So even though I have a couple other stories in the works, after I saw "The Pulverizer Returns", this happened. :D
As a side note, I did try to verify that "ashigaru-sha" was the correct term (and had the correct spelling) using the wonders of the interwebs, but I couldn't find it. The closest I could find was "ashigaru", which is the term for a foot soldier. I just decided to go with the term that was used in the show...so please forgive me if it's incorrect. I guess this could be a companion piece of sorts to "Responsible", but it's meant to stand on its own.
The creature roared and squelched forward, striking at his head with gelatinous tentacles, dripping slime that sizzled and smoked as it dripped onto the warehouse floor. He leaped backwards, barely avoiding the cold grip. Internal organs floated in a haphazard cluster in the creature's core, quivering like fruit suspended in jello as the mutant gave a final furious surge toward him. Triumph blazed in the wild eyes as the creature realized it had him cornered.
He reached over his shoulder for the hilt of his katana, but his fist closed over empty air. His body went cold and he crouched, poised to attempt a desperate spring to safety – but he was too late. Green ropes of goo twined around his arms in a crushing grip, and he cried out as the caustic substance burned him. The creature's floating mouth grinned with savage hunger as it reeled him in. He writhed in panic but it was no use. The mutant gave a final yank. He screamed as the translucent gel wrapped around him, feeling his flesh bubble and peel away as the creature engulfed him whole, choking on the slime as it slid down his throat and consumed him from the inside out...
Leo woke violently, thrashing against the confining folds of his blanket. He sat up with a jerk and scrambled backwards across the mattress to escape from beneath the bedding. His shell cracked against the wall at the head of his bed. He just sat there for a minute, gasping for breath. His heart was hammering against his plastron. He rubbed his face with a shaking hand and swallowed hard against the nausea that gripped his stomach. It had only been a nightmare, but he still thought he could feel the blistering slime slithering into his stomach and congealing in his lungs.
As the frantic thumping of his heart gradually subsided, Leo became aware of a second rhythmic pounding reaching his ears. He wiped the last of the cold sweat away from his forehead and climbed out of bed. The lair was completely silent aside from the noise he was following, and as he approached the main room he recognized it as the sound of the practice dummy getting pummeled.
He stepped into the wide living space to see Donatello pounding the daylights out of the heavy human effigy. From the look of things, he'd been there a while. His arms and legs glistened with sweat as he boxed the unresisting dummy. He moved with untiring precision and grace, but from the tension cording the muscles in his neck, Leo could tell that his brother was far from all right. He approached cautiously, feeling a sharp stab of worry when he saw Donnie's face. The only sound from the purple-masked Turtle was the hiss of his breathing through clenched teeth. His snout was wrinkled in a snarl, an expression that was jarringly out of place on his typically placid face. His bloodshot gaze cut over to Leo when he noticed his approach, and Leo was shocked to see the unshed tears glistening in the brown eyes.
"Donnie?" he asked carefully.
"Not now, Leo," Don said tightly. He jumped back and swept his leg in a high kick that sent the dummy swinging wildly on its rope, then swiveled and struck a sharp blow with the knee of his other leg right in the core of the dummy's torso. Leo could see that the tape on Donnie's knuckles was frayed and starting to come loose. His eyes widened in alarm as he saw that the tape was also turning brown with dried blood, and with every strike at the dummy, Donnie's hands were leaving rust-colored streaks on the thick burlap.
"Don, stop," he said urgently, coming forward again.
"I said I don't want to talk to you!" This time, the blow was aimed at his brother's face.
Only the fact that he'd spent a lifetime honing his defensive reflexes allowed Leo to dodge. He caught Donnie's fist in the palm of his hand, gritting his teeth against the bone-deep ache the punch sent shooting up his arm. "What is the matter with you?" he demanded. He could count on one hand the number of times Donnie had really and truly raised his voice at him, and the sudden outburst on the heels of his nightmare made him wonder if he was still dreaming.
"You should have listened to me! He had no business staying with the Foot! You used him, Leo!"
Regret rose like bile, tasting thick and bitter in Leo's mouth. "Donnie..."
Don pulled his hand back, leaving a bloodstain in the center of his brother's palm. He was breathing heavily, fists clenched at his sides, and he wouldn't meet Leo's eyes. "We used him," he said, voice low but no less harsh. "The Foot called him cannon fodder. We knew they thought he was expendable and we let him stay. We're no better than they are." Beads of blood seeped from the torn skin of his knuckles, and his mask grew damp as the first tears escaped. There was no hitch in his breathing, no tremor in his voice, but slow tears steadily trickled from his eyes. "You're the leader," he said quietly, "so when you make a tactical decision, I'll back you up. But you were wrong. I didn't want to argue with you in front of Raph and Mikey, but you were wrong. You took advantage of him, Leo."
Leo didn't say anything for several minutes. He just let Don catch his breath. When he was pretty sure his brother wouldn't take a swing at him again, he stepped forward. "Come on," he said kindly. Don jerked his arm away when Leo reached for it, but Leo wasn't going to let him off that easy. He tried again, clamping his hand around Donnie's upper arm in a gentle but inescapable grip. "Come on," he repeated, a little more firmly.
