Title-- Waking Up
Disclaimer-- fren don't own TMNT. Otherwise, there'd be overbearing amounts of favoritism towards Leonardo, and it'd be called I Love Leo, so, it'd be completely ridiculous.
Sum-- Leo doesn't dream about things he wants. For good reason. Casey x Leo? One-shot.


It's like being shaken from a daydream (Not that you're prone to drifting into your own virtual realities, but you at least remember what it was like being a young child, when it hadn't been all about focus.):

The box one's mind has trapped them in suddenly collapses, with it the video and surround sound, the last frame still playing. It's like turning away from the featured film and realizing it's still only a movie as the Fourth Wall ceases its hold; there's that lightning-fast shock of confusion before the real world phases back into place. Only this time, the confusion is lasting for longer, and instead of realizing you've woken up, you believe that you've only just fallen into reverie.

Because there's Donny--arms torn off leaving two wings of blood fanned against the floor in their stead, head pushed back too far with the neck bone popping out through the forced angle, and lungs pulled into freedom through his bleeding throat, now only small bags in the puddles of liquid--looking relieved but not completely at ease as he sighs down at you, a hand rested on the metal ledge of whatever you've just noticed yourself currently lying in.

And there's Mikey--face ripped away, hole through torso with guts and organs splattered on either side of his body, lain on his side, and blood blood blood all over, dark and jagged pieces of his broken shell scattered with clumps of muscle and flesh still attached--staring with his muscles still visibly tense and a tired smile on his face as he peers over Donny's shoulder, scratching away absent-mindedly at an itch on his stomach.

There's Raph--eyes torn out with one still hanging by a pink string amidst the congealing red, body forced apart as if his two legs were yanked until everything ripped in two, all the way up to his neck, spread out with guts and blood mixing in with Don's and Mikey's, and bright-colored insides on full display--giving you that familiar dark-hazel glare with his arms folded stiffly; he's scowling.

Here are your brothers. Dead.

Alive.

It can't be...

Mikey's saying your name. You haven't heard Mikey's voice in so long...

Alive.

Raph finishes speaking in that long-lost gruff voice--how long?

Alive.

Donny's placing a hesitant hand on your shoulder.

Twenty years.

Alive.

The sobs escape before you even know you're crying. Then, you're grabbing Donny's hand tightly and pulling your brother close. You reach out to reel in Raph as well, fat tears soaking through your mask and running clumsily down your face, and you're caught between bawling and laughing. Remember, though, that this is only a dream. And what you've learned is that dreams always end.

Mikey's approaching, now, drawn in by the scene, though he's moving slowly. Why not quickly, you don't know; you can't see anything too clearly with your watery eyes and you just tuck you head close to your baby brother's heart to hear it beating and you cry some more. The feeling only intensifies when you feel your brothers' arms around you.

"I missed you. So much."

You're shaking, but you don't care--maturity found through decades has taught you that pride never really mattered. Anything you had to be proud of was gone.

"I love you. I--"

It's the best dream you've ever had--not like the rest, the rest filled with blood and screams and everyone rightfully angry at you instead of holding you as you hold them--and you're expecting to wake up any moment and for these blissful laughs to melt away into the dead, normal melancholy.

"I'm sorry--for failing."

You can barely speak, but you force these words out; you have to--before it all ends, you have to tell them at least once, even if they're just temporary illusions. And you know, for once, they're actually listening to you when their grips on you tighten. In the back of your mind, without even looking, you know they're exchanging glances with one another, confused probably. A familiar, long-lost pride swells in your chest when you remember just how well you know--knew all of them--but you just cling to them and cling to the moment before you can be woken up.

Soon, you know from experience, two hands will reach out and shake you gently from this dream--this impossibly good, terribly good just a dream--because your sobs are probably loud and soon, too soon, Casey's--if only Casey could see this, but maybe he has and does, because Casey's always had better dreams than you--Casey's gonna wake up from them and turn over and wake you, too--not yet--NOT yet--you just want your brothers, if just for now--please, please--

The sobs hitch suddenly as you notice a fourth figure standing distanced from your cluster of arms and bodies. It's...that's...

