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 continuing to read 'Afterglow' Seriously, Leo's turning point is upcoming, but not before some more angst and the gore mentioned in the author's notes of chapter one. Please be warned!
Also, there is frequent use of 'language' during one part of the fic. Please bear this in mind when you read. Thank you :)
Dedication: Once again, this story is dedicated to Nekotsuki – thinking of you and sending you only good wishes during 'Interesting Times' :)
Hagakure – Meaning 'In the Shadow of Leaves'. The Hagakure is a collection of commentaries by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, intended to be used as a mental and spiritual guide for warriors.
Tsuka – the handle of a katana
"They're not coming… Why aren't they coming!?" Raph yelled as he threw yet another bucket of water onto the now smouldering building. A calm night and a dampness in the air had been on their side, and more of the building had since collapsed – but of the emergency services there was no sign.
A bomb scare on the edge of town had drawn most of the support from the area; after reports of one explosion on the waterfront, the Fire Brigade had clearly decided to take action in the more populated areas of the East Side under the threat of more.
"I don't know, Raph!" Leo shouted in response. In doing so, he almost missed Mikey's cry of,
"Here! Leo! There's a way in!"
He had spotted a patch of heavy damage on the back wall, somewhere above where he thought the basement ought to be. He had kicked and kicked, until he felt old bone scars cracking under the pressure, and the wall had eventually given in under the strain.
Immediately, Leo passed the hose off to Raph and raced towards Mikey, seeing him limp away from the hole he had made. Leo laid a hand on his brother's shoulder in acknowledgement of his self-inflicted injury and said, worriedly,
"Quick, Mikey – I'm going to need ropes and sacks to clear away the rubble, and a flashlight. When you've done that, come stand by the hole – I'm going in. Make sure Raph keeps damping down the fire – I don't want to end up in a back draft."
Mikey nodded, his expression full of worry and apprehension and stumbled away, his legs still disobedient to his will.
Without another word, Leo took a breath and launched himself into the cinder-filled darkness.
He quickly found still hot wooden beams beneath his feet. He felt them blister the skin on his soles, but pushed the considerable discomfort to the back of his mind.
He had to find Donatello.
His eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness, but not quickly enough. He moved down through the broken building, feeling with his fingers the edges of the burned beams, which seemed to be all that remained of the deep infrastructure. He cursed, and hoped Mikey was quick with the flashlight, when he felt something brush his shoulder. Turning on a pin, he withdrew his katana and called,
"It's the flashlight you asked for!" he heard Mikey's voice call from far away. Leo smiled briefly and sighed, instantly sheathing his katana and reaching up for the rope and flashlight in the darkness, unknotting the rope from around the flashlight handle. He fumbled for the switch and swung the wide, strong beam all across the inside of the building. It cut a swathe through the smoky blackness like a lighthouse on the cliff top, but there was smoke and dust and charcoal in the air, which still made it hard to see through to the basement floor.
Leo scoured the area with his eyes. In the back of his mind was the knowledge that the heat blisters on his feet had burst now; that red raw flesh was exposed against the coal-like beams, but he still didn't care.
"Donny! Can you hear me?" Leo called out into the darkness. There was no reply, but that did not deter the turtle.
"Mikey! Throw down a few sacks!" Leo cried, and reached out a hand as a clutch of hessian sacks flew down from above.
Still further Leo lowered himself into what seemed the first level of Hell. He rested his feet on what looked simply like a fallen beam and shone the flashlight around once again.
Well, this was it. The basement floor.
Bodies were strewn in pieces across the basement. He saw a familiar tattoo on an arm – a big arm – but it wasn't attached to the body he remembered. In fact, it wasn't attached to any body. Several other bloodied limbs were strewn around, some burned, some simply flesh and shattered bone. The stench of burned flesh filled the air, and it was enough to make Leo gag – but he had to keep his mind on the job.
He looked down and felt his heart enter his mouth.
A piece of green carapace rested by his foot, blood spattered and with flesh still attached to it - as though it had been torn clean away from it's owner. Leo felt his breath quicken.
"Donny!? Donny, are you down here!? Can you hear me at all?!" Leo called, stricken as he glanced around, his eyes focusing on more fragments of shell.
"But… But I know you're down here, don't I?" Leo's hand shook as he reached down for the piece of carapace at his feet. As he did so, the light of his torch caught two small pools set into a black background just beneath the beam on which he stood-
"Donny…?" Leo whispered, as the two pools blinked. Leo gasped in horror as he realised he was standing on the beam that trapped his brother and leapt off, immediately dropping to his knees and putting his hands underneath it.
"Donny, I'm going to get this off you, okay? Okay? Brace yourself, okay? Okay… Okay…" Somehow Leo felt comforted by how many 'okays' he could fit into the sentence, and so he kept repeating it as he struggled with the hefty beam. Donatello watched blankly as Leo grappled with the huge chunk of wood, trying in vain to raise it.
"Guys! I need more rope! When I give you the signal, I need you to pull! Pull with all you've got!!" Leo yelled up, vaguely hearing Raph verbally confirm.
Leo immediately moved to Donny's head and attempted to stroke away some of the soot and blood. As he did so, he nudged Don's shoulder with his knee protector. Skin and flesh, burned deep and burned dead, peeled away, leaving an almighty patch of exposed flesh where delicate olive scales had once been. Leo cried out in horror and begged his brother's forgiveness, but Don did not speak – merely followed him with his eyes, eyes at once empty and yet full of pain.
The rope brushed Leo's face, and he immediately pulled it down, speaking reassuringly to Don all the time as he looped it and skirted down to the end of the beam, where he hung the loop and pulled it tight.
"Okay guys! Pull! Pull as hard as you can! Pull!" Leo screamed, and the desperation in his voice reached the other two brothers and filled their chests and stomachs with trepidation.
The beam edged up, up, fraction by fraction, inch by inch and all the time Leo's eyes slipped from his brother's face to the beam and back. Don's face was etched with pain, although he spoke of it mostly through his eyes.
As soon as it was raised enough for Leo to do so, he shoved the beam away from his brother as hard as he could.
"Drop it! Drop it!!" he screamed up to Raph and Mikey, and he sensed the beam's full weight crash down next to him.
