We are still here.
So, so much had happened.
In not even one year.
So, so very much.
Just one year ago, everything had been fine. Simple. Somewhat dull, admittedly. But things had been fine.
Now, nothing was fine anymore. Nothing was simple. Nothing was easy.
Michelangelo had curled up in a corner just above the little pool in their lair, knees tightly drawn to his plastron and arms wrapped around them for warmth. Or comfort.
There was little comfort to be had, these last few... days? Weeks? Months, even? And things didn't stop happening, upsetting whatever shred of normalcy they tried so hard to uphold and rebuild.
Closing his eyes, the youngest brother found himself wishing, now and again, that they had just stayed down here. Unaware. Happy and carefree as they had been before.
Before everything had gone awry and wrong.
They could have stayed here, in their lair, training, hiding from the world, living their simple little lives and then die with the rest of the world when the Kraang took over.
Sometimes, Michelangelo thought it might have been better this way. Ignorance was bliss, or so they say. It would have spared them all the trouble and pains they had to deal with, now. But at the same time, he knew how selfish a thought that was.
He didn't feel sorry for thinking this way. No. But he knew it was no choice anymore and now, with things as they were, there was no way back. Now, they could only continue to fight until the end.
There just was no real time to rest anymore.
There was time enough to treat the worst of their wounds and repair what they could.
It was nighttime, possibly far after midnight, and still, Michelangelo knew, none of his family was sleeping. The deceiving darkness in the lair, broken by only a single, small source of light in the corner, shrouded his curled-up form from view.
Not that anyone paid him any heed right now.
Leonardo was at the Dojo, possibly together with their master, meditating. Always meditating. Shut away behind those large, tightly closed sliding doors.
The youngest brother knew why. It was Leonardo's only way of dealing. Of trying to find answers to questions that nobody could put into words. In meditation, in pondering, he tried finding a way out of this horrible mess they had been sucked into.
Each of them had their part to get over.
Leonardo was their leader. He bore most, if not all, of the responsibilty. Michelangelo knew. He knew, even though his oldest brother never said a word about it anymore. He knew how heavy a weight was resting on his shoulders.
It was his to carry, not theirs.
Even though unneeded, uncalled for, Leonardo always took all the blame onto himself. All the weight of failure. All the liabilty for every single one of his brothers. It was just what he did. It was Leonardo.
To deal with all of it, he meditated. He stayed closest to their father, their master, taking in every of his wisdoms, each of his lessons, and Mikey knew, besides answers, Leonardo wanted to find some peace, some soothing, some balm for his frayed soul in the silence of meditation.
He would find none.
But he was not alone. He, at least, had their father to ease his crippling worries, his loneliness that stemmed from having been made their leader. Michelangelo knew, his brother could never turn to him or their other two brothers for guidance. Leonardo would not allow himself such support. It was not in his nature to rely on his brothers, when he knew he had to be their leader, THEIR support.
Leonardo never showed them his insecurity, his weakness, his fear. He would not. He could not. For the sake of the team, for his brothers.
But Michelangelo knew.
No matter how much they took him for a silly goofball, the immature runt of the litter, the naive baby brother...
Day after day, he watched them all. And he never said a word.
It was not his place.
His place was to be the comic relief. No matter how annoyed his brothers were with him. It was his place. Just like Leo was their guide, their leader, their big brother to protect and support them, Michelangelo was their happiness.
Leonardo could not be weak.
Michelangelo could not be sad.
Should he allow himself to show his own worries, his sadness, his dark thoughts, his brothers would be pulled right down with him. So he showed them silly smiles. He mimed the naive baby brother they needed him to be. Gave them the naive, always optimistic view of things they could not see.
Even when he didn't see it himself.
But he could not show them his sadness.
Not for long. Not when they were watching. Not when they needed him to be silly and childlike and happy.
A sound, the tiniest little creak, tore him out of his musings, though he didn't stir. He stayed in his tiny, dark little spot, craning his head to try and see who had entered the lair.
Ah, yes. Donatello had been with Leatherhead.
Unconsciously, the youngest brother tensed. Leatherhead... Now there was a taste of bitterness on his tongue that was hard to swallow.