There's Casey--grinning, hair pulled back into a scraggly tail, stubble shadowing his jaw and scars on his face that go with yours--

...Casey. Hair shaggy and loose, but not long enough. Face cleanly shaven and not marred at all. He's gazing back at you with wide eyes, shocked, and he looks uncomfortable, like a stranger witnessing an intimate family moment. This is Casey--would've rushed forward to grab you be there always there--from twenty years ago.

This, you might think later, was probably where the dream had ended and the nightmare began.

o-o-o-o-o

o-o-o-o-o

Things come to you in a blur, all like pictures with the details smudged away.

It's that in-between world, where and when everything's unclear and thoughts are like sand grains at mercy to the gusts of a windy day. You're not awake, but you're not completely unaware, either, and there's that hint of nausea to swallow along with everything else. You can't think like this, but you don't feel you need to--or want to. Just hide your face against Donny's chest and keep a firm hold on Raph and Mikey on either side of you and everything should be fine. Thinking...is too hard right now. So you don't.

(Especially not about the person driving the Battle Shell as you curl up within the walls that are your brothers.)

Everything is calm and tense at the same time, like that last moment when holding your breath underwater: your heart rattling, lungs pleading, but there's a numbness running along the rest of your body, telling it to be still--to reserve strength, maybe; your mind is blank and serene and filled and unfocused...and it knows that you're about to die.

This is how the ride passes. The only difference between situations would be that you can breathe (how sure are you about that?).

Suddenly, you're walking. Tripping, stumbling--but the grip attached to you adjusts and firms itself, and you don't fall; you're clinging back, you realize, and at that your strength withers again. At first you believe it's Raphael supporting your weight, but the nimble fingers and easy grasp tell you otherwise. It's Donny: "Just a little farther, bro. We're going home." Because Donny's always been good at this sort of thing.

The others aren't too far away (all of them, including Donatello, feel distant, though), and as jumbled as your thoughts are, you're able to at least notice that none of them are looking at you. They're uncomfortable. Don, who keeps his jaw just above your temple. Raph, who keeps his face rigidly out of view. Mikey, whose head sometimes tilts as if about to glance at your face, but then straightens again. And Casey, who is the farthest ahead. Your stomach is turning. Don readjusts his hands.

The scene decides to change again, and now you're in the lair. On the floor, against Michelangelo...

All the events are poorly stitched together, you realize. There are lapses, gaps, but that's the way of dreams. And as you look around, you still wonder when (terrified/hopeful) this one will end.

"My sons!"

You freeze up at the sudden voice. All too soon, the face (twisted into a snarl) is there as well.

"What has happened?"

He's there before you can think to move and your thoughts and instincts are spinning as panic rises in chest. You can only stare as your brothers are the ones to answer him; backwards, from what you can remember--you had always been the one to answer to him. Their explanations swirl into a hum of white noise and all you can see is your Sensei?FatherMasterSplinternomore--you killed him you killed him you killed him. All you can do is move as far away as you can, but the one behind you is more like a wall than a brother. You want your ninjaken. You press yourself harder against Mikey.

And then, the rat's hand goes to your shoulder, hard nails scraping and digging into skin and you want to scream. "Leonardo... You must be strong, for yourself and for us, as well."

The blade inches from your throat, your hands struggling against his as it lowered still. "Your brothers are dead because you failed in your duty to protect us, Leonardo. Why do you not seek redemption?"

You pull away with a wince, turning away from his hurt expression, towards Mikey's plastron.

Your brother's hands go on your back and you hear Don above, talking to your father--NOTMYFATHER--Sensei, then.

"All my sons are dead."

You're facing the old television set, now (cracked and broken and splattered with blood). Its screen shiny and mirroring the image behind you; a somewhat distorted version, but you can at least make out who's sitting where.

There's more talking now, but the noise is unsteady, like the buzz of an insect as it hovers around the room, near and then far and then near again. Still, pieces of it find holes in your mind to leak through.

