A/N: Warning: There will be blood. This chapter contains violence of a graphic nature.
But if you're even minutely familiar with my writing, you shouldn't be so surprised. Also, this beast turned out to be really freakin' long, so don't hold me accountable if you go blind XD
Chapter 15: Battle Scars, the Broken
The shiruken ripped through the air and pierced the man's throat before he could flinch. Leonardo had seen it, heard it embed into flesh, heard it choke his life away. But there was a small twist in his gut as the man collapsed amidst the sudden silence. He could have sworn he recognized that shiruken.
Leo's eyes flicked over the crowd, searching for his savior. Or, perhaps not a savior but a buyer of time. Still he had the surest feeling that his brothers were close. He could feel it in his marrow.
But all was forgotten when a wet gurgle of blood erupted from the man's mouth. Even if rescue never came, he could still watch the tattered scraps of the Foot Clan collapse in its misery and know it was worth it.
The scarred man had escaped death more than once; that was apparent. It had left its mark on him before. To see the light dimming in his eyes felt right, like the fulfillment of destiny. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, the crowd looked on. The lingering embers of the Foot were extinguished like a candle's flame. It too was a fulfillment of destiny.
His eyes lost their fire and his weapon clattered on the floor. His writhing body lay still. Leonardo breathed. His eyes connected with Raphael's and he wished his brother could hear the screaming in his mind, Never give up, outouto.
Never give up.
He had expected chaos. The tattered threads of what held the angry hoard together had been cut, and the warehouse erupted into sudden war. All sound was eclipsed by the furious cries of one hundred blood-drunk men.
The ninja from before—the guard, the challenger—stepped forward with his weapon drawn, his sights on Raphael. "Useless dogs!" He spat haughtily. "I will make quick work of these creatures and show you fools true worth."
But in a moment, another guard was standing in his way. He too had his sword drawn, a venomous look in his eyes. "You are too bold, Niza. Bold and foolish as the rest of them!"
Leo didn't move as the guards stared poison into each other's eyes. Then, a ripple. The first guard charged into an attack, bellowing. "You dare challenge me!?"
His sword plunged through the ninja's abdomen. The second guard choked, then collapsed as the sword was ripped from his flesh. With Raph and Leo now forgotten in this sudden battle for power, the guard raised his blood-soaked sword and called over the crowd. "To arms! All who wish to follow me, slay all who oppose!"
Then, hell broke loose. Foot ninja cut down their own comrades in a flash of steel and crimson while others never broke their focus. They moved toward the platform with huger written in their eyes, thirsting for the blood of the beasts marked for slaughter.
As the crowd rushed forward, Leo dodged the first attacks and reached for the fallen man's sword. Unyielding to the pain erupting from the stab wound in his plastron, he drew the weapon from its puddle of gore, ignoring the sticky blood coating the hilt. He let them come to him, standing over his injured brother with rekindled fire in his eyes.
He was bleeding and half-starved, beaten and destined to die, but fight he would. It too was written in his destiny. Even in the end he was a warrior. That was one thing that could never be broken.
He had to move quickly. The guards rushed forward from behind with their blades drawn. Raphael's eyes were wide, but bleary and hollow, already mourning a loss that hadn't come. He looked his own death in the eyes.
They were storming the platform, and the first guard's katana was poised for a killing blow. Leonardo lurched forward and slay him where he stood, a sick sound like a kiss as the blade was unsheathed from his stomach. More blood flowed.
Three more attacked—two with chains, one with a dagger. More were piling on like ants spilling from a hive to avenge yet another would-be leader, the death of one replaced by two. Leo stayed close to his ailing brother, killing without mercy as the wall of ninja closed in. Shiruken embedded into his shell. He could hear the hollow rip as a plate was torn deflecting the chain of a kusarigama.
The pain erupted like hot poison with every strike, flowed through his veins and increased with every move. But that wouldn't stop him. The swipe of a dagger penetrated his defenses and the arm of his assailant fell lifeless on the floor before his throat could be cut.
Still, they swarmed, and Leo quickly found himself exhausted, limbs trembling and lungs aching for air. But still he had to fight. He had to bleed, cut down more, regain his honor and die knowing he had done all he could.
He would tear this place to the ground if he must. Death was a certain thing. At least he would die with a purpose, and take the last vestiges of the Foot Clan with him. It would be an honorable death.
But Raphael had surrendered. He could feel it. He kneeled limply on the concrete while the battle waged around him. It was yet another reason why Leo couldn't give up. Raphael had always known he would die fighting. That was his own destiny, and Leonardo would kill to ensure his brother would live to fight another day. When his body and soul have been healed, his fate would find him. But not tonight. This was just a crossroads.
Leonardo had no purpose other than this—to protect his brothers and his clan. If that was accomplished, he would gladly bathe in the blood of his enemies, then die willingly and alone. With the death of Karai he has fulfilled half his purpose. The other half was to get his wounded brother out of there alive, even if it killed him.
He had to be the first. Leo had always known that living without a brother would be a fate worse than death. That was destiny as well.
Then, in a heartbeat, he lost sight of Raphael. His rocketing pulse gave him clarity as he broke free of the last wave of attackers. A ninja howled as Leo's blade met his face, cutting his mask away and revealing a ruined eye weeping milky fluid into the bloodied slash. The man dropped his weapons and clawed at the open wound with an inhuman yowl of pain.
He was tired of playing defense, more tired than he had ever known. He roughly pushed the injured man aside and flipped over the crowd closing in on his brother. But when he landed, his knees buckled, the pain threatening to blind him. He blinked and the room was nothing but eerie white and silhouettes, deafened to anything but his heartbeat as the sickle of a kame was swung at his face. He ducked the arc of the blade and found Raphael. Adrenaline restored his vision and numbed his wounds again.