They had been friends. Okay, given, they were still friends. But not like before.
Things had changed.
Before, Mikey had been the only one Leatherhead had managed to open up to. To talk about the horrors of his life and aid them in their fight.
Now he was forgotten.
Replaced with another, far more kindred soul than him.
Donatello was able to connect with Leatherhead on an entirely different level. One the giant mutant needed more than a playful, naive little playmate.
And in return, Donatello found his way to deal. A way to get rid of the stress piled on his lanky, intelligent shoulders.
Killing two birds with one stone. Leatherhead had been to places, seen things, he knew so much that was of use but made no sense except to their smart brother.
So, they talked a lot. Spent a lot of time together. Exchanged knowledge.
Mikey gave a soundless sigh.
All the responsibilty on his shoulders. He was the only one who could decipher the foreign technology. The only one able to tend to their own equipment, the one that was under the current pressure of having answers to every and all questions.
And Donatello, too, could not share his burden with his brothers.
So, he shared them with someone almost as intelligent as himself. Someone that he could brood over plans with. To get information he could get nowhere else. To sometimes just talk.
To get rid of the tension. And more.
And again, Michelangelo knew.
He knew what Donatello didn't want anyone to know. What even their master did not know.
But it was obvious for anyone who paid attention. It was obvious for him.
It was in the way Donatello moved, clumsy, using his bo to steady himself, albeit not creating a single sound. Silent, like a true ninja. It was in the telltale limp. One that would be gone or well hidden by morning. It was in the flushed glow of Donatello's skin, the residual sheen of sweat and the satisfied exhaustion on his features.
Tonight, maybe at least one of them would find some proper sleep.
Michelangelo felt the bitterness return.
Jealousy was a mighty, green-eyed beast. Stronger and more terrifying than anything he'd had to fight. And it ate at him. It tore at his insides and left him with an aching void that he could not seem to fill.
There were no more sounds after the innitial creak of the door, even while he watched his tallest brother make his way over to his own room. Even the wooden staff seemed to have lost the abilty to create a sound and for a short, horrified moment, Michelangelo was sure he had gone deaf.
It must have been the exhaustion, surely. The pull of exhaustion that had caused this silly thought and he shook his head, not willing to admit that the soft noise of his own skin against his shell came as a relief.
He was tired, yes. So very tired.
But he knew he would find no rest tonight. Just like the nights before. No night was restful anymore.
Puffy, dark-rimmed eyes cast their focus over to the door farthest from his spot. Raphael's room.
They all had lost many things.
But Raphael's loss might have been the biggest one out of them all.
Each of Mikey's brothers had something to keep them stable. Leonardo had their father's teachings, meditation, even his TV shows. Donatello had his inventions and someone to share his thoughts with.
Raphael had had Spike.
No matter how deeply Raphael buried any evidence, he was easily the most emotional out of the four of them. Not only the anger. Not only the aggression. Not only the strength and courage.
Knew how deeply their angry brother cared. Sometimes, Michelangelo feared for him, because of just how much he cared. About his little pet, about their family, about everyone he held dear.
It was a trait he tried to hide with lashing out at them, physically and verbally. He tried to keep them unaware of his emotions so he wouldn't seem weak.
Raphael had to stay strong. For them.
And once again, Michelangelo gave a soundless sigh.
One more of his brothers that could not share himself with the others. Not even after losing the one being closest to him in what had to be the cruelest of fashions.
Not only had he lost his pet and emotional anchor. Raphael had to watch his dearest friend turn into a monstrosity that had very nearly gotten his brothers killed due to his own words. The trusting words, all of his little secrets that he had shared with Spike during the years.
Raphael had never mentioned to them how or if he hurt. After not even half a day of open mourning, he had plastered the same cocky smile onto his face he always wore. Had joked, had lashed out at them, had boasted about how they would kick some more Kraang or Foot ass as soon as they showed up again.
But Michelangelo knew.
He could see the cracks in their strongest brother's mask, no matter how well he thought he had hid them.
