Alone in the dojo, he sat with his shell to the wall, facing the rest of the room. No one would slip in without him knowing, even though he did not watch the door. His gaze focused on his sword, the flat of the blade on his lap. With one hand on the hilt, he held the whetstone against the grain and smoothly swept along the sword—carefully drawing the blade back with one arm and bringing the stone to the sword’s tip with the other.
Sharpening his odachi gave him a tremendous amount of space, a premium when underground with three other turtles and a master with little consideration for their feelings. An odachi demanded breathing room, demanded at least its own arc and then some. So much naked steel lay exposed to the air, clean and cold, that anyone in the room ignored it at their own peril. Even sharpening it was, in its own way, a threat.
So Raphael walked in with a little more caution than he normally did. Leonardo didn’t look up or pause, but Raphael knew his brother was well aware of his presence. Where Michelangelo would have leapt up with a grin and Donatello would have at least nodded, Leonardo simply tended his blade.
“Splinter said it’s lights out.” Raphael came to a stop, glaring down. “More'n an hour ago.”
“The real question,” Leonardo said, still not looking up, “is why you came here to say that.”
“‘Cause he’s already—”
“We both know that he always gets up at midnight,” Leonardo said. “For green tea. And that sharpening this baby takes awhile. It’s a labor of love. Gotta get into the grooves—”
“Leo, for cryin’ out…” Raphael sighed, scrubbing his face with his hand. “Just…one night, dammit. Just one night, would you—?”
“Have'ta redo the hilt this time, too.” Leonardo hefted part in question, tilting the blade slightly. “It’s a little loose. That last swing really took some force.”
Raphael fell silent—not because the 'last swing’ had been in the fight against a small swarm of giant bugs, resulting in a mutated centipede falling to the sewer floor in three sections—but because Leonardo had subtly shifted the grip of his right hand to support the back of the blade. In one short thrust, the edge could be in Raphael’s face.
They had only come to blows like that once before, months ago, when in a fit of temper Raphael had brought his full strength to bear on his smaller brother. Caught off guard, Leonardo had crouched low and unsheathed part of his sword, staring at him with wide eyes. Under the shouts of their sensei and brothers, Raphael had backed off and fought to keep his anger in check.
Similarly scolded for drawing his blade, Leonardo had instead vowed never to be caught off guard again.
“So,” Leonardo said softly, “why are you here when you know this is going to take awhile?”
Raphael didn’t answer for a moment, glancing over his shoulder into the darkness of their home. The rest of the lights were off, the silence broken only the sound of rushing water in the underground.
“We’re outta food,” Raphael breathed, his voice barely audible even this close. “Mikey don’t know. Don’t want him to freak out—”
“You keep treating him like a baby—” Leonardo whispered back.
“We ain’t arguing over this again,” Raphael growled. “You’re coming with me on a food run—”
“Why?” Leonardo’s whisper held all the violence of a snarl. “I’m not the one eating us out of house and home.”
“Hey!” Raphael riled at the familiar argument. “I do not eat that much—”
“Please, you’re pile of meat with legs,” Leonardo said, rolling his eyes. “And Mikey’s worse, don’t ask me where he puts it. Maybe if you starve a bit—”
“Yo, earth to dumbass,” Raphael frowned. “No food means you starve, too.”
A smug grin appeared on Leonardo’s face, and only the threat of the sword kept Raphael from slapping it off.
“Earth to dumbass, I’m half your size—if I didn’t plan ahead, I’d have been dead ages ago—”
Raphael blinked. “What?”
“I swear, getting between you and the fridge is like getting hit by a steamroller—”
“No, wait,” Raphael said, suddenly intent. “Whaddaya mean, you planned ahead?”
Leonardo scowled. “Oh no, you think I’m letting you have any? After you went and scarfed every last Oreo—”
“Leo, if you got something packed away—”
“Whatever, later, busy.” Dropping his gaze but not his grip on the sword, Leonardo began the long sweep of sharpening again.
Raphael felt himself tensing up, tightening his grip on the wall so that his joints creaked. There were times he wanted to throw his brother across the room made all the worse by the fact that he could do so, had done so in the past. Grabbing the edge of Leonardo’s shell just behind his neck, flinging him around like an awkward frisbee…
Just one of the reasons why Leonardo hadn’t put away the sword.
Raphael drew in a breath, held it, and released. Calm. Just like sensei said. Calm.
