Those Roads You Choose
"I do not think that all who chose wrong roads perish;
but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road."
Author's Note: This is actually a continuation off of the drabble set 'homunculus' that I wrote for Dark Leo. The idea haunted me, but the more plot-heavy aspect didn't translate to the stream-of-consciousness style of the drabbles. Hence, this story sprang into being.
Warning: Okay guys, we've got some torture in here along with a nice bit of darkness. I mean, it's dark turtle fanfiction, so you should expect some, but here's the warning you get, anyway. Violence. Torture. I mean it.
He wishes he could fiddle around in his brain and switch off everything he can't understand. Every single concept he can't explain and doesn't have an answer for, everything that doesn't fit neatly into his life. A flick of a switch and then wiped clean from memory. But since he's not a machine and he doesn't operate quite that efficiently, his memory operates like a sponge and takes in everything. And- here's the worst part- none of it goes away. All of the little pieces that don't fit, the oddities, trouble him when he has time to think.
"Taking care of each other is what we're all about." Michelangelo's words. He doesn't understand why a concept he finds so insensibly ridiculous has lodged itself in his brain, and why he can't disregard the words. They come back to him later, reminding him of brother's blood, and a helpless, voiceless plea he walked away from. There was no reason to fix things. There is no reason to fix things. There is nothing to fix.
His brother's voice reaches him a little way down the honeycombed hallway of their home, soft enough that he knows the loud-mouthed one is trying to keep from being overheard.
These rare moments of subterfuge usually mean that he's hiding something he doesn't want the others to steal from him, and he silently stalks toward the sound, intent on this discovery. There is little light in their stronghold- little of anything, in fact, and this abandoned huddle of empty rooms in the darkest place here.
"No, not that way," he hears as he draws nearer, tracking the sound effortlessly to one of the closet-sized spaces in this hallway. Not rooms at all, really, but pockets of space carved into the stone, one of the areas their science-minded brother didn't bother to better with his contraptions. He supposes there is something to be said about the solitude, but this particular brother he's following is not the type to relish it. His curiosity, sadly, is piqued by this strange behavior.
"Over here," persistently, the voice of his brother continues, directing whatever is with him. Possibly himself. He never seemed very stable in the past, "A littler closer-oh! Now, this way, this way. Not fast enough!" Along with the rough, nasal tones of the Orange One's voice, the rising and falling, teasing cadence as he speaks, he begins to hear something else. The whiny squeaking of metal against metal, and the whistling whir of activity. Sometimes he hears a soft bump, a hiss, an intake of breath.
The first shadowed glimpse of yellow, smudged with the grey-blue of shadow, brings him to his brother's hide-away spot. He sits there like a child, crouched in on himself as much as something of their size can manage. It's not a position he's personally tried to arrange himself into: crouched on his heels, knees sharply in the air, shoulders down as he watches the progress of something on the floor in fixed concentration. The thing scuttling about there like a composite crab looked like a moving collection of broken mechanical bits, like someone had torn apart a vacuum and an entire knife drawer and pieced them together to make this tiny, jaggedly malevolent creation.
His brother pokes at it, dodges as it scuttles too close. The little metal monstrosity seems to puzzle this over, its sensors glowing in the shadow and flicking blue and thoughtful red as it processes whatever input it's getting from this. He's reminded of lasers and dials and switches, of bio-fluid draining from his pod, and shudders.
As he watches, it slinks twitchily across the floor like a disjointed cockroach and sinks one of its spiked, needle-sharp claws into Orange One's hand, causing him to let out a muffled yelp and jerk back a bit before continuing to poke at the thing. It's like watching a moth fly repeatedly into a flame and never learn that the fire is painful.
"Just a little closer," his brother whispers to it, "No, almost got me. Now- no, missed again!"
He's not surprised that this one is fooling around when he should be helping him and the others prepare for yet another raid on their enemies. What surprises him is the quiet, the patience of the game (if this is what you would call it,) that Orange One is playing here. Without his normal flailing and posing and crazed bursts of laughter, he seems like a different creature altogether. And that angers him and unnerves him, he is not used to expecting depth of personality from his brothers, who he considers to be simulacrums, images of pre-existing things.
"Is this what you're wasting your time with?" he speaks from the shadows, startling Orange One into being stabbed again by the little metal 'toy', "Fooling around with some stupid machine when you should be with us getting prepared? I know you're the dumb one, but this," and he jerks a hand in a gesture towards the scene in front of him, the bot, the puncture marks on his brother's skin, the dark and hidden room, "Is a new low."
The thing skitters around at the prospect of a new victim and makes a move in his direction, a tiny predator on the move. Orange One snatches at it and draws it to his chest, where the thing makes attempts to stab at the too-hard plastron and his protectively folded arms. "You guys never need me around anyway," he says defensively, his voice hitching only once when a pincer stabs into his wrist, "You know, Big Red 'N Ugly just hangs out and grunts a lot, and you 'n Brainiac do all the planning."
"Whatever," he says, but he's got to admit that the dumb one has a point, "What's that thing?" He points at the machine wriggling in his brother's arms, "Some new present from Darius? Just put it out of our misery."
Orange One gives him a wary look, thinking about this answer for once, and then seems to decide on something. "Nah, it's mine." He sounds like he'd put up a fight to keep it, but this isn't something new. They all have to fight for what they can get- or had to, before he tried implementing that 'sharing' idea. It's not like they adhere to it, in any case. Not yet. They fight as much as they always did: about new things now, and some old.
Pure, malicious instinct tells him to snatch it away and break it. It's nothing Orange One can't live without, and there should be no illusions about what they have and haven't: they own nothing, they are owned. Even what they do have is property of Dunn, when their bodies can be controlled with a glance from him. For some reason he doesn't- just keeps staring as he awaits an explanation.
