Three Months Later
By the midnight's moon drenched light, the gentle thrum of an engine pulsed through the trees overhead, the youngest tender leaves softening its echo and the crunch of gravel under tire until it idled and was silenced.
"Do you really think this is a good idea" said a voice softly in the night, ringing through the thick spring air peppered with the slamming of car doors. "Because if there's an ambush, I'm not exactly in fighting form."
"Aw, lighten up Donny, trust me, it'll be fine. That's the advantage of everyone thinkin' we're dead."
Donatello eyed the ground, his brother's arms slung around his shoulders. He refused to let his tension ease.
"Don't worry about it, Don" Raphael said, voice lowered to something like a whisper "If anything happens, I got your back."
With that, Raph pulled away and gave Don a wink and a playful jab. "That's what bros are for, ain't it?"
Donny couldn't help but smile, subconsciously rubbing the sore spot on his arm. "You're right. Thanks, Raph."
Raph nodded. "Anytime bro."
"Phewyyy! Smell that city air!" called Mikey from behind, voice carrying into the star-soaked sky. Letting the chill of it greedily fill his lungs, he swung down from the van's back seat. "It's good to be back! The country's way too quiet."
"No place's quiet when you're around, Mikey" Raph jeered, leaving Donny to himself, wistfully gazing at the stars.
"Aw, come on Raph. You can't say you don't miss it, you know, the action! The adventure! Man, I'm even starting to miss the Purple Dragons right about now."
"Yeah, don't get me started, Mikey. I been goin' through some serious skull bashin' withdrawal."
"Then why don't we move back?" he asked happily, stretching his shoulders from the long car ride. Once he shook free the stiffness, he bounced like a pogo stick on the balls of his feet, releasing pent-up energy. "I'm sure we could find a place if we tried. I'm so sick of that smelly old farmhouse. It's dark and boring and it doesn't even have cable. I have no idea what they're showing on anything other than local channels. All we get is crappy reality tv." he whined. "Being gone for three years doesn't help much either."
"Whatever, Mikey" Raph huffed, rolling his eyes at the living bundle of bouncing energy that was his little brother. But he knew no matter what he said or did, nothing would stop Mike when he got on a rant.
"We could find a place, you know, start new. We've done it before, and Bishop's dead now so we don't hafta worry about bein' found. It would be so easy. I have no idea what we're waiting around for living in that old dump!"
"Mikey!" Raph said through his teeth, grabbing hold of his brother's arm and anchoring his feet to the ground. Mikey's eyes grew wide as his brother turned him around to face the moonlit lake.
Then, Raph whispered in his ear. "Look at him."
"What?" he asked, confused, until his eyes found what they had been searching for.
By the water's edge, Donatello sat silently in the wet spring grass, knees hugged to his plastron. His head was bowed low as if his very shoulders bore the weight of all the heavens, pressing down on him from above.
"I don't think he's ready yet" Raph whispered slowly, quietly. "Someday he'll be ready, but not now. He needs some time ta think."
Slowly, Mikey nodded, unable to take his eyes off his hurting brother.
"He'll tell us when he's ready."
"When do you think that'll be?"
"I don't know."
Quickly, Mikey turned to face his brother, a sad smile spread across his face.
"Who cares about the city, Raph. The farmhouse is good enough for me!" he yelled, a little louder than necessary, his voice far too sugary sweet. But Raph knew the reason why. He was trying to make Don feel at least a little bit better about himself.
Lowering his voice, Mike stared back into his brother's eyes.
"Then why did you bring us here, anyways?"
Raphael smiled sadly. "You know where we are, Mike."
Mikey shook his head. "No! you wouldn't tell us! I thought it was supposed to be this big surprise." Mike looked around feeling unimpressed. "But you've really gotta work on your surprises, man. At the farmhouse we have way better scenery than this."
Raph shook his head. "No, didn't bring ya here for scenery, Mike."
"This is Kerry Lake, the lake we fell into after we came through the Time Portal" Don said softly from where he sat by the water's edge.
"Yeah, it is" Raph said "But that still ain't the reason. There's somethin' else. If ya want to know, close your eyes, Mike."
Mikey threw him a puzzled look. "No way" he whined "the minute I close my eyes you're gunna smack me or something."
Raph raised his hand in a show of surrender. "I ain't gunna touch you, I promise."
"Uh, ok…" Mikey said hesitantly, closing his eyes, but peeking through one for just a moment before he felt safe to leave them shut.
And he let the spring breeze sweep into him, feeling the crunch of gravel beneath his feet, the soft caress of grass. He could hear the gentle lapping of the water's edge and the breeze rustling through the trees.
And then, he knew.
"This is the place, isn't it?" he said slowly, opening his eyes but keeping them locked to the ground.
From behind, he could feel Raph nod.
With that, Mike sunk to his knees in the damp spring grass, running his fingers through its tender leaves, caressing the sacred earth.
This was holy land.
"Hey, bro" he said softly, feeling the kiss of grass between his fingers, his palms pressed against the dirt.
He could feel Don's hand upon his shoulder as he knelt beside him, eyes turned to the place where spirits called and warriors slept beneath the earth. For a while, they just sat there in silence, a wordless quiet that spoke volumes to their hearts. Raphael just stood and watched his brothers sit there, heads bowed down by the weight of the world.
When Mikey's glistening eyes looked up to him in the darkness, silent tears shone silver by the moonlight, they asked a question that need not be spoken with words.
Raph nodded once and drew his eyes away.
"We buried him here, right there, Mike. I knew when you closed your eyes you could feel 'im."