"Raph! This isn't over yet!" His voice was strained, breathless and raw even as he met his brother's eyes. "You have to fight!"
Raph was still on his knees, his head hung heavy and sapless. He'd been waiting for the killing blow for what seemed like centuries, even if it had only been seconds. He'd never felt so defeated.
But he'd agreed to this. Back in the cell, he agreed they would kill the bitch and go down fighting. He remembered that feeling—smiling into his brother's eyes and at his doom in the same moment.
Slowly he felt himself detaching from the world around him. He knew Leo was there, fighting over him, protecting him for reasons he couldn't remember. His head was swimming and the blood… so much blood. None of it had a reason.
Then he blinked, and it was gone.
He was standing in the kitchen, hands clenched into fists. The ruins of the breakfast table were scattered at his feet. Old blood dried and flaking on his arm and the memory of a wrongful death fresh in his mind, questions of honor spat like a poison, his father's worried eyes.
He had no reason.
He turned to see Leo, face round with youth, crumpled under the strain of hidden tears. Broken dishes on the floor, a broken chair. Insults turned to fists. Leo watched him with wide eyes, blood running from his beak. The words spilled from Raph's lips before he could stop them. "I hate him!"
Defeated. Leonardo bowed his head and silently left the room.
He had no excuse.
In the dojo, the door was blocked. Leo stood in his way, one katana drawn. Always in the way. He was always standing in his way. A pause. The walls crumbled. Leo's fist connected and his vision skipped. The taste of copper in his mouth, a streak of red on his hand, spat on the tatami. Old wounds finally repaid, blood for blood.
Then, dark. A dark room, his brother like an anchor in the land of fever dreams. The smell of copper in the air.
A child again. Fists clenching, unclenching, sitting on the bunk with his father beside him. His voice so distant, like a dream. "Where do you go when you wander so far away?"
"I don't know…"
"I'm sorry. I don't hate him. I didn't mean it…"
He never had a reason.
Raphael blinked again. The sound of his brother's voice sent him crashing head-long back into the heat of battle. He was still on his knees, but that fatal wound had not yet come. He reached up and touched the sting of a cut across his throat. The ninja's blade had just barely bitten into his skin. Blood on his hand, on the floor, on his brother's sword and in his eyes.
He'd been so sure he was dead.
"I'm sorry. I can't… I…" His voice was full of gravel. He wasn't sure if he was awake or dreaming. But this pain was real. All this blood was real. These weapons—it had to be real. "You hafta to leave me here. You'll die if you stay. I ain't worth it."
His words barely carried over the sound, but Leo's gaze was bright with adrenaline, locked intensely with his own.
"So you're going to just lay down and die?" He spat. He was still fighting, adding more blood to the gore and sweat that bathed his skin. "I know you better than this. I'm not going anywhere. Pick up your weapon and fight, damn it!"
As Leo beheaded a ninja wielding a bo, Raph's mind cleared enough to see the weapon his brother was talking about. The severed arm—he remembered the sick sound of it hitting the floor. That ninja had been holding a dagger. He could see the promise of a blade though the gore.
It was then that Raphael finally found his reason. He was the realist, yes. The shadow, most definitely. But most important of all, he was the avenger. For now the streets could wait. He had his family's honor to restore, and after all they'd gone through, there was no denying that tonight they would make it out of this alive or go down fighting like hell.
Painfully, he scrambled to the knife. He was starting to lose feeling in his bad leg after all of this battering around. He knew that wasn't a good sign, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. He could forget about it for now. He had his weapon, and now, he had a reason to fight.
He would have to make it out of this so he could tell Leo how much of a moron he was. As he buried the dagger into a man's shoulder, he prayed that someday he'd get the chance. He had twenty years worth of being an asshole to make up for.
Still, he knew he couldn't keep this up for long. He could barely stand on his fine leg or even move without the room spinning, and his fighting ability suffered. But that just meant he'd have to think outside the box. The lights, for one, had to go. That was something he could do.
There was a fuse box on the wall just a short distance to the right. He had a dagger and pretty damn good aim. Raph held his breath and let the weapon go.
As Leonardo fought, more shiruken cut into his carapace, more blades bit into his flesh, and more blood stained him. Everything around him melted into a blur of movement, distant like a dream until he was battling outside his body, watching the blood spill from above. There was another fight breaking out in the crowd below, a distant rumble and the cries of killing blows.
They were killing their own like a hungry pack of wolves, and this time he was more than certain that somewhere in the chaos, two more had joined the fray.
Then, the lights went out and a sharp twinge of terror raced through his muscles. Still, he could see his brother's eyes in the dark. Tiredly, he smiled, and fought on. Raph would face the dark beside him. That gave Leo all the strength he needed.
"There's too many of them!" Michelangelo yelled. "It's like fighting with a blender! We can't hold them back much longer!"
Bringing his nunchaku down on a skull, a hip, a crack of bone and broken ribs, he tried to forget the mental death toll that was growing with every strike of weapons. His heart was racing in his chest, just trying to keep his head above water in wave after wave of ninja.
He was getting winded, and if he was getting winded, then Leo and Raph were probably half-dead by now. As he dodged the arc of a katana, he shook the thought from his head. Strike after strike he would keep fighting until his brothers were safe. That's all he cared about. He had to get them out of there, no matter what it took.
And if they didn't, then these bastards were gonna pay.