"--some sort of machine--"
...all dark...
--just blinked?
...clanging so loud it hurt your ears.
--shaking--

Where you woke up, right?

"--Stockman--"
...grinning--mad--slamming it shut--
...lying in a crumpled mess with his machines battered and bludgeoned around him.
--blood on--bat...

The man responsible, wasn't he?

All of them are words that shouldn't matter anymore. Things that have already settled, that you've already moved past. You close your eyes. Skip over this part of the dream.

"Ah, r-right," Casey speaks up, then, through an accumulated silence. "If you guys need anything..."

When you open your eyes to the television, you see his reflection standing awkwardly. He exchanges a few unimportant words with your brothers--your family around you and with you and holding you--before moving away towards the lair entrance. The door opens. He glances at you--the back of you--for a moment... You watch his blackened, morphed reflection.

"I'M here, Leo! I'M still here! An'...I ain't goin' nowhere!"

The door shuts.

Your brothers--your brothers are here. They're with you, now. You're together. Everything's going to be all right again. You continue to stare at the family portrait portrayal on the blank screen.

They're so young. He's so young.

And you.

You're young, as well.

o-o-o-o-o

...Don't leave me alone.

Your...old self--your current self--might have been appalled.

Practically clinging to your brothers...
(And they're actually abiding. Because you're Leo. And you know that they haven't heard you ask for anything so self-indulgent like that since you were all children.)

Openly unperturbed by your clinging...
(You haven't seen Splinter since you first walked in.)

Feeling so languid--when was the last time you trained?--so unaware of everything around you.

You feel like you've traveled back in time, and this is the resulting jet lag.

You're still expecting all of it to just stop.

But days are continuing to saunter past in a haze. Your surroundings are beginning to seem more and more real...though, you still feel that if you tried hard enough, you'd be able to walk through them.

You're still expecting to wake up.

When you open your eyes, the first thing you notice is that you're sleeping on your stomach again.

The next thing taken in is the sun. Not as golden as early morning, but it's sunlight, and you're still hardly used to it--much less waking up to it. It warms and saddens you at the same time.

And then, there's the man next to you, sitting up against the headboard, bed hair uncaringly bunched into a lazy ponytail, reading glasses on his scarred and unshaven face, and a newspaper in his hands. He's turning the page now, crinkling the gray paper, and you have to-- ...You reach up and touch his bare shoulder.

He turns to you in surprise. You stare at him.

"Hey." He greets with a simple smile. "What up?"

You stare at him.

A mirror of yourself, almost--an image of what's happened. Aged evidence of the truth, something you'd been feeling detached from for the longest time now... But Casey's been there with you; an anchor from drifting too far.

Once upon a time, he used to be what seemed like just a human version of Raph. But now, you can make a list of every single difference between them. You're almost embarrassed of how you used to be.

In the back of your mind, you still think it's impossible. Unreal.

How a fairy-tale was made from a dystopia...

There's a chuckle and the sound of shifting paper. And when you look up, he's looking at you, putting the news aside.

"Leo."

He's always proven you wrong...

"Leo."

It's the second time your name has been said and you blink in the darkness, realizing your brother is awake.

You stare down at him, bewildered. "What?"

"Nothing. What's wrong?" Donny's rubbing his eyes, as he sits up, your arms brush and remain touching as he blinks at you.

"I..."

You glance around the room. Donny's room. There's a computer at the far wall, a bookshelf full of gadgets and large texts set on different respective levels, and all throughout the floor are tools and electronic trinkets, pushed aside to make a pathway to the bed... ...There...are no windows for the sunlight to dive through playfully, encouragingly. There is no use for windows underground. Just darkness. But it's nighttime anyway. And what have you ever needed the sun for?

"Nothing's wrong." Everything's perfect, now. Remember? "Why?"

The room falls mute and your gaze has dropped to your hands. You're missing a gash along the back of your right one. There used to be a bandage there (never good as Don's work but after many times of practice, the both of you began to learn; and it always helped that Casey bought a few books about first aid)... That was a long time ago, too.

