Warnings: ...it's still a little bloody.
Day 4. Least Favorite Human
Donatello still calls it "Timothy." He treats it like something still alive, still sane. He talks to it when no one else is in the lab. But at least Michelangelo provides some company now, either with quiet presence reading comic books on the floor or even bugging Donatello with endless questions.
Raphael tries not to think about it. That mutagen could react so violently with DNA sends him screaming out of nightmares filled with horribly mutated squirrels, wasps and roaches. After Slash's change and betrayal, he dreams about his brothers all broken and bloodied, dropped a dozen stories to smash on the pavement, torn down the middle by his pet turtle's claws. He dreams of Michelangelo relapsing into secondary mutation and melting on himself. And that thing in Donatello's lab is a reminder he'd rather see flushed and forgotten.
Michelangelo treats it like a fish in a bowl. If he taps on the glass, Donatello scolds him and chases him off, but the way that "Timothy" jerks and startles around in his jar enthralls him. Like a kid watching an ant hill. Whenever Donatello starts to talk to it, Michelangelo slings an arm around his brother's shoulder and asks about the shiny, funky project that he's working on. His brainy brother hasn't caught on, but the thing in the jar seems to mad dog glare at him when he does it.
Leonardo only sees it late at night. He drops a blanket over Donatello's shell, nudges him and coaxes him away from his desk. As Donatello staggers toward the dark lair, making his way toward his room, Leonardo pauses. And looks at the jar.
He doesn't like to think of the threat inside that fragile glass, malevolent and frighteningly focused on his brother. It attacked them before. It could do so again. And while Donatello knows how dangerous it is, he still keeps it around, calling it by name—-as if it was still that annoying human dogging their steps.
"Ah. You're still awake."
Splinter stands in the doorway, peering in to see what's caught his son's attention. When he sees the jar and the thing floating inside it, he frowns and his whiskers twitch downward.
"Has it moved?"
"No," Leonardo says, shaking his head. "Don really locked it down. It can't reach anything."
"Mm." Splinter steps closer and leans to take a better look. The eyes focus on him and blink, and he stands straight again, exhaling deeply. "Your brother works hard trying to save this boy."
"It isn't a boy," Leonardo says flatly, without any emotion. "I…master, I don't think it can be saved. It's…it's not even the person it was before. And it's not safe. Why…?"
He looks down, realizing what he's asking. How it sounds to ask such a thing. Why is it still alive? Why is it here? Why don't they just get rid of it?
His brothers are all asleep. At least they didn't hear him ask that. True, it's a cold blooded decision, but leaders have to make hard decisions sometimes. And Captain Ryan would've approved, too.
"Donatello has invested a great amount of his own sense of self-worth in saving this boy," Splinter said slowly, sounding out the reason for both his son and himself. "To lose that opportunity would be a terrible blow for him. Perhaps one he is not ready to shoulder yet."
Splinter sighed, turning away from the jar and walking out. Leonardo followed at his side, flicking off the light as they went. In the lair, the silence felt loud, every step a faint echo, the hum of electronics distinct. His training kicked in, making him move as if he were being watched.
"I don't like having it here," Leonardo murmured.
Pausing, Splinter looked at him, then up toward their bedrooms, focusing on Donatello's door as if he could see his son crashing on his futon.
"I am concerned for your brother," Splinter said. Then took a deep breath. "But I agree. If that creature becomes a threat once again…do not hesitate, my son."
Leonardo blinked, looking up in surprise. Splinter was always compassionate…but like his father said, compassion didn't mean being insane. And he'd once been told that, when the stakes were high enough, he shouldn't hesitate to do what needed to be done. Even if that meant self-sacrifice.
Or sacrificing someone else. Like a door swinging open in his mind, this lesson suddenly sent his thoughts down new routes of potentials and opportunities. Sacrificing himself was scary but it could keep his family safe. Sacrificing someone else…just the thought would take some getting used to.
But imagining that thing in the jar being poured down the drain in bits and pieces made it that much easier.
Day 5: Your Favourite Villain - Mobile Offensive Underground Search Excavation and Retrieval Sentries
September rain is cold and stings even through their shells. It beats a constant, grating drone on their faces and makes everything slick and freezing. Rooftops become treacherous. Visibility is down; in the gloom, they only make out the silhouette of buildings, the blur of lights, and the shiny glare off a few hundred m.o.u.s.e.r.s. on their heels.
Desperation. Leonardo's felt it before, staying behind to stall his enemy while his brothers escaped. The sensation of fear and dwindling hope pool in his stomach and settle like heavy lead, dragging him down with it. Desperation means something drastic has to happen, and drastic always hurts.
Rain washes the blood down his skin in rivulets. A m.o.u.s.e.r.s. bite gouges, and even a glancing scrape leaves a long slice. His brothers look no better. They've been running for nearly half an hour, following him along a random path of fire escapes, rooftops, through broken windows and across rain flooded culverts. Baxter's m.o.u.s.e.r.s. follow tenaciously, their snapping jaws only inches behind, tracking them by the faint scent of blood through the rain.
"Okay," Michelangelo gasps, hanging slung over a street lamp. "We take five, then I'm good."
"Totally," Raphael says. Blood covers half his face, a cut just above his eye. "Just gotta…get my second wind."
Donatello doesn't talk, frantically pushing and pulling his gps locator map for any good places to hide. From the look on his face, he can't find anything close. The rain makes the communicator slip from his hands and fall to the pavement where a m.o.u.s.e.r. immediately bites it in half.
With a groan nearly swallowed by the rain, Donatello lifts his head and looks at his brother.
Leonardo meets his eyes steadily. He knows that look. That stare digs into him and makes everything just that much worse.
Fix it. Make it better, Leo. Find the one path out and lead us there.
From his perch on the streetlamp, though, he can barely see anything. A silver screen of heavy rain all around them. Indistinct neon and glowing windows. The streetlamps that they're hanging from will soon be gnawed through by the hordes of m.o.u.s.e.r.s. around them, and if that power courses across the street, it won't just be the vicious little robots that are electrocuted.
And then he sees the blurry shape coming up the road. It's tall, disjointed, and… He blinks and wipes the rain from his face. It's Rahzar, his claws and fangs gleaming, and Baxter Stockman comes cringing beside him.
Leonardo's despair vanishes into something else. His brothers are close to being chopped to pieces and these two monsters are laughing.
A new feeling opens in his mind, a door that had been closed previously. He's killed before, mindless mutants who were little more than animals. But this maliciousness, this glee at their suffering, his enemies' joy at seeing his brothers bleeding and weary and close to death…
He lets go of the lamp and drops straight down.
His brothers yell something, but their shouts and the rain and the m.o.u.s.e.r.s. clanging all fade away into a thin whine in his ears. Slowed by the rain and crowded in tight, the m.o.u.s.e.r.s. lag, giving him a split second to jump from one to the other, a zig zag line leading straight toward Rahzar and Stockman.