Immediately he turned back to Don and took a breath. Then another, and another, and he could feel the panic rushing through him like a tsunami, could feel the terror in his breathing as he swept the light of the torch across his brother's body, as though it were a magic wand that could repair all ills.
Donny was a broken mess. Leo chased the fractures with his eyes, and what was not fractured was burned, what was not burned was bloodstained and what remained – what remained he did not know.
"Donny…?" Leo's voice was barely a whisper as he drew closer to his brother's head. Don's eyes rested on his, and somewhere in the mess of fractures and broken shards that was his plastron, a little wheezing sound made itself heard.
For a moment, there were no words. Leo simply stroked Don's face, tears streaming down his own. Even though there was a tiny click in the back of Leo's brain as he realised the situation was hopeless, even as he chose to ignore it, he said,
"Donny, we're going to get you out of here. It's going to hurt, but it'll be okay. I promise it'll-"
But on the word 'promise' Don shook his head. It was almost impercievable, but Leo was watching for any and every movement, and his keen eyes caught it.
"It will, we'll get you out, we'll fix you up-" and even Leo didn't believe what he was saying, not completely, but he had to say it, he had to make it sound good, he had to do everything he could to save Donny.
So, when after a struggle, Don brought his hand to his throat and drew his thumb across it, Leo faltered and stopped.
Wheezing, Don repeated the action, drawing his thumb slowly across his throat in a universal sign.
Leo shook his head.
"No… No, it'll be okay, we'll get you out, we'll fix it-" and with every word his voice grew higher in pitch, more desperate, more panicky. And still, all Don would do was draw his thumb across his throat until Leo slapped his hand down on Don's and burst into tears.
"No! We'll fix it! It'll be…it'll be...
And when his eyes met Donny's, he understood. He understood that if he was in Hell at the thought of his brother's death, then Donny himself was in a Hell of pain and agony and heat and suffering, that he was in a place where reason and hope could not touch him, that he was in a hole too deep for him to reach for Leo's hand.
Leo heard another wheeze, and a croak that sounded like it might have been a word from his brother – just one word, one word that ended the world that Leo knew.
Leo wept brokenly as he withdrew just one katana with a shaking hand. He shuffled forward on his knees and wrapped his arms around his brother's neck, pressing his cheek to Don's forehead. Don, with the last vestiges of his strength, wrapped an arm around Leo's neck as Leo said, brokenly,
"I love you…"and pressed his lips gently to his brother's forehead. Don wheezed, trying to respond, but Leo shushed him and said, when he could catch his breath between sobs,
"Just nod if it's ditto. Just nod if it's ditto…"
Leo closed his eyes in despair as he felt the nod beneath his cheek. He sat back on his knees and reached forward, half-blind with tears, to close Don's eyes so that he wouldn't see the killing blow - but Don grabbed his hand and shook his head.
"You…you want to see me do this? You…
"Sensei will be proud…"
Tears filled Leo's eyes and escaped once again as he stood, katana in hand. He tried to remember all the mantras he had ever learned for being strong, all the passages from books he had ever read about tapping inner reserves, all the scrolls he had ever scoured for inner calm – but all of them, every single one, was ashes in his mouth, every single one was inadequate.
So instead, he took three deep, lasting breaths. Raised his katana. Prayed that his blow be good and pure and strong, that his blade was sharp enough, that his hands were still enough, that his-
Raph and Mikey heard the scream from ground level. It scared away two curious seagulls and made Raph sink to his knees before the hole in the wall.
"Leo! Leo, are you okay down there?!" Raph yelled, listening in vain for an answer that didn't involve sobbing.
"Did you find Donny?!"
Still, nothing but broken sobbing.
"Mikey, take the rope. I'm going in," Raph said firmly, handing his brother the rope and wearing the kind of expression Mikey had only seen before three times in his life. He simply nodded, feeling slightly sick.
Mikey anchored the rope around his waist while Raph slid down it. He ignored the rope burns on his palms and the ashes and dust that immediately entered his lungs and eyes as he drifted down into ground zero. It was only moments before he saw a green shape moving in the darkness, holding something in it's arms.
"Leo!? That you?!" Raph called down, his voice worried, insistent. As soon as his toes touched down on the still searing floor he left go of the rope and raced to his blue masked brother, who was cradling something to his chest.
"Leo, did you… Did you find Donny?" Raph asked, swallowing his sudden fear. He dropped to his knees before Leo, wanting as hard as he could to get information out of him. Leo pointed with a shaking hand to a spot just to Raph's right. Raph, sickness in his stomach, turned to look – and his face creased in horror.
He hadn't recognised the body without a head at first. It was barely recognisable as a turtle at all; it was so broken and burned. Raph covered his mouth, but it wasn't enough to keep back the bile and he looked away just in time to throw up.
"That's… that's Donny?" Raph asked, swallowing back another bout of sickness, his voice thin and fractured. Leo nodded and started to rock backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, still cradling something covered in rough, brown fabric.
"Really? That's really Donny?" Raph asked again, his own eyes filling with tears. He forced himself to look back at the broken figure and saw a glint of silver just beyond.
"Where's h-his head?" Raph asked, standing awkwardly and going in search of the silvery item. As he approached, he recognised Leo's katana. It had been half-buried in the detritus on the floor, left bloodied and uncared for. Raph reached down, his hands shaking.
"Where is it, Leo?" Raph asked, advancing on his brother, katana in hand. Leo shook his head suddenly, looked away from Raph and thrust out the object, still uncontrollably sobbing. Raph took a deep breath, dropped the katana and reached out for the hessian sack.
"Don't look at his eyes! Don't look at his eyes!" Leo screamed as Raph's hands shook. He wanted to look in the sack, wanted to confirm his suspicions, wanted to see with his own eyes that Donny – his Donny – was truly dead.
But he couldn't. He couldn't look in the sack.
He couldn't look at his eyes.
"It has been good to see you all again," Usagi bowed deeply as the family gathered to see him off. Leo had been left sitting quietly in his room with his photograph albums; after a brief chat about the events of the day, it had been decided it was better to leave him there than to distress him by bringing him out to face them again.
