It figures that the one night he convinces Leo to cut loose is the night a crazy brawl breaks out in the back of the pub. Complete with shattered glass, flipped tables, and scattered gunfire.
“Come on, Raph, let’s not get involved,” Leonardo says right away, pushing away from their table to stand. Raphael grits his teeth but he moves with him anyway, and shoves someone out of the way when they cut in front of them.
“Watch it,” he adds with a bite, and the stranger shoves him right back.
“You watch it, berk,” the gap-toothed man says without missing a beat, and at the same time Leonardo puts a hand on Raphael’s shoulder, the stranger’s companion reaches over to yank hard on the tails of his bandanna. “Ow, ow, seriously?”
“Mike just started a bar fight,” a familiar voice snaps, “and you really, honestly feel the need to start another one?”
“I didn’t start anything, this guy’s the one who- “
Leo’s hand on his shoulder tightens, a grip that’s sure to leave bruises, but Raphael doesn’t even feel it. He’s staring, slack-jawed, at the tall, bespectacled man, and grabs him by the arm before he can take more than a step away, because that’s gotta be -
But another gunshot interrupts whatever Donatello might have said - and his wide-eyed surprise at seeing the two of them falls away like lightning, and he and his friend tear away without another word to join the cluster of sheer chaos at the back of the pub.
Did that really just happen? “I’m not seein’ things, am I?” he asks - but Leo has let go of him to charge in the opposite direction of the crowd of patrons heading for the door, intent on following Donatello towards - a mad, enthusiastic cackle that reminds Raphael of his baby brother.
Donatello had said “Mike.” And from the looks of it, as Leo wades straight into the fight without looking back, that’s all Donatello needed to say.
“So much for not getting involved,” Raph says to himself, and rolls up his sleeves.
Raphael and Leonardo managed to catch up after about three blocks; Donatello’s group escaped the scene with a careless ease that spoke of too much practice, slipping through the crowd and the police and disappearing around the corner. Leonardo hopped a gate and cut through a yard in his single-minded pursuit, crushing someone’s poor daffodils as he went – and then, because Raphael would follow Leo through hell if the situation called for it, let alone a soft summer garden, the flowers were twice-trampled and Raph didn’t spare them a second thought.
Mikey’s voice carried across the cool evening air, clear as crystal, so familiar and so impossibly precious after so many years that Raphael’s eyes burned.
“It’s not my fault he’s a sore loser,” Mikey was saying, twenty-something by now and still the stubborn, cheerful child Raph had left behind. “Besides, with what I made at poker tonight, plus what me and LH make tomorrow on the docks, we’ll be ready to hit the road in a few days!”
Donnie blew out a loud sigh, always knowing a lost cause when he saw it. “Just be sure to keep hydrated. I worry about you in that heat. Sunstroke is the last thing you need before a six-thousand mile voyage to Peru. And before you say it, I know,” he added, exasperated, “’you’ve had worse.’”
Peru? Raphael thought stupidly, and then a moment later Leonardo was finally close enough to call out.
“Donnie – Mikey!”
It had been several long years since Raphael had last seen those wide blue eyes. A rainy afternoon, the day he left to follow Leonardo, and Mikey’s face was barely visible from the porch as the taxi pulled down the drive. Raph had waved goodbye anyway, just in case Mikey could see it.
Almost a decade later, and they were reunited on a street in London under the warm light of a streetlamp, only a few paces apart; but Raphael didn’t feel as though he’s closed the distance between them – not even by a step.
“Oh,” Mikey said, and that was all he said. Raphael swallowed past a lump in his throat – this was his fault, he left; what, was he expecting a hug? – but Leonardo surged a step forward.
Leonardo was doing so much better now, and Donatello and Michelangelo didn’t know what a long road it was to get to this point. They didn’t know what Leo was like when he was living on that dangerous edge after father died, bitter and hateful and sad. How days could go from bad to worse to impossible without rhyme or reason. How close Raph came to losing him, more than once.
Maybe they would put it together in time. There were plenty of clues.
Raphael had a degree in therapy, earned in snatches here and there, late nights and cram schools and desperate wanting to be useful to his big brother.
Leonardo wrote a goodbye letter two months after he left, one for the three of them that said ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I’ll wait for you there,’ and the day Raphael found it in the mail was the day Raphael left Mikey and crossed the country and pushed his way into Leonardo’s apartment with his heart in his throat and tears in his eyes, praying and praying he made it in time.
Raphael still had that letter, creased and yellowed and smudged and folded carefully in between pages of a book in his room, afraid in a senseless way that if he lost or burned it, those terrifying sentiments would be freed from paper and come to life again.
There were scars on Leo’s arms that their little brothers wouldn’t recognize from their shared childhood, scars that spoke of dark and ugly and hopeless things.
Donnie was too smart, and Mikey was too sharp, not to find all of these clues, one by one, and piece them together into a broader story. And when they realized, they would forgive, and Leo would find it in his burdened heart to forgive himself, too.
All they needed was time.
And when Leo whispered hoarsely, “I’ve missed you,” Raphael could tell their little brothers knew it for the truth. And it wasn’t much, but it was a start, when Mikey nodded once, silently, and Donatello replied with a soft, “us, too” that was all but lost on the breeze.
”By the way, what’s in Peru?” Raphael would ask almost a full day later, while Mikey and Leatherhead were teaching Leonardo how to play gin rummy, and Donatello was packing up the last of their things in worn duffel bags – and Casey Jones would look up from the white cat on his lap to grin wolfishly, reckless adventure in his bright brown eyes.
“Ol’ Mike’s got his eye on a golden idol.”