Rahzar sees him coming and tenses, claws out, ready to catch and slice him apart. To everyone's surprise, Leonardo ducks and sidesteps him completely and catches Stockman in a powerful tackle that sends them both sliding across the street.
Rahzar is running toward them. Leonardo feels his heavy footsteps slamming down on the pavement. With no time to think about what he's about to do, he brings up his remaining sword and thrusts it deep into Stockman's stomach, pinning him like a bug on display.
Stockman opens his mouth to scream, but Leonardo doesn't hear it. He looks over his shoulder and sees Rahzar diving toward him. When Rahzar lands on Stockman, Leonardo isn't there, using his sword to flip over Stockman and sommersault farther from Rahzar's claws.
That's when the m.o.u.s.e.r.s. catch up. And Rahzar spots the deep cut Leonardo's made in his arm, trailing blood all the way back to where Stockman's still pinned, writhing and impaled. Despite all the rain, Leonardo's blood soaks Stockman's shirt and face, and the m.o.u.s.e.r.s. have found it.
In a moment, Stockman is set upon by a dozen of the quickest robots, whose strong, scissors-like jaws tear through skin, muscle and bone.
Strings of entrails, scraps of skin…Leonardo has never seen it so close before. Never outside of a horror movie.
The whine in his ears stops and sound explodes back on him—the rain, the robots, Rahzar, his brothers. Leonardo's head swims. Cold and sick, he's losing too much blood. The world snaps back into focus, but only for him to stumble backward and land on his shell. There are a hundred m.o.u.s.e.r.s. turning from what's left of Stockman and following the bloody trail, and Rahzar is howling in fury.
No. Rahzar's voice turns high pitched. Howling in pain. Leonardo blinks away rain and tilts his head. Rahzar is stumbling as well, covered in two dark blurs that cling to him for a moment and then dart away as the m.o.u.s.e.r.s. converge on him. And with Rahzar screaming and fleeing with robots clamped on his tail, Leonardo finds an arm under his shoulders, lifting him back to his feet.
"Come on, fearless," Raphael grunts, the only one strong enough to move him so easily. "I can't carry ya. You gotta pull your own weight for a little while longer."
Moving is a bad idea. Leonardo does it anyway, increasingly nauseous as the shock starts to set in. Just how deep did he cut himself? He wasn't thinking clearly when he did it. They're heading for the closest manhole cover, and as soon as they're underground, they spare just long enough to look at Leonardo's wound and grimace.
"The hell, Leo?" Raphael whispers, taking off his mask to tie it around the cut. "Why'd you cut so much?"
"Don't remember doing it," Leonardo mumbles. He's leaning too much on Michelangelo and tries to stand, only to slump completely against him.
A moment later, he's on Raphael's shell, carried piggyback through the dark. At first he lifts his head and wants to argue that he can walk, but he feels as if he hasn't slept in years. Groaning, he rests his head on his brother's shoulder, floating in and out of consciousness.
One thought stands out.
Baxter Stockman is dead. They will never have to deal with the man again. His machines, probably, but new inventions? Angry retaliation? Never.
What he feels is not desperation. Nor fear. Not even nausea. Nothing.
He feels nothing.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Day 6 : Your Least Favourite Villain - Baxter Stockman
Stockman, over and over again, choking on his blood. Hands on the sword blade, cutting himself as he tried to pull it out. His screams turning into shrieks until the m.o.u.s.e.r.s. bit his head off.
The memory comforts Leonardo as his arm heals, stitched together and dressed as best as their meager supplies can offer. As if asleep, he lies still and tries not to wince as his brothers set him on the futon and pull the blanket up, careful not to jostle the deep wound.
His brothers say nothing at first. This is the first serious injury they've suffered, the first time they've killed anyone that wasn't a mutagenic mess. As he hovers at the edge of consciousness, too shaken to rest but too worn to stay awake, he listens to them whisper about what they saw.
"So much blood."
"Did you hear that scream?"
"Tore him into chunks."
Their frowns and furrowed eyeridges turn inward on themselves, each of them sitting close as if it helps settle what they saw. Leonardo hates to see them like this—uneasy, sickened. After a fight, they always come home reassured that they did the right thing, that they won today and that they'll win tomorrow, too. That they taunted death and came away unscathed.
Death never came so close before, and Leonardo didn't stop it. He only changed its direction a little. As his brothers share troubled looks, silently moving toward each other for comfort, he wants to move, reach his hand out to them. His body feels like lead, pressing heavily onto the mattress, and then Splinter sweeps in front of him.
"His own creations did that to him," Splinter says without any sympathy for their dead enemy. "He would have done the same to you, and worse to the city."
"I get that, master," Raphael says, rubbing his arm. He doesn't want to contradict, accepting what his father says without argument, and yet the feelings in him won't stop twisting. "It's just…it was so…"
Splinter watches him. Yes, he knows what Raphael means, and he sighs not in frustration but understanding. He waves them closer, and the three of them eagerly cling to him, tugging his robes in their hands. They're no longer small enough that he can scoop them up, but he can hold them, comforting, warm, strong.
"I do not expect you to pretend it wasn't terrible," Splinter says, and he touches Raphael's shoulder. "Such a brutal, violent end would make even the most hardened warrior flinch. But better him than you. I am glad to my heart that you were not hurt."
Raphael nods, and Donatello and Michelangelo with him.
Through slitted eyes, outside of their small, warm circle, Leonardo watches them silently.
In his mind, Stockman's face again disappears in a m.o.u.s.e.r.s.' bite.
Day 7: Your Favourite Series - TMNT 2k12
His head hurts for hours. "Stress," Splinter says. "And blood loss." There isn't much they can do about that, except some ibuprofen and a full night's sleep, followed by a bowl of weak broth. "Sick food," Raphael says. "Rest up," from Michelangelo. "Don't exert yourself right now," from Donatello.
Leonardo doesn't reply except to nod. How can he? Those comments aren't meant for a response. They glance away from him, won't meet his looks. They stare at the soup they leave behind or the edge of the futon. They don't actually look at him.
At least when Splinter changes the dressing around his arm, Michelangelo holds him. Leonardo can hold out as Splinter untucks the bandage and softly unwinds it, but when the wound along his forearm is exposed to the air, he hisses and turns away, pressing his face against Michelangelo's shoulder.
There's blood—less of it now than before, but he cut deep when he pressed his arm against his blade. Up close like this, the veins are too close for comfort. Splinter examines the stitches, cleans fresh blood from the edges. He daubs the wound as lightly as he can, but he says nothing as Leonardo struggles to hold back his shudders.
"If you had cut any closer," Splinter breathes, streaking cold antiseptic along the slice. "Or any less evenly with your muscle, you could have been ruined for life. As it is, you will not practice or do anything requiring the use of your arm for the rest of the month."