“He’s sick,” Raphael said softly. “Thought it wasn’t that bad, but… While you been in here sulking, he’s getting chills and moaning in his sleep.”
Leonardo stilled, a look of recognition in his eyes. Then he cursed under his breath.
“I told him to wash the cut out…”
“And the big baby didn’t,” Raphael said. “Whatta surprise. How about next time you tell me when he’s hurt and let me deal with him, huh? 'Stead of sulking that I didn’t let you chase the rest of those things back into the tunnels?”
With a huff, Leonardo lowered his eyes, making another long sweep along the blade.
“Brooding,” he muttered.
“Whatever you say.” Raphael half-smiled despite his annoyance. “So, food run or…?”
A war raged behind Leonardo’s eyes. Food was all too difficult to come by, and he was only half mocking that his brothers could devour everything in sight. There had been days when he was too slow or just too small to get past them to the kitchen. The struggle was easier now—he’d learned to climb over them, to push one into another, even to rig the refrigerator shelf to dump into the crisper to hide food behind the vegetables that Michelangelo wouldn’t touch.
“Little sick shit,” he muttered, sliding his sword back into its sheath at his hip and turning around.
Raphael’s jaw dropped slightly as Leonardo worked his fingers into the crevice between two bricks. Then a brick slid free and Leonardo was pulling out a half dozen cans of soup, all of them dusty with powdered cement.
“How’d you find that?” Raphael gasped.
“I don’t 'find’ anything,” Leonardo said, standing and starting to back away. “Whatever. I got like seven other stashes, and you’re not getting those.”
Raphael sighed again, gathering up the soups. “Guess I can’t argue too much.”
“Nor can I.”
Leonardo turned too quickly, hand on his hilt. Even when Splinter wasn’t scolding him, the sound of his voice put him on the defensive.
“I understand your frustration with your brothers.” Splinter stepped into the dojo, leaving the door clear as he leaned on his walking stick. “They can be single minded when it comes to their own needs at times. But it is good to see you showing them some forgiveness.”
Behind him, Raphael held in his snort. He passed by Leonardo, holding the cans out for their sensei’s approval. As Splinter nodded, Leonardo sighed and started to go.
Raphael couldn’t leave it at that. Too many other arguments lay between them, never referenced but still raw, and this time he knew he’d demanded beyond what Leonardo would have otherwise given. He put his hand out, meaning only to call him back.
Instead Leonardo saw his hand only at the last moment, turning too sharply to put his shell against the wall. Off guard, he partly drew the blade, the dojo’s candlelight reflecting off the steel.
Seething, Leonardo held his breath, furious at himself, smothering the anger in his eyes just a moment too late. Raphael had seen it—the fear of a small creature startling underneath something bigger.
Now what? Raphael wondered. His brother wouldn’t back down, not now—he couldn’t. But if Raphael tried to laugh it off, Leonardo would take it as one more insult added to everything else Raphael ever said in anger.
Raphael’s hand was still lifted. Swallowing once, not sure if Leonardo would let him, he lowered his hand closer to his brother’s face. As if it was a dare, Leonardo didn’t flinch…and then Raphael lightly ran his thumb along the red mark over his brother’s eye.
The touch was brief, soft…nothing like either had expected. Leonardo frowned in confusion, and the tension left his shoulders after a long moment.
“Thanks,” Raphael said simply.
Leonardo blinked, the spell over as quickly as it had started.
“Whatever,” he murmured, lowered his gaze as he backed away again. At the door, he paused, glancing over his shoulder, then left.
Splinter yawned, not accustomed to putting off his night’s tea for so long.
“Hunger that goes unsated is not healthy,” he said, tapping his cane once as if to emphasize the point. “Michelangelo needs to eat now.”
“Yeah, sure,” Raphael said, cradling three cans in each hand. “But I’m still taking Leo on that food run.”
“He will feel better when he realizes he can skim off for his other 'stashes’,” Splinter said. “Very concerning, though.”
“What is, sensei?”
“'Seven stashes’, he said.” Splinter idly scratched an ear. “I was only aware of six.”
As Splinter went to turn off a kettle that was threatening to whistle, Raphael paused and watched Leonardo retreating toward his bed. As if sensing his look, Leonardo glanced up in return. Neither spoke. With a wary expression, unable to guess at Raphael’s meaning, Leonardo went to look in on his little brother before sleep.
Hunger that goes unsated is unhealthy. Raphael turned the thought over in his head.
Perhaps he and Leonardo could explore that in the morning.