The jungle was huge and humbling, reducing the individual to a tiny speck of meaningless nothing. Sure, it was wood and leaf matter and other soft, biodegradable things, but that just meant that however hard and deep you carved your place, it would still decompose and grow over and disappear. The jungle didn't care how long it took. The jungle didn't care about you. But it still took you in. Subsumed you into its rotting, shadowed innards.
The city was the same, of course. Same entity, just man-made, writ in steel and cement. As an individual, you didn't matter a jot. But you were a part of it; a face in the crowd, a piece in the puzzle, a beat in its throbbing heart. Really, the city was another organic organism. People flowed like sap in its veins. You forgot how they could be. The sight, the sound, the feel, the smell. You forgot how they could crowd around you, end on end, hem you in at street level.
You forgot how he could be. How he could fill a room with no intent, just the dark miasma of his intensity seeping out, like sewage or humidity in the jungle.
They could all do it, of course. Mikey filled a space with noise and Don filled it with bits of gadgets and muttering and Leo knew - he knew like never before - that he could tame it, could shape it around him. He'd been a spirit. He'd held his own against the jungle.
But then there was Raph. Raph could get anywhere, could get everywhere, could get under your skin like a scalpel blade. Leo had forgot, in the green, dank depths of South America, the edge that Raph had. Not just how he could cut, but how he could sharpen.
Just by being there.
Just by being the voice that said all the things Leo couldn't even let himself think. By doing (without even fucking thinking) everything Leo knew he couldn't. All bite, all bark, all challenge, in Leo's face, nothing like the jungle, rubbing him raw. Shoving past him on the shadowed walkway, the solid weight of his shoulder into Leo's and the slice of his passing: "You want to sit around contemplating the navel you haven't got, then piss off back to the jungle, Tarzan."
It was such a blessed relief to get out and actually do something, solve a problem, deal with this damn Nightwatcher character. Should've known. Should have guessed, because who else could get his attention that quick, that sure, that easy?
Should have. Didn't. Blame the jungle, blame himself, blame all that time he spent with himself, short version is: he didn't. Story of his life, but like Splinter has always told him, the leader does not have the liberty of wallowing in recriminations and self-pity. He must learn; he must lead onwards.
Of course Raph can wallow as much as likes, can't he? He can mooch around the lair like the ghost of bitchiness past, keep his head down, keep quiet.
And every time - every single time - he does it, he gives way, he defers... hell, every time he just passes the cereal box, it scrapes against Leonardo's nerves. He could live with it if it were just a question of walking on these eggshells, wondering when Raph was going to snap back to normal, hoping it would come soon. But they go out at Splinter's behest, put themselves through the rigours of training exercises, and Leo realises that he doesn't know where the edge of the envelope lies when Raph isn't pushing it.
His team is crippled. One of his brothers is the walking wounded.
And like always, he's got to fix it.
When they walk back into the lair Mikey flings himself down in front of the TV and Donatello heads for his room, muttering under his breath about inverse extrapolations of what-the-fuck-ever, and before Raphael can disappear into a corner Leo orders him into the practice room. Everyone stops to look, and for a moment Leo thinks that Raph's going to object, or better yet, going to ignore him completely. Either would, really, be a relief. But he pivots and shuffles inside, and Leo slides the door closed against the curious eyes of their brothers.
Him and Raph. That's all they need to solve this.
Except that Leo doesn't know how. Just knows that he has to, not for the sake of the team, not even for the sake of them as a family, just because he's going to go crazy if that haze of guilt sits between him and Raph, clouds his brother's eyes, for much longer.
Behind the closed door, Leo tells Raph that he needs work, sets him to moving through the Fukugata. They're basic katas, and Leo expects (hopes) that the insult will be enough to jolt Raph out of it. But he bows his head (like this is penance) and moves into the first kata, flowing into it with that lithe technique that comes straight from his heart, from his gut.
It's not enough, so at the end of the first kata, Leo is standing opposite his brother on the mat. They bow. They square off. They spar.
It takes less than two heartbeats - a strike, a block, a counterstrike - for Leo to realise that Raph's heart isn't in this. The next thought is easy, obvious, and it twists Leo's stomach hard enough that he flinches back.
It's not the idea that Raph thinks this is somehow about revenge, about payback, about taking his punishment because it's owed. It's the thought that his brother could ever reach a point where he doesn't fight back.
It's enough to tip Leo over, make him act without thinking about it (a habit he's been trying to break since his brothers' lives were first laid in his hands). He steps inside Raph's delayed defense and grabs him by elbow and shoulder, stepping to the side and spinning on his heel, dragging Raphael with him.
There's a stand beside the mat, stocked with dulled and padded practice weapons. With momentum behind him, Raph slams against it so hard the weapons shiver on their racks, but all Leo sees is that spark flare in the shadowed depths of Raph's eyes. Flare, and be known, and start to fade.
"Don't you dare," Leo says, digging his fingers into the tensed muscles of Raph's arm, shoving him harder and making the weapon rack rattle. "Don't you fucking dare, don't you go soft on me now."
There's a crack in his voice that he didn't mean to be there, and Raph's eyes close. But his arm flexes beneath Leo's grip, and there it comes, the dark slice of his smile, cutting through the jungle like a machete blade, making Leo feel like he's a piece settling into its position in the puzzle, snug against all the edges that hold it in place.
Like he's finally home.
All Edge, No Middle by dee
All stories are works of fan-fiction by Dee. "Fan-fiction" means that she does not own any of the core creative concepts and characters, but she does heap adulation, appreciation and awe upon those people who do hold the intellectual property rights to those concepts and characters. Further, any instances of real people are fictional, and the author does not wish to suggest any truth should be attached to the actions, emotions and words attributed to them in these fictional stories.