Leonardo doesn't argue. His arm is bound into a sling so he can move a little more freely, but when Splinter is done, Leonardo doesn't pull away from his brother. Michelangelo is warm and, of the four, the most willing to hold him as long as he'll allow.
But when Leonardo glances up at him, Michelangelo is looking askance at the far wall.
"Why?" Leonardo wants to ask. "There's nothing interesting there. I haven't put up posters like you. It's just peeling old concrete. What's so fascinating about it?"
He doesn't ask out loud. After a moment, he closes his eyes.
"Y'know," Michelangelo says suddenly. "If you wanna come, channel six is having a Space Heroes marathon later. Maybe it'll take your mind off the pain."
Leonardo considers the idea. Briefly. After that stormy, bloody night, having any of them close helps soothe the throb pulsing in his arm. But hours of them refusing to look at him, focused instead on a show that none of them are really interested in besides him, and he knows how the show ends anyway… Not something he wants to put any of them through.
"Thanks but…" He shakes his head, slowly sitting straight and pulling free from Michelangelo's hold. "I'm gonna be asleep in a couple minutes. Maybe later."
It isn't a lie. He settles on the futon, his eyes already closing, only to look up as Michelangelo pulls the blanket over him. He would say something except the hazy blur in his head is already dragging him down towards sleep. He's vaguely aware of Michelangelo sitting beside him for another moment, then getting up to let him sleep, closing the door behind himself.
Alone, Leonardo stares at the single thread of gold light coming from the space under the door. Shadows flit back and forth, his brothers eating take out, laughing about something on television. They talk loudly at first, then shush each other when they remember Leonardo trying to rest.
He's fast asleep by the time Michelangelo comes back to check on him.
Day 8: Your Favourite Episode Of Your Favourite Series - "I have been raised to believe that words like truth and honor are more than just words, but one of the real difficulties in living a life of honor is that sometimes you might have to pay the ultimate price for it." - Leonardo, The Ultimate Ninja
In the lair, the Spaces Heroes series finale is playing; Captain Ryan sits in his captain's chair, buying his crew time to escape as he prepares to ram the enemy vessel. Then the flash of light as he crashes, a hero's death—
"Turn that thing off," Raphael mutters.
"Yeah." Michelangelo sighs and flicks the remote. "Never did know what Leo saw in it anyway."
They're all sitting on the couch, closer than they normally do. Donatello balances the laptop on his knees while Raphael slumps in his seat as if he might slide off. On the floor, Michelangelo curls up and leans against Raphael's legs, hugging his knees to his chest.
"It's the only other leader he's ever seen," Donatello replies without thinking.
They wince. Like a heavy lump in the middle of the room, the memory refuses to leave. Not Baxter Stockman's screaming, not Rahzar bearing down on their brother, not even the terrible m.o.u.s.e.r.s. chasing them half the night, biting through brick walls and steel fences to follow.
They all remember their brother shaking, lying on his side, choking on the pain of such a deep cut. The layers of skin, muscle and the flash of bone gleaming under the streetlamp. The smell of blood even over the rain—
"It's my fault," they all say.
With wide eyes, they look at each other.
"If I could've found a better escape route," Donatello says.
"Or if I just crushed a few more of them each time we stopped—" Michelangelo adds.
"It wouldn't of mattered." Raphael shakes his head. "Me and Leo, that first night Stockman had those things, we ran all over town that night. It was insane. And it was me and Leo we're talking about. Those things are nuts. It doesn't matter if the A minus team was there, too."
Donatello pauses, lightly tapping the edge of his laptop. Then shut it and set it aside. "I don't wanna be the A minus team anymore."
Without any humor, Raphael snorts. "Sure, sure. Whatever. You're both nowhere near—"
"I'm serious," Donatello says. "I know I don't practice as much as you and Leo do. But after last night, I think I need to."
Raphael grimaces. "Him and me couldn't get rid of them. What would it matter—?"
"At least I wouldn't have been hanging off a streetlamp like dead weight!" Donatello snaps. "I could've destroyed a few more of those things, I might not have been so tired. I…"
He lowers his head and falls silent. Michelangelo watches him for a moment, feeling his stomach twisting up in knots. At least Donatello has his machines and gadgets to explain his lack of practice. Michelangelo? His excuse is that practice isn't as fun as comics and tv. Can he go tell that to Leonardo now? After last night?
"I think I wanna practice more, too," Michelangelo says softly. "I don't wanna see Leo like that again. I don't wanna see any of us like that."
Behind them, there's a familiar rustle of cloth as Splinter comes out of his meditation and rises, coming toward them. He rests his hand on Donatello's shoulder, meeting their looks evenly.
"I am sure your brother will appreciate both your concern for him and your desire to make his burden easier to bear," he says. "In doing so, however, you realize that this will not be easy. It will require more practice and study than you currently do. There will be days you might not be able to partake in the things you enjoy. Your games and books. Your machinery."
Donatello and Michelangelo nod, and then Raphael does, too. A little more practice than usual isn't too bad if it'll help avoid situations like last night, even if Splinter insists on—
"Meditation, I think," Splinter says, "is our first step. There is no sense in you learning the next form if you are too focused on the events of last night. Come back to the dojo. We will begin there until your minds are more clear."
Raphael heaves a long sigh, glaring at his siblings from the corner of his eye. They both smile sheepishly, then run after Splinter, leaping over the couch in one go. Raphael shakes his head, glancing at Leonardo's bedroom, and shrugs.
"The things we do for each other," Raphael grumbles, following with dragging steps.
Day 9: Your Least Favourite Episode Of Your Favourite Series - New Girl in Town
"I have no problem risking my own life, but risking my brother's…" - Raphael
Skin and muscle heal over long, interminable days. April, amazed by his progress, says that a side effect of mutagen must be quick healing. To Leonardo, the wound takes forever to close, forever to dissolve some of the stitches. He eventually pulls out the rest of the tiny little strings despite Splinter's disapproval.
The wound bleeds and seeps in a way that he's never experienced before. He's never been cut so deep. If he turns his hand, holds anything heavier than a pencil, then his forearm protests like pulling a string too tight. Too much pressure and the thick scab breaks and stains the bandage red. The wound is trying to reopen itself, and he feels like he's fighting himself to mend.
The pain pills help. A little. His family can't steal anything prescription strength, so he pops three to four over the counter ibuprofen at a time. It makes his stomach wrench, and sometimes he curls up protectively around his arm and his plastron, trying to stop the nausea along with the pain.
After three weeks, he can practice again. His fingers curl around the hilt as he remembers it, satisfying and familiar, but the weight feels off. He wastes an entire day trying to readjust to its heft and has to end early when the sword refuses to stay in his hand no matter hard he grips.