But, again, Raphael could not tell anyone about how much he hurt. He had to keep his strong facade. He had to be the strong one to keep them going, to keep their fire stirred.
Raphael was always the one to have everyone's backs. To protect his brothers, no matter the risk for himself. And Michelangelo knew, should the situation ever come down to it, his strongest brother would give his life to protect them without a single moment of hesitation. It was a thought, a pledge, a burden that Raphael carried with him.
Nobody had told him to. It was something he had chosen for himself, silently, like everything he did.
All the honorable things, the wonderful things, he kept buried under his anger and temper. And the silence he used to protect his family. The only outlet he had allowed himself was with his mute pet that he had loved so dearly.
But it had been taken away.
And now, while Leonardo was with their master, while Donatello was with his friend, Raphael was alone.
Slowly, as if he had forgotten how to do so, Michelangelo willed his limbs to stretch and uncurl, soundlessly rising to his bare feet. In the dim light of the single lightbulb they kept burning, he crept over to the dark door.
There was no light creeping through the tiny gap below the door. Yet Michelangelo knew his brother was awake.
The closer he came, the more he became aware of a silent sound. A dull, thumping noise, irregular and sometimes following a swish of air.
Raphael was hitting his punching bag.
Michelangelo hesitated. For minutes or mere seconds, he couldn't tell, but he could not bring himself to open that door just like that.
A part of him was afraid of what he might find.
But then, the youngest brother shook his head, mentally hitting himself for his hesitation.
He knew there was little he could do for Leonardo. He could do nothing for Donatello. He wasn't of any use to them, aside from providing some comedic relief whenever he could, called for or not.
But maybe at least for one of his brothers, he could do something to soothe the hurt and ease his mind.
Maybe at least one.
Maybe at least a little.
He did not bother knocking, knowing that he would not be invited in.
With a soft click, he simply opened the door, flooding the shadowy room with the dim light from the main hall. Immediately, it seemed that every motion and sound from within stopped. Michelangelo faced the back of his brother, just a mere second before he heard an angry hiss.
„Get the FUCK out!"
Raphael did not turn, his voice no more than a horse, growling whisper and even when he did his best to hide them behind anger and hisses, Michelangelo heard the tears.
It broke his already cracked heart.
„No..." He breathed, knowing that he could not turn away anymore. Not even if he wanted to.
„Get OUT!" A slight tinge of desperation crept into the growls.
„No." Slightly firmer now, and Mikey did not move.
Raphael whirled around, all teeth and growls, possibly fully intending to help him along if he didn't leave on his own. „Damn it, Mikey! I told you to-" The words died in his throat the moment their eyes met.
Michelangelo hadn't thought he could shed any more tears on his own this night, but the utter worry that overtook his brother's face proved him wrong.
Azure eyes took in the entirety of the scene before him.
Raphael wore his headband, but none of his bandages. His feet were bare, just like his own... as were his hands.
It took him a moment, but even in the dim light, he could make out the moist sheen of blood. It was all over the leather punching bag. A few smudges were on his brother's pale face. Some on his plastron.
Most of it was on his hands.
As silent as he had been, Raphael had to have been punching that bag bare-handed for hours. Until his skin had given in, losing to the sturdy, rough leather and still...
Despite the pain it must have caused him, despite his blood-covered hands, despite the pain he held inside, creating all those tears that still fell...
Everything his expression showed was worry for his little brother.
„Mikey... what's wrong...?" Worry.
So much worry.
And Michelangelo felt his insides knot up even more.
He still stood in the half-open doorway, unable to will his body to move, but he found his voice. „You're hurt." It was soft, and he felt disgusted with himself for a moment, for sounding this weak.
For once, he did not want to be the weak one. The baby brother everyone had to protect.
Not, when he saw just how badly he needed to do some protecting himself.
The response was immediate and oh so predictable.
„Wh- No. No, I'm fine! That's just s-scratches. They'll be gone by tomorrow." Appeasing, soothing, placing another thick blanket of pretenses to bury Raphael's own hurt.
Michelangelo did not even bother feeling insulted or offended by seemingly needing to be spared the sorrows.