"Brainiac made it for me," he explains, adding to the list of surprises today. Purple One generally creates nothing unless it's needed. "It's-I thought I needed it," he added, looking…hesitant, uncertain. He recognizes it as the look he sometimes gets when a memory crawls, bone-deep, from his borrowed DNA. They crawl into his thoughts like threads of blue laced through a red cloth, entangled so inextricably that they feel uniquely his own. Another thing they can never truly possess, their own memories.
Orange One's eyes are weirdly reflective as he turns back to him, the faint sheen of iridescence chatoyant in the dim light. "I named it Klunk."
Some time later he thought the claws on the thing made sense, but he couldn't connect that thought with anything more concrete. As he sat and calculated the ways he could kill, the schemes needed to pull off this conclusion and end in that particular defeat, he wondered if these schemes were made of his own creation, his own thoughts, or merely borrowed from the original source.
In the earlier days, they stay in their bio-pods more often than not. It is something like mental torture to be completely aware, drifting in a sensation-free state, seeing nothing, hearing only faint whispers from the outside of their cells. His thoughts progress dreamily, an undisturbed stream of unfocused ponderings. Sometimes he dreams of places he's never been- can see them before his closed eyes as clearly as anything he's seen before. He sees clouds grey and dismal in an ancient sky, a world of a hundred years ago in all its darkness and neon lights. He sees blue, spacious heavens and lake water and feels the wounds of battle he has never fought on his flesh. It weaves, a water snake of memory, drifting in and out and sinking slowly into the depths of his mind. Those thoughts of places intermingle with the need, driving, overpowering, to leave and take up weapons. He feels the predator's rush for the kill, the razor edge of survival, the urge to destroy, and his body strains in response to this call.
Finally, the door slides open and the fluid rushes, sucked in through the grates at the bottom and leaving a slick residue on his skin like a thin coat of amniotic fluid. Light edges its way into his eyes, and he turns away from it, squinting from the too-harsh brightness that comes with life outside the pod. Voices mumble, more defined, sharper, than they sound when he's at rest.
"No," and he opens his eyes to view this new voice, "No, it won't do to have them as they are. I'm sure you understand." The speaker is probably large for a human, male, wide with fat and his face is lined with age. He has a distinctly contemptuous expression as he takes them in, and there's something objectifying about his eyes that makes him want to strike out at him. A growl escapes from low in the hollow of his throat, rasping against his breath.
"You see," the man says, his eyes flicking from him and to the hulking figure of Red One, "I don't believe they can be entirely trusted. They're simply savage beasts, after all: good for one purpose alone, and I don't want to fall prey to their programming. I'd like some preventative measures taken."
So he is dragged along with his brothers and strapped to a table, cold, a blinding light in his eyes and searing his vision, and they put something in him to make him still enough he can't feel his own breath. He can't move his eyes away from the light, can't shift his head from side to side, can't even make his fingers twitch even the slightest bit, no matter how much concentration he expends on the task. At first he thinks they mean to kill him, and he struggles inside his useless prison of a body- and then the creator brings out his scalpel, and he thinks it is much worse.
They cut him open at his temple, but he feels no pain. Something passes from the hands of the creator into his open skull, (his mind, they put something in his mind,) and it glints at the corner of his vision on the way in. Then he is resealed, he is healed and his skin melts back into place with the aid of the agent they inject him with later.
He doesn't even know what it was meant to do until Red One tries to attack their new master, and he is tossed away with a gesture. Now they can't even control this aspect of their lives.
"Perfect," the man, Darius Dunn, says with a chuckle as he examines the merchandise. "Now they are useful."
"Not like that," he says. Orange One pauses mid-strike, his weapons poised in the air above Red One's head. They've been squabbling over some small thing: not food, because he's enforced the idea that food must be shared or punishment will be had, but perhaps an insult thrown too close to the nerves, or just their natural tendency to drive towards a fight even when there are no real enemies to be seen. The weapons: (kalanga, war-maces of a far-off race called Kast'yans, he is told this not from Darius but from a passing weapons collector in the streets,) lower slowly and Orange One watches him, stepping away from Red One with his expression stating that he expects to be ambushed on both sides.
"You used that against Michelangelo," he says, "But he's too swift for it to work against him."
Orange One blinks, confused. "Uh, yeah. But he's not exactly turtle-sized, ya know?" he points to his brother, prone at his feet. It's not often he can triumph over Red One, and he's clearly irritated at this disruption. "Not really swift, either, if you get my drift." And it's just this kind of taunting that always gets him in trouble, because it gives Red One the time to catch his breath and reach up to flip him over, knocking him to his feet with a savage snarl, and then he is on him again, clawing, snarling, sending blow after blow. It is a graceless way of fighting, all power, all offense, all brutish tactics with no attempts to think about the way an opponent can turn strength against strength.
What he lacks in intelligence and speed, he makes up for in brute power and determined rage. Red One has enough drive to see him through a fight, but without the skills to back up his power, he is easily toppled. Orange One is agile, but easily distracted and vulnerable to a tag-team attack. He shows off too much, abandoning speed and efficiency for his games and gymnastic stunts. After fighting the turtles long enough to see their combat tactics and their style, he's able to piece together bits and pieces of rationalization, reasons for each failure.
He noticed it when he was in their home for the brief time it took to heal his wounds. Apart, he could see each of the turtles' as flawed, pathetic fighters, riddled with weaknesses, clumsy in some ways and overly-sentimental. It made him wonder, humiliated, how they could be so beaten by them each time, and he was blinded at first by their flaws-so much that he neglected to analyze their skills. It didn't show so much when he watched them train, not at first. It was more that he started catching on to their particular dynamic out-of-practice, when they were walking together, when they were fooling around in a way that he and his brothers never had the time to.
They didn't exactly move separately of each other, even when they were spaced out and clearly individually occupied in different activities. When they were in the neatly-packed group that they effortlessly fell into when they walked close together, it was like watching interconnecting pieces of gears move, circling each other in perfect equilibrium. Like they were more than just separate people: something he wasn't aware could be possible. Perhaps it can't in their group, with each of them at each others' throats out of sheer necessity. Or was it ever a necessity?
