So here I am writing my first fanfic for TMNT when a long-delayed story lays waiting for continuation in another archive. Still, the years-old adoration for these turtles could not be denied once the plot ideas started arising. This short piece is Leo-centric, taking place after the Winters incident and his return from the jungle in the 2007 movie. I am inclined to slash, so if you want to see it that way, I won't discourage you. Otherwise, it's simply a story between brothers.

No, I do not own the turtles, their foes, or their friends. This fact saddens me, as I would greatly enjoy the ownership rights to Leonardo. If only he were real! (A sign you have been too long addicted: you wish your favorite character real, not giving a damn he's not mammalian).

As he fully regained consciousness with his body, he realized he had grown rather hungry during meditation. Not surprising, considering his hours-ago breakfast of oatmeal had been cut short when Donatello accidentally upset the table during his fight with Raphael that morning.

Leonardo frowned as he remembered their argument. As typical as it was for him and Raphael to bicker in front of the family, this was the first time he'd actually seen his purple and red clad siblings lose their tempers with each other enough to come to blows. All Raphael had done was tell Donatello that he needed to quit his 'stupid' job if he hated it so much or stop complaining about it. Quick as a flash, Donatello was out of his chair and screaming at Raphael for being an 'insensitive, unappreciative jerk'.

Leonardo leaned his head back against the cold stone of his bedroom wall, watching as the solitary candle on his nightstand threw shadows across the dark space despite it being mid-afternoon above ground. "How broken our family is now…How can I possibly fix this? They still won't talk about what happened when I was gone."

Shaking his head of the thoughts which were the motivators leading him to mediation that morning in the first place, he stood and stretched his cramped legs in preparation to find something to take the edge off the rumbling under his lower plastron. Journeying out of his room, he poked at the contents of a pot left near the stove from the supper taken by his brothers the previous night. His appetite sharpened at the smell of jalapeño spiked chili, but he forced himself to turn away. After living for months upon months on the jungle's natural diet of wild fruits, fish, and pilfered breads from the village, Leonardo's stomach couldn't handle New York pizza or Michelangelo's more complex dishes. The first dinner he ate after returning to the Lair had sent him running to the bathroom to empty out his stomach contents the same way they had gone in. Donatello had to explain to the upset Mikey why Leo had reacted so violently against his once-favorite meal, calmly suggesting in his trademark way that some 'jungle-like foods' be added to their table. Leonardo was touched at the sudden and expansive addition of bananas in their kitchen.

Now he had been home for several weeks, he wanted to indulge in a few of his old snacks, provided they weren't greasy or spicy enough to send his digestive system into rebellion. Opening up the refrigerator and digging past piles of shiny triangle-shaped packages, he found a jar of pickles. A wide grin broke out on his face as he grabbed the jar, bringing it out of the cold to sit on the table. He loved pickles, ever since a young Michelangelo had brought them home after searching for odd and new ingredients to put on pizza. His mouth watered, craving the perfect blend of crunchy and sour after being denied for so long. Placing his palm over the top and curling his three fingers over the lip of the lid, he twisted.

Or at least, he tried to. Repeatedly. "Ah, da—arn!"

Snatching a used dish towel from the sink, he jerked it over the jar and attempted again to force the stubborn lid off. The extra friction changed nothing, except for getting a smudge of day-old tomato sauce on his wrist. Biting back a snarl, Leonardo stopped himself from flinging the jar and towel against the far wall in frustration. Instead, he carefully placed the jar back on the counter before folding up the towel and placing it with their dirty laundry.

In his mind, he ran through a list of possible perpetrators. Master Splinter never cared for pickles, or for any particularly sour substance. Donatello was always gentle with his touch, applying only the necessary amount of pressure on any physical object—a habit created after accidentally ruining dozens of delicate projects with large humanoid-reptilian fingers. So he was not the brother to blame in this situation. But Michelangelo's constant practice with nunchucks had developed in the youngest turtle deceptively powerful arm muscles and Raphael never considered his surroundings unless he scouting above ground, creating a fair share of negative consequences as he had strength and temper to spare.

Although he would never admit to the fact, Leonardo was physically less strong than his siblings, always the most slender of the four. He made up for the difference by being nearly flawless in technique and execution, his pride struggling never to let his brothers have legitimate reason to question his qualifications as leader. As long as he had mastery over his mind and his swords, and as long as he remained stronger than the majority of humans, he would never have to worry.

But katanas and katas meant squat to a pickle jar.

Though punishing the jar for its insolence with his blades sounded incredibly tempting.