Donnie's face darkened in a scowl and he still wouldn't look at him, but he followed unresistingly as Leo led him to the bathroom. Leo shut the door behind them and led his brother over to the sink, keeping hold of him with one hand while turning on the water with the other. While letting the sink fill up with lukewarm water, he took Donnie's right hand in both of his and very gently started peeling away the tattered and dirty tape.
"You're right," he said quietly. "Timothy had no business staying with the Foot, and I did take advantage of the situation." The hand he was holding clenched into a fist, and he paused to pry the fingers open once again. He looked up into his brother's sorrowful, angry face. "But, Donnie, there was no way he was going to let things play out any other way. We told him how stupid and dangerous it was to stay, but he refused to listen." He released Don's right hand and began removing the tape from the left. "Once I knew we couldn't convince him to leave, I decided to use whatever intel he could get us. I figured that if he was going to insist on staying 'undercover', at least if he was in contact with us, we'd have a shot of bailing him out before it was too late."
Leo carefully examined Donnie's bare hands. The knuckles were raw and bruised, but he was relieved to see that there wasn't any swelling around the joints. He guided Don to submerge his hands in the half-full sink and squirted a little soap into the water. Donnie flinched a little as the diluted cleanser stung the cuts and scrapes, but he didn't pull away.
"We didn't save him, though," he said hoarsely.
"Yes, you did," Leo corrected. The water in the sink started to turn pink as he scrubbed crusted blood and burlap fibers away from the abrasions. "You got there in time, and you would have saved him from the Foot and from being mutated – if he'd let you. You couldn't save him from himself, Donnie. He fought you to get where he is now."
Leo let the sink drain and rinsed the soapy water away from his brother's hands. "Timothy was trying to be a superhero ninja before he even met us, remember? I know Splinter told you that training someone means that you carry some responsibility for them, but you have to remember that people are responsible for the consequences of their own decisions. We gave him every chance to get out, every chance to escape, and he chose not to take them."
Donnie didn't say a word as Leo patted his hands dry. The blue-masked Turtle retrieved the first aid kit from the cabinet, pressing down on Don's shoulder until his taller brother sat down on the edge of the tub. Leo sat on the closed toilet lid and opened the kit, pulling out gauze, tape, and antibiotic ointment.
"I'm sorry I hit you," Don said softly, watching Leo's gentle movements as the split knuckles were bandaged. Leo didn't say anything, but gave him a little smile that told him all was forgiven.
"I know you're right," Donnie continued. "About people being responsible for their choices, I mean. And...you're right that Tim wasn't going to listen. I know that...and I understand why you let him stay. It's just..." He swallowed hard, blinking rapidly and taking a deep breath so his voice would remain steady. "I keep making promises and I don't think I can keep them."
"What do you mean?"
"April's dad." He forced himself to meet Leo's eyes. "I promised her we'd get him back, but I don't know how. We don't even know where he is. The Kraang could be holding him at the TCRI building or he could be somewhere else entirely. And now with Timothy...I promised him I'd find a way to turn him back, but I don't know if any mutation can be reversed, let alone something this drastic. You saw how he acted after he mutated – I'm not even sure how much of him is left to be saved." He carefully flexed his hands, testing the bandages. "And what about his family? We don't know his last name or where he lives...they'll never know what happened to him."
Leo stood, putting the first aid kit back in the cabinet. "I don't know how to fix things either," he admitted. "But if there's one thing I know, it's this." He stood in front of his brother and put his hands on his shoulders. "Donnie...you can do anything. And when you set your mind to do something, it gets done." Donnie's eyes got a little misty again, but his mouth curved in a reluctant smile, and Leo's heart lightened a bit as he saw the guilt slipping off his brother's shoulders.
He returned the smile and gave him a hand up. "Come on, it's late, and you know Sensei is going to have us up early."
He turned to go, but he'd only made it a few steps before Donnie came up behind him and wrapped his arms around him. "Thank you," he whispered, hugging Leo tightly. Leo didn't answer. He just reached up with one hand and patted the arms crossed over his chest, letting Donnie hold on.
Donnie hugged him for just a little longer, then let him go. Leo waited until he heard his brother's bedroom door close before he flipped off the bathroom light and returned to his own room. His tangled blanket spilled over the edge of his bed, half puddled on the floor. Now that he was alone, the recesses of his memory seemed to blacken and grow, and he was reluctant to shut himself in his dark room. He didn't want to slip beneath the pall of the nightmare again.
He gathered his blanket and pillow in his arms and headed back out to the softly illuminated main room, hopping lightly into the sunken area in the center of the room and stretching out on the padded bench. He closed his eyes and sighed, tugging the blanket over his shoulders as he tried to quiet his thoughts. Sleep beckoned softly at the back of his mind, but in spite of how tired he was, every time he felt himself beginning to drift off, his consciousness would retreat, instinctively wary of what dreams awaited.
Leo didn't hear any footsteps, but after a time his sixth sense told him he wasn't alone. His eyelids were heavy and he couldn't lift them, but the presence he sensed was familiar and safe. There was no threat, and the knowledge allowed him to linger in his twilight state of consciousness. He heard no sound, but felt the warm presence draw near and settle close by.
The last thing he was aware of before falling gently into a deep and dreamless sleep was the soft touch of a bandaged hand on his forehead.