"There you are."
The door creaks. His brother's footsteps are easily recognized on the pavement; had childhood alone not filed away the voices of them all, it would have been a dead giveaway. The stride is even, long. Lighter than it really should be.
He keeps staring ahead.
"You keep this room so dark." And there it is—the note of heaviness in his voice. His brother speaks as though noting that the sky is blue, or that water is wet. Then he makes an apologetic sound. "Sorry. Guess I'm still not used to it yet."
There's a quiet click across the room before the air fills with the faintest buzz of electricity channeling through the bundled wires overhead. He wonders if Donatello can hear it, too.
He keeps staring ahead.
"I have something for you."
This, finally, catches his attention. Leonardo tilts his head as his brother sits beside him, mattress coils groaning under his weight. A warm, three-fingered hand takes Leo's wrist and lifts it into Donatello's lap. His fingers brush against a sheet of thin plastic, and he twitches, feeling a multitude of tiny bumps under his touch.
"This is braille," he says quietly, inclining his head towards Don.
His brother nods; he can't see it, but the motion is there. He just knows.
"Courtesy of Louis Braille. Published in 1829—the first edition, anyway," Donatello rattles off, and Leonardo can tell from the slight rocking weight of the bed that he's waving an arm dismissively. "This is a much more modern alphabet, I assure you. It's rather crude... but it'll do."
Leonardo doesn't say anything, but it doesn't seem to discourage Don. He simply lifts Leo's hand away and slides the plastic board into his fingers, then lets go as Leo draws it into his own lap. His hand runs over the cool plastic absently, brow furrowed.
"Donnie… thank you. Really." His fingernails scrape over the bumps. "But I just don't think…"
"I'll help you, Leo." Leonardo nearly cringes at his brother's tone; it's as though learning braille from Don would be a favor to him and not the other way around. "It wouldn't take long—you've got such great verbal-linguistic intelligence."
Leo sucks in a slow, quiet breath, listening to the air expand inside his lungs. "Don…"
"Remember the first book I ever got you as a gift?"
Leonardo pauses. Don seems to take this as a good sign, as his hands land on his brother again, grabbing both of Leo's forearms almost excitedly.
"'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu, right? When we turned twelve?"
"I remember," he says before he can stop himself. "I read it from cover to cover about four times in a row." Something warm is blossoming in his chest, faster than he can control, and it pulls the corner of his mouth into a smirk. "I also remember you getting in trouble for going topside to get it."
His brother makes a flustered sound and lets go of his arms. He can see Don's olive-colored skin flushing darker in his mind; it widens his smile an inch.
"Sir Michelangelo Blabbermouth the Fourth said he wouldn't tell. And it was just out of a 'free books' bin in front of that tiny bookstore on Biggs and Paulsen—at night, while nobody was around, I might add."
Leo laughs. It vibrates in his chest, full and whole; he'd never properly appreciated the feeling before losing his sight. Donatello makes a grunt of mock-offense, but when Leo grows quiet again, so does he.
Leonardo closes unseeing eyes. "Why now, Don? It's been months."
His brother is silent for a long, long time. Then: "You're always staring at your bookshelf, Leo."
"You were doing it when I came in." Don's weight hefts slightly at his side in a shameful, self-deprecating shrug. "I should have noticed it sooner. But with Raph's… accident so soon after yours, I was more concerned about the sudden decline in functioning mutant turtle eyes. It never even crossed my mind." He swallows audibly. "I'm sorry, bro."
"You have nothing to be sorry for," Leo says firmly.
"I guess." Don doesn't sound entirely convinced. He reaches over and lightly taps the plastic board. "I know how much reading means to you. I was never sorry about that book; not even after the verbal lashing Master Splinter gave me."
Leo's mouth tightens, but he doesn't argue. He can't. He's able to quote 'The Art of War' verbatim; his bookshelf is still packed with classic and modern literature alike, everything from science fiction to horror to even the occasional joke-gift romance novel from his hilarious siblings. He's never been much of a writer—Mikey's budding talent in that area is a fascinating case—but he's always loved reading. He can never deny that.
"I don't know."
It's stupid. Where would he even find time to read anymore, with the world going down in flames around them? How could he forsake a lifetime's collection of stories simply because he was foolish enough to lose his sight? Unwittingly, his head turns to pin an unseeing gaze on the place where he knows his bookshelf is. That old, water spot-ridden book with the half-fallen apart bindings and faded text is jammed in there, too. Top shelf. Third from the right. And if he took it out, he would be unable to tell it apart from all the others.
(He ignores the memories as he's learned to recall them—crinkling paper, warm bodies huddled against his, hushed voices and straining for the sounds of approaching footsteps down the hall. Just one more, someone pleads into his ear. He smiles and turns the page.)
"I don't know," he repeats, his voice a breathless whisper.
Don tries to hide his disappointment, but Leonardo needs neither sight nor hearing to feel it rolling off of him in waves. Once more he takes Leo's hand in his own, gently resting it in one palm as he rubs his thumb over the back.
"Think about it, Leo." Don's thumb taps softly against his skin. "It's our twenty-fifth coming up soon, you know."
Before Leonardo can ask what he means, or puzzle it out for himself, Don stands up from the bed and heads towards the door.
The slight buzzing overhead tells Leo that he failed to turn the lights back off.
"There you are."
A long, even stride. The click and buzzing sound overhead.
"We're heading out soon."
Leonardo nods. There's a scraping of skin against cement as the figure starts turning to leave, but then he pauses. "What have you got there?"
"'The Art of War,'" Leonardo says.
"Oh?" The footsteps close in. He senses Donatello halt in front of him, then lean over as politely as possible to look at the book spread across his lap. "You can read braille?"
He nods again.
"I'm not surprised," Don says, and even now Leonardo can see the thoughtful tilt of his head, his hand coming up to rub his chin as he works something new over in his brain. "I've been thinking about teaching it to myself, too."
When Leo doesn't respond, Donatello hesitates again.
"Um...hey. 'The Art of War'..." He's slowly putting a picture together, the timeless sound of all the pieces clicking together in that brilliant mind, and just for a moment, Leonardo almost feels like things are the same as they always were. "Isn't... that..."
Leonardo glances up to where he knows his brother will never again be. "I'll join you all in just a minute."
Don quickly steps back. There's an apology in his breath, but all he says is, "Okay."
The sound of scraping feet, the long, even stride—hesitation—and then the buzzing overhead chokes off with a faint click, leaving him to the state in which he was found.
His fingers ghosting softly over the raised bumps, Leonardo stares ahead.
But a kingdom that was once destroyed can never come again into being;
Nor can the dead ever be brought to life.'