It was Raphael's nature. To try and protect his little brother when he felt it was needed. Even if it meant disturbing his own moment – and Michelangelo's eyes again wandered over the broad blood stains on that punching bag – of dealing with his own pain.
But not this time.
Instead of answering with words, warm hands rose to cup Raphael's cold and clammy cheeks.
Just once, Michelangelo needed to be the stronger one of the two of them. He was fed-up with not being able to be of use. And in a way, he figured, it was what HE needed, too. To be able to deal with everything.
To know he could help. That he could make things better, too.
The skin beneath his hands was so chilled. And it seemed to lose even more of its warmth the moment realization hit. And panic set in.
Michelangelo could see right behind every single one of his facades.
Lime green eyes widened, terror filling them and the younger brother tightened his hold for fear Raphael would run from him.
He could read him as easily as a book in bold letters.
Trembling lips opened, to deny, to call him any variant of stupid and brush off whatever he thought he saw in his little brother's azure eyes.
But Mikey would not let him run. A single look was all it took to tell his brother.
There was no use in hiding or pretending he was fine. And no more need to.
A horribly choked noise came from the taller brother, right before his knees gave in, hitting the floor with a dull thump. Green eyes squeezed shut as fresh, hot tears spilled over pale cheeks. Michelangelo kept his hands where they were, thumbs ever so slightly brushing through the wet streaks on cool cheeks.
And another, choking breath came, followed by harsh whispers.
„I.. I couldn't protect him."
„I tried saving him."
„I didn't want that to happen!"
„I miss him so much..."
„It's all my fault..."
„No, it's not."
Wet eyes sharply snapped up to him, searching, narrowing, disbelieving, almost accusing him of lying and yet, all that swam in lime green eyes was hurt.
Michelangelo meant what he had said. It was not his brother's fault. None of this.
„He's gone..." Still, Raphael warred with his self-control, willing, no, forcing himself to hold himself in check, to spare his baby brother the sight of seeing him break down.
Always worried for others.
Ever so slowly, Mikey kneeled down with him, leaning closer until he could brush a kiss to Raphael's brow. „But I'm still here."
It was little more than a gentle whisper, but the impact it had would put any weapon to shame.
For just a moment, mere seconds, Raphael seized up, bracing himself so hard that Michelangelo was afraid he would fracture something just by the sheer tension that took over his brother as he fought to prevent the inevitable.
Finally, finally, all those efforts crumbled away like dust and with an anguished wail, Raphael broke down into harsh sobs.
Immediately, warn arns wrapped around the quaking form, holding him steady when Raphael's own body seemed to fail holding itself upright. There were some half-hearted attempts to pull away from Michelangelo's touch, to curl up and suffer through this alone, but they didn't last.
Raphael was done with resisting and the younger nearly gave a sob of his own when he felt shaking hands wrap around his middle to hold on.
But not only his hands shook. The sobs wracking through the stronger brother's frame were hard enough to rock them both and Michelangelo simply held on as best as he could.
There were no words offered, no gestures to soothe the tears.
No, they needed out. Unhindered and unfiltered.
And so very badly needed, too. There was nothing Michelangelo could do, other than hold his crying sibling until, bit by bit, the harsh sobs and stinging tears lost their force. Until there were nothing but quiet gasps and hitching breaths, exhaustion weighting down the strong body until Raphael was all but melting into Mikey's embrace, boneless and unable to open his eyes.
Michelangelo simply held him, refusing to remove his arms from around the shivering form just yet.
Neither knew how much time they spent, curled together on the floor, and neither cared. Not until the younger caught sight of the sore and still bleeding hands of his brother, as one of them rose to rub away the worst of the tears on his face.
Gently, slowly, Mikey reached out to take the hand into his own, examining the damage Raphael had done to himself.
„Let me bandage that up." He offered, and even managed a tiny smile when he only received a small nod as answer, instead of any version of 'I don't need it'. Helping him up, Michelangelo maneuvered the heavier body over to sit on the edge of his bed instead of crouching on the floor.
There was no need to leave the room, Raphael's own stack of medical supplies fully sufficient for now. Michelangelo found himself wondering about that. Just how often did their strong brother actually hide his injuries from them, to later treat them all by himself.
