(A/N: I wasn't even going to post this until I was done mass editing this entire story so it doesn't suck [particularly in the beginning chaps], but I honestly thought that Caromezoie would take a header over a cliff if I didn't put this one up.
As of June 2018, this story is undergoing massive editing! I am working backwards, and I'm up to, I think, 'Vroom Vroom' in terms of what has been fixed and re-posted. The rest of this story will be finished AFTER I complete editing!
This chap is half Leorai, half turtle-bro centric. The time period for the second half is Thanksgiving. This is going to be long, and the next one will be almost completely Leo-centric. Sorry, but it has to happen. There's only like...six chapters left until this is over AND I CAN FINALLY MOVE ON WITH MY LIFE, so place your bets and make your predictions.)
Kneeling prone on her knees before the imposing combination of both the Golden Throne and the furious figure seated atop that throne, it took every amount of steel and composure located within her being for Karai to keep from shuddering in fear.
The Shredder never yelled, or screamed, or hollered- in all her life, from her first recollection to her most recent, she had never recalled her father so much as raising his voice when he was incensed. The opposite held true, in fact. When the Shredder was at his most deadly, his voice was at its most moderate.
And seeing as how he was just barely whispering, lowly enough so that the terrified throbs of her heart were nearly enough to drown out his words, Karai knew she had reason to be very, very afraid.
'It wasn't supposed to go this way. I don't understand what I did wrong...'
O'Neil was suffering, they were about to get paid for extra cargo, and her plan had gone off without a hitch...she should have been receiving praise, not counting her breaths, wondering which one, if any, was going to be her last.
Karai dragged a shaking inhale through her clenched teeth and braced her knuckles against the slick black granite floor, cold and pressure leeching her pale skin of any color it might have held previously. The temperature traveled through her bones and into her veins, and she kept her gaze on the stone as she began, struggling not to whisper in her own right.
"I...m-my Lord, Father, I only-"
"I changed my mind," The Shredder cut in sharply, and Karai stopped talking so quickly her top teeth nicked her tongue in her haste to shut her mouth, filling her cheeks with the taste of blood. The top of her head burned like someone held a match to her hair, and she knew she was red and pink from her scalp to the bridge of her nose, ashamed and embarrassed for everyone gathered to see.
"If I hear this idiocy from your own unrepentant throat, I may lose the entirety of my temper," Shredder continued, still in that murderously quiet tone of voice. "You have lost the right to defend yourself in this matter. Speak again, and you will regret it." He shifted slightly on his mountainous perch and redirected his attention to the right of her, where Leonardo stood tall, unbowed and ever dutiful.
And she despised him all over again.
"Relate to us all the interesting tale that you told me earlier, Leonardo."
Out of the corner of her eye, Karai watched the mutant fold his hands behind his shell and roll his shoulders. From her vantage point, she couldn't see the large new gash stretching from his temple to the corner of his mouth, but she knew it was there, and she was glad for it and for the pain it was no doubt causing him.
"I was searching for the leader of the mutant clan," Leonardo recited mechanically, "and I found one of his brothers scavenging for scraps in the junkyard near Five Points. He engaged me, and during the course of our confrontation, he injured me slightly, but I learned of my sister's actions when he repeatedly asked me where 'Cody O'Neil' was."
"The reporter's son," Shredder input rhetorically, and Karai felt the air shift, saw a tiny droplet of scarlet blood fall with a splash to the floor when Leonardo nodded briskly.
She wanted to hamstring him with a kunai, or perhaps her own canines.
'Everything I've done for him...everything we've undertaken together, and this is how he repays me? By TATTLING?!'
Leonardo continued speaking as though he couldn't feel the rage emanating from her kowtowed form by his hip, like he didn't know her and didn't give a damn about the damage his words would do to her. "Yes, my Lord. When I demanded that he clarify, he explained in piecemeal that April O'Neil's son had been kidnapped from his preschool earlier today by a woman matching Karai's description. They later received a video from Karai in which she claimed responsibility and revealed the destination of the boy and his peers."
Each sentence felt like an old, infected band-aid being callously torn away from tender skin with dirty fingers. Karai didn't know whether she wanted to burst into tears or attack Leonardo full-throttle, but only the Shredder's endless glare kept her immobile- barely.
'How? How could he do this to me? Why now?'
When she was dead, she would haunt him to insanity and beyond.
"Is that the end of your knowledge about the situation?"
Karai felt her stomach evaporate, knowing, just KNOWING, that Leonardo was about to snitch to the Shredder about her planned coup. He'd already sentenced her to hours of agony, so why stop there?
"It is, my Lord."
Relief and confusion spread through her all the way to the tips of the tendrils of her trembling coal black hair, hanging low over her brow and nose, nearly driving an exclamation out of her. Karai glanced up through slightly wet lashes at Leonardo again- he still hadn't moved, hadn't looked at her at all, acting as if they were total strangers, or she was a disobedient soldier in his platoon.
"Are you certain?" the Shredder pressed, and yes, this was it, the moment Leonardo could effectively kill her and take future command for himself-
"Yes, my Lord."
-and he refused.
'What in the name of the collective fucking Gods are you playing at, little brother?!'
"Very well then." The Shredder paused to let all the attention in the room return to him, and when it did, he tapped the finger of his gauntlet three times against the golden armrest before speaking.
