Leap Of Faith
Part 1: Out of the Shadows
"People are afraid of everything: of war, of famine, of pestilence....of dogs. But no, I say, don't fear these things, they're not real....Do you know what you should be afraid of? Do you know what to fear? Love. Fear love; it is real, and it is terrifying. If you're going to be afraid, be afraid when someone says, 'I love you.'"
--Happy Franks (Steve Buscemi), The Impostors
The Old Union was, to be blunt, a dark, tiny box of a bar which, on a good night, reeked merely of cheap beer and clove cigarettes. Located between a decrepit warehouse and a closed-down shoe store, it was not the kind of place that ordinary people chose to visit. If any newcomer happened to stumble inside the Old Union's wooden doors, it was usually the accidental result of faulty or misread directions. However, when most of the Old Union's regular patrons entered, they experienced the kind of contentment that comes from feeling truly at home in a place that others don't belong.
Leonardo entered after his brother, Michelangelo, and recoiled immediately from the overpowering odor of the crowded bar; he had been remarkably accommodating until now, not even commenting on the dilapidated appearance of the place. Mikey, in his fashion, charged ahead blithely, scanning the room for a certain face.
"She's gotta be here somewhere," the youngest Turtle brother muttered to himself.
Leonardo glanced around dubiously. "Who're you looking for again, Mikey? Oh yeah, your drug dealer."
"Shhh, dude," Mikey admonished, "C'mon Leo, you promised to be cool!"
"Fine," he said curtly, "I'll grab a seat while you find your friend."
Michelangelo sighed theatrically, and slapped his brother's shell. "Lighten up, o powerful leader! Just relax and enjoy the show-maybe if you're good, I'll smoke a bowl with you later."
"Hey, how many times have I told you guys?" Leo said in annoyance. "No slapping the shell!"
"Must've missed that one, Leo. I'll make it up to you, someday."
Ignoring his brother's jibe, Leonardo settled into a ragged armchair towards the right side of the room, giving him both a clear view of the main entrances, exits, and the stage (as it were) as well as his shell backed against the wall for protection. Just in case. He watched as his brother drifted towards the rear of the bar, passing by a couple of guys who were setting up speakers, mics, and other accouterments of the band. A song from the seventies that he couldn't place competed for volume with the clatter of conversation among the bar's patrons. After a few minutes, as no real or immediate danger threatened, he began to slightly relax.
Loud voices suddenly sounded by the far end of the bar. A trio of "young professionals" wearing black coats and hats were well on their way to becoming completely shit-faced. Leo observed them for a moment before assessing their potential threat level at very low. He shifted in the uncomfortable chair and glanced around for Mikey. No sign of the little stoner. He wondered if he could buy a drink without the bartender shrieking in fear, then cast the thought aside to dwell on other things.
Mikey's new favorite person in the world was this young lady he'd met at a concert some months ago. She had, to coin a phrase, "wicked connections,"and ever since had kept the youngest Turtle brother happily baked. Although Leonardo did not understand his sensei's tolerance regarding Michelangelo's reefer habit, he honored his master's wishes, and tried to follow suite. Ever since that Winterscorp incident things had quieted down; as long as Mikey continued to train regularly and keep a clear head when needed, there didn't seem to be any problems.
Leo was still unclear on how exactly his brother had revealed himself to this person. It had been difficult for him, or the cantankerous Raphael for that matter, to trust their brother's judgment in this particular instance. From what Mikey said, he first met the girl at a John Brown's Body show, shortly before Leo's return from his extended training. It had been serendipitous; she happened to get separated from her group and, a bit out of sorts from ingesting some "hippie chocolates," as Mikey said, wound up sitting with the youngest Turtle for the duration of the music.
"She's a cool lady," Mike had argued, "She's a great musician, and she's down to earth. Open minded and philosophical, I think you guys would really hit it off." Leo had noted how Mikey was looking at him in earnest, as if trying to convince the eldest brother of this girl's trustworthiness. Despite his occasional indulgences, Michelangelo was no fool; after hearing all of this, Leonardo could honestly say that this stranger had piqued his curiosity.
