For those of you who are trying to keep track of my fanon continuity, this comes after an incident that's vaguely mentioned in Chapter 12 of "The Wooden Bestiary", and before "The First Time", which is sideflung from Chapters 7 and 15 of "A Paper Wall". For those of you who are not trying to keep track, good choice. The following fic stands just fine on its own.
"Self-defense is an act that implies you have something valuable to defend. After the instinct, you begin to wonder. What, specifically, was I aiming to save? What, beyond instinct, makes life worth saving? This isn't a question you answer, of course, but you try to remember to keep asking."
~ Emily Arsenault, "The Broken Teaglass"
After the battle, they let him be alone.
But not for very long.
He had been lying in his room, in the dark, for almost exactly an hour. Then the door opened, without warning, bringing with it a sharp angle of light and a Raphael-shaped shadow.
"Go away," he whispered hoarsely.
The door shut. The light withdrew, and it left the shadow on the darkness within, an unwanted residue that only added to the dirty feeling in his soul.
"Go away," but he couldn't bring himself to put much force in his voice, not after seeing what the strength of his hands had wrought.
The shadow moved, and he drew back. It sat on his bed and he had nowhere to go.
Everything in him rebelled, and something that had the taste of blood now wanted to lash out. He clamped down on it hard, and said nothing.
"What does it feel like?"
He didn't know. His mouth said, "Like I died."
He could feel his brother's surprise. "Really?" An awkward pause. "Thought it would be, y'know, a real rush."
"You should know."
"Mine was an accident." The surprise turned to anger, a mercurial shift he was all too used to. "Fucking accident."
"And mine was on purpose?"
Surprise again, and Leo felt he was being watched, scrutinized, even in the pitch black.
"But you just turned around and -"
"I know what I did, Raph." He turned his face to the wall. "A mistake, a reflex, call it what you want. I didn't mean to do it."
"Saving your own life ain't a mistake, Leo."
And there was the twist, the puzzle he'd been wrestling with since the blade went in and only one remained standing.
"My whole existence is a mistake."
Back to anger, and the pendulum of Raphael's emotions was a familiar and somehow comforting thing.
"And I'm sure that's what you were thinkin' when he tried to take your head off."
"No, Raph, that's the point." He struggled to sit up, the need to make his brother understand providing a motivating force that had been absent in his spirit since the moment his body refused to die. "I wasn't thinking. I wasn't thinking anything. I just did it, because that's what we've been trained to do. What are we, Raph?" He closed his eyes against the darkness and answered his own question. "Assassins. Killers. And we'll never be anything else."
He could feel Raph about to reply, but then Raph closed his mouth again, for once thinking before speaking. "If we weren't trained to do this," he said, "we wouldn't be anything at all. You'd be dead right now. It was self-defense and you know it. You'll feel like shit for a while and then you'll start respecting life in a whole new way." He stopped there, almost abruptly, the four sentences already a long speech for him.
The words sounded like the truth and they sounded like a lie, and the dissonance, like double-vision, gave Leo a sick feeling in his stomach. He dropped his head into his hands, trying to ease away the sudden dizziness.
"See," Raph said, "I'm right already."
Leo swatted at him, then slowly toppled over in the other direction, burying his face in the pillow and not caring that his legs were still twisted awkwardly over the side of the bed.
"Hey," Raph started, then changed directions, seeming to talk to himself instead. "Aw, I'm no good at this."
Leo felt Raph's weight shift forward, as though he were about to stand. Without even thinking about it, he moved his leg to trap Raph's ankle.
When Raph's voice came again, the usual roughness seemed heightened by the uncharacteristic softness.
They sat like that a long time, Leo keeping Raph's foot pinned to the floor, and Raph showing no inclination to move.
"Where do I go from here?" Leo asked after a while.
Raph was silent a moment before he said, "If you're talkin' long-term philosophically, I got no idea. But if you mean for now, then when you're ready, Master Splinter's got a candle he wants you to blow out."