"Just so that I am perfectly clear, Karai," he started, "you took it upon yourself to go outside the boundaries of this very important, very delicate operation, abduct the child of a very minor adversary of the clan without permission or oversight, and then gloated openly about your actions, revealing information and details to the turtles, thereby enabling action on behalf of our most troubling outfit of nuisances to date?"
Her throat was sawdust-dry, so her answer of 'yes' came out with barely any sound to back it up.
"It is times like this that I question your intelligence," the Shredder snarled, still not yelling, but somehow managing to make the disgusted words echo against the walls like he had boomed them. "Had your mother not been sequestered in my chambers during her pregnancy, I would worry whether you were my own child, because I do not sire imbeciles. Does your thirst for meaningless revenge and feckless boasting blind you so heavily to the needs of your family?"
Karai decided to chance answering. "I-"
"DO NOT SPEAK!" The Shredder roared finally, rising from his seat to stand at his full height. "You have been increasingly willful, weak and moronic of late. I have half a mind to discard you and hasten my decision of inheritance."
Karai and quite a few others assembled quailed under his rage, but Leonardo did not.
"My Lord," he inserted smoothly, "I request that you not judge my sister too harshly. While her actions did endanger the operation, she did so while teaching a valuable lesson to someone who intended to expose us, even slightly. From what I've heard about this April woman, she's arrogant and meddling. But now O'Neil will be hesitant to harass us again, and Karai's machinations may draw the leader of that clan out into the open where I can confront him once and for all."
If Karai thought she had been floored by Leonardo keeping her secret before, she was absolutely flabbergasted by his sudden reversal for her benefit.
Leonardo had gone from throwing her under the bus to trying to save her command, position and possibly her life, but for what purpose?
The Shredder had gone dangerously silent in the aftermath of Leonardo's comments, and when he spoke again, there was- remarkably- a note of hesitation and pause in his tone. "You think this is so?"
"I do," Leonardo replied confidently. "There were side effects, but I believe we gained more than we lost from this. Karai exhibited that the Foot Clan does not make idle threats, which will be a message received by both enemy and ally. We've already gotten our payment for the boy, regardless of what happens to him next, and the other expected children were delivered early." He shrugged slightly. "In this case, the good outweighs the bad."
Spun that way, it almost sounded as though Karai had taken a calculated risk with a moderately high reward and only a few snags, rather than jeopardized the entire mission for her feelings. Past her lingering fear and anger, she was impressed with Leonardo's semantics.
"...Perhaps you are correct, Leonardo." the Shredder returned, and the entire room shuffled with shock, a tiny fragment of the tension leaking away like air escaping from a balloon. Karai's elbows nearly gave out, but he wasn't done.
"There is still the issue of the child," Shredder rumbled. "You do not know O'Neil, but she is as agitatingly tenacious as your sister, perhaps more so. Once baited, she is a bitch with a bone, and we will find no rest from her interference."
Leonardo didn't miss a beat. "That's easily rectified," he said. "One of us will fly ahead to Japan and retrieve the child, then bring him back here. We can frame his abduction as the ultimate last warning and leave her with fear of the clan in her heart. I volunteer, with my Lord's permission."
Karai hardly dared to breathe, adopting her best impression of a statue while the Shredder deliberated one last time.
Finally, the metal clad man hummed and settled slowly back down onto the throne, the blades set into the arch of his helm glittering as he tilted his head, relenting. "You have exhibited great wisdom this day, my son. I will heed your words. Stand up, Karai- look upon me now."
Karai stood herself up on joints made weak from emotional abuse, stoically ignoring Leonardo's offered hand like it wasn't even there. To his credit, he showed no offense, replacing it behind his back with barely a blink.
Karai fixed her gaze in the spot over Shredder's shoulder as was customary, mimicking Leonardo's disciplined pose despite the turmoil raging inside her.
"Be grateful for your Honored brother's insight," The Shredder told her, "as he has shown me the silver lining of your actions and in doing so, spared you anguish. Even so, you will not escape the entirety of my displeasure, Daughter."
His eyes crinkled behind his helmet, and Karai could imagine that he was smirking vindictively. "From this moment forward, until I believe that you have seen the error of your ways, your legions and platoons will be absorbed into Leonardo's, and you will serve beneath him for a time. Perhaps you will learn humility and foresight while witnessing his methods of command."
It was almost as if he'd slapped her full in the face, bladed gauntlets and all. Her entire squadron, disbanded and absorbed, her command revoked, and she herself demoted to a position of simple soldier under her younger brother, in full purview of the clan's generals?
She would have preferred to be whipped until her back was in bloody tatters, or maybe burned with acid again. Anything else other than that total humiliation.
Unwilling to speak for fear of rupturing her vocal cords with a volume she couldn't control, and desperate to keep her facial expressions hidden, Karai loosened her neck muscles and let her chin drop to her chest so that her hair could obscure the maelstrom playing out in her features.
"Leonardo, I give you leave to travel to Japan immediately and retrieve the child. I will send word to Acheron that he is not to be harmed or disposed of. In any case, I am sure your grandfather will be pleased to see you."
Leonardo's answering smile stretched the ragged edges of his cut gruesomely and couldn't have been more false if it had been carved out of plastic and pasted to his face. "I'm sure he will as well, Father. By your leave, I'll prepare for my trip."
