Disclaimer: TMNT was created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. TMNT belongs to Mirage Studios. I am not making any money from this fic (but I am looking for a job as a writer XD)
Author's Note: Thank you all for coming along to read my latest offering! This is the prequel to the drabble 'Pieces of Me' (I don't know; you write a drabble and it suddenly grows a monstrous back story O.o;).
A word of warning, though – while this chapter is free of gore, the following chapter will have it quite prolifically in one spot. Please bear this in mind when you read. Thank you :)
Dedication: This story is dedicated to Nekotsuki – thinking of you and sending you only good wishes during 'Interesting Times' :)
Fusuma – Paper and wood frame Japanese doors
Tetsubin – traditional Japanese cast iron teapot
Metsubushi – I believe Raph refers to these as 'smoke pellets' in the movie :)
Raph gritted his teeth as he heard the sound again. The TV was quiet, and Mikey snoozed gently on the sofa in front of it; sleep had finally claimed him for her own. Raph sat beside him, not really watching the TV but not wanting to retire to bed, either.
He'd always been a light sleeper, and could never sleep over five hours a night. 'I'll sleep when I'm dead' was something he'd often said when Leo had called him to task on it.
It had been a long time since Leo had called him to task on anything.
It had been a long time since Raph had seen that Leo, a long time since he'd lost him.
It seemed like forever and rather bizarrely, he missed him. He missed not being able to jump to Leo's bait, to use any means to argue with him, to shoot down everything he said. Now Leo said so little of any sense that there was no point to the exercise. It was like kicking a lame pony.
Once more, he heard Leo's strangled cry, and he knew he could no longer ignore his distress. Raph gave a hard sigh. Scowling, he turned to Mikey and shook him awake.
"Mike, it's your turn."
"Mmm?" said Mikey, turning, bleary-eyed, in his seat.
"It's your turn to go to Leo." Raph reiterated. Mikey let his head fall into a cushion as he made a sound of annoyance and turned away from Raph, pulling his legs up onto the seat.
"S'not my turn, 's always my turn. 'S your turn, Raph," he mumbled irritatedly. Raph growled as Mikey fell silent again and prodded his brother hard. Mikey looked up only to slap Raph's hand away and say in warning,
"It's your turn."
Raph gave in only because he knew in his heart of hearts that Mikey was right. With another hard sigh, he stood and stretched. He paused for a moment, preparing himself mentally for 'that cuckoo Leo' as he had once referred to him. Master Splinter, in a rare moment of blind rage, had given him a physical strike for that comment. It had hurt more mentally than physically - their Sensei was easily irritated, but seldom enraged.
If it had been hard for Raph to connect with Leo before, it was even harder now. He seemed to connect better with Mikey, who was better at empathising with his pain. In fact, in the months since the event that had triggered Leo's insanity, Mikey had matured quickly and greatly – far beyond expectations. He'd had to; Leo was more than one bad-tempered turtle and an old rat could handle nowadays.
Raph used the dimmer switch on the wall to turn on the light in Leo's room. His brother lay wasted and pale on the bed, nervously tapping his face repeatedly with the fingers on his right hand. Consciousness thin, he periodically snapped his teeth together, making a disturbing gnashing sound.
"What do you want, Leo?" asked Raph, hands already slipping to the locked wooden chest on Leo's book case.
"Sleep…please…Please put me to sleep…" Leo forced hoarsely, tapping his forehead with tight fingertips. He took a breath, and another quickly after - and Raph took pity on him.
"You need to be sedated?" he asked, withdrawing the key for the lock-up box from his belt as he sat down on the bed and placed the chest in his lap.
"Yessss… Sleep… Please… Oh, please…
"Make it go away…
"Make the thinking go away…" Leo whined hollowly, pressing the heel of his hand into his eye socket and pushing hard. Raph snapped out a hand and prised Leo's palm away from his face.
"Stop that!" he growled firmly. Leo panted nervously and his leg shook, as Raph bit the cover from a fresh syringe and spat it to one side. He slowly filled the syringe with 7mg of IV Haloperidol.
"Taking this crap makes you worse, Leo. You used to say it yourself; you can't push away your problems, you have to face them," Raph said, as he finished. Leo shook his head and reached out his right arm, tapping the pillow next to him with his fingertips.
"Please make me sleep…" he begged, tears in his eyes. He reached out for the syringe in Raph's hand as though to attempt to administer the dose himself, and Raph pulled it away instantly.
"I'm not holding out on you, bro, you have to wait a sec," Raph said irritatedly. He looked back at the syringe and tapped the plastic body twice to get rid of air bubbles. He turned to Leo, who immediately held out his hand. Raph held it in his while he traced the green-blue vein that snaked towards Leo's digits with his own finger, the syringe held lengthwise between his teeth.
