This story is a RaphDon centric AU.
The village seemed to groan under the weight of the invaders, the shrieks and desperate screams of the people ripping through the air between the columns of smoke and the sharp ring of swords. Don found himself shaking as he pressed his chained hands to the bars of his small window, catching glimpses of the fight but not enough to tell him who was winning. How often had he wished these people would be punished for their vicious brutality? How many times had he cursed them and ached for some kind of justice … but now, hearing their stricken cries of agony and terror, he felt his stomach heave in his belly as the blood drained from his face.
Nobody deserves to die like this … slaughtered like animals.
No matter what they had done to him, no matter what he had endured … this violence, all this death- Glass shattered close by and he jerked back at the sound of the front door caving in under the weight of many shoulders, his heart pounding as screams and snarls penetrated the thin walls, familiar voices cut chillingly short.
He stared at the battered door of his small cell, locked as usual to keep him inside. Trapped. No way out. Suddenly a woman was screaming and men were laughing, their voices dark and ugly and he knew as the screams turned to muffled shrieks that these men had found Ferona, the owner of the house and keeper of his collar key … and they were giving her a taste of her own medicine. He turned and scrambled to his waste bucket, retching his horror as quietly as he could manage, though it was unlikely anyone would hear him over the sound of their fun.
Minutes dragged into eternity as they played with her, passing her between them until her cries were nothing more than strangled moans of broken horror and Don's stomach was a cramped, empty knot, fear bitter in his mouth.
And then suddenly the mood changed.
Don heard a new low snarl of fury and then suddenly men were the ones screaming, roaring angry words in the invaders flowing language only to be silenced with a suddenness that made his blood run cold. Something shattered against the door to his room and Don flattened himself against the wall with a terrified cry, smothered his mouth with a shaking hand and knew it was already too late. He had just given himself away. The cracked door was all but torn off the hinges as he pulled himself into the corner of the room, sagging on knees gone weak with cold fear. Don would have liked to go to his death with his head held high, but too many years under the whip had beaten the courage out of him. Yet even he had a little pride left. If he was going to die, it would be with some small measure of dignity, he would not beg or grovel. He bowed his head waiting for whatever fate was to befall him, heart lurching drunkenly in his chest, terror in his veins.
When nothing happened he opened his eyes and found himself staring at something that made his eyes widen. A pair of bare, two-toed feet, spattered with blood. His gaze travelled up, noting details that captivated and terrified. First and foremost the one before him was a terrapin - but this terrapin wasn't a slave like the others he had seen - like himself. This terrapin was tall, his skin a vibrant emerald green and every line of his body was strong, his movement graceful.
Predator... Don's mind whispered.
He wore only a thigh length haori over his black hakama leaving his plastron bare, the scars of other battles etched there for all to see. Blood had splattered the turtles neck - fresh blood dripped a dark path down those pale yellow plates and sticky stains had marred fabric in places. Don shuddered, tried to shrink away further and then found himself staring into the warriors eyes, helpless to look away. Golden and so full of fire he felt his breath catch in his throat.
The intensity pinned him helplessly in place, the warrior's face a beautiful, fierce mask. Golden irises measured him quietly, saw into him and then somehow softened though his expression gave nothing away. The warrior sank slowly to one knee before Don, his weapons vanishing in the blink of an eye, allowing calloused hands to reach out and slowly grasp his own.
Warm, so warm. Don felt his eyes fill with tears and was finally able to look away, staring down at the hands grasping his own in confusion.
'Chullu ma keyo?'
Don looked up at the soft query. Golden eyes were studying the shackles darkly but the touch on his skin was gentle .. so gentle.
'Fakesh ryo.' he snarled softly and Don flinched, trying to jerk his hands back and failing as dark fingers tightened firmly on his own.
The warrior looked up again, hesitating at the clear fear on Don's face and then lifted his hand slowly. Don flinched and froze, his heart in his mouth as those fingers ran lightly over the bruises down one side of his face. Even that soft caress hurt because the beating was still so fresh - a momento of his masters fury at some small mistake. The tears escaped to drip down his face as that careful touch traced the tender line of his jaw with a softness that seemed to reach all the way down into his starving soul. Something within Don's chest quivered and swelled, cried out for that gentleness, desperately hungry for contact that wasn't rough or demanding or violent. He swallowed a whimper, blinked back the humiliating tears and forced his gaze back down to his own dry knees. The slave smothered that weak, trembling cry within with bleak logic. Such emotions were not a slave's place. Letting himself feel anything so deeply would only get him killed.
