Chapter 14 – Expiate

"Leo, you can't be serious," April said, still kneeling on the floor in front of him.

Her mind reeled from the information she had just been presented with. Leonardo was afraid but he was determined to protect his family. She had to think of some way to talk him out of what he was convinced was the only way to sever the ties the Mistress had between her world and his: his sacrifice. He had shifted several times as he spoke quietly to her of his plans and his reasons behind them. April never moved an inch. She knew kneeling in front of him like this, between his legs made him uncomfortable, but it served a purpose. She did it in part to keep him in place and in part because she felt too weak, too overwhelmed by this to move even if she wanted to. But she was afraid that if she backed off even a little, he'd bolt. Or do something worse. She glanced at the sword held loosely in his hand, then moved her gaze to meet his. His eyes bore intensely down into hers but there was a wavering panic dancing around the edges. That manic look made her feel frightened and shaky like a child standing in the shadow of a looming monster.

"I have to. April, there's no other way. I have to put an end to her, once and for all. She wants revenge against me and is using my family to get it. I have to stop this."

"But Donnie . . . you haven't even told him. I'm sure he can –"

"Can what?" his question cut her off. It was whispered and soft and it fell like a lead curtain over her shoulders. "What is he going to do? Give me a vaccination?"

He chuckled but the humor in his tone was flat and his eyes were dark pools of despair. April's stomach fill with icy terror. Her friend. Her dear friend, who was more like a younger brother, was determined to do this terrible act upon himself.

He went on in a voice that was even yet wavered around the edges, "This is magic, April. She bound herself to my blood in that cell. When I was on that roof, at her mercy . . ." he paused to swallow. "I knew what the outcome would be. She said I was her vessel. She used my body . . . my blood to open a portal."

His eyes roved to the blood stains on the mattress next to his bare thigh. April followed his gaze and stared at the rust-colored smears; dry; glaring and obscene like a still from a pornographic video. A lump had formed in the center of her throat, choking her; making it hard to breathe.

"And she continues to use it." Slowly his eyes met hers. "To use me. To come here and hurt me by hurting them."

"B-But Leonardo, I'm sure Master Splinter –"

"He knows." Leonardo's eyelids fluttered as his gaze dropped to his lap. "H-He agrees."

April's mouth fell open. Numbly she shook her head. There was no way that Master Splinter had agreed to Leonardo taking his life. Alone. In his room. With his brothers just outside going about their day. This was insane. It was madness.

"I've already explained my plan. Sensei . . . Father agrees it's the only way."

With a trembling bottom lip, April shook her head fiercely. "No. No! You are not doing this. Leo." He looked to one side. April could see the tears that built but did not release along the edges of his bottom eyelid.

She croaked, "Leonardo. You . . ." she struggled. "You didn't even say goodbye to your brothers." Her face crushed into a deep frown as his glassy eyes snapped to and then froze on hers.

"I can't," the words were a hitched breath coursing from between trembling lips. He couldn't explain to April that he didn't want his last moments fighting with his siblings whom he loved more than anything else in the entire world. That he had to do this. For them. To keep them safe. They would fight and try to stop me. Then all would be lost. He finally had his father back. He would not allow the Mistress to hurt anyone in his family ever again. He was sure this was the way to end her connection to this world. He was certain. He accepted his fate; trying to fight the panic and the fear of what he had to do. April was not helping. This was why he retreated to his room when he saw her come into the lair. He had to be alone for this. He needed his courage and her sadness and fright were weakening his brittle resolve.

April rose up on her knees. She gripped Leonardo by the sides of his arms tightly. Cheeks flushed with anger and frustration, fear and desperation, she said, "Well, I'm not going to let you do this."

He couldn't take much more of this. "April, I need you to leave," he said in a low firm voice that belied no fear, only commanding respect.

Her eyebrows raised. Stubbornly she replied, "I won't." Two tears, swollen and thick, flooded her eyes, spilling over the rims.

"You will. You're going to leave me to my duty."

He moved to stand and there was no way April could've stopped him, though she tried. She tried with all her might. His sheer strength without showing any effort at all astounded her. Without being hurt, she was smoothly forced back onto her heels. Her arms fell away as he stood. The ornately decorated sword was gripped tightly in his hand. April cursed herself for not making a grab for it when she had a chance earlier. While he was explaining that the only way to stop the Mistress was to end his life. He stepped around her, moving with sleek grace and stood near the door. She twisted around, digging her fingers into the throw rug on the floor. He appeared calm and stoic; waiting for her to get up and leave him to his final act of sacrifice as eldest, as leader, as loving brother and son. Her heart was racing, filling her ears with her thundering pulse.

"Goodbye, April." His throat worked. His eyes flashed too bright suddenly. He swept them away from her gaze. In a thick voice, he spoke softly to the floor between them, "Thank you for everything."

"I won't!" she shouted and slammed both hands down against the floor.

