He practices more than his brothers, more than Splinter demands. One more kata, one more drill, one more practice flip of the sword—-his fingers grow numb and his knuckles bleed. They all nick themselves from time to time. They’ve all learned to ignore little injuries, except Michelangelo, who tries to use them to get out of practice.
Michelangelo, who doesn’t need practice. Leonardo watches him enviously, studying the way he moves. It’s impossible to copy the way he lands, the way he catches himself from falling. Michelangelo, who has such raw, natural talent that he doesn’t need to practice. He simply gets it the first time.
Would his brothers laugh if they knew the “perfect” son, “Fearless” and “Splinter Jr.,” measures himself against the baby of the family? Raphael hasn’t noticed, too intent on beating Leonardo that his frustration and anger get the best of him. Raphael trips himself up; Leonardo only takes advantage of his mistakes. Donatello practices enough to keep up with them, but no one doubts where his true talent lies.
Leonardo does not have raw talent or anger or any skill beyond his own punishing doubt.
A three point landing, two feet on the ground, one hand down so he doesn’t slip forward, his sword extended out for balance. Leonardo flips again. And again. And again. Each time he feels himself wobble. He drops his sword once. His head snaps too hard, giving him a headache. He flips again, changing to a two point landing, feet only, sword out for balance, his free hand up as if to block or catch a knife thrown by an imaginary enemy.
And he crashes sideways on his shoulder. His sword skitters across the floor into the darkness.
Muffling his groan, he sits up and looks out. No one’s noticed. The lair is dark. Michelangelo’s fallen asleep in front of the television again, Raphael and Donatello are in bed, and Splinter’s in his own—
"You lean to the left."
Leonardo freezes, then looks to his right where his sword fell. It slides across the floor to him, and as he takes it back up, he makes out Splinter’s silhouette against the wall.
"And you leap too hard. This is a softer jump." Splinter relaxes into his usual position, kneeling with hands hands resting on his lap. "And you are tired."
The criticism sinks into Leonardo, and he exhales and lowers his head. “I’m sorry.”
"For what?" Splinter chuckles once. "For realizing that you will not always have the luxury of fighting fresh? Begin again, and do not be so hard on yourself if you cannot learn it all in one night."
Lifting his head in relief, Leonardo nods and rises to his feet.