"Donny!" He cried, dodging another swing of the blade. Donny had to have a plan by now. He was smart. He thought about these things. He had to.
Don swung his staff in a wide arc, taking three men down with it. He hated this senseless killing. He hated all this blood and murder. But this time the pacifist in him was taking a back seat. He'd seen what they'd done to his brothers. He'd seen Leo standing there covered in blood. He'd kill if he must, and for now, it looked like he had no other option. These jerks had a bill to pay.
Mikey's voice rang over the nauseating crunch of a broken clavicle. He ignored it for the swing of a manriki, blocking it with his staff. The chain wrapped around his weapon and the ninja gave a sharp tug meant to yank it from his hands. But a well-place kick to the gut sent the man flying, leaving his chain to unravel limply on the floor.
Don barely had time to stop and think with ten attacks closing in on him at once. The ninja with the chain was up again, unleashing another strike. This time Don simply ducked, letting the chain connect with the skull of the ninja behind him, and cutting the legs out from under another with his staff. There was a reason chains weren't good for close-combat fighting, and it seemed these ninja rejects needed a lesson on the reasons why.
"I hear you!" He called back. "They should be here!"
April and Splinter and Casey with the Battle Shell. They should be here.
But where the heck were they?
Cold panic was sinking its fingers deep into his stomach. The room blurred together in an endless flash of blades and bodies. But he couldn't give up now. Just a little longer—they had to keep fighting just a little longer, and things would begin to pull through.
That was one of only two options. He didn't like the other one bit.
He met Mike in the middle of a clearing they'd carved with their weapons. Back-to-back they fought off every new wave of attackers with a growing sense of dread.
At least these ninja were amateurs. Don could tell from the mistake with the chain, the way one with a tanto leaned to the left, the way another with a kame forgot to defend his lower half. But as the Foot Clan always went, they seemed to crank out ninja assembly-line style—cheap quality, but enough at once could wear out even the most skilled ninja.
He was definitely feeling those effects now. His lungs burned with every breath and the sweat in his palms made his grip uneasy. Swinging his bo into a low sweep as Mikey swung his nunchaku high, he was just about to suggest a change of action when everything shifted without warning. There was a cry and a fizzle of electricity. The lights above them flickered and Don caught sight of a dagger embedded in the main power supply's fuse box right before the warehouse snapped into darkness.
It had Raph written all over it.
They're still alive, he thought, but for how long?
At least the dark was more than familiar. In fact, it was a welcome change. Foot Clan ninja knew the dark well, but didn't live to know it. For his brothers, the dark was as familiar as the humans' daylight, and he would use that small advantage to its fullest.
He could work with this.
"We need to move to the platform!" He choked out, trying to control his breathing. While the amateur ninja faltered with the sudden change, Donatello would thrive. If they could meet up with Raph and Leo fast enough, they could hold off the rest of the hoard until April came with the Battle Shell.
As he cut a path through the warring ninja, who had apparently turned against their own along with the main battle against the turtles, Don wondered if this is what Leo had seen in him before—the qualities of a leader. It was a side of himself Don was happily unfamiliar with. There was too much blood, too much anger, too much hate in this part of him. It was a piece he would gladly forget.
As he fought, Don watched Mikey cutting down his enemies in the periphery. This too was a side of his brother he didn't like to see. The blank look of determination and the strikes so ready to cave the skulls of living men was terrifying. He hadn't seen it since the Battle Nexus, and even now it made him tremble.
Make Mike mad enough, take away his reason to laugh, and you unearth a merciless killer whose skill and speed could rival even Leo's.
All the more reason they just couldn't fail.
It took them nearly five minutes to push forward thirty feet, but they made it. Mike almost smiled at the carnage left in his brothers' wake. The severed limbs and writhing forms had Leo's signature all over them. He was definitely still alive, and better yet, he'd found himself a sword.
Then he heard it—his brothers' voices—and something inside him fluttered. His blind anger cleared away like storm clouds, and then, he really did smile. He used punches and disarming blocks instead of weapons as he pushed through the final layers of the crowd, stumbling happily into the bloody clearing.
And then it happened—he let his guard down. A ninja's katana went for a downward strike and Mike saw it just a little too late. He held his breath and waited for the pain.
But when he opened his eyes, the clang of metal met his ears instead of the sound of steel biting his flesh. Nunchaku spinning again, he breathed a sigh of relief and found Leo standing in front of him, saving his skin with a block not a moment too soon.
That was his big brother, all right.
As Leo cut down his attacker, Mikey saw his haggard face by the light pouring in from the skylight above. If he hadn't been so relieved, he would have cringed, but instead he returned Leo's weak smile.
"Watch yourself, little brother," Leo rasped tiredly, pulling back his stolen sword. "You always… let your emotions… get the best… of you."
Mikey let out a sound of surprise as his brother's eyes rolled back and his knees gave way. Weakly, Leo fell forward into his brother's waiting arms.
"I gotcha," Mikey promised, still trying to fight with his brother leaning heavily on his shoulder, just barely clinging to consciousness. "April's coming with the Battle Shell. We'll get you outta here!"
This was going to be difficult. At least the crowd had started thinning and some of the stragglers had begun retreating back into the shadows. The battle was almost over, and the wise ones would cower into the dark until next time. The others wouldn't be quite as lucky.
Mike's eyes darted to Don and Raph, still biding their time against the remaining few. Raph was shaking like a leaf, but refused to take Don's help.