"I only wish… I only wish that it had been under better circumstances," the ronin finished, his honesty portrayed in his expression. Mikey nodded in agreement, looking tired.
In some ways, the burden of Leo's illness was worn most heavily by Mikey. He was the one who would most often go to his brother when he was in fits of tears, or who would comfort him when he couldn't sleep, or would hold his hand during his deepest, darkest nightmares. He was the one who could least afford the stress and sadness that pervaded their everyday lives, was the one most sensitive to Leo's daily agony.
"Raphael-san…" Usagi said, after gratefully accepting his weapons back from Master Splinter. "Leonardo-san is… he is worried about you."
"About me?" Raph looked taken aback. Usagi nodded, a little hesitantly. Raph did not look entirely pleased with this revelation, and so Usagi wavered on whether or not he should continue – but eventually chose to anyway.
"Leonardo-san believes… He believes that he is a burden to you. He believes he is responsible for a 'sickness' that has changed you." Raph looked away, clearly feeling uncomfortable.
"Try having your brother's head handed to you in a bag. That'll do it every time," he said gruffly. It was Usagi's turn to look taken aback, and although he recovered quickly, he and Raph exchanged no further words before Usagi left for his own dimension – only a curt nod passed between them.
As soon as Usagi passed from their view, Raph snarled and headed straight for Leo's room.
"Raph? Raph, where are you going?" asked Mikey, trailing behind him like a lost puppy, hoping against hope his brother was going to say 'to the bathroom'.
"I am not the sick one here, Mike! And I am not going to let him tell the first visitor we've had in months that I am!"
Raph threw back the door to Leo's room and stormed in, closely followed by Mikey, who looked distressed. Master Splinter had remained in the front room; he knew that a storm was coming but that, as with all storms, it would clear the air and lighten the atmosphere.
Leo looked up immediately, but did not respond in any other way until Raph hauled him to his feet and put him up against the wall, sending books and papers all across the floor. Leo screamed, mostly at the disorganisation of his room than the hands at his throat.
"It's always about you isn't it? Doesn't matter how hard I try, how hard Mikey and I try to make it right, to make you comfortable, to make you you, nothing works!
"Nothing makes a difference!
"What do I have to do to you to make you come back!"
The words coming out of Raph's mouth hadn't been quite what he had in mind. They were closer to the mark, a product of his heart and not his mind, but it was too late now to stop and they poured out like a river to the sea.
"Why can't you just be normal!? You're not the only one who lost a brother, but me and Mikey, we didn't lose one, we lost two! We lost you and Donny, do you see us going crazy? Do you see us putting out hands in hot tea and wailing and taking shit for our nightmares?! Because, because I tell you Leo, I'll tell you straight, I haven't slept a whole night through since you gave me Donny's head in a bag! In a fucking bag! Not a night goes by that I don't dream some twisted up, fucked up version of what happened, as though it wasn't fucked up enough-" and Raph felt tears prick his eyes, and he threw Leo against the wall again, but he didn't fight back, he never fought back anymore – "And you, I mean, I lost you, did I leave you down there, did some part of you get left down in that hellhole of a building, did a part of you die – did that Leo, my Leo, die down there too?" And Raph could hear the shaking in his voice, could hear the grief in what he said even as he said it,
"I just… I just want something back, I want you back but you're all locked up in that screwed up head of yours like it's some kind of safe but there's nothing up there, so where, where are you, you bastard, where are you…
"You…you bastard…" Raph trailed off and shook Leo once more but for nothing but effect; there was no intent in it. Mikey stood dumbfounded to one side, as though Raph had ripped out his heart and handed it to him.
Raph stood back and let Leo go. Leo slowly edged away from the wall and crouched down, picking up two books, and then a third, placing them carefully back on the top of the bookshelf, from where they had been knocked. He dusted them off carefully with a hand, totally ignoring the presence of his two brothers.
"I thought you knew…
"Raphie… I thought you knew…
"I killed Donny."
Once again, Raph reached out for Leo, but this time his grip fell on his arm and he turned him sharply to him.
"Did we ever say that we blamed you? Did Mikey and I ever say that we blamed you for what you did? God knows, Leo, I only hope that if I ever have to do that I'm strong enough, because I don't think I am," Raph said, and there was a flicker of something approaching fear in Leo's eyes.
"I killed Donny."
"You did what you had to do," Raph said suddenly, shaking Leo's arm. Leo reached out with his free arm to put a book back on the bookshelf, but Raph quickly pulled down that arm too.
"You did what you had to do."
"I…I killed Donny…"
"You did what you had to do!"
"I killed Donny…" and this time, Leo's face was etched with pain, with fear, with every emotion Raph had seen in the burned-out basement.
"You did…what you had to do. You didn't kill Donny; the bomb did."
"I put Donny down there…"
"But he stayed willingly."
"I couldn't save him…"
"But you did all you could."
"I killed Donny…"
"You did what you had to do. You did all you could; you put Donny out of his suffering."
"I… I…" Leo stopped and stared at Raph, terror in his eyes.
"I killed Donny…" he whispered, before he collapsed forward into Raph's arms, hyperventilating. Raph dropped to his knees; he was given no choice by the sudden dead weight of his brother in his arms.
"Leo…" and Leo heard the grief in Raph's voice, felt the heaving of his chest and looked up, to see hot tears filling his eyes.
"We can't grieve for Donny…until you do." Suddenly, the reality of that fact hit home, and it couldn't have hurt more.
"We can't grieve for Donny until you do…" Raph shoved his face into his hands, already pushed beyond his limit, and started to weep. It sounded as though he'd never done it, so deep and so desperate and so dire the sobs were that wrenched themselves free of his agonised frame.
Leo moved forward in Raph's loose grasp instantly and put his hands on Raph's cheeks, taking in a deep breath of his own and looking worriedly into his eyes. Raph pulled back, his brother's touch scalding against his exposed pain. However, Leo had no intention of releasing his grasp so easily and he held Raph's face in his hands until he gave up his struggles. Even Raph found himself too tired to fight on such a weak footing this night.
Leo clasped at Raph's head and rested it on his shoulder, rocking him gently and humming a half-forgotten Japanese lullaby Master Splinter had sung to the four of them many years before. He stroked his brother's carapace gently, tracing the circles and pits that made up the natural formation of his shell.
