It was only after he’d turned the page that he realized he didn’t remember having read the previous one.
He probably hadn’t, if the blurry words on the current page were any indication. Turning back to the previous page, he blinked tired eyes and tried to focus them on a word – any word. He did actually manage to read one entire sentence before the inside of his eyelids got in the way.
Shaking his head, Leonardo glanced up at the clock. One thirty-seven a.m. Raphael still hadn’t returned and Leonardo felt a soupçon of irritation pushing past his fatigue.
It was absolutely not necessary to sit up and wait for his brother. In fact, Leonardo had been told by said brother not to do so. Raphael had also told him that he could take care of himself, that he knew how to remain out of sight, and that one father was enough.
All of which was quite true. The other truth was that Raphael had a gift for finding trouble even when he wasn’t looking for it. Rare were those times when he wasn’t looking.
A weird falling sensation made Leonardo pull his head up with a jerk. He was nodding off and even though he was sitting upright, it wasn’t helping him to stay awake. The book of fantasy short stories he’d been attempting to read now lay open but face down atop his leg. He didn’t remember lowering it.
“You are being as stubborn as Raph,” Leonardo muttered to himself.
Sitting up like this wasn’t going to earn him any thanks from his brother. Why Leonardo insisted on seeing Raphael come home safely was a mystery he hadn’t yet solved.
Worry. That had to be it. Worry, and fear, and a deep need to know that Raphael was safe. Because Raphael was . . . he was . . . .
Leonardo’s eyes closed completely, his mind still chasing that last elusive thought as he feel asleep in that same uncomfortable seated position.
And he dreamed . . . .
Of a Raphael and Leonardo, who were other versions of themselves . . . .
They were driving fast, rain pouring down, lightning streaking across the sky at frequent intervals. The boom of thunder drowned out the angry words passing between them, so that only fractions of sentences could even be heard, if either had been actually listening to the other.
Behind them, a car horn sounded, but it was distant. The previous blasts from that horn were closer, but that was before the argument had grown heated. Raph’s anger made him press down on the accelerator, which caused their car go faster than the one driven by Donatello.
The car horn was meant as a warning, but it wasn’t heeded. Nor were the chirps from their cell shells. Raph was an excellent driver, even on a rain slicked mountain roadway, but he wasn’t omnipotent. He didn’t see that though, not in the heat of the moment. He was not going to be told to slow down, not by Don, and certainly not by Leo.
Leo played his part as well. He wasn’t going to show fear no matter how reckless Raph’s driving became. Somehow he managed, even in the way he told Raph to let off the gas pedal, to sound both insulting and superior.
What happened next could be said to be a joint effort at disaster. The deer bounding across the roadway played its part too.
Raphael jerked the wheel to the side and hit the brakes as his brother shouted a warning. The front bumper just clipped the deer’s hip, but the combination of occurrences sent the car into a skid.
Thunder covered Raph’s shouted curse as the car slid off the road, hitting a guardrail at a speed that exceeded its protective ability.
The guardrail broke and the car plummeted over the side of the mountain.
It took only a few seconds for the car to fall into a ravine, landing on its side in a stream that now roiled angrily with the addition of rain water. It pushed its way into the car through the shattered windows, drenching both inhabitants in bone chilling cold.
Raph could taste the blood in his mouth from a split lip that somehow stung more than the various cuts on his body. His first thought, once his head was clear, was to check on his brother.
Leo’s side of the car was in the stream and he was partially covered by water. It pooled over his head and face, but Leo didn’t move.
Shouting his brother’s name, Raph released his seatbelt and turned in his seat to get a grip on Leo. Pulling his brother’s face out of the water, Raph saw that he was alive but unconscious, and bleeding from a head wound.
A hard bump against the car nearly jolted Leo out of Raph’s grip and he realized that the rising water was lifting the vehicle. Waiting for a rescue was out of the question, not that Raph was inclined to do so in the first place.