A curiosity that had left him seated in a smelly armchair, ironically alone in a crowded room, trying to find a good reason for staying. Nothing came to his mind except a headache from the smoke, so Leonardo abruptly stood up to leave. Glancing around the room for his brother, he did not see the person that he'd knocked over until they were both crashing ungracefully to the sticky floor.
"Ouch!" A feminine voice groaned beside him. Leo recovered immediately and jumped to his feet, extending a hand to help her up as he apologized. "I'm sorry, I wasn't looking."
Without taking his hand, the woman got to her feet, blinking rapidly. She was short, about his height, with dark hair in a single plait down her back,and large dark gray eyes; had he thought about such things, Leo would have considered her rather pretty.
"Apparently neither was I." At least she didn't sound angry, or frightened for that matter, though Leonardo retracted his hand, hoping that he could still slip away quietly. But not before making reparations.
"Are you alright?" he asked, bending to pick up a case that she'd dropped, and stepping more into the shadows in one fluid motion.
"I'll live." She watched him, her expression curious. "Are you alright? You seem kinda spooked."
Spooked? Leo backed away a tiny bit more as she took the case, her shoulders hunching over a little with its heft. He needed to go, before this conversation continued. "Actually, I was just leaving."
She raised her brow, indignant. "You can't leave yet, we haven't even started playing. Look, if you're going to slip out, at least do it while we're on-we'll be like a distraction." She seemed completely serious for a moment, before breaking into a smile. "I'm kidding, you really should stay and enjoy the music. It'll be fun, I promise."
Despite his best efforts, Leo found himself smiling back at her.
"Hey there you are!" Mikey exclaimed, slapping Leo's shell as he approached. Leonardo shot him a glare, though it was pointedly ignored as he continued. "Where've you been, bro? Howdy Miranda."
She grinned as Mikey treated her to one of his massive hugs. "Oof, hey Mikey! I'm glad you could make it." She gestured to Leo, her eyes unreadable. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your 'bro'?"
"My apologies, milady." Mikey bowed dramatically. "Leonardo, this is my friend Miranda Malone. She's a singer-slash-songwriter, like Jewel." He winked at Miranda, who glanced at Leo again, her cheeks a bit more flushed than a moment ago.
"Please don't compare me to that blond sellout Mikey-I've never been to Alaska and I don't live out of a van. At least, I'm keeping the fingers crossed. Nice to meet you, Leonardo."
When she spoke his name, he felt a faint ringing in his ear, a touch of delirium. That might be trouble later on. Leo took her palm in what he hoped was a non-sweaty handshake as Mikey continued to embarrass the both of them. "Besides what I've already told you, he's really skilled at, um, meditation, and...." Leo winced inwardly at the thought of his brother attempting to espouse some of his more attractive qualities-whatever they might be-as well as what else he had told this woman regarding Leo's personality.
"Oh," Mikey exclaimed, again slapping Leo's shell. "He's also really punctual."
Leonardo was torn between wishing that he could fade into the shadows and disappear, or staying and attempting to salvage the conversation with Miranda. He glanced at Mikey, who was clearly enjoying the whole situation way too much. But as he was about to ask her a question, a tall guy with dreadlocks called Miranda's name above the growing din inside the Old Union. She glanced around the room as if for the first time.
"Whoops, didn't realize how late it was. I guess we should get up there and give everyone their money's worth." She nodded at the Turtles. "Thanks again for coming, Mikey. I hope you enjoy the show, Leonardo."
And she was gone, leaving Leo slightly confused and mildly infatuated, though his expression revealed nothing. Mikey handed him a beer he'd procured, (no one was really sure how he ever managed this feat), and they moved to face the middle of the stage, finally standing in front of the soundboard. "Miranda swears that it sounds the best here." Mikey said as the band began their set.
The previous day when Leo had asked his brother what kind of music Miranda's band, Nautilus, played, his younger brother had shrugged. "A lot of reggae; The lead guitarist and the bass player are really into it. But they also do some folk, a little bit of bluegrass, some jazz, rock, and jam. She plays guitar and fiddle, and does some vocals." He laughed at Leo's bewilderment. "They're really good, you should totally come out!" And so on.