"I like," Donny speaks quietly, easing you from your thoughts and straight into hard reality, "how you only tell the truth while you're asleep."

"Leo." Your brother's voice is kinder now. "No matter what he made you see while you were in there, we're all fine."

Are these the words you need to hear?

Not so much the words, but the voice... It's Donny.

"We're alive and you're okay, too. And you didn't fail us at all."

Why do you feel like you're failing?

Because, what you want is--

You greedilyguiltily slump closer to Don. What you've wanted is your brothers. And that's it. That's all. What you saw...experienced...whatever...

"It feels like forever ago." That's you whispering that. But you don't explain what exactly. That, to you, this is forever ago.

"A lot's happened," answers Donny with his ever-gentle/cautious/wary/tired/Why. Is. This. Happening? voice.

You're lucky it's dark. Otherwise, Don would've surely noticed that wince. "No, I mean... I was in there for so long."

Donatello goes strategically quiet after this, but what might have worked on Mikey or Raph doesn't set you off course as easily.

"How long, Donny?" you ask and succeed in sounding genuinely curious instead of how tense you really are. How long can a life be squashed into? A single year? Months?

The subtle strain in your brother's tone reveals that he's unsure on whether divulging the information will help or harm... "You were in there for probably...fifteen minutes, at most." ...but he tries to mask it to keep you oblivious, makes his answer sound light and casual.

You continue the same game. "Oh."

Oh.

o-o-o-o-o

"Oh, uh...hi, Leo."

You blink. Suddenly, you're in the middle of his apartment.

A moment is taken as your memory comes back in quick flashes. Sneaking from the lair (how did you manage that (...besides Master Splinter, you're the only who probably could.)?), leaping over rooftops, wind whistling and cold and you're too convinced that it's artificial somehow, finding Casey's apartment, window, floor, Casey walking into the room and finding his unexpected (uninvited) guest...

Oh.

"...Hi."

He's in a sleeveless, white undershirt and plaid boxers.

Behind him is the doorway to his room, tinted pale orange from street light. In day, it would've been the sun. If opened a little wider, you'd be able to see his bed. You had never paid attention before, but now you wish you had. You wonder if it's as you saw it while in those twenty years...fifteen minutes.

"Uh...," Casey's speaking again, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, "you need somethin'? Or...somethin'?"

...What do you want?

What you want is--

Your family is alive.

You move forward.

Even in the dim light you can see him tense up, see his hands flex for something to grab, see his eyes as they search for something to use--see him react as if you were going to attack him.

It's something you should be laughing at, and maybe something that should make you feel despair to as well. But you feel nothing, strangely. It's all just an illusion, isn't it? You're right in front of him, now; he's still tense, not knowing what to do. So you just stand there and wait for him to calm down. Until he no longer sees you as a threat. Then, you let your fingers slide up and clamp down on his upper arms, startling him.

"L-Leo?"

He's tangible.

That means he's real.

(...Does it?)

But what does that say about you?

Who says you're there at all--

"Don't move." (Don't go.)

Things tend to do that lately. Phase out and change abruptly.

He stills, bewildered. "W-Wha--?"

"Hold still for a second."

He swallows, still staring, before nodding slowly and letting his hands fall to his sides.

"...Thank you."

You're both breathing heavily, raggedly, slick with sweat and bleeding, bruised, and aching. Leaning on opposite walls, weapons still at hand. You dropped your ninjaken. Things were finally hitting you. You walk towards him. He watches through his white mask. They were gone. You reach up, grasp his arms in a vice that must've hurt--your dirty fingers brush against a cut on his bicep and he winces, but otherwise remains languid. They were dead.

He stands rigid and awkward, like he's trying to be a statue, limbs wooden. You can hear his heart pounding, feel the beat pulsing in his arms--

It's quick-paced. When you press your forehead against him, your breath quivers as it's released.