The front windshield was broken but not shattered, which made it easy for Raph to kick out a large section without cutting his leg to pieces. After he maneuvered his way through the opening, he gripped Leo beneath his arms and tried to pull him through, but his katanas got in the way.
Raph took sheaths and all from his brother’s shell and tossed them towards the base of the cliff, far from the stream. Then he took hold of Leo and eased him out of the car, which was again starting to move in the water.
The exertion made Raph’s head spin and he sat down heavily on the muddy ground, his brother draped partially across his lap. When Raph’s shell cell chirped again he almost didn’t hear it, but as his head started to clear he finally understood the sound for what it was.
He’d barely opened the thing when a sharp voice on the other end demanded, “Are you guys all right?”
“We’re okay,” Raph replied, his voice hoarse. He cleared his throat. “Leo’s hurt. Unconscious. I gotta get him out of here, the water’s rising.”
“I don’t have rope long enough to reach you,” Don said, striving to sound calm but failing. “We’ll cut out the seat belts and fashion something.”
“I’m starting up,” Raph said. “Got no choice.”
“Please be careful,” Don said. “The rocks are slick.”
Raph didn’t bother with the sarcastic comment that came to his mind. It was obvious that the rocks were slick and muddy. It was also obvious from the fact that Don hadn’t tried to argue him out of his decision that he had no other choice than to climb.
After standing up, Raph removed his mask and jogged over to his brother’s weapons. Tying one end of the mask to the side of his belt, he tied the other to the sheaths. If he left the katanas behind, Leo would never let him hear the end of it.
Returning to his brother, Raph very carefully eased Leonardo onto his shoulder, getting a solid hold on his hip to keep him from sliding off. At the bottom of the cliff, Raph made a slight adjustment to better balance his brother’s weight and then began climbing.
It was slow going. Raph had to depend on foot holds to propel himself upwards, using his one free hand to stabilize himself. All the while rain continued to pound down on the two of them, water cascading down the side of the cliff, making it hard to see where it was safe to put his hands and feet.
Part of the way up Raph could feel himself growing fatigued. He had also taken a few blows to the head during the crash and though he hadn’t lost consciousness, he wouldn’t be surprised if he had a concussion.
Going back down wasn’t an option. The stream was now a raging flood that quickly escaped its embankments and was crawling towards the cliff. Their car had already been lifted and pushed downstream by the churning water.
Gritting his teeth, Raph continued to climb. This was his fault. His temper. He had no idea how badly Leo was hurt. His brother hadn’t tried to move, hadn’t even made a sound.
Raph’s hand slipped and he threw his side against the cliff to keep from falling back as he scrambled for a new hold. His heart was beating fast, the rush of adrenaline making him breathe hard. There were new scratches on his arms and chin from the rocks, fresh blood flowing to mix with the rain.
Still Raph climbed, his strength slowly ebbing. He could not yet see his goal, but he refused to acknowledge the doubt that was trying to gnaw at his determination.
At one point he stopped, gasping to fill lungs stretched to capacity and still needing more. His body shook, his strained muscles aching in ways no weight lifting had ever achieved.
With a low growl, he started moving again. In his mind he focused on Leo, on the sound of Leo’s voice, on the way Leo looked at him when Raph did something of which his brother approved.
He wanted to hear that voice again, even if it was to scold him for being so careless, so reckless. This time Raph would listen gladly to every word and he would acknowledge his faults. He would apologize for his weaknesses. He would beg Leo for forgiveness if that’s what it took to ease the awful guilt that Raph was feeling.
Something tapped against his skull and startled out of his thoughts, Raph looked up to see the trailing end of a seatbelt.
Using the inside of both elbows, Raph braced himself against the rocks so that he could catch hold of the seatbelt. With a quick flip of the belt, he wound it around his forearm and then gripped it solidly before giving it a tug.