Mike nodded. "I felt him. I felt both of them." He turned back to his brother with bleary eyes. "They found each other, Raph."
He didn't answer, but he knew it was true.
Mikey felt Don's grip tighten on his shoulder.
Raph shuffled hesitantly, suddenly breaking the quiet. "Mike, I brought you guys out here for a reason."
For a moment, his eyes traced the plot of earth the young grass had reclaimed so quickly after the first thaw of snow. He tore his gaze away and turned for the van, leaving his brothers to ponder the lives of ghosts.
When he returned, he was carrying a swaddled bundle, wrapped beneath a rough, worn cloth. Kneeling before his brothers across the sacred plot of land, he lay the bundle upon the ground and unwrapped its tattered canvas.
Two katana shone brightly in the moonlight.
For a while, Mike and Don just stared at the purity of the metal, the silent arch of the blades their brother had held so dear.
"I thought you lost them in the battle."
Without taking his eyes away, Raphael nodded. "I did, but I found them again. They were buried in the snow when we found him. Sensei must have brought them here."
Drawing his gaze up with a weary sigh, he studied his little brother. "I'm sorry, Mike. I never meant to try and replace him."
Mikey looked away. Don's hand never left his shoulder, but he was crying softly now.
"I know. You were doing the best you could. You still are doing the best you can."
"I know I never'll replace him" he spoke into the midnight air "I know I'll never measure up to even half of what Leo or Splinter ever was, but that's not gunna stop me from tryin'."
He looked lovingly down to the swords. "I know they make you crazy, Mike. You said so yourself, and since there's nothin' of Leo really here, I thought I'd give 'im his swords back."
Mikey stared at the small shovel Raph had carried over with the wrapped katana. "Raph… you don't have to do this because of me… I know why you keep them."
Raph let the breath draw slowly from his lungs as he took in every detail of those sacred weapons in the same way he had studied Michelangelo the night he had almost lost him. He wanted to remember every piece of it, every chip and scar in the polished metal, every spot of wear on the tsuba, held by his brother's hand. He wanted to remember every battle they had ever fought, side-by-side until the day they were left abandoned, three long years ago.
Those swords, that awesome power they possessed within his brother's capable hands, saving him from the edge of death more times than he could count, more times than he could ever remember. And now, they had saved him in more ways than one.
With those swords, he felt like Leo was truly Fearless after all, and it only took one touch to feel it too.
"Mikey, can you it dig for me?" he said quietly, words tumbling out like one long exhale.
With what little strength he had left within his limbs and tearstains on his cheeks, Mikey gently passed his fingers over the katana blades, giving the cool metal one final caress before he could no more. Then finally, he reached for the shovel and began to dig.
It was a shallow hole, dug quietly over the faint outline of their father's grave, and bundled in its canvas swaddle, they placed the swords within, catching a small glint of starlight from beneath the tattered cloth before they were laid to rest beneath the earth, saved from the harshness of reality forever more.
It was where they belonged, not strapped to the back of another in some small attempt to raise the dead, to forever be wielded without that quality, without the skill they had deserved.
They were a part of him, not just a weapon, but a piece of Leo's soul folded deep within that metal. And now that fragment of his soul would lay and rest, endure the tale of time until eternity's end, and forever be entwined with the warrior that bore it so many eons ago, the boy, the man, the creature who gave his life for one billion strangers and saved the world with sacrifice in a time that was never meant to be his.
And once the earth had covered and consumed the blades under a thick blanket of sleep, three brothers knew this well. Two lives had been given for the sake of their own, two lives that lay waiting until one day they too found sleep beneath the blackened earth and were made whole again.
But life had just begun.
Three shadows in the night, they stood there broken, tattered, worn, but still, they were alive. And at that very moment, three shadows swore upon the tender grass of their father's grave that every sacrifice would be reclaimed, sown into their souls until they knew that they had not been made in vain.
Their brother and their sensei gave their lives for them, and now nothing could stop them from living, from breathing, from searching for the light.
And there they knelt, knowing all these things were truth spoken on the wind, and bowed to those who were left behind. Deeply, they pressed their foreheads to the dampness of the earth and let it breathe them in until they could no more.
Then they stood, knowing life still turned somewhere beyond this sacred land, beyond the darkness of the night.
They were three, a band of brothers worn by the winds of tides forever changed, creatures of the night born once again. Now, they were three and broken, but together they would always be whole, always to remember, never to forget.
And when those shadows turned and left, disappeared into the night, only words were left to linger, a prayer, a vow remained.
Abandon the shadow, prove the light.
A/N: I hope this ending has lived up to all of your expectations. I do have to say I am satisfied. It was sadder than originally planned, but in truth, it is easy to see the happiness that lies beneath it all.
I am a strong believer that death is not an end, but merely a beginning. It is only those who are left behind that suffer before realizing that no one is ever truly gone, no one is truly ever alone.
As you may have noticed, the last few chapters have portrayed Don in a slow downward spiral as he finally faces his inner demons. This and other matters will be addressed in the sequel titled Proving the Light, which will focus on the beginning of their new lives as three. If you wish for me to continue in this 'verse, please post something on my review board or feel free to pm me.
If you feel as though this fic should end as is, do not feel bad. Some things are better left untampered with.
If I do continue, I do promise Proving the Light will be a little less dark, but will still contain action and angst abound. So please, tell me if it is what you wish to happen. If it is an unpopular idea, I will not continue.
Thank you all for reading, and I hope you have enjoyed my story as much as I have enjoyed writing it for you. Thank you especially to my reviewers, who have helped ease my transition as a new writer. You all have begun to feel like my friends, my family, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.