His brothers look at him in pity. Leonardo would rather face Karai at her most poisonous. The next day he pretends that he's back to normal and simply favors that hand, adjusting to counter and block almost entirely with his right.
When Splinter tells him, gently and away from his brothers' hearing, that holding things will now feel a little tighter in that arm, Leonardo does not hear encouragement. He hears that he is unbalanced. He hears that Splinter does not expect him to improve, to regain that balance.
He isn't allowed to spar. He may practice with his brothers, but he trembles after too long holding his sword, and they notice. They expect him to argue and insist on joining their matches, but he quietly sits at the side and takes a long breath. And watches.
Three and a half weeks have passed since he last practiced in earnest.
Already his brothers have exceeded him.
He suspected it would happen. Even before, they found it easy to overwhelm him, especially if they teamed up, but now he watches them with an unwavering stare and a sinking feeling. True, Michelangelo's form is sloppy, Donatello's slow and overly precise, and Raphael…is still Raphael. They don't have his technique and follow-through.
But what good is technique and follow-through in a brawl? No one cares whose technique and style was flawless when all that matters is who is alive or dead. In his restless thoughts, he points out all their missteps and mistakes, but the complaints only make himself sound petty child trying to excuse his own faults.
His brothers fight better than he does. Splinter was serious when he said they wanted to train. While Leonardo lay resting and healing, wasting time, they were in the dojo from morning to evening. They all put aside their own pleasures and hobbies for extra time. Donatello stumbles because he's been staying up too late, working in what little time he can for projects in his lab. Michelangelo's comic books stand in a forgotten pile next to Raphael's unviewed DVDs.
Despite his insecurity, Leonardo is proud of them. Splinter always said that, if focused, Michelangelo had the talent to outshine his siblings. Donatello holds his staff with a greater confidence and no longer waits too long before moving, finally gaining the necessary muscle memory to move without needless thought. Even Raphael's anger has diminished.
So has Leonardo. When his siblings finish, cleaning up the dojo quickly before running out to watch their anime, Leonardo watches them go. Then slowly gets to his feet, favoring his arm, still shaking.
"No extra practice," Splinter says, rearranging the weaponry from where Michelangelo hung them up wrong. "You need to rest."
"I know, master," Leonardo says. There's no point in arguing. He pushes himself hard when he trains, and crashing to the floor as he did weeks ago would leave him bleeding out.
He needs to rest. He needs to get better. Soon. It's been three and a half weeks since he killed Baxter Stockman, depriving Oroku Saki of a valuable minion. Of course Saki will try for revenge. Or the Krang might attempt another invasion. Or an overlooked canister of mutagen could leave killer mutants running through the sewers.
There is no time to rest. But he can't afford to hurt himself again. He needs to heal. But there just isn't time.
He opens his mouth.
Is there another way to fight? he wants to ask. Without my swords? Without this wound getting in my way? Without the extra practice I'll have to put in just to try to measure up to them again?
He stops himself before he can, instead going back to his room to sleep.
He dreams of dark places, chasing his brothers' voices without finding them, and the burning pain of a knife constantly in his arm. When he wakes, he stares at the shadows in a lightless room, wondering if—since Leonardo is now behind his siblings—if one of his brothers would be able to kill, same as he did. If they'll be forced to that same kind of self-sacrifice.
The thought makes him curl up around his arm, and he wonders when he'll be whole again.
Day 10: Your Favourite Movie - Turtles Forever
We strike hard and fade away into the night. - Leonardo
As usual, every day they practice and spar. Leonardo rarely wins. Do they know he keeps losing because he's so far behind on his extra practice? By their drawn punches that he struggles to dodge, their pulled kicks that he must resort to blocking, they must think he's still in pain.
They're right, of course. The cut has turned into a thin, raised scar like a half-moon stretched from wrist to elbow. The muscle still pulls too tight, and it aches in the cold air.
But still. They treat him like he'll collapse or faint from the slightest bruise. Even on a simple run across the rooftops, drinking in the night air he hasn't tasted in days, they form a constant circle with him in the center.
Raphael puts an arm over his shoulder, tentatively, afraid he might break. Leonardo half smiles, lowers his head. Their concern feels like pity, but at least it doesn't feel like annoyance. They don't act like he's slowing them down, and he breathes deep. He didn't realize how much he missed the city glowing in the dark, the cool wind over his skin and the small puffs of heat from vents and the sun-baked pavement. If he practices hard, he could catch up...
He hears the soft scuff before they do, the slide of leather on cement, and he turns to face several Foot clan ninja leaping across from the other rooftop. He draws his swords-
And the clan disappears behind a wall of his brothers all forming a line in front of him. He blinks, taking a step back, before he realizes what just happened.
They're trying to protect him. But as they begin the fight in earnest, parrying throwing stars and slowly pushing the Foot clan back, a cold chill spreads through him. His brothers don't even look over their shoulders, don't even call out to him.
His swords slowly lower, tips touching the concrete. Raphael ducks forward and Michelangelo rolls across his back, blocking one ninja from Raphael's blind side and leaving one Foot ninja to stumble into his fist. Donatello sweeps his staff above their heads, knocking out another ninja.
His brothers flow together. They don't even have to look at each other. And they certainly don't have to look at him.
The hand grabbing his shoulder, yanking him backwards off the ledge, is a welcome distraction.
Leonardo twists as he falls, snagging loose cloth in one hand. His weight and momentum drag at his attacker, and there's a brief snap as the ninja almost manages to hang on. And then free fall-the walls and windows blur-
They hit pavement hard. Bones crack, but not Leonardo's. As Leonardo groans, sitting up too fast, the ninja beside him coughs out blood and turns on his side, curling up.
"Not as durable, huh?" Leonardo grumbles, pressing against the side of his head. There's blood on his mask and his palm, tiny bits of gravel he has to brush away.
"Let's see just how 'durable' you are, freak."
Three more ninja drop down from the roof, using the windows as handholds. Leonardo reaches for his swords, finds his sheaths empty and the pavement bare. Wherever his katana fell-under the dumpster? behind the open wire gate?-they're no use to him now.
Which leaves him with one smoke bomb and a handful of shuriken.
Thick smoke explodes out, filling the alley, pierced by his throwing stars flying out and Footclan shuriken flying in. All of them miss. He's already rolling and coming up on the closest wall, diving toward one in a tackle.
He's in luck-they expected him to run for the far wall. He's caught one above the hip, sending him tumbling as he stabs deep into the pelvic joint, and then he's up again, charging the next one.
Blood swings up from the shuriken, blinding the second ninja, and Leonardo winces as he shoves the sharp blade up into the cloth-covered belly. Fresh blood pours over his hand and he jerks back, leaving the throwing star inside his stumbling enemy.
A solid kick lands against his shoulder, throwing him into the corner of the dumpster. Steel slams against his cheek. Before he realizes what he's hit, he dodges to the side while lights flash across his eyes. Cold pain sweeps across his face.