The warrior made a low sound in his throat at Don's inner withdrawl and stood smoothly, pulling firmly on Don's arm until the olive turtle stood obediently, the chains of his shackles rattling as they tugged on the connecting ring around his neck.
'Kayah ne.' Don knew a command to follow when he heard one, and even if he'd misunderstood, the firm grip on his forearm towed him along as quickly as he could comfortably follow.
Don followed in a numb haze, stepping over Ferona's wide-eyed corpse, her fur and clothes torn in equal dissarray. He wondered distantly where the men who had done this to her had gone and saw only random smears of blood and broken furniture to show that the earlier fight had occurred. They moved through puddles that squelched beneath his toes and made his spine go cold as ice. Everything seemed to shift and extent into a distant haze, there was only the iron grip around his forearm, the solid presence at his side moving gracefully where he stumbled and the stench of war in his snout, making his stomach churn.
They moved through the carnage and somehow emerged into tranquility where he found himself passed over to others. The warrior growled something low to a terrapin with bright blue eyes whose gaze shot to Don in startled shock and then nodded, replied in that same flowing language and hurried over to take Don's arm, tugging gently.
'Come on.' he coaxed quietly, wrapping a supportive hand around Don's bicep.
Don blinked at him and tried to obey, stumbling on legs that felt like lead weights.
What had just happened? The enemy wasn't going to kill him, that was clear. At least not yet.
'You can s-speak common?' he tried to ask.
'Yep. Though not many in the turtle clans do. It's just us unlucky ones that were raised outside the tribes. You can call me, Mikey.'
The blue eyed turtle flashed him a small smile and drew him through the encampment quickly, working his way to a semicircle of larger tents set in a clearing around a large firepit. He pushed Don inside the largest and urged him to sit.
Don did as he was bid and stared around. The tent was plain but the furnishings were luxurious. A large futon pallet lay at one end, layered with furs. Paper lanterns cast a warm golden light on a rack of weapons, some chests and a low table which sat on a thin woven rug large enough to cover half the floor.
The blue eyed turtle hurried around preparing something until he returned with a cup steaming lightly and scenting of herbs.
'Drink it all if you can.' he urged. 'Raph said you've got battle-shock. This'll take the edge off and you look like you could use it. There won't be anything to eat until the Clan Leader gets back from the clean-up out there.'
Battle shock? So there was a name for this strange numb lethargy he felt and the way his hands wouldn't stop shaking? He didn't understand the rest of it but he had learned early not to argue. He picked up the cup and drank the contents as quickly as he dared, hoping his stomach wouldn't rebel. It burned all the way down and he coughed and gasped, his eyes watering. His caretaker thumped him on the shell with a sympathetic wince and then looked over Don's hands carefully.
He shook his head at the crusted cuffs. In places the metal had cut into his skin and festered, leaving ridges of scarring and raw scrapes that had never been properly cleaned.
'No wonder he was pissed.' The turtle muttered.
'I don't understand.' Don hesitated. Mikey wore a small collar, but it was of fine crafted metal with no rough edges or visible locking mechanism that he could see. Just a symbol embossed into the metal. He seemed well-fed and healthy and he wore good quality, soft clothes. Plain Hakama and the traditional kimono that were common in the land. 'Are you a slave too?'
Faintly haunted blue eyes met his before a wide smile hid the old pain. 'It's complicated. I used to be … back before the Clan Leader found me. And I still sort of am.' his smile faded. 'But trust me when I tell you there's no place you'd rather be than here in this tent. Nobody will hurt you here.'
Don clenched his fists weakly. 'The attack - why?'
Mikey rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. 'Politics. We can talk about that later but for now, just take my word for it. You're safe as long as you stay in this tent, but don't go wandering off on your own.'
Don nodded numbly, suddenly aware that he had nowhere else to go anyway. His previous masters were dead, wether these new ones would prove to be any better remained to be seen.
Despite the smaller terrapins words it was best to expect nothing but what he had already recieved. Only a fool would hope for better.
Mikey was studying the shift of emotions across his face.