Red One stumbles over a kalanga and is once again at the mercy of his sibling, but this time when the weapon begins its downward path, he grabs it out of Orange One's hands and flings it aside to an outraged cry of "Hey!" and a surprised and mistrustful expression from his red-skinned brother on the floor. It's an odd tableau, he admits, the two of them frozen mid-combat, weaponless and open-mouthed, and him standing over them with nothing in his hands at all. They still look at him like he's about to pounce and make a killing strike.
"That won't be enough to defeat them," he tells them, pacing around them in a half-circle, getting dangerously close enough for one of them to swipe out at him, "Not like you- we are now. That was my first mistake. If we'd been stronger, we would have been able to take them out even if they had been prepared for us. The robot and the boy could have been dealt with using Brainiac's tech."
"You sayin' we're weak?" Red One growls and flails, swinging out with a leg aimed at his ankle. He doesn't let it connect, dodging and bringing his heel down into Red One's instep. He grinds it in, ignoring the groan of pain.
"You don't think you are?" he hisses, "Then why are we being defeated every time we show our faces? Luck only takes you so far- they've had a whole lifetime to prepare for an ambush! We've only had months! We have to start learning, or we'll end up as fodder for Darius's waste incinerators!" It's a fate they've all thought of more than once, a distant fear in a possible horizon: too many defeats, and they will cease to be useful property and be thought of as superfluous, a waste of food and energy. If they were machines, they'd be used for spare parts. Since they were flesh, and therefore worthless due to the lack of recyclable material: they'd be thrown out with the trash.
Orange One, for a mercy, doesn't argue. He doesn't agree, either, but sits there wide-eyed and blinking, like he is watching something new and a little dangerous.
His other brother snarls angrily and stands, knocking Orange One off of him. "I don't have the time to listen to your crap!" he snarls at him, teeth bared, and he does have an impressive set of teeth. His mouth stretches out at the corners to show his canines, sharp as shark teeth, ridged and lethal, and jumps at him. It's the same primal fury he displays in every fight they're in, his punches motoring out in frantic succession, swiping his massive false fore claws in an attempt to tear at his flesh.
He wouldn't call it easy to dodge him, exactly. Not this brother with the strength of a falling building (mountain, he thinks nostalgically, giant rock, boulders and massiveness), but he knows the pattern now and works within it, shifting inside the blows and matching his speed. Purple One is also good at this- perhaps even better at reading the flow of a fight by watching the opponent's style and technique. He thinks of the danger in that and also the possibilities as he lashes out quickly, sliding underneath Red One's massive fist, and kicks him directly in the forehead. Not hard enough to concuss or cause brain damage, (a thought that amuses him briefly), but more than enough to stun him.
His brother grunts and sways dizzily, sinking to the floor with two loud thumps as his knees, then his fists hit the hard stone. One down, he turns to Orange One, who has retrieved his kalanga from where he threw them earlier, and looks poised between fight or flight.
He makes the decision for him and charges.
A brief second away from fleeing, his brother changes his mind and rushes to meet him, a flurry of motion in a blur of yellow skin and metal. Swinging his weapons above his head, he momentarily abandons his gymnastics in favor of pure speed. In the seconds before they clash, he thinks that with enough training, if he can hammer out all of that buffoonery, this one could be worth something. Or he could be useless, but the point of this is the attempt, the drive to make something different of this. Of change.
They meet in a tangle of blows, weapons, and fists.
"Like that," he says approvingly, dodging the first strike enough that it only catches him a glancing blow on the shoulder. Blood wells up, stinging as the fresh air hits the wound, and the second blow catches him straight on the underside of his jaw. The impact strikes bone and his eyes slam into black for a second as the pain hits like an exploding star, and he loses control to the ensuing burst of anger. Rushing forward, he gives one sweeping, backhanded shove, pushing his brother back a few paces and tumbling him to the ground.
There's a thin, metal-copper taste in his mouth and he hasn't broken a sweat and this is new, and he wants more of it.
Orange One scoots back, arms over his head in an instinctive and protective gesture of surrender. When he doesn't use his advantage to grind his brother's face into the floor, he backs away even more and exchanges a wary look with Red One.
It's clear from the expressions on their faces that they expect he's completely lost it, like they're waiting for the floor to give way underneath him or for him to finish playing and attack them for real. None of them have ever pulled their punches before, and the unexpected makes them cautious. A sudden flash of insight makes him wonder if they've been waiting for this ever since he split his food with them, a return to the status quo and no more trying to 'make nice.' They've shown it in their nervously edged comments about him being brainwashed by the turtles, or the way they edge around him in confusion when he touches the leaves of the bonsai tree he brought back. He has no explanations to offer to these two, the simpleminded ones, that they could understand.
He growls impatiently at them when they continue to hang back. "Well, come on. Don't just leave me waiting for you morons."
"Hey, don't blame us for not being totally froot-loops," Orange One speaks up, and his weapons spin nervously as he speaks- a habit when he's worried or afraid, "I'm not leaping for you, come on. I'm not that dumb."
"You're an even bigger moron than I took you for if you're not trying to improve," he snaps, turning on him with a ferocity that makes him jolt to his feet and into a fighting stance, "You'll just end up getting your tail kicked in by the turtles, and we all know what that'll lead to! You have nothing to lose, so why not just do as I say?"
Red One, who has been watching this the whole time, finally lets out the low rumble that is a growl for him, "Yeah," he grinds out, "Well, we all remember what happened the last time we all did whatcha said."
His brother gives the impression that he's holding the dam on an entire tidal wave of anger, and the effort there is a sign that he's learned at least something about self-control. He blames all of the aborted attempts at murdering Darius, all ending with him being dismissively tossed aside with a gesture of his hand…or having Darius snatch him up like an insect and beat him with a savagery that reflects the ill mood their master is always in. Darius doesn't have to worry about damaging or even breaking them, not with the healing vats always active and ready.