Leo glanced up, to see Mikey sobbing into his hands in the corner. He looked at him longingly and stretched out a hand.
Mikey didn't have to be asked twice.
Raph reached up for the locked box on top of Leo's book case; the box that contained the Haloperidol. He took it down before he saw Leo shaking his head from the bed.
"No," he said, gently, and took a deep breath.
"No?" Raph asked, surprised. Leo looked unsure, but nodded.
"If… If you can cope with your nightmares, then… Then I can cope with mine," he said, still looking uncertain. Raph flicked on his brother's bedside lamp and moved over to the far side of the room to turn off the main light.
He returned to Leo's side and pulled the bedsheets over his feet, almost without thinking.
Quickly afterwards, Raph left the room, pulling the door to behind him. Leo tried to settle his thoughts into something he could brave, while knowing that he would be alone to face the Donny in his nightmares, who would chide him and chill him and hate him.
He was just wondering if he dare close his eyes at all when Raph returned, a worn beanbag in his grasp. On some old, dormant level, Leo recognised it from Mikey's room. Raph made space on the floor next to the head of the bed, threw down the beanbag and then plopped himself down in it.
"Well, there's nothing else to do around here right now, so I figured I'd just sit here for a while," Raph said, casting Leo a look that suggested that terrible things might happen if he dared to contradict him. Leo didn't feel the need to however, and a tiny, grateful smile drifted across his face.
"You could read to me?" Leo suggested, with an even smaller voice.
"Shell no, but you can read to me," Raph rebuffed, picking a book at random from the book case to his left and tossing it onto the bed. Leo smiled thinly.
"Okay," he said, and he opened the book at a random page.
It was hard work to concentrate his thoughts long enough to read even the Hagakure that Raph had given him, but he managed three pages before looking utterly bewildered and exhausted.
"You did good," Raph said, taking the book and folding over the top corner of the current page. Leo regained enough of himself to look cross at such abuse of his precious tomes, but it did not last.
"You can read me some more tomorrow," Raph suggested, putting the book carefully down beside him.
The brothers matched eyes for a moment. Raph saw tiredness in Leo's eyes, and for the first time a kind of acceptance. In Raph's eyes Leo saw tiredness, but also triumph.
"Will you go now?" Leo asked eventually, fully expecting his brother to say yes. Raph broke away from Leo's gaze and said,
"No. Not yet."
Once more the pair were silent; but it was a comfortable silence, permeated only by gentle breaths. Leo turned onto his side and put one hand under his cheek on the pillow.
"I want to sleep," Leo said, looking at Raph. There was a plea for reassurance in his eyes as he continued, "but I'm afraid to."
"With all you've been through, Leo… Do you really think there's still something to be afraid of?" Raph answered eventually.
With a shaking hand, Leo reached out and brushed his fingers against Raph's mask. As he moved to tuck his now bandaged hand back into the bedsheets, Raph grabbed it and held it gently – resting their joined limbs against his knee loosely.
Leo smiled, and squeezed his brother's hand weakly in thanks. Raph just passed him a cursory smile, before settling back into the beanbag.
When Mikey came to the door an hour later, emotionally and therefore physically exhausted, he was surprised to find them still in the same position – although Leo was sleeping fitfully and Raph had dozed off.
He crept into the room, comforted by the presence of his brothers enveloped in calm instead of calamity. He silently got on his knees and shuffled towards the bed nervously. He knew he'd catch Hell from Raph if he woke Leo up – and he'd probably catch Hell from Raph if he woke Raph up, too.
Leaning forward onto the bed gently, he pushed his face into his arms and wept silently into his mask. He caught himself in mid-sob, trying to make sure he didn't wake anybody up.
There were a few more such moments in the following minutes. Leo's wall clock ticked off the seconds quietly as Mikey sat there with his two remaining brothers, hoping against hope that their fractured family could regain some sort of normality after the realisations and recognitions of that afternoon.
When he felt the gentle tugging on his mask tails, he looked up – sure that he must have woken Leo and already feeling guilty for it.
Really, Raph's ability to move without setting off the noise of the beans in the old bag was quite a skill. Mikey looked up at his brother, shock in his eyes as Raph stroked his shoulder gently.
"It'll be all right, Mikey. It'll be okay now," Raph whispered. Tears filled Mikey's eyes and he fell into Raph's arms, forcing him to let go of sleeping Leo's hand.
Raph shushed him gently and patted the top of his head. Still making every attempt not to wake Leo up, Mikey cried as quietly as he could, but his body bucked and writhed with the effort of it. Raph glanced around the room, nervous that Mikey's crying would wake Leo, but also wanting to provide some kind of additional comfort for the brother who had tried the hardest to keep them all united during their return visit to Hell.
Raph had hoped that Leo might have had some folded blankets lying around, but it didn't look like it was going to be that easy. He glanced over to Leo's bed to see if there was anything he could poach without waking his brother – only to match eyes with Leo. He blinked, but Leo didn't flinch.
"Why is Mikey crying?" he croaked. He pushed himself into a sitting position, sweeping back the covers and moving towards the edge of the bed. Mikey turned red rimmed eyes to him, his face slick with tears.
"I-I'm sorry I w-woke you…" he forced, trying to wipe the evidence of his grief away. Paying little heed to Raph, Leo leaned down to Mikey and wrapped his arms around him in a head hug. Gently, without a word, Raph withdrew - letting Mikey switch from the arms of one brother to the arms of another.
Leo's arms were still warm from the blankets he'd been laying in. Mikey drew comfort from this, but more than ever from the fact that this was Leo – Leo hadn't comforted him for months in any way at all, and today he'd done it twice.
This was his Leo – still mending, still scarred, but still his. He smelled like Leo, behaved like Leo, loved like Leo…
Mikey sobbed wholeheartedly into Leo's lap.
"What's this…? What's this, little turtle, what's this…?" Leo said softly, gently rocking his brother as he wept. He rubbed the back of Mikey's neck gently, hoping that the rhythm of his touch would comfort his stricken brother.
"What are these tears for?" Leo asked gently; and his voice contained the same control and mastery as when they had been four brothers, not three.