--the same arms that would fold around and crush you so that it hurt, whether he meant for it to or not--

It hurts, but it's real. He's like a furnace, but you're cold and frozen inside anyway. Do you still wish you had died with them?

His arms tighten around you.

It hurts...but at least it's there.

...Within the twenty farce years. Fifteen minutes, Donny told you. In reality, never.

When you let him go, Casey doesn't say anything, and you don't look him in the eye to show that you're expecting him to.

He remains standing like that even when you exit out through where you came in.

o-o-o-o-o

When you glance at the clock, only fifteen minutes--another twenty years?--have passed. That had been the third time you dazed out.

You inhale, looking around Mikey's room, trying to wake yourself up (--trying to wake up).

Slowly, the world is recapturing you. Cheap, stereo-spat music unearths itself, accompanied by exaggerated sounds of fighting. It's darker in the room--later in the day than you remember it being--but there are bright lights flashing from the television screen flickering pale aqua across each exposed surface; though many details are lost to the artificial twilight. Your little brother is sitting cross-legged on the floor, fingers on a wired controller. His place is within a crooked circle, clear of the mess of action figures and comics and notebooks, except for the bag of cheetos at his feet with a couple stray chips rolled out of the bag.

...Mikey has had many dreams; among them, many nightmares.

When you say his name, the word feels foreign and nostalgia-inducing on your tongue.

You haven't spoken it in... Ha.

Your brother's response isn't immediate. He casts a brief half-lidded side-glance at you, but then does a sharp double take as if just realizing that yes you actually did just speak to him. You shallowly wonder just how out-of-it you've been, and feel guilty about what a burden you're being.

The music mutes for a moment as the game is paused. Then, the controller's lightly thrown to the floor and Mikey's rotating about to face you, eager for conversation with you, with that wide, toothy grin flashing--the same one you've missed--the same one you have. Why is there still a problem?

"What's up, bro?"

"...Have you ever had a nightmare that...you kind of wished was true?"

And absent-mindedly, you think about what you might speak of in slumber. You wonder if your brothers discuss it among each other.

"No," Mikey grinds out, shaking his head slowly. His hands are curling into fists. "Never."

Now, you know they do. You cringe. "Mikey--"

"Do you...," Mikey's voice becomes strained, too packed with emotion and so heavy that he can't bring his eyes to meet yours. "Do you want us to be dead--?"

"No!"

Yes.

Yes?

"NO," you shout louder, horrified.

Mike's too caught up in his own emotions to be startled by the outburst. "Then what?" He doesn't notice you jumping slightly; you're rediscovering the conversation. "I...I'm trying to get it, Leo. I'm trying really hard, dude, I swear." His words are swelled and true, and so honest that it must hurt for him to say these things, but he's doing it anyway. "I... You were gone for only, like, half an hour, y'know? And you're...all different now. Why? Anything that happened in that container-thing was all fake. And you know that. So...why isn't everything just going back to normal?"

He's in pain. He's hating this as much as...as everyone else is, probably. He doesn't need this. He needs to keep smiling, keep laughing, and not worry about things like this. He needs for everything to be alright again...

He needs his big brother.

You reach up to grasp his arm--stay--but even if you didn't, you have a feeling (terrified/hopeful) that he won't fade away.

"...I'm sorry, Mikey, I--"

What?

You have your brothers, you have your father, you have them with you and trying to help you and wanting to help you. You don't want them dead, do you? You don't want them dead. You have what you've been wanting--all those nights spent crying into your palms (Casey's shoulder, still and warm and always there for you), whispering I wish this was all a bad dream... It was.

Everyone is alive; Casey is still here, even if he's not... ... ...Or... Are you willing to trade--?

MikeyNoNOImsorryMikeyI--

...What?

Your hand falls away from Mikey's arm.

"I'm sorry."

You back out of the room, scramble to your feet. And soon, you're away and Mike's voice is calling out to you, but you're ignoring it--you're--

You're sorry.

o-o-o-o-o

It's a kata; not the last one Splinter ever showed you, but one that you had caught him stepping in perfection to on a random night when you were younger (as you are now). And after that, you'd begun to mimic it thereafter in secret... You used to have so much trouble getting it right.