His brother keeps the awareness that punishment could come from any unexpected direction and still defies him anyway. It's probably to be considered a sign of strength, but he's too angered at it to consider it anything but an annoyance.
When he speaks, his words come out in sibilants, a hiss. "I remember that you were easily beaten away by only the turtles and that boy's robot nanny."
"Yeah, well, I remember you were the one givin' the orders to move out!" snarls his brother, "And you're crazy to think I'm gonna follow you again. I only followed ya the first time because there wasn't no other way! From now own, make your plans on your own!" He throws that last sentence like a gauntlet at his feet, a feeble challenge of authority. It's a wasted effort and they all know it- Red One was conceptualized and created as a mere tool, the perfect battering ram and not much else.
Self-sufficiency is a dangerous trait to allow a weapon to have to begin with, and this brother was not considered important enough to warrant any beyond the most basic survival skills. Leadership, even the most superficial kind, is far beyond Red One's capabilities; as impossible for him as breathing water or flying through stone.
So he says nothing to remind him of what he must already know, just stares until he finally backs down with a graceless jerk of his head and another low growl.
"It'll help," he repeats forcefully, and there's something important about needing them to agree to this that he doesn't quite understand. It's not like consent has ever been an issue for any of them before: you took what you wanted and the winner was the strongest. But there weren't any hinged, attached movements with them, no comfortable symmetry of posture and position, and that seemed to be a crucial piece of the puzzle that was the turtles' strength.
They leave, Orange One slowly, almost consideringly, (he tells himself that this is because the fighting is a game, and now it looks like it will have two players,) and Red One with a glare thrown over his shoulder that sends its message loud and clear: 'I don't trust you.' It's one he's used to. None of them have ever trusted either farther than they can throw each other. Red One can throw far, but he can't ever catch anyone in his slow hands, and so he trusts the least out of all of them.
He tells himself there will be time later, but the thought 'I don't trust you' burns like the blast to his chest, searing through muscle and crushing his insides. (heart, he thinks, doesn't know why.)
Their first mission was an utter failure because of a stupid child with some fancy toys, and it stung more than he thought it would…mostly because he thought they wouldn't have to deal with any possibilities of them losing. This thought is clearly not shared by Darius, who looks displeased and yet unsurprised, as though he hadn't had the highest hopes of them succeeding to begin with. That realization makes him bristle, makes his insides burn and tangle up- winning is supposed to be an inevitability, not a gamble.
"I think I'll keep you," Darius tells them musingly, calculating the positives and negatives of this decision. "You might have failed on your first attempt, but I'm sure you have some uses as distractions. In the meantime, I think you need a little extra incentive to ensure a job well done."
He beckons them to follow him down one of the labyrinthine halls of their home, and they follow. Not because they entirely trust him, but because they can't fathom doing anything else. They are still new in their lives and their one constant, the rock to cling to when all other choices break down, is: 'Obey the master without question.' The master has changed, but the rule remains ingrained enough to be a part of them. However, they don't expect their master to never lead them into harm or danger. It is why what happens after doesn't come as a surprise.
Upon entering the room, thick ropes of venerin plastic, supple as clay when manipulated into motion by the right currents of energy, and solidly rigid when locked into place, twist around their bodies in a binding grip. Their legs are locked together, their arms lashed to their sides, and they drop motionless to the ground as the last tendrils wind their way around their beaks, thin as wire, and lash them shut. Struggling and cursing , they are lifted into the air by Darius's mechanical doppelganger and set onto large operating tables. The ropes fuse to the sides and they are trapped and helpless and on their backs, their necks straining from the uncomfortable position and their instincts screaming at them to move, to flip over. He hears one of his brothers make a sound like a whine, low in his throat. He suspects it to be Orange One.
"When I am done here," Darius tells them slowly, "I want you to engrave this pain into your tiny, reptile brains. Recall what happens when you fail me again."
By now, pain is not new to them, but this is not the quick-to-crest, slow and enduring, fading aches of battle. This is a brutal burst of lightning through his body, shaking him apart and straining his muscles so it feels he might rip himself open from his own spasms. It arcs through him, rushing like a turbulent current and freezing every piece of him into hard tenseness, his body shattering and dying and screaming until it all stops, pauses, and savagely takes hold of him again.
Every once in a while, his eyes catch sight of gritted teeth, raised tendons, he hears the muffled screams of his brothers as they are rocked in their own cradles of misery. He's unable to break free and flail, kick out, fight the pain. The bonds lock him down and keep him from moving, trap every razor-sharp lance of agony inside him until he can't bear it and screams, and screams, and then the pain stops so abruptly that he is still shaking even after it ends.
He is the last one to break. Purple One never does. He thrashes on his table for hours without making a single sound, his eyes narrowed and blood trickling and then pouring out of his mouth, his fingers digging deep into his own skin.
"How much pain can you take?" Darius asks, and it sounds like a polite and earnest question. He lays a hand on his brother's skin and he doesn't realize the glove the man's wearing is of heated metal until he hears the sizzle and smells, acrid and sweet at once, burning flesh. The man trails that hand slowly over Purple One's shoulders, down his arms, and he turns away from the look he sees in his brother's eyes: frosted-over and hotter than metal could ever become.
The skin touched by the metal goes dark and pink-mottled, and he hears his brother's breath turn to labored wheezes.
"How much?" Darius asks softly. He looks fascinated.
Purple One stops moving when those hands reach the base of his tail, his whole body slumping limply. When the man's hands move away, the flesh left behind is wetly-red, raw and charred. Darius removes his gloves with careful precision and a look of aristocratic contempt, his hands delicate enough with his various torture equipment that he might as well be handling china cups or fragile glass instruments. Not a glance is spared for the body he has just finished tormenting. "Take that trash to the healing vats," he commands him, "I have more important matters to deal with now."
His brother hadn't screamed.