In the past, he would have just bitten the inside of his cheek with disappointment and waited days until someone else had the jar open to get one. But he was craving, the memory of the taste of pickles ghosting just above his tongue, testing his willpower after too long abstaining. And it wasn't as if he was thousands of miles away again, torturously dreaming of grocery stores and fast-food delivery as he scavenged for anything edible. What he wanted was right there. Just…unopened.

Again he went through the list of his family members, this time pinpointing the best source of assistance. Michelangelo had flown from the Lair to skateboard around the sewer after breakfast, escaping for the day to let his brothers cool down after their fight. Donatello had shut the door to his room with a slam, a sure sign that he would not tolerate any company until he had literally worked through his frustration. Leonardo wasn't about to ask his sensei for help on something as trivial as opening a pickle jar.

So that left Raphael.

Leonardo sighed to himself, feeling a ball tighten in his stomach which had little to do with hunger. He had been silent in Raphael's presence ever since their reunion in Winter's tower. Not out of leftover anger, but because he honestly didn't know what to say. He knew all of what he should say—shell, he had gone over the words thousands of times in his head: I'm proud of you. I missed you so much in the jungle that I cried. You bring passion to our team. I'm jealous of the way you live on your desires. I'm even more jealous of your and Casey's friendship. You somehow love the people of New York while knowing their darker natures better than any of us. You make me a better leader because you challenge me. You would have been a great leader. I love you. But the words refused to come out. He wasn't sure how Raphael would respond to them anyway, considering the younger turtle had a tendency to twist anything that came out of Leonardo's mouth.

Leonardo sighed softly, rubbing the bridge between his eyes where his bandana already shown signs of wearing thin. Admittedly, going to Raphael for this task was one of the best ways he could imagine to start bridging the gap. To show he could swallow his pride and admit when he needed help. To show he didn't mean what he said that night on the rooftop.

He walked into the dojo as silently as he could while dragging his unwilling feet, watching as his largest brother attacked a punching bag with unprotected fists. Leonardo winced silently to himself, but he knew Raphael had long ago built up natural calluses on his knuckles to protect his green skin from splitting and bleeding while administering repetitive blows. Still, he wished Raphael would take the time to wrap his hands before training. He was going to really get himself hurt one day.

"Hey, Raph?"

Raphael paused mid-strike, soft grunt dying in his throat as he craned his head to look over his shoulder. Cocking up one ridge in surprise, he dropped his arms to his side. His older sibling had been avoiding him since they defeated the stone generals and the immortal guy who ticked Casey off—not that he blamed Leo for keeping his distance after he nearly slammed a sai through his eye. "Yea? What do ya want, Fearless?"

Leonardo thrust out the chilled jar quickly, making the lime-colored liquid slosh around inside the thick glass. "Could you open this for me? The lid's stuck."

"Uh, sure."

Leonardo didn't fail to notice the way his younger brother's powerful upper-arm muscles bulged for the flash of a moment it took Raphael to twist off the lid. He grabbed at the jar the second his brother offered it back to him, the scent of brine delighting his empty and rather impatient stomach.

"That all?"

"Yes. Thanks." A pickle soon found itself in a three-fingered clutch as Leonardo fished out his first victim. Taking a large bite with a satisfying crunch, Leonardo closed his eyes in bliss as the sour vegetable gave his long-abused taste buds a pleasant awakening. The first and second pickles were rapidly consumed with a few happy moans before he remembered he had an audience. Opening his eyes, he saw Raphael was gazing at him as if he had decided to give up martial arts and take up ballet, pink sequined leotard and all. "Sorry, do you want one?"

"Nah…Leo, are ya sick?"

"Nope. Feel better now than I have in a long time, actually."

"So why'd ya make me open it?"

Mentally shouting at himself that honesty and humility were honorable traits in a leader, Leonardo attempted to keep his voice nonchalant and conversational. "I'm not strong enough to open the pickle jar after you or Mikey use it."

The moment of silence which followed before Raphael spoke did little calm the eldest turtle's nerves, and the soft tone of Raphael's voice little to pacifiy his guilt. "Splinter Jr. is actually admittin' I'm stronger than 'im?"

Leonardo shrugged tensely, beating a third pickle on the rim of the jar a bit too forcefully than was necessary to shake off the juice. "My pride must have wanted a pickle too."

Raphael snorted and turned back to his punching bag, shifting contemplatively on his feet a moment before catching himself and assuming the proper stance. "I'll always be here to open jars for ya, Leo."

Leonardo smiled towards his brother's scarred shell, unable to fight back the wave of pleasure the small but sincere promise brought him. "You're my hero, Raphael."

"Oh, shud up."