"Okay, Leo. Breathe," Raph instructed, seconds before he drove the needle carefully into the back of Leo's hand. Raph watched his brother's expression as he slowly depressed the plunger, sending a shot of what he considered poison into his brother's arm. Leo did not look anywhere but at the needle protruding from the hand that Raph still held. He blinked, and sighed twice in quick succession. He glanced up at Raph as he withdrew the needle and clipped the tip, putting the needle clipper back into the wooden box and locking the lid back up. He plucked the needle lid from the floor and put the syringe back into his mouth, raising the chest once more to its position on the top shelf. He tucked the key safely away into his belt once more.
As he turned back to the empty frame of his brother, he looked at Leo's shaking legs. One was poking out from beneath the covers, so Raph, in a moment of kindness, lifted the blanket and pulled it over the offending limb.
"Your akathisia is getting worse. We'll have to up your Clonidine.
"Are you sure you don't want to-"
"Sleep. Only sleep makes it better…" Leo interrupted, his voice thin and weak, with no reflection of the strength it had once had.
"Well…I wouldn't know," said Raph his voice disappearing quickly. He stood to leave, but Leo's moan shot through the quiet like a bullet.
"Please stay…stay until sleep comes…" he begged, tapping his face once again and with his eyes tightly shut.
Raph did not turn around. His palm on the door handle, he said,
"I'll send Mikey."
When Raph went back into the front room, he slapped Mikey on the head to wake him and strolled away toward the kitchen. Mikey jumped like a startled deer and pushed himself up on his arms.
"I'm up!" he exclaimed, before he heard Raph laughing coldly.
"Now it's definitely your turn," he said.
"We get in, we set the bomb, we get out. No waiting around – I don't want any of us in there when this baby blows," Leo said firmly, his brothers surrounding him. Don in particular nodded.
"Yeah – especially as I'm the one who has to detonate this thing!" Leo glanced at his brother as he checked the payload once more. Leo wasn't any keener on the idea of Don detonating the bomb than Don himself, and for a moment he considered suggesting that they swap places. Then, he dismissed the thought.
Don's specialities were electronics and engineering. He'd rigged up the bomb and was the best person to detonate it. Leo's speciality was strategy – and he needed to know when the pass went wide that he was in a position to feed the most up-to-date instructions to his brothers.
"If we all do what we're supposed to, everything will be fine," Leo said. "It's just a warehouse job."
"Yeah, but it's a Foot warehouse," Raph said. "Who knows what else they've got waiting for us?"
"Even more reason to be extra careful," Leo said, unsheathing his katana. At this, Raph nodded and drew his sai.
"Well then, let's get this party started with a bang," he said, eyes narrowing.
Leo gazed into the corner of the room, even as Mikey dished up the porridge he'd been making. His leg twitched and spasmed constantly under the table; occasionally, he would switch from one leg to the other, tapping his toes on the floor with a gentle 'thud thud thud'. His fingernails scratched against the wooden kitchen table, and every so often a look of distress would scar his countenance.
"Okay, breakfast is up!" Mikey said, cheerily, and he dumped the porridge unceremoniously on a placemat in front of Leo. Leo glanced at it briefly, and looked back to his corner, the tapping becoming more insistent.
"So it's gonna be a bad day today, huh, Leo?" Mikey said, his brows folding together. He nodded to himself and walked to the fridge to get milk, so he could cool the porridge.
Coming back to the table, he put the milk down and sat before his own porridge, slowly glazing over with a milk skin. He pouted at it churlishly - but then picked up Leo's spoon and stirred some milk into his brother's porridge.
Leo pounded his lips with his palm for a moment, and then placed his hands on the table as Mikey filled the spoon with porridge.
"C'mon, open wide – the aeroplane's coming, neeeeeeeeooooooorrrrr…" Mikey said, his cheer now bordering on insincere. Leo did not turn, did not look at Mikey – or the 'aeroplane'.
"Bro, you've got to eat," Mikey said, pinching at Leo's sagging muscles. Leo banged a loose fist on the table to show his displeasure at this comment. Suddenly, his expression changed to one of intense grief and, as Mikey put the spoon back into the breakfast bowl, his hand snapped out and twisted around Mikey's wrist, dragging his hand off the spoon.
"Hey, Leo-" Mikey began, but was stunned into silence when he matched eyes with his brother.
"Mikey… Mikey, I'm so sorry… Do you know…?" Leo said, his voice urgent and strange.
"Know what?" Mikey asked, trying to detach his wrist from Leo's vice-like grip.
"Do you know about Donny?" Leo asked, his face warped with misery. Mikey couldn't meet his brother's eyes any more and his gaze slipped down to somewhere around Leo's plastron.
"Yeah. I know."
"No – you don't understand, Mikey. It's Donny. He's dead… I'm so sorry…"
"Here we go…" muttered Raph from the direction of the refrigerator. He poked his head out from behind the door.
