The Decline and Fall
Michelangelo sat on a roof, looking over the nighttime city.
Thin clouds scudded over the full moon, at times blotting it out almost completely. But Mike didn't know when the bright orb was veiled, unless he looked up. It might have been able to move the tides, but its effect on the lighting of New York City was almost imperceptible.
The light of the moon only mattered where it was dark, and even Mike's lofty perch, above the streetlights, never truly was. Glow leaked upwards from the lamps, bouncing off the pavement and rising towards the sky, twining itself around the heat columns that exhaled slowly from the concrete and asphalt that was the foundation of everything.
No grass and trees here, none of the swamp that used to be. Only the bedrock of street and sidewalk, holding up the brick and steel of buildings, holding up the iron wills and personalities that were so typical of New Yorkers.
All these hard things, illuminated by the soft light of a Manhattan evening.
Mike watched the people. They moved, they talked, they hailed cabs. They sped around, always in a hurry, always in the middle of a thousand things.
They never looked up.
But Mike looked down, stilling himself, emptying himself of his own concerns, to become simply an observer of these people who were so full of motion and energy, who were so intensely alive.
And the energy, like the light, wafted upwards, filling him, letting him know that there was work to be done in the world and, by God, these people were going to do it.
He took the energy, drew it in, let it flow through him. He had work to do also. He was a New Yorker too, and he had a purpose in this city, and in a moment he would stand and begin the business of the night. Just like in the old days.
He didn't turn.
Someone sat beside him. He felt that energy too, the simmering power of his second-oldest brother.
He looked resolutely downward.
"Mikey..." Raph too looked downward, but Mike could feel that he wasn't putting himself in his gaze, wasn't sending his soul along the lines of sight, to be with the people below, to become invested in them, to become one with them. "Why do you keep doin' this?"
"I dunno," Mike said. He could feel the energy draining away from him, slipping through his fingers. It was so hard to hold onto, now.
"Yes, you do," Raph said. He paused, but Mike didn't bother to deny the accusation. "You miss it, don'tcha."
This wasn't even a question. "Don't you?" Mike asked.
Raph sighed, and Mike could sense him struggling with his answer. "Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah. I do. It's just -" He made a noise of frustration, and tipped his head back, looking up at the moon. "I just feel so useless, yanno?"
"I know," Mike said softly. He kicked his feet, drumming his heels against the side of the building. "There's nothing to do anymore. Nothing that really matters." He rubbed his thumb against the parapet he was sitting on, feeling the rough grain of the concrete. "Do you think... do you think it's the End Of Things?"
"The hell?" Raph looked at him with wrinkled brow. "Mike, you read too many comic books."
"No, I'm serious." Mike watched a woman in business attire stride rapidly down the sidewalk, a messenger bag over her shoulder. "Look at her. She has a place to be; she has stuff to make happen. It seems like hardly anybody has that anymore. Like everything is done. Like there's nothing left."
Raph watched the woman passively, and didn't reply.
"I don't get it," Mike went on. "I mean, I thought I would be happy. If life was easy, if I didn't have to beat up scumbags all the time.... But –" He watched some teenagers loitering on the corner, shoving each other and laughing. "I'm just... not."
"Preachin' to the choir, Mikey," Raph said, and there was real sympathy in his voice.
"What do you think I should do?" Mike asked. "Is it... bad, for me to keep doing this?"
"Aah..." Raph hunched up his shoulders, his arm brushing against Mike's. "I guess I can't tell ya t' stop doin' it, if... if, y'know, it helps at all...." He relaxed his arms and half-turned, waiting for Mike to meet his gaze. "But ya know it's fake, right? You're not goin' to..."
"No." Mike looked away again. "It's nice, to pretend.... But I'm not, like, losing my grip on reality or anything."
"Okay." Raph patted Mike's knee. "Just, uh, reasonable limits, okay?"
"I will," Mike said. He watched a man walking his dog on the opposite side of the street. "Can we talk about something else now? It's kinda ruining the illusion."
"Uh, actually," Raph said. "I was gonna go." He stood up, and took two steps out into the air. "Ya look like ya'd rather be alone."
"Forget it." Mike sighed and pointed to Raph's feet. "Illusion officially ruined."
"Sorry," Raph muttered.
Mike tightened his fingers around the parapet again, pressing a mirror-print of its weather-beaten surface into his palm. Then he tilted his head back and addressed the cloud-covered moon. "End sim!"
The city faded away. Perspective shrank into flatness, the rising warmth evaporated, the light evened out. The texture under his fingers became smooth, devoid of history, and he was sitting on a plastic bench in the Robo-Dojo.
"Um." Raph shifted awkwardly. "Didn't mean to..."
"It's okay," Mike said. He stood slowly, and shook out the residual stiffness in his limbs. "You're right; I was spending too much time there."
"We're gonna go back." Raph rubbed his head, and looked around the empty room. "Donnie, he's makin' really good progress with the time window..."
"Yeah," Mike said. The feel of the city was already fading from his palm, but yearning for it still ached in his heart. "He's been making 'really good progress' for months."
Raph regarded him. "Yeah, well, what have you done to help? There's work to be done here, Mikey. Get out of your fantasy world and go do it."
Mike stared at his brother for a moment. Then, slowly, he smiled. "Thanks, Raph."
"Any time, bro."
And together they walked out into the penthouse, into the gleaming glass and chrome of Manhattan in 2105.