The seatbelt drew taut and then Raph began to be pulled upwards. He kept his toes against the rocks, using his leg muscles to help his brothers pull him up faster.
When he reached the edge of the cliff, Mikey reached down to relieve Raph of his burden. Two hard yanks on the seatbelt by Don propelled Raph onto the side of the road.
Don leaned over him, reaching towards Raph’s wounded body, but he shook his head and pointed at Leo. Nodding his understanding, Don joined Mikey in assessing how badly Leo was hurt.
Raph lay on his shell, eyes closed as rain poured onto his face. He didn’t open them again until he heard Leo groan and then cough.
The first words out of Leo’s mouth were, “Is Raph okay?”
Silently crying with relief, Raph was glad that the rain hid his tears.
Years had passed. Battles had left them scarred and battered but triumphant. Their enemies had been defeated and though Splinter had passed, the brothers were still together. Still a family.
Leonardo and Raphael had become close. Beyond close, they had become lovers. Ever since the day their car had gone over the side of a mountain, they had learned to truly listen to one another. They had found a connection that had only grown stronger with time.
During one of their clashes with enemies, Raphael had lost an eye. In another, Leo had received a wound to his left leg that had given him a permanent limp. Neither injury had slowed them down.
On their shared bed, Leo sat and waited, remote control in hand. Raphael arrived moments later carrying a tray of drinks and a bowl of popcorn.
He set it on the bedside table and with a sly grin, picked up a large bar of chocolate from the tray. As Leo watched, he ripped open the end of the wrapper and took a bite.
“Sweet tooth?” Leo asked, his brow ridges raised.
“Ya’ gotta have candy and popcorn at the movies,” Raph said, slipping into bed behind his Leo. He pressed against Leo’s carapace and wrapped his arms around his brother.
Leo lifted a hand to hold his brother’s wrist and tilted his head back to look up at Raph. “Are you going to give me a taste?” he asked, his tone teasing.
Raphael responded by pressing his mouth to Leo’s in a long, loving kiss. “How’s that?”
“Best chocolate I’ve ever tasted,” Leo replied. “Shall I start the movie?”
“It’ll keep,” Raph said, his lips close to Leo’s. “We already started something else, I think we should finish that first.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Leo said as Raph tossed the candy bar aside and moved in for another kiss.
It was quite a while before they finally got around to watching their movie.
Raphael walked past his brother’s open door and glanced inside. He halted when he saw that Leonardo was sitting up, clearly awaiting his return.
Clenching his fists, Raphael marched into his brother’s room, ready to snap at him for being so distrustful.
Partway in he realized that Leonardo was asleep and that he was, of all things, smiling. The tension eased from Raphael’s muscles as he looked at his brother’s face, the rare smile making him look younger and more vulnerable.
Suddenly feeling protective, Raphael crossed the room on silent feet. He carefully eased the book from Leonardo’s grip and set it aside, taking note of what he’d been reading.
With gentle hands, Raphael lowered his brother back onto the bed and lifted his legs onto it as well. As he was pulling the blanket over Leonardo, his brother’s eyes opened slightly.
“I had such a nice dream about you,” Leonardo whispered.
Raphael stared at him, a strange feeling welling up in his chest. “Go back to sleep,” he whispered in return. “Maybe you’ll have some more.”
“Glad you’re home,” Leonardo told him.
With a softening look, Raphael replied, “Me too. Next time, let’s go out together.”
“’Kay,” Leonardo murmured, his eyes drifting shut. “Love you.”
It had been ages since they’d said that to each other. Raphael continued to stare at Leonardo for a few minutes longer as his breathing evened out and he fell into a deep sleep.
Leaning down, he placed a kiss to Leonardo’s temple. “Love you too.”
Another smile stretched Leonardo’s lips. Raphael liked the look of it so much that there and then he decided to do all he could to make his brother smile often.
Often and always. Because that was how long they’d be together. Raphael would see to that.