The street is tilting under his feet, he's lost his only weapon, he can't see for all the lights-there's one light that isn't a burst, a streak of motion that he darts toward. The sword comes down not on his head but on his shell, the pommel driving down on his shoulder.
He grunts, but he's got his hands on his enemy and he feels the thin edge of a sheath, gets a grip on the hilt of a small knife.
Slow motion. The sword comes up again-he pulls the knife clear-the sword buzzes through the air-
The knife sinks into muscle. They both topple over, Leonardo on top, and he's stabbing blindly, furiously, trembling as the blade punches through bone, pops organs. It's like puncturing a wet, heavy balloon over and over again, and it refuses to deflate despite the wheezing he can barely hear over his own frantic breath.
Faster now-he holds the knife in both hands and stabs in a frenzy, certain that he's about to die. Bursts of light in his eyes make it hard to see, dazzling and dizzying, and he stabs pavement as often as the body that's stopped moving.
Slowly, too slow to help, the lights dim and disappear, and he's left gasping, arms up, holding the knife in tight hands as he stares at the body under him.
A torn face, scraps of cloth and skin covered in blood, hiding the mess of what lies underneath. A white gleam of bone and black cloth that glistens wetly. It looks like a ripped doll. It looks like a dead man. It looks like concrete after a heavy rain.
Quiet. The alley is so quiet. Staring at the blood, he lowers his hands, and though it's too dark to see them clearly, he can make out the same glistening sheen on the knife, on his skin. The thick stench of coppery blood clings to everything. He tastes blood in the air.
Scrambling backward, Leonardo hits his shell on the wall and stops breathing. Without thinking about it, he slips the knife back into his belt, an automatic motion bred from years of practice. He says nothing in response.
Footsteps, the clap of a hand on bricks-his brothers coming down the side of the building and landing in front of him. Their movements roar in his ears. Don't they hear themselves? He puts his hands over his ears, and their voices muffle as they talk.
"See anything?" Donatello asks.
"Dead ninjas," Michelangelo says. Between two fingers, he gingerly lifts the torn remains of the last one's shirt, grimacing at the stab wounds. "Whoa. Really dead ninjas."
Raphael frowns and scans the alley. There's nothing. Their own opponents are running back home to Shredder, nursing broken bones and cracked skulls, but this... A death rattle slips out of the ninja on his side, and they all startle away from it.
"Leo!" Raphael looks up as if maybe they missed him on the way down. "Where are you?"
Leonardo watches them with wide eyes. Why are they looking around? Why don't they see him? In the dumpster's shadow, under a fire escape and sheltered from the streetlamps, hidden from the moon, he's small enough to disappear entirely.
Raphael kneels and tilts the ruined body, trying to find any clues but inadvertently turning it to the outside light. Leonardo can see everything he's done to it, and the world becomes a high pitched whine in his ears. They say something else that he doesn't hear, call his name again. As loud as they are, he barely hears the edges of their words. And then they're off again, running down the alley and out of sight.
For long minutes, Leonardo looks at the corpse. It stares back with one wide eye. The other eye socket is a dark smear. And then a red bubble slowly expands out of its mouth, trembles, and pops in a soft mist.
The whine refuses to fade, but he can breathe again. Shaking, freezing, swallowing bile-the only thing he can think is the word 'here' over and over again-he pushes himself up along the wall until he's standing.
The streetlight glare hits his eyes, so he shields his face with one arm. He half-expects the bodies to get up, to stumble towards him like broken puppets. But they're dead and don't move, and with another breath that breaks in the middle, he turns and starts walking home.
Day 11: Your Least Favourite Movie - TMNT (cgi)
Leonardo: Funny thing about anger. Let it consume you and soon enough… you lose sight of everything.
Shell against the cool cement, head down, Leonardo sits slumped in the shower, water driving against the back of his head. The steady drone drowns out the memory of a knife plunging through muscle and scraping bone.
Light sparkles on the edge of the water, like silver in the dark. The lair is silent, empty. He doesn't remember coming home or collapsing in the shower. The only light come from under the bathroom door. Is the television on? Or maybe the kitchen? He can't bring himself to go turn them off.
He leans to one side and breathes. Each breath is a drop of water, and slowly the tension drains out of him but nothing replaces it. Hollow, he stares at the dark drops that shimmer along his hands. Splinter never told them that blood looks like wet blackness at night.
Voices. Bright light trickles in from under the door. His brothers are home, jabbering, with Splinter's quick "yame" to shut them up. Then silence. Deadly still, Leonardo barely flicks his gaze toward the light, then looks down again. They must have seen a clue, drops of blood. Or maybe they just heard the water.
The door opens. He doesn't react except to shut his eyes against the flood of light.
Splinter calls his name. Leonardo's body is too heavy to make himself move, to even look up. He could sleep for a year if they'd let him.
"Leonardo…" Splinter tries again, taking an abortive step inside. "Put down the knife."
Blinking once, slowly, stupidly, Leonardo has to think to look at his hands, to recognize the thing he's holding, to realize that he hasn't let go of the Foot clan knife this whole time. It's rinsed clean of blood. The only red left on it is the obvious clan symbol on the hilt.
He exhales heavily and slides the knife into his belt with the flick of long practice. He doesn't bother to correct whatever Splinter thought, doesn't try to defend himself from the way he's unknowingly arranged himself.
"You're alive!" There's wet splats of feet as someone runs toward him. He tenses, and then Michelangelo's thrown himself at his brother, collapsing against Leonardo in a bear hug.
Michelangelo shoots back, leaning out of the spray, and turns and fumbles the shower knob until the water turns off. Shuddering, he puts his hands on Leonardo's shoulders, holding tight and trying to look into his brother's eyes. Leonardo refuses to react.
"Dude…why're you sitting in ice water, man?" Michelangelo frowns when he doesn't receive a reply, and he holds up his hand to find streaks of blood across his fingers. "Holy…"
"Then you were injured," Splinter says, coming in after and kneeling beside them.
"No," Leonardo finally says, his voice a low groan. He shifts as if he could actually stand up when he'd really be fine with falling asleep here. "None of it's mine."
Splinter pauses, staring at him for a long moment, then pulls Michelangelo up to his feet. He waves Raphael and Donatello back from where they've shuffled in quietly.
"Go and take your brothers with you," Splinter says. "I need to speak with him."
"Aww, but sensei—"
"Now." Splinter gives him a firm nudge and watches until he leaves, closing the door behind him. Pretending he doesn't hear them pressing up against the door and shushing each other as they listen, he looks back at Leonardo, who's still watching the floor.
"Stand," Splinter orders, rising and offering his hand. "Show me."
"I'm not—" Leonardo's voice creaks.
"You would not be the first ninja to come home wounded without feeling pain," Splinter says. "I have to be sure."