There were only a handful of surviving ninja left among the gory mess of their fallen comrades when an explosion erupted from the far wall, tearing open a fiery hole of rock and rubble in side of the warehouse building. There was a moment of hesitation among the remaining few who'd dove out of the way of the partially collapsed ceiling and sparking electrical wires. The smell of diesel and rancid smoke filled the air and the building's heavy iron framework groaned. Small chips and dust motes showered their shells as the turtles bit the concrete in their desperate search for cover.
But as the smoke cleared, the familiar rumbling of an engine thundered over the groaning ruins of the building. Then, the sound of a car horn and Casey's voice broke the silence. "Yo!" He called from the window. "One ninja turtle rescue van atcha service. You want it or what?"
Dizzy with relief, Mikey scrambled to his feet, slugging an only barely conscious Leo's arm over his shoulders. "She let Casey drive?"
Don didn't have the time to physically face palm. The ceiling was moaning and buckling over its ruined supports and the sparks from a few severed electrical cables were sparking little fires everywhere they could. Offering Raph a hand, Don couldn't help glaring in Casey's general direction. "Casey, that fool! He compromised the building's main supports! He'll crush us flat!"
Coughing on the smoke and dust, Raph rolled over on his shell and leaned against a fallen heap of cinderblocks. "So much for a rescue mission," he choked, taking Don's hand. Still, he couldn't help chuckling a little. "But the guy sure knows how to make an entrance."
"Always wanted to use those missile things you guys been talkin' about!" Casey crowed out the driver's side window, looking rather proud of himself. However, everyone else seemed more concerned with getting the hell out of there before Don's prediction came true.
Even with the weight of an entire building threatening collapse above their head, the mood had physically lifted. Bruised, broken, battered, and exhausted, they dragged themselves around the idling truck and were gladly helped inside by April and Master Splinter, relief written all over their faces.
Once the doors were closed, Casey punched the gas and tore through the ruins of the warehouse at gut-wrenching speed. A teary-eyed April threw her arms around Leo, who seemed to be completely and utterly lost. Still, he hugged her back despite the glassy look in his eyes. When April moved to join Splinter in fretting over Raph's badly bruised and swollen leg, Leo sighed and leaned his head against the wall of the truck. Beside him, Don watched with a worried crease in his brow as Leo's eyes fought to stay open.
After a few seconds of struggle, Don thought he'd fallen asleep until he heard his brother speak again.
His voice was so tired, so weak it almost hurt. Donny found his brother's hand and gave it a squeeze. "Yeah? Are you okay?"
Leo didn't seem to hear him, only stared at him blearily and said, "You did good, brother. I always knew… you could be a leader."
Something tightened in Don's chest. He shook his head, not letting go of Leo's hand. "No. It doesn't feel right. I can do it if I have to, but not without you."
Leo only smiled faintly, losing the battle with his eyelids again. "You're stronger than you think, Donny. If I couldn't be there… I would choose you."
Don pulled his hand away. "No. We have you. There's no reason to—"
He stopped speaking when Leo mumbled something that made his stomach sink.
"I'm gonna sleep," he slurred. "You hafta promise… make sure… I wake up."
Just when he thought he'd run out of adrenaline, his heart was racing again. Still, he didn't want to show it. He took a deep breath, brushing it off as best he could, and nodded despite his brother's closed eyes. "Okay. Rest easy, bro. I promise."
Leo didn't respond. In a breath, he'd already lost consciousness, and Don tried his best to forget the alarming warmth of his brother's hand.
Instead he watched dreamily out the truck's rear windows as they wound through the city roads, putting the miles, the worry, the anguish, the fear—putting it all behind them. In the distance, he could see the last of the building finally collapse in the first clear light of morning.
Donatello bit his lip. It'd been almost twenty-four hours since the rescue and Leo had barely even stirred. He knew they'd be exhausted. Heck, they all were. But even Raph, as badly off as he was, had woken up a few times since. They were both badly malnourished and completely covered in grime of every different kind. Just by looking at them, he knew full well that if Mikey hadn't convinced him to abandon the plans and go searching on a whim, things could have turned out much, much worse.
Still, two weeks in those conditions had obviously taken their toll. That was aside from anything Karai had done in the meantime.
He couldn't deny it. He was glad she was dead.
Don at least had a chance to help Master Splinter clean and dress his brother's wounds, but he'd thought Leo would have woken up by now. He knew they had to get some food into him somehow. His blood sugar was probably dipping dangerously low.
But what worried him most was the filth. It seemed to be caked all over him in layers. At first April had been determined to get him clean. Seeing him covered in all that old blood made the past battles seem that much worse. Not to mention the smell. After a few hours it turned rancid and reeked of rotting flesh.
Bravely, April had taken a bucket of warm water and a sponge and had tried to scrub at the stubborn filth until she finally gave up. All that effort had barely made a difference. So instead they opted to clean his wounds the best they could and wait a few more hours to see if he'd awaken. Twelve hours later Raph was feeling a little more lively after a long sleep, a good meal, and a hot shower, but Leo still slept on.
Nearing the twenty-four hour mark, he'd broken into a cold sweat and his sleep had grown fitful. As Donatello feared, the warmth he'd felt on his brother's hand back in the Battle Shell had quickly spiked into a full-blown fever.
Now there was no denying the possibility of infection. They had to get him clean and find out what that sickening grime was hiding.
As Master Splinter and April helped lower his brother into the shallow bathwater, Don was almost afraid of what he would find. He immediately began scrubbing, loosening the layers bit by bit. Master Splinter watched on with his hand resting on Leo's forehead. When the rat closed his eyes, they knew he was trying to call back his son.
