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            Running the rooftops with Leonardo was something that Raphael had come to anticipate.  He enjoyed being with all of his brothers, but when it was just he and Leo, the atmosphere was simply more electric.

            There was an energy about his older brother, an unspoken challenge in his every movement that thrilled Raph to his marrow.  He didn’t understand why he felt so much more alive in Leo’s company, he just did.

            Watching his brother soar effortlessly across an incredibly wide expanse of open air and then land with ease on the safety of an adjoining rooftop made Raph grin with sheer delight.  Adrenaline pumping, Raphael flew through space as he too made the jump, his golden eyes locked on Leonardo’s.

            Maybe Raph would take the time to explore what he was feeling.  Not right now, though.  Now he needed to concentrate on not losing this race.

XxxxxxxxxX

            Raph snorted almost derisively when he entered the garage and saw that Leonardo was attempting to rebuild a carburetor.

            He kept the sound low so that his brother wouldn’t hear.  Leo had recently become determined to learn about vehicle maintenance and Donatello was showing a great deal of patience in teaching him.  Raph couldn’t fault Leo for wanting to know more about the subject since Don couldn’t really be expected to do everything, even though he tried.

            Raphael had to admit to feeling a twinge of disappointment that Leo hadn’t asked him to act as his teacher.  After all, Don wasn’t the only turtle who knew his way around an engine.

            A moment later Don sauntered over to the work table, his hands joining with Leo’s to assist in the next part of the deconstruction process.  His presence unnoticed by the pair, Raph’s eyes narrowed as jealousy’s possessive touch spiked through his system.

            Just because he hadn’t been asked to help didn’t mean Raph couldn’t offer.  Not if keeping his mouth shut meant those two spending more time alone together.

XxxxxxxxxX

            Casey had given Raph an odd look when they’d gathered for pizza in April’s living room.  There had been some shuffling around when it came to seating, but Raph had managed to squeeze himself onto the couch between Casey and Leo.

            It was a good-sized couch, but they were good-sized guys.  Two could sit there comfortably, but three was a tight fit.

            “Man, ain’t there some other place ya’ could sit?” Casey griped, pushing his knee against Raph’s.

            Raph gave his friend a pointed stare and then jabbed a thumb in April’s direction.  “Your girlfriend’s sitting over there at the table.  Why don’t ya’ join her?”

            Grumbling, Casey got up.  “You are being so weird tonight,” he said before striding over to the table.

            Helping himself to a slice of pizza, Raph leaned back and got a little more comfortable.  He did not, however, shift farther away from Leo.

XxxxxxxxxX

            If Raphael were to make a list of the things that Michelangelo was really good at, spraining his ankle would be in the top ten.

            “How was I supposed to know the Foot would climb out on that power line with me?” Mikey asked for about the thirtieth time.

            “You’re just lucky you landed on those empty boxes instead of the street,” Don told him.  “You could have hurt more than your ankle.”

            “Mikey, you have to learn to anticipate your opponent’s moves,” Leo said.  “Keep your head in the game.”

            Raph looked back at his brothers.  Don was bringing up the rear, keeping an eye out for anyone who might try to follow them.  Leo had an arm around Mikey, his younger brother’s arm slung across his shoulders as he helped him limp home.

            From the way Mikey was clinging to Leo, one might have thought he’d broken the ankle rather than just spraining it.  Right then Raph began to wonder if Mikey was faking his injury.

            Raph had learned not to underestimate the youngest.  The game his head was in apparently had nothing to do with the Foot clan.  If that was the case, two could play.

            “Here, Leo, give him to me,” Raph said, stopping in front of the pair.  “There’s no reason you should have to lug his heavy ass all of the way home.”

            “Hey!” Mikey protested, whether from the trade-off or personal indignation was anyone’s guess.

XxxxxxxxxX

            “You okay?” Leo asked, looking up as Raph entered his room.

            Raph’s mouth was pressed into a thin line, but he pried his lips apart enough to answer, “Yeah,” before plopping down on the floor across from his brother.

            His movement made the flames on the candles flutter, but they didn’t go out.  Leo liked to meditate in the darkness of his room, with only flickering candles providing a comforting scent and a warming ambiance.

            He could feel Leonardo’s eyes on him; could feel the question in them.  Finally he looked up.  “It was just the usual; Master Splinter telling me how I need to find balance.”

            “Is there anything I can do to help?” Leo asked.  “I know that when you’re frustrated about something it can make you angry.  Perhaps just talking it out?”

            The question was open ended, leaving it up to Raph to answer or not.  It was very tempting to blurt everything out, to admit to being frustrated about something he didn’t know how to handle.

            But then he would have to admit to what it was that was frustrating him.  The last thing Raph wanted to do was break the current mood and make things awkward between the two of them.  Or worse, either anger or disgust his brother.  Maybe both.

            “Nah, I’m good,” Raph finally said.  “Can I just sit here with ya’ for a bit?”

            “Of course,” Leo told him.  “Stay as long as you want.”

XxxxxxxxxX

            Rage.  Pure, unadulterated fury.

            All Raph could see was red as he battled his way through the Elite Guard, his whole focus intent on reaching that bitch.

            Karai.  She’d dodged Raph and then sicced her Elite Ninja on him just so that she could face off against Leonardo alone.  Every time they fought against her, Karai focused solely on Leo to the exclusion of everyone else.