The kata is ridiculously advanced and exceedingly difficult, but you had been able to conquer it after endless practice, years of hard work, and training whenever free time had presented itself--

...You end up stumbling not even a fourth into it.

You catch momentum immediately, stubbornly, and begin hopping, preparing your legs for a larger spring; you leap up, swinging your feet upwards so that you're upside down, reach out and brace a palm against the stone column nearest to you. It's a maneuver that makes scaling buildings somewhat easier, and the fact that it made it harder for enemies to follow you was a plus, and even, it's fun to do--

Your palm scrapes against the column--your grip's gone--you're falling--

A loud crack rings against the walls of the dojo as your carapace slams into the ground.
Why?

Pain shoots through your limbs from your back, and another jolt fires off as you lurch forward to regain your footing.

It was all in the mind, wasn't it?

It's a flurry of constant attack, basically. Something you taught yourself, something you had to learn, for those situations when you couldn't stop to think and every blow had to count and matter. It was reserved for the constant occasion of being suddenly swarmed by the Foot, or caught in the range of whistling bullets and laser rays of Purple Dragon members, maybe/usually both at the same time or, on some counts, with neither.

Even if you hadn't physically done it, your mind must have been able to retain it all--

Your feet slide out from under you and you fall back against a weapon rack before being able to right your balance again. It and everything at rest on it crashes to the ground and the noise boils something in you, and you kick it before rushing forward to tackle down the weights a few feet away, and then spin around to stab both your ninjaken into the punching bag--and sand begins pouring out (it was a world once held together in firm form, yet if struck in the right way, all of it falls apart and easily scatters, no longer representing anything of what it once was).

You thrash another weapon rack and watch the blades and beams fly past you--across the room, rolling to the floor, scattering, some broken. Your arm muscles tense again, swords flicking upwards to slice--

"For a second, I thought Raph put on your mask for kicks and just went nutso."

The sound of that voice immediately reorganizes your senses, and you look up to see him--a younger him--the real him--walking slowly towards you.

"But I guess even you need to vent, huh?"

It's funny, you think. A lair of ninja trained to be fully aware of their surroundings, and enough clatter in the dojo to catch even Mikey's attention...yet Casey, who doesn't even live here--howwhen did he get here?--is the one to arrive on scene.

"Even you need to just let loose sometimes, Leo." His voice floated across the room, pushing away the darkness, finding you.

"I guess so," you respond lamely; belatedly you realize as your breath is calming already by the time you speak.

You sheath your swords and stand up fully as he comes to a stop in front of you, staring, watching, examining--or maybe just trying to. There's no light in his eyes, no realization or knowing, but Casey's not the bright type, anyway. He frowns, and then grimaces, and you know he was sent in here with a certain and precise plan to fulfill, but he seems to have trouble conforming to it.

And you smile because this is Casey. And Casey has always been, both in how you remember him and how you've come to remember him, without patience and with even less tact.

"Alright, Leo, I'm gonna cut right down to business here," he announces, carrying himself like a figure of authority. Probably the opposite of what he was instructed to do before being sent in... "You've been sayin' weird things, actin' funny... You come into my apartment in the middle o' the night an' do that whole bit..."

"I'll be sure to call next time."

The humor falls flat.

Casey's lips press together briefly before he speaks again.

"We wanna help, Leo," he says. "But you gotta talk to us, man."

By this time, you're silent and still. Your fists tighten and relax, but it's a sad distraction. There were things that had been ingrained into your mind before all this happened, and one of them is keeping your appearance calm and cool, even if it isn't how you feel at all. Casey gazes back, and takes the cue to continue.

"Your brothers were dead."

--and stepped into the wrecked, empty lair--

"You killed Splinter."

--shaking as you let your sword drop--

"And I was there."

"--I'M still here!--"

"That's what we know right now. What else, Leo?"

You tell him.

And then you leave. Quickly, because you've no desire to see his reaction.