They sat in silence for a long while as Don sloughed off more rancid, rust-colored blood. Soon he was forced to drain and refill the tub, just to muddy the water again. Nervously, April had sat herself down atop the toilet, waiting for something to do. She'd never seen this kind of infection before. Usually the guys took such good care of their wounds. But this was different.
It just wasn't fair. As soon as they all thought it was over, they had to be given yet another reason to worry.
Still, she didn't have the heart to ask the question rattling around in her brain.
He couldn't die from this… could he?
No, not Leo. That wasn't possible. Not after everything was over. Not after he was finally safe. This was supposed to be the happy ending. Besides, he was too strong for that. He was… just a little sick. That was all. Like the flu. People get fevers all the time and it wasn't a big deal.
But she had to remind herself that people usually didn't have big gaping holes carved into their stomachs. That wound had at least been fresh, and Don had cleaned and stitched it up. That gave her a little solace.
That is, until Don started uncovering the other cuts.
April almost flinched when Splinter opened his eyes and broke the long silence. "Donatello," he said, "you seem to have made a promise."
Don stared at his father, wide-eyed. He wanted to ask how Splinter knew, but he decided it was better not to question. There usually wasn't a how or even a why to explain it anyways, only faith.
No reason. Only faith.
As Splinter stood, Don leaned forward and gently shook his brother's shoulder. "Hey, Leo. Time to wake up. You told me to wake you up, bro. I promised you, remember?"
Don's heart fluttered as Leo began to stir. He called his name again, almost laughing with relief as his brother's eyes slowly opened.
"Hi, Donny," he slurred. "You… kept your promise."
Don was grinning like a child and he didn't care. "Of course I did. I don't know what we'd do without you."
Leo blinked at him slowly, frowning, then tipped his head sideways against the tub and gave April a small wave. "Hi April," he said tiredly.
April hesitated for a beat, looking a bit stunned before answering, "Hi Leo. Feeling better?"
Silently, he nodded before tipping his head toward Master Splinter. "Hello Sensei."
"Hello Leonardo," the old rat said with a small nod. "I am glad you have returned to us."
Leo turned away, staring blankly at the ceiling before closing his eyes again. "I am too."
Shortly after, April quietly left the room. The time for worrying was almost over, and she'd rather just give them their space. Sensing the same, Master Splinter followed her out.
Don paused. Leo's eyes had flitted open again, just as glassy as before.
"Oh good." He breathed a shuddering sigh. "For a second, I thought I was hallucinating."
The bathroom fell back into silence as Leo seemed to drift off again. Never less, Don kept scrubbing, little by little revealing the straight, thin cuts that covered his body. Something inside him lurched as he uncovered more. Angry, puckered flesh rimmed the largest one—a gruesome line from the base of his neck to his collarbone.
These were too exact, too carefully carved to be battle wounds. And the way they had crusted over with yellow puss said they'd been there much longer than the stab wound.
"No wonder you have a fever," Don muttered.
As he carefully scrubbed around the red flesh on his shoulder, Leo winced, opening his eyes again.
"I'm sorry. Did that hurt?" As if it wasn't obvious. "These are pretty badly infected."
Leo didn't answer, just stared into nothing and blinked with heavy-lidded eyes.
Don wasn't sure if his brother was even aware enough to hear him, but decided it was at least worth a shot to ask. "Leo… how did you get these cuts?"
Leo sucked in a pained breath, but when he met his brother's gaze, his eyes had regained some of their clarity. "She wanted to find you. She wanted to hunt you. Kill you. Kill you while I watched." He visibly shuddered at the thought. "But I couldn't. I couldn't be the last. I couldn't be responsible. I'd rather die than let it happen. I didn't flinch. I wouldn't. Not for her."
Don was speechless. He rocked back on his knees, one word echoing in his mind. Torture. He grit his teeth. She tortured my brother.
Yes. He was definitely glad she was dead.
"I don't want to be in the dark again, Donny," he whispered. There was a child-like fear in his voice. "She tried to break us."
Don tried to swallow, tried to ignore how pathetically young his oldest brother looked. All he could ask was, "Did she?"
Then, Don said something he didn't hear. He opened his eyes, but the bathroom lights seemed to dim, a fuzziness closing in on the edges of his vision he couldn't blink away. Somehow, he found Donny's hand and held it tight. But we're so much stronger than that, he thought. We can't be broken forever.
He wanted say it, but he didn't have the strength.
Raphael fidgeted outside his brother's door, completely unaware that his brother had been doing the same outside the kitchen just a few minutes before.
He'd never been good with words. Nope, never in a minute in his life. He was way better at mimicking the human kids topside than he was thinking up his own things to say. He really sucked at that kind of stuff. But apologies? Especially apologies to Leo? Now he really, really sucked at those.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed aside the old felt blanket that made the doorway to Leo and Donny's room. He was feeling much less angry after his talk with Splinter, so maybe things would go better.
That is, unless Leo started being a goody-two-shoes. Then all bets were off. He didn't care what Splinter would do to him. There was no way he was going to apologize if Leo was gonna to be a brat.
But when he walked into the room, he certainly hadn't expected what he found.
Leo was curled up on his bed, sniffling miserably and scrubbing frantically to hide his tears. But it was too late. Raph had seen him. There was no use. Still he turned away, burying his face in his pillow and trying to ignore the paralyzing wave of embarrassment that made him want to hide from Raph forever.
"If you hate me, that's okay," he choked into his pillow. "I don't hate you 'cause you're still my brother, okay?"
Raph froze where he stood, completely stupefied to say the least. He'd never seen Leo cry like this before. Yeah, sometimes he would get all teary-eyed when he couldn't get a lesson just right, but this was different. Leo was sad. Like… really, really sad—because of him, because of what he said.