The Shredder waved him off in a way that was almost fond and repeated the gesture much more dismissively at Karai before standing and starting his descent from the throne.
Karai lingered in the room long after everyone else had gone, standing stock still with her hair still shielding her face and her hands locked behind her back, only minute twitches of her shoulders to indicate that she was still breathing.
After a moment or two, she exploded into motion, dropping to her knees with a piercing, harpy-like scream, curse words garbled and unintelligible intermingled in her shrieking. The entire room reverberated with her howls as she dragged her fingernails across the floor, breaking and chipping them, leaving deep, red gouge marks in her wake.
A low cough by the threshold made her stand and spin around abruptly, ready to eviscerate anyone and anything that had dared to engage her in that moment. Not surprisingly, Leonardo was resting lightly against the arched entryway, ankles crossed, steeped in shadow, his eyes the brightest thing about his person.
"Are you done throwing your tantrum?" he muttered quietly, an ironic echo of the words he'd spoken to her the first week he had been in the city, after their first engagement with the turtles.
Seeing him so calm, so unruffled, taunting her…it filled Karai with a violent rage she could hardly fathom.
She straightened her spine and took three menacing steps in his direction, looking half crazed with anger. "Do you have your swords, dear brother?" she called, voice shaking with hysteria, spidery streams of eyeliner dripping down her cheeks.
Leonardo didn't move forward to meet her, or back, but he did uncross his legs, and he did raise a hand to 'rub' at his shoulder, which, since she knew him so well, was as loud and obvious as a verbal declaration to fight. "I'd be a fool not to, being who I am." he said evenly.
Her tessen were in her hands in the next few seconds, fully extended and gleaming softly in the low light. "Then you'd better draw them, and kill me before I get over there and separate your jaw from your skull."
If she was truly reduced to little more than a body on the front lines, then in her mind, she had nothing left to lose. She had decided to either kill Leonardo then and there, and then attempt to eviscerate her father, or she would die, slaughtered with her weapons in her hands and fighting to the best of her ability.
Leonardo tucked his thumb under the strap of his katanas, but made no other move as Karai advanced on him. "I'm not going to fight you, Karai. I just saved your life, after all."
Karai bared her teeth at him and sank into an attack crouch. "Let him kill me! Better yet, do it yourself! We'll let our blades decide who deserves to rule, if that's the way you want it." She leveled a bladed fan at him, gathering deadly potential in her limbs with every intention of leaping at him. "I'm not bluffing, Leonardo. Draw and defend yourself, or die like a coward."
She was close enough to see his eyes roll around tiredly in their sockets. "So dramatic." he sighed, finally stepping forward and gripping the hilt of his weapon.
Karai was on him before the full length of the sword was out of the hilt, rushing him with a wild, unhinged sounding battle cry. The edge of the first fan was dragged down the flat of his katana, scraping down to the guard before it was disconnected with a ringing screech. She spun the other around her fingers like a helicopter blade and aimed it towards his jugular, but a quick downward shift of his body allowed the fan to nock itself harmlessly in the thick material of his shell instead of the soft flesh of his throat, giving him time to draw his other weapon and push back.
She slammed her foot into the back of his knee, and Leonardo went down with a grunt, but he went with the momentum, bracing himself on his palms and whipping both his leg and second sword around to sweep her knees in a near flawless 'Dragon Whips Tail' maneuver.
Karai rolled backwards with a snarl and adopted a 'Viper' form, then leapt fluidly forward again. Single minded hatred fueled each and every one of her tactics as the spun and twirled, but no matter what she did or which moves she preformed- 'Viper', 'Scorpion', even the flamboyantly distracting 'Peacock' medley, Leonardo met her strikes with steadfast defense and deflection, and only defense and deflection.
He refused to let her touch him, but he also refused to strike any cutting blows.
"COWARD!" she screamed, dropping low to attempt to flay open the tendons in his thigh. "FIGHT! FIGHT!"
Three of her tanto lodged themselves in his carapace as he turned to avoid the projectiles again, and Karai saw her next opening as his head dipped- a patch just under his nape, where the knobs of his spine flexed visibly beneath the thinner skin, unprotected by his shell.
One of the few places where it was easy to kill him, and the place where, months earlier, she had grabbed for his neck while writhing under him in ecstasy.
Karai launched herself into the air and flung her leg out, then feinted, dropped it, and struck out with the other, aiming to catch him with a kick to the cheek to throw him to the side and force him to reveal that spot.
To her dismay, Leonardo completely ignored the move, abandoned his swords completely, and slid sideways on the floor to grab her ankle with both hands, squeezing, twisting, and pulling her abruptly back to earth like a child would do to a runaway helium balloon.
Airborne, there was no way she could stop it. Karai hollered as she came crashing down onto her back and shoulderblade, losing her grip on both tessen as heavy, crushing pain ricocheted through her side and ribs. Her leg seized numbly in Leonardo's grip as he kneaded his fingers into a section of her shin, and just as quickly repeated the action on her other leg when she tried, in vain, to knee him in his protected groin.
Gods damned pressure points. He'd always been better at the technique than she had.
Breathing heavily, Leonardo stood them both up, twisting her arms behind her back. He held both of her wrists in his much larger hand, bending her forward in a mockery of an erotic pose. With his other hand, he retrieved one sword from the ground and dragging it closer with his foot.
