comfortably underneath. His shell made it awkward but he didn't feel the wind anymore. His meager shelter did little for the cold.
Leonardo hissed as he looked at his right foot and tried to rub some warmth back into it. He needed some type of covering. Shoes would be nice... even sandals or a cloth covering… something… The turtle brought out his pack and sorted through it. There had to be something he could use. He took out his bag of trail-mix and popped a handful into his mouth. An insidious thought began to creep into his consciousness. What if he ran out of food before he met the Ancient One? He hadn't seen much in these mountains… perhaps when the wind calmed down he would see something.
The turtle put some more trail mix into his frozen mouth and then took a gulp of cold water. He was probably lucky it wasn't frozen.
He hated the cold.
Leonardo searched further into his pack and found something he did not pack. He had been meticulous as he always was when packing and he did not pack this... or did he? Did he pack this? He was always prepared. He must have packed this right? It was a roll of thick bandages. It seemed a normal thing to pack but he didn't remember packing it. Maybe he did… or one of his brothers? Master Splinter?
The turtle shook his head in confusion. It was hard to think straight when it was this cold. He didn't even pack anything to make a fire… he didn't think. He wasn't prepared. He would overcome this. This was just nature. He would overcome her.
Leonardo began to wrap the bandages around his feet tightly. This extra covering for his feet would hopefully keep some warmth in or at least make it easier to walk. His hands could barely wrap the bandages around his feet. Maybe his hands needed some extra warmth as well… but he still needed to be able to fight.
What did he do then? If his hands were too cold he wouldn't be able to fight with his katanas anyways but if he wrapped his hands too much he wouldn't be able to fight well. The second one made more sense… or at least it was starting to as the cold continued to bite at his exposed hands. Leonardo took a deep breath and began to wrap the bandages around his hands. He left his fingers exposed for an odd compromise. He wished he had more bandages… He used the rest of them to wrap his legs to the calves and then put the empty roll back in his pack.
The turtle leaned back against the cold stone and briefly closed his eyes. It was approaching night… or perhaps not. It was too overcast to tell. He dreaded to think of how cold it would be at night.
He should have prepared better! He should have asked more questions! He should have… but he didn't. He was here, now, and he was alone. There was no one to hear him except the Ancient One, wherever he was. The turtle didn't know exactly what he was expecting. A tall man, old, but wise beyond measure. A solid man, stoic but perhaps with a love of raking lines in a vast sand garden. Master Splinter did not give Leonardo any indication on who or what the Ancient One was.
He was so unprepared…
He sighed and closed his eyes briefly as he lost himself to his thoughts and musings. Time passed and Leonardo had no choice but to flow with it. He could not change time… He could not go back and be more prepared for that moment on Saki's ship. He could not let her fall before she took advantage of his kindness… but there was no changing his past. The past was set in stone. The past did not flow.
It had begun to snow lightly and he shivered. He didn't think it could get colder, but it did. He rubbed his arms and stared out into the white abyss that surrounded him. The wind was beginning to pick up and it was darker. The snow seemed to swirl and move before his eyes as fresh powder added to the already deep snow.
Then he saw it.
Two lumbering gigantic dark figures in the distance.
His eyes widened and he pulled his pack closed and set it on his back and he crawled away from his shelter and stood up. The wind whipped around his bandana tails and he nearly lost his hat but he made his way towards the two figures.
Finally, he would find the Ancient One.
"Failure. Fear. In the lives we lead, these things are inevitable. How we deal with them; that is the true test of our character."
The warm glow of candlelight washed over Leonardo as his head dipped forward in shame.
He lost control. He wounded his Master. He was angry but now… it was as if this new shame had stolen all of his anger and left only breathless agony in its wake. They all lost control sometimes, but not like this.
He wished he only imagined the look of fear in his master's eyes. It was not fear of him, or maybe it was. Perhaps Splinter was afraid of him because he could not control him. Was he afraid of how far he had exceeded his teachings? Was he afraid of what could happen because of his 'surly and reckless' attitude? What was he afraid of?