Who knew some stupid argument could make Leo cry?
Raphael hesitantly took a step forward, wringing his hands, and stammered, "Uh…Leo…um…." He cleared his throat, praying for the right words to find him. "I didn't mean that. I thought you woulda known I didn't mean it."
Leo peeled his face away from his pillow, tear-stained. "Really? But you—"
"Yeah, really. I just get mad. You know... Then I just say stuff."
There was a pause. Leo sat up for a better look, as if weighing the truth of his words with a thoughtful knot in his brow. "So you really wouldn't like me better as a regular turtle?"
Raph snorted, waving him off. "Nah, you'd be boring. Plus I'd hafta feed you and stuff and who wants that?"
Leo cringed at the thought. "Not me. You'd probably feed me something gross on purpose."
Raphael grinned deviously. "Yeah, probably," he sniggered, "but it would be funny!"
They giggled for a little bit, the awkwardness of the apology all but forgotten. Still, Leo did feel a whole lot better. He didn't feel like crying anymore, at least.
Raph, however, felt utterly stupid. The only remedy he could think of was saying "So… um… do you want to play?"
Leo's eyes brightened. "Okay… sure!"
"Okay, we'll play then. But I get choose the game this time," he said slyly.
"What do you wanna play?"
"Follow the leader. And this time, it's my turn."
Leo smiled deviously, sliding off the bed. "We can pretend, if you want," he teased. "Just don't do anything stupid."
Raph rolled his eyes, grinning an innocent look over his shoulder as he led the way out of the room. "Me? Do something stupid? Of course not. Now come on, I'll race ya."
That day the two brothers went deeper into the sewers than they ever had before. Together, they faced the dark and walked across Splinter's chalk lines, putting on the bravest faces they could. Forbidden miles away from home in the flooded sewer tunnels, they stumbled upon an adventure neither one would forget.
That was the day they proved one of Raph's stories was true. There really were alligators in the sewers.
To Raphael, just sitting at home awake and alive wasting the day away in front of the TV was paradise. If circumstances were different, he would have called himself lazy and been bored out of his skull. But he decided that for now, he'd had enough excitement for at least a few months. Or, until his leg was healed up and Mike finally drove him crazy. Whichever came first.
Mikey hadn't left his side for a second after the rescue, and Raph found himself actually enjoying the company for a change. Leave it to a two week long near-death experience to make you appreciate the little things more.
It was six o'clock and time to fall back into the mind-rotting tradition of watching The Simpsons for an hour straight after the news, a giant bowl of popcorn between them. Raph sat patiently munching on popcorn with his casted leg propped up on the makeshift coffee table. Mike, with an entire rainbow of permanent markers spread out on the duct-taped armrest, was determined to decorate the ugly thing.
Don's improvised casts were never pretty, but they worked. That's all Raph cared about. Mikey, on the other hand, wouldn't have it.
"You always say you got a weird name," Mike said, stuffing his mouth full of popcorn between doodles and glances at the TV. "'least your name isn't Apu Nahasa-piña-colada-whatever-the-fuck."
Raph bit back a laugh when Mike almost choked on his popcorn, shrinking deeper into the couch cushions. Only Splinter could cover all the bases by only saying your name from a completely different room.
"Nice going," Raph smirked, chucking his brother playfully on the arm.
Mike only pulled a face and uncapped a green marker. "I think I'm gonna draw a pineapple," he mused. "Spongebobs's pineapple… under the sea."
Raph stared at him puzzled for a while until he was absolutely positive his brother was completely serious. But sure enough, there was the pineapple complete with window and door and god knows what else.
"I thought I told you not to draw anything stupid."
Mikey gasped in mock-offense. "Spongebob is not just stupid, Raph. He's also awesome. He's awesomely stupid. There's a difference."
With a chuckle, Raph decided this battle not worth fighting in his present state, and opted for another handful of popcorn instead.
Shortly after, Don finally poked his head out of Leo's room and emerged into the living room looking utterly exhausted. Mikey, now completely engulfed in his art project, had sat himself down on the floor for a better angle. Don happily took his vacant spot on the couch, sighing heavily and helping himself to some popcorn.
Upon seeing Mike's colorful new creation, he quirked a brow. "Is that Spongebob?" He grinned, sending an apologetic glance at Raph.
Mikey glanced up excitedly. "You watch Spongebob, Donny? I never knew. I thought it was mind-rotting or whatever."
He was teasing. There was just the right hint of sarcasm in his voice. It was a subtlety not worth overlooking.
"I don't watch it purposefully, but you leave the TV on all day long. It's hard not to learn through osmosis."
"Osmosis, he says," Mike smirked. "You don't hafta cover up the truth with your smart words, Donny. You love it and you know it."
Raph and Don rolled their eyes almost simultaneously. Both knew better than to respond, 'lest they provoke the beast.
After a moment of quiet, Raph got the guts to ask, "So… how's Fearless?"
"He's awake, thank goodness. A little fevered still, but that should clear up soon. Those cuts weren't exactly clean."
"From what I remember, nothin' about that place was anythin' close to clean," Raph scoffed, helping himself to more popcorn.
"I can't believe you don't remember somethin' like that," Mikey gawked.
Raph shrugged. "I was pretty sick. Mostly I jus' remember feelin' like my bones were meltin'." There was a pause. He shook his head with a distant look in his eyes. "Leo really saved my shell back there, guys. I ain't gonna deny it. I owe him big. Seriously big."