And you hate how cliche it is, how cliche it sounds, because truly they're your own words from your own heart and said with your voice. They're your feelings. And...they're only your feelings.

"We were in love."

o-o-o-o-o

It had been when you were eleven, during the transition period from brother to leader.

The same time inwhich your relationship with Raph had transformed from inseparable to I'm better no I'M better teacher's pet hot-head shove punch jab kick tackle RAPHAEL LEONARDO YOU WILL BOTH SIT OUT FOR THE REMAINDER OF TRAINING AND GO TO BED WITHOUT SUPPER TONIGHT.

Raph fought, just like Raph had always fought for his way and his rights, but you took your leave silently and guiltily and fell asleep before your stomach could mourn the loss of a meal.

Even though it had been the dead of winter, the dream's sun was shining bright and soothing. You were in an alleyway, hidden in the shade, and there were people on the sidewalk in the sun and they were beckoning you. But their faces were blurred and discolored and you couldn't tell if they were friendly or not. In fear, you'd begun backing away, but then you bumped into something.

When you turned around, Raph was there grinning--not in the vicious he'd just picked up, but an actual warm grin--and he grabbed your hand, leading the way to the light.

Then, you'd woken up to the next day. Raphael was as brutal as he was angry, and the sting of his temper bore into you more than it ever would now that you had the warmth of his illusory grip still lingering on your fingers, and you retaliated by being as cold as you could towards him.

That had been the last time you'd ever dreamed of anything you actually wished for, dared to want that badly. Until now. Waking up with a slight chill, searching for the body that had always slept right there for the past twenty y--fifteen minutes--finding only empty space next to you on your bed too small to fit more than one. You let your hand rest on the edge, allowing the tangle of different emotions once again ghost over you, missing something you never really had.

You exhale.

"He's in the kitchen."

You jump, blankets shifting off your carapace as you jerk your head towards the voice. Raphael is leaning against the wall--he's alive--facing you, next to the half-open door. His arms are folded and his face is something you don't recognize on him. It's confused, it's bewildered, it's unsure, it's scared. It's...unguarded. Open. ...It's sad. It occurs to you that his voice is unusual as well, soft in volume and tone.

He pushes off the wall, turning to open the door a little wider so he can fit through it.

"You were sayin' 'is name."

His fingers slide away from the entrance frame just before the door handle's metal notch clicks into the nook of the threshold. His footsteps, which are usually lumbering and heavy and prominent, are now dragged and almost meek in nature, and they fade easily into the quiet of the outside.

You're still staring at the closed door, still processing what and how Raph spoke to you, and you wonder if that was a dream as well.

o-o-o-o-o

Casey is in the kitchen, just as Raph--dream or real--said he'd be (this may be the first time a dream has ever spoken truth to you). He looks up as you make your entrance, hands moving back from a steaming ceramic cup.

You fail at a smile. He supplies a worse attempt. Neither of you say a word on it, and awkwardly, hastily, he stands and grabs the cup and shoves aside the potential silence. "Ah, I got a-YEOWWW!"

The cup is for you, you realize as it falls to the ground and shatters into thick pieces on the floor. There's steam still flowing from the tea as it splatters across the tiling. Casey's cursing, shaking out his burnt hand. You step forward, reaching for the broken glass just as he crouches down to the mess. Your hand almost brushes his...

And he jerks backwards. You look up and he meets your gaze.

"I... Uh..." He swallows uncomfortably.

You wait.

Then, he's shaking his head, stepping away. "Dammit, Leo. I mean, can you blame a guy?"

You guess not and say as much. You reach down and pick the few shards from the ground, toss them in the garbage, grab a cloth, and wipe up the mess. He stares at you the whole time. Trying to figure you out. If he manages it, you plan to ask him to share the information with you. When the secret is revealed, hopefully this--you, him, the shame and guilt of wistful longings, the wistful longings themselves--will end.

When you toss the wet rag in the sink, he speaks again. Abruptly, like soda rushing from a shaken bottle barely opened.