Huffing, Leonardo doesn't argue but ignores the offered help, gathering his legs underneath himself. As he leans forward, hands on the floor, he finds his elbows and knees locking, his shoulders stiffening so that he can't move. Hissing as his back aches, he sits back and finds the hand still held out to him.
With a grunt, he manages to grab Splinter's paw and, to his relief, his father holds tight and lifts him up fully, catching him as he staggers.
"Why's it hurt this bad?" Leonardo pants, leaning on his arm. "They didn't get me at all."
"You fell off a roof," Splinter says. "Found yourself in heated battle against three enemies. And this…"
Splinter runs a finger gently down the middle of Leonardo's face, a long line that starts between his eyes and stops at his jaw. He flinches under even so light a touch.
"Struck something hard? Like the edge of a window or—?"
"Corner of a dumpster," Leonardo remembers. "Saw stars for a few minutes."
"No wonder you preferred cold water," Splinter says. "Do you remember coming home?"
"…not really." He looks up at last, meeting Splinter's gaze. "That's bad, isn't it?"
"Not good," Splinter says, "but not necessarily bad, either. Come—you'll sleep in my room tonight, and we'll dress those bruises before they spread even further. And you can tell me what you remember."
He takes Leonardo at a slow pace, opening the and sidestepping the pile of turtles that spills out. Leonardo pretends he doesn't see their looks following them, ignoring Raphael's hand on his shoulder, Donatello's stuttering question at his heels.
You did this, he wants to say. Turned your shells on me. Look what happened.
It isn't fair, he knows. He would have even done the same if it was Mikey or Don or Raph hurt instead of him. They were just trying to protect him. This resentment isn't fair.
But with every throb of each bruise, each painful thud of his heartbeat in his veins, he remembers not the falling, not the fear or the panicked killing in the alley, but the sudden loneliness of facing three shells.
Day 12: Which Turtle Do You Relate To The Most
Seek victory, not fairness. - Splinter
Halfway through the night, Leonardo's eyes open as he grows aware of agonizing pain along his entire side and across his face, pulsing in time with his heartbeat. He lay still for a moment, wincing as the pain came into focus as he fully wakes up.
He isn't in his bedroom. There, when he closes his door, the room becomes pitch black with all outside light shut out. Here, however, white light shines on a thin tree. Master Splinter's room?
A memory—a row of shells before him—freefalling backwards, the terrible open space and rush of air just before he hit pavement—blood on his hands—the drone of water on his shell—
Yes. Splinter's room.
His labored breath grows louder in his ears. Too loud. He can't stand it. He's used to be quiet. With some effort, he makes himself breathe easier, softer. The whole room is silent except for the faint rumble of cars overhead. So close to the human world, but no one ever looks down.
Wide awake, he won't be falling asleep again any time soon, so he bites back the soreness and sits up. His blanket falls across his lap. The pain pills are in the bathroom, farther than he's willing to try to walk, and he's taken too many pills anyway. Nothing to do but try to shut the pain out of his mind.
He moves to gather his legs under himself, then yelps as a sharp stab shoots through his thigh and calf. Thinking he'll find blood, he feels along the length of his bruised leg and finds nothing but heat as his body tries to mend itself. Is that what Splinter meant about not knowing if he was injured?
Moving more slowly, he arranges himself crosslegged and lets his shoulders slump. His body tries to stiffen and lock up, and he has to roll his neck to keep the cramp from settling in. Then his hands hang off his lap, he closes his eyes, and—
—a row of shells—bones crunching—wet chops of a knife in flesh—
The memory is so vivid that he expects the body to be in front of him. Releasing a shaky breath, he leans forward and rests his head in his hands.
There is a rustle of cloth, the slide of a tail on the foor. Splinter's way of letting him know that he's awake, that Leonardo is not alone.
"It was a good idea," Splinter says. "But you are too distracted for meditation tonight. Here."
Leonardo looks up and finds his master's outstretched hand offering pills and a glass of water. A moment passes before he realizes that they're for him, and he takes them in one hand, keeping his bruised arm still in his lap.
The pills are bitter going down, and he drinks slowly to ease the taste. It's just tap water, but it's cold, and with his whole body overheated as he heals, it feels like a cool river rushing through him. Another hour will pass before the pills really kick in, but if he's lucky he'll fall asleep before then.
He shivers. Usually the lair is warm, but night air creeps in with the moonlight. Drawing the blanket around his shoulders, he watches Splinter light a few candles to cut the chill. Firelight flickers between them, throwing long shadows on the walls.
"Master Splinter…?" Leonardo says softly. "You once said that I shouldn't seek fairness. I should seek victory."
"Yes," Splinter says.
"Then…what else should I not seek?" He shakes his head at the awkward wording, sounding stupid to himself. "Victory…winning means I stay alive, but…"
Kneeling, Splinter waves out the match, smoking curling around him. "I understand your meaning. Is victory worth any price? If we may sacrifice notions of fair play, what else may we push aside so that we win?"
"Yes!" Leonardo nods once, wincing as it makes his headache worse. "Is it better to have some kind of honor and…well…?"
"Lose?" Splinter finishes for him. "Make no mistake, Leonardo. We are not samurai. We do not follow their code of bushido or their notions of honor. And what we, as practicing ninja, find honorable will fly in the face of much of what the world calls honor."
"Then…" Leonardo looks askance, unsure of his next question. "What is our honor?"
"You know what it is," Splinter says patiently. "Put aside the notions of honor you see on your television programs. Your honor is your loyalty to your clan. Loyalty to your family. To keep them safe, to protect them. No matter what we do or who we save, ultimately it is your family, your brothers, who you owe allegiance to."
"And them?" Leonardo asks, eyeridges furrowing, his jaw setting. "I'm supposed to protect them. What are they supposed to do?"
Splinter watches him for a moment, gauging his expression, then sighs. "I understand your frustration. When they explained what happened, I tried to make clear how that would have affected you. Or them, if positions had been reversed. But they are not used to the burden you face and did not realize how 'protecting' you inadvertently let the Foot clan single you out."
Silence. Leonardo considers everything his sensei says, struck at how Splinter can cut to the core of his dilemma.
A row of shells. His brothers' backs to him. Nothing would have happened if they hadn't blocked him out first.
"Did they tell you about the body?" he asks softly.
"I saw it," Splinter says. "When we were looking for you."
Leonardo says nothing. He doesn't know what to ask, let alone how to word the question.
"There is no shame in it," Splinter says after a moment. "It was your first kill in such heated battle. That kind of fighting does things to a person, overwhelms them. I was simply glad you were not dead on the ground beside them."
Nodding once, Leonardo still says nothing. Splinter touches his good shoulder, giving it a faint squeeze, then adjusts himself on his futon for meditation. His eyes shut. In a moment, his breathing becomes even.