            Not this time.  Whatever hard-on she had for Leo didn’t excuse how she disrespected his brothers.  Disrespected him.  Karai was about to learn the hard way what the old saying ‘bros before hoes’ really meant.

XxxxxxxxxX

            “Catching anything?” Raph asked.

            Leo glanced at him and then back at the fishing line attached to his pole.  “Yeah, but I tossed it back.  Too small.  I thought you were going to pick apples with Don and Mikey.”

            “Fishing sounded more fun,” Raph said, swinging a line out into the water.  He sat down on the grass near Leo.  “Less aggravating too.”

            “Do you think they’ll gather enough apples for the pie April said she’d make?”

            “If they don’t, Mike can’t gripe about it, since he’s the one charged with getting her a basket of apples,” Raph replied.

            Leo inhaled deeply and then released it in a long exhale.  “Sun feels good.”

            “Yep.”

            They were quiet after that, needing to say nothing.  Between them was an unspoken understanding that brought Raphael a sense of peace he hadn’t had it a very long time.

            The silence was broken by a loud splash.  There was a hard tug on Raph’s line that brought him quickly to his feet.

            “Damn!  It’s a big one!” Raph exclaimed, fighting the fish that was intent on escaping him.

            “Give him some play,” Leo coached, moving over next to Raph.  He caught a glimpse of the fish as it jumped and twisted in the air.  “That’s the biggest fish I’ve seen in this lake!”

            The fight lasted for better than fifteen minutes.  Raph ran along the embankment as he fought for control.  The fish, a huge trout, tail-walked across the surface of the water several times, once nearly pulling him in when Raph hit a muddy spot.

            Leo grabbed him and kept him from falling, shouting encouragement while Raph battled.  Then the trout just slowed down and came to a stop, accepting defeat.  Raph reeled it in and while he kept the line taut, Leo pulled the trout from the water.

            After he worked the hook from its mouth, Leo handed the trout to Raph, who stared at it in awe.  “She’s gotta weigh fourteen pounds easily!”

            “Hold her up,” Leo said, taking out his shell cell and snapping a picture.  “Congratulations.  So, how do you want that fish prepared?”

            Raph stared at the fish for a moment and then walked down to the water to release it.  The trout floated unmoving for a second, and then kicked her tail hard enough to splash water in Raph’s face before racing out of sight.

            He turned to look at Leo, unsure of what to say.  His brother smiled.

            “I completely understand,” Leo said, slinging an arm across Raph’s shoulders.

            They stood like that for quite a while.

XxxxxxxxxxX

            “My son, whatever is weighing on your mind will not allow you peace until you meet it head-on,” Master Splinter said.

            “I know,” Raph mumbled.  He had come to understand this after seven months of grueling doubt and indecision.  “I don’t know how.”

            His father studied him, noting his son’s slumped shoulders and the misery etched into the lines on his face.  Walking over to where Raphael kneeled, Splinter set a hand on his shoulder.

            “Tell him,” Master Splinter said.

            Raphael’s head jerked up; eyes wide and his expression full of surprise.  “I . . . how . . . what do you . . . .”

            Giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze, his father replied, “I am old, not blind.  All of you are fully grown and capable of making your own decisions.  I trust that the two of you can work this out so there is no conflict and no separation of your love and your loyalty to your brothers.”

            “Never,” Raph said firmly.  “No matter what happens, it’ll be the four of us together always.”

            “Good,” Master Splinter said, giving Raph’s shoulder a pat.  “I need to see this settled.  I will not live forever, you know.”

XxxxxxxxxX

            For Raphael, actions spoke louder than words.

            Shoving Leonardo up against the wall of his room and planting a kiss on his mouth had seemed like a good idea, until he received a gut punch for his troubles.

            “What the hell?” Raph demanded, rubbing his stomach.  It hadn’t really hurt because his plastron provided a lot of protection, but it had come as a surprise.

            “Seriously, Raph?” Leo countered, glaring at his brother.

            Raph huffed in frustration.  “Sor~ry.  Jeez.  I’ve been dancing around this for ages and thought you’d picked up on it.  I guess I read ya’ wrong.”

            “What in my demeanor told you that a sneak attack on my mouth was a great plan?” Leo asked.

            Jaw working from side to side, Raph stared at the ground, feeling like a fool.  “I thought ya’ could tell how I was feeling about ya’.  I thought ya’ felt the same.”  He looked up.  “Unless you’re feeling that for someone else.”

            Their eyes met.  It was all Raph could do to keep his gaze locked on Leo’s, because doubt was eating away at him.  He might have just made the biggest fool of himself ever and the fact that Leo wasn’t saying anything made the uncertainty even worse.

            “I don’t feel that way for someone else,” Leo said, his tone gentler than before.

            “For me either, huh?  Forget I said anything.”

            Raph started for the door but was stopped by a firm grip on his arm.  When he turned, Leo stepped in close and placed his hands on either side of Raphael’s neck.

            “What I meant was that this shouldn’t be like one of our sparring matches,” Leonardo said.  “I think we can love each other without the violence, don’t you?”

            A corner of Raph’s mouth lifted.  The butterflies flittering in his stomach more than made up for the punch that had landed there earlier.

            “Okay,” Raph whispered against Leo’s lips.  “I can work with that.”

 

End