Casting Stones at the River:
Disclaimer: I don't own the turtles.
Other info: 100 drabbles focusing on fragments of a larger whole. Not in chronological order. Also, these are KC drabbles, so I reject your notion of short and substitute my own.
Pairings: So far, OT4, Usagi/Leo
These are the days before painkillers. Days before they have stockpiles of medical supplies stolen from their enemies. The days before easy access to alien technology and glowing crystals.
These are the days of needle and thread, too much blood and too few rags for bandages. Days of biting on the ends of a mask. Days of boiling water before you can clean a wound. Days when the only relief is--
Leonardo holds his youngest brother, wraps his arms around him and edges closer, plastron to plastron, and lets Michelangelo rest his head on his shoulder.
Beside them, Donatello and Raphael stitch up the gashes on his shoulders and sides, ignoring each muffled cry in the back of Michelangelo's throat. Michelangelo chokes down a cry. He doesn't want them to rush and make it easier on him. He doesn't want them to think he's a wimp.
Bad enough that Leonardo's mothering him in front of them. Self-appointed big brother treats them like babies whenever they're hurt. And it doesn't help that no one ever tells him to stop.
He hisses as the needles plunge in again, another rag wipes away blood, and he holds Leonardo harder. The world is disjointed, time comes in starts and stops. His brothers feel like sewing machines on open wounds.
"Breathe," he whispers. "You know how to do this."
Ragged, choking, catching in his throat when Raphael tugs the thread, Michelangelo mimics Leonardo's rhythm and falls into the place pain can't follow. He's made clumsy by the blood cooling on his legs and by never before meditating while injured. The stitching, the burning and icy shudders under his shell make it past his focus, and his mind stumbles.
"Breathe...come on, focus. I know you can. You do this all the time in practice, no problem."
No smartass comment about not bleeding out during practice. Michelangelo focuses on Leonardo's voice. The pain is left behind with bloody rags and muscles that slowly relax and let Raphael and Donatello work easier. He breathes fast, breathes shallow.
Breathes slower. Breathes deeper.
Months have passed. The pain should have passed with it. But a trip through Central Park, even passing by over the rooftops, brought back the fist in Raphael's stomach. No one else in New York knew that Central Park was a cemetery for one.
He avoided it when he could, taking detours or heading underground to avoid the park, but sometimes he came here without telling anyone where he was going. Tonight he'd argued with Leonardo--bad, worse than usual, but then they seemed worse than usual lately. Since Splinter's death, fearless leader had grown more paranoid, scolding him for smaller and smaller things.
Raphael crossed the small wood bridge to spite Leonardo even though he wasn't here. The mother hen wanted them to avoid paths that humans used. But the path was the easiest way to reach Splinter's grave, and he sat down against a large boulder and listened to the stream trickle down the rocks behind him.
There was no marker. They couldn't risk someone finding his body and looking for other mutants. He didn't think Splinter would have minded. Returning back to the earth without leaving physical reminders seemed like something he'd like. Humans got to look at names chiselled on stone and leave flowers. If he left flowers here, they'd look like they'd been kicked there absently, or maybe like a kid had buried an animal there. He didn't know why the absence of a marker bothered him, but it did.
He didn't talk to the ground. Why bother? He knew Splinter wasn't there. No one would hear him. He could scream like a teenager who couldn't get his way, demand someone listen to him, repeat all of Splinter's lectures back to his face--but he couldn't give the lectures Splinter's sense of patience and warmth.
He curled up on the grass and closed his eyes.
A hand on his shoulder woke him. Drowsy and shivering under a light layer of dew, he briefly glanced at Leonardo standing over him and tried to ignore him. That wasn't easy when Leonardo was helping him to his feet and turning him towards home like a child that had fallen asleep on the couch and needed to be put to bed. Neither spoke. Surprised he wasn't being scolded, Raphael figured they both knew they'd argue again if they said anything.
It was nice to walk next to Leonardo without yelling at him and without being yelled at.
Usagi didn't know anyone else who liked the sound of cicadas. Through the day, throughout the night, the constant drone drilled into his head. But Leonardo not only didn't mind it, he drowsed in the summer heat, lulled by the constant hum.
The route Usagi wandered took him far from Lord Noriyuki's lands, away from anyone he knew. Occasionally he ran across Kitsune or Chizu, other acquaintances and friends he knew intimately, but nothing lasted longer than a few moments. Only Leonardo joined him for any length of time.
Like two trees planted nearby, their branches touched when the breeze blew just right. They couldn't be together forever. Ninja and samurai, day and night, they could only meet at twilight and dawn, mingle for a few days or weeks together and then drift apart again. Usagi would soon return home to see Jotaro, to see Katsuichi. Leonardo would return home to his brothers and their continuing clan war.
