A/N: So this started out as me trying to sort out my thoughts after a rough day, then about a paragraph in a plot bunny invaded and now, a few hours later, I have this to show for it.
Be warned, I cried writing it, though that might just be because it's 4:30 in the morning right now. ^_^'
Word count: 2404
"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. -H. B. Stowe"
You can't change the past. That was an irrefutable fact, spoken by the wise, shunned by many. Because, after all, denial was painless when compared to regret. Denial fueled the dreams of machines that could whisk us back to those days where things weren't right. Back to those moments where we screwed up or let a chance pass us by.
Do it again. Fix a mistake. Listen to that gut feeling. Do things right... how they should have happened the first time.
But time travel was a false hope.
Regret was a painful reality. One Raphael couldn't seem to escape from.
He stared into his reflection, amber eyes stinging with a rage that wasn't his own. The haggard look that hung across his brows pinched deeper as the hatred grew. His lips twisted into the snarl of a caged animal. Shattering a mirror would wake the others, and that was the last thing he wanted.
Sleep, of late, was precious and plagued by demons. Not a night passed without a muffled scream piercing the silence of the large lair. It was torture to let lids close, but Raphael knew they all damn well needed it.
Water rushed from a facet, diluting the blood that stained the sink and an emerald hand. Stupid. Striking a wall was stupid. But the pain was a fleeting blessing. For a moment it shook him from the turmoil that rolled within... it buried the emotions.
If only it had lasted longer.
"Shit," he muttered, falling back as if he'd been struck.
That was a screwed up wish. Best not to dwindle...
Blindly, he wrapped bandages around his knuckles and left the bathroom behind. The hall was hushed, lit by small lights that led a safe path to every room. He didn't go to his. And with his ninja stealth, no brothers left theirs.
Green veins snaked through a bamboo door, in the dimness they ran like rills of blood. Raphael paused outside his sensei's room, grimness gripping the corners of his mouth.
Nothing waited for him inside. Nothing living, anyways.
Just a pool of memories and cloud of incense. Just another reason he wanted to run from reality. Just enough to pivot his heels and drive his shell towards the dojo.
Inside, his fists shook, but didn't strike. They stayed by his sides like two loyal dogs, so eager to pounce and protect, but kept restrained. Denied their only duty. Something more than sweat seeped between the fangs that were his fingers. Something that smelled of blood and met the padded ground with a snowman's dotted smile.
Before the trembling figure stood another. A long missed and untouched friend. Its patched and sewn leather coat wore a cover of dust and shadows, its jewelry jangled as it swayed. The subtleness of the motion drew him nearer with an ache stronger than any lover's. This was becoming a nightly engagement. For some three weeks now, whenever he could, Raphael wandered into the dojo to be alone. To share a few quiet minutes with this friend.
Hitting it just didn't feel right anymore. Because that would be normal. And things weren't normal.
So the red-clad turtle just stood there in the stillness. And the punching bag hung, its patiences too vast to vanish.
"Wouldn't do any good, would it?" he winced as his voice carried, louder than he intended. Nothing stirred, so he strode around the bag and pushed on. "Hittin' ya won't change anythin'. Won't bring him back."
His throat tightened around a sob. That sound would wake the others, it had to be swallowed. Though it hurt like shards of glass. "Won't change what I did... won't change a damned thing."
"And what did you do?"
Raphael flinched at the unexpected response, his gaze flying up to gawk at the inanimate bag. His jaw unhinged just as the voice came again.
"Raph?" Leonardo approached from the open door.
Of course madness was too much to hope for.
With a growl of annoyance, Raphael turned away. "The hell yer up fer, Fearless?" the gruffness was a word away from manifesting itself into a frog.
The elder eased closer. "Same as you."
"Ya have all the answers ya need then. Beat it."
Hesitation met the next step. But only for a moment. "You've been distant," he whispered, "It isn't what Splinter would have wanted."