'So, what's your name?'
'Kaimu.' he replied automatically, his eyes downcast. The turtle in front of him flinched at the meaning behind the word. Nothing. Someone's sadistic sense of humour at play. A subtler cruelty than the bruises.
'No... I mean your real name, the one you were born with.' he coaxed.
Don froze. His real name? He had kept that for himself all these years … it was the one thing he owned that was his alone. He shook his his head tightly and kept his mouth firmly closed. Let them make something up to suit themselves, they always did anyway.
'I understand. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to.' The other told him gently.
Don nodded faintly, relieved and then blinked against a wave of sleepiness, feeling suddenly heavy. He wondered when he would be allowed to sleep … only to find he had already sagged down onto the thin rug and something soft was waiting for his head there. The blue eyed terrapin gave him a slightly sad smile and patted his arm softly, the chains clinking.
'Just try to rest. When Raph gets back he'll help get those chains off. I think if I try and break them it'll just hurt you, but he can pick just about anything.'
'Raph?' he managed to ask, his tongue feeling thick.
Mikey pulled a light fur from the bed and spread it over him, the softness enfolding and instantly warming.
'Raphael. He's the one who pulled you out of there.'
'He's my new master?' Don managed to slur, his eyes drooping.
The terrapin snorted softly. 'Sort of. For now.'
Don's eyes sagged shut with the vague realisation that perhaps whatever had been in the cup was responsible for this bone-deep weariness … but he lacked the strength to care anymore. The blanket smelled so good. A faint musky spice that seeped into his senses, surrounded and soothed. He slept.
Raphael fulfilled the rest of his duties on the field, gave his orders and sent a messenger to tell Leo where he would be, then made for his tent. Terrapin warriors and Samurai stood and nodded respectfully as he passed, others scrambled to get out of his way. Few from the war party had been injured since the town had been ill prepared for any kind of assault. The majority of victims had been civilians caught in the carnage when the invading force had been looking for the Hun Raiders that were supposed to be settled there. Raiders that had apparently slipped out during the night. Always one step ahead, always slipping away just before the trap closed … it smelled like a spy and rankled until his blood seethed with frustration. The day's events sat heavily on his shoulders, the lives he had taken clinging to him wherever the blood had dried on his skin.
Mikey had already brought a tub of warm water and left it just inside the flap but Raph's gaze was caught and held by the bundle lying on his tent floor wrapped in one of his furs. He paused and let the flap fall shut before walking slowly to examine his find. The terrapin he'd found in that horrid room was fast asleep and he crouched to gently pull the blanket back from the bruised face. It had filled him with rage to realise the slave shaking in the corner was of the Terrapin clans. Taken as a child maybe in one of the numerous raids that occured under the scum Hun's direction. It was a trade they had been trying to stamp out for years now and though there had been some success … there had also been many failures.
The turtles skin was a dull olive when it should have been gleaming in health, his shell similarly dull and scratched. His body was streaked in old dirt and lined with thin scars that spoke of frequent punishments with the traditional sharpened cane switch - weapon of choice against helpless, unruly slaves. Raph's teeth ground together as he studied the delicate features, gaunt, shadowed eyes and worst of all, his scent … slightly off in the way that spoke of an injured animal. It left a clinging taint of bitterness on his tongue - an aftertaste of despair. He had been too late to save the woman in the house from the illegal looting and rape that had occured … but at least he had managed to do one thing in the course of the day that didn't involve the savage violence he was renowned for.
He studied the cuff and collar chain harness before he let the blanket fall with a dark curse. Latch locks were damn near impossible to get off without the right key which made them perfect slave restraints … - he could do it but it would take all his skill and tools he had not thought to bring with him on this mission. He left the slave to sleep off the sleeping draught Mikey had given him and stripped to wash the blood away before Leo arrived. There was going to be trouble before long, he could feel it.
Don floated in warmth and slept. Voices came and went. The blue-eyed terrapin from earlier mixed with the deeper baritone and rough growl of the golden-eyed warrior, then later terse words and clipped tones and a snarl of vicious fury that made him open his eyes blearily. He caught a glimpse of the dim tent … Raphael facing a terrapin of equal height as blue-eyes hovered in the background, anxiously. Don let his eyes sag shut against that new piercing gaze and slipped back into sleep.