Out of nowhere, Splinter seemed to have materialized behind them. "Perhaps Leonardo would like to hear that in person, Raphael. Assuming gratitude can only bring a person so far in justifying their actions."
Raph turned around to see his Sensei watching from the kitchen door, drying his hands on a dishtowel. "You know what, you're right, Sensei. I gotta talk to him."
Splinter nodded and retreated back into the kitchen. "That would be wise," he said. "And dinner will be ready once you are done."
Mikey's head shot up at the magic word. "Oooh! Dinner! Whatcha makin' Master Splinter?" He crowed, capping his markers as Raph pulled his leg off the coffee table.
"Chicken," Splinter replied.
Mikey's eyes lit up. "Ooooh! Chicken. I love chicken. Hurry up, Raph! Chicken!"
"I would if I could get up!" Raph huffed, fumbling for his crutches that clattered to the floor instead. "What's a guy gotta do for a little help around here?"
Luckily Don could take a hint and stood to give him a hand. After a few tries he was up, leaning on Don until Mike could hand him his crutches.
When Raph was finally up and standing, Don seemed to hesitate. "Just… um… try not to get him too excited, okay? He was pretty out of it yesterday, but he seems more lucid today. Still, just try to take it easy. Please?"
Raph rolled his eyes. "Jeez, Don. What do ya think I'm gonna do to him?"
Don didn't respond, but his expression immediately softened. For some strange reason, something inside him decided to click. It felt like he was seeing his brother's face for the first time in years. Raph saw it instantly and pulled Don into a one-armed hug.
"Ah, Donny, it's okay."
The hug should have felt weird under any other circumstance, but it didn't. Don wrapped his arms around his brother and squeezed as tight as he could. "I thought you were gone for good," he breathed, his voice cracking. "God, I was such a wreck."
Mikey, ever the empath, materialized at his brother's side, patting his shell. "It's true! You shoulda seen him, chowing Tums like Doritos."
Don pulled out of the embrace to throw Mike an incredulous look. "Better Tums than actual Doritos," he sniffled.
Mikey grinned, draping his arm around his brother's shoulders. "So true. I bet I gained like, ten pounds. I don't even want to know. Donny, don't tell me! Seriously. I know you're thinking about it. Don't do it, bro! I don't think I can handle the truth!"
Raph chuckled. "You are so weird."
"We could put you on the scale, you know, to ease your worries. You do have to keep track of your girlish figure, after all," Don teased.
"Hmmm… how about no to both comments," he laughed. "And how about we let the cripple have his little secret meeting before he falls over, huh Donny-o?" Mikey had just started heading toward the living room with Don in tow when something hooked around his ankle and sent him sprawling flat on his face. He turned and glared at Raph's smug look hovering overhead. "Hey!"
Raph shrugged and started hobbling toward Leo's door. Still, he couldn't fight back a devious grin. "Don't look at me," he snickered, "I'm just a cripple."
Leo's room was dark and damp. The smell of stale sweat and sickness built like a barrier over the door. He shuddered at the dreaded familiarity, but forced himself in, closing the door behind him.
Raphael didn't remember much of the days they had spent together in the dark, but this was enough to bring back the pieces that remained. Most of it was just brief flashes of movement, the smell of damp and copper in the air, fever dreams. He remembered waking with his brother lying close, trembling, and covered in his own blood. He remembered the crack of bone, the fear in his brother's voice when he said, like a mantra, "You're going to be okay."
And, at least for now, that wasn't a lie.
He'd almost died back there. That was a part Raph didn't remember, but he was sure of it. He could feel it in his bones. If it wasn't for Leo, he would probably be long dead.
He had never been afraid of the dark before. He was always the one who'd chase down all the monsters, stare into the blackness like nothing could touch him. But the dark felt so much different now, and he knew that it had changed for Leo as well.
It took him a while to get himself lowered into the chair by his brother's bed, but when Leo didn't even stir at all the noise and Raph's cussing under his breath, he started worrying a little more about what Don had said.
That is, until his brother started to stir. He looked like he was about to wake up at first—his brow furrowed, mouth drawn into a tight line. But then that look of concentration paled into pure terror. He broke into a sweat and fought away the bed sheets until he bolted upright with a gasp.
Raph watched as Leo hunched over in bed, sweat-soaked and painfully gulping air. As his nightmare's surroundings faded back into the familiarity of his own room, his panic ebbed. That is, until something shifted in the corner of the room. He almost bolted out of bed, ready to defend himself, if it wasn't for the stab wound searing in his plastron as the stitches were pulled.
"Hey… hey, easy there," came Raphael's voice. "It's just me."
Leo breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't expected Raph to be there. He blinked off the rest of the nightmare, already forgetting what it was about. Someplace dark, he thought, but that was gone now. Still, there was a strange chill in the air that pricked his skin. He couldn't fight back a shiver as he lay down and burrowed deeper into the blankets.
Raph snorted something like a laugh. "Sure you are. 'least you're acting normal. Don said you been pretty far gone."
Leo offered him a sheepish smile from under his pile of blankets. "How's the leg?"
Raph fiddled with his crutches, eyeing his cast. Apparently Mike had added something extra to the Spongebob mural while he wasn't looking. That little bastard. A lady bug, a centipede, and a spider. Even after disappearing for weeks and almost dying more times than he could count, he still couldn't live the bug thing down. Figures. "Eh. It'll heal."
Just how well it would heal was anybody's guess. It probably would never be the same, but it was a small price to pay.
Leo nodded and closed his eyes again.
"Look. Leo…" He cleared his throat. "I just wanna say sorry for all the shit I pulled. Yanno… You really saved my ass back there. More times than one."