"I know, Leo. It's okay. Well, in that… in that it's not okay, but… It's okay because, I know." Mikey fumbled to explain what he meant – that he knew Donny was gone, and that although his death was not okay, as it caused a constant ache in his chest and had torn a chasm in his soul, it was okay because he had known all this time.
"Donny's dead… And I did it," Leo murmured to himself, as Mikey stirred the porridge nervously.
"I killed him.
"I killed Donny.
"I killed him – I saw the-"
"Alright, that's enough!" roared Raph suddenly from the far end of the kitchen, slamming the refrigerator door so hard that the seal broke on the freezer compartment door. He stormed over to the table at which Mikey and Leo sat and practically pulled Mikey out of his chair. With a rumble that approached a growl, he pushed Mikey's placemat and porridge to the other side of the table – an unmistakeable instruction to move.
"You're scaring the duckweed," Raph said to Leo, his voice low. Leo cast his eyes to Raph's face, and seemed to search for something. When his hand rose to touch Raph's cheek, his angry brother swept it away as nature sweeps away the coastline.
Without a murmur, Leo looked back into the dusty, dirty corner of the room, somewhere around the location of the sink pipes. He protested meagrely when Raph tried to feed him the porridge, but was driven into submission by Raph's words;
"If you don't eat this, I'm going to ram it up your tailpipe. Am I making myself clear?"
"I need a minute longer!" Don called over the headsets. His calculations were fine, the timer circuit was perfect – it was the thugs that were the problem. He was having trouble keeping them at bay now, and the bomb was ready to go – all he needed to do was push the hard reset button and the timer would begin.
The door behind him crashed open; one of the Foot clan had managed to get word out for backup - and oh, what backup it was.
Don cast his eyes worriedly towards Hun as he entered the room, casting a smile a ravenous wolf would be proud of. A stranger could not have told from the gentle shift of his expression, but Don was afraid. Afraid that this behemoth of a man would crush him before he could complete his task, that this man would crack him like an egg, and like a broken wheel on a cart he would send his brothers crashing to danger and death around him.
He could not be the weak link in this chain, no matter what.
He honoured the duty granted to him by his brother, and pressed the hard reset on the bomb.
The countdown timer began it's sinister duty.
With his task complete, Don turned to face Hun. Narrowing his eyes, he grasped his bo more tightly, bared his teeth – and attacked.
Leo wandered slowly from room to room, opening doors and closing them again. He shuffled slowly - like a broken-backed old man, a light blue blanket around his shoulders. This behaviour was no longer disturbing to either Raph or Mikey, as they had seen it so often now. Occasionally, Leo would go that one step further and flick on a light switch, only to look mournful when discovering the selected room was empty.
Raph thumped and whacked at his punch bag, his only therapy now. More often than not, he spent his waking moments with it; breaking it, cursing it and then mending it, wishing in the whirling of his mind that he could do such a thing for his brother's shattered psyche.
Mikey heard a gentle moan as Leo turned on the light in Donatello's workroom. He got up from the corner where he had been reading the latest copy of 'Silver Sentry' and quietly wandered through the corridors towards his brother's gentle scrabbling and scratching.
"Leo? Whatcha doin'?" asked Mikey, hanging lightly on the doorframe. Leo sighed, deep and intense, with the concentration of God himself on his face as he pulled out a pen and a pencil from the pen holder on Don's work desk and placed them haphazardly by the computer.
Leo did not respond to Mikey's question, but instead took a Post-it note from the pad carefully lined up next to the PC monitor, and placed it on the bottom of the screen – where Don had always left notes for himself. Leo's finger gently traced across the top of the blank note, ensuring it was fixed and safe.
As soon as he took his finger away the note started to curl off, the very top edge of the gummed paper unable to stick to the sheer surface of the glass screen for any length of time. Mikey watched as Leo's eyes narrowed, and he reached out again to rub his finger along the top edge of the note.
Leo sat down reticently in Don's chair and opened the drawer underneath the printer. Sighing, he took out Don's last papers and plans, and placed them carefully on the desk. Although he treated them with the utmost care, he did not set them straight, or tap them against the desk top to align them. Instead, he set them off against each other; placing each sheet of paper against the one below it as though a reader had placed them there after looking through them.
Thoughtfully, he pulled the pen and pencil out from beneath them and placed them gently on top of the papers. He nudged one, to set it off-centre and nodded, as though confirming something to himself. Leo reached forward again, Mikey still watching him curiously as he took down the note from the monitor. Leo picked up a pen from the pot, unwilling to disturb his near-perfect imitation, and put the point to the note.
Mikey stepped a little closer to see what Leo would write on the small square of paper – but as Leo confidently cast the ink across the yellow sheet, all that appeared was gobbledygook. Fondly, he straightened the note, put the pen back in the pot and gently rubbed the note back onto the computer screen. After a moment's thought, he pulled a couple of paperclips from the pot to his left and tossed them onto the desk in front of the monitor. He nudged one of them ever so carefully into place, as a thought slipped into Mikey's mind like the lost last piece of a jigsaw you find under the sofa.