"How long has he been crying?" Leo asked Raph gently when Mikey failed to answer him. Raph shrugged and murmured that it had probably been five minutes or so.
"You need to stop Mikey, or you'll cry your eyeballs right out," Leo said, a gentle smile on his face. Mikey nodded; it was all he could manage. Leo encouraged Mikey to sit with him, and the turtle stumbled up and onto the bed, finding a place beside Leo.
"Raph, could you get him some water?" Leo asked, seeming to work directly from some long-buried instinct. Raph nodded, tenseness in his shoulders at the idea of leaving his brothers unprotected. Even now, his instincts were burning to defend them. Nevertheless he left the room quickly, heading for the kitchen.
Leo pulled Mikey to his side, resting his brother's head on his shoulder.
"Is this because of me?" he said sadly, rubbing Mikey's forehead with his fingertips. Mikey nodded, still unable or unwilling to speak.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, little brother. I should never have done this to you.
"I never want you to cry for me. Never."
"I t-tried so hard…" Mikey wept, "a-and I never gave up…"
"I know. I know, I owe you so much." Leo gently pulled the bedcovers up and around his brother's shoulders.
"I'm sorry I w-woke you both up…" Mikey stuttered, trying to regulate his tears. Leo shook his head.
"No… Don't be. If you need me, I want you to wake me up."
"Even now. In fact, especially now." Leo's voice was comforting, and Mikey found himself relaxing into his brother's arms.
Raph returned with the water and handed it to Mikey, together with a large handful of tissue liberated from a toilet roll.
"Nice, Raph," Leo smiled. Raph pulled a wry face and shrugged.
"S'all good for snot, right?" Mikey mumbled through a face full of tissue.
"Hope so," Leo said with a smile. He rested his hand gently on Mikey's shoulder as he said,
"Now. Drink that," pointing to the water "and then get in there," pointing to the bed. Mikey nodded, too tired to argue or even come up with a pun. He finished the water quickly and gave the glass to Raph, who pretended to be mad and struck him on the shoulder gently. Mikey gave him a grin and was surprised to find it passed back to him.
Mikey climbed into Leo's bed, suddenly struck by how tired he was. He pressed his head into the far side of Leo's pillow and found it suddenly very hard to keep his eyes open. He let his conciousness gently waft away as he felt Leo move around in the bed beside him, getting comfortable and pulling the covers back over the both of them. He had closed his eyes and was drifting by the time Leo gently rubbed his arm through the bedcovers.
"Are you really back, Leo?" Mikey murmured, forcing his eyes open – suddenly afraid that this might be nothing other than a pleasant dream. Leo smiled wistfully and replied,
"I hope so, Mikey."
During the night, Leo was sure he woke to find his father standing at his bedside, a rough but loving paw on his forehead. Somewhere off to his left, he could hear Raph snoring gently – bean bags probably weren't the most comfortable things to sleep on, he pondered later.
"You are returned to me, my son," were the only words he could remember when he woke the next day.
Despite the breakthrough made on that difficult day, progress was hard-won and the rugged path back to sanity was difficult. For a long time, things were one step forward and two steps back; Leo needed support almost constantly. For Raph and Mikey though, the battle was worth it. Now they could see the enemy, see the white of it's eyes and see the lost land of their forefathers behind it.
Leo's first triumph, however, was the Haloperidol. After the first night that he determined not to use it, he never turned to it again. Raph secretly took the syringes and the drug out of the locked chest and burned them; first with the fire of his hatred and then with the flames raised by Don's Bunsen Burner.
He took comfort in the crack of the thin glass, took comfort as the drug shrivelled and burned.
With the Haloperidol gone from his system, Leo was also able to cure himself of the debilitating Akathesia. This also removed the need for the Clonidine Raph had been forcing down his throat to alleviate the symptoms.
It had been a night of long nightmares. Leo gazed tiredly into the bowl of porridge Mikey placed in front of him nervously. Raph sat beside Leo at the table and glanced at the bowl.
"You'd better eat that," he said, pointedly digging into his own cereal. Leo pushed it away and wrapped his arms around his chest for a brief self-hug, looking away into the far corner of the kitchen. He tapped his fingers habitually on the kitchen table, scratching the wooden top without thinking.
"Leo…" Raph said, a gentle warning in his voice. Leo put his elbow on the table and rubbed his forehead repeatedly with his palm.
"I don't want it."
"I don't care. You're going to eat at least half of it," Raph said, putting down his own spoon and picking up Leo's. He tasted it first to make sure it wasn't too hot (a habit Mikey had, for his own mouth Raph was sure was constructed from Asbestos) and then pointed the spoon in Leo's direction.
Leo looked distastefully between the spoon and Raph.
"C'mon, or I'll start being nice again," Raph said, only half joking. Leo smiled a nervous smile.
"Oh no, not that," he replied with gentle sarcasm, and Raph jabbed the spoon at him again.
Sighing resignedly, Leo closed his eyes and opened his mouth. Raph's shot was a little off, and Leo had to wipe half the semi-cold spoonful of porridge from his chin.
"It's…safer if I do it," he said, gently taking the spoon from Raph's grasp. Raph didn't fight him in the least – but nor did he make a fuss as Leo dipped the spoon in the porridge, pulled a face, and stuck the loaded utensil into his mouth.
Raph ate what remained of his own cereal as Mikey sat down at the table with his chosen breakfast – which today was toast. Leo looked up at Mikey's plate and gazed at his toast for a short while. Mikey finally noticed and looked in his direction.
"Hmm? What's up, bro?"
"Want to swap?" Leo said eventually. Mikey nearly fell over himself to switch dishes with Leo and happily munched away on porridge instead.
Leo looked at the toast, and remembered that his remaining brothers needed him to be strong and sane. Remembered that they had tried so hard to keep him together during times he could barely recall details of. Remembered that for them to survive as three, he needed to be on top of his game, in a position where he could protect Mikey and Raph.
That he needed to do for them what he had been unable to do for Donny.
His stomach still churning, he bit into Mikey's honey-and-butter toast.
Master Splinter had deemed Leo ready to partake in training again. It was hard; he was still unable to touch his swords; having already tried once within the last week, he'd been physically sick.