'So, this is how it ends.' She wouldn't allow herself to feel fear, or sorrow.
"Do it. Pay me back in blood for all the years I protected you." Karai hissed, thankful that he had at least allowed her to remain standing for her execution.
Behind her, Leonardo snorted, thoroughly exasperated. "I'm not going to kill you, sister. I never intended to, but you only respond to drastic action when you get like this."
Karai heard him slip the katana back into its oiled sheath before he resumed. "We need to talk-"
"I'm done talking with you!" she interrupted with a snap, petulantly rolling her arms as if she could escape his hold with two incapacitated legs.
Predictably, Leonardo ignored her. "We need to talk," he said again, as if she hadn't spoken, "but not here, so you have two options. I can remove that pressure point, and we can walk somewhere secure together, like adults, or I can keep restraining you, and carry you there. Your choice."
Karai flushed so deeply she felt the pulse of blood at the tip of her nose, and didn't answer.
"I'm running low on patience, sister. Which is it?"
"So be it." Absurdly, Leonardo adjusted his grip on her arms and swung her up and over his back, like she was nothing more than a sack of garbage, and waltzed out of the throne room easy as you please.
Deaf to the way she ranted and raved at him and beat her fists against his shell, Leonardo made his way calmly to one of the lowest levels of the tower, to the ground floor wing beneath the kitchens. When he stopped in front of a door to open it, Karai shuddered against him as a gust of dry frigid air billowed out and clung to her exertion-warmed skin, bringing with it the scent of preserved meat, dry spice, and old blood.
Leonardo stepped into the room that she now knew was a freezer, closed the door, and dumped her unceremoniously into the corner before resuming his previous position of crossed legs and leaned his body against the wall.
"I should have smothered you when we were small." Karai growled immediately when their eyes met, ire making her tongue loose and cruel.
"You should have," Leonardo agreed placidly, not bothered by her venom in the slightest. "It would have saved us both years of torment. Even still. That's a harsh sort of thank you."
Karai balked at both his unruffled attitude and the ridiculous expectation. "Thank you? Thank you?! I am ruined! I am nobody, because of you!" she yelped. "I'm supposed to thank you for betraying and devaluing me in front of our entire family? Although I suppose you enjoy the thought of me being beneath you."
The corner of his beak tilted upwards with dry sarcasm. "I always enjoy you being beneath me, Karai." Leonardo smirked blearily. "And I'm sorry about that, but it had to happen. You've been taking too many risks. He's already paranoid with the rebellion overseas and the Dragon insurrection, and you were going to catch all of that heat."
Karai clenched her hands into fists and sneered haughtily at him. "I was bred to be an elite. I have trained my entire life to serve and lead this clan in the highest capacity. This is an insult worse than death."
Leonardo huffed out a gust of air that solidified in front of his face. "Maybe, except wasn't going to kill you," he told her, staring into her eyes unblinkingly. "He was going to send you to the Loti. You know exactly what that means."
The Order of the Lotus was a fancy name for something that was little more than clan sanctioned prostitutes, disposable women who were frequently killed after serving as entertainment for high level functions and training dummies for the flesh masters.
Karai gaped at him in shock, and her next shiver had nothing to do with the sweat freezing to her body. "He wouldn't…I'm his only daughter. I'm..."
Leonardo brought his arms together over his chest to ward against the cold, making his green muscles bulge with the motion. "He would, and he doesn't give a damn, which you very well know." he reminded her disdainfully. "A year from now, he could have three of you, and created eight more of me. Neither of us are non-expendable."
Karai closed her mouth slowly and swallowed thickly, then ran her tongue over cold-chapped lips. "…Why didn't you tell him about the coup?" she asked finally, in a slightly smaller voice.
The idea that the Shredder could do that to her...he was who he was, but she was his Daughter. To send her to the Loti, and subject her to a short lifetime of public torture, rape and debasing...very little could stun her, but that did.
"Because there is no coup," Leonardo replied, after a while. "Not without me."
Karai's chin shot up, and she pursed her lips thinly. "So decide," she barked, "right here, and right now. I'm sick of your indecision, and I refuse to bear this injustice. I will make my move tonight, with or without you!"
She almost jumped a foot when Leonardo suddenly pushed himself upright and grabbed her at the elbows, giving her a forceful shake like she was a naughty pet.
"No!" he rumbled, eyes narrowed to steely brown chips. His hands were almost painfully warm in the chill of the freezer. "That's suicide. Even if you do manage to defeat him, you'll be taking command of a splintered clan. We have too much on our plate- they won't trust your leadership."
Karai felt a fleeting, inexplicable urge to cry before she blinked and repressed it. "Then what would you have me do, Leonardo?" she asked darkly.
Her brother exhaled long and loud, and let her drop back to the floor. Even in the near non-existent illumination in the small space, she could see his exhaustion leaking into every movement.
"Just wait. I'm not saying no, I'm saying, not now." he reasoned. "Let me take care of the issue with the Dragons. Then Father will trust me completely- the Clan will trust me completely, and we'll have all the support we need. But it has to done at the right time."
"I will not wait much longer." Karai warned him, and he let out a laugh completely devoid of comedy.