Music had never been Leo's specialty. When he was younger, it's main function had been to provide a suitable background ambiance for whatever training or meditation he'd been engaged in. Truth be told, until Donnie fixed it, he'd done those things in the silence of a broken stereo. However, recent technological advances had made a wider variety of music available, and in the past five or so years, their home had begun brimming with new tunage. All thanks to Donatello, of course, who favored classic rock, like Queen, Rush, and Journey as he tinkered in his room. Raph, predictably, steered towards metal, rap, and occasionally some Led Zeppelin, when he was in a "good" mood. Mikey seemed to be able to groove to whatever was on, though lately he'd been playing a good bit of reggae-probably due in part to Miranda's influence-as well as favorites like Jack Johnson and Mayday Parade.
The first tune was jazzy and energetic, and featured a heavy bass line, led by a skirling saxophone. Leo could hardly catch the lyrics as the music spiraled around the room, causing more than a few audience members to start dancing. He had never heard anything quite like it. Mikey was grooving beside him, and his own head was starting to bob a little. From this, they segued into a reggae beat, with the bass thumping through every muscle, filling him with the vibrations of the powerful music.
The song ended, and everyone on stage, (Leo counted six in an area that seemed large enough for four), paused to take a swig of beverage before pulling out a different assortment of instruments for the next song. Miranda picked up her violin, hidden until now behind a row of speakers, and the lead guitar player fiddled with knobs and strings on what Leo figured was a banjo. He glanced at Mikey, who was well into his fifth beer and cheering happily. Leo's own beer, though still full, was now warm and unappealing.
The bass player, introduced as Ashton, stepped up to his mic. "Thanks, everyone. This next one is an old folk song called 'Down By the River,' enjoy." Miranda and the Ashton glanced at each other and nodded.
It was bluegrass in nature, sounding vaguely familiar in the way that most folk songs do, and Leo was surprised to realize that he actually like it. Before he knew what was happening, the vocals ended and the music slipped into a rollicking fiddle-heavy tune that made his head spin. Perhaps it was the euphoric energy of the crowded room influencing his perception, but he was astonished by Miranda's playing. The bow flew across the strings with the practiced grace of a bird in flight, and he could tell that every molecule of her being was focused on the music. The music that flowed freely and seemingly spontaneously from every member of the band reminded Leonardo of an old axiom that he'd heard Splinter use on a number of occasions, usually regarding the practice of martial arts. "A true master makes even the most complex movement seem effortless."
The audience seemed to agree, though it was odd to see punks, hippies, and scenesters alike bobbing energetically to the picking of a banjo. When the band finished, the crowd went wild; Mikey was whooping and cheering, and even Leo clapped heartily. Was it his imagination, or did she wink at him? Probably not, he decided. It was doubtful that anyone on stage could see a thing beyond the intense glare of the lights.
After another change of instruments, the bassist once more stepped up to the mic. "Thanks everyone. Miranda wrote this next one; this is the first time we've done it in front of a crowd, so you'd better enjoy it!" He grinned at Miranda, who laughed as she adjusted her mic.
"One, two, three, four...."
Upon hearing her voice raised in song, Leo sincerely hoped that his few sips of beer were affecting him way more than they should. It sent chills down his spine, and he would later recall stopping all extraneous movement in order to better listen, even though he didn't remember any of the words. When the song ended, Miranda smiled contentedly and stepped back from the mic as the crowed hollered and the band paused to switch instruments again. Leonardo continued to watch her, and thought that he was the only one in the bar not cheering-at this point he was afraid that he'd miss something. And then, was she smiling at him? This was leading to unfamiliar territory rather quickly, and the idea made him irrationally nervous. It's definitely time to leave, he thought, pulling Mikey's arm, I'm starting to hallucinate.
"I think we should go," he called to his brother. The din was so great in the bar that he practically had to shout into Mikey's ear, even as the younger Turtle was whooping along with the crowd.