The pills finally kick in. As the pain fades, exhaustion washes over Leonardo again, dragging him like lead down to his pillow. With one blanket still around his shoulders, a second flutters over him, warm and comforting as he drowses.
A heated battle. That's all it was. In time, he'll get used to it. He remembers the adrenalin rush of his first fight, after all. He is a ninja, not a samurai, and ninja kill when they have to. To protect his brothers. To protect his friends and family. And finally to protect himself.
Seek victory. Not fairness.
Victory. Not honor.
In his restless dreams, it is not the blood that upsets him but the row of shells.
Day 13: Which Turtle Do You See Yourself Getting Along With The Most
Kill with a borrowed knife. - 36 Stratagems
The whole side of his body turns dark.
"Deep bruising," Splinter says. "Bone bruising, even."
Leonardo learns to gently press his hands against his thigh down to his calf, breaking up clots of bad blood, lightly plying his fingertips along the thin spaces of his ankle. He learns that pain doesn't mean rest but lighter exercise. That head injuries don't always mean concussion but always mean headaches for days.
Waking up a few times to take another pill or to try to find a comfortable position, he grows more and more aware of the silence in his sensei's room. The occasional tail twitch in meditation, the soft turn of a page, even the distant hum of cars overhead doesn't break the stillness, only accents it. He struggles not to make a sound, horribly aware of his own breathing, the brush of his hand across the futon.
As he turns on his good side, wincing as his sore muscles pull no matter how he tries to keep them still, he learns how boring pain can be. Between blissful bouts of unconsciousness, the minutes awake stretch like hours. He watches a small leaf slip off its stem and float between the branches, drifting back under a twig, then tumbling forward, all in slow motion. It seems to tumble down for days, and he falls asleep before it lands.
The next day, a pile of books appears beside him. He naps through the morning and only braves moving his right arm at lunchtime. The movement pulls in a way that nearly brings him to tears, but Splinter calls it good for him. Because he can't sleep forever, Leonardo spends the rest of the day slowly reading.
Over the years, Splinter has collected enough books to fill several shelves. Some of it stolen from trash heaps, some of it stolen from poorly alarmed thrift stores, most of it boring. The Three Kingdoms, Norton Edition: World Literature, Combat Field Medicine…the print is tiny, the pages thin and the pictures dry and technical.
On one cover, however, a tiger fights a lion while they fall off a cliff. That looks cool. He perks up a little and grits his teeth, willingly putting up with the pain to pull it over. Thirty-Six Stratagems…sounds like another boring manual, but when he opens it up, there are more pictures inside.
A man in a black mask steals money from a house swallowed by fire. A beautiful courtesan hides her face with her fan and a knife behind her back. A Mongol army charges an open gate.
Leonardo frowns. The pictures make no sense—they don't seem to go together. On the page opposite each illustration, instead of historical explanation, a short paragraph doesn't even fill up the page. He looks under the pictures, each one underlined by a title and brief description.
"Rob a burning house," he murmurs, reading to himself. "When turmoil strikes your enemy, do not let by the opportunity to attack."
He turns the page to see an army crossing a bridge under a cloud. "Deceive heaven to cross the ocean. Craft an illusion to disguise your intentions."
"Ah, you've found the Thirty-Six Stratagems," Splinter says, coming in with a tray of tea.
"What is it?" Leonardo asks. He uses his left arm to push himself up, sighing in relief as Splinter turns and helps nudge him up with his knee. "Ow—thanks. I don't get it. It's supposed to be a training manual, right?"
Splinter chuckles as he sets down the cups, serving the tea. Steam rises up between them, and as Leonardo curls his fingers around the book, he focuses on the rising white vapors. Lifting the mug of hot tea will hurt, and he takes deep breaths as he readies himself.
"Let it cool first," Splinter says, setting the pot aside. "To answer your question, yes, it is a training manual. It is also a philosophy on war. I thought, since some of the examples are so near to your Space Heroes, that you would find it more interesting than my other books."
Leonardo blinks, then opens the book up one handed. "The Beauty Trap—a beautiful woman can befuddle leaders, sow dissension and cause enemy women to plot intrigue…"
Sighing, Splinter shakes his head. "Admittedly, it is not the best translation."
"No, no," Leonardo says quickly. "I remember this. Galaxia almost got the Federation codes from Captain Ryan. It was okay 'cause he was so dedicated that he wasn't swayed by her."
The book suddenly gains new respect in his eyes. Sacrifice the plum tree to save the peach tree—wasn't that just like when Captain Ryan nobly sacrificed a ship full of orphans to the Seven Mawed Spiders of Zaara so that he and his army could safely attack the Nebulons? Or Hide a knife behind a smile—that's exactly how Captain Ryan tricked the Talosians into signing a peace treaty before wiping them all out with his ship's laser canon.
Deceive heaven to cross the ocean…
Leonardo is reminded of the woman he saw, the strange figure from the rooftop who appeared and vanished. Of the Foot clan, who always seem to come out of the shadows, out of where he isn't looking.
When he drinks his tea, he flinches at the drops of hot liquid that splash on his hand, trembling with effort. He will be stuck here recovering for several days, but perhaps that's for the best. He's used smoke bombs before, attacked from the shadows and hidden from enemies only inches away, but this…this is something new. The woman showed him a new way to move, and Splinter has codified it into something he can learn and practice.
If he's going to be ignored anyway, it'll be on his terms.
Day 14: Which Turtle Do You See Yourself Not Getting Along With The Most
Leonardo: Midnight stroll?
Raphael: Out of my way, Leo.
Even a leader must follow the rules. Even the eldest can't argue with their father. Even Leonardo obeys their Master.
All of which combines into a hard knot in his stomach as he sneaks out of the lair.
He has to practice, but these skills are not something he can learn at home. He needs to find fluidity in shadow, but he can't do that with his brothers beside him. He doesn't even know how he's going to learn. How should he train to hide? Most of all…
Leonardo doesn't want his brothers to see him.
Poor Leonardo who can't keep up. Slow Leonardo who has to hide. Weak Leonardo who needs protecting.
Some things cannot be taught in the dojo. Stealth cannot be learned at the mat with kata steps in rigid form. To avoid their eyes, to learn to exist outside of their gaze…he slips out as they sleep and sets out to learn the city.
New York at night glows, throwing light like shadows so that the streets turn into burning canals banked by blackened alleys, fire escapes lit by lonely gold lamps. He eases past the flashes of light, finding a chaotic rhythm to the way the darkness waved, retreated, runs from swinging beams of a speeding car, then sweeps back like smoke and ash.
New York at night rolls like water. The shadows never stay still, but that's good. Using the long edge of darkness from a moving car, he bridges across a lit road and no one sees him. The humans have no idea he's there. And when the shadow moves, he cartwheels with it, invisible in the midst of the crowd.