Thoughtfully, he brushed over the soft roll of gauze in his hand as he pondered that for a moment.
Raphael was such a loud being. Always yelling, shouting, growling, complaining. And yet, he was way too silent too often.
Like he was right now.
Already, Michelangelo could see the struggle in the other, to regain his composure, his unshakable facade, his need to appear strong for him.
Not because Raphael was too proud or too embarassed to show when he was in pain, physical or mental. But because he feared it would scare or demoralize his brothers. As cheesy as it sounded, he was their bridge over troubled water. Raphael was always pushing forward, always standing, always fighting.
As long as Raphael was standing, they could stand as well.
Shaking his head with a sad sigh, Michelangelo returned to his brother's side, kneeling down between his knees to have access to his bruised hands.
Gently, Mikey cleaned away the flaky bloodstains from calloused fingers, wiping at the half-dried smudges until it was all clean. The lesions weren't too deep, though there were many, covering most of Raphael's knuckles and some on the back of his hands.
Azure orbs lifted to regard his brother's face, finding no serious signs of discomfort from his treatment. Raphael's eyes were closed, exhaustion written all over his features, and the younger gave a sympathetic little smile.
Making quick work of it, he spread a thin layer of ointment over both hands, before wrapping them in soft gauze. The worst of it would be gone in the morning, and after another day or two, there would be no trace left of the abuses Raphael had done to his himself.
Instead of pulling away, Michelangelo stayed where he was, brushing his thumbs lightly over the bandages he had just made, feeling his own fatigue catching up to him.
For a while, neither budged, feeling no urge to move, or simply not knowing what to do instead.
Then, though, just when Mikey felt his eyes start to droop, there was a slight motion. Raphael pulled away his hands, but only enough to free them from Michelangelo's, lifting them to cup smooth, warm cheeks.
Blinking up at his brother, Michelangelo let his head be tilted up, closing his eyes when he felt soft lips press a kiss to his brow, then his forehead.
„Thank you..." Raphael sighed, leaning down to nuzzle against a warm cheek. „I... I'm sorry for... for..."
„No. I did not come here to hear apologies."
Confused eyes met his own and Michelangelo gave a small smile. Small, but coming far easier than it had for a long time.
Still, the confusion in shadowed, green eyes didn't much lessen.
„What did you come here for, then?" His voice was husky, low, raw still from crying, even when Raphael tried speaking quietly so it wasn't as obvious.
Mikey lifted his own hands, sliding them up to hold Raphael's head close, their foreheads touching and their eyes still locked.
„Because you needed me to." Really... it was as simple as that.
„Mikey..." At the shudder running through the taller body, Michelangelo just held on tighter, not giving Raphael any chance to pull away. Not that it seemed like he was even considering it.
Instead, he pressed closer, shifting his bandaged hands to curl around Michelangelo's shoulders, bending down and pulling him into an awkward hug. Michelangelo shifted slightly, pushing himself up to his knees between Raphael's thighs to return the embrace.
Clammy, cool skin started to warm beneath his own, and Michelangelo heard himself sigh, relieved to feel the unnatural cold chased out of his brother's body, to be replaced by a far more healthy temperature. Unharmed hands moved to rub more warmth into broad shoulders, strong arms and when he turned his head, intending to catch another look at his brother's expression, Raphael tilted his own, soft lips gliding accross his cheek until they brushed against his own.
It wasn't more than the lightest of touches, really. There was no pressure, no pull.
He couldn't see Raphael's expression. But Michelangelo could sense he was waiting for his reaction. Either to ignore that the touch had happened, pull away or...
It wasn't really something he needed to think about. Not when everything in him screamed that it was right. It was what he wanted.
Instead of bothering with words, useless right now, important for later, the younger brother tilted his head again, arching his neck to return the soft brush of lips, once. Twice. And then they both sunk into the connection.
It started slow, tentative, but it didn't stay that way.
There was a small sound, a whispering moan vibrating between their locked mouths that either could have made, and suddenly, that gentle kiss was not enough anymore.