"I'm sure you wont, and I'm not asking you to. But you need to trust me. I don't want to see you end up like the leaders in Japan- former leaders, actually." Leonardo fingered one of the knives in his belt pensively, and a strange look crossed his beak- half humor, half distaste. "I'd hate to have to de-bone you like a trout filet on our father's orders because you couldn't bide your time."
Despite herself, Karai canted her head to the side, interested by the gory implication behind that sentence. "Is that what they had you do in Japan?" she queried.
Leonardo rubbed the side of his head absently. "When the smoke cleared? Grandfather got creative." His next smile was a self satisfied one. "I didn't learn how to make makizushi sashimi by practicing on fish."
That image was exceptionally delightful- Leonardo wrist deep in viscera, carefully carving roses out of the flesh of traitors and wrapping it in seaweed and rice paper- and Karai had to smother her jealousy. "Lucky swine…"
She sighed, and dropped her head back against the frost-ladden steel wall with a slight clang. "Fine, Leonardo. I'll wait. But you will not order me around like a common grunt."
She'd raised him, after all, kept him from falling into the damn toilet while teaching him to potty train and hidden him from Bishop on multiple occasions. She would not be bossed around by the person who she'd shown how to speak and hold eating utensils, let alone any kind of weapon.
"If it was that easy to handle you, we wouldn't have half the problems we do now." Leonardo remarked snidely. "Can I risk releasing your legs now, or do I have to worry about being attacked again?"
Karai sniffed and turned her face to the side, but she did gesture at her still deadened legs. "If you'd be so kind." she griped.
He stooped down and triggered the correct point, then stood back a bit while she struggled to her feet as the feeling returned.
"I have always hated your propensity for that," Karai muttered. She also hated the way he always seemed to make her anger seem childish and ill rendered, and point out the flaws in her plans as if she were an idiot.
She was HIS oldest sister, for fuck's sake. And she honestly didn't think she could be blamed for her reaction- she had very nearly had everything in the world taken from her.
"Don't you think that's why I developed it?" Leonardo shot back, his teeth glinting white and sharp in the shadows. "No one ever expects it."
Karai hmphed and rubbed her fingers together to chase away the chill, studying him with a sideline glance, a hasty plot forming in her mind. Now that she was less angry, she had realized exactly where they were- in a freezer, deep below ground level, alone, with no cameras around.
For as irritated as she constantly was with him, she felt her body begin to respond to their proximity and seclusion.
"Let me see that." she said mildly, nodding at the ugly slice splitting the skin of his face. It was deep, from what she could tell, and though the cold was helping the blood congeal around the edges, the flesh still looked raw and painful. "It looks bad, and I know you won't go to Bishop."
Leonardo gazed at her, amused, then gave in and moved closer. "You know I heal from- AH! Gods, Fuck, Karai-"
He shoved her brusquely away after she gripped his chin and spat directly into the wound, knowing the warmth and force of her saliva would make it sting like hell.
"That was for embarrassing me." Karai crowed, heart rate quickening almost painfully from a surge of adrenaline and arousal as he clasped a hand to his face and glared at her hotly, growling low in his chest.
"I'm not well rested enough to let that slide," he told her in a grating tone, biceps tightening.
Gods, but he was so attractive when he was angry.
She anticipated the moment that he would grab for her and slipped it, inserting herself into his personal space. Before he could react violently, she raised herself onto her tiptoes and captured his mouth in a heated kiss, faces so close her long eyelashes brushed the edge of his mask. Leonardo's body slackened in shock, allowing her to deepen the kiss before pulling away.
'Mm...anger makes him taste better, too.'
"And that was for saying yes." Karai breathed, winding the tail of his pitch black mask around one slim white finger.
Leonardo groaned in defeat and reached up to grab her wrists to drag her back, but it was too late- she had already felt his plastron twitch. "You just won't leave this alone, will you?" He shook his head wearily. "He'll kill us, Ane."
"He's already killed me." Karai stated. "If I must wait, I will have this." She arched up, flexed, and wrapped her leg around his middle, bringing their pelvises together in the same instant that she lapped kittenishly at his lower lip. "I will have you, brother. Fucking you keeps me from killing you, and I still sort of want to kill you."
"You are really insane," Leonardo told her seriously, and Karai beamed like a child getting their way- which, essentially, she was.
"No more than you are. Now please shut up, and get inside me."
"Psychopath," Leonardo retorted, but he went for the ties at her waist all the same.
It was indeed cold in that freezer, but it didn't remain that way for very long, much to her long-awaited joy.
Typically, Thanksgiving was a great holiday, and everybody underground looked forward to it. Even before the Hamato clan had met April and extended their family to her, they'd celebrated it as well as they could on their meager means.
When Raph and his brothers were young, Splinter would scavenge for weeks in advance and sneak into the most dangerous situations to try and procure nicer than normal meals for them. A few years later, once they'd learned how to make their own food and Mikey especially had shown a proficiency for it, the dishes got more and more grandiose, and they'd even made leaving the city for Casey's grandmother's farm house part of the tradition.
Usually, they'd pack themselves and occasionally, Leatherhead, into the van and have an annual road trip type event for a few days of relaxation and open air without fear of discovery upstate. It was supposed to be fun, and aside from Halloween, Thanksgiving was Raphael's favorite holiday.
This year though, he hated it for even existing. If he could have crawled beneath his covers and ignored the entire affair until it passed, then he would have.