"Higher, Leonardo! You must block higher! These are things you know!" Master Splinter called, his voice stern. Leo lowered the bo for a moment.
"I am sorry, Sensei," he panted, and hung on the bo briefly while Mikey sheathed his nunchakus. He stepped forward, looking for the okay from his Sensei to go to his brother – but he did not receive it. Instead, he received a stern look of warning.
"Leonardo," Master Splinter said, and this time his voice was softer. "Do you need to stop?"
"No, Sensei," Leo replied, taking a deep breath and putting the bo back into both hands. "Let me try again."
"As you wish, my son," Master Splinter said, and nodded to Raphael to join the fray. Though Mikey continued to go easy on Leo, Raph did not – knowing that somehow it was an insult to everything Leo was to do otherwise.
At the end of the training session though, there were three physically exhausted turtles. Master Splinter watched them with a gentle melancholy as they traipsed off towards the TV stack, Leo with his arms around the shoulders of the other two. They weren't carrying him – not a bit. In fact, he was smiling softly, and an argument appeared to be developing over who got to use the shower first.
Mikey laughed like a drain as they watched Don fall off an old bike - his first attempt at a full vehicle recondition. The four young turtles had found it stuck in an outlet and had dragged it back to the lair as a secret project. The camera work was what you might expect from a seven year old turtle trying to figure out what to do with home video for the very first time.
"Donny, you're supposed to stay on it!" A little giggling turtle.
"Are you all right?" A worried little turtle. "Remember how to balance! You can stand on one foot for two hours, remember?"
"Donny, how'd you work this thing!?" A cross sounding little turtle.
Leo smiled fondly as they watched the home video. Raph had declined to sit on the sofa with Leo and Mikey, who were wrapped up in blankets with April and a large bowl of popcorn in between them. Instead, he sat on the chair nearest to the TV, the remote control in hand.
"I'm glad you could come, April," Leo smiled at his friend as she dug a hand into the bowl of popcorn. Without pause, she wrapped the other arm around Leo's head and pulled it to her cheek.
"I'm glad I was asked," she smiled. Leo smiled back briefly as Mikey reached around and patted Leo's leg.
"Look, look, this is the bit where Master Splinter comes in!"
"Boys! What are you doing!?" the words reverberated around the room, and all three turtles chuckled, while Leo put his hands over his face.
"Sensei was so mad…" Leo said through his hands, as the old rat's lecture carried on in the background. All that could be seen were an old robe and a pair of large rat's feet, where Raph had put down the camera when their father had arrived.
"We're sorry, Master Splinter!" came a very young version of Leo's voice.
"You were all so cute!" April squealed, putting her fists up to her chin.
"Nah, don't bet on it!" replied Mikey.
"Yeah, and Leo was such a suck-up. No change there, then," Raph smirked, and was answered by a throw cushion in the face.
"Ooh, money shot!" Mikey yelled, as Raph jumped out of his chair, a look of irritation on his face. Leo grinned at him, pouncing forward in his seat with his hand on another throw cushion.
Suddenly Raph didn't have the heart to genuinely fight with him anymore.
"Gimme that!" he said, leaping over and wrenching at the throw cushion, eliciting a worried squeal from April as she pulled away and towards Mikey.
Leo managed to get another good headshot in before Raph yanked the cushion away and gave his brother two good headshots of his own. Then he threw the cushion down and went back to his seat, rubbing his head.
"What do you want to watch next?" he asked, looking between his brothers and April.
"Tenth Birthday!" Mikey said, without a pause. Leo shrugged and smiled delicately.
"Tenth Birthday," he agreed, and Raph nodded.
Months passed. Much of Leo's strength, both physical and mental had been regained, but there was a scar of soft melancholy across everything that he did.
The scar was more defined today, as he sat before the cabinet in his father's quarters which held his twin katana. The door was open, and Leo sat in seiza on the ground before the dreaded blades. He looked up at them, nervous but unyielding.
This day. It had to be this day.
Another day could not pass with him being so helpless. He was regaining his direction, but was incomplete without his weapons. While the weapons did not the ninja make, they did make up part of who Leo was – he would not live in fear of his own weapons any longer.
"Leo…" Raph's voice was quiet from the doorway.
"I'm fine," Leo replied – it was a response he had become used to giving.
"I didn't say you weren't," said Raph casually. He walked forward and sat next to Leo, also in seiza, following his brother's line of sight with his own eyes.
After a long period of silence, Raph spoke again.
"Why don't we reforge them?" he said eventually. Leo looked at his brother quizzically.
"What do you mean?"
"You know… We could use something of…something of Don's. Melt it down. Make it part of your katana. Make new katana." Raph's voice was quiet. Leo was silent for a moment.
"No," he said, shaking his head firmly.
"I think he'd want to be with you, Leo.
"That way, he's in every battle with us."
A long time passed before Leo spoke, and when he did it was with words choked with something Raph could not quite define.
"Make them anew. Give them…new life.
"Life, death – rebirth. Like Don." Leo finally turned to Raph and said,
"Yes. Yes. I want to do it.
"Will you help me?"
Raph smiled and nodded a fraction.
It took two days for Leo and Raph to reforge the blades to Leo's exacting standards. If his departed brother was going to be associated with them, they had to be the best. The steel had nine folds and Master Splinter, who warmed to the idea of reforging the katana immediately, provided two beautiful matching tsuba covered in cherry blossoms. Nobody knew where they had come from – and nobody asked.
The item of Don's was not chosen at random. It would have been easy to select a steel object from Don's disused lab, but there was one in particular that Leo coveted for the task.
It was an old pair of pliers. They had been in Don's little cubby-holes and drawers for years – they had been his first pair, and he'd never relinquished them. It took Leo moments to strip the handles of their rubber coating, but much longer to put the pliers in the forge.
Eventually, Leo and Raph stood back from their work. Two perfect katana lay on the table in the weapons room, complete and whole and new. The handles were tight and perfect, the blades sharp enough to sliver a hair.
Nervously, Leo reached forward and wrapped a hand around each tsuka. His breath caught in his throat, but he lifted them both. Raph slipped into the shadows of the room as Leo practiced with them. His old skills came flooding back as he swung the swords around his head, hearing the blades sing through the air. He closed his eyes, lost in a complex kata, blindly practicing something he knew now via instinct alone.