The hothead spun around, his shoulders hitched higher than his breaths. "Shut up," he hissed.
The leader bore no mask, not blue or stoical. His face was open. Just like it had been that dreadful night. Only now, no tears traveled down the paths already forged through the sunken cheeks. Raphael couldn't help but think how Leonardo looked older than his nineteen years. How they all did now.
"At the funeral," Leo ventured after a moment too vast to measure, "All I could think about was the things I didn't do for him... that maybe if I had taken on more responsibilities... made things easier... that maybe he could have been here a little longer."
"You're a real piece of work, ya know that?" Raph snarled. "Always gotta find some way to blame yerself. He was old, it wasn't anyone's fault. And if you or Einstein up there even try to argue, I'll hit ya with some nonverbal reasonin'. Got it?"
Something of a smile met the remark. "I could say the same to you, bro."
A dark ridge rose in confusion. It fell with a toothy grimace. "No, ya couldn't."
"Then what can I say?"
"Not a damned thing." Raphael bumped shoulders with the leader as he beelined it out of the dojo. His eyes burned as he cast them around the lair, searching for any sign of his other brothers. The living room was empty, the second story was still, the bathrooms were open and dark. Most importantly, the kitchen was all clear.
He tromped under the low threshold and nearly ripped the fridge door off its hinges. Fluoresce lights buzzed an unpleasant greeting as Raph tore through the food box's guts. A half empty carton of orange juice was shoved aside, a jar of pickles screeched indignantly as it struck a tower of plastic sealed leftovers. Finally, Raphael pulled back with a beer in hand, his fingers wrapped around it's long sweating neck as if he were attempting to strangle it.
In truth, he wished it the other way. Every night since Splinter's passing, the young turtle had sulked in here, intent on drowning himself and his sorrows for a few hours. But something always kept him from popping the cap.
And it wasn't his brothers.
Raphael stared at the alcohol, as if ashamed.
"I could make some cocoa."
This time, Raph didn't even glance at his elder brother. "Didn't I tell ya to beat it?"
"If memory serves," Leo said. "So how bout it? I'll even put marshmallows in it."
The fridge door slammed shut. "Why?"
"Because you hate tea and I'm not about to offer you booze."
The bottle was propped up and swung like a pendulum beneath the leader's nose. "In case ya couldn't read it, bro, I'm all good on the beverage front."
Leo fell back with two raised hands, as if he were a tiger surrendering territory to a dominate counterpart. He flicked a finger out. "Go ahead then."
But Raphael just sneered, his focus trading between the unopened bottle and his unhurried brother. There was no winning this battle. And the 'prize' wasn't worth the effort. A buzz, clang, and scrape later saw the turtle seated in an oak chair, empty handed and glowering at the eldest.
He realized a moment too late who's chair he had slumped into. Leonardo, on the other hand, didn't seem to notice; he crossed to the coverts and collected an armful of items. When the stove clicked on, Raphael slipped into a different seat and watched his brother.
The minutes passed in mournful silence, because Raphael knew what was coming. And he knew retreating to his room or anywhere else would only serve to delay the inevitable.
Yeah, now Leo wanted to talk.
Steam danced up like smoke from an extinguished candle, it carried the sweet smell of milk and chocolate and innocent childhood. In one whiff, Raphael nearly lost every handle on composure. Amber eyes stared into the marshmallow swamped depths, blank and slowly breaking.
"Raph?" Leo asked, his hand still holding the mug before his brother. Soberly, the offer was accepted. And Leonardo sunk down, opposite of Raphael, and sipped his own cocoa.
The rust colored mug clattered against the table top. "I don't see why you're doin' all this, Leo. We both know everythin' there is to know 'bout what happened. Ain't no reason to relive it now."
Onyx eyes peered over the cup's chipped rim, regarding Raphael with a patiences too close to Splinter's. Raph looked away, his mouth faltering and his fingers trembling. He swallowed loudly, as if the air were suddenly water.