They'd still gone through the motions like everything was normal, making the trek up to the farm together, Leatherhead crammed in the back and the four of them in the middle and up front for the three hour drive while April and Casey went up separately.
But there was no enthusiasm in the car, no "I Spy with my Little Eye", no playful bickering over the radio station, no burp competitions. For the entire ride, the inside of the van was as dead silent as a mausoleum, and everyone knew why.
With Cody still missing, and April slipping deeper and deeper into depression every day, the entire holiday felt like a fucking farce.
At the moment, Raphael was slouched and interred on the couch in the front room of the main house, staring blank eyed at the television with a blanket tucked around his shoulders and the remote sitting limp in his palm.
The entire place was quiet when it should have been bustling. There was a huge, bleeding hole in every process of the day. Mikey was in the kitchen cranking out dish after dish, but Cody wasn't there to sample everything with his little blue spoon or sing and hum along with him. April was cleaning, but her son wasn't there to help her with his cheerful giggles, and neither was he there to spur his father to put up the decorations from the cardboard box in the attic.
Raph had no clue where Donnie and his father had gotten to, since Cody wasn't around, begging them to play tent adventure in the backyard until dinner was ready.
It was unnatural. He didn't want to be there, but he didn't want to be home, either. He didn't understand why they were even trying. it was all a joke. Added to the fact that he hadn't heard from Leonardo in nearly two weeks, not even a 'I'm still alive' text, his mood was in the shit.
'What the fuck do we even have to be thankful for, anyway?'
A kidnapped nephew, a ruined reputation, a lying, MIA lover and a crappy family atmosphere. Friggin' great. And it didn't help that everything on TV was some family centered, cutesy, feel good mush fest that only made him feel worse.
The love fest on screen continued, and Raph seriously debated throwing the remote at the glass. He didn't think anyone would be overly upset, all things considered.
Raph craned his neck around towards the hallway and see who had called his name. He withheld a flinch when he realized it was Donatello, garbed in a grape colored hoodie with deep bags around his sunken hazel eyes.
They still hadn't talked at all about the Hun/Foot clan situation since he'd bolted in the midst of the initial crisis to confront Leonardo. It would be accurate to say that he had been avoiding his genius brother since then, to the very best of his ability.
Everyone had been avoiding everyone, actually. Casey had been avoiding Raph, he and April and Raph had been avoiding Donnie, and Mikey and Splinter had spent most of the trip in seclusion.
"Y-yeah?" Raph muttered, returning his gaze resolutely to the TV and praying that Donatello was too tired to interrogate him.
Apparently, he was, and Raph felt awful for being happy about that. Donnie had been rubbed raw the last few weeks, worked down to the bone trying to fix everyone's mistakes and search for Cody. He'd so far gotten nowhere, and nothing broke his brainy little brother down like failure where everyone could see.
"Do you know when dinner is supposed to be ready?" Donnie asked quietly, hardly seeming to have the strength to speak above a murmur. "Mikey texted me a little while ago saying he was almost done, but I ah. Missed it."
Raph shrugged faintly and plucked nervously at the 'menu' button on the remote. "I dunno. I think he said somethin' about fuckin' up the gravy somehow, so April was just gonna grab some storebought. Where's dad?"
Donnie plopped down next to him on the second cushion. "Meditating down by the pond. He said the water acts as a better spiritual conduit, and that he feels closest to B-"
The purple masked turtle cut himself off suddenly, and Raph shot him a concerned squint- it wasn't like Donnie to ramble, true enough, but he had sounded like he was about to say something he'd rather not. "Closest ta what?"
Donnie fidgeted for a moment, chewing hard on his lip, then sighed and scrubbed at the space between his eyeridges. "He said he feels closest to Big Brother there. Apparently, he loved water, even more than we did."
'Oh. 'Course. Everybody in here's fucked up, and he's out cryin' over Oldest Son again. Figures.'
"Whatever," Raph grunted. "Just wanna eat 'n go ta bed."
"Yeah," Donnie echoed weakly, letting his lids drift halfway closed and sinking down into the rough tartan couch. They didn't move again until another noise, this time from the direction of the kitchen, made them startle in unison.
"Hey, dudes," Mikey greeted them drearily. "The gravy got screwed up, so we're gonna be eating a little late."
He wasn't even attempting to be cheerful, and Raph was grateful for that. He suspected sometimes that Mikey's happy disposition was a sham, and it would have been painfully, hilariously obvious in this instance.
"'S fine." Raph told him. "Ya c'n sit if ya wanna."
Mikey nodded and collapsed on Raph's other side gratefully, turning the space into a tight turtle crush that none of them minded. The feeling of warm, familiar bodies in close proximity was comforting in a way that few things were.
It made Raph think of sleeping next to Leonardo, reassuring each other after their nightmares, made him wonder if the black banded turtle was safe, if Shredder had made good on Leo's gloomy predictions.
'He could be rottin' somewhere, and I'd have no clue,' he thought with an ugly, forlorn pang in his chest that he tried not to let show on his face. The last thing he'd said to Leonardo had basically been a rebuttal of his apology.
If he was dead...if he never got to take that back-
"Hey look," Mikey spoke up, perking up a little. "Disney XD's playing Beauty and the Beast."