'That's him?' Leonardo asked needlessly.
Raphael stood silently as Leo moved to kneel and pull back the soft fur revealing the thin terrapin slave his brother had pulled out of the town. The Clan leader's mouth pressed itself into a thin line at what he saw and he carefully covered the olive turtle back up, his thoughts racing.
'Saki's men have already issued a challenge, Raph.' he said as he stood.
His brother glanced at him, his eyes dangerous. 'They were breaking the codes of war, Leo. You and I both know I coulda killed them for that, but I didn't. I let those bastards walk away and all they had to do was bleed a little. They've got no right to challenge.'
Leo glared at him. 'They're claiming that you're the one that was raping that woman, Raph. They're saying they tried to stop you and you attacked them and then took one of the house slaves as your own. They're demanding the slave in compensation for their injuries as legal battle loot.'
'What?' Golden eyes ignited in rage. 'Are they out of their goddamn minds? I'll find em' and make em' tell the truth!' he snarled making for the tent flap.
Leo crossed the distance between them in three strides and gripped his brother's shoulder tightly.
'Don't waste your energy. The claim is already formalised and I've spent the last hour speaking on your behalf, for all the good it did. They have too many 'witnesses'. You've given them the exact opportunity they needed to call one of us out. We already have to watch our backs, the last thing we needed to give them was a legitimate right to kill one of us in combat! This won't go away unless you give them something they want.'
Raphael shook him off.
'It ain't legitimate, it's based on a fucking lie and it doesn't matter. I'm counter claiming. I won't just hand him over, Leo.'
Leo blinked in disbelief. 'But you've never claimed before. Ever. Why now?'
The emerald turtle glowered past his brother, his chest still rising and falling in fury, but said only. 'You know what the Oroku clan does to their slaves, bro.'
There was a long, tense silence as Leonardo followed his brother's fierce gaze to the sleeping slave tucked towards the back of the tent. Yes, Raph knew better than most what the Oroku clan was capable of. Their lies would force a confrontation and Raph would be at risk, but it worked both ways … and the Oroku clan had better pick someone who knew his brother's weaknesses well because this was already deeply personal.
There was only one way to avoid a duel of claim.
'I could order you to give him to them.' he said quietly. They stared at each other for a long tense moment, the challenge hanging in the air between them.
Beside him Raphael tensed, his eyes defiant.
'But I won't.' He finished finally, sighing imperceptibly.
Raph relaxed a fraction and snorted softly. 'They've been looking for a reason to call us out for a long time, Leo. We can't let it stop us doin' what's right and protecting the ones that need it.'
Leonardo looked at him, his gaze hooded. 'I know, but its my right as Clan Leader to shield my own and I can't protect you on this one. Not even from the blatant lies.' he stepped forward, his expression softening into concern and touched the emerald face gently, relieved when Raph relented and pressed gently into the touch.
'You know I don't need protectin', Leo. Not anymore.' he rumbled quietly.
Leo tugged him in for a half-hug and snorted wryly. 'I'm not so sure about that, little brother, but one thing is for certain ...' he slid a hand around the back of Raphael's neck and drew that forehead down to his own until their eyes were inches apart. 'You make sure they never want to challenge one of us again.' he said softly. His brothers eyes glittered darkly as he nodded in agreement.
'No regrets, Leo.' Raph growled softly as he pulled back.
Leo smiled grimly in response. 'Don't get yourself killed tomorrow, Raph. I love you too much not to go looking for revenge.'
'What about me?' Mikey demanded suddenly, having kept himself in the background as the tension rose between the two brothers. His blue eyes sparked with mischief as they turned to look at him.
Leo found a smile tugging at his mouth despite himself and saw Raphael roll his eyes as he turned to clean the sai still grimed with blood from the earlier battle.
'For you I'd challenge Saki himself.' Leo told the blue eyed turtle with a predatory smile, moving with unconscious grace to lie on the piled furs and draw the leaf-green terrapin into his arms.
Raphael shook his head, amused despite the earlier tension and stood watch, his ears alert for the external camp sounds as his hands focused on cleaning his weapons, his gaze straying frequently to the small sleeping bundle in the back of the tent. The Claim was his and nothing would make him back down now. Whimpers and muffled cries of pleasure settled softly into the warm night air, the paper lantern above bathing all in a warm golden glow.