The vat is open, steaming and a deep, murky green. When the liquid touches his brother's skin as he lowers him down, his eyes snap open. They're clear and conscious, and he stares at him without making a word. The liquid closes over Purple One's head and still-open eyes, making a clear mask of clouded green, and for the first time in his life he feels his stomach twist in nausea. Feels the acid rush to his throat.
After half an hour of vomiting, he still feels the bonds on his wrists, on his legs, and smells burning skin.
The tree is a strange thing to present him with. It might be his curiosity that made him snatch it from the table.
He wonders if the old rat realizes the irony of using this plant as a prop for his speech about creation, or if it was merely an accident that he happened to be tending the thing when he spoke to him. He wonders if it really occurred to Leonardo when he presented it to him, or if that was meant as an act of altruism, a plea for him to do this strange concept of 'good'. He doesn't see it as an act of creation. It's a natural thing made unnatural by tampering, twisted to the desires of the person who grooms and maintains it. The irony of that isn't lost on him, at least.
It withers when he first brings it underground, shrinking into itself for lack of nutrients. Plants need air, sun, and water. He has only two, and the air itself is suspect when they aren't in a high carbon dioxide-level area. They maintain the air content inside the lair, but the fact that they still need their enviro packs inside is telling of the quality of that maintenance system. Still, he moves it to a small room and sloshes water into the bowl. He brings a sun lamp into the room and spends a few days adjusting it so it doesn't overheat the fragile leaves.
Still, the thing refuses to respond to his attempts to keep it alive. He supposes he's always been better at destroying.
"It'll die, you know."
When he hears the soft, dry scrape of skin against stone, he doesn't move or respond to Purple One's voice. His shoulders stiffen in silent acknowledgement.
"This place isn't built to be a greenhouse," the words come out like acid, sharp and sneering, "Or a nursery. What's the point expending all of that effort and energy into this particular exercise in futility? It's not like you, Fearless Leader."
"Just shut up and mind your own damn business," he snaps, turning on him with a vicious twist of his lips. He thinks his brother came here for a fight, but when he turns to watch him, he's just leaning indolently against the doorframe with his arms crossed and head cocked to one side in mild interest. It's an insultingly casual pose, and when he, too late, catches the smirk at his reaction to it he realizes that it's meant to be.
"Don't get overly excited," Purple One says dismissively, "I'm simply pointing out an obvious fact. This room is just not equipped for the cultivation of something as delicate as that thing," his voice dips down on 'that', indicating his immense distaste for the whole thing, "You should throw it in the trash where it belongs. Of all the things you could have swiped from the technological goldmine the turtles reside at, I'm amazed that you chose something so spectacularly useless. Does it have some special value for you?"
That mocking tone makes him want to reach out and choke the smile off his face.
"Of course not." His skin feels prickly, itchy, and the room feels smaller. That last remark hit a little too close for comfort, because he doesn't even know himself why he's trying to keep the damn thing alive. Maybe he shouldn't. He thinks maybe he will let it die in the dark here, slowly, leaves curling in like the legs of dead spiders. Or he'll pitch it into the open incinerator and watch it die all in one go, consumed by brightness and heat, immolated in less than a second. He's thrown one of the giant water-spiders into it to see what it looked like and heard its insides flash-boil and scream out of its burning chitin shell. He doesn't think the plant will make a single sound as it burns.
When he turns back to the bonsai tree on its table to keep from watching his brother, (infuriating), his mind dredges up some more half-known nonsense, something about going gentle into a good night. Yet another useless gift from his well-meaning DNA donor, another thing he can't understand. Beneath his hand, the metal cup he uses to transport water to the bonsai tree slowly dents inward, bending to his grip. Somehow he keeps from tossing it across the room.
"I think your time among the turtles has changed you, brother," Purple One says. His eyes are penetrative, taking pieces from his conscious and laying him bare, "Is it Leonardo's constant preaching that's made you so confused? As his genetic superior, you should be far above such pathetic attempts at manipulation. His ideals just don't apply to us, and neither does the way they operate. A team made up of individually weak creatures will inevitably crumble once it is broken apart."
The glance his brother shoots at him is pointed. It means: 'I know what you're doing.'
It means: 'And you're a fool to try.'
He lets the look slide past him like air from an opened door, and gets to his feet.
"Do you understand what I'm saying?" Purple One asks, "There's really no need for you to play your childish make-believe Happy Family games with us. Stop playing house with the other two, like they're puppets to re-enact your silly fantasies with, and come up with something useful. You can do useful, right?"
The punch is thrown before he even realizes that he's moved, but apparently his brother was expecting something of the sort and dodges out of the way. He's not as nimble as Orange One, but dodging an anticipated blow doesn't require his kind of dexterity. His fist hits the doorframe with a solid thunk and a crumbling of stone, and his brother makes a sound close to a chuckle. A little darker, a little deeper in the throat.
"Shut up," he told him, "You want another plan? Fine. But have fun trying to get the other two bumbling idiots to stick to it. It was hard enough the first time, and now that we failed again, it's damn near impossible. Nothing wrong with wanting some obedience if it's practical."
"And of course, that's all this is," Purple One says, injecting so much amused disbelief in his tone that it's almost palpable, "A lesson in practicality." His gaze travels to the tree, sitting in the corner and dying under the sunlamp.
Ignoring the unspoken question, he turns and leaves the room.
He doesn't bother to say anything because it should be obvious, right? That's all this is.
It's some time later- they don't keep track of days anymore when they've gone underground, and all time blends into itself. Enough time for it to feel long, not enough time for it to be too late for them, and he's practicing with his swords in a tucked-away corner of their lair. The blades weave in a calming, predictable pattern, completely controlled. He feels the heavy, balanced swing, the momentum and movements of the swords, and it calms him down. Almost hypnotizing in how much it makes him feel, for once, tranquil.