Raph blinked and refocused back on the tv. Mikey was right- on screen, the first few chords of "Bonjour" from the old animated Disney movie were picking up.
"So...Beauty and The Beast, huh?"
"Shut up. I guess we just...liked it. The idea of a pretty girl fallin' in love with a monster."
"I'nt really feel like watching that right now, Mike," Raph grumbled in the present, curling up against more pangs of memory from that night on the rooftops. "'S too happy."
Flickers of a pout began to flit over Mikey's face, and Raphael felt a hundred times worse. "You used to like it all the time," Mikey said sadly. "It used to be your favorite, dude. Please can we watch just a little bit of it? We can laugh about how Donnie looks like Le Fou...?"
"Excuse me?" Donatello mumbled from beneath his section of cover, cracking open one eye to glare at them both. "I'm nothing like that idiot."
Mikey's answering smile was still small, but at least it was real. "It's his teeth. Remember, when you used to have that gap when we were kids?"
"I had a mild, temporary Diastema," Donnie told him, miffed, "not a cartoonish, double buck-toothed overbite."
"You could whistle through it," Mikey pointed out, and Raph found himself barking out a laugh in spite of himself.
"Shit, he's right. Ya used ta do the X-Files theme an' the Superman jingle."
"Let's just watch the movie," Donnie suggested, and they did, even managing to enjoy themselves for a while, bobbing their heads along to the classic songs and snickering childishly at the heartwarming humor, at least until April came back with the store bought gravy.
Later, when the sad, horrible affair of dinner was over (the only good part about it had been the food, since not even intense melancholy could mess up Mikey's cooking skills too badly or for too long), Splinter made the decision that Raph and Donnie would be the ones to clean up after the meal.
Everyone went to bed in short order- no one felt like lingering. They cleared the table in record time and washed the plates, pots and pans in near total silence afterwards, wrist deep in cold soapy water, shoulder to shoulder, not saying a word. The only noises were those outside the window indicative of the countryside settling in- owls hooting softly in the trees, unseen crickets making racket in the grass, and the wind rattling the fence.
Eventually, the quiet started to weigh on Raph's nerves. He decided to try for some sort of conversation just to fill the void, because the way his brother was robotically going about their task while at the same time acting like he didn't exist was setting his molars on edge.
'Fuck, this sucks.'
"Mac was real good, huh? Kinda spicy. Guess Mikey's been bingin' Master Chef." Raph tossed out finally, running a cloth along the same length of a spatula handle he'd been drying for the past ten minutes.
He never claimed to be good at this kind of shit, but he figured he should at least get points for trying.
Next to him, Donnie was working orange lumps of dried pie batter off of the electric whisk attachment with a piece of steel wool like his life depended on getting it absolutely sparkling clean. "Mmhm." he said, response little more than an audible puff of air from his nose slits.
"Splinter back out by tha pond?" Raph tried again, replacing the spatula with a butter knife that was already spotless.
"I don't know. Why?" Donnie asked shortly. His olive green face was pinched, and he was going after the whisk attachment in a way that made Raph feel pity for it.
"I was gonna ask 'im when we were headin' back. I think he wants us ta stay a while but I'm not sure I'm down with that."
Donnie didn't say anything else after that, and he still wouldn't look at him, even when all the dishes were clean and the kitchen was back to looking like it hadn't been used at all.
'Fuck it. I give up.'
Raph threw his metaphorical hands in the air and turned for the doorway, shaking his head. Sleep was better than talking, anyway, and fuck Donatello for always harping on about "effective communication", then giving him the silent treatment when it mattered.
"I'm gonna head up-"
Donnie's (almost desperate) call of 'Raph?' behind him made him wince and stop in his tracks.
'Goddamit. I knew it.'
"Yeah?" he hedged, spinning in his heel to face his brother with irritation dancing over his face. "What, now ya wanna talk ta me? Ya had all day, Donnie."
Donatello's expression was heartbreaking- he looked like he was damn close to tears. "I don't want to fight with you, especially not today. But why did you keep all of that from us? From me?" he asked.
Raphael gripped the sides of his mask in his fists with a groan and pulled, apprehension making the undersides of his armpits itch. "We're really doin' this now?" he pleaded.
I change my mind, I don't wanna talk anymore. I don't wanna talk ever, fuck-
Donatello's gaze was damp, but it was steady. "Why?" he repeated, planting his feet and slouching back against the sink with a clear intention of not going anywhere.
He'd sworn to tell his brother the truth, but that just couldn't happen. If he came clean about Leonardo, and everything he'd risked, sabotaged, betrayed, and lied about, Donatello would never forgive him, and neither would the rest of his family.
No one could ever know real story about Hun's death, because that would mean exposing everything else. And Raph, gods fuck him, would not be the one to do that. He loved them too much to have them hate him that way.
"Because I was handlin' it by myself, an' I didn't want anybody else ta get involved or hurt." Raph said, swallowing down the sour taste of the lie he was about to tell. "It wasn't mah fault, but I figured ya wouldn't believe me."
"What happened?" Donatello coerced, more forcefully.
I'm so, so sorry Donnie. But I can't tell you.
"That first night I was out shoppin', Hun jumped me." Raph said, pressing the blunt edge of the butter knife into his palm until it threatened to draw blood. "Kept goin' on about how Leonardo wasn't gonna get tha chance ta kill me, cause he was gonna do it first an' show Shreddah that Leonardo wasn't shit."