"It's just like it was… It's just like he left it," Mikey murmured, grief strangling the strength of his voice. Leo appeared not to hear him.
As Leo sat back, the Post-it note finally gave up it's struggle. It curled in a breeze from the doorway and gracefully fluttered down to the desk, like a swan returning home.
Leo watched as it drifted down.
And suddenly, as though someone had simply flicked a switch, Leo flew into a rage. He leapt out of the chair and swept the papers to the floor in one fluid movement. The pen holder was the next victim, quickly followed by the pot of paperclips, which scattered across the floor with an eerie chattering sound. Leo flung himself down with a strangled cry, prostrate across the desk, and pulled his arms back towards the edge, his fingernails scrabbling and tearing against the grain of the wood. He repeated this action once again, before Mikey intercepted him, trying to save him from himself and yelling,
"Raph! Raph! Quick! Help me-" but he was cut short as Leo threw him across the room, his instincts still sound. Mikey shook his head from the corner of the room, trying to orientate himself as he saw Leo pick up the PC tower unit and lift it above his head as though to smash it into the ground, his eyes full of confusion and fear. It was a look that stopped Mikey's heart for a single beat and forced it into his throat. He'd last seen that look more than nine months before – on the day of Donatello's death.
Suddenly, Leo stopped, and lowered the tower unit to his chest. His face contorted with grief, he gently put it back from where he had grabbed it, tearing out cables and wrenching wires from their fittings. He moaned quietly, clearly distressed at what he had done – but, as per usual, unable to release the anguish in a way that encouraged any healing.
Just as Mikey was clambering to his feet nervously, Raph barrelled into the room. Leo turned towards the door, his basic primal instincts forcing him to shrink, to shy away from this new danger, but as Raph grabbed him, he took exception and dived for him, both arms extended, his hands reaching for Raph's throat. Raph saw the splinters that made his brother's fingertips bleed as he blocked him and grabbed both his arms, yanking them back and forcing them back up against his carapace.
"I am not your enemy, Leo! You are your own enemy!" hissed Raph, even as he heard the telltale rapid tap of a wooden walking stick on the brickwork outside the room.
"Leonardo! My sons! What is going on?" Master Splinter said, his anger clear but his worry clearer. Raph slowly released Leo as he softened in his grasp. With his hands returned to him, Leo patted at his face with a palm. Then he started to smack his face angrily, until his worried company could hear bones cracking.
Master Splinter stepped forward and, quick as a flash, inserted his own hand between Leo's cheek and one of his strikes. He cast his eyes away, and his son struck him twice more before the turtle stopped, keening in the depths of despair.
"My son… You may hate yourself but we, your family, your true friends, could never do so.
"We…we have a guest…"
From out of the darkness of the corridor, stepped the rabbit-ronin known as Usagi. Leo's expression of despair was mirrored in his own, and he forced,
"Leonardo-san… What has become of you?"
Leo breathed hard and looked at his friend as though it was the first time he'd ever seen him.
"You need…to get out too!" Don grimaced, feeling the bones in his hands cracking under the weight of the mammoth man. He could feel the wooden weapon in his hands starting to splinter and could hear his carapace scraping the wall behind him. Hun merely laughed coldly.
"For my master I would gladly die, if it would rid him of you turtles!" He swung back a hand, but Don – being the lighter of the two – was more agile and managed to duck, though he scratched his carapace hard against the brickwork behind him in the process. He missed the first blow, but was not able to recover in time to miss the second, which threw him across the room and into the wooden staircase.
He moved to sit up quickly, and the dark basement moved suddenly in ever widening circles around him. He cast his eyes swiftly to the bomb timer.
Dread crept through his chest like a boa constrictor. He could still stop the bomb, if-
But Hun cared not for his own life, only for victory. His hatred was all encompassing, and he lumbered across to Don, reaching out and grabbing him by the ankles, dragging him away from the bomb.
"If I die killing you, I will be honoured as a warrior among the Foot clan and the Purple Dragons alike. My name will be remembered for all time – but nobody will remember you!" Hun hissed, and dragged Don up into the air. The turtle still clutched his trusty bo while swinging like a broken pendulum.
"Wrong," Don said, swinging his bo around and whacking it full force into Hun's shins, eliciting a scream that might wake the dead. Hun let go, and with an effortless flip, Don landed on his feet.
"My brothers will remember me. That's all that matters."
"Please, Usagi-san. If you must leave the room, please alert either myself or one of my sons.
"Leonardo is not to be left alone with hot water," Master Splinter said, and Usagi lowered his head in deference from his sitting position.
"Indeed, Splinter-san. I will not forget."