As Raph watched from the darkness, he was not too proud to shed a tear.
After a while longer, Leo put the twin katana back on the table reverently.
"Tsuin Shinsei…" Leo murmured, running a finger across a tsuka. Raph stepped forward.
"Hmm?" he said, not having understood what Leo had said so quietly.
"Tsuin Shinsei… 'Twin Rebirth'," Leo said gently. "That's their name."
Leo was sitting cross-legged on the floor, tucking the clips in on the back of a photograph frame when Mikey came to the doorway of his bedroom.
"Hey Leo – he's here," Mikey said, slightly more subdued than normal. Leo smiled gently and nodded.
"I'll be right out, Mike."
Leo brushed down the back of the photo frame with his palm and then stood, leaving it on the top of his bookcase, face down. He glanced back at it for only a moment before walking down the corridor to the main living area of the lair.
On the bridge at the centre of the lair stood Master Splinter, and beside him the rabbit-ronin Usagi. Leo took a nervous breath as he approached; the last time he'd seen Usagi had been that day, the day that had broken all three turtles and remoulded them anew.
He was afraid of the judgement his friend might pass on him, on his fragile sanity.
He really needn't have worried.
Usagi smiled as Leo stood before him, and they both bowed low and deep. Leo spoke first, taking a cleansing breath beforehand.
"Thank you for coming," he said. Usagi's smile widened.
"It is an important day, Leonardo-san. I would not miss it," he said. "I would be here for you even if I had to swim oceans." He seemed slightly embarrassed by his words, as did Leo, but the turtle smiled gratefully.
"Thank you," he murmured. For a moment more they looked at each other – and then Usagi threw decorum to the wind and cast his arms around his friend. His gesture was awkward – turtles and rabbits were never made to hug – but it was also heartfelt. Leo was taken aback, but after a moment returned the hug.
After a second or two they parted, and both looked self-conscious for a moment.
This time, it was Usagi's turn to speak first.
"It is good to have you back, Leonardo-san."
"It's good to be back, Usagi-san." Leo smiled bravely as he looked around the lair.
"Is that everybody?" Raph asked, as he too glanced around the room. April and Casey stood together in the corner, wrapped up warm. It was late autumn, and the nights were getting very cold. The Fugitoid stood beside them, his metal body unaffected by the cold.
"No. We're still waiting for Leatherhead," Leo said. Raph growled irritatedly, walking to the door to the lair and pacing impatiently.
"He'll be here, Raph. He wouldn't miss this," Leo said soothingly.
"He needs to hurry it up!"
"I could go get him?" Mikey suggested. "If I take my hoverboad, I can be there in –"
"I am sorry I am late!" came a deep voice from the doorway. Raph turned to see Leatherhead standing beside him, panting. He held something small between his big hands; they engulfed it almost completely, so it was hard to see exactly what the object was.
"It's okay, LH. No problem," Leo said, smiling gently. "We're glad you could come."
"I would not be anywhere else," Leatherhead said, nodding solemnly. Mikey nudged Raph teasingly, as Leatherhead confirmed what Leo had said only moments earlier.
"Can we go now?" asked Raph impatiently. Leo nodded.
"Oh – I nearly forgot! You guys go on ahead, I'll catch up," Leo said, turning back towards his room. Usagi nodded to Raph's fleeting expression of concern and immediately followed Leo out of the lair's heart.
Leo turned as the ronin followed him down the corridor.
"I'm fine. It'll only take a second," he said, once again using the confirmation he had become so accustomed to using.
"Then I will share that second with you," Usagi said. Leo smiled but did not speak as he opened the door to his room.
"I just needed this," he explained, lifting the photo frame from the bookshelf.
"I see. What is it…?" Usagi trailed off as Leo once again stroked it fondly and then handed it to his friend.
Usagi looked at the picture inside. It was a family portrait, a picture that looked as though it might have been taken two or three years previously. Leo had demanded they have one done, and the family had actually come together with something approaching acceptable expressions in this one. Normally, trying to get anybody but Mikey to smile for the camera was like pulling teeth.
"Don liked that one," Leo said softly. "It's one of my favourite shots of him."
Usagi examined the picture carefully. Don stood, both hands on his bo like an old sage grasping a walking stick. He was looking slightly up and to the left, in a rather thoughtful pose, as though while Leo had been fussing and posing them all he'd come up with a new idea for this, or a new plan for that, and was finalising details in his photographic memory. A gentle smile caressed his lips and he looked content.
"I like to think of him like that," Leo whispered. Usagi nodded in acknowledgement.
Leo looked rather like a proud parent at the back of the photo, a smile of satisfaction on his face. Raph was attempting to smile, but his frown gave him away and so it was more of a grimace. Mikey was being subtley distracted by something off to the right - you could see it in his eyes. Master Splinter sat at the very front between his sons, and he had a twinkle in his eye.
"This is for the memorial?" Usagi asked. Leo nodded.
"It is a bit dangerous, but we've chosen somewhere very secluded. No-one will find it."
"I trust your judgement, Leonardo-san," Usagi said, handing his friend back the photograph frame with both hands.
"It's a while since anybody's said that," Leo replied, gently poking fun at himself. Usagi smiled and allowed Leo to usher him out of the room while he closed the door behind him.
They caught up with the rest of the group quickly, but it was a good twenty minutes before they reached their destination. The memorial was deep down in the ground, somewhere en route to the now underground city of Itlintias. It had to be out of the way of prying eyes; in death as in life, they couldn't allow the World to know of their secret, and couldn't allow Don to tell it.
They saw the memorial from the light of their torches a hundred yards or so before they reached it. Usagi heard Leo's intake of breath as they did so and glanced up at his friend worriedly.
The boys had spent so long building this lasting memorial to their beloved brother. Don's body had been buried where none could be allowed to find it, so deeply in the caverns that it took a day and a half just to get to it. Though they had marked his grave, the family had been grieving so hard that they had been able to do little more than that at his funeral.
This way, they had a point they could come to more frequently, somewhere they could come to honour their brother as often as they liked.
As the group trudged quietly up to the memorial, it was clear exactly how much work the boys had put in.