"So, I--you--I mean, we...?"

The movement is slight, curt, and you were facing away from him, but you know he saw it clearly. You had nodded.

Silence falls inevitably, like the curtain over a ruined performance. This must be what happens between the actors. Between the ones who played their parts accordingly, and the one who messed it all up. You still don't remember what you're supposed to do next.

Casey looks incredibly uncomfortable with it all when you look at him. The view and mostly what it infers is not easy to swallow, so you let your graze drop down to your feet.

"Don't worry. I know it wasn't real."

(It still happened.)

Casey blinks, staring at you.

"It'll be fine. I'll just stop."

Now, you're just being ridiculous. And you're not even attempting to hide the ungraceful change. Even he knows.

"Hey, now... I don't want you to force yourself to do nothin', okay? You ain't gotta do me no favors... I mean...it'd be..."

"Convenient," you fill in; your head tilts slightly in question.

Casey looks up at you. "Ah...?"

"Appreciated," you try again, this time off the vowel sound given.

"No, no--you're gettin' the wrong idea here..."

You frown slightly at this. As memory serves, you had been getting the right one. It had been a ritual you hadn't noticed until now: whenever he couldn't find the right word, you were always the one to supply it. ...But, memory has become unreliable. You'll need to stop referring to it for a while.

"I...I just...want you to be happy?" His gaze drifts back to you awkwardly, and then he's shaking his head with a grimace. "Nonono--ah--jus' wait a sec..."

And you finally realize what he's trying to get at.

You laugh. You can't help it. It feels good--a warm release from your chest--and you realize that this is the first time you've laughed in a while. "You're trying to let me down easy."

He's taken aback. "I...? Well...um...I-I guess...I--" He shrugs, slumping. He looks exhausted. "I dunno what else to do here, Leo."

Your face is still smiling. "...Maybe we should just see what happens."

He's watching you now, mouth slightly agape. "Yeah. Yeah." Casey nods, and for once, looks happy as well. "...An'... and in time, things'll just...work out. We'll make it work out. We'll fix it."

You're blinking, staring into Casey's eyes once more. Young eyes.

Fix.

As if something were broken.

'Fix'.

As if something was wrong.

"Yeah."

You feel yourself moving, watching only your feet as they stumble backwards to support your weight as your body tilts away--away from the Young eyes that weren't Casey's, but truly were.

"Yeah," you repeat, confirming it.

"Leo?"

He steps forward, you step back. But you can't bring your gaze up to meet his. But it's not--it's fine--not broken--just, just--it's fine--because it was nothing. You're fine. Nothing. Twenty years...

His hand is suddenly only inches from touch and you flinch away, making him jump. Because it's not his hand, it's his, from twenty years ago--no, fifteen minutes. It never was anything.

You're close to the main entrance of the lair, you realize. Air. Air. Away. Away from this fixed realized broken--it's fine--you're fine, just need some air, it's nothing--he's walking towards you--

"Leo--"

Run. Leave. Move. Faster. Turning, stumbling, quickening, lifting.

Cold air. Leaping, jumping, climbing--

Until you're on a rooftop. So high, but how high is that? Thirty--forty feet underground, the walls of earth and rock and soil pressured and compacted around you... But you can at least breathe--(how sure are you about that?). It's hitting you, now, all at once in a giant sweep, and you feel your knees give way.

Because there hadn't been anything.

Nothing.

Twenty years.

Fifteen minutes.

Nothing.

Casey with a knowing smile, leaning down, probably to plant a kiss. "Leo."

Casey staring uneasily, reaching towards you--a friend's concern and nothing else. "Leo--"

"I'm fine," you say aloud, answering both echoes.

You can pretend that makes it easier for you to believe it's rain wetting your face as you peer into the clear, star-filled sky.

Maybe when you go to bed tonight, you'll be able to (hope to/terrified you just might) fall into a sleep so deep, it would mean waking up somewhere else again.


Dedication-- By the by...this was for Kay the Cricketed. (Luckily, she liked it :D!)