Usagi set his eyes on Leo as Master Splinter left the room, pulling the fusuma doors closed behind him. Leo gazed into the hot water in the tetsubin set into the floor before him as though it were an oracle, a soothsayer who could provide him with the answers he so desperately needed. The reflection from the surrounding candles was cast back to him by the gentle ripples within, and it seemed that he was spellbound as Usagi said, gently,
"Will you take tea with me, Leonardo-san?"
Leo simply cast his eyes upwards and blinked, returning them quickly to the water in the tea pot. In the absence of a different answer, Usagi took that as a yes.
With a familiarity that bordered on contempt, he made tea from them both. With the ladle he prepared first a cup for his company, then a cup for himself, and returned the ladle to the tetsubin.
Leo looked at the cup for a long time before he touched it, his finger dancing around it's rim gently, like a drunken ballerina. Usagi lifted his own cup, almost as though to show Leo how it was done. Once again, Leo glanced up at his friend, and then back down to the cup before him. He was hunched over it, and as he sat with the cup before him he rocked gently; an outward sign of the turbulence inside.
"Leonardo-san… Will you not drink?" Usagi said sadly. Leo looked up at Usagi, seemingly irritated now.
"It is too hot?" Usagi asked, and leaned forward to take the cup from before Leo. Leo's hand snapped out instantly and grabbed Usagi's wrist so tightly that his hand hung limp and useless in his grasp.
Usagi did not make any attempt to escape his friend's grip. However, he immediately drew the similarities between Leo's sudden behaviour and the behaviour his brother Donatello had exhibited when Leo had been poisoned at the Battle Nexus. He looked away, knowing that Leo had been unconscious at the time, and could not know that he had just mimicked his dead brother's behaviour to a T.
"Leonardo-san… Will you let me cool the tea?" Usagi asked, stricken by the grief of his closest friend. Leo snapped his teeth one or twice as a warning, but gave Usagi the use of his hand back and allowed him to pick up the cup. Usagi paid no heed to his friend's aggression – he knew that it was the protective sheath of his mind that spoke on it's own, to protect the misery that languished inside.
Usagi blew across the top of the cup gently. The movement of air cast ripples across the tea, and once again Leo watched, spellbound.
"Do you know?" he murmured, watching as the wisps of steam rose, freed by the cold of Usagi's breath over the heat of the tea. Usagi rested gentle eyes on his friend and asked, softly,
"What should I know, Leonardo-san?"
"About Donny… Do you know about Donny?" Leo asked, still spellbound by the tea. Usagi's face fell.
"Yes. I am sorry, my friend. I am sorry for your pain.
"I was there, at Donatello's interment. Do you remember?"
Leo's breath quickened and became shallow, and his eyes glanced from left to right as he sought the memory Usagi asked for. He chewed the inside of his cheek as he searched again, his eyebrows flickering as his search continued to be unfruitful.
"I…I can't remember…" he whispered, his voice cracked and stark. Still holding Leo's cup, Usagi said,
"It is all right if you do not. You should-"
"No… I… I should remember my own brother's funeral…" Leo shook his head repeatedly, and suddenly the rocking became faster, harder.
"Donny's dead… And I killed him…
"I killed him…
"It was my fault…
"I took his head in my hands…
"I killed him…
"I should remember…!"
Leo dived forward suddenly, jabbing a finger into the cup Usagi held and yanking it towards him, mindless of the hot water that burned his skin. Usagi cried out for Leo to stop, but it was as though he were no longer there.
Leo jammed the cup onto the wooden floor, his finger still swirling in hot green tea, and grabbed the tea ladle. He plunged it into the hot water in the tetsubin and poured the scalding liquid over his hand.
With a look approaching mania, Leo made to make the same movement again. Usagi cried out again and as the dripping ladle swung over, he threw both his own hands over Leo's scalded one. The hot water poured down over both hands; Usagi's furry ones and Leo's scaly ones. Usagi winced, but gave little more in terms of a reaction. Leo paused for a second, the ladle still in his hand – and Usagi took the opportunity to snatch it away, casting it away across the room. It tumbled end to end across the floor, finally crashing into a corner of the room beyond the candle light.
Leo was still breathing heavily, his teeth clenched and bared, keening more frantically than he had in Don's room. Usagi - his own breathing fast and shallow, his hands still locked over Leo's - watched as tears filled his friend's eyes and spattered down across his plastron.
"My friend…" Usagi felt his own eyes fill, even as they sat frozen in their cryptic tableau. "Leonardo-san… I am so sorry… I am so sorry for your grief…"
Leo looked up at Usagi, his face contorted in misery.
"Help me…" he whispered quickly, as though to say it was a betrayal of his brother's memory.
'Don, where are you? Why aren't you outside at the rendezvous point?' Don could hear Leo's voice through the headsets as he crouched in the corner. He'd managed to take out Hun's sight with a metsubushi, but in return he'd done something unpleasant to Don's chest; he was in a lot of pain, and felt like at least one of the scales in his plastron might have been dislocated.