So afraid… that he was to be sent away. Even as he dared to look at his Master in surprise he couldn't believe that. Sent away?! Away?! Where he couldn't protect his family?! They needed him here! Didn't they understand?!
Or was that what Splinter was trying to say? They didn't need him. He only hurt them, or was that Splinter's fear? Was he afraid that he would hurt his family? He was only trying to protect them… but he had hurt Splinter because he lost control…
"You must seek the Ancient One." Splinter continued.
There was something strange in Splinter's eyes… something that Leonardo didn't quite understand. Before Leonardo could ask a question, Splinter continued.
"He is not easy to find and the journey will be long." Splinter continued.
This was not up for question. Leonardo knew this. He could not stop his eyes from widening though. How long would this take? He had to protect his family. Splinter must understand this. They wanted the same things didn't they?
"Master, please… My place is here." Leonardo tried to say respectfully without undermining Splinter again. "I am needed here. Bishop could attack again, or Karai. We do not know if she will send those Mystics after us again…"
He tried to be rational. He was the protector. He thought his family understood this. Splinter was strong but he… he was old and he didn't go out with them. Who would lead? Raphael? He was too impulsive. Don was too distracted. Mikey? Too chaotic. He performed best at the spur of the moment. He didn't plan ahead. Leonardo shook his head. He was the leader. It was his duty to protect them and he would not fail by searching for some new master.
"No my son," Splinter said, brokering no argument. "You must seek the Ancient One. Only then will you understand… Only then will you have peace."
The turtle blinked. Peace? Peace while his family was being attacked? Peace in being useless and helpless? Peace?! How could he find peace when he was worried about not being here?
"Master…" Leonardo tried to object.
"You must do this Leonardo." Splinter was resolute and stern.
Still, there was something in his eyes. Something sad and incomprehensible and then of course… fear. Was Master Splinter afraid of him? Leonardo could not disobey this direct order though, not after he had… This was punishment. He nodded and closed his eyes in deference.
"Yes, Master Splinter." Leonardo whispered, sealing his own fate.
Splinter's harsh tone suddenly became kind and he reached forward and touched Leonardo's shoulder.
"This is for your sake as well as mine Leonardo," Splinter said kindly. "I only do this for you… this journey must be taken my son. The Ancient One cannot easily be found, but keep your eyes peeled for clues. Even if you find nothing, there is always a trail of some sort to be found."
Leonardo nodded, not completely understanding what Splinter meant. If he found nothing, how could there be a trail?
"Be it a winding road of stone or a path through the wilderness, both can you lead you to the Ancient One." Splinter said softly. "To find him, we must not deny the journey."
Leonardo nodded although he still did not understand.
"Yes Sensei," Leonardo said.
He was excused from Splinter's presence and as he headed into his room to pack for his journey. He had to leave immediately. It was Splinter's decision. The sooner he left the better. The sooner he left, the sooner he would find the Ancient One, even if there wasn't much time for questions or goodbyes. Leonardo had no doubt he would find him. Splinter himself had said that any path he took would lead him there.
"Leonardo-san, you must let go of this pain you carry; these feelings of guilt. A true Bushido warrior accepts what he cannot change."
"Where are you?!" Leonardo shouted hoarsely to the merciless wind.
He had walked towards the two large figures he saw and there had been nothing. Nothing was there. Nothing!
There was nothing! He had seen them though! He had seen and there was nothing! How could that be!? They must be hiding. Yes…
"I seek the Ancient One!" Leonardo shouted to the heavens.
Only the wind howled back at him, uncaring and bitter. Nature didn't care what happened to him while he sought this Ancient One. Nature just sought to destroy him! Leonardo breathed hard as he tried to figure out what to do next. If it had been cold before it was arctic now and even the bandages around his feet were doing little to prevent that icy chill from numbing his legs as the snow fell in a blizzard around him.