They pulled apart for a mere second, gasping for breath, using the short break to hug tighter, closer, removing the distance between them that suddenly seemed much too far.
The next time their mouths met, it was anything but hesitant. This time, it started nearly desperate, sloppy presses of lips against lips, against skin, nuzzling, just for the sake of CONTACT.
Anything would do.
Anything at all.
Just to get close. Closer. So much closer, until only their very bodies seemed to separate them from each other.
Michelangelo was still kneeling between Raphael's thighs, having to stretch up to be close enough. But he wasn't quite happy with his position.
Slowly, sluggishly, as if he had forgotten to operate his own limbs, he used his brother's shoulders to pull himself up, soon enough feeling strong hands aiding him until he slid his legs over Raphael's. Straddling strong thighs, he echoed the other's moan when their plastrons pressed flush together.
Things were starting to blur from there, a veil of heat and need settling over them.
In a fleeting moment, when he was at least somewhat aware of his surroundings, Michelangelo found himself on his back, the comfortable weight of the taller resting on him and pressing his weight into the mattress beneath him.
He found he didn't mind at all.
Not when there were so many delicious kisses and touches, pulling his senses under again, reducing him to nothing more than a tightly wound ball of sensation.
There was heat, pleasure, a little pain, but it didn't bother him. Not when there were all those gentle touches, whispered words of comfort, and the rising feeling of completition in his middle.
They moved slow, unhurriedly, deep, rhythmic thrusts, fervid kisses and quiet, heated whispers.
Slow bulding as it had been, their release happened with frightening intensity, leaving them both shuddering, clutching at each other to not get swept away by the sheer rush of passion crashing over them.
The kisses that followed were different.
Michelangelo shivered with the warmth that radiated off his brother, none of the dreadful cold left that had taken over the strong body.
Now there was only warmth and soothing exhaustion filling him, leaving him boneless and feeling so much, much lighter than before. And by the weary way Raphael pulled himself up, just to collapse next to him on his side, Mikey knew he wasn't much better off.
A minute or two passed, while they both just caught their breaths, before their eyes met. Michelangelo felt his kiss-swollen lips pull into a bright smile and when he saw a similar smile stretch his strong brother's lips, he couldn't help the little laugh that bubbled from his chest.
Blinking a little, Raphael again mimicked the gesture and gave a warm, low chuckle of his own.
Baby blue eyes slid close when gentle fingers moved to caress his cheek.
„Thank you." A slight shift, and once more those warm lips pressed a soft kiss to his mouth, making Michelangelo smile even more. „For being here."
Raphael reached down, pulling at his thick comforter to cover them both with it. To prevent that wonderful warmth from leaving them again so soon. Michelangelo happily helped with that, shifting and nudging until they were all tangled up once more, curled up underneath the fluffy fabric, a dark, safe little cocoon.
Just for the two of them.
Their limbs tangled with each other, Michelangelo felt Raphael relax again, truly relax and settle down to catch some much needed sleep.
By the looks of it, his earlier suspicion of spending another sleepless night had been wrong. Already, he could feel the lure of sleep pulling at him, just like it seemed to do his brother.
Before either of them was drifting off, though, Raphael spoke again, words quiet and no more than a tired slur. „Mikey...? Wanna promise you something..."
Not bothering to open his heavy eyes, the younger simply shifted his head to show he was still listening. „Mhm. What's that...?"
„Gonna put a real smile on your face again. Not... not the fake face... But a real smile." A tired little sigh. „Love the smile..." No more than a quiet murmur, so very close to falling asleep, but Michelangelo heard every word as if it was screamed at him.
Trust Raphael to find just the right words for him.
Even when he yawned widely, curling up more to rest his cheek against Michelangelo's head, the younger smiled once more. „You already did..."
This time, his answer was a mere little hum, right before sleep claimed his brother, breaths evening out and lulling Michelangelo until he couldn't stay awake any longer, either.
Tomorrow would be another hard day.
But after a night of proper sleep and the safety of stong arms around him, it didn't feel as much of a challenge anymore.
Besides... Tomorrow could wait just a little bit longer.