It consisted of a wide, short wall, built with stones dug from the earth and that had been hand carved with words – some English, some Japanese. Each of the brothers had chosen something different to say. For Leo, it had been the poem 'Remember' by Christina Georgina Rossetti. For Raph, a simple epitaph, mourning the loss of his brother. For Mikey, it had been a longer epitaph – a letter to his brother, which had left his fingers blistered and bleeding. For Master Splinter, it had been a simple but powerful quote in Japanese from Miyamoto Musashi himself; 'Generally speaking, the way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death'.
There were other things; memories the brothers spoke of and relayed on the stones, quotes, random sentences – even sayings or actions they had made fun of Don for.
The stones contained a condensed version of Don's life, and tears filled April's eyes and fell uncountered as she read the brothers' dedications.
The group were silent, save for the odd sob or deep breath. Mikey cried without repose and Leo stood beside him, an arm around his shoulder. His own face was a mask of grief, but it was pure, honest grief – not the twisted unhealthy form of anguish he had been consumed by for the nine months immediately following his brother's death.
"Well… Anyone want to say something?" Raph said, his voice thin and infirm. Mikey looked up and said,
"Can I read my letter?"
"Knock yourself out, kid," Raph said, pleased that he had been given an excuse to stop speaking and could just be silent.
Mikey glanced at the memorial, but didn't need to look at it to read his letter. He knew it from memory; he had carved every letter of every word, and it was as engraved in his memory as it was on those stones.
He took a deep breath before he began, so that he might compose himself.
"You and me – we've always been different. When I would be watching TV or reading comic books, you'd be doing stuff in your lab – working on something. I'd get excited about a new action figure and you'd just roll your eyes. You'd make something new that you were all excited about, but I wouldn't know what it was or what it did. I probably wouldn't understand what you'd said about it either. When I cooked you'd come running, when you cooked I'd run away.
"But it didn't matter.
"Inside, we were the same.
"Knowing… Knowing that you're not gonna be in your lab anymore the next time I look, or leaving bits of gearbox all over the kitchen table, or being the voice of calm and reason when I'm scared – that hurts. It's like somebody took my heart out and left it somewhere – and then someone came along and stamped on it.
"When you died you left us like a car with only three wheels. We weren't much good for anything. We tried, but we were broken inside. Our engine was missing.
"You used to fix our engines, and now we have to fix them ourselves. It's hard, but we're getting there.
"Leo says it's a steep learning curve – but for a long time, he wasn't saying anything much that was good."
Leo averted his eyes in shame – Mikey hadn't meant to graze him with his words, but he nonetheless had. Mikey continued, not noticing Leo's mild distress.
"We miss you. Nothing's the same, and I'll always have a gap where you should be. I still look around the room and count four. I still cook for five.
"I might get used to how to count brothers again someday, but it won't be for a while.
"We love you. You may be gone, but you'll never be forgotten. What is it that Einstein used to say about energy? That matter could be destroyed and converted into it?
"Okay, you're right – I looked that up.
"But that means that if you're not 'matter' any more – are you energy?
"If you're energy, that means you could be sunlight, or a plant growing, or a flame.
"You could be around us now.
"And that… That would be okay. More than okay.
"It means that, although I miss you - I don't have to be without you.
"And hey, the next time I need to use my Shell Cell and forget to charge it, you'll help me out, right?
"Can you wait for me to catch up on the other side, bro? I don't know if I'll be able to find my way on my own.
"All my love, Mikey."
The last few words disappeared into Mikey's tears and it was Raphael who stood forward to pull him away from centre stage, and Leo who intercepted him and hugged him. He had given the photograph frame to Usagi to hold for him as he tended to his flock.
Master Splinter said nothing. He nodded in approval of his son's words, and tears rolled into his fur, matting it. Leatherhead stood forward at this point. Hesitantly, he reached out with his almighty hands and rested the small, round object he'd been carrying on the top of the memorial wall.
Leo looked at him quizzically. Only using the light of torches made it difficult to see with any accuracy, so Leo had no way of knowing what it was Leatherhead had left.
Leatherhead cast him a gentle smile, and clicked something on the orb. It suddenly emitted an intense light, bright enough to light two or three feet all around the memorial with ease.
"What is it?" Leo asked, mesmerised like a moth by a flame.
"Donatello and I were working on this before he… Before he passed on. It was something you would be able to throw into dark areas. It's designed to give three-hundred-and-sixty degree light, unlike a torch. It uses very little energy; it will run constantly down here for a nearly a week without you having to change the batteries."
"So we can leave Donny his own nightlight?" Raph asked. Leatherhead nodded.
"Thank you," said Leo, gently releasing Mikey and resting his hands on Leatherhead's massive arm. The turtles' immense friend just smiled.
Leo moved over to Usagi, who still held the photograph frame carefully. He took it from his friend and, one last time, absently rubbed the glass with his palm. He walked to the memorial wall slowly, flicking out the stand of the frame as he did so.
With a calm that belied his inner turmoil, he put the photo frame on the centre of the memorial wall, next to the light Leatherhead had left. It lit the picture beautifully.
As Leo stood back, April stepped forward to touch the memorial gently. She slid delicate fingers across the carvings, so lovingly and painstakingly entered across the face of the stones and as she did so, she slid an envelope beneath the photograph frame Leo had left.
"I know you were reading that over my shoulder as I was writing it, Don," she whispered, "but for my sake, read it again."
It was not a long ceremony – perhaps, in some ways, it could not be called a ceremony at all – but it was one that contained all the love and emotion it's attendees could muster. For a few minutes more they all continued to stand by it as they had done for the last half an hour. Then, without anyone having to speak, they drifted away, leaving the shrine alone but not unloved, lit softly by the kind light of the glowing orb.
Leo wrapped an arm around Mikey as he wept gently and thought about how far he'd come.
He wondered how far he'd have to go before he saw his lost brother again.
Thank you very much for reading to the end – I know it wasn't always an easy read! I hope you got some enjoyment from it:)
Hopefully I'll be back soon with more multi-parters (like the one I actually meant to release before this one ate my brain) that won't be swimming so deep in angst!
Once again, thank you for taking the time out of your busy lives to read my fic :)