He couldn't see. A maelstrom of white blew around him like a cyclone, threatening to bring him to his knees. He would beat nature though. The snow and the wind couldn't bring him down. Nothing would bring him down. He had trained! For countless hours had he trained and toughened himself to the point of being rock! The stones were not conquered by this blizzard and neither would he be! In the end, the snow would melt and the stone would be no worse for wear!
Leonardo whirled, looking for the tall figures he had seen before. They must have left a trail. Everything left a trail! Leonardo searched the ground for prints and felt almost dizzy.
His short rest had done him little good.
There was only one thing left to do. Leonardo braced himself and threw himself blindly into the blizzard. He took an agonizing step forward against the wind and held onto his cloak and tried to keep it closed. Each successive step was a struggle but he would find the two elusive figures. He would find the Ancient One!
He gritted his teeth and took another step as the icy wind tore through his cloak. Suddenly his hat was ripped from his head violently and the wind took it and swallowed it up. The speck of brown soon disappeared into the sky and Leonardo knew he had no hope of finding it.
The turtle suddenly was driven to his knees by a sudden gale force. It tore through the mountains leaving no mark of its passing. The stones were not affected; only Leonardo was bowed by this wind.
No! He would not be beaten by this! He had trained! He had spent months perfecting his skills and yet they were nothing to this mountain. He was nothing to this mountain and the wind. The great and powerful Leonardo was to be beaten by a mountain!
The turtle struggled to his feet. The cold was sapping the strength from his limbs and he could barely concentrate enough to wonder if he was going the right way. He looked down and suddenly saw a track.
A track! That meant there was something! He had to simply follow the tracks! This was what Master Splinter meant. These tracks would lead him to the Ancient One. This trek through the snow was a test of his endurance and resilience. Yes… that had to be it.
With new purpose Leonardo set to following these tracks through the blizzard.
He tried to ignore how he couldn't feel his feet or his hands. His legs were tingling and it got worse the further he walked. He followed the foot-prints regardless of the cold. He would find the Ancient One. He would beat nature. He would beat her. He had trained… but he wasn't prepared! He had mentally prepared… but he wasn't prepared! He didn't know it was going to be cold… it was just… how could he have known? He didn't have time to prepare. Splinter said… and he had to go!
So he went… and…
"Y-you can't b-bring me down!" Leonardo said hoarsely, the cold making his voice stutter and break up.
He fell. With a groan he tried to push himself out of the deepening snow but he couldn't. He needed to rest… just for a little bit. The turtle closed his eyes tightly. The arctic winds stung his eyelids and made him shiver as he caught his breath.
They said you couldn't conquer nature; one man—one turtle alone could not conquer nature. You couldn't change it. It cared not of what it did to you. It didn't care for you at all. It was itself and not for the sake of others. She was cold and cruel and she did not care that she was. She mocked Leonardo's warmth. She mocked compassion and what others considered strength.
She was cruel and Leonardo could not change her. He was a fool to try.
"Leonardo-San," A voice called above the howling wind.
The turtle's eyes opened and he raised his head slightly and looked for the one who called his name. At first there was nothing but the blinding white of the blizzard, but then something appeared… something familiar that almost blended in with the snowstorm. He must have been cold as well.
"What are y-you doing h-here?" Leonardo managed to utter despite the howling of the wind.
A small almost cocky smile graced the newcomer's furred face as he looked at Leonardo as if he asked a strange question.
"I could ask the same question of you Leonardo." Usagi said.
Leonardo shook his head as he tried to laugh. It only came out as a harsh cough. His hands, feet, and face had gone completely numb and he didn't think he could go any farther.
"I have to find the Ancient One." Leonardo murmured.
It was so simple and yet it turned into something that threatened to destroy him.
"We're all seeking the Ancient One Leonardo." Usagi said comfortingly. "I sought him after my Master was cut down in battle."