Usagi looked to his left and watched Leonardo sleep. What they had was not exclusive. Neither expected it to be. Neither even mentioned it. On the long stretch of road between towns where even lonely country inns were rare, Leonardo simply accompanied him, watched fireflies with him, helped him out of fights and helped him stumble into many more.
And if Usagi dragged his feet to make the days last longer, Leonardo didn't complain. The song of the cicada lasted long into summer, but company on his lonely road comforted him more than a quiet night's sleep.
The more he stared at the DNA matrix spiraling on his monitor, the more Donatello felt sick inside. His third experiment gave him the same result as the first two. Shaking his head, he went to the small refrigerator in the corner of his laboratory and took out a vial of Raphael's blood. Refilling his coffee cup, he sat down and ran the experiment once more.
When his alarm clock beeped, telling him it was time to wake up, he had the same results from Raphael's blood and Leonardo's blood. The mishmash of circuits and devices stolen from Bishop and Stockman and recovered from the Utrom's building blinked around him. Tempted to smash it all on the floor, he instead set a sample of Michelangelo's blood in the computer for initial spectral analysis and leaned back in his chair to wait. Despite the advanced technology, each step took hours.
He yawned, and the room blurred as his head nodded down on his chest. His eyes fluttered, his breathing slowed, his hands fell slack--
--the coffee cup clattered to the floor. Donatello jerked awake and pushed his chair back, but the cup hadn't broken and there had been nothing in it to spill. He breathed out and set it back on the table.
A soft knock at the door made him smile. His big brother entered quietly, making just enough noise to let Donatello know he was there. In the past, they'd all startled him too often when he was absorbed in his work, and none of them would risk his irritated snapping now.
"I know, I know," Donatello sighed. "Another all nighter."
"You can't keep doing this to yourself," Leonardo said.
He bent and touched Donatello's hand, nuzzling his cheek. Weeks after Splinter's death, he was learning to temper his "mother-henning" so he didn't exasperate his brothers as much as they occasionally exasperated him. Like Michelangelo often told him, a kiss made a lecture easier to swallow.
"I know," Donatello said around another yawn, but he smiled over his shoulder. "Just like you shouldn't practice all night, yeah?"
"Yeah," Leonardo said with a rueful laugh. "Come with me to bed? Can it wait 'till later?"
Standing before he answered, Donatello turned the monitor off and left the program running.
"Sure," Donatello murmured. "I might have all the time in the world to wait."
Leonardo didn't argue. He didn't stumble to the bathroom, but he kept his hand along the wall to steady himself. He didn't pass out, but he swayed and felt as if he was deep underwater. It was all he could do to follow Raphael's order to go upstairs.
As he nodded and went up to the bathroom, he thought about the look on Raphael's face. It was one Raphael wore often, worried and angry that he was worried, but Leonardo had never seen it softened by surprise before. Leonardo rarely gave in to demands, even when hurt.
Only when he touched cool tile instead of steel walls did he realize he was in the bathroom. Not bothering with the lights, he left the door open and walked to the back stall. Leaning hard against the far wall, he turned and slid to the floor, closing his eyes.
"Mind if I join ya?"
He didn't have the energy to answer. When Michelangelo sat beside him, Leonardo slumped to one side and rested against his shoulder.
"Don't fall asleep," Michelangelo warned him. "You took a nasty whack back there."
"If it's a concussion, there's not much we could do anyway," Leonardo mumbled.
"So don't jinx it."
Michelangelo reached over and turned the shower faucet, starting a gentle rush of cold water that slowly turned warm. He soaked one of the cloths hanging nearby and began rinsing the blood and concrete dust from Leonardo's face and shoulders.
"You know," Michelangelo said. "Usually you're the one treating me. I don't think you've let me do this before."
"M'sure I must've," Leonardo said, relieved as the drying blood and dust was washed away. "We get hurt often enough."
"Nope, never, and I told you to stay awake."
"First time for everything, I guess."
Leonardo took a deep breath and opened his eyes, watching Michelangelo rinse off the washcloth. Sparing a moment for himself, Michelangelo eased under the water. In the relative darkness, Leonardo could only see his silhouette and a few splashes of color. The white concrete dust from the explosion clung to his bloody cuts. Then the colors vanished.
Leonardo smiled and gave a weak laugh. Hearing it, Michelangelo turned and looked at him.
"Nothing," Leonardo said. "You just looked funny for a moment, that's all."
"You're one to talk," Michelangelo said, smiling back. "I would've been laughing if I hadn't thought the explosion would kill us."
As steam rose up from the cold tiles, Leonardo closed his eyes again and listened to Michelangelo tease him about the fight. He didn't think he'd allow himself to be taken care of like this again--at least not for a long while--but it seemed to make Michelangelo feel better. And it was reassuring to have someone sitting with him, warm hand on his face, laughing about almost dying again.