A/N Warning, character death.
Mikey hit Leo today.
It wasn't in practice and it wasn't playful sparring. It was without warning but they had all seen it coming. Well, everyone but Leo had seen it coming. Fearless had been oblivious, all the way up to the point where Mike's fist connected with his jaw and sent him flying back into the refrigerator. Leo's shell had hit so hard that it dented the fridge door inwards. He had remained motionless, arms outspread for a long stunned moment. Then his eyes had narrowed, ice cold fury shining bright, and he straightened. Leonardo would not throw the second punch, giving his brother the chance to step away from this. To an outsider it might seem stoic and honorable. They knew better. It was Leonardo's excuse for what was about to happen next. If one of them chose to push the issue, then the eldest felt justified in exerting his authority. Usually that authority hurt a lot.
Mike should have walked away, they could see it in his eyes that he knew it too. But he couldn't. That was the damndest part of all this. There was nowhere to go down here, there was no way to circumvent the authority that their world had been built around. Not even Raph could break free of it, and even though he spent many nights on the receiving end of Leo's fists, fighting for some kind of escape, he too was still here. Splinter had made the rules and set Leonardo as the enforcer. It was a role the Leo had not always done well, but he had since forged himself into a wall so strong that they never even had a chance to get past him. Right or wrong, they had watched in silence as Mike stood trembling in front of their brother, afraid but too strong and too proud to step down. He'd known it was going to hurt. To him it was worth the pain anyways.
"I'm going, Leo," Mike'd said through gritted teeth. "I have to."
"No, you're not." The eldest conveyed more than the command in his words. A master of intonation, a few syllables from his mouth could fill them with courage or could bring them to their knees in shame. He wielded that skill mercilessly, a club that beat them down, forcing them to obey.
Down here it was only them and their constant power struggle, who wanted it, and who was it. Leonardo was the power. He was what they needed to survive in a world that could never accept them. He was beyond the loneliness that constantly pressed at them from all sides, making their small world smaller by the day and luring them to the surface. And ruthlessly he forced them to remain where they were, a barrier between them and city that called to them. He was the blocker, the scapegoat, something to rage against and fight when they wanted so much more than they were being allotted here. They had brushed the outside with the lightest touch and had so often been met with repulsion. They never even had that chance now to feel the disgust and the fear of the humans above, their brother was a wrecking ball of honor and duty that kept them apart. It made it easy to hate him, to blame him for what they couldn't have. How would they ever have the chance to find out if Leonardo denied them that?
Rage is potent when it is blind and fast, a fist in the mouth from a shattered dream. But the fire dies and leaves with it an emptiness much greater than the anger. It is the slow anger that builds, gaining momentum until it is implacable, unstoppable, unbeatable. That was why they never won against Leo. They could never ever be as angry as he was.
Raphael tried but didn't have the stomach for it. In truth, he was frightened of his brother. He was frightened of the control that single being had on his existence and in turn was terrified at the thought of what might happen should he lose it. Fear had gripped Raphael for most of his life, deep down inside the darkest parts of his heart where he knew without being told that there was something inherently wrong with them. That they never should have been, no matter how smart Donnie was or how funny Mike was or how perfect Leo was.
They played pretend, played that they weren't so different from the people in the television and that it wasn't so bad that they lived in a sewer. It might have taken the others longer to realize the truth behind the fact that they lived in the refuse and the feces of the rest of the world, but Raphael had known as a child. They were different and it scared him. Fight or flight and he chose fight. So he swung his punches and his temper at what he feared the most and these days it was his brother, or that absolutely unimaginable lack of him holding back the world that was so frightening. Raphael could only maintain bouts of rage, quick to come and quick to go, leaving him shaky and confused. In the end it was always Leo that won out, holding him tightly within the protection of their circle, unwilling to let him feel the full sting of the real world. His savior and his babysitter. God, how he hated him.
On some level they all did, even Mike who loved everything. Michelangelo was not as blind to reality as he so often pretended. He knew he brother protected them, viciously protected them, and that was a constant in their lives. But sometimes even the baby doesn't want to be safe from the big bad, wants to get a full dose of cruel heartless life straight in the face just so that he knows that he's really alive. Sometimes when your world is a lair beneath the earth with four others that are just as ostracized as you are, you want the chance to see if you can make things change. And when you try, that is invariably where life gets complicated and you end up hitting your big brother in the face, and you know in just a moment you're going to get your ass kicked. And damn it, it's worth it.