Leonardo turned the knob of the door when the sound of Raphael screaming out for Michelangelo had them both jumping. Leo was gone in an instant while April scrambled to her feet. She followed Leo out of his room and ran towards the sound of the frantic brother. Donatello and Master Splinter were just outside of Michelangelo's room, arms blocking their faces from the unexplained rays of blinding light shooting from the room. The ends of Don's mask and Splinter's robe were flapping from the gale force winds billowing from the doorway. A roaring sound filled the lair. Casey was just behind her; a hockey stick in one hand, a bat in the other.

"What the hell is that?" he shouted over the thundering roar. April could only shake her head.

Leonardo looked at Don as he ran up next to him; bracing his legs in a wide stance to remain standing. He squinted and thought he saw the outline of Raphael in the doorway. "What's happening?! What is that?!"

Don shook his head, at a loss. With his free arm, he pointed into the room. He yelled, "Raph's in there! And I-I think Mikey, too!"

Leo wasted no more words. He knew who was behind this. With a grim expression, he moved to go inside when his body went rigid and he fell back onto his carapace; skidding across the room. The sword still stubbornly clutched in his fist. April and Don raced to his side followed by Casey and Master Splinter. Donatello fell to his knees next to his brother. His body seemed to be smoking. Thin tendrils of gray vapors rose from his limbs. His eyes rolled up into his head as he started to seize.

"Oh god!" April gasped. "What's happening to him?"

His body jumped and bounced as Donatello carefully rolled him to his side. It was a challenge, using just his good arm, but he finally managed to do it. Don grimaced as he pried his hand out from under his brother, bracing his aching, bound arm against his brother's shuddering side for leverage. He lifted his hand and found it coated in a thin sheet of bright red. His wide eyes fell to his brother's wrists. Reaching down, he grabbed one and held it still. He blinked and leaned closer; examining and wiping at the delicate flesh with his thumb. The blood seemed to be coming out of his pores around the old scars from last year's terrible escape from the Foot.

Donatello's mind raced. He thought of the nightmare, of finding his brother on the floor, shaking in fright, mumbling about a nightmare, the mysterious blood stains on his mattress. The golden woman flashed through his mind. It was all connected. He knew it. Knew all along. He should have acted sooner on his hunch. He should have convinced April to tell him. He needed information if he was going to figure out how to make this chaos end. His face snapped to April as he set his brother's wrist down. He jumped to his feet and lunged at the woman; grabbing her roughly by the front of her shirt with his free fist.

"Tell me what happened to him! NOW!" He snarled. He shook her shirt roughly, nearly ripping it; screaming in her face. "Everything! Do you understand me?!"

April nodded; wincing from the harsh treatment at the hands of her usually cool-headed friend. Her words flowed in a rapid stream from her lips, "H-He was attacked by the-the Mistress woman on the roof. The golden woman who was here! H-He thinks she used his b-body and blood in a sort of sexual sacrifice to open a portal to her home dimension!"

Donatello's face dropped into an expression of horror and disbelief. His jaw clenched and unclenched. He couldn't believe she had kept this from him. Promise or not. If he knew something this devastating about one of her family members he would've told her. He would've trusted her to keep the secret if she had to. But he would've had faith in her enough to confide the truth to her. But she had never trusted him. Not completely. Not in any way that really mattered. His heart sank. Something within him withered and shrunk.

"You should've told me!" he shouted, then more quietly, "you should've told me."

"Don . . . I know that now. And . . ." her voice hitched. "I-I'm so sorry."

He dropped his hold on her rumpled shirt and fell back a half step as Casey came up next to them. Donatello had a strange look on his face. As if he were struggling with some internal turmoil. As if he was decided on whether or not he would say something to her. April found her heart hammering and her breath frozen in her throat. Her eyes bounced between his.

She knew what he needed to say. It was written clearly in his eyes. She could see it; the pain; the regret; the ending of something rare and fine. Something precious now lost. In that moment she wanted to fall into his arms and beg him to forgive her. For everything. For keeping the secret in a misguided attempt at loyalty, for keeping him strung along while she couldn't accept what her own heart was telling her, for everything. But some part of her knew it was only the power of the moment making her feel that way. The reluctance to release something that you no longer have any right to own.

"Take it easy, there, bud," Casey said defensively. "This ain't her fault."

"No?" he asked with a bitter tone, never taking his eyes off her face.

The look of indecision on his face vanished. Any warmth within those chocolate eyes was now replaced with an emptiness that made goosebumps rise up along her arms. In that moment, April felt something sever between them. Some fragile invisible thread had finally snapped, the frayed edges rippling far away from each other, never to be joined again. Donatello's eyes were distant and flat as he stared into hers. Furious and burning with frigid intensity they bore into her. Accusing and hateful. Like he didn't know her at all. April dropped her face into her hands, unable to bear the look any longer. It was over between them. And not a word was ever even spoken about it.

"I'm so sorry. I should've told you sooner," she mumbled into her hands.

"Yes," he snapped. "You should have."

And with that, he turned away from her without a backwards glance. He dropped back down to Leonardo who had recovered from his seizure. His wide eyes rolled, looking up at the ceiling and the walls as if he searched for something solid to latch on to. Master Splinter knelt near him, looking shaken and aged. Leonardo's seeking gaze landed on his father. Their eyes met. They stared into each other for a moment and something passed between them. Splinter gave him the slightest of nods. A ghost of a smile raced across his mouth before falling away; one of deepest love; of infinite pride.