"Aww, come on, Leo!" Mikey yelled back, laughing, "They're just getting warmed up. What's wrong, are you actually enjoying yourself?"
"Fine." Leonardo said, pretending to take a sip of his room-temp Michelobe. Honestly, I should just throw it away at this point, he thought. Though it is kind of good to have something to do with my hands. Mikey took a swig of his own beer and chuckled at his brother's obvious discomfort.
"That was easier than it should've been. Maybe I will smoke that bowl with you after all-it'd probably do you a world of good."
Before Leonardo could form a reply, Nautilus started up again. The rest of the set passed surprisingly quickly, with another reggae song, a Pink Floyd cover, several originals, and a long wordless tune which Mikey referred to as a "jam." By the time the music ended and the band began to collect their equipment, Leo realized that he was tired, and....happy. Not drunkenly euphoric like his brother and most of the Old Union's other patrons, but almost refreshed, like he felt after a particularly good meditation session.
"Well, that was fun, but now it really is time to leave." Leo put his hand on Mikey's shoulder, only to have his brother bat it away carelessly.
"Alright, alright. You win big brother; just let me catch up with Miranda."
They slipped through the crowd with a grace that Leo was certain his brother should have obliterated by now. After a few minutes he spotted Miranda, holding a djembe and a microphone stand, speaking in low tones with a tall man in a dark coat and a black wide-brimmed hat with a single white band. He made a remark and her eyes narrowed, she shifted her weight as if tensing, about to spring away from him.
Leo was immediately on the alert-it was clear that this was no casual admirer-and a glance at Mike showed that his brother was also attentive, despite his slightly wobbling step. They approached the pair unnoticed until Leo could make out a snatch of words spoken amidst the hubbub of last call.
"....don't think this will last?" Miranda was saying, her jaw tight in anger.
"It will continue as long as it needs to, Miranda," the man said calmly. "You'd do well to keep a low profile." His smile revealed rows of teeth that were unnaturally white and straight. Miranda paled visibly, before she noticed Leo and Mikey as they stepped behind the man in black. Before he could turn and follow her gaze, Miranda regained her composure, stepping closer to him and drawing his eye.
"Don't fret, Jacob. I'm sure that the Order doesn't have any reasons to worry about me. Why don't you just go home?" She smiled again, seemingly innocent, but her eyes betrayed her, at least to Leo, who thought that he saw a flicker of fire that lay coiled beneath her calm exterior. The man in the black hat nodded curtly, then slipped into the crowd and was soon out the door. Miranda immediately let out a deep sigh of relief.
"Whew! Thanks, guys. That was really unpleasant."
"Who the shell was that?" Leo asked, his gaze following the path of the stranger.
Miranda only shook her head and pulled a wry face. "It's no one, just a fan who's a little too eager." She glanced at Leo. "So did you enjoy the show?"
"Oh yeah," he replied, "I liked it a lot, I guess."
"You guess?" she said incredulously, "You guess? We kicked ass tonight!"
"Sorry," he winced, "I mean I really enjoyed it, I know, but I'm still trying to absorb it all."
"What he means is he's never heard anything like it," Mikey interjected, "Leo's mostly into classical and new age."
Miranda leaned towards the stage and grabbed a cd from a stack by the tip jar. "Here," she handed it to Leonardo. "Hey, Mikey, I'm sorry, but you'll need to catch up with me later about all that. If you guys are up to it, I can meet you at the keyboardist, Hannah's apartment-I'll write the address on the cd. I can meet you outside in an hour, if you want."
"Sweet! That'll probably make life easier," Mike replied. Leo nodded mutely; he was busy trying to meet her gaze without staring obviously, as well as ignore his own sudden and irritating shyness.
"Great. Well, I need to help tear down. Thanks again for coming, guys. It was nice to meet you, Leonardo." And she was gone, again leaving Leo with the strange notion that something about the way she said his full name made his spine tingle. Mikey slapped Leo's shell, and put his arm across his brother's shoulders.
"Let's hit the road, bro. There's a Waffle House near here with our names on it, and I'm starving."
Leonardo sighed deeply and glanced at the emptying stage. "Yeah, me too."