The second punch had to come from Mike because he'd started this and if there was anything that they had learned in their lives together was that once you started something, you finished it. If you screw up, do it right. He couldn't walk away and if he tried to leave without going through the motions, it would be doing an injustice to Leo. As much as he might hate the power that Leo had over them, Mike could appreciate that someone had to do it. Because if it was Raph or Don trying to do what he was trying to do now and there was no Leo to stop them, he'd be beside himself. It was alright when his brothers were bullied and beaten, shamed and blamed until they were screaming in frustration. At least they were still alive right? Still there with him and safe. But when it was Michelangelo himself, where the hell did Leo get off deciding their lives for him? So of course he hit Leo a second time, his brother's eyes boring into him with an odd gleam as he took a blow that should have left him dazed. It was Mike's choice and he was going to make it for himself.
Only he hadn't. Leo had already made it for him.
Don watched as his older brother swung, wondering for the thousand and twenty-fourth time just how Leo managed to move that fast. Or how he had let Mike hit him at all considering he could move that fast. Or how much it was going to hurt when the youngest went sprawling on the floor, knocked completely down from one punch. Leonardo might be slim but he could hit just as hard as Raphael. Mike might have hit twice but Leo only needed to hit once. It was over before it ever even truly began.
"You're not going, Mikey," Leonardo said through gritted teeth as his brother's shell met the wall. "No one is."
"That's not up to you, Leo!" Mike cried out, although by the frustrated tears in his eyes, this was almost over anyway. "We owe it to her…we have to."
"What they do topside has nothing to do with us, Mike," Leonardo said quietly, not quite coldly. "That's not the way to remember her."
"And hiding down here is? Like she meant nothing?"
"We'll go there at night, when it's safe."
"You're a coward, Leo." The words were spit out like a curse, and the youngest brother turned away, disappearing into the Lair. The others slowly followed. If they felt the same, they didn't say it. The figurehead of their resistance had already spoken. There was nothing left to say.
The city is different in the light. The smog and the traffic are thicker, the air hotter and more suffocating. People move about their lives with even more callousness and self absorption, determined that this day is the one where they will make it. They stomp on their families and their coworkers and their friends, climbing the ladder of success, to what ends? To get to stand in on the top floor, in a building of steel, wrapped tightly away from the rest of the underlings. The underfoot. The forgotten. The day is for the winners, the cold and the lifeless. Those already at the pinnacle. The uncaring. The night is for the rest of them, still alive, still hoping for more, waiting for this ever hardening world to soften, just once, just for them. After the harshness of the day, the cool dark spreads over the city, blanketing the wounds like a soft breath. The streets pulse with the by-products of the day's failure, and these things, the lust and the love and the momentary pleasures are the real blood of New York. They are the refuge from reality for the many. The life of the city is during the night.
Perhaps that is why they bury their dead during the day.
It is different here in the light, with no shadows to hide behind. It takes more skill and more luck to move around without being seen. It takes more courage as well. Courage was something that the woman before him had never lacked, and it showed on her face still, up until the moment that they shut that coffin. The humans laid her to rest, in a way that felt befitting to them. Beneath the protection of his coat and hat, Leonardo felt the ceremony…lacking.
There were tears here, but did any of these humans know her? Really know her? Did they know that she cried during Casablanca every single time, and that she hid behind a bag of popcorn so that no one would notice? Or that she clucked her tongue three times in a row when she was upset? Or that she loved them, those freaks down below, and would have done anything for them, including give her life for them? Did these humans know that they shouldn't be the ones burying her, that the only reason they were allowed that honor was out of Leonardo's fear for his brothers' safety? Of course not. A tall one in a leather overcoat just checked his watch. She was just an inconvenience to that man, an extended lunch break, a bouquet of pricey flowers.
She was our world.
Mikey fought to be here. Raph and Don backed him silently, but Leonardo had held firm. They thought it was about safety, but it wasn't. It was about a wristwatch, and a cheap casket, and people standing up to describe a life that they had never even known. Not really. It was a preacher that yawned twice, yellow roses even though she hated that color, and a fool in a trench coat in the back row crying silently because he couldn't save her from this. She had deserved better than this moment. It would have sent Raphael into a rage, embittered Michelangelo, and shattered Donatello's already broken heart. No, it was better they didn't see this for what it was. Better they remember her their way, not the way these humans would have them do.
He was the last one to leave, his face hidden in the shadows of his hat, in the open and more at risk then he'd ever been in his life. Still he turned his back to the city, leaving himself exposed for attack, for capture, for death. He turned his back and faced her grave, hand on the dirt, the only true tears to fall that day. The only real devastating loss. Leonardo paid his respects the only way he could, with all his heart and all his grief. A silent apology for a lifetime of things, including that this was all she was given. A moment, just one, but she would have understood. She always did. And she didn't mind the others weren't there. She'd understand why, especially now, that Leonardo had to protect them. His rage was palpable. They could never end up like this. They could never end up like her. They might hate him, but he would always be the barrier between this kind of pain and cruelty, between them and the world above. Even between them and April. He had to be. He had to. That was the way it was, and there was no moving Leonardo.
No matter how many times they hit him.