"That's why you were late?" Donatello said. "I was so angry with you for days after that. You could have just told the truth."
Looking directly at him hurt physically, so Raph only managed it for a few seconds. "I didn't wanna worry ya with it."
His long limbed brother drew himself up in irritation. "Mikey and I aren't children, Raphael." Donnie reminded him pointedly. "You may be the leader, but we can handle things just as well as you can, and we can help. Not telling us put us in way more danger."
He was becoming intimately familiar with the crushing sensation of guilt and failure. "I know." Raph hunched down into himself, wishing he was still small enough to escape into his shell. "M' sorry, Donnie."
And for once, he really, absolutely was.
Not sorry enough to tell the whole truth...
'I can't. I'm too deep in this shit now.'
He expected his brother to push past him once again and leave him to his miserable (well deserved) feelings, so Raphael was utterly surprised when Donatello moved to envelop him in a hug that felt like forgiveness, anger and an apology all at once. "No more secrets, please?" Donatello spoke into his back.
It was way more than he deserved. "S-sure thing." Raph stammered, feeling like he wanted to jump off a goddamned cliff. "No more secrets."
'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.'
It felt good, so good, to have a sense of understanding and honesty between them finally, even if the entire thing was bullshit, so Raph allowed himself to guiltily hold on to the hug as long as Donatello allowed him to Maybe it made him even more of a piece of shit, but he was so sick of feeling like an outsider to his own family.
Eventually, they both pulled back from the embrace, and Raph tried not to notice that the edges of Donatello's mask were dark with tears.
Any longer in his little brother's presence, and he might have spilled it all through sheer emotional compulsion, so he made a quick out for himself before he screwed up everything. "'M gonna..."
"Yeah," Donatello said, clearing his throat gently. "Go...go ahead. I'll be up soon." He watched his red masked brother's back as he ascended the stairs, until Raphael was no longer in sight or earshot. When he was gone, Donatello dropped his head into his hands with a quivering exhale.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it..."
He had been so close...so close, to just-
'I'm a coward...'
Donatello's liver relocated to his esophagus, and he spun around with reflexes honed by fear when the youngest of their number made his presence known out of nowhere, again, behind him, in the threshold of the entrance to the backyard.
"Mikey?" Donatello inquired, heart hammering away in his eardrums. "I thought you'd gone up to bed already."
"I was out on the back porch drawing," Mikey explained, gesturing to the pencils in the bend of his elbow and the sketchpad balanced in his fingers. "The light's really pretty off the lake."
"Oh." Donnie chuckled nervously, hazel eyes sliding to the side. "Right. I was just...Raph and I were..."
"Donnie, dude," Mikey cut him off, the look on his beak doubly sympathetic and sadly amused. "Why don't you just tell him?"
"T-tell him what?" Donatello faltered, adopting the visage of a deer about to be hit by a truck.
Mikey's mouth twisted wryly. "That you love him." he said simply.
Donatello went from looking like a deer about to be hit by a truck, to a deer that had been hit by a truck, repeatedly. "Th-that I what?" he stammered, going pale around his neck. "Mikey-"
"No more secrets, bro." the youngest reminded him. "It's alright, Don, you can tell me. It's kind of obvious, to be honest."
Donatello wilted like a cut flower taken out of water. There was clearly no point in denying it, after all. "I...I'm sorry." he blurted.
Mikey jerked a little, right eye squinting nearly closed. "Wait, why?" he squawked. "Nobody's jumping down your throat here, dude."
"He's...he's our brother, I know, It's disgusting, but-"
"I'm not judging you, Don. Figured it had to happen one of these days, right?" Mikey said, placing his art supplies on the counter and moving closer to his distressed sibling. "I still don't get why you won't just, like, tell him though. It's really eatin' you up."
Donatello snorted, an ugly noise of heartbreak and self ridicule. "Because it won't matter. He won't let anyone get close enough. And I feel like we're losing him more every day." His voice roughened at the end with the threat of tears, but he banished them with a cough and hardened his eyes to Mikey's sympathy. "In any case, the feeling isn't reciprocated. I would know if it were. I probably need to just wake up and get over it. It's most likely hormonal attraction, or..."
"You don't believe that, dude, but whatever." Michelangelo nudged his shoulder with his own, grinning faintly to try and lighten the mood. "Guess there's always more fish in the sea, right?"
Donatello was quiet for a little bit, and then he shook his head vehemently. "...No. There isn't. Not for us, and not for me."
"I'm going to bed, Mikey. I'll see you tomorrow, alright?"
Like his brother had before him, Michelangelo watched Donatello's shell as it receded into the living room and towards the stairs.
When he was the only one still on the first floor, he placed his hand on his chest with a choked sounding giggle, lungs numb and spasming from a fresh surge of heartbreak.
"Heh heh...wow. That...hurt just as bad as I thought it would...good to know, Don."
"Shinjimae": Go to hell, 'drop dead'. Special translation thanks to Japanese beta-bae Luleiya!
(A/N: I'm...so tired...fuck...pardon the smell of shit all over this, it's been a while. I am going to be participating in Fanbooks now though, so be on the lookout for my contributions in upcoming months! Yes, look at Venus, being social and informed and active in the fandom, oh snap...)