Leonardo shakily rose up on one elbow just as Donatello crouched. Before anyone could move, Leonardo moved his fist still gripping the hilt of his sword. He swept the razor-sharp blade across his upturned forearm; cutting a long deep gash through the flesh and tendons. He clenched his eyes closed tightly and hissed in pain but made no other sound as he bowed his head.

"Whatareyou doing!? Donatello screamed as a curtain of blood spilled over his brother's arm, pooling thickly beneath his quivering limb.

April looked up at the shrill sound of Donatello's voice. "No! Donnie, stop him!" April lunged forward but felt a pair of calloused hands gently but firmly hold her back. She glanced over her shoulder to see Casey restraining her.

"I dunno what's goin' on here . . . but I think you should stay back. It ain't safe."

April bit her lip and nodded, suddenly feeling her quaking body succumb to the stress of the past hour and the long night of tossing and turning. What help could she possibly give? How much worse could her involvement make matters? Donatello was right. She should've been honest with him from the start, promise or no promise. They were family. They needed to know. She felt her stomach flop and twist as her heart constricted with guilt and regret. Everything was her fault. Her misguided intentions had led to her not only letting down the boy who was infatuated with her, but also ended up nearly costing one of her dearest friend's his life. She held on to her stubborn convictions and they were the ones to pay the price. She slumped bonelessly to one side, propped up by the strong arms of the man she had only just met an hour or so earlier. It was too much.

"Hey. I-It's gonna be okay," he murmured in her ear as he gently eased her away from the brothers wrestling on the floor. His tender attempt at reassurance touched her heart and she couldn't stop the tears from cascading down her cheeks. If only it was that simple. She wondered if anything would ever be okay between Don and his family and her ever again.

Donatello cried out in frustration as he grappled with his brother. Leonardo had moved the hilt of the sword as if to switch hands, no doubt to slice across his other arm, when Don had pounced on him.

"Donatello!" Master Splinter called from where he sat rigidly with a look of distress and sadness etched into his features. "Your brother . . . he must . . ." he faltered and fell silent.

Leo's growl was soft and unthreatening, his words were weak, "Stop, Don . . . I h-have to!"

Don growled fiercely and struggled, his knee slipping in the growing pool of his brother's blood. Leonardo's strength was already fading. His face grew paler by the second. Deep purple circles formed under his eyes.

"Leo," he ground out in pleading desperation.

Tears burned in the corners of his eyes. Had everyone gone insane?! He choked as Leonardo's body bucked and for a second he was afraid his brother was having another seizure. But it was merely an attempt to throw him off. The force in his brother's efforts was waning. And it couldn't have happened sooner, for his arm was a fiery agony of pain from his injured shoulder to his fingertips. He used Leonardo's weakened body from the seizure and the blood loss to his advantage. He twisted his wrist, bending his brother's hand at a right angle making his fingers involuntarily release. Leonardo made no sound as Don tore the handle of the sword away from his brother and threw it across the room with a wordless shout. He stopped to catch his breath and clutched at his throbbing shoulder and winced as he fell onto his thigh, wet from his brother's blood.

Leonardo, defeated, turned his head to one side. "It's the only way to break the spell, Don," he said meekly in a strained voice between shallow gasps.

Donatello shot a look at Master Splinter then over his shoulder bristling in pain, into the bright flickering light of Michelangelo's room. Silhouetted in the doorway was the unmistakable bulky shape of his younger brother.

"Raph!" he barked hoarsely. "Don't go into that light!"

His mouth hung open as he watched the form twist as if he were turning towards them, listening. There was a heartbeat where Don thought he'd come out into the living room so they could regroup and make a plan. But a second later the shape straightened up and rushed forward. He was swallowed by the blinding rays.

"Raph," Don panted, suddenly exhausted and feeling all the strength drain from his aching limbs. He ran a dry tongue over his bottom lip and turned back to his brother. There was no time to wallow in his own misery, both emotional and physical. He had to help Leonardo before he laid there and bled out. He looked at Master Splinter.

"I need the first aid kit, Sensei," he said breathlessly. Splinter rose up and sped from the room swiftly and without a sound. Donatello placed a trembling hand over Leonardo's wound. His brother lay motionless, staring off to one side.

"Don . . ." Donatello started at the sound of Leonardo's voice. It was low but even. "Raph . . . and Mikey . . . They're in danger. You don't understand. I-I have to finish this."

"Right now, you have to lay still," Donatello replied, just to keep his brother talking.

He couldn't think about what his brothers may be facing beyond that mysterious light. He had to focus on saving this brother's life. He'd have to just hope Raph could manage finding Mikey on his own and bring him back before Leonardo got desperate again and decided that a sacrifice to that goddess was a necessary evil.

Hurry, Raph. Hurry back from that light. The light that he understood with a sinking clarity and grinding dread was emanating from a passageway to another dimension. A dimension where a god-like demon in a woman's form stalked them in all her immeasurable power.

A/N: Expiate = To atone for

We are nearing the finish line!