He glanced once again at the timer on the bomb.
He hung his head. Hun, with his lumbering around, had already destroyed the rickety wooden staircase and while alone that wouldn't be a problem, an explosion above had triggered a cave in over the doorway. Don was good, but he couldn't unblock the doorway, not in less than two minutes and not with a dislocated plastron.
And there was no way he was going to call his brothers back into the building, when in something approaching two minutes it was going to be blown to smithereens.
He had two choices. Either give up and be blown up by the bomb, or try to defuse it.
"I'm here, Leo," Don said eventually, getting up from his crouching position and running as fast as he could to the bomb. His chest hurt like shell, but it was going to be decidedly insignificant compared to the pain of being blown to pieces.
'Where are you?' Leo asked, and Don could hear the concern in his voice. He smiled crookedly.
"Still in the basement."
'What?!' Leo exclaimed. Don sat down before the bomb and fiddled around in his belt for a moment, looking for his Leatherman. His breathing hitched for a second as he felt an unpleasant tug in his chest, where the damage to the scale was.
"The bomb? Didn't quite go to plan… I'm trying to fix it, but-"
'I'm coming in for you Don!' and Don knew Leo meant it; in his mind's eye he already saw his brother sneaking back towards the warehouse, possibly even with Raph and Mikey in tow.
"No!" Don's answer was emphatic, and justifiably so. "You can't come back in! This bomb has one minute and thirteen seconds left on it and if I can't defuse it then I want to be the only one of us it takes with it!"
'But Don, I'm the one who put you down there, and I'm the one who-' Leo began, and Don could hear the sickness that was his brother attempting to digest that fact. Before Leo could complete his sentence, Don said,
"Look, just – shut up Leo! I'm trying to concentrate!"
Even over the racket that continued on the floors above him, even over the thoughts that jangled in his brain as he attempted to open the bomb's outer casing to get to the wiring he'd so painstakingly completed only a day before, Don could hear Leo's breathing.
And he knew, without a shadow of doubt that their fearless leader, their courageous, upright, stoic elder brother was now more terrified than he'd ever been before in his life.
And still the timer counted down…
"My most sincere apologies, Splinter-san. I had not realised the extent of Leonardo's illness," Usagi said, as he bowed before the old rat. Splinter sighed and nodded his acceptance of the apology.
They sat together in Master Splinter's quarters. The indoor water fountain that Donatello had designed for his father trickled calmingly in the corner – it was the only source of peace in the room.
Usagi had called for assistance quickly after Leo's plea for help and Raph had responded first, rushing into the room and immediately knocking the tea away from his brother. He'd yanked Leo to his feet, dragging him out of the room and towards the kitchen, so that he could run cold water over the rapidly reddening skin on his hand and fingers.
Leo sat quietly now in the corner of the room. He had not let Raph dress or bandage the burns, but crouched now before the water fountain and let the water gently spill over his injured fingers. He made no motion of pain; if there was suffering, he gave no sign of it. He was scrunched into his shell, so much so that if Usagi didn't know better, he would have thought the damaged green carapace that faced him simply an empty husk.
The only movement the ronin could detect was the flicking of Leo's hand and arm as his old foe akathisia returned. His shoulder trembled as he sat before the fountain, lost in it's soothing melody, his mind concentrated for once on something other than his maddening grief.
"Splinter-san… how long has he been this way?" Usagi asked, his head still lowered. Splinter too, lowered his head and said,
"He has been this way these past nine months. At the funeral, he was unaware, his conscious mind frightened away to a safe place within his body. Now, the Leonardo we knew had gone into hiding, and an usurper has taken his place.
"I did not lose one son that terrible night, Usagi-san.
"I lost two."
For a while, they listened to the murmur of the water fountain, interspersed with the occasional sigh from Leo.
Usagi tactfully ignored the tears that matted Master Splinter's fur as they continued to sit. The tea before them was cold; at Usagi's request, the tea had been prepared earlier and left to cool, leaving Leo with no weapon in its use.
"Splinter-san… I am…I am almost afraid to ask, but… You took my weapons from me when I entered your home. You have never done so before. Is it… Is it because…Leonardo-san…?" Usagi could not bring himself to ask the question, but he did not need to. Master Splinter looked up at him, and a frozen smile twisted his face for a moment.
"No… It is not as you think, Usagi-san. In fact, it could not be more opposite."
Master Splinter got to his feet awkwardly, and waved Usagi back down to his seated position as he half-rose to help him. His stick tapping across the floor, he headed towards the weapons cabinet in the far corner of the room. Flicking the latch, he opened the doors wide. As he glanced beyond Master Splinter, Usagi could see Leo's own twin katana crossed on hooks.
Leo glanced almost idly across the room at his father's movements, and caught sight of the katana in the cabinet. Immediately, the turtle froze in his seat, and his eyes filled with terror. He watched like a horrified infant as his Sensei put his stick down and withdrew the katana from the cabinet, turning to his son.