If he favors his hurt arm, no one sees. If he winces as the torn muscle pulls against the bandage, no one sees. If he is less than perfect, no one sees.
When he tires and returns home, trembling but smiling and collapsing into bed, he feels as if he's learned a new facet of the city full of new crevices and new ledges.
During the day, his brothers hover, still guilty, sure that he will rip open if they touch him too hard or look away for too long. Splinter seems to know he has done something that, if not wrong, is not tacitly allowed. Leonardo feigns sleep, easy when his body aches from his secret training.
Lying in bed, facing the wall, he listens to their soft footsteps outside his door. They each look in, assuring themselves that he's breathing, that he's not curled in on himself in pain. His wardens sweep back and forth what feels more and more like a prison cell, all the worse for how unfair he knows his thoughts are.
They care. They try not to hurt him. That's what makes their whispers—
"No nightmares, hasn't gotten up."
—so much worse.
At three in the morning, he knows he shouldn't slip out. Glowing red clock numbers light the way as he creeps past their doors and out of the lair, breaking into a run as soon as he's sure they won't hear him sprinting through the tunnels. He'll only have an hour, maybe two. Splinter wakes up so early that when the sky turns lighter, Leonardo will have to come home.
The scent of the ocean breeze pushing out the smog, clearing the sky, is worth the risk. The city lights block the stars and he leans on a cement ledge, staring out over the rippling moonlight beneath the bridge.
He crosses his hands at the wrist, relaxing as the wind tugs at his mask and mixes with hot vapors off the roof vents. No one can see him up here. The roof access throws a long shadow where he's standing, and the spinning wind turbines draw the eye of anyone that might happen to look his way.
Splinter showed them a few ways of hiding in shadows, but Leonardo feels as if he's found a way to disappear completely. He could stand here all night and no one would ever see him. The rules of staying unseen are simple now that he knows about them, and once he has some practice during the day, he's sure he'll feel completely at ease moving around in sunlight. Trickier, but the fundamental rules are the same.
Don't move. People naturally spot movement.
Know what lies between. If he can duck behind something, he could be at arm's length and stay safely hidden.
And finally, melt into the environment. All sound must mask his own breath and footsteps. A noise, a motion, anything that distracted anyone who might spot him.
With a little more practice, he looked forward to showing his siblings what he'd found out—
A glint catches his eye. Ducking reflexively, he peers over the roof ledge, grasping the rough corners to steady himself.
Paranoid, he scolds himself. His brothers couldn't have noticed he was gone, not yet, not yet, it was too early—
His heart sinks. Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, all running along the rooftops, obviously looking down to the street, leaping up onto water towers and air conditioner units, staring across the line of the city. Not even an hour—Leonardo feels his chest tighten. Not even an hour, and worse, they know he's out. Splinter will be furious.
Tempted to rush home and slide into bed and pretend he never left, he sighs, lowering his head. There's no point delaying the inevitable scolding and punishment.
Something heavy flies over his head, followed closely by two shadows that he feels more than sees. And he freezes.
Five Foot Clan ninja have landed around him, clinging to the ledge and roof access door. They readjust their grips, fingertips sliding against concrete, their breathing hushed. Leonardo feels the warmth from their bodies, the cloth of a black uniform as the ninja brushes against him, taking him for part of the pipes beneath them.
He is surrounded and they don't know he's there.
Author's Note: Some people are asking what the top lines are for. I'm doing a 30 day challenge with prompts for each section. They make sense in my head. They aren't required to get what's going on. Look, the year is still kinda sucking and if I try to apply sense, this will grind even more to a halt. Ask not for logic. It ain't here.
Part 15: Your Favourite Pairing
Leonardo: He was working alone and there were so many enemies against him. How long can a lone wolf last?
Leonardo could not make a sound without alerting the Foot ninja around him. They were so close. So close...if he put his hand out, he could grab one's ankle. How couldn't they hear him breathing? Couldn't they even just sense his presence, sense something living crouching in the darkness beside them?
His whole body felt locked in place, and he set his jaw and forced himself to tense into readiness. If he moved, they'd slaughter him. If he hesitated, they'd slaughter his brothers.
So he moved, putting a throwing star in the spine of the furthest figure.
Ah, they weren't androids. That would make the fight easier. His victim toppled off the ledge without a groan. Karai darted away before her dead ninja dropped out of sight, but her soldiers startled, pausing for half a second and making themselves easy targets. In one movement, he put a star in another ninja's neck, a third in one's ribcage. He was surprised by how little blood there was.
He didn't see the knife—the black blade didn't flash or gleam—before it passed his face, a hair's breath from his eyes. Karai raised another knife, sent it flying on the heels of the first, and Leonardo learned that stealth meant more than simply hiding. Scuttling backward, he pressed himself into deeper shadow and dodged another knife, reaching into his belt, finding his smoke pellets—
He looked around wildly—she had used no smoke bomb, no flash grenade, but she was gone. How—?
A knife sank into his hand and into the steel pipe behind him.
At first he felt nothing, only the strange sense that his hand couldn't move. Then the pain washed in from his back to his arm, building up in an explosion in his palm and fingers. He couldn't breathe, let alone scream, and he bent forward until his arm jerked tight, pinned by the blade.
Shuriken peppered the wall behind him where his head had been. Adrenalin sickened him to his stomach and filled him with painful urgency. Swallowing his rising nausea, he reached up and grasped the hilt, then pulled the knife and his hand free.
Shock brought with it a clarity—quiet, hushing even the wind, with only his heartbeat and breath in his ears. His brothers' voices as they passed, oblivious to the fight. And the faint movement to the right, Karai easing closer to his hiding spot. He couldn't afford the luxury of giving into the pain.
So this, then, was a lesson as well.
He flung back the knife. She yelled, but he didn't stop to see if she was wounded. The shadow of the ledge wrapped around the corner of the roof, and he crept around with it, his hand clutched tight against his plastron. Then down the fire escape, across the alley, burrowing himself deep into the darkness. With a whispered curse, he looked down each end of the alley.
Alone. Cursing again, he ripped off his mask and wound it around his hand, grimacing as he held it shut as tight as he could.
He couldn't hide this. His brothers would see. His father would see. He'd screwed up, failed so badly—
Even in the haze of pain, he knew this had been a lesson. He had learned something new, something vital. Stealth didn't mean hiding in shadow. Like Karai, he could simply stand where his enemy was not looking. He could move. He had to move. Not moving was death.
He sat alone in the dark for some time, growing accustomed to the burning cold held in his hand. When his legs didn't shake and moving didn't make him want to vomit, he slid up the wall and stood unsteadily, then breathed deep and walked, shoulder against the bricks, to the closest tunnel back to the lair.
Again, doing the challenge best as I can but not really sticking to the prompts much when they're inconvenient. Pairing? Definitely not Karai. Maybe Leonardo/Darkness.