A/N: Originally written and published at Stealthy Stories in January of 2011. I thought I'd put it here for consistency's sake.
St. Leo battles his own martyrdom.
Katana slice the air. Perfect blackness. Lethal clarity. All he can hear is breathing, his own heartbeat thundering in his ears.
Silence. He muffles a whimper at the fiery stab erupting through his shoulder, spidering agony clawing through his muscles with every pulse. Battles on. There can be no faltering this time. One false step and it could cost him his life, his family, everything. He's tasted death, seen its true nature, knows what it's like when the ones you love fall beneath the force of a killing blow, a thirsty blade.
He knows what it's like to fail, to lose everything in an instant, in a heartbeat. To feel death's cold wind blow him empty.
Curtains. The end.
He leaps through the dark. No light for a shadow, the glint of steel, nothing. Killing blades tear through an invisible enemy, and in his mind, he can see the blood.
The darkness bursts into dizzying white. His head swims dangerously, world reeling until he collapses onto his knees. He clutches his shoulder, skin slick with sweat, and tries not to scream.
Pain is weakness leaving the body. He swallows it down like bad medicine, lets the rest bleed out. Don't faint.
When your enemy is your own body, your own mind, the only method of victory is to purge it. Drain it of all weakness, emotion, imperfection. He can't fail again. For years, Splinter had trusted him to keep his brothers safe, watch over them, to protect them from danger. All those hours and days and years of training, pushing himself to exhaustion to prevent situations exactly like the one he'd lead his family into.
They stopped the Shredder, but for what price? If the Utroms hadn't found them –
He presses his eyes closed. Revels in his own agony - that deep, raw pain of healing muscles cramping from underuse. Stabbed by his own katana. Stabbed by his own foolishness. He should never have trusted her. Pain is weakness leaving the body.
"You're gonna hurt yourself if you keep pushin' like that. You gotta let it heal."
"I'm fine," he grits out, winces as his muscles angrily tighten, has to hold his breath.
Too little, too late.
"I don't know who you're fightin', Leo, but you're not gonna win. Not this way."
He shudders, sucks in a breath, and the darkness clears enough to see Raph's shadow leaning in the doorway by the green light of the VCR clock. He imagines a smug look on his face. Patronizing. Judging.
No. Concern. Genuine concern. He's worried about him. They all are.
But they shouldn't be. He's only doing what he needs to do. Only being what he needs to be – perfect. Pain is weakness leaving the body.
Footsteps approach, but he's too wrapped up in agony to do anything about it. Raph crouches down, gaze level in the moonlight spilling from the window.
Leo turns away, focuses on fighting through the pain enough to gather up his dropped katana.
"Look at me, will you?"
Nothing. His shoulder burns too much to sheathe his left sword.
"Fine. I just wanted to say whatever you're going through, I get it. I know what it's like to feel like a screw-up. You don't got to do this to yourself."
The sword is sheathed. The pain ebbs to a familiar and constant, raw ache. He stands and turns away. "Thank you for your concern."
Hollow. Cold. Distant. Raphael stands, filling the room with his disdain, leaving no room for anything else. A crushing weight. Breathless.
"Screw that! That's all you ever say. You ain't even listening, are you?"
Silence. The winter wind rattles the windowpanes, howls in the night.
The floorboards creak with retreating footsteps, and Leo's left alone. His reflection stares from the window glass. The enemy's true face.
Pain is weakness leaving the body.
Pain is weakness leaving the body.
He just wishes it didn't hurt so much.