Which is possibly why he doesn't notice the extra person in the room until it clears its throat in a very definite way, informing him that there is the presence of a throat, and therefore another body here in this room. It's too polite for Red One, whose usual form is address is a blunt: "Hey, jackass/jerkface/whichever insult he happens to be using at this point," and Purple One typically makes a statement of some kind, dropping his words like stones into the undisturbed silence. It's just that this is a rather subtle entrance for the other one, and he is actually surprised when he turns to see that it is, indeed, him.
He doesn't sheath his weapons when he turns around. "What?"
Orange One answers him quite neatly by flinging one of his kalanga directly at his head with breathtaking accuracy.
He probably thinks breathtaking merely because the unexpected blow to the head makes him forget to breathe for a few seconds because of the blinding pain. The rush, the vivid bloom of pain wears off, and he's halfway across the room with his sword out and swinging before Orange One has a chance to dodge his incoming blow, a vicious backhanded swing to the chest with the flat of his blade. Since it's a bludgeoning weapon, meant for hacking and breaking bone, the force of the blow is enough to make his brother stumble backwards.
He's on him before he even hits the ground, knocking aside the other kalanga with his shorter sword and pressing the sharp edge to his throat. "What the hell was that for?" he roars, "Do you want to die?" Pain throbs in his head, fogging his thought with headache red and making him snarl and press the sword's edge closer.
"Hey, I thought we were attacking people for no reason this week!" Orange One replies, trying not to move too much against the blade. Blood trickles down his neck, the movement of his throat when he speaks is enough to push it next to the edge of the weapon and slice into the skin, making paper cut-thin wounds. "Isn't that what you were, like, ranting about yesterday? You said we're attacking each other! What the heck's your problem? I knew you were on space drugs! I knew it!"
That's unexpected enough for him to ease back, just a little. "What?"
"Uh, I thought you said something about that. You know? A while ago? Attacking people? Getting strong? And you cut my neck! Why would you cut my neck? You're crazy! You're a sword vampire! You're out for my blood!"
"Shut up," he tells him, very firmly, "You're making no sense and I still want to kill you." His brother whines again and his head hurts just dealing with this, and he is very much inclined to commit fratricide.
To make the point clear, he replaces his blade so that it once again rests against his throat, and tries to piece through all the incoherent ramblings for some snippet of sense that will spare him the inconvenience of beating the daylights out of Orange One for this transgression. Since this outcome is looking more enjoyable every second he sits there and listens to his brother grumble under his breath as if he can't hear every single miserable word leaking out of his stupid mouth, he's not given much incentive to concentrate. When he's just about ready to rip the oversized tongue from Orange One's miserable head, it finally becomes clear. And he's stunned, frankly, and not only because out of all of his brothers, it's this one who has made this decision.
Orange One seems to notice the comprehension in his eyes, because he wriggles underneath him slightly, just enough to free his hand and lift the blade away. "Does this mean I get to keep my head?" he asks.
He punches him and smirks at the loud, whining cry.
"Now you do."
So, it's not much of a start, but it is one. He's beginning to think it's the best he can hope for.
The term he probably should use is 'sparring', but he doesn't know what to call this, with the both of them trying very earnestly to beat each other into broken-boned oblivion, and holding back on the most crucial blows. Mostly holding back, this is new enough that they slip and forget to hold, and press when their opponent isn't ready. Too many times, he swings out like so and feels the impact of his sword against his brother's body and hears the splintering crack of a bone break. Sees a chunk of shell fly and the severed blood vessels gush, and it's all he can do to rush him to the vats, and all the while with Red One staring at him like this is some elaborate assassination attempt. Orange One nearly pulverizes his leg and he almost slices open an artery and it's business as usual for them.
The stupid thing is that he really doesn't know if this is making him stronger, or making Orange One any better at dodging attacks other than his own. He just think it feels natural, even normal.
Red One slides past them with dark, distrustful eyes and he wants to strike at him in any way he can and try to force him into being sensible. Purple One is a lost cause, openly mocking them at any turn, tripping them up on purpose and when he's not looking, watching narrow-eyed and calculating from the shadows. Red One, though, has a bloodlust in him that could be soothed with this- instead, he takes his rage out on the walls and any helpless, inanimate victim he can foist his inner monsters upon. This could make him better, more balanced, stronger. He tries to explain this to him while simultaneously attempting not to beat understanding into him and cow him with violence.
"All I see is you guys tryin' to kill each other," he says, pulling his mouth into a grimace, "Nothing strong about that. You tryin' to beat the idiot every day isn't my business- not gonna let you do it to me, either."
He doesn't know how to tell him that maybe the fighting isn't the point of this, but he doesn't think it's a good idea to tell him. There's no good way to say he doesn't have any answers himself.
This is the plan, and he only has to wait until they fall for the bait. But seeing these turtles and hearing them talk to each other is like seeing his brothers from a long way away on the other side of a very dark tunnel, and he flinches away from the light. He doesn't want to think of them like that. This is the enemy base, he tolerates their false, superficial kindness only long enough to ensure their demise, and there are no connections between him and them. Not even when Leonardo echoes some of what he thinks in a way that makes a cold finger brush up his spine.
Raphael catches him watching and his eyes narrow to slits. "He's waiting for the right moment at attack. I told you guys, we shouldn't let that thing stay here wit' us. It's askin' for trouble! Put him in a cage at the Peacekeepers' place where he belongs!"
Against his conscious will, he thinks that his 'Raph' is convinced of harm coming from every direction, too. He wonders if this is programmed in the genes.
When Purple One walks into his room holding something round and metallic in his arms as he's checking the bonsai for problems, he doesn't so much as turn around.
"And how's your pet project doing today?" Purple One asks him snidely,
The tree's leaves are green again, tiny and firm with a waxy sheen. It's even starting to get bushier and top-heavy, branches stretching out and reaching for the artificial light of the sun lamp. He doesn't actually move all that much to face his brother, just cranes his neck around and peers over his own shell, turning his body just enough so he gets a good view. It's important to keep an eye out for any sudden movements, especially from this one.