Leonardo's eyes widened in shock. If Usagi knew the Ancient One then he could help him find him! It was perfect!
"D-Did you find him?" Leonardo dared to ask.
He was cold… but Usagi would help him. Usagi was his friend… and yet he had given him such a cold farewell. He told Usagi that he would decide what he can and cannot change… but nature did not change… not for all of Leo's strength and will power. It did not change.
"In a way," Usagi cocked his head. "You fight a battle that cannot be won Leonardo."
Leonardo shook his head. He wasn't beat yet.
"I c-can beat this." He reassured his friend.
"Leonardo, you will not find the Ancient One until you accept this. Your brothers have told you this. Your Master has told you this." Usagi said kneeling next to Leonardo.
Leonardo groaned as he tried to sit up and converse with his friend but he was too weak.
"I will never… give up." Leonardo growled.
"That is not your choice." Usagi shook his head sadly. "The land cares little what path you take."
Leonardo groaned and rested his head on the snow. He was so tried. The turtle rested for a few minutes before he called out to his friend again.
"Usagi…" Leonardo gasped. "I'm sorry…"
The samurai rabbit smirked and tilted his head, once again amused by Leonardo's words.
"And I am sorry for you Leonardo-San." Usagi's voice faded away.
Leonardo raised his head further and tried to find his friend, but there was nothing. There was only a withered shrub of a tree which clung to life tenaciously in this cold environment. What?
"Usagi…?" The turtle called in a daze.
Nothing answered him but the wind. Nothing but the wind…
Leonardo sighed bitterly. He had to keep going. If Usagi would not help him… then he truly must do this on his own. In the end it all came down to this. He must walk this path alone… no one could walk it for him. He was so tired though… and he couldn't move. He could only lie in the snow that was sapping his strength.
Where was the Ancient One?
Leonardo's eyes drooped and he struggled to keep awake. What more could he do? He could barely move much less navigate in this blizzard. He couldn't… he had been unprepared! He… there was nothing… He couldn't fight this! It was too big! Give him an enemy, an army of ninjas and he could fight that! This… this he could not fight. It was beyond his control. It was simply too big… too… powerful.
The ninja was beginning to think that there was no Ancient One… that he didn't exist and he had come here for nothing. He had come here… to battle nature and to lose.
Leonardo took deep shuddering breaths as the cold froze his blood and ice clung to his skin. A new thought entered his consciousness that frightened him and kept him awake as he was inexorably covered by the snow.
He was going to die here. He was going to die and there was nothing he could do about it! He couldn't even move. He was too weak… too cold. He hadn't been prepared… He didn't know. There was nothing… he could do.
He took another strangled breath as the ice and cold seeped into him, killing him slowly. There was no one left to fight. No one left to protect. It was just him and the mountain. He had fought and he had lost. And now… there was nothing left but the cold.
He had been sent… and he had failed. No… He saw it now. He saw it clearly at the end. The cold fuddled his thoughts but this was amazingly clear. The Ancient One… wasn't a person. He wasn't an elusive master deep within the mountains. He wasn't real… He was a concept. He was the journey. Master Splinter had said it and Leonardo hadn't understood. Leonardo's journey to find him had only been as far as he had traveled within. It was what he had learned by being humbled by this mountain… by nature.
Only now did he realize. He had been fighting a similar battle after being wounded. There was nothing he could do… He didn't know. He couldn't have. He did everything that was possible at the time. Karai would not be changed… time could not be changed… his brothers were alive. That was enough.
"I'm sorry," He gasped to no one. "I did the best I could…"
There was no one to answer him.
"The best I could…" He repeated quietly. "There wasn't anymore… I could have done."
The turtle sighed as he opened his eyes one last time. He felt warm… strangely warm amidst this cold. It was strangely bright and even the feeling of the wind against his skin was forgotten. He let out a small gasp as he saw it. The setting red sun warmed his face and he stared into this strange beautiful land as he let out one last deep breath.
He found the Ancient One.