"Leonardo… My son…" Splinter said, approaching slowly - but he was quickly interrupted as Leo leapt to his feet and scuttled into the corner, waving his hands in front of his face and crying,
Usagi was forced to his feet by his own instincts; his instinct to protect his friend from what he feared, from what endangered him. Master Splinter still approached Leo, still held his own katana out to him. Usagi heard breath catch in Leo's throat as he closed his eyes and saw the tears only a few seconds before he heard the sobs.
"No… Take them away! Take them away! Not-not near me, no! No!" and with that Leo edged past the weapons his father held and skittered for the door, knocking over an incense burner on his way out and clutching the doorframe only to turn himself so that he could run down the corridor and put as much distance as he could between himself and what he feared the most.
The problem was that what he feared the most was himself.
As Usagi immediately went to the incense burner and picked up the smouldering sticks from the still hot ash, he could hear Leo screaming down the corridor to the front room. Within seconds, he heard Mikey calling for his brother in a worried tone of voice. Usagi continued to listen for a few moments as Leo sobbed about 'keeping them away' and then turned back to Master Splinter.
The turtle's father and sensei stood frozen in time like a statue, his hands full of his son's own steel. The blades he had forged with the help of his brother, one arm still in a sling. The blades that had been worked and reworked as he had broken them in practice bouts and true battle, the blades which had sung through the air in his practiced hands, that had spilled the blood of the guilty, and in which Leo had embodied the strength and love he held for his family.
The old rat clenched his fists around the blades as sobs shook his body.
"I am old today, Usagi-san. I am truly old," he wept, and Usagi felt compelled to break with etiquette suddenly. He dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around the waist of the old rat, trying to impart in him some understanding, some support.
After all, he had watched his friend disintegrate over only a day; Master Splinter had watched his son shrivel and wilt every day for nine months.
The three brothers stood, frozen, just down the pier from the warehouse. Every muscle in Leo's body was taut and every breath was an effort as his body went into lockdown. He could hear the commotion above and around Don over the headsets, could hear him as he muttered quickly to himself and clipped at metal and wires.
If he listened really closely, he could hear the beat of his own heart.
If he listened closer still, he could hear the beep of the timer as each second passed.
"What…what do we do…?" Mikey asked, and Leo glanced around to see a look of fear on his youngest brother's face. Leo gritted his teeth momentarily before replying;
"We trust Don."
Leo could hear Raph muttering a mantra of support for his brother. He stepped from foot to foot, as anxious as Leo himself was to go to his brother, to aid him, to help him.
They heard a gentle intake of breath and a shuddering sigh over their headsets.
'Sorry, guys,' Don whispered. Leo felt his body go numb from the waist down.
"What? No!" he screamed, forcing his legs to move, forcing them forward one after another to run towards the warehouse, to do whatever he could to save his brother, running now on some kind of instinct where his brain simply disassociated from his body entirely.
Suddenly, the world turned upside down, and Leo was blown off his feet. He saw dark night sky and scarlet inferno alternately as he tumbled, before coming to rest face down on the pier. Burning wood and scalding debris started to rain down upon him as he pushed himself up on his hands, his limbs shaking as he made to climb up to his feet. He felt strong hands grip his arms and force him up onto his uncertain legs – and then he heard crying.
Casting his eyes to Mikey, he watched as their youngest brother gazed into the burning chest of the building and dropped to his knees. His hands found his mouth and he covered it, trying to keep the horror in.
Leo turned confused eyes to Raph, who looked utterly stricken.
"He can't still be in there…
"Donny's… Donny's too smart to die…" Leo uttered, even as Raph's expression turned into one of pain and rage. As Raph threw Leo forward, forcing him to use his legs, he grabbed Mikey, pulled him to his feet and turned him around so that they faced each other. Mikey's hands were still over his mouth, and a look of abject horror filled his features. Raph yanked on his mask tails hard and said,
"Mikey, you've got to calm down. We have to get in there, we gotta see if there's anything we can do for Donny. Okay?" he pulled their foreheads together, as Mikey nodded.
Okay?" he reiterated. Mikey nodded again and took some deep breaths, trying to calm himself.
As Raph raised his eyes, he saw Leo disappearing towards what remained of the building.
"Wait, Leo, how are we going to get in there?!" Raph yelled after his brother. Leo clutched his head with his hands and turned to face his brothers momentarily.
"We're on a pier, you idiot! Use your brain!" he screamed, and turned back, running towards the last known location of their beloved brother. As he did so, the entire left side of the crippled warehouse collapsed, eliciting cries of dismay from both Raph and Mikey. Leo however stayed stoically silent, and instead tried desperately to keep his cool.