"What do you want?" he asks without any preamble.
Purple One snorts, and he can't tell if it's from irritation or amusement. "So suspicious. It's really very sad. Have I raised a single finger against you lately, especially when you were all but courting death or extreme injury with our moronic sibling? I'd say siblings, because you certainly tried hard enough, but you only managed to sway one. It's too bad that the other moron doesn't take too well to you. He's grown tired of your many failures in the past, perhaps?"
"Say what you want and get out," he snaps. He's never had patience for these subtle word games his brother weaves, the way he toys with him like a cat would its prey. (he suddenly thinks of klunk, the machine, traces nonexistent connections,) It's grinding on his nerves like sandpaper against delicate skin, and he wants this done. Wants whatever it is that makes him poke and prod and torture out of his brother, bled right through his skin…but then, that drive towards maliciousness might be as necessary as his need to take in air, and his own need to fight and drive towards perfection in any way: even if it takes him over the dead bodies of those in his way.
"I don't see why I should have to say anything in particular. But, as a matter of fact, there was a matter I wanted to discuss with you..."
"Of course there is."
"Why," Purple One asks, his tone getting low and sharp, "Why exactly are you wasting all of our time, including your own, by continuing this idiotic behavior? You spend hours each day doing nothing but fighting- incompetently, I might add, and damaging either yourself or the nimrod. Meanwhile, you still have yet to think up a suitable strategy to take down our enemies, and have been practically ignoring my own."
He glares. "I told you that your machine wouldn't work against their security precautions. And now that we've successfully infiltrated once, they won't be so easy to break into again. They already have upped security since Darius tried to attack the kid and got kicked out, but they'll have even higher measures with the last plan that we attempted. There's no way an attempt to shut down their technology would work. I mean, you don't even know how it works."
"Yes," and here he sounds venomous enough to strike him and send poison dripping into his veins, "And I can't begin to tell you how useful you've been since you informed me of that. Why is this so monumentally important to you? Why is wasting days of our precious allotted time to-to jump about with our brothers and attempt to form some kind of-of bond so very important? Have those turtles completely rotted your brain? Have you gone insane? Did that blast manage to damage more than the organs in your chest? Your sentimental foolishness is going to get all of us killed!"
This is supposed to be the part where he assures him that he has a plan, that he will destroy those eyesores and gain them their lives (for the time) and that bastard Darius will finally, finally stop looking at them like they're trash and begin to give them some kind of (respect? For his slaves?) acknowledgement. He wants to tell him about the plan to cripple them by slaughtering them one-by-one, the turtles aren't always in a group and even so they have stealth weapons that can target the energy signature of each miserable one. It's not like he has any soft feelings towards them: he could choke Leonardo with his own hands if he could. He could.
But for once he's begun thinking beyond the turtles and can see nothing but a blank expanse of drudgery, and he's always wanted…thought of…more. So he doesn't mention the plan. He mentions something more dangerous.
"I noticed that the carbon dioxide levels in this room have been changed. None of us but you can arrange something like that," he said evenly.
He doesn't quite see the movement in Purple One's hands, but he notices the way his mouth tightens and his eyes narrow and the way his body flinches away from the truth. Then venerin plastic tentacles shoot out from the metal ball he's holding and wrap their way around his body, binding him tightly and lifting him up into the air.
"Come play with me, brother. I think it's time we got reacquainted," he says. The words should be spoken with malevolence or at least a hint of threat, but the way Purple One says them, it's half an invitation and half a calm, scientific fact.
A person can gain an astounding amount of perspective while being strapped to an operating table meant for torture. The first time it happened, he was too terrified to do anything but think desperately of escape. He thinks he's calm now, despite being back in the brilliantly white lighting and the deliberately oppressive sterility of this room, all white and gleaming metal edges and intimidating wiring. There's nothing to be frightened of in an experience revisited, only lessons to learn and memories to pick from. He might get out of this. He might not, but he has felt his insides bake in the searing heat of an energy blast and every nerve in his body exploding in agony.
This is also not Darius, strange human whom he knows nothing of aside from blind dedication and almost intimate hatred. This is a brother, and in his mind he has memories of what he is, what he was, what he can be. No need to fear the known, not when he knows how he can use him.
Purple One has strapped him tightly, with the bindings wrapped close to his skin and hugging as tightly as another living being. He looks at him with the mild, distant, and desperate gaze of someone who manages to be in the here and now physically while visiting the landscapes of the mind at the same time. He licks his lips, a gesture both sinister and vulnerable, and flicks a button on the panel in front of him.
"I don't think you quite understand the difficulties you've caused us," he says with his voice even more distant than his expression, but perfectly composed and with deliberate enunciation, "And therefore I am forced to punish you to a degree equal to the severe anxiety you've managed to put both myself and the red-skinned imbecile through. Though he is but a minor issue, I admit."
The dial slides in his hands idly, almost thoughtlessly.
On the table, he goes from mildly discomforted to experiencing low-intensity pain, but he has a high threshold for it. It does nothing but cause his skin to shiver at the feel of it, sharp and cutting like tiny blades running through every inch of his body. He grits his teeth and bears it as the next arc of pain is more severe and his body thrashes against his bonds against his will.
"You are failing us. You are not only failing us, but you are betraying us in favor of a naïve ideal of teamwork that can not possibly apply to us. You are wasting your time attempting to teach an imbecile something that you don't even know yourself, and by doing so you are consigning us to death." It comes out like a schoolteacher's lesson on physics, practiced repetition spoken with no passion. The hand on the dial slips occasionally, an effortless flick of the fingers and a spike of pain comes to emphasize key points.
When his brother walks up to him, he notices something metal attached to his hand.
(burning flesh in his nostrils and smeared on his hands, blood and clear fluids like from popped blisters)
Purple One's face has shifted from laziness to a mask of rage, and he wonders if it's even him that he's directing that gaze at. That metal is meant to frighten, but he will not allow himself a paltry emotion such as fear. Instead he laughs, hoarse and weary, quieter than he'd like. But still laughter.