The mug slid nearer. "Drink," Leo instructed.
And Raph did, if only to hide the quiver of his traitorous lips. To busy his tongue with taste instead of sound. In the distance, a clock ticked the night away. Each second taunted him with their waste—one more moment he can't get back. Another.
"What did you do?"
Relief rolled Raphael forwards, his elbows taking guard around his table settled mug. Even conversation was better than silence.
"Your hand." Leo said, rubbing his own knuckles over the cup's handle.
The bandages were already turning pink; for a moment Raphael studied the messy dressings, realizing he should have taken more care in the task. Blood did tend to attract more attention than sterile cloth, after all.
"Hit a wall." he admitted.
A chin tipped up in a silent acknowledgement; And in something that looked like understanding. "And what did you do?"
The younger retreated behind his mug once more. "Jus' told ya, Fearless."
"You know what I mean." he said. "In the dojo, you said you couldn't change what you did. What did you do, Raph?"
Amber eyes fell. Could he get out of this? Could he just stand up and walk out? Go topside for a few... what? Days, maybe.
One look as Leonardo, and Raphael knew that weeks wouldn't wane his determination.
"It's what I didn't do..." he muttered, but delved no further. He was hoping against hope that his brother would just accept the answer and let it go. That he would let him go. Because that's how it had always been, because this wasn't worth it, because this pain was just too much...
Couldn't Leo see this was killing him?
"Go on," the maskless turtle urged. A long beat later, and the quiet remained. "Raph," Leo breathed. "Holding this guilt in isn't healthy."
"And how is spillin' my guts 'healthy'? Sounds down right fatal to me."
Amusement didn't follow the outburst, only a mournful sigh. "Don, Mike, and I can't heal if you're killing yourself, Raph. We just lost Splinter, and now, with you," an inhale. "It's like watching it all happen again."
Raphael's chair toppled as he stood, chest heaving in air to fuel the much needed anger. The other emotions clawed at his throat, climbing in a desperate attempt to escape him before the rage could consume them once more. It was a battle so fierce his stomach churned. And his eyes burned. And Leo blurred into a green blob.
He wanted to scream. Instead his voice came out hoarse and hushed. "You. Were. There." is all he managed.
That night came reeling back to him. The silence that settled over their home, the tightness of Splinter's chamber as they all entered and huddled around his frail body, the huskiness in the old rat's voice as he told them things he should have said years ago. And then there was the pressure of a furry paw on his cheek, stroking under his dry eyes as they watched him. As he just stared at his father's weakly moving lips and listened to the words that fell.
And then... And then...
"I wasn't there." he choked. "I ran—I ran out. His final damn hours, Leo, and I wasn't there fer him. I wasn't there fer any of you! I wasn't there." he said again, the withheld tears thick in his words.
"I was too much of a coward to stay by his side... and I can't change that. I can't... I can't—I—I can't go back and fix this and there's no forwards. There's no makin' it up this time. Cause there ain't no 'next time'. There's—It's over. The last time anythin' I could ever do fer him that mattered, and I screwed up and... and... that's all. No more chances. No more Splinter—"
Arms were around him then, sudden and fierce. They held him close, though he wanted to pull away, to hide before he lost the last string of composure keeping his eyes dry. But Leo didn't waver, didn't speak, didn't seem care that he was pelting Raph's shoulders with fat drops. That his sadness was spilling onto Raph and that it hurt. It hurt more than any blow or any word.
"I didn't tell 'im." he gasped.
"He knew. He knew, Raph."
The embrace outlasted every ounce of anger that fought it, broke every armor that denial tried to don, and stayed warm even as stony hatred sought to freeze its touch. There, in the middle of the kitchen, the embrace was returned with the same fierceness. And, over cocoa, Raphael shed the first of many tears.
Thanks for reading. And let me know what you think. :)
God Bless and Cheers! your red writing rebel.