Since the initial explosion had passed, some of the fires had been extinguished by the partial collapse. What remained looked dangerously unstable, and was hot and smouldering even where there were no flames. Scanning the pier with his eyes, Leo latched on to a hose station just to his right, by the entrance to a nearby warehouse. The building in question had suffered damage from the explosion; it had taken out all the windows and shrapnel had pocked the outer plaster on the walls.
Leo paid little to no attention to it at this point; he simply wanted water enough to put the fires out and get in to Donny, to do whatever he could to get his brother out, treat him, save him, save him – anything to save him.
He knew though, as he unravelled the hose in the red box as if in a dream, and dragged it towards the burning building, that the water from the hose would be as much use as a chocolate fire screen, that it would evaporate before it even reached the heart of the flames, that it would not stop the roiling red mass ravenously consuming the remains of the building.
It did not stop him trying. It was the same dedication that brought Raph and Mikey to his side, the same dedication that drove Raph to grab buckets full of water from the dark sea that lapped at the pier and throw them over the burning building, the same dedication that drove Mikey around the building, trying to find an entry point that wouldn't kill him, calling for his brother, only ever imagining his reply.
"Leonardo-san?" Usagi's voice was quiet in the near-darkness, as Leo's fingers twisted in the wind chime that had never felt a breath of natural wind. The long metal tubes clinked and clanked disharmoniously under his clumsy fingers, and he sighed loudly as Usagi spoke again.
"Leonardo-san. I am…expected back."
There was no response for a moment, and then the disturbed turtle took a hard whack at the wind chimes. They smashed against one another, sending a crescendo of discordant sound throughout the lair.
"Raph," Leo said, seemingly at random. Usagi did not respond immediately, but when he did, his voice was gentle – bordering on patronising.
"What is it, Leonardo-san? Do you wish for me to get Raphael-san?"
"No. It's Raph. I know it's Raph. It's Raph." Leo didn't turn even as he seemed to address his friend. Instead, he moved through his bedroom, tapping at things, secure in the knowledge that everything was as it should be. Once, Mikey had made the mistake of moving Leo's photo albums to another spot on the desk, resulting in a screaming fit that had lasted half an hour. Now things in Leo's room had to be left just-so; if they were moved, he would know and feel insecure at the change.
"It's Raph!" Leo said irritated, as though Usagi should understand exactly what he meant. He picked up a photo album and threw himself to the floor with intent; Usagi heard his friend's carapace scrape hard against the brickwork, but it seemed as though Leo himself did not notice.
Leo flicked through the photo album as though it were a religious man's favourite tome and stopped on a page, thrusting it upwards towards Usagi. Usagi glanced between his friend and the album and eventually sat before him, taking the proffered book carefully from Leo's hands. Leo nodded keenly and pointed at the picture displayed before Usagi.
"It's Raph…" Leo said gently, and the ronin looked down at the photograph.
It showed a picture of Raph and Don, both covered in grease. Apparently, Don had offered to help out with the shell cycle and they had both ended up covered from head to foot in grime and grease. That was not the focus of the picture, though.
Raph was smiling.
It was possibly the only picture of it's kind. Raph did not smile willingly for photographs; for Leo to have caught such a natural grin was otherwise unknown.
"It's Raph…" Leo said forlornly.
Usagi tried to understand what Leo was trying to tell him without having to ask, but the clues were so obscure that he had little choice.
"I can see that it is Raphael-san… But…my friend…what is it you-"
Without warning, Leo dived forward and placed both his hands on the side of the rabbit's head. Despite being considerably unnerved, Usagi did not move.
"Here… In here…" Leo said, shaking his friend's head as though his point were as clear as day, "It's in here. Raph's sickness. It's in here."
"This-" and here Leo pointed to the smiling Raphael in the picture, "This is Raph. This is Raph. Not this," and he pulled the page over to show a photo of Raph pulling an ever so familiar frown.
"You mean… your brother is ill?" Usagi probed gently as Leo released his grip on the ronin's head. Leo nodded sadly.
"Sick. Sick of, of me, of… of me," he said, taking back the album and patting the photograph gently. The turtle's brow furrowed sadly and Usagi's heart sank.
All the time there had been hope that Leo understood nothing of his surroundings, of what went on around him, there had been the belief that the proud turtle knew nothing of the burden he was on his family. Usagi's sadness was tangible as he rested a paw on his friend's hand.
"When your sickness is gone, my friend, your brother's will go also.
"He seeks only the one brother he has lost, but can yet regain," he said, pain in his voice.
"Donny! Do you know about Donny?" Leo asked, grabbing Usagi's paw with both hands. Usagi sensed that he had lost that broken and protruding fragment of Leo's true self at that moment, and he sighed.
"Yes. I know about Donatello-san."
"I'm sorry… I thought you knew…"
Thank you for reading so far! In the second and final chapter, you'll see why Leo is quite so mentally injured - but don't worry. I can't bring myself to leave him in the dark place he's in right now :( Hopefully I'll see you next week!