"And I would do it again." Leo opened his eyes, but Raph was busy fiddling with his crutches. "Raphael, you're my brother. I would die for you. Any of you. I'm sure you would do the same."
"I know, but… That night… I was being so damn selfish. I shouldn't have been like that, yanno? You were right. I've been endangerin' the family all along. Almost got all of us killed." There was a silence, but Raph still hadn't worked up the courage to look his brother in the eye. "But it's my thing, yanno. Everybody's got a thing around here an' all I got is this." He motioned upward and Leo assumed he meant the surface. "But what do you know about that," he scoffed. "You're the leader-guy. You got your shit all planned out for ya. To tell you the truth… I always been kinda jealous. Bein' the leader, bein' so damn perfect all the time. I always thought I'd make a better leader than you. Thought I didn't get what I deserved."
"I was never perfect, Raph. And I'm pretty sure you don't want to envy me. I was always a little jealous of you, really. If you're angry, you act angry. If you're happy, you let yourself be happy. You're not afraid to be yourself even if it means it makes you a little… weird."
That was enough to grab his attention. "Ha! Don't get me started on who's weirder than who. Don't want to get that fight goin' again."
Leo's eyes widened. "You remember that?"
"'course I do."
"It was one of the first big fights we ever had."
"I know. Kinda stupid, huh?"
"Yeah, pretty stupid." There was a pause, and Leo sighed, fiddling with the edges of the bed sheets. "Do you remember how well we used to get along? All those stories you used to tell me about the alligators?"
A dangerous look swept across Raph's eyes. He leaned in and whispered, "What about the man-eating ghost?"
"Yes! You told me he had maggots for eyes and went around ripping people's eyeballs out. You even told me you saw him once."
Raph threw him a suspiciously innocent look. "I did! I swear to god I did. You can't deny that there's some pretty weird shit out there. Plus, you know we proved the alligator one right."
"Oh, so is that what you were doing when you tried to wrestle the thing?"
"Well, duh. Of course that's what I was doin'!"
Then, Leo laughed. He just couldn't help himself. He laughed more completely than he had in a long, long time. It pulled on his stitches, but he didn't care. He just had to laugh because for a moment, it was the Raph he used to know sitting in there, laughing, talking about alligators. This wasn't the Raph that brooded on rooftops and split his knuckles punching walls. This wasn't the Raph that was so full of bottled anger it was like being trapped in a room with a landmine. This was the old Raphael he remembered from his childhood, the Raphael who was split so wide open, you could see every thought that crossed his mind. It was the Raphael that told stories about sewer monsters, just to prove he wasn't as scared as he actually was. It was the Raphael he'd been friends with— best friends—so long ago. Leo laughed, and Raphael joined in.
"You're full of it," he sighed, a smile on his face.
His brother was grinning. "Maybe I am."
"Raph, you have no idea. I had nightmares for weeks!"
Raph knuckled him lightly on the shoulder. "You never told me you had nightmares, Fearless."
"I told you I wasn't perfect."
His brother only smiled. Leo stifled a yawn, which Raph took as his cue to leave. It took him some maneuvering to get upright again, but he made it. "You're tired. Get some rest. That's all I wanted to say. Thanks for savin' my ass and alla that. I'm still tryin' to convince myself that I deserved it."
Leo huddled deeper under the blankets, already feeling drowsy. "You deserve it, otouto," he whispered, "more than you'll ever know."
Raph's hand was on the doorknob, taking one last look before he closed the door behind him. "Thanks."
As the door clicked closed, Leo was finally unafraid of the dark that followed. Sighing deeply, he closed his eyes and let himself drift into a dreamless sleep.
All this time he had been searching—years of running across continents, wandering forests, blood, chasing down the sewer tunnels with three pairs of feet in tow. The echoes of laughter, of innocence lost, his father's kind words and the inviting clink of soapy dishware. A mangled spider held in a child's hand.
But in the dark, Leo had stared down all those terrible things like two children staring across chalk lines. The boundaries, the nightmares, the dreams of what he found there, told in Raphael's young voice.
Beware the dark. Beware the things that lurk within. Put on your bravest face and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Not even the dark can sway you then. Not even the sharpest steel or harshest words can ever bleed you dry.
Life isn't a set of rules or codes to obey. It isn't lines that are never meant to be crossed. It's a gift that's meant to be savored to the last dying breath.
That was all it took for Leonardo to finally understand.
A/N: Yay for happy endings and YAY for finished fics! What a relief.
So…there's a little bit of background story to this fic I'd like to include, just in case you're curious ;]
I began writing Invincible during a pretty difficult time in my life. I had been on the brink of a huge falling out with my family, which landed me on the roughest path I had ever taken. I thought in the beginning that this fic had no plot at all, but looking back on it, this piece really is a reflection of my own life, not to mention good therapy! It's funny how a bunch of character study can turn into a mode of self-exploration, but I guess fifteen chapters can do that to a person.
The chibi portion of this fic is very much based off my own experiences as well. I was always that hypersensitive time bomb ready to explode at the drop of a hat. It took me a long time to find the inner strength to plant my feet firmly on the ground and face my demons head on. The fight between Raph and Leo in the last chapter, as well as the blossoming resentment between them is very much a reflection of my relationship with my own brother. But as we grew, so did our bond. We've been through a lot together, and that seems to only bind us stronger.
Luckily, things have been looking brighter for me and I have learned so much from my uphill battles. I suppose the most important lessons in life are those that cut the deepest. I bear the scars to prove it. In the end, it was completely worth it.