"What's so damned funny?" his brother demands, the metal giving off the smell of heat, "You're about to be pot roast in a few seconds." And he means it, the way he's raising his hand like he wants to leave burning handprints on him that would scar, might scar, if he isn't placed in the healing vat at an appropriately early time. He probably intends to scar him, actually, enough to be visible but not enough to impair his combat skills. Purple One has his own scattering of scar tissue, the shiny, wrinkled patches of tissue in the few places where he was mutilated so severely that the liquid couldn't fully compensate.
"It's just," he tells him slowly, "I'm amused at the irony."
The branding glove is close enough to his skin that he can feel it being singed by proximity alone, and his brother's brow bunches in confusion, his anger giving way just enough for the brief flash of curiosity. "What do you mean?"
"Nothing. It's just," his breath hitches as his brother's hand shakes, bringing the metal in contact with his skin for a split second and drawing it back, "I find it funny that I'm not the only one playing puppets."
Purple One draws back and he follows him with his gaze.
"I'm not the one you really want to scar."
There's a moment in which all possibilities hang in the balance, where he could be on the verge of being burned and scarred, he could be nearly murdered, he could be set free, and all of them depend entirely on the arrival of the moment to come. Then Purple One takes a step backward, metal-covered hand raised and carefully held so as not to scar his own flesh, and then another, a little shakier. There isn't what he'd call sanity returning to his eyes, but he can see him restore his sense of balance piece by tenuous piece. The distant, remote look has shattered and left him stranded completely in the here-and-now, and it's clear that he's more than a little resentful of this fact. Purple One shoves his face close, getting in his space with a scowling baring of teeth.
"They're not the ones you really want to make your family," he snarls, and for a minute he believes that the branding glove is going to be thrust in his face, bursting his eyes and leaving him blind and twisting in agony on the table. It's a close enough call that he can almost taste this possible future, salt and blood and pain, and then his brother has turned with a sharp jerk of his head and is storming his way out of the room.
On the way out, he smacks his fist against the panel, and the plastic ropes gently untwine.
In the end, Darius lines them up like errant children and demands to see results. It's been expected, of course. Dreaded. It's like lining up for a firing squad.
"Am I to understand," the man asks, and he recognizes the clipped enunciation in his tone as Purple One's torture room voice, "Am I to comprehend that you cretins have yet to formulate even the most basic of plans to destroy those terrapin menaces? Could it be possible that the lot of you are so singularly inept that you can not even think of a way to attack them?"
None of them respond for a minute. "A direct assault wouldn't work," he says finally, his voice rough.
"It doesn't need to be perfectly successful," Darius replies coldly, "In fact, I don't expect even a thirty percent success rate from you imbeciles. Those turtles whose DNA you were spawned from are clearly superior, despite the boasting I received from your manufacturer when I acquired you. I'll settle for you four as a distraction." 'Cannon fodder' is the sentiment behind the remark, behind the cold dark eyes and the sneering mouth. He wants to punch him, rip him to shreds, grind him into the floor. Miserable, fat human.
Red One makes a low grumble of dissent, and that's all it takes for Darius to snatch him up in the air with the stronger metal arm of his golembot. The man is a little less than sane lately, and this is all it takes to push him over the edge into savagery. "Any defiance won't be tolerated," he says, with that wildly animalistic half-growl in his tone, and he lifts him up and slams his body into the metal-coated stone of the walls. One blow after the other, a series of heavy thudding, clanging, breaking noises as his shell cracks on the seventh forceful collision, another as his jaw breaks.
The others watch. They never used to watch. Their eyes follow every swing, every bruise, every bone he breaks. Orange One's eyes break away fleetingly and meet his, and Red One cries out, chokes, bites back everything.
Darius grabs him by the shoulder and holds his arm and tugs, and the sound of it dislocating is enough to awaken something sharply, fiercely primal in him that screams for blood. When Red One falls to the floor, he leaps at Darius with his blades drawn and all the fury of one about to fight a losing battle.
Sunlight, he learns, is warm.
Sunlight is bright, it stings and burns when he watches it, and of course he watches the unfamiliar. It is not quite unfamiliar in that he has seen it before, but everything that belongs solely to that place of stolen memory has been labeled inferior, something to be hated. It is not his.
It doesn't smell like home in the fresh air, where the rat tends his garden peaceably, where heat and dust and the earthy, vegetable scent of plants on a summer afternoon drift through the breeze. It doesn't smell like home and he wants to cling to that, but there is nothing of his own at home, either, nothing but his body and weapons and mind, and those he takes with him at all times. He blames the weakness of the blood running through his veins for this, clings to sharper thoughts of death and his plan set out like chess pieces on a table.
Sunlight strikes everything into stark, clear perspective.
The rat snips at his bonsai plant with a pair of metal scissors, and he watches the twigs fall to the table's surface, watches the tree become a pleasing shape as it is molded under the steel.
He doesn't trim it when he takes it to his home.
His eyes open as fluid drains from his skin and he feels the odd itch of bones newly-knitted back in high-speed regeneration. He doesn't recall what happened after the initial charge, but this is what happens after severe injuries to the head. Dim light flickers over his skin, painting it an eerie green-blue, and he sits up.
Purple One is leaning a distance away, the other two with him. They stand in mutual tolerance, clearly united only in this one cause and no other. Red One gives him a glance, cautious, unsure, and nothing is spoken. The message is relayed nonetheless.
Purple One continues. "I hope, Fearless Leader, that you have a good plan."
He's not referring to the one to bring down the turtles, and he knows it, and the others know it, he's sure of it. And he thinks he might, has felt one in the making since the first desperate leap at his 'god', the tentative plummet into a canyon in hopes to meet water at the bottom.
This is not much of a start, but at least they have all stepped on his road, and the smile creeps on his face like a living thing.
"I always have a plan," he says.